Chapter VI
 

But he did not stay away. He owned and lived in a small house up on the Rumson Road. While the house was little more than a bungalow and had a simplicity that completely hid its rare good taste from the average observer, its grounds were the most spacious in that neighborhood of costly, showy houses set in grounds not much more extensive than a city building lot. The grounds had been cleared and drained to drive out and to keep out the obnoxious insect life, but had been left a forest, concealing the house from the roads. Stanley Baird was now stopping with Keith, and brought him along to the cottage by the sea every day.

The parties narrowed to the same four persons. Mrs. Brindley seemed never to tire of talking to Keith-- or to tire of talking about him when the two men had left, late each night. As for Stanley, he referred everything to Keith--the weather prospects, where they should go for the day, what should be eaten and drunk, any point about politics or fashion, life or literature or what not, that happened to be discussed. And he looked upon Donald's monosyllabic reply to his inquiry as a final judgment, ending all possibility of argument. Mildred held out long. Then, in spite of herself, she began to yield, ceased to dislike him, found a kind of pleasure--or, perhaps, fascinated interest--in the nervousness his silent and indifferent presence caused her. She liked to watch that immobile, perfect profile, neither young nor old, indeed not suggesting age in any degree, but only experience and knowledge--and an infinite capacity for emotion, for passion even. The dead-white color declared it had already been lived; the brilliant, usually averted or veiled eyes asserted present vitality, pulsing under a calm surface.

One day when Stanley, in the manner of one who wishes a thing settled and settled right, said he would ask Donald Keith about it, Mildred, a little piqued, a little amused, retorted:

"And what will he answer? Why, simply yes or no."

"That's all," assented Stanley. "And that's quite enough, isn't it?"

"But how do you know he's as wise as he pretends?"

"He doesn't pretend to be anything or to know anything. That's precisely it."

Mildred suddenly began to like Keith. She had never thought of this before. Yes, it was true, he did not pretend. Not in the least, not about anything. When you saw him, you saw at once the worst there was to see. It was afterward that you discovered he was not slovenly, but clean and neat, not badly but well dressed, not homely but handsome, not sickly but soundly well, not physically weak but strong, not dull but vividly alive, not a tiresome void but an unfathomable mystery.

"What does he do?" she asked Mrs. Brindley.

Cyrilla's usually positive gray eyes looked vague. She smiled. "I never asked," said she. "I've known him nearly three years, and it never occurred to me to ask, or to wonder. Isn't that strange? Usually about the first inquiry we make is what a man does."

"I'll ask Stanley," said Mildred. And she did about an hour later, when they were in the surf together, with the other two out of earshot. Said Stanley:

"He's a lawyer, of course. Also, he's written a novel or two and a book of poems. I've never read them. Somehow, I never get around to reading."

"Oh, he's a lawyer? That's the way he makes his living."

"A queer kind of lawyer. He never goes to court, and his clients are almost all other lawyers. They go to him to get him to tell them what to do, and what not to do. He's got a big reputation among lawyers, Fred Norman tells me, but makes comparatively little, as he either can't or won't charge what he ought. I told him what Norman said, and he only smiled in that queer way he has. I said: `You make twenty or thirty thousand a year. You ought to make ten times that.' "

"And what did he answer?" asked Mildred. "Nothing?"

"He said: `I make all I want. If I took in more, I'd be bothered getting rid of it or investing it. I can always make all I'll want--unless I go crazy. And what could a crazy man do with money? It doesn't cost anything to live in a lunatic asylum.' "

Several items of interest to add to those she had collected. He could talk brilliantly, but he preferred silence. He could make himself attractive to women and to men, but he preferred to be detached. He could be a great lawyer, but he preferred the quiet of obscurity. He could be a rich man, but he preferred to be comparatively poor.

Said Mildred: "I suppose some woman--some disappointment in love--has killed ambition, and everything like that."

"I don't think so," replied Baird. "The men who knew him as a boy say he was always as he is now. He lived in the Arabian desert for two years."

"Why didn't he stay?" laughed Mildred. "That life would exactly suit him."

"It did," said Stanley. "But his father died, and he had to come home and support his mother--until she died. That's the way his whole life has been. He drifts in the current of circumstances. He might let himself be blown away to-morrow to the other end of the earth and stay away years--or never come back."

"But how would he live?"

"On his wits. And as well or as poorly as he cared. He's the sort of man everyone instinctively asks advice of--me, you, his valet, the farmer who meets him at a boundary fence, the fellow who sits nest him in a train--anyone."

Mildred did not merely cease to dislike him; she went farther, and rapidly. She began to like him, to circle round that tantalizing, indolent mystery as a deer about a queer bit of brush in the undergrowth. She liked to watch him. She was alternately afraid to talk before him and recklessly confidential--all with no response or sign of interest from him. If she was silent, when they were alone together, he was silent, too. If she talked, still he was silent. What was he thinking about? What did he think of her?--that especially.

