Short Stories
All Titles

In Association with Amazon.com

Home > Authors Index > Charles Neville Buck > Tyranny of Weakness > This page

The Tyranny of Weakness, a novel by Charles Neville Buck

Chapter 11

< Previous
Table of content
Next >

Thinking through days when a cold and tortured moisture would burst out on her temples and through nights when she lay wide-eyed and sleepless, only one answer seemed to come to Conscience. All Stuart's love must have curled in that swift transition into indifference and contempt.

Admitting that conclusion, she knew that her pride should make her hate him, too, but her pride was dead. Everything in her was dead but the love she could not kill and that remained only to torture her.

The most paradoxical thing of all was that in these troubled days she thought of only one person as a dependable friend. Eben Tollman had evinced a spirit for which she had not given him credit. It seemed that she had been all wrong in her estimates of human character. Stuart, with his almost brilliant vitality of charm, had after a quarrel turned his back on her. Eben Tollman, who masked a diffident nature behind a semblance of cold reserve, was unendingly considerate and no more asked reward than a faithful mastiff might have asked it. It contented him to anticipate all her wishes and to invent small ways of easing her misery. He did not even seek to force his society and satisfied himself with such crumbs of conversation as she chose to drop his way in passing. If ever she should come out of this period of torpid wretchedness, she would owe Tollman a heavy debt of gratitude.

Three months after the day when Mr. Hagan returned from Cape Cod, that gentleman called into his private office a member of his staff, who responded to the name of Henry Rathbone, and put him through a brief catechism.

"What have you got on this Farquaharson party?" he inquired. "Tollman complains that you're running up a pretty steep expense account and he can't quite see what he's getting for his money."

Rathbone seated himself and nodded. "Mr. Tollman knows every move this feller's made. You gotta give him time. A guy that think's he's got a broken heart don't start right in on the gay life."

"Why don't he?" inquired Mr. Hagan with a more cynical philosophy. "I've always heard that when a man thinks the world's gone to the bow-wows he's just about ripe to cut loose. Don't this feller ever take a drink or play around with any female companions?"

"You ain't got the angle straight on Farquaharson," observed the sleuth who had for some time been Farquaharson's shadow. "He ain't that kind. I'm living in the same apartment hotel with him and my room's next door to his. I don't fall for the slush-stuff, Chief, but that feller gets my goat. He's hurt and hurt bad. It ain't women he wants--it's _one_ woman. As for female companions--he don't even seem to have any male ones."

"What does he do with his time?"

"Well, he went down to the farm for a few weeks and closed up the place. He studied law, but he's passed it up and decided to write fiction stories. Every morning he rides horseback in the park, and, take it from me, those equestrian dames turn all the way round to rubber at him."

"What else does he do?"

"He walks miles, too. I fell in with him casual like one day and tagged along. Well, he hiked me till my tongue hung out. We started at the Arch and ended up at Dolrandi's cafe at the north end of the speedway--it ain't but only about a dozen miles.... During that whole chummy little experience he spoke just about a couple of times, except to answer my questions. Sometimes when he thought I wasn't looking his eyes would get like a fellow's I seen once in death-row up the river, but if he caught me peepin' he'd laugh and straighten up sudden."

"Well, I don't suppose you can get anything on him till he gives you a chance," said Mr. Hagan grudgingly, "but what this man Tollman wants is results. He ain't paying out good money that he's hoarded for years, just to get merit reports. He didn't wring it out of the local widows and orphans just for that."

"I get you, and I'll keep watching. Since Farquaharson got this bug about writing stories he's taken to rambling around town at night. I said he didn't seem to want companions, but when he goes out on these prowls he'll talk for hours with any dirty old bum that stops him and he always falls for pan-handling. Beggars, street-walkers, any sort of old down-and-outer interests him, if it's hard luck they're talking."

But the face which reminded Mr. Rathbone of the man who was awaiting the electric chair was the public face of Stuart Farquaharson. He did not see the same features during the hours when the door of his room was closed. The hotel he had selected, near Washington Square, was a modest place and his window looked out over roofs and chimney-pots and small back yards.

