They ran for about three miles upon a broad macadamized avenue, laid straight as an arrow's flight through the forest; and then the sound of the sea came to them, and before them was a mighty granite pile, looming grim in the twilight, with a draw-bridge and moat, and four great castellated towers. "Black Forest" was built in imitation of a famous old fortress in Provence—only the fortress had forty small rooms, and its modern prototype had seventy large ones, and now every window was blazing with lights. A man does not let himself be caught twice in such a blunder; and having visited a "shooting-lodge" which had cost three-quarters of a million dollars and was set in a preserve of ten thousand acres, he was prepared for Adirondack "camps" which had cost half a million and Newport "cottages" which had cost a million or two.
Liveried servants took the car, and others opened the door and took their coats. The first thing they saw was a huge, fireplace, a fireplace a dozen feet across, made of great boulders, and with whole sections of a pine tree blazing in it. Underfoot was polished hardwood, with skins of bear and buffalo. The firelight flickered upon shields and battle-axes and broad-swords, hung upon the oaken pillars; while between them were tapestries, picturing the Song of Roland and the battle of Roncesvalles. One followed the pillars of the great hall to the vaulted roof, whose glass was glowing blood-red in the western light. A broad stairway ascended to the second floor, which opened upon galleries about the hall.
Montague went to the fire, and stood rubbing his hands before the grateful blaze. "Scotch or Irish, sir?" inquired a lackey, hovering at his side. He had scarcely given his order when the door opened and a second motor load of the party appeared, shivering and rushing for the fire. In a couple of minutes they were all assembled—and roaring with laughter over "Baby" de Mille's account of how her car had run over a dachshund. "Oh, do you know," she cried, "he simply POPPED!"
Half a dozen attendants hovered about, and soon the tables in the hall were covered with trays containing decanters and siphons. By this means everybody in the party was soon warmed up, and then in groups they scattered to amuse themselves.
There was a great hall for indoor tennis, and there were half a dozen squash-courts. Montague knew neither of these games, but he was interested in watching the water-polo in the swimming-tank, and in studying the appointments of this part of the building. The tank, with the walls and floor about it, were all of marble; there was a bronze gallery running about it, from which one might gaze into the green depths of the water. There were luxurious dressing-rooms for men and women, with hot and cold needle-baths, steam-rooms with rubbers in attendance and weighing and lifting machines, electric machines for producing "violet rays," and electric air-blasts for the drying of the women's hair.
He watched several games, in which men and women took part; and later on, when the tennis and other players appeared, he joined them in a plunge. Afterward, he entered one of the electric elevators and was escorted to his room, where he found his bag unpacked, and his evening attire laid out upon the bed.
It was about nine when the party went into the dining-room, which opened upon a granite terrace and loggia facing the sea. The room was finished in some rare black wood, the name of which he did not know; soft radiance suffused it, and the table was lighted by electric candles set in silver sconces, and veiled by silk shades. It gleamed with its load of crystal and silver, set off by scattered groups of orchids and ferns. The repast of the afternoon had been simply a lunch, it seemed—and now they had an elaborate dinner, prepared by Robbie Walling's famous ten-thousand-dollar chef. In contrast with the uproar of the inn was the cloistral stillness of this dining-room, where the impassive footmen seemed to move on padded slippers, and the courses appeared and vanished as if by magic. Montague did his best to accustom himself to the gowns of the women, which were cut lower than any he had ever seen in his life; but he hesitated every time he turned to speak to the young lady beside him, because he could look so deep down into her bosom, and it was difficult for him to realize that she did not mind it.