"What are you thinking?" she interrupted herself to say one afternoon as they sat together on the strand under a big sunshade. She had been talking on and on about her career--talking conceitedly, as her subject intoxicated her--telling him what triumphs awaited her as soon as she should be ready to debut. As he did not answer, she repeated her question, adding:

"I knew you weren't listening to me, or I shouldn't have had the courage to say the foolish things I did."

"No, I wasn't," admitted he.

"Why not?"

"For the reason you gave."

"That what I said was--just talk?"

"Yes."

"You don't believe I'll do those things?"

"Do you?"

"I've got to believe it," said she. "If I didn't--" She came to a full stop.

"If you didn't, then what?" It was the first time he had ever flattered her with interest enough to ask her a question about herself.

"If I didn't believe I was going to succeed--and succeed big--" she began. After a pause, she added, "I'd not dare say it."

"Or think it," said he.

She colored. "What do you mean?" she asked.

He did not reply.

"What do you mean, Mr. Keith?" she urged.

"You are always asking me questions to which you already know the answer," said he.

"You're referring to a week or so ago, when I asked you why you disliked me?"

No answer. No sign of having heard. No outward sign of interest in anything, even in the cigarette drooping from the corner of his mouth.

"Wasn't that it?" she insisted.

"You are always asking me questions to which you already know the answer," repeated he.

"I am annoying you?"

No answer.

She laughed. "Do you want me to go away and leave you in peace with that--law case--or whatever it is?"

"I don't like to be alone."

"But anyone would do?--a dog?"

No reply.

"You mean, a dog would be better because it doesn't ask questions to which it knows the answer."

No reply.

"Well, I have a pleasant-sounding voice. As I'm saying nothing, it may be soothing--like the sound of the waves. I've learned to take you as you are. I rather like your pose."

No reply. No sign that he was even tempted to rise to this bait and protest.

"But you don't like mine," she went on. "Yes, it is a pose. But I've got to keep it up, and to pretend to myself that it isn't. And it isn't altogether. I shall be a successful singer."

"When?" said he. Actually he was listening!

She answered: "In--about two years, I think."

No comment.

"You don't believe it?"

"Do you?" A pause. "Why ask these questions you've already answered yourself?"

"I'll tell you why," replied she, her face suddenly flushed with earnestness. "Because I want you to help me. You help everyone else. Why not me?"

"You never asked me," said he.

"I didn't know I wanted it until just now--as I said it. But you must have known, because you are so much more experienced than I--and understand people--what's going on in their minds, deeper than they can see." Her tone became indignant, reproachful. "Yes, you must have known I needed your help. And you ought to have helped me, even if you did dislike me. You've no right to dislike anyone as young as I."

He was looking at her now, the intensely alive blue eyes sympathetic, penetrating, understanding. It was frightful to be so thoroughly understood--all one's weaknesses laid bare--yet it was a relief and a joy, too --like the cruel healing knife of the surgeon. Said he:

"I do not like kept women."

She gasped, grew ghastly. It was a frightful insult, one for which she was wholly unprepared. "You-- believe--that?" she said slowly.

"Another of those questions," he said. And he looked calmly away, out over the sea, as if his interest in the conversation were at an end.

What should she say? How deny--how convince him? For convince him she must, and then go away and never permit him to speak to her again until he had apologized. She said quietly: "Mr. Keith, you have insulted me."

"I do not like kept women, either with or without a license," said he in the same even, indifferent way. "When you ceased to be a kept woman, I would help you, if I could. But no one can help a kept woman."

There was nothing to do but to rise and go away. She rose and went toward the house. At the veranda she paused. He had not moved. She returned. He was still inspecting the horizon, the cigarette depending from his lips--how did he keep it alight? She said:

"Mr. Keith, I am sure you did not mean to insult me. What did you mean?"

"Another of those questions," said he.

"Honestly, I do not understand."

"Then think. And when you have thought, you will understand."

"But I have thought. I do not understand."

"Then it would be useless to explain," said he. "That is one of those vital things which, if one cannot understand them for oneself, one is hopeless--is beyond helping."

"You mean I am not in earnest about my career?"

"Another of those questions. If you had not seen clearly what I meant, you would have been really offended. You'd have gone away and not come back."

She saw that this was true. And, seeing, she wondered how she could have been so stupid as not to have seen it at once. She had yet to learn that overlooking the obvious is a universal human failing and that seeing the obvious is the talent and the use of the superior of earth--the few who dominate and determine the race.

"You reproach me for not having helped you," he went on. "How does it happen that you are uneasy in mind--so uneasy that you are quarreling at me?"

