“I think so,” assented Musgrave, calmly. “But, then, my opinion is, naturally, rather prejudiced.”
“Yes, I can understand what Patricia must mean to you”—Mr. Charteris sighed, and passed his hand over his forehead in a graceful fashion,—“and I, also, love her far too dearly to imperil her happiness. I think that heaven never made a woman more worthy to be loved. And I had hoped—ah, well, after all, we cannot utterly defy society! Its prejudices, however unfounded, must be respected. What would you have? This dunderheaded giantess of a Mrs. Grundy condemns me to be miserable, and I am powerless. The utmost I can do is to refrain from whining over the unavoidable. And, Rudolph, you have my word of honor that henceforth I shall bear in mind more constantly my duty toward one of my best and oldest friends. I have not dealt with you quite honestly. I confess it, and I ask your pardon.” Mr. Charteris held out his hand to seal the compact.
“Word of honor?” queried Colonel Musgrave, with an odd quizzing sort of fondness for the little novelist, as the colonel took the proffered hand. “Why, then, that is settled, and I am glad of it. I told you, you know, it wouldn’t do. See you at supper, I suppose?”
And Rudolph Musgrave glanced at the bath-house, turned on his heel, and presently plunged into the beech plantation, whistling cheerfully. The effect of the melody was somewhat impaired by the apparent necessity of breaking off, at intervals, in order to smile.
The comedy had been admirably enacted, he considered, on both sides; and he did not object to Jack Charteris’s retiring with all the honors of war.
The colonel had not gone far, however, before he paused, thrust both hands into his trousers’ pockets, and stared down at the ground for a matter of five minutes.
Musgrave shook his head. “After all,” said he, “I can’t trust them. Patricia is too erratic and too used to having her own way. Jack will try to break off with her now, of course; but Jack, where women are concerned, is as weak as water. It is not a nice thing to do, but—well! one must fight fire with fire.”
Thereupon, he retraced his steps. When he had come to the thin spot in the thicket, Rudolph Musgrave left the path, and entered the shrubbery. There he composedly sat down in the shadow of a small cedar. The sight of his wife upon the beach in converse with Mr. Charteris did not appear to surprise Colonel Musgrave.
Patricia was speaking quickly. She held a bedraggled parasol in one hand. Her husband noted, with a faint thrill of wonder, that, at times, and in a rather unwholesome, elfish way, Patricia was actually beautiful. Her big eyes glowed; they flashed with changing lights as deep waters glitter in the sun; her copper-colored hair seemed luminous, and her cheeks flushed, arbutus-like. The soft, white stuff that gowned her had the look of foam; against the gray sky she seemed a freakish spirit in the act of vanishing. For sky and water were all one lambent gray by this. In the west was a thin smear of orange; but, for the rest, the world was of a uniform and gleaming gray. She and Charteris stood in the heart of a great pearl.