Black is White - George Barr Mccutcheon - ebook
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The two old men sat in the library, eyeing the blue envelope that lay on the end of the long table nearest the fireplace, where a merry but unnoticed blaze crackled in the vain effort to cry down the shrieks of the bleak December wind that whistled about the corners of the house.Someone had come into the room—they did not know who nor when—to poke up the fire and to throw fresh coals into the grate. No doubt it was the parlourmaid. She was always doing something of the sort. It seemed to be her duty. Or, it might have been the housekeeper, in case the parlourmaid was out for the evening. Whoever it was, she certainly had poked up the fire, and in doing so had been compelled to push two pairs of feet out of the way to avoid trampling upon them.

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Table of contents

CHAPTER I

CHAPTER II

CHAPTER III

CHAPTER IV

CHAPTER V

CHAPTER VI

CHAPTER VII

CHAPTER VIII

CHAPTER IX

CHAPTER X

CHAPTER XI

CHAPTER XII

CHAPTER XIII

CHAPTER XIV

CHAPTER XV

CHAPTER XVI

CHAPTER XVII

CHAPTER XVIII

CHAPTER XIX

CHAPTER XX

CHAPTER XXI

CHAPTER XXII

CHAPTER XXIII

CHAPTER XXIV

CHAPTER I

The two old men sat in the library, eyeing the blue envelope that lay on the end of the long table nearest the fireplace, where a merry but unnoticed blaze crackled in the vain effort to cry down the shrieks of the bleak December wind that whistled about the corners of the house.Someone had come into the room—they did not know who nor when—to poke up the fire and to throw fresh coals into the grate. No doubt it was the parlourmaid. She was always doing something of the sort. It seemed to be her duty. Or, it might have been the housekeeper, in case the parlourmaid was out for the evening. Whoever it was, she certainly had poked up the fire, and in doing so had been compelled to push two pairs of feet out of the way to avoid trampling upon them.Still they couldn’t recall having seen her. For that matter, it wasn’t of the slightest consequence. Of course, they might have poked it up themselves and saved her the trouble, but these ancients were not in the habit of doing anything that could be done by menials in the employ of Mr Brood. Their minds were centred upon the blue envelope that had arrived shortly after dinner. The fire was an old story; the blue envelope was a novelty.From some shifting spot far out upon the broad Atlantic the contents of that blue envelope had come through the air, invisible, mysterious, uncanny. They could not understand it at all. A wireless message! It was the first of its kind they had seen, and they were very old men, who had seen everything else in the world—if one could believe their boastful tales.They had sailed the seven seas and they had traversed all the lands of the earth, and yet here was mystery. A man had spoken out of the air a thousand miles away, and his words were lying there on the end of a library-table, in front of a cheerful hearthstone, within reach of their wistful fingers; and someone had come in to poke up the fire without their knowledge. How could they be expected to know?There was something maddening in the fact that the envelope would have to remain unopened until young Frederic Brood came home for the night. They found themselves wondering if by any chance he would fail to come in at all. Their hour for retiring was ten o’clock, day in, day out. As a rule they went to sleep about half-past eight. They seldom retired unless someone made the act possible by first awakening them.The clock on the wide mantelpiece had declared some time before, in ominous tones, that half-past ten had arrived, and yet they were not sleepy. They had not been so thoroughly wideawake in years.Up to half-past nine they discussed the blue envelope with every inmate of the house, from Mrs John Desmond, the housekeeper, down to the voiceless but eloquent decanter of port that stood between them, first on the arm of one chair, then the other. They were very old men; they could soliloquise without in the least disturbing each other. An observer would say, during these periods of abstraction, that their remarks were addressed to the decanter, and that the poor decanter had something to say in return. But, for all that, their eyes seldom left the broad blue envelope that had lain there since half-past eight.They knew that it came directly or indirectly from the man to whom they owed their present condition of comfort and security after half a century of vicissitudes; from the man whose life they had saved more than once in those old, evil days when comforts were so few that they passed without recognition in the maelstrom of events. From mid-ocean James Brood was speaking to his son. His words—perhaps his cry for help—were lying there on the end of the table, confined in a flimsy blue envelope, and no one dared to liberate them.Frederic Brood deserved a thrashing for staying out so late—at least, so the decanter had been told a dozen times or more, and the clock, too, for that matter, to say nothing of the confidences reposed in the coal-scuttle, the fire implements, and other patient listeners of a like character.It may be well to state that these bosom friends and comrades of half a hundred years had quarrelled at seven o’clock that evening over a very important matter—the accuracy of individual timepieces. The watch of Mr Danbury Dawes had said it was five minutes before seven; that of Mr Joseph Riggs three minutes after. Since then neither had spoken to the other, but each slyly had set his watch by the big clock in the hall before going into dinner, and was prepared to meet any argument.Twenty years ago these two old cronies had met James Brood in one of the blackest holes of Calcutta, a derelict being swept to perdition with the swiftness and sureness of a tide that knows no pause. They found him when the dregs were at his lips and the stupor of defeat in his brain. Without meaning to be considered Samaritans, good or bad, they dragged him from the depths and found that they had revived a man. Those were the days when James Brood’s life meant nothing to him, days when he was tortured by the thought that it would be all too long for him to endure; yet he was not the kind to murder himself as men do who lack the courage to go on living.Weeks after the rescue in Calcutta, these two soldiers of fortune, and another John Desmond, learned from the lips of the man himself that he was not such as they, but rich in this world’s goods, richer than the Solomon of their discreet imagination. Shaken, battered, but sobered, he related portions of his life’s story to them, and they guessed the rest, being men who had lived by correctly guessing for half the years of their adventurous lives.Like Brood they were Americans. But, unlike him, they had spent most of their lives in the deserts of time and had sown seeds which could never be reaped except in the form of narrative. Ever in pursuit of the elusive thing called luck, they had found it only in hairbreadth escapes from death, in the cunning avoidance of catastrophe, in devil-may-care leaps in the dark, in all the ways known to men who find the world too small.Never had luck served them on a golden platter. For twenty-five years and more these three men, Dawes, Riggs, and poor John Desmond, had thrashed through the world in quest of the pot of gold at the foot of the rainbow, only to find that the rainbow was for ever lifting, for ever