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Title: The Philanderers
Author: Mason, A. E. W. (Alfred Edward Woodley), 1865-1948
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Philanderers" ***

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                            THE PHILANDERERS

                            BY A.E.W. MASON

              Author of 'The Courtship of Morrice Buckler'

                                 1897



PROLOGUE


Five Englishmen were watching a camp fire in the centre of a forest
clearing in mid-Africa. They did not speak, but sat propped against logs,
smoking. One of the five knocked out the ashes of his pipe upon the
ground; a second, roused by the movement, picked up a fresh billet of
wood with a shiver and threw it on to the fire, and the light for a
moment flung a steady glow upon faces which were set with anxiety. The
man who had picked up the billet looked from one to the other of the
faces, then he turned and gazed behind him into the darkness. The floor
of the clearing was dotted with the embers of dying fires, but now and
again he would hear the crackle of a branch and see a little flame spirt
up and shine upon the barrels of rifles and the black bodies of the
sleeping troops. Round the edge of the clearing the trees rose massed and
dark like a cliff's face. He turned his head upwards.

'Look, Drake!' he cried suddenly, and pointed an arm eastwards. The man
opposite to him took his pipe from his mouth and looked in that
direction. The purple was fading out of the sky, leaving it livid.

'I see,' said Drake shortly, and, replacing his pipe, he rose to his
feet. His four companions looked quickly at each other and the eldest of
them spoke.

'Look here, Drake,' said he, 'I have been thinking about this business
all night, and the more I think of it the less I like it. Of course, we
only did what we were bound to do. We couldn't get behind that evidence;
there was no choice for us; but you're the captain, and there is a
choice for you.'

'No,' replied Drake quietly. 'I too have been thinking about it all
night, and there is no choice for me.'

'But you can delay the execution until we get back.'

'I can't even do that. A week ago there was a village here.'

'It's not the man I am thinking of. I haven't lived my years in Africa to
have any feeling left for scum like that. But also I haven't lived my
years in Africa without coming to know there's one thing above all others
necessary for the white man to do, and that's to keep up the prestige of
the white man. String Gorley up if you like, but not here--not before
these blacks.'

'But that's just what I am going to do,' answered Drake, 'and just for
your reason, too--the prestige of the white man. Every day something is
stolen by these fellows, a rifle, a bayonet, rations--something. When I
find the theft out I have to punish it, haven't I? Well, how can I punish
the black when he thieves, and let the white man off when he thieves and
murders? If I did--well, I don't think I could strike a harder blow at
the white man's prestige.'

'I don't ask you to let him off. Only take him back to the coast. Let him
be hanged there privately.'

'And how many of these blacks would believe that he had been hanged?'
Drake turned away from the group and walked towards a hut which stood
some fifty yards from the camp fire. Three sentries were guarding the
door. Drake pushed the door open, entered, and closed it behind him. The
hut was pitch dark since a board had been nailed across the only opening.

'Gorley!' he said.

There was a rustling of boughs against the opposite wall, and a voice
answered from close to the ground.

'Damn you, what do you want?'

'Have you anything you wish to say?'

'That depends,' replied Gorley after a short pause, and his voice changed
to an accent of cunning.

'There's no bargain to be made.'

The words were spoken with a sharp precision, and again there was
a rustling of leaves as though Gorley had fallen back upon his bed
of branches.

'But you can undo some of the harm,' continued Drake, and at that Gorley
laughed. Drake stopped on the instant, and for a while there was silence
between the pair. A gray beam of light shot through a chink between the
logs, and then another and another until the darkness of the hut changed
to a vaporous twilight. Then of a sudden the notes of a bugle sounded the
reveillé. Gorley raised himself upon his elbows and thrust forward his
head. Outside he heard the rattle of arms, the chatter of voices, all the
hum of a camp astir.

'Drake,' he whispered across to the figure standing against the door,
'there's enough gold dust to make two men rich, but you shall have it all
if you let me go. You can--easily enough. It wouldn't be difficult for a
man to slip away into the forest on the march back if you gave the nod to
the sentries guarding him. All I ask for is a rifle and a belt of
cartridges. I'd shift for myself then.'

He ended abruptly and crouched, listening to the orders shouted to the
troops outside. The men were being ranged in their companies. Then the
companies in succession were marched, halted, wheeled, and halted again.
Gorley traced a plan of their evolutions with his fingers upon the floor
of the hut. The companies were formed into a square.

'Drake,' he began again, and he crawled a little way across the hut;
'Drake, do you hear what I'm saying? There's a fortune for you, mind you,
all of it; and I am the only one who can tell you where it is. I didn't
trust those black fellows--no, no,' and he wagged his head with an
attempt at an insinuating laugh. 'I had it all gathered together, and I
buried it myself at night. You gave me a chance before with nothing to
gain. Give me another; you have everything to gain this time. Drake, why
don't you speak?'

'Because there's no bargain to be made between you and me,' replied
Drake. 'If you tell me where the gold dust's hid, it will be given back
to the people it belonged to, or rather to those of them you left
alive. You can do some good that way by telling me, but you won't save
your life.'

Steps were heard to approach the hut; there was a rap on the door.

'Well?' asked Drake.

Gorley raised himself from the floor.

'I am not making you rich and letting you kill me too,' he said; and
then, 'Who cares? I'm ready.'

Drake opened the door and stepped out. Gorley swaggered after him. He
stood for a moment on the threshold. Here and there a wisp of fog ringed
a tree-trunk or smoked upon the ground. But for the rest, the clearing,
littered with the charred debris of a native village, lay bare and
desolate in a cold morning light.

'It looks a bit untidy,' said Gorley, with a laugh. Two of the troopers
approached and laid their hands upon his shoulders. At first he made a
movement to shake them off. Then he checked the impulse and stood
quietly while they pinioned him. After they had finished he spat on the
ground, cast a glance at the square and the rope dangling from a branch
above it, and walked easily towards it. The square opened to receive him
and closed up again.

On the march back two of the Englishmen sickened of ague and died. Six
months later a third was killed in a punitive expedition. The fourth was
drowned off Walfisch Bay before another year had elapsed.



CHAPTER I


Hugh Fielding, while speculating upon certain obscure episodes in the
history of a life otherwise familiar to an applauding public, and at a
loss to understand them, caught eagerly at a simile. Now Fielding came
second to none in his scorn for the simile as an explanation, possibly
because he was so well acquainted with its convenience. 'A fairy lamp' he
would describe it, quite conscious of the irony in his method of
description, 'effective as an ornament upon a table-cloth, but a poor
light to eat your dinner by.'

Nevertheless Fielding hugged this particular simile, applying it as a
sort of skeleton key to the problem of Stephen Drake's career.

He compared Drake's career, or at all events that portion of it which was
closed, to the writing of a book. So many years represent the
accumulation of material, a deliberate accumulation; at a certain date
the book is begun with a settled design, _finis_ being clearly foreseen
from the first word of the preface. But once fairly started the book
throws the writer on one side and takes the lead, drags him, panting and
protesting, after it, flings him down by-ways out of sight of his main
road, tumbles him into people he had no thought of meeting, and finally
stops him dead, Heaven knows where--in front of a blank wall, most
likely, at the end of a _cul de sac_. He may sit down then and cry if he
likes, but to that point he has come in spite of his intentions.

The actual settling down to the work, with the material duly ticketed at
his elbow, in Drake's case Hugh Fielding dated back to a certain day
towards the close of October.

Upon that afternoon the _Dunrobin Castle_ from Cape Town steamed into
Plymouth Harbour, and amongst the passengers one man stepped from the
tender on to the quay and stood there absolutely alone. No one had gone
out to the ship to meet him; no one came forward now on the quay-side,
and it was evident from his indifference to the bystanders that he
expected no one. The more careless of these would have accounted him a
complete stranger to the locality, the more observant an absentee who had
just returned, for while his looks expressed isolation, one significant
gesture proved familiarity with the environments. As his eyes travelled
up the tiers of houses and glanced along towards the Hoe, they paused now
and again and rested upon any prominent object as though upon a
remembered landmark, and each such recognition he emphasised with a nod
of the head.

He turned his back towards the town, directing his glance in a circle.
The afternoon, although toning to dusk, was kept bright by the scouring
of a keen wind, and he noted the guard-ship on his right at its old
moorings, the funnels rising like solid yellow columns from within a
stockade of masts; thence he looked across the water to the yellowing
woods of Mount Edgcumbe, watched for a moment or so the brown sails of
the fishing-smacks dancing a _chassez-croisez_ in the Sound, and turned
back to face the hill-side. A fellow-passenger, hustled past him by
half a dozen importunate children, extricated a hand to wave, and
shouted a cheery 'See you in town, Drake.' Drake roused himself with a
start and took a step in the same direction; he was confronted by a man
in a Norfolk jacket and tweed knickerbockers, who, standing by, had
caught the name.

'Captain Stephen Drake?'

'Yes. Why?'

The man mopped a perspiring face.

'I was afraid I had missed you. I should have gone out on the tender,
only I was late. Can you spare me a moment? You have time.'

'Certainly,' answered Drake, with a look of inquiry.

The man in the knickerbockers led the way along the quay until he came to
an angle between an unused derrick and a wall.

'We shall not be disturbed here,' he said, and he drew an oblong
note-book and a cedar-wood pencil from his pocket.

'I begin to understand,' said Drake, with a laugh.

'You can have no objection?'

There was the suavity of the dentist who holds the forceps behind his
back in the tone of the speaker's voice.

'On the contrary, a little notoriety will be helpful to me too.'

That word 'too' jarred on the reporter, suggesting a flippancy which he
felt to be entirely out of place. The feeling, however, was quickly
swallowed up in the satisfaction which he experienced at obtaining so
easily a result which had threatened the need of diplomacy.

'_O si sic omnes!_' he exclaimed, and made a note of the quotation upon
the top of the open leaf.

'Surely the quotation is rather hackneyed to begin with?' suggested Drake
with a perfectly serious inquisitiveness. The reporter looked at him
suspiciously.

'We have to consider our readers,' he replied with some asperity.

'By the way, what paper do you represent?'

The reporter hesitated a little.

'The _Evening Meteor_,' he admitted reluctantly, keeping a watchful eye
upon his questioner. He saw the lips join in a hard line, and began to
wonder whether, after all, the need for diplomacy had passed.

'I begin to appreciate the meaning of journalistic enterprise,' said
Drake. 'Your editor makes a violent attack upon me, and then sends a
member of his staff to interview me the moment I set foot in England.'

'You hardly take the correct view, if I may say so. Our chief when he
made the attacks acted under a sense of responsibility, and he thought it
only fair that you should have the earliest possible opportunity of
making your defence.'

'I beg your pardon,' replied Drake gravely. 'Your chief is the most
considerate of men, and I trust that his equity will leave him a margin
of profit, only I don't seem to feel that I need make any defence. I have
no objection to be interviewed, as I told you, but you must make it clear
that I intend nothing in the way of apology. Is that understood?'

The pressman agreed, and made a note of the proviso.

'There is another point. I have seen nothing of the paper necessarily for
the last few weeks. The _Meteor_ has, I suppose, continued its--crusade,
shall we call it?--but on what lines exactly I am, of course, ignorant.
It will be better, consequently, that you should put questions and I
answer them, upon this condition, however,--that all reference is omitted
to any point on which I am unwilling to speak.'

The reporter demurred, but, seeing that Drake was obdurate, he was
compelled to give way.

'The entire responsibility of the expedition rests with me,' Drake
explained, 'but there were others concerned in it. You might trench upon
private matters which only affect them.'

He watched the questions with the vigilance of a counsel on behalf of a
client undergoing cross-examination, but they were directed solely to the
elucidation of the disputed point whether Drake had or had not, while a
captain in the service of the Matanga Republic, attacked a settlement of
Arab slave-dealers within the zone of a British Protectorate. The editor
of the _Meteor_ believed that he had, and strenuously believed it--in the
interests of his shareholders. Drake, on the other hand, and the Colonial
Office, it should be added, were dispassionately indifferent to the
question, for the very precise reason that they knew it could never be
decided. There were doubts as to the exact sphere of British influence,
and the doubts favoured Drake for the most part. Insular prehensiveness,
at its highest flight, could do no more than claim Boruwimi as its
uttermost limit, and was aware it would be hard put to it to substantiate
the claim. The editor, nevertheless, persevered, bombarded its citizen
readers with warnings about trade fleeing from lethargic empires,
published a cartoon, and reluctantly took the blackest view of Drake's
character and aims.

Drake's march with a handful of men six hundred miles through a tangled
forest had been a handsome exploit, quickening British pride with the
spectacle of an Englishman at the head of it. Civilian blood tingled in
office and shop, claiming affinity with Drake's. It needed an Englishman
to bill-hook a path through that fretwork of branches, and fall upon his
enemy six weeks before he was expected--the true combination of daring
and endurance that stamps the race current coin across the world! Economy
also pleaded for Drake. But for him the country itself must have burned
out the hornets' nest, and the tax-payer paid, and paid dearly. For there
would have been talk of the expedition beforehand, the force would have
found an enemy prepared and fortified. The hornets could sting too!
Whereas Drake had burned them out before they had time to buzz. He need
not have said one word in exculpation of himself, and that indeed he
knew. But he had interests and ambitions of his own to serve; a hint of
them peeped out.

'As to your future plans?' asked the reporter. 'You mean to go back,
I presume.'

'No; London for me, if I can find a corner in it. I hold concessions
in Matanga.'

'The land needs development, of course.'

'Machinery too; capital most of all.'

At the bookstall upon the platform Drake bought a copy of the _Times_,
and whilst taking his change he was attracted by a grayish-green volume
prominently displayed upon the white newspapers. The sobriety of the
binding caught his fancy. He picked it up, and read the gold-lettered
title on the back--_A Man of Influence_. The stall-keeper recommended the
novel; he had read it himself; besides, it was having a sale. Drake
turned to the title-page and glanced at the author's name--Sidney
Mallinson. He flashed into enthusiasm.

'Selling, eh?'

'Very well indeed.'

'Has it been published long?'

'Less than three months.'

'I will take it, and everything else by the same author.'

'It is his first book.'

The stall-keeper glanced at his enthusiastic customer, and saw a sunburnt
face, eager as a boy's.

'Oh!' he said doubtfully, 'I don't know whether you will like it. It's
violently modern. Perhaps this,' and he suggested with an outstretched
forefinger a crimson volume explained by its ornamentation of a couple of
assegais bound together with a necklace of teeth. Drake laughed at the
application of the homoeopathic principle to the sale of books.

'No, I will take this,' he said, and, moving aside from the stall, stood
for a little turning the book over and over in his hands, feeling its
weight and looking incessantly at the title-page, wondering, you would
say, that the author had accomplished so much.

He had grounds for wonder, too. His thoughts went back across the last
ten years, and he remembered Mallinson's clamouring for a reputation; a
name--that had been the essential thing, no matter what the career in
which it was to be won. Work he had classified according to the
opportunities it afforded of public recognition; and his classification
varied from day to day. A _cause célèbre_ would suggest the Bar, a
published sermon the Church, a flaming poster persuade to the stage. In a
word, he had looked upon a profession as no more than a sounding-board.

It had always seemed to Drake that this fervid desire for fame, as a
thing apart in itself, not as a symbol of success won in a cherished
pursuit, argued some quality of weakness in the man, something unstable
which would make for failure. His surprise was increased by an inability
to recollect that Mallinson had ever considered literature as a means to
his end. Long sojourning in the wilderness, moreover, had given Drake an
exaggerated reverence for the printed page. He was inclined to set
Mallinson on a pinnacle, and scourge himself at the foot of it for his
earlier distrust of him. He opened the book again at the beginning, and
let the pages slip across beneath his thumb from cover to cover; 413 was
marked on the top corner of the last; 413 pages actually written and
printed and published; all consecutive too; something new on each page.
He turned to a porter.

'How long have I before the train starts?'

'Five minutes, sir.'

'Where is the telegraph office?'

The office was pointed out to him, and he telegraphed to Mallinson at the
address of his publishers. 'Have just reached England. Dine with me at
eight to-morrow at the Grand Hotel'; and he added after a moment's pause,
'Bring Conway, if you have not lost sight of him.--DRAKE.'

When the train started Drake settled himself to the study of _A Man of
Influence_. The commentary of the salesman had prepared him for some
measure of perplexity. There would be hinted references and suggestions,
difficult of comprehension to the traveller out of touch with modern
developments. These, however, would only be the ornaments, but the flesh
and blood of the story would be perceptible enough. It was just, however,
this very flesh and blood which eluded him; he could not fix it in a
definite form. He did not hold the key to the author's intention.

Drake's _vis-à-vis_ in the carriage saw him produce the book with
considerable surprise, conscious of an incongruity between the reader and
what he read. His surprise changed to amusement as he noticed Drake's
face betray his perplexity and observed him turn now and again to the
title upon the cover as though doubtful whether he had not misread it. He
gave an audible chuckle.

Drake looked up and across the carriage at a man of about fifty years of
age with a large red face and a close-cropped pointed beard. The chuckle
swelled to a laugh.

'You find that a hard nut to crack?' Drake noticed a thickness in the
articulation.

'I have been some years abroad. I hardly catch its drift,' explained
Drake, and then with an effort at praise:

'It seems a clever satire.'

'Satire!' guffawed the other. 'Well, that's rich! Satire? Why, it's a
manifesto. Gad, sir, it's a creed. I believe in my duty to my senses and
the effectuation of me for ever and ever, Amen. The modern jargon! Topsy
Turvydom! Run the world on the comic opera principle, but be flaming
serious about it. Satire, good Lord!'

He flung himself back on his cushions with a snort of contempt.

'Look you, I'm not a pess--' he checked at the word and then took it at a
run, 'a pessimist, but, as things are going on--well, you have been out
of the country and--and you can't help it, I suppose. You may laugh!
P'raps you haven't got daughters--not that I have either, praise glory!
But nieces, if the father's a fool, wear you out very little less.
Satire, ho! ho!'

The semi-intoxicated uncle of nieces relapsed vindictively into his
corner and closed his eyes. Occasionally Drake would hear a muffled
growl, and, looking in that direction, would see one inflamed eye peering
from a mountain of rugs.

'Satire!' and a husky voice would address the passengers
indiscriminately. 'Satire! and the man's not a day under forty either.'

Drake joined in the laugh and lit his pipe. He was not sensitive to
miscomputations of his years, and felt disinclined to provoke further
outbursts of family confidences.

Instead, he pursued his acquaintance with _A Man of Influence_, realising
now that he must take him seriously and regard him stamped with
Mallinson's approval, a dominating being. He found the task difficult.
The character insisted upon reminding him of the nursery-maid's ideal,
the dandified breaker of hearts and bender of wills; an analytical hero
too, who traced the sentence through the thought to the emotion, which
originally prompted it; whence his success and influence. But for his
strength, plainly aimed at by the author, and to be conceded by the
reader, if the book was to convince? Drake compared him to scree and
shingle as against solid granite. Lean on him and you slip!

The plot was the time-worn, imperishable story of the married couple and
the amorous interloper, the Influential Man, of course, figuring as the
latter, and consequently glorified. The husband was pelted with ridicule
from the first chapter to the last, though for what particular fault
Drake could not discover, unless it were for that of being a husband at
all; so that the interloper in robbing him of his wife was related to
have secured not merely the _succès d'estime_ which accompanies such
enviable feats, but the unqualified gratitude of all married women and
most unmarried men.

There were, no doubt, redeeming qualities; Drake gave them full credit,
and perhaps more than they deserved. He noticed a glitter in the
dialogue, whether of foil or gold he refused to consider, and a lively
imagination in the interweaving of the incidents. But altogether the book
left with him a feeling of distaste, which was not allayed by the
perception that he himself was caricatured in the picture of befooled
husband, while Mallinson figured as the successful deceiver. After all,
he thought, Mallinson and he were friends, and he disliked the mere
imagining of such a relationship between them.

Drake summed up his impressions as his hansom turned into the Bayswater
Road. The day was just beginning to break; the stems of the trees
bordering the park were black bars against the pure, colourless light,
and their mingling foliage a frayed black ribbon stretched across the
sky. One might have conceived the picture the original of a black and
white drawing by a pre-Raphaelite artist.

Drake drew in a long breath of the keen, clear air.

'I am glad I asked him to bring Conway,' he said to himself.



CHAPTER II


Waking up six hours later, Drake looked out upon a brown curtain of
London fog. The lamps were lit at the crossings in Trafalgar
Square--half-a-mile distant they seemed, opaque haloes about a pin's
point of flame, and people passing in the light of them loomed and
vanished like the figures of a galanty-show. From beneath rose the bustle
of the streets, perceptible only to Drake, upon the fourth floor, as a
subterranean rumble. 'London,' he said to himself, 'I live here,' and
laughed unappalled. Listening to the clamour, he remembered a map, seen
somewhere in a railway guide, a map of England with the foreign cables,
tiny spider-threads spun to the four quarters and thickening to a solid
column at Falmouth and Cromer, the world's arteries, he liked to think,
converging to its heart.

The notion of messages flashing hourly along these wires brought to mind
the existence of the _Meteor_. He sent out for a copy of each number
which had appeared since he had begun his voyage, and commencing on the
task whilst he was still at breakfast, read through every article written
concerning the Boruwimi expedition. He finished the last in the
smoking-room shortly after one o'clock, and rose from his investigation
with every appearance of relief. From the first to the final paragraph,
not so much as a mention of Gorley's name!

The reason for his relief lay in a promise which he had sent to Gorley's
father, that he would suppress the trouble as far as he could; and Drake
liked to keep his promises.

Gorley had come out to Matanga with a cloudy reputation winging close at
his heels. There were rumours of dishonesty in the office of a private
bank in Kent; his name became a sign for silence, and you were allowed to
infer that Gorley's relatives had made good the deficit and so avoided a
criminal prosecution. It was not surprising, then, that Gorley, on
hearing of Drake's intended march to Boruwimi, should wish to take
service under his command. He called upon Drake with that request, was
confronted with the current story, and invited to disprove it. Gorley
read his man shrewdly, and confessed the truth of the charge without an
attempt at mitigation. He asked frankly for a place in the troop, the
lowest, as his chance of redemption, or rather demanded it as a grace due
from man to man. Drake was taken by his manner, noticed his build, which
was tough and wiry, and conceded the request. Nor had he reason to regret
his decision on the march out. Gorley showed himself alert, and vigilant,
a favourite with the blacks, and obedient to his officers. He was
advanced from duty to duty; a week before the force began its homeward
march from Boruwimi he was sent out with a body of men to forage for
provisions. Three days later a solitary negro rushed into camp, one of
the few survivors of his tribe, he said. He told a story of food freely
given, a village plundered and burned for thanks, of gold-dust stolen and
the owners murdered that they might the better hold their tongues. He
signified Gorley as the culprit. Drake, guided by the negro, marched
towards the spot. He met Gorley and his company half-way between Boruwimi
and the village, carried him along with him, and proved the story true.
Against Gorley's troops no charge could be sustained; they had only
obeyed orders. But Gorley he court-martialled, and the result has been
described.

This was the incident which Drake was unwilling to commit to the
discretion of the editor of the _Meteor_. He had discovered Gorley's
relations in England, and had written to them a full account of the
affair, despatching with his letter a copy of the evidence given at the
court-martial. The reply came from the father, a heart-broken admission
of the justice of Drake's action, and a prayer that, for the sake of
those of the family who still lived, Gorley's crime should be as far as
possible kept secret. Drake gave the promise. So far he had kept it, he
realised, as he tossed aside the last copy of the _Meteor_.

At eight o'clock Sidney Mallinson arrived. He saw Drake at the top of
the flight of steps in the vestibule, and hesitated, perceiving that he
was alone.

'Hasn't Conway come?' he asked. 'I sent to him.'

'Not yet. It's barely eight.'

They shook hands limply and searched for topics of conversation.

'You look older than you did,' said Mallinson.

'Ah! Ten years, you know. You haven't changed much.'

Drake was looking at a face distinguished by considerable comeliness. The
forehead, however, overhung the features beneath it and gave to a mouth
and chin, which would otherwise have aroused no criticism, an appearance
of irresolution. The one noticeable difference in Mallinson was the
addition of an air of constraint. It was due partly to a question which
had troubled him since he had received the invitation. Had Drake read _A
Man of Influence_ and recognised himself?

'I got your telegram,' he said at length.

'Naturally, or you wouldn't be here.'

The answer was intended to be jocular; it sounded only _gauche_, as Drake
recognised, and the laugh which accompanied it positively rude.

'Shall I put my coat in the cloak-room?' suggested Mallinson.

'Oh yes, do!' replied Drake. He was inclined to look upon the proposal as
an inspiration, and his tone unfortunately betrayed his thought.

When Mallinson returned, he saw Conway entering the hotel. The latter
looked younger by some years than either of his companions, so that, as
the three men stood together at this moment, they might have been held to
represent three separate decades.

'Twenty minutes late, I'm afraid,' said Conway, and he shook Drake's hand
with a genuine cordiality.

'Five,' said Drake, looking at his watch.

'Twenty,' replied Conway. 'A quarter to, was the time Mallinson
wired me.'

'Was it?' asked Mallinson, with a show of surprise. 'I must have made
a mistake.'

It occurred, however, to Drake that the mistake might have been
purposely made from a prevision of the awkwardness of the meeting. The
dinner, prefaced inauspiciously, failed to remove the awkwardness, since
the reticence under which Drake and Mallinson laboured, gradually spread
and enveloped Conway. A forced conversation of a curiously impersonal
sort dragged from course to course. Absolute strangers would have
exhibited less restraint; for the ghost of an old comradeship made the
fourth at the feast and prated to them in exiguous voice of paths that
had diverged. Drake noticed, besides, an undercurrent of antagonism
between Conway and Mallinson. He inquired what each had been doing
during his absence.

'Mallinson,' interposed Conway, 'has been absorbed in the interesting
study of his own personality.'

'I am not certain that pursuit is not preferable to revolving
unsuccessfully through a cycle of professions,' said Mallinson in
slow sarcasm.

The flush was upon Conway's cheek now. He set his wine glass deliberately
upon the table and leaned forward on an elbow.

'My dear good Sidney,' he began with elaborate affection, plainly
intended as the sugar coating of an excessively unpleasant pill. Drake
hastily interrupted with an anecdote of African experiences. It sounded
bald and monstrously long, but it served its purpose as peace-maker.
Literary acquisitiveness drew Mallinson on to ask for more of the same
kind. Drake mentioned a race of pigmies and described them, speculating
whether they might be considered the originals of the human race.

'My dear fellow, don't!' said Mallinson; 'I loathe hearing about them.
It's so degrading to us to think we sprang from them.'

The peculiar sensitiveness of a mind ever searching, burrowing in, and
feeding upon itself struck a jarring note upon its healthier companion.

'Why, what on earth does it matter?' asked Drake.

'Ah! Perhaps you wouldn't understand.'

Conway gave a shrug of the shoulder and laughed to Drake across the
table. The latter looked entreaty in reply and courageously started a
different topic. He spoke of their boyhood in the suburb on the heights
six miles to the south of London, and in particular of a certain hill,
Elm-tree Hill they called it, a favourite goal for walks and the spot
where the three had last met on the night before Drake left England.
London had lain beneath it roped with lights.

'The enchanted city,' said Conway, catching back some flavour of those
times. 'It seemed distant as El Dorado, and as desirable.'

Mallinson responded with the gentle smile with which a man recognises and
pities a childishness he has himself outgrown.

Drake ordered port, having great faith in its qualities, as inducive of a
cat-like content and consequent good-fellowship. Mallinson, however,
never touched port; nothing but the lightest of French burgundies after
dinner for him. The party withdrew to the smoking-room.

'By the way, Drake,' asked Mallinson, 'have you anything to do to-night?'

'No, why?'

'I was asked to take you to a sort of party.'

Conway looked up sharply in surprise.

'You were asked to take me!' exclaimed Drake. 'Who asked you?'

'Oh, nobody whom you know.' He hesitated for a second, then added with
studied carelessness, 'A Miss Le Mesurier. Her mother's dead,' he
explained, noticing the look of surprise on Drake's face, 'so she keeps
house for her father. There's an aunt to act as chaperon, but she doesn't
count. I got a note from Miss Le Mesurier just before I came here asking
me to bring you.'

'But what does she know of me?'

'Oh, I may have mentioned your name,' he explained indifferently, and
Conway smiled.

'Besides,' said Conway, 'the _Meteor_ has transformed you into a public
character. One knows of your movements.'

'What I don't see is how Miss Le Mesurier could have known that you had
landed yesterday,' commented Mallinson.

'I was interviewed by the _Meteor_ on Plymouth Quay. You received the
note, you say, this evening. She may have seen the interview.'

Drake called to a waiter and ordered him to bring a copy of the paper.
Conway took it and glanced at the first page.

'Yes, here it is.'

He read a few lines to himself, and burst into a laugh.

'Guess how it begins?'

'I know,' said Drake.

'A sovereign you don't.'

Drake laid a sovereign on the table. Conway followed his example.

'It begins,' said Drake, 'with a Latin quotation, _O si sic omnes_!'

'It begins,' corrected Conway, pocketing the money, 'with very downright
English'; and he read, 'Drake, with the casual indifference of the
hardened filibuster, readily accorded an interview to our representative
on landing from the _Dunrobin Castle_ yesterday afternoon!'

Drake snatched the paper out of Conway's hand, and ran his eye down the
column to see whether his words had been similarly transmuted by the
editorial alchemy. They were printed, however, as they had been spoken,
but interspersed with comments. The editor had contented himself with
stamping his own device upon the coin; he had not tried to change its
metal. Drake tossed the paper on one side. 'The man goes vitriol-throwing
with vinegar,' he said.

Conway picked up the _Meteor_.

'You are a captain, aren't you?' he asked. 'The omission of the title
presumes you a criminal.'

'I don't object to the omission,' replied Drake. 'I suppose the title
belongs to me by right. But, after all, a captain in Matanga! There are
more honourable titles.'

Mallinson looked at him suddenly, as though some fresh idea had shot into
his brain.

'Well, will you come?' he asked carelessly.

'I hardly feel inclined to move.'

'I didn't imagine you would.' There was evidence of distinct relief in
the brisk tone of Mallinson's voice. He turned to Conway, 'We ought to be
starting, I fancy.'

'I shall stay with Drake,' Conway answered, despondently to Drake's
thinking, and he lapsed into silence after Mallinson's departure, broken
by intervals of ineffective sarcasm concerning women, ineffectively
accentuated by short jerks of laughter. He roused himself in a while and
carried Drake off to his club, where he found Hugh Fielding pulling his
moustache over the _Meteor_. He introduced Drake, and left them together.

'I was reading a list of your sins,' said Fielding, and he waved the
newspaper.

Drake laughed in reply.

'The vivisectionists,' said Fielding, 'may cite you as proof of the
painlessness of their work.'

'It is my character that suffers the knife. I fancy the editor would
prefer to call the operation a _post-mortem_.'

Fielding warmed to his new acquaintance. Whisky and potass helped them to
discover common friends, about whom Fielding supplied information with a
flavour of acid in his talk which commended him to Drake; it bit without
malice. Mallinson's name was mentioned.

'You have read his autobiography?' asked Fielding.

'No; but I have read his novel.'

'That's what I mean. Most men wait till they have achieved a career
before they write their autobiographies. He anticipates his. It's rather
characteristic of the man, I think.'

They drove from the club together in a hansom. Opposite to his rooms in
St. James's Street Fielding got out.

'Good-night,' he said, and took a step towards the door.

A lukewarm curiosity which had been stirring in Drake during the latter
part of the evening prompted him to a question now that he saw the
opportunity to satisfy it disappearing.

'You know the Le Mesuriers?' he asked.

Fielding laughed. 'Already?' he said.

'I don't understand.'

'Then you are not acquainted with the lady?'

'No; that's what I'm asking. What is Miss Le Mesurier like?'

'She is more delightfully surprising than even I had imagined. Otherwise
she's difficult to describe; a bald enumeration of features would be rank
injustice.'

Drake's curiosity responded to the flick.

'One might fit them together with a little trouble,' he suggested.

'The metaphor of a puzzle is not inapt,' replied Fielding, as he opened
his door. 'Good-night!' and he went in.

Half-way down Pall Mall Drake was smitten by a sudden impulse. The
fog had cleared from the streets; he looked up at the sky. The night
was moonless but starlit, and very clear. He lifted the trap, spoke
to the cabman, and in a few minutes was driving southwards across
Westminster Bridge.

It was the chance recollection of a phrase dropped by Conway during
dinner which sent him in this untimely scurry to Elm-tree Hill. 'As
distant as El Dorado, and as desirable.' The sentence limned with
precision the impression which London used to produce upon Drake. The
sight of it touched upon some single chord of fancy in a nature otherwise
prosaic, of which the existence was unsuspected by his few companions and
unrealised by himself.

Working in that tower which you could see from the summit of the Elm-tree
Hill topping the sky-line to the west, in order to complete his education
as an engineer before his meagre capital was exhausted, Drake had enjoyed
little opportunity of acquiring knowledge of London; and those
acquaintances of his who travelled thither with their shiny black bags
every morning, seemed to him to know even less than he did. There were
but two points of view from which the town was regarded in the suburb,
and the inhabitants chose this view according to their sex. To the men
London was a counting-house, and certainly some miles of yellow brick
mansions and flashing glasshouses testified that the view was a
profitable one. To the women it was the alluringly wicked abode of
society, and they held their hands before their faces when they mentioned
it, to hide their yearning. Occasionally they imagined they caught a
glimpse into it, when a minister from one of the states in the Balkan
Peninsula strayed down to shed a tallow-candle lustre over a garden
party. To both these views Drake had listened with the air of a man
listening to an impertinence, and his attitude towards the former view
showed particularly the strength of the peculiar impression which London
made on him, since he always placed the acquisition of a fortune as an
aim before himself.

