Half A Rogue (preview)

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Half a Rogue Chapter I It was Warrington's invariable habit--when no business or social engagement pressed him to go elsewhere--to drop into a certain quaint little restaurant just off Broadway for his dinners. It was out of the way; the throb and rattle of the great commercial artery became like the far-off murmur of the sea, restful rather than annoying. He always made it a point to dine alone, undisturbed. Neither the proprietor nor his silent-footed waiters had the slightest idea who Warrington was. To them he was simply a profitable customer who signified that he dined there in order to be alone. His table was up stairs. Below, there was always the usual dinner crowd till theater time; and the music had the faculty of luring his thoughts astray, being, as he was, fonder of music than of work. As a matter of fact, it was in this little restaurant that he winnowed the day's ideas, revamped scenes, trimmed the rough edges of his climaxes, revised this epigram or rejected this or that line; all on the backs of envelopes and on the margins of newspapers. In his den at his bachelor apartments, he worked; but here he dreamed, usually behind the soothing, opalescent veil of Madame Nicotine. What a marvelous thing a good after-dinner cigar is! In the smoke of it the poor man sees his ships come in, the poet sees his muse beckoning with hands full of largess, the millionaire reverts to his early struggles, and the lover sees his divinity in a thousand graceful poses. To-night, however, Warrington's cigar was without magic. He was out of sorts. Things had gone wrong at the rehearsal that morning. The star had demanded the removal of certain lines which gave the leading man an opportunity to shine in the climax of the third act. He had labored a whole month over this climax, and he revolted at the thought of changing it to suit the whim of a capricious woman. Everybody had agreed that this climax was the best the young dramatist had yet constructed. A critic who had been invited to a reading had declared that it lacked little of being great. And at this late hour the star wanted it changed in order to bring her alone in the lime-light! It was preposterous. As Warrington was on the first wave of popularity, the business manager and the stage manager both agreed to leave the matter wholly in the dramatist's hands. He resolutely declined to make a single alteration in the scene. There was a fine storm. The star declared that if the change was not made at once she would leave the company. In making this declaration she knew her strength. Her husband was rich; a contract was nothing to her. There was not another actress of her ability to be found; the season was too late. There was not another woman available, nor would any other manager lend one. As the opening performance was but two weeks hence, you will realize why Warrington's mood this night was anything but amiable. He scowled at his cigar. There was always something, some sacrifice to make, and seldom for art's sake. It is all very well to witness a play from the other side of the footlights; everything appears to work out so smoothly, easily and without effort. To this phenomenon is due the amateur dramatist--because it looks simple. A play is not written; it is built, like a house. In most cases the dramatist is simply the architect. The novelist has comparatively an easy road to travel. The dramatist is beset from all sides, now the business manager--that is to say, the boxoffice--now the stage manager, now the star, now the leading man or woman. Jealousy's green eyes peer from behind every scene. The dramatist's ideal, when finally presented to the public, resembles those mutilated marbles that decorate the museums of Rome and Naples. Only there is this difference: the public can easily imagine what the sculptor was about, but seldom the dramatist. Warrington was a young man, tolerably good-looking, noticeably well set up. When they have good features, a cleft chin and a generous nose, clean-shaven men are good to look at. He had fine eyes, in the corners of which always lurked mirth and mischief; for he possessed above all things an inexhaustible fund of dry humor. His lines seldom provoked rough laughter; rather, silent chuckles. Warrington's scowl abated none. In business, women were generally nuisances; they were always taking impossible stands. He would find some way out; he was determined not to submit to the imperious fancies of an actress, however famous she might be. "Sir, will you aid a lady in distress?" The voice was tremulous, but as rich in tone as the diapason of an organ. Warrington looked up from his cigar to behold a handsome young woman standing at the side of his table. Her round, smooth cheeks were flushed, and on the lower lids of her splendid dark eyes tears of shame trembled and threatened to fall. Behind her stood a waiter, of impassive countenance, who was adding up the figures on a check, his movement full of suggestion. The dramatist understood the situation at once. The young lady had ordered dinner, and, having eaten it, found that she could not pay for it. It was, to say the least, a trite situation. But what can a man do when a pretty woman approaches him and pleads for assistance? So Warrington rose. "What may the trouble be?" he asked coldly, for all that he instantly recognized her to be a person of breeding and refinement. "I--I have lost my purse, and I have no money to pay the waiter." She made this confession bravely and frankly. He looked about. They were alone. She interpreted his glance rather shrewdly. "There were no women to appeal to. The waiter refused to accept my word, and I really can't blame him. I had not even the money to send a messenger home." One of the trembling tears escaped and rolled down the blooming cheek. Warrington surrendered. He saw that this was an exceptional case. The girl was truly in distress. He knew his New York thoroughly; a man or woman without funds is treated with the finished cruelty with which the jovial Romans amused themselves with the Christians. Lack of money in one person creates incredulity in another. A penniless person is invariably a liar and a thief. Only one sort of person is pitied in New York: the person who has more money than she or he can possibly spend. The girl fumbled in her hand-bag and produced a card, which she gave to Warrington-"Katherine Challoner." He looked from the card to the girl and then back to the card. Somehow, the name was not wholly unfamiliar, but at that moment he could not place it. "Waiter, let me see the check," he said. It amounted to two dollars and ten cents. Warrington smiled. "Scarcely large enough to cause all this trouble," he added reassuringly. "I will attend to it." The waiter bowed and withdrew. So long as the check was paid he did not care who paid it. "Oh, it is so horribly embarrassing! What must you think of me?" She twisted her gloves with a nervous strength which threatened to rend them. "May I give you a bit of friendly advice?" he asked. She nodded, hiding the fall of the second tear. "Well, never dine alone in public; at any rate, in the evening. It is not wise for a woman to do so. She subjects herself to any number of embarrassments." She did not reply, and for a moment he believed that she was about to break down completely. He aimlessly brushed the cigar ashes from the tablecloth. He hated a scene in public. In the theater it was different; it was a part of the petty round of business to have the leading lady burst into tears when things didn't suit her. What fools women are in general! But the girl surprised him by holding up determinedly, and sinking her white teeth into her lips to smother the sob which rose in her throat. "Be seated," he said, drawing out the opposite chair. A wave of alarm spread over her face. She clasped her hands. "Sir, if you are a gentleman--" Warrington interrupted her by giving her his card, which was addressed. She glanced at it through a blur of tears, then sat down. He shrugged his shoulders slightly; his vanity was touched. There was, then, a young woman in New York who had not heard of Richard Warrington. "In asking you to be seated," he explained, "it was in order that you might wait in comfort while I despatched a messenger to your home. Doubtless you have a brother, a father, or some male relative, who will come at once to your assistance." This proved that Warrington was prudent. But instead of brightening as he expected she would, she straightened in her chair, while her eyes widened with horror, as if she saw something frightful in perspective. What the deuce could be the matter now? He wondered, as he witnessed this inexplicable change. "No, no! You must not send a messenger!" she protested. "But--" "No, no!" tears welling into her beautiful eyes again. They were beautiful, he was forced to admit. "But," he persisted, "you wished the waiter to do so. I do not understand." His tone became formal again. "I have reasons. Oh, heavens! I am the most miserable woman in all the world!" She suddenly bowed her head upon her hands and her shoulders rose and fell with silent sobs. Warrington stared at her, dumfounded. NOW what? He glanced cautiously around as if in search of some avenue of escape. The waiter, ever watchful, assumed that he was wanted, and made as though to approach the table; but Warrington warned him off. All distrust in the girl vanished. Decidedly she was in great trouble of some sort, and it wasn't because she could not pay a restaurant check. Women--and especially New York women--do not shed tears when a stranger offers to settle for their dinner checks. "If you will kindly explain to me what the trouble is," visibly embarrassed, "perhaps I can help you. Have you run away from home?" he asked. A negative nod. "Are you married?" Another negative nod. Warrington scratched his chin. "Have you done anything wrong?" A decided negative shake of the head. At any other time the gesticulation of the ostrich plume, so close to his face, would have amused him; but there was something eminently pathetic in the diapasm which drifted toward him from the feather. "Come, come; you may trust me thoroughly. If you are afraid to return home alone--" He was interrupted by an affirmative nod this time. Possibly, he conjectured, the girl had started out to elope and had fortunately paused at the brink. "Will it help you at all if I go home with you?" he asked. His ear caught a muffled "Yes." Warrington beckoned to the waiter. "Order a cab at once," he said. The waiter hurried away, with visions of handsome tips. Presently the girl raised her head and sat up. Her eyes, dark as shadows in still waters, glistened. "Be perfectly frank with me; and if I can be of service to you, do not hesitate to command me." He eyed her thoughtfully. Everything attached to her person suggested elegance. Her skin was as fine as vellum; her hair had a dash of golden bronze in it; her hands were white and shapely, and the horn on the tips of the fingers shone rosily. Now, what in the world was there to trouble a young woman who possessed these favors, who wore jewels on her fingers and sable on her shoulders? "Talk to me just as you would to a brother," he added presently. "You will take this ring," she said irrelevantly. She slipped a fine sapphire from one of her fingers and pushed it across the table. "And for what reason?" he cried. "Security for my dinner. I can not accept charity," with a hint of hauteur which did not in the least displease him. "But, my dear young woman, I can not accept this ring. You have my address. You may send the sum whenever you please. I see no reason why, as soon as you arrive home, you can not refund the small sum of two dollars and ten cents. It appears to me very simple." "There will be no one at home, not even the servants," wearily. Warrington's brows came together. Was the girl fooling him, after all? But for what reason? "You have me confused," he admitted. "I can do nothing blindly. Tell me what the trouble is." "How can I tell you, an absolute stranger? It is all so frightful, and I am so young!" Frightful? Young? He picked up his half-finished cigar, but immediately let it fall. He stole a look at his watch; it was seven. "Oh, I know what you must think of me," despairingly. "Nobody believes in another's real misfortune in this horrid city. There are so many fraudulent methods used to obtain people's sympathies that every one has lost trust. I had no money when I entered here; but outside it was so dark. Whenever I stopped, wondering where I should go, men turned and stared at me. Once a policeman peered into my face suspiciously. And I dared not return home, I dared not! No, no; I promise not to embarrass you with any more tears." She brushed her eyes with a rapid movement. Warrington's success as a dramatist was due largely to his interest in all things that passed under his notice. Nothing was too trivial to observe. The tragic threads of human life, which escaped the eyes of the passing many or were ignored by them, always aroused his interest and attention; and more than once he had picked up one of these threads and followed it to the end. Out of these seemingly insignificant things he often built one of those breathless, nervegripping climaxes which had, in a few years' time, made him famous. In the present case he believed that he had stumbled upon something worthy his investigation. This handsome young woman, richly dressed, who dared not go home, who had jewels but no money--there was some mystery surrounding her, and he determined to find out what it was. And then, besides, for all that he was worldly, he was young and still believed in his Keats. "If, as you say, there is no one at your home, why do you fear to go there?" he asked, with some remnant of caution. "It is the horror of the place," shuddering; "the horror!" And indeed, at that moment, her face expressed horror. "Is it some one dead?" lowering his voice. "Dead?" with a flash of cold anger in her eyes. "Yes--to me, to truth, to honor; dead to everything that should make life worth the living. Oh, it is impossible to say more in this place, to tell you here what has happened this day to rob me of all my tender illusions. This morning I awoke happy, my heart was light; now, nothing but shame and misery!" She hid her eyes for a space behind the back of her hand. "I will take you home," he said simply. "You trust me?" "Why not? I am a man, and can take care of myself." "Thank you!" What a voice! It possessed a marvelous quality, low and penetrating, like the voices of great singers and actresses. Any woman with such a voice... Here the waiter returned to announce that a cab awaited them in the street below. Warrington paid the two checks, dropped a liberal tip, rose and got into his coat. The girl also rose, picked up his card, glanced carelessly at it, and put it into her hand-bag--a little gold-link affair worth many dinners. It was the voice and these evidences of wealth, more than anything else, that determined Warrington. Frauds were always perpetrated for money, and this exquisite creature had a small fortune on her fingers. Silently they left the restaurant, entered the cab, and went rolling out into Broadway. Warrington, repressing his curiosity, leaned back against the cushions. The girl looked dully ahead. What manner of tragedy was about to unfold itself to his gaze? The house was situated in Central Park, West. It was of modern architecture, a residence such as only rich men can afford to build. It was in utter gloom; not a single light could be seen at any window. It looked, indeed, as if tragedy sat enthroned within. Warrington's spine wrinkled a bit as he got out of the cab and offered his hand to the girl. Mute and mysterious as a sphinx, the girl walked to the steps, not even looking around to see if he was coming after her. Perhaps she knew the power of curiosity. Without hesitance she mounted the steps; he followed a step behind. At the door, however, she paused. He could hear her breath coming in quick gasps. Oddly enough, the recollection of some detective stories flashed through his mind. "What is it?" he asked. "Nothing, nothing; only I am afraid." She stooped; there was a grating sound, a click, and the door opened. Warrington was a man of courage, but he afterward confessed that it took all his nerve force to move his foot across the threshold. "Do not be frightened," she said calmly; "there is nothing but ghosts here to frighten any one." "Ghosts?" "Yes." "Have you brought me here to tell me a ghost story?" with an effort at lightness. What misery the girl's tones conveyed to his ears! "The ghosts of things that ought to, and should, have been; are not those the most melancholy?" She pressed a button and flooded the hallway with light. His keen eyes roving met nothing but signs of luxury. She led him into the library and turned on the lights. Not a servant anywhere in sight; the great house seemed absolutely empty. Not even the usual cat or dog came romping inquisitively into the room. The shelves of books stirred his sense of envy; what a den for a literary man to wander in! There were beautiful marbles, splendid paintings, taste and refinement visible everywhere. Warrington stood silently watching the girl as she took off her hat and carelessly tossed it on the reading-table. The Russian sables were treated with like indifference. The natural abundance of her hair amazed him; and what a figure, so elegant, rounded, and mature! The girl, without noticing him, walked the length of the room and back several times. Once or twice she made a gesture. It was not addressed to him, but to some conflict going on in her mind. He sat down on the edge of a chair and fell to twirling his hat, a sign that he was not perfectly at his ease. "I am wondering where I shall begin," she said. Warrington turned down his coat-collar, and the action seemed to relieve him of the sense of awkwardness. "Luxury!" she began, with a sweep of her hand which was full of majesty and despair. "Why have I chosen you out of all the thousands? Why should I believe that my story would interest you? Well, little as I have seen of the world, I have learned that woman does not go to woman in cases such as mine is." And then pathetically: "I know no woman to whom I might go. Women are like daws; their sympathy comes but to peck. Do you know what it is to be alone in a city? The desert is not loneliness; it is only solitude. True loneliness is to be found only in great communities. To be without a single friend or confidant, when thousand of beings move about you; to pour your sorrows into cold, unfeeling ears; to seek sympathy in blind eyes--that is loneliness. That is the loneliness that causes the heart to break." Warrington's eyes never left hers; he was fascinated. "Luxury!" she repeated bitterly. "Surrounding me with all a woman might desire--paintings that charm the eye, books that charm the mind, music that charms the ear. Money!" "Philosophy in a girl!" thought Warrington. His hat became motionless. "It is all a lie, a lie!" The girl struck her hands together, impotent in her wrath. It was done so naturally that Warrington, always the dramatist, made a mental note of the gesture. "I was educated in Paris and Berlin; my musical education was completed in Dresden. Like all young girls with music-loving souls, I was something of a poet. I saw the beautiful in everything; sometimes the beauty existed only in my imagination. I dreamed; I was happy. I was told that I possessed a voice such as is given to few. I sang before the Emperor of Austria at a private musicale. He complimented me. The future was bright indeed. Think of it; at twenty I retained all my illusions! I am now twenty-three, and not a single illusion is left. I saw but little of my father and mother, which is not unusual with children of wealthy parents. The first shock that came to my knowledge was the news that my mother had ceased to live with my father. I was recalled. There were no explanations. My father met me at the boat. He greeted my effusive caresses--caresses that I had saved for years!--with careless indifference. This was the second shock. What did it all mean? Where was my mother? My father did not reply. When I reached home I found that all the servants I had known in my childhood days were gone. From the new ones I knew that I should learn nothing of the mystery which, like a pall, had suddenly settled down upon me." She paused, her arms hanging listless at her sides, her gaze riveted upon a pattern in the rug at her feet. Warrington sat like a man of stone; her voice had cast a spell upon him. "I do not know why I tell you these things. It may weary you. I do not care. Madness lay in silence. I had to tell some one. This morning I found out all. My mother left my father because he was... a thief!" "A thief!" fell mechanically from Warrington's lips. "A thief, bold, unscrupulous; not the petty burglar, no. A man who has stolen funds intrusted to him for years; a man who has plundered the orphan and the widow, the most despicable of all men. My mother died of shame, and I knew nothing. My father left last night for South America, taking with him all the available funds, leaving me a curt note of explanation. I have neither money, friends, nor home. The newspapers as yet know nothing; but to-morrow, tomorrow! The banks have seized everything." She continued her story. Sometimes she was superb in her wrath; at others, abject in her misery. She seemed to pass through the whole gamut of the passions. And all this while it ran through Warrington's head--"What a theme for a play! What a voice!" He pitied the girl from the bottom of his heart; but what could he do for her other than offer her cold sympathy? He was ill at ease in the face of this peculiar tragedy. All at once the girl stopped and faced him, there was a smile on her lips, a smile that might be likened to a flash of sunlight on a wintry day. Directly the smile melted into a laugh, mellow, mischievous, reverberating. Warrington sat up stiffly in his chair. "I beg your pardon!" he said. The girl sat down before a small writing-table. She reached among some papers and finally found what she sought. "Mr. Warrington, all this has been in very bad taste; I frankly confess it. There are two things you may do: leave the house in anger, or remain to forgive me this imposition." "I fail to understand." He was not only angered, but bewildered. "I have deceived you." "You mean that you have lured me here by trick? That you have played upon my sympathies to gratify..." "Wait a moment," she interrupted proudly, her cheeks darkening richly. "A trick, it is true; but there are extenuating circumstances. What I have told you HAS happened, only it was not today or yesterday. Please remain seated till I have done. I AM poor; I WAS educated in the cities I have named; I have to earn my living." She rose and came over to his chair. She gave him a letter. "Read this; you will fully understand." Warrington experienced a mild chill as he saw a letter addressed to him, and his rude scribble at the bottom of it. Miss Challoner--I beg to state that I have neither the time nor the inclination to bother with amateur actresses. Richard Warrington. "It was scarcely polite, was it?" she asked, with a tinge of irony. "It was scarcely diplomatic, either, you will admit. I simply asked you for work. Surely, an honest effort to obtain employment ought not to be met with insolence." He stared dumbly at the evidence in his hand. He recalled distinctly the rage that was in his heart when he penned this note. The stage manager had lost some valuable manuscript that had to be rewritten from memory, the notes having been destroyed. "For weeks," said the girl, "I have tried to get a hearing. Manager after manager I sought; all refused to see me. I have suffered a hundred affronts, all in silence. Your manager I saw, but he referred me to you, knowing that probably I should never find you. But I was determined. So I wrote; that was your answer. I confess that at the time I was terribly angry, for courtesy is a simple thing and within reach of every one." To receive a lesson in manners from a young woman, when that young woman is handsome and talented, is not a very pleasant experience. But Warrington was, a thorough gentleman, and he submitted with grace. "I know that you are a busy man, that you are besieged with applications. You ought, at least, to have formal slips, such as editors have. I have confidence in my ability to act, the confidence which talent gives to all persons. After receiving your letter I was more than ever determined to see you. So I resorted to this subterfuge. It was all very distasteful to me; but I possess a vein of willfulness. This is not my home. It is the home of a friend who was kind enough to turn it over to me this night, relying upon my wit to bring about this meeting." "It was neatly done," was Warrington's comment. He was not angry now at all. In fact, the girl interested him tremendously. "I am rather curious to learn how you went about it." "You are not angry?" "I was." This seemed to satisfy her. "Well, first I learned where you were in the habit of dining. All day long a messenger has been following you. A telephone brought me to the restaurant. The rest you know. It was simple." "Very simple," laconically. "You listened and believed. I have been watching you. You believed everything I have told you. You have even been calculating how this scene might go in a play. Have I convinced you that I have the ability to act?" Warrington folded the letter and balanced it on his palm. "You have fooled me completely; that ought to be sufficient recommendation." "Thank you." But her eyes were eager with anxiety. "Miss Challoner, I apologize for this letter. I do more than that. I promise not to leave this house till you agree to call at the theater at ten to-morrow morning." He was smiling, and Warrington had a pleasant smile. He had an idea besides. "Good fortune put it into my head to follow you here. I see it all now, quite plainly. I am in a peculiar difficulty, and I honestly believe that you can help me out of it. How long would it take you to learn a leading part? In fact, the principal part?" "A week." "Have you had any experience?" "A short season out west in a stock company." "Good!" "And I love work." "Do not build any great hopes," he warned, "for your chance depends upon the whim of another woman. But you have my word and my good offices that something shall be put in your way. You will come at ten?" drawing on his gloves. "Promptly." "I believe that we both have been wise to-night; though it is true that a man dislikes being a fool and having it made manifest." "And how about the woman scorned?" with an enchanting smile. "It is kismet," he acknowledged. Chapter II Warrington laid down his pen, brushed his smarting eyes, lighted his pipe, and tilted back his chair. With his hands clasped behind his head, he fell into a waking dream, that familiar pastime of the creative mind. It was half after nine, and he had been writing steadily since seven. The scenario was done; the villain had lighted his last cigarette, the hero had put his arms protectingly around the heroine, and the irascible rich uncle had been brought to terms. All this, of course, figuratively speaking; for no one ever knew what the plot of that particular play was, insomuch as Warrington never submitted the scenario to his manager, an act which caused almost a serious rupture between them. But to-night his puppets were moving hither and thither across the stage, pulsing with life; they were making entrances and exits; developing this climax and that; with wit and satire, humor and pathos. It was all very real to the dreamer. The manuscript lay scattered about the top of his broad flat desk, and the floor beside the waste-basket was flaked with the remains of various futile lines and epigrams. The ash-pan was littered with burnt matches, ends of cigars and pipe tobacco, while the ash-crumbs speckled all dark objects, not excepting the green rug under his feet. Warrington smoked incessantly while at work, now a cigarette, now a cigar, now a pipe. Specialists declare with cold authoritative positiveness that the use of tobacco blunts the thought, dulls the edge of invention; but Warrington knew better. Many a night he had thrown his coat over his smoking-jacket and dashed down the street to the corner drug-store for a fresh supply of tobacco. He simply could not work without it. I do not know that he saw his heroes and heroines any plainer for the smoke; but I do know that when their creator held a cigar between his teeth, they frowned less, and the spirit of malice and irony, of which he was master, became subdued. Warrington was thirty-five now. The grey hair at the temples and the freshness of his complexion gave him a singularly youthful appearance. His mouth was even-lipped and rather pleasure-loving, which, without the balance of a strong nose, would have appealed to you as effeminate. Warrington's was what the wise phrenologists call the fighting nose; not pugnacious, but the nose of a man who will fight for what he believes to be right, fight bitterly and fearlessly. To-day he was famous, but only yesterday he had been fighting, retreating, throwing up this redoubt, digging this trench; fighting, fighting. Poverty, ignorance and contempt he fought; fought dishonesty, and vice, and treachery, and discouragement. Presently he leaned toward the desk and picked up a letter. He read it thoughtfully, and his brows drew together. A smile, whimsically sad, stirred his lips, and was gone. It was written by a girl or a very young woman. There was no signature, no address, no veiled request for an autograph. It was one of those letters which bring to the novelist or dramatist, or any man of talent, a real and singular pleasure. It is precious because honest and devoid of the tawdry gilt of flattery. Richard Warrington--You will smile, I know, when you read this letter, doubtless so many like it are mailed to you day by day. You will toss it into the waste-basket, too, as it deserves to be. But it had to be written. However, I feel that I am not writing to a mere stranger, but to a friend whom I know well. Three times you have entered into my life, and on each occasion you have come by a different avenue. I was ill at school when you first appeared to me. It was a poem in a magazine. It was so full of the spirit of joyousness, so full of kindliness, so rich in faith and hope, that I cried over it, cut it out and treasured it, and re-read it