The Highest Power

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The Highest Power


Illustrations by Everett Shinn

IT was a matter of chance that I, a much older man, knew Vivian Nevers so well, and I want to tell her story; for it leads not only to certain interesting speculations concerning the heart of woman, but others as well—whether, for instance, the cherishing of any ideal day in and day out, even if the ideal in itself seems one which we have pigeonholed as "unworthy," does not form some impregnable fastness in the soul.

When Vivian was eighteen I got a glimpse of the inner heart of her, which burned with such a cold and yet impassioned fire, when a group of young people in a house party were telling what they asked of life. The girls, Vivian among them, were débutantes, the men, quite young; I, the only older one, was there because I was an old friend of Vivian's mother. They all babbled forth what they wanted like clamorous, greedy, spoiled children writing letters to Santa Claus.

Vivian was the only one who did n't talk. When they appealed to her she smiled vaguely at them and said she did n't know yet what she did want.

The group broke up, and she and I were left alone. She was absorbed in her own thoughts; very intense she looked as she let her gaze travel far out into the night. As I looked at her, the purposefulness of her pose and the intentness of her expression made me realize that I had really never seen her before, that in some subtle way she had always been on her guard. I reflected, too, that she was so very beautiful that her beauty would forever serve her as a complete disguise if she chose; for there is no greater disguise for a woman's true nature than beauty, and almost no greater barrier between her and the comprehension of man. Let her beauty be only great enough, and her lovers will not seek to know who she is, but each one will imagine her the woman of his dreams, and she herself may remain unknown and unloved all her days.

"Why did n't you tell them what you want, Vivian?" I asked her at last. "You know well enough, don't you?" She turned slowly toward me and looked at me with somber eyes, very speculating eyes, as though she were searching me through and through.

"Yes, I know what I want," she said at last. I waited for her to go on, but she did n't speak. She was stronger than I, for I spoke first:

"What is it?" I asked her.

"Power," she answered. She seemed then very earnest and very young.

"Power?" I echoed with middle-aged stupidity. "The high places of the earth?"

She nodded very gravely and looked straight at me, and suddenly the youthfulness of her was lost in the passion I read in her eyes. I saw that she had in her, eating at her heart, an unquenchable desire. I had no further temptation to smile at her youthfulness; I had never had, even when I was young, so impassioned an ambition toward anything as that I felt in her.

"How do you mean to get what you want?" I asked her next.

"There 's only one way for me, and that 's through marriage."

"You may find the price high," I suggested. "What if it goes against your heart?"

"At least I shall get a man this way," she flamed at me, "while the other way I sha'n't be able to tell. I don't see any of them able to tell—the ones who marry for what they call love."

We talked a long time that night. I can't tell you how completely she convinced me that she had in her the peculiar talent from which her ambition sprang. She wanted to be near the heart of life and see the great people of the world and shape her own place in the world of affairs. She wanted power and responsibility. She had no young cynicism about love, but in her own case she counted on her ambition outweighing any upflashing of instinct. It is hard to conceive of a conversation like this with a miss of eighteen not having its element of the ridiculous, but I never had a conversation that more completely escaped it. She did n't say she would achieve what she wanted; she only said she intended to try for it with all her intensity. That she looked the part of a great lady so well, I saw, made it possible.

It was six years before I saw her again except for unimportant moments. We never referred to our conversation, but we always met as close friends. The Neverses did n't need to do that distasteful and devious thing known as "climbing." She went everywhere; was presented at court in England. I heard of her as much courted in Italy. Meantime I noticed that it was Mrs. Nevers and not Vivian of whom people spoke as ambitious. I even heard Vivian referred to as a "sweet girl." During that house party I had seen that the girl already had in her mother an unconscious tool. The latter was immensely proud of her daughter and seemed, if you can put it that way, vaguely appalled by her. She had even then sensed a purpose and a hardness of fiber in the girl that she did n't in the least understand.