A light broke upon her. "You have been drawing me on, from the beginning," she cried. "You have been helping me--making me see that I needed help."

"No," said he. "I've been waiting to see whether you would rouse from your dream of grandeur."

"You have been rousing me."

"No," he said. "You've roused yourself. So you may be worth helping or, rather, worth encouraging, for no one can help you but yourself."

She looked at him pathetically. "But what shall I do?" she asked. "I've got no money, no experience, no sense. I'm a vain, luxury-loving fool, cursed with a--with a--is it a conscience?"

"I hope it's something more substantial. I hope it's common sense."

"But I have been working--honestly I have."

"Don't begin lying to yourself again."

"Don't be harsh with me."

He drew in his legs, in preparation for rising--no doubt to go away.

"I don't mean that," she cried testily. "You are not harsh with me. It's the truth that's harsh--the truth I'm beginning to see--and feel. I am afraid-- afraid. I haven't the courage to face it."

"Why whine?" said he. "There's nothing in that."

"Do you think there's any hope for me?"

"That depends," said he.

"On what?"

"On what you want."

"I want to be a singer, a great singer."

"No, there's no hope."

She grew cold with despair. He had a way of saying a thing that gave it the full weight of a verdict from which there was no appeal.

"Now, if you wanted to make a living," he went on, "and if you were determined to learn to sing as well as you could, with the idea that you might be able to make a living--why, then there might be hope."

"You think I can sing?"

"I never heard you. Can you?"

"They say I can."

"What do you say?"

"I don't know," she confessed. "I've never been able to judge. Sometimes I think I'm singing well, and I find out afterward that I've sung badly. Again, it's the other way."

"Then, obviously, what's the first thing to do?"

"To learn to judge myself," said she. "I never thought of it before--how important that is. Do you know Jennings--Eugene Jennings?"

"The singing teacher? No."

"Is he a good teacher?"

"No."

"Why not?"

"Because he has not taught you that you will never sing until you are your own teacher. Because he has not taught you that singing is a small and minor part of a career as a singer."

"But it isn't," protested she.

A long silence. Looking at him, she felt that he had dismissed her and her affairs from his mind.

"Is it?" she said, to bring him back.

"What?" asked he vaguely.

"You said that a singer didn't have to be able to sing."

"Did I?" He glanced down the shore toward the house. "It feels like lunch-time." He rose.

"What did you mean by what you said?"

"When you have thought about your case a while longer, we'll talk of it again--if you wish. But until you've thought, talking is a waste of time."

She rose, stood staring out to sea. He was observing her, a faint smile about his lips. He said:

"Why bother about a career? After all, kept woman is a thoroughly respectable occupation--or can be made so by any preacher or justice of the peace. It's followed by many of our best women--those who pride themselves on their high characters--and on their pride."

"I could not belong to a man unless I cared for him," said she. "I tried it once. I shall never do it again."

"That sounds fine," said he. "Let's go to lunch."

"You don't believe me?"

"Do you?"

She sank down upon the sand and burst into a wild passion of sobs and tears. When her fight for self- control was over and she looked up to apologize for her pitiful exhibition of weakness--and to note whether she had made an impression upon his sympathies--she saw him just entering the house, a quarter of a mile away. To anger succeeded a mood of desperate forlornness. She fell upon herself with gloomy ferocity. She could not sing. She had no brains. She was taking money--a disgracefully large amount of money-- from Stanley Baird under false pretenses. How could she hope to sing when her voice could not be relied upon? Was not her throat at that very moment slightly sore? Was it not always going queer? She--sing! Absurd. Did Stanley Baird suspect? Was he waiting for the time when she would gladly accept what she must have from him, on his own terms? No, not on his terms, but on the terms she herself would arrange-- the only terms she could make. No, Stanley believed in her absolutely--believed in her career. When he discovered the truth, he would lose interest in her, would regard her as a poor, worthless creature, would be eager to rid himself of her. Instead of returning to the house, she went in the opposite direction, made a circuit and buried herself in the woods beyond the Shrewsbury. She was mad to get away from her own company; but the only company she could fly to was more depressing than the solitude and the taunt and sneer and lash of her own thoughts. It was late in the afternoon before she nerved herself to go home. She hoped the others would have gone off somewhere; but they were waiting for her, Stanley anxious and Cyrilla Brindley irritated. Her eyes sought Keith. He was, as usual, the indifferent spectator.

"Where have you been?" cried Stanley.

"Making up my mind," said she in the tone that forewarns of a storm.

A brief pause. She struggled in vain against an impulse to look at Keith. When her eyes turned in his direction he, not looking at her, moved in his listless way toward the door. Said he:

"The auto's waiting. Come on."

