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    A Coward

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    Chapter 5
    Previous Chapter
    "My daughter Irene," said Mrs. Carstyle (she made it rhyme with _tureen_),
    "has had no social advantages; but if Mr. Carstyle had chosen--" she
    paused significantly and looked at the shabby sofa on the opposite side of
    the fire-place as though it had been Mr. Carstyle. Vibart was glad that it
    was not.

    Mrs. Carstyle was one of the women who make refinement vulgar. She
    invariably spoke of her husband as _Mr. Carstyle_ and, though she had but
    one daughter, was always careful to designate the young lady by name. At
    luncheon she had talked a great deal of elevating influences and ideals,
    and had fluctuated between apologies for the overdone mutton and affected
    surprise that the bewildered maid-servant should have forgotten to serve
    the coffee and liqueurs _as usual_.

    Vibart was almost sorry that he had come. Miss Carstyle was still
    beautiful--almost as beautiful as when, two days earlier, against the
    leafy background of a June garden-party, he had seen her for the first
    time--but her mother's expositions and elucidations cheapened her beauty
    as sign-posts vulgarize a woodland solitude. Mrs. Carstyle's eye was
    perpetually plying between her daughter and Vibart, like an empty cab in
    quest of a fare. Miss Carstyle, the young man decided, was the kind of
    girl whose surroundings rub off on her; or was it rather that Mrs.
    Carstyle's idiosyncrasies were of a nature to color every one within
    reach? Vibart, looking across the table as this consolatory alternative
    occurred to him, was sure that they had not colored Mr. Carstyle; but
    that, perhaps, was only because they had bleached him instead. Mr.
    Carstyle was quite colorless; it would have been impossible to guess his
    native tint. His wife's qualities, if they had affected him at all, had
    acted negatively. He did not apologize for the mutton, and he wandered off
    after luncheon without pretending to wait for the diurnal coffee and
    liqueurs; while the few remarks that he had contributed to the
    conversation during the meal had not been in the direction of abstract
    conceptions of life. As he strayed away, with his vague oblique step, and
    the stoop that suggested the habit of dodging missiles, Vibart, who was
    still in the age of formulas, found himself wondering what life could be
    worth to a man who had evidently resigned himself to travelling with his
    back to the wind; so that Mrs. Carstyle's allusion to her daughter's lack
    of advantages (imparted while Irene searched the house for an
    undiscoverable cigarette) had an appositeness unintended by the speaker.

    "If Mr. Carstyle had chosen," that lady repeated, "we might have had our
    city home" (she never used so small a word as town) "and Ireen could have
    mixed in the society to which I myself was accustomed at her age." Her
    sigh pointed unmistakably to a past when young men had come to luncheon to
    see _her_.

    The sigh led Vibart to look at her, and the look led him to the unwelcome
    conclusion that Irene "took after" her mother. It was certainly not from
    the sapless paternal stock that the girl had drawn her warm bloom: Mrs.
    Carstyle had contributed the high lights to the picture.

    Mrs. Carstyle caught his look and appropriated it with the complacency of
    a vicarious beauty. She was quite aware of the value of her appearance as
    guaranteeing Irene's development into a fine woman.

    "But perhaps," she continued, taking up the thread of her explanation,
    "you have heard of Mr. Carstyle's extraordinary hallucination. Mr.
    Carstyle knows that I call it so--as I tell him, it is the most charitable
    view to take."

    She looked coldly at the threadbare sofa and indulgently at the young man
    who filled a corner of it.

    "You may think it odd, Mr. Vibart, that I should take you into my
    confidence in this way after so short an acquaintance, but somehow I can't
    help regarding you as a friend already. I believe in those intuitive
    sympathies, don't you? They have never misled me--" her lids drooped
    retrospectively--"and besides, I always tell Mr. Carstyle that on this
    point I will have no false pretences. Where truth is concerned I am
    inexorable, and I consider it my duty to let our friends know that our
    restricted way of living is due entirely to choice--to Mr. Carstyle's
    choice. When I married Mr. Carstyle it was with the expectation of living
    in New York and of keeping my carriage; and there is no reason for our not
    doing so--there is no reason, Mr. Vibart, why my daughter Ireen should
    have been denied the intellectual advantages of foreign travel. I wish
    that to be understood. It is owing to her father's deliberate choice that
    Ireen and I have been imprisoned in the narrow limits of Millbrook
    society. For myself I do not complain. If Mr. Carstyle chooses to place
    others before his wife it is not for his wife to repine. His course may be
    noble--Quixotic; I do not allow myself to pronounce judgment on it, though
    others have thought that in sacrificing his own family to strangers he was
    violating the most sacred obligations of domestic life. This is the
    opinion of my pastor and of other valued friends; but, as I have always
    told them, for myself I make no claims. Where my daughter Ireen is
    concerned it is different--"