He thought of London, in fact, as a countryman might, with all a
countryman's sense of its mystery and romance, intensified in him by the
daily sight of its domes and spires. He saw it clothed by the changing
seasons, now ringed in green, now shrouded in white; on summer mornings,
when it lay clearly defined like a finished model and the sun sparkled on
the vanes, set the long lines of windows ablaze in the Houses of
Parliament, and turned the river into a riband of polished steel; or,
again, when the cupola of St. Paul's and the Clock Tower at Westminster
pierced upwards through a level of fog, as though hung in the mid-air; or
when mists, shredded by a south wind, swirled and writhed about the
rooftops until the city itself seemed to take fantastic shapes and melt
to a substance no more solid than the mists themselves.

These pictures, deeply impressed upon him at the moment of actual vision,
remained with Drake during the whole period of his absence, changing a
little, no doubt, as his imagination more and more informed them, but
losing nothing of vividness, rather indeed waxing in it with the gradual
years. One may think of him as he marched on expeditions against hostile
tribes, dwelling upon these recollections as upon the portrait of an
inherited homestead. London, in fact, became to him a living motive, a
determining factor in any choice of action. Whatsoever ambitions he
nourished presumed London as their starting-point. It was then after all
not very singular that on this first night of his return he should make a
pilgrimage to the spot whence he had drawn such vital impressions. For a
long time he stood looking down the grass slope ragged with brambles and
stunted trees, and comprehending the whole lighted city in his glance.

On the way home his mind, which soon tired of a plunge into sentiment,
reverted to the thought of Miss Le Mesurier, and he speculated
unsuccessfully on the motive which had prompted her to send him so
immediate an invitation. The enigmatic interest which she took in him,
gave to him in fact a very definite interest in her. He wondered again
what she was like. Fielding's description helped to pique his curiosity.
All that he knew of her was her surname, and he found it impossible to
infer a face or even a figure from this grain of knowledge. By the time
he reached the Grand Hotel, he was regretting that he had not accepted
her invitation.



CHAPTER III


Drake repeated his question to Fielding two days later, after a dinner
with Conway at his club, but in a tone of languid interest.

'Why don't you ask Mallinson?' said Fielding. 'He knows her better
than I do.'

Conway contested the assertion with some heat.

'Besides,' added Drake, 'his imagination may have been at work. About
women, I prefer the estimate of a man of the world.'

The phrase was distasteful to a gentleman whose ambition it was to live
and to be recognised as living within view of, but outside the world, say
just above it in a placid atmosphere of his own creation. Fielding leaned
back in his chair to mete out punishment, joining the finger-tips with an
air of ordering a detailed statement.

'The inhabitants of Sark,' he began, 'were from immemorial times notable
not merely for their predatory instincts, but for the stay-at-home
fashion in which they gave those instincts play. They did not scour the
seas for their victims, neither did they till their island. There was no
need for so much exertion. They lay supine upon their rocks and waited
until a sail appeared above the horizon. Even then they did not stir till
nightfall. But after it was dark, they lighted bonfires upon suitable
promontories, especially towards Brecqhou and the Gouliot channel, where
snags are numerous, and gathered in their harvest in the morning.

'But,' Drake interrupted, 'what on earth has that to do with--'

'Miss Le Mesurier? A great deal, as you will see if you listen patiently.
Lloyd's at that time had not been invented, and the Sarkese were
consequently unpopular with the trading community, and in the reign of
Henry the--well, the particular Henry is immaterial--an irate band of
merchants sailed from Winchelsea on a trip. They depopulated Sark in a
single night, as they thought. But they were mistaken. One family escaped
their attention,--the Le Mesuriers, who were the custodians of the silver
mines--' At this point Conway broke in with an impatient laugh. Fielding
turned a quiet eye upon him and repeated in an even voice, 'Who were the
custodians of the silver mines, and lived under the shelter of a little
cliff close by the main shaft. When Helier de Carteret, who, you know,'
and he inclined suavely towards Conway, 'was Seigneur of somewhere or
other in Jersey, came a few years later to colonise Sark, he found the Le
Mesuriers in possession, and while he confiscated the mines, he allowed
them to retain their ancient dignity of custodians.'

'Fudge!' said Conway rudely. Fielding waved a deprecating hand and
continued:

'Living where they did, it is not to be wondered at that the Le Mesuriers
became gradually rich, and the De Carterets gradually poor, so that when
the latter family was compelled to place the Seigneurie of Sark upon the
market, the Le Mesuriers were the highest bidders. The Le Mesuriers thus
became Seigneurs of Sark. But with their position they reversed their
conduct, and, instead of taking other people's money out of mines, they
put their own in, with the result that they sustained embarrassing
losses. I mention these details incidentally to show that Miss Le
Mesurier of to-day is directly descended from ancestors of predatory
instincts, who did not go a-hunting for victims, but unobtrusively
attracted them in a passive, lazy way which was none the less effectual.'

Conway's patience was exhausted at this period of the disquisition.

'I never heard such a hotch-potch of nonsense in my life,' he said.

'I admit,' returned Fielding with unruffled complacency, 'that I aimed at
an allegory rather than a pedantic narrative of facts. I was endeavouring
to explain Clarice Le Mesurier on the fashionable principle of heredity.'

It flashed across Drake that if Fielding had described, though with some
exaggeration, an actual phase of Miss Le Mesurier's character, she must
have been driven to make the first advance towards his acquaintance by a
motive of unusual urgency. The notion, however, did but flash and flicker
out. He had no mental picture of the girl to fix her within his view; he
knew not, in fact, whether she was girl or woman. She was to him just an
abstraction, and Drake was seldom inclined for the study of abstractions.
His curiosity might, perhaps, have been stronger had Mallinson related to
him the way in which he had been received at the house of the Le
Mesuriers after his dinner with Drake. When he arrived he found the
guests staring hard at each other silently, with the vacant expression
which comes of an effort to understand a recitation in a homely dialect
from the north of the Tweed. He waited in the doorway and suddenly saw
Miss Le Mesurier rise from an embrasure in the window and take half a
step towards him. Then she paused and resumed her seat.

'That's because I come alone,' he thought, and something more than his
vanity was hurt.

The recitation reached its climax. Darby and Joan, quarrelling through
nineteen stanzas as to whether they had been disturbed by a rat or a
mouse, discovered in the twentieth that the animal was a ball of wool.
The company sighed their relief in a murmur of thanks, and Mallinson
crossed the room to the window.

'And Captain Drake?' Clarice asked as she gave him her hand. The
disappointment in her voice irritated him, and he answered with a sharp
petulance.

'He's not a captain really, you know.'

The girl glanced at him in surprise.

'I mean,' he went on, answering the glance, 'Of course he held the rank
over there. But a captain in Matanga!' He shrugged his shoulders. 'There
are more honourable titles.'

'Still I asked you to bring him. You got my note, I suppose?' Her manner
signified a cold request for an explanation.

'I couldn't,' he replied shortly.

'You mean you did not think it worth while to take enough trouble to
find him.'

'No; that's not the reason. In fact I dined with him to-night, but I saw
that I couldn't bring him here.'

'Why?'

'Well, he's changed.'

'In what way?'

'He has grown so hopelessly bourgeois.'

The epithet was a light to Clarice. She knew it for the superlative in
Mallinson's grammar of abuse. Bourgeois! The term was the palm of a hand
squashed upon a lighted candle; it snuffed you out. Convicted of
bourgeoisie, you ought to tinkle a bell for the rest of your life, or at
the easiest be confined east of Temple Bar. Applied to Drake the word
connoted animosity pure and simple, animosity suddenly conceived too, for
it was not a week since Mallinson had been boasting of his friendship
with the man. What was the reason of that animosity? Clarice lowered her
eyelashes demurely and smiled.

'I fancied he was your friend,' she said with inquiring innocence.

'I believe I remarked that he was changed.' Mallinson looked up at a
corner of the ceiling as he spoke, and the exasperation was more than
ever pronounced in his voice.

'Mr. Drake,' she went on, and she laid the slightest possible emphasis on
the prefix, 'Mr. Drake has travelled among the natives a good deal, I
think you told me?'

'Yes.'

'It's funny that that should make a man bourgeois.'

Mallinson became flippant.

'I am not so sure,' he said. 'The natives, I should think, are
essentially bourgeois. They love beads, and that's typical of the class.
Evil communications, you know,' and he laughed, but awkwardly and without
merriment.

'Really?' asked Clarice, looking straight at him with grave eyes. She
seemed to be seriously deliberating the truth of his remark. Mallinson's
laughter stopped short. 'There's my aunt beckoning to you,' she said.

Later in the evening she relented towards him, salving her disappointment
with the flattery of his jealousy. She did not, however, relinquish on
that account her intention to make Stephen Drake's acquaintance. She
merely postponed it, trusting that the tides of accident would drift them
together, as indeed they did, though after a longer delay than she had
anticipated.

The occasion of their meeting was provided by the visit of a French
actress to one of the London theatres. Drake and Conway edged into their
stalls just before the curtain rose on a performance of _Frou-Frou_.
During the first act the theatre gradually filled, and when the lights
were turned up at its close only one box was empty. It was upon the first
tier next to the stage. A few minutes after the second act had begun
Conway nudged Drake and nodded towards the box.

'You asked what Miss Le Mesurier was like. There's your answer.'

Drake glanced in that direction. He saw a girl in a dress of pink silk,
standing in the front of the box, with her hands upon the ledge and
leaning her head a little forwards beyond it. The glare striking up from
the stage beneath her gave a burnish of copper to her hair and a warm
light to her face. She seemed of a fragile figure and with features
regular and delicate. Drake received a notion of unimpressive prettiness
and turned his attention to the stage. When the lights were raised again
in the auditorium, he noticed that Fielding was in the box talking to a
gentleman with white hair, and that Mallinson was seated by the side of
Miss Le Mesurier. The latter couple were gazing about the house and
apparently discussing the audience,--at all events conversing with
considerable animation. Drake commented upon their manner and drew the
conventional inference.

'Oh dear, no!' answered Conway energetically. 'Of course Mallinson's aim
is apparent enough, poor fellow.' A touch of scorn in the voice, which
rang false, negatived the pity of the phrase. 'But I don't suppose for an
instant that she has realised it. She would be the last to do so. No, she
has a fad in her head about authors just for the moment.'

'Oh!' said Drake, turning with some interest to his companion. 'Does that
account for _A Man of Influence_?'

'Yes,' replied Conway reluctantly, 'I fancy it does.'

'I wondered what set him to writing.'

'He was at the Bar when he met her. I believe she persuaded him to write
the book and give up the Law.'

'She is undertaking a pretty heavy responsibility.'

Conway looked at his friend and laughed.

'I'm afraid you won't find that she takes that view, nor indeed do I see
why she should. Mallinson was doing no good--well, not much anyway--at
the Bar. He has scored by following her advice. So if she ever had any
responsibility, which I don't admit, for there was no compulsion on him
to obey, his luck has already wiped it out.'

'I suppose the white-haired man's her father,' said Drake.

'Yes. There's another sister, but she's at school in Brussels.'

'How did you come across them?'

'Mallinson and I met them one summer when we were taking a holiday at
Sark.'

Drake caught the eye of a man who was passing the end of his row of
stalls towards the saloon, and was beckoned out.

'I will join you after the interval,' he said, turning to Conway, and he
saw that his companion was bowing to Miss Le Mesurier.

Miss Le Mesurier in her box noticed Drake's movement, and she asked
Mallinson, 'Who is that speaking to Mr. Conway?'

Mallinson put up his glasses and looked. Clarice read recognition in a
lift of eyebrows, and guessed from his hesitation to answer who it was
that he recognised.

'Well, who is it?'

'Where?' asked Mallinson, assuming an air of perplexity.

'Where you were looking,' said she quietly.

'It's Stephen Drake,' interposed Fielding, and 'Hulloa!' he added in a
voice of surprise as he observed the man whom Drake joined.

'Drake! Stephen Drake!' exclaimed Mr. Le Mesurier, leaning forward
hurriedly. 'Point him out to me, Fielding.'

The latter obeyed, and Mr. Le Mesurier watched Drake until he disappeared
through the doorway, with what seemed to Mallinson a singular intentness.
The father's manner waked him to a suspicion that he might possibly have
mistaken the daughter's motive in seeking Drake's acquaintance. Was it
merely a whim, a fancy, strengthened to the point of activity by the
sight of his name in print? Or was it something more? Was there some
personal connection between Drake and the Le Mesuriers of which the
former was in some way ignorant? He was still pondering the question when
Clarice spoke to him.

'So that was the bourgeois, was it?' she said, bending forwards and
almost whispering the words. Mallinson flushed.

'Was it?' he asked. 'I can't see. I am rather short-sighted.'

'I begin to think you are.'

The sentence was spoken with an ironic sympathy which deepened the flush
upon Mallinson's cheek. A knock at the door offered him escape; he rose
and admitted Conway. Conway was received with politeness by Mr. Le
Mesurier, with cordiality by his daughter.

'I have Drake with me,' said Conway. 'I came to ask permission, since you
invited him to Beaufort Gardens, to introduce him after the next act.'

Mr. Le Mesurier started up in his chair.

'Did you ask him to the house?' he asked Clarice abruptly.

'I asked Mr. Mallinson to bring him,' she replied; and then, with all
the appearance of a penitent anxiety, 'Why? Oughtn't I to have done so?'
she asked.

Mr. Le Mesurier cast a suspicious glance at his daughter.

'I am so sorry,' she said; 'I didn't know that--'

'Oh well,' interrupted Mr. Le Mesurier hurriedly, 'there's no reason that
I know of why you shouldn't have asked him, except that it's surely a
trifle unusual, isn't it? You don't know him from Adam.'

'But I assure you, Mr. Le Mesurier,' interposed Conway, 'there's nothing
to be said against Drake.'

'Of course!' replied Mr. Le Mesurier, with a testy laugh at the other's
warmth. 'We know the length of your enthusiasms, my dear Conway. But I'll
grant all you like about Drake. I only say that my daughter isn't even
acquainted with the fellow.'

'It is just that drawback which Mr. Conway proposes to remove,' said
Clarice demurely. 'Of course,' she went on, 'I should never have thought
of inviting him if Mr. Mallinson had not spoken of him so often as his
friend.' She directed her sweetest smile to Mallinson. 'You did, didn't
you? Yes! Mr. Drake had been away from England for so long that I thought
it would be only kind to ask you to bring him. But if I had known that
papa had any objection, I should naturally never have done it. I am very
sorry. Perhaps I am not careful enough.' She ended her speech in a tone
of self-reproach, which had its effect; for her father was roused by it
to expostulate.

'My dear,' he said, 'I never hinted that I had an objection to him. You
are always twisting people's words and imputing wrong meanings to them.'

Mallinson fancied that he detected a note of something more than mere
remonstrance in Mr. Le Mesurier's voice, a consciousness of some thought
in his daughter's mind which he would not openly acknowledge her to
possess. The perception quickened Mallinson's conjecture into a positive
conviction. There was evidently some fact about Drake, some incident
perhaps in his life which brought him into relations with the Le
Mesuriers,--relations ignored by Drake, but known by Mr. Le Mesurier and
suspected by Clarice. Was this fact to Drake's advantage or discredit?
The father's manner indicated rather the latter; but Mallinson put that
aside. It was more than overbalanced by the daughter's--he sought for a
word and chanced on 'forwardness.' His irritation against her prompted
him to hug it, to stamp it on his thoughts of her with a jeer of 'I have
found you out.' On the other hand, all his knowledge of her cried out
against the word. He looked into the girl's face to resolve his doubts
upon the point and found that she was watching him with some perplexity.
A question to Conway explained the reason why she was puzzled.

'How did you know that I asked Mr. Drake to Beaufort Gardens?' she asked.

'I was present when Mallinson asked him to go.'

'Mr. Mallinson asked him!' she exclaimed, dropping her fan in her
surprise. 'Why, I thought--' She saw the confusion in Mallinson's face
and checked herself suddenly with a little laugh of pure enjoyment. Her
companion's jealousy was more heroical than she had given him credit for;
it had induced him to lie.

To cover his discomfiture Mallinson dived for the fan.

'Oh, don't trouble,' she said, sympathy shaping the words into a
positive entreaty. 'You are _so_ short-sighted, you know. Then you will
bring Mr. Drake,' she turned to Conway as he rose and moved towards the
door. Mr. Le Mesurier had resumed his conversation with Fielding, and
beyond a slight movement of impatience, he gave no sign that he had
heard the words.

'After the next act,' said Conway, and he went out.

Mallinson picked up the fan and laid it upon the ledge of the box.

'I lied to you that evening,' he whispered in a low faltering tone. 'I
have no excuse--Can't you guess why I lied?'

There was a feeling behind the words, genuine by the ring of it, and to
feeling Clarice was by nature responsive. Mallinson saw the mischief die
out of her face, the eyelids droop until the lashes touched the cheek.
Then she raised them again, tenderness flowered in her eyes.

'Perhaps,' she said.

She turned from him and watched Conway making his way along the row of
stalls. Drake was already in his seat.

'Then why didn't Mr. Drake come if you asked him?' she said with a quick
change of tone.

'He gave no reason beyond that it was his first night in London.'

Miss Le Mesurier looked again at Drake. His indifference irritated her
and in a measure interested her in spite of herself. She was not used to
indifference, and felt a need to apologise for it to herself. 'Of
course,' she reflected, 'he had not seen me then,' and so was reinstated
in her self-esteem. The explanation, however, failed her the next
moment. For Drake, at all events, had seen her now; she had caught him
looking up into the box before Conway left. Yet when Conway communicated
his news, Drake never so much as moved his head in her direction. The
three blows of the mallet had just sounded from behind the curtain and
he sat upright in his seat, his face fixed towards the stage. Clarice
bit her lips and frowned.

'Don't be alarmed. He is really quite interested in you.' She looked up.
Fielding was standing just behind her shoulder. 'He asked me quite often
what you were like.'

'I don't understand you,' said she loftily; and then, 'He might be a
schoolboy at his first pantomime.'

'He gives that kind of impression, I believe, in everything he does.'

Miss Le Mesurier had not made the remark in order to elicit eulogy.

'He looks old, though,' she said, and her voice defied Fielding to
contradict her.

'Responsibility writes with the cyphers of age,' he quoted solemnly. It
was his habit to recite sentences from _A Man of Influence_ when
Mallinson was present, in a tone which never burlesqued but somehow
belittled the work. Mallinson was never able to take definite offence,
but he was none the less invariably galled by it.

'As a matter of fact there is hardly a year to choose between the ages of
Drake, Conway, and you, Mallinson, is there?' asked Fielding.

Mallinson admitted that the statement was correct.

'He has lived a hard life, has anxieties enough now, I don't doubt. You
will find the explanation in that. The only people who remain young
nowadays are actors. They keep the child in them.'

The curtain went up as he spoke. As soon as it was lowered again Conway
hurried Drake out of the stalls and up the staircase to the box.
Clarice welcomed Drake quietly. Mr. Le Mesurier vouchsafed him the
curtest of nods.

'Didn't I see you join Israel Biedermann?' asked Fielding. The name
belonged to a speculator who had lately been raised into prominence by
the clink of his millions.

'Yes,' replied Drake, with a laugh. 'The city makes one acquainted with
strange financiers. I have business with him.'

Mr. Le Mesurier showed symptoms of interest.

'Really?' he said. 'You mean to return to Africa, I suppose.'

'If I can help it, no.'

'You intend to stay in England?' asked Mallinson sharply.

'Yes,' replied Drake. He addressed himself to Miss Le Mesurier. 'You were
kind enough to invite me to your house on the evening I arrived.'

Mr. Le Mesurier's eyebrows went up at the mention of the day.

'Mr. Mallinson had talked of you,' she explained. 'We seemed to know you
already. I saw that you had landed from an interview in the _Meteor_, and
thought you might have liked to come with your friend.'

The words were spoken indifferently.

'The _Meteor_?' inquired Mr. Le Mesurier. 'Isn't that the paper which
attacked you, Mr. Drake? You let yourself be interviewed by it? I didn't
know that.'

He glanced keenly at his daughter, and Mallinson intercepted the look.
His conviction was proved certain. There was something concealed,
something maybe worth his knowing.

'The attack was of no importance,' replied Drake, 'but I wanted it to be
known in some quarters that I had landed without losing time.'

'You replied to the attack?'

'Not so much that. I gave the itinerary of the march to Boruwimi.'

Mr. Le Mesurier perceived his daughter's eyes quietly resting upon him,
and checked a movement of impatience, less at the answer than at his own
folly in provoking it. Drake turned to Clarice and was offered a seat by
her side. He realised, now that she was near, talking to him, that his
impression of her, gained from the distance between the box and the
stalls, did her injustice. She seemed now the vignette of a beautiful
woman, missing the stateliness, perhaps, too, the distinction, but
obtaining by very reason of what she missed a counterbalancing charm, to
be appreciated only at close quarters, a charm of the quiet kind,
diffused about her like a light; winsome--that was the epithet he
applied to her, and remained doubtfully content with it, for there was a
gravity too.

Clarice invited him to speak of Matanga, but Drake was reticent on the
subject, through sheer disinclination to talk about himself, a
disinclination which the girl recognised, and gave him credit for,
shooting a comparing glance at Mallinson.

Mr. Le Mesurier, it should be said, remarked this reticence as well, and
it gave him an idea. From Matanga Drake led the conversation back to
London, and they fell to discussing the play.

'You are very interested in it,' she said.

'Yes,' said he, 'I have never seen the play before.'

'I should hardly have thought it would have suited your taste,'
Conway observed.

'Why? It's French of course, but you can discount the sentiment. There is
a stratum of truth left, don't you think?'

Mallinson raised pitying shoulders. 'Of the ABC order perhaps,' he
allowed.

'I am afraid it appeals to me all the more on that account,' Drake
answered, with a genial laugh. 'But what I meant really was truth to
those people--truth to the characters presumed. Consistency is perhaps
the better word. I like to see a play run on simple lines to an end you
can't but foresee. The taste's barbarian, I don't doubt.'

Miss Le Mesurier's lips instinctively pouted a mischievous 'bourgeois'
towards Mallinson. He remarked hastily that he thought the curtain was on
the point of rising, and Miss Le Mesurier pushed her opera-glasses
towards him with a serene 'Not yet, I think.' Mallinson understood the
suggestion of her movement and relapsed into a sullen silence.

By the time that Conway and Drake rose to leave the box Mr. Le Mesurier
had thought out his idea. His manner changed of a sudden to one of great
cordiality; he expressed his pleasure at meeting Drake, and shook him by
the hand, but destroyed the effect of his action through weakly revealing
his diplomacy to his daughter by a triumphant glance at her.

At the close of the performance he met Drake in the vestibule of the
theatre and lingered behind his party. Fielding, Mallinson, and Conway
meanwhile saw Miss Le Mesurier into her carriage.

'What in the world is papa doing?' asked Clarice.

'Exchanging cards with Drake,' replied Fielding. Mallinson turned his
head round quickly and beheld the two gentlemen affably shaking hands
again. Conway bent into the carriage.

'Do you like him?' he asked.

'Oh yes,' she replied indifferently.

'Then I am glad I introduced him to you,' and some emphasis was laid
upon the 'I.'

Mr. Le Mesurier came out to the brougham and the coachman drove off.

'I like that young fellow, Drake,' he said, with a wave of the hand. 'I
have asked him to call.'

Clarice did not inform her diplomatic father that unless she had foreseen
his intention she would have undertaken the discharge of that act of
courtesy herself.

Mallinson took a hansom and drove straight from the theatre to his
chambers in South Kensington, Conway walked off in the opposite
direction, so that Drake and Fielding were left to stroll away together.
They walked across Leicester Square towards St. James's Street, each
occupied with his own thoughts. Fielding's were of an unusually
stimulating kind; he foresaw the possibility of a very diverting comedy,
to be played chiefly for his amusement and partly for Miss Le Mesurier's,
by Clarice herself, Drake, and Mallinson. From the clash of two natures
so thoroughly different as those of the two men, played off against one
another with all the delicate manipulation of Miss Le Mesurier's
experienced hand, there was much enjoyment to be anticipated for the
purely disinterested spectator which he intended to be. Of the probable
_dénouement_ he formed no conception, and in fact avoided purposely any
temptation to do so. He preferred that the play should unroll itself in a
series of delightful surprises. The one question which he asked himself
at this time was whether Drake might not decline to act his proper and
assigned part. He glanced at him as they walked along. Drake looked
thoughtful, and was certainly silent; both thought and silence were
propitious signs. On the other hand, Drake had interests in the City, had
them at heart too, and, worse still, had the City itself at heart.

Fielding recollected an answer he had made to Mallinson. The word 'heart'
brought it to his mind. Mallinson was jeering at the journalist's
metaphor of the 'throbbing heart' as applied to London. 'The phrase,'
Drake had said, 'to me is significant of something more than cheap
phraseology. I know that half a throb could create an earthquake in
Matanga.' What if the man's established interest in this direction were
to suppress his nascent interest in Clarice! Fielding immediately asked
Drake what he thought of Miss Le Mesurier.

'Oh!' said the latter, palpably waking from reflections of quite another
order, 'I liked her,' and he spoke of her looks.

'She has the art of dressing well,' corrected Fielding, disappointment
spurring him to provoke advocacy of the lady. Drake, however, was
indifferent to the correction.

'I like her eyes,' he said.

'She is skilled in the use of them.'

'I didn't notice that. They seemed of the quiet kind.'

'At need she can swing a wrecker's light behind them.'

'I like her hand too. It has the grip of a friend.'

'A friend! Yes. There's the pitfall.'

Drake only laughed. He was not to be persuaded to any strenuous defence,
and Fielding felt inclined to harbour a grudge against him as needlessly
a spoil-sport. Later on, however, when he was in bed it occurred to him
that the play might still be performed, though upon different lines, and
with a plot rather different from what he had imagined--his plot
inverted, in fact. Clarice Le Mesurier, he remembered, had made the first
advance to Drake. What if she for once in a while were to figure as the
pursuer! That alternative would, perhaps, be the more diverting of the
two. He must consult Mrs. Willoughby as to the effect which Drake's
bearing would produce on women--consult her cautiously, prudence warned
him. Mrs. Willoughby, a cousin and friend of Miss Le Mesurier's, was not
of the sort to lend a helping hand in the game if the girl was to provide
the sport--or indeed in the other event. The one essential thing,
however, was that there should be a comedy, and he must see to it that
there was one, with which reflection he drew the bed-clothes comfortably
about him and went to sleep.

There was, however, one other condition equally essential to his
enjoyment, but so apparently inevitable that he did not stop to consider
it, namely, that Hugh Fielding should be a mere spectator. It did not
occur to him at all that he might be drawn into an unwilling assumption
of a part in his own play.



CHAPTER IV


Mallinson on reaching home unlocked a little oak cabinet which hung
against the wall beside his writing-table, and searched amongst a litter
of newspaper cuttings and incomplete manuscripts. He unearthed at last a
copy of the _Meteor_, bought between the Grand Hotel and Beaufort Gardens
on the night of Drake's dinner, and, drawing up a chair to the fire, he
read through the interview again. The something to be known was
gradually, he felt, shaping into a definite form; it had acquired
locality this very evening, as he was assured by the recollection of a
certain repressed movement upon Mr. Le Mesurier's part at the mention of
Boruwimi. Could he add to the knowledge by the help of the interview? Mr.
Le Mesurier had not known of its publication until to-night, and so
clearly had not read it; his knowledge was antedated. But on the other
hand it was immediately after the perusal of the article that Clarice had
sent through him her invitation to Drake.

Mallinson studied the article line by line, but without result.

He tossed the newspaper back into the cupboard, changed his coat, and
sat down to his writing-table with a feverish impulse to work. He was
unable to conceive it possible that Drake should be unaffected by Miss
Le Mesurier's attractions. The man was energetic, therefore a dangerous
rival. Miss Le Mesurier, besides, seemed bent upon pitting Drake and
himself against each other. Why? he asked. Well, whatever the reason,
he had a chance of winning--more than a chance, he reflected,
remembering a passage of tenderness that evening. His future was
promising, if only he worked. Perhaps Clarice only ranged the two men
opposite to one another in order to stimulate one of them; he reached
an answer to his question 'Why?'

The extravagances of a lover's thoughts have often this much value: they
disclose principles of his nature working at the formation of the man,
and in Mallinson's case they betrayed his habit of drawing the energy for
application from externals, and from no sacred fire within.

He shut his door and worked for a month. At the end of the month, lying
in bed at night and watching a planet visible through his window, he saw
the ray of light between himself and the star divide into two, and the
two beams describe outwards segments of a circle. He turned his face away
for a few moments and then looked at the planet again. The phenomenon was
repeated. He knew it for a trick of tired eyes and a warning to slacken
his labours. On the next afternoon he called at Beaufort Gardens, and was
received warmly by Clarice and her aunt.

There was a suggestion of reproach for his long absence in the former's
voice, and suggestion of reproach from her kindled him. He explained his
plunge under surface on the ground of work. Details were immediately
demanded, the plot of the new novel discussed and praised; there was
flattery too in the diffident criticism of an incident here and there,
and the sweetest foretaste of happiness in the joint rearrangement of the
disputed chapter. Mallinson was lifted on a billow of confidence. He was
of the type which adjusts itself to the opinions his company may have of
him. Praise Mallinson and he deserved praises; ignore him and he sank
like a plummet to depths of insignificance, conscious of insignificance
and of nothing more except a dull rancour against the person who
impressed the knowledge on him. That way Drake had offended unwittingly
at the Grand Hotel; he had recognised no distinction between the
Mallinson of to-day and the Mallinson of ten years ago.

Mallinson was asked to dinner on Friday of the next week.

'Really,' said the aunt after his departure, 'he is very clever. I didn't
understand what he said, but he is very clever.'

'Yes,' said Clarice reflectively, 'I suppose--I mean of course he is.'

She spoke in a tone of hesitation which surprised her auditor, for
hitherto Clarice had been very certain as to her impressions on
the point.

At dinner on the following Friday Mallinson was confronted by Conway and
had Mrs. Willoughby upon his right. Mallinson liked Mrs. Willoughby, the
widow of the black hair and blue eyes, now in the mauve stage of
widowhood. She drew him out of the secretiveness within which he
habitually barred himself, and he felt thankful to her for his prisoner's
hour of mid-day airing. Mrs. Willoughby spoke to Clarice, mentioning a
private view of an exhibition of pictures at which she had seen Clarice.

'Who was the cavalier?' she added.

'Mr. Drake,' Clarice replied serenely. 'I met him there by accident.'
Mrs. Willoughby looked puzzled, and repeated the name in an undertone.

'You don't know him, I think,' Clarice went on. 'He comes here. Papa
asked him to call. Captain Drake, I suppose we ought to call him, but he
has dropped the Captain.'

Mrs. Willoughby started and shot a bewildered glance at Mr. Le Mesurier.

'I like the man very much,' said Mr. Le Mesurier, with a touch of
championship in his voice. 'You should meet him. I am sure you would
like him too.'

Mrs. Willoughby made no answer to the suggestion, and resumed her dinner
in silence, while Conway sang his usual paean of praise. After a little
she turned to Mallinson.

'Do you know this Mr. Drake?'

'Yes, we were boys together in the same suburb before he went to Africa.
It was unfortunately through me that he was asked to this house. I had
mentioned him as a friend of mine at one time, and Miss Le Mesurier
invited me to bring him on the day he reached London.'

'So soon as that! It's funny Clarice never mentioned him to me. You, of
course, told her the date of Mr. Drake's arrival.'

'No, she found that out from an interview in the _Meteor_.'

'I remember.'

'You read it?'

'Yes. So you introduced him to Clarice?'

'No. He did not come that night. Conway brought him up to Mr. Le
Mesurier's box when _Frou-Frou_ was being played a month ago.'

'Never mind, we will talk of something else.'

Mrs. Willoughby had just observed Clarice. She was nodding assent to the
words of her neighbour, but plainly lending an attentive ear to Mrs.
Willoughby's conversation. Mrs. Willoughby spoke of indifferent subjects
until the ladies rose.

When Mallinson, however, entered the drawing-room, he perceived Mrs.
Willoughby's fan motioning him to attendance, and she took up the thread
of her talk at the point where she had dropped it.

'You said unfortunately.'

'Well, you have read the _Meteor_.'

'You endorse their view?'

'From what I have seen of Drake since his return, yes.'

'But if there's anything in their charges, why doesn't the Colonial
Office move?'

'The Colonial Office!' Mallinson shrugged his shoulders. 'You forget only
natives and Arabs were killed in the Boruwimi expedition, and they don't
count. If he had killed a white man--What's the matter?'

'Nothing,' said Mrs. Willoughby, recovering from a start; 'an idea
occurred to me, that's all.'

'Tell me.'

For a moment Mrs. Willoughby seemed at a loss. Then she said, with a
laugh:

'If you will know, I was wondering whether your explanation covered
all you meant by "unfortunately."' She lowered her voice. 'You can be
frank with me.'