There, sitting before his typewriter, his sleeves rolled above his elbows, he sought to devote himself to his newly chosen profession: the profession which he had substituted for law. Through a near-by window he had occasional glimpses of a girl who was evidently trying to be an illustrator. Stuart imagined that she was poor and ambitious, and he envied her the zest of her struggle for success. He himself had no such incentives. Poverty was not likely to touch him unless he became a reckless waster, and he fancied that his interests were too far burned to ashes for ambition. It was with another purpose that he forced himself to his task. He was trying to forget dark hair and eyes and the memory of a voice which had said, "Love you! In every way that I know how to love, I love you. Everything that a woman can be to a man, I want to be to you, and everything that a woman can give a man, I want to give you."

And because he sought so hard to forget her, his fingering of the typewriter keys would fall idle, and his eyes, looking out across the chimney-pots, would soar with the circling pigeons, and he would see her again in every guise that he remembered--and he remembered them all.

She had been cruel to the point of doing the one thing which he had told her would brand him with the deepest possible misery--and which pledged him in honor not to approach her again by word or letter without permission. But that was only because the thing which he conceived to be her heritage of narrowness had conquered her.

On the floor below was a young man of about his own age, who was also a candidate for the laurels in literature. Stuart had met him by chance and they had talked a little. This man's enthusiasms had gushed forth with a vigor at which the Virginian marveled. For him ambition blazed like an oriflamme and he had dared to gamble everything on his belief in himself. With scant savings out of a reporter's salary in the West he had come to wrest success from the town where all is possible, but now a shadow of disappointment was stealing into his eyes. A fear was lurking there that, after all, he might have mistaken the message of the Bow Bells which had rung to him the Dick Whittington message that the city was his to conquer.

Perhaps because Louis Wayne desperately needed to succeed, while Stuart Farquaharson wrote only as an anodyne to his thoughts, Wayne vainly peddled his manuscripts and almost from the first Stuart sold his at excellent rates.

* * * * *

Mrs. Reinold Heath was rarely in a sunny mood at the hour when her coffee and rolls came to her, as she sat propped against the pillows of the elaborately hung bed in her French gray and old-rose room. The same hour which brought the breakfast tray brought Mrs. Heath's social secretary and those duties which lie incumbent upon a leader of society's most exploited and inner circles.

Mrs. Heath, kimono-clad in the flooding morning light, looked all of her fifty years as she nodded curtly to her secretary. It was early winter and a year had passed since Stuart had left Cape Cod.

"Let's get this beastly business done with, Miss Andrews," began the great lady sharply. "What animals have you captured this time? By the way, who invented week-ends, do you suppose? Whoever it was, he's a public enemy."

The secretary arranged her notes and ran efficiently through their contents. These people had accepted, those had declined; the possibilities yet untried contained such-and-such names.

"Why couldn't Harry Merton come?" The question was snapped out resentfully. "Not that I blame him--I don't see why any one comes--or why I ask them for that matter."

"He said over the 'phone that he was off for a duck-shooting trip," responded Miss Andrews.

"Well, I suppose we can't take out a subpoena for him. He's escaped and we need another man." Mrs. Heath drew her brow in perplexed thought, then suddenly demanded: "What was the name of that young man Billy Waterburn brought to my box at the horse show? I mean the one who rode over the jumps like a devil and blarneyed me afterward like an angel."

The secretary arched her brows. "Do you mean the Virginian? His name was Stuart Farquaharson."

"Do you know where he lives--or anything else about him?"

"Why, no--that is, nothing in the social sense." Miss Andrews smiled quietly as she added, "I've read some of his stories in the magazines."

"All right. Find out where he lives and invite him in Merton's place. Don't let _him_ slip--he interested me and that species is almost extinct."

As Miss Andrew jotted down the name, Mrs. Heath read the surprised expression on her face, and it amused her to offer explanation of her whim.

"You're wondering why I'm going outside the lines and filling the ranks with a nobody? Well, I'll tell you. I'm sick of these people who are all sick of each other. The Farquaharsons were landed gentry in Virginia when these aristocrats were still grinding snuff. Aren't we incessantly cudgeling our brains for novelty of entertainment? Well, I've discovered the way. I'm going to introduce brains and manners to society. I daresay he has evening clothes and if he hasn't he can hire them."

