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Title: Quisanté
Author: Hope, Anthony, 1863-1933
Language: English
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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.

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                      _Methuen's Colonial Library_


                              QUISANTÉ



                          BY THE SAME AUTHOR

                    A Man of Mark
                    Mr. Witt's Widow
                    Father Stafford
                    A Change of Air
                    Half a Hero
                    The Prisoner of Zenda
                    The God in the Car
                    The Dolly Dialogues
                    Comedies of Courtship
                    The Chronicles of Count Antonio
                    The Heart of Princess Osra
                    Phroso
                    Simon Dale
                    Rupert of Hentzau
                    The King's Mirror



                              QUISANTÉ


                                 BY

                            ANTHONY HOPE



                            METHUEN & CO.
                        36 ESSEX STREET, W.C.
                                LONDON
                                 1900

                          _Colonial Library_



                              CONTENTS

CHAPTER                                                          PAGE

    I. DICK BENYON'S OUTSIDER                                       1
   II. MOMENTS                                                     16
  III. SANDRO'S WAY                                                31
   IV. HE'S COMING!                                                46
    V. WHIMSY-WHAMSIES                                             65
   VI. ON DUTY HILL                                                84
  VII. ADVICE FROM AUNT MARIA                                     101
 VIII. CONTRA MUNDUM                                              120
   IX. LEAD US NOT--                                              137
    X. PRACTICAL POLITICS                                         155
   XI. SEVENTY-SEVEN AND SUSY SINNETT                             176
  XII. A HIGHLY CORRECT ATTITUDE                                  196
 XIII. NOT SUPERHUMAN                                             215
  XIV. OPEN EYES                                                  235
   XV. A STRANGE IDEA                                             257
  XVI. THE IRREVOCABLE                                            279
 XVII. DONE FOR?                                                  301
XVIII. FOR LACK OF LOVE?                                          321
  XIX. DEATH DEFIED                                               339
   XX. THE QUIET LIFE TO-MORROW                                   355
  XXI. A RELICT                                                   371



    Transcriber's Note

    The following sentence, found in Chapter IX., was originally printed
     with the "three several" error and has not been changed:

        That evening Quisanté brought home to dinner the gentleman whom
        Dick Benyon called old Foster the maltster, and who had been
        Mayor of Henstead three several times.



                              QUISANTÉ.



                              CHAPTER I.

                       DICK BENYON'S OUTSIDER.


A shrunken sallow old lady, dressed in rusty ill-shaped black and
adorned with an evidently false 'front' of fair hair, sat in a tiny
flat whose windows overlooked Hyde Park from south to north. She was
listening to a tall loose-built dark young man who walked restlessly
about the little room as he jerked out his thoughts and challenged the
expression of hers. She had known him since he was a baby, had brought
him up from childhood, had always served him, always believed in him,
never liked him, never offered her love nor conciliated his. His father
even, her only brother Raphael Quisanté, she had not loved; but she had
respected Raphael. Alexander--Sandro, as she alone of all the world
called him--she neither loved nor respected; him she only admired and
believed in. He knew his aunt's feelings well enough; she was his ally,
not his friend; kinship bound them, not affection; for his brain's sake
and their common blood she was his servant, his heart she left alone.

Thus aware of the truth, he felt no obligation towards her, not even
when, as now, he came to ask money of her; what else should she do with
her money, where else lay either her duty or her inclination? She did
not love him, but he was her one interest, the only tie that united her
with the living moving world and the alluring future years, more
precious to her since she could see so few of them.

"I don't mean to make myself uncomfortable," said Miss Quisanté. "How
much do you want?" He stopped and turned round quickly with a gleam of
eagerness in his eyes, as though he had a vision of much wealth. "No,
no," she added with a surly chuckle, "the least you'll take is the most
I'll give."

"I owe money."

"Who to?" she asked, setting her cap uncompromisingly straight. "Jews?"

"No. Dick Benyon."

"That money you'll never pay. I shan't consider that."

The young man's eyes rested on her in a long sombre glance; he seemed
annoyed but not indignant, like a lawyer whose formal plea is brushed
aside somewhat contemptuously by an impatient truth-loving judge.

"You've got five hundred a year or thereabouts," she went on, "and no
wife."

He threw himself into a chair; his face broke into a sudden smile,
curiously attractive, although neither sweet nor markedly sincere.
"Exactly," he said. "No wife. Well, shall I get one with five hundred a
year?" He laughed a little. "An election any fine day would leave me
penniless," he added.

"There's Dick Benyon," observed the old lady.

"They talk about that too much already," said Quisanté.

"Come, Sandro, you're not sensitive."

"And Lady Richard hates me. Besides if you want to impress fools, you
must respect their prejudices. Give me a thousand a year; for the
present, you know."

He asked nearly half the old lady's income; she sighed in relief. "Very
well, a thousand a year," she said. "Make a good show with it. Live
handsomely. It'll pay you to live handsomely."

A genuine unmistakable surprise showed itself on his face; now there was
even the indignation which a reference to non-payment of debts had
failed to elicit.

"I shall do something with it, you might know that," he said
resentfully.

"Something honest, I mean."

"What?"

"Well, something not criminal," she amended, chuckling again. "I'm sorry
to seem to know you so well," she added.

"Oh, we know one another pretty well," said he with a nod. "Never the
jam without the powder from you."

"But always the jam," said old Maria. "And you'll find the world a good
deal like your aunt, Sandro."

An odd half-cunning half-eager gleam shot across his eyes.

"A man finds the world what he makes it," he said. He rose, came and
stood over her, and went on, laughing. "But the devil makes an aunt once
and for all, and won't let one touch his handiwork."

"You can touch her savings, though!"

He blazed out into a sudden defiance. "Oh, refuse if you like. I can
manage without you. You're not essential to me."

She smiled, her thin lips setting in a wry curve. Now and then it seemed
hard that there could be no affection between her and the one being whom
the course of events plainly suggested for her love. But, as Sandro
said, they knew one another very well. In the result she felt entitled
to assume no airs of superiority; he had not been a dutiful or a
grateful nephew, she had not been a devoted or a patient aunt; as she
looked back, she was obliged to remember one or two occasions when he
had driven or betrayed her into a severity of which she did not
willingly think. This reflection dictated the words with which she met
his outburst.

"You can tell your story on Judgment Day and I'll tell mine," she said.
"Oh, neither of 'em will lose in the telling, I'll be bound. Meanwhile
let's be----"

"Friends?" he suggested with an obvious but not ill-natured sneer.

"Lord, no! Whatever you like! Banker and client, debtor and creditor,
actor and audience? Take your choice--and send me your bank's address."

He nodded slightly, as though he concluded a bargain, not at all as
though he acknowledged a favour. Yet he remarked in a ruminative tone,
"I shall be very glad of the money."

A moment's pause followed. Then Miss Quisanté observed reluctantly,

"The only thing I ever care to know about you is what you're planning,
Sandro. Don't I earn that by my thousand a year?"

"Well, here you are. I'm started, thanks to Dick Benyon and myself. I've
got my seat, I can go on now. But I'm an outsider still." He paused a
moment. "I feel that; Benyon feels it too. I want to obviate it a bit. I
mean to marry."

"An insider?" asked the old lady. She looked at him steadily. "Your
taste's too bad," she said; he was certainly dressed in a rather bizarre
way. "And your manners," she added. "She won't have you," she ended.
Quisanté took no notice and seemed not to hear; he stood quite still by
the window, staring over the park. "Besides she'll know what you want
her for."

He wheeled round suddenly and looked down at his aunt. His face was
softer, the cunningness had gone from his smile, his eyes seemed larger,
clearer, even (by a queer delusion of sight) better set and wider apart.

"Yes, I'll show her that," he said in a low voice, with a new richness
of tone.

Old Maria looked up at him with an air of surprise.

"You do want her for that? As a help, I mean?" she asked.

His lips just moved to answer "Yes." Aunt Maria's eyes did not leave his
face. She remembered that when he had come before to talk about
contesting the seat in Parliament he had now won, there had been a
moment (poised between long periods of calculation and elaborate
forecasts of personal advantage) in which his face had taken on the same
soft light, the same inspiration.

"You odd creature!" she murmured gently. "She's handsome, I suppose?"

"Superb--better than that."

"A swell?" asked old Maria scornfully.

"Yes," he nodded.

His aunt laughed. "A Queen among women?" was the form her last question
took.

"An Empress," said Alexander Quisanté, the more ornate title bursting
gorgeously from his lips.

"Just the woman for you then!" remarked Aunt Maria. A stranger would
have heard nothing in her tone save mockery. Quisanté heard more, or did
not hear that at all. He nodded again quite gravely, and turned back to
the window. There were two reasonable views of the matter; either the
lady was not what Quisanté declared her, or if she were she would have
nothing to do with Quisanté. But Aunt Maria reserved her opinion; she
was prepared to find neither of these alternatives correct.

For there was something remarkable about Sandro; the knowledge that had
been hers so long promised fair to become the world's discovery. Society
was travelling towards Aunt Maria's opinion, moved thereto not so much
by a signally successful election fight, nor even by a knack of
distracting attention from others and fixing it on himself, as by the
monstrous hold the young man had obtained and contrived to keep over
Dick Benyon. Dick was not a fool; here ended his likeness to Quisanté;
here surely ought to end his sympathy with that aspiring person? But
there was much more between them; society could see that for itself,
while doubters found no difficulty in overhearing Lady Richard's open
lamentations. "If Dick had known him at school or at Cambridge----" "If
he was somebody very distinguished----" "If he was even a gentleman----"
Eloquent beginnings of unfinished sentences flowed with expressive
freedom from Amy Benyon's pretty lips. "I don't want to think my husband
mad," she observed pathetically to Weston Marchmont, himself one of the
brightest hopes of that party which Dick Benyon was understood to
consider in need of a future leader. Was that leader to be Quisanté?
Manners, not genius, Amy declared to be the first essential. "And I
don't believe he's got genius," she added hopefully; that he had no
manners did not need demonstration to Marchmont, whose own were so
exquisite as to form a ready-make standard.

And it was not only Dick. Jimmy was as bad. Nobody valued Jimmy's
intellect, but every one had been prepared to repose securely on the
bedrock of his prejudices. He was as infatuated as his brother; Quisanté
had swept away the prejudices. The brethren were united in an effort to
foist their man into every circle and every position where he seemed to
be least wanted; to this end they devoted time, their social reputation,
enthusiasm, and, as old Maria knew, hard money. They were triple-armed
in confidence. Jimmy met remonstrances with a quiet shrug; Dick had one
answer, always the same, given in the same way--a confident assertion,
limited and followed, an instant later, by one obvious condition,
seemingly not necessary to express. "You'll see, if he lives," he
replied invariably when people asked him what there was after all in Mr.
Quisanté. Their friends could only wonder, asking plaintively what the
Duke thought of his brothers' proceedings. The Duke, however, made no
sign; making no sign ranked as a characteristic of the Duke's.

When Lady Richard discussed this situation with her friends the Gaston
girls, she gained hearty sympathy from Fanny, but from May no more than
a mocking half-sincere curiosity.

"Is it possible for a man to like both me and Mr. Quisanté?" Lady
Richard asked. "And after all Dick does like me very much."

"Likes both his wife and Mr. Quisanté! What a man for paradoxes!" May
murmured.

"Jimmy's worse if anything," the aggrieved wife went on. This remark was
levelled straight at Fanny; Jimmy being understood to like Fanny, a
parallel problem presented itself. Fanny recognized it but, not choosing
to acknowledge Jimmy's devotion, met it by referring to Marchmont's
openly professed inability to tolerate Quisanté.

"I always go by Mr. Marchmont's judgment in a thing like that," she
said. "He's infallible."

"There's no need of infallibility, my dear," observed Lady Richard
irritably. "Ordinary common sense is quite enough." She turned suddenly
on May. "You talked to him for nearly an hour the other night," she
said.

"Yes--how you could!" sighed Fanny.

"I couldn't help it. He talked to me."

"About those great schemes that he's filled poor dear Dick's head with?
Not that I doubt he's got plenty of schemes--of a sort you know."

"He didn't talk schemes," said Lady May. "He was worse than that."

"What did he do?" asked her sister.

"Flirted."

A sort of gasp broke from Lady Richard's lips; she gazed helplessly at
her friends. Fanny began to laugh. May preserved a meditative
seriousness; she seemed to be reviewing Quisanté's efforts in a judicial
spirit.

"Well?" said Lady Richard after the proper pause.

"Oh well, he was atrocious, of course," May admitted; her tone, however,
expressed a reluctant homage to truth rather than any resentment. "He
doesn't know how to do it in the least."

"He doesn't know how to do anything," Lady Richard declared.

"Most men are either elephantine or serpentine," said Fanny. "Which was
he, dear?"

"I don't think either."

"Porcine?" asked Lady Richard.

"No. I haven't got an animal for him. Well, yes, he was a little
weaselly perhaps. But----" She glanced at Lady Richard as she paused,
and then appeared to think that she would say no more; she frowned
slightly and then smiled.

"I like his cheek!" exclaimed Fanny with a simplicity that had survived
the schoolroom.

Lady Richard screwed her small straight features into wrinkles of
disgust and a shrug seemed to run all over her little trim
smartly-gowned figure; no presumption could astonish her in Quisanté.

"Why in the world did you listen to him, May?" Fanny went on.

"He interested me. And every now and then he was objectionable in rather
an original way."

With another shrug, inspired this time by her friend's mental vagaries,
Lady Richard diverged to another point.

"And that was where you were all the time Weston Marchmont was looking
for you?" she asked.

May began to laugh. "Somehow I'm generally somewhere else when Mr.
Marchmont looks for me," she said. "It isn't deliberate, really; I like
him very much, but when he comes near me, some perverse fate seems to
set my legs moving in the opposite direction."

"Well, Alexander Quisanté's a perverse fate, if you like," said Lady
Richard.

"It's curious how there are people one's like that towards. You're very
fond of them, but it seems quite certain that you'll never get much
nearer to them. Is it fate? Or is it that in the end there's a--a
solution of sympathy, a break somewhere, so that you stop just short of
finding them absolutely satisfying?"

Neither of her friends answered her. Lady Richard did not deal in
speculations; Fanny preferred not to discuss, even indirectly, her
sister's feelings towards Marchmont; they bred in her a mixture of
resentment and relief too complicated for public reference. It was
certainly true enough that he and May got no nearer to one another; if
the break referred to existed somewhere, its effect was very plain; how
could it display itself more strikingly than in making the lady prefer
Quisanté's weaselly flirtation to the accomplished and enviable homage
of Weston Marchmont? And preferred it she had, for one hour of life at
least. Fanny felt the anger which we suffer when another shows
indifference towards what we should consider great good fortune.

But indifference was not truly May's attitude towards Marchmont. Nobody,
she honestly thought, could be indifferent to him, to his handsomeness,
his grace and refinement, the fine temper of his mind, his indubitable
superiority of intellect; in everything he was immeasurably above the
ordinary run of her acquaintance, the well-groomed inconsiderables of
whom she knew such a number. Being accustomed to look this world in the
face unblinkingly, she did not hesitate to add that he possessed great
wealth and the prospect of a high career. He was all, and indeed rather
more, than she, widowed Lady Attlebridge's slenderly dowered daughter,
had any reason to expect. She wanted to expect no more, if possible
really to regard this opportunity as greater luck than she had a right
to anticipate. The dissatisfaction which she sought to explain by
talking of a solution of sympathy was very obstinate, but justice set
the responsibility down to her account, not to his; analysing her
temperament, without excusing it, she found a spirit of adventure and
experiment--or should she say of restlessness and levity?--which
Marchmont did not minister to nor yet assuage. The only pleasure that
lay in this discovery came from the fact that it was so opposed to the
general idea about her. For it was her lot to be exalted into a type of
the splendid calm patrician maiden. In that sort of vein her friends
spoke of her when they were not very intimate, in that sort of language
she saw herself described in gushing paragraphs that chronicled the
doings of her class. Stately, gracious, even queenly, were epithets
which were not spared her; it would have been refreshing to find some
Diogenes of a journalist who would have called her, in round set terms,
discontented, mutinous, scornful of the ideal she represented, a very
hot-bed of the faults the beauty of whose absence was declared in her
dignified demeanour. Now what May looked, that Fanny was; but poor
Fanny, being slight of build, small in feature, and gay in manner, got
no credit for her exalted virtues and could not be pressed into service
as the type of them. For certainly types must look typical. May's
comfort in these circumstances was that Marchmont's perfect breeding and
instinctive avoidance of display, of absurdity, even of betraying any
heat of emotion, saved her from the usual troubles which an unsatisfied
lover entails on his mistress. He looked for her no doubt, but with no
greater visible perturbation than if she had been his handkerchief.

An evening or two later Dick Benyon took her in to dinner. Entirely in
concession to him--for the subject had passed from her own thoughts--she
asked, "Well, how's your genius going on?" Before the meal was over she
regretted her question. It opened the doors to Dick's confused eloquence
and vague laudations of his _protégé_; putting Dick on his defence, it
involved an infinite discussion of Quisanté. She was told how Dick had
picked him up at Naples, gone to Pompeii with him, travelled home with
him, brought him and Jimmy together, and how the three had become
friends. "And if I'm a fool, my brother's not," said Dick. May knew that
Jimmy would shelter himself under a plea couched in identical language.
From this point Dick became less expansive, for at this point his own
benefactions and services had begun. She could not get much out of him,
but she found herself trying to worm out all she could. Dick had no
objection to saying that he had induced Quisanté to go in for politics,
and had "squared" the influential persons who distributed (so far as a
free electorate might prove docile) seats in Parliament. Rumour and Aunt
Maria would have supplemented his statement by telling of substantial
aid given by the Benyon brothers. May, interested against her wish and
irritated at her interest, yet not content, like Dick's wife, to shrug
away Dick's aberrations, turned on him with a sudden, "But why, why? Why
do you like him?"

"Like him!" repeated Dick half-interrogatively. He did not seem sure
that his companion had chosen the right, or at any rate the best, word
to describe his feelings. In response she amended her question.

"Well, I mean, what do you see in him?"

Here was another fatal question, for Dick saw everything in him. Hastily
cutting across the eulogies, she demanded particulars--who was he, where
did he come from, and so forth. On these heads Dick's account was
scanty; Quisanté's father had grown wine in Spain; and Quisanté himself
had an old aunt in London.

"Not much of a genealogy," she suggested. Dick was absurd enough to
quote "_Je suis un ancêtre_." "Oh, if you're as silly as that!" she
exclaimed with an annoyed laugh.

"He's the man we want."

"You and Jimmy?"

"The country," Dick explained gravely. He had plenty of humour for other
subjects, but Quisanté, it seemed, was too sacred. "Look here," he went
on. "Come and meet him again. Amy's going out of town next week and
we'll have a little party for him."

"That happens best when Amy's away?"

"Well, women are so----"

"Yes, I know. I'm a woman. I won't come."

Dick looked at her not sourly but sadly, and turned to his other
neighbour. May was left to sit in silence for five minutes; then a pause
in Dick's talk gave her time to touch him lightly on the arm and to say
when he turned, "Yes, I will, and thank you."

But she said nothing about the weaselly flirtation.



                             CHAPTER II.

                              MOMENTS.


At the little dinner which Lady Richard's absence rendered more easy
there were only the Benyon brothers (a wag had recently suggested that
they should convert themselves into Quisanté Limited), Mrs. Gellatly,
Morewood the painter, and the honoured guest. Morewood was there because
he was painting a kit-cat of Quisanté for the host (Heaven knew in what
corner Lady Richard would suffer it to hang), and Mrs. Gellatly because
she had expressed a desire to meet Lady May Gaston. Quisanté greeted May
with an elaborate air of remembrance; his handshake was so ornate as to
persuade her that she must always hate him, and that Dick Benyon was as
foolish as his wife thought him. This mood lasted half through dinner;
the worst of Quisanté was uppermost, and the exhibition depressed the
others. The brothers were apologetic, Mrs. Gellatly gallantly suave; her
much-lined, still pretty face worked in laborious smiles at every
loudness and every awkwardness. Morewood was so savage that an abrupt
conclusion of the entertainment threatened to be necessary. May, who had
previously decided that Mr. Quisanté would be much better in company,
was travelling to the conclusion that he was not nearly so trying when
alone; to be weaselly is not so bad as to be inconsiderate and
ostentatious.

Just then came the change which transformed the party. Somebody
mentioned Mahomet; Morewood, with his love of a paradox, launched on an
indiscriminate championship of the Prophet. Next to believing in nobody,
it was best, he said, to believe in Mahomet; there, he maintained, you
got most out of your religion and gave least to it; and he defended the
criterion with his usual uncompromising aggressiveness. Then Quisanté
put his arms on the table, interrupted Morewood without apology, and
began to talk. May thought that she would not have known how good the
talk was--for it came so easily--had she not seen how soon Morewood
became a listener, or even a foil, ready and content to put his
questions not as puzzles but as provocatives. Yet Morewood was
proverbially conceited, and he was fully a dozen years Quisanté's
senior. She stole a look round; the brothers were open-mouthed, Mrs.
Gellatly looked almost frightened. Next her eyes scanned Quisanté's
face; he was not weaselly now, nor ostentatious. His subject filled him
and lit him up; she did not know that he looked as he had when he spoke
to old Maria of his Empress among women, but she knew that he looked as
if nothing mentally small, nothing morally mean, nothing that was not in
some way or other, for good or evil, big and spacious could ever come
near him from without or proceed out from him.

She was immensely startled when, in a pause, her host whispered in her
ear, "One of his moments!" The phrase was to become very familiar to her
on the lips of others, even more in her own thoughts. "His moments!" It
implied a sort of intermittent inspiration, as though he were some
ancient prophet or mediæval fanatic through whose mouth Heaven spoke
sometimes, leaving him for the rest to his own low and carnal nature.
The phrase meant at once a plenitude of inspiration and a rarity of it.
Not days, nor hours, but moments were seemingly what his friends valued
him for, what his believers attached their faith to, what must (if
anything could) outweigh all that piled the scales so full against him.
An intense curiosity then and there assailed her; she must know more of
the man; she must launch a boat on this unexplored ocean--for the
Benyons had not navigated it, they only stood gaping on the beach. Here
was scope for that unruly spirit of hers which Marchmont's culture and
Marchmont's fascination could neither minister to nor assuage.

She was gazing intently at Quisanté when she became conscious of Mrs.
Gellatly's eyes on her. Mrs. Gellatly looked frightened still;
accustomed tactfully to screen awkwardness, she was rather at a loss in
the face of naked energy. She sought to share her alarm with May Gaston,
but May was like a climber fronted by a mountain range.

"You may be right and you may be wrong," said Morewood. "At least I
don't know anybody who can settle the quarrel between facts and dreams."

"There isn't any quarrel."

"There's a little stiffness anyhow," urged Morewood, still unwontedly
docile.

"They'd get on better if they saw more of one another," suggested May
timidly. It was her first intervention. She felt its insignificance. She
would not have complained if Quisanté had followed Morewood's example
and taken no notice of it. He stopped, turned to her with exaggerated
deference, and greeted her obvious little carrying out of the metaphor
as though it were a heaven-sent light. Somehow in doing this he seemed
to fall all in an instant from lofty heights to depths almost beyond
eyesight. While he complimented her elaborately, Morewood turned away in
open impatience. Another topic was started, the conversation was killed;
or, to put it as she put it to herself, that moment of Quisanté's was
ended. Did his moments always end like that? Did they fade before a
breath, like the frailest flower? Did the contemptible always follow in
a flash on the entrancing?

Presently she found a chance for a whisper to Morewood.

"How are you painting him?" she asked.

"You must come and see," he replied, with a rather sour grin.

"So I will, but tell me now. You know the difference, I mean?"

"Oh, and do you already? Well, I shall do him making himself agreeable
to a lady."

"For heaven's sake don't!" she whispered, half-laughing yet not without
seriousness. The man was a malicious creature and might well caricature
what he was bound to idealise to the extreme limit of nature's
sufferance. Such a trick would be hardly honest to Dick Benyon, but
Morewood would plead his art with unashamed effrontery, and, if more
were needed, tell Dick to take his cheque to the deuce and go with it
himself.

The rest of the party was, to put it bluntly, a pleasant little
gathering in no way remarkable and rather spoilt by the presence of one
person who was not quite a gentleman. May struggled hard against the
mercilessness of the judgment contained in the last words; for it ought
to have proved quite final as regarded Alexander Quisanté. As a fact it
would not leave her mind, it established an absolutely sure footing in
her convictions; and yet it did not seem quite final in regard to
Quisanté. Perhaps Dick Benyon would maintain the proud level of his
remark about the genealogy, and remind her that somebody settled
Napoleon's claims by the same verdict. But one did not meet Napoleon at
little dinners, nor think of him with no countervailing achievements to
his name.

Her mind was so full of the man that when she joined her mother at a
party later in the evening, she had an absurd anticipation that
everybody would talk to her about him. Nobody did; that evening an
Arctic explorer and a new fortune-teller divided the attention of the
polite; men came and discussed one or other of these subjects with her
until she was weary. For once then, on Marchmont making an appearance
near her, her legs did not carry her in the opposite direction; she
awaited and even invited his approach; at least he would spare her the
fashionable gossip, and she thought he might tell her something about
Quisanté. In two words he told her, if not anything about Quisanté,
still everything that he himself thought of Quisanté.

"I met Mr. Quisanté at dinner," she said.

"That fellow!" exclaimed Marchmont.

The tone was full of weariness and contempt; it qualified the man as
unspeakable and dismissed him as intolerable. Was Marchmont infallible,
as Fanny had said? At least he represented, in its finest and most
authoritative form, the opinion of her own circle, the unhesitating
judgment against which she must set herself if she became Quisanté's
champion. It would be much easier, and probably much more sensible, to
fall into line and acquiesce in the condemnation; then it would matter
nothing whether the vulgar did or did not elect to admire Dick Benyon's
peculiar friend. Yet a protest stirred within her; only her sense of the
ludicrous prevented her from adopting Dick's word and asking Marchmont
if he had ever seen the fellow in one of his "moments." But it would be
absurd to catch up the phrase like that, and it was by no means certain
that even the moments would appeal to Marchmont.

Looking round, she perceived that a little space in the crowded room had
been left vacant about them; nobody came up to her, no woman, in passing
by, signalled to Marchmont; the constant give-and-take of companions was
suspended in their favour. In fine, people supposed that they wanted to
talk to one another; it would not be guessed that one of the pair wished
Quisanté to be the topic.

"He's got some brains," Marchmont went on, "though of rather a flashy
sort, I think. Dick Benyon's been caught by them. But a more impossible
person I never met. You don't like him?"

"Yes, I do," she answered defiantly. "At least I do every now and then."

"Pray make the occasions as rare as possible," he urged in his low lazy
voice, with his pleasant smile and a confidential look in his handsome
eyes. "And don't let them coincide with my presence."

"Really he won't hurt you; you're too particular."

"No, he won't hurt me, but I should feel rather as though he were
hurting you."

"What do you mean?"

"By being near you, certainly by being anything in the least like a
friend of yours."

"He'd defile me?" she asked, laughing.

"Yes," said he seriously; the next moment he smiled and shrugged his
shoulders; he did not withdraw his seriousness but he apologised for it.

"Oh, I'd better get under a glass-case at once," she exclaimed, laughing
again impatiently.

"Yes, and lock it, and----"

"Give you the key?"

He laughed as he said, "The most artistic emotions have some selfishness
in them, I admit it."

"It would make a little variety if I sent a duplicate to Mr. Quisanté!"

Here he would not follow her in her banter. He grew grave and even
frowned, but all he said was, "Really there are limits, you know." It
was her own verdict, expressed more tersely, more completely, and more
finally. There were limits, and Alexander Quisanté was beyond them; the
barrier they raised could not be surmounted; he could not fly over it
even on the wings of his moments.

"You above everybody oughtn't to know such people," Marchmont went on.

Now he was thinking of the type she was supposed to represent; that was
the fashion in which it was appropriate to talk to the type.

"I'm not in the very least like that really," she assured him. "If you
knew me better you'd find that out very soon."

"I'm willing to risk it."

Flirtation for flirtation--and this conversation was becoming one--there
could be no comparison between Marchmont's and Quisanté's; the one was
delightful, the other odious; the one combined charm with dignity; the
other was a mixture of cringing and presumption. May put the contrast no
less strongly than this as she yielded to the impulse of the minute and
gave the lie to Marchmont's ideal of her by her reckless acceptance of
the immediate delights he offered. The ideal would no doubt cause him to
put a great deal of meaning into her acceptance; whether such meaning
were one she would be prepared to indorse her mood did not allow her to
consider. She showed him very marked favour that evening, and in his
company contrived to forget entirely the puzzle of Quisanté and his
moments, and the possible relation of those moments to the limits about
which her companion was so decisive.

At last, however, they were interrupted. The interruption came from Dick
Benyon, who had looked in somewhere else and arrived now at the tail of
the evening. Far too eager and engrossed in his great theme to care
whether his appearance were welcome, he dashed up to May, crying out
even before he reached her, "Well, what do you say about him now? Wasn't
he splendid?"

Clearly Dick forgot his earlier apologetic period; for him the moment
was the evening. A cool question from Marchmont, the cooler perhaps for
annoyance, forced Dick into explanations, and he sketched in his summary
fashion the incident which had aroused his enthusiasm and made him look
so confidently for a response from May. Marchmont was unreservedly and
almost scornfully antagonistic.

"Oh, you're too cultivated to live," cried Dick. "Now isn't he too
elegant, May?"

"I'm not the least elegant," said Marchmont, with quiet confidence. "But
I'm--well, I'm what Quisanté isn't. So are you, Dick."

"Suppose we are, and by Jove, isn't he what we aren't? I'm primitive, I
suppose. I think hands and brains are better than manners."

"I'll agree, but I don't like his hands or his brains either."

"He'll mount high."

"As high as Haman. I shouldn't be the least surprised to see it."

"Well, I'm not going to give him up because he doesn't shake hands at
the latest fashionable angle."

"All right, Dick. And I'm not going to take him up because he's a dab at
rodomontade."

"And you neither of you need fight about him," May put in, laughing.
They joined in her laugh, each excusing himself by good-natured abuse of
the other.

There was no question of a quarrel, but the divergence was complete,
striking, and even startling. To one all was black, to the other all
white; to one all tin, to the other all gold. Was there no possibility
of compromise? As she sat between the two, May thought that a
discriminating view of Quisanté ought to be attainable, not an
oscillation from disgust to admiration, but a well-balanced stable
judgment which should allow full value to merits and to defects, and sum
up the man as a whole. Something of the sort she tried to suggest;
neither disputant would hear of it, and Marchmont went off with an
unyielding assertion that the man was a cad, no more and no less than a
cad. Dick looked after him with a well-satisfied air; May fancied that
opposition and the failure of others to understand intensified his
satisfaction in his own discovery. But he grew mournful as he said to
her,

"I shan't have a chance with you now. You'll go with Marchmont of
course. And I did want you to like him."

"Mr. Marchmont doesn't control my opinions."

They were very old friends; Dick allowed himself a significant smile.

"I know what you mean," she said, smiling. "But it's nonsense. Besides,
look at yourself and Amy! She hates him, and yet you----"

"Oh, she's only half-serious, and Marchmont's in deadly earnest under
that deuced languid manner of his. I tell you what, he's a very limited
fellow, after all."

May laughed; the limits were being turned to a new use now.

"Awfully clever and well-read, but shut up inside a sort of compartment
of life. Don't you know what I mean? He's always ridden first-class, and
he won't believe there's anybody worth knowing in the thirds."

"You think he's like that?" she asked thoughtfully.

"You can see it for yourself. There's no better fellow, no better
friend, but, hang it, an oyster's got a broader mind."

"I like broad minds."

"Then you'll like Quis----"

"Absolutely you shan't mention that name again. Find mother for me and
tell her to tell me that it's time to go home."

Going home brought with it a discovery. May was considered to have
invited the world to take notice of her preference for Marchmont. This
fact was first conveyed to her by Lady Attlebridge's gently affectionate
and congratulatory air; at this May was little more than amused.
Evidence of greater significance lay in Fanny's demeanour; she came into
her sister's room and talked for a while; before leaving, but after the
ordinary kiss of goodnight, she came back suddenly and kissed her again;
she said nothing, but the embrace was emphatic and eloquent. It seemed
to the recipient to be forgiving also; it meant "I want you to be happy,
don't imagine I think of anything else." If Fanny kissed her like that,
it was because Fanny supposed that she had made up her mind to marry
Weston Marchmont. She was fully conscious that the inference was not a
strange one to draw from her conduct that evening. But now the mood of
impulse was entirely gone; she considered the matter in a cool spirit,
and her talk with Dick Benyon assumed unlooked-for importance in her
deliberations. To marry Marchmont was a step entirely in harmony with
the ideal which her family and the world had of her, which Marchmont
himself most thoroughly and undoubtingly believed in. If she were really
what she was supposed to be, the match would satisfy her as well as it
would everybody else. But if she were quite different in her heart? In
that case it might indeed be urged that no marriage would or could
permanently satisfy her or the whole of her nature. This was likely
enough; to see how often something of that kind happened it was,
unfortunately, only necessary to run over ten or a dozen names which
offered themselves promptly enough from the list of her acquaintance.
Still to marry knowing you would not be satisfied was to drop below the
common fate of marrying knowing that you might not be; it gave up the
golden chance; it abandoned illusion just where illusion seemed most
necessary.

Oh for life, for the movement of life! It is perhaps hard to realise how
often that cry breaks from the hearts of women. No doubt the aspiration
it expresses is rather apt to end in antics, not edifying to the
onlooker, hardly (it may be supposed) comforting to the performer. But
the antics are one thing, the aspiration another, and they have the
aspiration strongest who condemn and shun the antics. The matter may be
stated very simply, at least if the form in which it presented itself to
May Gaston in her twenty-third year be allowed to suffice. Most girls
are bred in a cage, most girls expect to escape therefrom by marriage,
most girls find that they have only walked into another cage. She had
nothing to say, so far as her own case went, against the comfort either
of the old or of the new cage; they were both indeed luxurious. But
cages they were and such she knew them to be. Doubtless there must be
limits, not only to the tolerance of Weston Marchmont and of society,
but to everything else except infinity. But there are great expanses,
wide spaces, short of infinity. When she walked out of her first cage,
the one which her mother's careful fingers had kept locked on her, she
would like not to walk into another, but to escape into some park or
forest, not boundless, yet so large as to leave room for exploring, for
the finding of new things, for speculation, for doubt, excitement,
uncertainty, even for the presence of apprehension and the possibility
of danger. As she surveyed the manner in which she was expected to pass
her life, the manner in which she was supposed (she faced now the common
interpretation of her conduct this evening) already to have elected to
pass it, she felt as a speculator feels towards Consols, as a gambler
towards threepenny whist. It seemed as though nothing could be good
which did not also hold within it the potency of being very bad, as
though certainty damned and chance alone had lures to offer. She would
have liked to take life in her hand--however precious a thing, what use
is it if you hoard it?--and see what she could make of it, what usury
its free loan to fate and fortune would earn. She might lose it; youth
made light of the risk. She might crawl back in sad plight; the Prodigal
Son did not think of that when he set out. She found herself wishing she
had nothing, that she might be free to start on the search for anything.

Like Quisanté? Why, yes, just like Quisanté. Like that strange,
intolerable, vulgar, attractive, intermittently inspired creature, who
presented himself at life's roulette-table, not less various in his own
person than were the varying turns he courted, unaccountable as chance,
baffling as fate, changeable as luck. Indeed he was like life itself, a
thing you loved and hated, grew weary of and embraced, shrank from and
pursued. To see him then was in a way to look on at life, to be in
contact with him was to feel the throb of its movement. In her midnight
musings the man seemed somehow to cease to be odious because he ceased
to be individual, to be no longer incomprehensible because he was no
longer apart, because he became to her less himself and more the
expression and impersonation of an instinct that in her own blood ran
riot and held festivity.

"I'm having moments, like Mr. Quisanté himself!" she said with a sudden
laugh.



                             CHAPTER III.

                             SANDRO'S WAY.


First to the City, then to the doctor, then to the House, then to the
dinner of the Imperial League; this was Quisanté's programme for the
second Wednesday in April. It promised a busy day. But of the doctor and
the House he made light; the first was a formality, the second held out
no prospect of excitement; the City and the dinner were the real things.
They were connected with and must be made to promote the two aims which
he had taken for his with perfect confidence. He wanted money and he
wanted position; he saw no reason why he should not attain both in the
fullest measure. Recent events had filled him with a sure and certain
hope. Not allowing for the value of the good manners which he lacked, he
failed to see that he excited any hostility or any distaste. Unless a
man were downright rude to him, he counted him an adherent; this streak
of a not unpleasing simplicity ran across his varied nature. He was far
from being alive to his disadvantages; every hour assured him of his
superiority. Most especially he counted on the aid and favour of women;
the future might prove him right or wrong in his expectation; but he
relied for its realisation not on the power which he did possess but on
an accomplishment of manner and an insinuating fascination which he most
absolutely lacked. The ultra-civility which repelled May Gaston was less
a device than an exhibition; he embarked on it more because he thought
he did it well than (as she supposed) from a desire to curry favour. He
was ill-bred, but he was not mean; he was a vaunter but not a coward; he
demanded adherence and did not beg alms. This was the attitude of his
mind, but unhappily it was often apparently contradicted by the cringing
of his body and the wheedling of his tongue. In attempting smoothness he
fell into oiliness; where he aimed at polished brilliance, the result
was blazing varnish. Had he known what to pray for, he would have
supplicated heaven that he might meet eyes able to see the man beneath
the ape. Such eyes, dimly penetrating with an unexpected vision, he had
won to his side in the Benyon brothers; the rest of the world still
stuck on the outside surface. But the brothers could only shield him,
they could not change him; they might promote his fortunes, they could
not cure his vices. He did not know that he had any vices; the first
stage of amendment was still to come.

He had a cousin in the City, a stock-jobber, who made and lost large
sums of money as fortune smiled or frowned. Quisanté had the first five
hundred of Aunt Maria's thousand pounds in his pocket and told his
kinsman to use it for him.

"A spec?" asked Mr. Josiah Mandeville. "Isn't that rather rough on Aunt
Maria?"

Quisanté looked surprised. "She gave it me, I haven't stolen it," he
said with a laugh.

"She gave it you to live on, to keep up your position, I suppose."

"I don't think she made any conditions. And if I can make money, I'll
give it back to her."

"Oh, you know best, I suppose," said Mandeville. "Only if I lose it?"

"Losing money's no worse than spending it." And then he mentioned a
certain venture in which the money might usefully be employed.

"How did you hear of that?" asked Mandeville with a stare; for his
cousin had laid his finger on a secret, on the very secret which
Mandeville had just decided not to reveal to him, kinsman though he was.

"I forget; somebody said something about it that made me think it would
be a good thing." Quisanté's tone was vaguely puzzled; he often knew
things when he could give no account of his knowledge.

"Well, you aren't far wrong. You'll take a small profit, I suppose?
Shall I use my discretion?"

"No," smiled Quisanté. "I shan't take a small profit, and I'll use mine.
But keep me well informed and you shan't be a loser."

Mr. Mandeville laughed. "One might think you had a million," he
observed. "Or are you proposing to tip me a fiver?" The thought of his
own thousands filled his tone with scorn; he did not do his speculating
with Aunt Maria's money.

"If you're too proud, I can take my business somewhere else--and the
name of the concern too," said Quisanté, lighting a cigar. Cousin
Mandeville's stare had not escaped his notice.

Mandeville hesitated; he was very much annoyed; he liked his money, if
not himself, to be respected. But business is business, to say nothing
of blood being thicker than water.

"Oh, well, I'll do it for you," he agreed with lofty benevolence.
Quisanté laughed. He would have covered his own retreat with much the
same device.

The riches then were on the way; Quisanté had a far-seeing eye, and Aunt
Maria's five hundred was to imagination already prolific of thousands. A
hansom carried him up to Harley Street; he had been there three months
before and had been told to come again in three weeks. The punishment
for his neglect was a severe verdict. "No liquor, no tobacco, and three
months' immediate and complete rest." Quisanté laughed--very much as he
had at his kinsman in the City. Both doctor and stock-jobber showed such
a curious ignorance of the conditions under which his life had to be
lived and of his reasons for caring to live it.

"What's the matter then?" he asked.

The doctor became very technical, though not quite unreserved; the heart
and the stomach were in some unholy conspiracy; this was as much as
Quisanté really understood.

"And if I don't do as you say?" he asked. The doctor smiled and shrugged
his shoulders. "I shan't outlive Methuselah anyhow, I suppose?"

"The present conditions of your life are very wearing," said the doctor.

Quisanté looked at him thoughtfully.

"But if you'd live wisely, there's no reason why you shouldn't preserve
good health till an advanced age."

Aunt Maria's five hundred, invested in Consols, would bring in twelve
pounds ten shillings or thereabouts every year for ever.

"Thank you," said Quisanté, rising and producing the fee. But he paused
before going and said meditatively, "I should really like to be able to
follow your advice, you know." His brow clouded in discontent; the one
serious handicap he recognised was this arbitrary unfortunate doom of a
body unequal to the necessary strain of an active life. "Anyhow I'm good
for a little while?" he asked.

"Dear me, you're in no sort of immediate danger, Mr. Quisanté, or I
should be more imperative. Only pray give yourself a chance."

On his way from Harley Street to the House, and again from the House to
his own rooms in Pall Mall, his mind was busy with the speech that he
was to make at the dinner. He had only to respond to the toast of the
guests; few words and simple would be expected. He was thus the more
resolved on a great effort; the surprise that the mere attempt at an
oration would arouse should pave the way for the astonishment his
triumph must create. He had no rival in the programme; the Chairman was
Dick Benyon, the great gun an eminent Colonial Statesman who relied for
fame on his deeds rather than his words. With his curiously minute
calculation of chances Quisanté had discovered that there was no social
occasion of great attraction to carry off his audience after dinner;
they would stay and listen if he were worth listening to; the ladies in
the gallery would stay too, if at the outset he could strike a note that
would touch their hearts. This was his first really good chance, the
first opening for such a _coup_ as he loved. His eyes were bright as he
opened an atlas and verified with precision the exact position of the
Colonial Statesman's Colony; he had known it before of course--roughly.

Lady Richard had much affection in her nature and with it a fine spice
of malice. The two ingredients combined to bring her to the gallery; she
wished to please Dick, and she wished to be in a position to annoy him
by deriding Quisanté. So there she sat looking down on the men through a
haze of cigar-smoke which afflicted the ladies' noses and threatened
seriously to affect their gowns.

"They might give up their tobacco for one night," muttered a girl near
her.

"They'd much rather give us up, my dear," retorted a dowager who felt
that she would be considered a small sacrifice and was not unwilling to
make others think the same about themselves.

By Lady Richard's side sat May Gaston. The time is happily gone by when
any one is allowed even to assume indifference about the Empire, yet it
may be doubted whether interest in the Empire had the chief share in
moving her to accept Lady Richard's invitation. Nor did she want to hear
Dick Benyon, nor the Colonial Statesman; quite openly she desired and
expressed her desire to see what Quisanté would make of it.

"How absurd!" said Lady Richard crossly. "Besides he's only got a few
words to say."

May smiled and glanced along the row of ladies. About ten places from
her was a funny little old woman with an absurd false front of fair hair
and a black silk gown cut in ancient fashion; her features showed vivid
disgust at the atmosphere and she made frequent use of a large bottle of
smelling-salts. Next to her, on the other side, was Mrs. Gellatly, who
nodded and smiled effusively at May.

"Who's the funny old woman?" May asked.

Lady Richard looked round and made a constrained bow; the old lady
smiled a little and sniffed the bottle again.

"Oh, she's an aunt of the man's; come to hear him, I suppose. Oh, Dick's
getting up."

Amid polite attention and encouraging "Hear, hears" Dick made his way
through a few appropriate sentences which his hearty sincerity redeemed
from insignificance. The Colonial Statesman had a well-founded idea that
the zeal of his audience outstripped its knowledge, and set himself to
improve the latter rather than to inflame the former. His reward was a
somewhat frigid reception. May noticed that old Miss Quisanté was
dozing, and Lady Richard said that she wished she was at home in bed:
Quisanté himself had assumed a smile of anticipation when the Statesman
rose and preserved it unimpaired through the long course of the speech.
The audience as a whole grew a little restless; while the next speaker
addressed them, one or two men rose and slipped away unobtrusively. A
quick frown and a sudden jerk of Quisanté's head betrayed his fear that
more would go before he could lay his grip on them.

"Why doesn't this man stop?" whispered May.

"I suppose, my dear, he thinks he may as well put Mr. Quisanté off as
long as possible," Lady Richard answered flippantly.

Amid yawns, the laying down of burnt-out cigars, and glances at watches,
Quisanté rose to make his reply. Aunt Maria was wide-awake now, looking
down at her nephew with her sour smile; Lady Richard leant back
resignedly. Quisanté pressed back his heavy smooth black hair, opened
his wide thin-lipped mouth, and began with a courteous commonplace
reference to those who shared with himself the honour of being guests
that night. Ordinary as the frame-work was, there was a touch of
originality in what he said; one or two men who had meant to go struck
matches and lit fresh cigars. Dick Benyon looked up at the gallery and
nodded to his wife. Then Quisanté seemed suddenly to increase his
stature by an inch or two and to let loose his arms; his voice was still
not loud, but every syllable fell with incisive distinctness on his
listener's ears. An old Member of Parliament whispered to an elderly
barrister, "He can speak anyhow," and got an assenting nod for answer.
And he was looking as he had when he spoke of his Empress among women,
as he had when he declared that the Spirit of God could not live and
move in the grave-clothes of dead prophets. He was far away from the
guests now, and he was far away from himself; it was another moment; he
was possessed again. Dick looked up with a radiant triumphant smile, but
his wife was frowning, and May Gaston sat with a face like a mask.

"By Jove!" murmured the elderly barrister.

The whole speech was short; perhaps it had been meant to be longer, but
suddenly Quisanté's pale face turned paler still, he caught his hand to
his side, he stopped for a moment, and stumbled over his words; than he
recovered and, with his hand still on his side, raised his voice again.
But the logical mind of the elderly barrister seemed to detect a lacuna
in the reasoning; the speaker had skipped something and flown straight
to his peroration. He gave it now in tones firm but slower than before,
with a pause here and there, yet in the end summoning his forces to a
last flood of impassioned words. Then he sat down, not straight, but
falling just a little on one side and making a clutch at his neighbour's
shoulder; and while they cheered he sat quite still with closed eyes and
opened lips. "Has he fainted?" ran in a hushed whisper round the room;
Dick Benyon sprang from his chair, a waiter was hurried off for brandy,
and Lady Richard observed in her delicately scornful tones, "How
extremely theatrical!"

"Theatrical!" said May in a low indignant voice.

"You don't suppose he's really fainting, my dear, do you? Oh, I've seen
him do the same sort of thing once before!"

An impulse carried May's eyes towards Miss Quisanté; the old lady was
smiling composedly and sniffing her bottle. Her demeanour was in strong
contrast to Mrs. Gellatly's almost tearful excitement.

"He couldn't, he couldn't!" May moaned in horror.

If the untrue suspicion entertained by Lady Richard and possibly shared
by Miss Quisanté (the old lady's face was a riddle) spread at all to
anybody else, the fault lay entirely at the sufferer's own door. He knew
too well how real the attack had been; when the ladies mingled with the
men to take tea and coffee, he was still suffering from its after-effects.
But he treated the occurrence in so hopelessly wrong a way; he minced and
smirked over it; he would not own to a straightforward physical illness,
but preferred to hint at and even take credit for an exaggerated
sensibility, as though he enhanced his own eloquence by pointing to the
extraordinary exhaustion it produced. He must needs bring the frailty of
his body to the front, not as an apology, but as an added claim to
interest and a new title by which to win soft words, admiring looks, and
sympathetic pressings from pretty hands. Who could blame Lady Richard for
murmuring, "There, my dear, now you see!"? Who could wonder that Aunt
Maria looked cynically indifferent? Was it strange that a good many
people, without going to the length of declaring that the orator had
suffered nothing at all, yet were inclined to think that he knew better
than to waste, and quite well how to improve, the opportunity that a
trifling fatigue or a passing touch of faintness gave him? "Knows how to
fetch the women, doesn't he?" said somebody with a laugh. To be accused
of that knowledge is not a passport to the admiration of men.

Before May Gaston came near Quisanté himself, Jimmy Benyon seized on her
and introduced her to Aunt Maria. In reply to politely expressed phrases
of concern the old lady's shrewd eyes twinkled.

"Sandro'll soon come round, if they let him alone," she said.

The words were consistent with either view of the occurrence, but the
tone inclined them to the side of uncharitableness.

"Is he liable to such attacks?" May asked.

"He's always been rather sickly," Miss Quisanté admitted grudgingly.

"He's had a splendid triumph to-night. He was magnificent."

"Sandro makes the most of a chance."

May was surprised to find herself attracted to the dry old woman. Such an
absence of feeling in regard to one who was her only relative and the
hero of the evening might more naturally have aroused dislike; but Aunt
Maria's coolness was funnily touched both by resignation and by humour;
she mourned that things were as they were, but did not object to laughing
at them. When immaculate Jimmy, a splendid type of the handsome dandified
man about town, began to be enthusiastic over Quisanté, she looked up at
him with a sneering kindly smile, seeming to ask, "How in the world do
you come to be mixed up with Sandro?" When May expressed the hope that he
would be more careful of himself Aunt Maria's smile said, "If you knew as
much about him as I do, you'd take it quietly. It's Sandro's way." Yet
side by side with all this was the utter absence of any surprise at his
exhibition of power or at the triumph he had won; these she seemed to
take as the merest matter of course. She knew Quisanté better than any
living being knew him, and this was her attitude towards him. When they
bade one another good-bye, May said that she was sure her mother would
like to call on Miss Quisanté. "Come yourself," said the old lady
abruptly; she at least showed no oiliness, no violence of varnish; they
were not in the family, it seemed.

The crowd grew thinner, but the diminished publicity brought no
improvement to Quisanté's manner. He was with Lady Richard and the
brothers now--May noticed that nephew and aunt had been content to
exchange careless nods--and Lady Richard made him nearly his worst. He
knew that she did not like him, but refused to accept the defeat; he
plied her more and more freely with the airs and affectations that
rendered him odious to her; he could not help thinking that by enough
attention, enough deference, and enough of being interesting he must in
the end conciliate her favour. When May joined the group, his manner
appealed from her friend to her, bidding Lady Richard notice how much
more responsive May was and how pleasant he was to those who were
pleasant to him. May would have despised him utterly at that instant but
for two things: she remembered his moments, and she perceived that all
the time he was suffering and mastering severe, perhaps poignant, pain.
But again, when she asked him how he was, he smirked and flourished, till
Lady Richard turned away in disgust and even the brothers looked a little
puzzled and distressed as they followed her to the buffet and ministered
to her wants.

"Sit down," said May, in a tone almost sharp. "No, sit at once, never
mind whether I'm sitting or not."

He obeyed her with an overdone gesture of protest, but his face showed
relief. She got a chair for herself and sat down by him.

"You spoke splendidly," she said, and hurried on, "No, no, don't thank
me, don't tell me that you especially wished to please me, or that my
approbation is your reward, or anything about beauty or bright eyes, or
anything in the very least like that. It's all odious and I wonder why
you--a man like you--should think it necessary to do it."

Quisanté looked startled; he had been leaning back in apparent
exhaustion, but now he sat up straight and prepared to speak, a
conciliatory smile on his lips.

"No, don't sit up, lean back. Don't talk, don't smile, don't be agreeable."
She had begun to laugh at herself by now, but the laughter did not stop
her. "You were ill, you were very ill, you looked almost dead, and you
battled with it splendidly, and beat it splendidly, and went on and won.
And then you must--Oh, why do you?"

"Why do I do what?" he asked, quietly enough now, with a new look of
puzzle and bewilderment in his eyes, although his set smile had not
disappeared.

"Why, go on as if there'd been nothing much really the matter, as if
you'd had the vapours or the flutters, or something women have, or used
to have when they were even sillier than they are." She laughed again,
adding, "Really I was expecting Dick Benyon to propose to cut your
stay-laces."

The Benyons were coming back; if she had more to say, there was no time
for it; yet she managed a whisper as she shook hands with him, her
gesture still forbidding him to rise. Her face, a little flushed with
colour, bent down towards his and her voice was eager as she whispered,

"Good-night. Be simple, be yourself; it's worth while."

Then courage failed and she hurried off with a confused nervous farewell
to her friends. Her breath came quick as she lay back in the brougham
and closed her eyes.

Quisanté was tired and ill; he was unusually quiet in his parting talk
with Lady Richard. Even she was sorry for him; and when pity entered
little Lady Richard's heart it drove out all other emotions however
strong, and routed all resolutions however well-founded.

"You look dead-beat, you do indeed," she said. She turned to her
husband. "Dick, Mr. Quisanté must come and spend a few quiet days with
us in the country. Something'll happen to him, if he doesn't."

Dick could hardly believe his ears, and was full of delighted gratitude;
hitherto Lady Richard had been resolute that their country house at
least should be sacred from Quisanté's feet. He took his wife's hand and
pressed it as he joyfully seconded her invitation. Some of Quisanté's
effusive politeness displayed itself again, but still he was subdued,
and Lady Richard, full of her impulse of compassion, escaped without
realising fully the enormity of the step into which it had tempted her.



                             CHAPTER IV.

                            HE'S COMING!


