Black Oxen


His nervous excitement returned next morning, but he forced himself to eat a good breakfast and read his newspapers. He was determined to show her that he was completely master of himself. She should be able to draw no unfavorable comparisons with Hohenhauer, whose composure had probably not been ruffled in forty years. His comparative youth might be against him, but after all a man of thirty-four was no infant, and in some respects he was as old as he would ever be. He knew the value of dignity and self-control, and whatever might come he would sacrifice neither. But he sighed heavily. "Whatever might come." But he refused to dwell on alternatives.

It was ten o'clock when he presented himself at Madame Zattiany's door. As he had hoped, his ring was answered. Hohenhauer was not the man to call on a woman at ten in the morning.

The footman permitted himself to stare, and said deprecatingly: "I am very sorry, Mr. Clavering, but Madame told me to admit no visitors——"

"Did she?" He entered and tossed his hat on a high Italian chair. "Kindly tell her that I am in the library and shall remain there until she is ready to come down."

The man hesitated, but after all Clavering had had the run of the house, and it was possible that Madame believed him still to be in the mountains. At all events he knew determination when he saw it, and marched reluctantly up the stairs.

Clavering went into the library. He was filled with an almost unbearable excitement, but at least the man's assertion that she was at home to no one cemented his belief that she meant to see nothing further of Hohenhauer.

He glanced round the beautiful mellow room so full of memories. After all he had been happier here than he had ever been in his life—until they had gone up to the woods! The room's benignant atmosphere seemed to enfold him, calmed his fears, subdued that inner quiver. Surely she would surrender to its influence and to his—whatever had happened. He knew she had always liked him the better because he did not make love to her the moment they met, but today he would take her by surprise, give her no time to think.

But, as Mrs. Oglethorpe had once told him, a clever man is no match for a still cleverer woman.

At the end of fifteen minutes the footman opened the door and announced:

"Madame is in the car, sir, and begs you will join her."

Clavering repressed a violent start and an imprecation. But there was nothing to do but follow the man; fortunately he did not have what was known as an "open countenance." Let her have her own way for the moment. He could—and would—return with her. For the moment he felt primitive enough to beat her.

She was wearing a black dress with a long jade necklace and a large black hat, and, as he ran down the steps, he had time further to observe that she was even whiter than usual and had dark rings under her eyes.

"It is too beautiful a morning to remain indoors," she said, as she gave him her hand and he took the seat beside her. "We will drive in the Park and then up the river for a bit."

She was completely at her ease, and she was the Madame Zattiany of the night he had met her. But she did not elaborate the rôle, and asked him how he had left his friends at the camp and if he had enjoyed his fishing trip.

"Enough of this," he interrupted, when he had mastered his excitement at being close to her once more. After all, he had expected something of the sort. She was just the woman to fall back on her infernal technique. "I know that you went down to Huntersville to meet Hohenhauer, and that the result of that interview was an abrupt flight from me—possibly from him. I want the truth."

Her face had flushed, but as the color ebbed she looked almost waxen. "I relied on Din——"

"Well, I guessed it and he admitted the fact. And if he hadn't I'd have come after you, anyhow. Your note was enough to tell any man something was wrongs. I shall not be put off and I will have an answer to my questions. Do you love me no longer?"

"Oh, yes," she said softly. "I love you." But when he tried to take her hand she drew it away.

"Do you still intend to marry me?"

"Won't you give me a few days more to think it over?"

"No, I will not. And—do you need them? Haven't you already made up your mind?"

She sighed and looked out of the window. They were driving up Fifth Avenue and the bright street was full of color and life. The busses and motors were filled with women on their way to the shops, whose gay windows were the most enticing in the world. New York, in this, her River of Delight, looked as if she had not a care in the world.

Madame Zattiany did not speak again until they were in the Park.

"I have promised to marry you, remember; and I do not lightly go back on my word.… But … I had intended to ask if you would be willing to let me go alone to Vienna for six months—and then join me——"

"After I had lost you completely! I shall marry you here, today, or not at all. I love you but I'll not let you play with me. I'll go to Austria with you, and you may do as you choose when you get there. You'll belong to me and I'll make the best of it."

"If I married you now it would not be worth my while to return to Austria.… You see, I'd be an American. I'd no longer be Gräfin Zattiany.… I could accomplish nothing.… It is the strangest thing in the world, but I never had thought of changing my name——"

"Until Hohenhauer reminded you, I suppose. Well, I could have told you that myself. I had counted on it, if you want to know the truth."

"Ah! Then you counted on that to—to——"

"To have you altogether. Yes." And then he added hastily: "But up there—you must believe this—I never gave it a thought—after—after you promised to marry me at once."

He doubted if she had listened to this protest that there had been an hour when in the complete baring of his soul he had been above plotting and subterfuge. She was still looking out of the window. He saw her long upward-curving nostril grow rigid.

