Silas Grangerson came to town on the
Wednesday, driving in and reaching the Charleston
Hotel about five o’clock in the afternoon.
The Grangersons scarcely ever used
the railway. Silas, often as he had been in Charleston,
had never put foot in a street car; even a hired conveyance
was against the prejudices of these gentlemen.
This antagonism towards public means
of locomotion was not in the least the outcome of
snobbishness or pride; they had come from a race of
people accustomed to move in a small orbit in their
own particular way, an exclusive people, breeders
and lovers of horses, a people to whom locomotion
had always meant pride in the means and the method;
to take a seat in a stuffy railway car at so much
a mile, to grab a ticket and squeeze into a tram car,
to drive in a cab drawn by an indifferent horse would
have been hateful to these people; it was scarcely
less so to their descendants.
So Silas came to Charleston driving
a pair of absolutely matched chestnuts, a coloured
manservant in the Grangerson livery in attendance.
After dinner he strolled into the
bar of the hotel, met some friends, made some bets
on the forthcoming races and at eight o’clock
retired upstairs to dress.
He was one of the first of the guests to arrive.
The Rhetts’ house in Legare
Street was about the same size as Vernons and equally
old, but it had not the same charm, the garden was
much larger than that at Vernons, but it had not the
same touch of the past. Houses, like people,
have personalities and the house of the Rhetts had
a telephone without resenting the intruder, electric
everythings, even to an elevator, modern cookers,
modern stoves, everything in a modern way to save
labour and make life easy, and all so cunningly and
craftily done that the air of antiquity was supposed
not to be disturbed.
Illusion! Nothing is gained without
some sacrifice; you cannot hold the past and the present
in the same hand, the concealed elevator spoke in all
the rooms once its presence was betrayed, the telephone
talked everywhere was evident the use of
yesterday as a veneer of to-day.
However that may be, the old house
was gay enough to-night with flowers and lights, and
Silas, looking better perhaps than he had ever looked
in his life, found himself talking to Frances Rhett
with an animation that surprised himself.
Frances had never had a chance of
leading Silas behind her chariot; to fool with her
would have meant an expenditure of time and energy
in journeys to Charleston quite beyond his inclination.
This aloofness coupled with his good looks had set
him apart from others.
But to-night he was quite a different
being; to-night, in some mysterious way, he managed
to convey the impression, pleasing enough, that he
had come to see her and her alone.
As they stood together for a moment,
he led the talk into Charleston channels, asking about
this person and that till the folk at Vernons came
on the tapis.
“Is it true what I hear, that
Richard Pinckney has become engaged to the girl who
is staying there?” asked Silas.
“I don’t think so,” she replied.
“Who told you?”
“Upon my word I forget,”
said he, “but I judged mostly by my own eyes they
seemed like an engaged couple when I saw them last.”
New guests were arriving and she had
to go forward to help in receiving them. Silas
moved towards her, but in the next moment they had
for a snatch of conversation, she did not refer to
the subject, nor did he.
The Vernons people were late, so late
that when they arrived they were the last of the guests;
dancing was in progress and, on entering the ballroom,
Richard Pinckney was treated to the pleasing sight
of his fiancee whirling in the arms of Silas
Phyl, looking lovely in the simple,
rather old-fashioned dress evolved for her by the
combined geniuses of Maria Pinckney and Madame Organdie,
produced that sensation which can only be evoked by
newness, her effect was instantaneous and profound,
it touched not only every one of these strangers but
also Maria Pinckney and Richard. They had come
with her, but it was only in the ballroom that they
recognised with whom they had come.
So with a book, a picture, a play,
the producer and his friends only recognise its merits
fully when it is staged and condemned or praised by
A debutante fails or succeeds
at first glance, and the instantaneous success of
Phyl was a record in successes.
And Frances Rhett had to watch it
and dance. The Inquisition had its torments;
Society has improved on them, for her victims cannot
cry out and the torments of Frances Rhett were acute.
Not that she was troubling much about Richard Pinckney
and what the poisonous Silas had said; she was not
in love with Richard Pinckney, but she was passionately
in love with herself. She was the belle of Charleston;
had been for the last year; and one of her chief incentives
to marriage was an intuitive knowledge that prestige
fades, that the position of principal girl in any society
is like the position of the billiard ball the juggler
balances on the end of a cue precarious.
She wanted to get married and ring down the curtain
on an unspoiled success, and now in a moment she saw
In a moment. For no jeweller
of Amsterdam ever had an eye for the quality of diamonds
surer than the eye of Frances Rhett for the quality
of other women’s beauty. At the first glance
to-night, she saw what others saw, though more clearly
than they, that it was the touch of the past that gave
Phyl her cachet, a something indefinable from
yesterday, the lack of which made the other girls,
by contrast, seem cheap.
