It was a long day.

Toward evening he recollected that he had to leave cards upon his host and hostess of the Monday previous, but it was past six o’clock when he found himself at the top of the steps of Mr. Ayrton’s house. Before his ring had been responded to a victoria drove up with Phyllis, and in a moment she was on the step beside him.

She looked radiant in the costume which she was wearing. He thought he had never seen a lovelier girl—he was certain that he had never seen a better-dressed girl. (Mr. Courtland was not clever enough to know that it is only the beautiful girls who seem well dressed in the eyes of men.) There was a certain frankness in her face that made it very interesting—the frankness of a child who looks into the face of the world and wonders at its reticence. He felt her soft gray eyes resting upon his face, as she shook hands with him and begged him to go in and have tea with her. He felt strangely uneasy under her eyes this evening, and his self-possession failed him so far as to make it impossible for him to excuse himself. It did not occur to him to say that he could not drink tea with her on account of having an appointment which he could not break through without the most deplorable results. He felt himself led by her into one of her drawing rooms, and sitting with his back to the window while her frank eyes remained on his face, asking (so he thought) for the nearest approach to their frankness in response, that a man who has lived in the world of men dare offer to a maiden whose world is within herself.

“Oh, yes! I got the usual notification of the Order of the Bald Eagle,” said he, in reply to her inquiry. “I shall wear it next my heart until I die. The newspapers announced the honor that had been done to me the same morning.”

“You cannot keep anything out of the papers,” said Phyllis.

“Even if you want to—a condition which doesn’t apply to my case,” said he. “My publishers admitted to me last week that they wouldn’t rest easy if any newspaper appeared during the next month without my name being in its columns in some place.”

“I’m sure they were delighted at the development of the Spiritual Aneroid’s attack upon you,” said Phyllis.

“They told me I was a made man,” said he.

She threw back her head—it was her way—and laughed. Her laughter—all the grace of girlhood was in its ring; it was girlhood made audible—was lightening her fair face as she looked at him.

“How funny!” she cried. “You fight your way through the New Guinea forests; you are in daily peril of your life; you open up a new country, and yet you are not a made man until you are attacked by a wretched newspaper.”

“That is the standpoint of the people who sell books, so you may depend upon its being the standpoint of the people who buy books,” said he.

“I can quite believe it,” said she. “Mr. Geraint, the novelist, took me down to dinner at Mrs. Lemuel’s last night, and he told me that the only thing that will make people buy books is seeing the author’s portrait in some of the illustrated papers, or hearing from some of the interviews which are published regarding him that he never could take sugar in his coffee. The reviews of his books are read only by his brother authors, and they never buy a book, Mr. Geraint says; but the interviews are read by the genuine buyers.”

“Mr. Geraint knows his public, I’m sure.”

“I fancy he does. He would be very amusing if he didn’t aim so persistently at going one better than someone else in his anecdotes. People were talking at dinner about your having massacred the natives with dynamite—you did, you know, Mr. Courtland.”

“Oh, yes; I have admitted so much long ago. There was no help for it.”

“Well, of course everyone was laughing when papa told how the massacre came about, and this annoyed Mr. Geraint and induced him to tell a story about a poor woman who fancied that melinite was a sort of food for children that caused their portraits to appear in the advertisements; so she bought a tin of it and gave it all to her little boy at one meal. It so happened, however, that he became restless during the night and fell out of his cradle. That happened a year ago, Mr. Geraint said, and yet the street isn’t quite ready for traffic yet.”

“That little anecdote of Mr. Geraint makes me feel very meek. If at any time I am tempted to think with pride upon my dynamite massacre, I shall remember Mr. Geraint’s story, and hang my head.”

“We were all amused at Mr. Geraint’s lively imagination, but much more so when Mr. Topham, the under-secretary, shook his head gravely, and said in his most dignified manner, that he thought the reported occurrence—the melinite incident—quite improbable. He was going on to explain that the composition of the explosive differed so materially from that of the food that it would be almost impossible for any mother to take the one for the other, when our hostess rose.”

“Mr. Topham must have been disappointed. As a demonstrator of the obvious he has probably no equal even among the under-secretaries. You discussed him pretty freely in the drawing room afterward, I may venture to suggest.”

“No; we discussed you, Mr. Courtland.”

“A most unprofitable topic. From what standpoint—dynamite massacres?”

“From the standpoint of heredity, of course. Can you imagine any topic being discussed in a drawing room, nowadays, from any other standpoint? There was a dear old lady present, Mrs. Haddon, and she said she had been a friend of your mother’s.”

“So she was; I recollect her very well. I should like to go see her.”

“She told us a great deal about your mother, and your sister—a sister to whom you were greatly attached.”

Phyllis’ voice had become low and serious; every tone suggested sympathy.

“I had such a sister,” said he slowly. His eyes were not turned toward her. They were fixed upon a little model of St. Catherine of Siena,—a virgin among the clouds,—which was set in the panel of an old cabinet beside him. “I had such a sister—Rosamund; she is dead.”

“Mrs. Haddon told us so,” said Phyllis. “She talked about your mother, and your sister, and of the influence which they had had upon your life—your career.”

“They are both dead,” said he.

“They did not live to see your triumph; that is what your tone suggests,” said she. “That is what Mrs. Haddon said—the tears were in her eyes—last night, Mr. Courtland. I wish you could have heard her. I wish you could have heard what she said when someone made a commonplace remark as to how sad it was they were dead.”

“What did she say, Miss Ayrton?”