often in the lonely hours when things discouraged me,--things which mean so little to women but so much to girls. Two years went by, and then came that brave book! It was like coming across a half-forgotten friend. I actually ran home with it, and sat up all night to complete it. It was splendid. It was the poem matured, broadened, rounded. And finally your first play! How I listened to every word, watched every move! I wrote you a letter that night, but tore it up, not having the courage to send it to you. How versatile you must be: a poem, a book, a play! I have seen all your plays these five years, plays merry and gay, sad and grave. How many times you have mysteriously told me to be brave! I envy and admire you. What an exquisite thing it must be to hear one's thoughts spoken across the footlights! Please do not laugh. It would hurt me to know that you could laugh at my honest admiration. You won't laugh, will you? I am sure you will value this letter for its honesty rather than for its literary quality. I have often wondered what you were like. But after all, that can not matter, since you are good and kind and wise; for you can not be else, and write the lofty things you do. Warrington put the letter away, placed it carefully among the few things he held of value. It would not be true to say that it left him unaffected. There was an innocent barb in this girlish admiration, and it pierced the quick of all that was good in him. "Good and kind and wise," he mused. "If only the child knew! Heigh-ho! I am kind; sometimes I've been good, and often wise. Well, I can't disillusion the child, happily; she has given me no address." He rose, wheeled his chair to a window facing the street, and opened it. The cool fresh April air rushed in, clearing the room of its opalescent clouds, cleansing his brain of the fever that beset it. He leaned with his elbows on the sill and, breathed noisily, gratefully. Above, heaven had decked her broad bosom with her flickering stars, and from the million lamps of the great city rose and floated a tarnished yellow haze. So many sounds go forth to make the voices of the night: somewhere a child was crying fretfully, across the way the faint tinkle of a piano, the faroff rattle of the elevated, a muffled laugh from a window, above, the rat-tat of a cab-horse, the breeze in the ivy clinging to the walls of the church next door, the quarrelsome chirp of the sleepy sparrows; and then, recurrence. Only the poet or the man in pain opens his ears to these sounds. Over on Broadway a child of his fertile brain was holding the rapt attention of several hundred men and women; and across the broad land that night four other dramas were being successfully acted. People were discussing his theories, denouncing or approving his conception of life. The struggle was past, his royalties were making him rich. And here he was this night, drinking the cup of bitterness, of unhappiness, the astringent draft of things that might and should have been. The coveted grape was sour, the desired apple was withered. Those who traverse the road with Folly as boon companion find only emptiness. And so it was with Warrington. He had once been good, wholly good and kind and wise, lofty as a rural poet who has seen nothing of life save nature's pure and visible face. In the heat of battle he had been strong, but success had subtly eaten into the fibers and loosed his hold, and had swept him onward into that whirlpool out of which no man emerges wholly undefiled. It takes a great and strong man to withstand success, and Warrington was only a genius. It was not from lack of will power; rather it was because he was easy-going and loved pleasure for its own sake. He had fought and starved, and now for the jingle of the guinea in his pocket and the junkets of the gay! The prodigality of these creative beings is not fully understood by the laity; else they would forgive more readily the transgressions. Besides, the harbor of family ties is a man's moral bulwark; and Warrington drifted hither and thither with no harbor in view at all. He had been an orphan since his birth; a mother meant simply a giver of life, and a father meant, even less. Until he had read the reverse and obverse sides of life, his sense of morality had lain dormant and untilled. Such was his misfortune. The solitary relative he laid claim to was an aged aunt, his father's sister. For her he had purchased a beautiful place in the town of his birth, vaguely intending to live out his old age there. There had been a fight for all he possessed. Good had not come easily, as it does to some particularly favored mortals. There was no family, aristocracy to back him up, no melancholy recollections of past grandeur to add the interest of romance to his endeavors. His father had been a poor man of the people, a farmer. And yet Warrington was by no means plebeian. Somewhere there was a fine strain. It had been a fierce struggle to complete a college education. In the summer-time he had turned his hand to all sorts of things to pay his winter's tuition. He had worked as clerk in summer hotels, as a surveyor's assistant in laying streetrailways, he had played at private secretary, he had hawked vegetables about the streets at dawn. Happily, he had no false pride. Chance moves quite as mysteriously as the tides. On leaving college he had secured a minor position on one of the daily newspapers, and had doggedly worked his way up to the coveted position of star-reporter. Here the latent power of the story-teller, the poet and the dramatist was awakened; in any other pursuit the talent would have quietly died, as it has died in the breasts of thousands who, singularly enough have not stood in the path of Chance. Socially, Warrington was one of the many nobodies; and if he ever attended dinners and banquets and balls, it was in the capacity of reporter. But his cynical humor, which was manifest even in his youth, saved him the rancor and envy which is the portion of the outsider. At length the great city called him, and the lure was strong. He answered, and the long battle was on. Sometimes he dined, sometimes he slept; for there's an old Italian saying that he who sleeps dines. He drifted from one paper to another, lived in prosperity one week and in poverty the next; haggled with pawnbrokers and landladies, and borrowed money and lent it. He never saved anything; the dreamer never does. Then one day the end came to the long lane, as it always does to those who keep on. A book was accepted and published; and then followed the first play. By and by, when his name began to figure in the dramatic news items, and home visitors in New York returned to boast about the Warrington "first nights," the up-state city woke and began to recollect things--what promise Warrington had shown in his youth, how clever he was, and all that. Nothing succeeds like success, and nobody is so interesting as the prophet who has shaken the dust of his own country and found honor in another. Human nature can't help itself: the women talked of his plays in the reading-clubs, the men speculated on the backs of envelopes what his royalties were, and the newspaper that had given him a bread-and-butter pittance for a man's work proudly took it upon itself to say that its columns had fostered the genius in the growing. This was not because the editors were really proud of their townsman's success; rather it was because it made a neat little advertisement of their own particular foresight, such as it was. In fact, in his own town (because he had refused to live in it!) Warrington was a lion of no small dimensions. Warrington's novel (the only one he ever wrote) was known to few. To tell the truth, the very critics that were now praising the dramatist had slashed the novelist cruelly. And thereby hangs a tale. A New York theatrical manager sent for Warrington one day and told him that he had read the book, and if the author would attempt a dramatic version, the manager would give it a fair chance. Warrington, the bitterness of failure in his soul, undertook the work, and succeeded. Praise would have made an indifferent novelist of him, for he was a born dramatist. Regularly each year he visited his birthplace for a day or so, to pay in person his taxes. For all that he labored in New York; he still retained his right to vote in his native town. A sudden desire seized him to-night to return to his home, to become a citizen in fact and deed. It was now the time of year when the spring torrents flood the lowlands, when the melting snows trickle down the bleak hillsides, when the dead hand of winter lies upon the bosom of awakening spring, and the seed is in travail. Heigh-ho! The world went very well in the springs of old; care was in bondage, and all the many gateways to the heart were bastioned and sentineled. "Sir, a lady wishes to see you." Warrington turned. His valet stood respectfully in the doorway. "The name?" Warrington rose impatiently. Nobody likes to have his dreams disturbed. "Miss Challoner, sir." "Challoner!" in surprise; "and this time of night?" He stroked his chin. A moment passed. Not that he hesitated to admit her; rather he wished to make a final analysis of his heart before his eyes fell down to worship her beauty. "Admit her at once." He brushed the ashes from his jacket and smoothed his hair. The valet disappeared. "If I only loved the woman, loved her honestly, boldly, fearlessly, what a difference it would make! I don't love her, and I realize that I never did. She never touched my heart, only my eye and mind. I may be incapable of loving any one; perhaps that's it. But what can have possessed her to leave the theater this time of night?" A swish of petticoats, a rush of cool air with which mingled an indefinable perfume, and, like a bird taking momentary rest in the passage, she stood poised on the threshold. A beautiful woman is a tangible enchantment; and fame and fortune had made Katherine Challoner beautiful, roguishly, daringly, puzzlingly beautiful. Her eyes sparkled like stars on ruffled waters, the flame of health and life burned in her cheeks, and the moist red mobile mouth expressed emotions so rapidly and irregularly as to bewilder the man who attempted to follow them. Ah, but she could act; comedy or tragedy, it mattered not; she was always superb. There was a tableau of short duration. Her expression was one of gentle inquiry, his was one of interest not unmixed with fascination. He felt a quick touch of compassion, of embarrassment. There had been times when yonder woman had seemed to show him the preference that is given only to men who are loved. Even as the thought came to him, he prayed that it was only his man's vanity that imagined it. As he stared at her, there came the old thrill: beauty is a power tremendous. "Dick, you do not say you are glad to see me." "Beauty striketh the sage dumb," he laughed. "What good fortune brings you here to-night? What has happened? How could you find time between the acts to run over?" "I am not acting to-night." "What?" "No. Nor shall I be to-morrow night, nor the thousand nights that shall follow." "Why, girl!" he cried, pushing out a chair. He had not seen her for two weeks. He had known nothing of her movements, save that her splendid talents had saved a play from utter ruin. Her declaration was like a thunderbolt. "Explain!" "Well, I am tired, Dick; I am tired." She sat down, and her gaze roved about the familiar room with a veiled affection for everything she saw. "The world is empty. I have begun to hate the fools who applaud me. I hate the evil smells which hang about the theater. I hate the overture and the man with the drums," whimsically. "What's he done to you?" "Nothing, only he makes more noise than the others. I'm tired. It is not a definite reason; but a woman is never obliged to be definite." "No; I never could understand you, even when you took the trouble to explain things." "Yes, I know." She drew off her gloves and rubbed her fingers, which were damp and cold. "But, surely, this is only a whim. You can't seriously mean to give up the stage when the whole world is watching you!" She did not answer him, but continued to rub her fingers. She wore several rings, among which was a brilliant of unusual luster. Warrington, however, had eyes for nothing but her face. For the past six months he had noted a subtle change in her, a growing reserve, a thoughtfulness that was slowly veiling or subduing her natural gaiety. She now evaded him when he suggested one of their old romps in queer little restaurants; she professed illness when he sent for her to join him in some harmless junketing. She was slowly slipping away from him; no, drifting, since he made no real effort to hold her. And why had he made no real effort? Sometimes he thought he could answer this question, and then again he knew that he could not. Ah, if he only loved her! What a helpmeet: cheerful, resourceful, full of good humor and practical philosophy, a brilliant wit, with all the finished graces of a goddess. Ah, if indeed he only loved her! This thought kept running through his mind persistently; it had done so for days; but it had always led him back to the starting point. Love is not always reasoning with itself. Perhaps--and the thought filled him with regret--perhaps he was indeed incapable of loving any one as his poet's fancy believed he ought to love. And this may account for the truth of the statement that genius is rarely successful in love; the ideal is so high that it is out of the reach of life as we, genius or clod, live it. "Isn't this determination rather sudden?" he asked, when the pause grew insupportable. "I have been thinking of it for some time," she replied, smiling. A woman always finds herself at ease during such crises. "Only, I hadn't exactly made up my mind. You were at work?" glancing at the desk. "Yes, but I'm through for the night. It's only a scenario, and I am not entirely satisfied with it." She walked over to the desk and picked up a sheet at random. She was a privileged person in these rooms. Warrington never had any nervous dread when she touched his manuscript. "How is it going to end?" she asked. "Oh, they are going to marry and be happy ever after," he answered, smiling. "Ah; then they are never going to have any children?" she said, with a flash of her old-time mischief. "Will you have a cigarette?" lighting one and offering her the box. "No; I have a horror of cigarettes since that last play. To smoke in public every night, perforce, took away the charm. I hated that part. An adventuress! It was altogether too close to the quick; for I am nothing more or less than an adventuress who has been successful. Why, the very method I used to make your acquaintance years and years ago, wasn't it?--proved the spirit. 'We hate two kinds of people,'" she read, taking up another page of manuscript; "'the people we wrong and the people who wrong us. Only, the hate for those we have wronged is most enduring.' That isn't half bad, Dick. How do you think of all these things?" She crossed over to the window to cool her hot face. She, too, heard the voices of the night; not as the poet hears them, but as one in pain. "He never loved me!" she murmured, so softly that even the sparrows in the vine heard her not. And bitter indeed was the pain. But of what use to struggle, or to sigh, or vainly to regret? As things are written, so must they be read. She readily held him guiltless; what she regretted most deeply was the lack of power to have him and to hold him. Long before, she had realized the hopelessness of it all. Knowing that he drank from the cup of dissipation, she had even sought to hold him in contempt; but to her he had never ceased to be a gentleman, tender, manly and kind. It is contempt that casts the first spadeful in the grave of love. "Come, girl," he said, going to her side; "you have something to tell me. What is it?" She turned to find his hand outstretched and a friendly look in his eyes. Impulsively she gave him both her hands. He bowed over them with the grave air of the days of powdered wigs. There was not a particle of irony in the movement; rather it was a quiet acknowledgment that he recollected the good influence she had at times worked upon him in some dark days. As he brushed her fingers with his lips, he saw. His head came up quickly. "Ah!" "Yes." Her voice was steady and her eyes were brave. He drew her to the lamp and studied the ring. The ruddy lights dartled as he slowly turned the jewel around. "It is a beauty. No one but a rich man could have given a ring like that. And on your finger it means but one thing." "I am to be married in June." "Do you love him?" "I respect him; he is noble and good and kind." Warrington did not press the question. He still retained the hand, though he no longer gazed at the ring. "I have always wanted a home. The stage never really fascinated me; it was bread and butter." "Is it necessary to marry in order to have a home?" he asked quietly, letting the hand gently slide from his. "You are wealthy, after a fashion; could you not build a home of your own?" "Always to be identified as the actress? To be looked at curiously, to be annoyed by those who are not my equals, and only tolerated by those who are? No! I want a man who will protect me from all these things, who will help me to forget some needless follies and the memory that a hundred different men have made play-love to me on the other side of the footlights." "Some men marry actresses to gratify their vanity; does this man love you?" "Yes; and he will make me what Heaven intended I should be--a woman. Oh, I have uttered no deceit. This man will take me for what I am." "And you have come here to-night to ask me to forget, too?" There was no bitterness in his tone, but there was a strong leaven of regret. "Well, I promise to forget." "It was not necessary to ask you that," generously. "But I thought I would come to you and tell you everything. I did not wish you to misjudge me. For the world will say that I am marrying this good man for his money; whereas, if he was a man of the most moderate circumstances, I should still marry him." "And who might this lucky man be? To win a woman, such as I know you to be, this man must have some extraordinary attributes." And all at once a sense of infinite relief entered into his heart: if she were indeed married, there would no longer be that tantalizing doubt on his part, that peculiar attraction which at one time resembled love and at another time was simply fascination. She would pass out of his life definitely. He perfectly recognized the fact that he admired her above all other women he knew; but it was also apparent that to see her day by day, year by year, his partner in the commonplaces as well as in the heights, romance would become threadbare quickly enough. "Who is he?" he repeated. "That I prefer not to disclose to you just yet. What are you going to call your new play?" with a wave of her hand toward the manuscript. "I had intended to call it Love and Money, but the very name presages failure." "Yes, it needs the cement of compatibility to keep the two together." "Well, from my heart I wish you all the best luck in the world," he said, the absence of any mental reservation in his eyes. "You would make any man a good wife. If I weren't a born fool--" She leaned toward him, her face suddenly tense and eager. "--if I weren't a born fool," with a smile that was whimsical, "I'd have married you myself, long ago. But fate has cut me out for a bachelor." He knocked the ash from a cold pipe, filled and lighted it. "By the way," he said, "I received a curious letter to-day." Its production would relieve the awkwardness of the moment. "Would you like to see it?" opening the drawer and handing the letter to her. "It's one of the few letters of the sort I'm going to keep." She accepted the letter, but without any spirit of interest. For a moment a thought had all but swept her off her feet; yet she realized instantly that this thought was futile. Warrington did not love her; and there was nothing to do but to follow out the course she had planned. She had come to him that night with a single purpose in mind: to plumb the very heart of this man who was an enigma to every woman he met. She had plumbed it. Warrington loved nobody but Warrington and pleasure. Oh, he was capable of the grand passion, she very well knew, but the woman to arouse it had not yet crossed his path. "What do you think of it?" he asked. She came closer to the lamp. It was only pretense, but Warrington was not aware of it. She had stared at the sheet, reading only her miserable thoughts. Presently she smiled; the girlish exuberance amused her. "She has put you quite out of reach. What a fine thing it must be to have such faith in any man!" "And I'm not worth in her esteem an ounce to the pound." He was quite frank with himself. "I would to Heaven I were!" "And this is the kind of woman that you will fall violently in love with, some day, Dick. It will be your punishment." She had fully recovered by now, and the old-time raillery was in the ascendant. "Oh, she has read you fairly well. You are good and kind and wise, but these virtues are not of equal weight. Your goodness and wisdom will never catch up with your abundant kindness. I've a good deal to thank you for, Dick; a good deal." "Nonsense! The shoe is on the other foot. You have made half my plays what they are to-day." He rang and ordered some coffee. She dropped into his desk-chair and propped her chin in her palms, viewing him through halfclosed, speculative eyes. "We've had some jolly larks together," he said. "I shall miss you; how much I shall know only when you are gone. Is he good-looking?" "Very. He is tall and straight, with a manly face, fine eyes, and a good nose. You know that I'm always particular about a man's nose." "And young, of course?" not without some feeling of jealousy. "And young." "Tell me all about him," drawing up a chair and facing her. "He is a lucky chap," he summed up when she had done. "That remains to be seen," lightly. "I may prove the worst wife possible. Perhaps, when I have burned my bridges, I shall be mad for the very publicity I'm trying to escape. Women are like extinct volcanos; they are most to be dreaded when written perfectly harmless." Warrington shook his head and laughed. Here the coffee came in. He dismissed his man, and poured the nectar himself. "You are the one man I know who never asks to sweeten my coffee," she observed. "And yet I had to learn. You haven't taught this other fellow yet, I see. Is he warranted housebroken, or will he have to be chained?" "He will not have to be chained; and a man who is a recluse seldom has to be broken in." "A recluse? What's his hobby: butterflies, stones, stamps, or coins?--No, girl; I don't mean that. I'm a little heavy to-night. Do you recollect the night you donned a suit of mine, bundled your hair under a felt hat, and visited the studios? What a romp! Not a soul ever found out who you were; and if I hadn't been in the secret, I shouldn't have known, either. I shall never forget how funny Dolman looked when he started a certain popular story of his and you shut him up. 'Gentlemen,' you said, 'neither listen to, nor repeat that kind of story in the presence of ladies.' 'Ladies?' cried Dolman. 'I see no ladies.' 'But there are gentlemen,' you added quickly. Later, Dolman advised me not to bring any more of my Sunday-school friends to HIS studio." The woman smiled, but the smile was only on the lips. All those happy frolics were to be no more. Heigh-ho! Over the mantel there were several photographs of herself. Like all celebrities of her kind, the camera was a constant source of amusement. It was not necessarily vanity. The rose is not vain, yet it repeats its singular beauty as often as the seasons permit it. Across these pictures she had scrawled numerous signatures, "Kate" and "Kit" and "Kitty" and "Katherine Challoner," with here and there a phrase in French and Italian. "You wouldn't return those under any circumstances?" "No, indeed! That's all I'll have. And besides, you wouldn't ask me to give them up?" Her answer remained unspoken. The valet appeared deferentially. "Well?" said Warrington. "A gentleman to see you, sir. He said he wouldn't need any card. Mr. John Bennington, sir. "John Bennington!" Warrington sprang from his chair, his face joyous. "Old John here to-night! Finest chap on earth, Kate; my roommate at college, and the only chap in my town who was my friend when I was a nobody. Old John..." "Richard, you must hide me quickly. I mustn't be seen here. There is no way of passing him the hall." "Good Lord!" He did not notice her pallor. "The butler's pantry," he said hastily. She slipped out of sight noiselessly. Presently she heard sounds, men's voices, a hearty greeting and for a moment the world seemed gliding from under her feet. Her gloves! She had forgotten her gloves! Chapter III Men have a way of greeting which is all their own. It is unlike the kiss and flutter of women, which may signify frankness or deceit, generosity or selfishness, some favor to gain, some treachery to forestall. Men's likes and dislikes are generally visible. The dog wags his tail, or he warns you away with a growl; there is no mistaking his attitude. On the other hand, the cat purrs and rubs against your leg, and when you reach down to smooth her, as likely as not she gives you a dig for your pains. True, there are always exceptions to this rule. With their hands on each other's shoulders, at arm's length they stood, a likely pair to look at, smiling frankly and joyfully into each other's eyes. When it is without self-interest, friendship between man and man is a fine and noble thing. It is known best in the stress of storms, in the hour of sorrow and adversity. Friendship, to be perfect, must be without any sense of obligation; for obligation implies that one or the other is in debt, and the debtor is always wondering when he will have to pay. Between these two men only the slightest favors had been exchanged. They had grown up together, one the son of a rich steel-mill owner, the other the son of a poor farmer. The one had entered college to the sounding of golden cymbals, the other had marched in with nothing but courage in his pocket. It is impossible to describe how these great friendships come about; generally they begin with some insignificant trifle, soon forgotten. Warrington had licked Bennington in the boyhood days; why, I doubt that the Recording Angel himself remembers. So the friendship began with secret admiration on one side and good-natured toleration on the other. One day Warrington broke a colt for Bennington, and later Bennington found a passably good market for Warrington's vegetables. Friendship, like constancy, finds strange niches. The Bennington family were not very cordial to the young vegetable grower. On the mother's side there was a long line of military ancestors. It is impossible that a cabbage and a uniform should cohere. Warrington's great-grandsires had won honors in the Revolution, but as this fact did not make cabbages grow any faster he kept the faded glory to himself. In college the two lads were as inseparable as La Mole and Coconnas; they played on the same teams, rowed on the same crews and danced with the same girls. The only material difference in their respective talents lay in one thing: Bennington could not write a respectable rhyme, and I'm not sure that he wasn't proud of it. It distinguished him from the other members of his class. As for Warrington, there wasn't a pretty girl in the whole college town who couldn't boast of one or more of his impassioned stanzas. And you may be sure that when Warrington became talked about these self-same halting verses were dug up from the garret and hung in sundry parlors. Bennington was handsome, and, but for his father's blood, the idleness of his forebears would have marked him with effeminateness. His head, his face, the shape of his hands and feet, these proclaimed the aristocrat. It was only in the eyes and the broad shoulders that you recognized the iron-monger's breed. His eyes were as blue as his own hammered steel; but, like the eyes of the eagle at peace, they were mild and dreamy and deceptive to casual inspection. In the shops the men knew all about those eyes and shoulders. They had been fooled once, but only once. They had felt the iron in the velvet. "I'm mighty glad to see you, boy," said Warrington, dropping his arms. "You haven't changed a bit." "Nor you, Dick; if anything you look younger." "How many years is it, John?" "Six or seven; not very long." "Time never seems long to a man who never has to wait for anything. I have had to reckon time with hours full of suspense, and those hours have aged me; perhaps not outwardly, but all the same, I'm an old man, John." "Nonsense!" "When did you cross?" "About a year ago, when father died. I had given up the English end of the concern two years before, and was just wandering about the continent. I was dreadfully disappointed when I learned that you had visited the shops in ninety-eight. That summer I was in Switzerland. I had no idea there was going to be war, and never saw a newspaper till it was nearly over. I should have enlisted. And another year we passed within two days of each other." "No!" Bennington exclaimed. "Yes. It was in Italy, at Sorrento, that I learned of your nearness. You were off for Amalfi and I had just come from there. For three days I ran across your name in the hotel registers. I tried to find your permanent address, but failed. Cook's nor the bankers in Naples knew anything about you. I tell you what, it was discouraging." "What luck! I was having all my mail sent direct to Mentone, where I spent the winter. Say, what do you think?" "About what?" "Won five thousand at Monte Carlo in one play." "Pounds?" exclaimed Bennington. "Lord, no!