Mallinson was diverted by her assurance of sympathy, and launched out
immediately into an elaborate history of the emotions which the
friendliness of Miss Le Mesurier to Drake had set bubbling within him.
Mr. Le Mesurier approached the pair before Mallinson had finished, and
the latter hurriedly broke off.

'Well,' said Mr. Le Mesurier, 'will you meet Mr. Drake, Constance, at
lunch, say on Sunday?'

Mrs. Willoughby stared.

'Do you mean that?'

'Certainly.' Mr. Le Mesurier was defiant. Mrs. Willoughby's stare changed
to a look of thoughtfulness.

'No,' she said, 'I don't think I could.' She moved away. Mallinson
followed her.

'You know something about Drake,' he exclaimed, 'something which
would help me.'

'That is hardly generous rivalry,' she replied.

'Does he deserve generosity?' he asked, with a trace of cunning in his
expression which Mrs. Willoughby found distasteful.

'If I can help you,' she answered evasively, 'help you honourably, I
will,' and she turned away. Mallinson put out a hand to stop her.

'I need help,' he whispered. 'There is a conspiracy to praise the man.
You heard Conway at dinner. It's the same with every one, from Mr. Le
Mesurier to Fielding.'

'Oh,' she said, her voice kindling to an expression of interest, 'does
Mr. Fielding like him? He is fastidious too.' She paused for a second in
deliberation, her eyes searching the floor. Raising them, she perceived
Mr. Le Mesurier coming towards her.

'I claim our privilege,' she said. 'I will lunch on Sunday, and meet your
paragon, after all.'

'I am very glad,' he said impressively. 'Lunch at two.'

Mrs. Willoughby waited until he was out of ear-shot, and turned again to
Mallinson.

'It is best that I should see the man, and know something more of him
than hearsay. Don't you think so?'

A note of apology discounted the explanation. Mallinson understood that
the reference to Fielding was the cause of her change of mind.

'Do you value Fielding's opinion?' he asked.

'Oh, I don't know. On some subjects I think yes. Don't you?'

Mallinson began to wonder immediately whether Fielding's opinions might
not be valuable after all, since Mrs. Willoughby valued them. If so, the
man might be able to throw some light upon other points--for instance,
the perplexing question of Miss Le Mesurier's inclinations. Mallinson
made up his mind to call upon Fielding. He called on the Sunday morning,
and Fielding blandly related to him his history of Sark.

Having worked Mallinson to a sufficiently amusing pitch of indignation,
and having hinted his moral that the subjugation of Miss Le Mesurier
would be effected only by the raider, Fielding complacently dismissed him
and repaired to Beaufort Gardens for lunch. He found Drake upon the
doorstep with a hand upon the knocker, and the two gentlemen exchanged
greetings.

'I have just left Mallinson,' said Fielding.

Drake's hand fell from the knocker.

'Tell me!' he said. 'Mallinson perplexes me in many ways. For instance,
he shows me little good-will now--'

'Does that surprise you?' Fielding interjected, with a laugh.

Drake coloured and replied quickly, 'You didn't let me finish. If he
dislikes me, what made him talk about me as his friend to--to the Le
Mesuriers before I returned to England?'

'Your name in print. You verged on--well, notoriety. You may laugh, but
that's the reason. Mallinson's always on the rack of other people's
opinions--judges himself by what he imagines to be their standard of him.
Acquaintanceship with a celebrity lifts him in their eyes, he thinks, so
really in his own.'

Drake remained doubtfully pondering what credit acquaintanceship with him
could confer on any one. He was led back to his old view of Mallinson as
a man tottering on a rickety base.

'Will he do something great?' he asked, his forehead puckered in an
effort to calculate the qualities which make for greatness.

Fielding chuckled quietly, and answered:

'Unlikely, I think. Clever, of course, the man is, but it is never the
work he does that pleases him, but the pose after the work's done.
That's fatal.'

Drake looked at Fielding curiously.

'That's a criticism which would never have occurred to me.' He glanced at
his watch. 'We have five minutes. Shall we walk round the Gardens?'
Fielding chuckled again and assented. He saw the curtain rising on his
comedy. For five minutes they paced up and down the pavement, with an
interchange of simple questions on Drake's part, and discriminating
answers on Fielding's--answers not wholly to encourage, but rather to
promote a state of doubt, so much more interesting to the spectator.

When after the five minutes had elapsed they entered the house, they
found that Mrs. Willoughby had arrived.

Clarice introduced Stephen Drake to Mrs. Willoughby. He saw a woman
apparently in the early twenties, tall, with a broad white forehead,
under masses of unruly black hair, and black eyebrows shadowing eyes of
the colour of sea-shallows on an August morning. The eyes were hard, he
noticed, and the lips pressed together; she bowed to him without a word.
Hostility was evidently to be expected, and Drake wondered at this, for
he knew Mrs. Willoughby to be Clarice's chief friend and confidante. Mrs.
Willoughby fired the first shot of the combat as soon as they had sat
down to lunch. She spoke of unscrupulous cruelty shown by African
explorers, and appealed to Drake for correction, she said, but her tone
implied corroboration.

'I have known cases,' he admitted, 'here and there. You can't always
prevent it. The pioneer in a new country doesn't bring testimonials with
him invariably. In fact, one case of the kind happened under my own eyes,
I might almost say.'

Mrs. Willoughby seemed put out of countenance by Drake's reply. She had
plainly expected a strenuous denial of her statement. Drake caught a
look of reproof which Mr. Le Mesurier directed towards her, and set it
down to his host's courtesy towards his guest. Clarice, however, noticed
the look too.

'Indeed,' she said. 'Tell us about it, Mr. Drake. It will be a change
from our usual frock-coat conversation.'

Mr. Le Mesurier imposed the interdict of paternal authority.

'I think, my dear, stories of that class are, as a rule, a trifle crude.
Eh, Drake?'

Miss Le Mesurier on the instant became personified submission.

'Of course, papa,' she said, 'if you have reason for believing the story
isn't suitable, I wouldn't think of asking Mr. Drake to tell it.'

Mr. Le Mesurier raised his hands in a gesture of despair, and looked
again at Mrs. Willoughby. His glance said, unmistakably, 'Now see what
you've done!' Fielding broke into an open laugh; and Clarice haughtily
asked him to explain the joke, so that the others present might share in
his amusement.

'I will,' said Fielding. 'In fact, I meant you to ask me to. I laughed,
because I notice that whenever you are particularly obedient to Papa,
then you are particularly resolved to have your own way.'

Miss Le Mesurier's foot tapped under the table.

'Of course,' she said, with a withering shrug of her shoulders, 'that's
wit, Mr. Fielding.' Repartee was not her strong point.

'No,' he replied, 'merely rudeness. And what's the use of being a
privileged friend of the family if you can't be rude?'

Drake came to the rescue. 'Mr. Le Mesurier is quite right,' said he.
'Incidents of the kind I mentioned are best left untold.'

'I don't doubt it,' said Fielding. 'A man loses all sight of humanitarian
principles the moment he's beyond view of a fireside.'

'Oh, does he?' replied Drake. 'The man by the fireside is apt to confuse
sentiment with humanitarian principles; and sentiment, I admit, you have
to get rid of when you find yourself surrounded with savages.'

'Exactly! You become assimilated with the savages, and retain only one
link between yourself and civilisation.'

'And that link?'

'Is a Maxim gun.'

'My dear fellow, that's nonsense,' Drake answered in some heat. 'It's
easy enough to sit here and discuss humanitarian principles, but you need
a pretty accurate knowledge of what they are, and what they are not,
before you begin to apply them recklessly beyond the reach of
civilisation. When I went first to Africa, I stayed for a time at
Pretoria, and from Pretoria I went north in a pioneer company. You want
to have been engaged in an expedition of that kind to quite appreciate
what it means. We were on short rations a good part of the time, with a
fair prospect of absolute starvation ahead, and doing forced marches all
the while. When we camped of an evening, I have seen men who had eaten
nothing since breakfast, and little enough then, just slip the saddles
from the horses, and go fast asleep under the nearest tree, without
bothering about their supper. Then, perhaps, an officer would shake them
up, and they'd have to go collecting brushwood for fires. That's a pretty
bad business in the dark, when you're dead tired with the day's tramp.
You don't much care whether you pick up a snake or a stick of wood. I
remember, too,' and he gave a laugh at the recollection, 'we used to be
allowed about a thimbleful of brandy a day. Well, I have noticed men walk
twenty yards away from the camps to drink their tot, for fear some one
might jog their elbows. And it was only one mouthful after all--you
didn't need to water it. Altogether, that kind of expedition would be
something considerably more than an average strain upon a man's
endurance, if it was led through a friendly country. But add to your
difficulties the continual presence of an enemy, outnumbering you
incalculably, always on the alert for you to slacken discipline for a
second, and remember you are not marching to safety, but from it. The
odds against you are increasing all the time, and that not for one or two
days, but for eighty and a hundred. I can assure you, one would hear a
great deal less of the harmlessness of the black, if more people had
experienced that grisly hour before daybreak, when they generally make
their attacks. Your whole force--it's a mere handful--stands under arms
at attention in the dark--and it can be dark on the veld, even in the
open, on a starlight night. The veld seems to drink up and absorb the
light, as though it was so much water trickling on the parched ground.
There you stand! You have thrown out scouts to search the country round
you, but you know for certain that half of them are nodding asleep in
their saddles. For all you know, you may be surrounded on all sides. The
strain of that hour of waiting grows so intense that you actually long to
see the flash of a scout's rifle, and so be certain they are coming, or
to feel the ground shake under you, as they stamp their war-dance half a
mile away. Their battle chant, too, makes an uncanny sound, when it
swells across the veld in the night, but, upon my soul, you almost hear
it with relief.'

Drake stopped and looked round upon faces fixed intently on his own,
faces which mirrored his own absorption in his theme. There was one
exception, however; Mrs. Willoughby sat back in her chair
constraining herself to an attitude of indifference, and as Drake
glanced at her, her lips seemed to be moving as though with the
inward repetition of some word or phrase. Even Fielding was shaken
out of his supermundane quietism.

For the first time he saw revealed the real quality in Drake; he saw
visibly active that force of which, although it had lain hitherto latent,
he had always felt the existence and understood why he had made friends
so quickly, and compelled those friends so perpetually to count with him
in their thoughts. It was not so much in the mere words that Drake
expressed this quality as in the spirit which informed, the voice which
launched them, and the looks which gave them point. His face flashed into
mobility, enthusiasm dispelling its set habit of gravity, sloughing it,
Fielding thought, or better still, burning through it as through a crust
of lava; his eyes--eyes which listened, Fielding had not inaptly
described them--now spoke, and spoke vigorously; enthusiasm, too, rode on
his voice, deepening its tones--not enthusiasm of the febrile kind which
sends the speech wavering up and down the scale, but enthusiasm with
sobriety as its dominant note concentrated into a level flow of sound.
His description had all the freshness of an immediate occurrence.
Compared with the ordinary style of reminiscence it was the rose upon the
tree to the dried leaves of a _potpourri_.

'But,' said Fielding, unconsciously resisting the influence which Drake
exerted, 'I thought you took a whole army of blacks with you on these
expeditions?'

'Not on the one I speak of. In Matanga a small force of them, yes! But
even they were difficult to manage, and you could not depend upon them.
They would desert at the first opportunity, sell their guns, your
peace-offerings of brass rods, and whatever they could lay their hands
on, and straggle behind in the dusk until they got lost. It was no use
sending back for them in the morning. One would only have found their
bones, and their bones pretty well scoured too. I speak of them as a
class, of course. There were races loyal enough no doubt, the Zanzibari,
for instance. But the difficulty with them was to prevent them fighting
when there was no occasion. In fact the blacks who were loyal made up for
their loyalty by a lack of common-sense.'

'Cause and effect, I should be inclined to call the combination,'
remarked Fielding, 'with the lack of common-sense as the cause.'

Mrs. Willoughby looked her gratitude across the table, and again her lips
moved. Drake chanced to catch her eye, and in spite of herself she
rippled to a laugh. She had been defending herself by a repetition of the
editor's comment of "filibuster."

But at the same moment that Drake's glance met hers she had just waked up
to the humour of her conduct, and recognised it as a veritable child's
device. She could not but laugh, and, laughing there into the eyes of the
man, she lost her hostility to him. However, Mrs. Willoughby made an
effort to recover it.

'Well, I don't see,' she said to Drake, 'what right you have got to
marching into other people's countries even though they are black.'

'Ah!' Drake answered. 'That's precisely what I call, if I may say so, the
fireside point of view. We obey a law of nature rather than claim a
right. One can discuss the merits of a law of nature comfortably by a
fireside. But out there one realises how academic the discussion is, one
obeys it. The white man has always spread himself over the country of the
black man, and we may take it he always will. He has the pioneer's
hankering after the uttermost corners of the earth, and in addition to
that the desire to prosper. He obeys both motives; they are of the
essence of him. Besides, if it comes to a question of abstract right, I
am not sure we couldn't set up a pretty good case. After all, a nation
holds its country primarily to benefit itself, no doubt, but also in
trust for the world; and the two things hang together. It benefits itself
by observing that trust. Now the black man seals his country up, he
doesn't develop it. In the first place he doesn't know how to, and in the
second, if he did, he would forget as soon as he could. I suppose that it
is impossible to estimate the extent of the good which the opening of
Africa has done for an overcrowded continent like Europe; and what
touches Europe touches the world, no doubt of that, is there? But I'm
preaching,' and he came abruptly to an end.

'What I don't understand,' said Mr. Le Mesurier, and he voiced a question
the others felt an impulse to ask, 'is, how on earth you are content to
settle down as a business man in the City?'

Drake retired into himself and replied with some diffidence:

'Oh, the change is not as great perhaps as you think, I have always
looked forward to returning here. One has ambitions of a kind.'

'You ought to go into Parliament,' Clarice said.

Drake laughed, thanking her with the laugh. 'It's rather too early to
speak of that.'

Mrs. Willoughby observed that he actually blushed. A blushing filibuster!
There was a contradiction of terms in the phrase, and he undoubtedly
blushed. A question shot through her mind. Did he blush from modesty, or
because Clarice made the suggestion?

Mrs. Willoughby asked Fielding for an answer as he stood by the door of
her brougham, before she drove away from Beaufort Gardens.

'For both reasons, I should say,' he replied.

'You think, then, he's attracted? He hardly showed signs of it, except
that once, and modesty alone might account for that.'

Mrs. Willoughby laid some insistence upon the possibility.

'I should have been inclined to agree with you,' answered Fielding, 'but
Drake dragged me round the square before lunch to question me about
Mallinson.'

'That makes for your view, certainly. What did you tell him?'

'I painted the portrait which I thought he wanted, picked out
Mallinson's vices in clear colours and added a few which occurred to me
at the moment. However, Drake closed my mouth with--"He's a hard
worker, though."'

'I like the man for that!' cried Mrs. Willoughby, and checked
herself suddenly.

'Yes, he's honest certainly.'

'But was he right?'

'Quite! Mallinson works very hard; scents danger, I suppose.'

Mrs. Willoughby heaved a sigh of relief.

'There's some chance for him, then. Will he do anything great?'

Fielding laughed.

'That's one of the questions Drake put to me! I think never.'

Mrs. Willoughby accepted the dictum without asking for the reason. She
sat for a moment disconsolately thoughtful. Then she gave a start.

'There's Percy Conway. I had forgotten him!'

'And wisely, I should think. He is just making a back for Drake to jump
from if he will.'

'Yes, I noticed that,' said Mrs. Willoughby, with a sneer at the folly of
the creature. 'He seems to look upon Mallinson and himself as the two
figures which tell the weather in a Swiss clock. When one comes out of
his box the other goes in. I catch your trick, you see,' and her face
relaxed to a smile.

'Only to improve on it in the matter of truth. For you imply a comparison
between Miss Le Mesurier and the weather, and the points of resemblance
are strong.'

Mrs. Willoughby's smile became a laugh. 'I don't hold with you about
Clarice,' she said. 'You don't know her as I do. She can take things
seriously.'

'Intensely so--for five minutes. I have never denied it.'

Mrs. Willoughby did not display her usual alacrity to engage in the
oft-repeated combat as to Miss Le Mesurier's merits. Her face grew
serious again.

'Does Clarice care for him, you think?'

Fielding was admiring Mrs. Willoughby's eyes at the moment, and answered
absently. 'Conway, you mean?'

'No, no! How wilfully irritating you are! This Mr. Drake, of course. By
the way, I suppose he will get on?' She spoke in a voice which implied
regret for the supposition, and almost appealed for a denial of it.

'I should think there's no doubt of it. They tell me he has just sent a
force up country in Matanga to locate concessions. You hit harder than
you knew at lunch, for the force carries machine-guns. Oh yes, he'll get
on. He has been seen arm-in-arm with Israel Biedermann in Throgmorton
Street. You must tell that to a city man to realise what it means.'

'But do you think Clarice cares for him?'

'Miss Le Mesurier cares for--' he began, and broke off with a question.
'Do you read Latin?' He was answered with an exasperated shake of the
head. 'Because Miss Le Mesurier always reminds me of an ode of Horace,
Finished, exquisite to the finger-tips, but still lacking something.
Soul, is it? Perhaps that lack makes the perfection. But what's your
objection to Drake?'

Mrs. Willoughby started a little. 'Objection?' she laughed. 'Why? I never
told you that I had one.'

'You told not only me, but every one at lunch--Drake himself included.'

Mrs. Willoughby looked doubtfully at Fielding. 'Well,' she said, 'there
is something. I feel inclined to explain it to you. You may be able to
advise me. Not now!' she went on as Fielding bent forward with a very
unusual interest. 'Let me see. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday'--she ticked
off the days upon her fingers. 'Thursday afternoon. Could you come and
see me then?'

'Yes.'

'Thanks. Good-bye, and don't forget; five o'clock. I shall be in to
no one else.' And Mrs. Willoughby drove off with the smile again
upon her face.



CHAPTER V


Whether Fielding was correct in limiting Miss Le Mesurier's capacity
for continued seriousness, she was undeniably serious when she called
upon Mrs. Willoughby at half-past one on the following day. There were
dark shadows under her eyes, and the eyes themselves seemed to look
pathetic reproaches at a world which had laid upon her unmerited
distress. Mrs. Willoughby was startled at her appearance, and imagined
some family disaster.

'Why, Clarice, what has happened?' she exclaimed. 'You look as if you
hadn't slept all night.'

Clarice kissed her, and for answer sighed wearifully. Mrs. Willoughby was
immediately relieved. The trouble was due, she realised, to some new
shuffle of Clarice's facile emotions. She returned the kiss, and
refrained from further questions; but, being a practical woman, she rang
the bell and ordered the servant to lay two places for lunch.

Clarice sank despondently into the most comfortable chair in the room.

'Not for me,' she said. 'I am sure I couldn't eat anything.'

'You may as well try, dear,' replied Mrs. Willoughby; and she crossed to
Clarice and unpinned her hat--a little straw hat, with the daintiest of
pink ribbons. She held it in her hand for a moment, weighing it with a
smile which had something of tenderness in it. She laid a light hand upon
the brown hair, touching with a caress the curls about the forehead. A
child's face was turned up to hers with a pretty appeal of melancholy.
Mrs. Willoughby was moved to kiss the girl again. In spite of a
similarity of years, she had an affection almost maternal for Clarice;
and, with an intuition, too, which was almost maternal, she was able to
appreciate the sincerity of the girl's distress, with a doubtful smile at
the gravity of its cause.

Clarice threw her arms about Mrs. Willoughby's neck. 'Oh, Connie,' she
quavered, 'you can't guess what has happened!' The voice threatened to
break into sobs, and there were tears already brimming the eyes.

'Never mind; you shall tell me after lunch.'

At lunch Mrs. Willoughby industriously beguiled her with anecdotes. She
talked of an uncle of Clarice, a Philistine sea-captain with pronounced
opinions upon the advance of woman, ludicrously mimicking his efforts to
adapt a quarter-deck style of denunciation to the gentler atmosphere of a
drawing-room. To sharpen his diatribes the worthy captain was in the
habit of straining ineffectually after epigrams. Mrs. Willoughby quoted
an unsuccessful essay concerning the novels women favoured. 'A woman with
a slice of intellect likes that sort of garbage for the same reason that
a girl with a neat pair of ankles likes a little mud in the streets.'
Clarice was provoked to a reluctant smile by a mental picture of a
violent rubicund face roaring the words. She was induced to play with a
fragment of sole; she ended by eating the wing of a chicken.

'Now,' said Mrs. Willoughby when she had set Clarice upon a sofa in front
of a cosy fire in her boudoir, 'tell me what all the trouble's about.'
She drew up a low chair and sat down with a hand upon the girl's arm.

'It's about Sid--I mean Mr. Mallinson,' she began. 'He called yesterday
afternoon after you had left. Papa had gone out for a walk, and aunt was
lying down with a sick headache. So I saw him alone. He said he was glad
to get the opportunity of speaking to me by myself, and he--he--well, he
asked me to marry him. He was quite different from what he usually is,
else I might have stopped him before. But he made a sort of rush at it. I
told him that I was very sorry, but I didn't care for him in that kind of
way--at all events yet. And then it was horrible!' The voice began to
break again.

Mrs. Willoughby took hold of Clarice's hand, and the latter nestled
towards her.

'He got angry and violent, and said that I had persuaded him to give up
his profession, and must have known quite well why he did it, and that no
woman had a right to interfere with a man's life until she was prepared
to accept the responsibility of her interference. I hardly understood
what he said, because he frightened me; but I don't think that was at all
a nice thing to say, do you, Connie?' and her hand tightened upon her
friend's. 'But he said other things too, much worse than that,--I can't
tell you. And at last I felt as if I wanted to scream. I should have
screamed in a minute or two, I know, so I told him to go away. Then he
became silent all at once, and just stood looking at me--and--and--I
think that was worse than being abused. At last he said "Good-bye," so
sorrowfully, and I knew it would be for ever, and we shook hands, and he
went out into the hall and closed the door. It seemed to me that the door
would never open again.'

The threatened tears began to fall; Mrs. Willoughby, however, did not
interrupt, and Clarice went on.

'So as I heard the front door unlocked to let him out, I opened the door
of the room and went into the hall. Mr. Mallinson was standing on the
first step. He never looked back--he was turning up his coat-collar--and
somehow it all seemed so sad. I felt as if I hadn't a friend left in the
world. So--I--I--I--'

'Well?' asked Mrs. Willoughby quickly.

'I called him back into the room, and asked him if we couldn't be
friends.'

'What did he answer?'

'That he didn't see how that was possible since he wanted to marry me.
But I said that wouldn't matter as long as he didn't tell me so. I think
men are so inconsiderate, don't you, Connie?' she broke off in a tone of
reproach. 'I can't understand what there is to laugh at. You wouldn't
either if you had seen him then, because he just sat down and cried, not
as you and I do, you know, but with great tears running through his
fingers and heaves of his shoulders. It was heartbreaking. Then he got up
and begged my pardon for what he had said, and that was the worst of it
all. He declared that if he went the rest of his way alone the journey
would be all the easier for the mile I went along with him, and at that
somehow I began to cry too, and--and--that's all.'

Mrs. Willoughby sat silent for a little. 'So you refused him,' she said
thoughtfully, and she bent towards Clarice. 'Is it to be Stephen Drake?'

Clarice started up from the sofa, and stood looking into the fire. 'What
an extraordinary thing that you should ask me that,' she replied slowly,
'because Mr. Mallinson asked it too.' She paused for a second or so and
went on. 'I have never thought of him in that way, I am sure. Oh no!' and
she roused herself from her attitude of deliberation and crossed to the
window, speaking briskly as she went. 'I had quite a different reason.'

Mrs. Willoughby looked at her sharply but said nothing, and presently
Clarice turned back into the room as though moved by a sudden impulse.
'Can I write a note here?' she asked.

'Certainly,' replied Mrs. Willoughby, and she set some envelopes and
paper on the table. Clarice wrote a few lines and tore them up. She
repeated the process on four sheets of note-paper, and as she was
beginning the fifth attempt the door was opened and the servant
announced that Mr. Conway was waiting in the drawing-room. Clarice tore
up the fifth sheet and rose from her chair. 'I can write it when I get
home,' she said.

'Percy Conway!' said Mrs. Willoughby when the door was closed again.
'What a funny thing! He's not in the habit of visiting me.'

'The fact is,' said Clarice, without the least embarrassment, as
she pinned on her hat, 'I asked him to call for me here. You don't
mind, do you?'

'Clarice!' exclaimed Mrs. Willoughby. She stared at the girl,
noticing the traces of tears still visible on her face, and then she
began to laugh.

'Connie!' said Miss Le Mesurier, and her tone showed that she was hurt.
'You _are_ unsympathetic.'

'I can't help it,' cried Mrs. Willoughby, and she laughed yet louder. 'I
can't help it, dear!'

'You can't imagine how lonely I have felt since--'

'Since yesterday,' cried Mrs. Willoughby, and her laughter increased.
'Clarice, you'll be the death of me.'

Clarice stood gazing at her patiently, her face grave with reproach,
until Mrs. Willoughby succeeded in composing herself to a fitting
seriousness. But for all her efforts her mouth worked, and the dimples
appeared and vanished in her cheeks, and a little ripple of laughter now
and again escaped from her lips.

'Really,' said Clarice, 'I am disappointed in you, Connie.'

'I know it was out of place, dear,' said Mrs. Willoughby with humility,
but nevertheless her voice shook as she spoke. Fearing another access she
began, as a resource, to lecture Clarice upon the impropriety of making
appointments with young gentlemen at other people's houses. The lecture,
however, was received with disdain.

'That seems to me still more out of place,' said Clarice.

'Well, we had better go into the drawing-room to Mr. Conway,' said Mrs.
Willoughby.

Clarice was indeed excessively indignant with Mrs. Willoughby, for she
was in the habit herself of treating her feelings with a tender
solicitude, and consequently disliked the want of respect shown to them
by her friend. She betrayed the extent of her indignation by a
proportionately excessive friendliness towards Conway that afternoon. He
was allowed to conduct her to four picture galleries, and a Panopticon
museum of tortures; his offer to refresh her with tea in Bond Street was
shyly accepted, and at parting he was thanked with effusion, 'for the
pleasantest afternoon she had spent for some time.'

On reaching home, however, Miss Le Mesurier immediately wrote out the
note which she had begun in Mrs. Willoughby's boudoir. She wrote it now
without hesitation, as though she had composed the form of its message
while in the company of Conway, and addressed it to Stephen Drake. She
had a question to ask him, she stated, of some importance to herself.
Would he call on Thursday afternoon and answer it? Clarice read through
the note before she sealed up the envelope. The word _importance_ caught
her eye, and she pondered over it for a moment. She crossed it out
finally and substituted _interest_. Then she sent her letter to the post.
At breakfast on the Thursday morning, Clarice casually informed her
father of Drake's visit. 'I wrote to him, asking him to call,' she added.

Mr. Le Mesurier looked up from the pages of his _Times_. 'Why?' he
asked quickly.

'I want him to tell me something.'

The _Times_ crackled in his hands and fluttered to the floor. He opened
his mouth to speak and thought better of it, and repeated the action more
than once. Then he scratched his head with a helpless air, and picked up
his newspaper. 'Silly girl!' he said at last; 'silly girl!' and relapsed
into silence. At the close of breakfast, however, he made an effort at
expostulation. 'You will make the man believe you're in love with him,'
he said, and in fact he could have chanced on no happier objection to
present to her. Clarice flushed to the temples. Sidney Mallinson, Mrs.
Willoughby, and now her father! All three had made the same suggestion,
and the repetition of it vexed her pride. There were others they might
have said it of with more appearance of truth, she thought: Sidney
Mallinson himself, for instance, or even Percy Conway. But he, Drake! For
a moment she felt inclined to telegraph to him telling him not to come.
Then she thought of the motive which had induced her to send for him. No!
She would ask her question that afternoon, and so have done with him for
good. Aloud she answered:

'How ridiculous! I should hardly think he has that sort of conceit.
Anyhow, if he has that impression, I will take care that he does not
carry it away.'

Mr. Le Mesurier did not pursue the argument, but he gave certain
instructions to his butler, and when Drake arrived at the house he was
shown into the library. Mr. Le Mesurier received him.

'Pull up a chair to the fire,' he said with an uneasy geniality. 'I have
something to say to you, Drake. It won't take long.'

Drake laid down his hat and seated himself opposite to Mr. Le Mesurier.

'My daughter told me this morning, quite spontaneously, of course, that
she had asked you to call in order that she might get from you a certain
answer to a certain question, and I thought that I had better prepare you
for what that question will be.' He hesitated in his speech, searching
for the best way to begin his explanation, and he caught sight of a
cigar-box on the mantelshelf above his head.

'By the way, do you smoke?'

'Yes, but I won't just now, thank you.'

'You had better. You can throw it away when I have done. These are in
rather a good condition.'

Mr. Le Mesurier seemed inclined to branch off upon the quality of
different brands, but Drake gave him no assistance. He lit his cigar and
patiently waited, his eyes fixed upon his host. Mr. Le Mesurier felt
driven back upon the actual point of his explanation, and almost
compelled to fine his words down to just the needful quantity.

'Clarice, I believe,' he said brusquely, 'means to ask you how Gorley
died. He was engaged to her.'

Drake did not so much as stir a muscle, even his eyes maintained their
steadiness, and Mr. Le Mesurier drew a breath of relief. 'I am glad you
take it like this,' he went on. 'I was afraid that what I had to say
might have been, well, perhaps a blow to you, and if so the fault would
have been mine; for I encouraged you to come here.'

Drake bent forward and knocked the ash off the end of his cigar.

'Yes,' he asked; 'why did you do that?'

Mr. Le Mesurier looked uncomfortable.

'It is only right that I should be frank with you,' he replied. 'The mere
fact of Gorley's death, apart from its manner, upset Clarice, more, I
confess, than we expected, and made her quite ill for a time. She is not
very strong, you know. So it was deemed best, not only by me, but by
Gorley's family as well, that she should be kept in ignorance of what had
actually happened. We simply told her that Gorley had died near Boruwimi.
But I fancy that she suspected we were concealing something. Perhaps our
avoidance of the subject gave her the hint, or it may have been Mrs.
Willoughby.'

'Mrs. Willoughby?'

'She is related to the Gorley family as well as to us. It was through her
Clarice first met Gorley,' he explained, and went on. 'Then you returned
to England, and were interviewed in the _Meteor_. Clarice read the
interview; you had described in it your march to Boruwimi, and she sent
through Mallinson at once an invitation to you. I only found that out the
night you were introduced to us at the theatre. It made me certain that
she had suspicions, and I admit that I asked you to call in the hope of
allaying them. I believed, foolishly as it seems, that if I was cordial,
she would give up any ideas she might have, that you were connected in
any way with Gorley's death. Afterwards, Drake, I need hardly tell you, I
was glad you came here upon other grounds.' Mr. Le Mesurier leaned
forward in his chair and touched Drake upon the knee. 'It didn't take
long for me to conceive a genuine liking for you, and, of course, I knew
all the time that you had only done your duty.'

Drake made no response whatever to Mr. Le Mesurier's sentiment.

'I understand, then,' he said, 'that Miss Le Mesurier was engaged to
Gorley at the time of his death?'

'Oh dear, no,' exclaimed the other, starting up from his chair. 'You are
aware, I suppose, why Gorley left England?'

Drake nodded assent.

'The engagement was broken off then and there. And Clarice at that time
did not seem to take it much to heart. I was inclined to believe that the
whole affair had been just a girl's whim. Indeed, in spite of her
illness, I am not certain now that that isn't the truth. She may have had
some notion of reforming him. I find Clarice rather difficult to
understand.'

Drake stood up. 'Where is Miss Le Mesurier?' he asked.

'Upstairs in the drawing-room.'

He took a step towards the door, and took the step unsteadily. He
stopped for a second, bracing his shoulders; then he walked firmly
across the room. While his hand was on the handle, he heard Mr. Le
Mesurier speaking.

'What do you mean to tell her?'

'I hardly understand,' he answered, turning round. 'There surely is but
one thing to say--the truth. She has a right to know that.'

'Has she? The engagement was broken off finally when Gorley left England.
They had nothing more to do with one another, no common interests, no
common future. Has she?'

'It seems to me, yes!'

'We have kept the knowledge from her up till now. No one could blame you
if you kept it from her a little longer.'

The argument smacked of sophistry to Drake. He had an unreasoned
conviction that the girl had a right to learn the truth from him.

'I think I ought to tell her if she asks me.'

'I might forbid you to do it,' grumbled Mr. Le Mesurier.

'Do you?' asked Drake. The question brought Mr. Le Mesurier up short. It
was a direct question, inviting a responsible decision, and Mr. Le
Mesurier was averse by nature to making such decisions out of hand. If
Drake cared for Clarice, he reflected, it was really in Drake's province
to decide the point rather than in his own.

'I don't know enough of you,' he replied, 'to either forbid or give you
permission.'

Drake wondered what the sentence meant.

'In that case I must take my own course,' he said, and he went out of the
room and mounted the stairs.



