Chapter III. The Famous Conrad Lagrange
 

When the young man reached the hotel, he went at once to his room, where he passed the time between the hour of his arrival and the evening meal.

Upon his return to the lobby, the first object that attracted his eyes was the uncouth figure of the man whom he had seen at the depot, and who had directed him to the hotel.

That oddly appearing individual, his brier pipe still in his mouth and the Irish Setter at his feet, was standing--or rather lounging--at the clerk's counter, bending over the register; an attitude which--making his skeleton-like form more round shouldered than ever--caused him to present the general outlines of a rude interrogation point.

In the dining-room, a few minutes later, the two men sat at adjoining tables; and the young man heard his neighbor bullying the waiters and commenting in an audible undertone, upon every dish that was served to him--swearing by all the heathen gods, known and unknown, that there was nothing fit to eat in the house; and that if it were not for the fact that there was no place else in the cursed town that served half so good, he would not touch a mouthful in the place. Then, to the other's secret amusement he fell to right heartily and made an astonishing meal of the really excellent viands he had so roundly vilified.

Dinner over, the young man went with his cigar to the long veranda; intent upon enjoying the restful quiet of the evening after the tiresome days on the train. Carrying a chair to an unoccupied corner, he had his cigar just nicely under way when the Irish Setter--with all the dignity of his royal blood--approached. Resting a seal-brown head, with its long silky ears, confidently upon the stranger's knee, the dog looked up into the man's face with an expression of hearty good-fellowship in his soft, golden-brown eyes that was irresistible.

"Good dog," said the man, heartily, "good old fellow," and stroked the sleek head and neck, affectionately.

A whiff of pipe smoke drifted over his shoulder, and he looked around. The dog's master stood just behind him; regarding him with that quizzing, half pathetic, half humorous, and altogether cynical expression.

The young man who had been so unresponsive to the advances of his fellow passengers, for some reason--unknown, probably, to himself--now took the initiative. "You have a fine dog here, sir," he said encouragingly.

Without replying, the other turned away and in another moment returned with a chair; whereupon the dog, with slightly waving, feathery tail, transferred his attention to his master.

Caressing the seal-brown head with a gentle hand, and apparently speaking to the soft eyes that looked up at him so understandingly, the man said, "If the human race was fit to associate with such dogs, the world would be a more comfortable place to live in." The deep voice that rumbled up from some unguessed depths of that sunken chest was remarkable in its suggestion of a virile power that the general appearance of the man seemed to deny. Facing his companion suddenly, he asked with a direct bluntness, "Are you not Aaron King--son of the Aaron King of New England political fame?"

Under the searching gaze of those green-gray eyes, the young man flushed. "Yes; my father was active in New England politics," he answered simply. "Did you know him?"

"Very well"--returned the other--"very well." He repeated the two words with a suggestive emphasis; his eyes--with that curious, baffling, questioning look--still fixed upon his companion's face.

The red in Aaron King's cheeks deepened.

Looking away, the strange man added, with a softer note in his rough voice, "I thought I knew you, when I saw you at the depot. Your mother and I were boy and girl together. There is a little of her face in yours. If you have as much of her character, you are to be congratulated--and--so are the rest of us." The last words were spoken, apparently, to the dog; who, still looking up at him, seemed to express with slow-waving tail, an understanding of thoughts that were only partly put into words.

There was an impersonality in the man's personalities that made it impossible for the subject of his observations to take offense.

Aaron King--when it was evident that the man had no thought of introducing himself--said, with the fine courtesy that seemed always to find expression in his voice and manner, "May I ask your name, sir?"

The other, without turning his eyes from the dog, answered, "Conrad Lagrange."

The young man smiled. "I am very pleased to meet you, Mr. Lagrange. Surely, you are not the famous novelist of that name?"

"And why, 'surely not'?" retorted the other, again turning his face quickly toward his companion. "Am I not distinguished enough in appearance? Do I look like the mob? True, I am a scrawny, humpbacked crooked-faced, scarecrow of a man--but what matters that, if I do not look like the mob? What is called fame is as scrawny and humpbacked and crooked-faced as my body--but what matters that? Famous or infamous--to not look like the mob is the thing."

It is impossible to put in print the peculiar humor of pathetic regret, of sarcasm born of contempt, of intolerant intellectual pride, that marked the last sentence, which was addressed to the dog, as though the speaker turned from his human companion to a more worthy listener.

When Aaron King could find no words to reply, the novelist shot another question at him, with startling suddenness. "Do you read my books?"

