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The Legend
by [?]

I

ARTHUR BERNALD could never afterward recall just when the first conjecture flashed on him: oddly enough, there was no record of it in the agitated jottings of his diary. But, as it seemed to him in retrospect, he had always felt that the queer man at the Wades’ must be John Pellerin, if only for the negative reason that he couldn’t imaginably be any one else. It was impossible, in the confused pattern of the century’s intellectual life, to fit the stranger in anywhere, save in the big gap which, some five and twenty years earlier, had been left by Pellerin’s unaccountable disappearance; and conversely, such a man as the Wades’ visitor couldn’t have lived for sixty years without filling, somewhere in space, a nearly equivalent void.

At all events, it was certainly not to Doctor Wade or to his mother that Bernald owed the hint: the good unconscious Wades, one of whose chief charms in the young man’s eyes was that they remained so robustly untainted by Pellerinism, in spite of the fact that Doctor Wade’s younger brother, Howland, was among its most impudently flourishing high-priests.

The incident had begun by Bernald’s running across Doctor Robert Wade one hot summer night at the University Club, and by Wade’s saying, in the tone of unprofessional laxity which the shadowy stillness of the place invited: “I got hold of a queer fish at St. Martin’s the other day–case of heat-prostration picked up in Central Park. When we’d patched him up I found he had nowhere to go, and not a dollar in his pocket, and I sent him down to our place at Portchester to re-build.”

The opening roused his hearer’s attention. Bob Wade had an odd unformulated sense of values that Bernald had learned to trust.

“What sort of chap? Young or old?”

“Oh, every age–full of years, and yet with a lot left. He called himself sixty on the books.”

“Sixty’s a good age for some kinds of living. And age is of course purely subjective. How has he used his sixty years?”

“Well–part of them in educating himself, apparently. He’s a scholar–humanities, languages, and so forth.”

“Oh–decayed gentleman,” Bernald murmured, disappointed.

“Decayed? Not much!” cried the doctor with his accustomed literalness. “I only mentioned that side of Winterman–his name’s Winterman–because it was the side my mother noticed first. I suppose women generally do. But it’s only a part–a small part. The man’s the big thing.”

“Really big?”

“Well–there again. … When I took him down to the country, looking rather like a tramp from a ‘Shelter,’ with an untrimmed beard, and a suit of reach-me-downs he’d slept round the Park in for a week, I felt sure my mother’d carry the silver up to her room, and send for the gardener’s dog to sleep in the hall the first night. But she didn’t.”

“I see. ‘Women and children love him.’ Oh, Wade!” Bernald groaned.

“Not a bit of it! You’re out again. We don’t love him, either of us. But we feel him–the air’s charged with him. You’ll see.”

And Bernald agreed that he would see, the following Sunday. Wade’s inarticulate attempts to characterize the stranger had struck his friend. The human revelation had for Bernald a poignant and ever-renewed interest, which his trade, as the dramatic critic of a daily paper, had hitherto failed to discourage. And he knew that Bob Wade, simple and undefiled by literature–Bernald’s specific affliction–had a free and personal way of judging men, and the diviner’s knack of reaching their hidden springs. During the days that followed, the young doctor gave Bernald farther details about John Winterman: details not of fact–for in that respect his visitor’s reticence was baffling–but of impression. It appeared that Winterman, while lying insensible in the Park, had been robbed of the few dollars he possessed; and on leaving the hospital, still weak and half-blind, he had quite simply and unprotestingly accepted the Wades’ offer to give him shelter till such time as he should be strong enough to go to work.