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lips parted in deprecation, but he, closely attentive of her expression, spoke again quickly. “When can I see you?” he asked, very quietly. Again Eve was about to speak. She leant forward, as if some thought long suppressed trembled on her lips; then her courage failed her. She leant back, letting her lashes droop over her eyes. “I shall be home at eleven,” she said, below her breath.
Loder dined with Lakeley at Chilcote's club; and so absorbing were the political interests of the hour—the resignation of Sir Robert Sefborough, the King's summoning of Fraide, the probable features of the new Ministry — that it was after nine o'clock when he freed himself and drove to the Avenue Theatre. The manner of his leaving the club was hurried. Once at liberty to carry out his enterprise, he was filled with a desire for speed. He made no statement of the fact to himself, he gave no outward evidence of it, but there was a controlled haste in all his actions. Fate and he were playing for high stakes, and he was possessed with the true gambler's ambition to play rapidly and with a calm front. When the last card was thrown down he might rise from the game beggared, but while the final round was still to be played he refused to look ahead.
The sound of music came to him as he entered the theatre—the light, measured music suggestive of tiny streams, toy lambs, and painted shepherdesses. It sounded singularly inappropriate to his mood—as inappropriate as the theatre itself with its gay gilding, its pale tones of pink and blue. It was the setting of a different world—a world of laughter, light thoughts, and shallow impulses, in which he had no part. He halted for an instant outside the box to which the attendant had shown him; then, as the door was thrown open, he straightened himself resolutely and walked forward.
It was the interval between the first and second acts. The box was in shadow, and Loder’s first impression was of voices and rustling skirts broken in upon by the murmur of frequent, amused laughter; then as his eyes grew accustomed to the light he distinguished the occupants—two women and a man. The man was speaking as he entered, and the story he was relating was evidently interesting from the faint exclamations of
question and delight that punctuated it in the listeners’ higher, softer voices. As Loder stepped forward they all three turned and looked at him. “Ah, here comes the legislator!” exclaimed Leonard Kaine. For it was he who formed the male element in the party. “The Revolutionary, Lennie!” I,illian corrected, softly. “Bramfell says he has changed the whole face of things—” She laughed softly and meaningly as she closed her fan. “So good of you to come, Jack' she added. “Let me introduce you to Miss Esseltyn; I don’t think you two have met. This is Mr. Chilcote, Mary — the great, new Mr. Chilcote.” Again she laughed. Loder bowed and moved to the front of the box, nodding to Kaine as he passed. “It’s only for an hour,” he explained to Lillian. “I have an appointment at eleven.” Then he turned to the third occupant of the box—a remarkably young and well-dressed girl with very wide-awake eyes and a retroussé nose. “Only an hour ! Oh, how unkind How should I punish him, Lennie ’’’ Lillian looked round at Kaine with a lingering glance. He bent towards her in quick response and answered in a whisper. She laughed and replied in an equally low tone. Loder, to whom both remarks had been inaudible, dropped into the vacant seat beside Mary Esseltyn. He had the unsettled feeling that things were not falling out exactly as he had calculated. “What is the play like?” he hazarded as he looked towards her. At all times social trivialities bored him; to-night they were intolerable. He had come to fight, but all at once it seemed that there was no opponent. Lillian's attitude disturbed him; her careless graciousness, her evident ignoring of him for Kaine, might mean nothing— but might mean much. So he speculated as he put his question and spurred his attention towards the girl's answer; but with the speculation came the resolve to hold his own—to meet his enemy upon whatever ground she chose to appropriate. The girl looked at him with interest. She too had heard of his triumph. “It is a good play,” she responded. “I like it better than the book. You've read the book, of course?” “No.” Loder tried hard to fix his thoughts. “It’s amusing—but far-fetched.” “Indeed (" He picked up the programme lying on the edge of the box. His ears were strained to catch the tone of Lillian's voice as she laughed and whispered with Kaine. “Yes; men exchanging identities, know.” He looked up and caught the girl's selfpossessed glance. “Oh!” he said. “Indeed " Then again he looked away. It was intolerable, this feeling of being caged up! A sense of anger crept through his mind. It almost seemed that Lillian had brought him there to prove that she had finished with him—had cast him aside, having used him for the day's excitement as she had used her poodles, her Persian cats, her crystal-gazing. All at once the impotency and uncertainty of his position goaded him. Turning swiftly in his seat. he glanced back to where she sat, slowly swaying her fan, her pale golden hair delicately silhouetted against the background of the box. “What's your idea of the