The Tempting of Tavernake
I.27. Tavernake Chooses
Tavernake was kept waiting in the hall of the Milan Court for at least half an hour before
Elizabeth was prepared to see him. He wandered aimlessly about watching the people
come and go, looking out into the flower-hung courtyard, curiously unconscious of
himself and of his errand, unable to concentrate his thoughts for a moment, yet filled all
the time with the dull and uneasy sensation of one who moves in a dream. Every now and
then he heard scraps of conversation from the servants and passers-by, referring to the
last night's incident. He picked up a paper but threw it down after only a casual glance at
the paragraph. He saw enough to convince him that for the present, at any rate, Elizabeth
seemed assured of a certain amount of sympathy. The career of poor Wenham Gardner
was set down in black and white, with little extenuation, little mercy. His misdeeds in
Paris, his career in New York, spoke for themselves. He was quoted as a type, a decadent
of the most debauched instincts, to whom crime was a relaxation and vice a habit.
Tavernake would read no more. He might have been all these things, and yet she had
become his wife!
At last came the message for which he was waiting. As usual, her maid met him at the
door of her suite and ushered him in. Elizabeth was dressed for the part very simply, with
a suggestion even of mourning in her gray gown. She welcomed him with a pathetic
"Once more, my dear friend," she said, "I have to thank you."
Her fingers closed upon his and she smiled into his face. Tavernake found himself
curiously unresponsive. It was the same smile, and he knew very well that he himself had
not changed, yet it seemed as though life itself were in a state of suspense for him.
"You, too, are looking grave this morning, my friend," she continued. "Oh, how horrible
it has all been! Within the last two hours I have had at least five reporters, a gentleman
from Scotland Yard, another from the American Ambassador to see me. It is too terrible,
of course," she went on. "Wenham's people are doing all they can to make it worse. They
want to know why we were not together, why he was living in the country and I in town.
They are trying to show that he was under restraint there, as if such a thing were possible!
Mathers was his own servant-- poor Mathers!
She sighed and wiped her eyes. Still Tavernake said nothing. She looked at him, a little
"You are not very sympathetic," she observed. "Please come and sit down by my side and
I will show you something."
He moved towards her but he did not sit down. She stretched out her hand and picked
something up from the table, holding it towards him. Tavernake took it mechanically and
held it in his fingers. It was a cheque for twelve thousand pounds.