The other began a halting answer to the effect that everybody read Conrad Lagrange's books. But the distinguished author interrupted; "Don't take the trouble to lie--out of politeness. I shall ask you to tell me about them and you will be in a hole."

The young man laughed as he said, with straight-forward frankness, "I have read only one, Mr. Lagrange."

"Which one?"

"The--ah--why--the one, you know--where the husband of one woman falls in love with the wife of another who is in love with the husband of some one else. Pshaw!--what is the title? I mean the one that created such a furore, you know."

"Yes"--said the man, to his dog--"O yes, Czar--I am the famous Conrad Lagrange. I observe"--he added, turning to the other, with twinkling eyes--"I observe, Mr. King, that you really do have a good bit of your mother's character. That you do not read my books is a recommendation that I, better than any one, know how to appreciate." The light of humor went from his face, suddenly, as it had come. Again he turned away; and his deep voice was gentle as he continued, "Your mother is a rare and beautiful spirit, sir. Knowing her regard for the true and genuine,--her love for the pure and beautiful,--I scarcely expected to find her son interested in the realism of my fiction. I congratulate you, young man"--he paused; then added with indescribable bitterness--"that you have not read my books."

For a few moments, Aaron King did not answer. At last, with quiet dignity, he said, "My mother was a remarkable woman, Mr. Lagrange."

The other faced him quickly. "You say was? Do you mean--?"

"My mother is dead, sir. I was called home from abroad by her illness."

For a little, the older man sat looking into the gathering dusk. Then, deliberately, he refilled his brier pipe, and, rising, said to his dog, "Come, Czar--it's time to go."

Without a word of parting to his human companion with the dog moving sedately by his side, he disappeared into the darkness of the night.

       *       *       *       *       *

All the next day, Aaron King--in the hotel dining-room, the lobby, and on the veranda--watched for the famous novelist. Even on the streets of the little city, he found himself hoping to catch a glimpse of the uncouth figure and the homely, world-worn face of the man whose unusual personality had so attracted him. The day was nearly gone when Conrad Lagrange again appeared. As on the evening before, the young man was smoking his after-dinner cigar on the veranda, when the Irish Setter and a whiff of pipe smoke announced the strange character's presence.

Without taking a seat, the novelist said, "I always have a look at the mountains, at this time of the day, Mr. King--would you care to come? These mountains are the real thing, you know, and well worth seeing--particularly at this hour." There was a gentle softness in his deep voice, now--as unlike his usual speech as his physical appearance was unlike that of his younger companion.

Aaron King arose quickly. "Thank you, Mr, Lagrange; I will go with pleasure."

Accompanied by the dog, they followed the avenue, under the giant pepper trees that shut out the sky with their gnarled limbs and gracefully drooping branches, to the edge of the little city; where the view to the north and northeast was unobstructed by houses. Just where the street became a road, Conrad Lagrange--putting his hand upon his companion's arm--said in a low voice, "This is the place."

Behind them, beautiful Fairlands lay, half lost, in its wilderness of trees and flowers. Immediately in the foreground, a large tract of unimproved land brought the wild grasses and plants to their very feet. Beyond these acres--upon which there were no trees--the orange groves were massed in dark green blocks and squares; with, here and there, thin rows of palms; clumps of peppers; or tall, plume-like eucalyptus; to mark the roads and the ranch homes. Beyond this--and rising, seemingly, out of the groves--the San Bernardinos heaved their mighty masses into the sky. It was almost dark. The city's lamps were lighted. The outlines of grove and garden were fast being lost in the deepening dusk. The foothills, with the lower spurs and ridges of the mountains, were softly modeled in dark blue against the deeper purple of the canyons and gorges. Upon the cloudless sky that was lighted with clearest saffron, the lines of the higher crests were sharply drawn; while the lonely, snow-capped peaks,--ten thousand feet above the darkening valley below,--catching the last rays of the sun, glowed rose-pink--changing to salmon--deepening into mauve--as the light failed.

Aaron King broke the silence by drawing a long breath--as one who could find no words to express his emotions.

Conrad Lagrange spoke sadly; "And to think that there are,--in this city of ten thousand,--probably, nine thousand nine hundred and ninety people who never see it."

With a short laugh, the young man said, "It makes my fingers fairly itch for my palette and brushes--though it's not at all my sort of thing."

The other turned toward him quickly. "You are an artist?"