I heard two things of her that made me believe that she had remained true to her purpose. One was the affair of David VanVoorhis. His family did n't call Vivian sweet. They said she had played with David and broken his heart. I wondered when I met him if she had n't broken her own as well, to such an extent had he the quality of charm. I did n't see how any girl he seriously cared for could keep from falling in love with him, he had so much simplicity and fineness. I think he would have made any one else but Vivian happy. He had almost everything any woman could ask of a man, including money and position, as position goes in this country, but Vivian had plucked him out of her heart.

The next thing was her affair with a prince of royal blood. The affair rang through Europe. It seemed for a moment as though this prize was hers. It seemed for a moment as if his desire combined with her grace and beauty would triumph over the inevitable obstacles to such a marriage. He was too near the throne for their marriage to be made without all sorts of compromises. With all Europe wondering whether tradition or this romantic and beautiful young couple would win, Vivian withdrew from the scene. She withdrew while there still seemed to be possibilities left on her side. She must have calculated every chance and seen that the sort of victory she wanted could n't possibly be hers. So she quietly and with the utmost dignity departed. And she would never see him again.

This made her an international figure. Every one in America knew who Vivian Nevers was, so did every one in Europe. Her attitude in the whole affair left her with public opinion tremendously on her side, but a worldly old woman said to me:

"I call Marion Mrs. Now-or-Never, for this next year is the time for her to make any sort of a match she wants for Vivian—except a royal one."

With a proper sense of proportion the Neverses were seen about very little for some time, and then it was in America. They had been traveling and visiting very quietly abroad, and it was there they met Haldane.

I met the Neverses again on their return and I met Haldane at the same time. When I saw him I remembered Vivian's words of six years ago, "At least he will be a man."

Haldane was all of that. He could give his wife everything there was to he given In England provided she could take it. He was so placed that this side of a misalliance his wife could hurt him but little, while the right kind of woman could help him as can the wives of public men in Europe. I don't think he considered that side of it at all, for he seemed to me in a deep, still sort of way to be very much in love.

It was at that moment McAndrew appeared on the scene.

"I 've come up here to meet Vivian Nevers," he told me. "I heard she was here, and since I was so near I came." Chance and purpose had always walked hand in hand with McAndrew. "The cool way she managed that affair of hers always interested me," he explained. I looked at him, and it struck me, as it always had with him, that his air of power was too obvious to be pleasant. It gave him the effect of being some force of nature. It emphasized itself in his heavy neck, in the quick intensity of his glance, in his expression, slightly lowering and heavy despite its look of easy humor. It showed itself in the carriage of his head, bent forward a little as though he were about to charge, and in the snapping-turtle quality of his mouth.

The second day after he came, he said:

"I 'm going to marry Vivian Nevers."

"Has she said so?" I inquired.

"Not yet, but I think she must know she 's going to."

"She 's as good as engaged to Haldane," I remonstrated.

"I 'm the better man," he announced—"the better man for her purpose, I mean; there will be further horizons with me," he added.

Indeed, beside the power McAndrew might hope to have,—the almost limitless power of money,—Haldane's position seemed as circumscribed as an ornamental garden.

"The wives of the great business men have had very little to do in the great games their husbands are playing. I don't think Vivian 's interested in money."

"By God, no!" said McAndrew, "she 's interested in the game, just as I am."

Then I saw that Vivian's beauty had not deceived McAndrew. He admired it, desired it, if you like, but for him as for her it was a means to an end. What had arrested his attention was the inner quality of her spirit. He knew her to be as unconquerable as he was himself, and as ruthless. Indeed, in the phrase of the day, they had each other's number from the first hour of their acquaintance. Their spirits had arisen and said to each other, "Brother, I salute you!" There was something almost sinister in the way in which they had penetrated the desire of each other's hearts.

Mrs. Nevers came to me one evening nervous and disquieted; she had aged in the last six years. There was something pathetic about the way she blindly played a game the meaning of which she only half realized, and she had played it now to the limit of endurance. What she wanted was peace, which to her meant Vivian married.

"I thought everything was all settled," she told me, "and now Haldane has declared himself, and Vivian has asked for time to think it over."

"Well," I said, "that 's not unreasonable."

