Chapter X: Compos Mentis
As Diana put her pony to a full gallop and rode him off, Edgerton's mount fell, and the young fellow lay sprawling on the sod.
He was on his feet immediately; so was his polo pony. When Diana pulled up, whirled her mount and came scurrying back, Edgerton had picked up his mallet and stood resting against his saddle.
"All right, Jim?" she asked briefly.
"All right, thanks."
The color had left his face under the tan, and his expression was queer.
"You look rather white," she insisted. "Did Parsnip kick you?"
"It's nothing," he said, smiling. "Put Jack in; I've got some business to talk over with Mr. Rivett."
"You're sure you're all right?"
"What a fuss you are!" he said, leading Parsnip across the field toward a groom.
The girl looked after him, saw the groom slip a white wool polo coat over the young man's shoulders and take the pony, saw Edgerton drop his hands into the pockets and stroll across the field toward the terrace; then, lifting her mallet, she hailed Jack Rivett in a clear, ringing call, and cantered away up field.
As Mr. Rivett senior stood waiting for his wife at the foot of the terrace steps, wrapped in his old-fashioned linen duster and pulling on a pair of worn driving gloves, Edgerton, in white from head to foot, came across the lawn, the youthful antithesis of the older man—tall, powerfully built, his smooth skin and short, thick hair burned by the summer sun—a graceful, leisurely figure agreeable to see on anybody's lawn.
"Good morning!" he said pleasantly, stopping on the gravel drive.
"Good morning, Mr. Edgerton. Are the young people amusing themselves?"
"I think so—thoroughly."
"You came a cropper?"
"I sometimes do."
"You are amusing yourself?"
"I always do."
"So do I," nodded Rivett, buttoning his gloves. "Never was bored in my life—poor compliment to oneself, Mr. Edgerton, to find life a bore."
Edgerton smiled and stood with his left hand in his coat pocket, looking out at the flat field beyond, where half a dozen young people on lively ponies swung their mallets and cantered leisurely about in pretense of practice.
Presently Diana, Christine, and Inwood swung their ponies, and came driving pell-mell down the field after the ball.
"Your cousins seem to be up to anything," commented Rivett.
"They were bred to everything worth while."
"Oh! Is polo worth while, as you call it?"
"Do you wish to start such a complex discussion?" asked Edgerton, laughing.
"No; my wife will be here in a moment.... You're looking very pale, young man," he added abruptly. "Did that pony hurt you?"
"A little.... Mr. Rivett, do you need my services any longer?"
"I don't need anybody's services," said the little man dryly. "I never needed anybody in all my life—except my wife. There's no such thing as a necessary man. No man ever lived who couldn't be replaced.... What's the matter?"
Edgerton said slowly: "I thought I'd go back to town and hunt up a job."
"Because there's no reason for my being here. There never was any reason. You knew it when I asked you to take me, but I didn't—because I didn't know you and your family."
"That's a compliment, isn't it?"
"It's just the truth. I'm glad my cousins are with you.... I'd like to go back now."
"Tired of us?"
"You don't have to ask that."
"More compliments," said Rivett. "What is wrong, then?"
"Hadn't noticed it."
Edgerton smiled faintly. "More compliments? ... Mr. Rivett, I want to go to town and hunt up a job, and get in the game. That's all."
"Can't you wait a month and see us through the October shooting?"
Edgerton stepped nearer.
"I would, merely because you ask me, but I can't. I just want to get away quietly, and not bother anybody.... I've broken my arm."
Mr. Rivett swung sharply and his eye-glasses glittered.
"Which?" he demanded.
"The left.... I'll just run down to town and have it fixed up. Don't say anything about it until I've left."
"Won't you stay here and let us look after you?"
"I knew you'd say that. You've been very nice to me. Ask me again as a guest. I'll be glad to come as a friend if you care for me that way."
Mr. Rivett's unchanging eyes watched him.
"We'll ask you. My wife likes you. So do I.... I don't want to interfere with a man who knows his own mind.... But do you think you can stand the journey?"
Edgerton's white lips were compressed.
"Yes," he said.
"Very well; we'll stop at Fern Center. Billings can reduce the fracture."
"Are you going with me?"
"I certainly am," said the elder man.
With a valet's aid he got into his clothes. His swollen wrist lay in a sling.
"I won't bother the others now," he said to Mrs. Rivett who was on the edge of tears because he would not remain and let her take care of him. "Please say good-by for me when they come in, and say that I'm all right and hope to see them all again.... Good-by! ... It's been a real happiness to know you—and yours. Will you let me continue the friendship?"
"Please do," she said tremulously. "Jacob, you will tell Holmes to drive carefully, won't you?"
"Yes, mother. Billings is going to put him in good shape."
