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Title: Man and Maid
Author: Glyn, Elinor, 1864-1943
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Man and Maid" ***

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| Transcriber's Notes                                                 |
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| 1. Where possible, punctuation has been normalized to contemporary  |
|    standards.                                                       |
| 2. Diacritical marks are as they appeared in the printed book, and  |
|    may not reflect current usage.                                   |
| 3. Obvious typographic and spelling errors have been corrected.     |
+---------------------------------------------------------------------+

[Illustration: Suzette (Renee Adoree) makes the tedious hours of the
wounded Sir Nicholas Thormonde (Lew Cody) seem less monotonous. (A scene
from Elinor Glyn's production "Man and Maid" for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer)]

-----------------------------------------------------------------------

MAN AND MAID

By ELINOR GLYN

A. L. BURT COMPANY
Publishers New York

Published by arrangement with J. B. Lippincott Company
Printed in U.S.A.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------

COPYRIGHT, 1922, BY ELINOR GLYN

-----------------------------------------------------------------------



MAN AND MAID

I


                                                        February, 1918.

I am sick of my life--The war has robbed it of all that a young man can
find of joy.

I look at my mutilated face before I replace the black patch over the
left eye, and I realize that, with my crooked shoulder, and the leg gone
from the right knee downwards, that no woman can feel emotion for me
again in this world.

So be it--I must be a philosopher.

Mercifully I have no near relations--Mercifully I am still very rich,
mercifully I can buy love when I require it, which under the
circumstances, is not often.

Why do people write journals? Because human nature is filled with
egotism. There is nothing so interesting to oneself as oneself; and
journals cannot yawn in one's face, no matter how lengthy the expression
of one's feelings may be!

A clean white page is a sympathetic thing, waiting there to receive
one's impressions!

Suzette supped with me, here in my _appartement_ last night--When she
had gone I felt a beast. I had found her attractive on Wednesday, and
after an excellent lunch, and two Benedictines, I was able to persuade
myself that her tenderness and passion were real, and not the result of
some thousands of francs,--And then when she left I saw my face in the
glass without the patch over the socket, and a profound depression fell
upon me.

Is it because I am such a mixture that I am this rotten creature?--An
American grandmother, a French mother, and an English father.
Paris--Eton--Cannes--Continuous traveling. Some years of living and
enjoying a rich orphan's life.--The war--fighting--a zest hitherto
undreamed of--unconsciousness--agony--and then?--well now Paris again
for special treatment.

Why do I write this down? For posterity to take up the threads
correctly?--Why?

From some architectural sense in me which must make a beginning, even of
a journal, for my eyes alone, start upon a solid basis?

I know not--and care not.

       *       *       *       *       *

Three charming creatures are coming to have tea with me to-day. They had
heard of my loneliness and my savageness from Maurice--They burn to give
me their sympathy--and have tea with plenty of sugar in it--and
chocolate cake.

I used to wonder in my salad days what the brains of women were made
of--when they have brains!--The cleverest of them are generally devoid
of a logical sense, and they seldom understand the relative value of
things, but they make the charm of life, for one reason or another.

When I have seen these three I will dissect them. A divorcée--a war
widow of two years--and the third with a husband fighting.

All, Maurice assures me, ready for anything, and highly attractive. It
will do me a great deal of good, he protests. We shall see.

_Night._ They came, with Maurice and Alwood Chester, of the American Red
Cross. They gave little shrill screams of admiration for the room.

"_Quel endroit delicieux!_--What _boiserie_! English?--Yes, of course,
English _dix-septième_, one could see--What silver!--and cleaned--And
everything of a _chic_!--And the hermit so _séduisant_ with his air
_maussade_!--_Hein._"

"Yes, the war is much too long--One has given of one's time in the first
year--but now, really, fatigue has overcome one!--and surely after the
spring offensive peace _must_ come soon--and one must live!"

They smoked continuously and devoured the chocolate cake, then they had
liqueurs.

They were so well dressed! and so lissome. They wore elastic corsets, or
none at all. They were well painted; cheeks of the new tint, rather
apricot coloured--and magenta lips. They had arranged themselves when
they had finished munching, bringing out their gold looking-glasses and
their lip grease and their powder--and the divorcee continued to
endeavour to enthrall my senses with her voluptuous half closing of the
eyes, while she reddened her full mouth.

They spoke of the theatre, and the last _bons mots_ about their _cherès
amies_--the last liasons--the last passions--They spoke of
Gabrielle--her husband was killed last week--'So foolish of him, since
one of Alice's 'friends' among the Ministers could easily have got him a
soft job, and one must always help one's friends! Alice adored
Gabrielle.--But he has left her well provided for--Gabrielle will look
well in her crepe--and there it is, war is war--_Que voulez vous?_'

"After all, will it be as agreeable if peace does come this summer?--One
will be able to dance openly--that will be nice--but for the rest? It
may be things will be more difficult--and there may be complications.
One has been very well during the war--very well, indeed--_N'est ce pas
ma cherie--n'est ce pas?_"

Thus they talked.

The widow's lover is married, Maurice tells me, and has been able to
keep his wife safely down at their place in Landes, but if peace should
come he must be _en famille_, and the wife can very well be disagreeable
about the affair.

The divorcée's three lovers will be in Paris at the same time. The
married one's husband returned for good--"Yes, certainly, peace will
have its drawbacks--The war knows its compensations--But considerable
ones!"

When they had departed, promising to return very soon--to dinner this
time, and see all the "exquisite _appartement_," Burton came into the
room to take away the tea things. His face was a mask as he swept up the
cigarette ash, which had fallen upon the William and Mary English lac
table, which holds the big lamp, then he carefully carried away the
silver ash trays filled with the ends, and returned with them cleaned.
Then he coughed slightly.

"Shall I open the window, Sir Nicholas?"

"It is a beastly cold evening."

He put an extra log on the fire and threw the second casement wide.

"You'll enjoy your dinner better now, Sir," he said, and left me
shivering.

       *       *       *       *       *

I wish I were a musician, I could play to myself. I have still my two
hands, though perhaps my left shoulder hurts too much to play often. My
one eye aches when I read for too long, and the stump below the knee is
too tender still to fit the false leg on to, and I cannot, because of my
shoulder, use my crutch overmuch, so walking is out of the question.
These trifles are perhaps, the cause of my ennui with life.

I suppose such women as those who came to-day fulfill some purpose in the
scheme of things. One can dine openly with them at the most exclusive
restaurant, and not mind meeting one's relations. They are rather more
expensive than the others--pearl necklaces--sables--essence for their
motor cars--these are their prices.--They are so decorative, too, and
before the war were such excellent tango partners. These three are all
of the best families, and their relations stick to them in the
background, so they are not altogether _déclassé_. Maurice says they are
the most agreeable women in Paris, and get the last news out of the
Generals. They are seen everywhere, and Coralie, the married one, wears
a Red Cross uniform sometimes at tea--if she happens to remember to go
into a hospital for ten minutes to hold some poor fellow's hand.

Yes, I suppose they have their uses--there are a horde of them, anyway.

To-morrow Maurice is bringing another specimen to divert me--American
this time--over here for "war work." Maurice says one of the cleverest
adventuresses he has ever met; and I am still irresistible, he assures
me, so I must be careful--(for am I not disgustingly rich!)

Burton is sixty years old--He is my earliest recollection. Burton knows
the world.

       *       *       *       *       *

_Friday_--The American adventuress delighted me. She was so shrewd. Her
eyes are cunning and evil--her flesh is round and firm, she is not
extremely painted, and her dresses are quite six inches below her knees.

She has two English peers in tow, and any casual Americans of note whom
she can secure who will give her facilities in life. She, also, is
posing for a 'lady' and 'a virtuous woman,' and an ardent war worker.

All these parasites are the product of the war, though probably they
always existed, but the war has been their glorious chance. There is a
new verb in America, Maurice says--"To war work"--It means to get to
Paris, and have a splendid time.

Their _toupé_ is surprising! To hear this one talk one would think she
ruled all the politics of the allies, and directed each General.

       *       *       *       *       *

Are men fools?--Yes, imbeciles--they cannot see the wiles of woman.
Perhaps I could not when I was a human male whom they could love!

Love?--did I say love?

Is there such a thing?--or is it only a sex excitement for the
moment!--That at all events is the sum of what these creatures know.

Do they ever think?--I mean beyond planning some fresh adventure for
themselves, or how to secure some fresh benefit.

I cannot now understand how a man ever marries one of them, gives his
name and his honour into such precarious keeping. Once I suppose I
should have been as easy a prey as the rest. But not _now_--I have too
much time to think, I fear. I seem to find some ulterior motive in
whatever people say or do.

To-day another American lunched with me, a bright girl, an heiress of the
breezy, jolly kind, a good sort before the war, whom I danced with
often. She told me quite naturally that she had a German prisoner's
thigh bone being polished into an umbrella handle--She had assisted at
the amputation--and the man had afterwards died--"A really cute
souvenir," she assured me it was going to be!

Are we all mad--?

No wonder the finest and best "go West."--Will they come again, souls of
a new race, when all these putrid beings have become extinguished by
time? I hope so to God....

These French women enjoy their crepe veils--and their high-heeled shoes,
and their short black skirts, even a cousin is near enough for the
trappings of woe.--Can any of us feel woe now?--I think not....

Maurice has his uses--Were I a man once more I should despise
Maurice--He is so good a creature, such a devoted hanger on of the very
rich--and faithful too. Does he not pander to my every fancy, and
procure me whatever I momentarily desire?

How much better if I had been killed outright! I loathe myself and all
the world.

       *       *       *       *       *

Once--before the war--the doing up of this flat caused me raptures. To
get it quite English--in Paris! Every _antiquaire_ in London had
exploited me to his heart's content. I paid for it through the nose, but
each bit is a gem. I am not quite sure now what I meant to do with it
when finished, occupy it when I did come to Paris--lend it to
friends?--I don't remember--Now it seems a sepulchre where I can retire
my maimed body to and wait for the end.

       *       *       *       *       *

Nina once proposed to stay with me here, no one should know,
Nina?--would she come now?--How dare they make this noise at the
door--what is it?--Nina!

       *       *       *       *       *

_Sunday_--it was actually Nina herself--"Poor darling Nicholas," she
said. "The kindest fate sent me across--I 'wangled' a passport--really
serious war work, and here I am for a fortnight, even in war time one
_must_ get a few clothes--"

I could see I was a great shock to her, my attraction for her had
gone--I was just "poor darling Nicholas," and she began to be
motherly--Nina motherly!--She would have been furious at the very idea
once. Nina is thirty-nine years old, her boy has just gone into the
flying corps, she is so glad the war will soon be over.

She loves her boy.

She gave me news of the world, our old world of idle uselessness, which
is now one of solid work.

"Why have you completely cut yourself off from everything and everybody,
ever since you first went out to fight?--Very silly of you."

"When I was a _man_ and could fight, I liked fighting, and never wanted
to see any of you again. You all seemed rotters to me, so I spent my
leaves in the country or here. Now you seem glorious beings, and I the
rotter. I am no use at all--"

Nina came close to me and touched my hand--

"Poor darling Nicholas," she said again.

Something hurt awfully, as I realized that to touch me now caused her no
thrill. No woman will ever thrill again when I am near.

Nina does know all about clothes! She is the best-dressed Englishwoman I
have ever seen. She has worked awfully well for the war, too, I hear,
she deserves her fortnight in Paris.

"What are you going to do, Nina?" I asked her.

She was going out to theatres every night, and going to dine with lots
of delicious 'red tabs' whose work was over here, whom she had not seen
for a long time.

"I'm just going to frivol, Nicholas, I am tired of work."

Nothing could exceed her kindness--a mother's kindness.

I tried to take an interest in everything she said, only it seemed such
aeons away. As though I were talking in a dream.

She would go plodding on at her war job when she got back again, of
course, but she, like everyone else, is war weary.

"And when peace comes--it will soon come now probably--what then?"

"I believe I shall marry again."

I jumped--I had never contemplated the possibility of Nina marrying, she
has always been a widowed institution, with her nice little house in
Queen Street, and that wonderful cook.

"What on earth for?"

"I want the companionship and devotion of one man."

"Anyone in view?"

"Yes--one or two--they say there is a shortage of men, I have never
known so many men in my life."

Then presently, when she had finished her tea, she said--

"You are absolutely out of gear, Nicholas--Your voice is rasping, your
remarks are bitter, and you must be awfully unhappy, poor boy."

I told her that I was--there was no use in lying.

"Everything is finished," I said, and she bent down and kissed me as she
said good-bye--a mother's kiss.

       *       *       *       *       *

And now I am alone, and what shall I do all the evening? or all the
other evenings--? I will send for Suzette to dine.

       *       *       *       *       *

_Night_--Suzette--was amusing--. I told her at once I did not require
her to be affectionate.

"You can have an evening's rest from blandishments, Suzette."

"_Merci!_"--and then she stretched herself, kicked up her little feet,
in their short-vamped, podgy little shoes, with four-inch heels, and lit
a cigarette.

"Life is hard, _Mon ami_"--she told me--"And now that the English are
here, it is difficult to keep from falling in love."

For a minute I thought she was going to insinuate that I had aroused her
reflection--I warmed--but no--She had taken me seriously when I told her
I required no blandishments.

That ugly little twinge came to me again.

"You like the English?"

"Yes."

"Why?"

"They are very _bons garçons_, they are clean, and they are fine men,
they have sentiment, too--Yes, it is difficult not to feel," she sighed.

"What do you do when you fall in love then, Suzette?"

"_Mon ami_, I immediately go for a fortnight to the sea--one is lost if
one falls in love _dans le metier_--The man tramples then--tramples and
slips off--For everything good one must never feel."

"But you have a kind heart Suzette--you feel for me?"

"_Hein?_"--and she showed all her little white pointed
teeth--"Thou?--Thou art very rich, _mon chou_. Women will always feel
for thee!"

It went in like a knife it was so true--.

"I was a very fine Englishman once," I said.

"It is possible, thou art still, sitting, and showing the right
profile--and full of _chic_--and then rich, rich!"

"You could not forget that I am rich, Suzette?"

"If I did I might love you--_Jamais!_"

"And does the sea help to prevent an attack?"--

"Absence--and I go to a poor place I knew when I was young, and I wash
and cook, and make myself remember what _la vie dure_ was--and would be
again if one loved--Bah! that does it. I come back cured--and ready only
to please such as thou, Nicholas!--rich, rich!"

       *       *       *       *       *

And she laughed again her rippling gay laugh--

We had a pleasant evening, she told me the history of her life--or some
of it--They were ever the same from Lucien's Myrtale.

       *       *       *       *       *

When all of me is aching--Shall I too, find solace if I go to the sea?

Who knows?



II


I have been through torture this week--The new man wrenches my shoulder
each day, it will become straight eventually, he says. They have tried
to fit the false leg also, so those two things are going on, but the
socket is not yet well enough for anything to be done to my left eye--so
that has defeated them. It will be months before any real improvement
takes place.

There are hundreds of others who are more maimed than I--in greater
pain--more disgusting--does it give them any comfort to tell the truth
to a journal?--or are they strong enough to keep it all locked up in
their hearts?--I used to care to read, all books bore me now--I cannot
take interest in any single thing, and above all, I loathe myself--My
soul is angry.

Nina came again, to luncheon this time. It was pouring with rain, an
odious day. She told me of her love affairs--as a sister might--Nina a
sister!

She can't make up her mind whether to take Jim Bruce or Rochester
Moreland, they are both Brigadiers now, Jim is a year younger than she
is.

"Rochester is really more my mate, Nicholas," she said, "but then there
are moments when I am with him when I am not sure if he would not bore
me eventually, and he has too much character for me to suppress--Jim
fascinates me, but I only hold him because he is not sure of me--If I
marry him he will be, and then I shall have to watch my looks, and
remember to play the game all the time, and it won't be restful--above
all, I want rest and security."

"You are not really in love with either, Nina?"

"Love?" and she smoothed out the fringe on her silk jersey with her
war-hardened hand--the hand I once loved to kiss--every blue vein on
it!--"I often, wonder what really is love, Nicholas--I thought I loved
you before the war--but, of course, I could not have--because I don't
feel anything now--and if I had really loved you, I suppose it would not
have made any difference."

Then she realized what she had said and got up and came closer to me.

"That was cruel of me, I did not mean to be--I love you awfully as a
sister--always."

"Sister Nina!--well, let us get back to love--perhaps the war has killed
it--or it has developed everything, perhaps it now permits a sensitive,
delicious woman like you to love two men."

"You see, we have become so complicated"--she puffed smoke rings at
me--"One man does not seem to fulfill the needs of every mood--Rochester
would not understand some things that Jim would, and _vice versa_--I do
not feel any glamour about either, but it is rest and certainty, as I
told you, Nicholas, I am so tired of working and going home to Queen
Street alone."

"Shall you toss up?"

"No--Rochester is coming up from the front to-morrow just for the night,
I am going to dine with him at Larue's--alone, I shall sample him all
the time--I sampled Jim when he was last in London a fortnight ago--"

"You will tell me about it when you have decided, won't you, Nina. You
see I have become a brother, and am interested in the psychological
aspects of things."

"Of course I will"--then she went on meditatively, her rather plaintive
voice low.

"I think all our true feeling is used up, Nicholas--our souls--if we
have souls--are blunted by the war agony. Only our senses still feel.
When Jim looks at me with his attractive blue eyes, and I see the D.S.O.
and the M.C., and his white nice teeth--and how his hair is brushed, and
how well his uniform fits, I have a jolly all-overish sensation--and I
don't much listen to what he is saying--he says lots of love--and I
think I would really like him all the time. Then, when he has gone I
think of other things, and I feel he would not understand a word about
them, and because he isn't there I don't feel the delicious all-overish
sensation, so I rather decide to marry Rochester--there would be such
risk--because when you are married to a man, it is possible to get much
fonder of him. Jim is a year younger than I am--It would be a strain,
perhaps in a year or two--especially if I got fond."

"You had better take the richer," I told her--"Money stands by one, it
is an attraction which even the effects of war never varies or lessens,"
and I could hear that there was bitterness in my voice.

"You are quite right," Nina said, taking no notice of it--"but I don't
want money--I have enough for every possible need, and my boy has his
own. I want something kind and affectionate to live with."

"You want a master--and a slave."

"Yes."

"Nina, when you loved me--what did you want?"

"Just you, Nicholas--just you."

"Well, I am here now, but an eye and a leg gone, and a crooked shoulder,
changes me;--so it is true love--even the emotion of the soul, depends
upon material things--"

Nina thought for a while.

"Perhaps not the emotion of the soul--if we have souls?--but what we
know of love now certainly does. I suppose there are people who can love
with the soul, I am not one of them."

"Well, you are honest, Nina."

She had her coffee and liqueur, she was graceful and composed and
refined, either Jim or Rochester will have a very nice wife.

Burton coughed when she had left.

"Out with it, Burton!"

"Mrs. Ardilawn is a kind lady, Sir Nicholas."

"Charming."

"I believe you'd be better with some lady to look after you, Sir--."

"To hell with you. Telephone for Mr. Maurice--I don't want any woman--we
can play piquet."

This is how my day ended--.

Maurice and piquet--then the widow and the divorcée for dinner--and now
alone again! The sickening rot of it all.

       *       *       *       *       *

_Sunday_--Nina came for tea--she feels that I am a great comfort to her
in this moment of her life, so full of indecision--It seems that Jim has
turned up too, at the Ritz, where Rochester still is, and that his
physical charm has upset all her calculations again.

"I am really very worried Nicholas," she said, "and you, who are a dear
family friend"--I am a family friend now!--"ought to be able to help
me."

"What the devil do you want me to do, Nina?--outset them both, and ask
you to marry me?"

"My dearest Nicholas!" it seemed to her that I had suggested that she
should marry father Xmas! "How funny you are!"

Once it was the height of her desire--Nina is eight years older than I
am--I can see now her burning eyes one night on the river in the June of
1914, when she insinuated, not all playfully, that it would be good to
wed.

"I think you had better take Jim my dear, after all. You are evidently
becoming in love with him and you have proved to me that the physical
charm matters most,--or if you are afraid of that, you had better do as
another little friend of mine does when she is attracted--she takes a
fortnight at the sea!"

"The sea would be awful in this weather! I should send for both in
desperation!" and she laughed and began to take an interest in the
furnishings of my flat. She looked over it, and Burton pointed out all
its merits to her (My crutch hurts my shoulder so much to-day I did not
want to move out of my chair). I could hear Burton's remarks, but they
fell upon unheeding ears--Nina is not cut out for a nurse, my poor
Burton, if you only knew--!

When she returned to my sitting room tea was in, and she poured it out
for me, and then she remarked.

"We have grown so awfully selfish, haven't we, Nicholas, but we aren't
such hypocrites as we were before the war. People still have lovers, but
they don't turn up their eyes so much at other people having them, as
they used. There is more tolerance--the only thing you cannot do is to
act publicly so that your men friends cannot defend you--'You must not
throw your bonnet over the windmills'--otherwise you can do as you
please--."

"You had not thought of taking either Jim or Rochester for a lover to
make certain which you prefer?"

Nina looked unspeakably shocked--.

"What a dreadful idea Nicholas!--I am thinking of both _seriously_, not
only to pass the time of day remember."

"That is all lovers are for, then Nina?--I used to think--."

"Never mind what you thought, there is no reason to insult me."

"Nothing was farther from my desire."

Nina's face cleared, as it had darkened ominously.

"What will you do if, having married Rochester, you find yourself
bored--Will you send for Jim again?"

"Certainly not, that would be disaster. I shan't plunge until I feel
pretty certain I am going to find the water just deep enough, and not
too deep--and if I do make a mistake, well I shall have to stick to it."

"By Jove what a philosopher," and I laughed--She poured out a second cup
of tea, and then she looked steadily at me, as though studying a new
phase of me.

"You are not a bit worse off than Tom Green, Nicholas, and he has not
got your money, and Tom is as jolly as anything, and everybody loves
him, though he is a hopeless cripple, and can't even look decent, as you
will be able to in a year or two. There is no use in having this
sentiment about war heroes that would make one put up with their
tempers, and their cynicism! Everybody is in the same boat, women and
men, we chance being maimed by bombs, and we are losing our looks with
rough work--for goodness sake stop being so soured--."

I laughed outright--it was all so true.

       *       *       *       *       *

_Friday_--Maurice brings people to play bridge every afternoon now. Nina
has gone back to England--having decided to take Jim!

It came about in this way--She flew in to tell me the last evening
before she left for Havre. She was breathless running up the stairs, as
something had gone wrong with the lift.

"Jim and I are engaged!"

"A thousand congratulations."

"Rochester had a dinner for me on Wednesday night. All the jolliest
people in Paris--some of those dear French who have been so nice to us
all along, and some of the War Council and the Ryvens, and so on--and,
do you know, Nicholas--I _heard_ Rochester telling Madame de Clerté the
same story about his _bon mot_ when a shell broke at Avicourt--as I had
already heard him tell Admiral Short, and Daisy Ryven!--that decided
me--. There was an element of self-glorification in that modest
story--and a man who would tell it _three times_, is not for me! In ten
years I should grow into being the listener victim--I could not face it!
So I said good-bye to him in the corridor, before up to my room--and I
telephoned to Jim, who was in his room on the Cambon side, and he came
round in the morning!"

"Was Rochester upset?"

"Rather! but a man of his age--he is forty-two, who can tell a
self-story three times is going to get cured soon, so I did not worry."

"And what did Jim say?"

"He was enchanted, he said he knew it would end like that--give a man of
forty-two rope enough and he'll be certain to hang himself, he said,
and, Oh! Nicholas--Jim is a darling, he is getting quite masterful--I
adore him!"

"Senses winning, Nina! Women only like physical masters."

She grew radiant. Never has she seemed so desirable. "I don't care a fig
Nicholas! If it is senses, well, then, I know it is the best thing in
the World, and a woman of my age can't have everything. I adore Jim! We
are going to be married the first moment he can get leave again--and I
shall 'wangle' him into being a 'red tab'--he has fought enough."

"And if meanwhile he should get maimed like me--what then, Nina?"

She actually paled.

"Don't be so horrid Nicholas--Jim--Oh! I can't bear it!" and being a
strict Protestant, she crossed herself--to avert bad luck!

"We won't think of anything but joy and happiness, Nina, but it is
quite plain to me you had better have a fortnight at the sea!"

She had forgotten the allusion, and turned puzzled brown eyes upon me.

"You know--to balance yourself when you feel you are falling in love"--I
reminded her.

"Oh! It is all stuff and nonsense! I know now I adore Jim--good-bye
Nicholas"--and she hugged me--as a sister--a mother--and a family
friend--and was off down the stairs again.

Burton had brought me in a mild gin and seltzer, and it was on the tray,
near, so I drank it, and said to myself, "Here is to the Senses--jolly
good things"--and then I telephoned to Suzette to come and dine.

       *       *       *       *       *

There is a mole on the left cheek of Suzette, high up near her eye,
there are three black hairs in it--I had never seen them until this
morning--_c'est fini_--_je ne puis plus_!

       *       *       *       *       *

Of course we have all got moles with three black hairs in them--and the
awful moment is when suddenly they are seen--That is the tragedy of
life--disillusion.

I cannot help being horribly introspective, Maurice would agree to
whatever I said, so there is no use in talking to him--I rush to this
journal, it cannot look at me with fond watery eyes of reproach and
disapproval--as Burton would if I let myself go to him.

_May 16th_--The times have been too anxious to write, it is over two
months since I opened this book. But it cannot be, it cannot be that we
shall be beaten--Oh! God--why am I not a man again to fight! The raids
are continuous--All the fluffies and nearly everyone left Paris in the
ticklish March and April times, but now their fears are lulled a little
and many have returned, and they rush to cinemas and theatres, to kill
time, and jump into the rare taxis to go and see the places where the
raid bombs burst, or Bertha shells, and watch the houses burning and the
crushed bodies of the victims being dragged out. They sicken me, this
rotten crew--But this is not all France--great, dear, brave France--It
is only one section of useless society. To-day the Duchesse de
Courville-Hautevine came to call upon me--mounted all the stairs without
even a wheeze--(the lift gave out again this morning!)--What a
personality!--How I respect her! She has worked magnificently since the
war began, her hospital is a wonder, her only son was killed fighting
gloriously at Verdun.

"You look as melancholy as a sick cat," she told me.

She likes to speak her English--"Of what good _Jeune homme_! We are not
done yet--I have cut some of my relatives who ran away from
Paris--Imbeciles! Bertha is our diversion now, and the raids at
night--jolly loud things!"--and she chuckled, detaching her scissors
which had got caught in the purple woolen jersey she wore over her Red
Cross uniform. She is quite indifferent to coquetry, this grande dame of
the _ancien regime_!

"My _blessés_ rejoice in them--_Que voulez vous?_--War is war--and there
is no use in looking blue--Cheer up, young man!"

Then we talked of other things. She is witty and downright, and her
every thought and action is kindly. I love la Duchesse--My mother was
her dearest friend.

When she had stayed twenty minutes--she came over close to my chair.

"I knew you would be bitter at not being in the fight, my son," she
said, patting me with her once beautiful hand, now red and hardened with
work, "So I snatched the moments to come to see you. On your one leg
you'll defend if the moment should come,--but it won't! And you--you
wounded ones, spared--can keep the courage up. _Tiens!_ you can at least
pray, you have the time--I have not--_Mais le Bon Dieu_ understands--."

And with that she left me, stopping to arrange her tightly curled fringe
(she sticks to all old styles) at the lac mirror by the door. I felt
better after she had gone--yes, it is that--God--why can't I fight!



III


Is some nerve being touched by the new treatment? I seem alternately to
be numb and perfectly indifferent to how the war is going, and then
madly interested. But I am too sensitive to leave my flat for any
meals--I drive whenever one of the "fluffies" (this is what Maurice
calls the widow, the divorcée and other rejoicers of men's war hearts)
can take me in her motor--No one else has a motor--There is no petrol
for ordinary people.

"It reminds one of Louis XV's supposed reply to his daughters"--I said
to Maurice yesterday. "When they asked him to make them a good road to
the Château of their dear _Gouvernante_, the Duchesse de la Bove--He
assured them he could not, his mistresses cost him too much! So they
paid for it themselves, hence the '_Chemin des Dames_.'"

"What reminds you of what--?" Maurice asked, looking horribly puzzled.

"The fluffies being able to get the petrol--."

"But I don't see, the connection?"

"It was involved--the mistresses got the money which should have made
the road in those days, and now--."

Maurice was annoyed with himself; he could not yet see, and no wonder,
for it _was_ involved!--but I am angry that the widow and the divorcée
both have motors and I none!

"Poor Odette--she hates taxis! Why should she not have a motor?--You are
_grinchant_, _mon cher_!--since she takes you out, too!"

"Believe me, Maurice, I am grateful, I shall repay all their
kindnesses--they have all indicated how I can best do so--but I like to
keep them waiting, it makes them more keen."

Maurice laughed again nervously.

"It is divine to be so rich, Nicholas"!

       *       *       *       *       *

All sorts of people come to talk to me and have tea (I have a small
hoard of sugar sent from a friend in Spain). Amongst them an ancient
guardsman in some inspection berth here--He, like Burton, knows the
world.

He tests women by whether or no they take presents from him, he tells
me. They profess intense love which he returns, and then comes the
moment (he, like me, is disgustingly rich). He offers them a present,
some accept at once, those he no longer considers; others hesitate, and
say it is too much, they only want his affection--He presses them, they
yield--they too, are wiped off the list--and now he has no one to care
for, since he has not been able to find one who refuses his gifts. It
would be certainly my case also--were I to try.

"Women"--he said to me last night--"are the only pleasure in life--men
and hunting bring content and happiness, work brings satisfaction, but
women and their ways are the only _pleasure_."

"Even when you know it is all for some personal gain?"

"Even so, once you have realized that, it does not matter, you take the
joy from another point of view, you have to eliminate vanity out of the
affair, your personal vanity is hurt, my dear boy, when you feel it is
your possessions, not yourself, they crave, but if you analyse that, it
does not take away from the pleasure their beauty gives you--the
tangible things are there just as if they loved you--I am now altogether
indifferent as to their feelings for me, as long as their table manners
are good, and they make a semblance of adoring me. If one had to depend
upon their real disinterested love for their kindness to one, then it
would be a different matter, and very distressing, but since they can
always be caught by a bauble--you and I are fortunately placed,
Nicholas."

We laughed our vile laughs together.--It is true--I hate to hear my own
laugh. I agree with Chesterfield, who said that no gentleman should make
that noise!

       *       *       *       *       *

As I said before, all sorts of people come to see me, but I seem to be
stripping them of externals all the time. What is the good in them? What
is the truth in them? Strip me--if I were not rich what would anyone
bother with me for? Is anyone worth while underneath?

One or other of the fluffies come almost daily to play bridge with me,
and any fellow who is on leave, and the neutrals who have no anxieties,
what a crew! It amuses me to "strip" them. The married one, Coralie, has
absolutely nothing to charm with if one removes the ambience of success,
the entourage of beautiful things, the manicurist and the complexion
specialist, the Reboux hats, and the Chanel clothes. She would be a
plain little creature, with not too fine ankles,--but that
self-confidence which material possessions bring, casts a spell over
people.--Coralie _is_ attractive. Odette, the widow, is beautiful. She
has the brain of a turkey, but she, too, is exquisitely dressed and
surrounded with everything to enhance her loveliness, and the serenity
of success has given her magnetism. She announces platitudes as
discoveries, she sparkles, and is so ravishing that one finds her trash
wit. She thinks she is witty, and you begin to believe it!

Odette can be best stripped, people could like her just for her looks.
Alice, the divorcée, appeals to one.--She is gentle and feminine and
clinging--she is the cruelest and most merciless of the three, Maurice
tells me, and the most difficult to analyse: But most of one's friends
would find it hard to stand the test of denuding them of their worldly
possessions and outside allurements, it is not only the fluffies, who
would come out of not much value!

Oh! the long, long days--and the ugly nights!

One does not sleep very well now, the noise of "Bertha" from six A.M.
and the raids at night!--but I believe I grow to like the raids--and
last night we had a marvelous experience. I had been persuaded by
Maurice to have quite a large dinner party. Madame de Clerté, who is
really an amusing personality, courageous and agreeable, and Daisy
Ryven, and the fluffies, and four or five men. We were sitting smoking
afterwards, listening to de Volé playing, he is a great musician.
People's fears are lulled, they have returned to Paris. Numbers of men
are being killed,--"The English in heaps--but what will you!" the
fluffies said, "they had no business to make that break with the Fifth
Army! Oh! No! and, after all, the country is too dull--and we have all
our hidden store of petrol. If we must fly at the last moment, why on
earth not go to the theatre and try to pass the time!"

de Volé was playing "Madame Butterfly"--when the sirens went for a
raid--and almost immediately the guns began--and bombs crashed. One very
seldom sees any fear on people's faces now, they are accustomed to the
noise. Without asking any of us, de Volé commenced Chopin's Funeral
March. It was a very wonderful moment, the explosions and the guns
mingling with the splendid chords. We sat breathless--a spell seemed to
be upon us all--We listened feverishly. de Volé's face was transfigured.
What did he see in the dim light?--He played and played. And the whole
tragedy of war--and the futility of earthly interests--the glory, the
splendour and the agony seemed to be brought home to us. From this, as
the noise without became less loud, he glided into Schubert, and so at
last ceased when the "all clear" commenced to rend the air. No one had
spoken a word, and then Daisy Ryven laughed--a queer little awed laugh.
She was the only Englishwoman there.

"We are keyed up," she said.

And when they had all gone I opened my window wide and breathed in the
black dark night. Oh! God--what a rotter I am.

       *       *       *       *       *

_Friday_--Maurice has a new suggestion--he says I should write a
book--he _knows_ I am becoming insupportable, and he thinks if he
flatters me enough I'll swallow the bait, and so be kept quiet and not
try him so much.--A novel?--A study of the causes of altruism? What?--I
feel--yes, I feel a spark of interest. If it could take me out of
myself--I shall consult the Duchesse--I will tell Burton to telephone
and find out if I can see her this afternoon. She sometimes takes half
an hour off between four and five to attend to her family.

Yes--Burton says she will see me and will send me one of her Red Cross
cars to fetch me, then I can keep my leg up.

I rather incline to a treatise upon altruism and the philosophical
subjects. I fear if I wrote a novel it would be saturated by my ugly
spirit, and I should hate people to read it. I must get that part of me
off in my journal, but a book about--Altruism?

I must have a stenographer of course, a short-hand typist, if I do begin
this thing. There are some English ones here no doubt. I do not wish to
write in French--Maurice must find me a suitable one.--I won't have
anything young and attractive. In my idiotic state she might get the
better of me! The idea of some steady employment quite bucks me up.

       *       *       *       *       *

I felt rather jarred when I arrived at the Hotel Courville--the paving
across the river is bad; but I found my way to the Duchesse's own
sitting room on the first floor--the only room apparently left not a
ward--and somehow the smell of carbolic had not penetrated here. It was
too hot, and only a little window was open.

How wonderfully beautiful these eighteenth century rooms are! What grace
and charm in the panelling--what dignity in the proportions! This one,
like all rooms of women of the Duchesse's age, is too full--crammed
almost, with gems of art, and then among them, here and there, a
shocking black satin stuffed and buttoned armchair, with a bit of
woolwork down its centre, and some fringe! And her writing table!--the
famous one given by Louis XV to the ancestress, who refused his
favours--A mass of letters and papers, and reports, a bottle of creosote
and a feather! A servant in black, verging upon ninety, brought in the
tea, and said Madame la Duchesse would be there immediately--and she
came.

Her twinkling eyes kindly as ever "Good day Nicholas," she said and
kissed me on both cheeks, "Thou art thy mother's child--_Va!_--And I
thank thee for the fifty thousand francs for my _blessés_--I say no
more--_Va!_--."

Her scissors got caught in her pocket, not the purple jersey this time,
and she played with them for a minute.

"Thou art come for something--out with it!"

"Shall I write a book?, that's it. Maurice thinks it might divert
me--What do you think?"

"One must consider," and she began pouring out the tea, "paper is
scarce--I doubt, my son, if what you would inscribe upon it would
justify the waste--but still--as a _soulagement_--an asperine so to
speak--perhaps--yes. On what subject?"

"That is what I want your advice about, a novel?--or a study upon
Altruism, or--or--something like that?"

She chuckled and handed me my tea, thin tea and a tiny slice of black
bread, and a scrape of butter. There is no cheating of the regulations
here, but the Sevres cup gave me satisfaction.

"You have brought me your bread coupon, I hope?" she interrupted
with,--"if you eat without it one of my household has less!"

I produced it.

"Two days old will do here," then she became all interest in my project
again and chuckled anew.

"Not a novel my son, at your age and with your temperament, it would
arouse emotions in you if you created them in your characters, you are
better without them.--No!--Something serious; Altruism as well as
another, by all means!"

"I expected you to say that, you are always so practical and kind, then
we will choose a research subject to keep me busy."

"Why not the history of Blankshire, your old county where the Thormondes
have sat since the conquest--_hein_?"

This delighted me, but I saw the impossibility. "I cannot get at the
necessary reference books, and it is impossible to receive anything from
England."

She realized this before I spoke.

"No--philosophy it must be--or your pet hobby, the furniture of your
William and Mary!"

This seemed the best of all, and I decided in a moment. This shall be my
subject. I really know something of William and Mary furniture! So we
settled it. Then she became reflective.

"The news is _très grave_ to-day, my son," she whispered softly, "the
fearful ones predict that the Boche will be within range in a few
days.--Why not leave Paris?"

"Are you going, Duchesse?"

"I,--_Mon Dieu!_--Of course not!--I must stay to get my _Blessés_
out--if the worst should come--but I never believe it.--Let the cowards
flee--. Some of my relatives have gone again. Those I speak to will have
become a minority when peace arrives, it would seem!"--then she frowned
angrily. "Many are so splendid--devoted, untiring, but there are
some--!--_Mon Dieu!_ the girls play tennis at the _tix aux
pigeons_!--and the Germans are sixty-five kilometers from Paris!"

I did not speak, and then, as though I had said something disparaging
and she must defend them--"But you must not judge them hardly--No!--it
is not possible with our National temperament that young girls of the
world can nurse men--No--No--and our ministry of War won't employ
women--what can they do--ask yourself, what can they do?--but wait and
pray! Other nations must not judge us--our men know what they want of
us--yes, yes--"

"Of course they do."

"My niece Madelaine--a lighthead--dragged me to the Ritz to lunch last
week, before the wild rush cleared them off again--_Mon Dieu!_ what a
sight there in that restaurant!--Olivier and the waiters are the only
things of dignity left! The women dressed to the eyes as Red Cross
nurses. Some Americans, and, yes, French--nursing the well English
officers I must believe--no nearer wounded than that!--floating veils,
painted lips--high heels--Heavens! it filled me with rage--I who know
the devoted and good of both nations who are not seen, and you
English--. But there it is easy for you with your temperament to be
good and really work--France is full of sensible kind Americans and
English--but those in Paris--they make me sick! Quarter of an hour twice
a day--to have the right to a passport to come--and to wear a
uniform--Pah! Sick, sick!--"

I thought of the fluffies!--they too played at something the first year
of the war, but now have given up even the pretence of that.

The Duchesse was still angry.

"My nephew Charles, le Prince de Vimont, eats chicken and cutlets on the
meatless days, he told me with pride, his _maître d'hôtel_--he of the
one eye--like thou, Nicholas, is able to procure plenty on the day
before from friends in the trade, and with ice--_Mon Dieu!_--and I pay
twenty-eight francs apiece for the best poulets for my _blessés_ for
extra rations!--and ice!--impossible to procure--. Oh! I would punish
them all, choke them with their own meat--it is they who should be "food
for the guns" as you English say,--they, these few disgrace our brave
France, and make the other nations laugh at us."

I tried to assure her that no one laughed, and that we all understood
and worshipped the spirit of France, that it was only the few, and that
we were not deceived, but I could not calm her.

"It makes me weep" at last she said and I could not comfort her.

"Heloise de Tavantaine--my Cousin's Jew daughter-in-law--paid four
thousand francs for a new evening dress, which did not cover a tenth of
her fat body--Four thousand francs would have given my
_blessés_--Ah!--well--I rage, I rage."

Then she checked herself--.

"But why do I say this to thee Nicholas?--because I am sore--it is ever
thus--we are all human, and must cry to someone."

So after all there is some meaning in my journal.

"_One must cry to someone!_"

       *       *       *       *       *

Burton is delighted that I shall write a book!--He wrote at once to my
aunt Emmeline to tell her that I was better. I have her letter with
congratulations in it to-day. Burton does the correspondence with my few
relations, all war working hard in England. I am becoming quite excited,
I long to begin, but there is no use until Maurice finds me a
stenographer. He has heard of two. One a Miss Jenkins, aged
forty--sounds good, but she can only give three hours a day--and I must
have one at my beck and call--There is a second one, a Miss Sharp--but
she is only twenty-three--plain though, Maurice says, and wears horn
spectacles--that should not attract me! She makes bandages all the
evening, but is obliged to work for her living so could come for the
day. She is not out of a job, because she is very expert, but she does
not like her present one. I would have to pay her very highly Maurice
says--I don't mind that, I want the best.--I had better see Miss Sharp,
and judge if I can stand her. She may have a personality I could not
work with. Maurice must bring her to-morrow.

The news to-night is worse.--The banks have sent away all their
securities.--But I shall not leave--one might as well die in a
bombardment as any other way. The English Consul has to know all the
names of the English residents in case of evacuation. But I will not go.

Bertha is making a most fiendish noise, there were two raids last
night,--and she began at six this morning--one gets little sleep. I have
a one horse Victoria now, driven by Methusala; I picked Maurice up at
the Ritz this evening at nine o'clock--there was not a human soul to be
seen in the _Rue de la Paix_, or the _Place Vendôme_, or the _Rue
Castiglione_--a city of the dead--And the early June sky full of peace
and soft light.

What does it all mean?



IV


Maurice brought Miss Sharp to-day to interview me. I do not like her
much, but the exhibition she gave me of her speed and accuracy in
short-hand satisfied me and made me see that I should be a fool to look
further. So I have engaged her. She is a small creature, palish with
rather good bright brown hair--She wears horn rimmed spectacles with
yellow glasses in them so I can't see her eyes at all. I judge people by
their eyes. Her hands look as if she had done rather a lot of hard
work--they are so very thin. Her clothes are neat but shabby--that is
not the last look like French women have--but as if they had been turned
to "make do"--I suppose she is very poor. Her manner is icily quiet. She
only speaks when she is spoken to. She is quite uninteresting.

It is better for me to have a nonentity--then I can talk aloud my
thoughts without restriction. I am to give her double what she is
getting now--2000 francs a month--war price.

Some colour came into her cheeks when I offered that and she hesitated,

I said "Don't you think it is enough?"

She answered so queerly.

"I think it is too much, and I was wondering if I would be able to
accept it. I want to."

"Then do."

"Very well--I will of course do my very best to earn it"--and with that
she bowed and left me.

Anyhow she won't make a noise.

Nina writes since she has married Jim--which she did just before the
offensive in March--she has been too happy--or too anxious, to remember
her friends--even dear old ones--but now fortunately Jim is wounded in
the ankle bone which will keep him at home for two months so she has a
little leisure.

"You can't think, Nicholas, what a different aspect the whole war took
on when I knew Jim was in the front line--I adore him--and up to now I
have managed to keep him adoring me--but I can see I'll have to be
careful if he is going to be with me long at a time."

So it would seem that Nina had not obtained the rest and security she
hoped for.

I hope my writing a book will rest me. I have arranged all my first
chapter in my head--and to-morrow I begin.