"Not unreasonable!" her mother echoed. "It would be the height of unreason if Vivian ever did anything that had n't a reason behind it. Why won't she tell Haldane at once that she 'll marry him? You see, Vivian 's placed in rather a peculiar position; there are n't many people she—she can marry after what 's happened." Thus her mother indicated that having almost been the wife of a royal prince there were not many proper alliances that such a woman could make. I would n't allow her this vagueness. Remember that I was a very old friend of Marion Nevers and that she irritated me as profoundly as she held my affection for her. So I said brutally:

"You mean there are n't many marriages that Vivian can make without an anticlimax."

"Put it any way you like," she answered wearily. "Why has n't she accepted Haldane?"

It was rather a dark question that Mrs. Nevers put to me, and her tone was fraught with distrust. It was as though I was given a glimpse into the depths of Vivian's unscrupulous heart seen through the medium of her mother's troubled vision. I had my answer to the riddle, and the answer pointed to a rather murky transaction. Haldane had proposed marriage, and Vivian had asked for time, and the time she wanted was not to make up her mind concerning him, as he trustingly thought, but concerning McAndrew. She had her one bird well in the hand while she quietly stalked the other in the bush.

"She 'll never marry if she goes on this way," Mrs. Nevers said irritably. "Every one, literally every one, said she might have married the prince if she had only had patience. But no! From one day to another she insisted on leaving in spite of everything I could say or do."

Well, after this I could only take off my hat to Vivian, now that I realized that she had had to play her game worse than single-handed. The only comforting thing I had to offer was:

"You can only trust that Vivian knows what she 's doing."

Mrs. Nevers shook her head disconsolately; plainly she indicated that since "the affair of the prince" she did n't think so any more.

That evening I had a little talk with Vivian. She talked about McAndrew tranquilly and speculatively enough, but there was an undercurrent of excitement in her mood.

"He understands me," she said, with a smile that said, "As well as you do."

"Everything?" I asked her.

"Everything—everything I 'm doing."

She was evidently not fooling herself now any more than she ever had. She regarded herself with no tenderness, she had as little indulgence for herself as she had for others; but on the whole she respected herself. But since she had thrown overboard neck and crop a whole pack of virtues and ideals she found no need of excusing herself to herself.

McAndrew joined us, and as I stood there I wondered if in the hinterland of Vivian's mind there lurked the thought that they were more like two conspirators than like potential lovers. There was already something fixed and stable in their relations. Two splendid and predatory creatures were what they were, who, if they formed an alliance, would join it for the despoiling of mankind. As I stood with them and perceived the perfect understanding of the situation that lay beneath their conventional talk, I realized that there was going on between them a voiceless battle, Vivian taking the attitude that she was a free and dispassionate agent, while McAndrew assumed calmly that the victory was his. I had never seen her as she was with him. This understanding of her was a new and poignant experience. She had never asked any one to understand her, and had had a cynical enjoyment of her mask. As she was as considerate in small things as she was ruthless in large, not even women penetrated her disguise. Now for the first time, before me and before McAndrew, the two men who knew her best, she was spiritually at her ease, as though dressed in well-worn clothes. He would stop at nothing, just as she would stop at nothing. There was no way in which she could shock him. He accepted her absolutely as she was, even in this cold-blooded balancing of him and Haldane in the scales. He did more than accept; he had a sardonic approval of her thirst for power.

Talking with them, I saw indeed he knew "everything." I had a moment of deep discomfort. Their understanding, unspoken as it was, was unseemly. There simply were no decent pretenses between them.

Vivian calmly defied McAndrew to move the hour of her decision one instant, and McAndrew let her know that he had already decided. Outside the battle was Haldane, unsuspecting, awaiting Vivian's word. I looked at her to see if there was a hint of this hardness and cynicism in her beauty, and there was n't, not an atom, not a hint. She was extraordinarily lovely, a nature as fine and flexible as a tempered sword, and there was even a hint of austerity in her expression. Very perfect she was, and I understood better Mrs. Nevers's statement that there were n't many possible marriages for a girl like Vivian, Ordinary men don't want goddesses as wives.

