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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Wheel Of Life - Part 1. Impulse - Chapter 11. In Which A Lie Is The Better Part Of Truth
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The Wheel Of Life - Part 1. Impulse - Chapter 11. In Which A Lie Is The Better Part Of Truth Post by :Teresa Category :Long Stories Author :Ellen Glasgow Date :May 2012 Read :997

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The Wheel Of Life - Part 1. Impulse - Chapter 11. In Which A Lie Is The Better Part Of Truth

PART I. IMPULSE
CHAPTER XI. IN WHICH A LIE IS THE BETTER PART OF TRUTH

At breakfast Connie did not appear--she had seemed to be asleep when he went into his dressing-room--and it was not until one o'clock that he had a chance to speak to her again. Luncheon was already on the table when he entered the dining-room, and Connie, in a green velvet gown and a little green velvet hat ornamented by a twinkling aigrette, was standing by the window looking out restlessly at the falling snow. As he came in she went over to the table and began making tea with nervous hands. She was apparently in the highest spirits, and while she fumbled noisily with the cups and saucers she rambled on in her expressionless voice with tinkling interludes of her shrill, falsetto laughter. As he watched her in shamed silence he remembered with astonishment that it had taken him almost ten years to find out that Connie was vulgar. Now at last his eyes were opened--he had achieved a standard of comparison and he felt her commonness with an awakening of his literary instinct, quite as acutely, he told himself, as he should have felt it had she been presented to him in the form of a printed page. The sense of remoteness, of strangeness, grew upon him at each instant; he realised the uselessness of his good intentions toward her--the utter impossibility of snatching her or any human creature from the clutch of temperament.

Her day was filled with engagements, she told him at the end of luncheon when she rose to hurry off while he still lingered over his coffee; "and I shan't be here to dine, either," she added, as an after thought. "Gus Brady will come for me--there's the opera and a supper afterwards, so you needn't trouble to sit up."

"But whom are you going with?" he enquired, filled for the first time with a painful curiosity concerning the social body in which Connie moved.

She shook her head with a gesture of irritation, while the aigrette in her hat sent out little iridescent flashes of blue and green. "Oh, you wouldn't know if I told you," she answered impatiently, and left the room so hastily that he felt she had meant to wriggle away from the repeated question. What did it mean? he wondered for a minute as he slowly sipped his coffee. Even if she should go with Brady alone, where was the harm of it? and why should she avoid so innocent an admission. He was of a candidly unsuspicious nature, and since in his own mind he had seen no particular reason for infringing upon the conventions of society they had never given him so much as an unquiet thought. Certainly to dine at a restaurant or attend so public a function as grand opera with a person of the opposite sex, seemed to him a singularly harmless choice of indiscretions, and had she made a careless avowal of her intention the matter would probably have dropped at the moment from his thoughts. But the very secretiveness of her manner--the suggestion of a hidden motive which dwelt in her nervous movements and even quivered in the little scintillating aigrette on her blonde head--aroused in him if not a positive distrust, still a bewildering and decidedly unpleasant confusion of ideas. He felt, somehow, vaguely impelled to action, yet for the life of him, he admitted after a moment, he could see no single direction in which action with regard to his wife would not savor of the indiscreet, if not of the ridiculous. The attitude of an aggrieved husband had always showed to him as something laughable, and an explosion of jealousy had never appeared more vulgar than it did while he sat patiently conjecturing if such a domestic cyclone might be counted upon to shake Connie to her senses. In the end he gave it up as a farce which he felt it would be beyond the power of his gravity to sustain. "I'll do anything in reason, heaven knows," he found himself confessing, after the instant's reflection, "but I'll be hanged before I'll set out in cold blood to play the fool."

The front door, closing with a bang, brought him instantly to his feet and, glancing through the window, he saw Connie about to step into a cab which she had signalled from the sidewalk. Her velvet gown trailed behind her, and she appeared perfectly unconcerned by the fact that she had sunk above her ankles in the heavy snowdrifts. A moment later, when she lifted her train to enter the cab, he discovered to his amazement that she was wearing low kid shoes with the thinnest of silk stockings. Then, before he could raise the window for a protest, the cab rolled off in the direction of Fifth Avenue, and, wet feet and twinkling feather, she was out of sight.

