In that room, the old withdrawing-room of the Elizabethan wing—where once had been the embroideries, tapestries, and missals of beruffled dames were now books, pamphlets, oak-panels, pipes, fencing gear, and along one wall a collection of Red Indian weapons and ornaments brought back by Miltoun from the United States. High on the wall above these reigned the bronze death-mask of a famous Apache Chief, cast from a plaster taken of the face by a professor of Yale College, who had declared it to be a perfect specimen of the vanishing race. That visage, which had a certain weird resemblance to Dante’s, presided over the room with cruel, tragic stoicism. No one could look on it without feeling that, there, the human will had been pushed to its farthest limits of endurance.
Seeing it for the first time, Courtier said:
“Fine thing—that! Only wants a soul.”
“Sit down,” he said.
Courtier sat down.
There followed one of those silences in which men whose spirits, though different, have a certain bigness in common—can say so much to one another:
At last Miltoun spoke:
“I have been living in the clouds, it seems. You are her oldest friend. The immediate question is how to make it easiest for her in face of this miserable rumour!”
Not even Courtier himself could have put such whip-lash sting into the word ‘miserable.’
“Oh! take no notice of that. Let them stew in their own juice. She won’t care.”
Miltoun listened, not moving a muscle of his face.
“Your friends here,” went on Courtier with a touch of contempt, “seem in a flutter. Don’t let them do anything, don’t let them say a word. Treat the thing as it deserves to be treated. It’ll die.”
Miltoun, however, smiled.
“I’m not sure,” he said, “that the consequences will be as you think, but I shall do as you say.”
“As for your candidature, any man with a spark of generosity in his soul will rally to you because of it.”
“Possibly,” said Miltoun. “It will lose me the election, for all that.”
Then, dimly conscious that their last words had revealed the difference of their temperaments and creeds, they stared at one another.
“No,” said Courtier, “I never will believe that people can be so mean!”
“Until they are.”
“Anyway, though we get at it in different ways, we agree.”
Miltoun leaned his elbow on the mantelpiece, and shading his face with his hand, said:
“You know her story. Is there any way out of that, for her?”
On Courtier’s face was the look which so often came when he was speaking for one of his lost causes—as if the fumes from a fire in his heart had mounted to his head.
“Only the way,” he answered calmly, “that I should take if I were you.”