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Title: Lady Connie
Author: Ward, Humphry, Mrs., 1851-1920
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 "Lady Connie" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



LADY CONNIE

by

MRS. HUMPHRY WARD

Author of "Eltham House," "Delia Blanchflower," etc.

Illustrated by Albert Sterner

1916



[Illustration: _There Connie found Nora's latest statement headed
"List of Liabilities"_]


[Illustration (decorative)]



CONTENTS


PART I


CHAPTER
    I
   II
  III
   IV
    V
   VI
  VII
 VIII
   IX
    X


PART II

   XI
  XII
 XIII
  XIV
   XV


PART III

  XVI
 XVII
XVIII
  XIX



LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS


There Connie found Nora's latest statement headed "List of
  Liabilities" (Frontispiece)

Constance sat in the shadow of a plane-tree with Falloden at her
  feet

The tea-party at Mrs. Hooper's

Lady Connie had stood entranced by the playing of Radowitz

Connie sat down beside Radowitz and they looked at each other
  in silence

Lady Connie held in her horse, feeding her eyes upon Flood Castle
  and its woods

Herr Schwarz was examining a picture with a magnifying glass when
  Falloden entered

Douglas knelt, looking into his father's face, and Radowitz moved
  farther away



PART I



CHAPTER I

"Well, now we've done all we can, and all I mean to do," said Alice
Hooper, with a pettish accent of fatigue. "Everything's perfectly
comfortable, and if she doesn't like it, we can't help it. I don't know
why we make such a fuss."

The speaker threw herself with a gesture of fatigue into a dilapidated
basket-chair that offered itself. It was a spring day, and the windows
of the old schoolroom in which she and her sister were sitting were open
to a back garden, untidily kept, but full of fruit-trees just coming
into blossom. Through their twinkling buds and interlacing branches
could be seen grey college walls--part of the famous garden front of St.
Cyprian's College, Oxford. There seemed to be a slight bluish mist over
the garden and the building, a mist starred with patches of white and
dazzlingly green leaf. And, above all, there was an evening sky,
peaceful and luminous, from which a light wind blew towards the two
girls sitting by the open window. One, the elder, had a face like a
Watteau sketch, with black velvety eyes, hair drawn back from a white
forehead, delicate little mouth, with sharp indentations at the corners,
and a small chin. The other was much more solidly built--a girl of
seventeen, in a plump phase, which however an intelligent eye would have
read as not likely to last; a complexion of red and brown tanned by
exercise; an expression in her clear eyes which was alternately frank
and ironic; and an inconvenient mass of golden brown hair.

"We make a fuss, my dear," said the younger sister, "because we're bound
to make a fuss. Connie, I understand, is to pay us a good round sum for
her board and lodging, so it's only honest she should have a
decent room."

"Yes, but you don't know what she'll call decent," said the other rather
sulkily. "She's probably been used to all sorts of silly luxuries."

"Why of course, considering Uncle Risborough was supposed to have
twenty-odd thousand a year. We're paupers, and she's got to put up with
us. But we couldn't take her money and do nothing in return."

Nora Hooper looked rather sharply at her sister. It fell to her in the
family to be constantly upholding the small daily traditions of honesty
and fair play. It was she who championed the servants, or insisted,
young as she was, on bills being paid, when it would have been more
agreeable to buy frocks and go to London for a theatre. She was a great
power in the house, and both her languid, incompetent mother, and her
pretty sister were often afraid of her. Nora was a "Home Student," and
had just begun to work seriously for English Literature Honours. Alice
on the other hand was the domestic and social daughter. She helped her
mother in the house, had a head full of undergraduates, and regarded the
"Eights" week and Commemoration as the shining events of the year.

Both girls were however at one in the uneasy or excited anticipation
with which they were looking forward that evening to the arrival of a
newcomer, who was, it seemed, to make part of the household for some
time. Their father, Dr. Ewen Hooper, the holder of a recently founded
classical readership, had once possessed a younger sister of
considerable beauty, who, in the course of an independent and
adventurous career, had captured--by no ignoble arts--a widower, who
happened to be also an earl and a rich man. It happened while they were
both wintering at Florence, the girl working at paleography, in the
Ambrosian Library, while Lord Risborough, occupying a villa in the
neighbourhood of the Torre San Gallo, was giving himself to the artistic
researches and the cosmopolitan society which suited his health and his
tastes. He was a dilettante of the old sort, incurably in love with
living, in spite of the loss of his wife, and his only son; in spite
also of an impaired heart--in the physical sense--and various other
drawbacks. He came across the bright girl student, discovered that she
could talk very creditably about manuscripts and illuminations, gave her
leave to work in his own library, where he possessed a few priceless
things, and presently found her company, her soft voice, and her eager,
confiding eyes quite indispensable. His elderly sister, Lady Winifred,
who kept house for him, frowned on the business in vain; and finally
departed in a huff to join another maiden sister, Lady Marcia, in an
English country _ménage_, where for some years she did little but lament
the flesh-pots of Italy--Florence. The married sister, Lady Langmoor,
wrote reams of plaintive remonstrances, which remained unanswered.
Lord Risborough married the girl student, Ella Hooper, and
never regretted it. They had one daughter, to whom they devoted
themselves--preposterously, their friends thought; but for twenty years,
they were three happy people together. Then virulent influenza,
complicated with pneumonia, carried off the mother during a spring visit
to Rome, and six weeks later Lord Risborough died of the damaged heart
which had held out so long.

The daughter, Lady Constance Bledlow, had been herself attacked by the
influenza epidemic which had killed her mother, and the double blow of
her parents' deaths, coming on a neurasthenic condition, had hit her
youth rather hard. Some old friends in Rome, with the full consent of
her guardian, the Oxford Reader, had carried her off, first to
Switzerland, and then to the Riviera for the winter, and now in May,
about a year after the death of her parents, she was coming for the
first time to make acquaintance with the Hooper family, with whom,
according to her father's will, she was to make her home till she was
twenty-one. None of them had ever seen her, except on two occasions;
once, at a hotel in London; and once, some ten years before this date,
when Lord Risborough had been D.C.L-ed at the Encænia, as a reward for
some valuable gifts which he had made to the Bodleian, and he, his wife,
and his little girl, after they had duly appeared at the All Souls'
luncheon, and the official fête in St. John's Gardens, had found their
way to the house in Holywell, and taken tea with the Hoopers.

Nora's mind, as she and her sister sat waiting for the fly in which Mrs.
Hooper had gone to meet her husband's niece at the station, ran
persistently on her own childish recollections of this visit. She sat in
the window-sill, with her hand behind her, chattering to her sister.

"I remember thinking when Connie came in here to tea with us--'What a
stuck-up thing you are!' And I despised her, because she couldn't climb
the mulberry in the garden, and because she hadn't begun Latin. But all
the time, I envied her horribly, and I expect you did too, Alice. Can't
you see her black silk stockings--and her new hat with those awfully
pretty flowers, made of feathers? She had a silk frock too--white, very
skimp, and short; and enormously long black legs, as thin as sticks; and
her hair in plaits. I felt a thick lump beside her. And I didn't like
her at all. What horrid toads children are! She didn't talk to us much,
but her eyes seemed to be always laughing at us, and when she talked
Italian to her mother, I thought she was showing off, and I wanted to
pinch her for being affected."

"Why, of course she talked Italian," said Alice, who was not much
interested in her sister's recollections.

"Naturally. But that didn't somehow occur to me. After all I was only
seven."

"I wonder if she's really good-looking," said Alice slowly, glancing, as
she spoke, at the reflection of herself in an old dilapidated mirror,
which hung on the schoolroom wall.

"The photos are," said Nora decidedly. "Goodness, I wish she'd come and
get it over. I want to get back to my work--and till she comes, I can't
settle to anything."

"Well, they'll be here directly. I wonder what on earth she'll do with
all her money. Father says she may spend it, if she wants to. He's
trustee, but Uncle Risborough's letter to him said she was to have the
income if she wished--_now_. Only she's not to touch the capital till
she's twenty-five."

"It's a good lot, isn't it?" said Nora, walking about. "I wonder how
many people in Oxford have two thousand a year? A girl too. It's really
rather exciting."

"It won't be very nice for us--she'll be so different." Alice's tone was
a little sulky and depressed. The advent of this girl cousin, with her
title, her good looks, her money, and her unfair advantages in the way
of talking French and Italian, was only moderately pleasant to the
eldest Miss Hooper.

"What--you think she'll snuff us out?" laughed Nora. "Not she! Oxford's
not like London. People are not such snobs."

"What a silly thing to say, Nora! As if it wasn't an enormous pull
everywhere to have a handle to your name, and lots of money!"

"Well, I really think it'll matter less here than anywhere. Oxford, my
dear--or some of it--pursues 'the good and the beautiful'"--said Nora,
taking a flying leap on to the window-sill again, and beginning to poke
up some tadpoles in a jar, which stood on the window-ledge.

Alice did not think it worth while to continue the conversation. She had
little or nothing of Nora's belief in the other-worldliness of Oxford.
At this period, some thirty odd years ago, the invasion of Oxford on the
north by whole new tribes of citizens had already begun. The old days of
University exclusiveness in a ring fence were long done with; the days
of much learning and simple ways, when there were only two carriages in
Oxford that were not doctors' carriages, when the wives of professors
and tutors went out to dinner in "chairs" drawn by men, and no person
within the magic circle of the University knew anybody--to speak of--in
the town outside. The University indeed, at this later moment, still
more than held its own, socially, amid the waves of new population that
threatened to submerge it; and the occasional spectacle of retired
generals and colonels, the growing number of broughams and victorias in
the streets, or the rumours of persons with "smart" or "county"
connections to be found among the rows of new villas spreading up the
Banbury Road were still not sufficiently marked to disturb the essential
character of the old and beautiful place. But new ways and new manners
were creeping in, and the young were sensitively aware of them, like
birds that feel the signs of coming weather.