By the time he had got into his overcoat and followed her into the street, the snow had begun to fall more rapidly in large powdery flakes, which soon covered him in a thick, frosty coating from head to foot. As he walked briskly toward his office, he noticed with a quickened attention the women who like Connie, with nervous faces showing above elaborate gowns, were borne swiftly past him in hired cabs. Something, he hardly knew what, had opened his eyes to that glittering life of the world of which he had always been profoundly ignorant, and it seemed to him suddenly that the distance between himself and his wife had broadened to an impassable space in a single night. Connie was no longer the girl whom he remembered under cherry-coloured ribbons. She came in reality no closer to him than did the tired, restless women, with artificially brightened faces, who appeared to his exhausted eyes to whirl past him perpetually in cabs. A passionate regret seized him for the thing which Connie was not and could never be again--for the love he had never known and for the fatherhood that had been denied him.

He had turned, still plunged in his thoughts, into a quiet cross street where a crowd of ragged urchins were snowballing one another in a noisy battle; and as he paused for an instant to watch the fight he noticed that a man, coming from the opposite direction, had stopped also and stood now motionless with interest upon the sidewalk. The peculiar concentration of attention was the first thing which Adams remarked in the stranger--from his absorbed level gaze it was evident that mentally at least he had thrown himself for the moment into the thickest of the battle, and there was a flush of eager enjoyment in the face which was partially obscured by the falling snow flakes. Then, quick as a flash of light, something pleasantly familiar in the watching figure, gripped Adams with the memory of a college battle more than fifteen years ago, and he burst out in an exclamation of pleased surprise.

"You're Arnold Kemper and I'm Roger Adams," he said, laying his hand upon the other's arm.

Kemper wheeled about immediately, while the smile of placid amusement in his face broadened into a laugh of delighted recognition.

"Well, by Jove, it's great!" he responded, and the heartiness of his handshake sent a tingling sensation through Adams' arm. "I don't know when I've been so pleased for years. Been to luncheon?"

"I've just had it," laughed Adams, remembering that fifteen years ago, when he last saw him, Kemper had extended a similar invitation with the same grasp of hearty good fellowship. Was it possible that the man had really kept his college memories alive? he wondered in a daze of admiration, or had he himself merely awakened by his reappearance a train of associations which had lain undisturbed since their last parting. Let it be as it might, Adams felt that the encounter was of the pleasantest.

"I'm driven like a slave back to office drudgery," he added, "and I'm half inclined to envy you your freedom and your automobiles."

Kemper's eyes shot back an intimate curiosity. "So you're editor of _The International Review_, I hear," he said. "Do you know I've had it in my mind for years to look you up, but there's such a confounded temptation to let things drift, you know."

"I know," rejoined Adams, smiling. "I've drifted with them."

"Well, I'm jolly glad that you've drifted my way at last. So you've been to luncheon, have you?" Kemper enquired again, as he unfastened a button of his overcoat and drew out his watch. "I wish you hadn't--I've promised to meet a man at the club and it's past the hour. I say, look here," he added hastily as he was about to hurry off, "I've some rather decent rooms of my own now where I sometimes manage to get a quiet morsel. Will you come to dine to-morrow at half-past seven, sharp?"

It took Adams hardly an instant to consider and accept the invitation. Though he rarely dined out he felt a positive pleasure at the thought, and when, a minute later, he walked on again, repeating the number of the address which the other had pressed upon him, he found that Kemper's greeting had left a trail of cheerfulness which lingered for at least a half hour after the man himself had gone on his genial way. If, as Gerty Bridewell had once declared in a fit of exasperation, "Arnold Kemper consisted of a surface," he managed at least to present those mystifying ripples of personality which suggest to the imagination depths of pleasantness as yet undiscovered. Adams had lived to his present age by the help of few illusions--and he realised even now that the thing he liked in Kemper was an effect of manner which implied an impossible subtlety--that the power one saw in the man was produced simply by some trick of pose, by a frankness so big that one felt intuitively there must be still bigger qualities behind it. Whether it was all a bluster of affectation Adams had never as yet decided in his own mind, but there were moments when, in listening to stories of the masculine freedom in which Kemper lived, he felt inclined to acknowledge that the force, whatever it was, had spent itself in wind. In a profession the man would inevitably have become a figure, he thought now with a touch of friendly humor--in law or medicine he would have gone in for the invincible "grand style," and the picturesqueness of his person would have served to swell the number of his clients. It was a shabby turn of fortune, Adams admitted, which in supplying Kemper with a too liberal bank account, had made of him at the same time a driver of racing motor cars instead of the ornament of a more distinguished field. There were compensations doubtless, and he wondered if in this instance they had centred in the fascinations of an operatic Juliet?