So they drove away in a big red touring car, Edgerton sick with pain, but perfectly cheerful; Rivett taciturn, twirling his gloved thumbs, seeming to muse gloomily in his walrus mustache.
Dr. Billings reduced the fracture—a simple one—Edgerton refusing anæsthetics. He fainted during the short operation, and came to with his head on Rivett's shoulder.
Half an hour later he was on his way to New York, lying back in a chair in the drawing-room car, feverish lids closed. Rivett sat in the chair opposite.
"I was going, anyway," he said briefly in reply to the young fellow's protest.
And together they made the journey, not only to the city, but to Edgerton's apartment, where Rivett quietly turned himself into a valet, helped the young man to bed, called up his physician, Dr. Ellis, lingered to learn what condition the patient was in, and silently vanished. And for two or three days Edgerton forgot about him, for Ellis kept him pretty quiet, and the nurse who had been summoned knew her business.
He managed, however, to write his bread-and-jam letter to Mrs. Rivett, and another to Diana:
"MY DEAR COUSIN:
"They've probably told you that I've been ass enough to snap a bone in my left arm. It's nothing, as you hunting people understand. I was a bit stupid with it, so I ran down to town to have it fixed up—and, incidentally, hunt up a job; and I wasn't up to explaining and saying by-by to everybody, so I just slunk off—ill mannered pup that I am; but people are indulgent to dogs.
"This is just a line to take leave of you and Silvette, and to ask you to remember that, in any and all interims, this apartment is a family joint, so don't go elsewhere and pay perfectly good rent. Your room and Silvette's is always ready for you—useless unless you use it.
"When I nail a job, I'll report to the family. If you make new plans, may I hear from you?
"Wishing you both a jolly and successful autumn,
"JAMES EDGERTON 3d."
Her reply came by return mail:
"Jim, dear, I feel very badly about your injury. It was my fault; I cannoned into you. You behaved as only a man of your sort always does. I won't say any more about it.
"By this time I hope you are freer from pain. The first two days are the limit; I know from experience and two mended ribs. But—I hate to think of you in bed this glorious autumn day—and the little fool who sent you there idling in the sunshine of these lovely hills.
"Jim, dear, it is generous and entirely like you to ask us to make your place our headquarters between engagements.
"If we do it, it will be only because we all would be happier en famille. Even we, hardened materialists that we are, could not bring ourselves to use you. You know that, don't you? So I have assumed that your offer is not only a kindness, but a genuine expression of regard for us; and we return to the full whatever you feel for us.
"Jim, there are many things that I am denying myself to say to you; and I find self-denial hard. It's a worthy and laudable virtue which Silvette and I are trying to acquire in our old age, and it isn't easy.
"There's no news. Mrs. Wemyss seems to have fascinated your friend, Mr. Inwood. He's a curious sort of man—rather melancholy of temperament, I fancy.
"We play a languid sort of polo now and then, dawdle in canoes, and sit up too late at cards.
"A lot of men are coming for the shooting. Mr. Rivett's manager turned out several thousand pheasants and Hungarian partridges, it seems. The latter, they say, have vanished; the former seem disposed to wander into the front yard.
"Mrs. Lorrimore has departed with much of Judge Wicklow's salary. Her stouter and prettier friend, Mrs. Wemyss, despoiled almost everybody except Silvette and me. This letter is degenerating into gossip. It had to, or I might have been even more indiscreet.
"Jim, you are a good type of citizen when you're at your best. Let me lecture you, won't you? Anyway, you're helpless and in bed and miles away, and you can't prevent me.
"So—be yourself. Go into a man's business. Disregard your accomplishments, your cleverness at paraphrasing art. It doesn't count in real life, all this facility with paint and pen and paper—your gay imitation of painter, writer, composer. They're little gifts, Jim—meant for an hour of light leisure among the leisured—pleasant, but unimportant accomplishments. When you court some nice girl, some day, you'll understand their full value—which is to amuse her, and later, I prophesy, the jolly little family of a home-returning business man.
"The years are before you still, Jim. Open the battle when you're well enough. You will win out, for you are really not the man I have known. I wish I might have been a woman to bring out what you really are. Some woman will. Meanwhile give a friendly hand and a generous lift to a fellow who deserves your respect and consideration—your other self.
"Good-by and good luck.
In a few days Edgerton began to experience the intolerable sensations of a bone which is mending itself.
He had become very restless and impatient; and, finally, the doctor let him wear his arm in a sling and go out to hunt for a job.
He had no trouble in securing one—a small clerkship with Close & Co., ornamental iron work. He might have done even better. All iron men knew who James Edgerton 3d must be. Many friends of the old firm of Edgerton, Tennant & Co. might have offered him easier work and higher salary, but he not only went to none of them—he even avoided them. He had decided to discover what he really was worth.