--dollars." "Ah! But of course you went back and lost it?" ironically. "On the contrary, I've never staked a dollar since. Gambling was never a habit of mine, though I dare say the moral side of the subject would not have held me back. Simply, I know that the gambler always loses, and the banker always wins, in the end. Common sense told me to quit, and I did. I brought my letter of credit home practically intact." "You used to play poker," dubiously. "Poker isn't gambling. It's surreptitiously lending money to your friends." "You were always good at definitions," sighed Bennington. "I understand you've sold your holdings in the English shops?" "Yes. I was weary of the people and what they called their conservatism, which is only a phase of stupidity. And then, besides, I loved the old home up there. I've been living there about a year now." "It's a pity you couldn't have looked me up before this," Warrington complained. Bennington only laughed affectionately. "Take a look around the room while I get the whisky and soda." "Don't bother, Dick." "Boy, I licked you once, and I'll do it again if you don't sit down. A little extra attention won't hurt; and I'll guarantee the whisky." Waving his arms toward all the desirable things in the room, he vanished beyond the curtain. Bennington looked about leisurely. It was just the kind of room he had always imagined; it was like the man who occupied it. Simplicity and taste abounded; the artist and the collector, the poet and the musician, were everywhere in evidence. He strolled over to the mantel and took down one of the pictures signed "Kate." He smiled. It was not an indulgent smile, nor the smile of a man who has stumbled upon another man's secret. The smile was rather exultant. He leaned against the mantel and studied the face in its varied expressions. He nodded approvingly. It was a lovely face; it was more than lovely,--it was tender and strong. Presently he returned to his chair and sat down, the photograph still in his hand. And in this position Warrington found him. "Ah, you sly dog!" he hailed, setting down the glasses and pouring out a liberal bumper. "So I've caught you? Well, you're not the only man who has been conquered by that very photograph." He had half a notion to go in and bring her out; but then, women are such finicky beings! Bennington laid aside the photograph, a certain reverence in his action that in ordinary times would not have escaped Warrington's notice. "What's this to be?" asked Bennington, lifting his glass and stirring the ice. "Immer und immer, as the German has it," Warrington replied. "For ever and ever, then!" And the two lightly touched glasses, with that peculiar gravity which always accompanies such occasions. "When a man drinks your health in bad whisky, look out for him; but this whisky is very good, Dick." Bennington set down his glass and wiped his lips. "It is very good, indeed." "Well, how are things up in Herculaneum?" asked Warrington. "You know, or ought to know, that I get up there only once a year." "Things are not very well. There's the devil to pay in politics, and some day I may have a jolly long strike on my hands," grimly. "But I shall know exactly what to do. That man McQuade owns about all the town now. He controls congressmen, state senators and assemblymen, and the majority of the Common Council is his, body and soul. Only recently he gave the traction company a new right of way. Not a penny went into the city's purse. And you know these street-railways; they never pay their taxes. A franchise for ninety-nine years; think of it!" "Why don't you men wake up and oust McQuade? I'll tell you right here, Jack, you have no one to blame but yourself. Scoundrels like McQuade are always in the minority; but they remain in power simply because men like you think politics a dirty business and something for an honest man to keep out of. Run for mayor yourself, if you want clean politics. Rouse up an independent party." "Do you know what they call me up there?" Bennington laughed. "I confess to ignorance." "Well, the newspapers say covertly that I'm all but a naturalized Englishman, a snob, when I'm only a recluse, a man who dresses every night for dinner, who dines instead of eats. There are some things it is impossible to understand, and one is the interest the newspapers take in the private affairs of men. If they jumped on me as a mill-owner, there might be some excuse, but they are always digging me on the private-citizen side. Every man, in his own house, ought to be allowed to do as he pleases. They never bothered the governor any, when he was alive. I believe they were afraid of him." "I can explain all that, my boy. Buy your clothes of the local tailors; get rid of your valet; forget that you have lived in England. They'll come around to you, then. You may talk as much as you like about the friendliness between the Englishman and the American. It is simply a case of two masters who are determined that their dogs shall be friendly. Let the masters drop out of sight for a moment, and you will find the dogs at each other's throat. And the masters? The dollar on this side and the sovereign on the other. There is a good deal of friendship these days that is based upon three and a half per cent. Get into politics, my boy." "Bah! I'd look nice running for mayor, wouldn't I? The newspapers would howl calamity, and the demagogues would preach that I would soon impose English wages in the shops, and all that tommyrot. No, thank you; I'll take trouble as it comes, but I'm not looking for it." "I see that I shall have to go back there and start the ball myself," said Warrington, jesting. "Why don't you? You are not a rank outsider. The people are proud of you." "And always will be, so long as I have sense enough to remain here in New York," dryly. "But if I lived there!" "You are not always going to live in New York?" "Not always." "You've a beautiful old home up there." "I bought that just to show the people I had the money," laughing. "They may never forget my cabbages, but they'll forgive them." "Nevertheless, you ought to return." "Listen," said Warrington, lifting his hand. They became silent, and presently the voice of the city came into the room. "I'm afraid I could not live away from that. How many times have I stopped work to listen to it! How many inspirations have I drawn from it! It is the siren's music, I know, but I am no longer afraid of the reefs. Perhaps I have become enamored with noise; it is quite possible." "I have lived in London. I thought it was going to be hard to break away, but it wasn't." They lighted cigars, and Bennington took up the photograph again. "A lovely face," was his comment. "With a heart and a mind even more lovely," supplemented Warrington. "She is one of the most brilliant women I have ever met, and what is more, humorous and good-humored. My word for it, she may have equals, but she has no superiors on this side of the ocean." Bennington looked up sharply. "Nothing serious?" he asked gently. "Serious? No. We are capital friends, but nothing more. There's been too much comradeship to admit anything like sentimentality. Ah, boy, you should see her act!" "I have. I saw her in London last season. She was playing your War of Women. She appeared to me enchanting. But about these actresses..." "I know, I know," interrupted Warrington. "Some of them are bad, but some of them are the noblest creatures God ever put on earth; and yonder is one of them. I remember. Often we were both in debt; plays went wrong; sometimes I helped her out, sometimes she returned the favor. We were more like two men. Without her help I shouldn't be where I am to-day. I always read the scenario of a play to her first; and often we've worked together half a night on one scene. I shall miss her." "What! Is she going away?" "After a fashion. She has retired from the stage." "Do you believe she means it?" asked Bennington. "You know how changeable actresses' moods are." "I think Miss Challoner will never act again. She has always been an enigma to the majority of the show people. Never any trumpets, jewelry, petty squabbles, lime-lights, and silks; she never read criticisms, save those I sent her. Managers had to knock on her dressing-room door. Oh, I do not say that she is an absolute paragon, but I do say that she is a good woman, of high ideals, loyal, generous, frank, and honest. And I have often wondered why the devil I couldn't fall in love with her myself," moodily. Bennington was silent for a moment. Finally he said: "How does it feel to be famous, to have plays produced simultaneously in New York and London?" "After the first success there is never anything but hard work. A failure once in a while acts like a tonic. And sometimes we get an anonymous letter that refreshes us--a real admirer, who writes from the heart and doesn't fish for a letter or an autograph in return. I received one of these only a few days ago, and I want you to read it." Warrington produced the missive and tossed it into Bennington's hands. "Read that. It's worth while to get a letter like that one." Bennington took up the letter, smiling at his friend's enthusiasm. A single glance at the graceful script, however, changed his expression. He sat back and stared at Warrington. "What's the matter?" Bennington did not answer, but settled down to his task, reading carefully and slowly. He did not look for any signature, for he knew there would be none. He returned the letter, his face sober, but his eyes dancing. "Now, what the deuce do you see that is so amusing?" "Oh, nothing." "Don't tell me there isn't any romance in the world. But, hang it, Jack, I'm not worth a letter like that," earnestly. "Of course not." "I'm not jesting. I've sown wild oats, and God knows what the harvest will be. There's a law that exacts payment. Retribution is the only certain thing in this world." "Oh, you're no worse than the average man. But the average man is jolly bad," Bennington added gravely. "But you, Dick; I'm not worrying about you. Perhaps the writer of that letter sees good in you that you can't see yourself; good that is in you but of which you are unconscious. One thing, you have never besmirched the talents God gave you. Everything you have done has been clean and wholesome--like yourself." "I wish I could believe that! But I've had no ties, Jack, none. You can't keep to a course without a compass. The real good in life, the good that makes life worth while, is the toil for those you love. I love nobody, not even myself. But this girl rather woke me up. I began to look inward, as they say. So far I've not discovered much good. I'd give a good deal to meet this writer." "Doubtless you will find her charming." Suddenly Warrington turned upon his friend. "But what I want to know is, what brought you around here this time o' night? I never knew you to do anything without a definite purpose." "That's precisely what I've been waiting for you to lead up to. The truth is--" Bennington hesitated. His hand, idly trailing over the desk, came into contact with something smooth and soft. It was a pair of white kid gloves, a woman's. Absently he drew them through his hand. He was only half conscious of his action, and he did not observe Warrington's sudden agitation. "The truth is, I've gone and done it. I'm going to be married in June, and I want you to be my best man." Warrington's hand went out impulsively. "Oh, I felt it in my bones when your card came in," he said, rearranging the glasses. "Lucky woman! Long life to you, Jack, and long happiness!" "Thank you, Dick." (Ceremonial recurrence of drinking a health.) "Now, out with it. Who is she, and all about her?" "Dick, I'm genuinely sorry, but I'm still under bond of silence." "More mysteries!" cried Warrington, with evident discontent. "Only for a week, when, if you say, we'll have breakfast here in these very rooms. "Done. Only I must say you're a bit hard on me to-night. "I'm sorry." "Let me see; I'll describe her for you. Beautiful." "Yes." "Accomplished." "Very." "A woman who will be both wife and comrade." "Exactly." "An American." "In all things." "You make me envious." "Why don't you get married yourself?" "Bah!" Warrington went to the window and looked down upon the street. Bennington eyed his broad shoulders sympathetically. He looked down at the limp, smooth skins in his hand, and sat up stiffly. From the gloves to Warrington and back again to the gloves, his gaze traveled. With an impulse rather mechanical he raised the gloves to his nose. Quickly he dropped them on the desk, took up the photograph, rose and replaced it on the mantel. Hearing him, Warrington turned. "No, Jack, I doubt if I shall ever be lucky enough to find the one woman. I've been so busy that I've never had time to hunt for happiness. And those who hunt for it never find it, and those who wait for it can not see it standing at their side." Bennington wandered about, from object to object. Here he picked up a dagger, there a turquoise in the matrix, and again some inlaid wood from Sorrento. From these his interest traveled to and lingered over some celebrated autographs. "Happiness is a peculiar thing," went on the dramatist. "It is far less distinctive than fame or fortune. They sometimes knock at your door, but happiness steals in without warning, and often leaves as mysteriously as it comes." Bennington paused to examine a jade cigarette case, which he opened and closed aimlessly. And there were queer little Japanese ash-trays that arrested his attention. "Men like you and me, Jack, never marry unless we love. It is never a business transaction." "It is love or nothing," said Bennington, turning his face toward Warrington. The smile he gave was kindly. "Yes, true happiness can be sought only in those we love. There is happiness even in loving some one who does not love you." Bennington repressed a sigh. "But, Dick, you'll be the best man?" "Depend upon me. What do you say to this day week for breakfast here?" "That will be wholly agreeable to me." Bennington's cigar had gone out. He leaned upon the desk and took his light from the chimney. Men who have traveled widely never waste matches. "Can't you bunk here for the night? There's plenty of room," said Warrington. "Impossible, Dick. I leave at midnight for home. I must be there to-morrow morning. I'm afraid of trouble in the shops. The unions are determined to push me to the limit of my patience." "Why the deuce don't you get rid of the shops?" "They're the handiwork of my father, and I'm proud to follow his steps." Bennington's eyes were no longer at peace; they sparkled with defiance. "Half-past ten!" suddenly. "I must be going. My luggage is still at the hotel. God bless you, Dick!" Their hands met once again. "You know, jack, that I love you best of all men." "You are sure there is no woman?" Warrington laughed easily. "Ah, if there was a woman! I expect to be lonely some day." Bennington put on his hat and gloves, and Warrington followed him into the hall. Once the prospective bridegroom paused, as if he had left something unsaid; but he seemed to think the better of silence, and went on. "Tuesday morning, then?" "Tuesday morning. Good night." "Good night, and luck attend you." The door closed, and Warrington went slowly back to his desk, his mind filled with pleasant recollections of youth. He re-read the letter, studied it thoroughly, in hopes that there might be an anagram. There was nothing he could see, and he put it away, rather annoyed. He arranged the sheets and notes of the scenario, marshaled the scattered pencils, and was putting the glasses on the tray, when a sound in the doorway caused him to lift his head. One of the glasses tumbled over and rolled across the desk, leaving a trail of water which found its level among the ash-trays. "It is quite evident that you forgot me," said the woman, a faint mirthless smile stirring her lips. "It was very close in there, and I could hear nothing." She placed a hand on her forehead, swayed, and closed her eyes for a second. "You are faint!" he cried, springing toward her. "It is nothing," she replied, with a repelling gesture. "John Bennington, was it not?" "Yes." His eyes grew round with wonder. "I was going to keep it secret as long as I could, but I see it is useless. He is the man I have promised to marry." Her voice had a singular quietness. Warrington retreated to his desk, leaning heavily against it. "Bennington? You are going to marry John Bennington?" dully. "Yes." He sat down abruptly and stared at her with the expression of one who is suddenly confronted by some Medusa's head, as if in the straggling wisps of hair that escaped from beneath her hat he saw the writhing serpents. She was going to marry John Bennington! She stepped quickly up to the desk and began to scatter things about. Her hands shook, she breathed rapidly, her delicate nostrils dilating the while. "Look out!" he warned, at her side the same instant. "Your hat is burning!" He smothered the incipient flame between his palms. "Never mind the hat. My gloves, Dick, my gloves! I left them here on the desk." "Your gloves?" Then immediately he recollected that he had seen them in Bennington's hands, but he was positive that the gloves meant nothing to Bennington. He had picked them up just as he would have picked up a paper-cutter, a pencil, a match-box, if any of these had been within reach of his nervous fingers. Most men who are at times mentally embarrassed find relief in touching small inanimate objects. So he said reassuringly: "Don't let a pair of gloves worry you, girl." "He bought them for me this morning," a break in her voice. "I MUST find them!" The situation assumed altogether a different angle. There was a hint of tragedy in her eyes. More trivial things than a forgotten pair of gloves have brought about death and division. Together they renewed the search. They sifted the manuscripts, the books, the magazines, burrowed into the drawers; and sometimes their hands touched, but they neither noticed nor felt the contact. Warrington even dropped to his knees and hunted under the desk, all the while "Jack Bennington, Jack Bennington!" drumming in his ears. The search was useless. The gloves were nowhere to be found. He stood up irresolute, dismayed and anxious, keenly alive to her misery and to the inferences his best friend might draw. The desk stood between them, but their faces were within two spans of the hand. "I can't find them." "They are gone!" she whispered. Chapter IV When the pathfinders came into the territory which is now called the Empire State, they carried muskets and tripods under one arm and Greek dictionaries under the other. They surveyed all day and scanned all night, skirmishing intermittently with prowling redskins. They knew something about elementary geometry, too, and you will find evidences of it everywhere, even in the Dutch settlements. The Dutchman always made the beauty of geometry impossible. Thus, nowadays, one can not move forward nor backward fifty miles in any direction without having the classic memory jarred into activity. Behold Athens, Rome, Ithaca, Troy; Homer, Virgil, Cicero; Pompey and Hannibal; cities and poets and heroes! It was, in those early days, a liberal education to be born in any one of these towns. Let us take Troy, for instance. When the young mind learned to spell it, the young mind yearned to know what Troy signified. Then came Homer, with his heroic fairy-story of gods, demigods and mortals. Of one thing you may be reasonably sure: Helen was kept religiously in the background. You will find no city named after her; nor Sappho, nor Aspasia. The explorer and the geographer have never given woman any recognition; it was left to the poets to sing her praise. Even Columbus, fine old gentleman that he was, absolutely ignored Isabella as a geographical name. The city of Herculaneum (so called in honor of one Hercules) was very well named. To become immortal it had the same number of tasks to perform as had old Hercules. The Augean Stables were in the City Hall; and had Hercules lived in Herculaneum, he never would have sat with the gods. The city lay in a pleasant valley, embraced by imposing wooded hills. There was plenty of water about, a lake, a river, a creek; none of these, however, was navigable for commercial purposes. But this in nowise hindered the city's progress. On the tranquil bosom of the Erie Canal rode the graceful barges of commerce straight and slowly through the very heart of the town. Like its historic namesake, the city lived under the eternal shadow of smoke, barring Sundays; but its origin was not volcanic, only bituminous. True, year in and year out the streets were torn up, presenting an aspect not unlike the lava-beds of Vesuvius; but as this phase always implies, not destruction, but construction, murmurs were only local and few. It was a prosperous and busy city. It grew, it grows, and will grow. Long life to it! Every year the city directory points with pride to its growing bulk. A hundred thousand people; and, as Max O'Rell said--"All alive and kicking!" Herculaneum held its neighbors in hearty contempt, like the youth who has suddenly found his man's strength, and parades round with a chip on his shoulder. Three railroad lines ran through the business section, bisecting the principal thoroughfares. The passenger trains went along swiftly enough, but often freights of almost interminable length drawled through the squares. I say drawled advisedly. Surely the whuff-whuff of the engine seems to me a kind of mechanical speech; and to this was often added the sad lowing of cattle. From time to time some earnest but misdirected young man would join the aldermanic body, and immediately lift up his voice in protest. It was outrageous, and so forth; the railroads must be brought to their senses, and so forth. Presently a meeting would come and go without his voice being heard, another, and yet another. By and by he would silently cast his vote for the various businesses under hand, and go home. The old-timers would smile. They understood. They rode on annuals themselves. All the same, Herculaneum was a beautiful city in parts. Great leafy maples and elms arched the streets in the residential quarters, and the streets themselves were broad and straight. There were several dignified buildings of ten and twelve stories, many handsome banks, several clubs, and two or three passable monuments. There were at that time five enterprising newspapers, four frankly partizan and one independent. Personalities entered freely into the editorials, which often abounded in wit and scholarship. There were three theaters, and many churches of many denominations; religion and amusement, to thrive, must have variety. There were great steel shops, machine-shops, factories and breweries. And there were a few people who got in touch with one another, and invented society. Herculaneum has its counterpart in every state; each city is a composite of all the others. A fashion in New York is immediately reproduced in every other city on the continent. Conservatism, day by day, becomes more and more retiring; presently it will exist only in Webster, side by side with the word prehistoric. It was Sunday in Herculaneum, a June Sunday, radiant with sunshine. The broad green leaves of the maples shivered, lacing the streets with amber and jade, and from a thousand emerald gardens rose the subtle, fragrant incense of flowers. How still and beautiful this day seems to us who have hurried hither and thither for six long days, sometimes in anger, sometimes in exultation, failure or success! It breathes a peace and quiet that is tonic. Upon this day there is truce between us and the enemy. In Herculaneum they still went to church on a Sunday morning. Perhaps it was merely habit, perhaps it was simply formality, perhaps it was only to parade new clothes; anyhow, they went to church. At ten-thirty the procession started; gentlemen in their tiles, ladies in their furbelows, children stiffly starched. Some rode to church, but the majority walked. There were many store-windows to preen before, as in a mirror. Vanity has something to her credit, after all; it is due to her that most of us make an effort to keep spruce and clean. Comment passed like the fall of dominoes. Some woman, ultra-fashionable, would start the chatter. She NEVER saw anything like the gowns Mrs. Jones wore; Mrs. Jones touched upon the impossible feathers of Mrs. Smith's hat, and Mrs. Smith in turn questioned the exquisite complexion of Mrs. Green, who thought Mrs. White's children the homeliest in the city. (Can't you hear the dominoes going down?) The men nodded here and there, briefly. Saturday night in a provincial town holds many recollections. The high church was a stately pile of granite, with lofty spire and fine memorial windows. Doves fluttered about the eaves. Upon this particular Sunday morning there seemed to be something in the air that was not a component part of any of the elements. It was simply a bit of news which the church-goers had read in the papers that morning. To many a bud and belle it was a thunder-clap, a bolt from a cloudless heaven. They whispered about it, lifted their eyebrows, and shrugged their shoulders. But their mamas gave no sign. If the fox of disappointment ate into their vitals, they determined, Spartan-like, that none should know it. An actress! Men might marry actresses in England, but Herculaneum still clung to the belief that actresses were not eligible. Some of the men had seen Katherine Challoner act, and they sighed, retrospectively and introspectively. "I feel for Mrs. Bennington and her daughter. It must be a great blow to their pride." Mrs. Franklyn-Haldene sat down in her pew-seat and arranged her silk petticoats. Mrs. WilmingtonFairchilds sat down beside her. "You know I never meddle with scandal." Mrs. Fairchilds nodded brightly. "Never. I never repeat anything I hear. The Archibald affair was enacted right under my very nose; but did I circulate what I saw? I think not! That woman!--but there! I pray for her every night." "Was it really true, then?" asked Mrs. Fairchilds, breathless. She knew something about the Archibald affair, but not enough. "I saw it all with these eyes," flatly. "But, as I said, I keep my hands clean of scandal." Her hands were white and flabby. "I consider it not only wicked to start a scandal, but positively bad taste. The lightest word sometimes ruins a reputation." "Mrs. Archibald--" began Mrs. Fairchilds. "Not another word, my dear. I've said nothing at all; I haven't even told you what I saw. But an actress is different. Think of it, my dear! She will live among us and we shall have to meet her. Think of the actors who have kissed her in their make-believe love affairs! It is so horribly common. I have heard a good many things about her. She has romped in studios in male attire and smokes cigarettes. I should not want any son of mine to be seen with her. I'm not saying a single word against her, mind you; not a single word. You know as well as I do what a wild fellow Warrington is. Well, she has been going around with him." "But they took him up in London," said Mrs. Wilmington-Fairchilds. "London! London society, indeed! It's the greatest jumble in the world: nobility hobnobs with jockeys, piano-players, writers and actors." Mrs. Fairchilds shook her head sadly. She had always believed London society quite the proper thing, and she had followed the serials of "The Duchess" with reverent awe. But Mrs. Franklyn- Haldene ought to know; she had traveled in Europe several seasons. Mrs. Franklyn-Haldene was one of the prominent social leaders, and Mrs. Fairchilds had ambitions. The ready listener gets along very well in this old world of ours. "I always knew that some time or other the plebeian Bennington blood would crop out," went on Mrs. Haldene. "But we must not criticize the dead," benignly. "We shall have to receive her." "After a fashion," replied Mrs. Haldene, opening her prayer-book. Her tone implied that things would not go very smoothly for the interloper. "All this comes from assimilating English ideas," she added. Mrs. Franklyn-Haldene was one of those fortunate persons who always have their names in the society columns of the Sunday newspapers. Either she was among those present, or she gave a luncheon, or she assisted at a reception, or was going out of town, or coming back. Those who ran their husbands in debt to get into society always looked to see what Mrs. Haldene had been doing the past week. The society reporters, very often smug young women of aristocratic but impoverished families, called her up by telephone every day in the week. Mrs. Haldene pretended to demur, but the reporters found her an inexhaustible mine of tittle-tattle. Sometimes they omitted some news which she considered important; and, as the saying goes, the hair flew. She found many contestants for the leadership; but her rivals never lasted more than a month. She was president of hospital societies, orphan asylums, and the auxiliary Republican Club, and spoke at a bimonthly club on the servant question. Everybody was a little afraid of her, with one exception. The society columns of the Sunday newspapers have become permanently established. In every city and hamlet from New York to San Francisco, you will find the society column. It is all tommyrot to the outsider; but the proprietor is generally a shrewd business man and makes vanity pay tribute to his exchequer. The column especially in early summer, begins something like this: June will be a busy month for brides, and King Cupid and his gala court will hold sway. The bridal processions will begin to move this week in homes and churches. On Wednesday, at high noon, the marriage of Miss Katherine Challoner, the well-known actress, and Mr. John Bennington, of this city, will be solemnized in New York. Only the immediate relatives will be present. Richard Warrington, our own celebrated townsman, will act as best man. The announcement comes as a great surprise to society, as Mr. Bennington was looked upon as a confirmed bachelor. And again you will find something of this sort: April 22--Mrs. Franklyn-Haldene leaves next week for Washington, where she will be the guest of Senator Soandso's wife. April 29--Mrs. Franklyn-Haldene left yesterday for Washington. May 6--Mrs. Franklyn-Haldene, who is visiting in Washington, will return next week. May 13--Mrs. Franklyn-Haldene has returned home from a delightful visit in Washington. Sometimes, when there was no escape from it, Mr. Franklyn-Haldene's name also appeared. From mundane things to the spiritual! "Yes, I feel for Mrs. Bennington," continued Mrs. Haldene. "We have to submit to our boys' running around with actresses; but to marry them!" "And married life, I understand, seldom agrees with them. They invariably return to the stage. I wonder if this woman has ever been married before?" "I shouldn't be surprised. For my part, I'm very glad the ceremony will not be performed in the church. Hush!" with a warning glance over her shoulder. There was a sudden craning of necks, an agitation among the hats and bonnets. Down the aisle came a handsome, dignified woman in widow's weeds, a woman who was easily fifty-six, but who looked as if she had just crossed the threshold of the forties. Her face was serene, the halfsmile on her lips was gentle and sweet her warm brown eyes viewed the world peacefully. Ah, how well she