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Title: The Splendid Folly
Author: Pedler, Margaret, -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 Splendid Folly" ***

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THE SPLENDID FOLLY

by

MARGARET PEDLER

Author of the Hermit of Far End, etc.

New York
Grosset & Dunlap
Publishers

1921



TO MY HUSBAND

W. G. Q. PEDLER



CONTENTS

CHAPTER

      I  THE VERDICT
     II  FELLOW-TRAVELLERS
    III  AN ENCOUNTER WITH DEATH
     IV  CRAILING RECTORY
      V  THE SECOND MEETING
     VI  THE AFTERMATH OF AN ADVENTURE
    VII  DIANA SINGS
   VIII  MRS. LAWRENCE'S HOSPITALITY
     IX  A CONTEST OF WILLS
      X  MISS LERMONTOF'S ADVICE
     XI  THE YEAR'S FRUIT
    XII  MAX ERRINGTON'S RETURN
   XIII  THE FRIEND WHO STOOD BY
    XIV  THE FLAME OF LOVE
     XV  DIANA'S DECISION
    XVI  BARONI'S OPINION OF MATRIMONY
   XVII  "WHOM GOD HATH JOINED TOGETHER"
  XVIII  THE APPROACHING SHADOW
    XIX  THE "FIRST NIGHT" PERFORMANCE
     XX  THE SHADOW FALLS
    XXI  THE OTHER WOMAN
   XXII  THE PARTING OF THE WAYS
  XXIII  PAIN
   XXIV  THE VISION OF LOVE
    XXV  BREAKING-POINT
   XXVI  THE REAPING
  XXVII  CARLO BARONI EXPLAINS
 XXVIII  THE AWAKENING
   XXIX  SACRIFICE



  THE HAVEN OF MEMORY

  Do you remember
    Our great love's pure unfolding,
  The troth you gave,
    And prayed for God's upholding,
      Long and long ago?

  Out of the past
    A dream--and then the waking--
  Comes back to me,
    Of love and love's forsaking,
      Ere the summer waned.

  Ah!  Let me dream
    That still a little kindness
  Dwelt in the smile
    That chid my foolish blindness,
      When you said good-bye.

  Let me remember,
    When I am very lonely,
  How once your love
    But crowned and blessed me only,
      Long and long ago!


  MARGARET PEDLER.



NOTE:--Musical setting by Isador Epstein.  Published by G. Ricordi &
Co.; 14 East 43rd Street, New York.



THE SPLENDID FOLLY


CHAPTER I

THE VERDICT

The March wind swirled boisterously down Grellingham Place, catching up
particles of grit and scraps of paper on his way and making them a
torment to the passers-by, just as though the latter were not already
amply occupied in trying to keep their hats on their heads.

But the blustering fellow cared nothing at all about that as he drove
rudely against them, slapping their faces and blinding their eyes with
eddies of dust; on the contrary, after he had swept forwards like a
tornado for a matter of fifty yards or so he paused, as if in search of
some fresh devilment, and espied a girl beating her way up the street and
carrying a roll of music rather loosely in the crook of her arm.  In an
instant he had snatched the roll away and sent the sheets spread-eagling
up the street, looking like so many big white butterflies as they flapped
and whirled deliriously hither and thither.

The girl made an ineffectual grab at them and then dashed in pursuit,
while a small greengrocer's boy, whose time was his master's (ergo, his
own), joined in the chase with enthusiasm.

Given a high wind, and half-a-dozen loose sheets of music, the elusive
quality of the latter seems to be something almost supernatural, not to
say diabolical, and the pursuit would probably have been a lengthy one
but for the fact that a tall man, who was rapidly advancing from the
opposite direction, seeing the girl's predicament, came to her help and
headed off the truant sheets.  Within a few moments the combined efforts
of the girl, the man, and the greengrocer's boy were successful in
gathering them together once more, and having tipped the boy, who had
entered thoroughly into the spirit of the thing and who was grinning
broadly, she turned, laughing and rather breathless, to thank the man.

But the laughter died suddenly away from her lips as she encountered the
absolute lack of response in his face.  It remained quite grave and
unsmiling, exactly as though its owner had not been engaged, only two
minutes before, in a wild and undignified chase after half-a-dozen sheets
of paper which persisted in pirouetting maddeningly just out of reach.

The face was that of a man of about thirty-five, clean-shaven and
fair-skinned, with arresting blue eyes of that peculiar piercing quality
which seems to read right into the secret places of one's mind.  The
features were clear-cut--straight nose, square chin, the mouth rather
sternly set, yet with a delicate uplift at its corners that gave it a
singularly sweet expression.

The girl faltered.

"Thank you so much," she murmured at last.

The man's deep-set blue eyes swept her from head to foot in a single
comprehensive glance.

"I am very glad to have been of service," he said briefly.

With a slight bow he raised his hat and passed on, moving swiftly down
the street, leaving her staring surprisedly after him and vaguely feeling
that she had been snubbed.

To Diana Quentin this sensation was something of a novelty.  As a rule,
the men who were brought into contact with her quite obviously
acknowledged her distinctly charming personality, but this one had
marched away with uncompromising haste and as unconcernedly as though she
had been merely the greengrocer's boy, and he had been assisting him in
the recovery of some errant Brussels sprouts.

For a moment an amused smile hovered about her lips; then the
recollection of her business in Grellingham Place came back to her with a
suddenly sobering effect and she hastened on her way up the street,
pausing at last at No. 57.  She mounted the steps reluctantly, and with a
nervous, spasmodic intake of the breath pressed the bell-button.

No one came to answer the door--for the good and sufficient reason that
Diana's timid pressure had failed to elicit even the faintest sound--and
its four blank brown panels seemed to stare at her forbiddingly.  She
stared back at them, her heart sinking ever lower and lower the while,
for behind those repellent portals dwelt the great man whose "Yea" or
"Nay" meant so much to her--Carlo Baroni, the famous teacher of singing,
whose verdict upon any voice was one from which there could be no appeal.

Diana wondered how many other aspirants to fame had lingered like herself
upon that doorstep, their hearts beating high with hope, only to descend
the white-washed steps a brief hour later with the knowledge that from
the standpoint of the musical profession their voices were useless for
all practical purposes, and with their pockets lighter by two guineas,
the _maestro's_ fee for an opinion.

The wind swept up the street again and Diana shivered, her teeth
chattering partly with cold but even more with nervousness.  This was a
bad preparation for the coming interview, and with an irritation born of
despair she pressed the bell-button to such good purpose that she could
hear footsteps approaching, almost before the trill of the bell had
vibrated into silence.

An irreproachable man-servant, with the face of a sphinx, opened the door.

Diana tried to speak, failed, then, moistening her lips, jerked out the
words:--

"Signor Baroni?"

"Have you an appointment?" came the relentless inquiry, and Diana could
well imagine how inexorably the greatly daring who had come on chance
would be turned away.

"Yes--oh, yes," she stammered.  "For three o'clock--Miss Diana Quentin."

"Come this way, please."  The man stood aside for her to enter, and a
minute later she found herself following him through a narrow hall to the
door of a room whence issued the sound of a softly-played pianoforte
accompaniment.

The sphinx-like one threw open the door and announced her name, and with
quaking knees she entered.

The room was a large one.  At its further end stood a grand piano, so
placed that whoever was playing commanded a full view of the remainder of
the room, and at this moment the piano-stool was occupied by Signor
Baroni himself, evidently in the midst of giving a lesson to a young man
who was standing at his elbow.  He was by no means typically Italian in
appearance; indeed, his big frame and finely-shaped head with its
massive, Beethoven brow reminded one forcibly of the fact that his mother
had been of German origin.  But the heavy-lidded, prominent eyes, neither
brown nor hazel but a mixture of the two, and the sallow skin and long,
mobile lips--these were unmistakably Italian.  The nose was slightly
Jewish in its dominating quality, and the hair that was tossed back over
his head and descended to the edge of his collar with true musicianly
luxuriance was grizzled by sixty years of strenuous life.  It would seem
that God had taken an Italian, a German, and a Jew, and out of them
welded a surpassing genius.

Baroni nodded casually towards Diana, and, still continuing to play with
one hand, gestured towards an easy-chair with the other.

"How do you do?  Will you sit down, please," he said, speaking with a
strong, foreign accent, and then apparently forgot all about her.

"Now"--he turned to the young man whose lesson her entry had
interrupted--"we will haf this through once more.  Bee-gin, please: '_In
all humility I worship thee_.'"

Obediently the young man opened his mouth, and in a magnificent baritone
voice declaimed that reverently, and from a great way off, he ventured to
worship at his beloved's shrine, while Diana listened spell-bound.

If this were the only sort of voice Baroni condescended to train, what
chance had she?  And the young man's singing seemed so finished, the
fervour of his passion was so vehemently rendered, that she humbly
wondered that there still remained anything for him to learn.  It was
almost like listening to a professional.

Quite suddenly Baroni dropped his hands from the piano and surveyed the
singer with such an eloquent mixture of disgust and bitter contempt in
his extraordinarily expressive eyes that Diana positively jumped.

"Ach!  So that is your idea of a humble suitor, is it?" he said, and
though he never raised his voice above the rather husky, whispering tones
that seemed habitual to him, it cut like a lash.  Later, Diana was to
learn that Baroni's most scathing criticisms and most furious reproofs
were always delivered in a low, half-whispering tone that fairly seared
the victim.  "That is your idea, then--to shout, and yell, and bellow
your love like a caged bull?  When will you learn that music is not
noise, and that love--love"--and the odd, husky voice thrilled suddenly
to a note as soft and tender as the cooing of a wood-pigeon--"can be
expressed _piano_--ah, but _pianissimo_--as well as by blowing great
blasts of sound from those leathern bellows which you call your lungs?"

The too-forceful baritone stood abashed, shifting uneasily from one foot
to the other.  With a swift motion Baroni swept up the music from the
piano and shovelled it pell-mell into the young man's arms.

"Oh, go away, go away!" he said impatiently.  "You are a voice--just a
voice--and nothing more.  You will _nevaire_ be an artist!"  And he
turned his back on him.

Very dejectedly the young man made his way towards the door, whilst
Diana, overcome with sympathy and horror at his abrupt dismissal, could
hardly refrain from rushing forward to intercede for him.

And then, to her intense amazement, Baroni whisked suddenly round, and
following the young man to the door, laid his hand on his shoulder.

"_Au revoir, mon brave_," he said, with the utmost bonhomie.  "Bring the
song next time and we will go through it again.  But do not be
discouraged--no, for there is no need.  It will come--it will come.  But
remember, _piano--piano--pianissimo_!"

And with a reassuring pat on the shoulder he pushed the young man
affectionately through the doorway and closed the door behind him.

So he had not been dismissed in disgrace after all!  Diana breathed a
sigh of relief, and, looking up, found Signor Baroni regarding her with a
large and benevolent smile.

"You theenk I was too severe with him?" he said placidly.  "But no.  He
is like iron, that young man; he wants hammer-blows."

"I think he got them," replied Diana crisply, and then stopped, aghast at
her own temerity.  She glanced anxiously at Baroni to see if he had
resented her remark, only to find him surveying her with a radiant smile
and looking exactly like a large, pleased child.

"We shall get on, the one with the other," he observed contentedly.
"Yes, we shall get on.  And now--who are you?  I do not remember
names"--with a terrific roll of his R's--"but you haf a very pree-ty
face--and I never forget a pree-ty face."

"I'm--I'm Diana Quentin," she blurted out, nervousness once more
overpowering her as she realised that the moment of her ordeal was
approaching.  "I've come to have my voice tried."

Baroni picked up a memorandum book from his table, turning over the pages
till he came to her name.

"Ach!  I remember now.  Miss Waghorne--my old pupil sent you.  She has
been teaching you, isn't it so?"

Diana nodded.

"Yes, I've had a few lessons from her, and she hoped that possibly you
would take me as a pupil."

It was out at last--the proposal which now, in the actual presence of the
great man himself, seemed nothing less than a piece of stupendous
presumption.

Signor Baroni's eyes roamed inquiringly over the face and figure of the
girl before him--quite possibly querying as to whether or no she
possessed the requisite physique for a singer.  Nevertheless, the great
master was by no means proof against the argument of a pretty face.
There was a story told of him that, on one occasion, a girl with an
exceptionally fine voice had been brought to him, some wealthy patroness
having promised to defray the expenses of her training if Baroni would
accept her as a pupil.  Unfortunately, the girl was distinctly plain,
with a quite uninteresting plainness of the pasty, podgy description, and
after he had heard her sing, the _maestro_, first dismissing her from the
room, had turned to the lady who was prepared to stand sponsor for her,
and had said, with an inimitable shrug of his massive shoulders:--

"The voice--it is all right.  But the girl--heavens, madame, she is of an
ugliness!  And I cannot teach ugly people.  She has the face of a
peeg--please take her away."

But there was little fear that a similar fate would befall Diana.  Her
figure, though slight with the slenderness of immaturity, was built on
the right lines, and her young, eager face, in its frame of raven hair,
was as vivid as a flower--its clear pallor serving but to emphasise the
beauty of the straight, dark brows and of the scarlet mouth with its
ridiculously short upper-lip.  Her eyes were of that peculiarly light
grey which, when accompanied, as hers were, by thick black lashes, gives
an almost startling impression each time the lids are lifted, an odd
suggestion of inner radiance that was vividly arresting.

An intense vitality, a curious shy charm, the sensitiveness inseparable
from the artist nature--all these, and more, Baroni's experienced eye
read in Diana's upturned face, but it yet remained for him to test the
quality of her vocal organs.

"Well, we shall see," he said non-committally.  "I do not take many
pupils."

Diana's heart sank yet a little lower, and she felt almost tempted to
seek refuge in immediate flight rather than remain to face the inevitable
dismissal that she guessed would be her portion.

Baroni, however, put a summary stop to any such wild notions by turning
on her with the lightning-like change of mood which she came afterwards
to know as characteristic of him.

"You haf brought some songs?"  He held out his hand.  "Good.  Let me see
them."

He glanced swiftly through the roll of music which she tendered.

"This one--we will try this.  Now"--seating himself at the piano--"open
your mouth, little nightingale, and sing."

Softly he played the opening bars of the prelude to the song, and Diana
watched fascinatedly while he made the notes speak, and sing, and melt
into each other with his short stumpy fingers that looked as though they
and music would have little enough in common.

"Now then.  Bee-gin."

And Diana began.  But she was so nervous that she felt as though her
throat had suddenly closed up, and only a faint, quavering note issued
from her lips, breaking off abruptly in a hoarse croak.

Baroni stopped playing.

"Tchut! she is frightened," he said, and laid an encouraging hand on her
shoulder.  "But do not be frightened, my dear.  You haf a pree-ty face;
if your voice is as pree-ty as your face you need not haf fear."

Diana was furious with herself for failing at the critical moment, and
even more angry at Baroni's speech, in which she sensed a suggestion of
the tolerance extended to the average drawing-room singer of mediocre
powers.

"I don't want to have a _pretty_ voice!" she broke out, passionately.  "I
wouldn't say thank you for it."

And anger having swallowed up her nervousness, she opened her mouth--and
her throat with it this time?--and let out the full powers that were
hidden within her nice big larynx.

When she ceased, Baroni closed the open pages of the song, and turning on
his stool, regarded her for a moment in silence.

"No," he said at last, dispassionately.  "It is certainly not a pree-ty
voice."

To Diana's ears there was such a tone of indifference, such an air of
utter finality about the brief speech, that she felt she would have been
eternally grateful now could she only have passed the low standard
demanded by the possession of even a merely "pretty" voice.

"So this is the voice you bring me to cultivate?" continued the
_maestro_.  "This that sounds like the rumblings of a subterranean
earthquake?  Boom!  boo-o-om!  Like that, _nicht wahr_?"

Diana crimsoned, and, feeling her knees giving way beneath her, sank into
the nearest chair, while Baroni continued to stare at her.

"Then--then you cannot take me as a pupil?" she said faintly.

Apparently he did not hear her, for he asked abruptly:--

"Are you prepared to give up everything--everything in the world for art?
She is no easy task-mistress, remember!  She will want a great deal of
your time, and she will rob you of your pleasures, and for her sake you
will haf to take care of your body--to guard your physical health--as
though it were the most precious thing on earth.  To become a great
singer, a great artiste, means a life of self-denial.  Are you prepared
for this?"

"But--but--" stammered Diana in astonishment.  "If my voice is not even
pretty--if it is no good--"

"_No good_?" he exclaimed, leaping to his feet with a rapidity of
movement little short of marvellous in a man of his size and bulk.
"_Gran Dio_!  No good, did you say?  But, my child, you haf a voice of
gold--pure gold.  In three years of my training it will become the voice
of the century.  Tchut!  No good!"

He pranced nimbly to the door and flung it open.

"Giulia!  Giulia!" he shouted, and a minute later a fat, amiable-looking
woman, whose likeness to Baroni proclaimed them brother and sister, came
hurrying downstairs in answer to his call.  "Signora Evanci, my sister,"
he said, nodding to Diana.  "This, Giulia, is a new pupil, and I would
haf you hear her voice.  It is magnificent--_épatant_!  Open your mouth,
little singing-bird, once more.  This time we will haf some scales."

Bewildered and excited, Diana sang again, Baroni testing the full compass
of her voice until quite suddenly he shut down the lid of the piano.

"It is enough," he said solemnly, and then, turning to Signora Evanci,
began talking to her in an excited jumble of English and Italian.  Diana
caught broken phrases here and there.

"Of a quality superb! . . .  And a beeg compass which will grow beeger
yet. . . .  The contralto of the century, Giulia."

And Signora Evanci smiled and nodded agreement, patting Diana's hand, and
reminded Baroni that it was time for his afternoon cup of consommé.  She
was a comfortable feather-bed of a woman, whose mission in life it seemed
to be to fend off from her brother all sharp corners, and to see that he
took his food at the proper intervals and changed into the thick
underclothing necessitated by the horrible English climate.

"But it will want much training, your voice," continued Baroni, turning
once more to Diana.  "It is so beeg that it is all over the place--it
sounds like a clap of thunder that has lost his way in a back garden."
And he smiled indulgently.  "To bee-gin with, you will put away all your
songs--every one.  There will be nothing but exercises for months yet.
And you will come for your first lesson on Thursday.  Mondays and
Thursdays I will teach you, but you must come other days, also, and
listen at my lessons.  There is much--very much--learned by listening, if
one listens with the brain as well as with the ear.  Now, little
singing-bird, good-bye.  I will go with you myself to the door."

The whole thing seemed too impossibly good to be true.  Diana felt as if
she were in the middle of a beautiful dream from which she might at any
moment waken to the disappointing reality of things.  Hardly able to
believe the evidence of her senses, she found herself once again in the
narrow hall, shepherded by the maestro's portly form.  As he held the
door open for her to pass out into the street, some one ran quickly up
the steps, pausing on the topmost.

"Ha, Olga!" exclaimed Baroni, beaming.  "You haf returned just too late
to hear Mees Quentin.  But you will play for her--many times yet."  Then,
turning to Diana, he added by way of introduction: "This is my
accompanist, Mees Lermontof."

Diana received the impression of a thin, satirical face, its unusual
pallor picked out by the black brows and hair, of a bitter-looking mouth
that hardly troubled itself to smile in salutation, and, above all, of a
pair of queer green eyes, which, as the heavy, opaque white lids above
them lifted, seemed slowly--and rather contemptuously--to take her in
from head to foot.

She bowed, and as Miss Lermontof inclined her head slightly in response,
there was a kind of cold aloofness in her bearing--a something defiantly
repellent--which filled Diana with a sudden sense of dislike, almost of
fear.  It was as though the sun had all at once gone behind a cloud.

The Baroni's voice fell on her ears, and the disagreeable tension snapped.

"_A rivederci_, little singing-bird.  On Thursday we will bee-gin."

The door closed on the _maestro's_ benevolently smiling face, and on that
other--the dark, satirical face of Olga Lermontof--and Diana found
herself once again breasting the March wind as it came roystering up
through Grellingham Place.



CHAPTER II

FELLOW-TRAVELLERS

"Look sharp, miss, jump in!  Luggage in the rear van."

The porter hoisted her almost bodily up the steps of the railway
carriage, slamming the door behind her, the guard's whistle shrieked, and
an instant later the train started with a jerk that sent Diana staggering
against the seat of the compartment, upon which she finally subsided,
breathless but triumphant.

She had very nearly missed the train.  An organised procession of some
kind had been passing through the streets just as she was driving to the
station, and her taxi had been held up for the full ten minutes' grace
which she had allowed herself, the metre fairly ticking its heart out in
impotent rage behind the policeman's uplifted hand.

So it was with a sigh of relief that she found herself at last
comfortably installed in a corner seat of a first-class carriage.  She
glanced about her to make sure that she had not mislaid any of her hand
baggage in her frantic haste, and this point being settled to her
satisfaction, she proceeded to take stock of her fellow-traveller, for
there was one other person in the compartment besides herself.

He was sitting in the corner furthest away, his back to the engine,
apparently entirely oblivious of her presence.  On his knee rested a
quarto writing-pad, and he appeared so much absorbed in what he was
writing that Diana doubted whether he had even heard the commotion,
occasioned by her sudden entry.

But she was mistaken.  As the porter had bundled her into the carriage,
the man in the corner had raised a pair of deep-set blue eyes, looked at
her for a moment with a half-startled glance, and then, with the barest
flicker of a smile, had let his eyes drop once more upon his writing-pad.
Then he crossed out the word "Kismet," which he had inadvertently written.

Diana regarded him with interest.  He was probably an author, she
decided, and since a year's training as a professional singer had brought
her into contact with all kinds of people who earned their livings by
their brains, as she herself hoped to do some day, she instantly felt a
friendly interest in him.  She liked, too, the shape of the hand that
held the fountain-pen; it was a slender, sensitive-looking member with
well-kept nails, and Diana always appreciated nice hands.  The man's head
was bent over his work, so that she could only obtain a foreshortened
glimpse of his face, but he possessed a supple length of limb that even
the heavy travelling-rug tucked around his knees failed to disguise, and
there was a certain _soigné_ air of rightness about the way he wore his
clothes which pleased her.

Suddenly becoming conscious that she was staring rather openly, she
turned her eyes away and looked out of the window, and immediately
encountered a big broad label, pasted on to the glass, with the word
"_Reserved_" printed on it in capital letters.  The letters, of course,
appeared reversed to any one inside the carriage, but they were so big
and black and hectoring that they were quite easily deciphered.

Evidently, in his violent haste to get her on board the train, the porter
had thrust her into the privacy of some one's reserved compartment that
some one being the man opposite.  What a horrible predicament!  Diana
felt hot all over with embarrassment, and, starting to her feet,
stammered out a confused apology.

The man in the corner raised his head.

"It does not matter in the least," he assured her indifferently.  "Please
do not distress yourself.  I believe the train is very crowded; you had
better sit down again."

The chilly lack of interest in his tones struck Diana with an odd sense
of familiarity, but she was too preoccupied to dwell on it, and began
hastily to collect together her dressing-case and other odds and ends.

"I'll find another seat," she said stiffly, and made her way out into the
corridor of the rocking train.

Her search, however, proved quite futile; every compartment was packed
with people hurrying out of town for Easter, and in a few moments she
returned.

"I'm sorry," she said, rather shyly.  "Every seat is taken.  I'm afraid
you'll have to put up with me."

Just then the carriage gave a violent lurch, as the express swung around
a bend, and Diana, dropping everything she held, made a frantic clutch at
the rack above her head, while her goods and chattels shot across the
floor, her dressing-case sliding gaily along till its wild career was
checked against the foot of the man in the corner.

With an air of resignation he rose and retrieved her belongings, placing
them on the seat opposite her.

"It would have been better if you had taken my advice," he observed, with
a sort of weary patience.

Diana felt unreasonably angry with him.

"Why don't you say 'I told you so' at once?" she said tartly.

A whimsical smile crossed his face.

"Well, I did, didn't I?"

He stood for a moment looking down at her, steadying himself with one
hand against the doorway, and her ill-humour vanishing as quickly as it
had arisen, she returned the smile.

"Yes, you did.  And you were quite right, too," she acknowledged frankly.

He laughed outright.

"Well done!" he cried.  "Not one woman in twenty will own herself in the
wrong as a rule."

Diana frowned.

"I don't agree with you at all," she bristled.  "Men have a ridiculous
way of lumping all women together and then generalising about them."

"Let's discuss the question," he said gaily.  "May I?"  And scarcely
waiting for her permission, he deliberately moved aside her things and
seated himself opposite her.

"But you were busy writing," she protested.

He threw an indifferent glance in the direction of his writing-pad, where
it lay on the seat in the corner.

"Was I?" he answered calmly.  "Sometimes there are better things to do
than scribbling--pleasanter ones, anyway."

Diana flushed.  It certainly was an unusual thing to do, to get into
conversation with an unknown man with whom one chanced to be travelling,
and she had never before committed such a breach of the
conventions--would have been shocked at the bare idea of it--but there
was something rather irresistible about this man's cool self-possession.
He seemed to assume that a thing must of necessity be right, since he
chose to do it.

She looked up and met his eyes watching her with a glint of amusement in
their depths.

"No, it isn't quite proper," he agreed, answering her unspoken thought.
"But I've never bothered about that if I really wanted to do a thing.
And don't you think"--still with that flicker of laughter in his
eyes--"that it's rather ridiculous, when two human beings are shut up in
a box together for several hours, for each of them to behave as though
the other weren't there?"

He spoke half-mockingly, and Diana, felt that within himself he was
ridiculing her prim little notions of conventionality.  She flushed
uncomfortably.

"Yes, I--I suppose so," she faltered.

He seemed to understand.

"Forgive me," he said, with a sudden gentleness.  "I wasn't laughing at
you, but only at all the absurd conventions by which we cut ourselves off
from many an hour of pleasant intercourse--just as though we had any too
many pleasures in life!  But if you wish it, I'll go back to my corner."

"No, no, don't go," returned Diana hastily.  "It--it was silly of me."

"Then we may talk?  Good.  I shall behave quite nicely, I assure you."

Again the curiously familiar quality in his voice!  She was positive she
had heard it before--that crisp, unslurred enunciation, with its keen
perception of syllabic values, so unlike the average Englishman's
slovenly rendering of his mother-tongue.

"Of what are you thinking?" he asked, smiling.  And then the swift,
hawk-like glance of the blue eyes brought with it a sudden, sure sense of
recognition, stinging the slumbering cells of memory into activity.  A
picture shaped itself in her mind of a blustering March day, and of a
girl, a man, and an errand-boy, careering wildly in the roadway of a
London street, while some stray sheets of music went whirling hither and
thither in the wind.  It had all happened a year ago, on that critical
day when Baroni had consented to accept her as his pupil, but the
recollection of it, and the odd, snubbed feeling she had experienced in
regard to the man with the blue eyes, was as clear in her mind as though
it had occurred only yesterday.

"I believe we have met before, haven't we?" she said.

The look of gay good-humour vanished suddenly from his face and an
expression of blank inquiry took its place.

"I think not," he replied.

"Oh, but I'm sure of it.  Don't you remember"--brightly--"about a year
ago.  I was carrying some music, and it all blew away up the street and
you helped me to collect it again?"

He shook his head.

"I think you must be mistaken," he answered regretfully.

"No, no," she persisted, but beginning to experience some slight
embarrassment.  (It is embarrassing to find you have betrayed a keen and
vivid recollection of a man who has apparently forgotten that he ever set
eyes on you!)  "Oh, you must remember--it was in Grellingham Place, and
the greengrocer's boy helped as well."

She broke off, reading the polite negation in his face.

"You must be confusing me with some one else.  I should not be likely
to--forget--so charming a _rencontre_."

There was surely a veiled mockery in his composed tones, irreproachably
courteous though they were, and Diana coloured hotly.  Somehow, this man
possessed the faculty of making her feel awkward and self-conscious and
horribly young; he himself was so essentially of the polished type of
cosmopolitan that beside him she felt herself to be as raw and crude as
any bread-and-butter miss fresh from the schoolroom.  Moreover, she had
an inward conviction that in reality he recollected the incident in
Grellingham Place as clearly as she did herself, although he refused to
admit it.

She relapsed into an uncomfortable silence, and presently the attendant
from the restaurant car came along the corridor and looked in to ask if
they were going to have dinner on the train.  Both nodded an affirmative.

"Table for two?" he queried, evidently taking them to be two friends
travelling together.

Diana was about to enlighten him when her _vis-à-vis_ leaned forward
hastily.

"Please," he said persuasively, and as she returned no answer he
apparently took her silence for consent, for something passed
unobtrusively from his hand to that of the attendant, and the latter
touched his hat with a smiling--"Right you are, sir!  I'll reserve a
table for two."

Diana felt that the acquaintance was progressing rather faster than she
could have wished, but she hardly knew how to check it.  Finally she
mustered up courage to say firmly:--

"It must only be if I pay for my own dinner."

"But, of course," he answered courteously, with the slightest tinge of
surprise in his tones, and once again Diana, felt that she had made a
fool of herself and blushed to the tips of her ears.

A faint smile trembled for an instant on his lips, and then, without
apparently noticing her confusion, he began to talk, passing easily from
one subject to another until she had regained her confidence, finally
leading her almost imperceptibly into telling him about herself.

In the middle of dinner she paused, aghast at her own loquacity.

"But what a horrible egotist you must think me!" she exclaimed.  "I've
been talking about my own affairs all the time."

"Not at all.  I'm interested.  This Signor Baroni who is training your
voice--he is the finest teacher in the world.  You must have a very
beautiful voice for him to have accepted you as a pupil."  There was a
hint of surprise in his tones.

"Oh, no," she hastened to assure him modestly.  "I expect it was more
that I had the luck to catch him in a good mood that afternoon."

"And his moods vary considerably, don't they?" he said, smiling as though
at some personal recollection.

"Oh, do you know him?" asked Diana eagerly.

In an instant his face became a blank mask; it was as though a shutter
had descended, blotting out all its vivacious interest.

"I have met him," he responded briefly.  Then, turning the subject
adroitly, he went on: "So now you are on your way home for a well-earned
holiday?  Your people must be looking forward to seeing you after so long
a time--you have been away a year, didn't you say?"

"Yes, I spent the other two vacations abroad, in Italy, for the sake of
acquiring the language.  Signor Baroni"--laughingly--"was horror-stricken
at my Italian, so he insisted.  But I have no people--not really, you
know," she continued.  "I live with my guardian and his daughter.  Both
my parents died when I was quite young."

"You are not very old now," he interjected.

"I'm eighteen," she answered seriously.

"It's a great age," he acknowledged, with equal gravity.

Just then a waiter sped forward and with praiseworthy agility deposited
their coffee on the table without spilling a drop, despite the swaying of
the train, and Diana's fellow-traveller produced his cigarette-case.

"Will you smoke?" he asked.

She looked at the cigarettes longingly.

"Baroni's forbidden me to smoke," she said, hesitating a little.  "Do you
think--just one--would hurt my voice?"

The short black lashes flew up, and the light-grey eyes, like a couple of
stars between black clouds, met his in irresistible appeal.

"I'm sure it wouldn't," he replied promptly.  "After all, this is just an
hour's playtime that we have snatched out of life.  Let's enjoy every
minute of it--we may never meet again."

Diana felt her heart contract in a most unexpected fashion.

"Oh, I hope we shall!" she exclaimed, with ingenuous warmth.

"It is not likely," he returned quietly.  He struck a match and held it
while she lit her cigarette, and for an instant their fingers touched.
His teeth came down hard on his under-lip.  "No, we mustn't meet again,"
he repeated in a low voice.

"Oh, well, you never know," insisted Diana, with cheerful optimism.
"People run up against each other in the most extraordinary fashion.  And
I expect we shall, too."

"I don't think so," he said.  "If I thought that we should--"  He broke
off abruptly, frowning.

"Why, I don't believe you _want_ to meet me again!" exclaimed Diana, with
a note in her voice like that of a hurt child.

"Oh, for that!" He shrugged his shoulders.  "If we could have what we
wanted in this world!  Though, I mustn't complain--I have had this hour.
And I wanted it!" he added, with a sudden intensity.

"So much that you propose to make it last you for the remainder of your
life?"--smiling.

"It will have to," he answered grimly.

After dinner they made their way back from the restaurant car to their
compartment, and noticing that she looked rather white and tired, he
suggested that she should tuck herself up on the seat and go to sleep.

"But supposing I didn't wake at the right time?" she objected.  "I might
be carried past my station and find myself heaven knows where in the
small hours of the morning! . . .  I _am_ sleepy, though."

"Let me be call-boy," he suggested.  "Where do you want to get out?"

"At Craiford Junction.  That's the station for Crailing, where I'm going.
Do you know it at all?  It's a tiny village in Devonshire; my guardian is
the Rector there."

"Crailing?"  An odd expression crossed his face and he hesitated a
moment.  At last, apparently coming to a decision of some kind, he said:
"Then I must wake you up when I go, as I'm getting out before that."

"Can I trust you?" she asked sleepily.

"Surely."

She had curled herself up on the seat with her feet stretched out in
front of her, one narrow foot resting lightly on the instep of the other,
and she looked up at him speculatively from between the double fringe of
her short black lashes.

"Yes, I believe I can," she acquiesced, with a little smile.

He tucked his travelling rug deftly round her, and, pulling on his
overcoat, went hack to his former corner, where he picked up the
neglected writing-pad and began scribbling in a rather desultory fashion.

Very soon her even breathing told him that she slept, and he laid aside
the pad and sat quietly watching her.  She looked very young and childish
as she lay there, with the faint shadows of fatigue beneath her closed
eyes--there was something appealing about her very helplessness.
Presently the rug slipped a little, and he saw her hand groping vaguely
for it.  Quietly he tiptoed across the compartment and drew it more
closely about her.

"Thank you--so much," she murmured drowsily, and the man looking down at
her caught his breath sharply betwixt his teeth.  Then, with an almost
imperceptible shrug of his shoulders, he stepped back and resumed his
seat.

The express sped on through the night, the little twin globes of light
high up in the carriage ceiling jumping and flickering as it swung along
the metals.

Down the track it flew like a living thing, a red glow marking its
passage as it cleft the darkness, its freight of human souls contentedly
sleeping, or smoking, or reading, as the fancy took them.  And half a
mile ahead on the permanent way, Death stood watching--watching and
waiting where, by some hideous accident of fate, a faulty coupling-rod
had snapped asunder in the process of shunting, leaving a solitary
coal-truck to slide slowly back into the shadows of the night, unseen,
the while its fellows were safely drawn on to a aiding.



CHAPTER III

AN ENCOUNTER WITH DEATH

One moment the even throbbing of the engine as the train slipped along
through the silence of the country-side--the next, and the silence was
split by a shattering roar and the shock of riven plates, the clash of
iron driven against iron, and of solid woodwork grinding and grating as
it splintered into wreckage.

Diana, suddenly--horribly--awake, found herself hurled from her seat.
Absolute darkness lapped her round; it was as though a thick black
curtain had descended, blotting out the whole world, while from behind
it, immeasurably hideous in that utter night, uprose an inferno of cries
and shrieks--the clamour of panic-stricken humanity.

Her hands, stretched stiffly out in front of her to ward off she knew not
what impending horror hidden by the dark, came in contact with the
framework of the window, and in an instant she was clinging to it,
pressing up against it with her body, her fingers gripping and clutching
at it as a rat, trapped in a well, claws madly at a projecting bit of
stonework.  It was at least something solid out of that awful void.

"What's happened?  What's happened?  What's happened?"

She was whispering the question over and over again in a queer,
whimpering voice without the remotest idea of what she was saying.  When
a stinging pain shot through her arm, as a jagged point of broken glass
bit into the flesh, and with a scream of utter, unreasoning terror she
let go her hold.

The next moment she felt herself grasped and held by a pair of arms, and
a voice spoke to her out of the darkness.

"Are you hurt? . . .  My God, are you hurt?"

With a sob of relief she realised that it was the voice of her
fellow-traveller.  He was here, close to her, something alive and human
in the midst of this nightmare of awful, unspeakable fear, and she clung
to him, shuddering.

"Speak, can't you?"  His utterance sounded hoarse and distorted.  "You're
hurt--?"  And she felt his hands slide searchingly along her limbs,
feeling and groping.

"No--no."

"Thank God!"  He spoke under his breath.  Then, giving her a shake:
"Come, pull yourself together.  We must get out of this."

He fumbled in his pocket and she heard the rattle of a matchbox, and an
instant later a flame spurted out in the gloom as he lit a bundle of
matches together.  In the brief illumination she could see the floor of
the compartment steeply tilted up and at its further end what looked like
a huge, black cavity.  The whole side of the carriage had been wrenched
away.

"Come on!" exclaimed the man, catching her by the hand and pulling her
forward towards that yawning space.  "We must jump for it.  It'll be a
big drop.  I'll catch you."

At the edge of the gulf he paused.  Below, with eyes grown accustomed to
the darkness, she could discern figures running to and fro, and lanterns
flashing, while shouts and cries rose piercingly above a continuous low
undertone of moaning.

"Stand here," he directed her.  "I'll let myself down, and when I call to
you--jump."

She caught at him frantically.

"Don't go--don't leave me."

He disengaged himself roughly from her clinging hands.

"It only wants a moment's pluck," he said, "and then you'll be safe."

The next minute he was over the side, hanging by his hands from the edge
of the bent and twisted flooring of the carriage, and a second afterwards
she heard him drop.  Peering out, she could see him standing on the
ground below, his arms held out towards her.

"Jump!" he called.

But she shrank from the drop into the darkness.

"I can't!" she sobbed helplessly.  "I can't!"

He approached a step nearer, and the light from some torch close at hand
flashed onto his uplifted face.  She could see it clearly, tense and set,
the blue eyes blazing.

"God in heaven!" he cried furiously.  "Do what I tell you.  _Jump_!"

The fierce, imperative command startled her into action, and she jumped
blindly, recklessly, out into the night.  There was one endless moment of
uncertainty, and then she felt herself caught by arms like steel and set
gently upon the ground.

"You little fool!" he said thickly.  He was breathing heavily as though
he had been running; she could feel his chest heave as, for an instant,
he held her pressed against him.

He released her almost immediately, and taking her by the arm, led her to
the embankment, where he stripped off his overcoat and wrapped it about
her.  But she was hardly conscious of what he was doing, for suddenly
everything seemed to be spinning round her.  The lights of the torches
bobbed up and down in a confused blur of twinkling stars, the sound of
voices and the trampling of feet came faintly to her ears as from a great
way off, while the grim, black bulk of the piled-up coaches of the train
seemed to lean nearer and nearer, until finally it swooped down on top of
her and she sank into a sea of impenetrable darkness.

The next thing she remembered was finding a flask held to her lips, while
a familiar voice commanded her to drink.  She shook her head feebly.

"Drink it at once," the voice insisted.  "Do you hear?"

And because her mind held some dim recollection of the futility of
gainsaying that peremptory voice, she opened her lips obediently and let
the strong spirit trickle down her throat.

"Better now?" queried the voice.

She nodded, and then, complete consciousness returning, she sat up.

"I'm all right now--really," she said.

The owner of the voice regarded her critically.

"Yes, I think you'll do now," he returned.  "Stay where you are.  I'm
going along to see if I can help, but I'll come back to you again."

The darkness swallowed him up, and Diana sat very still on the
embankment, vibrantly conscious in every nerve of her of the man's cool,
dominating personality.  Gradually her thoughts returned to the
happenings of the moment, and then the full horror of what had occurred
came back to her.  She began to cry weakly.  But the tears did her good,
bringing with them relief from the awful shock which had strained her
nerves almost to breaking-point, and with return to a more normal state
of mind came the instinctive wish to help--to do something for those who
must be suffering so pitiably in the midst of that scarred heap of
wreckage on the line.

She scrambled to her feet and made her way nearer to the mass of crumpled
coaches that reared up black against the shimmer of the starlit sky.  No
one took any notice of her; all who were unhurt were working to save and
help those who had been less fortunate, and every now and then some
broken wreck of humanity was carried past her, groaning horribly, or
still more horribly silent.

Suddenly a woman brushed against her--a young woman of the working
classes, her plump face sagging and mottled with terror, her eyes
staring, her clothes torn and dishevelled.

"My chiel, my li'l chiel!" she kept on muttering.  "Wur be 'ee?  Wur be
'ee?"

Reaching her through the dreadful strangeness of disaster, the soft Devon
dialect smote on Diana's ears with a sense of dear familiarity that was
almost painful.  She laid her hand on the woman's arm.

"What is it?" she asked.  "Have you lost your child?"

The woman looked at her vaguely, bewildered by the surrounding horror.

"Iss.  Us dunnaw wur er's tu; er's dade, I reckon.  Aw, my li'l, li'l
chiel!"  And she rocked to and fro, clutching her shawl more closely
round her.

Diana put a few brief questions and elicited that the woman and her child
had both been taken unhurt out of a third-class carriage--of the ten
souls who had occupied the compartment the only ones to escape injury.

"I'll go and look for him," she told her.  "I expect he has only strayed
away and lost sight of you amongst all these people.  Four years old and
wearing a little red coat, did you say?  I'll find him for you; you sit
down here."  And she pushed the poor distraught creature down on a pile
of shattered woodwork.  "Don't be frightened," she added reassuringly.
"I feel certain he's quite safe."

She disappeared into the throng, and after searching for a while came
face to face with her fellow traveller, carrying a chubby, red-coated
little boy in his arms.  He stopped abruptly.

"What in the world are you doing?" he demanded angrily.  "You've no
business here.  Go back--you'll only see some ghastly sights if you come,
and you can't help.  Why didn't you stay where I told you to?"

But Diana paid no heed.

"I want that child," she said eagerly, holding out her arms.  "The
mother's nearly out of her mind--she thinks he's killed, and I told her
I'd go and look for him."

"Is this the child? . . .  All right, then, I'll carry him along for you.
Where did you leave his mother?"

Diana led the way to where the woman was sitting, still rocking herself
to and fro in dumb misery.  At the sight of the child she leapt up and
clutched him in her arms, half crazy with joy and gratitude, and a few
sympathetic tears stole down Diana's cheeks as she and her fellow-helper
moved away, leaving the mother and child together.

The man beside her drew her arm brusquely within his.

"You're not going near that--that hell again.  Do you hear?" he said
harshly.

His face looked white and drawn; it was smeared with dirt, and his
clothes were torn and dishevelled.  Here and there his coat was stained
with dark, wet patches.  Diana shuddered a little, guessing what those
patches were.

"_You've_ been helping!" she burst out passionately.  "Did you want me to
sit still and do nothing while--while that is going on just below?"  And
she pointed to where the injured were being borne along on roughly
improvised stretchers.  A sob climbed to her throat and her voice shook
as she continued:  "I was safe, you see, thanks to you.  And--and I felt
I must go and help a little, if I could."

"Yes--I suppose you would feel that," he acknowledged, a sort of grudging
approval in his tones.  "But there's nothing more one can do now.  An
emergency train is coming soon and then we shall get away--those that are
left of us.  But what's this?"--he felt her sleeve--"Your arm is all
wet."  He pushed up the loose coat-sleeve and swung the light of his
lantern upon the thin silk of her blouse beneath it.  It was caked with
blood, while a trickle of red still oozed slowly from under the wristband
and ran down over her hand.

"You're hurt!  Why didn't you tell me?"

"It's nothing," she answered.  "I cut it against the glass of the
carriage window.  It doesn't hurt much."

"Let me look at it.  Here, take the lantern."

Diana obeyed, laughing a little nervously, and he turned back her sleeve,
exposing a nasty red gash on the slender arm.  It was only a surface
wound however, and hastily procuring some water he bathed it and tied it
up with his handkerchief.

"There, I think that'll be all right now," he said, pulling down her
sleeve once more and fastening the wristband with deft fingers.  "The
emergency train will be here directly, so I'm going back to our
compartment to pick up your belongings.  I can climb in, I fancy.  What
did you leave behind?"

Diana laughed.

"What a practical man you are!  Fancy thinking of such things as a
forgotten coat and a dressing-bag when we've just escaped with our lives!"

"Well, you may as well have them," he returned gruffly.  "Wait here."
And he disappeared into the darkness, returning presently with the
various odds and ends which she had left in the carriage.

Soon afterwards the emergency train came up, and those who could took
their places, whilst the injured were lifted by kindly, careful hands
into the ambulance compartment.  The train drew slowly away from the
scene of the accident, gradually gathering speed, and Diana, worn out
with strain and excitement, dozed fitfully to the rhythmic rumbling of
the wheels.

She woke with a start to find that the train was slowing down and her
companion gathering his belongings together preparatory to departure.
She sprang up and slipping off the overcoat she was still wearing, handed
it back to him.  He seemed reluctant to take it from her.

"Shall you be warm enough?" he asked doubtfully.

"Oh, yes.  It's only half-an-hour's run from here to Craiford Junction,
and there they'll meet me with plenty of wraps."  She hesitated a moment,
then went on shyly: "I can't thank you properly for all you've done."

"Don't," he said curtly.  "It was little enough.  But I'm glad I was
there."

The train came to a standstill, and she held out her hand.

"Good-bye," she said, very low.

He wrung her hand, and, releasing it abruptly, lifted his hat and
disappeared amid the throng of people on the platform.  And it was not
until the train had steamed out of the station again that she remembered
that she did not even know his name.

Very slowly she unknotted the handkerchief from about her arm, and laying
the blood-stained square of linen on her knee, proceeded to examine each
corner carefully.  In one of them she found the initials M.E., very
finely worked.



CHAPTER IV

CRAILING RECTORY

The early morning mist still lingered in the valleys and clung about
the river banks as the Reverend Alan Stair, returning from his
matutinal dip in the sea, swung up the lane and pushed open the door
giving access from it to the Rectory grounds.  The little wooden door,
painted green and overhung with ivy, was never bolted.  In the
primitive Devon village of Crailing such a precaution would have been
deemed entirely superfluous; indeed, the locking of the door would
probably have been regarded by the villagers as equivalent to a
reflection on their honesty, and should the passage of time ultimately
bring to the ancient rectory a fresh parson, obsessed by conventional
opinion concerning the uses of bolts and bars, it is probable that the
inhabitants of Crailing will manifest their disapproval in the simple
and direct fashion of the Devon rustic--by placidly boycotting the
church of their fathers and betaking themselves to the chapel round the
corner.  The little green door, innocent of lock and key, stood as a
symbol of the close ties that bound the rector and his flock together,
and woe betide the iconoclast who should venture to tamper with it.

The Rectory itself was a picturesque old house with latticed windows
and thatched roof; the climbing roses, which in summer clothed it in a
garment of crimson and pink and white, now shrouded its walls with a
network of brown stems and twigs tipped with emerald buds.  Beneath the
warmth of the morning sun the damp was steaming from the
weather-stained thatch in a cloud of pearly mist, while the starlings,
nesting under the overhanging eaves, broke into a harsh twittering of
alarm at the sound of the Rectory footsteps.

Alan Stair was a big, loose-limbed son of Anak, with little of the
conventional cleric in his appearance as he came striding across the
dewy lawn, clad in a disreputable old suit of grey tweeds and with his
bathing-towel slung around his shoulders.  His hands were thrust deep
into his pockets, and since he had characteristically omitted to
provide himself with a hat, his abundant brown hair was rumpled and
tossed by the wind, giving him an absurdly boyish air.

Arrived at the flagged path which ran the whole length of the house he
sent up a Jovian shout, loud enough to arouse the most confirmed of
sluggards from his slumbers, and one of the upper lattice windows flew
open in response.

"That you, Dad?" called a fresh young voice.

"Sounds like it, doesn't it?" he laughed back.  "Come down and give me
my breakfast.  There's a beautifully assorted smell of coffee and fried
bacon wafting out from the dining room, and I can't bear it any longer."

An unfeeling giggle from above was the only answer, and the Reverend
Alan made his way into the house, pausing to sling his bath-towel
picturesquely over one of the pegs of the hat-stand as he passed
through the hall.

He was incurably disorderly, and only the strenuous efforts of his
daughter Joan kept the habit within bounds.  Since the death of her
mother, nearly ten years ago, she had striven to fill her place and to
be to this lovable, grown-up boy who was her father all that his adored
young wife had been.  And so far as material matters were concerned,
she had succeeded.  She it was who usually found the MS. of his sermon
when, just as the bells were calling to service, he would come leaping
up the stairs, three at a time, to inform her tragically that it was
lost; she who saw to it that his meals were not forgotten in the
exigencies of his parish work, and who supervised his outward man to
the last detail--otherwise, in one of his frequent fits of
absent-mindedness, he would have been quite capable of presenting
himself at church in the identical grey tweeds he was now wearing.

Yet notwithstanding the irrepressible note of youth about him, which
called forth a species of "mothering" from every woman of his
acquaintance, Alan Stair was a man to whom people instinctively turned
for counsel.  A child in the material things of this world, he was a
giant in spiritual development--broad-minded and tolerant, his religion
spiced with a sense of humour and deepened by a sympathetic
understanding of frail human nature.  And it was to him that Ralph
Quentin, when on his death-bed, had confided the care of his motherless
little daughter, Diana, appointing him her sole guardian and trustee.

The two men had been friends from boyhood, and perhaps no one had
better understood than Ralph, who had earlier suffered a similar loss,
the terrible blank which the death of his wife had occasioned in
Stair's life.  The fellowship of suffering had drawn the two men
together in a way that nothing else could have done, so that when
Quentin made known his final wishes concerning his daughter, Alan Stair
had gladly accepted the charge laid upon him, and Diana, then a child
of ten, had made her permanent home at Crailing Rectory, speedily
coming to look upon her guardian as a beloved elder brother, and upon
his daughter, who was but two years her senior, as her greatest friend.

From the point of view of the Stairs themselves, the arrangement was
not without its material advantages.  Diana had inherited three hundred
a year of her own, and the sum she contributed to "cover the cost of
her upkeep," as she laughingly termed it when she was old enough to
understand financial matters, was a very welcome addition to the
slender resources provided by the value of the living.