_June 26th_--Miss Sharp came punctually at ten--she had a black and
white cotton frock on--There is nothing of her--she is so slight--(a
mass of bones probably in evening dress--but thank goodness I shall not
see her in evening dress,) she goes at six--She is to have her lunch
here--Burton has arranged it. An hour off for lunch which she can have
on a tray in the small salon, which I have had arranged for her work
room.--Of course it won't take her an hour to eat--but Burton says she
must have that time, it is always done. It is a great nuisance for
perhaps when 12:30 comes I shall just be in the middle of an inspiration
and I suppose off she'll fly like the housemaids used when the servants'
hall bell went at home. But I can't say anything.

I was full of ideas and the beginning of my first chapter spouted out,
and when Miss Sharp had read it over to me I found she had not made any
mistake. That is a mercy.

She went away and typed it, and then had her lunch--and I had mine, but
Maurice dropped in and mine took longer than hers--it was half past two
when I rang my hand bell for her (it is a jolly little silver one I
bought once in Cairo) She answered it promptly--the script in her hand.

"I have had half an hour with nothing to do," she said--"Can you not
give me some other work which I can turn to, if this should happen
again?"

"You can read a book--there are lots in the book case" I told her--"Or I
might leave you some letters to answer."

"Thank you, that would be best"--(She is conscientious evidently).

We began again.

She sits at a table with her notebook, and while I pause she is
absolutely still--that is good. I feel she won't count more than a table
or chair. I am quite pleased with my work. It is awfully hot to-day and
there is some tension in the air--as though something was going to
happen. The news is the same--perhaps slightly better.--I am going to
have a small dinner to-night. The widow and Maurice and Madame de
Clerté--just four and we are going to the play. It is such a business
for me to go I seldom turn out.--Maurice is having a little supper in
his rooms at the Ritz for us. It is my birthday--I am thirty-one years
old.

_Friday_--What an evening that 26th of June! The theatre was hot and the
cramped position worried me so--and the lights made my eye ache--Madame
de Clerté and I left before the end and ambled back to the Ritz in my
one horse Victoria and went and sat in Maurice's room. We talked of the
situation, and the effect of the Americans coming in, bucking everyone
up--we were rather cheerful. Then the sirens began--and the guns
followed just as Maurice and Odette got back--They seemed unusually
loud--and we could hear the bits of shrapnel falling on the terrace
beneath us, Odette was frightened and suggested going into the
cellar--but as Maurice's rooms are only on the second floor, we did not
want to take the trouble.

Fear has a peculiar effect upon some people--Odette's complexion turned
grey and she could hardly keep her voice steady. I wondered how soon she
would let restraint slip from her and fly out of the room to the cellar.
Madame de Clerté was quite unmoved.

Then the dramatic happened--Bang!--the whole house shook and the glass
of the window crashed in fragments--and Maurice turned out the one
light--and lifted a corner of the thick curtain to peep out.

"I believe they got the _Colome Vendôme_" he said awed--and as he spoke
another bomb fell on the Ministaìre beside us--and some of the splinters
shot into space and buried themselves in our wall.

We were all blown across the room--and Madame de Clerté and I fell in a
heap together by the door, which gave way outwards--Odette's shrieks
made us think that she was hurt, but she was not, and subsided into a
gibbering prayer--Maurice helped Madame de Clerté to rise and I turned
on the torch I keep in my pocket, for a minute. I was not conscious of
any pain. We sat in the dark and listened to the commotion beneath us
for some time, and the crashing bombs but never one so near
again.--Maurice's voice soothing Odette was the only sound in our room.

Then Madame de Clerté laughed softly and lit a cigarette.

"A near thing that, Nicholas!" she said--"Let us go down now and see who
is killed, and where the explosion actually occurred--The sight is quite
interesting you know you can believe me."

"When Bertha hit the ---- two days ago, we rushed for taxis to go down to
see the place--Coralie--has petrol for her motor since two weeks you
know"--and she smiled wickedly--"Monsieur le Ministre must show his
gratitude somehow mustn't he?--Coralie is such a dear--Yes--?--So some
of us packed in with her--we were quite a large party--and when we got
there they were trying to extinguish the fire, and bringing out the
bodies--You ought to come with us sometime when we go on these
trips--anything for a change."

These women would not have looked on at the sufferings of a mouse before
the war--.

The sight in the hall when we did arrive there after the "all clear"
went--was remarkable--the great glass doors of the salon blown in and
all the windows broken--and the _Place Vendôme_ a mass of debris--not a
pane whole there I should think.

But nobody seems very much upset--these things are all in the days
work--.

I wonder if in years to come we shall remember the queer recklessness
which has developed in almost everyones mentality, or shall we forget
about the war and go on just as we were before--Who knows?

       *       *       *       *       *

I said to Miss Sharp this morning--

"What do you do in the evenings when you leave here"?

I had forgotten for a moment that Maurice had told me that she makes
bandages. She looked at me and her manner froze--I can't think why I
_felt_ she thought I had no right to question her--I say "looked at
me"--but I am never quite sure what her eyes are doing, because she
never takes off her yellow glasses--Those appear to be gazing at me at
all events.

"I make bandages."

"Aren't you dead tired after working all day with me?"

"I have not thought about it--the bandages are badly needed."

Her pencil was in her hand, and the block ready--she evidently did not
mean to go on conversing with me. This attitude of continuous diligence
on her part has begun to irritate me. She never fidgets--just works all
the time.

I'll ask Burton what he thinks of her at luncheon to-day--As I said
before, Burton knows the world.

       *       *       *       *       *

"What do you think of my typist, Burton?"

He was putting a dish of make-believe before me--it is a meatless
day--my one-legged cook is an artist but he thinks me a fool because I
won't let him cheat--our want of legs makes us friendly though.

"And with a brother in the trade I could get Monsieur chickens and what
he would wish!" he expostulates each week.

"A-hem"--Burton croaked.

I repeated the question.

"The young lady works very regular."

"Yes--That is just it--a kind of a machine."

"She earns her money Sir Nicholas."

"Of course she does--I know all that--But what do you think of her?"

"Beg pardon Sir Nicholas--I don't understand?"

I felt irritated.

"Of course you do--What kind of a creature I mean--?"

"The young lady don't chatter Sir--She don't behave like bits of girls."

"You approve of her then Burton?"

"She's been here a fortnight only, Sir Nicholas, you can't tell in the
time"--and that is all I could get out of him--but I felt the verdict
when he did give it would be favourable.

Insignificant little Miss Sharp--!

What shall I do with my day--? that is the question--my rotten useless
idle day?--I have no more inspiration for my book--besides Miss Sharp
has to type the long chapter I gave her yesterday. I wonder if she knows
anything about William and Mary furniture really?--she never launches a
remark.

Her hands are very red these last days--does making bandages redden the
hands?

I wonder what colour her eyes are--one can't tell with that blurred
yellow glass--.

Suzette came in just as I wrote that; she seldom turns up in the
afternoon. She caught sight of Miss Sharp typing through the open door.

"_Tiens!_" she spit at me--"Since when?"

"I am writing a book, Suzette."

"I must see her face," and without waiting for permission, Suzette
flounced into the small salon.

I could hear her shrill little voice asking Miss Sharp to be so good as
to give her an envelope--She must write an address! I watched her--Miss
Sharp handed her one, and went on with her work.

Suzette returned, closing the door, without temper, behind her.

"Wouff!" she announced to me--"No anxiety there--an _Anglaise_--not
appetizing--not a _fausse maigre_ like us, as thin as a hairpin! Nothing
for thou Nicholas--and _Mon Dieu!_--she does the family washing by her
hands--I know! mine look like that when I have taken one of my
fortnights at the sea!"

"You think it is washing?--I was wondering--."

"Does she take off her glasses ever, Nicholas?"

"No perhaps she has weak light eyes. One never can tell!"

Suzette was not yet quite at ease about it all--. I was almost driven to
ask Miss Sharp to remove her glasses to reassure her.

Women are jealous even of one-legged half blind men! I would like to ask
my cook if he has the same trouble--but--Oh! I wish anything mattered!

Suzette showed affection for me after this--and even passion! I would be
quite good-looking she said--when I should be finished. Glass eyes were
so well made now--"and as for legs!--truly my little cabbage, they are
as nimble as a goat's!"

Of course I felt comforted when she had gone.

       *       *       *       *       *

The hot days pass--Miss Sharp has not asked for a holiday, she plods
along, we do a great deal of work--and she writes all my letters. And
there are days when I know I am going to be busy with my friends, when I
tell her she need not come--there was a whole week at the end of July.
Her manner never alters, but when Burton attempted to pay her she
refused to take the cheque.

"I did not earn that" she said.

I was angry with Burton because he did not insist.

"It was just, Sir Nicholas."

"No, it was not, Burton--If she did not work here, she was out of pocket
not working anywhere else. You will please add the wretched sum to this
week's salary."

Burton nodded stubbornly, so I spoke to Miss Sharp myself.

"It was my business as to whether I worked or did not work for a
week--therefore you are owed payment in any case--that is logic----."

A queer red came into her transparent skin, her mouth shut firmly--I
knew that I had convinced her, and that yet for some reason she hated
having to take the money.

She did not even answer, just bowed with that strange aloofness that is
not insolent. Her manner is never like a person of the lower classes,
trying to show she thinks she is an equal. It has exactly the right
note--perfectly respectful as one who is employed, but with the serene
unselfconsciousness that only breeding gives. Shades of manner are very
interesting to watch. Somehow I _know_ that Miss Sharp, in her washed
cotton, with her red little hands, is a lady.

I have not seen my dear Duchesse lately--she has been down to one of her
country places--where she sends her convalescents, but she is returning
soon. She gives me pleasure--.

       *       *       *       *       *

_August 30th_--The interest in the book has flagged lately--I could not
think of a thing, so I proposed to Miss Sharp to have a holiday. She
accepted the fortnight without enthusiasm. Now she is back and we have
begun again--Still I have no _flair_--Why do I stick to it?--Just
because I have said to the Duchesse that I _will_ finish it?----I
have an uneasy feeling that I do not want to probe my real reason--I
would like to lie even to this Journal. Lots of fellows have been upon
the five days' leave lately, things are going better--they jolly one,
and I like to see them, but after they go I feel more of a rotten beast
than ever. The only times I forget are when Maurice brings the fluffies
to dine with me--when they rush up to Paris from Deauville. We drink
champagne--(they love to know how much it costs) and I feel gay as a
boy--and then in the night I have once or twice reached out for my
revolver. They have all gone back to Deauville now.

Perhaps it is Miss Sharp who irritates me with her eternal
diligence--What is her life--who are her family? I would like to know
but I will not ask--I sit and think and think what to write about in my
book. I have almost come to the end of grinding out facts about Walnut
and ball fringe--and she sits taking it all down in short-hand, never
raising her head, day after day--.

Her hair is pretty--that silky sort of nut brown with an incipient wave
in it--her head is set on most gracefully, I must admit, and the
complexion is very pale and transparent--But what a firm mouth!--Not
cold though--only firm. I have never seen her smile. The hands are well
shaped really--awfully well shaped, if one watches them--How long would
it take to get them white again I wonder? She has got good feet, too,
thin like the hands--. How worn her clothes look--does she never have a
new dress--?

Yes Burton, I will see Madame de Clerté--.

       *       *       *       *       *

Solonge de Clerté is a philosopher--she has her own aims--but I do not
know them.

"Writing a book, Nicholas?" There was the devil of a twinkle in her
eye--"There is a poor boy wounded in the leg who would make a perfect
secretary if you are not satisfied."

I grew irritated--.

"I am quite satisfied"--we heard the noise of the typing machine from
beyond--these modern doors allow nothing to be unknown.

"Young, is she?" Madame de Clerté asked turning her glance in that
direction.

"I don't know and don't care--she types well"--.

"_Hein?_"

She saw that I was becoming enraged.--My dinners are good and the war is
not yet over--.

"We shall all be terribly interested--yes--when we read the result--."

"Probably"--.

Then she told me of complications occurring about Coralie's husband.

"Of an insanity to attempt the three at once" she sighed--.

And now I can turn to my journal again--Good God--the last pages have
all been about Miss Sharp--ridiculous, exasperating Miss Sharp! did I
write ridiculous?--No--it is I who am ridiculous--I shall go for a
drive--!

       *       *       *       *       *

God! what is the meaning of it all--!

I have been in hell----I came in from my drive very quietly, it was
early, a quarter to six, Miss Sharp goes at six--It was a horribly
chilly evening and Burton had lit a bright wood fire--and I suppose its
crackling prevented my hearing the sounds which were coming from the
next room for a minute. I sat down in my chair--.

What was that?--the _roucoulements_ of a dove?--No, a woman's voice
cooing foolish love words in French and English--and a child's treble
gurgling fondness back to her. It seemed as if my heart stopped
beating--as if every nerve in my spine quivered--a tremendous emotion of
I know not what convulsed me.--I lay and listened and suddenly I felt my
cheek wet with tears--then some shame, some anger shook me, and I
started to my feet, and hobbled to the door which was ajar--I opened it
wide--there was Miss Sharp with the _concierge's_ daughter's baby on her
lap fondling it--the creature may be six months old. Her horn spectacles
lay on the table. She looked up at me, the slightest flash of timidity
showing--but her eyes--Oh! God! the eyes of the Madonna--heavenly blue,
tender as an angel's--soft as a doe's--. I could have cried aloud with
some pain in the soul--and so that brute part of me spoke--.

"How dare you make this noise"?--I said rudely--"do you not know that I
have given orders for complete quiet"--.

She rose, holding the child with the greatest dignity--The picture she
made could be in the Sistine Chapel.

"I beg your pardon" she said in a voice which was not quite steady--"I
did not know you had returned, and Madame Bizot asked me to hold little
Augustine while she went to the next floor--it shall not occur again!"

I longed to stay and gaze at them both--I would have liked to have
touched the baby's queer little fat fingers--I would have liked--Oh--I
know not what--And all the time Miss Sharp held the child protectively,
as though something evil would come from me and harm it.--Then she
turned and carried it out of the room--and I went back into my
sitting-room and flung myself down in my chair--.

What had I done--Beast--brute--What had I done?

And will she never come back again?--and will life be emptier than
ever--?

I could kill myself--.

       *       *       *       *       *

It shall not be only Suzette but six others for supper to-night--.

_Five a.m._--The dawn is here and it is not the rare sound of an August
pigeon that I am listening to, but the tender cooing of a woman and a
child--God, how can I get it out of my ears.



V


This morning I feel as if I could hardly bear it until Miss Sharp
arrives--I dressed early, ready to begin a new chapter although I have
not an idea in my head, and, as the time grows nearer, it is difficult
for me to remain still here in my chair.

Have I been too impossible?--Will she not turn up?--and if she does not,
what steps can I take to find her?--Maurice is at Deauville with the
rest, and I do not know Miss Sharp's home address--nor if she has a
telephone--probably not. My heart beats--I have every feeling of
excitement as stupid as a woman! I analyse it all now, how mental
emotion reacts on the physical--even the empty socket of my eye aches--I
could hardly control my voice when Burton began a conversation about my
orders for the day just now.

"You would not be wishin' for the company of your Aunt Emmeline, Sir
Nicholas"?--he asked me--.

"Of course not, Burton, you old fool--"

"You seem so much more restless, sir--lately--"

"I am restless--please leave me alone."

He coughed and retired.

Now I am listening again--it wants two minutes to the hour--she is never
late.

One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten--. It feels as
if the blood would burst the veins--I cannot write.

She came after all, only ten minutes beyond her usual time, but they
seemed an eternity when I heard the ring and Burton's slow step. I could
have bounded from my chair to open the door myself.--It was a telegram!
How this always happens when one is expecting anyone with desperate
anxiety--A telegram from Suzette.

"I shall return to-night, _Mon Chou_."

Her cabbage!--_Bah!_ I never want to see her again--.

Miss Sharp must have entered when the door was opened for the telegram,
for I had begun to feel pretty low again when I heard her knock at the
door of the sitting-room.

She came in and up to my chair as usual--but she did not say her
accustomary cold good morning. I looked up--the horn spectacles were
over her eyes again, and the rest of her face was very pale--while there
was something haughty in the carriage of her small head, it seemed to
me. Her eternal pad and pencil were in her little thin, red hands.

"Good morning"--I said tentatively, she made a slight inclination as
much as to say--"I recognize you have spoken," then she waited for me to
continue.

I felt an egregious ass, I knew I was nervous as a bird, I could not
think of anything to say--I, Nicholas Thormonde, accustomed to any old
thing! nervous of a little secretary!

"Er--would you read me aloud the last chapter we finished"--I barked at
last lamely.

She turned to fetch the script from the other room--.

I must apologize to her, I knew.

She came back and sat down stiffly, prepared to begin.

"I am sorry I was such an uncouth brute yesterday," I said--"It was good
of you to come back--. Will you forgive me?"

She bowed again. I almost hated her at that moment, she was making me
feel so much--A foolish arrogance rose in me--

"We had better get to work I suppose," I went on pettishly.

She began to read--how soft her voice is, and how perfectly
cultivated.--Her family must be very refined gentlefolk--ordinary
English typists have not that indescribable distinction of tone.

What voices mean to one!--The delight of that exquisite sound of
refinement in the pronunciation. Miss Sharp never misplaces an
inflection or slurs a word, she never uses slang, and yet there is
nothing pedantic in her selection of language--it is just as if her
habitual associates were all of the same class as herself, and that she
never heard coarse speech.--Who can she be--?

The music of her reading calmed me--how I wish we could be friends--!

"How old is Madame Bizot's grandchild?" I asked abruptly, interrupting.

"Six months," answered Miss Sharp without looking up.

"You like children?"

"Yes--."

"Perhaps you have brothers and sisters?"

"Yes--."

I knew that I was looking at her hungrily--and that she was purposely
keeping her lids lowered--.

"How many?"

"Two--."

The tone said, "I consider your questions impertinent--."

I went on--

"Brothers?"

"One brother."

"And a sister?"

"Yes."

"How old?"

"Eleven and thirteen."

"That is quite a gap between your ages then?"

She did not think it necessary to reply to this--there was the faintest
impatience in the way she moved the manuscript.

I was so afraid to annoy her further in case she should give me notice
to go, that I let her have her way, and returned to work.

But I was conscious of her presence--thrillingly conscious of her
presence all the morning. I never once was able to take the work
naturally, it was will alone which made me grind out the words.

There was no sign of nervousness in Miss Sharp's manner--I simply did
not exist for her--I was a bore, a selfish useless bore of an employer,
who was paying her twice as much as anyone else would, and she must in
return give the most perfect service. As a man I had no meaning. As a
wounded human being she had no pity for me--but I did not want her
pity--what did I want?--I cannot write it--I cannot face it--. Am I to
have a new torment in my life?--Desiring the unattainable?--Eating my
heart out; not that woman can never really love me again, but that, well
or ill, the consideration of _one_ woman is beyond my reach--.

Miss Sharp is not influenced because I am or am not a cripple--If I were
as I was when I first put on my grenadier's uniform, I should still not
exist for her probably--she can see the worthless creature that I
am--Need I always be so?--I wish to God I knew.

       *       *       *       *       *

_Night._

She worked with her usual diligence the entire day almost, not taking
the least notice of me, until at five o'clock when my tea came I rang
for her--Perhaps it was the irritation reacting upon my sensitive
wrenched nerves, but I felt pretty rotten, my hands were damp--another
beastly unattractive thing, which as a rule does not happen to me--I
asked her to pour out the tea.

"If you will be so kind," I said--"I have let Burton go out"--Mercifully
this was true--she came in as a person would who knew you had a right to
command--you could not have said if she minded or no.

When she was near me I felt happier for some reason.

She asked me how I took my tea--and I told her--.

"Are you not going to have some with me?" I pleaded.

"Mine is already on my table in the next room--thank you"--and she rose.

In desperation I blurted out--.

"Please--do not go!--I don't know why, but I feel most awfully rotten
to-day."

She sat down again and poured out her cup.

"If you are suffering shall I read to you?" she said--"It might send you
to sleep--" and somehow I fancied that while her firm mouth never
softened, perhaps the eyes behind the horn spectacles might not be so
stony. And yet with it all something in me resented her pity, if she
felt any. Physical suffering produces some weaknesses which respond to
sympathy, and the spirit rages at the knowledge that one has given way.
I never felt so mad in all my year of hell that I cannot be a man and
fight--as I did at that moment.

A French friend of mine said--In English books people were always
having tea--handing cups of tea! Tea, tea--every chapter and every
scene--tea! There is a great deal of truth in it--tea seems to bring the
characters together--at tea time people talk, it is the excuse to call
at that hour of leisure. We are too active as a nation to meet at any
other time in the day, except for sport--So tea is our link and we shall
go down through the ages as tea fiends--because our novelists who
portray life accurately, chronicle that most of the thrilling scenes of
our lives pass among tea cups!--I ventured to say all this to Miss Sharp
by way of drawing her into conversation.

"What could one describe as the French doing most often?"--I asked
her--.

She thought a moment.

"They do not make excuses for anything they do, they have not to have a
pretext for action as we have--They are much less hypocritical and
self-conscious."

I wanted to make her talk--.

"Why are we such hypocrites?"

"Because we have set up an impossible standard for ourselves, and hate
to show each other that we cannot act up to it."

"Yes, we conceal every feeling--We show indifference when we feel
interest--We pretend we have come on business when we have come simply
to see someone we are attracted by--."

She let the conversation drop. This provoked me, as her last remark
showed how far from stupid she is.

That nervous feeling overcame me again--Confound the woman!

"Please read," I said at last in desperation, and I closed my one eye.

She picked up a book--it happened to be a volume of de Musset--and she
read at random--her French is as perfect as her English--The last thing
I remember was "_Mimi Pinson_"--and when I awoke it was past six o'clock
and she had gone home.

I wonder how many of us, since the war, know the desolation of
waking--alone and in pain--and helpless--Of course there must be
hundreds. If I am a rotter and a coward about suffering, at all events
it does not come out in words--and perhaps it is because I am such a
mixture that I am able to write it in this journal--If I were purely
English I should not be able to let myself go even here--.

Suzette came to dinner--I thought how vulgar she looked--and that if her
hands were white they were podgy and the nails short. The three black
hairs irritated my cheek when she kissed me--I was brutal and moved my
head in irritation--.

"_Tiens?! Mon Ami!_"--she said and pouted.

"Amuse me!" I commanded--.

"So! it is not love then, Nicholas, thou desirest--Bear!"

"Not in the least--I shall never want love again probably. Divert
me!--tell me--tell me of your scheming little mouse's brain, and your
kind little heart--How is it '_dans le metier_'?"

Suzette settled herself on the sofa, curled up among the pillows like a
plump little tabby cat. She lit a cigarette--.

"Very middling," she whiffed--"Cases of love where all my good counsel
remains untaken--a madness for drugs--very foolish--A drug--yes to
try--but to continue!--_Mon Dieu!_ they will no longer make fortunes
'_dans le metier_'--"

"When you have made your fortune, Suzette, what will you do with it?"

"I shall buy that farm for my mother--I shall put Georgine into a
convent for the nobility, and arrange a large dot for her--and for
me?--I shall gamble in a controlled way at Monte Carlo--."

"You won't marry then, Suzette?"

"Marry!" she laughed a shrill laugh--"For why, Nicholas?--A tie-up to
one man, _hein_?--to what good?--and yet who can say--to be an honored
wife is the one experience I do not know yet!"--she laughed again--.

"And who is Georgine--you have not spoken of her before, Suzette?"

She reddened a little under her new terra cotta rouge.

"No?--Oh! Georgine is my little first mistake--but I have her
beautifully brought up, Nicholas--with the Holy Mother at St. Brieux. I
am then her Aunt--so to speak--the wife of a small shop keeper in
Paris, you must know--She adores me--and I give all I can to _St.
Georges-des-Près_--. Georgine will be a lady and marry the Mayor's
son--one day--."

Something touched me infinitely. This queer little _demi-mondaine_
mother--her thoughts set on her child's purity, and the conventional
marriage for her--in the future. Her plebeian, insolent little round
face so kindly in repose.

I respect Suzette far more than my friends of the world--.

When she left--it was perhaps in bad taste, but I gave her a quite heavy
four figure cheque.

"For the education of Georgine--Suzette."

She flung her arms round my neck and kissed me frankly on both cheeks,
and tears were brimming over in her merry black eyes.

"Thou hast after all a heart, and art after all a gentleman,
Nicholas--_Va!_--"--and she ran from the room.



VI


For two days after I last wrote, I tried not to see Miss Sharp--I gave
short moments to my book--and she answered a number of business letters.
She knows most of my affairs now,--Burton transmits all the bills and
papers to her.--I can hear them talking through the thin door. The
excitement of that time I was so rude seems to have used up my vitality,
an utter weariness is upon me, I have hardly stirred from my chair.

The ancient guardsman, George Harcourt, came to lunch yesterday. He was
as cynically whimsical as ever--He has a new love--an Italian--and until
now she has refused all his offers of presents, so he is taking a
tremendous interest in her--.

"In what an incredible way the minds of women work, Nicholas!" he
said--"They have frequently a very definite aim underneath, but they
'grasshopper'--."

I looked puzzled I suppose--.

"To 'grasshopper' is a new verb!" he announced--"Daisy Ryven coined
it.--It means just as you alight upon a subject and begin tackling it,
you spring to another one--These lovely American war workers
'grasshopper' continuously.--It is impossible to keep pace with them."

I laughed.

"Yet they seem to have quite a definite aim--to get pleasure out of
life."

[Illustration: Alathea (Harriet Hammond) disguised with colored glasses
and plain clothes arrives to take up her duties as secretary to Sir
Nicholas (Lew Cody). (A scene from Elinor Glyn's production "Man and
Maid" for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer)]

"To 'grasshopper' does not prevent pleasure to the grasshopper.--It is
only fatiguing to the listener. You can have no continued sensible
conversation with any of these women--they force you to enjoy only their
skins--"

"Can the Contessa talk?"

"She has the languour of the South--She does not jump from one subject
to another, she is frankly only interested in love."

"Honestly, George--do you believe there is such a thing as real love?"

"We have discussed this before, Nicholas--You know my views--but I am
hoping Violetta will change them. She has just begun to ask daily if I
love her"--

"Why do women always do that--even one's little friends continually
murmur the question?"

"It is the working of their subconscious minds----Damn good cigars
these, my dear boy--pre-war eh?----Yes it is to justify their
surrender--They want to be assured _in words_ that you adore
them--because you see the actions of love really prove nothing of love
itself. A stranger who has happened to appeal to the senses can call
them forth quite as successfully as the lady of one's heart!"

"It is logical of women then to ask that eternal question?"

"Quite--I make a point of answering them always without irritation."

----I wonder--if Miss Sharp loved anyone would she?----but I am
determined not to speculate further about her--.

When Colonel Harcourt had gone--I deliberately rang my bell--and when
she came into the room I found I was not sure what I had rung for--It is
the most exasperating fact that Miss Sharp keeps me in a continual state
of nervous consciousness.

Her manner was indifferently expectant, if one can use such a
paradoxical description--.

"I--I--wondered if you played the piano?--"I blurted out.

She looked surprised--if one can ever say she looks anything, with the
expression of her eyes completely hidden. She answered as usual with one
word--.

"Yes."

"I suppose you would not play to me?--er--it might give me an
inspiration for the last chapter--"

She went and opened the lid of the instrument.

"What sort of music do you like?" she asked.

"Play whatever you think I would appreciate."

She began a Fox trot, she played it with unaccountable spirit and taste,
so that the sound did not jar me--but the inference hurt a little. I
said nothing, however. Then she played "Smiles," and the sweet
commonplace air said all sorts of things to me--Desire to live again,
and dance, and enjoy foolish pleasures--How could this little iceberg of
a girl put so much devilment into the way she touched the keys? If it
had not been for the interest this problem caused me, the longing the
sounds aroused in me to be human again, would have driven me mad.

No one who can play dance music with that lilt can be as cold as a
stone--.

From this she suddenly turned to Debussy--she played a most difficult
thing of his--I can't remember its name--then she stopped.

"Do you like Debussy?" I asked.

"No, not always."

"Then why did you play it?"

"I supposed you would."

"If you had said in plain words, 'I think you are a rotter who wants
first dance music, then an unrestful modern decadent, brilliantly clever
set of disharmonies,' you could not have expressed your opinion of me
more plainly."

She remained silent--I could have boxed her ears.

I leaned back in my chair, perhaps I gave a short harsh sigh--if a sigh
can be harsh--I was conscious that I had made some explosive sound.

She turned back to the piano again and began "Waterlily" and then
"1812"--and the same strange quivering came over me that I experienced
when I heard the cooing of the child.--My nerves must be in an awful
rotten state--Then a longing to start up and break something shook me,
break the windows, smash the lamp--yell aloud--I started to my one
leg--and the frightful pain of my sudden movement did me good and
steadied me.

Miss Sharp had left the piano and came over to me--.

"I am afraid you did not like that," she said--"I am so sorry"--her
voice was not so cold as usual.

"Yes I did--" I answered--"forgive me for being an awful ass--I--I--love
music tremendously, you see--"

She stood still for a moment--I was balancing myself by the table, my
crutch had fallen. Then she put out her hand.

"Can I help you to sit down again?"--she suggested.

And I let her--I wanted to feel her touch--I have never even shaken
hands with her before. But when I felt her guiding me to the chair, the
maddest desire to seize her came over me--to seize her in my arms to
tear off those glasses, to kiss those beautiful blue eyes they hid--to
hold her fragile scrap of a body tight against my breast, to tell her
that I loved her--and wanted to hold her there, mine and no one else's
in all the world----My God! what am I writing--I must crush this
nonsense--I must be sane--. But--what an emotion! The strongest I have
ever felt about a woman in my life--.

When I was settled in the chair again--things seemed to become blank for
a minute and then I heard Miss Sharp's voice with a tone--could it be of
anxiety? in it? saying "Drink this brandy, please." She must have gone
to the dining-room and fetched the decanter and glass from the case,
and poured it out while I was not noticing events.

I took it.

Again I said--"I am awfully sorry I am such an ass."

"If you are all right now--I ought to go back to my work," she
remarked--.

I nodded--and she went softly from the room. When I was alone, I used
every bit of my will to calm myself--I analysed the situation. Miss
Sharp loathes me--I cannot hold her by any means if she decides to go--.
The only way I can keep her near me is by continuing to be the cool
employer--And to do this I must see her as little as possible--because
the profound disturbance she is able to cause in me, reacts upon my raw
nerves--and with all the desire in the world to behave like a decent,
indifferent man, the physical weakness won't let me do so, and I am so
bound to make a consummate fool of myself.

When I was in the trenches and the shells were coming, and it was
beastly wet and verminy and uncomfortable, I never felt this feeble,
horrible quivering--I know just what funk is--I felt it the day I did
the thing they gave me the V.C. for. This is not exactly funk--I wish I
knew what it was and could crush it out of myself--.

Oh! if I could only fight again!--that was the best sensation in
life--the zest--the zest!--What is it which prompts us to do decent
actions? I cannot remember that I felt any exaltation specially--it
just seemed part of the day's work--but how one slept! How one enjoyed
any old thing--!

Would it be better to end it all and go out quite? But where should I
go?--the _me_ would not be dead.--I am beginning to believe in
reincarnation. Such queer things happened among the fellows--I suppose
I'd be born again as ugly of soul as I am now--I must send for some
books upon the subject and read it up--perhaps that might give me
serenity.

The Duchesse returned yesterday. I shall go and see her this afternoon I
think,--perhaps she could suggest some definite useful work I could
do--It is so abominably difficult, not being able to get about. What did
she say?--She said I could pray--I remember--she had not time, she
said--but the _Bon Dieu_ understood--I wonder if He understands me--? or
am I too utterly rotten for Him to bother about?

       *       *       *       *       *

The Duchesse was so pleased to see me--she kissed me on both cheeks--.

"Nicholas! thou art better!" she said--"As I told you--the war is going
to end well--!"

"And how is the book?" she asked presently--"It should be finished--I am
told that your work is intermittent--."

My mind jumped to Maurice as the connecting link--the Duchesse of course
must have seen him--but I myself have seen very little of Maurice
lately--how did he know my work was intermittent--?

"Maurice told you?" I said.

"Maurice?"--her once lovely eyes opened wide--she has a habit of
screwing them up sometimes when she takes off her glasses.--"Do you
suppose I have been on a _partie de plaisir_, my son--that I should have
encountered Maurice--!"

I dared not ask who was her informant--.

"Yes, I work for several days in succession, and then I have no ideas.
It is a pretty poor performance anyway--and is not likely to find a
publisher."

"You are content with your Secretary?"

This was said with an air of complete indifference. There was no meaning
in it of the kind Madame de Clerté would have instilled into the tone.

"Yes--she is wonderfully diligent--it is impossible to dislodge her for
a moment from her work. She thinks me a poor creature I expect."

The Duchesse's eyes, half closed now, were watching me keenly--.

"Why should she think that, Nicholas--you can't after all fight."

"No----but--."

"Get well, my boy--and these silly introspective fancies will leave
you--Self analysis all the time for those who sit still--they imagine
that they matter to the _Bon Dieu_ as much as a _Corps d'Armée_--!"

"You are right, Duchesse, that is why I said Miss Sharp--my
typist--probably thinks me a poor creature--she gets at my thoughts when
I dictate."

"You must master your thoughts----"

And then with a total change of subject she remarked.

"Thou art not in love, Nicholas?"

I felt a hot flush rise to my face--What an idiotic thing to do--more
silly than a girl--Again how I resent physical weakness reacting on my
nerves.

"In love!"--I laughed a little angrily--"With whom could I possibly be
in love, _chère amie_?! You would not suggest that Odette or Coralie or
Alice could cause such an emotion!"

"Oh! for them perhaps no--they are for the senses of men--they are the
exotic flowers of this forcing time--they have their uses--although I
myself abhor them as types--but--is there no one else?"

"Solonge de Clerté?--Daisy Ryven?--both with husbands--."

"Not as if that prevented things" the Duchesse announced
reflectively--"Well, well--Some of my _blessés_ show just your symptoms,
Nicholas, and I discover almost immediately it is because they are in
love--with the brain--with the imagination you must understand--that is
the only dangerous kind--. When it is with a pretty face alone--a good
dose and a new book helps greatly."

"There would be no use in my being in love, Duchesse--"

"It would depend upon the woman--you want sympathy and a guiding
hand--_Va!_--"

Sympathy and a guiding hand!

"I liked ruling and leading when I was a man--"

"----We all have our ups and downs--I like my own bed--but last night
an extra batch of _blessés_ came in--and I had to give it up to one
whose back was a mass of festers--he would have lain on the floor
else--. What will you--_hein?_--We have to learn to accommodate
ourselves to conditions, my son."

Suddenly the picture of this noble woman's courage came to me vividly,
her unvarying resourcefulness--her common sense--her sympathy with
humanity--her cheerfulness--I never heard her complain or repine, even
when fate took her only son at Verdun--Such as these are the glory of
France--and Coralie and Odette and Alice seemed to melt into
nothingness--.

"The war will be finished this autumn--" she told me presently--"and
then our difficult time will begin--. Quarrels for all the world--Not
good fighting--But you will live to see a Renaissance, Nicholas--and so
prepare for it."

"What can I do, dear friend--If you knew how much I want to do
something!"

"Your first duty is to get well.--Have yourself patched
together--finished so to speak, and then marry and found a family to
take the place of all who have perished. It was good taste when I was
young not to have too many--but now!--France wants children--and
England too. There is a duty for you, Nicholas!"

I kissed her hand--.

"If I could find a woman like you!" I cried--"indeed then I would
worship her--."

"So--so--! There are hundreds such as I--when I was young I lived as
youth lives--You must not be too critical, Nicholas."

She was called away then, back to one of the wards, and I hobbled down
the beautiful staircases by myself--the lift was not working. The
descent was painful and I felt hot and tired when I reached the ground
floor, it was quite dusk then, and the one light had not yet been lit. A
slight wisp of a figure passed along the end of the corridor. I could
not see plainly, but I could have sworn it was Miss Sharp--I called her
name--but no one answered me so I went on out,--the servant, aged
ninety, now joining me, he assisted me into my one horse Victoria beyond
the concierge's lodge.

Miss Sharp and the Duchesse!--? Why if this is so have I never been told
about it?--The very moment Maurice returns I must get him to investigate
all about the girl--In the meantime I think I shall go to Versailles--.
I cannot stand Paris any longer--and the _masseur_ can come out there,
it is not an impossible distance away.



VII


                                            RESERVOIRES, VERSAILLES.
                                            September 10th.

How I love Versailles--the jolliest old hole on earth--(I wonder why one
uses slang like this, I had written those words as an exact reflection
of my thoughts--and nothing could be more inexact as a description of
Versailles! It is as far from being "jolly" as a place can be--nor is it
a "hole!") It is the greatest monument which the vanity of one man ever
erected, and like all other superlatives it holds and interests. If the
_Grand Monarque_ squandered millions to build it, France has reaped
billions from the pockets of strangers who have come to look at it. And
so everything that is well done brings its good. Each statue is a
personal friend of mine--and since I was a boy I have been in love with
the delicious nymph with the shell at the bottom of the horse-shoe
descent before you come to the _tapis vert_ on the right hand side. She
has two dimples in her back--I like to touch them--.

Why did I not come here sooner? I am at peace with the world--Burton
wheels me up onto the terrace every evening to watch the sunset from the
top of the great steps. All the masterpieces are covered with pent
houses of concrete faced with straw, but the lesser gods and goddesses
must take their chance.

And sitting here with peaceful families near me--old
gentlemen--soldiers on leave--a pretty war widow with a great white
dog--children with spades--all watching the glorious sky, seated in
groups on the little iron park chairs, a sense of stupefaction comes
over me--for a hundred or two kilometres away men are killing one
another--women are searching for some trace of their homes--the ground
is teeming with corpses--the air is foetid with the smell of death!
And yet we enjoy the opal sunset at Versailles and smile at the quaint
appearance of the camouflaged bronzes!

Thus custom deadens all painful recollections and so are we able to
live.

I wonder what Louis XIV would say if he could return and be among us?
He, with all his faults being a well bred person, would probably adapt
himself to circumstances, as the Duchesse does.

Suzette suggested that she should come and stay the week end out
here--She wants change of air she says. I have consented.--Miss Sharp
does not bring her eternal block and pencil until Tuesday--when Suzette
will have left.

Now that I am peaceful and have forgotten my perturbations, Suzette will
jolly me up--I have used the right term there!--Suzette does jolly
one--! I feel I could write out here, but not about William and Mary
furniture--! I could write a cynical story of the Duc de Richelieu's
loves.--Armande, the present duc, tells me that he has a dispatch box
filled with the love letters his ancestor received--their preservation
owed to a faithful valet who kept them all separated in bundles tied
with different ribbons--and every lock of hair and souvenir attached to
each.--There is an idea!--I wonder if Burton has ever thought of keeping
mine? He would not have had a heavy job in these last years--!

I read all the mornings, seated in the sun--I read Plato--I want to
furbish up my Greek--For no reason on earth except that it is difficult,
and perhaps if I start doing difficult things I may get more will.

       *       *       *       *       *

Suzette arrived in an entirely new set of garments--the "_geste_" had
altered, she said, one had to have a different look, and she was sure
the autumn fashions would be even more pronounced.

"As you can readily understand, my friend, one cannot be _démodé, dans
le metier_,--especially in war time!--"

Naturally I agreed with her--.

"The only unfortunate part is that it obliged me to break into the sum
for Georgine's education."

"That is at least reparable"--I answered, and reached for my
cheque-book--Suzette is such a good little sort--and clothes give her
pleasure--and fancy being able to give _real pleasure_ for a few
thousand francs--pleasure, not comfort, or charity, or any respectable
thing, but just _pleasure_! The only worry about this cheque was that
Suzette was a little too affectionate after it!--I would nearly always
rather only talk to her--now.

She accompanied my bath chair on to the terrace. Her ridiculous little
outline and high heels contradicting all ideas of balance, and yet
presenting an indescribable elegance. She prattled gaily--then when no
one was looking she slipped her hand into mine.

"_Mon cher! Mon petit chou!_" she said.

We had the gayest dinner in my sitting-room--.

"The war was certainly nearing its close--Toinette, the friend of one of
the Generals, assured her--people were thoroughly bored, and it was an
excellent thing to finish it--."

"But even when peace comes, never again the restaurants open all night
to dance, Nicholas!--there is a sadness, my friend!"

That was one of the really bad aspects of wars--the way they upset
people's habits--, she told me. Even "_dans le metier_" things became of
an uncertainty! '--One was never sure if the _amant_ would not be
killed--and it might be difficult to replace him advantageously!'

"It is perhaps fortunate for you that I am wounded and an institution,
Suzette!"

"Thou--Nicholas!--Just as if I did not understand--I represent nothing
but an agreeable passing of some moments to thee--Thou art not an
_Amant_!--Not even a little pretense of loving me thou showest!"--

"But you said you never allowed yourself to care--perhaps I have the
same idea--"

She shook with laughter.

"An artist at love thou, Nicholas--but no lover!"

"It is a nice distinction--would you like me better if I were a lover?"

"We have before spoken of this, _Mon ami_--If you were a lover--that is,
if you loved--you would be dangerous even with your one leg and your one
eye--a woman could be foolish for you. There is that air of _Grand
seigneur_--that air of--mocking--of--_Mon Dieu!_ Something which I can't
find my word for--Thou art _rudement chic cheri_!"

I wished then that I had made the cheque larger--because there was
something in her merry black eyes which told me she meant what she
said--at the moment. I must be grateful to my money though after all--I
could not be "_rudement chic_" or a "_Grand seigneur_" without it--Thus
we get back to material things again!

----I wonder if material things could affect Miss Sharp?--One side of
her certainly--or she could not have played that dance music----What
can she think about all day?--certainly not my affairs, attending to
them must be purely mechanical--. I know she is not stupid. She plays
beautifully--she thinks--she has an air, and knowledge of the world. If
I were not so afraid of losing her I would act toward her quite
differently--I would chance annoying her by making her talk--but that
fear holds me back.

George Harcourt says that between men and women, no matter what the
relation may be, one or the other holds the reins and is the real
arbiter of things, and that if you find yourself not in the happy
position of master, there are many occasions when a man must look
ridiculous.--I feel ridiculous when I think about Miss Sharp. I am
"demand" and she is "supply"--I am wanting every moment of her time, and
to know all her thoughts--and she is entirely uninterested in me, and
grants nothing.

       *       *       *       *       *

Suzette left last evening in the best of moods--I made the cheque
larger--and now I am awaiting Miss Sharp in my sitting-room--I love this
hotel--it has an air of indifference about it which is soothing, and the
food is excellent.

       *       *       *       *       *

Miss Sharp arrived about eleven to-day. Her cheeks were quite pink when
she came in, and I could see she was warm with walking.--I wish I had
remembered to send to the station to meet her.

"Do you think we shall be able to work here?" I asked her--"we have only
the _résumé_ chapter to do, and then the book will be finished."

"Why not here as well as any other place?"

"Does not environment matter to you?"

"I suppose it would if I were creating it, it does not matter now."

"Do you ever write--I mean write on your own?"

"Sometimes."

"What sort of things?"

She hesitated for a moment and then said as though she regretted having
to speak the truth.--

"I write a journal."

I could not prevent myself from replying too eagerly--.

"Oh! I should like to see it!--er--I write one too!"--

She was silent. I felt nervous again--.

"Do you put down your impressions of people--and things?"

"I suppose so--."

"Why does one write a journal?--" I wanted to hear what she would
answer.

"One writes journals if one is lonely."