CHAPTER VI


It was the dusk of a February afternoon. Drake had found the lamps lit in
Mr. Le Mesurier's library, and the gas was burning in the hall and on the
stairs. But within the drawing-room all the light there was came from the
fire leaping upon the hearth and from the two recessed windows which
faced it. In the farthest of these windows Drake saw Miss Le Mesurier
standing, the outline of her face relieved, as it were, against a gray
panel of twilight. As the door closed, she turned and took a step into
the room. Drake could no longer see more than the shape of her head and
the soft waves of hair crowning it; he could not distinguish a single
feature, but none the less, as she stood facing him, he felt of a sudden
his heart sink within him and his whole strength race out of his body.

Clarice stood still; and he became possessed with a queer longing that
she would move again, forwards, within the focus of the firelight.
However, she spoke from where she stood.

'You have seen my father.'

Instinctively Drake walked to the fireplace, but she did not follow.

'I have just left him,' he replied. 'He told me what the question was
which you wished me to answer.'

'And forbade you to answer it, I suppose?'

'No. He left the choice to me.'

'Well?' she asked.

'I mean to answer it to the full,' he said. 'I was not aware till a
moment ago that you had been engaged to Gorley.' Then he hesitated.
Clarice was still standing in the shadow, and his desire that she should
move out of it and within the circle of light grew upon him until it
seemed almost as though the sight of her face and the knowledge of how
she was receiving the history of the incident were necessary conditions
of its narration.

'I suppose that is the reason,' he went on, 'which made you ask me here
at first. Why did you never put the question before?'

'Why?' repeated Clarice slowly, as if she was putting the question to
herself. Then she moved slowly towards the fireplace and seated herself
by the side of it, bent forwards towards its glow, her elbows upon her
knees, her hands propping her chin. Drake gave a sigh of relief, and
Clarice glanced at him in surprise, and turned again to the fire. 'Tell
me your story,' she said, and left his question unanswered.

Drake began; but now that his wish was accomplished, of a sudden all the
reality seemed to fade out of the tragic events he was to recount. His
consciousness became in some queer way centred upon the girl who was
listening, to the exclusion of the subject she was listening to. He was
intensely conscious of her face, of its changing expressions, of the ebb
and flow of the blood from time to time flushing her cheeks and temples,
and of the vivid play of lights and shadows upon them as the flames
danced and sank on the hearth. He noticed, too, with an observation new
to him, and quite involuntary, the details of the room in which he stood,
the white panelling of the walls, the engravings in their frames, the
china ranged upon a ledge near to the ceiling. Of these things his mind
took impressions with the minuteness almost of a camera. They were real
to him at this moment, because they formed the framework and setting of
the girl's face and figure.

But Gorley's crime and his expiation of it became by contrast as remote
to his apprehension in point of all connection with Clarice as they were
in point of locality. He could not realise them to himself as events
which had actually happened and in which he had played a part, and he
spoke in the toneless voice of one who relates a fable of which, through
frequent repetition, he is tired. Instinctively, in order to make the
truth of his story palpable, he began to corroborate it with particulars
which he would otherwise have spared his auditor, but with the same
impersonal accent. He told Clarice of the condition of the village after
Gorley's raid, as he first came within view of it: here the body of a
negro stood pinned upright against the wall of his hut by an assegai
fixing his neck; there another was lying charred upon still-smouldering
embers; and as he saw her turn pale and shudder he almost wondered why.

But in spite of his efforts to appreciate its actuality the incident grew
more unsubstantial the further he progressed in its narration, and he
ended it abruptly.

'Gorley was properly tried,' he said--'his relations testified to
the justice of his trial--and he was executed in accordance with
the verdict.'

Clarice sat motionless after he had ended. Drake watched the flames
sparkle in her gray eyes. At his elbow the clock ticked upon the
mantelshelf spacing the seconds, and the fire was hot upon his limbs.
That dream-world in Africa dissolved to a vapour.

Clarice recalled him to it at last.

'I never imagined,' she said in a low voice, 'that the truth was anything
like this. I shouldn't have asked you if I had. A long time ago I knew
that something was being concealed, but I thought it was an accident
or--well, I couldn't conceive what it was and I grew curious, I suppose.
When you came back to England I thought you might be able to tell me.
Lately, however, I began to fancy that you were concerned in it some way.
You might have sent Mr. ----' she checked herself with the name unspoken
and went on, 'you might have sent him on some fatal mission or something
of that sort. But this! Oh, why did you tell me?'

She took her hands from beneath her chin and clenched them with a
convulsive movement upon her knees. Her memory had gone back to the days
when she and Gorley had been engaged, to their meetings, their intimate
conversations. This man, in whose hand her hands had lain, whose lips had
pressed hers, been pressed by hers, this man had been convicted of a
double crime--dastardly murder and dastardly theft--and punished for it!
Her pride cried out against her knowledge, and cried out against the man
who had vouchsafed the knowledge.

'Why did you tell me?' she repeated, and the words were an accusation.

'You wished to know,' he replied doggedly, 'and it seemed to me that you
had the right to know.'

'Right!' she exclaimed, 'right! What right had I to know? What right had
you to tell me?'

She rose to her feet suddenly as she spoke and confronted Drake. He
looked into her eyes steadily, but with a certain perplexity.

'I felt bound to tell you,' he said simply, and his simplicity appealed
to her by its frank recognition of an obligation to her.

'Why,' she asked herself, 'why did he feel bound? Merely because I wished
to know the truth of the matter, or because he himself was implicated in
it as the instrument of Gorley's punishment?' Either reason was
sufficient to appease her. She inclined to the latter; there were
conclusions to be inferred from it which staunched her wounded pride.

Clarice turned away. Drake watched her set a foot upon the rail of the
fender, lay her hand upon the mantelshelf and support her forehead upon
it. After a little she raised her head and spoke with an air of
apologising for him.

'Of course,' she said. 'You could not know that there was anything
between myself and--and him.'

'No; I could not know that. How should I, for I did not know you? And I
am glad that I didn't know.'

Drake spoke with some earnestness, and Clarice looked at him in surprise.

'It would have made my duty so much harder to do,' he explained.

With a little cry of irritation Clarice slipped her foot from the fender
and moved from him back to the couch. She had given him the opportunity
to escape from his position and he refused to make use of it; he seemed
indeed unable to perceive it. However, she clung to it obstinately and
repeated it.

'You could not know there was anything between us'; she emphasised the
words deliberately. Drake mistook the intention of the emphasis.

'But was there,' he exclaimed, 'at the time? I didn't think of that, Miss
Le Mesurier--'

'Oh no, no!' she interrupted. 'Not at the time.' The man was
impracticable, and yet his very impracticability aroused in a measure her
admiration. 'So you would have shot him just the same, had you known?'

'Shot him?' asked Drake almost absently.

'Yes.'

'Didn't I tell you? I beg your pardon. I didn't shoot him at all. I
hanged him.'

Clarice was stunned by the words, and the more because of the dull,
seemingly callous accent with which they were spoken.

'You hanged him!' she whispered, dropping the words one by one, as though
she was striving to weigh them.

'Yes. I have been blamed for it,' he replied with no change of voice.
'People said I was damaging the prestige of the white man. The
argument bothered me, I confess, but I think they were wrong. I should
have damaged that prestige infinitely more if I had punished him
secretly or--'

'Oh, don't!' she cried, with a sharp interruption, and she stared at him
with eyes dilating in horror, almost in fear. 'You can discuss it like
that,--the man I had been engaged to,--you hanged him!'

She ended with a moan of actual pain and covered her face with her hands.
On the instant Drake woke to a full comprehension of all that he had
said, and understood something of the humiliation which it meant to her.

Clarice was sitting huddled in her chair, her fingers pressed lightly on
her eyes, while now and again a shiver shot through her frame.

'Still I was bound to tell her,' Drake thought. He waited for a little,
wondering whether she would look up, but she made no movement. An emerald
ring upon her finger caught the light and winked at him maliciously,
leering at him, he fancied. There was nothing more for him to say, and he
quietly went out of the room.

The click of the door-handle roused Clarice. She saw that the room was
empty, and, drawing a breath of relief, started out of her chair.
Standing thus she heard Drake's footsteps descending the stairs, and
after a pause the slamming of the hall-door. Then she went to the
fireplace and knelt down close to it, warming her hands at the blaze.

'The degradation of it!' she whispered.



CHAPTER VII


Bit by bit she sought to reconstruct the scene, piecing it together out
of Drake's words; but somehow that scene would not be reconstructed. She
gradually found herself considering Drake's words as a light thrown upon
the man who spoke them, rather than as the description of an actual
incident. The humiliation which she experienced made her shrink with a
certain repulsion from her recollections of Gorley and dwell instead upon
the contrasting tones in Drake's voice, the contrasting expressions upon
his face when he spoke to her and when he merely narrated his story. In
the first instance gentleness had been the dominant characteristic, in
the second indifference; and that very indifference, while it repelled
her, magnetised her thoughts.

Something indeed of the same process which had caused that appearance of
indifference in Drake was now repeating itself in Clarice. Drake was
superseding Gorley in her mind. She struggled against the obsession and
morbidly strove to picture to herself the actual execution: the black
troops ranged in a clearing before the smouldering village, looking up at
one figure--Gorley's--spinning on a rope. But even upon that picture
Drake's face obtruded. She thrust out her hands to keep it off, as though
it was living and pressing in upon her; for a moment she tried to conjure
up Gorley's face, but it was blurred--only his form she could see
spinning on a rope, and Drake beneath it, his features clear like an
intaglio and firm-set with that same sense of duty which had forced him
sternly to recount to her the truth that afternoon. She recurred to her
recent habit of comparing him with Mallinson. She had a vision of
Mallinson, with the same experience to relate,--if that were
imaginable--fidgeting through evasions, grasping at any diversion she
might throw out for him to play with.

But what if Drake's frankness, outspoken to the point of cruelty, sprang
from an indifference to her? Clarice had seen a good deal of Drake
lately. She caught herself almost smiling at the idea, softening at its
palpable falsity. In a last effort at resistance she fixed her thoughts
on the cruelty, the callousness, in his method of narration, and began to
feel herself on solid ground. She was consequently inspired to run over
all that he had said, in order to make her footing yet firmer, and at the
outset she was brought to a check. Why had she never questioned him upon
the matter before? he had asked. Clarice stopped and asked the question
of herself. At the beginning of their acquaintance certainly there had
always been others by, but afterwards there had been opportunities
enough. But by that time, what with her father's and Mrs. Willoughby's
hostility, she had begun to suspect that Drake was in some way implicated
in the mystery. Was it because she was afraid to know it for certain that
she had refrained? She recalled her letter to him written last Monday,
and how she had crossed out 'importance' and substituted 'interest.' Was
this knowledge important to her, really important, bearing issues in the
future? It could only be important, she realised, if she set great store
upon her acquaintanceship with Drake. Drake, in fact, had achieved
something of a triumph, though quite unknown to himself, for he had
compelled Clarice Le Mesurier to abandon the consideration of his
attitude towards her in favour of a search after the state of her
feelings towards him.

She was still engaged in the search when the clock struck six, and,
rousing herself brusquely, she rang the bell for the lamps to be brought.

At that moment Mrs. Willoughby had just finished telling to Fielding the
story which Drake had told to Clarice.

'So that's what Drake was referring to on Sunday,' said Fielding.

'Yes,' said Mrs. Willoughby.

'What in the world made you attack him in that way, if you didn't want
Clarice to suspect?'

'The fact was, I was a fool, I suppose. I just put my head down and
charged. But what I want your advice upon is this, ought Clarice to be
told now--before things go further?'

'No, no!' said Fielding. He saw the curtain descending precipitately upon
his comedy before the climax was reached, and he added quite sincerely,
'I like Drake. I don't see why he shouldn't have a run for her money.'

Mrs. Willoughby looked doubtful for a moment, and then she said, 'Very
well.' She hesitated for a second: 'I think I like him too.'



CHAPTER VIII


This was by no means the last occasion upon which Mrs. Willoughby thought
it prudent to take counsel with Fielding concerning the affairs of her
friend. Nor was Fielding in any degree backward to respond with his
advice. He developed, in fact, an interest in their progress quite
disproportionate to his professed attitude of the spectator in the
stalls. Mrs. Willoughby lived at Knightsbridge, in a little house, of
which the drawing-room overlooked the Park close to the barracks, and he
found it very pleasant to sit there of an afternoon and discuss in a cosy
duet the future of Clarice.

The subject, besides, had the advantage of inexhaustibility. On the one
side Fielding ranged the suitors, or those whom he considered such; on
the other the vagaries of the girl. Playing these forces off not merely
against each other, but against themselves as well--for, as he pointed
out, there was no harmony in the separate camps--he evolved an infinite
number of endless complications. There was consequently no end to the
discussion, not even when Clarice was argued through the marriage
ceremony. For that point Fielding took to represent the one o'clock in
the morning of a carnival ball; then the fun really begins, though decent
people have to go away.

Mrs. Willoughby was, as ever, staunch in her defence, though a
recollection of Clarice's tearful visit with Conway's arrival for a
climax prompted her now and again to laugh in the midst of it.

'You mistake thoughtlessness for tricks,' she said. 'Clarice is only a
child as yet.'

'She has a child's capacity for emotion, I admit,' corrected Fielding,
'but a woman's knowledge of its use. The combination is deplorable.'

Fielding inquired about Drake, and was told that he had not been
seen lately. 'It looks as if he was declining in favour,' Mrs.
Willoughby added.

'Not necessarily. The man's busy--there's a company coming out.'

'A solid one?'

'Likely to be, since Drake handles it. I am thinking of taking shares.'

Mrs. Willoughby was surprised. Fielding seemed to her the last man
calculated by nature for dabbling in stocks.

'You!' she exclaimed. Fielding nodded assent.

'Then don't do it,' Mrs. Willoughby flashed out vigorously. 'Don't think
of it. Oh, I know those men in the City! Their friends get ruined, and
they--well, I mustn't say anything against them, because my husband was
one of them, poor dear,--but they move into larger offices. Mr. Drake has
been asking you to join him?'

'He hasn't done anything of the sort. I heard of the matter through quite
an independent channel. However, I am not ruined yet, and the company
won't be floated for another four months. And, after all, it's my money.'

Mrs. Willoughby became quiet.

'Well,' she said, and she derived some satisfaction from the thought, 'at
all events Clarice has dropped talking about him.'

Fielding laughed.

'That means that it's Mallinson's turn on the roundabout and
nothing more.'

'Sidney Mallinson has been refused.'

'Refused! When?'

'On the Sunday we lunched at Beaufort Gardens.'

'Oh!'

Fielding was silent for a moment. He was thinking that he had met
Mallinson of late with unusual frequency here at Mrs. Willoughby's house.

'But are you sure?' he asked.

'Certain; he told me so himself. Clarice told me too the day after.' Mrs.
Willoughby began again to laugh. 'She would have prevented him if she
could, but apparently he tried to take her by storm.'

'Oh!' exclaimed Fielding. 'On the Sunday afternoons you say? Then I was
to blame, I am afraid, for I gave him precisely that advice on the Sunday
morning. Of course, I never thought that he would take it.'

Fielding met Sidney Mallinson again and again at the house in
Knightsbridge. He was invited to dinner, but so was Mallinson, and the
latter had confidential talks with Mrs. Willoughby. He dined with some
friends at the Savoy and went on in a comfortable frame of mind to a
concert; there Mrs. Willoughby joined them, so did Mallinson, and the
couple sat side by side and conversed through a song. 'The height of bad
taste,' commented Fielding in an access of irritation. The fellow was
spoiling his comedy by relinquishing his part. He drew Mallinson aside as
they passed through the hall.

'You seem to see a good deal of Mrs. Willoughby?'

'Yes, we generally pair off together.'

Fielding dropped plump among the coarse sensations of the ordinary human.
He wanted to kick Mallinson, and to kick him hard. He saw with an
anticipatory satisfaction the glasses flying off the supercilious
gentleman's nose, and felt the jar at the end of his boot as it dashed
into the coat-tails. The action would have been too noticeable, however,
and he only said, 'What a very _bourgeois_ thing to do!'

Mallinson's air of complacency vanished as he heard the offensive term
levelled against himself. He did not, however, on that account change
his attitude towards Mrs. Willoughby. Fielding found him at the house a
few days later, and proceeded to sit him out. The contest drove Fielding
to the last pitch of exasperation, for, apart from the inherent
humiliation of the proceeding, Mrs. Willoughby was directly encouraging
Mallinson to stay.

Mallinson at last was suffered to leave, and Mrs. Willoughby, instead of
resuming her seat, walked across to the window and scrutinised intently
the passers-by.

'That creature visits you pretty often, it appears,' said Fielding.

'Does he?' she asked. 'He comes to me for the sake of consolation,
I suppose.'

'And makes love to you for the sake of contrast. He tells me you
generally pair off together when you meet. Pair off!' and he grimaced
the phrase to show how little he minded it. 'It'll be "keeping
company" next.'

Mrs. Willoughby gave a little quiet laugh. Her back was towards him, so
that he could not catch her expression, but she seemed to him culpably
indifferent to the complexion which Mallinson had given to their
friendship.

'It's rather funny,' she said, 'though I can't help feeling sorry for
him.'

'I saw that you were sorry for him,' Fielding interrupted.

'But he pretends,' Mrs. Willoughby went on, ignoring the interruption
with complete unconsciousness--'he pretends to himself that I am Clarice.
He talks to me as if I were. He called me "Clarice" the other day, and
never noticed the mistake, and that's not my name, is it?' She turned to
him quite seriously as she put the question.

'No,' replied Fielding, 'your name's Constance,' and he dwelt upon the
name for a second.

'Yes--Constance,' said Mrs. Willoughby thoughtfully. 'It sounds rather
prim, don't you think?'

'Constance,' Fielding repeated, weighing it deliberately. 'Constance--no,
I rather like it.'

'Clarice shortens it to Connie.'

'Does she indeed? Connie--Constance.' Fielding contrasted the two names,
and again, 'Constance--Connie.'

Mrs. Willoughby's mouth began to dimple at the corners.

'Although one laughs,' she proceeded, 'it's really rather serious about
Mr. Mallinson. He told me once the colour of my eyes was--'

'Do you let him talk to you about the colour of your eyes?' Fielding was
really indignant at the supposition.

'He didn't ask my permission,' Mrs. Willoughby said penitently. 'But it
isn't a thing people ought to do. He said they were gray, and they
aren't, are they?' She turned her face towards him.

'Gray? Of course not,' said Fielding, and starting from his chair, he
approached Mrs. Willoughby at the window to make sure.

'Clarice's are, I know, but I am certain mine aren't.' She held up her
face towards the light, and the remark was pitched as a question.

'Yours,' said Fielding, examining them, 'Neptune dipped them in the sea
at six o'clock on an August morning.'

Mrs. Willoughby moved away from the window precipitately. 'So, if Mr.
Mallinson is so fond of Clarice,' she said, 'that he sees her in
everybody one can't help pitying him.'

Mrs. Willoughby, however, for a short time subsequently was not seen in
the company of the discarded lover, and Fielding inferred with
satisfaction that her pity was taking a less active form. He was roused
to a perception that his inference was false one night at the opera.

Mrs. Willoughby was present with Mr. Le Mesurier and Clarice. Percy
Conway he hardly reckoned, counting him at this time, from his constant
attendance, rather as an item of Clarice's toilette; and Fielding took
care to descend the staircase after the performance in close proximity to
the party.

'And how's Mr. Mallinson?' he asked of Mrs. Willoughby, not without a
certain complacency in his voice.

'Oh, poor boy!' she replied with the tenderest sympathy, 'he's in
bed, ill.'

'Ill?' asked Clarice quickly. 'You don't mean that.'

'Yes. I'm so concerned. He wrote to tell me all about it.'

Fielding looked displeased, and much the same expression was to be seen
on the face of Clarice. Mrs. Willoughby was serenely unconscious of the
effect of her words.

'I heard that he was in bed,' interposed Conway carelessly. 'But
apparently he has got something to console himself with.'

'Yes. He wrote to me about that too,' said Mrs. Willoughby. 'Fancy,
Clarice! He has inherited quite a good income. An uncle or somebody left
it to him.'

Clarice expressed an acid satisfaction at the news. She dropped behind
with Fielding.

'You didn't know that Mr. Mallinson was ill?' she asked. 'Did none of his
friends know except Connie?' and then there was a perceptible accent of
pique in her voice.

Fielding did not answer the question immediately. He had been brought of
a sudden to the vexatious conclusion that Mrs. Willoughby was a coquette
just like the rest of her trivial sex--no better, indeed, than the girl
at his side, whose first anxiety was not as to whether Mallinson was
seriously ill, but why he wrote the information to Mrs. Willoughby. He
felt that Mrs. Willoughby had no right to trifle with Mallinson. The poor
fellow had already suffered his full share of that kind of experience.

Miss Le Mesurier repeated her question impatiently, and Fielding suddenly
realised that Miss Le Mesurier's pique might prove useful in setting
matters right. He determined to encourage it.

'None that I'm aware of,' he replied. 'Mrs. Willoughby, of course, would
be likely to know first.'

'Why?'

'Haven't you noticed? They have struck up a great friendship
lately--always pair off together, you know.'

Miss Le Mesurier's lips curled at the despicable phrase, but she blamed
Mrs. Willoughby for the fact which it described, not Sidney Mallinson.
His attitude she could understand, and make allowance for; it had been a
despairing act prompted by an instinct of self-preservation to rid
himself of the hopeless thought of her. An unsuccessful act too, for the
poor fellow had broken down. She had no doubts as to the origin of his
illness, and overflowed promptly with sympathy. Her resentment against
Mrs. Willoughby none the less remained.

Driving homewards she asked her, 'Why didn't you tell me before that Mr.
Mallinson was ill?'

'My dear, I never gave a thought to it until I saw Mr. Fielding. The
illness isn't serious,' and Mrs. Willoughby laughed, with peculiar
heartlessness thought Clarice. They were, however, not thinking of the
same individual.

Mrs. Willoughby, Clarice, and Fielding in consequence suffered some such
change in their relative positions as is apt to take place amongst the
European Powers. Poor Mrs. Willoughby, in the innocent pursuit of her own
ideas, had suddenly roused two former friends into a common antagonism.
These friends, besides, had much the same grounds for resentment as the
Powers usually have, for Mrs. Willoughby's conduct was a distinct
infringement of rights which did not exist. Clarice and Fielding drew
perceptibly nearer to one another; they exchanged diplomatic
_pourparlers_. Fielding found a great deal to praise in Mallinson, and
Clarice had a word or two to say upon the score of widows. She was
doubtful whether they ought ever to re-marry. Fielding kept an open mind
on the subject, but was willing to discuss it. On the particular point,
however, whether this widow was to marry Mallinson they were both
uncompromisingly agreed, and were only hindered from an armed
demonstration by the suspicion that the sinner to the overawed would
merely laugh at it. On the whole Fielding deemed it best to address a
friendly remonstrance to Mrs. Willoughby in the interests of Clarice. He
suggested that she should see less of Sidney Mallinson.

'But I have no grounds for slamming my door in his face,' she answered
plaintively. 'You see, Clarice has refused him, and really he's very
sweet and polite to me.'

Fielding pointed out with the elaborate calmness of intense exasperation
that there could be no finality in a refusal given by Miss Le Mesurier.
Mrs. Willoughby replied that they had differed before in their views of
Clarice, and that the point he mentioned was one upon which Mr. Mallinson
must be left to judge for himself. 'Exactly,' said Fielding with
emphasis, 'he should be left to judge for himself,' and was for marching
off with colours flying. But Mrs. Willoughby could not refrain from
declaring that the unprecedented interest which Mr. Fielding took in his
friend Mr. Mallinson had raised that friend to a very different position
in her esteem from that which he had held before.

The combat was renewed more than once, but with no different result, and
upon the same lines. Mrs. Willoughby received his attacks with a patient
humility, and rushed out to catch him a flout as he was retiring.
Finally, however, she shifted her position, and became the aggressor. She
suggested that Fielding was really in love with Clarice, and trying to
gain favour with her by bringing an admirer back to her feet. Fielding
was furious at the suggestion, and indignantly repudiated it. She ignored
the repudiation, and quietly insisted in pointing out the meanness of
such a system of making love. The unfortunate gentleman's dignity
constrained him to listen in silence, for he felt that he would have
spluttered had he opened his lips. The only course open to him was a
retreat with a high head, and he declared that it was no longer possible
for him to continue a discussion which he had begun as much in her true
interests as on behalf of justice and her particular friend Miss Le
Mesurier, and went home. By return of post he received a pen-and-ink
drawing of himself and Clarice 'pairing off.' He was figured in the
costermonger's dress, with his arm tucked under the girl's, and her hat
on his head.

Meanwhile Mallinson was still in bed, completely ignorant of the battle
which had been waged for the possession of him.

Fielding thought more than once of calling at his flat, since his
determination had been sharpened rather than overcome by the victories of
Mrs. Willoughby. He was more than ever convinced that Mallinson ought to
have a fair chance with Miss Le Mesurier--an equal chance with Drake. The
name of Drake made him pause. Miss Le Mesurier knew everything there was
to be known about Mallinson, but there were certain facts in Drake's
history of which she was ignorant. The question sprang into his mind,
'Could Mallinson have a fair chance unless she was made acquainted with
those facts?' Fielding knew Members of Parliament who had been returned
over the heads of residents in the constituency because they entered it
too late for the electors to become intimate with their defects. Drake's
career might provide an analogy unless Clarice was told. He argued to
convince himself that he felt she ought to be told, but he could not
bring himself to the point of telling. He decided finally upon an
alternative which would, he imagined, secure his purpose, while relieving
him of the responsibility. He would tell Mallinson of the Gorley episode,
for the rival surely had a right to know. Whether Clarice was to be
informed or not, Mallinson should be allowed to judge.

Fielding assured himself of the justice of his intention for the space of
two days without putting it into execution, but on the third he chanced
to meet Conway, and was given the information that Mallinson's inherited
income amounted to a thousand pounds. The news decided him. Under these
circumstances Mallinson certainly ought to know. He jumped into a hansom
and drove down to South Kensington.

Mallinson was still in bed, but sufficiently recovered to write up his
diary. The book lay upon the counterpane open, but as Fielding was
introduced into the room, its author shut it up and tucked it under his
pillow. It was kept entirely for his own perusal, a voluminous record of
sensations ranging from a headache to a fit of anger, without the mention
of an incident from cover to cover.

'I hear you have had a touch of bronchitis,' said Fielding.

'Something more than a touch, I can tell you. I have been rather ill.
However, I am going to get up to-morrow.'

Fielding found it difficult to come to the point of his visit.

'You must have found it dull.'

'Not very. I can always interest myself. Drake came to see me yesterday.'

'Drake! How did he know? Conway told him, I suppose.'

'No, Miss Le Mesurier told him.'

'Miss Le Mesurier?' he asked.

'Yes. Are you surprised?' The question was put with some resentment.

'That she told him? No, I expect she sent him.' A smirk upon the
invalid's face showed he shared the thought.

'By the way,' Fielding continued, 'talking of Miss Le Mesurier, did you
ever meet a man called Gorley?'

'No. There was a Gorley who was engaged to her. Is that the man?'

'Yes. I heard rather a strange story about him. He went out to Africa,
you know.'

Mallinson lifted himself on his elbow.

'Africa,' he said slowly. 'Yes, I heard that. Why do you mention him?'

'Oh, I thought perhaps you might have known the man, that's all.
He's dead.'

Fielding spoke with a studied carelessness, looking anywhere except at
Mallinson.

'Dead,' repeated Mallinson in the same tone, but his heart was beginning
to race, and he lifted himself higher into a sitting position. 'Gorley
was a relation of Mrs. Willoughby, I believe.'

'A kind of cousin.'

There was silence between the men for a second or two. Mallinson was
recalling what Mrs. Willoughby had said that evening at Beaufort Gardens,
when Mr. Le Mesurier pressed her to meet Stephen Drake at lunch.

'So Gorley died in Africa,' he remarked. 'Where? Do you know?'

'Yes; at Boruwimi.'

Mallinson started. Fielding glanced at him involuntarily, and their
looks crossed.

'A strange story, you said. Suppose you tell it me. It will while away
some of my time.'

Fielding lit a cigarette and related the story. At the end of it
Mallinson lay back on the pillows, staring at the ceiling. Once or twice
Fielding spoke to him, but he did not hear. He was not thinking: the
knowledge that the secret to be discovered was his to use was as a sense
in him. He felt it pulsing through his veins and throbbing at his heart.
Mrs. Willoughby was forgotten. It had been after all but a fictitious
fancy which he had conceived for her, a fancy fostered in the main as
balm for his self-respect after his refusal by Clarice.

As soon as he was sufficiently recovered he called upon Miss Le Mesurier,
confident that his hour and opportunity had come. Drake, however, had
reported to Clarice on the condition of Mallinson, and her sympathy had
in consequence to a great extent evaporated. Bronchitis was not of the
ailments which spring from a broken heart, and she was inclined to hold
it as a grievance against him that she had been so wastefully touched
with pity. Her sympathy disappeared altogether when with little
circumlocution he broached the subject of the Boruwimi expedition, and
dropped a mention of Mrs. Willoughby's relative. There was something at
the back of it, he hinted.

Clarice wondered whence he had got his information, but made no effort to
check him. She stood looking out of the window while he retold her the
story of Gorley's death. It became more unreal to her than ever; for
while his account was correctly given, as Mrs. Willoughby had given it to
Fielding, it lacked the uncompromising details which Drake himself had
furnished. Her recollection of these details made the man who had given
them stand out in her thoughts.

'It was a pitiful affair,' Mallinson concluded, 'but I thought you
ought to know.'

Clarice drew a finger down the frame of glass in front of her.

'Mr. Drake thought so too,' she said quietly.

'Drake!' exclaimed Mallinson, utterly bewildered. 'Drake! The man
wouldn't be such a--'

'He was though.'

'Do you mean that he confessed to it?'

'Confess?' she said, turning towards him. 'That is hardly the word. He
told me of his own accord the moment he knew I had been engaged to--to--'
She broke off at the name, and continued, 'and he spared himself in the
telling far less than you have spared him.'

She spoke with a gentle dignity which Mallinson had never known in her
before, and he felt that it raised a more solid barrier between them than
even her refusal had done.

Fielding, meanwhile, waited with an uneasy conscience which no casuistry
would lighten. He threw himself in Mallinson's way time after time in
order to ascertain whether the latter had spoken. Mallinson let no word
of the matter slip from him, and for the rest seemed utterly despondent.
Fielding threw out a feeler at last.

'Of course,' he said, 'you would never repeat what I told you about
Gorley. I forgot to mention that.'

Mallinson flushed. 'Of course not,' he said awkwardly.

Fielding turned on him quickly. 'Then what made you tell Miss Le
Mesurier?'

Mallinson was too taken aback to deny the accusation. 'Oh, Miss Le
Mesurier,' he replied, 'knew already.'

'She knew? Who told her?'

'Drake.'

Fielding drew in his breath and whistled. His first feeling was one of
distinct relief, that after all he had not been the means by which
Clarice had come to her knowledge; his second was one of indignation
against Drake. He realised how a frank admission from Drake would
outweigh in the girl's susceptible nature the fact admitted. 'What on
earth induced him to reveal it?'

'I suppose he is a little more cunning than one took him for. No doubt he
saw the thing would get known sooner or later, and thought the disclosure
had better come from himself.'

Fielding had been leaning to the same opinion, but the moment he heard it
stated, and stated by Mallinson, he felt a certain conviction that it was
wrong. 'I don't believe that,' he said sharply.

He was none the less, however, indignant with Drake. To intermeddle at
all in other people's concerns was averse to his whole theory of
existence. But to intermeddle, and not very creditably, and out of the
most disinterested motives of benevolence and expediency, and then to
fail! All this was nothing short of degrading. He dined that night at
his club, to which Drake had been elected, and lay in wait for him.
Drake, however, did not appear, and at ten o'clock Fielding went round
to his rooms.

Drake was living in chambers on the Embankment, a little to the west of
Hungerford Bridge. As he was shown into the room, Fielding could not help
noticing the plainness of its furniture and adornment. The chairs were
covered with a cheap red cretonne; there was an armchair or two with the
high seat and long elbows, which seemed to have gone astray from a
Peckham drawing-room; an ormolu clock under a glass shade ornamented the
overmantel, and in the way of literature there was one book in the
room--Prescott's _Conquest of Peru_--and a copy of the _Times_.

Drake was seated at the table engaged in the study of a map of Matanga.
'Come in!' he said cordially. Fielding drew up a chair to the fire. 'Have
a drink? The cigars are on the mantelshelf.'

Drake fetched a syphon and a decanter of whisky and mixed two glasses. He
handed one to Fielding, and brought his map to the fire.

'Ah!' said Fielding. 'There's likely to be a rising in Matanga, I see.'

'Very possibly.'

'How will that affect you?'

'Not at all, I think. It may delay things, of course, but it won't take
long, and, besides, it won't touch the interior of the country. There
will be a certain amount of shouting in the capital and round the coast,
perhaps a gun or two fired off, and then they'll settle down under a new
President.'

'But there are a good many Germans there, aren't there? What if they
invite the German Government to interfere?'

'I don't fancy that's probable. The German colonist isn't over fond of
German rule. You see the first thing a German official wants to do when
he catches sight of a black, is to drill him. It's his first and often
his last idea. He wants to see him holding the palm of his hand against
the stripe of an invisible trouser, and the system doesn't work, because
the black clears over the nearest border.'