"I had just completed my three years study abroad when mother's illness brought me home. I was fortunate enough to get one on the line, and they say--over there--that I had a good chance. I don't know how it will go here at home." There was a note of anxiety in his voice.

"What do you do?"

"Portraits."

With his face again toward the mountains, the novelist said thoughtfully, "This West country will produce some mighty artists, Mr. King. By far the greater part of this land must remain, always, in its primitive naturalness. It will always be easier, here, than in the city crowded East, for a man to be himself. There is less of that spirit which is born of clubs and cliques and clans and schools--with their fine-spun theorizing, and their impudent assumption that they are divinely commissioned to sit in judgment. There is less of artistic tea-drinking, esthetic posing, and soulful talk; and more opportunity for that loneliness out of which great art comes. The atmosphere of these mountains and deserts and seas inspires to a self-assertion, rather than to a clinging fast to the traditions and culture of others--and what, after all, is a great artist, but one who greatly asserts himself?"

The younger man answered in a like vein; "Mr. Lagrange, your words recall to my mind a thought in one of mother's favorite books. She quoted from the volume so often that, as a youngster, I almost knew it by heart, and, in turn, it became my favorite. Indeed, I think that, with mother's aid as an interpreter, it has had more influence upon my life than any other one book. This is the thought: 'To understand the message of the mountains; to love them for what they are; and, in terms of every-day life, to give expression to that understanding and love--is a mark of true greatness of soul.' I do not know the author. The book is anonymous."

"I am the author of that book, sir," the strange man answered with simple dignity, "--or, rather,--I should say,--I was the author," he added, with a burst of his bitter, sarcastic humor. "For God's sake don't betray me. I am, now, the famous Conrad Lagrange, you understand. I have a name to protect." His deep voice was shaken with feeling. His worn and rugged features twitched and worked with emotion.

Aaron King listened in amazement to the words that were spoken by the famous novelist with such pathetic regret and stinging self-accusation. Not knowing how to reply, he said casually, "You are working here, Mr. Lagrange?"

"Working! Me? I don't work anywhere. I am a literary scavenger. I haunt the intellectual slaughter pens, and live by the putrid offal that self-respecting writers reject. I glean the stinking materials for my stories from the sewers and cesspools of life. For the dollars they pay, I furnish my readers with those thrills that public decency forbids them to experience at first hand. I am a procurer for the purposes of mental prostitution. My books breed moral pestilence and spiritual disease. The unholy filth I write fouls the minds and pollutes the imaginations of my readers. I am an instigator of degrading immorality and unmentionable crimes. Work! No, young man, I don't work. Just now, I'm doing penance in this damned town. My rotten imaginings have proven too much--even for me--and the doctors sent me West to recuperate,"

The artist could find no words that would answer. In silence, the two men turned away from the mountains, and started back along the avenue by which they had come.

When they had walked some little distance, the young man said, "This is your first visit to Fairlands, Mr. Lagrange?"

"I was here last year"--answered the other--"here and in the hills yonder. Have you been much in the mountains?"

"Not in California. This is my first trip to the West. I have seen something of the mountains, though, at tourist resorts--abroad."

"Which means," commented the other, "that you have never seen them at all."

Aaron King laughed. "I dare say you are right."

"And you--?" asked the novelist, abruptly, eyeing his companion. "What brought you to this community that thinks so much more of its millionaires than it does of its mountains? Have you come to Fairlands to work?"

"I hope to," answered the artist. "There are--there are reasons why I do not care to work, for the present, in the East. I confess it was because I understood that Fairlands offered exceptional opportunities for a portrait painter that I came here. To succeed in my work, you know, one must come in touch with people of influence. It is sometimes easier to interest them when they are away from their homes--in some place like this--where their social duties and business cares are not so pressing."

"There is no question of the material that Fairlands has to offer, Mr. King," returned the novelist, in his grim, sarcastic humor. "God! how I envy you!" he added, with a flash of earnest passion. "You are young--You are beginning your life work--You are looking forward to success--You--"

"I must succeed"--the painter interrupted impetuously--"I must."

"Succeed in what? What do you mean by success?"

"Surely, you should understand what I mean by success," the younger man retorted. "You who have gained--"

"Oh, yes; I forgot"--came the quick interruption--"I am the famous Conrad Lagrange. Of course, you, too, must succeed. You must become the famous Aaron King. But perhaps you will tell me why you must, as you call it, succeed?"

The artist hesitated before answering; then said with anxious earnestness, "I don't think I can explain Mr. Lagrange. My mother--" he paused.