Dick Benyon was a man of plentiful ideas, but he found great difficulty
in conveying them to others and even in expressing them to himself.
Jimmy, his faithful disciple, could not help him here, and indeed was too
much ashamed of harbouring such things as ideas to be of any service as
an apostle. All the ideas were not Dick's own; in the case of the
Imperial League, for example, he merely floated on the top of the
flood-tide of opinion, and even the Crusade, his other and dearer
pre-occupation, was the fruit of the Dean of St. Neot's brain as much as
or even more than of his own. The Dean never got the credit of having
ideas at all, first because he did not look like it, being short, stout,
ruddy, and apparently very fond of his dinner, secondly because he never
talked of his ideas to women. Mrs. Baxter did not care about ideas and
possibly the Dean generalised rashly. More probably, perhaps, he had
contracted a prejudice against talking confidentially to women from
observing the ways of some of his brethren; he had dropped remarks which
favoured this explanation. Anyhow he lost not only the soil most fruitful
for propagation, but also the surest road to a reputation. Of the idea of
the Crusade he was particularly careful to talk to men only; women, he
felt sure, would tell him it was superb, and his wish was to be
confronted with its difficulties and its absurdities, to overcome this
initial opposition only with a struggle, and to enlist his antagonist as
a fellow-warrior; he had especial belief in the persuasiveness of
converts. Unluckily, however, as a rule only the first part of the
programme passed into fact; he got the absurdities and difficulties
pointed out freely enough, the conversions hung fire. Dick Benyon was
almost the sole instance of the triumphant carrying-out of the whole
scheme; but though Dick could believe and work, and could make Jimmy
believe and nearly make Jimmy work, he could not preach himself nor make
Jimmy preach in tones commanding enough to engage the respect and
attention of the world. Who could then? Dick had answered "Weston
Marchmont;" the Dean shook his head confidently but wistfully; he would
have liked but did not expect to find a convert there.

Weston Marchmont made, as might be expected, the Great Refusal, although
not in the impressive or striking manner which such a phrase may seem to
imply. Twisting his claret glass in his long thin fingers, he observed
with low-voiced suavity that in ecclesiastical matters, as doubtless in
most others, he was behind the times; he was a loyal Establishment man
and had every intention of remaining such, and for his own part he found
it possible to reconcile the ultimate postulates of faith with the
ultimate truths of science. As soon as ultimates came on the scene, the
Dean felt that the game was up; the Crusade depended on an appeal to
classes which must be reached, if they could be reached at all, by
something far short of ultimates. Ultimates were for the few; one reason,
among others, why Marchmont fondly affected them. Marchmont proceeded to
remark that in his doubtless out-of-date view the best thing was to
preserve the traditions and the traditional limits of Church work and
Church influence. He did not say in so many words that the Church was a
good servant but a bad master, yet Dick and the Dean gathered that this
was his opinion, and that he would look with apprehension on any movement
directed to bringing ecclesiastical pressure to bear on secular affairs.
In all this he assumed politely that the Crusade could succeed, but the
lift of his brows which accompanied the concession was very eloquent.

"Then," he ended apologetically, "there's the danger of vulgarity. One
puts up with that in politics, but I confess I shrink from it in
religion."

"What appeals to everybody is not necessarily vulgar," said the Dean.

"Not necessarily," Marchmont agreed, with the emphasis on the second
word. "But," he added, "it's almost of necessity untrue, and after all
religion has to do with truth." He was getting near his ultimates again.

There was a pause; then Marchmont laughed and said jokingly,

"You'll have to go to the Radicals, Dick. They're the dogmatic party
nowadays, and they'll be just as ready to manage your soul for you as
they are your property."

"That's just what I don't mean to do," said Dick obstinately. But he
looked a little uncomfortable. It was important to preserve the attitude
that fighting the Radicals was no part of the scheme of the Crusade.
Marchmont smiled at the Dean across the table.

"I love the Church, Mr. Dean," he said, "but I'm afraid of the churchmen."

"Much what I feel about politics and politicians."

"Then if churchmen are politicians too----?" Marchmont suggested; the
Dean's laughter admitted a verbal defeat. But when Marchmont had gone he
shook his head over him again, saying, "He'll not be great; he's much too
sane."

"He's too scrupulous," said Dick. The Dean protested with a smile. "I
mean too fastidious," Dick added, correcting himself.

"Yes, yes, too fastidious," agreed the Dean contentedly. "And when I said
sane perhaps I rather meant cautious, unimaginative, and cold." Both felt
the happier for the withdrawal of their hastily chosen epithets.

This conversation had occurred in the early days of Dick's acquaintance
with Alexander Quisanté, when, although already much taken with the man,
he had a clearer view of what he was than enthusiasm allowed later on.
Rejecting Marchmont, or rather acquiescing in Marchmont's refusal, on the
ground of his excessive caution, his want of imagination, and his
fastidiousness, he had hesitated to sound Quisanté in regard to the great
project. It seemed to him impossible to regard his new friend as an ideal
leader for this purpose; one reason is enough to indicate--the ideal
leader should be absolutely unselfish by nature. By nature Quisanté was
very far from that, and his circumstances were not such as to enable him
to overcome the bent of his disposition; whatever else he was or might
become, he would be self-seeking too, and it would be impossible ever to
make him steadily and deliberately forgetful of himself.

But as time went on, another way opened before Dick's eyes and was
cautiously and tentatively hinted at to his confidant, the Dean. The
Dean, having seen a little and heard much of Quisanté, was inclined to be
encouraging. There were in him possibilities not to be found in
Marchmont. He was not fastidious, he would not trouble himself or other
people about ultimates, above all he could be fired with imagination.
Once that was achieved, he would speak and seem as though he were all
that the ideal leader ought to be, as though inspiration filled him; he
would express what Dick could only feel and the Dean do no more than
adumbrate; nay, in time, as he grew zealous in the cause, his
self-interest and personal ambition would be conquered, or at least would
be so blended and fused with the nobility of the cause as to lose any
grossness or meanness which might be thought to characterise them in an
uncompounded condition. All this might be achieved if only the great idea
could be made to seem great enough and the potentialities which lay in
its realisation invested with enough pomp and dignity. After all was not
such a blend of things personal and things beyond and higher than the
personal as much as could reasonably be expected from human beings, and
adequate to the needs of a work-a-day world?

"I don't want to be a bishop, but I do mean to stick to my deanery
through thick and thin," said the Dean, smiling. Dick understood him to
mean that allowance must be made for the personal element, and that a man
might serve a cause very usefully without being prepared to go quite as
far as the stake, or even the workhouse, for it; if this were not so,
there would be less competition for places in State and Church.

Such great schemes for causing right ideas to prevail in things spiritual
and temporal and for placing the right men in the right positions to
ensure this important result are material here only so far as they
influence the career or illustrate the character of individuals. The
Crusade did not perhaps do as much towards altering the face of the
world, or even of this island, as it was intended to, but it had a
considerable, if temporary, effect on current politics, and it appeared
to Quisanté to be at once a fine conception and a notable opportunity;
between these two aspects he did not, as Dick Benyon had foreseen, draw
any very rigid line. To make the Church again a power with the masses;
this done, to persuade the masses to use their power under the leadership
of the Church; this done, to harmonise unimpaired liberty of conscience
with a whole-hearted devotion to truth, and to devote both to ends which
should unite the maximum of zeal for the Community with the minimum of
political innovation, were aims which, if they were nothing else, might
at least claim to be worthy to exercise the intellect of superior men and
to inspire the eloquence of orators. That a set of people on the other
side was professing to do the same things, with totally different and
utterly wrong notions of the results to be obtained, afforded the whet of
antagonism, and let in dialectic and partisanship as a seasoning to
relieve the high severity of the main topic. Quisanté's personal
relations with the Church had never been intimate; he was perhaps the
better able to lay hold of its romantic and picturesque aspect. The Dean,
for instance, was hampered and at times discouraged by a knowledge of
details. Dick Benyon had to struggle against the family point of view as
regarded the family livings. Quisanté came almost as a stranger, ready to
be impressed, to take what suited him, to form the desired opinion and no
other; if a legal metaphor may be allowed, to master what was in his
brief, to use that to the full, and to know nothing to the contrary. The
Empire was very well, but it was a crowded field; the new subject had
advantages all its own and especial allurements.

Yet Miss Quisanté laughed, as a man's relatives often will although the
rest of the world is unimpeachably grave. For any person engaged in
getting a complete view of Alexander Quisanté it was well to turn from
Dick Benyon to Aunt Maria. So May Gaston found when she took the old
woman at her word and went to see her, unaccompanied by Lady Attlebridge.
She listened awhile to her caustic talk and then charged her roundly with
not doing justice to her nephew.

"Sandro's caught you too, has he?" was her hostess's immediate retort.

"No, he hasn't caught me, as you call it, Miss Quisanté," said May,
smiling. "I dislike a great deal in him." She paused before adding,
"What's more, I've told him so."

"He'll be very pleased at that."

"He didn't seem to be."

"I didn't say he was pleased, I said he would be," remarked Aunt Maria
placidly. "No doubt you vexed him at the time, but when he's thought it
over, he'll be flattered at your showing so much interest in him."

"I shouldn't like him to take it like that," said May thoughtfully.

"It's the true way to take it, though."

"Well then, I suppose it is. Except that there's no reason why my
interest should flatter anybody." She determined on an offensive movement
against the sharp confident old lady. "All his faults are merely faults
of bringing up. You brought him up; why didn't you bring him up better?"

Miss Quisanté looked at her for several moments.

"I didn't bring him up well, that's true enough," she said. "But, my
dear, don't you run off with the idea that there's nothing wrong with
Sandro except his manners."

"That's exactly the idea I have about him," May persisted defiantly.

"Ah!" sighed Aunt Maria resignedly. "Probably you'll never know him well
enough to find out your mistake."

Warnings pique curiosity as often as they arouse prudence.

"I intend to know him much better if he'll let me," said May.

"Oh, he'll let you." The old lady's gaze was very intent; she had by now
made up her mind that this must be Sandro's Empress. Had she been
omnipotent, she would at that moment have decreed that Sandro should
never see his Empress again; she was quite clear that he and his Empress
would not be good for one another. "I begin to hear them talking about
him," she went on with a chuckle. "He's coming into fashion, he's to be
the new man for a while. You London people love a new man just as you do
a new craze. You're fine talkers too. I like your buzz. It's a great hum,
hum, buzz, buzz. It turns some men's heads, but it only sharpens others'
wits; it won't turn Sandro's head."

"I'm glad you allow him some virtues."

"Oh, if it's a virtue to look so straight forward to where you mean to
get that nothing will turn your head away from it."

"That's twisting your own words, Miss Quisanté. I don't think he's that
sort of man at all; he isn't the least your--your iron adventurer. He's
full of emotion, of feeling, of--well, almost of poetry. Oh, not always
good poetry, I know. But how funny that I should be defending him and you
attacking him; it would be much more natural the other way round."

"I don't see that. I know him better than you do. Now he's to champion
the Church--or some such nonsense! What's Sandro got to do with your
Church? What does he care about it?"

"He cared about his subject the other evening; you must admit that."

"Oh, his subject! Yes, he cares about it while it's his subject."

May laughed. "I want to take just one liberty, Miss Quisanté," she said.
"May I? I want to tell you that I think you're a great deal more than
half wrong about your nephew."

"Even if I am, I'm right enough for practical purposes with the other
part," said the obstinate old woman. She leant forward and spoke with a
sudden bitter emphasis. "It's not all outside, he's wrong inside too."

"It's too bad of you, oh, it really is," cried May indignantly. "You who
ought to stand up for him and be his greatest friend!"

"Oh, yes, I see! I've overshot my mark. I'm a blunderer."

"Your mark? What mark? Why do you want to tell me about him at all?"

"I don't," said Miss Quisanté, folding her hands in her lap and assuming
an air of resolute reticence. But her eyes dwelt now with an imperfectly
disguised kindness on the tall fair girl who pleaded for justice and saw
no justice in the answers that she got. But the more Aunt Maria inclined
to like May Gaston, the more determined was she not to palter with truth,
the more determined to have no hand in giving the girl a false idea of
Sandro. So far as lay in her power, Sandro's Empress should know the
whole truth about Sandro.

The buzz of London, to which Miss Quisanté referred as beginning to sound
her nephew's name, revealed to the ear three tolerably distinct notes.
There were the people who laughed and said the thing was no affair of
theirs; this section was of course the largest, embracing all the
naturally indifferent as well as the solid mass of the opposite political
party. There were the people who were angry at Dick Benyon's interference
and at his _protégé's_ impudence; in the ranks of these were most of
Dick's political comrades, together with their wives and daughters. Here
the resentment was at the idea that there was any vacancy, actual or
prospective, which could not be filled perfectly well without the
intrusion of such a person as Quisanté. Thirdly there was the small but
gradually growing group which inclined to think that there was something
in Dick's notions and a good deal in his friend's head. A reinforcement
came no doubt from the persons who were naturally prone to love the new
and took up Quisanté as a welcome change, as something odd, with a
flavour of the unknown and just a dash of the mystery-man about him.

The Quisanté-ites had undoubtedly something to say for themselves and
something to show for their faith. Handicapped as he was by his
sensational success at the Imperial League dinner, with its theatrical
and faintly suspicious climax, Quisanté had begun well in the House. He
broke away from his mentor's advice; Dick had been for more sensation,
for storming the House; Quisanté rejected the idea and made a quiet,
almost hesitating, entry on the scene. He displayed here a peculiarity
which soon came to be remarked in him; on public occasions and in regard
to public audiences he possessed a tact and a power of understanding the
feelings of his company which entirely and even conspicuously failed him
in private life. The House did not like being stormed, especially on the
strength of an outside reputation; he addressed it modestly, bringing
into play, however, resources with which he had not been credited--a
touch of humour and a pretty turn of sarcasm. He knew his facts too, and
disposed of contradictions with a Blue-book and a smile. The
hypercritical were not silenced; Marchmont still found the smile oily,
and his friends traced the humour to districts which they supposed to lie
somewhere east of the London Hospital; but they were bound to admit
sorrowfully that, although all this was true, it might not, under
democratic institutions, prove fatal to a career.

Dick Benyon was enthusiastic; he told his friend that he had scored
absolutely off his own bat and that there was and could be no more
question of help or obligation. He was rather surprised by a display of
feeling on Quisanté's part which seemed to indicate almost an excess of
gratitude; but Quisanté felt his foot on the ladder, and the wells of
emotion were full to overflowing. Dick escaped in considerable
embarrassment, telling himself that remarkable men could not be expected
to behave just like other men, like his sort of man, but wishing they
would. None the less he praised what he hardly liked, and the reputation
of being a good friend was added to Quisanté's credentials. Lastly, but
far from least in importance, a story went the rounds that a very great
veteran, who had taken a keen interest in Weston Marchmont, and
designated him for high place in a future not remote, had recently warned
him, in apparent jest indeed but with unmistakable significance, that it
would not do to take things too easily, or let a rival obtain too long a
start. There was nobody of whom the Statesman could be supposed to be
thinking, except the dark horse that Dick Benyon had brought into the
betting--Alexander Quisanté! Such predictions from such quarters have no
small power of self-verification; they predispose lesser men to a
fatalistic acquiescence which smoothes the way of the prophecy.

Marchmont, scorning the rival, was inclined to despise the dangers of the
contest, but his supineness may have been in part due to the occupation
of his mind by another interest. He had come to the conclusion that he
wanted May Gaston for his wife and that she would accept his proposal. A
few days before the Easter holidays began he betook himself to Lady
Attlebridge's with the intention of settling the matter there and then.
The purpose of his coming seemed to be divined; he was shown direct to
May's own room, and found her there alone. She had been reading a letter
and laid it down on a table by her; Marchmont could not help his eye
catching the large printed address at the head of the sheet of paper,
"Ashwood." Ashwood was Dick Benyon's country place. A moment later May
explained the letter.

"I've had a wail from Amy Benyon," she said. "She wants me to go to them
for Easter and comfort her. Look what she writes: "You must come, dear. I
must be helped through, I must have a refuge. How in the world I ever did
such a thing I don't know! But I did and I can't help it now. He's
coming! So you must come. We expect the Baxters and Mr. Morewood. But I
want _you_.""

"What has she done? Who's coming?" asked Marchmont.

"Mr. Quisanté."

He paused for a moment before he said, "You won't go, I suppose?"

"I must go if Amy wants me as much as that. Besides--well, perhaps it'll
be interesting."

A chill fell on Marchmont, and its influence spread to his companion.
Here at least he had hoped to be rid of Quisanté, to find a place where
the man could not be met, and people to whom the man was as a friend
impossible. May read his thoughts, but her purpose wavered. She liked him
very much; that hot rebellious fit, which made her impatient of his
limits, was not on her now. He had found her in a more reasonable normal
mood, when his advantages pleaded hard for him, and the limits seemed
figments of a disorderly transient fancy. Thus he had come happily, and
success had been in the mood to kiss his standards.

"I wonder you can endure the man in the same house with you," he said.

She made no answer except to smile, and he spoke no more of Quisanté. To
him it seemed that his enemy passed then and there from thought, as his
name disappeared from the conversation. But his own words had raised
difficulties and turned the smooth path rough. They had renewed something
of the rebellious fit and given fresh life to the disorderly fancies.
They had roused her ready apprehensive pride, her swift resentment at the
idea of having her friends or her associates chosen for her. She would
have said most sincerely then that Marchmont was far more to her in her
heart than Quisanté was or could be, but neither from Marchmont nor from
any man would she take orders to drop Quisanté. While he opened his tale
of love, her fingers played with the invitation to Ashwood and her eyes
rested on Lady Richard's despairing declaration of the inevitable--"He's
coming!"

He almost won her; his soft "Can you love me?" went very near her heart.
She wanted to answer "Yes" and felt sure that it would be in reality a
true response, and that happiness would wait on and reward the decisive
word. But she was held back by an unconquerable indecision, a refusal (as
it seemed) of her whole being to be committed to the pledge. She had not
resented the confidence of his wooing--she had given him some cause to be
confident; she pitied and even hated the distress into which her doubt
threw him. Yet she could do no more than say "I don't know yet." He moved
away from her.

"You'd better go away and leave me altogether," she said.

"I won't do that. I can't."

"I can say nothing else--I don't know yet. You must give me time."

"Ah, you mean 'yes'!" His voice grew assured again and joyful.

She weighed the words in which she answered him.

"No. If I meant yes, I'd say it. I wouldn't shilly-shally. I simply don't
know yet."

He left her and paced the length of the room, frowning. Her hesitation
puzzled him; he failed to trace its origin and fretted against a barrier
that he felt but could not see. She sat silent, looking at him in a
distressed fashion and restlessly fingering Lady Richard's invitation.
She was no less troubled than he and almost as puzzled; for the feeling
that held her back even while she wanted to go forward was vague,
formless, empty of anything definite enough to lay hold of and bring
forward as the plea that justified her wavering.

"I ought to say no, since I can't say yes. This isn't fair to you," she
murmured.

He protested that anything was better than no, and his protest was
manifestly eager and sincere; but a touch of resentment could not be kept
out of his voice. She should have a reason to give him, something he
could combat, disprove, or ridicule; she gave him no opening, he could
not answer an objection that she would not formulate. He pressed this on
her and she made no attempt to defend herself, merely repeating that she
could not say yes now.

"I've lost you, I suppose, and no doubt I shall be very sorry," she said.

At that he came up to her again.

"You haven't lost me and you never will," he said. "I'll come to you
again before long. I think you're strange to-day, not quite yourself, not
quite the old May. It's as if something had got between us. Well, I'll
wait till it gets out of the way again."

Not so much his words as his voice and his eyes told her of a love deeper
in him and stronger than she had given him credit for; he lived so much
in repression and exercised so careful a guard over any display of
feeling. She liked the repression no less than the feeling and was again
drawn towards him.

"I wish I could," she murmured. "Honestly, I wish I could."

He pressed her no more; if he had, she might possibly at last have given
a reluctant assent. That he would not have, even had it been in his power
to gain it.

"I'll come back--after the holidays," he said.

She looked up and met his glance.

"Yes, after the holidays," she repeated absently.

"You go to Ashwood?"

There was a pause before she answered. It came into her mind suddenly
that it would have been strange to go to Ashwood as Weston Marchmont's
promised wife. Why she could not quite tell; perhaps because such a
position would set her very much outside of all that was being thought
and talked of there, indeed in a quasi-antagonism to it. Anyhow the
position would make her feel quite differently towards it all.

"Yes," she answered at last, and mustered a laugh as she added, "I'm not
so particular as you, you know. And Amy wants me."

"I wish you always did what people want you to," said he, smiling.

Their parting was in this lighter vein, although on his side still tender
and on hers penitent. In both was a consciousness of not understanding,
of being somehow apart, of an inexplicable difficulty in taking one
another's point of view. The solution of sympathy, the break that May had
talked of, made itself apparent again. In spite of self-reproaches, her
strongest feeling, when she was left alone, was of joy that her freedom
still was hers.



                             CHAPTER V.

                          WHIMSY-WHAMSIES.


At Ashwood the sun was sinking after a bright April afternoon. Mrs.
Baxter sat in a chair on the lawn and discoursed wisdom to May Gaston and
Morewood. The rest of the party had gone for a walk to the top of what
Lady Richard called "Duty Hill"; it was the excursion obligatory on all
guests.

"The real reason," remarked Mrs. Baxter, who was making a garment--she
was under spiritual contract to make two a month--"why the Dean hasn't
risen higher is because he always has some whimsy-whamsy in his head."

"What are they? I never have 'em," said Morewood, relighting his pipe.

"You never have anything else," said Mrs. Baxter in a brief but
sufficient aside. "And, my dear," she continued to May, "what you want in
a bishop is reliability."

"The only thing I want in a bishop is absence," grunted Morewood.

"Reliability?" murmured May, half assenting, half questioning.

"Yes, my dear," said Mrs. Baxter, biting her thread. "Reliability. I
shall finish this petticoat to-morrow unless I have to drive with Lady
Richard. You don't want him to be original, or to do much, except his
confirmations and so on, of course; but you do want to be sure that he
won't fly out at something or somebody. Dan got a reputation for not
being quite reliable. I don't know how, because I haven't time to go into
his notions. But there it was. Somebody told the Prime Minister and he
crossed out Dan's name and put in John Wentworth's."

Morewood yawned obtrusively. "What a shame!" May murmured at random.

"It's just the same with a husband," Mrs. Baxter observed.

"Only it's rather more difficult to scratch out his name and put in John
Wentworth's," Morewood suggested.

May laughed. "But anyhow the Dean's a good husband, isn't he, Mrs.
Baxter?"

"Oh, yes, my dear. The same men very seldom fly out over notions and over
women."

Morewood raised himself to a sitting posture and observed solemnly,

"The whole history of science, art, and literature contradicts that last
observation."

Mrs. Baxter looked at him for a brief moment and went on with the
petticoat. May interpreted her look.

"So much the worse for the whole history!" she laughed. But a moment
later she went on, "I think I rather like whimsy-whamsies, though."

"I should think you did," said Morewood.

"A man ought to have a few," May suggested.

"A sort of trimming to the leg of mutton? Only take care the mutton's
there!"

"Oh, not the mustard without the beef!" cried May.

"Now there's Canon Grinling," said Mrs. Baxter. "That's the man I
admire."

"Pray tell us about him," urged Morewood.

"He's content to preach in his turn and work his parish."

"How much better than working his head!"

"And he'll be a bishop--at least."

"Is there anything worse?" growled Morewood disconsolately.

Mrs. Baxter never became angry with him; she turned a fresh side of the
petticoat, smiled sedately, and went on with her work.

"We had whimsy-whamsies last night, hadn't we?" asked May.

"I went to bed," said Morewood.

"But Jenkins in the next parish, who has eight children, must take up
with the Salvation Army. So there's an end of him," continued Mrs.
Baxter. "Not that I pity him--only her."

"They talked till two. I sat up, looking plainer and plainer every
minute."

"Who was talking?"

"Oh, the Dean and Dick." She paused and added, "And later on Mr.
Quisanté."

"Quisanté grows more and more anomalous every day. It's monstrous of a
man to defy one's power of judgment as he does."

"Does he defy yours?"

"Absolutely. And I hate it."

"I rather like it. You know so well what most people are like in
half-an-hour."

"I'm splendidly forward," remarked Mrs. Baxter, "This isn't an April one.
I've done them, and this is my first May."

It was impossible not to applaud and sympathise, for it was no later than
the 27th of April. The friendly task performed, Morewood went on,

"You're friends again, aren't you?"

"Well, partly. He spoke to me last night for almost the first time."

"What was the quarrel?"

"I told him his manners were bad; and he proved how right I was by
getting into a temper." She was silent a moment. Morewood saw her smile
and then frown in apparent vexation. Then she looked down at him suddenly
and said, "But then--if you'd heard him last night!"

"There it is again!" said Morewood. "That's what annoys me so. In common
with most of mankind, I like to be able to label a man and put him in his
compartment."

"That's just what you can't do with Mr. Quisanté."

A loud merry boyish laugh sounded from the shrubbery behind him. Then
Lady Richard came out, attended by young Fred Wentworth, son of that John
whose name had been put in when the Dean's was scratched out owing to a
suspicion of whimsy-whamsies. Fred was a lively fellow, whose trinity of
occupations consisted of shooting, polo, and flirting; they are set down
in his own order of merit; by profession he was a soldier, and just now
he adored Lady Richard hopelessly; he was tall, handsome, and no more
steady than the sons of ordinary men.

"We gave them the slip beautifully, didn't we?" he was asking in
exultation. "Think they're still on the top of the hill, jawing, Lady
Richard?"

"I don't mind how long they stay there," she answered, as she came across
to the group on the lawn, a dainty youthful little figure, in her white
frock and straw hat. "And how have you three been amusing yourselves?"
she inquired. "I declare my head aches, Fred," she complained. "Now is
the Church to swallow the State, or the other way round, or are they to
swallow one another, or what?"

"Such a fine day too!" observed Mrs. Baxter. Morewood burst into a laugh.

"To waste it on whimsy-whamsies!" cried May, joining in his mirth.

She looked so handsome in her merriment that Fred's eyes dwelt on her for
a moment, a new notion showing in their pleasant expanse of blue
simplicity. But loyalty's the thing--and a pleasant thing too when Lady
Richard stood for it. Besides May Gaston was rather serious as a rule and
given to asking questions; she might be able to flirt though; she just
might--if there had happened to be anybody for her to flirt with; he
pitied her a little because there was not.

"Mrs. Baxter," said Morewood suddenly, "have you ever thought what would
happen if you stopped making petticoats?" She did not answer. "It
illustrates," he went on, "the absurd importance we attach to ourselves.
The race would get itself clothed somehow, even as Church and State will
go on, although they fail to settle that question of the swallowing on
the top of the hill."

May alone was listening. "Don't you think it all makes any difference?"
she asked in a low voice.

"Not enough to stop enjoying one's self about, or to take any risks for."

"I disbelieve you with my whole heart and soul; and, what's more, you
don't believe yourself," she said. "To take risks is what we were given
life for, I believe."

"Whimsy-whamsies!" he jeered, jerking his thumb warningly towards Mrs.
Baxter.

To May it seemed curious how an utter absence of speculation and an
honest engrossment in everyday cares, hopes, and duties appeared to
produce an attitude of mind similar in many ways to that caused by an
extensive survey of thought and a careful detachment of spirit from the
pursuits of the vulgar. The expression was different; the man who was now
so much in her thoughts, Weston Marchmont, would not have denounced
whimsy-whamsies. He would have claimed an open mind and protested that he
was ready to entertain every notion on its merits. But temper and taste
led to the same end as ignorance and simplicity; the philosopher and the
housewife met on a common ground of disapproval and disdain. Mrs. Baxter
kept her house and made petticoats. Marchmont read his books, mixed with
his world, and did his share in his obvious duty of governing the
country. Misty dreams, great cloudy visions, vague ideals, were forsworn
of both; they were all whimsy-whamsies, the hardly excusable occupation
of an idle day in the country. Was such a coincidence of opinion
conclusive? Perhaps. But then, as she had hinted to Morewood, what of
life? Was it not conclusive as to the merits of that also? Suddenly Fred
Wentworth's voice broke across her meditation.

"If you asked me what I wanted," he said in a tone of great seriousness,
"upon my honour I don't know what I should say, except another pony." He
paused and added, "A real good 'un, you know, Lady Richard."

You might trust in God in an almost Quietist fashion (nothing less was at
the bottom of Mrs. Baxter's homely serenity), you might exhaust
philosophy and the researches of the wise, or you might merely be in
excellent health and spirits. Any of these three seemed enough to exclude
that painful reaching out to dim unlikely possibilities which must in her
mind henceforward be nicknamed whimsy-whamsies. But to May's temper the
question about life came up again. She swayed between the opposing sides,
as she had swayed between yes and no when Marchmont challenged her with
his love.

Lady Richard's verdict about Quisanté--she gave it with an air of
laboured reasonableness--was that he proved worse on the whole than even
she had anticipated. This pessimistic view was due in part to the
constant and wearing difficulty of getting Fred Wentworth to be civil to
him; yet May Gaston was half-inclined to fall in with it. The attitude of
offence which he had at first maintained towards her was marked by
peevishness, not by dignity, and when it was relaxed his old excessive
politeness revived in full force. He had few 'moments' either; and the
one reported to her with enthusiasm by Dick Benyon took place on Duty
Hill while she was gossiping on the lawn. Disappointed in the
half-conscious anticipation which had brought her to Ashwood, she began
to veer towards the obvious, towards safety, and towards Weston
Marchmont. He had allowed himself one letter, not urging her, but very
gracefully and feelingly expressed. As she walked through the village,
the telegraph-office tempted her; her life could be settled for sixpence,
and there would be no need of further thought or trouble. She was again
held back by a rather impalpable influence, by a vague unwillingness to
cut herself off (as she would by such a step) from the mental stir which,
beneath the apparent quiet of country-house life, permeated Ashwood. The
stir was there, though it defied definition; it was not due to Dick or
the Dean, though they shared in it; it was the mark of Quisanté's
presence, the atmosphere he carried with him. She recognised this with a
mixture of feelings; she was ashamed to dwell on his small faults in face
of such a thing; she was afraid to find how strong his attraction grew in
spite of the intolerable drawbacks. Wavering again, she could not decide
whether his faults were fatal defects or trifling foibles.

She saw that the Dean shared her doubts and her puzzle. He had a little
trick, an involuntary and unconscious shake of the head which indicated,
as her study of it told her, not a mere difference of opinion, but a sort
of moral distaste for what was said; it reminded her of a dog shaking his
coat to get rid of a splash of dirty water. She came to watch for it when
Alexander Quisanté was talking, and to find that it agreed wonderfully
well with the invisible movements of her own mind; it came when the man
was petty, or facetious on untimely occasions, or when he betrayed
blindness to the finer shades of right and wrong. But for all this the
Dean did not give up Quisanté; for all this he and Dick Benyon clung to
their scheme and to the man who was to carry it out. In her urgent desire
for guidance she took the Dean for a walk and tried to draw out his
innermost opinions. He showed some surprise at her interest.

"He's the last man I should have thought you'd care to know about, Lady
May," he said.

"That can be only because you think me stupid," she retorted, smiling.

"No! But I thought you'd be stopped _in limine_--on the threshold, you
know."

"I see the threshold; and, yes, I don't like it. But tell me about the
house too."

"I've not seen it all," smiled the Dean. "Well, to drop our metaphor, I
think Mr. Quisanté has a wonderfully acute intellect."

"Oh, yes, yes."

"And hardly a wonderfully, but a rather noticeably, blunt conscience.
Many men have, you'll say, I know. But most of the men we meet have
substitutes."

"Substitutes for conscience?" May laughed reprovingly at her companion.

"Taste, tradition, the rules of society, what young men call 'good
form.'"

"Ah, yes. And he hasn't?"

"His bringing up hasn't given them to him. He might learn them."

"Who from?"

"One would have hoped from our host, but I see no signs of it." The Dean
paused, shaking his head "A woman might teach him." He paused again
before adding with emphasis, "But I should be very sorry for her."

"Why?" The brief question was asked with averted eyes.

"Because the only woman who could do it must be the sort of woman
who--whose teeth would be set on edge by him every day till the
process--the quite uncertain process--was complete."

"Yes, she'd have to be that," murmured May Gaston.

"On the whole I think she'd have an unhappy life, and very likely fail.
But I also think that it would be the only way." His round face broke
again into its cheerful smile. "We shall have to make the best of him as
he is, Lady May," he ended. "Heaven forbid that I should encourage any
woman to the task!"

"I certainly don't think you seem likely to," she said with a laugh. "It
seems to come to this: his manners are bad and his morals are worse."

"Yes, I think so."

"But, as Dick Benyon would say, so were Napoleon's."

"Exactly, and, as we know, Napoleon's wife was not to be envied."

May Gaston was silent for a moment; then she said meditatively, "Oh,
don't you think so?", and fell again into a long silence. The Dean did
not break it; his thoughts had wandered from the hypothetical lady who
was to redeem Quisanté to the realities of the great Crusade.

There seemed to May something a little inhuman in the Dean's attitude,
and indeed in the way in which everybody at Ashwood regarded Quisanté.
Not even Dick Benyon was altogether free from this reproach, in spite of
his enthusiasm and his resulting blindness to Quisanté's lesser, but not
less galling, faults. Not even to Dick was he a real friend; none of them
took him or offered to take him into their inner lives, or allowed him to
share their deepest sympathies. Perhaps this was only to treat him as he
deserved to be treated; if he asked nothing but a mutual usefulness and
accommodation, that they should use him and he should rise by serving
them, neither party was deceived and neither had any cause to complain.
But if after all the man was like most men, if his chilly childhood and
his lonely youth had left him with any desire for unreserved
companionship, for true friendship, or for love, then to acquiesce in his
bad manners and his worse morals, to be content (as the Dean said) to
make the best of him--out of him would have been a more sincere form of
expression--as he was, seemed in some sort cruelty; it was like growing
rich out of the skill of your craftsmen and yet taking no interest in
their happiness or welfare. It was to use him only as a means, and to be
content in turn to be to him only a means; such a relative position
excluded true human intercourse, and, it appeared to May, must intensify
the faults from which it arose. Even here, in this house, Quisanté was
almost a stranger; the rest were easy with one another, their presence
was natural and came of itself; he alone was there for a purpose, came
from outside, and required to be accounted for. If the talk with the Dean
confirmed apprehensions already existing, on the other hand it raised a
new force of sympathy and a fresh impulse to kindness. But the sympathy
and the apprehensions could make no treaty; fierce war waged between
them.

That night the turn of events served Quisanté. He seemed ill and tired,
yet he had flashes of brilliancy. Again it was made plain that, all said
and done, his was the master mind there; even Lady Richard had to listen
and Fred Wentworth to wonder unwillingly where the fellow got his
notions. After dinner he talked to them, and they gave him all their ears
until he chose to cease and sank back wearied in his chair. But then came
the contrast. The Dean went to the library, Lady Richard strolled out of
doors with Fred, Mrs. Baxter withdrew into seclusion with a novel and a
petticoat, Dick Benyon asked May to walk in the garden with him, and when
she refused went off to play billiards with Morewood. May had pleaded
letters to write and sat down to the task. The man who a little while ago
had been the centre of attention was left alone. He wandered about idly
for a few moments, then dropped into a chair, seeming too tired to read,
looking fretful, listless, solitary and sad. She watched him furtively
for some time from behind the tall sides of the old-fashioned escritoire;
he sat very still, stretched out, frowning, pale. Suddenly she rose and
crossed the room.

"It's too much trouble to write letters," she said. "Are you inclined for
a stroll, Mr. Quisanté?"

He sprang up, a sudden gleam darting into his eyes. She was afraid he
would make some ornate speech, but perhaps he was startled into
simplicity, perhaps only at a loss; he stammered out no more than
"Thanks, very much," and followed her through the doorway on to the
gravel-walk. For a little while she did not speak, then she said,

"It's good of you to be friends with me again. I was very impertinent
that night after your speech. I don't know what made me do it."

He did not answer, and she turned to find his eyes fixed intently on her
face.

"We are friends again, aren't we?" she asked rather nervously; she knew
that she risked a renewal of the flirtation, and if it were again what it
had been her friendship could scarcely survive the trial. "I shouldn't
have said it," she went on, "if I hadn't--I mean, if your speech hadn't
seemed so great to me. But you forgive me, don't you?"

"Oh yes, Lady May. I know pretty well what you think of me." His lips
shut obstinately for a moment. "But I shall go my way and do my work all
the same--good manners or bad, you know."

"Those are very bad ones," she said, with a little laugh. Then she grew
grave and went on imploringly, "Don't take it like that. You talk as if
we--I don't mean myself, I mean all of us--were enemies, people you had
to fight and beat. Don't think of us like that. We want to be your
friends, indeed we do."

"For whom are you speaking?" he asked in a low hard voice.

She glanced at him. Had he divined the thought which the Dean's talk had
put into her head? Did he feel himself a mere tool, always an outsider,
in the end friendless? If he discerned this truth, no words of hers could
throw his keen-scented mind off the track. She fell back on simple
honesty, on the strength of a personal assurance and a personal appeal.

"At any rate I speak for myself," she said. "I can answer for myself. I
want to be friends."

"In spite of my manners?" He was bitter and defiant still.

"They grow worse every minute; and your morals are no better, I'm told."

"I daresay not," said Quisanté with a short laugh.

"Oh, say you won't be friends, if you don't want to! Be simple. There, I
say it again. Be simple."

Lady Richard's merry laugh rang through the garden, and a brusque "Damn
it!" of Morewood's floated out from the open window of the billiard-room.
There was an odd contrast to this cheerful levity in the man's pale drawn
face as he looked into May Gaston's eyes.

"Do you really mean what you say?" he asked. "Or are you only trying to
be kind, to put me at my ease?"

"It's nobody's fault but your own that you're not always at your ease,"
she replied. The rest she let pass; when she asked him to walk with her
she had only been trying to be kind, and she had been fearful of what her
kindness might entail on her. But things went well; he was not flirting
and he was not acting; his manners, if still bad, were just now at least
not borrowed, they were home-grown.

"I am at my ease," he told her. "At least, I was till----" He hesitated,
and then went on slowly, "Don't you suppose I've been thinking about what
you said?"

"I hope not; it wasn't worth it."

"It was. But how can I change?" His voice had a touch of despair as well
as of defiance. "I don't see what you mean; I don't feel what you mean.
Yes, and you talk of morals too. Well, don't I know that every now and
then I--I don't see those either?" He paused. "A man must get on as well
as he can with what he's got," he resumed. "If he's only got one eye, he
must learn to be sharper than other men in looking round."

They walked on in silence for some way. His pride and his recognition of
his defects, his defiance and his pleading for himself, combined to touch
her heart, and she could not at the moment speak to him more about them.
And to find all that so near the surface, so eager for utterance, ready
to break out at the least encouragement, at the first sign of sympathy!
For it had not come home to her yet that another might have spoken to him
as she had, but found no response and opened the gates to no confidence;
she had not guessed what Aunt Maria had about the Empress among women.

"You're ill too," she said.

"No, not for me," he answered. "I'm pretty well for me."

"Are you never really well?"

"My body's not much better than the other things. But I must use that
too, as long as it'll last." There was no appeal for pity in his voice;
defiance was still uppermost. May felt that she must not let him see that
she pitied him, either for his bad body, or his bad manners, or his bad
morals, or his want of friends. He thought he had as much to give as to
receive. She smiled for a moment. But swift came the question--Was he
wrong? But whether he were in fact right or wrong, it was harder to deal
with him on the basis of this equality than to stoop to him in the mere
friendliness of compassion. The compassion touched him only, to accept
the equality was to make admissions about herself.

He was very silent and quiet; this might be due to illness or fatigue.
But he was also curiously free from tricks, simple, not exhibiting
himself. These were the signs of one of his moments; but what brought
about a moment now? A moment needed a great subject, a spur to his
imagination, an appeal to his deep emotions, a theme, an ideal. The
moments had not seemed to May things that would enter into or have any
concern with private life and intimate talks; they belonged to Dick
Benyon's dark horse, not to the mere man Alexander Quisanté. Or had she a
little misunderstood the mere man? The thought crossed her mind that,
even if she adopted this conclusion and contrived to come to a better
understanding of him, it would be impossible to make the rest of the
world, of the world in which she lived and to which she clung, see
anything of what she saw. They would laugh if her new position were a
passing whim; they would be scornful and angry if it were anything more.

Suddenly Quisanté spoke. What he said was not free from consciousness of
self, from that perpetual presence of self to self which is common enough
in men of great ability and ambition, and yet never ceases to be a flaw;
but he said it soberly enough; there were no flourishes.

"You can't be half-friends with me," he said. "I must be taken as I am,
good and bad. You must let me alone, or take me for better for worse."

May smiled at the phrase he had happened on and its familiar
associations--surely so out of place here. But she followed his meaning
and appreciated his seriousness. She could answer him neither by an only
half-sincere assurance that she was ready to be entire friends, nor yet
by a joking evasion of his point.

"Yes, I see: I expect that is so," she said in a troubled voice; it was
so very hard to take him for worse, and it was rather hard to resolve to
make no effort at taking him for better. She forced a laugh, as she said,
"I'll think about it, Mr. Quisanté."

As she spoke, she raised her eyes to his; a low, hardly audible
exclamation escaped her lips before she was conscious of it. If ever a
man spoke plainly without words what was in his soul, Quisanté spoke it
then. She could not miss the meaning of his eyes; all unprepared as she
was, it came home to her in a minute with a shock of wonder that forbade
either pain or pleasure and seemed to leave her numb. Now she saw how
truly she, no less than the others, had treated him as an outsider, as a
tool, as something to be used, not as one of their own world. For she had
never thought of his falling in love with her, and had never considered
him in that point of view at all. Yet he had, and here lay the reason why
he flirted no more, and why he would have her sympathy only on even
terms. Here also, it seemed, was the reason why his tricks were
forgotten, why he was simple and direct; here was the incitement to
imagination, the ideal, the passion that had power to fire and purge his
soul.

"We must go in," she whispered in a shaking voice. "We must go in, Mr.
Quisanté."



                             CHAPTER VI.

                            ON DUTY HILL.


Another week had gone by, and, although nothing very palpable had
happened, there was a sort of vague scare in the house-party. It touched
everybody, affecting them in different ways according to their characters,
but raising in all an indignant protest against a fact hardly credible
and a danger scarcely to be named. Not even Mrs. Baxter, entrenched in
placidity and petticoats, quite escaped its influence; even Morewood's
cynical humour hesitated to play on a situation so unexpected, possibly
so serious. Lady Richard's alarm was the most outspoken, and her dismay
the most clamorous; yet perhaps in Dick Benyon himself was the strongest
fear. For if that did happen which seemed to be happening beneath the
incredulous gaze of their eyes, who but he was responsible, to whose
account save his could the result be laid? He had brought the man into
the circle, into the house, into the knowledge of his friends; but for
him Quisanté might have been carving a career far away, or have given up
any idea of one at all.

More than this, Dick, seeking approval and sympathy, had looked round for
open and intelligent souls who would share his interest, his hopes, and
his enthusiasm, and on no soul had he spent more pains or built higher
anticipations than May Gaston's. She was to sympathise, to share the
hopes and to understand the enthusiasm. Had he not asked her to dinner,
had he not brought her to the Imperial League banquet, had he not incited
Lady Richard to have her at Ashwood? And now she spread this scare
through the house; she outran the limits--all the reasonable limits--of
interest, she did far more than ever he had asked of her, she cast
reflections on his judgment by pushing it to extremes whither it had
never been meant to stretch. She had been bidden to watch Alexander
Quisanté, to admire his great moments, to see a future for him, and to
applaud the discerning eye which had seen that future first. But who had
bidden her make a friend of the man, take him into the inner circle,
treat him as one who belonged to the group of her intimates, to the
company of her equals and of those with whom she had grown up? Almost
passionately Dick disclaimed the responsibility for this; with no less
heat his wife forced it on him; relentlessly the course of events seemed
to charge him with it.

What would happen he did not know; none of them at Ashwood professed to
know; they refused to forecast the worst. But what had actually happened
was that Quisanté was undoubtedly in love with May Gaston, and that May
Gaston was no less certainly wrapped up in Quisanté. The difference of
terms was fondly clung to; and indeed she showed no signs of love as love
is generally understood; she displayed only an open preference for his
society and an engrossed interest in him. It was bad enough; who could
tell when it might become worse? "I will buy with you, sell with you,
talk with you, walk with you, and so following; but I will not eat with
you, drink with you, nor pray with you." Allowing for difference of times
and customs, that had been the attitude of all towards Quisanté; a
caste-feeling, almost a race-feeling, dictated it and kept it alive and
strong under all superficial alliance and outward friendliness. But May
had seen the barrier only to throw it down in a passion of scorn for its
narrowness and an impulse of indignation at its cruelty. If she had gone
so far, he was bold who dared to say that she would not go farther, or
would set a limit to her advance on the path that the rest of them had
never trodden.

"At any rate it shan't happen here," said Lady Richard. "I should never
be able to look her mother in the face again."

"It won't happen anywhere," Dick protested. "But you can't turn him out,
you know."

"I can't unless I absolutely literally do. He won't see that he isn't
wanted."

"No; and he may be excused if he thinks he is--by May Gaston at all
events."

The subject was one to be discussed between husbands and wives, Dick and
Lady Richard, Mrs. Baxter and the Dean, rather than in any more public
fashion, but the unexpressed thought pervaded every conversation, and was
strongest when the presence of the persons concerned forbade even
indirect reference. Once or twice Morewood broke into open comment to
Lady Richard; he puzzled her rather, and did not console her at all.

"I know why you object and how silly your grounds are," he said. "It's
snobbery in you, you know. Now in me it's good sound sense. Because in
the first place, if I were ten years younger, and ten times richer, and
rather more of a man, I should like to marry her myself; and in the
second place I'm not sure Quisanté hasn't forged, or isn't about to
forge, a cheque for a million."

"Don't talk about it," shuddered little Lady Richard. "She can't care for
him, she can't, you know."

"Certainly not, in the sentimental sense that you women attach to that
very weak form of expression."

"And I'm sure there's nothing else to tempt her."

"You'll be laying down what does and doesn't tempt me next."

"I've known her since she was a child."

"There's nothing that produces so many false judgments of people."

Lady Richard was far too prostrate to accept any challenge.

"You do hate it as much as I do, don't you?" she implored.

"Quite," said he with restrained intensity. "But if you ask me, I think
she'll do it."

A pause followed. "Fred Wentworth must have been waiting ever so long for
me," Lady Richard murmured apologetically, though an apology to Morewood
could not soothe Fred. Her thoughts were busy, and a resolve was forming
in her mind. "I shall ask Mrs. Baxter to speak to her," she announced at
last.

"That'll be amusing if it's nothing else. I should like to be there."

Mrs. Baxter was by no means unwilling to help. She was mother to a large
family and had seen all her children creditably married; such matters lay
well within the sphere of legitimate feminine activity as she conceived
it. Of course the Dean told her she had better leave the thing alone, but
it was evident that this was no more than a disclaimer of responsibility
in case her efforts did more harm than good.

Mrs. Baxter advanced on approved and traditional lines. She slid into the
special topic from a general survey of matrimonial desirability; May did
not shy, but seemed ready to listen. Mrs. Baxter ignored the possibility
of any serious purpose on May's side and pointed out with motherly
gentleness that her impulsive interest in Quisanté might possibly be
misunderstood by him and give rise to an idea absolutely remote from any
which it was May's intention to arouse. Then she would give pain;
wouldn't it be better gradually, not roughly or rudely but by slow
degrees, to diminish the time she spent with Quisanté and the attention
she bestowed on him? Mrs. Baxter's remonstrance, if somewhat
conventional, yet was artistic in its way.

But May Gaston laughed; it was all very familiar, sounded very old, and
was ludicrously wide of the mark. She had not been careless, she had not
suffered from the dangerous stupidity of ultra-maidenly blindness, she
knew quite well how Quisanté felt. Accordingly she would not acquiesce in
Mrs. Baxter's diplomatic ignoring of the only material point--how she
felt herself. Of course if all Mrs. Baxter meant to convey was her own
disapproval of the idea,--well, she conveyed so much. But then nobody
needed to be told of that; it was quite obvious and it was not important;
it was an insignificant atom in the great inevitable mass of disapproval
which any marked liking for Quisanté (May shrank from even thinking of
stronger terms) must arouse. She had far too much understanding of the
disapproval and far too much sympathy with it to underrate the probable
extent and depth of it; to a half of herself she was with it, heart and
soul; to a half of herself the impulse that drove her towards Quisanté
was something hardly rational and wholly repulsive. What purpose, then,
did Mrs. Baxter's traditional motherliness serve?

There was one person with whom she wished to talk, who might, she
thought, help her to understand herself and thus to guide her steps. For
every day it became more and more obvious that the matter would have to
be faced and ended one way or the other. Quisanté was not patient, and he
would not be dealt with by way of favour. And she herself was in a
turmoil and a contradiction of feeling which she summed up antithetically
by declaring that she disliked him more every hour he was there and
missed him more every hour he was not; or, to adopt the Dean's metaphor,
his presence set her teeth on edge and his absence made her feel as if
she had nothing to eat. Morewood might help her; he would at least
understand something of how she felt, if she could summon up courage to
talk to him; they were old friends.

One afternoon Quisanté had been sitting with them on the lawn and, going
off to walk with Dick, left them alone together. Quisanté had not been in
a happy vein; he had been trying to be light and flippant, and gossiping
about people; here, where good taste makes the whole difference between
what is acceptable and what is odious, was not the field for him.
Morewood had growled and May had flinched several times. She sat looking
after Quisanté with troubled puzzled eyes.

"How funnily people are mixed!" she murmured, more to herself than her
companion. Then she turned to him and said with a laugh, "How you hate
him, don't you?"

"By all the nature of things you ought to hate him much more."

"Yes," she agreed. "But do you think that's the only way to look at
people, any more than it is at books? You like or dislike a novel,
perhaps; but you don't like or dislike--oh, what shall I say? Gibbon's
Roman Empire. There you admire or don't admire; or rather you study or
neglect; because, if you study, you must admire. Don't think me learned;
it's only an illustration."

"Gibbon's a duty," said Morewood, "but I'm not clear that Alexander
Quisanté is."

"Oh, no; exactly the opposite; for me at least."

"Is he then a curriculum?"

"He's partly a curriculum, and partly--I don't know--a taste for strong
drink perhaps." She laughed reluctantly, adding, "I'm being absurd, I
know."

"In talk or in conduct?"

"Both, Mr. Morewood. I can only see him in metaphors. I once thought of
him as a mountain range; that's fine-sounding and dignified, isn't it?
But now I'm humbler in my fancies; I think of him as a forest--as the
bush, you know, full of wretched underwood that you keep tumbling over,
but with splendid trees (I don't know whether there are in the bush,
really) and every now and then a beautiful open space or a stately
vista."

"From all this riot of your fancy," said Morewood grimly, "one only thing
emerges quite plainly."

"Does even one thing?"

"Yes. That you think about Quisanté a mighty lot."

"Oh, yes. Of course I do, a mighty lot," she admitted, laughing. "But you
aren't very much more useful than Mrs. Baxter, who told me that my
innocent heedlessness might give Mr. Quisanté pain. I oughtn't to have
told you that, but it was rather funny. I'm sure she's said it to all the
Baxter girls in turn, and about all the girls that all the Baxter boys
were ever in love with."

"Possibly Mrs. Baxter only perceives the wretched underwood."

"Inevitably," said May.

"For heaven's sake don't drift into thinking that you're the only person
who can understand him. Once think that about anybody and you're his
slave."

"Perhaps I'm the only person who takes the trouble. I don't claim genius,
only diligence."

"Well, you're very diligent," Morewood grunted.

She sat looking straight in front of her for a few moments in silence,
while Morewood admired the curve of her chin and the moulding of her
throat.

"I feel," she said in a low voice and slowly, "as if I must see what
becomes of him and as if it ought to be seen at close quarters."

Then Morewood spoke with deliberate plainness.

"You know better than I do that he's not of your class; I mean in
himself, not merely where he happens to come from. And for my part I'm
not sure that he's an honest man, and I don't think he's a high-minded
one."

"Do you believe people are bound to be always just what they are now?"
she asked.

"Thinking you can improve them is the one thing more dangerous to
yourself than thinking you've a special gift for understanding them. To
be quite plain, both generally end in love-affairs and, what's more,
unhappy love-affairs."

"Oh, I'm not in love with Mr. Quisanté. You're going back to your narrow
loving-hating theory."

"Hum. I'm inclined to think that nature shares my narrowness."

If May got small comfort from this conversation, Morewood got less, and
the rest of the party, judging from what he let drop about his
impressions of May's state of mind, none at all. Lady Richard was of
opinion that a crisis approached and re-echoed her cry, "Not here
anyhow!" But Quisanté's demeanour at once confirmed her fears and ignored
her protest. He had many faults and weaknesses, but he was not the man to
shrink from a big stake and a great throw. His confidence in his powers
was the higher owing to his blindness to his defects. May Gaston had
indeed opened his eyes to some degree, but here again, as she showed him
continued favour, he found good excuse for dwelling on the interest which
inspired rather than on the frankness which characterised her utterance.
She had bidden him be himself; then to her that was a thing worth being.
As he believed himself able to conquer all external obstacles in his
path, so he vaguely supposed that he could overcome and obliterate
anything there might be wrong in himself, or at any rate that he could so
outweigh it by a more prodigal display of his gifts as to reduce it to
utter insignificance; try as he might to see him self as she saw him, he
could not fully understand the gravity of her objections. And anyhow,
grave as she thought them, she was his friend; at the cost of defying,
perhaps of losing, her friends, she elected to be his friend.

To the appeal of this generosity his emotions responded passionately; now
he worshipped his Empress among women for more than her grace, her
stateliness, or her beauty; he loved her for her courage and her loyalty.
There seemed nothing that he would not do for her; it did not, however,
occur to him that perhaps the one thing he could do for her was to leave
her. But short of this self-sacrifice--and to that even he might have
risen had anyone pointed him the way--he was in just that state of
exalted feeling which made him at his best, cured him of his tricks for
the time being, and gave him the simplicity whose absence marred his
ordinary hours. He always rose to the occasion, Dick Benyon maintained;
and to this great occasion he came marvellously near to rising. This is
not to say that he was altogether in the temper of a hero of romance. He
loved the lady, but he loved the victory too, the report of it, the
_éclat_, the talk it would make.

The tendency of events might seem to justify his growing hopes and almost
to excuse confidence, but May's mood, had he seen it fully, would have
rebuked him. She hung doubtful. She had succeeded, by the help of her
far-fetched metaphors, in describing to Morewood the nature of the
attraction which Quisanté exercised over her and of the force which drew
her on; but to Morewood she had said nothing of the opposing influences.
She had sent no letter to Marchmont, she had not yet refused to become
his wife. Although she recognised the unfairness of this treatment of him
she could not compel her hand to the writing of the letter; for Marchmont
came to personify to her all that she lost, that at least she risked, if
she yielded to her new impulse. Thus the hold which her liking for him,
their old acquaintance, and all the obvious advantages gave him was
further strengthened. Leaving on one side his position and the excellence
of the match, things which now seemed to her less important, and coming
to the more intimate and personal aspect of the matter, she realised with
a pang how much Marchmont pleased her; he never offended her taste or
jarred on her feelings; she would be absolutely safe with him, he would
gratify almost every mood and satisfy almost every aspiration.

