For Laura Canfield Wood
There was a ball in the old Pentland house because for the first time innearly forty years there was a young girl in the family to be introducedto the polite world of Boston and to the elect who had been asked tocome on from New York and Philadelphia. So the old house was allbedizened with lanterns and bunches of late spring flowers, and in thebare, white-painted, dignified hallway a negro band, hidden discreetlyby flowers, sat making noisy, obscene music.
Sybil Pentland was eighteen and lately returned from school in Paris,whither she had been sent against the advice of the conservative membersof her own family, which, it might have been said, included in itsconnections most of Boston. Already her great-aunt, Mrs. CassandraStruthers, a formidable woman, had gone through the list of eligibleyoung men--the cousins and connections who were presentable andpossessed of fortunes worthy of consideration by a family so solidlyrich as the Pentlands. It was toward this end that the ball had beenlaunched and the whole countryside invited, young and old, spry andinfirm, middle-aged and dowdy--toward this end and with the idea ofshowing the world that the family had lost none of its prestige for allthe lack of young people in its ranks. For this prestige had once beenof national proportions, though now it had shrunk until the Pentlandname was little known outside New England. Rather, it might have beensaid that the nation had run away from New England and the Pentlandfamily, leaving it stranded and almost forgotten by the side of the pathwhich marked an unruly, almost barbaric progress away from all that thePentland family and the old house represented.
Sybil's grandfather had seen to it that there was plenty of champagne;and there were tables piled with salads and cold lobster and sandwichesand hot chicken in chafing-dishes. It was as if a family whose wholehistory had been marked by thrift and caution had suddenly cast to thewinds all semblance of restraint in a heroic gesture toward splendor.
But in some way, the gesture seemed to be failing. The negro musicsounded wild and spirited, but also indiscreet and out of place in ahouse so old and solemn. A few men and one or two women known for theirfondness for drink consumed a great deal of champagne, but only dulnesscame of it, dulness and a kind of dead despair. The rich, thesplendorous, the gorgeous, the barbaric, had no place in rooms where thekind Mr. Longfellow and the immortal Messrs. Emerson and Lowell had oncesat and talked of life. In a hallway, beneath the gaze of a row ofancestors remarkable for the grimness of their faces, the music appearedto lose its quality of abandon; it did not belong in this genteel world.On the fringes of the party there was some drunkenness among theundergraduates imported from Cambridge, but there was very littlegaiety. The champagne fell upon barren ground. The party drooped.
Though the affair was given primarily to place Sybil Pentland upon thematrimonial market of this compact world, it served, too, as anintroduction for Thérèse Callendar, who had come to spend the summer atBrook Cottage across the stony meadows on the other side of the riverfrom Pentlands; and as a reintroduction of her mother, a far more vividand remarkable person. Durham and the countryside thereabouts wasfamiliar enough to her, for she had been born there and passed herchildhood within sight of the spire of the Durham town meeting-house.And now, after an absence of twenty years, she had come back out of aworld which her own people--the people of her childhood--consideredstrange and ungenteel. Her world was one filled with queer people, aworld remote from the quiet old house at Pentlands and the greatbrownstone houses of Commonwealth Avenue and Beacon Street. Indeed, itwas this woman, Sabine Callendar, who seemed to have stolen all thethunder at the ball; beside her, neither of the young girls, her owndaughter nor Sybil Pentland, appeared to attract any great interest. Itwas Sabine whom every one noticed, acquaintances of her childhoodbecause they were devoured by curiosity concerning those missing twentyyears, and strangers because she was the most picturesque and arrestingfigure at the ball.
It was not that she surrounded herself by adoring young men eager todance with her. She was, after all, a woman of forty-six, and she had notolerance for mooning boys whose conversation was limited to bootleggingand college clubs. It was a success of a singular sort, a triumph ofindifference.
People like Aunt Cassie Struthers remembered her as a shy and awkwardyoung girl with a plain face, a good figure and brick-red hair whichtwenty years ago had been spoken of as "Poor Sabine's ugly red hair."She was a girl in those days who suffered miserably at balls anddinners, who shrank from all social life and preferred solitude. Andnow, here she was--returned--a tall woman of forty-six, with the samesplendid figure, the same long nose and green eyes set a trifle too neareach other, but a woman so striking in appearance and the confidence ofher bearing that she managed somehow to dim the success even of younger,prettier women and virtually to extinguish the embryonic young thingsin pink-and-white tulle. Moving about indolently from room to room,greeting the people who had known her as a girl, addressing here andthere an acquaintance which she had made in the course of the queer,independent, nomadic life she had led since divorcing her husband, therewas an arrogance in her very walk that frightened the young and producedin the older members of Durham community (all the cousins andconnections and indefinable relatives), a sense of profound irritation.Once she had been one of them, and now she seemed completely independentof them all, a traitress who had flung to the winds all the little rulesof life drilled into her by Aunt Cassie and other aunts and cousins inthe days when she had been an awkward, homely little girl with shockingred hair. Once she had belonged to this tight little world, and now shehad returned--a woman who should have been defeated and a littledeclassée and somehow, irritatingly, was not. Instead, she was a"figure" much sought after in the world, enveloped by the mysteriouscloud of esteem which surrounds such persons--a woman, in short, who wasable to pick her friends from the ranks of distinguished and evencelebrated people. It was not only because this was true, but becausepeople like Aunt Cassie knew it was true, that she aroused interestand even indignation. She had turned her back upon them all and no awfulfate had overtaken her; instead, she had taken a firm hold upon life andmade of it a fine, even a glittering, success; and this is a thing whichis not easily forgiven.
As she moved through the big rooms--complete and perfect from hersuperbly done, burnished red hair to the tips of her silverslippers--there was about her an assurance and an air of confidence inher own perfection that bordered upon insolence. There was a hardradiance and beauty in the brilliant green dress and the thin chain ofdiamonds that dimmed all of the others, that made most of the women seemdowdy and put together with pins. Undoubtedly her presence also servedto dampen the gaiety. One knew from the look in the disdainful greeneyes and the faint mocking smile on the frankly painted red mouth thatshe was aware of the effect she made and was delighted with her triumph.Wherever she went, always escorted by some man she had chosen with theair of conferring a favor, a little stir preceded her. She was indeedvery disagreeable....
If she had a rival in all the crowd that filled the echoing old house,it was Olivia Pentland--Sybil's mother--who moved about, alone most ofthe time, watching her guests, acutely conscious that the ball was notall it should have been. There was about her nothing flamboyant andarresting, nothing which glittered with the worldly hardness of thegreen dress and the diamonds and burnished red hair of Sabine Callendar;she was, rather, a soft woman, of gentleness and poise, whose darkbeauty conquered in a slower, more subtle fashion. You did not noticeher at once among all the guests; you became aware of her slowly, as ifher presence had the effect of stealing over you with the vagueness of aperfume. Suddenly you marked her from among all the others... with asense of faint excitement... a pale white face, framed by smooth blackhair drawn back low over the brows in a small knot at the back of herhead. You noticed the clear, frank blue eyes, that in some lights seemedalmost black, and most of all you noticed when she spoke that her voicewas low, warm, and in a way irresistible, a voice with a hundred shadesof color. She had a way, too, of laughing, when she was struck by theabsurdity of something, that was like a child. One knew her at once fora great lady. It was impossible to believe that she was nearly forty andthe mother of Sybil and a boy of fifteen.
Circumstance and a wisdom of her own had made of her a woman who seemedinactive and self-effacing. She had a manner of doing thingseffortlessly, with a great quietness, and yet, after one came to knowher, one felt that she missed little which took place within sight orhearing--not only the obvious things which any stupid person might havenoticed, but the subtle, indefinite currents which passed from oneperson to another. She possessed, it seemed, a marvelous gift forsmoothing out troubles. A security, of the sort which often marks thosewho suffer from a too great awareness, enveloped and preceded her,turning to calm all the troubled world about her. Yet she wasdisturbing, too, in an odd, indefinable way. There was always aremoteness and a mystery, a sense almost of the fey. It was only afterone had known her for a long time, enveloped in the quietness of herpleasant presence, that a faint sense of uneasiness was born. It wouldoccur to you, with the surprise almost of a shock, that the woman yousaw before you, the woman who was so gentle and serene, was not OliviaPentland at all, but a kind of lay figure which concealed, far beneaththe veneer of charm, a woman you did not know at all, who was remote andsad and perhaps lonely. In the end, she disturbed the person ofdiscernment far more profoundly than the glittering, disagreeable SabineCallendar.
In the midst of the noise and confusion of the ball, she had been movingabout, now in this big room, now in that one, talking quietly to herguests, watching them, seeing that all went well; and, like all theothers, she was fascinated at the spectacle of Sabine's rebellion andtriumph, perhaps even a little amused at the childishness of suchdefiance in a woman of forty-six who was clever, independent and evendistinguished, who need not have troubled to flaunt her success.
Watching Sabine, whom she knew intimately enough, she had guessed thatunderneath the shell made so superbly by hairdresser, couturier andjeweler there lay hidden an awkward, red-haired little girl who washaving her revenge now, walking roughshod over all the prejudices andtraditions of such people as Aunt Cassie and John Pentland and CousinStruthers Smallwood, D.D., whom Sabine always called "the Apostle to theGenteel." It was almost, thought Olivia, as if Sabine, even after anexile of twenty years, was still afraid of them and that curious,undefeatable power which they represented.
But Sabine, she knew, was observing the party at the same time. She hadwatched her all the evening in the act of "absorbing" it; she knew thatwhen Sabine walked across from Brook Cottage the next day, she wouldknow everything that had happened at the ball, for she had a passion forinspecting life. Beneath the stony mask of indifference there boiled aperpetual and passionate interest in the intricacies of human affairs.Sabine herself had once described it as "the curse of analysis whichtook all the zest out of life."
She was fond of Sabine as a creature unique in the realm of herexperience, one who was amusing and actually made fetishes of truth andreality. She had a way of turning her intellect (for it was really agreat intellect) upon some tangled, hopeless situation to dissolve itsomehow into its proper elements and make it appear suddenly clear,uncomplicated and, more often than not, unpleasant; because the truthwas not always a sweet and pleasant thing.
No one suffered more keenly from Sabine's triumphant return than theinvincible Aunt Cassie. In a way, she had always looked upon Sabine,even in the long years of her voluntary exile from the delights ofDurham, as her own property, much as she might have looked upon a dog,if, indeed, the old lady had been able to bear the society of anythingso untidy as a dog. Childless herself, she had exercised all hertheories of upbringing upon the unfortunate orphaned little daughter ofher husband's brother.
At the moment, the old lady sat half-way down the white stairs, hersharp black eyes surveying the ball with a faint air of disapproval. Thenoisy music made her nervous and uneasy, and the way young girls had ofusing paint and powder seemed to her cheap and common. "One might aswell brush one's teeth at the dinner-table." Secretly, she keptcomparing everything with the ball given for herself forty yearsearlier, an event which had resulted at length in the capture of Mr.Struthers. Dressed economically (for she made it a point of honor tolive on the income of her income), and in mourning for a husband deadeight years earlier, she resembled a dignified but slightly uneasy crowperched on a fence.
It was Sabine who observed that Aunt Cassie and her "lady companion,"Miss Peavey, sitting on the steps together, resembled a crow and apouter pigeon. Miss Peavey was not only fat, she was actuallybulbous--one of those women inclined by nature toward "flesh," who wouldhave been fat on a diet of sawdust and distilled water; and she had comeinto the family life nearly thirty years earlier as a companion, a kindof slave, to divert Aunt Cassie during the long period of herinvalidism. She had remained there ever since, taking the place of ahusband who was dead and children who had never been born.
There was something childlike about Miss Peavey--some people said thatshe was not quite bright--but she suited Aunt Cassie to a T, for she wasas submissive as a child and wholly dependent in a financial sense. AuntCassie even gave her enough to make up for the losses she incurred bykeeping a small shop in Boston devoted to the sale of "artistic"pottery. Miss Peavey was a lady, and though penniless, was "wellconnected" in Boston. At sixty she had grown too heavy for her birdlikelittle feet and so took very little exercise. To-night she was dressedin a very fancy gown covered with lace and sequins and passementerie,rather in the mode which some one had told her was her style in thefar-off days of her girlhood. Her hair was streaked with gray and cutshort in a shaggy, uneven fashion; not, however, because short hair waschic, but because she had cut it ten years before short hair had beenheard of, in a sudden futile gesture of freedom at the terrible momentshe made her one feeble attempt to escape Aunt Cassie and lead her ownlife. She had come back in the end, when her poor savings gave out andbankruptcy faced her, to be received by Aunt Cassie with dignified sighsand flutters as a returned and repentant prodigal. In this rôle she hadlived ever since in a state of complete subjection. She was AuntCassie's creature now, to go where Aunt Cassie ordered, to do as she wasbid, to be an ear-piece when there was at hand no one more worthy ofaddress.
At the sight of Sabine's green dress and red hair moving through the bighall below them, Aunt Cassie said, with a gleam in her eye: "Sabineseems to be worried about her daughter. The poor child doesn't seem tobe having a success, but I suppose it's no wonder. The poor thing isvery plain. I suppose she got the sallow skin from her father. He waspart Greek and French.... Sabine was never popular as a young girlherself."
And she fell to speculating for the hundredth time on the little-knowncircumstances of Sabine's unhappy marriage and divorce, turning themorsels over and over again with a variety of speculation and theinterjection of much pious phraseology; for in Aunt Cassie's speech Godseemed to have a hand in everything. He had a way of delivering trialsand blessings indiscriminately, and so in the end became responsible foreverything.
Indeed, she grew a bit spiteful about Sabine, for there was in the backof her mind the memory of an encounter, a day or two earlier, when shehad been put completely to rout. It was seldom that Aunt Cassie met anyone who was a match for her, and when such an encounter took place thememory of it rankled until she found some means of subduing theoffender. With Miss Peavey she was completely frank, for through longservice this plump, elderly virgin had come to be a sort of confessor inwhose presence Aunt Cassie wore no mask. She was always saying, "Don'tmind Miss Peavey. She doesn't matter."
"I find Sabine extremely hard and worldly," she was saying. "I wouldnever know her for the same modest young girl she was on leaving me."She sighed abysmally and continued, "But, then, we mustn't judge. Isuppose the poor girl has had a great deal of misery. I pity her to thedepths of my heart!"
In Aunt Cassie's speeches, in every phrase, there was always a certainmild theatrical overtone as if she sought constantly to cast a sort ofmelodramatic haze over all she said. Nothing was ever stated simply.Everything from the sight of a pot of sour cream to the death of herhusband affected her extravagantly, to the depths of her soul.
But this brought no response from Miss Peavey, who seemed lost in theexcitement of watching the young people, her round candid eyes shiningthrough her pince-nez with the eagerness of one who has spent her wholelife as a "lady companion." At moments like this, Aunt Cassie felt thatMiss Peavey was not quite bright, and sometimes said so.
Undiscouraged, she went on. "Olivia looks bad, too, to-night... verytired and worn. I don't like those circles under her eyes.... I'vethought for a long time that she was unhappy about something."
But Miss Peavey's volatile nature continued to lose itself completely inthe spectacle of young girls who were so different from the girls of herday; and in the fascinating sight of Mr. Hoskins, a fat, sentimental,middle-aged neighbor who had taken a glass too much champagne and wastalking archly to the patient Olivia. Miss Peavey had quite forgottenherself in the midst of so much gaiety. She did not even see the glancesof Aunt Cassie in her direction--glances which plainly said, "Wait untilI get you alone!"
For a long time Aunt Cassie had been brooding over what she called"Olivia's strange behavior." It was a thing which she had noticed forthe first time a month or two earlier when Olivia, in the midst of oneof Aunt Cassie's morning calls, had begun suddenly, quietly, to weep andhad left the room without a word of explanation. It had gone from bad toworse lately; she felt Olivia slipping away from all control directly inopposition to her own benevolent advice. There was the matter of thisvery ball. Olivia had ignored her counsels of economy and thrift, andnow Aunt Cassie was suffering, as if the champagne which flowed sofreely were blood drawn from her own veins. Not for a century, sinceSavina Pentland purchased a parure of pearls and emeralds, had so muchPentland money been expended at one time on mere pleasure.
She disapproved, too, of the youthfulness of Olivia and of Sabine. Womenof their ages ought not to look so fresh and young. There was somethingvulgar, even a little improper, in a woman like Sabine who at forty-sixlooked thirty-five. At thirty, Aunt Cassie herself had settled down as amiddle-aged woman, and since then she had not changed greatly. Atsixty-five, "childless and alone in the world" (save, of course, forMiss Peavey), she was much the same as she had been at thirty in therôle of wife to the "trying Mr. Struthers." The only change had been herrecovery from a state of semi-invalidism, a miracle occurringsimultaneously with the passing of Mr. Struthers.
She had never quite forgiven Olivia for being an outsider who had comeinto the intricate web of life at Pentlands out of (of all places)Chicago. Wisps of mystery and a faint sense of the alien had clung toher ever since. Of course, it wasn't to be expected that Olivia couldunderstand entirely what it meant to marry into a family whose historywas so closely woven into that of the Massachusetts Bay Colony and thelife of Boston. What could it mean to Olivia that Mr. Longfellow and Mr.Lowell and Dr. Holmes had often spent weeks at Pentlands? That Mr.Emerson himself had come there for week-ends? Still (Aunt Cassieadmitted to herself), Olivia had done remarkably well. She had been wiseenough to watch and wait and not go ahead strewing her path withblunders.
Into the midst of these thoughts the figure of Olivia herself appeared,moving toward the stairway, walking beside Sabine. They were laughingover something, Sabine in the sly, mocking way she had, and Oliviamischievously, with a suspicious twinkle in her eyes. Aunt Cassie wasfilled with an awful feeling that they were sharing some joke about thepeople at the ball, perhaps even about herself and Miss Peavey. SinceSabine had returned, she felt that Olivia had grown even more strangeand rebellious; nevertheless, she admitted to herself that there was adistinction about them both. She preferred the quiet distinction ofOlivia to the violence of the impression made by the glittering Sabine.The old lady sensed the distinction, but, belonging to a generationwhich lived upon emotion rather than analysis, she did not get to theroot of it. She did not see that one felt at once on seeing Olivia,"Here is a lady!"--perhaps, in the true sense of the word, the only ladyin the room. There was a gentleness about her and a softness and a proudsort of poise--all qualities of which Aunt Cassie approved; it was theair of mystery which upset the old lady. One never knew quite whatOlivia was thinking. She was so gentle and soft-spoken. Sometimes oflate, when pressing Olivia too hotly, Aunt Cassie, aware of rousingsomething indefinably perilous in the nature of the younger woman, drewback in alarm.
Rising stiffly, the old lady groaned a little and, moving down thestairs, said, "I must go, Olivia dear," and, turning, "Miss Peavey willgo with me."
Miss Peavey would have stayed, because she was enjoying herself, lookingdown on all those young people, but she had obeyed the commands of AuntCassie for too long, and now she rose, complaining faintly, and madeready to leave.
Olivia urged them to stay, and Sabine, looking at the old lady out ofgreen eyes that held a faint glitter of hatred, said abruptly: "I alwaysthought you stayed until the bitter end, Aunt Cassie."
A sigh answered her... a sigh filled with implications regarding AuntCassie's position as a lonely, ill, bereft, widowed creature for whomlife was finished long ago. "I am not young any longer, Sabine," shesaid. "And I feel that the old ought to give way to the young. Therecomes a time...."
Sabine gave an unearthly chuckle. "Ah," she said, in her hard voice, "Ihaven't begun to give up yet. I am still good for years."
"You're not a child any more, Sabine," the old lady said sharply.
"No, certainly I'm not a child any more." And the remark silenced AuntCassie, for it struck home at the memory of that wretched scene in whichshe had been put to rout so skilfully.
There was a great bustle about getting the two old ladies under way, agreat search for cloaks and scarfs and impedimenta; but at last theywent off, Aunt Cassie saying over her thin, high shoulder, "Will you saygood-by to your dear father-in-law, Olivia? I suppose he's playingbridge with Mrs. Soames."
"Yes," replied Olivia from the terrace, "he's playing bridge with Mrs.Soames."
Aunt Cassie merely cleared her throat, forcibly, and with a deepsignificance. In her look, as in the sound of her voice, she managed tolaunch a flood of disapproval upon the behavior of old John Pentland andold Mrs. Soames.
Bidding the driver to go very slowly, she climbed into her shabby,antiquated motor, followed respectfully by Miss Peavey, and drove offdown the long elm-bordered drive between the lines of waiting motors.
Olivia's "dear father-in-law" was Aunt Cassie's own brother, but shechose always to relate him to Olivia, as if in some way it bound Oliviamore closely, more hopelessly, into the fabric of the family.
* * * * *
As the two younger women reentered the house, Olivia asked, "Where'sThérèse? I haven't seen her for more than an hour."
"She's gone home."
"Thérèse... gone home... from a ball given for her!"
Olivia halted in astonishment and stood leaning against the wall,looking so charming and lovely that Sabine thought, "It's a sin for awoman so beautiful to have such a life."
Aloud Sabine said, "I caught her stealing away. She walked across to thecottage. She said she hated it and was miserable and bored and wouldrather be in bed." Sabine shrugged her handsome shoulders and added, "SoI let her go. What difference does it make?"
"None, I suppose."
"I never force her to do things of this sort. I had too much forcingwhen I was young; Thérèse is to do exactly as she likes and beindependent. The trouble is, she's been spoilt by knowing older men andmen who talk intelligently." She laughed and added, "I was wrong aboutcoming back here. I'll never marry her off in this part of the world.The men are all afraid of her."
Olivia kept seeing the absurd figure of Sabine's daughter, small anddark, with large burning eyes and an air of sulky independence, stridingoff on foot through the dust of the lane that led back to Brook Cottage.She was so different from her own daughter, the quiet, well-manneredSybil.
"I don't think she's properly impressed by Durham," said Olivia, with asudden mischievous smile.
"No... she's bored by it."
Olivia paused to say good-night to a little procession of guests... thePingree girls dressed alike in pink tulle; the plump Miss Perkins, whohad the finest collection of samplers in New England; Rodney Phillips,whose life was devoted to breeding springers and behaving like a perfectEnglish gentleman; old Mr. Tilney, whose fortune rested on the mills ofDurham and Lynn and Salem; and Bishop Smallwood, a cousin of thePentlands and Sabine (whom Sabine called the Apostle of the Genteel).The Bishop complimented Olivia on the beauty of her daughter andcoquetted heavily with Sabine. Motors rushed out from among the lilacsand syringas and bore them away one by one.
When they had gone Sabine said abruptly, "What sort of man is thisHiggins.... I mean your head stableman?"
"A good sort," replied Olivia. "The children are very fond of him. Why?"
"Oh... no reason at all. I happened to think of him to-night because Inoticed him standing on the terrace just now looking in at the ball."
"He was a jockey once... a good one, I believe, until he got tooheavy. He's been with us ten years. He's good and reliable and sometimesvery funny. Old Mr. Pentland depends on him for everything.... Only hehas a way of getting into scrapes with the girls from the village. Heseems irresistible to them... and he's an immoral scamp."
Sabine's face lighted up suddenly, as if she had made a great discovery."I thought so," she observed, and wandered away abruptly to continue thebusiness of "absorbing" the ball.
She had asked about Higgins because the man was stuck there in herbrain, set in the midst of a strange, confused impression that disturbeda mind usually marked by precision and clarity. She did not understandwhy it was that he remained the most vivid of all the kaleidoscopicprocession of the ball. He had been an outsider, a servant, looking inupon it, and yet there he was--a man whom she had never noticedbefore--vivid and clear-cut, dominating the whole evening.
It had happened a little earlier when, standing in the windowed alcoveof the old red-paneled writing-room, she had turned her back for amoment on the ball, to look out upon the distant marshes and the sea,across meadows where every stone and tree and hedge was thrown into abrilliant relief by the clarity of the moonlight and the thin NewEngland air. And trapped suddenly by the still and breathless beauty ofthe meadows and marshes and distant white dunes, lost in memories morethan twenty years old, she had found herself thinking: "It was alwayslike this... rather beautiful and hard and cold and a little barren,only I never saw it before. It's only now, when I've come back aftertwenty years, that I see my own country exactly as it is."
And then, standing there quite alone, she had become aware slowly thatshe was being watched by some one. There was a sudden movement among thelilacs that stood a little way off wrapped in thick black shadows...the faintest stirring of the leaves that drew her sharply back to aconsciousness of where she was and why she was there; and, focusing allher attention, she was able to make out presently a short, stocky littlefigure, and a white face peering out from among the branches, watchingthe dancers who moved about inside the house. The sight produced in hersuddenly a sensation of uneasiness and a faint prickling of the skin,which slipped away presently when she recognized the odd, prematurelywrinkled face of Higgins, the Pentland groom. She must have seen him adozen times before, barely noticing him, but now she saw him with a kindof illuminating clarity, in a way which made his face and figureunforgettable.
He was clad in the eternal riding-breeches and a sleeveless cotton shirtthat exposed the short, hairy, muscular arms. Standing there he seemed,with his arched, firmly planted legs, like some creature rooted into thesoil... like the old apple-tree which stood in the moonlight showeringthe last of its white petals on the black lawn. There was somethingunpleasant in the sight, as if (she thought afterwards) she had beenwatched without knowing it by some animal of an uncanny intelligence.
And then abruptly he had slipped away again, shyly, among the branchesof the lilacs... like a faun.
* * * * *
Olivia, looking after Sabine as she walked away, smiled at the knowledgeof where she was bound. Sabine would go into the old writing-room andthere, sitting in a corner, would pretend that she was interested in thelatest number of the Mercure de France or some fashion paper, and allthe time she would be watching, listening, while old John Pentland andpoor battered old Mrs. Soames sat playing bridge with a pair ofcontemporaries. Sabine, she knew, wanted to probe the lives of the twoold people. She wasn't content like the others at Pentlands to go onpretending that there had never been anything between them. She wantedto get to the root of the story, to know the truth. It was the truth,always the truth, which fascinated Sabine.
And Olivia felt a sudden, swift, almost poignant wave of affection forthe abrupt, grim woman, an affection which it was impossible to expressbecause Sabine was too scornful of all sentiment and too shut in ever toreceive gracefully a demonstration; yet she fancied that Sabine knew shewas fond of her, in the same shy, silent way that old John Pentland knewshe was fond of him. It was impossible for either of them ever to speakof such simple things as affection.
Since Sabine had come to Durham, it seemed to Olivia that life was alittle less barren and not quite so hopeless. There was in Sabine acurious hard, solid strength which the others, save only the old man,lacked completely. Sabine had made some discovery in life that had sether free... of everything but that terrible barrier of false coldness.
In the midst of these thoughts came another procession of retreatingguests, and the sadness, slipping away from Olivia's face, gave way to aperfect, artificial sort of gaiety. She smiled, she murmured,"Good-night, must you go," and, "Good-night, I'm so glad that you likedthe ball." She was arch with silly old men and kind to the shy youngones and repeated the same phrases over and over again monotonously.People went away saying, "What a charming woman Olivia Pentland is!"
Yet immediately afterward she did not remember who had passed by her.
One by one the guests departed, and presently the black musicians packedup their instruments and went away, and at last Sybil appeared, shy anddark, looking a little pale and tired in her clinging gown of palegreen. At sight of her daughter a little thrill of pride ran throughOlivia. She was the loveliest of all the girls at the ball, not themost flamboyant, but the gentlest and really the most beautiful. Shepossessed the same slow beauty of her mother, which enveloped one in akind of mist that lingered long after she herself had gone away. She wasneither loud and mannish and vulgar like the "horsey" women nor commonlike the girls who used too much paint and tried to behave like women ofthe world. There was already about her the timelessness that envelops alady no matter the generation in which she appears; there was a mystery,a sophistication and knowledge of life which put to rout all the cheapflashiness of the others. And yet, somehow, that same cool, shy poiseand beauty frightened people. Boys who were used to calling young girls"Good old So-and-so" found themselves helpless before the dignity of ayoung girl who looked in her green gown a little like a cool wood-nymph.It troubled Olivia profoundly, not for herself, but because she wantedthe girl to be happy--more than that, to know the depths of happinesswhich she herself had sensed but never found. It was in a way as if shesaw herself again in Sybil, as if looking back now from the pinnacle ofher own experience she could guide this younger self, standing on thebrink of life, along paths less barren than those trod by her own feet.It was so necessary that Sybil should fall in love with a man who wouldmake her happy. With most girls it would make little difference one wayor another, so long as they had money; if they were unhappy or boredthey would divorce their husbands and try again because that was therule in their world. But with Sybil, marriage would be either animmense, incalculable happiness or a profound and hopeless tragedy.
She thought suddenly of what Sabine had said of Thérèse a little whilebefore. "I was wrong about coming back here. I'll never marry her off inthis part of the world."
It was true somehow of Sybil. The girl, in some mysterious fashion, knewwhat it was she wanted; and this was not a life which was safe andassured, running smoothly in a rigid groove fixed by tradition andcircumstance. It was not marriage with a man who was like all the othermen in his world. It went deeper than all that. She wanted somehow toget far down beneath the surface of that life all about her, deep downwhere there was a savor to all she did. It was a hunger which Oliviaunderstood well enough.
The girl approached her mother and, slipping her arm about her waist,stood there, looking for all the world like Olivia's sister.
"Have you enjoyed it?" asked Olivia.
"Yes.... It's been fun."
Olivia smiled. "But not too much?"
"No, not too much." Sybil laughed abruptly, as if some humorous memoryhad suddenly come to life.
"Thérèse ran away," said her mother.
"I know... she told me she was going to."
"She didn't like it."
"No... she thought the boys stupid."
"They're very much like all boys of their age. It's not an interestingtime."
Sybil frowned a little. "Thérèse doesn't think so. She says all theyhave to talk about is their clubs and drinking... neither subject is ofvery much interest."
"They might have been, if you'd lived here always... like the othergirls. You and Thérèse see it from the outside." The girl didn't answer,and Olivia asked: "You don't think I was wrong in sending you to Franceto school?"
Quickly Sybil looked up. "Oh, no... no," she said, and then added withsmoldering eagerness, "I wouldn't have changed it for anything in theworld."
"I thought you might enjoy life more if you saw a little more than onecorner of it.... I wanted you to be away from here for a little time."(She did not say what she thought--"because I wanted you to escape theblight that touches everything at Pentlands.")
"I'm glad," the girl replied. "I'm glad because it makes everythingdifferent.... I can't explain it.... Only as if everything had moremeaning than it would have otherwise."
Suddenly Olivia kissed her daughter and said: "You're a clever girl;things aren't wasted on you. And now go along to bed. I'll stop in tosay good-night."
She watched the girl as she moved away through the big empty hall pastthe long procession of Pentland family portraits, thinking all the whilethat beside them Sybil seemed so fresh and full of warm eager life; andwhen at last she turned, she encountered her father-in-law and old Mrs.Soames moving along the narrow passage that led from the writing-room.It struck her sharply that the gaunt, handsome old John Pentland seemedreally old to-night, in a way he had never been before, old and a littlebent, with purplish circles under his bright black eyes.
Old Mrs. Soames, with her funny, intricate, dyed-black coiffure androuged cheeks and sagging chin supported by a collar of pearls, leanedon his arm--the wreck of a handsome woman who had fallen back upon suchsilly, obvious tricks as rouge and dye--a vain, tragic old woman whonever knew that she was a figure of fun. At sight of her, there rose inOlivia's mind a whole vista of memories--assembly after assembly withMrs. Soames in stomacher and tiara standing in the reception line bowingand smirking over rites that had survived in a provincial fashion somedarker, more barbaric, social age.
And the sight of the old man walking gently and slowly, out of deferenceto Mrs. Soames' infirmities, filled Olivia with a sudden desire to weep.
John Pentland said, "I'm going to drive over with Mrs. Soames, Oliviadear. You can leave the door open for me." And giving hisdaughter-in-law a quick look of affection he led Mrs. Soames away acrossthe terrace to his motor.
It was only after they had gone that Olivia discovered Sabine standingin the corridor in her brilliant green dress watching the two old peoplefrom the shadow of one of the deep-set windows. For a moment, absorbedin the sight of John Pentland helping Mrs. Soames with a grimcourtliness into the motor, neither of them spoke, but as the motordrove away down the long drive under the moon-silvered elms, Sabinesighed and said, "I can remember her as a great beauty... a reallygreat beauty. There aren't any more like her, who make their beauty aprofession. I used to see her when I was a little girl. She wasbeautiful--like Diana in the hunting-field. They've been like thatfor... for how long.... It must be forty years, I suppose."
"I don't know," said Olivia quietly. "They've been like that ever sinceI came to Pentlands." (And as she spoke she was overcome by a terriblefeeling of sadness, of an abysmal futility. It had come to her more andmore often of late, so often that at times it alarmed her lest she wasgrowing morbid.)
Sabine was speaking again in her familiar, precise, metallic voice. "Iwonder," she said, "if there has ever been anything...."
Olivia, divining the rest of the question, answered it quickly,interrupting the speech. "No... I'm sure there's never been anythingmore than we've seen.... I know him well enough to know that."
For a long time Sabine remained thoughtful, and at last she said: "No...I suppose you're right. There couldn't have been anything. He's the lastof the Puritans.... The others don't count. They go on pretending, butthey don't believe any more. They've no vitality left. They're onlyhypocrites and shadows.... He's the last of the royal line."
She picked up her silver cloak and, flinging it about her fine whiteshoulders, said abruptly: "It's almost morning. I must get some sleep.The time's coming when I have to think about such things. We're not asyoung as we once were, Olivia."
On the moonlit terrace she turned and asked: "Where was O'Hara? I didn'tsee him."
"No... he was asked. I think he didn't come on account of Anson andAunt Cassie."
The only reply made by Sabine was a kind of scornful grunt. She turnedaway and entered her motor. The ball was over now and the last guestgone, and she had missed nothing--Aunt Cassie, nor old John Pentland,nor O'Hara's absence, nor even Higgins watching them all in themoonlight from the shadow of the lilacs.
The night had turned cold as the morning approached and Olivia, standingin the doorway, shivered a little as she watched Sabine enter her motorand drive away. Far across the meadows she saw the lights of JohnPentland's motor racing along the lane on the way to the house of oldMrs. Soames; she watched them as they swept out of sight behind thebirch thicket and reappeared once more beyond the turnpike, and as sheturned away at last it occurred to her that the life at Pentlands hadundergone some subtle change since the return of Sabine.
It was Olivia's habit (and in some way every small action at Pentlandscame inevitably to be a habit) to go about the house each night beforeclimbing the paneled stairs, to see that all was in order, and byinstinct she made the little tour as usual after Sabine had disappeared,stopping here and there to speak to the servants, bidding them to go tobed and clear away in the morning. On her way she found that the door ofthe drawing-room, which had been open all the evening, was now, for somereason, closed.
It was a big square room belonging to the old part of the house that hadbeen built by the Pentland who made a fortune out of equippingprivateers and practising a sort of piracy upon British merchantmen--aroom which in the passing of years had come to be a museum filled withthe relics and souvenirs of a family which could trace its ancestry backthree hundred years to a small dissenting shopkeeper who had steppedashore on the bleak New England coast very soon after Miles Standish andPriscilla Alden. It was a room much used by all the family and had aworn, pleasant look that compensated for the monstrous and incongruouscollection of pictures and furniture. There were two or three Sheratonand Heppelwhite chairs and a handsome old mahogany table, and there werea plush sofa and a vast rocking-chair of uncertain ancestry, and ahideous bronze lamp that had been the gift of Mr. Longfellow to old JohnPentland's mother. There were two execrable water-colors--one of theTiber and the Castle San Angelo and one of an Italian village--made byMiss Maria Pentland during a tour of Italy in 1846, and a stuffed chairwith tassels, a gift from old Colonel Higginson, a frigid steelengraving of the Signing of the Declaration which hung over the whitemantelpiece, and a complete set of Woodrow Wilson's History of theUnited States given by Senator Lodge (whom Aunt Cassie always referredto as "dear Mr. Lodge"). In this room were collected mementoes of longvisits paid by Mr. Lowell and Mr. Emerson and General Curtis and othergood New Englanders, all souvenirs which Olivia had left exactly as shefound them when she came to the big house as the bride of AnsonPentland; and to those who knew the room and the family there wasnothing unbeautiful or absurd about it. The effect was historical. Onentering it one almost expected a guide to step forward and say, "Mr.Longfellow once wrote at this desk," and, "This was Senator Lodge'sfavorite chair." Olivia knew each tiny thing in the room with a sharpsense of intimacy.
She opened the door softly and found that the lights were still burningand, strangest of all, that her husband was sitting at the old desksurrounded by the musty books and yellowed letters and papers from whichhe was compiling laboriously a book known as "The Pentland Family andthe Massachusetts Bay Colony." The sight of him surprised her, for itwas his habit to retire punctually at eleven every night, even on suchan occasion as this. He had disappeared hours earlier from the ball, andhe still sat here in his dinner coat, though it was long after midnight.
She had entered the room so softly that he did not hear her and for amoment she remained silently looking down at him, as if undeterminedwhether to speak or to go quietly away. He sat with his back to her sothat the sloping shoulders and the thin, ridged neck and partly baldhead stood outlined against the white of the paneling. Suddenly, as ifconscious of being watched, he turned and looked at her. He was a manof forty-nine who looked older, with a long horseface like AuntCassie's--a face that was handsome in a tired, yellow sort of way--andsmall, round eyes the color of pale-blue porcelain. At the sight ofOlivia the face took on a pouting expression of sourness... a lookwhich she knew well as one that he wore when he meant to complain ofsomething.
"You are sitting up very late," she observed quietly, with a deliberateair of having noticed nothing unusual.
"I was waiting to speak to you. I want to talk with you. Please sit downfor a moment."
There was an odd sense of strangeness in their manner toward each other,as if there had never been, even years before when the children werebabies, any great intimacy between them. On his part there was, too, asort of stiff and nervous formality, rather quaint and Victorian, andtouched by an odd air of timidity. He was a man who would always do notperhaps the proper thing, but the thing accepted by his world as"proper."
It was the first time since morning that the conversation between themhad emerged from the set pattern which it had followed day after day forso many years. When he said that he wanted to speak to her, it meantusually that there was some complaint to be made against the servants,more often than not against Higgins, whom he disliked with an odd,inexplicable intensity.
Olivia sat down, irritated that he should have chosen this hour when shewas tired, to make some petty comment on the workings of the house. Halfwithout thinking and half with a sudden warm knowledge that it wouldannoy him to see her smoking, she lighted a cigarette; and as she satthere, waiting until he had blotted with scrupulous care the page onwhich he had been writing, she became conscious slowly of a strange,unaccustomed desire to be disagreeable, to create in some way anexcitement that would shatter for a moment the overwhelming sense ofmonotony and so relieve her nerves. She thought, "What has come over me?Am I one of those women who enjoys working up scenes?"
He rose from his chair and stood, very tall and thin, with droopingshoulders, looking down at her out of the pale eyes. "It's about Sybil,"he said. "I understand that she goes riding every morning with thisfellow O'Hara."
"That's true," replied Olivia quietly. "They go every morning beforebreakfast, before the rest of us are out."
He frowned and assumed almost mechanically a manner of severe dignity."And you mean to say that you have known about it all along?"
"They meet down in the meadows by the old gravel-pit because he doesn'tcare to come up to the house."
"He knows, perhaps, that he wouldn't be welcome."
Olivia smiled a little ironically. "I'm sure that's the reason. That'swhy he didn't come to-night, though I asked him. You must know, Anson,that I don't feel as you do about him."
"No, I suppose not. You rarely do."
"There's no need to be unpleasant," she said quietly.
"You seem to know a great deal about it."
"Sybil tells me everything she does. It is much better to have it thatway, I think."
Watching him, it gave her a faint, warm sense of satisfaction to seethat Anson was annoyed by her calmness, and yet she was a littleashamed, too, for wanting the excitement of a small scene, just a tinyscene, to make life seem a little more exciting. He said, "But you knowhow Aunt Cassie and my father feel about O'Hara."
Then, for the first time, Olivia began to see light in the darkness."Your father knows all about it, Anson. He has gone with them himself onthe red mare, once or twice."
"Are you sure of that?"
"Why should I make up such a ridiculous lie? Besides, your father and Iget on very well. You know that." It was a mild thrust which had itssuccess, for Anson turned away angrily. She had really said to him,"Your father comes to me about everything, not to you. He is not theone who objects or I should have known." Aloud she said, "Besides, Ihave seen him with my own eyes."
"Then I will take it on my own responsibility. I don't like it and Iwant it stopped."
At this speech Olivia's brows arched ever so slightly with a look whichmight have been interpreted either as one of surprise or one of mockeryor perhaps a little of both. For a moment she sat quite still, thinking,and at last she said, "Am I right in supposing that Aunt Cassie is atthe bottom of this?" When he made no reply she continued, "Aunt Cassiemust have gotten up very early to see them off." Again a silence, andthe dark little devil in Olivia urged her to say, "Or perhaps she gother information from the servants. She often does, you know."
Slowly, while she was speaking, her husband's face had grown more andmore sour. The very color of the skin seemed to have changed so that itappeared faintly green in the light from the Victorian luster just abovehis narrow head.
"Olivia, you have no right to speak of my aunt in that way."
"We needn't go into that. I think you know that what I said was thetruth." And a slow warmth began to steal over her. She was gettingbeneath his skin. After all those long years, he was finding that shewas not entirely gentle.
He was exasperated now and astonished. In a more gentle voice he said,"Olivia, I don't understand what has come over you lately."
She found herself thinking, wildly, "Perhaps he is going to soften.Perhaps there is still a chance of warmth in him. Perhaps even now,after so long, he is going to be pleasant and kind and perhaps...perhaps... more."
"You're very queer," he was saying. "I'm not the only one who finds youso."
"No," said Olivia, a little sadly. "Aunt Cassie does, too. She's beentelling all the neighborhood that I seem to be unhappy. Perhaps it'sbecause I'm a little tired. I've not had much rest for a long timenow... from Jack, from Aunt Cassie, from your father... and... fromher." At the last word she made a curious little half-gesture in thedirection of the dark north wing of the big house.
She watched him, conscious that he was shocked and startled by hermentioning in a single breath so many things which they never discussedat Pentlands, things which they buried in silence and tried to destroyby pretending that they did not exist.
"We ought to speak of those things, sometimes," she continued sadly."Sometimes when we are entirely alone with no one about to hear, when itdoesn't make any difference. We can't pretend forever that they don'texist."
For a time he was silent, groping obviously, in a kind of desperationfor something to answer. At last he said feebly, "And yet you sit up allnight playing bridge with Sabine and old Mrs. Soames and Father."
"That does me good. You must admit that it is a change at least."
But he only answered, "I don't understand you," and began to pace up anddown in agitation while she sat there waiting, actually waiting, for thething to work itself up to a climax. She had a sudden feeling ofvictory, of intoxication such as she had not known in years, not sinceshe was a young girl; and at the same time she wanted to laugh, wildly,hysterically, at the sight of Anson, so tall and thin, prancing up anddown.
Opposite her he halted abruptly and said, "And I can see no good ininviting Mrs. Soames here so often."
She saw now that the tension, the excitement between them, was greatereven than she had imagined, for Anson had spoken of Mrs. Soames and hisfather, a thing which in the family no one ever mentioned. He had doneit quite openly, of his own free will.
"What harm can it do now? What difference can it make?" she asked. "Itis the only pleasure left to the poor battered old thing, and one of thefew left to your father."
Anson began to mutter in disgust. "It is a silly affair... two old...old...." He did not finish the sentence, for there was only one wordthat could have finished it and that was a word which no gentleman andcertainly no Pentland ever used in referring to his own father.
"Perhaps," said Olivia, "it is a silly affair now.... I'm not so surethat it always was."
"What do you mean by that? Do you mean...." Again he fumbled for words,groping to avoid using the words that clearly came into his mind. It wasstrange to see him brought face to face with realities, to see him growso helpless and muddled. "Do you mean," he stammered, "that my fatherhas ever behaved..." he choked and then added, "dishonorably."
"Anson... I feel strangely like being honest to-night... just foronce... just for once."
"You are succeeding only in being perverse."
"No..." and she found herself smiling sadly, "unless you mean that inthis house... in this room..." She made a gesture which swept withinthe circle of her white arm all that collection of Victorian souvenirs,all the mementoes of a once sturdy and powerful Puritan family,"...in this room to be truthful and honest is to be perverse."
He would have interrupted her here, angrily, but she raised her hand andcontinued, "No, Anson; I shall tell you honestly what I think...whether you want to hear it or not. I don't hope that it will do anygood.... I do not know whether, as you put it, your father has behaveddishonorably or not. I hope he has.... I hope he was Mrs. Soames' loverin the days when love could have meant something to them.... Yes...something fleshly is exactly what I mean.... I think it would have beenbetter. I think they might have been happy... really happy for a littletime... not just living in a state of enchantment when one day isexactly like the next.... I think your father, of all men, has deservedthat happiness...." She sighed and added in a low voice, "There, now youknow!"
For a long time he simply stood staring at the floor with the round,silly blue eyes which sometimes filled her with terror because they wereso like the eyes of that old woman who never left the dark north wingand was known in the family simply as she, as if there was very littlethat was human left in her. At last he muttered through the droopingmustache, as if speaking to himself, "I can't imagine what has happenedto you."
"Nothing," said Olivia. "Nothing. I am the same as I have always been,only to-night I have come to the end of saying 'yes, yes' to everything,of always pretending, so that all of us here may go on livingundisturbed in our dream... believing always that we are superior toevery one else on the earth, that because we are rich we are powerfuland righteous, that because... oh, there is no use in talking.... I amjust the same as I have always been, only to-night I have spoken out. Weall live in a dream here... a dream that some day will turn sharplyinto a nightmare. And then what will we do? What will you do... andAunt Cassie and all the rest?"
In her excitement her cheeks grew flushed and she stood up, very talland beautiful, leaning against the mantelpiece; but her husband did notnotice her. He appeared to be lost in deep thought, his face contortedwith a kind of grim concentration.
"I know what has happened," he said presently. "It is Sabine. She shouldnever have come back here. She was like that always... stirring uptrouble... even as a little girl. She used to break up our games bysaying: 'I won't play house. Who can be so foolish as to pretend muddywater is claret! It's a silly game.'"
"Do you mean that she is saying it again now... that it's a silly gameto pretend muddy water is claret?"
He turned away without answering and began again to pace up and downover the enormous faded roses of the old Victorian carpet. "I don't knowwhat you're driving at. All I know is that Sabine... Sabine... is anevil woman."
"Do you hate Sabine because she is a friend of mine?"
She had watched him for so many years disliking the people who were herfriends, managing somehow to get rid of them, to keep her from seeingthem, to force her into those endless dinners at the houses of the safemen he knew, the men who had gone to his college and belonged to hisclub, the men who would never do anything that was unexpected. And inthe end she had always done as he wanted her to do. It was perhaps amanifestation of his resentment toward all those whom he could notunderstand and even (she thought) feared a little--the attitude of a manwho will not allow others to enjoy what he could not take for himself.It was the first time she had ever spoken of this dog-in-the-mangergame, but she found herself unable to keep silent. It was as if somepower outside her had taken possession of her body. She had a strangesensation of shame at the very moment she spoke, of shame at the soundof her own voice, a little strained and hysterical.
There was something preposterous, too, in the sight of Anson prancing upand down the old room filled with all the souvenirs of that decayedrespectability in which he wrapped himself... prancing up and down withall his prejudices and superstitions bristling. And now Olivia haddragged the truth uncomfortably into the light.
"What an absurd thing to say!" he said bitterly.
Olivia sighed. "No, I don't think so.... I think you know exactly what Imean." (She knew the family game of pretending never to understand atruthful, unpleasant statement.)
But this, too, he refused to answer. Instead, he turned to her moresavage and excited than she had ever seen him, so moved that he seemedfor a second to attain a pale flash of power and dignity. "And I don'tlike that Fiji Islander of a daughter of hers, who has been dragged allover the world and had her head filled with barbaric ideas."
At the sight of him and the sound of his voice Olivia experienced asudden blinding flash of intuition that illuminated the whole train oftheir conversation, indeed, the whole procession of the years she hadspent here at Pentlands or in the huge brownstone house in BeaconStreet. She knew suddenly what it was that frightened Anson and AuntCassie and all that intricate world of family. They were terrified lestthe walls, the very foundations, of their existence be swept awayleaving them helpless with all their little prides and vanities exposed,stripped of all the laws and prejudices which they had made to protectthem. It was why they hated O'Hara, an Irishman and a Roman Catholic. Hehad menaced their security. To be exposed thus would be a calamity, forin any other world save their own, in a world where they stoodunprotected by all that money laid away in solid trust funds, they wouldhave no existence whatever. They would suddenly be what they reallywere.
She saw sharply, clearly, for the first time, and she said quietly, "Ithink you dislike Thérèse for reasons that are not fair to the girl. Youdistrust her because she is different from all the others... from thesort of girls that you were trained to believe perfect. Heaven knowsthere are enough of them about here... girls as like as peas in a pod."
"And what about this boy who is coming to stay with Sabine and herdaughter... this American boy with a French name who has never seen hisown country until now? I suppose he'll be as queer as all the others.Who knows anything about him?"
"Sabine," began Olivia.
"Sabine!" he interrupted. "Sabine! What does she care who he is or wherehe comes from? She's given up decent people long ago, when she went awayfrom here and married that Levantine blackguard of a husband. Sabine!...Sabine would only like to bring trouble to us... the people to whom shebelongs. She hates us.... She can barely speak to me in a civilfashion."
Olivia smiled quietly and tossed her cigarette into the ashes beneaththe cold steel engraving of the Signing. "You are beginning to talknonsense, Anson. Let's stick to facts, for once. I've met the boy inParis.... Sybil knew him there. He is intelligent and handsome andtreats women as if they were something more than stable-boys. There arestill a few of us left who like to be treated thus... as women... afew of us even here in Durham. No, I don't imagine you'll care for him.He won't belong to your club or to your college, and he'll see life in adifferent way. He won't have had his opinions all ready made, waitingfor him."
"It's my children I'm thinking of.... I don't want them picking up withany one, with the first person who comes along."
Olivia did not smile. She turned away now and said softly, "If it's Jackyou're worrying about, you needn't fuss any longer. He won't marryThérèse. I don't think you know how ill he is.... I don't think,sometimes, that you really know anything about him at all."
"I always talk with the doctors."
"Then you ought to know that they're silly... the things you'resaying."
"All the same, Sabine ought never to have come back here...."
She saw now that the talk was turning back into the inevitable channelof futility where they would go round and round, like squirrels in acage, arriving nowhere. It had happened this way so many times. Turningwith an air of putting an end to the discussion, she walked over to thefireplace... pale once more, with faint, mauve circles under her darkeyes. There was a fragility about her, as if this strange spirit whichhad flamed up so suddenly were too violent for the body.
"Anson," she said in a low voice, "please let's be sensible. I shalllook into this affair of Sybil and O'Hara and try to discover whetherthere is anything serious going on. If necessary, I shall speak directlyto both of them. I don't approve, either, but not for the same reason.He is too old for her. You won't have any trouble. You will have to donothing.... As to Sabine, I shall continue to see as much of her as Ilike."
In the midst of the speech she had grown suddenly, perilously, calm inthe way which sometimes alarmed her husband and Aunt Cassie. Sighing alittle, she continued, "I have been good and gentle, Anson, for yearsand years, and now, to-night... to-night I feel as if I were coming tothe end of it.... I only say this to let you know that it can't go onforever."
Picking up her scarf, she did not wait for him to answer her, but movedaway toward the door, still enveloped in the same perilous calm. In thedoorway she turned. "I suppose we can call the affair settled for themoment?"
He had been standing there all the while watching her out of the roundcold blue eyes with a look of astonishment as if after all those yearshe had seen his wife for the first time; and then slowly the look ofastonishment melted into one of slyness, almost of hatred, as if hethought, "So this is what you really are! So you have been thinkingthese things all these years and have never belonged to us at all. Youhave been hating us all the while. You have always been an outsider--acommon, vulgar outsider."
His thin, discontented lips had turned faintly gray, and when he spokeit was nervously, with a kind of desperation, like a small animaltrapped in a corner. The words came out from the thin lips in asharp, quick torrent, like the rush of white-hot steel releasedfrom a cauldron... words spoken in a voice that was cold and shakenwith hatred.
"In any case," he said, "in any case... I will not have my daughtermarry a shanty Irishman.... There is enough of that in the family."
For a moment Olivia leaned against the door-sill, her dark eyes widewith astonishment, as if she found it impossible to believe what she hadheard. And then quietly, with a terrible sadness and serenity in hervoice, she murmured almost to herself, "What a rotten thing to say!" Andafter a little pause, as if still speaking to herself, "So that is whatyou have been thinking for twenty years!" And again, "There is aterrible answer to that.... It's so terrible that I shan't say it, butI think you... you and Aunt Cassie know well enough what it is."
Closing the door quickly, she left him there, startled and exasperated,among all the Pentland souvenirs, and slowly, in a kind of nightmare,she made her way toward the stairs, past the long procession of Pentlandancestors--the shopkeeping immigrant, the witch-burner, the professionalevangelist, the owner of clipper ships, and the tragic, beautiful SavinaPentland--and up the darkened stairway to the room where her husband hadnot followed her in more than fifteen years.
* * * * *
Once in her own room she closed the door softly and stood in thedarkness, listening, listening, listening.... There was at first nosound save the blurred distant roar of the surf eating its way into thewhite dunes and the far-off howling of a beagle somewhere in thedirection of the kennels, and then, presently, there came to her thefaint sound of soft, easy breathing from the adjoining room. It wasregular, easy and quiet, almost as if her son had been as strong asO'Hara or Higgins or that vigorous young de Cyon whom she had met oncefor a little while at Sabine's house in Paris.
The sound filled her with a wild happiness, so that she forgot even whathad happened in the drawing-room a little while before. As she undressedin the darkness she stopped now and then to listen again in a kind offierce tension, as if by wishing it she could keep the sound from everdying away. For more than three years she had never once entered thisroom free from the terror that there might only be silence to welcomeher. And at last, after she had gone to bed and was falling asleep, shewas wakened sharply by another sound, quite different, the sound of awild, almost human cry... savage and wicked, and followed by the thudthud of hoofs beating savagely against the walls of a stall, and thenthe voice of Higgins, the groom, cursing wickedly. She had heard itbefore--the sound of old John Pentland's evil, beautiful red marekicking the walls of her stall and screaming wildly. There was anunearthly, implacable hatred between her and the little apelike man...and yet a sort of fascination, too.
As she sat up in her bed, listening, and still startled by the wildsound, she heard her son saying:
"Mama, are you there?"
