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Denzil Ardayre took up his letters which had been forwarded to him from
the d�p�t where he was stationed. He and Verisschenzko were passing
through the hall of his mother's house, for a talk and a smoke in his
sitting-room, after leaving the Carlton.
The house was in St. James' Place, a small, old building, the ground
floor of which was given over to Denzil whenever he was in London. His
mother was absent at Bath, where she spent a long autumn cure.
John's letter lay on the top, and Verisschenzko caught the look of
interest which came into Denzil's face.
"Don't mind me, my dear chap," he remarked, "read your letters." And they
went on into the sitting-room.
"I want just to look at this one--it is from John Ardayre whom we met
to-night," and Denzil opened it casually--"I wonder what he is writing to
me about, he did not say anything at dinner."
He read the short communication and exclaimed: "Good God!" and then
checked himself. He was obviously stirred, and Verisschenzko watched him
narrowly. Anything to do with John must concern Amaryllis, and therefore
was of profound interest to himself.
"No bad news, I hope?" he said.
Denzil was gazing into the fire, and there was a look of wonderment and
even rapture upon his face.
"Oh! No--rather splendid--" He felt quite the strangest emotion he had
ever experienced in his life. His usual serene self-confidence and easy
flow of words deserted him, and Verisschenzko, watching him, began to
link certain things in his mind.
"Tell me, what did you think of your cousin, Lady Ardayre?" he asked
casually, as though the subject was irrelevant.
"Amaryllis?" and Denzil almost started from a reverie. "Oh, yes, of
course, she is a lovely creature, is not she, St�pan?"
Verisschenzko narrowed his eyes.
"I have told you that I adore her--but with the spirit--if it were
not so, she would appeal very strongly to the flesh--Yes?--Did you
not feel it?"
"She is longing to understand life, she is groping; why do you not set
about her education, Denzil?"
"That is the husband's business."
"Not in this case. I consider it is yours; you are the right mate
for her. John Ardayre is a good fellow, but he stands for nothing in
the affair. Why did you waste your time upon Harietta, when time is
"I was given no choice."
"But afterwards, in the hall?"
It was quite evident to Verisschenzko that the mention of Amaryllis was
causing his friend some unexplainable emotion.
"You did not even exert yourself, then. Why, Denzil?"
Denzil lit a cigarette.
"I thought her awfully attractive--it is the first time I have ever seen
her--as you know."
"And that was a reason for remaining silent and as stiff as a poker in
manner! You English are a strange race!"
Denzil smiled--if St�pan only knew everything, what would he say!
"You were made for each other. If I were you, I would not lose a
"My dear old boy, you seem quite to forget that the girl has a husband
of her own!"
"Not at all, it is for that reason--just because of that husband. I shall
say no more, you are quite intelligent enough to understand."
"You think it is all right then for a woman to have a lover?" Denzil
smiled as he curled rings of smoke. "It is curious how the most
honourable among us has not much conscience concerning such things."
Verisschenzko knocked off his cigarette ash and spoke contemplatively:
"The world would be an insupportable place for women, if he had! But
whatever the moral aspect of the matter is in general, circumstances
arise which alter the point, and that is where the absurd ticketing
system hampers suitable action. A thing is ticketed 'dishonourable.'
Pah! it is sometimes, and it is not at others--there is no hard and
Denzil stretched himself--he was always interested in Verisschenzko's
reasonings and prepared to listen with enjoyment:
"The general idea is that a man should not make love to another man's
wife. Man professes this as a creed, and the law enforces it and punishes
him if he is found out doing so. And if he acted up to this creed as he
does about stealing goods and behaving like a gentleman over business
matters, all might be well, but unfortunately that seldom occurs, because
there is that strong; instinct which is the base of all things working in
him, and which does not work in regard to any other point of
honour--i.e., the unconscious desire to re-create his, species, so that
this one particular branch of moral responsibility cannot be measured,
judged, or criticised from the same standpoint as any other. No laws can.