Upon reaching his office he found that he was late for an interview he had appointed with a famous Russian revolutionist, who had promised him an article for the _Review_. It was the time of the month when they were making up the forthcoming number, and he was kept late over a discussion of the leading paper, which, owing to the sudden death of a literary personage of distinction, he had been compelled to replace at the last moment.

His office was a small, dingy room on the eighth floor of a building in Union Square, and his privacy was guarded by the desks of his secretaries placed directly beyond the threshold. These assistants were young men of considerable promise, he liked to think--college graduates and temperamental hero-worshippers, who adored him with an ardour which he found at once disconcerting and ridiculous. He had been used, however, to so little personal appreciation in his life that he had grown of late to look forward, with pathetic eagerness, to the hearty morning greeting of his fellow-workers--for one of whom, a fresh-coloured youth named Baldwin, he had come to cherish a positive affection. It was stimulating to feel that somewhere he counted for something in his bodily presence--even though the scene of his importance was confined to the little smoke-stained office among the chimney pots.

When, at the end of the day, he came out into the street again and crossed to Fifth Avenue for his accustomed walk, he found that the snow had ceased to fall, though a bitter wind was scattering the heavy drifts in a succession of miniature blizzards. After the heated office the tempestuous gale struck agreeably upon his face, and his mind, which he had kept closely upon his work until the hour of release, began almost with difficulty to detach itself from the fortunes of the _Review_. In the effort to compel rather than seek distraction, he put his imagination idly on the scent of the people in the street--ran down in fancy the history of a woman in a purple velvet gown and a bedraggled petticoat, catalogued an athletic young Englishman who tugged at his heels a reluctant bulldog, and wove a tragic romance around a pretty girl in a shabby coat who stood in a staring ecstasy before a window filled with imitation jewels. Then two men, smoking cigars, came up suddenly behind him and he amused himself with guessing at the brand of the tobacco, which had a remarkably fragrant aroma.

"The only thing I know against her," said one of the men with a laugh as he went by, "is that she dines alone with Brady If you see nothing in that beyond the simple act of dining--"

Reaching a corner they turned off abruptly down a cross street and the rest of the sentence passed with the speaker into an obscurity of fog. For an instant it did not occur to Adams to connect the phrase with an allusion to his wife; then as he repeated it mechanically in his thoughts, there sprang upon him, like some sinister outward visitation, an indefinable horror--a presentiment which he dared not whisper even to himself. Pshaw! there were perhaps, a dozen women who dined with Brady, he insisted reassuringly, and for the matter of that, there were probably a dozen Bradys. The name was common enough, and the only decent thing to do was to get rid of the suspicion and to apologise to Connie in his thoughts. To impute a low motive to a simple action had always seemed to him the vulgarity of littleness, and littleness in a man he had come to look upon as a kind of passive vice. So until the event proved the necessity of action, he was determined that there should be no "black bats" among his thoughts. Had he loved Connie there might have been perhaps more passion and less conscience in his treatment of the situation, but the humour of the philosopher had for many years replaced in his nature the ardour of the lover. What he gave to her was the inflexible code of honour which he observed in his association with his own sex.

At Fortieth Street he was about to turn back again when he was arrested by the sound of his own name called by a passing voice, and looking up he saw Perry Bridewell spring from a cab which had hastily driven up to the sidewalk.

"Wait a bit, will you, Adams?" said Perry, waving one heavily gloved hand while he reached up with the other to pay the driver. "You're the very man I'm after," he added an instant later as he turned from the curbing, "so if you don't mind I'll walk a couple of blocks in your direction. I'd just got into my dinner clothes," he explained, fastening his fur-lined overcoat more snugly across his chest, "when I found that Miss Wilde was going down alone to Gramercy Park. That's where I've come from, and now I'm rushing back to keep an engagement Gerty has made for dinner. I'll be hanged if I know where she's taking me--it's all one to me, half the time I forget to ask whose house we're going to until I bolt into the drawing-room. Beastly life, this everlasting eating in other people's houses."

His tone was one of amiable discontentment, but there was a look of positive annoyance upon his handsome face, and he turned presently to regard his companion with an enquiry which might have been darkly furtive had not the luminous publicity in which he moved rendered the smallest of his mental processes so brilliantly overt. It was immediately plain to Adams that the jerky sentences were shot out at random in order that Perry's slow mind might gain a larger space in which to grope for the word he really wanted. There was something evidently behind it all, and until the situation should disclose itself they walked on in an embarrassed and waiting silence. In his top hat and his mink-lined overcoat Perry presented an ample dignity which his companion found almost overpowering in its male magnificence. That hesitation should manifest itself amid such a pageantry of personality reminded Adams of the beggars in the old nursery rhyme who had come to town sporting velvet gowns. Everything about Perry Bridewell was built on so opulent a scale that in thinking of him one found oneself using almost unconsciously a Romanesque and florid diction.