She vacillated, yielded, began to put on the wraps Stanley was collecting for her. It was a big touring- car, and they sat two and two, with the chauffeur alone. Keith was beside Mildred. When they were under way, she said:

"Why did you stop me? Perhaps I'll never have the courage again."

"Courage for what?" asked he.

"To take your advice, and break off."

"My advice?"

"Yes, your advice."

"You have to clutch at and cling to somebody, don't you? You can't bear the idea of standing up by your own strength."

"You think I'm trying to fasten to you?" she said, with an angry laugh.

"I know it. You admitted it. You are not satisfied with the way things are going. You have doubts about your career. You shrink from your only comfortable alternative, if the career winks out. You ask me my opinion about yourself and about careers. I give it. Now, I find you asked only that you might have someone to lean on, to accuse of having got you into a mess, if doing what you think you ought to do turns out as badly as you fear."

It was the longest speech she had heard him make. She had no inclination to dispute his analysis of her motives. "I did not realize it," said she, "but that is probably so. But--remember how I was brought up."

"There's only one thing for you to do."

"Go back to my husband? You know--about me --don't you?"

"Yes"

"I can't go back to him."

"No."

"Then--what?" she asked.

"Go on, as now," replied he.

"You despise me, don't you?"

"No."

"But you said you did."

"Dislike and despise are not at all the same."

"You admit that you dislike me," cried she triumphantly. He did not answer.

"You think me a weak, clinging creature, not able to do anything but make pretenses."

No answer.

"Don't you?" she persisted.

"Probably I have about the same opinion of you that you have of yourself."

"What will become of me?" she said. Her face lighted up with an expression of reckless beauty. "If I could only get started I'd go to the devil, laughing and dancing--and taking a train with me."

"You are started," said he, with an amiable smile. "Keep on. But I doubt if you'll be so well amused as you may imagine. Going to the devil isn't as it's painted in novels by homely old maids and by men too timid to go out of nights. A few steps farther, and your disillusionment will begin. But there'll be no turning back. Already, you are almost too old to make a career."

"I'm only twenty-four. I flattered myself I looked still younger."

"It's worse than I thought," said he. "Most of the singers, even the second-rate ones, began at fifteen-- began seriously. And you haven't begun yet."

"That's unjust," she protested. "I've done a little. Many great people would think it a great deal."

"You haven't begun yet," repeated he calmly. "You have spent a lot of money, and have done a lot of dreaming and talking and listening to compliments, and have taken a lot of lessons of an expensive charlatan. But what have those things to do with a career?"

"You've never heard me sing."

"I do not care for singing."

"Oh!" said she in a tone of relief. "Then you know nothing about all this."

"On the contrary, I know everything about a career. And we were talking of careers, not of singing."

"You mean that my voice is worthless because I haven't the other elements?"

"What else could I have meant?" said he. "You haven't the strength. You haven't the health."

She laughed as she straightened herself. "Do I look weak and sickly?" cried she.

"For the purposes of a career as a female you are strong and well," said he. "For the purpose of a career as a singer--" He smiled and shook his head. "A singer must have muscles like wire ropes, like a blacksmith or a washerwoman. The other day we were climbing a hill--a not very steep hill. You stopped five times for breath, and twice you sat down to rest."

She was literally hanging her head with shame. "I wasn't very well that day," she murmured.

"Don't deceive yourself," said he. "Don't indulge in the fatal folly of self-excuse."

"Go on," she said humbly. "I want to hear it all."

"Is your throat sore to-day?" pursued he.

She colored. "It's better," she murmured.

"A singer with sore throat!" mocked he. "You've had a slight fogginess of the voice all summer."

"It's this sea air," she eagerly protested. "It affects everyone."

"No self-excuse, please," interrupted he. "Cigarettes, champagne, all kinds of foolish food, an impaired digestion--that's the truth, and you know it."

"I've got splendid digestion! I can eat anything!" she cried. "Oh, you don't know the first thing about singing. You don't know about temperament, about art, about all the things that singing really means."

"We were talking of careers," said he. "A career means a person who can be relied upon to do what is demanded of him. A singer's career means a powerful body, perfect health, a sound digestion. Without them, the voice will not be reliable. What you need is not singing teachers, but teachers of athletics and of hygiene. To hear you talk about a career is like listening to a child. You think you can become a professional singer by paying money to a teacher. There are lawyers and doctors and business men in all lines who think that way about their professions--that learning a little routine of technical knowledge makes a lawyer or a doctor or a merchant or a financier."

"Tell me--what ought I to learn?"

"Learn to think--and to persist. Learn to concentrate. Learn to make sacrifices. Learn to handle yourself as a great painter handles his brush and colors. Then perhaps you'll make a career as a singer. If not, it'll be a career as something or other."