Alice fell into a brown study. She was thinking about a recent dance
given at a house in the Parks, where some of her particular friends had
been present, and where, on the whole, she had enjoyed herself greatly.
Nothing is ever perfect, and she would have liked it better if Herbert
Pryce's sister had not--past all denying--had more partners and a
greater success than herself, and if Herbert Pryce himself had not
been--just a little--casual and inattentive. But after all they had had
two or three glorious supper dances, and he certainly would have kissed
her hand, while they were sitting out in the garden, if she had not made
haste to put it out of his reach. "You never did anything of the kind
till you were sure he did not mean to kiss it!" said conscience. "I did
not give myself away in the least!"--was vanity's angry reply. "I was
perfectly dignified."

Herbert Pryce was a young fellow and tutor--a mathematical fellow; and
therefore, Alice's father, for whom Greek was the only study worth the
brains of a rational being, could not be got to take the smallest
interest in him. But he was certainly very clever, and it was said he
was going to get a post at Cambridge--or something at the
Treasury--which would enable him to marry. Alice suddenly had a vague
vision of her own wedding; the beautiful central figure--she would
certainly look beautiful in her wedding dress!--bowing so gracefully;
the bridesmaids behind, in her favourite colours, white and pale green;
and the tall man beside her. But Herbert Pryce was not really tall, and
not particularly good-looking, though he had a rather distinguished
hatchet face, with a good forehead. Suppose Herbert and Vernon and all
her other friends, were to give up being "nice" to her as soon as Connie
Bledlow appeared? Suppose she was going to be altogether cut out and put
in the background? Alice had a kind of uneasy foreboding that Herbert
Pryce would think a title "interesting."

Meanwhile Nora, having looked through an essay on "Piers Plowman," which
she was to take to her English Literature tutor on the following day,
went aimlessly upstairs and put her head into Connie's room. The old
house was panelled, and its guest-room, though small and shabby, had yet
absorbed from its oaken walls, and its outlook on the garden and St.
Cyprian's, a certain measure of the Oxford charm. The furniture was
extremely simple--a large hanging cupboard made by curtaining one of the
panelled recesses of the wall, a chest of drawers, a bed, a small
dressing-table and glass, a carpet that was the remains of one which had
originally covered the drawing-room for many years, an armchair, a
writing-table, and curtains which having once been blue had now been
dyed a serviceable though ugly dark red. In Nora's eyes it was all
comfortable and nice. She herself had insisted on having the carpet and
curtains redipped, so that they really looked almost new, and the one
mattress on the bed "made over"; she had brought up the armchair, and
she had gathered the cherry-blossoms, which stood on the mantelpiece
shining against the darkness of the walls. She had also hung above it a
photograph of Watts "Love and Death." Nora looked at the picture and the
flowers with a throb of pleasure. Alice never noticed such things.

And now what about the maid? Fancy bringing a maid! Nora's sentiments on
the subject were extremely scornful. However Connie had simply taken it
for granted, and she had been housed somehow. Nora climbed up an attic
stair and looked into a room which had a dormer window in the roof, two
strips of carpet on the boards, a bed, a washing-stand, a painted chest
of drawers, a table, with an old looking-glass, and two chairs. "Well,
that's all I have!" thought Nora defiantly. But a certain hospitable or
democratic instinct made her go downstairs again and bring up a small
vase of flowers like those in Connie's room, and put it on the maid's
table. The maid was English, but she had lived a long time abroad with
the Risboroughs.

Sounds! Yes, that was the fly stopping at the front door! Nora flew
downstairs, in a flush of excitement. Alice too had come out into the
hall, looking shy and uncomfortable. Dr. Hooper emerged from his study.
He was a big, loosely built man, with a shock of grizzled hair,
spectacles, and a cheerful expression.

A tall, slim girl, in a grey dust-cloak and a large hat, entered the
dark panelled hall, looking round her. "Welcome, my dear Connie!" said
Dr. Hooper, cordially, taking her hand and kissing her. "Your train must
have been a little late."

"Twenty minutes!" said Mrs. Hooper, who had followed her niece into the
hall. "And the draughts in the station, Ewen, were something appalling."

The tone was fretful. It had even a touch of indignation as though the
speaker charged her husband with the draughts. Mrs. Hooper was a woman
between forty and fifty, small and plain, except for a pair of rather
fine eyes, which, in her youth, while her cheeks were still pink, and
the obstinate lines of her thin slit mouth and prominent chin were less
marked, had beguiled several lovers, Ewen Hooper at their head.

Dr. Hooper took no notice of her complaints. He was saying to his
niece--"This is Alice, Constance--and Nora! You'll hardly remember each
other again, after all these years."

"Oh, yes, I remember quite well," said a clear, high-pitched voice. "How
do you do!--how do you do?"

And the girl held a hand out to each cousin in turn. She did not offer
to kiss either Alice or Nora. But she looked at them steadily, and
suddenly Nora was aware of that expression of which she had so vivid
although so childish a recollection--as though a satiric spirit sat
hidden and laughing in the eyes, while the rest of the face was
quite grave.

"Come in and have some tea. It's quite ready," said Alice, throwing open
the drawing-room door. Her face had cleared suddenly. It did not seem to
her, at least in the shadows of the hall, that her cousin Constance was
anything of a beauty.

"I'm afraid I must look after Annette first. She's much more important
than I am!"

And the girl ran back to where a woman in a blue serge coat and skirt
was superintending the carrying in of the luggage. There was a great
deal of luggage, and Annette, who wore a rather cross, flushed air,
turned round every now and then to look frowningly at the old gabled
house into which it was being carried, as though she were more than
doubtful whether the building would hold the boxes. Yet as houses went,
in the older parts of Oxford, Medburn House, Holywell, was roomy.

"Annette, don't do any unpacking till after tea!" cried Lady Constance.
"Just get the boxes carried up, and rest a bit. I'll come and help
you later."

The maid said nothing. Her lips seemed tightly compressed. She stepped
into the hall, and spoke peremptorily to the white-capped parlourmaid
who stood bewildered among the trunks.

"Have those boxes--" she pointed to four--two large American Saratogas,
and two smaller trunks--"carried up to her ladyship's room. The other
two can go into mine."

"Miss!" whispered the agitated maid in Nora's ear, "we'll never get any
of those boxes up the top-stairs. And if we put them four into her
ladyship's room, she'll not be able to move."

"I'll come and see to it," said Nora, snatching up a bag. "They've got
to go somewhere!"

Mrs. Hooper repeated that Nora would manage it, and languidly waved her
niece towards the drawing-room. The girl hesitated, laughed, and finally
yielded, seeing that Nora was really in charge. Dr. Hooper led her in,
placed an armchair for her beside the tea-table, and stood closely
observing her.

"You're like your mother," he said, at last, in a low voice; "at least
in some points." The girl turned away abruptly, as though what he said
jarred, and addressed herself to Alice.

"Poor Annette was very sick. It was a vile crossing."

"Oh, the servants will look after her," said Alice indifferently.

"Everybody has to look after Annette!--or she'll know the reason why,"
laughed Lady Constance, removing her black gloves from a very small and
slender hand. She was dressed in deep mourning with crape still upon her
hat and dress, though it was more than a year since her mother's death.
Such mourning was not customary in Oxford, and Alice Hooper thought
it affected.

Mrs. Hooper then made the tea. But the newcomer paid little attention to
the cup placed beside her. Her eyes wandered round the group at the
tea-table, her uncle, a man of originally strong physique, marred now by
the student's stoop, and by weak eyes, tried by years of Greek and
German type; her aunt--

"What a very odd woman Aunt Ellen is!" thought Constance.

For, all the way from the station, Mrs. Hooper had talked about scarcely
anything but her own ailments, and the Oxford climate. "She told us all
about her rheumatisms--and the east winds--and how she ought to go to
Buxton every year--only Uncle Hooper wouldn't take things seriously. And
she never asked us anything at all about our passage, or our night
journey! And there was Annette--as yellow as an egg--and as _cross_--"

However Dr. Hooper was soon engaged in making up for his wife's
shortcomings. He put his niece through many questions as to the year
which had elapsed since her parent's death; her summer in the high Alps,
and her winter at Cannes.

"I never met your friends--Colonel and Mrs. King. We are not military in
Oxford. But they seem--to judge from their letters--to be very nice
people," said the Professor, his tone, quite unconsciously, suggesting
the slightest shade of patronage.

"Oh, they're dears," said the girl warmly. "They were awfully good to
me."

"Cannes was very gay, I suppose?"

"We saw a great many people in the afternoons. The Kings knew everybody.
But I didn't go out in the evenings."

"You weren't strong enough?"

"I was in mourning," said the girl, looking at him with her large and
brilliant eyes.

"Yes, yes, of course!" murmured the Reader, not quite understanding why
he felt himself a trifle snubbed. He asked a few more questions, and his
niece, who seemed to have no shyness, gave a rapid description, as she
sipped her tea, of the villa at Cannes in which she had passed the
winter months, and of the half dozen families, with whom she and her
friends had been mostly thrown. Alice Hooper was secretly thrilled by
some of the names which dropped out casually. She always read the
accounts in the _Queen_, or the _Sketch_, of "smart society" on the
Riviera, and it was plain to her that Constance had been dreadfully "in
it." It would not apparently have been possible to be more "in it." She
was again conscious of a hot envy of her cousin which made her unhappy.
Also Connie's good looks were becoming more evident. She had taken off
her hat, and all the distinction of her small head, her slender neck and
sloping shoulders, was more visible; her self-possession, too, the ease
and vivacity of her gestures. Her manner was that of one accustomed to a
large and varied world, who took all things without surprise, as they
came. Dr. Hooper had felt some emotion, and betrayed some, in this
meeting with his sister's motherless child; but the girl's only betrayal
of feeling had lain in the sharpness with which she had turned away from
her uncle's threatened effusion. "And how she looks at us!" thought
Alice. "She looks at us through and through. Yet she doesn't stare."

But at that moment Alice heard the word "prince," and her attention was
instantly arrested.

