LOOKING back to the whole thing, it seems to me that the curtain went up, as it were, on that casual remark of Ellerton Bellmont’s. From then on, every word, every gesture, made up an inevitable part of the whole, like the fitting together of a piece of mosaic.

There were the four of us — Frederick Clay (Clay of Kentucky, sir, no damned Yankee in his!), the two Bellmonts, Eustace and Ellerton, and myself, all lounging in wicker chairs on Eustace’s porch at Linside. We were all smoking, and all comfortable, and there was nothing in the peace of that late summer afternoon to suggest that when the day should presently slip down into the past, it would have set its stamp forever on at least three out of the four.

In spite of the heat, Clay had engaged Eustace in a fierce argument on the tendencies of the modern drama, leaving the younger Bellmont and myself to keep up a desultory undercurrent of conversation.

It was then that Ellerton stretched a little deeper in his chair, and putting his hands behind his back, made a remark, quite apart, I remember, from the former subject of our idle talk.

“ I always like,” he said, “ to sit here on Eustace’s porch and look down at that little glimpse of the drive as it goes under the gate. I like to see people appear there a second, and then disappear. It’s something like life, like that old simile, you know, of the sparrow flying out of the dark into the lighted hall to circle about there a moment, and then fly away again into the night.”

The Linside drive, after surrounding a bed of flaming geraniums directly in front of the porch, dived into a sort of green tunnel of shrubbery which led down to the entrance, where one had again a white glimpse of it under the gate, as it joined the main thoroughfare, which in its turn was obscured by more trees.

It was to this little peep of the drive under the arch of the gate that Ellerton referred, and I was struck once more, as I had been time and again, by the difference that there was between the two brothers. In Ellerton’s face, and about his manner, there was youth, of course, but there was as well a sense of poetry, of imagination, and one was aware of the touch of his understanding even though he spoke so little. With Eustace, on the other hand, the attitude of the critic was always in evidence, perhaps inevitably so when one remembered how very much The Touchstone paid him for this attitude. But, however clever his criticisms might be in print, there were times when his friends wished he would occasionally fling all aside in some warm glory of enthusiasm.

“ By the way, Eu, who has the Island House this summer? ” Ellerton went on, referring to a house set on a tiny island in the midst of a sweet little green river, the flicker and dance of which were visible from where we sat.

Ellerton was just back from some little God-forsaken hole in the country somewhere, while Clay and I had run out from New York for the week-end, so we were all three more or less strangers to the summer news of Linside.

“ The Island House? ” Eustace said vaguely, his mind still intent on the modern drama. Looking at his handsome, rather heavy face,—one cannot be an authority on things to eat and to drink without paying for it in some way, I suppose, — I remember thinking suddenly that he was the very type of man who would appeal by his reserve to a certain kind of woman, the kind who is piqued by the inscrutable, and I wondered if Eustace really did possess that other soul — the soul that we are told is given a man to show a woman when he loves her.

“ Oh, the Island House,” Eustace said, jerking his mind away from Clay’s argument. “It’s rented this year to some Southern people, and by the way, Clay, they have your name,” he added.

“ What state are they from? ” Clay demanded promptly, for he was as keen on the question of family tree as he was on the breeding of a horse.

“ Kentucky,” Eustace returned. “In all probability they are your cousins. They have named the island Shalott; a thing,” he added, “ that I refrained from doing in all the time I lived there, — it was quite too obvious.”

“ H’m,” said Clay. “ Is there by chance a Lady of Shalott ? Under those circumstances the cousinship might be worth claiming.”

Looking at Eustace idly for an answer, I saw something that took me by keen surprise. I saw his face flush suddenly crimson. Any evidence of feeling or embarrassment was so foreign to him that I glanced on to Ellerton questioningly. He was regarding his brother in surprise also, a surprise that gave way suddenly to a flicker of delighted boyish amusement, which was voiced by a frank chuckle from the Kentuckian. After that first flush of telltale color, however, Eustace recovered himself, and answered coolly enough.

“ Yes, there is, as you suggest, a Lady of Shalott,” he said. “ There are, in fact, three, — Mrs. Clay and her two daughters,”

“ And you are perhaps on intimate terms with the family? ”

Again Clay’s ripple of mirth brought the color to Eustace’s face.