Dealing very plainly with herself, formulating the question that she
could not put to Morewood, she asked whether she would not rather go as a
wife to Marchmont than to any other man she had met, whether Quisanté or
another. She had been, perhaps still was, more nearly in love with Weston
Marchmont than with anybody else. But the "almosts" were obstinate; the
nearly had never become the quite; she did not tell herself that it never
could; on the contrary she recognised (though here she was inclined to
shirk the probe) that if she married another, she might well awake to
find herself loving Marchmont; she knew that she would not like Marchmont
to love another woman. So far she carried her inquiry: then she grew in a
way sick and disgusted with this exposure of her inmost feelings. She
would not proceed to ask why precisely she could not say yes to Marchmont
without being sensible of a loss greater than the gain. All she knew was
that she would not think of becoming Quisanté's wife if that were not the
only way of getting all she wanted from Quisanté. The wifehood she looked
on as a means to something else, to what she could hardly say; in itself
she did not desire it.

Lady Richard's prayer was answered--no thanks to herself or her hints, no
thanks either to Mrs. Baxter's motherly remonstrance or to Morewood's
blunt speech. It was May herself who sent Quisanté away. A thrill of
relief ran round the table when he announced at dinner that if Lady
Richard would excuse him he would leave by the early train. Excuse him!
She would have hired a balloon to take him if he had declared a
preference for that form of locomotion. But she expressed the proper
regret and the proper interest in the reason (the pretext she called it
in her own mind) for his departure. It appeared that a very large and
important Meeting was to be held at Manchester; two Cabinet ministers
were to be there; Quisanté was invited to be the third speaker. He
explained that he felt it would be a mistake to refuse the invitation,
and the acceptance of it entailed a quiet day or two in London with his
Blue-books and his papers. As he put it, the whole thing sounded like an
excuse; Lady Richard hoped that it covered a retreat and that the retreat
was after a decisive repulse from May Gaston. Even Dick was half inclined
to share this opinion; for although he knew how a chance of shining with,
and perhaps of outshining, such luminaries as were to adorn the
Manchester platform would appeal to his friend, he did not think that for
its sake Quisanté would abandon any prospect of success in his suit. In
fact the impression was general, and the relief proportionate. The Dean
beamed and Mrs. Baxter purred; Morewood was good-natured, and Fred
Wentworth was lightened of a burden of bewilderment which had pressed
heavily on his youthful mind. Quisanté was treated with a marked access
of cordiality, and May was petted like a child who has displayed a strong
inclination to be naughty, but has at last made up its mind to be good,
and thereby saved those responsible for its moral welfare from the
disagreeable necessity of showing displeasure and exercising discipline.
She smiled to herself at the effusive affection with which Lady Richard
bade her good-night.

For these people did not know the history, and had not been present at
the interview between May and Quisanté on Duty Hill when the sun was
sinking and the air was still. They did not know that it was by her
command that he went and that his going rather strengthened than relaxed
the bond there was between them. Always there stood out in her memory the
scene on the hill, how he faced her there and told her that, great as the
chance was and imperative as the call, yet he would not go; he could not
leave her, he said, and then and there poured out his love for her. When
he made love, he was not as when he flirted. Passion purged him; he was
strong, direct, and simple; he was consumed then by what he felt and had
no time to spoil the effect by asking what impression he made on others.
Here was the thing that Marchmont could not give her, the great moment,
the thrill, the sense of a power in the man which she had not measured,
might spend her life in seeking to measure, and yet never to the end know
in its fulness. But she answered not a word to his love-making, she
neither accepted nor refused it; as often as he paused an instant and
again when he came to the end, she had nothing to say or would say
nothing except, "You must go."

"You're the only person in the world for whose sake I would hesitate
about going."

She smiled. "That's not at all to your credit," she said; but she was not
ill pleased.

He came a step nearer to her and said, still soberly, still quietly,
"I'll go away from here to-morrow."

"Yes, to the meeting," she said, looking up at him brightly from her seat
on the wooden bench on the hill-top.

"Away from here," he repeated. "But not to the meeting unless you send
me." Then he stood quite still opposite to her for a minute. "Because
unless you care for me to do it, I don't care to do it," he went on.

A long silence followed as she sat there, looking past him down into the
rich valley that spread from the foot of the hill. The fascination was
strong on her, the fear was strong on her too; but for the moment the
repulsion was forgotten. For he had risen to the occasion, as Dick Benyon
maintained that he always did; not a word too much, not an entreaty too
extravagant, not an epithet too florid had found passage from his lips.
His instinct of the way to treat a great and important situation had
saved him and brought him triumphantly through all the perils. He did not
ignore what he was, he did not disguise his knowledge of his powers;
knowing what they were and the value of his offering, he laid them all at
her feet and asked in return no more than her leave and her command to
use them.

She raised her eyes to his pale eager face.

"I send you then," she said. "And now walk with me down the hill and tell
me what you'll say at Manchester."

That night, before she went to bed, she wrote to Weston Marchmont;

    "Dear Friend,--I will not wait to see you again. I can't do what you
    wish. Everything else I could do for you, and everything else that
    you wish I wish for you. But I can't do that."

Alas for the renewed peace of Lady Richard's mind, alas for the returning
quiet of Dick Benyon's conscience! Quisanté made his preparations for
going with his eyes all agleam, murmuring again and again, "She sends me;
she shall see what I'm worth." For one of his great moments had come in
the nick of time and done a work that he himself, low as he might now and
again fall, could hardly quite undo.



                             CHAPTER VII.

                        ADVICE FROM AUNT MARIA.


The two Cabinet Ministers brought back from Manchester different accounts
of Quisanté's speech and its effects. One said it was frothy rhetoric
heard in puzzled lethargy, the other that it was genuine eloquence
received with the hush of profound attention, but hailed at the end with
rapturous enthusiasm. This was a typical case of the division of opinion
which began to prevail about Quisanté, and was not disposed of by
observing that the unfavourable Minister belonged to that "old gang"
which it was Quisanté's mission to shake up or shake out. Rich in merits,
his speeches were nevertheless faulty to a critical ear; the ornate was
apt to turn to the gaudy, the dignified to the pompous. To the critical,
defects outweigh merits; but the mass of people, not being critical, fix
on the fine things, contentedly and perhaps not unwisely ignoring the
blemishes. So the speech was a great popular success, and Alexander
Quisanté conceived that he had more than justified his reputation and had
ornamented his Lady's colours with the laurel of victory. He wrote to her
to say that he was staying a few days in Lancashire and had arranged to
speak at one or two other places. "If I do at all well," he wrote, "it is
because I forget my audience and think that I speak only to you and to
earn the praise of your eyes."

"Oh, dear, why does he talk like that?" said May Gaston with a sigh and a
smile. "Forget his audience! The praise of my eyes!" She read the
compliment over again almost despairingly. "Yet he doesn't really think
me an idiot," she ended. She had made up her mind to forgive him his
habit of playing to the gallery, but he need not treat her as though she
sat there. She felt able to understand the dumb and bewildered reproach
which fronted her in her sister Fanny's face, but found spoken expression
only in the news that Fanny had had a letter from Lady Richard.

The next day she went to see Miss Quisanté; the paying of this visit had
been in her mind from the first moment she left Ashwood. In the little
flat's narrow passage she had to squeeze by a short, stout, dark man,
dressed with much elaboration; Miss Quisanté explained afterwards that he
was a sort of cousin of her own and Sandro's.

"His name is Mandeville," she said. "His father's was Isaacs. You knew we
had Jewish relations?"

"I thought it not improbable."

"I suppose we've got some of the blood, and some of it's a very good
thing," pursued Aunt Maria. "This man's a stock-jobber; he came to talk
to me about my money, but he let out a thing or two about Sandro."

"About Mr. Quisanté?"

"Yes. Well, I'm not surprised; I never am surprised at Sandro. Only if he
speculates with my money I shan't give it him."

May listened and heard how Quisanté had embarked the five hundred pounds
given him to support his new position in a hazardous, although not
unpromising, speculation. Whether he would win or lose was still
uncertain; Mandeville had hopes.

"And I don't know that it's exactly dishonest," said Aunt Maria
meditatively. "But that's just like Sandro. He's always doing things that
you can't be quite sure about--whether they're straight or not, you know.
He was just the same as a boy."

May had a sense of treachery in listening, but how should she not listen?
Morewood's opinion came into her memory. Miss Quisanté was confirming it
out of her full acquaintance with its subject.

"I gave him the money, it was his own, I've got nothing to show," said
Miss Quisanté with her vinegary little smile.

"Perhaps he--he misunderstood what you meant; I mean, that you intended
the money for any special purpose."

"That's exactly what he'll say," remarked Aunt Maria with a triumphant
nod.

"But if it's true----"

"I shan't know whether it's true or not. That's where Sandro's cleverness
comes in."

It was hard to realise that the old lady talked of the man whom her
hearer had seen on Duty Hill.

"I'm sure you don't do him justice." The plea sounded weak even to its
utterer.

"To an ounce," said Aunt Maria emphatically. May laughed. "I lived with
him for twelve years, and I'm not a fool any more than he is. If you ask
him about me, you'll get the truth, and you get it when you ask me about
him. After twelve years I ought to know."

"You've read his speech?" May asked. "Isn't it magnificent, parts of it
anyhow?"

"Very few men have a brain like Sandro's."

"There I agree with you, Miss Quisanté." But May's face was troubled as
she added, a moment later, "He ought to give you back your money,
though."

"He will, if he makes a lot out of it, and he'll give me a nice present
too. Then he'll feel that he's acted quite properly all through. And if
he loses it--well, as I say, he's got his case, and I can't prove
anything."

"Men like him are often careless about money affairs. It's only that, I
expect."

"Careless! Sandro careless! Oh, dear me, no." and for once Miss Quisanté
laughed heartily. The beads on her cap shook as her dumpy little form
swayed gently with mirth; she looked impishly delighted at such a
misconception of her nephew's character. May felt very foolish, but could
not help laughing herself.

"Well, I won't plead his cause any more," she said. "Only I believe
you're prejudiced." She paused, and then, looking the old woman in the
face, added, "I ought to tell you that he and I have become great
friends."

Miss Quisanté had stopped laughing; now she made a gesture which seemed
to indicate that she washed her hands of any responsibility. But she
appeared fretful and disturbed.

"I'm immensely impressed by him; and I think these faults you talk so
much about are only superficial. They can't really belong to his nature
when so much that's fine does." Her voice shook a little as she implored
a merciful judgment from the relentless old lady. Aunt Maria's shrewd
eyes grew softer.

"I used to say that to myself for ever so long," she said. "I catch
myself saying it now and then even now."

"You're disappointed at not--not getting on better with him, and it makes
you bitter."

"And you? You get on very well with him?"

"I don't think I'm blind about him. I see what you mean and what a lot of
people feel. If there is a pit, I've walked into it open-eyed."

"He's in love with you, of course?"

A denial was hardly worth while and quite useless. "You must ask him
that, Miss Quisanté," May replied. Aunt Maria nodded and gazed at her
long and steadily.

"Yes, you're his Empress among women," she said at last with a little
sneer. "Sandro has a phrase for everything and everybody. And are you in
love with him?"

May had wanted to come to close quarters and was glad that Aunt Maria
gave her a lead. But she did not return a direct answer to the question.

"You wouldn't be encouraging, if I were thinking of becoming his wife."

"It would be very extraordinary that you should."

"I've no particular desire to be ordinary," said May, smiling.

Miss Quisanté leant forward suddenly and held up a short forefinger.

"My dear, you'd be very unhappy," she said. Then she leant back again and
received in complete stillness May's meditative gaze.

"In a good many ways perhaps I should," said May at last with a sigh, and
her brow puckered with wrinkles. "Yes, I suppose so," she sighed again.

"But I know what it is. You've let yourself get interested in Sandro;
you've let him lay hold of you." May nodded. "And it would seem rather
dull now to lose him?" Again May nodded, laughing a little. Aunt Maria
understood her feelings very well, it seemed. "I should be dull too if I
lost him." The old lady folded her hands in her lap. "There is that about
Sandro," she said with a touch of pride in her voice. "I don't like him;
well, you've gathered that perhaps; but if anything happened to him, I
should feel I might as well lie down and die. Of course I've got nobody
else belonging to me; you're not like that." Again the forefinger was
raised in admonition, and Miss Quisanté gave a piece of practical advice.
"Marry a nice man of your own sort, my dear, and when you're safely
married, be as much interested in Sandro as you like."

May was not quite sure of the morality of this counsel; it seemed
possible that Aunt Maria shared the vagueness about right and wrong which
she quarrelled with in her nephew. She laughed as she said,

"But then Mr. Quisanté would marry some other woman, and she mightn't
like it. And my nice husband mightn't like it."

It was possible to discuss the matter far more frankly with Miss Quisanté
than with anybody else, yet the talk with her was only the first of
several in which May tried to glean what would be thought of such a step
as marrying Alexander Quisanté. Almost everywhere she found, not only the
lack of encouragement which Aunt Maria had shown, but an amazement hardly
distinguishable from horror and an utter failure to understand her point
of view; her care to conceal any personal interest in the discussions she
found means to bring about gained her very candid expressions of opinion
about Quisanté, and she became aware that her world would regard her as
something like a lunatic if it awoke one morning to read of her
engagement to the man.

Yet side by side with this feeling there was a great and a growing
expectancy with regard to him in his public aspect. He began to be a
figure, somebody of whom account would have to be taken; Dick Benyon's
infatuation was less often mentioned, his sagacity more often praised.
May was struck again with the sharp line drawn between the man himself,
and what he was to do, with the way in which everybody proposed to invite
him to his house, but nobody contemplated admitting him to his heart. The
inhumanity made her angry again, but she was alone in perceiving it; and
she was half-aware that her perception of it would be far keener than
Quisanté's own. In fact it was very doubtful if he asked any more of the
world than what the world was prepared to give him. But that, said May,
was not because he lacked the power and the desire of love, but because
his affections were withered by neglect or rusty from disuse. She knew
well that they were there and would expand under the influence of
sympathy. If people grew human towards him, he would respond in kind; in
hitting on this idea she commended herself for a sagacity in questions of
emotion not less than that which Dick Benyon had shown in matters of the
intellect. Dick had discovered Quisanté, as he thought; May told herself
that he had discovered only half of Quisanté, and that the other half had
been left for her to explore, and to reveal to the world. The effect of
her various conversations was rather to confirm her in her inclination
towards Quisanté than to frighten her out of it.

There was one talk which she could not escape and had to face with what
resolution she might. Weston Marchmont was not content with the brief
dismissal which had reached him from Ashwood, and he was amazed beyond
understanding at the hint of its cause which Dick Benyon had given him.
He had no doubt some reason to think himself ill-used, but he was not
inclined to press that side of the case. It was not his own failure so
much as the threatened success of such a rival that staggered and
horrified him. Few are wide-minded enough to feel a friendship quite
untouched and unimpaired when their friend takes into equal intimacy a
third person for whom they themselves entertain aversion or contempt; at
the best they see in such conduct an unexpected failure of discernment;
very often they detect in it evidence of a startling coarseness of
feeling, an insensibility, and a grossness of taste difficult to tolerate
in one to whom they have given their affection. Marchmont felt that, if
May Gaston wronged him, she was wronging far more herself, and most of
all his ideal of her. He could not believe such a thing of her without
her own plain assurance, and would not suffer it until every effort to
redeem and rescue her was exhausted.

"You don't mean," he said at last openly and bluntly to Dick Benyon,
"that you think it's possible she'll marry him?"

"I do, quite," groaned poor Dick. "You can imagine how I feel about it;
and if I didn't see it myself, Amy would soon let me know it."

Marchmont said no more, feeling that discussion was difficult for one in
his position, but Dick did not spare him a description of what had
happened at Ashwood, from which he realised the gravity of the danger.

"After all, he's a very remarkable man," Dick pleaded, in a forlorn
effort at defending himself no less than the lady.

Marchmont found May in a mood most favourable to the cause he had at
heart, if he had known how to use his opportunity to the best advantage.
From day to day now she wavered between the fear and the fascination, and
on this day the fear was stronger and, working together with her
affection for Marchmont, might well have gained him the victory.
Ill-usage of Quisanté would perhaps have been involved here, but May
would not have stood at that, had it been made plain to her heart that in
the end the man could not be accepted or endured. To win, Marchmont
should have made love to her in his own way, refused to accept his
dismissal, and pressed his own suit on his own merits, leaving his rival
to stand the contrast as he best might, but not dragging him explicitly
into the issue between himself and May. He did not take this course; to
his pride it was difficult to plead passionately again when his former
pleading had been rebuffed; and the intensity of his desire to show her
the truth about Quisanté, and at all costs to rescue her from Quisanté,
made him devote more energy to denouncing his rival than to recommending
himself. Thus he set May to defend the absent friend rather than to pity
and be drawn towards the suitor who was before her. Yet in spite of his
mistaken tactics, he shook her sorely; all that was in his favour came
home to her with renewed force; she looked on him with pleasure and heard
his voice again with delight; it was very pleasant to her to be with him;
she admitted to herself that very, very easily she might be in love with
him. Old Miss Quisanté's advice recurred to her mind; was this the nice
husband who would give her a safety not incompatible with a continued
interest in Alexander Quisanté? She smiled regretfully; Marchmont did not
fit at all into Aunt Maria's scheme.

"I don't want to question you," he said, "but if you will speak plainly
to me I shall be glad. The change came at Ashwood?"

"There's been no change; there's been a failure to change. When I saw you
last, I thought I might change so as to be able to do what you wanted.
Now I know I can't."

"And why?" She was silent; he went on, speaking lower. "Is there any
truth at all in what Dick Benyon thinks? It seemed to me incredible. Will
you tell me that I may utterly disbelieve that at all events?"

"No, I can't tell you to disbelieve it utterly."

The love for her which was his strongest appeal left his face; he looked
aghast, at a loss, almost disgusted. His hands moved in a gesture of
protest.

"I don't tell you to believe it. I can tell you nothing about it just
now. I admit you had a right to ask me, but I can say nothing more now."

Again the chance offered for him to make her forget Quisanté or remember
him only by a disadvantageous comparison. His honest desire to save her
combined again with bitter prejudice to lead him wrong.

"I can't believe it of you," he declared. "I can't have been so wrong
about you as that."

"I see nothing to prevent you from having been absolutely wrong about
me," she said coldly, "as wrong about me as you are about--other people."

"If you mean----"

"Oh, yes, let's be open with one another," she cried. "I mean Mr.
Quisanté; you're utterly wrong and prejudiced about him."

"He's not even a gentleman."

"I suppose he goes to the wrong tailor!" said May scornfully.

He came a step nearer to her. "You know I don't mean that sort of thing,
nor even other things that aren't vital to life though they're desirable
in society. He hasn't the mind of a gentleman."

Now she wavered; she sat looking at him with troubled eyes, feeling he
was right, desiring to be persuaded, struggling against the opposing
force. But Marchmont went on fretfully, almost peevishly,

"The astonishing thing is that you're blind to that, that you don't see
him as he really and truly is."

"That's just what I do," she cried eagerly and almost angrily.
Marchmont's words had brought back what Quisanté could be; surely a man's
best must be what he really and truly is? Then his true self shows itself
untrammelled; the measure of it is rather the heights to which it can
rise than the level on which it moves at ordinary times. She remembered
Quisanté on Duty Hill. "That's what I do, and you--you and all of
them--don't. You fix on his small faults, faults of manner--oh, yes, and
of breeding too, I daresay, perhaps of feeling too. But to see a man's
faults is not to see the man." She rose to her feet and faced him. "I see
him more truly than you do," she said proudly and defiantly. Then her
face grew suddenly soft, and she caught his hand. "My dear friend, my
dear, dear friend," she murmured, "don't be unkind to me. I'm not happy
about it; how can I be happy about it? Don't make it worse for me; I'm
trying to see the truth, and you might help me; but you only tell me what
leaves out more than half the truth."

He would not or could not respond to her gentleness; his evil spirit
possessed him; he gave expression to his anger with her and his scorn of
his rival, not to his own love and his own tenderness.

"It turns me almost sick," he declared, "to think of you with him."

She let go his hand, moved away, and sat down. "If you're like that, I
can say no more," she said. Her eyes were full of tears as she looked at
him, but his heart was hard to her; to him she seemed to be humiliating
both him and herself; the victory of Quisanté at once insulted him and
degraded her. Here was a case where Alexander Quisanté, with all his
defects, would have gone right, while Marchmont went wrong. It was a
crisis, and Quisanté's insight would have taught him how to handle it, to
assure her that whatever she did he would be the same to her, that though
he might not understand he would be loyal, that his love only grew
greater with his pain, that in everything that awaited her he would be
ready with eager service and friendship unimpaired. None of this came
from Marchmont's lips; he made no effort to amend or palliate his last
bitter speech. He could not conquer his resentment, and it bred an
answering resentment in her. "You must think what you like of me," she
said, her voice growing cold again.

With the end of this interview, with the departure of Marchmont, still
sore, angry, and blind to her point of view, May felt that the matter had
settled itself. She knew in her heart that she would not have turned
Marchmont away unless she had meant to bid Quisanté come. For a little
while she struggled against finality, telling herself that the question
was still an open one, and that to refuse one man was not of necessity to
marry another. Other friends came and talked to her, but none of them got
within her guard or induced her to speak freely to them. In the end she
had to settle this thing for herself; and now it was settled.

Even when undertaken in the conviction of a full harmony of feeling, a
community of mind, and an identity of tastes, marriage may startle by the
extent of its demands. She was to marry a man--she faced the matter and
told herself this--a man from whom she was divided by the training of a
lifetime, by antagonisms of feeling so acute as to bite deep into their
every-day intercourse, by a jarring of tastes which made him sometimes
odious to her. In spite of the resentment to which Marchmont's scorn had
stung her, she understood very well how it was that her friends failed to
appreciate the motives of her action. To herself she could not justify
it; it was taken on impulse, not calculation, and had to rest in the end
on the vague effects of what she had seen in Quisanté, not continually,
not in his normal state, but by fits and snatches, in scraps of time
which, all added together, would scarcely fill the hours between luncheon
and dinner. She took him on the strength of his moments; that was the
case in plain English, reduced to its lowest terms and its baldest
statement. Of confidence, of security, of trust she had none; their place
was filled by a vague expectancy, an insistent curiosity, and a puzzled
fearful fascination. Not promising materials these, out of which to make
happiness. She surprised herself by finding how little happiness in its
ordinary sense entered into her reckoning. Or if anything that we happen
to want is to be called our happiness, then her happiness consisted in,
and refused to be analysed into anything more definite than, a sort of
necessity which she felt of being near to Alexander Quisanté, of sharing
his mind and partaking of his life. But if this were happiness, then
happiness was not what she had been accustomed to think it; where were
the rest, the contentment, the placidity and satisfaction which the word
was usually considered to imply?

                        *          *          *

Quisanté came to her, wreathed in triumph. It was a mood she liked him
in; he offended her not when he celebrated success, but when he intrigued
for it. His new-born confidence seemed to make any drawing-back on her
part impossible; she had sent him, she was bound to reward the happy
issue of her mission. Another thing touched her very deeply; while
protesting his unworthiness of her, he based his humility on the special
and wonderful knowledge of her that he possessed and referred it entirely
to this inner secret excellence of hers and not in the least to her
position or to any difference between his and hers. He did not suppose
that society would be aghast or that the world at large would see cause
for dismay in the marriage. He expected hearty congratulations for
himself, but it was evident that he thought she would have her full share
of them too; he had, in fact, no idea that May Gaston would not be
thought to be doing very well for herself. This mixture of simplicity and
self-appreciation, of ignorance of the mind of others combined with a
knowledge of the claims of his own, took May's fancy; she laughed a
little as she determined that the general opinion of the matter must be
kept from his ears, and his robust confidence in the world's admiration
of him preserved.

"You say you know me so well," she said. "I know very, very little of
you; and of what I know there's a lot that's bad."

He was not in the temper that had inspired his confession of bad manners
and bad morals on Duty Hill. He was inclined, as at such a moment he
might be pardonably, to make light of his faults. He was not alarmed when
she declared that if she found out anything very bad she would not after
all become his wife.

"At any moment that you repent, you're free," he said gaily. But she
answered gravely,

"There'll be a great many moments when I shall repent. You see I don't
think I really love you." He looked puzzled. "You know what I mean? Real
love is so beautifully undiscriminating, isn't it? I'm not a bit
undiscriminating about you; and that'll make me miserable often; it'll
make you angry too. You'll forget that I said all this, that I told you
and warned you. I shall be (she smiled again for a moment) a critic on
the hearth. And nobody hardly understands criticism as badly as you do."

"What a lot of reasons for refusing me!" he said, still gay, though with
a hint of disturbance in his manner. "And yet you don't refuse."

The old answer which was all she could give to herself was all that she
found herself able to give him.

"Somehow I can't do without you, you see," she said. Then she suddenly
leant forward and went on in a low imploring voice, "Don't be worse than
I've ever thought. There are some things I couldn't stand. Please don't."
Her eyes, fixed on to his, prayed a reassurance against a horde of vague
dangers.

He laughed off the question, not understanding how or why she came to put
it, and their talk passed to a lighter vein. But presently he said, with
a half-embarrassed, half-vexed laugh, "Need we sit so far from one
another?"

May had suffered from a dread of the beginning of sentiment. But she was
laughing as she rose and, crossing the room, sat down by him on the sofa.
"Here I am then," she said, "and you may kiss me. And if you will ask me
I'll kiss you; only I don't particularly want to, you know. I don't think
of you in the very least as a man to be kissed. I've thought of other men
much more in that way--oh, only thought of them, Mr. Quisanté!"

The playful, yet not meaningless, defiance of a softer mood, and of his
power to induce it in her, acted as a spark to Quisanté's ardour. It was
just the opposition that he had wanted to rescue him from awkwardness. He
recovered the splendid intensity which had marked his declaration on Duty
Hill. If he did not succeed in changing her feelings, at least he set her
wondering why they did not change and wrung from her the smiling
admission, "You're very picturesque anyhow." She did not deny vehemently
when he told her that he would make her love him as he loved her. "Well,
I never use the word impossible about you," she said. "Only--it hasn't
happened yet, you know." She paused and added, with a touch of reviving
apprehension, "And I mayn't always like you to behave as if it
had--though I don't mind much to-night."

His manner was good, almost defying criticism, as he reassured her on
this point; and when he left her, her predominant impression was that, so
far as their personal relations went, she had exaggerated the dangers and
under-rated the attractions.

"I think he'll always be rather nice to me and not do anything very
dreadful. But then, what will he do to other people?"

This was the fear which still possessed her and which no fine moment of
his drove out. She seemed to have power to bring him to his best, to give
him the cue for his fine scenes, to create in him the inspiration to
great moments. But when he dealt with other people, her power would be
useless. She would have to stand by and see him at his worst, looking on
no longer as an irresponsible, as well as a helpless, spectator, but as
one who had undertaken responsibility for him, who must feel for him what
he did not for himself, who must be sensitive while he was callous,
wounded while his skin went unpierced. She felt that she had taken up a
very solitary position, between him and the world, not truly at home with
either; a sense of loneliness came upon her.

"I shall have to fight the whole world," she said. "I wonder if my cause
is a good one?"



                            CHAPTER VIII.

                            CONTRA MUNDUM.


It was impossible not to admire the wealth of experience which Mrs.
Baxter had gathered from a singularly quiet life; many men have gone half
a dozen times round the world for less. Whatever the situation, whatever
the action, she could supply a parallel and thereby forecast an issue.
Superficial differences did not hinder her; she pierced to the underlying
likeness. When all the world was piteously crying out that never in its
life had it heard of such an affair as this of May Gaston's, Mrs. Baxter
dived into her treasure-chest and serenely produced the case of the
Nonconformist Minister's daughter and the Circus Proprietor. Set this
affair side by side with the Quisanté business, and a complete sum in
double proportion at once made its appearance. The audacity of the man,
the headlong folly of the girl, the hopeless mixing of incompatibles were
common to the two cases; the issue of the earlier clearly indicated the
fate that must attend the later. Lady Richard could do nothing but gasp
out, "And what happened, Mrs. Baxter?"

Mrs. Baxter told her, punctuating the story with stitches on a June
petticoat.

"She ran away from him twice; but he brought her back, and, they said,
beat her well. At any rate she ended by settling down to her new life.
They had seven children, all brought up to the circus; only the other day
one was sent to prison for ill-treating the dancing bear. He's dead, but
she still keeps the circus under his name. Of course all her old friends
have dropped her; indeed I hear she drinks. Her father still preaches
once on Sundays."

It was easy to disentangle the relevant from the merely reminiscent; the
running away, the beating, the settling down, the complete absorption in
the new life (vividly indicated by the seven children and their habits),
stood out saliently. Add the attitude of old friends, and Lady Richard
could not deny the value of the parallel. She acknowledged it with a
long-drawn sigh.

"May Gaston must be mad," she observed. "You can imagine how Dick feels
about it!"

"And all the while her cousin in the Bank was quite ready to marry her
and give her a nice little home. He was Church and sang in the choir at
St. Dunstan's."

Without consciously appreciating the nicety of the parallel here, Lady
Richard began to think of Weston Marchmont.

"I suppose Mr. Marchmont'll take Fanny now," she said. "I don't know,
though; he won't like any sort of connection with Alexander Quisanté. How
selfish people are! They never think of what their marriages mean to
their relations."

This observation expressed a large part of what was felt by society; add
friends to relations, and it summed up one side of the indictment against
May Gaston. Lady Attlebridge's helpless and bewildered woe was one
instance of its truth, Fanny's rage another; to look farther afield,
May's friends and acquaintances discovered great cause for vexation in
that they saw themselves somehow "let in for" Quisanté. At least the
alternative was to drop May Gaston as entirely as the unfortunate circus
proprietor's wife had been dropped; and this alternative was a difficult
one. Had Quisanté's raid resulted in the seizure of some insignificant
colourless girl who had been merely tolerated for the sake of who she was
without possessing any claims in respect of what she was, the dropping
would have been easy; but May was not of that kind. She was not only one
of them, but very conspicuous among them, one of their ornaments, one in
whom they took pride; they would have acknowledged in her a natural
leader so soon as a suitable marriage gave her the necessary status and
experience. Her treachery was the more flagrant, Quisanté's presumption
the more enormous, their own course of action the more puzzling to
decide.

Yet in their hearts they knew that they must swallow the man; events were
too strong for them. Dick Benyon had forced him on them in one side of
life, May Gaston now did the like in another; henceforward he must be and
would be among them. This consciousness mingled an ingredient of asperity
with their genuine pity for May. She would not merely have herself to
thank for the troubles which would certainly come upon her; her
misfortunes must be regarded as in part a proper punishment for the
annoyance she was inflicting on her friends. As for Dick Benyon, it was
impossible to speak to him without perceiving that if remorse be in truth
the sharpest penalty of sin, he was already punished enough.

The poor man's state was indeed such as to move compassion. Besides his
old friend Lady Attlebridge's dumbly accusing eyes, besides Fanny's and
Lady Richard's by no means dumb reproaches, a very heavy blow had fallen
on him. In the words of his own complaint, his brother Jimmy had gone
back on him--and back on his allegiance to Alexander Quisanté. The
engagement was too much for Jimmy, and in the revulsion of feeling he
became downright hostile to Quisanté's claims and pretensions. How could
he not when Fanny Gaston imperiously and almost tearfully commanded him
to attach himself to her banner, and to behold with her eyes the
indignity suffered by the noble family of Gaston? Logic was not Jimmy's
strong point, and he confounded poor Dick by the twofold assertion that
the thing was utterly incredible, and that Dick and he had been most
inconceivably idiotic not to have foreseen it from the first hour that
they took up Quisanté. In this stress of feeling the brothers spoke to
one another with candour.

"You know how I feel about Fanny," said Jimmy, "so you can imagine how
much I like it."

"Oh, yes, I know; and I quite understand that you wanted Marchmont to
marry May," Dick retorted in an alien savageness born of his wounded
spirit.

Jimmy was taken aback by this direct onslaught, but his native honesty
forbade him to deny the charge point-blank.

"Supposing she came to like me," he grumbled, "it wouldn't be over and
above pleasant to have Quisanté for a brother-in-law."

Dick was roused; he summoned up his old faith and his old admiration.

"I tell you what," he said, "the only chance you have of your name being
known to posterity is if you succeed in becoming his brother-in-law."

"Damn posterity," said Jimmy, tugging at his moustache. He had never
entertained the absurd idea of interesting future ages. He began to
perceive more and more clearly how ridiculous his brother had made
himself over the fellow; he had shared in the folly, but now at least he
could repent and dissociate himself from it.

"What does the Dean say?" he asked maliciously.

"I dare say you won't understand," Dick answered in measured tones, "but
the Dean's got sense enough to say nothing. Talking's no use, is it?"

Few indeed shared the Dean's wisdom, or the somewhat limited view that
talking is only to be practised when it chances to be useful. Are we
never to discuss the obvious or to deplore the inevitable? From so stern
a code human nature revolts, and the storm of volubility went on in spite
of the silence of the Dean of St. Neot's. Even this silence was imperfect
in so far as the Dean said a word or two in private to Morewood when he
visited him in his studio, and the pair were looking at Quisanté's
picture. Dick Benyon was less anxious now to have it finished and sent
home in the shortest possible time.

"You've seen some good in him," said the Dean, pointing to the picture.

"Well--something anyhow," said Morewood.

"I think, you know," the Dean pursued meditatively, "that a great woman
might succeed in what she's undertaken (Morewood did not need the mention
of May Gaston's name), at the cost of sacrificing all her other interests
and most of her feelings."

Morewood was lighting his pipe and made no answer.

"Is our dear young friend a great woman, though?" asked the Dean.

"She aspires to be," said Morewood; he was sneering as usual, but rather
at aspirations in general than at any unusual absurdity in May Gaston's;
thus at least the Dean understood him.

"You mean that that's at the bottom of the trouble?" he inquired, smiling
a little.

"Oh, yes," answered Morewood, weary of indicating what was so apparent.

"You've dived down to something in that picture; perhaps she has."

"Yes, she has." Morewood looked straight at the Dean as he added, "But I
can leave out the other things, you see. That's the difference."

"And she can't? No. That is the difference. She'll have to live with the
other things." He looked courageously at Morewood and ended, "We must
trust in God." Either the sincerity or the unexpectedness of the remark
kept Morewood silent.

No such ambition as these two imputed to her consciously animated May
Gaston. Just now she was content if she could persuade her mother that
people after all said nothing very dreadful (for what was said was always
more to Lady Attlebridge than what was true), could keep on something
like friendly relations with her sister, and could maintain a cheerful
view of her own position and of her experiment. Inevitably the hostility
of his future mother-in-law and of Fanny brought out the worst side of
Quisanté's manners; in the effort to conciliate he almost fawned. May had
to find consolation in a growth of openness and simplicity towards
herself. And she had one notable triumph which more than anything else
brought her through the trial with her purpose unshaken and her faith
even a little strengthened. It was not a complete triumph, and in trying
to push it too far she suffered a slight rebuff; but there was hope to be
had from it, it seemed to open a prospect of successes more ample. She
made Quisanté send back Aunt Maria's five hundred pounds before Mr.
Mandeville's operations had resulted either in safety or in gain.

"You see, she never gave it you to use in speculation," she had said. "It
isn't right, you must see it isn't. Have you got the money?"

"Yes; but I meant to buy you----"

"No, no, I wouldn't have it. Now do send it back. I know you see what I
mean." Her voice grew doubtful and imploring.

"Oh, yes, in a way. But I shan't lose it, you know."

"That doesn't make the least difference."

"If it pleases you, I'll send it back."

"Well, do," she said with a little sigh. The motive was not that which
she wished to rouse, but very likely it was that with which she must
begin her work. Then she tried the further step. "And any profit you
make, if you make any, you ought to send too," she said.

Genuine surprise was exhibited on Quisanté's face. "What, after sending
back the five hundred?" he asked.

"Yes, you ought." She made a little concession by adding, "Strictly, you
know." Quisanté looked at her, kissed her hand, and laughed. Her sense of
humour, which she began to perceive would rather hamper her, made her
join in the laugh. "Do you think me very absurd? No, no, not compliments!
Truth, truth always!"

"I call the suggestion rather--well, rather fanciful," said he.

"Yes, I suppose you do," she sighed. "Do you know what I hope?" she went
on. "I hope that some day that sort of suggestion will seem a matter of
course to you."

He stopped laughing and looked put out. She saw that his vanity was hurt.
"But I hope all sorts of unusual things about you," she went on, her
conscience rebuking her for using the wile of flattery. But it served
well; the cloud passed from his face, as he begged her not to expect to
see him a saint too soon.

A few days later he came in radiant; the operation had gone splendidly,
there was a cent. per cent. profit; she was to come with him and buy the
necklace at once. May loved necklaces and liked him for being so eager to
give her one. And she did not wish to appear in the light of a prig (that
had probably been his impression of her) again so soon. But had he not
the evening before, as they talked over their prospects, told her that he
owed Dick Benyon a thousand pounds or more, and was in arrears with the
instalments by which the debt was to be liquidated? By a not unnatural
turn of her mind she found herself less able to allow him to forget his
obligation, less able to indulge him in the temporary extravagance of a
lover, than if he had been a man on whose punctilious honour in all
matters of money she relied absolutely. She was more affectionate and
more effusive to him than usual, and it was with a kiss that she
whispered,

"Give me the money, not the necklace."

"The money?" he said in surprise.

"Yes, to do what I like with. At least give me your promise to do what I
ask with it."

He was suspicious and his face showed it. She laughed. "Yes, I'm worrying
again," she said. "I can now, you see. When we're married I shan't have
the power."

"You'll always have absolute power over me."

"Oh, I wish that was true!" she said. "No, I don't," came an instant
later. "If I thought that, I'd never speak to you again." Moving away a
little, she turned her head back towards him and went on, "Use it to pay
Dick Benyon. I'd rather you did that than gave me a thousand necklaces."

"Oh, Dick's in no hurry; he's got lots of money." Quisanté was visibly
vexed this time. "Aren't you going to allow me to give you anything?" he
asked.

She had a struggle to win this time, and again had to call in the ally
she distrusted, an appeal to his vanity. She told him that it hurt her
idea, her great idea, of him, that he should be in any way under
obligations to or dependent on anybody. This way of putting the matter
caught his fancy, which had remained blind to the more prosaic aspect of
the case. "You must stand by your own strength," she said. She had to go
a step farther still. "It'll make Amy Benyon quite angry too; it'll take
away one of her grievances. Don't pay only the arrears, pay all you can."
Thus she won and was comforted, in spite of her suspicion of the weapons
that she found herself obliged to use.

Comfort she needed sadly, and it could come only from Quisanté himself.
For the rest the sense of loneliness was strong upon her, and with it a
bitterness that this time in her life should be so different from what it
was in the lives of most girls. The superficials were there; friends sent
presents and Lady Attlebridge was as particular about the gowns and so
forth as though the match had been absolutely to her liking. But there
was no sincere congratulation, no sympathy, no envy. Her engagement was a
mistake, her marriage a tragedy; that was the verdict; she saw it in
every glance and discerned it under every civil speech. The common
judgment, the opinion of the group we have lived with, has a force
irrespective of its merit; there were times when May sank under the
burden of it and almost retreated. Then she was outwardly most contented,
took Quisanté everywhere with her, tried (as people said) to thrust him
down everybody's throat, even pretended a love which she had expressly
denied to the man himself. All this done, she would fly to solitude and
there be a victim to her fears, shudder at the risk she had elected to
run, and pray for any strange convulsion of events to rescue her.

None came; time went on, people settled down to the notion; only to a
small circle the matter retained a predominant interest. The rest of the
world could not go on talking about it for ever; they had a number of
other people's affairs to attend to, and the vagaries of one fanciful
young woman could not occupy their important minds for ever. None the
less, they turned away with a pleasant sense that they might find good
reason for turning back presently; let a year or two of the marriage run,
and there might be something to look at again.

But to one man the thing never became less strange, less engrossing, or
less horrible. Weston Marchmont abandoned as pure folly the attempt to
accustom his mind to it or to acquiesce in it; he had not the power to
cease to think of it. It was unnatural; to that he returned always; and
it ousted what surely was natural, what his whole being cried out was
meant, if there were such a thing as a purpose in human lives at all.
Disguised by his habit of self-repression before others, his passion was
as strong as Quisanté's own; it was backed by a harmony of tastes and a
similarity of training which gave it increased intensity; it had been
encouraged by an apparent promise of success, now turned to utter
failure. Amy Benyon might think that he would now marry Fanny, if only he
could endure such an indirect connection with Quisanté. To himself it
seemed so impossible to think of anyone but May that in face of facts he
could not believe that he was not foremost in her heart. The facts meant
marriage, it seemed; he denied that they meant love. He discerned what
May had said to Quisanté--although not of course that she had said
it--and it filled him with a more unendurable revolt. He might have
tolerated a defeat in love; not to be defeated and yet to suffer all the
pains of the vanquished was not to be borne. But he was helpless, and
when he had tried to plead his cause he had done himself no good. He had
rather so conducted himself as to give May Gaston the right to shut the
door on any further friendship with him; towards her future husband he
had never varied from an attitude of cool disdain. It was more than a
month since he had seen her, it was longer since he had done more than
nod carelessly to Quisanté as they passed one another in the lobby or the
smoking-room.

Then one day, a fortnight before the marriage, he met Quisanté as they
were both leaving the House about four o'clock. On a sudden impulse he
joined his rival. He knew his man; Quisanté received him with
friendliness and even effusion, and invited him to join him in a call at
Lady Attlebridge's. They went on together, Quisanté elated at this new
evidence of his power to reconcile opposition and conciliate support,
Marchmont filled with a vague painful curiosity and a desire to see the
two together at the cost of any suffering the sight might bring him.

The drawing-room at Lady Attlebridge's was a double room; in one half May
sat reading, in the other her mother dozed. May rose with a start as the
men entered together; her face flushed as she greeted Marchmont and bade
Quisanté go and pay his respects to her mother.

"I hardly expected ever to see you again," she said. "And I didn't expect
Mr. Quisanté to bring you." Her tone was oddly expressive at once of
pleasure and regret, of anticipation and fear. "Have you made friends?"
she asked.

He answered under the impulse of his mood.

"We must make friends," he said, "or I shall never see any more of you."

"I thought you didn't want to." She liked him too well not to show a
little coquetry, a little challenge.

"I thought so too, or tried to think so."

"I was sure you had deserted me. You said such--well, such severe
things."

"I say them all still."

"But here you are!" she cried, laughing.

"Yes, here I am," said he, but he was grave and looked intently at her.
She grew red again as she met his gaze, and frowned a little.

"I'm not sure I'm glad you've come after all," she said after a pause.
"Why have you come? I don't quite understand."

"I've come to see you, to look on at your happiness," he answered.

"You've no right to talk like that."

They became silent. From the inner room they heard Lady Attlebridge's
nervous efforts at conversation and Quisanté's fluent, too fluent,
responses. He was telling the good lady about her great social influence,
and, little as she liked him, she seemed to listen eagerly. Marchmont
looked at May and smiled. He was disappointed when she returned his
smile.

"He's a little too much of a politician, isn't he?" she asked.

Her refusal to perceive the insinuation of his smile made him ashamed of
it.

"We all are, when we've something to get, I suppose," he said with a
shrug.

"Oh, I don't think you need reproach yourself," she exclaimed, laughing.

There was a short pause. Then he said suddenly,

"You're the one person in the world to talk to."

Now she neither laughed nor yet rebuked him, and, as his eyes met hers,
he seemed to have no fear that she would do either the one or the other.
Yet he could not quite understand her look; did she pity him or did she
entreat for herself? For his life he could not answer. The only thing he
knew was that she would follow her path and take for husband the man who
flattered Lady Attlebridge in the inner room. Then she spoke in a low
voice.

"Yes, do come, come and see us afterwards, come as often as you like." He
raised his eyes to hers again. "Because the oftener you come, the more
you'll understand him, and the better you understand him, the better
you'll know why I'm doing what I am."

The soft look of pity or of entreaty vanished from her eyes now. She
seemed to speak in a strong and even defiant confidence. But he met her
with a resolute dissent.

"If you want me, I'll come. But I shan't understand why you did what
you're doing and I shall never see in him what you want me to see." He
looked round and saw Quisanté preparing to join them. "Am I to come,
then?" he asked.

Quisanté was walking towards them; she answered with a nervous laugh, "I
think you must come sometimes anyhow." Then she raised her voice and said
to Quisanté, "I'm telling Mr. Marchmont that I shall expect to see him
often at our house."

Quisanté seconded her invitation with more than adequate enthusiasm; if
Marchmont were converted to him, who could still be obstinate? The two
men began to talk, May falling more and more into silence. She did not
accuse Marchmont of deliberate malice, but by chance or the freak of some
mischievous demon everything he said led Quisanté on to display his
weaknesses. She knew that Marchmont marked them every one; he was too
well bred to show his consciousness by so much as the most fleeting
glance at her; yet she could have met such a glance with understanding,
yes, with sympathy, and would have had to summon up by artificial effort
the resentment that convention demanded of her. The sight of the two men
brought home to her with a new and an almost terrible sharpness the
divorce between her emotional liking and her intellectual interest. And
in a matter which all experience declared to concern the emotions
primarily, she had elected to give foremost place to the intellect, to
suffer under an ever recurring jar of the feelings for the sake of an
occasional treat to the brain. That was her prospect unless she could
transform the nature of Alexander Quisanté. "Marry a nice man of your own
sort, and then be as much interested as you like in Sandro." Aunt Maria's
advice echoed in her ears as she watched the two men round whom the
struggle of her soul centred, the struggle that she had thought was
finished on the day when she promised to become Alexander Quisanté's
wife.

"I shall keep you both to your word," said Marchmont when he left them.
May nodded, smiling slightly. Quisanté said all and more than all the
proper things.



                             CHAPTER IX.

                             LEAD US NOT.


After a long sojourn in kindlier climates, Miss Quisanté returned to
England some eighteen months after May Gaston's marriage. From various
hotels and boarding-houses she had watched with an interested eye the
progress of public affairs so far as they concerned her nephew. She had
seen how his name became more prominent and was more frequently mentioned,
how the hopes and fears about him grew, how he had gained glory by dashing
sorties in defence of the severely-pressed Government garrison; if the
garrison decided (as rumour said they would) to sally out and try fortune
in the open field of a General Election, and proved victorious, it could
not be doubted that they would bestow a handsome reward on their gallant
defender. Quisanté bid fair to eclipse his rivals and to justify to the
uttermost Dick Benyon's sagacity and enthusiasm. The bitterness of the
foe told the same story; unless a man is feared, he is not caricatured
in a comic paper in the guise of a juggler keeping three balls in the
air at once, the said balls being each of them legibly inscribed with
one of the three words, "Gas--Gabble--Grab." Such a straining of the
usual amenity of controversy witnesses to grave apprehension. Miss
Quisanté in her _pension_ at Florence smiled contentedly.

Of his private life her information had not been very ample. She had heard
several times from May, but May occupied her pen chiefly with her husband's
political aims. She had heard once from Sandro himself, when he informed
her that his wife had borne him a daughter and that all had gone very
well indeed. Again Miss Quisanté smiled approvingly. She sent her love to
May and expressed to Sandro the hope that the baby would resemble its
mother in appearance, constitution, and disposition; the passage was a
good example of that _expressio unius_ which is a most emphatic and
unmistakable _exclusio alterius_. In the letter she enclosed a cheque
for three hundred pounds; the _pensions_ were cheaper than the flat, and
thus this service had become possible.

The Quisantés had taken a house in Grosvenor Road, near Westminster for
Quisanté's convenience, by the river, in obedience to his wife's choice.
Here Miss Quisanté was welcomed by her nephew's wife and shown her
nephew's daughter. May watched the old lady's face as she perfunctorily
kissed and critically inspected the infant.

"Gaston!" said Aunt Maria at last; relief was clamorous in her tone.

"Yes, Miss Quisanté, Gaston, I think," said May, laughing.

The nurse admitted the predominance of Gaston, but with a professional
keenness of eye began to point out minor points in which the baby
"favoured" her father.

"Nonsense, my good woman," snapped Aunt Maria. "The child's got two legs
and two arms, I suppose, as its father has, but that's all the likeness."
Somewhat ruffled (her observations had been well meant) the nurse carried
off her charge.

"You look very well," Aunt Maria went on, "but older, my dear."

"I am both well and older," said May cheerfully. "Think of my
responsibilities! There's the baby! And then Alexander's been seedy. And
we aren't as rich as we should like to be; you of all people must know
that. And there's going to be an election and our seat's very shaky. So
the cares of the world are on me."

"Sandro's been doing well."

"Splendidly, simply splendidly. It's impossible to doubt that he'll do
great things if--if all goes well, and he doesn't make mistakes."

"Seems like making mistakes, does he?"

"Oh, no. I only said 'if.'"

"And you're as happy as you expected to be?"

"Quite, thanks."

"I see. Just about," was Miss Quisanté's next observation; since it was a
little hard to answer, May smiled and rang the bell for tea.

"You're very gay, I suppose?" asked the old lady.

"Just as many parties as I can find gowns for," May declared.

"Seen anything of the Benyons lately?"

A little shadow came on May's face. "I hardly ever see Jimmy except at
mother's," she answered. "Dick comes sometimes." She paused a moment, and
then added, "I expect him this afternoon."

"Is he still as devoted to Sandro?"

"He believes in his abilities as enthusiastically as ever." The dry laugh
which Miss Quisanté gave was as significant as her "Just about," a few
minutes before. This time May did not laugh, but looked gravely at Aunt
Maria. "They've had a little difference on a political matter. Did you
ever hear of what Dick calls the Crusade? His great Church movement, you
know."

"Lord, yes, my dear. Sandro once speechified to me about it for an hour."

"Well, he doesn't speechify so much now; he doesn't believe in it so
much, and Dick's annoyed. That's natural, I think, though perhaps it's a
little silly of him. However, if you wait, he'll tell you about it
himself."

"Why doesn't Sandro believe in it so much?"

"Perhaps I ought to have said that he doesn't think the present time a
suitable one for pressing it."

"I see," said Miss Quisanté sipping her tea. May looked at her again and
seemed about to speak, but in the end she only smiled. She was amused at
the old lady's questions, impelled to speak plainly to her, and
restrained only by the sense that any admission she might seem to make
would be used to the full against her husband by his faithful and liberal
aunt.

"He says he has good reasons, and Dick Benyon says they're bad ones," she
ended by explaining, though it was not much of an explanation after all.

Miss Quisanté had the curiosity to await Dick Benyon's coming, and, in
spite of his evident expectation of a _tête-à-tête_, not to go
immediately on his arrival. She was struck with the air of mingled
affection and compassion with which he greeted his healthy, handsome,
smiling young hostess. Moreover he was himself apologetic, as though
suffering from a touch of remorse. He began to talk trifles, but May
brought him to the point.

"I read the speech after I got your letter," she said. "I'm sorry you
don't like it, but Alexander must consider the practical aspect of the
matter. You won't do your cause any good by urging it out of season."

"In season and out of season; that's the only way."

"You might be an Irish member," said May, smiling.

Dick was too much in earnest to be diverted to mirth. The presence of
Miss Quisanté still seemed to make him a little uncomfortable, but the
old lady did not move. May gave her no hint, and he was too full of his
subject to hold his tongue.

"I want you to speak to him about it," he went on.

"To urge him to do what he thinks a mistake?"

Dick grew a little hot. "To urge him not to go back on the cause and
on--on his friends, and almost to laugh at them for----" He paused and
looked at May; she was smiling steadily. He did not end quite as bluntly
as he had meant. "I think that he has, unconsciously no doubt, allowed
personal considerations to influence him."

A short sudden chuckle came from Aunt Maria; she rose to her feet and
crossed the room to May.

"If he's going to abuse Sandro, I mustn't stay," she said. "I couldn't
bear to lose any of my illusions, my dear." She kissed May and added,
"You might tell him to come and see me, though. I should like to hear
what he's got in his head now. Good-bye, Lord Richard. Don't you fret
about your Crusade. Sandro'll take it up again when it's convenient." She
chuckled again at the puzzled stare which accompanied Dick's shake of the
hand.

"A very kind old woman, but with a rather malicious tongue," said May.
She walked to the hearth and stood there, facing her visitor. "Now, Dick,
what is it?" she asked.

"The Dean's tremendously hurt about it; he doesn't say much, but he feels
it deeply."

"I'm very sorry. What are the personal considerations?"

"You know Henstead?" It was the borough for which Quisanté sat. "There's
an old Wesleyan colony there; several of them are very rich and employ a
lot of labour and so on. They've always voted for us. And they've found a
lot of the money. They found a lot when Quisanté got in before."

"Yes?" Her voice displayed interest but nothing more. Dick grew rather
red and hurried on with his story.

"Well, one of them, old Foster the maltster, came to your husband
and--and told him they didn't like the Crusade and that it wouldn't do."
He paused, glanced at May for an instant, and ended, "The seat's not
safe, you know, and--and it wants money to fight it."

A silence of some few minutes followed. Dick fidgeted with his hat, while
May looked out of the window on to the river.

"Why do you come and tell this to me?" she asked presently. "Supposing it
was all true, what could I do?"

Dick's resentment got the better of him; he answered hotly, "Well, you
might tell him that it was playing it pretty low down on us."

"Have you told him that?"

"Yes, I have, or I shouldn't have come to you. I don't mean I used just
those words, but I made my meaning clear enough."

"And what did he say?"

"He said he didn't see it in the light I did."

A faint smile came on the face of Mr. Quisanté's wife.

"But you could make him see it," urged Dick. May smiled at him for a
brief moment and then looked out to the river again.

"It'll be deuced awkward for him if they get hold of his back speeches,"
said Dick with gloomy satisfaction.