"We had some Russian neighbours," the newcomer was saying; "Prince and
Princess Jaroslav; and they had an English party at Christmas. It was
great fun. They used to take us out riding into the mountains, or into
Italy." She paused a moment, and then said carelessly--as though to keep
up the conversation--"There was a Mr. Falloden with them--an
undergraduate at Marmion College, I think. Do you know him, Aunt Ellen?"
She turned towards her aunt.

But Mrs. Hooper only looked blank. She was just thinking anxiously that
she had forgotten to take her tabloids after lunch, because Ewen had
hustled her off so much too soon to the station.

"I don't think we know him," she said vaguely, turning towards Alice.

"We know all about him. He was introduced to me once."

The tone of the eldest Miss Hooper could scarcely have been colder. The
eyes of the girl opposite suddenly sparkled into laughter.

"You didn't like him?"

"Nobody does. He gives himself such ridiculous airs."

"Does he?" said Constance. The information seemed to be of no interest
to her. She asked for another cup of tea.

"Oh, Falloden of Marmion?" said Dr. Hooper. "I know him quite well. One
of the best pupils I have. But I understand he's the heir to his old
uncle, Lord Dagnall, and is going to be enormously rich. His father's a
millionaire already. So of course he'll soon forget his Greek. A
horrid waste!"

"He's detested in college!" Alice's small face lit up vindictively.
"There's a whole set of them. Other people call them 'the bloods.' The
dons would like to send them all down."

"They won't send Falloden down, my dear, before he gets his First in
Greats, which he will do this summer. But this is his last term. I never
knew any one write better Greek iambics than that fellow," said the
Reader, pausing in the middle of his cup of tea to murmur certain Greek
lines to himself. They were part of the brilliant copy of verses by
which Douglas Falloden of Marmion, in a fiercely contested year, had
finally won the Ireland, Ewen Hooper being one of the examiners.

"That's what's so abominable," said Alice, setting her small mouth.
"You don't expect reading men to drink, and get into rows."

"Drink?" said Constance Bledlow, raising her eyebrows.

Alice went into details. The dons of Marmion, she said, were really
frightened by the spread of drinking in college, all caused by the bad
example of the Falloden set. She talked fast and angrily, and her cousin
listened, half scornfully, but still attentively.

"Why don't they keep him in order?" she said at last. "We did!" And she
made a little gesture with her hand, impatient and masterful, as though
dismissing the subject.

And at that moment Nora came into the room, flushed either with physical
exertion, or the consciousness of her own virtue. She found a place at
the tea-table, and panting a little demanded to be fed.

"It's hungry work, carrying up trunks!"

"You didn't!" exclaimed Constance, in large-eyed astonishment. "I say, I
am sorry! Why did you? I'm sure they were too heavy. Why didn't Annette
get a man?"

And sitting up, she bent across the table, all charm suddenly, and soft
distress.

"We did get one, but he was a wretched thing. I was worth two of him,"
said Nora triumphantly. "You should feel my biceps. There!"

And slipping up her loose sleeve, she showed an arm, at which Constance
Bledlow laughed. And her laugh touched her face with something
audacious--something wild--which transformed it.

"I shall take care how I offend you!"

Nora nodded over her tea.

"Your maid was shocked. She said I might as well have been a man."

"It's quite true," sighed Mrs. Hooper. "You always were such a tomboy,
Nora."

"Not at all! But I wish to develop my muscles. That's why I do Swedish
exercises every morning. It's ridiculous how flabby girls are. There
isn't a girl in my lecture I can't put down. If you like, I'll teach you
my exercises," said Nora, her mouth full of tea-cake, and her expression
half friendly, half patronising.

Connie Bledlow did not immediately reply. She seemed to be quietly
examining Nora, as she had already examined Alice, and that odd gleam in
the eyes under depths appeared again. But at last she said, smiling--

"Thank you. But my muscles are quite strong enough for the only exercise
I want. You said I might have a horse, Uncle Ewen, didn't you?" She
turned eagerly to the master of the house.

Dr. Hooper looked at his wife with some embarrassment. "I want you to
have anything you wish for--in reason--my dear Connie; but your aunt is
rather exercised about the proprieties."

The small dried-up woman behind the tea-urn said sharply:

"A girl can't ride alone in Oxford--she'd be talked about at once!"

Lady Connie flushed mutinously.

"I could take a groom, Aunt Ellen!"

"Well, I don't approve of it," said Mrs. Hooper, in the half plaintive
tone of one who must speak although no one listens. "But of course your
uncle must decide."

"We'll talk it over, my dear Connie, we'll talk it over," said Dr.
Hooper cheerfully. "Now wouldn't you like Nora to show you to
your room?"

The girls went upstairs together, Nora leading the way.

"It's an awful squash in your room," said Nora abruptly. "I don't know
how you'll manage."

"My fault, I suppose, for bringing so many things! But where else could
I put them?"

Nora nodded gravely, as though considering the excuse. The newcomer
suddenly felt herself criticised by this odd schoolgirl and resented it.

The door of the spare-room was open, and the girls entered upon a scene
of chaos. Annette rose from her knees, showing a brick-red countenance
of wrath that strove in vain for any sort of dignity. And again that
look of distant laughter came into Lady Connie's eyes.

"My dear Annette, why aren't you having a rest, as I told you! I can do
with anything to-night."

"Well, my lady, if you'll tell me how you'll get into bed, unless I put
some of these things away, I should be obliged!" said Annette, with a
dark look at Nora. "I've asked for a wardrobe for you, and this young
lady says there isn't one. There's that hanging cupboard"--she pointed
witheringly to the curtained recess--"your dresses will be ruined there
in a fortnight. And there's that chest of drawers. Your things will have
to stay in the trunks, as far as I can see, and then you might as well
sleep on them. It would give you more room!"

With which stroke of sarcasm, Annette returned to the angry unpacking of
her mistress's bag.

"I must buy a wardrobe," said Connie, looking round her in perplexity.
"Never mind, Annette, I can easily buy one."

It was now Nora's turn to colour.

"You mustn't do that," she said firmly. "Father wouldn't like it. We'll
find something. But do you want such a lot of things?"

She looked at the floor heaped with every variety of delicate mourning,
black dresses, thick and thin, for morning and afternoon; and black and
white, or pure white, for the evening. And what had happened to the bed?
It was already divested of the twilled cotton sheets and marcella quilt
which were all the Hoopers ever allowed either to themselves or their
guests. They had been replaced by sheets 'of the finest and smoothest
linen, embroidered with a crest and monogram in the corners, and by a
coverlet of old Italian lace lined with pale blue silk; while the down
pillows at the head with their embroidered and lace-trimmed slips
completed the transformation of what had been a bed, and was now almost
a work of art.

And the dressing-table! Nora went up to it in amazement. It too was
spread with lace lined with silk, and covered with a toilet-set of
mother-of-pearl and silver. Every brush and bottle was crested and
initialled. The humble looking-glass, which Nora, who was something of a
carpenter, had herself mended before her cousin's arrival, was standing
on the floor in a corner, and a folding mirror framed in embossed silver
had taken its place.

"I say, do you always travel with these things?" The girl stood
open-mouthed, half astonished, half contemptuous.

"What things?"

Nora pointed to the toilet-table and the bed.

Connie's expression showed an answering astonishment.

"I have had them all my life," she said stiffly. "We always took our own
linen to hotels, and made our rooms nice."

"I should think you'd be afraid of their being stolen!" Nora took up one
of the costly brushes, and examined it in wonder.

"Why should I be? They're nothing. They're just like other people's!"
With a slight but haughty change of manner, the girl turned away, and
began to talk Italian to her maid.

"I never saw anything like them!" said Nora stoutly.

Constance Bledlow took no notice. She and Annette were chattering fast,
and Nora could not understand a word. She stood by awkward and
superfluous, feeling certain that the maid who was gesticulating, now
towards the ceiling, and now towards the floor, was complaining both of
her own room and of the kitchen accommodation. Her mistress listened
carelessly, occasionally trying to soothe her, and in the middle of the
stream of talk, Nora slipped away.

"It's horrid!--spending all that money on yourself," thought the girl of
seventeen indignantly. "And in Oxford too!--as if anybody wanted such
things here."

       *       *       *       *       *

Meanwhile, she was no sooner gone than her cousin sank down on the
armchair, and broke into a slightly hysterical fit of laughter.

"Can we stand it, Annette? We've got to try. Of course you can leave me
if you choose."

"And I should like to know how you'd get on then!" said Annette,
grimly, beginning again upon the boxes.

"Well, of course, I shouldn't get on at all. But really we might give
away a lot of these clothes! I shall never want them."

The speaker looked frowning at the stacks of dresses and lingerie.
Annette made no reply; but went on busily with her unpacking. If the
clothes were to be got rid of, they were her perquisites. She was
devoted to Constance, but she stood on her rights.

Presently a little space was cleared on the floor, and Constance, seeing
that it was nearly seven o'clock, and the Hoopers supped at half past,
took off her black dress with its crape, and put on a white one, high to
the throat and long-sleeved; a French demi-toilette, plain, and even
severe in make, but cut by the best dressmaker in Nice. She looked
extraordinarily tall and slim in it and very foreign. Her maid clasped a
long string of opals, which was her only ornament, about her neck. She
gave one look at herself in the glass, holding herself proudly, one
might have said arrogantly. But as she turned away, and so that Annette
could not see her, she raised the opals, and held them a moment softly
to her lips. Her mother had habitually worn them. Then she moved to the
window, and looked out over the Hoopers' private garden, to the
spreading college lawns, and the grey front beyond.

"Am I really going to stay here a whole year--nearly?" she asked
herself, half laughing, half rebellious.

Then her eye fell upon a medley of photographs; snaps from her own
camera, which had tumbled out of her bag in unpacking. The topmost one
represented a group of young men and maidens standing under a group of
stone pines in a Riviera landscape. She herself was in front, with a
tall youth beside her. She bent down to look at it.

"I shall come across him I suppose--before long." And raising herself,
she stood awhile, thinking; her face alive with an excitement that was
half expectation, and half angry recollection.