shifting; yet they complained not. They throve on misfortune, they courted it along with the other things in life, and they were unhappy only when ill luck singled one of them out and spared the others.What Brood told them of his life brought the grim smile of appreciation to the lips of each. He had married a beautiful foreigner—an Austrian, they gathered—of excellent family, and had taken her to his home in New York City, a house in lower Fifth Avenue where his father and grandfather had lived before him. And that was the very house in which two of the wayfarers, after twenty years, now sat in rueful contemplation of a blue envelope.A baby boy came to the Broods in the second year of their wedded life, but before that there had come a man—a music-master, dreamy-eyed, handsome, Latin; a man who played upon the harp as only the angels are believed to play. In his delirious ravings Brood cursed this man and the wife he had stolen away from him; he reviled the baby boy, even denying him; he laughed with blood-curdling glee over the manner in which he had cast out the woman who had broken his heart and crushed his pride; he wailed in anguish over the mistake he had made in allowing the man to live that he might gloat in triumph.This much the three men who lifted him from hell were able to learn from lips that knew not what they said, and they were filled with pity. Later on, in a rational weakness, he told them more, and without curses. A deep, silent, steadfast bitterness succeeded the violent ravings. He became a wayfarer with them, quiet, dogged, fatal; where they went he also went; what they did so also did he.Soon he led, and they followed. Into the dark places of the world they plunged. Perils meant little to him, death even less. They no longer knew days of privation, for he shared his wealth with them; but they knew no rest, no peace, no safety. Life had been a whirlwind before they came upon James Brood; it was a hurricane afterward.Twice John Desmond, younger than Dawes and Riggs, saved the life of James Brood by acts of unparalleled heroism: once in a South African jungle when a lioness fought for her young, and again in upper India when, single-handed, he held off a horde of Hindus for days while his comrade lay wounded in a cavern. Dawes and Riggs, in the Himalayas, crept down the wall of a precipice, with five thousand feet between them and the bottom of the gorge, to drag him from a narrow ledge upon which he lay unconscious after a misstep in the night. More than once—aye, more than a dozen times—one or the other of these loyal friends stood between him and death, and times without number he, too, turned the grim reaper aside from them.John Desmond, gay, handsome, and still young as men of his kind go, met the fate that brooks no intervention. He was the first to drop out of the ranks. In Cairo, during a curious period of inactivity some ten months after the advent of James Brood, he met the woman who conquered his venturesome spirit; a slim, clean, pretty English governess in the employ of a British admiral’s family. They were married inside of a fortnight. After the quiet little ceremony, from which the sinister presence of James Brood was missing, he shook the bronzed hands of his older comrades, and gave up the life he had led for the new one she promised. At the pier Brood appeared and wished him well, and he sailed away on a sea that bade fair to remain smooth to the end of time. He was taking her home to the little Maryland town that had not seen him in years.Ten years passed before James Brood put his foot on the soil of his native land. Then he came back to the home of his fathers, to the home that had been desecrated, and with him came the two old men who now sat in his huge library before the crackling fire. He could go on with life, but they were no longer fit for its cruel hardships. His home became theirs. They were to die there when the time came.Brood’s son was fifteen years of age before he knew, even by sight, the man whom he called father. Up to the time of the death of his mother who died heart-broken in her father’s home—he had been kept in seclusion.There had been deliberate purpose in the methods of James Brood in so far as this unhappy child was concerned. When he cast out the mother he set his hand heavily upon her future.Fearing, even feeling, the infernal certainty that this child was not his own, he planned with diabolical cruelty to hurt her to the limit of his powers and to the end of her days. He knew she would hunger for this baby boy of hers, that her heart could be broken through him, that her punishment could be made full and complete.He sequestered the child in a place where he could not be found, and went his own way, grimly certain that he was making her pay! She died when Frederic was twelve years old, without having seen him again after that dreadful hour when, protesting her innocence, she had been turned out into the night and told to go whither she would, but never to return to the house she had disgraced. James Brood heard of her death when in the heart of China, and he was a haggard wreck for months thereafter.He had worshipped this beautiful Viennese. He could not wreak vengeance upon a dead woman; he could not hate a dead woman. He had always loved her. It was after this that he stood on the firing-line of many a fiercely fought battle in the Orient, inviting the bullet that would rip through his heart.It was not courage, but cowardice, that put him in spots where the bullets were thickest; it was not valour that sent him among the bayonets and sabres of a fanatical enemy. It was the thing at the bottom of his soul that told him she would come to him once more when the strife was ended, and that she was waiting for him somewhere beyond the border to hear his plea for pardon! Of such flimsy shreds is man’s purpose made!Five years after his return to New York he brought her son back to the house in lower Fifth Avenue and tried, with bitterness in his soul, to endure the word “father” as it fell from lips to which the term was almost strange.The old men, they who sat by the fire on this wind-swept night and waited for the youth of twenty-two to whom the blue missive was addressed, knew the story of James Brood and his wife Matilde, and they knew that the former had no love in his heart for the youth who bore his name. Their lips were sealed. Garrulous on all other subjects, they were as silent as the grave on this.They, too, were constrained to hate the lad. He made not the slightest pretence of appreciating their position in the household. To him they were pensioners, no more, no less; to him their deeds of valour were offset by the deeds of his father; there was nothing left over for a balance on that score. He was politely considerate; he was even kindly disposed toward their vagaries and whims; he endured them because there was nothing else left for him to do. But, for all that, he despised them; justifiably, no doubt, if one bears in mind the fact that they signified more to James Brood than did his long-neglected son.The cold reserve that extended to the young man did not carry beyond him in relation to any other member of the household so far as James Brood was concerned. The unhappy boy, early in their acquaintance, came to realise that there was little in common between him and the man he called father. After a while the eager light died out of his own eyes and he no longer strove to encourage the intimate relations he had counted upon as a part of the recompense for so many