"Oh, everybody's back speeches are what you call deuced awkward." A
moment later she went on, "What does it all come to, after all? We must
take things as they are; we mustn't be quixotic, we mustn't quarrel with
our bread-and-butter."

Dick looked at her with evident surprise, even with dismay.

"You think it all right?" he asked.

"It's not for me to say. Am I to sit in judgment on my husband? Anyhow
people do just the same thing every day. You know that as well as I do,
Dick." Just on the last words her voice grew softer; he might have caught
a hint of entreaty, had not his mind been fixed on his own wrongs and the
betrayal of his favourite cause. "I'm assuming that what you say is
true," she added, more coldly again.

When Dick left her, it was to go home to his wife and tell her, and Mrs.
Gellatly whom he found with her, that he did not understand what had come
over May Gaston--May Quisanté, he corrected himself. Not understanding,
he proved naturally quite unable to explain. Lady Richard was more equal
to the occasion.

"That man's simply got hold of her," she said. "She'll think black's
white if he says it is. Still she must see that he's treating you
shamefully."

"She didn't seem to see it." moaned Dick mournfully. Then he laughed
rather bitterly and added, "I tell you what, though. I think that old
aunt of his has taken his measure pretty well."

The innate nobility which underlay Lady Richard's nature showed up
splendidly at this moment; she sympathised heartily with Dick, and
forbore to remind him of what she had said from the beginning, contenting
herself with remarking that for her part she never had considered and did
not now consider Mr. Quisanté even particularly clever.

"He's as clever as the deuce," said Dick. That conviction, at least, he
need not surrender.

"I suppose," ventured Mrs. Gellatly, "that's how he convinces Lady May
that he's always right."

Dick looked at her with a touch of covert contempt; clever people could
convince the intellect, but there were instincts of honour, of loyalty,
and of fidelity which no arguments should be able to blunt or to turn.
Here was the thing which, vaguely felt, had so puzzled him in regard to
May Quisanté; he had not doubted that she would see the thing as he had
seen it--as Quisanté had professed himself unable to see it.

That evening Quisanté brought home to dinner the gentleman whom Dick
Benyon called old Foster the maltster, and who had been Mayor of Henstead
three several times. He was a tall, stout, white-haired old man with a
shrewd kindly face, dressed all in broadcloth, showing an expanse of
white shirt-front decorated with a big black stud and a very small black
wisp of a tie. His conversation indicated now and then that he gave
thought to the other world, always that he knew the ways of this. May
liked him in spite of the rather ponderous deference he showed to her;
with Quisanté, on the other hand, he was familiar, seeming to say that he
could tell the younger man a thing or two; Quisanté's manner did nothing
to contradict this implied assumption.

"What we want, sir," said Foster, "is to have you in the Government. Once
you're there, you'll sit for Henstead till you die or go to the House of
Lords. Nobody'll be able to touch you. But this time's critical, very
critical. They'll have a strong candidate, and they'll do all they know
to keep you out. It's not a time for offending anybody." He turned to
May. "I hope your ladyship will let us see you very often in the town?"
he said.

"When the election begins, I shall come down with my husband and stay all
the time."

"That's right; you'll be worth a hundred votes." He threw himself back in
his chair. "Under God," he said, "we ought to be safe. Your speech had an
excellent effect; I sent it to Middleton, and Dunn, and Japhet Williams,
and when I met 'em at the Council, they were all most pleasant about it.
I think you've undone all the bad impression."

"I only said what I thought," observed Quisanté.

"Yes, yes, just so; oh, just so, of course." His tone was not in the
least ironical, but a little hurried, as though, having put the thing in
a way that might sound ambiguous, he hastened to prevent any possible
misapprehension. May had looked for a twinkle in his eye, but his eye was
guilty of no such frivolity.

"I had a letter from Mr. Japhet Williams the other day," said Quisanté.
"He was annoyed at a vote I gave in Committee on the Truck Act. You know
I voted against the Government once, in favour of what I thought fairer
treatment of the men; not that any real hardship on the employer was
involved."

"Just so, just so," said Mr. Foster. "That's the worst of Japhet. He
doesn't look at the matter in a broad way. But I've put that all right,
sir. I met him on the Cemetery Board, and walked home with him, and I
said, 'Look here Japhet, that vote of Mr. Quisanté's 'll be worth fifty
votes among the men.' 'I don't care for that,' he said; 'I'm against
interference.' 'So am I,' I told him; 'but where's the harm? Mr. Quisanté
must have his own opinion here and there--that comes of having a clever
man--but (I said) the Government had a hundred majority there, and Mr.
Quisanté knew it.' Well, he saw that, and admitted that he'd been wrong
to make a fuss about it."

Quisanté nodded grave appreciation. May gave a little laugh, and suddenly
poured out a glass of claret for Mr. Foster; turning, he found her eyes
on his face, sparkling with amusement. His own large features relaxed
into a slow smile; something like the twinkle was to be detected now.

"Nothing's the worse for a bit of putting, is it?" he said, and drank his
wine at a gulp.

"You're a diplomatist, Mr. Foster," said she.

"Not to the detriment of truth; I assure you I don't sacrifice that," he
replied, with renewed gravity and an apparently perfect sincerity.

May was sorry when he took his leave, partly for the temporary loss of a
study which amused her, more because his departure brought the time for
telling Quisanté of Dick Benyon's visit. She did not want to tell him and
anticipated no result, yet she felt herself bound to let him know about
it. To this mind her eighteen months of marriage had brought her. In the
quite early days, while not blind to the way he looked at things when
left to himself, she had been eager to show him how she looked at them,
and, with the memory of her triumphs during their engagement, very
sanguine that she would be able always to convert him from his view to
hers, to open his eyes and show him the truth as it seemed to her. This
hopeful mood she had for nearly a year past been gradually abandoning.
She had once asked Morewood whether people must always remain what they
were; now she inclined to answer yes to her own question. But she could
not convince herself so thoroughly as to feel absolved from the duty of
trying to prove that the true answer was no. She must offer her husband
every chance still, she must not acquiesce, she must not give up the game
yet; some day she might (she smiled at herself here) awake an impulse or
happen on a moment so great as really to influence, to change, and to
mould him. But she had come to hate this duty; she would rather have left
things alone; as a simple matter of inclination, she wished that she felt
free to sit and smile at Quisanté as she had at old Foster the maltster.
She could not; Foster was not part of her life, near and close to her,
her chosen husband, the father of her child. Unless she clung to her
effort, and to her paradoxical much-disappointed hope, her life and the
thought of what she had done with it would become unendurable. Dick and
his wife had not quite understood what had come over her.

If Mr. Foster was diplomatic, so was she; she set before her husband
neither Dick's complaints nor her own misgivings in their crudity; she
started by asking how his change of front would affect people and
instanced Dick and herself only as examples of how the thing might strike
certain minds. She must feed him with the milk of rectitude, for its
strong meat his stomach was hopelessly unready. But he was suspicious,
and insisted on hearing what Dick Benyon had said; so she told him pretty
accurately. His answer was a long disquisition on the political
situation, to which she listened with the same faint smile with which she
had heard Dick himself; at last he roundly stigmatised the Crusade as a
visionary and impracticable scheme.

"I stuck to it as long as I could," he said, "but you wouldn't have me
risk everything for it?"

"Or even anything?" she asked.

The question was a spark to him. Gladly leaving the immediate question,
he dilated on all that the coming contest meant to him, how victory would
assure his prospects, how defeat might leave him hopelessly out in the
cold, how it would be absurd to lose all that he was going to accomplish
for the sake of a hasty promise and a cause that he had come to
disbelieve in. "When did you come to disbelieve in it?" was the question
in her heart; he saw it in her eyes.

"It's a little hard to have to explain everything in private as well as
in public," he complained. "And my head's fit to split."

"Don't trouble any more about it; only I thought I'd better tell you what
Dick said." She came to him as he lay back in his chair and put her hand
on his brow. He was tired, not only looking tired; his head did ache, she
had no doubt; to turn these afflictions to account had always been his
way; so long ago as the Imperial League banquet she remembered it. "Go to
bed," she said. "I'll write a few letters first."

"I want you to understand me," he said. He loved her and she had made him
uneasy; her good opinion was very necessary to his happiness.

"I do understand you," she said, and persuaded him to go upstairs, while
she sat down by the fire, forgetful apparently of the excuse that she had
made for lingering.

Did she repent? That question came often into her mind. She well might,
for one of the great hopes with which she had married was quite gone by
now. There was no longer any possibility of maintaining that the faults
were of manner only, no longer any reasonable expectation that she would
be able to banish or materially to diminish them. It was for better for
worse with a vengeance then. But did she repent? There were times when
she wept, times when she shuddered, times when she scorned, even times
when she hated. But had she ever so felt as to be confident that if
Omnipotence had offered to undo the past, she would have had the past
undone? There had perhaps been one such occasion quite early in the
marriage, and the woe of it had been terrible; but it was followed almost
immediately by a "moment," by an inspired outbreak of his over some case
in the paper, by a vow to see an injustice remedied, a ceaseless,
unsparing, unpaid month's work to that end, a triumph over wrong and
prejudice in the cause of a helpless woman. He had nearly killed himself
over it, the doctor said, and May had watched by his bed, without tears,
but with a conviction that if he died she must die also; because it
seemed as though he had faced death rather than her condemnation. That
was not the truth of it, of course, but she and he between them had made
it seem the truth to her.

And now, with all the meanness of this abandonment of his friends, with
all this fawning on the moneyed Wesleyans before her eyes, she could not
declare that she repented, lest he, waking again to greatness, should
plunge her again into the depths of abasement. But that the same man
should be great and mean, and should escape arraignment for his meanness
by making play with his headache! She smiled now to remember how great
the mere faults of manner had once seemed to her girlish fastidiousness;
they were small to her now; her teeth were set on edge indeed, but by a
sharper sourness than lay in them. To the faults of manner she had grown
to some extent accustomed; she had become an adept in covering and
excusing them. To-day, in her interview with Dick Benyon, she had turned
alike art on to the other faults. A new thought and a new apprehension
came into her mind.

"If I go on defending him," she murmured, "shall I end by getting like
him and really think it all right? I wonder!" For it was difficult not to
identify herself with her cause, and he was now her cause. Who asks a
lawyer to disbelieve his own client, who asks a citizen to be extreme to
mark what is done amiss in his country's quarrel?

"Now if the Dean did chance to do anything wrong, Mrs. Baxter simply
wouldn't see that it was wrong," she meditated. "Neither would Amy
Benyon, if Dick did. I see it's wrong and yet defend it. I'm the wrong
sort of woman to have married Alexander."

Yes, from that point of view, undoubtedly. But there was another. What
would Mrs. Baxter or Lady Richard have made of him at the times when he
woke to greatness? Dick had appreciated him then; Dick's wife never had;
she saw only the worst. Well, it was plain to see. May saw it so plain
that night that she sat where she was till the night was old because, if
she went upstairs, she might find him there. And she fell to wishing that
the seat at Henstead was not shaky; so much hung on it, her hopes for him
as well as his own hopes, her passionate interest in him as well as his
ambition. Nay, she had a feeling or a fear that more still hung on it.
Pondering there alone in the night, assessing her opinion and reviewing
her knowledge of him, she told herself that there was hardly anything
that he would not do sooner than lose the seat. So that she dreaded the
struggle for the strain it might put on him; strains of that sort she
knew now that he was not able to bear. "Lead us not into temptation," was
the prayer which must be on her lips for him; if that were not answered,
he was well-nigh past praying for altogether. For with temptation came
his blindness, and he no longer saw the thing that tempted him for what
it was. Oh, and what a fool she had been to think that she could make him
see!

At last she went upstairs, slowly and reluctantly. Passing her own door,
she mounted again to the baby's nursery, and entered softly. All was
peace; both baby and nurse slept. May was smiling as she came down the
stairs; she murmured, "Gaston!" mimicking the satisfied tones of old Aunt
Maria's voice. Then she entered her own room; Quisanté's bed was empty. A
sense of great relief rose in her, but she went out again and softly
turned the handle of his dressing-room door. He had elected to sleep
there, as he often did. The light was still high; a book lay open by him
on the bed. He was in deep sleep, looking very pale, very tired, very
peaceful. She stood looking at him for a moment; again she smiled as she
stole forward and peeped at the book. It was a work on Bimetallism. Did
he mean to win Henstead with that? Oh, no; he meant to preach the Majesty
of the British Sovereign, King of coins, good tender from China to Peru.
She imagined him making some fine rhetoric out of it.

He breathed gently and regularly; for once he rested, he really rested
from his unresting efforts, from the cruel race he ran; he was for once
free from all the thoughts of his brain, all the devices of his
resourceful, unbaffled, unhesitating mind. With a sigh she turned away
and lowered the light, that in darkness he might sleep more easily. In
the darkness she stood a minute longer, seeing now only the dim outline
of his body on the bed; again the smile came, but her lips moved to
murmur softly, "Lead us not into temptation." And still murmuring the
only prayer that might serve him, still smiling that it was the only
prayer she could pray for her chosen husband, she left Quisanté to his
rest.



                             CHAPTER X.

                         PRACTICAL POLITICS.


While Alexander Quisanté increased in promise and prominence, Weston
Marchmont had begun to cause some anxiety to his best friends. His
passion for ultimates grew upon him; sometimes it seemed as though he
would put up with nothing less. At the same time a personal fastidiousness
and a social exclusiveness, always to a certain extent characteristic of
the man, gathered greater dominion over him. He was not civil to the
people towards whom civility would be useful, and he refused to shut
his eyes to the logical defects or moral shortcomings in the measures
promoted by his party. His abilities were still conceded in ample terms,
his charm still handsomely and sincerely acknowledged. But a suspicion
gradually got about that he was impracticable, that he had a perverse
affection for unpopular causes, for reasons of approval or disapproval
that did not occur to the world at large, for having a private point of
view of his own, differentiated from the common view by distinctions as
unyielding as to the ordinary eye they were minute. The man who begins
merely by being uncompromising as to his own convictions may end in
finding an actual pleasure in disagreeing with those of others. Some
such development was, according to acute observers, taking place in
Marchmont; if the tendency became his master, farewell to the high
career to which he had appeared to be destined. Plain men would call him
finicking, and practical men would think it impossible to work with him.
No impression is more damning about a man engaged in public life; the
Whips have to put a query to his name, and he cannot be trusted to
confine his revolts to such occasions as those on which Mr. Foster of
Henstead thought an exhibition of independence a venial sin, or in
certain circumstances a prudent act.

"The fact is," Morewood said to Marchmont once, when they had been
talking over his various positions and opinions, "if you want to lead
ordinary people, you must keep on roads that ordinary people can travel,
roads broad enough for the _grande armée_. You may take them quicker or
slower, you may lead them downhill or get them to follow you uphill, but
you must keep to the road. A bye-path is all right and charming for
yourself, for a _tête-à-tête_, or a small party of friends, but you
don't take an army-corps along it."

The unusual length and the oratorical character of this warning were
strong evidence of the painter's feelings. Marchmont nodded a grave and
troubled assent.

"Still if I see the thing one way, I can't act as if I saw it the
other."

"You mustn't see it one way," said Morewood irritably. "If you must be
the slave of your conscience, hang it, you needn't be of your intellect.
Ask the Dean there." (The Dean, who had been drinking his port in
thoughtful peace, started a little.) "He'll tell you that belief is
largely or altogether--which is it?--an affair of the will."

The Dean was prudent; he smiled and finished his glass.

"If I chose to believe in the Crusade, I could," Morewood went on with a
satirical smile. "Or with an adequate effort I could think Jimmy Benyon
brilliant, or Fred Wentworth wise, or Alexander Quisanté honest. That's
it, eh, Mr. Dean?"

"Well, the ordinary view may be appreciated, even if it's not entirely
embraced," said the Dean diplomatically. "The points of agreement are
usually much more important, for practice at all events, than those of
difference."

"In fact--shut one eye and go ahead?" asked Marchmont.

"Oh, shut 'em both and walk by the sound of the feet and the cheering."

"Don't say more than you mean, Mr. Morewood," the Dean advised mildly.

"I know what he means," said Marchmont. "And, yes, I rather wish I could
do it."

Morewood began to instance the great men who had done it, including in
his list many whom the common opinion that he praised would not have
characterised at all in the same way. At each name Marchmont denied
either the greatness or the pliancy. The Dean could see with what ardour
he maintained his position; in spite of the unvarying suavity of his
manner there was something naturally repulsive to him in yielding a
hair's breadth in deference to the wishes or the weaknesses of a
majority.

"Your independence is really half a prejudice," said the Dean at the
end. "You're like a man who can't get a cab and misses his appointment
sooner than ride in a 'bus."

"I suppose so--and I'm much obliged to you. But--well, you can argue
against what a man does, but what's the use arguing against what he is?"

"No; he himself's the only man who can do that," said the Dean, but he
knew as well as Marchmont himself that such an argument would never be
victorious. The will to change was wanting; Marchmont might deplore what
he lost by being what he was, and at times he felt very sore about it;
but as a matter of taste he liked himself just as he was, even as he
liked the few people in whom he found some of the same flavour and the
same bent of mind.

His character was knit consistently all through; whether he dealt with
public affairs or ordered his own life the same line of conduct was
followed. If he could not have things as he wanted them or do them as he
chose, he would not have them or do them at all. He was not modifiable.
For example, having failed to win May Gaston, he had no thought of
trying for Fanny, and this not (as Lady Richard had thought likely)
because he objected to any sort of connection with Quisanté; that point
of view did not occur to him; it was merely because Fanny was not May,
and May was what he had wanted and did want. Fanny he left to the
gradual, uphill, but probably finally successful, wooing of Jimmy
Benyon. Even with regard to May herself he very nearly achieved
consistency. His promise to be often at Quisanté's house had been
flagrantly and conspicuously broken. Quisanté had pressed him often; on
the three occasions on which he had called May had let him see how
gladly she would welcome him more often. He had not gone more often.
He was not sulking, for his temper was not touched; but he held aloof
because it was not to his taste to go under existing circumstances.
He knew that he gave pain to her and regretted the pain, but he could
not go, any more than he could give a vote because his good friend
Constantine Blair, the Whip, was very much put out when he wouldn't. "He
wants a party all to himself," said Constantine angrily. "And then I'm
hanged if he'd vote with it!"

Some of the things here indicated May Quisanté read about him in the
papers, some Quisanté brought home from the House, some she heard from
friends or divined for herself; and her heart went out to Marchmont
under the cunning lure of contrast. The Dissolution drew near now, and
political conferences, schemes, and manoeuvres were the order of the
day in Grosvenor Road and in many other houses which she frequented.
Perhaps she exaggerated what she disliked, but it seemed to her that
everybody, her husband of course among the first, was carefully
considering how many of his previous utterances and how much of his
existing opinions he might conveniently, and could plausibly, disclaim
and suppress, and on the other hand to what extent it might be
expedient, and would not be too startling, to copy and advocate
utterances and opinions which were in apparent conflict therewith. This,
she was told, was practical politics. Hence her impulse of longing to
renew friendship and intimacy with a man who was dubbed unpractical. The
change would be pleasant, and, if she found something to laugh at, she
would find something to admire, just as if in the practical politicians
she found something to frown at, she contrived to find also much matter
for legitimate mirth. She had begun by thinking that a gift of humour
would make her married life harder; she was conscious now that without
that form of insight it would be utterly intolerable.

"I hear you're behaving very badly," she said to Marchmont, when he came
in obedience to her invitation. "I was talking to Mr. Blair about you,
and he had no words strong enough to denounce you in."

"Yes, it's atrocious. I'm thinking for myself," he said with a shrug, as
he sat down.

"For yourself instead of about yourself! With a dissolution coming too!"

"Oh, I'm safe enough. I'm a martyr without a stake."

"Well, really, you're refreshing. I wish we were safe, and hadn't got to
make ourselves safe; I don't think it's a very elevating process." She
paused a moment and then added, "I ought to apologise for bringing you
into such an atmosphere of it. We conspire here like Fenians or Women
Suffragists, and I know how much you hate it all."

"And you?" he asked briefly.

"Oh, yes, as the clerk hates his desk or a girl her practising. The
duties of life, you know."

She had received him in an exuberance of spirits, much as though she
were the school-girl she spoke of and he a pleasant visitor from the
outside world. When she reproached him for not having come before, it
was only evidence of her pleasure that he had come now; in the days
when he saw her often and was always at her call, there had been no
such joy as this. Yet he had hesitated to add one more item to the score
of simple perversity, of not wanting when you can have and _vice versâ_;
what she said about the atmosphere she lived in showed him that his
hesitation had been right.

"And I know you didn't want to come," she went on. "You've only come out
of politeness, no, I mean out of kindness."

"There was an old invitation. An old promise too? Wasn't there?"

"One never withdrawn, the other terribly broken," she laughed. "You've
heard of our difference with poor Dick Benyon?"

"Of your husband's?" May smiled slightly. "Yes, I have. Quisanté's quite
right now, you know; the only pity is that he didn't see it sooner."

"Dick's not so charitable as you. He suspects our sincerity."

It was on the tip of his tongue to say again "Your husband's?" but
looking at her he found her eyes full of fun, and began to laugh
himself.

"I find it absolutely the only way," May explained. "I can't draw
distinctions. Mrs. Baxter, now, says 'Our Cathedral' but 'My
drawing-room.' Amy Benyon says 'Our relations,' when she means hers and
'Dick's relations' when she means his. I've quite given up the attempt
to discriminate; a thorough-going identification of husband and wife is
the only thing. The We matrimonial must be as universal as the We
editorial."

"The theory is far-reaching, if you apply it to qualities."

"Yes, I don't quite know how far."

"Alliance becomes union, and union leads to fusion?"

"And fusion leads where?"

He escaped answering or covered inability to answer with a shrug.

"I'm sorry you don't please Mr. Blair," she said.

"Really I don't think I care so very much. I used to be ambitious,
but----"

"Oh, don't tell me it's not worth while being ambitious. It's all I've
got."

She had spoken on a hasty unthinking impulse; she grew a little red and
laughed rather nervously when she found what she had said. His face did
not change, his voice was quite unmoved, as he said, smiling, "In that
case, no doubt, it is worth while."

She wanted to applaud his excellent manners; at the same time they
annoyed her rather. She had been indiscreet no doubt, but her
indiscretion might, if he had liked, have led the way to matters of
interest, to that opening of the heart to somebody for which she was
pining. His polite care not to embarrass her shut the door.

"I mean, just now," she resumed, "while our seat's so shaky, you know."

"Ah, yes," said he half-absently.

She leant back in her chair and looked at him.

"I think," she said, "you look as if you did care, about Mr. Blair or
about something else. I wanted to tell you that I don't agree in the
least with the criticisms on you." She leant forward, asking in a lower
voice, "Do they hurt you?"

"Not much. A man likes to succeed, but there are things I like better."

"Yes. Well, there's nothing we--_we_--like better, Mr. Marchmont."

He rose and stood on the hearth; her eyes were upturned to his in a
steady gaze.

"You were always very frank, weren't you?" he asked, looking down and
smiling. "Well, you've known what you say for a long while, haven't
you?"

"Oh, yes, even before--Oh, ever since the very beginning, you know.
There now! We've left 'We' and got to 'I,' and whenever that happens I
say something I oughtn't to. But one must sometimes. I believe I could
serve anybody to the death if only I were allowed to speak my whole mind
about him once a week. But it's disloyal, I suppose."

"Well, I suppose it is."

She laughed. "That's what Mr. Blair means," she said. "You must have
seen that I wanted you to say 'No, it isn't.' Perhaps you would have to
anybody else. You were always one of the people who attributed all the
virtues to me. You made it so hard for me to be good. I loathed the girl
you thought I was. One comfort is that as I am now----". Suddenly her
eyes met his; she stopped. "We'd better talk about 'we' again," she
ended with a laugh.

"Whom do you talk to?" he asked curiously.

"About 'we'? I talk to Miss Quisanté--You've met her? She's never tired
of talking about 'we'--though she doesn't like us; but she doesn't care
a bit to talk about me."

"Have a confidante," he suggested gravely.

"Yes--like Tilburina. Who shall I have?"

A run through their acquaintance suggested only Mrs. Gellatly, and her
May rejected as being too suitable, too much the traditional confidante.
"I should like one who might possibly have something to tell me in
return, and she never could," she said.

They were interrupted by the arrival of the man of whom they had spoken,
Constantine Blair. He came with important and, as he clearly considered,
disquieting news for Quisanté. Sir Winterton Mildmay, one of the richest
landowners near Henstead, who had been at loggerheads with his party,
had made up the quarrel and consented to stand in opposition to
Quisanté. "I thought the sooner your husband knew the better," said
Constantine with a very grave face. "It makes a difference, you see. We
only beat young Fortescue, a stranger in the town, by two hundred, and
they had four hundred the time before." He paused and added, "Lady
Mildmay's very much liked in the town."

"Come, Blair, I'm sure we shan't be worse off in that respect anyhow,"
said Marchmont, laughing.

"Oh, I've nothing to do with you, I've given you up," cried Blair,
twisting his good-humoured face into a fierce scowl. "He's a man with
convictions, Lady May; he's no sort of use to me."

Blair had convictions himself, but he and everybody else took them so
much for granted that they might almost as well not have existed; they
were polite convictions too, ready to give place not only to one another
but even to circumstances, and waiting quite patiently their turn to be
realised. He expected to be met in a like spirit, conceiving that the
true function of a man's own opinions is to decide which party he shall
belong to; with that decision their duty was ended. He possessed an
extremely cordial manner, dressed perfectly, and never forgot anybody.
He enjoyed his work immensely, quarrelling with nothing in it save that
it often prevented him from being present at the first performances of
new plays. May thought him pleasant, but did not welcome his appearance
to-day; he smacked too strongly of those politics distinctively practical
from which her talk with Marchmont had afforded a temporary escape.

"I know Mildmay," said Marchmont. "He's a capital fellow and, I should
think, very popular. He'll give you a bit of a run."

"From what I hear he'll run us very close indeed," said Blair with an
anxious look. "However I've unlimited confidence in your husband, Lady
May. If Mildmay is to be beaten Quisanté'll beat him; if there is a weak
spot he'll find it out."

May smiled faintly; what Blair said was so true.

"Perhaps," smiled Marchmont, "you'll be able to ferret out something
about him."

May turned to him and said with a touch of sharpness, "We shall fight
fairly anyhow, I hope." She saw that she surprised him and went on with
a laugh, "You shouldn't talk as if we were going to set detectives on
him and use their information for electioneering."

"Well, hardly," said Constantine Blair. "Still, mind you, a constituency
has a right to know that its member is an honourable and equitable man
as well as a supporter of the principles it favours."

"Excellently well put, Blair," said Marchmont languidly. "Is it your
own?"

"No!" said May, with a sudden laugh. "I believe it's my husband's."

Blair looked a little put out, but his good-humour triumphed. "I'm not
above borrowing from my betters," he said. "Quisanté did say something
of the sort to me, but how in the world did you know? Has he said it to
you?"

"Oh, no; I knew by--oh, just by the subtle sympathy that exists between
husband and wife, Mr. Blair." She laughed again and glanced at Marchmont.
"Sir Winterton must look out for the detectives, mustn't he?" she ended.

Marchmont saw, though Blair did not, that she jested uneasily and reaped
no pleasure, although she reaped amusement, from her clever recognition
of her husband's style. She had spoken in much the same tone about the
difference with Dick Benyon and the suspicions which Dick cast on "our
sincerity." He came near to perceiving and understanding what was in her
mind--what had been there as she watched Quisanté sleeping. The first
suggestion of ferreting out something had come from him, purely in the
way of a cynical jeer, just because nobody would ever suspect him of
seriously contemplating or taking part in such a thing. Well, May
Quisanté did not apparently feel quite so confident about her husband.

Blair bustled off, with a parting mysterious hint that they must lose no
time in preparing for the fray--it might begin any week now--and May's
face relaxed into a more genuine smile.

"He does enjoy it so," she explained. But Marchmont was not thinking of
Blair. He asked her abruptly,

"You'll go to Henstead and help him, I suppose?"

"Of course. I shall be with him right through. He'll want all the help I
can give him. It's everything to him to win this time."

"Yes, I know." Her voice had become troubled again; she was very anxious
for her husband's success; but was she anxious about something else too?
"If I can help you, let me," he said as he rose to go.

She gave him her hand and looked in his face.

"I'm afraid that most likely I shouldn't be able to ask you," she said
gravely. The answer, as she gave it, meant so much to him, and even
seemed to admit so much, that he wondered at once at her insight into
his thoughts and at her frankness in facing what she found there. For
did she not in truth mean that she might want help most on some occasion
when the loyalty he had himself approved would forbid her to reveal her
distress to him or to seek his succour? He ventured, after an instant's
hesitation, on one word.

"After all," he said, "you can't trundle the world's wheelbarrow in
white kid gloves; at least you soil them."

"Then why trundle it?" she asked. "At any rate you needn't say that sort
of thing. Leave that to Mr. Blair."

Not only was the time when everybody had to be bestirring themselves
approaching rapidly, but the appearance of Sir Winterton Mildmay in the
list quickened the Quisantés' departure for the scene of action. Rooms
were taken at the Bull in Henstead, an election agent appointed,
resources calculated--this involved a visit to Aunt Maria--and matters
got into fighting trim. During this period May had again full cause to
thank her power of humour; it almost scattered the gloomy and (as she
told herself) fanciful apprehensions which had gathered round, and
allowed her to study with amusement her husband's preparations. He
talked very freely to her always about his political views, and now he
consulted her on the very important question of his Election Address. He
reminded her of a man packing his portmanteau for a trip and not quite
knowing what he would want, whether (for example) shooting boots would
come in useful, or warm underclothing be essential. Space was limited,
needs difficult to foresee, climate very uncertain. Some things were
obviously necessary, such as the cry on which the Government was going
to the country; others were sure to be serviceable; in went "something
for Labour" (she gathered the phrase from Quisanté's rough notes); odd
corners held little pet articles of the owner's things which he had
found unexpectedly useful on a previous journey, or which might seem
especially adapted to the part of the world he was going to visit. On
the local requirements Mr. Foster the maltster was a very Baedeker. With
constant effort on Quisanté's part, with almost unfailing amusement on
his wife's, the portmanteau got itself filled.

"Are you sure there's nothing else, Alexander?" she asked.

"I think I've got everything that's of real service," said he. "I don't
want to overload it."

Of course not; excess luggage may be very expensive. May was smiling as
she handed back the Address.

"It's extraordinarily clever," she remarked. "You are extraordinarily
clever, you know."

"There's nothing in it that isn't pretty obvious," said he, though he
was well pleased.

"Oh, to you, yes, obvious to you; that's just it," she said.

But amongst all that was in the portmanteau there was nothing that could
be construed into a friendly word for the Crusade; and were not the
anxious minds of the Henstead Wesleyans meant to read a disclaimer of
that great movement in a reference to "the laudable and growing activity
of all religious denominations, each within the sphere of its own
action"? Quisanté had put in "legitimate" before "sphere," but crossed
it out again; the hint was plain enough without, and a superfluous word
is a word too much. "Sphere," implies limitations; the Crusade had
negatived them. This significant passage in the Address was fresh in
May's mind when, a day or two later, her husband came in, fretful and
out of humour. He flung a note down on the table, saying in a puzzled
tone,

"I can't think what's come over Dick Benyon. You know my fight'll be
over before his is half-way through, and I wrote offering to go and make
a couple of speeches for him. He writes back to say that under existing
circumstances he thinks it'll be better for him not to trouble me. Read
his note; it's very stiff and distant."

"Can you wonder?" was what rose to her lips. She did not put the
question. The odd thing was that most undoubtedly he could wonder and
did wonder, that he did not understand why Dick should be aggrieved nor,
probably, why, even though he chose to be aggrieved, he should therefore
decline assistance of unquestionable value.

"Well, there'll be a lot of people glad to have me," said Quisanté in
resentful peevishness. "And I daresay, if I have a big win, he'll change
his mind. I shall be worth having then."

"I don't think that would make any difference to Dick," she said.

She spoke lightly, her tone was void of all offence, but Quisanté left
the room, frowning and vexed. She had seemed to rebuke him and to accuse
him of not seeing or not understanding something that was plain to her.
He had become very sensitive on this point. Left to himself, he had been
a self-contented man, quite clear about what he meant to do, troubling
very little about what he was, quite confident that he could reason from
his own mind to the mind of his acquaintances with absolute safety. When
he fell in love with May Gaston, however, part of her attraction for him
had lain in his sense of a difference between them, of her grasp on
things and on aspects of things which eluded him; in this mood he had
been prepared to worship, to learn, to amend. These things for a little
while he had done or attempted, and had been met by zealous efforts to
the same end on her part. His great moments had been frequent then, and
May had felt that the risky work she had undertaken might prosper and at
last be crowned with success. As for some months back this idea of hers
had been dying, even so Quisanté's humble mood died. Now his suspicious
vanity saw blame of what he was, or even contempt of him, in every word
by which she might seem to invite him to become anything different.
Though she had declared herself on his side by the most vital action of
her life, he imputed to her a leaning towards treachery; her heart was
more with his critics than with him. Yet he did not become indifferent
to her praise or her blame, but rather grew morbidly sensitive and
exacting, intolerant of questioning and disliking even a smile. He loved
her, depended on her, and valued her opinion; but she became in a
certain sense, if not an enemy, yet a person to be conciliated, to be
hoodwinked, to be tricked into a favourable view. Hence there crept into
his bearing towards her just that laboured insincerity which she had
never ceased to blame in his attitude towards the world at large. He
showed her the truth about himself now only as it were by accident, only
when he failed to perceive that the truth would not be to her liking.
But this was often, and every time it happened it seemed to him as well
as to her at once to widen the gulf between them and to move further
away any artificial means of crossing it. Thus the new sense of
self-dissatisfaction and self-distrust which had grown upon him centred
round his wife and seemed to owe its origin to her.

On her side there came a sort of settled, resigned, not altogether
unhumorous, despair. She saw that she had over-rated her power alike
over him and over herself. She could not change what she hated in him,
and she could not cease to hate it. She could neither make the normal
level higher nor yet bear patiently with the normal lower level; the
great moments would not become perpetual and the small moments grew more
irritating and more humiliating. But the great moments recurred from
time to time and never lost their charm. Thus she oscillated between the
moods produced by an intense intellectual admiration on the one hand and
an intense antipathy of the feelings on the other; and in this
uncomfortable balancing she had the prospect of spending her life. Well,
Aunt Maria had lived in it for years, and Aunt Maria could not be called
an unhappy woman. If only Quisanté would not do anything too outrageous,
she felt that she would be able to endure. Since she could not change,
she must be content to compromise, to ignore--if only he would not drive
her from that refuge too.

"I suppose she sees what the man is by now," said Lady Richard to
Morewood, whom she had been trying to entice into sympathising with her
over the scandalous treatment of the Crusade.

"My dear Lady Richard, she always saw what he is much better than you
do, even better than I do. But it's one thing to see what a man is and
quite another to see what effect his being it will have on yourself from
time to time."

"What he's done about Dick and the Dean is so characteristic."

"For example," Morewood pursued, "you know what a bore is, but at one
time he kills you, at another he faintly amuses you. You know what a
Dean is" (he raised his voice so as to let the Dean, who was reading in
the window, overhear); "at one time the abuse exasperates you, at
another such splendid indifference to the progress of thought catches
your fancy. No doubt Lady May experiences the same varieties of feeling
towards her worthy husband."

"Well, I've done with him," said little Lady Richard. Morewood laughed.

"The rest of us haven't," he said, "and I don't think we ever shall till
the fellow dies somehow effectively."

"What a blessing for poor May!" cried Lady Richard impulsively.

Morewood was a long while answering; even in the end what he said could
not be called an answer. But he annoyed Lady Richard by shaking his
finger at her and observing,

"Ah, there you raise a very interesting question."

"Very," agreed the Dean from the window seat.

"I didn't know you were listening," said Lady Richard, wheeling round.

"I always listen about Mr. Quisanté."

"Exactly!" exclaimed Morewood. "I told you so!" But Lady Richard did not
even pretend to understand his exultation or what he meant. Whatever he
had happened to mean about poor May, the Dean was not Alexander
Quisanté's wife.



                             CHAPTER XI.

                   SEVENTY-SEVEN AND SUSY SINNETT.


The course of events gave to the Henstead election an importance which
seemed rather adventitious to people not Henstead-born. It occurred among
the earliest; the cry was on its trial. Quisanté was a prominent
champion, his opponent commanded great influence, and the seat had always
been what Constantine Blair used to call "pivotal," and less diplomatic
tongues "wobbly." Such materials for conspicuousness were sure to lose
nothing in the hands of Quisanté. The consciousness that he fought a
larger than merely local fight, on a platform broader than parochial,
under more eyes than gazed at him from the floor of the Corn-Exchange,
was the spur he needed to urge him to supreme effort and rouse him to
moments of inspiration. Add to this the feeling that his own career was
at its crisis. Even Fanny Gaston, who rather unwillingly accompanied her
sister to the Bull, was in twenty-four hours caught by the spirit of
combat and acknowledged that Quisanté was a fine leader of a battle,
however much he left to be desired as a brother-in-law. She flung herself
into the fight with unstinted zeal, and was rewarded by Quisanté's
conviction that he had at last entirely overcome her dislike of him.

"He's really splendid in his own way," she wrote to Jimmy Benyon--by now
they had come to corresponding occasionally--"and I think that you
anyhow--I don't ask Dick, who's got a fight of his own--might come and
give him some help. People know how much you did for him, and it looks
rather odd that you should neither of you be here." So Jimmy, after a
struggle, packed up, and gave and received a reciprocal shock of surprise
when he got into the same railway carriage as the Dean and Mrs. Baxter.

"What, are you going too?" cried Jimmy.

Mrs. Baxter explained that they were not going to join Mr. Quisanté;
indeed they were bound for the opposite camp, being on their way to stay
with the Mildmays. The Dean added that his presence had no political
significance; the Mildmays were old friends, and the visit quite
unconnected with the election. "Although," the Dean added, "I shall find
it interesting to watch the fight." His manner indicated that his
sympathies were divided. Jimmy hastened to explain his presence.

"I'm only going because of May and Fanny. I don't care a straw about
Quisanté," he said, "although I'm loyal to the party, of course."

"I'm not a party man," observed the Dean. How should he be, when both
parties contemptuously showed his dear Crusade the door?

"I want Sir Winterton to win," said Mrs. Baxter with mild firmness.

"Oh, I say!" murmured Jimmy, who was very ready to be made to feel
uncomfortable. "Come now, why, Mrs. Baxter?"

Mrs. Baxter shook her head, and went on knitting the stocking which on
journeys took the place of the wonted petticoat.

"My wife's taken a prejudice against Mr. Quisanté," the Dean explained
apologetically.

"A prejudice!" said Mrs. Baxter with a patient withering smile; she
implied that her husband would be calling religion and the virtues
prejudices next.

"There's nothing particularly wrong with him," Jimmy protested weakly.

"There's nothing particularly right with him, Lord James. He's just like
that coachman of the Girdlestones'; he never told the truth and never
cleaned his harness, but, bless you, there was always a good reason for
it. What became of the man, Dan?"

"I don't know, my dear."

"I remember. They had to get rid of him, and the Canon got him made
night-watchman at the Institute. However, as I say, I called him Mr.
Reasons, and that's what I call Alexander Quisanté. Poor girl!" The last
words referred, by a somewhat abrupt transition, to Quisanté's wife.

The Dean smiled rather uneasily at Jimmy Benyon; Mrs. Baxter detected the
smile, but was not disturbed. She shook her head again, saying,

"Sir Winterton you can trust, but if I were he I'd keep a sharp eye on
all you Quisanté people."

"I say, hang it all!" moaned Jimmy Benyon. But his protest could not
soften the old lady's convinced hostility. "You ask his aunt," she ended
vindictively, and Jimmy was too timid to suggest that enquiries in such a
quarter were not the usual way of forming a judgment on rising statesmen.

Moreover he had no opportunity, for Miss Quisanté did not come to
Henstead; her explanation showed the mixture of malice and devotion which
was her usual attitude towards Sandro.

"I'd give my ears to come," she had told May, "to see the fun and hear
Sandro. But I'm old and ugly and scrubby, and Sandro won't want me. I'm
not a swell like you and your sister. I should do him harm, not good.
He'd be ashamed of me--oh, that'd only amuse me. But I'd best not come.
Write to me, my dear, and send me all his speeches."

"I wish you'd come. I want you to talk to," May said.

"Talk to your sister!" jeered Aunt Maria; it was nothing less than a
jeer, for she knew very well that May could not and would not talk to
Fanny.

One thing the Quisanté people (as Mrs. Baxter called them) found out
before they had been long in Henstead, and this was the important and
delicate nature of anything and everything that touched or affected Mr.
Japhet Williams. Something of this had been foreshadowed by Mr. Foster's
account of his friend, but the reality went far beyond. Japhet was a
small fretful-faced man; he was rich, liberal, and kind, but he plumed
himself on a scrupulous conscience and was the slave of a trifle-ridden
mind. As a member of a party, then, he was hard to work with, harder even
than Weston Marchmont, of whom he seemed sometimes to May to be a reduced
and travestied copy. Not a speech could be made, not a bill issued, but
Japhet Williams flew round to the Committee Room with an objection to
urge and a hole to pick. There he would find large, stout, shrewd old
Foster, installed in an arm-chair and ready with native diplomacy, or
Quisanté himself, earning Mrs. Baxter's nickname of "Mr. Reasons" by the
suave volubility of his explanations. May laughed at such scenes
half-a-dozen times in the first week of her stay at Henstead.

"Is he so very important to us?" she asked of Foster.

He answered her in a whisper behind a fat hand,

"His house is only a couple of miles from Sir Winterton's, and Lady
Mildmay's been civil. He employs a matter of two hundred men up at the
mills yonder."

"The position's very critical, isn't it, then?"

"So your good husband seems to think," said Foster, jerking his thumb
towards where Quisanté leant over Japhet's shoulder, almost caressing
him, and ingeniously justifying the statistics of an electioneering
placard. May's eyes followed the direction of the jerk. She sighed.

"Yes, it's a waste of Mr. Quisanté's time, but we can't help that,"
Foster sighed responsively. It was not, however, of Quisanté's time that
his wife had been thinking.

Japhet rose. Quisanté took his hand, shook it, and held it.

"Now you're satisfied, really satisfied, Mr. Williams?" he asked. "I give
you my word that what I've said is absolutely accurate."

"What that placard says, sir?"

"Yes, yes, certainly--what the placard says. It doesn't give the details
and explanations, of course, but the results are accurately stated."

"I'm much relieved to hear it, much relieved," said Japhet.

He left them; Foster sat down again, smiling. May had come to drive her
husband to a meeting and waited his leisure. He came across to Foster,
holding the suspected placard in his hand.

"Smoothed him down this time, sir?" asked Foster cheerily.

"Yes," answered Quisanté, passing his hand over his smooth hair. "I
think, Mr. Foster, we won't have any more of this Number 77. Make a note
of that, will you?"

"No more of 77," Foster noted on a piece of paper.

"It's not one of the most effective," said Quisanté thoughtfully.

"Sails a little near the wind, don't it?" asked Foster with a wink.

"Brief summaries of intricate subjects are almost inevitably open to
misunderstanding," observed Quisanté.

"Just so, just so," Foster hurried to say, his eyes grown quite grave
again. May remembered Mr. Constantine Blair's plagiarism of her husband's
style; had he been there, he must have appropriated this last example
also. "I shall end by becoming very fond of Japhet Williams," she said as
she got into the carriage. Quisanté glanced at her and did not ask her
why.

Meanwhile, however, the other side had got hold of No. 77, and Smiley,
the agent, a very clever fellow, wired up to the Temple for young Terence
McPhair, who had an acquaintance with the subject. Young Terence, who
possessed a ready tongue and no briefs to use it on, made fine play with
No. 77; accusations of misrepresentation, ignorant he hoped, fraudulent
he feared, flew about thick as snowflakes. The next morning Japhet was
round at the Committee Room by ten o'clock. Foster was there, and a boy
came up to the Bull with a message asking if Mr. Quisanté could make it
convenient to step round. It was a bad morning with Quisanté; his head
ached, his heart throbbed, and his stomach was sadly out of gear; he had
taken up a report of young Terence's speech, and read it in gloomy
silence while the others breakfasted. There was to be a great meeting
that night, and they had hoped that he would reserve what strength he had
for it. He heard the message, rose without a word, and went down to the
Committee Room.

"What'll he do?" asked Jimmy Benyon. "They gave us some nasty knocks last
night."

"He can prove that the placard has been withdrawn, at least that no more
are to be ordered," said Fanny Gaston. "It wasn't his fault; he's not
bound to defend it."

Quisanté came home to a late lunch; he was still ill, but his depression
had vanished; he ate, drank, and talked, his spirit rising above the woes
of his body.

"What have you done this morning?" Fanny asked.

"Held a meeting in the dinner-hour, had ten interviews, and the usual
palaver with Japhet."

"How are Mr. Williams' feelings?" asked May.

"He's all right now," said Quisanté, smiling. Then he added, "Oh, and
we've wired to town for two hundred and fifty more of 77."

Then May knew what was going to happen. Quisanté was roused. The placard
was untrue, at least misleading, and he knew it was; he might have
retreated before young Terence and sheltered himself by an inglorious
disclaimer. That, as Aunt Maria said, was not Sandro's way. No. 77 came
down by the afternoon train, a corps of bill-posters was let loose, and
as they drove to the evening meeting the town was red with it. Withdrawn,
disclaimed, apologised for? It was insisted on, relied on, made a trump
card of, flung full in young Terence's audacious face. May sat by her
husband in that strange mixed mood that he roused in her, half pride,
half humiliation; scorning him because he would not bow before the truth,
exulting in the audacity, the dash, and the daring of him, at the spirit
that caught victory out of danger and turned mistake into an occasion of
triumph. For triumph it was that night. Who could doubt his sincerity,
who question the injured honour that rang like a trumpet through his
words? And who could throw any further slur on No. 77, thus splendidly
championed, vindicated, and almost sanctified? Never yet in Henstead had
they heard him so inspired; to May herself it seemed the finest thing he
had yet done; and even young Terence, when he read it, felt glad that he
had left Henstead by the morning train.

As Quisanté sank into his chair amid a tumult of applause, Foster winked
across the platform at May; but little Japhet Williams was clapping his
hands as madly as any man among them. Who could not congratulate him, who
could not praise him, who could not feel that he was a man to be proud of
and a man to serve? Yet most undoubtedly No. 77 was untrue or at least
misleading, and Alexander Quisanté knew it. Undoubtedly he had said "No
more of it." And now he had pinned it as his colours to the mast. May
found herself looking at him with as fresh an interest and as great a
fear as in the first weeks of their marriage. Would she in her heart have
had him honest over No. 77, honest and inglorious? Or was she coming to
think as he did, and to ask little concerning honesty? What would Weston
Marchmont think of the affair? Or, short of that, how Morewood would
smile and the Dean shake his head!

The No. 77 episode was very typical of that time, and most typical of
Alexander Quisanté's conduct, of Sandro's way. His best and his worst,
his highest and his lowest, were called out; at one moment he wheedled an
ignorant fool with flattery, at another he roused keen honest men to fine
enthusiasm; now he seemed to have no thought that was not selfish and
mean, now imagination rapt him to a glow of heart-felt patriotism. The
good and the bad both stood him in stead, and hope reigned in his camp.
But all hung in the balance, for Sir Winterton was tall and handsome,
bluff and hearty, a good landlord, a good sportsman, a good man, a
neighbour to the town and a friend to half of it. And the great cry did
not seem like proving a great success.

"It's up-hill work against Sir Winterton," said Japhet Williams, rubbing
his thin little hands together.

A troubled look spread over the broad face of that provincial diplomatist,
Mr. Foster the maltster; he knew where the danger lay. They would come to
Quisanté's meetings, applaud him, admire him, be proud of his efforts to
please them; but when the day came would they not think (and would not
their wives remind them) that Sir Winterton was a neighbour and a friend
and that Lady Mildmay was kind and sweet? Then, having shouted for
Quisanté, would they not in the peaceful obscurity of the ballot put
their cross opposite Mildmay's name?

"I'm not easy about it, sir, that I'm not," said Foster, wiping his broad
red brow.

Quisanté was not easy either, as his lined face and his high-strung
manner showed; he was half-killing himself and he was not easy. So much
hung on it; before all England he had backed himself to win, and in the
strain of his excitement it seemed to him that the stake he laid was his
whole reputation. Was all that to go, and to go on no great issue, but
just because Sir Winterton was bluff and cheery and Lady Mildmay kind and
sweet? Another thing he knew about himself; if he lost this time, he must
be out in the cold at least for a long time; he could not endure another
contest, even if the offer of a candidature came to him, even though Aunt
Maria found the funds. Everything was on this fling of the dice then; and
it seemed to him almost iniquitous that he should lose because Sir
Winterton was bluff and cheery and his wife kind and sweet. His face was
hard and cunning as he leant across towards old Foster and said in a low
voice, with a sneering smile,

"I suppose there's nothing against this admirable gentleman?"

Old Foster started a little, recollecting perhaps that fine passage in
the speech which opened the campaign, the passage which defined the broad
public lines of the contest and loftily disclaimed any personal attack or
personal animosity. But the next moment he smiled in answer, smiled
thoughtfully, as he tapped his teeth with the handle of his pen-knife.
Quisanté sat puffing at a cigar and looking straight at him with
observant searching eyes.

"Anything against him, eh?" asked Foster in a ruminative tone.

"They've been ready enough to ask where I come from, and how I live, and
so on."

"They know all that about Sir Winterton, you see, sir."

"Yes, confound them." The keen eyes were still on Foster; the fat old man
shifted his position a little and ceased to meet their regard. "We don't
want to be beaten, you know," said Quisanté.

A silence of some minutes followed. Quisanté, rose and strolled off to a
table, where he began to sort papers; Foster sat where he was, frowning a
little, with his mouth pursed up. He stole a glance at Quisanté's back, a
curious enquiring glance.

"I know nothing about the rights of it one way or the other," he said at
last. "But some of the men up at the mills and in my place still remember
Tom Sinnett's affair. Only the other night, as Sir Winterton drove by,
one of them shouted out, 'Where's Susy Sinnett?'"

Quisanté went on sorting papers and did not turn round.

"Who the deuce is Susy Sinnett?" he asked indifferently, with a laugh.

"It was about five years ago--before Sir Winterton's split with the
Liberals. Tom was a keeper in Sir Winterton's employ, and Sir Winterton
charged him with netting game and sending it to London on his own
account." Foster's narrative ceased and he looked again at his
candidate's back. The papers rustled and the cigar smoke mounted to the
ceiling. "Well?" said Quisanté.

"Tom was found guilty at Sessions; but in the dock he declared Sir
Winterton had trumped up the charge to shut his mouth."

"What about?"

"Well, because he'd found Sir Winterton dangling after Susy, and
threatened to break his head if he found him there again." He paused,
Quisanté made no comment. "Tom got nine months, and when he came out all
the family emigrated to Manitoba."

After a short pause, filled by the arrangement of papers, Quisanté
observed, "That must have cost money. He'd saved out of what he got for
the game, eh?"

"It was supposed Sir Winterton found the money," said Foster, "but
nothing was known. Sir Winterton refused to make any statement. He said
his friends would know what to think, and he didn't care a damn (that was
his word) about anybody else. Still some weren't satisfied. But the talk
died away, except here and there among the men who'd been Tom's pals. I
daresay Tom gave 'em a rabbit now and again in exchange for a pot of
beer, and they missed him." Mr. Foster ended with a little chuckle.

"I think Sir Winterton might have been a little more explicit," Quisanté
remarked. "There's some excuse for thinking an explanation not
unnecessary. What became of the girl? Did she go to Manitoba?"

"I believe she did in the end, but she'd married a man from Dunn's works
and left the town three months after her father was sent to prison."

Quisanté came back to the hearth and stood looking down on old Foster.

"Rather a queer story," he said. "But I meant, was there anything against
him of a public nature, in his local record, anything of that sort, you
know."

"I know nothing of that kind," said Foster, raising his eyes and meeting
his leader's. He looked rather puzzled, as if he were still not quite
sure what Quisanté's question had meant, in spite of Quisanté's
explanation of it. "I'd almost forgotten this, but Japhet Williams
mentioned it the other day. You know Japhet by now. He said he thought he
ought to ask Sir Winterton to make a statement."

A sudden gleam shot through Quisanté's eyes.

"Mr. Williams' active conscience at work again?" he asked with a sneering
laugh.

"That's it," said Foster, still looking stolidly at his chief. "But I
know Sir Winterton; he'd only say what he did before."

Quisanté turned, flung the end of his cigar into the grate, and turned
back to Foster, saying,

"Mr. Williams must do as he thinks right; but of course I can't have any
hand in a matter of that kind."

"Just so, just so," murmured Foster as hurriedly but even more vaguely
than usual. His chief was puzzling him still.

"I can't have anything at all to do with it," Quisanté repeated
emphatically. Foster did not quite know whence he gathered the
impression, but he was left with the feeling that, if he should chance
ever to be asked what had passed between them on the subject, he must
remember this sentence at least, whatever else of the conversation he
recollected or forgot.

"Of course you can't, sir. I only mentioned it in passing," said he.

"And you'd better tell Japhet Williams so, if he mentions the matter."
The slightest pause followed. "Or," added Quisanté, grinding his heel
into the hearth rug as though in absence of mind, "if it happens to crop
up in talk between you."

Whether the matter did crop up as suggested or not is one of those points
of secret history which it seems useless to try to discover. But an
incident which occurred the next evening showed that Japhet Williams'
mind and conscience had, either of their own motion or under some outside
direction, been concerning themselves with the question of Tom Sinnett
and his daughter Susy. There was a full and enthusiastic meeting of Sir
Winterton's supporters. In spite of Quisanté's victory over No. 77,
they were in good heart and fine fighting fettle; Sir Winterton was
good-tempered and sanguine; there was enough opposition to give the
affair go, not enough to make itself troublesome. But at the end, after
a few of the usual questions and the usual verbal triumphs of the
candidate, a small man rose from the middle of the hall. He was greeted
by hoots, with a few cheers mingling. The Chairman begged silence for
their worthy fellow-townsman, Councillor Japhet Williams.