CHAPTER II

"My dear Ellen, I beg you will not interfere any more with Connie's
riding. I have given leave, and that really must settle it. She tells me
that her father always allowed her to ride alone--with a groom--in
London and the Campagna; she will of course pay all the expenses of it
out of her own income, and I see no object whatever in thwarting her.
She is sure to find our life dull enough anyway, after the life she has
been living."

"I don't know why you should call Oxford dull, Ewen!" said Mrs. Hooper
resentfully. "I consider the society here much better than anything
Connie was likely to see on the Riviera--much more respectable anyway.
Well, of course, everybody will call her fast--but that's your affair. I
can see already she won't be easily restrained. She's got an uncommonly
strong will of her own."

"Well, don't try and restrain her, dear, too much," laughed her husband.
"After all she's twenty, she'll be twenty-one directly. She may not be
more than a twelvemonth with us. She need not be, as far as my functions
are concerned. Let's make friends with her and make her happy."

"I don't want my girls talked about, thank you, Ewen!" His wife gave an
angry dig to the word "my." "Everybody says what a nice ladylike girl
Alice is. But Nora often gives me a deal of trouble--and if she takes to
imitating Connie, and wanting to go about without a chaperon, I don't
know what I shall do. My dear Ewen, do you know what I discovered
last night?"

Mrs. Hooper rose and stood over her husband impressively.

"Well--what?"

"You remember Connie went to bed early. Well, when I came up, and passed
her door, I noticed something--somebody in that room was--smoking! I
could not be mistaken. And this morning I questioned the housemaid.
'Yes, ma'am,' she said, 'her ladyship smoked two cigarettes last night,
and Mrs. Tinkler'--that's the maid--'says she always smokes two before
she goes to bed.' Then I spoke to Tinkler--whose manner to me, I
consider, is not at all what it should be--and she said that Connie
smoked three cigarettes a day always--that Lady Risborough smoked--that
all the ladies in Rome smoked--that Connie began it before her mother
died--and her mother didn't mind--"

"Well then, my dear, you needn't mind," exclaimed Dr. Hooper.

"I always thought Ella Risborough went to pieces--rather--in that
dreadful foreign life," said Mrs. Hooper firmly. "Everybody does--you
can't help it."

"I don't know what you mean by going 'to pieces,'" said Ewen Hooper
warmly. "I only know that when they came here ten years ago, I thought
her one of the most attractive--one of the most charming women I had
ever seen."

From where he stood, on the hearth-rug of his study, smoking an
after-breakfast pipe, he looked down--frowning--upon his wife, and Mrs.
Hooper felt that she had perhaps gone too far. Never had she forgotten,
never had she ceased to resent her own sense of inferiority and
disadvantage, beside her brilliant sister-in-law on the occasion of that
long past visit. She could still see Ella Risborough at the All Souls'
luncheon given to the newly made D.C.Ls, sitting on the right of the
Vice-Chancellor, and holding a kind of court afterwards in the library;
a hat that was little more than a wreath of forget-me-nots on her dark
hair, and a long, lace cloak draping the still young and graceful
figure. She remembered vividly the soft, responsive eyes and smile, and
the court of male worshippers about them. Professors, tutors young and
old, undergraduates and heads of houses, had crowded round the mother
and the long-legged, distinguished-looking child, who clung so closely
to her side; and if only she could have given Oxford a few more days,
the whole place would have been at Ella Risborough's feet. "So
intelligent too!" said the enthusiastic--"so learned even!" A member of
the Roman "Accademia dei Lincei," with only one other woman to keep her
company in that august band; and yet so modest, so unpretending, so full
of laughter, and life, and sex! Mrs. Hooper, who generally found herself
at these official luncheons in a place which her small egotism resented,
had watched her sister-in-law from a distance, envying her dress, her
title, her wealth, bitterly angry that Ewen's sister should have a place
in the world that Ewen's wife could never hope to touch, and irrevocably
deciding that Ella Risborough was "fast" and gave herself airs. Nor did
the afternoon visit, when the Risboroughs, with great difficulty, had
made time for the family call on the Hoopers, supply any more agreeable
memories. Ella Risborough had been so rapturously glad to see her
brother, and in spite of a real effort to be friendly had had so little
attention to spare for his wife! It was true she had made much of the
Hooper children, and had brought them all presents from Italy. But Mrs.
Hooper had chosen to think the laughing sympathy and evident desire to
please "affectation," or patronage, and had been vexed in her silent
corner to see how little her own two girls could hold their own beside
Constance.

As for Lord Risborough, he had frankly found it difficult to remember
Mrs. Hooper's identity, while on the other hand he fell at once into
keen discussion of some recent finds in the Greek islands with Ewen
Hooper, to whom in the course of half an hour it was evident that he
took a warm liking. He put up his eye-glass to look at the Hooper
children; he said vaguely, "I hope that some day you and Mrs. Hooper
will descend upon us in Rome;" and then he hurried his wife away with
the audible remark--"We really must get to Blenheim, Ellie, in good
time. You promised the Duchess--"

So ill-bred--so snobbish--to talk of your great acquaintances in public!
And as for Lady Risborough's answer--"I don't care twopence about the
Duchess, Hugh! and I haven't seen Ewen for six years,"--it had been
merely humbug, for she had obediently followed her husband, all
the same.

Recollections of this kind went trickling through Mrs. Hooper's mind,
roused by Ewen's angry defence of his sister. It was all very well, but
now the long-legged child had grown up, and was going to put her--Ellen
Hooper's--daughters in the shade, to make them feel their inferiority,
just as the mother had done with herself. Of course the money was
welcome. Constance was to contribute three hundred a year, which was a
substantial addition to an income which, when all supplemental
earnings--exams, journalism, lectures--were counted, rarely reached
seven hundred. But they would be "led into expenses"--the maid was
evidently a most exacting woman; and meanwhile, Alice, who was just out,
and was really quite a pretty girl, would be entirely put in the
background by this young woman with her forward manner, and her title,
and the way she had as though the world belonged to her. Mrs. Hooper
felt no kinship with her whatever. She was Ewen's blood--not hers; and
the mother's jealous nature was all up in arms for her own
brood--especially for Alice. Nora could look after herself, and
invariably did. Besides Nora was so tiresome! She was always ready to
give the family case away--to give everything away, preposterously. And,
apropos, Mrs. Hooper expressed her annoyance with some silly notions
Nora had just expressed to her.

"I do hope, Ewen, you won't humour and spoil Constance too much! Nora
says now she's dissatisfied with her room and wants to buy some
furniture. Well, let her, I say. She has plenty of money, and we
haven't. We have given her a great deal more than we give our own
daughters--"

"She pays us, my dear!"

Mrs. Hooper straightened her thin shoulders.

"Well, and you give her the advantage of your name and your reputation
here. It is not as though you were a young don, a nobody. You've made
your position. Everybody asks us to all the official things--and Connie,
of course, will be asked, too."

A smile crept round Dr. Hooper's weak and pleasant mouth.

"Don't flatter yourself, Ellen, that Connie will find Oxford society
very amusing after Rome and the Riviera."

"That will be her misfortune," said Mrs. Hooper, stoutly. "Anyway, she
will have all the advantages we have. We take her with us, for instance,
to the Vice-Chancellor's to-night?"

"Do we?" Dr. Hooper groaned. "By the way, can't you let me off, Ellen?
I've got such a heap of work to do."

"Certainly not! People who shut themselves up never get on, Ewen. I've
just finished mending your gown, on purpose. How you tear it as you do,
I can't think! But I was speaking of Connie. We shall take her,
of course--"

"Have you asked her?"

"I told her we were all going--and to meet Lord Glaramara. She didn't
say anything."

Dr. Hooper laughed.

"You'll find her, I expect, a very independent young woman--"

But at that moment his daughter Nora, after a hurried and perfunctory
knock, opened the study door vehemently, and put in a flushed face.

"Father, I want to speak to you!"

"Come in, my dear child. But I can't spare more than five minutes."

And the Reader glanced despairingly at a clock, the hands of which were
pointing to half past ten a.m. How it was that, after an eight o'clock
breakfast, it always took so long for a man to settle himself to his
work he really could not explain. Not that his conscience did not
sometimes suggest the answer, pointing to a certain slackness and
softness in himself--the primal shrinking from work, the primal
instinct to sit and dream--that had every day to be met and conquered
afresh, before the student actually found himself in his chair, or
lecturing from his desk with all his brains alert. Anyway, the Reader,
when there was no college or university engagement to pin him down,
would stand often--"spilling the morning in recreation"; in other words,
gossiping with his wife and children, or loitering over the newspapers,
till the inner monitor turned upon him. Then he would work furiously for
hours; and the work when done was good. For there would be in it a kind
of passion, a warmth born of the very effort and friction of the will
which had been necessary to get it done at all.

Nora, however, had not come in to gossip. She was in a white heat.

"Father!--we ought not to let Connie furnish her own rooms!"

"But, my dear, who thinks of her doing any such thing? What do you
mean?" And Dr. Hooper took his pipe out of his mouth, and stood
protesting.

"She's gone out, she and Annette. They slipped out just now when mother
came in to you; and I'm certain they've gone to B's"--the excited girl
named a well-known Oxford furniture shop--"to buy all sorts of things."

"Well, after all, it's my house!" said the Reader, smiling. "Connie will
have to ask my leave first."

"Oh, she'll persuade you!" cried Nora, standing before her father with
her hands behind her. "She'll make us all do what she wants. She'll be
like a cuckoo in the nest. She'll be too strong for us."

Ewen Hooper put out a soothing hand, and patted his youngest daughter
on the shoulder.

"Wait a bit, my dear. And when Connie comes back just ask her to step in
here a moment. And now will you both please be gone--at once?--quick
once?--quick march!"

And taking his wife and daughter by the shoulders, he turned them both
forcibly out, and sat down to make his final preparations for a lecture
that afternoon on the "feminism" of Euripides.