But even had the circumstances been quite other than they were, so that
the fulfilment of Ralph Quentin's last behest, instead of being an
assistance to the household exchequer, had proved to be a drain upon
it, Alan Stair would have acted in precisely the same way--for the
simple reason that there was never any limit to his large conception of
the meaning of the word friendship and of its liabilities.

Diana had speedily carved for herself a niche of her own in the Rectory
household, so that when the exigencies of her musical training, as
viewed through Carlo Baroni's eyes, had necessitated her departure from
Crailing for a whole year, Stair and his daughter had felt her absence
keenly, and they welcomed her back with open arms.

The account of the railway accident which had attended her homeward
journey had filled them with anxiety lest she should suffer from the
effects of shock, and they had insisted that she should breakfast in
bed this first morning of her arrival, inclining to treat her rather as
though she were a semi-invalid.

"Have you been to see Diana?" asked Stair anxiously, as his daughter
joined him in the dining-room.

She shook her head.

"No need.  Diana's been in to see me!  There's no breakfast in bed
about her; she'll be down directly.  Even her arm doesn't pain her
much."

Stair laughed.

"What a girl it is!" he exclaimed.  "One would have expected her to
feel a bit shaken up after her experience yesterday."

"I fancy something else must have happened beside the railway
accident," observed Joan wisely.  "Something interesting enough to have
outweighed the shock of the smash-up.  She's in quite absurdly good
spirits for some unknown reason."

The Rector chuckled.

"Perhaps a gallant rescuer was added to the experience, eh?" he said.

"Perhaps so," replied his daughter, faintly smiling as she proceeded to
pour out the coffee.

Jean Stair was a typical English country girl, strictly tailor-made in
her appearance, with a predisposition towards stiff linen collars and
neat ties.  In figure she was slight almost to boyishness and she had
no pretensions whatever to good looks, but there was nevertheless
something frank and wholesome and sweet about her--something of the
charm of a nice boy--that counterbalanced her undeniable plainness.  As
she had once told Diana: "I'm not beautiful, so I'm obliged to be good.
You're not compelled, by the same necessity, and I may yet see you
sliding down the primrose path, whereas I shall inevitably end my days
in the odour of sanctity--probably a parish worker to some celibate
vicar!"

The Rector and Joan were half-way through their breakfast when a light
step sounded in the hall outside, and a minute later the door flew open
to admit Diana.

"Good morning, dear people," she exclaimed gaily.  "Am I late?  It
looks like it from the devastated appearance of the bacon dish.  Pobs,
you've eaten all the breakfast!"  And, she dropped, a light kiss on the
top of the Rector's head.  "Ugh!  Your hair's all wet with sea-water.
Why don't you dry yourself when you take a bath, Pobs dear?  I'll come
with you to-morrow--not to dry you, I mean, but just to bathe."

Stair surveyed her with a twinkle as he retrieved her plate of kidneys
and bacon from the hearth where it had been set down to keep hot.

"Diana, I regret to observe that your conversation lacks the flavour of
respectability demanded by your present circumstances," he remarked.
"I fear you'll never be an ornament to any clerical household."

"No.  _Pas mon métier_.  Respectability isn't in the least a _sine qua
non_ for a prima donna--far from it!"

Stair chuckled.

"To hear you talk, no one would imagine that in reality you were the
most conventional of prudes," he flung at her.

"Oh, but I'm growing out of it," she returned hopefully.  "Yesterday,
for instance, I palled up with a perfectly strange young man.  We
conversed together as though we had known each other all our lives,
shared the same table for dinner--"

"You didn't?" broke in Joan, a trifle shocked.

Diana nodded serenely.

"Indeed I did.  And what was the reward of my misdeeds?  Why, there he
was at hand to save me when the smash came!"

"Who was he?" asked Joan curiously.  "Any one from this part of the
world?"

"I haven't the faintest idea," replied Diana.  "I actually never
inquired to whom I was indebted for my life and the various other
trifles which he rescued for me from the wreck of our compartment.  The
only clue I have is the handkerchief he bound round my arm.  It's very
bluggy and it's marked M.E."

"M.E.," repeated the Rector.  "Well, there must be plenty of M.E.'s in
the world.  Did he get out at Craiford?"

"He didn't," said Diana.  "No; at present he is 'wropt in mist'ry,' but
I feel sure we shall run up against each other again.  I told him so."

"Did you, indeed?" Stair laughed.  "And was he pleased at the prospect?"

"Well, frankly, Pobs, I can't say he seemed enraptured.  On the
contrary, he appeared to regard it in the light of a highly improbable
and quite undesirable contingency."

"He must be lacking in appreciation," murmured Stair mockingly,
pinching her cheek as he passed her on his way to select a pipe from
the array that adorned the chimney-piece.

"Are you going 'parishing' this morning?" inquired Diana, as she
watched him fill and light his pipe.

"Yes, I promised to visit Susan Gurney--she's laid up with rheumatism,
poor old soul."

"Then I'll drive you, shall I?  I suppose you've still got Tommy and
the ralli-cart?"

"Yes," replied Stair gravely.  "Notwithstanding diminishing tithes and
increasing taxes, Tommy is still left to us.  Apparently he thrives on
a penurious diet, for he is fatter than ever."

Accordingly, half an hour later, the two set out behind the fat pony on
a round of parochial visits.  Underneath the seat of the trap reposed
the numerous little packages of tea and tobacco with which the Rector,
whose hand was always in his pocket, rarely omitted to season his
visits to the sick among his parishioners.

"And why not?" he would say, when charged with pampering them by some
starchy member of his congregation who considered that parochial
visitation should be embellished solely by the delivery of appropriate
tracts.  "And why not pamper them a bit, poor souls?  A pipe of baccy
goes a long way towards taking your thoughts off a bad leg--as I found
out for myself when I was laid up with an attack of the gout my
maternal grandfather bequeathed me."

Whilst the Rector paid his visits, Diana waited outside the various
cottages, driving the pony-trap slowly up and down the road, and
stopping every now and again to exchange a few words with one or
another of the village folk as they passed.

She was frankly delighted to be home again, and was experiencing that
peculiar charm of the Devonshire village which lies in the fact that
you may go away from it for several years and return to find it almost
unchanged.  In the wilds of Devon affairs move leisurely, and such
changes as do occur creep in so gradually as to be almost
imperceptible.  No brand-new houses start into existence with
lightning-like rapidity, for the all-sufficient reason that in such
sparsely populated districts the enterprising builder would stand an
excellent chance of having his attractive villa residences left empty
on his hands.  No; new houses are built to order, if at all.  In the
same way, it is rare to find a fresh shop spring into being in a small
village, and should it happen, in all probability a year or two will
see the shutters up and the disgruntled proprietor departing in search
of pastures new.  For the villagers who have always dealt with the
local butcher, baker, and grocer, and whose fathers have probably dealt
with their fathers before them, are not easily to be cajoled into
transferring their custom--and certainly not to the establishment of
any one who has had the misfortune to be born outside the confines of
the county, and is therefore to be briefly summed up in the one damning
word "vurriner." [1]

So that Diana, returning to Crailing for a brief holiday after a year's
absence, found the tiny fishing village quite unchanged, and this fact
imparted an air almost of unreality to the twelve busy, eventful months
which had intervened.  She felt as if she had never been away, as
though the Diana Quentin who had been living in London and studying
singing under the greatest master of the day were some one quite apart
from the girl who had passed so many quiet, happy years at Crailing
Rectory.

The new and unaccustomed student's life, the two golden visits which
she had paid to Italy, the introduction into a milieu of clever, gifted
people all struggling to make the most of their talents, had been such
an immense change from the placid, humdrum existence which had preceded
it, that it still held for her an almost dreamlike charm of novelty,
and this was intensified at the present moment by her return to
Crailing to find everything going on just in the same old way,
precisely as though there had been no break at all.

As though to convince herself that the student life in London was a
substantial reality, and not a mere figment of the imagination, she
hummed a few bars of a song, and as she listened to the deep, rich
notes of her voice, poised with that sureness which only comes of
first-class training, she smiled a little, reflecting that if nothing
else had changed, here at least was a palpable outcome of that
dreamlike year.

"Bravo!"  The Rector's cheery tones broke in upon her thoughts as he
came out from a neighbouring gateway and swung himself up into the trap
beside her.  "Di, I've got to hear that voice before long.  What does
Signor Baroni say about it?"

"Oh, I think he's quite pleased," she answered, whipping up the fat
pony, who responded reluctantly.  "But he's a fearful martinet.  He
nearly frightens me to death when he gets into one of his royal Italian
rages--though he's always particularly sweet afterwards!  Pobs, I
wonder who my man in the train was?" she added inconsequently.

The Rector looked at her narrowly.  He had wondered more than a little
why the shock of the railway accident had apparently affected her so
slightly, and although he had joked with Joan about some possible
"gallant rescuer" who might have diverted her thoughts he had really
attributed it partly to the youthful resiliency of Diana's nature, and
partly to the fact that when one has narrowly escaped a serious injury,
or death itself, the sense of relief is so intense as frequently to
overpower for the moment every other feeling.

But now he was thrown back on the gallant rescuer theory; obviously the
man, whoever he was, had impressed himself rather forcibly on Diana's
mind, and the Rector acknowledged that this was almost inevitable from
the circumstances in which they had been thrown together.

"You know," continued the girl, "I'm certain I've seen him before--the
day I first went to Baroni to have my voice tested.  It was in
Grellingham Place, and all my songs blew away up the street, and I'm
positive M.E. was the man who rescued them for me."

"Rescuing seems to be his hobby," commented the Rector dryly.  "Did you
remind him that you had met before?"

"Yes, and he wouldn't recollect it."

"_Wouldn't_?"

"No, wouldn't.  I have a distinct feeling that he did remember all
about it, and did recognise me again, but he wouldn't acknowledge it
and politely assured me I must be mistaken."

The Rector smiled.

"Perhaps he has a prejudice against making the promiscuous acquaintance
of beautiful young women in trains."

Diana sniffed.

"Oh, well, if he didn't think I was good enough to know--"  She
paused.  "He _had_ rather a superior way with him, a sort of
independent, lordly manner, as though no one had a right to question
anything he chose to do.  And he was in a first-class reserved
compartment too."

"Oh, was he?  And did you force your way into his reserved compartment,
may I ask?"

Diana giggled.

"I didn't force my way into it; I was pitchforked in by a porter.  The
train was packed, and I was late.  Of course I offered to go and find
another seat, but there wasn't one anywhere."

"So the young man yielded to _force majeure_ and allowed you to travel
with him?" said the Rector, adding seriously: "I'm very thankful he
did.  To think of you--alone--in that awful smash! . . .  This
morning's paper says there were forty people killed."

Diana gave a little nervous shiver, and then quite suddenly began to
cry.

Stair quietly took the reins from her hand, and patted her shoulder,
but he made no effort to check her tears.  He had felt worried all
morning by her curious detachment concerning the accident; it was
unnatural, and he feared that later on the shock which she must have
received might reveal itself in some abnormal nervousness regarding
railway travelling.  These tears would bring relief, and he welcomed
them, allowing her to cry, comfortably leaning against his shoulder, as
the pony meandered up the hilly lane which led to the Rectory.

At the gates they both descended from the trap, and Stair was preparing
to lead the pony into the stable-yard when Diana suddenly flung her
arms round him, kissing him impulsively.

"Oh, Pobs, dear," she said half-laughing, half-crying.  "You're such a
darling--you always understand everything.  I feel heaps better now,
thank you."


[1] Anglice: foreigner.



CHAPTER V

THE SECOND MEETING

Diana threw hack the bedclothes and thrust an extremely pretty but
reluctant foot over the edge of the bed.  She did not experience in the
least that sensation of exhilaration with which the idea of getting up
invariably seems to inspire the heroine of a novel, prompting her to
spring lightly from her couch and trip across to the window to see what
sort of weather the author has provided.  On the contrary, she was
sorely tempted to snuggle down again amongst the pillows, but the
knowledge that it wanted only half an hour to breakfast-time exercised
a deterrent influence and she made her way with all haste to the
bath-room, somewhat shamefully pleased to reflect that, being Easter
Sunday, Pobs would be officiating at the early service, so that she
would escape the long trudge down to the sea with him for their usual
morning swim.

By the time she had bathed and dressed, however, she felt better able
to face the day with a cheerful spirit, and the sun, streaming in
through the diamond panes of her window, added a last vivifying touch
and finally sent her downstairs on the best of terms with herself and
the world at large.

There was no one about, as Joan had accompanied her father to church,
so Diana sauntered out on to the flagged path and paced idly up and
down, waiting for their return.  The square, grey tower of the church,
hardly more than a stone's throw distant from the Rectory, was visible
through a gap in the trees where a short cut, known as the "church
path" wound its way through the copse that hedged the garden.  It was
an ancient little church, boasting a very beautiful thirteenth century
window, which, in a Philistine past, had been built up and rough-cast
outside, and had only been discovered in the course of some repairs
that were being made to one of the walls.  The inhabitants of Crailing
were very proud of that thirteenth century window when it was
disinterred; they had a proprietary feeling about it--since, after all,
it had really belonged to them for a little matter of seven centuries
or so, although they had been unaware of the fact.

Below the slope of the Rectory grounds the thatched roofs of the
village bobbed into view, some gleaming golden in all the pride of
recent thatching, others with their crown of straw mellowed by sun and
rain to a deeper colour and patched with clumps of moss, vividly green
as an emerald.

The village itself straggled down to the edge of the sea in untidy
fashion, its cob-walled cottages in some places huddling together as
though for company, in others standing far apart, with spaces of waste
land between them where you might often see the women sitting mending
the fishing nets and gossiping together as they worked.

Diana's eyes wandered affectionately over the picturesque little
houses; she loved every quaint, thatched roof among them, but more than
all she loved the glimpse of the sea that lay beyond them, pierced by
the bold headland of red sandstone, Culver Point, which thrust itself
into the blue of the water like an arm stretched out to shelter the
little village nestling in its curve from the storms of the Atlantic.

Presently she heard the distant click of a gate, and very soon the
Rector and Joan appeared, Stair with the dreaming, far-away expression
in his eyes of one who has been communing with the saints.

Diana went to meet them and slipped her arm confidingly through his.

"Come back to earth, Pobs, dear," she coaxed gaily.  "You look like
Moses might have done when he descended from the Mount."

The glory faded slowly out of his eyes.

"Come back to heaven, Di," he retorted a little sadly, "That's where
you came from, you know."

Diana shook her head.

"You did, I verily believe," she declared affectionately.  "But there's
only a very small slice of heaven in my composition, I'm afraid."

Stair looked down at her thoughtfully, at the clean line of the cheek
curving into the pointed, determined little chin, at the sensitive,
eager mouth, unconsciously sensuous in the lovely curve of its short
upper-lip, at the ardent, glowing eyes--the whole face vital with the
passionate demand of youth for the kingdoms of the earth.

"We've all got our share of heaven, my dear," he said at last, smiling
a little.  "But I'm thinking yours may need some hard chiselling of
fate to bring it into prominence."

Diana wriggled her shoulders.

"It doesn't sound nice, Pobs.  I don't in the least want to be
chiselled into shape, it reminds one too much of the dentist."

"The gentleman who chisels out decay?  You're exactly carrying out my
metaphor to its bitter end," returned Stair composedly.

"Oh, Joan, do stop him," exclaimed Diana appealingly.  "I'm going to
church this morning, and if he lectures me like this I shall have no
appetite left for spiritual things."

"I didn't know you ever had--much," replied Joan, laughing.

"Well, anyway, I've a thoroughly healthy appetite for my breakfast,"
said Diana, as they went into the dining-room.  "I'm feeling
particularly cheerful just this moment.  I have a presentiment that
something very delightful is going to happen to me to-day--though, to
be sure, Sunday isn't usually a day when exciting things occur."

"Dreams generally go by contraries," observed Joan sagely.  "And I
rather think the same applies to presentiments.  I know that whenever I
have felt a comfortable assurance that everything was going smoothly,
it has generally been followed by one of the servants giving notice, or
the bursting of the kitchen boiler, or something equally disagreeable."

Diana gurgled unfeelingly.

"Oh, those are merely the commonplaces of existence," she replied.  "I
was meaning"--waving her hand expansively--"big things."

"And when you've got your own house, my dear," retorted Joan, "you'll
find those commonplaces of existence assume alarmingly big proportions."

Soon after Stair had finished his after-breakfast pipe, the chiming of
the bells announced that it was time to prepare for church.  The
Rectory pew was situated close to the pulpit, at right angles to the
body of the church, and Diana and Joan took their places one at either
end of it.  As the former was wont to remark: "It's such a comfort when
there's no competition for the corner seats."

The organ had ceased playing, and the words "_Dearly beloved_" had
already fallen from the Rector's lips, when the churchdoor opened once
again to admit some late arrivals.  Instinctively Diana looked up from
her prayer-book, and, as her glance fell upon the newcomers, the pupils
of her eyes dilated until they looked almost black, while a wave of
colour rushed over her face, dyeing it scarlet from brow to throat.

Two ladies were coming up the aisle, the one bordering on middle age,
the other young and of uncommon beauty, but it was upon neither of
these that Diana's startled eyes were fixed.  Behind them, and
evidently of their party, came a tall, fair man whose supple length of
limb and very blue eyes sent a little thrill of recognition through her
veins.

It was her fellow-traveller of that memorable journey down from town!

She closed her eyes a moment.  Once again she could hear the horrifying
crash as the engine hurled itself against the track that blocked the
metals, feel the swift pall of darkness close about her, rife with a
thousand terrors, and then, out of that hideous night, the grip of
strong arms folded round her, and a voice, harsh with fear, beating
against her ears:

"Are you hurt? . . .  My God, are you hurt?"

When she opened her eyes again, the little party of three had taken
their places and were composedly following the service.  Apparently he
had not seen her, and Diana shrank a little closer into the friendly
shadow of the pulpit, feeling for the moment an odd, nervous fear of
encountering his eyes.

But she soon realised that she need not have been alarmed.  He was
evidently quite unaware of her proximity, for his glance never once
strayed in her direction, and, gradually gaining courage as she
appreciated this, Diana ventured to let her eyes turn frequently during
the service towards the pew where the newcomers were sitting.

That they were strangers to the neighbourhood she was sure; she had
certainly never seen either of the two women before.  The elder of the
two was a plump, round-faced little lady, with bright brown eyes, and
pretty, crinkly brown hair lightly powdered with grey.  She was very
fashionably dressed, and the careful detail of her toilet pointed to no
lack of means.  The younger woman, too, was exquisitely turned out, but
there was something so individual about her personality that it
dominated everything else, relegating her clothes to a very secondary
position.  As in the case of an unusually beautiful gem, it was the
jewel itself which impressed one, rather than the setting which framed
it round.

She was very fair, with quantities of pale golden hair rather
elaborately dressed, and her eyes were blue--not the keen, brilliant
blue of those of the man beside her, but a soft blue-grey, like the sky
on a misty summer's morning.

Her small, exquisite features were clean-cut as a cameo, and she
carried herself with a little touch of hauteur--an air of aloofness, as
it were.  There was nothing ungracious about it, but it was
unmistakably there--a slightly emphasised hint of personal dignity.

Diana regarded her with some perplexity; the girl's face was vaguely
familiar to her, yet at the same time she felt perfectly certain that
she had never seen her before.  She wondered whether she were any
relation to the man with her, but there was no particular resemblance
between the two, except that both were fair and bore themselves with a
certain subtle air of distinction that rather singled them out from
amongst their fellows.

In repose, Diana noticed, the man's face was grave almost to sternness,
and there was a slightly worn look about it as of one who had passed
through some fiery discipline of experience and had forced himself to
meet its demands.  The lines around the mouth, and the firm closing of
the lips, held a suggestion of suffering, but there was no rebellion in
the face, rather a look of inflexible endurance.

Diana wondered what lay behind that curiously controlled expression,
and the memory of certain words he had let fall during their journey
together suddenly recurred to her with a new significance attached to
them. . . .  "Just as though we had any too many pleasures in life!" he
had said.  And again: "Oh, for that!  If we could have what we wanted
in this world! . . ."

Uttered in his light, half-bantering tones, the bitter flavour of the
words had passed her by, but now, as she studied the rather stern set
of his features, they returned to her with fresh meaning and she felt
that their mocking philosophy was to a certain extent indicative of the
man's attitude towards life.

So absorbed was she in her thoughts that the stir and rustle of the
congregation issuing from their seats at the conclusion of the service
came upon her in the light of a surprise; she had not realised that the
service--in which she had been taking a reprehensible perfunctory
part--had drawn to its close, and she almost jumped when Joan nudged
her unobtrusively and whispered:--

"Come along.  I believe you're half asleep."

She shook her head, smiling, and gathering up her gloves and
prayer-book, she followed Joan down the aisle and out into the
churchyard where people were standing about in little groups,
exchanging the time of day with that air of a renewal of interest in
worldly topics which synchronises with the end of Lent.

The Rector had not yet appeared, and as Joan was chatting with Mrs.
Mowbray, the local doctor's wife, Diana, who had an intense dislike for
Mrs. Mowbray and all her works--there were six of the latter, ranging
from a lanky girl of twelve to a fat baby still in the perambulator
stage--made her way out of the churchyard and stood waiting by the
beautiful old lichgate, which, equally with the thirteenth century
window, was a source of pride and satisfaction to the good folk of
Crailing.

A big limousine had pulled up beside the footpath, and an immaculate
footman was standing by its open door, rug in hand.  Diana wondered
idly whose car it could be, and it occurred to her that very probably
it belonged to the strangers who had attended the service that morning.

A minute later her assumption was confirmed, as the middle-aged lady,
followed by the young, pretty one, came quickly through the lichgate
and entered the car.  The footman hesitated, still holding the door
open, and the elder lady leaned forward to say:--

"It's all right, Baker.  Mr. Errington is walking back."

Errington!  So that was his name--that was what the E. on the
handkerchief stood for!  Diana thought she could hazard a reasonable
guess as to why he had elected to walk home.  He must have caught sight
of her in church, after all, and it was but natural that, after the
experience they had passed through together, he should wish to renew
his acquaintance with her.  When two people have been as near to death
in company as they had been, it can hardly be expected that they will
regard each other in the light of total strangers should they chance to
meet again.

Hidden from his sight by an intervening yew tree, she watched him
coming down the church path, conscious of a somewhat pleasurable sense
of anticipation, and when he had passed under the lichgate and, turning
to the left, came face to face with her, she bowed and smiled, holding
out her hand.

To her utter amazement he looked at her without the faintest sign of
recognition on his face, pausing only for the fraction of a second as a
man may when some stranger claims his acquaintance by mistake; then
with a murmured "Pardon!" he raised his hat slightly and passed on.

Diana's hand dropped slowly to her side.  She felt stunned.  The thing
seemed incredible.  Less than a week ago she and this man had travelled
companionably together in the train, dined at the same table, and
together shared the same dreadful menace which had brought death very
close to both of them, and now he passed her by with the cool stare of
an utter stranger!  If he had knocked her down she would hardly have
been more astonished.

Moreover, it was not as though her companionship had been forced upon
him in the train; he had deliberately sought it.  Two people can travel
side by side without advancing a single hairsbreadth towards
acquaintance if they choose.  But he had not so chosen--most assuredly
he had not.  He had quietly, with a charmingly persuasive insistence,
broken through the conventions of custom, and had subsequently proved
himself as considerate and as thoughtful for her comfort as any actual
friend could have been.  More than that, in those moments of tense
excitement, immediately after the collision had occurred, she could
have sworn that real feeling, genuine concern for her safety, had
vibrated in his voice.

And now, just as deliberately, just as composedly as he had begun the
acquaintance, so he had closed it.

Diana's cheeks burned with shame.  She felt humiliated.  Evidently he
had regarded her merely as some one with whom it might he agreeable to
idle away the tedium of a journey--but that was all.  It was obviously
his intention that that should be the beginning and the end of it.

In a dream she crossed the road and, opening the gate that admitted to
the "church path," made her way home alone.  She felt she must have a
few minutes to herself before she faced the Rector and Joan at the
Rectory mid-day dinner.  Fortunately, they were both in ignorance of
this amazing, stupefying fact that her fellow-traveller--the "gallant
rescuer" about whom Pobs had so joyously chaffed her--had signified in
the most unmistakable fashion that he wanted nothing more to do with
her, and by the time the dinner-bell sounded, Diana had herself well in
hand--so well that she was even able to ask in tones of quite casual
interest if any one knew who were the strangers in church that morning?

"Yes, Mowbray told me," replied the Rector.  "They are the new people
who have taken Red Gables--that pretty little place on the Woodway
Road.  The girl is Adrienne de Gervais, the actress, and the elderly
lady is a Mrs. Adams, her chaperon."

"Oh, then that's why her face seemed so familiar!" exclaimed Diana, a
light breaking in upon her.  "I mean Miss de Gervais'--not the
chaperon's.  Of course I must have seen her picture in the illustrated
papers dozens of times."

"And the man who was with them is Max Errington, who writes nearly all
the plays in which she takes part," chimed in Joan.  "He's supposed to
be in love with her.  That piece of information I acquired from Mrs.
Mowbray."

"I detest Mrs. Mowbray," said Diana, with sudden viciousness.  "She's
the sort of person who has nothing whatever to talk about and spends
hours doing it."

The others laughed.

"She's rather a gas-bag, I must admit," acknowledged Stair.  "But, you
know, a country doctor's wife is usually the emporium for all the local
gossip.  It's expected of her."

"Then I'm sure Mrs. Mowbray will never disappoint any one.  She fully
comes up to expectations," observed Diana grimly.

"I suppose we shall have to call on these new people at Red Gables,
Dad?" asked Joan, after a brief interval.

Diana bent her head suddenly over her plate to hide the scarlet flush
which flew into her cheeks at the suggestion.  She would _not_ call
upon them--a thousand times no!  Max Errington had shown her very
distinctly in what estimation he held the honour of her friendship, and
he should never have the chance of believing she had tried to thrust it
on him.

"Well"--the Rector was replying leisurely to Joan's inquiry--"I
understand they are only going to be at Red Gables now and then--when
Miss de Gervais wants a rest from her professional work, I expect.  But
still, as they have come to our church and are strangers in the
district, it would perhaps be neighbourly to call, wouldn't it?"

"Can't you call on them, Pobs?" suggested Diana, "A sort of 'rectorial'
visit, you know.  That would surely be sufficient."

The Sector hesitated.

"I don't know about that, Di.  Don't you think it would look rather
unfriendly on the part of you girls?  Rather snubby, eh?"

That was precisely what Diana, had thought, and the reflection had
afforded her no small satisfaction.  She wanted to hit back--and hit
hard--and now Pobs' kindly, hospitable nature was unconsciously putting
the brake on the wheel of retribution.

She shrugged her shoulders with an air of indifference.

"Oh, well, you and Joan can call.  I don't think actresses, and authors
who love them and write plays for them, are much in my line," she
replied distantly.

It would seem as though Joan's dictum that presentiments, like dreams,
go by contraries, had been founded upon the rock of experience, for, in
truth, Diana's premonition that something delightful was about to
happen to her had been fulfilled in a sorry fashion.



CHAPTER VI

THE AFTERMATH OF AN ADVENTURE

Diana awoke with a start.  Before sleep had overtaken her she had been
lying on a shallow slope of sand, leaning against a rock, with her elbow
resting on its flat surface and her book propped up in front of her.
Gradually the rhythmic rise and fall of the waves on the shore had lulled
her into slumber--the _plop_ as they broke in eddies of creaming foam,
and then the sibilant _hush-sh-sh_--like a long-drawn sigh--as the water
receded only to gather itself afresh into a crested billow.

Scarcely more than half awake she sat up and stared about her, dreamily
wondering how she came to be there.  She felt very stiff, and the arm on
which she had been leaning ached horribly.  She rubbed it a little, dully
conscious of the pain, and as the blood began to course through the veins
again, the sharp, pricking sensation commonly known as "pins and needles"
aroused her effectually, and she recollected that she had walked out to
Culver Point and established herself in one of the numerous little bays
that fringed the foot of the great red cliff, intending to spend a
pleasant afternoon in company with a new novel.  And then the Dustman
(idling about until his duties proper should commence in the evening) had
come by and touched her eyelids and she had fallen fast asleep.

But she was thoroughly wide awake now, and she looked round her with a
rather startled expression, realising that she must have slept for some
considerable time, for the sun, which had been high in the heavens, had
already dipped towards the horizon and was shedding a rosy track of light
across the surface of the water.  The tide, too, had come up a long way
since she had dozed off into slumber, and waves were now breaking only a
few yards distant from her feet.

She cast a hasty glance to right and left, where the arms of the little
cove stretched out to meet the sea, strewn with big boulders clothed in
shell and seaweed.  But there were no rocks to be seen.  The grey water
was lapping lazily against the surface of the cliff itself and she was
cut off on either side.

For a minute or so her heart beat unpleasantly fast; then, with a quick
sense of relief, she recollected that only at spring tides was the little
bay where she stood entirely under water.  There was no danger, she
reflected, but nevertheless her position was decidedly unenviable.  It
was not yet high tide, so it would be some hours at least before she
would be able to make her way home, and meanwhile the sun was sinking
fast, it was growing unpleasantly cold, and she was decidedly hungry.  In
the course of another hour or two she would probably be hungrier still,
but with no nearer prospect of dinner, while the Rector and Joan would be
consumed with anxiety as to what had become of her.

Anxiously she scanned the sea, hoping she might sight some homing
fishing-boat which she could hail, but no welcome red or brown sail broke
the monotonous grey waste of water, and in hopes of warming herself a
little she began to walk briskly up and down the little beach still
keeping a sharp look-out at sea for any passing boat.

An interminable hour crawled by.  The sun dipped a little lower, flinging
long streamers of scarlet and gold across the sea.  Far in the blue vault
of the sky a single star twinkled into view, while a little sighing
breeze arose and whispered of coming night.

Diana shivered in her thin blouse.  She had brought no coat with her,
and, now that the mist was rising, she felt chilled to the bone, and she
heartily anathematised her carelessness for getting into such a scrape.

And then, all at once, across the water came the welcome sound of a human
voice:--

"Ahoy!  Ahoy there!"

A small brown boat and the figure of the man in it, resting on his oars,
showed sharply etched against the background of the sunset sky.

Diana waved her handkerchief wildly and the man waved back, promptly
setting the boat with her nose towards the chore and sculling with long,
rhythmic strokes that speedily lessened the distance between him and the
eager figure waiting at the water's edge.

As he drew nearer, Diana was struck by something oddly familiar in his
appearance, and when he glanced back over his shoulder to gauge his
distance from the shore, she recognised with a sudden shocked sense of
dismay that the man in the boat was none other than Max Errington!

She retreated a few steps hastily, and stood, waiting, tense with misery
and discomfort.  Had it still been possible she would have signalled to
him to go on and leave her; the bare thought of being indebted to him--to
this man who had coolly cut her in the street--for escape from her
present predicament filled her with helpless rage.

But it was too late.  Errington gave a final pull, shipped his oars, and,
as the boat rode in on the top of a wave, leaped out on the shore and
beached her safely.  Then he turned and strode towards Diana, his face
wearing just that same concerned, half-angry look that it had done when
he found her, shortly after the railway collision, trying to help the
woman who had lost her child.

"What in the name of heaven and earth are you doing here?" he demanded
brusquely.

Apparently he had entirely forgotten the more recent episode of Easter
Sunday and was prepared to scold her roundly, exactly as he had done on
that same former occasion.  The humour of the situation suddenly caught
hold of Diana, and for the moment she, too, forgot that she had reason to
be bitterly offended with this man.

"Waiting for you to rescue me--as usual," she retorted frivolously.  "You
seem to be making quite a habit of it."

He smiled grimly.

"I'm making a virtue of necessity," he flung back at her.  "What on earth
do your people mean by letting you roam about by yourself like this?
You're not fit to be alone!  As though a railway accident weren't
sufficient excitement for any average woman, you must needs try to drown
yourself.  Are you so particularly anxious to get quit of this world?"

"Drown myself?" she returned scornfully.  "How could I--when the sea
doesn't come up within a dozen yards of the cliff except at spring tide?"

"And I suppose it hadn't occurred to you that this is a spring tide?" he
said drily.  "In another hour or so there'll be six feet of water where
we're standing now."

The abrupt realisation that once again she had escaped death by so narrow
a margin shook her for a moment, and she swayed a little where she stood,
while her face went suddenly very white.

In an instant his arm was round her, supporting her.  "I oughtn't to have
told you," he said hastily.  "Forgive me.  You're tired--and, merciful
heavens! child, you're half-frozen.  Your teeth are chattering with cold."

He stripped off his coat and made as though to help her on with it.

"No--no," she protested.  "I shall be quite warm directly.  Please put on
your coat again."

He shook his head, smiling down at her, and taking first one of her arms,
and then the other, he thrust them into the empty sleeves, putting the
coat on her as one would dress a child.

"I'm used to having my own way," he observed coolly, as he proceeded to
button it round her.

"But you?--" she faltered, looking at the thin silk of his shirt.

"I'm not a lady with a beautiful voice that must be taken care of.  What
would Signor Baroni say to this afternoon's exploit?"

"Oh, then you haven't forgotten?" Diana asked curiously.

The intensely blue eyes swept over her face.

"No," he replied shortly, "I haven't forgotten."

In silence he helped her into the boat, and she sat quietly in the stern
as he bent to his oars and sent the little skiff speeding homewards
towards the harbour.

She felt strangely content.  The fact that he had deliberately refused to
recognise her seemed a matter of very small moment now that he had spoken
to her again--scolding her and enforcing her obedience to his wishes in
that oddly masterful way of his, which yet had something of a possessive
tenderness about it that appealed irresistibly to the woman in her.

Arrived at the quay of the little harbour, he helped her up the steps,
slimy with weed and worn by the ceaseless lapping of the water, and the
firm clasp of his hand on hers conveyed a curious sense of security,
extending beyond just the mere safety of the moment.  She had a feeling
that there was something immutably strong and sure about this man--a
calm, steadfast self-reliance to which one could unhesitatingly trust.

His voice broke in abruptly on her thoughts.

"My car's waiting at the quayside," he said.  "I shall drive you back to
the Rectory."

Diana assented--not, as she thought to herself with a somewhat wry smile,
that it would have made the very slightest difference had she refused
point-blank.  Since he had decided that she was to travel in his car,
travel in it she would, willy-nilly.  But as a matter of fact, she was so
tired that she was only too thankful to sink back on to the soft,
luxurious cushions of the big limousine.

Errington tucked the rugs carefully round her, substituting one of them
for the coat she was wearing, spoke a few words to the chauffeur, and
then seated himself opposite her.

Diana thought the car seemed to be travelling rather slowly as it began
the steep ascent from the harbour to the Rectory.  Possibly the chauffeur
who had taken his master's instructions might have thrown some light on
the subject had he so chosen.

"Quite warm now?" queried Errington.

Diana snuggled luxuriously into her corner.

"Quite, thanks," she replied.  "You're rapidly qualifying as a good
Samaritan _par excellence_, thanks to the constant opportunities I afford
you."

He laughed shortly and relapsed into silence, leaning his elbow on the
cushioned ledge beside him and shading his face with his hand.  Beneath
its shelter, the keen blue eyes stared at the girl opposite with an odd,
thwarted expression in their depths.

Presently Diana spoke again, a tinge of irony in her tones.

"And--after this--when next we meet . . . are you going to cut me again?
. . .  It must have been very tiresome for you, that an unkind fate
insisted on your making my closer acquaintance."

He dropped his hand suddenly.

"Oh, forgive me!" he exclaimed, with a quick gesture of deprecation.
"It--it was unpardonable of me . . ."  His voice vibrated with some
strong emotion, and Diana regarded him curiously.

"Then you meant it?" she said slowly.  "It was deliberate?"

He bent his head affirmatively.

"Yes," he replied.  "I suppose you think it unforgivable.  And yet--and
yet it would have been better so."

"Better?  But why?  I'm generally"--dimpling a little--"considered rather
nice."

"'Rather nice'?" he repeated, in a peculiar tone.  "Oh, yes--that does
not surprise me."

"And some day," she continued gaily, "although I'm nobody just now, I may
become a really famous person--and then you might be quite happy to know
me!"

Her eyes danced with mirth as she rallied him.

He looked at her strangely.

"No--it can never bring me happiness. . . _Ah, mais jamais_!" he added,
with sudden passion.

Diana was startled.

"It--it was horrid of you to cut me," she said in a troubled voice.

"My punishment lies in your hands," he returned.  "When I leave you at
the Rectory--after to-day--you can end our acquaintance if you choose.
And I suppose--you, _will_ choose.  It would be contrary to human nature
to throw away such an excellent opportunity for retaliation--feminine
human nature, anyway."

He spoke with a kind of half-savage raillery, and Diana winced under it.
His moods changed so rapidly that she was bewildered.  At one moment
there would be an exquisite gentleness in his manner when he spoke to
her, at the next a contemptuous irony that cut like a whip.

"Would it be--a punishment?" she asked at last.

He checked a sudden movement towards her.

"What do you suppose?" he said quietly.

"I don't know what to think.  If it would be a punishment, why were you
so anxious to take it out of my hands?  It was you who ended our
acquaintance on Sunday, remember."

"Yes, I know.  Twice I've closed the door between us, and twice fate has
seen fit to open it again."

"Twice? . . .  Then--then it _was_ you--in Grellingham Place that day?"

"Yes," he acknowledged simply.

Diana bent her head to hide the small, secret smile that carved her lips.

At last, after a pause--

"But why--why do you not want to know me?" she asked wonderingly.

"Not want to?" he muttered below his breath.  "God in heaven!  _Not want
to_!"  His hand moved restlessly.  After a minute he answered her,
speaking very gently.

"Because I think you were born to stand in the sunshine.  Some of us
stand always in the shadow; it creeps about our feet, following us
wherever we go.  And I would not darken the sunlit places of your life
with the shadow that clings to mine."

There was an undercurrent of deep sadness in his tones.

"Can't you--can't you banish the shadow?" faltered Diana.  A sense of
tragedy oppressed her.  "Life is surely made for happiness," she added, a
little wistfully.

"Your life, I hope." He smiled across at her.  "So don't let us talk any
more about the shadow.  Only"--gently--"if I came nearer to you--the
shadow might engulf you, too."  He paused, then continued more lightly:
"But if you'll forgive my barbarous incivility of Sunday,
perhaps--perhaps I may be allowed to stand just on the outskirts of your
life--watch you pass by on your road to fame, and toss a flower at your
feet when all the world and his wife are crowding to hear the new _prima
donna_."  He had dropped back into the vein of light, ironical mockery
which Diana was learning to recognise as characteristic of the man.  It
was like the rapier play of a skilled duellist, his weapon flashing
hither and thither, parrying every thrust of his opponent, and with
consummate ease keeping him ever at a distance.

"I wonder"--he regarded her with an expression of amused curiosity--"I
wonder whether you would stoop to pick up my flower if I threw one?  But,
no"--he answered his own question hastily, giving her no time to
reply--"you would push it contemptuously aside with the point of your
little white slipper, and say to your crowd of admirers standing around
you: 'That flower is the gift of a man--a rough boor of a man--who was
atrociously rude to me once.  I don't even value it enough to pick it
up.'  Whereupon every one--quite rightly, too!--would cry shame on the
man who had dared to insult so charming a lady--probably adding that if
bad luck befell him it would be no more than he deserved! . . .  And I've
no doubt he'll get his desserts," he added carelessly.

Diana felt the tears very near her eyes and her lip quivered..  This man
had the power of hurting her--wounding her to the quick--with his bitter
raillery.

When she spoke again her voice shook a little.

"You are wrong," she said, "quite wrong.  I should pick up the flower
and"--steadily--"I should keep it, because it was thrown to me by a man
who had twice done me the greatest service in his power."

Once again he checked, as if by sheer force of will, a sudden eager
movement towards her.

"Would you?" he said quickly.  "Would you do that?  But you would be
mistaken; I should be gaining your kindness under false pretences.  The
greatest service in my power would be for me to go away and never see you
again. . . .  And, I can't do that--now," he added, his voice vibrating
oddly.

His eyes held her, and at the sound of that sudden note of passion in his
tone she felt some new, indefinable emotion stir within her that was half
pain, half pleasure.  Her eyelids closed, and she stretched out her hands
a little gropingly, almost as if she were trying to ward away something
that threatened her.

There was appeal in the gesture--a pathetic, half-childish appeal, as
though the shy, virginal youth of her sensed the distant tumult of
awakening passion and would fain delay its coming.

She was just a frank, whole-hearted girl, knowing nothing of love and its
strange, inevitable claim, but deep within her spoke that instinct,
premonition--call it what you will--which seems in some mysterious way to
warn every woman when the great miracle of love is drawing near.  It is
as though Love's shadow fell across her heart and she were afraid to turn
and face him--shrinking with the terror of a trapped wild thing from
meeting his imperious demand.

Errington, watching her, saw the childish gesture, the quiver of her
mouth, the soft fall of the shadowed lids, and with a swift, impetuous
movement he leaned forward and caught her by the arms, pulling her
towards him.  Instinctively she resisted, struggling in his grip, her
eyes, wide and startled, gazing into his.

"_Diana_!"

The word seemed wrung from him, and as though something within her
answered to its note of urgency, she suddenly yielded, stumbling forward
on to her knees.  His arms closed round her, holding her as in a vice,
and she lay there, helpless in his grasp, her head thrown back a little,
her young, slight breast fluttering beneath the thin silk of her blouse.

For a moment he held her so, staring down, at her, his breath hard-drawn
between his teeth; then swiftly, with a stifled exclamation he stooped
his head, kissing her savagely, bruising, crushing her lips beneath his
own.

She felt her strength going from her--it seemed as though he were drawing
her soul out from her body--and then, just as sheer consciousness itself
was wavering, he took his mouth from hers, and she could see his face,
white and strained, bent above her.

She leaned away from him, panting a little, her shoulders against the
side of the car.

"God!" she heard him mutter.

For a space the throb of the motor was the only sound that broke the
stillness, but presently, after what seemed an eternity, he raised her
from the floor, where she still knelt inertly, and set her on the seat
again.  She submitted passively.

When he had resumed his place, he spoke in dry, level tones.

"I suppose I'm damned beyond forgiveness after this?"

She made no answer.  She was listening with a curious fascination to the
throb of her heart and the measured beat of the engine; the two seemed to
meet and mingle into one great pulse, thundering against her tired brain.

"Diana"--he spoke again, still in the same toneless voice--"am I to be
forbidden even the outskirts of your life now?"

She moved her head restlessly.

"I don't know--oh, I don't know," she whispered.

She was utterly spent and exhausted.  Unconsciously every nerve in her
had responded to the fierce passion of that suffocating kiss, and now
that the tense moment was over she felt drained of all vitality.  Her
head drooped listlessly against the cushions of the car and dark shadows
stained her cheeks beneath the wide-opened eyes--eyes that held the
startled, frightened expression of one who has heard for the first time
the beat of Passion's wings.

Gradually, as Errington watched her, the strained look left his face and
was replaced by one of infinite solicitude.  She looked so young as she
lay there, huddled against the cushions--hardly more than a child--and he
knew what that mad moment had done for her.  It had wakened the woman
within her.  He cursed himself softly.

"Diana," he said, leaning forward.  "For God's sake, say you forgive me,
child."

The deep pain in his voice pierced through her dulled, senses.

"Why--why did you do it?" she asked tremulously.

"I did it--oh, because for the moment I forgot that I'm a man barred out
from all that makes life worth living! . . .  I forgot about the shadow,
Diana. . . .  You--made me forget."

He spoke with concentrated bitterness, adding mockingly:--

"After all, there's a great deal to be said in favour of the Turkish
yashmak.  It at least removes temptation."

Diana's hand flew to her lips--they burned still at the memory of those
kisses--and he smiled ironically at the instinctive gesture.

"I hate you!" she said suddenly.

"Quite the most suitable thing you could do," he answered composedly.
All the softened feeling of a few moments ago had vanished: he seemed to
have relapsed into his usual sardonic humour, putting a barrier between
himself and her that set them miles apart.

Diana was conscious of a fury of resentment against his calm readjustment
of the situation.  He was the offender; it was for her to dictate the
terms of peace, and he had suddenly cut the ground from under her feet.
Her pride rose in arms.  If he could so contemptuously sweep aside the
memory of the last ten minutes, careless whether his plea for forgiveness
were granted or no, she would show him that for her, too, the incident
was closed.  But she would not forgive him--ever.

She opened her campaign at once.

"Surely we must be almost at the Rectory by now?" she began in politely
conventional tones.

A sudden gleam of wicked mirth flashed across his face.

"Has the time, then, seemed so long?" he demanded coolly.

Diana's lips trembled in the vain effort to repress a smile.  The man was
impossible!  It was also very difficult, she found, to remain righteously
angry with such an impossible person.

If he saw the smile, he gave no indication of it.  Rubbing the window
with his hand he peered out.

"I think we are just turning in at the Rectory gates," he remarked
carelessly.

In another minute the motor had throbbed to a standstill and the
chauffeur was standing at the open door.

"I'm sorry we've been so long coming, sir," he said, touching his hat.
"I took a wrong turning--lost me way a bit."

Then as Errington and Diana passed into the house, he added thoughtfully,
addressing his engine:--

"She's a pretty little bit of skirt and no mistake.  I wonder, now, if we
was lost long enough, eh, Billy?"



CHAPTER VII

DIANA SINGS

"I feel that we are very much indebted to you, Mr. Errington," said
Stair, when he and Joan had listened to an account of the afternoon's
proceedings--the major portion of them, that is.  Certain details were
not included in the veracious history.  "You seem to have a happy knack
of turning up just at the moment you are most needed," he added
pleasantly.

"I think I must plead indebtedness to Miss Quentin for allowing me such
unique opportunities of playing knight errant," replied Max, smiling.
"Such chances are rare in this twentieth century of ours, and Miss
Quentin always kindly arranges so that I run no serious risks--to life
and limb, at least," he added, his mocking eyes challenging Diana's.

She flushed indignantly.  Evidently he wished her to understand that that
breathless moment in the car counted for nothing--must not be taken
seriously.  He had only been amusing himself with her--just as he had
amused himself by chatting in the train--and again a wave of resentment
against him, against the cool, dominating insolence of the man, surged
through her.

"I hope you'll stay and join us at dinner," the Rector was
saying--"unless it's hopelessly spoilt by waiting so long.  Is it, Joan?"

"Oh, no.  I think there'll be some surviving remnants," she assured him.

"Then if you'll overlook any discrepancies," pursued Stair, smiling at
Errington, "do stay."

"Say, rather, if you'll overlook discrepancies," answered Errington,
smiling back--there was something infectious about Stair's geniality.
"I'm afraid a boiled shirt is out of the question--unless I go home to
fetch it!"

Diana stared at him.  Was he really going to stay--to accept the
invitation--after all that had occurred?  If he did, she thought
scornfully, it was only in keeping with that calm arrogance of his by
which he allocated to himself the right to do precisely as he chose,
irrespective of convention--or of other people's feelings.

Meanwhile Stair was twinkling humorously across at his visitor.

"If you can bear to eat your dinner without being encased in the
regulation starch," he said, "I don't think I should advise risking what
remains of it by any further delay."

"Then I accept with pleasure," replied Errington.

As he spoke, his eyes sought Diana's once again.  It almost seemed as
though they pleaded with her for understanding.  The half-sad,
half-bitter mouth smiled faintly, the smile accentuating that upward
curve at the corners of the lips which lent such an unexpected sweetness
to its stern lines.

Diana looked away quickly, refusing to endorse the Rector's invitation,
and, escaping to her own room, she made a hasty toilet, slipping into a
simple little black gown open at the throat.  Meanwhile, she tortured
herself with questioning as to why--if all that had passed meant nothing
to him--he had chosen to stay.  Once she hid her burning face in her
hands as the memory of those kisses rushed over her afresh, sending
little, new, delicious thrills coursing through her veins.  Then once
more the maddening doubt assailed her--were they but a bitter humiliation
which she would remember for the rest of her life?

When she came downstairs again, Max Errington and Stair were conversing
happily together, evidently on the best of terms with themselves and each
other.  Errington was speaking as she entered the room, but he stopped
abruptly, biting his words off short, while his keen eyes swept over the
slim, black-gowned figure hesitating in the doorway.

"Mr. Stair has been pledging your word during your absence," he said.
"He has promised that you'll sing to us after dinner."

"I?  Oh"--nervously--"I don't think I want to sing this evening."

"Why not?  Have the"--he made an infinitesimal pause, regarding her the
while with quizzical eyes--"events of the afternoon robbed you of your
voice?"

Diana gave him back his look defiantly.  How dared he--oh, how dared
he?--she thought indignantly.

"My adventures weren't serious enough for that," she replied composedly.

The ghost of a smile flickered across his face.

"Then you will sing?" he persisted.

"Yes, if you like."

He nodded contentedly, and as they went in to dinner he whispered:--

"I found the adventure--rather serious."

Dinner passed pleasantly enough.  Errington and Stair contributed most of
the conversation, the former proving himself a charming guest, and it was
evident that the two men had taken a great liking to each other.  It
would have been a difficult subject indeed who did not feel attracted by
Alan Stair; he was so unconventionally frank and sincere, brimming over
with humour, and he regarded every man as his friend until he had proved
him otherwise--and even then he was disposed to think that the fault must
lie somewhere in himself.

"I'm not surprised that your church was so full on Sunday," Errington
told him, "now that I've met you.  If the Church of England clergy, as a
whole, were as human as you are, you would have fewer offshoots from your
Established Church.  I always think"--reminiscently--"that that is where
the strength of the Roman Catholic _padre_ lies--in his intense
_humanness_."

The Sector looked up in surprise.

"Then you're not a member of our Church?" he asked.

For a moment Errington looked embarrassed, as though he had said more
than he wished to.

"Oh, I was merely comparing the two," he replied evasively.  "I have
lived abroad a good bit, you know."

