Addington, so Jeffrey Blake remembered
when he came home to it, was a survival. Naive
constancies to custom, habits sprung out of old conditions
and logical no more, and even the cruder loyalties
to the past, lived in it unchanged. This was
as his mind conceived it. His roots had gone
deeper here than he knew while he was still a part
of it, a free citizen. The first months of his
married life had been spent here, but as his prosperity
burned the more brilliantly, he and Esther had taken
up city life in winter, and for the summer had bought
a large and perfectly equipped house in a colony at
the shore. That, in the crash of his fortunes,
had gone with other wreckage, and now he never thought
of it with even a momentary regret. It belonged
to that fevered time when he was always going fast
and faster, as if life were a perpetual speeding in
a lightning car. But of Addington he did think,
in the years that were so much drear space for reflection,
and though he felt no desire to go back, the memory
of it was cool and still. The town had distinct
social strata, the happier, he felt, in that.
There were the descendants of old shipbuilders and
merchants who drew their sufficient dividends and
lived on the traditions of times long past. All
these families knew and accepted one another.
Their peculiarities were no more to be questioned
than the eccentric shapes of clouds. The Daytons,
who were phenomenally ugly in a bony way, were the
Daytons. Their long noses with the bulb at the
base were Dayton noses. The Madisons, in the
line of male descent from distinguished blood, drank
to an appalling extent; but they were Madisons, and
you didn’t interdict your daughters’ marrying
them. The Mastertons ate no meat, and didn’t
believe in banks. They kept their money in queer
corners, and there was so much of it that they couldn’t
always remember where, and the laundress had orders
to turn all stockings before wetting, and did indeed
often find bills in the toe. But the laundress,
being also of Addington, though of another stratum,
recognised this as a Masterton habit, and faithfully
sought their hoarded treasure for them, and delivered
it over with the accuracy of an accountant. She
wouldn’t have seen how the Mastertons could
help having money in their clothes unless they should
cease being Mastertons. Nor was it amazing to
their peers, meeting them in casual talk, to realise
that they were walking depositories of coin and bills.
A bandit on a lonely road would, if he were born in
Addington, have forborne to rob them. These and
other personal eccentricities Jeffrey Blake remembered
and knew he should find them ticking on like faithful
clocks. It was all restful to recall, but horrible
to meet. He knew perfectly what the attitude of
Addington would be to him. Because he was Addington
born, it would stand by him, and with a double loyalty
for his father’s sake. That loyalty, beautiful
or stupid as you might find it, he could not bear.
He hoped, however, to escape it by making his father
the briefest visit possible and then getting off to
the West. Anne had reminded him that Alston Choate
had called, and he had commented briefly:
“Oh! he’s a good old boy.”
But she saw, with her keen eyes gifted
to read the heart, that he was glad he had not seen
him. The first really embarrassing caller came
the forenoon after Madame Beattie had arrived at Esther’s,
Madame Beattie herself in the village hack with Denny,
uncontrollably curious, on the box. Madame Beattie
paid twenty-five cents extracted from the tinkling
chatelaine, and dismissed Denny, but he looked over
his shoulder regretfully until he had rounded the
curve of the drive. Meantime she, in her plumes
and black velvet, was climbing the steps, and Jeffrey,
who was on the side veranda, heard her and took down
his feet from the rail, preparatory to flight.
But she was aware of him, and stepped briskly round
the corner. Before he reached the door she was
“Here, Jeff, here!” said
she peremptorily and yet kindly, as you might detain
a dog, and Jeff, pausing, gazed at her in frank disconcertment
and remarked as frankly:
Madame Beattie threw back her head
on its stout muscular neck and laughed, a husky laugh
much like an old man’s wheeze.
“No! no!” said she, approaching
him and extending an ungloved hand, “not so
bad as that. How are you? Tell its auntie.”
Jeffrey laughed. He took the
hand for a brief grasp, and returned to the group
of chairs, where he found a comfortable rocker for
“How in the deuce,” said he, “did
you get here so quick?”
Madame Beattie rejected the rocker
and took a straight chair that kept her affluence
of curves in better poise.
“Quick after what?” she
inquired, with a perfect good-nature.
Jeffrey had seated himself on the
rail, his hands, too, resting on it, and he regarded
her with a queer terrified amusement, as if, in research,
he had dug up a strange object he had no use for and
might find it difficult to place. Not to name:
he could name her very accurately.
“So quick after I got here,”
he replied, with candour. “I tell you plainly,
Madame Beattie, there isn’t a cent to be got
out of me. I’m done, broke, down and out.”
Madame Beattie regarded him with an
“Bless you, Jeff,” said
she, “I know that. What are you going to
do, now you’re out?”
The question came as hard as a stroke
after the cushioned assurance preceding it. Jeff
met it as he might have met such a query from a man
to whom he owed no veilings of hard facts.
“I don’t know,”
said he. “If I did know I shouldn’t
Madame Beattie seemed not to suspect
the possibility of rebuff.
“Esther hasn’t changed a particle,”
Jeff scowled, not at her, but absently
at the side of the house, and made no answer.