“She said, ‘No, no; please do not talk about death overtaking such as they. The mother, who transmits her nature to the son, renews her life in him; it is not he, but his mother, who lives.’ And then she asked, ‘Do you suppose that Herbert Courtland ever sets out on any of his great enterprises without thinking of his mother and sister, without feeling that he must do something worthy of them, something for their sake? And you talk of them as if they were dead—as if they had passed away forever from the concerns of earth!’ That is what she said, Mr. Courtland.”

He had bent forward on his low seat, and was leaning his head on one of his hands. He had his eyes fixed on the parquet of the floor. He was motionless. He did not speak a word.

“Mrs. Haddon said something more,” Phyllis continued, after a pause. Her voice had fallen still another tone. “‘Yes,’ she said, as if musing, ‘dead—dead! A man is as his mother has made him. He is with her from the moment she loves his father. She is evermore thinking of him; he is precious to her before the mystery of his birth is revealed to her. He grows up by her side, and loves her because he knows that she understands him. She does understand him, and she understands his father better by understanding her son.’ She said that, Mr. Courtland, and I felt that she had spoken one of the greatest truths of this mysterious life of ours. Then she said, ‘Herbert Courtland is a man who has lived with honor to himself, with honor to the memory of his mother, and of his sister, whom he loved. He is a man, and he has not merely attained distinction in the world; if he is without fear, he is also without reproach; and ask him if he has not been strengthened in his fight with whatever of base may have risen up within him, being a man, from day to day, by the thought that his sister is one with him; that his purity of heart and of act is the purity of his mother and his sister, upon which no stain must ever come.’ That was all she said, Mr. Courtland.”

There was a long pause after she had spoken. He sat there with his head bent, his fingers interlaced. He had his eyes fixed upon the floor. His cup of tea stood untasted beside him on a little Algerian table.

And she—as she looked at him her soft eyes became dim with tears. She knew that the words which she had spoken, the words which she had repeated as they were spoken by the lady whom she had met the previous night, had awakened many memories within him. She too had her memories. She knew that there was a certain gratefulness in the midst of the bitterness of such memories.

That was all she knew.

And the tears continued to well up to her eyes until she was aware that he had risen from his seat and was standing in front of her. She drew her hand across her eyes. She saw a movement in his lips. They were trembling, but no sound came from them. The hand that he stretched out to her was trembling also. She put her own into it. He held her hand tightly for a moment, then dropped it suddenly and almost fled from the room, without uttering a word.

For a few moments she stood where he had left her, and then she went to a sofa and seated herself upon it. The tears that had come to her eyes before, now began to fall; she thought, girl that she was, that she could understand what were the feelings of the man who had just parted from her. She thought that he was overcome at the reflection that the distinction which he had won in the world could not be shared by those whom he loved, those who would have valued far more than he did the honor that was being done to him.

The pity of it! Oh, the pity of it!

Ella had told her one day when they had talked together about Herbert Courtland, that he had no relation alive, that he stood alone in the world. The information had not meant much to her then; but when she had heard Mrs. Haddon speak on the previous evening about his attachment to his mother and his sister, she remembered what Ella has said, and her heart was full of pity for him. She had made up her mind to tell him all that Mrs. Haddon had said, for surely more sympathetic words had never been spoken; and her opportunity had come sooner than she expected. Their chat together had led naturally up to Mrs. Haddon, and she had been able to repeat to him almost word for word all that his mother’s friend had said.

Her heart felt for him. Surely the sweetest reward that can come to a man who has toiled and fought and conquered was denied to the man who had just parted from her. He had toiled and conquered; but not for him was the joy of seeing pride on the face of those who claimed him as their kin. His father had been killed when he had charged with a brigade through the lines of a stubborn enemy—everyone knew the story. His mother and sister had died when he was beginning to make a name for himself. He had gone forth from the loneliness of his home to the loneliness of the tropical forest; and he had returned to the loneliness of London.

She felt that she had done well to repeat to him the words of his mother’s friend. Those words had affected him deeply. They could not but be a source of comfort to him when he was overwhelmed with the thought of his loneliness. They would make him feel that his position was understood by some people who were able to think of him apart from the great work which he had accomplished.

Thus the maiden sat musing in the silent room after she had dried her tears of pity for the man who an hour before had sauntered up to her door thinking, not of the melancholy isolation of his position in the world, but simply that two hours of the longest day of his life must pass before he could kiss the lips of the woman who had given herself up to him.

Her maid found her still seated on the sofa, and ventured to remind her that time was fugitive, and that if mademoiselle still retained her intention of going to Lady Earlscourt’s dinner party,—Lady Earlscourt was giving a dinner party apparently for the purpose of celebrating her husband’s departure for a cruise in Norwegian fjords in his yacht,—it would be absolutely necessary for mademoiselle to permit herself to be dressed without delay.

Phyllis sprang up with a little laugh that sounded like a large sigh, and said if Fidele would have the kindness to switch on the lights in the dressing room, she would not be kept waiting a moment.

The maid hurried upstairs, and mademoiselle repaired to an apartment where she could remove, so far as was possible, the footmarks left by those tears which she had shed when she had reflected upon the loneliness to which Mr. Herbert Courtland was doomed for (probably) the remainder of his life.

Mademoiselle had a dread of the acuteness of vision with which her maid was endowed. She was not altogether sure that Fidele would be capable of understanding the emotion that had forced those tears to her eyes.

But that was just where she was wrong. Fidele was capable of understanding that particular emotion a good deal better than mademoiselle understood it.

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