"Yes, that is true. Then you are lonely?"

Again she conveyed to me the impression that I had shown bad taste in
asking a personal question--and I felt this to be unjust, because in
justice, she would have been forced to admit that her words were a
challenge.

"You explain to me why one writes journals, and then when I presume upon
the inference you snub me--You are not fair, Miss Sharp--"

"It would be better to stick to business," was all she answered--"will
you dictate, please?"

I was utterly exasperated--.

"No, I won't!--If you only admit by inference that you are lonely, I say
it right out--I am abominably lonely this morning and I want to talk to
you.--Did I see you at the Duchesse de Courville-Hautevine's on
Wednesday last?"

"Possibly."

I literally had not the pluck to ask her what she was doing there.
However, she went on--.

"There are still many wounded who require bandages--."

That was it! of course--she was bringing bandages!

"She is a splendid woman, the Duchesse, she was a friend of my
mother's--" I said.

Miss Sharp looked down suddenly--she had her head turned towards the
window.

"There are many splendid women in France--but you don't see them--the
poor are too wonderful, they lose their nearest and dearest and never
complain, they only say it is '_la Guerre_!'."

"Have you any near relations fighting?"--

"Yes"--

It was too stupid having to drag information out of her like this--I
gave it up--and then I was haunted by the desire to know what relations
they were?--If she has a father he must be at least fifty--and he must
be in the English Army--why then does she seem so poor?--It can't be a
brother--her's is only thirteen--would a cousin count as a near
relation?--or--can she have a _fiancé_--?!

The sudden idea of this caused me a nasty twinge--But no, her third
finger has no ring on it.--I grew calmer again--.

"I feel you have a hundred thousand interesting things to say if you
would only talk!" I blurted out at last.

"I am not here to talk, Sir Nicholas--I am here to do your typing."

"Does that make a complete barrier?--Won't you be friends with me?"

Burton came into the room at that moment--and while he was there she
slipped off to her typing without answering me. Burton has arranged a
place for her in his room, which is next to mine, so that I shall not be
disturbed by the noise of her machine clicking.

"Miss Sharp must lunch with me"--I said.

Burton coughed as he answered.

"Very good, Sir Nicholas."

That meant that he did not approve of this arrangement--why?--Really
these old servants are unsupportable.

The antediluvian waiters come in to lay the table presently, and I
ordered peaches and grapes and some very special chablis--I felt
exultant at my having manoeuvred that Miss Sharp should eat with me!

She came in when all was ready with her usual serene calm--and took her
place at right angles to me.

Her hands are not nearly so red to-day, and their movements when she
began to eat pleased me--her wrists are tiny, and everything she does is
dainty.

She did not peck her food like a bird, as very slight people sometimes
do--and she was entirely at ease--it was I who was nervous--.

"Won't you take off your glasses," I suggested--but she declined--.

"Of what use--I can see with them on."

This disconcerted me.

The waiter poured out the chablis carefully. She took it casually
without a remark, but for an instant a cynical expression grew round her
mouth--What was she thinking of?--it is impossible to tell, not seeing
her eyes--but some cynical thought was certainly connected with the
wine--By the direction of her head she may have been reading the label
on the bottle--Does she know how much it cost and disapprove of that in
war time--or what?

We talked of French politics next,--that is, she answered everything I
said with intelligence, and then let the subject drop
immediately--Nothing could be more exasperating because I knew it was
deliberate and not that she is stupid, or could not keep up the most
profound conversation. She seemed to know the war situation very
well--Then I began about French literature--and at the end of the meal
had dragged out enough replies to my questions to know that she is an
exquisitely cultivated person--Oh! what a companion she would make if
only I could break down this wretched barrier of her reserve!

She ate a peach--and I do hope she liked it--but she refused a cigarette
when I offered her one--.

"I don't smoke."

"Oh, I am so sorry I did not know--" and I put out mine.

"You need not do that--I don't mind other people smoking, so long as I
need not do it myself."

I re-lit another one--.

"Do you know--I believe I shall have my new eye put in before
Christmas!" I told her just before she rose from the table--and for the
first time I have known her, the faintest smile came round her mouth--a
kindly smile--.

--"I am so very glad," she said.

And all over me there crept a thrill of pleasure.

After lunch I suggested the _parc_, and that I should dictate in some
lovely cool spot. She made no objection, and immediately put on her
hat--a plain dark blue straw. She walked a little behind my bath chair
as we turned out of the Reservoires courtyard and began ascending the
avenue in the _parc_, so that I could not converse with her. By the time
we had reached the _parterre_ I called to her--

"Miss Sharp"--

She advanced and kept beside me--.

"Does not this place interest you awfully?" I hazarded.

"Yes."

"Do you know it well?"

"Yes."

"What does it say to you?"

"It is ever a reminder of what to avoid."

"What to avoid! but it is perfectly beautiful. Why should you want to
avoid beauty?!"

"I do not--it is what this was meant to stand for and what human beings
failed in allowing it to do--that is the lesson."

I was frightfully interested.

"Tell me what you mean?"

"The architects were great, the king's thought was great--but only in
one way--and everyone--the whole class--forgot the real meaning of
_noblesse oblige_, and abused their power--and so the revolution swept
them away--They put false value upon everything--false values upon birth
and breeding--and no value upon their consequent obligations, or upon
character--."

"You believe in acknowledging your obligations I know"--

"Yes--I hope so--Think in that palace the immense importance which was
given to etiquette and forms and ceremonies--and to a quite ridiculous
false sense of honour--they could ruin their poor tradesmen and--yet--."

"Yes"--I interrupted--"it was odd, wasn't it?--a gentleman was still a
gentleman, never paying his tailor's bills--but ceased to be one if he
cheated at cards--."

Miss Sharp suddenly dropped her dark blue parasol and bent to pick it up
again--and as she did she changed the conversation by remarking that
there were an unusual quantity of aeroplanes buzzing from Buc.

This was unlike her--I cannot think why she did so. I wanted to steer
her back to the subject of Versailles and its meaning--.

Burton puffed a little as we went up the rather steep slope by the _Aile
du Nord_, and Miss Sharp put her hand on the bar and helped him to push
the chair.

"Is it not hateful for me being such a burden"--I could not help
saying--.

"It leaves you more time to think--."

"Well! that is no blessing--that is the agony--thinking."

"It should not be--to have time to think must be wonderful"--and she
sighed unconsciously.

Over me came a kind of rush of tenderness--I wanted to be strong again,
and protect her and make her life easy, and give her time and love and
everything in the world she could wish for--But I dared not say
anything, and she hung back again a little, and once more it made the
conversation difficult--and when we reached a sheltered spot by the
"_point du jour_" I felt there was a sort of armour around her, and that
it would be wiser to go straight to work and not talk further to-day.

She went directly from the _parc_ to catch her train at five
o'clock--and I was wheeled back to the hotel.

And now I have the evening alone before me--but the day is distinctly a
step onward in the friendship line.



VIII


I spent a memorable day with Miss Sharp in the _parc_ yesterday. I do
not even remember what I did in the intermediate time--it seems of so
little importance--but this Thursday will always stand out as a landmark
of our acquaintance.

We drove in a fiacre to the Little Trianon after she arrived, with
Burton on the box to help me out, and then I walked with my crutch to a
delicious spot I know, rather near the grotto, and yet with a view of
the house--I was determined I would entice her to talk as much as I
could, and began very cautiously so as not to provoke her to suggest
work.

"Have you ever read that wonderful story called 'An Adventure'--The two
old ladies seeing Marie Antoinette and some other ghosts here?"

"No."

So I told her about it, and how they had accounted for it.

"I expect it was true," she said.

"You believe in ghosts then?"

"Some ghosts."

"I wish I did--then I should know that there is a beyond--."

I felt she was looking surprised.

"But of course there is a beyond--we have all been there many times
during our evolution, after each life."

"That is what I want to know about--that theory of reincarnation," I
responded eagerly--"can you tell me?"

"I could get you a book about it--."

"I would much rather hear it personally explained--the merest
outline,--please tell me, it might help me not to be such a rotter--."

She looked away toward the giant trees, her mouth had a slightly sad
expression, I could have torn those glasses off her blue eyes!

"We came up through the animal group soul--and finally were re-born
individualized, into man--and from then onward the life on this earth is
but a school for us to learn experience in, to prepare us eventually for
higher spheres. When we advance far enough we need not be re-born
again--."

"Yes--as a theory--I follow that--."

She went on--

"Everything is _cause_ and _effect_--We draw the result of every action
we commit, good or bad--and sometimes it is not until the next re-birth
we pay for the bad ones, or receive the result of the good ones--."

"Is that why then that I am a cripple and life seems a beastly
affair--?"

"Of course--You drew that upon yourself by some actions in your last
life--. Also it may be to teach you some lesson in the improvement of
the soul--."

"I don't seem to have learned anything--I believe I am rebellious all
the time--."

"Probably."

"Miss Sharp--you could really help me if you would. Please explain to
me--I will be a diligent pupil."

"Perhaps you were in a position of great power the last time, and were
lavish and kind to people in a way--or you would not be so rich now--but
you caused suffering and relied upon yourself, not on anything
divine--you must have caused much suffering, perhaps mentally even, and
so you had to be re-born and be wounded--to teach you the lesson of it
all;--that is called your Karma. Our Karma is what we bring on with us
from life to life in the way of obligations which we must discharge--so
you see it rests with each one of us not to lay up more debts to pay in
the future."

Her refined voice was level, as though she were controlling herself, not
to allow any personal feeling to enter her discourse--her gloved hands
were perfectly still in her lap--She was in profile to me so that I
could see that her very long eyelashes seemed to be rather pressed
against the glasses--I have not before been so close to her in a bright
light.--Why does she wear those damned spectacles? I was thinking, when
she said--

"You find it hard to be confined to your chair and not to be able to
fight, don't you?--Well when you could fight it was not always the
pleasure of going over the top? You had to have times in the trenches
too, hadn't you--when you just had to bear it?"

"Of course--?"

"Well--you are in the trenches now, don't you see--and it is according
to how your soul learns the lesson of them, as to whether in this life
you will ever be allowed to go over the top again--or even to have
peace."

"What is the lesson?"

"I am not God--I cannot tell you--but we would all know what our lesson
to learn is, if we were not too vain to face the truth into ourselves."

"The aim being?"--

"Why of course to improve character and learn strength."

"What qualities do you most admire in a person, Miss Sharp?"

"Self control and strength."

"You have no sympathy with weaklings?"

"None whatever--bad strong people are better than weak good ones."

I knew this was true. This fragile creature suggests infinite repose and
strength--what could she have done in a former life to bring her back in
such unkind surroundings, that she must spend her days in drudgery, so
that she has never even leisure to think?--I longed to ask her, but did
not dare.

"Shall we not begin work now," she suggested--and I demonstrated my
first lesson in self control by agreeing, and we did not talk again
until luncheon time.

"If you don't mind we shall go to the little café by the _lac_," I
said--"and then afterwards we can find another place and work
again--Burton will have had my wheeled chair brought down there, so we
can choose a decent spot in one of the _bosquets_."

She nodded slightly--Now that it was not to help my moral regeneration
she did not intend to talk any more, it seemed!

As we got into the fiacre I slipped in the slightest degree, and caught
on to her arm--It was bare to the elbow in the little cheap cotton
frock, and as I touched the fine, fine skin, that maddening feeling came
over me again to clasp her in my arms.--I pulled myself together, and
she got in beside me. She has a darling tiny curl which comes behind her
ear, slipped down probably because her hair is so unfashionably
dressed--None of Suzette's "_geste_," nor even the subtle perfect taste
of the fluffies.--It is just torn back and rolled into a tight twist.
But now that I see her out of doors and in perspective I realize that
she has a lovely small figure, and that everything is in the right
place. I had told Burton to order the nicest lunch he could think of in
that simple place, and our table under one of the umbrellas was waiting
for us when we arrived.

There were only four other people there besides ourselves, and a few
came in afterwards.

I had forgotten my bread tickets, so Miss Sharp gave me one of hers. She
had relapsed into absolute silence. The only words she had uttered as
we came down that avenue from The Trianon to the _lac_ were when I
exclaimed at the beauty of it--I judged by her mouth that she was
admiring it too--and she said softly--

"For me, Versailles is the loveliest spot on earth!"

My mind flew then to the thought of what it would be to buy a really
nice house here and spend the summers--with her--for my own--. I found
myself clutching at my crutch--.

I tried to make conversation at lunch. There is nothing in the world so
difficult as to keep this up when you are nervous with interest, and the
other person is determined not to say a sentence which is unnecessary. A
chill crept over me.

Burton turned up in time to pay the bill and put me into my chair.

"I don't think you look well enough to stay out the afternoon, Sir
Nicholas"--he said--"Better go straight back to the hotel and rest--."

Miss Sharp joined in.

"I was going to say that"--she said.

I felt like a cross, disappointed child--I knew they were both right
though; I was feeling pretty tired and had not an idea in my head. But
if I did that, there would be a chance to see her lost--and all the long
hours to face alone--.

"I am quite all right and I want to work," I said fretfully--and we
started off.

We went up through the lovely _allées_ past _Enceledus_--and on to the
_Quinconce du Nord_, Miss Sharp walking a little behind my chair.

Here Burton bent over me--.

"It would be good for you to be taking a nap, Sir Nicholas--Indeed it
would."

It seemed as if Miss Sharp was abetting him, for she came to my side--.

"If you can get quite comfortable--I would read to you, and you might
sleep," she said--.

"We've no book"--I retorted--peeved, and yet pleased at the idea.

"I have one here which, will do"--and she took a little volume from her
bag.--"I have wanted it for a long time, and I bought it at the _Foire_
as I came from the station to-day--it cost a franc!"

It was a worn eighteenth century copy of François Villon--.

"Yes, that will be nice," I agreed--and leaned back while Burton settled
my cushion, and then retired to a distance. Twelve years on and off of
Paris has not taught him French--at least not the French of François
Villon!

Miss Sharp took a little _parc_ chair and I was able to watch her as she
read--I did not even hear the words--because, as she was looking down I
had not to guard myself, but could let my eye devour her small oval
face. All my nerves were thrilling again and there was no peace--how I
longed--ached--to take her into my arms!

She looked up once after an hour, to see if I were asleep, I
suppose.--She must have observed passionate emotion in my eye--she
looked down at the book instantly, but a soft pink flush came into her
cheeks--which have a mother of pearl transparency usually. This caused
me deep pleasure--I had been able to make her feel something at any
rate! but then I was frightened--perhaps she would suggest going if she
found the situation uncomfortable. Her voice had a fresh tone in it as
she went on, and finally it faltered, and she stopped.

"If it is not putting you to sleep" she remarked--"perhaps you would not
object if I walked on and typed what I took down this morning--It seems
a pity to waste this time."

I knew that if I did not let her have her way there might be
difficulties, so I agreed--and said that I would go back to the hotel
and rest upon the sofa in the salon--So the procession started, and as
we took the _allée_, to bring us to the Reservoirs on the level--I
suddenly caught sight of Coralie and her last favoured one!--both of
whom are supposed to be at Deauville with the rest!

Coralie was exquisitely dressed, Duquesnois in uniform.

I realized that she had seen us, and that she could not avoid coming up
to talk, although that had not been her intention--When one is supposed
to be at Deauville with one's family, and is in reality at Versailles
with one's lover--one does not seek to recognize one's friends!

She came forward with _empressement_ when she found the meeting was
inevitable--.

"Nicholas!" she cooed "--what happiness!"--

Then she eyed Miss Sharp mischievously, making a movement as though she
expected me to introduce them--.

But Miss Sharp defeated this by immediately walking on--.

"_Tiens!_" said Coralie--.

"That is Miss Sharp--my secretary--What are you doing--here Coralie?"

"Perhaps the same as you, _cher ami_--" and she rippled with
laughter--"Versailles is so tranquil a place!"

I could have slapped her--fortunately Miss Sharp was out of earshot--.

Jean Duquesnois now joined in--he was back from the front for two
days--things were going better--peace would certainly be declared before
Christmas--.

Coralie meanwhile was looking after Miss Sharp with an expression upon
her clever face which only a Frenchwoman is able to put there--It said
as plainly as words, "So this is the reason Nicholas!--Well you have
chosen something very every-day and inexpensive this time!--Men are
certainly crazy in their tastes!"

I pretended not to notice, and so she spoke.

"Why if you can come here cannot you come to Deauville, Nicholas?--there
must be some irresistible attraction stronger than to be with your
friends!"

"Yes--he is an excellent Swedish masseur who is glued to Paris.--Also I
like solitude sometimes--."

"Solitude!" and Coralie glanced at Miss Sharp's rapidly disappearing
figure--. "_Hein?_"

I would not permit myself to grow angry.

"The book is nearly finished--you can tell the rest--."

"That old book! You were much more entertaining before you commenced it,
Nicholas! Perhaps the idea has come to me why!"

I would not be drawn--I threw the war into the enemy's country.

"You are staying at the Reservoirs?"

I saw that she was--and that now the thought of my being there
disconcerted her--.

"But no!" she lied sweetly--"I am merely out here for the day to see
Louise, who has a son in the hospital--."

It was my turn to say--

"_Tiens?_"

And then we both laughed--and I let them go on--.

But when I got into my salon--I heard no typing--only there was a note
from Miss Sharp to say that some slight thing had gone wrong with the
machine, so she had taken the work to finish it at home--.

I cursed Coralie and all the fluffies in the world, and then in pain
laid down upon my bed.



IX


_Saturday Morning:_

Yesterday I was so restless I could not settle to anything. I read pages
and pages of Plato and was conscious that the words were going over in
my head without conveying the slightest meaning, and that the other part
of my mind was absorbed with thoughts of Miss Sharp--. If I only dared
to be natural with her we surely could be friends, but I am always
obsessed with the fear that she will leave me if I transgress in the
slightest beyond the line she has marked between us--. I see that she is
determined to remain only the secretary, and I realize that it is her
breeding which makes her act as she does--. If she were familiar or
friendly with me, she would feel it was not correct to come to my flat
alone--She only comes at all because the money is so necessary to
her--and having to come, she protects her dignity by wearing this ice
mask.--I know that she was affronted by Coralie's look on Thursday, and
that is why she went home pretending the typing machine was out of
order--Now if any more of these _contretemps_ happen she will probably
give me warning. Burton instinctively sensed this, and that is why he
disapproved of my asking her to lunch--If she had been an ordinary
typist Burton would not have objected in the least,--as I said before,
Burton knows the world!

Now what is to be done next?--I would like to go and confide in the
Duchesse, and tell her that I believe I have fallen in love with my
secretary, who won't look at me, and ask her advice--but that I fear
with all her broad-minded charity, her class prejudice is too strong to
make her really sympathetic. Her French mind of the _Ancien Régime_
could not contemplate a Thormonde--son of Anne de Mont-Anbin--falling in
love with an insignificant Miss Sharp who brings bandages to the
Courville hospital!

These thoughts tormented me so all yesterday that I was quite feverish
by the evening--and Burton wore an air of thorough disapproval. A rain
shower came on too, and I could not go up on the terrace for the sunset.

I would like to have taken asperines and gone to sleep, when night
came--but I resisted the temptation, telling myself that to-morrow she
would come again.

I am dawdling over this last chapter on purpose--and I have re-read the
former ones and decided to rewrite one or two, but at best I cannot
spread this out over more than six weeks, I fear, and then what excuse
can I have for keeping her? I feel that she would not stay just to
answer a few letters a day, and do the accounts and pay the bills with
Burton. I feel more desperately miserable than I have felt since last
year--And I suppose that according to her theory, I have to learn a
lesson. It seems if I search, as she said one must do without vanity,
that the lesson is to conquer emotion, and be serene when everything
which I desire is out of reach.

       *       *       *       *       *

_Saturday Night:_

To-day has been one of utter disaster and it began fairly well. Miss
Sharp turned up at eleven as I shut my journal. I had sent to the
station to meet her this time--She brought all the work she had taken
away with her on Thursday, quite in order--and her face wore the usual
mask. I wonder if I had not ever seen her without her glasses if I
should have realized now that she is very pretty--I can see her
prettiness even with them on--her nose is so exquisitely fine, and the
mouth a Cupid's bow really--if one can imagine a Cupid's bow very firm.
I am sure if she were dressed as Odette, or Alice, or Coralie, she would
be lovely. This morning when she first came I began thinking of this and
of how I should like to give her better things than any of the fluffies
have ever had--how I would like her to have some sapphire bangles for
those little wrists and a great string of pearls round that little
throat--my mother's pearls--and perhaps big pearls in those shell
ears--And how I would like to take her hair down and brush it out, and
let it curl as it wanted to--and then bury my face in it--those stiff
twists must take heaps of hair to make.--But why am I writing all this
when the reality is further off than ever, and indeed has become an
impossibility I fear.

We worked in the sitting-room--it was a cloudy day--and presently, after
I had been dreaming on in this way, I asked her to read over the
earlier chapters of the book.--She did--.

"Now what do you think of the thing as a whole?" I asked her.

She was silent for a moment as though trying not to have to answer
directly, then that weird constitutional honesty seemed to force out the
words.

"It perhaps tells what that furniture is."

"You feel it is awful rot?"

"No--."

"What then?"

"It depends if you mean to publish it?"

I leaned back and laughed--bitterly! the realization that she understood
so completely that it was only a "_soulagement_"--an "asperine" for me,
so to speak as the Duchesse said--cut in like a knife. I had the
exasperated feeling that I was just being pandered to, humored by
everyone, because I was wounded. I was an object of pity, and even my
paid typist--but I can't write about it.

Miss Sharp started from her chair, her fine nostrils were quivering, and
her mouth had an expression I could not place.

"Indeed, it is not bad," she said--"You misunderstand me--."

I knew now that she was angry with herself for having hurt me--and that
I could have made capital out of this, but something in me would not let
me do that.

"Oh--it is all right--" I replied, but perhaps my voice may have been
flat and discouraged--for she went on so kindly.

"You know a great deal about the subject of course--but I feel the
chapters want condensing--May I tell you just where?"

I felt that the thing did not interest me any more, one way or another,
it was just a ridiculous non-essential--. I saw it all in a new
perspective--but I was glad she seemed kindly--though for a moment even
that appeared of less importance. Something seemed to have numbed me.
What, what could be the good of anything?--the meaning of anything?--I
unconsciously put my head back against the cushion of my chair in
weariness--I felt the soft silk and shut my eye for a moment.

When Miss Sharp spoke again, her voice was full of sympathy--and was it
remorse--?

"I would like to help you to take interest in it--again--won't you let
me?" she pleaded.

I was grateful that she did not say she was sorry she had hurt me--that
I could not have stood--.

I opened my eye now and looked at her, she was bending nearer to me, but
I felt nothing particular, only a desire to go to sleep and have done
with it all. It was as if the fabric of my make-believe had been rent
asunder.

"It is very good of you," I answered politely--"Yes--say what you
think."

Her tact is immense--she plunged straight into the subject without
further imputation of sympathy,--her voice, full of inflections of
interest and friendliness, her constrained self-control laid aside for
the time. She spoke so intelligently, showing trained critical
faculties--and at last my numbness began gradually to melt, and I could
not help some return of sensation. There may have been soothing syrup in
the fact that she must have been interested in the work, or she could
not have dissected it chapter by chapter, point by point, as she was
doing.

She grew animated as we discussed things, and once unconsciously took
off her glasses--It was like the sun coming out after days of storm
clouds--her beautiful, beautiful blue eyes!--My "heart gave a bound"--(I
believe that is the way to express what I mean!)--I felt a strange
emotion of excitement and pleasure--I had not time to control my
admiration, I expect,--for she took fright and instantly replaced them,
a bright flush in her cheeks--and went on talking in a more reserved
way--Alas!--

Of course then I realized that she does not wear the glasses for any
reason of softening light or of defective sight, but simply to hide
those blue stars and make herself unattractive--.

How mysterious it all is!--

I wish I had been able to conceal the fact that I had noticed that the
glasses were off--Another day I would certainly have taken advantage of
this moment and would have tried to make her confess the reason of her
wearing them; but some odd quality in me prevented me from reaping any
advantage from this situation, so I let the chance pass.--Perhaps she
was grateful to me, for she warmed up a little again.

I began to feel that I might write the fool of a book right over from
the beginning--and suggested to her that we should take it in detail.

She acquiesced--.

Then it suddenly struck me that she had not only spoken of style in
writing, of method in book making--but had shown an actual knowledge of
the subject of the furniture itself.--How could little Miss Sharp, a
poverty stricken typist, be familiar with William and Mary furniture?
She has obviously not "seen better days," and only taken up a
stenographic business lately, because such proficiency as she shows, not
only in this work but in account keeping and all the duties of a
secretary, must have required a steady professional training.

Could she have studied in Museums?

But the war has been on for four years and I had gathered that she has
been in Paris all that time--Even if she had left England in 1914, she
could only have been eighteen or nineteen then, and girls of that age do
not generally take an interest in furniture. This thought kept bothering
me--and I was silent for some moments. I was weighing things up.

Her voice interrupted my thoughts.

"The Braxted chair has the first of the knotted fringes known"--it was
saying.

I had spoken of the Braxted chair--but had not recorded this fact--.

How the devil could she have known about it?

"Where did you find that?"

"I knew someone who had seen it--" she answered in the same voice, but
her cheeks grew pinker--.

"You have never seen it yourself?"

"No--I have never been in England--."

"----Never been in England?"

I was stupefied.

She went on hurriedly--I was going to write feverishly,--so quickly did
she rush into questions of method in arranging the chapters, her armour
was on again--she had become cautious, and was probably annoyed with
herself for ever having allowed herself to slip off her guard.

I knew that I could disconcert her, and probably obtain some interesting
admissions from her--and have a thrilling fencing match, but some
instinct warned me not to do so--I might win out for the time being, but
if she has a secret which she does not wish me to discover, she will
take care not again to put herself in a situation where this can happen.
I have the apprehension always hanging, like Damocles' sword, over my
head, of her relinquishing her post. Besides, why should I trouble her
for my own satisfaction?--However, I registered a vow then that I would
find out all I could from Maurice.

The inference of everything she says, does and unconsciously infers, is
that she is a cultivated lady, accustomed to talking with people of our
world--people who know England and its great houses well enough to have
made her familiar with the knowledge of where certain pieces of famous
furniture are.--The very phrasing of her sentences is the phrasing of
our Shibboleth, and not the phrasing of the professional classes.

And yet--she is meanly dressed--does housework--and for years must have
been trained in professional business methods. It is profoundly
interesting.

I have never even questioned Maurice as to how he heard of her.

Well, I write all this down calmly, the record of the morning, to let
myself look back on it, and to where the new intimacy might have led us,
but for the sickening end to the day.

Burton did not question her lunching with me this time--he had given the
order as a matter of course--He is very fine in his distinctions, and
understood that to make any change after she once had eaten with me
would be invidious.

By the time the waiters came in to lay the table, that sense of hurt,
and then of numbness, had worn off--I was quite interested again in the
work, and intensely intrigued about the possible history of the Sharp
family!

I was using cunning, too, and displaying casual indifference, so
watchfulness was allowed to rest a little with the strange girl.

"I believe if you will give me your help I shall be able to make quite
a decent book of it after all,--but does it not seem absurd to trouble
about such thing's as furniture with the world in ruins and Empires
tottering!"--I remarked while the ark-relic handed the omelette--.

"All that is only temporary--presently people will be glad to take up
civilized interests again."

"You never had any doubt as to how the war would end?"

"Never."

"Why?"

"Because I believe in the gallantry of France, and the tenacity of
England, and the--youth of America."

"And what of Germany?"

"The vulgarity."

This was quite a new reason for Germany's certain downfall--! It
delighted me--.

"But vulgarity does not mean weakness!"

"Yes it does--Vulgar people have imperfect sensibilities, and cannot
judge of the psychology of others, they appraise everything by their own
standard--and so cannot calculate correctly possible contingencies--that
shows weakness."

"How wise you are--and how you think!"

She was silent.

"All the fighting nations will be filled with vulgarians even when we do
win, though with most of the decent people killed--" I ventured to
say--.

"Oh! no--Lots of their souls are not vulgar, only their environment has
caused their outward self-expression to seem so. Once you get below the
pompous _bourgeoisie_ in France, for instance, the more delightful you
find the spirit, and I expect it is the same in England. It is the
pretentious aspiring would-bes who are vulgar--and Germany seems filled
with them,"

"You know it well?"

"Yes, pretty well."

"If it is not a frightfully impertinent question--how old are you
really, Miss Sharp--?" I felt that she could not be only twenty-three
after this conversation.

She smiled--the second smile I have seen--.

"On the twentieth of October I shall be twenty-four."

"Where on earth did you learn all your philosophy of life in the time!"

"It is life which teaches us everything--if we are not half
asleep--especially if it is difficult--."

"And the stupid people are like me--not liking to learn any lessons and
kicking against the pricks--.",

"Yes--."

"I would try to learn anything you would teach me though, Miss Sharp."

"Why?"

"Because I have confidence in you"--I did not add--because I loved her
voice and respected her character and----.

"Thank you"--she said.

"Will you teach me?"

"What?"

"How not to be a rotter--."

"A man knows that himself--."

"How to learn serenity then?"

"That would be difficult."

"Am I so impossible?"

"I cannot say--but."

"But--what?"

"One would have to begin from the beginning--."

"Well?"

"And I have not time--."

I looked at her as she said this--there was in the tone a faint echo of
regret, so I wanted to see the expression of her mouth--It told me
nothing.

I could not get anything further out of her, because the waiters came in
and out after this rather frequently, changing the courses--and so I did
not have any success.

After lunch I suggested as it had cleared up that we should go at least
as far as the parterre, and sit under the shadow of the terrace--the
flower beds are full of beans now--their ancient glories departed. Miss
Sharp followed my bath chair,--and with extreme diligence kept me to the
re-arranging of the first chapter. For an hour I watched her darling
small face whenever I could. A sense of peace was upon me. We were
certainly on the first rung of the ladder of friendship--and
presently--presently--If only I could keep from annoying her in any way!

When we had finished our task she rose--.

"If you don't mind, as it is Saturday I have promised Burton"--and she
looked at him, seated on a chair beyond earshot enjoying the sun--"to do
up the accounts and prepare the cheques for you to sign--. So I will go
in now and begin."

I wanted to say "Damn the accounts"--but I let her go--I must play the
tortoise in this game, not the hare. She smiled faintly--the third
smile--as she made me a little bow, and walked off.

After a few paces she came back again.

"May I ask Burton for the bread ticket I lent you on Thursday," she
said--"No one can afford to be generous with them now, can they!"

I was delighted at this. I would have been delighted at anything which
kept her with me an extra minute.

I watched her as she disappeared down towards the Reservoirs with
longing eyes, then I must have dozed for a while, because it was a
quarter to five when I got back to my sitting-room.

And when I was safely in my chair there was a knock on the door, and in
she came--with a cheque-book in her hand. Before I opened it or even
took it up I knew something had happened which had changed her again.

Her manner had its old icy respect as of a person employed, all the
friendliness which had been growing in the last two or three days had
completely departed. I could not imagine why--.

She put the cheque-book open, and handed me a pen to sign with, and then
I signed the dozen that she had filled in, and tore them off as I did
so. She was silent, and when I had finished she took them, saying
casually that she would bring the corrected chapter typed again on
Tuesday, and was now going to catch her train--and before I could reply,
she had gone into the other room--.

A frightful sense of depression fell upon me--What could it possibly
be--?

Idly I picked up the cheque-book--and absently fingered the leaves--then
my eye caught a counterfoil where I had chanced to open it. It was not
in Miss Sharp's handwriting, although this was the house cheque-book
which Burton usually keeps, but in my own and there was written, just
casually as I scribble in my private account.--"For Suzette 5000 francs"
and the date of last Saturday--and on turning the page there was the
further one of "For Suzette 3000 francs" and the date of Monday!!

The irony of fate!--I had picked this cheque-book up inadvertently I
suppose on these two days instead of my own.



X


It is quite useless for me to comment upon the utterly annoying
circumstance of that mixup of cheque-books--Such things are fate--and
fate I am beginning to believe is nothing but a reflex of our own
actions. If Suzette had not been my little friend, I should not have
given her eight thousand francs--but as she has been--and I did--I must
stand by the consequences.

After all--a man?--Well--what is the use of writing about it. I am so
utterly mad and resentful that I have no words.

It is Sunday morning, and this afternoon I shall hire the one motor
which can be obtained here, at a fabulous price, and go into Paris.
There are some books I want to get out of my bookcase--and somehow I
have lost interest here. But this morning I shall go and sit in the
parish church and hear Mass.--I feel so completely wretched, the music
may comfort me and give me courage to forget all about Miss Sharp. And
in any case there is a soothing atmosphere in a Roman Catholic church,
which is agreeable. I love the French people! They are a continual
tonic, if one takes them rightly. So filled with common sense, simply
using sentiment as an ornament, and a relaxation; and never allowing it
to interfere with the practical necessities of life. Ignorant people say
they are hysterical, and over passionate--They are nothing of the
kind--They believe in material things, and in the "_beau geste_." Where
they require a religion, they accept a comforting one; and meanwhile
they enjoy whatever comes in their way and get through disagreeables
philosophically. _Vive la France!_

       *       *       *       *       *

I am waiting for the motor now--and trying to be resigned.--Mass did me
good--I sat in a corner and kept my crutch by me. The Church itself told
me stories, I tried to see it in Louis XV's time--I dare say it looked
much the same, only dirtier--And life was made up with etiquette and
forms and ceremonies, more exasperating than anything now. But they were
ahead of us in manners, and a sense of beauty.

A little child came and sat beside me for about ten minutes, and looked
at me and my crutch sympathetically.

"_Blessé de la guerre_," I heard her whisper to her mother--"_Comme
Jean_."

The organ was not bad--and before I came out I felt calmer.

After all it is absurd of Miss Sharp to be disgusted about Suzette--She
must know, at nearly twenty-four, and living in France, that there are
Suzettes--and I am sure she is not narrow-minded in any way--What can
have made her so censorious? If she took a personal interest in me it
would be different, but entirely indifferent as she is, how can it
matter to her?--As I write this, that hot sense of anger and rebellion
arises in me--I'll have to keep saying to myself that I am in the
trenches again and must not complain.

I'll make Burton find out if Coralie is really staying here, and get her
to dine with me to-night--Coralie always pretended to have a _béguin_
for me--even when most engaged elsewhere.

       *       *       *       *       *

_Monday:_

Sunday was a memorable day--.

I went through the _Bois de Marne_ on that bad road because the trees
were so lovely--and then through the _parc de St. Cloud_. Even in war
time this wonderful people can enjoy the open air life!--

I think of Henriette d' Angleterre looking from the terrace of her
Château over the tree tops--The poor Château! not a stone of which is
standing to-day--Did she feel sentimental with her friend the Comte de
Guiche--as I would like to feel now?--If I had someone to be sentimental
with. Alas! There was an ominous hot stillness in the air, and the sky
beyond the Eiffel tower had a heavy, lurid tone in it.

When we got across the river into the _Bois de Boulogne_ it seemed as if
all Paris was enjoying a holiday. I told the chauffeur to go down a side
_allée_ and to go slowly, and presently I made him draw up at the side
of the road. It was so hot, and I wanted to rest for a little, the
motion was jarring my leg.

I think I must have been half asleep, when my attention was caught by
three figures coming up another by-path obliquely--the tallest of them
was undoubtedly Miss Sharp--but Miss Sharp as I had never seen her
before!--

And a boy of thirteen, and a girl of eleven were at either side of her,
the boy clinging on to her arm, he was lame and seemed to be a
dreadfully delicate, rickety person. The little girl was very small and
sickly looking too--but Miss Sharp--my secretary!--appeared blooming and
young and lovely in her inexpensive foulard frock--No glasses hid her
blue eyes. Her hair was not torn back and screwed into a knot, but might
have been dressed by Alice's maid--and her hat, the simplest thing
possible, was most becoming, with the proper modish "look."--

Refinement and perfect taste proclaimed themselves from every inch of
her, even if everything had only cost a small sum.

So that dowdy get-up is for my benefit, and is not habitual to her!--Or
is it, that she has only one costume and keeps it for Sundays and days
of _fête_?--

In spite of my determination to put all thought of her from me--a wild
emotion arose--a passionate longing to spring from the car and join
her--to talk to her, and tell her how lovely I thought she was looking.

They came nearer and nearer--I could see that her face was rippling with
smiles at something the little brother had said--Its expression was
gentle and sympathetic and it was obvious that fond affection held all
three.

The children might have been drawn by Du Maurier in Punch long ago, to
express a family who were overbred. Race run to seed expressed itself in
every line of them. The boy wore an Eton jacket and collar and a tall
hat--and it looked quite strange in this place.

As they got close to me I could hear him cough in the hollow way which
tells its own story--.

I cowered down behind the hood of the motor, and they passed without
seeing me--or perhaps Miss Sharp did see me but was determined not to
look--. I felt utterly alone and deserted by all the world--and the same
nervous trembling came over me which once before made me suffer so, and
again I was conscious that my cheek was wet with a tear.

The humiliation of it! the disgrace of such feebleness!--

When they had gone by, I started forward again to watch them--I could
hear the little girl cry, "Oh! look Alathea!" as she pointed to the sky,
and then all three began to quicken their pace down another _allée_, in
the direction of Auteuil, and were soon out of sight.

Then, still quivering with emotion, I too glanced heavenward--Ye Gods!
what a storm was coming on--!

Where were they going? there into the deep wood?--it was a good mile or
two from the Auteuil gate--They would be soaked to the skin when the
rain did commence to fall--and there was a thunder storm beginning
also--were they quite safe?

All these thoughts tormented me, and I gave the chauffeur orders to take
a road I thought might cut across the path they had followed, and when
we reached the spot, I made him wait.

The livid lightning rent the sky and the thunder roared like guns, and
the few people in sight rushed, panic-stricken, in a hopeless search for
shelter--far greater fear on their faces than they show at German bombs.

My chauffeur complained audibly, as he got down to shut the car--Did
Monsieur wish to be struck by lightning? he demanded, very enraged.

Still I waited--but no Sharp family appeared--and at last I knew I had
missed them somehow--a very easy thing in that path-bisected wood. So I
told him he could drive like hell to my _appartement_ in the _Place des
Etats Unis_--and off we rushed in the now torrential rain--It was one of
the worst thunder storms I have ever seen in my life.

I was horribly worried as to what could have happened to that little
party, for that _alleé_ where I had seen them, was in the very middle of
the _Bois_, and far from any gate or shelter. They must have got soaking
wet if nothing worse had happened to them. And how could I hear anything
about them?--What should I do? Was the Duchesse in Paris?--Could I find
the address possibly from her? But would she be likely to know it? just
because Miss Sharp--"Alathea"--(what a lovely Greek name!) brought
bandages to the hospital?

However, this was worth trying, and I could hardly wait to get out of
the motor, and get to the telephone. The _concierge_ came out with an
umbrella in great concern and took me up in the lift herself--and there
was Burton waiting for me, he had come in by train to take me back
safely later on.

How I cursed my folly in not having asked Miss Sharp herself for her
address! Could Burton possibly know it?--How silly of me not to have
thought of that before!

"Burton, I saw Miss Sharp and her family in the _Bois_--do you know
their address by chance?--I want to ring up and find out if they got
home all right."

Burton could see my anxiety--and actually hurried in his reply!

"They live in Auteuil, Sir Nicholas, but I can't exactly say where--the
young lady never seems very particular to give me the address. She said
I should not be needing it, and that they were likely to move."

"Get on to the Duchesse de Courville-Hautevine as quickly as you can--."

Burton did so at once, but it seemed a long time.

--No, Madame la Duchesse was down at Hautevine taking some fresh
convalescents, and would not return until the middle of the week--if
then!

I nearly swore aloud--.

"Are they talking from the _concierge's_ lodge or the hotel?--Burton ask
at both if they know the address of a Miss Sharp who brings bandages to
the hospital!"

Of course by this time the connection had been cut off, and it took
quite ten minutes to get on again, and by that time I could have yelled
aloud with the feverish fret of it all, and the pain!

No one knew anything of a "Mees Shearp."

"Mees Shearp--_Mais non_!"

Many ladies brought bandages, _hein_?!

I mastered myself as well as I could and got into my chair--.

And in a few moments Burton brought me a brandy and soda, and put it
into my hand.

"It won't be cleared up enough to go back to Versailles before dinner,
Sir Nicholas," he said--and coughed--"I was just thinking maybe--you'd
be liking some friends to come in and dine--Pierre can get something in
from the restaurant, if you'd feel inclined."

The cough meant that Burton knows I am dreadfully upset, and that under
the circumstances anything to distract me is the lesser of two evils--!

"Ask whom you please," I answered and drank the brandy and soda down.

Presently, after half an hour, Burton came back to me, beaming--I had
been sitting in my chair too exhausted even to feel pain meanwhile--.

He had telephoned everywhere, and no one was in town, but at last, at
the Ritz, where the _concierge_ knows all my friends, he had been
informed that Mrs. Bruce (Nina) had arrived the night before, alone--he
had got connected up at her _appartement_, and she would be ''round at
eight o'clock, very pleased to dine!'

Nina!--A pleasant thrill ran through me--Nina, and without Jim--!

The wood fire was burning brightly, and the curtains were drawn when
Nina, fresh as a rose, came in--.

"Nicholas!" she cried delightedly--and held out both hands.

"Nina!--this is a pleasure, you old dear!--now let me look at you and
see what marriage has done--."

Nina drew back and laughed!

"Everything, Nicholas!" she said--.

A feeling of envy came over me--Jim's ankle is stiff for life--it seems
hard that an eye can make such a difference!--Nina is in love with Jim,
but no woman can be in love with me.

Her face is much softer, she is more attractive altogether.

"You look splendid, Nina," I told her--"I want to hear all about it."

"So you shall when we have finished dinner," and she handed me my crutch
as I got up from my chair.

Pierre had secured some quite respectable food, and during dinner and
afterwards when we were cosily smoking our cigarettes in the
sitting-room, Nina gave me all the news of our friends at home.--Every
single one of them was still working, she said.

"It is marvelous how they have stuck it," I responded--.

"Oh no, not at all," Nina answered. "We as a nation are people of
habit--the war is a habit to us now--heaps of us work from a sense of
duty and patriotism, others because they are afraid what would be said
of them if they did not--others because they are thankful to have some
steady job to get off their superfluous energy on--So it ends by
everyone being roped in--and you can't think, Nicholas, how divine it is
to get home after long hours of drudgery, to find the person you love
waiting for you, and to know you are going to have all the rest of the
time together, until next day!"

"No, I can't imagine the bliss of that, Nina--."

She looked at me suddenly--.

"Well, why don't you marry then, dear boy?"

"I would, if I thought I could secure bliss--but you forget, it would be
from pity and not love that a woman would be kind to me."

"I am--not quite sure of that, Nicholas"--and she looked at me
searchingly--"You are changed since last time--you are not so bitter and
sardonic--and you, always have that--oh! you know what Elinor Glyn
writes of in her books--that "it."--Some kind of attraction that has no
name--but I am sure has a lot to do with love--."

"So you think I have got 'it,' Nina?"

"Yes, your clothes fit so well--and you say rather whimsical
things--Yes, decidedly, Nicholas, now that you are not so bitter--I am
sure--."

"What a pity you did not find that out before you took Jim, Nina!"

"Oh! Jim! that is different--You have much more brain than Jim, and
would not have been nearly so easy to live with!"

"Is it going well, Nina?"

"Yes--perfectly--that is why I came to Paris alone--I knew it would be
good for him--besides I wanted a rest, Nicholas."

"I thought you had married for a rest!"

