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Marcia, more especially perhaps during these later days, felt her sense of humour gently excited every time she crossed the threshold of Trewly's Restaurant. The programme which followed was always the same. The Marquis rose from a cushioned seat in the small entrance lounge to greet her, very distinguished looking in his plain dinner clothes, his black stock, vainly imitated by the younger generation, his horn-rimmed eyeglass, his cambric-fronted shirt with the black pearls, which had been the gift of the Regent to his great-grandfather. The head waiter, and generally the manager, hovered in the background while their greetings were exchanged and Marcia's coat delivered to the care of an attendant. Then they were shown with much ceremony to the same table which they had occupied on these weekly celebrations for many years. It was in a corner of the room, a corner which formed a slight recess, and special flowers, the gift of the management, were invariably in evidence. The rose-shaded lamp, with its long, silken hangings, was arranged at precisely the right angle. The Marquis asked his usual question and waved away the menu.
"What you choose to offer us, Monsieur Herbrand," he would say, in his old-world but perfect French. "If Madame has any fancy, we will send you a message."
So the meal commenced. Trewly's was a restaurant with a past. In the days of the Marquis's youth, when such things were studied more carefully than now, it was the one first-class restaurant in London to which the gilded youth of the aristocracy, and perhaps their sires, might indulge in the indiscretion of entertaining a young lady from the Italian chorus without fear of meeting staider relatives. The world of bohemian fashion had changed its laws since those days, and Trewly's had been left, high and dry, save for a small clientele who remembered its former glories and esteemed its cellar and cuisine. It belonged to the world which the Marquis knew, the world whose maxims he still recognised. After all these years, he would still have thought himself committing a breach of social etiquette if he had invited Marcia to lunch with him at the Ritz or the Carlton.
They drank claret, decanted with zealous care and served by a black-aproned cellarman, who waited anxiously by until the Marquis had gravely sipped his first glassful and approved. Their dinner to-day was very much what it had been a dozen years ago—the French-fed chicken, the artichokes, and strawberries served with liqueurs remained, whatever the season. And their conversations. Marcia leaned back in her chair for a moment, and again the corners of her lips twitched as she remembered. Faithfully, year after year, she could trace those conversations—the courtly, old-fashioned criticism of the events of the week, criticism from the one infallible standard, the standard of the immutable Whiggism upon which the constitution itself rested; conversation with passing references to any new event in art, and, until lately, the stage. To-night Marcia found herself tracing the gradual birth of her stimulating rebellion. She remembered how, years ago, she had sat in that same seat and listened as one might listen to the words of a god. And then came the faint revolt, the development of her intellect, the necessity for giving tongue to those more expansive and more subtle views of life which became her heritage. To do him justice, the Marquis encouraged her. He was as good a judge of wit and spirit as he was of claret. If Marcia had expressed a single sentence awkwardly, if her grammar had ever been at fault, her taste to be questioned, he would have relapsed into the stiffness of his ordinary manner, and she would have felt herself tongue-tied. But, curious though it seemed to her when she looked back, she was forced to realise that it was he who had always encouraged the birth of her new thoughts, her new ideals, her new outlook upon life, her own drastic and sometimes unanswerable criticisms of that state of life in which he lived. She represented modernity, seeking for expression in the culture of the moment. He, remaining of the ancient world, yet found himself rejuvenated, mentally refreshed, week by week, preserved from that condition of obstinate ossification into which he would otherwise have fallen, by this brilliant and unusual companionship. In all the many years of their intimacy he had felt no doubts concerning her. He was possessed of a self-confidence wholly removed from conceit, which had spared for him the knowledge of even a moment's jealousy. In her company he had felt the coming and, as he now realised, the passing of middle age. It was only within these last few hours that certain formless apprehensions had presented themselves to him.
"You drink your wine slowly to-night," she observed. "I was just thinking how delicious it was."
He touched the long forefinger of his left hand, just a little swollen.
"A touch of gout," he said, "come to remind me, I suppose, that however much we set our faces against it, change does exist. You are the only person, Marcia, who seems to defy it."
