It was excellent to see Jack Charteris again, as Colonel Musgrave did within a few days of this. Musgrave was unreasonably fond of the novelist and frankly confessed it would be as preposterous to connect Charteris with any of the accepted standards of morality as it would be to judge an artesian-well from the standpoint of ethics.
Anne was not yet in Lichfield. She had broken the journey to visit a maternal grand-aunt and some Virginia cousins, in Richmond, Charteris explained, and was to come thence to Matocton.
“And so you have acquired a boy and, by my soul, a very handsome wife, Rudolph?”
“It is sufficiently notorious,” said Colonel Musgrave. “Yes, we are quite absurdly happy.” He laughed and added: “Patricia—but you don’t know her droll way of putting things—says that the only rational complaint I can advance against her is her habit of rushing into a hospital every month or so and having a section or two of her person removed by surgeons. It worries me,—only, of course, it is not the sort of thing you can talk about. And, as Patricia says, it is an unpleasant thing to realize that your wife is not leaving you through the ordinary channels of death or of type-written decrees of the court, but only in vulgar fractions, as it were—”
“Please don’t be quite so brutal, Rudolph. It is not becoming in a Musgrave of Matocton to speak of women in any tone other than the most honeyed accents of chivalry.”
“Oh, I was only quoting Patricia,” the colonel largely said, “and—er—Jack,” he continued. “By the way, Jack, Clarice Pendomer will be at Matocton—”
“I rejoice in her good luck,” said Charteris, equably.
“—and—well! I was wondering—?”
“I can assure you that there will be no—trouble. That skeleton is safely locked in its closet, and the key to that closet is missing—more thanks to you. You acted very nobly in the whole affair, Rudolph. I wish I could do things like that. As it is, of course, I shall always detest you for having been able to do it.”
Charteris said, thereafter: “I shall always envy you, though, Rudolph. No other man I know has ever attained the good old troubadourish ideal of domnei—that love which rather abhors than otherwise the notion of possessing its object. I still believe it was a distinct relief to a certain military officer, whose name we need not mention, when Anne decided not to marry you.”
The colonel grinned, a trifle consciously. “Well, Anne meant youth, you comprehend, and all the things we then believed in, Jack. It would have been decidedly difficult to live up to such a contract, and—as it were—to fulfil every one of the implied specifications!”
“And yet”—here Charteris flicked his cigarette—“Anne ruled in the stead of Aline Van Orden. And Aline, in turn, had followed Clarice Pendomer. And before the coming of Clarice had Pauline Romeyne, whom time has converted into Polly Ashmeade, reigned in the land—”