    It was a relief to Vibart when, at this point, Mrs. Carstyle's discharge
    of her duty was cut short by her daughter's reappearance. Irene had been
    unable to find a cigarette for Mr. Vibart, and her mother, with beaming
    irrelevance, suggested that in that case she had better show him the
    garden.

    The Carstyle house stood but a few yards back from the brick-paved
    Millbrook street, and the garden was a very small place, unless measured,
    as Mrs. Carstyle probably intended that it should be, by the extent of her
    daughter's charms. These were so considerable that Vibart walked back and
    forward half a dozen times between the porch and the gate, before he
    discovered the limitations of the Carstyle domain. It was not till Irene
    had accused him of being sarcastic and had confided in him that "the
    girls" were furious with her for letting him talk to her so long at his
    aunt's garden-party, that he awoke to the exiguity of his surroundings;
    and then it was with a touch of irritation that he noticed Mr. Carstyle's
    inconspicuous profile bent above a newspaper in one of the lower windows.
    Vibart had an idea that Mr. Carstyle, while ostensibly reading the paper,
    had kept count of the number of times that his daughter had led her
    companion up and down between the syringa-bushes; and for some undefinable
    reason he resented Mr. Carstyle's unperturbed observation more than his
    wife's zealous self-effacement. To a man who is trying to please a pretty
    girl there are moments when the proximity of an impartial spectator is
    more disconcerting than the most obvious connivance; and something about
    Mr. Carstyle's expression conveyed his good-humored indifference to
    Irene's processes.

    When the garden-gate closed behind Vibart he had become aware that his
    preoccupation with the Carstyles had shifted its centre from the daughter
    to the father; but he was accustomed to such emotional surprises, and
    skilled in seizing any compensations they might offer.

    II

    The Carstyles belonged to the all-the-year-round Millbrook of paper-mills,
    cable-cars, brick pavements and church sociables, while Mrs. Vance, the
    aunt with whom Vibart lived, was an ornament of the summer colony whose
    big country-houses dotted the surrounding hills. Mrs. Vance had, however,
    no difficulty in appeasing the curiosity which Mrs. Carstyle's enigmatic
    utterances had aroused in the young man. Mrs. Carstyle's relentless
    veracity vented itself mainly on the "summer people," as they were called:
    she did not propose that any one within ten miles of Millbrook should keep
    a carriage without knowing that she was entitled to keep one too. Mrs.
    Vance remarked with a sigh that Mrs. Carstyle's annual demand to have her
    position understood came in as punctually as the taxes and the water-
    rates.

    "My dear, it's simply this: when Andrew Carstyle married her years ago--
    Heaven knows why he did; he's one of the Albany Carstyles, you know, and
    she was a daughter of old Deacon Ash of South Millbrook--well, when he
    married her he had a tidy little income, and I suppose the bride expected
    to set up an establishment in New York and be hand-in-glove with the whole
    Carstyle clan. But whether he was ashamed of her from the first, or for
    some other unexplained reason, he bought a country-place and settled down
    here for life. For a few years they lived comfortably enough, and she had
    plenty of smart clothes, and drove about in a victoria calling on the
    summer people. Then, when the beautiful Irene was about ten years old, Mr.
    Carstyle's only brother died, and it turned out that he had made away with
    a lot of trust-property. It was a horrid business: over three hundred
    thousand dollars were gone, and of course most of it had belonged to
    widows and orphans. As soon as the facts were made known, Andrew Carstyle
    announced that he would pay back what his brother had stolen. He sold his
    country-place and his wife's carriage, and they moved to the little house
    they live in now. Mr. Carstyle's income is probably not as large as his
    wife would like to have it thought, and though I'm told he puts aside, a
    good part of it every year to pay off his brother's obligations, I fancy
    the debt won't be discharged for some time to come. To help things along
    he opened a law office--he had studied law in his youth--but though he is
    said to be clever I hear that he has very little to do. People are afraid
    of him: he's too dry and quiet. Nobody believes in a man who doesn't
    believe in himself, and Mr. Carstyle always seems to be winking at you
    through a slit in his professional manner. People don't like it--his wife
    doesn't like it. I believe she would have accepted the sacrifice of the
    country-place and the carriage if he had struck an attitude and talked
    about doing his duty. It was his regarding the whole thing as a matter of
    course that exasperated her. What is the use of doing something difficult
    in a way that makes it look perfectly easy? I feel sorry for Mrs.
    Carstyle. She's lost her house and her carriage, and she hasn't been
    allowed to be heroic."