"Well, if a man 'in love' is what you really want,--and not his just
'loving' you--you have to use your wits; it can't be a rest, not if he
has made you care too.--When I was just tossing up between Jim and
Rochester, then I had not to bother about how I behaved to them. You see
I was the, as yet, unattained desired thing--but having accepted one of
them, he has time to think of things, not having to fight to get me, and
so I have to keep him thinking of things which have still speculation in
them--don't you see?"

"You have to keep the hunting instinct alive, in fact."

"Yes--"

"You don't think it would be possible to find someone who was just one's
mate so that no game of any sort would be necessary?"

She thought hard for a moment.

"That, of course, would be heaven--" then she sighed--"I am afraid it is
no use in hoping for that, Nicholas!"

"Someone who would understand so well that silence was eloquent--someone
who would read books with one, and think thoughts with one. Someone who
would lie in one's arms and respond to caresses--and not be counting the
dollars--or--doing her knitting--. Someone who was tender and kind and
true--Oh! Nina!"

I suppose my voice had taken on a tone of emotion--I was thinking of
Miss Sharp--Alathea--that shall be her name always for me now--.

"Nicholas!" Nina exclaimed--"My dear boy, of course you are in love!"

"And if so?"

Instantly I became of more value to Nina--she realized that she had lost
me, and that some other woman drew me and not herself--and although Nina
is the best sort in the world and more or less really in love with Jim,
I knew that a new note could grow in our friendship if I wished to
encourage it--Nina's fighting instinct had been aroused to try to get me
back!

"Who with?" she demanded laconically.

"With a dream--."

"Nonsense! you are much too cynical--Is it anyone I know?"

"I should not think so--she has not materialised yet."

"This is frightfully interesting, my dear old boy!"

"So you think I'll have a chance then?"

"Certainly when you are all finished."

"My new eye is to be in before Christmas, and my new leg after the new
year, and my shoulder gets straighter every day!"

Nina laughed--.

"Real love would be--I suppose--if you could make her adore you before
you looked any handsomer!"

And this sentence of Nina's rang in my ears long after she had gone, and
often in the night. I could not sleep, I felt something had happened and
that fate might be going to take Miss Sharp--Alathea--from me--.

       *       *       *       *       *

And then before morning in fretful dreams I seemed to be obsessed by the
cooing of love words between a woman and a child--.



XI


Monday was a perfectly impossible day--I spent all the morning before I
returned to Versailles in writing to Maurice, telling him he must find
out all about Miss Sharp--Alathea--I felt if I told him her Christian
name it would be a clue--and yet even to assist in that, which was, at
the moment, my heart's desire, I could not overcome my personal dislike
to pronounce it to Maurice!--it seemed as something sacred to me
alone--which makes me reflect upon how egotistical we all are--and how
we would all rather fail in attaining what is our greatest wish than not
to be able to express our own personality--!

Nina had suggested before she left that I should stay in Paris and come
to the theatre with her--.

"We could have some delicious old times, Nicholas, now that you are so
much better."

Once this would have thrilled me--only last Spring! but now the
contrariness in me made me say that it was absolutely necessary that I
returned immediately to Versailles. I believe I should have answered
like that even if there had been no Miss Sharp,--Alathea--in the case,
just because I now knew Nina really wanted me to stay--every man is like
that, more or less, if only women knew!--The whole sex relation is one
of fence--until the object has been secured--and then emotion dies out
altogether, or is revived in one or the other, but very seldom in both.
Love--real love--is beyond all this I suppose, and does not depend upon
whether or no the other person excites one's desire for conquest. Love
must be wonderful--I believe Alathea--(I have actually written it
naturally this time!--) could love. I never used to think I could, at
the best of moments I have analysed my emotions, and stood aside as it
were, and measured just how much things were meaning to me.

But when I think of that scrap of a girl, with her elusive ways, her
pride, her refinement, even her little red hands--! I have a longing--a
passionate longing to hold her always near me--to know that she is
mine--that for the rest of time I should be with her, learning from her
high thoughts, comforted by her strength of character--believing in
her--respecting her--Yes, that is it--_respecting her_. How few women
one meets with attractions that one really respects.--One respects many
elderly ones, of course, and abstract splendid creatures, but bringing
it down to concrete facts, how few are the women who have drawn one's
admiration or excited one's desire, who at the same time one
reverenced!--Love must mean reverence--that is it.

And what is reverence--?

The soul's acknowledgment of the purity of another--and purity in this
sense means truth and honor, and lofty aims--not the denial of all
passion, or the practice of asceticism.

I utterly reverence Alathea, and yet I am sure with that mouth--if she
loved me she would be anything but cold. How on God's earth can I make
her love me--?

I went back to Versailles after luncheon, having had to see the
specialist about my eye, he thinks the socket is so marvelously healed
lately, that I could have the glass one in now much sooner than
Christmas. I wonder if some self confidence will return when I can feel
people are not revolted when looking at me?--That again is
super-sensitiveness. Of course no one is revolted--they feel pity--and
that is perhaps worse. When I get my leg too, shall I have the nerve to
make love to Alathea and use all the arts which used to be so successful
in the old days?

I believe if I were back in 1914--I should still be as nervous as a cat
when with her--Is this one of the symptoms of love again?

George Harcourt has many maxims upon the subject of love--One is that a
Frenchman thinks most of the methods of love--An Englishman more of the
sensations of love--and an Austrian of the emotions of love--. I wonder
if this is true? He also says that a woman does not really appreciate a
man who reverences her sex in the abstract, and is chivalrous about all
women,--she rather thinks him a simpleton--. What she does appreciate is
a man who holds cynical views about the female sex in general, and shows
reverence and chivalry towards herself in particular!

This I feel is probably the truth--!

I did not expect to hear anything of Alathea on the Monday, she was not
due until Tuesday at eleven o'clock, but when I came in from my sunset
on the terrace, I found two telegrams, all the first one said was--

  "Extremely sorry will be unable to come to-morrow, brother
  seriously ill.
                                                     A. Sharp--."

And no address!

So I could not send sympathy, or even offer any help--I could have sworn
aloud! The storm had wrecked its vengeance on someone, then, and the
poor little chap had probably taken cold.

If I could only be of some use to them--Perhaps getting the best Doctor
is out of their reach. I was full of turmoil while I tore open the other
blue paper--this was from Suzette--.

"I come this evening at eight."

It was nearly seven o'clock now, so I could not put her off--and I am
not sure that I wanted to--Suzette is a human being and kindly, and her
heart is warm.

When Burton was dressing me I told him of Miss Sharp's telegram.

"The poor young lady!" he said--.

Burton always speaks of her as the "young lady"--he never makes a
mistake about class.

Suzette for him is "Mam'zell"--and he speaks of her as a mother might
about her boy's noisy, tiresome rackety school friends--necessary evils
to be put up with for the boy's sake--The fluffies he announces always
by their full titles--"Madame la Comtesse"--etc., etc., with a face of
stone. Nina and the one or two other Englishwomen he is politely
respectful to, but to Miss Sharp he is absolutely reverential--she might
be a Queen!

"I expect the poor little fellow got wet through yesterday," I
hazarded--.

"He's that delicate," Burton remarked.

So Burton knows something more about the family than I do after all--!

"How did you know he was delicate, Burton, or even that Miss Sharp had a
brother?"

"I don't exactly know, Sir Nicholas--it's come out from one time to
another--the young lady don't talk."

"How did you guess, then?"

"I've seen her anxious when I've brought in her tray--sometimes, and
once I ventured to say to her--'I beg pardon Miss, but can I do anything
for you,' and she took off her glasses sudden like--and thanked me, and
said it was her little brother she was worrying about--and you may
believe me or not as you like, Sir Nicholas, but her eyes were full of
tears."

I wonder if Burton guessed the deep emotion he was causing me--My little
darling! with her beautiful blue eyes full of tears, and I impotent to
comfort or help her--!

"Yes--yes?" I said--.

"She told me then that he'd been delicate since birth, and she feared
the winter in Paris for him--I do believe Sir, it's that she works so
hard for, to get him away south."

"Burton--what the devil can we do about it?"

"I don't very well know, Sir Nicholas--Many's the time I've badly wanted
to offer her the peaches and grapes and other things, to take back to
him--but of course I know my place better than to insult a lady--tisn't
like as if she were of another class you see Sir--she'd have grabbed 'em
then, but bein' as she is, she'd have been bound to refuse them, and it
might have tempted her for him and made things awkward."

Burton not only knows the world but has tact--!

He went on, now once started.

"I saw her outside a wine shop once when I got off the tram at
Auteuil--She was looking at the bottles of port--and I made so as to
pass, and her not see me, but she turned and said friendly
like--'Burton, do you suppose this shop would keep really good port--?'
I said as how I would go in and see, and she came with me--They had some
fairly decent--though too young, Sir Nicholas, and it was thirty-five
francs the bottle--I saw she had not an idea it would be as much as
that--her face fell--Do you know, Sir, I could see she hadn't that much
with her,--it was the day before she's paid you see--her colour came and
went--then she said--'I wonder Burton if you could oblige me with paying
the ten extra francs until to-morrow--I must have the best!'--You may
believe me, Sir Nicholas, I got out my purse quick enough--and then she
thanked me so sweet like--'The Doctor has ordered it for my mother,
Burton,' she said--'and of course she couldn't drink any but the best!'"

"Who on earth can she be, Burton? It does worry me--can't you possibly
find out? I would so like to help them."

"I feel that, Sir--but here's the way I figure it--When gentry lives in
foreign towns and don't seem anxious for you to know their address it
don't seem right like to pry into it."

"Burton, you dear old brick!--well supposing we don't try to pry, but
just try how we can possibly help her--You could certainly be
sympathetic about the brother since she has spoken to you--and surely
something can be done--? I saw her at the Duchesse's you know--do you
suppose she knows her--?"

"I do, Sir Nicholas--I never meant to speak of it, but one day Her Grace
came to see you and you were out and she caught sight of Miss Sharp
through the half open door--and she jumped like a cat, Her Grace did,
'Halthee'--she cried out--or some name like that,--and Miss Sharp
started up and went down the stairs with her--She seemed to be kind of
explaining, and I am not sure that Her Grace was too pleased--."

(Burton thinks all Duchesses should be called "Grace" whether they are
French or English.)

"Then we should certainly be able to find out from the Duchesse--."

"Well, I would not be so sure of that Sir Nicholas--You see the Duchesse
is a very kind lady, but she is a lady of the world, and she may have
her reasons."

"Then what do you suggest, Burton?"

"Why, I hardly know--perhaps to wait and see, Sir Nicholas."

"Masterly inactivity!"

"It might be that I could do a bit of finding out if I felt sure no harm
could come of it."

I was not quite certain what Burton meant by this--What possible harm
could come of it?

"Find out all you can and let me know--."

       *       *       *       *       *

Suzette opened the door and came in just as I finished dressing--Burton
left the room.--She was pouting.

"So the book is not completed, Nicholas?--and the English Mees comes
three times a week--_hein_?"

"Yes--does that upset you?"

"I should say!"

"May I not have a secretary?--You will be objecting to my Aunt coming to
stay with me, or my dining with my friends--next!"

I was angry--.

"No--_mon ami_--not that--they are not for me--those--but a secretary--a
'Mees'--_tiens_?--for why do you want us two?"

"You _two_! good Lord! Do you think, Suzette--_Mon Dieu!_"--I now became
very angry. "My secretary is here to type my book--. Let us understand
one another quite--You have overstepped the mark this time, Suzette, and
there must be an end. Name whatever sum you want me to settle on you and
then I don't ever wish to see you again."

She burst into frantic weeping. She had meant nothing--she was
jealous--she loved me--even going to the sea could do nothing for her! I
was her _adoré_--her sun, moon and stars--of what matter a leg or an
eye--! I was her life--her _Amant_!!

"Nonsense, Suzette!--you have told me often it was only because I was
very rich--now be sensible--these things have to have an end some day. I
shall be going back to England soon, so just let me make you comfortable
and happy and let us part friends--."

She still stormed and raged--'There was someone else--it was the
"Mees"--I had been different ever since she had come to the flat--She,
Suzette, would be revenged--she would kill her--!'

Then I flew into a rage, and dominated her, and when I had her
thoroughly frightened I appealed to the best in her--and when she was
sobbing quietly Burton came in to say that dinner was ready--his face
was eloquent!

"Don't let the waiters see you like that," I said.

Suzette rushed to the glass and looked at herself, and then began
opening her gold chain bag to get out her powder and lip grease--I went
on into the salon and left her--.

What an irony everything is--! When I was yearning for tenderness and
love--, even Suzette's, I was unable to touch her, and now because I am
quite indifferent, both she and Nina, in their separate ways, have begun
to find me attractive. So there is nothing in it really, it is only as
to whether or no you arouse the hunting instinct!

Suzette wore an air of deep pathos during our repast--. She had put some
blue round her eyes to heighten the effect of the red of the real tears,
and she appeared very pretty and gentle--It had not the slightest effect
upon me--I found myself looking on like a third person. The mole with
its three black hairs seemed to be the only salient point about her.

Poor little Suzette!--How glad I felt that I had never even pretended a
scrap of love for her!

That astonishing sense of the fitness of things which so many of these
women possess, showed itself as the evening wore on--. Finding the
situation hopeless, Suzette accepted it, curbed the real emotion in
herself and played the game--She tried to amuse me--and then we
discussed plans for her future. A villa at Monte Carlo she decided at
last--A _bijou_ of a place! which she knew of--. And when we parted at
about eleven o'clock everything was arranged satisfactorily. Then she
said good-bye to me--She would go back to Paris by the last train--.

"Good-bye, Suzette!"--and I bent down and kissed her forehead--"You have
been the jolliest little pal possible--and remember that I have
appreciated it,--and you will always have a real friend in me!"

She burst into tears once more--real tears--.

"_Je t'aime bien!_" she whispered--"I shall go to Deauville--_Va!_"

We wrung hands, and she went to the door, but there she turned, and some
of her old fire came back to her--.

"Pah! these English Meeses! thin, stiff, _ennuyeuse_!--thou wilt yet
regret thy Suzette, Nicholas!" and with this she left me.

       *       *       *       *       *

So that episode in my life is ended--and I shall never repeat the
experiment.

But are not women the most amazing creatures!

You adore them and give them abject devotion and they treat you as
dirt--nothing can be so cruel as the tenderest hearted woman is to a
male slave--! Another woman appears upon the scene--then the first one
begins to treat you with some respect. You grow masterful--love is
aroused in her. You become indifferent--and very often it is she who
then turns into the slave!--The worst of it is that when you really care
you are incapable of playing a game successfully. The woman's
subconscious mind _knows_ that it is merely pretense--and so she remains
a tyrant.--It is only when she herself has ceased to put forth
sufficient attraction to keep you and you are growing numb that you can
win out and find your self-respect again.

There was a moment when I was very angry with Suzette and almost shaking
her, when I saw in her eyes the first look of real passionate
affection--!

Are there any women in the world who could be mates?--who would be able
to love one, and hold one at the same time--satisfying one's mind and
one's spirit and one's body--?--Could Alathea--?--I do not know.

I had got this far in my speculations when a note was brought to me by a
smart French maid--it was now past eleven at night--.

It was from Coralie--.

"I am here, _cher Ami_--I am rather in a difficulty--Can I come to your
sitting-room?"

I scribbled "of course"--and in a moment she came--seductive and
distressful. Duquesnois had been recalled to the front suddenly--her
husband would be back on the morrow--. Might she stay and have some St.
Galmier water with me--could we ring the bell and order it, so that the
waiter might see her there?--because if the husband asked anything--he
could be sure it was only the much wounded Englishman, and he would not
mind--!!

I was sympathetic!--the St. Galmier came.

Coralie did not seem in a hurry to drink it, she sat by the fire and
talked, and looked at me with her rather small expressive eyes--and
suddenly I realized that it was not to save any situation that even a
complacent and much-tried war-husband might object to, but just to talk
to me alone--!!

She put forth every charm she possessed for half an hour--I led her
on--watching each move with interest and playing right cards in return.
Coralie is very well born and never could be vulgar or blatant, so it
was all entertaining for me. This is the first time she has had the
chance of being quite alone. We fenced--I showed enough _empressement_
not to discourage her too soon----and then I allowed myself to be
natural, which was being completely indifferent--and it worked its usual
charm!

Coralie grew restless--she got up from the sofa she stood by the
fire--she came at last quite close up to my chair--.

"What is there about you, Nicholas," she cooed, "which makes one forget
that you are wounded--. When I saw you even in the _parc_--with that
_demoiselle_ I felt--that--"--She looked down with a sigh--.

"How hard upon Duquesnois, Coralie! a good-looking, whole man!"

"I have tired of him, _Mon ami_--he loves me too much--the affair has
become tame--."

"And I am wild, is that it?"

"A savage--yes--One feels that you would break one's bones if you were
angry--and would mock most of the time,--but if you loved. _Mon
Dieu!_--it would be worth while!"

"You have had immense experience of love Coralie, haven't you?"

She shrugged her shoulders--.

"I am not sure that it has been love--."

"Neither am I."

"They say that you have given millions to the little _demi-mondaine_
Suzette la Blonde----and that you are crazy about her, Nicholas--Did I
see her on the stairs just now?"--

I frowned--. She saw in a moment it was not the right line--. "For that!
it is nothing, Nicholas--they are very attractive, those ladies--one
understands--but--your book and your secretary?--_hein?_--"

I lit a cigarette with supreme calm, and did not answer, so that she was
obliged to go on--.

"Her face is pretty in spite of those glasses, Nicholas--and one saw
that she walked well as she went on."

"May not a secretary have a decent appearance then?"

"When they have they do not remain secretaries long."

"You had better ask Miss Sharp if she means to stay when next you chance
upon her then--I don't exchange much conversation with her myself."

There is no exact English word which would describe Coralie's face--She
was longing to believe me--but felt she could not--quite--! She knew it
was foolish to bait me, and yet the female in her was too strong for
any common sense to win--Her personality had to express herself just as
strongly about her jealousy of my secretary, as mine had to express
itself about not telling Maurice, Alathea's name,--in both cases we cut
off our noses to spite our faces. I was aware of my folly, I do not know
if Coralie was aware of hers. Her exasperation so increased in a few
moments that she could not control herself--and she spoke right out--.

"When we have all been so kind to you, Nicholas, it is too bad for you
to waste your time upon that--!"

I became stern, then, as I had earlier become with Suzette, and made
Coralie understand that I would have no interference from anyone. I
frightened her--and presently she left me more attracted than she has
ever been--. As I said before, women are amazing creatures.



XII


On Wednesday morning I received a reply from Maurice at Deauville--he
hastened to answer he said--He had heard of Miss Sharp through a man in
the American Red Cross, where Miss Sharp had been employed. He knew
nothing more about her, he had seen her once when he was interviewing
her, and Miss whatever the other woman's name was, he had forgotten
now--and he had thought her suitable and plain and capable, that is all.

I had tried to word my letter not to give the impression of peculiar
interest, but no doubt Coralie, who had returned to the band on Monday,
had given him her view of the case, for he added that these people were
often designing although they looked simple--and in my loneliness he
felt sure I would be happier and better at the sea with my friends--!

I would have been angry, only there was something humorous in the way
everyone seems to think I am incapable of managing my own affairs!--What
is it they all want of me--? Not that I should be happy in my own way,
but that I should contribute to their happiness--they want to
participate in what my money is able to procure--and they do not want
interference from outside. Every one of my friends--and relations--would
be hostile if I were to announce that I was in love with Miss Sharp, and
wanted to marry her--Even though it was proved to them that she was
pretty--a perfect lady--intelligent--virtuous--clever! She is not of
their set and might, and probably would, be a stumbling block in their
path when they wished to make use of me!--so she would be taboo! None of
them would put it in that way of course, their opposition would be (and
they might even think they were sincere) because they were thinking of
_my_ happiness!

Burton is the only person whose sympathy I could count upon!

How about the Duchesse?--that is the deepest mystery of all--I must find
out from Burton what was the date about when she came to my
_appartement_ and found Alathea. Was it before that time when she asked
me if I were in love--and I saw that dear little figure in the
passage?--Could she have been thinking of her--?

By Thursday when there was no further news I began to feel so restless
that I determined to go back to Paris the following week. It was all
very well to be out in the _parc_ at Versailles with a mind at ease, but
it feels too far away when I am so troubled.

I sent Burton in on Friday to Auteuil--.

"Just walk about near the wine shop, Burton, and try to find out by
every clue your not unintelligent old pate can invent, where Miss Sharp
lives, and what is happening? Then go to the Hotel de Courville and chat
with the concierge--or whatever you think best--I simply can't stand
hearing nothing!"

Burton pulled in his lips.

"Very good, Sir Nicholas."

I tried to correct my book in the afternoon. I really am trying to do
the things I feel she thinks would improve my character--But I am one
gnawing ache for news--Underneath is the fear that some complication may
occur which will prevent her returning to me. I find myself listening to
every footstep in the passage in case it might be a telegram, so of
course quite a number of messages and things were bound to come from
utterly uninteresting sources, to fill me with hope and then disappoint
me--It is always like that. I really was wild on Friday afternoon, and
if George Harcourt had not turned up--he is at the Trianon Palace now
with the Supreme War Council--I don't know what I should have done with
myself. Lots of those fellows would come and dine with me if I wanted
them--some are even old pals--but I am out of tune with my kind.

George was very amusing.

"My dear boy," he said, "Violetta is upsetting all my calculations--she
has refused everything I have offered her--But I fear she is beginning
to show me too much devotion!"

This seemed a great calamity to him.

"It is terribly dangerous that, Nicholas!--because you know, my dear
boy, when a woman shows absolute devotion, a man is irresistibly
impelled to offer her a back seat--it is when she appeals to his senses,
shows him caprice, and remains an insecure possession, that he will
offer her the place his mother held of highest honour."

"George, you impossible cynic!"

"Not at all--I am merely a student of human instincts and
characteristics--Half a cynic is a poor creature--A complete one has
almost reached the mercy and tolerance of Christ."

This was quite a new view of the subject--!

He went on--.

"You see, when men philosophize about women, they are generally unjust,
taking the subject from the standpoint that whatever frailties they
have, the male is at all events exempt from them. Now that is
nonsense--Neither sex is exempt--and neither sex as a rule will
contemplate or admit its failings.--For instance, the sense of abstract
truth in the noblest woman never prevents her lying _for_ her lover or
her child, yet she thinks herself quite honest--In the noblest man the
sense is so strong that it enables him to make only the one exception,
that of invariably lying _to_ the woman!"

I laughed--he puffed one of my pre-war cigars--.

"Women have no natural sense of truth--they only rise to it through
sublime effort,"--

"And men?"

"It is ingrained in them, they only sink from it to cover their natural
instincts of infidelity."

His voice was contemplative now--.

"How we lie to the little darlings, Nicholas! How we tell them we have
no time to write--when of course we have always time if we really want
to--we never are at a loss for the moments before the creatures are a
secure possession!"

"The whole thing gets back to the hunting instinct, my dear George--I
can't see that one can be blamed for it--."

"I am not blaming, I am merely analysing. Have you remarked that when a
man feels perfectly secure about the woman he will give his hours of
duty to his country, his hours of leisure to his friends who flatter
him, and the crumbs snatched from either to the poor lady of his heart!
But if she excites his senses, and remains problematic, he will skimp
his duty, neglect his friends, and snatch even hours from sleep to spend
them in her company!"

"You don't think then that there is something higher and beyond all this
in love, George?--something which you and I have never come across
perhaps?"

"If one met a woman who was all man in mind, all woman in body, and all
child in soul--it is possible--but where are these phoenixes to be
discovered, my son?--It is wiser not to dissatisfy oneself by thinking
of them--but just go on accepting that which is always accorded to the
very rich!--By the way, I saw Suzette la Blonde dining last night with
old Solly Jesse--_Monsieur le Comte Jessé!_--She had a new string of
pearls on and was stroking his fat hand, while her lips curled with
love--I thought--??"

I lay back in my chair and laughed and laughed--And I had imagined that
Suzette really felt for me, and would grieve for at least a week or
two--but I am replaced in four days--!

I do not think I even felt bitter--all those things seem so far away
now.

When George had gone, I said to myself--"All man in mind"--yes I am sure
she is--"All woman in body"--Certainly that--"All child in soul"--I want
to know about her soul--if we have souls, as Nina says--by the way, I
will send a messenger into the Ritz with a note to ask Nina to spend the
day with me to-morrow. We have got accustomed to the impossible
difficulty of telephoning to Paris, and waiting hours for telegrams--a
messenger is the quickest in the end.

How the war drags on--! Will it really finish this year after
all--people are very depressed these last days--I do not write of any of
this in my journal--others will chronicle every shade--When I let myself
think of it I grow too wild. I become feverish with longing to be up and
with the old regiment--When I read of their deeds--then I grow
rebellious.

       *       *       *       *       *

_Monday:_

No news--yet--It is unbearable--Burton returned from Auteuil with no
clue whatsoever--except that the _concierge_ at the Hotel de Courville
had never heard of the name of Sharp! That proves to me that "Sharp" is
not Alathea's name at all. He was a newcomer--and there were so many
young ladies who came and went to see Madame la Duchesse that he could
not identify anyone in particular by description.

Nina turned up early on Saturday in time for lunch--She was looking
ravishing in entirely new clothes--like Suzette, she has found that the
"_geste_" is altering--Germans may be attacking Paris--Friends and
relations may be dying in heaps, but women must have new clothes and
fashion must have her say as to their shapes--And what a mercy it is so!
If there was nothing to relieve war and seriousness--all the nations
would be raving lunatics by now.

"Jim will be crazy about you, Nina, when he sees you in that hat!"

"Yes, won't he! I put it on to make you crazy now!"

"Of course I always am!"

"No, Nicholas--you were once--but you are altered, some quite new
influence has come into your life--you don't say half such horrid
things."

We lunched in the restaurant. Some of the Supreme War Council were about
at the different tables, and we exchanged a few words--Nina preferred it
to my sitting-room.

"Englishmen do look attractive in uniform, Nicholas, don't they," she
said--. "I wonder if I had seen Jim in ordinary things if I would have
been so drawn to him?"

"Who knows? Do you remember how sensible you were about him and
Rochester!--it is splendid that it has turned out so well."

" ... Where is happiness, Nicholas?" and her eyes became dreamy,--"I
have a well balanced nature, and am grateful for what has been given me
in Jim, but I can't pretend that I have found perfect content--because
some part of me is always hungry--. I believe really that you were the
only person who could have fulfilled all I wanted in a man!"

"Nina, you had not the least feeling for me when you first saw me after
I was wounded, do you remember you felt like a sister--a mother--and a
family friend!"

"Yes, was not that odd!--because of course the things which used to
attract me in you and which could again now, were there all the time."

"At that moment you were so occupied with 'Jim's blue eyes,' and his
'white nice teeth,' and 'how his hair was brushed,' and 'how well his
uniform fitted'--to say nothing of his D.S.O. and his M.C. that you
could not appreciate anything else."

"You have a V.C., your teeth are divine, and you too have blue eyes,
Nicholas--."

"Eye--please,--the singular or plural in this case makes all the
difference, but I shall have my new one in fairly soon now and then
illusion will help me!"

Nina sighed--.

"Illusion! I am just not going to think of what perhaps might have
happened if I had not been surrounded with illusion, last February--."

"Well, you can always have the satisfaction of knowing that as your
interest in Jim diminishes, so his will increase--George Harcourt and I
thrashed it all out the other day--and you yourself admitted it, when we
dined. To keep the hunting instinct alive is the thing--You will have
the fondest lover when you go back to Queen Street, Nina!"

"I--suppose so--. But would it not be wonderful if one had not to play
any game, but could just love and be so satisfied with each other that
there would not be any fear--."

Nina's eyes were sad--Did she remember my words at our last meeting?

"Yes that would be heaven!"

"Is that what you are dreaming about, Nicholas?"

"Perhaps."

"What a fortunate woman she will be!--And of yourself, what shall you
give her?"

"I shall give her passion--and tenderness, and protection, and
devotion--she shall share the thoughts of my mind and the aspirations of
my soul--."

"Nicholas!--you talking in this romantic way--she must be a miracle!"

"No--she is just a little girl."

"And it is she who has made you think about souls?"

"I expect so--."

"Well, I must not think of them, or of anything but what a good time we
shall all have when the war is over, and what nice things I've bought in
Paris--and of how good-looking Jim is--Let us talk of something else!"

So we spoke of every-day matters--and then we went into the _parc_--and
Nina stayed by my bath chair and amused me. But she does not know
anything about Versailles or its history--and she cannot make
psychological deductions--and all the time I was understanding with one
part of me that her hat was awfully becoming, and everything about her
perfect; and with another part I was seeing that her brain is
limited--and that if I had married her I should have been bored to
death!

And when the evening came and she left me, after our long day, I felt a
sense of relief--Oh! there can be no one in the world like my
Alathea--with her little red hands, and cheap cotton garments! I realize
now that life used to be made up of the physical--and that
something,--perhaps suffering, has taught me that the mental and the
spiritual matter more.

Even if she does come back--how am I to break through the wall of ice
which she has surrounded herself with since the Suzette cheque
business?--I can't explain--she won't even know that I have parted with
her.

Of course she has heard the fluffies often in the next room when they
have come to play bridge in the afternoon. Perhaps she may even have
heard the idiotic things they talk about--yes--of course she must have
an awful impression of me--.

The contrast of her life and theirs--and mine! I shall go on with my
Plato--it bores me--it is difficult, and I am tired--but _I will_!.



XIII


Suspense is the hardest thing to bear--what a ridiculous truism! It has
been said a thousand times before and will be said a thousand times
again!--because it has come to everyone at some moment, and so its pain
is universally understood. To have attained serenity would mean that one
was strong enough not to allow suspense to cause one a moment's doubt or
distress. I am far from serenity, I fear--for I am filled with unrest--I
try to tell myself that Alathea Sharp does not matter in my life at
all--that this is the end--that I am not to be influenced by her
movements or her thoughts, or her comings and goings--I try not to think
of her even as "Alathea"--And then when I have succeeded in some measure
in all this, a hideous feeling of sinking comes over me--that physical
sensation of a lead weight below the heart. What on earth is the good of
living an ugly maimed life?

It was ten times easier to carry on under the most disgusting and
fearsome circumstances when I was fighting, than it is now when
everything is done for my comfort, and I have all that money can buy.

What money cannot buy is of the only real consequence though. I must
read Henley again, and try to feel the thrill of pride I used to feel
when I was a boy at the line "I am the master of my fate, I am the
captain of my soul."

----What if she does not come back, and I do not hear any more of her?

Stop! Nicholas Thormonde, this is contemptible weakness!

       *       *       *       *       *

This evening it was wonderful on the terrace, the sun set in a blaze of
crimson and purple and gold, every window in the _Galerie des Glasses_
seemed to be on fire--strange ghosts of by-gone courtiers appeared to be
flitting past the mirrors.

What do they think of the turmoil they have left behind them, I wonder?
Each generation torn by the same anguish which the worries of love
bring?--And what is love for?--Just to surround the re-creative instinct
with glamour and render it æsthetic?

Did cave men love?--They were exempt from pain of the mind at all
events. Civilization has augmented the mental anguishes, and pleasures
of love, and when civilization is in excess it certainly distorts and
perverts the whole passion.

But what is love anyway? the thing itself I mean. It is a want, and an
ache and a craving--I know what I want. I want firstly Alathea for my
own, with everything which that term implies of possession. Then I want
to share her thoughts, and I want to feel all the great aspirations of
her soul--I want her companionship--I want her sympathy--I want her
understanding.

When I was in love with Nina--and five or six others--I never thought of
any of these things--I just wanted their bodies: Therefore it is only
when the spiritual enters into the damned thing, I suppose, that one
could call it love. By that reasoning I have loved only Alathea in all
my life. But I am stumped with this thought--If she had one eye and no
leg below the knee--should I be in love with her? and feel all these
exalted emotions about her? I cannot honestly be certain how I would
answer that question yet, so this shows that the physical plays the
chief rôle even in a love that seems spiritual.

Matho--in Flaubert's Salammbô was beaten to a jelly but his eyes still
flamed with love for his princess--But when she saw him as this
revolting mass, did her love flame for him? Or was she exalted only by
the incense to her vanity--and a pity for his sufferings? Heloise and
Abelard were pretty wonderful in their love, but his love became
transmuted much sooner than hers, because all physical emotions were
gone from him. Plato's idea that man gravitates towards beauty for some
subconscious soul desire to re-create himself through perfection, and so
attain immortality, is probably the truth. And that is why we shrink
from mutilated bodies--. Until I can be quite sure that I should love
Alathea just the same were she disfigured as I am--I cannot in justice
expect her to return my passion--.

Nina became re-attracted (if I can coin that word)--because I was out of
reach. The predatory instinct in woman had received a rebuff, and
demanded renewed advance.--She still keeps a picture in some part of
her mental vision of what I was too, therefore, I am not so revolting
to her--but Alathea has not this advantage, and has seen me only
wounded.

I have done nothing to earn her respect--She has apprehended my useless
life in these last months--She has heard the chattering of my
companions, whom I have been free to choose--the obvious deduction being
that these are what I desire--And finally, she knows that I have had a
mistress.--In heaven's name _why_ should she be anything but what she is
in her manner to me!--Of course she despises me. So that the only thing
I could possibly allure her by would be that intangible something which
Nina and Suzette and even Coralie--have inferred that I
possess--"It"!!--. And how would that translate itself to a mind like
Alathea's?--It might mean nothing to her--It probably would not. The
only times I have ever seen any feeling at all in her for me were when
she thought she had destroyed a wounded man's interest in a harmless
hobby--and felt remorse--And the freezing reserve which showed when she
handed me the cheque-book--and the perturbation and contempt when I was
rude about the child.--At other times she has shown a blank
indifference--or a momentary consciousness that there was admiration in
my eye for her.

Now what do I get out of the iciness over Suzette's cheque?

Two possibilities--.

One--that she is more prudish than one of her literary cultivation, and
worldly knowledge is likely to be, so that she strongly disapproves of
a man having a "_petite amie_"--or--

Two--that she has sensed that I love her and was affronted at the
discovery that at the same time I had a--friend?--

The second possibility gives me hope, and so I fear to entertain a
belief in it--but taken coldly it seems the most likely.--Now if she had
_not_ been affronted at this stage, would she have gone on believing I
loved her, and so eventually have shown some reciprocity?

It is just possible--.

And as it is, will that same instinct which is in the subconscious mind
of all women--and men too for the matter of that--which makes them want
to fight to retain or retake what was theirs, influence her now
unconsciously to feel some, even contemptuous, interest in me? This also
is possible--.

If only fate brings her to me again--. That is where one is done--when
absence cuts threads.

To-morrow it will be Monday--a whole week since I received her telegram.

I shall go up to Paris in the morning if I hear nothing and go myself to
the Hotel de Courville to try and obtain a trace of her--if that is
impossible I will write to the Duchesse.--

       *       *       *       *       *

_Reservoirs--Night:_

As I wrote the last words--a note was brought to me by Burton--someone
had left at the Hotel.

  "Dear Sir Nicholas--(it ran)

  I am very sorry I have been unable to come out to
  do my work--but my brother died last Tuesday, and
  I have been extremely occupied--I will be at Versailles
  at eleven on Thursday as usual.

                                              Yours truly,
                                                       A. Sharp."

       *       *       *       *       *

Her firm writing, more like a man's than a woman's looked a little shaky
at the end--Was she crying perhaps when she wrote the letter--the poor
little girl--What will the death mean to her eventually? Will the
necessity to work be lessened?

But even the gravity of the news did not prevent a feeling of joy and
relief in me--I would see her again--Only four days to wait!

But what a strange note!--not any exhibition of feeling! she would not
share even that natural emotion of grief with me. Her work is business,
and a well bred person ought not to mix anything personal into it.--How
will she be--? Colder than ever? or will it have softened her--.

She will probably be more unbending to Burton than to me.

The weather has changed suddenly, the wind is sighing, and I know that
the summer is over--I shall have the sitting-room fire lighted and
everything as comfortable as I can when she does turn up, and I shall
have to stay here until then since I cannot communicate with her in any
way. This ridiculous obscurity as to her address must be cleared away.
I must try to ask her casually, so as not to offend her.

       *       *       *       *       *

A week has passed--.

Alathea came on Thursday--I was sickeningly nervous on Thursday morning.
I resented it extremely. As yet the only advance I have made is that I
can control most of the outward demonstrations of my perturbations, but
not the sensations themselves. I was sitting in my chair quite still
when the door opened, and in she came--Just the scrap of a creature in
dead black. Although there was no crepe, one could see that the garments
were French trappings of woe, that is, she had a veil hanging from her
simple small hat. I felt that she had had to buy these things for the
funeral, and probably could not afford a second set of more dowdy ones
for her working clothes, so that there was that indescribable air of
elegance about her appearance which had shown in the _Bois_ that Sunday.
The black was supremely becoming to her transparent white skin, and
seemed to set off the bright bronze brown of her hair--the rebellious
little curls had slipped out beside her ears, but the yellow horn
spectacles were as uncompromising as ever--I could not see whether her
eyes were sad or no--her mouth was firm as usual.

"I want to tell you of my sympathy," I said immediately--"I was so sorry
not to know your address that I might have expressed it to you before--I
would have wished to send you some flowers."

"Thank you," was all she answered--but her voice trembled a little.

"It was so stupid of me not to have asked you for your address
before--you must have thought it was so careless and unsympathetic."

"Oh! no"--.

"Won't you give it to me now that I may know in the future?"

"We are going to move--It would be useless--it is not decided where we
go yet."

I knew I dared not insist.

"Is there some place where I could be certain of a message reaching you
then? because I would have asked you to come to the flat to-day and not
out here if I could have found you."

She was silent for a moment. I could see she was in a corner--I felt an
awful brute but I had said it all quite naturally as any employer would
who was quite unaware that there could be any reluctance to give the
information, and I felt it was better to continue in this strain not to
render her suspicious.

After a second or two she gave the number of a stationer's shop in the
Avenue Mosart--.

"I pass there every day," she said.

I thanked her--.

"I hope you did not hurry back to your work--I can't bear to think that
perhaps you would have wished to remain at home now."

"No, it does not matter"--There was an infinite weariness in her
tone--A hopeless flatness I had never heard before, it moved me so that
I blurted out--.

"Oh! I have felt so anxious, and so sorry--I saw you in the _Bois_ two
Sundays ago in the thunder storm, and I tried to get near the path I
thought you would cross to offer you the carriage to return in, but I
missed you--Perhaps your little brother caught cold then?"

There was a sob in her voice--.

"Yes--will you--would you mind if we just did not speak of anything but
began work."

"Forgive me--I only want you to know that I'm so awfully sorry--and Oh,
if there was anything in the world I could do for you--would you not let
me?"

"I appreciate your wish--it is kind of you--but there is nothing--You
were going to begin the last chapter over again--Here is the old one--I
will take off my hat while you look at it," and she handed it to me.

Of course I could not say anything more--I had had a big bunch of
violets put on the table where she types, in Burton's room
adoining--they were the first forced ones which could be got in
Paris--and I had slipped a card by them with just "my sympathy" on it.

When she came back into the room hatless, her cheeks were bright pink
below the glasses--and all she said was "Thank you" and then I saw a
little streak of wet trickle from under the horn rims. I have never had
such a temptation in my life--to stretch out my arms and cry "Darling
one, let me comfort you, here clasped close to me!"--I longed to touch
her--to express somehow that I felt profoundly for her grief.--

"Miss Sharp--" I did burst out--"I am not saying anything because I know
you don't want me to--but it is not because I do not
feel--I'm--I'm--awfully sorry--May not I perhaps send some roses
to--your home--or, perhaps there is someone there who would like
them--flowers are such jolly things!"--Then I felt the awfully ill
chosen word "jolly" was--but I could not alter it.

I believe that _gaucherie_ on my part helped though a little, her fine
senses understood it was because I was so nervously anxious to offer
comfort--a much kinder note came into her voice--.

"I'll take the violets with me if you will let me," she said--"Please
don't trouble about anything more--and do let us begin work."

So we started upon the Chapter.

Her hands were not so red I noticed. I am becoming sensitive to what is
called "atmosphere" I suppose, for I felt all the currents in the room
were disturbed--that ambience of serenity did not surround Alathea and
keep me unconsciously in awe of her as it always has before--I was aware
that my natural emotions were running riot and that my one eye was
gazing at her with love in it, and that my imagination was conjuring up
scenes of delight with her as a companion. Her want of complete control
allowed the waves to reach her, I expect--for I knew that she was using
all her will to keep her attention upon the work, and that she was
nearly as disturbed as I was myself--.

But how was she disturbed?--was she just nervous from events--or was I
causing her any personal trouble? The moment I felt that perhaps I was,
a feeling of assurance and triumph came over me--! Then I used every bit
of the cunning I possess--I tried to say subtle things--I made her talk
about the ridiculous book, and the utterly unimportant furniture--I made
her express her opinion about styles, and got out of her that a simple
Queen Anne was what she herself preferred.--I _knew_ that she was giving
way and talking with less stiffness because she was weak with sorrow,
and probably had not had much sleep--I _knew_ that it was not because
she had forgotten about the Suzette cheque or really was more friendly.
I _knew_ that I was taking an unfair advantage of her--but I
continued--Men are really brutes after all!--and gloried in my power
every time the slightest indication showed that I possessed it! I lost
some of my diffidence--If I could only have stood upon two feet and seen
with two eyes--I know that even the morning would have ended by my
taking her in my arms, cost what might; but as I was glued to my chair
she was enabled always at this stage to stay out of reach--and fenced
gallantly with me by silence and stiff answers--but by luncheon time
there was a distinct gain on my side--I had made her feel something, I
no longer was a nonentity who did not count--.

Her skin is so transparent that the colour fluctuates with every
emotion. I love to watch it. What a mercy that I had very strong
sight!--for my one eye sees quite clearly.

At luncheon we talked of the time of the Fronde--Alathea is so
wonderfully well read. I make dashes into all sorts of subjects, and
find she knows more of them than I do myself--What a mind she must have
to have acquired all this in her short twenty-three years.

"You are not thinking of leaving Paris, I hope when you move," I said as
we drank coffee. "I am going to begin another book directly this one is
finished."

"It is not yet decided," she answered abruptly.

"I could not write without you."

Silence.

"I would love to think that you took an interest in teaching me how to
be an author--."

The faintest shrug of the shoulders--.

"You don't take any interest?"

"No."

"Are not you very unkind?"--

"No--If you have anything to complain of in my work I will listen
attentively and try and alter it."

"You will never allow the slightest friendship?"

"No."

"Why?"

"Why should I?"

"I must be grateful even that you ask a question, I suppose--Well, I
don't know quite myself why you should--You think I am a rotter--You
despise my character--you think my life is wasted and that--er--I have
undesirable friends."

Silence.

"Miss Sharp! you drive me crazy never answering--I can't think why you
like to be so provoking!" I was stung to exasperation.

"Sir Nicholas," and she put down her cup with displeasure--"If you will
not keep to the subject of work--I am sorry but I cannot stay as your
secretary."

Terror seized me--.

"I shall have to if you insist upon it--I suppose--but I am longing to
be friends with you--and I can't think why you should resent it so--We
are both English, we are both--unhappy--we are both lonely--."

Silence!--

"Somehow I don't feel it is altogether because I am a revolting object
to look at that you are so unkind--you must have seen lots like me since
the war--."

"I am not unkind--I think you are--May I go to my work now?"

We rose from the table--And for a second she was so near to me the pent
up desire of weeks mastered me and the tantalization of the morning
overcame me so that a frantic temptation seized me--I _could not_ resist
it--I put out one arm while I steadied myself with the other by the back
of a chair, and I drew her tiny body towards me, and pressed my lips to
her Cupid's bow of a mouth--And Oh God the pleasure of it--right or
wrong!