knew that to-day this temple of worship was but a den of jackals, ready to rend her if she so much as hesitated, so much as faltered in look or speech! Never should they feed themselves upon her sorrow. She went on, smiling here and there. The low hum, the pallid lights, the murmur from the organ, all seemed cruelly accented. Her pew was third from the chancel; she was but half-way through the gantlet of curious eyes. Following her was a young girl of twenty. She was youth in all its beauty and charm and fragrance. Many a young masculine heart throbbed violently as she passed, and straightway determined to win fame and fortune, if for no other purpose than to cast them at her feet. This was Patty Bennington. The two reached their pew without mishap, and immediately rested their heads reverently upon the rail in prayer. Presently the music ceased, the rector mounted the pulpit, and the day's service began. I doubt if many could tell you what the sermon was about that day. No other place offers to the speculative eye of the philosopher so many varied phases of humanity as the church. In the open, during the week-days, there is little pretense, one way or the other; but in church, on Sunday, everybody, or nearly everybody, seems to have donned a mask, a transparent mask, a smug mask, the mask of the known hypocrite. The man who is a brute to his wife goes meekly to his seat; the miser, who has six days pinched his tenants or evicted them, passes the collection plate, his face benevolent; the woman whose tongue is that of the liar and the gossip, who has done her best to smirch the reputation of her nearest neighbor, lifts her eyes heavenward and follows every word of a sermon she can not comprehend; and the man or woman who has stepped aside actually believes that his or her presence in church hoodwinks every one. Heigh-ho! And envy with her brooding yellow eyes and hypocrisy with her eternal smirk sit side by side in church. Oh, there are some good and kindly people in this ragged world of ours, and they go to church with prayer in their hearts and goodness on their lips and forgiveness in their hands. They wear no masks; their hearts and minds go in and out of church unchanged. These are the salt of the earth, and do not often have their names in the Sunday papers, unless it is in the matter of their wills and codicils. Then only do the worldly know that charity had walked among them and they knew her not. Of such was Miss Anna Warrington, spinster-aunt of Richard. She occupied the other half of the Bennington pew. Until half a dozen years ago, when her boy had come into his own, she had known but little save poverty and disillusion; and the good she always dreamed of doing she was now doing in fact. Very quietly her withered old hand stole over the low partition and pressed Mrs. Bennington's hand. The clasp spoke mutely of courage and good-will. She knew nothing of awe, kindly soul; the great and the small were all the same to her. She remembered without rancor the time when Mrs. Bennington scarcely noticed her; but sorrow had visited Mrs. Bennington and widened her vision and broadened her heart; and the two met each other on a common basis, the loss of dear ones. The clock is invariably hung in the rear of the church. The man who originally selected this position was evidently a bit of a cynic. Perhaps he wanted to impress the preacher with the fact that there must be a limitation to all things, even good sermons; or perhaps he wanted to test the patience and sincerity of the congregation. The sermon was rather tedious this Sunday; shiny, well-worn platitudes are always tedious. And many twisted in their seats to get a glimpse of the clock. Whenever Patty looked around (for youth sits impatiently in church), always she met eyes, eyes, eyes. But she was a brave lass, and more than once she beat aside the curious gaze. How she hated them! She knew what they were whispering, whispering. Her brother was going to marry an actress. She was proud of her brother's choice. He was going to marry a woman who was as brilliant as she was handsome, who counted among her friends the great men and women of the time, who dwelt in a world where mediocrity is unknown and likewise unwelcome. Mediocrity's teeth are sharp only for those who fear them. Patty was nervous on her mother's account, not her own. It had been a blow to the mother, who had always hoped to have her boy to herself as long as she lived. He had never worried her with flirtations; there had been no youthful affairs. The mother of the boy who is always falling in love can meet the final blow half-way. Mrs. Bennington had made an idol of the boy, but at the same time she had made a man of him. From the time he could talk till he had entered man's estate, she had been constant at his side, now with wisdom and learning, now with laughter and wit, always and always with boundless and brooding love. The first lesson had been on the horror of cruelty; the second, on the power of truth; the third, on the good that comes from firmness. It is very easy to make an idol and a fool of a boy; but Mrs. Bennington always had the future in mind. It was hard, it was bitter, that another should step in and claim the perfected man. She had been lulled into the belief that now she would have him all her own till the end of her days. But it was not to be. Her sense of justice was evenly balanced; her son had the same right that his father had; it was natural that he should desire a mate and a home of his own; but, nevertheless, it was bitter. That his choice had been an actress caused her no alarm. Her son was a gentleman; he would never marry beneath him; it was love, not infatuation; and love is never love unless it can find something noble and good to rest upon. It was not the actress, no; the one great reiterating question was: did this brilliant woman love her son? Was it the man or his money? She had gone to New York to meet Miss Challoner. She had steeled her heart against all those subtle advances, such as an actress knows how to make. She had gone to conquer, but had been conquered. For when Kate Challoner determined to charm she was not to be resisted. She had gone up to the mother and daughter and put her arms around them. "I knew that I should love you both. How could I help it? And please be kind to me: God has been in giving me your son." Ah, if she had only said: "I shall love you because I love him!" But there was doubt, haunting doubt. If the glamour of married life wore out, and the craving for publicity returned, this woman might easily wreck her son's life and the lives of those who loved him. She was very glad when the service came to an end and the stir and rustle announced the departure of the congregation. At the door she found Mrs. Franklyn-Haldene. She rather expected to find her. They were enemies of old. "Shall I congratulate you?" asked the formidable person. Many of the congregation stopped. They hadn't the courage of Mrs. Franklyn-Haldene, but they lacked none of her curiosity. "You may, indeed," returned Mrs. Bennington serenely. She understood perfectly well; but she was an old hand at woman's war. "My son is very fortunate. I shall love my new daughter dearly, for she loves my son." "She is just splendid!" said Patty, with sparkling eyes. How she longed to scratch the powder from Mrs. Franklyn-Haldene's beak-like nose! Busybody, meddler! "I never suspected John had such good sense." "You are very fortunate," said Mrs. Franklyn-Haldene. She smiled, nodded, and passed on into the street. A truce! Mr. Franklyn-Haldene, as he entered the carriage after his wife, savagely bit off the end of a cigar. "What the devil's the matter with you women, anyhow?" he demanded. "Franklyn!" "Why couldn't you leave her alone? You're all a pack of buzzards, waiting for some heart to peck at. Church!--bah!" It was only on rare occasions that Mr. Franklyn-Haldene voiced his sentiments. On these occasions Mrs. Franklyn-Haldene rarely spoke. There was a man in her husband she had no desire to rouse. Mr. Haldene was the exception referred to; he was not afraid of his wife. They rode homeward in silence. As they passed the Warrington place, Mr. Haldene again spoke. "Warrington is home over Sunday. Saw him on horseback this morning." "There's one thing I'm thankful for: the wedding will not be in Herculaneum." "Humph!" "It's disgusting; and we shall have to receive her. But I do not envy her her lot." "Neither do I," said Haldene. "You women have already mapped out a nice little hell for her. Why should you be so vindictive simply because she is an actress? If she is good and honest, what the deuce?" "There's no use arguing with you." "I'm glad you've found that out. You'd find out lots of other things if you stayed home long enough. I shall treat the woman decently." "I dare say all you men will." "And you, Madam, shall be among the first to call on her. Mind that!" She looked at the man pityingly. Men never understood. Call on her? Of course, she would call on her. For how could she make the woman unhappy if she did not call on her? Chapter V Every city has its Fifth Avenue. That which we can not have as our own we strive to imitate. Animal and vegetable life simply reproduces itself; humanity does more than that, it imitates. Williams Street was the Fifth Avenue of Herculaneum. It was broad, handsome, and climbed a hill of easy incline. It was a street of which any city might be justly proud. Only two or three houses jarred the artistic sense. These were built by men who grew rich so suddenly and unexpectedly that their sense of the grotesque became abnormal. It is an interesting fact to note that the children of this class become immediately seized with a species of insanity, an insanity which urges them on the one hand to buy newspapers with dollar-bills, and on the other to treat their parents with scant respect. Sudden riches have, it would seem, but two generations: the parent who accumulates and the son who spends. The Warrington home (manor was applied to but few houses in town) stood back from the street two hundred feet or more, on a beautiful natural terrace. The lawn was wide and crisp and green, and the oak trees were the envy of many. The house itself had been built by one of the early settlers, and Warrington had admired it since boyhood. It was of wood, white, with green blinds and wide verandas, pillared after the colonial style. Warrington had purchased it on a bank foreclosure, and rather cheaply, considering the location. The interior was simple but rich. The great fireplace was made of old Roman bricks; there were exquisite paintings and marbles and rugs and china, and books and books. Very few persons in Herculaneum had been inside, but these few circulated the report that the old house had the handsomest interior in town. Straightway Warrington's income became four times as large as it really was. The old aunt and the "girl" kept the house scrupulously clean, for there was no knowing when Richard might take it into his head to come home. The "girl's" husband took care of the stables and exercised the horses. And all went very well. Warrington seldom went to church. It was not because he was without belief; there was a strong leaven of faith underlying his cynicism. Frankly, sermons bored him. It was so easy for his imaginative mind to reach out and take the thought from the preacher's mouth almost before he uttered it. Thus, there was never any suspense, and suspense in sermons, as in books and plays, is the only thing that holds captive our interest. So he stayed at home and read the Sunday papers. That part not devoted to society and foreign news was given up wholly to local politics. Both the Democratic and Republican parties were in bad odor. In the Common Council they were giving away street-railway franchises; gamblingdens flourished undisturbed, and saloons closed only when some member of the saloonkeeper's family died. The anti-gambling league had succeeded in suppressing the slot machines for a fortnight; this was the only triumph virtue could mark down for herself. There were reformers in plenty, but their inordinate love of publicity ruined the effectiveness of their work. A brass band will not move the criminal half so quickly as a sudden pull at the scruff of his neck. So the evil-doer lay low, or borrowed the most convenient halo and posed as a deeply-wronged man. Warrington, as he read, smiled in contempt. They had only one real man in town, scoundrel though he was. There are certain phases of villainy that compel our admiration, and the villainy of McQuade was of this order. The newspapers were evidently subsidized, for their clamor was half-hearted and hypocritical. Once or twice Warrington felt a sudden longing to take off his coat and get into the fight; but the impulse was transitory. He realized that he loved ease and comfort too well. Finally he tossed aside the sheets and signaled to the dog. It was a bull terrier, old and scarred, and unchanging in his affections. He loved this master of his, even if he saw him but once a year. They understood each other perfectly. He was a peace-loving animal, but he was a fighter at times--like his master. He had a beautiful head, broad punishing jaws, and, for all his age, he had not run to fat, which is the ignominious end of all athletes, men or dogs. "Old boy, this is a jolly bad world." Jove wagged his stump of a tail. "We should all be thieves if it were not for publicity and jail." Jove coughed deprecatingly. Perhaps he recollected purloined haunches of aforetime. "Sometimes I've half a mind to pack up and light out to the woods, and never look at a human being again." Jove thought this would be fine; his tail said so. "But I'm like a man at a good play; I've simply got to stay and see how it ends, for the great Dramatist has me guessing." Warrington stared into the kind brown eyes and pulled the ragged ears. There was a kind of guilt in the old dog's eyes, for dogs have consciences. If only he dared tell his master! There was somebody else now. True, this somebody else would never take the master's place; but what was a poor dog to do when he was lonesome and never laid eyes on his master for months and months? Nobody paid much attention to him in this house when the master was away. He respected aunty (who had the spinster's foolish aversion for dogs and the incomprehensible affection for cats!) and for this reason never molested her supercilious Angora cat. Could he be blamed if he sought (and found) elsewhere affection and confidence? Why, these morning rides were as good as a bone. She talked to him, told him her secrets (secrets he swore on a dog's bible never to reveal!) and desires, and fed him chicken, and cuddled him. There were times when he realized that old age was upon him; some of these canters left him breathless and groggy. "I've been thinking, boy," the master's voice went on. "New York isn't so much, after all. I wasn't city born, and there are times when the flowing gold of the fields and the cool woods call. Bah! There's nothing now to hold me anywhere. I hope she'll make him happy; she can do it if she tries. Heigh-ho! The ride this morning has made me sleepy. To your rug, boy, to your rug." Warrington stretched himself on the lounge and fell asleep. And thus the aunt found him on her return from church. She hated to wake him but she simply could not hold back the news till luncheon. She touched his arm, and he woke with the same smile that had dimpled his cheeks when he was a babe in her arms. Those of us who have retained the good disposition of youth never scowl upon being awakened. "Aha," he cried, sitting up and rubbing his eyes. "Richard, I wish you had gone to church this morning." "And watched the gossips and scandal-mongers twist their barbs in Mrs. Bennington's heart? Hardly." She gazed at him, nonplussed. There was surely something uncanny in this boy, who always seemed to know what people were doing, had done or were going to do. "I wouldn't have believed it of my congregation," she said. "Oh, Mrs. Bennington is a woman of the world; she understands how to make barbs harmless. But that's why I never go to church. It doesn't soothe me as it ought to; I fall too easily into the habit of pulling my neighbor's mind into pieces. Gossip and weddings and funerals; your reputation in shreds, your best girl married, your best friend dead. I find myself nearer Heaven when I'm alone in the fields. But I've been thinking, Aunty." "About what?" "About coming home to stay." "Oh, Richard, if you only would!" sitting beside him and folding him in her arms. "I'm so lonely. There's only you and I; all the others I've loved are asleep on the hill. Do come home, Richard; you're all I have." "I'm thinking it over." Here the Angora came in cautiously. She saw Jove and the dog saw her; fur and hair bristled. Jove looked at his master beseechingly--"Say the word, Dick, say the word, and I'll give you an entertainment." But the word did not come. "There's your church-goers, Aunty; always ready to fly at each other. In order to study humanity thoroughly, one must first learn the ways of the beast." "I'm afraid your dog's a traitor." "A traitor?" "Yes. Half the time he runs over to the Benningtons' and stays all night. I don't see why he should." "Maybe they pet him over there. Perhaps he wants a hand sometimes, just like human beings when they're lonely. If you petted him once in a while, one pat for every ten you give the cat, the old boy would be tickled to death." "But I'm kind to him, Richard; he has the best meat I can buy. I'd pet him, too, but I'm afraid of him. I'm always afraid of dogs. Besides, his feet are always muddy and his hair falls out and sticks to everything." "Who is his latest love?" "Patty Bennington. They go out riding together. I can always tell, for his stomach is invariably caked with dried mud." "Patty Bennington? The old dog shows good taste. And I had forgotten all about Bennington's having a sister. I was thunderstruck when I met her the other week in New York. I had really forgotten her. She is charming." "She is a dear young girl. Ah, Richard, if only you would find some one like her." "Marriages are made in Heaven, Aunt, and I'm going to wait till I get there. But I'll think it over about coming home to stay." "I'll be so happy!" the old lady cried. "I'm going right out into the kitchen myself and make one of those cherry pies you used to rave over." She disappeared; and Warrington laughed, rose and stretched the sleep from his arms and legs, and went up stairs to dress. Yes, he would think it over. There was nothing to hold him in New York, nothing but the craving for noise and late hours. Why not settle down here? There would be plenty to do. Besides, if he lived in Herculaneum he could run over to the Bennington home at any time of day. His cheeks flushed of a sudden. "Hang it, am I lying to myself about that girl? Is it the knowledge that she'll be my neighbor that inclines me to live here? I know I shall miss her if I stay in New York; I'm honest enough to admit that. God knows I've nothing but honor in my heart for her. Why, I wouldn't even kiss her hand without old Jack's consent. Well, well; the scene in the church Wednesday will solve all doubts-if I have any." The Sunday luncheon passed uneventfully. The aunt said nothing more about his coming home to stay. She knew her boy; urging would do more harm than good; so she left him to decide freely. "Is the pie good, Richard?" she asked. "Fine! Can you spare me another piece?" "I'm glad you'll never be too proud to eat pie," she returned. "Not even when it's humble," laughed Warrington. "There are some folks roundabout who do not think pie is proper," seriously. "Not proper? Tommyrot! Pie is an institution; it is as unassailable as the Constitution of the country. I do not speak of the human constitution. There are some folks so purse-proud that they call pies tarts." She looked askance at him. There were times when she wasn't quite sure of this boy of hers. He might be serious, and then again he might be quietly laughing. But she saw with satisfaction that the pie disappeared. "The world, Richard, isn't what it was in my time." "I dare say it isn't, Aunty; yet cherries are just as good as ever and June as beautiful. It isn't the world, Aunt o' mine; it's the plaguy people. Those who stay away from church ought to go, and those who go ought to stay away. I'm going down to the club this afternoon. I shall dine there, and later look up the Benningtons. So don't keep dinner waiting for me." "Cheer her up, Richard; she needs cheering. It's been a blow to her to lose her boy. If you'd only get married, too, Richard, I could die content. What in the world shall you do when I am gone?" "Heaven knows!" The thought of losing this dear old soul gave a serious tone to his voice. He kissed her on the cheek and went out into the hall. Jove came waltzing after him. "Humph! What do you want, sir? Want to go out with me, eh? Very well; but you must promise to behave yourself. I'll have you talking to no poor-dog trash, mind." Jove promised unutterable things. "Come on, then." He walked slowly down town, his cane behind his back, his chin in his collar, deep in meditation. He knew instinctively that Mrs. Bennington wanted to talk to him about the coming marriage. He determined to tell her the truth, truth that would set her mother's heart at peace. Jove ran hither and thither importantly. It was good to be out with the master. He ran into this yard and that, scared a cat up a tree, chased the sparrows, and grumbled at the other dogs he saw. All at once he paused, stiffened, each muscle tense. Warrington, catching the pose, looked up. A handsome trotter was coming along at a walk. In the light road-wagon sat a man and a white bulldog. It was easy for Warrington to recognize McQuade, who in turn knew that this good-looking young man must be the dramatist. The two glanced at each other casually. They were unacquainted. Not so the dogs. They had met. The white bull teetered on the seat. Jove bared his strong teeth. How he hated that sleek white brute up there! He would have given his life for one good hold on that broad throat. The white dog was thinking, too. Some day, when the time came, he would clean the slate. Once he had almost had the tan for his own. And he hated the girl who had beaten him off with her heavy riding-crop. McQuade drove on, and Warrington resumed his interrupted study of the sidewalk. McQuade thought nothing more about the fellow who wrote plays, and the dramatist had no place in his mind for the petty affairs of the politician. Fate, however, moves quite as certainly and mysteriously as the cosmic law. The bitter feud between these two men began with their dogs. At the club Warrington found a few lonely bachelors, who welcomed him to the long table in the grill-room; but he was in no mood for gossip and whisky. He ordered a lithia, drank it quickly, and escaped to the reading-room to write some letters. Down in the grill-room they talked him over. "I don't know whether he boozes now, but he used to be tanked quite regularly," said one. "Yes, and they say he writes best when half-seas over." "Evidently," said a third, "he doesn't drink unless he wants to; and that's more than most of us can say." "Pshaw! Sunday's clearing-up day; nobody drinks much on Sunday. I wonder that Warrington didn't marry Challoner himself. He went around with her a lot." Everybody shrugged. You can shrug away a reputation a deal more safely than you can talk it. "Oh, Bennington's no ass. She's a woman of brains, anyhow. It's something better than marrying a little fool of a pretty chorus girl. She'll probably make things lively for one ironmonger. If the hair doesn't fly, the money will. He's a good sort of chap, but he wants a snaffle and a curb on his high-stepper." Then the topic changed to poker and the marvelous hands held the night before. Warrington finished his correspondence, dined alone, and at seven-thirty started up the street to the Benningtons'. Jove, with the assurance of one who knows he will be welcomed, approached the inviting veranda at a gallop. His master, however, followed with a sense of diffidence. He noted that there was a party of young people on the veranda. He knew the severe and critical eye of youth, and he was a bit afraid of himself. Evidently Miss Patty had no lack of beaux. Miss Patty in person appeared at the top of the steps, and smiled. "I was half expecting you," she said, offering a slim cool hand. Warrington clasped it in his own and gave it a friendly pressure. "Thank you," he replied. "Please don't disturb yourselves," he remonstrated, as the young men rose reluctantly from their chairs. "Is Mrs. Bennington at home?" "You will find her in the library." Then Patty introduced him. There was some constraint on the part of the young men. They agreed that, should the celebrity remain, he would become the center of attraction at once, and all the bright things they had brought for the dazzlement of Patty would have to pass unsaid. To youth, every new-corner is a possible rival; he wouldn't be human if he didn't believe that each man who comes along is simply bound to fall in love with the very girl HE has his eyes on. On the other hand, the young girls regretted that the great dramatist wasn't going to sit beside them. There is a strange glamour about these men and women who talk or write to us from over the footlights. As Warrington disappeared into the hallway, the murmur and frequent laughter was resumed. Mrs. Bennington was very glad to see him. She laid aside her book and made room for him on the divan. They talked about the weather, the changes that had taken place since the fall, a scrap of foreign travel of mutual interest, each hoping that the other would be first to broach the subject most vital to both. Finally, Mrs. Bennington realized that she could fence no longer. "It was very good of you to come. I have so many things to ask you." "Yes." "My boy's determination to marry has been very sudden. I knew nothing till a month ago. I love him so, and my whole heart hungers for one thing--the assurance that he will be happy with the woman of his choice." "My dear Mrs. Bennington, Jack will marry a woman who is as loyal and honest as she is brilliant and beautiful. Miss Challoner is a woman any family might be proud to claim. She numbers among her friends many of the brilliant minds of the age; she compels their respect and admiration by her intellect and her generosity. Oh, Jack is to be envied. I can readily understand the deep-rooted antagonism the actress still finds among the laity. It is a foolish prejudice. I can point out many cases where the layman has married an actress and has been happy and contented with his lot." "But on the obverse side?" with a smile that was sad and dubious. "Happiness is always in the minority of cases, in all walks of life. Happiness depends wholly upon ourselves; environment has nothing to do with it. Most of these theatrical marriages you have read about were mere business contracts. John is in love." "But is he loved?" "Miss Challoner has a very comfortable fortune of her own. She would, in my opinion, be the last person in the world to marry for money or social position, the latter of which she already has." But she saw through his diplomacy. "Perhaps she may desire a home?" "That is probable; but it is quite evident to me that she wants John with it." "There are persons in town who will do their best to make her unhappy." "You will always find those persons; but I am confident Miss Challoner will prove a match for any of them. There is no other woman in the world who knows better than she the value of well-applied flattery." "She is certainly a charming woman; it is impossible not to admit that frankly. But you, who are familiar with the stage, know how unstable people of that sort are. Suppose she tires of John? It would break my heart." "Ah, all that will depend upon Jack. Doubtless he knows the meaning of 'to have and to hold.' To hold any woman's love, a man must make himself indispensable; he must be her partner in all things: her comrade and husband when need be, her lover always. There can be no going back to old haunts, so attractive to men; club life must become merely an incident. Again, he must not be under her feet all the time. Too much or too little will not do; it must be the happy between." "You are a very wise young man." Warrington laughed embarrassedly. "I have had to figure out all these things." "But if she does not love him!" "How in the world can she help it?" She caught up his hand in a motherly clasp. "We mothers are vain in our love. We make our sons paragons; we blind ourselves to their faults; we overlook their follies, and condone their sins. And we build so many castles that one day tumble down about our ears. Why is it a mother always wishes her boy to marry the woman of her choice? What right has a mother to interfere with her son's heart-desires? It may be that we fear the stranger will stand between us. A mother holds, and always will hold, that no woman on earth is good enough for her son. Now, as I recollect, I did not think Mr. Bennington too good for me." She smiled drolly. Lucky Jack! If only he had had a mother like this! Warrington thought. "I dare say he thought that, too," he said. "Myself, I never knew a mother's love. No doubt I should have been a better man. Yet, I've often observed that a boy with a loving mother takes her love as a matter of course, and never realizes his riches till he has lost them. My aunt is the only mother I have known." "And a dear, kind, loving soul she is," said Mrs. Bennington. "She loves you, if not with motherlove, at least with mother-instinct. When we two get together, we have a time of it; I, lauding my boy; she, praising hers. But I go round and round in a circle: my boy. Sons never grow up, they are always our babies; they come to us with their heartaches, at three or at thirty; there is ever one door open in the storm, the mother's heart. If she loves my boy, nothing shall be too good for her." "I feel reasonably sure that she does." Did she? He wondered. Did she love Jack as he (Warrington) wanted some day to be loved? "As you say," the mother went on, "how can she help loving him? He is a handsome boy; and this alone is enough to attract women. But he is so kind and gentle, Richard; so manly and strong. He has his faults; he is human, like his mother. John is terribly strong-willed, and this would worry me, were I not sure that his sense of justice is equally strong. He is like me in gentleness; but the man in him is the same man I loved in