years of separation and loneliness.It required but little effort on his part to meet his father’s indifference with a coldness quite as pronounced. He had never known the meaning of filial love; he had been taught by word of mouth to love the man he had never seen, and he had learned as one learns astronomy—by calculation. He hated the two old men because his father loved them.In a measure, this condition may serve to show how far apart they stood from each other, James Brood and Frederic. Wanderlust and a certain feeling of unrest that went even deeper than the old habits kept James Brood away from his home many months out of the year. He was not an old man; in fact, he was under fifty, and possessed of the qualities that make for strength and virility even unto the age of fourscore years. While his old comrades, far up in the seventies, were content to sit by the fire in winter and in the shade in summer, he, not yet so old as they when their long stretch of intimacy began, was not resigned to the soft things of life. He was built of steel, and the steel within him called for the clash with flint. He loved the spark of fire that flashed in the contact.It was a harsh December night when the two old men sat guard over the message from the sea, and it was on a warm June day that they had said good-bye to him at the outset of his most recent flight.The patient butler, Jones, had made no less than four visits to the library since ten o’clock to awaken them and pack them off to bed. Each time he had been ordered away, once with the joint admonition to “mind his own business.” “ But it is nearly midnight,” protested Jones irritably, with a glance at the almost empty decanter. “ Jones,” said Danbury Dawes with great dignity and an eye that deceived him to such a degree that he could not for the life of him understand why Jones was attending them in pairs, “Jones, you ought to be in-hic-bed, damn you both of you. Wha’ you mean, sir, by coming in hie-here thish time o’ night dis-disturbing—-” “ You infernal ingrate,” broke in Mr Riggs fiercely, “don’t you dare to touch that bottle, sir! Let it alone!” “ It’s time you were in bed,” pronounced Jones, taking Mr Dawes by the arm.Mr Dawes sagged heavily in his chair and grinned triumphantly. He was a short, very fat old man. “ People who live in-hic-glass houses————” he began amiably, and then suddenly was overtaken by the thought of the moment before. “Take your hand off of me, confoun’ you! D’ you sup-supposh I can go to bed with my bes’ frien’ out there-hic-in the mid-middle of Atlan’ic Oc-o-shum, sinking in four miles of wa-wa’er and calling f-far help?” “ Take him to bed, Jones,” said Mr Riggs firmly. “He’s drunk and-and utterly useless at a time like this. Take him along.” “ Who the dev-hic-il are you, sir?” demanded Mr Dawes, regarding Mr Riggs as if he had never seen him before. “ You are both drunk,” said Jones succinctly. Mr Riggs began to whimper. “ My bes’ frien’ is drawnin’ by inches, and you come in here and tell me I’m drunk. It’s most heartless thing I ever heard of. Isn’t it, Danbury, ol’ pal? Isn’t it, damn you? Speak up!” “ Drawnin’ by inches-hic-in four miles of wa-water,” admitted Mr Dawes miserably. “My God, Jo-Jones, do you know how many-hic—inches there are in four miles?”Moved by the same impulse, the two old men struggled to their feet and embraced each other, swayed by an emotion so honest that all sense of the ludicrous was removed. Even Jones, though he grinned, allowed a note of gentleness to creep into his voice. “ Come along, gentlemen, like good fellows. Let’s go to bed. I’m sure the message to Mr Frederic is not as bad as you——”Mr Riggs, who was head and shoulders taller than Mr Dawes, made a gesture of despair with both arms, forgetting that they encircled his friend’s neck, with the result that both of his bony elbows came in violent contact with Mr Dawes’s ears, almost upsetting him. “ Don’t argue, Jones,” he interrupted dismally. “I know it’s bad news. So does Mr Dawes. Don’t you, Danbury?” “ What d’ you mean by-hic-knockin’ my hat off?” demanded Mr Dawes furiously, shaking his fist at Mr Riggs from rather close quarters-so close, in fact, that Mr Riggs suddenly clapped his hands to his stomach and emitted a surprised groan.Jones inserted his figure between them. “ Come, come, gentlemen; don’t forget yourselves. What now, Mr Riggs?” “ I’m lookin’ for the gentleman’s hat, sir,” said Mr Riggs impressively from a stooping posture. “ His hat is on the rack in the hall,” said Jones sharply. “ Then I shan’t ex-expect an-hic-’pology,” said Mr Dawes magnanimously.Mr Riggs opened his mouth to retort, but as he did so his eyes fell upon the blue envelope. “ Poor old Jim—poor old Jim Brood!” he groaned. “We mustn’t lose a minute, Danbury. He needs us, old pal. We must start relief exp’ition’ fore mornin’. Not a minute to be lost, Jones—not a——”The heavy front door closed with a bang at that instant, and the sound of footsteps, came from the hall—a quick, firm tread that had decision in it.Jones cast a furtive, nervous glance over his shoulder. “ I’m sorry to have Mr Frederic see you like this,” he said, biting his lip. “He hates it so.”The two old men made a commendable effort to stand erect, but no effort to stand alone. They linked arms and stood shoulder to shoulder. “ Show him in,” said Mr Riggs magnificently. “ Now we’ll fin’ out wass in telegram off briny deep,” said Mr Dawes, straddling his legs a little farther apart in order to declare a staunch front. “ It’s worth waiting up for,” said Mr Riggs. “ Abs’lutely,” said his staunch friend.Frederic Brood appeared in the door, stopping short just inside the heavy curtains. There was a momentary picture, such as a stage-director would have arranged. He was still wearing his silk hat and top-coat, and one glove had been halted in the process of removal. Young Brood stared at the group of three, a frank stare of amazement. A crooked smile came to his lips. “ Somewhat later than usual, I see,” he said, and the glove came off with a jerk. “What’s the matter, Jones? Rebellion?” “ No, sir. It’s the wireless, sir.” “ Wireless?” “ Briny deep,” said Mr Dawes, vaguely pointing. “ Oh,” said young Brood, crossing slowly to the table. He picked up the envelope and looked at the inscription. “Oh,” said he again in quite a different tone on seeing that it was addressed to him. “From father, I dare say,” he went on, a fine line appearing between his eyebrows.The old men leaned forward, fixing their blear eyes upon the missive. “ Le’s hear the worst, Freddy,” said Mr Riggs.The young man ran his finger under the flap and deliberately drew out the message. There ensued another picture. As he read, his eyes widened and then contracted; his firm young jaw became set and rigid. Suddenly a short, bitter execration fell from his lips and the paper crumpled in his hand. Without another word he strode to the fireplace and tossed it upon the coals. It flared for a second and was wafted up the chimney, a charred, feathery thing.Without deigning to notice the two old men who had sat up half the night to learn the contents of that wonderful thing from the sea, he whirled on his heel and left the room. One might have noticed that his lips were drawn in a mirthless, sardonic smile, and that his eyes were angry. “ Oh, Lordy!” sighed Danbury Dawes, blinking, and was on the point of sitting down abruptly. The arm of Jones prevented. “ I never was so insulted in my——” beganJoseph Riggs feebly. “ Steady, gentlemen,” said Jones. “Lean on me, please.”