       *       *       *       *       *

Meanwhile Connie Bledlow and her maid were walking quickly down the
Broad towards the busy Cornmarket with its shops. It was a brilliant
morning--one of those east wind days when all clouds are swept from the
air, and every colour of the spring burns and flashes in the sun. Every
outline was clear; every new-leafed tree stood radiant in the bright
air. The grey or black college walls had lost all the grimness of
winter, they were there merely to bring out the blue of the sky, the
yellow gold, the laburnum, the tossing white of the chestnuts. The
figures, even, passing in the streets, seemed to glitter with the trees
and the buildings. The white in the women's dresses; the short black
gowns and square caps of the undergraduates; the gay colours in the
children's frocks; the overhanging masses of hawthorn and lilac that
here and there thrust themselves, effervescent and rebellious, through
and over college walls:--everything shimmered and shone in the May
sunlight. The air too was tonic and gay, a rare thing for Oxford; and
Connie, refreshed by sleep, walked with such a buoyant and swinging step
that her stout maid could hardly keep up with her. Many a passer-by
observed her. Men on their way to lecture, with battered caps and gowns
slung round their necks, threw sharp glances at the tall girl in black,
with the small pale face, so delicately alive, and the dark eyes that
laughed--aloof and unabashed--at all they saw.

"What boys they are!" said Constance presently, making a contemptuous
lip. "They ought to be still in the nursery."

"What--the young men in the caps, my lady?"

"Those are the undergraduates, Annette--the boys who live in the
colleges."

"They don't stare like the Italian young gentlemen," said Annette,
shrugging her shoulders. "Many a time I wanted to box their ears for the
way they looked at you in the street."

Connie laughed. "I liked it! They were better-looking than these boys.
Annette, do you remember that day two years ago when I took you to that
riding competition--what did they call it?--that gymkhana--in the Villa
Borghese--and we saw all those young officers and their horses? What
glorious fellows they were, most of them! and how they rode!"

Her cheek flushed to the recollection. For a moment the Oxford street
passed out of sight. She saw the grassy slopes, the stone pines, the
white walls, the classic stadium of the Villa Borghese, with the hot
June sun stabbing the open spaces, and the deep shadows under the
ilexes; and in front of the picture, the crowd of jostling horses, with
their riders, bearing the historic names of Rome--Colonnas, Orsinis,
Gaetanis, Odescalchis, and the rest. A young and splendid brood, all
arrogant life and gaiety, as high-mettled as their English and Irish
horses. And in front a tall, long-limbed cavalry officer in the Queen's
household, bowing to Constance Bledlow, as he comes back, breathless and
radiant from the race he has just won, his hand tight upon the reins,
his athlete's body swaying to each motion of his horse, his black eyes
laughing into hers. Why, she had imagined herself in love with him for a
whole week!

Then, suddenly, she perceived that in her absence of mind she was
running straight into a trio of undergraduates who were hurriedly
stepping off the path to avoid her. They looked at her, and she at them.
They seemed to her all undersized, plain and sallow. They carried books,
and two wore glasses. "Those are what _he_ used to call 'smugs'!" she
thought contemptuously, her imagination still full of the laughing
Italian youths on their glistening horses. And, she began to make
disparaging remarks about English young men to Annette. If this
intermittent stream of youths represented them, the English _gioventù_
was not much to boast of.

Next a furniture shop appeared, with wide windows, and a tempting array
of wares, and in they went. Constance had soon bought a wardrobe and a
cheval-glass for herself, an armchair, a carpet, and a smaller wardrobe
for Annette, and seeing a few trifles, like a French screen, a small
sofa, and an inlaid writing-table in her path, she threw them in. Then
it occurred to her that Uncle Ewen might have something to say to these
transactions, and she hastily told the shopman not to send the things to
Medburn House till she gave the order.

Out they went, this time into the crowded Cornmarket, where there were
no colleges, and where the town that was famous long before the
University began, seemed to be living its own vigorous life,
untrammelled by the men in gowns. Only in seeming, however, for in truth
every single shop in the street depended upon the University.

They walked on into the town, looking into various colleges, sitting in
Broad Walk, and loitering over shops, till one o'clock struck from
Oxford's many towers.

"Heavens!" said Constance--"and lunch is at 1.15!"

They turned and walked rapidly along the "Corn," which was once more
full of men hurrying back to their own colleges from the lecture rooms
of Balliol and St. John's. Now, it seemed to Constance that the men they
passed were of a finer race. She noticed plenty of tall fellows, with
broad shoulders, and the look of keen-bitten health.

"Look at that pair coming!" she said to Annette. "That's better!"

The next moment, she stopped, confused, eyes wide, lips parted. For the
taller of the two had taken off his cap, and stood towering and smiling
in her path. A young man, of about six foot three, magnificently made,
thin with the leanness of an athlete in training,--health, power,
self-confidence, breathing from his joyous looks and movements--was
surveying her. His lifted cap showed a fine head covered with thick
brown curls. The face was long, yet not narrow; the cheek-bones rather
high, the chin conspicuous. The eyes--very dark and heavily lidded--were
set forward under strongly marked eyebrows; and both they, the straight
nose with its close nostrils, and the red mouth, seemed to be drawn in
firm yet subtle strokes on the sunburnt skin, as certain Dutch and
Italian painters define the features of their sitters in a containing
outline as delicate as it is unfaltering. The aspect of this striking
person was that of a young king of men, careless, audacious,
good-humoured; and Constance Bledlow's expression, as she held out her
hand to him, betrayed, much against her will, that she was not
indifferent to the sight of him.

"Well met, indeed!" said the young man, the gaiety in his look, a gaiety
full of meaning, measuring itself against the momentary confusion in
hers. "I have been hoping to hear of you--for a long time!--Lady
Constance. Are you with the--the Hoopers--is it?"

"I am staying with my uncle and aunt. I only arrived yesterday." The
girl's manner had become, in a few seconds, little less than repellent.

"Well, Oxford's lively. You'll find lots going on. The Eights begin the
day after to-morrow, and I've got my people coming up. I hope you'll let
Mrs. Hooper bring you to tea to meet them? Oh, by the way, do you know
Meyrick? I think you must have met him." He turned to his companion, a
fair-haired giant, evidently his junior. "Lord Meyrick--Lady Constance
Bledlow. Will you come, Lady Connie?"

"I don't know what my aunt's engagements are," said Constance stiffly.

The trio had withdrawn into the shade of a wide doorway belonging to an
old Oxford inn. Annette was looking at the windows of the milliner's
shop next door.

"My mother shall do everything that is polite--everything in the world!
And when may I come to call? You have no faith in my manners, I know!"
laughed the young man. "How you did sit upon me at Cannes!" And again
his brilliant eyes, fixed upon her, seemed to be saying all sorts of
unspoken things.

"How has he been behaving lately?" said Constance drily, turning to Lord
Meyrick, who stood grinning.

"Just as usual! He's generally mad. Don't depend on him for anything.
But I hope you'll let me do anything I can for you! I should be only
too happy."

The girl perceived the eager admiration with which the young fellow was
regarding her, and her face relaxed.

"Thank you very much. Of course I know all about Mr. Falloden! At
Cannes, we made a league to keep him in order."

Falloden protested vehemently that he had been a persecuted victim at
Cannes; the butt of Lady Connie and all her friends.

Constance, however, cut the speech short by a careless nod and good-bye,
beckoned to Annette and was moving away, when he placed himself
before her.

"But I hope we shall meet this very night--shan't we?--at the
Vice-Chancellor's party?"

"I don't know."

"Oh, but of course you will be there! The Hoopers are quite sure to
bring you. It's at St. Hubert's. Some old swell is coming down. The
gardens are terribly romantic--and there'll be a moon. One can get away
from all the stuffy people. Do come!"

He gave her a daring look.

"Good-bye," said Constance again, with a slight decided gesture, which
made him move out of her way.

In a few moments, she and her maid were lost to sight on the crowded
pavement.

Falloden threw back his head and laughed, as he and Lord Meyrick pursued
the opposite direction. But he said nothing. Meyrick, his junior by two
years, who was now his most intimate friend in the Varsity, ventured at
last on the remark--

"Very good-looking! But she was certainly not very civil to you, Duggy!"

Falloden flushed hotly.

"You think she dislikes me? I'll bet you anything you please she'll be
at the party to-night."

       *       *       *       *       *

Constance and her maid hurried home along the Broad. The girl perceived
little or nothing on the way; but her face was crossed by a multitude of
expressions, which meant a very active brain. Perhaps sarcasm or scorn
prevailed, yet mingled sometimes with distress or perplexity.

The sight of the low gabled front of Medburn. House recalled her
thoughts. She remembered her purchases and Nora's disapproving eyes. It
would be better to go and beard her uncle at once. But just as she
approached the house, she became aware of a slenderly built man in
flannels coming out of the gates of St. Cyprian's, the college of which
the gate and outer court stood next door to the Hoopers.

He saw her, stopped with a start of pleasure, and came eagerly towards
her.

"Lady Constance! Where have you sprung from? Oh, I know--you are with
the Hoopers! Have you been here long?"

They shook hands, and Constance obediently answered the newcomer's
questions. She seemed indeed to like answering them, and nothing could
have been more courteous and kind than his manner of asking them. He was
clearly a senior man, a don, who, after a strenuous morning of
lecturing, was hurrying--in the festal Eights week--to meet some friends
on the river. His face was one of singular charm, the features regular,
the skin a pale olive, the hair and eyes intensely black. Whereas
Falloden's features seemed to lie, so to speak, on the surface, the
mouth and eyes scarcely disturbing the general level of the face
mask--no indentation in the chin, and no perceptible hollow tinder the
brow,--this man's eyes were deeply sunk, and every outline of the
face--cheeks, chin and temples--chiselled and fined away into an almost
classical perfection. The man's aspect indeed was Greek, and ought only
to have expressed the Greek blitheness, the Greek joy in life. But, in
truth, it was a very modern and complex soul that breathed from both
face and form.