    Vibart had listened attentively.

    "I wonder what Miss Carstyle thinks of it?" he mused.

    Mrs. Vance looked at him with a tentative smile. "I wonder what _you_
    think of Miss Carstyle?" she returned,

    His answer reassured her.

    "I think she takes after her mother," he said.

    "Ah," cried his aunt cheerfully, "then I needn't write to _your_ mother,
    and I can have Irene at all my parties!"

    Miss Carstyle was an important factor in the restricted social
    combinations of a Millbrook hostess. A local beauty is always a useful
    addition to a Saturday-to-Monday house-party, and the beautiful Irene was
    served up as a perennial novelty to the jaded guests of the summer colony.
    As Vibart's aunt remarked, she was perfect till she became playful, and
    she never became playful till the third day.

    Under these conditions, it was natural that Vibart should see a good deal
    of the young lady, and before he was aware of it he had drifted into the
    anomalous position of paying court to the daughter in order to ingratiate
    himself with the father. Miss Carstyle was beautiful, Vibart was young,
    and the days were long in his aunt's spacious and distinguished house; but
    it was really the desire to know something more of Mr. Carstyle that led
    the young man to partake so often of that gentleman's overdone mutton.
    Vibart's imagination had been touched by the discovery that this little
    huddled-up man, instead of travelling with the wind, was persistently
    facing a domestic gale of considerable velocity. That he should have paid
    off his brother's debt at one stroke was to the young man a conceivable
    feat; but that he should go on methodically and uninterruptedly
    accumulating the needed amount, under the perpetual accusation of Irene's
    inadequate frocks and Mrs. Carstyle's apologies for the mutton, seemed to
    Vibart proof of unexampled heroism. Mr. Carstyle was as inaccessible as
    the average American parent, and led a life so detached from the
    preoccupations of his womankind that Vibart had some difficulty in fixing
    his attention. To Mr. Carstyle, Vibart was simply the inevitable young man
    who had been hanging about the house ever since Irene had left school; and
    Vibart's efforts to differentiate himself from this enamored abstraction
    were hampered by Mrs. Carstyle's cheerful assumption that he _was_ the
    young man, and by Irene's frank appropriation of his visits.

    In this extremity he suddenly observed a slight but significant change in
    the manner of the two ladies. Irene, instead of charging him with being
    sarcastic and horrid, and declaring herself unable to believe a word he
    said, began to receive his remarks with the impersonal smile which he had
    seen her accord to the married men of his aunt's house-parties; while Mrs.
    Carstyle, talking over his head to an invisible but evidently sympathetic
    and intelligent listener, debated the propriety of Irene's accepting an
    invitation to spend the month of August at Narragansett. When Vibart,
    rashly trespassing on the rights of this unseen oracle, remarked that a
    few weeks at the seashore would make a delightful change for Miss
    Carstyle, the ladies looked at him and then laughed.

    It was at this point that Vibart, for the first time, found himself
    observed by Mr. Carstyle. They were grouped about the debris of a luncheon
    which had ended precipitously with veal stew (Mrs. Carstyle explaining
    that poor cooks _always_ failed with their sweet dish when there was
    company) and Mr. Carstyle, his hands thrust in his pockets, his lean
    baggy-coated shoulders pressed against his chair-back, sat contemplating
    his guest with a smile of unmistakable approval. When Vibart caught his
    eye the smile vanished, and Mr. Carstyle, dropping his glasses from the
    bridge of his thin nose, looked out of the window with the expression of a
    man determined to prove an alibi. But Vibart was sure of the smile: it had
    established, between his host and himself, a complicity which Mr.
    Carstyle's attempted evasion served only to confirm.