Fielding laughed and turned to the object of his visit. 'Talking of
Matanga, what in the world made you tell Miss Le Mesurier about Gorley?'

Drake looked up from his map. 'How did you know anything about
Gorley?' he asked.

'Mrs. Willoughby told me. I thought it was decided Miss Le Mesurier
should not be told.'

'Mr. Le Mesurier left the choice to me, and it seemed to me that she had
a right to know.'

'Why?'

Drake paused for a second in reflection. 'It seemed to me--' he
began again.

'Well, she hadn't,' snapped Fielding.

'Well, I think she had,' answered Drake quietly, returning to his map.

'Then you were wrong; she hadn't. The engagement was broken off a long
while ago, and you hadn't a right to tell her unless you want to marry
her yourself.'

Drake raised his head with a jerk and stared at the wall in front of him
fixedly. He made no answer, nor could Fielding distinguish upon his face
any expression which gave a clue to his thoughts. He got up from his
chair, and Drake turned to him. 'I gather from your tone,' he said in an
indifferent voice, 'that Mrs. Willoughby resents my action.'

'My dear fellow, no,' exclaimed Fielding energetically. 'For Heaven's
sake, don't take me for a reflex of Mrs. Willoughby!'

No more plotting for him, he determined. He had planned and calculated
and interfered, all for other people's good, and this was the thanks he
got; to be quietly informed that he hadn't an idea of his own.

The next afternoon Mrs. Willoughby stopped her phaeton beside him in Bond
Street. She looked very well, he thought, with her clear
complexion,--clear as those clear eyes of hers with just the hint of
azure in the whites of them--wind-whipped now to a rosy warmth.

'May I congratulate you yet?' she asked pleasantly.

Fielding was not to be provoked to renew the combat, and he put the
question aside. 'You remember what you told me the other day about
Gorley,' he said.

'Yes,' she answered, becoming serious.

'Well, Miss Le Mesurier knows.'

'Who told her?' and she leaned forward.

'Guess.'

Mrs. Willoughby thought for a moment and then shook her head. 'I can't.
Her father?'

'No; Drake himself.'

She started back in her seat. Then she said, 'Of course, we might have
known that he would,' and the 'we' sealed their reconciliation.



CHAPTER IX


When Fielding had gone, Drake opened the window and stepped out on
the balcony.

'Unless you want to marry her yourself'; the words were stamped upon his
mind in capitals. They formulated to him for the first time the cause of
that unreasoned conviction of his, and formulated it too, as he realised,
with absolute truth. Yes, it was just his desire for Clarice to which he
owed his belief that she had an unquestionable right to know his
responsibility for Gorley's death.

He wanted her, and wanting her, was committed to scrupulous frankness.

Drake looked out across the city. At his feet lay the quiet strip of
garden, lawn and bush; beyond, the lamps burning on the parapets of the
Embankment, and beyond them, the river shining in the starlight, polished
and lucent like a slab of black marble, with broad regular rays upon it
of a still deeper blackness, where the massive columns of Hungerford
Bridge cast shadows on the water. An engine puffed and snorted into the
station, leaving its pennant of white smoke in the air. Through the glass
walls of the signal-box above the bridge Drake could see the men in a
blaze of light working at the levers, and from the Surrey end there came
to him a clink, and at that distance a quite musical clink, of truck
against truck as some freight-train was shunted across the rails. Away to
his right the light was burning on Westminster clock-tower; on
Westminster Bridge the lamps of cabs and carriages darted to and fro like
fire-flies. Drake watched two of them start across in the same direction
a few yards apart, saw the one behind close up, the one in front spirt
forward as though each was straining for the lead. They drew level, then
flashed apart, then again drew level, and so passing and repassing raced
into the myriad lights upon the opposite bank. That bank was visible to
him through a tracery of leafless twigs, for a tree grew in front of his
window on the farther edge of the gardens, and he could see the lights
upon its roadway dancing, twirling, clashing in the clear night, just as
they clashed and twirled and danced in the roadway beneath him, sparks
from a forge, and that forge, London. In their ceaseless motion they
seemed rivulets of fire, and the black sheet of water between them the
solid highway. But even while he looked, a ruby light moved on that
highway out from the pillars of the bridge, and then another and another.
Everywhere was the glitter of lights; fixed, flashing like a star on the
curve, or again growing slowly from a pin's point to an orb, and then
dwindling to a point and vanishing. And on every side, too, Drake heard
the quick beat of horses, and the rattle of wheels struck out not from
silence, but from a dull eternal hum like the hum of a mill, sharp
particular notes emerging incessantly from a monotonous volume of sound.

It was just this aspect and this noise of restless activity which had
always appealed to Drake, and had satisfied him with an assurance that he
was on the road to the fulfilment of his aims. He had achieved something
of his desires, however small. He was in London working at certain
schemes of which he did not doubt the ultimate success. They were built
upon a foundation of knowledge arduously gained and tested. The rising in
Matanga, if it took place, might delay success, but success would surely
come. He might then look forward with confidence to a seat in that
Parliament on which the light was burning, to a share perhaps finally in
its executive.

But to-night he found that there was something wanting in the
contemplation of these aims, something wanting in the very outlook from
his window. He needed Clarice here in his balcony by his side, and he
pictured the shine of her eyes bent towards him in the dark. And the
perception of that need held him in check, gave him a hint of warning
that the thought of her might become as a wedge driven into the framework
of his purposes and splitting them.

He could still draw back, he assured himself. But if he went on and won!
He felt the blood surging through his veins. He might win; there was just
a chance. The Gorley incident had made no real difference in Clarice's
friendliness. When once, indeed, she had grown used to it, she had seemed
almost to express some queer sort of sympathy with him.

Drake closed the window and sat down to calculate the time at which he
would be sufficiently established to make known his suit. He fixed that
time definitely in July. July! The name sounded pleasantly with its
ripple of liquid syllables. Drake found himself repeating it when he
should have been at work. It began to rise to his lips the moment a date
was asked of him, as the only date at all worth mentioning. Fielding came
down to Drake's office in Old Broad Street, in order to apply for shares
in 'Matanga Concessions.'

'You had better wait,' said Drake. 'I will let you know before they are
offered to the public.'

'That will be soon?'

'Not for the moment. There's the possibility of this rising. Let the
country quiet down first!'

'But when do you propose?'

'July.'

'July? That's a long time to come.'

Drake coloured to the roots of his hair. 'I beg your pardon,' he said
with evident embarrassment; 'much sooner than that of course. I was
thinking of some one else.' He made matters worse by a hurried correction
of 'some one' to 'something.'

Fielding noticed the embarrassment and the correction, and drew
conclusions. They were conclusions, he thought, of which Mrs. Willoughby
should be advised, and he drove to her house accordingly. He had ceased
to feel displeasure at Mrs. Willoughby's conduct, for since he had
studiously refrained from betraying the slightest irritation at
Mallinson's visits, those visits had amazingly diminished.

'Did he happen to mention the date of the month and the time of the day?'
was Mrs. Willoughby's comment.

'It sounds cold-blooded? Hardly, if you knew the man. He looks on life as
a sort of draughtboard. So many definite moves to be made forward upon
definite lines. Then you're crowned king and can move as you please,
backwards if you like, till the end of the game.'

'He will be crowned king in July?'

'So I imagine.'

Meanwhile Drake worked on through March and April, outwardly untroubled,
but inwardly asking himself ever: 'Shall I win? Shall I win?' The
question besieged him. Patient he could be, none more so, when the end in
view was to be gained by present even though gradual endeavour; but this
passive waiting was a lid shut down on him, forcing his energies inwards
to prey upon himself. His impatience, moreover, was increased by the
increasing prospects of his undertaking. Additional reports had been
received from his engineer appraising at a still higher value the quality
of the land. He spoke too of a tract of country bordering Drake's
concession on the north, and advised application for it. Biedermann,
besides, had taken up the project warmly. The company was to come out
early in May; there would be few shares open to the public, and the
revolution had not taken place.

Why should he wait till July after all? Drake felt inclined to argue the
question one Sunday afternoon in London's lilac time, as he walked
across the green park towards Beaufort Gardens. He found Miss Le
Mesurier alone and in a melancholy mood. She was singing weariful
ballads in an undertone as he entered the room, and she rose
dispiritedly to welcome him.

'It's seldom one finds you alone,' he said, and his face showed his
satisfaction.

'I don't know,' she replied. 'It seems to me sometimes that I am always
alone, even when people are by,' and her eyelids drooped.

'You?'

Clarice's sincerity was of the artist's sort implying a sub-consciousness
of an audience. She recognised from the accent upon the _you_, that her
little speech had not failed of its effect. She continued more
cheerfully: 'Aunt has gone up to Highgate to see some relations, and
papa's asleep in the library.'

'You were singing. I hope you won't stop.'

'I was only passing the time.'

'You will make me think I intrude.'

'I'll prove to you that you don't,' and she went back to the piano. Drake
seated himself at the side of it, facing her and facing the open window.
The window-ledges were ablaze with flowers, and the scent of them poured
into the room on a flood of sunshine.

Clarice was moved by a sudden whim to a change of humour. She sprang
from her dejection to the extreme of good spirits. Her singing proved
it, for she chose a couple of light-hearted French ballads, and sang
them with a dainty humour which matched the daintiness of the words and
music. Her shrugs and pouts, the pretty arching of her eyebrows, the
whimsical note of mockery in her voice, represented her to Drake under a
new aspect, helped to complete her in his thoughts much as her voice,
very sweet and clear for all its small compass, completed in some queer
way the flowers and sunshine. Her manner, however, did more than that;
it gave to him, conscious of a certain stiffness and inflexibility of
temperament, an inner sense of completion anticipated from his hope of a
time when their lives would join. He leaned forward in his chair,
watching the play of her face, the lights and shadows in the curls of
her hair, the nimble touch of her fingers on the keys. Clarice stopped
suddenly. 'You don't sing?'

'I have no accomplishments at all.'

She laughed and began to play one of Chopin's nocturnes. Her fingers
rattled against the ivory on a run up the piano. She stopped and took a
ring from her right hand; Drake noticed that it was the emerald ring
which he had seen winking in the firelight on that evening when she had
covered her face from him. She dropped the ring on the top of the piano
at Drake's side. It spun round once or twice, and then settled down with
a little tinkling whirr upon the rim of its hoop Drake fancied that the
removal of this particular ring was in some inexplicable way of hopeful
augury to him.

Clarice resumed her playing, but as she neared the end of the nocturne,
Drake perceived that there was a growing change, a declension, in her
style. She seemed to lose the spirit of the nocturne and even her command
on the instrument; the firm touch faltered into indecision, from
indecision to absolute unsteadiness; the notes, before clear and
distinct, now slurred into one another with a tremulous wavering.

'You are fond of music?' she asked at length, with something of an
effort.

'Very,' he replied, 'though it puzzles me. It's like opening a book
written in a language you don't understand. You get a glimpse of a
meaning here and there, but no meaning really. I can't explain what I
feel,' he added, with a laugh. 'I want Mallinson to help me.'

'You admire Mr. Mallinson?' asked Clarice, stopping suddenly.

'Well, one always admires the class of work one can't do oneself, eh?'

'That's very generous of you.'

'Why generous?' Drake leaned suddenly forward. His habit of putting
questions abrupt and straight to the point had discomposed Miss Le
Mesurier upon an occasion before. She answered hurriedly. 'I mean--you
spoke as if you meant that class of work was above your own.'

'Oh, there's no basis of comparison.'

Clarice seized the opportunity, and inquired after the prospects of his
work in Matanga.

'The place should do,' said Drake. 'The land's good, there's a river
running through, and I have got picked men to settle on it; all English,
that's the point. But you said generous. I don't see.'

Clarice switched him on the subject of English colonisation. 'It's
necessary to have Englishmen to start it? Why?'

'Oh, well,' said Drake. 'It's easy enough to see, if you can compare
English with the foreign colonies.' He rose from his chair and launched
forth, walking about the room. 'Look at the Germans! There are seven
hundred German colonists, all told, in the German colonies, and each of
them costs the German tax-payer little short of eight hundred a year. How
many of them are in the English colonies? And what's the reason? Why,
they want to have the institutions of the Fatherland ready-made in five
minutes. They need the colonies made before they can prosper in it. The
French are better, but they are spoilt by officialdom. The Englishman
just adapts himself to the conditions, and sets to work to adapt the
conditions to himself too. He strikes a sort of mean, and the Home
Government leaves him alone--leaves him too much alone some say, and
rightly, in cases. There's a distinction to be drawn, and it's difficult
to draw it so far away. It's this, when the colony's made, then it isn't
a bad thing for the Government to keep a fairly tight hold on it. But in
the making it's best left to itself; you can lay a cable between London
and a colony too soon for the good of that colony. There's no fear of the
colonist forgetting the mother country--he may forget the Home
Government, does at times, and then there's a mistake or two. But that's
the defect of the quality.' He checked himself abruptly. 'But I'm running
away from what we were talking about. Yes; I think we shall do all right
in Matanga.'

'You don't mean to go back there yourself?'

'Not to live there. To tell the truth, I think there's a man or two
wanted in England just now, who has had a practical experience of our
colonies.' Drake spoke without the least trace of boastfulness, but in a
tone of quiet self-reliance, and Clarice had a thrill of intuition that
he would not have said so much as that to any one but herself.

Clarice began to play again, this time a waltz tune. Drake came over to
the piano, and stood leaning upon the lid of it; he took up the ring and
turned it over in his fingers. She said thoughtfully:

'I suppose that's true of men as well'; and then, with a hesitating
correction, 'I mean of men like you.'

'What's true?'

'Well, that they are best without--help from any one--that they stand in
no need of it.' She spoke quite seriously, with a note almost of regret.

'Oh, I don't know that,' he answered, with a laugh. 'It would be a rash
thing to say. Of course a man ought to depend upon himself.'

'Oh, of course,' she agreed, and went on playing.

Drake was still holding the ring, and he said slowly:

'You remember that afternoon I told you about'--he hesitated for a
second--'Gorley?' Clarice looked up in surprise.

'Yes,' she said.

'You were wearing this ring. You hid your face in your hands. It was the
last thing I saw of you.'

She lowered her eyes from his face, and said, with a certain timidity,
'He gave it to me.'

Drake started and leaned on the piano.

'And you still wear it?' he asked sharply.

She nodded, but without looking at him. Drake rose upright, straightening
himself; for a moment or two he stood looking at her, and then he walked
away towards the window. His hat was lying on a table close by it.

'But I don't think that I shall again,' she murmured. She heard him turn
quickly round and come back. He stood behind her; she could see his
shadow thrown across the bar of sunlight on the carpet; but he did not
speak. Clarice became anxious that he should, and yet afraid too. The
music began to falter again; once she stopped completely, and let her
fingers rest upon the keys, as though she had no power to lift them and
continue. Then she struck a chord with a loud defiance. If only he would
move, she thought--if only he would come round and stand in front of
her! It would be so much easier to speak, to divert him. So long as he
stood silent and motionless behind her, she felt, in a strange manner,
at his mercy.

She rose from her seat suddenly, and confronted him. There was challenge
in the movement, but none the less her eyes sought the ground, and, once
face to face with him, she stood in an attitude of submission.

'What does that mean?' she heard him ask in a low voice. 'You won't wear
it again.'

She did not answer, but in spite of herself, against her will, she raised
her eyes until they met his. She heard a cry, hoarse and passionate; she
felt herself lifted, caught, and held against him. She saw his eyes above
hers, burning into hers; she felt the pressure of two lips upon hers, and
her own respond obediently.

'Is it true?' The words were whispered into her ear with an accent of
wonder, almost of awe.

'Yes,' she whispered back, compelled to the answer, subservient to his
touch, to his words, and, to the full, conscious of her subservience. She
felt the big breath he drew in answering her monosyllable. He held her
unresisting, passive in his arms, watching her cheeks fire. She realised,
in a kind of detached way, that he was holding her so that the tips of
her toes only touched the floor, and somehow that seemed of a piece with
the rest. Then he set her down, and stood apart, keeping her hands. 'It's
funny,' he said, 'how one goes on year after year, quite satisfied,
knowing nothing of this, meaning not to know.'

She caught at the phrase and stammered, 'Perhaps that was wise.'

'It was. For so I met you.'

He released her hands, and she sank into the nearest chair. Drake walked
to the window and stood facing the sunlight, breathing it in. 'Clarice,'
she heard him murmur, with a shake of his shoulders like a great
Newfoundland dog; and then the cry of a newspaper boy shouting the
headlines of a special edition rasped into the room.

Drake leaned out of the window. 'Hi!' he called, and tossed a penny into
the street.

'Threepence,' shouted the boy from below.

'It's a penny paper,' cried Drake.

'Threepence. There's a corner in 'em.'

Clarice listened to the argument. Most men, she thought helplessly, don't
buy newspapers the moment they have been accepted, and, at all events, it
is an occasion when they are disposed to throw their money about. It made
no difference of any kind to him.

Drake finally got the better of the bargain, and the paper was brought up
to the room. Clarice saw Drake open it hurriedly, and his face cloud and
harden as he glanced down the column.

'What's the matter?' she asked in a rising voice.

'A rebellion in Matanga,' he said slowly. 'I thought that danger was
averted,' and there was a distinct note of self-reproach in his tone.

Clarice felt her heart beat quicker. She rose from her chair. 'What does
that mean to you?' she asked.

'Delay,' he replied, with the self-reproach yet more accentuated.
'Nothing more, I am sure; but it does mean that.'

'Nothing more?'

He noticed an expression of disappointment upon the girl's face, and,
mistaking it, repeated, 'Nothing more than that, Clarice.' He took a step
towards her. 'Of course I ought not to have spoken to you yet,--not until
everything was settled. I am sorry--of course it will come out all right,
only till then it wasn't fair. I didn't mean to,--not even when I came
this afternoon. But seeing you,--I wasn't strong enough,--I gave in.'

Clarice felt a pulse of satisfaction, and her lips shaped to a smile.

'Ah, you don't regret it,' he exclaimed, and the look of humiliation
passed from his face. 'Your father's in the library,' he went on; 'I had
better go and tell him. Shall I go alone, or will you come with me?'

'No, you go; I will wait here.'

She stood alone in the centre of the room while Drake went downstairs,
staring fixedly in front of her. Once or twice she set her hands to her
forehead and drew them down her flushed cheeks. Then she walked to the
window. There was something floating on the edge of her mind, just
eluding her. A thought was it, or a phrase? If a phrase, who had spoken
it? She began to remember; it was something Stephen Drake had said, but
about what? And then, in a flash, her recollection defined it for her. It
was about moonlight being absorbed into the darkness of an African veld,
just soaking into it like water into dry ground. She had a vision of the
wide rolling plain, black from sky's rim to sky's rim, and the moonlight
pouring a futile splendour into its lap. She moved with a quick and
almost desperate run to the door, opened it, and leaned over the
balustrade of the staircase. The hall was empty and no sound of voices
came from the library. She stepped cautiously down the stairs; as she
reached the last step the door of the library opened and Drake appeared
on the threshold.

Clarice leaned against the wall, holding her hand to her heart.

'Why, Clarice!' he cried, and started towards her.

'Hush!' She tried to whisper the word, but her voice rose. She thrust out
a hand between herself and Drake, and cast a startled glance across his
shoulder, expecting to see her father come forward smiling
congratulations at her. Drake caught the outstretched hand, and, setting
an arm about her waist, drew her into the library.

'I have not seen Mr. Le Mesurier,' he said; 'he's out, I am afraid.'

The room was empty. Clarice looked round it, doubting her eyes, and with
a sudden revulsion of feeling dropped into a chair by the table and sat
with her face buried in her arms in a flood of tears.



CHAPTER X


Drake bent over her, stroking her hair with a gentle helpless movement of
his hand and occasionally varying his consolation by a pat on the
shoulders. The puffed sleeves of silk yielding under his touch gave him a
queer impression of the girl's fragility.

'Oh don't, child!' he entreated. 'It's my fault for speaking so soon. But
really there's nothing to fear--nothing. It'll all come out right--not a
doubt of that. You'll see.'

Consolation of this kind did but make the tears flow yet more freely.
Drake perceived the fact and stood aside, wondering perplexedly at the
reason. The sound of each sob jerked at his heart; he began to walk
restlessly about the room. The storm, from its very violence, however,
wore itself quickly out; the sobs became less convulsive, less frequent.
Clarice raised her head from her arms and stared out of the window
opposite, with just now and then a little shiver and heave of her back.

Drake stopped his walk and advanced to her. She anticipated his speech,
turning with a start to face him.

'You haven't seen my father?'

'No; the servant told me he had gone out. But I wrote a note saying I
would call again this evening. It is under your elbow.'

Clarice picked up the crumpled envelope and looked at it absently.

'Stephen,' she said, and she tripped upon the name, 'there's something I
ought to tell you--now. But it's rather difficult.'

Drake walked to the window and stood with his back towards her. She felt
grateful to him for the action, and was a little surprised at the tact
which had prompted it.

'Yes?' he said.

'We are not very well off,' she continued; 'perhaps you know that.'

'Yes,' he interrupted.

'But the position's more complicated than you can know'; she was speaking
carefully, weighing her words. 'Of course you know that I have a sister
younger than myself. She's at school in Brussels. Well, by the Sark laws,
the Seigneurie can't be split up between the members of a family. I think
it's the same with all land there. It must go--what's the
word?--unencumbered to the eldest child. So it must come to me--all of
it. That leaves my sister still to be provided for. Father explained the
whole thing to me. As it is, he has as much as he can do to keep the
Seigneurie up. This house we can't really afford, but father thought he
ought to take it,--well, for my sake, I suppose. So, you see, whatever
money he has he must leave to my sister, and there's still the Seigneurie
for me to keep up.'

'Yes, I understand. You are bound by duty, if you marry, to marry some
one with means. But, Clarice, it won't be long to wait,' and he turned
back from the window into the room.

'But till then--don't you see? Of course I know you will be successful,'
and she laid considerable emphasis on the _I_.

Drake reflected for a moment. 'You mean there would be trouble between
your father and you. The weight of it would fall on you. He might
distrust me. Yes; after all, why should he not? But still the thing's
done, isn't it?'

Clarice rose from her chair and walked to the grate. A fire was burning,
and she still held Drake's letter in her hand. 'We might keep it to
ourselves,' she said diffidently. She saw Drake's forehead contract.
'For my sake,' she said softly, laying a hand upon his sleeve. She lifted
a tear-stained face up to his with the prettiest appeal. 'I know you hate
it, but it will spare me so much.'

He said nothing, and she dropped the letter into the fire.

As Drake was leaving the house she heard, through the closed door, the
sound of her father's voice in the hall speaking to him, and felt a
momentary pang of alarm. The next instant, however, she laughed. He might
have broken his word to himself; he would not break it to her.

Drake went home, reckoning up the harm he had done with a feeling of
degradation quite new to him. Not the least part of that harm was the
compromise finally agreed upon. But for the traces of tears upon the
girl's cheeks, he would hardly have agreed to it even in the face of
her appeal. Once alone, however, he saw clearly all--the deception
that it implied--deception which involved the girl, too, as well as
himself. He rose the next day in no more equable frame of mind, and
leaving his office at three o'clock in the afternoon, walked along
Cheapside, Holborn, and Oxford Street, and turned down Bond Street,
meaning to pass an hour in the fencing-rooms half-way down St. James
Street. At the corner of Bruton Street he came face to face with Miss
Le Mesurier. She coloured for an instant, and then came frankly
forward and held out her hand.

'It's funny meeting you here,' she said, and laughed without the least
embarrassment.

Drake turned and walked by her side with a puzzled conjecture at the
reason of woman's recuperative powers. Clarice's eyes were as clear, her
forehead as sunny, as though she had clean wiped yesterday from her
consciousness. The conjecture, however, brought the reality of yesterday
only yet more home to him. He stopped in the street and said abruptly,
'Clarice, I can't.'

She stopped in her turn and drew a little pattern on the pavement with
the point of her umbrella. 'Why?'

A passer-by jostled Drake in the back. Standing there they were blocking
the way. 'Isn't there anywhere we could go? Tea? One drinks tea at this
hour, eh?'

'No.'

Clarice felt more mistress of herself in the open street, more able to
cope with Drake while they walked in a throng. She remembered enough
of yesterday to avoid even the makeshift solitude of a tea-table in a
public room. 'Let us walk on,' she said. 'Can't you explain as we go?
I am late.'

She moved forward as she spoke, and Drake kept pace with her, shortening
his strides. The need of doing that, trifle though it was, increased his
sense of responsibility towards her. 'It's so abominably deceitful, and
it's my doing. I should involve you in the deceit.'

Clarice glanced at him sharply. The distress of his voice was repeated in
the expression of her face. There was no doubting that he spoke
sincerely.

'I had better see your father to--day,' he added.

'No,' she replied energetically; and, after a moment's pause, 'There's
another way.'

'Well?'

'Let everything be as it was before yesterday. I shall not change. It
will be better for you to be free. Come to me when you are ready.'

She signed to a passing hansom, and it drew up by the curb. She got into
it while Drake stood with brows knitted, revolving the proposal in his
mind. 'But you see it can't be the same,' he said; 'because I kissed you,
didn't I?'

'Yes, you did,' she replied.

The tremble of laughter in her voice made him look up to her face. The
rose deepened in her cheeks, and the laughter rippled out. 'You are
quaint,' she said. 'I will forget--well--what you said, until you are
ready. Till then it's to be just as it was before--only not less. You are
not to stay away'; and without waiting for an answer she lifted the trap,
gave the cabman his order, and drove off. Drake watched the hansom
disappear, and absently retraced his steps down the street. He stopped
once or twice and stared vaguely into the shop-windows. One of these was
a jeweller's, and he turned sharply away from it and quickened his pace
towards the fencing-rooms. How could it be the same, he asked himself,
when the mere sparkle of an emerald ring in a jeweller's shop-window
aroused in him a feeling of distaste?

Towards the end of this week Clarice called upon Mrs. Willoughby, and
seemed for the moment put out on finding that Mallinson and Fielding were
present. Mrs. Willoughby welcomed her all the more warmly because she was
finding it difficult to keep the peace between her two visitors. She
understood Clarice's embarrassment when Percy Conway arrived close upon
her heels. Clarice, however, quietly handed him over to Mrs. Willoughby,
and seated herself beside Mallinson in one of the windows. 'I see nothing
of you now,' she said, and she looked the reproach of the hardly-used. 'I
thought we had agreed to be friends?'

Mallinson sighed wearily. 'I will come and call--some day,' he said
dejectedly.

'I have not so many friends that I can afford a loss,' she answered
pathetically; and then, 'Tell me about yourself. What are you doing?'

'Nothing.'

'No work?'

'No.' Mallinson shook his head.

'Why?'

'I have no incentive--nothing to work for.'

'That's cruel.'

They played out their farce of sham sentiment with a luxurious
earnestness for a little while longer, and then Mallinson went away.

'So he's doing no work?' said Fielding maliciously to Miss Le Mesurier.
He leaned forward as he spoke from the embrasure of the second window,
which was in a line with, and but a few feet apart from, that at which
she was sitting.

Miss Le Mesurier flushed, and asked, 'How did you hear?'

'Both windows are open. Mallinson was leaning out.'

The girl's confusion increased, and with it Fielding's enjoyment. He
repeated, 'So he's doing no work?'

'A thousand a year, don't you know?' said Conway, with a sneer. 'It would
make a man like that lazy.'

'It's not laziness,' exclaimed Clarice indignantly. She was filled with
pity for Mallinson, and experienced, too, a sort of reflex pity for
herself as the inappropriate instrument of his suffering. She was
consequently altogether tuned to tenderness for him. 'It's not laziness
at all. It's--it's--' She cast about for a laudatory explanation.

'Well, what?' Fielding pressed genially.

'It's the artistic temperament,' she exclaimed triumphantly.

Fielding laughed at her vindication, and Miss Le Mesurier walked across
the room and said good-bye to Mrs. Willoughby. Conway rose at the same
time, and the pair left the house together.

'What a liar that man is!' said Fielding.

'What man?' asked Mrs. Willoughby.

'Why, Mallinson. He said he was doing no work because he had no
incentive. As a matter of fact, I happen to know that he is working
rather hard.'

'What did Clarice say?'

'What you might expect. She melted into sympathy.'

Mrs. Willoughby looked puzzled. 'Yet she went off with Percy Conway
immediately afterwards,' she said, and then laughed at her recollections
of a previous visit from that gentleman.

'Yes; and absolutely unconscious of the humour of her behaviour,' said
Fielding. 'That's so delightful about her.' He paused for a second and
asked, 'Have you ever been inside a camera obscura? You get a picture, an
impression, very vivid, very accurate, of something that is actually
happening. Then some one pulls a string and you get a totally different
picture, equally vivid, equally accurate, of something else which is
actually happening. There is no trace of the first picture in the second.
Then they open a shutter and you see nothing but a plain white slab.
Somehow I always think of Miss Le Mesurier's mind.'

After leaving Mrs. Willoughby's, Conway and Miss Le Mesurier walked
together in the direction of Beaufort Gardens.

'Do you see much of Mr. Drake?' she asked, after a considerable silence.

'Not as much as one would wish to. He's generally busy.'

'You like him, then?' she asked curiously. 'Why?'

'Don't you? There's an absence of pretension about him. Nothing of the
born-to-command air, but insensibly you find yourself believing in him,
following him. I believe even Fielding finds that as well. When Drake
first came back I used to stand up for him--well, because, perhaps, I had
a reason of my own. I am not sure that I believed all I said, but I am
sure now I should say exactly the same and believe every word of it.'

He spoke with a quiet conviction which gave solid weight to his words,
owing to its contrast with the flighty enthusiasm which was the usual
characteristic of his eulogies.

'You mentioned Mr. Fielding,' she said.

'Yes; haven't you heard? He's investing in Matanga Concessions, and
largely for him. He's often seen in Drake's office.'

Clarice walked along in silence for some way further. Then she said, with
a distinct irritation in her voice, 'I suppose it all comes from the fact
that Mr. Drake doesn't seem to need any one to rely upon, or--well--any
particular incentive to work.'

Conway glanced at Miss Le Mesurier with a slight surprise. She was
generally given to accept facts without inquiry into their causes. 'I
shouldn't wonder if you are right. Drake, I should think, would find his
incentive in the work itself. Yes; I believe you _are_ right. It's just
his single-mindedness which influences one. There are certain ideas fixed
in his mind, combined into one aim, and he lets nothing interfere to
obscure that aim.'

So he spoke; so, too, Clarice believed, and that picture of moonlight on
the veld became yet more vivid, yet more frequent in her thoughts.
Pondering upon it, her fancy led her to exaggerate Drake into the
likeness of some Egyptian god, that sits with huge hands resting upon
massive knees, and works out its own schemes behind indifferent eyes. The
sight of him, and the sound of commonplace words from his mouth, would at
times make her laugh at the conception and restore her to her former
familiarity with him. But the fancy returned to her, and, each time,
added a fresh layer to the colour of her thoughts. She came now and again
to betray a positive shrinking from him. Drake noticed it; he noticed
something else as well: in the first week of July the emerald ring
reappeared upon her finger.

In the second week Mr. Le Mesurier removed his household gods to Sark. It
was his habit to spend the summer months upon the island, and to
entertain there his friends in succession. He invited both Mrs.
Willoughby and Stephen Drake. The former accepted, the latter, being on
the eve of floating the Matanga Concessions, declined for the present to
Clarice's great relief, but promised to come later. The company was
floated towards the end of the month, and with immediate success. Mr. Le
Mesurier read out at breakfast a letter which he had received from Drake,
announcing that every share had been taken up on the very day of
flotation.

'Then he is coming,' said Clarice. 'When?'

Mr. Le Mesurier mistook his daughter's anxiety, and smiled satisfaction
at her. 'To-morrow,' he replied; 'but only for three days at first.
There's some new development he speaks of. He will have to leave again on
Saturday for a fortnight.'

Clarice sat thoughtfully for a minute or two. Then she asked: 'Did you
invite Mr. Mallinson this summer?'

Mr. Le Mesurier shuffled his feet under the table. 'No, my dear,'
he said. 'I forgot all about it; and now I don't see that we shall
have room.'

'Oh yes,' replied Clarice quickly. 'He might have Mr. Drake's room during
that fortnight. I think we ought to ask him. We always have, and it will
look rather strange if we leave him out this summer. I will get aunt to
write after breakfast.'

Mr. Le Mesurier glanced at Mrs. Willoughby, but made no active
resistance, and Clarice took care that the letter was despatched by that
day's post. On the next day she organised a picnic in Little Sark, and
returned to the Seigneurie at an hour which gave her sufficient time to
dress for dinner, but no margin for welcoming visitors. In consequence
she only saw Drake at the dinner-table. She saw little of him afterwards,
for Mr. Le Mesurier pounced upon him after dinner. 'I want to introduce
you to Burl,' he said. 'He's Parliamentary agent for the Northern
Counties. There's a constituency in Yorkshire where my brother lives, and
I rather think Burl wants a candidate.'

Drake was presented to a gentleman six feet three in his socks,
deep-chested, broad-shouldered, with a square rugged face on the slant
from the forehead to the chin. Mrs. Willoughby said he looked like a
pirate, and rumour made of her simile a fact. It was known that, late one
night in the smoking-room of the Seigneurie, he had owned to
silver-running on the coast of Mexico. Mr. Burl and Drake passed most of
that evening smoking together in the garden. Similarly on the next day
Clarice avoided a private interview with Drake. On the other hand,
however, he made no visible effort to secure one. Mrs. Willoughby
wondered at his reticence, and did more than wonder. She had by this time
espoused his cause, and knowing no half-measures in her enthusiasms, saw
his chances slipping from him, with considerable irritation. She was
consequently provoked to hint her advice to him on the evening before he
was to leave.