alter human nature, or really control a man's actions when a natural
force is prompting him unless stern self-analysis discovers the truth to
the man, and so permits his spirit to regain dominion. The best chance
would be to resist the first feeling of attraction which a woman
belonging to another man aroused before it had actually obtained a hold
upon his senses--but the percentage of men who do this must be very
small. Some resist--or try to resist the actual possession of the woman
from moral motives, but many more from motives of expediency and fear of
consequences. Then to salve conscience the mass of men ride a high moral
stalking horse, and write and speak condemnation of every back-sliding,
while their own behaviour coincides with the behaviour they are
criticising. The hypocrisy of the thing sickens me; no one ever looks any
question straight in the face, denuded of its man-made sophistries. And
few realise that a woman is a creature to be fought for--it is
prehistoric instinct, and if she can't be obtained in fair fight then you
secure her by strategy. And if a man cannot keep her once he has secured
her, it is up to him. If I had a wife, I should take good care that she
_desired_ no other man--but if I bored her, or was a cold and bad lover,
I should not expect the other men not to try and take her from
me--because I should know this was a natural instinct with them--like
taking food. It would probably be no temptation to most of us to steal
gold lying about in a room, even if we were poor, but a hideous
temptation to refrain from eating a tempting dish if we were starving
with hunger and it was before us--and if a woman did succumb to some new
passion I should blame myself, not her."
"Jealousy is a natural instinct, though," he said, "and although there
would be not much profit in trying to hold a woman who no longer cared,
one could not help being mad about it."
"Of course not--that is the sense of personal possession which is
affronted. Vanity is deeply wounded, and so the power to analyse cause
and result sleeps. But this attitude which men take up of neglecting a
woman and then expecting her to be faithful still is quite ridiculous,
and without logic; they are as usual fogged by convention and can't see
Verisschenzko's rough voice was keen--compelling.
"Another of your windmills to fight!"
"I am always fighting convention and shams. Get down to the meaning of a
thing, and if its true significance coincides with the convention which
surrounds it, then let that hold, but if convention is a super-imposed
growth, then amputate it and study the thing without it."
"I suppose a man marries a woman nine times out of ten because he cannot
obtain her in any other way; then when he has become indifferent by
possession, he still thinks that she should remain devoted to him. You
are right, St�pan, it is very illogical."
"Club the creature, or keep her in a cage if you want fidelity through
fear, but don't expect it if you allow her to remain at large and
neglected, and don't be such an ass as to imagine that your friends won't
act just as you yourself would act were she some one's else wife. If a
woman has that quality in her which arouses sex, married or single, I
never have observed that men refrained from making love to her."
"All this means that you consider I am quite at liberty to make love to
Denzil threw his cigarette end into the fire:
"Well, for once you are wrong, St�pan, in your usually perfect
deductions," he got up from his chair. "There is a reason in this
case which makes the thing an absolute impossibility; under no
possible circumstance while John is alive could I make the smallest
advance towards Amaryllis! There is another point of honour involved
in the affair."
Verisschenzko felt that here was some mystery which he had yet to
elucidate, the links in the chain were visible up to a point, but he then
became baffled by the incontestable fact that Denzil had seen Amaryllis
that evening for the first time!
"If this is so, then it is a very great pity," he announced, after a
moment or two's thought. "Were the times normal, we might leave all to
Fate and trust to luck, but if you are killed and John is killed, it
will be a thousand pities for Ferdinand to be the head of the family.
A creature like that will not enlist, he will be safe while you risk
Denzil went over to the window, apparently to get out a fresh box of
cigars which were in a cabinet near.
"John writes to-night that there is the chance of an heir after all--so
perhaps we need not worry," he said, his voice a little hoarse with
feeling. "I was so awfully glad to hear this--we all loathe the thought
Verisschenzko actually was startled, and also he was strangely moved.
"When I saw my lady Amaryllis to-night that idea came to me, only as I
believed it was quite an impossibility--I dismissed it--It is a war
miracle then?" and he smiled enquiringly.
The cigar box was selected and Denzil had once more resumed his seat in a
big chair before either of them spoke again.
"I perfectly understand that there is some mystery here, Denzil--and that
you cannot tell me--and equally I cannot ask you any questions, but it
may be that in the days that are coming I could be of assistance to you.
I have some very curious information which I am holding concerning
Ferdinand Ardayre in his activities. You can always count on me--"
Verisschenzko rose from his chair, stirred deeply with the thoughts which
were coursing through his brain.
"Denzil--I love that woman--I am absolutely determined that I shall not
do so in any way but in spirit--I long for her to be happy--protected.
She has an exquisite soul--I would have given her to you with
contentment. You are her counterpart upon this plane--"
Denzil remained silent, he had never seen St�pan so agitated. The
situation was altogether very unusual. Then he asked:
"Do you think Ferdinand will make some protest then?"