"Ah!  That explains it, then," said Stair.  "You've caught some little
foreign turns of speech.  Several times I've wondered if you were
entirely English."

Errington's face, as he turned to reply, wore that politely blank
expression which Diana had encountered more than once when conversing
with him--always should she chance to touch on any subject the natural
answer to which might have revealed something of the man's private life.

"Oh," he answered the Rector lightly, "I believe there's a dash of
foreign blood in my veins, but I've a right to call myself an Englishman."

After dinner, while the two men had their smoke, Diana, heedless of
Joan's common-sense remonstrance on the score of dew-drenched grass,
flung on a cloak and wandered restlessly out into the moonlit garden.
She felt that it would be an utter impossibility to sit still, waiting
until the men came into the drawing-room, and she paced slowly backwards
and forwards across the lawn, a slight, shadowy figure in the patch of
silver light.

Presently she saw the French window of the dining-room open, and Max
Errington step across the threshold and come swiftly over the lawn
towards her.

"I see you are bent on courting rheumatic fever--to say nothing of a sore
throat," he said quietly, "and I've come to take you indoors."

Diana was instantly filled with a perverse desire to remain where she was.

"I'm not in the least cold, thank you," she replied stiffly, "And--I like
it out here."

"You may not be cold," he returned composedly.  "But I'm quite sure your
feet are damp.  Come along."

He put his arm under hers, impelling her gently in the direction of the
house, and, rather to her own surprise, she found herself accompanying
him without further opposition.

Arrived at the house, he knelt down and, taking up her foot in his hand,
deliberately removed the little pointed slipper.

"There," he said conclusively, exhibiting its sole, dank with dew.  "Go
up and put on a pair of dry shoes and then come down and sing to me."

And once again she found herself meekly obeying him.

By the time she had returned to the drawing-room, Pobs and Errington were
choosing the songs they wanted her to sing, while Joan was laughingly
protesting that they had selected all those with the most difficult
accompaniments.

"However, I'll do my best, Di," she added, as she seated herself at the
piano.

Joan's "best" as a pianist did not amount to very much at any time, and
she altogether lacked that intuitive understanding and sympathy which is
the _sine qua non_ of a good accompanist.  Diana, accustomed to the
trained perfection of Olga Lermontof, found herself considerably
handicapped, and her rendering of the song in question, Saint-Saens'
_Amour, viens aider_, left a good deal to be desired in consequence--a
fact of which no one was more conscious than she herself.

But the voice!  As the full rich notes hung on the air, vibrant with that
indescribably thrilling quality which seems the prerogative of the
contralto, Errington recognised at once that here was a singer destined
to make her mark.  The slight surprise which he had evinced on first
learning that she was a pupil of the great Baroni vanished instantly.  No
master could be better fitted to have the handling of such a voice--and
certainly, he added mentally, Joan Stair was a ludicrously inadequate
accompanist, only to be excused by her frank acknowledgment of the fact.

"I'm dreadfully sorry, Di," she said at the conclusion of the song.  "But
I really can't manage the accompaniment."

Errington rose and crossed the room to the piano.

"Will you allow me to take your place?" he said pleasantly.  "That is, if
Miss Quentin permits?  It is hard lines to be suddenly called upon to
read accompaniments if you are not accustomed to it."

"Oh, do you play?" exclaimed Joan, vacating her seat gladly.  "Then
please do.  I feel as if I were committing murder when I stumble through
Diana's songs."

She joined the Rector at the far end of the room, adding with a smile:--

"I make a much better audience than performer."

"What shall it be?" said Errington, turning over the pile of songs.

"What you like," returned Diana indifferently.  She was rather pale, and
her hand shook a little as she fidgeted restlessly with a sheet of music.
It almost seemed as though the projected change of accompanist were
distasteful to her.

Max laid his own hand over hers an instant.

"Please let me play for you," he said simply.

There was a note of appeal in his voice--rather as if he were seeking to
soften her resentment against him, and would regard the permission to
accompany her as a token of forgiveness.  She met his glance, wavered a
moment, then bent her head in silence, and each of them was conscious
that in some mysterious way, without the interchange of further words, an
armistice had been declared between them.

With Errington at the piano the music took on a different aspect.  He was
an incomparable accompanist, and Diana, feeling herself supported, and
upborne, sang with a beauty of interpretation, an intensity of feeling,
that had been impossible before.  And through it all she was acutely
conscious of Max Errington's proximity--knew instinctively that the
passion of the song was shaking him equally with herself.  It was as
though some intangible live wire were stretched between them so that each
could sense the emotion of the other--as though the garment with which we
so persistently conceal our souls from one another's eyes were suddenly
stripped away.

There was a tense look in Max's face as the last note trembled into
silence, and Diana, meeting his glance, flushed rosily.

"I can't sing any more," she said, her voice uneven.

"No."

He added nothing to the laconic negative, but his eyes held hers
remorselessly.

Then Pobs' cheerful tones fell on their ears and the taut moment passed.

"Di, you amazing child!" he exclaimed delightfully.  "Where did you find
a voice like that?  I realise now that we've been entertaining genius
unawares all this time.  Joan, my dear, henceforth two commonplace bodies
like you and me must resign ourselves to taking a back seat."

"I don't mind," returned Joan philosophically.  "I think I was born with
a humdrum nature; a quiet life was always my idea of bliss."

"Sing something else, Di," begged Stair.  But Diana shook her head.

"I'm too tired, Pobs," she said quietly.  Turning abruptly to Errington
she continued: "Will you play instead?"

Max hesitated a moment, then resumed his place at the piano, and, after a
pause, the three grave notes with which Rachmaninoff's wonderful
"Prelude" opens, broke the silence.

It was speedily evident that Errington was a musician of no mean order;
indeed, many a professional reputation has been based on a less solid
foundation.  The Rachmaninoff was followed by Chopin, Tchaikowsky,
Debussy, and others of the modern school, and when finally he dropped his
hands from the piano, laughingly declaring that he must be thinking of
taking his departure before he played them all to sleep, Joan burst out
bluntly:--

"We understood you were a dramatist, Mr. Errington.  It seems to me you
have missed your vocation."

Every one laughed.

"Rather a two-edged compliment, I'm afraid, Joan," chuckled Stair
delightfully.

Joan blushed, overcome with confusion, and remained depressed until
Errington, on the point of leaving, reassured her good-humouredly.

"Don't brood over your father's unkind references to two-edged
compliments, Miss Stair.  I entirely decline to see any but one meaning
to your speech--and that a very pleasant one."

He shook hands with the Rector and Diana, holding the latter's hand an
instant longer than was absolutely necessary, to ask, rather low:--

"Is it peace, then?"

But the softening spell of the music was broken, and Diana felt her
resentment against him rise up anew.

Silently she withdrew her hand, refusing him an answer, defying him with
a courage born of the near neighbourhood of the Rector and Joan, and a
few minutes later the hum of his motor could be heard as it sped away
down the drive.

Diana lay long awake that night, her thoughts centred round the man who
had come so strangely into her life.  It was as though he had been forced
thither by a resistless fate which there was no eluding--for, on his own
confession, he had deliberately sought to avoid meeting her again.

His whole attitude was utterly incomprehensible--a study of violently
opposing contrasts.  Diana felt bruised and shaken by the fierce
contradictions of his moods, the temperamental heat and ice which he had
meted out to her.  It seemed as if he were fighting against the
attraction she had for him, prepared to contest every inch of
ground--discounting each look and word wrung from him in some moment of
emotion by the mocking raillery with which he followed it up.

More than once he had hinted at some barrier, spoken of a shadow that
dogged his steps, as if complete freedom of action were denied him.
Could it be--was it conceivable, that he was already married?  And at the
thought Diana hid hot cheeks against her pillow, living over again that
moment in the car--that moment which had suddenly called into being
emotions before whose overmastering possibilities she trembled.

At length, mentally and physically weary, she dropped into an uneasy
slumber, vaguely wondering what the morrow would bring forth.

It brought the unexpected news that the occupants of Red Gables had
suddenly left for London by the morning train.



CHAPTER VIII

MRS. LAWRENCE'S HOSPITALITY

"_An Officer's Widow offers hospitality to students and professional
women.  Excellent cuisine; man-servant; moderate terms.  Apply: Mrs. L.,
24 Brutton Square, N.W._"

So ran the advertisement which Mrs. Lawrence periodically inserted in one
of the leading London dailies.  She was well-pleased with the wording of
it, considering that it combined both veracity and attractiveness--two
things which do not invariably run smoothly in conjunction with each
other.

The opening phrase had reference to the fact that her husband, the
defunct major, had been an army doctor, and the word hospitality
pleasantly suggested the idea of a home from home, whilst the
afterthought conveyed by the moderate terms delicately indicated that the
hospitality was not entirely of a gratuitous nature.  The man-servant, on
closer inspection, resolved himself into a French-Swiss waiter, whose
agility and condition were such that he could negotiate the whole ninety
stairs of the house, three at a time, without once pausing for breath
till he reached the top.

Little Miss Bunting, the lady-help, who lived with Mrs. Lawrence on the
understanding that she gave "assistance in light household duties in
return for hospitality," was not quite so nimble as Henri, the waiter,
and often found her heart beating quite uncomfortably fast by the time
she had climbed the ninety stairs to the little cupboard of a room which
Mrs. Lawrence's conception of hospitality allotted for her use.  She did
the work of two servants and ate rather less than one, and, seeing that
she received no wages and was incurably conscientious, Mrs. Lawrence
found the arrangement eminently satisfactory.  Possibly Miss Bunting
herself regarded the matter with somewhat less enthusiasm, but she was a
plucky little person and made no complaint.  As she wrote to her invalid
mother, shortly after taking up her duties at Brutton Square: "After all,
dearest of little mothers, I have a roof over my head and food to eat,
and I'm not costing you anything except a few pounds for my clothes.  And
perhaps when I leave here, if Mrs. Lawrence gives me a good reference, I
shall be able to get a situation with a salary attached to it."

So Miss Bunting stuck to her guns and spent her days in supplementing the
deficiencies of careless servants, smoothing the path of the boarders,
and generally enabling Mrs. Lawrence to devote much more time to what she
termed her "social life" than would otherwise have been the case.

The boarders usually numbered anything from twelve to fifteen--all of the
gentler sex--and were composed chiefly of students at one or other of the
London schools of art or music, together with a sprinkling of visiting
teachers of various kinds, and one or two young professional musicians
whose earnings did not yet warrant their launching out into the
independence of flat life.  This meant that three times a year, when the
schools closed for their regular vacations, a general exodus took place
from 24 Brutton Square, and Mrs. Lawrence was happily enabled to go away
and visit her friends, leaving the conscientious Miss Bunting to look
after the reduced establishment and cater for the one or two remaining
boarders who were not released by regular holidays.  It was an admirable
arrangement, profitable without being too exigeant.

At the end of each vacation Mrs. Lawrence always summoned Miss Bunting to
her presence and ran through the list of boarders for the coming term,
noting their various requirements.  She was thus occupied one afternoon
towards the end of April.  The spring sunshine poured in through the
windows, lending an added cheerfulness of aspect to the rooms of the tall
London house that made them appear worth quite five shillings a week more
than was actually charged for them, and Mrs. Lawrence smiled, well
satisfied.

She was a handsome woman, still in the early forties, and the word
"stylish" inevitably leaped to one's mind at the sight of her full,
well-corseted figure, fashionable raiment, and carefully coiffured hair.
There was nothing whatever of the boarding-house keeper about her; in
fact, at first sight, she rather gave the impression of a pleasant,
sociable woman who, having a house somewhat larger than she needed for
her own requirements, accepted a few paying guests to keep the rooms
aired.

This was just the impression she wished to convey, and it was usually
some considerable time before her boarders grasped the fact that they
were dealing with, a thoroughly shrewd, calculating business woman, who
was bent on making every penny out of them that she could, compatibly
with running the house on such lines as would ensure its answering to the
advertised description.

"I'm glad it's a sunny day," she remarked to Miss Bunting.  "First
impressions are everything, and that pupil of Signor Baroni's, Miss
Quentin, arrives to-day.  I hope her rooms are quite ready?"

"Quite, Mrs. Lawrence," replied the lady-help.  "I put a few flowers in
the vases just to make it look a little home-like."

"Very thoughtful of you, Miss Bunting," Mrs. Lawrence returned
graciously.  "Miss Quentin's is rather a special case.  To begin with,
she has engaged a private sitting-room, and in addition to that she was
recommended to come here by Signor Baroni himself."

The good word of a teacher of such standing as Baroni was a matter of the
first importance to a lady offering a home from home to musical students,
though possibly had Mrs. Lawrence heard the exact form taken by Baroni's
recommendation she might have felt less elated.

"The Lawrence woman is a bit of a shark, my dear," he had told Diana,
when she had explained that, owing to the retirement from business of her
former landlady, she would be compelled after Easter to seek fresh rooms.
"But she caters specially for musical students, and as she is therefore
obliged to keep the schools pleased, she feeds her boarders, on the
whole, better than do most of her species.  And remember, my dear Mees
Quentin, that good food, and plenty of good food, means--voice."

So Diana had nodded and written to Mrs. Lawrence to ask if a bed-room and
sitting-room opening one into the other could be at her disposal,
receiving an affirmative reply.

"Regarding coals, Miss Bunting," proceeded Mrs. Lawrence thoughtfully, "I
told Miss Quentin that the charge would be sixpence per scuttle." (This
was in pre-war times, it must be remembered, and the scuttles were of
painfully meagre proportions.)  "It might be as well to put that large
coal-box in her room--you know the one I mean--and make the charge
eightpence."

The box in question was certainly of imposing exterior proportions, but
its tin lining was of a quite different domestic period and made no
pretensions as to fitting.  It lay loosely inside its sham mahogany
casing like the shrivelled kernel of a nut in its shell.

"The big coal-scuttle really doesn't hold twopenny-worth more coal than
the others," observed Miss Bunting tentatively.

A dull flush mounted to Mrs. Lawrence's cheek.  She liked the prospect of
screwing an extra twopence out of one of her boarders, but she hated
having the fact so clearly pointed out to her.  There were times when she
found Miss Bunting's conscientiousness something of a trial.

"It's a much larger box," she protested sharply.

"Yes.  I know it is--outside.  But the lining only holds two more knobs
than the sixpenny ones."

Mrs. Lawrence frowned.

"Do I understand that you--you actually measured the amount it contains?"
she asked, with bitterness.

"Yes," retorted Miss Bunting valiantly.  "And compared it with the
others.  It was when you told me to put the eightpenny scuttle in Miss
Jenkins' room.  She complained at once."

"Then you exceeded your duties, Miss Bunting.  You should have referred
Miss Jenkins to me."

Miss Bunting made no reply.  She had acted precisely in the way
suggested, but Miss Jenkins, a young art-student of independent opinions,
had flatly declined to be "referred" to Mrs. Lawrence.

"It's not the least use, Bunty dear," she had said.  "I'm not going to
have half an hour's acrimonious conversation with Mrs. Lawrence on the
subject of twopennyworth of coal.  At the same time I haven't the
remotest intention of paying twopence extra for those two lumps of excess
luggage, so to speak.  So you can just trot that sarcophagus away, like
the darling you are, and bring me back my sixpenny scuttle again."

And little Miss Bunting, in her capacity of buffer state between Mrs.
Lawrence and her boarders, had obeyed and said nothing more about the
matter.

"I have to go out now," continued Mrs. Lawrence, after a pause pregnant
with rebuke.  "You will receive Miss Quentin on her arrival and attend to
her comfort.  And put the large coal-box in her sitting-room as I
directed," she added firmly.

So it came about that when, half an hour later, a taxi-cab buzzed up to
the door of No. 24, with Diana and a large quantity of luggage on board,
the former found herself met in the hall by a cheerful little person with
pretty brown eyes and a friendly smile to whom she took an instant liking.

Miss Bunting escorted Diana up to her rooms on the second floor, while
Henri brought up the rear, staggering manfully beneath the weight of Miss
Quentin's trunk.

A cheerful fire was blazing in the grate, and that, together with the
daffodils that gleamed from a bowl on the table like a splash of gold,
gave the room a pleasant and welcoming appearance.

"But, surely," said Diana hesitatingly, "you are not Mrs. Lawrence?"

Miss Bunting laughed, outright.

"Oh, dear no," she answered.  "Mrs. Lawrence is out, and she asked me to
see that you had everything you wanted.  I'm the lady-help, you know."

Diana regarded her commiseratingly.  She seemed such a jolly, bright
little thing to be occupying that anomalous position.

"Oh, are you?  Then it was you"--with a sudden, inspiration--"who put
these lovely daffodils here, wasn't it? . . .  Thank you so much for
thinking of it--it was kind of you."  And she held out her hand with the
frank charm of manner which invariably turned Diana's acquaintances into
friends inside ten minutes.

Little Miss Bunting flushed delightedly, and from that moment onward
became one of the new boarder's most devoted adherents.

"You'd like some tea, I expect," she said presently.  "Will you have it
up here--or in the dining-room with the other boarders in half an hour's
time?"

"Oh, up here, please.  I can't possibly wait half an hour."

"I ought to tell you," Miss Bunting continued, dimpling a little, "that
it will be sixpence extra if you have it up here.  '_All meals served in
rooms, sixpence extra_,'" she read out, pointing to the printed list of
rules and regulations hanging prominently above the chimney-piece.

Diana regarded it with amusement.

"They ought to be written on tablets of stone like the Ten Commandments,"
she commented frivolously.  "It rather reminds me of being at school
again.  I've never lived in a boarding-house before, you know; I had
rooms in the house of an old servant of ours.  Well, here
goes!"--twisting the framed set of rules round with its face to the wall.
"Now, if I break the laws of the Medes and Persians I can't be blamed,
because I haven't read them."

Miss Bunting privately thought that the new boarder, recommended by so
great a personage as Signor Baroni, stood an excellent chance of being
allowed a generous latitude as regards conforming to the rules at No.
24--provided she paid her bills promptly and without too careful a
scrutiny of the "extras."  Bunty, indeed, retained few illusions
concerning her employer, and perhaps this was just as well--for the fewer
the illusions by which you're handicapped, the fewer your disappointments
before the journey's end.

"You haven't told me your name," said Diana, when the lady-help
reappeared with a small tea-tray in her hand.

"Bunting," came the smiling reply.  "But most of the boarders call me
Bunty."

"I shall, too, may I?--And oh, why haven't you brought two cups?  I
wanted you to have tea with me--if you've time, that is?"

"If I had brought a second cup, '_Tea, for two_' would have been charged
to your account," observed Miss Bunting.

"What?"  Diana's eyes grew round with astonishment.  "With the same sized
teapot?"

The other nodded humorously.

"Well, Mrs. Lawrence's logic is beyond me," pursued Diana.
"However, we'll obviate the difficulty.  I'll have tea out of my
tooth-glass"--glancing towards the washstand in the adjoining room where
that article, inverted, capped the water-bottle--"and you, being the
honoured guest, shall luxuriate in the cup."

Bunty modestly protested, but Diana had her own way in the matter, and
when finally the little lady-help went downstairs to pour out tea in the
dining-room for the rest of the boarders, it was with that pleasantly
warm glow about the region of the heart which the experience of an
unexpected kindness is prone to produce.

Meanwhile Diana busied herself unpacking her clothes and putting them
away in the rather limited cupboard accommodation provided, and in fixing
up a few pictures, recklessly hammering the requisite nails into the
walls in happy disregard of Rule III of the printed list, which
emphatically stated that: "_No nails must be driven into the walls
without permission_."

By the time she had completed these operations a dressing-bell sounded,
and quickly exchanging her travelling costume for a filmy little dinner
dress of some soft, shimmering material, she sallied downstairs in search
of the dining-room.

Mrs. Lawrence met her on the threshold, warmly welcoming, and conducting
her to her allotted place at the lower end of a long table, around which
were seated--as it appeared to Diana in that first dizzy moment of
arrival--dozens of young women varying from twenty to thirty years of
age.  In reality there were but a baker's dozen of them, and they all
painstakingly abstained from glancing in her direction lest they might be
thought guilty of rudely staring at a newcomer.

Diana's _vis-à-vis_ at table was the redoubtable Miss Jenkins of coal-box
fame, and her neighbours on either hand two students of one of the
musical colleges.  Next to Miss Jenkins, Diana observed a vacant place;
presumably its owner was dining out.  She also noticed that she alone
among the boarders had attempted to make any kind of evening toilet.  The
others had "changed" from their workaday clothes, it is true, but a light
silk blouse, worn with a darker skirt, appeared to be generally regarded
as a sufficient recognition of the occasion.

Diana's near neighbours were at first somewhat tongue-tied with a nervous
stiffness common to the Britisher, but they thawed a little as the meal
progressed, and when the musical students, Miss Jones and Miss Allen, had
elicited that she was actually a pupil of the great Baroni, envy and a
certain awed admiration combined to unseal the fountains of their speech.

Just as the fish was being removed, the door opened to admit a tall, thin
woman, wearing outdoor costume, who passed quickly down the room and took
the vacant place at the table, murmuring a curt apology to Mrs. Lawrence
on her way.  To Diana's astonishment she recognised in the newcomer Olga
Lermontof, Baroni's accompanist.

"Miss Lermontof!" she exclaimed.  "I had no idea that you lived here."

Miss Lermontof nodded a brief greeting.

"How d'you do?  Yes, I've lived here for some time.  But I didn't know
that you were coming.  I thought you had rooms somewhere?"

"So I had.  But I was obliged to give them up, and Signor Baroni
suggested this instead."

"Hope you'll like it," returned Miss Lermontof shortly.  "At any rate, it
has the advantage of being only quarter of an hour's walk from
Grellingham Place.  I've just come from there."  And with that she
relapsed into silence.

Although Olga Lermontof had frequently accompanied Diana during her
lessons with Baroni, the acquaintance between the two had made but small
progress.  There had been but little opportunity for conversation on
those occasions, and Diana, instinctively resenting the accompanist's
cool and rather off-hand manner, had never sought to become better
acquainted with her.  It was generally supposed that she was a Russian,
and she was undoubtedly a highly gifted musician, but there was something
oddly disagreeable and repellent about her personality.  Whenever Diana
had thought about her at all, she had mentally likened her to Ishmael,
whose hand was against every man and every man's hand against his.  And
now she found herself involved with this strange woman in the rather
close intimacy of daily life consequent upon becoming fellow-boarders in
the same house.

Seen amidst so many strange faces, the familiarity of Olga Lermontof's
clever but rather forbidding visage bred a certain new sense of
comradeship, and Diana made several tentative efforts to draw her into
conversation.  The results were meagre, however, the Russian confining
herself to monosyllabic answers until some one--one of the musical
students--chanced to mention that she had recently been to the Premier
Theatre to see Adrienne de Gervais in a new play, "The Grey Gown," which
had just been produced there.

It was then that Miss Lermontof apparently awoke to the fact that the
English language contains further possibilities than a bare "yes" or "no."

"I consider Adrienne de Gervais a most overrated actress," she remarked
succinctly.

A chorus of disagreement greeted this announcement.

"Why, only think how quickly she's got on," argued Miss Jones.  "No one
three years ago--and to-day Max Errington writes all his plays round her."

"Precisely.  And it's easy enough to 'create a part' successfully if that
part has been previously written specially to suit you," retorted Miss
Lermontof unmoved.

The discussion of Adrienne de Gervais' merits, or demerits, threatened to
develop into a violent disagreement, and Diana was struck by a certain
personal acrimony that seemed to flavour Miss Lermontof's criticism of
the popular actress.  Finally, with the idea of averting a quarrel
between the disputants, she mentioned that the actress, accompanied by
her chaperon, had been staying in the neighbourhood of her own home.

"Mr. Errington was with them also," she added.

"He usually is," commented Miss Lermontof disagreeably.

"He's a remarkably fine pianist," said Diana.  "Do you know him
personally at all?"

"I've met him," replied Olga.  Her green eyes narrowed suddenly, and she
regarded Diana with a rather curious expression on her face.

"Is he a professional pianist?" pursued Diana.  She was conscious of an
intense curiosity concerning Errington, quite apart from the personal
episodes which had linked them together.  The man of mystery invariably
exerts a peculiar fascination over the feminine mind.  Hence the
unmerited popularity not infrequently enjoyed by the dark, saturnine,
brooding individual whose conversation savours of the tensely
monosyllabic.

Olga Lermontof paused a moment before replying to Diana's query.  The she
said briefly:--

"No.  He's a dramatist.  I shouldn't allow myself to become too
interested in him if I were you."

She smiled a trifle grimly at Diana's sudden flush, and her manner
indicated that, as far as she was concerned, the subject was closed.

Diana felt an inward conviction that Miss Lermontof knew much more
concerning Max Errington than she chose to admit, and when she fell
asleep that night it was to dream that she and Errington were trying to
find each other through the gloom of a thick fog, whilst all the time the
dark-browed, sinister face of Olga Lermontof kept appearing and
disappearing between them, smiling tauntingly at their efforts.



CHAPTER IX

A CONTEST OF WILLS

Diana was sitting in Baroni's music-room, waiting, with more or less
patience, for a singing lesson.  The old _maestro_ was in an
unmistakable ill-humour this morning, and he had detained the pupil
whose lesson preceded her own far beyond the allotted time, storming at
the unfortunate young man until Diana marvelled that the latter had
sufficient nerve to continue singing at all.

In a whirl of fury Baroni informed him that he was exactly suited to be
a third-rate music-hall artiste--the young man, be it said, was making
a special study of oratorio--and that it was profanation, for any one
with so incalculably little idea of the very first principles of art to
attempt to interpret the works of the great masters, together with much
more of a like explosive character.  Finally, he dismissed him abruptly
and turned to Diana.

"Ah--Mees Quentin."  He softened a little.  He had a great affection
for this promising pupil of his, and welcomed her with a smile.  "I am
seek of that young man with his voice of an archangel and his brains of
a feesh! . . .  So!  You haf come back from your visit to the country?
And how goes it with the voice?"

"I expect I'm a bit rusty after my holiday," she replied
diplomatically, fondly hoping to pave the way for more lenient
treatment than had been accorded to the luckless student of oratorio.

Unfortunately, however, it chanced to be one of those sharply chilly
days to which May occasionally treats us.  Baroni frankly detested cold
weather--it upset both his nerves and his temper--and Diana speedily
realised that no excuses would avail to smooth her path on this
occasion.

"Scales," commanded Baroni, and struck a chord.

She began to sing obediently, but at the end of the third scale he
stopped her.

"Bah!  It sounds like an elephant coming downstairs!  Be-r-r-rump . . .
be-r-r-rump . . . be-r-r-rump . . . br-r-rum!  Do not, please, sing as
an elephant walks."

Diana coloured and tried again, but without marked success.  She was
genuinely out of practice, and the nervousness with which Baroni's
obvious ill-humour inspired her did not mend matters.

"But what haf you been doing during the holidays?" exclaimed the
_maestro_ at last, his odd, husky voice fierce with annoyance.  "There
is no ease---no flexibility.  You are as stiff as a rusty hinge.  Ach!
But you will haf to work--not play any more."

He frowned portentously, then with a swift change to a more reasonable
mood, he continued:--

"Let us haf some songs--Saint-Saens' _Amour, viens aider_.  Perhaps
that will wake you up, _hein_?"

Instead, it carried Diana swiftly back to the Rectory at Crailing, to
the evening when she had sung this very song to Max Errington, with the
unhappy Joan stumbling through the accompaniment.  She began to sing,
her mind occupied with quite other matters than Delilah's passion of
vengeance, and her face expressive of nothing more stirring than a
gentle reminiscence.  Baroni stopped abruptly and placed a big mirror
in front of her.

"Please to look at your face, Mees Quentin," he said scathingly.  "It
is as wooden as your singing."

He was a confirmed advocate of the importance of facial expression in a
singer, and Diana's vague, abstracted look was rapidly raising his ire.
Recalled by the biting scorn in his tones, she made a gallant effort to
throw herself more effectually into the song, but the memory of
Errington's grave, intent face, as he had sat listening to her that
night, kept coming betwixt her and the meaning of the music--and the
result was even more unpromising than before.

In another moment Baroni was on his feet, literally dancing with rage.

"But do you then call yourself an _artiste_?" he broke out furiously.
"Why has the good God given you eyes and a mouth?  That they may
express nothing--nothing at all?  Bah!  You haf the face of a
gootta-per-r-rcha doll!"

And snatching up the music from the piano in an uncontrollable burst of
fury, he flung it straight at her, and the two of them stood glaring at
each other for a few moments in silence.  Then Baroni pointed to the
song, lying open on the floor between them, and said explosively:--

"Pick that up."

Diana regarded him coolly, her small face set like a flint.

"No."  She fairly threw the negative at him,

He stared at her--he was accustomed to more docile pupils--and the two
girls who had remained in the room to listen to the lessons following
their own huddled together with scared faces.  The _maestro_ in a royal
rage was ever, in their opinion, to be regarded from much the same
viewpoint as a thunderbolt, and that any one of his pupils should dare
to defy him was unheard-of.  In the same situation as that in which
Diana found herself, either of the two girls in question would have
meekly picked up the music and, dissolving into tears, made the
continuance of the lesson an impossibility, only to be bullied by the
_maestro_ even more execrably next time.

"Pick that up," repeated Baroni stormily.

"I shall do nothing of the kind," retorted Diana promptly.  "You threw
it there, and you can pick it up.  I'm going home."  And, turning her
back upon him, she marched towards the door.

A sudden twinkle showed itself in Baroni's eyes.  With unaccustomed
celerity he pranced after her.

"Come back, little Pepper-pot, come back, then, and we will continue
the lesson."

Diana turned and stood hesitating.

"Who's going to pick up that music?" she demanded unflinchingly.

"Why, I will, thou most obstinate child"--suiting the action to the
word.  "Because it is true that professors should not throw music at
their pupils, no matter"--maliciously--"how stupid nor how dull they
may be at their lesson."

Diana flushed, immediately repentant.

"I'm sorry," she acknowledged frankly.  "I was being abominably
inattentive; I was thinking of something else."

The little scene was characteristic of her--unbendingly determined and
obstinate when she thought she was wronged and unjustly treated,
impulsively ready to ask pardon when she saw herself at fault.

Baroni patted her hand affectionately.

"See, my dear, I am a cross-grained, ugly old man, am I not?" he said
placidly.

"Yes, you are," agreed Diana, to the awed amazement of the other two
pupils, at the same time bestowing a radiant smile upon him.

Baroni beamed back at her benevolently.

"So!  Thus we agree--we are at one, as master and pupil should be.  Is
it not so?"

Diana nodded, amusement in her eyes.

"Then, being agreed, we can continue our lesson.  Imagine yourself,
please, to be Delilah, brooding on your vengeance, gloating over what
you are about to accomplish.  Can you not picture her to
yourself--beautiful, sinister, like a snake that winds itself about the
body"--his voice fell to a penetrating whisper--"and, in her heart,
dreaming of the triumph that shall bring Samson at last a captive to
destruction?"

Something in the tense excitement of his whispering tones struck an
answering chord within Diana, and oblivious for the moment of all else
except Delilah's passionate thirst for vengeance, she sang with her
whole soul, so that when she ceased, Baroni, in a sudden access of
artistic fervour, leapt from his seat and embraced her rapturously.

"Well done!  That is, true art--art and intelligence allied to the
voice of gold which the good God has given you."

Absorbed in the music, neither master nor pupil had observed that
during the course of the song the door had been softly unlatched from
outside and held ajar, and now, just as Diana was somewhat blushingly
extricating herself from Baroni's fervent clasp, it was thrown open and
the unseen listener came into the room.

Baroni whirled round and advanced with outstretched hands, his face
wreathed in smiles.

"_A la bonne heure_!  You haf come just at a good moment, Mees de
Gervais, to hear this pupil of mine who will some day be one of the
world's great singers."

Adrienne de Gervais shook hands.

"I've been listening, Baroni.  She has a marvellous voice.
But"--looking at Diana pleasantly--"we are neighbours, surely?  I have
seen you in Crailing--where we have just taken a house called Red
Gables."

"Yes, I live at Crailing," replied Diana, a little shyly.

"And I saw you, there one day--you were sitting in a pony-trap, waiting
outside a cottage, and singing to yourself.  I noticed the quality of
her voice then," added Miss de Gervais, turning to the _maestro_.

"Yes," said Baroni, with placid content.  "It is superb."

Adrienne turned back to Diana with a delightful smile.

"Since we are neighbours in the country, Miss Quentin, we ought to be
friends in town.  Won't you come and see me one day?"

Diana flushed.  She was undoubtedly attracted by the actress's charming
personality, but beyond this lay the knowledge that it was more than
likely that at her house she might again encounter Errington.  And
though Diana told herself that he was nothing to her--in fact, that she
disliked him rather than otherwise--the chance of meeting him once more
was not to be foregone--if only for the opportunity it would give her
of showing him how much she disliked him!

"I should like to come very much," she answered.

"Then come and have tea with me to-morrow--no, to-morrow I'm engaged.
Shall we say Thursday?"

Diana acquiesced, and Miss de Gervais turned to Baroni with a rather
mischievous smile, saying something in a foreign tongue which Diana
took to be Russian.  Baroni replied in the same language, frowningly,
and although she could not understand the tenor of his answer, Diana
was positive that she caught her own name and that of Max Errington
uttered in conjunction with each other.

It struck her as an odd coincidence that Baroni should be acquainted
both with Miss de Gervais and with Errington, and at her next lesson
she ventured to comment on the former's visit.  Baroni's answer,
however, furnished a perfectly simple explanation of it.

"Mees de Gervais?  Oh, yes, she sings a song in her new play, 'The Grey
Gown,' and I haf always coached her in her songs.  She has a pree-ty
voice--nothing beeg, but quite pree-ty."

Diana set forth on her visit to Adrienne with a certain amount of
trepidation.  Much as she longed to see Max Errington again, she felt
that the first meeting after that last episode of their acquaintance
might well partake of the somewhat doubtful pleasure of skating on thin
ice.

It was therefore not without a feeling of relief that she found the
actress and her chaperon the only occupants of the former's pretty
drawing-room.  They both welcomed her cordially.

"I have heard so much about you," said Mrs. Adams, pleasantly, "that
I've been longing to meet you, Miss Quentin.  Adrienne calls you the
'girl with the golden voice,' and I'm hoping to have the pleasure of
hearing you sing."

Diana was getting used to having her voice referred to as something
rather wonderful; it no longer embarrassed her, so she murmured an
appropriate answer and the conversation then drifted naturally to
Crailing and to the lucky chance which had brought Errington past
Culver Point the day Diana was marooned there, and Diana explained that
the Rector and his daughter had intended calling upon the occupants of
Red Gables, but had been prevented by their sudden departure.

Adrienne laughed.

"Yes, I expect every one thought we were quite mad to run away like
that so soon after our arrival!  It was a sudden idea of Mr.
Errington's.  He declared he was not satisfied about something in the
staging of 'The Grey Gown,' and of course we must needs all rush up to
town to see about it.  There wasn't the least necessity, as it turned
out, but when Max takes an idea into his head there's no stopping him."

"No," added Mrs. Adams.  "And the sheer cruelty of bustling an elderly
person like me from one end of England to the other just to suit his
whims doesn't seem to move him in the slightest."

She was smiling broadly as she spoke, and, it was evident to Diana that
to both these women Max Errington's word was law--a law they obeyed,
however, with the utmost cheerfulness.

"But, of course, we are coming back again," pursued Miss de Gervais.
"I think Crailing is a delightful little place, and I am going to
regard Red Gables as a haven of refuge from the storms of professional
life.  So I hope"--smilingly--"that the Rectory will call on Red Gables
when next we are 'in residence.'"

The time passed quickly, and when tea was disposed of Adrienne looked
out from amongst her songs one or two which were known to Diana, and
Mrs. Adams was given the opportunity of hearing the "golden voice."

And then, just as Diana was preparing to leave, a maid threw open a
door and announced:--

"Mr. Errington."

Diana felt her heart contract suddenly, and the sound of his voice, as
he greeted Adrienne and Mrs. Adams, sent a thrill through every nerve
in her body.

"You mustn't go now."  She was vaguely conscious that Adrienne was
speaking to her.  "Max, here is Miss Quentin, whom you gallantly
rescued from Culver Point."

The actress was dimpling and smiling, a spice of mischief in her soft
blue eyes.  She and Mrs. Adams had not omitted to chaff Errington about
his involuntary knight-errantry, and the former had even laughingly
declared it her firm belief that his journey to town the next day
partook more of the nature of flight than anything else.  To all of
which Errington had submitted composedly, declining to add anything
further to his bare statement of the incident of Culver Point--mention
of which had been entailed by his unexpected absence from Red Gables
that evening.

He gave a scarcely perceptible start of surprise as his eyes fell upon
Diana, but he betrayed no pleasure at seeing her again.  His face
showed nothing beyond the polite, impersonal interest which any
stranger might exhibit.

"I have just missed the pleasure of hearing you sing, I'm afraid," he
said, shaking hands.  "Have you been back in town long, Miss Quentin?"

"No, only a few days," she answered.  "I had my first lesson with
Signor Baroni the other day, and it was then that I met Miss de
Gervais."

"At Baroni's?"  Diana intercepted a swift glance pass between him and
Adrienne.

"Yes," said the latter quickly.  "I went to rehearse my song in 'The
Grey Gown' with him.  He was rather crochety that day," she added,
smiling.

Diana smiled in sympathy.

"Well, if he was crochety with you, Miss de Gervais," she observed,
"you can perhaps imagine what he was like to me!"

"Was he so very bad?" asked Adrienne, laughing.  "Every one says his
temper is diabolical."

"It is," replied Diana, with conviction.

"Still," broke in Errington's quiet voice, "I should have thought he
would have found it somewhat difficult to be very angry with Miss
Quentin."

Diana fancied she detected the familiar flavour of irony in the cool
tones.

"On the contrary, he apparently found it perfectly simple," she
retorted sharply.

"And yet," interposed Adrienne, "from the panegyrics he indulged in
upon the subject of your voice after you had gone, I'm sure he thinks
the world of you."

"Oh, I'm just a voice to him--nothing more," said Diana.

"To be 'just a voice' to Baroni means to be the most important thing on
earth," observed Errington.  "I believe he would imperil his immortal
soul to give a supremely beautiful voice to the world."

"Nonsense, Max," protested Adrienne.  "You talk as if he were perfectly
conscienceless."

"So he is, except in so far as art is concerned, and then his
conscience assumes the form of sheer idolatry.  I believe he would
sacrifice anything and anybody for the sake of it."

"Well, it's to be hoped you're wrong," said Adrienne, smiling, and
again Diana thought she detected a glance of mutual understanding pass
between the actress and Max Errington.

A little uncomfortable sense as of being _de trop_ invaded her.  She
felt that for some reason Errington would be glad when she had gone.
Possibly he had come to see Miss de Gervais about some business matter
in connection with the play he had written, and was only awaiting her
departure to discuss it.  He had not appeared in the least pleased to
find her there on his arrival, and from that moment onward the
conversation had become distinctly laboured.

She wished very much that Miss de Gervais had not pressed her to stay
when he came, and at the first opportunity she rose to go.  This time,
Adrienne made no effort to detain her, although she asked her cordially
to come again another day.

As Diana drove back in a taxi to Brutton Square she was conscious of a
queer sense of disappointment in the outcome of her meeting with Max
Errington.  It had been so utterly different from anything she had
expected--quite commonplace and ordinary, exactly as though they had
been no more than the most casual acquaintances.

She hardly knew what she had actually anticipated.  Certainly, she told
herself irritably, she could not have expected him to have treated her
with marked warmth of manner in the presence of others, and therefore
his behaviour had been just what the circumstances demanded.  But,
notwithstanding the assurance she gave herself that this was the
common-sense view to take of the matter, she had an instinctive feeling
that, even had there been no one else to consider, Errington's manner
would still have shown no greater cordiality.  For some reason he had
decided to lock the door on the past, and the polite friendly
indifference with which he had treated her was intended to indicate
quite clearly the attitude he proposed to adopt.

She supposed he repented that brief, vivid moment in the car, and
wished her to understand that it held no significance--that it was
merely a chance incident in this world where one amuses oneself as
occasion offers.  Presumably he feared that, not being a woman of the
world, she might attach a deeper meaning to it than the circumstances
warranted, and was anxious to set her right on that point.

Her pride rose in revolt.  Olga Lermontof's words returned to her mind
with fresh enlightenment: "I shouldn't allow myself to become too
interested in him, if I were you."  Surely she had intended this as a
friendly warning to Diana not to take anything Max Errington might do
or say very seriously!

Well, there would be no danger of that in the future; she had learned
her lesson and would take care to profit by it.



CHAPTER X

MISS LERMONTOF'S ADVICE

As Diana entered the somewhat dingy hall at 34 Brutton Square on her
return from visiting Adrienne, the first person she encountered was
Olga Lermontof.  She still retained her dislike of the accompanist and
was preparing to pass by with a casual remark upon the coldness of the
weather, when something in the Russian's pale, fatigued face arrested
her.

"How frightfully tired you look!" she exclaimed, pausing on the
staircase as the two made their way up together.

"I am, rather," returned Miss Lermontof indifferently.  "I've been
playing accompaniments all afternoon, and I've had no tea."

Diana hesitated an instant, then she said impulsively--"Oh, do come
into my room and let me make you a cup."

Olga Lermontof regarded her with a faint surprise.

"Thanks," she said in her abrupt way.  "I will."

A cheerful little fire was burning in the grate, and the room presented
a very comfortable and home-like appearance, for Diana had added a
couple of easy-chairs and several Liberty cushions to its somewhat
sparse furniture.  A heavy curtain, hung in front of the door to
exclude draughts, gave an additional cosy touch, and fresh flowers
adorned both chimney-piece and table.

Olga Lermontof let her long, lithe figure down into one of the
easy-chairs with a sigh of satisfaction, while Diana set the kettle on
the fire to boil, and produced from the depths of a cupboard a canister
of tea and a tin of attractive-looking biscuits.

"I often make my own tea up here," she observed.  "I detest having it
in that great barrack of a dining-room downstairs.  The
bread-and-butter is always so thick--like doorsteps!--and the cake is
very emphatically of the 'plain, home-made' variety."

Olga nodded.

"You look very comfortable here," she replied.  "If you saw my tiny
bandbox of a room on the fourth floor you'd realise what a sybarite you
are."

Diana wondered a little why Olga Lermontof should need to economise by
having such a small room and one so high up.  She was invariably
well-dressed--Diana had frequently caught glimpses of silken petticoats
and expensive shoes--and she had not in the least the air of a woman
who is accustomed to small means.

Almost as though she had uttered her thought aloud, Miss Lermontof
replied to it, smiling rather satirically.

"You're thinking I don't look the part?  It's true I haven't always
been so poor as I am now.  But a lot of my money is invested in
Ru--abroad, and owing to--to various things"--she stammered a
little--"I can't get hold of it just at present, so I'm dependent on
what I make.  And an accompanist doesn't earn a fortune, you know.  But
I can't quite forego pretty clothes--I wasn't brought up that way.  So
I economise over my room."

Diana was rather touched by the little confidence; somehow she didn't
fancy the other had found it very easy to make, and she liked her all
the better for it.

"No," she agreed, as she poured out two steaming cups of tea.  "I
suppose accompanying doesn't pay as well as some other things--the
stage, for example.  I should think Adrienne de Gervais makes plenty of
money."

"She has private means, I believe," returned Miss Lermontof.  "But, of
course, she gets an enormous salary."

She was drinking her tea appreciatively, and a little colour had crept
into her cheeks, although the shadows still lay heavily beneath her
light-green eyes.  They were of a curious translucent green, the more
noticeable against the contrasting darkness of her hair and brows; they
reminded one of the colour of Chinese jade.

"I've just been to tea with Miss de Gervais," volunteered Diana, after
a pause.

A swift look of surprise crossed Olga Lermontof's face.

"I didn't know you had met her," she said slowly.

"Yes, we met at Signor Baroni's the other day.  She came in during my
lesson.  I believe I told you she had taken a house at Crailing, so
that at home we are neighbours, you see."

"Miss Lermontof consumed a biscuit in silence.  Then she said
abruptly:--

"Miss Quentin, I know you don't like me, but--well, I have an odd sort
of wish to do you a good turn.  You had better have nothing to do with
Adrienne de Gervais."

Diana stared at her in undisguised amazement, the quick colour rushing
into her face as it always did when she was startled or surprised.

"But--but why?" she stammered.

"I can't tell you why.  Only take my advice and leave her alone."

"But I thought her delightful," protested Diana.  "And"--wistfully--"I
haven't many friends in London."

"Miss de Gervais isn't quite all she seems.  And your art should be
your friend--you don't need any other."

Diana laughed.

"You talk like old Baroni himself!  But indeed I do want friends--I
haven't nearly reached the stage when art can take the place of nice
human people."

Miss Lermontof regarded her dispassionately.

"That's only because you're young--horribly young and warm-hearted."

"You talk as if you yourself were a near relation of
Methuselah!"--laughing.

"I'm thirty-five," returned Olga, "And that's old enough to know that
nine-tenths of your 'nice human people' are self-seeking vampires
living on the generosity of the other tenth.  Besides, you have only to
wait till you come out professionally and you can have as many
so-called friends as you choose.  You'll scarcely need to lift your
little finger and they'll come flocking round you.  I don't think"--
looking at her speculatively--"that you've any conception what your
voice is going to do for you.  You see, it isn't just an ordinary good
voice--it's one of the exceptional voices that are only vouchsafed once
or twice in a century."

"Still, I think I should like to have a few friends--now.  _My_ friend,
I mean--not just the friends of my voice!"--with a smile.

"Well, don't include Miss de Gervais in the number--or Max Errington
either."

She watched Diana's sudden flush, and shrugging her shoulders, added
sardonically:--

"I suppose, however, it's useless to try and stop a marble rolling down
hill. . . .  Well, later on, remember that I warned you."

Diana stared into the fire for a moment in silence.  Then she asked
with apparent irrelevance:--

"Is Mr. Errington married?"

"He is not."  Diana's heart suddenly sang within her.

"Nor," continued Miss Lermontof keenly, "is there any likelihood of his
ever marrying."

The song broke off abruptly.

"I should have thought," said Diana slowly, "that he was just the kind
of man who _would_ marry.  He is"--with a little effort--"very
delightful."

Miss Lermontof got up to go.

"You have a saying in England: _All is not gold that glitters_.  It is
very good sense," she observed.

"Do you mean"--Diana's eyes were suddenly apprehensive--"do you mean
that he has done anything wrong--dishonourable?"

"I think," replied Olga Lermontof incisively, "that it would be very
dishonourable of him if he tried to--to make you care for him."

She moved towards the door as she spoke, and Diana followed her.

"But why--why do you tell me this?" she faltered.

The Russian's queer green eyes held an odd expression as she answered:--

"Perhaps it's because I like you very much better than you do me.
You're one of the few genuine warm-hearted people I've met--and I don't
want you to be unhappy.  Good-bye," she added carelessly, "thank you
for my tea."

The door closed behind her, and Diana, returning to her seat by the
fire, sat staring into the flames, puzzling over what she had heard.

Miss Lermontof's curious warning had frightened her a little.  She
apparently possessed some intimate knowledge of the affairs both of Max
Errington and Adrienne de Gervais, and what she knew did not appear to
be very favourable to either of them.

Diana had intuitively felt from the very beginning of her acquaintance
with Errington that there was something secret, something hidden, about
him, and in a way this had added to her interest in him.  It had seized
hold of her imagination, kept him vividly before her mind as nothing
else could have done, and now Olga Lermontof's strange hints and
innuendos gave a fresh fillip to her desire to know in what way Max
Errington differed from his fellows.

"It would be dishonourable of him to make you care," Miss Lermontof had
said.

The words seemed to ring in Diana's ears, and side by side with them,
as though to add a substance of reality, came the memory of Errington's
own bitter exclamation: "I forgot that I'm a man barred out from all
that makes life worth living!"

She felt as though she had drawn near some invisible web, of which
every now and then a single filament brushed against her--almost
impalpable, yet touching her with the fleetest and lightest of contacts.


During the weeks that followed, Diana became more or less an intimate
at Adrienne's house in Somervell Street.  The actress seemed to have
taken a great fancy to her, and although she was several years Diana's
senior, the difference in age formed no appreciable stumbling-block to
the growth of the friendship between them.

On her part, Diana regarded Adrienne with the enthusiastic devotion
which an older woman--more especially if she happens to be very
beautiful and occupying a somewhat unique position--frequently inspires
in one younger than herself, and Olga Lermontof's grave warning might
just as well have been uttered to the empty air.  Diana's warm-hearted,
spontaneous nature swept it aside with an almost passionate loyalty and
belief in her new-found friend.

Once Miss Lermontof had referred to it rather disagreeably.

"So you've decided to make a friend of Miss de Gervais after all?" she
said.

"Yes.  And I think you've misjudged her utterly," Diana warmly assured
her.  "Of course," she added, sensitively afraid that the other might
misconstrue her meaning, "I know you believed what you were saying, and
that you only said it out of kindness to me.  But you were
mistaken--really you were."

"Humph!"  The Russian's eyes narrowed until they looked like two slits
of green fire.  "Humph! I was wrong, was I?  Nevertheless, I'm
perfectly sure that Adrienne de Gervais' past is a closed book to
you--although you call yourself her friend!"

Diana turned away without reply.  It was true--Olga Lermontof had laid
a finger on the weak spot in her friendship with Adrienne.  The latter
never talked to her of her past life; their mutual attachment was built
solely around the present, and if by chance any question of Diana's
accidentally probed into the past, it was adroitly parried.  Even of
Adrienne's nationality she was in ignorance, merely understanding,
along with the rest of the world, that she was of French extraction.
This assumption had probably been founded in the first instance upon
her name, and Adrienne never troubled either to confirm or contradict
it.

Mrs. Adams, her companion-chaperon, always made Diana especially
welcome at the house in Somervell Street.

"You must come again soon, my dear," she would say cordially.
"Adrienne makes few friends--and your visits are such a relaxation to
her.  The life she leads is rather a strain, you know."

