Phyllis had a good deal to think of after she had sat for half an hour with her father in the room where they worked together for the discomfiture of the opposite party, and had given him some account of the representation of the play at the Parthenon. Her father was delighted to find her in high spirits. So many people come back from the theater looking glum and worn out, yawning and mumbling when asked what they have seen and what it had all been about. Phyllis was not glum, nor did she mumble. She was able to describe scene after scene, and more than once she sprang from her seat, carried away by her own powers of description, and began to act the bits that had impressed her—bits the force of which could only be understood when described with gestures and pretty posturing.

Her father thought he had never seen anything so pretty in his life. (What a girl she was, to be sure, to have so easily recovered from the effects of that terrible ordeal through which she had passed—having to dismiss at a moment’s notice the man whom she had promised to marry!) He had certainly never seen anything so fascinating as her pretty posturing, with the electric lights gleaming over her white neck with its gracious curves, and her firm white arms from which her gloves had been stripped.

It had been his intention to describe to her a scene which had taken place in the House of Commons that night—a scene of Celt and Saxon mingling in wild turmoil over a question of neglected duty on the part of a Government official: not the one who was subsequently decorated by the sovereign a few days after his neglect of duty had placed the country in jeopardy, and had precipitated the downfall of the ministry and the annihilation of his party as a political factor; not this man, but another, who had referred to Trafalgar Square as the private thoroughfare of the crown. The scene had been an animated one, and Mr. Ayrton had hoped to derive a good deal of pleasure from describing it to his daughter; but when he had listened to her, and watched her for a few minutes, he came to the conclusion that it would be absurd for him to make an effort to compete with her. What was his wretched little story of Parliamentary squalor compared with these psychological subtleties which had interested his daughter all the evening?

He listened to and watched that lovely thing, overflowing with the animation that comes from a quick intelligence—a keen appreciation of the intelligence of the great artists who had interpreted a story which thrilled the imagination of generation after generation, and he felt that Parliament was a paltry thing. Parliament—what was Parliament? The wrangle of political parties over a paltry issue. It had no real life in it; it had nothing of the fullness and breadth of the matters that interested such people as had minds—imagination.

“You are tired,” she cried at last. “It is thoughtless of me to keep you out of your bed. You have had a weary night, I am sure. Was it the Irish again, or the horrid teetotalers?”

“It was both, my dear,” said he. “Phyllis,” he added solemnly, “an Irish teetotaler is a fearful thing.”

“You shall forget all the intemperate teetotalers in a beautiful sleep,” said she, putting her arms around his neck. “Good-night, papa! It was so thoughtless of me to keep you up. It is one o’clock.”

“It appears to me that you are the one who should be ready to succumb,” said her father. “I had nothing to stimulate my imagination. Practical politics has not yet discovered a good working reply to the man who calls his fellow-man a liar, so the political outlook is not very cheering.”

“That is what is greatly needed: a satisfactory retort—verbal, of course—to that every-day assertion.”

“It has become the most potent influence in the House of Commons, during the past year or two; and the worst of the matter is that the statement is nearly always correct.”

“Then there is all the greater need for a modus vivendi”—she had an ample acquaintance with the jargon of diplomacy. “I don’t despair of Parliament being able to suggest an efficient retort.”

“Parliament: two ragamuffins quarreling up an entry over a rotten orange. Good-night, my child!”

She was at last in her own room: an apartment of gracious-tinted fabrics and pink satin panels; of tapestried sofas made by French artists before the lovely daughter of Maria Teresa went to her death. She switched on the lights in the candle sconces, and threw herself down upon one of the sofas. Her theater wrap and fan she had laid over a chair.

It was not to the drama which she had seen superbly acted at the Parthenon that her thoughts went out; but to the words which her dearest friend had spoken when driving back from the theater.

What words were they?

She could not recollect them now; but she was still conscious of the impression which they had produced upon her while they were being spoken. That impression was that up to that instant all the issues of her life had been unworthy of a moment’s consideration. She had taken what she believed to be a deep interest in many matters during the five years that she had been the head of her father’s house. She had, she knew, been of the greatest help to her father in his political life, not merely turning her memory to good account in discovering the incautious phrases in the speeches of the men who were foolish enough to be his opponents, but actually advising him, when he asked her, on many matters about which the newspapers had been full. Then she had taken an active part in more than one of those “movements” which became the topic of a London season until compelled by an invisible but all-powerful authority to move on and make way for the next new thing. She had moved with every movement, and had proved her capacity to control herself when the movement became uncontrollable. And then she had thought how worthy a position in life would be that of the wife of the rector of a church like St. Chad’s.

That idea had remained with her, as had already been said, for some months, until, to be exact in regard to the date, the other young women, whom she had been watching with interest, had bought their brilliant blouses with the newest and, consequently, most abnormal sleeves, casting aside the sober-hued bodices which they had worn in hope.