Constance had addressed him as "Mr. Sorell." He turned to walk with her
to her door, talking eagerly. He was asking her about various friends in
whose company they had last met--apparently at Rome; and he made various
references to "your mother," which Constance accepted gently, as though
they pleased her.

They paused at the Hoopers' door.

"But when can I see you?" he asked. "Has Mrs. Hooper a day at home? Will
you come to lunch with me soon? I should like to show you my rooms. I
have some of those nice things we bought at Syracuse--your father and
I--do you remember? And I have a jolly look out over the garden. When
will you come?"

"When you like. But chaperons seem to be necessary!"

"Oh, I can provide one--any number! Some of the wives of our married
fellows are great friends of mine. I should like you to know them. But
wouldn't Mrs. Hooper bring you?"

"Will you write to her?"

He looked a little confused.

"Of course I know your uncle very well. He and I work together in many
things. May I come and call?"

"Of course you may!" She laughed again, with that wilful sound in the
laugh which he remembered. He wondered how she was going to get on at
the Hoopers. Mrs. Hooper's idiosyncrasies were very generally known. He
himself had always given both Mrs. Hooper and her eldest daughter a wide
berth in the social gatherings of Oxford. He frankly thought Mrs. Hooper
odious, and had long since classed Miss Alice as a stupid little thing
with a mild talent for flirtation.

Then, as he held out his hand to say good-bye, he suddenly remembered
the Vice-Chancellor's party.

"By the way, there's a big function to-night. You're going, of course?
Oh, yes--make them take you! I hadn't meant to go--but now I shall--on
the chance!"

He grasped her hand, holding it a little. Then he was gone, and the
Hoopers' front door swung suddenly wide, opened by some one invisible.

Connie, a little flushed and excited, stepped into the hall, and there
perceived Mrs. Hooper behind the door.

"You are rather late, Constance," said that lady coldly. "But, of
course, it doesn't matter. The servants are at their dinner still, so I
opened the door. So you know Mr. Sorell?"

From which Constance perceived that her aunt had observed her approach
to the house, in Mr. Sorell's company, through the little side window of
the hall. She straightened her shoulders impatiently.

"My father and mother knew him in Rome, Aunt Ellen. He used to come to
our apartment. Is Uncle Ewen in the study? I want to speak to him."

She knocked and went in. Standing with her back to the door she said
abruptly--

"I hope you won't mind, Uncle Ewen, but I've been buying a few things we
want, for my room and Annette's. When I go, of course they can be turned
out. But may I tell the shop now to send them in?"

The Reader turned in some embarrassment, his spectacles on his nose.

"My dear girl, anything to make you comfortable! But I wish you had
consulted me. Of course, we would have got anything you really wanted."

"Oh, that would have been dreadfully unfair!" laughed Constance. "It's
my fault, you see. I've got far too many dresses. One seemed not to be
able to do without them at Cannes."

"Well, you won't want so many here," said Dr. Ewen cheerfully, as he
rose from his table crowded with books. "We're all pretty simple at
Oxford. We ought to be of course--even our guests. It's a place of
training." He dropped a Greek word absently, putting away his papers the
while, and thinking of the subject with which he had just been busy.
Constance opened the door again to make her escape, but the sound
recalled Dr. Ewen's thoughts.

"My dear--has your aunt asked you? We hope you'll come with us to the
Vice-Chancellor's party to-night. I think it would interest you. After
all, Oxford's not like other places. I think you said last night you
knew some undergraduates--"

"I know Mr. Falloden of Marmion," said Constance, "and Mr. Sorell."

The Reader's countenance broke into smiles.

"Sorell? The dearest fellow in the world! He and I help each other a
good deal, though of course we differ--and fight--sometimes. But that's
the salt of life. Yes, I remember, your mother used to mention Sorell in
her letters. Well, with those two and ourselves, you'll have plenty of
starting-points. Ah, luncheon!" For the bell rang, and sent Constance
hurrying upstairs to take off her things.

As she washed her hands, her thoughts were very busy with the incidents
of her morning's walk. The colours had suddenly freshened in the Oxford
world. No doubt she had expected them to freshen; but hardly so soon. A
tide of life welled up in her--a tide of pleasure. And as she stood a
moment beside the open window of her room before going down, looking at
the old Oxford garden just beneath her, and the stately college front
beyond, Oxford itself began to capture her, touching her magically,
insensibly, as it had touched the countless generations before her. She
was the child of two scholars, and she had been brought up in a society
both learned and cosmopolitan, traversed by all the main currents and
personalities of European politics, but passionate all the same for the
latest find in the Forum, the newest guesses in criticism, for any fresh
light that the present could shed upon the past. And when she looked
back upon the moments of those Roman years which had made the sharpest
mark upon her, she saw three figures stand out--her gracious and
graceful mother; her father, student and aristocrat, so eagerly occupied
with life that he had scarcely found the time to die; and Mr. Sorell,
her mother's friend, and then her own. Together--all four--they had gone
to visit the Etruscan tombs about Viterbo, they had explored Norba and
Ninfa, and had spent a marvellous month at Syracuse.

"And I have never seen him since papa's death!--and I have only heard
from him twice. I wonder why?" She pondered it resentfully. And yet what
cause of offence had she? At Cannes, had she thought much about him? In
that scene, so troubled and feverish, compared with the old Roman days,
there had been for her, as she well knew, quite another
dominating figure.

"Just the same!" she thought angrily. "Just as domineering--and
provoking. Boggling about Uncle Ewen's name, as if it was not worth his
remembering! I shall compel him to be civil to my relations, just
because it will annoy him so much."

At lunch Constance declared prettily that she would be delighted to go
to the Vice-Chancellor's party. Nora sat silent through the meal.

After lunch, Connie went to talk to her aunt about the incoming
furniture. Mrs. Hooper made no difficulties at all. The house had long
wanted these additions, only there had been no money to buy them with.
Now Mrs. Hooper felt secretly certain that Constance, when she left
them, would not want to take the things with her, so that she looked on
Connie's purchases of the morning as her own prospective property.

A furniture van appeared early in the afternoon with the things. Nora
hovered about the hall, severely dumb, while they were being carried
upstairs. Annette gave all the directions.

But when later on Connie was sitting at her new writing-table
contemplating her transformed room with a childish satisfaction, Nora
knocked and came in.

She walked up to Connie, and stood looking down upon her. She was very
red, and her eyes sparkled.

"I want to tell you that I am disappointed in you--dreadfully
disappointed in you!" said the girl fiercely.

"What do you mean!" Constance rose in amazement.

"Why didn't you insist on my father's buying these things? You ought to
have insisted. You pay us a large sum, and you had a right. Instead, you
have humiliated us--because you are rich, and we are poor! It was
mean--and purse-proud."

"How dare you say such things?" cried Connie. "You mustn't come into my
room at all, if you are going to behave like this. You know very well I
didn't do it unkindly. It is you who are unkind! But of course it
doesn't matter. You don't understand. You are only a child!" Her
voice shook.

"I am not a child!" said Nora indignantly. "And I believe I know a great
deal more about money than you do--because you have never been poor. I
have to keep all the accounts here, and make mother and Alice pay their
debts. Father, of course, is always too busy to think of such things.
Your money is dreadfully useful to us. I wish it wasn't. But I wanted to
do what was honest--if you had only given me time. Then you slipped out
and did it!"

Constance stared in bewilderment.

"Are you the mistress in this house?" she said.

Nora nodded. Her colour had all faded away, and her breath was coming
quick. "I practically am," she said stoutly.

"At seventeen?" asked Connie, ironically.

Nora nodded again.

Connie turned away, and walked to the window. She was enraged with Nora,
whose attack upon her seemed quite inexplicable and incredible. Then,
all in a moment, a bitter forlornness overcame her. Nora, standing by
the table, and already pierced with remorse, saw her cousin's large eyes
fill with tears. Connie sat down with her face averted. But
Nora--trembling all over--perceived that she was crying. The next
moment, the newcomer found Nora kneeling beside her, in the depths of
humiliation and repentance.

"I am a beast!--a horrid beast! I always am. Oh, please, please don't
cry!"

"You forget"--said Connie, with difficulty--"how I--how I miss my
mother!"

And she broke into a fit of weeping. Nora, beside herself with
self-disgust, held her cousin embraced, and tried to comfort her. And
presently, after an agitated half-hour, each girl seemed to herself to
have found a friend. Reserve had broken; they had poured out confidences
to each other; and after the thunder and the shower came the rainbow
of peace.

Before Nora departed, she looked respectfully at the beautiful dress of
white satin, draped with black, which Annette had laid out upon the bed
in readiness for the Vice-Chancellor's party.

"It will suit you perfectly!" she said, still eager to make up.
Then--eyeing Constance--

"You know, of course, that you are good-looking?"

"I am not hideous--I know that," said Constance, laughing. "You odd
girl!"

"We have heard often how you were admired in Rome. I wonder--don't be
offended!"--said Nora, bluntly--"have you ever been in love?"

"Never!" The reply was passionately prompt.

Nora looked thoughtful.

"Perhaps you don't know whether you were or not. Girls get so dreadfully
mixed up. But I am sure people--men--have been in love with you."

"Well, of course!" said Connie, with the same emphatic gaiety.

Nora opened her eyes.

"'Of course?' But I know heaps of girls with whom nobody has ever been
in love!"

As soon as she was alone, Connie locked her door, and walked restlessly
up and down her room, till by sheer movement she had tamed a certain
wild spirit within her let loose by Nora's question. And as she walked,
the grey Oxford walls, the Oxford lilacs and laburnums, vanished from
perception. She was in another scene. Hot sun--gleaming orange-gardens
and blue sea--bare-footed, black-eyed children--and a man beside
her, on whom she has been showering epithets that would have
shamed--surely!--any other human being in the world. Tears of excitement
are in her eyes; in his a laughing triumph mixed with astonishment.

"But, now--" she thinks, drawing herself up, erect and tense, her hands
behind her head; "now, I am ready for him. Let him try such ways
again--if he dare!"