    On the strength of this incident Vibart, a few days later, called at Mr.
    Carstyle's office. Ostensibly, the young man had come to ask, on his
    aunt's behalf, some question on a point at issue between herself and the
    Millbrook telephone company; but his purpose in offering to perform the
    errand had been the hope of taking up his intercourse with Mr. Carstyle
    where that gentleman's smile had left it. Vibart was not disappointed. In
    a dingy office, with a single window looking out on a blank wall, he found
    Mr. Carstyle, in an alpaca coat, reading Montaigne.

    It evidently did not occur to him that Vibart had come on business, and
    the warmth of his welcome gave the young man a sense of furnishing the
    last word in a conjugal argument in which, for once, Mr. Carstyle had come
    off triumphant.

    The legal question disposed of, Vibart reverted to Montaigne: had Mr.
    Carstyle seen young So-and-so's volume of essays? There was one on
    Montaigne that had a decided flavor: the point of view was curious. Vibart
    was surprised to find that Mr. Carstyle had heard of young So-and-so.
    Clever young men are given to thinking that their elders have never got
    beyond Macaulay; but Mr. Carstyle seemed sufficiently familiar with recent
    literature not to take it too seriously. He accepted Vibart's offer of
    young So-and-so's volume, admitting that his own library was not exactly
    up-to-date.

    Vibart went away musing. The next day he came back with the volume of
    essays. It seemed to be tacitly understood that he was to call at the
    office when he wished to see Mr. Carstyle, whose legal engagements did not
    seriously interfere with the pursuit of literature.

    For a week or ten days Mrs. Carstyle, in Vibart's presence, continued to
    take counsel with her unseen adviser on the subject of her daughter's
    visit to Narragansett. Once or twice Irene dropped her impersonal smile to
    tax Vibart with not caring whether she went or not; and Mrs. Carstyle
    seized a moment of _tete-a-tete_ to confide in him that the dear child
    hated the idea of leaving, and was going only because her friend Mrs.
    Higby would not let her off. Of course, if it had not been for Mr.
    Carstyle's peculiarities they would have had their own seaside home--at
    Newport, probably: Mrs. Carstyle preferred the tone of Newport--and Irene
    would not have been dependent on the _charity_ of her friends; but as it
    was, they must be thankful for small mercies, and Mrs. Higby was certainly
    very kind in her way, and had a charming social position--for
    Narragansett.

    These confidences, however, were soon superseded by an exchange, between
    mother and daughter, of increasingly frequent allusions to the delights of
    Narragansett, the popularity of Mrs. Higby, and the jolliness of her
    house; with an occasional reference on Mrs. Carstyle's part to the
    probability of Hewlett Bain's being there as usual--hadn't Irene heard
    from Mrs. Higby that he was to be there? Upon this note Miss Carstyle at
    length departed, leaving Vibart to the undisputed enjoyment of her
    father's company.

    Vibart had at no time a keen taste for the summer joys of Millbrook, and
    the family obligation which, for several months of the year, kept him at
    his aunt's side (Mrs. Vance was a childless widow and he filled the
    onerous post of favorite nephew) gave a sense of compulsion to the light
    occupations that chequered his leisure. Mrs. Vance, who fancied herself
    lonely when he was away, was too much engaged with notes, telegrams and
    arriving and departing guests, to do more than breathlessly smile upon his
    presence, or implore him to take the dullest girl of the party for a drive
    (and would he go by way of Millbrook, like a dear, and stop at the market
    to ask why the lobsters hadn't come?); and the house itself, and the
    guests who came and went in it like people rushing through a railway-
    station, offered no points of repose to his thoughts. Some houses are
    companions in themselves: the walls, the book-shelves, the very chairs and
    tables, have the qualities of a sympathetic mind; but Mrs. Vance's
    interior was as impersonal as the setting of a classic drama.

    These conditions made Vibart cultivate an assiduous exchange of books
    between himself and Mr. Carstyle. The young man went down almost daily to
    the little house in the town, where Mrs. Carstyle, who had now an air of
    receiving him in curl-papers, and of not always immediately distinguishing
    him from the piano-tuner, made no effort to detain him on his way to her
    husband's study.