Drake shook his head and replied frankly: 'One can be too previous. I
made that mistake once before, and I don't mean to repeat it.'

He remained silent for a moment or two, and added: 'I think I'll tell you
about it, Mrs. Willoughby. You have guessed some part of the story, and
you are Clarice's friend, and mine too, I believe.'

With an impulsiveness rare in him, which however served to rivet him yet
more firmly in Mrs. Willoughby's esteem, he confided to her the history
of his proposal and its lame result. 'So you see,' he concluded, 'I am
not likely to risk a repetition of the incident.'

'But,' said she, 'surely there's no risk now?'

'Very likely, but there is just a little. This next fortnight will, I
think, make everything secure, but I must wait that fortnight.'

'Well, I believe you are unwise.' Drake turned to her quickly. 'Why?'

'Mr. Mallinson takes your place for the fortnight. Of course I don't
know. Clarice has given up confiding in me. But I really think you
are unwise.'

Drake sat staring in front of him. He was considering Mallinson's visit
in conjunction with the reappearance of the emerald ring upon Miss Le
Mesurier's finger. 'All the same,' he said at length, 'I shall wait.'

The reason for this hesitation he explained more fully to Clarice herself
some half an hour afterwards. He found her standing by herself upon the
terrace. She started nervously as he approached, and it seemed to him
that her whole figure stiffened to a posture of defence. She said
nothing, however, and for a while they stood side by side looking
seawards across the breadth of the island. The ground stretched away
broken into little hollows and little hills,--downs in vignette. A cheery
yellow light streamed from the windows of a cottage in a dip of the
grass; the slates of a roof glistened from a group of sycamores like a
mirror in a dark frame; the whole island lay bared to the moonlight.
Towards the edge of it the land rose upwards to a ridge, but there was a
cleft in the ridge opposite to where they stood, and through the cleft
they looked downwards to the sea.

Clarice spoke of the moonbeams broken into sparkles by the ripple of
the water.

'Like a shoal of silver coins,' said Drake.

'Wouldn't you like to hear them clink?' she asked petulantly.

Then he said: 'Miss Le Mesurier'--and the change in his voice made the
girl turn swiftly to face him--'I leave Sark to-morrow morning by the
early boat, so I thought I would say good-bye to you to-night.'

'But you are coming back,' she said quickly; 'I shall see you, of course,
when you come back. What takes you away?'

'There's some land in Matanga which bounds my concession on the north,
and I want to get hold of it. It's, I believe, quite as good, and may be
better, than mine, and I know that some people are after it. It wouldn't
help me if another company was to be started; and as the President of the
Matanga Republic is on his way to England, I thought that I had better go
out to Madeira, catch his steamer there, and secure a concession of it
before he reaches England.'

Clarice gave a laugh. 'Then we are to expect you in a fortnight?'

'Yes, in a fortnight,' and he laid a significance upon the word which
Clarice did not mistake. It was spoken with an accent of entreaty.

But indeed she needed no emphasis to fix it in her mind. The word
besieged her; she caught herself uttering it, and while she uttered it
the time itself seemed to have slipped by. She had but to say 'No' at the
end of the fortnight, she assured herself, and she knew that she would
only have to say it once. But the memory of that Sunday afternoon in
Beaufort Gardens lay upon her like a load crushing all the comfort out of
her knowledge.

Drake caught his steamer at Southampton, and the President at Madeira. He
was received warmly as an old acquaintance, warily as a negotiator.
However, he extracted the concession as the boat passed up Southampton
Water, and disembarked with a signed memorandum in his pocket. At
Southampton post-office he received a bundle of letters which had been
forwarded to him from his chambers in London. He slipped them into his
coat, and went at once on board the Guernsey steamer. At Guernsey, the
next morning, he embarked on the little boat which runs between Guernsey
and Sark. The sun was a golden fire upon the water; the race of the tides
no more than a ripple. The island stuck out its great knees into the sea
and lolled in the heat. Half-way across Drake bethought him of the
letters. He took them out and glanced over the envelopes. One was in
Clarice's handwriting. It announced to him her engagement with Sidney
Mallinson.



CHAPTER XI


Of Drake's arrival at the Seigneurie Mrs. Willoughby wrote some account
to Hugh Fielding, who was taking the waters for no ailment whatever at
Marienbad. 'I was surprised to see him,' she wrote, 'because Clarice told
me that she had written to him. Clarice was running down the stairs when
he came into the hall. She stopped suddenly as she caught sight of him,
clutched at the balustrade, slipped a heel upon the edge of the step, and
with a cry pitched straight into his arms at the bottom. Mr. Mallinson
came out of the library while he was holding her. Clarice was not hurt,
however, and Mr. Drake set her down. "I didn't pass through London," he
said, and he seemed to be apologising. "My letters were forwarded to
Southampton, and I only opened them on the Sark steamer." Then he
congratulated them both. I spoke to Mr. Drake the same evening on the
terrace here, foolishly hinting the feminine consolation that he was well
free from a girl of Clarice's fickleness. He was in arms on the instant.
One gets at truth only by experiment, and through repeated mistakes. Why
except women's hearts from the same law? I give his opinion, not his
words. He doesn't talk of "women's hearts." You know his trick of
suggesting when it comes to talk of the feelings. I slid into a worse
blunder and sympathised with him. He replied that it didn't make the
difference to him which I might think. I felt as if a stream of ice-water
had been turned down my back on Christmas Day. However, he went on in a
sort of shame-faced style, like a schoolboy caught talking sentiment.
"One owes her a debt for having cared for her, and the debt remains." He
stayed out his visit and left this morning. He goes to Switzerland, and
asked for your address. His is _The Bear, Grindelwald_. Write to him
there; better, join him. He talks of going out to Matanga later in the
year for a few months. So there's the end of the business, or rather one
hopes so. I used to hope that Clarice would wake up some morning into a
real woman and find herself--isn't that the phrase? I hope the reverse
now; that she and her husband will philander along to the close of the
chapter. But I prefer your word,--to the close of the "comedy," say. It
implies something artificial. Mallinson and Clarice give me that
impression,--as of Watteau figures mincing a gavotte, and made more
unreal by the juxtaposition of a man. Let's hope they will never perceive
the flimsiness of their pretty bows and ribbons! But I think of your one
o'clock in the morning of the masquerade ball, and frankly I am afraid. I
look at the three without--well, with as little prejudice as weak woman
may. Mallinson, you know him--always on the artist's see-saw between
exaltation and despair. Doesn't that make for shiftiness generally?
Clarice I don't understand; but I incline to your idea of her as at the
mercy of every momentary emotion, and the more for what has happened this
week. Since her engagement she seems to have lost her fear of Stephen
Drake. She has been all unexpressed sympathy. And Drake? There's the
danger, I am sure--a danger not of the usual kind. Had he been
unscrupulous he might have ridden roughshod over Clarice long before now.
But he's too scrupulous for that. I think that he misses greatness as we
understand it, through excess of scruple. But there's that saying of his
about a debt incurred to Clarice by the man caring for her. Well,
convince him that he can pay it by any sacrifice; won't he pay it?
Convince him that it would benefit her if he lay in the mud; wouldn't he
do it? I don't know. I made a little prayer yesterday night, grotesque
enough, but very sincere, that there might be no fifth act of tragedy to
make a discord of your comedy.'

Fielding received Mrs. Willoughby's command to join Drake with a grin at
her conception of him as fit company for a gentleman disappointed in his
love-affairs. He nevertheless obeyed it, and travelling to Grindelwald
found Drake waiting him on the platform with the hands of an
oakum-picker, and a face toned uniformly to the colour of a ripe pippin.
'You have been climbing mountains, I suppose?' asked Fielding.

'Yes,' nodded Drake.

'Well, don't ask me to join you. It produces a style of conversation I
don't like.'

Drake laughed, and protested that nothing was further from his intention.
Certain letters, however, which Fielding wrote to Mrs. Willoughby during
this period proved that he did join him, and more than once. The two men
returned to London half-way through September.

On the journey from Dover to Charing Cross Drake asked whether Mrs.
Willoughby was in town. He was informed that at the moment she was
visiting in Scotland, but she was expected to pass through London at the
end of a fortnight. Drake wrote a note to her address asking her to spare
him a few moments when she came south, and receiving a cordial assent
with the statement of the most favourable hour, walked across one evening
to Knightsbridge. Mrs. Willoughby remarked a certain constraint in his
manner, and awaited tentacle questions concerning Sidney Mallinson and
Clarice. She said: 'You look well. You have enjoyed your holiday.'

'I had an amusing companion.'

'You have given him some spark of your activity,' and the sentence was
pitched to convey thanks.

'Then you have seen him?' Drake's embarrassment became more
pronounced. He paused for a second and then rose and walked across the
room. 'You know, I suppose,' he resumed, 'that I am going out to
Matanga in a month.'

'I heard something of that from Mr. Fielding,' she said gently.

'Yes,' he said, with a change in his voice to brisk cheerfulness. 'It
seemed to me that I ought to go. Our interests there are rather large
now. I consulted my fellow-directors, and they agreed with me.'

The sudden disappearance of the constraint which had marked him surprised
Mrs. Willoughby. 'But can you leave London?' she asked.

'Oh yes; I have made arrangements for that,' he replied. 'I have got Burl
to look after things here.'

'Mr. Burl?'

'Yes; it's rather funny,' said Drake, with a laugh. 'He came to ask
me whether I was disposed to take up politics. There was a
constituency in Yorkshire he could arrange for me to stand
for--Bentbridge. Do you know it?'

'I have been there. Mr. Le Mesurier has a brother just outside the town.
It was there, I believe, that he became acquainted with Mr. Burl.'

'So I gathered. Well, I wanted the question left open for a bit. Then
Burl made another proposal. He said they wanted a paper in the district.
There were some people ready to back the idea, but they didn't have quite
enough capital. Burl wanted me to provide the rest. He didn't get it, but
he nearly did, and it struck me that he was just the man I wanted. So
after he had had his say, I had mine, and he has thrown up politics and
joined me.' Drake ended his story with a laugh, and added, 'I think I am
lucky to have got hold of him.'

'Then you don't mean to go away for good?' exclaimed Mrs. Willoughby.

'Oh dear no! What on earth made you think that? But I will be away a
year, I think,--and--and, that's just the point.' His embarrassment
returned as suddenly as it had left him.

'I don't understand.'

'Well, I had an idea of persuading Fielding to go with me.' He blurted
the proposal brusquely. 'He's interested, you see, in the success of the
colony, and--well, altogether, I didn't think it would be a bad thing.'

Mrs. Willoughby walked to the window and looked out of it for a few
seconds. 'What does Mr. Fielding say?' she asked.

'I haven't broached the subject to him yet. I thought I wouldn't
before--' He stopped and made no effort to finish the sentence.

'It's a year,' she said slowly, lengthening out the word. 'Yes, only a
year,' said he briskly, and Mrs. Willoughby smiled in spite of herself.
She thought of the new air of alertness which Fielding had worn since his
return from Switzerland. She came back to Drake and held out her hand to
him. 'You think very wisely for your friends,' she said.

'It's an inspiriting business to see a community in the making,'
he answered; 'especially when there's money to help it to make
itself quickly.'

He wished her good-bye and moved to the door. As he opened it he said,
'By the way, is the date of the marriage fixed?' but without turning
towards her.

She said, 'Yes, the 8th of December,' and she saw his shoulders brace,
and the weight of his body come backwards from the ball of the foot on
to the heel.

'Ah! I shall be in Africa by then,' he said.

It was in fact near upon the end of February that the river-steamer
plying between the settlement and the coast of Matanga brought to Drake
and Fielding an announcement that the marriage had taken place. There
were letters for both the men, and they carried them out to a grass knoll
on the edge of the forest some quarter of a mile away from the little
village of tin huts which shone in the sunshine like a tidy kitchen, as
Fielding was used to say. Drake read his through, and said to Fielding,
'You have a letter from Mrs. Willoughby?'

'Yes.'

'Any news?'

Fielding looked him in the face. 'Yes,' he said slowly, and putting the
letter in his pocket, buttoned it up. Drake understood alike from his
tone and action what news the letter conveyed, and made no further
inquiry. He fell instead to talking of some machinery which the boat had
brought up along with the letters. The letter, indeed, was written in a
vein which made it impossible for Fielding to follow the usual habit of
reading Mrs. Willoughby's letters aloud to his companion. 'The wedding,'
she wrote, 'lacked nothing but a costumier and a composer. The bride and
bridegroom should have been in fancy dress, and a new Gounod was needed
to compose the wedding-march of a marionette. One might have taken the
ceremony seriously as an artistic whole under those circumstances.'

Mrs. Willoughby continued to keep Fielding informed of the progress or
the married couple, and in May hinted at dissensions. The hint Fielding
let slip one day to Drake. Drake, however, received the news with
apparent indifference, and indeed returned to England in September with
Fielding without having so much as referred to the subject.

During the month which followed his return, he preserved the same
appearance of indifference, seeming, indeed, thoroughly engrossed in
working off arrears of business. The fact, however, of this dissension
was thrust before his notice one evening when he dined with Mr. Le
Mesurier, and that gentleman dealt out extravagant praise to the French
for recognising that the marriages of the children are matters which
solely concern the parents.

'We English,' said he with a shrug of contempt at the fatuity of his
countrymen, 'men and women, or rather boys and girls, choose for
ourselves, and what's the result nine times out of ten? Well, it's the
custom, and it's no use for a man by himself trying to alter it.'

Drake was familiar with Mr. Le Mesurier's habit of shifting
responsibilities, and while he said nothing at the moment, called upon
Mrs. Willoughby the next day and questioned her openly. Mrs. Willoughby
admitted that there were disagreements, but believed them not to be deep.

'The first year,' she said, 'is as a rule a trying time. There are
illusions to be sloughed. People may come out all the stronger in the
end.' Mrs. Willoughby generalised to conceal the little hopefulness she
felt in regard to the particular instance.

'I ask,' continued Drake, 'because I thought money might be at the bottom
of it. In that case something perhaps might be done. Mrs. Mallinson would
be troubled, I believe, by a need to economise.'

'Oh no,' she returned. 'There's no trouble of that kind. You see, Mr. Le
Mesurier sold the Seigneurie, for one thing--'

'Sold it!' exclaimed Drake. 'Why, I was told that it was strictly
entailed from father to child.'

'In one respect it is. It can't be charged with annuities. But any one
who owns it can sell it outright. Mr. Le Mesurier always intended to sell
it if Clarice married a man only moderately well off.'

Drake rose from his chair and walked once or twice quickly across the
room.

'He should have told his daughter that,' he said slowly.

Mrs. Willoughby glanced at him in surprise.

'Well, of course he did.'

'Oh no, he didn't,' said Drake quickly. 'You remember, I told you at Sark
why she wanted our engagement to be kept secret.'

'Because your position wasn't altogether assured. You didn't mention the
Seigneurie.'

'No, I thought you would understand. She believed an engagement between
us would cause trouble with her father, just because it was necessary for
her to marry a man who could keep up the Seigneurie.'

Mrs. Willoughby started. 'Clarice told you that!' she said,
staring at him.

'Yes,' he replied simply. 'So you see she didn't know.'

Mrs. Willoughby sank back into her chair. She had heard Mr. Le Mesurier
announce his intention more than once in Clarice's presence. However, she
fancied that no particular good would be done by informing him of the
girl's deception, and she dropped the subject.

'What about Conway?' asked Drake.

'He still walks up and down London. I fancy he is secretary to
something.'

Drake hesitated for a second. 'Does he go there very much?'

'A good deal, I fancy,' she replied. 'But you mustn't think the
disagreement is really serious. There is no cause outside themselves.
Have you called?'

'No; I go down to Bentbridge to-morrow. I must call when I get back.'

'Then you are going to stand for Parliament?' she exclaimed. 'I am so
glad.'

'Yes; they expect an election in July, I believe. You see, now that
Fielding has been made a director and has settled down to work, I have
got more time. In fact, one feels rather lonely at nights.'

Mrs. Willoughby was willing to hear more concerning Fielding's merits.
She promptly set herself to belittle the importance of his position and
work for the sake of hearing them upheld, and she was not disappointed.

'It's easy enough to laugh at finance, and fashionable into the bargain,'
he said. 'But here's the truth of the matter. Money does to-day what was
the work of the sword a century or so ago, and, as far as I can see, does
it better. To my thinking, it should be held in quite as high esteem. You
can put it aside and let it rust if you like, but other nations won't
follow your good example. Then the time comes when you must use it, and
you find the only men you've got to handle it are the men you can't
trust--the bandit instead of the trained soldier. No! Put the best men
you can find to finance, I say,' and with that he said good-bye.

'Why doesn't he drop them altogether?' asked Fielding with considerable
irritation when Mrs. Willoughby informed him of Drake's intention to
renew his acquaintance with the Mallinsons.

'It would only make matters worse if he did,' replied she. 'Clarice would
be certain to count any falling off of her friends as a new grievance
against her husband.'

'Friends?'

'He is willing to take his place as one.'

'He will find it singularly uninteresting. Friendship between a man
and a woman!'

He shrugged his shoulders; then he laughed to himself. Mrs.
Willoughby got up nervously from her chair and walked to the opposite
end of the room.

'These things,' continued Fielding in a perfectly complacent and
unconscious tone, 'are best understood by their symbols.'

Mrs. Willoughby swung round. 'Symbols?' she asked curiously.

Fielding took a seat and leaned back comfortably. 'The feelings and
emotions,' he began, 'have symbols in the visible world. Of these symbols
the greater number are flowers. I won't trouble you with an enumeration
of them, for in the first place I couldn't give it, and in the second,
Shakespeare has provided a fairly comprehensive list. And by nature I am
averse to challenging comparisons. There are, however, feelings of which
the symbols are not flowers, and amongst them we must reckon friendship
between man and woman. Passion, we know, has its passion flower, but the
friendship I am speaking of has its symbol too'--he paused
impressively--'and that symbol is cold boiled mutton.'

Mrs. Willoughby laughed awkwardly. 'What nonsense!' she said.

'A mere _jeu d'esprit_, I admit,' said he, and he waved his hand to
signify that he could be equally witty every day in the week if he chose.
His satisfaction, indeed, blinded him to the fact that his speech might
be construed as uncommonly near to a proposal of marriage. He thought,
with a cast back to his old dilettante spirit, that it would be amusing
to repeat it, especially to a woman of the sentimental kind--Clarice
Mallinson, for instance. He pictured the look of injury in her eyes and
laughed again.



CHAPTER XII


Clarice was indeed even more disappointed than Mrs. Willoughby imagined.
She had looked forward to her marriage, and had indeed been persuaded to
look forward to it, as to the smiting of a rock in her husband's nature
whence a magical spring of inspiration should flow perennially. 'The
future owes us a great deal,' Mallinson had said. 'It does indeed,'
Clarice had replied in her most sentimental tones. Only she made the
mistake of believing that the date of her marriage was the time appointed
for payment. Instead of that spontaneous flow of inspiration, she had
beneath her eyes a process of arduous work, which was not limited to a
special portion of the day, like the work of a business man, and which,
in the case of a man with Mallinson's temperament, inevitably produced an
incessant fretfulness with his surroundings. Now, since this work was
done not in an office but at home, the burden of that fretfulness fell
altogether upon Clarice.

She took to reading the _Morte d'Arthur_. Fielding found her with the
book in her hand when he called, and commented on her choice.

'There's no romance in the world nowadays,' she replied.

'But there has been,' he replied cheerfully; 'lots.'

Clarice professed not to understand his meaning. He proceeded to tick off
upon his ringers those particular instances in which he knew her to have
had a share, and mentioned the names of the gentlemen. He omitted
Drake's, however, and Clarice noticed the omission. For the rest she
listened quite patiently until he came to an end. Then she asked gravely,
'Do you think that is quite a nice way to talk to a married woman?'

'No,' he admitted frankly, 'I don't.' For a few minutes the
conversation lagged.

This was, however, Fielding's first visit since his home-coming, and
Clarice yielded to certain promptings of curiosity.

'I hardly expected you would be persuaded to go out to Africa, even
by--any one,' she concluded lamely.

'Neither did I,' he replied.

'Did you enjoy it?' she asked.

'I went out a Remus, I return a Romulus.'

There were points in Clarice's behaviour which never failed to excite
Fielding's admiration. Amongst these was a habit she possessed of staring
steadily into the speaker's face with all the appearance of complete
absence of mind whenever an allusion was made which she did not
understand, and then continuing the conversation as though the allusion
had never been made. 'Of course you had a companion,' she said.

Fielding agreed that he had.

'I have not seen him,' she added.

'No?'

'No.' Clarice was driven to name the companion. 'You seem to have struck
up a great friendship with Mr. Drake. I should hardly have thought that
you would have found much in common.'

'_Arcades ambo_, don't you know?'

Clarice did not know, and being by this time exasperated, she showed that
she did not. Fielding explained blandly, 'We both drive the same pigs to
the same market.'

Clarice laughed shortly, and stroked the cover of her _Morte d'Arthur_.
'I suppose that's just what friendship means nowadays?'

'Between man and man--yes. Between woman and woman it's different, and
it's, of course, different too between man and woman. But perhaps that's
best to be understood by means of its symbol,' and he worked up to his
climax of cold boiled mutton with complete satisfaction.

'I gather, then, that you see nothing of Mrs. Willoughby now,' said
Clarice quietly as soon as he had stopped. Fielding was for the moment
taken aback. It seemed to him that the point of view was unfair.
'Widows,' he replied with great sententiousness,--'widows are different,'
and he took his leave without explaining wherein the difference lay. He
wondered, however, if Clarice's point of view had occurred to Mrs.
Willoughby.

Fielding's visit, and in particular his teasing reticence as to his
stay in Matanga, had the effect of recalling Clarice's thoughts to the
subject of Stephen Drake. She recalled her old impression of him as one
self-centred and self-sufficing, a man to whom nothing outside himself
would make any tangible difference; but she recalled it without a trace
of the apprehension with which it had been previously coupled. She
began indeed to dwell upon that idea of him as upon something restful,
and the idea was still prominent in her mind when, a little more than a
week afterwards, Drake galloped up to her one morning as she was
crossing the Park.

'I have been meaning to call, Mrs. Mallinson,' he said, 'but the fact is,
I have had no time. I only got back from Bentbridge last night.'

Clarice received a sudden and yet expected impression of freshness from
him. 'Papa told me you were going to stand,' she replied. 'You stayed
with my uncle, Captain Le Mesurier, didn't you?'

'Yes. Funnily enough, I have met him before, although I didn't know his
name. He travelled in the carriage with me from Plymouth to London when I
first landed in England.'

Clarice wondered what made him pause for a moment in the middle of the
sentence. 'Your chances are promising?' she asked.

'I can't say yet. I have a Radical lord against me. Burl says there's no
opponent more dangerous. It will be a close fight, I think.' He threw
back his head and opened his chest. His voice rang with a vigorous
enjoyment in the anticipation of a strenuous contest.

'So you are glad to get back to London,' she said.

'Rather. I feel at home here, and only here--even in January.' He looked
across the Park with a laugh. It stretched away vacant and dull in the
gray cheerlessness of a winter's morning. 'The place fascinates me; it
turns me into a child, especially at night. I like the glitter of shops
and gas-lamps, and the throng of people in the light of them. One
understands what the Roman citizen felt. I like driving about the streets
in a hansom. There are some one never gets tired of Oxford Street, for
instance, and the turn out of Leicester Square into Coventry Street, with
the blaze of Piccadilly Circus ahead. One hears that poets starve in
London, and are happy; I can believe it. Well, I am keeping you from the
shops, and myself from business.'

He shook hands with her and mounted his horse.

'You have not yet seen my husband,' she said, and she felt that she
forced herself to speak the word.

'Not yet. I must look him up. You live in Regent's Park, don't you?'

'Close by. Will you come some evening and dine?'

The invitation was accepted, and Drake rode off. He rode well, Clarice
noticed, and his horse was finely limbed and perfectly groomed. The
perception of these details had its effect. She stood looking after him,
then she turned slowly and made her way homewards across the Park. Two of
her acquaintances passed her and lifted their hats, but she took no
notice of them; she did not see them. A picture was fixed in her mind--a
picture of a rolling plain, black as midnight, exhaling blackness, so
that the air itself was black for some feet above the ground; and into
this cool and quiet darkness the moonbeams plunged out of a fiery sky and
were lost. They dropped, she fancied, after their long flight, to their
appointed haven of repose.

The street door of her house gave on to a garden. Clarice walked along
the pathway in front of the house towards the door of the hall. As she
passed her husband's study windows she glanced in. He was standing in
front of the fireplace, tearing across some sheets of manuscript. Clarice
hurried forwards. He was always tearing up manuscript. While she was
upstairs taking off her hat she heard his door open and his voice
complaining to the servants about some papers which had been mislaid. She
felt inclined to take the servants' part. After all, what was a man doing
in the house all day? There was a dragging shuffle of his slippers upon
the floor of the hall. The sound jarred on her. She pinned on her hat
again, ran downstairs, gave orders that she would not be in for lunch,
and drove at once to Mrs. Willoughby's. She arrived in a state little
short of hysterical.

'Connie,' she cried, almost before the servant who announced her was out
of the room, 'I know you don't like me, but oh, I'm so unhappy!'

Mrs. Willoughby softened at sight of her evident distress. 'Why, what's
the matter?' she asked, and made her sit down beside her on the sofa.

'It's awful,' she said, and repeated, 'it's awful.'

'Yes, child, but what is?' asked Mrs. Willoughby.

'All is--I mean everything is,' sobbed Clarice.

Mrs. Willoughby recognised that though the correction amended the
grammar, it did not simplify the meaning. She pressed for something
more precise.

'Don't be irritable, Connie,' quavered Clarice, 'because that's just
what Sidney is--and always. It's so difficult to make you understand.
But he's just a lot of wires, and they keep twanging all day. He
nags--there's no other word for it--he nags about everything--the
servants, his publishers, the dinner, and--oh!--oh!--why can't he wear
boots in the morning?'

The point of the question was lost on Mrs. Willoughby. She began to
expostulate with Clarice for magnifying trifles.

'Of course,' replied Clarice, sitting up suddenly--she had been half
lying on the sofa in Mrs. Willoughby's arms--'I know they are trifles; I
know that. But make every day full of them, every day repeat them! Oh,
it's awful! I wonder I don't break down!' She turned again to Mrs.
Willoughby, lapsing from vehemence to melancholy as the notion occurred
to her. 'Connie, I believe I shall--break down altogether. You know I'm
not very strong.' She put her arms about Mrs. Willoughby, and clung to
her in the intensity of her self-compassion. 'You can't imagine the
strain it is. And if that wasn't enough, his mother comes up from Clapham
and lectures me. I wouldn't mind that, only she's not very safe about her
h's, and she stops to dinner and talks about the nobility she's had cooks
from, to impress the servants. It's so humiliating, to be lectured by any
one like that.'

Mrs. Willoughby scented a fact. 'But what does she lecture you about? The
dinner?' she asked, with an irrelevant recollection of Drake's impression
of Clarice as one little adapted for housewifely duties, and not rightly
to be troubled by them.

'Oh no. She says I don't give Sidney the help he expected from me. But
what more can I do? He has got me. Sidney says the same, too. He told me
that he had never had so much difficulty to work properly as since we
were married. And when his work doesn't succeed I know he blames me for
it. Oh, Connie! _is_ it my fault? I think we had better get divorced--and
I--I--c-c-can go into a convent, and never do anybody any more harm.'

Clarice glanced as she spoke down the neatest of morning frocks, and the
mental picture which she straightway had of herself in a white-washed
cell with iron bars, clad in shapeless black, her chin swathed, her face
under eaves of starched linen, induced an access of weeping.

For all her sympathy Mrs. Willoughby was forced to bite her lips.
Clarice, however, was not in the mood to observe the effect which her
words produced on others. She continued: 'It's much the best thing to do,
because whatever I did it would always be the same. I could never make
him content. Connie, if you only knew the strain of it all! He's always
wanting to be something different. One day a clerk, with a nice quiet
routine, another a soldier, another a ----' she hesitated, and gave
Constance an extra squeeze--'a colonist, and fire off Maxim guns. If you
could only see him! He sits in front of the fire, with his glasses on,
and talks about the roaring world of things.'

This time Mrs. Willoughby really laughed. She turned the laugh into a
cough, and cleared her throat emphatically once or twice. Clarice sat up
and looked at her reproachfully, then she said, 'I know it's absurd. I
don't know whether to laugh or cry myself, b-b-but I usually cry. And
then in his books he's--he's always his own hero.' With that Clarice
reached at once the climax of her distress and the supreme charge of her
indictment. The rest was but sighs and sobs and disconnected phrases.
Finally she fell asleep; later she was caressed into eating lunch, taken
for a drive, and sent home subsequently greatly mollified and relieved.

Mrs. Willoughby refrained from tendering advice that afternoon. There was
nothing sufficiently tangible in the story which she had heard. In fact
the only thing really tangible was the girl's distress in telling it, and
that Mrs. Willoughby attributed to some dispute between her and Sidney
that morning. She could not know that Clarice's outburst had been
preceded by that chance meeting in the Park with Stephen Drake, for
Clarice had made no allusion to it of any kind. She felt, besides, that
advice in any case would be of little use. The couple had to work out
their own salvation, and time and experience alone could help them.
Events seemed to justify Mrs. Willoughby's reticence, for the winter
blossomed into spring, the spring flowered into summer, and the Mallinson
household remained to the external view unshaken.

Drake's visits to Bentbridge increased in frequency as the prospect of
the general election became more real. A snap vote in the House of
Commons on a minor question of administrative expenditure decided the
matter suddenly towards the end of June. The Government determined on a
dissolution. Fielding took Clarice Mallinson into dinner at Mr. Le
Mesurier's house on the day after the date of the dissolution was fixed.
He noticed that she looked worn. There were shadows about her eyes, her
colour had lost its freshness, and there was a melancholy droop about the
corners of her mouth. Fielding suggested the advisability of a change.

'I'm to have one,' said she. 'I'm going down to stay with my uncle at
Bentbridge in a week's time.'

'At Bentbridge?' asked Fielding sharply. 'For the election.'

She saw his lips tighten. 'My husband goes with me,' she replied
quickly and stopped, flushing as she realised that she had meant and
conveyed an apology.

'I should have thought that the Continent would have been more advisable
as a change.'

'The Continent! I don't want to travel far. I am so tired.' She spoke in
a tone of weariness which touched Fielding in spite of himself. He looked
at her more closely. 'Yes,' he said gently, 'you look very tired. You
have been doing too much.'

'No, it isn't that,' she replied. 'One thinks of things, that's all.' She
bent her head and was silent for a little, tracing a pattern on the
table-cloth with a finger absently. Then she added in a low voice, 'I
suppose few women ever think at all until after they are married.'

The voice was low, and Fielding was conscious of something new in the
tone of it, a deeper vibration, a sincerity different in kind from that
surface frankness which he had always known in her. He wondered whether
she had struck down from her pinchbeck sentimentality into something that
rang solid in the depths of her nature. He looked at her again, her eyes
were turned to his. With the shadows about them, they looked bigger,
darker, more piteously appealing. She was no less a child to him, the
child looked out of her eyes, sounded in the commonplace sentiment she
had spoken, and the air of originality with which she had spoken it. But
the child seemed beginning to learn the lesson of womanhood, and from the
one mistress which could teach it her.

'But why think then?' he asked lightly. 'It ruins a complexion no less
than before. Or does a complexion cease to count? Look!' He leaned
forward. A pink carnation was in a glass in front of him, already
withering from the heat. He touched the faded tips of the petals. 'That
is the colour which conies from thinking.'

Clarice lifted her shoulders with more of sadness than impatience in the
gesture. 'You believe,' she said, 'no woman at all has a right to dare
to think.'

'I notice,' he answered with the same levity, 'that the woman who thinks
generally thinks of what she ought not to.'

Later, in the drawing-room, he looked for her again, and looked
unsuccessfully. The window, however, was open, and he advanced to
it. Clarice was on the balcony alone, her elbows on the rail, a hand
on either side of her cheek. Something in her attitude made him
almost pity her.

'Mrs. Mallinson,' he said, 'you will probably think me intrusive, but do
you think your visit really wise?' Clarice turned towards him quickly
with something of defiance in her manner. 'You are tired,' he went on,
'you want rest. Well, an election isn't a very restful time, even for the
onlooker.'

Clarice did not reply for a moment, and when she did she replied with an
impulsive frankness, to which his friendly tone had prompted her. 'To
tell you the truth, I am not anxious to go. I don't want to, but Sidney
wants to.'

'Your husband?'

'You don't believe me.'

'Of course I do.' He left her on the balcony, and went in search of
Mallinson. 'So you go to Bentbridge for the election,' he said.

'Yes,' replied the other, lighting up. 'I am looking forward to it like a
schoolboy to a football match. The prospect of activity exhilarates
me--bodily activity, don't you know--a town humming with excitement.'

Fielding cut him short. 'My dear fellow, you're a damned fool,' he said.