The older man stopped short, and, turning, stood for a little with his face towards the mountains where San Bernardino's pyramid-like peak was thrust among the stars. When he spoke, every bit of that bitter humor was gone from his deep voice. "I beg your pardon, Mr. King"--he said slowly--"I am as ugly and misshapen in spirit as in body."

But when they had walked some way--again in silence--and were drawing near the hotel, the momentary change in his mood passed. In a tone of stinging sarcasm he said. "You are on the right road, Mr. King. You did well to come to Fairlands. It is quite evident that you have mastered the modern technic of your art. To acquire fame, you have only to paint pictures of fast women who have no morals at all--making them appear as innocent maidens, because they have the price to pay, and, in the eyes of the world, are of social importance. Put upon your canvases what the world will call portraits of distinguished citizens--making low-browed money--thugs to look like noble patriots, and bloody butchers of humanity like benevolent saints. You need give yourself no uneasiness about your success. It is easy. Get in with the right people; use your family name and your distinguished ancestors; pull a few judicious advertising wires; do a few artistic stunts; get yourself into the papers long and often, no matter how; make yourself a fad; become a pet of the social autocrats--and your fame is assured. And--you will be what I am."

The young man, quietly ignoring the humor of the novelist's words, said protestingly, "But, surely, to portray human nature is legitimate art, Mr. Lagrange. Your great artists that the West is to produce will not necessarily be landscape painters or write essays upon nature, will they?"

"To portray human nature is legitimate work for an artist, yes"--agreed the novelist--"but he must portray human nature plus. The forces that shape human nature are the forces that must be felt in the picture and in the story. That these determining forces are so seldom seen by the eyes of the world, is the reason for pictures and stories. The artist who fails to realize for his world the character-creating elements in the life which he essays to paint or write, fails, to just that degree, in being an artist; or is self-branded by his work as criminally careless, a charlatan or a liar. That one who, for a price, presents a picture or a story without regard for the influence of his production upon the characters of those who receive it, commits a crime for which human law provides no adequate punishment. Being the famous Conrad Lagrange, you understand, I have the right to say this. You will probably believe it, some day--if you do not now. That is, you will believe it if you have the soul and the intelligence of an artist--if you have not--it will not matter--and you will be happy in your success."

As the novelist finished speaking, the two men arrived at the hotel steps, where they halted, with that indecision of chance acquaintances who have no plans beyond the passing moment, yet who, in mutual interest, would extend the time of their brief companionship. While they stood there, each hesitating to make the advance, a big touring car rolled up the driveway, and stopped under the full light of the veranda. Aaron King recognized the lady of the observation car platform, with her two traveling companions and the heavy-faced man who had met them at the depot. As the party greeted the novelist and he returned their salutation, the artist turned away to find again the chair, where, an hour before, the strange character who was to play so large a part in his life and work had found him. The dog, Czar, as if preferring the companionship of the artist to the company of those who were engaging his master's attention, followed the young man.

From where he sat, the painter could see the tall, uncouth figure of the famous novelist standing beside the automobile, while the occupants of the car were, apparently, absorbingly interested in what he was saying. The beautiful face of the woman was brightly animated as she evidently took the lead in the conversation. The artist could see her laughing and shaking her head. Once, he even heard her speak the writer's name; whereupon, every lounger upon the veranda, within hearing, turned to observe the party with curious interest. Several times, the young man noted that she glanced in his direction, half inquiringly, with a suggestion of being pleased, as though she were glad to have seen him in company with her celebrated friend. Then the man who held so large a place in the eyes of the world drew back, lifting his hat; the automobile started forward; the party called, "Good night." The woman's voice rose clear--so that the spectators might easily understand--"Remember, Mr. Lagrange--I shall expect you Thursday--day after to-morrow."

As Conrad Lagrange came up the hotel steps, the eyes of all were upon him; but he--apparently unconscious of the company--went straight to the artist; where, without a word, he dropped into the vacant chair by the young man's side, and began thoughtfully refilling his brier pipe. Flipping the match over the veranda railing, and expelling a prodigious cloud of smoke, the novelist said grimly, "And there--my fellow artist--go your masters. I trust you observed them with proper reverence. I would have introduced you, but I do not like to take the initiative in such outrages. That will come soon enough. The young should be permitted to enjoy their freedom while they may."

Aaron King laughed. "Thank you for your consideration," he returned, "but I do not think I am in any immediate danger."