"It is possible."
"But there is absolutely nothing to be said, the fact of there being a
child refutes all the old rumours."
"In every way," a flush had mounted to Denzil's forehead.
"You know Lemon Bridges?" Verisschenzko suggested.
"Yes--why do you ask?"
"He is a remarkably clever surgeon. It is said that he is also a
gentleman; if this news surprises him he will not express his feelings
St�pan was observing his friend with the minutest scrutiny now, while he
spoke lazily once more as though upon a casual topic bent, and he saw
that a lightning flash of anxiety passed through Denzil's eyes.
"I do not see how any one can have a word to say about the matter," and
he lit his cigar deliberately. "John is awfully pleased--"
"And so am I--and so are you, and so will be the lady Amaryllis. Thus we
can only wish for general happiness, and not anticipate difficulties
which may never occur. When is the event to happen?"
"The beginning of next May," Denzil announced, without hesitation, and
then the flush deepened, for he suddenly remembered that John had not
mentioned any date in his letter!
The subject was growing embarrassing, and he asked, so as to change it:
"What is your friend, Madame Boleski, doing now, St�pan?"
"She is receiving news from Germany which I shall endeavour to have her
transmit to me, and I have some suspicion that she is transmitting any
information which she can pick up here to Germany, but I cannot yet be
sure. When I am, then I shall have no mercy. She would betray any country
for an hour's personal pleasure or gain. I have not yet discovered who
the man was at the Ardayre ball--I told you about it, did I not? Just
then more important matters pressed and I could not follow up the clue."
"She is certainly physically attractive, and all the things she says are
so obvious and easy, she is quite a rest at a dinner, but Lord! think of
spending one's life with a woman like that!" and Denzil smiled.
"There are very few women whom it would be possible to contemplate in
calmness spending one's life with, because one's own needs change, and
the woman's also. The tie is a galling bond unless it can be looked at
with common sense by both--but I think men are quite as illogical as
women over it, and of such an incredible vanity! It is because we have
mixed so much sentiment into such a simple nature-act that all the
bothers arise, and men are unjust over every thing to do with women.
All men think, for instance, that a woman must not deceive her lover
and, at the same time that she is appearing to be his faithful
mistress, take another for her pleasure and diversion in secret. A man
would look upon this and rightly as a dishonourable betrayal because it
would wound his vanity and lower his personal prestige. But the
illogical part is that he would not hesitate to do the same thing
himself, and would never see the matter in the light of a betrayal,
because the Creator has happily equipped him with a rhinoceros hide
which enables him never to feel stings of self-contempt when viewing
his own actions towards the other sex."
Denzil laughed aloud.
"You are hard on us, St�pan, but I dare say you are right."
"It is just custom and convention which make us think ourselves such
gods. Had woman had the same chance always, who knows what she might not
have become by now! Everything is ticketed, it is called by a name and
put down under such and such a heading--women are 'weak' and 'illogical'
and 'unreliable' and men are 'brave' and 'sound' and 'to be
trusted'--tosh! in quantities of cases--and if so, why so? Women are
wonderful beings in many ways--of a courage! The way they bear things so
gladly for men--think of their suffering when they have children. You
don't know about it probably, men take all this as a matter of
course--but I saw my sister die--after hours of it--"
Denzil moved his arm rather suddenly and upset the glass of lemon squash
on a little table near.
Verisschenzko observed this, but went on without a break:
"It is agony for them under the best conditions, and sometimes they
become divine over it. Amaryllis will be divine--I hope John will take
care of her--"
A look of concern came into Denzil's face, and Verisschenzko watched him.
Could any one be more attractive as a splendid mate for Amaryllis, he
thought. He crushed down all feeling of human jealousy. His intuition
would probably reveal all the mystery to him presently, and meanwhile if
he could forward any scheme which would be for the good of Amaryllis and
the security of the family, he would do so.
"I must leave you now, old man," he said, looking at his watch. "I have a
rendezvous with Harietta. I shall have to play the part of an ardent
lover and cannot yet wring her neck."
When Denzil was alone, he stood gazing into the fire.
"That John should take care of her?"--but John was going out to
fight--and so was he--and they might both be killed--What then?
"St�pan knows, I am certain," he thought, "and he is true as steel; he
must stand by her if we don't come back."