She laughed at him, but not with entire naturalness. He found himself studying her, during the next few moments. Just as he was a celebrated connoisseur of objets d'arts, a valued visitor to Christie's, although his purchases were small, so he was, in his way, an excellent judge of the beautiful in living things. He realised, as he studied her, that Marcia had only more fully developed the charm which had first attracted him. Her figure was a little rounder but it had lost none of its perfections. Her neck and throat were just as beautiful, and the success of her work, and her greater knowledge of life, had brought with them an assured and dignified bearing. There was not a vestige of grey in her soft brown hair, not a line in her face, nor any sign of the dentist's handiwork in her strong, white teeth. Only—was it his fancy, he wondered, or was there something missing from the way she looked at him?—a half shy, half baffled appeal for affection which had so often shone out upon him during these evenings, a wholly personal, wholly human note, the unspoken message of a woman to her lover. He asked himself whether that had gone, and, if it had, whether the companionship which remained sufficed.
"So the journey down to Mandeleys has not materialised yet?" he asked.
She shook her head.
"To tell you the truth," she told him, "I rather shrank from it. I could not seem to bring it into perspective—you know what I mean. How am I to go to him? I don't suppose he has changed. He is still splendidly faithful to the ideas of his earlier days. I do not suppose he has moved a step out of his groove. He is looking at the same things in the same way. Am I to go to him as a Magdalen, as a penitent? Honestly, Reginald, I couldn't play the part."
Their eyes met, and they both smiled.
"It is very difficult," he admitted, "to discuss or to hold in common a matter of importance with a person of another world. Why do you go?"
"Because," she replied, "he is, after all, my father; because I know that the pain and rage which he felt when he left England are there to-day, and I would like so much to make him see that they have all been wasted. I want him to realise that my life has been made, not spoilt."
"I should find out indirectly, if I were you, how he is feeling," the Marquis advised. "I rather agree with you that you will find him unchanged. His fierce opposition to my reasonable legal movements against him give one that impression."
"I shall probably be sorry I went," she admitted, "but it seems to me that it is one of those things which must be done. Let us talk of something else. Tell me how you have spent the week?"
"For one thing, I have improved my acquaintance with the American, David Thain, of whom I have already spoken to you," he told her.
"And your great financial scheme?"
"It promises well. Of course, if it is entirely successful, it will be like starting life all over again."
"There is a certain amount of risk, I suppose?" she asked, a little anxiously.
The Marquis waved his hand.
"In this affair quite negligible," he declared.
"It would make you very happy, of course, to free the estates," she ruminated.
The Marquis for a moment revealed a side of himself which always made Marcia feel almost maternal towards him.
"It would give me very great pleasure, also," he confessed, "to point out to my solicitors—to Mr. Wadham, Junior, especially—that the task which they have left unaccomplished for some twenty-five years I have myself undertaken successfully."
"This Mr. Thain must be rather interesting," Marcia said musingly. "Could you describe him?"
It was at that precise moment that the Marquis raised his head and discovered that David Thain was being shown by an obsequious maître d'hôtel to the table adjoining their own.
In the case of almost any other of his acquaintances, the Marquis's course of action would have been entirely simple. David, however, complicated things. With the naïve courtesy of his American bringing up, he no sooner recognised the Marquis than he approached the table and offered his hand.
"Good evening, Marquis," he said.
The Marquis shook hands. Some banalities passed between the two men. Then, as though for the first time, David was suddenly and vividly aware of Marcia's presence. Some instinct told him who she was, and for a moment he forgot himself. He looked at her steadily, curiously, striving to remember, and Marcia returned his gaze with a strange absorption which at first she failed to understand. This slim, nervous-looking man, with the earnest eyes and the slight stoop of the head, was bringing back to her some memory. From the first stage of the struggle her common sense was worsted. She was looking back down the avenues of her memory. Surely somewhere in that shadowland she had known some one with eyes like these!—there must be something to explain this queer sense of excitement. And then the Marquis, who had been deliberating, spoke the words which brought her to herself.