CHAPTER II

James Brood’s home was a remarkable one. That portion of the house which rightly may be described as “public” in order to distinguish it from other parts where privacy was enforced, was not unlike any of the richly furnished, old-fashioned places in the lower part of the city where there are still traces left of the Knickerbockers and their times. Dignified, stately, almost gloomy, it was a mansion in which memories dwelt, where the past strode unseen among sturdy things of mahogany and walnut and worn but priceless brocades and silks.

The crystal chandelier in the long drawing-room had shed light for the Broods since the beginning of the nineteenth century; the great old sideboard was still covered with the massive plate of a hundred years ago; the tables, the chairs, the high-boys, the chests of drawers, and the huge four-posters were like satin to the eye and touch; the rugs, while older perhaps than the city itself, alone were new to the house of Brood. They had been installed by the present master of the house.

Age, distinction, quality attended one the instant he set foot inside the sober portals. This was not the home of men who had been merely rich; it was not wealth alone that stood behind these stately investments.

At the top of the house were the rooms which no one entered except by the gracious will of the master. Here James Brood had stored the quaint, priceless treasures of his own peculiar fancy: exquisite, curious things from the mystic East, things that are not to be bought and sold, but come only to the hand of him who searches in lands where peril is the price.

Worlds separated the upper and lower regions of that fine old house; a single step took one from the sedate Occident into the very heart of the Orient; a narrow threshold was the line between the rugged West and the soft, languorous, seductive East. In this part of the house James Brood, when at home for one of his brief stays, spent many of his hours in seclusion, shut off from the rest of the establishment as completely as if he were the inhabitant of another world. Attended by his Hindu servant, a silent man named Ranjab, and on occasions by his secretary, he saw but little of the remaining members of his rather extensive household.

For several years he had been engaged in the task of writing his memoirs—so-called—in so far as they related to his experiences and researches of the past twenty years. It was not his intention to give this long and elaborate account of himself to the world at large, but to publish privately a very limited edition without regard for expense, copies of which were to find their way into exclusive collections and libraries given over to science and travel. This work progressed slowly because of his frequent and protracted absences. When at home, he laboured ardently and with a purpose that more than offset the periods of indifference.

His secretary and amanuensis was Lydia Desmond, the nineteen-year-old daughter of his onetime companion and friend, the late John Desmond, whose death occurred when the girl was barely ten years of age.

Brood, on hearing of his old comrade’s decease, immediately made inquiries concerning the condition in which he had left his wife and child, with the result that Mrs Desmond was installed as housekeeper in the New York house and the daughter given every advantage in the way of an education.

Desmond had left nothing in the shape of riches except undiminished love for his wife and a diary kept during those perilous days before he met and married her. This diary was being incorporated in the history of James Brood’s adventures, by consent of the widow, and was to speak for Brood in words he could not with modesty utter for himself.

In those pages John Desmond was to tell his own story in his own way, for Brood’s love for his friend was broad enough even to admit of that. He was to share his life in retrospect with Desmond and the two old men, as he had shared it with them in reality.