“Aren’t you coming down
there?” asked Madame Beattie peremptorily, with
the air of drumming him up to some task that would
have to be reckoned with in the end. “Come,
Jeff, why don’t you answer? Aren’t
you coming down?”
Jeffrey had ceased scowling.
He had smoothed his brows out with his hand, indeed,
as if their tenseness hurt him.
“Look here,” said he, “you ask a
lot of questions.”
She laughed again, a different sort of old laugh,
a fat and throaty one.
“Did I ever tell you,”
said she, “what the Russian grand duke said when
I asked him why he didn’t marry?”
“No,” said Jeff, quite
peaceably now. She was safer in the company of
Madame Beattie sought among the jingling
decorations of her person for a cigarette, found it
and offered him another.
“Quite good,” she told
him. “An Italian count keeps me supplied.
I don’t know where the creature gets them.”
Then, after they had lighted up, she
returned to her grand duke, and Jeff found the story
sufficiently funny and laughed at it, and she pulled
another out of her well-stored memory, and he laughed
at that. Madame Beattie told her stories excellently.
She knew how little weight they carry smothered in
feminine graces and coy obliquities from the point.
Graces had long ceased to interest her as among the
assets of a life where man and woman have to work
to feed themselves. Now she sat down with her
brother man and emulated him in ready give and take.
Jeffrey forsook the rail which had subtly marked his
distance from her; he took a chair, and put his feet
up on the rail. Madame Beattie’s neatly
shod and very small feet went up on a chair, and she
tipped the one she was sitting in at a dangerous angle
while she exhaled luxuriously, and so Lydia, coming
round the corner in a simple curiosity to know who
was there, found them, laughing uproariously and dim
with smoke. Lydia had her opinions about smoking.
She had seen women indulge in it at some of the functions
where she and Anne danced, but she had never found
a woman of this stamp doing it with precisely this
air. Indeed, Lydia had never seen a woman of
Madame Beattie’s stamp in her whole life.
She stopped short, and the two could not at once get
hold of themselves in their peal of accordant mirth.
But Lydia had time to see one thing for a certainty.
Jeff’s face had cleared of its brooding and
its intermittent scowl. He was enjoying himself.
This, she thought, in a sudden rage of scorn, was
the kind of thing he enjoyed: not Farvie, not
Anne’s gentle ministrations, but the hooting
of a horrible old woman. Madame Beattie saw her
and straightened some of the laughing wrinkles round
“Well, well!” said she. “Who’s
Then Jeffrey, becoming suddenly grave,
as if, Lydia thought, he ought to be ashamed of laughing
in such company, sprang to his feet, and threw away
“Madame Beattie,” said he, “this
is Miss Lydia French.”
Madame Beattie did not rise, as who,
indeed, so plumed and black-velveted should for a
slip of a creature trembling with futile rage over
a brother proved wanting in ideals? She extended
one hand, while the other removed the cigarette from
her lips and held it at a becoming distance.
“And who’s Miss Lydia
French?” said she. Then, as Lydia, pink
with embarrassment and disapproval, made no sign,
she added peremptorily, “Come here, my dear.”
Lydia came. It was true that
Madame Beattie had attained to privilege through courts
and high estate. When she herself had ruled by
the prerogative of a perfect throat and a mind attuned
to it, she had imbibed a sense of power which was
still dividend-paying even now, though the throat
was dead to melody. When she really asked you
to do anything, you did it, that was all. She
seldom asked now, because her attitude was all careless
tolerance, keen to the main chance but lax in exacting
smaller tribute, as one having had such greater toll.
But Lydia’s wilful hesitation awakened her to
some slight curiosity, and she bade her the more commandingly.
Lydia was standing before her, red, unwillingly civil,
and Madame Beattie reached forward and took one of
her little plump work-roughened hands, held it for
a moment, as if in guarantee of kindliness, and then
“Now,” said she, “who are you?”
Jeffrey, seeing Lydia so put about,
answered for her again, but this time in terms of
a warmth which astonished him as it did Lydia.
“She is my sister Lydia.”
Madame Beattie looked at him in a frank perplexity.
“Now,” said she, “what
do you mean by that? No, no, my dear, don’t
go.” Lydia had turned by the slightest
movement. “You haven’t any sisters,
Jeff. Oh, I remember. It was that romantic
marriage.” Lydia turned back now and looked
straight at her, as if to imply if there were any
qualifying of the marriage she had a word to say.
“Wasn’t there another child?” Madame
Beattie continued, still to Jeff.
“Anne is in the house,” said he.
He had placed a chair for Lydia, with
a kindly solicitude, seeing how uncomfortable she
was; but Lydia took no notice. Now she straightened
slightly, and put her pretty head up. She looked
again as she did when the music was about to begin,
and her little feet, though they kept their decorous
calm, were really beating time.
“Well, you’re a pretty
girl,” said Madame Beattie, dropping her lorgnon.
She had lifted it for a stare and taken in the whole
rebellious figure. “Esther didn’t
tell me you were pretty. You know Esther, don’t
“No,” said Lydia, in a
wilful stubbornness; “I don’t know her.”