Japhet was perfectly self-possessed; he had been, he said, as a rule a
supporter of the opposite party, but he kept his mind open and was free
to admit that he had been considerably impressed by some of the arguments
which had fallen from Sir Winterton Mildmay that evening. The meeting
applauded, and Sir Winterton nodded and smiled. There was one matter,
however, which he felt it his duty to mention. Now that Sir Winterton
Mildmay (the full name came with punctilious courtesy every time) was
appealing to a wider circle than that of his personal friends and
acquaintances, now that he--was seeking the confidence of his
fellow-townsmen in general (A voice "He's got it too," and cheers),
would Sir Winterton Mildmay consider the desirability of reconsidering
the attitude he had taken up some time ago, and consider the desirability
(Japhet's speech was not very artistically phrased but he loved the long
words) of making a fuller public statement with reference to what he (Mr.
Japhet Williams) would term the Sinnett affair? And with this Japhet sat
down, having caused what the reporters very properly described as a
"Sensation"--and an infinite deal of hooting and groaning to boot. But
there were cheers also from the back of the room, where a body of roughly
dressed sturdy fellows sat sucking at black clay pipes; these were men
from the various works, from Dunn's and from Japhet's own.

As Japhet proceeded Sir Winterton's handsome face had grown ruddier and
ruddier; when Japhet finished, he sat still through the hubbub, but his
hand twitched and he clutched the elbow of his chair tightly. The
platform collectively looked uncomfortable. The chairman--he was Green,
the linen-draper in High Street--glanced uneasily at Sir Winterton and
then whispered in his ear. Sir Winterton threw a short remark at him,
the chairman shrank back with the appearance of having been snubbed. Sir
Winterton rose slowly to his feet, still very red in the face, still
controlling himself to a calmness of gesture and voice. But all he said
in answer to that most respected and influential townsman Mr. Japhet
Williams was,

"No, I won't."

And down he plumped into his chair again.

Not a word of courtesy, not a word of respect for Japhet's motives, not
even an appeal for trust, not even a simple pledge of his word! A curt
and contemptuous "No, I won't," was all that Sir Winterton's feelings, or
Sir Winterton's sensitiveness, or his temper, or his obstinacy, allowed
him to utter. Sir Winterton was a great man, no doubt, but at election
times the People also enjoys a transient sense of greatness and of power.
The cheers were less hearty now, the groans more numerous; the audience
felt that, in its own person and in the person of Japhet Williams, it was
being treated with disrespect; already one or two asked, "If he's got a
fair and square answer, why don't he give it?" The superfine sense of
honour, which feels itself wounded by being asked for a denial and soiled
by condescending to give one, is of a texture too delicate for common
appreciation. "No, I won't," said Sir Winterton, red in the face, and the
meeting felt snubbed. Why did he snub them? The meeting began to feel
suspicious. There were no more questions; the proceedings were hurried
through; Sir Winterton drove off, pompous in his anger, red from his hurt
feelings, stiff in his obstinacy. The cheer that followed him had not its
former heartiness.

"I only did my duty," said Japhet to a group who surrounded him.

"That's right, Mr. Williams," he was answered. "We know you. Don't you
let yourself be silenced, sir." For everybody now remembered the Sinnett
affair, which had seemed so forgotten, everybody had a detail to tell
concerning it, his own views to set forth, or those of some shrewd friend
to repeat. That night the taverns in the town were full of it, and at
many a supper table the story was told over again. As for Japhet, he
dropped in at Mr. Foster's and told what he had done, complaining
bitterly of how Sir Winterton had treated him, declaring that he had been
prepared to listen to any explanation, almost to take Sir Winterton's
simple word, but that he was not to be bullied in a matter in which his
own conscience and the rights of the constituency were plainly and deeply
involved. Mr. Foster said as little as he could.

"It won't do for me to take any part," he remarked. "I'm too closely
connected with Mr. Quisanté, and I know he wouldn't wish to enter into
such a matter."

"I'm not acting as a party man," said Japhet Williams, "and this isn't a
party matter. But a plain answer to a plain question isn't much to ask,
and I mean to ask for it till I get it, or know the reason why I can't."

Dim rumours of a "row" at Sir Winterton's meeting reached the Bull that
night, brought by Jimmy Benyon, who had been at a minor meeting across
the railway bridge among the railway men. Somebody had brought up an old
scandal, and the candidate's answer had not given satisfaction. The
ladies showed no curiosity; Quisanté, very tired, lay on the sofa doing
nothing, neither reading, nor talking, nor sleeping. His eyes were fixed
on the ceiling, he seemed hardly to hear what Jimmy said, and he also
asked no questions. So Jimmy, dismissing the matter from his mind, went
to bed, leaving Quisanté still lying there, with wide-open eyes.

There he lay a long while alone; once or twice he frowned, once or twice
he smiled. Was he thinking over the opportunity that offered, and the
instrument that presented itself? What chances might lie in Sir
Winterton's dogged honour and tender sensitiveness on the one hand, and
on the other in that conscience of little Japhet's, stronger now in its
alliance with hurt pride and outraged self-importance! And nobody could
say that Quisanté himself had had any part in it; he had spoken to nobody
except Foster, and he had told Foster most plainly that he would have
nothing to do with such a matter. There he lay, making his case, the case
he could tell to all the world, the case Foster also could tell, the case
that both Foster and he could and would tell, if need be, to all the
world, to all the world--and to May Quisanté.

"Sandro always has a case," said Aunt Maria. He had a case about what
Japhet termed the Sinnett affair, just as he had had a case, and a very
strong one as it had proved, about placard No. 77. When at last he
dragged his weary overdone body to bed, his lips were set tight and his
eyes were eager. It was the look that meant something in his mind, good
or bad, but anyhow a resolution, and the prospect of work to be done. Had
May seen him then, she would have known the look, and hoped and feared.
But she was sleeping, and none asked Quisanté what was in his mind that
night.



                             CHAPTER XII.

                      A HIGHLY CORRECT ATTITUDE.


Up to the present time all had gone most smoothly at Moors End, the
Mildmays' old manor-house, eight miles from Henstead, and Lady Mildmay had
confided many quiet self-congratulations to Mrs. Baxter's ear. For it had
seemed possible that the election might prove a cause of perturbation.
Lady Mildmay was still in love with her handsome well-preserved husband,
and had every confidence in him, but to a chosen friend she would
sometimes admit that he was "difficult"; she called him not proud and
obstinate, but sensitive and a little touchy; she hinted that he could not
bear unpleasant looks, and yet was not very ready to make concessions to
friendship. No doubt he needed some management, and Lady Mildmay, like
many wives, found one of her chief functions to consist in acting as a
buffer between her husband and a world which did not always approach him
with enough gentleness and consideration. Hence her joy at the prosperous
passage of a critical time, at the enthusiasm of their supporters, and at
the gratification and urbanity of Sir Winterton. Satisfaction begat
charity, and Lady Mildmay had laughingly dismissed some portentous hints
which Mrs. Baxter let fall about the certain character and the probable
tactics of Mr. Quisanté.

"His wife looks so nice, he can't be very bad," said kind Lady Mildmay,
using an argument of most uncritical charity.

Although the Dean, if pressed, must have ranked himself among his host's
political opponents, he was so little of a party man and had so many
points of sympathy with Sir Winterton (especially on Church matters) that
he very contentedly witnessed the contest from Moors End and no longer
troubled himself to conceal his hopes of a Moors End triumph. Nevertheless
he was judiciously reticent about Quisanté, generously eulogistic of May.
Sir Winterton looked forward to making the acquaintance of both, but
thought that the occasion had better be postponed till they had ceased to
be opponents.

"But I hope you and your wife'll go over as often as you like," he said
to the Dean very cordially. But the Dean and Mrs. Baxter did not go,
perhaps preferring not to divide their sympathies, perhaps fearing that
they might seem like spies and be suspected of carrying back information
to the rival camp. "I dare say you're wise," said Sir Winterton, rather
relieved; he had made the suggestion because it was the handsome thing to
do, but was not eager that it should be accepted. To do the handsome
thing and to meet with pleasant looks were the two requisites most
essential to Sir Winterton's happiness; given these he was at his best
and his best was a fine specimen of the class to which he belonged. There
was, however, a weak side to these two desires of his, as the history of
the Sinnett affair to some extent indicated.

The first shock to Sir Winterton's good temper had been the matter of No.
77; until then he had been lavish of the usual polite compliments to his
opponent's personal character. After No 77's prodigal reappearance and
Quisanté's rhetorical effort in defence of it these assurances were no
more on his lips, and for a time he bore himself with strict reserve when
Quisanté was mentioned. He had been right in the dispute, and he had been
beaten; silence was the utmost that could be expected of his tolerance or
his self-control; his refusal to speak on the subject showed his opinion
well enough, and he must not be blamed too severely if he listened without
protest and perhaps with pleasure to Mrs. Baxter's pungent criticisms. Of
course she had been reminded of something--of the strictures which a
certain Provincial Editor had passed on the household arrangements of a
certain Minor Canon; a libel action had ensued, and the jury had been
beguiled into finding for the defendant on a bare literal construction of
words which to anybody acquainted with local circumstances bore another
and much blacker meaning. This Mrs. Baxter called a pettifogging trick,
and she pursued her parallel till the same terms were obviously indicated
as appropriate to Quisanté's conduct.

"My dear!" said the Dean in mild protest; but Sir Winterton laughed as
though he had enjoyed the story. He was at once favoured with the further
parallel of the Girdlestones' coachman and, as the conversation drifted to
May, of the Nonconformist Minister's daughter and the Circus Proprietor.
All Mrs. Baxter's armoury of reminiscence was heartily at his service.

But No. 77 did not after all touch Sir Winterton very closely. His temper
had begun to recover and he had nearly forgiven Quisanté when suddenly
Japhet Williams produced a far more severe and deadly shock. His action
was a bomb, and a bomb thrown from a hand which Moors End had been fain to
think was or might be friendly. Was not Japhet a neighbour, only two miles
off along the Henstead Road, and did not Lady Mildmay and Mrs. Williams,
religious differences notwithstanding, work together every year on the
Committee of the Cottage Gardens and Window-Boxes Show? Had not Japhet
himself been understood to be reconsidering his political opinions? There
was even more. The Sinnett affair was the one subject utterly forbidden,
most rigidly tabooed, at Moors End. All Sir Winterton's relatives,
friends, acquaintances, and dependents knew that well. Sir Winterton's
honour and temper had never been so wounded as over that affair. By
Japhet's hand it was dragged into light again; the odious thing became
once more the gossip of Henstead, once more a disgusting topic which it
was impossible wholly to ignore at Moors End. This was plain enough since,
on the morning after Japhet's question had been put, Lady Mildmay was
discussing the position with Mrs. Baxter in the morning-room, while the
Dean and Sir Winterton walked round and round the lawn in gloomy
conversation punctuated by gloomier silences.

What the actual history was Lady Mildmay's narrative showed pretty
accurately. Sir Winterton's predominant desires, to do the handsome thing
and to meet with pleasant looks, evidently had played a large part. Lady
Mildmay blushed a little and smiled as she began by observing that Sir
Winterton had distinguished the girl by some kind notice; he liked her, he
always liked nice-spoken nice-looking girls; for her sake and her mother's
(a very decent woman), he had forgiven Tom many irregularities. At last
his patience gave out and Tom was prosecuted; when arrested, Tom had tried
blackmail; Sir Winterton was not to be bullied, and Tom's speech from the
dock was no more than an outburst of defeated malice.

Then came on the scene Sir Winterton's kind heart and his predominant
desires. He had made the girl a present to facilitate her marriage and
had got the husband work away from the town, where no gossip would have
reached. This seemed enough, and so Doctor Tillman, an old and wise
friend, urged. But as the time of Tom's release approached and his wife
made preparations for receiving him in a cottage just on the edge of Sir
Winterton's estate, it became odious to think of the black looks and
scowls which would embitter every ride in that direction. "I want to
forget the whole thing, to get rid of it, to blot it all out," said Sir
Winterton fretfully. Prison had induced reason in Tom Sinnett; he made
his submission and accepted the liberal help which carried him and his
wife, his daughter and her husband, to a new life across the seas. Then
Sir Winterton had peace in his heart and abroad; he had behaved most
handsomely, and there were no scowling faces to remind him of the hateful
episode. He had met the gossip boldly and defiantly; it had died away and
had seemed utterly forgotten and extinct; the low grumbles and not very
seemly jokes which still lingered among the men at the various works in
Henstead, where Tom had been a _persona grata_, never reached the ears of
the great folk at Moors End; it is perhaps only at election times that
such things become audible in such quarters.

The poor lady ended with a careworn smile; she had suffered much during
the episode, and perhaps the more because her faith in her husband had
never wavered.

"I did so hope it was all over," she said.

"That's a good deal to hope about anything," observed Mrs. Baxter rather
grimly.

"It does annoy Winterton so terribly. I'm afraid it'll quite upset him."

Mrs. Baxter had her own opinion about Sir Winterton; amid much that was
favourable, she had no doubt that he was far too ready to get on the high
horse.

"Well, my dear," she said, "Sir Winterton'll have to do what many people
have; he must swallow his pride and tell the truth about it."

"I don't think he will," sighed Lady Mildmay, looking out at her
husband's tall imposing figure, and marking the angry energy with which
he was impressing his views on the Dean.

In this case at least Mrs. Baxter was right. Sir Winterton had got on the
very highest of horses; he had mounted at the meeting, flinging back his
"No, I won't," as he sprang to the saddle; he was firmly seated; having
got up, he declared that he could not think of coming down. There, for
good or evil, he sat. The Dean looked vexed and puzzled.

"This Mr. Williams is an honest man, I suppose?" he asked.

"Oh, honest as the day, too honest. But he's an infernal little ass,"
said Sir Winterton. "Somebody's got hold of him and is using him, or he's
heard some gossip and caught it up. I won't say a word." And he went on
to ask if he were to degrade himself by making explanations and excuses
for his personal conduct to all the rowdies and loafers of Henstead. "If
I have to do that to get in, why, I'll stay out, and be hanged to them."
His face suggested that his language would have been still more vigorous
but for a respect due to the Dean's cloth.

Later in the day they all had a turn at him, his wife pleading tenderly,
Mrs. Baxter exhorting trenchantly (he came nearer to being told he was a
fool than had ever happened to him before), the Dean suggesting possible
diplomacies, Dr. Tillman, whom they sent for as a reinforcement, declaring
that a few simple words, authorised by Sir Winterton, would put the whole
matter right. He was obstinate; he had taken up his position and meant to
stand by it; his conscience was clear and his honour safe in his own
keeping; he would not speak himself and explicitly forbade any statement
to be made on his behalf. Surely some power fought for Alexander Quisanté
in giving him an opponent of this temper!

"If any statement is to be made in reference to the matter," said Sir
Winterton, rather red in the face again by now, "I confess to thinking
that it would come best from Mr. Quisanté. In fact I think that a few
words would come very gracefully from Mr. Quisanté."

Lady Mildmay caught at the hope. "If it was suggested to him, I'm
sure----"

"Suggested!" cried Sir Winterton. "Is it likely I should suggest it or
permit any of my friends to do so? I was merely speculating on what might
not unnaturally suggest itself to a gentleman in Mr. Quisanté's position."

Mrs. Baxter's smile was very eloquent of her opinion on this particular
point. The Dean frowned perplexedly.

"There are exigencies to be considered," he stammered. "The views of his
supporters----"

"In a matter like this?" asked Sir Winterton in a tone of lofty surprise.
The Dean felt that he had rather committed himself, and did not venture
to remind his sensitive host that after all Quisanté had no knowledge of
the truth or falsehood of the story, and could say nothing beyond that he
had none. Mrs. Baxter, however, spoke plainly.

"Let me tell you," she said, "that if you expect anything of the sort
from Alexander Quisanté, you'll find yourself mistaken."

"I don't know that I agree with you there, my dear," said the Dean,
entering his usual _caveat_. "I think very likely Mr. Quisanté would
be willing to do the proper thing if it were pointed out to him."

"Pointed out!" murmured Sir Winterton, raising his brows. Did gentlemen
need to have the proper thing pointed out to them? Did they not see it
for themselves and do it? Nay, one might look for more than the mere
naked proper thing; from a gentleman the handsome thing was to be
expected, and that of his own motion. There could, in Sir Winterton's
view, be no doubt of what was in this case the handsome thing.

Unhappily, there is no subject on which greater divergence of opinion
exists than that of the proper thing to be done under given
circumstances. Here was Sir Winterton holding one view; Japhet Williams
held another, and it is to be feared that a section of the inhabitants of
Henstead adopted a third. Sir Winterton's cry was honour, Japhet's was
duty; the inhabitants would have differed rather even among themselves as
to how to describe their motive; party spirit, curiosity, the zest of a
personal question, interest in a promising quarrel, mere mischief, all
had a hand in producing the applause which greeted Japhet when he rose
the next evening and with absolute imperturbability repeated the same
question as nearly as possible in the same words. Sir Winterton's answer
was not in the same words, but entirely to the same effect. "I've
answered that question once, and I won't answer it again," he said. Then
came the tumult, and after that a dull unenthusiastic ending, and the
drive off through a grinning crowd, which enjoyed Sir Winterton's fury
and added to it by a few hateful cries of "Where's Susy Sinnett?" From
the outskirts of the town till his own gates were reached Sir Winterton
did not speak to his wife. Then he turned to her and said very
courteously but most decisively,

"Marion dear, you will oblige me by not accompanying me to any more
meetings at present and by not visiting the town just now. I don't choose
to expose you to any more such scenes. I can't teach these fellows to
respect a lady's presence, but I can protect my wife by ensuring her
absence." He looked very chivalrous and very handsome as he made this
little speech. But his wife's heart sank; such an attitude could mean
nothing but defeat.

"Can't you help us?" she implored of the Dean, when she had got him alone
and told him of this new development of her husband's pride or temper. It
was evident that Japhet Williams meant, as he had said, to go on putting
his plain question till he got a plain answer, and so long as he put his
question, Lady Mildmay was not to be present. How soon would Henstead
understand that the gentleman who sought to be its member openly declared
that he did not consider it a fit place for his wife to enter?

"Something must really be done," said the Dean nervously. "At all
hazards." They both knew that "at all hazards" meant in spite of the
prohibition and in face of the wrath of Sir Winterton.

Indeed this impulsive gentleman, seated on his high horse, was in urgent
need of being saved from himself. Hitherto Japhet's importunity and the
attacks of less conscientious opponents had had the natural effect of
rousing his supporters to greater enthusiasm and greater zeal. When his
fresh step began to be understood, when Lady Mildmay came with him no
more, and it dawned upon Henstead that Sir Winterton would not bring
her, the very supporters felt themselves offended. Were a few ribald
cries and the folly of a wrong-headed old Japhet Williams to outweigh all
their loyalty and devotion? Was the town to be judged by its rowdies?
They could not but remember that Lady May Quisanté sat smiling through
the hottest meetings, and one evening had at the last moment saved her
husband's platform from being stormed by sitting, composed and immovable,
in the very middle of it till the rioters came to a stand a foot from
her, and then retreated cowed before her laughter. That was the sort of
thing Henstead liked; to be told that it was unworthy of Lady Mildmay's
presence was not what it liked. A strong deputation came out to Sir
Winterton; he replied from his high horse; the deputation averred that
they could not answer for the consequences; Sir Winterton said he did not
care a rush about the consequences; the deputation ventured timidly to
hint that an excessive care to shield Lady Mildmay's ears from any
mention of the Sinnett affair might be misunderstood; Sir Winterton said
that he had nothing to do with that; his first duty was to his wife, his
second to himself. The deputation retired downcast and annoyed.

"If you're going to do anything, Dan, you'd better do it at once," said
Mrs. Baxter.

The Dean, resolved to risk Sir Winterton's anger in Sir Winterton's
interest, did something; he wrote covertly to Jimmy Benyon at the Bull,
begging him to be riding on the Henstead road at ten o'clock the next
morning; the Dean would take a walk and the pair would meet, as it was to
seem, accidentally; nothing had been said to Sir Winterton, nothing was
to be said at present to Mr. Quisanté. The Dean was, in fact, most
carefully unofficial, and in no small fright besides; yet he was also
curious to know how this new phase of the fight was regarded at the
Quisanté headquarters.

Jimmy came punctually, greeted the Dean most heartily, and listened to
all that he said. The Dean could not quite make out his mood; he seemed
uncomfortable and vexed, but he was not embarrassed, and was able to
state what the Dean took to be the Quisanté position with so much
clearness that the Dean could not help wondering whether he had received
instructions.

"Quisanté's line has been to take absolutely no notice of the whole
thing," said Jimmy. "He knows nothing about it, and has had nothing to do
with its being brought forward; he's never mentioned it, and he won't.
But on the other hand he doesn't feel called upon to fight Mildmay's
battle, or to offend his own supporters by defending a man who won't
defend himself. As for this business about Lady Mildmay, if Mildmay likes
to make such an ass of himself he must take the consequences."

The Dean felt that the Quisanté case even put thus bluntly by Jimmy was
very strong; Quisanté's deft tongue and skilful brain could make it
appear irresistible. Strategically retiring from the ground of strict
justice, he made an appeal to the feelings.

"Surely neither Mr. Quisanté himself nor any of you would wish to win
through such an occurrence as this? That would be no satisfaction to
you."

"Of course we'd rather win without it," said Jimmy irritably. "It's not
our fault. Go to Japhet Williams, or, best of all, persuade Mildmay not
to be a fool. Why won't he answer?"

"Have you had any talk with Quisanté about it?"

"Very little. He thinks pretty much what I've said."

"Or with Lady May?" asked the Dean with a direct glance.

"She's never mentioned it to me."

"The whole affair is deplorable."

"I don't see what we can do." Jimmy's tone was rather defiant.

The Dean fell into thought and, as the result thereof, made a proposition;
it was very much that suggestion to Quisanté on which Sir Winterton had
frowned so scornfully.

"If," said he, "I could persuade Sir Winterton to give Mr. Quisanté a
private assurance that the scandal is entirely baseless, would Mr.
Quisanté state publicly that he was convinced of its falsity and did not
wish it to influence the electors in any way?"

"Perhaps he would," said Jimmy.

"I think it would be only the proper thing for him to do," said the Dean
rather warmly.

"I don't know about that. Why can't Mildmay say it for himself? But I'll
ask Quisanté, if you like."

The Dean was only too conscious of the weakness of his cause; he became
humble again in thanking Jimmy for this small promise. "And Mr.
Quisanté'll be glad to have done it, I know, whatever the issue of the
fight may be," he ended. The remark received for answer no more than a
smile from Jimmy. Jimmy was not sure that among the stress of emotions
filling Quisanté's heart in case of defeat there would be room for any
consoling consciousness of moral rectitude. Perhaps Jimmy himself would
not care much about such a solatium. He wanted to win and he wanted
Quisanté to win; such was the effect of being much with Quisanté; and in
this matter at least, so far as Jimmy's knowledge went, his champion had
acted with perfect correctness. At other times Jimmy might have been, like
Sir Winterton, apt to exact something a little beyond correctness, but now
the spirit of the fight was on him.

The Dean returned with the rather scanty results of his mission, and after
luncheon took his courage in both hands and told Sir Winterton what he had
done. But for his years and his station, Sir Winterton would, at the first
blush, have called him impertinent; the Dean divined the suppressed
epithet and defended himself with skill, but, alas, not without verging on
the confines of truth. To say that he had happened to meet Jimmy Benyon
was to give less than its due credit to his own ingenuity; to say that
Jimmy and he had agreed on the proper thing was rather to interpret than
to record Jimmy's brief and not very sanguine utterances. However the
Dean's motive was very good, and before the meal ended Sir Winterton
forgave him, while still sternly negativing the course which his diplomacy
suggested. In fact Sir Winterton was very hard to manage; the Dean
understood the Quisanté position better and better; Mrs. Baxter gave up
her efforts; she had an almost exaggerated belief in the inutility of
braying fools in a mortar; she was content to show them the mortar, and if
that were not enough to leave them alone. Only the wife persevered, for
she thought neither of herself nor of what was right, but only of what
might serve her husband. To the meetings he would not speak, to Quisanté
he might be got to speak; she would not let him alone while there was a
chance of it. And at last she prevailed, not by convincing his reason
(which indeed was little involved in the matter either way), not by taming
his pride, and not by pointing to his interest, but by the old illogical,
perhaps in the strictest view immoral, appeal--"For my sake, because I
ask you for your love of me!" For his love of her Sir Winterton consented
to write a private note to Alexander Quisanté, stating for his own
satisfaction and for his opponent's information the outline of the true
facts of the Sinnett affair. Sir Winterton disliked his task very much
but, having to do it, he did it as he did everything, as a gentleman
would, frankly, simply, cordially, with an obvious trust in Quisanté's
chivalry, good faith, and reluctance to fight with any weapons that were
not stainless.

"Now we've put it straight," said the Dean gleefully. "He's bound to
mention your note and to accept your account, and if he accepts it, his
supporters can't help themselves, they must do the same." Sir Winterton
agreed that, distasteful as this quasi-appeal to his opponent had been,
it could not fail to have the beneficial results which the Dean forecast.
There was more cheerfulness at Moors End that evening than had been seen
since Japhet Williams rose from the body of the hall, a small but
determined Accusing Angel.

It is not so easy to put straight what has once gone crooked, nor so
safe to undertake to advise other folks, however much the task may by
habit seem to lose half its seriousness. In his heart the Dean was
thinking that he had "cornered" Quisanté, and Sir Winterton was hoping
that he had combined the advantages of pliancy with the privilege of
pride. The note that Quisanté wrote in answer did nothing to disturb
this comfortable state of feeling--unless indeed any danger were
foreshadowed in the last line or two; "While, as I have said, most ready
to accept your assurance, and desirous, as I have always been, of
keeping all purely personal questions in the background, I do not feel
myself called upon to express any opinion on the course which you have,
doubtless after full consideration, adopted in regard to the requests
for a public explanation which have been addressed to you by duly
qualified electors of the borough." The Dean felt a little uneasy when
that sentence was read out to him; was it possible that he had
underrated Quisanté's resources and not perceived quite how many ways of
escaping from a corner that talented gentleman might discover? Yet there
was nothing to quarrel with in the sentence; at the outside it was a
courteous intimation of a difference of opinion and of the view (held by
every man in the place except Sir Winterton himself) that a simple
explanation on a public occasion would have done Sir Winterton's honour
no harm and his cause a great deal of good.

Such was the private answer; the public reference was no less neat. First
came a ready and ample acceptance of the explanation which Sir Winterton
had given. "I accept it unreservedly, I do not repeat it only because it
was given to me privately." Then followed an expression of gratitude for
the manly and straightforward way in which the speaker felt himself to
have been treated by his opponent; then there was an expression of hope
that these personal matters might disappear from the contest. "Had I been
sensitive, I in my turn might have found matter for complaint, but I was
content to place myself in your hands, trusting to your good sense and
fairness." (Sir Winterton had not been so content.) "I trust that the
episode may be regarded as at an end." Then a pause and--"It is not for
me, as I have already observed to my honourable opponent, to express any
judgment on the course which he has seen fit to adopt. I have only to
accept his word, which I do unhesitatingly, and it is no part of my duty
to ask why he preferred to make his explanation to one who is trying to
prevent him from sitting in Parliament rather than to those whom he seeks
to represent in that high assembly."

This was said gravely and was much cheered. As the cheering went on, a
smile gradually bent the speaker's broad expressive mouth; the crowded
benches became silent, waiting the fulfilment of the smile's promise. A
roguish look came into Quisanté's face, he glanced at his audience,
then at his friends on the platform, lastly at his wife who sat on the
other side of the chairman's table. He spoke lower than was his wont,
colloquially, almost carelessly, with an amused intonation. "At any
rate," he said, "I trust that Henstead may once more be thought worthy
of the presence of----" He paused, spread out his hands, and sank his
voice in mock humility--"of other ladies besides--my wife."

It was well done. May's ready laugh was but the first of a chorus, and
Quisanté, sitting down, knew that his shaft had sped home when somebody
cried, "Three cheers for Lady May Quisanté!" and they gave them again and
again, all standing on their feet. Alas for the Dean! For some men there
are many ways out of a corner.



                            CHAPTER XIII.

                           NOT SUPERHUMAN.


"I don't set up for being superhuman," said Alexander Quisanté with a
shrug and a smile at his sister-in-law, "and I should very soon be told
of my mistake if I did. I had nothing to do with putting the story
about. I never countenanced it in any way. But since it got about, since
Mildmay chose to give himself airs and make a fool of himself, and then
come to me to get him out of his trouble, I thought myself entitled to
give him one little dig."

"Of course you were," agreed Fanny.

"And if they choose to decide the election on that instead of on the
Government policy, why, in the first place we can't help it, and in the
second we needn't talk about it." He paused and then added with greater
gravity, "I have nothing to reproach myself with in the matter."

"What's Mr. Williams going to do?"

"Oh, he made one solemn protest and now, at my request, he'll hold his
tongue."

"He's done all the mischief, though," said Jimmy Benyon with much
satisfaction.

It was true enough, and the triumph at the Bull equalled the depression
at Moors End, where the Dean was aghast at the result of his diplomacy,
and Sir Winterton began to perceive that he had vindicated his honour at
the cost of his good sense, and his dignity at the price of his
popularity. It was not Henstead's moral sense that was against him now,
but that far more formidable enemy, Henstead's wounded vanity. The best
judges refused to estimate how many votes that ride on the high horse
was likely to cost him; but all agreed that the bill would be heavy;
even Smiley, his own agent, shook a rueful head over the probable
figure. And all this advantage had accrued to the Quisanté faction
without involving any reproach or any charge of unfair tactics; rather
were they praised for moderation, magnanimity, and good-nature.

"To tell the truth," Jimmy whispered to Fanny, "I never felt sure that
Quisanté would treat it in such a gentlemanly way."

"No, neither did I," Fanny confessed. "I'm so glad about it."

"He's rather proud of himself, though," chuckled Jimmy.

"Yes, I know. Well, we mustn't be too critical," urged Fanny. His public
demeanour had been beyond reproach, and after all even persons of more
delicate feeling and more exalted position than Quisanté are apt to
plume their feathers a little in the family circle.

In the whirl of these last few days there was however little time for
scrutinising the fine shades of manner or speculating on nice points of
conscience. They were all worked to death, they were all inflamed with
enthusiasm and the determination to win. As was only becoming,
Quisanté's wife was the most enthusiastic and the most resolute; a thing
not seeming so natural to herself was that she was also happier than she
had ever been since her marriage. As the fight grew hotter, Quisanté
grew greater in her eyes; he had less time to make postures, she less
leisure to criticise; if he forgot himself in what he was doing, she
could come near to forgetting the side of him she disliked in an
admiration of the qualities that attracted her. His praises were in
men's mouths beyond Henstead; letters of congratulation came from great
folk, and Quisanté was told that his speeches had more than a local
audience and more than a local influence. Sympathy joined with
admiration; he was not only successful, he was brave; for it was a
serious question whether his body and his nerves would last out, and
every night found him utterly exhausted and prostrate. Yet he never
spared himself, he was wherever work was to be done, refused no call,
and surrendered not an inch to his old and hated enemy, the physical
weakness which had always hindered him. May wrote to Miss Quisanté that
he was "wonderful, wonderful, wonderful." There she paused, and added
after a moment's thought, "It's something to be his wife." And to Mr.
Foster she said, "They must elect him, they can't help it, can they?"

"Well, I think we shall win now," said old Foster, smiling, but
directing a rather inquisitive glance at her. "Japhet Williams has
helped us; not so much as Sir Winterton himself, though."

May's face fell a little. "I didn't mean that," she said. "Oh, I suppose
I want to win anyhow, but I'd much rather not win through that."

"Must take what we can get," murmured Foster, quite resignedly.

"I suppose so; and it's not as if my husband, or you, or any of his
friends had taken any part in it."

The inquisitive glance ceased; Foster had found out the answer to what
it had asked; there were limits to the confidence which existed between
Lady May Quisanté and her husband. But he only smiled comfortably;
Quisanté wouldn't talk, he himself was safe, and, if anything had
cropped up in talk between him and Japhet, his skill and Japhet's vanity
had ensured that the little man should think himself the initiator,
inventor, and sole agent in the whole affair.

"We're not responsible for Japhet Williams," said he. "His vote's safe
for us now, though, and it means a few besides his own."

"I sometimes wonder," mused May, "whether anybody at an election ever
votes one way and not the other simply because he thinks that way right
and the other wrong." She laughed, adding, "You don't get the impression
that they ever do, canvassing and going about like this."

"Must allow for local feelings, Lady May."

"Yes, I know; and everybody has feelings, and I suppose every place is
local. You say a lot of people'll vote for us because Sir Winterton
wouldn't let Lady Mildmay come to the town?"

"A better stroke for us than any even Mr. Quisanté has done."

"And there's something like that in every constituency, I suppose! How
do we get governed even as well as we do?"

Foster looked thoughtful and nursed his foot (in which he had a touch of
the gout). "It's all under God," he said gravely. "He turns things to
account in ways we can't foresee, Lady May." Was it possible that he was
remembering the peculiar qualities of Mr. Japhet Williams? May did not
laugh, for Mr. Foster was obviously sincere, but she looked at him with
surprise; his religion came in such odd flashes across the homely tints
of his worldly wisdom and placid acceptance of things and men as he
happened to find them. Henstead was not the Kingdom of Heaven, and he
did not pretend to think it wise to act on the assumption that it was.
Like Quisanté, he did not set up for being superhuman--nor set other
people up for it either. May felt that there were lessons to be learnt
here; nay, that she was making some progress in them; though she
wondered now and then what Weston Marchmont would think of the lessons
and of her progress in them.

"The worst of it is," she went on, "that I'm afraid one has to say a lot
of things that are not exactly quite true."

"Truer than the other side," Mr. Foster affirmed emphatically, his
corpulence seeming to give weight to the dictum as he threw himself
forward in his chair.

"Relative truth!" laughed May. "Like No. 77?"

"You must ask Mr. Quisanté about that."

"Oh, no, I won't. I'll listen to his speeches about it." She grew grave
as she went on. "I've only asked him about one thing all through the
election. I had to ask him about that."

"Ah!" murmured Foster, cautiously, vaguely, safely.

"This wretched story about Sir Winterton, you know. And I got into
terrible trouble by my question." She laughed a little. "He doesn't as a
rule scold me, you know, but he really did. I was very much surprised.
Fancy boring you with this! Well, I asked him if he'd had anything to do
with reviving the story. I asked him right straight out. Did you think I
was like that, Mr. Foster?"

"Pretty well, pretty well," said old Foster; he was smiling, but he was
watching her again.

"Was it insulting? Well, you see----" She stopped abruptly; Foster was
not, after all, Aunt Maria, and she could not tell him how it was that
she might ask her husband questions that sounded insulting. "Anyhow he
was very much offended."

Foster still nursed his foot, and now he shifted a little in his chair.

"He gave me his word directly, but told me he was very much hurt at my
asking him." She smiled again. "There's a confession of a conjugal
quarrel for you, Mr. Foster. Don't talk about it, or Mr. Smiley will
have a caricature of us throwing the furniture at one another. I've been
very humble ever since, I assure you."

Mr. Foster chuckled. May imagined that his fancy was touched by her
suggestion of the caricature; in fact he was picturing Alexander
Quisanté's indignant disclaimer.

"Don't tell him I said anything to you about it," she added.

"You may be sure I won't," he promised.

It would not have been out of harmony with Mr. Foster's general
theological position to consider the sudden and serious development of
his gout as a direct judgment on him for a diplomacy that perhaps
overstepped legitimate limits, and in another man's case he might have
adopted such a view with considerable complacency. When, however, he was
laid up and placed _hors du combat_ in the last three critical days, he
needed all his faith to reconcile him to one of the most unfathomable
instances of the workings of Providence. His grumbles were loud and long,
and the directions which he sent from his sick bed were tinged with
irritability. For at last the other side had come to its senses; Sir
Winterton was affable again, Lady Mildmay was canvassing, and Mr. Smiley
had high hopes. Despondency would have fallen on Foster's spirit but for
the report of Quisanté's exploits, performed in the teeth of the orders
of that same Dr. Tillman who had given Sir Winterton such excellent
unprofessional advice touching the affair of Tom Sinnett. He gave
Quisanté just as good counsel, and with just as little result. Then he
tried Quisanté's wife and found in her what he thought a hardness or an
insensibility, or, if that were an unjust view, a sort of fatalism which
forbade her to seek to interfere, and reduced her to being a spectator of
her husband's doings and destiny rather than a partner in them.

"How can he lie by now?" she asked. "It's impossible; he must see this
out whatever happens." Quisanté had said exactly the same thing, but his
wife's perfect agreement in it seemed strange to the doctor. It was
making the man's success more than the man; there was too much of the
Spartan wife about it, without the Spartan wife's excuse of patriotism.
Something of these feelings found expression in the look with which he
regarded May, and he allowed himself to express them more freely to Lady
Mildmay, who would have disappointed the most important meeting sooner
than face the risk of Sir Winterton's taking cold. He told her how May
had said, "He won't stand being coddled," and then had added, with a
frankness which the doctor had not become accustomed to, "Besides I
should never do it. We aren't in the least like that to one another."

"I felt rather sorry for the man," said the doctor. "It's as if he was a
racehorse, and they didn't think so much about him as about a win for
the stable."

"Do you like him?" asked Lady Mildmay, merely in natural curiosity. But
the doctor started a little as he answered, "Why, no, I don't like him
at all." And as he drove home he was thoughtful.

"Well, here we are at last!" said Jimmy Benyon as he sat down to
breakfast on the morning of the polling day. "I'm told Mildmay's people
were asking for six to four last night. Where's Quisanté?"

"He went out just before eight, to catch some of the men who work on the
line and can't be back to vote in the evening," said May.

"Lord!" sighed Jimmy in a self-reproachful tone; it was past nine now,
and he was only just out of bed. "What are you going to do?"

"Drive and bow and smile and shake hands," said May. "And you're going
to and fro in a wagonette of Mr. Williams'--without any springs, you
know. And Mr. Dunn's going to take Fanny in one of his waggons; she'll
have to sit on a plank without a back all day, so I told her to stay in
bed till she has to start at ten."

"It's a devilish difficult question," said Jimmy meditatively, "whether
it's all worth it, you know."

"Oh, it's worth more than that," said May lightly, as she sprang up and
put on her hat. "It's worth--well, almost anything. Six to four? They
expect us to win then?"

"By a neck, yes." He glanced at her and added rather uneasily, "They say
friend Japhet's done the trick for us." She made no answer, and he went
on hastily, "Old Foster's still in bed, and the waiter says he's written
five notes to your husband already--a regular row of them in the bar,
you know."

"Last instructions?"

"Oh, somebody else to be nobbled, don't you know; some fellow who wants
to marry his deceased wife's sister--or else is afraid he'll have to if
they pass the Bill. And there's the butcher in Market Street who's got
some trouble about slaughterhouses that I'm simply hanged if I can
understand. I jawed with him for half-an-hour yesterday, and then didn't
hook him safe."

"Alexander must find time to go and hook him," said May, smiling.
"Alexander'll be great on slaughter-houses."

"And at the last minute Smiley's been hinting something about Mildmay
giving a bit of land to extend the Recreation Ground. A beastly
unscrupulous fellow I call Smiley."

"Oh, poor Mr. Smiley! He wants to win."

"He might play fair, though."

"Might he? Oh, well, I suppose so. We've played fair anyhow--pretty
fair, haven't we?"

"Rather!"

"You really think so, Jimmy?" She was serious now; Jimmy reached out his
hand and touched hers for a moment; he divined that she was asking him
for a verdict and was anxious what it might be.

"Rather!" he said again. "That's all right. We've kept to the rules
square enough."

"Then I'm off to bow and smile!" she cried. As she went by she touched
his hand again. "Thanks, Jimmy," she said.

Jimmy, left alone, stretched himself, sighed, and lit a cigar; they were
nearly out of the wood now, and they had managed to play pretty fair.
For his own sake he was glad, since he had been mixed up in the
campaign; he had perception enough to be far more glad for May
Quisanté's.

Through all the fever of that day the same gladness and relief were in
her heart in a form a thousandfold more intense. They enabled her to do
her bowing and smiling, to hope eagerly, to work unceasingly, to be gay
and happy in the excitement of fighting and the prospect of victory. She
could put aside the memory of Tom Sinnett; they had not been to blame;
let that affair be set off against Smiley's hypothetical extension of
the Recreation Ground. She felt that she could face people, above all
that she could face the Mildmays when the time came for her to meet them
at the declaration of the poll. And as regarded her husband she could do
more than praise and more than admire; she could feel tenderness and a
touch of remorse as she saw him battling against worse than the enemy,
against a deadly weariness and weakness to which he would not yield.
From to-morrow she determined to lay to heart the doctor's counsel, to
try whether he could not be persuaded to stand a little coddling,
whether he might not be brought to, if only she could persuade herself
to show him more love. When she looked at the Mildmays she understood
what had perhaps been in the doctor's mind; dear Lady Mildmay (she was a
woman who immediately claimed that epithet with its expression of
mingled affection and ridicule) no doubt overdid a little her pleasant
part. She made Sir Winterton a trifle absurd. But then with what
chivalry he faced and covered the touch of absurdity, or avoided it
without offending the love that caused it! Very glad she was that, when
Lady Mildmay asked to be introduced, she could clasp hands with the
consciousness that her side had played fair, and by a delicate distant
reference could honestly assure the enemy's wife that both she and her
husband had looked with disfavour on that unpleasant episode.

She had known she would like Sir Winterton and was not disappointed; she
saw that he was very favourably impressed by her, largely, no doubt,
because she was handsome, even more because their ways of looking at
things would be very much the same; they had the same pride and the same
sensitiveness; in humour he was not her match, or he would not have
ridden his high horse. She felt that he complimented her in begging her
to make him known to Quisanté; and this office also she was able to
perform with pleasure, because they had played fair. Hope was high in
her that night, not merely for this contest, not merely now for her
husband's career, but for her life and his, for her and him themselves.
If her old fears had been proved wrong, if in face of temptation he had
not yielded, if now by honourable means he had made good his footing,
things might go better in the future, that constant terror vanish, and
there be left only what she admired and what attracted her. For they had
kept to the rules square enough; Quisanté had played fair.

She heard Sir Winterton tell him so in a friendly phrase, just touched
with a pleasantly ornate pompousness; eagerly looking, she saw Quisanté
accept the compliment just as he should, as a graceful tribute from an
antagonist, as no more than his due from anyone who knew him. She smiled
to think that she could write and tell Aunt Maria that Sandro was
improving, that even his manners grew better and better as success gave
him confidence, and confidence produced simplicity. Making a friendly
group with their rivals in the ante-room, they were able to forget the
little fretful man who paced up and down, carefully avoiding Sir
Winterton's eye, but asserting by the obstinate pose of his head and the
fierce pucker on his brow that he had done no more than his duty in
asking a plain answer to a plain question, and that on Sir Winterton's
head, not on his, lay the consequences of evasion.

Presently the group separated. The little heaps of paper on the long
table in the inner room had grown from tens to hundreds; the end was
near. Quisanté's agent stood motionless behind the clerks who counted,
Jimmy Benyon looking over his shoulder eagerly. Smiley regarded the
heaps for a moment or two and then walked across to Sir Winterton.
Through the doorway May saw Sir Winterton bend his head, listen, nod,
smile, and turn and whisper to his friends. At the next moment Jimmy
Benyon came to the door, caught her eye, smiled, and nodded
energetically. The presiding officer looked down the row of men counting
to right and left. "Are you all agreed on your figures?" he asked. They
exchanged papers, counted, whispered a little, recovered their own
papers. "Yes," ran along the row, and the presiding officer pushed back
his chair. In a single instant Quisanté was the centre of a throng of
people shaking his hand, and everybody crowded into the inner room.

"How many?" asked Sir Winterton Mildmay.

"Forty-seven, Sir Winterton," answered Smiley.

So it was over, and Alexander Quisanté was again Member for Henstead.
"Send somebody to tell Foster," May heard him say before he followed to
the window from which the announcement was to be made. He was very pale
and walked rather unsteadily. "Stay by Mr. Quisanté; I think he's not
very well," she whispered to the agent. The next moment two of Sir
Winterton's prominent supporters passed her; one spoke to the other half
in a whisper. "That damned Sinnett business has done us," he said.

Her cheek flushed suddenly; it was horrible to think that. Still they
had played fair, and it was no fault of theirs.

"Let me be the first to congratulate you," said a gentle voice.

She turned and found Lady Mildmay beside her; Sir Winterton's wife was
smiling, but there were tears in her eyes.

"And do get your husband home to bed; he looks terribly, terribly tired.
I'm afraid he's not nearly as strong as Winterton; but I'm sure you take
great care of him."

"Not so much as I ought to." Lady Mildmay, accustomed to straightforward
emotions, was puzzled at the half-bitter half-merry tone. "I mean I egg
him on when perhaps I ought to hold him back. I know he ought to rest,
but I never want him to--never really want it, you know." Lady Mildmay
still looked puzzled. "He's at his best working," said May.

"Well, but you must want him to yourself sometimes anyhow, and that's a
rest for him."

Oh, the differences of people and fates! That was May's not original but
irresistible reflection when Lady Mildmay left her. Want him to herself!
Never--or never as Lady Mildmay meant, anyhow. She only wanted a good
place whence to look at him.

She had one more encounter before Jimmy Benyon came to take her home.
Japhet Williams came up to her and made her shake hands.

"We have got a representative in whom we can have confidence," he said.

"I hope so, Mr. Williams." She smiled to think how exactly she was
speaking the truth--a rare privilege in social intercourse.

"Don't think that I resent in any way the distant attitude which Mr.
Quisanté thought it desirable to take up in regard to my action,"
pursued Japhet; it seemed odd that such a coil of words could be
unrolled from so small a body. "My course was incumbent on me. I
recognise that his attitude was proper for him."

"I'm so glad, Mr. Williams," May murmured vaguely.

"I could take the course I did because I had nothing to gain by it,
nothing personally. Being personally interested, he could not have moved
in the matter. I hope you see my point of view as well as his, Lady
May?"

"Oh, perfectly. I--I'm sure you're both right."

"My conscience doesn't blame me," said Japhet solemnly; and something in
his manner made May remark to Jimmy, when he came to take her home,
"What a lot of excellent people are spoilt by their consciences!"

Quisanté had disappeared, engulfed in a vortex of triumphant supporters,
carried off by arms linked in his, or perhaps hoisted in uncomfortable
grandeur on enthusiastic but unsteady shoulders. The street was densely
packed, and Jimmy's apparently simple course of returning straight to
the hotel proved to be a work of much time and difficulty. But the stir
of life was there, all around them, and May's eyes grew bright as she
felt it. Now at least it could not seem a difficult question whether the
result were worth the effort; triumph drove out such doubts.

"I'm so glad we've won; I'm so glad we've won," she kept repeating in
simple girlish enthusiasm as Jimmy steered her through the crowd,
heading towards the Bull whenever he could make a yard or two. "Though
I'm awfully sorry for Lady Mildmay," she added once.

So long were they in getting through that on their arrival they found
that Quisanté had reached home before them. His journey had been
hurried; he had been taken faint and the rejoicings were of necessity
interrupted; he was upstairs now on the sofa. May ran up, followed by
Fanny and Jimmy, passing many groups of anxious friends on the way.
Quisanté was stretched in a sort of stupor; he was quite white, his eyes
were closed. She knelt down by him and called him by his name.

"He's quite done up," said Jimmy, and he went to the sideboard and got
hold of the brandy.

"Do keep everybody out," called May, and Fanny shut the door oh
half-a-dozen inquisitive people. Both she and Jimmy were looking very
serious; May grew frightened when she turned and saw their faces.

"He's only tired; he'll be all right again soon," she protested. "Give
me a little brandy and water, Jimmy."

They stood looking at her while she did her best for him; a slight
surprise was in their faces; they had never seen her minister to him
before. Did she really love him? The question escaped from Jimmy's eyes,
and Fanny's acknowledged without answering it. Presently Quisanté sighed
and opened his eyes.

"Drink some of this," said his wife low and tenderly. "Do drink some."
She was kneeling by him, one arm under his shoulder, the other offering
the glass.

"We've done it, haven't we?" he murmured, as she tilted the glass to his
lips. The drink revived him; with her help he hoisted himself higher on
the sofa and looked at her. A smile came on his face; they heard him
whisper, "My darling!" Again it struck them both as a little strange
that he should call her that. But she smiled in answer and made him
drink again.

"Yes, you've won; you always win," they heard her whisper softly. She
had forgotten all now, except that he had won, that her faith stood
justified, and he lay half-dead from the work of vindicating it. At that
moment she would have been no man's if she could not be Alexander
Quisanté's.

There was a knock at the door; Jimmy Benyon went and opened it; he came
back holding a note, and gave it to May; it was addressed to her husband
in a pencil scrawl. "A congratulation for you," she said to Quisanté. He
glanced carelessly and languidly at it, murmuring, "Read it to me,
please," and she broke open the sealed envelope. Inside the writing was
as negligent a scribble as on the outside, the writing of a man in bed,
with a stump of pencil. Old Mr. Foster wrote better when he was up and
abroad, so much better that Quisanté's tired eyes had not marked the
hand for his. "Read it out to me," said Quisanté, his eyes now dwelling
gratefully on his wife's face, his brain at last resting from the long
strain of weeks of effort.

"Yes, I'll read it," she said cheerfully, almost merrily. "We shall be
full of congratulations for days now, shan't we?"

She smoothed out the sheet of paper; there were but two or three lines
of writing, and she read them aloud. She read aloud the simple
indiscreet little hymn of triumph which victory and the safety of a
private note lured from old Mr. Foster's usually diplomatic lips:--

"Just done it, thank God. Shouldn't have without Tom Sinnett, and we've
got you to thank for that idea too."

She read it all before she seemed to put any meaning into it. A silence
followed her reading. She knelt there by him, holding the sheet of
note-paper in her hands. Fanny and Jimmy stood without moving, their
eyes on her and Quisanté. Slowly May rose to her feet. Quisanté closed
his eyes and moved restlessly on the sofa; he sighed and put his hand up
to his head. The slightest of smiles came on May's lips as she stood
looking at him for a minute; then she turned to Fanny, saying, "I think
he'd better have a little more brandy-and-water." She walked across to
the mantelpiece, the crumpled sheet of paper in her hand. She looked at
Fanny with the little smile still on her lips as she lit a candle and
burnt the note in its flame, dropping the ashes into the grate. Quisanté
lay as though unconscious, taking no heed of his sister-in-law's
proffered services. Jimmy Benyon stood in awkward stillness, looking at
May. Suddenly May broke into a laugh.

"Just as well to burn it; it might be misunderstood," said she. Jimmy
moved towards her quickly and impulsively. "No, no, I'm all right," she
went on. "And we've won, haven't we? I'm going to my room. Look after
him." She paused and added, smiling still, "His head's very bad, you
know." And so, pale and smiling, she left her husband to their care.

The ashes of Mr. Foster's note seemed to crinkle into a sour grin where
they lay on the black-leaded floor of the fire-grate.



                             CHAPTER XIV.

                              OPEN EYES.


It is a matter of common observation that the local influences and
peculiarities which loom so large before the eyes of both parties during
such a struggle as that at Henstead seem to be entirely forgotten after
the declaration of the poll, at least by the victorious faction and their
friends in the Press and the country. Out of a congeries of conflicting
views, fancies, fads, interests, quarrels, and misunderstandings a
reasoned and single political verdict is considered to emerge, and great
is the credit of the advocate who extracts it from the multitudinous
jury. When Quisanté had won Henstead, little more was heard of the
gentleman with a deceased wife's sister, of the butcher in trouble about
slaughter-houses, of Japhet Williams' conscience or Tom Sinnett's affair.
The result was taken as an augury of triumph for the party all over the
country, where these things had never been heard of and the voices of
Henstead did not reach. Unhappily however, as events proved, the victory
of Henstead had in the end to be regarded not as the inauguration of a
triumphant campaign but as a brilliant exploit performed in face of an
overwhelming enemy. To be brief, the Government was beaten, somewhat
badly beaten, the great cry was a failure, and there were many casualties
in the ranks. Marchmont kept his seat by virtue of personal and
hereditary popularity; but Dick Benyon, who had been considered quite
safe, lost his, a fate shared by many who had deemed themselves no less
secure.

"I suppose you preached your miserable Crusade, as you call it?" said
Constantine Blair. They were at dinner at Marchmont's, Morewood and the
Dean also being of the company.

"I did, and without it I should have got a worse thrashing," said Dick
stoutly; it would be unkind to scrutinise too closely the sincerity of
this statement.

"Quisanté had the sense to throw it over," growled Constantine; his
equanimity was not up to its usual standard.

"It's wisdom to lighten the ship in a storm," smiled Marchmont.

"Yes, and to jettison other people's heavy luggage first," said Morewood.

"The duty of a captain, I suppose," murmured the Dean with a smile.

"You needn't begin with your best guns," argued Dick, a little hotly.

"We can't let Dick appropriate our metaphor to his own purposes," said
Marchmont. "As a matter of fact now, had the Crusade much to do with it?"

Morewood interposed before Dick could answer.

"Oh, only as a Crusade. 'Causes' of any kind are properly suspected,"
said he. "For my part I should imitate the noble simplicity of municipal
election bills. 'Down with the rates!' Quite enough, you know. The end is
indisputably attractive, and you aren't such an ass as to try to indicate
the means. So you get in."

"And don't do it?" The question was Marchmont's.

"Of course not--or what would you have to say next time?"

"The other side has always prevented your doing it?" the Dean suggested.

"Mostly, yes--by factious opposition."

"You fellows don't seem to care," observed Constantine Blair moodily,
"but I tell you we're out for four or five years at least."

There was a pause; the accused persons looked at one another; then
Marchmont had the courage to observe that the country would perhaps live
through the period of calamity before it.

"The country, yes, but how about some of the party?" asked Morewood. "How
about that, Blair? You're supposed to be the man who feeds the ravens and
providently caters for the sparrows, you know. You'll have your hands
full, I should think."

Blair's look expressed the opinion that they trenched on mysteries; he
had these little traits of self-importance, sitting funnily on a round
and merry face. Marchmont laughed as he turned to Dick and enquired after
Jimmy.

"He was helping you, I suppose?"

"Yes, after Quisanté was in. He's all right." Dick's tone was slightly
reserved.