Lydia’s room, adjoining her mother’s, was on the third floor at the foot of the small stairway leading up to the proscribed retreat at the top of the house. There was a small sitting-room off the two bed-chambers, given over entirely to Mrs Desmond and her daughter. In this little room Frederic Brood spent many a quiet, happy hour.

The Desmonds, mother and daughter, understood and pitied the lonely boy who came to the big house soon after they were themselves installed. His heart, which had many sores, expanded and glowed in the warmth of their kindness and affection; the plague of unfriendliness that was his by absorption gave way before this unexpected kindness, not immediately, it is true, but completely in the end.

By nature he was slow to respond to the advances of others; his life had been such that avarice accounted for all that he received from others in the shape of respect and consideration. He was prone to discount a friendly attitude, for the simple reason that in his experience all friendships were marred by the fact that their sincerity rested entirely upon the generosity of the man who paid for them—his father. No one had loved him for himself; no one had given him an unselfish thought in all the years of his boyhood.

The family with whom he had lived in a curious sort of retirement up to the time he was fifteen had no real feeling for him beyond the bounds of duty; his tutors had taken their pay in exchange for all they gave; his companions were men and women who dealt with him as one deals with a precious investment. He represented ease and prosperity to them—no more. As he grew older he understood all this. What warmth there may have been in his little heart was chilled by contact with these sordid influences.

At first he held himself aloof from the Desmonds; he was slow to surrender. He suspected them of the same motives that had been the basis of all previous attachments. When at last he realised that they were not like the others, his cup of joy, long an empty vessel, was filled to the brim and his happiness was without bounds.

They were amazed by the transformation. The rather sullen, unapproachable lad became at once so friendly, so dependent, that, had they not been acquainted with the causes behind the old state of reticence, his very joy might have made a about in very much the same spirit that inspires a hungry dog; he watched her with eager, halffamished eyes; he was on her heels four-fifths of the time.

As for Lydia, pretty little Lydia, he adored her. His heart began for the first time to sing with the joy of youth, and the sensation was a novel one. It had seemed to him that he could never be anything but an old man.

Not a day passed during his career at Harvard that he failed to write to one or other of these precious friends. His vacations were spent with them; his excursions were never carried out unless they found it possible to accompany him. He nuisance of of him. He followed Mrs Desmond met many women, but he thought of only two. They appeared to constitute all femininity so far as he was concerned. Through their awakening influence he came to find pleasure in the companionship of other young men, and, be it said for him, despite a certain unconquerable aloofness, he was one of the most popular men in his class.

It was his custom, on coming home for the night, no matter what the hour, to pause before Lydia’s door on the way to his own room at the other end of the long hall. There was always a tender smile on his lips as he regarded the white panels before tapping gently with the tips of his fingers. Then he would wait for the sleepy “Good night, Freddy,” which invariably came from within, and he would sing out “Good night” as he made off to bed. Usually, however, he was at home long before her bedtime, and they spent the evenings together. That she was his father’s secretary was of no moment. To him she was Lydia—his Lydia.

For the past three months or more he had been privileged to hold her close in his arms and to kiss her good night at parting. They were lovers now. The slow fuse of passion had reached its end and the flame was alive and shining with radiance that enveloped both of them.

On this night, however, he passed her door without knocking. His dark, handsome face was flushed and his teeth were set in sullen anger. With his hand on the knob of his own door, he suddenly remembered that he had failed Lydia for the first time, and stopped. A pang of shame shot through him. For a moment he hesitated and then started guiltily toward the forgotten door. Even as he raised his hand to sound the loving signal, the door was opened and Lydia, fully dressed, confronted him. For a moment they regarded each other in silence, she intently, he with astonishment not quite free from confusion.

“ I’m—I’m sorry, dearest——” he began, his first desire being to account for his oversight.

“ It is bad news?” she demanded, anxiously watching his face. “I was afraid, dear. I couldn’t go to bed.”

“ You, too?” he exclaimed bitterly. “The old chaps—but it’s a shame for you to have waited up, dear.”

“ Tell me what has happened. It can’t be that your father is ill—or in danger. You are angry, Frederic; so it can’t be that. What is it?”

He looked away sullenly.

“ Oh, it’s really nothing, I suppose. Just an unexpected jolt, that’s all. I was angry for a moment——”

“ You are still angry,” she said, placing her hand on his arm. She was a tall, slender girl. Her eyes were almost on a level with his own. “Don’t you want to tell me, dear?”

“ He never gives me a thought,” he said, compressing his lips. “He thinks of no one but himself. God, what a father!”

“ Freddy, dear! You must not speak——”

“ Haven’t I some claim on his consideration? Is it fair that I should be ignored in everything, in every way? I won’t put up with it, Lydia! I’m not a child. I’m a man and I am his son. But I might as well be a dog in the street for all the thought he gives to me!”

She put her finger to her lips, a scared look stealing into her dark eyes. Jones was conducting the two old men to their room on the floor below. A door closed softly. The voices died away.

“ He is a strange man,” she said. “He is a good man, Frederic.”

“ To everyone else, yes. But to me? Why, Lydia, I—I believe he hates me. You know what——”

“ Hush! A man does not hate his son. I’ve tried for years to drive that silly notion out of your mind. You——”

“ Oh, I know I’m a fool to speak of it, but I—I can’t help feeling as I do. You’ve seen enough to know that I’m not to blame for it, either. And then—oh, what’s the use whining about it? I’ve got to make the best of it, so I’ll try to keep my mouth closed.”

“ Where is the message?”

“ I threw it into the fire.”