And then his thoughts flew to the vision of her sitting opposite him at
the table, with her sweet eyes turned to his now and then, the faint
violet shadows beneath them and the transparent exquisiteness of her skin
telling their own story by the added, fragile beauty. Oh! what
unutterable joy to hold her in his arms and whisper passionate love words
in her little ears, to live again the dream of her dainty head lying
prone there on his breast. Every pulse in his being throbbed to bursting,
seeming almost to suffocate him.
"Amaryllis--Sweetheart!" he whispered aloud, and then started at his
He paced up and down the room, clenching his hands. The family might go
on, but the two members of it must endure the pain of renunciation.
Which was the harder to bear, he wondered--his part of hopeless memory
and regret, or John's of forced denial and abstinence?
In all the world, no situation could be more strange or more cruel.
He had felt deeply about it before he had seen Amaryllis. He thought of
the myth of Eros and Psyche. His emotions had been much as Psyche's
before she lit the lamp. And now the lamp had been lighted--his eyes had
seen what his arms had clasped, the reality was more lovely than his
dream, and passion was kindled a hundredfold. It swept him off his feet.
He forgot war and the horror of the time, he forgot everything except
that he longed for Amaryllis.
"She is mine, absolutely mine," he said wildly. "Not John's."
And then he remembered his promise, given before any personal equation
had entered into the affair.
Never to take advantage of the situation--afterwards!
And what would the child be like? A true Ardayre, of course--they would
say that it had harked back, perhaps, to that Elizabethan Denzil whom
his father had told him was his exact portrait in the picture gallery
He could have laughed at the sardonic humour of everything if he had not
been too overcome with passionate desire to retain any critical sense.
Then he sat down and forced himself to realise what it meant--parenthood.
Not much to a man, as a rule. He had looked upon those occult stirrings
of the spirit of which he had read as romantic nonsense. It was a natural
thing and all right if a man had a place for him to wish to have a
son--but otherwise, sentimentality over such things was such rot!
And yet now he found himself thrilling with sentiment. He would like to
talk to Amaryllis all about it, and listen to her thoughts, too. And then
he remembered the many discussions with Verisschenzko upon the theory of
re-birth and of the soul's return again and again until its lessons are
learned on this plane of existence, and he wondered what soul would
animate the physical form of this little being who would be his and hers.
And suddenly in his mental vision the walls of the room seemed to fade,
and he was only conscious of a vastness of space, and knew that for this
brief moment he was looking into eternity and realising for the first
time the wonder of things.
* * * * *
Meanwhile Verisschenzko had returned to the Carlton and was softly
walking down the passage towards the Boleskis' rooms. The ante-room door
was at the corner, and as he was about ten yards from it a man came out
and strode rapidly towards the lift down the corridor at right angles,
but the bright light fell upon his face for an instant, and Verisschenzko
saw that it was Ferdinand Ardayre.
He waited where he was until he heard the lift doors shut, and even then
he paced up and down for a time before he entered the sitting-room. There
must be no suspicion that he had encountered the late visitor.
"Darling Brute, here you are!" Harietta cried delightedly, rising from
her sofa and throwing herself into his arms. "I've packed Stanislass off
to the St. James' to play piquet. I have been all alone waiting for you
for the last hour--I began to fear you would not come."
Verisschenzko looked at her, with his cynical, humorous smile, whose
meaning never reached her. He took in the transparent garments which
hardly covered her, and then he bent and picked up a man's handkerchief
which lay on a table near.
"_Tiens_! Harietta!" he remarked lazily. "Since when has Stanislass taken
to using this very Eastern perfume?" and he sniffed with disgust.
The wide look of startled innocence grew in Madame Boleski's hazel eyes.
"I believe Stanislass must have got a mistress, St�pan. I have
noticed lately these scents on his things--as you know, he never used
"The handkerchief is marked with 'F.A.' I suppose the _blanchisseuse_
mixes them in hotels. Let us burn the memento of a husband's straying
fancies then; the taste in perfumes of his inamorata is anything but
refined," and Verisschenzko tossed the bit of cambric into the fire which
sparkled in the grate.
"I've lots of news to tell you, Darling Brute--but I shan't--yet! Have
you come to England to see that bit of bread and butter--or--?"
But Verisschenzko, with a fierce savagery which she adored, crushed her
in his arms.
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