way to the Whip and Spur Club he sat buried in a reverie from which,
at intervals, he started, aroused by the heavy, expectant beating
of his own pulses. But what did he expect, in Heaven's name? Not
the discovery of a woman who had never existed. Yet his excitement
and impatience grew as he watched the saddling of his horse; and
when at length he rode out into the sunshine and cantered through
the Park entrance, his sense of impending events and his expectancy
amounted to a fever which colored his face attractively.
He saw her almost immediately. Her horse was walking
slowly in the dappled shadows of the new foliage; she, listless
in her saddle, sometimes watching the throngs of riders passing,
at moments turning to gaze into the woodland vistas where, over
the thickets of flowering shrubbery, orioles and robins sped flashing
on tinted wings from shadow to sun, from sun to shadow. But she
looked up as he drew bridle and wheeled his mount beside her; and,
"Oh!" she said, flushing in recognition.
"I have missed you terribly," he said
It was dreamy weather, even for late spring: the
scent of lilacs and mock-orange hung heavy as incense along the
woods. Their voices unconsciously found the key to harmonize with
She said: "Well, I think I have succeeded.
In a few moments she will be passing. I do not know her name; she
rides a big roan. She is very beautiful, Mr. Gatewood."
He said: "I am perfectly certain we shall
find her. I doubted it until now. But now I know."
"Oh-h, but I may be wrong," she protested.
"No; you cannot be."
She looked up at him.
"You can have no idea how happy you make me,"
he said unsteadily.
"But—I—but I may be all wrong—dreadfully
"Y-es; you may be, but I shall not be. For
do you know that I have already seen her in the Park?"
"When?" she demanded incredulously, then
turned in the saddle, repeating: "Where? Did she pass? How
perfectly stupid of me! And was she the—the right one?"
"She is the right one. . . . Don't turn: I
have seen her. Ride on: I want to say something—if I can."
"No, no," she insisted. "I must
know whether I was right—"
"You are right—but you don't know it
yet. . . . Oh, very well, then; we'll turn if you insist."
And he wheeled his mount as she did, riding at her bridle again.
"How can you take it so coolly—so indifferently?"
she said. "Where has that woman—where has she gone? .
. . Never mind; she must turn and pass us sooner or later, for she
lives uptown. What are you laughing at, Mr. Gatewood?"—in
"I am laughing at myself. Oh, I'm so many
kinds of a fool—you can't think how many, and it's no use!"
She stared, astonished; he shook his head.
"No, you don't understand yet. But you will.
Listen to me: this very beautiful lady you have discovered is nothing
"Nothing—to you!" she faltered.
Two pink spots of indignation burned in her cheeks. "How—how
dare you say that!—after all that has been done—all
that you have said. You said you loved her; you did say so—to
"I don't love her now."
"But you did!" Tears of pure vexation
started; she faced him, eye to eye, thoroughly incensed.
"What sort of man are you?" she said
under her breath. "Your friend Mr. Kerns is wrong. You are
not worth saving from yourself."
"Kerns!" he repeated, angry and amazed.
"What the deuce has Kerns to do with this affair?"
She stared, then, realizing her indiscretion, bit
her lip, and spurred forward. But he put his horse to a gallop,
and they pounded along in silence. In a little while she drew bridle
and looked around coldly, grave with displeasure.
"Mr. Kerns came to us before you did. He said
you would probably come, and he begged us to strain every effort
in your behalf, because, he said, your happiness absolutely depended
upon our finding for you the woman you were seeking. . . . And I
tried—very hard—and now she's found. You admit that—and
now you say—"
"I say that one of these balmy summer days
I'll assassinate Tommy Kerns!" broke in Gatewood. "What
on earth possessed that prince of butters-in to go to Mr. Keen?"
"To save you from yourself!" retorted
the girl in a low, exasperated voice. "He did not say what
threatened you; he is a good friend for a man to have. But we soon
found out what you were—a man well born, well bred, full of
brilliant possibility, who was slowly becoming an idle, cynical,
self-centered egoist—a man who, lacking the lash of need or
the spur of ambition, was degenerating through the sheer uselessness
and inanity of his life. And, oh, the pity of it! For Mr. Keen and
I have taken a—a curiously personal interest in you—in
your case. I say, the pity of it!"
Astounded, dumb under her stinging words, he rode
beside her through the brilliant sunshine, wheeled mechanically
as she turned her horse, and rode north again.
"And now—now!" she said passionately,
"you turn on the woman you loved! Oh, you are not worth it!"
"You are quite right," he said, turning
very white under her scorn. "Almost all you have said is true
enough, I fancy. I amount to nothing; I am idle, cynical, selfish.
