A Pilgrim by Robert W. Chambers

I

THE servants had gathered in the front hall to inspect the new arrival—cook, kitchen-maid, butler, flanked on the right by parlor-maids, on the left by a footman and a small buttons.

The new arrival was a snow-white bull-terrier, alert, ardent, quivering in expectation of a welcome among these strangers, madly wagging his whiplike tail in passionate silence.

When the mistress of the house at last came down the great stone stairway, the servants fell back in a semi-circle, leaving her face to face with the white bull-terrier.

“So that is the dog!” she said, in faint astonishment. A respectful murmur of assent corroborated her conclusion.

The dog’s eyes met hers; she turned to the servants with a perplexed gesture.

“Is the brougham at the door?” asked the young mistress of the house.

The footman signified that it was.

“Then tell Phelan to come here at once.”

Phelan, the coachman, arrived, large, rosy, freshly shaven, admirably correct.

“Phelan,” said the young mistress, “look at that dog.”

The coachman promptly fixed his eyes on the wagging bull-terrier. In spite of his decorous gravity a smile of distinct pleasure slowly spread over his square, pink face until it became a subdued simper.

“Is that a well-bred dog, Phelan?” demanded the young mistress.

“It is, ma’am,” replied Phelan, promptly.

“Very well bred?”

“Very, ma’am.”

“Dangerous?”

“In a fight, ma’am.” Stifled enthusiasm swelled the veins in the coachman’s forehead. Triumphant pæans of praise for the bull-terrier trembled upon his lips; but he stood rigid, correct, a martyr to his perfect training.

“Say what you wish to say, Phelan,” prompted the young mistress, with a hasty glance at the dog.

“Thanky, ma’am.… The bull is the finest I ever laid eyes on.… He hasn’t a blemish, ma’am; and the three years of him doubled will leave him three years to his prime, ma’am.… And there’s never another bull, nor a screw-tail, nor cross, be it mastiff or fox or whippet, ma’am, that can loose the holt o’ thim twin jaws.… Beg pardon, ma’am, I know the dog.”

“You mean that you have seen that dog before?”

“Yes, ma’am; he won his class from a pup at the Garden. That is ‘His Highness,’ ma’am, Mr. Langham’s champion three-year.”

She had already stooped to caress the silent, eager dog—timidly, because she had never before owned a dog—but at the mention of his master’s name she drew back sharply and stood erect.

“Never fear, ma’am,” said the coachman, eagerly; “he won’t bite, ma’am—”

“Mr. Langham’s dog?” she repeated, coldly; and then, without another glance at either the dog or the coachman, she turned to the front door; buttons swung it wide with infantile dignity; a moment later she was in her brougham, with Phelan on the box and the rigid footman expectant at the window.

II

Seated in a corner of her brougham, she saw the world pass on flashing wheels along the asphalt; she saw the April sunshine slanting across brown-stone mansions and the glass-fronted façades of shops; … she looked without seeing.

So Langham had sent her his dog! In the first year of her widowhood she had first met Langham; she was then twenty-one. In the second year of her widowhood Langham had offered himself, and, with the declaration on his lips, had seen the utter hopelessness of his offer. They had not met since then. And now, in the third year of her widowhood, he offered her his dog!

She had at first intended to keep the dog. Knowing nothing of animals, discouraged from all sporting fads by a husband who himself was devoted to animals dedicated to sport, she had quietly acquiesced in her husband’s dictum that “horse-women and dog-women made a man ill!”—and so dismissed any idea she might have entertained towards the harboring of the four-footed.

A miserable consciousness smote her: why had she allowed the memory of her husband to fade so amazingly in these last two months of early spring? Of late, when she wished to fix her thoughts upon her late husband and to conjure his face before her closed eyes, she found that the mental apparition came with more and more difficulty.

Sitting in a corner of her brougham, the sharp rhythm of her horses’ hoofs tuning her thoughts, she quietly endeavored to raise that cherished mental spectre, but could not, until by hazard she remembered the portrait of her husband hanging in the smoking-room.

But instantly she strove to put that away; the portrait was by Sargent, a portrait she had always disliked, because the great painter had painted an expression into her husband’s face which she had never seen there. An aged and unbearable aunt of hers had declared that Sargent painted beneath the surface; she resented the suggestion, because what she read beneath the surface of her husband’s portrait sent hot blood into her face.