"Did Quisanté help you? He seems to have helped everybody; the man ran
about like an electric current."

"I didn't ask him to come to me. I felt, you know----"

"Yes, I see. But Jimmy didn't?"

Dick looked rather puzzled. "I don't quite make Jimmy out about Quisanté,"
he remarked. "He worked for him like a horse all the time, and wrote me
letters praising him to the skies. Then when he was in and everybody was
cracking him up Jimmy wouldn't open his mouth about him--seemed not to
like the subject, you know."

Nobody spoke; they had heard rumours of an event which would bring Jimmy
into new relations with Quisanté, and they waited for possible information.
But Dick did not go on, so it was left to Morewood to make the necessary
intrusion into private affairs; he did it willingly, with a malicious
grin.

"Thinking him over in the light of a relation, perhaps?" he suggested.

"It would only be a connection anyhow," Dick corrected rather sharply.

"Oh, if that comforts you!" said Morewood, laughing.

"She's a charming girl and I'm awfully glad it's come off."

"Oh, it has?" asked Marchmont.

"Yes, the other day."

"And you're glad in spite of----?"

"Yes, I am. Besides I don't mean anything of that sort. I suppose I know
as well as anybody what Quisanté is."

"As far as I'm concerned I'll admit you do, and still feel you don't know
much," remarked the Dean.

"Well, I wish there were more men like him," said Blair, nodding
vigorously.

"Some men would sacrifice anything for their party," remarked Morewood.

Marchmont took no part in the talk about Quisanté; he could not praise;
for reasons very plain to himself he would not say a word in blame or
depreciation. Not only had he been Quisanté's rival, but ever since his
talk with May he had felt himself the repository of special information,
imperfect indeed and shadowy, yet beyond that which the outside world
possessed. Besides he had received two letters from her, one written in
the course of the fight, gay in tone, expressing an eager interest in her
husband's fortunes, keenly appreciative of her husband's brilliancy and
bravery. The second, in reply to his telegram of congratulation, had run
in another key; an utter weariness and an almost disgusted satiety seemed
to have superseded her former interest. Side by side with these he had
discovered in the repressed but eloquent words of her greeting to him an
intense desire to see him. "I want a change so badly," she wrote. "I want
somebody unpractical, unpushing. You must come directly we're back in
town." They had been back in town ten days, he knew, but he had not yet
obeyed her summons. The thought crossed his mind that the contrast
between her two letters was an odd parallel to Dick's description of the
puzzling demeanour of his brother Jimmy. Was it a characteristic of the
man's to produce these sudden and startling changes of mood towards
himself? Marchmont was puzzled at the notion; he was too little able to
sympathise with the attraction to find himself capable of understanding
the force and extent of the revulsion. "At all events she must be pretty
well prepared for what he is by now," he said to himself with the mixture
of pity and resentment which his love for her and her rejection of him in
Quisanté's favour had bred in his mind. For her he was very sorry; it was
harder to be quite simply and sincerely sorry that her blindness to what
had been so obvious was working out its inevitable result; he would like
to console her in any way short of refraining from pointing out how wrong
she had been proved.

When, in obedience to another note, he went, he did not at first find May
alone. Although he knew Sir Winterton Mildmay, he was not acquainted with
his wife, and was surprised when the kind-looking woman who sat with May
was introduced to him as Lady Mildmay. This was a quick and thorough
burying of the hatchet indeed. "Would you see this in any country except
England?" he asked jokingly. Lady Mildmay declared not, adding that there
was no bitterness in England because there was only upstanding fighting
which left no rancour and indeed bred personal liking. Marchmont thought
to himself that Quisanté must have been very clever--or that this dear
woman (he gave her the epithet at once as everybody did) was not very
clever, no cleverer than he had long known handsome Sir Winterton to be.
Glancing across at May, he seemed to see an expression of absolute pain
on her face, as Lady Mildmay developed these amiable theories.

"I don't believe my husband will ever stand against yours again," she
said.

May looked at Marchmont. "They really have taken quite a fancy to one
another," she said with a laugh that sounded rather forced. "Funny, isn't
it?"

"The speech you invite me to would be a very unfortunate one to address
to the wives of the two gentlemen," he answered, smiling. "Funny indeed!
I prefer to call it inevitable, don't you, Lady Mildmay?"

May made the slightest gesture of impatience, but a moment later smiled
again at Lady Mildmay, saying, "Yes, I suppose that's what I ought to
have said."

The visitor rose to go; approaching May, she first shook hands and then
stood for a moment with a half-expectant half-imploring air. It was plain
that she suggested a kiss. Marchmont looked on rather amused; he knew
that May Quisanté was not given to effusiveness. It would, however, have
been cruel not to kiss Lady Mildmay, and May kissed her with an excellent
grace.

"Well," said Marchmont when the door was shut, "she takes defeat
prettily. Evidently you've made a conquest, as well as your husband."

"I wish she wouldn't come here," said May, wandering to the window and
speaking in a disconsolate voice.

"You don't like her?"

"Like her? Oh, of course I like the dear creature! Who wouldn't? And I
like him too." She turned round, smiling a little. "He's so nice, and
large, and clean, and direct, and obvious, and simple, you know. I like
him just as I like a great rosy apple."

"Hum! I don't eat many of those, do you?"

She laughed, but rather reluctantly. "Perhaps that's more your fault than
the apple's. Still I agree. A bite now and then. But they're mostly only
to dress the table."

"Why don't you want her to come?"

May sat down and fidgeted with a nick-nack on the table.

"Don't you think being forgiven's rather tiresome work?" she asked. "They
don't mean that, I know, but I can't help feeling as if they did."

"I don't see why you should."

She looked full at him for a moment. "No, I didn't suppose you would see
it," she said. "Don't stand there, come and sit here,--near me. I've
written you three letters, but you don't seem to understand yet that I
want to see you." He took the chair near her to which she had pointed;
she looked at him, evidently with both pleasure and amusement. "You don't
look the least as if you'd been electioneering," she told him in an
admiring congratulatory tone.

"I've had the egg-marks brushed off," he explained with the insincere
gravity that he knew she liked.

"Will they brush off? Will they always brush off?" she asked, her voice
low, her hands nursing her knee, her eyes on his.

"Parables, my lady?"

"Yes. Do you know that we won the election because rosy Sir Winterton was
supposed to have flirted with his keeper's daughter, and wouldn't say he
hadn't, and wouldn't bring that dear soul where anybody was likely to say
he had?"

"No, I hadn't heard that. I thought your husband's----"

"Oh, yes, all that helped. He was splendid. But we shouldn't have done it
without the keeper's daughter."

"_Vox populi, vox Dei_; they're both so hard to understand."

"I've been longing for you," she said, seeming to awake suddenly from her
half-dreamy half-playful account of the life she had been living. The
speech, with its cruel frankness and its more cruel affection, embittered
him.

"When you're tired of a rosy apple, you like a bite at a bitter cherry?
One bite; the rest of me, I suppose, is only to dress the table."

She understood him.

"Well, then, you shouldn't come," she protested. "I've been fair about
it."

"No, not always; what you write and say now and then isn't fair unless it
means something more."

"Oh, I don't know what it means."

Her misery drove away his resentment, and pity filled its place.

"You seem more than usually down on your luck," he said with a smile.

"Yes, a little," she confessed. "It's the Mildmays and--and--the general
sham of it, you know." She glanced across at him, smiling. "That's why I
longed for you," she said.

It seemed to him that never had fate and never had woman been so cruel.
The one so nearly had given what he wanted, the other tantalised with the
exhibition of a feeling only just short of what he hoped for, but the
more merciless because it seemed not to understand by how narrow an inch
it failed of his desires. He spoke to her hardly and coldly.

"You seem to me to choose to try a bit of everything and a bit of
everybody," he said. "That's your affair. But I'm not surprised that you
don't find it satisfactory."

"I have to try more than I like of some things and some people," she
replied. She went on quickly, "I know, oh, I know! Now you're calling me
disloyal!"

A curious vexation laid hold of him. Once he had liked her to speak of
him in this strain, even as once he had loved to see in her the type of
the pure, calm, gracious maiden. Now he knew better both her and himself.
The impulse was on him to say that he cared nothing for her disloyalty so
that he himself was the cause of it and he himself to reap the benefit.
He was quick to read her, and he read in her restless misery some sore
discontent with the lot that she had chosen. But he refrained from the
words, not in his turn from any loyalty, but rather still from
bitterness, from a perverse desire to give her nothing of what she had
refused, to leave her in the solitude of spirit which came of her own
action. Besides his fastidiousness revolted from plunging him into a
position which was so common, and which he, with his dislike of things
common, had always counted vulgar. Thus he was silent, and she also sat
silent, looking straight before her. At last, however, she spoke.

"Alexander's gone to the city," she said, "to see his stockbroker. The
stockbroker's a cousin of--ours." She smiled for a moment. "His name's
Mandeville. Since the party's out, we've got to see if we can make some
money."

His pity revived; whatever she deserved, it was not this horrible
common-place lot of wanting money; that sat so ill on his still stately,
no longer faultless, image of her.

"To make some money?" he repeated, half-scornful, half-puzzled.

"Oh, you're rich--you don't know. We spent a lot at Henstead. We must
have money: I spend a lot, so does Alexander." She glanced at him, and he
saw that something had nearly escaped her lips of which she repented. "Do
you ever feel," she went on, apparently by way of amendment, "as if you
might be dishonest--under stress of circumstances, you know?"

"I suppose I might. I've never thought about it."

"So dishonest as--as to get into trouble and be sent to prison and so
on?"

"Oh, I should hope to be skilful enough to avoid that," he laughed.
"Fools ought never to be dishonest; so they invented the 'best policy'
proverb to keep themselves straight."

May nodded. "That's it, I think," she said, and fell into silence again.
This time he spoke.

"I don't like your wanting money," he said in a low voice.

"No, I know," she smiled. "It's not like what you've always chosen to
think I'm like. I ought to live in gilded halls and scatter largesse,
oughtn't I?" She laughed a little bitterly. "Perhaps I will, if cousin
Mandeville does his duty."

"Meanwhile you feel the temptation to dishonesty?" He paused, but then
went on deliberately, "Or, to follow your rule of complete
identification, shall I say 'we feel a temptation to dishonesty, do we?'"

"Oh, but we should be clever enough not to be found out, shouldn't we?"

"I think you would."

"You've not half such good reason to think it as I have." She rose,
walked to the hearth-rug, and stood facing the grate, her back turned to
him. She seemed to him to be looking at a photograph which he noticed now
for the first time on the mantelpiece, the picture of a stout elderly man
with large clean-shaven face and an expression of tolerant shrewdness.
Marchmont moved close to her shoulder and looked also. Perceiving him,
she half turned her head towards him. "That's my husband's right-hand man
at Henstead," she said. "They understand each other perfectly."

"He looks a sharp fellow."

"So he may be able to understand Alexander? Thank you. I like to have his
picture here." Suddenly she turned round full on him, stretching out her
hand. "I wish you'd go now," she said. "Have you turned stupid, or don't
you see that you must leave me alone, or--or I shall say all sorts of
things I mustn't? That man on the mantelpiece there typifies it all.
Bless his dear old fat face! I like him so much--and he's such a humbug,
and I don't think he knows that he's in the least a humbug. Is sincerity
just stupidity?" Her mirth broke out. "Alexander hates my having him
there," she whispered; then she drew away, crying, "Go, go."

"I'm off," said he. "But why doesn't Quisanté like the old gentleman's
picture, and why do you keep it there if he doesn't?"

"And why are none of us perfect--except perhaps the Mildmays? Good-bye."
She gave him her hand. "Oh, by the way," she went on, calling him back
after he had turned, "have you ever had anything to do with promoting
companies or anything of that kind?"

"Well, no, I can't say I have."

"Is it necessarily disreputable?"

"Oh, no," he smiled. "Not necessarily. In fact it's an essential feature
in the life of a commercial nation." He was mockingly grave again.

"Thank you very much, Mr. Marchmont. An essential feature of the life in
a commercial nation! That's very good." She broke into a laugh. "Now I've
got something agreeable to say," she said. He did not move till she shook
her head violently at him and pointed to the door. As he went out, she
turned back to Mr. Foster's picture, murmuring, "It's no use my setting
up for a martyr. Martyrs don't giggle half the time." Had Marchmont heard
her, the word "giggle" would have stirred him to real indignation; it was
so inappropriate to that low reluctant mirth-laden laugh of hers, which
seemed to reveal the feeling that it mocked and extorted the pity that it
could not but deride. It sounded again as she stood looking at old Foster
the maltster's picture there on the mantelpiece where Quisanté did not
like to see it.

For what was the meaning of it to her, declared by her perverse
determination to keep it there and plain enough to her husband's quick
wit? It was the outward sign that her malicious fancy chose of the new
state of feeling and the new relation between them which had emerged from
the tempest of emotion that Foster's congratulatory note had thrown her
into. The tempest had raged in solitude and silence; she had not spoken a
word to her sister, or to Jimmy Benyon, hardly a word to Quisanté
himself. He had his case of course, and she was obliged to hear it, to
hear also Foster's own account of how he came to express himself so
awkwardly and to write as though Mr. Quisanté had originally set the
story afloat, whereas he meant only to applaud the tact with which his
leader had regulated their conduct towards it after it was started. May
said she was quite sure he had meant only this, thanked him for all his
services, and begged the photograph. Quisanté approved this bearing
towards the third party but was not deceived by it himself. When the
picture was set on the mantelpiece, he understood that his case was not
convincing, that the episode would not fall into the oblivion which he
had suggested for it; it would not be forgotten and could not be
forgiven. Deeply resentful of this treatment--for he saw nothing very bad
in his manoeuvre--he had been moved to protest passionately, to explain
volubly, and to offer pledge on pledge. Protests, plaints, and promises
broke uselessly against the cool, composed, indulgent friendliness of her
bearing. She gave him to understand that no pretences were longer
possible between them, but that they would get along without them. She
allowed him to see that the one fear left to her on his account was the
apprehension that some day he would be found out by other people. Here
her terror was as great as it had ever been, for her pride was unbroken;
but she did not show him the full extent of her anxiety.

"You ought to be particularly careful, so many people would like to see
you come to grief." This, or something like it, was what she had said, by
way of dismissing the subject for ever from their conversation with one
another. It expressed very well her new position, how she had abandoned
those mad hopes of changing him and fallen back on the resolve to see the
truth of him herself and make the best of him to others. But the very
calmness and friendliness of the warning told him how resolutely she had
chosen her path, while they concealed the shame and the fear with which
she set herself to tread it. One thing only Quisanté understood quite
clearly; it was no use acting to her any more; what she wished was that
he should cease to act to her. Yet, knowing this, he could not cease, it
was not in his nature to cease, and he went on playing his part before
eyes that he knew were not imposed on but saw through all his disguises.
His old furtiveness of manner came back now when he talked over himself
and his affairs with his wife.

But even here he had his triumph, he was not at her mercy, he wielded a
power of his own; she recognised it with a smile. Like Aunt Maria,
whatever she might think of him she was bound to think constantly of him,
to be occupied with his doings and his success, to want to know what was
in his mind, yes, although it might be what she hated to find there. For
a while he had withdrawn himself from her, ceasing to tell of his life,
aims, and doings. If he sought thus to bring her to terms, she proved an
easy conquest; she surrendered at once, laughing at herself and at him.
"We're partners," she said, "and I must hear all about what you're doing.
I can't live without that, you know." And as the price of what she must
have she gave him friendship, sympathy, and comradeship, crossing his
wishes in nothing and never allowing herself to upbraid except in that
small tacit jeer of Mr. Foster's picture on the mantelpiece. For now she
believed herself to know the worst, and yet to be able to endure.

What sort of life promised to form itself out of this state of affairs?
For after all she was at the beginning of life, and he hardly well into
the middle of his. Neither of the two obvious things seemed possible;
devotion was out of the question, alienation was forbidden by her
unconquerable interest in him and his irrepressible instinct to hold her
mind, even if he could not chain her affections. Perhaps a third thing
was more usual still, tolerance. But for her at least neither was
tolerance the mood, for that is ill to build out of a mixture of intense
admiration and scornful contempt. These seemed likely to be the
predominant features of her life with her husband, sharing it so equally
that the one could never drive out the other nor yet come to fair terms
and, dividing the territory, live at peace.

"Perhaps they will some day," she thought, "when I get old and quiet."
She was neither old nor quiet now, and her youth cried out against so
poor a consolation. Then she told herself that she had the child, only to
reproach herself, a moment later, with the insincere repetition of a
commonplace. The child was not enough; had her nature been such as to
find the child enough, she would certainly never have become Alexander
Quisanté's wife. Always when she was most strongly repelled by him, there
was in the back of her mind the feeling that it was something to be his
wife. Only--he mustn't be found out. The worst terror of all, at which
her half-jesting words to Marchmont had hinted, came back as she
murmured, "I wish we had more money." For money was necessary, as votes
had been, and--her eyes strayed to old Foster's portrait on the
mantelpiece. The election had cost a lot; no salary was to be looked for
now; both by policy and by instinct Quisanté was lavish; she herself had
no aptitude for small economies. Money was wanted very much indeed in
Grosvenor Road.

It was on the way, though. This was the news that Quisanté, in the
interval between his return from electioneering and the meeting of
Parliament, brought back day by day from his excursions to the City and
his conversations with Mandeville. He was careful to explain to his wife
that he was no "guinea-pig," that he did not approve of the animal, and
would never use his position to pick up gain in that way. But he had
leisure--at least he could make time--and some of it he proposed to
devote to starting a really legitimate and highly lucrative undertaking.
The Alethea Printing Press was to revolutionise a great many things
besides the condition of Quisanté's finances; it was not an ordinary
speculative company. Marchmont's phrase came in here, and May used it
neatly and graciously. Quisanté, much encouraged, plunged into an account
of the great invention; if only it worked as it was certain to work,
there was not one fortune but many fortunes in it. "And it will work?"
she asked. "If we can get the capital," he answered with a confident air.
"I shall try to interest all my friends in it," he went on. "You can help
me there." May looked doubtful, and Quisanté grew more eloquent. At last
he held up a sheaf of papers, saying triumphantly,

"Here are favourable reports from all the leading experts. We shall have
an array of them in the prospectus. Of course they're absolutely
impartial, and they really leave no room for doubt." He held them out to
her, but she leant back with her hands in her lap.

"I shouldn't understand them," she protested. "But they all agree, do
they?"

"Yes, all," he said emphatically. "Well, all except one." His brow
wrinkled a little. "Mandeville insisted on having an opinion from
Professor Maturin. I was against it. Maturin's absurdly pessimistic."

"He's a great man, isn't he?"

"Oh, yes, I suppose so,--he's got a great reputation anyhow."

"And he's against you?"

"The fact is that his is only--only a draft report. So far as it goes,
it's not encouraging, but he's never had the facts really laid before
him."

"You'd better go and lay them before him," she said very gravely.

Quisanté caught eagerly at the suggestion.

"Exactly what I proposed to Mandeville!" he cried. "The prospectus won't
be out for nearly a month yet, and I shall go and see Maturin. I
know----" He rose and began to walk about. "I know Maturin is wrong, and
I know that I can show him he's wrong. I only want an hour with him to
bring him round to my view, to the true view."

"Well, why haven't you been to see him?"

"I tried to go, but he's ill and not equal to business. As soon as he
gets better I shall go. To put his report in as it stands would not only
do us infinite harm--in fact we couldn't think of it--but it wouldn't be
just to him."

"But if he won't change his opinion?"

"Oh, he must, he will. I tell you it's as plain as a pikestaff, when once
it's properly explained."

"I'm sure you'll be able to convert him, if anyone can," said May
soothingly.

"I must," said Quisanté briefly, and sat down to his papers again.

For an hour or two he worked steadily, without a pause, without an
apparent hesitation. That fine machine of his was ploughing its straight
unfaltering way through details previously unfamiliar and through
problems which he had never studied. From five to seven she sat with a
book in her hands, feigning to read, really watching her husband. He
could not fail, she said to herself; he would make the Alethea Printing
Press a success, irrespective of the actual merits of it. Was that
possible? It seemed almost possible as she looked at him.

"It's bound to go," he said at last, pushing away the papers. "I'm primed
now, and I can convince old Maturin in half an hour." He held up the
Professor's report. "He must withdraw this and give us another."

Alas, there are things before which even will and energy and brains must
bow. As he spoke the servant came in, bringing the _Evening Standard_.
May took it, glanced at the middle page, and then, with a little start,
looked across at her husband. He saw her glance. "Any news?" he asked.

"The Professor can't be convinced," she said. "His illness took a sudden
turn for the worse last night and he died this afternoon at three
o'clock."

Quisanté sat quite still for a few minutes, the dead Professor's report
on the Alethea Printing Press still in his fingers.

"What'll you do now?" she asked, with the smile of curiosity which she
always had ready for his plans. Would he pursue the Professor beyond
Charon's stream?

He hesitated a little, glancing at her rather uneasily. At last he spoke.

"One thing at all events is clear to me," he said. "This thing doesn't
represent a reasoned and well-informed opinion." He folded it up
carefully and placed it by itself in a long envelope. "We must consider
our course," he ended.

In a flash, by an instinct, May knew what their course would be and at
whose dictation it would be followed.

"Of course," said Quisanté, "all this is strictly between ourselves."

Her cheek flushed a little. "You mustn't tell me any more business
secrets. I don't like them," said she, and she turned away to escape the
quick, would-be covert glance that she knew he would direct at her.

Money was necessary; votes had been necessary; old Foster smiled in fat
shrewdness from the mantelpiece. May Quisanté was less sure that she knew
the worst.



                             CHAPTER XV.

                           A STRANGE IDEA.


The next few weeks were a time of restless activity with Alexander
Quisanté. Again he was like an electric current, not travelling now from
constituency to constituency, but between Westminster and his cousin
Mandeville's offices in the City. In both places he was very busy. His
leader had declared for a waiting policy, and an interval in which the
demoralisation of defeat should pass away; the party must feel its feet
again, the great man said. Constantine Blair was full of precedents for
the course, quoting Lord Melbourne, Sir Robert Peel, Sir James Graham,
and all the gods of the Parliamentarian. Brusquely and almost rudely
Quisanté brushed him, his gods, and his leader on one side, and raised
the standard of fierce and immediate battle. The majority was composite;
his quick eye saw the spot where a wedge might be inserted between the
two component parts and driven home till the gap yawned wide and scission
threatened. The fighting men needed only to be shown where to fight; they
followed enthusiastically the man who led them to the field. Leaders
shook grey heads, and leader-writers disclaimed a responsibility which
_primá facie_ had never rested on them; Quisanté was told that he would
wreck the party for a quarter of a century to come. It would perhaps
have been possible to meet Constantine Blair's precedents with other
precedents, to quote newer gods against his established deities. That
was not "Sandro's way"; here again he was content to be an ancestor,
the originator of his methods, and the sufficient authority for them.

He was justified. The spirit of his fighting men ran high, and his
fighting men's wives grew gracious to him. The majority, if they scowled
at him (as was only to be hoped), began to scowl furtively at one another
also and to say that certain questions, on which they were by no means of
one mind, could not permanently be shirked and kept in the background.
Some of them asked what their constituents had sent them to Westminster
for, a question always indicative of perturbation in the parliamentary
mind; in quiet times it is not raised. The Government papers took to
observing that they did not desire to hurry or embarrass the Government,
but that time was running on and it would be no true friendship to advise
it to ignore the feeling which existed among an important, if numerically
small, section of its followers. Altogether at the opening of the session
the majority was much less happy, the minority in far finer feather, than
anybody had expected. Only officialdom or ignorance could refuse the main
credit to Alexander Quisanté.

"I declare," said Lady Castlefort--and her opinion was not one to
neglect--"May Gaston was right to take the man after all. He'll be Prime
Minister." And she settled her _pince-nez_ and looked round for
contradiction. She loved argument but had made the mistake of growing too
important to be differed from. None the less on this occasion a sweet
little voice spoke up in the circle.

"I wouldn't marry him if he were fifty times Prime Minister," said Lady
Richard Benyon. "He's odious."

"God bless me!" murmured the Countess, genuinely startled. "Well, you'll
see, my dear," she went on, nodding emphatically. "He's the only man
among them." Her eye fell on Weston Marchmont. "Oh, yes, I see you're
there," she said, "and I'm very glad you should be."

"It's always a pleasure to be here," he smiled urbanely.

"Especially, apparently, when you ought to be at the House," she
retorted, glancing at the clock. "However to-day you've heard more truth
here than you're likely to there, so I forgive you."

"More truth here? But Quisanté's making a speech!"

"Oh, you're very neat," she said with an open impatience. "You can score
off a woman at her tea-table; go and score off the other side, Weston,
and then you may do it as much as you like to me. As if anybody cared
whether Mr. Quisanté speaks the truth or not!" He came up to her and held
out his hand, smiling good-naturedly. She gave him hers with a laugh, for
she liked him much and did not like Quisanté at all. "It's your own
fault, that's why you're so exasperating," she half-whispered as she bade
him good-bye.

Here was one side; on the other the men of the City came to know Quisanté
too, but, as befitted persons engaged in the serious pursuit of dealing
with money, gave more hesitating and guarded opinions; no party spirit
led them astray or fired them to desperate ventures. However there was no
denying that the Alethea Printing Press sounded a very good thing, and
moreover no denying that measures had been skilfully taken to prevent
anybody having a share in that good thing without paying handsomely for
the privilege. The Syndicate, speaking through Mr. Mandeville its
mouthpiece, by no means implored support or canvassed new partners; it
was prepared to admit one or two names of weight in return for
substantial aid. Mandeville did nothing of himself; he referred to the
Board, and the Board's answers came after Alexander Quisanté's hansom had
flashed back to Westminster. But a few did gain admittance, and these few
were much struck by the reports on the Alethea, all of which had been
sent back for revision to their respective authors, accompanied by some
new and important facts. These latter did not, as it turned out, alter
the tenor of the reports, but it had been thought as well to afford an
opportunity for reconsideration in the light of them; so Mandeville
explained, seeming always just a little nervous over this matter of the
reports.

"We had hoped," he said to one gentleman who was rather important and
rather hard to satisfy, "to fortify ourselves with Professor Maturin's
opinion. But unfortunately he died before he could complete his
examination, and nothing on the subject was found among his papers."

"That's a pity. Maturin would have carried great weight."

"We were quite alive to that," Mandeville assured him with a somewhat
uneasy smile. His feelings were not unlike those of a quiet steady-going
member of Quisanté's party in Parliament. "We have no doubt of what his
opinion would have been, had he been able to study our additional facts
and been spared to complete his report. As it was, he had only discussed
the matter informally with one or two of us." And when he was left alone,
he murmured softly, "I suppose that's how Alexander meant me to put it."
But he rather wished that Alexander had been there to put it himself.

It is perhaps needless to say that Aunt Maria, sturdily fulfilling her
destiny in life, was deeply concerned in the fortunes of the Alethea
Printing Press. But large as was her stake--and the possibilities of loss
at least were for her very large--she was not disturbed; she said that
heaven alone knew whether there was anything in the thing, but that she
knew that Sandro would make people think there was. Nor did she share in
any serious degree the fears which afflicted her nephew's wife; Sandro
always had a case, and she did not doubt that he would have a very good
one whereby to justify any proceedings he might take in regard to the
Alethea. So she lived frugally, hoped magnificently, and came often to
Grosvenor Road to pick up what crumbs of information she could. Here she
met Lady Castlefort and nodded her rusty bonnet at that great personage
with the remark that she was glad people were waking up to what there was
in Sandro; it was time, goodness knew. Lady Castlefort was for the moment
taken aback.

"Mr. Quisanté has had certain--er--difficulties to overcome," she
murmured rather vaguely, and was not reassured by a dry chuckle and the
heartfelt exclamation, "I should think so!" Altogether it was difficult
to make out exactly what Mr. Quisanté's aunt thought of him.

Here the old lady met also the Dean of St. Neot's, who called every now
and then because he liked May and wished to show that he bore no malice
about the Crusade; but the subject was still a sore one, and he was as
little prepared to be chuckled at over it as Lady Castlefort had been
over her diplomatic indication of the fact that Quisanté's blood was not
blue nor his manners those of a grand old English gentleman.

"Sandro knew all along that there wasn't much in that, but it was
something to begin with," Aunt Maria remarked to the uncomfortable Dean.
She herself had dragged in the Crusade, to which she referred so
contemptuously.

"Miss Quisanté will do anything in the world for my husband," May
interposed, "but nothing'll persuade her to say a good word for him."

"As long as that's understood, she does him no harm. We discount all you
say, Miss Quisanté."

The Dean's affability was thrown away on Aunt Maria.

"I know what I'm talking about," she remarked grimly, "and as far as your
Crusade goes, I should think you'd have seen it yourself by now."

The Dean had seen it himself by now, but he did not wish to say so in the
presence of Quisanté's wife. May's laugh relieved him a little.

"The Dean's very forgiving," she said, "and Alexander's doing well now,
anyhow, isn't he?"

The Dean agreed that he was doing well now--for in spite of his
disclaimers of partisanship there was a spice of the fighting man in the
Dean--and repeated Lady Castlefort's prophecy, reported to him by Lady
Richard. The rusty black bonnet nodded approvingly. "I knew that was a
sensible woman, in spite of her airs," said Miss Quisanté.

Lastly, among those whom Miss Quisanté encountered at her nephew's house
was Lady Mildmay, and this interview took a rather more serious turn. In
after days May used to look back to it as the first faint sign of the new
factor which from now began to make itself felt in her life and to become
a very pressing presence to her. She did not enjoy the friendship which
the Mildmays forced on her, but it was impossible to receive it otherwise
than with outward graciousness; the cordiality was so kind, the interest
so frank, Sir Winterton's gallantry so chivalrous, his wife's gentleness
so appealing. When Lady Mildmay was announced May found time for a hasty
whisper to Aunt Maria: "Take care what you say about Alexander before
her." Doubts must not be stirred in the Mildmay mind; the Mildmays must
be kept in their delusion; to help in this was one of the duties of
Quisanté's wife.

Lady Mildmay smiled gladly on Aunt Maria.

"I'm so pleased you're here," she said, "because I know you'll second me
in what I'm going to venture to say to Lady May. I know I'm taking a
liberty, but I can't help it. Meeting people now and then, you do
sometimes see what people who are always with them don't. Now don't you,
Miss Quisanté?"

"And _vice versâ_," murmured Aunt Maria; but May's eye rested on her
warningly, and she refrained from pointing her observation by any
reference to Sandro.

"I'm quite sure your husband is overdoing himself terribly," Lady Mildmay
went on. "I saw him the other day walking through the Park, and he looked
ghastly. I stopped him and told him so, but he said he'd just been to his
doctor, and that there was really nothing the matter with him."

"I didn't know he'd been to the doctor lately. He seemed pretty well for
him," said May. Aunt Maria said nothing; her keen little eyes were
watching the visitor very closely.

"I've seen a lot of illness," pursued Lady Mildmay in her gentle voice,
"and I know. He's working himself to death; he's killing himself." She
raised her eyes and looked at May. Kind as the glance was, May felt in it
a wonder, almost a reproach. "How comes it that you, his wife, haven't
seen it too?" the eyes seemed to say in plaintive surprise. "Are you sure
there's nothing wrong with him?" she asked.

"Wrong with him? What do you mean?" The question was Aunt Maria's, asked
abruptly, roughly, almost indignantly. Lady Mildmay started. "I--I don't
want to alarm you, I'm sure," she murmured, "but I don't like his looks.
Do, do persuade him to take a rest."

Both of them were silent now; Lady Mildmay's wonder grew; she did not
understand them; she saw them exchange a glance whose expression she
could not analyse.

"He wants absolute rest and care, the care you could give him, my dear,"
she said to May--such a care she meant as her loving heart and hands
would give to handsome Sir Winterton. "Go away with him for a few months
and take care of him, now do. Keep all worries and--and ambitions and so
on away from him."

May's face was grave and strained in a painful attention; but on Miss
Quisanté's lips there came slowly a bitter little smile. What a picture
this good lady drew of Sandro and his loving wife, together, apart from
the world, with ambitions and worries set aside! Must the outlines of
that picture be followed if--well, if Sandro was to live?

"I hope you're not offended? Seeing him only now and then I notice the
change. Winterton and I have both been feeling anxious about it, and we
decided that you wouldn't mind if I spoke to you."

"You're too good, too good," said May. "We don't deserve it." Lady
Mildmay smiled.

"I know what a strain the election was," said she. "Even Winterton felt
it, and Mr. Quisanté never seems to rest, does he?" She rose to go, but,
as she said good-bye, she spoke one more word, half in a whisper and
timidly, "I daresay I'm wrong, but are you sure his heart's quite sound?"
And so she left them, excusing herself to the last for what might seem an
intrusion, or even a slight on the careful watch that an affectionate
wife keeps over her husband's health.

May walked to the hearthrug and stood there; Aunt Maria, sitting very
still, glanced up with a frightened gaze, but her speech came bitter with
aggressive scorn.

"What does the silly creature mean?" she asked. "There's nothing the
matter with Sandro, is there?"

"I don't know that there is," May answered slowly.

"The woman talks as if he was going to die." Still the tone was
contemptuous, still the look frightened. "Such nonsense!"

"I hope it is. He's not strong though, is he?"

Miss Quisanté had often said the same, but now she received the remark
irritably. "Strong! He's not a buffalo like some men, like Jimmy Benyon
or, I suppose, that poor creature's husband she's always talking about.
But there's nothing the matter with him, there's no reason he
shouldn't--no reason he should fall ill at all."

"She thinks he ought to rest, perhaps give up altogether."

"Altogether? Nonsense!" The tone was sharp.

"Well, then, for a long while."

"And go away, and let you coddle him?"

"Yes, and let me coddle him." May looked down on Aunt Maria, and for the
first time smiled faintly.

"The woman's out of her senses," declared Aunt Maria testily. "Don't you
think so? Don't you think so?"

"I don't know," was all May could say in answer either to the irritation
of the voice or to the fear of the eyes. The old lady's hands were
trembling as she raised them and gave a pull to the bow of her
bonnet-strings.

"He'll see me out anyhow, I'll be bound," she said obstinately. She was
fighting against the bare idea of being left with a remnant of life to
live and no Sandro to fill it for her; what a miserable fag-end of empty
waiting that would be! She glanced sharply at his wife; she did not know
what his wife was thinking of.

"I'll ask him," said May, "and I must insist on knowing." She paused and
added, "I ought to have noticed and I ought to have asked before. But
somehow----" The sentence went unfinished, and Aunt Maria's sharp
unsatisfied eyes drew no further answer. May kissed her when they parted;
whatever this idea might mean to her, whatever the strange tumult it
might raise in her, she read well enough the story of the old lady's
rough tones, shaking hands and frightened eyes. To the old woman Sandro
was the sum of life. She might sneer, she might scorn, she might rail,
she might and would suffer at his hands. But he was the one thing, the
sole support, she had to cling to; he kept her alive. Yet the last words
that Miss Quisanté said were, "I expect Sandro wanted to wheedle
something out of that woman, and has been playing one of his tricks to
get a bit of sympathy." Then she climbed slowly and totteringly down the
stairs.

Left alone, May Quisanté sat in apparent idleness, letting her thoughts
play with a freedom which some people consider in itself blameworthy,
though certainly no action and often no desire accompany the picture
which the mind draws. She said to herself, "Supposing this is true, or
that more than this is true, supposing his heart is unsound, what does it
mean to me?" What it excluded was easier to realise than what it meant.
Unless Quisanté were to have not existence only, but also health, such
health at least as enables a man to do work although not, may be, to
glory in the doing of it, unless there were to the engine wheels sound
enough to answer to the spur of the steam that his brain's furnace made,
nothing could come about of what Lady Castlefort's Mightiness prophesied,
nothing of what friends and enemies had begun to look for, nothing of
what May herself had grown to regard as his future and hers, as the
basis, the condition, the circumstances, of her life and of his. An old
thought of her own came to her, back from the dim region of ante-marriage
days, the idea to which the Henstead doctor had given a terse, if
metaphorical, expression. Quisanté was their race-horse, their money was
on him, they wanted a win for the stable. If this or more than this were
true, then there would be no win for the stable; the horse was a grand
horse, but he wouldn't stand training. What was left then? An invalid and
the wife of an invalid, coddlings, cossetings, devotion, ambition far
away, life kept in him by loving heart and loving hands. Hers must be the
heart and the hands. Hers also were the keen eyes that knew every
weakness, every baseness, of the man to whom heart and hands must
minister, but would see no more the battle and the triumph and the
brilliance which set them sparkling and seemed to make the world alight
for them.

For a little while the third thing, the remaining possibility, was
unformulated in her thoughts; perhaps she had a scruple which made her
turn away from it. But her speculations would not be denied their
irresponsible freedom of ranging over all the field of chance. If it were
true, if more than it, more than the kind timid woman had dared to say,
were true, he might die. He might die, not in some dim far-off time when
nature made the thing seem inevitable, when he had lived his life, been
Prime Minister and so forth, and she had lived hers, filling it with work
for him, and with looking on at him and with endurance of him, but
sooner, much sooner, almost now, when he had not lived his life, while
hers was not exhausted, when there would still be left to her another of
her own to live after he was gone. It was strange to think of that, to
see how what had seemed to be irrevocable and for ever, to stretch in
unfaltering perpetuity to the limits of old age, might so easily, by the
occasion of so small a matter as a heart not sound, turn out to be a
passing thing, and there come to her again freedom, choice, a life to be
re-made. If that happened, how would she feel? At the new-learnt chance
of that happening, how did she feel? Very strange, very bewildered, very
upset; that was her answer. Such a thing--Quisanté's death she
meant--would mean so much, change so much, take away so much--and might
give so much. Her thoughts flew off to the new life that she might live
then, to the new freedom from embarrassments, from fears and from
disgusts, to a new love which it might be hers to gain and to enjoy.
People said that it was always impossible to go back--_vestigia nulla_.
But that event would open to her a sort of going back, such a return to
her old life and her surroundings as might some day make the time she
had spent with Quisanté and its experiences seem but an episode, studding
the belt of long days with one strange bizarre ornament.

And on the other side? There was the greatest difficulty, the greatest
puzzle. She had not failed to understand the roughness of Aunt Maria's
tones, her frightened eyes and the shaking of her hands. It would be very
strange to see an end of him, to know that he would never be Prime
Minister and so forth, to look on at a world devoid of him, to live a
life in which he was only a memory. How were the scales to be held, which
way did the balance incline? She could not tell, and at last she smiled
at her inability to answer the riddle. It would amuse people so much, and
shock some people so much and doubtless so properly, if they knew that
she was sitting in her drawing-room in the afternoon, trying to make up
her mind whether she would rather her husband lived or that he died. Even
there the fallacy crept in; she was not desiring either way; she was
simply looking at the two pictures which the two events painted for her
fancy; and she did not know which picture she preferred. So all was still
bewilderment, all still rocking from the sudden gust that had proceeded
out of dear Lady Mildmay's gentle lips. But the undercurrent of wonder
and of reproach that there had been in the warning May Quisanté now
almost missed. By an effort at last she realised its presence, the
naturalness of it, and its rightness. But still it seemed to her a little
conventional, something that might be supposed to be appropriate, but was
not, if the truth were faced. "Alexander and I have never been like that
to one another--at least never for more than a very little while," was
the form her thought about it took.

When he came in that evening, she found herself looking at him with
wonder, and with a sort of scepticism about what her visitor had said. He
seemed so full of life; it was impossible to think of him as being
likely, or even able, to die. But she had made up her mind to open the
subject to him, to force something from him, and to learn about this
visit to the doctor which he had so studiously concealed from her. She
gave him tea, and was so far affected by her mood as to show unusual
kindness towards him, or rather to let her uniform friendliness be tinged
by an affection which was not part of her habitual bearing; with the help
of this she hoped to lead up to a subject which her own strangely mixed
meditations somehow made it hard for her to approach. But Quisanté also
had a scheme; he also was watching and working for an opportunity, and
seeing one now in her great cordiality of manner he seized it with his
rapid decisiveness, cutting in before his wife had time to develop her
attack. He pressed her hand as she gave him his cup, sighed as though in
weariness, took a paper from his pocket, and laid it on the table, giving
it a tentative gentle push in the direction of her chair.

"We've got the Alethea afloat at last," he said. "There's the prospectus,
if you care to look at it." With this he glanced at the clock, sighed
again and added, "I must be at the House early this evening. By Jove, I'm
tired though!" This little odd ineradicable trick of his made May smile;
he was never so tired as when he had a risky card to play; then, indeed,
he affected for his purposes some sort of reconcilability with those
incongruous ideas of collapse and mortality that Lady Mildmay had
suggested. He inspired May, as he did sometimes now, with a malicious
wish to make him show himself at his trickiest. Fingering the prospectus
carelessly, she asked,

"I suppose it sets out all the wonderful merits of the Alethea, doesn't
it? Well, I've heard a good deal about them. I don't think I need read
it."

"It gives a full account of the invention," said Quisanté, wearily
passing his hand across his brow.

"Have you put in Professor Maturin's report?" She was not looking at him,
but smiling over to Mr. Foster on the mantelpiece. There was a moment's
pause.

"The facts about Maturin are fully stated. You'll find it on the third
page." He rose with a sigh and threw himself on the sofa; he groaned a
little and shut his eyes. May glanced at him, smiled, and turned to the
third page.

"In addition to the foregoing very authoritative opinions, steps were
taken to obtain a report from the late Professor Maturin, F.R.S.
Professor Maturin was very favourably impressed with several features of
the invention, and was about to pursue his investigations with the aid of
further information furnished to him, when he was unfortunately attacked
by the illness of which he recently died. The Directors therefore regret
to be unable to present any report of his examination. But they have
every reason to believe that his opinion would have been no less
encouraging than those of the other gentlemen consulted."

May turned back to the list of directors. Three out of the six she did
not know; the other three were Quisanté himself, Jimmy Benyon, and Sir
Winterton Mildmay. The presence of these two last names filled May with a
feeling of helplessness; this was worse than she had expected. Of course
neither Jimmy nor Sir Winterton had heard anything about the Maturin
report; of the other three she knew nothing and took no thought. Jimmy,
not warned, alas, by that affair of old Foster's note, and Sir Winterton,
in the chivalrous confidence of perfect trust, had given their support to
Quisanté. The use he made of their names was to attach them to a
statement which she who knew of the Maturin report could describe only in
one way. She looked round at her husband's pale face and closed eyes.

"I thought you were supposed to tell the--I mean, to state all the facts
in a prospectus?" she said.

Quisanté sat up suddenly, leant forward, and spread his hands out. "My
dear May," he replied with a smile, "the facts are stated, stated very
fully."

"There's nothing about the report the Professor did give. You remember
you told me about it?"

"Oh, no, he gave no report."

"Well, you called it a draft report."

"No, no, did I? That was a careless way of speaking if I did. He
certainly sent me some considerations which had occurred to him at the
beginning of his inquiry, but they were based on insufficient information
and were purely provisional. They did not in any sense constitute a
report. It would have been positively misleading to speak of them in any
such way." He was growing eager, animated, almost excited.

May was not inclined to cross-examine him; she knew that he would develop
his case for himself if she sat and listened.

"The whole thing was so inchoate as to be worth nothing," he went on. "We
simply discarded it from our minds; we didn't let it weigh one way or the
other."

"The directors didn't?" That little question she could not resist asking.

"Oh, it was never laid before them. As I tell you, Mandeville and I
decided that it could not be regarded as a report, or even as an
indication of Maturin's opinion. We only referred to Maturin at all
because--because we wanted to be absolutely candid."

May smiled; absolute candour resulted, as it seemed to her, in giving
rise to an impression that the Professor had been in favour of the merits
of the Alethea.

"And you won't show it to the directors?"

"No," said Quisanté, "certainly not." He paused for a moment and then
added slowly, "In fact it has not been preserved. What is stated there is
based on my own personal discussions with the Professor, and on
Mandeville's; the few lines he wrote added nothing."

It had not been preserved; it had sunk from a report to a draft report,
from a draft report to considerations, from considerations to a few lines
which added nothing; the minimising process, pursued a little further,
had ended in a total disappearance. And nobody knew that it had ever
existed, even as considerations, even as a few lines adding nothing,
except her husband, cousin Mandeville, and herself.

"If the Professor himself," Quisanté resumed, "had considered it of any
moment, he would have kept a copy or some memorandum of it; but there was
not a word about it among his papers."

There was safety, then, so far as the Professor was concerned; and so far
as Quisanté was concerned; of course, also, so far as cousin Mandeville
was concerned. But Quisanté's restless eyes seemed to ask whether there
were perfect safety all round, no possibility of Jimmy or Sir Winterton
or anybody else picking up false ideas from careless talk about the few
lines in which the Professor had added nothing. For an instant May's eyes
met his, and she understood what he asked of her. She was to hold her
tongue; that sounded simple. She had held her tongue before, and thus it
happened that Sir Winterton was her husband's friend and trusted him. Now
she was again to be a party to deceiving him, and this time Jimmy Benyon
was to be hoodwinked too. She was to hold her tongue; if by any chance
need arose, she was to lie. That was the request Quisanté made of her,
part of the price of being Quisanté's wife.

She gave him no pledge in words; a touch of the tact that taught him how
to deal with difficult points prevented him from asking one of her. But
it was quite understood between them; no reference was to be made to the
few lines that the Professor had written. Quisanté's uneasiness passed
away, his headache seemed to become less severe; he was in good spirits
as he made his preparations to go to the House. Apparently he had no
consciousness of having asked anything great of her. He had been far more
nervous and shamefaced about his betrayal of the Crusade, far more upset
by the untoward incident of Mr. Foster's letter. May told herself that
she understood why; he was getting accustomed to her and she to him; he
knew her point of view and allowed for it, expecting a similar toleration
in return. As she put it, they were getting equalised, approaching more
nearly to one another's level. You could not aid in queer doings and reap
the fruits of them without suffering some gradual subtle moral change
which must end in making them seem less queer. As the years passed by,
the longer their companionship lasted, the more their partnership
demanded in its community of interest and effort, the more this process
must go on. As they rose before the world--for rise they would (even the
Alethea would succeed in spite of the Professor's burked report)--they
would fall in their own hearts and in one another's eyes. This was the
prospect that stretched before her, as she sat again alone in the
drawing-room, after Quisanté had set out, much better, greatly rested, in
good spirits, serene and safe, and after she had pledged herself to his
fortunes by the sacrifice of loyalty to friends and to truth.

Yes, that was the prospect unless--she started a little. She had
forgotten what she had meant to ask him; she had not inquired about his
visit to the doctor nor told him that kind Lady Mildmay was anxious about
his health. It had all been driven out of her head, she said to herself
in excuse at first. Then she faced her feelings more boldly. Just then
she could have put no such questions, feigned no such interest, and
assumed no show of affection or solicitude. That evening such things
would have been mere hypocrisy, pretences of a desire to keep him for
herself when her whole nature was in revolt at having to be near him. Her
horror now was not that she might lose him, but of the prospect that lay
before her and the road she must tread with him. Trodden it must be;
unless by any chance there were truth, or less than the truth, in what
good Lady Mildmay said.



                             CHAPTER XVI.

                           THE IRREVOCABLE.


So far as May Quisanté's distress had its rise in her husband's treatment
of Sir Winterton Mildmay, she was entitled to take some comfort from that
gentleman's extreme happiness. He had lost a seat in Parliament, thanks
to Tom Sinnett and the account to which Tom Sinnett had been turned; he
had been caused to represent to the world that the Alethea Printing Press
had lost Professor Maturin's express approval only by the accident of the
Professor's lamented decease. The one wrong he forgot, the other he did
not know. It was a favourite tenet of his that an English gentleman ought
to be able to turn his hand to everything--everything honourable, of
course--and should at once shine in any sphere of practical activity. He
saw the triumph of his opinion, and found his own delight, in his new
part of a business man. His brougham rolled down to Dowgate Hill almost
every day; he delighted to lunch with Mandeville or to entertain the
Secretary of the Company at the midday meal; business could be made to
last till three when there was no Board, till four if there were; then
Sir Winterton drove to his club and sat down to his cards with a rich
consciousness of commercial importance. He believed in the Alethea with a
devotion and a thoroughness second only to the unquestioning faith and
obedience which he now had at the service of Alexander Quisanté. Many an
amazed secret stare and many a sour smile his eulogies drew from cousin
Mandeville; for even in his enthusiasm Sir Winterton praised with
discrimination; it was the sterling worth, the heart of the man, that he
admired; shallow people stuck at superficial defects of manner; not such
was Sir Winterton. "I trust him as I do myself," he used to say to Lady
Mildmay, and she, in honest joy, posted off with the testimonial to May
Quisanté; besides she was eager to seize a chance of throwing out another
hint or two about Quisanté's health.

The Alethea, at least, seemed to be going to prove worthy of these
laudations. There really had, it appeared, been some good reason why the
Professor should reconsider his considerations. The invention stood the
test of criticism and experiment; it saved a lot of expense; the idea got
about more and more that it was an uncommonly good thing; the two or
three papers which were inquisitive about the actual views of the
Professor were treated with disdain (one with advertisements also) and
their clamour went almost unnoticed. There was a demand for the shares.
Sir Winterton pointed out to Weston Marchmont what a mistake he had
committed in not accepting the offer of an allotment which had been made
to him.

"The only thing for which I value independent means," said Marchmont, "is
that they relieve me from the necessity of imposing on the public. I
suppose my ancestors did it for me."

Sir Winterton laughed serenely. "We're serving the public," said he. Then
he remembered the new man of business in him, and added, with a slyness
obvious from across the street, "Oh, and ourselves too, ourselves too, I
admit that."

"And you, Jimmy?" asked Marchmont, turning to him; they made a group of
three at the club.

"I don't think Quisanté'll go far wrong," said Jimmy. "You know Dick's
gone in too?"

"What, after the Crusade?"

"This is another sort of game," said Jimmy, with a grim smile; he had
gone in after both the Crusade and the Sinnett affair. He turned to Sir
Winterton; "Old Foster of Henstead's in it too; he's pretty wide-awake,
you know."

"Oh, we Henstead fellows have heads on our shoulders," said Sir
Winterton, but he looked a little less happy; he had never acquitted
Foster with the confidence that Quisanté had won from him.

"And you'll grow rich against your wedding, Jimmy?" asked Marchmont.

Again Jimmy smiled. The wedding was near now, and the next day he was
going to Ashwood to meet Fanny Gaston.

"You're going to Dick's on Friday, aren't you?" he said to Marchmont.

"I believe I am."

"Ah, then you shall hear about our show from Quisanté himself."

"What?" Weston Marchmont's tone expressed surprise rather than pleasure.

"May's going to be there, and he's coming for the Sunday. Amy fought
hard, but Dick said he must come, because he was going to be a
connection." Jimmy's slow smile endured all through this speech; he had a
sense of humour which he treated gravely.

"I didn't know he was coming," said Marchmont. Sir Winterton broke into a
hearty laugh.

"You're the most prejudiced fellow in the world, Marchmont," he said. "I
tell you what, though," he went on. "Do persuade Lady May to take care of
her husband, or get him to take care of himself. My wife's been at her
again and again, but nothing's done. The man's not well, he'll break up
if they aren't careful." He paused, and a puzzled look came over his
handsome candid face. "If I was half as bad as he is, my wife'd have me
in bed or off to the seaside in a jiffy," he ended.

The silence that followed struck him much as May's and Aunt Maria's had
struck his wife. Neither he nor his wife were accustomed to the way in
which people who knew Quisanté close at hand came to stand towards him.

"I suppose Lady May's not what you'd call a very domestic woman?" he
hazarded. "Charming, most charming, but full of politics and that sort of
thing, eh?"

To Weston Marchmont it seemed simplest to laugh and say, "I suppose so."
Sir Winterton's mind had need of categories, and was best not burdened
with the complexities of an individual. But Jimmy was not so wise.

"I don't think she cares a hang about politics, except so far as
Quisanté's concerned in them," he said.

Sir Winterton looked more puzzled still. "Nothing's any good unless he
keeps his health," he murmured. He was uncomfortable; he liked May very
much, and did not welcome the thought of there being any truth in the
idea of indifference and carelessness about her husband at which Lady
Mildmay had sorrowfully hinted. "That's his wife's first business
anyhow," he ended, a trifle defiantly. But his challenge was not taken up
by either of his friends. He went home with his high spirits rather
dashed.

On the Friday Marchmont found himself travelling down to Ashwood in
company with Mr. Morewood. The painter had an extreme fit of his mocking
acidity; he refrained his tongue from nobody and showed no respect for
what might be guessed to be delicate points with his companion.
Quisanté's success was his principal theme; he exhibited it in its four
aspects, political, social, commercial, and matrimonial.

"I've talked," he said, "to Constantine Blair, to Lady Castlefort, to
Winterton Mildmay, and to Jimmy Benyon. There's nothing left for all of
us but to fall down and worship. On to your knees with the rest of us, my
friend! In every relation of life the man is great. You'll say he's
objectionable. Quite so. Greatness always is. You're still pleasant,
because you haven't become great."

"A few people think you a great artist."

"Quite a few," grinned Morewood. "I can still set up for being pleasant."

This mood did not leave him with his arrival at Ashwood. He reminded
Marchmont of a monkey who had some trick to play, and grinned and
chattered in anticipation of his cruel fun; his smile was most mocking
when he greeted May Quisanté. She was in high spirits; girlish gaiety
marked a holiday mood in her. Morewood seemed to encourage it with
malicious care, letting it grow that he might strike at it with better
effect later on. Yet what did the man know, what could he do? And though
Dick Benyon winced at his darts, and Jimmy grew a little sulky, May
herself seemed unconscious of them. She was ready to meet him in talk
about her husband and her husband's plans; she laughed at his jibes in
all the apparent security of a happy confidence. Such a state of things
exactly suited Lady Richard; she would not wish May to be pained, but she
enjoyed infinitely any legitimate "dig" at her old enemy. May fought with
equal gallantry and good temper.

"Success is our crime," she said gaily at dinner. "Mr. Morewood can't
forgive it. You call us Philistines now, I expect, don't you?"

"Philistines in the very highest degree," he nodded.

"I know," she cried. "The only really cultivated thing is to fail
elegantly."

"Let's bow our acknowledgments," Morewood called across to Marchmont.

