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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesArms And The Woman: A Romance - Chapter 16
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Arms And The Woman: A Romance - Chapter 16 Post by :Arina Category :Long Stories Author :Harold Macgrath Date :May 2012 Read :795

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Arms And The Woman: A Romance - Chapter 16

CHAPTER XVI

There were intervals during the three months which followed when I believed that I was walking in a dream, and waking would find me grubbing at my desk in New York. It was so unreal for these days; mosaic romance in the heart of prosaic fact! Was there ever the like? It was real enough, however, in the daytime, when the roar of London hammered at my ears, but when I sat alone in my room it assumed the hazy garments of a dream. Sometimes I caught myself listening for Hillars: a footstep in the corridor, and I would take my pipe from my mouth and wait expectantly. But the door never opened and the footsteps always passed on. Often in my dreams I stood by the river again. There is solace in these deep, wide streams. We come and go, our hopes, our loves, our ambitions. Nature alone remains. Should I ever behold Gretchen again? Perhaps. Yet, there was no thrill at the thought. If ever I beheld her again it would be when she was placed beyond the glance of my eye, the touch of my hand. She was mine, aye, as a dream might be; something I possessed but could not hold. Heigho! the faces that peer at us from the firelight shadows! They troop along in a ghostly cavalcade, and the winds that creep over the window sill and under the door--who can say that they are not the echoes of voices we once heard in the past?

I was often on the verge of sending in my resignation, but I would remember in time that work meant bread and butter--and forgetfulness. When I returned to the office few questions were asked, though my assistant looked many of them reproachfully. I told him that Hillars had died abroad, and that he had been buried on the continent at his request; all of which was the truth, but only half of it. I did my best to keep the duel a secret, but it finally came out. It was the topic in the clubs, for Hillars had been well known in political and literary circles. But in a month or so the affair, subsided. The world never stops very long, even when it loses one of its best friends.

One late October morning I received a note which read:


"JOHN WINTHROP:

"Dear Sir--I am in London for a few days, homeward bound from a trip to Egypt, and as we are cousins and 'orphans too,' I should like the pleasure of making your acquaintance. Trusting that I shall find you at leisure, I am,

"Your humble servant,

"PHILIP PEMBROKE."


"Ah," said I; "that Louisianian cousin of mine, who may or may not live the year out," recalling the old lawyer's words. "He seems to hang on pretty well. I hope he'll be interesting; few rich men are. He writes like a polite creditor. What did the old fellow say was the matter with him? heart trouble, or consumption? I can't remember." I threw the note aside and touched up some of my dispatches.

Precisely at ten o'clock the door opened and a man came in. He was fashionably dressed, a mixture of Piccadilly and Broadway in taste. He was tall, slender, but well-formed; and his blonde mustache shone out distinctly against a background of tanned skin. He had fine blue eyes.

"Have I the pleasure of speaking to John Winthrop of New York?" he began, taking off his hat.

I rose. "I am the man."

He presented his card, and on it I read, "Philip Pembroke."

"Philip Pembroke!" I exclaimed.

"Evidently you are surprised?" showing a set of strong white teeth.

"Truthfully, I am," I said, taking his hand. "You see," I added, apologetically, "your family lawyer--that is--he gave me the--er--impression that you were a sickly fellow--one foot in the grave, or something like. I was not expecting a man of your build."

The smile broadened into a deep laugh, and a merry one, I thought, enviously. It was so long since I had laughed.

"That was a hobby of the old fellow," he replied. "When I was a boy I had the palpitation of the heart. He never got rid of the idea that I might die at any moment. He was always warning me about violent exercises, the good old soul. Peace to his ashes!"

"He is dead?"

"Yes. When I took to traveling he all but had nervous prostration. I suppose he told you about that will I made in your favor. It was done to please him. Still," he added soberly, "it stands. I travel a deal, and no one knows what may happen. And so you are the John Winthrop my dad treated so shabbily? Oh, don't protest, he did. I should have hunted you up long ago, and given you a solid bank account, only I knew that the son of my aunt must necessarily be a gentleman, and, therefore, would not look favorably upon such a proceeding."

"Thank you," said I. The fellow pleased me.

"And then, I did not know but what you cared nothing for money."

"True. A journalist doesn't care anything about money; the life is too easy and pleasant, and most of the things he needs are thrown in, as they say."

This bit of sarcasm did not pass; my cousin laughed again that merry laugh of his.

"I think we shall become great friends," he said. "I like frankness."

"My remark in its literal sense was the antithesis of frankness."

"Ah, you said too much not to be frank. Frankness is one of the reasons why I do not get on well with the women. I can't lie in the right place, and when I do it is generally ten times worse than the plain truth."

"You're a man of the world, I see."

"No, merely a spectator."

"Well, you have the price of admission; with me it's a free pass. Some day we will compare notes."