She was watching him with a wistful, puzzled expression. "Could I ever do all that?"

"Anyone could, by working away at it every day. If you gain only one inch a day, in a year you'll have gained three hundred and sixty-five inches. And if you gain an inch a day for a while and hold it, you soon begin to gain a foot a day. But there's no need to worry about that." He was gazing at her now with an expression of animation that showed how feverishly alive he was behind that mask of calmness. "The day's work--that's the story of success. Do the day's work persistently, thoroughly, intelligently. Never mind about to-morrow. Thinking of it means dreaming or despairing--both futilities. Just the day's work."

"I begin to understand," she said thoughtfully. "You are right. I've done nothing. Oh, I've been a fool--more foolish even than I thought."

A long silence, then she said, somewhat embarrassed and in a low voice, though there was no danger of those in front of them hearing:

"I want you to know that there has been nothing wrong--between Stanley and me."

"Do you wish me to put that to your credit or to your discredit?" inquired he.

"What do you mean?"

"Why, you've just told me that you haven't given Stanley anything at all for his money--that you've cheated him outright. The thing itself is discreditable, but your tone suggests that you think I'll admire you for it."

"Do you mean to say that you'd think more highly of me if I were--what most women would be in the same circumstances?"

"I mean to say that I think the whole business is discreditable to both of you--to his intelligence, to your character."

"You are frank," said she, trying to hide her anger.

"I am frank," replied he, undisturbed. He looked at her. "Why should I not be?"

"You know that I need you, that I don't dare resent," said she. "So isn't it--a little cowardly?"

"Why do you need me? Not for money, for you know you'll not get that."

"I don't want it," cried she, agitated. "I never thought of it."

"Yes, you've probably thought of it," replied he coolly. "But you will not get it."

"Well, that's settled--I'll not get it."

"Then why do you need me? Of what use can I be to you? Only one use in the world. To tell you the truth--the exact truth. Is not that so?"

"Yes," she said. "That is what I want from you --what I can't get from anyone else. No one else knows the truth--not even Mrs. Brindley, though she's intelligent. I take back what I said about your being cowardly. Oh, you do stab my vanity so! You mustn't mind my crying out. I can't help it--at least, not till I get used to you."

"Cry out," said he. "It does no harm."

"How wonderfully you understand me!" exclaimed she. "That's why I let you say to me anything you please."

He was smiling peculiarly--a smile that somehow made her feel uncomfortable. She nerved herself for some still deeper stab into her vanity. He said, his gaze upon her and ironical:

"I'm sorry I can't return the compliment."

"What compliment?" asked she.

"Can't say that you understand me. Why do you think I am doing this?"

She colored. "Oh, no indeed, Mr. Keith," she protested, "I don't think you are in love with me--or anything of that sort. Indeed, I do not. I know you better than that."

"Really?" said he, amused. "Then you are not human."

"How can you think me so vain?" she protested.

"Because you are so," replied he. "You are as vain--no more so, but just as much so--as the average pretty and attractive woman brought up as you have been. You are not obsessed by the notion that your physical charms are all-powerful, and in that fact there is hope for you. But you attach entirely too much importance to them. You will find them a hindrance for a long time before they begin to be a help to you in your career. And they will always be a temptation to you to take the easy, stupid way of making a living--the only way open to most women that is not positively repulsive."

"I think it is the most repulsive," said Mildred.

"Don't cant," replied he, unimpressed. "It's not so repulsive to your sort of woman as manual labor-- or as any kind of work that means no leisure, no luxury and small pay."

"I wonder," said Mildred. "I--I'm afraid you're right. But I won't admit it. I don't dare."

"That's the finest, truest thing I've ever heard you say," said Keith.

Mildred was pleased out of all proportion to the compliment. Said she with frank eagerness, "Then I'm not altogether hopeless?"

"As a character, no indeed," replied he. "But as a career-- I was about to say, you may set your mind at rest. I shall never try to collect for my services. I am doing all this solely out of obstinacy."

"Obstinacy?" asked the puzzled girl.

"The impossible attracts me. That's why I've never been interested to make a career in law or politics or those things. I care only for the thing that can't be done. When I saw you and studied you, as I study every new thing, I decided that you could not possibly make a career."

"Why have you changed your mind?" she interrupted eagerly.

"I haven't," replied he. "If I had, I should have lost interest in you. Just as soon as you show signs of making a career, I shall lose interest in you. I have a friend, a doctor, who will take only cases where cure is impossible. Looking at you, it occurred to me that here was a chance to make an experiment more interesting than any of his. And as I have no other impossible task inviting me at present, I decided to undertake you--if you were willing."

"Why do you tell me this?" she asked. "To discourage me?"

"No. Your vanity will prevent that."