She went dead white when I released her, she trembled, and in her turn
held on to the back of the chair--.

"How dare you!" she panted--"How dare you!--I will go this minute--You
are not a gentleman."

The reaction came to me--.

"That is it, I suppose--" I said hoarsely--"I am not a gentleman
underneath--the civilization is mere veneer--and the _man_ breaks
through it--I have nothing to say--I was mad, that is all. You will have
to weigh up as to whether it is worth your while to stay with me or not.
I cannot judge of that. I can only assure you that I will try not to err
again--perhaps some day you will know how you have been making me suffer
lately--I shall go to my room now, and you can let me have your decision
in an hour or so--."

I could not move because my crutch had fallen to the floor out of my
reach--She stood in indecision for a moment and then she bent and picked
it up and gave it to me. She was still as white as a ghost. As I got to
the door I turned and said--.

"I apologize for having lost my self-control--I am ashamed of that--and
do not ask you to forgive me--Your staying or not is a business
arrangement. I give you my word I will try never to be so weak again."

She was gazing at me--For once I had taken the wind out of her sails--.

Then I bowed and hobbled on into my bedroom, shutting the door after me.

Here my courage deserted me. I got to the bed with difficulty and threw
myself down upon it and lay there, too filled with emotion to stir. The
thought tormenting me always. Have I burnt my boats--or is this only the
beginning of a new stage?

Time will tell.



XIV


I lay and wondered and wondered what were Alathea's emotions after I
left her. Should I ever know? When the hour was up I went back into the
sitting-room. I had struggled against the awful depression which was
overcoming me. I suppose every man has committed some action he is sorry
and ashamed of, forced thereto by some emotion, either of anger or
desire, which has been too strong for his will to control--. This is the
way murders must often have been committed, and other crimes--I had not
the slightest intention of behaving like a cad--or of doing anything
which I knew would probably part us forever.--If my insult had been
deliberate or planned, I would have held her longer, and knowing I was
going to lose her by my action, I would have profited by it. As I lay on
my bed in great pain from the wrench in getting there alone--I tried to
analyse things. The nervous excitement in which she always plunges me
must have come to the culminating point. The only thing I was glad about
was that I had not attempted to ask forgiveness, or to palliate my
conduct. If I had done so she would undoubtedly have walked straight out
of the hotel--but having just had the sense to leave her to think for a
while--perhaps--?

Well--I was sitting in my chair--feeling some kind of numb
anguish--which I suppose those going to be hanged experience, when
Burton brought in my tea--and I heard no sound of clicking next door--I
asked him as naturally as I could if Miss Sharp had gone--.

"Yes, Sir Nicholas," he answered, and the shock, even though it was
expected, was so great that for a second I closed my eye.

She had left a note, he further added,--putting the envelope down on the
table beside the tray--.

I made myself light a cigarette and not open it, and I made myself say
casually--

"I am afraid she feels her brother's death dreadfully, Burton!"

"The poor young lady, Sir Nicholas!--She must have kept up brave like
all the time this morning, and then after lunch when I come in--while
you were resting, Sir--it got too much for her, I expect, sittin'
alone--for she was sobbin' like to break her heart--as I opened the
door. She looked that forlorn and huddled up--give you my word, Sir
Nicholas--I was near blubberin' myself."

"I am so awfully sorry--What did you do, Burton?"

"I said, '--Let me bring you a nice cup of tea, Miss.'--It is always
best to bring ladies tea when they are upset, Sir Nicholas, as you may
know--She thanked me sweet like, as she always does--and I made so bold
as to say how sorry I was, and I did hope she had not had any extra
trouble to deal with over it; and how I'd be so glad to advance her her
next week's salary if it would be any convenience to her--knowing
funerals and doctors is expensive--Out of my own money of course I gave
her to understand--because I knew she'd be bound to refuse yours, Sir
Nicholas.

"--At that her tears burst out afresh--She had no glasses on, and she
looked no more than sixteen years old, give you my word Sir--She thanked
me like as if it was something real kind I'd thought of--I felt sort of
ashamed I could not do more--

"Then she seemed to be having a struggle with herself--just as if she'd
rather die than take anything from anybody--and yet knew she had to--She
turned them, blue eyes on me streamin' with tears, and I had to turn
away, Sir Nicholas--I had really.--

"'Burton,' she says--. 'Have you ever felt that you wanted to be dead
and done with it all--that you couldn't fight any more?'

--"'I can't say as I have, Miss,' I answered her--'but I know my master
feels that way often--' Perhaps she felt kinder, sorry for you too, Sir
Nicholas, because as I said that, she gave a sort of extra sharp sob and
buried her face in her hands--.

"I slipped out of the room then and brought the tea as quick as I could
you may believe me Sir--and by that time she had pulled herself
together--'It is stupid to have any proud feelings--if you have to work
Burton' she said--'I will be--grateful for the loan of your money--and I
am happy to have such a friend' ... and she put out her little bit of a
hand--She did, Sir Nicholas--and I never felt so proud in my life--She's
just a real lady to her finger tips. She is, Sir--I shook it as gentle
as I could, and then was obliged to blow my nose, I felt that
blubberish--I left the room at once, and when I come back for the tray,
and to bring the money she had her hat on, and the note written for you
Sir--I took the violets and began putting them in the box for her to
take--but she stopped me--.

"'Violets fade so soon--I will not take them, thanks,' she said--'I have
to do some shopping before I go home and I could not carry them.' But I
knew it was not that.--She did not want to take them--perhaps she felt
she'd given up enough of her pride to take my money--for one day--So I
said nothing,--but that I did hope she would be feeling better by the
time she came to the _appartement_ on Saturday. She did not speak, she
just nodded her head and smiled kind like at me and went."

I could not answer Burton--I too just nodded my head--and the dear old
boy left me alone--My very heart seemed bursting with pain and
remorse--When he had gone--I seized the letter and opened it.

       *       *       *       *       *

  "To Sir Nicholas Thormonde, Bart, V.C.," (it began, and then)

  "Dear Sir:

  Circumstances force me to work--so I shall have to remain in your
  service--if you require me. I am unfortunately quite defenceless, so I
  appeal to whatever chivalry there is in you not to make it so impossible
  that I must again give in my resignation.

                                                  Yours faithfully,
                                                          A. Sharp."

       *       *       *       *       *

I fell back in my chair in an agony of emotion--My darling! My
queen!--whose very footprints I worship--to have had to write such a
letter--to me!

The unspeakable brute beast I felt! All my cynical calculations about
women fell from me--I saw myself as I had been all day--utterly
selfish--not really feeling for her grief, only making capital out of it
for my own benefit--. At that moment, and for the rest of the day and
night, I suffered every shade of self reproach and abasement a man can
feel. And next day I had to stay in bed because I had done some stupid
thing to my leg in lying down without help.

When I knew I could not get into Paris by Saturday when Alathea was to
come to the flat--I sent Burton in with a note to the shop in the Avenue
Mosart.

  "Dear Miss Sharp--(I wrote)

  "I am deeply grateful for your magnanimity. I am utterly ashamed of my
  weakness--and you will not have called upon my chivalry in vain, I
  promise you.--I have to stay in bed, so I cannot be at the flat, and if
  you receive this in time I shall be obliged if you will come out here
  again on Saturday.

                                              Yours very truly,
                                                      Nicholas Thormonde."

Then I never slept all night with thoughts of longing and wondering if
she would get it soon enough to come.

Over and over in my vision I saw the picture of her sitting there in
Burton's room sobbing--My action was the last straw--My shameful
action!--Burton showed the good taste and the sympathy and understanding
for her which I should have done--. And to think that she is troubled
about money, so that she had to take a loan from my dear old
servitor--far greater gentleman than I am--. And that I cannot be the
least use to her--and may not help her in any way! I can go on no longer
in this anguish--as soon as I feel that peace is in the smallest measure
restored between us--I will ask her to marry me, just so that I can give
her everything. I shall tell her that I expect nothing from her--only
the right to help her family and give her prosperity and peace--.

       *       *       *       *       *

_Sunday:_

I was still in bed on Saturday morning at eleven--the Doctor came out to
see me very early and insisted that I be kept quite still until
Monday--So Burton had my bed table brought, and all my papers and
things--There had come a number of letters to answer, and he had asked
me if Miss Sharp could not do them as soon as she arrived.

"Burton, perhaps she'll feel not quite at ease with me alone in here
like this. Could you not make some excuse to be tidying drawers and
stay while I am dictating," I said.

"Very good, Sir Nicholas."

When he replies with those words I know that he is agreeing--with
reservations--.

"Out with what you are thinking, Burton."

"Well, Sir Nicholas"--and he coughed--"Miss Sharp--is that understandin'
sh'd know in a minute your things wasn't likely to be in a mess, and
that you'd got me there on purpose--It might make her awkward like--."

"You may be right, we will see how things turn out."

Presently I heard Alathea in the sitting-room and Burton went in to see
her.

"Sir Nicholas is very poorly to-day, Miss"--I heard him say--"The Doctor
won't let him out of bed--I wonder if you'd be so kind as to take down
his letters--they are too much for him himself not being able to sit
up--and I have not the time."

"Of course I will, Burton," her soft voice answered.

"I've put the table and everything ready--and I thank you kindly--"
Burton went on--"I am glad to see you looking better, Miss."

I listened intently--It seemed as if I could hear her taking off her
hat--and then she came into the room to me--but by that time my heart
was beating so that I could not speak loud.

I said "good morning" in some half voice, and she answered the
same--then she came forward to the table. Her dear little face was very
pale and there was something pathetic in the droop of her lips--her
hands, I noticed, were again not so red--.

"All the letters are there"--and I pointed to the pile--"It will be so
good of you if you will do them now."

She took each one up and handed it to me without speaking and I dictated
the answer.--I had had one from Suzette that morning thanking me for the
villa--but I was clearly under the impression that I had put it with the
one from Maurice and one from Daisy Ryven at the other side of the bed,
so I had no anxiety about it--Then suddenly I saw Alathea's cheeks flame
crimson and her mouth shut with a snap--and I realized that the irony of
fate had fallen upon me again, and that she had picked up Suzette's
lavender tinted, highly scented missive. She handed it to me without a
word--.

The letter ended:

  "_Adieu Nicholas! tu es,
  Toujours Mon Adoré
  Ta Suzette._"

but the way it was folded only showed "_Toujours Mon Adoré--Ta
Suzette_"--and this much Alathea had certainly seen--.

I felt as if there was some evil imp laughing in the room--There was
nothing to be said or done. I could not curse aloud--so I simply took
the letter, put it with Daisy Ryven's--and indicated that I was waiting
for the next one to be handed to me--So Alathea continued her work.--But
could anything be more maddening--more damnably provoking!--and
inopportune--Why must the shadow of Suzette fall upon me all the time?--

This of course will make any renewal of even the coldest friendliness
impossible, between my little girl and me--. I cannot ask her to marry
me now, and perhaps not for a long time, if ever the chance comes to me
again, in any case. Her attitude, carriage of head, and expression of
mouth, showed contempt, as she finished the short-hand notes. And then
she rose and went into the other room to type, closing the door after
her.

And I lay there shivering with rage and chagrin.

I saw no more of Alathea that morning--She had her lunch in the
sitting-room alone, and Burton brought the dishes in to me, and after
luncheon he insisted that I should sleep for an hour until half-past two
o'clock. He had some accounts for Miss Sharp to do, he said.

I was so exhausted that when I did fall asleep I slept until nearly
four--and awoke with a start and an agony of apprehension that she might
have gone--but no--Burton said she was still there when I rang for
him--and I asked her to come in again--.

We went over one of the earlier chapters in the book and I made some
alterations in it; she never showed the slightest interest, nor did she
speak--; she merely took down what I told her to--.

"Do you think that will do now?" I asked when it was complete.

"Yes."

Tea came in then for us both.--She poured it out, still without uttering
a word--she remembered my taste of no sugar or milk, and put the cup
near me so that I could reach it. She handed me the plate of those nasty
make-believe biscuits, which is all we can get now--then she drank her
own tea.

The atmosphere had grown so tense it was supremely uncomfortable. I felt
that I must break the ice.

"How I wish there was a piano here," I remarked _à propos_ of
nothing--and of course she greeted this, with her usual silence.

"I am feeling so rotten if I could hear some music it would make me
better."

She made the faintest movement with her head, to show me I suppose that
she was listening respectfully, but saw no occasion to reply.

I felt so unspeakably wretched and helpless and useless lying there, I
had not the pluck to go on trying to talk, so I closed my eye and lay
still, and then I heard Alathea rise and softly go towards the door--.

"I will type this at home--and return it to the flat on Tuesday if that
will be all right," she said--and: I answered:

"Thank you" and turned my face to the wall--And after a little, when she
had gone, Burton came in and gave me the medicine the Doctor had told
him to give me, he said--but I have a strong suspicion it was simply
asperine, for then I fell into a dreamy sleep and forgot my aching body
and my troubled mind.

And now I am much better in health again--and am back in Paris and
to-night Maurice, up from Deauville at last, is coming to dine with me.

But what is the good of it all?



XV


I was awfully glad to see old Maurice again--he was looking brown and
less dilettante--though his socks and tie and eyes matched as well as
ever! He congratulated me on the improvement in health in myself too,
and then he gave me all the news--.

Odette has been "painting the lily," and used some new skin tightener
which has disfigured her for the moment, and she has retired to the
family place near Bordeaux to weep until her complexion is restored
again--.

"Very unfortunate for her," Maurice said--"because she had nearly
secured a roving English peer who had enjoyed 'cushy' jobs during the
war, and had been recruiting from the fatigues of red-taping at
Deauville--and now, with this whisper of a spoiled skin, he had
transferred his attentions to Coralie--and there was trouble among the
graces!"--Alice's plaintiveness had actually caught a very rich neutral
who was forwarding philanthropic schemes for great ladies--and she hoped
soon to wed.

Coralie seemed in the most secure and happy case, since she is already
established, and can enjoy herself without anxiety.--Maurice hinted that
but for her _béguin_ for me, she could land the English peer, and
divorce poor René--her docile war husband--and become an English
Countess!

"Thou hast upset everything, Nicholas. Duquesnois is desolated--Coralie
changed directly she saw you here--he says--and then to divert herself
and forget you, took Lord Brockelbank from Odette!"

"_Vieux coquin! Va!_" and Maurice patted me on the back--.

They were enchanted with my presents to them lately, he added, and were
all longing to return to Paris soon and thank me.

The war was simply growing into a nuisance and the quicker it was over
the better for everyone.(!)

Then he beat about the bush for a little longer and at last began to
grow nearer the vital subject!--

He had seen some of my Mont Aubin relations--fortunately for me, they
have been far from Paris in this last year--and they had anxiously asked
him if I thought of, marrying?--What in fact _was_ I doing with myself
now that my wounds were healing?

I laughed--.

"I am so glad my mother was an only child and they are none of them near
enough to have the right to bore me--they had better continue their good
works at Biarritz--I am told my cousin Marguerite's convalescent home is
a marvel! I have sent her frequent donations."

Then Maurice plunged in--.

"You are not--becoming entangled in any way with your secretary, are you
_Mon ami_?" he asked.

I had decided beforehand that I would not get angry at anything he
said--so I was ready for this.

"No, Maurice--" and I poured out a second glass of port for him--Burton
had left us alone by now--. "Miss Sharp does not know that I exist--she
is simply here to do her work, and is the best secretary any man could
want--I knew Coralie would infect you with some silly idea."

Maurice sipped his port.--"Coralie said that in spite of the girl's
glasses there was some air of distinction about her--as she walked
on--and that she _knew_ and _felt_ you were interested."

I remained undisturbed.

"I am, immensely interested--I want to know who she really is. She is a
lady--even a lady of our world.--I mean she knows about things in
England--where she has never been--that she could not possibly know
unless her family had spoken of them always. She has that unconscious
air of familiarity and ease with subjects which would surprise you.
Can't you find anything out for me, old boy, as to who she is?"

"I will certainly try--Sharp?--it is not a name of the great
world--no--?"

"Of course that is not her real name--"

"Why not ask her yourself, _Mon brave_!"

"I'd like to find a man with pluck enough to ask her anything she did
not wish him to!"

"That little girl!--but she appeared meek and plain, and respectable,
Nicholas--You intrigue me!"

"Well, put your wits to work Maurice, and promise me you will not talk
to the others about anything. I shall be very angry if you do."

He gave me every assurance he would be silent as the grave--and then he
changed the topic to that of Suzette--He was sorry I had given her her
congé, because I would find it hard to replace her--Those so honest and
really not too rapacious, were very difficult to find--Since he had
heard that Suzette was no longer my little friend, he had been looking
out for me, but as yet had seen nothing suitable!!

"You need not trouble, Maurice," I told him, "I am absolutely finished
with that part of my life--I loathe the whole idea of it now--."

Maurice inspected me with grave concern--.

"My dear chap--this appears serious--You are not _in love_ with your
secretary are you?--or is it possible that you are bluffing, and that
she has replaced Suzette, and you wish tranquility about the subject?"

I felt a hot flush mounting to my forehead--The very thought of my
adored little girl in the category of Suzette!--I could have struck my
old friend--but I had just sense enough to reason things. Maurice was
only speaking as any of the Paris world would speak. A secretary, whom a
man was obviously interested in, was certainly not out of the running
for the post of "_Maitresse-en-titre!_"

He meant no personal disrespect to Alathea. For him women were either of
the world or they were not!--True, there was an intermediate class "_Les
braves gens_"--_Bourgeoises_--servants, typists, etc., etc.--But one
could only be interested in one of these for one reason. That is how
things appeared to Maurice. I knew his views; perhaps I had shared them
in some measure in my unregenerate days.

"Look here Maurice--I want you to understand--that Miss Sharp is a lady
in every way--I have already told you this but you don't seem to have
grasped it--and that she has my greatest respect--and it makes me sick
to think of anyone talking of her as you have just done. Although I know
you did not mean anything low, you old owl!--She treats me as though I
were a tiresome, elderly employer--whom she must give obedience to, but
is not obliged to converse with. She would not permit the slightest
friendship or familiarity from any man she worked for."

"Your interest is then serious, Nicholas?"

Maurice was absolutely aghast!

"My _respect_ is serious--my curiosity is hot--and I want
information."----

Maurice tried to feel relieved--.

"Supposing financial disaster fell upon your family, old boy--would you
consider your sister less of a lady because she had to earn bread for
you all by being a typist!"

"Of course not--but it would be very dreadful!--Marie!--Oh! I could not
think of it!"

"Then try to get the idea into your thick head that Miss Sharp is
Marie--and behave accordingly--That is how I look at her."

Maurice promised that he would, and our talk turned to the Duchesse--he
had seen her at a cross country station as he came up, and she would be
back in Paris the following week--This thought gave me comfort. Everyone
would be back by the fifteenth of October he assured me, and then we
could all amuse ourselves again--.

"You will be quite well enough to dine out, Nicholas--Or if not you must
move to the Ritz with me, so that you at least have entertainment on the
spot, _Mon cher_!"

We spoke then of the book--Furniture was a really refined and
interesting subject for me to be delving into. Maurice longed to read
the proofs, he averred.

When he had left me, I lay back in my chair and asked myself what had
happened to me?--that Maurice and all that lot seemed such miles and
miles away from me--as miles and miles as they would have seemed in
their triviality, when we used to discuss important questions in "Pop"
at Eton.

How I must have sunk in the years which followed those dear old days,
ever even to have found divertisement among the people like Maurice and
the fluffies. Surely even a one-eyed and one-legged man ought to be able
to do something for his country politically, it suddenly seemed to
me--and what a glorious picture to gaze at!--If I could some day go into
Parliament, and have Alathea beside me, to give me inspiration and help
me to the best in myself. How her poise would tell in English political
society! How her brain and her power of exercising her critical
faculties! Apart from the fact that I love every inch of her wisp of a
body--What an asset that mind would be to any man!--And I dreamed and
dreamed in the firelight--things all filled with sentiment and
exaltation, which of course no fellow could ever say aloud, or let
anyone know of--A journal is certainly an immense comfort, and I do not
believe I could have gone through this hideous year of my life without
it.

How I would love to have Alathea for my wife--and have children--It
can't be possible that I have written that! I loathe children in the
abstract--they bore me to death--Even Solonge de Clerté's two
entertaining angels--but to have a son--with Alathea's eyes----God! how
the thought makes me feel!--How I would like to sit and talk with her of
how we should bring him up--I reached out my hand and picked up a volume
of Charles Lamb and read "Dream Children"--and as I finished I felt that
idiotic choky sensation which I have only begun to know since something
in me has been awakened by Alathea--or since my nerves have been on the
rack--I don't remember ever feeling much touched, or weak, or silly,
before the war--.

And now what have I to face--?

A will, stronger, or as strong as my own--A prejudice of the deepest
which I cannot explain away--A knowledge that I have no power to retain
the thing I love--No guerdon to hold out to her mentally or
physically--Nothing but the material thing of money--which because of
her great unselfishness and desire to benefit her loved ones, she might
be forced to consider. My only possibility of obtaining her at all is to
buy her with money. And when once bought,--when I had her here in my
house,--would I have the strength to resist the temptation to take
advantage of the situation?--Could I go on day after day never touching
her,--never having any joys?--until the greatness of my love somehow
melted her dislike and contempt of me--?

I wish to God I knew.

She will never marry me unless I give my word of honour that the thing
will only be an empty ceremony--of that I feel sure even if
circumstances aid me to force her into doing this much. And then one has
to keep one's word of honour. And might not that be a greater hell than
I am now in of suffering?

Perhaps I had better go to the sea--like Suzette--and try to break the
whole chain and forget her--.

I rang the bell for Burton then, and told him of my new plan, as he put
me to bed. We would go off to St. Malo,--for a week, and I gave orders
that he should make the necessary arrangements to get permits. To travel
anywhere now is no end of a difficulty.

I wrote to Alathea without weakening--I asked her to collect the Mss.
and make notes of what she thought still should be altered--during my
absence--I wrote as stiffly, and in as business like a manner as
possible--and finally I went to sleep, and slept better than I have done
for some time.

       *       *       *       *       *

_St. Malo:_

How quaint these places are! I am at this deserted corner by the
sea--where the hotel is comfortable, and hardly touched by the war--I am
not happy--the air is doing me good, that is all--I have brought
books--I am not trying to write--I just read and endeavor to sleep--and
the hours pass. I tell myself continually that I am no more interested
in Alathea--that I am going to get well, and go back to England--that I
have emerged, and am a man with a free will once more--and I am a great
deal better--.

After all, how absurd to be thinking of a woman, from morning to night!

When I get my new leg, and everything is all healed, up in a year or
two, shall I be able to ride again?--Of course I shall, no doubt, and
even play a little tennis?--I can shoot anyway--if we will be allowed to
preserve partridges and pheasants when the war is over in England.

Yes, of course life is a gorgeous thing--I like the fierce wind to blow
in my face--and yesterday, much to Burton's displeasure, I went out
sailing--.

How could I be such a fool, he inferred--as to chance a wrench putting
me back some months again--But one has to chance things occasionally. I
never enjoyed a sail more because of this very knowledge.

       *       *       *       *       *

A week has passed since we came to this end of the earth--and again I
have grown restless--perhaps it is because Burton came in just now with
a letter in his hand--. I recognized immediately Alathea's writing.

"I made so bold as to leave the young lady our address before we left,
Sir Nicholas, in case she wanted to communicate with us, and she writes
now to say, would I be good enough to ask you if you took with you
Chapter Seven, because she cannot find it anywhere."

Then he went on with evident constraint to tell me that the rest of the
letter said that while she was working on Friday a "Mademoiselle la
Blonde" called, and insisted upon passing Pierre who answered the
door--and coming in to her--("It was Mam'zelle of course, Sir Nicholas!"
Burton snapped!) And that she had demanded my address--but Miss Sharp
had not felt she was justified in giving it to her--but had said letters
would be forwarded--.

"I hope to goodness that the baggage made no scene with the young lady,
Sir Nicholas," Burton growled--"Of course she don't say in the
letter--but it's more than likely--I would not have her insulted for the
world."

"Nor I either," I retorted angrily--"Suzette ought to know better now
that I have given her everything she wanted--Will you let her understand
please that this must not occur again--."

"I'll see that the lawyer does it, Sir--that is the only way to deal
with them persons--though Mam'zelle was the best of her sort. Seems to
me Sir Nicholas, they are more bother than they are worth. I said it
always, even when I was younger--They leave their trail of trouble where
ever they go."

How I agreed with him!

So here was a fresh barrier arisen between Alathea and myself!--a fresh
barrier which I cannot explain away. The only comfort I get out of the
whole thing is that imperative necessity must have been driving my
little darling--or she would not put up with any of these things for a
moment, and would have given her _demission_ at the same time as she
wrote.

If money is so necessary to her--perhaps after all I could get her
consent to marry me--The very thought made my pulses bound again--and
all my calm flew to the winds! All the sage reasoning which was
beginning to have an effect upon me evaporated!--I knew that once more I
was as utterly under the spell of her attraction, as the moment when my
passionate lips touched her soft reluctant ones--Ah! that thought! that
memory--One I have never let myself indulge in--but now, all resistance
broken on every side,--I spent the rest of the day dreaming about the
joy of that kiss--until by night time I was as mad as a hatter, and more
full of cruel unrest than ever--.

I hate this place--I hate the sea--It is all of no use--I shall go back
to Paris.



XVI


The first thing I learned when I reached the _appartement_ was that the
Duchesse had returned, and wished to see me. This was good news--and
without even telephoning to Maurice, I got into my one horse Victoria
and repaired to the Hotel de Courville--.

The Duchesse was sitting in her boudoir upstairs when I got in.--She had
a quaint expression upon her face. I was not certain that her greeting
was as cordial as usual--Has gossip reached her ears also?

I sat down near her and she took my crutch from me tenderly, her
instinct for "_blessés_" never failing her.

I thought I would begin at once before she could say anything which
might make questioning her impossible.

"I have been longing to see you, Duchesse, to ask you if you could help
me to find out who my secretary, Miss Sharp, is?--because I saw her here
in the passage one day, and I thought you might possibly be able to
identify her--."

"_Tiens?_"

"Her christian name is 'Alathea'--I heard her little sister call her
that once when I saw them and they did not see me, in the _Bois_--She is
a lady--and I feel Sharp is not her name at all."

The Duchesse put on her eyeglasses--.

"She has not shown a sign that she wishes you to know her history?"

"No--"

"Then, my son, do you think it is very good taste to endeavor to
discover it?"

"Perhaps not--" I was nettled--I hated that the Duchesse should be
displeased with me, then I went on--"I fear that she is very poor and I
know that her little brother died just lately, and I would give anything
in the world to help them in some way."

"Sometimes one helps more by showing discretion."

"You won't assist me then, Duchesse? I _feel_ that you know Miss Sharp."

She frowned--.

"Nicholas--if I did not love you really, I should be angry.--Am I the
character to betray friends--presuming that I have friends--for a young
man's curiosity?"

"Indeed it is not curiosity--it is because I want to help--."

"Camouflage!"

I felt angry now.

"You assume that your secretary is a _demoiselle du monde_"--she went
on--"if you have reached that far--you should know that there is some
honor, some _tenue_ left in old families,--and so you should treat her
with consideration, and respect her incognito.--All this is not like
you, my son!"

The Duchesse had dropped the "thee and thou"--it hurt me.

"I want to treat her with every respect--" I reiterated.

"Then believe me it is unnecessary for you to know her name--I am not
altogether pleased with you, Nicholas."

"Dear Duchesse! that grieves me--I wish I could explain--I have only
wanted to be kind--and I don't even know her address and could not send
flowers when her brother died."

"They did not want flowers, perhaps--Take my advice--of the best I can
give--Pay your secretary her wages--as high ones as she will accept--and
then treat her as if she were fifty years old--and wore glasses!"

"She does wear glasses--abominable yellow horn rimmed spectacles!" I
announced excitedly.--"Have you never seen them?"

The Duchesse's eyes flashed--.

"I have not said I ever met Miss Sharp, Nicholas--"

I knew the affair was now hopeless--and that I would only risk the real
displeasure of my dear old friend if I continued in this way. So I
subsided.--I had some instinct too that I would not receive sympathy
even if I owned that my intentions were strictly honourable.

"I will say no more--except that should you know these people _cherè
Duchesse_--and you ever discover that I could help them in any way--that
you will call upon me to any extent."

[Illustration: The fiery vixen Suzette (Renee Adoree) is enraged to
learn of Sir Nicholas' (Lew Cody) attentions to other women, and leaves
in a flurry. (A scene from Elinor Glyn's production "Man and Maid" for
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer)]

She looked at me very searchingly and said laconically.

"_Bien._"

Then we talked of other things, and I tried to reingratiate myself--The
war was going better--Foch would wish to push his advantage. Things must
have some end--in the near future.--When was I going to England?--All
these subjects we discussed.

"When I am out of the hands of these doctors and have my new leg and
eye--I will return, and then, I want to go into Parliament."

The Duchesse warmed up at once.--That was just the thing for me to
do--that and to marry some nice girl of my own world, of which there
must be an embarrassment of choice--with all the men killed in my
country!

"I would want such an exceptional woman, Duchesse!"

"Do not look for the moon, my son--Be thankful if she has been
sufficiently well brought up to have a decent conduct--the manners of
the young girls now revolt me.--I try to go with the times----but these
new fashions are disgusting."

"Do you think a woman ought to be perfectly innocent and ignorant of
life to make the marriage happy--" I asked.

"The insides of the minds of young girls one is never sure of, but the
_tenue_ should be correct at all costs, so that they may have something
to uphold them as well as religion--which is no longer so surrounding
as it used to be."

"Duchesse, I want someone who would love me passionately, and whom I
could passionately love."

"For that, my poor boy--" and she sighed--"it is not found among young
girls--these things come after one knows, and can discriminate--put them
aside from your thoughts--they are temptations which one resists if one
can, and at all events makes no scandals about.--Love! _Mon Dieu_, it is
the song of the poets, it cannot happen in the world--with
satisfaction--It must be a pain always--Do your duty to your race, and
your class--and try not to mix up sentiment with it!"

"There is no hope of my finding someone I could really love, then?"

"I do not know--in your own country it may be--here it is the wife of
someone else who holds the charm--and if it were not for _tenue_ society
could not exist.

"All that one must ask of the young is that they act with discretion, so
that they can reach the autumn of life without scandals against their
names--If the _Bon Dieu_ adds love--then they have been indeed
fortunate."

"But Duchesse--with your great heart--have you never loved--?"

Her eyes seemed to grow beautiful and young again--they diffused a
fire--.

"Loved--Nicholas--! All women love once in their lives--happy for them
if it has not burnt their souls in its passage--Happy if the _Bon Dieu_
has let it merge into love for humanity--" And soft tears dimmed the
dark blue brilliancy.

I leaned forward and kissed her hand with deep devotion--then the
ancient servitor came in and she was called to a ward--but I left
feeling that if there is really some barrier of family between Alathea
and me--there would be no use in my appealing to the Duchesse--Sorrows
she understands--and war and suffering--and self-sacrifice--Love she
understands and passion--and all that appertains thereto--but all these
things go to the wall before the conception of the meaning of _noblesse
oblige_ which ruled when Adelaide de Mont Orgeuil--wedded the Duc de
Courville-Hautevine, in the eighties! The only thing left now was to
telephone to Maurice--.

He came in for a few minutes just before dinner--.

He has questioned Alwood Chester of the American Red Cross, who had told
him that Miss Sharp had been Miss Sharp always while she worked for
them, and that no one knew anything further about her.

Well!--if her father is a convict, and her mother--in a mad house, and
her sister consumptive--I still want her for herself--.

Is that true--Could I face disease and insanity coming into my family--?

I don't know--All I know is that I do not believe whatever curse hangs
over the rest it has touched her--She is the picture of health and
balance and truth--Her every action is noble--and I love her--I love
her--there!

Next day she came in at ten as usual--She brought all the chapters
annotated--. As her attitude towards me had been as cold as it was
possible for an attitude to be, I cannot say that there was any added
shade of contempt since her interview with Suzette--What had passed
between them perhaps Burton will be able gradually to discover--.

I controlled myself, and behaved with a businesslike reserve--She had
nothing to snub me for, or to disturb her--She took the papers at twelve
o'clock--and I sighed as she left the room--I had watched her furtively
for nearly two hours--Her face was a mask--And she might indeed really
have been concentrating upon the work in hand. Her hands are whitening
considerably--. I believe their redness had something to do with her
little brother, perhaps she put very hot things on his chest.--I have
never seen such a white skin--it shows like mother of pearl against the
cheap black frock--The line of the throat is like my fascinating Nymph
with the shell--indeed the mouth is not unlike her's also. I wonder if
she has dimp--but I had better not think of those things--!

I am now determined to ask her to marry me on the first occasion I can
screw up my courage sufficiently. I have decided what I am going to say.
I am going to be quite matter of fact--I shan't tell her that I love her
even--I feel if I can secure her first I shall have a better chance
afterwards. If she thought I loved her, her nature is of that honest
kind that she might think it was dishonorable to make so uneven a
bargain with me--but if she just thinks I want her for my secretary and
to play to me--and even perhaps that there is some brute part which she
despises mixed up in my feeling for her--and which I would promise to
keep in check--she may feel that it is fair for her to take my name, and
my money, and give me nothing in return.

After lunch, which we did not have together, George Harcourt came in,
and diverted me until four o'clock.

After we had discussed the war news for a long time he began as usual
about Violetta--.

She was perfection!--She had fulfilled all he had ever asked of a
woman--but--or rather in consequence of this--she had begun to bore him,
while a new vixen with no heart and the brain of a rabbit--now drew him
strangely!

"And what are you going to do about it, my dear George?"

"Deceive her of course, Nicholas. It is a painful necessity that my kind
heart forces me to perpetrate."

He was smoking contemplatively.

I laughed--.

"You see, dear boy--one can't be brutal with the little darlings, so
that is the only course open to one, for their limited reasoning power
does not enable them to grasp that it is not one's fault at all when one
ceases to care--the trouble lies with their own weakening
attraction.--So one has to go on bluffing until they themselves weary,
or find out inadvertently that one's affection has been transferred!"

"Don't you think there are some to whom you could tell the truth?"

"I have not met any--if they do exist."

"If I were a woman it would insult me far more for a man to think I was
so stupid that he could deceive me, than if he said frankly he no longer
cared."

"Probably--but then women don't reason in that way--you might prove by
every law of logic that it was because they themselves had disillusioned
you, and that you had no control over the coming or going of your
emotion--but at the end of your peroration they would still reproach you
for being a fickle brute, and believe themselves blameless, and sinned
against!"

"It is all very difficult!"--I sighed unconsciously--.

--"Are you in some mess, my son?" George asked concernedly.--"In your
case with Suzette, money can always smooth things--she has perhaps been
annoying?"

"I have entirely finished with Suzette--George, how a man pays for all
his follies--Have you, with all your affairs, ever got off scot free?"

George leaned back in his chair--his well cut face which expresses as a
rule a rather kindly whimsical cynicism grew stern--and his very voice
altered.

"Nicholas--one has to pay one's shot every time--A man pays in money, or
in jewels or in disgrace, or in regret and remorse--and he has to
calculate beforehand to what extent that which he desires is worth the
price which will become due--It is a brainless idiot who does not
calculate, or who laments when he has to stump up. I admit women are of
supreme interest to me, and their companionship and affection--bought or
otherwise--are necessary to my existence--So I resignedly discharged my
debt every time."

"How will you pay it then about Violetta whom you say is an angel, and
blameless?"

"I shall have some disgusting moments of discomfort and remorse--and
feel a moral Bluebeard--I shan't go scot free--."

"And she--? That won't help her."

"She will pay in tears for having been weak enough to love me--she will
feel the consolation of martyrdom--and soon forget me."

"And you don't think one incurs some kind of hoodoo--in indulging in
these things--I am thinking of Suzette--her shadow--almost one would say
projected by fate, is what is causing me trouble now, not any deliberate
action she is committing against me."

"Part of the price, my boy! You can't steal anything, or do anything
against the law, be it of man or of morals or of the spirit--that you
don't have to pay for it--and there is no use in haggling beforehand or
in squealing after. The thing is to learn early enough in life what is
worth while and what you really want, before you lay up for yourself
limitations."

"That is true--."

"Now let us analyse what gains and losses you have had in the Suzette
business. Let us take the gains first--You had a jolly little companion
during some months of pain and weariness--She helped you over a
difficult moment--You were not leading her astray. To be the friend of
war-heroes was her _métier_--you paid her highly in solid cash--You are
under no obligation to her--. But the law has decreed that man must have
no illicit relations, so the force of that current, or belief, or
whatever it is, makes you pay some price for having broken the
law--Accept it and get through with it--And if the price has been too
heavy decide not to incur such debts again. The whole bother occurs
because you don't look ahead, my boy! There was a case when I was a
youngster and just joined my Battalion of Guards which will illustrate
what I mean, of Bobby Bulteel, Hartelford's brother.--He cheated at
cards--He was a kind of cousin of my mother's so the family felt the
scandal awfully--He was kicked out of course, and utterly broke, and
Lady Hilda Marchant ran off with him, and left her husband. She adored
the fellow who had every charm--Well that was not worth while--The odds
are too heavy for anyone ever to have the ghost of a chance to pull
cheating off. He was simply a fool, you see. Take chances, but never
when the scales have gone beyond the angle of forty-five degrees!"--Then
having finished his cigar George rose in the best of tempers--.

"You may take it from me Nicholas--it sounds old fashioned--but to
behave like a gentleman and always be ready to discharge your
obligations, are the best rules for life.----Ta ta, dear boy--Shall
look in on you soon again--" and he went!

Of course his logic is unanswerable--So I had better accept the shadow
of Suzette falling upon my relation with Alathea, and try to gain my end
in spite of it--And what is my very end?

Not of course that I shall spend the rest of my life as Alathea's
husband-in-name-only, hungry and longing and miserable--but that after
securing her certain companionship I shall overcome her prejudices,
conquer her aversion, and make her love me.--But to have the chance to
do all this it is absolutely necessary that I shall be near her
always--So my idea of marriage is not so far-fetched after all!

And if she will accept me, someday, upon _any terms_--provided they do
not mean separation--I shall believe that half the battle is won--I feel
more cheerful already!--How sound reasoning does one good, even if it is
as baldly brutal as George's!



XVII


Burton gave forth some information this evening, as he was dressing me
for dinner. He had now discovered from Pierre how Suzette had behaved
when she intruded upon Alathea. She had entered the room--"Passing
Pierre without so much as asking his leave, and he with his wooden leg
not so nimble as might be!" She had gone to the writing table and
demanded my address. "An affair of business which must be attended to at
once," she had announced. Pierre standing at the door had heard all
this. Burton added "He said that Mam'zelle was that scented and that got
up, of course Miss Sharp must have known what she was."

Alathea apparently had answered with dignity, that she had received no
orders to give any address, but that letters would be forwarded.

"She took no more notice of Mam'zelle than if she was a chair," Pierre
had told him--who, having his own troubles with women, was prepared to
see a conflict! Suzette became nonplussed, and losing her temper a
little told Alathea that she hoped she would get as much out of the
situation as she herself had done! Alathea continued writing as though
she had not heard, and then told her quite politely in French, that if
she would kindly leave whatever letters were to be sent on, she would
see that they went that night, and had added:

"Now, I need not detain you longer." Suzette became furious, and
stamping, said she was "Mademoiselle la Blonde," and had more right
there than Alathea!

Pierre had here interfered, and catching hold of Suzette's arm, had
dragged her from the room.

I tingled with shame and wrath. That the person I respect most in the
world should have been exposed to such a scene--! Burton too was
horrified--.

I had the most awful sensation of discomfort--the very fact of having to
hear of all this through servants was sufficiently disgusting, without
the events themselves being so degrading.

What must Alathea think of me! And I cannot even allude to the subject.
How wonderful her dignity has been that she has allowed no extra
contempt to come into her manner.

How shall I have the pluck to ask her to marry me? I mean to do so
to-morrow when she comes.

       *       *       *       *       *

_Saturday:_

I am going to write the events of these last days down without any
comment.

I came in to the sitting-room after Alathea had arrived. She was writing
at her desk in the little salon. I looked in and asked her if she would
come in and speak to me. Then I got to my chair. She entered obediently
with the block in her hand, ready to begin work.

"Will you sit down, please," I said, indicating a chair, where she would
face me and the light, so that no shade of her expression should be lost
upon me. (I shall become quite an expert in reading mouths. I am obliged
to study hers so closely!)

I felt less nervous than I have ever felt when with her. I thought there
was the faintest shade of alertness in her manner.

"I am going to say something which will surprise you very much, Miss
Sharp," I began.

She raised her head a little.

"I will put the case to you quite baldly--I am very rich as you know--I
am still horrid to look at--I am lonely and I want a companion who would
play the piano to me, and who would help me to write books, and who
would travel with me. I cannot have any of these simple things because
of the scandal people would make--so there is only one course open to
me--that is to go through the marriage ceremony--Miss Sharp--under those
terms will you marry me?"

Her attitude had become tense--her face did not flush, it became very
pale. She remained perfectly silent for a moment. I felt just the same
as I used to do before going over the top--a queer kind of excitement--a
wonder if I'd come through or not.

As she did not answer I went on. "I would not expect anything from you
except a certain amount of your company. There would not be any question
of living with me as a wife--I would promise even to keep in check that
side which you once saw and which I was so sorry about. I would settle
lots of money on you, and give anything to your family you might wish. I
would not bother you, you would be quite free--only I would like you to
take interest in my work in a way--and to play to me--even if you would
not talk to me."

My voice broke a little at the end of this; I was conscious of it, and
of how weak it was of me. Her hands clasped together suddenly--and she
appeared as though she was going to speak, then remained silent.

"Won't you answer me at all?" I pleaded.

"It is such a strange proposal--I would wish to refuse it at once----"

"It is quite bald, I know," I interrupted quickly. "I want to buy
you--that is all--you can name the price. I know if you consented it
would merely be for the same reason which makes you work. I presume it
is for your family, not for yourself; therefore, I am counting upon that
to influence you. Whatever you would want for your family I should be
delighted to give you."

She twisted her locked hands--the first sign of real emotion I have seen
in her.

"You would marry me--without knowing anything about me? It is very
strange--."

"Yes. I think you are extremely intelligent--if you would consent to
talk to me sometimes. I want to go into Parliament--when I am patched up
and more decent looking, and I believe you would be of the greatest help
to me."

"You mean the whole thing simply as a business arrangement?"

"I have already stated that."

She started to her feet.

"The bargain," I went on, "would be quite a fair one. I am offering to
buy a thing which is not for sale--therefore, I am willing to pay
whatever would tempt the owner to part with it. I am not mixing up any
sentiment in the affair. I want the brain of you for my scheme of life,
and the laws of the quaintly civilized society to which we belong, do
not permit me to hire it--I must buy it outright. I put it to you
net--is there any way we can effect this deal?"

Her lips were quivering--.

"You would say this, no matter what you might hear of my family?"

"I am quite unconcerned as to their history. I have observed you, and
you possess all the qualities which I want in the partner who can help
me to live my new life. For me you are just a personality--" (thus I
lied valiantly!) "not a woman."

"Can I believe you?" she asked a little breathlessly.

"You are thinking of that day when I kissed you--" her lips told me by
their sudden drawing in, that she was agitated.