"Marcia, let me present to you Mr. David Thain, of whom we were speaking a few minutes ago. Mr. Thain, this is Miss Marcia Hannaway, whose very clever novel you may have read."
David's eyes were still eagerly fixed upon her face, but the introduction had brought Marcia back to the earth. There could be no connection between those half-formed memories and the American millionaire whose name was almost a household word!
"I am very pleased to meet you, Miss Hannaway," David said. "I was just telling the Marquis that I was surprised to find any one here whom I knew. I asked a friend to tell me of a restaurant near my rooms where I should meet no one, and he sent me here."
"Why such misanthropy?" she asked.
"It is my own bad manners," he explained. "I accepted an invitation for this evening, and found at the last moment so much work that I was obliged to send an excuse."
"You carry your work about with you, then?"
"Not always, I hope," he replied, "only I am just now clearing out a great many of my interests in America, and that alone is sufficient to keep one busy."
He passed on with a little bow, and took his place at the table which the maître d'hôtel had indicated. The Marquis, to whom his coming had been without any real significance, continued his conversation with Marcia until he found to his surprise that she was giving him less than her whole attention.
"What do you think of our hero of finance?" he enquired, a little coldly.
"He seems very much as you described him," Marcia answered. "To tell you the truth, his sudden appearance just as we were talking about him rather took my breath away."
"It was a coincidence, without doubt," the Marquis acknowledged.
Her eyes wandered towards the man who had given his brief order for dinner, and whose whole attention now seemed absorbed by the newspaper which he was reading.
"It is Mr. Thain, is it not, who introduced to you this wonderful speculation?" she asked, a little abruptly.
"That is so," the Marquis admitted. "I have always myself, however, been favourably disposed towards oil."
Marcia suddenly withdrew her glance, laughed softly to herself and sipped her wine.
"I was indulging in a ridiculous train of thought," she confessed. "Mr. Thain looks very clever, even if he is not exactly one's idea of an American financier. I expect the poor man does get hunted about. A millionaire, especially from foreign parts, has become a sort of Monte Cristo, nowadays."
The subject of David Thain dropped. The Marquis, as their coffee was brought, began to wonder dimly whether it was possible that the thread of their conversation was a little more difficult to hold together than in the past; whether that bridge between their interests and daily life became a little more difficult to traverse as the years passed. He fell into a momentary fit of silence. Marcia leaned towards him.
"Reginald," she said, "do you know, there was something I wanted to ask you this evening. Shall I ask it now?"
"If you will, dear."
She paused for a moment. The matter had seemed so easy and reasonable when she had revolved it in her mind, yet at this moment of broaching it, she realised, not for the first time, how different he was from other men; how difficult a nameless something about his environment made certain discussions. Nevertheless, she commenced her task.
"Reginald," she began, "do you realise that during the whole of my life I have never dined alone with any other man but you?"
"Nor I, since you came, with any other woman," he rejoined calmly. "You have some proposition to make?"
She was surprised to find that he had penetrated her thoughts.
"Don't you think, perhaps," she continued, "that we are a little too self-enclosing? Thanks to you, as I always remember, dear, the world has grown a larger place for me, year by year. At first I really tried to avoid friendships. I was perfectly satisfied. I did not need them. But my work, somehow, has made things different. It has brought me amongst a class of people who look upon freedom of intercourse between the sexes as a part of their everyday life. I found a grey hair in my head only the night before last, and do you know how it came? Just by refusing invitations from perfectly harmless people."
"I have never placed any restrictions upon your life," her companion reminded her.
"I know it," she admitted, "but, you see, the principal things between us have always been unspoken. I knew just how you felt about it. What I want to know is, now that the times have changed around you as well as around me, whether you would feel just the same if I, to take an example, were to lunch or dine with Mr. Borden, now and then, or with Morris Hyde, the explorer. I met him at an Authors' Club conversazione and he was immensely interesting. It struck me then that perhaps I was interpreting your wishes a little too literally."