Thinking of these things, she saw the spring sunshine gilding the gray branches of the park trees. Here and there elms spread tinted with green; chestnuts and maples were already in the full glory of new leaves; the leafless twisted tangles of wistaria hung thick with scented purple bloom; everywhere the scarlet blossoms of the Japanese quince glowed on naked shrubs, bedded in green lawns.

Her husband had loved the country.… There was one spot in the world which he had loved above all others—the Sagamore Angling Club. She had never been there. But she meant to go. Probably to-morrow.… And before she went she must send that dog back to Langham.

At the cathedral she signalled to stop, and sent the brougham back, saying she would walk home. And the first man she met was Langham.

III

There was nothing extraordinary in it. His club was there on the corner, and it was exactly his hour for the club.

“It is so very fortunate … for me,” he said. “I did want to see you.… I am going north to-morrow.”

“Of course it’s about the dog,” she said, pleasantly.

He laughed. “I am so glad that you will accept him—”

“But I can’t,” she said; … “and thank you so much for asking me.”

For a moment his expression touched her, but she could not permit expressions of men’s faces to arouse her compunction, so she turned her eyes resolutely ahead towards the spire of the marble church.

He walked beside her in silence.

“I also am going north to-morrow,” she said, politely.

He did not answer.

Every day since her widowhood, every day for three years, she had decided to make that pilgrimage … some time. And now, crossing Union Square on that lovely afternoon late in April, she knew that the time had come. Not that there was any reason for haste. … At the vague thought her brown eyes rested a moment on the tall young man beside her.…

Yes … she would go … to-morrow.

A vender of violets shuffled up beside them; Langham picked up a dewy bundle of blossoms, and their perfume seemed to saturate the air till it tasted on the tongue.

She shook her head. “No, no, please; the fragrance is too heavy.”…

“Won’t you accept them?” he inquired, bluntly.

Again she shook her head; there was indecision in the smile, assent in the gesture. However, he perceived neither.

She took a short step forward. The wind whipped the fountain jet, and a fanlike cloud of spray drifted off across the asphalt. Then they moved on together.

Presently she said, quietly, “I believe I will carry a bunch of those violets;” and she waited for him to go back through the fountain spray, find the peddler, and rummage among the perfumed heaps in the basket. “Because,” she added, cheerfully, as he returned with the flowers, “I am going to the East Tenth Street Mission, and I meant to take some flowers, anyway.”

“If you would keep that cluster and let me send the whole basket to your mission—” he began.

But she had already started on across the wet pavement.

“I did not know you were going to give my flowers to those cripples,” he said, keeping pace with her.

“‘I MEANT TO TAKE SOME FLOWERS, ANYWAY’” “‘I MEANT TO TAKE SOME FLOWERS, ANYWAY’”

“Do you mind?” she asked, but she had not meant to say that, and she walked a little more quickly to escape the quick reply.

“I want to ask you something,” he said, after a moment’s brisk walking. “I wish—if you don’t mind—I wish you would walk around the square with me—just once—”

“Certainly not,” she said; “and now you will say good-bye—because you are going away, you say.” She had stopped at the Fourth Avenue edge of the square. “So good-bye, and thank you for the beautiful dog, and for the violets.”

“But you won’t keep the dog, and you won’t keep the violets,” he said; “and, besides, if you are going north—”

“Good-bye,” she repeated, smiling.

“—besides,” he went on, “I would like to know where you are going.”

“That,” she said, “is what I do not wish to tell you—or anybody.”

There was a brief silence; the charm of her bent head distracted him.

“If you won’t go,” she said, with caprice, “I will walk once around the square with you, but it is the silliest thing I have ever done in my entire life.”

“Why won’t you keep the bull-terrier?” he asked, humbly.

“Because I’m going north—for one reason.”

“Couldn’t you take His Highness?”

“No—that is, I could, but—I can’t explain—he would distract me.”

“Shall I take him back, then?”

“Why?” she demanded, surprised.

“I—only I thought if you did not care for him—” he stammered. “You see, I love the dog.”

She bit her lip and bent her eyes on the ground. Again he quickened his pace to keep step with her.

“You see,” he said, searching about for the right phrase, “I wanted you to have something that I could venture to offer you—er—something not valuable—er—I mean not—er—”

“Your dog is a very valuable champion; everybody knows that,” she said, carelessly.