"Which"--the other retorted dryly--"betrays either innocence, caution, or an unusual understanding of life. I am not, now, prepared to say whether you know too much or too little."

"I confess to a degree of curiosity," said the artist. "I traveled in the same Pullman with three of the party. May I ask the names of your friends?"

The other answered in his bitterest vein; "I have no friends, Mr. King--I have only admirers. As for their names"--he continued--"there is no reason why I should withhold either who they are or what they are. Besides, I observed that the reigning 'Goddess' in the realm of 'Modern Art' has her eye upon you, already. As I shall very soon be commanded to drag you to her 'Court,' it is well for you to be prepared."

The young man laughed as the other paused to puff vigorously at his brier pipe.

"That red-faced, bull-necked brute, is James Rutlidge, the son and heir of old Jim Rutlidge," continued the novelist. "Jim inherited a few odd millions from his father, and killed himself spending them in unmentionable ways. The son is most worthily carrying out his father's mission, with bright prospects of exceeding his distinguished parent's fondest dreams. But, unfortunately, he is hampered by lack of adequate capital--the bulk of the family wealth having gone with the old man."

"Do you mean James Rutlidge--the great critic?" exclaimed Aaron King, with increased interest.

"The same," answered the other, with his twisted smile. "I thought you would recognize his name. As an artist, you will undoubtedly have much to do with him. His friendship is one of the things that are vital to your success. Believe me, his power in modern art is a red-faced, bull-necked power that you will do well to recognize. Of his companions," he went on, "the horrible example is Edward J. Taine--friend and fellow martyr of James Rutlidge, Senior. Satan, perhaps, can explain how he has managed to outlive his partner. His home is in New York, but he has a big house on Fairlands Heights, with large orange groves in this district. He comes here winters for his health. He'll die before long. The effervescing young creature is his daughter, Louise--by his first wife. The 'Goddess'--who is not much older than his daughter--is the present Mrs. Taine."

"His wife!"

The artist's exclamation drew a sarcastic chuckle from the other. "I am prepared, now, to testify to your unworldly innocence of heart and mind," he gibed. "And, pray, why not his wife? You see, she was the ward of old Rutlidge--a niece, it is said. Mrs. Rutlidge--as you have no doubt heard--killed herself. It was shortly after her death that Jim took this little one into his home. She and young Jim grew up together. What was more natural or fitting than that her guardian--when he was about to depart from this sad world where human flesh is not able to endure an unlimited amount of dissipation--should give the girl as a lively souvenir to his bosom friend and companion of his unmentionable deviltries? The transaction also enabled him, you understand, to draw upon the Taine millions; and so permitted him to finish his distinguished career with credit. You, with your artist's extravagant fancy, have, no doubt, been thinking of her as fashioned for love. I assure you she knows better. The world in which she has been schooled has left her no hazy ideas as to what she was made for."

"I have heard of the Taines," said the younger man, thoughtfully. "I suppose this is the same family. They are very prominent in the social world, and quite generous patrons of the arts?"

"In the eyes of the world," said the novelist, "they are the noblest of our Nobility. They dwell in the rarefied atmosphere of millions. By the dollarless multitudes they are envied. They assume to be the cultured of the cultured. Patrons of the arts! Why, man, they have autographed copies of all my books! They and their kind feed me and my kind. They will feed you, sir, or by God you'll starve! But you need have no fear that the crust of genius will be your portion," he added meaningly. "As I remarked--the 'Goddess' has her eye upon you."

"And why do you so distinguish the lady?" asked the artist, quietly amused--with just a hint of well-bred condescension. "Has Mrs. Taine such powerful influence in the world of art?"

