BY JUSTIN H. McCARTHY, M. P.
But, ah, that Spring should vanish with the rose.That youth's sweet-scented manuscript should close.
Jacynth awoke from his reverie with a start and stared at the speaker. He had quite forgotten where he was. Through the gray smoke of his cigarette he had conjured, as from some magic vapor, an enchanting face—a girl's face—with hazel eyes and wonderful tan-colored hair. He had been in dreamland, and now he was only in the gardens of the hotel, and instead of his exquisite vision he found facing him a fat little man in white linen, who looked very hot and very jolly.
"I say, Jacynth, don't you remember me?"
Jacynth did not remember, at least fully. He had a dim consciousness that the fat little figure ought to be familiar to him, but he could not remember where or why. He had not quite collected himself yet, and he was slightly annoyed at the interruption to his day-dream. Also he was annoyed at being annoyed and being discomposed by anything. No perplexing witness, no hostile counsel, no antagonistic judge had ever been known to ruffle Clitheroe Jacynth's imperturbability. But then no vision with tan-colored hair and hazel eyes had ever come into court with him. He looked at the fat white figure, and shook his head gravely.
"But I say, hang it all, Jacynth, don't you remember that night in Cairo, and the dancing girls and the hasheesh den, and the row and all the rest of it?"
Memory asserted herself in Jacynth's mind. He did remember a night in Cairo when a party of young fellows from Shepheard's set out to see something of the queer Cairene slums. The fat little man was of the party; he was in white then, too, Jacynth remembered. He remembered, too, how hugely the little man had enjoyed everything, from the—well, the eccentricities of the dancing girls to the fumes in the hasheesh den, and even to the final scrimmage in the gambling hell, when Jacynth by a timely stroke saved his fat companion from being knifed by a Levantine rogue who had been detected in cheating. There was an awful row afterward; he remembered that, too, and an awkward business before the authorities next morning, but the names of his friends and his own legal reputation settled the matter. Yes, he remembered the fat little man now. He got up with a smile on his dark, clean-shaven face and held out his hand.
"How are you, Lord Castleton?"
Lord Castleton laughed. That was his way. He went through life laughing, as if everything were the best joke in the world.
"I'm glad you haven't forgotten me," he said. "By Jove! I haven't forgotten you, and that turn of the wrist which sent that Levantine devil's toothpick spinning. Well, and how are you?"
The men had sat down beside each other on the garden chair. Castleton produced a cigarette-case almost as fat as himself, on which a daintily-painted ballet girl disported.
"Try one!" he said; "they are ripping. Bingham Pasha sent them to me himself. He got them from the Sultan."
Jacynth took a cigarette, lit it from the end of his own, Castleton watching him all the time with the most jocular expression.
"You're not looking very fit," he said. "Those confounded courts, I suppose. By Jove! I shouldn't like to be a lawyer."
"Oh, I'm all right," Jacynth said; "I'm not taking the waters here. My sister lives here, and I've a festive little nephew. I only came here for a rest. I don't quite know why I came here just now though. Kismet, I suppose."
As he spoke that same vision of face and hair and eyes floated up before him.
Castleton laughed more boisterously than ever.
"Ah! Kismet, the dear old word. Yes, I suppose it's fate that makes us do most of the things which we seem to do for no particular reason."
"Has Kismet brought you here?" Jacynth inquired. "You seem fit enough at all events."
"Fit, my dear fellow? not at all."
It was one of Castleton's little jocularities with life to consider himself likely at any moment to become a confirmed invalid. "I was up in Bagdad, and I picked up an English paper which said that Harrogate was looking lovely, and somehow I felt homesick and seedy, and all that sort of thing, so I just cut the East and came slap on here."
"Do you know," said Jacynth gravely, " that there are moments when I feel much more inclined to cut the West and go, as you say, 'slap on' to some sleepy Eastern place—Bagdad perhaps, or Japan—and dream away the rest of my life."
"The rest of your life? You talk as if you were ninety!" And Castleton slapped his fat little leg merrily.
"Don't you know what the man-at-arms says in Thackeray's ballad?" Jacynth replied. "'Wait till you come to forty year.' Well, I have come to forty year, pretty nearly. I was thirty-nine three weeks ago—and do you know, Castleton, there are times when I'm tired of the whole business."
"By Jove! what would the judges say if they heard the famous Clitheroe Jacynth talking like this?"
"My dear fellow, I'm not famous, and if I were, what's the good of being famous at the price of becoming a fossil?"
"Do you know," said Castleton, with a grin, "I believe you must be mashed on somebody or other, by Jove, I do. If you talk——"
Before Castleton had finished his sentence he became aware that Jacynth was not paying him much attention. In fact, Jacynth's gaze seemed to be directed very intently toward the end of the garden, and Jacynth's mind appeared to be giving no heed whatever to Castleton's amiable garrulity. So Castleton, following the direction of his friend's glance, saw in the distance a woman's form, a form that was familiar to him, a form that he had already seen that day.
"By Jove!" said Castleton to himself softly. He had no time to say more, even to himself, for Jacynth had jumped to his feet and was bidding him good-by.
"Glad to have met you, hope to see you soon again." These were the words Jacynth was saying, with a confusion curiously at variation with his habitual composure. He shook Castleton warmly by the hand, and moved away so rapidly that Castleton's, "Why, my dear boy, of course you will; I shall stop here for ever so long," was delivered to the empty air.