“Oh yes—he’s a corker in his line; out of Empress by Ameer, you know—”

“I might manage … to keep him … for a while,” she observed, without enthusiasm. “At all events, I shall tie my violets to his collar.”

He watched her; the roar of Broadway died out in his ears; in hers it grew, increasing, louder, louder. A dim scene rose unbidden before her eyes—the high gloom of a cathedral, the great organ’s first unsteady throbbing—her wedding-march! No, not that; for while she stood, coldly transfixed in centred self-absorption, she seemed to see a shapeless mass of wreaths piled in the twilight of an altar—the dreadful pomp and panoply and circumstance of death—

She raised her eyes to the man beside her; her whole being vibrated with the menace of a dirge, and in the roar of traffic around her she divined the imprisoned thunder of the organ pealing for her dead.

She turned her head sharply towards the west.

“What is it?” he asked, in the voice of a man who needs no answer to his question.

She kept her head steadily turned. Through Fifteenth Street the sun poured a red light that deepened as the mist rose from the docks. She heard the river whistles blowing; an electric light broke out through the bay haze.

It was true she was thinking of her husband—thinking of him almost desperately, distressed that already he should have become to her nothing more vital than a memory.

Unconscious of the man beside her, she stood there in the red glow, straining eyes and memory to focus both on a past that receded and seemed to dwindle to a point of utter vacancy.

Then her husband’s face grew out of vacancy, so real, so living, that she started—to find herself walking slowly past the fountain with Langham at her side.

After a moment she said: “Now we have walked all around the square. Now I am going to walk home; … and thank you … for my walk, … which was probably as wholesome a performance as I could have indulged in—and quite unconventional enough, even for you.”

They faced about and traversed the square, crossed Broadway in silence, passed through the kindling shadows of the long cross-street, and turned into Fifth Avenue.

“You are very silent,” she said, sorry at once that she had said it, uncertain as to the trend his speech might follow, and withal curious.

“It was only about that dog,” he said.

She wondered if it was exactly that, and decided it was not. It was not. He was thinking of her husband as he had known him—only by sight and by report. He remembered the florid gentleman perfectly; he had often seen him tooling his four; he had seen him at the traps in Monte Carlo, dividing with the best shot in Italy; he had seen him riding to hounds a few days before that fatal run of the Shadowbrook Hunt, where he had taken his last fence. Once, too, he had seen him at the Sagamore Angling Club up state.

“When are you going?” he said, suddenly.

“To-morrow.”

“I am not to know where?”

“Why should you?” and then, a little quickly: “No, no. It is a pilgrimage.”

“When you return—” he began, but she shook her head.

“No, … no. I do not know where I may be.”

In the April twilight the electric lamps along the avenue snapped alight. The air rang with the metallic chatter of sparrows.

They mounted the steps of her house; she turned and swept the dim avenue with a casual glance.

“So you, too, are going north?” she asked, pleasantly.

“Yes—to-night.”

She gave him her hand. She felt the pressure of his hand on her gloved fingers after he had gone, although their hands had scarcely touched at all.

And so she went into the dimly lighted house, through the drawing-room, which was quite dark, into the music-room beyond; and there she sat down upon a chair by the piano—a little gilded chair that revolved as she pushed herself idly, now to the right, now to the left.

Yes, … after all, she would go; … she would make that pilgrimage to the spot on earth her husband loved best of all—the sweet waters of the Sagamore, where his beloved club lodge stood, and whither, for a month every year, he had repaired with some old friends to renew a bachelor’s love for angling.

She had never accompanied him on these trips; she instinctively divined a man’s desire for a ramble among old haunts with old friends, freed for a brief space from the happy burdens of domesticity.

The lodge on the Sagamore was now her shrine; there she would rest and think of him, follow his footsteps to his best-loved haunts, wander along the rivers where he had wandered, dream by the streams where he had dreamed.

She had married her husband out of awe, sheer awe for his wonderful personality. And he was wonderful; faultless in everything—though not so faultless as to be in bad taste, she often told herself. His entourage also was faultless; and the general faultlessness of everything had made her married life very perfect.

As she sat thinking in the darkened music-room, something stirred in the hallway outside. She raised her eyes; the white bull-terrier stood in the lighted doorway, looking in at her.