    III

    Now and then, at the close of one of Vibart's visits, Mr. Carstyle put on
    a mildewed Panama hat and accompanied the young man for a mile or two on
    his way home. The road to Mrs. Vance's lay through one of the most amiable
    suburbs of Millbrook, and Mr. Carstyle, walking with his slow uneager
    step, his hat pushed back, and his stick dragging behind him, seemed to
    take a philosophic pleasure in the aspect of the trim lawns and opulent
    gardens.

    Vibart could never induce his companion to prolong his walk as far as Mrs.
    Vance's drawing-room; but one afternoon, when the distant hills lay blue
    beyond the twilight of overarching elms, the two men strolled on into the
    country past that lady's hospitable gateposts.

    It was a still day, the road was deserted, and every sound came sharply
    through the air. Mr. Carstyle was in the midst of a disquisition on
    Diderot, when he raised his head and stood still.

    "What's that?" he said. "Listen!"

    Vibart listened and heard a distant storm of hoof-beats. A moment later, a
    buggy drawn by a pair of trotters swung round the turn of the road. It was
    about thirty yards off, coming toward them at full speed. The man who
    drove was leaning forward with outstretched arms; beside him sat a girl.

    Suddenly Vibart saw Mr. Carstyle jump into the middle of the road, in
    front of the buggy. He stood there immovable, his arms extended, his legs
    apart, in an attitude of indomitable resistance. Almost at the same moment
    Vibart realized that the man in the buggy had his horses in hand.

    "They're not running!" Vibart shouted, springing into the road and
    catching Mr. Carstyle's alpaca sleeve. The older man looked around
    vaguely: he seemed dazed.

    "Come away, sir, come away!" cried Vibart, gripping his arm. The buggy
    swept past them, and Mr. Carstyle stood in the dust gazing after it.

    At length he drew out his handkerchief and wiped his forehead. He was very
    pale and Vibart noticed that his hand shook.

    "That was a close call, sir, wasn't it? I suppose you thought they were
    running."

    "Yes," said Mr. Carstyle slowly, "I thought they were running."

    "It certainly looked like it for a minute. Let's sit down, shall we? I
    feel rather breathless myself."

    Vibart saw that his friend could hardly stand. They seated themselves on a
    tree-trunk by the roadside, and Mr. Carstyle continued to wipe his
    forehead in silence.

    At length he turned to Vibart and said abruptly:

    "I made straight for the middle of the road, didn't I? If there _had_ been
    a runaway I should have stopped it?"

    Vibart looked at him in surprise.

    "You would have tried to, undoubtedly, unless I'd had time to drag you
    away."

    Mr. Carstyle straightened his narrow shoulders.

    "There was no hesitation, at all events? I--I showed no signs of--avoiding
    it?"

    "I should say not, sir; it was I who funked it for you."

    Mr. Carstyle was silent: his head had dropped forward and he looked like
    an old man.

    "It was just my cursed luck again!" he exclaimed suddenly in a loud voice.

    For a moment Vibart thought that he was wandering; but he raised his head
    and went on speaking in more natural tones.

    "I daresay I appeared ridiculous enough to you just now, eh? Perhaps you
    saw all along that the horses weren't running? Your eyes are younger than
    mine; and then you're not always looking out for runaways, as I am. Do you
    know that in thirty years I've never seen a runaway?"

    "You're fortunate," said Vibart, still bewildered.

    "Fortunate? Good God, man, I've _prayed_ to see one: not a runaway
    especially, but any bad accident; anything that endangered people's lives.
    There are accidents happening all the time all over the world; why
    shouldn't I ever come across one? It's not for want of trying! At one time
    I used to haunt the theatres in the hope of a fire: fires in theatres are
    so apt to be fatal. Well, will you believe it? I was in the Brooklyn
    theatre the night before it burned down; I left the old Madison Square
    Garden half an hour before the walls fell in. And it's the same way with
    street accidents--I always miss them; I'm always just too late. Last year
    there was a boy knocked down by a cable-car at our corner; I got to my
    gate just as they were carrying him off on a stretcher. And so it goes. If
    anybody else had been walking along this road, those horses would have
    been running away. And there was a girl in the buggy, too--a mere child!"

    Mr. Carstyle's head sank again.

    "You're wondering what this means," he began after another pause. "I was a
    little confused for a moment--must have seemed incoherent." His voice
    cleared and he made an effort to straighten himself. "Well, I was a damned
    coward once and I've been trying to live it down ever since."