“ What!”

“ I was furious.”

“ Won’t you tell me?”

“ What do you think he has done? Can you guess what he has done to all of us?” She did not answer. “Well, I’ll tell you just what he said in that wireless. It was from the Lusitania+, twelve hundred miles off Sandy Hook—relayed, I suppose, so that the whole world might know—sent at four this afternoon. I remember every word of the cursed thing, although I merely glanced at it.

“‘ Send the car to meet Mrs Brood and me at the Cunard pier Thursday. Have Mrs Desmond put the house in order for its new mistress. By the way, you might inform her that I was married last Wednesday in Paris.’ It was signed ‘James Brood,’ not even ‘father.’ What do you think of that for a thunderbolt?”

“ Married?” she gasped. “Your father married?”

“‘ Put the house in order for its new mistress,’” he almost snarled. “‘Inform her that I was married last Wednesday’! Of course he’s married. Am I not to inform your mother? Isn’t the car to meet Mrs Brood and him? Does he say anything about his son meeting him at the pier? No! Does he cable his son that he is married? No! Does he do anything that a real, human father would do? No! That message was a deliberate insult to me, Lydia, a nasty, rotten slap in the face. I mean the way it was worded. Just as if it wasn’t enough that he had gone and married some cheap show-girl or a miserable foreigner or Heaven knows——”

“ Freddy! You forget yourself. Your father would not marry a cheap show-girl. You know that. And you must not forget that your mother was a foreigner.”

“ I’m sorry I said that,” he exclaimed hoarsely. Then fiercely: “But can’t you see what all this will come to? A new mistress of the house! It means your mother will have to go—that maybe you’ll go. Nothing will be as it has been. All the sweetness gone—all the goodness! A woman in the house who will also treat me as if I didn’t belong here! A woman who married him for his money, an adventuress. Oh, you can’t tell me; I know! ‘You might inform Mrs Desmond that I was married’! Good Lord!”

He began to pace the floor, striking one fist viciously in the palm of the other hand. Lydia, pale and trembling, seemed to have forgotten his presence. She was staring fixedly at the white surface of a door down the hall, and there was infinite pain in her wide eyes. Her lips moved once or twice; there was a single unspoken word upon them.

“ Why couldn’t he have wired me last week?” the young man was muttering. “What was his object in waiting until to-day? Wouldn’t any other father in the world have telegraphed his only son if he were going to—to bring someone home like this? ‘Have the car meet Mrs Brood and me’! If that isn’t the quintessence of scorn! He orders me to do these things. He doesn’t even honour me with a direct, personal message. He doesn’t tell me he is married. He asks me to inform someone else.”

Lydia, leaning rather heavily against the door, spoke to him in a low, cautious voice.

“ Did you tell Mr Dawes and Mr Riggs?”

He stopped short.

“ No! And they waited up to see if they could be of any assistance to him in an hour of peril! What a joke! Poor old beggars! I’ve never felt sorry for them before, but, on my soul, I do now. What will she do to the poor old chaps? I shudder to think of it. And she’ll make short work of everything else she doesn’t like around here, too. Your mother, Lydia—why, God help us, you know what will just have to happen in her case. It’s——”

“ Don’t speak so loudly, dear—please, please! She is asleep. Of course, we—we shan’t stay on, Freddy. We’ll have to go as soon as——”

His eyes filled with tears. He seized her in his arms and held her close.

“ It’s a beastly, beastly shame, darling. Oh, Lord, what a fool a man can make of himself!”

“ You must not say such things,” she murmured, stroking his cheek with cold, trembling fingers.

“ A fine trick to play on all of us!” he grated.

“ Listen, Freddy darling: your father has a right to do as he chooses. He has a right to companionship, to love, to happiness. He has done everything for us that man could——”

“ But why couldn’t he have done the fine, sensible thing, Lydia? Why couldn’t he have—have fallen in love with—with your mother? Why not have married her if he had to marry someone in——”

“ Freddy!” she cried, putting her hand over his mouth.

He was not to be stopped. He gently removed her hand.

“ Your mother is the finest woman in the world. Perhaps she wouldn’t have him, but that’s not the point. Good Lord, how I would have loved him for giving her to me as a mother. And here he comes, bringing some devil of a stranger into oh, it’s sickening!”

He had lowered his voice to a hoarse whisper, keeping his eyes fixed on the door down the hall. The girl lay very still in his arms. Suddenly a wild sob broke in her throat, and she buried her face on his shoulder.

“ Why—why, don’t cry, dearest! Don’t!” he whispered miserably. “What a rotter I am! Inflicting you with my silly imaginings! Don’t cry! I dare say everything will turn out all right. It’s my beastly disposition. Kiss me!”

She kissed him swiftly. Her wet cheek lay for a second against his own, and then, with a stifled good night, she broke away from him. An instant later she was gone; her door was closed.

Somewhat sobered, and not a little perturbed by her outburst, he stood still for a moment, staring at the door. Then he turned and passed slowly into his own room.

A fire smouldered in the grate. In this huge, old-fashioned house there were grates in all of the spacious bedrooms, and not infrequently fires were started in them by the capable Jones. Frederic stood for he knew not how long above the half-dead coals, staring at them with a new and more bitter complaint at the back of his mind. Was there anything between Mrs Desmond and his father? What was back of that look of anguish in Lydia’s eyes? He suddenly realised that he was muttering oaths, not of anger, but of pain.

The next morning he came down earlier than was his custom. His night had been a troubled one. Forgetting his own woes, or belittling them, he had thought only of what this news from the sea would mean to the dear woman he loved so well. No one was in the library, but a huge fire was blazing. A blizzard was raging.