She rose and went into the other room, where, in the dim light from thenight-lamp, the boy was sitting up in bed, his pale blond hair allrumpled, his eyes wide open and staring a little.
"You're all right, Jack?" she whispered. "There's nothing the matter?"
"No--nothing. I had a bad dream and then I heard the red mare."
He looked pale and ill, with the blue veins showing on his temples; yetshe knew that he was stronger than he had been for months. He wasfifteen, and he looked younger than his age, rather like a boy ofthirteen or fourteen, but he was old, too, in the timeless fashion ofthose who have always been ill.
"Is the party over?... Have they all gone?" he asked.
"Yes, Jack.... It's almost daylight. You'd better try to sleep again."
He lay down without answering her, and as she bent to kiss himgood-night, she heard him say softly, "I wish I could have gone to theparty."
"You will, Jack, some day--before very long. You're growing strongerevery day."
Again a silence, while Olivia thought bitterly, "He knows that I'mlying. He knows that what I've said is not the truth."
Aloud she said, "You'll go to sleep now--like a good boy."
"I wish you'd tell me about the party."
Olivia sighed. "Then I must close Nannie's door, so we won't waken her."And she closed the door leading to the room where the old nurse slept,and seating herself on the foot of her son's bed, she began a recital ofwho had been at the ball, and what had happened there, bit by bit,carefully and with all the skill she was able to summon. She wanted togive him, who had so little chance of living, all the sense of life shewas able to evoke.
She talked on and on, until presently she noticed that the boy hadfallen asleep and that the sky beyond the marshes had begun to turn grayand rose and yellow with the rising day.
When Olivia first came to the old house as the wife of Anson Pentland,the village of Durham, which lay inland from Pentlands and the sea, hadbeen invisible, lying concealed in a fold of the land which marked thefaint beginnings of the New Hampshire mountains. There had been in theview a certain sleepy peacefulness: one knew that in the distant fold ofland surmounted by a single white spire there lay a quiet village ofwhite wooden houses built along a single street called High Street thatwas dappled in summer with the shadows of old elm-trees. In those daysit had been a country village, half asleep, with empty shuttered houseshere and there falling into slow decay--a village with fewer people init than there had been a hundred years before. It had stayed thussleeping for nearly seventy-five years, since the day when a greatmigration of citizens had robbed it of its sturdiest young people. Inthe thick grass that surrounded the old meeting-house there lay a marbleslab recording the event with an inscription which read:
FROM THIS SPOT ON THE FOURTEENTH DAY OF AUGUST, EIGHTEEN HUNDRED AND EIGHTEEN, THE REVEREND JOSIAH MILFORD, PASTOR OF THIS CHURCH, WITH ONE HUNDRED AND NINETY MEMBERS OF HIS CONGREGATION--MEN, WOMEN AND CHILDREN--SET OUT, SECURE IN THEIR FAITH IN ALMIGHTY GOD, TO ESTABLISH HIS WILL AND POWER IN THE WILDERNESS OF THE WESTERN RESERVE.
Beneath the inscription were cut the names of those families who hadmade the journey to found a new town which had since surpassed sleepyDurham a hundred times in wealth and prosperity. There was no Pentlandname among them, for the Pentlands had been rich even in the yeareighteen hundred and eighteen, and lived in winter in Boston and insummer at Durham, on the land claimed from the wilderness by the firstof the family.
From that day until the mills came to Durham the village sank slowlyinto a kind of lethargy, and the church itself, robbed of its strength,died presently and was changed into a dusty museum filled with homelyearly American furniture and spinning-wheels--a place seldom visited byany one and painted grudgingly every five years by the town councilbecause it was popularly considered an historical monument. The Pentlandfamily long ago had filtered away into the cold faith of the Unitariansor the more compromising and easy creeds of the Episcopal church.
But now, nearly twenty years after Olivia had come to Pentlands, thevillage was alive again, so alive that it had overflowed its little foldin the land and was streaming down the hill on the side next to the seain straight, plain columns of ugly stucco bungalows, each filled withits little family of Polish mill-workers. And in the town, across HighStreet from the white-spired old meeting-house, there stood a newchurch, built of stucco and green-painted wood and dedicated to thegreat Church of Rome. In the old wooden houses along High Street therestill lingered remnants of the old families... old Mrs. Featherstone,who did washing to support four sickly grandchildren who ought never tohave been born; Miss Haddon, a queer old woman who wore a black cape andlived on a dole from old John Pentland as a remote cousin of the family;Harry Peckhan, the village carpenter; old Mrs. Malson, living alone in adamp, gaunt and beautiful old house filled with bits of jade and ivorybrought back from China by her grandfather's clippers; Miss Murgatroyd,who had long since turned her bullfinch house into a shabby tea-room.They remained here and there, a few worn and shabby-genteel descendantsof those first settlers who had come into the country with thePentlands.
But the mills had changed everything, the mills which poured wealth intothe pockets of a dozen rich families who lived in summer within a fewmiles of Durham.
Even the countryside itself had changed. There were no longer any of theold New Englanders in possession of the land. Sometimes in riding alongthe lanes one encountered a thin, silly-faced remnant of the racesitting on a stone wall chewing a bit of grass; but that was all: theothers had been swallowed up long ago in the mills of Salem and Lynn ordied away, from too much inbreeding and too little nourishment. The fewfarms that remained fell into the hands of Poles and Czechs, solid,square people who were a little pagan in their closeness to the earthand the animals which surrounded them, sturdy people, not too moral, whowrought wonders with the barren, stony earth of New England and stoodbehind their walls staring wide-eyed while the grand people like thePentlands rode by in pink coats surrounded by the waving nervous tailsof foxhounds. And, one by one, other old farms were being turned backinto a wilderness once more so that there would be plenty of room forthe horses and hounds to run after foxes and bags of aniseed.
It had all changed enormously. From the upper windows of the bigGeorgian brick house where the Pentlands lived, one could see the recordof all the changes. The windows commanded a wide view of a landscapecomposed of grubby meadows and stone walls, thickets of pine and whitebirches, marshes, and a winding sluggish brown river. Sometimes in thelate autumn the deer wandered down from the mountains of New Hampshireto spoil the fox-hunting by leading the hounds astray after game thatwas far too fleet for them.
And nearer at hand, nestled within a turn of the river, lay the landwhere Sabine Callender had been born and had lived until she was a grownwoman--the land which she had sold carelessly to O'Hara, an Irishpolitician and a Roman Catholic, come up from nowhere to take possessionof it, to clip its hedges, repair its sagging walls, paint its oldbuildings and put up gates and fences that were too shiny and new.Indeed, he had done it so thoroughly and so well that the whole placehad a little the air of a suburban real estate development. And nowSabine had returned to spend the summer in one of his houses and to bevery friendly with him in the face of Aunt Cassie and Anson Pentland,and a score of others like them.
Olivia knew this wide and somberly beautiful landscape, every stick andstone of it, from the perilous gravel-pit, half-hidden by its fringe ofelder-bushes, to the black pine copse where Higgins had discovered onlya day or two before a new litter of foxes. She knew it on gray days whenit was cold and depressing, on those bright, terribly clear New Englanddays when every twig and leaf seemed outlined by light, and on thosedamp, cold days when a gray fog swept in across the marshes from the seato envelop all the countryside in gray darkness. It was a hard,uncompromising, stony country that was never too cheerful.
It was a country, too, which gave her an old feeling of loneliness... afeeling which, strangely enough, seemed to increase rather than diminishas the years passed. She had never accustomed herself to its occasionaldreariness. In the beginning, a long while ago, it had seemed to hergreen and peaceful and full of quiet, a place where she might find restand peace... but she had come long since to see it as it was, as Sabinehad seen it while she stood in the window of the writing-room,frightened by the sudden queer apparition of the little groom--acountry beautiful, hard and cold, and a little barren.
There were times when the memories of Olivia's youth seemed to sharpensuddenly and sweep in upon her, overwhelming all sense of the present,times when she wanted suddenly and fiercely to step back into thatfar-off past which had seemed then an unhappy thing; and these were thetimes when she felt most lonely, the times when she knew how completely,with the passing of years, she had drawn into herself; it was a processof protection like a tortoise drawing in its head. And all the while, inspite of the smiles and the politeness and the too facile amiability,she felt that she was really a stranger at Pentlands, that there werecertain walls and barriers which she could never break down, past whichshe could never penetrate, certain faiths in which it was impossible forher to believe.
It was difficult now for her to remember very clearly what had happenedbefore she came to Durham; it all seemed lost, confused, buried beneaththe weight of her devotion to the vast family monument of the Pentlands.She had forgotten the names of people and places and confused the daysand the years. At times it was difficult for her to remember the endlessconfusing voyages back and forth across the Atlantic and the vast,impersonal, vacuous hotels which had followed each other in the bleakand unreal procession of her childhood.
She could remember with a certain pitiful clarity two happy years spentat the school in Saint-Cloud, where for months at a time she had livedin a single room which she might call her own, where she had rested,free from the terror of hearing her mother say, "We must pack to-day.We are leaving to-morrow for St. Petersburg or London or San Remo orCairo...."
She could scarcely remember at all the immense house ofchocolate-colored stone fitted with fantastic turrets and balconies thatoverlooked Lake Michigan. It had been sold and torn down long ago,destroyed like all else that belonged to the far-off past. She could notremember the father who had died when she was three; but of him thereremained at least a yellowing photograph of a great, handsome, brawnyman with a humorous Scotch-Irish face, who had died at the moment whenhis name was coming to be known everywhere as a power in Washington. No,nothing remained of him save the old photograph, and the tenuous,mocking little smile which had come down to her, the way she had ofsaying, "Yes! Yes!" pleasantly when she meant to act in quite thecontrary fashion.
There were times when the memory of her own mother became vague andfantastic, as if she had been no more than a figure out of some absurdphotograph of the early nineteen hundreds... the figure of a prettywoman, dressed fashionably in clothes that flowed away in bothdirections, from a wasp waist. It was like a figure out of one of thoseold photographs which one views with a kind of melancholy amusement. Sheremembered a vain, rather selfish and pretty woman, fond of flattery,who had been shrewd enough never to marry any one of those gallant darkgentlemen with high-sounding titles who came to call at the eternalchangeless hotel sitting-room, to take her out to garden parties andfêtes and races. And always in the background of the memory there wasthe figure of a dark little girl, overflowing with spirits and a hungerfor friends, who was left behind to amuse herself by walking out withthe Swiss governess, to make friends among the children she encounteredin the parks or on the beaches and the boulevards of whatever Europeancity her mother was visiting at the moment... friends whom she sawto-day and who were vanished to-morrow never to be seen again. Hermother, she saw now, belonged to the America of the nineties. She sawher now less as a real person than a character out of a novel by Mrs.Wharton.
But she had never remarried; she had remained the rich, pretty Mrs.McConnel of Chicago until that tragic day (the clearest of all Olivia'smemories and the most terrible) when she had died of fever abruptly in aremote and squalid Italian village, with only her daughter (a girl ofseventeen), a quack doctor and the Russian driver of her motor to carefor her.
The procession of confused and not-too-cheerful memories came to aclimax in a gloomy, red brick house off Washington Square, where she hadgone as an orphan to live with a rigid, bejetted, maternal aunt who hadbelieved that the whole world revolved about Lenox, the Hudson RiverValley and Washington Square--an aunt who had never spoken to Olivia'sfather because she, like Anson and Aunt Cassie, had a prejudice againstIrishmen who appeared out of nowhere, engaging, full of life and highspirits.
So at eighteen she had found herself alone in the world save for onebejetted aunt, with no friends save those she had picked up as a childon beaches and promenades, whose names she could no longer evenremember. And the only fixed world she knew was the world of the auntwho talked incessantly of the plush, camphor-smelling splendor of a NewYork which no longer existed.
Olivia saw it all clearly now. She saw why it was that when AnsonPentland came one night to call upon her aunt she had thought him anelegant and fascinating man whose presence at dinner had the power oftransforming the solid walnut and mahogany dining-room into a brilliantplace. He was what girls called "an older man," and he had flattered herby his politeness and attentions. He had even taken her chaperoned bythe aunt, to see a performance of "The City," little knowing that theindecorousness to be unfolded there would force them to leave before theplay was over. They had gone on a Thursday evening (she could evenremember the very day) and she still smiled at the memory of theirbelief that a girl who had spent all her life in the corridors ofEuropean hotels should not know what the play was about.
And then it had all ended by her being asked to Pentlands for a visit...to Pentlands, where she had come upon a world such as she had neverknown before, a world green and peaceful and secure, where every one waselaborately kind to her for reasons that she never learned until longafterward. They never even told her the truth about Anson's mother, theold woman who lived in solitude in the north wing. She was, they said,too ill at the moment to see any one. Pentlands, in that far-off day,had seemed to the tired, friendless girl like some vast, soft green bedwhere she could fling herself down and rest forever, a world where shecould make friends and send down roots that would hold her secure forall time. To a hotel child Pentlands was a paradise; so when AnsonPentland asked her to marry him, she accepted him because she did notfind him actually repulsive.
And now, after all those years, it was spring again... spring as whenshe had come to Pentlands for the first time, and she was thirty-nineyears old and still young; only everything had changed.
* * * * *
Bit by bit, in the years that followed the birth of Sybil and then ofJack, the whole picture of the life at Pentlands and in the brownstonehouse on Beacon Street had come to assume a pattern, to take form out ofthe first confused and misty impressions, so that, looking back upon it,she was beginning to understand it all with the chill clarity ofdisillusion.
She saw herself as a shy young girl to whom they had all beenelaborately kind because it was so necessary for Anson to have a wifeand produce an heir.... Anson, the last male descendant of such aglorious family. ("The Pentland Family and the Massachusetts BayColony.") She saw herself as they must have seen her... a pretty younggirl, disarmed by their kindness, who was not known in their world butwas at least charming and a lady and quite rich. (She knew now how muchthe money must have counted with Aunt Cassie.) And she saw Anson now,across all the expanse of years, not as a Prince Charming come to rescueher from an ogre aunt, but as he had really been... a rather anemicman, past thirty, of an appalling propriety. (There was a bitter humorin the memories of his timid advances toward her, of all the distastewith which he approached the details of marriage... a humor which shehad come to understand fully only as she grew older and wiser in theways of the world.) Looking back, she saw him as a man who had triedagain and again to marry young women he had known all his life and whohad failed because somehow he had gained a mysterious reputation forbeing a bore... a young man who, left to himself, would never haveapproached any woman, and gone to the grave as virginal as he had beenborn.
She saw now that he had never been even in the slightest in love withher. He had married her only because he got no peace from all theothers, both the living and the dead, who in such a strange fashionseemed also to live at Pentlands. It was Aunt Cassie and even poor sillyMiss Peavey and powerful old John Pentland and the cousins and all thosedead hanging in neat rows in the hall who had married her. Anson hadonly been an instrument; and even in the most bitter moments she feltstrangely sorry for him, because he, too, had had all his life ruined.
And so, slowly during all those long years, the pretty, shy, unknownOlivia McConnel, whose father was a Democratic politician out ofChicago, had turned into this puzzled, sometimes unhappy woman, theoutsider, who had come in some mysterious fashion to be the one uponwhom all of them leaned for strength.
* * * * *
She was glad now that she had stood forth boldly at last and faced Ansonand all those who stood behind him there in the drawing-room, both theliving and the dead, peering over his shoulder, urging him on. Theunpleasant argument, though it had wounded her, had cleared the air alittle. It had laid bare for a second the reality which she had beenseeking for so long a time. Anson had been right about Sabine: in theclear bright air of the New England morning she knew that it was thesense of Sabine's nearness which had given her the strength to beunpleasant. Sabine, like herself, had known the great world, and so shewas able to see their world here in Durham with a clarity that theothers never approached. She was strong, too, in her knowledge thatwhatever happened she (Olivia) was the one person whom they could notafford to lose, because they had depended on her for too long.
But she was hurt. She kept thinking again and again of what Anson hadsaid.... "In any case, I will not have my daughter marry a shantyIrishman. There is enough of that in the family."
She knew that Anson would suffer from shame for what he had said, butshe knew, too, that he would pretend nothing had happened, that he hadnever made such a speech, because it was unworthy of a gentleman and aPentland. He would pretend, as he always did, that the scene had neveroccurred.
When he had made the speech he had meant that she ought to have beenthankful that they allowed her to marry into the Pentland family. Therewas a buried something in them all, a conviction that was a part oftheir very flesh, which made them believe in such a privilege. And forher who knew so much more than the world knew, who saw so much more thanany of them of the truth, there was only one answer, to be wrung fromher with a tragic intensity... "Oh, my God!..."
The dining-room was large and square, and having been redecorated in aperiod later than the rest of the house, was done in heavy mahogany,with a vast shiny table in the center which when reduced to its smallestpossible circumference still left those who seated themselves about itformally remote from one another.
It was a well-used table, for since circumstance had kept John Pentlandfrom going into the world, he had brought a part of it into his own homewith a hospitality and a warmth that rather upset his sister Cassie.She, herself, like most of the family, had never cared very profoundlyfor food, looking upon it almost as a necessity. A prune to her palateshared importance as a delicacy with a truffle. In the secrecy of herown house, moved by her passion for economy, she more often than notassuaged her own birdlike appetite with scraps from the cupboard, thoughat such times the simple but full-blooded Miss Peavey suffered keenly."A pick-up meal" was a byword with Aunt Cassie, and so she frowned uponthe rich food furnished by old John Pentland and his daughter-in-law,Olivia.
Nevertheless, she took a great many meals at the mahogany table and evenmanaged to insinuate within its circle the plump figure of Miss Peavey,whose silly laugh and servile echoes of his sister's opinions the oldman detested.
Anson never lunched at home, for he went up to Boston each morning atnine o'clock, like a man of affairs, with much business to care for. Hekept an office in Water Street and went to it with a passionateregularity, to spend the day in the petty affairs of club committees andsocieties for the improvement of this or that; for he was a man whofortified his own soul by arranging the lives of others. He was chairmanof a committee which "aired" young girls who had fallen into trouble,and contributed as much as he was able out of his own rather slenderincome to the activities of the Watch and Ward Society. And a large partof the day was spent in correspondence with genealogists on the subjectof "The Pentland Family and the Massachusetts Bay Colony." He did not ina whole year earn enough money to pay the office rent for one month, buthe had no patience with the many cases of poverty and destitution whichcame to his notice. The stocks and bonds of the Pentland estate had beenkept carefully out of his reach, by a father who distrusted activitiessuch as Anson's, and even now, when he was nearly fifty. Anson had onlya small income left by his grandfather and an allowance, paid him eachmonth by his father, as if he were still a boy in college.
So when Olivia came down to lunch on the day after the ball she was notforced to face Anson and his shame over the scene of the night before.There were only the grandfather and Sybil and Jack--who was well enoughto come down.
The old man sat at the head, in the place which he had neverrelinquished as the dictator, the ruler of all the family. Tall andmuscular, he had grown leathery from exposure during the years he hadlived in the country, riding day after day in rains and blizzards, insunlight and in storms, as if there were in him some atavistic hungerfor the hardy life led by the first Pentlands to come to Durham. Healways rode the vicious and unruly beautiful red mare... a grim old manwho was a match for her famous bad temper. He was rather like hissister Cassie in appearance--one of the black Pentlands who had appearedmysteriously in the line nearly a hundred years earlier, and he hadburning black eyes that looked out from shaggy brows... a man asdifferent in appearance and vigor from his son as it was possible toimagine. (For Anson was a typical Pentland--blond, with round blue eyesand an inclination when in health toward ruddiness.) One stood in awe ofthe old man: there was a grimness about the strong, rough-cut face andcontracted lips, and a curious, indefinable air of disapproval which onewas never able to pin down or analyze.
He was silent to-day, in one of the black moods which Olivia knew wellmeant that he was troubled. She knew that this time it had nothing to dowith Jack's illness, for the boy sat there opposite them, lookingstronger than he had looked in months... blond and pale and thin, withthe blue veins showing at his pathetic wrists and on his thin, handsometemples.
Olivia had lived through bad times over Jack and she had lived throughthem always together with John Pentland, so there had grown up betweenthem--the mother and the grandfather--a sense of understanding which wasquite beyond speech. Together they had spent so many nights by the sideof the boy, keeping him alive almost by the strength of their unitedwills, forcing him to live when, gasping for life, he would have slippedaway easily into death. Together they had kept him in life, because theyboth loved him and because he was the last son of the family.
Olivia felt sometimes that Sybil, too, played a part in the never-endingstruggle against death. The girl, like her grandfather, never spoke ofsuch things, but one could read them in the troubled depths of herviolet eyes. That long, weary struggle was one of the tragedies theynever spoke of at Pentlands, leaving it buried in silence. One said,"Jack looks well to-day," smiling, and, "Perhaps the doctors arewrong." Sybil was watching her brother now, in that quiet, mysteriousway she had, watching him cautiously lest he discover that she waswatching; for he discovered troubles easily, with the kind ofclairvoyance which comes to people who have always been ill.
They barely talked at all during the lunch. Sybil planned to take herbrother in the trap to ride over the farm and down to the white dunes.
"Higgins is going with us," she said. "He's going to show us the newlitter of foxes in the black thicket."
And Jack said, "It's a funny thing about Higgins. He always discoverssuch things before any one else. He knows when it will be a good day forfishing and just when it is going to rain. He's never wrong."
"No..." said the grandfather suddenly. "It's a funny thing. He's neverwrong... not in all the years I've known him."
It was the only time he said anything during the meal, and Olivia,trying to fill in the gaps in the conversation, found it difficult, withthe boy sitting opposite her looking so pale and ill. It seemed to hersometimes that he had never really been born, that he had alwaysremained in some way a part of herself. When he was out of her sight,she had no peace because there was always a gnawing terror that shemight never see him again. And she knew that deep inside the frail bodythere was a spirit, a flame, descended from the old man and fromherself, which burned passionately with a desire for life, for riding,for swimming, for running across the open meadows... a flame that mustalways be smothered. If only he had been like Anson, his father, whonever knew that hunger for life....
"Olivia, my dear..." The old man was speaking. "Will you have yourcoffee with me in the library? There is something I want to discuss withyou."
She knew it then. She had been right. There was something whichtroubled him. He always said the same thing when he was faced by someproblem too heavy for his old shoulders. He always said, "Olivia, mydear.... Will you come into the library?" He never summoned his own son,or his sister Cassie... no one but Olivia. Between them they sharedsecrets which the others never dreamed of; and when he died, all thetroubles would be hers... they would be passed on for her to dealwith... those troubles which existed in a family which the world wouldhave said was rich and respected and quite without troubles.
As she left the room to follow him she stopped for a moment to say toSybil, "Are you happy, my dear? You're not sorry that you aren't goingback to school in Saint-Cloud?"
"No, Mama; why shouldn't I be happy here? I love it, more than anythingin the world."
The girl thrust her hands into the pockets of her riding-coat.
"You don't think I was wrong to send you to France to school... awayfrom every one here?"
Sybil laughed and looked at her mother in the frank, half-mocking wayshe had when she fancied she had uncovered a plot.
"Are you worrying about marrying me off? I'm only eighteen. I've lots oftime."
"I'm worrying because I think you'll be so hard to please."
Again she laughed. "That's true. That's why I'm going to take my time."
"And you're glad to have Thérèse here?"
"Of course. You know I like Thérèse awfully, Mama."
"Very well... run along now. I must speak to your grandfather."
And the girl went out onto the terrace where Jack stood waiting in thesun for the trap. He always followed the sun, choosing to sit in it evenin midsummer, as if he were never quite warm enough.
She was worried over Sybil. She had begun to think that perhaps AuntCassie was right when she said that Sybil ought to go to aboarding-school with the girls she had always known, to grow loud andnoisy and awkward and play hockey and exchange silly notes with the boysin the boarding-school in the next village. Perhaps it was wrong to havesent Sybil away to a school where she would meet girls from France andEngland and Russia and South America... half the countries of theworld; a school where, as Aunt Cassie had said bitterly, she would beforced to associate with the "daughters of dancers and opera singers."She knew now that Sybil hadn't liked the ball any more than Thérèse, whohad run away from it without a word of explanation. Only with Thérèse itdidn't matter so much, because the dark stubborn head was filled withall sorts of wild notions about science and painting and weird books onpsychology. There was a loneliness about Thérèse and her mother, SabineCallendar, only with them it didn't matter. They had, too, a hardness, asense of derision and scorn which protected them. Sybil hadn't any suchprotections. Perhaps she was even wrong in having made of Sybil alady--a lady in the old sense of the word--because there seemed to be noplace for a lady in the scheme of life as it had existed at the dancethe night before. It was perilous, having a lady on one's hands,especially a lady who was certain to take life as passionately as Sybil.
She wanted the girl to be happy, without quite understanding that itwas because Sybil seemed the girl she had once been herself, a very partof herself, the part which had never lived at all.
* * * * *
She found her father-in-law seated at his great mahogany desk in thehigh narrow room walled with books which was kept sacred to him, at thedesk from which he managed the farm and watched over a fortune, built upbit by bit shrewdly, thriftily over three hundred years, a fortune whichhe had never brought himself to trust in the hands of his son. It was,in its gloomy, cold way, a pleasant room, smelling of dogs and applesand wood-smoke, and sometimes of whisky, for it was here that the oldman retired when, in a kind of baffled frenzy, he drank himself toinsensibility. It was here that he would sometimes sit for a day and anight, even sleeping in his leather chair, refusing to see any one saveHiggins, who watched over him, and Olivia. And so it was Olivia andHiggins who alone knew the spectacle of this solitary drinking. Theworld and even the family knew very little of it--only the little whichsometimes leaked out from the gossip of servants straying at night alongthe dark lanes and hedges about Durham.
He sat with his coffee and a glass of Courvoisier before him while hesmoked, with an air of being lost in some profound worry, for he did notlook up at once when she entered, but sat staring before him in an odd,enchanted fashion. It was not until she had taken a cigarette from thesilver box and lighted it that he looked up at the sound of the strikingmatch and, focusing the burning black eyes, said to her, "Jack seemsvery well to-day."
"Yes, better than he has been in a long time."
"Perhaps, after all, the doctors are wrong."
Olivia sighed and said quietly, "If we had believed the doctors weshould have lost him long ago."
"Yes, that's true."
She poured her coffee and he murmured, "It's about Horace Pentland Iwanted to speak. He's dead. I got the news this morning. He died inMentone and now it's a question whether we shall bring him home here tobe buried in Durham with the rest of the family."
Olivia was silent for a moment and then, looking up, said "What do youthink? How long has it been that he has lived in Mentone?"
"It's nearly thirty years now that I've been sending him money to staythere. He's only a cousin. Still, we had the same grandfather and he'dbe the first of the family in three hundred years who isn't buriedhere."
"There was Savina Pentland...."
"Yes.... But she's buried out there, and she would have been buried hereif it had been possible."
And he made a gesture in the direction of the sea, beyond the marsheswhere the beautiful Savina Pentland, almost a legend now, lay, somewheredeep down in the soft white sand at the bottom of the ocean.
"Would he want to be buried here?" asked Olivia.
"He wrote and asked me... a month or two before he died. It seemed tobe on his mind. He put it in a strange way. He wrote that he wanted tocome home."
Again Olivia was thoughtful for a time. "Strange..." she murmuredpresently, "when people were so cruel to him."
The lips of the old man stiffened a little.
"It was his own fault...."
"Still... thirty years is a long time."
He knocked the ash from his cigar and looked at her sharply. "You meanthat everything may have been forgotten by now?"
Olivia made a little gesture with her white, ringless hands. "Why not?"
"Because people don't forget things like that... not in our world, atany rate."
Quietly, far back in her mind, Olivia kept trying to imagine this HoracePentland whom she had never seen, this shadowy old man, dead now, whohad been exiled for thirty years.
"You have no reason for not wanting him here among all the others?"
"No... Horace is dead now.... It can't matter much whether what's leftof him is buried here or in France."
"Except, of course, that they may have been kinder to him over there....They're not so harsh."
A silence fell over them, as if in some way the spirit of HoracePentland, the sinner whose name was never spoken in the family savebetween Olivia and the old man, had returned and stood between them,waiting to hear what was to be done with all that remained of him onthis earth. It was one of those silences which, descending upon the oldhouse, sometimes filled Olivia with a vague uneasiness. They had a wayof descending upon the household in the long evenings when all thefamily sat reading in the old drawing-room--as if there were figuresunseen who stood watching.
"If he wanted to be buried here," said Olivia, "I can see no reason whyhe should not be."
"Cassie will object to raking up an old scandal that has beenforgotten."
"Surely that can't matter now... when the poor old man is dead. We canbe kind to him now... surely we can be kind to him now."
John Pentland sighed abruptly, a curious, heart-breaking sigh thatseemed to have escaped even his power of steely control; and presentlyhe said, "I think you are right, Olivia,... I will do as you say...only we'll keep it a secret between us until the time comes when it'snecessary to speak. And then... then we'll have a quiet funeral."
She would have left him then save that she knew from his manner thatthere were other things he wanted to say. He had a way of letting youknow his will without speaking. Somehow, in his presence you felt thatit was impossible to leave until he had dismissed you. He still treatedhis own son, who was nearly fifty, as if he were a little boy.
Olivia waited, busying herself by rearranging the late lilacs whichstood in a tall silver vase on the polished mahogany desk.
"They smell good," he said abruptly. "They're the last, aren't they?"
"The last until next spring."
"Next spring..." he repeated with an air of speaking to himself. "Nextspring...." And then abruptly, "The other thing was about Sabine. Thenurse tells me she has discovered that Sabine is here." He made thefamily gesture toward the old north wing. "She has asked to see Sabine."
"Who told her that Sabine had returned? How could she have discoveredit?"
"The nurse doesn't know. She must have heard some one speaking the nameunder her window. The nurse says that people in her condition havecurious ways of discovering such things... like a sixth sense."
"Do you want me to ask Sabine? She'd come if I asked her."
"It would be unpleasant. Besides, I think it might do harm in some way."
Olivia was silent for a moment. "How? She probably wouldn't rememberSabine. When she saw her last, Sabine was a young girl."
"She's gotten the idea now that we're all against her, that we'repersecuting her in some way." He coughed and blew a cloud of smoke outof his thin-drawn lips. "It's difficult to explain what I mean.... Imean that Sabine might encourage that feeling... quite without meaningto, that Sabine might give her the impression that she was an ally.There's something disturbing about Sabine."
"Anson thinks so, too," said Olivia softly. "He's been talking to meabout it."
"She ought never to have come back here. It's difficult... what I amtrying to say. Only I feel that she's up to some mischief. I think shehates us all."
"Not all of us...."
"Not perhaps you. You never belonged here. It's only those of us whohave always been here."
"But she's fond of you...."
"Her father and I were good friends. He was very like her...disagreeable and given to speaking unpleasant truths.... He wasn't apopular man. Perhaps that's why she's friendly toward me... on accountof him."
"No, it's more than that...."
Slowly Olivia felt herself slipping back into that state of confusedenchantment which had overwhelmed her more and more often of late. Itseemed that life grew more and more tenuous and complicated, moreblurred and indistinct, until at times it became simply a morass ofminute problems in which she found herself mired and unable to act. Noone spoke directly any more. It was like living in a world of shadows.And this old man, her father-in-law, was the greatest puzzle of all,because it was impossible ever to know how much he understood of whatwent on about him, how much he chose to ignore in the belief that bydenying its existence it would cease to exist.
Sitting there, puzzled, she began to pull a leaf from the cluster oflilacs into tiny bits.
"Sometimes," she said, "I think Sabine is unhappy...."
"No... not that.... She's beyond happiness or unhappiness. There'ssomething hard in her and unrelenting... as hard as a cut diamond.She's a clever woman and a queer one. She's one of those strangecreatures that are thrown off now and then by people like us. There'snothing else quite like them in the world. They go to strange extremes.Horace was the same... in a different, less creditable fashion."
Olivia looked at him suddenly, astonished by the sudden flash ofpenetration in the old man, one of those sudden, quick gleams which ledher to believe that far down, in the depths of his soul, he was far moreprofound, far more intelligent, unruly and defiant of tradition than heever allowed the world to suppose. It was always the old question. Howmuch did he know? How much did he not know... far back, behind thelined, severe, leathery old face? Or was it a sort of clairvoyance, notof eternal illness, like Jack's, but of old age?
"I shall ask Sabine," she began.
"It's not necessary at the moment. She appears to have forgotten thematter temporarily. But she'll remember it again and then I think itwill be best to humor her, whatever comes. She may not think of it againfor months... until Sabine has gone.... I only wanted to ask you... toconsult you, Olivia. I thought you could arrange it."
She rose and, turning to go, she heard him saying, "She might likesome lilacs in her room." He hesitated and in a flat, dead voice, added,"She used to be very fond of flowers."
Olivia, avoiding the dark eyes, thought, "She used to be very fond offlowers.... That means forty years ago... forty long years. Oh, myGod!" But after a second she said simply, "She has taken a dislike toflowers. She fancies they take up the air and stifle her. The sight ofthem is very bad for her."
"I should have known you'd already thought of it."
For an instant the old man stood facing her with a fixed and searchingexpression which made her feel shy and led her to turn away from him alittle; and then all at once, with an air strangely timid and frightenedin a man so grim in appearance, he took her hand and kissing her on theforehead murmured, "You're a good girl, Olivia. They're right in whatthey say of you. You're a good girl. I don't know how I should havemanaged without you all these years."
Smiling, she looked at him, and then, touching his hand affectionately,she went out without speaking again, thinking, as she had thought athousand times, what a terrible thing it must be to have been born soinarticulate and so terrified of feeling as John Pentland. It must be,she thought, like living forever imprisoned in a shell of steel fromwhich one might look out and see friends but never touch or know them.
From the doorway she heard a voice behind her, saying almost joyfully:"The doctors must have been wrong about Jack. You and I together,Olivia, have defeated them."
She said, "Yes," and smiled at him, but when she had turned away againthere was in her mind a strange, almost gruesome thought.
"If only Jack lives until his grandfather is dead, the old man will diehappy. If only he can be kept alive until then...."
She had a strange way of seeing things in the hard light of reality, andan unreal, lonely childhood had fostered the trait. She had been bornthus, and now as a woman she found that in a way it was less a cursethan a blessing. In a world which survived only by deceiving itself, shefound that seeing the truth and knowing it made her strong. Here,perhaps, lay the reason why all of them had come to depend upon her. Butthere were times, too, when she wanted passionately to be a poor weakfeminine creature, a woman who might turn to her husband and find in himsome one stronger than herself. She had a curious feeling of envy forSavina Pentland, who was dead before she was born.... Savina Pentlandwho had been the beauty of the family, extravagant, reckless, feminine,who bought strings of pearls and was given to weeping and fainting.
But she (Olivia) had only Anson to lean upon.
* * * * *
After she had gone away the old man sat for a long time smoking anddrinking his brandy, enveloped by a loneliness scarcely more profoundthan it had been a little while before when he sat talking with Olivia.It was his habit to sit thus sometimes for an hour at a time,unconscious, it seemed, of all the world about him; Olivia had come inmore than once at such moments and gone away again, unwilling to shatterthe enchantment by so much as a single word.
At last, when the cigar had burned to an end, he crushed out the emberwith a short, fierce gesture and, rising, went out of the tall narrowroom and along the corridor that led to the dark stairway in the oldnorth wing. These steps he had climbed every day since it had becomenecessary to keep her in the country the year round... every day, atthe same hour, step by step his big heavy-shod boots had trod the sameworn stair carpet. It was a journey begun years ago as a kind ofpleasure colored by hope, which for a long time now, bereft of all hope,had become merely a monotonous dreary duty. It was like a journey ofpenance made by some pilgrim on his knees up endless nights of stairs.
For more than twenty years, as far back as Olivia could remember, he hadbeen absent from the house for a night but twice, and then only onoccasions of life and death. In all that time he had been twice to NewYork and never once to the Europe he had not seen since, as a boy, hehad made the grand tour on a plan laid out by old General Curtis... atime so remote now that it must have seemed part of another life. In allthose years he had never once escaped from the world which his familyfound so perfect and complete and which to him must have seemed always alittle cramped and inadequate. Fate and blood and circumstance, onemight have said, had worn him down bit by bit until in the end he hadcome to worship the same gods they worshiped. Now and then he contrivedto escape them for a little while by drinking himself intoinsensibility, but always he awakened again to find that nothing hadchanged, to discover that his prison was the same. And so, slowly, hopemust have died.
But no one knew, even Olivia, whether he was happy or unhappy; and noone would ever really know what had happened to him, deep inside, behindthe gray, leathery old face.
The world said, when it thought of him: "There never was such a devotedhusband as John Pentland."
Slowly and firmly he walked along the narrow hall to the end and therehalted to knock on the white door. He always knocked, for there weretimes when the sight of him, entering suddenly, affected her so that shebecame hysterical and beyond all control.
In response to the knock, the door was opened gently and professionallyby Miss Egan, an automaton of a nurse--neat, efficient, inhuman andincredibly starched, whose very smile seemed to come and go by somemechanical process, like the sounds made by squeezing a mechanical doll.Only it was impossible to imagine squeezing anything so starched andjagged as the red-faced Miss Egan. It was a smile which sprang intoexistence upon sight of any member of the family, a smile of falsehumility which said, "I know very well that you cannot do withoutme"--the smile of a woman well enough content to be paid three times thewages of an ordinary nurse. In three or four more years she would haveenough saved to start a sanatorium of her own.
Fixing her smile, she faced the old man, saying, "She seems quite wellto-day... very quiet."
The whole hallway had been flooded at the opening of the door by a thickand complicated odor arising from innumerable medicines that stood rowupon row in the obscurity of the dark room. The old man stepped inside,closing the door quickly behind him, for she was affected by too muchlight. She could not bear to have a door or a window open near her; evenon this bright day the drawn shades kept the room in darkness.
She had got the idea somehow that there were people outside who waitedto leer at her... hundreds of them all pressing their faces against thepanes to peep into her bedroom. There were days when she could not bequieted until the window-shades were covered by thick layers of blackcloth. She would not rise from her bed until nightfall lest the facesoutside might see her standing there in her nightdress.
It was only when darkness had fallen that the nurse was able by means oftrickery and wheedling to air the room, and so it smelled horribly ofthe medicines she never took, but kept ranged about her, row upon row,like the fetishes of witch-doctors. In this they humored her as they hadhumored her in shutting out the sunlight, because it was the only waythey could keep her quiet and avoid sending her away to some place whereshe would have been shut behind bars. And this John Pentland would noteven consider.
When he entered she was lying in the bed, her thin, frail body barelyoutlined beneath the bedclothes... the mere shadow of a woman who mustonce have been pretty in a delicate way. But nothing remained now of thebeauty save the fine modeling of the chin and nose and brow. She laythere, a queer, unreal old woman, with thin white hair, skin likeparchment and a silly, vacant face as unwrinkled as that of a child. Ashe seated himself beside her, the empty, round blue eyes opened a littleand stared at him without any sign of recognition. He took one of thethin, blue-veined hands in his, but it only lay there, lifeless, whilehe sat, silent and gentle, watching her.
Once he spoke, calling her wistfully by name, "Agnes"; but there was nosign of an answer, not so much as a faint flickering of the white,transparent lids.
And so for an eternity he sat thus in the thick darkness, enveloped bythe sickly odor of medicines, until he was roused by a knock at the doorand the sudden glare of daylight as it opened and Miss Egan, fixing herflashing and teethy smile, came in and said: "The fifteen minutes is up,Mr. Pentland."
When the door had closed behind him he went away again, slowly,thoughtfully, down the worn stairs and out into the painfully brilliantsunlight of the bright New England spring. Crossing the green terrace,bordered with great clumps of iris and peonies and a few late tulips, hemade his way to the stable-yard, where Higgins had left the red mare incharge of a Polish boy who did odd tasks about the farm. The mare, asbeautiful and delicate as a fine steel spring, stood nervously pawingthe gravel and tossing her handsome head. The boy, a great lout with ashock of yellow hair, stood far away from her holding the reins at arm'slength. At the sight of the two the old man laughed and said, "Youmustn't let her know you're afraid of her, Ignaz."
The boy gave up the reins and retired to a little distance, stillwatching the mare resentfully. "Well, she tried to bite me!" he saidsullenly.
Quickly, with a youthful agility, John Pentland swung himself to herback... quickly enough to keep her from sidling away from him. Therewas a short, fierce struggle between the rider and the horse, and in ashower of stones they sped away down the lane that led across themeadows, past the thicket of black pines and the abandoned gravel-pit,toward the house of Mrs. Soames.
In the solid corner of the world which surrounded Durham, Aunt Cassieplayed the rôle of an unofficial courier who passed from house to house,from piazza to piazza, collecting and passing on the latest bits ofnews. When one saw a low cloud of dust moving across the brilliant NewEngland sky above the hedges and stone walls of the countryside, onecould be certain that it masked the progress of Cassie Struthers on herdaily round of calls. She went always on foot, because she detestedmotors and was terrified of horses; one might see her coming from agreat distance, dressed always in dingy black, tottering along verybriskly (for a woman of her age and well-advertised infirmities). Onecame to expect her arrival at a certain hour, for she was, unless therearose in her path some calamity or piece of news of unusual interest, apunctual woman whose life was as carefully ordered as the vast house inwhich she lived with the queer Aunt Bella.
It was a great box of a dwelling built by the late Mr. Struthers in thedays of cupolas and gazebos on land given him by Aunt Cassie'sgrandfather on the day of her wedding. Inside it was furnished with agreat profusion of plush tassels and antimacassars, all kept with theneatness and rigidity of a museum. There were never any cigar ashes onthe floor, nor any dust in the corners, for Aunt Cassie followed herservants about with the eye of a fussy old sergeant inspecting hisbarracks. Poor Miss Peavey, who grew more and more dowdy and careless asold age began to settle over her, led a life of constant peril, and wasforced to build a little house near the stables to house herPomeranians and her Siamese cats. For Aunt Cassie could not abide thethought of "the animals dirtying up the house." Even the "retiring room"of the late Mr. Struthers had been converted since his death into amuseum, spotless and purified of tobacco and whisky, where his chair satbefore his desk, turned away from it a little, as if his spirit werestill seated there. On the desk lay his pipe (as he had left it) and theneat piles of paper (carefully dusted each day but otherwiseundisturbed) which he had put there with his own hand on the morningthey found him seated on the chair, his head fallen back a little, as ifasleep. And in the center of the desk lay two handsomely boundvolumes--"Cornices of Old Boston Houses" and "Walks and Talks in NewEngland Churchyards"--which he had written in these last sad years whenhis life seemed slowly to fade from him... the years in which AuntCassie seemed rapidly to recover the wiry strength and health for whichshe had been famous as a girl.
The house, people said, had been built by Mr. Struthers in theexpectation of a large family, but it had remained great and silent ofchildren's voices as a tomb since the day it was finished, for AuntCassie had never been strong until it was too late for her to bear himheirs.
Sabine Callendar had a whole set of theories about the house and aboutthe married life of Aunt Cassie, but they were theories which she kept,in her way, entirely to herself, waiting and watching until she wascertain of them. There was a hatred between the two women that wasimplacable and difficult to define, an emotion almost of savagery whichconcealed itself beneath polite phrases and casual observations of anacid character. They encountered each other more frequently than AuntCassie would have wished, for Sabine, upon her return to Durham, took upAunt Cassie's habit of going from house to house on foot in search ofnews and entertainment. They met in drawing-rooms, on piazzas, andsometimes in the very dusty lanes, greeting each other with smiles andvicious looks. They had become rather like two hostile cats watchingeach other for days at a time, stealthily. Sabine, Aunt Cassie confidedin Olivia, made her nervous.
Still, it was Aunt Cassie who had been the first caller at Brook Cottageafter the arrival of Sabine. The younger woman had seen her approach,enveloped in a faint cloud of dust, from the windows of Brook Cottage,and the sight filled her with an inexpressible delight. The spare oldlady had come along so briskly, almost with impatience, filled withdelight (Sabine believed) at having an excuse now to trespass onO'Hara's land and see what he had done to the old cottage. And Sabinebelieved, too, that she came to discover what life had done to "dear Mr.Struthers' niece, Sabine Callendar." She came as the Official Welcomerof the Community, with hope in her heart that she would find Sabine areturned prodigal, a wrecked woman, ravaged by time and experience, whofor twenty years had ignored them all and now returned, a broken andhumbled creature, hungry for kindness.
The sight set fire to a whole train of memories in Sabine... memorieswhich penetrated deep into her childhood when with her father she hadlived in the old house that once stood where O'Hara's new one raised itsbright chimneys; memories of days when she had run off by herself toplay in the tangled orchard grass among the bleeding-hearts and irisesthat surrounded this same Brook Cottage where she stood watching theapproach of Aunt Cassie. Only, in those days Brook Cottage had been aruin of a place, with empty windows and sagging doors, ghostly andhalf-hidden by a shaggy tangle of lilacs and syringas, and now it stoodglistening with new paint, the lilacs all neatly clipped and pruned.
There was something in the sight of the old woman's nervous, activefigure that struck deep down into a past which Sabine, with the passingof years, had almost succeeded in forgetting; and now it all came backagain, sharply and with a kind of stabbing pain, so that she had asudden odd feeling of having become a little girl again... plain,red-haired, freckled and timid, who stood in terror of Aunt Cassie andwas always being pulled here and there by a thousand aunts and unclesand cousins because she would not be turned into their idea of what anice little girl ought to be. It was as if the whole past wereconcentrated in the black figure of the old lady who had been thering-leader, the viceroy, of all a far-flung tribe, an old woman who hadbeen old even twenty years earlier, lying always on a sofa under ashawl, issuing her edicts, pouring out her ample sympathies, her bittercriticisms. And here she was, approaching briskly, as if the death ofMr. Struthers had somehow released her from bonds which had chafed fortoo long.
Watching her, one incident after another flashed through the quick, hardbrain of Sabine, all recreated with a swift, astounding clarity--the daywhen she had run off to escape into the world and been found by old JohnPentland hiding in the thicket of white birches happily eatingblueberries. (She could see his countenance now, stern with itsdisapproval of such wild behavior, but softening, too, at the sight ofthe grubby, freckled plain face stained with blueberry juice.) And thereturn of the captive, when she was surrounded by aunts who dressed herin a clean frock and forced her to sit in the funereal spare bedroomwith a New Testament on her knees until she "felt that she could comeout and behave like a nice, well-brought-up little girl." She could seethe aunts pulling and fussing at her and saying, "What a shame shedidn't take after her mother in looks!" and, "She'll have a hard timewith such plain, straight red hair."
And there was, too, the memory of that day when Anson Pentland, atimid, spiritless little Lord Fauntleroy of a boy, fell into the riverand would have been drowned save for his cousin Sabine, who dragged himout, screaming and drenched, only to receive for herself all thescolding for having led him into mischief. And the times when she hadbeen punished for having asked frank and simple questions which sheought not to have asked.
It was difficult to remember any happiness until the day when her fatherdied and she was sent to New York, a girl of twenty, knowing very littleof anything and nothing whatever of such things as love and marriage, tolive with an uncle in a tall narrow house on Murray Hill. It was on thatday (she saw it now with a devastating clarity as she stood watching theapproach of Aunt Cassie) that her life had really begun. Until then herexistence had been only a confused and tormented affair in which therewas very little happiness. It was only later that reality had come toher, painfully, even tragically, in a whole procession of events whichhad made her slowly into this hard, worldly, cynical woman who foundherself, without quite knowing why, back in a world she hated, standingat the window of Brook Cottage, a woman tormented by an immense andacutely living curiosity about people and the strange tangles whichtheir lives sometimes assumed.
She had been standing by the window thinking back into the past withsuch a fierce intensity that she quite forgot the approach of AuntCassie and started suddenly at the sound of the curious, familiar thinvoice, amazingly unchanged, calling from the hallway, "Sabine! Sabinedear! It's your Aunt Cassie! Where are you?" as if she had never leftDurham at all, as if nothing had changed in twenty years.
At sight of her, the old lady came forward with little fluttering criesto fling her arms about her late husband's niece. Her manner was that ofa shepherd receiving a lost sheep, a manner filled with forgiveness andpity and condescension. The tears welled easily into her eyes andstreamed down her face.
Sabine permitted herself, frigidly, to be embraced, and said, "But youdon't look a day older, Aunt Cassie. You look stronger than ever." Itwas a remark which somehow set the whole tone of the relationshipbetween them, a remark which though it sounded sympathetic and evencomplimentary was a harsh thing to say to a woman who had cherished allher life the tradition of invalidism. It was harsh, too, because it wastrue. Aunt Cassie at forty-seven had been as shriveled and dried as shewas now, twenty years later.
The old woman said, "My dear girl, I am miserable... miserable." Anddrying the tears that streamed down her face she added, "It won't belong now until I go to join dear Mr. Struthers."
Sabine wanted suddenly to laugh, at the picture of Aunt Cassie enteringParadise to rejoin a husband whom she had always called, even in theintimacy of married life, "Mr. Struthers." She kept thinking that Mr.Struthers might not find the reunion so pleasant as his wifeanticipated. She had always held a strange belief that Mr. Struthers hadchosen death as the best way out.
And she felt a sudden almost warm sense of returning memories, roused byAunt Cassie's passion for overstatement. Aunt Cassie could never bringherself to say simply, "I'm going to die" which was not at all true. Shemust say, "I go to join dear Mr. Struthers."
Sabine said, "Oh, no.... Oh, no.... Don't say that."
"I don't sleep any more. I barely close my eyes at night."
She had seated herself now and was looking about her, absorbingeverything in the room, the changes made by the dreadful O'Hara, thefurniture he had bought for the house. But most of all she was studyingSabine, devouring her with sidelong, furtive glances; and Sabine,knowing her so well, saw that the old woman had been given a violentshock. She had come prepared to find a broken, unhappy Sabine and shehad found instead this smooth, rather hard and self-contained woman,superbly dressed and poised, from the burnished red hair (that straightred hair the aunts had once thought so hopeless) to the lizard-skinslippers--a woman who had obviously taken hold of life with a firm handand subdued it, who was in a way complete.
"Your dear uncle never forgot you for a moment, Sabine, in all the yearsyou were away. He died, leaving me to watch over you." And again theeasy tears welled up.
("Oh," thought Sabine, "you don't catch me that way. You won't put meback where I once was. You won't even have a chance to meddle in mylife.")
Aloud she said, "It's a pity I've always been so far away."
"But I've thought of you, my dear.... I've thought of you. Scarcely anight passes when I don't say to myself before going to sleep, 'There ispoor Sabine out in the world, turning her back on all of us who loveher.'" She sighed abysmally. "I have thought of you, dear. I've prayedfor you in the long nights when I have never closed an eye."
And Sabine, talking on half-mechanically, discovered slowly that, inspite of everything, she was no longer afraid of Aunt Cassie. She was nolonger a shy, frightened, plain little girl; she even began to sense achallenge, a combat which filled her with a faint sense of warmth. Shekept thinking, "She really hasn't changed at all. She still wants toreach out and take possession of me and my life. She's like an octopusreaching out and seizing each member of the family, arrangingeverything." And she saw Aunt Cassie now, after so many years, in a newlight. It seemed to her that there was something glittering and hard anda little sinister beneath all the sighing and tears and easy sympathy.Perhaps she (Sabine) was the only one in all the family who had escapedthe reach of those subtle, insinuating tentacles.... She had run away.
Meanwhile Aunt Cassie had swept from a vivid and detailed description ofthe passing of Mr. Struthers into a catalogue of neighborhood and familycalamities, of deaths, of broken troths, financial disasters, and theappearance on the horizon of the "dreadful O'Hara." She reproachedSabine for having sold her land to such an outsider. And as she talkedon and on she grew less and less human and more and more like somedisembodied, impersonal force of nature. Sabine, watching her withpiercing green eyes, found her a little terrifying. She had sharpenedand hardened with age.
She discussed the divorces which had occurred in Boston, and at length,leaning forward and touching Sabine's hand with her thin, nervous one,she said brokenly: "I felt for you in your trouble, Sabine. I neverwrote you because it would have been so painful. I see now that I evadedmy duty. But I felt for you.... I tried to put myself in your place. Itried to imagine dear Mr. Struthers being unfaithful to me... but, ofcourse, I couldn't. He was a saint." She blew her nose and repeated withpassion, as if to herself, "A saint!"
("Yes," thought Sabine, "a saint... if ever there was one.") She sawthat Aunt Cassie was attacking her now from a new point. She was tryingto pity her. By being full of pity the old woman would try to break downher defenses and gain possession of her.
Sabine's green eyes took one hard, glinting look. "Did you ever see myhusband?" she asked.
"No," said Aunt Cassie, "but I've heard a great deal of him. I've beentold how you suffered."
Sabine looked at her with a queer, mocking expression. "Then you've beentold wrongly. He is a fascinating man. I did not suffer. I assure youthat I would rather have shared him with fifty other women than have hadany one of the men about here all to myself."
There was a frank immorality in this statement which put Aunt Cassie torout, bag and baggage. She merely stared, finding nothing to say inreply to such a speech. Clearly, in all her life she had never heard anyone say a thing so bald and so frank, so completely naked of allpretense of gentility.
Sabine went on coldly, pushing her assault to the very end. "I divorcedhim at last, not because he was unfaithful to me, but because there wasanother woman who wanted to marry him... a woman whom I respect andlike... a woman who is still my friend. Understand that I loved himpassionately... in a very fleshly way. One couldn't help it. I wasn'tthe only woman.... He was a kind of devil, but a very fascinating one."
The old woman was a little stunned but not by any means defeated. Sabinesaw a look come into her eyes, a look which clearly said, "So this iswhat the world has done to my poor, dear, innocent little Sabine!" Atlast she said with a sigh, "I find it an amazing world. I don't knowwhat it is coming to."
"Nor I," replied Sabine with an air of complete agreement and sympathy.She understood that the struggle was not yet finished, for Aunt Cassiehad a way of putting herself always in an impregnable position, ofwrapping herself in layer after layer of sighs and sympathy, of charityand forgiveness, of meekness and tears, so that in the end there was noway of suddenly tearing them aside and saying, "There you are... nakedat last, a horrible meddling old woman!" And Sabine kept thinking, too,that if Aunt Cassie had lived in the days of her witch-baiting ancestor,Preserved Pentland, she would have been burned for a witch.
And all the while Sabine had been suffering, quietly, deep inside,behind the frankly painted face... suffering in a way which no one inthe world had ever suspected; for it was like tearing out her heart, totalk thus of Richard Callendar, even to speak his name.
Aloud she said, "And how is Mrs. Pentland.... I mean Olivia... not mycousin.... I know how she is... no better."