"Well--I expect really that you know men well enough, Miss Sharp, to
know that they have sudden temptations--but that a strong will can
overcome them. I was very much moved about your grief that afternoon,
and the suppressed emotion, and the exasperation you had caused me,
unbalanced me--I am quite unlikely ever to feel again--if you will marry
me, I will give you my word I will never touch you, or expect anything,
of you except what you agree to give in the bargain. You can lead your
own life--and I can lead mine."

I felt suddenly that these last words were not very wise--for they
aroused in her mind the thought that I should go on having friends like
Suzette. I hastened to add--

"You will have my deepest respect, and as my wife shall be treated with
every courtesy and honour."

She sat down again and raised her hands to her eyes as though to remove
her glasses, and then remembered and dropped them.

"I see that you would rather not answer to-day, Miss Sharp--you might
prefer to go now and think about it?"

"Thank you." She turned and walked back into the little salon without a
word more, and when she went I closed my eye exhausted with the great
strain.

But I did not feel altogether hopeless until Burton came in to tell me
lunch was ready and said that Alathea had gone.

"The young lady said as how she would not be back she expected, and she
took her own pens and things in her bag. She was as white as a lily,
give you my word, Sir Nicholas."

I am ashamed to say that I felt a little faint then. Had I overstepped
the mark, and should I never see her again?

A whole party of the fluffies were coming to dinner, and we were to have
a very gay evening. I ordered my one horse Victoria and went for a drive
in the _Bois_, to calm myself, and the trees with their early autumn
tints seemed to mock at me. I could see too much beauty in them, and it
hurt. Everything hurt! This was certainly the worst afternoon I have had
to bear since I came to on No-Man's Land near Langemarke. But I suppose
at dinner I played the game, for Coralie and the rest congratulated me.

"Getting quite well, Nicholas! And of a _chic_! _Va!_"

We played poker afterwards and the stakes were high, and I was the
winner the whole time, until I could see anxiety creep into more than
one eye (pair of eyes! I have got so accustomed to writing of eyes in
the singular that I forget!) We had quantities of champagne and some
exotic musicians Maurice had procured for me, and a nude Hindoo dancer.

Everyone went more or less mad.

They left about four in the morning, all rather drunk, if one must write
it. But the more I had drunk the more hideously sober and filled with
anguish I seemed to become, until when I had called the last cheery
good-night and was at last alone in my bed, I felt as if the end had
come, and that death would be the next and only good thing which could
happen to me.

I have never before had this strange detached sense in such measure as
this night. As of a hungry agonized spirit standing outside its wretched
body, and watching its feeble movements, conscious of their futility,
conscious of being chained to the miserable thing, and only knowing
rebellion and agony.

Burton gave me a sleeping draught, and I slept far into the next day to
awake more unhappy than ever, obsessed with self-contempt and
degradation.

In the afternoon, I received a note from Maurice, telling me that he had
inadvertently heard that a fellow in the American Red Cross had seen
Miss Sharp's passport, when she had been sent down to Brest for them,
and the name on it was Alathea Bulteel Sharp, and judging that the
second name sounded as if it might be a well-known English one, he
hastened to tell me, in case it should be a clue. I could not think
where I had heard it before, or with what memory it was connecting in my
brain. I had a feeling it was something to do with George Harcourt. I
puzzled for a while, and then I looked back over the pages of my
journal, and there found what I had written of his conversation--Bobby
Bulteel--Hartelford's brother--cheating at cards--and married to Lady
Hilda Marchant----

Of course!--The whole thing became plain to me! This would account for
everything. I hobbled up and got down the peerage. I turned to the
Hartelford title, and noted the brothers--the Hon'bles--John Sinclair,
Charles Henry, and Robert Edgar. This last must be "Bobby" Then I read
the usual things--"Educated at Eton and Christchurch, etc., etc." "Left
the Guards in 1893." "Married in 1894--Lady Hilda Farwell, only daughter
of the Marquess of Braxted (title extinct) and divorced wife of William
Marchant, Esquire." "Issue--"

"Alathea--born 1894, John Robert born 1905, and Hilda born 1907."

So the whole tragic story seemed to unfold itself before me.

Alathea is the child of that great love and sacrifice of her Mother--I
read again the words George had used: "She adored the fellow who had
every charm." All the world might cast him out, but that one faithful
woman gave up home and name and honour, to follow him in his disgrace.
That was love indeed, however misplaced! I looked again at the dates and
made a calculation of the time divorces took then, and I saw that my
little darling girl could only have escaped illegitimacy by perhaps a
few hours!

What had her life been? I pictured it. They must have hidden diminished
heads in hole and corner places during the dreary years. Such a man as
Bobby Bulteel must have been, as George said, a weakling. The
Hartlefords were poor as church mice, and were not likely to assist a
scapegrace, who had dishonoured them. I remembered hearing that on the
old Lord Braxted's death years ago, Braxted was sold to the
Merrion-Walters, Ironfounders from Leeds. No doubt the old man had cut
his daughter off without the traditional shilling, but even so, some
hundreds a year must have been theirs. What then did the poverty of
Alathea suggest? That some constant drain must be going on all the time.
Could the scapegrace still be a gambler, and that could account for it?
This seemed the most probable explanation.

Then all over me there rushed a mad worship for my little love. Her
splendid unselfishness, her noble self-sacrifice, her dignity, her
serenity. I could have kissed the ground under her feet.

I made Burton spend untold time telephoning to the Embassy, and then to
Versailles to Colonel Harcourt--would he not dine with me? He was sorry
he was engaged but he would lunch the next day. Then when the long
evening was in front of me alone--I could hardly bear it. And, driven to
desperation at last, when Burton was undressing me, I said to him:

"Did you ever know anything of the Hartlefords, Burton--Bulteel is the
family name?"

"Can't say as I did personally, Sir Nicholas," he answered, "but of
course, when I was a young boy taking my first fourth-footman's place,
before I came to your father, Sir Guy, at Her Grace of Wiltshire's, I
could not help hearing of the scandal about the cheating at cards. The
whole nobility and gentry was put to about it, and nothing else was
talked of at dinner."

"Try and tell me what you remember of the story."

So Burton held forth in his own way for a quarter of an hour. There had
been no possible doubt of the crime, it was the week after the Derby,
and Bulteel had lost heavily it was said. He was caught red-handed and
got off abroad that night, and the matter would have been hushed up
probably but for the added sensation of Lady Hilda's elopement with him.
That set society by the ears, and the thing was the thrill of the
season. Mr. Marchant had been "all broken-up" by it, and delayed the
divorce so that as far as Burton could remember, Captain Bulteel could
not marry Lady Hilda for more than a year afterwards. All this coincided
with what I already knew. Lord Braxted too, "took on fearful," and died
of a broken heart it was said, leaving every cent to charity. The entail
had been cut in the generation before and the title became extinct at
his death.

I did not tell Burton then of my discovery, and lay long hours in the
dark, thinking and thinking.

What did the Duchesse's attitude mean? In the eyes of the Duchesse de
Courville-Hautevine, _neé_ Adelaide de Mont Orgeuil--to cheat at cards
would be the worst of all the cardinal sins. Such a man as Bobby Bulteel
must be separated from his kind. She knew Lady Hilda probably (the
Duchesse often stayed in England with my mother) and she probably felt a
disapproving pity for the poor lady. The great charity of her mind would
be touched by suffering, if the suffering was apparent, and perhaps she
had some affection for the girl Alathea. But no affection could bridge
the gulf which separated the child of an outcast from her world. The
sins of the father would inevitably be visited upon the children by an
unwritten law, and although she might love Alathea herself, she could
not countenance her union with me. The daughter of a man who had cheated
at cards should go into a convent. I instinctively felt somehow that
this would be her viewpoint.

Does Alathea know this tragedy about her father? Has she had to live
always under this curse? Oh! The pity of it all.

Morning found me more restless and miserable than I have ever been, and
it brought no sign of my love!



XVIII


George Harcourt was called suddenly to Rome that morning and so even
hearing him talk further about the Bulteels was denied me for the time.
I passed some days of the cruelest unrest. There was no sign of Alathea.
I allowed Maurice to drag me out into the world and spent my evenings
among my kind.

A number of my old pals have been killed lately, such an irony when the
war seems to be drawing to a close! There is still an atmosphere of
tension and unrestfulness in the air, though.

After an awful week George Harcourt came back and dropped in to see me.
I opened fire at once, and asked him to tell me all that he knew of the
Bulteels, especially his old brother officer Bobby.

"I have a particular reason for asking, George," I said.

"Very curious your speaking of them, Nicholas, because there has just
been the devil of a fuss in the French Foreign Legion about that
infernal blackguard; it came to my knowledge in my work."

"Has he been cheating at cards again?"

George nodded.

"Tell me from the beginning."

So he started--many of the bits I already knew. Lady Hilda had been a
great friend of his and he dwelt upon the life of suffering she had
had.

"There were a few years of frantic love and some sort of happiness, I
expect, and then funds began to give out, and Bobbie's insane desire to
gamble led him into the shadiest society, at Baden-Baden and Nice, and
other warm spots. Poor Hilda used to go about with him then in a shamed,
defiant way, running from any old friend, or staring over his head. I
happened upon them once or twice in my wanderings; then I lost sight of
them for some years, and the next thing was someone told me the poor
woman had broken down and was a nervous wreck, and two children had been
born in quick succession, when the first one was about eleven years old,
and the whole family were in miserable straits. I think relations paid
up that time--with the understanding that never again were they to be
applied to. And since then I have heard nothing until the other day it
came to my ears that the eldest girl--she must be over twenty now, was
supporting the entire family. One of the children died lately, and now
Bobby has put the cap on it. I am sorry for them, but Bobby is
impossible."

Oh! My poor little girl, what a life! How I longed to take her out of
it!

He went on.

"Strange how certain instincts show themselves under every condition.
Bobby was no physical coward, and to talk to and mix with casually, the
most perfect gentleman you ever met. Awfully well read and a topper at
classics and history, and sang like a bird. He had the grand manner,
and could attract any woman, though to give the devil his due--I believe
for some years he was faithful to Lady Hilda."

"I should think so!" I said indignantly. "After accepting her great
sacrifice!"

"Nothing lasts, my dear boy, that is not fundamental. Bobby was a rotter
through and through, and so he couldn't even behave decently to the
woman who had given up everything for him, once her charm went.
But--that something in human beings which is unaccountable, when they
are well bred, made him join the French Foreign Legion immediately war
broke out, and behave with great gallantry."

"What brought on the last episode?"

"He was probably bored in the dull post where he was, with not much
fighting to do lately, and resorted to his old game to cover up losses,
which he could not pay, and had the bad luck to be caught for the second
time. I told you he was a fool and did not know how to calculate the
price of his follies."

"When did you hear of this?"

"Only last night on my return, and there will be a disgusting scandal,
and the old story will be raked up and it is pretty beastly for
Englishmen."

"Can money keep it quiet, George?"

"I expect so, but who would be fool enough to pay for such a fellow?"

"I would, and will, if you can manage it without letting my name
appear."

"My dear boy, how does it interest you? Why should you do such a
quixotic thing? It is twenty-five thousand francs."

"Only twenty-five thousand francs! I'll give you the cheque this minute
George, if you can, in your own way, free the poor devil."

"But Nicholas--you must be mad my dear boy!--Or you have some strong
motive I do not know of."

"Yes, I have--I want this chap freed from disaster, not for his sake,
but for the sake of the family. What must that poor lady have gone
through, and that poor girl!"

George looked at me with his whimsical cynical eye.

"It's awfully decent of you, Nicholas," was all he said though, and I
reached for my cheque-book, and wrote a cheque for thirty thousand
francs with my stylo.

"You may need the extra five thousand, George--to make sure of the
thing, and I count on you to patch it up as soon as you can."

He left after that, promising to see into the affair at once, and
telephone me the result--and when he had gone I tried to think over what
it all means?

Alathea did not know of this when I asked her to marry me last week. She
must never know that I am paying, even if that makes matters easy enough
for her to refuse me. The reason of her long silence is because this
fresh trouble has fallen upon them, I am sure. I feel so awfully, not
being able to comfort her. The whole burden upon those young
shoulders.--

Just as I wrote that yesterday, Burton came in to say that Miss Sharp
was in the little salon, and wished to see me, and I sent him to pray
her to come in. I rose from my chair to bow to her when she entered, she
never shakes hands. I was awfully pained to see the change in her. Her
poor little white face was thin and woebegone and even her lips pale,
and her air was not so proud as usual.

"Won't you sit down," I said with whatever of homage I could put into my
voice.

She was so humbled and miserable, that I knew she would even have taken
off her glasses if I had asked her to, but of course I would not do
that.

She seemed to find it hard to begin. I felt troubled for her and
started.

"I am awfully glad that you have come back."

She locked her hands together, in the shabby, black suede gloves.

"I have come to tell you that if you will give me twenty-five thousand
francs this afternoon, I will accept your offer, and will marry you."

I held out my hand in my infinite joy, but I tried to control all other
exhibition of emotion.

"That is awfully good of you--I can't say how I thank you," I said in a
voice which sounded quite stern. "Of course I will give you anything in
the world you want." And again I reached for my cheque-book and wrote a
cheque for fifty thousand and handed it to her.

She looked at it, and went crimson.

"I do not want all that, twenty-five thousand is enough. That is the
price of the bargain."

I would not let this hurt me.

"Since you have consented to marry me, I have the right to give you what
I please--you may need more than you have suggested, and I want
everything to be smooth and as you would wish."

She trembled all over.

"I--I cannot argue now, I must go at once; but I will think over what I
must say about it."

"If you are going to be my wife, you must know that all that is mine
will be yours; so how can a few thousand francs more or less now make
any difference, though if you have any feeling concerning it, you can
pay me back out of your first month's dress allowance!" and I tried to
smile.

She started to her feet.

"When shall I see you again?" I pleaded.

"In two days."

"When will you marry me?"

"Whenever you arrange."

"Must you go now?"

"Yes--I must--I am grateful for your generosity, I will fulfill my side
of the bargain."

"And I mine."

I tried to rise, and she handed me my crutch, and then went towards the
door, there she turned.

"I will come on Friday at ten o'clock as usual, Good-bye," and she bowed
and left me.

What a remarkable way to become an engaged man!! But only joy filled me
at that moment. I wanted to shout and sing--and thank God!

Alathea will be mine, and surely it will only be a question of time
before I can make her love me, my little girl!

I rang for Burton. I must have rung vigorously for he came in hurriedly.

"Burton," I said, "Congratulate me, my old friend--Miss Sharp has
promised to marry me."

For once Burton's imperturbability deserted him, he almost staggered and
put his hand to his head.

"God bless my soul, Sir Nicholas," he gasped, and then went on, "Beg
pardon, Sir, but that is the best piece of news I ever did hear in my
life."

And his dear old eyes were full of tears while he blew his nose
vigorously.

"It will be a very quiet wedding, Burton. We shall have it at the
Consulate, and I suppose at the church in the _Rue d'Agesseau_, if Miss
Sharp is a Protestant--I have never asked her."

"The wedding don't so much matter, Sir Nicholas. It is having the young
lady always here to look after you."

"Without her glasses, Burton!"

"As you say Sir, without them horn things." And there was a world of
understanding in his faithful eyes.

He left the room presently with the walk of a boy, so elated was he,
and I was left alone, thrilling in every nerve with triumph. How I long
for Friday I cannot possibly say.

In the afternoon Maurice and Alwood Chester, and Madame de Clerté came
to see me, and all exclaimed at my improved appearance.

"Why you look like a million dollars, Nicholas," Alwood said, "What is
up, old bird?"

"I am getting well, that is all."

"We are going to have a party on Sunday to introduce you to the
loveliest young girl in Paris," Solonge announced. "The daughter of a
friend of mine without a great dot, but that does not matter for you,
Nicholas. We think that you should marry and marry a _jeune fille
francaise_!"

"That is sweet of you. I have shown how I appreciate young girls, have
not I?"

"For that--no!" she laughed, "But the time has come--."

I felt amused, what will Alathea think of these, my friends? Solonge is
the best of them.

Maurice had an air of anxiety underneath his watchful friendliness. He's
fine enough to _feel_ atmospheres, or whatever it is that comes from
people, not in words. He felt that some great change had taken place in
me, and he was not sure what aspect it would have in regard to himself.
He came back after he had seen Madame de Clerté to her coupé!--She has
essence also now,--and his rather ridiculous, kindly, effeminate,
little dark face was appealing.

"_Eh bien, mon ami?_" he said.

"_Eh bien?_"

"There is something, Nicholas, what? Was the clue of any use to you?"

"Yes, thank you a thousand times, Maurice, I could trace the whole
thing. Miss Sharp comes of a very distinguished family, which I know all
about. Her uncle is a miserable Earl! That is respectable enough,
especially a tenth Earl! And her maternal grandfather was a 'Marquess.'"

"_Vrai, mon vieux?_"

"Quite true!"

Maurice was duly interested.

"You were right then about the breeding, it always does show."

I had difficulty in not telling him my news, but I thought it wiser to
remain silent until after Friday! Friday! Day of days!

Maurice suspected that there was something beyond in all this, and was
not sure which course would be the best to pursue; one of sympathy or
unconsciousness. He decided upon the latter and presently left me.

Then I telephoned to Cartier to hare some rings sent up to look at. I
have a feeling that I must be very discreet about giving Alathea
presents, or she will be resentful and even suspect that my bargain is
not entirely a business one. I am afraid I seemed a little too pleased
at our interview; I must be indifferently aloof on Friday.

I suppose I had better not give her my mother's pearls until after the
ceremony. I wonder if there will be a fuss when I suggest her going to
the _Rue de la Paix_ for clothes? I apprehend that there will be a
stubborn resistance to almost everything I would wish to do.

How will the Duchesse take it! Probably philosophically, once it is an
accomplished fact.

At that moment Burton brought me in a note from that very lady! I opened
it eagerly, and its contents made me smile.

The Duchesse wrote to remind me of a request I once made her, that if a
certain family were in trouble that I would assist them to any amount.
Twenty-five thousand francs were now absolutely necessary on the moment,
if I could send them to her by bearer, I would know that I was doing a
good deed!

For the third time that day I reached for my cheque-book and wrote a
cheque, but for only the sum asked on this occasion, and then when
Burton had brought me note paper, I sent a little word with it, to the
Duchesse, and when I was alone again I laughed aloud.

Three people determined upon it must surely save the scapegrace!--I
wonder which of the three will get there first!

I would not go out anywhere to dinner, I wanted to be alone to think
over the whole strange turn of fate. Do strong desires influence events?
Or are all these things settled beforehand? Or is there something in
reincarnation, which Alathea believes in, and the actions of one life
cause that which looks like fate in the next? We shall have many talks
on this subject, I hope.

I wonder, how long it will take for my little love to come voluntarily
into my arms?----?



XIX


_Saturday_:

I wonder how long I shall go on writing in this Journal? I suppose once
I should be happy it would not be necessary; well the moment has not yet
come, in in spite of my being the _fiancé_ of the woman I desire.

At ten o'clock I was waiting for her in the sitting-room, and I was
thinking of that other time when I waited in anxiety, in case she did
not return at all. I was very excited, but it was more the exhilaration
I used to feel when we were going to have some stunning marauding
expeditions over No-Man's Land. The old zest was in my veins.

I heard Alathea's ring, and after she had taken off her hat she came
into the room. I believed that her anxieties must be assuaged because
George Harcourt had telephoned late on Thursday night to say that he had
been successful, and that he had four thousand francs to hand back to
me, the affair having been concluded for twenty-six thousand. So what
was my surprise to see Alathea's face below her glasses more woebegone
than ever! At first it gave me a stab of pain. Does she really hate me
so? She did not mention the money, so I wonder if it is that she does
not yet know her father is cleared? I bowed as coldly as I used always
to do, and she asked me if I had a chapter ready for her to type? I
answered that I had not, because I had been too busy with other things
to have composed anything.

"I think we had better discuss the necessary arrangements for our
marriage before we can settle down to our old work," I said.

"Very well."

"I shall have to have your full name and your father's and mother's and
all that, you know, to make it legal. My lawyer will attend to all the
formalities--they are quite considerable, I believe. He arrives from
London on Monday. I got him a passport by pulling a lot of strings."

She actually trembled. It seemed as if the idea of all this had not come
to her, some of the value of her sacrifice would be diminished if the
family skeleton should be laid bare, I could see she felt, so I
reassured her.

"Believe me, I do not wish you to tell me anything about your family. As
long as you can give just sufficient facts to satisfy the law, I have no
curiosity to see them unless I can be of use."

"Thank you."

"I think a fortnight is the quickest that everything can be settled
in.--Will you marry me on the seventh of November, Miss Sharp?"

"Yes."

"Do you care for the church ceremony, or will the one at the Consulate
do?"

"I should think that would be quite enough for us."

The ring cases were all lying upon the table by me--I pointed to them.

"I wonder if you would choose an engagement ring?" and I began opening
the lids. "It is customary, you know," I went on as she started
reluctantly. I intended to be firm with her in all the points where I
had rights.

"Don't you think it is a little ridiculous?" she asked. "A ring for a
mere business arrangement?"

I would not allow myself to be hurt, but I was conscious that I felt a
little angry.

"You would prefer not to choose a ring then? Very well, I will decide
for you," and I took up one really magnificent single stone diamond, set
as only Cartier can set stones.

"This is the last thing in modernity," and I handed it to her. "A hard
white diamond of egregious size, it cannot fail to be a reminder of our
hard business bargain, and I shall ask you to be good enough to wear
it."

I suppose she saw that I was not pleased, for she drew in her lips a
little, but she took the ring.

Her hands seemed very restless as she held it, they were certainly not
nearly so red as they formerly were.

"Am I to put it on now?"

"Please."

She did so, only she put it on her right third finger, her cheeks
growing pink.

"Why do you do that?" I asked.

"What?"

"Put the ring on the wrong hand."

She changed it reluctantly, then she burst out:

"I suppose I ought to thank you for such a very splendid gift, but I
can't, because I would much rather not have it, please do let us keep to
business in every way, and please don't give me any more presents. I am
going to be just your secretary, with my wages commuted into some lump
sum, I suppose."

I felt more angry, and I think she saw it. I remained silent, which
forced her to speak.

"Do you intend that I shall live here, in the flat?"

"Of course. Will you please choose which of the two guest rooms you
would prefer, they both have bathrooms, and you will have the decoration
re-done as you wish."

Silence.

My exasperation augmented.

"Will you also please engage a maid, and go and order every sort of
clothes which you ought to have. I know by the way you were dressed when
I saw you in the _Bois_ that Sunday, that your taste is perfect."

She stiffened as I spoke. It was quite plain to be seen that she loathed
taking anything from me, but I had no intention of ceding a single point
where I had the right to impose my will.

"You see you will be known as my wife, therefore you must dress
according to the position, and have everything my mother used to have.
Otherwise, people would not respect you, and only think that you were
invidiously placed."

Her cheeks flamed again at the last words.

"It is difficult to picture it all," she said; "Tell me exactly what you
expect of me daily."

"I expect that when you have breakfasted, in your room if you wish, that
you will come and talk to me, perhaps do a little writing, or go out to
drive, or what you wish, and that we shall lunch, and in the afternoon
do whatever turns up. You will want to go out and see your friends and
do what you please. And perhaps you will play to me as often as you feel
inclined, and after dinner we can go to the theatre, or read, or do
whatever you like. And as soon as my treatments with these doctors are
concluded, and I have my new leg and eye, and we shall hope war is
finished, we can travel, or go back to England, and then I shall begin
taking up a political career, and I shall hope you will take a real
interest in that and help me as though I were your brother."

"Very well."

"You will order the clothes to-day?"

"Yes."

She was subdued now, the programme was not very formidable, except that
it contained daily companionship with me.

"Have you told the Duchesse de Courville-Hautevine yet that we are
engaged?" I asked after a moment's pause.

Discomfort grew in her manner.

"No."

"Do you think that she will not approve of the marriage?"

"She may not."

"Perhaps you would rather that I told her?"

"As you please."

"I want you to understand something quite clearly, Alathea." She started
when I said her name, "and that is that I expect you to treat me with
confidence, and tell me anything which you think that I ought to know,
so that we neither of us can be put in a false position, beyond that,
believe me, I have no curiosity. I desire a companionship of brain, and
a sort of permanent secretary who does not feel hostile all the time,
that is all."

I could see that she was controlling herself with all her will, and that
she was overwrought and intensely troubled. I knew that some barrier was
between us which I could not at present surmount. All she said after a
minute was:

"How did you know that my name was 'Alathea'?"

"I heard your little sister call you that the day I saw you in the
_Bois_. I think it a very beautiful name."

Silence.

Her discomfort seemed to come to a climax, for after a little she spoke.

"The twenty-five thousand francs beyond the twenty-five I asked you for,
I cannot return to you. I feel very much about it, and that you should
pay for my clothes, and give me presents. It is the hardest thing I ever
had to do in my life,--to take all this."

"Do not let it bother you, I am quite content with the bargain. Perhaps
you would rather go now after we have selected which room you will
have."

"Thank you."

She gave me my crutch, and I led the way and she followed. I knew
instinctively that she would choose the room which was furthest from
mine. She did!

"This will do," she said immediately we entered it.

"The look-out is not so nice, it only gets the early morning sun," I
ventured to remark.

"It is quieter."

"Very well."

"It was rather arranged for a man, and is perhaps severe. Do you wish
anything changed?"

She did not appear to take any more interest in it than if it had been a
hotel room. She had given it the merest glance, although it is quite a
little masterpiece in its way, of William and Mary--even the panelling
being English, and of the time, and the old rose silk window and bed
curtains.

"I don't want anything altered, thank you."

It seemed a strange moment, to be talking thus calmly to the woman who,
in a fortnight, will be my wife. I feel that a volcano is really working
under our feet, and that adds to the excitement!

When we got back to the sitting-room I offered to send the carriage for
her to go and do her shopping, but she refused, and I thought it was
wiser to let her go. We shall have years to talk in presently, and there
is always the danger of our coming to an open rupture, and the bargain
being off, if we see much of one another now.

"Good-bye," she said a little nervously, and I bowed and said
"Good-bye," and she went from the room.

And when she had gone I laughed aloud, and began to analyse the
situation.

George Harcourt has paid the gambling debt, therefore the fifty thousand
I gave Alathea cannot have been used for that. Some fresh worry is
perhaps upon the wretched family. The obvious thing for me to do is to
go and see the Duchesse, and yet I have some strange sort of wish that
it should be Alathea herself who tells me everything, and not that she
becomes aware, by inference, that I must know. I feel that our future
happiness depends upon her giving up all this stubborn pride. What is at
the back of her mind? I do not know. That resentment and dislike of me
has only become crystallized since the Suzette affair. I am sure she
thinks that Suzette is my mistress still, and this insults her, but she
reasons that with the bargain as it is, she has not the smallest right
to object. She is furious with herself to think that it should matter to
her. That is a thought! Why indeed should it matter if she is utterly
indifferent to me? Is it possible? Can it be that? No--I dare not think
of it, but, in any case it will be the most thrilling situation, once
she is my wife.

I believe it would be wisest for me not to go to the Duchesse's but
simply to write her a note telling her of my news, then anything she
may tell me will be gratuitous.

I had just finished doing this when once again a letter was brought in
from that lady, and this time it was to thank me for my cheque, and to
tell me that it had been the means of preventing a most disagreeable
scandal and bringing peace to a family!

Sardonic mirth overcame me. So three separate people seem to be under
the impression that they have paid this gambler's debts! Each apparently
unaware that there was anyone else in the running! It looks as if
"Bobby" had wolfed the lot! Does Alathea know, and is this the extra
cause of her worry?

I sent my note back by the Duchesse's messenger, who still waited, and
went to my luncheon.

In about an hour the telephone rang--a request from the Hotel de
Courville that I should repair there immediately without fail.

"Her Grace spoke herself," Burton said, "and said it was most important,
Sir Nicholas."

"Very well, order the carriage. By the way. Burton, did you congratulate
Miss Sharp?"

Burton coughed.

"I did make so bold, Sir Nicholas, as to tell the young lady how very
glad I was, but she took it queer like, she stiffened up and said it was
only a business arrangement, to be able to write your letters and do
your work without people talking about it. That seemed funny to me, so I
said nothing more."

"Burton it is funny for the moment, Miss Sharp is only marrying me for
some reason for her family, the same one which forces her to work, but I
hope I can make her think differently about it some day."

"Pardon the liberty I am taking, Sir Nicholas, but perhaps she don't
like the idea of Mam'zelle, and don't know she's gone for good."

"That is probably the case."

Burton's wise old face expressed complete understanding, as he left the
room, and presently I was on my way to the Hotel de Courville, a sense
of exhilaration and of excitement and joy in my heart!



XX


The Duchesse was playing impatiently with her glasses when I was
announced by the servant of ninety! Her face expressed some strong
feeling. I was not sure if it was tinged with displeasure or no. She
helped me to sit down, and then she began at once.

"Nicholas, explain yourself. You tell me you are engaged to your
secretary! So this has been going on all the time, and you have not told
me. I, who was your mother's oldest friend!"

"Dear Duchesse, you are mistaken, it has only just been settled. No one
was more surprised at my offer than Miss Sharp herself."

"You know her real name, Nicholas? And her family history? You have
guessed, of course, from my asking you for the twenty-five thousand
francs, that they were in some difficulty?"

"Yes, I know Alathea is the daughter of the Honorable Robert and Lady
Hilda Bulteel."

"She has told you all of the story, perhaps?--but you cannot know what
the money was for, because the poor child does not know it herself. It
is more just that I should inform you, since you are going to marry into
the family."

"Thank you, Duchesse."

She then began, and gave me a picture of her old friendship with Lady
Hilda, and of the dreadful calamity which had befallen in her going off
with Bobby Bulteel.

"It was one of those cases of mad love, Nicholas, which fortunately seem
to have died out of the modern world, though for the truth I must say
that one more _séduisant_ than _ce joli Bulteel_, I have never met! One
could not, of course, acknowledge them for a crime like that, but I have
ever been fond of poor Hilda and that sweet little child. She was born
here, in this hotel. Poor Hilda came to me in her great trouble, and I
was in deep mourning myself then for my husband,--the house is large,
and it could all pass quietly."

I reached forward and took the Duchesse's hand and kissed it, and she
went on:

"Alatheé is my godchild, one of my names is Alatheé. The poor little
one, she adored her father, in all those first years. They wandered much
and only came to Paris at intervals, and each time they came, a little
poorer, a little more troubled, and then after a lapse I heard those two
were born at Nice--wretched little decadents, when my poor Hilda was a
mass of nerves and disillusion. Alatheé was eleven then. It was, _par
hazard_, when she was about fourteen that she heard of her father's
crime. She was the gayest, most sweet child before that, through all
their poverty, but from that moment her character was changed. It
destroyed something in her spirit, one must believe. She set firmly to
education, decided she would be a secretary, cultivated herself, worked,
worked, worked! She worshipped her mother, and resented immensely her
father's treatment of her."

"She must always have had a wonderful character."

"For that, yes," and the Duchesse paused a moment, then went on:

"Quite a tremendous character, and as Bobby sank and poor Hilda became
more ill, and wretched, that child has risen in strength, and supported
them all. Since the war came they have almost lived upon her earnings.
The father is without conscience, and of a selfishness unspeakable! His
money all went to him for his use, and Alatheé was left to supplement
the mother's wretched two or three thousand francs a year. And now that
brute has again cheated at cards, and poor Hilda came to me in her great
distress, and remembering your words, Nicholas, I called upon you. It
would have been too cruel for the poor woman to have had to suffer
again. Hilda took the money and gave it to this infamous husband, and
the affair was settled that night. Alatheé knows nothing about it."

Light was dawning upon me. The admirable Bobby has evidently played upon
the feelings of both wife and daughter!

"Duchesse, why did you not wish me to know the real name, and would not
help me at all about 'Miss Sharp,'--won't you now tell me your reason?"

The Duchesse shaded her eyes from the fire with a hand-screen, and it
came between us, and I could not see her face, but her voice changed.

"I was greatly surprised to find the girl in your flat one day. I had
not understood with whom she was working. I was not pleased about it,
frankly, Nicholas, because one cannot help knowing of your existence and
your friends, and I feared your interest for a secretary might be as for
them, and I disliked that my godchild should run such a risk. When
_jeunes filles_ of the world have to take up menial positions they are
of course open to such situations, and have to expect difficulties. I
wished to protect her as well as I could."

Suddenly I saw myself, and the utterly rotten life I had led, that this,
my old friend, even, could not be sure of my chivalry. I loathed the
lax, cheap honor of the world and its hypocrisy. I could not even be
indignant with the Duchesse, judging me from that standpoint. She was
right, but I did tell her that men had a slightly different angle in
looking upon such things in England, where women worked, and were
respected in all classes, and that the idea of making love to any
secretary would never have entered my head. It was the intelligence and
the dignity of Alathea herself which had made me desire her for a
companion.

"It is well that you are English, Nicholas. No Frenchman of family could
have married the daughter of a man who had cheated at cards."

"Even if the girl was good and splendid like Alathea, Duchesse?"

"For that, no, my son, we have little left but our traditions, and our
names, and those things matter to us. No, frankly, I could not have
permitted the union had you been my son."

So I had been right in my analysis of what would be the bent of my old
friend's mind.

"You are pleased now, though, dear Duchesse?" I pleaded.

"It seems impossible, from my point, and I would not have encouraged it,
but since it is done, I can but wish my dear Alatheé and you, my dear
boy true happiness."

Again I took and kissed her kind hand.

"In England, especially in this war time, questions are not asked,
_n'est ce pas_? She can be 'Sharp' simply and not Bulteel, then it may
pass. For the girl, herself, you have a rare jewel, Nicholas--unselfish,
devoted, true, but the will of the devil! You shall not be able to turn
her as you wish, if her ideas go the other way!"

"Duchesse, the situation is peculiar, there is no question of love in
it. Alathea is marrying me merely that she may give money to her family.
I am marrying that I may have a secretary without scandal. We are not
going to be really husband and wife."

The Duchesse dropped her fire-screen, her clever-eyes were whimsical and
sparkling.

"_Tiens_!" she said, and never has the delicious word conveyed so much
meaning! "You believe that truly Nicholas? Alatheé is a very pretty girl
when properly dressed--"

"And without glasses!"

"As you say, without glasses, which I hear cover her fine eyes when in
your society!"

"I asked her to marry me under those terms, and it was only upon those
terms she accepted me."

The Duchesse laughed.

"A nice romance! Well, my son, I wish you joy!"

"Duchesse," and I leaned forward, "do you really think I can make her
love me? Am I too awful? Is there a chance?"

The Duchesse patted my arm and her face shone with kindliness.

"Of course, foolish boy!" And she broke into French, using the "thee"
and "thou" again affectionately. 'I was very handsome!--that which
remained,--and all would look the same as ever when the repairing should
be complete!'

"So very tall and fine, Nicholas, and hair of a thickness, and what is
best of all, that air of a great gentleman. Yes, yes, women will always
love thee, _sans_ eye, _sans_ leg, do not disturb thyself!"

"Don't tell her I love her, Duchesse," I pleaded. "We have much to learn
of each other. If she did not believe it was a bargain equal on both
sides, she would not marry me at all!"

The Duchesse agreed about this.

"Whatever she has promised she will perform, but why she does not love
thee already I cannot tell."

"She dislikes me, she thinks I am a rotter, and I expect she was right,
but I shall not be in the future, and then perhaps she will change."

When I left the Hotel de Courville it had been arranged that the
Duchesse would receive my wife with honour, her world only knowing that
I had married an English "Miss Sharp."

I heard no more of my _fiancée_ until next morning, when she telephoned.
Did I wish her to come that day?

Burton answered that I hoped she would, about eleven o'clock.

I intended to tell her that I thought that it might be wiser now if she
did not come again until the wedding, as once we were engaged I would
not allow her to run the risk of meeting anyone and giving a false
impression. I think the strain would be too great in any case.

I did not come in to the salon until she was there, and she rose as I
entered. She was whiter than ever, and very stern.

"I have been thinking," she said, before I could speak, "that if I
promise to fulfill the bargain, and live here in the flat with you,
going through the ceremony at the Consulate is quite unnecessary. Your
caprice of having me for your wife merely in name in England, may pass,
and it seems ridiculous to be tied. I am quite indifferent to what
anyone thinks of me. I would prefer it like that."

"Why?" I asked, and wondered for a moment what had occurred.

"There are so many stupid law things, if there is a marriage, and if you
have the same from me without, surely you see that it is better."

I first thought that it was this fear of my knowing her family history
which was at the root of this suggestion, but then I remembered that she
would know that I would hear it in any case from the Duchesse. What then
could it be?

I felt cruel, I was not going to make things too easy for her. If she
has the will of the devil, she has also the pride!

"If you are indifferent to such an invidious position as your new idea
would place us in, I am not, I do not wish my friends to think that I am
such a cad as presumably to have taken advantage of your being my
secretary."

"You wish to go on with the marriage then?"

"Of course."

She clasped her hands together suddenly, as if she could control herself
no longer, and I thought of what she had said to Burton about feeling
that she could not fight any more. I would not allow myself to
sympathize with her. I was longing in every nerve of my being to take
her into my arms, and tell her that I loved her, and knew everything,
but I would not do this. I cannot let her master me, or we shall never
have any peace. I will not tell her that I love her until her pride is
broken, and I have made her love me and come to me voluntarily.

She was silent.

"I have informed the Duchesse de Courville that we are engaged. I saw
her yesterday."

She started perceptibly.

"She has told you my real name?"

"I have known that for some time. I thought I had made it plain to you
that I am not interested about the subject, we need not mention it
again, you have only to talk to old Robert Nelson, my lawyer, when he
comes on Monday. He will tell you the settlements I propose to make, and
you can discuss with him as to whether or not you think them
satisfactory. Perhaps you on your side will tell me what reason you have
strong enough to make a girl of your natural self-respect, willing to
take the position of my apparent mistress?"

She burst out for a second, throwing out her hands, then controlling
herself.

"No, I won't tell you.--I will tell you nothing, I will just stick to
the bargain if I must. You have no right to my thoughts, only my
actions!"

I bowed; disagreeable as she was, there was a distinctly pleasant zest
in fighting!

"Perhaps of your courtesy, you will take off those glasses now, since I
am aware that you only wear them to conceal your eyes, and not that they
are necessary for your sight."

She flushed with annoyance.

"And if I refuse?"

I shrugged my shoulders.

"I shall think it very childish of you."

With a petulance which I had never seen in her she tossed her head.

"I don't care, at present I will not."

I frowned but did not speak. This will be discussed between us later.
My fighting spirit is up, she _shall_ obey me!

"Did you order the clothes yesterday?"

"Yes."

"Enough, I hope."

"Yes."

"Well, now, I have a suggestion to make which I am sure will please you,
and that is that you will appoint some meeting place with Mr. Nelson for
Tuesday morning, since you do not trust my good taste far enough even to
let me know your home address. Perhaps at the Hotel de Courville, if the
Duchesse will permit, and that then we do not meet until the seventh of
November at the ceremony. Mr. Nelson will arrange with you all the law
of the thing and what witnesses you must have, and everything, and this
will save these useless discussions, and give you a little breathing
space."

This seemed to subdue her, and she agreed less defiantly.

"And now I will not detain you longer," I said stiffly. "_Au revoir_
until the seventh of November at whatever hour is arranged, or if we
must meet before at the signing of the contract," and I bowed.

She bowed also, and walked haughtily to the door, and left.

And greatly exhilarated, I decided to go and lunch with Maurice at the
Ritz.

As I came from the lift, Madame Bizot's daughter came out of the
concierge's lodge with her baby, and it was making its same little
cooing, gurgling noises that caused me so to feel that time when Alathea
first began to interest me. I stopped and spoke to the mother, a comely
young woman, and the little creature put out its tiny hand and clasped
one of my fingers, and over me there came a weird thrill. Shall I ever
hear noises like that, and have a son of Alathea's and mine to take my
hand. Well the game of her subjection is interesting enough anyway, and
rather ashamed of my emotion, I went on into the Victoria and was
crawled to the Ritz.

Here I ran into a fellow in the Flying Corps, who told me that Nina's
boy, Johnnie, had been killed the night before, in his first fight with
a Boche plane. I do not know that any of the tragedies of the war have
affected me more. My poor Nina! She really loved her son. I telegraphed
to her at once my fondest sympathies, and the thought of her grief would
not leave me all the way, war-hardened as I am.

I did not tell Maurice of my approaching wedding. I have a plan that he
shall only know when I ask him to come to the Hotel de Courville to be
presented to my wife.

The Fluffies have returned from Deauville, and Coralie and Alice joined
us at luncheon. They have the most exquisite new garments, and were full
of sparkle and gaiety. Alice's wedding, to the rich neutral, seems
really to be coming off. Her air was one of subdued modesty and
gentleness, and when I congratulated her she made the tenderest
acceptance of it, which would have done justice to a young virgin of
the _ancien regime_! Coralie met my eye with her shrewd small ones, and
we looked away! After lunch we sat in the hall for a little, Maurice
taking Alice to try on her clothes, so Coralie and I were left alone.

"You are looking quite well now Nicholas," she whispered, "Why don't you
ask me to come and dine with you, at your adorable flat,--alone?"

"You would be bored with me before the evening was over."

"Arrange it, and try! Always there are the others, except that night at
Versailles. There is an air with you Nicholas,--one has forgotten all
about your eye. I have thought and thought of you.--You have interfered
with all my pleasures in life!"

"I am going back to England quite soon, Coralie, won't you come now to
the _rue de la Paix_ and let me buy you a little souvenir of all the
lovely times we have had together in the last year?"

So she came, and selected a gem of an opera glass. An opera glass is
discreet, it can be accepted by anyone; even a woman determined to
impress my mind with her dignity and charm, as Coralie was attempting to
do, upon our expedition. She had made up her mind that I should no
longer be just a benefit to the three of them, but her own especial
property, and she is clever enough to see that I am in a mood to admire
dignity and discretion! I spent a most amusing hour with her, enjoying
myself in the spirit of watching a good play at the _Comedie Français_.
At about four o'clock, when we returned to the Ritz, Coralie was
baffled. I could see that she was keener than ever, and beginning to be
a little worried and unsure of herself!

As I drove back to my flat, taking a roundabout way through the Bois, I
mused and analysed things. And what is the psychological reason for some
presents being quite correct to give and some not? It all goes back to
the re-creative instinct and through what this manifests itself. Gifts
which have any relation to the body, to give it pleasure, or to decorate
it, are the expressions of the sex relationship, and so presumably the
subconscious mind, which only sees the truth in everything, only feels
harmonious when these gifts are given by either parents or relations, as
a dower, so to speak, or the husband or prospective husband. Hence
through the ages, the unconscious relegation of certain presents as
acceptable only from certain people. Any present which gives pleasure to
the mind alone is the tribute of friendship, but those to touch the body
are presumably not. I could give Coralie an opera glass as a mark of my
esteem, but a bracelet which she would wear on her arm would have
another meaning!

Alathea resents every present, those for the body because they suggest
my possession of her, those for the mind because she feels no friendship
for me at all!

Well, well!

What will she do I wonder during the fortnight of our engagement? I feel
that I can afford to wait with patience and certainty. But the thought
that I do not even know my _fiancée's_ address, and that she is
resentful and defiant, and rebellious at everything, and yet intends to
marry me, on the seventh of November, is really almost humorous!

And now it behooves me to put my house in order, and map out exactly
what I mean to do!