A perfectly incomprehensible and resistless rush of loneliness swept her to her feet; in a moment she was down on the floor again, on her silken knees, her arms around the dog, her head pressed tightly to his head.

“Oh,” she said, choking, “I must go to-morrow—I must—I must.… And here are the violets; … I will tie them to your collar.… Hold still!… He loves you; … but you shall not have them—do you hear?… No, no, … for I shall wear them, … for I like their odor; … and, anyway, … I am going away.”…

IV

The next day she began her pilgrimage; and His Highness went with her; and a maid from the British Isles.

She had telegraphed to the Sagamore Club for rooms, to make sure, but that was unnecessary, because there were at the moment only three members of the club at the lodge.

Now although she herself could scarcely be considered a member of the Sagamore Angling Club, she still controlled her husband’s shares in the concern, and she was duly and impressively welcomed by the steward. Two of the three members domiciled there came up to pay their respects when she alighted from the muddy buckboard sent to the railway to meet her; they were her husband’s old friends, Colonel Hyssop and Major Brent, white-haired, purple-faced, well-groomed gentlemen in the early fifties. The third member was out in the rain fishing somewhere down-stream.

“New man here, madam—a good fellow, but a bad rod—eh, Brent?”

“Bad rod,” repeated Major Brent, wagging his fat head. “Uses ferrules to a six-ounce rod. We splice—eh, Colonel?”

“Certainly,” said the Colonel.

“‘HERE ARE THE VIOLETS; … I WILL TIE THEM TO YOUR
COLLAR’” “‘HERE ARE THE VIOLETS; … I WILL TIE THEM TO YOUR COLLAR’”

She stood by the open fire in the centre of the hallway, holding her shapely hands out towards the blaze, while her maid relieved her of the wet rain-coat.

“Splice what, Colonel Hyssop, if you please?” she inquired, smiling.

“Splice our rods, madam—no creaky joints and ferrules for old hands like Major Brent and me, ma’am. Do you throw a fly?”

“Oh no,” she said, with a faint smile. “I—I do nothing.”

“Except to remain the handsomest woman in the five boroughs!” said the Major, with a futile attempt to bend at the waist—utterly unsuccessful, yet impressive.

She dropped him a courtesy, then took the glass of sherry that the steward brought and sipped it, meditative eyes on the blazing logs. Presently she held out the empty wine-glass; the steward took it on his heavy silver salver; she raised her eyes. A half-length portrait of her husband stared at her from over the mantel, lighted an infernal red in the fire-glow.

A catch in her throat, a momentary twitch of the lips, then she gazed calmly up into the familiar face.

Under the frame of the picture was written his full hyphenated name; following that she read:

President and Founder
of
The Sagamore Angling Club
1880–1901

Major Brent and Colonel Hyssop observed her in decorously suppressed sympathy.

“I did not know he was president,” she said, after a moment; “he never told me that.”

“Those who knew him best understood his rare modesty,” said Major Brent. “I knew him, madam; I honored him; I honor his memory.”

“He was not only president and founder,” observed Colonel Hyssop, “but he owned three-quarters of the stock.”

“Are the shares valuable?” she asked. “I have them; I should be glad to give them to the club, Colonel Hyssop—in his memory.”

“Good gad! madam,” said the Colonel, “the shares are worth five thousand apiece!”

“I am the happier to give them—if the club will accept,” she said, flushing, embarrassed, fearful of posing as a Lady Bountiful before anybody. She added, hastily, “You must direct me in the matter, Colonel Hyssop; we can talk of it later.”

Again she looked up into her husband’s face over the mantel.

Her bull-terrier came trotting into the hall, his polished nails and padded feet beating a patter across the hardwood floor.

“I shall dine in my own rooms this evening,” she said, smiling vaguely at the approaching dog.

“We hoped to welcome you to the club table,” cried the Major.

“There are only the Major and myself,” added the Colonel, with courteous entreaty.

“And the other—the new man,” corrected the Major, with a wry face.

“Oh yes—the bad rod. What’s his name?”

“Langham,” said the Major.

The English maid came down to conduct her mistress to her rooms; the two gentlemen bowed as their build permitted; the bull-terrier trotted behind his mistress up the polished stairs. Presently a door closed above.

“Devilish fine woman,” said Major Brent.