Decidedly puzzled, Stuart Farquaharson listened to the message over the telephone later in the day, but his very surprise momentarily paralyzed his power of inventing a politely plausible excuse, so that he hung up the receiver with the realization that he had accepted an invitation which held for him no promise of pleasure.

It happened that Louis Wayne, who had by sheer persistency seized the outer fringes of success, had come up with a new manuscript to read and was now sitting, with a pipe between his teeth, in Stuart's morris chair.

"Sure, go to it," he exclaimed with a grin, as Stuart bewailed his lack of a ready excuse. "It'll be a bore, but it will make you appreciate your return to the companionship of genius."

"The Crags" was that palatial establishment up the Hudson where the Reinold Heaths hold court during the solstices between the months at Newport and the brief frenzy of the New York season, and the house party which introduced Stuart Farquaharson to Society with a capital S was typical. One person in the household still had, like himself, the external point of view, and her ditties threw her into immediate contact with each new guest.

"Miss Andrews," he laughed, when the social secretary met him shortly after his arrival, "I'm the poor boy at this frolic, and I'm just as much at my ease as a Hottentot at college. When I found that I was the only man here without a valet, I felt--positively naked."

The young woman's eyes gleamed humorously. "I know the feeling," she said, "and I'll tell you a secret. I took a course of education in higher etiquette from the butler. You can't do that, of course, but when in doubt ask me--and I'll ask the butler."

But it was Mrs. Heath's prerogative to knight her proteges with the Order of the Chosen, and Stuart Farquaharson would have graced any picture where distinction of manner and unself-conscious charm passed current.

"Who is the girl with the red-brown hair and the wonderful complexion and the dissatisfied eyes?" he asked Miss Andrews later, and that lady answered with the frankness of a fellow-countryman in foreign parts:

"Mrs. Larry Holbury. That's her husband over there--it's whispered that they're not inordinately happy."

Farquaharson followed the brief glance of his companion and saw a man inclining to overweight whose fingers caressed the stem of a cocktail glass, and whose face was heavy with surliness.

It subsequently developed, in a tete-a-tete with the wife, that she had read all of Mr. Farquaharson's stories and adored them. It leaked out with an air of resignation that her husband was a bit of a brute--and yet Mrs. Holbury was neither a fool nor a bore. She was simply a composite of flirtatious instinct and an amazing candor.

In the life of Stuart Farquaharson the acceptance of that invitation would have passed as a disconnected incident had it been altogether a matter of his choosing, but he had let himself be caught. Mrs. Reinold Heath had chosen to present him as her personal candidate for lionizing and whom she captured she held in bondage.

"Honestly, now, Miss Andrews," he pleaded over the telephone when that lady called him to the colors a second time, "entirely between ourselves, I came before because I couldn't think of an excuse in time. Let me off and I'll propose a substitute arrangement. Suppose we have dinner together somewhere where the _hors d'oeuvres_ aren't all gold fish."

Her laugh tinkled in the telephone. "I wish we could," she said. "I knew you let yourself in for it the first time--but now you're hooked and you _have_ to come." So he went.

On later occasions it was more flattering than satisfying to him that the beautiful Mrs. Holbury should drop so promptly into a sort of easy intimacy and treat him almost from the start with a proprietary manner. It soon became an embarrassment of riches. Stuart was thinking of himself as a woman-hater, these days, and he held a normal dislike for wagging tongues. Holbury, too, who was reputed to be of jealous tendency, seemed to regard him unfavorably and took no great pains to affect cordiality.

One day Wayne dropped, coatless, into Farquaharson's room and grinned as he tossed a magazine down on the table. "_Sic fama est_" was his comment, and Stuart picked up the sheet which his visitor indicated with a jerk of the thumb. The magazine was a weekly devoted ostensibly to the doings of smart society, but its real distinction lay in its innuendo and its genius for sailing so close to the wind of libel that those who moved in the rarified air of exclusiveness read it with a delicious and shuddering mingling of anticipation and dread. Its method was to use no names in the more daring paragraphs, but for the key to the spicy, one had only to refer back. The preceding item always contained names which applied to both.