"Then why?"

"To clear myself of all responsibility for you. You understand--I bind myself to nothing. I am free to stop or to go on at any time."

"And I?" said Mildred.

"You must do exactly as I tell you."

"But that is not fair," cried she.

"Why not?" inquired he. "Without me you have no hope--none whatever."

"I don't believe that," declared she. "It is not true."

"Very well. Then we'll drop the business," said he tranquilly. "If the time comes when you see that I'm your only hope, and if then I'm in my present humor, we will go on."

And he lapsed into silence from which she soon gave over trying to rouse him. She thought of what he had said, studied him, but could make nothing of it. She let four days go by, days of increasing unrest and unhappiness. She could not account for herself. Donald Keith seemed to have cast a spell over her--an evil spell. Her throat gave her more and more trouble. She tried her voice, found that it had vanished. She examined herself in the glass, and saw or fancied that her looks were going--not so that others would note it, but in the subtle ways that give the first alarm to a woman who has beauty worth taking care of and thinks about it intelligently. She thought Mrs. Brindley was beginning to doubt her, suspected a covert uneasiness in Stanley. Her foundations, such as they were, seemed tottering and ready to disintegrate. She saw her own past with clear vision for the first time-- saw how futile she had been, and why Keith believed there was no hope for her. She made desperate efforts to stop thinking about past and future, to absorb herself in present comfort and luxury and opportunities for enjoyment. But Keith was always there--and to see him was to lose all capacity for enjoyment. She was curt, almost rude to him--had some vague idea of forcing him to stay away. Yet every time she lost sight of him, she was in terror until she saw him again.

She was alone on the small veranda facing the high- road. She happened to glance toward the station; her gaze became fixed, her body rigid, for, coming leisurely and pompously toward the house, was General Siddall, in the full panoply of his wonderful tailoring and haberdashery. She thought of flight, but instantly knew that flight was useless; the little general was not there by accident. She waited, her rigidity giving her a deceptive seeming of calm and even ease. He entered the little yard, taking off his glossy hat and exposing the rampant toupee. He smiled at her so slightly that the angle of the needle-pointed mustaches and imperial was not changed. The cold, expressionless, fishy eyes simply looked at her.

"A delightful little house," said he, with a patronizing glance around. "May I sit down?"

She inclined her head.

"And you are looking well, charming," he went on, and he seated himself and carefully planted his neat boots side by side. "For the summer there's nothing equal to the seashore. You are surprised to see me?"

"I thought you were abroad," said Mildred.

"So I was--until yesterday. I came back because my men had found you. And I'm here because I venture to hope that you have had enough of this foolish escapade. I hope we can come to an understanding. I've lost my taste for wandering about. I wish to settle down--to have a home and to stay in it. By that I mean, of course, two or three--or possibly four-- houses, according to the season." Mildred sent her glance darting about. The little general saw and began to talk more rapidly. "I've given considerable thought to our--our misunderstanding. I feel that I gave too much importance to your--your-- I did not take your youth and inexperience of the world and of married life sufficiently into account. Also the first Mrs. Siddall was not a lady--nor the second. A lady, a young lady, was a new experience to me. I am a generous man. So I say frankly that I ought to have been more patient."

"You said you would never see me again until I came to you," said Mildred. As he was not looking at her, she watched his face. She now saw a change--behind the mask. But he went on in an unchanged voice:

"Were you aware that Mrs. Baird is about to sue her husband for a separation--not for a divorce but for a separation--and name you?"

Mildred dropped limply back in her chair.

"That means scandal," continued Siddall, "scandal touching my name--my honor. I may say, I do not believe what Mrs. Baird charges. My men have had you under observation for several weeks. Also, Mrs. Brindley is, I learn, a woman of the highest character. But the thing looks bad--you hiding from your husband, living under an assumed name, receiving the visits of a former admirer."

"You are mistaken," said Mildred. "Mrs. Baird would not bring such a false, wicked charge."

"You are innocent, my dear," said the general.

"You don't realize how your conduct looks. She intends to charge that her husband has been supporting you."

Mildred, quivering, started up, sank weakly back again.

"But," he went on, "you will easily prove that your money is your inheritance from your father. I assured myself of that before I consented to come here."

"Consented?" said Mildred. "At whose request?"

"That of my own generosity," replied he. "But my honor had to be reassured. When I was satisfied that you were innocent, and simply flighty and foolish, I came. If there had been any taint upon you, of course I could not have taken you back. As it is, I am willing--I may say, more than willing. Mrs. Baird can be bought off and frightened off. When she finds you have me to protect you, she will move very cautiously, you may be sure."