"No better.... It is one of those things which I can neverunderstand.... Why God should have sent such a calamity to a good manlike my brother."
"But Olivia..." began Sabine, putting an end abruptly to what wasclearly the prelude to a pious monologue.
"Oh!... Olivia," replied Aunt Cassie, launching into an account of theyoung Mrs. Pentland. "Olivia is an angel... an angel, a blessing of Godsent to my poor brother. But she's not been well lately. She's beenrather sharp with me... even with poor Miss Peavey, who is sosensitive. I can't imagine what has come over her."
It seemed that the strong, handsome Olivia was suffering from nerves.She was, Aunt Cassie said, unhappy about something, although she couldnot see why Olivia shouldn't be happy... a woman with everything in theworld.
"Everything?" echoed Sabine. "Has any one in the world got everything?"
"It is Olivia's fault if she hasn't everything. All the materials arethere. She has a good husband... a husband who never looks at otherwomen."
"Nor at his own wife either," interrupted Sabine. "I know all aboutAnson. I grew up with him."
Aunt Cassie saw fit to ignore this. "She's rich," she said, resuming thecatalogue of Olivia's blessings.
And again Sabine interrupted, "But what does money mean, Aunt Cassie? Inour world one is rich and that's the end of it. One takes it forgranted. When one isn't rich any longer, one simply slips out of it. Ithas very little to do with happiness...."
The strain was beginning to show on Aunt Cassie. "You'd find out if youweren't rich," she observed with asperity, "if your father andgreat-grandfather hadn't taken care of their money." She recoveredherself and made a deprecating gesture. "But don't think I'm criticizingdear Olivia. She is the best, the most wonderful woman." She began towrap herself once more in kindliness and charity and forgiveness. "Onlyshe seems to me to be a little queer lately."
Sabine's artificially crimson mouth took on a slow smile. "It would betoo bad if the Pentland family drove two wives insane--one after theother."
Again Aunt Cassie came near to defeat by losing her composure. Shesnorted, and Sabine helped her out by asking: "And Anson?" ironically."What is dear Anson doing?"
She told him of Anson's great work, "The Pentland Family and theMassachusetts Bay Colony" and of its immense value as a contribution tothe history of the nation; and when she had finished with that, sheturned to Jack's wretched health, saying in a low, melancholy voice,"It's only a matter of time, you know.... At least, so the doctorssay.... With a heart like that it's only a matter of time." The tearscame again.
"And yet," Sabine said slowly, "you say that Olivia has everything."
"Well," replied Aunt Cassie, "perhaps not everything."
Before she left she inquired for Sabine's daughter and was told that shehad gone over to Pentlands to see Sybil.
"They went to the same school in France," said Sabine. "They werefriends there."
"Yes," said Aunt Cassie. "I was against Sybil's going abroad to school.It fills a girl's head with queer ideas... especially a school likethat where any one could go. Since she's home, Sybil behaves veryqueerly.... I think it'll stand in the way of her success in Boston. Theboys don't like girls who are different."
"Perhaps," said Sabine, "she may marry outside of Boston. Men aren't thesame everywhere. Even in Boston there must be one or two who don't referto women as 'Good old So-and-so.' Even in Boston there must be men wholike women who are well dressed... women who are ladies...."
Aunt Cassie began to grow angry again, but Sabine swept over her. "Don'tbe insulted, Aunt Cassie. I only mean ladies in the old-fashioned,glamorous sense.... Besides," she continued, "whom could she marry whowouldn't be a cousin or a connection of some sort?"
"She ought to marry here... among the people she's always known.There's a Mannering boy who would be a good match, and James Thorne'syoungest son."
Sabine smiled. "So you have plans for her already. You've settled it?"
"Of course, nothing is settled. I'm only thinking of it with Sybil'swelfare in view. If she married one of those boys she'd know what shewas getting. She'd know that she was marrying a gentleman."
"Perhaps..." said Sabine. "Perhaps." Somehow a devil had takenpossession of her and she added softly, "There was, of course, HoracePentland.... One can never be quite sure." (She never forgot anything,Sabine.)
And at the same moment she saw, standing outside the door that opened onthe terrace next to the marshes, a solid, dark, heavy figure which sherecognized with a sudden feeling of delight as O'Hara. He had beenwalking across the fields with the wiry little Higgins, who had left himand continued on his way down the lane in the direction of Pentlands.At the sight of him, Aunt Cassie made every sign of an attempt to escapequickly, but Sabine said in a voice ominous with sweetness, "You mustmeet Mr. O'Hara. I think you've never met him. He's a charming man." Andshe placed herself in such a position that it was impossible for the oldwoman to escape without losing every vestige of dignity.
Then Sabine called gently, "Come in, Mr. O'Hara.... Mrs. Struthers ishere and wants so much to meet her new neighbor."
The door opened and O'Hara stepped in, a swarthy, rather solidly builtman of perhaps thirty-five, with a shapely head on which the vigorousblack hair was cropped close, and with blue eyes that betrayed his Irishorigin by the half-hidden sparkle of amusement at this move of Sabine's.He had a strong jaw and full, rather sensual, lips and a curious senseof great physical strength, as if all his clothes were with difficultymodeled to the muscles that lay underneath. He wore no hat, and his skinwas a dark tan, touched at the cheek-bones by the dull flush of healthand good blood.
He was, one would have said at first sight, a common, vulgar man in thatnarrow-jawed world about Durham, a man, perhaps, who had come by hismuscles as a dock-laborer. Sabine had thought him vulgar in thebeginning, only to succumb in the end to a crude sort of power whichplaced him above the realm of such distinctions. And she was a shrewdwoman, too, devoted passionately to the business of getting at theessence of people; she knew that vulgarity had nothing to do with a manwho had eyes so shrewd and full of mockery.
He came forward quietly and with a charming air of deference in whichthere was a faint suspicion of nonsense, a curious shadow of vulgarity,only one could not be certain whether he was not being vulgar bydeliberation.
"It is a great pleasure," he said. "Of course, I have seen Mrs.Struthers many times... at the horse shows... the whippet races."
Aunt Cassie was drawn up, stiff as a poker, with an air of having foundherself unexpectedly face to face with a rattlesnake.
"I have had the same experience," she said. "And of course I've seen allthe improvements you have made here on the farm." The word"improvements" she spoke with a sort of venom in it, as if it had beeninstead a word like "arson."
"We'll have some tea," observed Sabine. "Sit down, Aunt Cassie."
But Aunt Cassie did not unbend. "I promised Olivia to be back atPentlands for tea," she said. "And I am late already." Pulling on herblack gloves, she made a sudden dip in the direction of O'Hara. "Weshall probably see each other again, Mr. O'Hara, since we areneighbors."
"Indeed, I hope so...."
Then she kissed Sabine again and murmured, "I hope, my dear, that youwill come often to see me, now that you've come back to us. Make myhouse your own home." She turned to O'Hara, finding a use for himsuddenly in her warfare against Sabine. "You know, Mr. O'Hara, she is atraitor in her way. She was raised among us and then went away fortwenty years. She hasn't any loyalty in her."
She made the speech with a stiff air of playfulness, as if, of course,she were only making a joke and the speech meant nothing at all. Yet theair was filled with a cloud of implications. It was the sort of tacticsin which she excelled.
Sabine went with her to the door, and when she returned she discoveredO'Hara standing by the window, watching the figure of Aunt Cassie as shemoved indignantly down the road in the direction of Pentlands. Sabinestood there for a moment, studying the straight, strong figure outlinedagainst the light, and she got suddenly a curious sense of the enmitybetween him and the old woman. They stood, the two of them, in a strangeway as the symbols of two great forces--the one negative, the otherintensely positive; the one the old, the other, the new; the one ofdecay, the other of vigorous, almost too lush growth. Nothing could everreconcile them. According to the scheme of things, they would beimplacable enemies to the end. But Sabine had no doubts as to the finalvictor; the same scheme of things showed small respect for all that AuntCassie stood for. That was one of the wisdoms Sabine had learned sinceshe had escaped from Durham into the uncompromising realities of thegreat world.
When she spoke, she said in a noncommittal sort of voice, "Mrs.Struthers is a remarkable woman."
And O'Hara, turning, looked at her with a sudden glint of humor in hisblue eyes. "Extraordinary... I'm sure of it."
"And a powerful woman," said Sabine. "Wise as a serpent and gentle as adove. It is never good to underestimate such strength. And now.... Howdo you like your tea?"
* * * * *
He took no tea but contented himself with munching a bit of toast andafterward smoking a cigar, clearly pleased with himself in a naïve wayin the rôle of landlord coming to inquire of his tenant whethereverything was satisfactory. He had a liking for this hard, clever womanwho was now only a tenant of the land--his land--which she had onceowned. When he thought of it--that he, Michael O'Hara, had come to ownthis farm in the midst of the fashionable and dignified world ofDurham--there was something incredible in the knowledge, something whichnever ceased to warm him with a strong sense of satisfaction. By merelyturning his head, he could see in the mirror the reflection of the longscar on his temple, marked there by a broken bottle in the midst of ayouthful fight along the India Wharf. He, Michael O'Hara, withouteducation save that which he had given himself, without money, withoutinfluence, had raised himself to this position before his thirty-sixthbirthday. In the autumn he would be a candidate for Congress, certain ofelection in the back Irish districts. He, Michael O'Hara, was on his wayto being one of the great men of New England, a country which had oncebeen the tight little paradise of people like the Pentlands.
Only no one must ever suspect the depth of that great satisfaction.
Yes, he had a liking for this strange woman, who ought to have been hisenemy and, oddly enough, was not. He liked the shrewd directness of hermind and the way she had of sitting there opposite him, turning him overand over while he talked, as if he had been a small bug under amicroscope. She was finding out all about him; and he understood that,for it was a trick in which he, himself, was well-practised. It was bysuch methods that he had got ahead in the world. It puzzled him, too,that she should have come out of that Boston-Durham world and yet couldbe so utterly different from it. He had a feeling that somewhere in thecourse of her life something had happened to her, something terriblewhich in the end had given her a great understanding and clarity ofmind. He knew, too, almost at once, on the day she had driven up to thedoor of the cottage, that she had made a discovery about life which hehimself had made long since... that there is nothing of such force asthe power of a person content merely to be himself, nothing soinvincible as the power of simple honesty, nothing so successful as thelife of one who runs alone. Somewhere she had learned all this. She waslike a woman to whom nothing could ever again happen.
They talked for a time, idly and pleasantly, with a sense ofunderstanding unusual in two people who had known each other for soshort a time; they spoke of the farm, of Pentlands, of the mills and thePoles in Durham, of the country as it had been in the days when Sabinewas a child. And all the while he had that sense of her weighing andwatching him, of feeling out the faint echo of a brogue in his speechand the rather hard, nasal quality that remained from those days alongIndia Wharf and the memories of a ne'er-do-well, superstitious Irishfather.
He could not have known that she was a woman who included among herfriends men and women of a dozen nationalities, who lived a life amongthe clever, successful people of the world... the architects, thepainters, the politicians, the scientists. He could not have known theruthless rule she put up against tolerating any but people who were"complete." He could have known nothing of her other life in Paris, andLondon, and New York, which had nothing to do with the life in Durhamand Boston. And yet he did know.... He saw that, despite the greatdifference in their worlds, there was a certain kinship between them,that they had both come to look upon the world as a pie from which anyplum might be drawn if one only knew the knack.
And Sabine, on her side, not yet quite certain about casting aside allbarriers, was slowly reaching the same understanding. There was no loveor sentimentality in the spark that flashed between them. She was morethan ten years older than O'Hara and had done with such things long ago.It was merely a recognition of one strong person by another.
It was O'Hara who first took advantage of the bond. In the midst of theconversation, he had turned the talk rather abruptly to Pentlands.
"I've never been there and I know very little of the life," he said,"but I've watched it from a distance and it interests me. It's likesomething out of a dream, completely dead... dead all save for youngMrs. Pentland and Sybil."
Sabine smiled. "You know Sybil, then?"
"We ride together every morning.... We met one morning by chance alongthe path by the river and since then we've gone nearly every day."
"She's a charming girl.... She went to school in France with mydaughter, Thérèse. I saw a great deal of her then."
Far back in her mind the thought occurred to her that there would besomething very amusing in the prospect of Sybil married to O'Hara. Itwould produce such an uproar with Anson and Aunt Cassie and the otherrelatives.... A Pentland married to an Irish Roman Catholic politician!
"She is like her mother, isn't she?" asked O'Hara, sitting forward a biton his chair. He had a way of sitting thus, in the tense, quietalertness of a cat.
"Very like her mother.... Her mother is a remarkable woman... acharming woman... also, I might say, what is the rarest of all things,a really good and generous woman."
"I've thought that.... I've seen her a half-dozen times. I asked her tohelp me in planting the garden here at the cottage because I knew shehad a passion for gardens. And she didn't refuse... though she scarcelyknew me. She came over and helped me with it. I saw her then and came toknow her. But when that was finished, she went back to Pentlands and Ihaven't seen her since. It's almost as if she meant to avoid me.Sometimes I feel sorry for her.... It must be a queer life for a womanlike that... young and beautiful."
"She has a great deal to occupy her at Pentlands. And it's true thatit's not a very fascinating life. Still, I'm sure she couldn't bearbeing pitied.... She's the last woman in the world to want pity."
Curiously, O'Hara flushed, the red mounting slowly beneath thedark-tanned skin.
"I thought," he said a little sadly, "that her husband or Mrs. Struthersmight have raised objections.... I know how they feel toward me. There'sno use pretending not to know."
"It is quite possible," said Sabine.
There was a sudden embarrassing silence, which gave Sabine time to pullher wits together and organize a thousand sudden thoughts andimpressions. She was beginning to understand, bit by bit, the realreasons of their hatred for O'Hara, the reasons which lay deep downunderneath, perhaps so deep that none of them ever saw them for whatthey were.
And then out of the silence she heard the voice of O'Hara saying, in aqueer, hushed way, "I mean to ask something of you... something thatmay sound ridiculous. I don't pretend that it isn't, but I mean to askit anyway."
For a moment he hesitated and then, rising quickly, he stood lookingaway from her out of the door, toward the distant blue marshes and theopen sea. She fancied that he was trembling a little, but she could notbe certain. What she did know was that he made an immense and heroiceffort, that for a moment he, a man who never did such things, placedhimself in a position where he would be defenseless and open to beingcruelly hurt; and for the moment all the recklessness seemed to flow outof him and in its place there came a queer sadness, almost as if he felthimself defeated in some way....
He said, "What I mean to ask you is this.... Will you ask me sometimeshere to the cottage when she will be here too?" He turned toward hersuddenly and added, "It will mean a great deal to me... more than youcan imagine."
She did not answer him at once, but sat watching him with a poorlyconcealed intensity; and presently, flicking the cigarette ashescasually from her gown, she asked, "And do you think it would be quitemoral of me?"
He shrugged his shoulders and looked at her in astonishment, as if hehad expected her, least of all people in the world, to ask such a thing.
"It might," he said, "make us both a great deal happier."
"Perhaps... perhaps not. It's not so simple as that. Besides, it isn'thappiness that one places first at Pentlands."
"No.... Still...." He made a sudden vigorous gesture, as if to sweepaside all objections.
"You're a queer man.... I'll see what can be done."
He thanked her and went out shyly without another word, to stride acrossthe meadows, his black head bent thoughtfully, in the direction of hisnew bright chimneys. At his heels trotted the springer, which had lainwaiting for him outside the door. There was something about the robustfigure, crossing the old meadow through the blue twilight, that carrieda note of lonely sadness. The self-confidence, the assurance, seemed tohave melted away in some mysterious fashion. It was almost as if one manhad entered the cottage a little while before and another, a quitedifferent man, had left it just now. Only one thing, Sabine saw, couldhave made the difference, and that was the name of Olivia.
* * * * *
When he had disappeared Sabine went up to her room overlooking the seaand lay there for a long time thinking. She was by nature an indolentwoman, especially at times when her brain worked with a fierce activity.It was working thus now, in a kind of fever, confused and yettremendously clear; for the visits from Aunt Cassie and O'Hara hadignited her almost morbid passion for vicarious experience. She had asense of being on the brink of some calamity which, beginning long agoin a hopeless tangle of origins and motives, was ready now to breakforth with the accumulated force of years.
It was only now that she began to understand a little what it was thathad drawn her back to a place which held memories so unhappy as thosehaunting the whole countryside of Durham. She saw that it must have beenall the while a desire for vindication, a hunger to show them that, inspite of everything, of the straight red hair and the plain face, thesilly ideas with which they had filled her head, in spite even of herunhappiness over her husband, she had made of her life a successful,even a brilliant, affair. She had wanted to show them that she stoodaloof now and impregnable, quite beyond their power to curb or to injureher. And for a moment she suspected that the half-discerned motive wasan even stronger thing, akin perhaps to a desire for vengeance; for sheheld this world about Durham responsible for the ruin of her happiness.She knew now, as a worldly woman of forty-six, that if she had beenbrought up knowing life for what it was, she might never have lost theone man who had ever roused a genuine passion in a nature so hard anddry.
It was all confused and tormented and vague, yet the visit of AuntCassie, filled with implications and veiled attempts to humble her, hadcleared the air enormously.
And behind the closed lids, the green eyes began to see a wholeprocession of calamities which lay perhaps within her power to create.She began to see how it might even be possible to bring the whole worldof Pentlands down about their heads in a collapse which could createonly freedom and happiness to Olivia and her daughter. And it was thesetwo alone for whom she had any affection; the others might be damned,gloriously damned, while she stood by without raising a finger.
She began to see where the pieces of the puzzle lay, the wedges whichmight force open the solid security of the familiar, unchanging worldthat once more surrounded her.
Lying there in the twilight, she saw the whole thing in the process ofbeing fitted together and she experienced a sudden intoxicating sense ofpower, of having all the tools at hand, of being the dea ex machinâ ofthe calamity.
She was beginning to see, too, how the force, the power that had lainbehind all the family, was coming slowly to an end in a pale, futileweakness. There would always be money to bolster up their world, for thefamily had never lost its shopkeeping tradition of thrift; but in theend even money could not save them. There came a time when a greatfortune might be only a shell without a desiccated rottenness inside.
* * * * *
She was still lying there when Thérèse came in--a short, plain, ratherstocky, dark girl with a low straight black bang across her forehead.She was hot and soiled by the mud of the marshes, as the red-hairedunhappy little girl had been so many times in that far-off,half-forgotten childhood.
"Where have you been?" she asked indifferently, for there was always acurious sense of strangeness between Sabine and her daughter.
"Catching frogs to dissect," said Thérèse. "They're damned scarce and Islipped into the river."
Sabine, looking at her daughter, knew well enough there was no chance ofmarrying off a girl so queer, and wilful and untidy, in Durham. She sawthat it had been a silly idea from the beginning; but she foundsatisfaction in the knowledge that she had molded Thérèse's life so thatno one could ever hurt her as they had hurt her mother. Out of the queernomadic life they had led together, meeting all sorts of men and womenwho were, in Sabine's curious sense of the word, "complete," the girlhad pierced her way somehow to the bottom of things. She was buildingher young life upon a rock, so that she could afford to feel contemptfor the very forces which long ago had hurt her mother. She might, likeO'Hara, be suddenly humbled by love; but that, Sabine knew, was aglorious thing well worth suffering.
She knew it each time that she looked at her child and saw the cleargray eyes of the girl's father looking out of the dark face with thesame proud look of indifferent confidence which had fascinated hertwenty years ago. So long as Thérèse was alive, she would never be ablewholly to forget him.
"Go wash yourself," she said. "Old Mr. Pentland and Olivia and Mrs.Soames are coming to dine and play bridge."
As she dressed for dinner she no longer asked herself, "Why did I everimagine Thérèse might find a husband here? What ever induced me to comeback here to be bored all summer long?"
She had forgotten all that. She began to see that the summer heldprospects of diversion. It might even turn into a fascinating game. Sheknew that her return had nothing to do with Thérèse's future; she hadbeen drawn back into Durham by some vague but overwhelming desire formischief.
When Anson Pentland came down from the city in the evening, Olivia wasalways there to meet him dutifully and inquire about the day. Theanswers were always the same: "No there was not much doing in town,"and, "It was very hot," or "I made a discovery to-day that will be ofgreat use to me in the book."
Then after a bath he would appear in tweeds to take his exercise in thegarden, pottering about mildly and peering closely with his near-sightedblue eyes at little tags labeled "General Pershing" or "CarolineTestout" or "Poincaré" or "George Washington" which he tied carefully onthe new dahlias and roses and smaller shrubs. And, more often than not,the gardener would spend half the next morning removing the tags andplacing them on the proper plants, for Anson really had no interest inflowers and knew very little about them. The tagging was only a part ofhis passion for labeling things; it made the garden at Pentlands seem amore subdued and ordered place. Sometimes it seemed to Olivia that hewent through life ticketing and pigeonholing everything that came hisway: manners, emotions, thoughts, everything. It was a habit that wasgrowing on him in middle-age.
Dinner was usually late because Anson liked to take advantage of thelong summer twilights, and after dinner it was the habit of all thefamily, save Jack, who went to bed immediately afterward, to sit in theVictorian drawing-room, reading and writing letters or sometimes playingpatience, with Anson in his corner at Mr. Lowell's desk working over"The Pentland Family and the Massachusetts Bay Colony," and keeping up aprodigious correspondence with librarians and old men and women of agenealogical bent. The routine of the evening rarely changed, for Ansondisliked going out and Olivia preferred not to go alone. It was onlywith the beginning of the summer, when Sybil was grown and had begun togo out occasionally to dinners and balls, and the disturbing Sabine,with her passion for playing bridge, had come into the neighborhood,that the routine was beginning to break up. There were fewer eveningsnow with Olivia and Sybil playing patience and old John Pentland sittingby the light of Mr. Longfellow's lamp reading or simply staring silentlybefore him, lost in thought.
There were times in those long evenings when Olivia, looking up suddenlyand for no reason at all, would discover that Sybil was sitting in thesame fashion watching her, and both of them would know that they, likeold John Pentland, had been sitting there all the while holding books intheir hands without knowing a word of what they had read. It was as if akind of enchantment descended upon them, as if they were waiting forsomething. Once or twice the silence had been broken sharply by theunbearable sound of groans coming from the north wing when she hadbeen seized suddenly by one of her fits of violence.
Anson's occasional comment and Olivia's visits to Jack's room to seethat nothing had happened to him were the only interruptions. They spokealways in low voices when they played double patience in order not todisturb Anson at his work. Sometimes he encountered a bit of informationfor which he had been searching for a long time and then he would turnand tell them of it.
There was the night when he made his discovery about SavinaPentland....
"I was right about Savina Pentland," he said. "She was a first cousinand not a second cousin of Toby Cane."
Olivia displayed an interest by saying, "Was that what you wrote to theTranscript about?"
"Yes... and I was sure that the genealogical editor was wrong. See...here it is in one of Jared Pentland's letters at the time she wasdrowned.... Jared was her husband.... He refers to Toby Cane as her onlymale first cousin."
"That will help you a great deal," said Olivia, "won't it?"
"It will help clear up the chapter about the origins of her family." Andthen, after a little pause, "I wish that I could get some trace of thecorrespondence between Savina Pentland and Cane. I'm sure it would befull of things... but it seems not to exist... only one or two letterswhich tell nothing."
And then he relapsed again into a complete and passionate silence lostin the rustle of old books and yellowed letters, leaving the legend ofSavina Pentland to take possession of the others in the room.
The memory of this woman had a way of stealing in upon the familyunaware, quite without their willing it. She was always there in thehouse, more lively than any of the more sober ancestors, perhaps becauseof them all she alone had been touched by splendor; she alone had beenin her reckless way a great lady. There was a power in her recklessnessand extravagance which came, in the end, to obscure all those otherplain, solemn-faced, thrifty wives whose portraits adorned the hall ofPentlands, much as a rising sun extinguishes the feeble light of thestars. And about her obscure origin there clung a perpetual aura ofromance, since there was no one to know just who her mother was orexactly whence she came. The mother was born perhaps of stock no humblerthan the first shopkeeping Pentland to land on the Cape, but there wasin her the dark taint of Portuguese blood; some said that she was thedaughter of a fisherman. And Savina herself had possessed enough offascination to lure a cautious Pentland into eloping with her againstthe scruples that were a very fiber of the Pentland bones and flesh.
The portrait of Savina Pentland stood forth among the others in thewhite hall, fascinating and beautiful not only because the subject was adark, handsome woman, but because it had been done by Ingres in Romeduring the years when he made portraits of tourists to save himself fromstarvation. It was the likeness of a small but voluptuous woman withgreat wanton dark eyes and smooth black hair pulled back from acamellia-white brow and done in a little knot on the nape of the whiteneck--a woman who looked out of the old picture with the flashing,spirited glance of one who lived boldly and passionately. She wore agown of peach-colored velvet ornamented with the famous parure of pearlsand emeralds given her, to the scandal of a thrifty family, by theinfatuated Jared Pentland. Passing the long gallery of portraits in thehallway it was always Savina Pentland whom one noticed. She reignedthere as she must have reigned in life, so bold and splendorous as toseem a bit vulgar, especially in a world of such sober folk, yet sobeautiful and so spirited that she made all the others seem scarcelyworth consideration.
Even in death she had remained an "outsider," for she was the only oneof the family who did not rest quietly among the stunted trees at thetop of the bald hill where the first Pentlands had laid their dead. Allthat was left of the warm, soft body lay in the white sand at the bottomof the ocean within sight of Pentlands. It was as if fate had deliveredher in death into a grave as tempestuous and violent as she had been inlife. And somewhere near her in the restless white sand lay Toby Cane,with whom she had gone sailing one bright summer day when a suddensquall turned a gay excursion into a tragedy.
Even Aunt Cassie, who distrusted any woman with gaze so bold and free asthat set down by the brush of Ingres--even Aunt Cassie could notannihilate the glamour of Savina's legend. For her there was, too,another, more painful, memory hidden in the knowledge that the parure ofpearls and emeralds and all the other jewels which Savina Pentland hadwrung from her thrifty husband, lay buried somewhere in the white sandbetween her bones and those of her cousin. To Aunt Cassie SavinaPentland seemed more than merely a reckless, extravagant creature. Shewas an enemy of the Pentland fortune and of all the virtues of thefamily.
The family portraits were of great value to Anson in compiling his book,for they represented the most complete collection of ancestors existingin all America. From the portrait of the emigrating Pentland, painted ina wooden manner by some traveling painter of tavern signs, to the ratherhandsome one of John Pentland, painted at middle-age in a pink coat bySargent, and the rather bad and liverish one of Anson, also by Mr.Sargent, the collection was complete save for two--the weak JaredPentland who had married Savina, and the Pentland between old John'sfather and the clipper-ship owner, who had died at twenty-three, adisgraceful thing for any Pentland to have done.
The pictures hung in a neat double row in the lofty hall, arrangedchronologically and without respect for lighting, so that the good oneslike those by Ingres and Sargent's picture of old John Pentland and theunfinished Gilbert Stuart of Ashur Pentland hung in obscure shadows, andthe bad ones like the tavern-sign portrait of the first Pentland wereexposed in a glare of brilliant light.
This father of all the family had been painted at the great age ofeighty-nine and looked out from his wooden background, a grim,hard-mouthed old fellow with white hair and shrewd eyes set very closetogether. It was a face such as one might find to-day among the PlymouthBrethren of some remote, half-forgotten Sussex village, the face of aman notable only for the toughness of his body and the rigidity of amind which dissented from everything. At the age of eighty-four, he hadbeen cast out for dissension from the church which he had come to regardas his own property.
Next to him hung the portrait of a Pentland who had been a mediocrityand left not even a shadowy legend; and then appeared the insolent,disagreeable face of the Pentland who had ducked eccentric old women forwitches and cut off the ears of peace-loving Quakers in the colonyfounded in "freedom to worship God."
The third Pentland had been the greatest evangelist of his time, a manwho went through New England holding high the torch, exhorting rudevillage audiences by the coarsest of language to such a pitch ofexcitement that old women died of apoplexy and young women gave birth topremature children. The sermons which still existed showed him to be aman uncultivated and at times almost illiterate, yet his vast energy hadfounded a university and his fame as an exhorter and "the flaming swordof the Lord" had traveled to the ignorant and simple-minded brethren ofthe English back country.
The next Pentland was the eldest of the exhorter's twenty children (byfour wives), a man who clearly had departed from his father's counselsand appeared in his portrait a sensual, fleshly specimen, very fat andalmost good-natured, with thick red lips. It was this Pentland who hadfounded the fortune which gave the family its first step upward in thedirection of the gentility which had ended with the figure of Ansonbending over "The Pentland Family and the Massachusetts Bay Colony." Hehad made a large fortune by equipping privateers and practising anear-piracy on British merchantmen; and there was, too, a dark rumor(which Anson intended to overlook) that he had made as much as threehundred per cent profit on a single shipload of negroes in the Africanslave trade.
After him there were portraits of two Pentlands who had taken part inthe Revolution and then another hiatus of mediocrity, including the gaprepresented by the missing Jared; and then appeared the Anthony Pentlandwho increased the fortune enormously in the clipper trade. It was theportrait of a swarthy, powerful man (the first of the dark Pentlands,who could all be traced directly to Savina's Portuguese blood), paintedby a second-rate artist devoted to realism, who had depicted skilfullythe warts which marred the distinguished old gentleman. In the picturehe stood in the garden before the Pentland house at Durham with marshesin the background and his prize clipper Semiramis riding, with allsail up, the distant ocean.
Next to him appeared the portrait of old John Pentland's father--a manof pious expression, dressed all in black, with a high black stock and awave of luxuriant black hair, the one who had raised the family toreally great wealth by contracts for shoes and blankets for the soldiersat Gettysburg and Bull Run and Richmond. After him, gentility hadconquered completely, and the Sargent portrait of old John Pentland atmiddle-age showed a man who was master of hounds and led the life of acountry gentleman, a man clearly of power and character, whose strengthof feature had turned slowly into the bitter hardness of the old man whosat now in the light of Mr. Longfellow's lamp reading or staring beforehim into space while his son set down the long history of the family.
The gallery was fascinating to strangers, as the visual record of afamily which had never lost any money (save for the extravagance ofSavina Pentland's jewels), a family which had been the backbone of acommunity, a family in which the men married wives for thrift andhousewifely virtues rather than for beauty, a family solid andrespectable and full of honor. It was a tribe magnificent in its virtueand its strength, even at times in its intolerance and hypocrisy. Itstood represented now by old John Pentland and Anson, and the boy wholay abovestairs in the room next Olivia's, dying slowly.
* * * * *
At ten o'clock each night John Pentland bade them good-night and wentoff to bed, and at eleven Anson, after arranging his desk neatly andplacing his papers in their respective files, and saying to Olivia, "Iwouldn't sit up too late, if I were you, when you are so tired," leftthem and disappeared. Soon after him, Sybil kissed her mother andclimbed the stairs past all the ancestors.
It was only then, after they had all left her, that a kind of peacesettled over Olivia. The burdens lifted, and the cares, the worries, thethoughts that were always troubling her, faded into the distance and fora time she sat leaning back in the winged armchair with her eyes closed,listening to the sounds of the night--the faint murmur of the breeze inthe faded lilacs outside the window, the creaking that afflicts very oldhouses in the night, and sometimes the ominous sound of Miss Egan's steptraversing distantly the old north wing. And then one night she heardagain the distant sound of Higgins' voice swearing at the red mare as hemade his round of the stables before going to bed.
And after they had all gone she opened her book and fell to reading."Madame de Clèves ne répondit rien, et elle pensoit avec honte qu'elleauroit pris tout ce que l'on disoit du changement de ce prince pour desmarques de sa passion, si elle n'avoit point été détrompée. Elle sesentoit quelque aigreur contre Madame la Dauphine...." This was aworld in which she felt somehow strangely at peace, as if she had oncelived in it and returned in the silence of the night.
At midnight she closed the book, and making a round of the lower rooms,put out the lights and went up to the long stairway to listen at thedoorway of her son's room for the weak, uncertain sound of hisbreathing.
Olivia was right in her belief that Anson was ashamed of his behavior onthe night of the ball. It was not that he made an apology or evenmentioned the affair. He simply never spoke of it again. For weeks afterthe scene he did not mention the name of O'Hara, perhaps because thename brought up inevitably the memory of his sudden, insulting speech;but his sense of shame prevented him from harassing her on the subject.What he never knew was that Olivia, while hating him for the insultaimed at her father, was also pleased in a perverse, feminine waybecause he had displayed for a moment a sudden fit of genuine anger. Fora moment he had come very near to being a husband who might interest hiswife.
But in the end he only sank back again into a sea of indifference soprofound that even Aunt Cassie's campaign of insinuations and veiledproposals could not stir him into action. The old woman managed to seehim alone once or twice, saying to him, "Anson, your father is growingold and can't manage everything much longer. You must begin to take astand yourself. The family can't rest on the shoulders of a woman.Besides, Olivia is an outsider, really. She's never understood ourworld." And then, shaking her head sadly, she would murmur, "There'll betrouble, Anson, when your father dies, if you don't show some backbone.You'll have trouble with Sybil; she's very queer and pig-headed in herquiet way, just as Olivia was in the matter of sending her to school inParis."
And after a pause, "I am the last person in the world to interfere; it'sonly for your own good and Olivia's and all the family's."
And Anson, to be rid of her, would make promises, facing her withaverted eyes in some corner of the garden or the old house where she hadskilfully run him to earth beyond the possibility of escape. And hewould leave her, troubled and disturbed because the world and thisfamily which had been saddled unwillingly upon him, would permit him nopeace to go on with his writing. He really hated Aunt Cassie because shehad never given him any peace, never since the days when she had kepthim in the velvet trousers and Fauntleroy curls which spurred the jeersof the plain, red-haired little Sabine. She had never ceased to reproachhim for "not being a man and standing up for his rights." It seemed tohim that Aunt Cassie was always hovering near, like a dark persistentfury, always harassing him; and yet he knew, more by instinct than byany process of reasoning, that she was his ally against the others, evenhis own wife and father and children. He and Aunt Cassie prayed to thesame gods.
So he did nothing, and Olivia, keeping her word, spoke of O'Hara toSybil one day as they sat alone at breakfast.
The girl had been riding with him that very morning and she sat in herriding-clothes, her face flushed by the early morning exercise, tellingher mother of the beauties of the country back of Durham, of the newbeagle puppies, and of the death of "Hardhead" Smith, who was the lastfarmer of old New England blood in the county. His half-witted son, shesaid, was being taken away to an asylum. O'Hara, she said, was buyinghis little stony patch of ground.
When she had finished, her mother said, "And O'Hara? You like him, don'tyou?"
Sybil had a way of looking piercingly at a person, as if her violet eyestried to bore quite through all pretense and unveil the truth. She had apower of honesty and simplicity that was completely disarming, and sheused it now, smiling at her mother, candidly.
"Yes, I like him very much.... But... but..." She laughed softly. "Areyou worrying about my marrying him, my falling in love--because youneedn't. I am fond of him because he's the one person around here wholikes the things I like. He loves riding in the early morning when thedew is still on the grass and he likes racing with me across the lowermeadow by the gravel-pit, and well--he's an interesting man. When hetalks, he makes sense. But don't worry; I shan't marry him."
"I was interested," said Olivia, "because you do see him more than anyone about here."
Again Sybil laughed. "But he's old, Mama. He's more than thirty-five.He's middle-aged. I know what sort of man I want to marry. I knowexactly. He's going to be my own age."
"One can't always tell. It's not so easy as that."
"I'm sure I can tell." Her face took on an expression of gravity. "I'vedevoted a good deal of thought to it and I've watched a great manyothers."
Olivia wanted to smile, but she knew she dared not if she were to keepher hold upon confidences so charming and naïve.
"And I'm sure that I'll know the man when I see him, right away, atonce. It'll be like a spark, like my friendship with O'Hara, only deeperthan that."
"Did you ever talk to Thérèse about love?" asked Olivia.
"No; you can't talk to her about such things. She wouldn't understand.With Thérèse everything is scientific, biological. When Thérèse marries,I think it will be some man she has picked out as the proper father,scientifically, for her children."
"That's not a bad idea."
"She might just have children by him without marrying him, the way shebreeds frogs. I think that's horrible."
Again Olivia was seized with an irresistible impulse to laugh, andcontrolled herself heroically. She kept thinking of how silly, howignorant, she had been at Sybil's age, silly and ignorant despite theunclean sort of sophistication she had picked up in the corridors ofContinental hotels. She kept thinking how much better a chance Sybil hadfor happiness.... Sybil, sitting there gravely, defending her warm ideasof romance against the scientific onslaughts of the swarthy, passionateThérèse.
"It will be some one like O'Hara," continued Sybil. "Some one who isvery much alive--only not middle-aged like O'Hara."
(So Sybil thought of O'Hara as middle-aged, and he was four yearsyounger than Olivia, who felt and looked so young. The girl kept talkingof O'Hara as if his life were over; but that perhaps was only becauseshe herself was so young.)
Olivia sighed now, despite herself. "You mustn't expect too much fromthe world, Sybil. Nothing is perfect, not even marriage. One always hasto make compromises."
"Oh, I know that; I've thought a great deal about it. All the same, I'msure I'll know the man when I see him." She leaned forward and saidearnestly, "Couldn't you tell when you were a girl?"
"Yes," said Olivia softly. "I could tell."
And then, inevitably, Sybil asked what Olivia kept praying she wouldnot ask. She could hear the girl asking it before the words were spoken.She knew exactly what she would say.
"Didn't you know at once when you met Father?"
And in spite of every effort, the faint echo of a sigh escaped Olivia."Yes, I knew."
She saw Sybil give her one of those quick, piercing looks of inquiry andthen bow her head abruptly, as if pretending to study the pattern on herplate.
When she spoke again, she changed the subject abruptly, so that Oliviaknew she suspected the truth, a thing which she had guarded with afierce secrecy for so long.
"Why don't you take up riding again, Mother?" she asked "I'd love tohave you go with me. We would go with O'Hara in the mornings, and thenAunt Cassie couldn't have anything to say about my getting involved withhim." She looked up. "You'd like him. You couldn't help it."
She saw that Sybil was trying to help her in some way, to divert her anddrive away the unhappiness.
"I like him already," said Olivia, "very much."
Then she rose, saying, "I promised Sabine to motor into Boston with herto-day. We're leaving in twenty minutes."
She went quickly away because she knew it was perilous to sit there anylonger talking of such things while Sybil watched her, eager with thefreshness of youth which has all life before it.
Out of all their talk two things remained distinct in her mind: one thatSybil thought of O'Hara as middle-aged--almost an old man, for whomthere was no longer any chance of romance; the other the immensepossibility for tragedy that lay before a girl who was so certain thatlove would be a glorious romantic affair, so certain of the ideal manwhom she would find one day. What was she to do with Sybil? Where wasshe to find that man? And when she found him, what difficulties wouldshe have to face with John Pentland and Anson and Aunt Cassie and thehost of cousins and connections who would be marshaled to defeat her?
For she saw clearly enough that this youth for whom Sybil was waitingwould never be their idea of a proper match. It would be a man withqualities which O'Hara possessed, and even Higgins, the groom. She sawperfectly why Sybil had a fondness for these two outsiders; she had cometo see it more and more clearly of late. It was because they possessed acurious, indefinable solidity that the others at Pentlands all lacked,and a certain fire and vitality. Neither blood, nor circumstance, nortradition, nor wealth, had made life for them an atrophied, emptyaffair, in which there was no need for effort, for struggle, for combat.They had not been lost in a haze of transcendental maunderings. O'Hara,with his career and his energy, and Higgins, with his rabbitlikelove-affairs and his nearness to all that was earthy, still carriedabout them a sense of the great zest in life. They reached down somehowinto the roots of things where there was still savor and fertility.
And as she walked along the hallway, she found herself laughing aloudover the titles of the only three books which the Pentland family hadever produced--"The Pentland Family and the Massachusetts Bay Colony"and Mr. Struthers' two books, "Cornices of Old Boston Houses" and "Walksand Talks in New England Churchyards." She thought suddenly of whatSabine had once said acidly of New England--that it was a place wherethoughts were likely to grow "higher and fewer."
But she was frightened, too, because in the life of enchantment whichsurrounded her, the virtues of O'Hara and Higgins seemed to her the onlythings in the world worth possessing. She wanted desperately to bealive, as she had never been, and she knew that this, too, was whatSybil sought in all her groping, half-blind romantic youth. It wassomething which the girl sensed and had never clearly understood,something which she knew existed and was awaiting her.
Sabine, watching O'Hara as he crossed the fields through the twilight,had penetrated in a sudden flash of intuition the depths of hischaracter. His profound loneliness was, perhaps, the key which unlockedthe whole of his soul, a key which Sabine knew well enough, for therehad never been a time in all her existence, save for a sudden passionatemoment or two in the course of her life with Callendar, when she wasfree of a painful feeling that she was alone. Even with her owndaughter, the odd Thérèse, she was lonely. Watching life with the samepassionate intensity with which she had watched the distant figure ofO'Hara moving away against the horizon, she had come long ago tounderstand that loneliness was the curse of those who were free, even ofall those who rose a little above the level of ordinary humanity.Looking about her she saw that old John Pentland was lonely, and Olivia,and even her own daughter Thérèse, rambling off independently across themarshes in search of bugs and queer plants. She saw that Anson Pentlandwas never lonely, for he had his friends who were so like him as to bevery nearly indistinguishable, and he had all the traditions andfetishes which he shared with Aunt Cassie. They were part of a fabric, asmall corner in the whole tapestry of life, from which they wereinseparable.
Of them all, it seemed to her, as she came to see more and more ofO'Hara, that he was the most lonely. He had friends, scores, evenhundreds of them, in a dozen circles, ranging from the docks where hehad spent his boyhood to the world about Durham where there were otherswho treated him less coldly than the Pentland family had done. He hadfriends because there was a quality about him which was irresistible. Itlurked somewhere in the depths of the humorous blue eyes and at thecorners of the full, rather sensual mouth--a kind of universal sympathywhich made him understand the fears, the hopes, the ambitions, theweaknesses of other people. It was that quality, so invaluable inpolitics, which led enemies unjustly to call him all things to allpeople. He must have had the gift of friendship, for there were wholesections of Boston which would have followed him anywhere; and yetbehind these easy, warm ties there was always a sort of veil shuttinghim away from them. He had a way of being at home in a barroom or at ahunt breakfast with equal ease, but there was a part of him--the partwhich was really O'Hara--which the world never saw at all, a strangelywarm, romantic, impractical, passionate, headlong, rather unscrupulousIrishman, who lay shut away where none could penetrate. Sabine knew thisO'Hara; he had been revealed to her swiftly in a sudden flash at themention of Olivia Pentland. And afterward when she thought of it, she(Sabine Callendar), who was so hard, so bitter, so unbelieving,surrendered to him as so many had done before her.
Standing there in her sitting-room, so big and powerful andself-reliant, he had seemed suddenly like a little boy, like the littleboy whom she had found once late at night long ago, sitting alone andquite still on the curb in front of her house in the Rue de Tilsitt. Shehad stopped for a moment and watched him, and presently she hadapproached and asked, "What are you doing here on the curb at this hourof the night?" And the little boy, looking up, had said gravely, "I'mplaying."
It had happened years ago--the little boy must have grown into a youngman by now--but she remembered him suddenly during the moment whenO'Hara had turned and said to her, "It will mean a great deal to me,more than you can imagine."
O'Hara was like that, she knew--sad and a little lonely, as if in themidst of all his success, with his career and his big new house and hisdogs and horses and all the other shiny accoutrements of a gentleman, hehad looked up at her and said gravely, "I'm playing."
Long ago Sabine had come to understand that one got a savor out of lifeby casting overboard all the little rules which clutter up existence,all the ties, and beliefs and traditions in which she had been given atraining so intense and severe that in the end she had turned a rebel.Behind all the indifference of countenance and the intricacy of brain,there lay a foundation of immense candor which had driven her to seekher companions, with the directness of an arrow, only among the personswhom she had come to designate as "complete." It was a label which shedid not trouble to define to any one, doubting perhaps that any one saveherself would find any interest in it; even for herself, it was a labellacking in definiteness. Vaguely she meant by "complete" the persons whostood on their own, who had an existence sufficiently strong to survivethe assault or the collapse of any environment, persons who might existindependent of any concrete world, who possessed a proud sense ofindividuality, who might take root and work out a successful destinywherever fate chanced to drop them. They were rare, she had come todiscover, and yet they existed everywhere, such persons as John Pentlandand O'Hara, Olivia and Higgins.
So she had come to seek her life among them, drawing them quietly abouther wherever in the world she happened to pause for a time. She did itquietly and without loud cries of "Freedom" and "Free Love" and "TheRight to Lead One's Life," for she was enough civilized to understandthe absurdity of making a spectacle in the market-place, and she was toointense an individualist ever to turn missionary. Here perhaps lay herquiet strength and the source of that vague distrust and uneasinesswhich her presence created in people like Anson and Aunt Cassie. It wasunbearable for Aunt Cassie to suspect that Sabine really did not troubleeven to scorn her, unbearable to an old woman who had spent all her lifein arranging the lives of others to find that a chit of a woman likeSabine could discover in her only a subject of mingled mirth and pity.It was unbearable not to have the power of jolting Sabine out of herserene and insolent indifference, unbearable to know that she was alwayswatching you out of those green eyes, turning you over and over as ifyou were a bug and finding you in the end an inferior sort of insect.Those who had shared the discovery of her secret were fond of her, andthose who had not were bitter against her. And it was, after all, a verysimple secret, that one has only to be simple and friendly and human and"complete." She had no patience with sentimentality, and affectation andfalse piety.
And so the presence of Sabine began slowly to create a vaguely definedrift in a world hitherto set and complacent and even proud of itself.Something in the sight of her cold green eyes, in the sound of hermetallic voice, in the sudden shrewd, disillusioning observations whichshe had a way of making at disconcerting moments, filled people likeAunt Cassie with uneasiness and people like Olivia with a smolderingsense of restlessness and rebellion. Olivia herself became more and moreconscious of the difference with the passing of each day into the nextand there were times when she suspected that that fierce old man, herfather-in-law, was aware of it. It was potent because Sabine was nooutsider; the mockery of an outsider would have slipped off the back ofthe Durham world like arrows off the back of an armadillo. But Sabinewas one of them: it was that which made the difference: she was alwaysinside the shell.
One hot, breathless night in June Sabine overcame her sense of boredindolence enough to give a dinner at Brook Cottage--a dinner wellserved, with delicious food, which it might have been said she flung ather guests with a superb air of indifference from the seat at the headof the table, where she sat painted, ugly and magnificently dressed,watching them all in a perverse sort of pleasure. It was a failure as anentertainment, for it had been years since Sabine had given a dinnerwhere the guests were not clever enough to entertain themselves, and nowthat she was back again in a world where people were invited for everysort of reason save that you really wanted their company, she declinedto make any effort. It was a failure, too, because Thérèse, for whom itwas given, behaved exactly as she had behaved on the night of the ball.There was an uneasiness and a strain, a sense of awkwardness among thecallow young men and a sense of weariness in Sabine and Olivia. O'Harawas there, for Sabine had kept her half-promise; but even he satquietly, all his boldness and dash vanished before a boyish shyness. Thewhole affair seemed to be drowned in the lassitude, the enchantment thatenveloped the old house on the other bank of the river.
Olivia had come, almost against her will, reduced to a state ofexhaustion after a long call from Aunt Cassie on the subject of therumored affair between Sybil and their Irish neighbor. And when theyrose, she slipped quietly away into the garden, because she could notbear the thought of making strained and artificial conversation. Shewanted, horribly, to be left in peace.
It was a superb night--hot, as a summer night should be--but clear, too,so that the whole sky was like a sapphire dome studded with diamonds. Atthe front of the cottage, beyond the borders of the little terracedgarden, the marshes spread their dark carpet toward the distant dunes,which with the descent of darkness had turned dim and blue against thepurer white of the line made by the foaming surf. The feel of the dampthick grass against the sole of her silver slippers led her to stop fora moment, breathing deeply, and filled her with a mild, half-mysticaldesire to blend herself into all the beauty that surrounded her, intothe hot richness of the air, the scents of the opening blossoms and ofpushing green stems, into the grass and the sea and the rich-smellingmarshes, to slip away into a state which was nothing and yet everything,to float into eternity. She had abruptly an odd, confused sense of thetimelessness of all these forces and sensations, of the sea and themarshes, the pushing green stems and the sapphire dome powdered withdiamonds above her head. She saw for the first time in all her existencethe power of something which went on and on, ignoring pitiful smallcreatures like herself and all those others in the cottage behind her, apower which ignored cities and armies and nations, which would go on andon long after the grass had blanketed the ruins of the old house atPentland. It was sweeping past her, leaving her stranded somewhere inthe dull backwaters. She wanted suddenly, fiercely, to take part in allthe great spectacle of eternal fertility, a mystery which was strongerthan any of them or all of them together, a force which in the end wouldcrush all their transient little prides and beliefs and traditions.
And then she thought, as if she were conscious of it for the first time,"I am tired, tired to death, and a little mad."
Moving across the damp grass she seated herself on a stone bench whichO'Hara had placed beneath one of the ancient apple-trees left standingfrom the orchard which had covered all the land about Brook Cottage inthe days when Savina Pentland was still alive; and for a long time (shenever knew how long) she remained there lost in one of those strangelapses of consciousness when one is neither awake nor asleep but in thevague borderland where there is no thought, no care, no troubles. Andthen slowly she became aware of some one standing there quite near her,beneath the ancient, gnarled tree. As if the presence were materializedsomehow out of a dream, she noticed first the faint, insinuatingmasculine odor of cigar-smoke blending itself with the scent of thegrowing flowers in Sabine's garden, and then turning she saw a blackfigure which she recognized at once as that of O'Hara. There was nosurprise in the sight of him; it seemed in a queer way as if she hadbeen expecting him.
As she turned, he moved toward her and spoke. "Our garden hasflourished, hasn't it?" he asked. "You'd never think it was only a yearold."
"Yes," she said. "It has flourished marvelously." And then, after alittle pause, "How long have you been standing there?"
"Only a moment. I saw you come out of the house." They listened fora time to the distant melancholy pounding of the surf, and presentlyhe said softly, with a kind of awe in his voice: "It is a marvelousnight... a night full of splendor."
She made an effort to answer him, but somehow she could think of nothingto say. The remark, uttered so quietly, astonished her, because she hadnever thought of O'Hara as one who would be sensitive to the beauty of anight. It was too dark to distinguish his face, but she kept seeing himas she remembered him, seeing him, too, as the others thought ofhim--rough and vigorous but a little common, with the scar on histemple and the intelligent blue eyes, and the springy walk, sounexpectedly easy and full of grace for a man of his size. No, one mightas well have expected little Higgins the groom to say: "It is a nightfull of splendor." The men she knew--Anson's friends--never said suchthings. She doubted whether they would ever notice such a night, and ifthey did notice it, they would be a little ashamed of having doneanything so unusual.
"The party is not a great success," he was saying.
"No one seems to be getting on with any one else. Mrs. Callendar oughtnot to have asked me. I thought she was shrewder than that."
Olivia laughed softly. "She may have done it on purpose. You can nevertell why she does anything."
For a time he remained silent, as if pondering the speech, and then hesaid, "You aren't cold out here?"
"No, not on a night like this."
There was a silence so long and so vaguely perilous that she felt theneed of making some speech, politely and with banality, as if they weretwo strangers seated in a drawing-room after dinner instead of in thegarden which together they had made beneath the ancient apple-trees.
"I keep wondering," she said, "how long it will be until the bungalowsof Durham creep down and cover all this land."
"They won't, not so long as I own land between Durham and the sea."
In the darkness she smiled at the thought of an Irish Roman Catholicpolitician as the protector of this old New England countryside, andaloud she said, "You're growing to be like all the others. You want tomake the world stand still."
"Yes, I can see that it must seem funny to you." There was nobitterness in his voice, but only a sort of hurt, which again astonishedher, because it was impossible to think of O'Hara as one who could behurt.
"There will always be the Pentland house, but, of course, all of us willdie some day and then what?"
"There will always be our children."
She was aware slowly of slipping back into that world of cares andtroubles behind her from which she had escaped a little while before.She said, "You are looking a long way into the future."
"Perhaps, but I mean to have children one day. And at Pentlands there isalways Sybil, who will fight for it fiercely. She'll never give it up."
"But it's Jack who will own it, and I'm not so sure about him."
Unconsciously she sighed, knowing now that she was pretending again,being dishonest. She was pretending again that Jack would live to havePentlands for his own, that he would one day have children who wouldcarry it on. She kept saying to herself, "It is only the truth that cansave us all." And she knew that O'Hara understood her feeble game ofpretending. She knew because he stood there silently, as if Jack werealready dead, as if he understood the reason for the faint bitter sighand respected it.
"You see a great deal of Sybil, don't you?" she asked.
"Yes, she is a good girl. One can depend on her."
"Perhaps if she had a little of Thérèse or Mrs. Callendar in her, she'dbe safer from being hurt."
He did not answer her at once, but she knew that in the darkness he wasstanding there, watching her.
"But that was a silly thing to say," she murmured. "I don't suppose youknow what I mean."
He answered her quickly. "I do know exactly. I know and I'm sure Mrs.Callendar knows. We've both learned to save ourselves--not in the sameschool, but the same lesson, nevertheless. But as to Sybil, I think thatdepends upon whom she marries."
("So now," thought Olivia, "it is coming. It is Sybil whom he loves. Hewants to marry her. That is why he has followed me out here.") She wasback again now, solidly enmeshed in all the intricacies of living. Shehad a sudden, shameful, twinge of jealousy for Sybil, who was so young,who had pushed her so completely into the past along with all the othersat Pentlands.
"I was wondering," she said, "whether she was not seeing too much ofyou, whether she might not be a bother."
"No, she'll never be that." And then in a voice which carried a faintecho of humor, he added, "I know that in a moment you are going to askmy intentions."
"No," she said, "no"; but she could think of nothing else to say. Shefelt suddenly shy and awkward and a little idiotic, like a young girl ather first dance.
"I shall tell you what my intentions are," he was saying, and then hebroke off suddenly. "Why is it so impossible to be honest in this world,when we live such a little while? It would be such a different place ifwe were all honest wouldn't it?"
He hesitated, waiting for her to answer, and she said, "Yes," almostmechanically, "very different."
When he replied there was a faint note of excitement in his voice. Itwas pitched a little lower and he spoke more quickly. In the darknessshe could not see him, and yet she was sharply conscious of the change.
"I'll tell you, then," he was saying. "I've been seeing a great deal ofSybil in the hope that I should see a little of her mother."