Colonel Hyssop went to a mirror and examined himself with close attention.

“Good gad!” he said, irritably, “how thin my hair is!”

“Thin!” said Major Brent, with an unpleasant laugh; “thin as the hair on a Mexican poodle.”

“You infernal ass!” hissed the Colonel, and waddled off to dress for dinner. At the door he paused. “Better have no hair than a complexion like a violet!”

“What’s that?” cried the Major.

The Colonel slammed the door.

Up-stairs the bull-terrier lay on a rug watching his mistress with tireless eyes. The maid brought tea, bread and butter, and trout fried crisp, for her mistress desired nothing else.

Left alone, she leaned back, sipping her tea, listening to the million tiny voices of the night. The stillness of the country made her nervous after the clatter of town. Nervous? Was it the tranquil stillness of the night outside that stirred that growing apprehension in her breast till, of a sudden, her heart began a deadened throbbing?

Langham here? What was he doing here? He must have arrived this morning. So that was where he was going when he said he was going north!

After all, in what did it concern her? She had not run away from town to avoid him, … indeed not, … her pilgrimage was her own affair. And Langham would very quickly divine her pious impulse in coming here.… And he would doubtless respect her for it.… Perhaps have the subtle tact to pack up his traps and leave.… But probably not.… She knew a little about Langham, … an obstinate and typical man, … doubtless selfish to the core, … cheerfully, naïvely selfish.…

She raised her troubled eyes. Over the door was printed in gilt letters:

The President’s Suite.

Tears filled her eyes; truly they were kindly and thoughtful, these old friends of her husband.

And all night long she slept in the room of her late husband, the president of the Sagamore Angling Club, and dreamed till daybreak of … Langham.

V

Langham, clad in tweeds from head to foot, sat on the edge of his bed.

He had been sitting there since daybreak, and the expression on his ornamental face had varied between the blank and the idiotic. That the only woman in the world had miraculously appeared at Sagamore Lodge he had heard from Colonel Hyssop and Major Brent at dinner the evening before.

That she already knew of his presence there he could not doubt. That she did not desire his presence he was fearsomely persuaded.

Clearly he must go—not at once, of course, to leave behind him a possibility for gossip at his abrupt departure. From the tongues of infants and well-fed club-men, good Lord deliver us!

He must go. Meanwhile he could easily avoid her.

And as he sat there, savoring all the pent-up bitterness poured out for him by destiny, there came a patter of padded feet in the hallway, the scrape of nails, a sniff at the door-sill, a whine, a frantic scratching. He leaned forward and opened the door. His Highness landed on the bed with one hysterical yelp and fell upon Langham, paw and muzzle.

When their affection had been temporarily satiated, the dog lay down on the bed, eyes riveted on his late master, and the man went over to his desk, drew a sheet of club paper towards him, found a pen, and wrote:

“Of course it is an unhappy coincidence, and I will go when I can do so decently—to-morrow morning. Meanwhile I shall be away all day fishing the West Branch, and shall return too late to dine at the club table.

“I wish you a happy sojourn here—”

This he reread and scratched out.

“I am glad you kept His Highness.”

This he also scratched out.

After a while he signed his name to the note, sealed it, and stepped into the hallway.

At the farther end of the passage the door of her room was ajar; a sunlit-scarlet curtain hung inside.

“Come here!” said Langham to the dog.

His Highness came with a single leap.

“Take it to … her,” said the man, under his breath. Then he turned sharply, picked up rod and creel, and descended the stairs.

Meanwhile His Highness entered his mistress’s chamber, with a polite scratch as a “by your leave!” and trotted up to her, holding out the note in his pink mouth.

She looked at the dog in astonishment. Then the handwriting on the envelope caught her eye.

As she did not offer to touch the missive, His Highness presently sat down and crowded up against her knees. Then he laid the letter in her lap.

Her expression became inscrutable as she picked up the letter; while she was reading it there was color in her cheeks; after she had read it there was less.

“I see no necessity,” she said to His Highness—“I see no necessity for his going. I think I ought to tell him so.… He overestimates the importance of a matter which does not concern him.… He is sublimely self-conscious, … a typical man. And if he presumes to believe that the hazard of our encounter is of the slightest moment … to me …”

The dog dropped his head in her lap.

“I wish you wouldn’t do that!” she said, almost sharply, but there was a dry catch in her throat when she spoke, and she laid one fair hand on the head of His Highness.