Never could she have imagined that
the “red-headed girl at Vernons” could
gain so much from setting, a setting due to the instinct
as well as the taste of “that old Maria Pinckney.”
She had always laughed at Maria, as
young people sometimes will at the old.
When Richard came up to her a little
later on, he found himself coldly received; she had
no dances for him except a few at the bottom of the
“You shouldn’t have been late,”
“Well,” he said, “it
was not my fault. You know what Aunt Maria is,
she kept us ten minutes after the carriage was round,
and then Phyl wasn’t ready.”
“She looks ready enough now,”
said the other, looking at Phyl and the cluster of
young men around her. “What delayed her?
Was she dyeing her head? It doesn’t look
quite so loud as when I saw her last.”
“Her head’s all right,”
replied Pinckney, irritated by the manner of the other,
“inside and out, and one can’t say the
same for every one.”
Frances looked at him.
“Do you know what Silas Grangerson asked me
to-night?” she said.
“He asked me were you engaged to her.”
“Miss Berknowles. I don’t know her
well enough to call her Phyl.”
“He asked you that?”
“Yes, said every one was talking
of it, and the last time he saw you together you looked
like an engaged couple the way you were carrying on.”
“But he has never seen us together,”
cried the outraged Pinckney; “that was a pure
“I expect he saw you when you
didn’t see him; anyhow, that’s the impression
people have got, and it’s not very pleasant for
Richard Pinckney choked back his anger.
He fell to thinking where Silas could have seen them
“I don’t know whether
he saw us or not,” said he, “but I am certain
of one thing; he never saw us ‘carrying on’
as you call it; anyhow, I’ll have a personal
explanation from Silas to-morrow.”
“Please don’t imagine
that I object to your flirting with any one you like,”
said Frances with exasperating calm. “If
you have a taste for that sort of thing it is your
“I don’t know if you want
to quarrel with me,” said he, “if you do,
say so at once.”
“Not a bit,” she replied,
“you know I never quarrel with any one, it’s
bad form for one thing and it is waste of energy for
A man came up to claim her for the
next dance and she went off with him, leaving Pinckney
upset and astonished at her manner and conduct.
It was their first quarrel, the first
result of their engagement. Frances had seemed
all laziness and honey up to this; like many another
woman she began to show her real nature now that Pinckney
But it was not an ordinary lovers’
quarrel; her anger had less to do with Richard Pinckney
than with Phyl. Her hatred of Phyl, big as a baobab
tree, covered with its shadow Vernons, Miss Pinckney,
He was part of the business of her dethronement.
Richard wandered off to where Maria
Pinckney was seated watching the dancers.
“Why aren’t you dancing?” asked
“Oh, I don’t know,”
he replied. “I’m not keen on it and
there are loads of men.”
Miss Pinckney had watched him talking
to Frances Rhett and she had drawn her own deductions,
but she said nothing. He sat down beside her.
He had been wanting to tell her of his engagement
for a long time past, but had put it off and put it
off, waiting for the psychological moment. Maria
Pinckney was a very difficult person to fit into a
“I want to tell you something,”
said he. “I’m engaged to Frances Rhett.”
“Engaged to be married to her?”
Miss Pinckney was dumb.
What she had always dreaded had come to pass, then.
“You don’t congratulate me?”
“No,” she replied. “I don’t.”
Then, all of a sudden, she turned on him.
“Congratulate you! If I
saw you drowning in the harbour, would you expect
me to stand at the Battery waving my hand to you and
congratulating you? No, I don’t congratulate
you. You had the chance of being happy with the
most beautiful girl in the world, and the best, and
you’ve thrown it away to pick up with that
woman. Phyl would have married you, I know it,
she would have made you happy, I know it, for I know
her and I know you. Now it’s all spoiled.”
He rose to his feet. It was the
first time in his life that he had seen Maria Pinckney
really put out.
“I’ll talk to you again about it,”
said he. Then he moved away.
He had the pleasure of watching Frances
dancing the next waltz with Silas Grangerson, and
Silas had the pleasure of watching him as he stood
talking to one of the elderly ladies and looking on.
Silas’s rabbit trap was in reality
a very simple affair, it was a plan to pick a quarrel
with Richard through Frances, if possible; to make
the imperturbable Pinckney angry, knowing well how
easily an angry man can be induced to make a fool
of himself. To keep cool and let Richard do the
Unfortunately for Silas, the sight
of Phyl in all her beauty had raised his temperature
far above the point of coolness. There were moments
when he was dancing, when he could have flung Frances
aside, torn Phyl from the arms of her partner and
made off with her through the open window.
This dance was a deadly business for
him. It was the one thing needed to cap and complete
the strange fascination this girl exercised upon his
mind, his imagination, his body. It was only now
that he realised that nothing else at all mattered
in the world, it was only now that he determined to
have her or die.
