But latterly he had begun to wonder—in his peculiarly indefinite way he had begun to doubt his own philosophy. Was the void in his soul a product of thwarted ambition?—for, whilst he slaved, scrupulously, upon “Martin Zeda,” he loathed every deed and every word of that Old Man of the Sea. Or could it be that his own being—his nature of Adam—lacked something which wealth, social position, and Mira, his wife, could not yield to him?
Now, a new tone in the voice of Helen Cumberly—a tone different from that compound of good-fellowship and raillery, which he knew—a tone which had entered into it when she had exclaimed upon the state of the room—set his poor, anxious heart thrumming like a lute. He felt a hot flush creeping upon him; his forehead grew damp. He feared to raise his eyes.
“Is that a bargain?” asked Helen, sweetly.
Henry Leroux found a lump in his throat; but he lifted his untidy head and took the hand which the girl had extended to him. She smiled a bit unnaturally; then every tinge of color faded from her cheeks, and Henry Leroux, unconsciously holding the white hand in a vice-like grip, looked hungrily into the eyes grown suddenly tragic whilst into his own came the light of a great and sorrowful understanding.
“God bless you,” he said. “I will do anything you wish.”
Helen released her hand, turned, and ran from the study. Not until she was on the landing did she dare to speak. Then:—
“Garnham shall come down immediately. Don’t be late for dinner!” she called—and there was a hint of laughter and of tears in her voice, of the restraint of culture struggling with rebellious womanhood.
PRESENTING M. GASTON MAX
Not venturing to turn on the light, not daring to look upon her own face in the mirror, Helen Cumberly sat before her dressing-table, trembling wildly. She wanted to laugh, and wanted to cry; but the daughter of Seton Cumberly knew what those symptoms meant and knew how to deal with them. At the end of an interval of some four or five minutes, she rang.
The maid opened the door.
“Don’t light up, Merton,” she said, composedly. “I want you to tell Garnham to go down to Mr. Leroux’s and put the place in order. Mr. Leroux is dining with us.”
The girl withdrew; and Helen, as the door closed, pressed the electric switch. She stared at her reflection in the mirror as if it were the face of an enemy, then, turning her head aside, sat deep in reflection, biting her lip and toying with the edge of the white doily.
“You little traitor!” she whispered, through clenched teeth. “You little traitor—and hypocrite”—sobs began to rise in her throat—“and fool!”
Five more minutes passed in a silent conflict. A knock announced the return of the maid; and the girl reentered, placing upon the table a visiting-card:—