my girlhood days. When John maps out a course to act upon, if he believes he is right, nothing can swerve him--nothing. And sometimes he has been innocently wrong. I told Miss Challoner all his good qualities and his bad. She told me that she, too, has her faults. She added that there was only one other man who could in any manner compare with John, and that man is you." "I?" His face growing warm. "Yes. But she had no right to compare anybody with my boy," laughing. "There isn't any comparison whatever," admitted Warrington, laughing too. "But it was very kind of Miss Challoner to say a good word for me." And then upon impulse he related how, and under what circumstances, he had first met the actress. "It reads like a story,--a versatile woman. This talk has done me much good. I know the affection that exists between you and John, and I am confident that you would not misrepresent anything. I shall sleep easier to-night." The portieres rattled, and Patty stood in the doorway. "Everybody's gone; may I come in?" Warrington rose. "I really should be very glad to make your acquaintance," gallantly. "It's so long a time since I've met young people--" "Young people!" indignantly. "I am not young people; I am twenty, going on twenty-one." "I apologize." Warrington sat down. Thereupon Miss Patty, who was a good sailor, laid her course close to the wind, and with few tacks made her goal; which was the complete subjugation of this brilliant man. She was gay, sad, witty and wise; and there were moments when her mother looked at her in puzzled surprise. As for Warrington, he went from one laugh into another. Oh, dazzling twenty; blissful, ignorant, confident twenty! Who among you would not be twenty, when trouble passes like cloud-shadows in April; when the door of the world first opens? Ay, who would not trade the meager pittance, wrested from the grinding years, for one fleet, smiling dream of twenty? "It is all over town, the reply you made to Mrs. Winthrop and that little, sawed-off, witty daughter of hers." "Patty!" "Well, she is sawed-off and witty." "What did I say?" asked Warrington, blushing. He had forgotten the incident. "Mrs. Winthrop asked you to make her daughter an epigram, and you replied that Heaven had already done that." "By the way," said Warrington, when the laughter subsided, "I understand that my old dog has been running away from home lately. I hope he doesn't bother you." "Bother, indeed! I just love him," cried Patty. "He's such a lovable animal. We have such good times on our morning rides. We had trouble last week, though. A white bulldog sprang at him. Jove was so tired that he would have been whipped had I not dismounted and beaten the white dog off. Oh, Jove was perfectly willing to contest the right of way. And when it was all over, who should come along but Mr. McQuade, the politician. It was his dog. And he hadn't even the grace to make an apology for his dog's ill manners." "May I not ride with you to-morrow morning?" he asked. He had intended to leave Herculaneum at noon; but there were many later trains. "That will be delightful! I know so many beautiful roads; and we can lunch at the Country Club. And Jove can go along, too." "Where is the traitor?" "He is sound asleep on the veranda rugs." "Well, it's long past his bedtime. I must be going." "Some time I hope you will come just to call on me." "I shall not need any urging." They followed him to the door, and good nights were said. "Oh, Patty, he has lifted so much doubt!" said the mother, as the two returned to the library. "He has nothing but praise for Miss Challoner. It is quite possible that John will be happy." "It is not only possible, mother darling, but probable. For my part, I think her the most charming, most fascinating woman I ever met. And she told me she rides. What jolly times we'll have together, when John settles down in the new house!" "The new house!" repeated the mother, biting her lips. "How the word hurts! Patty, why could they not come here? We'll be so lonely. Yet, it is the law of Heaven that a man and his wife must live by and for themselves." Warrington walked home, lightened in spirit. He swung his cane, gave Jove a dozen love-taps and whistled operatic airs. What a charming young creature it was, to be sure! The brain of a woman and the heart of a child. And he had forgotten all about her. Now, of course, his recollection became clear. He remembered a mite of a girl in short frocks, wonder-eyes, and candy-smudged lips. How they grew, these youngsters! He went into the house, still whistling. Jove ran out into the kitchen to see if by some possible miracle there was another piece of steak in his grub-pan. A dog's eyes are always close to his stomach. Warrington, finding that everybody had gone to bed, turned out the lights and went up stairs. He knocked on the door of his aunt's bedroom. "Is that you, Richard?" "Yes. May I come in?" "Certainly." He entered quietly. The moonlight, pouring in through the window, lay blue-white on the counterpane and the beloved old face. "What is it?" she asked. He sat down on the edge of the bed and patted her hands. "Aunty, old lady, I'm through thinking. I'm going to come home just as soon as I can fix up things in New York." "Richard, my boy!" Her arms pulled him downward. "I knew it when you came in. I've prayed so long for this. God has answered my prayers. I'm so happy. Don't you remember how you used to tell me all your plans, the plots of your stories, the funny things that had come to you during the day? You used to come home late, but that didn't matter; you'd always find some pie and cheese and a glass of milk on the kitchen table--the old kitchen table. I'm so glad!" "It may be a month or so; for I'll have to sell some of the things. But I'm coming home, I'm coming home." He bent swiftly and kissed her. "Good night." Chapter VI Warrington was up and about at six the next morning. He had never really outgrown the natural habit of waking at dawn, but he had fallen upon the evil way of turning over and sleeping till half after nine. He ate a light breakfast and went out to the stables and moved among the stalls, talking affectionate nonsense to the horses. A man can not talk baby-talk, that is the undisputed prerogative of the woman; but he has a fashion of his own which serves. "Aha, old boy! Handsome beggar!" or--"How's the little lady this morning, eh?" or yet again-"Rascal! you've been rubbing the hair off your tail!" In the boxstall Warrington's thoroughbred Irish hunter nozzled his palm for loaf-sugar, and whinnied with pleasure when he found it. One of the first things Warrington had done, upon drawing his first big royalty check, was to buy a horse. As a boy on the farm he had hungered for the possession of one of those sleek, handsome animals which men call thoroughbreds. Then for a while he bought, sold and traded horses, for the mere pleasure it gave him to be near them. Finally he came to Herculaneum with two such saddle-horses as made every millionaire in town (and there were several in Herculaneum) offer fabulous sums whenever they ran across the owner. Next, he added two carriage-horses, in their way quite equal to the hunters. Men offered to buy these, too, but Warrington was a property owner now, and he wanted the horses for his own. In New York one of his wealthy friends had given him free use of his stables: so Warrington rode, at home and abroad. His income, ranging from twenty to thirty thousand the year, gave him that financial independence which neither the clerk nor the millionaire knew or understood. In the phraseology of the day, he carried his business under his hat: in other words, he had no business cares or responsibilities whatever. Warrington made it a rule to saddle and bridle his own horses; grooms become careless. One or two men of his acquaintance had gone to their death for the want of care and a firm buckle. Besides, he enjoyed the work, and it accustomed the horses to his touch. He saddled his favorite hunter and led the eager animal into the open. He mounted and whistled for the dog; but Jove for once did not respond; doubtless he was out of hearing. Thereupon Warrington started for the Benningtons' and found Patty already in the saddle. It was not that the dramatist was blase, but he had come into contact with so many beautiful women that his pulse rarely stirred out of its healthy, measured beat. But this morning he was conscious of a slight thrill. The girl was really beautiful; more than that, she was fresh with youth and gaiety, gaiety which older women find necessary to repress. She was dressed in a dark grey riding-habit and wore a beaver cocked-hat. "Good morning," he said, touching his cap with his crop. "I hope I haven't kept you waiting." "Only a moment." The truth is, she wanted to prove to him that there was one woman who did not keep men waiting. "Shall I pick the going?" "I'm afraid I've lost track of the good country roads." "Follow me, then." They walked their horses to the city limits. You never saw either of them galloping over brick or asphalt, which quickly ruins the surest-footed horse; neither did they permit any fox-trotting, which, while it shows off a spirited horse, decreases his value in the ring. All of which is to say, these two, like their mounts, were thoroughbreds. "Where is Jove?" she asked presently. "The rogue is missing. I dare say he is gallivanting around some neighbor's back yard. I haven't laid eyes on him this morning. I believe he realizes that he will see me frequently hereafter, and has not bothered his head to look me up." "Frequently?" She turned her head. "Yes. I am coming home to live. Of course, this is my place of residence; my voter's bed, as the politicians say, is here in Herculaneum. But I mean to live here now in deed as well as in thought." "I am sure we shall be delighted to have you with us." This was said gravely. A thought, which she would have repelled gladly, sprang into being. "I know John will be glad. He's always talking about you and your exploits at college." "Our exploits," he corrected, laughing. "Shall we give them a little exercise now?" he asked, with a gesture toward the long brown road. She nodded, and they started off at a sharp trot, and presently broke into a canter. So he was coming home to live? She felt a hot wave of sudden anger sweep over her, and her hands tightened on the reins. It was true, then? She loved her brother. What right had this man at her side to threaten her brother's happiness? Had Katherine Challoner signified her desire not to leave New York, would Warrington have decided to return to Herculaneum? Her hands relaxed. What a silly little fool she was! She, who despised and contemned gossip, was giving it ready ear. Had she ever found gossip other than an errant, cowardly liar? Gossip, gossip! Ah, if gossip, when she had made her round, would not leave suspicion behind her; suspicion, hydra-headed! What signified it that Warrington intended to come home to live? What signified it that her brother's wife would live across the way? She was ashamed of her evil thought; presently she would be no better than Mrs. Franklyn-Haldene, or any of those women who get together to tear somebody apart. As if Warrington could compare with her big, handsome, manly brother! It was all impossible. She would punish herself for even entertaining such a thought as had been hers but a moment gone. She stole a glance at Warrington. He was riding easily, his feet light in the stirrups, his head thrown back, his eyes half closed, and was breathing deeply of the cool air, which was heavy with the smell of sweet clover and dew-wet earth. It was a good, clean, honest face. Indeed, it was all impossible. Dissipation writes plainly upon the human countenance, and it had left no visible sign on Warrington's face. It may be that dissipation sometimes whimsically neglects to write at all. They thundered over a wooden bridge. The spirit of the morning was in the horses; they began to race. An unexpected curve in the road discovered a road-builder and his gang of Italians. A low barrier ran across the road. It was not exactly needed, as they were not digging, but laying crushed stone. The obstruction was simply for the convenience of the boss, who desired to work unhampered. "Shall we?" cried Warrington, mischief in his eyes. "Yes." There was no fear in this girl. On they went, in a cloud of dust. The Italians made for the ditches, but the boss stood in the road and waved his arms in warning. Presently he, too, ducked. Hep! And over the pair went, landing clean and sound on the other side of the barrier. Before the surprised boss could express himself, they were far down the road. A curse was hurled after them, but they heard it not. They hadn't hurt the road at all, but the authority of the boss had suffered. He knew the girl, little snob! He would find out who the man was, soon enough. And if he had any influence in the City Hall, as he believed he had, he would make it tolerably warm for yonder vanishing parties. He had put up that barrier to signify that the road was closed; very well, they'd see. Dirt under their feet, huh? All right. How he hated them all, with their horses and carriages and dances and dinners and clubs! Bah! He took a flask from his pocket and drank. Then he cursed the laggard Italians, and mourned that a year and a half must pass before he could sell their votes again. Bolles contracted for Italian labor and controlled something more than eight hundred votes. McQuade sublet various small contracts to him, and in return used the Italians during elections. That jump, harmless enough in itself, was to prove a bad inspiration on Warrington's part. But it is always these seemingly inconsequent things that bear the heaviest reckoning. Half a mile onward they drew down to a walk, flushed and breathless. "Perhaps we oughtn't to have done that," she said doubtfully, working the numbness from her fingers. "No thoroughfare" had hitherto been religiously respected by her; this was her first transgression, and she wasn't entirely satisfied with herself. "Pshaw! There's no harm done. There was no earthly reason why we should have turned back to the fork and added two miles to our ride. Don't let anything like that worry you; we went by too fast to be recognized. Look! Here’s a big clover patch. I never pass clover without wanting to get down and hunt for four-leaves. Shall we?" She was out of the saddle before the query had left his lips. "I believe it would be a good idea to arm ourselves against bad luck," she replied, gently moving aside the clover heads with her crop. "You believe in four-leaf clover, then?" She nodded. "I do. I also am very careful," he added, "to catch the money-patches on my coffee." She laughed. After all, there was something old-fashioned about this man. "And I never think of plucking a five-leaf. That's bad luck." "The worst kind of bad luck. I remember, when I was a kid, I never played hooky without first hunting up my four-leaved amulet. If I got a licking when I returned home, why, I consoled myself with the thought, that it might have been ten times worse but for the four-leaf." They moved about, looking here and there, while the horses buried their noses in the wet grass and threatened never to return to the road again. After a diligent search Patty found a beautiful four-leaf clover. She exhibited it in triumph. "You've better luck than I," said Warrington. "We shall have to go on without my finding one." "You may have this one," she replied; "and I hope it will bring you all sorts of good luck." He took out his card-case and made room for the little amulet. "It is impossible not to be fortunate now," he said, with a gravity that was not assumed. She looked at him dubiously. No, there was no laughter in his eyes; he was perfectly serious. They walked the horses over a small hill, then mounted. It was a very pleasant morning for Warrington. It had been years since he had talked to a young woman who was witty and unworldly. He had to readjust himself. He had written down that all witty women were worldly, but that all worldly women were not witty. But to be witty and unsophisticated was altogether out of his calculations. At the Country Club they stabled the horses and wandered about the golf links. Luncheon was served on the veranda; and presently Warrington found himself confiding in this young girl as if he had known her intimately all his life. The girl felt a thrill of exultation. It flattered her young vanity to hear this celebrity telling her about his ambitions. "Everything becomes monotonous after a while," he said. "And I have just begun to grow weary of living alone. Day after day, the same faces, the same places, the same arguments, the same work. I've grown tired. I want to live like other human beings. Monotony leads very quickly into folly, and I confess to many acts of folly. And no folly is absolutely harmless." He stirred his tea and stared into the cup. "Why, I should think you ought to be the most contented of men," she cried. "You are famous, wealthy, courted. And when you return to Herculaneum, every girl in town will set her cap for you. I warn you of this, because I've taken a friendly interest in you." "It is very good of you. Come," he said, draining his cup; "surely you tell fortunes in tea-cups; tell mine." "Four-leaf clovers and tea-grounds," she mused. "You strike me as being a very superstitious young man." "I am." She passed the cup back to him. "Pour a little fresh tea in, spill it gently, turn the cup against the saucer and twirl it three times. That's the incantation." He followed the directions carefully, and she extended her hand for the cup. "There is always a woman in a man's tea-cup," she began. "There are two in this one." "Good gracious!" "Yes. Do you see that?" pointing to a cluster of leaves. "Looks like a camel. Am I going to be thirsty?" "That always indicates scandal," she declared soberly. "Scandal?" He smiled skeptically. "Scandal and disappointment. But happily these do not appear as having permanency." "Thanks," piously. "Disappointment? I can readily believe that. Disappointment has always been my portion. But scandal has never lifted her ugly head." "We are all far-sighted when scandal is in our immediate vicinity. This cup says scandal. There is plenty of money about you. See that? That means an enemy, strong, implacable. Disappointment and scandal are in his zone, which means he will probably be the cause of all your trouble. Have you an enemy?" "None that I know of, save myself. But don't you think something is the matter with the tea? It seems impossible that those harmless grounds ... Why, I shan't sleep o' nights after this." "You are laughing. Yet, this man is there. And here is a lie, too. It's a very bad cup, Mr. Warrington. I'm sorry." "So am I," gaily. "By the way, when do you and your mother start for New York?" "We leave to-night." "Good. Do you mind if I take the same train down?" "Mother and I'll be glad to have you with us." The servant cleared the table, and Warrington lighted a cigar. A trolley-car rolled up in front of the club, and several golf enthusiasts alighted. They knew Patty, and bowed; they weren't quite certain who her escort was. At two o'clock they began the journey home. There wasn't much loitering by the way. Patty had a tea; she must have time to rest and dress. All told, it was an enjoyable day for Warrington. More than ever he set his face against the great city and looked with satisfaction on the hills of his childhood. It would be a pleasant pastime to sit on Patty's veranda and talk, become, and act like one of the young people. He was growing old; his youth must be renewed soon, or he would lose it utterly. This young man had been surfeited with noise and light, with the sham and glitter of hotels, clubs and restaurants. He was not to the manner born; thus he could easily see how palpably false life is in a great city. To those who have lived in the abnormal glamour of city life, absolute quiet is a kind of new excitement. Warrington found that he was a bit stiff from the long ride. Patty, however, rode nearly every day; so she was but slightly fatigued. Nevertheless, she was conscious of not wanting to dress for the tea. But there was a very good reason why she must attend the function (as applied by the society reporter); they would naturally discuss her brother's coming marriage, but if she was present, the discussion would not rise above whispers. She wanted to meet the old busybodies in the open; she wasn't afraid. As she dressed, she caught herself doing aimless things, such as approaching the window and watching the clouds, or thoughtfully studying her face in the mirror, or patting the rug impatiently, or sighing. She shook herself vehemently, and went resolutely about the intricate business known as toilet. "I simply can't believe it. I know he isn't that kind of man. This can't be such a wicked world. But if she dares to make John unhappy, I shall hate her. Why must we hear these things that make us doubt and ponder and hesitate?" At the tea the ladies greeted her sympathetically. Sympathy! Hypocrites! Heads came together; she could see them from the corner of her eyes. She saw Mrs. Franklyn-Haldene, like a vast ship of the line, manoeuvering toward her. There were several escapes, but Patty stood her ground. "You are looking charming, my dear," said Mrs. Haldene. "Thank you." "You go to the wedding, of course." "Yes; mother and I leave to-night for New York. I am so excited over it. To think of John's being married to a celebrity!" Patty was excited, but this excitement did not find its origin in anything exultant. It was on the tip of her tongue to tell Mrs. Franklyn-Haldene to mind her own business. There was something primitive in Patty. Her second thoughts were due to cultivation, and not from any inherent caution. Mrs. Haldene smiled and went on. It was a wonderful smile; it never changed; it served for all emotions, anger, hate, love, envy and malice. Mrs. Haldene never flew into passions or ecstasies. She was indeed preserved; and from the puckering taste she left in her wake, it might be suspected that she was pickled. Before Patty arrived, two things had been fully discussed: the Bennington wedding and the report that Warrington was coming home to live. Shrugs, knowing glances, hypocritical resignation. Too bad, too bad! Warrington was coming home to live; young Mrs. Bennington would live across the street. When two and two make four, what more need be said? But Patty had her friends, and they stood by her loyally. New York. Clamor, clamor; noise, noise; the calling of cabmen, the clanging of street-cars, the rumbling of the elevated, the roaring of the drays, the rattling of the carts; shouting, pushing, hurrying, rushing, digging, streaming, pell-mell; the smell of coal-gas, of food cooking, of good and bad tobacco, of wet pavements, of plaster; riches and poverty jostling; romance and reality at war; monoliths of stone and iron; shops, shops; signs, signs; hotels; the tower of Babel; all the nations of the world shouldering one another; Jews and Gentiles, Christians and Turks; jumble, jumble. This is New York. There is nothing American about it; there is nothing English, French, German, Latin or Oriental about it. It is cosmopolitan; that is to say, it represents everything and nothing. Warrington, Patty and her mother alighted from the train in the gloomy, smoky cavern called the Grand Central Station and walked toward the gates. There was sunshine outside, but it was scarcely noticeable through the blackened canopy overhead. "There's John!" cried Patty, seizing her mother's arm. "And Miss Challoner, too!" A moment later the son was holding his mother in a fond embrace. Mrs. Bennington gave the actress her hand, who ignored it, put her arms around the mother and kissed her. There was not the slightest affectation in the act; it was done naturally and sweetly. Mrs. Bennington was well pleased. But Patty, Miss Challoner hugged Patty and whispered: "My sister!" If Patty had any doubts, they disappeared like summer mists in sunshine. "I'm a rank outsider," Warrington grumbled. "Surely you did not expect to be kissed!" Patty retorted. "A man never gives up hoping. Well, Benedick," to John, "I suppose you've a nice breakfast waiting for us somewhere." "That I have!" John thwacked Warrington on the shoulder. "It was good of you to come down with the folks." "No trouble at all." They all followed John, who announced that he had a carriage waiting, large enough to carry them all comfortably. As they crossed over to the street exit Warrington covertly glanced at Miss Challoner. She was radiant; there was color on her cheeks and lips; she was happy. Heighho! Warrington sighed. She was gone, as completely as though she had died. He grew angry at the heaviness of his heart. Was he always to love no one but Warrington? It is fine to be a bachelor when one is young; but when the years multiply, when there are no new junkets and old ones grow stale, when scenes change, when friends drop out one by one, when a younger generation usurps the primrose path of dalliance, ah! The world becomes a dreary place. The old bachelor is the loneliest and most pathetic of men. Once inside the carriage, the women began a light, friendly chatter; smiles and laughter; little jests about Benedicks, about the servant question, about coming home late o' nights; antenuptial persiflage. There was little that was spontaneous; each jest was an effort; but it sufficed to relieve what might have been awkward silence. "It's up to you, now, Dick," said John. "Think of the good times we four could have together!" "And who'd marry an old man like me?" asked Warrington plaintively. "Bosh!" said John. "Nonsense!" said Patty. "You are a young man," said the mother. "There are plenty setting their caps for you, if you but knew it," said Miss Challoner. "Aha! I smell a conspiracy!" laughed Warrington. "You are putting your heads together to get me off your hands." The breakfast awaited them at Bennington's hotel. This passed off smoothly. Then Warrington excused himself. He had a business engagement down town. It was arranged, however, that they were to be his guests that evening at dinner and a box-party at the summer opera. On Wednesday, at ten, they were to breakfast in his apartment. From his rooms they would go straight to the parson's, the "Little Church Around the Corner." When Warrington had gone, John turned to his sister. "Isn't he the finest chap?" "He isn't to be compared with you," Patty answered. "Nobody is," said Miss Challoner. John colored with pleasure. "Mr. Warrington is a thorough gentleman, and I like him very much," said Mrs. Bennington. "I have heard things about him; I can see that there has been some exaggeration. I shall be very glad to have him for a neighbor." "A neighbor?" said Miss Challoner. "Yes. He is coming back to Herculaneum to live." "That is news to me." The actress stirred her coffee and smiled at Patty. "I understand you've been riding together. He is really a splendid horseman." "He has the dearest old dog," replied Patty. The day passed quickly for all concerned: the dinner and box-party left nothing to be desired. The wedding-breakfast would have provoked envy in the heart of Lucullus; for Warrington was a man of the world, thoroughly polished; there was nothing Stoic about him (though, in the early days he had been a disciple of this cult perforce); he was a thoroughgoing epicure. Patty was delighted. Warrington guided her about the rooms on a tour of inspection. He pointed out all the curios and told the history of each. But the desk was the article which interested her most. "And this is where you write? Upon this desk plays have grown up? Won't you give me a single sheet of manuscript to take home with me?" "I certainly shall." He pulled out a drawer and found some old manuscript. He selected a sheet, signed it, and gave it to her. "I am rich!" the girl exclaimed. "Signed manuscript from a real live author! I suppose that you receive tons of letters, some praising, some arguing, some from mere autograph fiends." "It's a part of the day's work." His face brightened. He searched his pockets. "Here is one out of the ordinary. It is unsigned, so I feel no qualms of conscience in letting you read it." Patty took the envelope with suppressed eagerness. She drew out the letter and read it slowly. "Do you receive many like that?" she asked, folding the letter and returning it. "Very few; that's why I treasure it. I should like to meet the writer; but that's impossible. I have read and re-read it fifty times." "Evidently it was written in good faith." Patty was not very enthusiastic. "There's not the least doubt of that. I am glad of one thing: I can't disillusion her." "What do you mean?" "Oh, this young woman thinks I must be a paragon of virtues. I'm not; I'm a miserable impostor. She takes it for granted that I am good and kind and wise." "Aren't you?" asked Patty gravely. "As men go. I always try to be kind; sometimes I am good, and sometimes I am wise." "I'm afraid you are one of those young men who try to be bad and can't. They are hopeless." Warrington laughed. "But I am superstitious about that letter. I've carried it in my pocket for weeks. It's a kind of mentor. Whenever some fool thing comes into my head, I stop and think of the letter." "That is good. The writer hasn't wasted her time." "I love you!" whispered John. Miss Challoner smiled into his eyes. The smile encouraged him, and he raised her hand to his lips. Ah, if it were not for those gloves! Why did he not say something? She was positive that he had them. To smile and laugh and talk; to face the altar, knowing that he possessed those hateful gloves! To pretend to deceive when she knew that he was not deceived! It was maddening. It was not possible that Warrington had the gloves; he would never have kept them all this while. What meant this man at her side? What was he going to do? She recollected a play in which there was a pair of gloves. The man had thrown them at the woman's feet, and, at the very altar, turned and left her. But she knew that men did not do such things in life. She was innocent of any wrong; this knowledge sustained her. "A honeymoon in Switzerland: it has been the dream of my life." This time he drew her arm through his and crossed the room to his mother's side. "Mother mine, we shall be gone only three months; then we shall come home to stay." "I shall miss you so; you have been away so much that I am hardly acquainted with you." The woman who was to become her daughter suddenly dropped on her knees beside the chair. "Please