“ I called, naturally, when they first moved in, to inquire if my tenants were comfortable.”

“ And afterwards? ” the other persisted fiendishly.

“ Oh yes, of course afterwards too; in fact, I’ve seen quite a bit of them all summer.”

“ And how do my cousins, the ladies of Shalott, amuse themselves? ”

“ Mrs. Clay seems chiefly occupied with her housekeeping — an excellent woman who knows very well what constitutes a good dinner. The young daughter is still of the schoolroom age, so I really don’t know how she occupies herself. Miss Clay, however, like your true daughter of the Blue Grass, spends a good deal of her time on horseback.”

“On horseback!” Clay repeated quickly, any mention of horses or horsemanship being always a sure key to his interest. “ Hark! ” he added on the moment, raising his hand for silence. And the rest of us, listening, caught the sound of a horse’s hoofbeats on the hidden road below us.

“ Speak of the angels,” Clay said. “ For I suppose Miss Clay of Kentucky is the only person up here who rides a gaited horse.”

And listening more sharply, my slower horse knowledge took in the fact that instead of the sharp trot that our Northern roads are accustomed to, the hoof-beats in question fell with a soft slip-slop, a whispered blurr of sound. Almost at the same moment Ellerton ejaculated, “ Whew! that’s hitting the pace! ”

Following his eyes, I caught the last glimpse of an enormous white automobile as it tore past the little opening in the hedge-rows where the Linside drive joined the main road.

“ Gaited horses,” Clay said judiciously, “ are n’t for ladies to ride up here. Gaited horses are country-bred — automobiles are n’t. And white cars are the worst kind,” he added.

The words were scarcely lost in silence when there came up to us distinctly from the road, first the warning note of an automobile’s horn, then a sudden clatter of plunging hoofs, a woman’s short, sharp, scream, and then all silence save for the terrified wild beat of iron hoofs fleeing along the road to the Linside entrance.

Clay leaped to his feet. “ Gad! ” he cried. “ He’s bolting! ”

I do not suppose it was more than a few seconds that we four stood with caught breath listening to the flying hoof-beats, yet in that moment I had time to glance at Eustace, and to wonder at his calmness. I think now that he — never a horseman — had not taken in the sense of Clay’s words, and did not realize whose horse it might be that was running so madly down there out of sight between the hedge-rows.

Then for a moment at the Linside entrance, where the white car had been framed the instant before, I saw a horse flash into view, and with a sudden turn which almost threw him, wheel in at the gate, to be obscured the second after by the overhanging greenery of the drive. A horse’s flying body, and on his back a woman. I know I saw her — saw the light swing of her body as the animal plunged in at the gate, and saw too the set of her small dark head as it disappeared from sight; yet at my side Clay ejaculated in a halfwhisper, “ Lord, he’s thrown her! ”

Then we all caught our breath again to listen to the scratching splatter of the gravel as it flew from the driveway, and to the pound, pound, pound, of the nearing hoofs.

We had sprung off the porch and strung out across the drive, waiting, and at last with a snort the horse stumbled out of the green tunnel. Clay leaped for the bridle, and held on, though the beast tried to tear himself free in frantic half-circles.

“ Whoa, boy! Whoa, old man! ” the Kentuckian panted; and presently the horse came to a stand in the middle of the torn-up gravel. His head was flung high, with staring, frightened eyes, and red, spread nostrils. On his back sat a woman. A beautiful, beautiful woman, slender and graceful, and lithe, with enormous, startled dark eyes, and masses of black hair. Her face was dead white. One hand pressed against her bosom, the other hung limply down, not grasping the reins, and her eyes, so startled and dark and strange, were fixed upon Eustace Bellmont.

I sprang toward her breathlessly. “ Are you hurt, are you hurt?” I cried.

Her eyes did not so much as waver from Eustace’s face, but Clay’s cheerful voice took me up in surprise.

“Hurt? Heavens, no! He gave my arm a bit of a wrench, but that’s all. Whoa, boy! Whoa! ”

“ Good man! ” cried Eustace. “ But don’t let him trample my geraniums.”