A few moments later she went down-stairs to the great hall, where she found Colonel Hyssop and Major Brent just finishing their morning cocktails.

When they could at last comprehend that she never began her breakfast with a cocktail, they conducted her solemnly to the breakfast-room, seated her with empressement, and the coffee was served.

It was a delicious, old-fashioned, country breakfast—crisp trout, bacon, eggs, and mounds of fragrant flapjacks.

“Langham’s gone off to the West Branch; left duty’s compliments and all that sort of thing for you,” observed the Colonel, testing his coffee with an air.

His Highness, who had sniffed the bacon, got up on a chair where he could sit and view the table. Moisture gathered on his jet-black nose; he licked his jowl.

“You poor darling!” cried his mistress, rising impulsively, with her plate in her hand. She set the plate on the floor. It was cleaned with a snap, then carefully polished.

“You are fond of your dog, madam,” said the Major, much interested.

“He’s a fine one,” added the Colonel. “Gad! I took him for Langham’s champion at first.”

She bent her head over the dog’s plate.

Later she walked to the porch, followed by His Highness.

A lovely little path invited them on—a path made springy by trodden leaves; and the dog and his mistress strolled forth among clumps of hazel and silver-birches, past ranks of alders and Indian-willows, on across log bridges spanning tiny threads of streams which poured into the stony river.

The unceasing chorus of the birds freshened like wind in her ears. Spring echoes sounded from blue distances; the solemn congress of the forest trees in session murmured of summers past and summers to come.

How could her soul sink in the presence of the young world’s uplifting?

Her dog came back and looked up into her eyes. With a cry, which was half laughter, she raced with him along the path, scattering the wild birds into flight from bush and thicket.

Breathless, rosy, she halted at the river’s shallow edge.

Flung full length on the grass, she dipped her white fingers in the river, and dropped wind-flowers on the ripples to watch them dance away.

She listened to the world around her; it had much to say to her if she would only believe it. But she forced her mind back to her husband and lay brooding.

An old man in leggings and corduroys came stumping along the path; His Highness heard him coming and turned his keen head. Then he went and stood in front of his mistress, calm, inquisitive, dangerous.

“Mornin’, miss,” said the keeper; “I guess you must be one of our folks.”

“I am staying at the club-house,” she said, smiling, and sitting up on the grass.

“I’m old Peter, one o’ the guards,” he said. “Fine mornin’, miss, but a leetle bright for the fish—though I ain’t denyin’ that a small dark fly’d raise ’em; no’m. If I was sot on ketchin’ a mess o’ fish, I guess a hare’s-ear would do the business; yes’m. I jest passed Mr. Langham down to the forks, and I seed he was a-chuckin’ a hare’s-ear; an’ he riz ’em, too; yes’m.”

“How long have you been a keeper here?” she asked.

“How long, ’m? Waal, I was the fustest guard they had; yes’m. I live down here a piece. They bought my water rights; yes’m. An’ they give me the job. The president he sez to me, ‘Peter,’ he sez, jest like that—‘Peter, you was raised here; you know all them brooks an’ rivers like a mink; you stay right here an’ watch ’em, an’ I’ll do the squar’ by ye,’ he sez, jest like that. An’ he done it; yes’m.”

“So you knew the president, then?” she asked, in a low voice.

“Knew him?—him? Yes’m.”

The old man laughed a hollow, toothless laugh, and squinted out across the dazzling river.

“Knew him twenty year, I did. A good man, and fair at that. Why, I’ve seen him a-settin’ jest where you’re settin’ this minute—seen him a hundred times a-settin’ there.”

“Fishing?” she said, in an awed voice.

“Sometimes. Sometimes he was a-drinkin’ out o’ that silver pocket-pistol o’ his’n. He got drunk a lot up here; but he didn’t drink alone; no’m. There wasn’t a stingy hair in his head; he—”

“Do you mean the president?” she said, incredulously, almost angrily.

“Him? Yes’m. Him an’ Colonel Hyssop an’ Major Brent; they had good times in them days.”

“You knew the president before his marriage,” she observed, coldly.

“Him? He wasn’t never married, miss!” said the old man, scornfully.

“Are you sure?” she asked, with a troubled smile.