It rather surprised him to find out that the big, blue-eyed, snub-nosed Irishman, Mr. Dineen, whom he had met at Adriutha, was a director in Close & Co. Later, he discovered that Mr. Dineen was also interested in his own old firm, Edgerton, Tennant & Co., now reconstructed, but still bearing the ancient name. And after a while he learned that Mr. Dineen seemed to be interested in almost every house in New York that dealt in structural or ornamental iron.
Edgerton's duties began with ledger work. And the evening that he drew his first pay, he wrote Diana:
"I'm getting fifteen dollars a week with Close & Co., ornamental iron. I have my first week's wages in my pocket. As I pay no rent, I can live on it.
"It's not uninteresting work. Somebody said something about my going into the designing department as a draughtsman. That's pretty quick advancement—if it comes. I'll let you know if it does.
"My arm is about well. It's still mummified, of course, but that maddening sensation is gone. Town isn't so bad. Of course, it's rather hot and dusty, and, as usual, it looks dingy and mean in its characteristic October shabbiness—meaner for the glorious blue overhead and the pitiless sun exposing its few withered trees and its many architectural shams in the remorseless light of high heaven.
"But I am peculiarly happy. I have no servant; I dine at a French restaurant for seventy-five cents, and I prepare my own breakfast in the studio. Crackers and milk compose my luncheon at the price of ten pennies. And I never felt better. All this in case you are interested in such details.
"To answer your letter—I did not intend to write until I had nailed down a job and received my first pay envelope. Now I feel that I may.
"First, regarding your comments upon my artistic ability, you are perfectly right. I ought to have known it; I did know it, deep inside of me. I'm not the stuff that artists are made of. Eviter les contrefaçons! I was an imitation. I was not even a good amateur; I'm not even equipped to really appreciate the best work in others. All I had was a monkey-like cleverness and the blank facility of a receptive parrot; and I was idiot enough to contemplate an idle life of dabbling and fiddling with professions that better men dignify.
"I tell you, Di, I bid fair to turn into one of those horrors—a cultivated talker!—the lowest type of incompetent. Drawing-rooms, studios, cafés are full of them, all telling one another what is what and how to do it. I was heading straight that way. My peers and companions would have been smatterers, instructors in arts which the instructors couldn't master—or they wouldn't have become instructors!—men of one picture, or none at all; of one book, one story, or of none at all, or of dozens, all still in their minds, or in unpublished manuscripts; men of one waltz, or several grand operas—I mean ideas for grand operas—all failures, all men who had mistaken their professions, self-deceived men, incompetent, hopeless, pitiable.
"You said in your letter that one day I might meet a woman who could appreciate, at their real value, my very slim talents. Haven't I met her, Di? Those clear eyes of yours pierced the flimsy fabric long since; the trenchant sweetness of your tongue cut more than one knot for me.
"If you demur, my answer is that I am here. Who sent me? A flanneled satrap, already insidiously beguiled by idleness, already reconciled to the status quo—how long before, and by what process of evolution, would my real self have awakened? Or would the degeneracy have ended only with life?
"I don't know; all I know is that you sent me about my business in the world. I walked to it in my sleep; awake, I follow it. Thus far, so far, Diana of the far white gods!
"Yours is the stronger character, so far. Let us await events. It may be, as you say, that the years will twist my path toward the possible woman you predict for me. I dined with Dr. Ellis last evening. His daughter will certainly grow up to be such a woman as you and I delight in. I told her that I hoped my path would twist toward her. She said she hoped so, too, very shyly. She is only fifteen—alas!
"In the meanwhile my path runs straight to Close & Co., and I shall continue to travel it every day with my shovel and dinner pail—thanks to you, my loyal little cousin, who were plucky enough and merciful enough to tell me the merciless truth.
"Give my love to Silvette. My remembrances to all. Accept for yourself my friendship. Do you remember those photographs I made of you as Japonette the day after we first met? I've developed them. Here is one.
"JAMES EDGERTON 3d."
Which letter resulted in an immediate interchange of notes:
"Fifteen and eighteen are not far apart. A man can help Chance to twist his path through life. The resulting route is called the Path of Destiny. I think you have already started to travel it. I hope you are better.
"You meant that path which leads to Close & Co., didn't you?
"J. E. 3d."
"No, I meant the other path you mentioned. Follow it for the next three years. Mr. Inwood says that little Miss Ellis is the most beautiful and winsome and intelligent and cultivated child he ever knew. Life is all before you, Jim.
"I'm in the designing department as draughtsman! Mr. Rivett's friend, Mr. Dineen, dropped in to have a chat with me. He's a very decent fellow.... You don't think that Mr. Rivett has inspired him to show me any unmerited favors, do you? It would make havoc of my present complacency. Try to find out.