The conversation was the same as before, except that it was a little more general, and louder in tone; for the guests had become more intimate, and as Robbie Walling's wines of priceless vintage poured forth, they became a little "high." The young lady who sat on Montague's right was a Miss Vincent, a granddaughter of one of the sugar-kings; she was dark-skinned and slender, and had appeared at a recent lawn fete in the costume of an Indian maiden. The company amused itself by selecting an Indian name for her; all sorts of absurd ones were suggested, depending upon various intimate details of the young lady's personality and habits. Robbie caused a laugh by suggesting "Little Dewdrop"—it appeared that she had once been discovered writing a poem about a dewdrop; some one else suggested "Little Raindrop," and then Ollie brought down the house by exclaiming, "Little Raindrop in the Mud-puddle!" A perfect gale of laughter swept over the company, and it must have been a minute before they could recover their composure; in order to appreciate the humour of the sally it was necessary to know that Miss Vincent had "come a cropper" at the last meet of the Long Island Hunt Club, and been extricated from a slough several feet deep.
This was explained to Montague by the young lady on his left—the one whose half-dressed condition caused his embarrassment. She was only about twenty, with a wealth of golden hair and the bright, innocent face of a child; he had not yet learned her name, for every one called her "Cherub." Not long after this she made a remark across the table to Baby de Mille, a strange jumble of syllables, which sounded like English, yet was not. Miss de Mille replied, and several joined in, until there was quite a conversation going on. "Cherub" explained to him that "Baby" had invented a secret language, made by transposing letters; and that Ollie and Bertie were crazy to guess the key to it, and could not.
The dinner lasted until late. The wine-glasses continued to be emptied, and to be magically filled again. The laughter was louder, and now and then there were snatches of singing; women lolled about in their chairs-one beautiful boy sat gazing dreamily across the table at Montague, now and then closing his eyes, and opening them more and more reluctantly. The attendants moved about, impassive and silent as ever; no one else seemed to be cognizant of their existence, but Montague could not help noticing them, and wondering what they thought of it all.
When at last the party broke up, it was because the bridge-players wished to get settled for the evening. The others gathered in front of the fireplace, and smoked and chatted. At home, when one planned a day's hunting, he went to bed early and rose before dawn; but here, it seemed, there was game a-plenty, and the hunters had nothing to consider save their own comfort.
The cards were played in the vaulted "gun-room." Montague strolled through it, and his eye ran down the wall, lined with glass cases and filled with every sort of firearm known to the hunter. He recalled, with a twinge of self-abasement, that he had suggested bringing his shotgun along!
He joined a group in one corner, and lounged in the shadows, and studied "Billy" Price, whose conversation had so mystified him. "Billy," whose father was a banker, proved to be a devotee of horses; she was a veritable Amazon, the one passion of whose life was glory. Seeing her sitting in this group, smoking cigarettes, and drinking highballs, and listening impassively to risqué stories, one might easily draw base conclusions about Billy Price. But as a matter of fact she was made of marble; and the men, instead of falling in love with her, made her their confidante, and told her their troubles, and sought her sympathy and advice.
Some of this was explained to Montague by a young lady, who, as the evening wore on, came in and placed herself beside him. "My name is Betty Wyman," she said, "and you and I will have to be friends, because Ollie's my side partner."
Montague had to meet her advances; so had not much time to speculate as to what the term "side partner" might be supposed to convey. Betty was a radiant little creature, dressed in a robe of deep crimson, made of some soft and filmy and complicated material; there was a crimson rose in her hair, and a living glow of crimson in her cheeks. She was bright and quick, like a butterfly, full of strange whims and impulses; mischievous lights gleamed in her eyes and mischievous smiles played about her adorable little cherry lips. Some strange perfume haunted the filmy dress, and completed the bewilderment of the intended victim.
"I have a letter of introduction to a Mr. Wyman in New York," said Montague. "Perhaps he is a relative of yours."
"Is he a railroad president?" asked she; and when he answered in the affirmative, "Is he a railroad king?" she whispered, in a mocking, awe-stricken voice, "Is he rich—oh, rich as Solomon—and is he a terrible man, who eats people alive all the time?"
"Yes," said Montague—"that must be the one."