Silas was of the type that kills under
passion, the type that, unable to have, destroys.
Preparing a trap for another, he himself
had walked into a trap constructed by the devil, stronger
Yet he never once approached or tried
to speak to Phyl. He fed on her at a distance.
Fleeting glimpses of the curves of her figure, the
Titian red of her hair, the face that to-night might
have turned a saint from his vows, were snatched by
him and devoured. He would not have danced with
her if he could. To take her in his arms would
have meant covering her face with kisses. Nor
did he feel the least anger against the men with whom
she danced. All that was a sham and an unreality,
they were shadows. He and Phyl were the only
real persons in that room.
Later on in the evening, Richard Pinckney,
tired with the lights and the noise, took a stroll
in the garden.
The garden was lit here and there
with fairy lamps and there were coigns of shadow where
couples were sitting out chatting and enjoying the
beauty of the night.
The moon was nearing the full and
her light cut the tree shadows distinctly on the paths.
Passing a seat occupied by one of the sitting out
couples, Pinckney noticed the woman’s fan which
her partner was playing with; it was his own gift
to Frances Rhett. The man was Silas Grangerson
and the woman was Frances. They were talking,
but as he passed them their voices ceased.
He felt their eyes upon him, then,
when he had got twenty paces or so away, he heard
He imagined that she was laughing
at him. Already angry with Silas, he halted and
half turned, intending to go back and have it out with
him, then he thought better of it and went his way.
He would deal with Silas later and in some place where
he could get him alone or in the presence of men only.
Pinckney had a horror of scenes, especially in the
presence of women.
Twenty minutes later he had his opportunity.
He was crossing the hall from the supper room, when
he came face to face with Silas. They were alone.
“Excuse me,” said Richard
Pinckney, halting in front of the other, “I want
a word with you.”
Silas, guessing at once what was coming.
“You made some remarks about
me to Miss Rhett this evening,” went on the
other. “You coupled my name with the name
of a lady in a most unjustifiable manner and I want
your explanation here and now.”
“Who was the lady?” asked Silas, seemingly
“In what way did I couple your name with her,
may I ask?”
“No, you mayn’t.”
Richard had turned pale before the calm insolence of
the other. “You know quite well what you
said and if you are a gentleman you will apologise
If you aren’t you won’t and I will deal
with you in Charleston accordingly.”
Phyl was at that moment coming out
of the supper room with young Reggie Calhoun the
same who, according to Richard that morning at breakfast
long ago, was an admirer of Maria Pinckney.
She saw the two men, in profile, facing
one another, and she saw Silas’s right hand,
which he was holding behind his back, opening and shutting
She saw the blow given by Pinckney,
she saw Silas step back and the knife which he always
carried, as the wasp carries its sting, suddenly in
Then she was gripping his wrist.
Face to face with madness for a moment, holding it,
fighting eye to eye.
Had she faltered, had her gaze left
his for the hundredth part of a second, he would have
cast her aside and fallen upon his prey.
It was her soul that held him, her
spirit call it what you will, the something
that speaks alone through the eye.
Calhoun and Pinckney stood, during
that tremendous moment, stricken, breathless, without
making the slightest movement. They saw she was
holding him by the power of her eye alone; so vividly
did this fact strike them that for a dazed moment
it seemed to them that the battle was not theirs,
that the contest was beyond the earthly plane, that
this was no struggle between human beings, but a battle
between sanity and madness.
Its duration might have been spanned
by three ticks of the great old clock that stood in
the corner of the hall telling the time.
Then came the ring of the knife falling
on the floor. It was like the breaking of a spell.
Silas, white and bewildered-looking as a man suddenly
awakened from sleep, stood looking now at his released
hand as though it did not belong to him, then at Pinckney,
and then at Phyl who had turned her back upon him
and was tottering as though about to fall. Pinckney,
stepping forward, was about to speak, when at that
moment the door of the supper room opened and a band
of young people came out chatting and laughing.
Calhoun, who was a man of resource,
kicked the knife which slithered away under one of
the seats. Phyl, recovering herself, walked away
towards the stairs; Silas without a word, turned and
vanished from sight past the curtain of the corridor
that led to the cloakroom.
Calhoun and Pinckney were left alone.
“What are you going to do?” asked Calhoun.
“I am at his disposal,” replied the other.
“I struck him.”
“Struck him, damnation!
He drew a knife on you; he ought to be hoofed out
of the club; he’d have had you only for that
girl. I never saw anything so splendid in my
“Yes,” said Pinckney,
“she saved my life. He was clean mad, but
thank God no one knows anything about it and we avoided
a scene. Say nothing to any one unless he wants
to push the matter further. I am quite at his