"Oh, no, Mr. Marchmont isn't like that. He doesn't even try. Well,
perhaps that's still more superior." She smiled at Marchmont, shaking her
head. "But we try, we try everything."

The "we" grated still on Marchmont's feelings, and the worse because it
seemed to come more easily and naturally from her lips. Yet that might be
only the result of practice; she had looked at him in a merry defiance as
the last words left her lips.

"And you get other people to try your things too," pursued Morewood.

"Look here, you don't mean me, do you?" Jimmy Benyon put in. "Because I'm
not trying Fanny; on the contrary, she's trying me."

"What, already?" asked Dick with exaggerated apprehension. "What'll it be
when you're married?"

"Ah," said Morewood, "now what is it when you're married? Does any duly
qualified person wish to answer the question?" His mischievous glance
rested again on May Quisanté.

"Oh, marriage is all right," said Dick, raising his voice to allow his
wife to hear. "At least it's not so bad as things go in this world. It's
giving a shilling and getting back eleven-pence."

There was a little murmur of applause. "I declare every married person at
the table seems to endorse the opinion," said Marchmont with a laugh.
"We'll keep our shillings, I think, Morewood."

"You'd better wait till somebody offers you change," advised Lady
Richard.

"Meanwhile we've had an admirable expert opinion," said Marchmont.

"Which we believe," added Morewood, "as implicitly as we do in the
excellence of the Alethea Printing Press."

"Hallo, are you in it too?" cried Dick. "You see we're all disciples," he
added to May. She smiled slightly and turned to Jimmy Benyon who was by
her, as though to speak to him; but Morewood's voice cut across her
remark.

"No, I'm not. I'm a sceptic there," he said.

"Oh, well, you don't know anything about it," Dick assured him placidly.
If plain-speaking were the order of the day, the Benyon family could hold
their own.

"I bet he hasn't read the prospectus," said Jimmy.

"Couldn't understand it, if he had," added Dick, after a comforting gulp
of champagne.

"You're really splendid people to be in with," said May, looking
gratefully from one brother to the other. They were so staunch, and alas,
how had they been treated!

For a moment Morewood said nothing; he sat smiling maliciously.

"Shall I give my authority?" he asked. "It won't do you any harm if I do,
because I can't call him to give evidence."

"We had all the best authorities," said Dick Benyon, "as you'd know if
you'd read the prospectus."

"Hang the prospectus! What's the good of reading a man's puff of his own
wares? But I'm certain you hadn't one authority."

"Well, who's your authority?" asked Jimmy, with a contempt that he took
no trouble to conceal.

"What he said was confidential, you know----"

"Oh, you won't get out of it like that. We're all friends here. Fire
away."

Thus exhorted, and indeed nothing loth--for he had not read the prospectus
and knew not the full extent of what he did--Morewood drew his malicious
little bow and shot his arrow, sharper-pointed than he fancied. "I
suppose you'll admit," said he with the exaggerated carelessness of a
man with an unanswerable case, "that poor old Maturin was some authority,
and he told me in confidence--I asked him about it, you know, just to be
able to warn you fellows--that there was an absolutely fatal defect in
your machine."

To score too great a triumph is sometimes as disconcerting as to fail.
There was no chorus of indignation, no denial of Maturin's authority, no
good-natured scoffing such as Morewood had expected. He looked round on
faces fallen into a sudden troubled seriousness; no voice was raised in
protest, gay or grave. In an instant he knew that he had done something
far beyond what his humour had suggested; but what it was or how it came
about, he could not tell.

The Benyon brothers were not over-ready of speech in a difficulty; their
thoughts were busy now, but their tongues tied. Marchmont found nothing
to say; he could not help raising his eyes under half-drooped lids till
they rested on May Quisanté's face. There was a moment more of silence;
then, answering the tacit summons of the table, May Quisanté spoke. She
leant forward a little, smiling, and spoke clearly and composedly.

"Oh, you misunderstood him," she said. "He was consulted, but fell ill
before he could go into all the facts or write his report. But he had
expressed a favourable opinion of the Alethea to my husband." She paused,
and then added, "If you'd taken the trouble to read the prospectus you'd
have known that, Mr. Morewood."

Little Lady Richard laughed nervously, glanced round, and rose from the
table; it was sooner than the ladies were wont to move but, as she said,
nobody seemed to be eating any fruit, and so there was nothing to stay
for. The men sat down again. Morewood perceived very clearly that a
constraint had come upon them; but he was possessed by curiosity.

"Well, I should like to see the prospectus now," he said.

"You'll find one or two over there," said Dick, jerking his head towards
a writing-table, but not rising.

Morewood made in the direction indicated, a low mutter from Dick
following him. Then Jimmy observed:

"He doesn't understand a thing about it, you know, and of course he
didn't follow what Maturin said."

The others nodded. This explanation was indeed the simple one; in most
cases it would have been accepted without demur; or recourse would have
been had to the hypothesis of a sudden change in the Professor's opinion;
indeed Marchmont broached this solution in an off-hand way. Neither view
was explicitly rejected, but a third possibility was in their minds, one
which would not and could not have been there, had any one of the three
had the settling of the prospectus and conducted the business with
Maturin. But Alexander Quisanté, assisted only by cousin Mandeville, had
conducted the business and drawn the prospectus.

Morewood came back, sat down, and poured out a glass of wine.

"Yes, I see what it says," he observed. His mood of malice was gone, he
looked troubled and rather remorseful. "Well, I only repeated what
Maturin said. I'd no idea there was anything about him in the
prospectus."

The two reasonable views were suggested again by Dick and Marchmont.

"It's impossible that I misunderstood him, but of course he may have
changed his mind." He paused, seeming to think. "I gather that he put
nothing in writing?" he went on. "He only talked to you about it?"

After a little pause Jimmy Benyon said, "Not exactly to us--to the people
at the office, you know. And there was nothing in writing as you say--at
least so I understand too."

Morewood passed his hand through his hair; the ruffled locks intensified
the ruefulness of his aspect; he had before his eyes the picture of May
Quisanté's silence and her so careful, so deliberate little speech after
it. He tossed off his wine almost angrily, as Dick Benyon rose, saying,
"Let's have coffee in the garden. It's a splendid night." He added with a
rather uneasy laugh, "Quisanté's coming to-morrow! We'll leave him to
tackle you himself, Morewood."

Lady Richard and Fanny Gaston were sitting in the garden by the
drawing-room window when the men joined them; Morewood dropped into a
chair by Lady Richard and, looking across the lawn, saw May strolling by
herself on the walk that bounded the shrubberies. He took his coffee in
silence and then lighted his pipe; the vanity of cigarettes was not for
him. At last he said confidentially,

"I've a sort of feeling that I've made an ass of myself."

Lady Richard glanced round; Fanny had gone across to the other group;
nobody was in hearing.

"Do you know," she said in a low voice, "I believe that man's been up to
some trick again. You know how he treated us over the Crusade? Now I
suppose he's going to ruin us!" The satisfaction of a justified prophet
seemed to mingle with the dismay of a wife and the anger of a sufferer;
Lady Richard had expected nothing less all along!

"I'm afraid I rather--well, that Lady May didn't like it."

"Poor dear May must know what to expect by now."

"Perhaps she never knows what to expect. That'd be worse." The remark was
a little too subtle for Lady Richard's half-attentive ear. She contented
herself with sighing expressively. Morewood looked across the lawn again;
the slow-walking figure had disappeared, presumably into the shrubberies.
Two or three moments later he saw Marchmont strolling off in that
direction, cigar in mouth and hands in pockets. He rose, shook himself,
and cried to the brothers, "Oh, in heaven's name, come and play pool."
Jimmy refused and paired off with his _fiancée_, but Dick agreed to
billiards, saying as they went in, "It'll keep you from making a fool of
yourself any more." Morewood, finding his own impression of his conduct
thus confirmed, grunted remorsefully as he took down his cue.

Marchmont crossed the lawn and the path, and was hidden by the
shrubberies. Lady Richard watched till she could see him no more, and
then went indoors with another sigh; this last was a disclaimer of
responsibility; if Marchmont liked to comfort May, it was no business of
hers.

He loitered on, not admitting that he was looking for May, but very sore
to think that she had wandered away to a sad solitude rather than be with
her friends; since she did that, she was wounded indeed. There was a seat
round an old tree-trunk at the farther side of the shrubbery; the memory
of it really directed his apparently aimless steps, and as he approached
it he threw away his half-smoked cigar; he thought he would find her
there; what he would say to her he did not know.

He was right. There, she sat, very still, and looking pale under the
moon. Coming up to her he said, "I know you want to be alone, don't you?"
She smiled and answered, "No, stay. I'm glad to have you," and he sat
down by her. She was silent, her eyes gazing steadily in front of her;
the air was sweet and very still. Now he needed no telling that his guess
at the situation had been right, that she had shielded her husband at her
own cost; her face told him what the cost seemed to her. A great
indignation against the man filled him, gaining unacknowledged
reinforcement from the love he himself had for the woman. He had wrought
for himself a masterpiece of pure and faultless beauty; when another took
it from him, he had endured; now the other spoilt and stained and defiled
it; could he still endure? It seems sometimes as though the deep silence
of night carries thoughts from heart to heart that would be lost in the
passage through the broken tumultuous sea of day. The thought that was in
him he felt to be in her also, changed as her mind would change it, yet
in essence the same. She had now no ironical smiles for him, no fencing,
and no playing with her fate; and he had for her no talk of loyalty. The
time for these was gone in the light of the confidence that her silence
gave him; it told him everything, and he had no rebuke for its openness.
At last he put out his hand and lightly pressed hers for a moment. She
turned her eyes on him.

"It's a little hard, isn't it?" she asked. "I can stand most things, but
it's hard to have to tell lies to your friends." Her voice rose a little
and shook as the composure which she had so long kept failed her. "And
they know I'm lying. Oh, I don't deceive them, however hard I try. They
don't tell me so, but they know. I can't help it, I must do it. I must
sit and do it, knowing that they know it's a lie. For decency's sake I
must do it, though. Some people believe, the Mildmays believe; but you
here don't. You know me too well, and you know him too well."

"For God's sake, don't talk like that," said Marchmont.

"Don't talk like that! The talk's not the harm. If you could tell me how
not to live like that!" Her self-control broke utterly; she covered her
face with her hands and sobbed.

"For God's sake!" he murmured again.

"Oh, you don't know. This is only the crown of it. It goes on every day.
I'm coming not to know myself, not to be myself. I live scheming and
lying. I've given everything, all my life. Must I give myself, my own
self, too? Must I lose that for him?"

Her bitter despairing words seemed to him what at that moment her mood
made them seem to herself, the all-sufficient all-embracing summary of
her life; she had then no thought of another side to it, and into that
she gave him no insight. He counted as dead for her all the high hopes
and the attractive imaginings with which Quisanté once had fired her.
Dead for her they were at that moment; she could see nothing but her
husband's baseness and a baseness bred by it in herself; her bond to him
was an obligation to dishonour and a chain of treachery. She abandoned to
Marchmont's eyes all the hidden secrets of her misery; in this she seemed
also to display before him the dead body of her hopes, her interest, her
ambitions. Giving all, she had gained nothing; so her sobs said. But only
for moments does life seem so simple that a sob can cover all of it.

Presently she grew calmer. "I've never broken out like this before," she
said, "but it's rather bad to have to look forward to a life of it. And
it'll get worse, not better; or if it doesn't get worse it'll mean that
I'm getting worse, and that'll be worse than all." She smiled forlornly.
"What a tangle of 'worses' I've tied it up in, haven't I?"

She did not seem to be ashamed of her breaking-out, but rather to be
relieved by it, and to feel that it had helped to establish or renew an
intimacy in which she found some pleasure and some consolation; at least
there was one friend now who knew exactly how she stood and would not set
down to that own self of hers the actions that he might see her perform
in Quisanté's service. "You once told me I ought to take a confidante,"
she reminded him. "I don't suppose you thought I should take you,
though."

She had had her outburst; his was still to come. Yet it seemed rather as
though he acted on a deliberate purpose than was carried away by any
irresistible impulse; he spoke simply and plainly.

"I love you as I've always loved you," he said.

"I know, and I've taken advantage of it to inflict all this on you." Her
eyes rested on his for some moments, and she answered his glance. "No, I
can't escape that way. I'm not talking of running away; of course I
couldn't do that." She laughed a little and even he smiled. "But I can't
escape even in--in spirit by it. Sometimes I wish I could. It would
change the centre of my life, wouldn't it? Perhaps I shouldn't mind the
things that distress me so much now. But I can't."

"You don't love me? Well, you never did." He paused an instant and added
in a puzzled way, "Somehow."

"Yes, it's all 'somehow.' Somehow I didn't; I ought to have. Somehow I've
got where I am; and somehow, I suppose, I shall endure it." She laid her
hand on his. "I should actually like to love you--in a way I do. I'm
afraid I've very little conscience about it. But somehow--yes, somehow
again--it's all a hopeless puzzle--I can't altogether, not as you mean. I
understand it very little myself, and I know you won't understand it at
all, but--well, Alexander imprisons me; I can't escape from him; as long
as he's there he keeps me." She looked in Marchmont's face and then shook
her head, half-sadly, half-playfully. "You don't understand a bit, do
you?" she asked.

"No, I don't," he said bluntly, with an accent of impatience and almost
of exasperation. Recognising it, she gave the slightest shrug of her
shoulders.

"It's my infatuation again, I suppose, as you all said when I married
him. It makes you all angry. Oh, it makes me angry too, as far as that
goes."

"He's ruining your whole life."

She made no answer, relapsing into the still silence which had preceded
her tears. Marchmont was baffled again by his old inability to follow the
movements of her mind and the old sense of blindness in dealing with her
to which it gave rise. Owing to this he had lost her at the first; now it
seemed to prevent him from repairing the loss. In spite of all that they
had in common, in spite of the strong attraction she felt towards him and
of the love he bore her, there was always, as she had said once, at last
a break somewhere, some solution in the chain of sympathy that should
have bound them together. But he would not admit this, and chose to see
the only barrier between them in the man who was ruining her life.

"You'd be yourself again if only you could get away from him," he
murmured resentfully.

"Perhaps; I never shall, though." She added, laughing a little, "Neither
will you. I've made you an accomplice, you're bound to a guilty silence
now." Then, growing grave, she leant towards him. "Don't look like that,"
she said, "pray, pray, pray don't. I haven't spoilt your life as well as
my own? No, you mustn't tell me that." Her voice grew very tender and
low. "But I can say almost all you want. I wish I had loved you, I wish I
had married you. Oh, how I wish it! I should have been happy, I think,
and I know I--I shouldn't have had to live as I do now and do the things
I have to do now. Well, it's too late."

"You're very young," he said in a voice as low as hers. "It mayn't always
be too late."

She started a little, drawing away from him. He had brought back thoughts
which the stress of pain and excitement had banished from her mind.

"You mean----?" she murmured. "I know what you mean, though." Her face
showed again a sort of puzzle. "I can't think of that happening. I tried
the other day--_à propos_ of something else; but I couldn't. I couldn't
see it, you know. It doesn't fit my ideas about him. No, that won't
happen. We must just go on."

The wind had begun to rise, the trees stirred, leaves rustled, the whole
making, or seeming to her ears to make, a sad whimsical moaning. She
rose, gathering her lace scarf closer round her neck, and saying, "Do you
hear the wood crying for us? It's sorry for our little troubles." She
stood facing him and he took both her hands in his. "You look so
unhappy," she said in a fresh access of pity. "No use, no use; it'll all
go on, right to the end of everything. So--good-bye."

"He's coming to-morrow, isn't he?"

"Yes, he's coming to-morrow. Good-bye." She smiled a little, feeling
Marchmont's hands drawing her to him. "Oh, kiss me then," she said,
turning her cheek to him. "It'll feel friendly. And now we'll go in."

They had just started to return when they heard steps in the wood, and a
moment later her name was called in Dick Benyon's voice. Marchmont
shouted in answer, "Here we are," and Dick came along the path.

"I couldn't think where you'd got to," he said.

"That's because you've no romance in you," said May. "Or you'd have known
we should be wandering in the wood in the moonlight. Ah, she's gone under
a cloud now, but she was beautiful. Are we wanted, though?"

"Well, in the first place I think you've been quite long enough for
propriety, and in the second a man's brought a wire for you, and he's
waiting to see if there's an answer."

"Under that combination of moral and practical reasons we'll go in," said
May, laughing. Marchmont, less ready in putting on his mask, said nothing
but followed a step or two behind. "I expect the wire's from Alexander,"
she went on, "to say he's going to make a speech somewhere and won't come
to-morrow."

Dick turned to her with a quick jerk of the head; a moment later he was
covered with confusion, for her bitter little smile told him that he had
betrayed the joy which such a notion gave him. To all of them it would be
a great relief that Quisanté should not come while the memory of the
scene that Morewood had caused at dinner was still so fresh. Dick, though
he attempted no excuse, felt himself forgiven when May took his arm and
thus walked back to the house.

    "Your husband had a slight seizure while dining with us to-night.
    He is comfortable now, and there is no immediate reason for anxiety.
    But doctor thinks you had better come up earliest convenient train
    to-morrow. Winterton Mildmay."

May read the telegram, standing between Marchmont and Dick. She handed it
to Dick, saying, "Read it, and will you send an answer that I'll come as
early as possible in the morning;" then she walked to the table and sat
down by it. Dick gave Marchmont the slip of paper and went off to
despatch the answer. Nobody else was in the room, except Fanny Gaston,
who was playing softly on the piano in the corner. Marchmont came up to
May and put the telegram down on the table by her.

"I'm so sorry," he said formally and constrainedly.

"I don't suppose it's very serious," she said. "But I must go, of course."
She went on under the cover of Fanny's gentle music. "It's all rather odd
though--its coming to-night and its happening at the Mildmays'. I forgot,
though, you don't know why I feel that so odd. How Lady Mildmay'll nurse
him! I expect I shall have a struggle to get him out of the house and
home again."

Marchmont made no answer but stood looking down on her face. She met his
glance fairly, and knew what it was that had forced itself into his mind
and now found expression in his eyes. She had declared to him that her
fate was irrevocable, that the lines of her life were set, that nothing
but death could alter them, and that death had no part in her thoughts
about her husband. The telegram did not prove her wrong; yet seizure was
a vague word under which much might lie hidden. But her mood and her
feeling still remained; it was not in hope or in any attempt at
self-consolation, but in the expression of an obstinate conviction which
dominated her mind that she said in answer to Marchmont's glance, "I
can't believe it's anything really amiss. I expect I shall find him at
work again when I get back to-morrow."

With a little movement of his hands Marchmont turned away. He had at
command no conventional phrases in which to express a desire that she
might prove right. It was impossible to say that he wished she might
prove wrong; even in his own mind a man leaves a hope like that vague and
unformulated. But he marvelled, still without understanding, at the
strange obstinate idea which seemed almost to exalt Quisanté above the
ordinary lot of mortals, to see in him a force so living that it could
not perish, a vitality so intense that death could lay no hand on it. He
glanced at her as he crossed the room to the piano; she sat now with the
telegram in her hands and her eyes fixed on the floor in front of her. It
needed a sharper summons, a nearer reality, to rouse her from the
conviction that her life was bound for ever to that of the man whom she
had chosen and for whom she had given so much. It would all go on, right
to the end of everything. The telegram had not shaken that faith in her,
nor altered that despair.



                           CHAPTER XVII.

                             DONE FOR?


A knotty point of casuistry was engaging the thoughts of the Dean of St.
Neot's. Morewood had been to see him, had told without disguise the whole
story of his blunder at the dinner-table at Ashwood, had referred to
Alexander Quisanté's serious illness, and had finally, without apology
and without periphrasis, expressed the hope that Alexander Quisanté would
die. The Dean's rebuke had produced a strenuous effort at justification.
Quisanté was, the painter pointed out, no doubt a force, but a force
essentially immoral (Morewood took up morality when it suited his
purpose); he did work, but he made unhappiness; he affected people's
lives, but not so as to promote their well-being. Or if the Dean chose to
champion the man, Morewood was ready for him again. If Quisanté were
good, were moral, were deserving of defence, then the merely natural
process lugubriously described as death, and fantastically treated with
black plumes and crape, would, so far as he himself was concerned, be no
more than a transition to a better state of existence, while certain
solid and indisputable benefits would accrue to those who were condemned
to wait a little longer for their summons. Whether the Dean elected to be
for Quisanté or against him, Morewood claimed a verdict.

This challenging of a man's general notions by the putting of a thorny
special case was rather resented by the Dean; it reminded him of the
voluble atheist in Hyde Park, who bases his attack on the supernatural on
the obsolete enactments of the Book of Leviticus. None the less he was
rather puzzled as to what he had a right to wish about Alexander
Quisanté, and so he had recourse to his usual remedy--a consultation with
his wife. He had the greatest faith in Mrs. Baxter's eye for morality;
perhaps generations of clerical ancestry had bred in her such an instinct
as we see in sporting-dogs; she could not go wrong. On this question she
was immediately satisfactory.

"We are forbidden," she said, removing a piece of tape from her mouth,
"to wish anybody's death; you know that as well as I do, Dan." She made a
stitch or two. "We must leave it to Providence," she ended serenely.

At first sight there was nothing much in this dictum; it appeared even
commonplace. But Mrs. Baxter had been lunching with the Mildmays, had
heard a full account of what the doctors said about Quisanté, and had
expressed her conviction that he could not possibly last long. So far as
could be judged then, the confidence which she proposed to show ran no
appreciable risk of being misplaced, while at the same time she avoided
committing herself by any expression of a personal opinion.

"Doubtless, my dear," said the Dean with a little cough.

"If he had thought less about himself and more about other people----" she
resumed.

"That can't have anything to do with an apoplectic seizure," the Dean
pleaded.

Mrs. Baxter looked up with a patient smile.

"If you weren't in such a hurry, Dan, to show what you call your
enlightenment (though heaven knows you may be wrong all the time, and a
judgment is a perfectly possible thing) you'd have found out that I was
only going to say that, if he'd thought more of other people, he'd find
other people thinking more about him now."

"There I quite agree with you, my dear."

Mrs. Baxter looked less grateful than she might have for this endorsement
of her views; self-confidence is apt to hold external support in cheap
esteem.

"When the first Mrs. Greening died," she remarked, "they gave the maids
very nice black frocks, with a narrow edging of good crape. The very
first Sunday-out that Elizabeth had--the butcher's daughter near the Red
Cow--you remember?--she stuck a red ribbon round the neck."

The Dean looked puzzled.

"Mrs. Greening was the most selfish woman I've ever known," explained
Mrs. Baxter; and she added with a pensive smile, "And I've lived in a
Cathedral town for thirty years."

The red-ribbon became intelligible; it fell into line with Morewood's
ill-disciplined wish. Both signified an absence of love, such a departing
without being desired as serves for the epitaph of a Jewish king. The
Dean cast round for somebody who would prove such an inscription false on
Alexander Quisanté's tomb.

"Anyhow it would break the old aunt's heart," he said.

"It'd save her money," observed Mrs. Baxter.

"And his wife!" mused the Dean. It was impossible to say whether there
were a question in his words or not. But his first instance had not been
Quisanté's wife; the old aunt offered a surer case.

"If you always knew what a man's wife thought about him, you'd know a
great deal," said Mrs. Baxter. She possessed in the fullest degree her
sex's sense of an ultimate superiority in perception; men knew neither
what their wives did nor what they were; wives might not know what their
husbands did, but they always knew what they were. It would be rash to
differ from a person of her observation and experience; half a dozen
examples would at once have confounded the objector.

Mrs. Baxter took perhaps a too private and domestic view of the man whose
fate she was discussing; she judged the husband and friend, she had
nothing to say to the public character. The voices of his political
associates and acquaintances, of his fellow-workers in business, of his
followers and enthusiastic adherents in his constituency, did not reach
her ears, and perhaps, if they had, would not have won much attention.
The consternation of Constantine Blair, Lady Castlefort's dismay, the sad
gossiping and head-shaking that went on in the streets of Henstead and
round old Mr. Foster's comfortable board, witnessed to a side of Quisanté
in which Mrs. Baxter did not take much interest. She did not understand
the sort of stupor with which they who had lived with him and worked with
him saw the force he wielded and the anticipations he filled them with
both struck down by a sudden blow; she did not share the feeling that all
at once a gap had been made in life.

But something of this sort was the effect in all the circles which
Quisanté had invaded and in which he had moved. The philosophical might
already be saying that there was no necessary man; to the generality that
reflection would come only later, when they had found a new leader, a
fresh inspiration, and another personality in which to see the embodiment
of their hopes. Now the loss was too fresh and too complete; for although
it might be doubtful how long Quisanté's life would last, there seemed no
chance of his ever filling the place to which he had appeared to be
destined. Only a miracle could give that back to one who must cling to
life, if he could keep his hold on it at all, at the cost of abandoning
all the efforts and all the activities which had made it what it was
alike for himself and for others. He was rallying slowly and painfully
from his blow; a repetition of it would be the certain penalty of any
strenuous mental exertion or any sustained strain of labour. In
inactivity, in retirement, in the placid existence of a recognised
invalid he might live years, indeed probably would; but otherwise the
authorities declined to promise him any life at all. His body had played
him false in the end. Constantine Blair began to look out for a candidate
for Henstead and to wonder whether Sir Winterton would again expose
himself to the unpleasantness of a contested election; Lady Castlefort
must find another Prime Minister, the fighting men another champion, even
the Alethea Printing Press Limited a new chairman. The places he had
filled or made himself heir to were open to other occupants and fresh
pretenders. That the change seemed so considerable proved how great a
figure he had become in men's eyes no less than how utterly his career
was overthrown. The comments on his public life were very flattering, but
already they praised in the tone of an obituary notice, and the hopes
they expressed of his being able some day to return to the arena were
well understood to be no more than a kind or polite refusal to display
naked truth in the merciless clearness of print.

Here was the state of things which extorted from Morewood the blunt wish
that Quisanté might die. Such a desire was hardly cruel to the man
himself, since he must now lose all that he had loved best in the market
of the world; but it was not the man himself who had been most in
Morewood's thoughts. With a penetration sharpened by the memory of his
blunder he had appreciated the perverse calamity which had fallen on the
man's wife, and had passed swiftly to the conclusion that for her an end
by death was the only chance, the only turn of events which could give
back to her the chance of a real life to be lived. He knew by what
Quisanté had attracted and held her; all that, it seemed, was gone now.
He divined also in what Quisanté repelled and almost terrified her; that
would remain so long as breath was in the man and might grow even more
intense. A sense of fairness somehow impelled him to his wish; her
bargain had turned out so badly; the underlying basis of her marriage was
broken; she was left to pay the price to the last penny, but was to get
nothing of what she had looked to purchase. Was it not then the part of a
courageous man to face his instinctive wish, and to accept it boldly?
Cant and tradition apart, it must be the wish of every sensible person.
For she knew, she had realised most completely on the very evening when
Quisanté was struck down, what manner of man he was. She might have
endured if she had still been able to tell herself of the wonderful
things that he would do. No such comfort was open now. The man was still
what he was; but he would do nothing. There came the change.

"That's the weak point about marriage as compared with other contractual
arrangements," said Morewood to Dick Benyon. "You can never in any
bargain ensure people getting what they expect to get--because to do that
you'd have to give all of them sense--but in most you can to a certain
extent see that they're allowed to keep what they actually did get. In
marriage you can't. Something of this sort happens and the whole
understanding on which the arrangement was based breaks down."

"Do people marry on understandings?" asked Dick doubtfully.

"The only way of getting anything like justice for her is that he should
die. You must see that?"

"I don't know anything about it," said Dick morosely, "but I hear there's
no particular likelihood of his dying if he obeys orders and keeps
quiet."

"Just so, just so," said Morewood. "That's exactly what I mean. Do you
suppose she'd ever have taken him if he'd been going to keep quiet? You
know why you took him up; well, she did just the same. You know what you
found him; she's found him just the same. What's left now? The _rôle_ of
a loving nurse! She's not born a nurse; and how in the devil's name is
she to be expected to love him?"

Dick Benyon found no answer to questions which put with a brutal
truthfulness the salient facts of the position. The one thing necessary,
the one thing which would have made the calamity bearable, perhaps better
than bearable, was wanting. She might love or have loved things in him,
or about him, or done by him; himself she did not love; and now nothing
but himself remained to her. Seeing the matter in this light, Dick was
dumb before Morewood's challenge to him to say, if he dared, that he
hoped a long life for Alexander Quisanté. Yet neither would he wish his
death; for Dick had been an enthusiast, the spell had been very strong on
him, and there still hung about him something of that inability to think
of Quisanté as dead or dying, something of the idea that he must live and
must by very strength of will find strength of body, which had prevented
May herself from believing that the news which came in her telegram could
mean anything really serious. While Quisanté lived, there would always be
to Dick a possibility that he would rise up from his sickness and get to
work again. Death would end this, death with its finality and its utter
incongruous stillness. Death was repose, and neither for good nor for
evil had Quisanté ever embraced repose. He had never been quiet; when he
was not achieving, he had been grimacing. In death he could do neither.

"I can't fancy the fellow dead," said Dick to his wife and his brother.
"I should be expecting him to jump up again every minute."

Lady Richard shuddered. The actual Quisanté had been bad; the idea of a
dead Quisanté horribly galvanized into movement by a restlessness that
the tomb could not stifle was hideous. Jimmy came to her aid with a
rather unfeeling but apparently serious suggestion.

"We must cremate him," he said gravely.

"No, but, barring rot," Dick pursued, "I don't believe he'll die, you
know."

"Poor May!" said Lady Richard. Neither of them pressed her to explain the
precise point in May Quisanté's position which produced this exclamation
of pity. It might have been that the death was possible, or that the
death was not certain, or at least not near, or it might have sprung from
a purely general reflection on the unhappiness of having life coupled
with the life of such a man as Quisanté.

All these voices of a much interested, much pitying, much (and on the
whole not unenjoyably) discussing world were heard only in dim echoes in
the Mildmays' big quiet house in Carlton-House Terrace, where Quisanté
had been stricken by his blow. There May had found him on her hasty
return from Ashwood, and here he was still, thanks to the host's and
hostess's urgent entreaties. They declared that he was not fit to be
moved; the doctors hardly endorsed this view heartily but went so far as
to say that any disturbance was no doubt bad in its degree; Lady Mildmay
seized eagerly on the grudging support. "Let him stay here till he's fit
to go to the country," she urged. "I'm sure we can make him comfortable.
And--" she smiled apologetically, "I'm a good nurse, if I'm nothing else,
you know."

"But won't Sir Winterton----?"

"My dear, you don't know what a lot Winterton thinks of Mr. Quisanté;
he's proud to be of the least service to him. And you do know, I think,
how it delights him to be any use at all to you."

In spite of that reason buried in her own heart which made every kindness
received from these kind hands bitter to her, May let him stay. He wanted
to stay, she thought, so far as his relaxed face and dimmed eyes gave
evidence of any desire. And besides--yes, Lady Mildmay was a good nurse;
he might find none so good if he were moved away. No sense of duty, no
punctilious performance of offices, no such constancy of attendance as a
wife is bound to render, could give what Lady Mildmay gave. Yet more than
these May could not achieve. It was rather cruel, as it seemed to her,
that the great and sudden call on her sympathy should come at the moment
of all others when the spring of her sympathy was choked, when anger
still burnt in her heart, when passionate resentment for a wound to her
own pride and her own honour still inflamed her, when the mood in which
she had broken out in her talk with Marchmont was still predominant. Such
a falling-out of events sometimes made this real and heavy sickness seem
like one of Quisanté's tricks, of at least suggested that he might be
making the most of it in his old way, as he had of his faintness at the
Imperial League banquet, or of his headache when old Foster's letter
followed on the declaration of the poll at Henstead. Such feelings as
these, strong enough to chill her pity till Lady Mildmay wondered at a
wife so cold, were not deep or sincere enough to blind May Quisanté's
eyes. Even without the doctor's story--which she had insisted on being
told in all its plainness--she thought that she would have known the
meaning of what had befallen her husband and herself, and have grasped at
once its two great features, the great certainty and the great
uncertainty; the certainty that his career was at an end, the uncertainty
as to how near his life was to its end. Such a position chimed in too
well with the bitter mood of Ashwood not to seem sent to crown it by a
malicious device of fate's. At the very moment when she least could love,
she was left no resource but love; at the moment when she would have
turned her eyes most away from him and most towards his deeds, the deeds
were taken away and he only was left; at the time when her hot anger
against him drove her into a cry for release, she received no promise of
release, or a promise deferred beyond an indefinitely stretching period
of a worse imprisonment. For she clung to no such hope as that which made
Dick Benyon dream of a resurrection of activity and of power, and had
nothing to look for save years of a life both to herself and to him
miserable. It might be sin to wish him dead; but was it sin to wish him
either alive or dead, either in vigour or at rest? Sin or no sin, that
was the desire in her heart, and it would not be stifled however much she
accused its inhumanity or recognised the want of love in it. Was the
fault all hers? With her lips still burning from the lie that she had
told for him, she could not answer 'yes.'

Still and silent Quisanté lay on his bed. His head was quite clear now
and his eyes grew brighter. He watched Lady Mildmay as she ministered to
him, and he watched his wife with his old quick furtive glances, so keen
to mark every shade of her manner towards him. She had never really
deceived him as to her thoughts of him; she did not deceive him now. He
knew that her sympathies were estranged, more estranged than they had
ever been before. So far as the reason lay in the incident of Ashwood, it
was hidden from him; he knew nothing of the last great shame that he had
put on her. But long before this he had recognised where his power over
her lay, by what means he had gained and by what he kept it; he had been
well aware that if she were still to be under his sway, the conquest must
be held by his achievements; he himself was as nothing beside them. Now,
as he lay, he was thinking what would happen. He also had heard the
doctor's story or enough of it to enable him to guess the purport of
their sentence on him; he was to live as an invalid, to abandon all his
ambitions, to throw away all that made people admire him or made him
something in the world's eyes and something great in hers. On these terms
and on these only life was offered to him now; if he refused, if he
defied nature, then he must go on with the sword ever hanging over him,
in the knowledge that it soon must fall. He told himself that, yet was
but half-convinced. Need it fall? With the first spurt of renewed
strength he raised that question and argued it, till he seemed able to
say 'It may fall,' rather than 'It must.'

What should be his course then? The world thought it had done with him.
All seemed gone for which his wife had prized him. Should he accept that,
and in its acceptance take up his life as valetudinarian, his life
forgotten of the world which he had loved to conquer, barren of interest
for the woman whom it had been his strongest passion to win against her
instincts, to hold as it were against her will, and to fascinate in face
of her distaste? Such were the terms offered; Alexander Quisanté lay long
hours open-eyed and thought of them. There had come into his head an idea
that attracted him mightily and suited well with his nature, so oddly
mixed of strength and weakness, greatness and smallness, courage and
bravado, the idea of a means by which he might keep the world's applause
and his wife's fascinated interest, aye, and increase them too, till they
should be more intense than they had ever been. That would be a triumph,
played before admiring eyes. But what would be the price of it, and was
the price one that he would pay. It might be the biggest price a mortal
man can pay. So for a few days more Alexander Quisanté lay and thought
about it.

Once old Miss Quisanté came to see him, at his summons, not of her own
volunteering. Since the blow fell she had neither come nor written, and
May, with a sense of relief, had caught at the excuse for doing no more
than sending now and again a sick-room report. Aunt Maria looked old,
frail, and very yellow, as she made her way to a chair by her nephew's
bed. He turned to her with the smile of mockery so familiar to her eyes.

"You haven't been in any hurry to see me, Aunt Maria," said he.

"You've always sent for me when you wanted me before, Sandro, and I
supposed you would this time."

"May's kept you posted up? You know what those fools of doctors say?" The
old woman nodded. Quisanté was smiling still. "I'm done then, eh?" he
asked.

Her hands were trembling, but her voice was hard and unsympathetic. "It
sounds like it," she said.

Quisanté raised himself on his elbow.

"You'll see me out after all," said he, "if I'm not careful. That's what
it comes to." He gave a low laugh as Aunt Maria's lips moved but no words
came. He leant over a little nearer to her and asked, "Have you had any
talk with my wife about it?"

"No," said Aunt Maria. "Not a word, Sandro."

"Nothing to be said, eh? What does she think, though? Oh, you know!
You've got your wits about you. Don't take to considering my feelings at
this time of day."

Now the old woman smiled too.

"I'm sorry you're done for, Sandro," she said. "So's your wife, I'll be
bound."

"You both love me so much?" he sneered.

"We've always understood one another," said Aunt Maria.

"I tell you, I love my wife." Aunt Maria made no remark. "And you both
think I'm done for? Well, we'll see!"

Aunt Maria looked up with a gleam of new interest in her sharp eyes, so
like the eyes of the man on the bed. Quisanté met her glance and
understood it; it appealed at once to his malice and to his vanity; it
was a foretaste of the wonder he would raise and the applause he would
win, if he determined to face the price that might have to be paid for
them. He had listened with exasperated impatience to kind Lady Mildmay's
pleadings with him, to her motherly insisting on perfect rest for his
mind, and to her pathetically hopeful picture of the new interests and
the new pleasure he would find in days of rest and peace, with his wife
tenderly looking after him. To such charming as that his ears were deaf;
they pricked at the faintest sound of distant cheering. It would be
something to show even Aunt Maria that he was not done with; what would
it not be to show it to the world--and to that wife of his whom he loved
and could hold only by his deeds?

"I only know what the doctors say," remarked Miss Quisanté. "They say you
must throw up everything."

"You wouldn't have me risk another of those damned strokes, would you?"
he asked, the mockery most evident now in his voice and look. "Lady
Mildmay implores me to be careful, almost with tears. I suppose my own
aunt'll be still more anxious, and my own wife too?"

"Doctors aren't infallible. And they don't know you, Sandro. You're not
like other men." Hard as the tone was, his ears drank in the words
eagerly. "They don't know how much there is in you."

Again he leant forward and said almost in a whisper,

"May thinks I'm done for?" Aunt Maria nodded. "And she'll nurse me? Take
me to some infernal invalids' place, full of bath-chairs, and walk beside
mine, eh?" Aunt Maria smiled grimly. "She'll like that, won't she?" he
asked.

"You won't die," she said suddenly and abruptly, her eyes fixed on his.

"What?" he asked sharply. "Well, who said I was going to die?"

"The doctors--unless you go to the invalids' place."

"Oh, and my dear aunt doesn't agree with them?" Eagerness now broke
through the mockery in his tones. He had longed so for a word of hope,
for someone to persuade him that he might still live and could still
work. "But suppose they proved right? Well, that's no worse than the
other anyhow."

"Not much," said Aunt Maria. "But I don't believe 'em." Her faith in him
came back at his first summons of it. He had but to tell her that he
would live and need not die, and she would believe him. Sandro's ways
were not as other men's; she could not believe that for Sandro as for
other men there were necessities not to be avoided, and a fate not to be
mastered by any defiant human will. So there she sat, persuading him that
he was not mortal; and he lay listening, mocking, embittered, yet still
lending an ear to the story, eager to believe her fable, rejoicing in the
power that he had over her mind. If he felt all this for Aunt Maria, what
would he not feel for the world, and for that wife of his? If old Aunt
Maria could so wake in him the love of life and the hatred of that living
death to which he had been condemned, what passionate will to live would
rise in answer to the world's wonder and his wife's?

"I wish you'd give me that little book on the table there," he said. Aunt
Maria obeyed. "My engagement-book," he explained. "Look. I had things
booked for five months ahead. See--speeches, meetings, committees, the
Alethea--so on--so on. They're all what they call cancelled now." He
turned the leaves and Aunt Maria stood by him, watching.

"They won't get anybody to do 'em like you, Sandro," she said.

He flung the book down on the floor in sudden peevishness, with an oath
of anger and exasperation.

"By God, why haven't I a fair chance?" he asked, and fell back on his
pillows.

Lady Mildmay would have come and whispered softly to him, patted his
hand, given him lemonade, and bade him try to sleep while she read softly
to him. His old Aunt Maria Quisanté stood motionless, saying not a word,
looking away from him. Yet she was nearer to his mood and suited him
better than kind Lady Mildmay.

"You've done a good bit already, Sandro," she said. "And you're only
thirty-nine."

"And I'm to die at thirty-nine, or else live like an idiot, bored to
death, and boring to death everybody about me!"

"I shall go now," said Aunt Maria. "Good-bye, Sandro. Send for me again
when you want me."

"Aunt Maria!" She stopped at his call. "Go and see May. Go and talk to
her."

"Yes, Sandro."

"Tell her what you think. You know: I mean, tell her that perhaps it's
not as bad as the doctors say; that I may get about a bit soon and--and
so on--You know."

"I'm to tell her that?" asked Aunt Maria.

"She's not to conclude it's all over with me yet." Miss Quisanté nodded
and moved towards the door.

"Oh, and before you go, just pick up that book and give it me again, will
you?"

She returned, picked up the engagement-book and gave it him; then she
stood for a moment by the bed, beginning to smile a little.

"You've got a lot to fret about," she said. "Don't you fret about money,
Sandro. I can manage a thousand in a month or so. No use hoarding it; it
looks as if we should neither of us want it long."

"You've got a thousand? What, now? Available?"

"In a week or so it could be."

"Then in God's name put it in the Alethea. What are you thinking about?
It's the biggest thing out."

"In the Alethea? I meant to give it to you."

"All right. I shall put it in, if you do. I tell you that in three years'
time you'll be rich out of it, and I shall draw an income of a couple of
thousand a year at least as long as the patent lasts, if not longer."

"How long does it last?"

"Fourteen years; then we'll try for an extension, for another seven, you
know, and we ought to get it. First and last I expect to get fifty
thousand out of the Alethea alone, besides another thing that I've talked
over with Mandeville. I'll tell you about it some day, I can't to-day.
I--I'm a little tired. But anyhow the Alethea's sure. I'll put the
thousand into it for you, and I'll hand you back double the money this
time next year."

He was leaning on his left elbow, talking volubly; his eyes were bright,
his right hand moved in rapid apt gestures; his voice was sanguine as he
spoke of the seven years' extension of the Alethea patent; he had
forgotten his stroke and the verdict of his doctors. Aunt Maria nodded
her head to him, saying, "I'll send it you as soon as I can," and made
for the door. She was smiling now; Sandro seemed more himself again. He,
left alone, lay back on his pillow, breathing fast, rather exhausted; but
after awhile he opened the engagement-book again and ran his eyes up and
down its columns. Lady Mildmay found him thus occupied when she came to
give him a cup of milk.



                            CHAPTER XVIII.

                          FOR LACK OF LOVE?


Weston Marchmont, punctilious to the verge of fastidiousness, or even
over it, in his conduct towards the world and his friends, allowed
himself easily enough a liberty of speculative opinion which the Dean of
St. Neot's would have hesitated about and the Dean's wife decidedly
veiled by a reference to Providence. To him the blow that had fallen on
Quisanté seemed no public evil. Allowing the man's talents, he distrusted
both his aims and his methods; they would not have come to good; the
removal of his personality meant relief from an influence which was not
healthy and an example which taught nothing beyond the satisfaction of
ambition and the pursuit of power. It was well then if Quisanté were
indeed, as he himself said, "done with," so far as public activity went.
Marchmont, not concealing his particular interest but rather facing it
and declaring it just, went on to say that, since Quisanté was done with
publicly, it was well that he should be done with privately also, and
that as speedily as might be. Love for May Quisanté might be the moving
spring of this conclusion, but he insisted that it was not necessary
thereto. Any reasonable person her friend, nay, anybody whose attention
was fairly directed to the case, must hold the same view. There was a
hideous mistake to be undone, and only one way of undoing it. Permanent
unions in marriage, immense and indispensable engines of civilisation,
yet exacted their price. One instance of the compensating payment was
that deaths sometimes became desirable; you had to wish a death sooner
than life-long misery for a friend; to wish it was not wrong, though to
have to wish it might be distasteful. In this self-justification he
contrived to subordinate, while he admitted, his own strong interest in
the death and his violent dislike of the sufferer which robbed the death
of its pain so far as he was concerned. People's infatuation with
Quisanté, above all May's infatuation, had so irritated him that he did
not scruple to accept the only means of ending them; that they would be
thus ended it never came into his mind to doubt. His regret was only for
the stretch of delay, for the time of waiting, for the respite promised
to the doomed man if he would be docile and obedient; for all of them
life was passing, and too much had already in tragic mistake been spent
on Alexander Quisanté.

"I think you're damnably inhuman," said Dick Benyon, expressing, as he
often did, an unsophisticated but not perhaps an altogether unsound
popular judgment. "He's a remarkable man. And after all she married him.
She needn't have. As for the party--well, I don't know how we shall
replace him."

"I don't want him replaced," said Marchmont. "Everything that he was
doing had better be left undone; and everything that he is had better not
be. You call me inhuman. Well, people who repress their pity for
individuals in the interests of the general welfare are always called
that."

"Yes, but you don't pity him," retorted Dick.

Marchmont thought for a moment. "No, I don't," he admitted. "I see why
one might; but I can't do it myself." He paused and added, smiling, "I
suppose that's the weak point in my attitude."

"One of them," said Dick, but he said no more. There are limits to candid
discussion even among the closest friends; he could not tell Marchmont in
so many words that he wanted Quisanté dead so as to be able to marry
Quisanté's wife, however well aware of the fact he might be and Marchmont
might suspect him to be. Or, if he had said this, he could have said it
only in vigorous reproof, perhaps even in horror; and to this he was not
equal. For Dick was sorely torn. On the one hand he had never ceased to
hang on Quisanté's words and to count on Quisanté's deeds; on the other,
he had never acquitted himself of responsibility for a marriage which he
believed to have been most disastrous. Worst of all then for him was what
threatened now, an end of the illuminating words and the stirring deeds,
but no end to the marriage yet in sight. To him too death seemed the best
thing, unless that wonderful unlikely resurrection of activity and power
could come. And even then--Dick remembered the face of Quisanté's wife as
she lied for him to her friends at Ashwood. The resurrection must be not
only with a renewed but with a transformed mind, if it were to bring
happiness, and to bring no more of things like that.

The world at large, conceiving that the last word had been said and the
last scene in which it was interested played, had soon turned its curious
eyes away from Quisanté's sick bed, leaving only the gaze of the smaller
circle personally concerned in the dull and long-drawn-out ending of a
piece once so full of dramatic incident. But the world found itself
wrong, and all the eyes spun round in amazed staring when the sick man
leapt from his bed and declared that he was himself again. The news came
in paragraphs, to the effect that after another week's rest Mr. Quisanté,
whose health had made a rapid and great improvement, hoped to return to
his Parliamentary duties and to fulfil the more urgent of his public
engagements. Here was matter enough for surprise, but it was needful to
add the fast-following well-authenticated stories of how the doctors had
protested, how Sir Rufus Beaming had washed his hands of the case, and
how Dr. Claud Manton had addressed an energetic warning to Lady May
Quisanté. This last item came home most closely to the general feeling,
and the general voice asked what Lady May was thinking of. There was
warrant for the question in the wondering despair of Lady Mildmay and the
sad embarrassment of debonair Sir Winterton. The Mildmays knew all about
it, the whole thing had happened in their house; but Sir Winterton,
challenged with the story about Sir Rufus, could only hum and ha, and
Lady Mildmay had not denied the interview between Quisanté's wife and the
energetic Dr. Manton. What was the meaning of it? And, once again, what
was Lady May Quisanté thinking of? Was she blind, was she careless? Or
were the doctors idiots? The world, conscious of its own physical
frailty, shrank from the last question and confined its serious attention
to the two preceding ones. "Does she want to kill him?" asked the honest
graspers of the obvious. "Does she think him above all laws?" was the
question of those who wished to be more subtle. At least she was a
puzzle. All agreed on that.

Lady Richard discountenanced all speculation and all questionings. For
her part she did her duty, mentioning to Mrs. Baxter that this was what
she meant to do and that, whatever happened, she intended to be able,
_salvâ conscientiâ_, to tell herself that she had done it; Mrs. Baxter
approved, saying that this was what the second Mrs. Greening had done
when her husband's sister's daughter, a very emancipated young woman as
it seemed, had incomprehensibly flirted with the auctioneer's apprentice
and had scouted Mrs. Greening's control; Mrs. Greening had told the
girl's mother and sent the girl home, second class, under the care of the
guard. Similarly then Lady Richard, without embarking on any consideration
of ultimate problems, wrote to May, suggesting that Mr. Quisanté wanted
rest and putting Ashwood at her disposal for so long as she and her
husband might be pleased to occupy it. "If they don't choose to go, it's
not my fault," said Lady Richard with the sigh which declares that every
reasonable requirement of conscience has been fulfilled. Happy lady, to
be able to repose in this conviction by the simple expedient of lending a
house not otherwise required at the moment! So kind are we to our own
actions that Lady Richard felt meritorious.

They chose to go, and went unaccompanied save by their baby girl and Aunt
Maria--this last a strange addition made at Quisanté's own request. He
had not been wont to show such a desire for the old lady's society when
there was nothing to be gained by seeking it; nor had it seemed to May
altogether certain that Miss Quisanté would come. Yet she came with
ardent eagerness and her nephew was plainly glad to have her. It took May
a little while to understand why, but soon she saw the reason. Aunt Maria
was deep in the conspiracy, or the infatuation, or whatever it was to be
called; she flattered Quisanté's hope of life, she applauded his defiance
of the inevitable; she hung on him more and more, herself forgetting and
making him forget the peril of the way he trod. He wanted to be told that
he was right, and he wanted an applauding audience. In both ways Aunt
Maria satisfied him. She would talk of the present as though it were no
more than a passing interruption of a long career, of the future as
though it stretched in assured leisure through years of great
achievement, of his life and his life's work as though both were in his
own hand and subject to nothing save his own will and power. She was to
him the readiest echo of the world's wonder and applause, the readiest
assurance that his great effort was not going unrecognised. Hence he
would have her with him, though there seemed no more love and no more
tenderness between them than when in old days they had quarrelled and he
had grumbled and she had flung him her money with a bitter jeer. But she
lived in him and could think of him only as living, and through her he
could cheat himself into an assurance that indeed he could live and work.

Then Aunt Maria was very bad for him. That could not be denied, but
something more nearly touching herself pressed on May Quisanté. She had
seen the Mildmays' painful puzzle; she had listened to Dr. Claud Manton's
energetic warning; it was before her, no less than before the patient,
that Sir Rufus had washed his hands. She was not ignorant of the
questions the world asked. She was not careless, nor was she any longer
the dupe of her old delusion that such a man as Quisanté could not die.
Her eye for truth had conquered; now she believed that, if he persisted
in his rebellion, he must surely die; unless all medical knowledge went
for nothing, he would surely die, and die not after long years of
lingering, but soon, perhaps very soon. A moment of excitement, say one
of the moments that she had loved so much, might kill him; so Claud
Manton said. A life of excitement would surely and early do the work. And
why was he rebellious? She accused himself, she accused Aunt Maria, she
accused the foolishly wondering, foolishly chattering world; and in every
accusation there was some justice. Was there enough to acquit the other
defendant who stood arraigned? To that she dared not answer "Yes,"
because of the fear which was in her that the strongest amongst all the
various impulses driving him to his defiance was in the end to be found
in his relations to her, in the attitude of his own wife towards him.
Ashwood was full of associations; there was Duty Hill, where he had risen
to his greatest and thereby won her; there was the tree beneath which she
had sat with Marchmont on the evening when the knowledge of her husband's
worst side had been driven like a sharp knife into her very heart. But
more vivid than these memories now was the recollection of that first
evening when she had seen him sitting alone, nobody's friend, and had
determined to be human towards him and to treat him in a human way. There
had been the true beginning of her great experiment. Now she told herself
that she had failed in it, had never been human to him, and had never
treated him in a human way, had not been what a man's wife should be, had
stood always outside, a follower, an admirer, a critic, an accuser, never
simply the woman who was his wife. His fault or hers, or that of both--it
seemed to matter little. The experiment had been hers; and because she
had made it and failed, it seemed to her that he was braving death. Had
she been different, perhaps he would not have rebelled and could have
lived the quiet life with her. It needed little more to make her tell
herself that she drove him to his death, that she was with the enemy,
with the chattering world and with poor deluded old Aunt Maria; she was
of the conspirators; she egged him on to brave his doom.

In darker vein still ran her musings sometimes, when there came over her
that haunting self-distrust; the fear that she was juggling with herself,
shutting her eyes to the sin of her own heart, and, in spite of all her
protestations, was really inspired by a secret hope too black and
treacherous to put in words. However passionately she repudiated it, it
still cried mockingly, "I am here!" It asked if her prayers for her
husband's life were sincere, if her care for him were more than a due
paid to decency, if the doom were in truth a thing she dreaded, and not a
deliverance which convention alone forbade her openly to desire. Plainly,
plainly--did she wish the doom to fall, did she wish him dead, was the
rebellion that threatened death the course which the secret craving of
her heart urged him to take? To do everything for him was not enough, if
the doubt still lurked that her heart was not in the doing. For now she
could no more ask coolly what she wished; the thing had come too near; it
was odious to have a thought except of saving him by all means and at
every cost; it was intolerable not to know at least that no part of the
impulse which drove him to his rebellion lay at her door, not to feel at
least that she had nothing but dread and horror for the threatened doom.
She had no love for him; it came home to her now with a strange new sense
of self-condemnation; she had married him for her own pleasure, because
he interested her and made life seem dull without him. She pleaded no
more that he had killed her love; it had never been there to kill. Had
she left him to find a woman who loved him in and for himself, not for
his doings, not for the interest of him, that woman might now be winning
him by love from the open jaws of death.

Yet again laughter, obstinate and irrepressible, shot often in a jarring
streak of inharmonious colour across the sombre fabric of her thoughts.
He was not only mad, not only splendid--he seemed both to her--he was
absurd too at moments, often when he was with Aunt Maria. Letters came in
great numbers, from political followers, from women prominent in society,
from constituents, from old Foster and Japhet Williams at Henstead, even
from puissant Lady Castlefort; they wondered, applauded, implored,
flattered, in every key of that sweet instrument called praise. Quisanté
read them out, pluming and preening his feathers, strutting about,
crowing. He would repeat the passages he liked, asking his wife's
approbation; that he must have, it seemed. She gave it with what
heartiness she could, and laughed only in her sleeve. Surely a man facing
death could have forgotten all this? Not Alexander Quisanté. He could
die, and die bravely; but the world must stand by his bedside. So till
the end, whenever that most uncertainly dated end might come, the old
mixture promised to go on, the great and small, the mean and grand, the
call for tears and throbs of the heart alternating with the obstinate
curling or curving of lips swift to respond to the vision of the
contemptible or the ludicrous.