    Vibart looked at him incredulously and Mr. Carstyle caught the look with a
    smile.

    "Why not? Do I look like a Hercules?" He held up his loose-skinned hand
    and shrunken wrist. "Not built for the part, certainly; but that doesn't
    count, of course. Man's unconquerable soul, and all the rest of it ...
    well, I was a coward every inch of me, body and soul."

    He paused and glanced up and down the road. There was no one in sight.

    "It happened when I was a young chap just out of college. I was travelling
    round the world with another youngster of my own age and an older man--
    Charles Meriton--who has since made a name for himself. You may have heard
    of him."

    "Meriton, the archaeologist? The man who discovered those ruined African
    cities the other day?"

    "That's the man. He was a college tutor then, and my father, who had known
    him since he was a boy, and who had a very high opinion of him, had asked
    him to make the tour with us. We both--my friend Collis and I--had an
    immense admiration for Meriton. He was just the fellow to excite a boy's
    enthusiasm: cool, quick, imperturbable--the kind of man whose hand is
    always on the hilt of action. His explorations had led him into all sorts
    of tight places, and he'd shown an extraordinary combination of
    calculating patience and reckless courage. He never talked about his
    doings; we picked them up from various people on our journey. He'd been
    everywhere, he knew everybody, and everybody had something stirring to
    tell about him. I daresay this account of the man sounds exaggerated;
    perhaps it is; I've never seen him since; but at that time he seemed to me
    a tremendous fellow--a kind of scientific Ajax. He was a capital
    travelling-companion, at any rate: good-tempered, cheerful, easily amused,
    with none of the been-there-before superiority so irritating to
    youngsters. He made us feel as though it were all as new to him as to us:
    he never chilled our enthusiasms or took the bloom off our surprises.
    There was nobody else whose good opinion I cared as much about: he was the
    biggest thing in sight.

    "On the way home Collis broke down with diphtheria. We were in the
    Mediterranean, cruising about the Sporades in a felucca. He was taken ill
    at Chios. The attack came on suddenly and we were afraid to run the risk
    of taking him back to Athens in the felucca. We established ourselves in
    the inn at Chios and there the poor fellow lay for weeks. Luckily there
    was a fairly good doctor on the island and we sent to Athens for a sister
    to help with the nursing. Poor Collis was desperately bad: the diphtheria
    was followed by partial paralysis. The doctor assured us that the danger
    was past; he would gradually regain the use of his limbs; but his recovery
    would be slow. The sister encouraged us too--she had seen such cases
    before; and he certainly did improve a shade each day. Meriton and I had
    taken turns with the sister in nursing him, but after the paralysis had
    set in there wasn't much to do, and there was nothing to prevent Meriton's
    leaving us for a day or two. He had received word from some place on the
    coast of Asia Minor that a remarkable tomb had been discovered somewhere
    in the interior; he had not been willing to take us there, as the journey
    was not a particularly safe one; but now that we were tied up at Chios
    there seemed no reason why he shouldn't go and take a look at the place.
    The expedition would not take more than three days; Collis was
    convalescent; the doctor and nurse assured us that there was no cause for
    uneasiness; and so Meriton started off one evening at sunset. I walked
    down to the quay with him and saw him rowed off to the felucca. I would
    have given a good deal to be going with him; the prospect of danger
    allured me.

    "'You'll see that Collis is never left alone, won't you?' he shouted back
    to me as the boat pulled out into the harbor; I remembered I rather
    resented the suggestion.

    "I walked back to the inn and went to bed: the nurse sat up with Collis at
    night. The next morning I relieved her at the usual hour. It was a sultry
    day with a queer coppery-looking sky; the air was stifling. In the middle
    of the day the nurse came to take my place while I dined; when I went back
    to Collis's room she said she would go out for a breath of air.

