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- The Tempting of Tavernake - 20/65 -
"She left us of her own free will," he said, "and I don't believe, Elizabeth, that she would ever come back again. She knew very well what she was doing. She knew that our views of life were not hers. She didn't know half but she knew enough. You were quite right in what you said just now; Beatrice was more like her mother, and her mother was a good woman."
"Really!" Elizabeth remarked, insolently.
"Don't answer like that," he blustered, striking the table. "She was your mother, too."
The woman's face was inscrutable, hard, and flawless behind the little cloud of tobacco smoke. The man began to tremble once more. Every time he ventured to assert himself, a single look from her was sufficient to quell him.
"Elizabeth," he muttered, "you haven't a heart, you haven't a soul, you haven't a conscience. I wonder--what sort of a woman you are!"
"I am your daughter," she reminded him, pleasantly.
"I was never quite so bad as that," he went on, taking a large silk handkerchief from his pocket and dabbing his forehead. "I had to live and times were hard. I have cheated the public, perhaps. I haven't been above playing at cards a little cleverly, or making something where I could out of the weaker men. But, Elizabeth, I am afraid of you."
"Men are generally afraid of the big stakes," she remarked, flicking the ash from her cigarette. "They will cheat and lie for halfpennies, but they are bad gamblers when life or death -- the big things are in the balance. Bah!" she went on. "Father, I want Jerry Gardner to come and see me."
"If you can't make him come, my dear," the professor said, "I am sure it will be of no use my trying."
"He has had my letter," she continued, half to herself; "he has had my letter and he does not come."
"There is nothing to be done but wait," her father decided.
"And meanwhile," she went on, "supposing he were to discover Beatrice, supposing they two were to come together; supposing he were to tell her what he knows and she were to tell him what she guessed!"
The professor buried his face in his hands. Elizabeth threw her cigarette away with an impatient gesture.
"What an idiot I am!" she declared. "What is the use of wasting time like this?"
There was a knock at the door. A trim-looking French maid presented herself. She addressed her mistress in voluble French. A coiffeur and a manicurist were waiting in the next apartment; it was time that Madame habited herself. The professor listened to these announcements with an air of half-admiring wonder.
"I suppose I must be going," he said, rising to his feet. "There is just one thing I should like to ask you, Elizabeth, if I may, before I go."
"Who was the young man whom I met here just now?"
"Why do you ask that?" she demanded.
"I really do not know," her father replied, thoughtfully, "except that his appearance seemed a little singular. In some respects he appeared so commonplace. His clothes and bearing, in fact, were so ordinary that I was surprised to find him here with you. And, on the other hand, his face--you must remember, my dear, that this is entirely a professional instinct; I am still interested in faces--"
"Quite so," she admitted. "Go on. The young man rather puzzles me myself. I should like to hear what you make of him. What did you think of his face?"
"There was something powerful about it," he declared, "something dogged, splendid, narrow, impossible,--the sort of face which belongs to a man who achieves great things because he is too stupid to recognize failure, even when it has him in its arms and its fingers are upon his throat. That young man has qualities, my dear, I am sure. Mind you, at present they are dormant, but he has qualities."
She led him to the door.
"My dear father," she said, "sometimes I really respect you. If you should come across that young man again, keep your eye upon him. He knows one thing at least which I wish he would tell us -- he knows where Beatrice is."
Her father looked at her in amazement.
"He knows where Beatrice is and he has not told you?"
"You tried to have him tell you and he refused?" the professor persisted.
"Exactly," she admitted.
Her father put on his hat.
"I knew that young man was something out of the common."
THE JOY OF BATTLE
They sat on the trunk of a fallen tree, in the topmost corner of the field. In the hedge, close at hand, was a commotion of birds. In the elm tree, a little further away, a thrush was singing. A soft west wind blew in their faces; the air immediately around them was filled with sunlight. Yet almost to their feet stretched one of those great arms of the city--a suburb, with its miles of villas, its clanging of electric cars, its waste plots, its rows of struggling shops. And only a little further away still, the body itself--the huge city, throbbing beneath its pall of smoke and cloud. The girl, who had been gazing steadily downwards for several moments, turned at last to her companion.
"Do you know," she said, "that this makes me think of the first night you spoke to me? You remember it--up on the roof at Blenheim House?"
Tavernake did not answer for a moment. He was looking through a queerly-shaped instrument that he had brought with him at half-a-dozen stakes that he had laboriously driven into the ground some distance away. He was absolutely absorbed in his task.
"The main avenue," he muttered softly to himself. "Yes, it must be a trifle more to the left. Then we get all the offshoots parallel and the better houses have their southern aspect. I beg your pardon, Beatrice, did you say anything?" he broke off suddenly.
"Nothing worth mentioning. I was just thinking that it reminded me a little up here of the first time you and I ever talked together."
He glanced down at the panorama below, with its odd jumble of hideous buildings, softened here and there with wreaths of sunstained smoke, its great blots of ugliness irredeemable, insistent.
"It's different, of course," she went on. "I remember, even now, the view from the house-top that night. In a sense, it was finer than this; everything was more lurid and yet more chaotic; one simply felt that underneath all those mysterious places was some great being, toiling and struggling--Life itself, groaning through space with human cogwheels. Up here one sees too much. Oh, my dear Leonard," she continued, "to think that you, too, should be one of the devastators!"
He fitted his instrument into its case and replaced it in his pocket.
"Come," he said, "you mustn't call me hard names. I shall remind you of the man whose works you are making me read. You know what he says--'The aesthete is, after all, only a dallier. The world lives and progresses by reason of its utilitarians.' This hill represents to me most of the things that are worth having in life."
She laughed shortly.
"You will cut down those hedges and drive away the birds to find a fresh home; you will plough up the green grass, cut out a street and lay down granite stones. Then I see your ugly little houses coming up like mushrooms all over the place. You are a vandal, my dear Leonard."
"I am simply obeying the law," he answered. "After all, even from your own point of view, I do not think that it is so bad. Look closer, and you will find that the hedges are blackened here and there with smuts. The birds will find a better dwelling place further away. See how the smoke from those factory chimneys is sending its smuts across these fields. They are no longer country; they are better gathered in."
"There is something about life," she said, sadly, "which terrifies me. Every force that counts seems to be destructive."
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