Once upon a time, when he first came to the house, a piano had stood in the drawing-room. His joy at that time knew no bounds; he loved music. For his age he was no mean musician. But one evening his father, coming in unexpectedly, heard the player at the instrument. For a moment he stood transfixed in the doorway watching the eager, almost inspired face of the lad, and then, pale as a ghost, stole away without disturbing him. Strange to say, Frederic was playing a waltz of Ziehrer’s, a Waltz that his mother had played when the honeymoon was in the full. The following day the piano was taken away by a storage company. The boy never knew why it was removed.

Frederic picked up the morning paper. His eye traversed the front page rapidly. There were reports of fearful weather at sea. Ships in touch with wireless stations flashed news of the riotous gales far out on the Atlantic, of tremendous seas that wreaked damage to the staunchest of vessels. The whole seaboard was strewn with the wreckage of small craft; a score of vessels were known to be ashore and in grave peril. The movement of passenger-vessels, at the bottom of the page, riveted his attention. The Lusitania was reported seven hundred miles out, and in the heart of the hurricane. She would be a day late.

The newspaper was slightly crumpled, as if someone else had read it before him. He found himself wondering how he would feel if the Lusitania never reached New York! He wondered what his sensations would be if a call for help came from the great vessel, if the dreadful news came that she was sinking with all on board!

He looked up from the paper with what actually seemed to him to be a guilty feeling. Someone had entered the room. Mrs Desmond was coming toward him, a queer little smile on her lips. She was a tall, fair woman, an English type, and still extremely handsome. Hers was an honest beauty that had no fear of age.

“ She is a staunch ship, Frederic,” she said, without any other form of greeting. “She will be late, but there’s really nothing to worry about.”

“ I’m not worrying,” he said confusedly. “Lydia has told you the—the news?”

“ Yes.”

“ Rather staggering, isn’t it?” he said with a wry smile. In spite of himself he watched her face with curious intentness.

“ Rather,” she said briefly.

He was silent for a moment.

“ I was instructed to inform you that he was married last Wednesday,” he said, and his face hardened. “And to have the car meet them at the dock.”

“ It won’t be necessary, Frederic. I have given Jones his instructions. You will not even have to carry out the orders.”

“ I suppose you don’t approve of the way.”

“ I know just how you feel, poor boy. Don’t try to explain. I know.”

“ You always understand,” he said, lowering his eyes.

“ Not always,” she said quietly. There was something cryptic in the remark. He kept his eyes averted.

“ Well, it’s going to play hob with everything,” he said, jamming his hands deep into his pockets. His shoulders seemed to hunch forward and to contract.

“ I am especially sorry for Mr Dawes and Mr Riggs,” she said. Her voice was steady and full of earnestness.

“ Do they know?”

“ They were up and about at daybreak, poor souls. Do you know, Freddy, they were starting off in this blizzard when I met them in the hall!”

“ The deuce! I—I hope it wasn’t on account of anything I may have said to them last night,” he cried in contrition.

She smiled. “No. They had their own theory about the message. The storm strengthened it. They were positive that your father was in great peril. I don’t like to tell you this, but they seemed to think that you couldn’t be depended upon to take a hand in—in—well, in helping him. They were determined to charter a vessel of some sort and start off in all this blizzard to search the sea for Mr Brood. Oh, aren’t they wonderful?”

He had no feeling of resentment toward the old men for their opinion of him. Instead, his eyes glowed with an honest admiration.

“ By George, Mrs Desmond, they are great! They are men, bless their hearts. Seventy-five years old and still ready to face anything for a comrade! It does prove something, doesn’t it?”

“ It proves that your father has made no mistake in selecting his friends, my dear. My husband used to say that he would cheerfully die for James Brood, and he knew that James Brood would have died for him just as readily. There is something in friendships of that sort that we can’t understand. We never have been able to test our friends, much less ourselves. We——”

“ I would die for you, Mrs Desmond,” cried Frederic, a deep flush overspreading his face. “For you and Lydia.”

“ You come by that naturally,” she said, laying her hand upon his arm. “Blood will tell. Thank you, Frederic.” She smiled. “I am sure it will not be necessary for you to die for me, however. As for Lydia, you must live, not die, for her.”

“ I’ll do both,” he cried impulsively.

“ Before you go in to breakfast I want to say something else to you, Frederic,” said she seriously. “Lydia has repeated everything you said to her last night. My dear boy, my husband has been dead for twelve years. I loved him, and he died loving me. I shall never marry another man. I am still the wife of John Desmond; I still consider myself bound to him. Can you understand?”

“ I talked like a lunatic last night, I fear,” he confessed. “I might have known. You, too, belong to the list of loyal ones. Forgive me.”

“ There is nothing to forgive, dear,” she said simply. “And now, one more word, Frederic. You must accept this new condition of affairs in the right spirit. Your father has married again, after all these years. It is not likely that he has done so without deliberation. Therefore, it is reasonable to assume that he is bringing home with him a wife of whom he at least is proud, and that should weigh considerably in your summing up of the situation. She will be beautiful, accomplished, refined, and good, Frederic. Of that you may be sure. Let me implore you to withhold judgment until a later day.”

“ I do not object to the situation, Mrs Desmond,” said he, the angry light returning to his eyes, “so much as I resent the wording of that telegram. It is always just that way. He loses no chance to humiliate me. He——”

“ Hush! You are losing your temper again.”

“ Well, who wouldn’t? And here’s another thing, the very worst of all. How is this new condition going to affect you, Mrs Desmond?” She was silent for a moment.