    "I sat down by Collis's bed and began to fan him with the fan the sister
    had been using. The heat made him uneasy and I turned him over in bed, for
    he was still helpless: the whole of his right side was numb. Presently he
    fell asleep and I went to the window and sat looking down on the hot
    deserted square, with a bunch of donkeys and their drivers asleep in the
    shade of the convent-wall across the way. I remember noticing the blue
    beads about the donkeys' necks.... Were you ever in an earthquake? No? I'd
    never been in one either. It's an indescribable sensation ... there's a
    Day of Judgment feeling in the air. It began with the donkeys waking up
    and trembling; I noticed that and thought it queer. Then the drivers
    jumped up--I saw the terror in their faces. Then a roar.... I remember
    noticing a big black crack in the convent-wall opposite--a zig-zag crack,
    like a flash of lightning in a wood-cut.... I thought of that, too, at the
    time; then all the bells in the place began to ring--it made a fearful
    discord.... I saw people rushing across the square ... the air was full of
    crashing noises. The floor went down under me in a sickening way and then
    jumped back and pitched me to the ceiling ... but where _was_ the ceiling?
    And the door? I said to myself: _We're two stories up--the stairs are just
    wide enough for one_.... I gave one glance at Collis: he was lying in bed,
    wide awake, looking straight at me. I ran. Something struck me on the head
    as I bolted downstairs--I kept on running. I suppose the knock I got dazed
    me, for I don't remember much of anything till I found myself in a
    vineyard a mile from the town. I was roused by the warm blood running down
    my nose and heard myself explaining to Meriton exactly how it had
    happened....

    "When I crawled back to the town they told me that all the houses near the
    inn were in ruins and that a dozen people had been killed. Collis was
    among them, of course. The ceiling had come down on him."

    Mr. Carstyle wiped his forehead. Vibart sat looking away from him.

    "Two days later Meriton came back. I began to tell him the story, but he
    interrupted me.

    "'There was no one with him at the time, then? You'd left him alone?'

    "'No, he wasn't alone.'

    "'Who was with him? You said the sister was out.'

    "'I was with him.'

    "'_You were with him?_'

    "I shall never forget Meriton's look. I believe I had meant to explain, to
    accuse myself, to shout out my agony of soul; but I saw the uselessness of
    it. A door had been shut between us. Neither of us spoke another word. He
    was very kind to me on the way home; he looked after me in a motherly way
    that was a good deal harder to stand than his open contempt. I saw the man
    was honestly trying to pity me; but it was no good--he simply couldn't."

    Mr. Carstyle rose slowly, with a certain stiffness.

    "Shall we turn toward home? Perhaps I'm keeping you."

    They walked on a few steps in silence; then he spoke again.

    "That business altered my whole life. Of course I oughtn't to have allowed
    it to--that was another form of cowardice. But I saw myself only with
    Meriton's eyes--it is one of the worst miseries of youth that one is
    always trying to be somebody else. I had meant to be a Meriton--I saw I'd
    better go home and study law....

    "It's a childish fancy, a survival of the primitive savage, if you like;
    but from that hour to this I've hankered day and night for a chance to
    retrieve myself, to set myself right with the man I meant to be. I want to
    prove to that man that it was all an accident--an unaccountable deviation
    from my normal instincts; that having once been a coward doesn't mean that
    a man's cowardly... and I can't, I can't!"

    Mr. Carstyle's tone had passed insensibly from agitation to irony. He had
    got back to his usual objective stand-point.

    "Why, I'm a perfect olive-branch," he concluded, with his dry indulgent
    laugh; "the very babies stop crying at my approach--I carry a sort of
    millennium about with me--I'd make my fortune as an agent of the Peace
    Society. I shall go to the grave leaving that other man unconvinced!"

    Vibart walked back with him to Millbrook. On her doorstep they met Mrs.
    Carstyle, flushed and feathered, with a card-case and dusty boots.

    "I don't ask you in," she said plaintively, to Vibart, "because I can't
    answer for the food this evening. My maid-of-all-work tells me that she's
    going to a ball--which is more than I've done in years! And besides, it
    would be cruel to ask you to spend such a hot evening in our stuffy little
    house--the air is so much cooler at Mrs. Vance's. Remember me to Mrs.
    Vance, please, and tell her how sorry I am that I can no longer include
    her in my round of visits. When I had my carriage I saw the people I
    liked, but now that I have to walk, my social opportunities are more
    limited. I was not obliged to do my visiting on foot when I was younger,
    and my doctor tells me that to persons accustomed to a carriage no
    exercise is more injurious than walking."

    She glanced at her husband with a smile of unforgiving sweetness.

    "Fortunately," she concluded, "it agrees with Mr. Carstyle."
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