But she said quietly: "And what do you think you would have done with me, Lee, after we were on the plane of common mortals once more? Transports do not last for ever, you know, and we are not heedless young things with no thought of the future. You have acknowledged there is no place for me here, and there would be no place for me in Europe if I married you. Do you wonder that I came away to think, after Prince Hohenhauer—who, remember, knows me far better than you do—pointed out the inexorable truth? What would you do with me, Lee?"

He stared out of the window in his turn—at the tender greens of the Park. He could hear the birds singing. Spring! The chill of winter was in the car, and it emanated from the woman beside him.

"I don't know," he said miserably. "I only know that I love you and would take any chances."

"But, you see, although it is my misfortune to love you, I recognize that there is a long generation between us. I thought I had spanned it, but—do you realize that we have literally nothing to give each other but love? That we are as unlike——"

"Oh, yes, I realized all that the night you left. But I don't care. Cannot you trust me?"

"There is that long generation, Lee. And it is I who have lived it, not you. Lived it and outlived the woman who began it. The gods in a sportive mood made us for each other—and then sent me into the world too soon.… I must go on. It is not in me to go back nor to remain becalmed. Hohenhauer told me many cruel truths. Those women at my dinner might have enlightened me if I had not deliberately bandaged the eyes of my mind. I chose to forget them at once. But Hohenhauer——" She shuddered. "Well, although I was infuriated with him at the time—what he said was true. Every word. I must go forward. I cannot—cannot go back."

"He appealed to your ambition, your love of power, I suppose——"

"He showed me to myself for exactly what I am," she said emphatically. "No appeal would have made the slightest impression on me if I had really and finally returned to my Mary Ogdenhood up there in the woods of my real youth. My God! What incredible folly! What powers of self-delusion! But we both have that memory. Let us be grateful. I at least shall hold it apart from all memories as long as I live."

"Are you going to marry that man?"

"That is so purely incidental that it is not worth talking about. I came away to think out my own problem. I love you and I believe that I shall always love you—but I don't see any way out. I have killed once and for all that fatal talent for self-delusion that I had thought was as dead—well, as dead as my love for Moritz Hohenhauer; and nothing could be more dead than that. My brain feels like a crystal house illuminated by searchlights, strong enough to penetrate every corner but not strong enough to blind. I could never, if I would, deceive myself again, nor make another mistake, so far as human prescience will serve me."

He looked at her hands. Her gloves were black suede and they made those hands look smaller, but he had an idea that if he lifted one it would fall of its own rigid weight.

He made no comment and she said in a moment: "Perhaps you may have an inspiration. If there is any solution for us, believe me when I say that it would make me as happy as it could make you."

But her hands did not relax.

"What is the solution, Lee?"

He had buried his face in his hands. "There is none, I suppose. Unless you have the courage to drive down to the City Hall and marry me … and"—he lifted his head with a faint gleam of hope—"remember that you are young again. You have many years to live. You are a woman. Can you go through life without love?"

"Far better than with it. Love is a very old story to me," she said deliberately. "It could never be to me again the significant thing it is even to the woman of middle age, much less to the young. And now—with a world falling to ruins—in the most critical period of its history—to imagine that love has any but a passing significance—— Oh, no, my friend. Oh, no! Let those women who have it in their power to repeople the earth which has lost so many millions of its sons, cherish that delusion of the supreme importance of love; but not I! I have had my dream, but it is over. If we had met in Vienna it would never have claimed me at all. In New York one may be serious in the romantic manner when one is temporarily free from care, but seriousness is of another and a portentous quality over there."

"Why did you ask me to wait six months and then join you in Vienna?"

She turned her eyes on him with what he had once called her look of ancient wisdom. There was not an expiring flicker of youth in them, nor in the faint smile on her lips. He had thrown himself back in his corner and folded his arms; he had no desire to attract the attention of the passers-by. But his face was as white as a dark man's can be and his eyes were both stricken and bitter.

"To give you time to get over it," she said. "To write another play. To settle down into your old life—and look back upon this episode as upon a dream, a wonderful dream, but difficult to recall as anything more substantial."

"So I inferred. And you have not the courage to marry me—here—today?"

"No, that is the one thing for which I have no courage whatever. In three months I should hate you and myself. I should not have even one memory in my life that I had no wish to banish—the sustaining memory of love undestroyed I may take back with me now. Courage! I could contemplate going back to certain death at the hands of an assassin, or in another revolution; to stand on the edge of the abyss, the last human being alive in Europe, and look down upon her expiring throes before I went over the brink myself. But I have not the courage to marry you."

Clavering picked up the tube and told the driver to stop.

He closed the door and lifted his hat.

"Good-bye, Madame Zattiany," he said. And as the driver was listening, he added: "A pleasant journey."

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