At times Diana noticed a curious aloofness in her friend, as though her
professional success occupied a position of relatively small importance
in her estimation, and once she had commented on it half jokingly.

"You don't seem to value your laurels one bit," she had said, as
Adrienne contemptuously tossed aside a newspaper containing a eulogy of
her claims to distinction which most actresses would have carefully cut
out and pasted into their book of critiques.

"Fame?" Adrienne had answered.  "What is it?  Merely the bubble of a
day."

"Well," returned Diana, laughing, "it's the aim and object of a good
many people's lives.  It's the bubble I'm in pursuit of, and if I
obtain one half the recognition you have had, I shall be very content."

Adrienne regarded her musingly.

"You will be famous when the name of Adrienne de Gervais is known no
longer," she said at last.

Diana stared at her in surprise.

"But why?  Even if I should succeed, within the next few years, you
will still be Adrienne de Gervais, the famous actress."

Adrienne smiled across at her.

"Ah, I cannot tell you why," she said lightly.  "But--I think it will
be like that."

Her eyes gazed dreamily into space, as though she perceived some vision
of the future, but whether that future were of rose and gold or only of
a dull grey, Diana could not tell.

Of Max Errington she saw very little.  It seemed as though he were
determined to avoid her, for she frequently saw him leaving Adrienne's
house on a day when she was expected there--hurrying away just as she
herself was approaching from the opposite end of the street.

Only once or twice, when she had chanced to pay an unexpected visit,
had he come in and found her there.  On these occasions his manner had
been studiously cold and indifferent, and any effort on her part
towards establishing a more friendly footing had been invariably
checked by some cruelly ironical remark, which had brought the blood to
her cheeks and, almost, the tears to her eyes.  She reflected grimly
that Olga Lermontof's warning words had proved decidedly superfluous.

Meanwhile, she had struck up a friendship with Errington's private
secretary, a young man of the name of Jerry Leigh, who was a frequent
visitor at Adrienne's house.  Jerry was, in truth, the sort of person
with whom it was impossible to be otherwise than friendly.  He was of a
delightful ugliness, twenty-five years of age, penniless except for the
salary he received from Errington, and he possessed a talent for
friendship much as other folk possess a talent for music or art or
dancing.

Diana's first meeting with him had occurred quite by chance.  Both
Adrienne and Mrs. Adams happened to be out one afternoon when she
called, and she was awaiting their return when the door of the
drawing-room suddenly opened to admit a remarkably plain young man,
who, on seeing her ensconced in one of the big arm-chairs, stood
hesitating as though undecided whether to remain or to take refuge in
instant flight.

Adrienne had talked so much about Jerry--of whom she was exceedingly
fond--and had so often described his charming ugliness to Diana that
the latter was in no doubt at all as to whom the newcomer might be.

She nodded to him reassuringly.

"Don't run away," she said calmly, "I don't bite."

The young man promptly closed the door and advanced into the room.

"Don't you?" he said in relieved tones.  "Thank you for telling me.
One never knows."

"If you've come to see Miss de Gervais, I'm afraid you can't at
present, as she's out," pursued Diana.  "I'm waiting for her."

"Then we can wait together," returned Mr. Leigh, with an engaging
smile.  "It will be much more amusing than waiting in solitude, won't
it?"

"That I can't tell you--yet," replied Diana demurely.

"I'll ask you again in half an hour," he returned undaunted.  "I'm
Leigh, you know.  Jerry Leigh, Errington's secretary."

"I suppose, then, you're a very busy person?"

"Well, pretty much so in the mornings and sometimes up till late at
night, but Errington's a rattling good 'boss' and very often gives me
an 'afternoon out.'  That's why I'm here now.  I'm off duty and Miss de
Gervais told me I might come to tea whenever I'm free.  You
see"--confidentially--"I've very few friends in London."

"Same here," responded Diana shortly.

"No, not really?"--with obvious satisfaction.  "Then we ought to pal up
together, oughtn't we?"

"Don't you want my credentials?" asked Diana, smiling,

"Lord, no!  One has only to look at you."

Diana laughed outright.

"That's quite the nicest compliment I've ever received, Mr. Leigh," she
said.

(It was odd that while Errington always made her feel rather small and
depressingly young, with Jerry Leigh she felt herself to be quite a
woman of the world.)

"It isn't a compliment," protested Jerry stoutly.  "It's just the
plain, unvarnished truth."

"I'm afraid your 'boss' wouldn't agree with you."

"Oh, nonsense!"

"Indeed it isn't.  He always treats me as though I were a hot potato,
and he were afraid of burning his fingers."

Jerry roared.

"Well, perhaps he's got good reason."

Diana shook; her head smilingly.

"Oh, no.  It's not that.  Mr. Errington doesn't like me."

Jerry stared at her reflectively.

"That couldn't be true," he said at last, with conviction.

"I don't know that I like him--very much--either," pursued Diana.

"You would if you really knew him," said the boy eagerly.  "He's one of
the very best."

"He's rather a mysterious person, don't you think?"

Jerry regarded her very straightly.

"Oh, well," he returned bluntly, "every man's a right to have his own
private affairs."

Then there _was_ something!

Diana felt her heart beat a little faster.  She had thrown out the
remark as the merest feeler, and now his own secretary, the man who
must be nearer to him than any other, had given what was tantamount to
an acknowledgment of the fact that Errington's life held some secret.

"Anyway"--Jerry was speaking again--"_I've_ got good reason to be
grateful to him.  I was on my uppers when he happened along--and
without any prospect of re-soling.  I'd played the fool at Monte Carlo,
and, like a brick, he offered me the job of private secretary, and I've
been with him ever since.  I'd no references, either--he just took me
on trust."

"That was very kind of him," said Diana slowly.

"Kind!  There isn't one man in a hundred who'll give a chance like that
to a young ass that's played the goat as I did."

"No," agreed Diana.  "But," she added, rather low, "he isn't always
kind."

At this moment the door opened, and the subject of their conversation
entered the room.  He paused on the threshold, and for an instant Diana
could have sworn that as his eyes met her own a sudden light of
pleasure flashed into their blue depths, only to be immediately
replaced by his usual look of cold indifference.  He glanced round the
room, apparently somewhat surprised to find Diana and his secretary its
sole occupants.

"We're all here now except our hostess," observed the latter
cheerfully, following his thought.

"So it seems.  I didn't know"--looking across from Jerry to Diana in a
puzzled way--"that you two were acquainted with each other."

"We aren't--at least, we weren't," replied Jerry.  "We met by chance,
like two angels that have made a bid for the same cloud."

Errington smiled faintly.

"And did you persuade your--fellow angel--to sing to you?" he asked
drily.

"No.  Does she sing?"

"_Does she sing_? . . .  Jerry, my young and ignorant friend, let me
introduce you to Miss Diana Quentin, the--"

"Good Lord!" broke in Jerry, his face falling.  "Are you Miss
Quentin--_the_ Miss Quentin?  Of course I've heard all about
you.--you're going to be the biggest star in the musical firmament--and
here have I been gassing away about my little affairs just as though
you were an ordinary mortal like myself."

Diana was beginning to laugh at the boy's nonsense when Errington cut
in quietly.

"Then you've been making a great mistake, Jerry," he said.  "Miss
Quentin doesn't in the least resemble ordinary mortals.  She isn't
afflicted by like passions with ourselves, and she doesn't
understand--or forgive them."

The words, uttered as though in jest, held an undercurrent of meaning
for Diana that sent the colour flying up under her clear skin.  There
was a bitter taunt in them that none knew better than she how to
interpret.

She winced under it, and a fierce resentment flared up within her that
he should dare to reproach, her--he, who had been the offender from
first to last.  Always, now, he seemed to be laughing at her, mocking
her.  He appeared an entirely different person from the man who had
been so careful of her welfare during the eventful journey they had
made together.

She lifted her head a little defiantly.

"No," she said, with significance.  "I certainly don't understand--some
people."

"Perhaps it's just as well," retorted Errington, unmoved.

Jerry, sensing electricity in the atmosphere, looked troubled and
uncomfortable.  He hadn't the faintest idea what they were talking
about, but it was perfectly clear to him that everything was not quite
as it should be between his beloved Max and this new friend, this jolly
little girl with the wonderful eyes--just like a pair of stars, by
Jove!--and, if rumour spoke truly, the even more wonderful voice.

Bashfully murmuring something about "going down to see if Miss de
Gervais had come in yet," he bolted out of the room, leaving Max and
Diana alone together.

Suddenly she turned and faced him.

"Why--why are you always so unkind to me?" she burst out, a little
breathlessly.

He lifted his brows.

"I? . . .  My dear Miss Quentin, I have no right to be either kind--or
unkind--to you.  That is surely the privilege of friends.  And you
showed me quite clearly, down at Crailing, that you did not intend to
admit me to your friendship."

"I didn't," she exclaimed, and rushed on desperately.  "Was it likely
that I should feel anything but gratitude--and liking for any one who
had done as much for me as you had?"

"You forget," he said quietly.  "Afterwards--I transgressed.  And you
let me see that the transgression had wiped out my meritorious
deeds--completely.  It was quite the best thing that could happen," he
added hastily, as she would have spoken.  "I had no right, less right
than any man on earth, to do--what I did.  I abide by your decision."

The last words came slowly, meaningly.  He was politely telling her
that any overtures of friendship would be rejected.

Diana's pride lay in the dust, but she was determined he should not
knew it.  With her head held high, she said stiffly:--

"I don't think I'll wait any longer for Adrienne.  Will you tell her,
please, that I've gone back to Brutton Square?"

"Brutton Square?" he repeated swiftly.  "Do you live there?"

"Yes.  Have you any objection?"

He disregarded her mocking query and continued:--

"A Miss Lermontof lives there.  Is she, by any chance, a friend of
yours?"  There seemed a hint of disapproval in his voice, and Diana
countered, with another question.

"Why?  Do you think I ought not to be friends with her?"

"I?  Oh, I don't think about it at all"--with a little half-foreign
shrug of his shoulders.  "Miss Quentin's choice of friends is no
concern of mine."

Unbidden, tears leaped into Diana's eyes at the cold satirical tones.
Surely, surely he had hurt her enough, for one day!  Without a word she
turned and made her way blindly out of the room and down the stairs.
In the hall she almost ran into Jerry's arms.

"Oh, are you going?" he asked, in tones of disappointment.

"Yea, I'm afraid I mustn't wait any longer for Adrienne.  I have some
work to do when I get back."

Her voice shook a little, and Jerry, giving her a swift glance, could
see that her lashes were wet and her eyes misty with tears.

"The brute!" he ejaculated mentally.  "What's he done to her?"

Aloud he merely said:--

"Will you have a taxi?"

She nodded, and hailing one that chanced to be passing, he put her
carefully into it.

"And--and I say," he said anxiously.  "You didn't mind my talking to
you this afternoon, did you, Miss Quentin?  I made 'rather free,' as
the servants say."

"No, of course I didn't mind," she replied warmly, her spirits rising a
little.  He was such a nice boy--the sort of boy one could be pals
with.  "You must come and see me at Brutton Square.  Come to tea one
day, will you?"

"_Won't I_?" he said heartily.  "Good-bye."  And the taxi swept away
down the street.

Jerry returned to the drawing-room to find Errington staring moodily
out of the window.

"I say, Max," he said, affectionately linking his arm in that of the
older man.  "What had you been saying to upset that dear little person?"

"I?"

"Yes.  She was--crying."

Jerry felt the arm against his own twitch, and continued relentlessly:--

"I believe you've been snubbing her.  You know, old man, you have a
sort of horribly lordly, touch-me-not air about you when you choose.
But I don't see why you should choose with Miss Quentin.  She's such an
awfully good sort."

"Yes," agreed Errington.  "Miss Quentin is quite charming."

"She thinks you don't like her," pursued Jerry, after a moment's pause.

"I--not like Miss Quentin?  Absurd!"

"Well, that's what she thinks, anyway," persisted Jerry.  "She told me
so, and she seemed really sorry about it.  She believes you don't want
to be friends with her."

"Miss Quentin's friendship would be delightful.  But--you don't
understand, Jerry--it's one of the delights I must forego."

When Errington spoke with such a definite air of finality, his young
secretary knew from experience that he might as well drop the subject.
He could get nothing further out of Max, once the latter had adopted
that tone over any matter.  So Jerry, being wise in his generation,
held his peace.

Suddenly Errington faced round and laid his hands on the boy's shoulder.

"Jerry," he said, and his voice shook with some deep emotion.  "Thank
God--thank Him every day of your life--that you're free and
untrammelled.  All the world's yours if you choose to take it.  Some of
us are shackled--our arms tied behind our backs.  And oh, my God!  How
they ache to be free!"

The blue eyes were full of a keen anguish, the stern mouth wry with
pain.  Never before had Jerry seen him thus with the mask off, and he
felt as though he were watching a soul's agony unveiled.

"Max . . . dear old chap . . ." he stammered.  "Can't I help?"

With an obvious effort Errington regained his composure, but his face
was grey as he answered:--

"Neither you nor any one else, Jerry, boy.  I must dree my weird, as
the Scotch say.  And that's the hard part of it--to be your own judge
and jury.  A man ought not to be compelled to play the double role of
victim and executioner."

"And must you? . . .  No way out?"

"None.  Unless"--with a hard laugh--"the executioner throws up the game
and--runs away, allowing the victim to escape.  And that's
impossible! . . .  Impossible!" he reiterated vehemently, as though
arguing against some inner voice.

"Let him rip," suggested Jerry.  "Give the accused a chance!"

Errington laughed more naturally.  He was rapidly regaining his usual
self-possession.

"Jerry, you're a good pal, but a bad adviser.  Get thee behind me."

Steps sounded on the stairs outside.  Adrienne and Mrs. Adams had come
back, and Errington turned composedly to greet them, the veil of
reticence, momentarily swept aside by the surge of a sudden emotion,
falling once more into its place.



CHAPTER XI

THE YEAR'S FRUIT

Spring had slipped into summer, summer had given place again to winter,
and once more April was come, with her soft breath blowing upon the
sticky green buds and bidding them open, whilst daffodils and tulips,
like slim sentinels, swayed above the brown earth, in a riot of tender
colour.

There is something very fresh and charming about London in April.  The
parks are aglow with young green, and the trees nod cheerfully to the
little breeze that dances round them, whispering of summer.  Even the
houses perk up under their spruce new coats of paint, while every
window that can afford it puts forth its carefully tended box of
flowers.  It is as though the old city suddenly awoke from her winter
slumber and preened herself like a bird making its toilet; there is an
atmosphere of renewal abroad--the very carters and cabmen seem
conscious of it, and acknowledge it with good-humoured smiles and a
flower worn jauntily in the buttonhole.

Diana leaned far out of the open window of her room at Brutton Square,
sniffing up the air with its veiled, faint fragrance of spring, and
gazing down in satisfaction at the delicate shimmer of green which
clothed the trees and shrubs in the square below.

The realisation that a year had slipped away since last the trees had
worn that tender green amazed her; it seemed almost incredible that
twelve whole months had gone by since the day when she had first come
to Brutton Square, and she and Bunty had joked together about the ten
commandments on the wall.

The year had brought both pleasure and pain--as most years do--pleasure
in the friends she had gathered round her, Adrienne and Jerry and
Bunty--even with Olga Lermontof an odd, rather one-sided friendship had
sprung up, born of the circumstances which had knit their paths
together--pain in the soreness which still lingered from the hurt that
Errington had dealt her.  Albeit, her life had been so filled with work
and play, her mind so much occupied, that a surface skin, as it were,
had formed over the wound, and it was only now and again that a sudden
throb reminded her of its existence.  Love had brushed her with his
wings in passing, but she was hardly yet a fully awakened woman.

Nevertheless, the brief episodes of her early acquaintance with
Errington had cut deep into a mind which had hitherto reflected nothing
beyond the simple happenings of a girlhood passed at a country rectory,
and the romantic flair of youth had given their memory a certain sacred
niche in her heart.  Some day Fate would come along and take them down
from that shelf where they were stored, and dust them and present them
to her afresh with a new significance.

For a brief moment Errington's kiss had roused her dormant womanhood,
and then the events of daily life had crowded round and lulled it
asleep once more.  In swift succession there had followed the vivid
interest of increasing musical study, the stirrings of ambition, and a
whole world of new people to meet and rub shoulders with.

So that the end of her second year in London found Diana still little
more than an impetuous, impulsive girl, possessed of a warm,
undisciplined nature, and of an unconscious desire to fulfil her being
along the most natural and easy lines, while in spirit she leaped
forward to the time when she should be plunged into professional life.

The whole of her training under Baroni, with the big future that it
held, tended to give her a somewhat egotistical outlook, an instinctive
feeling that everything must of necessity subordinate itself to her
demands--an excellent foundation, no doubt, on which to build up a
reputation as a famous singer in a world where people are apt to take
you very much at your own valuation, but a poor preparation for the
sacrifices and self-immolation that love not infrequently demands.

Above all else, this second year of study had brought in fullest
measure the development and enriching of her voice.  Baroni had
schooled it with the utmost care, keeping always in view his purpose
that the coming June should witness her debut, and Diana, catching fire
from his enthusiasm, had answered to every demand he had made upon her.

Her voice was now something to marvel at.  It had matured into a rich
contralto of amazing compass, and with a peculiar thrilling quality
about it which gripped and held you almost as though some one had laid
a hand upon your heart.  Baroni hugged himself as he realised what a
_furore_ in the musical world this voice would create when at last he
allowed the silence to be broken.  Already there were whispers flying
about of the wonderful contralto he was training, of whom it was
rumoured that she would have the whole world at her feet from the
moment that Baroni produced her.

The old _maestro_ had his plans all cut and dried.  Early in June, just
when the season should be in full swing, there was to be a concert--a
recital with only Kirolski, the Polish violinist, and Madame Berthe
Louvigny, the famous French pianist, to assist.  Those two names alone
would inevitably draw a big crowd of all the musical people who
mattered, and Diana's golden voice would do the rest.

This was to be the solitary concert for the season, but, to whet the
appetite of society, Diana was also to appear at a single big
reception--"Baroni won't look at anything less than a ducal house with
Royalty present," as Jerry banteringly asserted--and then, while the
world was still agape with interest and excitement, the singer was to
be whisked away to Crailing for three months' holiday, and to accept no
more engagements until the winter.  By that time, Baroni anticipated,
people would be feverishly impatient for her reappearance, and the
winter campaign would resolve itself into one long trail of glory.

Diana had been better able latterly to devote herself to her work, as
Errington had been out of England for a time.  So long as there was the
likelihood of meeting him at any moment, her nerves had been more or
less in a state of tension.  There was that between them which made it
impossible for her to regard him with the cool, indifferent friendship
which he himself seemed so well able to assume.  Despite herself, the
sound of his voice, the touch of his hand, caused a curious little
fluttering within her, like the flicker of a compass needle when it
quivers to the north.  If he entered the same room as herself, she was
instantly aware of it, even though she might not chance to be looking
in his direction at the moment.  Indeed, her consciousness of him was
so acute, so vital, that she sometimes wondered how it was possible
that one person could mean so much to another and yet himself feel no
reciprocal interest.  And that he did feel none, his unvarying
indifference of manner had at last convinced her.

But, even so, she was unable to banish him from her thoughts.  This was
the first day of her return to London after the Easter holidays, which
she had spent as usual at Crailing Rectory, and already she was
wondering rather wistfully whether Errington would be back in England
during the summer.  She felt that if only she could know why he had
changed so completely towards her, why the interest she had so
obviously awakened in him upon first meeting had waned and died, she
might be able to thrust him completely out of her thoughts, and accept
him merely as the casual acquaintance which was all he apparently
claimed to be.  But the restless, irritable longing to know, to have
his incomprehensible behaviour explained, kept him ever in her mind.

Only once or twice had his name been mentioned between Olga Lermontof
and herself, and on each occasion the former had repeated her caution,
admonishing Diana to have nothing to do with him.  It almost seemed as
though she had some personal feeling of dislike towards him.  Indeed
Diana had accused her of it, only to be met with a quiet negative.

"No," she had replied serenely.  "I don't dislike him.  But I
disapprove of much that he does."

"He is rather an attractive person," Diana ventured tentatively.

Olga Lermontof shot a keen glance at her.

"Well, I advise you not to give him your friendship," she said,
"or"--sneeringly--"anything of greater value."

A sharp rat-tat at the door of her sitting-room recalled Diana's
wandering thoughts to the present.  She threw a glance of half-comic
dismay at the state of her sitting-room--every available chair and
table seemed to be strewn with the contents of the trunks she was
unpacking--and then, with a resigned shrug of her shoulders, she
crossed to the door and threw it open.  Bunty was standing outside.

"What is it?" Diana was beginning, when she caught sight of a pleasant,
ugly face appearing over little Miss Bunting's shoulder.  "Oh, Jerry,
is it you?" she exclaimed delightedly.

"He insisted on coming up, Miss Quentin," said Bunty, "although I told
him you had only just arrived and would be in the middle of unpacking."

"I've got an important message to deliver," asserted Jerry, grinning,
and shaking both Diana's hands exuberantly.

"Oh, never mind the unpacking," cried Diana, beginning to bundle the
things off the tables and chairs back into one of the open trunks.
"Bunty darling, help me to clear a space, and then go and order tea for
two up here--and expense be blowed!  Oh, and I'll put a match to the
fire--it's quite cold enough.  Come in, Jerry, and tell me all the
news."

"I'll light that fire first," said Jerry, practically.  "We can talk
when Bunty darling brings our tea."

Miss Bunting shook her head at him and tried to frown but as no one
ever minded in the least what Jerry said, her effort at propriety was a
failure, and she retreated to set about the tea, observing
maliciously:--

"I'll send 'Mrs. Lawrence darling' up to talk to you, Mr. Leigh."

"Great Jehosaphat!"--Jerry flew after her to the door--"If you do, I'm
off.  That woman upsets my digestion--she's so beastly effusive.  I
thought she was going to kiss me last time."

Miss Bunting laughed as she disappeared downstairs.

"You're safe to-day," she threw back at him.  "She's out."

Jerry returned to his smouldering fire and proceeded to encourage it
with the bellows till, by the time the tea came up, the flames were
leaping and crackling cheerfully in the little grate.

"And now," said Diana, as they settled themselves for a comfortable
yarn over the teacups, "tell me all the news.  Oh by the way, what's
your important message?  I don't believe"--regarding him
severely--"that you've got one at all.  It was just an excuse."

"It wasn't, honour bright.  It's from Miss de Gervais--she sent me
round to see you expressly.  You know, while Errington's away I call at
her place for orders like the butcher's boy every morning.  The boss
asked me to look after her and make myself useful during his absence."

"Well," said Diana impatiently.  "What's the message?"  It did not
interest her in the least to hear about the arrangements Max had made
for Adrienne's convenience.

"Miss de Gervais is having a reception--'Hans Breitmann gif a barty,'
you know--"

"Of course I know," broke in Diana irritably, "seeing that I'm asked to
it."

Jerry continued patiently.

"And she wants you as a special favour to sing for her.  As a matter of
fact there are to be one or two bigwigs there whom she thinks it might
be useful for you to meet--influence, you know," he added, waving his
hand expansively, "push, shove, hacking, wire-pulling--"

"Oh, be quiet, Jerry," interrupted Diana, laughing in spite of herself.
"It's no good, you know.  It's dear of Adrienne to think of it, but
Baroni won't let me do it.  He hasn't allowed me to sing anywhere this
last year."

"Doesn't want to take the cream off the milk, I suppose," said Jerry,
with a grin.  "But, as a matter of fact, he _has_ given permission this
time.  Miss de Gervais went to see him about it herself, and he's
consented.  I've got a letter for you from the old chap"--producing it
as he spoke.

"Adrienne is a marvel," said Diana, as she slit the flap of the
envelope.  "I'm sure Baroni would have refused any one else, but she
seems to be able to twist him round her little finger."

"Dear Mis Quentin"--Baroni had written in his funny, cramped
handwriting--"You may sing for Miss de Gervais.  I have seen the list
of guests and it can do no harm--possibly a little good.  Yours very
sincerely, CARLO BARONI."

"Miss de Gervais must have a 'way' with her," said Jerry meditatively.
"I observe that even my boss always does her bidding like a lamb."

Diana poured herself out a second cup of tea before she asked
negligently:--

"When's your 'boss' returning?  It seems to me he's allowing you to
live the life of the idle rich.  Will he be back for Adrienne's
reception?"

"No.  About a week afterwards, I expect."

"Where's he been?"

"Oh, all over the shop--I've had letters from him from half the
capitals in Europe.  But he's been in Russia longest of all, I think."

"Russia?"--musingly.  "I suppose he isn't a Russian by any chance?"

"I've never asked him," returned Jerry shortly.

"He is certainly not pure English.  Look at his high cheek-bones.  And
his temperament isn't English, either," she added, with a secret smile.

Jerry remained silent.

"Don't you think it's rather funny that we none of us know anything
about him?--I mean beyond the mere fact that his name is Errington and
that he's a well-known playwright."

"Why do you want to know more?" growled Jerry.

"Well, I think there is something behind, something odd about him.
Olga Lermontof is always hinting that there is."

"Look here, Diana," said Jerry, getting rather red.  "Don't let's talk
about Errington.  You know we always get shirty with each other when we
do.  I'm not going to pry into his private concerns--and as for Miss
Lermontof, she's the type of woman who simply revels in making
mischief."

"But it _is_ funny Mr. Errington should be so--so reserved about
himself," persisted Diana.  "Hasn't he ever told you anything?"

"No, he has not," replied Jerry curtly.  "Nor should I ever ask him to.
I'm quite content to take him as I find him."

"All the same, I believe Miss Lermontof knows something about
him--something not quite to his credit."

"I swear she doesn't," burst out Jerry violently.  "Just because he
doesn't choose to blab out all his private affairs to the world at
large, that black-browed female Tartar must needs imagine he has
something to conceal.  It's damnable!  I'd stake my life Errington's as
straight as a die--and always has been."

"You're a good friend, Jerry," said Diana, rather wistfully.

"Yes, I am," he returned stoutly.  "And so are you, as a rule.  I can't
think why you're so beastly unfair to Errington."

"You forget," she said swiftly, "he's not my friend.  And perhaps--he
hasn't always been quite fair to me."

"Oh, well, let's drop the subject now"--Jerry wriggled his broad
shoulders uncomfortably.  "Tell me, how are the Rector and--and Miss
Stair?"

The previous summer Jerry had spent a week at Red Gables, and had made
Joan's acquaintance.  Apparently the two had found each other's society
somewhat absorbing, for Adrienne had laughingly declared that she
didn't quite know whether Jerry were really staying at Red Gables or at
the Rectory.

"Pobs and Joan sent all sorts of nice messages for you," said Diana,
smiling a little.  "They're both coming up to town for my recital, you
know."

"Are they?"--eagerly.  "Hurrah! . . .  We must go on the bust when it's
over.  The concert will be in the afternoon, won't it?"  Diana nodded.
"Then we must have a commemoration dinner in the evening.  Oh, why am I
not a millionaire?  Then I'd stand you all dinner at the 'Carlton.'"

He was silent a moment, then went on quickly:

"I shall have to make money somehow.  A man can't marry on my screw as
a secretary, you know."

Diana hastily concealed a smile.

"I didn't know you were contemplating matrimony," she observed.

"I'm not"--reddening a little.  "But--well, one day I expect I shall.
It's quite the usual sort of thing--done by all the best people.  But
it can't be managed on two hundred a year!  And that's the net amount
of my princely income."

"But I thought that your people had plenty of money?"

"So they have--trucks of it.  Coal-trucks!"--with a debonair reference
to the fact that Leigh _père_ was a wealthy coal-owner.  "But, you see,
when I was having my fling, which came to such an abrupt end at Monte,
the governor got downright ratty with me--kicked up no end of a shine.
Told me not to darken his doors again, and that I might take my own
road to the devil for all he cared, and generally played the part of
the outraged parent.  I must say," he added ingenuously, "that the old
boy had paid my debts and set me straight a good many times before he
_did_ cut up rusty."

"You're the only child, aren't you?" Jerry nodded.  "Oh, well then, of
course he'll come round in time--they always do.  I shouldn't worry a
bit if I were you."

"Well," said Jerry hesitatingly, "I did think that perhaps if I went to
him some day with a certificate of good character and steady work from
Errington, it might smooth matters a bit.  I'm fond of the governor,
you know, in spite of his damn bad temper--and it must be rather rotten
for the old chap living all by himself at Abbotsleigh."

"Yes, it must.  One fine day you'll make it up with him, Jerry, and
he'll slay the fatted calf and you'll have no end of a good time."

Just then the clock of a neighbouring church chimed the half-hour, and
Jerry jumped to his feet in a hurry.

"My hat!  Half-past six!  I must be toddling.  What a squanderer of
unconsidered hours you are, Diana! . . .  Well, by-bye, old girl; it's
good to see you back in town.  Then I may tell Miss de Gervais that
you'll sing for her?"

Diana nodded.

"Of course I will.  It will be a sort of preliminary canter for my
recital."

"And when that event comes off, you'll sail past the post lengths in
front of any one else."

And with that Jerry took his departure.  A minute later Diana heard the
front door bang, and from the window watched him striding along the
street.  He looked back, just before he turned the corner, and waved
his hand cheerily.

"Nice boy!" she murmured, and then set about her unpacking in good
earnest.



CHAPTER XII

MAX ERRINGTON'S RETURN

It was the evening of Adrienne's reception, and Diana was adding a few
last touches to her toilette for the occasion.  Bunty had been playing
the part of lady's maid, and now they both stood back to observe the
result of their labours.

"You do look nice!" remarked Miss Bunting, in a tone of satisfaction.

Diana glanced half-shyly into the long glass panel of the wardrobe
door.  There was something vivid and arresting about her to-night, as
though she were tremulously aware that she was about to take the first
step along her road as a public singer.  A touch of excitement had
added an unwonted brilliance to her eyes, while a faint flush came and
went swiftly in her cheeks.

Bunty, without knowing quite what it was that appealed, was suddenly
conscious of the sheer physical charm of her.

"You are rather wonderful," she said consideringly.

A sense of the sharp contrast between them smote Diana almost
painfully--she herself, young and radiant, holding in her slender
throat a key that would unlock the doors of the whole world, and beside
her the little boarding-house help, equally young, and with all youth's
big demands pent up within her, yet ahead of her only a drab vista of
other boarding-houses--some better, some worse, mayhap--but always
eating the bread of servitude, her only possible way of escape by means
of matrimony with some little underpaid clerk.

And what had Bunty done to deserve so poor a lot?  Hers was
unquestionably by far the finer character of the two, as Diana frankly
admitted to herself.  In truth, the apparent injustices of fate made a
riddle hard to read.

"And you,"--Diana spoke impulsively--"you are the dearest thing
imaginable.  I wish you were coming with me."

"I should like to hear you sing in those big rooms," acknowledged
Bunty, a little wistfully.

"When I give my recital you shall have a seat in the front row," Diana
promised, as she picked up her gloves and music-case.

A tap sounded at the door.

"Are you ready?" inquired Olga Lermontof a voice from outside.

Bunty opened the door.

"Oh, come in, Miss Lermontof.  Yes, Miss Quentin is quite ready, and I
must run away now."

Olga came in and stood for a moment looking at Diana.  Then she
deliberately stepped close to her, so that their reflections showed
side by side in the big mirror.

"Black and white angels--quite symbolical," she observed, with a short
laugh.

She was dressed entirely in black, and her sable figure made a
startling foil to Diana's slender whiteness.

"Nervous?" she asked laconically, noticing the restless tapping of the
other's foot.

"I believe I am," replied Diana, smiling a little.

"You needn't be."

"I should be terrified if anyone else were accompanying me.  But,
somehow, I think you always give me confidence when I'm singing."

"Probably because I'm always firmly convinced of your ultimate success."

"No, no.  It isn't that.  It's because you're the most perfect
accompanist any one could have."

Miss Lermontof swept her a mocking curtsey.

"_Mille remercîments_!"  Then she laughed rather oddly.  "I believe you
still have no conception of the glory of your voice, you queer child."

"Is it really so good?" asked Diana, with the genuine artist's craving
to be reassured.

Olga Lermontof looked at her speculatively.

"I suppose you can't understand it at present," she said, after a
pause.  "You will, though, when you've given a few concerts and seen
its effect upon the audience.  Now, come along; it's time we started."

They found Adrienne's rooms fairly full, but not in the least
overcrowded.  The big double doors between the two drawing-rooms had
been thrown open, and the tide of people flowed back and forth from one
room to the other.  A small platform had been erected at one end, and
as Diana and Miss Lermontof entered, a French _diseuse_ was just
ascending it preparatory to reciting in her native tongue.

The recitation--vivid, accompanied by the direct, expressive gesture
for which Mademoiselle de Bonvouloir was so famous--was followed at
appropriate intervals by one or two items of instrumental music, and
then Diana found herself mounting the little platform, and a hush
descended anew upon the throng of people, the last eager chatterers
twittering into silence as Olga Lermontof struck the first note of the
song's prelude.

Diana was conscious of a small sea of faces all turned towards her,
most of them unfamiliar.  She could just see Adrienne smiling at her
from the back of the room, and near the double doors Jerry was standing
next a tall man whose back was towards the platform as he bent to move
aside a chair that was in the way.  The next moment he had straightened
himself and turned round, and with a sudden, almost agonising leap of
the heart Diana saw that it was Max Errington.

He had come back!  After that first wild throb her heart seemed, to
stand still, the room grew dark around her, and, she swayed a little
where she stood.

"Nervous!" murmured one man to another, beneath his breath.

Olga Lermontof had finished the prelude, and, finding that Diana had
failed to come in, composedly recommenced it.  Diana was dimly
conscious of the repetition, and then the mist gradually cleared away
from before her eyes, and this time, when the accompanist played the
bar of her entry, the habit of long practice prevailed and she took up
the voice part with accurate precision.

The hush deepened in the room.  Perhaps the very emotion under which
Diana was labouring added to the charm of her wonderful voice--gave it
an indescribable appeal which held the critical audience, familiar with
all the best that the musical world could offer, spell-bound.

When she ceased, and the last exquisite note had vibrated into silence,
the enthusiasm of the applause that broke out would have done justice
to a theatre pit audience rather than to a more or less blasé society
crowd.  And when the whisper went round that this was to be her only
song--that Baroni had laid his veto upon her singing twice--the
clapping and demands for an encore were redoubled.

Olga Lermontof's eyes, roaming over the room, rested at last upon the
face of Max Errington, and with the recollection of Diana's hesitancy
at the beginning of the song a brief smile flashed across her face.

"What shall I do?"  Diana, who had bowed repeatedly without stemming
the applause, turned to the accompanist, a little flushed with the
thrill of this first public recognition of her gifts.

"Sing 'The Haven of Memory,'" whispered Olga.

It was a sad little love lyric which Baroni himself had set to music
specially for the voice of his favourite pupil, and as Diana's low rich
notes took up the plaintive melody, the audience settled itself down
with a sigh of satisfaction to listen once more.


  Do you remember
    Our great love's pure unfolding,
  The troth you gave,
    And prayed for God's upholding,
      Long and long ago?

  Out of the past
    A dream--and then the waking--
  Comes back to me,
    Of love and love's forsaking
      Ere the summer waned.

  Ah! let me dream
    That still a little kindness
  Dwelt in the smile
    That chid my foolish blindness,
      When you said good-bye.

  Let me remember,
    When I am very lonely,
  How once your love
    But crowned and blessed me only,
      Long and long ago! [1]


The haunting melody ceased, and an infinitesimal pause ensued before
the clapping broke out.  It was rather subdued this time; more than one
pair of eyes were looking at the singer through the grey mist of memory.

An old lady with very white hair and a reputation for a witty tongue
that had been dipped in vinegar came up to Diana as she descended from
the platform.

"My dear," she said, and the keen old eyes were suddenly blurred and
dim.  "I want to thank you.  One is apt to forget--when one is very
lonely--that we've most of us worn love's crown just once--if only for
a few moments of our lives. . . .  And it's good to be reminded of it,
even though it may hurt a little."

"That was the Dowager Duchess of Linfield," murmured Olga, when the old
lady had moved away again.  "They say she was madly in love with an
Italian opera singer in the days of her youth.  But, of course, at that
time he was quite unknown and altogether ineligible, so she married the
late Duke, who was old enough to be her father.  By the time he died
the opera singer was dead, too."

That was Diana's first taste of the power of a beautiful voice to
unlock the closed chambers of the heart where lie our hidden
memories--the long pain of years, sometimes unveiled to those whose
gifts appeal directly to the emotions.  It sobered her a little.  This,
then, she thought, this leaf of rue that seemed to bring the sadness of
the world so close, was interwoven with the crown of laurel.

"Won't you say how do you do to me, Miss Quentin?  I've been deputed by
Miss de Gervais to see that you have some supper after breaking all our
hearts with your singing."

Diana, roused from her thoughts, looked up to see Max Errington
regarding her with the old, faintly amused mockery in his eyes.

She shook hands.

"I don't believe you've got a heart to break," she retorted, smiling.

"Oh, mine was broken long before I heard you sing.  Otherwise I would
not answer for the consequences of that sad little song of yours.  What
is it called?"

"'The Haven of Memory,'" replied Diana, as Errington skilfully piloted
her to a small table standing by itself in an alcove of the supper-room.

"What a misleading name!  Wouldn't 'The _Hell_ of Memory' be more
appropriate--more true to life?"

"I suppose," answered Diana soberly, "that it might appear differently
to different people."

"You mean that the garden of memory may have several aspects--like a
house?  I'm afraid mine faces north.  Yours, I expect, is full of
spring flowers"--smiling a little quizzically.

"With the addition of a few weeds," she answered.

"Weeds?  Surely not?  Who planted them there?"  His keen, penetrating
eyes were fixed on her face.

Diana was silent, her fingers trifling nervously with the salt in one
of the little silver cruets, first piling it up into a tiny mound, and
then flattening it down again and patterning its surface with
criss-cross lines.

There was no one near.  In the alcove Errington had chosen, the two
were completely screened from the rest of the room by a carved oak
pillar and velvet curtains.

He laid his hand over the restless fingers, holding them in a sure,
firm clasp that brought back vividly to her mind the remembrance of
that day when he had helped her up the steps of the quayside at
Crailing.

"Diana"--his voice deepened a little--"am I responsible for any of the
weeds in your garden?"

Her hand trembled a little under his.  After a moment she threw back
her head defiantly and met his glance.

"Perhaps there's a stinging-nettle or two labelled with your name," she
answered lightly.  "The Nettlewort Erringtonia," she added, smiling.

Diana was growing up rapidly.

"I suppose," he said slowly, "you wouldn't believe me if I told you
that I'm sorry--that I'd uproot them if I could?"

She looked away from him in silence.  He could not see her expression,
only the pure outline of her cheek and a little pulse that was beating
rapidly in her throat.

With a sudden, impetuous movement he released her hand, almost flinging
it from him.

"My application for the post of gardener is refused, I see," he said.
"And quite rightly, too.  It was great presumption on my part.  After
all"--with bitter mockery--"what are a handful of nettles in the garden
of a _prima donna_?  They'll soon be stifled beneath the wreaths of
laurel and bouquets that the world will throw you.  You'll never even
feel their sting."

"You are wrong," said Diana, very low, "quite wrong.  They _have_ stung
me.  Mr. Errington"--and as she turned to him he saw that her eyes were
brimming with tears--"why can't we be friends?  You--you have helped me
so many times that I don't understand why you treat me now . . . almost
as though I were an enemy?"

"An enemy? . . .  You!"

"Yes," she said steadily.

He was silent.

"I don't wish to be," she went on, an odd wistfulness in her voice.
"Can't we--be friends?"

Errington pushed his plate aside abruptly.

"You don't know what you're offering me," he said, in hurrying tones.
"If I could only take it! . . .  But I've no right to make friends--no
right.  I think I've been singled out by fate to live alone."

"Yet you are friends with Miss de Gervais," she said quickly.

"I write plays for her," he replied evasively.  "So that we are obliged
to see a good deal of each other."

"And apparently you don't want to be friends with me."

"There can be little in common between a mere quill-driver and--a
_prima donna_."

She turned on him swiftly.

"You seem to forget that at present you are a famous dramatist, while I
am merely a musical student."

"You divested yourself of that title for ever this evening," he
returned, "It was no 'student' who sang 'The Haven of Memory.'"

"All the same I shall have to study for a long time yet, Baroni tells
me,"--smiling a little.

"In that sense a great artiste is always a student.  But what I meant
by saying that a mere writer has no place in a prima donna's life was
that, whereas my work is more or less a hobby, and my little bit of
'fame'--as you choose to call it--merely a side-issue, _your_ work will
be your whole existence.  You will live for it entirely--your art and
the world's recognition of it will absorb every thought.  There will be
no room in your life for the friendship of insignificant people like
myself."

"Try me," she said demurely.

He swung round on her with a sudden fierceness.

"By God!" he exclaimed.  "If you knew the temptation . . . if you knew
how I long to take what you offer!"

She smiled at him--a slow, sweet smile that curved her mouth, and
climbing to her eyes lit them with a soft radiance.

"Well?" she said quietly.  "Why not?"

He got up abruptly, and going to the window, stood with his back to
her, looking out into the night.

She watched him consideringly.  Intuitively she knew that he was
fighting a battle with himself.  She had always been conscious of the
element of friction in their intercourse.  This evening it had suddenly
crystallised into a definite realisation that although this man desired
to be her friend--Truth, at the bottom of her mental well, whispered
perhaps even something more--he was caught back, restrained by the
knowledge of some obstacle, some hindrance to their friendship of which
she was entirely ignorant.

She waited in silence.

Presently he turned back to her, and she gathered from his expression
that he had come to a decision.  In the moment that elapsed before he
spoke she had time to be aware of a sudden, almost breathless anxiety,
and instinctively she let her lids fall over her eyes lest he should
read and understand the apprehension in them.

"Diana."

His voice came gently and gravely to her ears.  With an effort she
looked up and found him regarding her with eyes from which all the old
ironical mockery had fled.  They were very steady and kind--kinder than
she had ever believed it possible for them to be.  Her throat
contracted painfully, and she stretched out her hand quickly,
pleadingly, like a child.

He took it between both his, holding it with the delicate care one
accords a flower, as though fearful of hurting it.

"Diana, I'm going to accept--what you offer me.  Heaven knows I've
little right to!  There are . . . worlds between you, and me. . . .
But if a man dying of thirst in the desert finds a pool--a pool of
crystal water--is he to be blamed if he drinks--if he quenches his
thirst for a moment?  He knows the pool is not his--never can he his.
And when the rightful owner comes along--why, he'll go away, back to
the loneliness of the desert again.  But he'll always remember that his
lips have once drunk from the pool--and been refreshed."

Diana spoke very low and wistfully.

"He--he must go back to the desert?"

Errington bent his head.

"He must go back," he answered.  "The gods have decreed him outcast
from life's pleasant places; he is ordained to wander alone--always."

Diana drew her hand suddenly away from his, and the hasty movement
knocked over the little silver salt-cellar on the table, scattering the
salt on the cloth between them.

"Oh!" she cried, flushing with distress.  "I've spilled the salt
between us--we shall quarrel."

The electricity in the atmosphere was gone, and Errington laughed gaily.

"I'm not afraid.  See,"--he filled their glasses with wine--"let's
drink to our compact of friendship."

He raised his glass, clinking it gently against hers, and they drank.
But as Diana replaced her glass on the table, she looked once more in a
troubled way at the little heap of salt that lay on the white cloth.

"I wish I hadn't spilled it," she said uncertainly.  "It's an ill omen.
Some day we shall quarrel."

Her eyes were grave and brooding, as though some prescience of evil
weighed upon her.

Errington lifted his glass, smiling.

"Far be the day," he said lightly.

But her eyes, meeting his, were still clouded with foreboding.


[1] This song, "The Haven of Memory," has been set to music by Isador
Epstein: published by G. Ricordi & Co., 265 Regent Street, W.



CHAPTER XIII

THE FRIEND WHO STOOD BY

As the day fixed for her recital approached, Diana became a prey to
intermittent attacks of nerves.

"Supposing I should fail?" she would sometimes exclaim, in a sudden
spasm of despair.

Then Baroni would reply quite contentedly:--

"My dear Mees Quentin, you will not fail.  God has given you the
instrument, and I, Baroni, I haf taught you how to use it.  _Gran Dio_!
Fail!"  This last accompanied by a snort of contempt.

Or it might be Olga Lermontof to whom Diana would confide her fears.
She, equally with the old _maestro_, derided the possibility of
failure, and there was something about her cool assurance of success
that always sufficed to steady Diana's nerves, at least for the time
being.

"As I have you to accompany me," Diana told her one day, when she was
ridiculing the idea of failure, "I may perhaps get through all right.
I simply _lean_ on you when I'm singing.  I feel like a boat floating
on deep water--almost as though I couldn't sink."

"Well, you can't."  Miss Lermontof spoke with conviction.  "I shan't
break down--I could play everything you sing blindfold!--and your voice
is . . .  Oh, well"--hastily--"I can't talk about your voice.  But I
believe I could forgive you anything in the world when you sing."

Diana stared at her in surprise.  She had no idea that Olga was
particularly affected by her singing.

"It's rather absurd, isn't it?" continued the Russian, a mocking light
in her eyes that somehow reminded Diana of Max Errington.  "But there
it is.  A little triangular box in your throat and a breath of air from
your lungs--and immediately you hold one's heart in your hands!"

Alan Stair and Joan came up to London the day before that on which the
recital was to take place, since Diana had insisted that they must fix
their visit so that the major part of it should follow, instead of
preceding the concert.

"For"--as she told them--"if I fail, it will be nice to have you two
dear people to console me, and if I succeed, I shall be just in the
right mood to take a holiday and play about with you both.  Whereas
until my fate is sealed, one way or the other, I shall be like a bear
with a sore head."

But when the day actually arrived her nervousness completely vanished,
and she drove down to the hall composedly as though she were about to
appear at her fiftieth concert rather than at her first.  Olga
Lermontof regarded her with some anxiety.  She would have preferred her
to show a little natural nervous excitement beforehand; there would be
less danger of a sudden attack of stage-fright at the last moment.

Baroni was in the artistes' room when they arrived, outwardly cool, but
inwardly seething with mingled pride and excitement and vicarious
apprehension.  He hurried forward to greet them, shaking Diana by both
hands and then leading her up to the great French pianist, Madame
Berthe Louvigny.

The latter was a tall, grave-looking woman, with a pair of the most
lustrous brown eyes Diana had ever seen.  They seemed to glow with a
kind of inward fire under the wide brow revealed beneath the sweep of
her dark hair.

"So thees ees your wonder-pupil, Signor," she said, her smile radiating
kindness and good-humour.  "Mademoiselle, I weesh you all the success
that I know Signor Baroni hopes for you."

She talked very rapidly, with a strong foreign accent, and her gesture
was so expressive that one felt it was almost superfluous to add speech
to the quick, controlled movement.  Hands, face, shoulders--she seemed
to speak with her whole body, yet without conveying any impression of
restlessness.  There was not a single meaningless movement; each added
point to the rapid flow of speech, throwing it into vivid relief like
the shading of a picture.

While she was still chatting to Diana, a slender man with bright hair
tossed back over a finely shaped head came into the artistes' room,
carrying in his hand a violin-case which he deposited on the table with
as much care as though it were a baby.  He shook hands with Olga
Lermontof, and then Baroni swept him into his net.

"Kirolski, let me present you to Miss Quentin.  She will one day stand
amongst singers where you stand amongst the world's violinists."

Kirolski bowed, and glanced smilingly from Baroni to Diana.

"I've no doubt Miss Quentin will do more than that," he said.  "A
friend of mine heard her sing at Miss de Gervais' reception not long
ago, and he has talked of nothing else ever since.  I am very pleased
to meet you, Miss Quentin."  And he bowed again.

Diana was touched by the simple, unaffected kindness of the two great
artistes who were to assist at her recital.  It surprised her a little;
she had anticipated the disparaging, almost inimical attitude towards a
new star so frequently credited to professional musicians, and had
steeled herself to meet it with indifference.  She forgot that when you
are at the top of the tree there is little cause for envy or
heart-burning, and graciousness becomes an easy habit.  It is in the
struggle to reach the top that the ugly passions leap into life.

Presently there came sounds of clapping from the body of the hall; some
of the audience were growing impatient, and the news that there was a
packed house filtered into the artistes' room.  Almost as in a dream
Diana watched Kirolski lift his violin from its cushiony bed and run
his fingers lightly over the strings in a swift arpeggio.  Then he
tightened his bow and rubbed the resin along its length of hair, while
Olga Lermontof looked through a little pile of music for the duet for
violin and piano with which the recital was to commence.

The outbreaks of clapping from in front grew more persistent,
culminating in a veritable roar of welcome as Kirolski led the pianist
on to the platform.  Then came a breathless, expectant silence, broken
at last by the stately melody of the first movement.

To Diana it seemed as though the duet were very quickly over, and
although the applause and recalls were persistent, no encore was given.
Then she saw Olga Lermontof mounting the platform steps preparatory to
accompanying Kirolski's solo, and with a sudden violent reaction from
her calm composure she realised that the following item on the
programme must be the first group of her own songs.

For an instant the room swayed round her, then with a little gasp she
clutched Baroni's arm.

"I can't do it! . . .  I can't do it!"  Her voice was shaking, and
every drop of colour had drained away from her face.

Baroni turned instantly, his eyes full of concern.

"My dear, but that is nonsense.  You _cannot help_ doing it--you know
those songs inside out and upside down.  You need haf no fear.  Do not
think about it at all.  Trust your voice--it will sing what it knows."

But Diana still clung helplessly to his arm, shivering from head to
foot, and Madame de Louvigny hurried across the room and joined her
assurances to those of the old _maestro_.  She also added a
liqueur-glass of brandy to her soothing, encouraging little speeches,
but Diana refused the former with a gesture of repugnance, and seemed
scarcely to hear the latter.  She was dazed by sheer nervous terror,
and stood there with her hands tightly clasped together, her body rigid
and taut with misery.