"Mr. Rivett isn't to be pumped. I tried it. I'll never try it again. Anyway, Jim, no favor can inject brains into a man; it can only stimulate what intellect he has. Don't worry about favors. Neither Mr. Rivett nor Mr. Dineen are the men to injure their own affairs by the incompetent service of others. You can be perfectly certain that you are worth what is offered you if they have anything to do with it.
"Why don't you fall in love with Christine? She's one of the sweetest girls I ever knew. I supposed she and you were on delightful terms once. Also, once, I thought she was inclined toward Mr. Inwood. But he seems to be monopolized by Mrs. Wemyss; and the poor child comes into my room in a forlorn sort of way—so white and limp these days that I'm wondering what this change in her means. Does it mean your absence? You'd tell me, wouldn't you? But I know you're not the sort of man to win a young girl's heart, and then coolly walk out of her life. It looks to me as though she had something on her mind. Dr. Billings has been here several times, and her mother is worried sick.
"That's all the gossip, except that the shooting is in full blast here. A number of men came up for it—the usual sort of men who shoot, except one. He's a Mr. Wallace, and very nice and a poor shot. He and I go out together sometimes, and he is forever making fun of himself and his perfectly rotten marksmanship, and he and I don't care two raps whether we get anything or not.
"Mr. Inwood is the saddest young man I ever had the pleasure (?) of trying to animate. Are all your friends as melancholy and temperamental? He haunts the terrace like a lost soul until Mrs. Wemyss annexes him. Christine does not seem to care for him; she doesn't seem to care for anybody these days.
"Colonel Curmew is a funny man. He has, apparently, devoted himself to me, and I have the greatest difficulty in getting away from him long enough to take a stroll with Mr. Wallace. Such a funny, strutty, sentimentally elaborate little man!—with a rather horrid habit of staring. But he's a crack shot, and popular here with the men.
She wrote next day, also:
"Jim! My little Christine is in love—that's what's the matter! I know it; I'm absolutely sure of it. And with—oh, ye humorous gods and dryads!—with your melancholy friend, Mr. Inwood.
"And I want to tell you, Jim, that I don't like Mrs. Wemyss. She's fat and selfish and—why does she drag that boy about with her all the time? I don't believe he likes it. I don't believe he's so enamored of her. Maybe his low spirits come from too much of that fair and ample lady. I'm going to find out. I won't have my little Christine ignored by any melancholy idiot who ever lived.
"Write me what you know about Mr. Inwood.
"How is Chance, and the twisted path, and little Miss Ellis?
"Scott Wallace and I managed to shoot a grouse. We both fired, and neither of us were inclined to claim the poor, dead, little thing. A keeper put it in his pocket. Mr. Wallace and I are going to take up target shooting hereafter.
He wrote: "Inwood is all right. Who is Mrs. Wemyss?
A week later he heard from her: "I've found out from people in Keno. She was a Mrs. Atherstane—divorced hubby, and resumed her maiden name of Wemyss with the prefix Mrs. Did you ever hear of her? Scott Wallace and I detest her.
He did not reply, partly because the constant recurrence of Wallace's name in her letters had begun to annoy him—partly because what he had to say must be said to Inwood; and at that miserable young man he launched the following:
"You're a fine specimen. What are you, anyway—a lap dog or a Chow pup? Get rid of that woman! I don't care whether or not you made an ass of yourself over her by sympathizing with her. Old Atherstane had no more mistresses than the majority of church pillars and public benefactors in town; and, anyway, it was not up to you to dry her weeps.
"Don't make any mistake—the ci-devant Mrs. Atherstane can look out for herself. She needs no consideration from you; she doesn't deserve any, either. What kind of a woman is she, anyhow—taking advantage of a chivalrous and conscientious boy who never did more than hold her hand and pat it, at most, when she told him she was lonely and unhappy, and needed a good man's moral support?
"Rot! You're not responsible for her. You're not in honor bound to sit around and await her pleasure, now that she's free to marry. She wouldn't have you, anyway.
"You probably made an ass of yourself—probably talked too much. You're not in honor bound, I tell you. And don't make any mistake—she's not going to marry. She's having too good a time. I know that kind of woman, Billy. They never put their heads into the noose a second time; but they harpoon all the men they can, and they trail around with a lot of silly ginks like you.
"If you don't believe me, I'll tell you how to put yourself out of your misery. Ask her to marry you; ask her flatly. You'll wake up, then. I know what I'm saying. You do what I tell you, and then get back to first principles, and clear up all this nightmare between a sweet and plucky little girl and your own dam-fool self. Clear it up, I tell you. I know you, Billy. You have nothing to confess in regard to Mrs. Wemyss. Of course, you wouldn't confess, anyway; but, thank God! there's nothing to say except that you were a silly ass, and have learned better.
"Now, I've told you how to get clear of this petty and miserable affair. If you don't do it, for Christine's sake as well as for your own, you're no man.