“ Of course, I shan’t stay on here, Frederic. I shall not be needed now. As soon as Mrs Brood is settled here I shall go.”

“ And you expect me to be cheerful and contented!” he cried bitterly.

“ You are a man, Frederic. It is for you to say yea and nay; women must say one or the other. A man may make his own bed, but he doesn’t always have to lie in it.”

“ Sounds rather like Solomon,” he said ruefully. “I suppose you mean that if I’m not contented here I ought to get out and look for happiness elsewhere, reserving the right to come back if I fail?”

“ Something of the sort,” she said.

“ My father objects to my going into business or taking up a profession. I am dependent on him for everything. But why go into that? We’ve talked it over a thousand times. I don’t understand, but perhaps you do. It’s a dog’s way of living.”

“ Your father is making a man of you.”

“ Oh, he is, eh?” with great scorn.

“ Yes. He will make you see some day that the kind of life you lead is not the kind you want. Your pride, your ambition will rebel. Then you will make something out of life for yourself.”

“ I don’t think that is in his mind, if you’ll pardon me. I sometimes believe he actually wants me to stay as I am, always a dependent. Why, how can he expect me to marry and——” He stopped short, his face paling.

“ Go on, please.”

“ Well, it looks to me as if he means to make it impossible for me to marry, Mrs Desmond. I’ve thought of it a good deal.”

“ And is it impossible?”

“ No. I shall marry Lydia, even though I have to dig in the streets for her. It isn’t that, however. There’s some other reason back of his attitude, but for the life of me I can’t get at it.”

“ I wouldn’t try to get at it, my dear,” she said. “Wait and see. Come, you must have your coffee. I am glad you came down early. The old gentlemen are at breakfast now. Come in.”

He followed her dejectedly, a droop to his shoulders.

Mr Dawes and Mr Riggs were seated at the table. Lydia, a trifle pale and distrait, was pouring their third cup of coffee. The old men showed no sign of their midnight experience. They were very wideawake, clear-eyed, and alert, as old men will be who do not count the years of life left in the span appointed for them.

“ Good morning, Freddy,” said they, almost in one voice.

As he passed behind their chairs on his way to Lydia’s side, he slapped each of them cordially on the back. They seemed to swell with relief and gratitude. He was not in the habit of slapping them on the back.

“ Good morning, gentlemen,” said he. Then he lifted Lydia’s slim fingers to his lips. “Good morning, dear.”

She squeezed his fingers tightly and smiled. A look of relief leaped into her eyes; she drew a long breath. She poured his coffee for him every morning. Her hand shook a little as she lifted the tiny cream-pitcher.

“ I didn’t sleep very well,” she explained in a low voice.

His hand rested on her shoulder for a moment in a gentle caress. Then he sat down in the chair Jones had drawn out for him.

“ Well, gentlemen, when does the relief boat start?” he asked, with a forced attempt at humour.

Mr Dawes regarded him with great solemnity.

“ Freddy, it’s too late. A man can be saved from the scourge, tigers, elephants, lions, snakes, and almost everything else in God’s world, but, blast me, he can’t be protected against women! They are deadly. They can overpower the strongest of men, sir. Your poor father is lost for ever. I never was so sorry for anyone in my life.”

“ If he had only called for help a week or so ago, we could have saved him,” lamented Mr Riggs. “But he never even peeped. Lordy, Lordy, and just think of it, he yelled like an Indian when that lion leaped on him at Nairobi!”

“ Poor old Jim!” sighed Mr Dawes. “He’ll probably have to ask us to pull out, too. I imagine she’ll insist on making a spare bedroom out of our room, so’s she can entertain all of her infernal relations. Jones, will you give me some more bacon and another egg?”

“ And I thought it was nothing but a shipwreck,” murmured Mr Riggs plaintively.

Frederic hurried through breakfast. Lydia followed him into the library.

“ Are you going out, dear?” she asked anxiously.

“ Yes. I’ve got to do something. I can’t sit still and think of what’s going to happen I’ll be back for luncheon.”

Half an hour later he was in the small bachelor apartment of two college friends, a few blocks farther up-town, and he was doing the thing he did nearly every day of his life in a surreptitious way. He sat at the cheap upright piano in their disordered living-room and, unhampered by the presence of young men who preferred music as it is rendered for the masses, played as if his very soul was in his fingers.

CHAPTER III

The next three or four days passed slowly for those who waited. A spirit of uneasiness pervaded the household. Among the servants, from Jones down, there was dismay. It was not even remotely probable that Mrs Desmond would remain, and they confessed to a certain affection for her, strange as it may appear to those who know the traits of servants who have been well treated by those above them.

Frederic flatly refused to meet the steamer when she docked. As if swayed by his decision, Dawes and Riggs likewise abandoned a plan to greet the returning master and his bride as they came down the gangplank. But for the almost peremptory counsel of Mrs Desmond, Brood’s son would have absented himself from the house on the day of their arrival. Jones and a footman went to the pier with the chauffeur.

It was half-past two in the afternoon when the automobile drew up in front of the house and the fur-coated footman nimbly hopped down and threw open the door.

James Brood, a tall, distinguished-looking man of fifty, stepped out of the limousine. For an instant, before turning to assist his wife from the car, he allowed his keen eyes to sweep the windows on the lower floor. In one of them stood his son, holding the lace curtains apart and smiling a welcome that seemed sincere. He waved his hand to the man on the side-walk. Brood responded with a swift, almost perfunctory gesture, and then held out his hand to the woman who was descending.