play, Lillian o’ he said, abruptly. To his own ears there was a note of challenge in his voice. She looked round languidly. “Oh, it’s quite amusing,” she said. “It makes a delicious farce—absolutely French.” “French o' “Quite. Don't you think so, Lennie” “Oh, quite,” Kaine agreed. “They mean that it's so very light—and yet so very subtle, Mr. Chilcote,” Mary Esseltyn explained. “Indeed Z' he said. “Then my imagination was at fault. I thought the piece was serious.” “Serious !” where's your sense of humor? the play debars seriousness.” Loder looked down at the programme still between his hands. “What is the motive?” he asked. Lillian waved her fan once or twice, then closed it softly. “Love is the motive,” she said. Now the balancing, the adjusting of impression and inspiration, is, of all processes in life, the most delicately fine. The simple sound of the word “love" coming at that precise juncture changed the whole current of Loder’s thought. It fell like a seed; and like a seed in ultra-productive soil, it bore fruit with amazing rapidity. The word itself was small and the manner
Lillian smiled again. “Why, The motive of
in which it was spoken trivial, but Loder's mind was attracted and held by it. The last time it had met his ears his environment had been vastly different, and this echo of it in an uncongenial atmosphere stung him to resentment. The vision of Eve, the thought of Eve, became suddenly dominant. “Love?” he repeated, coldly. the motive o’” “Yes.” This time it was Kaine who responded in his methodical, contented voice. “The motive of the play is love, as Lillian says. And when was love ever serious in a three-act comedy—on or off the stage o’” He lcant forward in his seat, screwed in his eyeglass, and lazily scanned the stalls. The orchestra was playing a Hungarian dance—its erratic harmonies and wild alternations of expression falling abruptly across the pinks and blues, the gilding and lights of the pretty, conventional theatre. Something in the suggestion of unfitness appealed to Loder. It was the force of the real as opposed to the ideal. With a new expression on his face, he turned again to Kaine. “And how does it work o’ he said. treatment that you find so—French o' His voice as well as his expression had changed. He still spoke quietly, but he spoke with interest. He was no longer conscious of his vague irritation and uneasiness; a fresh chord had been struck in his mind, and his curiosity had responded to it. For the first time it occurred to him that love, that dangerous, mysterious garden whose paths had so suddenly stretched out before him, was a pleasure-ground that possessed many doors—and an infinite number of keys. He was stirred by the desire to peer through another entrance than his own—to see the secret, alluring byways from another standpoint. He waited with interest for the answer to his question. For a second or two Kaine continued to survey the house; then his eye-glass dropped from his eye and he turned round. “To understand the thing,” he said, pleasantly, “you must have read the book. Have you read the book ''” “No, Mr. Kaine,” Mary Esseltyn interrupted, “Mr. Chilcote hasn’t read the book.” Lillian laughed. “Outline the story for him, Lennie,” she said. “I love to see other people taking pains.” Kaine glanced at her admiringly. “Well, to begin with,” he said, amiably, “two men,
“So love is
an artist and a millionaire, exchange lives. See o’’ “You may Lennie.” “Right! Well then, as I say, these beggars change identities. They’re as like as pins; and to all appearances one chap's the other chap, and the other chap's the first chap. See?” Loder laughed. The newly quickened interest was enhanced by treading on dangerous ground. “Well, they change for a lark, of course, but there's one fact they both overlook. They’re men, you know, and they forget these little things!” He laughed delightedly. “They overlook the fact that one of 'em has got a wife'." There was a crash of music from the orchestra. Loder sat straighter in his seat; he was conscious that the blood had rushed to his face. “Oh, indeed?” he said, quickly. them had a wife?” “Exactly l’” Again Kaine chuckled. “And the point of the joke is that the wife is the least larky person under the sun. See?” A second hot wave passed over Loder's face; a sense of mental disgust filled him. This, then, was the wonderful garden seen from another standpoint! He looked from Lillian, graceful, sceptical, and shallow, to the young girl beside him, so frankly modern in her appreciation of life. This, then, was love as seen by the eyes of the world—the world that accepts, judges, and condemns in a slang phrase or two Very slowly the blood receded from his face. “And the end of the story?” he asked, in a strained voice. “The end? Oh, usual end, of course! Chap makes a mess of things and the bubble bursts” “And the wife 2'' “The end of the wife?” Lillian broke in with a little laugh. “Why, the end of all stupid people who, instead of going through life with a lot of delightfully human stumbles, come just one big cropper. She naturally ends in the divorce court l” They all laughed boisterously. Then laughter, story, and dénouement were all drowned in a tumultuous crash of music. The orchestra ceased, there was a slight hum of applause, a bell rang, and the curtain rose on the second act of the comedy.