"There is something you'd like to say to me," suggested Adams presently. "I'm in no hurry, of course, but isn't this as good a time as any other?"

"By Jove, that's just what I was thinking," returned Perry, with a burst of confidence, "but it isn't really anything, you know--that is, I mean, it isn't anything that--that's real business."

A pretty woman passed suddenly under the electric light, and even in his embarrassment, which was great, he followed her with the animated glance which he instinctively devoted to vanishing feminine beauty.

"Thank God, there's no real business between us," retorted Adams, "and that's why it's a rest to spend a half-hour with you--because you don't know a piece of literature from a publisher's advertisement."

"We're such old friends, you know," pursued Perry, forgetting the moment which he had wasted upon the pretty woman, "that when there's a thing on my mind I feel--well, I feel a--a deuced queer fish not to tell you."

Adams laughed good naturedly.

"For heaven's sake don't remain long in a fishy sensation," he rejoined. "Let's have it out and over. By the way, may I ask if it concerns you or me?"

Perry shook his head as he tugged nervously at his fair moustache. "Look here, old man," he said at last, "I know, of course, that Mrs. Adams is as innocent as a baby--Gerty's just like her and there are plenty of women made that way. It's the men who are such confounded brutes," he commented with pensive morality.

"Oh, is that it?" responded Adams, and he turned upon the other a look that was coolly interrogative. "Come, now, we'll take it quietly. You're one of the best friends I have, and I want to know what they're saying about my wife."

"It's that damned Brady!" exclaimed Perry, while he felt for his handkerchief, and blew his nose with violence.

"All right--it's that damned Brady?" repeated Adams.

"If I didn't think more of you than of any man on earth I'd be shot before I'd tell you," protested Perry, and added with a desperate rush under fire.

"He had too much champagne last night--though, as for that matter, I've seen him upset by a cocktail--and afterward at billiards he told Skinker that--that Mrs. Adams--you understand, old chap, it's all his rot--was going to supper alone with him to-night--in his rooms after the opera. Of course he was drunk and I wouldn't bet a cent on his word even when he's sober. He's the kind of fool that tells of his conquests at the club," he wound up with scathing contempt.

For a moment Adams, looking away from him, stared silently into a shop window before which he stood--intent apparently upon the varied display of antique silver. Then he turned squarely to Perry Bridewell and broke into a short, hard laugh.

"Well, Brady lied," he said. "I promised Mrs. Adams that I would bring her home from the opera." It was no hesitation in his own voice, but the joyful relief which shone at him from Perry's face that brought him suddenly to a stop. "You were a first-rate fellow to come to me," he went on more quietly. "Of course, you know, our Western conventions are much more elastic than your New York ones. All the same--"

"I merely wanted to let her know the kind of man he is," explained Perry. "What do women understand about the men they meet--why, we all look pretty much alike upon the surface." Then his righteous anger got the better of his philosophy and he broke out in a heartfelt oath. "Damn him! I'd like to thrash him clean out of his skin!"

"I am glad you told me," was all Adams said, but there was a reserved strength in his voice which made the explosive violence of the other sound the merest bravado. As he spoke the light flashed in his face, and Perry saw that it was the face of an old and a tired man. There was a shrinking in his eyes as of one who has stumbled unexpectedly upon a revolting sight.

Of the many and varied emotions which had entered Perry's life, the cleanest, perhaps, was his loyal regard for Roger Adams. It had begun with his college days, had strengthened with his manhood, and had lasted, in spite of the amiable contempt in which he held all literature, with a constancy which had certainly not belonged to his affairs with representatives of the opposite sex. Now as he looked at Adams' haggard face under the electric light, he felt the tugging of a sympathy so strong that it seemed to hurt him somewhere in his expansive chest.

"Look here, old chap, come and dine with me at Sherry's," he burst out, "and I'll telephone Gerty that I've thrown over that beastly dinner."