The Marquis selected a cigarette from his battered gold case with its tiny coronet, tapped it upon the table and lit it. Marcia was already smoking.
"I fear that I am very old-fashioned in my notions, Marcia," he confessed. "I should find it very difficult to adapt myself to the perfectly harmless, I am sure, lack of restraint which, as you say, has opened the doors to a much closer friendship between men and women. The place which you have held in my life has grown rather than lessened with the years. It is only natural, however, that the opposite should be the case with you. I should like to consider what you have said, Marcia."
"You have meant so much to me," she continued, "you have been so much. In our earlier days, too, especially during that year when we travelled, you were such a wonderful mentor. It was your fine taste, Reginald, which enabled me to make the best of those months in Florence and Rome. You knew the best, and you showed it to me. You never tried to understand why it was the best, but you never made a mistake."
"Those things are matters of inheritance," he replied, "and cultivation. It was a great joy to me, Marcia, to give you the keys."
"Yes," she repeated, "that is what you did, Reginald—you gave me the keys, and I opened the doors."
"And now," he went on, "you have pushed your way further, much further into the world where men and women think, than I could or should care to follow you. Is it likely to separate us?"
She saw him suddenly through a little mist of tears.
"No!" she exclaimed, "it must not! It shall not!"
"Nevertheless," he persisted, "the thought is in your mind. I cannot alter my life, Marcia. I live to a certain extent by tradition, and by habits which have become too strong to break. There is a great difference in our years and in our outlook upon life. There is much before you, flowers which you may pick and heights which you may climb, which can have no message for me."
"Nothing," Marcia declared fervently, "shall disturb our—our friendship."
"That does not rest with you, dear, but rather with Fate," he replied. "You might control your actions, and I know that you would, but your will, your desires, your temperament, may still lead you in opposite directions. I have been your lover too long to slip easily into the place of your guardian. Hold out your hand, if you will, now, and bid me farewell. Try the other things, and, if they fail you, send for me."
"I shall do nothing of the sort," she objected. "We are both of us much too serious. The only question we are considering is whether you would object to my dining with Mr. Borden and lunching with Mr. Hyde?"
"It would give you an opportunity," he remarked, with a rather grim smile, "of seeing the inside of some other restaurant."
"How understanding you are!" she exclaimed. "Do you know, although I love our dinners here, I sometimes feel as though this room were a little cage, a little corner of the world across the threshold of which you had drawn a chalk line, so that no one of your world or mine might enter. The coming of Mr. Thain was almost like an earthquake."
With every moment it seemed to him that he understood her a little more, and with every moment the pain of it all increased.
"My dear Marcia," he said, "you have spoken the word. More than once lately I have fancied that I noticed indications of this desire on your part. I am glad, therefore, that you have spoken. Dine with your publisher, by all means, and lunch with Mr. Hyde. Take to yourself that greater measure of liberty which it is only too natural that you should covet. We will look upon it as a brief vacation, which certainly, after all these years, you have earned. When you have made up your mind, write to me. I shall await your letter with interest."
"But you mean that you are not coming down to see me before then?" she asked, a little tremulously.
"I think it would be better not," he decided. "I have kept you to myself very stringently, Marcia. You see, I recognise this, and I set you free for a time."
He paid the bill, and they left the room together.
"You are coming home?" she whispered, as they passed down the vestibule.
He shook his head.
"Not to-night, if you will excuse me, Marcia," he said. "The car is here. I will take a cab myself. There is a meeting of the committee at my club."
They were on the pavement. She gripped his hand.
"Do come," she begged.
He handed her in with a smile.
"You will go down to Battersea, James," he told the chauffeur, "and fetch me afterwards from the club."
A queer feeling caught at her heart as the car glided off and left him standing there, bareheaded. It was the first time—she felt something like the snap of a chain in her heart—the first time in all these years! Yet she never for a moment deceived herself. The tears which stood in her eyes, the pain in her heart, were for him.
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