presume that he does see,
FEW minutes before the curtain fell on the second act of “Other Men's Shoes" Loder rose from his seat and made his apologies to Lillian. At any other moment he might have pondered over her manner of accepting them— the easy indifference with which she let him go. But vastly keener issues were claiming his attention, issues whose results were wide and black. He left the theatre, and refusing the overtures of cabmen, set himself to walk to Chilcote's house. His face was hard and emotionless as he hurried forward, but the chaos in his mind found expression in the unevenness of his pace. To a strong man the confronting of difficulties is never alarming and is often fraught with inspiration; but this applies essentially to the difficulties evolved through the weakness, the folly, or the force of another; when they arise from within the matter is of another character. It is in presence of his own soul, and in that presence alone, that a man may truly measure himself. As Loder walked onward, treading the familiar length of traffic - filled street, he realized for the first time that he was standing before that solemn tribunal — that the hour had come when he must answer to himself for himself. The longer and deeper an oblivion, the more painful the awakening. For months the song of Self had beaten about his ears, deadening all other sounds; now abruptly that song had ceased—not considerately, not lingeringly, but with a suddenness that made the succeeding silence very terrible. He walked forward, keeping his direction unseeingly. He was passing through the fire as surely as though actual flames rose about his feet; and whatever the result, whatever the fibre of the man who emerged from the ordeal, the John Loder who had hewn his way through the past weeks would exist no more. The triumphant egotist—the strong man—who by his own strength had kept his eyes upon one point, refusing to see in other directions, had ceased to be. Reen though he was, his realization of this crisis in his life had come with characteristic slowness. When Lillian Astrupp had given her dictum, when the music of the orchestra had ceased and the curtain risen on the second act of the play, nothing but a sense of stupefaction had filled his mind. In that moment the great song was silenced, not by any portentous episode, by any incident that could have lent dignity to its end, but, with the full measure of life's irony, by a trivial social commonplace. In the first sensation of blank loss his faculties had been numbed; in the quarter of an hour that followed the rise of the curtain he had sat staring at the stage, seeing nothing, hearing nothing, filled with the enormity of the void that suddenly surrounded him. Then, from habit, from constitutional tendency, he had begun slowly and perseveringly to draw first one thread and then another from the tangle of his thoughts—to forge with doubt and difficulty the chain that was to draw him towards the future. It was upon this same incomplete and yet tenacious chain that his mind worked as he traversed the familiar streets and at last gained the house he had so easily learned to call home. As he inserted the latch-key and felt it move smoothly in the lock a momentary revolt against his own judgment, his own censorship, swung him sharply towards reaction. But it is only the blind who can walk without a tremor on the edge of an abyss, and there was no longer a bandage across his eyes. The reaction flared up like a strip of lighted paper; then, like the paper, it dropped back to ashes. He pushed the door open and slowly crossed the hall. The mounting of a staircase is often the index to a man's state of mind. As Loder ascended the stairs of Chilcote's house his shoulders lacked their stiffness, his head was no longer erect, he moved as though his feet were weighted. He was no longer the man of achievement, whose smallest opinion compels consideration; in the privacy of solitude he was the mere human flotsam to which he had once compared himself — the flotsam that, dreaming it has gained a harbor, wakes to find itself the prey of the incoming tide. He paused at the head of the stairs to rally his resolutions; then, still walking heavily, he passed down the corridor to Eve's room. It was suggestive of his character that, having made his decision, he did not dally over its performance. Without waiting to knock, he turned the handle and walked into the room. It looked precisely as it always looked, but to Loder the rich, subdued coloring of books and flowers, the bronzes, the lamps, the fire— the whole air of culture and repose that the
place conveyed—seemed to hold a deeper meaning than before; but it was on the instant that his eyes, crossing the inanimate objects, rested on their owner, that the true force of his position, the enormity of the task before him, made itself plain. And it must be accounted to his credit, in the summing of his qualities, that then, in that moment of trial, the thought of retreat, the thought of yielding, did not present itself. Eve was standing by the mantelpiece. She wore a very beautiful gown and a long string of diamonds was twisted about her neck; her soft black hair was coiled high after a foreign fashion, and held in place by a large diamond comb. As he entered the room she turned hastily, almost nervously, and looked at him with the rapid searching glance he had learned to expect from her; then almost directly her expression changed to one of quick concern. With a faint exclamation of alarm, she stepped forward. “What has happened o' she said. “You look like a ghost.” Loder made no answer. Moving into the room, he paused by the oak table that stood between the fireplace and the door. They made an unconscious tableau as they stood there—he with his hard, set face; she with her heightened color, her inexplicably bright eyes. They stood completely silent for a space—a space that for Loder held no suggestion of time; then finding the tension unbearable, Eve spoke again. “Has anything happened 7” she asked, apprehensively. “Is anything wrong Z” Had he been less engrossed, the intensity of her concern might have struck him ; but in a mind so harassed there was only room for one consideration. The sense of her question reached him, but its significance left him untouched. “Is anything wrong?” she reiterated. By an effort he raised his eyes. No man, he thought, since the beginning of the world was ever set a task so cruel as his. Painfully and slowly his lips parted. “Everything in the world is wrong,” he said, in a slow, hard voice. Eve said nothing, but her color suddenly deepened. Again Loder was unobservant. With the dogged resolution that marked him he forced himself to his task. “You despise lies,” he said at last. “Tell me what you would think of a man whose