To offer something to eat to the afflicted was the solitary form in which consolation appeared to him invested with solidity; and so earnest was the generous impulse by which he now felt himself to be prompted, that before Adams could reply to the invitation he had begun already to run over mentally the courses he was prepared to order. For a colossal, a consolatory, an unforgettable dinner he was determined that it should be--such a dinner as he permitted himself only upon the rare occasions when one of his intimate friends had lost heavily in stocks or been abandoned by his wife. "Come to Sherry's," he urged again, halting in the ecstatic working of his mind, "and I promise you that we will make an evening."

But the sly incarnate devil which lurked in Adams in the form of an ironic spirit asserted itself with an explosion which shook the plethoric gravity with which Perry contemplated an orgy of indigestion. The universal scheme appeared planned to fulfil the law of a Titanic humour, and his own credulity and Connie's indiscretions showed suddenly to Adams as mere mote-like jests which circled in a general convulsion of Nature's irony.

"Well, you are a capital fellow," he stammered, after a moment, while the spasm of his unholy laughter rocked him from head to foot. "I--I'd like it of all things--but I can't. The fact is it is all so funny--the whole business of life."

Even as he uttered the words he realised that to Perry they would convey an infamous lightness, but at the thought his hysterical humour redoubled in its energy. It was as if he stood outside--afar off--and watched as a god the little tangled eccentricities of earth. And they _were little, even though Perry should continue to regard the situation with such large magnificence.

By the time, however, that he had parted from Perry Bridewell and turned in at his own door, the gravity of the occasion had grown almost oppressive in his reflections. Connie had gone an hour before--he was too late to have detained her upon a pretext--and while sitting speechless before the dinner he could not eat--his heated imagination wove visions of horror in which his wife was entangled as a fly in a spider's web. What if Connie were really possessed by the influence of some drug which rendered her incapable of willing rationally? What if he missed her at the entrance to the opera? Or what if--most desperate supposition--she should, in the event of his finding her, refuse to accept his manufactured excuse to recall her home? She was capable, he knew, of any recklessness, but he had never for an instant conceived her as walking open eyed into dishonour, and he felt again the awful, if partly comforting conviction that she was not herself--that an infernal drug was working in her and bending her to some particular uses of the devil. Why had she wasted her beauty and even her life? he wondered bitterly--and did the moment's mad exhilaration compensate for the slow deliberate eating away of her moral consciousness? He recalled again the violent flutter of her manner, the excitement as of intoxication in her voice, the yellow tinge which had crept gradually over the ivory of her skin; her spasmodic movements and the ineffectual lies which deluded neither of them for an instant. The tragedy of life rose before him as vividly as the humour of it had done an hour ago--a tragedy which was hideous because it was ignoble, in which there was neither the beauty of resignation nor the sublimity of defiance. Had there been the least--even the smallest redeeming honesty in the situation he felt that he might have faced it, if not with positive sympathy yet with a tolerant, a merciful comprehension. Love he might have understood--for women needed it, he knew, and he was burdened by no delusion concerning the place he occupied in Connie's horizon. But before the breathless chase of excitement in which she lived, the frenzied invocation of pleasure that filled her thoughts, he found himself groping blindly for some meaning which would explain the thing it could not justify.

The hours dragged so heavily that by ten o'clock he put on his overcoat and snow-shoes and went out again into the street. He was possessed at the moment by a growing fear of missing Connie, and as he walked toward the opera house he had sense of a premonition almost occult in power that the terrible destiny which had her in its clutch was gathering energy for some pitiless catastrophe With characteristic patience he searched his own conscience, the incidents of his daily life, and held himself rather than his wife to account. After all, he was the stronger of the two, and yet when had he put forth his strength or his pity on her behalf? In the closer human relations mere indifference showed suddenly as sin, and the sluggish spirit which had controlled his married life appeared in his memory as a form of moral apathy. Was a human soul so small a thing that it could perish at his side and he be none the Wiser? What was his boasted intellect worth if it could paralyse the human part of him and exhaust the fount of his compassion? In his widening vision he saw that in the spirit of things humanity is one and indivisible, a single organism held together by a common pulse of life. To live or to die apart he realised, is beyond the scope of an individual destiny, for in the eye of God each man that lives is the keeper not of his own but of his brother's soul.

The self reproach which moved in his heart impelled him so rapidly upon his way that when he reached the doors he had still an hour to wait before the opera ended. Remembering that if he were so fortunate to find Connie he must take her home, he went to a livery stable for a carriage, and then coming back, walked nervously up and down upon the frozen pavement. His mind was divided between the fear that she might leave by another entrance--that he might miss her altogether--and the more horrible dread that in seeing her he should be unable to prevail upon her to come away. She might, he felt, demand a reason, exact from him the meaning of his unexpected appearance; there was even a hideous possibility that she might fly into a temper.