She did not answer him. She simply sat there, speechless, overcome byconfusion, as if she had been a young girl with her first lover. Shewas even made a little dizzy by the sound of his voice.
"I have offended you. I'm sorry. I only spoke the truth. There is noharm in that."
With a heroic effort to speak intelligently, she succeeded in saying,"No, I am not offended." (It all seemed such a silly, helpless, pleasantfeeling.) "No, I'm not offended. I don't know...."
Of only one thing was she certain; that this strange, dizzy, intoxicatedstate was like nothing she had ever experienced. It was sinister andoverwhelming in a bitter-sweet fashion. She kept thinking, "I can beginto understand how a young girl can be seduced, how she cannot know whatshe is doing."
"I suppose," he was saying, "that you think me presumptuous."
"No, I only think everything is impossible, insane."
"You think me a kind of ruffian, a bum, an Irishman, a Roman Catholic,some one you have never heard of." He waited, and then added: "I amall that, from one point of view."
"No, I don't think that; I don't think that."
He sat down beside her quietly on the stone bench. "You have every rightto think it," he continued softly. "Every right in the world, and stillthings like that make no difference, nothing makes any difference."
"My father," she said softly, "was a man very like you. His enemiessometimes used to call him 'shanty Irish.'..."
She knew all the while that she should have risen and sought indignantrefuge in the house. She knew that perhaps she was being absurd, and yetshe stayed there quietly. She was so tired and she had waited for solong (she only knew it now in a sudden flash) to have some one talk toher in just this way, as if she were a woman. She needed some one tolean upon, so desperately.
"How can you know me?" she asked out of a vague sense of helplessness."How can you know anything about me?"
He did not touch her. He only sat there in the darkness, making her feelby a sort of power which was too strong for her, that all he said wasterribly the truth.
"I know, I know, all about you, everything. I've watched you. I'veunderstood you, even better than the others. A man whose life has beenlike mine sees and understands a great deal that others never noticebecause for him everything depends upon a kind of second sight. It's theone great weapon of the opportunist." There was a silence and he asked,"Can you understand that? It may be hard, because your life has been sodifferent."
"Not so different, as you might think, only perhaps I've made more of amess of it." And straightening her body, she murmured, "It is foolish ofme to let you talk this way."
He interrupted her with a quick burst of almost boyish eagerness. "Butyou're glad, aren't you? You're glad, all the same, whether you careanything for me or not. You've deserved it for a long time."
She began to cry softly, helplessly, without a sound, the tears runningdown her cheeks, and she thought, "Now I'm being a supreme fool. I'mpitying myself." But she could not stop.
It appeared that even in the darkness he was aware of her tears, for hechose not to interrupt them. They sat thus for a long time in silence,Olivia conscious with a terrible aching acuteness, of the beauty of thenight and finding it all strange and unreal and confused.
"I wanted you to know," he said quietly, "that there was some one nearyou, some one who worships you, who would give up everything for you."And after a time, "Perhaps we had better go in now. You can go inthrough the piazza and powder your nose. I'll go in through the doorfrom the garden."
And as they walked across the damp, scented grass, he said, "It would bepleasant if you would join Sybil and me riding in the morning."
"But I haven't been on a horse in years," said Olivia.
* * * * *
Throughout the rest of the evening, while she sat playing bridge withSabine and O'Hara and the Mannering boy, her mind kept straying from thegame into unaccustomed byways. It was not, she told herself, that shewas even remotely in love with O'Hara; it was only that some one--a manwho was no creature of ordinary attractions--had confessed hisadmiration for her, and so she felt young and giddy and elated. Thewhole affair was silly... and yet, yet, in a strange way, it was notsilly at all. She kept thinking of Anson's remarks about his father andold Mrs. Soames, "It's a silly affair"--and of Sybil saying gravely,"Only not middle-aged, like O'Hara," and it occurred to her at the sametime that in all her life she felt really young for the first time. Shehad been young as she sat on the stone bench under the ancientapple-tree, young in spite of everything.
And aloud she would say, "Four spades," and know at once that she shouldhave made no such bid.
She was unnerved, too, by the knowledge that there were, all the while,two pairs of eyes far more absorbed in her than in the game ofbridge--the green ones of Sabine and the bright blue ones of O'Hara. Shecould not look up without encountering the gaze of one or the other; andto protect herself she faced them with a hard, banal little smile whichshe put in place in the mechanical way used by Miss Egan. It was thesort of smile which made her face feel very tired, and for the firsttime she had a half-comic flash of pity for Miss Egan. The face of thenurse must at times have grown horribly tired.
* * * * *
The giddiness still clung to her as she climbed into the motor besideSybil and they drove off down the lane which led from Brook Cottage toPentlands. The road was a part of a whole tracery of lanes, bordered byhedges and old trees, which bound together the houses of thecountryside, and at night they served as a promenade and meeting-placefor the servants of the same big houses. One came upon them in littlegroups of three or four, standing by gates or stone walls, gossiping andgiggling together in the darkness, exchanging tales of the life thatpassed in the houses of their masters, stories of what the old man didyesterday, and how Mrs. So-and-so only took one bath a week. There was awhole world which lay beneath the solid, smooth, monotonous surface thatshielded the life of the wealthy, a world which in its way was full ofmockery and dark secrets and petty gossip, a world perhaps fuller oftruth because it lay hidden away where none--save perhaps Aunt Cassie,who knew how many fascinating secrets servants had--ever looked, andwhere there was small need for the sort of pretense which Olivia foundso tragic. It circulated the dark lanes at night after the dinners ofthe neighborhood were finished, and sometimes the noisy echoes of itsirreverent mockery rose in wild Irish laughter that echoed back andforth across the mist-hung meadows.
The same lanes were frequented, too, by lovers, who went in pairsinstead of groups of three or four, and at times there were echoes of adifferent sort of merriment--the wild, half-hysterical laughter of somekitchen-maid being wooed roughly and passionately in some dark corner bya groom or a house-servant. It was a world which blossomed forth onlyat nightfall. Sometimes in the darkness the masters, motoring home froma ball or a dinner, would come upon an amorous couple, bathed in thesudden brilliant glare of motor-lights, sitting with their arms abouteach other against a tree, or lying half-hidden among a tangle ofhawthorn and elder-bushes.
To-night, as Olivia and Sybil drove in silence along the road the hotair was filled with the thick scent of the hawthorn-blossoms and therich, dark odor of cattle, blown toward them across the meadows by thefaint salt breeze from the marshes. It was late and the lights of themotor encountered no strayed lovers until at the foot of the hill by theold bridge the glare illuminated suddenly the figures of a man and awoman seated together against the stone wall. At their approach thewoman slipped quickly over the wall, and the man, following, leapedlightly as a goat to the top and into the field beyond. Sybil laughedand murmured, "It's Higgins again."
It was Higgins. There was no mistaking the stocky, agile figure cladin riding-breeches and sleeveless cotton shirt, and as he leaped thewall the sight of him aroused in Olivia a nebulous fleeting impressionthat was like a half-forgotten memory. A startled fawn, she thought,must have scuttled off into the bushes in the same fashion. And she hadsuddenly that same strange, prickly feeling of terror that had affectedSabine on the night she discovered him hidden in the lilacs watching theball.
She shivered, and Sybil asked, "You're not cold?"
She was thinking of Higgins and hoping that this was not the beginningof some new scrape. Once before a girl had come to her in trouble--aPolish girl, whom she helped and sent away because she could not seethat forcing Higgins to marry her would have brought anything butmisery for both of them. It never ceased to amaze her that a man sognarled and ugly, such a savage, hairy little man as Higgins, shouldhave half the girls of the countryside running after him.
* * * * *
In her own room she listened in the darkness until she heard the soundof Jack's gentle breathing and then, after undressing, she sat for along time at the window looking out across the meadows toward themarshes. There was a subdued excitement which seemed to run through allher body and would not let her sleep. She no longer felt the wearinessof spirit which had let her slip during these last few months into akind of lethargy. She was alive, more alive than she had ever been, evenas a young girl; her cheeks were hot and flushed, so that she placed herwhite hands against them to feel a coolness that was missing from thenight air; but they, too, were hot with life.
And as she sat there, the sounds from Sybil's room across the hall diedaway and at last the night grew still save for the sound of her son'sslow breathing and the familiar ghostly creakings of the old house. Shewas alone now, the only one who was not sleeping; and sitting above themist-hung meadows she grew more quiet. The warm rich scents of the nightdrifted in at the window, and again she became aware of a kind ofvoluptuousness which she had sensed in the air as she sat, hoursearlier, on Sabine's terrace above the sea. It had assailed her again asthey drove through the lane across the low, marshy pastures by theriver. And then in the figure of Higgins, leaping the wall like a goat,it had come with a shock to a sudden climax of feeling, with a suddenacuteness which even terrified her. It still persisted a little, the oddfeeling of some tremendous, powerful force at work all about her,moving swiftly and quietly, thrusting aside and annihilating those whoopposed it.
She thought again, "I am a little mad to-night. What has come over me?"And she grew frightened, though it was a different sort of terror fromthat which afflicted her at the odd moments when she felt all about herthe presence of the dead who lived on and on at Pentlands. What she knewnow was no terror of the dead; it was rather a terror of warm,passionate life. She thought, "This is what must have happened to theothers. This is how they must have felt before they died."
It was not physical death that she meant, but a death somehow of thesoul, a death which left behind it such withered people as Aunt Cassieand Anson, the old woman in the north wing, and even a man so rugged andpowerful as John Pentland, who had struggled so much more fiercely thanthe others. And she got a sudden sense of being caught between two darkstruggling forces in fierce combat. It was confused and vague, yet itmade her feel suddenly ill in a physical sense. The warm feeling of lifeand excitement flowed away leaving her chilled and relaxed, weary all atonce, and filled with a soft lassitude, still looking out into thenight, still smelling the thick odor of cattle and hawthorn-blossoms.
* * * * *
She never knew whether or not she had fallen asleep in the bergère bythe window, but she did know that she was roused abruptly by the soundof footsteps. Outside the door of her room, in the long hallway, therewas some one walking, gently, cautiously. It was not this time merelythe creaking of the old house; it was the sound of footfalls, regular,measured, inevitable, those of some person of almost no weight at all.She listened, and slowly, cautiously, almost as if the person were blindand groping his way in the darkness, the step advanced until presentlyit came opposite her and thin slivers of light outlined the door thatled into the hall. Quietly she rose and, still lost in a vague sense ofmoving in a nightmare, she went over to the door and opened it. Far downthe long hall, at the door which opened into the stairway leading to theattic of the house, there was a small circle of light cast by anelectric torch. It threw into a black silhouette the figure of an oldwoman with white hair whom Olivia recognized at once. It was the oldwoman escaped from the north wing. While she stood watching her, thefigure, fumbling at the door, opened it and disappeared quickly into thestairway.
There was no time to be lost, not time even to go in search of thestarched Miss Egan. The poor creature might fling herself from the upperwindows. So, without stopping even to throw a dressing-gown about her,Olivia went quickly along the dark hall and up the stairway where thefantastic creature in the flowered wrapper had vanished.
The attic was an enormous, unfinished room that covered the whole of thehouse, a vast cavern of a place, empty save for a few old trunks andpieces of broken furniture. The flotsam and jetsam of Pentland life hadbeen stowed away there, lost and forgotten in the depths of the bigroom, for more than a century. No one entered it. Since Sybil and Jackhad grown, it remained half-forgotten. They had played there on rainydays as small children, and before them Sabine and Anson had played inthe same dark, mysterious corners among broken old trunks and sofas andchairs.
Olivia found the place in darkness save for the patches of blue lightwhere the luminous night came in at the double row of dormer windows,and at the far end, by a group of old trunks, the circle of light fromthe torch that moved this way and that, as if old Mrs. Pentland weresearching for something. In the haste of her escape and flight, herthin white hair had come undone and fell about her shoulders. A sicklysmell of medicine hung about her.
Olivia touched her gently and said, "What have you lost, Mrs. Pentland?Can I help you?"
The old woman turned and, throwing the light of the torch full intoOlivia's face, stared at her with the round blue eyes, murmuring, "Oh,it's you, Olivia. Then it's all right. Perhaps you can help me."
"What was it you lost? We might look for it in the morning."
"I've forgotten what it was now. You startled me, and you know my poorbrain isn't very good, at best. It never has been since I married."Sharply she looked at Olivia. "It didn't affect you that way, did it?You don't ever drift away and feel yourself growing dimmer and dimmer,do you? It's odd. Perhaps it's different with your husband."
Olivia saw that the old woman was having one of those isolated momentsof clarity and reason which were more horrible than her insanity becausefor a time she made you see that, after all, she was like yourself,human and capable of thought. To Olivia these moments were almost as ifshe witnessed the rising of the dead.
"No," said Olivia. "Perhaps if we went to bed now, you'd remember in themorning."
Old Mrs. Pentland shook her head violently. "No, no, I must find themnow. It may be all different in the morning and I won't know anythingand that Irish woman won't let me out. Say over the names of a fewthings like prunes, prisms, persimmons. That's what Mr. Dickens used tohave his children do when he couldn't think of a word."
"Let me have the light," said Olivia; "perhaps I can find what it is youwant."
With the meekness of a child, the old woman gave her the electric torchand Olivia, turning it this way and that, among the trunks and oldrubbish, made a mock search among the doll-houses and the toy dishesleft scattered in the corner of the attic where the children had playedhouse for the last time.
While she searched, the old woman kept up a running comment, half toherself: "It's something I wanted to find very much. It'll make a greatdifference here in the lives of all of us. I thought I might find Sabinehere to help me. She was here yesterday morning, playing with Anson. Itrained all day and they couldn't go out. I hid it here yesterday when Icame up to see them."
Olivia again attempted wheedling.
"It's late now, Mrs. Pentland. We ought both to be in bed. You try toremember what it is you want, and in the morning I'll come up and findit for you."
For a moment the old woman considered this, and at last she said, "Youwouldn't give it to me if you found it. I'm sure you wouldn't. You'retoo afraid of them all."
"I promise you I will. You can trust me, can't you?"
"Yes, yes, you're the only one who doesn't treat me as if I wasn't quitebright. Yes, I think I can trust you." Another thought occurred to herabruptly. "But I wouldn't remember again. I might forget. Besides, Idon't think Miss Egan would let me."
Olivia took one of the thin old hands in hers and said, as if she weretalking to a little child, "I know what we'll do. To-morrow you write itout on a bit of paper and then I'll find it and bring it to you."
"I'm sure little Sabine could find it," said the old woman. "She's verygood at such things. She's such a clever child."
"I'll go over and fetch Sabine to have her help me."
The old woman looked at her sharply. "You'll promise that?" she asked."You'll promise?"
"Of course, surely."
"Because all the others are always deceiving me."
And then quite gently she allowed herself to be led across the moonlitpatches of the dusty floor, down the stairs and back to her room. In thehall of the north wing they came suddenly upon the starched Miss Egan,all her starch rather melted and subdued now, her red face purple withalarm.
"I've been looking for her everywhere, Mrs. Pentland," she told Olivia."I don't know how she escaped. She was asleep when I left. I went downto the kitchen for her orange-juice, and while I was gone shedisappeared."
It was the old woman who answered. Looking gravely at Olivia, she said,with an air of confidence, "You know I never speak to her at all. She'scommon. She's a common Irish servant. They can shut me up with her, butthey can't make me speak to her." And then she began to drift back againinto the hopeless state that was so much more familiar. She began tomumble over and over again a chain of words and names which had nocoherence.
Olivia and Miss Egan ignored her, as if part of her--the vaguelyrational old woman--had disappeared, leaving in her place this pitifulchattering creature who was a stranger.
Olivia explained where it was she found the old woman and why she hadgone there.
"She's been talking on the subject for days," said Miss Egan. "I thinkit's letters that she's looking for, but it may be nothing at all. Shemixes everything terribly."
Olivia was shivering now in her nightdress, more from weariness andnerves than from the chill of the night.
"I wouldn't speak of it to any of the others, Miss Egan," she said. "Itwill only trouble them. And we must be more careful about her in thefuture."
The old woman had gone past them now, back into the dark room where shespent her whole life, and the nurse had begun to recover a little of herdefiant confidence. She even smiled, the hard, glittering smile whichalways said, "You cannot do without me, whatever happens."
Aloud she said, "I can't imagine what happened, Mrs. Pentland."
"It was an accident, never mind," said Olivia. "Good-night. Only I thinkit's better not to speak of what has happened. It will only alarm theothers."
But she was puzzled, Olivia, because underneath the dressing-gown MissEgan had thrown about her shoulders she saw that the nurse was dressedneither in night-clothes nor in her uniform, but in the suit of blueserge that she wore on the rare occasions when she went into the city.
She spoke to no one of what had happened, either on the terrace or inthe lane or in the depths of the old attic, and the days came to resumeagain their old monotonous round, as if the strange, hot, disturbingnight had had no more existence than a dream. She did not see O'Hara,yet she heard of him, constantly, from Sybil, from Sabine, even fromJack, who seemed stronger than he had ever been and able for a time togo about the farm with his grandfather in the trap drawn by an old whitehorse. There were moments when it seemed to Olivia that the boy mightone day be really well, and yet there was never any real joy in thosemoments, because always in the back of her mind stood the truth. Sheknew it would never be, despite all that fierce struggle which she andthe old man kept up perpetually against the thing which was strongerthan either of them. Indeed, she even found a new sort of sadness in thesight of the pale thin boy and the rugged old man driving along thelanes in the trap, the eyes of the grandfather bright with a look ofdeluding hope. It was a look which she found unbearable because it wasthe first time in years, almost since that first day when Jack, as atiny baby who did not cry enough, came into the world, that theexpression of the old man had changed from one of grave anduncomplaining resignation.
Sometimes when she watched them together she was filled with a fiercedesire to go to John Pentland and tell him that it was not her faultthat there were not more children, other heirs to take the place ofJack. She wanted to tell him that she would have had ten children if itwere possible, that even now she was still young enough to have morechildren. She wanted to pour out to him something of that hunger of lifewhich had swept over her on the night in Sabine's garden beneath theapple-tree, a spot abounding in fertility. But she knew, too, howimpossible it was to discuss a matter which old John Pentland, in thedepths of his soul believed to be "indelicate." Such things were allhidden behind a veil which shut out so much of truth from all theirlives. There were times when she fancied he understood it all, thosetimes when he took her hand and kissed her affectionately. She fanciedthat he understood and that the knowledge lay somehow at the root of theold man's quiet contempt for his own son.
But she saw well enough the tragedy that lay deep down at the root ofthe whole matter. She understood that it was not Anson who was to blame.It was that they had all been caught in the toils of something strongerthan any of them, a force which with a cruel injustice compelled her tolive a dry, monotonous, barren existence when she would have embracedlife passionately, which compelled her to watch her own son dying slowlybefore her eyes.
Always she came back to the same thought, that the boy must be keptalive until his grandfather was dead; and sometimes, standing on theterrace, looking out across the fields, Olivia saw that old Mrs.Soames, dressed absurdly in pink, with a large picture-hat, was ridingin the trap with the old man and his grandson, as if in reality she werethe grandmother of Jack instead of the mad old woman abovestairs.
The days came to resume their round of dull monotony, and yet there wasa difference, odd and indefinable, as if in some way the sun werebrighter than it had been, as if those days, when even in the brightsunlight the house had seemed a dull gray place, were gone now. Shecould no longer look across the meadows toward the bright new chimneysof O'Hara's house without a sudden quickening of breath, a warm pleasantsensation of no longer standing quite alone.
She was not even annoyed any longer by the tiresome daily visits of AuntCassie, nor by the old woman's passion for pitying her and making wildinsinuations against Sabine and O'Hara and complaining of Sybil ridingwith him in the mornings over the dew-covered fields. She was able nowsimply to sit there politely as she had once done, listening while theold woman talked on and on; only now she did not even listen withattention. It seemed to her at times that Aunt Cassie was like someinsect beating itself frantically against a pane of glass, trying overand over again with an unflagging futility to enter where it wasimpossible to enter.
It was Sabine who gave her a sudden glimpse of penetration into thisinstinct about Aunt Cassie, Sabine who spent all her time finding outabout people. It happened one morning that the two clouds of dust, theone made by Aunt Cassie and the other by Sabine, met at the very foot ofthe long drive leading up to Pentlands, and together the two women--onedressed severely in shabby black, without so much as a fleck of powderon her nose, the other dressed expensively in what some Paris dressmakerchose to call a costume de sport, with her face made up like aParisian--arrived together to sit on the piazza of Pentlands insultingeach other subtly for an hour. When at last Sabine managed to outstayAunt Cassie (it was always a contest between them, for each knew thatthe other would attack her as soon as she was out of hearing) she turnedto Olivia and said abruptly, "I've been thinking about Aunt Cassie, andI'm sure now of one thing. Aunt Cassie is a virgin!"
There was something so cold-blooded and sudden in the statement thatOlivia laughed.
"I'm sure of it," persisted Sabine with quiet seriousness. "Look at her.She's always talking about the tragedy of her being too frail ever tohave had children. She never tried. That's the answer. She never tried."Sabine tossed away what remained of the cigarette she had lighted toannoy Aunt Cassie and continued. "You never knew my Uncle Ned Strutherswhen he was young. You only knew him as an old man with no spirit left.But he wasn't that way always. It's what she did to him. She destroyedhim. He was a full-blooded kind of man who liked drinking and horses andhe must have liked women, too, but she cured him of that. He would haveliked children, but instead of a wife he only got a woman who couldn'tbear the thought of not being married and yet couldn't bear whatmarriage meant. He got a creature who fainted and wept and lay on a sofaall day, who got the better of him because he was a nice, stupid,chivalrous fellow."
Sabine was launched now with all the passion which seized her when shehad laid bare a little patch of life and examined it minutely.
"He didn't even dare to be unfaithful to her. If he looked at anotherwoman she fainted and became deathly ill and made terrible scenes. I canremember some of them. I remember that once he called on Mrs. Soameswhen she was young and beautiful, and when he came home Aunt Cassie methim in hysterics and told him that if it ever happened again she wouldgo out, 'frail and miserable as she was,' and commit adultery. Iremember the story because I overheard my father telling it when I was achild and I was miserable until I found out what 'committing adultery'meant. In the end she destroyed him. I'm sure of it."
Sabine sat there, with a face like stone, following with her eyes thecloud of dust that moved along the lane as Aunt Cassie progressed on hermorning round of visits, a symbol in a way of all the forces that hadwarped her own existence.
"It's possible," murmured Olivia.
Sabine turned toward her with a quick, sudden movement. "That's why sheis always so concerned with the lives of other people. She has never hadany life of her own, never. She's always been afraid. It's why she lovesthe calamities of other people, because she's never had any of her own.Not even her husband's death was a calamity. It left her free,completely free of troubles as she had always wanted to be."
And then a strange thing happened to Olivia. It was as if a new AuntCassie had been born, as if the old one, so full of tears and easysympathy who always appeared miraculously when there was a calamity inthe neighborhood, the Aunt Cassie who was famous for her good works andher tears and words of religious counsel, had gone down the lane for thelast time, never to return again. To-morrow morning a new Aunt Cassiewould arrive, one who outwardly would be the same; only to Olivia shewould be different, a woman stripped of all those veils of pretense andemotions with which she wrapped herself, an old woman naked in herugliness who, Olivia understood in a blinding flash of clarity, was likean insect battering itself against a pane of glass in a futile attemptto enter where it was impossible for her ever to enter. And she was nolonger afraid of Aunt Cassie now. She did not even dislike her; she onlypitied the old woman because she had missed so much, because she woulddie without ever having lived. And she must have been young and handsomeonce, and very amusing. There were still moments when the old lady'scharm and humor and sharp tongue were completely disarming.
Sabine was talking again, in a cold, unrelenting voice. "She lay thereall those years on the sofa covered with a shawl, trying to arrange thelives of every one about her. She killed Anson's independence and ruinedmy happiness. She terrorized her husband until in the end he died toescape her. He was a good-natured man, horrified of scenes andscandals." Sabine lighted a cigarette and flung away the match with asudden savage gesture. "And now she goes about like an angel of pity, avery brisk angel of pity, a harpy in angel's clothing. She has playedher rôle well. Every one believes in her as a frail, good, unhappywoman. Some of the saints must have been very like her. Some of themmust have been trying old maids."
She rose and, winding the chiffon scarf about her throat, opened heryellow parasol, saying, "I know I'm right. She's a virgin. At least,"she added, "in the technical sense, she's a virgin. I know nothing abouther mind."
And then, changing abruptly, she said, "Will you go up to Boston with meto-morrow? I'm going to do something about my hair. There's graybeginning to come into it."
Olivia did not answer her at once, but when she did speak it was to say,"Yes; I'm going to take up riding again and I want to order clothes. Myold ones would look ridiculous now. It's been years since I was on ahorse."
Sabine looked at her sharply and, looking away again, said, "I'll stopfor you about ten o'clock."
Heat, damp and overwhelming, and thick with the scent of fresh-cut hayand the half-fetid odor of the salt marshes, settled over Durham,reducing all life to a state of tropical relaxation. Even in themornings when Sybil rode with O'Hara across the meadows, there was nocoolness and no dew on the grass. Only Aunt Cassie, thin and wiry, andAnson, guided perpetually by a sense of duty which took no reckoning ofsuch things as weather, resisted the muggy warmth. Aunt Cassie, alikeindifferent to heat and cold, storm or calm, continued her indefatigablerounds. Sabine, remarking that she had always known that New England wasthe hottest place this side of Sheol, settled into a state of completeinertia, not stirring from the house until after the sun haddisappeared. Even then her only action was to come to Pentlands to sitin the writing-room playing bridge languidly with Olivia and JohnPentland and old Mrs. Soames.
The old lady grew daily more dazed and forgetful and irritating as afourth at bridge. John Pentland always insisted upon playing with her,saying that they understood each other's game; but he deceived no one,save Mrs. Soames, whose wits were at best a little dim; the others knewthat it was to protect her. They saw him sit calmly and patiently whileshe bid suits she could not possibly make, while she trumped his tricksand excused herself on the ground of bad eyesight. She had been a greatbeauty once and she was still, with all her paint and powder, a vainwoman. She would not wear spectacles and so played by looking throughlorgnettes, which lowered the whole tempo of the game and added to theconfusion. At times, in the midst of the old lady's blunders, a look ofmurder came into the green eyes of Sabine, but Olivia managed somehow toprevent any outburst; she even managed to force Sabine into playing on,night after night. The patience and tenderness of the old man towardsMrs. Soames moved her profoundly, and she fancied that Sabine,too,--hard, cynical, intolerant Sabine--was touched by it. There was acurious, unsuspected soft spot in Sabine, as if in some way sheunderstood the bond between the two old people. Sabine, who allowedherself to be bored by no one, presently became willing to sit therenight after night bearing this special boredom patiently.
Once when Olivia said to her, "We'll all be old some day. Perhaps we'llbe worse than old Mrs. Soames," Sabine replied with a shrug ofbitterness, "Old age is a bore. That's the trouble with us, Olivia.We'll never give up and become old ladies. It used to be the beautieswho clung to youth, and now all of us do it. We'll probably be paintedold horrors... like her."
"Perhaps," replied Olivia, and a kind of terror took possession of herat the thought that she would be forty on her next birthday and thatnothing lay before her, even in the immediate future, save evenings likethese, playing bridge with old people until presently she herself wasold, always in the melancholy atmosphere of the big house at Pentlands.
"But I shan't take to drugs," said Sabine. "At least I shan't do that."
Olivia looked at her sharply. "Who takes drugs?" she asked.
"Why, she does... old Mrs. Soames. She's taken drugs for years. Ithought every one knew it."
"No," said Olivia sadly. "I never knew it."
Sabine laughed. "You are an innocent," she answered.
And after Sabine had gone home, the cloud of melancholy clung to herfor hours. She felt suddenly that Anson and Aunt Cassie might be right,after all. There was something dangerous in a woman like Sabine, whotore aside every veil, who sacrificed everything to her passion for thetruth. Somehow it riddled a world which at its best was not toocheerful.
* * * * *
There were evenings when Mrs. Soames sent word that she was feeling tooill to play, and on those occasions John Pentland drove over to see her,and the bridge was played instead at Brook Cottage with O'Hara and afourth recruited impersonally from the countryside. To Sabine, thechoice was a matter of indifference so long as the chosen one could playwell.
It happened on these occasions that O'Hara and Olivia came to playtogether, making a sort of team, which worked admirably. He played asshe knew he would play, aggressively and brilliantly, with a fierceconcentration and a determination to win. It fascinated her that a manwho had spent most of his life in circles where bridge played no part,should have mastered the intricate game so completely. She fancied himtaking lessons with the same passionate application which he had givento his career.
He did not speak to her again of the things he had touched upon duringthat first hot night on the terrace, and she was careful never to findherself alone with him. She was ashamed at the game she played--ofseeing him always with Sabine or riding with Sybil and giving him nochance to speak; it seemed to her that such behavior was cheap anddishonest. Yet she could not bring herself to refuse seeing him, partlybecause to refuse would have aroused the suspicions of the alreadyinterested Sabine, but more because she wanted to see him. She found akind of delight in the way he looked at her, in the perfection withwhich they came to understand each other's game; and though he did notsee her alone, he kept telling her in a hundred subtle ways that he wasa man in love, who adored her.
She told herself that she was behaving like a silly schoolgirl, but shecould not bring herself to give him up altogether. It seemed to herunbearable that she should lose these rare happy evenings. And she wasafraid, too, that Sabine would call her a fool.
* * * * *
As early summer turned into July, old Mrs. Soames came less and lessfrequently to play bridge and there were times when Sabine, dining outor retiring early, left them without any game at all and the oldfamiliar stillness came to settle over the drawing-room at Pentlands...evenings when Olivia and Sybil played double patience and Anson workedat Mr. Lowell's desk over the mazes of the Pentland Family history.
On one of these evenings, when Olivia's eyes had grown weary of reading,she closed her book and, turning toward her husband, called his name.When he did not answer her at once she spoke to him again, and waiteduntil he looked up. Then she said, "Anson, I have taken up riding again.I think it is doing me good."
But Anson, lost somewhere in the chapter about Savina Pentland and herfriendship with Ingres, was not interested and made no answer.
"I go in the mornings," she repeated, "before breakfast, with Sybil."
Anson said, "Yes," again, and then, "I think it an excellent idea--yourcolor is better," and went back to his work.
So she succeeded in telling him that it was all right about Sybil andO'Hara. She managed to tell him without actually saying it that shewould go with them and prevent any entanglement. She had told him, too,without once alluding to the scene of which he was ashamed. And sheknew, of course, now, that there was no danger of any entanglement, atleast not one which involved Sybil.
Sitting with the book closed in her lap, she remained for a timewatching the back of her husband's head--the thin gray hair, the cordsthat stood out weakly under the desiccated skin, the too small ears settoo close against the skull; and in reality, all the while she wasseeing another head set upon a full muscular neck, the skin tanned andglowing with the flush of health, the thick hair short and vigorous; andshe felt an odd, inexplicable desire to weep, thinking at the same time,"I am a wicked woman. I must be really bad." For she had never knownbefore what it was to be in love and she had lived for nearly twentyyears in a family where love had occupied a poor forgotten niche.
She was sitting thus when John Pentland came in at last, looking moreyellow and haggard than he had been in days. She asked him quietly, soas not to disturb Anson, whether Mrs. Soames was really ill. "No," saidthe old man, "I don't think so; she seems all right, a little tired,that's all. We're all growing old."
He seated himself and began to read like the others, pretending clearlyan interest which he did not feel, for Olivia caught him suddenlystaring before him in a line beyond the printed page. She saw that hewas not reading at all, and in the back of her mind a little cluster ofwords kept repeating themselves--"a little tired, that's all, we're allgrowing old; a little tired, that's all, we're all growing old"--overand over again monotonously, as if she were hypnotizing herself. Shefound herself, too, staring into space in the same enchanted fashion asthe old man. And then, all at once, she became aware of a figurestanding in the doorway beckoning to her, and, focusing her gaze, shesaw that it was Nannie, clad in a dressing-gown, her old face screwed upin an expression of anxiety. She had some reason for not disturbing theothers, for she did not speak. Standing in the shadow, she beckoned; andOlivia, rising quietly, went out into the hall, closing the door behindher.
There, in the dim light, she saw that the old woman had been crying andwas shaking in fright. She said, "Something had happened to Jack,something dreadful."
She had known what it was before Nannie spoke. It seemed to her that shehad known all along, and now there was no sense of shock but only ahard, dead numbness of all feeling.
"Call up Doctor Jenkins," she said, with a kind of dreadful calm, andturning away she went quickly up the long stairs.
* * * * *
In the darkness of her own room she did not wait now to listen for thesound of breathing. It had come at last--the moment when she would enterthe room and, listening for the sound, encounter only the stillness ofthe night. Beyond, in the room which he had occupied ever since he was atiny baby, there was the usual dim night-light burning in the corner,and by its dull glow she was able to make out the narrow bed and hisfigure lying there as it had always lain, asleep. He must have beenasleep, she thought, for it was impossible to have died so quietly,without moving. But she knew, of course, that he was dead, and she sawhow near to death he had always been, how it was only a matter ofslipping over, quite simply and gently.
He had escaped them at last--his grandfather and herself--in a momentwhen they had not been there watching; and belowstairs in thedrawing-room John Pentland was sitting with a book in his lap by Mr.Longfellow's lamp, staring into space, still knowing nothing. AndAnson's pen scratched away at the history of the Pentland Family and theMassachusetts Bay Colony, while here in the room where she stood thePentland family had come to an end.
She did not weep. She knew that weeping would come later, after thedoctor had made his silly futile call to tell her what she already knew.And now that this thing which she had fought for so long had happened,she was aware of a profound peace. It seemed to her even, that the boy,her own son, was happier now; for she had a fear, bordering uponremorse, that they had kept him alive all those years against his will.He looked quiet and still now and not at all as he had looked on thoselong, terrible nights when she had sat in this same chair by the samebed while, propped among pillows because he could not breathe lyingdown, he fought for breath and life, more to please her and hisgrandfather than because he wanted to live. She saw that there could bea great beauty in death. It was not as if he had died alone. He hadsimply gone to sleep.
She experienced, too, an odd and satisfying feeling of reality, oftruth, as if in some way the air all about her had become cleared andfreshened. Death was not a thing one could deny by pretense. Death wasreal. It marked the end of something, definitely and clearly for alltime. There could be no deceptions about death.
She wished now that she had told Nannie not to speak to the others. Shewanted to stay there alone in the dimly lighted room until the skyturned gray beyond the marshes.
* * * * *
They did not leave her in peace with her son. There came first of all aknock which admitted old Nannie, still trembling and hysterical,followed by the starched and efficient Miss Egan, who bustled aboutwith a hard, professional manner, and then the rattling, noisy sounds ofDoctor Jenkins' Ford as he arrived from the village, and the far-offhoot of a strange motor-horn and a brilliant glare of light as a bigmotor rounded the corner of the lane at the foot of the drive and sweptaway toward Brook Cottage. The hall seemed suddenly alive with people,whispering and murmuring together, and there was a sound of hystericalsobbing from some frightened servant. Death, which ought to occur in thequiet beauty of solitude, was being robbed of all its dignity. Theywould behave like this for days. She knew that it was only now, in themidst of all that pitiful hubbub, that she had lost her son. He had beenhers still, after a fashion, while she was alone there in the room.
Abruptly, in the midst of the flurry, she remembered that there wereothers besides herself. There was Sybil, who had come in and stoodbeside her, grave and sympathetic, pressing her mother's hand insilence; and Anson, who stood helplessly in the corner, more awkward anduseless and timid than ever in the face of death. But most of all, therewas John Pentland. He was not in the room. He was nowhere to be seen.
She went to search for him, because she knew that he would never comethere to face all the others; instead, he would hide himself away like awounded animal. She knew that there was only one person whom he couldbear to see. Together they had fought for the life of the boy andtogether they must face the cold, hard fact of his death.
She found him standing on the terrace, outside the tall windows thatopened into the drawing-room, and as she approached, she saw that he wasso lost in his sorrow that he did not even notice her. He was like a manin a state of enchantment. He simply stood there, tall and stiff andaustere, staring across the marshes in the direction of the sea, aloneas he had always been, surrounded by the tragic armor of loneliness thatnone of them, not even herself, had ever succeeded in piercing. She sawthen that there was a grief more terrible than her own. She had lost herson but for John Pentland it was the end of everything. She saw that thewhole world had collapsed about him. It was as if he, too, had died.
She did not speak to him at first, but simply stood beside him, takinghis huge, bony hand in hers, aware that he did not look at her, but keptstaring on and on across the marshes in the direction of the sea. And atlast she said softly, "It has happened, at last."
Still he did not look at her, but he did answer, saying, "I knew," in awhisper that was barely audible. There were tears on his leathery oldcheeks. He had come out into the darkness of the scented garden to weep.It was the only time that she had ever seen tears in the burning blackeyes.
* * * * *
Not until long after midnight did all the subdued and vulgar hubbub thatsurrounds death fade away once more into silence, leaving Olivia alonein the room with Sybil. They did not speak to each other, for they knewwell enough the poverty of words, and there was between them no need forspeech.
At last Olivia said, "You had best get some sleep, darling; to-morrowwill be a troublesome day."
And then, like a little girl, Sybil came over and seating herself on hermother's lap put her arms about her neck and kissed her.
The girl said softly, "You are wonderful, Mother. I know that I'll neverbe so wonderful a woman. We should have spared you to-night, all of us,and instead of that, it was you who managed everything." Olivia onlykissed her and even smiled a little at Sybil. "I think he's happier.He'll never be tired again as he used to be."
She had risen to leave when both of them heard, far away, somewhere inthe distance, the sound of music. It came to them vaguely and insnatches borne in by the breeze from the sea, music that was filled witha wild, barbaric beat, that rose and fell with a passionate sense oflife. It seemed to Olivia that there was in the sound of it some darkpower which, penetrating the stillness of the old house, shattered theawesome silence that had settled down at last with the approach ofdeath. It was as if life were celebrating its victory over death, in asavage, wild, exultant triumph.
It was music, too, that sounded strange and passionate in the thin,clear air of the New England night, such music as none of them had everheard there before; and slowly, as it rose to a wild crescendo of sound,Olivia recognized it--the glowing barbaric music of the tribal dances inPrince Igor, being played brilliantly with a sense of abandoned joy.
At the same moment Sybil looked at her mother and said, "It's Jean deCyon.... I'd forgotten that he was arriving to-night." And then sadly,"Of course he doesn't know."
There was a sudden light in the girl's eye, the merest flicker, dyingout again quickly, which had a strange, intimate relation to thepassionate music. Again it was life triumphing in death. Long afterwardOlivia remembered it well... the light of something which went on andon.
The news reached Aunt Cassie only the next morning at ten and it broughther, full of reproaches and tears, over the dusty lanes to Pentlands.She was hurt, she said, because they had not let her know at once. "Ishould have risen from my bed and come over immediately," she repeated."I was sleeping very badly, in any case. I could have managedeverything. You should have sent for Aunt Cassie at once."
And Olivia could not tell her that they had kept her in ignorance forthat very reason--because they knew she would rise from her bed andcome over at once.
Aunt Cassie it was who took the burden of the grief upon her narrowshoulders. She wept in the manner of a professional mourner. She drewthe shades in the drawing-room, because in her mind death was notrespectable unless the rooms were darkened, and sat there in a cornerreceiving callers, as if she were the one most bereft, as if indeed shewere the only one who suffered at all. She returned to her own cupolaeddwelling only late at night and took all her meals at Pentlands, to theannoyance of her brother, who on the second day in the midst of lunchturned to her abruptly and said: "Cassie, if you can't stop this eternalblubbering, I wish you'd eat at home. It doesn't help anything."
At which she had risen from the table, in a sudden climax of grief andpersecution, to flee, sobbing and hurt, from the room. But she was notinsulted sufficiently to take her meals at home. She stayed on atPentlands because, she said, "They needed some one like me to helpout...." And to the trembling, inefficient Miss Peavey, who came andwent like a frightened rabbit on errands for her, she confided herastonishment that her brother and Olivia should treat death with suchindifference. They did not weep; they showed no signs of grief. She wascertain that they lacked sensibility. They did not feel the tragedy.And, weeping again, she would launch into memories of the days when theboy had come as a little fellow to sit, pale and listless, on the floorof her big, empty drawing-room, turning the pages of the Doré Bible.
And to Miss Peavey she also said, "It's at times like this that one'sbreeding comes out. Olivia has failed for the first time. She doesn'tunderstand the things one must do at a time like this. If she had beenbrought up properly, here among us...."
For with Aunt Cassie death was a mechanical, formalized affair which oneobserved by a series of traditional gestures.
It was a remarkable bit of luck, she said, that Bishop Smallwood(Sabine's Apostle to the Genteel) was still in the neighborhood andcould conduct the funeral services. It was proper that one of Pentlandblood should bury a Pentland (as if no one else were quite worthy ofsuch an honor). And she went to see the Bishop to discuss the matter ofthe services. She planned that immensely intricate affair, the seatingof relations and connections--all the Canes and Struthers and Manneringsand Sutherlands and Pentlands--at the church. She called on Sabine totell her that whatever her feelings about funerals might be, it was herduty to attend this one. Sabine must remember that she was back again ina world of civilized people who behaved as ladies and gentlemen. And toeach caller whom she received in the darkened drawing-room, she confidedthe fact that Sabine must be an unfeeling, inhuman creature, because shehad not even paid a visit to Pentlands.
But she did not know what Olivia and John Pentland knew--that Sabine hadwritten a short, abrupt, almost incoherent note, with all the worn,tattered, pious old phrases missing, which had meant more to them thanany of the cries and whispering and confusion that went on belowstairs,where the whole countryside passed in and out in an endless procession.
When Miss Peavey was not at hand to run errands for her, she made Ansonher messenger.... Anson, who wandered about helpless and lost andtroubled because death had interrupted the easy, eventless flow of alife in which usually all moved according to a set plan. Death had upsetthe whole household. It was impossible to know how Anson Pentland feltover the death of his son. He did not speak at all, and now that "ThePentland Family and the Massachusetts Bay Colony" had been laid aside inthe midst of the confusion and Mr. Lowell's desk stood buried beneathfloral offerings, there was nothing to do but wander about getting inthe way of every one and drawing upon his head the sharp reproofs ofAunt Cassie.
It was Aunt Cassie and Anson who opened the great box of roses that camefrom O'Hara. It was Aunt Cassie's thin, blue-veined hand that tore openthe envelope addressed plainly to "Mrs. Anson Pentland." It was AuntCassie who forced Anson to read what was written inside:
"Dear Mrs. Pentland,
You know what I feel. There is no need to say anything more.Michael O'Hara.
And it was Aunt Cassie who said, "Impertinent! Why should he sendflowers at all?" And Aunt Cassie who read the note again and again, asif she might find in some way a veiled meaning behind the two crypticsentences. It was Aunt Cassie who carried the note to Olivia andwatched her while she read it and laid it quietly aside on herdressing-table. And when she had discovered nothing she said to Olivia,"It seems to me impertinent of him to send flowers and write such anote. What is he to us here at Pentlands?"
Olivia looked at her a little wearily and said, "What does it matterwhether he is impertinent or not? Besides, he was a great friend ofJack's." And then, straightening her tired body, she looked at AuntCassie and said slowly, "He is also a friend of mine."
It was the first time that the division of forces had stood revealed,even for a second, the first time that Olivia had shown any feeling forO'Hara, and there was something ominous in the quietness of a speechmade so casually. She ended any possible discussion by leaving the roomin search of Anson, leaving Aunt Cassie disturbed by the sensation ofalarm which attacked her when she found herself suddenly face to facewith the mysterious and perilous calm that sometimes took possession ofOlivia. Left alone in the room, she took up the note again from thedressing-table and read it through for the twentieth time. There wasnothing in it... nothing on which one could properly even pin asuspicion.
So, in the midst of death, enveloped by the odor of tuberoses, the oldlady rose triumphant, a phoenix from ashes. In some way she found intragedy her proper rôle and she managed to draw most of the light fromthe other actors to herself. She must have known that people went awayfrom the house saying, "Cassie rises to such occasions beautifully. Shehas taken everything on her own shoulders." She succeeded in conveyingthe double impression that she suffered far more than any of the othersand that none of the others could possibly have done without her.
And then into the midst of her triumph came the worst that could havehappened. Olivia was the first to learn of the calamity as she alwayscame to know before any of the others knowledge which old John Pentlandpossessed; and the others would never have known until the sad businessof the funeral was over save for Aunt Cassie's implacable curiosity.
On the second day, Olivia, summoned by her father-in-law to come to thelibrary, found him there as she had found him so many times before, grimand silent and repressed, only this time there was somethinginexpressibly tragic and broken in his manner.
She did not speak to him; she simply waited until, looking up at last,he said almost in a whisper, "Horace Pentland's body is at the Durhamstation."
And he looked at her with the quick, pitiful helplessness of a strongman who has suddenly grown weak and old, as if at last he had come tothe end of his strength and was turning now to her. It was then for thefirst rime that she began to see how she was in a way a prisoner, thatfrom now on, as one day passed into another, the whole life at Pentlandswould come to be more and more her affair. There was no one to take theplace of the old man... no one, save herself.
"What shall we do?" he asked in the same low voice. "I don't know. I amnearly at the end of things."
"We could bury them together," said Olivia softly. "We could have adouble funeral."
He looked at her in astonishment. "You wouldn't mind that?" and when sheshook her head in answer, he replied: "But we can't do it. There seemsto me something wrong in such an idea.... I can't explain what Imean.... It oughtn't to be done.... A boy like Jack and an old reprobatelike Horace."
They would have settled it quietly between them as they had settled somany troubles in the last years when John Pentland had come to her forstrength, but at that moment the door opened suddenly and, withoutknocking, Aunt Cassie appeared, her eyes really blazing with an angry,hysterical light, her hair all hanging in little iron-gray wisps abouther narrow face.
"What is it?" she asked. "What has gone wrong? I know there's something,and you've no right to keep it from me." She was shrill and brittle, asif in those two days all the pleasure and activity surrounding death haddriven her into an orgy of excitement. At the sound of her voice, bothOlivia and John Pentland started abruptly. She had touched them onnerves raw and worn.
The thin, high-pitched voice went on. "I've given up all my time toarranging things. I've barely slept. I sacrifice myself to you all dayand night and I've a right to know." It was as if she had sensed theslow breaking up of the old man and sought now to hurl him aside, todepose him as head of the family, in one great coup d'état, settingherself up there in his place, a thin, fiercely intolerant tyrant; as ifat last she had given up her old subtle way of trying to gain her endsby intrigue through the men of the family. She stood ready now to set upa matriarchy, the last refuge of a family whose strength was gone. Shehad risen thus in the same way once before within the memory of Olivia,in those long months when Mr. Struthers, fading slowly into death,yielded her the victory.
John Pentland sighed, profoundly, wearily, and murmured, "It's nothing,Cassie. It would only trouble you. Olivia and I are settling it."
But she did not retreat. Standing there, she held her ground andcontinued the tirade, working herself up to a pitch of hysteria. "Iwon't be put aside. No one ever tells me anything. For years now I'vebeen shut out as if I were half-witted. Frail as I am, I work myself tothe bone for the family and don't even get a word of thanks.... Why isOlivia always preferred to your own sister?" And tears of luxurious,sensual, self-pity began to stream down her withered face. She beganeven to mumble and mix her words, and she abandoned herself completelyto the fleshly pleasure of hysterics.
Olivia, watching her quietly, saw that this was no usual occasion. Thiswas, in truth, the new Aunt Cassie whom Sabine had revealed to her a fewdays before... the aggressively virginal Aunt Cassie who had been bornin that moment on the terrace to take the place of the old Aunt Cassiewho had existed always in an aura of tears and good works and sympathy.She understood now what she had never understood before--that AuntCassie was not merely an irrational hypochondriac, a harmless, pitifulcreature, but a ruthless and unscrupulous force. She knew that behindthis emotional debauch there lay some deeply conceived plan. Vaguely shesuspected that the plan was aimed at subduing herself, or bringing her(Olivia) completely under the will of the old woman. It was the insectagain beating its wings frantically against the windows of a world whichshe could never enter....
And softly Olivia said, "Surely, Aunt Cassie, there is no need to make ascene... there's no need to be vulgar... at a time like this."
The old woman, suddenly speechless, looked at her brother, but from himthere came no sign of aid or succor; she must have seen, plainly, thathe had placed himself on the side of Olivia... the outsider, who haddared to accuse a Pentland of being vulgar.
"You heard what she said, John.... You heard what she said! She calledyour sister vulgar!" But her hysterical mood began to abate suddenly, asif she saw that she had chosen, after all, the wrong plan of attack.Olivia did not answer her. She only sat there, looking pale and patientand beautiful in her black clothes, waiting. It was a moment unfair toAunt Cassie. No man, even Anson, would have placed himself againstOlivia just then.
"If you must know, Cassie..." the old man said slowly. "It's a thingyou won't want to hear. But if you must know, it is simply that HoracePentland's body is at the station in Durham."
Olivia had a quick sense of the whited sepulcher beginning to crack, tofall slowly into bits.
At first Aunt Cassie only stared at them, snuffling and wiping her redeyes, and then she said, in an amazingly calm voice, "You see.... Younever tell me anything. I never knew he was dead." There was a touch oftriumph and vindication in her manner.
"There was no need of telling you, Cassie," said the old man. "Youwouldn't let his name be spoken in the family for years. It was you--youand Anson--who made me threaten him into living abroad. Why should youcare when he died?"
Aunt Cassie showed signs of breaking down once more. "You see, I'malways blamed for everything. I was thinking of the family all theseyears. We couldn't have Horace running around loose in Boston." Shebroke off with a sudden, fastidious gesture of disgust, as if she werewashing her hands of the whole affair. "I could have managed it bettermyself. He ought never to have been brought home... to stir it all upagain."
Still Olivia kept silent and it was the old man who answered AuntCassie. "He wanted to be buried here.... He wrote to ask me, when he wasdying."
"He had no right to make such a request. He forfeited all rights by hisbehavior. I say it again and I'll keep on saying it. He ought never tohave been brought back here... after people even forgot whether he wasalive or dead."
The perilous calm had settled over Olivia.... She had been looking outof the window across the marshes into the distance, and when she turnedshe spoke with a terrible quietness. She said: "You may do with HoracePentland's body what you like. It is more your affair than mine, for Inever saw him in my life. But it is my son who is dead... my son,who belongs to me more than to any of you. You may bury HoracePentland on the same day... at the same service, even in the samegrave. Things like that can't matter very much after death. You can't goon pretending forever.... Death is too strong for that. It's strongerthan any of us puny creatures because it's the one truth we can't avoid.It's got nothing to do with prejudices and pride and respectability. Ina hundred years--even in a year, in a month, what will it matter whatwe've done with Horace Pentland's body?"
She rose, still enveloped in the perilous calm, and said: "I'll leaveHorace Pentland to you two. There is none of his blood in my veins.Whatever you do, I shall not object... only I wouldn't be too shabby indealing with death."
She went out, leaving Aunt Cassie exhausted and breathless and confused.The old woman had won her battle about the burial of Horace Pentland,yet she had suffered a great defeat. She must have seen that she hadreally lost everything, for Olivia somehow had gone to the root ofthings, in the presence of John Pentland, who was himself so near todeath. (Olivia daring to say proudly, as if she actually scorned thePentland name, "There is none of his blood in my veins.")
But it was a defeat which Olivia knew she would never admit: that wasone of the qualities which made it impossible to deal with Aunt Cassie.Perhaps, even as she sat there dabbing at her eyes, she was choosing newweapons for a struggle which had come at last into the open because itwas impossible any longer to do battle through so weak and shifting anally as Anson.
She was a natural martyr, Aunt Cassie. Martyrdom was the great feminineweapon of her Victorian day and she was practised in it; she had learnedall its subtleties in the years she had lain wrapped in a shawl on asofa subduing the full-blooded Mr. Struthers.
And Olivia knew as she left the room that in the future she would haveto deal with a poor, abused, invalid aunt who gave all her strength indoing good works and received in return only cruelty and heartlessnessfrom an outsider, from an intruder, a kind of adventuress who had wormedher way into the heart of the Pentland family. Aunt Cassie, by a kind ofart of which she possessed the secret, would somehow make it all seemso.
The heat did not go away. It hung in a quivering cloud over the wholecountryside, enveloping the black procession which moved through thelanes into the highroad and thence through the clusters of ugly stuccobungalows inhabited by the mill-workers, on its way past the desertedmeeting-house where Preserved Pentland had once harangued a tough andsturdy congregation and the Rev. Josiah Milford had set out with hisflock for the Western Reserve.... It enveloped the black slow-movingprocession to the very doors of the cool, ivy-covered stone church(built like a stage piece to imitate some English county church) wherethe Pentlands worshiped the more polite, compromising gods scorned andberated by the witch-burner. On the way, beneath the elms of HighStreet, Polish women and children stopped to stare and cross themselvesat the sight of the grand procession.
The little church seemed peaceful after the heat and the stir of theDurham street, peaceful and hushed and crowded to the doors by therelatives and connections of the family. Even the back pews were filledby the poor half-forgotten remnants of the family who had no wealth tocarry them smoothly along the stream of life. Old Mrs. Featherstone (whodid washing) was there sobbing because she sobbed at all funerals, andold Miss Haddon, the genteel Pentland cousin, dressed even in the midstof summer in her inevitable cape of thick black broadcloth, and Mrs.Malson, shabby-genteel in her foulards and high-pitched bonnet, and MissMurgatroyd whose bullfinch house was now "Ye Witch's Broome" where onegot bad tea and melancholy sandwiches....
Together Bishop Smallwood and Aunt Cassie had planned a servicecalculated skilfully to harrow the feelings and give full scope to thevast emotional capacities of their generation and background.
They chose the most emotional of hymns, and Bishop Smallwood, renownedfor his effect upon pious and sentimental old ladies, said a fewinsincere and pompous words which threw Aunt Cassie and poor old Mrs.Featherstone into fresh excesses of grief. The services for the boybecame a barbaric rite dedicated not to his brief and pathetic existencebut to a glorification of the name he bore and of all those traits--thenarrowness, the snobbery, the lower middle-class respect forproperty--which had culminated in the lingering tragedy of his sicklylife. In their respective pews Anson and Aunt Cassie swelled with prideat the mention of the Pentland ancestry. Even the sight of the vigorous,practical, stocky Polish women staring round-eyed at the funeralprocession a little before, returned to them now in a wave of pride andsecret elation. The same emotion in some way filtered back through thelittle church from the pulpit where Bishop Smallwood (with the sob inhis voice which had won him prizes at the seminary) stood surrounded bymidsummer flowers, through all the relatives and connections, until farin the back among the more obscure and remote ones it became simply apride in their relation to New England and the ancient dying villagethat was fast disappearing beneath the inroads of a more vigorousworld. Something of the Pentland enchantment engulfed them all, even oldMrs. Featherstone, with her poor back bent from washing to support thefour defective grandchildren who ought never to have been born. Throughher facile tears (she wept because it was the only pleasure left her)there shone the light of a pride in belonging to these people who hadpersecuted witches and evolved transcendentalism and Mr. Lowell andDoctor Holmes and the good, kind Mr. Longfellow. It raised her somehowabove the level of those hardy foreigners who worshiped the ScarletWoman of Rome and jostled her on the sidewalks of High Street.
