IT had been arranged that Pellerin, after the meeting of the Uplift Club, should join Bernald at his rooms and spend the night there, instead of returning to Portchester. The plan had been eagerly elaborated by the young man, but he had been unprepared for the alacrity with which his wonderful friend accepted it. He was beginning to see that it was a part of Pellerin’s wonderfulness to fall in, quite simply and naturally, with any arrangements made for his convenience, or tending to promote the convenience of others. Bernald felt that his extreme docility in such matters was proportioned to the force of resistance which, for nearly half a life-time, had kept him, with his back to the wall, fighting alone against the powers of darkness. In such a scale of values how little the small daily alternatives must weigh!
At the close of Howland Wade’s discourse, Bernald, charged with his prodigious secret, had felt the need to escape for an instant from the liberated rush of talk. The interest of watching Pellerin was so perilously great that the watcher felt it might, at any moment, betray him. He lingered in the crowded drawing-room long enough to see his friend enclosed in a mounting tide, above which Mrs. Beecher Bain and Miss Fosdick actively waved their conversational tridents; then he took refuge, at the back of the house, in a small dim library where, in his younger days, he had discussed personal immortality and the problem of consciousness with beautiful girls whose names he could not remember.
In this retreat he surprised Mr. Beecher Bain, a quiet man with a mild brow, who was smoking a surreptitious cigar over the last number of the Strand. Mr. Bain, at Bernald’s approach, dissembled the Strand under a copy of the Hibbert Journal, but tendered his cigar-case with the remark that stocks were heavy again; and Bernald blissfully abandoned himself to this unexpected contact with reality.
On his return to the drawing-room he found that the tide had set toward the supper-table, and when it finally carried him thither it was to land him in the welcoming arms of Bob Wade.
“Hullo, old man! Where have you been all this time?—Winterman? Oh, he’s talking to Howland: yes, I managed it finally. I believe Mrs. Bain has steered them into the library, so that they shan’t be disturbed. I gave her an idea of the situation, and she was awfully kind. We’d better leave them alone, don’t you think? I’m trying to get a croquette for Miss Fosdick.”
Bernald’s secret leapt in his bosom, and he devoted himself to the task of distributing sandwiches and champagne while his pulses danced to the tune of the cosmic laughter. The vision of Pellerin and his Interpreter, face to face at last, had a Cyclopean grandeur that dwarfed all other comedy. “And I shall hear of it presently; in an hour or two he’ll be telling me about it. And that hour will be all mine—mine and his!” The dizziness of the thought made it difficult for Bernald to preserve the balance of the supper-plates he was distributing. Life had for him at that moment the completeness which seems to defy disintegration.