The wind was bitter and he went into the lobby, where a few men were hurrying out to secure their carriages. Then at last came the crowd in evening dress, and it seemed to him that the acuteness of his perception was reinforced by an almost unnatural power of vision. Out of the moving throng the face of each woman stood forth distinctly as if relieved by a spectral illumination; and he saw them clearly one after one, fair or dark, plain or beautiful, until from among them there shone toward him the elaborately arranged blonde head of Connie, under a winking diamond which shed over her an unbecoming light. He had hoped to the last that she would be with several others, but he perceived when she came out at Brady's side, with her babyish chin tilted upward and her thin features working in a forced and unhealthy animation, that they were alone and would probably be alone for the remainder of the evening.

Standing beyond the entrance, and watching her unseen, while she paused for an instant in the crowded lobby, Adams felt again the strange stir of emotion he had experienced when he looked at her the evening before under the lamplight in his study. In a single vivid instant he saw her winking diamonds, her rouged cheeks, the nervous flutter that shook her fragile figure, and the consuming fire which was destroying the appealing prettiness of her face. Then he looked deeper still to the naked terrified soul of her, caught in a web from which, because of her weakness, there could be no escape.

There was no room in his heart now for any other feeling than one of agonised compassion, and as she came through the doorway he touched her arm and spoke in a voice which had the sound of a caress. "I've just had bad news, Connie, so I came to find you."

She started violently, her hand dropped from her companion's arm, and she stood trembling from head to foot like a blade of grass that is shaken by a high wind. "What do you mean? What is it?" she demanded.

After lifting his hat to Brady he had not noticed him again, and now he bent upon his wife a look of gentle, if unyielding, authority. "I'll tell you presently--in the carriage," he said, drawing her wrap more closely about her throat. "I have one waiting at the corner."

He saw her look at him in a frightened hesitation; saw, too, that even in the quiver of her alarm she had taken in the unflattering details of his appearance--- his ordinary business overcoat, the blue silk muffler about his neck, and even the bespattered condition of his rubber shoes. For an instant she glanced uncertainly at Brady's immaculate evening dress showing beneath his open fur-lined overcoat, and knowing her as he did, Adams read her appreciation of the contrast as plainly as if it had been written in her face.

But he was not moved by the knowledge of her criticism, nor did it shake him in the least from that penetrating vision he had attained. The instinct for battle was alive and quick within him--if Connie was to be saved he knew that he must fight single-handed with the powers of evil for her soul. And fight he would--it was the end for which a man was born--that he might overcome and so justify the spirit about the brute.

Her hand hung at her side, and taking it in his, he slipped it under his arm with a possessive air, while she made to Brady some hurried excuses in a trembling voice. For a moment still she hung back, but Adams drew her gently with him, and after the first few steps, she recovered herself and walked rapidly to the waiting carriage. Inside she shrank back immediately into a corner from which, when they had rolled off, she sent forth a nervous question. "What is it? Tell me what it is?" she asked.

The tremor that shook her limbs, her utter helplessness before him, touched his heart with a compassion beside which his old emotion for her showed as a small and trivial thing. All that was divine in him awoke and responded to the horror that looked from her face, and he felt suddenly that until this instant he had never loved her. Now she was really his because now she needed him; but for him she would stand alone, deserted and afraid, in that future to which she had turned with such pitiable and childlike ignorance. She and the fight were both in his hands, and he was bracing himself to resist until the end.

"I'll tell you if you wish," he said, "but you mustn't let it give you a sleepless night."

As they turned a corner an electric light flashed into the darkness of the carriage lighting up her blonde hair and the sparkling diamonds which made her blue eyes look dull and lifeless. "It is--is it anything about money?" she asked with a movement toward him.

"It's about nothing more important than that consummate ass you were with," he answered, laughing as he reached out and took her hand in his with a friendly pressure. "I've just found out that he's a blackguard, and I thought you were too precious to be left an instant longer in his company. We must be careful, dear," he added. "God knows I'll do my best to help you--but we must be careful"

"Oh!" she cried out sharply, in a high voice. "Oh!" and she shrank from him as if he had hurt her by his touch. It was all she said, but the word quivered in his ears with a suppressed emotion. Was it thankfulness for her escape? he wondered, or was it anger at the part that he had played?

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