For half an hour I stood with them, held by a gesture of Vivian, while McAndrew conveyed to her in voice and manner that her freedom of choice was an illusion, and Vivian understood this assumption with a certainty even more arrogant. I would have been willing to stake my money on either of their certainties. This was how matters stood that evening. They had sat through the dance absorbed in their skirmishing. The music stopped, and the dancers sought their places. It was really Haldane's cue, I considered, as I followed Vivian's glance across the ball-room; but instead of at Haldane, I found myself looking at a boy standing alone in the middle of the ball-room floor.

Though there was no outward thing in his dress that distinguished him from the other men, there was something arresting about him, as if he had worn a tunic and sandals. There was nothing immature in his face, and yet he breathed forth an atmosphere of youth and complete innocence. He carried himself with the unconscious strength of youth; there was something untouched about him, as though he had never known evil; something unhurt about him, as though his youth and beauty had disarmed even life; something at once so gentle and so wild that one had a moment of instinctive pity for him. Vivian felt this too, for, as if thinking aloud, she said:

"Poor boy!"

"Why 'poor boy'?" McAndrew asked. "He looks very fortunate, I think."

"He can't keep that look long; no one 's strong enough to keep the look that he has long, and it must hurt to lose it."

"I don't know," McAndrew answered, "for I 've never had such innocence to lose." Then he smiled at Vivian, and his smile said, "And neither have you."

The boy was searching for some one among the dancers with absorbed earnestness, as though his seeking was of weightiest importance. Then his eyes fell on Vivian, and he advanced toward her quietly. He moved with a silent, springy stride, as though he was used to walking in wide, open spaces. He advanced upon her, and with the perfect manners of extreme simplicity he said to her:

"I 'm Sydney Grayson. Gainsborough was going to bring me to you, and now I 've lost him. May I have your next dance?"

He was both shy and wistful. He seemed unaware that he was doing something unusual; he had come to her with the directness of a child.

"Let 's go outside; I want to talk to you," he said next.

His voice was soft and insistent, and there was a note of appeal in it. The talk seemed so important to him that Vivian's curiosity was aroused, and she left McAndrew and me together. Much later I came on McAndrew again. We smoked outside in silence for a while. Then McAndrew said reflectively:

"I 've placed young Grayson. A visionary young scientist, very talented if only he were practical, but he 's forever fussing with some windy theory or other about a new kind of ray." Thus McAndrew, whose wide-flung imaginative vision had made him what he was.

Mrs. Nevers bustled up to us.

"Have you seen Vivian?" she asked nervously.

"She 's in the garden, I think," McAndrew replied.

"Could you find her for me, please?" Her glance included us both.

As we came upon them in the far stretch of the rose-garden they looked like a white moth and a gray one; they were not speaking. It was as though the boy had taken her at once past the outposts of friendship to the place where people know each other so well that words are not needed.

Vivian's voice came to us:

"It 's time to go back."

It was as though she were trying in vain to break through the lyrical beauty of the night and of Grayson's mood, it was as though it hung about her like some heavy enchantment. He held her there, it seemed, without entreaty. It may be my imagination, but I felt as if for the first time some force outside herself determined her acts. I heard Grayson's voice in answer. He only said to her, "It 's sweet here," as if that were a supreme argument.

We loomed dark in the path before them, and McAndrew said apologetically:

"Your mother sent us for you." Vivian turned to Grayson.

"Good night," she said.

"You 'll walk with me to-morrow at two?" he asked her in a tone as though they always walked at two. It was as though he bathed in a contentment that was as vast as the sea.

"Yes," Vivian answered; then said, "Good night."

She did not speak to us, but walked along lost in a sea of thought. At last McAndrew said:

"Haldane 's been looking for you all the evening."

"Yes?" Vivian replied indifferently.

"I did n't tell him where you were."

Vivian did not answer; she seemed removed from us as by some vast interstellar space.

McAndrew looked at her with grave scrutiny. There was a note in her voice of unsuspected softness. And since he knew that the personalities of people are strange and shifting things, he studied Vivian with a sudden gravity.