Baroni was nearly demented.  If she should fail to regain her nerve the
whole concert would he a disastrous fiasco.  Possible headlines from
the morrow's newspapers danced before his eyes:  "NERVOUS COLLAPSE OF
MISS DIANA QUENTIN," "SIGNOR BARONI'S NEW PRIMA DONNA FAILS TO
MATERIALISE."

"_Diavolo_!" he exclaimed distractedly.  "But what shall we do?  What
shall we do?"

"What is the matter?"

At the sound of the cool, level tones the little agitated group of
three in the artistes' room broke asunder, and Baroni hurried towards
the newcomer.

"Mr. Errington, we are in despair--"  And with a gesture towards
Diana he briefly explained the predicament.

Max nodded, his keen eyes considering the shrinking figure leaning
against the wall.

"Don't worry, Baroni," he said quietly.  "I'll pull her round."  Then,
as a burst of applause crashed out from the hall, he whispered hastily:
"Get Kirolski to give an encore.  It will allow her a little more time."

Baroni nodded, and a minute or two later the audience was cheering the
violinist's reappearance, whilst Errington strode across the room to
Diana's side.

"How d'you do?" he said, holding out his hand exactly as though nothing
in the world were the matter.  "I thought you'd allow me to come round
and wish you luck, so here I am."

He spoke in such perfectly normal, everyday tones that unconsciously
Diana's rigid muscles relaxed, and she extended her hand in response.

"I'm feeling sick with fright," she replied, giving him a wavering
smile.

Max laughed easily.

"Of course.  Otherwise you wouldn't be the artiste that you are.  But
it will all go the moment you're on the platform."

She looked up at him with a faint hope in her eyes.

"Do you really think so?" she whispered.

"I'm sure.  It always does," he lied cheerfully.  "I'll tell you who is
far more nervous than you are, and that's the Rector.  Miss Stair and
Jerry were almost forcibly holding him down in his seat when I left
them.  He's disposed to bolt out of the hall and await results at the
hotel."

Diana laughed outright.

"How like him!  Poor Pobs!"

"You'd better give him a special smile when you get on the platform to
reassure him," continued Max, his blue eyes smiling down at her.

The violin solo had drawn to a close--Kirolski had already returned a
third time to bow his acknowledgments--and Errington was relieved to
see that the look of strain had gone out of her face, although she
still appeared rather pale and shaken.

One or two friends of the violinist's were coming in at the door of the
artistes' room as Olga Lermontof preceded him down the platform steps.
There was a little confusion, the sound of a fall, and simultaneously
some one inadvertently pushed the door to.  The next minute the
accompanist was the centre of a small crowd of anxious, questioning
people.  She had tripped and stumbled to her knees on the threshold of
the room, and, as she instinctively stretched out her hand to save
herself, the door had swung hack trapping two of her fingers in the
hinge.

A hubbub of dismay arose.  Olga was white with pain, and her hand was
so badly squeezed and bruised that it was quite obvious she would be
unable to play any more that day.

"I'm so sorry, Miss Quentin," she murmured faintly.

In her distress about the accident, Diana had for the moment overlooked
the fact that it would affect her personally, but now, as Olga's words
reminded her that the accompanist on whom she placed such utter
reliance would be forced to cede her place to a substitute, her former
nervousness returned with redoubled force.  It began to look as though
she would really be unable to appear, and Baroni wrung his hands in
despair.

It was a moment for speedy action.  The audience were breaking into
impatient clapping, and from the back of the hall came an undertone of
stamping, and the sound of umbrellas banging on the floor.  Errington
turned swiftly to Diana.

"Will you trust me with the accompaniments?" he said, his blue eyes
fixed on hers.

"You?" she faltered.

"Yes.  I swear I won't fail you."  His voice dropped to a lower note,
but his dominating eyes still held her.  "See, you offered me your
friendship.  Trust me now.  Let me 'stand by,' as a friend should."

There was an instant's pause, then suddenly Diana bent her head in
acquiescence.

"Thank heaven! thank heaven!" exclaimed Baroni, wringing Max's hand.
"You haf saved the situation, Mr. Errington."

A minute later Diana found herself mounting the platform steps, her
hand in Max's.  His close, firm clasp steadied and reassured her.
Again she was aware of that curious sense of well-being, as of leaning
on some sure, unfailing strength, which the touch of his hand had
before inspired.

As he led her on to the platform she met his eyes, full of a kind
good-comradeship and confidence.

"All right?" he whispered cheerfully.

A little comforting warmth crept about her heart.  She was not alone,
facing all those hundreds of curious, critical eyes in the hall below;
there was a friend "standing by."

She nodded to him reassuringly, suddenly conscious of complete
self-mastery.  She no longer feared those ranks of upturned faces, row
upon row, receding into shadow at the further end of the hall, and she
bowed composedly in response to the applause that greeted her.  Then
she heard Max strike the opening chord of the song, and a minute later
the big concert-hall was thrilling to the matchless beauty of her
voice, as it floated out on to the waiting stillness.

The five songs of the group followed each other in quick succession,
the clapping that broke out between each of them only checking so that
the next one might be heard, but when the final number had been given,
and the last note had drifted tenderly away into silence, the vast
audience rose to its feet almost as one man, shouting and clapping and
waving in a tumultuous outburst of enthusiasm.

Diana stood quite still, almost frightened by the uproar, until Max
touched her arm and escorted her off the platform.

In the artistes' room every one crowded round her pouring out
congratulations.  Baroni seized both her hands and kissed them; then he
kissed her cheek, the tears in his eyes.  And all the time came the
thunder of applause from the auditorium, beating up in steady, rhythmic
waves of sound.

"Go!--Go back, my child, and bow."  Baroni impelled her gently towards
the door.  "_Gran Dio_!  What a success! . . .  What a voice of heaven!"

Rather nervously, Diana mounted the platform once more, stepping
forward a little shyly; her cheeks were flushed, and her wonderful eyes
shone like grey stars.  A fillet of pale green leaves bound her
smoke-black hair, and the slender, girlish figure in its sea-green
gown, touched here and there with gold embroidery, reminded one of
spring, and the young green and gold of daffodils.

Instantly the applause redoubled.  People were surging forward towards
the platform, pressing round an unfortunate usher who was endeavouring
to hand up a sheaf of roses to the singer.  Diana bowed, and bowed
again.  Then she stooped and accepted the roses, and a fresh burst of
clapping ensued.  A wreath of laurel, and a huge bunch of white
heather, for luck, followed the sheaf of roses, and finally, her arms
full of flowers, smiling, bowing still, she escaped from the platform.

Back again in the artistes' room, she found that a number of her
friends in front had come round to offer their congratulations.  Alan
Stair and Joan, Jerry, and Adrienne de Gervais were amongst them, and
Diana at once became the centre of a little excited throng, all
laughing and talking and shaking her by the hand.  Every one seemed to
be speaking at once, and behind it all still rose and fell the
cannonade of shouts and clapping from the hall.

Four times Diana returned to the platform to acknowledge the tremendous
ovation which her singing had called forth, and at length, since Baroni
forbade an encore until after her second group of songs, Madame de
Louvigny went on to give her solo.

"They weel not want to hear me--after you, Mees Quentin," she said
laughingly.

But the British public is always very faithful to its favourites, and
the audience, realising at last that the new singer was not going to
bestow an encore, promptly exerted itself to welcome the French pianist
in a befitting manner.

When Diana reappeared for her second group of song's the excitement was
intense.  Whilst she was singing a pin could have been heard to fall;
it almost seemed as though the huge concourse of people held its breath
so that not a single note of the wonderful voice should be missed, and
when she ceased there fell a silence--that brief silence, like a sigh
of ecstasy, which, is the greatest tribute that any artiste can receive.

Then, with a crash like thunder, the applause broke out once more, and
presently, reappearing with the sheaf of roses in her hand, Diana sang
"The Haven of Memory" as an encore.


  Let me remember,
    When I am very lonely,
  How once your love
    But crowned and blessed roe only,
      Long and long ago.


The plaintive rhythm died away and the clapping which succeeded it was
quieter, less boisterous, than hitherto.  Some people were crying
openly, and many surreptitiously wiped away a tear or so in the
intervals of applauding.  The audience was shaken by the tender,
sorrowful emotion of the song, its big, sentimental British heart
throbbing to the haunting quality of the most beautiful voice in Europe.

Diana herself had tears in her eyes.  She was experiencing for the
first time the passionate exultation born of the knowledge that she
could sway the hearts of a multitude by the sheer beauty of her
singing--an abiding recompense bestowed for all the sacrifices which
art demands from those who learn her secrets.

Her fingers, gripping with unconscious intensity the flowers she held,
detached a white rose from the sheaf, and it had barely time to reach
the floor before a young man from the audience, eager-eyed, his face
pale with excitement, sprang forward and snatched it up from beneath
her feet.

In an instant there was an uproar.  Men and women lost their heads and
clambered up on to the platform, pressing round the singer, besieging
her for a spray of leaves or a flower from the sheaf she carried.  Some
even tried to secure a bit of the gold embroidery from off her gown by
way of memento.

"Oh, please . . . please . . ."

A crowd that is overwrought, either by anger or enthusiasm, is a
difficult thing to handle, and Diana retreated desperately, frightened
by the storm she had evoked.  One man was kneeling beside her,
rapturously kissing the hem of her gown, and the eager, excited faces,
the outstretched hands, the vision of the surging throng below, and the
tumult and clamour that filled the concert-hall terrified her.

Suddenly a strong arm intervened between her and the group of
enthusiasts who were flocking round her, and she found that she was
being quietly drawn aside into safety.  Max Errington's tall form had
interposed itself between her and her too eager worshippers.  With a
little gasp of relief she let him lead her down the steps of the
platform and back into the comparative calm of the artistes' room,
while two of the ushers hurried forward and dispersed the
memento-seekers, shepherding them back into the hall below, so that the
concert might continue.

The latter part of the programme was heard with attention, but not even
the final _duo_ for violin and piano, exquisite though it was,
succeeded in rousing the audience to a normal pitch of fervour again.
Emotion and enthusiasm were alike exhausted, and now that Diana's share
in the recital was over, the big assemblage of people listened to the
remaining numbers much as a child, tired with play, may listen to a
lullaby--placidly appreciative, but without overwhelming excitement.

"Well, what did I tell you?" demanded Jerry, triumphantly, of the
little party of friends who gathered together for tea in Diana's
sitting-room, when at length the great event of the afternoon was over.
"What did I tell you? . . .  I said Diana would just romp past the
post--all the others nowhere.  And behold!  It came to pass."

"It's a good thing Madame Louvigny and Kirolski can't hear you,"
observed Joan sagely.  "They've probably got quite nice natures, but
you'd strain the forbearance of an early Christian martyr, Jerry.
Besides, you needn't be so fulsome to Diana; it isn't good for her."

Jerry retorted with spirit, and the two drifted into a pleasant little
wrangle--the kind of sparring match by which youths and maidens
frequently endeavour to convince themselves, and the world at large, of
the purely Platonic nature of their sentiments.

Bunty, who had rejoiced in her promised seat in the front row at the
concert, was hurrying to and fro, a maid-servant in attendance,
bringing in tea, while Mrs. Lawrence, who had also been the recipient
of a complimentary ticket, looked in for a few minutes to felicitate
the heroine of the day.

She mentally patted herself on the back for the discernment she had
evinced in making certain relaxations of her stringent rules in favour
of this particular boarder.  It was quite evident that before long Miss
Quentin would be distinctly a "personage," shedding a delectable
effulgence upon her immediate surroundings, and Mrs. Lawrence was
firmly decided that, if any effort of hers could compass it, those
surroundings should continue to be No. 34 Brutton Square.

Diana herself looked tired but irrepressibly happy.  Now that it was
all over, and success assured, she realised how intensely she had
dreaded the ordeal of this first recital.

Olga Lermontof, her injured hand resting in a sling, chaffed her with
some amusement.

"I suppose, at last, you're beginning to understand that your voice is
really something out of the ordinary," she said.  "Its effect on the
audience this afternoon is a better criterion than all the notices in
to-morrow's newspapers put together."

Diana laughed.

"Well, I hope it won't make a habit of producing that effect!" she
said, pulling a little face of disgust at the recollection.  "I don't
know what would have happened if Mr. Errington hadn't come to my
rescue."

Max smiled across at her.

"You'd have been torn to bits and the pieces distributed amongst the
audience--like souvenir programmes--I imagine," he replied.  Then,
turning towards the accompanist, he continued: "How does your hand feel
now, Miss Lermontof?"

There was a curious change in his voice as he addressed the Russian,
and Diana, glancing quickly towards her, surprised a strangely wistful
look in her eyes as they rested upon Errington's face.

"Oh, it is much better.  I shall be able to play again in a few days.
But it was fortunate you were at the concert to-day, and able to take
my place."

"So you approve of me--for once?" he queried, with a rather twisted
little smile.

Olga remained silent for a moment, her eyes searching his face.  Then
she said very deliberately:--

"I am glad you were able to play for Miss Quentin."

"But you won't commit yourself so far as to say that I have your
approval--even once?"

Miss Lermontof leaned forward impetuously.

"How can I?" she said, in hurried tones, "It's all wrong--oh! you know
that it's all wrong."

Errington shrugged his shoulders.

"I'm afraid we can never see eye to eye," he answered.  "Let us, then,
be philosophical over the matter and agree to differ."

Olga's green eyes flamed with sudden anger, but she abstained from
making any reply, turning away from him abruptly.

Diana, whose attention had been claimed by the Rector, had not caught
the quickly spoken sentences which had passed between the two, but she
was puzzled over the oddly yearning look she had surprised in Olga's
eyes.  There had been a tenderness, a species of wistful longing in her
gaze, as she had turned towards Max Errington, which tallied ill with
the bitter incisiveness of the remarks she let fall at times concerning
him.

"Well, my dear"--the Rector's voice recalled Diana's wandering
thoughts--"Joan and I must be getting back to our hotel, if we are to
be dressed in time for the dinner Miss de Gervais is giving in your
honour to-night."

Diana glanced at the clock and nodded.

"Indeed you must, Pobs darling.  And I will send away these other good
people too.  As we're all going to meet again at dinner we can bear to
be separated for an hour or so--even Jerry and Joan, I suppose?" she
added whimsically, in a lower tone.

"It's invidious to mention names," murmured Stair, "or I might--"

Diana laid her hand lightly across his mouth.

"No, you mightn't," she said firmly.  "Put on your coat and that nice
squashy hat of yours, and trot back to your hotel like a good Pobs."

Stair laughed, looking down at her with kind eyes.

"Very well, little autocrat."  He put his hand under her chin and
tilted her face up.  "I've not congratulated you yet, my dear.  It's a
big thing you've done--captured London in a day.  But it's a bigger
thing you'll have to do."

"You mean Paris--Vienna?"

He shook his head, still with the kind smile in his eyes.

"No.  I mean, keep me the little Diana I love--don't let me lose her in
the public singer."

"Oh, Pobs!"--reproachfully.  "As though I should ever change!"

"Not deliberately--not willingly, I'm sure.  But--success is a
difficult sea to swim."

He sighed, kissed her upturned face, and then, with twist of his
shoulders, pulled on his overcoat and prepared to depart.

Success is exhilarating.  It goes to the head like wine, and yet, as
Diana lay in bed that night, staring with wide eyes into the darkness,
the memory that stood out in vivid relief from amongst the crowded
events of the day was not the triumph of the afternoon, nor the merry
evening which succeeded it, when "the coming _prima donna_" had been
toasted amid a fusillade of brilliant little speeches and light-hearted
laughter, but the remembrance of a pair of passionate, demanding blue
eyes and of a low, tense voice saying:--

"I swear I won't fail you.  Let me 'stand by.'"



CHAPTER XIV

THE FLAME OF LOVE

Diana's gaze wandered idly over the blue stretch of water, as it lay
beneath the blazing August sun, while the sea-gulls, like streaks of
white light, wheeled through the shimmering haze of the atmosphere.
Her hands were loosely clasped around her knees, and a little
evanescent smile played about her lips.  Behind her, the great red
cliffs of Culver Point reared up against the sapphire of the sky, and
she was thinking dreamily of that day, nearly eighteen months ago, when
she had been sitting in the self-same place, leaning against the
self-same rock, whilst a grey waste of water crept hungrily up to her
very feet, threatening to claim her as its prey.  And then Errington
had come, and straightway all the danger was passed.

Looking back, it seemed as though that had always been the way of
things.  Some menace had arisen, either by land or sea--or even, as at
her recital, out of the very intensity of feeling which her singing had
inspired--and immediately Max had intervened and the danger had been
averted.

She laid her hand caressingly on the sun-warmed surface of the rock.
How many things had happened since she had last leaned against its
uncomfortable excrescences!  She felt quite affectionately towards it,
as one who has journeyed far may feel towards some old landmark of his
youth which he finds unaltered on his return, from wandering in strange
lands.  The immutability of _things_, as compared with the constant
fluctuation of life and circumstance, struck her poignantly.  Here was
this rock--cast up from the bowels of the earth thousands of years ago
and washed by the waves of a million tides--still unchanged and
changeless, while, for her, the face of the whole world had altered in
little more than a year!

From a young girl-student, one insignificant person among scores of
others similarly insignificant, she had become a prominent personality,
some one in whom even the great, busy, hurrying world paused to take an
interest, and of whom the newspapers wrote eulogistic notices,
heralding her as the coming English _prima donna_.  She felt rather
like a mole which has been working quietly in the dark, tunnelling a
passage for itself, unseen and unsuspected, and which has suddenly
emerged above the surface of the earth, much to its own--and every one
else's--astonishment!

Then, too, how utterly changed were her relations with Max Errington!
At the beginning of their acquaintance he had held himself deliberately
aloof, but since that evening at Adrienne de Gervais' house, when they
had formed a compact of friendship, he had, apparently, completely
blotted out from his mind the remembrance of the obstacle, whatever it
might be, which he had contended must render any friendship between
them out of the question.

And during these last few months Diana had gradually come to know the
lofty strain of idealism which ran through the man's whole nature.
Passionate, obstinate, unyielding--he could be each and all in turn,
but, side by side with these exterior characteristics, there ran a
streak of almost feminine delicacy of perception and ideality of
purpose.  Diana had once told him, laughingly, that he was of the stuff
of which martyrs were made in the old days of persecution, and in this
she had haphazard lit upon the fundamental force that shaped his
actions.  The burden which fate, or his own deeds, might lay upon his
shoulders, that he would bear, be it what it might.

"Everything's got to be paid for," he had said one day.  "It's
inevitable.  So what's the use of jibing at the price?"

Diana wondered whether the price of that mysterious something which lay
in his past, and which not even intimate friendship had revealed to
her, would mean that this comradeship must always remain only that--and
never anything more?

A warm flush mounted to her face as the unbidden thought crept into her
mind.  Errington had been down at Crailing most of the summer, staying
at Red Gables, and during the long, lazy days they had spent together,
motoring, or sailing, or tramping over Dartmoor with the keen moorland
air, like sparkling wine, in their nostrils, it seemed as though a
deeper note had sounded than merely that of friendship.

And yet he had said nothing, although his eyes had spoken--those vivid
blue eyes which sometimes blazed with a white heat of smouldering
passion that set her heart racing madly within her.

She flinched shyly away from her own thoughts, pulling restlessly at
the dried weed which clung about the surface of the rock.  A little
brown crab ran out from a crevice, and, terrified by the big human hand
which he espied meddling with the clump of weed and threatening to
interfere with the liberty of the subject, skedaddled sideways into the
safety of another cranny.

The hurried rush of the little live thing roused Diana from her
day-dreams, and looking up, she saw Max coming to her across the sands.

She watched the proud, free gait of the tall figure with appreciation
in her eyes.  There was something very individual and characteristic
about Max's walk--a suggestion as of immense vitality held in check,
together with a certain air of haughty resolution and command.

"I thought I might find you here," he said, when they had shaken hands.

"Did you want me?"

He looked at her with a curious expression in his eyes.

"I always want you, I think," he said simply.

"Well, you seem to have a faculty for always turning up when _I_ want
_you_," she replied.  "I was just thinking how often you had appeared
in the very nick of time.  Seriously"--her voice took on a graver
note--"I feel I can't ever repay you.--you've come to my help so often."

"There is a way," he said, very low, and then fell silent.

"Tell me," she urged him, smilingly.  "I like to pay my debts."

He made no answer, and Diana, suddenly nervous and puzzled, continued a
little breathlessly:--

"Have I--have I offended you?  I--I thought"--her lips quivered--"we
had agreed to be friends."

Max was silent a moment.  Then he said slowly:--

"I can't keep that compact."

Diana's heart contracted with a sudden fear.

"Can't keep it?" she repeated dully.  She could not picture her
life--no--robbed of this friendship!

"No."  His hands hung clenched at his sides, and he stood staring at
her from beneath bent brows, his mouth set in a straight line.  It was
as though he were holding himself under a rigid restraint, against
which something within him battled, striving for release.

All at once his control snapped.

"I love you! . . .  God in heaven!  Haven't you guessed it?"

The words broke from him like a bitter cry--the cry of a heart torn in
twain by love and thwarted longing.  Diana felt the urgency of its
demand thrill through her whole being.

"Max . . ."

It was the merest whisper, reaching his ears like the touch of a
butterfly's wing--hesitantly shy, and honey-sweet with the promise of
summer.

The next instant his arms were round her and he was holding her as
though he would never let her go, passionately kissing the soft mouth,
so close beneath his own.  He lifted her off her feet, crushing her to
him, and Diana, the woman in her definitely, vividly aroused at last,
clung to him yielding, but half-terrified by the tempest of emotion she
had waked.

"My beloved! . . .  _My soul_!"

His voice was vehement with the love and passion at length unleashed
from bondage; his kisses hurt her.  There was something torrential,
overwhelming, in his imperious wooing.  He held her with the fierce,
possessive grip of primitive man claiming the chosen woman as his mate.

She struggled faintly against him.

"Ah!  Max--Max . . . .  Let me go.  You're frightening me."

She heard him draw his breath hard, and then slowly, reluctantly, as
though by a sheer effort of will, he set her down.  He was white to the
lips, and his eyes glowed like blue flame in their pallid setting.

"Frighten you!" he repeated hoarsely.  "You don't know what love
means--you English."

Diana stared at him.

"'You English!'  What--what are you saying?  Max, aren't you English
after all?"

He threw back his head with a laugh.

"Oh, yes, I'm English.  But I'm something else as well. . . .  There's
warmer blood in my veins, and I can't love like an Englishman.  Oh,
Diana, heart's beloved, let me teach you what love is!"

Impetuously he caught her in his arms again, and once more she felt the
storm of his passion sweep over her as he rained fierce kisses on eyes
and throat and lips.  For a space it seemed as if the whole world were
blotted out and there were only they two alone together--shaken to the
very foundations of their being by the tremendous force of the
whirlwind of love which had engulfed them.

When at length he released her, all her reserves were down.

"Max . . .  Max . . .  I love you!"

The confession fell from her lips with a timid, exquisite abandon.  He
was her mate and she recognised it.  He had conquered her.


Presently he put her from him, very gently, but decisively.

"Diana, heart's dearest, there is something more--something I have not
told you yet."

She looked at him with sudden apprehension in her eyes.

"Max! . . .  Nothing--nothing that need come between us?"

Memories of the past, of all the incomprehensible episodes of their
acquaintance--his refusal to recognise her, his reluctance to accept
her friendship--came crowding in upon her, threatening the destruction
of her new-found happiness.

"Not if you can be strong--not if you'll trust me."  He looked at her
searchingly.

"Trust you?  But I do trust you.  Should I have . . .  Oh, Max!" the
warm colour dyed her face from chin to brow--"Could I love you if I
didn't trust you?"

There was a tender, almost compassionate expression in his eyes as he
answered, rather sadly:--

"Ah, my dear, we don't know what 'trust' really means until we are
called upon to give it. . . .  And I want so much from you!"

Diana slipped her hand confidently into his.

"Tell me," she said, smiling at him.  "I don't think I shall fail you."

He was silent for a while, wondering if the next words he spoke would
set them as far apart as though the previous hour had never been.  At
last he spoke.

"Do you believe that husbands and wives should have no secrets from one
another?" he asked abruptly.

Diana had never really given the matter consideration--never formulated
such a question in her mind.  But now, in the light of love's
awakening; she instinctively knew the answer to it.  Her opinion leaped
into life fully formed; she was aware, without the shadow of a doubt,
of her own feelings on the subject.

"Certainly they shouldn't," she answered promptly.  "Why, Max, that
would be breaking the very link that binds them together--their
_oneness_ each with the other.  You think that, too, don't you?
Why--why did you ask me?"  A premonition of evil assailed her, and her
voice trembled a little.

"I asked you because--because if you marry me you will have to face the
fact that there is a secret in my life which I cannot share with
you--something I can't tell you about."  Then, as he saw the blank look
on her face, he went on rapidly: "It will be the only thing, beloved.
There shall be nothing else in life that will not be 'ours,' between
us, shared by us both.  I swear it! . . .  Diana, I must make you
understand.  It was because of this--this secret--that I kept away from
you.  You couldn't understand--oh! I saw it in your face sometimes.
You were hurt by what I did and said, and it tortured me to hurt
you--to see your lip quiver, your eyes suddenly grow misty, and to know
it was I who had wounded you, I, who would give the last drop of blood
in my body to save you pain."

There was a curious stricken expression on the face Diana turned
towards him.

"So that was it!"

"Yes, that was it.  I tried to put you out of my life, for I'd no right
to ask you into it.  And I've failed!  I can't do without you"--his
voice gathered intensity--"I want you--body and soul I want you.  And
yet--a secret between husband and wife is a burden no man should ask a
woman to bear."

When next Diana spoke it was in a curiously cold, collected voice.  She
felt stunned.  A great wall seemed to be rising up betwixt herself and
Max; all her golden visions for the future were falling about her in
ruins.

"You are right," she said slowly.  "No man should ask--that--of his
wife."

Errington's face twisted with pain.

"I never meant to let you know I cared," he answered.  "I fought down
my love for you just because of that.  And then--it grew too strong for
me. . . .  My God!  If you knew what it's been like--to be near you,
with you, constantly, and yet to feel that you were as far removed from
me as the sun itself.  Diana--beloved--can't you trust me over this one
thing?  Isn't your love strong enough for that?"

She turned on him passionately.

"Oh, you are unfair to me--cruelly unfair!  You ask me to trust you!
And your very asking implies that you cannot trust _me_!"

There was bitter anger in her voice.

"I know it looks like that," he said wearily.  "And I can't explain.  I
can only ask you to believe in me and trust me.  I thought . . .
perhaps . . . you loved me enough to do it."  His mouth twitched with a
little smile, half sad, half ironical.  "My usual presumption, I
suppose."

She made no answer, but after a moment asked abruptly:--

"Does this--this secret concern only you?"

"That I cannot tell you.  I can't answer any questions.  If--if you
come to me, it must be in absolute blind trust."  He paused, his eyes
entreating her.  "Is it . . . too much to ask?"

Diana was silent, looking away from him across the water.  The sun
slipped behind a cloud, and a grey shadow spread like a blight over the
summer sea.  It lay leaden and dull, tufted with little white crests of
foam.

The man and woman stood side by side, motionless, unresponsive.  It was
as though a sword had suddenly descended, cleaving them asunder.

Presently she heard him mutter in a low tone of anguish:--

"So this--this, too--must be added to the price!"

The pain in his voice pulled at her heart.  She stretched out her hands
towards him.

"Max!  Give me time!"

He wheeled round, and the tense look of misery in his face hurt her
almost physically.

"What do you mean?" he asked hoarsely.

"I must have time to think.  Husband and wife ought to be one.
What--what happiness can there be if . . . if we marry . . . like this?"

He bent his head.

"None--unless you can have faith.  There can be no happiness for us
without that."

He took a sudden step towards her.

"Oh, my dear, my dear!  I love you so!"

Diana began to cry softly--helpless, pathetic, weeping, like a child's.

"And--and I thought we were so happy," she sobbed.  "Now it's all
spoiled and broken.  And you've spoilt it!"

"Don't!" he said unsteadily.  "Don't cry like that.  I can't stand it."

He made an instinctive movement to take her in his arms, but she
slipped aside, turning on him in sudden, passionate reproach.

"Why did you try and make me love you when you knew . . . all this?  I
was quite happy before you came--oh, so happy!"--with a sudden yearning
recollection of the days of unawakened girlhood.  "If--if you had let
me alone, I should have been happy still."

The unthinking selfishness of youth rang in her voice, asserting its
infinite demand for the joy and pleasure of life.

"And I?" he said, very low.  "Does my unhappiness count for nothing?
I'm paying too.  God knows, I wish we had never met."

Never to have met!  Not to have known all that those months of
friendship and a single hour of love had held!  The words brought a
sudden awakening to Diana--a new, wonderful knowledge that, cost what
they might in bitterness and future pain, she would rather bear the
cost than know her life emptied of those memories.

She had ceased crying.  After a few moments she spoke with a gentle,
wistful composure.

"I was wrong, Max.  You're not to blame--you couldn't help it any more
than I could."

"I might have gone away--kept away from you," he said tonelessly.

A faint, wintry little smile curved her lips.

"I'm glad you didn't."

"Diana!"  He sprang forward impetuously.  "Do you mean that?"

She nodded slowly.

"Yes.  Even if--if we can't ever marry, we've had . . . to-day."

A smouldering fire lit itself in the man's blue eyes.  He had spoken
but the bare truth when he had said that warmer blood ran in his veins
than that of the cold northern peoples.

"Yes," he said, his voice tense.  "We've had to-day."

Diana trembled a little.  The memory of that fierce, wild love-making
of his rushed over her once more, and the primitive woman in her longed
to yield to its mastery.  But the cooler characteristics of her nature
bade her pause and weigh the full significance of marrying a man whose
life was tinged with mystery, and who frankly acknowledged that he bore
a secret which must remain hidden, even from his wife.

It would be taking a leap in the dark, and Diana shrank from it.

"I must have time to think," she repeated.  "I can't decide to-day."

"No," he said, "you're right.  I've known that all the time,
only--only"--his voice shook--"the touch of you, the nearness of you,
blinded me."  He paused.  "Don't keep me waiting for your answer longer
than you can help, Diana," he added, with a quiet intensity.

"You'll go away from Crailing?" she asked nervously.

He smiled a little sadly.

"Yes, I'll go away.  I'll leave you quite free to make your decision,"
he replied.

She breathed a sigh of relief.  She knew that if he were to remain at
Crailing, if they were to continue seeing each other almost daily,
there could be but one end to the matter--her conviction that no
happiness could result from such a marriage would go by the board.  It
could not stand against the breathless impetuosity of Max's
love-making--not when her own heart was eager and aching to respond.

"Thank you, Max," she said simply, extending her hand.

He put it aside, drawing her into his embrace.

"Beloved," he said, and now there was no passion, no fierceness of
desire in his voice, only unutterable tenderness.  "Beloved, please God
you will find it in your heart to be good to me.  All my thoughts are
yours, but for that one thing over which I need your faith. . . .  I
think no man ever loved a woman so utterly as I love you.  And oh!
little white English rose of my heart, I'd never ask more than you
could give.  Love isn't all passion.  It's tenderness and shielding and
service, dear, as well as fire and flame.  A man loves his wife in all
the little ways of daily life as well as in the big ways of eternity."

He stooped his head, and a shaft of sunlight flickered across his
bright hair.  Diana watched it with a curious sense of detachment.
Very gently he laid her hands against his lips, and the next moment he
was swinging away from her across the stretch of yellow sand, leaving
her alone once more with the sea and the sky and the wheeling gulls.



CHAPTER XV

DIANA'S DECISION

Max had been gone a week--a week of distress and miserable indecision
for Diana, racked as she was between her love and her conviction that
marriage under the only circumstances possible would inevitably bring
unhappiness.  Over and above this fear there was the instinctive recoil
she felt from Errington's demand for such blind faith.  Her pride
rebelled against it.  If he loved her and had confidence in her, why
couldn't he trust her with his secret?  It was treating her like a
child, and it would be wrong--all wrong--she argued, to begin their
married life with concealment and secrecy for its foundation.

One morning she even wrote to him, telling him definitely either that
he must trust her altogether, or that they must part irrevocably.  But
the letter was torn up the same afternoon, and Diana went to bed that
night with her decision still untaken.

For several nights she had slept but little, and once again she passed
long hours tossing feverishly from side to side of the bed or pacing up
and down her room, love and pride fighting a stubborn battle within
her.  Had Max remained at Crailing, love would have gained an easy
victory, but, true to his promise, he had gone away, leaving her to
make her decision free and untrammelled by his influence.

Diana's face was beginning to show signs of the mental struggle through
which she was passing.  Dark shadows lay beneath her eyes, and her
cheeks, even in so short a time, had hollowed a little.  She was
irritable, too, and unlike herself, and at last Stair, whose watchful
eyes had noted all these things, though he had refrained from comment,
taxed her with keeping him outside her confidence.

"Can't I help, Di?" he asked, laying his hand on her shoulder, and
twisting her round so that she faced him.

The quick colour flew into her cheeks.  For a moment she hesitated,
while Stair, releasing his hold of her, dropped into a chair and busied
himself filling and lighting his pipe.

"Well?" he queried at last, smiling whimsically.  "Won't you give me an
old friend's right to ask impertinent questions?"

Impulsively she yielded.

"You needn't, Pobs.  I'll tell you all about it."

When she had finished, a long silence ensued.  Not that Stair was in
any doubt as to what form his advice should take--idealist that he was,
there did not seem to him to be any question in the matter.  He only
hesitated as to how he could best word his counsel.

At last he spoke, very gently, his eyes lit with that inner radiance
which gave such an arresting charm of expression to his face.

"My dear," he said, "it seems to me that if you love him you needs
_must_ trust him.  'Perfect love casteth out fear.'"

Diana shook her head.

"Mightn't you reverse that, Pobs, and say that he would trust _me_--if
he loves me?"

"No, not necessarily."  Alan sucked at his pipe.  "He knows what his
secret is, and whether it is right or wrong for you to share it.  You
haven't that knowledge.  And that's where your trust must come in.  You
have to believe in him enough to leave it to him to decide whether you
ought to be told or not.  Have you no confidence in his judgment?"

"I don't think husbands and wives should have secrets from one
another," protested Diana obstinately.

"Does he propose to have any other than this one?"

"No."

"Then I don't see that you need complain.  The present and the future
are yours, but you've no right to demand the past as well.  And this
secret, whatever it may be, belongs to the past."

"As far as I can see it will be cropping up in the future as well,"
said Diana ruefully.  "It seems to be a 'continued in our next' kind of
mystery."

Stair laughed boyishly.

"It should add a zest to life if that's the case," he retorted.

Diana was silent a moment.  Then she said suddenly:--

"Pobs, what am I to do?"

Instantly Stair became grave again.

"My dear, do you love him?"

Diana nodded, her eyes replying.

"Then nothing else matters a straw.  If you love him enough to trust
him with the whole of the rest of your life, you can surely trust him
over a twopenny-halfpenny little secret which, after all, has nothing
in the world to do with you.  If you can't, do you know what it looks
like?"

She regarded him questioningly.

"It looks as though you suspected the secret of being a disgraceful
one--something of which Max is ashamed to tell you.  Do
you"--sharply--"think that?"

"Of course I don't!" she burst out indignantly.

"Then why trouble?  Possibly the matter concerns some one else besides
himself, and he may not be at liberty to tell you anything--he might
have a dozen different reasons for keeping his own counsel.  And the
woman who loves him and is ready to be his wife is the first to doubt
and, distrust him!  Diana, you ought to be ashamed of yourself.  If my
wife"--his voice shook a little---"had ever doubted me--no matter how
black things might have looked against me--I think it would have broken
my heart."

Diana's head drooped lower and lower as he spoke, and presently her
hand stole out, seeking his.  In a moment it was taken and held in a
close and kindly clasp.

"I'll--I'll marry him, Pobs," she whispered.

So it came about that when, two days later, Max took his way to 24
Brutton Square, the gods had better gifts in store for him than he had
dared to hope.

He was pacing restlessly up and down her little sitting-room when she
entered it, and she could see that his face bore traces of the last few
days' anxiety.  There were new lines about his mouth, and his eyes were
so darkly shadowed as to seem almost sunken in their sockets.

"You have come back!" he said, stepping eagerly towards her.
"Diana"--there was a note of strain in his voice--"which is it?
Yes--or no?"

She held out her hands.

"It's--it's 'yes,' Max."

A stifled exclamation broke from him, almost like a sob.  He folded her
in his arms and laid his lips to hers.

"My beloved! . . .  Oh, Diana, if you could guess the agony--the
torture of the last ten days!"  And he leaned his cheek against her
hair, and stood silently for a little space.

Presently fear overcame him again--quick fear lest she should ever
regret having given herself to him.

"Heart's dearest, have you realised that it will be very hard
sometimes?  You will ask me to explain things--and I shan't be able to.
Is your trust big enough--great enough for this?"

Diana raised her head from his shoulder.

"I love you," she answered steadily.

"Do you forget the shadow?  It is there still, dogging my steps.  Not
even your love can alter that."

For a moment Diana rose to the heights of her womanhood.

"If there must be a shadow," she said, "we will walk in it together."

"But--don't you see?--I shall know what it is.  To you it will always
be something unknown, hidden, mysterious.  Child!  Child!  I wonder if
I am right to let you join your life to mine!"

But Diana only repeated:--

"I love you."

And at last he flung all thoughts of warning and doubt aside, and
secure in that reiterated "I love you!" yielded to the unutterable joy
of the moment.



CHAPTER XVI

BARONI'S OPINION OF MATRIMONY

"_Per Dio_!  What is this you tell me?  That you are to be
married? . . .  My dear Mees Quentin, please put all such thoughts of
foolishness out of your mind.  You are consecrated to art.  The young
man must find another bride."

It was thus that Carlo Baroni received the news of Diana's
engagement--at first with unmitigated horror, then sweeping it aside as
though it were a matter of no consequence whatever.

Diana laughed, dimpling with amusement at the _maestro's_ indignation.
Now that she had given her faith, refusing to allow anything to stand
between her and Max, she was so supremely happy that she felt she could
afford to laugh at such relatively small obstacles as would be raised
by her old singing-master.

"I'm afraid the 'young man' wouldn't agree to that," she returned
gaily.  "He would say you must find another pupil."

Baroni surveyed her with anxiety.

"You are not serious?" he queried at last.

"Indeed I am.  I'm actually engaged--now, at this moment--and we
propose to get married before Christmas."

"But it is impossible!  _Giusto Cielo_!  But impossible!" reiterated
the old man.  "Mees Quentin, you cannot haf understood.  Perhaps, in my
anxiety that you should strain every nerve to improve, I haf not
praised you enough--and so you haf not understood.  Leesten, then.  You
haf a voice than which there is not one so good in the whole of Europe.
It is superb--marvellous--the voice of the century.  With that voice
you will haf the whole world at your feet; before long you will command
almost fabulous fees, and more, far more than this, you can interpret
the music of the great masters as they themselves would wish to hear
it.  Me, Baroni, I know it.  And you would fling such possibilities,
such a career, aside for mere matrimony!  It is nonsense, I tell you,
sheer nonsense!"

He paused for breath, and Diana laid her hand deprecatingly on his arm.

"Dear _Maestro_," she said, "it's good of you to tell me all this,
and--and you mustn't think for one moment that I ever forget all you've
done for me.  It's you who've made my voice what it is.  But there
isn't the least reason why I should give up singing because I'm going
to be married.  I don't intend to, I assure you."

"I haf no doubt you mean well.  But I haf heard other young singers say
the same thing, and then the husband--the so English husband!--he
objects to his wife's appearing in public, and _presto_! . . .  Away
goes the career!  No singer should marry until she is well established
in her profession.  You are young.  Marry in ten years' time and you
shall haf my blessing."

"I shall want your blessing sooner than that," laughed Diana.  "But I'm
not marrying a 'so English husband'!  He's only partly English, and
he's quite willing for me to go on singing."

Baroni regarded her seriously.

"Is that so?  Good!  Then I will talk to the young man, so that he may
realise that he is not marrying just Mees Diana Quentin, but a voice--a
heaven-bestowed voice.  What is his name?"

"You know him," she answered smilingly.  "It's Max Errington."

She was utterly unprepared for the effect of her words.  Baroni's face
darkened like a stormy sky, and his eyes literally blazed at her from
beneath their penthouse of shaggy brow.

"Max Errington!  _Donnerwetter_!  But that is the worst of all!"

Diana stared, at him in mute amazement, and, despite herself, her heart
sank with a sudden desperate apprehension.  What did it mean?  Why
should the mere mention of Max's name have roused the old _maestro_ to
such a fever of indignation?

Presently Baroni turned to her again, speaking more composedly,
although little sparks of anger still flickered in his eyes ready to
leap into flame at the slightest provocation.

"I haf met Mr. Errington.  He is a charming man.  But if you marry him,
my dear Mees Quentin--good-bye to your career as a world-artiste,
good-bye to the most marvellous voice that the good God has ever let me
hear."

"I don't see why.  Max thoroughly understands professional life."

"Nevertheless, believe me, there will--there _must_ come a time when
Max Errington's wife will not be able to appear before the world as a
public singer.  I who speak, I know."

Diana flashed round upon him suddenly.

"_You_--you know his secret?"

"I know it."

So, then, the secret which must be hidden from his wife was yet known
to Carlo Baroni!  Diana felt her former resentment surge up anew within
her.  It was unfair--shamefully unfair for Max to treat her in this
way!  It was making a mockery of their love.

Baroni's keen old eyes read the conflict of emotions in her face, and
he laid his finger unerringly upon the sore spot.  His one idea was to
prevent Diana from marrying, to guard her--as he mentally phrased
it--for the art he loved so well, and he was prepared to stick at
nothing that might aid his cause.

"So he has not told you?" he said slowly.  "Do you not think it strange
of him?"

Diana's breast rose and fell tumultuously.  Baroni was turning the
knife in the wound with a vengeance.

"_Maestro_, tell me,"--her voice came unevenly--"tell me.  Is it"--she
turned her head away--"is it a . . . shameful . . . secret?"

Inwardly she loathed herself for asking such a thing, but the words
seemed dragged from her without her own volition.

Baroni hesitated.  All his hopes and ambitions centred round Diana and
her marvellous voice.  He had given of his best to train it to its
present perfection, and now he saw the fruit of his labour about to be
snatched from him.  It was more than human nature could endure.
Errington meant nothing to him, Diana and her voice everything; and he
was prepared to sacrifice no matter whom to secure her career as an
artiste.  By implication he sacrificed Errington.

"It is not possible for me to say more.  But be advised, my dear pupil.
Out of my great love for you I say it--_let Max Errington go his way_."

And with those words--sinister, warning--ringing in her ears, Diana
returned to Brutton Square.

But Baroni was not content to let matters remain as they stood,
trusting that his warning would do its work.  He was determined to
leave no stone unturned, and he forthwith sought out Errington in his
own house and deliberately broached the subject of his engagement to
Diana.

Max greeted him affectionately.

"It's a long while since you honoured me with a visit," he said,
shaking hands.  "I suppose"--laughingly--"you come to congratulate me?"

The old man shook his head.

"Far from it.  I haf come to ask you to give her up."

"To give her up?" repeated Max, in undisguised amazement.

"Yes.  Mees Quentin is not for marriage.  She is dedicated to Art."

Max smiled indulgently.

"To Art?  Yes.  But she's for me, too, thank God!  Dear old friend, you
need not look so anxious and concerned.  I've no wish to interfere with
Diana's professional work.  You shall have her voice"--smiling--"I'll
be content to hold her heart."

But there was no answering smile on Baroni's lips.

"_Does she know--everything_?" he asked sternly.

Max shook his head.

"No.  How could she? . . .  _You_ must realise the impossibility of
that," he answered slowly.

"And you think it right to let her marry you in ignorance?"

Max hesitated.  Then--

"She trusts me," he said at last.

"Pish!  For how long? . . .  When she sees daily under her eyes things
that she cannot explain, unaccountable things, how long will she remain
satisfied, I ask you?  And then will begin unhappiness."

Errington stiffened.

"And what has our--supposititious--unhappiness to do with you, Signor
Baroni?" he asked haughtily.

"_Your_ unhappiness?  Nothing.  It is the price you must pay--your
inheritance.  But hers?  Everything.  Tears, fretting, vexation--and
that beautiful voice, that perfect organ, may be impaired.  Think!
Think what you are doing!  Just for your own personal happiness you are
risking the voice of the century, the voice that will give pleasure to
tens of thousands--to millions.  You are committing a crime against
Art."

Max smiled in spite of himself.

"Truly, _Maestro_, I had not thought of it like that," he admitted.
"But I think her faith in me will carry us through," he added
confidently.

"Never!  Never!  Women are not made like that."

"And perhaps, later on, if things go well, I shall be able to tell her
all."

"And much good that will do!  _Diavolo_!  When the time comes that
things go well--if it ever does come--"

"It will.  It shall," said Max firmly.

"Well, if it does--I ask you, can she then continue her life as an
artiste?"

Max reflected.

"Yes, if I remain in England--which I hope to do.  I counted on that
when I asked her to marry me.  I think I shall be able to arrange it."

"If!  If!  Are you going to hang your wife's happiness upon an 'if'?"
Baroni spoke with intense anger.  "And 'if' you _cannot_ remain in
England, if you haf to go back--_there_?  Can your wife still appear as
a public singer?"

"No," acknowledged Max slowly.  "I suppose not."

"No!  Her career will be ruined.  And all this is the price she will
haf to pay for her--_trust_!  Give it up, give it up--set her free."

Max flung himself into a chair, leaning his arms wearily on the table,
and stared straight in front of him, his eyes dark with pain.

"I can't," he said, in a low voice.  "Not now.  I meant to--I tried
to--but now she has promised and I can't let her go.  Good God,
_Maestro_!"--a sudden ring of passion in his tones--"Must I give up
everything?  Am I to have nothing in the world?  Always to be a tool
and never live an individual man's life of my own?"

Baroni's face softened a little.

"One cannot escape one's destiny," he said sadly.  "_Che sarà
sarà_. . . .  But you can spare--her.  Tell her the truth, and in
common fairness let her judge for herself--not rush blindfold into such
a web."

Max shook his head.

"You know I can't do that," he replied quietly.

Baroni threw out his arms in despair.

"I would tell her the whole truth myself--but for the memory of one who
is dead."  Sudden tears dimmed the fierce old eyes.  "For the sake of
that sainted martyr--martyr in life as well as in death--I will hold my
peace."

A half-sad, half-humorous smile flashed across Errington's face.

"We're all of us martyrs--more or less," he observed drily.

"And you wish to add Mees Quentin to the list?" retorted Baroni.
"Well, I warn you, I shall fight against it.  I will do everything in
my power to stop this marriage."

Max shrugged his shoulders.

"I'm sure you will," he said, smiling faintly.  "But--forgive me,
_Maestro_--I don't think you will succeed."

As soon as Baroni had taken his departure, Max called a taxi, and
hurried off to see Adrienne de Gervais.  He had arranged to talk over
with her a certain scene in the play he was now writing for her, and
which was to be produced early in the New Year.

Adrienne welcomed him good-humouredly.

"A little late," she observed, glancing at the clock.  "But I suppose
one must not expect punctuality when a man's in love."

"I know I'm late, but I can assure you"--with a grim smile--"love had
little enough to do with it."

Adrienne looked up sharply, struck by the bitter note in his voice.

"Then what had?" she asked.  "What has gone wrong, Max?  You look
fagged out."

"Baroni has been round to see me--to ask me to break off my
engagement."  He laughed shortly.

"He doesn't approve, I suppose?"

"That's a mild way of expressing his attitude."

Adrienne was silent a moment.  Then she spoke, slowly, consideringly.

"I don't--approve--either.  It isn't right, Max."

He bit his lip.

"So you--you, too, are against me?"

She stretched out her hand impulsively.

"Not against you, Max!  Never that!  How could I be? . . .  But I don't
think you're being quite fair to Diana.  You ought to tell her the
truth."

He wheeled round.

"No one knows better than you how impossible that is."

"Don't you trust her then--the woman you're asking to be your wife?"

The tinge of irony in her voice brought a sudden light of anger to his
eyes.

"That's not very just of you, Adrienne," he said coldly.  "_I_ would
trust her with my life.  But I have no right to pledge the trust of
others--and that's what I should be doing if I told her.  We have our
duty--you and I--and all this . . . is part of it."

Adrienne hesitated.

"Couldn't you--ask the others to release you?"

He shook his head.

"What right have I to ask them to trust an Englishwoman with their
secret--just for my pleasure?"

"For your happiness," corrected Adrienne softly.

"Or for my happiness?  My happiness doesn't count with them one straw."

"It does with me.  I don't see why she shouldn't be told.  Baroni
knows, and Olga--you have to trust them."

"Baroni will be silent for the sake of the dead, and Olga out of her
love--or fear"--with a bitter smile--"of me."

"And wouldn't Diana, too, be silent for your sake?"

"My dear Adrienne"--a little irritably--"Englishwomen are so frank--so
indiscreetly trusting.  That's where the difficulty lies, and I dare
not risk it.  There's too much at stake.  But can you imagine any agent
they may have put upon our track surprising her knowledge out of Olga?"
He laughed contemptuously.  "I fancy not!  If Olga hadn't been a woman
she'd have made her mark in the Diplomatic Service."

"Yet what is there to make her keep faith with us?" said Adrienne
doubtfully.  "She is poor--"

"Her own doing, that!"

"True, but the fact remains.  And those others would pay a fortune for
the information she could give.  Besides, I believe she frankly hates
me."

"Possibly.  But she would never, I think, allow her personal feelings
to override everything else.  After all, she was one of us--is still,
really, though she would gladly disown the connection."