"Well," said Betty, "he has done me the honour to be my granddaddy; but don't you take any letter of introduction to him."
"Why not?" asked he, perplexed.
"Because he'll eat YOU," said the girl. "He hates Ollie."
"Dear me," said the other; and the girl asked, "Do you mean that the boy hasn't said a word about me?"
"No," said Montague—"I suppose he left it for you to do."
"Well," said Betty, "it's like a fairy story. Do you ever read fairy stories? In this story there was a princess—oh, the most beautiful princess! Do you understand?"
"Yes," said Montague. "She wore a red rose in her hair."
"And then," said the girl, "there was a young courtier—very handsome and gay; and they fell in love with each other. But the terrible old king—he wanted his daughter to wait a while, until he got through conquering his enemies, so that he might have time to pick out some prince or other, or maybe some ogre who was wasting his lands—do you follow me?"
"Perfectly," said he. "And then did the beautiful princess pine away?"
"Um—no," said Betty, pursing her lips. "But she had to dance terribly hard to keep from thinking about herself." Then she laughed, and exclaimed, "Dear me, we are getting poetical!" And next, looking sober again, "Do you know, I was half afraid to talk to you. Ollie tells me you're terribly serious. Are you?"
"I don't know," said Montague—but she broke in with a laugh, "We were talking about you at dinner last night. They had some whipped cream done up in funny little curliques, and Ollie said, 'Now, if my brother Allan were here, he'd be thinking about the man who fixed this cream, and how long it took him, and how he might have been reading "The Simple Life."' Is that true?"
"It involves a question of literary criticism"—said Montague.
"I don't want to talk about literature," exclaimed the other. In truth, she wanted nothing save to feel of his armour and find out if there were any weak spots through which he could be teased. Montague was to find in time that the adorable Miss Elizabeth was a very thorny species of rose—she was more like a gay-coloured wasp, of predatory temperament.
"Ollie says you want to go down town and work," she went on. "I think you're awfully foolish. Isn't it much nicer to spend your time in an imitation castle like this?"
"Perhaps," said he, "but I haven't any castle."
"You might get one," answered Betty. "Stay around awhile and let us marry you to a nice girl. They will all throw themselves at your feet, you know, for you have such a delicious melting voice, and you look romantic and exciting." (Montague made a note to inquire whether it was customary in New York to talk about you so frankly to your face.)
Miss Betty was surveying him quizzically meantime. "I don't know," she said. "On second thoughts, maybe you'll frighten the girls. Then it'll be the married women who'll fall in love with you. You'll have to watch out."
"I've already been told that by my tailor," said Montague, with a laugh.
"That would be a still quicker way of making your fortune," said she. "But I don't think you'd fit in the rôle of a tame cat."
"A what?" he exclaimed; and Miss Betty laughed.
"Don't you know what that is? Dear me—how charmingly naive! But perhaps you'd better get Ollie to explain for you."
That brought the conversation to the subject of slang; and Montague, in a sudden burst of confidence, asked for an interpretation of Miss Price's cryptic utterance. "She said"—he repeated slowly—"that when I got to be pally with her, I'd conclude she didn't furnish."
"Oh, yes," said Miss Wyman. "She just meant that when you knew her, you'd be disappointed. You see, she picks up all the race-track slang—one can't help it, you know. And last year she took her coach over to England, and so she's got all the English slang. That makes it hard, even for us."
And then Betty sailed in to entertain him with little sketches of other members of the party. A phenomenon that had struck Montague immediately was the extraordinary freedom with which everybody in New York discussed everybody else. As a matter of fact, one seldom discussed anything else; and it made not the least difference, though the person were one of your set,—though he ate your bread and salt, and you ate his,—still you would amuse yourself by pouring forth the most painful and humiliating and terrifying things about him.