XXI


The days go slowly on, my preparations are complete. My good friend
Nelson arrived on Monday and took charge of the affair. He was entirely
aware of the Bulteel story, it was the great scandal of twenty-five
years ago. He expressed no opinion as to my marrying into such a family,
but went about the business end with diligence. I made a very nice
settlement upon Alathea, more than he thought was necessary. Then he
spoke of arrangements for possible children, and fixed that, too. I
wonder what she will say when she reads that part! I have settled with
the Duchesse, who is entering into the spirit of the thing with her
usual delicious whimsical understanding, that some time soon after the
wedding she shall ask about ten of our principal mutual friends to come
in the afternoon, and she will present Alathea to them, and if anyone
makes comments upon the matter, she will say that she is the daughter of
an old English friend, and even if Coralie recognizes her as the girl
who was with me at Versailles, she will not dare to say a word about any
protegée of the Duchesse's. She is much too afraid of offending her,
being received at the Hotel de Courville herself on sufferance only
because of her birth and family. As for Maurice, I can manage him! Now I
am beginning to wonder what Alathea would prefer to do? I don't want to
see her until the ceremony, but I suppose I must.

The Duchesse has arranged that I should meet my _fiancée_ in her
sitting-room and sign the contract there on the day before the wedding,
five days from now. Alathea, she tells me is like a frozen image, but
faithful to her promise to me, my dear old friend has not made any
comment or tried to aid matters. I think she rejoices that I shall have
such an interesting time in the breaking down of the barrier.

Nina writes heartbrokenly; Johnnie was very dear to her; sorrow seems to
have brought out all that is best in her. She says she feels that she
just drifted along, taking all good and happiness for granted, and not
doing enough for other people, and that now she is going to devote her
life to making Jim happy and contented, and hopes some day, not too far
off, to have another child to care for. Darling old Nina! She always was
the best sort in the world.

Of Suzette I have heard nothing, although Burton says he caught sight of
her on the stairs just whisking into the flat above mine, which has been
taken by a lovely actress, a cousin of hers, who has married a rich
retired Jew _antiquaire_!

There are still possibilities of complications here!

But I feel quite serene, Alathea will be mine. She cannot get away from
me. I can insidiously, from day to day, carry out my plan of winning
her, and the tougher the fight is, the more it will be worth while
afterwards!

_November 6th._

To-day was really wonderful! Mr. Nelson has presumably seen Alathea and
her family several times. I have refused to hear anything about it, and
he arrived with her alone at the Hotel de Courville. I had understood
that her mother was coming with her, but she was ill and did not turn
up.

The Duchesse and I were talking when the two were announced. Alathea was
in a nice little grey frock and had her glasses on. I think she knew the
Duchesse would not approve of that camouflage, because there was an air
of defiance about her, her rebellious Cupid's bow of a mouth was shut
sternly, she was even quite repellant,--she has never attracted me more!

The Duchesse was sweet to her and made no remark about the glasses, but
was called back to the ward almost immediately for a little, and while
she was gone Mr. Nelson read over the settlement.

"I think you are giving me a great deal too much," Alathea said
annoyedly. "I shall feel uncomfortable,--and chained."

"I intend my wife to have this." I answered quietly. "So I am afraid you
will have to agree."

She pulled in her lips but said no more until the part about the
children came, when she started to her feet, her cheeks crimson.

"What is this ridiculous clause?" she asked angrily.

Old Mr. Nelson looked unspeakably shocked. "It is customary in all
marriage settlements, my dear young lady," he said reprovingly, and
Alathea looked at me with suspicion, but she said nothing, and the
Duchesse, returning then to the room, all was soon signed, sealed and
delivered! Mr. Nelson withdrew, saying he would call for Miss Bulteel
next day for the wedding.

When we were alone the Duchesse kissed us both.

"I hope for your happiness, my children," she said. "I know you both,
and your droll characters, the time will come when you may know each
other, and in any case, I feel that you will both remember that _tenue_,
a recognition of correct behaviour, helps all situations in life, and
the rest is in the hands of the _Bon Dieu_."

Then she left us again, and Alathea sat stiffly down upon an
uncompromising little Louis XV _canapé_ out of my reach. I did not move
or speak, indeed I lit a cigarette casually.

Alathea's face was a study! I watched her lazily. How had I ever thought
her plain? Even in those first days, disguised with the horn spectacles,
and the tornback hair, the contour of her little face is so perfectly
oval, and her neck so round and long, but not too long. There is not the
least look of scragginess about her, just extreme slenderness, a
small-boned creature of perhaps five foot four or five, with childish
outline. To-day in the becoming little grey frock, and even with the
glasses on she is lovely, perhaps she seems so to me because I now know
that the glasses are not necessary. The expression of her mouth said,
"Am I being tricked? Does the man mean to seize me when he gets me
alone? Shall I run away and have done with it?"

She was restless, her old serenity seems to have deserted her.

"I wanted to ask you," I began calmly, "What you would like to do
immediately after the wedding. I mean would you prefer that we went to
Versailles? The passport business makes everything so difficult, or
would you rather go down to the Riviera? Or just stay at the flat?"

"I don't care in the least," she replied ungraciously.

"Then if you don't care, we will stay at the flat, because if I do not
interrupt my treatment I shall be the sooner well to go to England. Have
you engaged a maid?"

"Yes."

"You will give orders that your trunks are sent in in the morning, then,
and that she has everything ready for you."

"Very well."

All this time her face was turned away from me as much as possible. For
one second a fear came to me that after all perhaps it is real hate she
has for me, which will be unsurmountable, and I was impelled to ask her:

"Alathea, do you detest the idea of marrying me so much that you would
rather break the whole thing?"

She turned and faced me now, and I feel sure blue fire was coming from
those beautiful eyes, could I have seen them!

"It is not a question of what I would wish or not, nor of my feelings in
any way. I am going through with the ceremony, and shall be your
permanent secretary, because I am under great monetary obligations to
you, and wish for security for my family in the future. You put it to me
that you wanted to buy me, and I could name the price--you have overpaid
it. I shall not go back upon my promise, only I want to feel perfectly
sure that you will expect nothing more of me than what we have
arranged."

"I shall expect nothing more; your sense of the fitness of things will
suggest to you not to make either of us look ridiculous in public by
your being over disagreeable to me, we shall carry on with a semblance
of mutual respect, I hope."

She bowed.

The temptation to burst out and tell her of my feelings was
extraordinary. I absolutely trembled with the control it required not to
rise from my chair and go and take her hands; but I restrained every
sign and appeared as indifferent as she is. The Duchesse came back in a
few moments and I said I would go.

I did not even then shake hands with Alathea, and the Duchesse came out
into the passage with me, to see me safe into the lift, she is always so
kind to anything crippled.

"Nicholas," she whispered, "Her manner to you is very cruel, but do not
be discouraged!--I feel that it is more promising than if she were kind.
She has also had a dreadful time with the father, who has now been
transferred to the _poste_ in the desert in Africa. One must hope for
good, and her poor mother is going off to Hyères with little Hilda and
their faithful old maid, the only servant they had, so after the wedding
you will have your bride all to yourself!"

"Perhaps the thought of that is what is making her so reluctant and icy
to-day!"

The Duchesse laughed as she handed me my crutch and closed the lift
door. "Time will tell, my son!" and she waved her hand as I disappeared
below.

And now I am alone before the crackling fire in my sitting-room,--and I
wonder how many men have spent the eve of their marriages in so quiet a
manner? I feel no excitement even. I have re-read this journal, it is a
pretty poor literary effort, but it does chronicle my emotions, and the
gradual growing influence Alathea has been exercising upon me. By
putting down what happens between us each day like this, I can then
review progress once a week, and can take stock of little shades which
would not be remembered otherwise.

       *       *       *       *       *

At that moment the telephone rang, and George Harcourt asked if he might
come round and smoke a cigar.

"Your pre-war ones are so good, Nicholas," he said. He was in at the
Ritz, from Versailles, for the night.

I answered "Yes." I like to talk to old George, I don't know why I call
him old always, he is forty-eight perhaps, and absolutely well
preserved, and women love him passionately, more perhaps than when he
was young.

When we were settled in two comfortable arm chairs before the fire, he
held forth as usual. He had arranged the affairs of Bobby Bulteel only
in the nick of time. "I have all the receipts, Nicholas, to hand to
you," he said.

"The wretched creature was overcome with gratitude. We had a long chat,
and he plans to clear out and start life afresh in the Argentine as soon
as War is over and he can be released from his commission. He is bound
to end in hell with his temperament, but it won't matter so long as poor
Lady Hilda is not dragged down too. He agreed to leave the family here
unmolested now, and not return for years to them, when he does retire
from the army."

Then I told my old friend that I intended to marry the daughter on the
morrow. He was very surprised.

"I could not imagine what your interest could be, Nicholas, unless it
had something to do with a woman, but where did you ever meet the girl,
my dear boy?"

I explained.

"You might come to the wedding, George," I said.

[Illustration: Alathea (Harriet Hammond) realizes that Suzette (Renee
Adoree) is the only woman that stands between her and the love of Sir
Nicholas (Lew Cody). (A scene from Elinor Glyn's production "Man and
Maid" for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer)]

He promised he would, then he smoked for a minute or two in silence.
"Pretty terrible thing, marriage," and he puffed blue rings with perfect
precision. "I have never been able to face it. What has made you slip
into the mesh?"

"Because I think I have found someone who will be a good companion and
not bore me."

"You are not in love then? It is a sensible arrangement, and in that way
you have a chance of happiness; also the girl has had a hard life, and
may be grateful for comfort and kindness."

"What do you suppose men really want, George?"

"The continuous stimulation of the hunting instinct, of course. It is
satiety which kills everything, but what a small percentage of women
know how to keep it alive, on the mental side!"

I waited for him to go on.

"You see, dear boy, love which is only the camouflaged aspect of the
creative instinct, cannot really hold, but a clever woman acts as a spur
to the mind, keeps it hunting in the abstract, as well as gratifying,
not too generously, the physical desires. Unfortunately it has never
been my good fortune to encounter such a being, so I have never been
able to remain faithful. You are very much in luck if Bobby's girl shows
intelligence. She ought to be a remarkable creature because she was born
at the white heat of passion on both parents' side, and self-sacrifice
and devotion added on the mother's."

"She is, George."

"My best wishes, Nicholas. I think you are wise, probably wounded as
you are, it will be nice for you to have an agreeable companion," and he
sighed.

"You have quite finished with Violetta?"

"Now that is the odd part," and he actually removed his cigar from his
lips. "I thought I had, but when I went to see her with the certain
intention of deceiving her and backing out gracefully,--that vixen
Carmencita was drawing me so strongly!--I found Violetta quite tranquil.
She said she had realized that I was cooling off, and her rule was to
hold nothing which did not wish to stay, so she was quite prepared to
part from me. She was very tender, she looked beautiful, and you know
when it came to saying farewell, I found myself quite unable to do so! I
had prepared a lot of lies about my not being justified in giving the
time from my work, but before I could tell them Violetta had forestalled
me by assuring me that she knew I must really stick closer to my office,
and she would no longer expect much of my company. You know, Nicholas, I
suddenly found her charm renewed tenfold, and I could only congratulate
myself upon the fact that the affair with Carmencita had not gone far
enough to amount to anything, and now I am in pursuit of Violetta again,
and 'pon my soul, Nicholas, if she only keeps me wondering, I believe I
shall be really in love!"

"Shall you marry, George?"

He looked almost bashful.

"It is just possible,--Violetta is a widow."

Then our eyes met and we both laughed aloud.

"You can contemplate happiness, George with your widow, because you feel
that she now knows how to handle you, and I contemplate happiness with
my little girl, because I respect her character and adore every inch of
her, and by Jove! old man, I believe we shall both get what we are
looking for!"

Then our talk drifted to politics and the war, and it was just about
midnight before old George left, and when he had gone I opened the
window wide, and looked out on the night, there was a half moon almost
set, and the air was still, and very warm for the beginning of November.
There are nights like that, mysterious and electric when all sorts of
strange forces seem to be abroad. And something of romance in me exalted
my spirit, and I found myself saying a prayer that I might be true to my
trust, and have strength enough of will to wait patiently until my
Alathea comes voluntarily into my arms.

And how I wonder what she is thinking about, there at Auteuil?

I went along into the room which is to be hers to-morrow, and I saw that
it was all arranged, except the flowers, which would come in fresh in
the morning. And then I hobbled back to my own room and rang for Burton.
The faithful creature waits for me no matter how late I am.

When I was safely in bed, he came over to me, and his dear old face
showed emotion.

"I do indeed wish you happiness, Sir Nicholas, to-morrow will be the
best day of my life."

We shook hands silently, and he left me, still writing in this journal!

I feel no excitement, rather as if another act in the drama of life was
ended, that is all, and that to-morrow I am starting upon a new one
which will decide whether the end of the play shall be tragedy or
content?



XXII


I am not going to describe the wedding in this Journal. A civil ceremony
is not interesting in its baldness. I had literally no emotions, and
Alathea looked as pale as her white frock. She wore a little sable toque
and a big sable cloak I had sent her the night before, by Nelson. The
ring was the new diamond hoop set in platinum. No more gold fetters for
modern girls!

Old George and Mr. Nelson were our witnesses, and the whole thing was
over in a few minutes, and we were being congratulated. Burton was by
far the happiest face there, as he helped me into the automobile, lent
by the Embassy. Alathea had just shaken hands with Mr. Nelson and been
wished joy by George. I wonder what he thought of the glasses, which
even for the wedding she had not taken off!

"May you know every happiness, Lady Thormonde," he said. "Take care of
Nicholas and make him quite well, he is the best fellow on earth."

Alathea thanked him coldly. He is such a citizen of the world that he
showed no surprise, and finally we were off on our way to the flat.

Here Madame Bizot and her daughter, and the baby, awaited us! And in the
creature's tiny hand was a bunch of violets. This was the first time
Alathea smiled. She bent and kissed the wee face. These people know and
love her. I stayed behind a few moments to express my substantial
appreciation of their friendly interest. Burton had been beside the
chauffeur to help me in and out, and while we had been driving Alathea
had not spoken a word. She had turned from me, and her little body was
drawn back as far in the corner as possible.

My own emotions were queer. I did not feel actually excited. I felt just
as I used when we were going to take up a new position on the line where
great watchfulness would be necessary to succeed.

The maid Alathea had engaged arrived in the morning, and I had had the
loveliest flowers put in all the rooms. Pierre intended to outdo himself
for the wedding _déjeuner_, I knew, and Burton had been able to find
somewhere a really respectable looking footman, not too obviously
wounded.

Alathea handed me my crutch as we got out of the lift. Perhaps she
thinks this is going to be one of her new duties!

We went straight into the sitting-room and I sat down in my chair. Her
maid, named Henriette, had taken her cloak and hat in the hall, and I
suppose from sheer nervousness, and to cover the first awkward moments,
Alathea buried her face in the big bowl of roses on a table near another
arm chair, before she sat down in it.

"What lovely flowers!" she said. They were the first words she had
spoken to me directly.

"I wondered what would be your favorites. You must tell me for the
future. I just had roses because they happen to be mine."

"I like roses best too."

I was silent for quite two minutes. She tried to keep still, then I
spoke, and I could hear a tone of authority in my voice.

"Alathea, again I ask you please to remove your glasses, as I told you
before, I know that you wear them only so that I may not see your eyes,
not for sight or light or anything. To keep them on is a little
undignified and ridiculous now, and irritates me very much."

She colored and straightened herself.

"To remove my glasses was not part of the bargain. You should have made
it a condition if you had wanted to impose it. I do not admit that you
have the least right to ask me to take them off, and I prefer to wear
them."

"For what possible reason?"

"I will not tell you."

I felt my temper rising. If I had not been a cripple I could not have
resisted the temptation to rise and seize her in my arms, tear the d----
d things off! and punish her with a thousand kisses. As it was, I felt
an inward rage. What a fool I had been not to have actually made the
removal of them a _sine qua non_ before I signed the contract!

"It is very ungenerous of you, and shows a spirit of hostility which I
think we agreed that you would drop."

Silence.

The desire to punish her physically, beat her, make her obey me, was the
only thing I felt. A nice emotion for a wedding day!

"Do you mean to wear them all the time, even when we go out in the
world?" I asked when I could control my voice.

"Probably."

"Very well then, I consider you are breaking the bargain in spirit, if
not in the letter. You, yourself, said you were going to be my permanent
secretary--no secretary in the world would insist upon doing something
she knew to be a great irritation to her employer."

Silence.

"You are only lowering yourself in my estimation by showing this
obstinacy. Since we have now to live together, I would rather not have
to grow to despise you for childishness."

She started to her feet, and with violence threw the glasses on to the
table. Her beautiful eyes flashed at me; the lashes are that peculiar
curly kind, not black, but soft and dusky, a little lighter near the
skin. It is the first time I have ever seen such eyelashes on a woman's
lids. One sees them quite often on little boys, especially little
vagabonds in the street. The eyes themselves are intensely blue, and
with everything of passion and magnetism, and attraction, in them. It is
no wonder she wore glasses while having to face the world by herself! A
woman with eyes like that would not be safe alone in any avocation where
men could observe her. I have never seen such expressive, fascinating
eyes in my life. I thrilled in every fibre of my being, and with triumph
also to think that our first battle should be won!

"Thank you," I said, making my voice very calm. "I had grown so to
respect your balance and serenity, I should have been sorry to have to
change my opinion."

I could see that she was palpitating with fury at having been made to
obey. I felt it wise to turn the conversation.

"I suppose lunch will be ready soon."

She went towards the door then, and left me. I wondered what she would
say when she got to her room and found the three sapphire bangles
waiting for her on the dressing table!

I had written on a card inside the lid of the box:

"To Alathea with her husband's best wishes."

Burton announced lunch before she returned to the sitting-room. I sent
him to say that it was ready, and a moment after she came in. She had
the case in her hand which she put down on the table, and her cheeks
were very pink, her eyes she kept lowered.

"I wish you would not give me presents," she gasped a little
breathlessly, coming close up to my chair. "I do not care to receive
them, you have loaded me with things--the sables, the diamond ring, the
clothes, everything, and now these."

I took the case and opened it, removing the bangles.

"Give me your wrist," I said sternly.

She looked at me too surprised at my tone to speak.

I put out my hand and took her bare arm, her sleeves were to the elbows,
and I deliberately put the three bracelets on while she stood petrified.

"I have had enough of your disagreeable temper," I said in the same
voice. "You will wear these, and anything else I choose to give you,
though your rudeness will soon remove my desire to give you anything."

She was absolutely flabbergasted, but I had touched her pride.

"I apologize if I have seemed rude," she said at last. "I--suppose you
have the right really--only--" And her whole slender body quivered with
a wave of rebellion.

"Let us say no more about the matter, but go into lunch, only you will
find that I am not such a weakling, as you no doubt supposed you would
have to deal with." I hobbled up from my chair, Burton discreetly not
having entered the room. Alathea gave me my crutch, and we went in to
the dining-room.

While the servants were in there I led the conversation upon the war
news, and ordinary subjects, and she played the game, but when we were
alone with the coffee, I filled her glass with Benedictine, which she
had refused when Burton handed the liqueurs. She had taken no wine at
all.

"Now drink whatever toast you like," I told her. "I am going to drink
one to the time when you don't hate me so much and we can have a little
quiet friendship and peace."

She sipped her glass, and her eyes became inscrutable. What she was
thinking of I do not know.

I find myself watching those eyes all the time. Every reflection passes
through them, they are as expressive of all shades of emotion as the
eyes of a cat, though the beautiful Madonna tenderness I have never seen
again since the day when she held the child in her arms, and I was rude
to her.

When we went back into the salon I knew that I was passionately in love
with her. Her restiveness is absolutely alluring, and excites all my
hunting instinct. She looks quite lovely, and the subtle magnetism which
drew me the first days, even when she appeared poor and shabby, and red
of hand, is stronger than ever--I felt that I wanted to crush her in my
arms and devour her, the blood thumped in my temples, I had to use every
atom of my will with myself, and lay back in my chair and closed my eye.

She went straight to the piano and began to play. It seemed as though
she were talking, telling me of the passion in her soul. She played
weird Russian dances and crashed agonizing chords, then she played
laments, and finally a soft and soothing thing of McDowell's, and every
note had found an echo in me, and I had followed, it almost seemed, all
her pain.

"You play divinely, child," I said, when she had finished. "I am going
to rest now, will you give me some tea later on?"

"Yes," and her voice was quite meek, while she helped me with my
crutch, and I went to the door of my room.

"I would like you to wear nice soft teagowns. My eye gets so wearied
with everything bright after a while. I hope--you have got all you want,
and that your room is comfortable?"

"Yes, thanks."

I bowed and went on into my room and shut the door. Burton was waiting
to help me to lie down.

"It has been a very tiring day for you, Sir Nicholas," he said, "and for
her Ladyship also."

"Go and have a rest yourself, Burton, you have been up since cock crow,
the new man Antoine can call me at five." And soon I was in a land of
blissful dreams.

Of course it was the very irony of fate that Suzette should have
selected this very afternoon to come in and thank me for the Villa which
she was just now going down to see--!

Antoine opened the door to her while Burton was out. I heard afterwards
that she told him she had an appointment with me when he had hesitated
about letting her in. She was quite quietly dressed and had no great
look of the _demi-monde_, and a new footman, blunted with war service,
was probably impervious even to the very strong scent which she was
saturated with--that perfume which I had never been able entirely to
cure her liking for, and which she reverted to using always when she
went away from me, and had to be corrected of again and again when she
returned.

Antoine came to my room by the passage, and said "a lady was in the
salon to see me by appointment."

For a moment I was not suspicious. I thought it might be Coralie, and
fearing Alathea might be somewhere about, and it might be awkward for
her, I hastened to rise and go in to see and get rid of the inopportune
guest. I told Antoine he must never let anyone in again without
permission.

It was just growing dim in the salon, about half-past four o'clock, and
a figure rose from the sofa by the fire as I entered.

"_Mon chou--mon petit cheri_!" I heard, simultaneously with a softly
closing sound of the door behind the screen, which masks the entrance to
the room from the hall--Antoine leaving I supposed at the time, probably
it was Alathea I surmised afterwards!

"Suzette!" I exclaimed angrily. "Why do you come here?"

She flew to me and held out her arms, expressing affection and grateful
thanks. She had come for no other reason only just to express her
friendly appreciation! To get rid of her was all I desired. I never was
more angry, but to show it would have been the poorest game. I did not
tell her it was my wedding day. I just said I was expecting some
relatives, and that I knew she would understand and would go at once.

"Of course," she said, and shook me by the hand. I was still standing
with my crutch. She was passing to see her cousin Madame Angier, in the
flat above, and could not resist the temptation to come in.

"It must be the very last time, Suzette," I said. "I have given you all
that you wanted, and I would rather not see you again."

She pouted, but agreed, and I drew her to the door and saw her into the
corridor, and even followed her to the front door. She was chatting all
the time. I did not answer. I was speechless with rage, and could have
sworn aloud, when at last I heard the door shut between us, then I
strode back into my room, praying that Alathea _had_ been unaware of my
visitor.

Nemesis, on one's wedding day!

I waited until five and then went back into the sitting-room to my
chair, and Antoine brought in the tea, and turned on the lights, and a
moment or two afterwards Alathea came in. Her eyes were stony, and as
she advanced up the room she sniffed the air disgustedly, her fine
nostrils quivering. Suzette's pungent perfume was no doubt still present
to one coming from outside!

Hauteur, contempt and disgust, expressed themselves in my little
darling's blue eyes. There was nothing to be said--_qui s'excuse
s'accuse--!_

She wore a soft lavender frock, and was utterly delectable, and when I
reflected that but for this impassable barrier, which my own action in
the past had been the means of erecting between us, I might now have
made her love me, and that on this, our wedding day, she might have been
coming into my arms. I could have groaned aloud.

"May I open the window," she said with the air of an offended Empress.

"Yes, do, open it wide," and then I laughed aloud cynically. I could as
easily have cried.

Alathea would not of course have spoken about her suspicions, to do so
would have inferred that she took an interest in me beyond that of a
secretary; every impression she always has given me is that nothing in
my life can matter to her one jot. But I know that this affair of
Suzette does matter to her, that she resents it bitterly, that it is the
cause of her smouldering anger with me. She resents it because she is a
woman, and, how I wish I might believe that it is because she is not as
indifferent towards me as she pretends.

She poured out the tea. I expect my face looked like the devil, I did
not speak, I knew I was frowning angrily. A rising wind blew the curtain
out and banged the window. She got up and shut it, then she threw some
cedar dust on the fire from the box which it is kept in on a table near.
She had seen Burton do this no doubt. I love the smell of cedar burning.

Then she came back and poured out the tea and we both drank it silently.

The room looked so comfortable and home like, with its panelling of old
pitch pine, cleaned of its paint and mellowed and waxed, so that it
seems like deep amber, showing up the greyish pear-wood carvings. One
might have been in some room in old England of about 1699. Everything
looked the setting for a love scene. The glowing lamps, apricot shaded,
and the firelight, and the yellow roses everywhere, and two human
beings who belonged to one another and were young, and not cold of
nature, sitting there with faces of stone, and in each one's heart
bitterness. Again I laughed aloud.

The mocking sound seemed to disturb my bride. She allowed her tea cup to
rattle as she put it down nervously.

"Would you like me to read to you," she asked icily.

And I said "Yes."

And presently her beautiful cultivated voice was flowing along. It was
an article in the _Saturday Review_ she had picked up, and I did not
take in what it was about. I was gazing into the glowing logs, and
trying to see visions, and gain any inspiration of how to find a way out
of this tangle of false impression. I must wait and see, and endeavor
when we get more accustomed to one another--somehow to let Alathea know
the truth.

When she finished the pages she stopped.

"I think he is quite right," she said, but I had not heard what the
argument was, so I could only say "Yes!"

"Will it interest you going to England?" I then asked.

"I dare say."

"I have a place there you know. Shall you care to live in it after the
war is over?"

"I believe it is the duty of people to live in their homes if they have
inherited them as a trust."

"And I can always count upon you to do your duty."

"I hope so."

Then I exerted myself and talked to her about politics and what were my
views and aims. She entered into this stiffly, and so an hour passed,
but all the time I could feel that her inner self was disturbed, and
more resentful and rebellious than ever. We had been two puppets making
conversation all the time, neither had said anything naturally.

At last the pretense ended, and we went to our separate rooms to dress
for dinner.

Burton had returned by now, and I told him of the detestable thing which
had happened, at which he was much concerned.

"Best of her sort was Mam'zelle, Sir Nicholas, but I've always said they
bring trouble, every one of them,--if I may make so bold!"

And as I hobbled back into the salon to meet my wife for our first
dinner alone, once more I heartily agreed with him!



XXIII


Alathea looked perfectly lovely when she came into the salon dressed for
dinner. It is the first time I have seen her in anything pertaining to
the evening. She had a gauzy tea-gown on, of a shade of blue like her
eyes. Her nut brown hair was beautifully done, with the last "look" like
Coralie's, showing her tiny head. Whether she likes it or no, I must
give her some pearl earrings, and my mother's pearls. That will be a
moment! But I had better wait a little while. Her eyes were shining with
excitement or resentment, or a mixture of both. She was purely feminine.
She intended to attract me I am certain, her subconscious mind did at
all events, even though she would not have admitted it to herself. She
was smarting still about Suzette. The situation fills her with distrust
and uneasiness, but I know now, after analysing every point, when I
could not sleep last night, that she is not really indifferent to me.
And it is because she is not, that she is angry.

I registered a vow that I would _make_ her love me without explaining
about Suzette, fate can let her find out for herself.

I had not come to the comforting conclusion that she is not indifferent
at the beginning of the evening though, so the sense of self-confidence
and triumph did not uplift me then. I was still worried at the events
of the afternoon.

I had troubled to put on a tail coat and white waistcoat, not a dinner
jacket as usual, and had even a buttonhole of a gardenia, found by
Burton for this great occasion!

I looked into her eyes with my one blue one, which is I suppose, as blue
as her own. She instantly averted her glance.

"I cannot offer you my arm, milady," I said rather sarcastically, "So we
will have to go in after each other."

She bowed and led the way.

The table was too beautifully decorated, and the dinner a masterpiece!
while the champagne was iced to perfection, and the Burgundy a poem! The
pupils of Alathea's eyes before the partridge came, were black as night.
Burton discreetly marshalled Antoine out of the room each time after the
dishes were handed.

"When will you get your new eye?" my wife--I like to write that!--asked
in the first interval when we were alone, "and your new leg?"

"I suppose they will both be restored to me in a day or two. It will be
so wonderful to walk again."

"I should think so."

Then something seemed to strike her suddenly, of how hateful it must all
have been for me. Her hard expression changed and she almost whispered:

"It--will seem like a new life."

"I mean to make a new life, if you will help me. I want to get away from
all the old useless days. I want to do things which are worth while."

"Shall you soon go into Parliament?"

"I suppose it will take a year or two, but we shall begin to pave the
way directly we go back to England, and I hope that will be for
Christmas."

She avoided looking at me. I could never catch her eye, but her adorable
little profile was good enough to contemplate, the crisp curl by her ear
delighted me, and another in the nape of her neck filled me with wild
longings to kiss it, and the pearly skin beneath it!

I think I deserve great praise for the way I acted, for the whole thing
was acting. I was cold, and as haughty and aloof as she was herself, but
I used every art I knew of to draw her out and make her talk.

She is such a lady that she fell into the stride and spoke politely as
if to some stranger who had taken her into dinner at a party.

At last we talked of the Duchesse, and we discussed her interesting
character, such a marvel of the _ancien régime_!

"She is so very good and charitable," Alathea said, "and has always a
twinkle in her eye which carries her through things."

"You laugh sometimes, too?" I asked with assumed surprise. "That is
delightful! I adore the 'twinkle in the eye,' but I was afraid you would
never unbend far enough so that we could laugh together!"

I think this offended her.

"Life would be impossible without a sense of humor, even if it is a grim
one."

"Well, nothing need be grim any more, and we can both smile at the
rather absurd situation between us, which, however, suits us both
admirably. You will never interfere with me, or I with you."

"No--" There was a tone in this which let me feel that her thoughts had
harked back to Suzette.

"The Duchesse is going to have a little tea party for us on Saturday,
you know, so that you may be introduced as my wife."

Alathea became embarrassed at once.

"Will people know my real name?"

"No--we shall tell no stories, but we shall not be communicative. You
will be introduced as an old English friend of the Duchesse's."

She looked at me for an instant and there was gratitude in her
expression.

"Alathea, I want you to forget all about the troubles which must have
clouded your life. They are all over now, and some day, perhaps you will
introduce me to your mother and little sister."

"I will, of course when they come back from the South. My mother has
often been so ill."

"I want you to feel that I would do anything for them. Are you sure they
have all they want?"

She protested.

"Indeed--yes, far more. You have given too much already."

She raised her head with that indescribable little gesture of hauteur,
which becomes her so beautifully. I could read her mind. It said, "I
loathe receiving anything from him, with that woman in the background!"

When we went into the salon I wondered what she would do. I did not
speak. She took my crutch and shook up my cushion, taking great care not
to touch me. I could not look up. I knew that a powerful electric
current would pass from my eye to hers, if I did, and that she would see
that I was only longing to take her to my heart.

I remained silent and gazed into the fire. She sat down quietly on the
sofa at the side, so that I would have to turn my head to look at her.
Thus we remained for quite five minutes, speechless. The air throbbed
with emotion. I dared not move.

At last she said, "Would you care that I should read to you again, or
play?"

"Play for a little." My voice was chilly. I was quite determined the
iciness should come from me first, not her, for a few days.

She went to the piano, and she began the Debussy she had played that
afternoon when I had first asked her to play--I never can remember its
name--and when she had finished she stopped.

"What made you play that now?" I asked.

"I felt like it."

"It wrenches my nerves. What makes you feel all unrestful and rebellious
and defiant, Alathea, am I not keeping the bargain?"

"Yes, of course."

"You are bored to death then?"

"No, I am wondering."

"Wondering what?"

She did not answer. I could not see her without getting up out of my
chair.

"Please come here," I asked in an indifferent cold voice. "You know it
is so difficult for me to move."

She came back and sat down upon the sofa again. The light of the apricot
lamp fell softly on her hair.

"Now tell me about what you were wondering."

Her mouth grew stubborn and she did not speak.

"It is so unlike you to do these very female things, beginning sentences
and not going on. I never saw anyone so changed; once I looked upon you
as the model for all that was balanced, and unlike your sex. It was I
who used to feel nervous and ineffectual, now, ever since we have been
engaged, you seem to be disturbed, and to have lost your serenity. Don't
you think as it is the first evening that we are alone together that it
would be a wise thing to try and get at each other's point of view? Tell
me the truth Alathea, what has caused the alteration in you?"

Now she looked straight at me, and there was defiance in her expressive
eyes.

"That is just what I was wondering about. It is true, I seem to have
lost my serenity, I am self-conscious--I am conscious of you."

A delicious sensation of joy flowed through me, and the feeling of
triumph began which is with me still. If she is conscious of me--!

"Do you mind if I smoke?" I asked with complete casualness to hide my
emotions. She shook her head, and I lit a cigarette.

"You were uneasy because you did not trust me, you thought underneath
there might be some trap, and that I would seize you once you belonged
to me. There was a moment when I might have felt inclined to do so,
though I would never have broken my word, but you have cured me of all
that, and there is nothing to prevent our being quite good
acquaintances,--even if your prejudice does not ever allow you to be
friends."

For a second a blank look came into her expression. I was banking on my
knowledge of the psychology of a human mind, the predatory instinct must
inevitably be aroused in her by my attitude of indifference, if I can
only act well enough and keep it up! I should certainly win in a fairly
short space of time. But she is so attractive, I do not yet know if I
shall have the strength of mind to do so.

"Are you not going to give me some regular work to do each day?" she
asked with a tone of mock respect in her voice. "None of the letters
have been answered lately, or the bills paid."

"Yes. I scrambled through them all myself while I was waiting, but if
you will look over the book again, we might finally send it to a
publisher."

"Very well."

"I don't want you to feel that you have ever to stay in or do any work
you don't feel inclined for. We shall have lots of time, for the rest of
our lives. No doubt to-morrow you would wish to spend with your mother,
if she is going away."

"I said good-bye to her this morning. There is no need for me to go
back. I came prepared to stay. Unless of course you would rather be
alone, then I can go out for a walk." This last with a peculiar tone in
the words.

"Naturally you will want to go for walks, and drives, and shopping. You
don't imagine that I shall expect you to be a prisoner, just waiting on
my beck and call!"

"Yes, that is how I took the bargain. It is quite unfair otherwise. I am
here as a paid dependant and receiving really too high wages for any
possible work I can give in return. I would not have entered into it
otherwise or on any other terms. I loathe to receive favors."

"Madame Lucifer!"

She flashed blue sparks at me!

"I am not forced to command you to work you know," I went on "that is
not part of the bargain, the bargain is entirely concerned with my not
asking _you_ to give me any favors, personal favors, like affection, or
caresses, etcetera, or that I shall ever expect you to be really my
wife."

She frowned.

"Well, you may put your mind entirely at rest, you have been so awfully
disagreeable to me for so long, ever since we were at Versailles in the
summer, that you don't attract me at all now, except your intellect and
your playing. So if you will talk sometimes and play sometimes, that
will be all right. I don't desire anything else. Now, assured about
this, can't you be at ease and restful again?"

I know why she wore glasses. She cannot control the expression of her
eyes! The pupils dilate and contract and tell one wonderful things! I
know that this attitude of mine is having a powerful effect upon her,
the feminine in her hates to feel that she has lost power over me--even
over my senses. I could have laughed aloud, I was so pleased with my
success, but I did not dare to look at her much, or I could never have
kept the game up. She was more delectable than I can ever describe.

"It would interest me so much to know why your hands used to be so red,"
I asked after a little pause. "They are getting so much whiter now."

"I had work to do, dishes to wash, our old nurse was too ill, as well as
my mother, and my little brother then--" there was a break in her soft
voice. "I do not like red hands any more than you do. They distressed
my father always. I will try to take care of them now."

"Yes--do."

The evening post had come in, and been put by Burton discreetly on a
side table. He naturally thought such mundane things could not interest
me on my wedding night. I caught sight of the little pile and asked
Alathea to bring them to me.

She did. One from Coralie was lying on top and one immediately under it
from Solonge de Clerté! Alathea saw that they were both in female
writing. The rest were bills and business.

"Do you permit me to open them?" I asked punctiliously.

"Of course," and she reddened. "Are you not master here? How absurd to
ask me!"

"It is not; you are Lady Thormonde, even if you are not my wife, and
have a right to courtesy."

She shrugged her shoulders.

"Why did you put--'To Alathea from her husband' on the bracelets? You
are 'Sir Nicholas' and not my husband."

"It was a _bêtise_, a slip of the pen; I admit you are right," and
indifferently I opened Coralie's effusion, smiling over it. I put up my
hand as if to shade my eye, and looked at Alathea through the fingers.
She was watching me with an expression of slightly anxious interest. I
could almost have believed that she was _jealous_!

My triumph increased.

I removed my hand and appeared only to be intent upon Coralie's letter.

"Perhaps we each have friends which might bore the other, so when you
want to have parties tell me, and I will arrange to go out, and when I
want to, I will tell you. In that way we can never have any jars."

"Thank you, but I have no friends except the Duchesse, or very humble
people who don't want to come to parties."

"But you will be making plenty of new friends now. I have some which you
will meet out in the world which I daresay you won't care about, and
some who come and dine with me sometimes, who probably you would
dislike."

"Yes,--I know."

"How do you know?" I asked innocently, affecting surprise.

"I used to hear them when I was typing."

I smiled. I did not defend them.

"If you should chance to meet, would you be civil to them?"

"Of course, 'Coralie,' 'Odette,' and 'Alice,' the Duchesse has often
described them all! It was 'Coralie' who came to talk to you at
Versailles in the park, was it not?"

Her voice was contemptuously amused and indifferent, but her little
nostrils quivered. Underneath she was disturbed I knew.

"Yes, Coralie is charming, she knows more about how to put clothes on
becomingly than any other woman."

"Do they dine often? Because I could perhaps arrange to go and have my
music lesson with Monsieur Trani on those evenings, twice a week or
oftener?"

"You would refuse to meet them?" I pretended to be annoyed.

"Certainly not, one does not do ridiculous things like that. I will meet
whoever you wish. I only thought it might spoil your pleasure if I were
there, unless of course you have told them that I am only a permanent
secretary masquerading under the name of your wife--so that they need
not restrain themselves."

Her face had become inscrutable. She was quite calm now. I grew
uncertain again for a moment. Had I carried the bluff far enough?

"They have all quite charming manners, but as you infer they might not
be so amused to come to the dinner of a married man. I think the last
part of your speech was rather a reflection upon my sense of being a
gentleman though. I of course have not informed anyone of our quaint
relations.--But remember you told me once you did not think I was a
gentleman, so I must not be offended now."

She did not speak, she was looking down and her eyelashes made a shadow
on her cheeks. Her mouth was sad.

Suddenly something pathetic about her touched me. She is such a gallant
little fighter. She has had such an ugly cruel life, and Oh! God she is
growing to love me, and soon shall I be able to tell her that I worship
the ground she walks on, and appreciate her proud spirit and great
self-respect? But I cannot chance anything. I must go on and follow what
I know to be sound psychological reasoning.

I felt my will weakening then, she looked so perfectly exquisite there
in the corner of the sofa. We were alone.--It was nearly ten o'clock at
night, the flowers were scenting the air, the lights were soft, the
dinner had been perfection. After all I am a man, and she legally
belongs to me. I felt the blood rushing wildly in my veins. I had to
clench my hands and shut my eye.

"I expect you are tired now," I said a little breathlessly. "So I will
say good-night--Milady, and hope that you will sleep well the first
night in your new home."

I got up and she came forward quickly to hand me my crutch.

"Good-night," she whispered quite low, but she never looked at me, then
she turned and went slowly from the room, never glancing back. And when
she had gone instead of going to bed I once more sank into my chair. I
felt queerly faint, my nerves are not sound yet I expect.

Well, what a strange wedding night!

Burton's face was a mask when he came to undress me. Among the many
strange scenes he has witnessed and assisted at, after forty years
spent in ministering to the caprices of the aristocracy, I believe he
thinks this is the strangest!

When I was in bed and he was about to go, I suddenly went into a peal of
bitter laughter. He stopped near the door.

"Beg pardon, Sir Nicholas?" he said as though I had called to him.

"Aren't women the weirdest things in the world, Burton!"

"They are indeed, Sir Nicholas," and he smiled. "One and all, from
Mam'zelle to ladies like her Ladyship, they do like to feel that a man
belongs to themselves."

"You think that is it, Burton?"

"Not a doubt of it, Sir Nicholas."

"How do you know them so well, never having married, you old scallywag!"

"Perhaps that's why, Sir. A married man looses his spirit like--and his
being able to see!"

"I seem lonely, don't I Burton," and I laughed again.

"You do, Sir Nicholas, but if I may make so bold as to say so, I don't
think you will be so very long. Her Ladyship sent out for a cup of tea
directly she got to her room."

And with an indescribable look of blank innocence in his dear old eyes,
this philosopher, and profound student of women, respectfully left the
room!



XXIV


The day after my marriage I did not come into the salon until just
before luncheon, at half-past twelve o'clock. My bride was not there.

"Her Ladyship has gone out walking, Sir Nicholas," Burton informed me as
he settled me in my chair.

I took up a book which was lying upon the table. It was a volume of
Laurence Hope's "Last Poems." It may have come in a batch of new
publications sent in a day or two ago, but I had not remarked it. It was
not cut all through, but someone had cut it up to the 86th page and had
evidently paused to read a poem called "Listen Beloved," the paper knife
lay between the leaves. Whoever it was must have read it over and over,
for the book opened easily there, and one verse struck me forcibly:

  "Sometimes I think my longing soul remembers
  A previous love to which it aims and strives,
  As if this fire of ours were but the embers
  Of some wild flame burnt out in former lives.
  Perchance in earlier days I _did_ attain
  That which I seek for now, so all in vain.
  Maybe my soul and thine were fused and wed
  In some great night, long since dissolved and dead."

And then my eye travelled on to the bottom of the page.

  "Or has my spirit a divine prevision
  Of vast vague passions stored in days to be
  When some strong souls shall conquer their division
  And two shall be as one eternally."

We are both strong souls, shall we have the strength to conquer outside
things and be really "one eternally"?

Alathea must have been looking at this not an hour or more ago, what did
it make her think of, I wonder?

I determined to ask her to read the whole poem presently, when we should
be sitting together in the afternoon.

It had come on to rain and was a wretched dismal day, I wondered why
Alathea had gone out. Probably she is as restless as I am, and being
free to move, she can express her mood in rapid walking!

I began to plan my course of action.

To go on disturbing her as much as possible--

To give her the impression that I once thought her perfection, but that
she herself has disillusioned me, and that I am indifferent to her now.

That I am cynical, but am amused to discuss love in the abstract.

That I have friends who divert me, and that I really only want her to be
a secretary and companion, and that any interest I may show in her is
merely for my own vanity, because she is, to the world, my wife!

If I can only keep this up, and not soften should I see her distressed,
and not weaken or give the show away, I must inevitably win the game,
perhaps sooner than I dare hope!

I felt glad she had not been there, so that I could pull myself
together, and put my armour on, so to speak, before we met.

I heard her come in just before luncheon and go to her room, and then
she came on to the sitting-room without her hat.

Her taste is as good as Coralie's, probably her new clothes come from
the same place, she appeared adorable, and now that I can observe her at
leisure, she seems extremely young,--the childish outline, and the
perfect curve of the little cheek! She does not look over eighteen years
old, in spite of the firm mouth and serene manner.

I had the poems in my hand.

"I see you have been reading these," I remarked after we had given each
other a cold good-morning.

The pupils of her eyes contracted for a second, she was annoyed with
herself that she had left the paper cutter in the book.