CHAPTER XIII


Stephen Drake had decided to stay during the period of the election at a
hotel in the centre of the town, rather than to accept an invitation from
Captain Le Mesurier, who lived some miles beyond the outskirts. He
travelled down to Bentbridge on the day that the dissolution was
announced, and during the journey Mr. Burl gave him much sage advice.

'Keep the arguments for buildings; they're in place there. Mass-meetings
in the open air want something different. Many a good man has lost his
seat from not observing that rule. In the open air pitch out a fact or
two--not too many--or a couple of round sums of figures first of all,
just to give them confidence in you, and then go straight for your
opponent. No rapier play--it's lost then--but crack him on the top-knot
with a bludgeon. They'll want to hear his skull ring before they'll
believe that you have touched him. Phrases! Those are the things to get
you in, not arguments. Pin a label on his coat-tails. You'll see them
laugh as he squirms round to pull it off. And, mind you, there'll be no
walking over, you'll want all you know. The man's a Radical and a Lord!
The combination satisfies their democratic judgments and their snobbish
instincts at the same time. People forget to count the snob in the
democrat, but he's there all the same, as in most Englishmen. A veneer of
snobbishness over solid independence. That's our characteristic. Lord
Cranston! Can't you hear their tongues licking it? Luckily, there are
things against him. He's a carpet-bagger like yourself, and he's been
more than once separated from his wife. His fault, too--once it was an
opera dancer. I've got up the facts. He only joined his wife again a few
months ago--probably for the purpose of this election.'

Mr. Burl pulled out a pocket-book, and began to turn over the leaves in
search of the damning details, when Drake interrupted him. 'You don't
expect me to discuss the man's private life?'

'My dear Drake, do be practical. It's no use being finicking. The
essential thing is to win the seat.'

'Whatever the price?'

'Look here; I am not asking you to do anything so crude as to make
platform speeches about the man's disgraceful conduct to his wife.' Mr.
Burl assumed the look of a Rhadamanthus. 'But'--and again he relaxed into
the tactician--'you might take a strong social line on morals generally,
and the domestic hearth, and that sort of thing.' He looked critically at
Drake. 'You're one of the few chaps I know who look as if they could do
that and make people believe they really mean it.'

He finally discredited his advice by adding impressibly, 'You needn't
go into the instance at all, you know. They'll understand what you're
alluding to, never fear'; and Drake flatly refused to dance into
Parliament to that tune, however persuasively Mr. Burl played upon
the pipes.

The hotel at which Drake put up was situated in a short broad street
which ran from the Market Square. From the balcony of his sitting-room on
the first floor he could see the market sheds at the end of the street to
his left. The opposite end was closed in by the Town Hall, which was
built upon an ancient gate of the town. From Drake's windows you got a
glimpse through the archway of green fields and trees. Almost facing him
was a second hotel on the opposite side of the street, the 'Yellow Boar.'
It was tricked out, he noticed, with the colours of his opponent. While
he was standing at the window an open carriage turned out of the
market-place, and drove up to the 'Yellow Boar.' Lord Cranston got down
from it, and a lady. The candidate was of a short and slight build; a
pencil--line of black moustache crossed a pallid and indecisive face, and
he seemed a year or two more than thirty. The lady looked the younger,
and was certainly the taller of the two. Drake was impressed by her face,
which bore womanly gentleness, stamped on features of a marked
intellectuality. The couple disappeared into the hall, and appeared again
in a large room with big windows upon the first floor. From where he
stood Drake could see every corner of the room. Lord and Lady Cranston,
the land-lord informed him, were staying at the 'Yellow Boar.' The two
candidates overlooked each other.

In this street, morning and evening, they met for a moment or two, and
took a breath of friendly intercourse. Drake was introduced to Lady
Cranston, but she would have none of the truce. To her he was the enemy,
and to be treated as such consistently, with a heart-and-soul hostility,
until he confessed himself beaten. Drake liked her all the better for her
attitude. Meanwhile he made headway in the constituency. He was in
earnest, with a big theme to descant upon--the responsibility of the
constituency to the empire. His fervour brought it home to his audiences
as a fact; he set the recognition of that responsibility forwards as the
prime duty of the citizen, sneering at the parochial notion of politics.
Mr. Burl shook his head over Drake's method of fighting the battle, and
hinted more than once at the necessity of that lecture upon morals. Drake
not only refused to reconsider it, but flatly forbade Mr. Burl to allude
to the subject in any speech which he might make. Burl shrugged his
shoulders and confided his doubts to Captain Le Mesurier. Said the
Captain, 'I think he's wise; a speech might offend. What's wanted is an
epigram--a good stinging epigram. We could set it about, and, if it's
sharp enough, no need to fear it won't travel.' He paused dubiously.
'After all, though, it's a bit unfair on Cranston. Hang it, I've been a
married man myself,' and he chuckled in unregenerate enjoyment. 'However,
the seat's got to be won. Let's think of an epigram,' and he scratched
his head and slapped his thigh. It was the Captain's way of thinking. The
satisfactory epigram would not emerge. He could fashion nothing better as
a description of Cranston than, 'A refreshment-room sandwich; two great
chunks of sin and a little slice of repentance between.' Mr. Burl
condemned it as crude, and for the moment the epigram was dropped.

The Mallinsons arrived a week after the contest had begun. Captain Le
Mesurier welcomed Clarice with boisterous effusion, and her husband with
quarter-deck dignity. 'You look ill,' he said to Clarice. 'It's your
husband worrying you. Ah, I know, I know! Those writing chaps!'

To Mallinson, however, he suddenly showed excessive friendliness, and
took the opportunity of saying to him loudly in a full room, 'There's
something I must tell you. I know it'll make you laugh. It does me
whenever I think of it. You know Drake? Well, we travelled up from
Plymouth together when he came back from Africa. He bought your book at
the bookstall, and sat opposite me reading it. What was it called? I
know, _A Man of Influence_. You should have seen Drake's face. Lord, he
couldn't make head or tail of it. How should he? I asked him what he
thought of it, and imagine what he answered! You can't, though. It's the
funniest thing I ever heard. He said it was a very clever satire. Satire!
Good Lord, I almost rolled off the seat. It is funny, isn't it?'

Mallinson, with a wry face, agreed that the story was funny.

'I knew you would think so,' pursued the Captain relentlessly.
'Everybody does I have told it to, and that's everybody I know. Satire!
Lord help us!' and he shook with laughter and clapped Mallinson in the
small of the back.

Mallinson felt the fool that he was intended to look, with the result
that his dormant resentment against Drake sprang again into activity.
That resentment became intensified, as the date of the election drew
nearer, by an unconfessed jealousy. They both made speeches, but
Mallinson chiefly at the smaller meetings. And when they stood upon the
same platform he was continually forced to compare the difference in the
acclamation with which their speeches were severally received. As a
matter of fact, Drake spoke from a fire of conviction, and the conviction
not merely burnt through his words, but minted them for him, gave him
spontaneously the short homely phrase which sank his meaning into the
minds of his hearers. Mallinson took refuge in a criticism of Drake's
speeches from the standpoint of literary polish. He recast them in his
thoughts, turning this sentence more deftly, whittling that repartee to a
finer point. The process consoled him for Drake's misreckoning of his
purpose in the matter of _A Man of Influence_, since it pointed to a
certain lack of delicacy, say at once to crassness in the man's
intellect.

Mallinson began immediately to imagine himself in Drake's position, the
candidate for whom brass bands played, and hats went spinning into the
air. And it needed no conscious effort for one so agile in egotistical
leaps to spring thence to the fancy that Drake was a kind of vicarious
substitute for himself, doing his work, too, not without blemishes.

Ten days before the polling-day Fielding ran down from town, and attended
a meeting at the Town Hall, at which both Drake and Mallinson were to
speak. He sat on the platform by Clarice's side and paid some attention
to her manner during the evening. He noticed the colour mount in her
cheeks and her eyes kindle, as on first entering the room she looked down
upon the crowded floor. The chairs had been removed, and the audience
stood packed beneath the flaring gas-jets--artificers for the most part,
their white faces smeared and stained with the grime of their factories.
The roar of applause as Drake rose by the table swelled up to three
cheers in consonance, and a subsequent singing of 'For he's a jolly good
fellow' stirred even Fielding to enthusiasm. He noted that feeling of
enthusiasm as strange in himself, and had a thought in consequence that
such scenes were hardly of the kind to help Clarice to the rest she
needed. The hall for a moment became a sea of tossing handkerchiefs. He
took a glance at Clarice. She sat bent forward with parted lips and a
bosom that heaved. Fielding turned on his cold-water tap of flippancy.

'It's a bad omen,' said he, with a nod towards the waving handkerchiefs.
'They hang out flags of surrender.'

'Hardly,' she replied, with a smile. 'I can't recognise that the flags
are white'; and she added, 'I should like it less if they were. These men
are the workers.'

'The workers.' Fielding could hear Drake uttering the word in just the
same tone, and his compassion for Clarice deepened. Why? he asked
himself. The girl was undergoing not a jot more punishment than a not
over-rigid political justice would have meted out to her. The question
inexplicably raised to view a pair of the clearest blue eyes, laughing
from between the blackest of eyelashes. He promptly turned his attention
to the speaker at the table.

Drake commenced that night with an apology. It was necessary that he
should speak about himself. An utterly baseless story had, within the
last few days, and doubtless with a view to this election, been revived
by the London evening paper which originally made it. He regretted also
to notice that his opponent had accepted the story, and was making use of
it to prejudice him in the eyes of the electors. Accordingly he felt
bound to put the facts simply and briefly before his audience, although
the indifference of the Colonial Office to what, if true, was a crime
committed by an Englishman on English soil, and against practically
English subjects, in effect acquitted him of the charge.

Drake thereupon proceeded to describe his march to Boruwimi. The story,
modestly recited in simple nervous English, did more to forward his
candidature than all the political speeches he could have made during a
twelvemonth. It came pat at the right time, when arguments were growing
stale. His listeners hung upon the words; in the intense silence Fielding
could feel the sympathy between speaker and audience flowing to and fro
between them like a current. Drake instinctively lowered his voice; it
thrilled through the hall the more convincingly. There was a perceptible
sway of heads forwards, which started at the back and ran from line to
line towards the platform like a quick ripple across a smooth sea. It was
as though this crowded pack of men and women was drawn to move towards
the speaker, where indeed there was no room at all to move.

And in truth the subject was one to stir the blood. Drake prefaced his
account by a description of the geography of Boruwimi; he instanced
briefly the iniquities of the Arab slave-dealers whom he was attacking.
Thereupon he contrasted the numbers of his little force with the horde of
his enemies, and dwelt for a second upon their skill as marksmen; so that
his auditors, following him as he hewed his path through the tangle of an
untrodden forest, felt that each obstacle he stopped at might mean not
merely failure to the expedition, but death to all who shared in it.
Success and life were one and the same thing, and the condition of that
thing was speed. He must fall upon the Arabs unawares, like a bolt from
the blue. They forgot that he who led that expedition was speaking to
them now; they were with him in the obscure depths of the undergrowth,
surging against gigantic barriers of fallen tree-trunks, twenty, thirty
feet high; they were marching behind him, like him at grips with nature
in a six-weeks' struggle of life and death; and when finally he burst
into the clearing on the river's bank the ripple went backwards across
the hall, and a cheer of relief rang out, as though their lives, too,
were saved.

Upon Fielding the relation produced a somewhat peculiar effect. He was
fascinated, not so much by the incident described or by the earnestness
of the man who described it,--for with both he was familiar,--but by the
strangeness of the conditions under which it was told--this story of
Africa, before these serried rows of white eager faces, in this stifling
hall, where the gaslight struggled with the waning day. From the raised
platform on which he sat he could see through the open windows away
across green fields to where the sun was setting in a clear sky behind
quiet Yorkshire wolds. The combination of circumstances made the episode
bizarre to him; he was, in fact, paying an unconscious tribute to the
orator's vividness.

Clarice paid the same tribute, but she phrased it differently, and the
difference was significant. She said, 'Isn't it strange that he should
_be here_--in a frock-coat? I half thought the room would dissolve and we
should find ourselves at Boruwimi.' Fielding started. Coming from her
lips the name sounded strange; yet she spoke it without the least
hesitation. For the moment it had plainly one association in her
thoughts, and only one. It sounded as though every recollection of Gorley
had vanished from her mind. 'Oh, he must get in!' she whispered, clasping
her hands upon her knees.

After Drake had concluded, Mallinson moved a resolution. He spoke
fluently, Fielding remarked, and with a finished phrasing. The very
finish, however, imparted an academic effect; he was, besides, hampered
by the speech which had preceded his. The audience began to shuffle
restlessly; they were capping a rich Burgundy with _vin ordinaire_, and
found the liquor tasteless to the palate. Fielding perceived from certain
movements at his side that Clarice shared in the general restlessness.
She gave an audible sigh of relief and patted her hands with the most
perfunctory applause when her husband sat down. 'You are staying with Mr.
Drake at the Three Nuns?' she asked, turning to Fielding.

'Only till to-morrow. I leave by the night-train.'

'Oh, you are going back!'

'Yes. You see Drake and Burl are both here. Somebody must keep the shop
open, if it's only to politely put the customers off.' He interpreted the
look of surprise upon Mrs. Mallinson's face. 'Yes, I have been gradually
sucked into the whirlpool,' and he laughed with a nod towards Drake.

She turned to him with her eyes shining. 'And you are proud of it.'

Fielding smiled indulgently. 'That's a woman's thought.'

'But you don't deny it's truth.'

Clarice said nothing more until the meeting had terminated and the
party was in the street. They walked from the Town Hall to Drake's
hotel, Clarice and Fielding a few paces behind the rest. The first
words which she spoke showed to him that her thoughts had not altered
their drift. 'Yes, you have changed,' she said, and implied
unmistakably, 'for the better.'

'You only mean,' laughed Fielding, 'that I have given up provoking you.'

'No, no,' she said. 'Besides, you evidently haven't given that up.'

'Then in what way?'

'I shall offend you.'

'I can hardly think so.'

'Well, you were becoming a kind of--'

'Say it.'

'Paul Pry.'

To a gentleman whose ambition it had been to combine the hermit's
indifference to social obligations with an indulgence in social
festivities, the blow was a cruel one; and the more cruel because he
realised that Clarice's criticism contained a grain of truth. He hit back
cruelly. 'Drake tells me he thinks of taking a place here. I suppose he
means to marry.'

'I believe he does,' replied Clarice promptly. 'Mrs. Willoughby.'

Fielding stopped and apostrophised the stars. 'That is perfectly untrue,'
he said. He walked on again as soon as he perceived that he had stopped,
adding, with a grumble, 'I pity the woman who marries Drake.'

'Why?' asked Clarice in a tone of complete surprise, as though the idea
was incomprehensible to her, and she repeated insistently, 'Why?'

'Well,' he said, inventing a reason, 'I think he would never stand in
actual need of her.' Clarice drew a sharp breath--a sigh of longing, it
seemed to her companion, as for something desirable beyond all blessings.
He continued in the tone of argument, 'And she would come to know that.
Surely she would feel it.'

'Yes, but feel proud of it perhaps,' replied Clarice, 'proud of him just
for that reason. All her woman's tricks she would know useless to move
him. Nothing she could do would make him swerve. Oh yes, she would feel
proud--proud of him and proud of herself because he stooped to choose
her.' She corrected the ardency of her voice of a sudden; it dropped
towards indifference. 'At all events I can imagine that possible.'

They were within fifty yards of the hotel, and walked silently the rest
of the way. At the door, however, she said, turning weary eyes upon
Fielding, 'And think! The repose of it for her.'

'Ah, here you are!' The robustious voice of Captain Le Mesurier sounded
from the hall. 'Look here,' to Fielding, 'we are going to take you back
with us. Drake won't come. He's tired--so we don't miss him.'

Fielding protested vainly that he would crowd the waggonette. Besides, he
had business matters to discuss with Drake before he left for London.

'Well, you can talk them over to-morrow. You don't go until to-morrow
night. And as to crowding the waggonette, I have ordered a trap here; so
you can drive it back again to-night, if you like, from Garples.
Otherwise we'll be happy to put you up. You must come; we want to talk to
you particularly. Mallinson will drive his wife in the trap, so there'll
be plenty of room.'

The party in the waggonette consisted of Captain Le Mesurier, Burl,
Fielding, and five country gentlemen belonging to the district.
Clarice, riding some yards behind them through the dark fragrant lanes,
saw eight glowing cigars draw together in a bunch. The cigars were
fixed points of red light for a little. Then they danced as though
heads were wagging, retired this side and that and set to partners. A
minute more and the figure was repeated: cigars to the centre, dance,
retire, set to partners. A laugh from the Captain sounded as though he
laughed from duty, and Mr. Burl was heard to say, 'Not too subtle, old
man, you know.' At the third repetition the Captain bellowed
satisfaction from a full heart, and Mr. Burl cried, 'Capital!' The
country gentlemen could be understood to agree in the commendation.
Whence it was to be inferred that the dance of the cigars was to have a
practical result upon the election.

Clarice, however, paid no great attention to the proceedings in the
waggonette. She was almost oblivious to the husband at her side. The
night was about her, cool with soft odours, wrapping her in solitude.
Love at last veritably possessed her, so she believed; it had invaded her
last citadel to-night. That it sat throned on ruins she had no eyes to
see. It sat throned in quiescence, and that was enough. Clarice, in fact,
was in that compressed fever-heat of the mushroom passions which takes on
the semblance of intense and penetrating calm. And her very consciousness
of this calm seemed to ally her to Drake, to give to them both something
in common. She was troubled by no plans for the future; she had no regret
for anything which had happened in the past. The vague questions which
had stirred her--why had she been afraid of him?--was the failure of her
marriage her fault?--for these questions she had no room. She did not
think at all, she only felt that her heart was anchored to a rock.



CHAPTER XIV


Given a driver who is at once inexperienced and short-sighted, a fresh
horse harnessed to a light dog-cart, a dark night and a narrow gateway,
and the result may be forecast without much rashness. Mallinson upset his
wife and the cart just within the entrance to Garples. Luckily the drive
was bordered by thick shrubs of laurel, so that Clarice was only shaken
and dazed. She sat in the middle of a bush vaguely reflecting that her
heart was anchored to a rock and yet her husband had spilled her out of a
dog-cart. Between the incident and her state of mind immediately
preceding it, she recognised an incongruity which she merely felt to be
in some way significant. Fielding and Captain Le Mesurier picked her out
of the bush before she had time to examine into its significance. All she
said was, 'It's so like him.'

'Yes, hang the fellow!' said the Captain, and under his breath he
launched imprecations at all 'those writer chaps.'

Mallinson raised himself from a bed of mould upon the opposite side of
the drive and apologised. Captain Le Mesurier bluntly cut short the
apology. 'Why didn't you say you couldn't drive? I can't. Who's ashamed
of it? You might have broken your wife's neck.'

'I might, and my own too,' replied Mallinson in a tone not a whit less
aggrieved.

Captain Le Mesurier raised his eyes to the heavens with the apoplectic
look which comes of an intense desire to swear, and the repressive
presence of ladies. 'Will you kindly sit on the horse's head until you
are told to get up? I want the groom to help here,' he said, as soon as
he found words tolerable to feminine ears. A groom was already occupying
the position designated, but he rose with alacrity and Mallinson silently
took his place and sat there until the harness was loosed.

Fielding's visit, however, had another consequence beyond the upsetting
of a gig. A few days later an epigram was circulating through the
constituency. The squires passed it on with a smack of the tongue; it had
a flavour, to their thinking, which was of the town. The epigram was
this: 'Lord Cranston lives a business life of vice, with rare holidays of
repentance, but being a dutiful husband he always takes his wife with him
on his holidays.' From the squires it descended through the grades of
society. Lord Cranston, at the close of a speech, was invited to mention
the precise date at which he intended to end his holidays. Believing that
the question sprang out of an objection to a do-nothing aristocracy, he
answered with emphatic earnestness, 'The moment I am returned for
Bentbridge.' The shout of laughter which greeted the remark he attributed
at first to political opposition.

Subsequently, however, a sympathiser explained to him delicately the true
meaning of the question, and, as a counter-move, Lord Cranston made a
violent attack upon 'Empire building plus finance.' He drew distinctions
between governing men and making money.

Drake accepted the distinctions as obvious platitudes, but failed to see
that the capacity for one could not coexist with the capacity for the
other. He asserted, on the contrary, that money was not as a rule made
without the exercise of tact, and some aptitude for the management of
men. He was, consequently, not disinclined to believe that money-making
afforded a good preliminary lesson in the art of government. Lord
Cranston's argument, in fact, did little more then alienate a few of his
own supporters, who, having raised themselves to affluence, felt quite
capable of doing the same for the nation.

On the night of the polling-day Captain Le Mesurier brought his
house-party into Bentbridge to dine with Drake, and after dinner the
ladies remained in the room overlooking the street, while the gentlemen
repaired to the Town Hall, where the votes were being counted. It seemed
to Clarice as she gazed down that all the seven thousand electors had
gathered to hear the result announced. The street was paved with heads as
with black cobble-stones. Occasionally some one would look up and direct
now a cheer, now a shout of derision towards the 'Three Nuns' or the
'Yellow Boar.' But the rooms of both candidates were darkened, and the
attention of the crowd was for the most part riveted upon the red blinds
of the Town Hall.

For Clarice, the time limped by on crutches. She barely heard the
desultory conversation about her: she felt as if her life was beating
itself out against those red windows. A clock in the market-place chimed
the hour of nine: she counted the strokes, with a sense of wonder when
they stopped. She seemed to have been waiting for a century.

Across the street she could see the glimmer of a light summer dress in
Lord Cranston's apartment. It moved restlessly backwards and forwards
from one window to the other: now it shone out in the balcony above the
street: now it retired into the darkness of the room. Clarice gauged Lady
Cranston's impatience by her own, and experienced a fellow-feeling of
sympathy. 'During this suspense,' she thought, 'you and I ought to be
together.' As the thought flashed into her mind, her husband spoke to
her. She set a hand before her eyes and did not answer him. She realised
that she had been thinking of herself as Drake's wife. On the instant
every force within her seemed to concentrate and fuse into one passionate
longing. 'If only that were true!' She felt the longing throb through
every vein: she acknowledged it: she expressed it clearly to herself. If
only that were true! And then in a second the longing was displaced by an
equally passionate regret.

'It might have been,' she thought.

Again her husband spoke to her. She turned towards him almost fiercely,
and saw that he was offering her a shawl. She steadied her voice to
decline it, and turned back again to the window. But now as she looked
across the street, she was filled with a new and very bitter envy. The
woman over there had the right to suffer for her suspense.

At last the clock doled out ten strokes with a grudging deliberation, and
less than five minutes later the shadow of a man was seen upon one of the
red blinds. In the street below the people surged forward: there was a
running flash of white as their heads were thrown back and their faces
upturned to the Hall; and the shouts and cries swelled to a Babel,
tearing the air. The blind was withdrawn, the window thrown open: Clarice
could see people pressing forward in the room. They looked in the glare
of yellow light like black ninepins. A gleam of bright scarlet shot out
from amongst them, and the Mayor stepped on to the balcony above the
archway. The tumult died rapidly to absolute silence, a silence deeper
than the silence of desolate places, because one saw the crowd and one's
ears were still tingling with the echo of its shouts. It was as though
all sound, all motion had been arrested by some enchantment, and in the
midst of that silence one word was launched down the street.

'Drake!'

The announcement of the numbers was lost in the sudden renewal of
conflicting shouts. Clarice made no effort to ascertain them. That one
word 'Drake' filled the world for her. The very noise in the street came
to her ears with a dull muffled sound as though it had travelled across a
wide space, and it seemed no more than an undertone to the ringing name.

She saw Stephen Drake come forward and give place to his opponent, and
after a little the street began to clear. The number thirty-five,
incessantly repeated by the retiring crowd, penetrated to her mind and
informed her of the actual majority. In about half an hour a little
stream of people trickled from the porch of the Town Hall, and, gathering
in volume, flowed into a narrow passage which led to the Conservative
Club, a few yards to the right of the hotel. Clarice caught a glimpse of
Drake's face at the head of the procession as he passed under a gas-lamp
above the mouth of the passage, and was surprised by its expression of
despondency. A fear sprang up in her mind that some mistake had been made
in the announcement, but the fear was dispelled by the tone of her
uncle's voice as he shouted an invitation to some one across the street
to join them at the Club. It was a tone of boisterous exultation. There
could be no doubt that Drake had been elected, and she wondered at the
cause of his dejection.

A few minutes later a second stream flowed along the opposite pavement
towards the Liberal Club in the Market Square, and drew most of the
remaining loiterers into its current. The noise and bustle grew fainter
and died away: the lights were extinguished in the houses, and only one
small group, clustering excitedly about the passage, relieved the quarter
of its native sleepiness.

Clarice turned with a certain reluctance into the room. It was empty, and
the voices of her companions rose from the hall below. She did not follow
them, however. There was time enough, for the party could not leave until
Captain Le Mesurier returned from the Conservative Club. She went back to
her post. Through the open window opposite to her she perceived the
glimmer of a light dress in the dark of the room, but it was motionless
now, a fixed patch of white. Clarice experienced a revulsion of pity for
Lady Cranston. 'What must be her thoughts?' she asked herself.

She remained at the window until the party from the Club emerged again
from the passage and turned towards the hotel.

Clarice heard her husband's voice asking where Drake was, and what in
the world was the matter with him. Captain Le Mesurier replied, and the
reply rang boisterously. 'He's behind. He's a bit unstrung, I fancy,
and reason enough too, after all his work, eh? You see, Drake's
not in the habit of taking holidays,' and the Captain grew hilarious
over his allusion.

Across the street Clarice saw the light dress flutter and move abruptly.
It was evident that Lady Cranston had heard and understood the words.

Drake followed some few minutes later, and alone. He walked slowly to the
hotel with an air of utter weariness, as though the springs of his
activity had been broken. A moment after, he had entered it; she heard
him ascending the staircase, and she drew instinctively close within the
curtains. He pushed open the door, walked forward into the embrasure of
the window, and stood within a foot of Clarice, apparently gazing into
the street. A pale light from the gas-lamp over the front door flickered
upon his face. It was haggard and drawn, the lips were pressed closely
together, the eyelids shut tightly over the eyes--a white mask of pain.
Or was this the real face, Clarice wondered, and that which he showed to
the world the mask?

She was almost afraid to move; she even held her breath.

Suddenly the echoes of the street were reawakened. Drake roused himself
and opened his eyes. A small group of people strolled out of the
market-place and stopped in front of the 'Yellow Boar.' There was
interchange of farewells, a voice said encouragingly, 'Better luck next
time,' and one man entered the hotel.

In the room opposite a match flared up and Lady Cranston lit the gas. She
stood for a moment underneath the chandelier, in the full light,
listening. Then she walked quickly to the mirror above the mantelpiece
and appeared to dry her eyes and cheeks with her handkerchief. She turned
to the door almost guiltily, just as it opened. Lord Cranston advanced
into the room, and his wife moved towards him. The whole scene, every
movement, every corner of the room was visible to Clarice like a scene on
the stage of a theatre; it was visible also to Drake.

Clarice could note the disconsolate attitude of Lord Cranston, the smile
of tenderness upon his wife's face. She saw Lady Cranston set her arms
gently about his neck, and her lips move, and then a low hoarse cry burst
from Drake at her side.

It sounded to her articulate with all the anguish and all the suffering
of which she had ever heard. There was a harsh note of irony in it too,
which deepened its sadness. It seemed almost an acknowledgment of defeat
in the actual moment of victory--a recognition that after all his
opponent had really won.

The cry was a revelation to Clarice; it struck her like a blow, and she
started under it, so that the rings of the curtain rattled upon the pole.

Drake bent sharply towards her; she caught a gleam of his eyes in the
darkness. Then with a catch of his breath he started back. Clarice heard
the click of a match-box, the scraping of a lucifer, and Drake held the
lighted match above his head.

'You!' he said.

Clarice moved out from the curtain and confronted him. She did not
answer, and he did not speak again. Clarice was in no doubt as to the
meaning of his cry. His eyes even in that unsteady light told it to her
only too clearly.

And this was the man whom she had believed to stand in no need of a
woman's companionship. The thought at the actual moment of its occurrence
sent a strange thrill of disappointment through her; she had built up her
pride in him so confidently upon this notion of his independence. And
having built up her pride, she had lived in it, using this very notion as
her excuse and justification. She ran no risk, she had felt.

'Clarice!'

The name was shouted impatiently from the hall, and came to them quite
audibly through the half-opened door. But neither she nor Drake seemed to
hear it. They stood looking silently into each other's eyes.

At last she began to speak, and as she spoke, her sense of disappointment
diminished and died. She became conscious again of the suffering which
his cry had confessed. The contrast between this one outburst and his
ordinary self-control enforced its meaning upon her. It seemed still to
be ringing in her ears, stretched out to a continuous note, and her voice
gradually took a tone as of one pleading for forgiveness.

'I did not know,' she said. 'I always thought of you as--' and she gave a
queer little laugh, 'as driving about London in hansoms, and working
quite contentedly. I never imagined that you cared at all--really, I
mean, as I know now. Even right at the beginning--that afternoon in
Beaufort Gardens, I never imagined that. Indeed, I was afraid of you.'

'Afraid!' Drake echoed the word with an accent of wonderment.

'Yes, yes, afraid. I believed that I should mean so little to you, that I
should be of no use or help to you. And that's why--I--I--married--'

Drake straightened his shoulders with a jerk as Clarice uttered the word.
He became aware of the tell-tale look in his eyes, and lowered them from
the girl's face to the ground.

'You mustn't fancy,' he began in a hesitating tone. 'You mustn't
misunderstand. I was thinking what men owe to women--that's all--that's
all, indeed--and how vilely they repay it. That way, like Cranston'--he
nodded in the direction of the house across the street--'or worse--or
worse,' he clung to the word on a lift of his voice, as though he found
some protection in it, as though he appealed to Clarice to agree with and
second him, 'or worse.'

The match burned down to his fingers, and he dropped it on the floor and
set his foot on it. Once in the darkness he repeated 'or worse,' with a
note almost of despair, and then he was silent. Clarice simply waited.
She stood, feeling the darkness throb about her, listening to the sharp
irregular breathing which told her where Drake stood. In a few moments
he stirred, and she stretched out her hands towards him. But again she
heard the click of a match-box, and again the thin flame of light flared
up in the room.

'Clarice!'

Her name was shouted up a second time. There was a sound of quicker
footsteps upon the stairs, the door was flung back, and Sidney Mallinson
entered the room. Drake lighted the gas.

'We have been waiting for you,' said Mallinson to his wife. 'I couldn't
think where you had got to,' and he glanced from her to Drake.

'I have been here all the time,' she said with a certain defiance.

Mallinson turned and walked down the stairs again, without as much as a
word to Drake. Clarice followed him, and after her came Drake.

'Ah, here you are!' said Captain Le Mesurier. 'Now we're ready. Drake,
you are coming back with us?'

Drake hesitated.

'You said you would at the Town Hall. So I have had your bag packed, and
put in the waggonette.'

'Very well,' he assented; and the party went outside the hotel.

'Now, how shall we go?' asked the Captain. 'Mallinson, you of course in
the waggonette,' and he chuckled with a cheery maliciousness. 'Clarice,
will you get in?'

'No!' she said with an involuntary vehemence. The idea of driving back
wedged in amongst a number of people, listening to their chatter, and
forced to take her share in it, became suddenly repugnant to her. 'I
would rather drive in the trap, if I might.'

'Very well! But who is to drive you?' Captain Le Mesurier turned to
Drake. 'You can drive, of course.'

Drake replied absently. 'I have driven the coach from Johannesburg to
Pretoria, ten mules and a couple of ponies, and a man beside you swinging
a sixty-foot lash.'

Captain Le Mesurier laughed out. 'Then there'll be no upset to-night.
Come along.'

The guests took their seats, while Drake stood on the pavement.

'Come along, Drake,' shouted the Captain from the box seat of the
waggonette.

Drake roused himself with a start. 'I beg your pardon,' he said, and he
went to the side of the dog-cart. He drew back when he saw Clarice
already in it, and looked from cart to waggonette. 'I am so sorry,' he
said in a low voice. 'I was not listening, I am afraid.'

He mounted beside her, whipped up the horse, and drove ahead of the
waggonette. They passed out of the town into the open country. Behind
them the sounds of wheels grew fainter and fainter and died away. In
front the road gleamed through the night like a white riband; the
hedgerows flung out a homely scent of honeysuckle and wild roses; above,
the stars rode in a clear sky. To Clarice this was the perfect hour of
her life. All her speculations had dropped from her; she had but one
thought, that this man driving her cared for her, as she cared for him.
It was, in truth, more than a thought; she felt it as a glory about her.
Accidentally, as the trap swung round a bend of the road, she leaned her
weight upon his arm and she felt the muscles brace beneath his sleeve.
The sensation confirmed her thought, and she repeated her action
deliberately and more than once. She had but one wish, that this drive
should never end, that they should go forward always side by side through
a starlit night, in a stillness unbroken by the sound of voices. And that
wish was more a belief than a wish.

They ascended the slope and came out upon an open moor. It stretched
around them, dark with heather as far as they could see. The night
covered it like a tent. It seemed the platform of the world. Clarice
suddenly recollected her old image of the veld, and she laughed at the
recollection as one laughs at some queer fancy one has held in childhood.