The weight of his look and his gravity made their impression on her. McAndrew's whole manner showed a realization on his part that this boy had spoken to some depth of Vivian's nature of which they were both ignorant, and that it held its element of danger for all of them. There was a mute warning in his glance, even a certain judgment of her that to allow a third element to enter into the already complicated situation would make her seem almost trivial in his eyes. She had been as open with him, he knew, as she had been disingenuous with Haldane.

She met the questioning interrogation of his eyes unflinchingly, and, ignoring my presence, said:

"I 'm going to decide everything to-morrow."

"I think it would be wise," McAndrew agreed; and then, "still, I don't quite understand the walk," he told her gravely.

"I don't myself," Vivian answered; "it just happened."

They parted, each one engulfed in his own thoughts; each of them knew that in life few things "just happened" with Vivian.

I saw them go chugging off the next afternoon in Grayson's absurd little car. They were going to drive to the mountain and walk there afterward. When very late that afternoon Grayson returned alone, McAndrew and I were both on the terrace, and his glance met mine questioningly.

It seemed that Vivian had preferred to stay at a cousin's for the night; but it was n't that that had made McAndrew flash me the unspoken question: it was the look of still exaltation on Grayson's face. Again Mrs. Nevers fluttered up to me.

"Vivian 's just telephoned me. She wants to know if you can make it convenient to go over there—she 's at Cousin Leonora's—after dinner. Do go; I can't stand it much longer. She 's inexplicable! There 's something amiss, and I have n't the slightest idea what it can be."

If Mrs. Nevers was upset, Vivian, when I found her at "Cousin Leonora's," was composed enough. She greeted me as though nothing whatever was the matter, then on the piazza she let a long silence fall between us. The purposefulness of her pose, her whole absorbed expression, reminded me of the night when I had first come to know her; again she seemed to me like the priestess of some radiant and austere religion, as though she cherished in her heart a sacred flame.

"I want to tell it to you just as it happened," she said at last, "step by step, so you can understand and so I can."

She told it at length with careful detail and many deeply reflective pauses. It seems that from the first things had n't gone as she had planned them. She had met Sydney Grayson with a hard matter-of-factness that discouragingly denied the evening before. She was, her manner had implied, a young lady whom he scarcely knew punctiliously and in rather a bored way keeping an engagement she regretted having made. But there was a contagion in his happiness that could not be checked or denied.

"It was then it first came to me that I was leaving my other self behind and that I was going on a great adventure into a new life and a new land," was her comment. She strove against it, she told me, but the feeling of glamourous enchantment rose ever higher about her, an unescapable golden tide.

They found a farm-house where they left the car, and in silence, as if they had planned it all out before, they started off over the mountain.

After a steep ascent they found themselves on a rocky table. Far over at the other side of the valley the Connecticut wove its shining, dilatory path through the meadows. Just below them was the bare space of shaly rock up which they had scrambled. They looked down on the tops of trees that had tried to climb to the top of the mountain and had been stopped by the spur of rock.

Then suddenly Vivian's attention was arrested by a great mass of flowering white far down the slope of the mountain. It stood out a little apart from the rest of the forest, a great mass of bloom. They could n't guess from where they were what sort of tree it could be. It seemed to stand a bit apart from the other trees, and threw out its branches, covered with white bloom, like some giant bouquet.

Moved by a common impulse, they started down the mountain-side to find it. Hand in hand they plunged down the sheer side of the mountain, knee-deep in soft, rotting leaves that had lain there from one season to another.

No sooner were they in the woods than they lost the tree. The smell of the earth rose to them. Little wandering airs brought them the smell of the fresh Northern woods in spring.

They went down the mountain to a little valley, with a golden-brown thread of brook running at the bottom of it. Down at the other side, through an opening, they saw their tree waving a white hand at them.

Suddenly the breeze brought them, distinct and definite, the smell of apple-blossoms. They turned, and followed the wind; then through a little clearing in the trees they saw smiling at them an apple-tree in full bloom. It stood apart from the other trees in a soft bit of clearing. It was an old tree, wide-branched, hospitable.