"By Jove!" Castleton said again, this time aloud, as he watched Jacynth's rapid advance in the direction of the girl. "By Jove, he's struck, like all the lot. Poor devil! I'll stay here and give him a hint presently. Oh, poor devil, poor devil!" And Castleton's jolly face expressed as much honest commiseration as its ruddy plumpness permitted.
In the meantime, Jacynth, walking rapidly, had met the girl. She smiled a welcome to him, and stopped as he stopped. Her face seemed troubled, he thought, in spite of its enchanting smile.
"How grave you look," he began, for want of anything better to say.
"How grave you look," she retorted, with a flash of the familiar enchanting audacity, as she looked up into his grave dark face.
"I have something to say to you," said Jacynth. The remark was commonplace enough, but he felt his voice fail as he said it, and he knew by the sudden heat in his face that the blood was filling his pale cheeks.
The sound of his voice evidently impressed the girl, for she looked up at him with a sudden start, and her reply was queerly girlish and puzzled.
"What is it?" Then, as if she felt suddenly conscious of a blunder, or of unexpected knowledge, she tried to add other words:
"I mean, of course—I do not understand—I am looking for Ronny."
"Ronny is quite safe," said Jacynth gravely. "He is still at cricket with Harold. What I have to say does concern him though, a little."
"Concern Ronny!" There was a genuine note of alarm in the girl's fresh voice, and she looked up at Jacynth with a wistful trouble in her eyes. "Concern Ronny! Why, what have you to say about Ronny?"
"Can you give me a few moments?" he asked. "It is quiet here."
He pointed to a pathway more secluded than the rest, a pathway with a rustic garden chair, a deserted pathway.
"Shall we sit here for a minute?" he said, and they walked to the rustic seat, and sat down side by side. There was a curious look of alarm in the hazel-colored eyes, but Jacynth did not notice it, for he was looking down, tracing a word upon the ground with his stick, and the word that he traced was the word he had used but now, Kismet.
"What do you want to say to me?" He could hear a hard ring in her voice, and looking up he saw a hardness in her eyes, and his lips trembled.
"We have been very good friends," he began, and faltered. She caught him up.
"We have been good friends," she said. "If you wish us to be good friends any more you will not say what it is just possible that you may think of saying. There are some words which will estrange us for ever."
Jacynth looked at her despairingly. How exquisitely lovely she looked, like some angel of youth, some vision of summer in that autumnal garden. His heart seemed to be beating very fast, his eyes were hot, and his lips dry, and his hands trembled feverishly.
"Listen!" he said, and as he spoke his own voice sounded far away and unfamiliar like the voice of some shadow encountered in a dream. "Listen! I love you with all my heart. Hush! let me say what I have got to say"—for she had turned to him, half appealing, as if to interrupt his declaration—"I daresay you may think it very audacious of me to love you—or, at least, for I could not help loving you, to tell you so. I know that you are beautiful enough and good enough to be addressed by better men than I. I should have been content with my secret love and held my peace. But I couldn't—I couldn't."
He paused for a moment. She laid her hand on his gently, and he trembled at her touch. "I am very sorry," she began, but he went on again wildly:
"I am not quite a fool. Men who are not quite fools either say that I have a great career before me. I have made something of a name as it is, although I may still almost speak of myself as a young man. You shall be proud of me, indeed, I promise you that, if you will only let me serve you. Life is all a game of chances, but if you will take this chance, I do not think that you will regret it. Your lover will not be quite unworthy of your love."
"I am very, very sorry," she said, "but you have said the words which must divide us. I did like you, I do like you very much, but we cannot be friends any more."
"You cannot love me," he said slowly.
"I cannot love you—and I know we cannot be friends. You are not that kind of man. It would tear your heart to pieces. Better one wrench at once and be done with it. And I am not the kind of woman to accept friendship that I knew was only a mask for love."
"You cannot love me?" he asked again monotonously, like a man repeating some set formula.
"I cannot love you. I have played with my life in my own way, and as I have played so I will pay. Now, good-by, I know you too well and trust you too well to fear that you will trouble me at all. You will go away, I suppose?"
"Yes," said Jacynth moodily, "I will go away."
"Thank you, and good-by." She moved away swiftly, and he stood there staring after her until she disappeared inside the hotel.
Jacynth walked moodily back into the garden and stared sullenly at the bright sky. If the autumn day, so warm that it might have been midsummer, had suddenly changed to winter, it could not have looked colder or more dismal to his eyes. He shrugged his shoulders. "So that's all over," he said to himself bitterly; "you have played your stake and you have lost, and now you must remember that it is your duty to play the man and not the fool." Thrusting his hands into his pockets he began to walk slowly down the garden path, feeling very dull and dizzy, like a man who has had a heavy fall. He was thinking, or trying to think, of things which interested him so deeply once, and which now seemed so strangely uninteresting, when his meditations were interrupted. He found himself confronted by Castleton, who was eying him sympathetically.
"Old man," said Castleton, "you saved my life once, and though it wasn't much worth saving, I'm devilish grateful to you all the same. So I'd like to do you a good turn now if I can."
"You can't do me any good," Jacynth answered, "there's nothing the matter with me. Don't talk rot, there's a good fellow."
"There's a great deal the matter with you, and I can do you good," Castleton answered. "I can tell you all about that woman."