But she had her appeal to make, the one thing, it seemed, she could do to
put herself at all in the right, the offer she must make, and try to make
with a sincerity which should rise unimpaired from the conflicts of her
heart. She had caught at coming to Ashwood because she thought she could
make it best there, not indeed in the room where she had lied for him,
nor by the tree where she had turned to Marchmont in a pang of wild
regret, but there, on Duty Hill, where he had won her, had touched his
highest, and had seemed a conqueror. She took him there, climbing with
him very slowly, very gently; there she made him sit and sat by him.
Again it was a quiet evening, and still the valley stretched below;
nothing changed here made all the changes of her life seem half unreal.
Here she told him he must live, he must be docile and must live.

"You may get strong again, but for the time you must do as the doctors
say. You ought to; for the little girl's sake, if for nothing else, you
ought to. You know you're risking another seizure now, and you know what
that might mean."

His eyes were fixed keenly on her, though he lay back motionless in
weariness.

"You ought to live for your daughter." She paused a minute and added,
"And some day we might have a son, and you'd live again in him; we both
should; we should feel that we were doing--that you were doing--everything
he did. I think your son would be a great man, and I should be proud to
be his mother. Isn't the hope of that worth something?"

He was silent, watching her closely still.

"I know what you think of me," she continued. "You think an active life
essential to me, that I can't do without it. God knows I loved all you
did, I loved your triumphs, I loved to hear you speak and see them
listen. You know I loved all that, loved it too much perhaps. But I'll do
without it. I'm your wife, your fate's mine. It'll be the braver thing
for you to face it, really; I'm ready to face it with you."

Still he would only look at her.

"We know what we both are," she went on with a little smile. "We're not
Mildmays, you and I. But let's try. I must tell you. I can't bear to
think that it's partly at least because of me that you won't try, that if
I were a different sort of woman it might be much easier for you to try.
If it's that at all, imagine what I should feel if--if anything happened
such as the doctors are afraid of."

"I've chosen my course. I believe the doctors are all wrong."

"Do you really believe that?" she asked quickly.

He shrugged his shoulders, seeming to say that he would not discuss it.
"A great many considerations influence me," he said with a touch of
pompousness.

"Am I one of them?" she persisted. "Because I don't want to be. I'm ready
to share your life, whatever it is."

"Are you?" he asked, with something of the same malicious smile that he
was wont to bestow on Aunt Maria. "Do you think you could share my life?
Do you think you have?"

"I know what you mean," she said, flushing a little. "I daresay I've been
hard and--and didn't take the pains to understand, and was uncharitable
perhaps. Anyhow there'll be no opportunity for any more--any more
misunderstandings of that sort."

"No; the understanding's clear enough now," said he.

She looked at him almost despairingly; he seemed so strangely hostile, so
bitterly sensitive to her judgment of him.

"You think me," he went on, with his persistent eyes unwaveringly set on
her, "a not over-honest mountebank; that's what you and your friends
think me."

"Oh, I wish I'd never tried to talk to you about it!" she cried. "You
take hold of some hasty mood or look of mine and treat it as if it were
everything. You know it isn't."

"It's there, though."

"It never need be, never, never."

"You'll forget it all when we're settled down at--where was it?--Torquay
or somewhere--in our villa, like two old tabby-cats sitting in the sun?
No time to think it all over then? No, only all the hours of every day!"
He paused and then added in a low hard voice, "I'm damned if I'll do it.
I may have to die, but I'll die standing." His eyes gleamed now, and for
the first time they turned from her and roamed over the prospect that lay
below Duty Hill. But they were back on her face soon.

"No, no," she implored. "Not because of me, for heaven's sake, not
because of me!"

"Because of it all. Yes, and because of you too. You don't love me, you
never have." He leant towards her. "But I love you," he said, "yes, as I
loved you when I asked you to be my wife on this hill where we are. Then
don't you understand? I won't go and live that old cat's life with you."
He laid his hand on hers. "Your eyes shall still sparkle for me, your
breath shall still come quick for me, your heart beat for me; or I'll
have no more of it at all."

The touch of rhetoric, so characteristic of him, so unlike anything that
Marchmont or Dick Benyon would have used in such a case, did not
displease her then. And it hit the truth as his penetration was wont to
hit it. That was what he wanted, that was what she could and should and
must give, or he would have nothing from her. Here was the truth; but the
truth was what she had struggled so hard to deny and feared so terribly
to find true. He was not indeed led by a sense of obligation towards her;
the need was for himself. It was not that he felt in her a right to call
on him for exertions or for a performance of his side of the bargain; it
was that he could not bear to lose his tribute from her. But still she
stood self-condemned. Again the thought came--with a woman who loved him
there might have been another tribute that she could have paid and he
been content to levy. He would have believed such a woman if she told him
that he would be as much to her, and she as much absorbed in him, in the
villa at Torquay as ever in the great world; and perhaps--oh, only
perhaps, it is true--he would have made shift with that and fed his
appetite on the homage of one, since his wretched body denied him the
rows on rows of applauding spectators that he loved. But from his wife's
lips he would not accept any such assurance, and from her no such homage
could be hoped for to solace him.

Then the strange creature began to talk to her, not of what he had done,
nor even of what he had hoped to do, but of what he meant and was going
to do; how he would grow greater and richer, of schemes in politics and
in business, of the fervour and devotion of the fighting men behind him
and how they were sick of the old gang and would have no leader but
Alexander Quisanté; of the prosperity of the Alethea, how the shares
rose, how big orders came in, how utterly poor old Maturin had blundered.
He spoke like a strong man with a wealth of years and store-houses of
force, who sees life stretched long before him, material to be shaped by
his hand and forced into what he will make it. He talked low and fast,
his eyes again roaming over the prospect; the evening fell while he still
talked. Almost it seemed then that the doctors were wrong, that his
courage was no folly, that indeed he would not die. O for the faith to
believe that! For his spell was on her again now, and now she would not
have him die. Once again he had his desire; once more her heart beat and
her eyes gleamed for him. But then it came on her, with a sudden fierce
light of conviction, that all this was hollow, useless, vain, that the
sentence was written and the doom pronounced. No pleading however
eloquent could alter it. Quisanté was stopped in mid-career by a short
sharp sob that escaped from his wife's lips. He turned and looked at her,
breaking off the sentence that he had begun. She met his glance with a
frightened look in her eyes.

"What's the matter?" he asked slowly, rather resentfully.

"Nothing, nothing," she stammered. "I--I was excited by what you were
saying." She tried to laugh. "I'm emotional, you know, and you can always
rouse my emotions."

"Was it that?" For a moment longer he sat upright, looking hard at her;
then his body relaxed, and he lay back, his lower lip dropping and his
eyes half closed. An expression of great weariness and despair came over
him. He had read the meaning of her sob; and now he hid his face in his
hands. His pretences failed him, and he was assailed by the bitterness of
truth and of death.

She rose, saying, "It's late, we must go in; you'll be over-tired."

After an instant Quisanté rose slowly and falteringly; he laid his arm in
hers, and they stood side by side, gazing down into the valley. This hill
had come to mean much in their lives, and somehow now they seemed to be
saying good-bye to it.

"I could never forget this hill," she said, "any more than I could forget
you. You told me just now that I didn't love you. Well, as you mean it,
perhaps not. But you've been almost everything in the world to me.
Everything in the world isn't all good, but it's--everything." She turned
to him suddenly and kissed him on the cheek. "Lean on me as we go down
the hill," she said. There was pity and tenderness in the words and the
tone. But Quisanté drew his arm sharply away and braced his body to
uprightness.

"I'm not tired. I can go quite well by myself. You look more tired than I
do," he said. "Come, we shall be late," and he set off down the hill at a
brisk pace.

Her appeal then had failed; this last little incident told her that with
unpitying plainness. If he had yielded for a moment before the face of
reality, he soon recovered himself, turned away from the sight, and went
back to his masquerading. She lacked the power to lead him from it, and
again she feared that she lacked the power because her will was not
sincere and single. Now they must go on to that uncertain end, he playing
his part before the world, before her and Aunt Maria, she looking on,
sometimes in admiration, sometimes in contempt, always in fear of the
moment when the actor's speeches would be suddenly cut short and the
curtain, falling on the interrupted scene, hide him for ever from the
audience whom he had made wondering applauding partners in his
counterfeit. The last of his life was to be like the rest of it, with the
same elements of tragedy and of farce, of what attracted and of what
revolted, of the great and the little. It was to be like in another way
too; it was to be lived alone, without any true companion for his soul,
without the love that he had not asked except of one, and, asking of that
one, had not obtained. As the days went on, the fascination of the
spectacle she watched grew on her; it was more poignant now than in the
former time, and it filled all her life. Thus in some sort Alexander
Quisanté had his way; his hold on her was not relaxed, his dominion over
her not abrogated, to the end of his life he would be what she told him
he had been--almost everything. When the end came, what would he be? The
question crossed her thoughts, but found no answer; some day it would
fall to be answered. Now she could only watch and wait, half persuaded
that the pretence was no pretence, yet always dreading the summons of
reality to end the play. So the world asked in vain what May Quisanté was
thinking of, whether she wanted to kill him, or whether she thought him
above all laws. A puzzle to the world and a puzzle to her friends, she
waited for the falling of the blow which Quisanté daily challenged.

Sir Rufus Beaming met Dr. Claud Manton at the Athenaeum and showed him a
newspaper paragraph.

"To address a great meeting at Henstead!" said Manton, raising his brows
and shaping his lips for a whistle. "'From his own and neighbouring
constituencies.'"

"He might just as well take chloroform comfortably by his fireside," said
Sir Rufus. "It would be a little quicker, perhaps, but not a bit more
sure."

And again they washed their hands of the whole affair very solemnly.



                             CHAPTER XIX.

                            DEATH DEFIED.


Constantine Blair, no less active and soon little less serene in
opposition than in power, felt himself more than justified in all that he
had ever said about Weston Marchmont when he received an intimation of
Marchmont's intention to apply for the Chiltern Hundreds. Yet he was
aghast at this voluntary retirement into the wilderness of private life,
a life without bustle, without gossip, without that sense of being
intimate with the march of affairs and behind the scenes of the national
theatre. There were reasons assigned, of course. One was that Marchmont
found himself ("I'll bet he does!" groaned Constantine with anticipatory
resignation) more in agreement with the other side than with his own on
an important question of foreign politics then to the front. But this
state of matters had ceased to be unusual with him and hardly in itself
accounted for the step he was now taking. The care of his estate was the
second reason, properly dismissed as plainly frivolous. In the end of the
letter more sincerity peeped out, as the writer lapsed from formality
into friendship. "I know I shall surprise many people and grieve some,
but I'm sick of the thing. I can't endure the perpetual haggling between
what I ought to do and what I'm expected to do; the compromises that
result satisfy me as little as anybody. In fine, my dear Constantine, I'm
going back to my pictures, my books, my hills, and my friends." Constantine
read with a genuine sorrow and criticised with a contemptuous sniff.
Pictures, books--and hills! Hills! It was insulting his intelligence. And
though friends were all very well, yet where was the use of them if a man
deprived himself of all the sources of entertaining conversation? But
there was nothing to be done--except to tell Lady Castlefort a day before
the rest of the world knew. Constantine held her favour on that tenure.
She showed no surprise.

"A loss to the country, but not to us," she said.

"Just what I think," agreed Constantine, with a revival of cheerfulness.

"If I hadn't known him since he was so high, I'd wish he had the
what-do-you-call-it seizures instead of the other man."

"But Quisanté's not going, he means to hold on," said Constantine. "I'm
glad of it. Henstead's very shaky. But we shall hold Marchmont's seat all
right. We're going to put up Dick Benyon."

"He's safe enough, he won't worry you," said Lady Castlefort. "You'll
have to fight Henstead before long, all the same. The man'll die, you
know."

"Think so?" asked Constantine uneasily.

"And he will be a loss--a loss to us, whatever one may think about the
country." Constantine looked troubled. "Oh, it's not your business to
think about the country--or mine either, thank goodness," she added
rather irritably. She was more distressed about Weston Marchmont than she
chose to tell; and it was impossible not to be annoyed at the perversity.
Of the two men whom she had singled out for greatness one might go on but
would not, the other asked nothing but to be allowed to go on, and found
refusal at the hands of fate. There was another thing in her thoughts
too. She had a strong belief in hostesses, natural to her, perhaps not
unreasonable. In either of two events she had foreseen an ideal hostess
for the party in the woman she still thought of as May Gaston. There was
no need to detail the two events; suffice it to say that, whichever of
them now happened, it appeared that May Gaston would not be able to
figure as a great hostess; at least there would have to rise for her some
star not yet visible in the heavens.

Marchmont and May had neither met nor written to one another since their
talk under the tree at Ashwood. He had not doubted that she would
understand silence and like silence best; from him any word seemed
impossible. But on the day when his determination was made public he
received a summons from her and at once obeyed it. He found her alone,
though she told him that she expected Quisanté back from the City in a
little while.

"He wants to see you," she said. "I don't know why, unless it's just as a
curiosity." She smiled for a moment. "I'm sorry you find you can't stand
it," she went on.

"You understand? You've been in that state of mind or pretty near it, I
know."

"Yes, pretty near at times, but I'm not as honest as you. I may see all
you see, but I should always go on." She glanced at him. "I'm more like
my husband than I'm like you," she ended.

"I don't believe that," he said gravely.

"I know you don't, but it's true. I daresay you never will understand it,
because of the other May Gaston you've made for yourself. But it's true.
And you know what he is. He's ready to give body and soul--Oh, I'm not
just using a phrase--body and soul to keep the things that you've given
up for your hills. How scornful your hills made Constantine Blair!"

"Are you importing metaphorical meanings into my hills?" he asked,
sitting down near her.

"Yes," she answered. "Mr. Blair didn't, but I do."

"Perhaps it was rather a silly thing to say."

"No, I don't think so."

"I mean to Constantine."

"Oh, well then, perhaps it was," she admitted, smiling. "But that's all
consistent, isn't it? You couldn't trim your sails to suit the breeze
even in a letter like that."

"Are you rebuking me? Are you contemptuous? What are you?" He leant back
and looked at her, smiling.

"If my husband would do what you've done, he might live," she said.

Marchmont nodded gravely; it was easy to see the odd way in which his
action fitted into the drama of her life.

"But we've no hills," she went on. "You leave London--all London
means--to wander on hills, high glorious hills; he'd leave it for a
villa, a small villa at a seaside place."

"Metaphors again?"

"It comes easier to talk in them sometimes. And I--I'm of my husband's
way of thinking."

"I don't believe it," he said again, but looking at her now with a little
touch of doubt.

"You'll never come back, will you?" she asked.

"Never," said he with a quiet certainty.

She rose with a restless sigh and walked to the fireplace.

"I couldn't," he went on. "I'm not fit for it; that's the end of the
matter. Use your own term of abuse. I shall hear plenty of them."

"I don't want to abuse you," she said. She walked quickly over to him,
gave him her hand for a moment, and then returned to her place. "But it
makes me feel rather strange to you." She looked full at him with a plain
distress in her eyes, and her voice shook a little. "I'm coming to feel
more strange towards you," she went on. "I thought we had got nearer at
Ashwood, we did for the moment. But now I'm farther off again."

"I would have you always very near," he said in low tones, his eyes
saying more than his lips.

"I know. And perhaps you've had thoughts----" She paused before she added,
"Alexander's quite set on his course, nothing will stop him--except the
thing that I expect to stop him. You know what I mean?"

Marchmont nodded again.

"And he's doing it a good deal because of me. I wonder if you understand
that?"

"I don't know that I do."

"No; he knows more of me than you do."

She became silent, and he, watching her, was silent too. What was this
strangeness of which she spoke? He felt it too but without understanding
it. It caused in him a vague discomfort, an apprehension that some
obstacle was between them, something more than any external hindrance, a
thing which might perhaps remain though all external hindrance were
removed. Her last words both puzzled and wounded him with their
implication of a deeper sympathy between Quisanté and herself than
existed or could exist between her and him. That he did not understand,
and could not without giving up his own idea of her, the May Gaston
which, as she said, he had made for himself. Was his image gone indeed?
Had Alexander Quisanté's chisel altered the features beyond recognition
and till true identity was gone? Yet Alexander Quisanté was the man who
had put on her the shame for which she had sobbed under the tree on that
evening at Ashwood. Before such a seeming contradiction his penetration
stood baffled. She had said then that her present life would, she
supposed, go on right to the end, and had said it as though the prospect
were unendurable; now a new and to him unnatural resignation seemed to
have come upon her, just when her present life had shown that it was not
likely to go on right to the end.

"I've prayed my husband to give up," she said, "I don't beg you not to
give up. To begin with, you wouldn't listen to me any more than he did.
And then, I suppose, you're right for yourself."

"You're about the only person who'll say so."

"I daresay. I've learnt about you in learning about myself. And I can
feel it just as you do--Oh, how intolerably strongly sometimes!" She
added with a smile, "We've only just missed suiting one another," and
then, "Yes, but we have missed, you know."

"I don't believe it," he persisted, struggling to throw off the new doubt
she was thrusting into his mind. His thought was that, once she got free
of her husband, she would indeed be his. That he must hold to. It was
Quisanté, not she herself, who made her now feel strange to him; and
Quisanté's spell was not to last; her quiet certitude that her husband's
days were numbered carried conviction to him also. "But I won't talk any
more about it now," he said.

"No, it seems inhuman," she agreed. "I spend all my days cheating myself
into a hope that he'll get better. I know you don't like him, but if you
lived with him as I do, you'd come to hope as I do. Yes, in spite of all
you know about us; and you know more than anybody alive. I've not been
so--so disloyal--to anybody else." She smiled as she quoted the word
against him.

"One must admire him," said Marchmont.

May Quisanté laughed at his tone almost scornfully. "The way you say that
shows how little you understand," she exclaimed. "It's not a bit like
that." She took a step nearer to him. "When it comes," she said slowly,
"I shan't shed a single tear, but I shall feel that my life's over. He'll
have had it all."

"God forbid you should feel anything like that," he said, looking up at
her.

She laughed again, asking bitterly, "Does God forbid what Alexander
wants--except one thing? And what I tell you is what he would want. He
would want to have had it all."

He raised his hand in protest.

"You're right; we won't talk any more," she said. "But don't think that
it's all only because I'm overwrought, or something feminine of that
kind. It's the truth. When it comes, Aunt Maria'll die and I shall live;
but the difference won't be as great as it sounds."

This time he was about to speak, but she stopped him, saying, "No, no
more now. Tell me about Dick Benyon. He's to have your seat, isn't he?"

"Yes, I'm gathered to my fathers, and Dick reigns in my stead."

"You're sorry?" she asked, forgetting Dick and coming back again to the
man before her.

"Yes; but I accept the inevitable and contrive to be quite cheerful about
it."

"We don't do either of those things. Hark, I hear my husband's step."

Quisanté ran quickly up the stairs and burst into the room. His face was
alight with animation, and before greeting Marchmont he cried, "I've
carried it, I've brought them round. We attack all along the line, and I
open the ball at Henstead next week! They'll be out in six months, and I
shall----" Suddenly he paused. "They'll be out in six months," he said
again.

Marchmont rose and shook hands, "It doesn't matter to me now if they
are," he said, laughing. "Blair's troubles and mine are both over now."

"I know," nodded Quisanté. "Well, I suppose you know best. But hasn't May
been trying to convert you?"

"No, I haven't tried to convert him," she said. "I'm not going to try to
convert people any more."

After this she fell into silence, listening and watching while the two
men talked. Talk between them could never be intimate and could hardly be
even easy, but they interested one another to-day. On Quisanté's face
especially there was a look of searching, of wonder, of a kind of
protest. Once he flung himself back and stared at his guest with a fixity
of gaze painful to see. But he said nothing of what was passing in his
mind. At last Marchmont turned to May again.

"I shall hear of you at Henstead," he said. "I'm going to pay the
Mildmays a visit. I suppose, as you're on the war-path, you won't come
over?"

"I might," she said, "if we were there long enough. I expect Alexander
mustn't. Friendship with the enemy is not always appreciated."

"Oh, I might go," Quisanté remarked. "The Alethea's an admirable excuse."
He spoke with a laugh but then, glancing at his wife, saw her face flush.
He turned to Marchmont and found him rising to his feet. Much puzzled,
Quisanté looked again from one to the other, noting the sudden constraint
that had fallen on them. What had he said? What was there in the mention
of the Alethea to disturb a conversation so harmonious? That there was
something his quick wit told him in a moment. While Marchmont said
good-bye to May he stood by, frowning a little, and then escorted his
guest downstairs. While he was away his wife stood quite still in the
middle of the room, a little flushed and breathing rather quickly.

Quisanté came back, sat down, and took up a newspaper. May sat in her
usual chair, doing nothing. Presently he asked, "Did I say anything
wrong?"

"No. But I'd rather you didn't talk about the Alethea when Mr. Marchmont
is with us." He looked up in, surprise. "It embarrasses me--and him too."

"Embarrasses you? Why should it?"

"There's no use in my telling you."

"I can't see why it should embarrass you. Pray tell me."

She sat silent for a moment or two. "It's no good," she said, looking
over to him with a forlorn smile. He moved his hand impatiently. "Very
well. At dinner at Ashwood, on the night you were taken ill, somebody
talked about the Alethea and said Professor Maturin had told him there
was a fatal defect in it. He hadn't seen the prospectus. And I----" She
paused a moment. "I had to back up your version." Again she broke off for
a moment. "And after dinner Mr. Marchmont talked to me; and I cried about
it. So, you see, references are embarrassing."

After a pause of a minute or two Quisanté said, "Cried about it? About
what?"

She raised her eyes, looked at him a moment, and said simply, "About
having to tell a lie to them." And she added with a sudden quiver in her
voice, "I've known them all my life."

"Maturin was quite wrong. There's absolutely no doubt about that now."

"Was he?" she asked listlessly.

"What did you say?"

"That he'd expressed a favourable opinion about it to you. I kept to the
prospectus. Oh, there's no use talking. It's only with Mr. Marchmont that
it matters. I can't keep it up before him, because he found me crying,
you know."

"Crying!" murmured Quisanté. "Crying!" She nodded at him, with the same
faint smile on her lips. The silence seemed very long as she looked at
him and he gazed straight before him, the forgotten paper falling with a
rustle from his knees on to the floor.

"You never told me," he said at last.

"Why should I? What was the good of telling you?"

"It was on the night of my--when I was taken ill?"

"Yes. The telegram came later in the evening. Don't bother about it now,
Alexander."

"Did you hope it meant I was dead?"

For a moment she sat still; then she sprang up, ran across the room, and
fell on her knees before him, grasping his arms in her hands. "No, no,
no, I didn't. Indeed, indeed, I didn't."

He sat still in her clasp, looking intently in her face. His was hard and
sneering.

"Yes, you did. You wished me dead. By God, you wish me dead now. Well,
you can wait a little. I shall be dead soon." With a sudden rough
movement he freed himself from her hands and pushed her away. "I suppose
wives often wish their husbands dead, but they don't tell them so quite
so plainly."

"It's not true, I've never told you so."

"Oh, I'm not a fool. I don't need to have it spelt out for me in
syllables."

She rose slowly to her feet, and, turning, went back to her own chair.
Quisanté sat where he was, quite motionless. She could not endure to look
at him and, rising, went and stood by the window, looking out on the
river she loved. This moment was in strange contrast with their talk on
Duty Hill; the two together summed up her married life and the nature of
the man she had married. But it was not true that she wished him dead;
not true now, at all events, even though the charge he brought against
her of its having been so once might have some truth in it. For if ever
that thought had crept into her mind as a dreaded shameful wish, it was
when she seemed able to look forward to a new life. It seemed to her now
that no new life was possible; that impression had grown and grown while
she talked with Weston Marchmont, and it pressed upon her now with the
weight of conviction.

She heard her husband get up and go out of the room; his steps sounded
going upstairs, in the direction of his study. She went and drew the
chair up to the hearthrug, and sat down, resting her elbows on the arms
and holding her head between her hands. It was very wanton that a chance
allusion of his should have brought about this scene between them.
Perhaps she could have put him off with excuses, but that had not
occurred to her. The scene had told her nothing new, but it had torn away
the last of the veil from before his eyes. He had known that she
disapproved, he had even braved her disapproval when he could not
hoodwink or evade it. It was a little strange that he should be moved to
such a transport of bitterness by hearing that she had cried over telling
a lie for him. Yet that was it; she was sure that he had not cared
whether Marchmont saw her crying or not. The tears themselves made him
think that she had wished him dead, yes, that she still wished him dead.

He must not die thinking that. She started across the room towards the
door, at a quick step; it was in her mind to follow him and tell him
again that it was not true, that he would ruin and empty her life if he
died, that there was no man in the world who could be what he was to her.
But her impulse failed her; he would sneer again. There was one thing
that would drive away his sneer if she said it and got him to believe
it--that she loved him as he loved her. Well, she couldn't tell him that,
and he would not believe her if she did. She stopped and returned to her
chair. She leant back now, resting her head on the cushion. The afternoon
grew old, and a gleam of sinking sun, escaping from the grey red-edged
clouds that hung over the river, troubled her eyes; she closed them and
reclined in stillness. She felt very tired, worn out with the stress of
it, with the conflict and the strain. Strange notions, half fancies, half
dreams, began to flit through her mind. She saw the end come in many
ways, now while they were alone together, now in some public place, even
in the House, or while he addressed his shareholders. She seemed to hear
the buzz of talk that followed the event, the wonder at him, the blame of
her; she saw poor old Aunt Maria's trembling hands and hopeless face.
Presently, as she fell into an unquiet drowsiness, she seemed to see even
beyond the end, as though the end were no end and he were with her still,
his spirit being about her, enveloping her, still wrapping her round so
that the rest of the world was kept away and she was still with him,
though she could not see him nor hear his voice. For her alone he existed
now. Soon the rest who had wondered and praised and blamed and gossipped
forgot about him; they had no more attention to give him, no more
flattery, no more allegiance. For them he had ceased to exist. Only for
her he went on existing still, nay, it seemed that it was through her
that he clung to the life he had loved, and was even now not dead because
he lived in and through her. And sometimes--she shivered in her broken
sleep, for she had not the love which would have made the dream all
joy--he became more than a spirit or an impalpable presence; he was again
almost corporeal, almost to be felt and touched, almost a living man.
Shrinking and fearing, yet she was glad; she welcomed his exemption from
the grave and abetted him in his rebellion against death; and for her
that restless spirit almost clothed itself again in flesh.

She sat up with a great start and a low cry. Her hand had been hanging
over the arm of the chair, it had grown cold; now it was held in another
cold hand, and it was raised. Awake but thinking she still dreamed, she
waited in mingled fear and anticipation. Cold lips pressed her hand. She
dreamed then, and in her dream he came from the grave to kiss her hand.
He came not only back to the world where he had triumphed, he came also
to the woman he had loved, who had not loved him. Again the kiss came
cold on her hand. She fell back with a sudden sob, not knowing whether
terror or repulsion or joy, held greater, sway in her. The kisses covered
her hand. Ah, the marvel! They grew living, they were warm now and
passionate. This was not a dead man's kiss. With a second cry she turned
her head. Quisanté himself knelt by her, kissing her hand. His eyes rose
to hers, and she cried, "It is you! You're not dead! Thank God, thank
God!"

His eyes were gleaming in the strong excitement of his heart; he knew how
he had found her.

"No, not dead, not dead yet," he said. "But by heaven, when I am dead, I
won't leave you. I can't leave you. As I kiss your hand now, so will I
kiss it always, and with my soul I will worship you. But neither now nor
then will I kiss your lips."

"You won't kiss my lips?"

"No. They have lied for me; I won't stain them any more."

For a moment she looked at him. Then she caught her hand away and flung
her arms round his neck. She kissed him on his lips, crying, "For good or
evil, for good or evil, but always, always, always!" Then she drew away,
and, with her arms still round his neck, she broke into her low laugh:
"Oh, but how like you to make that little speech about my lips!"



                             CHAPTER XX.

                      THE QUIET LIFE TO-MORROW.


Old Miss Quisanté was not as sympathetic as might have been wished. She
acquiesced indeed (as who would not?) in the new programme of at least a
year's complete rest; she offered to find funds--happily it was not
necessary, since the sale of some Alethea shares at a handsome premium
supplied them; she admitted that May had done her duty in persuading her
husband to yield a limited obedience to his doctors' orders. But she
looked disappointed, uninterested, dull; she awoke only for a sparkle of
malice, when she remarked how happy they would be together in the
country, with nothing to disturb them, nothing but just their two selves.

"Not as unhappy as you think," said May, smiling.

"All nonsense, I call it," pursued the old lady. "Sandro knew best; now
you've put notions into his head. Oh, I daresay you were bound to, my
dear."

"How can you be so blind?" murmured May. Aunt Maria shook her head
derisively; she was not blind, it was the wife and the doctors who were
blind. "You're not to say that sort of thing to Alexander," May went on
imperiously. Aunt Maria put her head on one side and smiled sardonically.

"You used to agree with me," she said. "Has the Mildmay woman been here
again?"

"No; she's at home. We shall see her perhaps at Henstead."

"Henstead! What are you going there for?"

"And you said you knew Alexander!" laughed May. "You don't suppose he's
going into retirement without a display of fireworks? The Henstead speech
is to be made. Then we put up the shutters--for a year at least, as I
say."

"That's something. Is he interested in it?"

"Oh, yes, working all day. But he's wonderfully well. I've never seen him
better." She hesitated and laughed a little. "How shall we ever stick to
our year?" she asked. "He means it now and I mean it. But----"

"You won't do it," said Aunt Maria emphatically. "Nobody could keep
Sandro quiet for a year!"

"Don't tell me that. We're going to try."

"Oh, I won't interfere, my dear. Try away. After all he'll be young
still, and they won't forget him in a year. Or if they do, he'll soon
make them remember him again."

The buoyant confidence was hard to resist. It seemed to grow greater in
face of all reason, and more and more to fill the old woman's mind as she
herself descended towards the grave which she scorned as a possibility
for Sandro. For now she was very small and frail, thin and yellow; she
too, like her nephew, seemed to hold on to life rather because she chose
of her arbitrary will, than thanks to any physical justification that she
could adduce. Could Quisanté not only make himself live but make Aunt
Maria live too? Full of the influence of that last great moment, May,
laughing at herself, yet hesitated to answer "No." But the year was to be
tried, lest, if die he must, he should die to please her or thinking that
she wanted him to die. He did not think now that she wanted that; she was
happier with him than she had ever been before. She had found a new
indulgence for him, even for what she had hated in him. Justice would
have turned to harshness, clearness of vision to a Pharisaic strictness,
had she not found indulgence for the man who had crept back to kiss her
hand. She was very indulgent towards him, and he seemed happy, save that
now and then he looked at her wistfully, and began to fall into the way
of reminding her of past occasions when he had shone and she admired,
asking whether she remembered this and that. He dropped hints too that
the Henstead speech was to be memorable. She was a little afraid that
already he was feeling indulgence insufficient and mere kindness, or
indeed mere affection, not the great thing that he asked of her, just as
peace and quiet, or pictures, books, and hills, were not the things that
he asked of life. If this were so, the compromise she had brought him to
consent to was precarious; it was, as she had hinted to Aunt Maria,
doubtful whether they could stick to their year.

There was another question in her mind, not less persistent, not less
troubling. Perhaps the greater harmony between them, which had induced
and enabled her to obtain that consent from him, was as precarious as the
compromise itself; it too was liable to be overthrown by a return of
Quisanté's old self, or at least of that side of him which was for the
time hidden. The temptation to work would overthrow the compromise, the
temptation to win might again produce action in him and impose action on
her which would bring death to their newly-achieved harmony, even as
exertion would to his worn-out body.

The great speech, the last speech, was to be on Wednesday. They arrived
in Henstead on Tuesday morning and were plunged at once into a turmoil of
business. There was a luncheon, a deputation, a meeting of the party
association; Japhet Williams had half a dozen difficulties, and old
Foster as many bits of shrewd counsel. Over all and through all was the
air of congratulation, of relief from the fear of losing Quisanté, of
enthusiastic applause for his magnificently courageous struggle against
illness and its triumphant issue. When May hinted at a period of
rest--the full extent of it was not disclosed--Foster nodded tolerantly,
Japhet said times were critical, and the rest declared that they would
not flog a willing horse, but knew that Mr. Quisanté would do his duty.
Unquestionably Henstead's effect was bad, both for the compromise and for
Quisanté. Minute by minute May saw how the old fascination grew on him,
how more and more he forgot that this was to be the last effort, that it
was an end, not a beginning. He gave pledges of action, he would not
positively decline engagements, he talked as though he would be in his
place in Parliament throughout the session. While doing all this he
avoided meeting her eye; he would have found nothing worse than pity
touched with amusement. But he kept declaring to her, when they had a
chance of being alone, that he was loyal to their compact. "Though it's
pretty hard," he added with a renewal of his bitterness against the fate
that constrained him.

"We ought never to have come," she said. "It makes it worse. I wish we
hadn't."

"Wait till you've heard me to-morrow night," he whispered, pressing her
hand and looking into her eyes with the glee of anticipated triumph.

He was going to make a great speech, she knew that very well; there were
all the signs about him, the glee, the pride, the occasional absence of
mind, the frequent appeal for sympathy, the need of a confidence to
answer and confirm his own. Such a mood, in spite of its element of
childishness, was yet a good one with him. It raised him above pettiness
and made him impatient of old Foster's cunning little devices for
capturing an enemy or confirming the allegiance of a doubtful friend. He
had for the time forgotten himself in his work, the position in what he
meant to do with it; he would have delivered that speech now if the price
had been the loss of his seat; whatever the price was, that speech now
would have its way, all of it, whole and unimpaired, even the passage on
which Foster was consulted with the result that its suppression was
declared imperative in view of Japhet Williams' feelings. "Damn Japhet
Williams," said Quisanté with a laugh, and Quisanté's wife found herself
wishing that he would "damn" a few more men and things. It was just the
habit that he wanted, just the thing that Marchmont and Dick Benyon and
men like them had. Oh, if he could win and keep it!

"He must consider local feeling," said old Foster, pinching a fat chin in
fear and doubt.

"No, he needn't, no, he needn't now," she cried. "He'll carry it with
him, whatever he does now. Don't you see? He can take them all with him
now. Wait till you've heard him to-morrow night!"

Here was happiness for her and for him, but where else? Not in the
compromise, not in the year of quiet. It seemed to be for this that they
had come together, in this that they could help one another, feel with
one another, be really at one. And this could not be. The tears stood in
May Quisanté's eyes as she turned away from the pleasant shrewd old
schemer; his picture should stand no more on the mantelpiece. But now it
seemed again strange and incredible that this, the great career, could
not be; Aunt Maria's was the creed for a time like this.

The great night came, and a great crowd in the Corn Exchange. Old Foster
was in the chair and the place seemed full of familiar faces; the butcher
who was troubled about slaughter-houses sat side by side with the man who
was uneasy about his deceased wife's sister; Japhet Williams was on the
platform and his men sat in close ranks at the back of the hall, they and
Dunn's contingent hard-by smoking their pipes as the custom was at
Henstead. There were other faces, not so usual; for far away, in a
purposely chosen obscurity, May saw Weston Marchmont and the Dean of St.
Neot's. The Mildmays themselves could not be present, but these two had
come over from Moors End and sat there now, the Dean beaming in
anticipation of a treat, Marchmont with a rather supercilious smile and
an air of weariness. May could not catch their eyes but she felt glad to
have them there; it was always pleasant to her that her friends should
see Quisanté when he was at his best, and he was going to be at his best
to-night.

"We are rejoiced to welcome our Member back among us in good health and
strength again," old Foster began, quite in the Aunt Maria style, and he
went on to describe the grief caused by Quisanté's illness and the joy
now felt at the prospect of his being able to render services to his
Queen, his country, and his constituency no less long than valuable and
brilliant. Quisanté listened with a smile, gently tapping the table with
his fingers. May turned from him to seek again her friends' faces in the
hall; this time she met their gaze; they were both looking at her with
pitying eyes; the instant they saw her glance, they avoided it. What did
that mean? It meant that they were not of Aunt Maria's party. The kindly
compassionate look of those two men went to her heart; it brought back
reality and pierced through the pretence, the grand pretence, which
everybody, herself included, had been weaving. An impulse of fear laid
hold of her; involuntarily she put out her hand towards Foster who had
just finished his speech and was sitting down. She meant to tell him to
stop the meeting, to send the people home, to help her to persuade
Quisanté to go back to the hotel and not to speak. Foster looked round to
see what she wanted, but at the moment Quisanté was already on his feet.
"It's nothing," May whispered, withdrawing her hand. It was too late now,
the thing must go forward now, whatever the end of it might be, whatever
the friendly pity of those eyes might seem to say. To-morrow quiet would
begin; but she had a new, strange, intense terror of to-night. This
feeling lasted through the early part of Quisanté's speech, when he was
still in a quiet vein and showed some signs of physical weakness. But as
he went on it vanished and in its place came the old faith and the old
illusion. For he gathered force, he put out his strength, he exhaled
vitality. Again she sought her friends' faces and marked with joy and
triumph that their eyes were now set on the speaker and their attention
held firmly, as the fine resonant voice filled the building and seemed to
resent the confinement of its walls, or even more when a whisper, heard
only by a miracle as she thought, thrilled even the most distant
listener. The speech was being all that it had been going to be, his
confidence and hers were to be justified. The pronouncement that the
country waited for was coming, the fighting men were to get the lead they
wanted, the attack was sounded, the battle was being opened to the sound
of a trumpet-call. May leant forward, listening. A period reached its
close, and applause delayed the beginning of the next. Quisanté glanced
round and saw his wife; their eyes met; a slow smile came on his lips, a
smile of great delight. Once more her heart beat and her eyes gleamed for
him, once more she would be no man's if she could not be his. His air was
gay and his face joyful as, the next minute, he threw himself into a
flood of eloquence where indignation mingled with ridicule; he made men
doubt whether they must laugh or fight. Now he had all that he desired,
men hung on his words, and she sat by, and saw, and felt, and shared.

At the next pause, when the cheering again imposed a momentary silence,
the Dean turned to Marchmont, raising his hands and dropping them again.

"Yes, he can do it," said Marchmont in a curious tone; envy and scorn and
admiration all seemed to find expression.

"Look at her!" whispered the Dean, but this time Marchmont made no
answer. He had been looking at her, and knew now why she had tied her
life to Alexander Quisanté's.

"If I could do it like that I couldn't stop doing it," said the Dean.

"He never will as long as he lives," answered Marchmont with a shrug of
his shoulders.

"But he won't live?" whispered the Dean. "You mean that?"

The applause ended; there was no need for Marchmont to answer, even if he
could have found an answer. Quisanté took up his work again. He was near
the end now, an hour and a quarter had passed. May's eyes never left him;
he was going to get through, she thought, and she had no thought now of
the compromise or the year of quiet, no thought except of his triumph
that to-morrow would ring through the land. He paused an instant, whether
in faltering or for effect she could not tell, and then began his
peroration. It was short, but he gave every word slowly, apart, as it
were in a place of its own, in the sure and superb confidence that every
word had its own office, its own weight, and its own effect. But before
he ended there came one interruption. Suddenly, as though moved by an
impulse foreign to himself, old Foster pushed back his chair and rose to
his feet; after an instant the whole audience imitated him. Quisanté
paused and looked round; again he smiled; then, taking a step forward to
clear himself of those who surrounded him, he went on. Thus he ended his
speech, he standing, to men and women one and all standing about and
before him.

"I never saw such a thing," whispered the Dean of St. Neot's. But his
words were lost in the cheers, and Weston Marchmont's "Bravo" rang out so
loud that May Quisanté heard it on the platform and bent forward to kiss
her hand to him.

In the tea-room, to which all the important persons withdrew after the
meeting, festivity reigned. Quisanté was surrounded by admirers, busy
listening to compliments and congratulations, and receiving the advice of
the local wise men. May did not attempt to get near him, but surrendered
herself to a like process. Old Foster came up to her and shook hands,
saying, "I'm proud to have had a hand in making Mr. Quisanté member for
Henstead. You were right too; he can say what he likes now."

Then came Japhet Williams' thin voice. "I hope it won't be many days
before Mr. Quisanté tells the House of Commons what he's told us
to-night."

Should she say that he would not tell anything to the House of Commons
for many days, probably not ever, that his voice would not be heard
there? They would not believe her, she hardly would believe herself. In
that hour illness and retirement seemed dim and distant, unreal and a
little ludicrous. She abandoned herself to the temptation pressed upon
her and talked as though her husband were to lead all through the
campaign that he had opened.

"I never saw him looking better in my life," said Foster.

As he spoke a short thick-set man with grey hair pushed by him. Old
Foster caught him by the wrist, crying with a laugh, "Why, Doctor, what
are you doing here? You're one of the enemy!"

"I came to hear the speech."

"A good'un, eh?"

"Never mind the speech. Take me over to Mr. Quisanté--now, directly."

"What for?"

"He must go home."

"Go home? Nonsense. He's all right."

Dr. Tillman wrenched his hand away, shook his head scornfully, and
started across the room toward where Quisanté was. May laid her hand on
old Foster's arm.

"What did he say? Does he think my husband ill?"

"I don't know. It's all nonsense."

Another voice broke in.

"A triumph, Lady May, a triumph indeed!"

She turned to find the Dean and Marchmont close behind her, and the Dean
holding out his hand as he spoke.

"Yes, yes," she said hurriedly and uncomfortably. "It was fine, wasn't
it?"

"It was magnificent," said Marchmont.

"Thanks, thanks." Her tone was still hurried, absent, ungracious. The two
looked at her in surprise. Where was the radiance of triumph that had lit
up her face as she signalled to them from the platform? They had expected
to find her full of the speech and had been prepared to give her joy by
the warmth and sincerity of their praise.

"What's the matter?" whispered Marchmont.

"Do you see that short man, the one with grey hair, trying to get near
Alexander It's the doctor--Dr. Tillman. He can't get near Alexander."

"What does he want?"

"I don't know. He thinks he ought to go home. He thinks--Ah, now he's
getting to him! Look! He's speaking to him now!"

They saw the doctor come up to Quisanté and Quisanté smile as he waited
for the visitor to introduce himself. The doctor began to speak quickly
and energetically. "Oh, thank you very much, but I'm all right," came
suddenly in loud clear tones from Quisanté. The doctor spoke again.
Quisanté shook his head, laughing merrily. Marchmont looked at May; her
eyes were on her husband and they were full of fear. "I'd forgotten," he
heard her murmur. She turned to him with an imploring air. "He won't
listen," she said.

A burst of laughter came from Quisanté's group; he had made some joke and
they all applauded him. Tillman stood for a moment longer before him,
then gave a queer jerk of his head, and turned sharp round on his heel.
He came back towards where she stood. She took a step forward and thus
crossed his path, Marchmont and the Dean standing on either side of her.

"You remember me, Dr. Tillman?" she asked. "I'm Mr. Quisanté's wife, you
know."

He stood still, looking at her angrily from under his bushy eyebrows.

"Take him home then," he said sharply. "It was madness to let him come
here at all. You're flying in the face of the advice you've had. Oh, I
know about it. Let me tell you, you're very lucky to have got through so
far."

"We--we're through all right now," she said.

"Are you? I hope so. The man's in a high state of excitement now, and
high states of excitement aren't good for him." He paused and added
impatiently, "Have you no influence over him? Can none of you do anything
with him?"

"He won't like it if I go to him," May whispered.

"I'll go," said the Dean, stepping forward.

"Yes," said Tillman, "go and tell him Lady May Quisanté wants him."

The Dean started off on his errand. The doctor's manner grew a little
gentler.

"You couldn't be expected to know," he said. "But in a thing like this
you mustn't think he's all right because he looks all right. He'll look
his best just at the time when there's most--well, when he isn't. I hope
he's going to keep quiet after this?"

"Yes, yes. At least we've arranged that. Weston, do go and bring him to
me."

"Look, he's coming now with the Dean."

Quisanté's group opened, and he began to move towards them. But at every
step somebody stopped him, to shake hands and to say a few words of
thanks or praise. The Dean kept urging him on gently, but he would not be
hurried.

"Now take him straight home," said Tillman. "Good-night." And hardly
waiting for May's bow he turned away and disappeared among the throng
that was making for the door.

Quisanté, at last escaping from his admirers, came up to his wife. His
eyes were very bright, and he ran to her, holding out both his hands. She
put hers in his and said, "We must go home. You'll be worn out."

"Worn out? Not I! But you look worn out. Come along. Ah, Marchmont, this
is a compliment indeed."

They were almost alone in the room now. May took her husband's arm and
they walked thus together.

"Are you pleased?" he whispered.

"Am I pleased!" she said with the laugh he knew and an upward glance of
her eyes. Quisanté himself laughed and drew himself to his full height,
carrying his head defiantly. For though he sought and loved to please
all, it was pleasing her that had been foremost in his mind that night.
He had remembered the boast he made on Duty Hill; now it was justified,
and he had once again tasted his sweetest pleasure.

They had to wait in an ante-room while their carriage was sent for. Here
the Dean and Marchmont joined them again. They were there when old Foster
rushed in in great excitement.

"The whole town's in the square," he cried. "There's never been anything
like it in Henstead. You'll say just a word to them from the steps, sir?
Only a word! They're all waiting there for you. You'll say just a word?
I'll be back in an instant." And he bustled out again.

Quisanté walked across to a window that opened on to the Market Square.
He looked out, then turned and beckoned to his wife. The whole town
seemed to be in the square, as Foster said, and the people caught sight
of him as he stood in the window with the lighted room behind him. They
broke into loud cheering. Quisanté bowed to them. Then a sudden short
shiver seemed to run through him; he put his hand first to his side, then
to his head.

"I feel queer" he said to his wife. "I think I--I won't--I won't speak
any more. I feel so--so queer." Her eyes were fixed on him now, and his
on hers. He smiled and tapped his forehead lightly with his hand. "It's
nothing," he said. "You were pleased, weren't you, to-night?" Again he
put his hands in hers. She found no word to say and they stood like this
for a moment. The cheers ceased, the crowd outside was puzzled. Marchmont
jumped up from his chair and walked forward hastily.

"Anything wrong?" he asked.

Neither heeded him. May's eyes were set in terror on her husband's face;
for now she was holding him up by the power of her hands gripped in his;
without them he would fall. Nay, he would fall now!

He spoke in a low thick voice. "It's come," he said, "it's come." And he
sank back into Weston Marchmont's arms, his wife letting go his hands and
standing rigid.

Old Foster ran in again, calling, "Are you ready, sir?" He found his
answer. Alexander Quisanté would speak no more in Henstead. He was
leaning against Marchmont, breathing heavily and with sore difficulty.
May went to him; she was very white and very calm; she took his hand and
kissed it.

"I--I--I spoke well?" he muttered. "Didn't I?"

"Very very finely, Alexander."

"They were--were all wrong in saying I couldn't do it," he murmured. He
shivered again and then was still. The Dean had brought a chair and they
put him in it. But he moved no more. May looked at old Foster who stood
by, his face wrung with helpless distress and consternation.

"We've killed him among us, I and you and the people out there," she said.



                             CHAPTER XXI.

                              A RELICT.


"Yes, I asked her," said Weston Marchmont, "but--Well, I don't think
she'd mind you reading her letter, and I should rather like you to." He
flung it across the table to Dick Benyon. "I half see what she means,"
said he, lighting a cigarette.

Dick took the letter with an impatient frown. "I don't," he said, as he
settled himself to read it.

    "My dear Friend, I have thought it over, many times, in many
    different moods, and in all of them I have always wanted to do what
    you ask. Not for your sake, not because you ask me, but for my own.
    I think I should be very happy, and as you know I have never yet
    been very happy. I wasn't while my husband was alive. Imagine my
    finding side by side in his desk the doctor's letter saying it was
    certain death to go to Henstead and that report of Professor
    Maturin's which he suppressed and told me had been destroyed. That
    brought him back to me just as he was. With you I think I should be
    happy. I should never be afraid, I should never be ashamed. What
    fear and what shame I used to feel! I write very openly to you about
    myself and about him; if I were answering as you wish, I would not
    say a word against him. But I can't. That's just the feeling. You
    tell me I am free, that two years have gone by, that I might find a
    new life for myself, that you love me. I know it all, but except the
    last none of it sounds true. You know that once I thought about
    being free and that then you were in my thoughts. Who should be, if
    you were not? Except him and you I have never thought of any man.
    And I want to come to you now. He is too strong for me. Is it really
    two years ago? Surely not! I seem still to hear his speech, and
    still to see him fall into your arms. I should always hear him, and
    always see that. I'm afraid you won't understand me, least of all
    when I say I don't feel sure that I want him back. That would mean
    the fear and the shame again. But he was so marvellous. How right he
    was! They followed the lead he gave them at Henstead; and even you,
    dear recluse, know that there was a change of Government last year.
    And I am quite rich out of the Alethea. For he was right and the
    poor Professor, who was supposed to know all about it, was
    absolutely, utterly, hopelessly wrong. And the Crusade's come to
    nothing, and--and so on.

    I wish I was convincing you; but I never did. You didn't understand
    why I married him, why in face of everything I behaved pretty well
    to him, why his death left everything blank to me. Nobody quite
    understood, except old Aunt Maria who just quietly died as soon as
    he was gone. And you'll understand me no better now. I resent the
    way the world forgets him. There seems nothing of him left. My
    little girl is all Gaston; she lives with Gastons, she has the
    Gaston face and the Gaston ways. She's not a bit Quisanté; she's
    nothing of him, nothing that he has left behind. If we'd had a son,
    a boy like him, I might feel differently. But, as it is, what's
    left? Only me. I am left, and I am not altogether a Gaston now,
    though it's the Gaston and nothing else that you like. No, I'm not
    all Gaston now. I've become Quisanté in part--not in every way, or I
    shouldn't have felt as I did when I found the Professor's report.
    But he has laid hold of me, and he doesn't let go. I can't help
    thinking that he needn't have died except on my account. You feel
    sore that I don't love you, not as you want me to. He was sore too
    because I didn't love him; and since he couldn't make me love him,
    he had to make me wonder at him; he was doing that when he died. So
    I feel that I can't do anything to blot him out, and that I must
    stay Quisanté, somebody bearing his name, representing him, keeping
    him in a way alive, being still his and not anybody else's.

    For I still feel his and I still feel him alive. You can love
    people, and then forget them, and love somebody else; or love
    somebody else without forgetting. Love is simple and gentle and, I
    suppose, gives way. Alexander doesn't give way. I shall hurt you
    now, I'm afraid, but I must say it. After him there can be no other
    man for me. I think I'm sorry I ever married him, for I could have
    loved somebody else and yet looked on at him. Or couldn't I? You'll
    say I couldn't. Anyhow, as it is, I've come too near to him, seen
    too much of him, become too much a part of him. You might think me
    mad if I told you he often seemed to be with me and that I'm not
    frightened, but admire and laugh as I used; I needn't fear any more.
    So it is; and since it is so, how can I come to you? What is it they
    call widows on tombstones and in the _Times_? Relicts, isn't it? I'm
    literally his relict, something he's left behind. As I say, the only
    thing. He can't come back for me, I suppose. But I feel as if he'd
    pick me up somewhere some time, and we should begin over again, and
    go on together. Where to I don't know. I never knew where he would
    end by taking me to. And you, dear friend, mustn't make his relict
    your wife. It's not right for you, it wouldn't be right for me. We
    should pretend that nothing had happened, that I'd made a mistake,
    that it was luckily and happily over, and that I was doing now what
    I ought to have done in the beginning. All that's quite false. I
    suppose everybody has one great thing to do in life, one thing that
    determines what they're to be and how they're to end. I did my great
    thing, for good or evil, when I became his wife. I can't undo it or
    go back on it, I can't become what I was before I did it. I can't be
    now what you think me and wish me to be. His stamp is on me.

    I write very sadly; for I didn't love him. And now I can love
    nobody. I shall never quite know what that means. Or is it possible
    that I loved him without knowing it, and hated him sometimes just
    because of that? I mean, felt so terribly the times when he
    was--well, what you know he was sometimes. I find no answer to that.
    It never was what I thought love meant, what they tell you it means.
    But if love can mean sinking yourself in another person, living in
    and through him, meaning him when you say life, then I did love him.
    At any rate, whatever it was, there it is. Yet I'm not very unhappy.
    I have a feeling--it will seem strange to you, like all my
    feelings--that I have had a great share in something great, that
    without me he wouldn't have been what he was, that I gave as well as
    took, and brought my part into the common stock. We did odd things,
    he and I in our partnership, things never to be told. My poor cheeks
    burn still, and you remember that I cried. But we did great things
    too, he and I, and at the end we were for a little while together in
    heart. It wouldn't have lasted? Perhaps not. As it was it lasted
    long enough--till 'it came', as he said, and he died asking me to
    tell him that he had spoken well. I'm very glad he knew that I
    thought he had spoken well.

    So out of this rambling letter comes the end of it. Be kind to me,
    be my friend, and be somebody else's lover, dear Weston. For I am
    spoilt for you. 'Her mad folly'--that was what you thought it. Well,
    it isn't ended, not even death has ended it. He reaches me still
    from where he is--Ah, and what is he doing? I can't think of him
    doing nothing. Shall I hear of all he's done some day? Will he tell
    me himself, and watch my lips and my eyes as I listen to him? I
    don't know. These are dreams, and perhaps I wouldn't have them come
    true; for he might do dreadful things again. But I can't marry you.
    For to me he is not dead, he lives still, and I am his. I can as
    little say whether I like it as I could while he was here. But now,
    as then, it is so; whether I like it is little; it is what has come
    to me, my lot, my place, my fate, the end of me, the first and last
    word about me. And--yes--I am content to have it so. He loved me
    very much, and he was a very great man. You'll wonder again, but I'm
    a proud woman among women, Weston dear. Goodbye."

Dick Benyon laid down the letter, and pushed it back to Weston Marchmont.

"Yes, I see," said he.



              TURNBULL AND SPEARS. PRINTERS, EDINBURGH.





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