How paltry were all these aspirations, these undertakings!

That was what was dinning in her ears all the time Ella had been talking in the carriage.

But why, why, why should all her previous interests, including the consideration of the questions of orthodoxy and the other thing, seem so ridiculously small while Ella was speaking?

That was the question which puzzled her. Had Ella shown her a way to something better, something higher, something better worthy of the aspiration of a woman? She could not say that that had been the drift of her large discourse. What she had said had actually been puzzling in its vagueness, its daring images—all images are vague; its allegories—all allegories are indefinite.

And yet—and yet—and yet——

With a motion of impatience Phyllis sprang to her feet. After a pause she went to a little satin-wood cabinet which she had turned into a bookshelf, and took out her Bible. She had never slept a night for years without reading a chapter; and in order to avert the possibility of her own feelings or fancies of the moment making any invidious distinction between the various component parts of a book which is profitable in every line, she had accustomed herself to read the chapters in consecutive order from The Genesis to The Revelation. Sometimes, when she found herself face to face of a night with a purely genealogical chapter, Phyllis of Philistia had difficulty in crushing down her unworthy desire to turn to some chapter that seemed to her frail judgment to contain words of wider comfort to the children of men than a genealogical tree of the Children of Israel; but she had never yielded to so unworthy an impulse. Who was she that she should suggest that one part of the Sacred Book was calculated to be more profitable than another? Was it not all the Bible?

She had plowed her way through the slough of Hebrew names upon these occasions, and the blessing of the words had been borne to her in the form of a sweet sleep.

Her chapter for this night was that which describes the campaign of David, during which he and his hosts were besieged in their earthworks, and how the three mighty men had made a sortie through the camp of the enemy in order to obtain for their leader a cup of water.

She continued the chapter to the end, but all through it those words were ringing in her ears:

“It is the price of blood; it is the price of blood.”

And as she knelt down beside her bed, her bare white feet peeping out from beneath the drapery of her white night-dress, in a posture that would have made the most human atheist believe in the beauty of devotion, those words were still in her ears: “The price of blood; the price of blood.”

Good Heavens! How could she carry that feather fan? How could Ella Linton hold it up to her face—hold her face down to it, flutter its fairy fluff upon her cheeks? It was the price of blood. Herbert Courtland had run a greater risk to obtain those feathers than David’s mighty men had run to draw the water from the well. She had heard all about the insatiable savagery of the natives of New Guinea. Paradise? Who had named those birds the birds of paradise? She recollected how the feathers which Ella had whirled about had held in the very center of every wonderful disc of rich purple, edged with unequal radiating lines of gold, a single spot of brilliant crimson, with a tiny star of silver in the center. The effect of the sunlight glinting over this combination on the thousand feathers that swept after the bird had caused Herbert Courtland, the first white man who had seen this glory of glories, to call it the meteor-bird. But those crimson drops: were they not the blood of the men who had perished miserably while endeavoring to wrest its marvels from the tropical forests of that great island?


And Ella could treat those feathers as though they had been plucked from a tame pheasant? And now she was lying in her bed with the fan on the pillow beside her!

How could she do it? That was what the girl asked herself while she lay awake on her own bed. Would Ella not see, on the white pillow beside her head, the crimson stains of the feathers that had been snatched out of the dripping red hand of death, but the man who had not feared to grapple with death itself in that hell which people called a paradise?

But the man, the man who had gripped death by the throat and had torn the feathers from his grisly, fleshless fingers,—her imagination was very vivid at night, especially after reading a thrilling chapter of Hebrew massacre,—that man had talked with her upon such trifles as books and plays, strange pageants enacted among paper and canvas unrealities of life. She had actually been leaning against some of these painted scenes while the man who had fought his way into the depths of that forest which no white man but himself had yet penetrated,—the man whose life had, day by day and night by night, been dependent upon the accuracy of his rifle aim,—had talked with her.

That was really the sum of all her thoughts. She did not try to recall the words that he had spoken; it was simply the figure of the man who had been before her that now remained on her mind. She did not stop to think whether or not he had spoken as a man with intellect would speak; whether he had spoken as a man whose orthodoxy was beyond suspicion would speak. The question of his orthodoxy, of his intellect (which may be just the opposite), did not occur to her. All she felt was that she had been talking face to face with a man.

So that the result of her evening’s entertainment, after she had read her inspiring chapter in the Bible and said her bedside prayer, she might have defined in precisely the same words as she had spoken to her friend Ella when Ella had asked her, immediately on entering the carriage, what she thought of Herbert Courtland.

“He is the bravest man in the world at present.”

She did not fall asleep for a considerable time.

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