In all the little church there were only two or three, perhaps, whoescaped that sudden mystical surge of self-satisfaction.... O'Hara, whowas forever outside the caste, and Olivia and old John Pentland, sittingthere side by side so filled with sorrow that they did not even resentthe antics of Bishop Smallwood. Sabine (who had come, after all, to theservices) sensed the intensity of the engulfing emotion. It filled herwith a sense of slow, cold, impotent rage.
As the little procession left the church, wiping its eyes and murmuringin lugubrious tones, the clouds which a little earlier had sprung upagainst the distant horizon began to darken the whole sky. The airbecame so still that the leaves on the tall, drooping elms hung asmotionless as leaves in a painted picture, and far away, gently atfirst, and then with a slow, increasing menace, rose the sound ofdistant echoing thunder. Ill at ease, the mourners gathered in littlegroups about the steps, regarding alternately the threatening sky andthe waiting hearse, and presently, one by one, the more timorous onesbegan to drift sheepishly away. Others followed them slowly until by thetime the coffin was borne out, they had all melted away save for themembers of the "immediate family" and one or two others. Sabineremained, and O'Hara and old Mrs. Soames (leaning on John Pentland'sarm as if it were her grandson who was dead), and old Miss Haddon in herblack cape, and the pall-bearers, and of course Bishop Smallwood and thecountry rector who, in the presence of this august and saintly pillar ofthe church, had faded to insignificance. Besides these there were one ortwo other relatives, like Struthers Pentland, a fussy little bald man(cousin of John Pentland and of the disgraceful Horace), who had nevermarried but devoted himself instead to fathering the boys of his classesat Harvard.
It was this little group which entered the motors and hurried off afterthe hearse in its shameless race with the oncoming storm.
* * * * *
The town burial-ground lay at the top of a high, bald hill where thefirst settlers of Durham had chosen to dispose of their dead, and theancient roadway that led up to it was far too steep and stony to permitthe passing of motors, so that part way up the hill the party was forcedto descend and make the remainder of the journey on foot. As theyassembled, silently but in haste, about the open, waiting grave, thesound of the thunder accompanied now by wild flashes of lightning, drewnearer and nearer, and the leaves of the stunted trees and shrubs whicha moment before had been so still, began to dance and shake madly in thegreen light that preceded the storm.
Bishop Smallwood, by nature a timorous man, stood beside the graveopening his jewel-encrusted Prayer Book (he was very High Church andfond of incense and precious stones) and fingering the pages nervously,now looking down at them, now regarding the stolid Polish grave-diggerswho stood about waiting to bury the last of the Pentlands. There wereirritating small delays, but at last everything was ready and theBishop, reading as hastily as he dared, began the service in a voiceless rich and theatrical than usual.
"I am the Resurrection and the Life, saith the Lord...."
And what followed was lost in a violent crash of thunder so that theBishop was able to omit a line or two without being discovered. The fewtrees on the bald hill began to sway and rock, bending low toward theearth, and the crape veils of the women performed wild black writhings.In the uproar of wind and thunder only a sentence or two of the servicebecame audible....
"For a thousand years in Thy sight are but as yesterday, seeing thatthe past is as a watch in the night...."
And then again a wild, angry Nature took possession of the services,drowning out the anxious voice of the Bishop and the loud theatricalsobs of Aunt Cassie, and again there was a sudden breathless hush andthe sound of the Bishop's voice, so pitiful and insignificant in themidst of the storm, reading....
"O teach us to number our days that we may apply our hearts untowisdom."
"For as much as it hath pleased Almighty God in His Providence to takeout of the world, the soul of our deceased brother."
And at last, with relief, the feeble, reedlike voice, repeating withless monotony than usual: "The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and theLove of God and the Fellowship of the Holy Ghost be with us allevermore. Amen."
Sabine, in whose hard nature there lay some hidden thing which exultedin storms, barely heard the service. She stood there watching the wildbeauty of the sky and the distant sea and the marshes and thinking howdifferent a thing the burial of the first Pentland must have been fromthe timorous, hurried rite that marked the passing of the last. Shekept seeing those first fanatical, hard-faced, rugged Puritans standingabove their tombs like ghosts watching ironically the genteel figure ofthe Apostle to the Genteel and his jeweled Prayer Book....
* * * * *
The Polish grave-diggers set about their work stolidly indifferent tothe storm, and before the first motor had started down the steep andstony path, the rain came with a wild, insane violence, sweeping inwardin a wall across the sea and the black marshes. Sabine, at the door ofher motor, raised her head and breathed deeply, as if the savage,destructive force of the storm filled her with a kind of ecstasy.
* * * * *
On the following day, cool after the storm and bright and clear, asecond procession made its way up the stony path to the top of the baldhill, only this time Bishop Smallwood was not there, nor CousinStruthers Pentland, for they had both been called away suddenly andmysteriously. And Anson Pentland was not there because he would havenothing to do with a blackguard like Horace Pentland, even in death. Inthe little group about the open grave stood Olivia and John Pentland andAunt Cassie, who had come because, after all, the dead man's name wasPentland, and Miss Haddon (in her heavy broadcloth cape), who nevermissed any funeral and had learned about this one from her friend, theundertaker, who kept her perpetually au courant. There were not evenany friends to carry the coffin to the grave, and so this labor wasdivided between the undertaker's men and the grave-diggers....
And the service began again, read this time by the rector, who sincethe departure of the Bishop seemed to have grown a foot in stature....
"I am the Resurrection and the Life, saith the Lord....
"For a thousand years in Thy sight are but as yesterday, seeing that ispast as a watch in the night....
"O teach us to number our days that we may apply our hearts untowisdom."
Aunt Cassie wept again, though the performance was less good than on theday before, but Olivia and John Pentland stood in silence while HoracePentland was buried at last in the midst of that little colony of grimand respectable dead.
Sabine was there, too, standing at a little distance, as if she had acontempt for all funerals. She had known Horace Pentland in life and shehad gone to see him in his long exile whenever her wanderings led her tothe south of France, less from affection than because it irritated theothers in the family. (He must have been happier in that warm, richcountry than he could ever have been in this cold, stony land.) But shehad come to-day less for sentimental reasons than because it gave herthe opportunity of a triumph over Aunt Cassie. She could watch AuntCassie out of her cold green eyes while they all stood about to bury thefamily skeleton. Sabine, who had not been to a funeral in thetwenty-five years since her father's death, had climbed the stony hillto the Durham town burial-ground twice in as many days....
The rector was speaking again....
"The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the Love of God and theFellowship of the Holy Ghost be with us all evermore. Amen."
The little group turned away in silence, and in silence disappeared overthe rim of the hill down the steep path. The secret burial was finishedand Horace Pentland was left alone with the Polish grave-diggers, comehome at last.
The peace which had taken possession of Olivia as she sat alone by theside of her dead son, returned to her slowly with the passing of theexcitement over the funeral. Indeed, she was for once thankful for thelistless, futile enchantment which invested the quiet old world. Itsoothed her at a moment when, all interest having departed from life,she wanted merely to be left in peace. She came to see for a certaintythat there was no tragedy in her son's death; the only tragedy had beenthat he had ever lived at all such a baffled, painful, hopelessexistence. And now, after so many years of anxiety, there was peace anda relaxation that seemed strange and in a way delicious... momentswhen, lying in the chaise longue by the window overlooking the marshes,she was enveloped by deep and healing solitude. Even the visits of AuntCassie, who would have forced her way into Olivia's room in theinterests of "duty," made only a vague, dreamlike impression. The oldlady became more and more a droning, busy insect, the sound of whosebuzzing grew daily more distant and vague, like the sound of a flyagainst a window-pane heard through veils of sleep.
From her window she sometimes had a distant view of the old man, ridingalone now, in the trap across the fields behind the old white horse, andsometimes she caught a glimpse of his lean figure riding the savage redmare along the lanes. He no longer went alone with the mare; he hadyielded to Higgins' insistent warnings of her bad temper and permittedthe groom to go with him, always at his side or a little behind to guardhim, riding a polo pony with an ease and grace which made horse and manseem a single creature... a kind of centaur. On a horse the uglinessof the robust, animal little man seemed to flow away. It was as if hehad been born thus, on a horse, and was awkward and ill at ease with hisfeet on the earth.
And Olivia knew the thought that was always in the mind of herfather-in-law as he rode across the stony, barren fields. He wasthinking all the while that all this land, all this fortune, even AuntCassie's carefully tended pile, would one day belong to a family of someother name, perhaps a name which he had never even heard.
There were no more Pentlands. Sybil and her husband would be rich,enormously so, with the Pentland money and Olivia's money... but therewould never be any more Pentlands. It had all come to an end in this...futility and oblivion. In another hundred years the name would exist, ifit existed at all, only as a memory, embalmed within the pages ofAnson's book.
The new melancholy which settled over the house came in the end even totouch the spirit of Sybil, so young and so eager for experience, like anoxious mildew. Olivia noticed it first in a certain shadowylistlessness that seemed to touch every action of the girl, and then inan occasional faint sigh of weariness, and in the visits the girl paidher in her room, and in the way she gave up willingly evenings at BrookCottage to stay at home with her mother. She saw that Sybil, who hadalways been so eager, was touched by the sense of futility which she(Olivia) had battled for so long. And Sybil, Sybil of them all, alonepossessed the chance of being saved.
She thought, "I must not come to lean on her. I must not be the sort ofmother who spoils the life of her child."
And when John Pentland came to sit listlessly by her side, sometimes insilence, sometimes making empty speeches that meant nothing in an effortto cover his despair, she saw that he, too, had come to her for thestrength which she alone could give him. Even old Mrs. Soames hadfailed him, for she lay ill again and able to see him only for a fewminutes each day. (It was Sabine's opinion, uttered during one of hermorning visits, that these strange sudden illnesses came from overdosesof drugs.)
So she came to see that she was being a coward to abandon the strugglenow, and she rose one morning almost at dawn to put on herriding-clothes and set out with Sybil across the wet meadows to meetO'Hara. She returned with something of her pallor gone and a manneralmost of gaiety, her spirit heightened by the air, the contact withO'Hara and the sense of having taken up the struggle once more.
Sabine, always watchful, noticed the difference and put it down to thepresence of O'Hara alone, and in this she was not far wrong, for setdown there in Durham, he affected Olivia powerfully as one who had nopast but only a future. With him she could talk of things which layahead--of his plans for the farm he had bought, of Sybil's future, ofhis own reckless, irresistible career.
* * * * *
O'Hara himself had come to a dangerous state of mind. He was one ofthose men who seek fame and success less for the actual rewards than forthe satisfaction of the struggle, the fierce pleasure of winning withall the chances against one. He had won successes already. He had hishouse, his horses, his motor, his well-tailored clothes, and he knew thevalue of these things, not only in the world of Durham, but in the slumsand along the wharves of Boston. He had no illusions about the imperfectworkings of democracy. He knew (perhaps because, having begun at thevery bottom, he had fought his way very near to the top) that the poorman expects a politician to be something of a splendorous affair,especially when he has begun his career as a very common and ordinarysort of poor man. O'Hara was not playing his game foolishly orrecklessly. When he visited the slums or sat in at political meetings,he was a sort of universal common man, a brother to all. When headdressed a large meeting or presided at an assembly, he arrived in aglittering motor and appeared in the elegant clothes suitable to arepresentative of the government, of power; and so he reflected crediton those men who had played with him as boys along India Wharf andsatisfied the universal hunger in man for something more splendorousthan the machinery of a perfect democracy.
He understood the game perfectly and made no mistakes, for he had hadthe best of all training--that of knowing all sorts of people in allsorts of conditions. In himself, he embodied them all, if the simple andwholly kindly and honest were omitted; for he was really not a simpleman nor a wholly honest one and he was too ruthless to be kindly. Heunderstood people (as Sabine had guessed), with their little prides andvanities and failings and ambitions.
Aunt Cassie and Anson in the rigidity of their minds had been unjust inthinking that their world was the goal of his ambitions. They had, inthe way of those who depend on their environment as a justification fortheir own existence, placed upon it a value out of all proportion in thecase of a man like O'Hara. To them it was everything, the ultimate to besought on this earth, and so they supposed it must seem to O'Hara. Itwould have been impossible for them to believe that he considered itonly as a small part of his large scheme of life and laid siege to itprincipally for the pleasure that he found in the battle; for it wastrue that O'Hara, once he had won, would not know what to do with thefruits of his victory.
Already he himself had begun to see this. He had begun to understandthat the victory was so easy that the battle held little savor for him.Moments of satisfaction such as that which had overtaken him as he sattalking to Sabine were growing more and more rare... moments when hewould stop and think, "Here am I, Michael O'Hara, a nobody... son of alaborer and a housemaid, settled in the midst of such a world as Durham,talking to such a woman as Mrs. Cane Callendar."
No, the savor was beginning to fail, to go out of the struggle. He wasbeginning to be bored, and as he grew bored he grew also restless andunhappy.
Born in the Roman Catholic church, he was really neither a veryreligious nor a very superstitious man. He was skeptic enough not tobelieve all the faiths the church sought to impose upon him, yet he wasnot skeptic enough to find peace of mind in an artificial will tobelieve. For so long a time he had relied wholly upon himself that theidea of leaning for support, even in lonely, restless moments, upon aGod or a church, never even occurred to him. He remained outwardly aRoman Catholic because by denying the faith he would have incurred theenmity of the church and many thousands of devout Irish and Italians.The problem simply did not concern him deeply one way or the other.
And so he had come, guided for the moment by no very strong passion,into the doldrums of confusion and boredom. Even his fellow-politiciansin Boston saw the change in him and complained that he displayed no verygreat interest in the campaign to send him to Congress. He behaved attimes as if it made not the slightest difference to him whether he waselected to Congress or not... he, this Michael O'Hara who was sovaluable to his party, so engaging and shrewd, who could win for italmost anything he chose.
And though he took care that no one should divine it, this strange stateof mind troubled him more deeply than any of his friends. He wasassailed by the certainty that there was something lacking from hislife, something very close to the foundations. Now that he was inactiveand bored, he had begun to think of himself for the first time. Thefine, glorious burst of first youth, when everything seemed part of asplendid game, was over and done now, and he felt himself slipping awaytoward the borderland of middle-age. Because he was a man of energy andpassion, who loved life, he felt the change with a keen sense ofsadness. There was a kind of horror for him in the idea of a loweredtempo of life--a fear that filled him at times with a passionatelysatisfactory sort of Gaelic melancholy.
In such moments, he had quite honestly taken stock of all he possessed,and found the amassed result bitterly unsatisfactory. He had a goodenough record. He was decidedly more honorable than most men in such adirty business as politics--indeed, far more honorable and freer fromspites and nastinesses than many of those who had come out of this verysacred Durham world. He had made enough money in the course of hiscareer, and he was winning his battle in Durham. Yet at thirty-five lifehad begun to slacken, to lose some of that zest which once had led himto rise every morning bursting with animal spirits, his brain alla-glitter with fascinating schemes.
And then, in the very midst of this perilous state of mind, hediscovered one morning that the old sensation of delight at rising hadreturned to him, only it was not because his brain was filled withfascinating schemes. He arose with an interest in life because he knewthat in a little while he would see Olivia Pentland. He arose, eager tofling himself on his horse and, riding across the meadows, to wait bythe abandoned gravel-pit until he saw her coming over the dew-coveredfields, radiant, it seemed to him, as the morning itself. On the dayswhen she did not come it was as if the bottom had dropped out of hiswhole existence.
It was not that he was a man encountering the idea of woman for thefirst time. There had been women in his life always, since the veryfirst bedraggled Italian girl he had met as a boy among the piles oflumber along the wharves. There had been women always because it wasimpossible for a man so vigorous and full of zest, so ruthless and soscornful, to have lived thirty-five years without them, and because hewas an attractive man, filled when he chose to be, with guile and charm,whom women found it difficult to resist. There had been plenty of women,kept always in the background, treated as a necessity and preventedskilfully from interfering with the more important business of making acareer.
But with Olivia Pentland, something new and disturbing had happened tohim... something which, in his eagerness to encompass all life andexperience, possessed an overwhelming sensuous fascination. She was notsimply another woman in a procession of considerable length. OliviaPentland, he found, was different from any of the others... a woman ofmaturity, poised, beautiful, charming and intelligent, and besides allthese things she possessed for him a kind of fresh and iridescent bloom,the same freshness, only a little saddened, that touched her youngdaughter.
In the beginning, when they had talked together while she planned thegarden at Brook Cottage, he had found himself watching her, lost in akind of wonder, so that he scarcely understood what she was saying. Andall the while he kept thinking, "Here is a wonderful woman... the mostwonderful I've ever seen or will ever see again... a woman who couldmake life a different affair for me, who would make of love somethingwhich people say it is."
She had affected him thus in a way that swept aside all the vulgar andcynical coarseness with which a man of such experience is likely toinvest the whole idea of woman. Until now women had seemed to him madeto entertain men or to provide children for them, and now he saw thatthere was, after all, something in this sentiment with which peoplesurrounded a love affair. For a long time he searched for a word todescribe Olivia and in the end he fell back upon the old well-worn onewhich she always brought to mind. She was a "lady"--and as such she hadan overwhelming effect upon his imagination.
He had said to himself that here was a woman who could understand him,not in the aloof, analytical fashion of a clever woman like SabineCallendar, but in quite another way. She was a woman to whom he couldsay, "I am thus and so. My life has been of this kind. My motives are ofthis sort," and she would understand, the bad with the good. She wouldbe the one person in the world to whom he could pour out the wholeburden of secrets, the one woman who could ever destroy the weary senseof loneliness which sometimes afflicted him. She made him feel that, forall his shrewdness and hard-headed scheming, she was far wiser than hewould ever be, that in a way he was a small boy who might come to herand, burying his head in her lap, have her stroke his thick black hair.She would understand that there were times when a man wanted to betreated thus. In her quiet way she was a strong woman, unselfish, too,who did not feed upon flattery and perpetual attention, the sort ofwoman who is precious to a man bent upon a career. The thought of herfilled him with a poignant feeling of sadness, but in his less romanticmoments he saw, too, that she held the power of catching him up out ofhis growing boredom. She would be of great value to him.
And so Sabine had not been far wrong when she thought of him as thesmall boy sitting on the curbstone who had looked up at her gravely andsaid, "I'm playing." He was at times very like such an image.
But in the end he was always brought up abruptly against the hardreality of the fact that she was already married to a man who did notwant her himself but who would never set her free, a man who perhapswould have sacrificed everything in the world to save a scandal in hisfamily. And beyond these hard, tangible difficulties he discerned, too,the whole dark decaying web, less obvious but none the less potent, inwhich she had become enmeshed.
Yet these obstacles only created a fascination to a mind so complex, soperverse, for in the solitude of his mind and in the bitterness of thelong struggle he had known, he came to hold the whole world in contemptand saw no reason why he should not take what he wanted from this Durhamworld. Obstacles such as these provided the material for a new battle, anew source of interest in the turbulent stream of his existence; onlythis time there was a difference... that he coveted the prize itselfmore than the struggle. He wanted Olivia Pentland, strangely enough, notfor a moment or even for a month or a year, but for always.
He waited because he understood, in the shrewdness of his longexperience, that to be insistent would only startle such a woman andcause him to lose her entirely, and because he knew of no plan of actionwhich could overcome the obstacles which kept them apart. He waited, ashe had done many times in his career, for circumstances to solvethemselves. And while he waited, with each time that he saw her she grewmore and more desirable, and his own invincible sense of caution becameweaker and weaker.
In those long days spent in her room, Olivia had come slowly to be awareof the presence of the newcomer at Brook Cottage. It had begun on thenight of Jack's death with the sound of his music drifting across themarshes, and after the funeral Sabine had talked of him to Olivia withan enthusiasm curiously foreign to her. Once or twice she had caught aglimpse of him crossing the meadows toward O'Hara's shining chimneys orgoing down the road that led through the marshes to the sea--a tall,red-haired young man who walked with a slight limp. Sybil, she found,was strangely silent about him, but when she questioned the girl abouther plans for the day she found, more often than not, that they had todo with him. When she spoke of him, Sybil had a way of blushing andsaying, "He's very nice, Mother. I'll bring him over when you want tosee people.... I used to know him in Paris."
And Olivia, wisely, did not press her questions. Besides, Sabine hadtold her almost all there was to know... perhaps more than Sybilherself knew.
Sabine said, "He belongs to a rather remarkable family... wilful,reckless and full of spirit. His mother is probably the most remarkableof them all. She's a charming woman who has lived luxuriously in Parismost of her life... not one of the American colony. She doesn't ape anyone and she's incapable of pretense of any sort. She's lived, ratheralone, over there on money... quite a lot of money... which seems tocome out of steel-mills in some dirty town of the Middle West. She's oneof my great friends... a woman of no intellect, but very beautiful andblessed with a devastating charm. She is one of the women who was bornfor men.... She's irresistible to them, and I imagine there have beenmen in her life always. She was made for men, but her taste is perfect,so her morals don't matter."
The woman... indeed all Jean de Cyon's family... seemed to fascinateSabine as she sat having tea with Olivia, for she went on and on,talking far more than usual, describing the house of Jean's mother, herfriends, the people whom one met at her dinners, all there was to tellabout her.
"She's the sort of woman who has existed since the beginning of time.There's some mystery about her early life. It has something to do withJean's father. I don't think she was happy with him. He's nevermentioned. Of course, she's married again now to a Frenchman... mucholder than herself... a man, very distinguished, who has been in threecabinets. That's where the boy gets his French name. The old man hasadopted him and treats him like his own son. De Cyon is a good name inFrance, one of the best; but of course Jean hasn't any French blood.He's pure American, but he's never seen his own country until now."
Sabine finished her tea and putting her cup back on the Regence table(which had come from Olivia's mother and so found its graceful way intoa house filled with stiff early American things), she added, "It's aremarkable family... wild and restless. Jean had an aunt who died inthe Carmelite convent at Lisieux, and his cousin is Lilli Barr... areally great musician." She looked out of the window and after a momentsaid in a low voice, "Lilli Barr is the woman whom my husband married...but she divorced him, too, and now we are friends... she and I."The familiar hard, metallic laugh returned and she added, "I imagine ourexperience with him made us sympathetic.... You see, I know the familyvery well. It's the sort of blood which produces people with a geniusfor life... for living in the moment."
She did not say that Jean and his mother and the ruthless cousin LilliBarr fascinated her because they stood in a way for the freedom towardwhich she had been struggling through all the years since she escapedfrom Durham. They were free in a way from countries, from towns, fromlaws, from prejudices, even in a way from nationality. She had hopedonce that Jean might interest himself in her own sullen, independent,clever Thérèse, but in her knowledge of the world she had long agoabandoned that hope, knowing that a boy so violent and romantic, soinfluenced by an upbringing among Frenchmen, a youth so completelymasculine, was certain to seek a girl more soft and gentle and femininethan Thérèse. She knew it was inevitable that he should fall in lovewith a girl like Sybil, and in a way she was content because it fell inadmirably with her own indolent plans. The Pentlands were certain tolook upon Jean de Cyon as a sort of gipsy, and when they knew the wholetruth....
The speculation fascinated her. The summer in Durham, even with theshadow of Jack's death flung across it, was not proving as dreadful asshe had feared; and this new development interested her as something shehad never before observed... an idyllic love affair between two youngpeople who each seemed to her a perfect, charming creature.
It had all begun on the day nearly a year earlier when all Paris wascelebrating the anniversary of the Armistice, and in the morning Sybilhad gone with Thérèse and Sabine to lay a wreath beside the flame at theArc de Triomphe (for the war was one of the unaccountable things aboutwhich Sabine chose to make a display of sentiment). And afterward sheplayed in the garden with the dogs which they would not let her keep atthe school in Saint-Cloud, and then she had gone into the house to findthere a fascinating and beautiful woman of perhaps fifty--a Madame deCyon, who had come to lunch, with her son, a young man of twenty-four,tall, straight and slender, with red hair and dark blue eyes and a deep,pleasant voice. On account of the day he was dressed in his cuirassier'suniform of black and silver, and because of an old wound he walked witha slight limp. Almost at once (she remembered this when she thought ofhim) he had looked at her in a frank, admiring way which gave her asense of pleasurable excitement wholly new in her experience.
Something in the sight of the uniform, or perhaps in the feel of theair, the sound of the military music, the echoes of the Marseillaiseand the Sambre et Meuse, the sight of the soldiers in the street andthe great Arc with the flame burning there... something in the feel ofParis, something which she loved passionately, had taken possession ofher. It was something which, gathering in that moment, had settled uponthe strange young man who regarded her with such admiring eyes.
She knew vaguely that she must have fallen in love in the moment shestood there in Sabine Callendar's salon bowing to Lily de Cyon. Theexperience had grown in intensity when, after lunch, she took him intothe garden to show him her dogs and watched him rubbing the ears of theDoberman "Imp" and talking to the dog softly in a way which made herknow that he felt about animals as she did. He had been so pleasant inhis manner, so gentle in his bigness, so easy to talk to, as if they hadalways been friends.
And then almost at once he had gone away to the Argentine, without evenseeing her again, on a trip to learn the business of cattle-raisingbecause he had the idea that one day he might settle himself as arancher. But he left behind him a vivid image which with the passing oftime grew more and more intense in the depths of a romantic nature whichrevolted at the idea of Thérèse choosing a father scientifically for herchild. It was an image by which she had come, almost unconsciously, tomeasure other men, even to such small details as the set of theirshoulders and the way they used their hands and the timbre of theirvoices. It was this she had really meant when she said to her mother,"I know what sort of man I want to marry. I know exactly." She hadmeant, quite without knowing it, that it must be a man like Jean deCyon... charming, romantic and a little wild.
She had not forgotten him, though there were moments at the school inSaint-Cloud when she had believed she would never see him again--momentswhen she was swept by a delicious sense of hopeless melancholy in whichshe believed that her whole life had been blighted, and which led her tomake long and romantic entries in the diary that was kept hidden beneathher mattress. And so as she grew more hopeless, the aura of romancesurrounding him took on colors deeper and more varied and intense. Shehad grown so pale that Mademoiselle Vernueil took to dosing her, andThérèse accused her abruptly of having fallen in love, a thing shedenied vaguely and with overtones of romantic mystery.
And then with the return to Pentlands (a return advised by her mother onaccount of Jack's health) the image dimmed a little in the belief thateven by the wildest flights of imagination there was no chance of herseeing him again. It became a hopeless passion; she prepared herself toforget him and, in the wisdom of her young mind, grow accustomed to theidea of marrying one of the tame young men who were so much moresuitable and whom her family had always known. She had watched heradmirers carefully, weighing them always against the image of the youngman with red hair, dressed in the black and silver of the cuirassiers,and beside that image they had seemed to her--even the blond,good-looking Mannering boy--like little boys, rather naughty and nothalf so old and wise as herself. She had reconciled herself secretly andwith gravity to the idea of making one of the matches common in herworld--a marriage determined by property and the fact that her fiancéwould be "the right sort of person."
And so the whole affair had come to take on the color of a tragicromance, to be guarded secretly. Perhaps when she was an old woman shewould tell the story to her grandchildren. She believed that whomevershe married, she would be thinking always of Jean de Cyon. It was one ofthose half-comic illusions of youth in which there is more than a grainof melancholy truth.
And then abruptly had come the news of his visit to Brook Cottage. Shestill kept her secret, but not well enough to prevent her mother andSabine from suspecting it. She had betrayed herself first on the verynight of Jack's death when she had said, with a sudden light in her eye,"It's Jean de Cyon.... I'd forgotten he was arriving to-night." Oliviahad noticed the light because it was something which went on and on.
* * * * *
And at Brook Cottage young de Cyon, upset by the delay caused by thefuneral and the necessity of respecting the mourning at Pentlands, hadsulked and behaved in such a way that he would have been a nuisance toany one save Sabine, who found amusement in the spectacle. Used torushing headlong toward anything he desired (as he had rushed into theFrench army at seventeen and off to the Argentine nine months ago), heturned ill-tempered and spent his days out of doors, rowing on the riverand bathing in the solitude of the great white beach. He quarreled withThérèse, whom he had known since she was a little girl, and tried to beas civil as possible toward the amused Sabine.
She knew by now that he had not come to Durham through any greatinterest in herself or Thérèse. She knew now how wise she had been (forthe purposes of her plan) to have included in her invitation to him theline.... "Sybil Pentland lives on the next farm to us. You may rememberher. She lunched with us last Armistice Day."
She saw that he rather fancied himself as a man of the world who wasbeing very clever in keeping his secret. He asked her about SybilPentland in a casual way that was transparently artificial, andconsulted her on the lapse of time decently necessary before he broke inupon the mourning at Pentlands, and had Miss Pentland shown anyadmiration for the young men about Durham? If he had not been socharming and impatient he would have bored Sabine to death.
The young man was afraid of only one thing... that perhaps she hadchanged in some way, that perhaps she was not in the reality as charmingas she had seemed to him in the long months of his absence. He was notwithout experience (indeed, Sabine believed that he had gone to theArgentine to escape from some Parisian complication) and he knew thatsuch calamitous disappointments could happen. Perhaps when he came toknow her better the glamour would fade. Perhaps she did not remember himat all. But she seemed to him, after months of romantic brooding, themost desirable woman he had ever seen.
* * * * *
It was a new world in which he discovered himself, in some way a newerand more different world than the vast grass-covered plains from whichhe had just come. People about Durham, he learned, had a way of sayingthat Boston and Durham were like England, but this he put down quietlyas a kind of snobbery, because Boston and Durham weren't like England atall, so far as he could see; in spots Boston and Durham seemed old, butthere wasn't the same richness, the same glamour about them. They shouldhave been romantic and yet they were not; they were more, it seemed tohim, like the illustrations in a school history. They were dry...sec, he thought, considering the French word better in this case onaccount of its sound.
And it wasn't the likeness to England that he found interesting, butrather the difference... the bleak rawness of the countryside and thesight of whole colonies of peoples as strange and foreign as the Czechsand Poles providing a sort of alien background to the whole picture.
He had gone about the business of becoming acquainted with his owncountry in a thorough, energetic fashion, and being a sensuous youth,filled with a taste for colors and sounds and all the emanations of thespectacle of life, he was acutely conscious of it.
To Sabine, he said, "You know the funny thing is that it seems to melike coming home. It makes me feel that I belong in America... not inDurham, but in New York or some of those big roaring towns I've passedthrough."
He spoke, naturally enough, not at all like an American but in theclipped English fashion, rather swallowing his words, and now and thenwith a faint trace of French intonation. His voice was deeper and richerthan the New England voices, with their way of calling Charles Street"Challs Street" and sacred Harvard... "Havaad."
It was the spectacle of New York which had fascinated him more than anyother because it surpassed all his dreams of it and all the descriptionspeople had given him of its immense force and barbaric splendor and theincredible variety of tongues and people. New York, Sabine told him witha consciousness of uttering treason, was America, far more than thesort of life he would encounter in Durham.
As he talked to Sabine of New York, he would rise to that pitch ofexcitement and enthusiasm which comes to people keenly alive. He evenconfided in her that he had left Europe never to return there to live.
"It's old country," he said, "and if one has been brought up there, asI've been, there's no reason for going back there to live. In a way it'sa dead world... dead surely in comparison to the Americas. And it's thefuture that interests me... not the past. I want to be where the mostis going on... in the center of things."
When he was not playing the piano wildly, or talking to Sabine, orfussing about with Thérèse among the frogs and insects of the laboratoryshe had rigged up on the glass-enclosed piazza, he was walking about thegarden in a state of suppressed excitement, turning over and over in hisyoung mind his own problem and the plans he had for adjusting himself inthis vigorous country. To discover it now, at the age of twenty-five,was an exciting experience. He was beginning to understand those youngAmericans he had encountered occasionally in Europe (like his cousinFergus Tolliver, who died in the war), who seemed so alive, so filledwith a reckless sense of adventure... young men irresistible in such anold, tired world, because Nature itself was on their side.
To ease his impatience he sought refuge in a furious physical activity,rowing, swimming and driving with Sabine about the Durham countryside.He could not walk far, on account of the trouble caused by his oldwound, but he got as far as O'Hara's house, where he met the Irishmanand they became friends. O'Hara turned over to him a canoe and arowing-scull and told him that whenever his leg was better he might havea horse from his stables.
One morning as he pulled his canoe up the muddy bank of the river afterhis early exercise, he heard the sound of hoofs in the thick mud near athand and, turning, he saw Sybil Pentland on her mare Andromache comingout of the thicket almost at his side.
It was a superb morning--cool for Durham in mid-August--and on the lazyriver the nympheas spread their waxy white blossoms in starlike clustersagainst a carpet of green pads. It was a morning made for delights, withthe long rays of the rising sun striking to silver the dew-hungspider-webs that bound together the tangled masses of wild-grape vines;and young de Cyon, standing on the edge of the path, flushed with healthand the early morning exercise, his thick red hair all rumpled, wasovercome swiftly by a sense of tremendous physical well-being andstrength. A whole world lay before him waiting to be conquered; and intoit, out of the tangled thicket, had come Sybil Pentland, more charmingin the flesh than she had seemed to him even on the long starlit nightswhen he lay awake on the pampas thinking of her.
For a second neither of them said anything. The girl, startled andblushing a little, but touched, too, by a quiet sense of dignity, drewin her mare; and Jean, looking up at her, said in a falsely casual way(for his veins were throbbing with excitement), "Oh! Hello! You're MissPentland."
"Yes." But she looked suddenly disappointed, as if she really believedthat he had almost forgotten her.
Standing clad only in trousers and a rowing-shirt, he looked down at hiscostume and said, grinning, "I'm not dressed to receive visitors."
Somehow this served to break the sense of restraint, and they fell intoconversation, exchanging a few banal remarks on the beauty of themorning, and Jean, standing by Andromache, rubbing her nose with thesame tenderness he had shown toward Sybil's dogs, looked at her out ofthe candid blue eyes and said, "I should have come to see you sooner,only I thought you mightn't want to see me."
A quivering note of warmth colored his voice.
"It would have made no difference," she said. "And now you must comeoften... as often as you like. How long are you staying at BrookCottage?"
For a second he hesitated. "A fortnight... perhaps. Perhaps...longer."
And looking down at him, she thought, "I must make him stay. If I losehim again now.... I must make him stay. I like him more than any one inthe world. I can't lose him now."
And she began to reason with herself that Fate was on her side, thatdestiny had delivered him again into her hands. It was like a thingordained, and life with him would be exciting, a thrilling affair. Thequiet stubbornness, come down to her from Olivia, began to rise and takepossession of her. She was determined not to lose him.
They moved away up the river, still talking in a rather stiff fashion,while Jean walked beside Andromache, limping a little. One banalityfollowed another as they groped toward each other, each proud andfearful of showing his feelings, each timid and yet eager and impatient.It was the excitement of being near to each other that made theconversation itself take on a sense of importance. Neither of themreally knew what they were saying. In one sense they seemed strange andexciting to each other, but in another they were not strange at allbecause there lay between them that old feeling, which Sybil hadrecognized in the garden of the Rue de Tilsitt, that they had known eachother always. There were no hesitations or doubts or suspicions.
The sky was brilliant; the scent of the mucky river and growing weedswas overwhelming. There came to both of them a quickening of the senses,a sort of heightened ecstasy, which shut out all the world. It was akind of enchantment, but different from the enchantment which envelopedthe dead house at Pentlands.
Each time that Olivia rose at dawn to ride out with Sybil and meetO'Hara at the old gravel-pit, the simple excursion became more glamorousto her. There was a youth in the contact with Sybil and the Irishmanwhich she had almost forgotten, a feeling of strength for which she hadlong been hungering. It was, she found, a splendid way to begin theday--in the cool of the morning, riding away over the drenched grass; itmade a freshening contrast to the rest of a day occupied largely by suchold people as her father-in-law and Anson (who was really an old man)and the old woman in the north wing and by the persistent flutteringattacks of Aunt Cassie. And Olivia, who was not without a secret vanity,began to notice herself in the mirror... that her eyes were brighterand her skin was more clear. She saw that she was even perhapsbeautiful, and that the riding-habit became her in a romantic fashion.
She knew, too, riding across the fields between Sybil and O'Hara, thathe sometimes watched her with a curious bright light in his blue eyes.He said nothing; he betrayed in no way the feeling behind all thatsudden, quiet declaration on the terrace of Brook Cottage. She began tosee that he was (as Sabine had discovered almost at once) a very cleverand dangerous man. It was not alone because of the strange, almostphysical, effect he had upon people--an effect which was almost as ifhis presence took possession of you completely--but because he hadpatience and knew how to be silent. If he had rushed in, recklessly andclumsily, everything would have been precipitated and ruined at once.There would have been a scene ending with his dismissal and Olivia,perhaps, would have been free; but he had never touched her. It wassimply that he was always there, assuring her in some mysterious waythat his emotions had not changed, that he still wanted her more thananything in all the world. And to a woman who was romantic by nature andhad never known any romance, it was a dangerous method.
There came a morning when, waiting by the gravel-pit, O'Hara saw thatthere was only one rider coming toward him across the fields fromPentlands. At first it occurred to him that it must be Sybil comingalone, without her mother, and the old boredom and despair engulfed himswiftly. It was only when the rider came nearer and he saw the whitestar in the forehead of her horse that he knew it was Olivia herself.That she came alone, knowing what he had already told her, he took as asign of immense importance.
This time he did not wait or ride slowly toward her. He gallopedimpatiently as a boy across the wet fields to meet her.
She had the old look of radiance about her and a shyness, too, that madeher seem at first a trifle cool and withdrawn. She told him quietly,"Sybil didn't come this morning. She went out very early to fish withJean de Cyon. The mackerel are beginning to run in the open water offthe marshes."
There was an odd, strained silence and O'Hara said, "He's a nice boy...de Cyon." And then, with a heroic effort to overcome the shyness whichshe always managed to impose upon him, he said in a low voice, "But I'mglad she didn't come. I've wanted it to be like this all along."
She did not say archly that he must not talk in this vein. It was a partof her fascination that she was too honest and intelligent not todispense with such coquetry. He had had enough of coquetry from cheapwomen and had wearied of it long ago. Besides, she had wanted it "likethis" herself and she knew that with O'Hara it was silly to pretend,because sooner or later he always found her out. They were notchildren, either of them. They both knew what they were doing, that itwas a dangerous, even a reckless thing; and yet the very sense ofexcitement made the adventure as irresistible to the one as to theother.
For a little time they rode in silence, watching the dark hoofs of thehorses as they sent up little showers of glittering dew from theknee-deep grass and clover, and presently as they turned out of thefields into the path that led into the birch woods, he laughed and said,"A penny for your thoughts."
Smiling, she replied, "I wouldn't sell them for millions."
"They must be very precious."
"Perhaps... precious to me, and to no one else."
"Not to any one at all...."
"No.... I don't think they'd interest any one. They're not toocheerful."
At this he fell silent again, with an air of brooding anddisappointment. For a time she watched him, and presently she said, "Youmustn't sulk on a morning like this."
"I'm not sulking.... I was only... thinking."
She laughed. "A penny for your thoughts."
He did not laugh. He spoke with a sudden intensity. "They, too, areworth a million... more than that... only I'll share them with you. Iwouldn't share them with any one else."
At the sound of his voice, a silly wave of happiness swept throughOlivia. She thought, "I'm being young and ridiculous and enjoyingmyself."
Aloud she said, "I haven't a penny, but if you'll trust me untilto-morrow?"
And then he turned to her abruptly, the shyness gone and in its place anemotion close to irritation and anger. "Why buy them?" he asked. "Youknow well enough what they are. You haven't forgotten what I told youon the terrace at Brook Cottage.... It's grown more true every day...all of it." When he saw that she had become suddenly grave, he said,"And what about you?"
"You know how impossible it is."
"Nothing is impossible... nothing. Besides, I don't mean thedifficulties. Those will come later.... I only mean your own feelings."
"Can't you see that I like you?... I must like you else I wouldn't havecome alone this morning."
"Like me," he echoed with bitterness. "I'm not interested in having youlike me!" And when she made no reply, he added, almost savagely, "Why doyou keep me away from you? Why do you always put a little wall aboutyourself?"
"Do I?" she asked, stupidly, and with a sense of pain.
"You are cool and remote even when you laugh."
"I don't want to be--I hate cold people."
For a moment she caught a quick flash of the sudden bad temper whichsometimes betrayed him. "It's because you're so damned ladylike.Sometimes I wish you were a servant or a scrub-woman."
"And then I wouldn't be the same--would I?"
He looked up quickly, as if to make a sudden retort, and then, checkinghimself, rode on in silence. Stealing a glance at him, Olivia caughtagainst the wall of green a swift image of the dark, stubborn tannedhead--almost, she thought, like the head of a handsome bull--bent alittle, thoughtfully, almost sadly; and again a faint, weak feelingattacked her--the same sensation that had overcome her on the night ofher son's death when she sat regarding the back of Anson's head and notseeing it at all. She thought, "Why is it that this man--astranger--seems nearer to me than Anson has ever been? Why is it that Italk to him in a way I never talked to Anson?" And a curious feeling ofpity seized her at the sight of the dark head. In a quick flash ofunderstanding she saw him as a little boy searching awkwardly forsomething which he did not understand; she wanted to stroke the thick,dark hair in a comforting fashion.
He was talking again. "You know nothing about me," he was saying. "Andsometimes I think you ought to know it all." Looking at her quickly heasked, "Could you bear to hear it... a little of it?"
She smiled at him, certain that in some mysterious, clairvoyant fashionshe had penetrated the very heart of his mood, and she thought, "Howsentimental I'm being... how sickeningly sentimental!" Yet it was arich, luxuriant mood in which her whole being relaxed and bathed itself.She thought again, "Why should I not enjoy this? I've been cautious allmy life."
And seeing her smile, he began to talk, telling her, as they rode towardthe rising sun, the story of his humble origin and of those early bitterdays along India Wharf, and from time to time she said, "I understand.My own childhood wasn't happy," or, "Go on, please. It fascinates me...more than you can imagine."
So he went on, telling her the story of the long scar on his temple,telling her as he had known he would, of his climb to success,confessing everything, even the things of which he had come to be alittle ashamed, and betraying from time to time the bitterness whichafflicts those who have made their own way against great odds. Theshrewd, complex man became as naïve as a little boy; and she understood,as he had known she would. It was miraculous how right he had been abouther.
Lost in this mood, they rode on and on as the day rose and grew warm,enveloped all the while in the odor of the dark, rich, growing thicketand the acrid smell of the tall marshferns, until Olivia, glancing ather watch, said, "It is very late. I shall have missed the familybreakfast." She meant really that Anson would have gone up to Boston bynow and that she was glad--only it was impossible to say a thing likethat.
* * * * *
At the gravel-pit, she bade him good-by, and turning her mare towardPentlands she felt the curious effect of his nearness slipping away fromher with each new step; it was as if the hot August morning were turningcold. And when she came in sight of the big red brick house sitting sosolidly among the ancient elms, she thought, "I must never do thisagain. I have been foolish." And again, "Why should I not do it? Whyshould I not be happy? They have no right to any claim upon me."
But there was one claim, she knew; there was Sybil. She must not make afool of herself for the sake of Sybil. She must do nothing to interferewith what had been taking place this very morning in the smallfishing-boat far out beyond the marshes somewhere near the spot whereSavina Pentland had been drowned. She knew well enough why Sybil hadchosen to go fishing instead of riding; it was so easy to look at thegirl and at young de Cyon and know what was happening there. She herselfhad no right to stand in the way of this other thing which was so muchyounger and fresher, so much more nearly perfect.
As she put her mare over the low wall by the stables she looked up andchanced to see a familiar figure in rusty black standing in the garden,as if she had been there all the while looking out over the meadows,watching them. As she drew near, Aunt Cassie came forward with anexpression of anxiety on her face, saying in a thin, hushed voice, as ifshe might be overheard, "I thought you'd never come back, Olivia dear.I've been looking everywhere for you."
Aware from the intense air of mystery that some new calamity hadoccurred, Olivia replied, "I was riding with O'Hara. We went too far andit was too hot to hurry the horses."
"I know," said Aunt Cassie. "I saw you." ("Of course she would," thoughtOlivia. "Does anything ever escape her?") "It's about her. She's beenviolent again this morning and Miss Egan says you may be able to dosomething. She keeps raving about something to do with the attic andSabine."
"Yes, I know what it is. I'll go right up."
Higgins appeared, grinning and with a bright birdlike look in his sharpeyes, as if he knew all that had been happening and wanted to say, "Ah,you were out with O'Hara this morning... alone.... Well, you can't dobetter, Ma'am. I hope it brings you happiness. You ought to have a manlike that."
As he took the bridle, he said, "That's a fine animal Mr. O'Hara rides,Ma'am. I wish we had him in our stables...."
She murmured something in reply and without even waiting for coffeehastened up the dark stairs to the north wing. On the way past the rowof tall deep-set windows she caught a swift glimpse of Sabine, superblydressed and holding a bright yellow parasol over her head, movingindolently up the long drive toward the house, and again she had asudden unaccountable sense of something melancholy, perhaps even tragic,a little way off. It was one of those quick, inexplicable waves ofdepression that sweeps over one like a shadow. She said to herself, "I'mdepressed now because an hour ago I was too happy."
And immediately she thought, "But it was like Aunt Cassie to have such athought as that. I must take care or I'll be getting to be a truePentland... believing that if I'm happy a calamity is soon to follow."
She had moments of late when it seemed to her that something in the air,some power hidden in the old house itself, was changing her slowly,imperceptibly, in spite of herself.
* * * * *
Miss Egan met her outside the door, with the fixed eternal smile whichto-day seemed to Olivia the sort of smile that the countenance of Fateitself might wear.
"The old lady is more quiet," she said. "Higgins helped me and wemanaged to bind her in the bed so that she couldn't harm herself. It'ssurprising how much strength she has in her poor thin body." Sheexplained that old Mrs. Pentland kept screaming, "Sabine! Sabine!" forMrs. Callendar and that she kept insisting on being allowed to go intothe attic.
"It's the old idea that she's lost something up there," said Miss Egan."But it's probably only something she's imagined." Olivia was silent fora moment. "I'll go and search," she said. "It might be there issomething and if I could find it, it would put an end to these spells."
* * * * *
She found them easily, almost at once, now that there was daylightstreaming in at the windows of the cavernous attic. They lay stuffedaway beneath one of the great beams... a small bundle of ancientyellowed letters which had been once tied together with a bit of mauveribbon since torn in haste by some one who thrust them in this place ofconcealment. They had been opened carelessly and in haste, for themoldering paper was all cracked and torn along the edges. The ink,violet once, had turned to a dirty shade of brown.
Standing among the scattered toys left by Jack and Sybil the last timethey had played house, Olivia held the letters one by one up to thelight. There were eleven in all and each one was addressed to Mrs. J.Pentland, at Pentlands. Eight of them had been sent through the Bostonpost-office and the other three bore no stamps of any kind, as if theyhad been sent by messengers or in a bouquet or between the leaves of abook. The handwriting was that of a man, large, impetuous, sprawling,which showed a tendency to blur the letters together in a headlong,impatient way.
She thought at once, "They are addressed to Mrs. J. Pentland, whichmeans Mrs. Jared Pentland. Anson will be delighted, for these must bethe letters which passed between Savina Pentland and her cousin, TobyCane. Anson needed them to complete the book."
And then it occurred to her that there was something strange about theletters--in their having been hidden and perhaps found by the old ladybelowstairs and then hidden away a second time. Old Mrs. Pentland musthave found them there nearly forty years ago, when they still allowedher to wander about the house. Perhaps it had been on one of those rainydays when Anson and Sabine had come into the attic to play in this verycorner with these same old toys--the days when Sabine refused to pretendthat muddy water was claret. And now the old lady was remembering thediscovery after all these years because the return of Sabine and thesound of her name had lighted some train of long-forgotten memories.
Seating herself on a broken, battered old trunk, she opened the first ofthe letters reverently so as not to dislodge the bits of violetsealing-wax that still clung to the edges, and almost at once she readwith a swift sense of shock:
I waited last night in the cottage until eleven and when you didn't come I knew he had not gone to Salem, after all, and was still there at Pentlands with you....
She stopped reading. She understood it now.... The scamp Toby Cane hadbeen more than merely a cousin to Savina Pentland; he had been her loverand that was why she had hidden the letters away beneath the beams ofthe vast unfinished attic, intending perhaps to destroy them one day.And then she had been drowned before there was time and the letters layin their hiding-place until John Pentland's wife had discovered them oneday by chance, only to hide them again, forgetting in the poor shockedmazes of her mind what they were or where they were hidden. They werethe letters which Anson had been searching for.
But she saw at once that Anson would never use the letters in his book,for he would never bring into the open a scandal in the Pentland family,even though it was a scandal which had come to an end, tragically,nearly a century earlier and was now almost pure romance. She saw, ofcourse, that a love affair between so radiant a creature as SavinaPentland and a scamp like Toby Cane would seem rather odd in a bookcalled "The Pentland Family and the Massachusetts Bay Colony." Perhapsit was better not to speak of the letters at all. Anson would managesomehow to destroy all the value there was in them; he would sacrificetruth to the gods of Respectability and Pretense.
Thrusting the letters into her pocket, she descended the dark stairway,and in the north wing Miss Egan met her to ask, almost with an air ofimpatience, "I suppose you didn't find anything?"
"No," said Olivia quickly, "nothing which could possibly have interestedher."
"It's some queer idea she's hatched up," replied Miss Egan, and lookedat Olivia as if she doubted the truth of what she had said.
* * * * *
She did not go downstairs at once. Instead, she went to her own room andafter bathing, seated herself in the chaise longue by the open windowabove the terrace, prepared to read the letters one by one. From belowthere arose a murmur of voices, one metallic and hard, the othernervous, thin, and high-pitched--Sabine's and Aunt Cassie's--as they saton the terrace in acid conversation, each trying to outstay the other.Listening, Olivia decided that she was a little weary of them both thismorning; it was the first time it had ever occurred to her that in astrange way there was a likeness between two women who seemed sodifferent. That curious pair, who hated each other so heartily, had thesame way of trying to pry into her life.
None of the letters bore any dates, so she fell to reading them in theorder in which they had been found, beginning with the one which read:
I waited last night in the cottage until eleven and when you didn't come I knew he had not gone to Salem, after all, and, was still there at Pentlands with you....
She read on:
It's the thought of his being there beside you, even taking possession of you sometimes, that I can't bear. I see him sitting there in the drawing-room, looking at you--eating you with his eyes and pretending all the while that he is above the lusts of the flesh. The flesh! The flesh! You and I, dearest, know the glories of the flesh. Sometimes I think I'm a coward not to kill him at once.
For God's sake, get rid of him somehow to-night. I can't pass another evening alone in the dark gloomy cottage waiting in vain. It is more than I can bear to sit there knowing that every minute, every second, may bring the sound of your step. Be merciful to me. Get rid of him somehow.
I have not touched a drop of anything since I last saw you. Areyou satisfied with that?
I am sending this in a book by black Hannah. She will wait for an answer.
Slowly, as she read on and on through the mazes of the impetuous,passionate writing, the voices from the terrace below, the one raisednow and a little angry, the other still metallic, hard and indifferent,grew more and more distant until presently she did not hear them at alland in the place of the sound her senses received anotherimpression--that of a curious physical glow, stealing slowly through herwhole body. It was as if there lay in that faded brown writing asmoldering fire that had never wholly died out and would never beextinguished until the letters themselves had been burned into ashes.
Word by word, line by line, page by page, the whole tragic, passionatelegend came to recreate itself, until near the end she was able to seethe three principal actors in it with the reality of life, as if theyhad never died at all but had gone on living in this old house, perhapsin this very room where she sat... the very room which once must havebelonged to Savina Pentland.
She saw the husband, that Jared Pentland of whom no portrait existedbecause he would never spend money on such a luxury, as he must havebeen in life--a sly man, shrewd and pious and avaricious save when thestrange dark passion for his wife made of him an unbalanced creature.And Savina Pentland herself was there, as she looked out of the Ingresportrait--dark, voluptuous, reckless, with her bad enticing eyes--awoman who might easily be the ruin of a man like Jared Pentland. Andsomehow she was able to get a clear and vivid picture of the writer ofthose smoldering letters--a handsome scamp of a lover, dark like hiscousin Savina, and given to drinking and gambling. But most of all shewas aware of that direct, unashamed and burning passion that never hadits roots in this stony New England soil beyond the windows ofPentlands. A man who frankly glorified the flesh! A waster! A seducer!And yet a man capable of this magnificent fire which leaped up from theyellow pages and warmed her through and through. It occurred to her thenfor the first time that there was something heroic and noble andbeautiful in a passion so intense. For a moment she was even seized bythe feeling that reading these letters was a kind of desecration.
They revealed, too, how Jared Pentland had looked upon his beautifulwife as a fine piece of property, an investment which gave him a sensualsatisfaction and also glorified his house and dinner-table. (What Sabinecalled the "lower middle-class sense of property.") He must have lovedher and hated her at once, in the way Higgins loved and hated thehandsome red mare. He must have been proud of her and yet hated herbecause she possessed so completely the power of making a fool of him.The whole story moved against a background of family... the Pentlandfamily. There were constant references to cousins and uncles and auntsand their suspicions and interference.
"It must have begun," thought Olivia, "even in those days."
Out of the letters she learned that the passion had begun in Rome whenSavina Pentland was sitting for her portrait by Ingres. Toby Cane hadbeen there with her and afterwards she had gone with him to hislodgings; and when they had returned to the house at Durham (almost newthen and the biggest country seat in all New England) they had met inthe cottage--Brook Cottage, which still stood there within sight ofOlivia's window--Brook Cottage, which after the drowning had been boughtby Sabine's grandfather and then fallen into ruins and been restoredagain by the too-bright, vulgar, resplendent touch of O'Hara. It was animmensely complicated and intricate story which went back, back into thepast and seemed to touch them all here in Durham.
"The roots of life at Pentlands," thought Olivia, "go down, down intothe past. There are no new branches, no young, vigorous shoots."