"Who is your banker?"

"Banker? I have none. I distrust banks. They take your mite and invest it in what-nots, and sometimes when you go for it, it is not there."

"And then again it multiplies so quickly that you have more than you know what to do with; eh?"

"As to that I cannot say. It is hearsay, rumor; so far as I know it may be so. Experience has any number of teachers; the trouble is, we cannot study under them all. Necessity has been my principal instructor. Sometimes she has larruped me soundly, though I was a model scholar. You will go to luncheon with me?"

"If you will promise to dine with me this evening?" And I promised.

For an hour or more we chatted upon congenial topics. He was surprisingly well informed. He had seen more of the world than I, though he had not observed it so closely. As we were about to leave, the door opened, and Phyllis, Ethel and her husband, Mr. Holland, entered. For a moment the room was filled with the fragrance of October air and the essence of violets. They had been in town a week. They had been "doing" the Strand, so Ethel said, and thought they would make me a brief visit to see how "it was done," the foreign corresponding. Mr. Wentworth and his wife were already domiciled at B----, and the young people were going over to enjoy the winter festivities. Phyllis was unchanged. How like Gretchen, I thought.

While Ethel was engaging my cousin's attention, I conducted Phyllis through the office.

"What a place to work in!" said Phyllis, laughing. The laugh awakened a vague thrill. "Dust, dust; everywhere dust. You need a woman to look after you, Jack?"

As I did not reply, she looked quickly at me, and seeing that my face was grave, she flushed.

"Forgive me, Jack," impulsively; "I did not think."

I answered her with a reassuring smile.

"How long are you to remain in town?" I asked, to disembarrass her.

"We leave day after to-morrow, Saturday. A day or two in Paris, and then we go on. Every one in New York is talking about your book. I knew that you were capable."

"I hope every one is buying it," said I, passing over her last observation.

"Was it here that you wrote it?"

"Oh, no; it was written in my rooms, under the most favorable circumstances."

"I thought so. This is a very dreary place."

"Perhaps I like it for that very reason."

Her eyes were two interrogation points, but I pretended not to see.

"What nice eyes your cousin has," she said, side glancing.

With a woman it is always a man's eyes.

"And his father was the man who left you the fortune?"

"Yes," I answered, with a short laugh. Of course, I had never told Phyllis of that thousand-dollar check.

"You must run over this winter and see us," she said. "I anticipate nothing but dinners, balls and diplomatic receptions. I have never been there, it will all be new to me. Think of seeing Egypt, the Holy Lands, Russia, France and Spain, and yet not seeing the very heart of the continent! Thank goodness, I know the language."

"And will she not be a sensation?" joined in Ethel.

"A decided sensation," said I, scrutinizing the beautiful face so near me. What if they met, as probably they would--Phyllis and Gretchen? "Phyllis," said I, suddenly, "where were you born?"

"Where was I born?" with a wondering little laugh; "in America. Where did you suppose?"

"Eden," said I. "I wasn't sure, so I asked."

"I do not know how to take that," she said, with mock severity.

"Oh, I meant Eden when it was Paradise," I hastened to say.

"Yes," put in Pembroke; "please go back, Miss Landors, and begin the world all over again."

"Phyllis," said I, in a whisper, "have you ever met that remarkable affinity of yours?" I regretted the words the moment they had crossed my lips.

"Yes, you are changed, as I said the other night," distrustfully. "There is something in your voice that is changed. You have grown cynical. But your question was impertinent. Have you found yours?"

I was expecting this. "Yes," I said. "Once I thought I had; now I am sure of it. Some day I shall tell you an interesting story."

"We came up to ask you to dine with us this evening," she said, trailing her brown-gloved finger over the dusty desk. "Are you at liberty?"

"No. I have only just met my cousin, and have promised to dine with him."

"If that is all, bring him along. I like his face."

We passed out of the file room.

"Phyllis, we must be going, dear," said Ethel.

I led Phyllis down the narrow stairs. A handsome victoria stood at the curb.

"I shall be pleased to hear your story," said she.

It occurred to me that the tale might not be to her liking. So I said: "But it is one of those disagreeable stories; one where all should end nicely, but doesn't; one which ends, leaving the hero, the heroine, and the reader dissatisfied with the world in general, and the author (who is Fate) in particular."

I knew that she was puzzled. She wasn't quite sure that I was not referring to the old affair.

"If the story is one I never heard before," suspiciously, "I should like to hear it."

"And does it not occur to you," throwing back the robes so that she might step into the victoria, "that fate has a special grudge against me? Once was not enough, but it must be twice."

"And she does not love you? Are you quite sure? You poor fellow!" She squeezed my hand kindly. "Shall I be candid with you?" with the faintest flicker of coquetry in her smile.

"As in the old days," said I, glancing over my shoulder to see now near the others were. A groom is never to be considered. "Yes, as in the old days."