"Well, when you've looked at every side of the matter, we only come
back to the same point.  I think you're acting wrongly.  You're letting
Diana pledge herself blindly, when you're not free to give her the
confidence a man should give his wife--when you don't even
know--yet--how it may all end."

Almost Baroni's very words!  Max winced.

"No.  I don't know how it will end, as you say.  But surely there
_will_ come a time when I shall be free to live my own life?"

Adrienne smiled a trifle wistfully.

"If your conscience ever lets you," she said.

There was a long silence.  Presently she resumed:---

"I never thought, when you first told me about your engagement, that
the position of affairs need make any difference.  I was so pleased to
think that you cared for each other!  And now--where will it all end?
How many lives are going to be darkened by the same shadow?  Oh, it's
terrible, Max, terrible!"

The tears filled her eyes.

"Don't!" said Max unsteadily.  "Don't!  I know it's bad enough.
Perhaps you're right--I oughtn't to have spoken to Diana, I hoped
things would right themselves eventually, but you and Baroni have put
another complexion upon matters.  It's all an inextricable tangle,
whichever way one looks at it--come good luck or bad! . . .  I suppose
I was wrong--I ought to have waited.  But now . . . now . . .  Before
God, Adrienne!  I can't, give her up--not now!"



CHAPTER XVII

"WHOM GOD HATH JOINED TOGETHER"

Max and Diana were married shortly before the following Christmas.  The
wedding took place very quietly at Crailing, only a few intimate friends
being asked to it.  For, as Max pointed out, either their invitations
must be limited to a dozen or so, or else Diana must resign herself to a
fashionable wedding in town, with all the world and his wife as guests at
the subsequent reception.  No middle course is possible when a well-known
dramatist elects to marry the latest sensation in the musical world!

So it was in the tiny grey church overlooking the sea that Max and Diana
were made one, with the distant murmur of the waves in their ears, and
with Alan Stair to speak the solemn words that joined their lives
together, and when the little intimate luncheon which followed the
ceremony was over, they drove away in Max's car to the wild, beautiful
coast of Cornwall, there to spend the first perfect days of their married
life.

And they were perfect days!  Afterwards, when clouds had dimmed the
radiance of the sun, and doubts and ugly questionings were beating up on
every side, Diana had always that radiant fortnight by the Cornish
sea--she and Max alone together--to look back upon.

The woman whose married life holds sorrow, and who has no such golden
memory stored away, is bereft indeed!

On their return to London, the Erringtons established themselves at Lilac
Lodge, a charming old-fashioned house in Hampstead, where the
creeper-clad walls and great bushes of lilac reminded Diana pleasantly of
the old Rectory at Crailing.  Jerry made one of the household--"resident
secretary" as he proudly termed himself, and his cheery, good-humoured
presence was invaluable whenever difficulties arose.

But at first there were few, indeed, of the latter to contend with.
Owing to the illness of an important member of the cast, without whose
services Adrienne declined to perform, the production of Max's new play,
"Mrs. Fleming's Husband," was delayed until the autumn.  This
postponement left him free to devote much more of his time to his wife
than would otherwise have been possible, and for the first few months
after their marriage it seemed as though no shadow could ever fall
athwart their happiness.

In this respect Baroni's prognostications of evil had failed to
materialise, but his fears that marriage would interfere with Diana's
musical career were better founded.  Quite easily and naturally she
slipped out of the professional life which had just been opening its
doors to her.  She felt no inclination to continue singing in public.
Max filled her existence, and although she still persevered with her
musical training under Baroni, she told him with a frank enjoyment of the
situation that she was far too happy and enjoying herself far too much to
have any desire at present to take up the arduous work of a public singer!

Baroni was immeasurably disappointed, and not all Diana's assurances that
in a year, or two at most, she would go back into harness once more
sufficed to cheer him.

"A year--two years!" he exclaimed.  "Two years lost at the critical
time--just at the commencement of your career!  Ah, my dear Mrs.
Errington, you had better haf lost four years later on when you haf
established yourself."

To Max himself the old _maestro_ was short and to the point when chance
gave him the opportunity of a few moments alone with him.

"You haf stolen her from me, Max Errington--you haf broken your promise
that she should be free to sing."

Max responded good-humouredly:--

"She _is_ free, _Maestro_, free to do exactly as she chooses.  And she
has chosen--to be my wife, to live for a time the pleasant, peaceful life
that ordinary, everyday folk may live, who are not rushed hither and
thither at the call of a career.  Can you honestly say she hasn't chosen
the better part?"

Baroni was silent.

"Don't grudge her a year or two of freedom," pursued Max.  "You know, you
old slave-driver, you,"--laughing--"that it is only because you want her
for your beloved Art--because you want her voice!  Otherwise you would
rejoice in her happiness."

"And you--what is it you want?" retorted Baroni, unappeased.  "You want
her soul!  Whereas I would give her soul wings that she might send it
singing forth into an enraptured world."

But Baroni's words fell upon stony ground, and Max and Diana went their
way, absorbed in one another and in the wonderful happiness which love
had brought them.

Thus spring slipped away into summer, and the season was in full swing
when fate tossed the first pebble into their unruffled pool of joy.

It was only a brief paragraph, sandwiched in between the musical notes of
a morning paper, to which Olga Lermontof, who came daily to Lilac Lodge
to practise with Diana, drew the latter's attention.  The paragraph
recalled the fact that it was just a year since Miss Quentin had made her
debut, and then went on to comment lightly upon the brief and meteoric
character of her professional appearances.


"Domesticity should not have claimed Miss Quentin"--so ran the actual
words.  "Hers was a voice the like of which we may not hear again, and
the public grudges its withdrawal.  _A propos_, we had always thought
(until circumstances proved us hopelessly wrong) that the fortunate man,
whose gain has been such a loss to the musical world, seemed born to
write plays for a certain charming actress--and she to play the part
which he assigned her."


Diana showed the paragraph to Max, who frowned as he read it, and finally
tore the newspaper in which it had appeared across and across, flinging
the pieces into the grate.

Then he turned and laid his hands on Diana's shoulders, gazing
searchingly into her face.

"Have you felt--anything of what that paragraph suggests?" he demanded.
"Am I taking too much from you, Diana?  I love to keep you to myself--not
to have to share you with the world, but I won't stand in your light, or
hold you back if you wish to go--not even"--with a wry smile--"if it
should mean your absence on a tour."

"Silly boy!"  Diana patted his head reprovingly.  "I don't _want_ to sing
in public--at least, not now, not yet.  Later on, I dare say, I shall
like to take it up again.  And as for leaving you and going on
tour"--laughingly--"the latter half of the paragraph should serve as a
warning to me not to think of such a thing!"

To her surprise Max did not laugh with her.  Instead, he answered
coldly:--

"I hope you have more sense than to pay attention to what any damned
newspaper may have to say about me--or about Miss de Gervais either."

"Why, Max,--Max--"

Diana stared at him in dismay, flushing a little.  It was the first time
he had spoken harshly to her since their marriage.

In an instant he had caught her in his arms, passionately repentant.

"Dearest, forgive me!  It was only--only that you are bound to read such
things, and it angered me for a moment.  Miss de Gervais and I see too
much of each other to escape all comment."

Diana withdrew herself slowly from his arms.

"And--and must you see so much of her now?  Now that we are married?" she
asked, rather wistfully.

"Why, of course.  We have so many professional matters to discuss.  You
must be prepared for that, Diana.  When we begin rehearsing 'Mrs.
Fleming's Husband,' I shall be down at the theatre every day."

"Oh, yes, at the theatre.  But--but you go to see Adrienne rather often
now, don't you?  And the rehearsals haven't begun yet."

Max hesitated a moment.  Then he said quietly:--

"Dear, you must learn not to be jealous of my work.  There are
always--many things--that I have to discuss with Miss de Gervais."

And so, for the time being, the subject dropped.  But the shadow had
flitted for a moment across the face of the sun.  A little cloud, no
bigger than a man's hand, had shown itself upon the horizon.

In July the Erringtons left town to spend a brief holiday at Crailing
Rectory, and on their return, the preparations for the production of
"Mrs. Fleming's Husband" went forward in good earnest.

They had not been back in town a week before Diana realised that, as the
wife of a dramatist on the eve of the production of a play, she must be
prepared to cede her prior right in her husband to the innumerable people
who claimed his time on matters relating to the forthcoming production,
and, above all, to the actress who was playing the leading part in it.

And it was in respect of this latter demand that Diana found the
matrimonial shoe begin to pinch.  To her, it seemed as though Adrienne
were for ever 'phoning Max to come and see her, and invariably he set
everything else aside--even Diana herself, if needs be--and obeyed her
behest.

"I can't see why Adrienne wants to consult you so often," Diana protested
one day.  "She is perpetually ringing you up to go round to Somervell
Street--or if it's not that, then she is writing to you."

Max laughed her protest aside.

"Well, there's a lot to consult about, you see," he said vaguely.

"So it seems.  I shall be glad when it is all finished and I have you to
myself again.  When will the play be on?"

"About the middle of October," he replied, fidgeting restlessly with the
papers that strewed his desk.  They were talking in his own particular
den, and Diana's eyes ruefully followed the restless gesture.

"I suppose," she said slowly, "you want me to go?"

"Well"--apologetically--"I have a lot to attend to this morning.  Will
you send Jerry to me--do you mind, dearest?"

"It wouldn't make much difference if I did," she responded grimly, as she
went towards the door.

Max looked after her thoughtfully in silence.  When she had gone, he
leaned his head rather wearily upon his hand.

"It's better so," he muttered.  "Better she should think it's only the
play that binds me to Adrienne."



CHAPTER XVIII

THE APPROACHING SHADOW

Diana gathered up her songs and slowly dropped them into her
music-case, while Baroni stared at her with a puzzled, brooding look in
his eyes.

At last he spoke:--

"You are throwing away the great gift God has given you.  First, you
will take no more engagements, and now--what is it?  Where is your
voice?"

Diana, conscious of having done herself less than justice at the lesson
which was just concluded, shook her head.

"I don't know," she said simply.  "I don't seem able to sing now,
somehow."

Baroni shrugged his shoulders.

"You are fretting," he declared.  "And so the voice suffers."

"Fretting?  I don't know that I've anything to fret about"--vaguely.
"Only I shall be glad when 'Mrs. Fleming's Husband' is actually
produced.  Just now"--with a rather wistful smile--"I don't seem to
have a husband to call my own.  Miss de Gervais claims so much of his
time."

Baroni's brow grew stormy.

"Mees de Gervais?  Of course!  It is inevitable!" he muttered.  "I knew
it must be like that."

Diana regarded him curiously.

"But why?  Do--do all dramatists have to consult so much with the
leading actress in the play?"

The old _maestro_ made a sweeping gesture with his arm, as though
disavowing any knowledge of the matter.

"Do not ask me!" he said bitterly.  "Ask Max Errington--ask your
husband these questions."

At the condemnation in his voice her loyalty asserted itself
indignantly.

"You are right," she said quickly.  "I ought not to have asked you.
Good-bye, signor."

But Diana's loyalty was hard put to it to fight the newly awakened
jealousy that was stirring in her heart, and it seemed as though just
now everything and everybody combined to add fuel to the fire, for,
only a few days later, when Miss Lermontof came to Lilac Lodge to
practise with Diana, she, too, added her quota of disturbing comment.

"You're looking very pale," she remarked, at the end of the hour.  "And
you're shockingly out of voice!  What's the matter?"

Then, as Diana made no answer, she added teasingly: "Matrimony doesn't
seem to have agreed with you too well.  Doesn't Max play the devoted
husband satisfactorily?"

Diana flushed.

"You've no right to talk like that, Olga, even in jest," she said, with
a little touch of matronly dignity that sat rather quaintly and sweetly
upon her.  "I know you don't like Max--never have liked him--but please
recollect that you're speaking of my husband."

"You misunderstand me," replied the Russian, coolly, as she drew on her
gloves.  "I _don't_ dislike him; but I do think he ought to be
perfectly frank with you.  As you say, he is your husband"--pointedly.

"Perfectly frank with me?"

Miss Lermontof nodded.

"Yes."

"He has been," affirmed Diana.

"Has he, indeed?  Have you ever asked him"--she paused
significantly--"who he is?"

"_Who he is_?"  Diana felt her heart contract.  What new mystery was
this at which the other was hinting?

"_Who he is_?" she repeated.  "Why--why--what do you mean?"

The accompanists queer green eyes narrowed between their heavy lids.

"Ask him--that's all," she replied shortly.

She drew her furs around her shoulders preparatory to departure, but
Diana stepped in front of her, laying a detaining hand on her arm.

"What do you mean?" she demanded hotly.  "Are you implying now that Max
is going about under a false name?  I hate your hints!  Always, always
you've tried to insinuate something against Max. . . .  No!"--as the
Russian endeavoured to free herself from her clasp--"No!  You shan't
leave this house till you've answered my question.  You've made an
accusation, and you shall prove it--if I have to bring you face to face
with Max himself!"

"I've made no accusation--merely a suggestion that you should ask him
who he is.  And as to bringing me face to face with him--I can assure
you"--there was an inflection of ironical amusement in her light
tones--"no one would be less anxious for such a _dénouement_ than Max
Errington himself.  Now, good-bye; think over what I've said.  And
remember"--mockingly--"Adrienne de Gervais is a bad friend for the man
one loves!"

She flitted through the doorway, and Diana was left to deal as best she
might with the innuendo contained in her speech.

"_Adrienne de Gervais is a bad friend for the man one loves._"

The phrase seemed to crystallise in words the whole vague trouble that
had been knocking at her heart, and she realised suddenly, with a shock
of unbearable dismay, that she was _jealous--jealous of Adrienne_!
Hitherto, she had not in the least understood the feeling of depression
and _malaise_ which had assailed her.  She had only known that she felt
restless and discontented when Max was out of her sight, irritated at
the amount of his time which Miss de Gervais claimed, and she had
ascribed these things to the depth of her love for him!  But now, with
a sudden flash of insight, engendered by the Russian's dexterous
suggestion, she realised that it was jealousy, sheer primitive jealousy
of another woman that had gripped her, and her young, wholesome,
spontaneous nature recoiled in horrified self-contempt at the
realisation.

Pobs' good counsel came back to her mind: "It seems to me that if you
love him, you needs _must_ trust him."  Ah! but that was uttered in
regard to another matter--the secret which shadowed Max's life--and she
_had_ trusted him over that, she told herself.  This, this jealousy of
another woman, was an altogether different thing, something which had
crept insidiously into her heart, and woven its toils about her almost
before she was aware of it.

And behind it all there loomed a new terror.  Olga Lermontof's advice:
"_Ask him who he is_," beat at the back of her brain, fraught with
fresh mystery, the forerunner of a whole host of new suspicions.

Secrecy and concealment of any kind were utterly alien to Diana's
nature.  Impulsive, warm-hearted, quick-tempered, she was the last
woman in the world to have been thrust by an unkind fate into an
atmosphere of intrigue and mystery.  She was like a pretty, fluttering,
summer moth, caught in the gossamer web of a spider--terrified,
struggling, battling against something she did not understand, and
utterly without the patience and strong determination requisite to free
herself.

For hours after Olga's departure she fought down the temptation to
follow her advice and question her husband.  She could not bring
herself to hurt him--as it must do if he guessed that she distrusted
him.  But neither could she conquer the suspicions that had leaped to
life within her.  At last, for the time being, love obtained the
mastery--won the first round of the struggle.

"I will trust him," she told herself.  "And--and whether I trust him or
not," she ended up defiantly, "at least he shall never know, never see
it, if--if I can't."

So that it was a very sweet and repentant, if rather wan, Diana that
greeted her husband when he returned from the afternoon rehearsal at
the theatre.

Max's keen eyes swept the white, shadowed face.

"Has Miss Lermontof been here to-day?" he asked abruptly.

"Yes."  A burning flush chased away her pallor as she answered his
question.

"I see."

"You see?"--nervously.  "What do you see?"

A very gentle expression came into Max's eyes.

"I see," he said kindly, "that I have a tired wife.  You mustn't let
Baroni and Miss Lermontof work you too hard between them."

"Oh, they don't, Max."

"All right, then.  Only"--cupping her chin in his hand and turning her
face up to his--"I notice I often have a somewhat worried-looking wife
after one of Miss Lermontof's visits.  I don't think she is too good a
friend for you, Diana.  Couldn't you get some one else to accompany
you?"

Diana hesitated.  She would have been quite glad to dispense with
Olga's services had it been possible.  The Russian was for ever hinting
at something in connection either with Max or Miss de Gervais; to-day
she had but gone a step further than usual.

"Well?" queried Max, reading the doubt in Diana's eyes.

"I'm afraid I couldn't engage any one else to accompany me," she said
at last.  "You see, Olga is Baroni's chosen accompanist, and--it might
make trouble."

A curious expression crossed his face.

"Yes," he agreed slowly.  "It might--make trouble, as you say.  Well,
why not ask Joan to stay with you for a time--to counterbalance
matters?"

"Excellent suggestion!" exclaimed Diana, her spirits going up with a
bound.  Joan was always so satisfactory and cheerful and commonplace
that she felt as though her mere presence in the house would serve to
dispel the vague, indefinable atmosphere of suspicion that seemed
closing round her.  "I'll write to her at once."

"Yes, do.  If she can come next month, she will be here for the first
night of 'Mrs. Fleming's Husband.'"

Diana went away to write her letter, while Max remained pacing
thoughtfully up and down the room, tapping restlessly with his fingers
on his chest as he walked.  His face showed signs of fatigue--the hard
work in connection with the production of his play was telling on
him--and since the brief interview with his wife, a new look of
anxiety, an alert, startled expression, had dawned in his eyes.

He seemed to be turning something over in his mind as he paced to and
fro.  At last, apparently, he came to a decision.

"I'll do it," he said aloud.  "It's a possible chance of silencing her."

He made his way downstairs, pausing at the door of the library, where
Diana was poring over her letter to Joan.

"I find I must go out again," he said.  "But I shall be back in time
for dinner."

Diana looked up in dismay.

"But you've had no tea, Max," she protested.

"Can't stay for it now, dear."

He dropped a light kiss on her hair and was gone, while Diana, flinging
down her pen, exclaimed aloud:--

"It's that woman again!  I know it is!  She's rung him up!"

And it never dawned upon her that the fact that she had unthinkingly
referred to Adrienne de Gervais as "that woman" marked a turning-point
in her attitude towards her.

Meanwhile Errington hailed a taxi and directed the chauffeur to drive
him to 24 Brutton Square, where he asked to see Miss Lermontof.

He was shown into the big and rather gloomy-looking public
drawing-room, of which none of Mrs. Lawrence's student-boarders made
use except when receiving male visitors, much preferring the cheery
comfort of their own bed-sitting-rooms--for Diana had been the only one
amongst them whose means had permitted the luxury of a separate
sitting-room--and in a few minutes Olga joined him there.

There was a curiously hostile look in her face as she greeted him.

"This is--an unexpected pleasure, Max," she began mockingly.  "To what
am I indebted?"

Errington hesitated a moment.  Then, his keen eyes resting piercingly
on hers, he said quietly:--

"I want to know how we stand, Olga.  Are you trying to make mischief
for me with my wife?"

"Then she's asked you?" exclaimed Olga triumphantly.

"Diana has asked me nothing.  Though I have no doubt that you have been
hinting and suggesting things to her that she would ask me about if it
weren't for her splendid, loyalty.  You have the tongue of an asp,
Olga!  Always, after your visits, I can see that Diana is worried and
unhappy."

"How can she ever be happy--as your wife?"

Errington winced.

"I could make her happy--if you--you and Baroni--would let me.  I know
I must regard you as an enemy in--that other matter . . . as a 'passive
resister,' at least," he amended, with a bitter smile.  "But am I to
regard you as an enemy to my marriage, too?  Or, is it your idea of
punishment, perhaps--to wreck my happiness?"

Olga shrugged her shoulders, and, walking to the window, stood there
silently, staring out into the street.  When she turned back again, her
eyes were full of tears.

"Max," she said earnestly, "you may not believe it, but I want your
happiness above everything else in the world.  There is no one I love
as I love you.  Give up--that other affair.  Wash your hands of it.
Let Adrienne go, and take your happiness with Diana.  That's what I'm
working for--to make you choose between Diana and that interloper.  You
won't give her up for me; but perhaps, if Diana--if your wife--insists,
you will shake yourself free, break with Adrienne de Gervais at last.
Sometimes I'm almost tempted to tell Diana the truth, to force your
hand!"

Errington's eyes blazed.

"If you did that," he said quietly, "I would never see, or speak to
you, again."

Olga shivered a little.

"Your honour is mine," he went on.  "Remember that."

"It isn't fair," she burst out passionately.  "It isn't fair to put it
like that.  Why should I, and you, and Diana--all of us--be sacrificed
for Adrienne?"

"Because you and I are--what we are, and because Diana is my wife."

Olga looked at him curiously.

"Then--if it came to a choice--you would actually sacrifice Diana?"

Errington's face whitened.

"It will not--it shall not!" he said vehemently.  "Diana's faith will
pull us through."

Olga smiled contemptuously.

"Don't be too sure.  After all a woman's trust won't stand everything,
and you're asking a great deal from Diana--a blind faith, under
circumstances which might shake the confidence of any one.
Already"--she leaned forward a little--"already she is beginning to be
jealous of Adrienne."

"And whom have I to thank for that?  You--you, from whom, more than
from any other, I might have expected loyalty."

Olga shook her head.

"No, not me.  But the fact that no wife worth the name will stand
quietly by and see her husband at the beck and call of another woman."

"More especially when there is some one who drops poison in her ear day
by day," he retorted.

"Yes," she acknowledged frankly.  "If I can bring matters to a head,
force you to a choice between Adrienne and Diana, I shall do it.  And
then, before God, Max! I believe you'll free yourself from that woman."

"No," he answered quietly, "I shall not."

"You'll sacrifice Diana?"--incredulously.

A smile of confidence lightened his face.

"I don't think it will come to that.  I'm staking--everything--on
Diana's trust in me."

"Then you'll lose--lose, I tell you."

"No," he said steadily.  "I shall win."

Olga smote her hands together.

"Was there ever such a fool!  I tell you, no woman's trust can hold out
for ever.  And since you can't explain to her--"

"It won't be for ever," he broke in quickly.  "Everything goes well.
Before long all the concealment will be at an end.  And I shall be
free."

Olga turned away.

"I can't wish you success," she said bitterly.  "The day that brings
you success will be the blackest hour of my life."

Errington's face softened a little.

"Olga, you are unreasonable--"

"Unreasonable, am I?  Because I grudge paying for the sins of
others? . . .  If that is unreasonable--yes, then, I _am_ unreasonable!
Now, go.  Go, and remember, Max, we are on opposite sides of the camp."

Errington paused at the door.

"So long as you keep your honour--_our_ honour--clean," he said, "do
what you like!  I have utter, absolute trust in Diana."



CHAPTER XIX

THE "FIRST NIGHT" PERFORMANCE

The curtain fell amidst a roar of applause, and the lights flashed up
over the auditorium once more.  It was the first night performance of
"Mrs. Fleming's Husband," and the house was packed with the usual crowd
of first-nighters, critics, and members of "the" profession who were
anxious to see Miss de Gervais in the new part Max Errington had
created for her.

Diana and Joan Stair were in a box, escorted only by Jerry, since Max
had firmly refused to come down to the theatre for the first
performance.

"I can't stand first nights," he had said.  "At least, not of my own
plays."  And not even Diana's persuasions had availed to move him from
this decision.

Joan was ecstatic in her praise.

"Isn't Adrienne simply wonderful?" she exclaimed, as the music of the
_entr'acte_ stole out from the hidden orchestra.

"'M, yes."  Diana's reply lacked enthusiasm.

Joan, if she could not boast great powers of intuition, was dowered
with a keen observation, and she had not spent a week at Lilac Lodge
without putting two and two together and making four of them.  She had
noticed a great change in Diana.  The girl was moody and unusually
silent; her gay good spirits had entirely vanished, and more than once
Joan had caught her regarding her husband with a curious mixture of
resentment and contempt in her eyes.  Joan was frankly worried over the
state of affairs.

"Why this _nil admirari_ attitude?" she asked.  "Have you and Adrienne
quarrelled?"

"Quarrelled?"  Diana raised her brows ever so slightly.  "What should
we quarrel about?  As a matter of fact, I really don't see very much of
her nowadays."

"So I imagined," replied Joan calmly.  "When I stayed with you last
May, either she came to the Lodge, or you went to Somervell Street,
every day of the week.  This time, you've not seen each other since I
came."

"No?  I don't think"--lightly--"that Adrienne cares much for members of
her own sex.  She prefers--their husbands."

Joan stared in amazement.  The little acid speech was so unlike Diana
that she felt convinced it sprang from some new and strong antagonism
towards the actress.  What could be the cause of it?  Diana and
Adrienne had been warm friends only a few months ago!

Joan's eyes travelled from Diana's small, set face to Jerry's pleasant
boyish one.  The latter had opened his mouth to speak, then thought
better of it, and closed it again, reddening uncomfortably, and his
dismayed expression was so obvious as to be almost comic.

The rise of the curtain for the third and last act put a summary end to
any further conversation and Joan bent her attention on the stage once
more, though all the time that her eyes and ears were absorbing the
shifting scenes and brilliant dialogue of the play a little, persistent
inner voice at the back of her brain kept repeating Diana's nonchalant
"_I really don't see very much of her nowadays_," and querying
irrepressibly, "_Why not_?"

Meanwhile, Diana, unconscious of the uneasy curiosity she had awakened
in the mind of Joan, was watching the progress of the play intently.
How designedly it was written around Adrienne de Gervais--calculated to
give every possible opportunity to a fine emotional actress!  Her lips
closed a little more tightly together as the thought took hold of her.
The author must have studied Adrienne, watched her every mood, learned
every twist of her temperament, to have portrayed a character so
absolutely suited to her as that of Mrs. Fleming.  And how could a man
know a woman's soul so well unless--unless it were the soul of the
woman he loved?  That was it; that was the explanation of all those
things which had puzzled, and bewildered her for so long.  And the
author was her husband!

Diana, staring down from her box at that exquisite, breathing
incarnation of grace on the stage below, felt that she hated Adrienne.
She had never hated any one before, and the intensity of her feeling
frightened her.  Since a few months ago, strange, deep emotions had
stirred within her--a passion of love and a passion of hatred such as
in the days of her simple girlhood she would not have believed to be
possible to any ordinary well-brought-up young Englishwoman.  That Max
was capable of a fierce heat of passion, she knew.  But then, he was
not all English; wilder blood ran in his veins.  She could imagine his
killing a man if driven by the lash of passionate jealousy.  But she
had never pictured herself obsessed by hate of a like quality.

And yet, now, as her eyes followed Adrienne's slender figure, with its
curious little air of hauteur that always set her so apart from other
women, moving hither and thither on the stage, her hands clenched
themselves fiercely, and her grey eyes dilated with the intensity of
her hatred.  Almost--almost she could understand how men and women
killed each other in the grip of a jealous love. . . .

The play was ended.  Adrienne had bowed repeatedly in response to the
wild enthusiasm of the audience, and of a sudden a new cry mingled with
the shouts and clapping.

"Author!  Author!"

Adrienne came forward again and bowed, smilingly shaking her head,
gesturing a negative with her hands.  But still the cry went on,
"Author!  Author!"--the steady, persistent drone of an audience which
does not mean to be denied.

Diana experienced a brief thrill of triumph.  She felt convinced that
Adrienne would have liked to have Max standing beside her at this
moment.  It would have set the seal on an evening of glorious success,
completed it, as it were.  And he had refused to come, declined--so
Diana put it to herself--to share the evening's triumph with the
actress who had so well interpreted his work.  At least this would be a
pin-prick in the enemy's side!

And then--then--a hand pulled aside the heavy folds of the stage
curtain, and the next moment Max and Adrienne were standing there
together, bowing and smiling, while the audience roared and cheered its
enthusiasm.

Diana could hardly believe her eyes.  Max had told her so emphatically
that he would not come.  And now, he was here!  He had lied to her!
The affair had been pre-arranged between him and Adrienne all the time?
Only she--the wife!--had been kept in the dark.  Probably he had spent
the entire evening behind the scenes. . . .  In her overwrought
condition, no supposition was too wild for credence.

Vaguely she heard some one at the back of the house shout "Speech!" and
the cry was taken up by a dozen voices, but Max only laughed and shook
his head, and once more the heavy curtains fell together, shutting him
and Adrienne from her sight.

Mechanically Diana gathered up her wraps and prepared to leave the box.

"Aren't you coming round behind to congratulate them, Mrs. Errington?"

Jerry's astonished tones broke on her ears as she turned down the
corridor in the direction of the vestibule.

"No," she replied quietly.  "I'm going home."

      *      *      *      *      *      *

"You told me you wouldn't come to the theatre--and you intended going
all the time!"

Diana's wraps were flung on the chair beside her, and she stood, a
slim, pliant figure in her white evening gown, defiantly facing her
husband.

"No, I'd no intention of going.  I detest first nights," he answered.

"Then why were you there?  Oh, I don't believe it--I don't believe it!
You simply wanted to spend the evening with Adrienne; that was why you
refused to go with me."

"Diana!" Max spoke incredulously.  "You can't believe--you can't think
that!"

"But I do think that!"--imperiously.  "What else can I think?"  Her
long-pent jealousy had broken forth at last, and the words raced from
her lips.  "You refused to come when I asked you--offered me Jerry as
an escort instead.  Jerry!"--scornfully--"I'm to be content with my
husband's secretary, I suppose, so that my husband himself can dance
attendance on Adrienne de Gervais?"

Max stood motionless, his eyes like steel.

"You are being--rather childish," he said at last, with slow
deliberation.  His cool, contemptuous tones cut like a whip.

She had been rapidly losing her self-command, and, reading the intense
anger beneath his outward calm, she made an effort to pull herself
together.

"Childish?" she retorted.  "Yes, I suppose it is childish to mind being
deceived.  I ought to have been prepared for it--expected it."

At the note of suffering in her voice the anger died swiftly out of his
eyes.

"You don't mean that, Diana," he said, more gently.

"Yes, I do.  You warned me--didn't you?--that there would be things you
couldn't explain.  I suppose"--bitterly--"this is one of them!"

"No, it is not.  I can explain this.  I didn't intend coming to-night,
as I told you.  But Miss de Gervais rang up from the theatre and begged
me to come, so, of course, as she wished it--"

"'As she wished it!'  Are her wishes, then, of so much more importance
than mine?"

Errington was silent for a moment.  At last he replied quietly:--

"You know they are not.  But in this case, in the matter of the play,
she is entitled to every consideration."

Diana's eyes searched his face.  Beneath the soft laces of her gown her
breast still rose and fell stormily, but she had herself in hand now.

"Max, when I married you I took . . . something . . . on trust."  She
spoke slowly, weighing her words, "But I didn't expect that something
to include--Adrienne!  What has she to do with you?"

Errington's brows came sharply together.  He drew a quick, short breath
as though bracing himself to meet some unforeseen danger.

"I've written a play for her," he answered shortly.

"Yes, I know.  But is that all that there is between you--this play?"

"I can't answer that question," he replied quietly.

Diana flung out her hand with a sudden, passionate gesture.

"You've answered it, I think," she said scornfully.

He took a quick stride towards her, catching her by the arms.

"Diana"--his voice vibrated--"won't you trust me?"

"Trust you!  How can I?" she broke out wildly.  "If trusting you means
standing by whilst Adrienne--  Oh, I can't bear it.  You're asking
too much of me, Max.  I didn't know . . . when you asked me to trust
you . . . that it meant--_this_! . . .  And there's something else,
too.  Who are you?  What is your real name?  I don't even
know"--bitterly--"whom I've married!"

He released her suddenly, almost as though she had struck him.

"Who has been talking to you?" he demanded, thickly.

"_Then it's true_?"

Diana's hands fell to her sides and every drop of colour drained away
from her face.  The question had been lying dormant in her mind ever
since the day when Olga Lermontof had first implanted it there.  Now it
had sprung from her lips, dragged forth by the emotion of the moment.
_And he couldn't answer it_!

"Then it's true?" she repeated.

Errington's face set like a mask.

"That is a question you shouldn't have asked," he replied coldly.

"And one you cannot answer?"

He bent his head.

"And one I cannot answer."

Very slowly she picked up her wraps.

"Thank you," she said unsteadily.  "I'll--I'll go now."

He laid his hand deliberately on the door-handle.

"No," he said.  "No, you won't go.  I've heard what you have to say;
now you'll listen to me.  Good God, Diana!" he continued passionately.
"Do you think I'm going to stand quietly by and see our happiness
wrecked?"

"I don't see how you can prevent it," she said dully.

"I?  No; I can do nothing.  But you can.  Diana, beloved, have faith in
me!  I can't explain those things to you--not now.  Some day, please
God, I shall be able to, but till that day comes--trust me!"  There was
a depth of supplication and entreaty in his tone, but it left her
unmoved.  She felt frozen--passionless.

"Do you mean--do you mean that Adrienne, your name, everything, is all
part of--of what you can't tell me?  Part of--the shadow?"

He was silent a moment.  Then he answered steadily:--

"Yes.  That much I may tell you."

She put up her hand and pushed back her hair impatiently from her
forehead.

"I can't understand it . . .  I can't understand it," she muttered.

"Dear, must one understand--to love? . . .  Can't you have faith?"

His eyes, those blue eyes of his which could be by turns so fierce, so
unrelenting, and--did she not know it to her heart's undoing?--so
unutterably tender, besought her.  But, for once, they awakened no
response.  She felt cold--quite cold and indifferent.

"No, Max," she answered wearily.  "I don't think I can.  You ask me to
believe that there is need for you to see so much of Adrienne.  At
first you said it was because of the play.  Now you say it has to do
with this--this thing I may not know. . . .  I'm afraid I can't believe
it.  I think a man's wife should come first--first of anything.  I've
tried--oh, I've tried not to mind when you left me so often to go to
Adrienne.  I used to tell myself that it was only on account of the
play.  I tried to believe it, because--because I loved you so.
But"--with a bitter little smile--"I don't think I ever _really_
believed it--I only cheated myself. . . .  There's something else,
too--the shadow.  Baroni knows what it is--and Olga Lermontof.  Only
I--your wife--I know nothing."

She paused, as though expecting some reply, but Max remained silent,
his arms folded across his chest, his head a little bent.

"I was only a child when you married me, Max," she went on presently.
"I didn't realise what it meant for a husband to have some secret
business which he cannot tell his wife.  But I know now what it means.
It's merely an excuse to be always with another woman--"

In a stride Max was beside her, his eyes blazing, his hands gripping
her shoulders with a clasp that hurt her.

"How dare you?" he exclaimed.  "Unsay that--take it back?  Do you hear?"

She shrank a little, twisting in his grasp, but he held her
remorselessly.

"No, I won't take it back. . . .  Ah!  Let me go, Max, you're hurting
me!"

He released her instantly, and, as his hands fell away from her
shoulders, the white flesh reddened into bars where his fingers had
gripped her.  His eyes rested for a moment on the angry-looking marks,
and then, with an inarticulate cry, he caught her to him, pressing his
lips against the bruised flesh, against her eyes, her mouth, crushing
her in his arms.

She lay there passively; but her body stiffened a little, and her lips
remained quite still and unresponsive beneath his.

"Diana! . . .  Beloved! . . ."

She thrust her hands against his chest.

"Let me go," she whispered breathlessly, "Let me go.  I can't bear you
to touch me."

With a quick, determined movement she freed herself, and stood a little
away from him, panting.

"Don't ever . . . do that . . . again.  I--I can't bear you to touch me
. . . not now."

She made a wavering step towards the door.  He held it open for her,
and in silence she passed out and up the stairs.  Presently, from the
landing above, he heard the lock of her bedroom door click into its
socket. . . .



CHAPTER XX

THE SHADOW FALLS

Breakfast, the following morning, was something of an ordeal.  Neither
Max nor Diana spoke to each other if speech could be avoided, and, when
this was impossible, they addressed each other with a frigid politeness
that was more painful than the silence.

Jerry and Joan, sensing the antagonism in the atmosphere, endeavoured
to make conversation, but their efforts received scant encouragement,
and both were thankful when the meal came to an end, and they were free
to seek refuge in another room, leaving husband and wife alone together.

Diana glanced a trifle nervously at her husband as the door closed
behind them.  There was a coldness, an aloofness about him, that
reminded her vividly of the early days of their acquaintanceship, when
his cool indifference of manner had set a barrier between them which
her impulsive girlhood had been powerless to break through.

"Will you spare me a few minutes in my study?" he said.  His face was
perfectly impassive; only the peculiar brilliancy of his eyes spoke of
the white-hot anger he was holding in leash.

Diana nodded silently.  For a moment, bereft of words, she quailed
before the knowledge of that concentrated anger, but by the time they
had reached his study she had pulled herself together, and was ready to
face him with a high temper almost equal to his own.

She had had the night for reflection, and the sense of bitter injustice
under which she was labouring had roused in her the same dogged,
unbending obstinacy which, in a much smaller way, had evinced itself
when Baroni had thrown the music at her and had subsequently bade her
pick it up.

But now that sense of wild rebellion against injustice, against
personal injury, was magnified a thousandfold.  For months she had been
drifting steadily apart from her husband, acutely conscious of that
secret thing in his life, and fiercely resentful of its imperceptible,
yet binding influence on all his actions.  Again and again she had been
perplexed and mystified by certain incomprehensible things which she
had observed--for instance, the fact that, as she knew, part of Max's
correspondence was conducted in cipher; that at times he seemed quite
unaccountably worried and depressed; and, above all, that he was for
ever at the beck and call of Adrienne de Gervais.

Gradually she had begun to connect the two things--Adrienne, and that
secret which dwelt like a shadowy menace at the back of everything.  It
was clear, too, that they were also linked together in the minds both
of Baroni and Olga Lermontof--a dropped sentence here, a hint there,
had assured her of that.

Then had come Olga's definite suggestion, "Adrienne de Gervais is a bad
friend for the man one loves!"  And from that point onward Diana had
seen new meanings in all that passed between her husband and the
actress, and a blind jealousy had taken possession of her.  Something
out of the past bound her husband and Adrienne together, of that she
felt convinced.  She believed that the knowledge which Max had chosen
to withhold from her--his wife--he shared with Adrienne--and all
Diana's fierce young sense of possession rose up in opposition.

Last night, the sight of her husband and the actress, standing together
on the stage, had seemed to her to epitomise their relative
positions--Max and Adrienne, working together, fully in each other's
confidence, whilst she herself was the outsider, only the onlooker in
the box!

"Well?" she said, defiantly turning to her husband.  "Well?  What is it
you wish to say to me?"

"I want an explanation of your conduct--last night."

"And I," she retorted impetuously, "I want an explanation of your
conduct--ever since we've been married!"

He swept her demand aside as though it were the irresponsible prattle
of a child, ignored it utterly.  He was conscious of only one
thing--that she had barred herself away from him, humiliated him, dealt
their mutual love a blow beneath which it reeled.

The bolted door itself counted for nothing.  What mattered was that it
was she who had closed it, deliberately choosing to shut him outside
her life, and cutting every cord of love and trust and belief that
bound them together.

An Englishman might have stormed or laughed, as the mood took him, and
comforted himself with the reflection that she would "get over it."
But not so Max.  The sensitiveness which he hid from the world at
large, but which revealed itself in the lines of that fine-cut mouth of
his, winced under the humiliation she had put upon him.  Love, in his
idea, was a thing so delicate, so rare, that Diana's crude handling of
the situation bore for him a far deeper meaning than the impulsive,
headlong action of the over-wrought girl had rightly held.  To Max, it
signified the end--the denial of all the exquisite trust and
understanding which love should represent.  If she could think for an
instant that he would have asked aught from her at a moment when they
were so far apart in spirit, then she had not understood the ideal
oneness of body and soul which love signified to him, and the knowledge
that she had actually sought to protect herself from him had hurt him
unbearably.

"Last night," he said slowly, "you showed me that you have no trust, no
faith in me any longer."

And Diana, misunderstanding, thinking of the secret which he would not
share with her, and impelled by the jealousy that obsessed her, replied
impetuously:--

"Yes, I meant to show you that.  You refuse me your confidence, and
expect me to believe in you!  You set me aside for Adrienne de Gervais,
and then you ask me to--_trust_ you?  How can I? . . .  I'm not a fool,
Max."

"So it's that?  The one thing over which I asked your faith?"  The
limitless scorn in his voice lashed her.

"You had no right to ask it!" she broke out bitterly.  "Oh, you knew
what it would mean.  I, I was too young to realise.  I didn't think--I
didn't understand what a horrible thing a secret between husband and
wife might be.  But I can't bear it--I can't bear it any longer!  I
sometimes wonder," she added slowly, "if you ever loved me?"

"If I ever loved you?" he repeated.  "There has never been any other
woman in the world for me.  There never will be."

The utter, absolute conviction of his tones knocked at her heart, but
fear and jealousy were stronger than love.

"Then prove it!" she retorted.  "Take me into your confidence; put
Adrienne out of your life."

"It isn't possible--not yet," he said wearily.  "You're asking what I
cannot do."

She took a step nearer.

"Tell me this, then.  What did Olga Lermontof mean when she bade me ask
your name?  Oh!"--with a quick intake of her breath--"you _must_ answer
that, Max; you _must_ tell me that.  I have a _right_ to know it!"

For a moment he was silent, while she waited, eager-eyed, tremulously
appealing, for his answer.  At last it came.

"No," he said inflexibly.  "You have no--right--to ask anything I
haven't chosen to tell you.  When you gave me your love, you gave me
your faith, too.  I warned you what it might mean--but you gave it.
And I"--his voice deepened--"I worshipped you for it!  But I see now, I
asked too much of you.  More"--cynically--"than any woman has to give."

"Then--then"--her voice trembled--"you mean you won't tell me anything
more?"

"I can't."

"And--and Adrienne?  Everything must go on just the same?"

"Just the same"--implacably.

She looked at him, curiously.

"And you expect me still to feel the same towards you, I suppose?  To
behave as though nothing had come between us?"

For a moment his control gave way.

"I expect nothing," he said hoarsely.  "I shall never ask you for
anything again--neither love nor friendship.  As you have decreed, so
it shall be!"

Slowly, with bent head, Diana turned and left the room.

So this was the end!  She had made her appeal, risked everything on his
love for her--and lost.  Adrienne de Gervais was stronger than she!

Hereafter, she supposed, they would live as so many other husbands and
wives lived--outwardly good friends, but actually with all the
beautiful links of love and understanding shattered and broken.

      *      *      *      *      *      *

"Since the first night of the play they've hardly said a word to each
other--only when it's absolutely necessary."  Joan spoke dejectedly,
her chin cupped in her hand.

Jerry nodded.

"I know," he agreed.  "It's pretty awful."

He and Joan were having tea alone together, cosily, by the library
fire.  Diana had gone out to a singing-lesson, and Errington was shut
up in his study attending to certain letters, written in
cipher--letters which reached him frequently, bearing a foreign
postmark, and the answers to which he never by any chance dictated to
his secretary.

"Surely they can't have quarrelled, just because he didn't come to the
theatre with us that night," pursued Joan.  "Do you think Diana could
have been offended because he came down afterwards to please Miss
Gervais?"

"Partly that.  But it's a lot of things together, really.  I've seen it
coming.  Diana's been getting restive for some time.  There are--Look
here!  I don't wish to pry into what's not my business, but a fellow
can't live in a house without seeing things, and there's something in
Errington's life which Di knows nothing about.  And it's that--just the
not knowing--which is coming between them."

"Well, then, why on earth doesn't he tell her about it, whatever it is?"

Jerry shrugged his shoulders.

"Can't say.  _I_ don't know what it is; it's not my business to know.
But his wife's another proposition altogether."

"I suppose he expects her to trust him over it," said Joan thoughtfully.

"That's about the size of it.  And Diana isn't taking any."

"I should trust him with anything in the world--a man with that face!"
observed Joan, after a pause.

"There you go!" cried Jerry discontentedly.  "There you go, with your
unfailing faith in the visible object.  A man's got to _look_ a hero
before you think twice about him!  Mark my words, Jo--many a saint's
face has hidden the heart of a devil."

Joan surveyed him consideringly.

"I've never observed that you have a saint's face, Jerry," she remarked
calmly.

"Beast!  Joan"--he made a dive for her hand, but she eluded him with
the skill of frequent practice--"how much longer are you going to keep
me on tenterhooks?  You know I'm the prodigal son, and that I'm only
waiting for you to say 'yes,' to return to the family bosom--"

"And you propose to use me as a stepping stone!  I know.  You think
that if you return as an engaged young man--"

"With a good reference from my last situation," interpolated Jerry,
grinning.

"Yes--that too, then your father will forget all your peccadilloes and
say, 'Bless you, my children'--"

"Limelight on the blushing bur-ride!  And they lived happily ever
after!  Yes, that's it!  Jolly good programme, isn't it?"

And somehow Jerry's big boyish arm slipped itself round Joan's
shoulders--and Joan raised no objections.

"But--about Max and Diana?" resumed Miss Stair after a judicious
interval.

"Well, what about them?"

"Can't we--can't we do anything?  Talk to them?"

"I just see myself talking to Errington!" murmured Jerry.  "I'd about
as soon discuss its private and internal arrangements with a volcano!
My dear kid, it all depends upon Diana and whether she's content to
trust her husband or not.  _I'd_ trust Max through thick and thin, and
no questions asked.  If he blew up the Houses of Parliament, I should
believe he'd some good reason for doing it. . . .  But then, I'm not
his wife!"

"Well, I shall talk to Diana," said Joan seriously.  "I'm sure Dad
would, if he were here.  And I do think, Jerry, you might screw up
courage to speak to Max.  He can't eat you!  And--and I simply hate to
see those two at cross purposes!  They were so happy at the beginning."

The mention of matrimonial happiness started a new train of thought,
and the conversation became of a more personal nature--the kind of
conversation wherein every second or third sentence starts with "when
we are married," and thence launches out into rose-red visions of the
great adventure.

Presently the house door clanged, and a minute later Diana came into
the room.  She threw aside her furs and looked round hastily.

"Where's Max?" she asked sharply.

"Not concealed beneath the Chesterfield," volunteered Jerry flippantly.
Then, as he caught a hostile sparkle of irritation in her grey eyes, he
added hastily, "He's in his study."

Diana nodded, and, without further remark, went away in search of her
husband.

"Are you busy, Max?" she asked, pausing on the threshold of the room
where he was working.

He rose at once, placing a chair for her with the chilly courtesy which
he had accorded her since their last interview in this same room.

"Not too busy to attend to you," he replied.  "Where will you sit?  By
the fire?"

Diana shook her head.  She was a little flushed, and her eyes were
bright with some suppressed excitement,

"No thanks," she replied.  "I only came to tell you that I've been
having a talk with Baroni about my voice, and--and that I've decided to
begin singing again this winter--professionally, I mean.  It seems a
pity to waste any more time."

She spoke rapidly, and with a certain nervousness.

For an instant a look of acute pain leaped into Errington's eyes, but
it was gone almost at once, and he turned to her composedly.

"Is that the only reason, Diana?" he said.  "The waste of time?"

She was silent a moment, busying herself stripping off her gloves.
Presently she looked up, forcing herself to meet his gaze.

"No," she said steadily.  "It isn't."

"May I know the--other reasons?"

Her lip curled.

"I should have thought they were obvious.  Our marriage has been a
mistake.  It's a failure.  And I can't bear this life any longer. . . .
I must have something to do."

CHAPTER XXI

THE OTHER WOMAN

Carlo Baroni's joy knew no bounds when he understood that Diana had
definitely decided to return to the concert platform.  His first action
was to order her away for a complete change and rest, so she and Joan
obediently packed their trunks and departed to Switzerland, where they
forgot for a time the existence of such things as London fogs, either
real or figurative, and threw themselves heart and soul into the winter
sports that were going forward.

The middle of February found them once more in England, and Joan rejoined
her father, while Diana went back to Lilac Lodge.  She was greatly
relieved to discover that the break had simplified several problems and
made it much easier for her to meet her husband and begin life again on
fresh terms.  Max, indeed, seemed to have accepted the new _régime_ with
that same mocking philosophy with which he invariably faced the problems
of life--and which so successfully cloaked his hurt from prying eyes.

He was uniformly kind in his manner to his wife--with that light,
half-cynical kindness which he had accorded her in the train on their
first memorable journey together, and which effectually set them as far
apart from each other as though they stood at the opposite ends of the
earth.

Unreasonably enough, Diana bitterly resented this attitude.  Womanlike,
she made more than one attempt to re-open the matter over which they had
quarrelled, but each was skilfully turned aside, and the fact that after
his one rejected effort at reconciliation, Max had calmly accepted the
new order of things, added fuel to the jealous fire that burned within
her.  She told herself that if he still cared for her, if he were not
utterly absorbed in Adrienne de Gervais, he would never have rested until
he had restored the old, happy relations between them.

Instinctively she sought to dull the pain at her heart by plunging
headlong into professional life.  Her voice, thanks to the rest and
change of her visit to Switzerland, had regained all its former beauty,
and her return to the concert platform was received with an outburst of
popular enthusiasm.  The newspapers devoted half a column apiece to the
subject, and several of them prophesied that it was in grand opera that
Madame Diana Quentin would eventually find the setting best suited to her
gifts.

"Mere concert work"--wrote one critic--"will never give her the scope
which both her temperament and her marvellous voice demand."

And with this opinion Baroni cordially concurred.  It was his ultimate
ambition for Diana that she should study for grand opera, and she
herself, only too thankful to find something that would occupy her
thoughts and take her right out of herself, as it were, enabling her to
forget the overthrow of her happiness, flung herself into the work with
enthusiasm.

Gradually, as time passed on, her bitter feelings towards Max softened a
little.  That light, half-ironical manner he had assumed brought back to
her so vividly the Max Errington of the early days of their acquaintance
that it recalled, too, a measure of the odd attraction he had held for
her in that far-away time.