Stuart found his name and that of Mrs. Holbury listed in an account of some entertainment--and below that:

"A young Southerner, recently arrived and somewhat lionized, is whispered to be complicating the already uneven balance of domesticity in the home of a couple whose status in society antedates his own. This gallant has all the attractiveness of one untouched with ennui. He rides like a centaur, talks like a diplomat and flatters as only a Virginian or an Irishman can flatter. The same whisper has it that the husband suffers in the parallel."

Farquaharson's face darkened and he reached for his discarded coat.

"Hold on; you have company," suggested Wayne placatingly. "Where do you think you're going in such hot haste?"

Stuart was standing with his feet well apart and his mouth set in a stern line.

"Wayne," he said with a crisp and ominous decisiveness, "I've never slandered any man intentionally--and I require the same decency of treatment from others."

"Go easy there. Ride wide! Ride wide!" cautioned the visitor. "That little slander is mild compared with many others in the same pages. Are the rest of them rushing to the office to cane the editors? They are not, my son. Believe me, they are not."

"They should be. Submission only encourages a scoundrel."

"In the first place they would find no one there but a rather fragile and extremely polite young lady. The editor himself doesn't sit around waiting to be horsewhipped. In the second, society tacitly sanctions and supports that sheet. Your fashionable friends would call you a barbarian and what is worse--a boob."

Farquaharson stood in a statuesque ire, and Wayne went philosophically on. "Take the advice of a singularly wise bystander. At least treat it with the contempt of silence until you've consulted the lady. Caning people in New York is attended with some degree of notoriety and she would have to share it. When you're in Rome, be as Romanesque as possible."

"For my part," declared Stuart, "I like another version better. When you're a Roman, be a Roman wherever you are."

Yet after some debate he took off his coat again and announced cryptically, "After all, the one unpardonable idiocy is sectionalism of code--damn it!"

He knew that Marian Holbury and her husband were near a break and that the husband's jealousy looked his way. But, conscious of entire rectitude, he gave no thought to appearances and treated the matter lightly. But the Searchlight Investigation Bureau, whose employment had been discontinued as not paying for itself, was now re-employed and instructed to send a marked copy of the weekly to Miss Conscience Williams. That copy was anonymously mailed, bearing a New York postmark, and its sending was a puzzle which its recipient never solved.

Spring came, and Stuart, who had begun the writing of a novel, took a small house in Westchester County, where he could work apart from the city's excitement. Had he been cautious he would not have selected one within two miles of the Holbury country house, yet the fact was that Marian Holbury had discovered it and he had taken it because of its quaintness. He had been there several weeks alone except for a man servant when, one night, he sat under the lamp of his small living-room with sheets of manuscript scattered about him. It was warm, with clouds gathering for a storm, and the scent of blossoms came in through the open doors and windows. There was no honeysuckle in the neighborhood, but to his memory there drifted, clear and strong and sweet, the fragrance of its heavy clusters.

He sat up straight, arrested by the poignancy of that echo from the past. The typewriter keys fell silent and his eyes stared through the open window, wide and full of suffering. He heard himself declaring with boyhood's assurance, "They may take you to the North Pole and surround you with regiments of soldiers--but in the end it will be the same."

Then without warning a wild sob sounded from the doorway and he looked up, coming to his feet so abruptly that his overturned chair fell backward with a crash.

"Marian!" he exclaimed, his voice ringing with shocked incredulity. "What are you doing here--and alone?"

Mrs. Holbury stood leaning limply against the door-frame. She was in evening dress, and a wrap, glistening with the shimmer of silver, drooped loosely about her gleaming shoulders.

"It's over," she declared in a passionate and unprefaced outburst. "I can't stand it! I'm done with him! I've left him!"

Stuart spread his hands in dumfounded amazement. "But why, in God's name, did you come here? This is madness--this is inconceivable!"

She went unsteadily to the nearest chair and dropped into it. "I came to stay--if you don't turn me out," she answered. _

Read next: Chapter 12

Read previous: Chapter 10

Table of content of Tyranny of Weakness


Post your review
Your review will be placed after the table of content of this book