“Sure? Yes’m. Why, the last time he was up here, three year come July Fourth, I seen him a-kissin’ an’ a-huggin’ of old man Dawson’s darter—”

She was on her feet in a flash. The old man stood there smiling his senile smile and squinting out across the water, absorbed in his garrulous reminiscence.

“Yes’m; all the folks down to the village was fond o’ the president, he was that jolly and free, an’ no stuck-up city airs; no’m; jest free and easy, an’ a-sparkin’ the gals with the best o’ them—”

The old man laughed and crossed his arms under the barrel of his shot-gun.

“Folks said he might o’ married old man Dawson’s darter if he’d lived. I dun’no’. I guess it was all fun. But I hear the gal took on awful when they told her he was dead; yes’m.”

VI

Towards evening Langham waded across the river, drew in his dripping line, put up his rod, and counted and weighed his fish. Then, lighting a pipe, he reslung the heavy creel across his back and started up the darkening path. From his dripping tweeds the water oozed; his shoes wheezed and slopped at every step; he was tired, soaked, successful—but happy? Possibly.

It was dark when the lighted windows of the lodge twinkled across the hill; he struck out over the meadow, head bent, smoking furiously.

On the steps of the club-house Colonel Hyssop and Major Brent greeted him with the affected heartiness of men who disliked his angling methods; the steward brought out a pan; the fish were uncreeled, reweighed, measured, and entered on the club book.

“Finest creel this year, sir,” said the steward, admiringly.

The Major grew purple; the Colonel carefully remeasured the largest fish.

“Twenty-one inches, steward!” he said. “Wasn’t my big fish of last Thursday twenty-two?”

“Nineteen, sir,” said the steward, promptly.

“Then it shrank like the devil!” said the Colonel. “By gad! it must have shrunk in the creel!”

But Langham was in no mood to savor his triumph. He climbed the stairs wearily, leaving little puddles of water on each step, slopped down the hallway, entered his room, and sank into a chair, too weary, too sad even to think.

Presently he lighted his lamp. He dressed with his usual attention to detail, and touched the electric button above his bed.

“I’m going to-morrow morning,” he said to the servant who came; “return in an hour and pack my traps.”

Langham sat down. He had no inclination for dinner. With his chin propped on his clinched hands he sat there thinking. A sound fell on his ear, the closing of a door at the end of the hall, the padded pattering of a dog’s feet, a scratching, a whine.

He opened his door; the bull-terrier trotted in and stood before him in silence. His Highness held in his mouth a letter.

Langham took the note with hands that shook. He could scarcely steady them to open the envelope; he could scarcely see to read the line:

“Why are you going away?”

He rose, made his way to his desk like a blind man, and wrote,

“Because I love you.”

His Highness bore the missive away.

For an hour he sat there in the lamp-lit room. The servant came to pack up for him, but he sent the man back, saying that he might change his mind. Then he resumed his waiting, his head buried in his hands. At last, when he could endure the silence no longer, he rose and walked the floor, backward, forward, pausing breathless to listen for the patter of the dog’s feet in the hall. But no sound came; he stole to the door and listened, then stepped into the hall. The light still burned in her room, streaming out through the transom.

She would never send another message to him by His Highness; he understood that now. How he cursed himself for his momentary delusion! how he scorned himself for reading anything but friendly kindness in her message! how he burned with self-contempt for his raw, brutal reply, crude as the blurted offer of a yokel!

That settled the matter. If he had any decency left, he must never offend her eyes again. How could he have hoped? How could he have done it? Here, too!—here in this place so sanctified to her by associations—here, whither she had come upon her pious pilgrimage—here, where at least he might have left her to her dead!

Suddenly, as he stood there, her door opened. She saw him standing there. For a full minute they faced each other. Presently His Highness emerged from behind his mistress and trotted out into the hall.

Behind His Highness came his mistress, slowly, more slowly. The dog carefully held a letter between his teeth, and when Langham saw it he sprang forward eagerly.

“No, no!” she said. “I did not mean—I cannot—I cannot— Give me back the letter!”

He had the letter in his hand; her hand fell over it; the color surged into her face and neck. The letter dropped from her yielding hand; the thrill from their interlocked fingers made her faint, and she swayed forward towards him, so close that their lips touched, then clung, crushed in their first kiss.…

Meanwhile His Highness picked up the letter and stood politely waiting.