“You’ve seen her, haven’t you?”
“Yes, I’ve seen her.”
“You don’t like her then?”
said Madame astutely. “What’s the
matter with her?”
Something gave way in Lydia.
The pressure of feeling was too great and candour
seethed over the top.
“She’s a horrid woman.”
Or was it because some inner watchman
on the tower told her Jeff himself had better hear
again what one person thought of Esther? Madame
Beattie threw back her plumed head and laughed, the
same laugh she had used to annotate the stories.
Lydia immediately hated herself for having challenged
it. Jeffrey, she knew, was faintly smiling, though
she could not guess his inner commentary:
“What a little devil!”
Madame Beattie now turned to him.
“Same old story, isn’t
it?” she stated. “Every woman of woman
born is bound to hate her.”
“Yes,” said Jeff.
Lydia walked away, expecting, as she
went, to be called back and resolving that no inherent
power in the voice of aged hatefulness should force
her. But Madame Beattie, having placed her, had
forgotten all about her. She rose, and brushed
the ashes from her velvet curves.
“Come,” she was saying to Jeffrey, “walk
along with me.”
He obediently picked up his hat.
“I sha’n’t go home with you,”
said he, “if that’s what you mean.”
She took his arm and convoyed him
down the steps, leaning wearily. She had long
ago ceased to exercise happy control over useful muscles.
They even creaked in her ears and did strange things
when she made requests of them.
“You understand,” said
Jeffrey, when they were pursuing a slow way along
the street, he with a chafed sense of ridiculous captivity.
“I sha’n’t go into the house.
I won’t even go to the door.”
“Stuff!” said the lady.
“You needn’t tell me you don’t want
to see Esther.”
Jeff didn’t tell her that.
He didn’t tell her anything. He stolidly
guided her along.
“There isn’t a man born
that wouldn’t want to see Esther if he’d
seen her once,” said Madame Beattie.
But this he neither combated nor confirmed,
and at the corner nearest Esther’s house he
stopped, lifted the hand from his arm and placed it
in a stiff rigour at her waist. He then took
off his hat, prepared to stand while she went on.
And Madame Beattie laughed.
“You’re a brute,”
said she pleasantly, “a dear, sweet brute.
Well, you’ll come to it. I shall tell Esther
you love her so much you hate her, and she’ll
send out spies after you. Good-bye. If you
don’t come, I’ll come again.”
Jeffrey made no answer. He watched
her retreating figure until it turned in at the gate,
and then he wheeled abruptly and went back. An
instinct of flight was on him. Here in the open
street he longed for walls, only perhaps because he
knew how well everybody wished him and their kindness
he could not meet.
Madame Beattie found Esther at the
door, waiting. She was an excited Esther, bright-eyed,
short of breath.
“Where have you been?” she demanded.
Madame Beattie took off her hat and
stabbed the pin through it. Her toupee, deranged
by the act, perceptibly slid, but though she knew it
by the feel, that eccentricity did not, in the company
of a mere niece, trouble her at all. She sank
into a chair and laid her hat on the neighbouring
“Where have you been?”
repeated Esther, a pulse of something like anger beating
through the words.
Madame Beattie answered idly: “Up to see
“I knew it!” Esther breathed.
“Of course,” said Madame
Beattie carelessly. “Jeff and I were quite
friends in old times. I was glad I went.
It cheered him up.”
“Did he - ” Esther paused.
“Ask for you?” supplied Madame Beattie
pleasantly. “Not a word.”
Here Esther’s curiosity did whip her on.
She had to ask:
“How does he look?”
“Oh, youngish,” said Madame. “Rather
flabby. Obstinate. Ugly, too.”
“Ugly? Plain, do you mean?”
“No. American for ugly - obstinate,
sore-headed. He’s hardened. He was
rather a silly boy, I remember. Had enthusiasms.
Much in love. He isn’t now. He’s
no use for women.”
Esther looked at her in an arrested
thoughtfulness. Madame Beattie could have laughed.
She had delivered the challenge Jeff had not sent,
and Esther was accepting it, wherever it might lead,
to whatever duelling ground. Esther couldn’t
help that. A challenge was a challenge. She
had to answer. It was a necessity of type.
Madame Beattie saw the least little flickering thought
run into her eyes, and knew she was involuntarily
charting the means of summons, setting up the loom,
as it were, to weave the magic web. She got up,
took her hat, gave her toupee a little smack with
the hand, and unhinged it worse than ever.
“You’ll have to give him up,” she
“Give him up!” flamed Esther. “Do
you think I want - ”
There she paused and Madame Beattie supplied temperately:
“No matter what you want. You couldn’t
Then she went toiling upstairs, her
chained ornaments clinking, and only when she had
shut the door upon herself did she relax and smile
over the simplicity of even a feminine creature so
versed in obliquity as Esther. For Esther might
want to escape the man who had brought disgrace upon
her, but her flying feet would do her no good, so long
as the mainspring of her life set her heart beating
irrationally for conquest. Esther had to conquer
even when the event would bring disaster: like
a chieftain who would enlarge his boundaries at the
risk of taking in savages bound to sow the dragon’s