She came at length to the last of the letters, which had buried in itsmidst the terrible revealing lines--
If you knew what delight it gives me to have you write that the child is ours beyond any doubt, that there cannot be the slightest doubt of it! The baby belongs to us... to us alone! It has nothing to do with him. I could not bear the idea of his thinking that the child is his if it was not that it makes your position secure. The thought tortures me but I am able to bear it because it leaves you safe and above suspicion.
Slowly, thoughtfully, as if unable to believe her eyes, she reread thelines through again, and then placed her hands against her head with agesture of feeling suddenly weak and out of her mind.
She tried to think clearly. "Savina Pentland never had but one child, sofar as I know... never but one. And that must have been Toby Cane'schild."
There could be no doubt. It was all there, in writing. The child wasthe child of Toby Cane and a woman who was born Savina Dalgedo. He wasnot a Pentland and none of his descendants had been Pentlands... notone.
They were not Pentlands at all save as the descendants of Savina and herlover had married among the Brahmins where Pentland blood was in everyfamily. They were not Pentlands by blood and yet they were Pentlandsbeyond any question, in conduct, in point of view, in tradition. Itoccurred to Olivia for the first time how immense and terrible a thingwas that environment, that air which held them all enchanted... all thecloud of prejudices and traditions and prides and small anxieties. Itwas a world so set, so powerful, so iron-bound that it had madePentlands of people like Anson and Aunt Cassie, even like herfather-in-law. It made Pentlands of people who were not Pentlands atall. She saw it now as an overwhelming, terrifying power that was a partof the old house. It stood rooted in the very soil of all the landscapethat spread itself beyond her windows.
And in the midst of this realization she had a swift impulse to laugh,hysterically, for the picture of Anson had come to her suddenly...Anson pouring his whole soul into that immense glorification to be knownas "The Pentland Family and the Massachusetts Bay Colony."
Slowly, as the first shock melted away a little, she began to believethat the yellowed bits of paper were a sort of infernal machine, aninstrument with the power of shattering a whole world. What was she todo with this thing--this curious symbol of a power that always won everystruggle in one way or another, directly as in the case of Savina andher lover, or by taking its vengeance upon body or soul as it had donein the case of Aunt Cassie's poor, prying, scheming mind? And there was,too, the dark story of Horace Pentland, and the madness of the old womanin the north wing, and even those sudden terrible bouts of drinkingwhich made so fine a man as John Pentland into something very near to abeast.
It was as if a light of blinding clarity had been turned upon all thelong procession of ancestors. She saw now that if "The Pentland Familyand the Massachusetts Bay Colony" was to have any value at all as truthit must be rewritten in the light of the struggle between the forcesglorified by that drunken scamp Toby Cane and this other terrible forcewhich seemed to be all about her everywhere, pressing even herselfslowly into its own mold. It was an old struggle between those who choseto find their pleasure in this world and those who looked for the vaguepromise of a glorified future existence.
She could see Anson writing in his book, "In the present generation(192-) there exists Cassandra Pentland Struthers (Mrs. Edward CaneStruthers), a widow who has distinguished herself by her devotion to theEpiscopal Church and to charity and good works. She resides in winter inBoston and in summer at her country house near Durham on the landclaimed from the wilderness by the first Pentland, distinguished founderof the American family."
Yes, Anson would write just those words in his book. He would describethus the old woman who sat belowstairs hoping all the while that Oliviawould descend bearing the news of some new tragedy... that virginal oldwoman who had ruined the whole life of her husband and kept poorhalf-witted Miss Peavey a prisoner for nearly thirty years.
* * * * *
The murmur of voices died away presently and Olivia, looking out of thewindow, saw that it was Aunt Cassie who had won this time. She wasstanding in the garden looking down the drive with that malignantexpression which sometimes appeared on her face in moments when shethought herself alone. Far down the shadow-speckled drive, the figureof Sabine moved indolently away in the direction of Brook Cottage.Sabine, too, belonged in a way to the family; she had grown up envelopedin the powerful tradition which made Pentlands of people who were notPentlands at all. Perhaps (thought Olivia) the key to Sabine's restless,unhappy existence also lay in the same dark struggle. Perhaps if onecould penetrate deeply enough in the long family history one would findthere the reasons for Sabine's hatred of this Durham world and thereasons why she had returned to a people she disliked with all thebitter, almost fanatic passion of her nature. There was in Sabine anelement of cold cruelty.
At the sight of Olivia coming down the steps into the garden, AuntCassie turned and moved forward quickly with a look of expectancy,asking, "And how is the poor thing?"
And at Olivia's answer, "She's quiet now... sleeping. It's all passed,"the looked changed to one of disappointment.
She said, with an abysmal sigh, "Ah, she will go on forever. She'll bealive long after I've gone to join dear Mr. Struthers."
"Invalids are like that," replied Olivia, by way of saying something."They take such care of themselves." And almost at once, she thought,"Here I am playing the family game, pretending that she's not mad butonly an invalid."
She had no feeling of resentment against the busy old woman; indeed itseemed to her at times that she had almost an affection for AuntCassie--the sort of affection one has for an animal or a bit offurniture which has been about almost as long as one can remember. Andat the moment the figure of Aunt Cassie, the distant sight of Sabine,the bright garden full of flowers... all these things seemed to hermelodramatic and unreal, for she was still living in the Pentlands ofSavina and Toby Cane. It was impossible to fix her attention on AuntCassie and her flutterings.
The old lady was saying, "You all seem to have grown very fond of thisman O'Hara."
(What was she driving at now?) Aloud, Olivia said, "Why not? He'sagreeable, intelligent... even distinguished in his way."
"Yes," said Aunt Cassie. "I've been discussing him with Sabine, and I'vecome to the conclusion that I may have been wrong about him. She thinkshim a clever man with a great future." There was a pause and she addedwith an air of making a casual observation, "But what about his past? Imean where does he come from."
"I know all about it. He's been telling me. That's why I was late thismorning."
For a time Aunt Cassie was silent, as if weighing some deep problem. Atlast she said, "I was wondering about seeing too much of him. He has abad reputation with women.... At least, so I'm told."
Olivia laughed. "After all, Aunt Cassie, I'm a grown woman. I can lookout for myself."
"Yes.... I know." She turned with a disarming smile of Christiansweetness. "I don't want you to think that I'm interfering, Olivia. It'sthe last thing I'd think of doing. But I was considering your own good.It's harmless enough, I'm sure. No one would ever think otherwise,knowing you, my dear. But it's what people will say. There was a scandalI believe about eight years ago... a road-house scandal!" She said thiswith an air of great suffering, as if the words "road-house scandal"seared her lips.
"I suppose so. Most men... politicians, I mean... have scandalsconnected with their names. It's part of the business, Aunt Cassie."
And she kept thinking with amazement of the industry of the oldlady--that she should have taken the trouble of going far back intoO'Hara's past to find some definite thing against him. She did not doubtthe ultimate truth of Aunt Cassie's insinuation. Aunt Cassie did not liedeliberately; there was always a grain of truth in her implications,though sometimes the poor grain lay buried so deeply beneathexaggerations that it was almost impossible to discover it. And a thinglike that might easily be true about O'Hara. With a man like him youcouldn't expect women to play the rôle they played with a man likeAnson.
"It's only on account of what people will say," repeated Aunt Cassie.
"I've almost come to the conclusion that what people say doesn't reallymatter any longer...."
Aunt Cassie began suddenly to pick a bouquet from the border beside her."Oh, it's not you I'm worrying about, Olivia dear. But we have toconsider others sometimes.... There's Sybil and Anson, and even thevery name of Pentland. There's never been any such suspicion attachedto it... ever."
It was incredible (thought Olivia) that any one would make such astatement, incredible anywhere else in the world. She wanted to ask,"What about your brother and old Mrs. Soames?" And in view of thoseletters that lay locked in her dressing-table....
At that moment lunch was announced by Peters' appearance in the doorway.Olivia turned to Aunt Cassie, "You're staying, of course."
"No, I must go. You weren't expecting me."
So Olivia began the ancient game, played for so many years, of pressingAunt Cassie to stay to lunch.
"It makes no difference," she said, "only another plate." And so onthrough a whole list of arguments that she had memorized long ago. Andat last Aunt Cassie, with the air of having been pressed beyond herendurance, yielded, and to Peters, who had also played the game foryears, Olivia said, "Lay another place for Mrs. Struthers."
She had meant to stay all along. Lunching out saved both money andtrouble, for Miss Peavey ate no more than a bird, at least not openly;and, besides, there were things she must find out at Pentlands, andother things which she must plan. In truth, wild horses could not havedragged her away.
As they entered the house, Aunt Cassie, carrying the bouquet she hadplucked, said casually, "I met the Mannering boy on the road thismorning and told him to come in to-night. I thought you wouldn't mind.He's very fond of Sybil, you know."
"No, of course not," replied Olivia. "I don't mind. But I'm afraid Sybilisn't very interested in him."
The death of Horace Pentland was not an event to be kept quiet by sosimple a means as a funeral that was almost secret; news of it leakedout and was carried here and there by ladies eager to rake up an oldPentland scandal in vengeance upon Aunt Cassie, the community'sprincipal disseminator of calamities. It even penetrated at last theoffices of the Transcript, which sent a request for an obituary of thedead man, for he was, after all, a member of one of Boston's proudestfamilies. And then, without warning, the ghost of Horace Pentlandreappeared suddenly in the most disconcerting of all quarters--BrookCottage.
The ghost accompanied Sabine up the long drive one hot morning whileOlivia sat listening to Aunt Cassie. Olivia noticed that Sabineapproached them with an unaccustomed briskness, that all trace of thefamiliar indolence had vanished. As she reached the edge of the terrace,she called out with a bright look in her eyes, "I have news... ofCousin Horace."
She was enjoying the moment keenly, and the sight of her enjoyment musthave filled Aunt Cassie, who knew her so well, with uneasiness. She tookher own time about revealing the news, inquiring first after AuntCassie's health, and settling herself comfortably in one of the wickerchairs. She was an artist in the business of tormenting the old lady andshe waited now to squeeze every drop of effect out of her announcement.She was not to be hurried even by the expression which Aunt Cassie'sface inevitably assumed at the mention of Horace Pentland--theexpression of one who finds himself in the vicinity of a bad smell andis unable to escape.
At last, after lighting a cigarette and moving her chair out of the sun,Sabine announced in a flat voice, "Cousin Horace has left everything hepossesses to me."
A look of passionate relief swept Aunt Cassie's face, a look which said,"Pooh! Pooh! Is that all?" She laughed--it was almost a titter, coloredby mockery--and said, "Is that all? I imagine it doesn't make you agreat heiress."
("Aunt Cassie," thought Olivia, "ought not to have given Sabine such anopportunity; she has said just what Sabine wanted her to say.")
Sabine answered her: "But you're wrong there, Aunt Cassie. It's notmoney that he's left, but furniture... furniture and bibelots... andit's a wonderful collection. I've seen it myself when I visited him atMentone."
"You ought never to have gone.... You certainly have lost all moralsense, Sabine. You've forgotten all that I taught you as a little girl."
Sabine ignored her. "You see, he worshiped such things, and he spenttwenty years of his life collecting them."
"It seems improbable that they could be worth much... with as littlemoney as Horace Pentland had... only what we let him have to live on."
Sabine smiled again, sardonically, perhaps because the tilt with AuntCassie proved so successful. "You're wrong again, Aunt Cassie....They're worth a great deal... far more than he paid for them, becausethere are things in his collection which you couldn't buy elsewhere forany amount of money. He took to trading pieces off until his collectionbecame nearly perfect." She paused for a moment, allowing the knife torest in the wound. "It's an immensely valuable collection. You see, Iknow about it because I used to see Cousin Horace every winter when Iwent to Rome. I knew more about him than any of you. He was a man ofperfect taste in such things. He really knew."
Olivia sat all the while watching the scene with a quiet amusement. Thetriumph on this occasion was clearly Sabine's, and Sabine knew it. Shesat there enjoying every moment of it, watching Aunt Cassie writhe atthe thought of so valuable a heritage going out of the direct family, toso remote and hostile a connection. It was clearly a disaster ranking inimportance with the historic loss of Savina Pentland's parure of pearlsand emeralds at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean. It was property lostforever that should have gone into the family fortune.
Sabine was opening the letter slowly, allowing the paper to crackleominously, as if she knew that every crackle ran painfully up and downthe spine of the old lady.
"It's the invoice from the Custom House," she said, lifting each of thefive long sheets separately. "Five pages long... total value perhaps asmuch as seventy-five thousand dollars.... Of course there's not even anyduty to pay, as they're all old things."
Aunt Cassie started, as if seized by a sudden pain, and Sabinecontinued, "He even left provision for shipping it... all save four orfive big pieces which are being held at Mentone. There are eighteencases in all."
She began to read the items one by one... cabinets, commodes, chairs,lusters, tables, pictures, bits of bronze, crystal and jade... all thelong list of things which Horace Pentland had gathered with the lovingcare of a connoisseur during the long years of his exile; and in themidst of the reading, Aunt Cassie, unable any longer to control herself,interrupted, saying, "It seems to me he was an ungrateful, disgustingman. It ought to have gone to my dear brother, who supported him allthese years. I don't see why he left it all to a remote cousin likeyou."
Sabine delved again into the envelope. "Wait," she said. "He explainsthat point himself... in his own will." She opened a copy of thisdocument and, searching for a moment, read, "To my cousin, SabineCallendar (Mrs. Cane Callendar), of--Rue de Tilsitt, Paris, France, andNewport, Rhode Island, I leave all my collections of furniture,tapestries, bibelots, etc., in gratitude for her kindness to me over aperiod of many years and in return for her faith and understanding at atime when the rest of my family treated me as an outcast."
Aunt Cassie was beside herself. "And how should he have been treated ifnot as an outcast? He was an ungrateful, horrible wretch! It wasPentland money which supported him all his miserable life." She paused amoment for breath. "I always told my dear brother that twenty-fivehundred a year was far more than Horace Pentland needed. And that is howhe has spent it, to insult the very people who were kind to him."
Sabine put the papers back in the envelope and, looking up, said in herhard, metallic voice: "Money's not everything, as I told you oncebefore, Aunt Cassie. I've always said that the trouble with thePentlands... with most of Boston, for that matter... lies in the factthat they were lower middle-class shopkeepers to begin with and they'venever lost any of the lower middle-class virtues... especially aboutmoney. They've been proud of living off the income of their incomes....No, it wasn't money that Horace Pentland wanted. It was a little decencyand kindness and intelligence. I fancy you got your money's worth out ofthe poor twenty-five hundred dollars you sent him every year. It wasworth a great deal more than that to keep the truth under a bushel."
A long and painful silence followed this speech and Olivia, turningtoward Sabine, tried to reproach her with a glance for speaking thus tothe old lady. Aunt Cassie was being put to rout so pitifully, not onlyby Sabine, but by Horace Pentland, who had taken his vengeance shrewdly,long after he was dead, by striking at the Pentland sense ofpossessions, of property.
The light of triumph glittered in the green eyes of Sabine. She waspaying back, bit by bit, the long account of her unhappy childhood; andshe had not yet finished.
Olivia, watching the conflict with disinterest, was swept suddenly by afeeling of pity for the old lady. She broke the painful silence byasking them both to stay for lunch, but this time Aunt Cassie refused,in all sincerity, and Olivia did not press her, knowing that she couldnot bear to face the ironic grin of Sabine until she had rested andcomposed her face. Aunt Cassie seemed suddenly tired and old thismorning. The indefatigable, meddling spirit seemed to droop, no longerflying proudly in the wind.
The queer, stuffy motor appeared suddenly on the drive, the back seatfilled by the rotund form of Miss Peavey surrounded by four yappingPekinese. The intricate veils which she wore on entering a motorstreamed behind her. Aunt Cassie rose and, kissing Olivia withostentation, turned to Sabine and went back again to the root of thematter. "I always told my dear brother," she repeated, "that twenty-fivehundred a year was far too much for Horace Pentland."
The motor rattled off, and Sabine, laying the letter on the table besideher, said, "Of course, I don't want all this stuff of Cousin Horace's,but I'm determined it shan't go to her. If she had it the poor old manwouldn't rest in his grave. Besides, she wouldn't know what to do withit in a house filled with tassels and antimacassars and souvenirs ofUncle Ned. She'd only sell it and invest the money in invinciblesecurities."
"She's not well... the poor old thing," said Olivia. "She wouldn't havehad the motor come for her if she'd been well. She's pretended all herlife, and now she's really ill--she's terrified at the idea of death.She can't bear it."
The old relentless, cruel smile lighted Sabine's face. "No, now that thetime has come she hasn't much faith in the Heaven she's preached all herlife." There was a brief silence and Sabine added grimly, "She willcertainly be a nuisance to Saint Peter."
But there was only sadness in Olivia's dark eyes, because she keptthinking what a shallow, futile life Aunt Cassie's had been. She hadturned her back upon life from the beginning, even with the husband whomshe married as a convenience. She kept thinking what a poor barren thingthat life had been; how little of richness, of memories, it held, nowthat it was coming to an end.
Sabine was speaking again. "I know you're thinking that I'm heartless,but you don't know how cruel she was to me... what things she did to meas a child." Her voice softened a little, but in pity for herself andnot for Aunt Cassie. It was as if the ghost of the queer, unhappy,red-haired little girl of her childhood had come suddenly to stand therebeside them where the ghost of Horace Pentland had stood a little whilebefore. The old ghosts were crowding about once more, even there on theterrace in the hot August sunlight in the beauty of Olivia's flowerygarden.
"She sent me into the world," continued Sabine's hard voice, "knowingnothing but what was false, believing--the little I believed inanything--in false gods, thinking that marriage was no more than abusiness contract between two young people with fortunes. She calledignorance by the name of innocence and quoted the Bible and thatmilk-and-water philosopher Emerson... 'dear Mr. Emerson'... wheneverI asked her a direct, sensible question.... And all she accomplished wasto give me a hunger for facts--hard, unvarnished facts--pleasant orunpleasant."
A kind of hot passion entered the metallic voice, so that it took on anunaccustomed warmth and beauty. "You don't know how much she isresponsible for in my life. She... and all the others like her...killed my chance of happiness, of satisfaction. She cost me myhusband.... What chance had I with a man who came from an older, wiserworld... a world in which things were looked at squarely, and honestlyas truth... a man who expected women to be women and not timidicebergs? No, I don't think I shall ever forgive her." She paused for amoment, thoughtfully, and then added, "And whatever she did, whatevercruelties she practised, whatever nonsense she preached, was always donein the name of duty and always 'for your own good, my dear.'"
Then abruptly, with a bitter smile, her whole manner changed and took ononce more the old air of indolent, almost despairing, boredom. "Icouldn't begin to tell you all, my dear.... It goes back too far. We'reall rotten here... not so much rotten as desiccated, for there wasnever much blood in us to rot.... The roots go deep.... But I shan'tbore you again with all this, I promise."
Olivia, listening, wanted to say, "You don't know how much blood thereis in the Pentlands.... You don't know that they aren't Pentlands atall, but the children of Savina Dalgedo and Toby Cane.... But even thathasn't mattered.... The very air, the very earth of New England, haschanged them, dried them up."
But she could not say it, for she knew that the story of those lettersmust never fall into the hands of the unscrupulous Sabine.
"It doesn't bore me," said Olivia quietly. "It doesn't bore me. Iunderstand it much too well."
"In any case, we've spoiled enough of one fine day with it." Sabinelighted another cigarette and said with an abrupt change of tone, "Aboutthis furniture, Olivia.... I don't want it. I've a house full of suchthings in Paris. I shouldn't know what to do with it and I don't think Ihave the right to break it up and sell it. I want you to have it here atPentlands.... Horace Pentland would be satisfied if it went to you andCousin John. And it'll be an excuse to clear out some of the Victorianjunk and some of the terrible early American stuff. Plenty of peoplewill buy the early American things. The best of them are only badimitations of the real things Horace Pentland collected, and you mightas well have the real ones."
Olivia protested, but Sabine pushed the point, scarcely giving her timeto speak. "I want you to do it. It will be a kindness to me... andafter all, Horace Pentland's furniture ought to be here... inPentlands. I'll take one or two things for Thérèse, and the rest youmust keep, only nothing... not so much as a medallion or a snuff-box...is to go to Aunt Cassie. She hated him while he was alive. It wouldbe wrong for her to possess anything belonging to him after he is dead.Besides," she added, "a little new furniture would do a great dealtoward cheering up the house. It's always been rather spare and cold. Itneeds a little elegance and sense of luxury. There has never been anysplendor in the Pentland family--or in all New England, for thatmatter."
At almost the same moment that Olivia and Sabine entered the old houseto lunch, the figures of Sybil and Jean appeared against the horizon onthe rim of the great, bald hill crowned by the town burial-ground.Escaped at length from the eye of the curious, persistent Thérèse, theyhad come to the hill to eat their lunch in the open air. It was abrilliantly clear day and the famous view lay spread out beneath themlike some vast map stretching away for a distance of nearly thirtymiles. The marshes appeared green and dark, crossed and recrossed by areticulation of tidal inlets frequented at nightfall by small boatswhich brought in whisky and rum from the open sea. There were, distantlyvisible, great piles of reddish rock rising from the endless whiteribbon of beach, and far out on the amethyst sea a pair of white-sailedfishing-boats moved away in the direction of Gloucester. The whitesails, so near to each other, carried a warm friendliness in a universemagnificent but also bleak and a little barren.
Coming over the rim of the hill the sudden revelation of the view haltedthem for a moment. The day was hot, but here on the great hill, remotefrom the damp, low-lying meadows, there was a fresh cool wind, almost agale, blowing in from the open sea. Sybil, taking off her hat, tossed itto the ground and allowed the wind to blow her hair in a dark, tangledmass about the serious young face; and at the same moment Jean, seizedby a sudden quick impulse, took her hand quietly in his. She did notattempt to draw it away; she simply stood there quietly, as if consciousonly of the wild beauty of the landscape spread out below them and thesense of the boy's nearness to her. The old fear of depression andloneliness seemed to have melted away from her; here on this high brownhill, with all the world spread out beneath, it seemed to her that theywere completely alone... the first and the last two people in all theworld. She was aware that a perfect thing had happened to her, soperfect and so far beyond the realm of her most romantic imaginingsthat it seemed scarcely real.
A flock of glistening white gulls, sweeping in from the sea, soaredtoward them screaming wildly, and she said, "We'd better find a place toeat."
She had taken from the hands of Sabine the task of showing Jean thislittle corner of his own country, and to-day they had come to see theview from the burial-ground and read the moldering queer oldinscriptions on the tombstones. On entering the graveyard they camealmost at once to the little corner allotted long ago to immigrants withthe name of Pentland--a corner nearly filled now with neat rows ofgraves. By the side of the latest two, still new and covered with freshsod, they halted, and she began in silence to separate the flowers shehad brought from her mother's garden into two great bunches.
"This," she said, pointing to the grave at her feet, "is his. The othergrave is Cousin Horace Pentland's, whom I never saw. He died inMentone.... He was a first cousin of my grandfather."
Jean helped her to fill the two vases with water and place the flowersin them. When she had finished she stood up, with a sigh, very straightand slender, saying, "I wish you had known him, Jean. You would haveliked him. He was always good-humored and he liked everything in theworld... only he was never strong enough to do much but lie in bed orsit on the terrace in the sun."
The tears came quietly into her eyes, not at sorrow over the death ofher brother, but at the pathos of his poor, weak existence; and Jean,moved by a quick sense of pity, took her hand again and this time kissedit, in the quaint, dignified foreign way he had of doing such things.
They knew each other better now, far better than on the enchantedmorning by the edge of the river; and there were times, like this, whento have spoken would have shattered the whole precious spell. There wasless of shyness between them than of awe at the thing which had happenedto them. At that moment he wanted to keep her forever thus, alone withhim, on this high barren hill, to protect her and feel her always thereat his side touching his arm gently. Here, in such a place, they wouldbe safe from all the unhappiness and the trouble which in a vague way heknew was inevitably a part of living.
As they walked along the narrow path between the rows of chipped, wornold stones they halted now and then to read some half-faded, crumblingepitaph set forth in the vigorous, Biblical language of the first hardysettlers--sometimes amused, sometimes saddened, by the quaintsentiments. They passed rows of Sutherlands and Featherstones and Canesand Mannerings, all turned to dust long ago, the good New England namesof that little corner of the world; and at length they came to a littlecolony of graves with the name Milford cut into each stone. Here therewere no new monuments, for the family had disappeared long ago from theDurham world.
In the midst of these Jean halted suddenly and, bending over one of thestones, said, "Milford... Milford.... That's odd. I had agreat-grandfather named Milford who came from this part of the country."
"There used to be a great many Milfords here, but there haven't been anysince I can remember."
"My great-grandfather was a preacher," said Jean. "A Congregationalist.He led all his congregation into the Middle West. They founded the townmy mother came from."
For a moment Sybil was silent. "Was his name Josiah Milford?" she asked.
"Yes.... That was his name."
"He came from Durham. And after he left, the church died slowly. It'sstill standing... the big white church with the spire, on High Street.It's only a museum now."
Jean laughed. "Then we're not so far apart, after all. It's almost as ifwe were related."
"Yes, because a Pentland did marry a Milford once, a long time ago...more than a hundred years, I suppose."
The discovery made her happy in a vague way, perhaps because she knew itmade him seem less what they called an "outsider" at Pentlands. Itwouldn't be so hard to say to her father, "I want to marry Jean de Cyon.You know his ancestors came from Durham." The name of Milford would makean impression upon a man like her father, who made a religion of names;but, then, Jean had not even asked her to marry him yet. For some reasonhe had kept silent, saying nothing of marriage, and the silence cloudedher happiness at being near him.
"It's odd," said Jean, suddenly absorbed, in the way of men, over thisconcrete business of ancestry. "Some of these Milfords must be directancestors of mine and I've no idea which ones they are."
"When we go down the hill," she said, "I'll take you to themeeting-house and show you the tablet that records the departure of theReverend Josiah Milford and his congregation."
She answered him almost without thinking what she was saying,disappointed suddenly that the discovery should have broken in upon theperfection of the mood that united them a little while before.
* * * * *
They found a grassy spot sheltered from the August sun by the leaves ofa stunted wild-cherry tree, all twisted by the sea winds, and thereSybil seated herself to open their basket and spread the lunch--thechicken, the crisp sandwiches, the fruit. The whole thing seemed anadventure, as if they were alone on a desert island, and the small actgave her a new kind of pleasure, a sort of primitive delight in servinghim while he stood looking down at her with a frank grin of admiration.
When she had finished he flung himself down at full length on the grassbeside her, to eat with the appetite of a great, healthy man given toviolent physical exercise. They ate almost in silence, saying verylittle, looking out over the marshes and the sea. From time to time shegrew aware that he was watching her with a curious light in his blueeyes, and when they had finished, he sat up cross-legged like a tailor,to smoke; and presently, without looking at her he said, "A little whileago, when we first came up the hill, you let me take your hand, and youdidn't mind."
"No," said Sybil swiftly. She had begun to tremble a little, frightenedbut wildly happy.
"Was it because... because...." He groped for a moment for words and,finding them, went quickly on, "because you feel as I do?"
She answered him in a whisper. "I don't know," she said, and suddenlyshe felt an overwhelming desire to weep.
"I mean," he said quietly, "that I feel we were made for each other...perfectly."
He did not wait for her to finish. He rushed on, overwhelming her in aquick burst of boyish passion. "I wish it wasn't necessary to talk.Words spoil everything.... They aren't good enough.... No, you must takeme, Sybil. Sometimes I'm disagreeable and impatient and selfish... butyou must take me. I'll do my best to reform. I'll make you happy....I'll do anything for you. And we can go away together anywhere in theworld... always together, never alone... just as we are here, on thetop of this hill."
Without waiting for her to answer, he kissed her quickly, with a warmtenderness that made her weep once more. She said over and over again,"I'm so happy, Jean... so happy." And then, shamefacedly, "I mustconfess something.... I was afraid you'd never come back, and I wantedyou always... from the very beginning. I meant to have you from thebeginning... from that first day in Paris."
He lay with his head in her lap while she stroked the thick, red hair,in silence. There in the graveyard, high above the sea, they lostthemselves in the illusion which overtakes such young lovers... thatthey had come already to the end of life... that, instead of beginning,it was already complete and perfect.
"I meant to have you always... Jean. And after you came here and didn'tcome over to see me... I decided to go after you... for fear thatyou'd escape again. I was shameless... and a fraud, too.... Thatmorning by the river... I didn't come on you by accident. I knew youwere there all the while. I hid in the thicket and waited for you."
"It wouldn't have made the least difference. I meant to have you, too."A sudden impatient frown shadowed the young face. "You won't letanything change you, will you? Nothing that any one might say...nothing that might happen... not anything?"
"Not anything," she repeated. "Not anything in the world. Nothing couldchange me."
"And you wouldn't mind going away from here with me?"
"No.... I'd like that. It's what I have always wanted. I'd be glad to goaway."
"Even to the Argentine?"
"Anywhere... anywhere at all."
"We can be married very soon... before I leave... and then we can goto Paris to see my mother." He sat up abruptly with an odd, troubledlook on his face. "She's a wonderful woman, darling... beautiful andkind and charming."
"I thought she was lovely... that day in Paris... the most fascinatingwoman I'd ever seen, Jean dear."
He seemed not to be listening to her. The wind was beginning to die awaywith the heat of the afternoon, and far out on the amethyst sea the twosailing ships lay becalmed and motionless. Even the leaves of thetwisted wild-cherry tree hung listlessly in the hot air. All the worldabout them had turned still and breathless.
Turning, he took both her hands and looked at her. "There's something Imust tell you... Sybil... something you may not like. But you mustn'tlet it make any difference.... In the end things like that don'tmatter."
She interrupted him. "If it's about women... I don't care. I know whatyou are, Jean.... I'll never know any better than I know now.... I don'tcare."
"No... what I want to tell you isn't about women. It's about mymother." He looked at her directly, piercingly. "You see... my motherand my father were never married. Good old Monsieur de Cyon only adoptedme.... I've no right to the name... really. My name is really JohnShane.... They were never married, only it's not the way it sounds.She's a great lady, my mother, and she refused to marry my fatherbecause... she says... she says she found out that he wasn't what shethought him. He begged her to. He said it ruined his whole life... butshe wouldn't marry him... not because she was weak, but because she wasstrong. You'll understand that when you come to know her."
What he said would have shocked her more deeply if she had not beencaught in the swift passion of a rebellion against all the world abouther, all the prejudices and the misunderstandings that in her youngwisdom she knew would be ranged against herself and Jean. In this mood,the mother of Jean became to her a sort of heroic symbol, a woman to beadmired.
She leaned toward him. "It doesn't matter... not at all, Jean...things like that don't matter in the end.... All that matters is thefuture...." She looked away from him and added in a low voice, "Besides,what I have to tell you is much worse." She pressed his hand savagely."You won't let it change you? You'll not give me up? Maybe you know italready... that I have a grandmother who is mad.... She's been mad foryears... almost all her life."
He kissed her quickly. "No, it won't matter.... Nothing could make methink of giving you up... nothing in the world."
"I'm so happy, Jean... and so peaceful... as if you had saved me...as if you'd changed all my life. I've been frightened sometimes...."
But a sudden cloud had darkened the happiness... the cloud that wasnever absent from the house at Pentlands.
"You won't let your father keep us apart, Sybil.... He doesn't likeme.... It's easy to see that."
"No, I shan't let him." She halted abruptly. "What I am going to say maysound dreadful.... I shouldn't take my father's word about anything. Iwouldn't let him influence me. He's spoiled his own life and my mother'stoo.... I feel sorry for my father.... He's so blind... and he fussesso... always about things which don't matter."
For a long time they sat in silence, Sybil with her eyes closed leaningagainst him, when suddenly she heard him saying in a fierce whisper,"That damned Thérèse!" and looking up she saw at the rim of the hillbeyond the decaying tombstones, the stocky figure of Thérèse, armedwith an insect-net and a knapsack full of lunch. She was standing withher legs rather well apart, staring at them out of her queer gray eyeswith a mischievous, humorous expression. Behind her in a semicirclestood a little army of dirty Polish children she had recruited to helpher collect bugs. They knew that she had followed them deliberately tospy on them, and they knew that she would pretend blandly that she hadcome upon them quite by accident.
"Shall we tell her?" asked Jean in a furious whisper.
"No... never tell anything in Durham."
The spell was broken now and Jean was angry. Rising, he shouted atThérèse, "Go and chase your old bugs and leave us in peace!" He knewthat, like her mother, Thérèse was watching them scientifically, as ifthey were a pair of insects.
Anson Pentland was not by nature a malicious man or even a verydisagreeable one; his fussy activities on behalf of Morality arose fromno suppressed, twisted impulse of his own toward vice. Indeed, he was aman of very few impulses--a rather stale, flat man who espoused thecause of Morality because it belonged to his tradition and thereforeshould be encouraged. He was, according to Sabine, something far worsethan an abandoned lecher; he was a bore, and a not very intelligent one,who only saw straight along his own thin nose the tiny sector of theuniverse in which circumstance had placed him. After forty-nine years ofstaring, his gaze had turned myopic, and the very physical objects whichsurrounded him--his house, his office, his table, his desk, his pen--hadcome to be objects unique and glorified by their very presence asutensils of a society the most elevated and perfect in existence.Possessed of an immense and intricate savoir-faire he lacked even asuspicion of savoir-vivre, and so tradition, custom, convention, hadmade of his life a shriveled affair, without initiative orindividuality, slipping along the narrow groove of ways set anduninteresting. It was this, perhaps, which lay at the root of Sybil'spity for him.
Worshiping the habit of his stale world, he remained content and evenamiable so long as no attack was made upon his dignity--a sacred andcomplicated affair which embraced his house, his friends, his clubs, hisancestors, even to the small possessions allowed him by his father. Yetthis dignity was also a frail affair, easily subject to collapse... asort of thin shell enclosing and protecting him. He guarded it with amaidenly and implacable zeal. When all the threats and pleadings of AuntCassie moved him to nothing more definite than an uneasy sort ofevasion, a threat at any of the things which came within the realm ofhis dignity set loose an unsuspected, spiteful hatred.
He resented O'Hara because he knew perhaps that the Irishman regardedhim and his world with cynicism; and it was O'Hara and Irishmen likehim--Democrats (thought Anson) and therefore the scum of the earth--whohad broken down the perfect, chilled, set model of Boston life. Sabinehe hated for the same reasons; and from the very beginning he had takena dislike to "that young de Cyon" because the young man seemed to standentirely alone, independent of such dignities, without sign even ofrespect for them. And he was, too, inextricably allied with O'Hara andSabine and the "outlandish Thérèse."
Olivia suspected that he grew shrill and hysterical only at times whenhe was tormented by a suspicion of their mockery. It was then that hebecame unaccountable for what he said and did... unaccountable as hehad been on that night after the ball. She understood that each day madehim more acutely sensitive of his dignity, for he was beginning tointerpret the smallest hint as an attack upon it.
Knowing these things, she had come to treat him always as a child,humoring and wheedling him until in the end she achieved what shedesired, painlessly and surely. She treated him thus in the matter ofrefurnishing the house. Knowing that he was absorbed in finishing thefinal chapters of "The Pentland Family and the Massachusetts BayColony," she suggested that he move his table into the distant"writing-room" where he would be less disturbed by family activities;and Anson, believing that at last his wife was impressed by theimportance and dignity of his work, considered the suggestion anexcellent one. He even smiled and thanked her.
Then, after having consulted old John Pentland and finding that heapproved the plan, she began bit by bit to insinuate the furniture ofHorace Pentland into the house. Sabine came daily to watch the progressof the change, to comment and admire and suggest changes. They found anodd excitement in the emergence of one beautiful object after anotherfrom its chrysalis of emballage; out of old rags and shavings thereappeared the most exquisite of tables and cabinets, bits of chinoiserie,old books and engravings. One by one the ugly desk used by Mr. Lowell,the monstrous lamp presented by Mr. Longfellow, the anemic water-colorsof Miss Maria Pentland... all the furnishings of the museum were movedinto the vast old attic; until at length a new drawing-room emerged,resplendent and beautiful, civilized and warm and even a little exotic,dressed in all the treasures which Horace Pentland had spent his life ingathering with passionate care. Quietly and almost without its beingnoticed, the family skeleton took possession of the house, transformingits whole character.
The change produced in Aunt Cassie a variety of confused andconflicting emotions. It seemed sacrilege to her that the worn,familiar, homely souvenirs of her father's "dear friends" should berelegated into the background, especially by the hand of HoracePentland; yet it was impossible for her to overlook the actual value ofthe collection. She saw the objects less as things of rare beauty thanin terms of dollars and cents. And, as she had said, "Pentland thingsought to find a place in a Pentland house." She suspected Sabine ofMachiavellian tactics and could not make up her mind whether Sabine andHorace Pentland had not triumphed in the end over herself and "dear Mr.Lowell" and "good, kind Mr. Longfellow."
Anson, strangely enough, liked the change, with reservations. For a longtime he had been conscious of the fact that the drawing-room and much ofthe rest of the house seemed shabby and worn, and so, unworthy of suchdignity as attached to the Pentland name.
He stood in the doorway of the drawing-room, surveying thetransformation, and remarked, "The effect seems good... a littleflamboyant, perhaps, and undignified for such a house, but on thewhole... good... quite good. I myself rather prefer the plain earlyAmerican furniture...."
To which Sabine replied abruptly, "But it makes hard sitting."
Until now there had never been any music at Pentlands, for music wasregarded in the family as something you listened to in concert-halls,dressed in your best clothes. Aunt Cassie, with Miss Peavey, had goneregularly for years each Friday afternoon, to sit hatless with a scarfover her head in Symphony Hall listening to "dear Colonel Higginson'sorchestra" (which had fallen off so sadly since his death), but she hadnever learned to distinguish one melody from another.... Music atPentlands had always been a cultural duty, an exercise something akinto attending church. It made no more impression on Aunt Cassie thanthose occasional trips to Europe when, taking her own world with her,she stayed always at hotels where she would encounter friends fromBoston and never be subjected to the strain of barbaric, unsympatheticfaces and conversations.
And now, quite suddenly, music at Pentlands became something alive andcolorful and human. The tinny old square piano disappeared and in itsplace there was a great new one bought by Olivia out of her own money.In the evenings the house echoed to the sound of Chopin and Brahms,Beethoven and Bach, and even such barbaric newcomers as Stravinsky andRavel. Old Mrs. Soames came, when she was well enough, to sit in themost comfortable of the Regence chairs with old John Pentland at herside, listening while the shadow of youth returned to her half-blind oldeyes. The sound of Jean's music penetrated sometimes as far as the roomof the mad old woman in the north wing and into the writing-room, whereit disturbed Anson working on "The Pentland Family and the MassachusettsBay Colony."
And then one night, O'Hara came in after dinner, dressed in clothes cutrather too obviously along radically fashionable lines. It was the firsttime he had ever set foot on Pentland soil.
There were times now when Aunt Cassie told herself that Olivia's strangemoods had vanished at last, leaving in their place the old docile,pleasant Olivia who had always had a way of smoothing out the troublesat Pentlands. The sudden perilous calm no longer settled over theirconversations; Aunt Cassie was no longer fearful of "speaking her mind,frankly, for the good of all of them." Olivia listened to her quietly,and it is true that she was happier in one sense because life atPentlands seemed to be working itself out; but inwardly, she went herown silent way, grieving in solitude because she dared not add theburden of her grief to that of old John Pentland. Even Sabine, moresubtle in such things than Aunt Cassie, came to feel herself quietlyshut out from Olivia's confidence.
Sybil, slipping from childhood into womanhood, no longer depended uponher; she even grew withdrawn and secret about Jean, putting her motheroff with empty phrases where once she had confided everything. Behindthe pleasant, quiet exterior, it seemed to Olivia at times that she hadnever been so completely, so superbly, alone. She began to see that atPentlands life came to arrange itself into a series of cubicles, eachoccupied by a soul shut in from all the others. And she came, for thefirst time in her life, to spend much time thinking of herself.
With the beginning of autumn she would be forty years old... on theverge of middle-age, a woman perhaps with a married daughter. Perhaps atforty-two she would be a grandmother (it seemed likely with such a pairas Sybil and young de Cyon)... a grandmother at forty-two with her hairstill thick and black, her eyes bright, her face unwrinkled... a womanwho at forty-two might pass for a woman ten years younger. A grandmotherwas a grandmother, no matter how youthful she appeared. As a grandmothershe could not afford to make herself ridiculous.
She could perhaps persuade Sybil to wait a year or two and so put offthe evil day, yet such an idea was even more abhorrent to her. The verypanic which sometimes seized her at the thought of turning slowly intoan old woman lay also at the root of her refusal to delay Sybil'smarriage. What was happening to Sybil had never happened to herself andnever could happen now; she was too old, too hard, even too cynical.When one was young like Jean and Sybil, one had an endless store offaith and hope. There was still a glow over all life, and one ought tobegin that way. Those first years--no matter what came afterward--wouldbe the most precious in all their existence; and looking about her, shethought, "There are so few who ever have that chance, so few who canbuild upon a foundation so solid."
Sometimes there returned to her a sudden twinge of the ancient, shamefuljealousy which she had felt for Sybil's youth that suffocating night onthe terrace overlooking the sea. (In an odd way, all the summerunfolding itself slowly seemed to have grown out of that night.)
No, in the end she returned always to the same thought... that shewould sacrifice everything to the perfection of this thing which existedbetween Sybil and the impatient, red-haired young man.
When she was honest with herself, she knew that she would have had nopanic, no terror, save for O'Hara. Save for him she would have had nofear of growing old, of seeing Sybil married and finding herself agrandmother. She had prayed for all these things, even that Fate shouldsend Sybil just such a lover; and now that her prayer was answered therewere times when she wished wickedly that he had not come, or at leastnot so promptly. When she was honest, the answer was always the same...that O'Hara had come to occupy the larger part of her interest inexistence.
In the most secret part of her soul, she no longer pretended that herfeeling for him was only one of friendship. She was in love with him.She rose each morning joyfully to ride with him across the meadows,pleased that Sybil came with them less and less frequently; and on thedays when he was kept in Boston a cloud seemed to darken all herthoughts and actions. She talked to him of his future, his plans, theprogress of his campaign, as if already she were his wife or hismistress. She played traitor to all her world whose fortunes rested onthe success and power of his political enemies. She came to depend uponhis quick sympathy. He had a Gaelic way of understanding her moods, hersudden melancholy, that had never existed in the phlegmatic, insensitiveworld of Pentlands.
She was honest with herself after the morning when, riding along thedamp, secret paths of the birch thicket, he halted his horse abruptlyand with a kind of anguish told her that he could no longer go on in theway they were going.
He said, "What do you want me to do? I am good for nothing. I can thinkof nothing but you... all day and all night. I go to Boston and try towork and all the while I'm thinking of you... thinking what is to bedone. You must see what hell it is for me... to be near you like thisand yet to be treated only as a friend."
Abruptly, when she turned and saw the suffering in his eyes, she knewthere was no longer any doubt. She asked sadly. "What do you want me todo? What can I do? You make me feel that I am being the cheapest,silliest sort of woman." And in a low voice she added, "I don't mean tobe, Michael.... I love you, Michael.... Now I've told you. You are theonly man I've ever loved... even the smallest bit."
A kind of ecstatic joy took possession of him. He leaned over and kissedher, his own tanned face dampened by her tears.
"I'm so happy," she said, "and yet so sad...."
"If you love me... then we can go our way... we need not think of anyof the others."
"Oh, it's not so easy as that, my dear." She had never before been soconscious of his presence, of that strange sense of warmth and charmwhich he seemed to impose on everything about him.
"I do have to think of the others," she said. "Not my husband.... Idon't think he even cares so long as the world knows nothing. Butthere's Sybil.... I can't make a fool of myself on account of Sybil."
She saw quickly that she had used the wrong phrase, that she had hurthim; striking without intention at the fear which he sometimes had thatshe thought him a common, vulgar Irish politician.
"Do you think that this thing between us... might be called 'making afool of yourself'?" he asked with a faint shade of bitterness.
"No... you know me better than that.... You know I was thinking only ofmyself... as a middle-aged woman with a daughter ready to be married."
"But she will be married... soon... surely. Young de Cyon isn't thesort who waits."
"Yes... that's true... but even then." She turned quickly. "What doyou want me to do?... Do you want me to be your mistress?"
"I want you for my own.... I want you to marry me."
"Do you want me as much as that?"
"I want you as much as that.... I can't bear the thought of sharingyou... of having you belong to any one else."
"Oh... I've belonged to no one for a great many years now... not sinceJack was born."
He went on, hurriedly, ardently. "It would change all my life. It wouldgive me some reason to go on.... Save for you.... I'd chuck everythingand go away.... I'm sick of it."
"And you want me for my own sake... not just because I'll help yourcareer and give you an interest in life."
"For your own sake... nothing else, Olivia."
"You see, I ask because I've thought a great deal about it. I'm olderthan you, Michael. I seem young now.... But at forty.... I'll be fortyin the autumn... at forty being older makes a difference. It cuts shortour time.... It's not as if we were in our twenties.... I ask you, too,because you are a clever man and must see these things, too."
"None of it makes any difference." He looked so tragically in earnest,there was such a light in his blue eyes, that her suspicions died. Shebelieved him.
"But we can't marry... ever," she said, "so long as my husband isalive. He'll never divorce me nor let me divorce him. It's one of hispassionate beliefs... that divorce is a wicked thing. Besides, therehas never been a divorce in the Pentland family. There have been worsethings," she said bitterly, "but never a divorce and Anson won't be thefirst to break any tradition."
"Will you talk to him?"
"Just now, Michael, I think I'd do anything... even that. But it willdo no good." For a time they were both silent, caught in a profoundfeeling of hopelessness, and presently she said, "Can you go on likethis for a little time... until Sybil is gone?"
"We're not twenty... either of us. We can't wait too long."
"I can't desert her yet. You don't know how it is at Pentlands. I've gotto save her, even if I lose myself. I fancy they'll be married beforewinter... even before autumn... before he leaves. And then I shall befree. I couldn't... I couldn't be your mistress now, Michael... withSybil still in there at Pentlands with me.... I may be quibbling.... Imay sound silly, but it does make a difference... because perhaps I'velived among them for too long."
"You promise me that when she's gone you'll be free?"
"I promise you, Michael.... I've told you that I love you... thatyou're the only man I've ever loved... even the smallest bit."
"Mrs. Callendar will help us.... She wants it."
"Oh, Sabine...." She was startled. "You haven't spoken to her? Youhaven't told her anything?"
"No.... But you don't need to tell her such things. She has a way ofknowing." After a moment he said, "Why, even Higgins wants it. He keepssaying to me, in an offhand sort of way, as if what he said meantnothing at all, 'Mrs. Pentland is a fine woman, sir. I've known her foryears. Why, she's even helped me out of scrapes. But it's a pity she'sshut up in that mausoleum with all those dead ones. She ought to have ahusband who's a man. She's married to a living corpse.'"
Olivia flushed. "He has no right to talk that way...."
"If you could hear him speak, you'd know that it's not disrespect, butbecause he worships you. He'd kiss the ground you walk over." Andlooking down, he added, "He says it's a pity that a thoroughbred likeyou is shut up at Pentlands. You mustn't mind his way of saying it. He'ssomething of a horse-breeder and so he sees such things in the light oftruth."
She knew, then, what O'Hara perhaps had failed to understand--thatHiggins was touching the tragedy of her son, a son who should have beenstrong and full of life, like Jean. And a wild idea occurred toher--that she might still have a strong son, with O'Hara as the father,a son who would be a Pentland heir but without the Pentland taint. Shemight do what Savina Pentland had done. But she saw at once how absurdsuch an idea was; Anson would know well enough that it was not hisson.
They rode on slowly and in silence while Olivia thought wearily roundand round the dark, tangled maze in which she found herself. Thereseemed no way out of it. She was caught, shut in a prison, at the verymoment when her chance of happiness had come.
They came suddenly out of the thicket into the lane that led from AuntCassie's gazeboed house to Pentlands, and as they passed through thegate they saw Aunt Cassie's antiquated motor drawn up at the side of theroad. The old lady was nowhere to be seen, but at the sound of hoofs therotund form and silly face of Miss Peavey emerged from the bushes at oneside, her bulging arms filled with great bunches of some weed.
She greeted Olivia and nodded to O'Hara. "I've been gathering catnip formy cats," she called out. "It grows fine and thick there in the dampground by the spring."
Olivia smiled... a smile that gave her a kind of physical pain... andthey rode on, conscious all the while that Miss Peavey's china-blue eyeswere following them. She knew that Miss Peavey was too silly andinnocent to suspect anything, but she would, beyond all doubt, godirectly to Aunt Cassie with a detailed description of the encounter.Very little happened in Miss Peavey's life and such an encounter loomedlarge. Aunt Cassie would draw from her all the tiny details, such as thefact that Olivia looked as if she had been weeping.
Olivia turned to O'Hara. "There's nothing malicious about poor MissPeavey," she said, "but she's a fool, which is far more dangerous."
As the month of August moved toward an end there was no longer any doubtas to the "failing" of Aunt Cassie; it was confirmed by the very silencewith which she surrounded the state of her health. For forty years onehad discussed Aunt Cassie's health as one discussed the weather--a thingever present in the consciousness of man about which one could donothing, and now Aunt Cassie ceased suddenly to speak of her health atall. She even abandoned her habit of going about on foot and took tomaking her round of calls in the rattling motor which she protested tofear and loathe, and she came to lean more and more heavily upon therobust Miss Peavey for companionship and support. Claiming a fear ofburglars, she had Miss Peavey's bed moved into the room next to hers andkept the door open between. She developed, Olivia discovered, an almostmorbid terror of being left alone.
And so the depression of another illness came to add its weight to theburden of Jack's death and the grief of John Pentland. The task ofbattling the cloud of melancholy which hung over the old house grew moreand more heavy upon Olivia's shoulders. Anson remained as usualindifferent to any changes in the life about him, living really in thepast among all the sheaves of musty papers, a man not so muchcold-blooded as bloodless, for there was nothing active nor calculatingin his nature, but only a great inertia, a lack of all fire. And it wasimpossible to turn to Sabine, who in an odd way seemed as cold anddetached as Anson; she appeared to stand at a little distance, waiting,watching them all, even Olivia herself. And it was of course unthinkableto cloud the happiness of Sybil by going to her for support.
There was at least O'Hara, who came more and more frequently toPentlands, now that the first visit had been made and the ice wasbroken. Anson encountered him once in the hallway, coldly; and he hadbecome very friendly with old John Pentland. The two had a commoninterest in horses and dogs and cattle, and O'Hara, born in the Bostonslums and knowing very little on any of these subjects, perhaps foundthe old gentleman a valuable source of information. He told Olivia, "Iwouldn't come to the house except for you. I can't bear to think of youthere... always alone... always troubled."
And in the evenings, while they played bridge or listened to Jean'smusic, she sometimes caught his eye, watching her with the oldadmiration, telling her that he was ready to support her no matter whathappened.
A week after the encounter with Miss Peavey at the catnip-bed, Peterscame to Olivia's room late in the afternoon to say, with a curious blendof respect and confidence, "He's ill again, Mrs. Pentland."
She knew what Peters meant; it was a kind of code between them.... Thesame words used so many times before.
She went quickly to the tall narrow library that smelled of dogs andapples and woodsmoke, knowing well enough what she would find there; andon opening the door she saw him at once, lying asleep in the big leatherchair. The faint odor of whisky--a smell which had come long since tofill her always with a kind of horror--hung in the air, and on themahogany desk stood three bottles, each nearly emptied. He sleptquietly, one arm flung across his chest, the other hanging to thefloor, where the bony fingers rested limply against the Turkey-redcarpet. There was something childlike in the peace which enveloped him.It seemed to Olivia that he was even free now of the troubles which longago had left their mark in the harsh, bitter lines of the old face. Thelines were gone, melted away somehow, drowned in the immense quiet ofthis artificial death. It was only thus, perhaps, that he slept quietly,untroubled by dreams. It was only thus that he ever escaped.
Standing in the doorway she watched him for a time, quietly, and then,turning, she said to Peters, "Will you tell Higgins?" and entering thedoor she closed the red-plush curtains, shutting out the late afternoonsunlight.
Higgins came, as he had done so many times before, to lock the door andsit there in the room, even sleeping on the worn leather divan, untilJohn Pentland, wakening slowly and looking about in a dazed way,discovered his groom sitting in the same room, polishing a bridle or apair of riding-boots. The little man was never idle. Something deepinside him demanded action: he must always be doing something. And so,after these melancholy occasions, a new odor clung to the library fordays... the fresh, clean, healthy odor of leather and harness-soap.
* * * * *
For two days Higgins stayed in the library, leaving it only for meals,and for two days the old lady in the north wing went unvisited. Save forthis single room, there was no evidence of any change in the order oflife at Pentlands. Jean, in ignorance of what had happened, came in theevenings to play. But Sabine knew; and Aunt Cassie, who never askedquestions concerning the mysterious absence of her brother lest she betold the truth. Anson, as usual, noticed nothing. The only real changelay in a sudden display of sulking and ill-temper on the part of MissEgan. The invincible nurse even quarreled with the cook, and was uncivilto Olivia, who thought, "What next is to happen? I shall be forced tolook for a new nurse."
On the evening of the third day, just after dinner, Higgins opened thedoor and went in search of Olivia.
"The old gentleman is all right again," he said. "He's gone to bathe andhe'd like to see you in the library in half an hour."
She found him there, seated by the big mahogany desk, bathed andspotlessly neat in clean linen; but he looked very old and weary, andbeneath the tan of the leathery face there was a pallor which gave him ayellowish look. It was his habit never to refer in any way to these sadoccasions, to behave always as if he had only been away for a day or twoand wanted to hear what had happened during his absence.
Looking up at her, he said gravely, "I wanted to speak to you, Olivia.You weren't busy, were you? I didn't disturb you?"
"No," she said. "There's nothing.... Jean and Thérèse are here withSybil.... That's all."
"Sybil," he repeated. "Sybil.... She's very happy these days, isn'tshe?" Olivia nodded and even smiled a little, in a warm, understandingway, so that he added, "Well, we mustn't spoil her happiness. We mustn'tallow anything to happen to it."
A light came into the eyes of Olivia. "No; we mustn't," she repeated,and then, "She's a clever girl.... She knows what she wants from life,and that's the whole secret. Most people never know until it's toolate."
A silence followed this speech, so eloquent, so full of unsaid things,that Olivia grew uneasy.