The emptiness of such a life requires a stimulant; even a fool abhors
a vacuum. So I drink—not so very much yet—but more than
I realize. And it is close enough to a habit to worry me. . . .
Yes, almost all you say is true; Kerns knows it; I know it—now
that you have told me. You see, he couldn't tell me, because I should
not have believed him. But I believe you—all you say, except
one thing. And that is only a glimmer of decency left in me—not
that I make any merit of it. No, it is merely instinctive. For I
have not turned on the woman I loved."
Her face was pale as her level eyes met him:
"You said she was nothing to you. . . . Look
there! Do you see her? Do you see?"
Her voice broke nervously as he swung around to
stare at a rider bearing down at a gallop—a woman on a big
roan, tearing along through the spring sunshine, passing them with
wind-flushed cheeks and dark, incurious eyes, while her powerful
horse carried her on, away through the quivering light and shadow
of the woodland vista.
"Is that the person?"
"Y-es," she faltered. "Was I wrong?"
"Quite wrong, Miss Southerland."
"But—but you said you had seen her here
"Yes, I have."
"Did you speak to her before you met me?"
"No—not before I met you."
"Then you have not spoken to her. Is she still
here in the Park?"
"Yes, she is still here."
The girl turned on him excitedly: "Do you
mean to say that you will not speak to her?"
"I had rather not—"
"And your happiness depends on your speaking?"
"Then it is cowardly not to speak."
"Oh, yes, it is cowardly. . . . If you wish
me to speak to her I will. Shall I?"
"Yes . . . Show her to me."
"And you think that such a man as I am has
a right to speak of love to her?"
"I—we believe it will be your salvation.
Mr. Kerns says you must marry her to be happy. Mr. Keen told me
yesterday that it only needed a word from the right woman to put
you on your mettle. . . . And—and that is my opinion."
"Then in charity say that word!" he breathed,
bending toward her. "Can't you see? Can't you understand? Don't
you know that from the moment I looked into your eyes I loved you?"
"How—how dare you!" she stammered,
"God knows," he said wistfully. "I
am a coward. I don't know how I dared. Good-by. . . ."
He walked his horse a little way, then launched
him into a gallop, tearing on and on, sun, wind, trees swimming,
whirling like a vision, hearing nothing, feeling nothing, save the
leaden pounding of his pulse and the breathless, terrible tightening
in his throat.
When he cleared his eyes and looked around he was
quite alone, his horse walking under the trees and breathing heavily.
At first he laughed, and the laugh was not pleasant.
Then he said aloud: "It is worth having lived for, after all!"—and
was silent. And again: "I could expect nothing; she was perfectly
right to side-step a fool. . . . And such a fool!"
The distant gallop of a horse, dulled on the soft
soil, but coming nearer, could not arouse him from the bitter depths
he had sunk in; not even when the sound ceased beside him, and horse
snorted recognition to horse. It was only when a light touch rested
on his arm that he looked up heavily, caught his breath.
"Where is the other—woman?" she
"There never was any other."
"I said I loved my ideal. I did not know she
existed—until I saw you."
"Then—then we were searching for—"
"A vision. But it was your face that haunted
me. . . . And I am not worth it, as you say. And I know it, . .
. for you have opened my eyes."
He drew bridle, forcing a laugh. "I cut a
sorry figure in your life; be patient; I am going out of it now."
And he swung his horse. At the same moment she did the same, making
a demi-tour and meeting him halfway, confronting him.
"Do you—you mean to ride out of my life
without a word?" she asked unsteadily.
"Good-by." He offered his hand, stirring
his horse forward; she leaned lightly over and laid both hands in
his. Then, her face surging in color, she lifted her beautiful dark
eyes to his as the horses approached, nearer, nearer, until, as
they passed, flank brushing flank, her eyes fell, then closed as
she swayed toward him, and clung, her young lips crushed to his.
There was nobody to witness it except the birds
and squirrels—nobody but a distant mounted policeman, who
almost fainted away in his saddle.
Oh, it was awful, awful! Apparently she had been
kissed speechless, for she said nothing. The man fool did all the
talking, incoherently enough, but evidently satisfactory to her,
judging from the way she looked at him, and blushed and blushed,
and touched her eyes with a bit of cambric at intervals.
All the policeman heard as they passed him was;
"I'm going to give you this horse, and Kerns is to give us
our silver; and what do you think, my darling?"
But they had already passed out of earshot; and
in a few moments the shady, sun-flecked bridle path was deserted
again save for the birds and squirrels, and a single mounted policeman,
rigid, wild eyed, twisting his mustache and breathing hard.