Across the moor the wind blew freshly into their faces. Drake quickened
the horse's paces, and Clarice imagined a lyrical note in the ringing
beat of its hooves. The road dipped towards a valley. A stream wound
along the bed of it, and as they reached the crest of the moor they could
see below them the stars mirrored in the stream. Upon one of the banks a
factory was built, and its six tiers of windows were so many golden spots
of light like the flames of candles. Drake stopped the trap and sat
watching the factory.

'Night and day,' he said, 'night and day. There is no end to it. It
is the law.'

He spoke not so much dispiritedly, but rather as though he was teaching
himself a lesson which he must needs surely get by heart. He lifted the
reins and drove down the hill, past the factory and along the valley to
the gates of Garples. There he stopped the trap again. For a moment
Clarice fancied that the gates must be shut, but as she bent forward and
looked across Drake, she saw that they were open. She turned her eyes to
her companion. He was sitting bolt upright with an unfamiliar expression
of irresolution upon his face, and he was doubtfully drawing the lash of
the whip to and fro across the horse's back.

Clarice felt that her life was in the balance. 'Yes,' she whispered.

'No!' Drake almost shouted the word. He turned the horse through the
gates and drove in a gallop to the door of the house. Clarice heard him
draw a deep breath of relief as he jumped to the ground. As he was
pulling off his gloves in the hall, Clarice brushed past him and ran
quickly up the stairs. He was roused from his reverie by the arrival of
the rest of the party.

Clarice sent word downstairs that she was tired and would not appear
at supper.

But an hour later Sidney Mallinson found her seated by the open window.
She had not even taken off her hat or gloves. Once or twice he seemed on
the point of speaking, but she faced him steadily and her manner even
invited his questions. Mallinson turned away with the questions unasked.
But he lay long awake that night, thinking; and his resentment against
Drake gained new fuel from his thoughts. The frankness of his wife's
admiration for Drake had before this awakened his suspicions, and the
suspicions had become certain knowledge. He guessed, too, that to some
degree Drake returned his wife's inclination, and he began immediately on
that account to set a higher value upon the possession of her than he had
lately done.

Once Clarice heard him laugh aloud harshly. He was thinking of the
relationship in which he had set Drake to himself in that first novel
which he had written. Actually the relationship was reversed. 'No, not
yet,' he said to himself. But it would be, unless he could hit upon some
plan. The day was breaking when his plan came to him.



CHAPTER XV


The next morning Drake's seat at the breakfast table was empty.

'He caught the early train from Bentbridge,' Captain Le Mesurier
explained. 'Business, I suppose. He told me last thing yesterday night
that he had to go.'

Clarice coloured and lowered her eyes to her plate. Mallinson noticed her
embarrassment, and took it for evidence of some secret understanding
between her and Drake. He became yet more firmly resolved to put his idea
into action.

'You are not in a hurry,' said Captain Le Mesurier. 'You had better stay
the week out.'

Mallinson saw his wife raise her head quickly as though she was about to
object, and immediately accepted the invitation. Parliament would not
meet for three weeks, he reckoned, since there were still the county
members to be elected.

Clarice spent the week in defining the relationship in which she and
Drake were henceforth to stand towards each other. They were to be
animated by a stern spirit of duty,--by the same spirit, in fact, which
had compelled Drake to court-martial Gorley in Africa, and subsequently
to detail the episode to her. Duty was to keep them apart. She came to
think of duty as a row of footlights across which they could from time to
time look into each other's eyes.

Clarice felt that there was something very reassuring and protective in
this notion of duty. It justified her in buying a copy of _Frou-Frou_,
which lay upon the bookstall at Bentbridge railway station, and in
studying it continuously all the way from Bentbridge to London. She was
impelled to purchase it by a recollection that Drake had first been
introduced to her at a performance of that play, and his criticisms
returned to her thoughts as she read the dialogue. The play had seemed
true to him, the disaster inevitable--given the particular characters,
and she bore the qualification particularly in mind. There was a
difference between _Frou-Frou_ and a woman animated by a sense of duty; a
difference of kind, rather than of degree. Sidney Mallinson remarked the
book which she was reading, but he made no comment whatsoever.

The next morning he paid a long call upon the editor of the _Meteor_.

Meanwhile, Drake was devoting himself to the business of the Matanga
Company, with an assiduity unusual even for him. Fielding discovered that
he seldom left the city before ten at night, and felt it incumbent to
expostulate with him. 'You can't go on like this for much longer, you
know. You had better take a rest. There's no need for all this work.'

'There is,' replied Drake. 'I want to clear off arrears, because I am not
sure that I oughtn't to go out again to Matanga. You see I can do it
quite easily. Parliament meets in a fortnight to vote supplies. It will
adjourn, it's thought, three weeks later. I could leave England in
September, and get back easily in time for the regular sessions.'

'But why should you go at all?' asked Fielding. 'You haven't been back a
year as it is.'

'I know,' said Drake slowly. 'But it seems to me that it would inspire
confidence, and that sort of thing, if one of us were out there as much
as possible. You see, thanks to you and Burl, I can leave everything
here quite safely,' and he returned to his desk as though the discussion
was ended.

A week later he received an invitation to dinner from Mr. Le Mesurier,
and the invitation was so worded that he could find no becoming excuse to
decline it. The dinner was given, the note stated, in order to celebrate
his victory at Bentbridge. Fielding and he went together, and when they
arrived, they found Mallinson taking off his coat in the hall.

'Where have you been all this time?' asked Fielding. 'I haven't seen
you about.'

'At Clapham,' replied Mallinson.

'I don't know it.'

'It's a suburb to the south-west.'

'That's why.'

'My mother lives there.'

'I am very sorry.'

The words might have been intended to convey either an apology, or an
expression of sympathy with his mother. Mallinson preferred to take them
in the former sense. 'I took my wife down there,' he continued. 'She
wanted more quiet than one can get in London.'

Fielding noticed, however, that Clapham quiet had not materially
benefited Mrs. Mallinson. He commented on her worn appearance to Mrs.
Willoughby, when they were seated at the dinner-table.

'She has been staying, she tells me, with her husband's people,' replied
Mrs. Willoughby. 'I fancy she finds them trying.'

Clarice was placed next to Drake, upon the opposite side to Mrs.
Willoughby, and out of ear-shot, and was endeavouring to talk to him
indifferently. 'You never take a holiday, I suppose. Where are you going
this year?' she asked.

'To Matanga,' said Drake.

'Matanga! Oh no.' The words slipped from her lips before she was able to
check them.

'I think that my place is there,' returned Drake, 'at all events for the
moment. I shall go as soon as the House rises.'

'I thought you didn't mean to leave London again.'

'One gets over ideas of that kind. After all, my interests lie in
Matanga, and one gets a kind of affection for the place which makes
your fortune.'

The recantation was uttered with sufficient awkwardness. But Clarice was
too engrossed in her own thoughts to notice his embarrassment. 'Do you
remember when I first met you?' she asked. 'It was at a performance of
_Frou-Frou_.'

'I remember quite well,' said he. 'I was rather struck with the play.'

'I have been reading it lately.'

Drake started at the significant tone in which the words were spoken.
'Really?' he said, with an uneasy laugh. 'What impressed me was that
scene at Venice, where Gilberte and De Valréas read over the list of
plays in the Paris newspapers, and realise what they have thrown away,
and for how little. It seemed to me the saddest scene I had ever
witnessed.'

'Yes,' interposed Clarice quickly. 'But because Paris and its theatres
meant so much to them. I remember what you said, that everything in the
play seemed so true just to those characters, Gilberte and De Valréas.'

She glanced at him as she uttered the last name. Drake understood that
she was drawing a distinction between him and the fashionable lounger
of the play.

'Besides,' she went on, dropping her voice, 'Gilberte left a child behind
her. Her unhappiness turned on that.'

'In a way, no doubt, but the loss of friends, station, home, counts
for something--for enough to destroy her liking for De Valréas at
all events.'

'For De Valréas!' insisted Clarice. 'He was not worth the sacrifice.' She
paused for a moment, and then continued diffidently. 'There's something
else; I hardly like to tell you it. You wouldn't notice it from seeing
the play. I didn't; but it came to me when I read the book. I think the
play's absolutely untrue, yes, even to those characters, in one respect.'

'And what's that?' asked Drake.

Clarice glanced round. Her neighbours, she perceived, were talking.
Mrs. Willoughby was too far off to hear. She dropped her voice to a yet
lower key and said, 'They make the husband kill the lover in the duel.
It's always the end in books and plays; but really the opposite of that
would happen.'

Drake leant back in his chair and stared at her. 'What do you mean?'

'Hush!' she said warningly, and turning away she spoke for a little
to the man on the other side of her. Then she turned back. 'I mean,'
she said, 'if two people really care for one another, their love
would triumph over everything--everything. De Valréas would have
killed the husband.' She spoke with an intense conviction of the
truth of what she said.

'But, my dear child!' replied Drake. 'You--oh, you don't really
believe that.'

'I do,' she answered. 'You see, there are so few people who really care
for one another. If you find two who do, I am sure they would conquer,
whatever stood in the way.'

The conversation was interrupted, to Drake's relief, by Captain Le
Mesurier. He rose from the corner of the table to propose the health of
the guest of the evening. He said that he was proud to be represented in
Parliament by a man of Stephen Drake's calibre. If there was anything of
which he was prouder, it was the way in which the election had been
fought at Bentbridge. That election was the triumph not merely of a man
or a cause, but of a method; and that method was honesty and fair-play.
'We never indulged in personalities,' he continued, with shameless
sincerity. 'I have always myself been very strong on that point. Fight of
course for all you're worth, but never indulge in personalities. It's a
good rule. It's a rule that helped Stephen Drake to win his seat. We
followed it. We left the lies for the opponent to tell, and he told them.
But we never did and never will indulge in contemptible personalities.'

The Captain subsided to a gentle rapping of forks and spoons upon the
table, while Fielding said pointedly, 'Yes, Captain, you deserve your
holidays,' and he emphasised the word. The Captain caught the allusion
and laughed heartily. It was evident that he saw no inconsistency between
the epigram and his professed method of contesting an election.

Drake replied shortly, and the ladies retired. Mallinson moved round the
table, and seated himself in the chair which Clarice had left.

'Do you think of speaking at all during this session?' he asked.

'I am not quite sure,' replied Drake; 'but I rather think I shall on the
colonial vote. You see there's first-class wheat-growing land in Africa,
quite near to the west coast. We import practically all that we use in
England. Well, why shouldn't we import it from our own dominions?
Besides, the route would be so much safer in times of war, unless, of
course, we were at war with France. Ships could slip up the coast of
Africa, across the bay and into Plymouth with much less risk than if they
have to sail from the Argentines or some place like that. I believe, if
the Colonial Office could be induced to move in the matter, the idea
might be carried out. What do you think?'

Mallinson carelessly assented and returned to his seat.

For the remainder of the evening Drake avoided Clarice. As he was taking
his leave, however, she came up to him. He shook her by the hand and she
whispered one word to him, 'Matanga.' Drake could not mistake the note of
longing in her voice, and as he drove to his chambers the temptation with
which he had wrestled at the gates of Garples assailed him again, and
with double force. He had but to speak, he knew, and she would come. The
loneliness of his rooms made the struggle yet harder, yet more doubtful.
He pictured to himself what he had never had, a home, and he located that
home in Matanga. The arid plain blossomed in his imagination, for he saw
the weariness die out of Clarice's face.

He tossed restlessly through the night, until one thought emerged from
the turmoil of his ideas, fashioned itself into a fact, and stood framed
there before his eyes. He held the future of Clarice in the hollow of his
hand. Her fate rested upon his decision, and he must decide.

Drake rose and walked out on to the balcony, as the dawn was breaking
over London. A white mist was crawling above the Thames; he could see
a glimpse of the water here and there as the mist shredded. He turned
to the west and looked towards Westminster, recollecting how his name
and purposes had centred there as though drawn by a magnet. But in
that clear morning light they seemed unreal and purposeless. One
immediate responsibility invaded him, and, contrasted with that, his
ambitions dwindled into vanities. He filled no place, he realised,
which would be vacant unless he occupied it. He had to decide for
Clarice and solely for her.

Drake took up his hat and walked out of London to Elm Tree Hill. There,
gazing down upon its spires asparkle in the early sunlight, while the
city gradually awoke and the hum of its stirring began to swell through
the air, he came to his decision. Clarice belonged to London; he did not.
In Matanga she would be content--for how long? The roughness, the absence
of her kind and class, the makeshift air of transition, would soon
destroy its charm of novelty. Every instinct would draw her back to
London, and the way would be barred, whilst for him Matanga was a
province in which every capacity he possessed could find employment and
exercise. He would leave England for Matanga when this short session was
over; he would resign his seat and settle there for good. For if he
stayed in London, every step which he took, every advance which he made,
would only add to Clarice's miseries.

Thus he decided, and walked back with his mind at rest, without regret
for the loss of his ambitions, without, indeed, any real consciousness of
the sacrifice which he had it in his thoughts to make.

Thus he decided, but as he left his office on the afternoon of the day
whereon he was to make his speech in the House of Commons, Fielding
rushed up to him with a copy of the _Meteor_.

'Look!' he said, and pointed to an article. Drake took the paper and read
the article through. His face darkened as he read. The article had a
headline which puzzled Drake for a moment. It was entitled _The Drabious
Duke_, and it proceeded to set out the episode of Gorley's court-martial
and execution. The facts, Drake recognised, were not exaggerated, but the
sting lay in the suggestion with which it concluded.

'We have no doubt,' the leader-writer stated, 'that both the
court-martial and execution were in accordance with the letter of the
law, but, since Mr. Stephen Drake is now one of the legislators of this
country, we feel it our duty to submit two facts for the consideration of
our readers. In the first place we would call attention to the secrecy in
which the incident has been carefully shrouded. In the second, Gorley
undoubtedly secured a considerable quantity of gold-dust. Now, it is
perfectly well known that the Government of Matanga pays a commission on
all gold-dust brought down to the coast. We have gone into the matter
carefully, and we positively assert that no commission whatever was paid
in any such plunder during the two months which followed Mr. Drake's
return from Boruwimi. What, then, became of it? We ask our readers to
weigh these two facts dispassionately, and we feel justified in adding
that Mr. Drake would have been quite within his rights in showing
clemency to Gorley, or in bringing him back to undergo a regular trial.
However, he preferred to execute him on the spot.'

'He makes me out a thief and a murderer,' said Drake. 'I wonder where he
got the story from?'

Fielding answered slowly, 'I am afraid that I can throw some light on
that. I told Mallinson some time ago, before he was married.'

'Mallinson!' exclaimed Drake, stopping in the street. 'Oh, you think the
article comes from him?' Then he turned to Fielding. 'And how did you
know of it?'

'Well,' said Fielding with some hesitation, 'Mrs. Willoughby told me.'

'Why?'

'We neither of us, of course, knew you very well then. Mrs. Willoughby
had only just met you, and she didn't feel quite certain that Clarice
ought to be kept in ignorance of the matter, so she asked my advice.'

'Quite so,' answered Drake. 'I understand. You thought Clarice ought to
be informed, and you were right. I told her of the matter myself.'

'No,' exclaimed Fielding; 'I'll tell you the whole truth while I am about
it. I advised Mrs. Willoughby to say nothing, but I behaved like a damned
cad, and told Mallinson myself afterwards. I had quite another reason for
telling him.'

'Oh, never mind!' broke in Drake. 'The question is, what's to be
done now?'

'You must sue the paper!'

'Of course. I was thinking whether I couldn't mention the matter to-night
in the House of Commons. You see it has got into the papers that I mean
to speak, and perhaps I ought to make use of the opportunity.'

Fielding jumped at the idea. 'By Jove, yes,' he said. 'I should think, in
fact, the directors of the Company will rather expect it.'

They walked together until they reached the corner of Parliament Street;
there they stopped.

'I am awfully sorry, Drake,' said Fielding. 'I behaved like a
blackguard.'

Drake again cut him short. 'Oh, I don't see that. The thing looked fishy,
I don't doubt, and you weren't bound to me in any way. Good-bye,' and he
held out his hand with a cordial smile.

'Good-bye,' said Fielding, and they separated.

On reaching his flat Drake was informed that a lady was waiting to see
him. He crossed the passage and opened the door of his sitting-room. Mrs.
Mallinson was standing by the window.



CHAPTER XVI


She turned quickly as the door closed and took a step towards the centre
of the room. Drake perceived that she had a copy of the _Meteor_ in her
hand. 'You have seen this?' she asked.

'Yes.' He remained by the door with his hand on the knob.

'And you guessed who wrote it?'

'I have been told.' He answered her coldly and quietly.

'I know what you think,' she replied. 'But it's not true. I never told
him the story. He knew it long ago--before you went back to
Matanga--before I married him.' Her voice took a pleading tone. 'You will
believe that, won't you?'

'It never occurred to me that you had told him. I know, in fact, who did.
But even if you had--well, you had the right to tell him.' Clarice gave a
stamp of impatience. 'He is your husband.'

'My husband!' she interrupted, and she tore the newspaper across and
dropped it on to the floor. 'My husband! Ah, I wouldn't have believed
that even he could have done a thing so mean. And, to add to the meanness
of it, he went away yesterday, for a week. I know why, now; he dared not
face me.' Then of a sudden her voice softened. 'But it's my fault too, in
a way,' she went on. 'He knew the story a long time ago, and never used
it. I don't suppose he would have used it now, if I hadn't--since your
election--let him see--' She broke off the sentence, and took a step
nearer to Drake. 'Stephen, I meant to let him see.'

Drake drew himself up against the door. It would be no longer of any
service to her, he thought, if he left England and returned to Matanga.
Something more trenchant was needed.

He reflected again that he filled no place which another could not fill,
and the reflection took a wider meaning than it had done before. 'Yes,'
he said; 'it's very awkward that it should all come out just now.'

Clarice stared at him in perplexity. 'Awkward that it should all come
out,' she repeated vaguely; and then, with an accent of relief, 'You mean
that it will injure the Company?'

'Not so much that. The Company can run without me--quite well now--I am
certain of it.' He spoke as though he was endeavouring to assure himself
of what he said.

'But it won't hurt you, really,' she exclaimed. 'You can disprove the
charges, and of course you must, I know you hesitate--for my sake--to
bring an action and expose the writer. But you must, and I don't think,'
she lowered her eyes to the ground, 'you would hurt me by doing that.'
For a moment she was silent. Drake made no answer, and she raised her
eyes again to his face. 'You can disprove it--oh, of course,' she said,
with a little anxious laugh.

'That depends,' he answered slowly, 'upon how much the _Meteor_ knows.'

Clarice drew back and caught at the table to steady herself. Once or
twice she pressed her hand across her forehead. 'Oh, don't stand like
that,' she burst out, 'as if it was all true.'

'But they can't prove it's true,' exclaimed Drake, with a trace of
cunning in his voice. 'No; they can't prove it's true.'

'But is it?' Clarice stood in front of him, her hands clenched. Drake
dropped his eyes from her face, raised them again, and again lowered
them. 'Is it?' she repeated, and her voice rose to the tone of a demand.

'Yes,' and he answered her in a whisper.

Clarice recoiled from him with a cry of disgust. She noticed that he drew
a long breath--of relief, it seemed--like the criminal when his crime is
at last brought home to him. 'Then all that story,' she began, 'you told
me at Beaufort Gardens about--about Boruwimi was just meant to deceive
me. You talked about duty! Duty compelled you! You would have hanged
Gorley just the same had you known that he had been engaged to me.' She
began to laugh hysterically. 'It was all duty,--duty from beginning to
end, and I believed you. Heaven help me, I came to honour you for it. And
in reality it was a lie!' She lashed the words at him, but he stood
patiently, and made no rejoinder. 'I always wondered why you told me the
story,' she continued. 'You felt that I had a right to know, I remember.
And you felt bound to tell me. It's clear enough now why you felt bound.
You had found out, I suppose, that my husband knew--' She stopped
suddenly, as though some new thought had flashed into her mind. 'And I
came here to give up everything--just for your sake. Oh, suppose that I
hadn't found you out!'

She stooped and picked up from the floor the torn pages of the _Meteor_.
She folded them carefully and then moved towards the door. Drake opened
it and stood aside.

Clarice went out, called a hansom and drove home. When she arrived there
she ordered tea to be brought to the drawing-room and sat down and again
read the article in the _Meteor_. When the tea was brought, she ordered
it to be taken into Sidney's study. She walked restlessly about that
room, as though she was trying to habituate herself to it. A green shade
lay upon the writing-table, which her husband was accustomed to wear over
his eyes. She took it up, looked at it for a little, and then threw it
down again with an air of weariness and distaste. A few minutes later
Percy Conway called and was admitted.



CHAPTER XVII


Fielding opened his newspaper the next morning with unusual eagerness,
and, turning to the Parliamentary reports, glanced down column after
column in search of Drake's speech. The absence of it threw him into some
consternation. He tossed the newspaper on to the breakfast-table and rose
from his seat. As he moved, however, he caught sight of Drake's name at
the beginning of a leader, and he read the leader through. It dealt with
the accusation of the _Meteor_, and expressed considerable surprise that
Drake had not seized the opportunity of denying it in the House of
Commons. It was mentioned that Drake had not been seen there at any time
during the course of the evening.

Fielding jumped to the conclusion that he had met with an accident,
and set out for his chambers on the instant. He found Drake quietly
eating his breakfast. Only half the table, however, was laid for the
meal; the other half was littered with papers and correspondence,
while a pile of stamped letters stood on one corner. 'I was expecting
you,' said Drake quietly.

'Why, what on earth has happened?' asked Fielding. 'Why didn't you speak
last night?'

'I thought it would be the wisest plan to leave the matter alone.'

'But you can't,' exclaimed Fielding. 'Read this!' and he handed to him
the newspaper. 'You can't leave it alone.'

'I can, and shall,' replied Drake, and he returned to his breakfast.

'But, my dear fellow, you can't understand what that means! Read the
leader, then.' Drake glanced quickly down it. 'Now, do you understand? It
means utter ruin, utter disgrace, unless you answer this charge, and
answer it at once. You will have created a false enough impression
already.' Drake, however, made no response beyond a shrug of his
shoulders. 'But, good Lord, man,' continued Fielding, 'your name's at
stake. You can't sit quiet as if this was an irresponsible piece of
paragraph-writing. You would have to resign your seat in Parliament, your
connection with the Matanga Company--everything. You couldn't possibly
live in England.'

'Do you think I haven't counted up precisely what inaction is going to
cost me?' interrupted Drake. 'Look here!' and he took a couple of letters
from the pile and handed them to Fielding. One was addressed to the whip
of his party, and the other to the directors of the Matanga Concessions.
'And I leave Charing Cross at ten o'clock this morning.'

Fielding looked at his watch; it was half-past nine. 'Then you mean to
run away?' he gasped. 'But, in Heaven's name, why?'

'For an obvious reason. Yesterday I believed that I could meet the
charge. But something has happened since then, and I know now that I
can't.'

Fielding started back. 'Do you mean to tell me, as man to man, that the
accusation's true.'

'As man to man,' repeated Drake steadily, 'I tell you that it is true.'

Fielding stared at him for a minute. Then he said, 'Drake, you're a
damned liar.'

'We haven't much time,' said Drake, 'and I would like to say something to
you about the future of the Matanga settlement. You will take my place, I
suppose. You can, and ought to'; and he entered at once into details on
administration.

The advice, however, was lost upon Fielding. Once he interrupted Drake.
'How many white men were with you on the Boruwimi expedition?' he asked.

'Four,' answered Drake, and he gave the names. 'They are dead, though.
Two died of fever on the way back; one was killed in a subsequent
expedition, and the fourth was drowned about eighteen months ago off
Walfisch Bay.' A noise of portmanteaux being dragged along the passage
penetrated through the closed door. Drake looked at his watch, and
started to his feet. 'I must be off,' he said; 'I am late as it is. You
might do something for me, and that is to post these letters.'

'But, man, you are not really going?'

Drake for answer put on his hat and took up his stick. 'Good-bye,' he
said.

'But, look here! Do you ask me to believe that you would have been giving
me all this advice, if you had really done what that infernal paper makes
you out to have done?'

'I'll give you a final piece of advice too. Give up philandering and
get married!'

With that he opened the door and went out, and a few seconds later
Fielding heard the sound of his cab-wheels rattle on the pavement.

Drake, on reaching Charing Cross, found that he had more time to spare
than he had reckoned. He was walking slowly along the train in search of
an empty compartment when, from a window a few paces ahead of him, a face
flashed out, and as suddenly withdrew. The face was Conway's, and Drake
felt that the sudden withdrawal meant a distinct desire to avoid
recognition. He set the desire down to the unrepulsed attack of the
_Meteor_, and since he had no inclination to force his company upon
Conway, he turned on his heel and moved towards the other end of the
train. He was just opposite the archway of the booking-office when a
woman, heavily veiled and of a slight figure, came out of it. At the
sight of Drake she came to a dead stop, and so attracted his attention.
Then she quickly turned her back to him, walked to the bookstall, and
slipped round the side of it into the waiting-room. Drake wheeled about
again. Conway's head was stretched out of the window; and he was gazing
towards the bookstall.

Drake was in no doubt as to who the woman was, and he felt his heart turn
to stone. He walked quickly back until he reached Conway's compartment.
It was empty save for him, but there was a reserved label in the window.

'Holloa!' said Conway, awkwardly enough. 'Are you going by this train?
You had better find a seat if you are.'

'But I'm not,' said Drake; 'I thought of going, but I have changed my
mind.' He leaned against the door of the carriage chatting incessantly to
Conway, with an eye upon the waiting-room. Once he saw the woman appear
at the door, but she retired again. Meanwhile Conway's embarrassment
increased. He said 'Good-bye' to Drake at least half-a-dozen times, but
on each occasion Drake had something new to say to him. At last the
whistle sounded and the train began to move. 'I say,' cried Drake,
running along by the carriage. 'My luggage is in the van. You might bring
it back with you from Dover, if you will,' and he stood watching the
train until it disappeared under the shed.

Then he walked into the waiting-room. He saw Clarice seated in a
corner, and went straight to her. She noticed that his face was white
and set, and she rose with some instinct of defiance. 'I owe you an
apology,' he said abruptly. 'The _Meteor_ is untrue from the first word
to the last. I mean to stay in London, and fight it; yesterday
afternoon I told you lies.'

'Why?' she asked.

'Sheer lunacy,' said he; and he got into a cab and drove to the offices
of his solicitor.



CHAPTER XVIII


Meanwhile Fielding picked up the pile of letters from the table in
Drake's chambers and went down into the street. He paused for a moment or
two at the pillar-box weighing the letters in his hand. Then he slipped
them into his pocket and hurried to Mrs. Willoughby's.

Mrs. Willoughby was moving restlessly about the drawing-room as he was
shown in. She turned impulsively towards him, holding out both hands. 'I
so hoped you would come,' she said. 'Well? You have seen him?'

'Yes.'

'What does he mean to do?' she asked anxiously, taking from a chair a
copy of the _Meteor_.

'Nothing,' replied Fielding. 'He resigns his seat; he gives up his
directorship; he is leaving England.'

Mrs. Willoughby's first look was of sheer incredulity. 'It's impossible!'
she exclaimed.

'I have just returned from his chambers. He has started from Charing
Cross already.'

Mrs. Willoughby sat down in the window-seat, and her look of incredulity
gradually changed to one of comprehension. 'And he took such delight in
London,' she said, with a break in her voice; 'just like a schoolboy.'

Fielding nodded gloomily. 'I did my best to dissuade him,' he said. 'I
practically told him he was a coward to run away. But you know the man.
He had made up his mind not to face the charge. And yet I can't believe
it's true.'

'Believe it!' exclaimed Mrs. Willoughby, with a hint of something
dangerously near to scorn in her voice.

'I know, I know,' answered Fielding. 'Still Drake pleads guilty. He
sacrifices everything, an established position, unusual
prospects--everything, by pleading guilty. You see, that's the point. He
has every imaginable inducement to make him face the accusation, even if
he has only the merest chance of winning, and yet he runs away. He runs
away--Drake does. There's only one inference--'

'For the world to draw,' interrupted Mrs. Willoughby; 'and doubtless he
meant the world to draw it. But you and I should know him better.'

'Yes,' Fielding admitted. 'Yes.' He began to walk about the room. 'But
what's the reason? Drake's action, if this statement is a libel, is the
action of a madman.'

'A madman? Yes! Don Quixote was mad even in his century,' replied Mrs.
Willoughby. 'I can give you the reason. Clarice was with him yesterday
afternoon.'

'Yesterday?' said Fielding. 'Why, I walked home with Drake from the
City myself.'

'But you didn't go in with him.'

'No; I left him alone to arrange his speech. He meant to mention this
very charge.'

Mrs. Willoughby started to her feet. 'Then that settles it,' she said.
'Clarice was waiting for him in his rooms. Oh, if you had only gone in
with him! You remember what I wrote to you, that he would lie in the
mud if he thought it would save her. Well, that is what he has done.
Clarice came here this very morning and told me what had happened. She
went to his chambers, determined never to return to her husband,
prepared to sacrifice--I give you her words, not mine--to sacrifice
herself, her name, and for his sake. But when she showed him the
_Meteor_ her suspicions were aroused by his manner, and she forced the
truth out of him.'

Fielding gave a short, contemptuous laugh. 'Forced the truth out of him!
She actually told you that?'

'And what's more, she believes it. Oh the waste, the waste of a man like
that upon a doll like her. I suppose there's nothing to be done?'

'Nothing; if he won't defend himself, our defence won't carry any
weight,' he went on, with a change of tone. 'But I don't see what real
good he does, even to her. She goes back to her husband now, but next
month or next year there'll be somebody else.'

'Yes,' replied Mrs. Willoughby; 'but I hardly fancy Stephen Drake would
consider that. I believe he would feel that he had no right to speculate
on what may not happen. He would just see this one clear, definite,
immediate thing to do, and simply do it.' She spoke the sentence with a
slow emphasis upon each word, and Fielding moved uneasily. It seemed to
strike an accusation at him. He braced himself to make the same
confession to Mrs. Willoughby which he had made that afternoon before to
Drake. But, before he could speak it, Mrs. Willoughby put to him a
question. 'Tell me, did he seem to mind much?'

'No,' Fielding answered with an air of relief. His confession was
deferred, if only for a minute. 'He seemed cheerful enough. The last
thing he did,' and he paused for a second, 'was to give me advice about
the management of the Matanga Company.'

'That's so like him,' she said gently. Then she looked up with a start of
interest. 'You are going to take his place?' she asked.

'He said I ought to. I know more about it than the other directors. Of
course they mayn't appoint me, but I expect they will.' Mrs. Willoughby
was silent. She moved away from the window and stood by the fireplace.
Fielding crossed to her. 'Drake gave me one other piece of advice,' he
said hesitatingly,--'not about business. It concerned me and just one
other person.' He pitched the remark in an interrogative key.

Mrs. Willoughby glanced quickly towards him with just the hint of a smile
dimpling about the corners of her lips. Fielding found it very difficult
to go on, but there was one clear, definite, immediate thing for him to
do as well, he said. 'Before I act on it there is something I ought to
tell you.' He paused for a second, and the trouble in his voice perplexed
Mrs. Willoughby. 'Whom do you think Mallinson got his knowledge about
Gorley from?'

Mrs. Willoughby took a step forward. 'Whom? Why,' and she gave a little
anxious laugh, 'from Clarice, of course.'

'No.'

Mrs. Willoughby looked at him for a moment in silence. Then she drew back
again. 'You told him?' she asked with a quiet wonder. 'Yes,' Fielding
nodded. 'But I only told you,' she said, 'because I wanted your advice.
What made you tell him? There must have been some reason, some good
reason, some necessity.'

'No; there was no necessity, no good reason, no reason at all,' Fielding
replied doggedly. 'I told him because--' he stopped abruptly; the reason
seemed too pitiful for him even to relate.

'Well, because?' asked Mrs. Willoughby. There was a note of hardness
in the utterance. Fielding raised his eyes and glanced at her face.
'It comes too late,' he said unconsciously, and he was thinking of
Drake's advice.

'The reason!' she insisted, taking no notice of the sentence. 'The
reason!'

'I told Mallinson at the time when I was always meeting him here.'

Mrs. Willoughby gave a start. 'And because of that?' she cried.

'Yes,' said he. 'I thought the knowledge might give him a fairer,' he
changed the word, 'a better, chance with Clarice.'

'Oh, how mean!' exclaimed Mrs. Willoughby, not so much in anger as in
absolute disappointment. She turned away from him, and stood for a little
looking out of the window. Then she said, 'Good-bye.'

And Fielding took his hat and left the house. He went down to the office,
and was told that Drake wanted to see him.

'Drake!' he exclaimed. He pushed open the door of Drake's private office,
and the latter looked up from his papers.

'You called me a damned liar this morning,' he said, 'and you were
right.'

Fielding dropped into a chair. 'What do you mean?'

'That there's not a word of truth in the _Meteor's_ charges, and I am
prosecuting the editor. Did you post those letters?'

Fielding pulled them out of his pocket and threw them on to the table.
'Thanks,' said Drake, 'that's fortunate.'

Fielding did not inquire into the cause of Drake's change of purpose, and
it was some while before he understood it. For Mrs. Willoughby held no
further discussions with him in the drawing-room at Knightsbridge.

THE END





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