There was poor Clarrie Mason: Clarrie, sitting in at bridge, with an expression of feverish eagerness upon his pale face. Clarrie always lost, and it positively broke his heart, though he had ten millions laid by on ice. Clarrie went about all day, bemoaning his brother, who had been kidnapped. Had Montague not heard about it? Well, the newspapers called it a marriage, but it was really a kidnapping. Poor Larry Mason was good-natured and weak in the knees, and he had been carried off by a terrible creature, three times as big as himself, and with a temper like—oh, there were no words for it! She had been an actress; and now she had carried Larry away in her talons, and was building a big castle to keep him in—for he had ten millions too, alas!
And then there was Bertie Stuyvesant, beautiful and winning—the boy who had sat opposite Montague at dinner. Bertie's father had been a coal man, and nobody knew how many millions he had left. Bertie was gay; last week he had invited them to a brook-trout breakfast—in November—and that had been a lark! Somebody had told him that trout never really tasted good unless you caught them yourself, and Bertie had suddenly resolved to catch them for that breakfast. "They have a big preserve up in the Adirondacks," said Betty; "and Bertie ordered his private train, and he and Chappie de Peyster and some others started that night; they drove I don't know how many miles the next day, and caught a pile of trout—and we had them for breakfast the next morning! The best joke of all is that Chappie vows they were so full they couldn't fish, and that the trout were caught with nets! Poor Bertie—somebody'll have to separate him from that decanter now!"
From the hall there came loud laughter, with sounds of scuffling, and cries, "Let me have it!"—"That's Baby de Mille," said Miss Wyman. "She's always wanting to rough-house it. Robbie was mad the last time she was down here; she got to throwing sofa-cushions, and upset a vase."
"Isn't that supposed to be good form?" asked Montague.
"Not at Robbie's," said she. "Have you had a chance to talk with Robbie yet? You'll like him—he's serious, like you."
"What's he serious about?"
"About spending his money," said Betty. "That's the only thing he has to be serious about."
"Has he got so very much?"
"Thirty or forty millions," she replied; "but then, you see, a lot of it's in the inner companies of his railroad system, and it pays him fabulously. And his wife has money, too—she was a Miss Mason, you know, her father's one of the steel crowd. We've a saying that there are millionaires, and then multi-millionaires, and then Pittsburg millionaires. Anyhow, the two of them spend all their income in entertaining. It's Robbie's fad to play the perfect host—he likes to have lots of people round him. He does put up good times—only he's so very important about it, and he has so many ideas of what is proper! I guess most of his set would rather go to Mrs. Jack Warden's any day; I'd be there to-night, if it hadn't been for Ollie."
"Who's Mrs. Jack Warden?" asked Montague.
"Haven't you ever heard of her?" said Betty. "She used to be Mrs. van Ambridge, and then she got a divorce and married Warden, the big lumber man. She used to give 'boy and girl' parties, in the English fashion; and when we went there we'd do as we please—play tag all over the house, and have pillow-fights, and ransack the closets and get up masquerades! Mrs. Warden's as good-natured as an old cow. You'll meet her sometime—only don't you let her fool you with those soft eyes of hers. You'll find she doesn't mean it; it's just that she likes to have handsome men hanging round her."
At one o'clock a few of Robbie's guests went to bed, Montague among them. He left two tables of bridge fiends sitting immobile, the women with flushed faces and feverish hands, and the men with cigarettes dangling from their lips. There were trays and decanters beside each card-table; and in the hall he passed three youths staggering about in each other's arms and feebly singing snatches of "coon songs." Ollie and Betty had strolled away together to parts unknown.
Montague had entered his name in the order-book to be called at nine o'clock. The man who awakened him brought him coffee and cream upon a silver tray, and asked him if he would have anything stronger. He was privileged to have his breakfast in his room, if he wished; but he went downstairs, trying his best to feel natural in his elaborate hunting costume. No one else had appeared yet, but he found the traces of last night cleared away, and breakfast ready—served in English fashion, with urns of tea and coffee upon the buffet. The grave butler and his satellites were in attendance, ready to take his order for anything else under the sun that he fancied.