That he still visited Adrienne very frequently she was aware, but often,
on his return from Somervell Street, he seemed so much depressed that she
began at last to wonder whether those visits were really productive of
any actual enjoyment.  Possibly she had misjudged them--her husband and
her friend--and it might conceivably be really only business matters
which bound them together after all.

If so--if that were true--how wantonly she had flung away her happiness!

Late one afternoon, Max, who had been out since early morning, came in
looking thoroughly worn out.  His eyes, ringed with fatigue, held an
alert look of strain and anxiety for which Diana was at a loss to account.

She was at the piano when he entered the room, idly trying over some MS.
songs that had been submitted by aspiring composers anxious to secure her
interest.

"Why, Max," she exclaimed, genuine concern in her voice, as she rose from
the piano.  "How worried you look!  What is the matter?"

"Nothing," he returned.  "At least, nothing in which you can help," he
added hastily.  "Unless--"

"Unless what?  Please . . . let me help . . . if I can."  Diana spoke
rather nervously.  She was suddenly struck by the fact that the last few
months had been responsible for a great change in her husband's
appearance.  He looked much thinner and older than formerly, she thought.
There were harassed lines in his face, and its worn contours and shadowed
eyes called aloud to the compassionate womanhood within her, to the
mother-instinct that involuntarily longs to heal and soothe.

"Tell me what I can do, Max?"

A smile curved his lips, half whimsical, half sad.

"You can do for me what you do for all the rest of the world--I won't ask
more of you," he replied.  "Sing to me."

Diana coloured warmly.  The first part of his speech stung her unbearably.

"Sing to you?" she repeated.

"Yes.  I'm very tired, and nothing is more restful than music."  Then, as
she hesitated, he added, "Unless, of course, I'm asking too much."

"You know you are not," she answered swiftly.

She resumed her place at the piano, and, while he lay back in his chair
with closed eyes, she sang to him--the music of the old masters who loved
melody, and into whose songs the bitterness and unrest of the twentieth
century had not crept.

Presently, she thought, he slept, and very softly her hands strayed into
the simple, sorrowful music of "The Haven of Memory," and a note of
wistful appeal, not all of art, added a new depth to the exquisite voice.

  How once your love
    But crowned and blessed me only,
      Long and long ago.

The refrain died into silence, and Diana, looking up, found Max's
piercing blue eyes fixed upon her.  He was not asleep, then, after all.

He smiled slightly as their glances met.

"Do you remember I once told you I thought 'The Hell of Memory' would be
a more appropriate title? . . .  I was quite right."

"Max--"  Diana's voice quavered and broke.

A sudden eager light sprang into his face.  Swiftly he same to her side
and stood looking down at her.

"Diana," he said tensely, "must it always remain--the hell of memory?"

They were very near to each other in that moment; the great wall
fashioned of jealousy and distrust was tottering to its foundations.

And then, from the street below came the high-pitched, raucous sound of
the newsboy's voice:--

"_Attempted Murder of Miss Adrian Jervis!  Premier Theatre Besieged._"

The words, with their deadly import, cut between husband and wife like a
sword.

"Good God!"  The exclamation burst from Max with a cry of horror.  In an
instant he was out of the room, down the stairs, and running bareheaded
along the street in pursuit of the newsboy, and a few seconds later he
was back with a newspaper, damp from the press, in his hands.

Diana had remained sitting just as he had left her.  She felt numbed.
The look of dread and consternation that had leaped into her husband's
face, as the news came shrilling up from the street below, had told her,
more eloquently than any words could do, how absolutely his life was
bound up in that of Adrienne de Gervais.  A man whose heart's desire has
been suddenly snatched from him might look so; no other.

Max, oblivious of everything else, was reading the brief newspaper
account at lightning speed.  At last--

"I must go!" he said.  "I must go round to Somervell Street at once."

When he had gone, Diana picked up the newspaper from the floor where he
had tossed it, and smoothing out its crumpled sheet, proceeded to read
the short paragraph, surmounted by staring head-lines, which had sent her
husband hurrying hot-foot to Adrienne's house.


"MURDEROUS ATTACK ON MISS ADRIENNE DE GERVAIS.

"As Miss Adrienne de Gervais, the popular actress, was leaving the
Premier Theatre after the matinee performance to-day, a man rushed out
from a side street and fired three shots at her, wounding her severely.
Miss de Gervais was carried into the theatre, where a doctor who chanced
to be passing rendered first aid.  Within a very few minutes the news of
the outrage became known and the theatre was besieged by inquirers.  The
would-be assassin, who made good his escape, was a man of unmistakably
foreign appearance."


Diana laid the paper down very quietly.  This, then, was the news which
had power to bring that look of fear and dread to her husband's
face--which could instantly wipe out from his mind all thoughts of his
wife and of everything that concerned her.

Perhaps, she reflected scornfully, it was as well that the revelation had
come when it did!  Otherwise--otherwise, she had been almost on the verge
of forgetting her just cause for jealousy, forgetting all the past months
of misery, and believing in her husband once again.

The trill of the telephone from below checked her bitter thoughts, and
hurrying downstairs into the hall, she lifted the receiver and held it to
her ear.

"Yes.  Who is it?"

Possibly something was wrong with the wire, or perhaps it was only that
Diana's voice, particularly deep and low-pitched for a woman, misled the
speaker at the other end.  Whatever it may have been, Adrienne's voice,
rather tremulous and shaky, came through the 'phone, and she was
obviously under the impression that she was speaking to Diana's husband.

"Oh, is that you, Max?  Don't be frightened.  I'm not badly hurt.  I hear
it's already in the papers, and as I knew you'd be nearly mad with
anxiety, I've made the doctor let me 'phone you myself.  Of course you
can guess who did it.  It was not the man you caught waiting about
outside the theatre.  It was the taller one of the two we saw at Charing
Cross that day.  Please come round as soon as you can."

Diana's lips set in a straight line.  Very deliberately she replaced the
receiver and rang off without reply.  A small, fine smile curved her lips
as she reflected that, within a few minutes, Max's arrival at Somervell
Street would enlighten Miss de Gervais as to the fact that she had bean
pouring out her reassuring remarks to the wrong person.

Half an hour later Diana came slowly downstairs, dressed for dinner.
Jerry was waiting for her in the hall.

"There's a 'phone message just come through from Max," he said, a trifle
awkwardly.  (Jerry had not lived through the past few months at Lilac
Lodge without realising the terms on which the Erringtons stood with each
other.)  "He won't be back till late."

Diana bestowed her sweetest smile upon him.

"Then we shall be dining _tete-à-tete_.  How nice!  Come along."

She took his arm and they went in together.

"This is a very serious thing about Miss de Gervais, isn't it?" she said
conversationally, as they sat down.

"A dastardly business," assented Jerry, with indignation.

"I suppose--did Max give you any further particulars?"

"The bullet's broken her arm just above the elbow.  Of course she won't
be able to play for some time to come."

"How her understudy must be rejoicing," murmured Diana reflectively.

"It seems," pursued Jerry, "that the shot was fired by some shady actor
fellow.  Down on his luck, you know, and jealous of Miss de Gervais'
success.  At least, that's what they suspect, and Max has 'phoned me to
send a paragraph to all the morning papers to that effect."

"That's very curious," commented Diana.

"Why?  I should think it's a jolly good guess."

Diana smiled enigmatically.

"Anyhow, it sounds a very natural supposition," she agreed lightly, and
then switched the conversation on to other subjects.  Jerry, however,
seemed rather absent and distrait, and presently, when at last the
servants had handed the coffee and withdrawn, he blurted out:--

"It sounds beastly selfish of me, but this affair has upset my own little
plans rather badly."

"Yours, Jerry?" said Diana kindly.  "How's that?  Give me a cigarette and
tell me what's gone wrong."

"What would Baroni say to your smoking?" queried Jerry, as he tendered
his case and held a match for her to light her cigarette.

"I'm not singing anywhere for a week," laughed Diana.  "So this orgy is
quite legitimate."  And she inhaled luxuriously.  "Now, go on, Jerry,
what plans of yours have been upset?"

"Well"--Jerry reddened--"I wrote to my governor the other day.  It--it
was to please Joan, you know."

Diana nodded, her grey eyes dancing.

"Of course," she said gravely, "I quite understand."

"And--and here's his answer!"

He opened his pocket-book, and extracting a letter from the bundle it
contained, handed it to Diana.

"You mean you want me to read this?"

"Please."

Diana unfolded it, and read the following terse communication:--


"Come home and bring the lady.  Am fattening the calf.--Your affectionate
Father."


"Jerry, I should adore your father," said Diana, as she gave him back the
letter.  "He must he a perfect gem amongst parents."

"He's not a bad old chap," acknowledged Jerry, as he replaced the
paternal invitation in his pocket-book.  "But you see the difficulty?  I
was going to ask Errington to give me a few days' leave, and I don't like
to bother him now that he has all this worry about Miss de Gervais on his
hands."

Diana flushed hotly at Jerry's tacit acceptance of the fact that
Adrienne's affairs were naturally of so much moment to her husband.  It
was another pin-prick in the wound that had been festering for so long.
She ignored it, however, and answered quietly:--

"Yes, I see.  Perhaps you had better leave it for a few days.  What about
Pobs?  He'll have to be consulted in the matter, won't he?"

"I told him, long ago, that I wanted Joan.  Before"--with a grin--"I ever
summoned up pluck to tell Joan herself!  He was a brick about it, but he
thought I ought to make it up with the governor before Joan and I were
formally engaged.  So I did--and I'm jolly glad of it.  And now I want to
go down to Crailing, and fetch Joan, and take her with me to Abbotsleigh.
So I should want at least a week off."

"Well, wait till Max comes back," advised Diana, "We shall know more
about the matter then.  And--and--Jerry!"  She stretched out her hand,
which immediately disappeared within Jerry's big, boyish fist.  "Good
luck, old boy!"

      *      *      *      *      *      *

Max returned at about ten o'clock, and Diana proceeded to offer polite
inquiries about Miss de Gervais' welfare.  She wondered if he would
remember how near they had been to each other just for an instant before
the news of the attempt upon Adrienne's life had reached them.

But apparently he had forgotten all about it.  His thoughts were entirely
concerned with Adrienne, and he was unusually grave and preoccupied.

He ordered a servant to bring him some sandwiches and a glass of wine,
and when he and Diana were once more alone, be announced abruptly:--

"I shall have to leave home for a few days."

"Leave home?" echoed Diana.

"Yes.  Adrienne must go out of town, and I'm going to run down to some
little country place and find rooms for her and Mrs. Adams."

"Find rooms?"  Diana stared at him amazedly.  "But surely--won't they go
to Red Gables?"

Max shook his head.

"No.  It wouldn't be safe after this--this affair.  The same brute might
try to get her again.  You see, it's quite well known that she has a
house at Crailing."

"Who is it that is such an enemy of hers?"

Max hesitated a moment.

"It might very well be some former actor, some poor devil of a fellow
down on his luck, who has brooded over his fancied wrongs till he was
half-mad," he said, at length.

Diana's eyes flashed.  So that item of news intended for the morning
papers was also to be handed out for home consumption!

"What steps are you taking to trace the man?"

Again Max paused before replying.  To Diana, his hesitation strengthened
her conviction that he was, as usual, withholding something from her.

"Well?" she repeated.  "What steps are you taking?"

"None," he answered at last reluctantly.  "Adrienne doesn't wish any fuss
made over the matter."

And yet, Diana reflected, both her husband and Miss de Gervais knew quite
well who the assailant was!  "The taller of the two," Adrienne had said
through the telephone.  Why, then, with that clue in her hands, did she
refuse to prosecute?

Suddenly, into Diana's mind flashed an answer to the question--to the
multitude of questions which had perplexed, her for so long.  She felt as
a traveller may who has been journeying along an unknown way in the dark,
hurt and bruised by stones and pitfalls he could not see, when suddenly a
light shines out, revealing all the dangers of the path.

The explanation of all those perplexities and suspicions of the past was
so simple, so obvious, that she marvelled why it had never occurred to
her before.  Adrienne de Gervais was neither more or less than an
adventuress--one of the vampire type of woman who preys upon mankind,
drawing them into her net by her beauty and charm, even as she had drawn
Max himself!  This, this supplied the key to the whole matter--all that
had gone before, and all that was now making such a mockery of her
married life.

And the "poor devil of a fellow" who had attempted Adrienne's life had
probably figured largely in her past, one of her dupes, and now,
understanding at last what kind of woman it was for whom he had very
likely sacrificed all that made existence worth while, he was obsessed
with a crazy desire for vengeance--vengeance at any price.  And Adrienne,
of course, in her extremity, had turned to her latest captive, Max
himself, for protection!

Oh! it was all quite clear now!  The scattered pieces of the puzzle were
fitting together and making a definite picture.

Stray remarks of Olga Lermontof's came back to her--those little pointed
arrows wherewith the Russian had skilfully found out the joints in her
armour--"Miss de Gervais is not quite what she seems."  And again, "I'm
perfectly sure Adrienne de Gervais' past is a closed book to you."  Proof
positive that Olga had known all along what Diana had only just this
moment perceived to be the truth.

Diana's small hands clenched themselves until the nails dug into the soft
palms, as she remembered how those same hands had been held out in
friendship to this very adventuress--to the woman who had wrecked her
happiness, and for whom Max was ready at any time to set her and her
wishes upon one side!  What a blind, trusting fool she had been!  Well,
that was all ended now; she knew where she stood.  Never again would Max
or Adrienne be able to deceive her.  The scales had at last fallen from
her eyes.

"I'm sorry, Diana"--Max's cool, quiet tones broke in on the torment of
her thoughts.  "I'm sorry, but I shall probably have to be away several
days."

"Have you forgotten we're giving a big reception here next Wednesday?"

"Wednesday, is it?  And to-day is Saturday.  I shall find rooms somewhere
to-morrow, and take Adrienne and Mrs. Adams down to them the next
day. . .  No, I can't possibly be back for Wednesday."

"But you must!"--impetuously.

"It's impossible.  I shall stay with Adrienne and Mrs. Adams until I'm
quite sure that the place is safe for them--that that fellow hasn't
traced them and isn't lurking about in the neighbourhood.  You mustn't
expect me back before Saturday at the earliest.  You and Jerry can manage
the reception.  I hate those big crowds, as you know."

For a moment Diana sat in stony silence.  So he intended to leave her to
entertain half London--that half of London that mattered and would talk
about it--while he spent a pleasant week philandering down in the country
with Adrienne de Gervais, under the aegis of Mrs. Adams' chaperonage!

Very slowly Diana rose to her feet.  Her small face was white and set,
her little pointed chin thrust out, and her grey eyes were almost black
with the intense anger that gripped her.

"Do you mean this?" she asked collectedly.

"Why, of course.  Don't you see that I must, Diana?  I can't let Adrienne
run a risk like that."

"But you can subject your wife to an insult like that without thinking
twice about it!"--contemptuously.  "It hasn't occurred to you, I suppose,
what people will say when they find that I have been left entirely alone
to entertain our friends, while my husband passes a pleasant week in the
country with Miss de Gervais, and her--chaperon?  It's an insult to our
guests as well as to me.  But I quite understand.  I, and my friends,
simply _don't count_ when Adrienne de Gervais wants you."

"I can't help it," he answered stubbornly, her scorn moving him less than
the waves that break in a shower of foam at the foot of a cliff.  "You
knew you would have to trust me."

"_Trust you_?" cried Diana, shaken out of her composure.  "Yes!  But I
never promised to stand trustingly by while you put another woman in my
place.  This is the end, Max.  I've had enough."

A sudden look of apprehension dawned in his eyes.

"What do you mean?" he asked sharply.

"What do I mean?"--bleakly.  "Oh, nothing.  I never do mean anything, do
I? . . .  Well, good-bye.  I expect you'll have left the house before I
come down to-morrow morning.  I hope . . . you'll enjoy your visit to the
country."

She waited a moment, as though expecting some reply; then, as he neither
stirred nor spoke, she went quickly out of the room, closing the door
behind her.



CHAPTER XXII

THE PARTING OF THE WAYS

"Jerry"--Diana came into her husband's study, where his secretary, who
had nothing further to do until his employer's return, was pottering
about putting the bookshelves to rights, "Jerry, I'm going to give you a
holiday.  You can go down to Crailing to-day."

Jerry turned round in surprise.

"But, I say, Diana, I can't, you know--not while Max is away.  I'm
supposed to make myself useful to you."

"Well, I think you did make yourself--very useful--last night, didn't
you?"

"Oh, that!"  Jerry shrugged his shoulders.  Then, surveying her
critically, he added: "You look awfully tired this morning, Di!"

She did.  There were purple shadows beneath her eyes, and her face looked
white and drawn.  The previous evening had been the occasion of her
reception, and she had carried it pluckily through single-handed.  Quiet
and composed, she had moved about amongst her guests, covering Max's
absence with a light touch and pretty apology, her demeanour so natural
and unembarrassed that the tongues, which would otherwise have wagged
swiftly enough, were inevitably stilled.

But the strain had told upon her.  This morning she looked haggard and
ill, more fit to be in bed than anything else.

"Oh, I shall be all right after a night's rest," she answered cheerfully.
"And as to making yourself useful there's really nothing I want you to do
for me.  But I _do_ want you to go and make your peace with your father,
and take Joan to him.  I'm sure he'll love her!  So I'm writing to Max
telling him that I've given you leave of absence.  He won't be returning
till Saturday at the earliest, and probably not then.  If he wants you
back on Monday, we'll wire."

Jerry hesitated.

"Are you sure it will be quite all right?  I don't really like leaving
you."

"Quite all right," she assured him.  "I _did_ want you for the party last
night, and you were the greatest possible help to me.  But now, I don't
want you a bit for anything.  If you're quick, you can catch the two
o'clock down express and"--twinkling--"see Joan this evening."

"Diana, you're a brick!"  And Jerry dashed upstairs to pack his suit-case.

Diana heaved a sigh of relief when, a few hours later, a triumphant and
joyous Jerry departed in search of a bride.  She wanted him out of the
house, for that which she had decided to do would be more easily
accomplished without the boy's honest, affectionate eyes beseeching her.

All her arrangements were completed, and to-morrow--to-morrow she was
going to leave Lilac Lodge for ever.  Never again would she share the
life of the man who had shown her clearly that, although she was his
wife, she counted with him so infinitely less than that other--than
Adrienne de Gervais.  Her pride might break in the leaving, but it would
bend to living under the same roof with him no longer.

Only one thing still remained--to write a letter to her husband and leave
it in his study for him to find upon his return.  It savoured a little of
the theatrical, she reflected, but there seemed no other way possible.
She didn't want Max to come in search of her, so she must make it clear
to him that she was leaving him deliberately and with no intention of
ever returning.

She had told the servants that she was going away on a few days' visit,
and after Jerry's departure she gave her maid instructions concerning her
packing.  She intended to leave the house quite openly the following
morning.  That was much the easiest method of running away.

"Shall you require me with you, madam?" asked her maid respectfully.

Diana regarded her thoughtfully.  She was an excellent servant and
thoroughly understood maiding a professional singer; moreover, she was
much attached to her mistress.  Probably she would be glad of her
services later on.

"Oh, if I should make a long stay, I'll send for you, Milling, and you
can bring on the rest of my things.  I shall want some of my concert
gowns the week after next," she told her, in casual tones.

As soon as she had dismissed the girl to her work, Diana made her way
into her husband's study, and, seating herself at his desk, drew a sheet
of notepaper towards her.

She began to write impulsively, as she did everything else:--


"This is just to say good-bye,"--her pen flew over the paper--"I can't
bear our life together any longer, so I'm going away.  Perhaps you will
blame me because my faith wasn't equal to the task you set it.  But I
don't think any woman's would be--not if she cared at all.  And I did
care, Max.  It hurts to care as I did--and I'm so tired of being hurt
that I'm running away from it.  It will be of no use your asking me to
return, because I have made up my mind never to come back to you again.
I told you that you must choose between Adrienne and me, and you've
chosen--Adrienne.  I am going to live with Baroni and his sister, Signora
Evanci.  It is all arranged.  They are glad to have me, and it will be
much easier for me as regards my singing.  So you needn't worry about
me.--But perhaps, you wouldn't have done!

"DIANA.

"P.S.--Please don't be vexed with Jerry for going away.  I gave him leave
of absence myself, and I told him I would make it all right with you.--D."

She folded the letter with a curious kind of precision, slipped it into
an envelope, sealed and addressed it, and propped it up against the
inkpot on her husband's desk, so that he could not fail to find it.

Then, when it was time to dress for dinner, she went upstairs and let her
maid put her into an evening frock, exactly as though nothing out of the
ordinary were going on, just as though to-day--the last day she would
ever spend in her husband's home--were no different from any other day.

She made a pretence of eating dinner, and afterwards sat in her own
little sitting-room, with a book in front of her, of which she read not a
single line.

Presently, when she was quite sure that all the servants had gone to bed,
she made a pilgrimage through the house, moving reluctantly from room to
room, taking a silent farewell of the place where she had known such
happiness--and afterwards, such pain.

At last she went to bed, but she felt too restless and keyed up to sleep,
so she slipped into a soft, silken wrapper and established herself in a
big easy-chair by the fire.

The latter had died down into a dull, red glow, but she prodded the
embers into a flame, adding fresh coal, and as the pleasant warmth of it
lapped her round, a feeling of gentle languor gradually stole over her,
and at length she slept. . . .

She woke with a start.  Some one was trying the handle of the door--very
quietly, but yet not at all as though making any attempt to conceal the
fact.

Something must be amiss, and one of the maids had come to warn her.  The
possibility that the house was on fire, or that burglars had broken in,
flashed through her mind.

She sprang to her feet, and switching on the light, called out sharply:--

"Who is it?"

She had not fastened the lock overnight, and her heart beat in great
suffocating throbs as she watched the handle turn.

The next moment some one came quickly into the room and closed the door.

It was Max!

Diana fell back a step, staring incredulously.

"_You_!" she exclaimed, breathlessly.  "_You_!"

He advanced a few paces into the room.  He was very pale, and his face
wore a curiously excited expression.  His eyes were brilliant--fiercely
exultant, yet with an odd gleam of the old, familiar mockery in their
depths, as though something in the situation amused him.

"Yes," he said.  "Are you surprised to see me?"

"You--you said you were not returning till Saturday," she stammered.

"I found I could get away sooner than I expected, so I caught the last
up-train--and here I am."

There was a rakish, devil-may-care note in his voice that filled her with
a vague apprehension.  Summoning up her courage, she faced him, striving
to keep her voice steady.

"And why--why have you come to me--now?"

"I found your note--the note you had left on my desk, so I thought I
would like to say good-bye," he answered carelessly.

"You could have waited till to-morrow morning," she returned coldly.
"You--you"--she stammered a little, and a faint flush tinged her
pallor--"you should not have come . . . here."

A sudden light gleamed in his eyes, mocking and triumphant.

"It is my wife's room.  A husband"--slowly--"has certain rights."

"Ah-h!"  She caught her breath, and her hand flew her throat.

"And since," he continued cruelly, never taking his eye from her face,
"since those rights are to be rescinded to-morrow for ever--why, then,
to-night--"

"No! . . .  No!"  She shrank from him, her hands stretched out as though
to ward him off.

"You've said 'no' to me for the last six months," he said grimly.
"But--that's ended now."

Her eyes searched his face wildly, reading only a set determination in
it.  Slowly, desperately, she backed away from him; then, suddenly, she
made a little rush, and, reaching the door, pulled at the handle.  But it
remained fast shut.

"_It's locked_!" she cried, frantically tugging at it.  She flashed round
upon him.  "The key!  Where's the key?"

The words came sobbingly.

He put his fingers in his pocket.

"Here," he answered coolly.

Despairingly she retreated from the door.  There was an expression in his
eyes that terrified her--a furnace heat of passion barely held in check.
The Englishman within him was in abeyance; the hot, foreign blood was
leaping in his veins.

"Max!" she faltered appealingly.

He crossed swiftly to her side, gripping her soft, bare arms in a hold so
fierce that his fingers scored them with red weals.

"By God, Diana!  What do you think I'm made of?" he burst out violently.
"For months you've shut yourself away from me and I've borne it,
waiting--waiting always for you to come back to me.  Do you think it's
been easy?"  His limbs were shaking, and his eyes burned into hers.  "And
now--now you tell me that you've done with me. . .  You take everything
from me!  My love is to count for nothing!"

"You never loved me!" she protested, with low, breathless vehemence.
"It--it could never have been love."

For a moment he was silent, staring at her.

Then he laughed.

"Very well.  Call it desire, passion--what you will!" he exclaimed
brutally.  "But--you married me, you know!"

She cowered away from him, looking to right and left like a trapped
animal seeking to escape, but he held her ruthlessly, forcing her to face
him.

All at once, her nerve gave way, and she began to cry--helpless,
despairing weeping that rocked the slight form in his grasp.  As she
stood thus, the soft silk of her wrapper falling in straight folds about
her; her loosened hair shadowing her white face, she looked pathetically
small and young, and Errington suddenly relinquished his hold of her and
stepped back, his hands slowly clenching in the effort not to take her in
his arms.

Something tugged at his heart, pulling against the desire that ran riot
in his veins--something of the infinite tenderness of love which exists
side by side with its passion.

"Don't look like that," he said hoarsely.  "I'll--I'll go."

He crossed the room, reeling a little in his stride, and, unlocking the
door, flung it open.

She stared at him, incredulous relief in her face, while the tears still
slid unchecked down her cheeks.

"Max--" she stammered.

"Yes," he returned.  "You're free of me.  I don't suppose you'll believe
it, but I love you too much to . . . take . . . what you won't give."

A minute later the door closed behind him and she heard his footsteps
descending the stairs.

With a low moan she sank down beside the bed, her face hidden in her
hands, sobbing convulsively.



CHAPTER XXIII

PAIN

Summer had come and gone, and Diana, after a brief visit to Crailing,
had returned to town for the winter season.

The Crailing visit had not been altogether without its embarrassments.
It was true that Red Gables was closed and shuttered, so that she had
run no risk of meeting either her husband or Adrienne, but Jerry, in
the character of an engaged young man, had been staying at the Rectory,
and he had allowed Diana to see plainly that his sympathies lay
pre-eminently with Max, and that he utterly condemned her lack of faith
in her husband.

"Some day, Diana, you'll be sorry that you chucked one of the best
chaps in the world," he told her, with a fierce young championship that
was rather touching, warring, as it did, with his honest affection for
Diana herself.  "Oh!  It makes me sick!  You two ought to have had such
a splendid life together."

Rather wistfully, Diana asked the Rector if he, too, blamed her
entirely for what had occurred.  But Alan Stair's wide charity held no
room for censure.

"My dear," he told her, "I don't think I want to _blame_ either you or
Max.  The situation was difficult, and you weren't quite strong enough
to cope with it.  That's all.  But"--with one of his rare smiles that
flashed out like sunshine after rain--"you haven't reached the end of
the chapter yet."

Diana shook her head.

"I think we have, Pobs.  I, for one, shall never reopen the pages.  My
musical work is going to fill my life in future."

Stair's eyes twinkled with a quiet humour.

"Sponge cake is filling, my dear, very," he responded.  "But it's not
satisfying--like bread."


Since Diana had left her husband, fate had so willed it that they had
never chanced to meet.  She had appeared very little in society,
excusing herself on the plea that her professional engagements demanded
all her energies.  And certainly, since the immediate and overwhelming
success which she had achieved at Covent Garden, her operatic work had
made immense demands both upon her time and physical strength.

But, with the advent of autumn, the probabilities of a meeting between
husband and wife were increased a hundredfold, since Diana's
engagements included a considerable number of private receptions in
addition to her concert work, and she never sang at a big society crush
without an inward apprehension that she might encounter Max amongst the
guests.

She shrank from meeting him again as a wounded man shrinks from an
accidental touch upon his hurt.  It had been easy enough, in the first
intolerant passion which had overwhelmed her, to contemplate life apart
from him.  Indeed, to leave him had seemed the only obvious course to
save her from the daily flagellation of her love, the hourly insult to
her dignity, that his relations with Adrienne de Gervais and the whole
mystery which hung about his actions had engendered.

But when once the cord had been cut, and life in its actuality had to
be faced apart from him, Diana found that love, hurt and buffeted
though it may be, still remains love, a thing of flame and fire, its
very essence a desire for the loved one's presence.

Every fibre of her being cried aloud for Max, and there were times when
the longing for the warm, human touch of his hand, for the sound of his
voice, grew almost unbearable.  Yet any meeting between them could be
but a barren reminder of the past, revitalising the dull ache of
longing into a quick and overmastering agony, and, realising this,
Diana recoiled from the possibility with a fear almost bordering upon
panic.

She achieved a certain feeling of security in the fact that she had
made her home with Baroni and his sister.  Signora Evanci mothered her
and petted her and fussed over her, much as she did over Baroni
himself, and the old _maestro_, aware of the tangle of Diana's
matrimonial affairs, and ambitious for her artistic future, was likely
to do his utmost to avert a meeting between husband and wife--since
emotional crises are apt to impair the voice.

From Baroni's point of view, the happenings of life were chiefly of
importance in so far as they tended towards the perfecting of the
artiste.

"Love is good," he had said on one occasion.  "No one can interpret
romantic music who has not loved.  And a broken heart in the past, and
plenty of good food in the present--these may very well make a great
artiste.  But a heart that _keeps on_ breaking, that is not permitted
to heal itself--no, that is not good.  _A la fin_, the voice breaks
also."

Hence he regarded his favourite pupil with considerable anxiety.  To
his experienced eye it was palpable that the happenings of her married
life had tried Diana's strength almost to breaking point, and that the
enthusiasm and energy with which, seeking an anodyne to pain, she had
flung herself into her work, would act either one way or the
other--would either finish the job, so that the frayed nerves gave way,
culminating in a serious breakdown of her health, or so fill her
horizon that the memories of the past gradually receded into
insignificance.

The cup of fame, newly held to her lips, could not but prove an
intoxicating draught.  There was a rushing excitement, an exhilaration
about her life as a well-known public singer, which acted as a constant
stimulus.  The enthusiastic acclamations with which she was everywhere
received, the adulation that invariably surrounded her, and the intense
joy which, as a genuine artist, she derived from the work itself, all
acted as a narcotic to the pain of memory, and out of these she tried
to build up a new life for herself, a life in which love should have
neither part nor lot, but wherein added fame and recognition was to be
the ultimate goal.

Her singing had improved; there was a new depth of feeling in her
interpretation which her own pain and suffering had taught her, and it
was no infrequent thing for part of her audience to be moved to tears,
wistfully reminded of some long-dead romance, when she sang "The Haven
of Memory"--a song which came to be associated with her name much in
the same way that "Home, Sweet Home" was associated with another great
singer, whose golden voice gave new meaning to the familiar words.

Olga Lermontof still remained her accompanist.  For some unfathomed
reason she no longer flung out the bitter gibes and thrusts at
Errington which had formerly sprung so readily to her lips, and Diana
grimly ascribed this forbearance to an odd kind of delicacy--the
generosity of the victor who refuses to triumph openly over the
vanquished!

Once, in a bitter mood, Diana had taxed her with it.

"You must feel satisfied now that you have achieved your object," she
told her.

The Russian, idly improvising on the piano, dropped her hands from the
keys, and her eyes held a queer kind of pain in them as she made answer.

"And what exactly did you think my object was?" she queried.

"Surely it was obvious?" replied Diana lightly.  "When Max and I were
together, you never ceased to sow discord between us--though why you
hated him so, I cannot tell--and now that we have separated, I suppose
you are content."

"Content?" Olga laughed shortly.  "I never wanted you to separate.
And"--she hesitated--"I never hated Max Errington."

"I don't believe it!"  The assertion leaped involuntarily from Diana's
lips.

"I can understand that," Olga spoke with a curious kind of patience.
"But, believe it or not as you will, I was working for quite other
ends.  And I've failed," she added dispiritedly.

With the opening of the autumn season and the ensuing rebirth of
musical and theatrical life, London received an unexpected shock.  It
was announced that Adrienne de Gervais was retiring from her position
as leading lady at the Premier Theatre, and for a few days after the
launching of this thunderbolt the theatre-going world hummed with the
startling news, while a dozen rumours were set on foot to account for
what must surely prove little less than a disaster to the management of
the Premier.

But, as usual, after the first buzz of surprise and excitement had
spent itself, people settled down, and reluctantly accepted the
official explanation furnished by the newspapers--namely, that the
popular actress had suffered considerably in health from the strain of
several successive heavy seasons and intended to winter abroad.

To Diana the news yielded an odd sense of comfort.  Somehow the thought
of Adrienne's absence from England seemed to bring Max nearer, to make
him more her own again.  Even though they were separated, there was a
certain consolation in the knowledge that the woman whose close
friendship with her husband had helped to make shipwreck of their
happiness was going out of his life, though it might be only for a
little time.

One day, impelled by an irresistible desire to test the truth of the
newspaper reports, Diana took her way to Somervell Street, pausing
opposite the house that had been Adrienne's.  She found it invested
with a curious air of unfamiliarity, facing the street with blank and
shuttered windows, like blind eyes staring back at her unrecognisingly.

So it was true!  Adrienne had gone away and the house was empty and
closed.

Diana retraced her steps homeward, conscious of a queer feeling of
satisfaction.  Often the thought that Max and Adrienne might be
together had tortured her almost beyond endurance, adding a keener edge
to the pain of separation.

Pain!  Life seemed made up of pain these days.  Sometimes she wondered
how much a single human being was capable of bearing.

It was months--an eternity--since she and Max had parted, and still her
heart cried out for him, fighting the bitter anger and distrust that
had driven her from him.

She felt she could have borne it more easily had he died.  Then the
remembrance of his love would still have been hers to hold and keep,
something most precious and unspoilt.  But now, each memory of their
life together was tarnished with doubt and suspicion and mistrust.  She
had put him to the test, bade him choose betwixt her and Adrienne,
claiming his confidence as her right--and he had chosen Adrienne and
declined to trust her with his secret.

She told herself that had he loved her, he must have yielded.  No man
who cared could have refused her, and the scourge of wounded pride
drove her into that outer darkness where bitterness and "proper
self-respect" defile the face of Love.

She had turned desperately to her work for distraction from the
ceaseless torture of her thoughts, but not all the work in the world
had been able to silence the cry of her heart.

For work can do no more than fill the day, and though Diana feverishly
crammed each day so full that there was little time to think and
remember, the nights remained--the interminable nights, when she was
alone with her own soul, and when the memories which the day's work had
beaten back came pressing in upon her.

Oh, God!  The nights--the endless, intolerable nights! . . .



CHAPTER XXIV

THE VISION OF LOVE

A week after her visit to Somervell Street, the thing which Diana had
dreaded came to pass.

She was attending a reception at the French Embassy, and as she made
her way through the crowded rooms, followed by Olga Lermontof--who
frequently added to the duties of accompanist those of _dame de
compagnie_ to the great _prima donna_--she came suddenly face to face
with Max.

To many of us the anticipation of an unpleasant happening is far more
agonising than the actual thing itself.  The mind, brooding
apprehensively upon what may conceivably occur, exaggerates the
possibilities of the situation, enhancing all the disagreeable details,
and oblivious of any mitigating circumstances which may, quite
probably, accompany it.  There is sound sense and infinite comfort, if
you look for it, in the old saying which bids us not to cross our
bridges till we come to them.

The fear of the unknown, the unexperienced, is a more haunting,
insidious fear than any other, and sometimes one positively longs to
hasten the advent of an unwelcome ordeal, in order that the worst may
be known and the menace of the future be transformed into a memory of
the past.

So it was with Diana.  She had been for so long beset by her fear of
the first meeting that she experienced a sensation almost of relief
when her eyes fell at last upon the tall figure of her husband.

He was deep in conversation with the French Ambassador at the moment,
but as Diana approached it was as though some sensitive, invisible live
wire had vibrated, apprising him of her nearness, and he looked up
suddenly, his blue eyes gazing straight into hers.

To Diana, the brief encounter proved amazingly simple and easy in
contrast with the shrinking apprehensions she had formed.  A slight bow
from her, its grave return from him, and the dreaded moment was past.

It was only afterwards that she realised, with a sense of sick dismay,
how terribly he had altered.  She caught at the accompanist's arm with
nervous force.

"Olga!" she whispered.  "Did you see?"

The Russian's expression answered her.  Her face wore a curious stunned
look, and her mouth twitched as she tried to control the sudden
trembling of her lips.

"Come outside--on to this balcony."  Olga spoke with a fierce
imperativeness as she saw Diana sway uncertainly and her face whiten.

Once outside in the cool shelter of the balcony, dimly lit by swaying
Chinese lanterns, Diana sank into a chair, shaken and unnerved.  For an
instant her eyes strayed back to where, through the open French window,
she could see Max still conversing with the Ambassador, but she averted
them swiftly.

The change in him hurt her like the sudden stab of a knife.  His face
was worn and lined; there was something ascetic-looking in the hollowed
line from cheek-bone to chin and in the stern, austere closing of the
lips, while the eyes--the mocking blue eyes with the laughter always
lurking at the back of them--held an expression of deep, unalterable
sadness.

"Olga!"  The word broke from Diana's white lips like a cry of appeal,
tremulous and uncertain.

But Miss Lermontof made no response.  She seemed quite unmoved by the
distress of the woman sitting huddled in the chair before her, and her
light green eyes shone with a curious savage glint like the eyes of a
cat.

Diana spoke again nervously.

"Are you--angry with me?"

"Angry!"  The Russian almost spat out the word.  "Angry!  Don't you see
what you're doing?"

"What I'm doing?" repeated Diana.  "What am I doing?"

Olga replied with a grim incisiveness.

"You're killing Max--that's all.  This--this is going to break
him--break him utterly."

There was a long silence, and the dewy dusk of the night, shaken into
pearly mist where the flickering light of the Chinese lanterns
illumined it, seemed to close round the two women, like a filmy
curtain, shutting them off from the chattering throng in the adjoining
room.

Presently a cart rattled past in the street below, rasping the tense
silence.

Diana lifted her head.

"I didn't know!" she said helplessly.  "I didn't know! . . ."

"And yet you professed to love him!"  Olga spoke consideringly, an
element of contemptuous wonder in her voice.

The memory of words that Max had uttered long ago stirred in Diana's
mind.

"_You don't know what love means!_"

Limned against the darkness she could see once more the sun-warmed
beach at Culver Point, the blue, sparkling sea with the white gulls
wheeling above it, and Max--Max standing tall and straight beside her,
with a shaft of sunlight flickering across his hair, and love
illimitable in his eyes.

"You don't know what love means!"

The words penetrated to her innermost consciousness, cleaving their way
sheer through the fog of doubt and mistrust and pride as the sharp
blade of the surgeon's knife cuts deep into a festering wound.  And
before their clarifying, essential truth, Diana's soul recoiled in dumb
dismay.

No, she hadn't known what love meant--love, which, with an exquisite
unreasonableness, believes when there is ground for doubt--hadn't
understood it as even this cynical, bitter-tongued Russian understood
it.  And she recognised the scorn on Olga's white, contemptuous face as
the unlovely sheath of an ideal of love immeasurably beyond her own
achieving.

The vision of Culver Point faded away, and an impalpable wall of
darkness seemed to close about her.  Dimly, as though it were some one
else's voice speaking, she heard herself say slowly:--

"I thought I loved him."  Then, after a pause, "Will you go?  Please
go.  I should like to be . . . quiet . . . a little while."

For a moment Olga gazed down at her, eagerly, almost hungrily, as
though silently beseeching her.  Then, still silently, she went away.

Diana sat very still.  Above her, the gay-coloured Chinese lanterns
swayed to and fro in the little breeze that drifted up the street, and
above again, far off in the sombre sky, the stars looked
down--pitiless, unmoved, as they have looked down through all the ages
upon the pigmy joys and sufferings of humanity.

For the first time Diana was awake to the limitations she had set to
love.

The meeting with her husband had shaken her to the very foundations of
her being, the shock of his changed appearance sweeping away at a
single blow the whole fabric of artificial happiness that she had been
trying to build up.

She had thought that the wound in her heart would heal, that she could
teach herself to forget the past.  And lo!  At the first sight of his
face the old love and longing had reawakened with a strength she was
powerless to withstand.

The old love, but changed into something immeasurably more than it had
ever been before, and holding in its depths a finer understanding.  And
with this clearer vision came a sudden new knowledge--a knowledge
fraught with pain and yet bearing deep within it an unutterable sense
of joy.

Max had cared all the time--cared still!  It was written in the lines
of suffering on his face, in the quiet endurance of the close-shut
mouth.  Despite the bitter, pitiful misunderstandings of their married
life, despite his inexplicable friendship for Adrienne, despite all
that had gone before, Diana was sure, in the light of this larger
understanding which had come to her, that through it all he had loved
her.  With an absolute certainty of conviction, she knew that it was
her hand which had graved those fresh lines about his mouth, brought
that look of calm sadness to his eyes, and the realisation held a
strange mingling of exquisite joy and keen anguish.

She hid her face in her hands, hid it from the stars and the shrouding
dark, tremulously abashed at the wonderful significance of love.

She almost laughed to think how she had allowed so small a thing as the
secret which Max could not tell her to corrode and eat into the heart
of happiness.  Looking back from the standpoint she had now gained, it
seemed so pitifully mean and paltry, a profanation of the whole inner,
hidden meaning of love.

So long as she and Max cared for each other, nothing else mattered,
nothing in the whole world.  And the long battle between love and
pride--between love, that had turned her days and nights into one
endless ache of longing to return to Max, and pride, that had barred
the way inflexibly--was over, done with.

Love had won, hands down.  She would go back to Max, and all thought
that it might be weak-minded of her, humiliating to her self-respect,
was swept aside.  Love, the great teacher, had brought her through the
dark places where the lesser gods hold sway, out into the light of day,
and she knew that to return to Max, to give herself afresh to him,
would be the veritable triumph, of love itself.

She would go back, back to the shelter of his love which had been
waiting for her all the time, unswerving and unreproaching.  She had
read it in his eyes when they had met her own an hour ago.

"I want you---body and soul I want you!" he had told her there by the
cliffs at Culver.

And she had not given him all her soul.  She had kept back that supreme
belief in the beloved which is an integral part of love.  But now, now
she would go to him and give with both hands royally--faith and trust,
blindly, as love demanded.

She smiled a little.  Happiness and the haven of Max's arms seemed very
near her just then.


She was very silent as she and Olga Lermontof drove home together from
the Embassy, but just at the last, when the limousine stopped at
Baroni's house, she leaned closer to Olga in the semi-darkness, and
whispered a little breathlessly:--

"I'm going back to him, Olga."

Somehow the mere putting of it into words seemed to give it substance,
convert it into an actual fact that could be talked about, just like
the weather, or one's favourite play, or any other commonplace matter
which can be spoken of because it has a knowledgeable existence.  And
the Russian's quick "Thank God!" set the seal of assuredness upon it.

"Yes--thank God," answered Diana simply.

The car, which was to take the accompanist on to Brutton Square,
slipped away down the lamp-lit street, and Diana fled upstairs to her
room.

She must be alone--alone with her thoughts.  She no longer dreaded the
night and its quiet solitude.  It was a solitude pervaded by a deep,
abiding peace, the anteroom of happiness.

To-morrow she would go to Max, and tell him that love had taught her
belief and faith--all that he had asked of her and that she had so
failed to give.

She lay long awake, gazing into the dark, dreamily conscious of utter
peace and calm.  To-morrow . . . to-morrow . . .  Freely her eyes
closed and she slept.  Once she stirred and smiled a little in her
sleep while the word "Max" fluttered from between her lips, almost as
though it had been a prayer.



CHAPTER XXV

BREAKING-POINT

When Diana woke the following morning it was to a drowsy sense of utter
peace and content.  She wondered vaguely what had given rise to it.
Usually, when she came back to the waking world, it was with a shrinking
almost akin to terror that a new day had begun and must be lived
through--twelve empty, meaningless hours of it.

As full consciousness returned, the remembrance of yesterday's meeting
with Max, and of all that had succeeded it, flashed into her mind like a
sudden ray of sunlight, and she realised that what had tinged her
thoughts with rose-colour was the quiet happiness, bred of her
determination to return to her husband, which had lain stored at the back
of her brain during the hours of unconsciousness.

She sat up in bed, vividly, joyously awake, just as her maid came in with
her breakfast tray.

"Make haste, Milling," she exclaimed, a thrill of eager excitement in her
voice.  "It's a lovely morning, and there's so much going to happen
to-day that I can't waste any time over breakfast."

It was the old, impetuous Diana who spoke, impulsively carried away by
the emotion of the moment.

"Is there, madam?"  Milling, arranging the breakfast things on a little
table beside the bed, regarded her mistress affectionately.  It was long,
very long, since she had seen her with that look of happy anticipation in
her face--never since the good days at Lilac Lodge, before she had
quarrelled so irrevocably with her husband--and the maid wondered whether
it foretokened a reconciliation.  "Is there, madam?  Then I'm glad it's a
fine day.  It's a good omen."

Diana smiled at her.

"Yes," she repeated contentedly.  "It's a good omen."

Milling paused on her way out of the room.

"If you please, madam, Signor Baroni would like to know at what time you
will be ready to rehearse your songs for to-night, so that he can
telephone through to Miss Lermontof?"

To rehearse!  Diana's face clouded suddenly.  She had entirely forgotten
that she had promised to give her services that night at a reception,
organised in aid of some charity by the Duchess of Linfield--the shrewish
old woman who had paid Diana her first tribute of tears--and the
recollection of it sounded the knell to her hopes of seeing Max that day.
The morning must perforce be devoted to practising, the afternoon to the
necessary rest which Baroni insisted upon, and after that there would be
only time to dress and partake of a light meal before she drove to the
Duchess's house.

It would not be possible to see Max!  Even had there been time she dared
not risk the probable consequences to her voice which the strain and
emotion of such an interview must necessarily carry in their train.

For a moment she felt tempted to break her engagement, to throw it over
at the last instant and telephone to the Duchess to find a substitute.
And then her sense of duty to her public--to the big, warm-hearted public
who had always welcomed and supported her--pushed itself to the fore,
forbidding her to take this way out of the difficulty.

How could she, who had never yet broken a contract when her appearance
involved a big fee, fail now, on an occasion when she had consented to
give her services, and when it was her name alone on the programme which
had charmed so much money from the pockets of the wealthy, that not a
single seat of all that could be crowded into the Duchess's rooms
remained unsold?  Oh, it was impossible!

Had it meant the renouncing of the biggest fee ever offered her, Diana,
would have impetuously sacrificed it and flung her patrons overboard.
But it meant something more than that.  It was a debt of honour, her
professional honour.

After all, the fulfilment of her promise to sing would only mean setting
her own affairs aside for twenty-four hours, and somehow she felt that
Max would understand and approve.  He would never wish to snatch a few
earlier hours of happiness if they must needs be purchased at the price
of a broken promise.  But her heart sank as she faced the only
alternative.

She turned to Milling, the happy exultation that had lit her eyes
suddenly quenched.

"Ask the _Maestro_ kindly to 'phone Miss Lermontof that I shall be ready
at eleven," she said quietly.

In some curious way this unlooked-for upset to her plans seemed to have
cast a shadow across her path.  The warm surety of coming happiness which
had lapped her round receded, and a vague, indefinable apprehension
invaded her consciousness.  It was as though she sensed something
sinister that lay in wait for her round the next corner, and all her
efforts to recapture the radiant exultation of her mood of yestereve, to
shake off the nervous dread that had laid hold of her, failed miserably.

Her breakfast was standing untouched on the table beside her bed.  She
regarded it distastefully.  Then, recalling with a wry smile Baroni's
dictum that "good food, and plenty of good food, means voice," she
reluctantly began to eat, idly turning over the while the pages of one of
the newspapers which Milling had placed beside the breakfast tray.  It
was an illustrated weekly, and numbered amongst its staff an enterprising
young journalist, possessed of an absolute genius for nosing out such
matters as the principal people concerned in them particularly desired
kept secret.  Those the enterprising young journalist's paper served up
piping-hot in their _Tattle of the Town_ column--a column denounced by
the pilloried few and devoured with eager interest by the rest of the
world.

Diana, sipping her coffee, turned to it half-heartedly, hoping to find
some odd bit of news that might serve to distract her thoughts.

There were the usual sly hits at several well-known society women whose
public charities covered a multitude of private sins, followed by a very
inadequately veiled reference to the chief actors in a recent divorce
case, and then--

Diana's eyes glued themselves to the printed page before her.  Very
deliberately she set down her cup on the tray beside her, and taking up
the paper again, re-read the paragraph which had so suddenly riveted her
attention.  It ran as follows:--


"Is it true that the _nom de plume_ of a dramatist, well-known in London
circles, masks the identity of the son of a certain romantic royal duke
who contracted a morganatic marriage with one of the most beautiful
Englishwomen of the seventies?

"It would be curious if there proved to be a connecting link between this
whisper and the recent disappearance from the stage of the popular
actress who has been so closely associated with the plays emanating from
the gifted pen of that same dramatist.

"Interested readers should carefully watch forthcoming events in the
little state of Ruvania."


Diana stared at the newspaper incredulously, and a half-stifled
exclamation broke from her.

There was--there _could_ be--no possible doubt to whom the paragraph bore
reference.  "_A well-known dramatist and the popular actress so closely
associated with his works_"--why, to any one with the most superficial
knowledge of plays and players of the moment, it was as obvious as though
the names had been written in capitals.

Max and Adrienne!  Their identities linked together and woven into a
fresh tissue of mystery and innuendo!

Diana smiled a little at the suggestion that Max might be the son of a
royal duke.  It was so very far-fetched--fantastic in the extreme.

And then, all at once, she remembered Olga's significant query of long
ago: "_Have you ever asked him who he is?_" and Max's stern refusal to
answer the question when she had put it to him.

