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The Despoiler
by [?]

Forrest paused when his explorations had brought him to the edge of the beechwood, all dappled with golden lights and umber shadows, and stood for a time brooding upon those intimate lawns and flowery gardens that seemed, as it were, but roofless extensions of the wide, open house.

It is probable that his brooding had in it an estimate of the cost of these things. It was thus that he had looked upon the blooded horses in the river-fields and the belted cattle in the meadows. It was thus that his grave eyes passed beyond the gardens and moved from corner to corner of the house, from sill to cornice, relating the porticos and interminable row of French windows to dollars and cents. He had, of course, been of one mind, and now he was of two; but that octagonal slug of California minting, by which he resolved his doubts, fell heads, and he stepped with an acquiescent reluctance from the dappled shadows into the full sunlight of the gardens and moved slowly, with a kind of awkward and cadaverous grandeur, toward the house. He paused by the sundial to break a yellow rose from the vine out of which its fluted supporting column emerged. So standing, and regarding the rose slowly twirled in his fingers, he made a dark contrast to the brightly-colored gardens. His black cape hung in unbroken lines from his gaunt shoulders to his knees, and his face had the modeling and the gentle gloom of Dante’s.

The rose fell from his hand, and he moved onward through the garden and entered the house as nonchalantly as if it had been his own. He found himself in a cool dining-room, with a great chimney-piece and beaded white paneling. The table was laid for seven, and Forrest’s intuitive good taste caused his eyes to rest with more than passing interest upon the stately loving-cup, full of roses, that served for a centre-piece. But from its rosy garlands caught up in the mouths of demon-heads he turned suddenly to the portrait over the chimney-piece. It was darker and more sedate than the pictures to which Forrest was accustomed, but in effect no darker or more sedate than himself. The gentleman of the portrait, a somewhat pouchy-cheeked, hook-nosed Revolutionary, in whose wooden and chalky hand was a rolled document, seemed to return Forrest’s glance with a kind of bored courtesy.

“That is probably the Signer,” thought Forrest, and he went closer. “A great buck in your time,” he approved.

The butler entered the dining-room from the pantry, and, though a man accustomed to emergencies, was considerably nonplussed at the sight of the stranger. That the stranger was a bona fide stranger, James, who had served the Ballins for thirty years, knew; but what manner of stranger, and whether a rogue or a man upon legitimate business, James could not so much as guess.

“I beg your pardon, sir,” he said, “were you looking for some one?”

“Yes,” said Forrest, perfectly at his ease, “and no.”

“Shall I tell Mr. Ballin that you are here, sir?”

“I shall find him for myself, thank you,” said Forrest, and he moved toward an open door that seemed to lead into the hall.

“By the way,” he said, “there will be an extra at luncheon.”

Very stately in his long, black cape, and with his pensive Dantesque face, Forrest continued on his slow progress to the open door and went out of the dining-room. He crossed the hall with half an eye to its quiet tones and bowls of roses, and entered a room of bright chintz with a pattern of cornflowers, and full of sunlight. It was a very spacious room, and lively–a proper link between the gardens and the house; and here were many photographs in silver frames of smart men and women; and the Sunday papers with their colored supplements were strewn in disorder upon the floor. And it seemed to Forrest, so comfortable and intimate did it look, as if that room had been a part of his own life. Upon the blotter of a writing-table sprawled a check-book bound in yellow leather. And when Forrest saw that, he smiled. It came as a surprise that the teeth in that careworn face should be white and even. And in those rare and charming moments of his smiling he looked like a young man who has made many engagements with life which he proposes to fulfil, instead of like a man for whom the curious years reserve but one sensation more.