love me, too. I have been so lonely all my life." "My daughter!" Mrs. Bennington laid her hand on the splendid head. "I shall never marry," said Patty decidedly. "What? Young lady, don't let any one hear you make such a remark. One of these fine days somebody will swoop you up and run off with you. I don't know but that I could play the part fairly well." Warrington laughed. "Indeed! You'd have a time of it." "I dare say. But there's the breakfast waiting." Toasts and good wishes, how easy they are to give! At the church the women cried a little. Women cry when they are happy, they cry when they are not; their tears keep a man guessing year in and year out. But this is no place for a dissertation on tears. There's time enough for that. The bride and groom left immediately for Boston, from which city they were to sail for Europe the following day. In the carriage John drew his bride close to his heart. "Mine!" he said, kissing her. "God grant that I may make you happy, girl." "John, you are the finest gentleman in the world!" His hand stole into his coat pocket and gently dropped something into her lap. She looked down and saw through her tears a crumpled pair of white kid gloves. Then she knew what manner of man was this at her side. "It was not because I doubted you," he said softly: "it was because they were yours." Chapter VII Spring came round again in Herculaneum. People began to go to the tailor and the dress-maker and the hatter. There were witty editorials in the newspapers on house-cleaning and about the man who had the courage to wear the first straw hat. The season (referring to the winter festivities) had been unusually lively. There had been two charity balls by rival hospital boards, receptions, amateur dramatics, dinners and dances, not to omit the announcement of several engagements. The new Bennington mansion had its house-warming in November. The reception, followed by a dinner-dance in the evening, was, according to the society columns, "one of the social events of the season. The handsomest house in town was a bower of smilax and hothouse roses." Everybody went to the reception, for everybody was more or less curious to meet the former celebrated actress. The society reporters, waiting for their cues, were rather non-committal in their description of the mistress. There was reason. They did not care, at this early stage of the game, to offend the leader by too much praise of a newcomer who had yet to establish herself. Besides, they realized how little their paragraphs would mean to a woman whose portrait had appeared in nearly all the illustrated magazines in the world. Thus, the half-heartedness of the newspapers was equally due to self-consciousness. Society itself, however, was greatly pleased with the beautiful Mrs. Bennington, for she entered with zest into all society's plans. In fact, she threatened to become very popular. The younger element began to call her Mrs. Jack. Kate was in her element, for to live after this fashion was the one ambition that had survived all seasons. She was like a child with some wonderful new French doll. There was always a crowd of young married people about her, which is a healthy sign. She and Patty became inseparable comrades. They shopped together, went to the matinees, and drove and rode together. Everything went along smoothly, too smoothly. Fate never permits anything like this to prosper long. For the first time in her career Mrs. Franklyn-Haldene saw her position menaced. The younger set no longer consulted her as formerly. When, like Mrs. Franklyn-Haldene, a woman has nothing more serious to live for than to organize social affairs, the slightest defection from her ranks is viewed in the light of a catastrophe. She had called on Mrs. Bennington the second, armed with all those subtle cruelties which women of her caliber know so well how to handle. And behold! She met a fencer who quietly buttoned the foils before the bout began. She had finally departed with smiles on her lips and rage in her heart. This actress, whom she had thought to awe with the majesty of her position in Herculaneum, was not awed at all. It was disconcerting; it was humiliating. She had condescended to tolerate and was tolerated in turn. Katherine adored Patty, and Patty had told her that she hated Mrs. Franklyn-Haldene. Naturally Katherine assumed the defensive whenever she met the common enemy. But Mrs. Haldene could wait. She had waited before this. She had made certain prophecies, and it embittered her to learn that so far none of these prophecies had come true. She could wait. Something was destined to happen, sooner or later. She knew human nature too well not to be expectant. To Mrs. Haldene the most gratifying phrase in the language was: "I told you so!" Warrington had disappointed her, too. He behaved himself. He did not run after young Mrs. Bennington; he never called there alone; he was seen more frequently at the old Bennington place. The truth is, Patty was busy reforming the wayward dramatist, and Warrington was busy watching the result. There were those who nodded and looked wise whenever they saw the two together. Oh, Herculaneum was a city to be desired, socially. Everybody was on his or her best behavior. It was only from among the poor that scandal gleaned her items for the newspapers. The shooting of such a man by such a woman's husband aroused only the mildest comment. But that class of people, don't you know, is so primeval. To kill a man from jealousy! It was ridiculous. Why did they not go to court, like civilized human beings? Of course there is always scandal in politics; everybody understands that this is unavoidable. Another franchise had slipped out of the Common Council into the transit company's pocket, and even the partizan papers mildly belabored the aldermanic body. The Evening Call, however slashed the ward representatives vigorously. It wound up its editorial with the query: "How much longer will the public stand this sort of thing?" The Call was the only independent sheet in town, and did about as it pleased. Warrington found himself taking more than normal interest in the situation. Occasionally, on Monday nights, he wandered into the City Hall and listened to the impassioned speeches of the aldermen. Many a tempestuous scene passed under his notice. Ordinances were passed or blocked; pavement deals were rushed through or sidetracked. And once, when the gas company was menaced with dollar-gas, the city pay-roll was held up for two months by the lighting company's cohorts. Only Heaven knows how much longer it might have been held back, had not an assemblyman come to the mayor's help by rushing up to the capital and railroading through a law that required only a two-thirds vote. The Democrats had remained in power for six years, and Herculaneum was essentially a Republican city. On the Democratic side was McQuade, on the Republican side was ex-Senator Henderson. These men were bosses of no ordinary type. The first was from the mass, the second from the class; and both were millionaires. The political arena was a pastime for these two men; it was a huge complex game of chess in which recently the senator had been worsted. The public paid, as it invariably does, to watch this game on the checkerboard of wards. The senator had been unfortunate in his candidates. He had tried young men and old, lawyers and merchants; but he had failed to nominate a man who was popular with class and mass. The present mayor was a shrewd Democrat who understood the diplomacy of petty politics. He shook the grimy hand of toil in preference to the gloved hand of idleness. He was thoroughly a politician. He never disregarded public opinion openly. He never sailed close to the wind, but spent his time in safe tacks to whatever harbor he desired. He was McQuade's man just so long as McQuade made the business worth while. He had opened up many new streets, abolished needless nuisances, and these concessions gave him a strong hold on the independent voter. He was a king over frogs which had changed much since Aesop's time, for now they let well enough alone. Nevertheless, things were going from bad to worse. Three terms are likely to cause a man to grow careless or indifferent, and Donnelly was making frequent bad breaks. The senator, ever watchful, believed he saw a chance to sweep McQuade off the board. McQuade had an able lieutenant in Alderman Martin, whom the sporting fraternity followed loyally. Martin owned and ran the most disreputable hotel in the city. It occupied a position of unusual prominence on one of the principal business streets. There was a saloon and a cheap restaurant on the ground floor. On the second floor were wine-rooms and a notorious gambling-den. Above this was the hotel. The guests stole in at midnight and stole out at dawn. This gambling-den was frequently the bone of contention between energetic ministers of the gospel and the police department. Regularly the police swore that gambling did not exist in town, and regularly the ministers went on a still hunt for proofs. Singularly enough, they never found any. A hint from headquarters, and the den would close up till after the excitement was over. All the newspapers understood that the police lied; but the editors were either afraid or indifferent; and the farce was played over yearly for the benefit of the ministerial association. The place was run honestly enough. When the stakes are small, the professional gambler does not have to be dishonest. All the same, this kind of gambler is the most despicable of men. He lures the wage of the poor; clerks, bookkeepers, traveling salesmen, laborers, college boys, men who drink too much of a Saturday night, all these come to the net. Nobody ever wins anything; and if perchance one does make a small winning, it goes quickly over the bar. Women wait and wonder at home; it is their common lot. The spirit of the gambler is in us all, and we might as well confess it here and now. It is in the corpuscles: something for nothing, something for nothing! Martin was a power in the Common Council. He could block or put through any measure. He always carried a roll of gold-bills in his pockets--for what purpose no one had the temerity to inquire. His following was large and turbulent; it came from the shops and the factories and the streets. In his ward no candidate had ever defeated him. "Nice people" had very little to do with Mr. Martin; the laborer who was honest had little to do with him, either. He was a pariah, but a very formidable one. Yet, no one, though many accused him, caught him in a dishonest deal. On the other hand, Senator Henderson's party had the cloak of respectability on its shoulders. His lieutenants were prominent business men who went into politics as a light diversion, young men of aristocratic families who were ambitious to go to Albany or Washington, and lawyers. The senator was a shrewd politician, with an unreadable face, clean-shaven but for a stubby mustache, and keen blue eyes that saw everything. He was loyal to his party and above dishonesty. This was the political situation in Herculaneum. One May evening the senator called up Warrington. He was told that Mr. Warrington was at the club. The senator drove to the club forthwith. He found the dramatist in the reading-room, and greeted him pleasantly. "My boy, I want half an hour of your time." "You are welcome to an hour of it, Senator," replied Warrington, curious to know what the senator had to say to him. "Come into a private dining-room, then." Once seated at the table, the senator reached over and touched Warrington mysteriously on the arm. "Young man, I heard you speak the other night at the Chamber of Commerce banquet. You're a born orator, and what is better than that, you've common sense and humor. How would you like to be mayor of Herculaneum next fall?" "Mayor?" gasped Warrington. "Yes." "I'd make a fine mayor," with forced laughter, but thinking rapidly. "Aren't you jollying me, Senator?" "I'm dead in earnest, Warrington. There is not another available man in sight. By available I mean a man who can pull the party out of the bog. There are a hundred I could nominate, but the nomination would be as far as they could go. We want a man who is fresh and new to the people, so far as politics goes; a man who can not be influenced by money or political emoluments. There are thousands of voters who are discontented, but they'd prefer to vote for Donnelly again rather than to vote for some one they know would be no better. You are known the world over. A good many people would never have known there was such a place as Herculaneum but for you. It is the home of the distinguished playwright." "But I know practically nothing about political machinery," Warrington protested. "You can leave the machinery to me," said the senator wisely. "I'll set the wheels going. It will be as easy as sliding down hill. I'll give you my word, if you land in the City Hall, to send you to Washington with the next Congress. Will you accept the nomination, in case I swing it around to you in September? It's a big thing. All you literary boys are breaking into politics. This is your chance." "I'll take the night to think it over," said Warrington. He was vastly flattered, but he was none the less cautious and non-committal. "Take a week, my boy; take a week. Another thing. You are intimate with young Bennington. He's a hard-headed chap and doesn't countenance politics in his shops. The two of you ought to bring the hands to their senses. If we can line up the Bennington steel-mills, others will fall in. Bennington owns the shops, but our friend McQuade owns the men who work there. Take a week to think it over; I can rely on your absolute secrecy." "I shall be silent for half a dozen reasons," Warrington replied. "But I shan't keep you waiting a week. Call me up by 'phone to-morrow at any time between five and six. I shall say yes or no, direct." "I like to hear a man talk like that." "I can't get the idea into my head yet. I never expected to meddle with politics in this town." "We'll do the meddling for you. Even if you accept, we shall require silence till the convention. It will be a bomb in the enemy's camp. You'll come around to the idea. Between five and six, then?" "I shall have your answer ready. Good night." The senator took himself off, while Warrington ordered a bottle of beer and drank it thoughtfully. Mayor! It would be a huge joke indeed to come back to Herculaneum to rule it. He chuckled all the way home that night; but when his head struck the pillow he saw the serious side of the affair. He recalled the old days when they sneered at him for selling vegetables; and here they were, coming to him with the mayoralty. It was mighty gratifying. And there was the promise of Washington. But he knew the world: political promises and pie-crusts. What would the aunt say? What would Patty say? Somehow, he was always thinking of Patty. He had not thought as yet to make any analysis of his regard for Patty. He held her in the light of an agreeable comrade, nothing more than that. Would she be pleased to see him mayor of Herculaneum? Bah! He couldn't sleep. He got out of bed, found a pipe and lighted it, and sat in the rocker by the window. Jove, hearing him moving about the room, woke up and came trotting in to inquire. "Ha, old boy, what do you think?" Jove laid his head on his master's knees. "They want to make a mayor out of me." Jove signified his approval. "They have forgiven us our daily vegetables. But shall I? Will it be worth while? Well, we'll take a ride into the hills in the morning, and we'll think it all out. Mayor of Herculaneum; sounds good, doesn't it? Nothing like success, Jove." Warrington smoked till the fire in his pipe died. He turned in, and this time he won sleep. Early the next morning he was off on his horse, and he did not return till noon. But he had his answer. At three that afternoon he had callers. Patty and Kate had just run over to see how the new play was getting on. Warrington confessed that he was doing only desultory work, but promised to read the scenario to them when it was done. "You are becoming lazy," said Kate rebukingly. "No; only a country gentleman." "Patty, did you hear that? He calls Herculaneum a country village." "Nothing of the sort. One may live in a city and be a countryman still." "Mr. Warrington probably misses New York," said Patty. "Not the veriest particle," promptly. Certainly Patty was growing more charming every day. The Angora cat, with feline caution, peeped into the room. Patty, who loved cats, made a dash for the fluffy animal, which turned tail and bolted for the kitchen, Patty a close second. For the first time since the marriage Kate and Warrington were alone together. He gazed at her, mildly speculative. "Well, what do you see?" she asked. "You are certainly one of the most beautiful women in the world," he declared, sighing. "You say 'one of'?" frowning. "There was a time when it was not general; you used the definite article." "I know it." "Then there must be somebody else," quickly. "I'm not a marrying man," he said evasively. "Is it Patty, Dick? Oh, if it were only Patty!" "I'm not good enough for Patty, Kate. The Lord knows, though, that I wish I were. She embarrasses me at times with her implicit faith in my goodness." "Ah, Richard, what a terrible past yours was!" mockingly. "Nonsense!" briskly. "You are guilty of nothing but innocuous villainies. If there were fairies I should ask one to make you fall violently in love with Patty." "No fairies need apply," ambiguously. "But you; you seem to be happy." "There can not be a happier woman in the world. Let me confess. The confession may hurt your vanity. I love my husband better than I dreamed I could love. He is so just, so tender and strong. And isn't he handsome? I am madly jealous of every woman that comes near him. And once upon a time I believed that I was in love with Mr. Richard." There was no coquetry in this frank statement. "Any one can see that you are happy." "I want every one to see it. I want to tell everybody, too. You have no idea how strong he is, Dick. Yesterday I was in the shops with him. A rail was in the way; the men about did not see it; or refused to see it. John stooped, picked it up with his bare hands, and dropped it to one side. There are but two men in the shops who can do that. But I have a horror of those great bars of twisting white iron. They terrify me. I do not understand, but the men are always sullen when I am there. John says it's my imagination." "It probably is. Perhaps the begrimed faces have something to do with it." "I can read the human countenance too well," she said. "Is it because I have been on the stage? Have these men a base opinion of me?" "Impossible!" "And they seem to dislike John, too." "John can take care of himself. He'll wait a long while, but when he moves forward nothing can stop him. Don't you ever miss the glare of the lights?" he asked, his endeavor being to interest her in something foreign to the shops. "Dick, I have almost forgotten that I ever acted. You will remember that I refused to assist in the amateur theatricals last winter. Act? I hate the word. It suggests the puppet, the living in other people's worlds, parrot-wise, in imitation." "Come, come, Kate; it's the greatest gift of all and you know it. Think! The power to make people laugh and cry, to make either happiness or misery perfectly real!" "Oh, there was pleasure in it at times," she admitted reluctantly. "Do you remember my gloves, Dick? John had them." "He knew you were in my rooms that night?" "Yes. I told him the simple truth, and he believed me. How could I help loving a man as loyal as that?" "It is fine. But Jack was always a thorough man. I don't blame you for loving him. I call him all sorts of names to Patty, and it is fun to watch her eyes flash." Kate gave him a curious smile. "What's the matter?" "Nothing." "You smiled." "I had a happy thought." "Probably about that house-broken John of yours." "Who's calling John house-broken?" Patty stood in the doorway, the Angora struggling under her arm. "Well, isn't he house-broken?" asked Warrington with gentle malice. "Gentle and warranted to stand?" Patty, for reasons of her own, permitted him to believe that he succeeded in teasing her. "Kate, let us be going. I can not listen to Mr. Warrington's remarks regarding my brother. He treats John as if he were a horse." "Just as you say, dear. We shall punish Mr. Warrington by not making informal calls in the future." "Wait till I get my hat," cried Warrington, "and I'll walk over to the house with you." "If you do that," said Patty, "we shall be compelled to ask you to remain to dinner." "Oh, I should refuse. I've a telephone engagement between five and six." "But we never serve dinner till seven," replied Patty, buttoning her coat austerely. Kate laughed merrily. "If you will ask me over to dinner," said Warrington, "I'll tell you a secret, a real dark political secret, one that I've promised not to tell to a soul." The two women stopped abruptly. The cast was irresistible, and they had to rise to it. Yet Patty murmured: "How like a woman he is!" "It simply shows what high regard I have for your discretion. It is a secret some men would pay a comfortable fortune to learn." "Will you please come and dine with us this evening?" asked Patty. "I shall be very happy." "And now, the secret," said Mrs. Jack. "Between five and six I expect a call on the phone from Senator Henderson." "Senator Henderson!" exclaimed the women in unison. "I shall say but a single word. It will be yes." "But the secret! Mercy alive, you are keeping us waiting!" Warrington glanced around with mock caution. He went mysteriously to the portieres and peered into the hall; he repeated this performance at the dining-room door, then turned, a finger upon his lips. "Senator Henderson is looking for a candidate for mayor this fall. Mind, not a word to a soul, not even to John," this warning addressed principally to Mrs. Jack. "The Honorable Richard Warrington," said Patty, musing. She rolled the words on her tongue as if testing the sound of them. "That's it," laughed Warrington. "The Honorable Richard Warrington!--sounds like Lord Mayor of London!" Every Eden has its serpent, sooner or later. Thus, having futilely tried the usual gates by which he enters Eden to destroy it, this particular serpent found a breach in the gate of politics. Chapter VIII McQuade and Martin entered a cafe popular for its noon lunches. It was hot weather in July, and both were mopping their bald foreheads, their faces and necks. The white bulldog trotted along behind, his tongue lolling out of his mouth and his eyes heavy. The two men sat down in a corner under an electric fan; the dog crawled under the table, grateful for the cold stone tiling. "What do you know about this fellow Warrington?" asked McQuade, tossing his hat on one of the unoccupied chairs. "The fellow who writes plays?" "Yes. What do you know about him?" "Why, he used to peddle vegetables and now he owns a swell place on Williams Street." "Gamble?" "Not that I know of. I never go into Pete's myself. It wouldn't be good business. But they tell me Warrington used to drop in once in a while, when he was a reporter, and choke his salary to death over the roulette table." "Doesn't gamble now?" "Not in any of the joints around town." "Drink?" "Oh, I guess he boozes a little; but he's hard-headed and knows how to handle the stuff." "Women?--Roast beef, boiled potatoes and musty ale for two." "Actresses.--Say, make mine a beer.--A gay buck in New York, I understand. Used to chase around after the Challoner woman who married Bennington." "Nothing here in town?" "Haven't paid any attention to him. I guess he's straight enough these days." "Tip Pete off to-day. The police will make a raid Saturday night. The ministers have been shouting again, and two or three losers have whined." "All right. But what's all this about Warrington?" asked Martin, whose curiosity was aroused. "I'll tell you later." The waiter returned with the platters of food, and McQuade ate without further comment or question. Martin ate his meat in silence also, but he was busy wondering. Warrington? What had interested the boss in that swell? Humph! These men ate quickly and digested slowly. McQuade took out two fat black cigars and passed one to Martin, who tore off the end with his teeth. "I want to find out all there is to know about Warrington. I can't explain why just now; too many around." "Set Bolles after him. Bolles used to be with a private detective bureau. If there's anything to learn, he'll learn it. There he is now. Hey, waiter, ask that gentleman looking for a vacant table to come over. Hello, Bolles!" "How do you do, Mr. Martin. Hot day, Mr. McQuade." "Sit down," said McQuade, with a nod of invitation toward the remaining vacant chair. "Cigar or a drink?" "Bring me a little whisky--no, make it an old-fashioned cocktail. That'll be about right." "Mr. McQuade has a job for you, Bolles, if you're willing to undertake it." "I've got some time on my hands just now," replied Bolles. "Contract work?" "After a fashion," said McQuade grimly. "Eat your dinner and we'll go up stairs to my office. What I have to say can't be said here." "All right, Mr. McQuade. If it's dagos, I'll have plenty in hand in November." "I shall want you to go to New York," said McQuade. "New York or San Francisco, so long as some one foots the bills." "I'll foot 'em," agreed McQuade. "Hustle your dinner. We'll wait for you at the bar." Bolles ordered. A job for McQuade that took him to New York meant money, money and a good time. There were no more contracts till September, so the junket to New York wouldn't interfere with his regular work. He had sublet his Italians. He was free. A few minutes later he joined McQuade, and the trio went up stairs in a cloud of tobacco smoke. McQuade nodded to the typewriter, who rose and left the private office. The three men sat down, in what might be described as a one-two-three attitude: domination, tacit acceptance of this domination, and servility. "Do you know Richard Warrington, the playwriter?" "That snob? Yes, I know who he is, and I'd like to punch his head for him, too." McQuade smiled. This manifest rancor on Bolles' part would make things easier than he thought. "Well, listen. I've just been tipped that big things are going to happen this fall. That fool Donnelly has queered himself, and is making a muddle of everything he touches. Senator Henderson is a shrewd man, but he wasn't shrewd enough this time. He should have conducted his little conspiracy in his own home and not at a club where servants often find profit in selling what they hear. Henderson is going to put Warrington up for mayor." "The hell he is!" said Bolles. Martin's jaw dropped, and the cigar ashes tumbled down his shirt bosom. "It's no joke," went on McQuade. "If he is nominated, he'll win. The people are wanting a change. If the Henderson people get into the City Hall, I stand to lose a fortune on contracts. You both know what that means. Warrington must never get a chance to accept." Bolles looked at Martin. McQuade saw the look, and, interpreting it, laughed. "These are no dime-novel days. We don't kill men to get 'em out of the way. We take a look into their past and use it as a club." "I begin to see," said Martin. "Warrington must be side-tracked before the convention. Good. That'll be simple." "Not very," McQuade admitted. "It's going to be a devilish hard job. You, Bolles, pack up and go to New York. I want some information regarding this young fellow's past in New York. It's up to you to get it. No faking, mind you; good substantial evidence that can be backed up by affidavits. Get the idea? Five hundred and expenses, if you succeed; your expenses anyhow. Five hundred is a lot of money these days. But if you go on a bat, I'll drop you like a hot brick, for good and all. Think it over. Pack up to-night, if you want to. Here's a hundred to start with. Remember this, now, there must be a woman." "A woman?" "Yes. A man has no past, if there isn't a woman in it." "I can land that five hundred," Bolles declared confidently. "I can find the woman. I'll write you every other day." "Well, then, that's all. Good luck. No boozing while you're on the job Afterward I don't care what you do. By-by." Bolles took his dismissal smilingly. Five hundred. It was easy. "If it's possible, he'll do it," said Martin. "But what's your campaign?" "Donnelly must remain another term. After that, oblivion. There'll be bids this fall. If Henderson's man wins, there'll be new aldermen. These bids of mine must go through and gas must be kept at a dollar-fifty. I'm a rich man, but at present I'm up to my neck in southern contracts that aren't paying ten cents on the dollar. Herculaneum's got to foot the bill." "How'd you find out about Henderson's coup?" "One of the waiters at his club said he had some information. I gave him ten dollars for something I'd have given ten hundred for just as quickly. If Henderson had sprung Warrington in September, we'd have been swamped. Now we have a good chance to hang on." "Force him to back down and withdraw?" McQuade nodded. "It's simply got to be done. I didn't give Henderson credit for so clever a move as this. A new man, famous and wealthy, under no obligations to his party; the voters would follow him just for the novelty of the thing. Besides, there are other reasons, but I'm keeping them to myself. How about that pavement deal in John Street?" John Street possessed but three or four houses. The paving would be a ten-thousand-dollar job. As a witty political speaker once said, they paved Herculaneum in the concrete and in the abstract. "It will go through Monday night, smooth as butter." "Canvassed the boys?" "More than three-fourths vote. Sure." "I'm depending upon you." "Will you turn down Donnelly at the convention?" "I tell you he's got to run again. I'll bring him to order, after a little heart-to-heart talk. He's the only man in sight." "Why not play the same game as Henderson?" "I've thought it all out. There's no one but Donnelly. Pick up anything you can about Warrington." "All right. By the way, the boys want to know if you think we can pull off those ten-round bouts this winter." "I'm going down to the capital to see." Martin telephoned for his team, and twenty minutes later he was driving countryward. McQuade dictated a few letters, one of which he directed to be sent by messenger. Then he left the office and called upon the editor of the Times. This conference lasted an hour. McQuade was chief owner of the Times. Warrington was greatly