"I wanted to ask it," she told me, "'What are you doing here so far from any house? How did you stray away like this?'" It seemed it was the kind of tree that one associates with a wide farm-house, a tree that children would have delighted to climb, and of which they would have made a playmate. She explained that, standing there, with the young forest growing up all about it, it looked as though it had started out for the day to take a walk, perhaps to follow the children who had played among its branches and had moved away, and in its search had got lost in the woods and taken root there.

I make a great deal of this incident because she did. She told it as though it explained something.

"I had the absurd feeling that I had been here with him before; that I had come home at last after having lived an exile in strange and uncomfortable countries," was how she put it.

It was the most unlikely place in the world to tell him what she had promised herself she would tell him. She put it off from moment to moment. They talked as they had done the night before of unimportant things that carried with them a deep and inner significance; they made up stories, as though they were children, about the people who had lived in the house that one time must have been here. They identified themselves with their lives—the lives of these people—until the present was shut away as though by a long distance of years.

"Then we did n't talk any more. I tried to break the silence and I could n't. He was stronger than I. I—I suppose I was swept away. I never have been, really, you know, and I loved it."

I stared at Vivian. It seemed so unlikely that, granted this swift enchantment, she would so yield to it, and the curious part of it is that there was that in her manner that showed me she had yielded nothing; that whatever she had done, somehow or other she had made no compromise with her own soul, even though the voice in which she told me all this was the hushed, breathless voice of a little girl telling a wonderful fairy-tale too beautiful to be true.

"I began to be angry that I had to spoil everything," she went on. "It was more like killing some beautiful live thing than just spoiling an afternoon. I was struggling to begin when he said:

" 'I wish we need never go back at all. Why should we? Why should one have to go through the little treadmill Life marks out for one? Why should n't we go on from here together?' You know, people have often said foolish things like that to me; only he meant it. He was absolutely in earnest about it. He can see no absurdity in any of his dreams."

She paused. Instead of a boyish folly, she had giver me a picture of invincible youth.

"He meant it really," she explained, "just as the night before, when he said the thing they always say,—'I feel as if I 'd known you always,'—he meant it. You see, he 's so inexperienced that he did n't even know that this feeling of sudden intimacy between men and women is a commonplace; and the queer thing is that when he said he felt as if he 'd always known me, I, too, felt as if I 'd always known him, only as if I had known him as his mother might—as if I 'd held him in my arms when he was a baby. Now when I saw that he did n't see a shadow of a difficulty in our chugging down the mountain to the nearest parson and so away, I saw the moment had come for the coup de grâce." She paused, then said very softly, "So—I told him about my decision over McAndrew and Haldane."

She paused, looking off across the dark spaces of the night as though dreaming the scene over again.

"And then?" I asked her at last.

"Oh," Vivian went on, "when I looked up at him again, he was smiling. I don't know what I 'd expected. The look of youth which has had a dear illusion killed, I suppose, and I said:

"'You don't believe what I 'm saying?' and he kept smiling while he answered: 'I don't, because it is n't true. It is n't true, because this is real—this afternoon and last night. It 's the supreme reality of life to me, and it could n't have been that to me if it had n't been so real to you too.' That was the part I could n't explain. It had been real to me. I have never been wantonly unkind or played with people just for the sake of playing, you know. He had held out his hand to me and said, 'Come,' and I had gone to him. As he looked at it, either all the rest was unreality or this was, and as we two sitting under the lost apple-tree knew this was real, the other did n't exist. He could n't think anything else, you see.

"So then I told him everything,—what I told you so long ago,—and how I 'd worked single-mindedly to one end; how I 'd sacrificed to it the wishes of my own heart; how I 'd kept true to the thing in life that seemed to me worth having. Each word should have struck like sleet upon his spirit, but he listened to me as undisturbed as—as McAndrew might have listened. Then, when I 'd got all through, he said:

" 'It seems as if I 'd been listening to my own heart speaking. Now I'll tell you about my life.'

"Then he spread before me his work and his dreams, and there came a passion into his voice as he talked that I 've never heard before in the voice of any one. He forgot even me as he was telling me about it. It was the inner soul of that selfless fanatical ambition that I listened to that pays and pays and pays in terms of itself, and makes it necessary for every one near him to pay—makes his own flesh and blood go hungry and perhaps die so that the work he is doing may go on. And in the white-hot fire of his passion my own little ambitions were burned up."