Montague preferred to go for a stroll upon the terrace, and to watch the sunlight sparkling upon the sea. The morning was beautiful—everything about the place was so beautiful that he wondered how men and women could live here and not feel the spell of it.
Billy Price came down shortly afterward, clad in a khaki hunting suit, with knee kilts and button-pockets and gun-pads and Cossack cartridge-loops. She joined him in a stroll down the beach, and talked to him about the coming winter season, with its leading personalities and events,—the Horse Show, which opened next week, and the prospects for the opera, and Mrs. de Graffenried's opening entertainment. When they came back it was eleven o'clock, and they found most of the guests assembled, nearly all of them looking a little pale and uncomfortable in the merciless morning light. As the two came in they observed Bertie Stuyvesant standing by the buffet, in the act of gulping down a tumbler of brandy. "Bertie has taken up the 'no breakfast fad,'" said Billy with an ironical smile.
Then began the hunt. The equipment of "Black Forest" included a granite building, steam-heated and elaborately fitted, in which an English expert and his assistants raised imported pheasants—magnificent bronze-coloured birds with long, floating black tails. Just before the opening of the season they were dumped by thousands into the covers—fat, and almost tame enough to be fed by hand; and now came the "hunters."
First they drew lots, for they were to hunt in pairs, a man and a woman. Montague drew Miss Vincent—"Little Raindrop in the Mud-puddle." Then Ollie, who was master of ceremonies, placed them in a long line, and gave them the direction; and at a signal they moved through the forest; Following each person were two attendants, to carry the extra guns and reload them; and out in front were men to beat the bushes and scare the birds into flight.
Now Montague's idea of hunting had been to steal through the bayou forests, and match his eyes against those of the wild turkey, and shoot off their heads with a rifle bullet. So, when one of these birds rose in front of him, he fired, and the bird dropped; and he could have done it for ever, he judged—only it was stupid slaughter, and it sickened him. However, if the creatures were not shot, they must inevitably perish in the winter snows; and he had heard that Robbie sent the game to the hospitals. Also, the score was being kept, and Miss Vincent, who was something of a shot herself, was watching him with eager excitement, being wild with desire to beat out Billy Price and Chappie de Peyster, who were the champion shots of the company. Baby de Mille, who was on his left, and who could not shoot at all, was blundering along, puffing for breath and eyeing him enviously; and the attendants at his back were trembling with delight and murmuring their applause. So he shot on, as long as the drive lasted, and again on their way back, over a new stretch of the country. Sometimes the birds would rise in pairs, and he would drop them both; and twice when a blundering flock took flight in his direction he seized a second gun and brought down a second pair. When the day's sport came to an end his score was fifteen better than his nearest competitor, and he and his partner had won the day.
They crowded round to congratulate him; first his partner, and then his rivals, and his host and hostess. Montague found that he had suddenly become a person of consequence. Some who had previously taken no notice of him now became aware of his existence; proud society belles condescended to make conversation with him, and Clarrie Mason, who hated de Peyster, made note of a way to annoy him. As for Oliver, he was radiant with delight. "When it came to horses and guns, I knew you'd make good," he whispered.
Leaving the game to be gathered up in carts, they made their way home, and there the two victors received their prizes. The man's consisted of a shaving set in a case of solid gold, set with diamonds. Montague was simply stunned, for the thing could not have cost less than one or two thousand dollars. He could not persuade himself that he had a right to accept of such hospitality, which he could never hope to return. He was to realize in time that Robbie lived for the pleasure of thus humiliating his fellow-men.
After luncheon, the party came to an end. Some set out to return as they had come; and others, who had dinner engagements, went back with their host in his private car, leaving their autos to be returned by the chauffeurs. Montague and his brother were among these; and about dusk, when the swarms of working people were pouring out of the city, they crossed the ferry and took a cab to their hotel.