"I wanted to talk to you about..." he hesitated for a moment, and shesaw that beneath the edge of the table his hands were clenched soviolently that the bony knuckles showed through the brown skin. "Iwanted to talk to you about a great many things." He stirred and addedabruptly, "First of all, there's my will."
He opened the desk and took out a packet of papers, separating themcarefully into little piles before he spoke again. There was a wearinessin all his movements. "I've made some changes," he said, "changes thatyou ought to know about... and there are one or two other things." Helooked at her from under the fierce, shaggy eyebrows. "You see, Ihaven't long to live. I've no reason to expect to live forever and Iwant to leave things in perfect order, as they have always been."
To Olivia, sitting in silence, the conversation became suddenly painful.With each word she felt a wall rising about her, shutting her in, whilethe old man went on and on with an agonizing calmness, with an air ofbeing certain that his will would be obeyed in death as it had alwaysbeen in life.
"To begin with, you will all be left very rich... very rich...something over six million dollars. And it's solid money, Olivia...money not made by gambling, but money that's been saved and multipliedby careful living. For seventy-five years it's been the tradition of thefamily to live on the income of its income. We've managed to do itsomehow, and in the end we're rich... very rich."
As he talked he kept fingering the papers nervously, placing them inneat little piles, arranging and rearranging them.
"And, as you know, Olivia, the money has been kept in a way so that theprincipal could never be spent. Sybil's grandchildren will be able totouch some of it... that is, if you are unwise enough to leave it tothem that way."
Olivia looked up suddenly. "But why me? What have I to do with it?"
"That's what I'm coming to, Olivia dear.... It's because I'm leavingcontrol of the whole fortune to you."
Suddenly, fiercely, she wanted none of it. She had a quick, passionatedesire to seize all the neatly piled papers and burn them, to tear theminto small bits and fling them out of the window.
"I don't want it!" she said. "Why should you leave it to me? I'm richmyself. I don't want it! I'm not a Pentland.... It's not my money. I'venothing to do with it." In spite of herself, there was a note ofpassionate resentment in her voice.
The shaggy brows raised faintly in a look of surprise.
"To whom, if not to you?" he asked.
After a moment, she said, "Why, Anson... to Anson, I suppose."
"You don't really think that?"
"It's his money... Pentland money... not mine. I've all the money Ineed and more."
"It's yours, Olivia...." He looked at her sharply. "You're more aPentland than Anson, in spite of blood... in spite of name. You're morea Pentland than any of them. It's your money by every right in spite ofanything you can do."
("But Anson isn't a Pentland, nor you either," thought Olivia.)
"It's you who are dependable, who are careful, who are honorable,Olivia. You're the strong one. When I die, you'll be the head of thefamily.... Surely, you know that... already."
("I," thought Olivia, "I who have been so giddy, who am planning tobetray you all.... I am all this!")
"If I left it to Anson, it would be wasted, lost on foolish ideas. He'sno idea of business.... There's a screw loose in Anson.... He's a crank.He'd be giving away this good money to missionaries and queercommittees... societies for meddling in the affairs of people. Thatwasn't what this fortune was made for. No, I won't have Pentland moneysquandered like that...."
"And I," asked Olivia. "How do you know what I will do with it?"
He smiled softly, affectionately. "I know what you'll do with it,because I know you, Olivia, my dear.... You'll keep it safe andintact.... You're the Pentland of the family. You weren't when you camehere, but you are now. I mean that you belong to the grand tradition ofPentlands... the old ones who hang out there in the hall. You're theonly one left... for Sybil is too young. She's only a child... yet."
Olivia was silent, but beneath the silence there ran a torrent of cold,rebellious thoughts. Being a Pentland, then, was not a matter of blood:it was an idea, even an ideal. She thought fiercely, "I'm not aPentland. I'm alive. I am myself. I've not been absorbed into nothing.All these years haven't changed me so much. They haven't made me into aPentland." But for the sake of her affection, she could say none ofthese things. She only said, "How do you know what I'll do with it? Howdo you know that I mightn't squander it extravagantly--or--or even runaway, taking all that was free with me. No one could stop me--no one."
He only repeated what he had said before, saying it more slowly thistime, as if to impress her. "I know what you'll do with it, Olivia,because I know you, Olivia dear--you'd never do anything foolish orshameful--I know that--that's why I trust you."
And when she did not answer him, he asked, "You will accept it, won'tyou, Olivia? You'll have the help of a good lawyer... one of the best...John Mannering. It will please me, Olivia, and it will let the worldknow what I think of you, what you have been to me all these years...all that Anson has never been... nor my own sister, Cassie." He leanedacross the table, touching her white hand gently. "You will, Olivia?"
It was impossible to refuse, impossible even to protest any further,impossible to say that in this very moment she wanted only to run away,to escape, to leave them all forever, now that Sybil was safe. Lookingaway, she said in a low voice, "Yes."
It was impossible to desert him now... an old, tired man. The bondbetween them was too strong; it had existed for too long, since thatfirst day she had come to Pentlands as Anson's bride and known that itwas the father and not the son whom she respected. In a way, he hadimposed upon her something of his own rugged, patriarchal strength. Itseemed to her that she had been caught when she meant most to escape;and she was frightened, too, by the echoing thought that perhaps she hadbecome, after all, a Pentland... hard, cautious, unadventurous and alittle bitter, one for whom there was no fire or glamour in life, onewho worshiped a harsh, changeable, invisible goddess called Duty. Shekept thinking of Sabine's bitter remark about "the lower middle-classvirtues of the Pentlands"... the lack of fire, the lack of splendor, ofgallantry. And yet this fierce old man was gallant, in an oddfashion.... Even Sabine knew that.
He was talking again. "It's not only money that's been left to you....There's Sybil, who's still too young to be let free...."
"No," said Olivia with a quiet stubbornness, "she's not too young.She's to do as she pleases. I've tried to make her wiser than I wasat her age... perhaps wiser than I've ever been... even now."
"Perhaps you're right, my dear. You have been so many times... andthings aren't the same as they were in my day... certainly not withyoung girls."
He took up the papers again, fussing over them in a curious, nervousway, very unlike his usual firm, unrelenting manner. She had a flash ofinsight which told her that he was behaving thus because he wanted toavoid looking at her. She hated confidences and she was afraid now thathe was about to tell her things she preferred never to hear. She hatedconfidences and yet she seemed to be a person who attracted them always.
"And leaving Sybil out of it," he continued, "there's queer old MissHaddon in Durham whom, as you know, we've taken care of for years; andthere's Cassie, who's growing old and ill, I think. We can't leave herto half-witted Miss Peavey. I know my sister Cassie has been a burden toyou.... She's been a burden to me, all my life...." He smiled grimly. "Isuppose you know that...." Then, after a pause, he said, "But most ofall, there's my wife."
His voice assumed a queer, unnatural quality, from which all feeling hadbeen removed. It became like the voices of deaf persons who never hearthe sounds they make.
"I can't leave her alone," he said. "Alone... with no one to care forher save a paid nurse. I couldn't die and know that there's no one tothink of her... save that wretched, efficient Miss Egan... a stranger.No, Olivia... there's no one but you.... No one I can trust." He lookedat her sharply. "You'll promise me to keep her here always... never tolet them send her away? You'll promise?"
Again she was caught. "Of course," she said. "Of course I'll promise youthat." What else was she to say?
"Because," he added, looking away from her once more, "because I oweher that... even after I'm dead. I couldn't rest if she were shut upsomewhere... among strangers. You see... once... once...." He brokeoff sharply, as if what he had been about to say was unbearable.
With Olivia the sense of uneasiness changed into actual terror. Shewanted to cry out, "Stop!... Don't go on!" But some instinct told herthat he meant to go on and on to the very end, painfully, despiteanything she could do.
"It's odd," he was saying quite calmly, "but there seem to be only womenleft... no men... for Anson is really an old woman."
Quietly, firmly, with the air of a man before a confessor, speakingalmost as if she were invisible, impersonal, a creature who was a kindof machine, he went on, "And of course, Horace Pentland is dead, so weneedn't think of him any longer.... But there's Mrs. Soames...." Hecoughed and began again to weave the gaunt bony fingers in and out, asif what he had to say were drawn from the depth of his soul with a greatagony. "There's Mrs. Soames," he repeated. "I know that you understandabout her, Olivia... and I'm grateful to you for having been kind andhuman where none of the others would have been. I fancy we've givenBeacon Hill and Commonwealth Avenue subject for conversation for thirtyyears... but I don't care about that. They've watched us... they'veknown every time I went up the steps of her brownstone house... thevery hour I arrived and the hour I left. They have eyes, in our world,Olivia, even in the backs of their heads. You must remember that, mydear. They watch you... they see everything you do. They almost knowwhat you think... and when they don't know, they make it up. That's oneof the signs of a sick, decaying world... that they get their livingvicariously... by watching some one else live... that they live alwaysin the past. That's the only reason I ever felt sorry for HoracePentland... the only reason that I had sympathy for him. It was cruelthat he should have been born in such a place."
The bitterness ran like acid through all the speech, through the verytimbre of his voice. It burned in the fierce black eyes where the firewas not yet dead. Olivia believed that she was seeing him now for thefirst time, in his fulness, with nothing concealed. And as she listened,the old cloud of mystery that had always hidden him from her began toclear away like the fog lifting from the marshes in the early morning.She saw him now as he really was... a man fiercely masculine, bitter,clear-headed, and more human than the rest of them, who had never beforebetrayed himself even for an instant.
"But about Mrs. Soames.... If anything should happen to me, Olivia...if I should die first, I want you to be kind to her... for my sake andfor hers. She's been patient and good to me for so long." The bitternessseemed to flow away a little now, leaving only a kindling warmth in itsplace. "She's been good to me.... She's always understood, Olivia, evenbefore you came here to help me. You and she, Olivia, have made lifeworth living for me. She's been patient... more patient than you know.Sometimes I must have made life for her a hell on earth... but she'salways been there, waiting, full of gentleness and sympathy. She's beenill most of the time you've known her... old and ill. You can't imaginehow beautiful she once was."
"I know," said Olivia softly. "I remember seeing her when I first cameto Pentlands... and Sabine has told me."
The name of Sabine appeared to rouse him suddenly. He sat up verystraight and said, "Don't trust Sabine too far, Olivia. She belongs tous, after all. She's very like my sister Cassie... more like her thanyou can imagine. It's why they hate each other so. She's Cassie turnedinside out, as you might say. They'd both sacrifice everything for thesake of stirring up some trouble or calamity that would interest them.They live... vicariously."
Olivia would have interrupted him, defending Sabine and telling of theone real thing that had happened to her... the tragic love for herhusband; she would have told him of all the abrupt, incoherentconfidences Sabine had made her; but the old man gave her no chance. Itseemed suddenly that he had become possessed, fiercely intent uponpouring out to her all the dark things he had kept hidden for so long.
(She kept thinking, "Why must I know all these things? Why must I takeup the burden? Why was it that I should find those letters which hadlain safe and hidden for so long?")
He was talking again quietly, the bony fingers weaving in and out theirnervous futile pattern. "You see, Olivia.... You see, she takes drugsnow... and there's no use in trying to cure her. She's old now, and itdoesn't really matter. It's not as if she were young with all her lifebefore her."
Almost without thinking, Olivia answered, "I know that."
He looked up quickly. "Know it?" he asked sharply. "How could you knowit?"
"Sabine told me."
The head bowed again. "Oh, Sabine! Of course! She's dangerous. She knowsfar too much of the world. She's known too many strange people." Andthen he repeated again what he had said months ago after the ball. "Sheought never to have come back here."
Into the midst of the strange, disjointed conversation there camepresently the sound of music drifting toward them from the distantdrawing-room. John Pentland, who was a little deaf, did not hear it atfirst, but after a little time he sat up, listening, and turning towardher, asked, "Is that Sybil's young man?"
"He's a nice boy, isn't he?"
"A very nice boy."
After a silence he asked, "What's the name of the thing he's playing?"
Olivia could not help smiling. "It's called I'm in love again and thespring is a-comin'. Jean brought it back from Paris. A friend of hiswrote it... but names don't mean anything in music any more. No onelistens to the words."
A shadow of amusement crossed his face. "Songs have queer namesnowadays."
She would have escaped, then, going quietly away. She stirred and evenmade a gesture toward leaving, but he raised his hand in the way he had,making her feel that she must obey him as if she were a child.
"There are one or two more things you ought to know, Olivia... thingsthat will help you to understand. Some one has to know them. Someone...." He halted abruptly and again made a great effort to go on. Theveins stood out sharply on the bony head.
"It's about her chiefly," he said, with the inevitable gesture towardthe north wing. "She wasn't always that way. That's what I want toexplain. You see... we were married when we were both very young. Itwas my father who wanted it. I was twenty and she was eighteen. Myfather had known her family always. They were cousins of ours, in a way,just as they were cousins of Sabine's. He had gone to school with herfather and they belonged to the same club and she was an only child witha prospect of coming into a great fortune. It's an old story, you see,but a rather common one in our world.... All these things counted, andas for myself, I'd never had anything to do with women and I'd neverbeen in love with any one. I was very young. I think they saw it as aperfect match... made in the hard, prosperous Heaven of their dreams.She was very pretty... you can see even now that she must have beenvery pretty.... She was sweet, too, and innocent." He coughed, andcontinued with a great effort. "She had... she had a mind like a littlechild's. She knew nothing... a flower of innocence," he added with astrange savagery.
And then, as if the effort were too much for him, he paused and satstaring out of the window toward the sea. To Olivia it seemed that hehad slipped back across the years to the time when the poor old lady hadbeen young and perhaps curiously shy of his ardent wooing. A silencesettled again over the room, so profound that this time the faint,distant roaring of the surf on the rocks became audible, and then againthe sound of Jean's music breaking in upon them. He was playing anothertune... not I'm in love again, but one called Ukulele Lady.
"I wish they'd stop that damned music!" said John Pentland.
"I'll go," began Olivia, rising.
"No... don't go. You mustn't go... not now." He seemed anxious, almostterrified, perhaps by the fear that if he did not tell now he wouldnever tell her the long story that he must tell to some one. "No, don'tgo... not until I've finished, Olivia. I must finish.... I want you toknow why such things happened as happened here yesterday and the daybefore in this room.... There's no excuse, but what I have to tell youmay explain it... a little."
He rose and opening one of the bookcases, took out a bottle of whisky.Looking at her, he said, "Don't worry, Olivia, I shan't repeat it. It'sonly that I'm feeling weak. It will never happen again... what happenedyesterday... never. I give you my word."
He poured out a full glass and seated himself once more, drinking thestuff slowly while he talked.
"So we were married, I thinking that I was in love with her, because Iknew nothing of such things... nothing. It wasn't really love, yousee.... Olivia, I'm going to tell you the truth... everything... allof the truth. It wasn't really love, you see. It was only that she wasthe only woman I had ever approached in that way... and I was a strong,healthy young man."
He began to speak more and more slowly, as if each word were thrust outby an immense effort of will. "And she knew nothing... nothing at all.She was," he said bitterly, "all that a young woman was supposed to be.After the first night of the honeymoon, she was never quite the sameagain... never quite the same, Olivia. Do you know what that means? Thehoneymoon ended in a kind of madness, a fixed obsession. She'd beenbrought up to think of such things with a sacred horror and there was atouch of madness in her family. She was never the same again," herepeated in a melancholy voice, "and when Anson was born she went quiteout of her head. She would not see me or speak to me. She fancied that Ihad disgraced her forever... and after that she could never be leftalone without some one to watch her. She never went out again in theworld...."
The voice died away into a hoarse whisper. The glass of whisky had beenemptied in a supreme effort to break through the shell which had closedhim in from all the world, from Olivia, whom he cherished, perhaps evenfrom Mrs. Soames, whom he had loved. In the distance the music stillcontinued, this time as an accompaniment to the hard, loud voice ofThérèse singing, I'm in love again and the spring is a-comin'....Thérèse, the dark, cynical, invincible Thérèse for whom life, from frogsto men, held very few secrets.
"But the story doesn't end there," continued John Pentland weakly. "Itgoes on... because I came to know what being in love might be when Imet Mrs. Soames.... Only then," he said sadly, as if he saw the tragedyfrom far off as a thing which had little to do with him. "Only then," herepeated, "it was too late. After what I had done to her, it was toolate to fall in love. I couldn't abandon her. It was impossible. Itought never to have happened." He straightened his tough old body andadded, "I've told you all this, Olivia, because I wanted you tounderstand why sometimes I am..." He paused for a moment and thenplunged ahead, "why I am a beast as I was yesterday. There have beentimes when it was the only way I could go on living.... And it harmed noone. There aren't many who ever knew about it.... I always hid myself.There was never any spectacle."
Slowly Olivia's white hand stole across the polished surface of the deskand touched the brown, bony one that lay there now, quietly, like a hawkcome to rest. She said nothing and yet the simple gesture carried aneloquence of which no words were capable. It brought tears into theburning eyes for the second time in the life of John Pentland. He hadwept only once before... on the night of his grandson's death. And theywere not, Olivia knew, tears of self-pity, for there was no self-pity inthe tough, rugged old body; they were tears at the spectacle of atragedy in which he happened by accident to be concerned.
"I wanted you to know, my dear Olivia... that I have never beenunfaithful to her, not once in all the years since ourwedding-night.... I know the world will never believe it, but I wantedyou to know because, you see, you and Mrs. Soames are the only ones whomatter to me... and she knows that it is true."
And now that she knew the story was finished, she did not go away,because she knew that he wanted her to stay, sitting there beside himin silence, touching his hand. He was the sort of man--a man, shethought, like Michael--who needed women about him.
After a long time, he turned suddenly and asked, "This boy ofSybil's--who is he? What is he like?"
"Sabine knows about him."
"It's that which makes me afraid.... He's out of her world and I'm notso sure that I like it. In Sabine's world it doesn't matter who a personis or where he comes from as long as he's clever and amusing."
"I've watched him.... I've talked with him. I think him all that a girlcould ask... a girl like Sybil, I mean.... I shouldn't recommend him toa silly girl... he'd give such a wife a very bad time. Besides, I don'tthink we can do much about it. Sybil, I think, has decided."
"Has he asked her to marry him? Has he spoken to you?"
"I don't know whether he's asked her. He hasn't spoken to me. Young mendon't bother about such things nowadays."
"But Anson won't like it. There'll be trouble... and Cassie, too."
"Yes... and still, if Sybil wants him, she'll have him. I've tried toteach her that in a case like this... well," she made a little gesturewith her white hand, "that she should let nothing make any difference."
He sat thoughtfully for a long time, and at last, without looking up andalmost as if speaking to himself, he said, "There was once an elopementin the family.... Jared and Savina Pentland were married that way."
"But that wasn't a happy match... not too happy," said Olivia; andimmediately she knew that she had come near to betraying herself. A wordor two more and he might have trapped her. She saw that it wasimpossible to add the burden of the letters to these other secrets.
As it was, he looked at her sharply, saying, "No one knows that.... Oneonly knows that she was drowned."
She saw well enough what he meant to tell her, by that vague hintregarding Savina's elopement; only now he was back once more in theterrible shell; he was the mysterious, the false, John Pentland whocould only hint but never speak directly.
The music ceased altogether in the drawing-room, leaving only the vague,distant, eternal pounding of the surf on the red rocks, and once thedistant echo of a footstep coming from the north wing. The old man saidpresently, "So she wasn't falling in love with this man O'Hara, afterall? There wasn't any need for worry?"
"No, she never thought of him in that way, even for a moment.... To herhe seems an old man.... We mustn't forget how young she is."
"He's not a bad sort," replied the old man. "I've grown fond of him, andHiggins thinks he's a fine fellow. I'm inclined to trust Higgins. He hasan instinct about people... the same as he has about the weather." Hepaused for a moment, and then continued, "Still, I think we'd best becareful about him. He's a clever Irishman on the make... and suchgentlemen need watching. They're usually thinking only of themselves."
"Perhaps," said Olivia, in a whisper. "Perhaps...."
The silence was broken by the whirring and banging of the clock in thehall making ready to strike eleven. The evening had slipped awayquickly, veiled in a mist of unreality. At last the truth had beenspoken at Pentlands--the grim, unadorned, terrible truth; and Olivia,who had hungered for it for so long, found herself shaken.
John Pentland rose slowly, painfully, for he had grown stiff and brittlewith the passing of the summer. "It's eleven, Olivia. You'd better go tobed and get some rest."
She did not go to her own room, because it would have been impossible tosleep, and she could not go to the drawing-room to face, in the moodwhich held her captive, such young faces as those of Jean and Thérèseand Sybil. At the moment she could not bear the thought of any enclosedplace, of a room or even a place covered by a roof which shut out theopen sky. She had need of the air and that healing sense of freedom andoblivion which the sight of the marshes and the sea sometimes brought toher. She wanted to breathe deeply the fresh salty atmosphere, to run, toescape somewhere. Indeed, for a moment she succumbed to a sense ofpanic, as she had done on the other hot night when O'Hara followed herinto the garden.
She went out across the terrace and, wandering aimlessly, found herselfpresently moving beneath the trees in the direction of the marshes andthe sea. This last night of August was hot and clear save for the faint,blue-white mist that always hung above the lower meadows. There had beentimes in the past when the thought of crossing the lonely meadows, ofwandering the shadowed lanes in the darkness, had frightened her, butto-night such an adventure seemed only restful and quiet, perhapsbecause she believed that she could encounter there nothing moreterrible than the confidences of John Pentland. She was acutely aware,as she had been on that other evening, of the breathless beauty of thenight, of the velvety shadows along the hedges and ditches, of thebrilliance of the stars, of the distant foaming white line of the seaand the rich, fertile odor of the pastures and marshes.
And presently, when she had grown a little more calm, she tried to bringsome order out of the chaos that filled her body and spirit. It seemedto her that all life had become hopelessly muddled and confused. She wasaware in some way, almost without knowing why, that the old man hadtricked her, turning her will easily to his own desires, changing allthe prospect of the future. She had known always that he was strong andin his way invincible, but until to-night she had never known the fullgreatness of his strength... how relentless, even how unscrupulous hecould be; for he had been unscrupulous, unfair, in the way he had usedevery weapon at hand... every sentiment, every memory... to achievehis will. There had been no fierce struggle in the open; it was far moresubtle than that. He had subdued her without her knowing it, aidedperhaps by all that dark force which had the power of changing themall... even the children of Savina Dalgedo and Toby Cane into"Pentlands."
Thinking bitterly of what had passed, she came to see that his strengthrested upon the foundation of his virtue, his rightness. One couldsay--indeed, one could believe it as one believed that the sun had risenyesterday--that all his life had been tragically foolish and quixotic,fantastically devoted to the hard, uncompromising ideal of what aPentland ought to be; and yet... yet one knew that he had been right,even perhaps heroic; one respected his uncompromising strength. He hadmade a wreck of his own happiness and driven poor old Mrs. Soames toseek peace in the Nirvana of drugs; and yet for her, he was the whole oflife: she lived only for him. This code of his was hard, cruel, inhuman,sacrificing everything to its observance.... "Even," thought Olivia, "tosacrificing me along with himself. But I will not be sacrificed. I willescape!"
And after a long time she began to see slowly what it was that lay atthe bottom of the iron power he had over people, the strength which noneof them had been able to resist. It was a simple thing... simply thathe believed, passionately, relentlessly, as those first Puritans haddone.
The others all about her did not matter. Not one of them had any powerover her... not Anson, nor Aunt Cassie, nor Sabine, nor BishopSmallwood. None of them played any part in the course of her life. Theydid not matter. She had no fear of them; rather they seemed to her nowfussy and pitiful.
But John Pentland believed. It was that which made the difference.
* * * * *
Stumbling along half-blindly, she found herself presently at the bridgewhere the lane from Pentlands crossed the river on its way to BrookCottage. Since she had been a little girl the sight of water had exerteda strange spell upon her... the sight of a river, a lake, but most ofall the open sea; she had always been drawn toward these things like abit of iron toward a magnet; and now, finding herself at the bridge, shehalted, and stood looking over the stone parapet in the shadow of thehawthorn-bushes that grew close to the water's edge, down on the dark,still pool below her. The water was black and in it the bright littlestars glittered like diamonds scattered over its surface. The warm, richodor of cattle filled the air, touched by the faint, ghostly perfume ofthe last white nympheas that bordered the pool.
And while she stood there, bathed in the stillness of the dark solitude,she began to understand a little what had really passed between them inthe room smelling of whisky and saddle-soap. She saw how the wholetragedy of John Pentland and his life had been born of the stupidity,the ignorance, the hypocrisy of others, and she saw, too, that he wasbeyond all doubt the grandson of the Toby Cane who had written thosewild passionate letters glorifying the flesh; only John Pentland hadfound himself caught in the prison of that other terrible thing--thecode in which he had been trained, in which he believed. She saw nowthat it was not strange that he sought escape from reality by shuttinghimself in and drinking himself into a stupor. He had been caught,tragically, between those two powerful forces. He thought himself aPentland and all the while there burned in him the fire that lay in TobyCane's letters and in the wanton look that was fixed forever in theportrait of Savina Pentland. She kept seeing him as he said, "I havenever been unfaithful to her, not once in all the years since ourwedding-night.... I wanted you to know because, you see, you and Mrs.Soames are the only ones who matter to me... and she knows that it istrue."
It seemed to her that this fidelity was a terrible, a wicked, thing.
And she came to understand that through all their talk together, thethought, the idea, of Michael had been always present. It was almost asif they had been speaking all the while about Michael and herself. Adozen times the old man had touched upon it, vaguely but surely. She hadno doubts that Aunt Cassie had long since learned all there was to learnfrom Miss Peavey of the encounter by the catnip-bed, and she was certainthat she had taken the information to her brother. Still, there wasnothing definite in anything Miss Peavey had seen, very little that waseven suspicious. And yet, as she looked back upon her talk with the oldman, it seemed to her that in a dozen ways, by words, by intonation, byglances, he had implied that he knew the secret. Even in the end when,cruelly, he had with an uncanny sureness touched the one fear, the onesuspicion that marred her love for Michael, by saying in the most casualway, "Still, I think we'd better be careful of him. He's a cleverIrishman on the make... and such gentlemen need watching. They'reusually thinking only of themselves."
And then the most fantastic of all thoughts occurred to her... that alltheir talk together, even the painful, tragic confidence made with suchan heroic effort, was directed at herself. He had done all this--he hademerged from his shell of reticence, he had humiliated his fiercepride--all to force her to give up Michael, to force her to sacrificeherself on the altar of that fantastic ideal in which he believed.
And she was afraid because he was so strong; because he had asked her todo nothing that he himself had not done.
She would never know for certain. She saw that, after all, the JohnPentland she had left a little while before still remained an illusion,veiled in mystery, unfathomable to her perhaps forever. She had not seenhim at all.
* * * * *
Standing there on the bridge in the black shadow of the hawthorns, allsense of time or space, of the world about her, faded out of existence,so that she was aware of herself only as a creature who was suffering.She thought, "Perhaps he is right. Perhaps I have become like them, andthat is why this struggle goes on and on. Perhaps if I were an ordinaryperson... sane and simple... like Higgins... there would be nostruggle and no doubts, no terror of simply acting, withouthesitation."
She remembered what the old man had said of a world in which all actionhad become paralyzed, where one was content simply to watch others act,to live vicariously. The word "sane" had come to her quite naturally andeasily as the exact word to describe a state of mind opposed to thatwhich existed perpetually at Pentlands, and the thought terrified herthat perhaps this thing which one called "being a Pentland," this stateof enchantment, was, after all, only a disease, a kind of madness thatparalyzed all power of action. One came to live in the past, toacknowledge debts of honor and duty to people who had been dead for acentury and more.
"Once," she thought, "I must have had the power of doing what I wantedto do, what I thought right."
And she thought again of what Sabine had said of New England as "a placewhere thoughts became higher and fewer," where every action became aproblem of moral conduct, an exercise in transcendentalism. It waspassing now, even from New England, though it still clung to the worldof Pentlands, along with the souvenirs of celebrated "dear friends."Even stowing the souvenirs away in the attic had changed nothing. It waspassing all about Pentlands; there was nothing of this sort in the NewEngland that belonged to O'Hara and Higgins and the Polish mill-workersof Durham. The village itself had become a new and different place.
In the midst of this rebellion, she became aware, with that strangeacuteness which seemed to touch all her senses, that she was no longeralone on the bridge in the midst of empty, mist-veiled meadows. She knewsuddenly and with a curious certainty that there were others somewherenear her in the darkness, perhaps watching her, and she had for a momenta wave of the quick, chilling fear which sometimes overtook her atPentlands at the times when she had a sense of figures surrounding herwho could neither be seen nor touched. And almost at once shedistinguished, emerging from the mist that blanketed the meadows, thefigures of two people, a man and a woman, walking very close to eachother, their arms entwined. For a moment she thought, "Am I really mad?Am I seeing ghosts in reality?" The fantastic idea occurred to her thatthe two figures were perhaps Savina Pentland and Toby Cane risen fromtheir lost grave in the sea to wander across the meadows and marshes ofPentland. Moving through the drifting, starlit mist, they seemed vagueand indistinct and watery, like creatures come up out of the water. Shefancied them, all dripping and wet, emerging from the waves and crossingthe white rim of beach on their way toward the big old house....
The sight, strangely enough, filled her with no sense of horror, butonly with fascination.
And then, as they drew nearer, she recognized the man--something atfirst vaguely familiar in the cocky, strutting walk. She knew the bandylegs and was filled suddenly with a desire to laugh wildly andhysterically. It was only the rabbitlike Higgins engaged in some newconquest. Quietly she stepped farther into the shadow of the hawthornsand the pair passed her, so closely that she might have reached out herhand and touched them. It was only then that she recognized the woman.It was no Polish girl from the village, this time. It was Miss Egan--thestarched, the efficient Miss Egan, whom Higgins had seduced. She wasleaning on him as they walked--a strange, broken, feminine Miss Eganwhom Olivia had never seen before.
At once she thought, "Old Mrs. Pentland has been left alone. Anythingmight happen. I must hurry back to the house." And she had a quick burstof anger at the deceit of the nurse, followed by a flash of intuitionwhich seemed to clarify all that had been happening since the hot nightearly in the summer when she had seen Higgins leaping the wall like agoat to escape the glare of the motor-lights. The mysterious woman whohad disappeared over the wall that night was Miss Egan. She had beenleaving the old woman alone night after night since then; it explainedthe sudden impatience and bad temper of these last two days when Higginshad been shut up with the old man.
She saw it all now--all that had happened in the past two months--in anorderly procession of events. The old woman had escaped, leading theway to Savina Pentland's letters, because Miss Egan had deserted herpost to wander across the meadows at the call of that mysterious,powerful force which seemed to take possession of the countryside atnightfall. It was in the air again to-night, all about her... in theair, in the fields, the sound of the distant sea, the smell of cattleand of ripening seeds... as it had been on the night when Michaelfollowed her out into the garden.
In a way, the whole chain of events was the manifestation of thedisturbing force which had in the end revealed the secret of Savina'sletters. It had mocked them, and now the secret weighed on Olivia as athing which she must tell some one, which she could no longer keep toherself. It burned her, too, with the sense of possessing a terrible andshameful weapon which she might use if pushed beyond endurance.
Slowly, after the two lovers had disappeared, she made her way backagain toward the old house, which loomed square and black against thedeep blue of the sky, and as she walked, her anger at Miss Egan'sbetrayal of trust seemed to melt mysteriously away. She would speak toMiss Egan to-morrow, or the day after; in any case, the affair had beengoing on all summer and no harm had come of it--no harm save thediscovery of Savina Pentland's letters. She felt a sudden sympathy forthis starched, efficient woman whom she had always disliked; she sawthat Miss Egan's life, after all, was a horrible thing--a procession ofdays spent in the company of a mad old woman. It was, Olivia thought,something like her own existence....
And it occurred to her at the same time that it would be difficult toexplain to so sharp-witted a creature as Miss Egan why she herselfshould have been on the bridge at such an hour of the night. It was asif everything, each little thought and action, became more and moretangled and hopeless, more and more intricate and complicated with thepassing of each day. There was no way out save to cut the web boldly andescape.
"No," she thought, "I will not stay.... I will not sacrifice myself.To-morrow I shall tell Michael that when Sybil is gone, I will dowhatever he wants me to do...."
When she reached the house she found it dark save for the light whichburned perpetually in the big hall illuminating faintly the rows ofportraits; and silent save for the creakings which afflicted it in thestillness of the night.
She was wakened early, after having slept badly, with the news thatMichael had been kept in Boston the night before and would not be ableto ride with her as usual. When the maid had gone away she grewdepressed, for she had counted upon seeing him and coming to somedefinite plan. For a moment she even experienced a vague jealousy, whichshe put away at once as shameful. It was not, she told herself, that heever neglected her; it was only that he grew more and more occupied asthe autumn approached. It was not that there was any other womaninvolved; she felt certain of him. And yet there remained that strange,gnawing little suspicion placed in her mind when John Pentland had said,"He's a clever Irishman on the make... and such gentlemen needwatching."
After all, she knew nothing of him save what he had chosen to tell her.He was a free man, independent, a buccaneer, who could do as he chose inlife. Why should he ruin himself for her?
She rose at last, determined to ride alone, in the hope that the freshmorning air and the exercise would put to rout this cloud of morbiditywhich had kept possession of her from the moment she left John Pentlandin the library.
As she dressed, she thought, "Day after to-morrow I shall be forty yearsold. Perhaps that's the reason why I feel tired and morbid. Perhaps I'mon the borderland of middle-age. But that can't be. I am strong and welland I look young, despite everything. I am tired because of whathappened last night." And then it occurred to her that perhaps Mrs.Soames had known these same thoughts again and again during her longdevotion to John Pentland. "No," she told herself, "whatever happens Ishall never lead the life she has led. Anything is better than that...anything."
It seemed strange to her to awaken and find that nothing was changed inall the world about her. After what had happened the night before in thelibrary and on the dark meadows, there should have been some mark leftupon the life at Pentlands. The very house, the very landscape, shouldhave kept some record of what had happened; and yet everything was thesame. She experienced a faint shock of surprise to find the sun shiningbrightly, to see Higgins in the stable-yard saddling her horse andwhistling all the while in an excess of high spirits, to hear thedistant barking of the beagles, and to see Sybil crossing the meadowtoward the river to meet Jean. Everything was the same, even Higgins,whom she had mistaken for a ghost as he crossed the mist-hung meadows afew hours earlier. It was as if there were two realities atPentlands--one, it might have been said, of the daylight and the otherof the darkness; as if one life--a secret, hidden one--lay beneath thebright, pleasant surface of a world composed of green fields and trees,the sound of barking dogs, the faint odor of coffee arising from thekitchen, and the sound of a groom whistling while he saddled athoroughbred. It was a misfortune that chance had given her an insightinto both the bright, pleasant world and that other dark, nebulous one.The others, save perhaps old John Pentland, saw only this bright, easylife that had begun to stir all about her.
And she reflected that a stranger coming to Pentlands would find it apleasant, comfortable house, where the life was easy and even luxurious,where all of them were protected by wealth. He would find them allrather pleasant, normal, friendly people of a family respected and evendistinguished. He would say, "Here is a world that is solid andcomfortable and sound."
Yes, it would appear thus to a stranger, so it might be that the dark,fearful world existed only in her imagination. Perhaps she herself wasill, a little unbalanced and morbid... perhaps a little touched likethe old woman in the north wing.
Still, she thought, most houses, most families, must have such doublelives--one which the world saw and one which remained hidden.
As she pulled on her boots she heard the voice of Higgins, noisy andcheerful, exchanging amorous jests with the new Irish kitchen-maid,marking her already for his own.
* * * * *
She rode listlessly, allowing the mare to lead through the birch thicketover the cool dark paths which she and Michael always followed. Themorning air did not change her spirits. There was something sad inriding alone through the long green tunnel.
When at last she came out on the opposite side by the patch of catnipwhere they had encountered Miss Peavey, she saw a Ford drawn up by theside of the road and a man standing beside it, smoking a cigar andregarding the engine as if he were in trouble. She saw no more than thatand would have passed him without troubling to look a second time, whenshe heard herself being addressed.
"You're Mrs. Pentland, aren't you?"
She drew in the mare. "Yes, I'm Mrs. Pentland."
He was a little man, dressed rather too neatly in a suit of checkeredstuff, with a high, stiff white collar which appeared to be stranglinghim. He wore nose-glasses and his face had a look of having been highlypolished. As she turned, he took off his straw hat and with a great showof manners came forward, bowing and smiling cordially.
"Well," he said, "I'm glad to hear that I'm right. I hoped I might meetyou here. It's a great pleasure to know you, Mrs. Pentland. My name isGavin.... I'm by way of being a friend of Michael O'Hara."
"Oh!" said Olivia. "How do you do?"
"You're not in a great hurry, I hope?" he asked. "I'd like to have aword or two with you."
"No, I'm not in a great hurry."
It was impossible to imagine what this fussy little man, standing in themiddle of the road, bowing and smiling, could have to say to her.
Still holding his hat in his hand, he tossed away the end of his cigarand said, "It's about a very delicate matter, Mrs. Pentland. It has todo with Mr. O'Hara's campaign. I suppose you know about that. You're afriend of his, I believe?"
"Why, yes," she said coldly. "We ride together."
He coughed and, clearly ill at ease, set off on a tangent from the mainsubject. "You see, I'm a great friend of his. In fact, we grew uptogether... lived in the same ward and fought together as boys. Youmightn't think it to see us together... because he's such a clever one.He's made for big things and I'm not.... I'm... I'm just plain JohnGavin. But we're friends, all the same, just the same as ever... justas if he wasn't a big man. That's one thing about Michael. He never goesback on his old friends, no matter how great he gets to be."
A light of adoration shone in the blue eyes of the little man. It was,Olivia thought, as if he were speaking of God; only clearly he thoughtof Michael O'Hara as greater than God. If Michael affected men likethis, it was easy to see why he was so successful.
The little man kept interrupting himself with apologies. "I shan't keepyou long, Mrs. Pentland... only a moment. You see I thought it wasbetter if I saw you here instead of coming to the house." Suddenlyscrewing up his shiny face, he became intensely serious. "It's likethis, Mrs. Pentland.... I know you're a good friend of his and you wishhim well. You want to see him get elected... even though you people outhere don't hold much with the Democratic party."
"Yes," said Olivia. "That's true."
"Well," he continued with a visible effort, "Michael's a good friend ofmine. I'm sort of a bodyguard to him. Of course, I never come out here.I don't belong in this world.... I'd feel sort of funny out here."
(Olivia found herself feeling respect for the little man. He was sosimple and so honest and he so obviously worshiped Michael.)
"You see... I know all about Michael. I've been through a great dealwith him... and he's not himself just now. There's something wrong. Heain't interested in his work. He acts as if he'd be willing to chuck hiswhole career overboard... and I can't let him do that. None of hisfriends... can't let him do it. We can't get him to take a properinterest in his affairs. Usually, he manages everything... better thanany one else could." He became suddenly confidential, closing one eye."D'you know what I think is the matter? I've been watching him and I'vegot an idea."
He waited until Olivia said, "No... I haven't the least idea."
Cocking his head on one side and speaking with the air of having made agreat discovery, he said, "Well, I think there's a woman mixed up init."
She felt the blood mounting to her head, in spite of anything she coulddo. When she was able to speak, she asked, "Yes, and what am I to do?"
He moved a little nearer, still with the same air of confiding in her."Well, this is my idea. Now, you're a friend of his... you'llunderstand. You see, the trouble is that it's some woman here inDurham... some swell, you see, like yourself. That's what makes it hard.He's had women before, but they were women out of the ward and it didn'tmake much difference. But this is different. He's all upset, and..." Hehesitated for a moment. "Well, I don't like to say a thing like thisabout Michael, but I think his head is turned a little. That's a meanthing to say, but then we're all human, aren't we?"
"Yes," said Olivia softly. "Yes... in the end, we're all human... evenswells like me." There was a twinkle of humor in her eye which for amoment disconcerted the little man.
"Well," he went on, "he's all upset about her and he's no good foranything. Now, what I thought was this... that you could find out whothis woman is and go to her and persuade her to lay off him for atime... to go away some place... at least until the campaign is over.It'd make a difference. D'you see?"
He looked at her boldly, as if what he had been saying was absolutelyhonest and direct, as if he really had not the faintest idea who thiswoman was, and beneath a sense of anger, Olivia was amused at the crudetact which had evolved this trick.
"There's not much that I can do," she said. "It's a preposterous idea...but I'll do what I can. I'll try. I can't promise anything. It lies withMr. O'Hara, after all."
"You see, Mrs. Pentland, if it ever got to be a scandal, it'd be the endof him. A woman out of the ward doesn't matter so much, but a woman outhere would be different. She'd get a lot of publicity from the sassietyeditors and all.... That's what's dangerous. He'd have the whole churchagainst him on the grounds of immorality."
While he was speaking, a strange idea occurred to Olivia--that much ofwhat he said sounded like a strange echo of Aunt Cassie's methods ofargument.
The horse had grown impatient and was pawing the road and tossing hishead; and Olivia was angry now, genuinely angry, so that she waited fora time before speaking, lest she should betray herself and spoil allthis little game of pretense which Mr. Gavin had built up to keephimself in countenance. At last she said, "I'll do what I can, but it'sa ridiculous thing you're asking of me."
The little man grinned. "I've been a long time in politics, Ma'am, andI've seen funnier things than this...." He put on his hat, as if tosignal that he had said all he wanted to say. "But there's one thing I'dlike to ask... and that's that you never let Michael know that I spoketo you about this."
"Why should I promise... anything?"
He moved nearer and said in a low voice, "You know Michael very well,Mrs. Pentland.... You know Michael very well, and you know that he'sgot a bad, quick temper. If he found out that we were meddling in hisaffairs, he might do anything. He might chuck the whole business andclear out altogether. He's never been like this about a woman before.He'd do it just now.... That's the way he's feeling. You don't want tosee him ruin himself any more than I do... a clever man like Michael.Why, he might be president one of these days. He can do anything he setshis will to, Ma'am, but he is, as they say, temperamental just now."
"I'll not tell him," said Olivia quietly. "And I'll do what I can tohelp you. And now I must go." She felt suddenly friendly toward Mr.Gavin, perhaps because what he had been telling her was exactly what shewanted most at that moment to hear. She leaned down from her horse andheld out her hand, saying, "Good-morning, Mr. Gavin."
Mr. Gavin removed his hat once more, revealing his round, bald, shinyhead. "Good-morning, Mrs. Pentland."
As she rode off, the little man remained standing in the middle of theroad looking after her until she had disappeared. His eye glowed withthe light of admiration, but as Olivia turned from the road into themeadows, he frowned and swore aloud. Until now he hadn't understood howa good politician like Michael could lose his head over any woman. Buthe had an idea that he could trust this woman to do what she hadpromised. There was a look about her... a look which made her seemdifferent from most women; perhaps it was this look which had made afool of Michael, who usually kept women in their proper places.
Grinning and shaking his head, he got into the Ford, started it with agreat uproar, and set off in the direction of Boston. After he had gonea little way he halted again and got out, for in his agitation he hadforgotten to close the hood.
* * * * *
From the moment she turned and rode away from Mr. Gavin, Olivia gaveherself over to action. She saw that there was need of more than merestatic truth to bring order out of the hazy chaos at Pentlands; theremust be action as well. And she was angry now, really angry, even at Mr.Gavin for his impertinence, and at the unknown person who had been hisinformant. The strange idea that Aunt Cassie or Anson was somehowresponsible still remained; tactics such as these were completelysympathetic to them--to go thus in Machiavellian fashion to a man likeGavin instead of coming to her. By using Mr. Gavin there would be noscene, no definite unpleasantness to disturb the enchantment ofPentlands. They could go on pretending that nothing was wrong, thatnothing had happened.
But stronger than her anger was the fear that in some way they might usethe same tactics to spoil the happiness of Sybil. They would, she wascertain, sacrifice everything to their belief in their own rightness.
She found Jean at the house when she returned, and, closing the door ofthe drawing-room, she said to him, "Jean, I want to talk to you for amoment... alone."
He said at once, "I know, Mrs. Pentland. It's about Sybil."
There was a little echo of humor in his voice that touched and disarmedher as it always did. It struck her that he was still young enough to beconfident that everything in life would go exactly as he wished it....
"Yes," she said, "that was it." They sat on two of Horace Pentland'schairs and she continued. "I don't believe in meddling, Jean, only nowthere are circumstances... reasons...." She made a little gesture. "Ithought that if really... really...."
He interrupted her quickly. "I do, Mrs. Pentland. We've talked it allover, Sybil and I... and we're agreed. We love each other. We're goingto be married."
Watching the young, ardent face, she thought, "It's a nice face inwhich there is nothing mean or nasty. The lips aren't thin and tightlike Anson's, nor the skin sickly and pallid the way Anson's has alwaysbeen. There's life in it, and force and charm. It's the face of a manwho would be good to a woman... a man not in the least cold-blooded."
"Do you love her... really?" she asked.
"I... I.... It's a thing I can't answer because there aren't words todescribe it."
"Because... well... Jean, it's no ordinary case of a mother and adaughter. It's much more than that. It means more to me than my ownhappiness, my own life... because, well, because Sybil is like a partof myself. I want her to be happy. It's not just a simple case of twoyoung people marrying. It's much more than that." There was a silence,and she asked, "How do you love her?"
He sat forward on the edge of his chair, all eagerness. "Why..." hebegan, stammering a little, "I couldn't think of living without her.It's different from anything I ever imagined. Why... we've plannedeverything... all our lives. If ever I lost her, it wouldn't matterwhat happened to me afterwards." He grinned and added, "But you see...people have said all that before. There aren't any words to explain...to make it seem as different from anything else as it seems to me."
"But you're going to take her away?"
"Yes... she wants to go where I go."
("They are young," thought Olivia. "They've never once thought of anyone else... myself or Sybil's grandfather.")
Aloud she said, "That's right, Jean.... I want you to take her away...no matter what happens, you must take her away...." ("And then I won'teven have Sybil.")
"We're going to my ranch in the Argentine."
"That's right.... I think Sybil would like that." She sighed, in spiteof herself, vaguely envious of these two. "But you're so young. How canyou know for certain."
A shadow crossed his face and he said, "I'm twenty-five, Mrs.Pentland... but that's not the only thing.... I was brought up, you see,among the French... like a Frenchman. That makes a difference." Hehesitated, frowning for a moment. "Perhaps I oughtn't to tell.... Youmightn't understand. I know how things are in this part of the world....You see, I was brought up to look upon falling in love as somethingnatural... something that was pleasant and natural and amusing. I'vebeen in love before, casually... the way young Frenchmen are... but in earnest, too, because a Frenchman can't help surrounding a thing likethat with sentiment and romance. He can't help it. If it were just...just something shameful and nasty, he couldn't endure it. They don'thave affairs in cold blood... the way I've heard men talk about suchthings since I've come here. It makes a difference, Mrs. Pentland, ifyou look at the thing in the light they do. It's different here....I see the difference more every day."
He was talking earnestly, passionately, and when he paused for a momentshe remained silent, unwilling to interrupt him until he had finished.
"What I'm trying to say is difficult, Mrs. Pentland. It's simply this...that I'm twenty-five, but I've had experience with life. Don't laugh!Don't think I'm just a college boy trying to make you think I'm a roué.Only what I say is true. I know about such things... and I'm gladbecause it makes me all the more certain that Sybil is the only woman inthe world for me... the one for whom I'd sacrifice everything. And I'llknow better how to make her happy, to be gentle with her... tounderstand her. I've learned now, and it's a thing which needslearning... the most important thing in all life. The French are rightabout it. They make a fine, wonderful thing of love." He turned awaywith a sudden air of sadness. "Perhaps I shouldn't have told you allthis.... I've told Sybil. She understands."
"No," said Olivia, "I think you're right... perhaps." She kept thinkingof the long tragic story of John Pentland, and of Anson, who had alwaysbeen ashamed of love and treated it as something distasteful. To them ithad been a dark, strange thing always touched by shame. She keptthinking, despite anything she could do, of Anson's clumsy, artificialattempts at love-making, and she was swept suddenly by shame for him.Anson, so proud and supercilious, was a poor thing, inferior even to hisown groom.
"But why," she asked, "didn't you tell me about Sybil sooner? Every onehas seen it, but you never spoke to me."
For a moment he did not answer her. An expression of pain clouded theblue eyes, and then, looking at her directly, he said, "It's not easy toexplain why. I was afraid to come to you for fear you mightn'tunderstand, and the longer I've been here, the longer I've put it offbecause... well, because here in Durham, ancestors, family, all that,seems to be the beginning and end of everything. It seems always to be aquestion of who one's family is. There is only the past and no future atall. And, you see, in a way... I haven't any family." He shrugged hisbig shoulders and repeated, "In a way, I haven't any family at all. Yousee, my mother was never married to my father.... I've no blood-right tothe name of de Cyon. I'm... I'm... well, just a bastard, and it seemedhopeless for me even to talk to a Pentland about Sybil."
He saw that she was startled, disturbed, but he could not have knownthat the look in her eyes had very little to do with shock at what hehad told her; rather she was thinking what a weapon the knowledge wouldbe in the hands of Anson and Aunt Cassie and even John Pentland himself.
He was talking again with the same passionate earnestness.
"I shan't let it make any difference, so long as Sybil will have me,but, you see, it's very hard to explain, because it isn't the way itseems. I want you to understand that my mother is a wonderful woman....I wouldn't bother to explain, to say anything... except to Sybil and toyou."
"Sabine has told me about her."
"Mrs. Callendar has known her for a long time.... They're greatfriends," said Jean. "She understands."
"But she never told me... that. You mean that she's known it allalong?"
"It's not an easy thing to tell... especially here in Durham, and Ifancy she thought it might make trouble for me... after she saw whathad happened to Sybil and me."
He went on quickly, telling her what he had told Sybil of his mother'sstory, trying to make her understand what he understood, and Sabine andeven his stepfather, the distinguished old de Cyon... trying to explaina thing which he himself knew was not to be explained. He told her thathis mother had refused to marry her lover, "because in his lifeoutside... the life which had nothing to do with her... she discoveredthat there were things she couldn't support. She saw that it was betternot to marry him... better for herself and for him and, most of all, forme.... He did things for the sake of success--mean, dishonorablethings--which she couldn't forgive... and so she wouldn't marry him.And now, looking back, I think she was right. It made no greatdifference in her life. She lived abroad... as a widow, and very fewpeople--not more than two or three--ever knew the truth. He never toldbecause, being a politician, he was afraid of such a scandal. Shedidn't want me to be brought up under such an influence, and I think shewas right. He's gone on doing things that were mean and dishonorable....He's still doing them to-day. You see he's a politician... a rathercheap one. He's a Senator now and he hasn't changed. I could tell youhis name.... I suppose some people would think him a distinguishedman... only I promised her never to tell it. He thinks that I'm dead....He came to her once and asked to see me, to have a hand in my educationand my future. There were things, he said, that he could do for me inAmerica... and she told him simply that I was dead... that I waskilled in the war." He finished in a sudden burst of enthusiasm, hisface alight with affection. "But you must know her really to understandwhat I've been saying. Knowing her, you understand everything, becauseshe's one of the great people... the strong people of the world. Yousee, it's one of the things which it is impossible to explain--to you oreven to Sybil--impossible to explain to the others. One must know her."
If she had had any doubts or fears, she knew now that it was too late toact; she saw that it was impossible to change the wills of two suchlovers as Jean and Sybil. In a way, she came to understand the story ofJean's mother more from watching him than by listening to his longexplanation. There must be in her that same determination and ardor thatwas in her son... a thing in its way irresistible. And yet it wasdifficult; she was afraid, somehow, of this unexpected thing, perhapsbecause it seemed vaguely like the taint of Savina Pentland.
She said, "If no one knows this, there is no reason to tell it here.It would only make unhappiness for all concerned. It is your businessalone... and Sybil's. The others have no right to interfere, even toknow; but they will try, Jean... unless... unless you both do what youwant... quickly. Sometimes I think they might do anything."
"You mean..." he began impatiently.
Olivia fell back upon that vague hint which John Pentland had dropped toher the night before. She said, "There was once an elopement in thePentland family."
"You wouldn't mind that?" he asked eagerly. "You wouldn't be hurt... ifwe did it that way?"
"I shouldn't know anything about it," said Olivia quietly, "until it wastoo late to do anything."
"It's funny," he said; "we'd thought of that. We've talked of it, onlySybil was afraid you'd want to have a big wedding and all that...."
"No, I think it would be better not to have any wedding at all...especially under the circumstances."
"Mrs. Callendar suggested it as the best way out.... She offered to lendus her motor," he said eagerly.
"You discussed it with her and yet you didn't speak to me?"
"Well, you see, she's different... she and Thérèse.... They don'tbelong here in Durham. Besides, she spoke of it first. She knew what wasgoing on. She always knows. I almost think that she planned the wholething long ago."
Olivia, looking out of the window, saw entering the long drive theantiquated motor with Aunt Cassie, Miss Peavey, her flying veils and herPekinese.
"Mrs. Struthers is coming..." she said. "We mustn't make hersuspicious. And you'd best tell me nothing of your plans and then...I shan't be able to interfere even if I wanted to. I might change mymind... one never knows."
He stood up and, coming over to her, took her hand and kissed it."There's nothing to say, Mrs. Pentland... except that you'll be gladfor what you've done. You needn't worry about Sybil.... I shall make herhappy.... I think I know how."
He left her, hurrying away past the ancestors in the long hall to findSybil, thinking all the while how odd it would seem to have a woman soyoung and beautiful as Mrs. Pentland for a mother-in-law. She was acharming woman (he thought in his enthusiasm), a great woman, but shewas so sad, as if she had never been very happy. There was always acloud about her.
* * * * *
He did not escape quickly enough, for Aunt Cassie's sharp eyes caught aglimpse of him as he left the house in the direction of the stables. Shemet Olivia in the doorway, kissing her and saying, "Was that Sybil'syoung man I saw leaving?"
"Yes," said Olivia. "We've been talking about Sybil. I've been tellinghim that he mustn't think of her as some one to marry."
The yellow face of Aunt Cassie lighted with a smile of approval. "I'mglad, my dear, that you're being sensible about this. I was afraid youwouldn't be, but I didn't like to interfere. I never believe any goodcomes of it, unless one is forced to. He's not the person for Sybil....Why, no one knows anything about him. You can't let a girl marry likethat... just any one who comes along. Besides, Mrs. Pulsifer writesme.... You remember her, Olivia, the Mannering boy's aunt who used tohave a house in Chestnut Street.... Well, she lives in Paris now at theHotel Continental, and she writes me she's discovered there's somemystery about his mother. No one seems to know much about her."
"Why," said Olivia, "should she write you such a thing? What made herthink you'd be interested?"