She stood up suddenly, and with a passionate gesture showed me how completely they had been burned.

"Beside him my ambitions seemed nothing, I tell you! I don't mean the worth of them, but just the force of them. Beside him, in spite of his quality of youth, McAndrew seemed soft and yielding. He had cared for one or two girls, and had brushed them aside as I had brushed people aside. Then he had seen me and knew that he had to have me; that was the substance of what he said as he talked. I knew that my confession was, in his eyes, a trivial, childish thing. Then he said something funny, and yet it was the heart of what I loved in him.

" 'Now you understand,' he said, 'why we must n't burn time on any altar of convention. I must be back at work before long!' "

As she paused again I plumbed the inner meaning of the remark that had apparently won him Vivian. The passion that was his consuming desire for his work had released him long enough to find his perfect mate, and even now, insatiable of his devotion, called to him to return.

"I don't know if you understand; I 'm not sure I do. It 's a question between two realities; they can't both be true. He 's made the things that I thought valuable to me cease to exist. They don't exist for me any more than a chrysalis exists for a moth. There 's no value to the other any more, and yet and yet—I 'm afraid. I think I 'm most afraid of McAndrew; he could perhaps call me back. If I go back, I feel as though he would be lying in wait for me. So I 'm going to do what he, the other, wishes—just go with him without wasting time."

"You 're not going to do that," I protested—"just put your hand in Grayson's and go away? You—you can't!" I stuttered. It was all too absurd, the unescapable and awful publicity of it, the needless hurt to Haldane, the shock to Vivian's mother. I did n't count McAndrew's hurt,—somehow his discomfiture did n't move me deeply,—but the rest seemed insane to me, especially as the rôle for which I was cast, Vivian explained to me, was to explain things as much as they could be explained to McAndrew and Mrs. Nevers. It still seems insane, but not inexplicable. The simple truth of it was that she did n't dare trust herself to go back with McAndrew there. It was as though she felt that this old self of hers, instead of being a chrysalis, might prove to be a stifling garment which he might conjure her to put on again.

"I want to slam the door on myself," she explained.

At that moment, while it still seemed preposterous to me, I could n't help throwing at her:

"I suppose you 've looked it squarely in the face, the sort of life you 're going to."

"Every detail of it," she flashed forth.

Then it was I began to see how ultimately faithful she had been to herself. For my explanation of it is that she had met the thing she had worshiped raised to its highest power. Something in Grayson's inner depth had told him that here was a woman who would spend herself in the service of his ambition as he spent himself; who was hard and ardent; who would warm him in the fire of her life, serve him, and guard him.

He did n't know it; he never would know it. He imagined, no doubt, that he only wanted to serve her. But Vivian went with him knowing that he was going to demand of her relentlessly a supreme devotion.

She had wanted power, he was seeking a greater power. She was unscrupulous, but to gain his ends he would have let his children die. She was hard as steel, but Grayson was as relentless as death itself, as relentless as any force of nature. She had loved the most difficult thing, and he challenged her to do the impossible, to let him walk over her heart to gain his purposes in life, and not only to do this, but to be unaware that he even demanded any sacrifice. So, having formed an ideal, she worked toward its fulfilment even though its fulfilment came in a form of which she had not dreamed. That is my explanation.

Mrs. Nevers's is that Vivian fell in love with Grayson's youth, like any school-girl, and McAndrew thinks something like the same thing.

"Women can't starve their primitive impulses without paying," is how he put it. "You can't count on them. But that young man will go far. He 'll have to," he added.

The world shared their opinions. It did n't forgive Vivian what it termed her anticlimax, and showed its lack of forgiveness in its deadliest form by losing all interest in her.

Here are the two explanations of the affair. You can take your choice, or Sydney Grayson's, who still naïvely believes that they were intended for each other from all time.

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1925.

The author died in 1966, so this work is also in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 50 years or less. This work may also be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.