A sudden sick astonishment crept up my spine and crested the hair at the back of my neck. Neither Clay nor Eustace Bellmont saw the woman — the woman who sat there almost in touch of them, and who looked, and looked, at Eustace! Stiffly I turned to Ellerton. His eyes were wide and dark like hers, and he looked at her as strangely as she looked at his brother.

“ I’m afraid there’s been a bad accident down there on the road,” Clay said. “ We’d better tie this brute up and go down.”

“ No, wait a moment until I get one of my men,” Eustace returned. “ You can’t tie him anywhere here that he won’t stamp my turf to bits.”

And the woman sat and looked at him.

I could have broken my heart for her — for some power to comfort that beautiful dark creature so close there to Eustace, and who looked and looked at him in such poignant surprise. It seemed as though her eyes must wake some answering sight in the man. Yet they did not, and his concern was all for the protection of his grass; and at last slowly, lingeringly, with an unbelievable astonishment, she drew her eyes from his face, and turned them pitifully, questioningly, first to Clay, then to me, and at last to Ellerton. When her gaze came to me I know my throat ached and ached, and I could have cried out with sorrow for her. Yet she seemed to find nothing in my face, and it was on Ellerton’s that her eyes came to rest. And as they did so all the poetry, all the imagination of the boy’s expression merged itself in a sudden smile like the flashing up of sunlight. I know he did not speak, and yet I seemed to feel him say, “ Never mind, never mind, sweetheart — it will be all right, I know it will be all right! ”

And looking at him all at once the woman smiled too, a radiant answer.

The horse gave a great snort, and sprang to one side. There was the juicy snap of crushed geranium stems, the pungent fragrance of their bruised leaves.

“ Gad! ” Clay gasped, wrestling with him.

“ Good Heavens, man! Can’t you keep that brute off my flowers — that bed cost me thirty dollars! ” Eustace cried irritably.

At my side I heard Ellerton draw a sharp breath, and when I turned again to the woman, suddenly she was gone. I looked at Ellerton. He was staring at the empty saddle, and his face was dazed and dead of expression. Presently, however, he became aware of my look and answered it full and straight, and without words each knew what the other had seen.

All at once amounted groom, frantic with haste, burst out of the driveway and spurred up to us. As he caught sight of the man, for the first time I saw upon Eustace’s face a dread of what might have happened, for he knew men better than he did horses.

“ It’s Miss Clay’s groom! ” he muttered, his face dead white, and his voice almost lost in fear.

The man was all to pieces, and when he reached us he could only choke out, “She’s killed — she’s killed! O Mr. Bellmont, sir, I saw her killed right before my eyes! ”

Eustace stood looking at him for a moment, then he put his hands up to his head. “ We were engaged to be married,” he said, speaking to no one.

Afterwards he turned and began to run madly down the drive, and the rest of us ran with him.

Of the events which followed, my mind seems only to have retained a series of sharp pictures, and it leaps on from one to another, breathlessly, disconnectedly, like a flung stone skipping across a pond. I see first that expression of awakened horror on Eustace’s face, then the bowed look of his shoulders as he ran just in front of me, and I hear the crash, crash, of gravel under our hurrying feet. Then the picture in the road: the white car turned into the ditch; men with motor caps and pushed-up goggles; hysterical women with silly floating veils, and in the midst of them, on the ground, the dark figure of the Lady of Shalott who had come and looked at Eustace. One arm lay limply down upon the road, the other was flung across her breast. I remember when they raised her up, that arm fell back, and her coat opened to show a splash of crimson on her white blouse.

I turned my eyes sharply away and glanced at the face. The same glad look was there — the look that Ellerton’s smile had given her.

And through it all, through all the little nothing that we could do, and through that desolate walk back from the Island House, Eustace moved like a man in a dream. He spoke once, however, just as we stepped up on the Linside porch.

“ And it was only yesterday,” he said incredulously, “ only yesterday that we promised each other if anything happened, if one of us died, that one would come to the other — if such things are possible. So of course they can’t be,” he said, “ or she would have come — she would surely have come.”

With a quick movement Ellerton slipped his arm through his brother’s, his eyes daring me to tell what I had seen.

But perhaps afterwards he told Eustace himself.