"Well, Kate Pulsifer and I went to school together and we stillcorrespond now and then. I just happened to mention the boy's name whenI was writing her about Sabine. She says, by the way, that Sabine hasvery queer friends in Paris and that Sabine has never so much as calledon her or asked her for tea. And there's been some new scandal aboutSabine's husband and an Italian woman. It happened in Venice...."
"But he's not her husband any longer."
The old lady seated herself and went on pouring forth the news from KatePulsifer's letter; with each word she appeared to grow stronger andstronger, less and less yellow and worn.
("It must be," thought Olivia, "the effect of so many calamitiescontained in one letter.")
She saw now that she had acted only just in time and she was glad thatshe had lied, so flatly, so abruptly, without thinking why she had doneit. For Mrs. Pulsifer was certain to go to the bottom of the affair, iffor no other reason than to do harm to Sabine; she had once lived in ahouse on Chestnut Street with a bow-window which swept the entrance toevery house. She was one of John Pentland's dead, who lived by watchingothers live.
From the moment she encountered Mr. Gavin on the turnpike until thetragedy which occurred two days later, life at Pentlands appeared tolose all reality for Olivia. When she thought of it long afterward, thehours became a sort of nightmare in which the old enchantment snappedand gave way to a strained sense of struggle between forces which,centering about herself, left her in the end bruised and a littlebroken, but secure.
The breathless heat of the sort which from time to time enveloped thatcorner of New England, leaving the very leaves of the trees hanging limpand wilted, again settled down over the meadows and marshes, and in themidst of the afternoon appeared the rarest of sights--the indolentSabine stirring in the burning sun. Olivia watched her coming across thefields, protected from the blazing sun only by the frivolous yellowparasol. She came slowly, indifferently, and until she entered the cool,darkened drawing-room she appeared the familiar bored Sabine; only aftershe greeted Olivia the difference appeared.
She said abruptly, "I'm leaving day after to-morrow," and instead ofseating herself to talk, she kept wandering restlessly about the room,examining Horace Pentland's bibelots and turning the pages of books andmagazines without seeing them.
"Why?" asked Olivia. "I thought you were staying until October."
"No, I'm going away at once." She turned and murmured, "I've hatedDurham always. It's unbearable to me now. I'm bored to death. I onlycame, in the first place, because I thought Thérèse ought to know herown people. But it's no good. She'll have none of them. I see now howlike her father she is. They're not her own people and never will be....I don't imagine Durham will ever see either of us again."
Olivia smiled. "I know it's dull here."
"Oh, I don't mean you, Olivia dear, or even Sybil or O'Hara, but there'ssomething in the air.... I'm going to Newport for two weeks and then toBiarritz for October. Thérèse wants to go to Oxford." She grinnedsardonically. "There's a bit of New England in her, after all... thiseducation business. I wanted a femme du monde for a daughter and Godand New England sent me a scientist who would rather wear flat heels andlook through a microscope. It's funny how children turn out."
("Even Thérèse and Sabine," thought Olivia. "Even they belong to it.")
She watched Sabine, so worldly, so superbly dressed, so hard--such arestless nomad; and as she watched her it occurred to her again that shewas very like Aunt Cassie--an Aunt Cassie in revolt against AuntCassie's gods, an Aunt Cassie, as John Pentland had said, "turned insideout."
Without looking up from the pages of the Nouvelle Revue, Sabine said,"I'm glad this thing about Sybil is settled."
"He told you about his mother?"
"You didn't let that make any difference? You didn't tell the others?"
"No.... Anything I had to say would have made no difference."
"You were wise.... I think Thérèse is right, perhaps... righter thanany of us. She says that nature has a contempt for marriagecertificates. Respectability can't turn decay into life... and Jean isalive.... So is his mother."
"I know what you are driving at."
"Certainly, my dear, you ought to know. You've suffered enough from it.And knowing his mother makes a difference. She's no ordinary lightwoman, or even one who was weak enough to allow herself to be seduced.Once in fifty years there occurs a woman who can... how shall I sayit?... get away with a thing like that. You have to be a great woman todo it. I don't think it's made much difference in her life, chieflybecause she's a woman of discretion and excellent taste. But it mighthave made a difference in Jean's life if he had encountered a motherless wise than yourself."
"I don't know whether I'm being wise or not. I believe in him and I wantSybil to escape."
Olivia understood that for the first time they were discussing the thingwhich none of them ever mentioned, the thing which up to now Sabine hadonly touched upon by insinuation. Sabine had turned away and stoodlooking out of the window across the meadows where the distant treesdanced in waves of heat.
"You spoiled my summer a bit, Olivia dear, by taking away my Irishfriend from me."
Suddenly Olivia was angry as she was angry sometimes at the meddling ofAunt Cassie. "I didn't take him away. I did everything possible to avoidhim... until you came. It was you who threw us together. That's whywe're all in a tangle now." And she kept thinking what a strange womanSabine Callendar really was, how intricate and unfathomable. She knew ofno other woman in the world who could talk thus so dispassionately, sowithout emotion.
"I thought I'd have him to amuse," she was saying, "and instead of thathe only uses me as a confidante. He comes to me for advice about anotherwoman. And that, as you know, isn't very interesting...."
Olivia sat suddenly erect. "What does he say? What right has he to dosuch a thing?"
"Because I've asked him to. When I first came here, I promised to helphim. You see, I'm very friendly with you both. I want you both to behappy and... besides I can think of nothing happening which could giveme greater pleasure."
When Olivia did not answer her, she turned from the window and askedabruptly, "What are you going to do about him?"
Again Olivia thought it best not to answer, but Sabine went on pushinghome her point relentlessly, "You must forgive me for speaking plainly,but I have a great affection for you both... and I... well, I have asense of conscience in the affair."
"You needn't have. There's nothing to have a conscience about."
"You're not being very honest."
Suddenly Olivia burst out angrily, "And why should it concern you,Sabine... in the least? Why should I not do as I please, withoutinterference?"
"Because, here... and you know this as well as I do... here such athing is impossible."
In a strange fashion she was suddenly afraid of Sabine, perhaps becauseshe was so bent upon pushing things to a definite solution. It seemed toOlivia that she herself was losing all power of action, all capacity foranything save waiting, pretending, doing nothing.
"And I'm interested," continued Sabine slowly, "because I can't bear thetragic spectacle of another John Pentland and Mrs. Soames."
"There won't be," said Olivia desperately. "My father-in-law isdifferent from Michael."
"In a way... a finer man." She found herself suddenly in the amazingposition of actually defending Pentlands.
"But not," said Sabine with a terrifying reasonableness, "so wise aone... or one so intelligent."
"No. It's impossible to say...."
"A thing like this is likely to come only once to a woman."
("Why does she keep repeating the very things that I've been fightingall along," thought Olivia.) Aloud she said, "Sabine, you must leave mein peace. It's for me alone to settle."
"I don't want you to do a thing you will regret the rest of your life...bitterly."
"Oh, I mean simply to give him up."
Again Olivia was silent, and Sabine asked suddenly. "Have you had a callfrom a Mr. Gavin? A gentleman with a bald head and a polished face?"
Olivia looked at her sharply. "How could you know that?"
"Because I sent him, my dear... for the same reason that I'm here now...because I wanted you to do something... to act. And I'm confessingnow because I thought you ought to know the truth, since I'm going away.Otherwise you might think Aunt Cassie or Anson had done it... andtrouble might come of that."
Again Olivia said nothing; she was lost in a sadness over the thoughtthat, after all, Sabine was no better than the others.
"It's not easy to act in this house," Sabine was saying. "It's not easyto do anything but pretend and go on and on until at last you are an oldwoman and die. I did it to help you... for your own good."
"That's what Aunt Cassie always says."
The shaft went home, for it silenced Sabine, and in the moment's pauseSabine seemed less a woman than an amazing, disembodied, almostmalevolent force. When she answered, it was with a shrug of theshoulders and a bitter smile which seemed doubly bitter on the franklypainted lips. "I suppose I am like Aunt Cassie. I mightn't have been,though.... I might have been just a pleasant normal person... likeHiggins or one of the servants."
The strange speech found an echo in Olivia's heart. Lately the samethought had come to her again and again--if only she could be simplelike Higgins or the kitchen-maid. Such a state seemed to her at themoment the most desirable thing in the world. It was perhaps thisstrange desire which led Sabine to surround herself with what Durhamcalled "queer people," who were, after all, simply people like Higginsand the kitchen-maid who happened to occupy a higher place in society.
"The air here needs clearing," Sabine was saying. "It needs athunderstorm, and it can be cleared only by acting.... This affair ofJean and Sybil will help. We are all caught up in a tangle of thoughtsand ideas... which don't matter... You can do it, Olivia. You canclear the air once and for all."
Then for the first time Olivia thought she saw what lay behind all thisintriguing of Sabine; for a moment she fancied that she saw what it wasSabine wanted more passionately than anything else in the world.
Aloud she said it, "I could clear the air, but it would also be thedestruction of everything."
Sabine looked at her directly. "Well?... and would you be sorry? Wouldyou count it a loss? Would it make any difference?"
Impulsively she touched Sabine's hand. "Sabine," she said, withoutlooking at her, "I'm fond of you. You know that. Please don't talk anymore about this... please, because I want to go on being fond of you...and I can't otherwise. It's our affair, mine and Michael's... and I'mgoing to settle it, to-night perhaps, as soon as I can have a talkwith him.... I can't go on any longer."
Taking up the yellow parasol, Sabine asked, "Do you expect me for dinnerto-night?"
"Of course, more than ever to-night.... I'm sorry you've decided to goso soon.... It'll be dreary without you or Sybil."
"You can go, too," said Sabine quickly. "There is a way. He'd give upeverything for you... everything. I know that." Suddenly she gaveOlivia a sharp look. "You're thirty-eight, aren't you?"
"Day after to-morrow I shall be forty!"
Sabine was tracing the design of roses on Horace Pentland's Savonneriecarpet with the tip of her parasol. "Gather them while you may," shesaid and went out into the blazing heat to cross the meadows to BrookCottage.
Left alone, Olivia knew she was glad that day after to-morrow Sabinewould no longer be here. She saw now what John Pentland meant when hesaid, "Sabine ought never to have come back here."
The heat clung on far into the evening, penetrating with the darknesseven the drawing-room where they sat--Sabine and John Pentland and oldMrs. Soames and Olivia--playing bridge for the last time, and as theevening wore on the game went more and more badly, with the old ladyforgetting her cards and John Pentland being patient and Sabine sittingin a controlled and sardonic silence, with an expression on her facewhich said clearly, "I can endure this for to-night because to-morrow Ishall escape again into the lively world."
Jean and Sybil sat for a time at the piano, and then fell to watchingthe bridge. No one spoke save to bid or to remind Mrs. Soames that itwas time for her shaking hands to distribute the cards about the table.Even Olivia's low, quiet voice sounded loud in the hot stillness of theold room.
At nine o'clock Higgins appeared with a message for Olivia--that Mr.O'Hara was being detained in town and that if he could get away beforeten he would come down and stop at Pentlands if the lights were stillburning in the drawing-room. Otherwise he would not be down to ride inthe morning.
Once during a pause in the game Sabine stirred herself to say, "Ihaven't asked about Anson's book. He must be near to the end."
"Very near," said Olivia. "There's very little more to be done. Men arecoming to-morrow to photograph the portraits. He's using them toillustrate the book."
At eleven, when they came to the end of a rubber, Sabine said, "I'msorry, but I must stop. I must get up early to-morrow to see about thepacking." And turning to Jean she said, "Will you drive me home? PerhapsSybil will ride over with us for the air. You can bring her back."
At the sound of her voice, Olivia wanted to cry out, "No, don't go. Youmustn't leave me now... alone. You mustn't go away like this!" But shemanaged to say quietly, in a voice which sounded far away, "Don't staytoo late, Sybil," and mechanically, without knowing what she was doing,she began to put the cards back again in their boxes.
She saw that Sabine went out first, and then John Pentland and old Mrs.Soames, and that Jean and Sybil remained behind until the others hadgone, until John Pentland had helped the old lady gently into his motorand driven off with her. Then, looking up with a smile which somehowseemed to give her pain she said, "Well?"
And Sybil, coming to her side, kissed her and said in a low voice,"Good-by, darling, for a little while.... I love you...." And Jeankissed her in a shy fashion on both cheeks.
She could find nothing to say. She knew Sybil would come back, but shewould be a different Sybil, a Sybil who was a woman, no longer the childwho even at eighteen sometimes had the absurd trick of sitting on hermother's knee. And she was taking away with her something that until nowhad belonged to Olivia, something which she could never again claim. Shecould find nothing to say. She could only follow them to the door, fromwhere she saw Sabine already sitting in the motor as if nothing in theleast unusual were happening; and all the while she wanted to go withthem, to run away anywhere at all.
Through a mist she saw them turning to wave to her as the motor droveoff, to wave gaily and happily because they were at the beginning oflife.... She stood in the doorway to watch the motor-lights slippingaway in silence down the lane and over the bridge through the blacknessto the door of Brook Cottage. There was something about Brook Cottage...something that was lacking from the air of Pentlands: it was where TobyCane and Savina Pentland had had their wanton meetings.
In the still heat the sound of the distant surf came to her dimly acrossthe marshes, and into her mind came absurdly words she had forgotten foryears... "The breaking waves dashed high on the stern and rockboundcoast." Against the accompaniment of the surf, the crickets and katydids(harbingers of autumn) kept up a fiddling and singing; and far away inthe direction of Marblehead she watched the eye of a lighthouse winkingand winking. She was aware of every sight and sound and odor of thebreathless night. It might storm, she thought, before they got intoConnecticut. They would be motoring all the night....
The lights of Sabine's motor were moving again now, away from BrookCottage, through O'Hara's land, on and on in the direction of theturnpike. In the deep hollow by the river they disappeared for a momentand then were to be seen once more against the black mass of the hillcrowned by the town burial-ground. And then abruptly they were gone,leaving only the sound of the surf and the music of the crickets and thedistant, ironically winking lighthouse.
She kept seeing them side by side in the motor racing through thedarkness, oblivious to all else in the world save their own happiness.Yes, something had gone away from her forever.... She felt a terrible,passionate envy that was like a physical pain, and all at once she knewthat she was terribly alone standing in the darkness before the door ofthe old house.
* * * * *
She was roused by the sound of Anson's voice asking, "Is that you,Olivia?"
"What are you doing out there?"
"I came out for some air."
For a moment she did not answer, and then quite boldly she said, "She'sridden over with Jean to take Sabine home."
"You know I don't approve of that." He had come through the hall now andwas standing near her.
"It can't do any harm."
"That's been said before...."
"Why are you so suspicious, Anson, of your own child?" She had no desireto argue with him. She wanted only to be left in peace, to go away toher room and lie there alone in the darkness, for she knew now thatMichael was not coming.
"Olivia," Anson was saying, "come inside for a moment. I want to talk toyou."
"Very well... but please don't be disagreeable. I'm very tired."
"I shan't be disagreeable.... I only want to settle something."
She knew then that he meant to be very disagreeable, and she toldherself that she would not listen to him; she would think of somethingelse while he was speaking--a trick she had learned long ago. In thedrawing-room she sat quietly and waited for him to begin. Standing bythe mantelpiece, he appeared more tired and yellow than usual. She knewthat he had worked on his book; she knew that he had poured all hisvitality, all his being, into it; but as she watched him her imaginationagain played her the old trick of showing her Michael standing there inhis place... defiant, a little sulky, and filled with a slow, steady,inexhaustible force.
"It's chiefly about Sybil," he said. "I want her to give up seeing thisboy."
"Don't be a martinet, Anson. Nothing was ever gained by it."
(She thought, "They must be almost to Salem by now.") And aloud sheadded, "You're her father, Anson; why don't you speak?"
"It's better for you. I've no influence with her."
"I have spoken," she said, thinking bitterly that he could never guesswhat she meant.
"And what's the result? Look at her, going off at this hour of thenight...."
She shrugged her shoulders, filled with a warm sense of having outwittedthe enemy, for at the moment Anson seemed to her an enemy not only ofherself, but of Jean and Sybil, of all that was young and alive in theworld.
"Besides," he was saying, "she hasn't proper respect for me... herfather. Sometimes I think it's the ideas she got from you and from goingabroad to school."
"What a nasty thing to say! But if you want the truth, I think it'sbecause you've never been a very good father. Sometimes I've thought younever wanted children. You've never paid much attention to them... noteven to Jack... while he was alive. It wasn't ever as if they were ourchildren. You've always left them to me... alone."
The thin neck stiffened a little and he said, "There are reasons forthat. I'm a busy man.... I've given most of my time, not to makingmoney, but to doing things to better the world in some way. If I'veneglected my children it's been for a good reason... few men have asmuch on their minds. And there's been the book to take all my energies.You're being unjust, Olivia. You never could see me as I am."
"Perhaps," said Olivia. (She wanted to say, "What difference does thebook make to any one in the world? Who cares whether it is written ornot?") She knew that she must keep up her deceit, so she said, "Youneedn't worry, because Sabine is going away to-morrow and Jean will gowith her." She sighed. "After that your life won't be disturbed anylonger. Nothing in the least unusual is likely to happen."
"And there's this other thing," he said, "this disloyalty of yours to meand to all the family."
Stiffening slightly, she asked, "What can you mean by that?"
"You know what I mean."
She saw that he was putting himself in the position of a wrongedhusband, assuming a martyrdom of the sort which Aunt Cassie practised soeffectively. He meant to be a patient, well-meaning husband and to placeher in the position of a shameful woman; and slowly, with a slow, heavyanger she resolved to circumvent his trick.
"I think, Anson, that you're talking nonsense. I haven't been disloyalto any one. Your father will tell you that."
"My father was always weak where women are concerned and now he'sbeginning to grow childish. He's so old that he's beginning to forgiveand condone anything." And then after a silence he said, "This O'Hara.I'm not such a fool as you think, Olivia."
For a long time neither of them said anything, and in the end it wasOlivia who spoke, striking straight into the heart of the question. Shesaid, "Anson, would you consider letting me divorce you?"
The effect upon him was alarming. His face turned gray, and the long,thin, oversensitive hands began to tremble. She saw that she had touchedhim on the rawest of places, upon his immense sense of pride anddignity. It would be unbearable for him to believe that she would wantto be rid of him in order to go to another man, especially to a man whomhe professed to hold in contempt, a man who had the qualities which hehimself did not possess. He could only see the request as a humiliationof his own precious dignity.
He managed to grin, trying to turn the request to mockery, and said,"Have you lost your mind?"
"No, Anson, not for a moment. What I ask is a simple thing. It has beendone before."
He did not answer her at once, and began to move about the room in thedeepest agitation, a strange figure curiously out of place in the midstof Horace Pentland's exotic, beautiful pictures and chairs andbibelots--as wrong in such a setting as he had been right a month or twoearlier among the museum of Pentland family relics.
"No," he said again and again. "What you ask is preposterous! To-morrowwhen you are less tired you will see how ridiculous it is. No... Icouldn't think of such a thing!"
She made an effort to speak quietly. "Is it because you don't want toput yourself in such a position?"
"It has nothing to do with that. Why should you want a divorce? We arewell off, content, comfortable, happy...."
She interrupted him, asking, "Are we?"
"What is it you expect, Olivia... to live always in a sort of romanticglow? We're happier than most."
"No," she said slowly. "I don't think happiness has ever meant much toyou, Anson. Perhaps you're above such things as happiness andunhappiness. Perhaps you're more fortunate than most of us. I doubt ifyou have ever known happiness or unhappiness, for that matter. You'vebeen uncomfortable when people annoyed you and got in your way, but...that's all. Nothing more than that. Happiness... I mean it in thesensible way... has sometimes to do with delight in living, and I don'tthink you've ever known that, even for a moment."
He turned toward her saying, "I've been an honest, God-fearing,conscientious man, and I think you're talking nonsense!"
"No, not for a moment.... Heaven knows I ought to know the truth of whatI've been saying."
Again they reached an impasse in the conversation and again they bothremained silent, disturbed perhaps and uneasy in the consciousness thatbetween them they had destroyed something which could never be restored;and yet with Olivia there was a cold, sustained sense of balance whichcame to her miraculously at such times. She felt, too, that she stoodwith her back against a wall, fighting. At last she said, "I would evenlet you divorce me--if that would be easier for you. I don't mindputting myself in the wrong."
Again he began to tremble. "Are you trying to tell me that...."
"I'm not telling you anything. There hasn't been anything at all...but... but I would give you grounds if you would agree."
He turned away from her in disgust. "That is even more impossible.... Agentleman never divorces his wife."
"Let's leave the gentlemen out of it, Anson," she said. "I'm weary ofhearing what gentlemen do and do not do. I want you to act as yourself,as Anson Pentland, and not as you think you ought to act. Let's behonest. You know you married me only because you had to marry someone... and I... I wasn't actually disreputable, even, as you remind me,if my father was shanty Irish. And... let's be just too. I married youbecause I was alone and frightened and wanted to escape a horrible lifewith Aunt Alice.... I wanted a home. That was it, wasn't it? We are bothguilty, but that doesn't change the reality in the least. No, I fancyyou practised loving me through a sense of duty. You tried it as long asyou could and you hated it always. Oh, I've known what was going on.I've been learning ever since I came to Pentlands for the first time."
He was regarding her now with a fixed expression of horrid fascination;he was perhaps even dazed at the sound of her voice, slowly, resolutely,tearing aside all the veils of pretense which had made their lifepossible for so long. He kept mumbling, "How can you talk this way? Howcan you say such things?"
Slowly, terribly, she went on and on: "We're both guilty... and it'sbeen a failure, from the very start. I've tried to do my best andperhaps sometimes I've failed. I've tried to be a good mother... andnow that Sybil is grown and Jack... is dead, I want a chance atfreedom. I'm still young enough to want to live a little before it istoo late."
Between his teeth he said, "Don't be a fool, Olivia.... You're fortyyears old...."
"You needn't remind me of that. To-morrow I shall be forty. I know it...bitterly. But my being forty makes no difference to you. To you it wouldbe all the same if I were seventy. But to me it makes a difference...a great difference." She waited a moment, and then said, "That'sthe truth, Anson; and it's the truth that interests me to-night. Let mebe free, Anson.... Let me go while being free still means something."
Perhaps if she had thrown herself at his feet in the attitude of awretched, shameful woman, if she had made him feel strong and noble andheroic, she would have won; but it was a thing she could not do. Shecould only go on being coldly reasonable.
"And you would give up all this?" he was saying. "You'd leave Pentlandsand all it stands for to marry this cheap Irishman... a nobody, the sonperhaps of an immigrant dock-laborer."
"He is the son of a dock-laborer," she answered quietly. "And hismother was a housemaid. He's told me so himself. And as to all this....Why, Anson, it doesn't mean anything to me... nothing at all that Ican't give up, nothing which means very much. I'm fond of your father,Anson, and I'm fond of you when you are yourself and not talking aboutwhat a gentleman would do. But I'd give it all up... everything... forthe sake of this other thing."
For a moment his lips moved silently and in agitation, as if it wereimpossible for him to answer things so preposterous as those his wifehad just spoken. At last he was able to say, "I think you must have lostyour mind, Olivia... to even think of asking such a thing of me. You'velived here long enough to know how impossible it is. Some of us mustmake a stand in a community. There has never been a scandal, or even adivorce, in the Pentland family... never. We've come to stand forsomething. Three hundred years of clean, moral living can't be dashedaside so easily.... We're in a position where others look up to us.Can't you see that? Can't you understand such a responsibility?"
For a moment she had a terrible, dizzy, intoxicating sense of power, ofknowing that she held the means of destroying him and all this whitedstructure of pride and respectability. She had only to begin by saying,"There was Savina Pentland and her lover...." The moment passed quicklyand at once she knew that it was a thing she could not do. Instead, shemurmured, "Ah, Anson, do you think the world really looks at us at all?Do you think it really cares what we do or don't do? You can't be asblind as that."
"I'm not blind... only there's such a thing as honor and tradition. Westand for something...."
She interrupted him. "For what?"
"For decency, for a glorious past, for stability... for endlessthings... all the things which count in a civilized community."
He really believed what he was saying; she knew that he must havebelieved it to have written all those thousands of dull, laborious wordsin glorification of the past.
He went on. "No, what you ask is impossible. You knew it before youasked.... And it would be a kindness to me if you never mentioned itagain."
He was still pale, but he had gained control of himself and his hands nolonger trembled; as he talked, as his sense of virtue mounted, he evengrew eloquent, and his voice took on a shade of that unction which hadalways colored the voice of the Apostle to the Genteel and made of him acelebrated and fashionable cleric. Perhaps for the first time since hischildhood, since the days when the red-haired little Sabine had mockedhis curls and velvet suits, he felt himself a strong and powerfulperson. There was a kind of fierce intoxication in the knowledge of hispower over Olivia. In his virtuous ardor he seemed for a moment tobecome a positive, almost admirable person.
At length she said quietly, "And what if I should simply go away...without bothering about a divorce?"
The remark shattered all his confidence once more; and she knew thatshe had struck at the weakest point in all his defense--the fear of ascandal. "You wouldn't do that!" he cried. "You couldn't--you couldn'tbehave like a common prostitute!"
"Loving one man is not behaving like a common prostitute.... I neverloved any other."
"You couldn't bring such a disgrace on Sybil, even if you don't care forthe rest of us."
("He knew, then, that I couldn't do such a thing, that I haven't thecourage. He knows that I've lived too long in this world.") Aloud shesaid, "You don't know me, Anson.... In all these years you've neverknown me at all."
"Besides," he added quickly, "he wouldn't do such a thing. Such aclimber isn't likely to throw over his whole career by running away witha woman. You'd find out if you asked him."
"But he is willing. He's already told me so. Perhaps you can'tunderstand such a thing." When he did not answer, she said ironically,"Besides, I don't think a gentleman would talk as you are talking. No,Anson.... I don't think you know what the world is. You've lived herealways, shut up in your own little corner." Rising, she sighed andmurmured, "But there's no use in talk. I am going to bed.... I supposewe must struggle on as best we can... but there are times... timeslike to-night when you make it hard for me to bear it. Some day... whoknows... there's nothing any longer to keep me...."
She went away without troubling to finish what she had meant to say,lost again in an overwhelming sense of the futility of everything. Shefelt, she thought, like an idiot standing in the middle of an emptyfield, making gestures.
Toward morning the still, breathless heat broke without warning into afantastic storm which filled all the sky with blinding light andenveloped the whole countryside in a wild uproar of wind and thunder,leaving the dawn to reveal fields torn and ravaged and strewn withbroken branches, and the bright garden bruised and battered by hail.
At breakfast Anson appeared neat and shaven and smooth, as though therehad been no struggle a few hours before in the drawing-room, as if thething had made no impression upon the smooth surface which he turnedtoward the world. Olivia poured his coffee quietly and permitted him tokiss her as he had done every day for twenty years--a strange, cold,absent-minded kiss--and stood in the doorway to watch him drive off tothe train. Nothing had changed; it seemed to her that life at Pentlandshad become incapable of any change.
And as she turned from the door Peters summoned her to the telephone toreceive the telegram from Jean and Sybil; they had been married at sevenin Hartford.
She set out at once to find John Pentland and after a search she cameupon him in the stable-yard talking with Higgins. The strange pair stoodby the side of the red mare, who watched them with her small, viciousred eyes; they were talking in that curious intimate way which descendedupon them at the mention of horses, and as she approached she wasstruck, as she always was, by the fiery beauty of the animal, the prideof her lean head, the trembling of the fine nostrils as she breathed,the savagery of her eye. She was a strange, half-evil, beautiful beast.Olivia heard Higgins saying that it was no use trying to breed her...an animal like that, who kicked and screamed and bit at the very sightof another horse....
Higgins saw her first and, touching his cap, bade her good-morning, andas the old man turned, she said, "I've news for you, Mr. Pentland."
A shrewd, queer look came into his eyes and he asked, "Is it aboutSybil?"
"Yes.... It's done."
She saw that Higgins was mystified, and she was moved by a desire totell him. Higgins ought to know certainly among the first. And sheadded, "It's about Miss Sybil. She married young Mr. de Cyon thismorning in Hartford."
The news had a magical effect on the little groom; his ugly, shriveledface expanded into a broad grin and he slapped his thigh in hisenthusiasm. "That's grand, Ma'am.... I don't mind telling you I was forit all along. She couldn't have done better... nor him either."
Again moved by impulse, she said, "So you think it's a good thing?"
"It's grand, Ma'am. He's one in a million. He's the only one I know whowas good enough. I was afraid she was going to throw herself away on Mr.O'Hara.... But she ought to have a younger man."
She turned away from him, pleased and relieved from the anxiety whichhad never really left her since the moment they drove off into thedarkness. She kept thinking, "Higgins is always right about people. Hehas a second sight." Somehow, of them all, she trusted him most as ajudge.
John Pentland led her away, out of range of Higgins' curiosity, alongthe hedge that bordered the gardens. The news seemed to affect himstrangely, for he had turned pale, and for a long time he simply stoodlooking over the hedge in silence. At last he asked, "When did they doit?"
"Last night.... She went for a drive with him and they didn't comeback."
"I hope we've been right..." he said. "I hope we haven't connived at afoolish thing."
"No.... I'm sure we haven't."
Something in the brilliance of the sunlight, in the certainty of Sybil'sescape and happiness, in the freshness of the air touched after thestorm by the first faint feel of autumn, filled her with a sense ofgiddiness, so that she forgot her own troubles; she forgot, even, thatthis was her fortieth birthday.
"Did they go in Sabine's motor?" he asked.
Grinning suddenly, he said, "She thought perhaps that she was doing us abad turn."
"No, she knew that I approved. She did think of it first. She didpropose it...."
When he spoke again there was a faint hint of bitterness in his voice."I'm sure she did. I only hope she'll stop her mischief with this. Inany case, she's had a victory over Cassie... and that's what shewanted, more than anything...." He turned toward her sharply, with anair of anxiety. "I suppose he'll take her away with him?"
"Yes. They're going to Paris first and then to the Argentine."
Suddenly he touched her shoulder with the odd, shy gesture of affection."It'll be hard for you, Olivia dear... without her."
The sudden action brought a lump into her throat, and yet she did notwant to be pitied. She hated pity, because it implied weakness on herpart.
"Oh," she said quickly, "they'll come back from time to time.... I thinkthat some day they may come back here to live."
"Yes.... Pentlands will belong to them one day."
And then for the first time she remembered that there was somethingwhich she had to tell him, something which had come to seem almost aconfession. She must tell him now, especially since Jean would one dayown all of Pentlands and all the fortune.
"There's something I didn't tell you before," she began. "It's somethingwhich I kept to myself because I wanted Sybil to have her happiness...in spite of everything."
He interrupted her, saying, "I know what it is."
"You couldn't know what I mean."
"Yes; the boy told me himself. I went to him to talk about Sybil becauseI wanted to make sure of him... and after a time he told me. It was anhonorable thing for him to have done. He needn't have told. Sabine wouldnever have told us... never until it was too late."
The speech left her feeling weak and disconcerted, for she had expectedanger from him and disapproval. She had been fearful that he might treather silence as a disloyalty to him, that it might in the end shatter thelong, trusting relationship between them.
"The boy couldn't help it," he was saying. "It's a thing one can'tproperly explain. But he's a nice boy... and Sybil was so set on him. Ithink she has a good, sensible head on her young shoulders." Sighing andturning toward her again, he added, "I wouldn't speak of it to theothers... not even to Anson. They may never know, and if they don'twhat they don't know won't hurt them."
The mystery of him, it seemed, grew deeper and deeper each time theytalked thus, intimately, perhaps because there were in the old mandepths which she had never believed possible. Perhaps, deep down beneathall the fierce reticence of his nature, there lay a humanity far greaterthan any she had ever encountered. She thought, "And I have alwaysbelieved him hard and cold and disapproving." She was beginning tofathom the great strength that lay in his fierce isolation, the strengthof a man who had always been alone.
"And you, Olivia?" he asked presently. "Are you happy?"
"Yes.... At least, I'm happy this morning... on account of Sybil andJean."
"That's right," he said with a gentle sadness. "That's right. They'vedone what you and I were never able to do, Olivia. They'll have whatwe've never had and never can have because it's too late. And we'vehelped them to gain it.... That's something. I merely wanted you to knowthat I understood." And then, "We'd better go and tell the others. Thedevil will be to pay when they hear."
She would have gone away then, but an odd thought occurred to her, ahope, feeble enough, but one which might give him a little pleasure. Shewas struck again by his way of speaking, as if he were very near todeath or already dead. He had the air of a very old and weary man.
She said, "There's one thing I've wanted to ask you for a long time."She hesitated and then plunged. "It was about Savina Pentland. Did sheever have more than one child?"
He looked at her sharply out of the bright black eyes and asked, "Why doyou want to know that?"
She tried to deceive him by shrugging her shoulders and saying casually,"I don't know.... I've become interested lately, perhaps on account ofAnson's book."
"You... interested in the past, Olivia?"
"Yes, she only had one child... and then she was drowned when he wasonly a year old. He was my grandfather." Again he looked at her sharply."Olivia, you must tell me the truth. Why did you ask me that question?"
Again she hesitated, saying, "I don't know... it seemed to me...."
"Did you find something? Did she," he asked, making the gesture towardthe north wing, "did she tell you anything?"
She understood then that he, marvelous old man, must even know about theletters. "Yes," she said in a low voice, "I found something... in theattic."
He sighed and looked away again, across the wet meadows. "So you know,too.... She found them first, and hid them away again. She wouldn'tgive them to me because she hated me... from our wedding-night. I'vetold you about that. And then she couldn't remember where she'd hidthem... poor thing. But she told me about them. At times she used totaunt me by saying that I wasn't a Pentland at all. I think the thingmade her mind darker than it was before. She had some terrible ideaabout the sin in my family for which she must atone...."
"It's true," said Olivia softly. "There's no doubt of it. It was writtenby Toby Cane himself... in his own handwriting. I've compared it withthe letters Anson has of his." After a moment she asked, "And you...you've known it always?"
"Always," he said sadly. "It explains many things.... Sometimes I thinkthat those of us who have lived since have had to atone for their sin.It's all worked out in a harsh way, when you come to think of it...."
She guessed what it was he meant. She saw again that he believed in sucha thing as sin, that the belief in it was rooted deeply in his wholebeing.
"Have you got the letters, Olivia?" he asked.
"No... I burned them... last night... because I was afraid of them.I was afraid that I might do something shameful with them. And if theywere burned, no one would believe such a preposterous story and therewouldn't be any proof. I was afraid, too," she added softly, "of whatwas in them... not what was written there, so much as the way it waswritten."
He took her hand and with the oddest, most awkward gesture, kissed itgently. "You were right, Olivia dear," he said. "It's all they have...the others... that belief in the past. We daren't take that from them.The strong daren't oppress the weak. It would have been too cruel. Itwould have destroyed the one thing into which Anson poured his wholelife. You see, Olivia, there are people... people like you... who haveto be strong enough to look out for the others. It's a hard task... andsometimes a cruel one. If it weren't for such people the world wouldfall apart and we'd see it for the cruel, unbearable place it is. That'swhy I've trusted everything to you. That's what I was trying to tell youthe other night. You see, Olivia, I know you... I know there are thingswhich people like us can't do.... Perhaps it's because we're weak orfoolish--who knows? But it's true. I knew that you were the sort whowould do just such a thing."
Listening to him, she again felt all her determination slipping fromher. It was a strange sensation, as if he took possession of her,leaving her powerless to act, prisoning her again in that terrible wallof rightness in which he believed. The familiar sense of his strengthfrightened her, because it seemed a force so irresistible. It was thestrength of one who was more than right; it was the strength of one whobelieved.
She had a fierce impulse to turn from him and to run swiftly,recklessly, across the wet meadows toward Michael, leaving foreverbehind her the placid, beautiful old house beneath the elms.
"There are some things," he was saying, "which it is impossible to do...for people like us, Olivia. They are impossible because the mere actof doing them would ruin us forever. They aren't things which we can dogracefully."
And she knew again what it was that he meant, as she had known vaguelywhile she stood alone in the darkness before the figures of Higgins andMiss Egan emerged from the mist of the marshes.
"You had better go now and telephone to Anson. I fancy he'll be badlyupset, but I shall put an end to that... and Cassie, too. She had itall planned for the Mannering boy."
Anson was not to be reached all the morning at the office; he had gone,so his secretary said, to a meeting of the Society of Guardians of YoungWorking Girls without Homes and left express word that he was not to bedisturbed. But Aunt Cassie heard the news when she arrived on hermorning call at Pentlands. Olivia broke it to her as gently as possible,but as soon as the old lady understood what had happened, she went topieces badly. Her eyes grew wild; she wept, and her hair became alldisheveled. She took the attitude that Sybil had been seduced and wasnow a woman lost beyond all hope. She kept repeating betweenpunctuations of profound sympathy for Olivia in the hour of her trial,that such a thing had never happened in the Pentland family; untilOlivia, enveloped in the old, perilous calm, reminded her of theelopement of Jared Pentland and Savina Dalgedo and bade her abruptly tostop talking nonsense.
And then Aunt Cassie was deeply hurt by her tone, and Peters had to besent away for smelling-salts at the very moment that Sabine arrived,grinning and triumphant. It was Sabine who helped administer thesmelling-salts with the grim air of administering burning coals. Whenthe old lady grew a little more calm she fell again to saying over andover again, "Poor Sybil.... My poor, innocent little Sybil... that thisshould have happened to her!"
To which Olivia replied at last, "Jean is a fine young man. I'm sure shecouldn't have done better." And then, to soften a little Aunt Cassie'sanguish, she said, "And he's very rich, Aunt Cassie... a great dealricher than many a husband she might have found here."
The information had an even better effect than the smelling-salts, sothat the old lady became calm enough to take an interest in the detailsand asked where they had found a motor to go away in.
"It was mine," said Sabine dryly. "I loaned it to them."
The result of this statement was all that Sabine could have desired. Theold lady sat bolt upright, all bristling, and cried, with an air ofsuffocation, "Oh, you viper! Why God should have sent me such a trial, Idon't know. You've always wished us evil and now I suppose you'recontent! May God have mercy on your malicious soul!" And breaking intofresh sobs, she began all over again, "My poor, innocent littleSybil.... What will people say? What will they think has been going on!"
"Don't be evil-minded, Aunt Cassie," said Sabine sharply; and then in acalmer voice, "It will be hard on me.... I won't be able to go toNewport until they come back with the motor."
"You!... You!..." began Aunt Cassie, and then fell back, a broken woman.
"I suppose," continued Sabine ruthlessly, "that we ought to tell theMannering boy."
"Yes," cried Aunt Cassie, reviving again. "Yes! There's the boy sheought to have married...."
"And Mrs. Soames," said Sabine. "She'll be pleased at the news."
Olivia spoke for the first time in nearly half an hour. "It's no use.Mr. Pentland has been over to see her, but she didn't understand what itwas he wanted to tell her. She was in a daze... only half-conscious...and they think she may not recover this time."
In a whisper, lost in the greater agitation of Aunt Cassie's sobs, shesaid to Sabine, "It's like the end of everything for him. I don't knowwhat he'll do."
* * * * *
The confusion of the day seemed to increase rather than to die away.Aunt Cassie was asked to stay to lunch, but she said it was impossibleto consider swallowing even a crust of bread. "It would choke me!" shecried melodramatically.
"It is an excellent lunch," urged Olivia.
"No... no... don't ask me!"
But, unwilling to quit the scene of action, she lay on Horace Pentland'sRegence sofa and regained her strength a little by taking a nap whilethe others ate.
At last Anson called, and when the news was told him, the telephoneechoed with his threats. He would, he said, hire a motor (anextravagance by which to guage the profundity of his agitation) and comedown at once.
And then, almost immediately, Michael telephoned. "I have just comedown," he said, and asked Olivia to come riding with him. "I must talkto you at once."
She refused to ride, but consented to meet him half-way, at the pinethicket where Higgins had discovered the foxcubs. "I can't leave justnow," she told him, "and I don't think it's best for you to come here atthe moment."
For some reason, perhaps vaguely because she thought he might use theknowledge as a weapon to break down her will, she said nothing of theelopement. For in the confusion of the day, beneath all the uproar ofscenes, emotions and telephone-calls, she had been thinking, thinking,thinking, so that in the end the uproar had made little impression uponher. She had come to understand that John Pentland must have lived thus,year after year, moving always in a secret life of his own, andpresently she had come to the conclusion that she must send Michael awayonce and for all.
As she moved across the meadow she noticed that the birches had begun toturn yellow and that in the low ground along the river the meadows werealready painted gold and purple by masses of goldenrod and ironweed.With each step she seemed to grow weaker and weaker, and as she drewnear the blue-black wall of pines she was seized by a violent trembling,as if the sense of his presence were able somehow to reach out andengulf her even before she saw him. She kept trying to think of the oldman as he stood beside her at the hedge, but something stronger than herwill made her see only Michael's curly black head and blue eyes. Shebegan even to pray... she (Olivia) who never prayed because the pietyof Aunt Cassie and Anson and the Apostle to the Genteel stood always inher way.
And then, looking up, she saw him standing half-hidden among the lowerpines, watching her. She began to run toward him, in terror lest herknees should give way and let her fall before she reached the shelter ofthe trees.
In the darkness of the thicket where the sun seldom penetrated, he puthis arms about her and kissed her in a way he had never done before, andthe action only increased her terror. She said nothing; she only weptquietly; and at last, when she had gained control of herself, shestruggled free and said, "Don't, Michael... please don't... please."
They sat on a fallen log and, still holding her hand, he asked, "What isit? What has happened?"
"Nothing.... I'm just tired."
"Are you willing to come away with me? Now?" And in a low, warm voice,he added, "I'll never let you be tired again... never."
She did not answer him, because it seemed to her that what she had totell him made all her actions in the past seem inexplicable and cheap.She was filled with shame, and tried to put off the moment when she mustspeak.
"I haven't been down in three days," he was saying, "because there'sbeen trouble in Boston which made it impossible. I've only slept an houror two a night. They've been trying to do me in... some of the men Ialways trusted. They've been double-crossing me all along and I had tostay to fight them."
He told her a long and complicated story of treachery, of money havingbeen passed among men whom he had known and trusted always. He was sadand yet defiant, too, and filled with a desire to fight the thing to anend. She failed to understand the story; indeed she did not even hearmuch of it: she only knew that he was telling her everything, pouringout all his sadness and trouble to her as if she were the one person inall the world to whom he could tell such things.
And when he had finished he waited for a moment and then said, "And nowI'm willing to chuck the whole dirty business and quit... to tell themall to go to hell."
Quickly she answered, "No, you mustn't do that. You can't do that. A manlike you, Michael, daren't do such a thing...." For she knew thatwithout a battle life would mean nothing to him.
"No... I mean it. I'm ready to quit. I want you to go with me."
She thought, "He says this... and yet he stayed three days and nightsin Boston to fight!" She saw that he was not looking at her, but sittingwith his head in his hands; there was something broken, almost pitiful,in his manner, and it occurred to her that perhaps for the first time hefound all his life in a hopeless tangle. She thought, "If I had neverknown him, this might not have happened. He would have been able tofight without even thinking of me."
Aloud she said, "I can't do it, Michael.... It's no use. I can't."
He looked up quickly, but before he could speak she placed her hand overhis lips, saying, "Wait, Michael, let me talk first. Let me say whatI've wanted to say for so long.... I've thought.... I've done nothingelse but think day and night for the past three days. And it's no good,Michael.... It's no good. I'm forty years old to-day, and what can Igive you that will make up for all you will lose? Why should you give upeverything for me? No, I've nothing to offer. You can go back and fightand win. It's what you like more than anything in the world... morethan any woman... even me."
Again he tried to speak, but she silenced him. "Oh, I know it's true...what I say. And if I had you at such a price, you'd only hate me in theend. I couldn't do it, Michael, because... because in the end, with menlike you it's work, it's a career, which is first.... You couldn't beargiving up. You couldn't bear failure.... And in the end that's right, asit should be. It's what keeps the world going."
He was watching her with a look of fascination in his eyes, and sheknew--she was certain of it--that he had never been so much in love withher before; but she knew, too, from the shadow which crossed his face(it seemed to her that he almost winced) and because she knew him sowell, that he recognized the truth of what she had said.
"It's not true, Olivia.... You can't go back on me now... just when Ineed you most."
"I'd be betraying you, Michael, if I did the other thing. It's not meyou need half so much as the other thing. Oh, I know that I'm right.What you should have in the end is a young woman... a woman who willhelp you. It doesn't matter very much whether you're terribly in lovewith her or not... but a woman who can be your wife and bear yourchildren and give dinner parties and help make of you the famous manyou've always meant to be. You need some one who will help you to founda family, to fill your new house with children... some one who'll helpyou and your children to take the place of families like ours who are atthe end of things. No, Michael... I'm right.... Look at me," shecommanded suddenly. "Look at me and you'll know that it's not because Idon't love you."
He was on his knees now, on the carpet of scented pine-needles, his armsabout her while she stroked the thick black hair with a kind ofhysterical intensity.
"You don't know what you're saying, Olivia. It's not true! It's nottrue! I'd give up everything.... I don't want the other thing. I'll sellmy farm and go away from here forever with you."
"Yes, Michael, you think that to-day, just now... and to-morroweverything will be changed. That's one of the mean tricks Nature playsus. It's not so simple as that. We're not like Higgins and... thekitchen-maid... at least not in some ways."
"Olivia... Olivia, do you love me enough to...."
She knew what he meant to ask. She thought, "What does it matter? Whyshould I not, when I love him so? I should be harming no one... no onebut myself."
And then, abruptly, through the mist of tears she saw through an openingin the thicket a little procession crossing the meadows toward the bighouse at Pentlands. She saw it with a terrible, intense clarity... alittle procession of the gardener and his helper carrying between themon a shutter a figure that lay limp and still, and following them cameHiggins on foot, leading his horse and moving with the awkward rollinggait which afflicted him when his feet were on the ground. She knew whothe still figure was. It was John Pentland. The red mare had killed himat last. And she heard him saying, "There are some things which peoplelike us, Olivia, can't do."
* * * * *
What happened immediately afterward she was never able to remember veryclearly. She found herself joining the little procession; she knew thatMichael was with her, and that there could be no doubt of thetragedy.... John Pentland was dead, with his neck broken. He lay on theshutter, still and peaceful, the bitter lines all melted from the grim,stern face, as he had been when she came upon him in the librarysmelling of dogs and woodsmoke and whisky. Only this time he had escapedfor good....
And afterward she remembered telling Michael, as they stood alone in thebig white hall, that Sybil and Jean were married, and dismissing him bysaying, "Now, Michael, it is impossible. While he was living I mighthave done it.... I might have gone away. But now it's impossible. Don'task me. Please leave me in peace."
Standing there under the wanton gaze of Savina Pentland, she watched himgo away, quietly, perhaps because he understood that all she had saidwas true.
In the tragedy the elopement became lost and forgotten. Doctors cameand went; even reporters put in an awkward appearance, eager for detailsof the death and the marriage in the Pentland family, and somehow theconfusion brought peace to Olivia. They forgot her, save as one whomanaged everything quietly; for they had need just then of some one whodid not break into wild spasms of grief or wander about helplessly. Inthe presence of death, Anson forgot even his anger over the elopement,and late in the afternoon Olivia saw him for the first time when he cameto her helplessly to ask, "The men have come to photograph theportraits. What shall we do?"
And she answered, "Send them away. We can photograph ancestors any time.They'll always be with us."
Sabine volunteered to send word to Sybil and Jean. At such times all hercold-blooded detachment made of her a person of great value, and Oliviaknew that she could be trusted to find them because she wanted her motoragain desperately. Remembering her promise to the old man, she wentacross to see Mrs. Soames, but nothing came of it, for the old lady hadfallen into a state of complete unconsciousness. She would, they toldOlivia, probably die without ever knowing that John Pentland had gonebefore her.
Aunt Cassie took up her throne in the darkened drawing-room and there,amid the acrid smell of the first chrysanthemums of the autumn, she helda red-eyed, snuffling court to receive the calls of all the countryside.Again she seemed to rise for a time triumphant and strong, evenovercoming her weakness enough to go and come from the gazeboed house onfoot, arriving early and returning late. She insisted upon summoningBishop Smallwood to conduct the services, and discovered after muchtrouble that he was attending a church conference in the West. In replyto her telegram she received only an answer that it was impossible forhim to return, even if they delayed the funeral... that in the rôle ofprominent defender of the Virgin Birth he could not leave the field at amoment when the power of his party was threatened.
It seemed for a time that, as Sabine had hoped, the whole structure ofthe family was falling about them in ruins.
As for Olivia, she would have been at peace save that three times withintwo days notes came to her from Michael--notes which she sent backunopened because she was afraid to read them; until at last she wrote onthe back of one, "There is nothing more to say. Leave me in peace." Andafter that there was only silence, which in a strange way seemed to hermore unbearable than the sight of his writing. She discovered that twopersons had witnessed the tragedy--Higgins, who had been riding with theold man, and Sabine, who had been walking the river path--walking onlybecause Jean and Sybil had her motor. Higgins knew only that the marehad run off and killed his master; but Sabine had a strangely differentversion, which she recounted to Olivia as they sat in her room, the dayafter.
"I saw them," she said, "coming across the meadow.... Cousin John, withHiggins following. And then, all at once, the mare seemed to befrightened by something and began to run... straight in a line for thegravel-pit. It was a fascinating sight... a horrible sight... becauseI knew--I was certain--what was going to happen. For a moment CousinJohn seemed to fight with her, and then all at once he leaned forward onher neck and let her go. Higgins went after him; but it was no usetrying to catch her.... One might as well have tried to overtake awhirlwind. They seemed to fly across the fields straight for the line ofelders that hid the pit, and I knew all the while that there was nosaving them unless the mare turned. At the bushes the mare jumped...the prettiest jump I've ever seen a horse make, straight above thebushes into the open air...."
For a moment Sabine's face was lighted by a macabre enthusiasm. Hervoice wavered a little. "It was a horrible, beautiful sight. For amoment they seemed almost to rise in the air as if the mare were flying,and then all at once they fell... into the bottom of the pit."
Olivia was silent, and presently, as if she had been waiting for thecourage, Sabine continued in a low voice, "But there's one thing I sawbeyond any doubt. At the edge of the pit the mare tried to turn. Shewould have turned away, but Cousin John raised his crop and struck hersavagely. There was no doubt of it. He forced her over the elders...."Again after a pause, "Higgins must have seen it, too. He followed themto the very edge of the pit. I shall always see him there, sitting onhis horse outlined against the sky. He was looking down into the pit andfor a moment the horse and man together looked exactly like acentaur.... It was an extraordinary impression."
She remembered him thus, but she remembered him, too, as she had seenhim on the night of the ball, slipping away through the lilacs like ashadow. Rising, she said, "Jean and Sybil will be back to-morrow, andthen I'll be off for Newport. I thought you might want to know whatHiggins and I knew, Olivia." For a moment she hesitated, looking out ofthe window toward the sea. And at last she said, "He was a queer man. Hewas the last of the great Puritans. There aren't any more. None of therest of us believe anything. We only pretend...."
But Olivia scarcely heard her. She understood now why it was that theold man had talked to her as if he were very near to death, and shethought, "He did it in a way that none would ever discover. He trustedHiggins, and Sabine was an accident. Perhaps... perhaps... he did itto keep me here... to save the thing he believed in all his life."
It was a horrible thought which she tried to kill, but it lingered,together with the regret that she had never finished what she had begunto tell him as they stood by the hedge talking of the letters--that oneday Jean might take the name of John Pentland. He had, after all, asmuch right to it as he had to the name of de Cyon; it would be only alittle change, but it would allow the name of Pentland to go on and on.All the land, all the money, all the tradition, would go down toPentland children, and so make a reason for their existence; and in theend the name would be something more then than a thing embalmed in "ThePentland Family and the Massachusetts Bay Colony." The descendants wouldbe, after all, of Pentland blood, or at least of the blood of SavinaDalgedo and Toby Cane, which had come long ago to be Pentland blood.
And she thought grimly, "He was right, after all. I am one of them atlast... in spite of everything. It's I who am carrying on now."
* * * * *
On the morning of the funeral, as she stood on the terrace expectingJean and Sybil, Higgins, dressed in his best black suit and lookinghorribly awkward and ill at ease, came toward her to say, looking awayfrom her, "Mr. O'Hara is going away. They're putting up a 'For Sale'sign on his gate. He isn't coming back." And then looking at her boldlyhe added, "I thought you might want to know, Mrs. Pentland."
For a moment she had a sudden, fierce desire to cry out, "No, he mustn'tgo! You must tell him to stay. I can't let him go away like that!" Shewanted suddenly to run across the fields to the bright, vulgar, newhouse, to tell him herself. She thought, "He meant, then, what he said.He's given up everything here."
But she knew, too, that he had gone away to fight, freed now and movedonly by his passion for success, for victory.
And before she could answer Higgins, who stood there wanting her to sendhim to Michael, Miss Egan appeared, starched and rigid and wearing theprofessional expression of solemnity which she adopted in the presenceof bereaved families. She said, "It's about her, Mrs. Pentland. Sheseems very bright this morning and quite in her right mind. She wants toknow why he hasn't been to see her for two whole days. I thought...."
Olivia interrupted her quietly. "It's all right," she said. "I'll go andtell her. I'll explain. It's better for me to do it."
She went away into the house, knowing bitterly that she left Miss Eganand Higgins thinking of her with pity.
As she climbed the worn stair carpet to the north wing, she knewsuddenly a profound sense of peace such as she had not known for years.It was over and done now, and life would go on the same as it had alwaysdone, filled with trickiness and boredom and deceits, but pleasant, too,in spite of everything, perhaps because, as John Pentland had said, "Onehad sometimes to pretend." And, after all, Sybil had escaped and washappy.
She knew now that she herself would never escape; she had been too longa part of Pentlands, and she knew that what the old man had said was thetruth. She had acted thus not because of duty, or promises, or nobility,or pride, or even out of virtue.... Perhaps it was even because she wasnot strong enough to do otherwise. But she knew that she had acted thusbecause, as he said, "There are things, Olivia, which people like uscan't do."
And as she moved along the narrow hall, she saw from one of the deep-setwindows the figure of Sabine moving along the lane in a faint cloud ofdust, and nearer at hand, at the entrance of the elm-bordered drive,Aunt Cassie in deep black, coming along briskly in a cloud of crape.No, nothing had changed. It would go on and on....
The door opened and the sickly odor of medicines flooded the hallway.Out of the darkness came the sound of a feeble, reed-like voice,terrible in its sanity, saying, "Oh, it's you, Olivia. I knew you'dcome. I've been waiting for you...."