If Conrad Lagrange noticed his companion's manner he passed it by. "I perceive," he said, "that you are still somewhat lacking in the rudiments of your profession. The statement of faith adhered to by modern climbers on the ladder of fame--such as I have been, and you aspire to be--is that 'Pull' wins. Our creed is 'Graft.' By 'Influence' we stand, by 'Influence' we fall. It pleases Mrs. Taine to be, in the world of art, a lobbyist. She knows the insides of the inside rings and cliques and committees that say what is, and what is not, art; that declare who shall be, and who shall not be, artists. She has power with those who, in their might, grant position and place in the halls of fame; as their kinsmen in the political world pass the plums to those who court their favor. The great critics who thunder anathemas at the poor devils who are outside, eat out of her hand. Jim Rutlidge and his unholy crew are at her beck and call. Jim, you see, needing all he can get of the Taine millions, hopes to marry Louise. You can scarcely blame the young and beautiful Mrs. Taine for not being interested in her husband--who is going to die so soon. The poor girl must have some amusement, so she interests herself in art, don't you know. She gives more dinners to artists and critics; buys more pictures and causes more pictures to be bought; mothers more art-culture clubs; discovers more new and startling geniuses; in short, has a larger and better trained company of lions than any one else in the business. She deals in lions. It's her fad to collect them--same as others collect butterflies or postage stamps. She has one other fad that is less harmful and just as deceptive--a carefully nourished reputation for prudery. I sometimes think the Gods must laugh or choke. That woman would no more speak to you without a proper introduction than she would appear on the street without shoes or stockings. She has never been seen in an evening gown. Her beautiful shoulders have never been immodestly bared to the eyes of the world."

The artist thought of that moment on the observation car platform.

Presently, the novelist--refilling his pipe--said whimsically, "Some day, Mr. King, I shall write a true story. It shall be a novel of to-day, with characters drawn from life; and these characters, in my story, shall bear the names of the forces that have made them what they are and which they, in turn, have come to represent. I mean those forces that are so coloring and shaping the life and thought of this age."

"That ought to be interesting," said the other, "but I am not quite sure that I understand."

"Probably you don't. You have not been thinking much of these things. You have your eye upon Fame, and that old witch lives in another direction. To illustrate--our bull-necked friend and illustrious critic, James Rutlidge, in my story, will be named 'Sensual.' His distinguished father was one 'Lust.' The horrible example, Mr. Edward Taine,--boon companion of 'Lust,'--is 'Materialism'."

"Good!" laughed the artist. "I see; go on. Who is the daughter of 'Materialism?'"

"'Ragtime'," promptly returned the novelist, with a grin. "Who else could she be?"

"And Mrs. Taine?" urged the other.

The novelist responded quickly; "Why, the reigning 'Goddess' in the realm of 'Modern Art,' is 'The Age,' of course. Do you see? 'The Age' given over to 'Materialism' for base purposes by his companion, 'Lust.' And you----" he paused.

"Go on," cried the young man, "who or what am I in your story?"

"You, sir,"--answered Conrad Lagrange, seriously,--"in my story of modern life, represent Art. It remains to be seen whether 'The Age' will add you to her collection, or whether some other influence will intervene."

"And you"--persisted the artist--"surely you are in the story."

"I am very much in the story," the other answered. "My name is 'Civilization.' My story will be published when I am dead. I have a reputation to sustain, you know."

Aaron King was not laughing, now. Something, that lay deep hidden beneath the rude exterior of the man, made itself felt in his deep voice. Some powerful force, underlying his whimsical words, gripped the artist's mind--compelling him to search for hidden meanings in the novelist's fanciful suggestions.

A few moments passed in silence before the young man said slowly, "I met a character, yesterday, Mr. Lagrange, that might be added to your cast."

"There are several that will be added to my cast," the other answered dryly.

To which the painter returned, "Did you notice that woman with the disfigured face, at the depot?"

Conrad Lagrange looked at his companion, quickly. "Yes."

"Do you know her?" questioned the artist.

"No. Why do you ask?"

"Only because she interested me, and because she seemed to know your friends--Mr. Rutlidge and Mrs. Taine."

The novelist knocked the ashes from his pipe by tapping it on the veranda railing. The action seemed to express a peculiar mental effort; as though he were striving to recall something that had gone from his memory. "I saw what happened at the depot, of course," he said slowly. "I have seen the woman before. She lives here in Fairlands. Her name is Miss Willard. No one seems to know much about her. I can't get over the impression that I ought to know her--that I have met and known her somewhere years ago. Her manner, yesterday, at seeing Mrs. Taine, was certainly very strange." As if to free his mind from the unsuccessful effort to remember, he rose to his feet. "But why should she be added to the characters in my novel, Mr. King? What does she represent?"

"Her name,"--said the artist,--"in your study of life, is suggested by her face--so beautiful on the one side--so distorted on the other--her name should be 'Symbol'."

"There really is hope for you," returned the older man, with his quizzing smile. "Good night. Come, Czar." He passed into the hotel--the dog at his heels.

It was two days later--Thursday--that Conrad Lagrange made his memorable visit to the Taines--memorable, in my story, because, at that time, Mrs. Taine gave such unmistakable evidence of her interest in Aaron King and his future.