CHAPTER III

The party given at St. Hubert's on this evening in the Eights week was
given in honour of a famous guest--the Lord Chancellor of the day, one
of the strongest members of a strong Government, of whom St. Hubert's,
which had nurtured him through his four academic years, was quite
inordinately proud. It was very seldom that their great nursling was
able or willing to revisit the old nest. But the head of the college,
who had been in the same class-list and rowed in the same boat with the
politician, was now Vice-Chancellor of the University; and the greater
luminary had come to shine upon the lesser, by way of heightening the
dignity of both. For the man who has outsoared his fellows likes to
remind himself by contrast of his callow days, before the hungry and
fighting impulses had driven him down--a young eaglet--upon the
sheepfolds of law and politics; while to the majority of mankind, even
to-day, hero-worship, when it is not too exacting, is agreeable.

So all Oxford had been bidden. The great hall of St. Hubert's, with its
stately portraits and its emblazoned roof, had been adorned with flowers
and royally lit up. From the hills round Oxford the "line of festal
light" made by its Tudor windows, in which gleamed the escutcheons of
three centuries, could have been plainly seen. The High Street was full
of carriages, and on the immaculate grass of the great quadrangle,
groups of the guests, the men in academic costume, the women in the
airiest and gayest of summer dresses, stood to watch the arrivals. The
evening was clear and balmy; moonrise and dying day disputed the sky;
and against its pale blue still scratched over with pale pink shreds and
wisps of cloud, the grey college walls, battlemented and flecked with
black, rose warmed and transfigured by that infused and golden summer in
which all, Oxford lay bathed. Through open gateways there were visions
of green gardens, girdled with lilacs and chestnuts; and above the
quadrangle towered the crocketed spire of St. Mary's, ethereally
wrought, it seemed, in ebony and silver, the broad May moon behind it.
Within the hall, the guests were gathering fast. The dais of the high
table was lit by the famous candelabra bequeathed to the college under
Queen Anne; a piano stood ready, and a space had been left for the
college choir who were to entertain the party. In front of the dais in
academic dress stood the Vice-Chancellor, a thin, silver-haired man,
with a determined mouth, such as befitted the champion of a hundred
orthodoxies; and beside him his widowed sister, a nervous and rather
featureless lady who was helping him to receive. The guest of the
evening had not yet appeared.

Mr. Sorell, in a master's gown, stood talking with a man, also in a
master's gown, but much older than himself, a man with a singular
head--both flat and wide--scanty reddish hair, touched with grey, a
massive forehead, pale blue eyes, and a long pointed chin. Among the
bright colours of so many of the gowns around him--the yellow and red of
the doctors of law, the red and black of the divines, the red and white
of the musicians--this man's plain black was conspicuous. Every one who
knew Oxford knew why this eminent scholar and theologian had never
become a doctor of divinity. The University imposes one of her few
remaining tests on her D.D's; Mr. Wenlock, Master of Beaumont, had never
been willing to satisfy it, so he remained undoctored. When he preached
the University sermon he preached in the black gown; while every
ambitious cleric who could put a thesis together could flaunt his red
and black in the Vice-Chancellor's procession on Sundays in the
University church. The face was one of mingled irony and melancholy, and
there came from it sometimes the strangest cackling laugh.

"Well, you must show me this phoenix," he was saying in a nasal voice to
Sorell, who had been talking eagerly. "Young women of the right sort are
rare just now."

"What do you call the right sort, Master?"

"Oh, my judgment doesn't count. I only ask to be entertained."

"Well, talk to her of Rome, and see if you are not pleased."

The Master shrugged his shoulders.

"They can all do it--the clever sort. They know too much about the
Forum. They make me wish sometimes that Lanciani had never been born."

Sorell laughed.

"This girl is not a pedant."

"I take your word. And of course I remember her father. No pedantry
there. And all the scholarship that could be possibly expected from an
earl. Ah, is this she?"

For in the now crowded hall, filled with the chatter of many voices, a
group was making its way from the doorway, on one member of which many
curious eyes had been already turned. In front came Mrs. Hooper,
spectacled, her small nose in air, the corners of her mouth sharply
drawn down. Then Dr. Ewen, grey-haired, tall and stooping; then Alice,
pretty, self-conscious, provincial, and spoilt by what seemed an
inherited poke; and finally a slim and stately young person in white
satin, who carried her head and her long throat with a remarkable
freedom and self-confidence. The head was finely shaped, and the eyes
brilliant; but in the rest of the face the features were so delicate,
the mouth, especially, so small and subtle, as to give a first
impression of insignificance. The girl seemed all eyes and neck, and the
coils of brown hair wreathed round the head were disproportionately rich
and heavy. The Master observing her said to himself--"No beauty!" Then
she smiled--at Sorell apparently, who was making his way towards
her--and the onlooker hurriedly suspended judgment. He noticed also that
no one who looked at her could help looking again; and that the nervous
expression natural to a young girl, who realises that she is admired but
that policy and manners forbid her to show any pleasure in the fact, was
entirely absent.

"She is so used to all her advantages that she forgets them," thought
the Master, adding with an inward smile--"but if we forgot them--perhaps
that would be another matter! Yes--she is like her mother--but taller."

For on that day ten years earlier, when Ella Risborough had taken Oxford
by storm, she and Lord Risborough had found time to look in on the
Master for twenty minutes, he and Lord Risborough having been frequent
correspondents on matters of scholarship for some years. And Lady
Risborough had chattered and smiled her way through the Master's lonely
house--he had only just been appointed head of his college and was then
unmarried--leaving a deep impression.

"I must make friends with her," he thought, following Ella Risborough's
daughter with his eyes. "There are some gaps to fill up."

He meant in the circle of his girl protégées. For the Master had a
curious history, well known in Oxford. He had married a cousin of his
own, much younger than himself; and after five years they had separated,
for reasons undeclared. She was now dead, and in his troubled blue eyes
there were buried secrets no one would ever know. But under what
appeared to a stranger to be a harsh, pedantic exterior the Master
carried a very soft heart and an invincible liking for the society of
young women. Oxford about this time was steadily filling with girl
students, who were then a new feature in its life. The Master was a kind
of queer patron saint among them, and to a chosen three or four, an
intimate mentor and lasting friend. His sixty odd years, and the streaks
of grey in his red straggling locks, his European reputation as a
scholar and thinker, his old sister, and his quiet house, forbade the
slightest breath of scandal in connection with these girl-friendships.
Yet the girls to whom the Master devoted himself, whose essays he read,
whose blunders he corrected, whose schools he watched over, and in whose
subsequent love affairs he took the liveliest interest, were rarely or
never plain to look upon. He chose them for their wits, but also for
their faces. His men friends observed it with amusement. The little
notes he wrote them, the birthday presents he sent them--generally some
small worn copy of a French or Latin classic--his coveted invitations,
or congratulations, were all marked by a note of gallantry, stately and
old-fashioned like the furniture of his drawing-room, but quite
different from anything he ever bestowed upon the men students of
his college.

Of late he had lost two of his chief favourites. One, a delicious
creature, with a head of auburn hair and a real talent for writing
verse, had left Oxford suddenly to make a marriage so foolish that he
really could not forgive her or put up with her intolerable husband; and
the other, a muse, with the brow of one and the slenderest hand and
foot, whom he and others were hopefully piloting towards a second class
at least--possibly a first--in the Honour Classical School, had broken
down in health, so that her mother and a fussy doctor had hurried
her away to a rest-cure in Switzerland, and thereby slit her
academic life and all her chances of fame. Both had been used to
come--independently--for the Master was in his own, way far too great a
social epicure to mix his pleasures--to tea on Sundays; to sit on one
side of a blazing fire, while the Master sat on the other, a Persian cat
playing chaperon on the rug between, and the book-lined walls of the
Master's most particular sanctum looking down upon them; while in the
drawing-room beyond, Miss Wenlock, at the tea-table, sat patiently
waiting till her domestic god should declare the seance over, allow her
to make tea, and bring in the young and honoured guest. And now both
charmers had vanished from the scene and had left no equals behind. The
Master, who possessed the same sort of tact in training young women
that Lord Melbourne showed in educating the girl-Queen, was left
without his most engaging occupation.

Ah!--that good fellow, Sorell, was bringing her up to him.

"Master, Lady Constance would like to be introduced to you."

The Master was immensely flattered. Why should she wish to be introduced
to such an old fogey? But there she was, smiling at him.

"You knew my father. I am sure you did!"

His elderly heart was touched, his taste captured at once. Sorell had
engineered it all perfectly. His description of the girl had fired the
Master; and his sketch of the Master in the girl's ear, as a kind of
girlhood's arbiter, had amused and piqued her. "Yes, do introduce me!
Will he ever ask me to tea? I should be so alarmed!"

It was all settled in a few minutes. Sunday was to see her introduction
to the Master's inner circle, which met in summer, not between books and
a blazing fire, but in the small college garden hidden amid the walls of
Beaumont. Sorell was to bring her. The Master did not even go through
the form of inviting either Mrs. Hooper or Miss Hooper. In all such
matters he was a chartered libertine and did what he pleased.

Then he watched her in what seemed something of a triumphal progress
through the crowded hall. He saw the looks of the girl students from the
newly-organised women's colleges--as she passed--a little askance and
chill; he watched a Scotch metaphysical professor, with a fiery face set
in a mass of flaming hair and beard, which had won him the nickname from
his philosophical pupils of "the devil in a mist," forcing an
introduction to her; he saw the Vice-Chancellor graciously unbending,
and man after man come up among the younger dons to ask Sorell to
present them. She received it all with a smiling and nonchalant grace,
perfectly at her ease, it seemed, and ready to say the right thing to
young and old. "It's the training they get--the young women of her
sort--that does it," thought the Master. "They are in society from their
babyhood. Our poor, battered aristocracy--the Radicals have kicked away
all its natural supports, and left it _dans l'air_; but it can still
teach manners and the art to please. The undergraduates, however, seem
shy of her."