"Yes."

"After lunch will you read to me?"

"Of course."

"You like poetry?"

"Yes, some."

"This kind?"

Her cheeks became softly pink.

"Yes, I do. I daresay I should have more classical tastes, but these
seem real, these poems, as if the author had meant and felt what she was
writing about. I am no judge of poetry in the abstract, I only like it
if it expresses some truth, and some thought--which appeals to me."

This was quite a long speech for her!

"Then poems about love appeal to you?" I asked surprised.

"Why not?"

"Why not indeed, only you always have seemed so austere and aloof, I
hardly thought such a subject would have interested you!"

She gave a little shrug of her shoulders.

"Perhaps even the working bees have dreams."

"Have you ever been in love?"

She laughed softly, the first time I have ever heard her laugh. It gave
me a thrill.

"I don't think so! I have never talked to any men. I mean men of our
class."

This relieved me.

"But you dream?"

"Not seriously."

Burton announced luncheon at that moment, and we went in.

We spoke of the rain, and she said she liked being out in the wet. She
had walked all down the _Avenue Henri Martin_ to the _Bois_. We spoke of
the war news, and the political situation, and at last we were alone
again in the salon.

"Now read, will you please."

I lay back in my chair and shaded my eye with my hand.

"Do you want any special poem?"

"Read several, and then get to 'Listen Beloved,' there is a point in it
I want to discuss with you."

She took the book and settled herself with her back to the window, a
little behind me.

"Come forward, please. It is more comfortable to listen when one can see
the reader."

She rose reluctantly, and pulled her chair nearer me and the fire, then
she began. She chose those poems the least sensuous, and the more
abstract. I watched her all the time. She read "Rutland Gate," and her
voice showed how she sympathized with the man. Then she read "Atavism,"
and her little highly bred face looked savage! I realized with a quiver
of delight that she is the most passionate creature,--of course she is,
with that father and mother! Wait until I have awakened her enough, and
she will break through all the barriers of convention and reserve, and
pride.

Ah! That will be a moment!

"Now read 'Listen Beloved.'"

She turned the pages, found it, and began, and when she reached the two
verses which had so interested me, she looked up for a second, and her
lovely eyes were misty and far away. Then she went on and finished,
letting the book drop in her lap.

"That accords with your theory of reincarnation, that souls meet again
and again?"

"Yes."

"In one of the books I got upon the subject it said all marriages were
karmic debts or rewards. I wonder what our marriage is, don't you?
Perhaps we were two enemies who injured each other, and now have to
make up by being of use, each to each."

"Probably," she was looking down.

"Do you ever have that strange feeling that you are searching for
something all the time, something of the soul, that you are
unsatisfied?"

"Yes, often."

"Read those last verses again."

Her voice is the most beautiful I have ever heard, modulated,
expressive, filled with vibrant vitality and feeling, but this is the
first time she has read anything appertaining to love. I could hear that
she was restraining all emphasis, and trying to give the sensuous
passionate words a commonplace cold interpretation. Never before has she
read so monotonously. I knew, ("sensed" is the modern word), that this
was because she probably felt and understood every line and did not want
to let me see it. Suddenly I found myself becoming suffused with
emotion.

Why all the delay, the fencing, the fighting, to obtain this desired
thing! This woman--my mate!

That she is my mate I know. My mate because my love is not based upon
the senses alone, but is founded upon reverence and respect. I
hope--believe--I _am certain_ that we shall one day realize the truth of
the words:

  "When some strong-souls shall conquer their division,
  And two shall be as one eternally!
  Finding at last upon each others breasts
  Unutterable calm and infinite rest."

For me, that means love, not the mere gratifying of the hunting
instinct, not the mere primitive passion for the longed for body, but a
union of the souls, which can be satisfied, having soared beyond the
laws of change.

What is it which causes unrest? Obviously because something is wanting
upon one of the planes on which we love, and so that part which is
unsatisfied, unconsciously struggles to have its hunger assuaged
elsewhere.

There is no aspect of mind, body and soul in me, which I feel would find
no counterpart in Alathea. If I reached out to any height spiritually,
she could go as high, or higher. The cleverest working of the brain I
could hope to manifest would find a complete comprehension in her. And
as for the body! Any student of physiognomy can see that those delicate
little nostrils show passion, and that cupid's bow of a mouth will
delight in kisses!

Oh! My loved one, do not make we wait too long!

       *       *       *       *       *

Ye Gods! What a state of exaltation I was in when I wrote those lines
last night! But they are the truth, even if I now laugh at my expansion!

I wonder how many men are romantic underneath like I am and ashamed to
show it?

When Alathea had finished the verses for the second time, she again
dropped the book in her lap.

"What is your conception of love?" I asked casually.

"As I shall always have to crush it out of my life from now onward I
would rather not contemplate what my conception of it might have been."

"Why must you crush it out?" I asked blandly. "Your fidelity to me was
not part of the bargain, fidelity has to do with the sex relationships,
which do not concern us. One would not ask a secretary to become a nun,
on account of one. One would only ask her to behave decently, so as not
to shock the world's idea of the situation she was supposed to be
filling."

Her face grew subtle, a look came into the eyes which might have come
into George's or mine. I suddenly realized how well she really knows the
world from the hard school the circumstances of her life have caused her
to learn in.

"Then I may take a lover, some day, should I desire to?" she asked a
little cynically.

"Certainly, if you tell me about it and don't deceive me, or make me
look ridiculous. The bargain would be too unfair to you at your age
otherwise."

She looked straight into my eye now and hers were a little fierce.

"And you--shall you take a mistress?"

I watched the smoke of my cigarette curling.

"Possibly," I answered lazily, as though the matter were too much a
foregone conclusion to discuss. "Should you mind?"

A faint movement showed in her throat as if she had stopped herself
swallowing. She looked down. I know she finds it very difficult to lie,
and could not possibly do so if we were gazing at each other.

"Why should I mind?"

"No of course, why should you?"

She looked up then, but not at me. Her eyes flashed and her lip curled
in contempt.

"Two seems vulgar though," she snapped.

"I agree with you, the idea wounds my aesthetic senses."

"Then we need not expect another--in the flat just yet?"

At last it was out!

I appeared not to understand, and smoked on calmly, and before I could
answer the telephone rang. She handed me the instrument, and I said
"Hello." It was Coralie! She spoke very distinctly, and Alathea, who was
near, must have been able to hear most of the words in the silence.

"Nicholas, I am going to be by myself this evening, you will have a
dinner for me? Just us alone, _hein?_"

I permitted my face to express pleasure and amusement. _My wife_ watched
me agitatedly.

"_Non, chère Amie_--Alas! To-night I am engaged. But I shall see you
soon."

"_Est il vrai--ce mensonge-la?_"

Coralie said this loud!

I put up my hand so as to be able to continue observing Alathea's face.
It was the picture of disgust and resentment.

"Yes, it is perfectly true, Coralie--_Bon soir_."

In a temper, one could gather, Coralie put the receiver down! And I
laughed aloud.

"You see I prefer your intellectual conversation to any of my friends!"
I told Alathea.

Alathea's cheeks were a bright pink.

"It is not that," her tone was sarcastic, "so much as that you probably
have a sense of _tenue_, as the Duchesse says. After a little while you
will not have to observe it so strictly," and she rose from her chair
and went to the window. "If you are going to rest now, I would wish to
go out," her voice was a little hoarse.

"Yes, do go, and if you will be near the _rue de la Paix_ go into
Roberts' and ask if the new menthol preparation has come, and if so
bring it back to me, it takes ages for things to be sent now."

"I was not going to the _rue de la Paix_. I was going to a hospital."

"Never mind then, and don't hurry back, Burton will give me my tea. So
_au revoir_ until dinner Miladi."

I had to say all this because I was at breaking point, and could not any
longer have kept up the game, but would have made an ignominious
surrender, and have told her I loved her, and loathed the idea of a
mistress, and would certainly murder any lover she should ever glance
at!

She went from the room without a word more. And left alone I tried to
sleep, but it was no good. I was too excited. I don't think I am such a
fool as to flatter myself. I am trying to look at the situation
abstractedly. And it seems to me that Alathea is certainly interested in
me, certainly jealous of Suzette, of Coralie, furious with herself for
being so, really convinced now that she has lost her hold upon me,--and
is uneasy, rebellious, disturbed and unhappy!

All this is perfectly splendid,--my darling little girl!

After a while I went to sleep in my chair, and was awakened by Burton
coming in to turn on the lamps.

"Her Ladyship has ordered tea in her room, Sir Nicholas," he told me,
"Shall I bring yours here?"

"Her Ladyship has come in then?" I said.

"Her Ladyship did not go out, Sir," Burton answered surprised.

What did this mean I wondered? But I saw no sign of Alathea until she
came in ready for dinner as the clock struck eight.

She was pale but perfectly composed, she had evidently been having some
battle with herself and had won.

All through dinner she talked more politely and indifferently than she
has for a long time. She was brilliantly intelligent, and I had a most
delightful repast. We both came up to the scratch, I think.

She longs to visit Italy, she told me; she has not been there since she
was a child. I said I would take her directly the war would be over, and
things in the way of travel had become possible again. How strong her
will must be to have so mastered herself. No slightest sign of emotion,
one way or another, showed now. She was the serene, aloof companion of
the day at Versailles, before Suzette's shadow fell upon us. I grew
puzzled, as the evening wore on, and just a little unsure of myself. Had
I gone too far? Had I over disgusted her? Had all interest died out, and
so is she enabled to fulfill the bargain without any more disturbance of
mind?

I asked her to play to me at last, I was growing so apprehensive, and
she went from one divine thing to another for quite an hour, and then at
ten o'clock stopped and said a dignified and casual "good-night" leaving
me sitting in my chair.

I heard twelve and one strike after I too went to bed, no sleep would
come, I was reviewing things, and strengthening my courage. Then I got
up and hobbled into the salon to get the "Last Poems," the door was
open, why I don't know, nor do I know what impelled me to go out into
the passage and towards Alathea's room, some powerful magnet seemed to
draw me. The carpets are very deep and soft, no noise of footfalls can
be heard. I crept near the door and stopped. What was that faint sound?
I listened, yes it was a sob. I crept nearer.

_Alathea was crying._

A soft continued moaning as of one in resigned distress. I could hardly
bear it. I could hardly prevent myself from opening the door and going
to her to comfort her.

My darling, darling little girl!

Flight was my only resource. So I left her to her tears, and returned to
my bed, and when I was safely there and could think, a wild sense of
triumph and power and satisfaction filled me! The weight, which all the
evening her marvelous self-control had been able to make me feel, lifted
from my heart, and I rejoiced!

Is it possible that the primitive instinct of the joy of conquest could
make of me such a brute!

_It gave me pleasure to know that my little love suffered!_

The sooner would she belong to me--quite!



XXV


Marriage is the most turbulent state I could have imagined! Whether or
not Alathea and I will ever get the tangle straightened out I am not
certain. Now as I write--Saturday afternoon, the ninth of November,
1918--it looks as if we were parted forever, and I am so irritated and
angry that as yet I feel no grief.

The quarrel all arose from my fault, I suppose. When Alathea came into
the sitting-room at about ten o'clock she had blue circles round her
eyes, and knowing what caused them I determined to ask her about them
and disturb her as much as possible! This was mean of me.

"You poor child! You look as if you had been crying all night. I do hope
nothing is troubling you?"

Her cheeks flushed.

"Nothing, thank you."

"Your room cannot be properly aired then, or something. I have never
seen you looking so wretchedly. I do wish you would be frank with me.
Something must have worried you. People don't look like that for
nothing."

She clasped her hands together.

"I hate this talk about me. What does it matter how I look, or am, so
long as I do the things I am engaged for?"

I shrugged my shoulders. "I suppose it ought not to, but one has a
feeling that one hates anyone under one's roof to be unhappy."

"I am not unhappy. I mean not more unhappy than I have always had to
be."

"But the causes which made you sad before have been removed surely, only
things which are occurring now from day to day between you and me, can
bring fresh trouble. Is it something I have done?"

Silence.

"Alathea, if you knew how you exasperate me by your silences! I was
always taught that it was very rude not to answer when one was spoken
to."

"It depends upon who speaks, and what about, and whether they have a
right to an answer."

"Then the inference is that I have no right to an answer, when you are
silent?"

"Probably."

I grew irritated.

"Well, I think I have a right, I ask you a plain question--have I done
anything which has caused you distress--distress which is so evident
that you must have been crying!"

She threw up her arms.

"Why on earth cannot you keep to business, it is quite unfair. If I were
really your secretary and nothing more you would never persecute me for
answers like this!"

"Yes I would. I have a perfect right to know why anyone in my service is
unhappy. Your fencing tells me that it _is_ something which I have done
which has hurt you, and I insist upon knowing what it is."

"I shall not tell you," defiantly.

"I am very angry with you, Alathea," my voice was stern.

"I don't care!" hers was passionate.

"I think you are very rude."

"You have told me that before--well I am rude then! I will tell you
nothing. I will do nothing but just be your servant to obey orders which
relate to the work I have been engaged for."

I felt so furious I had to lie back in my chair and shut my eye.

"You have a very poor sense of a bargain, if you only keep it in the
letter. Your underneath constant hostility makes everything so
difficult, the inference of your whole attitude toward me, and of
everything you say and do, is that you feel injured, that you have some
grudge against me."

I tried to speak levelly.

"What on earth have I ever done to you except treat you with every
courtesy? Except that one day when you had the baby in your arms and I
was rude, but apologized, and that one other time when I kissed you, and
God knows I was sorry enough afterwards and have regretted it ever
since. What _is_ the reason of your attitude; it is absolutely unfair?"

This seemed to upset her considerably. She hated the idea that she was
thought unfair. It may have made her realize too that she _had_ a
definite sense of injury. She lost her temper, she stamped her scrap of
a foot.

"I hate you!" she burst out. "You and your bargain! I wish I was dead!"
and then she sank into the sofa and covered her face with her hands, and
by the shaking of her shoulders, I saw that she was crying!

If I had been cool enough to think then, I suppose I could have reasoned
that all this was probably most flattering to me, and an extra proof of
her state of mind, but the agitation it had plunged me into made me
unable to balance things, and I too allowed my temper to get the better
of me, and I got up as best I could and seizing my crutch, I walked
towards my bedroom door.

"I shall expect an apology," was all I said, and went in and left her
alone.

If we are to go on fighting like this, life won't be worth living!

I tried to calm myself and went in the window, but the servants came
into the room to make the bed, so I was forced to go back again to the
sitting-room. Alathea had gone into the little salon, I suppose, because
for the same reason, she could not have returned to her room. I sat down
in my chair quite exhausted. I did not feel like reading or doing
anything.

It was to-day that we were to go to the Duchesse's in the afternoon for
Alathea to be presented to our friends as my wife! I wondered if she
had forgotten this!

After an hour Burton came in with the second post.

"You do look badly, Sir Nicholas!" he said. His face was perplexed and
troubled. "Can I get you anything?"

"Where is Her Ladyship, Burton?"

Then he told me that she had gone out. I could see he wanted to say
something. His remarks are generally valuable.

"Out with it, Burton."

"I do think it is Mam'zelle that's causing all the trouble. As bad luck
would have it, as I opened the door to let Her Ladyship out, who should
come up the stairs a moment after but Mam'zelle! They must have passed
on the floor below. Neither had taken the lift, which as you know, Sir
Nicholas, is out of order again, since last night."

"Then she thinks Suzette has come in here to see me Burton. By Jove what
a devilish complication! I think we had better move from the flat as
quickly as we can."

"It seems as if it would be advisable, Sir Nicholas."

"Can you suggest anything, Burton? I really am quite knocked over
to-day."

"Her Ladyship don't chat to servants like some ladies, or I could easily
let her maid know that Mam'zelle don't visit here, so that won't do," he
mused. "You could not tell her yourself straight out. Sir Nicholas,
could you?"

"It would be difficult, because it presupposes I think she minds about
it, and for me to let her know that would insult her more than
anything."

"Beg pardon, Sir Nicholas, but there was a young woman some twenty years
ago, who had a temper like, and I always found it was best just to make
a fuss of her, and not do no reasoning. That is what they wants, Sir
Nicholas, indeed it is. I've watched them in all classes for a matter of
many years. You can get what you want of them if you only make a fuss of
them."

"What does 'to make a fuss of' exactly mean Burton?"

"Well, it is not for me to tell you Sir, knowing ladies as you do, but
it is just kissing and fondling them, and them things, makin' them feel
that they're just everything,--even reasonable, Sir Nicholas."

Burton's dryly humorous face delighted me. His advice was first class,
too!

"I'll think it over," I told him, and he left me alone.

That would be one way of winning or losing everything certainly! But it
would also be breaking my word, and I don't believe I could do that.

Alathea came in in time for luncheon. Her face was set in a mutinous
obstinate mould. We went into the dining-room immediately, and so there
was no chance of conversation. I noticed that she wore no bracelets or
rings, nothing of mine, not even the wedding ring.

We were icy to each other during the meal, and made conversation, and
when we were alone with the coffee I just said:

"I hope that you have not forgotten that at four o'clock we are to go to
the Duchesse's to meet the friends that she thinks it is suitable for
you to know."

Alathea started. I could see she had not registered this fact for this
date.

"I would rather not go," she said resentfully.

"I daresay you would. So would I, but we owe the Duchesse gratitude for
all her kindness to us, and I fear we must."

We did not speak further. I could not talk until she apologized, and I
rose to go out of the room. She gave me my crutch. Her not apologizing
made me burn with resentment.

I had not been in the salon a minute, however, before she came in, her
face crimson. She stood in front of me.

"I apologize for showing my temper this morning. Would it not do after
to-day if I just lived out somewhere, and came in and worked as before?
It is a perfect farce that I live here, and wear a wedding ring, even
the servants must be laughing at me."

"I notice you do not wear a wedding ring. Your whole attitude is
perfectly impossible, and I demand an explanation. What is the reason of
it? We made a bargain, and you are not keeping it."

"If you will give me time to work, I will pay you back the fifty
thousand francs, and the clothes and jewels I can leave behind me--I
want to go."

She spoke with a break in her voice now.

"Why do you want to go suddenly, there is nothing different to-day to
yesterday or any other day? I refuse to be the puppet of your caprices."

She stood clasping and unclasping her hands, never looking at me.

"Alathea," I said sternly, "look me straight in the face and tell me the
truth. _What_ is your reason."

"I can't" still her eyes were down.

"Is there someone else?" My voice sounded fierce to my own ears. I had a
sudden fear.

"But you said it would not matter if there was someone else--if I told
you," she answered defiantly.

"There is someone else then?" I tried to be casual. "Look at me."

Slowly she raised her eyes until they met my one.

"No, there is no one.--I just don't want to live here, in this flat any
longer."

"Unless you can give me some definite reason for this extraordinary
behaviour on your part, I am afraid I must refuse to discuss the
situation, and meanwhile will you please go to your room and fetch the
rings and bracelets."

She turned and left without a word--I daresay she wondered what I was
going to do with them.

She brought them back.

"Come here close."

She came rebelliously.

"Give me your hand."

"I won't."

"Alathea, I will seize it, crippled as I am, and make you obey me by
force if you will not for asking."

Her whole face expressed furious resentment, but she is too sensible and
level headed to make a scene, so she gave me her hand. I put the wedding
ring back, and the big diamond one.

"Now you will wear them until you convince me of your reason so
thoroughly that I myself take them off, the bracelets you can do as you
like about--throw them away, or give them to your maid. And this
afternoon I hope I can count upon your instincts of being a lady to make
you behave so that no one can chatter about us."

She drew away her hand, as though my touch burnt her. Her expression was
contemptuously haughty.

"Of course you can count upon me for this afternoon," and she turned and
went out of the room again.

And now I am waiting for her to come back dressed for the Duchesse's
reception, it is ten minutes to four o'clock. The volcano upon which we
are living cannot go on simmering much longer, there is bound to be an
explosion soon!

       *       *       *       *       *

_Later:_

Things are developing! My bride and I never spoke a word on the way to
the Hotel de Courville. She was looking the most desirable morsel a man
could wish to present to his friends. The sable cloak and the most
perfect frock and hat. Her maid is evidently a splendid hairdresser. She
was "of a _chic_," as Maurice afterwards told me.

I had telephoned and broken the news to him while I was waiting for
Alathea to come. He was not surprised, he pretended, and now that the
marriage is an accomplished fact, he is too well bred not to fall into
the attitude of delight about it. Maurice has no intention of dropping
me--married or single!

Thus when we arrived, and went up in the lift to the sitting-room, we
found him among the first to greet us.

The Duchesse kissed us both fondly, and said many pleasant things, and
having placed me in a suitable chair, brought everyone to me, and
presented Alathea to them all.

They were the very _crême de la crême_ of the Faubourg who could be
collected in Paris--many are still in the country. Coralie was there,
with two resentful pinpoints in her clever little eyes, but the most
gracious words on her lips.

They none of them could find fault with the appearance of my wife--nor
her manner. She has the ways of the _ancien régime_ like the Duchesse.
I could see that she was having a huge success.

While everything seemed to be going beautifully and all the company had
gone on into another small anti-room where the "_goûter_" was, my dear
old friend came to me.

"It is not progressing Nicholas--_Hein_?"

"There is some screw very loose, Duchesse. She absolutely hates me and
wants to go and live out of the flat!"

"_Tiens_!--She is jealous of some one. Nicholas, it is not possible that
you have still--?"

I did not grow angry.

"No indeed, that is over long ago, but I do believe she thinks it is
not. You see the person in question comes to see a relative who has
married an _antiquaire_ on the floor above me, and Alathea has seen her
on the stairs and imagines she comes to see me!"

"And you cannot tell her?"

"I am not supposed to know it would matter to her!"

"_Bon_. Do you really love the child, Nicholas?"

"_Chère Amie_, with my whole heart. I only want her in all the world."

"And she is being impossible for you surely! I know her character--if
she thinks you have a mistress--her pride is of _le diable_!"

"It is indeed."

The Duchesse laughed.

"We must see what can be done, dear boy. Imagine though what I have
discovered! That infamous father took that money that you gave, when the
affair had already been settled by _le Colonel_ Harcourt with your
money! A relation of mine attested at the investigation and had to know
the facts. Nicholas, you _preux chevalier_! You paid twice, and never
said a word! You are of a devotion! It was splendid of you, but my poor
Hilda is heartbroken that you have been so pillaged."

At that moment the crowd returned from the other room and the Duchesse
rose and left me.

Coralie now sat with me.

"_Mes compliments_, Nicholas! She is lovely! But what a fox,--thou!"

"Am I not? It is so delicious to find things out for oneself!"

Coralie laughed; she has a philosophic spirit, as I have found always
those much love-battered ones possess. She accepts my defection and
again looks to the main chance to see how she can benefit by it.

At last the whole thing was over, and Maurice and I had a cigarette
together in the tea room.

People would be crazy, "simply crazy, my dear chap," about Alathea, he
told me. She was "_séduisante_," how right I had been! How fortunate I
was! When was I going to England?

He said farewells after this, and once more _my wife_ and I were alone
in the brougham.

Alathea wore her mask. Having been received now as my wife, and by the
Duchesse whom she loves and respects, she knows she cannot go on
suggesting she will not live in the flat with me. She cannot bring
herself to speak about Suzette, because the inference would be that she
objects. I wondered if the Duchesse had been able to say anything to
her.

She did not speak at all and went straight to her room when we arrived.

It was five minutes past eight when she came in to the sitting-room.

"I am sorry if I have kept you waiting," were her first words.

At dinner we spoke ceremoniously of the party. And when we went back to
the salon she went straight to the piano and played divinely for an
hour.

The music soothed me. I felt less angry and disturbed.

"Won't you come over and speak now?" I called in a pause, and she came
over and sat down.

"Don't let us talk to-night," she said. "I am trying to adjust things in
my mind. I want to go to my mother to-morrow, if you will agree. She is
ill again, and has not been able to start. From there I will tell you if
I can force myself to keep on with it, or no."

"I cannot understand why it should be so difficult, the idea did not
affright you when we first talked of it. You voluntarily accepted the
proposal, made your bargain, promised to stick to it, and here after
three days you are trying to break out, and are insinuating that the
circumstances are too horrible for you to continue bearing it. Surely
your reason and common sense must tell you that your behaviour is
grotesque."

The same agitation which always shows when we talk thus overcame her
again. She did not speak.

"I could understand it better if you were a hysterical character. You
did not seem to be so, but now no ridiculous school miss of romance
could be more given to the vapours. You will absolutely destroy the
remaining respect I have for you, unless you tell me the truth, and what
is underneath in your mind influencing you to behave so childishly."

This stung her to the quick, as I had meant that it should. She bounded
up.

"Well,--I will then. I hate being in the house--with your mistress!"

She was trembling all over, and as white as marble.

I leaned back and laughed softly. My joy was so immense I could not help
it.

"To begin with, I have no mistress, but if I had how can it possibly
matter to you, since you hate me, and yourself arranged to be only my
secretary."

"You have no mistress!" I could see she thought I was lying ignobly.

"I had one, as of course you know, but the moment I began to think that
you might be an agreeable companion, I parted from her, at the time when
you saw the counterfoils in the cheque-book, and changed to me from
that moment."

"Then--?" she still looked incredulous.

"She has a cousin living in the flat above, married to an _anticaire_.
She comes to see her. You have no doubt met on the stairs. And on our
wedding day she came in here, not knowing, to thank me for a villa I had
given her at Monte Carlo as a good-bye present. I am very angry that she
intruded, and it shall never happen again."

"Is this true?" She was breathless.

That made me angry.

"I am not in the habit of lying," I said haughtily.

"_Mademoiselle la Blonde_," and her lips curled. "She came in while you
were at St. Malo. She inferred you had not parted then!"

"That was because she was jealous, and is very temperamental. I had
thought that quality was confined to her class."

I too can hit hard when I am insulted!

Alathea flashed at me. She was beginning to realize that she was at a
disadvantage.

"You are not unutterably shocked that I should have had a--friend, are
you?"

Her face grew contemptuous.

"No, my father had one. Men are all beasts."

"They may be in the abstract, but are not when they can find a woman
worth love and respect."

She shrugged her shoulders.

"My mother is an angel."

"Now that your mind is at rest as to this question, have you any other
cause of complaint against me? Though why it should matter to you what I
do or don't do in this respect, as long as I am courteous to you, and
fulfill my side of the bargain, I cannot think. One could imagine you
were jealous!"

"Jealous!" she flared furiously. "Jealous, I! How ridiculous.--One has
to care to be jealous!" and then she flounced out of the room.

Yes,--even when they appear all that is balanced, there is nothing so
amazing as a woman!



XXVI


_Sunday:_

I slept last night soundly for some strange reason, and woke quite late
on Sunday morning.

One frequently has some sense of depression or some sense of exhaltation
before one is quite conscious, and quite often cannot account for either
state. Presumably Alathea had left me full of contemptuous indifference,
but I awoke with a feeling of joy and satisfaction, which gradually
changed to flatness, when I became fully aware of things.

For indeed what reason had I for great rejoicing? None, except that the
menace of the Suzette bogie may be lifted.

I rang for Burton. It was nine o'clock.

"Has Her Ladyship breakfasted yet, Burton?"

"Her Ladyship breakfasted at eight, and left the house at half-past, Sir
Nicholas."

My heart sank. So I was going to have a lonely morning. She had said she
wanted to go to her mother, I remembered now. I did not hurry to get up.
The doctors were coming with the wonderful artist who is making my new
foot, at twelve o'clock, and I am to have it on to-day for the first
time. This would be a surprise for Alathea when she returned to lunch. I
read my journal in bed, and thought over the whole of our acquaintance.
Yes, certainly she has greatly changed in the last six weeks. And
possibly I am nearer my goal than I could have dared to hope.

Now my method must be to be sweet to her, and not tease her any more.

How wonderful it will be when she does love me. I have not thought much
about my own feelings lately. She has kept me so often irritated and
angry, but I know that there is a steady advance, and that I love her
more than ever.

To see her little mutinous rebellious face softening--?--it will be
worth all the waiting. But meanwhile she is out, and I had better get
up!

       *       *       *       *       *

I wonder if all the hundreds of other fellows who lost a leg below the
knee and were cripples for eighteen months felt the same as I did when
the new limb was fixed, and they stood upon two feet again for the first
time.

A strange, almost mad sense of exaltation filled me. I could walk! I was
no longer a prisoner, dependent upon the devotion of attendants!

I should no longer have to have things placed within reach, and be made
to realize impotency!

It hurt and was awkward for a while.--But Oh! the joy, joy, joy!!

After the doctors and the specialist had gone with hearty
congratulations, my dear old faithful servant had tears in his eyes as
he dressed me.

"You must excuse me, Sir Nicholas, but I am so glad."

Excuse him! I could have hugged him in my own joy.

He arrayed me in one of Mr. Davies's pre-war masterpieces, and we both
stood in front of the long glass in my bedroom, and then we solemnly
shook hands!

It was too glorious!

I wanted to run about! I wanted to shout and sing. I played idiotic
tricks, walking backwards and forwards, like one of Shackleton's
penguins. Then I went back to the glass again, actually whistling a
tune! Except for the black patch over my eye, I appeared very much the
same as I used to do before the war. My shoulder is practically straight
now. I am a little thinner, and perhaps my face bears traces of
suffering, but in general I don't look much altered.

I wonder what Alathea will say when she sees me! I wonder if it will
make any difference to her?

To-morrow morning they are going to put in my eye.

I have not written all this in my journal, it seemed too good to be
true, and I had a kind of superstitious feeling that I must not even
think of it, much less write, in case it did not come off. But now the
moment has come! I am a man again on two feet. Hurrah!

I looked out of the window and kissed my hand to a young girl in the
street. I wanted to call to her, "I could walk with you now, perhaps
soon I could run!" She looked at me with the corner of her eye!

Then I planned how I would surprise Alathea! I would be in my bedroom
when I knew she was in the salon before lunch, and then I would walk in!

I became excited, there was about a quarter of an hour to wait. I tried
to sit down and settle to a book, but it was useless, the words conveyed
no sense. I could not even read the papers!

I began listening to every sound, there were not many things passing at
this time on a Sunday morning, but of course she was walking, not
driving. One o'clock struck. She had not returned. Burton came in to ask
if I would postpone lunch.

"Her Ladyship did not say when she would be back," he said.

"We had better not wait then. I believe now she told me she would not be
in."

Burton had opened a pint of champagne. On this tremendous occasion he
felt I should drink my own health!

I had begun to lose some of my joy.----I wished she had been here to
share it with me.----

       *       *       *       *       *

I have walked up and down--up and down. It is four o'clock now, and she
has not returned. No doubt her mother is ill, perhaps,--perhaps--


_Midnight:_

I have spent a beastly day. My exhilaration has all evaporated now. I
have had no one to share it with me. Maurice and everyone is leaving me
discreetly alone, knowing I am supposed to be on my
honeymoon--Honeymoon!

I spent the afternoon waiting, waiting. And after tea when Alathea had
not arrived I began taking longer turns, walking up and down the broad
corridor, and at last I paused outside her room, and a desire came over
me to look in on it, and see how she had arranged it.

There was silence. I listened a moment, then I opened the door.

The fire was not lit, it all seemed cold and cheerless. I turned on the
light.

Except for the tortoise-shell and gold brushes and boxes I had had put
on the dressing table for her, there was not an indication that anyone
stayed there, none of the usual things women have about in their rooms.
One could see she looked upon it just as an hotel, and not a permanent
abode. There were no photographs of her family, no books of her own,
nothing.

Only the bracelets were on the table still in their case, and on looking
nearer, I saw there was a bottle of scent. It had no label, and when I
opened it I smelled the exquisite perfume of fresh roses that she uses.
Where does she get it? It is the purest I have ever smelt in my life.

I looked at the quaint little fourpost bed that I had found in that shop
at Bath, a perfect specimen of its date, about 1699, with the old deep
rose silk pressed over the shell carving.

I had an insane desire to open the drawers in the chest and touch her
stockings and gloves. I had a wild feeling altogether I wanted my love,
rebellious, unrelenting, anyhow! I just longed for her.

I resisted my stupidities and made myself leave the room, and then tried
to feel joy again in my leg.

Burton was turning on the lamps when I got back to the salon.

"There are rumours that something is going to happen, Sir
Nicholas,--talk of an Armistice I heard when I was out. Do you think
Foch will do it?"

But I know all these rumours and talks, we have heard them before, so
this did not affect me. I could feel nothing, as time went on, but a
passionate ache. Why, why must she be so cruel to me? Why does she leave
me all alone?

Alathea, I would never be so unkind to you. And yet I don't know, if I
were jealous and angry, as I suppose she is, I could of course be much
crueler.

Her Ladyship's maid had been given the day out by her mistress, Burton
informed me, so that we could gain no information from her. We waited
until half-past eight for dinner, but still my little girl did not come,
and in solemn state in a white tie and tail coat, I dined--alone!

In spite of the champagne, which Burton again handed, apprehension set
in. What can have happened to her? Has she had an accident? Does she
mean never to return? Are all my calculations of no sense, and has she
left me forever?

In despair, at ten o'clock I telephoned the Hotel de Courville.

Lady Thormonde had been there in the morning, I was told, but the
Duchesse had left for Hautevine at two o'clock.--No one was in the house
now.--No, they did not know Lady Hilda Bulteel's telephone number. She
had no telephone they supposed.--No, they did not know the address.

Auteuil, and the name Bulteel, that is all! Perhaps something could be
done on a week-day, but on a Sunday night, in war time, all was
impossible. And at last in an agony of doubt and apprehension, I
consented to retire to bed.

Had I made some mistake? I tried to remember. She had said she meant to
decide if she could bear the situation or no, and that she was going to
her mother. She wanted to be with her. She had been ill and could not
start. Yes, of course that is it. The mother is ill, and they have no
telephone. I must wait until the morning. She cannot really mean not to
come back. In any case she would have let me know.

But what an agony of suspense!

Burton came and gave me my medicine, when I was in bed, and although I
knew it was a camouflaged sleeping draught, I drank it. I just could not
bear it any longer.

But I only slept until four, and now I am sitting up writing this, and
I feel as if every queer force was abroad, and that all sorts of
momentous things are happening.--Oh, when will daylight come--

       *       *       *       *       *

I was awakened by cannon!

I leaped from my bed. Yes, leaped! I had been dreaming that a surprise
party of Germans were attacking the trench, and I was just rallying the
men for a final dash when heavy guns began a bombardment which was
unexpected.--Oh God! let me get up and over the top in time!

Wild with excitement, I was now wide awake!

Yes, there were cannons booming!

Had Bertha begun again?

What was happening?

Then I heard murmurs in the street. I rang the bell violently. I had
slept very late. Burton rushed in.

"An Armistice, Sir Nicholas," he cried joyously.

"It's true after all!"

An Armistice! Oh, God!

So at last, at last we have won, and it has not been all in vain!

I shook with emotion. How utterly absorbed in my own affairs I had been
not to have taken in that this was coming. George Harcourt had
telephoned that he had news for me, I remember now, while we were at the
Hotel de Courville on Saturday, and I had paid no attention.

I was too excited all through breakfast to feel renewed anxiety about
Alathea. I was accepting the fact that she had stayed with her mother.
Surely, surely she would be in soon now!

The oculist, and his artist-craftsman, would be arriving soon, at eleven
o'clock, if the excitement of an Armistice does not prevent them! I hope
all that won't be going on when Alathea does come in!

Burton has questioned her maid. She knows nothing of Miladi's movements
only that she herself had been given permission to go out for the day.

All the servants have gone more or less crazy! Pierre hopped in just
now, jolly old chap! and in his excitement embraced me on both cheeks!

(He has a wooden stump, not a smart footed thing like mine, but I shall
change all that now!).

Antoine could not contain himself, and heaven knows what the
underservants did!

I told them all to run out and see what was happening, but Pierre said
no, the _déjeuner_ of Monsieur must not be neglected. Time enough in the
afternoon!

Eleven came, and with it the oculist, and by luncheon time I had a
second blue eye! But Oh! the shouting in the streets and the passionate
joy in the air!

The two men preened themselves upon keeping this appointment upon so
great a day, and indeed my gratitude was deep. But the same gladness did
not hold me as when my leg was given back to me. Everything was now
swallowed up in an overwhelming suspense.

What could have kept Alathea?

I walked to the glass soberly when the doctors had gone, eager to get
away and join the rejoicers. And what I saw startled me. How astonishing
the art of these things is now! Unless I turn my glance in some
impossible way I have apparently two bright blue eyes, with the same
lids and lashes, the scrap of shrapnel only injured the orb itself, and
did not touch the lid, fortunately, and the socket had healed up
miraculously in the last month. I am not now a disgusting object.
Perhaps, possibly--Yes, can I induce her to love me soon?

But what is the good of it all? She has not returned, and now something
must be done.

But on this day of days no one could be found to attend to anything!
Shops were shut, post offices did not work. The city was mad with
rejoicing.

At luncheon I ate,--gulped down my food. Burton's calm reassured me.

"You don't think anything has happened, do you Burton?"

"No, Sir Nicholas. Her Ladyship is no doubt with her family. I don't
feel that anything is amiss. Her Grace returns to-morrow anyway, and we
can hear for sure then. Would you not care to drive out and see the
people, Sir? It is a day!"

But I told him no. He must go, they all could go. I would wait in and
could now attend to myself! But I knew somehow that the dear old boy
would not leave me.

The hours went by, the shouting grew louder, as bands passed on their
way to the _Champs Elysées_ to see the cannon, which I heard were now
dragged there. Burton came in from time to time to tell me the news,
gathered from the _concierge_ below.

I telephoned to Maurice, he was wild with delight! They were going to
have a great dinner at the Ritz and then go and _farandole_ in the
streets with the people, would not we (_we!_) join them!

Everyone was going. Odette telephoned too, and Daisy Ryven. All were
rejoicing and happy.

The agony grew and grew. What if she means to leave me and has just
disappeared, not telling me on purpose to punish me? At this thought I
went frantically into her room again, and looked on the dressing-table.
The ring cases were there in a drawer in the William and Mary
looking-glass, but no rings. No, if she had not meant to return she
would have left them behind her. This gave me hope.

I had the fire lit. Burton lit it, everyone else was out.

Of course the crowd has prevented her returning. There would be great
difficulty in getting back from Auteuil.

Some of the fellows of the Supreme War Council rang up. They were less
exhilarated by the news. A pity, they thought. Foch could have entered
Berlin in a week!

At last, when I had been pacing like a restless tiger, and twilight was
coming, I sank into my chair overcome with the strain.

I did not mean to feel the drivel of self pity, but it is a ghastly
thing to be all alone and anxious, when everyone else is shouting for
joy.

I was staring into the fire. I had not had the lights lit on purpose. I
wanted the soft shadows to soothe me. Burton had gone down again to the
_concierge_.

A bitterness and a melancholy I cannot describe was holding me. Of what
good my leg and my eye if I am to suffer torment once more? A sense of
forsakenness held me. Perhaps I dozed, because I was worn out, when
suddenly I was conscious of a closing door, and opening my eye, I saw
that Alathea stood before me.

A log fell and blazed brightly, and I could see that her face was
greatly moved.

"I am so sorry if you have been anxious.--Burton says you have. I would
have been back earlier but I was caught in the crowd."

I reached out and turned on the lamp near me, and when she saw my eye
and leg, she fell upon her knees at my side.

"Oh! Nicholas," she cried brokenly, and I put out my hand and took her
hand.

       *       *       *       *       *

What a thing is joy!

My heart beat madly, the blood rushed in my veins. What was that noise I
heard in my ear beyond the shouting in the street?

Was it the cooing which used to haunt my dreams?

Yes it was. And Alathea's voice was murmuring in French:

"_Pardon, pardon, j' etais si bien ingrate--Pardonnez moi--Hein?_"

I wanted to whisper:

"Darling you have returned,--nothing matters any more," but I controlled
myself. She must finally surrender first!

Then she sprang to her feet and stood back to look at me. I rose too and
there towered above her.

"Oh, I am so glad, so glad," she said tremulously. "How wonderful,--how
miraculous!--It is for this great day!"

"I thought that you had left me altogether." I was a little breathless,
"I was so very sad."

Now she looked down.

"Nicholas," (how I loved to hear her pronounce my name) "Nicholas, I
have heard from my mother of your great generosity. You had helped us
without ever telling me, and then paid again to stop my mother's
anxiety, and again to stop mine. Oh! I am ashamed,--humbled, that I have
been as I have been to you, forgive me, forgive me, I ask you to from my
heart."

"I have nothing to forgive child. Come let us sit down and talk
everything over," and I sank into the sofa and she came beside me.

She would not look at me, however, but her little face was gentle and
shy. "I cannot understand though why you did all that. I cannot
understand anything about it all.--You do not love me.--You only wanted
me for your secretary, and yet you paid over a hundred thousand francs!
The generosity is great."

I gazed and gazed at her.

"And you hate me," I said as coolly as I could "and let me buy you, so
that you could save your family.--Your sacrifice was immense."

Suddenly she looked straight up at me, her eyes filled with passion, so
that wild fire kindled in my blood.

"Nicholas,--I do not hate you."

I took both her hands and drew her to me, while outside in the street
they were singing the _Marseillaise_ and yelling for joy.

"Alathea, tell me the truth, what then do you feel?"

"I don't know. I wanted to murder Suzette. I could have drowned
Coralie.--Perhaps you can tell me,--here in your arms--!"

And with wild abandon she fell forward into my fond embrace.

Ah! God! The bliss of the next few moments with her soft lips pressed to
mine! Then I could not repeat often enough that I loved her, nor make
her tell me how she loved me in return!

Afterwards, I grew masterful and ordered her to recount to me everything
from the very beginning.

Yes, she had been attracted by me from the first day, but she hated the
friends I had round me, and she did not like the aimlessness of my life.

"Whenever I used to be growing too contemptous though, Nicholas, I used
to remember the V.C., and then the feeling went off, but I was growing
angrier and angrier with myself, because in spite of believing you only
thought of me as one of them, I could not prevent myself from loving
you. There is something about you that made one forget all about your
leg and your eye!"

"Those cheques disgusted you!" and I kissed the little curl by her
ear--she was clasped close to me now.--"That was the beginning of my
determination to conquer you and have you for my own!"

She caressed my hair.

"I adore thick hair, Nicholas," she whispered, "but now you have had
enough flattery! I am off to dress!"

She struggled and pretended she wanted to leave me, but I would not let
her go.

"Only when I please and at a price! I want to show you that you have a
husband who in spite of a wooden leg and a glass eye, is a powerful
brute!"

"I love you,--strong like that," she cooed, her eyes soft with passion
again. "I am not good really,--or austere,--or cold."

And I knew it was true as she paid the toll!

Presently I made her let me come and choose which frock she was to put
on for dinner, and I insisted that I should stay and see her hair being
brushed, and the maid, Henriette, with her French eye, beamed upon us
understandingly!

While Burton almost blubbered with happiness when I told him His
Ladyship and I were friends again.

"I knew it, Sir Nicholas, if you'd just made a fuss of her."

How right he was!

What a dinner we had, gay as two children, fond and foolish as
sweethearts always are,--and then the afterwards!

"Let us go and see the streets," my little love implored, "I feel that
we should shout our divine happiness with the crowd!"

But when we went out on the balcony to investigate, we saw that would be
impossible, I am not yet steady enough on my feet to have faced that
throng. So we stood there and sang and cheered with them, as they swept
on towards the _Arc de Triomphe_, and gradually a delirious intoxication
held us both, and I drew her back into the softly lighted room.

"Lover!" she whispered as she melted into my arms, and all I answered
was, "Soul of Mine."

And now I know what the whole of those verses mean!

And so this Journal is done!





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