The Truth About Tristrem Varick - Part 14

Part 14

Mrs. Raritan was the first to greet him, and she did so in the motherly fashion that was her own. And as she spoke Viola came forward, said some simple word, and went back to her former place.

"Come with me," said Mrs. Raritan, and she led him to an S in upholstery, in which they both found seats. "And now tell me about yourself," she added. "And where have you been?"

Truly it was pitiful. She looked ten years older. From a handsome, well-preserved woman she had in a twelvemonth been overtaken by age.

"I have been in Europe, you know," Tristrem answered; "I wrote to you from Vienna, and again from Rome."

"I am sorry," Mrs. Raritan replied; "the bankers are so negligent. There were many letters that must have gone astray. Were you--you had a pleasant winter, of course. And how is your grandfather?"

"I have not seen him. I am just off the ship."

At this announcement Mrs. Weldon looked perplexed.

"Is it possible that you only arrived this evening?" she asked.

"Yes, I wanted to see Viola. You know it is almost a year since--since--I tried to find you both in Europe, but----"

"Mr. Varick, did I hear you say that you arrived from Europe to-day?" It was the gentleman who devoted himself to the interests of society that was speaking.

"Yes, I came on the Bourgogne."

"Was Mrs. Manhattan on board?"

Tristrem answered that she was, and then the gentleman in question entered into an elaborate discourse on the subject of Mrs. Manhattan's summer plans. While he was still speaking a servant informed the vaporous maiden that her maid and carriage had arrived, and presently that young lady left the room. Soon after the society agent disappeared, and a little later the youth that had been conversing with Miss Raritan took his splendor away.

As yet Tristrem had had no opportunity of exchanging a word with Viola.

To his hostess he had talked with feverish animation on the subject of nothing at all; but as the adolescent who had been engaging Viola's attention came to Mrs. Raritan to bid that lady good-night, Tristrem left the upholstered S and crossed the room to where the girl was seated.

"Viola," he began, but she stayed his speech with a gesture.

The young man was leaving the room, and it was evident from Mrs.

Raritan's att.i.tude that it was her intention to leave it also.

"I am tired," that lady said, as the front door closed; "you won't mind?" And Tristrem, who had arisen when he saw her standing, went forward and bowed over her hand, and then preceded her to the portiere, which he drew aside that she might pa.s.s.

"Good-night, Mrs. Raritan," he said; "good-night, and pleasant dreams."

Then he turned to the girl. She, too, looked older, or, perhaps, it would be more exact to say she looked more mature. Something of the early fragrance had left her face, but she was as beautiful as before.

Her gold eyes were brilliant as high noon, and her cheeks bore an unwonted color. She was dressed in white, her girdle was red with roses, and her arms and neck were bare.

As Mrs. Raritan pa.s.sed from the room, Tristrem let the portiere fall again, and stood a moment feasting his famished eyes in hers. At last he spoke.

"_He_ is dead, Viola."

The words came from him very gravely, and when he had uttered them he looked down at the rug.

"Dead! Who is dead? What do you mean?"

"He is dead," he repeated, but still he kept his eyes lowered.

"He! What he? What are you talking about?" She had left her seat and fronted him.

"Royal Weldon," he made answer, and as he did so he looked up at her.

Her hands fluttered like falling leaves. An increased color mounted to her cheeks, and disappearing, left them white. Her lips trembled.

"I do not understand," she gasped. And then, as her dilated eyes stared into his own, he saw that she understood at last. Her fluttering hands had gone to her throat, as though to tear away some invisible clutch.

Her lips had grown gray. She was livid.

"It is better so, is it not?" he asked, and searched her face for some trace of the symptoms of joy. As he gazed at her, she retreated. Her hands had left her throat, her forehead was pinioned in their grasp, and in her eyes the expression of terrified wonder was seamed and obscured by another that resembled hate.

"And it was you," she stammered, "it was you?"

"Yes," he answered, with an air of wonder that equalled her own; "yes----"

"You tell me that Royal Weldon is dead, and that you--that you----"

"It was this way," he began, impelled, in his own surprise, to some form of explanation. "It was this way--you see--well, I went to Riva. That man that brought back your hat----Good G.o.d, Viola, are you not glad?"

She had fallen into a chair, and he was at her feet.

"Are you not glad?" he insisted. "Now, it will be----" But whatever he intended to say, the speech remained uncompleted. The girl had drawn from him as from an adder unfanged.

"!" she hissed. "!" she hissed again. "What curse----"

"Viola, it was for your sake."

She clinched her hand as though she sought the strength wherewith to strike. And then the fingers loosened again. She moved still farther away. The hatred left her eyes, as the wonder had done before. With the majesty which Mary Stuart must have shown when she bade farewell to England, to the sceptre, and to life, Viola Raritan turned to him again:

"I loved him," she muttered, yet so faintly that she had left the room before Tristrem, who still crouched by the chair which she had vacated, fully caught the import of her words.

"Viola!" he called. But she had gone. "Viola! No, no; it is impossible.

It is impossible," he repeated, as he rose up again; "it is impossible."

He staggered to the door and let himself out. And then, as the night-air affects one who has loitered over the wine, he reeled.

In a vision such as is said to visit the ultimate consciousness of they that drown, a riot of long-forgotten incidents surged to his mind. He battled with them in vain; they were trivial, indeed, but in their onslaught he saw that the impossible was truth.

With the aimlessness of a somnambulist, and reasoning with himself the while, he walked down through Madison Avenue until he reached the square. There, turning into Lexington, he entered Gramercy Park.

Presently he found himself standing at Weldon's door. "But what am I doing here?" he mused. For a little time, he leaned against the rail, endeavoring to collect his thoughts. Then, as an individual, coated in blue and glistening as to his b.u.t.tons, sauntered by, he seemed to understand. He left the railing at which he had stood, and, circling the park, set out in the direction of the river. As he reached Second Avenue, a train of the elevated railway flamed about an adjacent corner, and swept like a dragon in mid-air, on, beyond, and out of sight. To the right was a great factory, and as Tristrem continued his way through the unfamiliar street he wondered what the people in the train, what the factory-hands, and the dwellers in the neighborhood would say if they could surmise his errand. The river was yet some distance away. It was such a pity, he told himself, such a pity, that he had not accepted the invitation of the sea. That would have been so much better, so much surer, and so much more discreet. And then he fell to wondering about his grandfather, and his heart was filled with anguish. He would have done anything to save that old man from pain. But it was too late now. A gas-jet that lighted a wide and open door attracted his attention; he looked in, the building seemed empty as a lecture-hall. After all, he decided, perhaps that would be best.

Half an hour later, Tristrem Varick was the occupant of a room that was not as large as one of the closets in his grandfather's house. The furniture consisted of a wooden bench. The sole fixture was an apparatus for drawing water. The floor was tiled and the upper part of the walls was white; the lower, red. The room itself was very clean. There was no window, and the door, which was of grated iron, had been locked from without. From an adjoining cell, a drunken harlot rent the night with the strain of a maudlin ditty.