As the little man talked, Mildred saw and felt behind the mask the thoughts, the longings of his physical infatuation for her coiling and uncoiling and reaching tremulously out toward her like unclean, horrible tentacles. She was drawn as far as could be back into her chair, and her soul was shrinking within her body.

"I am willing to make you a proper allowance, and to give you all proper freedom," he went on. He showed his sharp white teeth in a gracious smile. "I realize I must concede something of my old-fashioned ideas to the modern spirit. I never thought I would, but I didn't appreciate how fond I was of you, my dear." He mumbled his tongue and noiselessly smacked his thin lips. "Yes, you are worth concessions and sacrifices."

"I am not going back," said Mildred. "Nothing you could offer me would make any difference." She felt suddenly calm and strong. She stood. "Please consider this final."

"But, my dear," said the general softly, though there was a wicked gleam behind the mask, "you forget the scandal--"

"I forget nothing," interrupted she. "I shall not go back."

Before he could attempt further to detain her she opened the screen door and entered. It closed on the spring and on the spring lock.

Donald Keith, coming in from the sea-front veranda, was just in time to save her from falling. She pushed him fiercely away and sank down on the sofa just within the pretty little drawing-room. She said:

"Thank you. I didn't mean to be rude. I was only angry with myself. I'm getting to be one of those absurd females who blubber and keel over."

"You're white and limp," said he. "What's the matter?"

"General Siddall is out there."

"Um--he's come back, has he?" said Keith.

"And I am afraid of him--horribly afraid of him."

"In some places and circumstances he would be a dangerous proposition," said Keith. "But not here in the East--and not to you."

"He would do anything. I don't know what he can do, but I am sure it will be frightful--will destroy me."

"You are going with him?"

She laughed. "I loathe him. I thought I left him through fear and anger. I was mistaken. It was loathing. And my fear of him--it's loathing, too."

"You mean that?" said Keith, observing her intently. "You wish to be rid of him?"

"What a poor opinion you have of me," said she. "Really, I don't deserve quite that."

"Then come with me."

The look of terror and shrinking returned. "Where? To see him?"

"For the last time," said Keith. "There'll be no scene."

It was the supreme test of her confidence in him. Without hesitation, she rose, preceded him into the hall, and advanced firmly toward the screen door through which the little general could be seen. He was standing at the top step, his back to them. At the sound of the opening door he turned.

"This is Mr. Donald Keith," said Mildred. "He wishes to speak to you."

The general bowed; Keith bent his head. They eyed each other with the measuring glance. Keith said in his dry, terse way: "I asked Miss Gower to come with me because I wish her to hear what I have to say to you."

"You mean my wife," said the general with a gracious smile.

"I mean Miss Gower," returned Keith. "As you know, she is not your wife."

Mildred uttered a cry; but the two men continued to look each at the other, with impassive countenances.

"Your only wife is the woman who has been in the private insane asylum of Doctor Rivers at Pueblo, Colorado, for the past eleven years. For about twenty years before that she was in the Delavan private asylum near Denver. You could not divorce her under the laws of Colorado. The divorce you got in Nevada was fraudulent."

"That's a lie," said the general coldly.

Keith went on, as if he had not heard: "You will not annoy this lady again. And you will stop bribing Stanley Baird's wife to make a fool of herself. And you will stop buying houses in the blocks where Baird owns real estate, and moving colored families into them."

"I tell you that about my divorce is a lie," replied Siddall.

"I can prove it," said Keith. "And I can prove that you knew it before you married your second wife."

For the first time Siddall betrayed at the surface a hint of how hard he was hit. His skin grew bright yellow; wrinkles round his eyes and round the base of his nose sprang into sudden prominence.

"I see you know what I mean--that attempt to falsify the record at Carson City," said Keith. He opened the screen door for Mildred to pass in. He followed her, and the door closed behind them. They went into the drawing-room. He dropped into an easy chair, crossed his legs, leaned his head back indolently--a favorite attitude of his.

"How long have you known?" said she. Her cheeks were flushed with excitement.

"Oh, a good many years," replied he. "It was one of those accidental bits of information a man runs across in knocking about. As soon as Baird told me about you, I had the thing looked up, quietly. I was going up to see him to-morrow--about the negroes and Mrs. Baird's suit."

"Does Stanley know?" inquired she.

"No," said Keith. "Not necessary. Never will be. If you like, you can have the marriage annulled without notoriety. But that's not necessary, either."

After a long silence, she said: "What does this make out of me?"

"You mean, what would be thought of you, if it were known?" inquired he. "Well, it probably wouldn't improve your social position."

"I am disgraced," said she, curiously rather than emotionally.

"Would be, if it were known," corrected he, "and if you are nothing but a woman without money looking for a husband. If you happened to be a singer or an actress, it would add to your reputation--make you more talked about."

"But I am not an actress or a singer."