At the time it had only given an additional twist to the threads of the
intolerable web of mystery which had enmeshed her married life.  But now
it suddenly blazed out like a beacon illumining the dark places.
Supposing it were true--supposing Max _had_ been masquerading under
another name all the time--then this suggestive little paragraph
contained a clue from which she might perhaps unravel the whole hateful
mystery.

Her brows drew together as she puzzled over the matter.  This history of
a morganatic marriage--it held a faint ring of familiarity.  Vaguely she
recollected having heard the story of some royal duke who had married an
Englishwoman many years ago.

For a few minutes she racked her brain, unable to place the incident.
Then, her eyes falling absently upon the newspaper once more, the last
word of the paragraph suddenly unlocked the rusty door of memory.

_Ruvania_!  She remembered the story now!  There had once been a younger
brother and heir of a reigning grand-duke of Ruvania who had fallen so
headlong in love with a beautiful Englishwoman that he had renounced his
royal state and his claims to the grand ducal throne, and had married the
lady of his choice, thereafter living the life of a simple country
gentleman.

The affair had taken place a good many years prior to Diana's entry into
life, but at the time it had made such a romantic appeal to the
sentimental heart of the world at large that it had never been quite
forgotten, and had been retold in Diana's hearing on more than one
occasion.

Indeed, she recollected having once seen a newspaper containing an early
portrait of a family group composed of Duke Boris and his morganatic wife
and children.  There had been two of the latter, a boy and a girl, and
Diana suddenly realised, with an irrepressible little flutter of tender
excitement, that if the fantastic story hinted at in _Tattle of the
Town_, were true, then the boy whom, years ago, she had seen pictured in
the photograph must have been actually Max himself.

And--again if it were true--how naturally and easily it explained that
little unconscious air of hauteur and authority that she had so often
observed in him--the "lordly" air upon which she had laughingly remarked
to Pobs, when describing the man who had been her companion on that
memorable railway journey, when death had drawn very near them both and
then had passed them by.

Her thoughts raced onward, envisaging the possibilities involved.

There were no dukes of Ruvania now; that she knew.  The little State,
close on the borders of Russia, had been--like so many of the smaller
Eastern States--convulsed by a revolution, some ten years ago, and since
then had been governed by a republic.

Was the explanation of all that had so mystified her to be found in the
fact that Max was a political exile?

The _Tattle of the Town_ paragraph practically suggested, that the
affairs of the "well-known dramatist" were in some way bound up with the
destiny of Ruvania.  That was indicated plainly enough in the reference
to "forthcoming events."

Diana's head whirled with the throng of confused ideas that poured in
upon her.

And Adrienne de Gervais?  What part did she play in this strange medley?
_Tattle of the Town_ assigned her one.  Max and Adrienne and Ruvania were
all inextricably tangled up together in the thought-provoking paragraph.

Suddenly, Diana's heart gave a great leap as a possible explanation of
the whole matter sprang into her mind.  There had been two children of
the morganatic marriage, a son and a daughter.  Was it conceivable that
Adrienne de Gervais was the daughter?

Adrienne, Max's sister!  That would account for his inexplicably close
friendship with her, his devotion to her welfare, and--if she, like
himself, were exiled--the secrecy which he had maintained.

Slowly the conviction that this was the true explanation of all that had
caused her such bitter heartburning in the unhappy past grew and deepened
in Diana's mind.  A chill feeling of dismay crept about her heart.  If it
were true, then how hideously--how _unforgivably_--she had misjudged her
husband!

She drew a sharp, agonised breath, her shaking fingers gripping the
bedclothes like a frightened child's.

"Oh, not that!  Don't let it be that!" she whispered piteously.

She looked round the room with scared eyes.  Who could help her--tell her
the truth--set at rest this new fear which had assailed her?  There must
be some one . . . some one. . . .  Yes, there was Olga!  _She_ knew--had
known Max's secret all along.  But would she speak?  Would she reveal the
truth?  Something--heaven knew what!--had kept her silent hitherto, save
for the utterance of those maddening taunts and innuendoes which had so
often lodged in Diana's heart and festered there.

Feverishly Diana sprang out of bed and began to dress, flinging on her
clothes in a very frenzy of haste.  She would see Olga, and beg, pray,
beseech her, if necessary, to tell her all she knew.

If she failed, if the Russian woman obstinately denied her, she would
know no peace of mind--no rest.  She felt she had reached
breaking-point--she could endure no more.

But she would not fail.  When Olga came--and she would be here soon, very
soon now--she would play up the knowledge she had gleaned from the
newspaper for all it was worth, and she would force the truth from her,
willing or unwilling.

Whether that truth spelt heaven, or the utter, final wrecking of all her
life, she must know it.



CHAPTER XXVI

THE REAPING

Half an hour later Diana descended to the big music-room, where she
usually rehearsed, to find Olga Lermontof already awaiting her there.

By a sheer effort of will she had fought down the storm of emotion which
had threatened to overwhelm her, and now, as she greeted her accompanist,
she was quite cool and composed, though rather pale and with tired
shadows beneath her eyes.

There was something almost unnatural in her calm, and the shrewd Russian
eyed her with a sudden apprehension.  This was not the same woman whom
she had left last night, thrilling and softly tremulous with love.

She began speaking quickly, an undercurrent of suppressed excitement in
her tones.

"There's some mistake, isn't there?  You don't want me--this morning?"

Diana regarded her composedly.

"Certainly I want you--to rehearse for to-night."

"To rehearse?  Rehearse?"  Olga's voice rose in a sharp crescendo of
amazement.  "Surely"--bending forward to peer into Diana's face--"surely
you are not going to keep Max waiting while you--_rehearse_?"

"It's impossible for us to meet to-day," replied Diana steadily.  "I
had--forgotten--the Duchess's reception."

Olga made a gesture of impatience.

"But you must meet to-day," she said imperiously.  "You _must_!
To-morrow it will be too late."

"Too late?  How too late?"

Miss Lermontof hesitated a moment.  Then she said quietly:--

"I happen to know that Max is leaving England to-night."

Diana shrugged her shoulders.

"Well, he will come back, I suppose."

The other looked at her curiously.

"Diana, what has come to you?  You are so--changed--since last night."

"We're told that 'night unto night showeth knowledge,'" retorted Diana
bitterly.  "Perhaps _my_ knowledge has increased since--last night."  She
watched the puzzled expression deepen on Olga's face.  Then she added:
"So I can afford to wait a little longer to see Max."

Again Miss Lermontof hesitated.  Then, as though impelled to speak
despite her better judgment, she burst out impetuously:--

"But you can't!  You can't wait.  He isn't coming back again."

There was a queer tense note in Diana's voice as she played her first big
card.

"Then I suppose I shall have to follow him to--Ruvania," she said very
quietly.

"To Ruvania?" Olga repeated, and by the sudden narrowing of her eyes, as
though she were all at once "on guard," Diana knew that her shot in the
dark had gone home.  "What do you mean?  Why--Ruvania?"

Diana faced her squarely.  Despite her feverish desire to wring the truth
from the other woman, she had herself well in hand, and when she spoke it
was with a certain dignity.

"Don't you think that the time for pretence and hypocrisy has gone by?
_You_ know--all that I ought to know.  Now that even the newspapers are
aware of Max's--and Adrienne's--connection with Ruvania, do you still
think it necessary that I, his wife, should be kept in the dark?"

"The newspapers?"  Olga spoke with sudden excitement.  "How much do they
know?  What do they say? . . .  After all, though," she added more
quietly, "it doesn't much matter--now.  Everything is settled--for good
or ill.  But if the papers had got hold of it sooner--"

"Well?" queried Diana coolly, intent on driving her into giving up her
knowledge.  "What if they had?"

Olga surveyed her ironically.

"What if they had?  Only that, if they had, probably you wouldn't have
possessed a husband a few hours later.  A knife in the back is a quick
road out of life, you know."

Diana caught her breath, and her self-command gave way suddenly.

"For God's sake, what do you mean?  Tell me--you must tell
me--everything, everything!  I can't bear it any longer.  I know too
much--"  She broke off with a dry, choking sob.

Olga's face softened.

"You poor child!" she muttered to herself.  Then, aloud, she said gently:
"Tell me--how much do you know?"

With an effort Diana mastered herself again.

"I know Max's parentage," she began steadily.

"You know that?"--with quick surprise.

"Yes.  And that he has a sister."

Olga nodded, smiling rather oddly.

"Yes.  He has a sister," she admitted.

"And that he is involved in Ruvanian politics.  Something is going to
happen there, in Ruvania--"

"Yes to that also.  Something is going to happen there.  The republic is
down and out, and the last of the Mazaroffs is going to receive back the
ducal crown."  There was a tinge of mockery in Miss Lermontof's curt
tones.

Diana gave a cry of dismay.

"Not--not Max?" she stammered.  All at once, he seemed to have receded
very far away from her, to have been snatched into a world whither she
would never be able to follow him.

"Max?"  Olga's face darkened.  "No--not Max, but Nadine Mazaroff."

"Nadine Mazaroff?" repeated Diana uncomprehendingly.  "Who is Nadine
Mazaroff?"

"She is the woman you knew as Adrienne de Gervais."

"Adrienne?  Is that her name--Nadine Mazaroff?  Then--then"--Diana's
breath came unevenly--"she's not Max's sister?"

"No"--shortly.  "She is--or will be within a week--the Grand Duchess of
Ruvania."

"Go on," urged Diana, as the other paused.  "Go on.  Tell me everything.
I know so much already that it can't be breaking faith with any one for
you to tell me the whole truth now."

Olga looked at her consideringly.

"No.  I suppose, since the journalists have ferreted it out, it won't be
a secret much longer," she conceded grimly.  "And, in any case, it
doesn't matter now.  It's all settled."  She sighed.  "Besides"--with a
faint smile--"if I tell you, it will save Max a long story when you meet."

"Yes," replied Diana, an odd expression flitting across her face.  "It
will save Max a long story--when we meet.  Tell me," she continued, with
an effort, "tell me about--Nadine Mazaroff."

"Nadine?" cried Olga, with sudden violence.  "Nadine Mazaroff is the
woman I hate more than any other on this earth!"  Her eyes gleamed
malevolently.  "She stands where Max should stand.  If it were not for
her the Ruvanian people would have accepted him as their ruler--and
overlooked his English mother.  But Nadine is the legitimate heir, the
child of the late Grand Duke--and Max is thrust out of the succession,
because our father's marriage was a morganatic one."

"_Your_ father?"

"Yes"--with a brief smile--"I am the sister whose existence you
discovered."

For a moment Diana was silent.  It had never occurred to her to connect
Max and Olga in any way; the latter had always seemed to her to be more
or less at open enmity with him.

Immediately her heart contracted with the old haunting fear.  What, then,
was Adrienne to Max?

"Go on," she whispered at last, under her breath.  "Go on."

"I've never forgiven my father"--Olga spoke with increasing passion.
"For his happiness with his English wife, Max and I have paid every day
of our lives! . . .  As soon as I was of age, I refused the State
allowance granted me as a daughter of Boris Mazaroff, and left the
Ruvanian Court.  Since then I've lived in England as plain Miss
Lermontof, and earned my own living.  Not one penny of their tainted
money will I touch!"--fiercely.

"But Max--Max!" broke in Diana.  "Tell me about Max!"  Olga's personal
quarrel with her country held no interest for a woman on the rack.

"Max?"  Olga shrugged her shoulders.  "Max is either a saint or a
fool--God knows which!  For his loyalty to the House that branded him
with a stigma, and to the woman who robbed him of his heritage, has never
failed."

"You mean--Adrienne?" whispered Diana, as Olga paused an instant, shaken
by emotion.

"Yes, I mean Adrienne--Nadine Mazaroff.  Her parents were killed in the
Ruvanian revolution--butchered by the mob on the very steps of the
palace.  But she herself was saved by my brother.  At the time the revolt
broke out, he was living in Borovnitz, the capital, and he rushed off to
the palace and contrived to rescue Nadine and get her away to England.
Since then, while the Royalist party have been working day and night for
the restoration of the Mazaroffs, Max has watched over her safety."  She
paused, resuming with an accent of jealous resentment: "And it has been
no easy task.  German money backed the revolution, in the hope that when
Ruvania grew tired of her penny-farthing republic--as she was bound to
do--Germany might step in again and convert Ruvania into a little
dependent State under Prussia.  There's always a German princeling handy
for any vacant throne!"--contemptuously--"and in the event of a big
European War, Ruvania in German hands would provide an easy entrance into
Russia.  So you see, Nadine, alive and in safety, was a perpetual menace
to the German plans.  For some years she was hidden in a convent down in
the West Country, not very far from Crailing, and after a while people
came to believe that she, too, had perished in the revolution.  It was
only then that Max allowed her to emerge from the convent, and by that
time she had grown from a young, unformed girl into a woman, so that
there was little danger of her being recognised by any casual
observer--or even by the agents of the anti-royalist party."

"Max seems to have done--a great deal--for her," said Diana, speaking
slowly and rather painfully.

Olga flashed her a brief look of understanding.

"Yes," she said quietly.  "He has done everything that patriotism
demanded of him--even"--meaningly--"to the sacrificing of his own
personal happiness. . . .  It was entirely his idea that Nadine should
pass as an actress.  She always had dramatic talent, and when she came
out of the convent he arranged that she should study for the stage.  He
believed that there was no safer way of concealing her identity than by
providing her with an entirely different one--and a very obvious one at
that.  And events have proved him right.  After all, people only become
suspicious when they see signs of secrecy, and there is no one more
constantly in the public eye than an actress.  The last place you would
look for a missing grand duchess is on the English stage!  The very
daring and publicity of the thing made it a success.  No one guessed who
she was, and only I, I and Carlo Baroni, knew.  Oh, yes, I was sworn to
secrecy"--as she read the question in Diana's eye--"and when I saw you
and Max drifting apart, and knew that a word from me could set things
right, I've been tempted again and again to break my oath.  Thank
God!"--passionately--"Oh, thank God!  I can speak now!"

She twisted her shoulders as though freed from some heavy burden.

"Yon thank God?  _You_?"  Diana spoke with bitter unbelief.  "Why, it was
you who made things a thousand times worse between us--you who goaded me
into fresh suspicions.  You never helped me to believe in him--although
you knew the truth!  You tried to part us!"

"I know.  I did try," acknowledged Olga frankly.  "I'd borne it all for
years--watched my brother sheltering Nadine, working for her, using his
genius to write plays for her--spilling all his happiness at her
feet--and I couldn't endure it any longer.  I thought--oh! I _prayed_
that when it came to a choice between you and Nadine he would give
way--let Nadine fend for herself.  And that was why I tried to anger you
against him--to drive you into forcing his hand."  She paused, her breast
heaving tumultuously.  "But the plan failed.  Max remained staunch, and
only his happiness came crashing down about his ears instead.  There
is"--bleakly--"no saving saints and martyrs against their will."

A silence fell between them, and Diana made a few wavering steps towards
a chair and sat down.  She felt as though her legs would no longer
support her.

In a mad moment, half-crazed by the new fear which the newspaper
paragraph had inspired in her, she had closed the only road which might
have led her back to Max.  Yesterday, still unwitting of how infinitely
she had wronged him, passionately, humbly ready to give him the trust he
had demanded, she might have gone to him.  But to-day, her knowledge of
the truth had taken from her the power to make atonement, and had raised
a barrier between herself and Max which nothing in the world could ever
break down.

She had failed her man in the hour of his need, and henceforth she must
walk outcast in desert places.

There were still many gaps in the story to be filled in.  But one thing
stood out clearly from amidst the chaos which enveloped her, and that
was, that she had misjudged her husband--terribly, unforgivably misjudged
him.

It was loyalty, not love, that he had given Adrienne, and he had been
right--a thousand times right--in refusing to reveal, even to his wife,
the secret which was not his alone, and upon which hung issues of life
and death and the ultimate destiny of a country--perhaps, even, of Europe
itself!

It was to save his country from the Prussian claw that Max had sacrificed
himself with the pure fervour of a patriot, at no matter what cost!  And
she, Diana, by her lack of faith, her petty jealousy, had sent him from
her, had seen to it that that cost included even his happiness!

She had failed him every way--trailing the glory of love's golden raiment
in the dust of the highway.

If she had but fulfilled her womanhood, what might not her unshaken faith
have meant to a man fighting a battle against such bitter odds?  No
matter how worn with the stress of incessant watchfulness, or wearied by
the strain of constant planning and the need to forestall each move of
the enemy, he would have found, always waiting for him, a refuge, a quiet
haven where love dwelt and where he might forget for a space and be at
rest.  All this, which had been hers to give, she had withheld.

The silence deepened in the room.  The brilliant sunshine, slanting in
through the slats of the Venetian blinds, seemed out of place in what had
suddenly become a temple of pain.  Somewhere outside a robin chirruped,
the cheery little sound holding, for one of the two women sitting there,
a note of hitter mockery.

Suddenly Diana dropped her head on her hands with a shudder.

"Oh, God!" she whispered.  "Oh, God!"

Olga leaned forward and laid a hand on her knee.

"You can go back to him now, and give him all the happiness that he has
missed," she said steadily.

"Go back to him?"  Diana lifted her head and stared at her with dull
eyes.  "Oh, no.  I shan't do that."

"You won't go back?" Olga spoke slowly, as though she doubted her own
hearing.

A faint, derisive smile flickered across Diana's lips.  "How could I?  Do
you suppose that--that having failed him when he asked me to believe in
him, I could go back to him now--now that I know everything? . . .  Oh,
no, I couldn't do that.  I've nothing to offer him--now--nothing to
give--neither faith nor trust, because I know the whole truth."  She
spoke with the quiet finality of one who can see no hope, no possibility
of better things, anywhere.  The words "Too late!" beat in her brain like
the pendulum of a clock, maddeningly insistent.

"If only I had been content to go to him without knowing!" she went on
tonelessly.  "But that paragraph in the paper--it frightened me.  I felt
that I _must know_ if--if I had been wronging him all the time.  And I
had!" she ended wearily.  "I had."  Then, after a moment: "So you see, I
can't go back to him."

"You--can't--go--back?"  The words fell slowly, one by one, from Olga's
lips.  "Do you mean that you won't go back now--now that you know he has
never failed you as you thought he had? . . .  Oh!"--rapidly--"you can't
mean that.  You won't--you can't refuse to go back now."

Diana lifted a grey, drawn face.

"Don't you see," she said monotonously, "it's just because of
that--because he hasn't failed me while I've failed him so utterly--that
I can't go back?"

Olga turned on her swiftly, her green eyes blazing dangerously.

"It's your pride!" she cried fiercely.  "It's your damnable pride that's
standing in the way!  Merciful heavens!  Did you ever love him, I wonder,
that you're too proud to ask his forgiveness now--now when you know what
you've done?"

Diana's lips moved in a pitiful attempt at a smile.

"Oh, no," she said, shaking her head.  "It's not that.  I've . . . no
pride . . . left, I think.  But I can't be mean--_mean_ enough to crawl
back now."  She paused, then went on with an inflection of irony in her
low, broken voice.  "'Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.'
. . .  Well, I'm reaping--that's all."

Like the keen thrust of a knife came Olga's answer.

"And must he, too, reap your sowing?  For that's what it amounts to--that
Max must suffer for your sin.  Oh!  He's paid enough for others! . . .
Diana"--imploringly--"Max is leaving England to-night.  Go back to him
now--don't wait until it's too late,"

"No."  Diana spoke in dead, flat tones.  "Can't you understand?"--moving
her head restlessly.  "Do you suppose--even if he forgave me--that he
could ever believe in me again?  He would never be certain that I really
trusted him.  He would always feel unsure of me."

"If you can think that, then you haven't understood Max--or his love for
you," retorted Olga vehemently.  "Oh!  How can I make you see it?  You
keep on balancing this against that--what you can give, what Max can
believe--weighing out love as though it were sold by the ounce!  Max
loves you--_loves you_!  And there _aren't_ any limitations to love!"
She broke off abruptly, her voice shaking.  "Can't you believe it?" she
added helplessly, after a minute.

Diana shook her head.

"I think you mean to be kind," she said patiently.  "But love is a
giving.  And I--have nothing to give."

"And you're too proud to take."

"Yes . . . if you call that pride.  I can't take--when I've nothing to
give."

"Then you don't love!  You don't know what it means to love!
Diana"--Olga's voice rose in passionate entreaty--"for God's sake go to
him!  He's suffered so much.  Forget what people may think--what even he
may think!  Throw your pride overboard and remember only that he loves
you and has need of you.  _Go to him_!"

She ceased, and her eyes implored Diana's.  No matter what may have been
her shortcomings--and they were many, for she was a hard, embittered
woman--at least, in her devotion to her brother, Olga Lermontof
approached very nearly to the heroic.

There was a long silence.  At last Diana spoke in low, shaken tones, her
head bowed.

"I can't!" she whispered.  "I shall never forgive myself.  And I can't
ask Max to--forgive me. . . .  He couldn't."  The last words were hardly
audible.

For a moment Olga stood quite still, gazing with hard eyes at the slight
figure hunched into drooping lines of utter weariness.  Once her lips
moved, but no sound came.  Then she turned away, walking with lagging
footsteps, and a minute later the door opened and closed quietly again
behind her.



CHAPTER XXVII

CARLO BARONI EXPLAINS

Diana sat on, very still, very silent, staring straight in front of her
with wide, tearless eyes.  Only now and again a long, shuddering sigh
escaped her, like the caught breath of a child that has cried till it
is utterly exhausted and can cry no more.

She felt that she had come to an end of things.  Nothing could undo the
past, and ahead of her stretched the future, empty and void of promise.

Presently the creak of the door reopening roused her, and she turned,
instantly on the defensive, anticipating that Olga had come back to
renew the struggle.  But it was only Baroni, who approached her with a
look of infinite concern on his kind old face.

"My child!" he began.  "My child! . . .  So, then!  You know all that
there is to know."

Diana looked up wearily.

"Yes," she replied.  "I know it all."

The old _maestro's_ eyes softened as they rested upon her, and when he
spoke again, his queer husky voice was toned to a note of extraordinary
sweetness.

"My dear pupil, if it had been possible, I would haf spared you this
knowledge.  It was wrong of Olga to tell you--above all"--his face
creasing with anxiety as the ruling passion asserted itself
irrepressibly--"to tell you on a day when you haf to sing!"

"I made her," answered Diana listlessly.  She passed her hand wearily
across her forehead.  "Don't worry, _Maestro_, I shall be able to sing
to-night."

"_Tiens_!  But you are all to pieces, my child!  You will drink a glass
of champagne--now, at once," he insisted, adding persuasively as she
shook her head, "To please me, is it not so?"

Diana's lips curved in a tired smile.

"Is champagne the cure for a heartache, then, _Maestro_?"

Baroni's eyes grew suddenly sad.

"Ah, my dear, only death--or a great love--can heal the wound that lies
in the heart," he answered gently.  He paused, then resumed crisply:
"But, meanwhile, we haf to live--and _prima donnas_ haf to sing.
So . . . the little glass of wine in my room, is it not?"

He tucked her arm within his, patting her hand paternally, and led her
into his own sanctum, where he settled her comfortably in a big
easy-chair beside the fire, and poured her out a glass of wine,
watching her sip it with a glow of satisfaction in his eyes.

"That goes better, _hein_?  This Olga--she had not reflected
sufficiently.  It was too late for the truth to do good; it could only
pain and grieve you."

"Yes," said Diana.  "It is too late now. . . .  I've paid for my
ignorance with my happiness--and Max's," she added in a lower tone.
She looked across at Baroni with sudden resentment.  "And you--_you
knew_!" she continued.  "Why didn't you tell me? . . .  Oh, but I can
guess!"--scornfully.  "It suited your purpose for me to quarrel with my
husband; it brought me back to the concert platform.  My happiness
counted for nothing--against that!"

Baroni regarded her patiently.

"And do you regret it?  Would you be willing, now, to give up your
career as a _prima donna_--and all that it means?"

A vision rose up before Diana of what life would be denuded of the
glamour and excitement, the perpetual triumphs, the thrilling sense of
power her singing gave her--the dull, flat monotony of it, and she
caught her breath sharply in instinctive recoil.

"No," she admitted slowly.  "I couldn't give it up--now."

An odd look of satisfaction overspread Baroni's face.

"Then do not blame me, my child.  For haf I not given you a consolation
for the troubles of life."

"I need never have had those troubles to bear if you had been frank
with me!" she flashed back.  "_You--you_ were not bound by any oath of
secrecy.  Oh!  It was cruel of you, _Maestro_!"

Her eyes, bitterly accusing, searched his face.

"Tchut!  Tchut!  But you are too quick to think evil of your old
_maestro_."  He hesitated, then went on slowly: "It is a long story, my
dear--and sometimes a very sad story.  I did not think it would pass my
lips again in this world.  But for you, who are so dear to me, I will
break the silence of years. . . .  Listen, then.  When you, my little
Pepperpot, had not yet come to earth to torment your parents, but were
still just a tiny thought in the corner of God's mind, I--your old
Baroni--I was in Ruvania."

"You--in Ruvania?"

He nodded.

"Yes.  I went there first as a professor of singing at the Borovnitz
Conservatoire--_per Bacco_!  But they haf the very soul of music, those
Ruvanians!  And I was appointed to attend also at the palace to give
lessons to the Grand Duchess.  Her voice was only a little less
beautiful than your own."  He hesitated, as though he found it
difficult to continue.  At last he said almost shyly: "Thou, my child,
thou hast known love. . . .  To me, too, at the palace, came that best
gift of the good God."

He paused, and Diana whispered stammeringly:

"Not--not the Grand Duchess?"

"Yes--Sonia."  The old _maestro's_ eyes kindled with a soft luminance
as his whispering voice caressed the little flame.  "Hers, of course,
had been merely a marriage dictated by reasons of State, and from the
time of our first meeting, our hearts were in each other's keeping.
But she never failed in duty or in loyalty.  Only once, when I was
leaving Ruvania, never to return, did she give me her lips at parting."
Again he fell silent, his thoughts straying back across the years
between to that day when he had taken farewell of the woman who had
held his very soul between her hands.  Presently, with an effort, he
resumed his story.  "I stayed at the Ruvanian Court many years--there
was a post of Court musician which I filled--and for both of us those
years held much of sadness.  The Grand Duke Anton was a domineering
man, hated by every one, and his wife's happiness counted for nothing
with him.  She had failed to give him a son, and for that he never
pardoned her.  I think my presence comforted her a little.  That--and
the child--the little Nadine. . . .  As much as Anton was disliked, so
much was his brother Boris beloved of the people.  His story you know.
Of this I am sure--that he lived and died without once regretting the
step he had taken in marrying an Englishwoman.  They were lovers to the
end, those two."

Listening to the little history of those two tender love tales that had
run their course side by side, Diana almost forgot for a moment how the
ripples of their influence, flowing out in ever-widening circles, had
touched, at last, even her own life, and had engulfed her happiness.

But, as Baroni ceased, the recollection of her own bitter share in the
matter returned with overwhelming force, and once more she arraigned
him for his silence.

"I still see no reason why you should not have told me the truth about
Adrienne--about Nadine Mazaroff.  Max couldn't--I see that; nor Olga.
But _you_ were bound by no oath."

"My child, I was bound by something stronger than an oath."

The old man crossed the room to where there stood on a shelf a little
ebony cabinet, clamped with dull silver of foreign workmanship.  He
unlocked it, and withdrew from it a letter, the paper faintly yellowed
and brittle with the passage of time.

He held it out to Diana.

"No eyes but mine haf ever rested on it since it was given into my hand
after her death," he said very gently.  "But you, my child, you shall
read it; you are hurt and unhappy, battering against fate, and
believing that those who love you haf served you ill.  But we were all
bound in different ways. . . .  Read the letter, little one, and thou
wilt see that I, too, was not free."

Hesitatingly Diana unfolded the thin sheet and read the few faded lines
it contained.


"CARLO MIO,

"I think the end is coming for Anton and for me.  The revolt of the
people is beyond all quelling.  My only fear is for Nadine; my only
hope for her ultimate safety lies in Max.  If ever, in the time to
come, your silence or your speech can do aught for my child--in the
name of the love you gave me, I beg it of you.  In serving her, you
will be serving me.

"SONIA."


Very slowly Diana handed the letter back to Baroni.

"So--that was why," she whispered.

Baroni bent his head.

"That was why.  I could not speak.  But I did all that lay in my power
to prevent this marriage of yours."

"You did."  A wan little smile tilted the corners of her mouth at the
remembrance.

"Afterwards--your happiness was on the knees of the gods!"

"No," said Diana suddenly.  "No.  It was in my own hands.  Had I
believed in Max we should have been happy still. . . .  But I failed
him."

A long silence followed.  At last she rose, holding out her hands.

"Thank you," she said simply.  "Thank you for showing me the letter."

Baroni stooped his head and carried her hands to his lips.

"My dear, we make our mistakes and then we pay.  It is always so in
life.  Love"--and the odd, clouded voice shook a little--"Love
brings--great happiness--and great pain.  Yet we would not be without
it."



CHAPTER XXVIII

THE AWAKENING

Somehow the interminable hours of the day had at last worn to evening,
and Diana found herself standing in front of a big mirror, listlessly
watching Milling as she bustled round her, putting the last touches to
her dress for the Duchess of Linfield's reception.  The same thing had
to be gone through every concert night--the same patient waiting while
the exquisite toilette, appropriate to a _prima donna_, was consummated
by Milling's clever fingers.

Only, this evening, every nerve in Diana's body was quivering in
rebellion.

What was it Olga had said?  "_Max is leaving England to-night._"  So,
while she was being dressed like a doll for the pleasuring of the
people who had paid to hear her sing, Max was being borne away out of
her ken, out of her existence for ever.

What a farce it all seemed!  In a little while she would be singing as
perfectly as usual, bowing and smiling as usual, and not one amongst
the crowded audience would know that in reality it was only the husk of
a woman who stood there before them--the mere outer shell.  All that
mattered, the heart and soul of her, was dead.  She knew that quite
well.  Probably she would feel glad about it in time, she thought,
because when one was dead things didn't hurt any more.  It was dying
that hurt. . . .

"Your train, madam."

She started at the sound of Milling's respectful voice.  What a
lop-sided thing a civilised sense of values seemed to be!  Even when
you had dragged the white robes of your spirit deep in the mire, you
must still be scrupulously careful not to soil the hem of the white
satin that clothed your body.

She almost laughed aloud, then bit the laugh back, picturing Milling's
astonished face.  The girl would think she was mad.  Perhaps she was.
It didn't matter much, anyway.

Mechanically she held out her arm for Milling to throw the train of her
gown across it, and, picking up her gloves, went slowly downstairs.

Baroni, his face wearing an expression of acute anxiety, was waiting
for her in the hall, restlessly pacing to and fro.

"Ah--h!"  His face cleared as by magic when the slender, white-clad
figure appeared round the last bend of the stairway.  He had half
feared that at the last moment the strain of the day's emotion might
exact its penalty, and Diana prove unequal to the evening's demands.

To hide his obvious relief, he turned sharply to the maid, who had
followed her mistress downstairs, carrying her opera coat and furs.

"Madame's cloak--make haste!" he commanded curtly.

And when Diana had entered the car, he waved aside the manservant and
himself tucked the big fur rug carefully round her.  There was
something rather pathetic, almost maternal, in the old man's care of
her, and Diana's lips quivered.

"Thank you, dear _Maestro_," she said, gently pressing his arm with her
hand.


The Duchess's house was packed with a complacent crowd of people,
congratulating themselves upon being able, for once, to combine duty
and pleasure, since the purchase-money of their tickets for the
evening's entertainment contributed to a well-known charity, and at the
same time procured them the privilege of bearing once more their
favourite singer.  Some there were who had grounds for additional
satisfaction in the fact that, under the wide cloak of charity, they
had managed to squeeze through the exclusive portals of Linfield House
for the first--and probably the last--time in their lives.

As the singer made her way through the thronged hall, those who knew
her personally bowed and smiled effusively, whilst those who didn't
looked on from afar and wished they did.  It was not unlike a royal
progress, and Diana heaved a quick sigh of relief when at last she
found herself in the quiet of the little apartment set aside as an
artistes' room.

Olga Lermontof was already there, and Diana greeted her rather
nervously.  She felt horribly uncertain what attitude Miss Lermontof
might be expected to adopt in the circumstances.

But she need have had no anxiety on that score.  Olga seemed to be just
her usual self--grave and self-contained, her thin, dark-browed face
wearing its habitual half-mocking expression.  Apparently she had wiped
out the day's happenings from her mind, and had become once more merely
the quiet, competent accompanist to a well-known singer.

There was no one else in the artistes' room.  The other performers were
mingling with the guests, only withdrawing from the chattering crowd
when claimed by their part in the evening's entertainment.

"How far on are they?" asked Diana, picking up the programme and
running her eye down it.

"Your songs are the next item but one," replied Miss Lermontof.

A violin solo preceded the two songs which, bracketed together in the
middle of the programme as its culminating point, made the sum total of
Diana's part in it, and she waited quietly in the little anteroom while
the violinist played, was encored and played again, and throughout the
brief interval that followed.  She felt that to-night she could not
face the cheap, everyday flow of talk and compliment.  She would sing
because she had promised, that she would, but as soon as her part was
done she would slip away and go home--home, where she could sit alone
by the dead embers of her happiness.

A little flutter of excitement rippled through the big rooms when at
last she mounted the platform.  People who had hitherto been content to
remain, in the hall, regarding the music as a pleasant accompaniment to
the interchange of the day's news and gossip, now came flocking in
through the doorways, hoping to find seats, and mostly having to
content themselves with standing-room.

Almost as in a dream, Diana waited for the applause to subside, her
eyes roaming halt-unconsciously over the big assembly.

It was all so stalely familiar--the little rustle of excitement, the
preliminary clapping, the settling down to listen, and then the sea of
upturned faces spread out beneath her.

The memory of the first time that she had sung in public, at Adrienne's
house in Somervell Street, came back to her.  It had been just such an
occasion as this. . . .

(Olga was playing the introductory bars of accompaniment to her song,
and, still as in a dream, she began to sing, the exquisite voice
thrilling out into the vast room, golden and perfect.)

. . .  Adrienne had smiled at her encouragingly from across the room,
and Jerry Leigh had been standing at the far end near some big double
doors.  There were double doors to this room, too, flung wide open.
(It was odd how clearly she could recall it all; her mind seemed to be
working quite independently of what was going on around her.)  And Max
had been there.  She remembered how she had believed him to be still
abroad, and then, how she had looked up and suddenly met his gaze
across those rows and rows of unfamiliar faces.  He had come back.

Instinctively she glanced towards the far end of the room, where, on
that other night and in that other room, he had been standing, and
then . . . then . . . was it still only the dream, the memory of long
ago? . . .  Or had God worked a miracle? . . .  Over the heads of the
people, Max's eyes, grave and tender, but unspeakably sad, looked into
hers!

A hand seemed to grip her heart, squeezing it so that she could not
draw her breath.  Everything grew blurred and dim about her, but
through the blur she could still see Max, standing with his head thrown
back against the panelling of the door, his arms folded across his
chest, and his eyes--those grave, questioning eyes--fixed on her face.

Presently the darkness cleared away and she found that she was still
singing--mechanically her voice had answered to the long training of
years.  But the audience had heard the great _prima donna_ catch her
breath and falter in her song.  For an instant it had seemed almost as
though she might break down.  Then the tension passed, and the lovely
voice, upborne by a limitless technique, had floated out again, golden
and perfect as before.

It was only the habit of surpassing art which had enabled Diana to
finish her song.  Since last night, when she had seen Max for that
brief moment at the Embassy, she had passed through the whole gamut of
emotion, glimpsed the vision of coming happiness, only to believe that
with her own hands she had pushed it aside.  And now she was conscious
of nothing but that Max--Max, the man she loved--was here, close to her
once again, and that her heart was crying out for him.  He was hers,
her mate out of the whole world, and in a sudden blinding flash of
self-revelation, she recognised in her refusal to return to him a sheer
denial of the divine altruism of love.

The blank, bewildering chaos of the last twelve hours, with its turmoil
of conflicting passions, took on a new aspect, and all at once that
which had been dark was become light.

From the moment she had learned the truth about her husband, her
thoughts had centred solely round herself, dwelling--in, all humility,
it is true--but still dwelling none the less egotistically upon her
personal failure, her own irreparable mistake, her self-wrought
bankruptcy of all the faith and absolute belief a woman loves to give
her lover.  She had thrust these things before his happiness, whereas
the stern and simple creed of love places the loved one first and
everything else immeasurably second.

But now, in this quickened moment of revelation, Diana knew that she
loved Max utterly and entirely, that his happiness was her supreme
need, and that if she let him go from her again, life would be
henceforth a poor, maimed thing, shorn of all meaning.

It no longer mattered that she had sinned against him, that she had
nothing to bring, that she must go to him a beggar.  The scales had
fallen from her eyes, and she realised that in love there is no
reckoning--no pitiful making-up of accounts.  The pride that cannot
take has no place there; where love is, giving and taking are one and
indivisible.

Nothing mattered any longer--nothing except that Max was here--here,
within reach of the great love in her heart that was stretching out its
arms to him . . . calling him back.

The audience, ardently applauding her first song, saw her turn and give
some brief instruction to her accompanist, who nodded, laying aside the
song which she had just placed upon the music-desk.  A little whisper
ran through the assembly as people asked each other what song was about
to be substituted for the one on the programme, and when the sad,
appealing music of "The Haven of Memory," stole out into the room, they
smiled and nodded to one another, pleased that the great singer was
giving them the song in which they loved best to hear her.


  Do you remember
    Our great love's pure unfolding,
  The troth you gave,
    And prayed, for God's upholding,
      Long and long ago?

  Out of the past
    A dream--and then the waking--
  Comes back to me
    Of love, and love's forsaking,
      Ere the summer waned.

  Ah!  Let me dream
    That still a little kindness
  Dwelt in the smile
    That chid my foolish blindness,
      When you said good-bye.

  Let me remember
    When I am very lonely,
  How once your love
    But crowned and blessed me only,
      Long and long ago.


There was no faltering now.  The beautiful voice had never been more
touching in its exquisite appeal.  All the unutterable sweetness and
humility and faith, the wistful memories, the passion and surrender
that love holds, dwelt in the throbbing notes.

To Max, standing a little apart, the width of the room betwixt him and
the woman singing, it seemed as though she were entreating him . . .
calling to him. . . .

The sad, tender words, poignant with regret and infinite beseeching,
clamoured against his heart, and as the last note trembled into
silence, he turned and made his way blindly out of the room.



CHAPTER XXIX

SACRIFICE

"_Did you mean it?_"

Errington's voice broke harshly through the silence of the little
anteroom where Diana waited alone.  It had a curious, cracked sound, and
his breath laboured like that of a man who has run himself out.

For a moment she kept her face hidden, trying to steady herself, but at
last she turned towards him, and in her eyes was a soft shining--a
strange, sweet fire.

"Max!"  The whispered name was hardly audible; tremulous and wistful it
seemed to creep across the room.

But he heard it.  In a moment his arms were round her, and he had
gathered her close against his heart.  And so they remained for a space,
neither speaking.

Presently Diana lifted her head.

"Max, it was because I loved you so that I was so hard and bitter--only
because I loved you so."

"I know," was all he said.  And he kissed her hair.

"Do you?"--wistfully.  "I wonder if--if a man can understand how a woman
can be so cruel to what she loves?"

And as he had no answer to this (since, after all, a man cannot be
expected to understand all--or even very much--that a woman does), he
kissed her lips.

She crept a little nearer to him.

"Max!  Do you still care for me--like that?"  There was wonder and
thanksgiving in her voice.  "Oh, my dear, I'm down in the dust at your
feet--I've failed you utterly, wronged you every way.  Even if you
forgive me, I shall never forgive myself.  But I'm--all yours, Max."

With a sudden jealous movement he folded her more closely in his arms.

"Let me have a few moments of this," he muttered, a little breathlessly.
"A few moments of thinking you have come back to me."

"But I _have_ come back to you!"  Her eyes grew wide and startled with a
sudden, desperate apprehension.  "You won't send me away again--not now?"

His face twisted with pain.

"Beloved, I must!  God knows how hard it will be--but there is no other
way."

"No other way?"  She broke from his arms, searching his face with her
frightened eyes.  "What do you mean? . . .  _What do you mean_?  Don't
you--care--any longer?"

He smiled, as a man may who is asked whether the sun will rise to-morrow.

"Not that, beloved.  Never that.  I've always cared, and I shall go on
caring through this world and into the next--even though, after to-night,
we may never be together again."

"Never--together again?"  She clung to him.  "Oh, why do you say such
things?  I can't--I can't live without you now.  Max, I'm sorry--_sorry_!
I've been punished enough--don't punish me any more by sending me away
from you."

"Punish you!  Heart's dearest, there has never been any thought of
punishment in my mind.  Heaven knows, I've reproached myself bitterly
enough for all the misery I've brought on you."

"Then why--why do you talk of sending me away?"

"I'm not going to send you away.  It is I who have to go.  Oh, beloved!
I ought never to have come here this evening.  But I thought if I might
see you--just once again--before I went out into the night, I should at
least have that to remember. . . .  And then you sang, and it seemed as
though you were calling me. . . ."

"Yes," she said very softly.  "I called you.  I wanted you so."  Then,
after a moment, with sudden, womanish curiosity: "How did you know I was
singing here to-night?"

"Olga told me.  She's bitterly opposed to all that I've been doing,
but"--smiling faintly--"she has occasional spasms of compassion, when she
remembers that, after all, I'm a poor devil who's being thrust out of
paradise."

"She loves you," Diana answered simply.  "I think she has loved
you--better--than I did, Max.  But not more!" she added jealously.  "No
one could love you more, dear."

After a pause, she asked:

"I suppose Olga told you that I know--everything?"

"Yes.  I'm glad you know"--quietly.  "It makes it easier for me to tell
you why I must go away--out of your life."

She leaned nearer to him, her hands on his shoulders.

"Don't go!" she whispered.  "Ah, don't go!"

"I must," he said hoarsely.  "Listen, beloved, and then you will see that
there is no other way. . . .  I married you, believing that when Nadine
would be safely settled on the throne, I should be free to live my own
life, free to come back to England--and you.  If I had not believed that,
I shouldn't have told you that I cared; I should have gone away and never
seen you again.  But now--now I know that I shall _never_ be free, never
able to live in England."

He paused, gathering her a little closer into his arms.

"Everything is settled.  Russia has helped, and Ruvania is ready to
welcome Nadine's return. . . .  She is in Paris, now, waiting for me to
take her there. . . .  It has been a long and difficult matter, and the
responsibility of Nadine's well-being in England has been immense.  A
year ago, the truth as to her identity leaked out somehow--reached our
enemies' ears, and since then I've never really known an instant's peace
concerning her safety.  You remember the attack which was made on her
outside the theatre?"

Diana nodded, shame-faced, remembering its ultimate outcome.

"Well, the man who shot at her was in the pay of the Republic--German
pay, actually.  That yarn about the actor down on his luck was cooked up
for the papers, just to throw dust in the eyes of the public. . . .  To
watch over Nadine's safety has been my work.  Now the time has come when
she can go back and take her place as Grand Duchess of Ruvania.  _And I
must go with her_."

"No, no.  Why need you go?  You'll have done your work, set her securely
on the throne.  Ah, Max! don't speak of going, dear."  Her voice shook
incontrollably.

"There is other work still to be done, beloved--harder work, man's work.
And I can't turn away and take my shoulder from the wheel.  It needs no
great foresight to tell that there is trouble brewing on the Continent; a
very little thing would set the whole of Europe in a blaze.  And when
that time arrives, if Ruvania is to come out of the struggle with her
independence unimpaired, it will only be by the utmost effort of all her
sons.  Nadine cannot stand alone.  What can a woman do unaided when the
nations are fighting for supremacy?  The country will need a man at the
helm, and I must stand by Nadine."

"But why you?  Why not another?"

"No other is under the same compulsion as I.  As you know, my father put
his wife first and his country second.  It is difficult to blame
him . . . she was very beautiful, my mother.  But no man has the right to
turn away from his allotted task.  And because my father did that, the
call to me to serve my country is doubly strong.  I have to pay back that
of which he robbed her."

"And have I no claim?  Max!  Max!  Doesn't your love count at all?"

The sad, grieving words wrung his heart.

"Why, yes," he said unsteadily.  "That's the biggest thing in the
world--our love--isn't it?  But this other is a debt of honour, and you
wouldn't want me to shirk that, would you, sweet?  I must pay--even if it
costs me my happiness. . . .  It may seem to you as though I'd set your
happiness, too, aside.  God knows, it hasn't been easy!  But what could I
do?  I conceive that a man's honour stands before everything.  That was
why I let you believe--what you did.  My word was given.  I couldn't
clear myself. . . .  So you see, now, beloved, why we must part."

"No," she said quietly.  "I don't see.  Why can't I come to Ruvania with
you?"

A sudden light leaped into his eyes, but it died away almost instantly.
He shook his head.

"No, you can't come with me.  Because--don't you see, dear?"--very gently
and pitifully.  "As my wife, as cousin of the Grand Duchess herself, you
couldn't still be--a professional singer."

There was a long silence.  Slowly Diana drew away from her husband,
staring at him with dilated eyes.

"Then that--that was what Baroni meant when, he told me a time would come
when your wife could no longer sing in public?"

Max bent his head.

"Yes.  That was what he meant."

Diana stood silently clasping and unclasping her hands.  Presently she
spoke again, and there was a new note in her voice--a note of quiet
gravity and steadfast decision.

"Dear, I am coming with you.  The singing"--smiling a little
tremulously--"doesn't count--against love."

Max made a sudden movement as though to take her in his arms, then
checked himself as suddenly.

"No," he said quietly.  "You can't come with me.  It would be
impossible--out of the question.  You haven't realised all it would
entail.  After being a famous singer--to become merely a private
gentlewoman--a lady of a little unimportant Court!  The very idea is
absurd.  Always you would miss the splendour of your life, the triumphs,
the being fêted and made much of--everything that your singing has
brought you.  It would be inevitable.  And I couldn't endure to see the
regret growing in your eyes day by day.  Oh, my dear, don't think I don't
realise the generosity of the thought--and bless you for it a thousand
times!  But I won't let you pay with the rest of your life for a
heaven-kind impulse of the moment."

His words fell on Diana's consciousness, each one weighted with a world
of significance, for she knew, even as she listened, that he spoke but
the bare truth.

Very quietly she moved away from him and stood by the chimney-piece,
staring down into the grate where the embers lay dying.  It seemed to
typify what her life would be, shorn of the glamour with which her
glorious voice had decked it.  It would be as though one had plucked out
the glowing heart of a fire, leaving only ashes--dead ashes of
remembrance.

And in exchange for the joyous freedom of Bohemia, the happy brotherhood
of artistes, there would be the deadly, daily ceremonial of a court, the
petty jealousies and intrigues of a palace!

Very clearly Diana saw what the choice involved, and with that clear
vision came the realisation that here was a sacrifice which she, who had
so profaned love's temple, could yet make at the foot of the altar.  And
within her grew and deepened the certainty that no sacrifice in the world
is too great to make for the sake of love, except the sacrifice of honour.

Here at last was something she could give to the man she loved.  She need
not go to him with empty hands. . . .

She turned again to her husband, and her eyes were radiant with the same
soft shining that had lit them when he had first come to her in answer to
her singing.

"Dear," she said, and her voice broke softly.  "Take me with you.  Oh,
but you must think me very slow and stupid not to have learned--yet--what
love means! . . .  Ah, Max!  Max!  What am I to do, dear, if you won't
let me go with you?  What shall I do with all the love that is in my
heart--if you won't take it?"  For a moment she stood there tremulously
smiling, while he stared at her, in his eyes a kind of bewilderment and
unbelief fighting the dawn of an unutterable joy.

Then at last he understood, and his arms went round her.

"If I won't take it!" he cried, his voice all shaken with the wonder of
it.  "Oh, my sweet!  I'll take it as a beggar takes a gift, as a blind
man sight--on my knees, thanking God for it--and for you."

And so Diana came again into her kingdom, whence she had wandered outcast
so many bitter months.

Presently she drew him down beside her on to a big, cushioned divan.

"Max, what a lot of time we've wasted!"

"So much, sweet, that all the rest of life we'll be making up for it."
And he kissed her on the mouth by way of a beginning.

"What will Baroni say?" she whispered, with a covert smile.

"He'll wish he was young, as we are, so that he could love--as we do," he
replied triumphantly.

Diana laughed at him for an arrogant lover, then sighed at a memory she
knew of.

"I think he _has_ loved--as we do," she chided gently.

Max's arm tightened round her.

"Then he's in need of envy, beloved, for love like ours is the most
wonderful thing life has to give."

They were silent a moment, and then the quick instinct of lovers told
them they were no longer alone.

Baroni stood on the threshold of the room, frowning heavily.

"So!" he exclaimed, grimly addressing Max.  "This, then, is how you
travel in haste to Paris?"

Startled, Diana sprang to her feet, and would have drawn herself away,
but Max laughed joyously, and still keeping her hand in his, led her
towards Baroni.

"_We_ travel to Paris to-morrow," he said.  "Won't you--wish us luck,
Baroni?"

But luck was the last thing which the old _maestro_ was by way of wishing
them.  For long he argued and expostulated upon the madness, as he termed
it, of Diana's renouncing her career, trying his utmost to dissuade her.

"You haf not counted the cost!" he fumed at her.  "You cannot haf counted
the cost!"

But Diana only smiled at him.

"Yes, I have.  And I'm glad it's going to cost me something--a good deal,
in fact--to go back to Max.  Don't you see, _Maestro_, it kind of squares
things the tiniest bit?"  She paused, adding, after a moment: "And it's
such a little price to pay--for love."

Baroni, who, after all, knew a good deal about love as well as music,
regarded her a moment in silence.  Then, with a characteristic shrug of
his massive shoulders, he yielded.

"So, then, the most marvellous voice of the century is to be wasted
reading aloud to a Grand Duchess!  Ah!  Dearest of all my pupils, there
is no folly in all the world at once so foolish and so splendid as the
folly of love."





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