surprised when, at three-thirty, a message was brought to him requesting him briefly and politely to do Mr. McQuade the honor to call on him between four and five that afternoon. He had met McQuade at the Chamber of Commerce dinner. The introduction had been most formal. What the deuce did McQuade wish to see him about? Should he go? A natural aversion to the man said no; but policy urged him as well as curiosity. He went to the telephone and called up McQuade's office. Mr. McQuade was not in, but would return at four. Ah! It was the typewriter who spoke. Would she kindly notify Mr. McQuade on his return that Mr. Warrington would be at his office at four-thirty? She would. Thanks. Warrington smoked uneasily. He had no desire to meet McQuade. Their ways were widely separated and reached nothing in common. But he readily recognized the fact that McQuade was not a man such as one might heedlessly antagonize. What could the politician want of the literary man? McQuade dabbled in racing horses; perhaps he had a horse to sell. In that event, they would meet on common ground. But his belief in this possibility was only half-hearted. He filled his pockets with cigars, whistled for the dog, and departed. Both of the Bennington houses were closed; the two families were up north in the woods. Promptly at four-thirty Warrington and his dog entered the elevator of the McQuade Building and were dislodged on the third floor. They went along the dim corridor, scrutinizing doors, each hunting for one of his kind. Jove couldn't read, but he could smell. Finally Warrington came to a stand. Upon the glass panel of the door he read: Daniel McQuade & Co. General Contractors He did not knock. He opened the door and walked in. It is a sign of weakness for a man to knock on the door of a business office, unless it is marked private, Nevertheless, the dingy glass had known the knock of many knuckles. A girl was hammering on the typewriting machine. She ceased only when she completed the page. She looked up. Her expression, on seeing who the visitor was, changed instantly. It was not often that a man like this one entered the office of Daniel McQuade and Company, General Contractors. "I have an appointment with Mr. McQuade," said Warrington pleasantly; "would you mind announcing me?" "Just a moment," answered the girl, rising and entering the private office. She returned at once. "Mr. McQuade will see you." Warrington walked quietly into the lion's den. "Glad to see you, Mr. Warrington," said McQuade, pointing toward a chair. He did not offer his hand; something told him not to make that mistake. From under the desk McQuade's dog emerged, stiff and bristling. On his side, Jove stood squarely on his legs, head on, as they say, his lips writhing and quivering with rage. Warrington touched the chair that had been offered him. Jove begged. But the master was obdurate. Jove jumped up, but turned quickly. The white dog stopped. He recognized that he was at a complete disadvantage. McQuade watched these proceedings with an amused twinkle. It was a clever manoeuver. So far as he was concerned, a good dog fight would not have been to his distaste. "It doesn't hurt the brutes to light once in a while. But, of course," he added, "your dog is old." "Nothing is old till it is useless." "An epigram from one of your plays?" "No; but it sounds good enough to use. Jove has strong teeth, however, and he comes from a fighting family. But for my part, I had much rather see two men pummel each other." "So would I, for that matter." McQuade pushed the match-box toward Warrington, but Warrington drew out his own and struck a light. McQuade shrugged. "Mr. McQuade, I am interested to learn what is back of your note. Horses?" "No; not horses." McQuade viewed the young man through half-closed eyes. The contractor was a big hulk of a man, physically as strong as a bull, with reddish hair, small twinkling eyes, a puffy nose mottled with veins, thin lips shaded by a bristling red mustache, and a heavy jaw. The red fell of hair on his hands reminded Warrington of a sow's back. Everything about McQuade suggested strength and tensity of purpose. He had begun work on a canal-boat. He had carried shovel and pick. From boss on a railway section job he had become a brakeman. He took a turn at lumbering, bought a tract of chestnuts and made a good penny in railroad ties. He saved every dollar above his expenses. He bought a small interest in a contracting firm, and presently he became its head. There was ebb and tide to his fortunes but he hung on. A lighting contract made him a rich man. Then he drifted into politics; and now, at the age of fifty, he was a power in the state. The one phase of sentiment in the man was the longing to possess all those obstacles that had beset his path in the days of his struggles. He bought the canal-boat and converted it into a house-boat; he broke the man who had refused him a job at the start; he bought the block, the sidewalk of which he had swept; every man who stood in his way he removed this way or that. He was dishonest, but his dishonesty was of a Napoleonic order. He was uneducated, but he possessed that exact knowledge of mankind that makes leaders; and his shrewdness was the result of caution and suspicion. But like all men of his breed, he hated with peculiar venom the well-born; he loved to grapple with them, to wrest their idleness from them, to compel them to work for a living, to humiliate them. The fiber in McQuade was coarse; he possessed neither generosity nor magnanimity; the very men who feared him held him in secret contempt. "No, Mr. Warrington, I haven't any horses for sale to-day," he began. "Not very long ago you met Senator Henderson at your club. He offered you the nomination for mayor this fall, and you accepted it." Warrington could not repress a start of surprise. He had not quite expected this. He was annoyed. "That is true. What mystifies me," he supplemented, "is how this knowledge came to your ears." "I generally hear what's going on. My object in asking you to call is to talk over the matter on a friendly basis." "I can not see what good that will do. Politically we have nothing in common." "Politically or socially. But the point is this. What have you done that you should merit this honor? I'll talk frankly. What have you done toward the building up of your city? What have you done toward its progress in manufacturing and building? You have done nothing but buy a house on the fashionable street and pay the taxes." "You might add that I once peddled vegetables," said Warrington. It was McQuade's turn to be surprised. From what he had observed of fashionable people, especially the new-rich, they endeavored to submerge altogether the evidences of past manual and menial labor. "Then you are not ashamed of the fact that you sold vegetables?" "In truth, I'm rather proud of it. It was the first step in the fight. And I tell you honestly, Mr. McQuade, that I have fought every inch of the way. And I shall continue to fight, when there's anything worth fighting for. I'm not a manufacturer or a builder, but I am none the less eligible for public office. What little money I have was made honestly, every penny of it. It was not built on political robbery and the failures of others. But let us come to the point. You have something to say." "Yes. I have. And it is this: I don't propose to have you meddle with the politics of this city. I hope we can come to a peaceful understanding. I don't want to war against you." "Mr. McQuade, you talk like a man out of his senses. Who's going to prevent me from accepting the nomination?" "I am," answered McQuade, bringing a fist down on his desk. The dogs growled. They seemed to realize that war of some kind was in the air. "How?" asked Warrington. The man was a fool! "You will go to Senator Henderson and tell him that you have reconsidered." Warrington laughed. "I believed I knew all phases, but this one surpasses any I ever heard of. You have the nerve to ask me, of the opposition party, to refuse the nomination for mayor?" "I have." "Are you afraid of me?" "Not of you, my lad," McQuade answered sardonically, spreading out his great hands. "Do I look like a man afraid of anything? But the thought of a stranger becoming mayor of Herculaneum rather frightens me. Let us have peace, Mr. Warrington." "I ask nothing better." "Withdraw." "I never withdraw. I am not afraid of anything. I even promise to be good-natured enough to look upon this meeting as a colossal joke." Warrington's cigar had gone out. He relighted it coolly. "If the nomination is offered me, I shall accept it; and once having accepted it, I'll fight, but honorably and in the open. Look here, McQuade, don't be a fool. You've something against me personally. What is it? If I recollect, I ran across you once or twice when I was a newspaper man." McQuade's eyes narrowed again. "Personally, you are nothing to me," he replied; "politically, you are a meddler, and you are in my way." "Oh, I am in your way? That is to say, if I am elected, there'll be too much honesty in the City Hall to suit your plans? I can readily believe that. If you can convince me that I ought not to run for mayor, do so. I can accept any reasonable argument. But bluster will do no good. For a man of your accredited ability, you are making a poor move, even a fatal one." "Will you withdraw?" "Emphatically no!" "All right. Whatever comes your way after this, don't blame me. I have given you a fair warning." "You have threatened." "I can act also. And you can put this in your pipe, Mr. Warrington, that before October comes round, when the Republican convention meets, you will withdraw your name quickly enough. This is not a threat. It's a warning. That's all. I'm sorry you can't see the matter from my standpoint." "Come, boy," said Warrington to his dog. "You had better keep your animal under the table." McQuade did not move or answer. So Warrington grasped Jove by the collar and led him out of the private office. McQuade heard the dramatist whistle on the way to the elevator. "So he'll fight, eh?" growled McQuade. "Well, I'll break him, or my name's not McQuade. The damned meddling upstart, with his plays and fine women! You're a hell of a dog, you are! Why the devil didn't you kill his pup for him?" McQuade sent a kick at the dog, who dodged it successfully, trotted out to the typewriter and crawled under the girl's skirts. Warrington went home, thoroughly angry with himself. To have bandied words and threats with a man like McQuade! He had lowered himself to the man's level. But there were times when he could not control his tongue. Education and time had not tamed him any. Withdraw? It would have to be something more tangible than threats. "Richard, you are not eating anything," said his aunt at dinner that evening. "I'm not hungry, Aunty. It's been one of those days when a man gets up wrong." "I'm sorry. Doesn't the play go along smoothly?" "Not as smoothly as I should like." "There was a long-distance call for you this afternoon. The Benningtons want you to come up at once instead of next week." Warrington brightened perceptibly. He went to work, but his heart wasn't in it. The interview with McQuade insisted upon recurring. Why hadn't he walked out without any comment whatever? Silence would have crushed McQuade. He knew that McQuade could not back up this threat; it was only a threat. Bah! Once more he flung himself into his work. Half an hour later the door-bell rang. Chapter IX Character is a word from which have descended two meanings diametrically opposed to each other. We say a man has a character, or we say he is one; the first signifies respect; the second, a tolerant contempt. There exists in all small communities, such as villages, towns, and cities of the third class, what is known as a character. In the cities he is found loafing in hotel lobbies or in the corridors of the City Hall; in the hamlet he is usually the orator of the post-office or the corner grocery. Invariably his wife takes in washing, and once in a while he secures for her an extra order. If he has any children, they live in the streets. He wears a collar, but seldom adds a tie. He prides himself on being the friend of the laboring man, and a necktie implies the worship of the golden calf. He never denies himself a social glass. He never buys, but he always manages to be introduced in time. After the first drink he calls his new friend by his surname; after the second drink it is "Arthur" or "John" or "Henry," as the case may be; then it dwindles into "Art" or "Jack" or "Hank." No one ever objects to this progressive familiarity. The stranger finds the character rather amusing. The character is usually a harmless parasite, and his one ambition is to get a political job such as entails no work. He is always pulling wires, as they say; but those at the other end are not sensitive to the touch. On dull days he loiters around the police court and looks mysterious. Cub reporters at first glance believe him to be a detective in disguise. Herculaneum had its character. He was a pompous little man to whom the inelegant applied the term of runt. He never could have passed the army examination, for he had no instep. He walked like a duck, flat-footed, minus the waddle. He was pop-eyed, and the fumes of strong drink had loosened the tear-ducts so that his eyes swam in a perennial mist of tears. His wife still called him William, but down town he was Bill. He knew everybody in town, and everybody in town knew him. There was a time when he had been on intimate terms with so distinguished a person as Mrs. Franklyn-Haldene. He will tell you to this day how he was wont to dandle her on his knee. Bill was one of those individuals of whom it is said: "He means well." In other words, he was a do-nothing, a ne'er-do-well. He had been comparatively rich once, but he had meant well with his money. One grand splurge, and it was all over. Herculaneum still recollects that splurge. When in his cups, Bill was always referring to those gorgeous days. Afterward, Bill and his family lived from hand to mouth. Occasionally, at Christmas, some of his old friends who felt sorry for him sent him a purse. Did Bill purchase turkey and coal and potatoes? No, indeed. He bought useless French toys for the children, who went hungry. Another time, when heartless winter returned and the price of coal went up, a church social was arranged for Bill's benefit. It netted him nearly a hundred dollars. But Bill didn't pay his landlord and grocer; not he! He came down town the following day with a shiny plug-hat and a gold-headed cane. Bill was a first-class genealogist. He could tell you the history of every leading family in town. It took Bill to expose the new-rich; he did it handsomely. The way these breakfast millionaires lorded and landaued it highly amused him. Who were they, anyhow? Coal-heavers, hodcarriers, stock-speculators, riffraff, who possessed an ounce of brains and a pound of luck. Why, they didn't even know how to spend their money when they got it. But what could be expected of people who put iron dogs and wooden deers on their front lawns? But the Benningtons, the Haldenes, and the Winterflelds, and the Parkers,--they had something to brag about. They were Bunker Hillers, they were; they had always had money and social position. As for the Millens, and the Deckers, and the McQuades--pah! Bill had a wonderful memory; he never forgot those who laughed at him and those who nodded kindly. He was shiftless and lazy, but he had a code of honor. Bill could have blackmailed many a careless man of prominence, had he been so minded. But a man who had once dined a governor of the state could do no wrong. His main fault was that he had neglected to wean his former greatness; he still nursed it. Thus, it was beneath his dignity to accept a position as a clerk in a store or shop. The fact that his pristine glory was somewhat dimmed to the eyes of his fellow citizens in no wise disturbed Bill. Sometimes, when he was inclined to let loose the floodgates of memory, his friends would slip a quarter into his palm and bid him get a drink, this being the easiest method of getting rid of him. Bill marched into the Warrington place jauntily. He wore a tie. Jove ran out and sniffed the frayed hems of his trousers. But like all men of his ilk, he possessed the gift of making friends with dogs. He patted Jove's broad head, spoke to him, and the dog wagged what there was left of his tail. Bill proceeded to the front door and resolutely rang the bell. The door opened presently. "Is Richard in?" Bill asked. He had had only two drinks that evening. "Mr. Warrington is in," answered the valet, with chilling dignity. "What is your business?" "Mine!" thundered Bill, who had a democratic contempt for a gentleman's gentleman. "I have important business to transact with your master. Take this card in to him. He'll see me." The valet looked at the greasy card. The name was written in ink; the card was of the kind one finds in hotels for the convenience of the guests. "I will take the card to Mr. Warrington," the valet promised reluctantly. There was, however, a barely perceptible grin struggling at the corners of his mouth. He was not wholly devoid of the sense of humor, as a gentleman's gentleman should at all times be. "William Osborne? What the deuce does he want here?" asked Warrington impatiently. "He said his business was important, sir. If it is half as important as he acts--" "No comments, please. Show Mr. Osborne in." Warrington turned all his mail face-downward. He knew Bill of aforetime, in the old newspaper days. Bill had marvelously keen eyes, for all that they were watery. The valet ushered him into the study. He wore his usual blase expression. He sat down and drew up his chair to the desk. "Well, Mr. Osborne, what's on your mind to-night?" Warrington leaned back. "The truth is, Richard," began William, "I found this letter on the pavement this afternoon. Guess you'd been down to the hotel this afternoon, and dropped it. I found it out in front. There was no envelope, so I couldn't help reading it." Warrington seized the letter eagerly. It was the only letter of its kind in the world. It was enchanted. "Mr. Osborne, you've done me a real service. I would not take a small fortune for this letter. I don't recollect how I came to lose it. Must have taken it out and dropped it accidentally. Thanks." "Don't mention it, my boy." Very few called him Mr. Osborne. "It is worth a good deal to me. Would you be offended if I gave you ten as a reward?" "I'd feel hurt, Richard, but not offended," a twinkle in the watery eyes. Warrington laughed, drew out his wallet and handed William a crisp, crackly bank-note. It went, neatly creased, into William's sagging vest-pocket. "Have a cigarette?" asked Warrington. "Richard, there's one thing I never did, and that's smoke one of those coffin-nails. Whisky and tobacco are all right, but I draw the line at cigarettes." Warrington passed him a cigar. William bit off the end and lighted it. He sniffed with evident relish. "Seems impossible, Richard, that only a few years ago you were a reporter at the police station. But I always said that you'd get there some day. You saw the dramatic side of the simplest case. I knew your father. He was one of the best farmers in the county. But he didn't know how to invest his savings. He ought to have left you rich." "But he didn't. After all, it's a fine thing to make for the good things in life and win them yourself." "That's true. You're a different breed from some of these people who are your neighbors. We're all mighty proud of you, here in Herculaneum. What you want to do is to get into politics." Here Bill winked mysteriously. "You've money and influence, and that's what counts." "I'm seriously thinking the thing over," returned Warrington, not quite understanding the wink. "Everything's on the bum in town; it wants a clean bill. McQuade must go. The man never keeps a promise. Told me in the presence of witnesses, last election, that he'd give me a job on the new police board; and yet after election he put in one of those whipper-snappers who know nothing. Of course, you've been in town long enough to know that Donnelly is simply McQuade's creature. I never had any luck." "Oh, it may change by and by." Warrington, at that moment, felt genuinely sorry for the outcast. Bill twirled his hat. "You've never laughed at me, Richard; you've always treated me like a gentleman, which I was once. I didn't mail that letter because I wanted to see if you had changed any. If you had become a snob, why, you could fight your blamed battles yourself; no help from me. But you're just the same. I've brought something that'll be of more use to you than that letter, and don't you forget it." "What?" asked Warrington skeptically. Suddenly Bill leaned forward, shading his voice with his hand. "I was in Hanley's for a glass of beer this noon. I sat in a dark place. The table next to me was occupied by Martin, McQuade, and a fellow named Bolles." "Bolles?" "You've been away so long you haven't heard of him. He handles the dagos during election. Well, McQuade was asking all sorts of questions about you. Asked if you gambled, or drank, or ran around after women." Warrington no longer leaned back in his chair. His body assumed an alert angle. "They all went up to McQuade's office. The typewriter is a niece of mine. McQuade has heard that the senator is going to spring your name at the caucus. But that's a small matter. McQuade is going to do you some way or other." "What do you mean?" "Why, he sees that his goose is cooked if you run. He's determined that he won't let you." Warrington laughed; there was a note of battle in his laughter. "Go on," he said. "Nobody knew anything about your habits. So McQuade has sent Bolles to New York. He used to be a private detective, He's gone to New York to look up your past there. I know Bolles; he'll stop at nothing. McQuade, however, was wise enough to warn him not to fake, but to get real facts." This time Warrington's laughter was genuine. "He's welcome to all he can find." "But this isn't all. I know a printer on the Times. To-morrow the whole story about your accepting the senator's offer will come out. They hope the senator will be forced to change his plans. They think the public will lose interest in your campaign. Surprise is what the public needs. I'll tell you something else. Morris, who died last week, had just sold out his interest in the Telegraph to McQuade. This means that McQuade has the controlling interest in every newspaper in town. I never heard of such a thing before; five newspapers, Democratic and Republican, owned by a Democratic boss." Warrington smoked thoughtfully. This man McQuade was something out of the ordinary. And he had defied him. "I am very much obliged to you, Osborne. If I win out, on my word of honor, I'll do something for you." "You aren't afraid of McQuade?" anxiously. "My dear Mr. Osborne, I am not afraid of the Old Nick himself. I'll give this man McQuade the biggest fight he has ever had. Bolles will have his pains for nothing. Any scandal he can rake up about my past will be pure blackmail; and I know how to deal with that breed." "McQuade will try something else, then. He's sworn to stop you. I'm glad you aren't afraid of him." "I can't thank you enough." "I wander about town a good deal; nobody pays much attention to me; so lots of things fall under my notice. I'll let you know what I hear. You'll find all the decent people on your side, surprise or no surprise. They're tired of McQuade and Donnelly; some of these paving deals smell. Well, I'm keeping you from your work." Bill rose. "Help yourself to these cigars," said Warrington gratefully, passing the box. Bill took three. "Good night, Richard." "Good night, Mr. Osborne. If by any good luck I become mayor of Herculaneum, I'll not forget your service to-night." "That's all that's necessary for me;" and Bill bowed himself out. He layed his course for his familiar haunts. Warrington turned to his work again. But the news he had just received disturbed all connected thought, so he put the manuscript away. So the first gun had been fired! They had sent a man to hunt up his past in New York. He looked back, searching this corner and that, but he could not recall anything that would serve McQuade's purpose. No man is totally free from folly. True, there was a time when he drank, but he had stopped that idiocy nearly two years before. This could not be tallied against him with effect. And, thank God, there had been no women. His gambling had been of the innocuous kind. Well, let them hunt; much good it would do them. He picked up the letter which Osborne had so fortunately come upon. He was often amused at the fascination it held for him. He would never meet the writer, and yet not a day passed that he did not strive to conjure up an imaginative likeness. And he had nearly lost it. The creases were beginning to show. He studied it thoroughly. He held it toward the light. Ah, here was something that had hitherto escaped his notice. It was a peculiar water-mark. He examined the folds. The sheet had not been folded originally, letter-wise, but had been fiat, as if torn from a tablet. He scrutinized the edges and found signs of mucilage. Here was something, but it led him to no solution. The post-office mark had been made in New York. To trace a letter in New York would be as impracticable as subtracting gold from sea-water. It was a tantalizing mystery, and it bothered him more than he liked to confess. He put the letter in his wallet, and went into the sewing-room, where his aunt was knitting. The dear old lady smiled at him. "Aunty, I've got a secret to tell you." "What is it, Richard?" "I'm going to run for mayor." The old lady dropped her work and held up her hands in horror. "You are fooling, Richard!" "I am very serious, Aunty." "But politicians are such scamps, Richard." "Somebody's got to reform them." "But they'll reform you into one of their kind. You don't mean it!" "Yes, I do. I've promised, and I can't back down now." "No good will come of it," said the old lady prophetically, reaching down for her work. "But if you are determined, I suppose it's no use for me to talk. What will the Benningtons say?" "They rather approve of the idea. I'm going up there early to-morrow. I'll be up before you're down. Good night." He lightly kissed the wrinkled face. "Have a good time, Richard; and God bless my boy." He paused on the threshold and came back. Why, he did not know. But having come back, he kissed her once again, his hands on her cheeks. There were tears in her eyes. "You're so kind and good to an old woman, Richard." "Pshaw! There’s nobody your equal in all the world. Good night;" and he stepped out into the hall. The next morning he left town for the Benningtons' bungalow in the Adirondacks. He carried his fishing-rods, for Patty had told him that their lake was alive with black bass. Warrington was an ardent angler. Rain might deluge him, the sun scorch, but he would sit in a boat all day for a possible strike. He arrived at two in the afternoon, and found John, Kate and Patty at the village station. A buckboard took them into the heart of the forest, and the penetrating, resinous perfumes tingled Warrington's nostrils. He had been in the woods in years gone by; not a tree or a shrub that he did not know. It was nearly a two hours' drive to the lake, which was circled by lordly mountains. "Isn't it beautiful?" asked Patty, with a kind of proprietary pride. "It is as fine as anything in the Alps," Warrington admitted. "Shall we go a-fishing in the morning?" "If you can get up early enough." "Trust me!" enthusiastically. "I netted one this morning that weighed three pounds." "Fish grow more rapidly out of water than in," railingly. "John, didn't that bass weigh three pounds?" Patty appealed. "It weighed three and a half." "I apologize," said Warrington humbly. "How's the politician?" whispered Kate, eagerly. "About to find himself in the heart of a great scandal. The enemy has located us, and this afternoon the Times is to come out with a broadside. I haven't the least idea what it will say, nor care." "That's the proper way to talk," replied Kate approvingly. "We climbed that bald mountain yesterday. Patty took some beautiful photographs." "The tip of your nose is beginning to peel," said Warrington irrelevantly. "It's horrid of you to mention it. I'm not used to the sun, but I love it. Patty is teaching me how to bait a hook." "I'd like to see a photograph of that," Warrington cried. "Say, John, is there any way of getting to-night's newspapers up here?" "Nothing till to-morrow morning. The boat leaves the mail at night. But what's this talk about politics?" John demanded. Warrington looked at Patty and Kate in honest amazement. "Do you two mean to tell me," he asked, "that you have really kept the news from John?" "You told us not to tell," said Kate reproachfully. "Well, I see that I shall never get any nearer the truth about women. I thought sure they'd tell you, Jack, that I'm going to run for mayor this fall." "No!" "Truth. And it's going to be the fight of my life. I accepted in the spirit of fun, but I am dead in earnest now. Whichever way it goes, it will be a good fight. And you may lay to that, my lad, as our friend Long John Silver used to say." He said nothing, however, of his interview with McQuade. That was one of the things he thought best to keep to himself. "I'll harangue the boys in the shops," volunteered John, "though there's a spirit of unrest I don't like. I've no doubt that before long I shall have a fight on my hands. But I shall know exactly what to do," grimly. "But hang business! These two weeks are going to be totally outside the circle of business. I hope you'll win, Dick. We'll burn all the stray barrels for you on election night." "There'll be plenty of them burning. But I shall be nervous till I see the Times." "You'll have it in the morning." Warrington sighed. Half an hour later the bungalow came into view. The elder Bennington knew the value of hygienic living. He kept his children out of doors, summer and winter. He taught them how to ride, to hunt, to fish; he was their partner in all out-of-door games; he made sport interesting and imparted to them his own zest and vitality. So they grew up strong and healthy. He left their mental instruction to the mother, knowing full well that she would do as much on her side as he had done on his. Only one law did he lay down: the children should go to public schools till the time for higher education arrived. Then they might choose whatever seat of learning they