"On the other hand, I should say you didn't amount to much socially. Except in Hanging Rock, of course --if there is still a Hanging Rock. Don't worry about your reputation. Fussing and fretting about your social position doesn't help toward a career."

"Naturally, you take it coolly. But you can hardly expect me to," cried she.

"You are taking it coolly," said he. "Then why try to work yourself up into a fit of hysterics? The thing is of no importance--except that you're free now--will never be bothered by Siddall again. You ought to thank me, and forget it. Don't be one of the little people who are forever agitating about trifles."

Trifles! To speak of such things as trifles! And yet-- Well, what did they actually amount to in her life? "Yes, I am free," she said thoughtfully. "I've got what I wanted--got it in the easiest way possible."

"That's better," said he approvingly.

"And I've burnt my bridges behind me," pursued she. "There's nothing for me now but to go ahead."

"Which road?" inquired he carelessly.

"The career," cried she. "There's no other for me. Of course I could marry Stanley, when he's free, as he would be before very long, if I suggested it. Yes, I could marry him."

"Could you?" observed he.

"Doesn't he love me?"

"Undoubtedly."

"Then why do you say he would not marry me?" demanded she.

"Did I say that?"

"You insinuated it. You suggested that there was a doubt."

"Then, there is no doubt?"

"Yes, there is," she cried angrily. "You won't let me enjoy the least bit of a delusion. He might marry me if I were famous. But as I am now-- He's an inbred snob. He can't help it. He simply couldn't marry a woman in my position. But you're overlooking one thing--that I would not marry him."

"That's unimportant, if true," said Keith.

"You don't believe it?"

"I don't care anything about it, my dear lady," said Keith. "Have you got time to waste in thinking about how much I am in love with you? What a womanly woman you are, to be sure. Your true woman, you know, never thinks of anything but love--not how much she loves, but how much she is loved."

"Be careful!" she warned. "Some day you'll go too far in saying outrageous things to me."

"And then?" said he smilingly.

"You care nothing for our friendship?"

"The experiment is the only interest I have in you," replied he.

"That is not true," said she. "You have always liked me. That's why you looked up my hus-- General Siddal{sic} and got ready for him. That's why you saved me to-day. You are a very tender-hearted and generous man--and you hide it as you do everything else about yourself."

He was looking off into space from the depths of the easy chair, a mocking smile on his classical, impassive face.

"What puzzles me," she went on, "is why you interest yourself in as vain and shallow and vacillating a woman as I am. You don't care for my looks--and that's all there is to me."

"Don't pause to be contradicted," said he.

She was in a fine humor now. "You might at least have said I was up to the female average, for I am. What have they got to offer a man but their looks? Do you know why I despise men?"

"Do you?"

"I do. And it's because they put up with women as much as they do--spend so much money on them, listen to their chatter, admire their ridiculous clothes. Oh, I understand why. I've learned that. And I can imagine myself putting up with anything in some one man I happened to fancy strongly. But men are foolish about the whole sex--or all of them that have a shadow of a claim to good looks."

"Yes, the men make fools of themselves," admitted he. "But I notice that the men manage somehow to make the careers, and hold on to the money and the power, while the women have to wheedle and fawn and submit in order to get what they want from the men. There's nothing to be said for your sex. It's been hopelessly corrupted by mine. For all the talk about the influence of woman, what impression has your sex made upon mine? And your sex--it has been made by mine into exactly what we wished it to be. Take my advice, get out of your sex. Abandon it, and make a career."

After a while she recalled with a start the events of less than an hour ago--events that ought to have seemed wildly exciting, arousing the deepest and strongest emotions. Yet they had made no impression upon her. Absolutely none. She had no horror in the thought that she had been the victim of a bigamist; she had no elation over her release into freedom and safety. She wondered whether this arose from utter frivolousness or from indifference to the trifles of conventional joys, sorrows, agitations, excitements which are the whole life of most people--that indifference which is the cause of the general opinion that men and women who make careers are usually hardened in the process.

As she lay awake that night--she had got a very bad habit of lying awake hour after hour--she suddenly came to a decision. But she did not tell Keith for several days. She did it in this way:

"Don't you think I'm looking better?" she asked.

"You're sleeping again," said he.

"Do you know why? Because my mind's at rest. I've decided to accept your offer."

"And my terms?" said he, apparently not interested by her announcement.

"And your terms," assented she. "You are free to stop whenever the whim strikes you; I must do exactly as you bid. What do you wish me to do?"

"Nothing at present," replied he. "I will let you know."

She was disappointed. She had assumed that something-- something new and interesting, probably irritating, perhaps enraging, would occur at once. His indifference, his putting off to a future time, which his manner made seem most hazily indefinite, gave her the foolish and collapsing sense of having broken through an open door.