"Well, I have often regretted that I did not accept you as an experiment."

Then I knew that she did not understand.

"You must not think I am jesting," said I, seriously. "The story is of the bitter-sweet kind. The heroine loves me, but cannot be mine."

"Loves you?" with a slight start. "How do you know?"

"She has told me so," lowering my voice.

Frankness of this sort to a woman who has rejected you has a peculiar effect. The coquetry faded from her smile, and there was a perceptible contraction of the brows. Her eyes, which were looking into mine, shifted to the back of the groom. No, I shall never understand a woman. She should have been the most sympathetic woman in the world, yet she appeared to be annoyed.

"What's all this between you and Phyllis?" asked Ethel, coming up.

"There is nothing between her and me," said I.

"Well, there should be," she retorted. "That is the trouble."

My observation was: "I have always held that immediately a woman gets married she makes it her business to see that all old bachelors are lugged out and disposed of to old maids."

"I shall never forgive that," Phyllis declared; "never."

"Then I shall always have the exquisite pleasure of being a supplicant for your pardon. It is delightful to sue pardon of a beautiful woman."

Phyllis sniffed.

"Forgive him at once," said Ethel, "if only for that pretty speech."

Mr. Holland pulled out his watch suggestively.

"Well," I said, "I see that I am keeping you from your lunch. Good-by, then, till dinner, when I shall continue at length on the evils--"

"William," interrupted Ethel, addressing the groom, "drive on."

And so they left us.

"Shall we go to lunch now?" I asked of Pembroke.

"Yes," rather dreamily I thought. "Do you know," with sudden animation, "she is a remarkably beautiful woman?"

"Yes, she is." After all, the sight of Phyllis had rather upset me.

"I had a glimpse of her in Vienna last winter," went on Pembroke. "I never knew who she was."

"Vienna!" I exclaimed.

"Yes. It was at a concert. Her face was indelibly graven on my memory. I asked a neighbor who she was, but when I went to point her out she was gone. I should like to see more of her."

So Gretchen had been in Vienna, and poor Hillars had never known!

I took Pembroke to the club that afternoon, and we dallied in the billiard room till time to dress for dinner. Dinner came. But Phyllis forgot to ask me about the story, at which I grew puzzled, considering what I know of woman's curiosity. And she devoted most of her time to Pembroke, who did not mind. Later we went to the theatre--some production of Gilbert and Sullivan. Whenever I glanced at Phyllis I fell to wondering how Gretchen would have looked in evening dress. Yes, Phyllis was certainly beautiful, uncommonly. For years I had worshipped at her shrine, and then--how little we know of the heart. I was rather abstracted during the performance, and many of my replies went wide the mark.

As we were leaving the foyer, Phyllis said: "Jack, a man has been staring me out of countenance."

"Pembroke?" I laughed.

"No. And moreover, the stare was accompanied by the most irritating sneer."

"Point him out to me when we reach the street," I said, humoring what I thought to be a fancy, "and I'll put a head on him."

The sneer was probably meant for an ogle. Beauty has its annoyances as well as its compensations. As we came under the glare of the outside lights, Phyllis's hand tightened on my arm.

"Look! there he is, and he is making for us."

At the sight of that face with its hooked nose, its waxed mustache and imperial, I took a deep breath and held it. In the quick glance I saw that his right arm hung stiffly at his side. I attempted to slip into the crowd, but without success. He lifted his hat, smiling into the astonished face of Phyllis.

"The Princess Hildegarde--" But with those three words the sentence on his lips came to an end. Amazement replaced the smile. He stepped back. Phyllis's eyes expressed scornful surprise. What she understood to be rudeness I knew to be a mistake. He had mistaken her to be Gretchen, just as I had mistaken Gretchen to be Phyllis. It was a situation which I enjoyed. All this was but momentary. We passed on.

"Was the man crazy?" asked Phyllis, as we moved toward the carriages, where we saw Pembroke waving his hand.

"Not exactly crazy," I answered.

"The Princess Hildegarde; did he not call me that?"

"He did."

"He must have mistaken me for some one else, then."

"The very thing," said I. "I wonder what he is doing here in London?"

"Mercy! do you know him?"

"Slightly." We were almost at the carriage. "I am sorry to say that he is a great personage in this very court which you are so soon to grace."

"How strange! I'm afraid we shan't get on."

Pembroke and I dismissed our carriage. We were going back to the club. Ethel and her husband were already seated in their carriage.

Said Phyllis as I assisted her to enter; "And who is this Princess Hildegarde?"

"The most beautiful woman in all the world," I answered with enthusiasm. "You will meet her also."

"I do not believe I shall like her either," said Phyllis. "Good night;" and the door swung to.

Pembroke and I made off for the club. . . . Perhaps it was my enthusiasm.

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