desired. He had the sound belief that children sent to private schools rarely become useful citizens. The rosal glow of dawn tipped the mountains, and a russet haze lay on the still bosom of the lake. Warrington made a successful cast not far from the lily-pods. Zing! Went the reel. But by the pressure of his thumb he brought the runaway to a sudden halt. The tip of the rod threatened to break! Hooked! Patty swung round the canoe, which action gave the angler freer play. Ah, wasn't that beautiful! Two feet out of the water! Here he comes, but not more swiftly than the reel can take him. Off he goes again--take care for the unexpected slack. Another leap, like a bronze flame, and then a dash for the shallow bottom. He fought gallantly for his life and freedom. Patty reached for the net. Inch by inch Warrington drew him in. Twice he leaped over the net, but Patty was an old hand. The third effort landed him. "Two pounds," said Patty. "Plenty for breakfast now." "Tell you what, this is sport. How many have we?" "Seven in half an hour." Patty began using her paddle. "Finest sport in the world!" Warrington settled down on the cushion and leisurely watched the brown arms of his guide. "You're a good fisherman. And I like to see a good fisherman get excited. John is like a statue when he gets a strike; he reels them in like a machine. He becomes angry if any one talks. But it's fun to watch Kate. She nearly falls out of the boat, and screams when the bass leaps. Isn't it beautiful?" "It is a kind of Eden. But I'm so restless. I have to be wandering from place to place. If I owned your bungalow, I should sell it the second year. All the charm would go the first season. God has made so many beautiful places in this world for man that man is the only ungrateful creature in it. What's that smoke in the distance?" "That's the mail-boat, with your newspaper. It will be two hours yet before it reaches our dock. It has to zigzag to and fro across the lake. I'm hungry." "So am I. Let me take the paddle." The exchange was made, and he sent the canoe over the water rapidly. Patty eyed him with frank admiration. "Is there anything you can't do well?" "A good many things," he acknowledged. "I should like to know what they are." Neither spoke again till the canoe glided around the dock and a landing was made. Warrington strung the fish, and together he and Patty went toward the kitchen. At seven-thirty the family sat down to a breakfast of fried bass, and Patty told how the catch had been made. "He's a better fisherman than you, John." "Just as you say, Patty. I care not who catches bass, so long as I may eat them," in humorous paraphrase. There was no little excitement over the arrival of the mail-boat. They were all eager to see what the Times had to say. There was a column or more on the first page, subheaded. Warrington's career was rather accurately portrayed, but there were some pungent references to cabbages. In the leader, on the editorial page, was the master-hand. "In brief, this young man is to be the Republican candidate for mayor. Grown desperate these half-dozen years of ineffectual striving for political pap, Senator Henderson resorts to such an expedient. But the coup falls flat; there will be no surprise at the convention; the senator loses the point he seeks to score. Personally, we have nothing to say against the character of Mr. Warrington. After a fashion he is a credit to his native town. But we reaffirm, he is not a citizen, he is not eligible to the high office. If he accepts, after this arraignment, he becomes nothing more than an impertinent meddler. What has he done for the people of Herculaneum? Nothing. Who knows anything about his character, his honor, his worth? Nobody. To hold one's franchise as a citizen does not make that person a citizen in the honest sense of the word. Let Mr. Warrington live among us half a dozen years, and then we shall see. The senator, who is not without some wisdom and experience, will doubtless withdraw this abortive candidate. It's the only logical thing he can do. We dare say that the dramatist accepted the honor with but one end in view: to find some material for a new play. But Herculaneum declines to be so honored. He is legally, but not morally, a citizen. He is a meddler, and Herculaneum is already too well supplied with meddlers. Do the wise thing, Mr. Warrington; withdraw. Otherwise your profit will be laughter and ridicule; for the Republican party can never hope to win under such equivocal leadership. That's all we have to say." Warrington, who had been reading the articles aloud, grinned and thrust the paper into his pocket. "What shall you do?" asked John curiously. "Do? Go into the fight tooth and nail. They dub me a meddler; I'll make the word good." "Hurrah!" cried Kate, clapping her hands. She caught Patty in her arms, and the two waltzed around the dock. The two men shook hands, and presently all four were reading their private letters. Warrington received but one. It was a brief note from the senator. "Pay no attention to Times' story. Are you game for a fight? Write me at once, and I'll start the campaign on the receipt of your letter." "Patty, where do you write letters?" he asked. He called her Patty quite naturally. Patty was in no wise offended. "In the reading-room you will find a desk with paper and pens and ink. Shall I go with you?" "Not at all. I've only a note to scribble to Senator Henderson." Warrington found the desk. Upon it lay a tablet. He wrote hurriedly: "Start your campaign; I am in it now to the last ditch." As he re-read it, he observed a blur in the grain of the paper. On closer inspection he saw that it was a water-mark. He had seen one similar, but where? His heart began thumping his ribs. He produced the inevitable letter. The water-mark was identical. He even laid the letter unfolded on the tablet. It fitted exactly. "Patty!" he murmured in a whisper. Patty had never written him a single line; whenever she had communicated to him her commands, it had been by telephone. Patty Bennington! The window was at his elbow. He looked out and followed the sky-line of the hills as they rolled away to the south. Patty! It was a very beautiful world, and this was a day of days. It all came to him in that moment of discovery. He had drifted along toward it quite unconsciously, as a river might idle toward the sea. Patty! The light of this knowledge was blinding for a space. So Warrington came into his own romance. It was not the grand passion, which is always meteoric; it was rather like a new star, radiant, peaceful, eternal. "Patty!" He smiled. Chapter X It was only when the whistle of the returning boat sounded close by that he realized he had been sitting there for nearly an hour. He roused himself, sealed and addressed his letter to the senator, and hurried down to the dock. Patty was alone, mending some tackle. "It must be a long letter," she remarked, standing up and shaking her skirts. "Why, this is only the beginning of it," he replied ambiguously. "It is never going to end." "Mercy! It must be a postscript." He had no retort handy, so he contented himself with watching the approach of the boat. "Some men are never satisfied," she said owlishly. "If I were a successful dramatist, such as you are, a public office would look rather tawdry." "But it's real, Patty; it's life and not mummery." "I don't know," doubtfully; "from what I have read, there are more puppets in and about a City Hall than ever dangled in the puppet booth. Did I give you permission to call me Patty?" demurely. "Not that I recollect." The boat came sweeping up to the dock, and he tossed the senator's letter to the boy. The boat went on with a musical gurgle. "But when I especially like anything, I usually appropriate it." "I can see that you will make a good politician." He laughed happily. "Evidently you like the name. You have applied it to me three times this morning." "Like it? Why, I think it is the most charming name I ever heard. It smells of primroses, gardenwalls, soldiers in ragged regimentals, of the time when they built houses with big-columned porches." "My!" "May I not call you Patty?" "Oh, if you ask my permission, you may." "I do." "That is better." "Patty?" "Well." "Do you ever look in your mirror?" "The idea! Of course I do. I look in it every morning and every night. And as often as I find the time. Why?" "Nothing; only, I do not blame you." "What's all this leading to?" frowning. "Heaven knows! But I feel sentimental this morning. There is so much beauty surrounding me that I feel impelled to voice my appreciation of it." "There is no remedy, I suppose." "None, save the agony of extemporization." "I have never heard you talk like this before. What IS the matter?" "Perhaps it is the exhilaration I feel for the coming fight. Would you like to see me mayor?" "Indeed I should. Think of the circus tickets you'd have to give away each year! You know they always give the mayor a handful for his personal use. No, Mr. Warrington, I shall be very proud of you when you are mayor." "What's the matter with your calling me Richard or Dick?" "We must not advance too suddenly." "Is there anything the matter with the name?" "Oh, no; Richard is quite musical in its way. But I am always thinking of the humpbacked king. If I called you anything it would be Dick." "Richard was not humpbacked. Moreover, he was a valiant king, greatly maligned by Mr. Shakespeare." "I see that I shall not dare argue with you on the subject; but we can not banish on so short a notice the early impressions of childhood. Richard Third has always been a bugaboo to my mind. Some day, perhaps, I'll get over it." "Make it Dick, as a compromise." "Some day, when I have known you a little longer. Has John ever told you about Mr. McQuade?" "McQuade?" Warrington realized that he had been floating on a pleasant sea. He came upon the hidden shore rather soundly. "McQuade?" he repeated. "Yes. He had the audacity to propose to mother shortly after father's death. Think of it! John wrote to him very definitely that his presence in the house would no longer be welcomed or tolerated. Father had some slight business transactions with Mr. McQuade, and he came up to the house frequently. He continued these visits after father's death. We treated him decently, but we simply could not make him feel welcome. The third time he called he proposed. "Mother left the room without even replying. He understood. A few minutes afterward we heard the door slam. John wrote him the next morning. Did you ever hear of anything to equal the cold-bloodedness of it?" Warrington looked at her in absolute amazement. "Well, of all the nerve! Why the deuce didn't John punch his head?" savagely. "Mr. McQuade is not a gentleman; John is," simply. "But Mr. McQuade hasn't forgotten; not he. He pays no attention to any of us; but that is no sign that he does not think a good deal. However, we do not worry. There is no possible chance for him to retaliate; at least John declares there isn't. But sometimes I grow afraid when I think it all over. To his mind I can see that he considers himself badly affronted; and from what I know of his history, he never lets an affront pass without striking back in some manner." "Don't you worry your head about McQuade. What do you think? He is so anxious to get me out of the political arena that he has sent a man down to New York to look into my past. Isn't that droll?" Patty stooped again to the fishing-tackle. "Such men as McQuade can invent. I should be very careful, if I were you. Your own conscience may prove you guiltless of scandal, but there are certain people who would rather believe bad than good--scandal than truth; and these are always in the majority. Don't laugh, but watch. That's my advice to you, Mr. Meddler." She smiled brightly at him as she threaded the line through the guides of the rod. "I may not have lived as cleanly as I might have," he said soberly. "I have been knocked about so much. There were times when I grew tired of fighting. But I have never done anything that will not stand daylight. There was a time, Patty, when I came near making a fool of myself." He sat down, his legs swinging over the water. "I drank more than was good for me." He stared into the brown water and watched the minnows as they darted hither and thither. "I was alone; things went wrong, and I was cowardly enough to fall into the habit. But it was only periodically. You remember that letter I showed you?" "Yes." Patty's voice was low. "I believe I have read it a thousand times. It has caused me a great many regrets. I should like, some day, to meet the writer and disillusion her. One thing she may be sure of: I have never belittled the talent God has given me. I have striven for the ideal; I have even fought for it. That part of my life holds no stain." "But the habit?" hesitant. "It is gone, where all fool-habits go, when a man has will power to rid himself of them. Pride has something to do with it; and I have my share of pride. I shall never go back." His head was turned away, but she could see the muscles in the jaws harden. "You will never go back, I am sure, Richard." That she had at last pronounced his given name did not stir him; in fact, it passed over his head and hearing. Like a dragon-brood, he saw in fancy his past follies springing up about him. Not yet could he tell this clean-minded, gentle-bred girl that he loved her. He must prove himself still further before he might utter what so thoroughly filled his heart and mind. "Your brother's wife brought me to my senses. What I am to-day she in part has made. That is why I think so much of her; that is why I am happy to see that she is happy and has realized her heart's desire. Heigh-ho! I believe I am making you my confessor." He turned his face toward her now, and his smile was rather sad. "When I recall the worry I have given my poor old aunt, who loves me so, I feel like a contemptible scoundrel. How many countless sacrifices has she made for me, in the days when we had nothing! But she shall have all the comforts now, and all the love and kindness I am capable of giving her. I shall never leave her again." There were tears in Patty's eyes. "It is never too late to mend; and when a man is penitent, truly and honestly penitent, much shall be forgiven him. It is only those who are by nature coarse who do not eventually surmount temptation. What you have told me I have known this long while." "You have known?" he cried with sinking heart. "Yes. We live in a city where gossip travels quickly and thoroughly. Mrs. Franklyn-Haldene was telling mother one afternoon that you drank. I suppose she felt it her duty." "To be sure," bitterly. "Was it while I have been living at home?" "No; when the rumor came that you were coming." He shrugged expressively. "I ought to have known." "But come; you are up here to be cheered, not lectured. Let us play billiards. I can hear John and Kate playing now. We'll play sides; and if we win against those two, I promise to call you Richard once a day while you are up here. Or, would you rather I played and sang?" "Much rather," brightening up a bit. "There is always time to play billiards. But first, I want you to come with me into the reading-room. I have something to show you; I had almost forgotten." "The reading-room?" puzzled. "Yes. Will you come?" She nodded her assent, and the two entered the house. Warrington, having arrived at the writing-desk, bade her sit down. He had an idea. Patty sat down. "I want you to write something for me," he said, pushing the pen and tablet toward her. "What's the matter with your hand?" she demanded. "Nothing." "Then why do you want me to write?" "I have never seen your handwriting. I'm something of an expert in that line. I'll read your future." "But I don't want my future read," rebelliously. "Well, then, your past." "Much less my past. Come; you are only beating about the bush. What is it you want?" "I want to know," he said quietly, "why you have kept me in ignorance all this while." He laid the letter on the desk, and placed a finger on the water-mark. "It wasn't fair to let me compose panegyrics over it all the while you were laughing in your sleeve. Ah, I've caught you. You can't get away this time, Patty." "I haven't the slightest idea what you are talking about." But she looked at the letter and not at him. "Do you see those water-marks?" he demanded. "Yes. You will find them in a thousand tablets like this. I bought a dozen of them in New York; cheap and handy." Warrington's confidence in his discovery began to shake. He braced himself and took a bold course. "Patty, you wrote that letter; you know you did. You wrote it in New York, the day you bought the tablets." "I?" "Yes. Confess." "My dear Mr. Warrington, you must prove it," lightly. "It would not be proper for me to admit that I had been so foolish as to write a letter like that." "But you've praised it!" "Simply because praising it would please you; for no other reason." "Did you, or did you not write it?" "Find out. You must prove that I wrote it. Certainly I have nothing to confess." "You will not answer me one way or the other?" "No." "If you had not written it you would." "I don't believe I shall sing this morning," rising. "And I have wondered a thousand times who could have written it. And all the time it was you." "Nor play billiards," went on Patty. "If only I were all you hitherto believed me to be!" "Nor fish to-morrow morning." "This letter has been like an anchor. Immediately upon receiving it I began to try to live better." "Nor fish the day after to-morrow." "And I had forgotten all about Jack's having a sister!" "Something I shall neither forget nor forgive. And if you persist in accusing me of writing that letter, I promise not to fish again while you are here." She walked toward the door, her chin held high. "You wrote it. Come and sing. I'll say nothing more about it. There's nothing more to be said." He carelessly picked up a book and looked at the fly-leaf. "From Sister Patty to Brother John," he read. There was no mistake now. He laughed. Patty turned. "The writing is the same." "Is it?" "Will you sing?" No answer. "Please." Patty stood between the door that led to the veranda and the door that led to the music-room-between Charybdis and Scylla, as it were, for she knew he would follow her whichever way she went. She turned into the music-room. "Thanks," he said. The days passed all too quickly for Warrington. He walked in the golden glow of his first romance, that romance which never leaves us till life itself departs. He spoke no word of his love, but at times there was something in his voice that thrilled Patty and subdued her elfish gaiety. Some girls would have understood at once, but Patty was different. She was happy one moment, and troubled the next, not knowing the reason. She was not analytical; there was no sophistry in her young heart. She did not dream that this man loved her; she was not vain enough for that. John and Kate watched them approvingly. They knew the worth of the man; they were not at all worried over what was past. They saw their own romance tenderly reflected. Mrs. Bennington was utterly oblivious. Mothers never realize that their daughters and sons must some day leave them; they refuse to accept this natural law; they lament over it to-day as they lamented in the days of the Old Testament. The truth is, children are always children to the parents; paternal and maternal authority believes its right indefinite. By this time all the newspapers, save the Telegraph, had made readable copy out of Warrington's candidacy. Why the Telegraph remained mute was rather mystifying. Warrington saw the hand of McQuade in this. The party papers had to defend the senator, but their defense was not so strong as it might have been. Not a single sheet came out frankly for Warrington. The young candidate smoked his pipe and said nothing, but mentally he was rolling up his sleeves a little each day. He had not yet pulled through the convention. Strong as the senator was, there might yet be a hitch in the final adjustment. So far nothing had come of Bolles' trip to New York. Occasionally newspapers from the nearby towns fell into Warrington's hands. These spoke of his candidacy in the highest terms, and belabored the editors of Herculaneum for not accepting such a good chance of ridding itself of McQuadeism. Meantime, there was fishing, long trips into the heart of the forests, dancing at the hotel at the head of the lake, billiards and music. Warrington was already deeply tanned, and Patty's nose was liberally sprinkled with golden freckles. One evening Kate and John sat on the veranda from where they could easily watch Warrington and Patty in the music-room. "What do you think of it, John?" "There's not a finer chap in the world. But I don't think Patty realizes yet." "Dear Patty!" Kate reached over and took his hand in hers, laying it against her cold cheek. "What is it, John? You have been worried all day." "Nothing; nothing to bother you with." "The shops? It worries me when you don't confide in me in everything." "Well, dear, the trouble I've been expecting for months is about to come. You know that young Chittenden, the English inventor, has been experimenting with a machine that will do the work of five men. They have been trying to force him to join the union, but he has refused, having had too many examples of unionism in his own country to risk his independence here. Well, I received a letter from the general manager this morning. Either Chittenden must join or go; otherwise the men will go out September first." "What shall you do?" "I shall keep Chittenden. I am master there," striking the arm of his chair; "master in everything. If they go out in September, it will be for good. I shall tear down the shops and build model tenements." "John!" "I am sick and tired, dear. I have raised the wages all over the district; my men work less than any other hands in town. I have built a gymnasium for them, given them books, pool-tables, and games, to say nothing of the swimming-tank. I have arranged the annual outings. I have established a pension-list. But all this seems to have done no good. I am at the end of the rope. Oh, the poor devils who work are all right; it's the men outside who are raising all this trouble; it's the union, not the men. There's no denying the power these men can wield, for wrong or right. Ignorance can not resist the temptation to use it at all times and for all purposes. But I am master at the Bennington shops; injustice shall not dictate to me. They'll use it politically, too. After all, I'm glad I've told you." "But, John, I'm afraid for you. They may hurt you." John answered with a sound that was more of a growl than a laugh. "Don't you worry about me, honey; I'm no weakling. I wish Dick could be with me when the fight comes, but he will have his hands full, and the strike will not help him any. Don't you worry. Father always felt that there would be trouble some day. He held a large bundle of bankstock and railroad bonds, and the income from these alone will take care of us very comfortably. There's a good deal of real estate, too, that may be reckoned on. If the crash does come, we'll pack up, take the mother, and go abroad for a year or so. But before I'm done I'll teach local unionism a lesson it will not forget soon. Don't you worry," he repeated again; "you just leave it to me." She did not speak, but kissed his hand. She knew that no pleading could move him; and besides, he was in the right. "I don't understand the lukewarmness of the party papers," he said. "They ought to hurrah over Dick. But perhaps the secret machinery is being set to work, and they've been told that there will be trouble at the convention. The senator never backs down, and I've never seen anybody that could frighten Dick. There'll be some interesting events this fall. Herculaneum will figure in the newspapers from Maine to California, for everybody is familiar with Warrington's name and work. It's a month yet before the delegates get together; either Warrington will run or he won't. Calling him a meddler is good. If the Times isn't a meddler, I never saw one and have misunderstood the meaning of the word." In the music-room Patty was playing Grieg and MacDowell, and Warrington was turning the pages. The chords, weird and melancholy, seemed to permeate his whole being; sad, haunting music, that spoke of toil, tears, death and division, failure and defeat, hapless love and loveless happiness. After a polonaise, Patty stopped. "If music were only lasting, like a painting, a statue, a book," she said; "but it isn't. Why these things haunt me every day, but I can recollect nothing; I have to come back to the piano. It is elusive." "And the most powerful of all the arts that arouse the emotions. Hang it! When I hear a great singer, a great violinist, half the time I find an invisible hand clutching me by the throat... Patty, honestly now, didn't you write that letter?" "Yes," looking him courageously in the eyes. "And I hope you were not laughing when you said all those kind things about it." "Laughing? No," gravely, "I was not laughing. Play something lively; Chaminade; I am blue tonight." So Patty played the light, enchanting sketches. In the midst of one of them she stopped suddenly. "What is it?" he asked. "I thought I heard the boat's whistle. Listen. Yes, there it is. It must be a telegram. They never come up to the head of the lake at night for anything less. There goes John with a lantern." "Never mind the telegram," he said; "play." A quarter of an hour later John and Kate came in. "A telegram for you, Dick," John announced, sending the yellow envelope skimming through the air. Warrington caught it deftly. He balanced it in his hand speculatively. "It is probably a hurry-call from the senator. I may have to go back to town to-morrow. I have always hated telegrams." He opened it carelessly and read it. He read it again, slowly; and Patty, who was nearest to him, saw his face turn gray under the tan and his lips tremble. He looked from one to the other dumbly, then back at the sheet in his hand. "Richard!" said Kate, with that quick intuition which leaps across chasms of doubt and arrives definitely. "My aunt died this afternoon," he said, his voice breaking, for he had not the power to control it. Nobody moved; a kind of paralysis touched them all. "She died this afternoon, and I wasn't there." There is something terribly pathetic in a strong man's grief. "Dick!" John rushed to his side. "Dick, old man, there must be some mistake." He seized the telegram from Warrington's nerveless fingers. There was no mistake. The telegram was signed by the family physician. Then John did the kindliest thing in his power. "Do you wish to be alone, Dick?" Warrington nodded. John laid the telegram on the table, and the three of them passed out of the room. A gust of wind, coming down from the mountains, carried the telegram gently to the floor. Warrington, leaning against the table, stared down at it. What frightful things these missives are! Charged with success or failure, riches or poverty, victory or defeat, births or deaths, they fly to and fro around the great world hourly, on ominous and sinister wings. A letter often fails to reach us, but a telegram, never. It is the messenger of fate, whose emissaries never fail to arrive. Death had never before looked into Warrington's life; he had viewed it with equanimity, with a tolerant pity for those who succumbed to it, for those whose hearts it ravaged with loneliness and longing. He had used it frequently in his business as a property by which to arouse the emotions of his audiences. That it should some day stand at his side, looking into his eyes, never occurred to him. He tried to think, to beguile himself into the belief that he should presently awake to find it a dream. Futile expedient! She was dead; that dear, kind, loving heart was dead. Ah! And she had died alone! A great sob choked him. He sank into a chair and buried his face in his arms. The past rushed over him like a vast wave. How many times had he carelessly wounded that heart which had beat solely for him! How many times had he given his word, only to break it! He was alone, alone; death had severed the single tie; he was alone. Death is kind to the dead, but harsh to the living. Presently his sighs became less regular, and at length they ceased entirely. The portiere rustled slightly, and Patty's face became visible. Her eyes were wet. She had tried to keep away, but something drew her irresistibly. Her heart swelled. If only she might touch his bowed head, aye, kiss the touches of grey at the temples; if only she might console him in this hour of darkness and grief. Poor boy, poor boy! She knew not how long she watched him; it might have been minutes or hours; she was without recollection of time. A hand touched her gently on the arm. Kate stood by her side. "Come," she whispered; "come, Patty." Patty turned without question or remonstrance and followed her up stairs. "Kate, dear Kate!" "What is it, darling?" "He is all alone!" At midnight John tiptoed into the music-room. Warrington had not moved. John tapped him on the shoulder. "You mustn't stay here, old man. Come to bed." Warrington stood up. "Would you like a drop of brandy?" Warrington shook his head. "It is terribly hard," said John, throwing his arm across the other's shoulders. "I know; I understand. You are recalling all the mistakes, all the broken promises, all the disappointments. That is but natural. But in a few days all the little acts of kindness will return to your memory; all the good times you two have had together, the thousand little benefits that made her last days pleasant. These will soften the blow, Dick." "I wasn't there," Warrington murmured dully. His mind could accept but one fact: his aunt had died alone, without his being at the bedside. It rained in Herculaneum that night. The pavement in Williams Street glistened sharply, for a wind was swinging the arc-lamps. The trees on the Warrington lawn sighed incessantly; and drip, drip, drip, went the rain on the leaves. Not a light shone anywhere in the house; total darkness brooded over it. In one of the rooms a dog lay with his nose against the threshold of the door. From time to time he whined mournfully. In another room an Angora cat stalked restlessly back and forth, sometimes leaping upon a chair, sometimes trotting round and round, and again, wild-eyed and furtive, it stood motionless, as if listening. Death had entered the house; and death, to the beast, is not understandable. *** CUT *** Buy at PayPal for $3: [email protected]