For although among the groups of men, who stood huddled together mostly
at the back of the room, many eyes were turned upon the newcomer, no one
among them approached her. She held her court among the seniors, as no
doubt, thought the Master, she had been accustomed to do from the days
of her short frocks. He envisaged the apartment in the Palazzo Barberini
whereof the fame had often reached Oxford, for the Risboroughs held open
house there for the English scholar and professor on his travels. He
himself had not been in Rome for fifteen years, and had never made the
Risboroughs' acquaintance in Italy. But the kind of society which
gathers round the English peer of old family who takes an apartment in
Rome or Florence for the winter was quite familiar to him--the
travelling English men and women of the same class, diplomats of all
nations, high ecclesiastics, a cardinal or two, the heads of the great
artistic or archæological schools, Americans, generals, senators,
deputies--with just a sprinkling of young men. A girl of this girl's
age and rank would have many opportunities, of course, of meeting young
men, in the free and fascinating life of the Roman spring, but primarily
her business in her mother's salon would have been to help her mother,
to make herself agreeable to the older men, and to gather her
education--in art, literature, and politics--as a coming woman of the
world from their talk. The Master could see her smiling on a monsignore,
carrying tea to a cardinal, or listening to the Garibaldian tales of
some old veteran of the Risorgimento.

"It is an education--of its own kind," he thought. "Is it worth more or
less than other kinds?"

And he looked round paternally on some of the young girl students then
just penetrating Oxford; fresh, pleasant faces--little positive
beauty--and on many the stamp, already prematurely visible, of the
anxieties of life for those who must earn a livelihood. Not much taste
in dress, which was often clumsy and unbecoming; hair, either untidy, or
treated as an enemy, scraped back, held in, the sole object being to
take as little time over it as possible; and, in general, the note upon
them all of an educated and thrifty middle-class. His feelings, his
sympathies, were all with them. But the old gallant in him was stirred
by the tall figure in white satin, winding its graceful way through the
room and conquering as it went.

"Ah--now that fellow, Herbert Pryce, has got hold of her, of course! If
ever there was a climber!--But what does Miss Hooper say?"

And retreating to a safe corner the Master watched with amusement the
flattering eagerness with which Mr. Pryce, who was a fellow of his own
college, was laying siege to the newcomer. Pryce was rapidly making a
great name for himself as a mathematician. "And is a second-rate fellow,
all the same," thought the Master, contemptuously, being like Uncle Ewen
a classic of the classics. But the face of little Alice Hooper, which he
caught from time to time, watching--with a strained and furtive
attention--the conversation between Pryce and her cousin, was really a
tragedy; at least a tragi-comedy. Some girls are born to be supplanted!

But who was it Sorell was, introducing to her now?--to the evident
annoyance of Mr. Pryce, who must needs vacate the field. A striking
figure of a youth! Golden hair, of a wonderful ruddy shade, and a clear
pale face; powerfully though clumsily made; and with a shy and sensitive
expression.

The Master turned to enquire of a Christ Church don who had come up to
speak to him.

"Who is that young man with a halo like the 'Blessed Damosel'?"

"Talking to Lady Constance Bledlow? Oh, don't you know? He is Sorell's
protégé, Radowitz, a young musician--and poet!--so they say. Sorell
discovered him in Paris, made great friends with him, and then persuaded
him to come and take the Oxford musical degree. He is at Marmion, where
the dons watch over him. But they say he has been abominably ragged by
the rowdy set in college--led by that man Falloden. Do you know him?"

"The fellow who got the Ireland last year?"

The other nodded.

"As clever and as objectionable as they make 'em! Ah, here comes our
great man!"

For amid a general stir, the Lord Chancellor had made his entrance, and
was distributing greetings, as he passed up the hall, to his academic
contemporaries and friends. He was a tall, burly man, with a strong
black head and black eyes under bushy brows, combined with an infantile
mouth and chin, long and happily caricatured in all the comic papers.
But in his D.C.L. gown he made a very fine appearance; assembled Oxford
was proud of him as one of the most successful of her sons; and his
progress toward the dais was almost royal.

Suddenly, his voice--a famous _voix d'or_, well known in the courts and
in Parliament--was heard above the general buzz. It spoke in
astonishment and delight.

"Lady Constance! where on earth have you sprung from? Well, this is a
pleasure!"

And Oxford looked on amused while its distinguished guest shook a young
lady in white by both hands, asking eagerly a score of questions, which
he would hardly allow her to answer. The young lady too was evidently
pleased by the meeting; her face had flushed and lit up; and the
bystanders for the first time thought her not only graceful and
picturesque, but positively handsome.

"Ewen!" said Mrs. Hooper angrily in her husband's ear, "why didn't
Connie tell us she knew Lord Glaramara! She let me talk about him to
her--and never said a word!--a single word!"

Ewen Hooper shrugged his shoulders.

"I'm sure I don't know, my dear."

Mrs. Hooper turned to her daughter who had been standing silent and
neglected beside her, suffering, as her mother well knew, torments of
wounded pride and feeling. For although Herbert Pryce had been long
since dismissed by Connie, he had not yet returned to the side of the
eldest Miss Hooper.

"I don't like such ways," said Mrs. Hooper, with sparkling eyes. "It was
ill-bred and underhanded of Connie not to tell us at once--I shall
certainly speak to her about it!"

"It makes us look such fools," said Alice, her mouth pursed and set. "I
told Mr. Pryce that Connie knew no one to-night, except Mr. Sorell and
Mr. Falloden."

       *       *       *       *       *

The hall grew more crowded; the talk more furious. Lord Glaramara
insisted, with the wilfulness of the man who can do as he pleases, that
Constance Bledlow--whoever else came and went--should stay beside him.

"You can't think what I owed to her dear people in Rome three years
ago!" he said to the Vice-Chancellor. "I adored her mother! And
Constance is a charming child. She and I made great friends. Has she
come to live in Oxford for a time? Lucky Oxford! What--with the Hoopers?
Don't know 'em. I shall introduce her to some of my particular allies."

Which he did in profusion, so that Constance found herself bewildered by
a constant stream of new acquaintances--fellows, professors, heads of
colleges--of various ages and types, who looked at her with amused and
kindly eyes, talked to her for a few pleasant minutes and departed,
quite conscious that they had added a pebble to the girl's pile and
delighted to do it.

"It is your cousin, not the Lord Chancellor, who is the guest of the
evening!" laughed Herbert Pryce, who had made his way back at last to
Alice Hooper. "I never saw such a success!"

Alice tossed her head in a petulant silence; and a madrigal by the
college choir checked any further remarks from Mr. Pryce. After the
madrigal came a general move for refreshments, which were set out in the
college library and in the garden. The Lord Chancellor must needs offer
his arm to his host's sister, and lead the way. The Warden followed,
with the wife of the Dean of Christ Church, and the hall began to thin.
Lord Glaramara looked back, smiling and beckoning to Constance, as
though to say--"Don't altogether desert me!"

But a voice--a tall figure--interposed--

"Lady Constance, let me take you into the garden? It's much nicer than
upstairs."

A slight shiver ran, unseen, through the girl's frame. She wished to say
no; she tried to say no. And instead she looked up--haughty, but
acquiescent.

"Very well."

And she followed Douglas Falloden through the panelled passage outside
the hall leading to the garden. Sorell, who had hurried up to find her,
arrived in time to see her disappearing through the lights and shadows
of the moonlit lawn.

       *       *       *       *       *

"We can do this sort of thing pretty well, can't we? It's banal because
it happens every year, and because it's all mixed up with salmon
mayonnaise, and cider-cup--and it isn't banal, because it's Oxford!"

[Illustration: _Constance sat in the shadow of a plane-tree with
Falloden at her feet_]

Constance was sitting under the light shadow of a plane-tree, not yet
fully out; Falloden was stretched on the grass at her feet. Before her
ran a vast lawn which had taken generations to make; and all round
it, masses of flowering trees, chestnuts, lilacs, laburnums, now
advancing, now receding, made inlets or promontories of the grass,
turned into silver by the moonlight. At the furthest edge, through the
pushing pyramids of chestnut blossom and the dim drooping gold of the
laburnums, could be seen the bastions and battlements of the old city
wall, once a fighting reality, now tamed into the mere ornament and
appendage of this quiet garden. Over the trees and over the walls rose
the spires and towers of a wondrous city; while on the grass, or through
the winding paths disappearing into bosky distances, flickered white
dresses, and the slender forms of young men and maidens. A murmur of
voices rose and fell on the warm night air; the sound of singing--the
thin sweetness of boyish notes--came from the hall, whose decorated
windows, brightly lit, shone out over the garden.

"It's Oxford--and it's Brahms," said Constance. "I seem to have known it
all before in music: the trees--the lawn--the figures--appearing and
disappearing--the distant singing--"

She spoke in a low, dreamy tone, her chin propped on her hand. Nothing
could have been, apparently, quieter or more self-governed than her
attitude. But her inner mind was full of tumult; resentful memory;
uneasy joy; and a tremulous fear, both of herself and of the man at her
feet. And the man knew it, or guessed it. He dragged himself a little
nearer to her on the grass.

"Why didn't you tell me when you were coming?"

The tone was light and laughing.

"I owe you no account of my actions," said the girl quickly.

"We agreed to be friends."

"No! We are not friends." She spoke with suppressed violence, and
breaking a twig from the tree overshadowing her, she threw it from her,
as though the action were a relief.

He sat up, looking up into her face, his hands clasped round his knees.

"That means you haven't forgiven me?"

"It means that I judge and despise you," she said passionately; "and
that it was not an attraction to me to find you here--quite
the reverse!"

"Yet here you are--sitting with me in this garden--and you are looking
delicious! That dress becomes you so--you are so graceful--so
exquisitely graceful. And you never found a more perfect setting than
this place--these lawns and trees--and the old college walls. Oxford was
waiting for you, and you for Oxford. Are you laughing at me?"

"Naturally!"

"I could rave on by the hour if you would listen to me."

"We have both something better to do--thank goodness! May I ask if you
are doing any work?"

He laughed.

"Ten hours a day. This is my first evening out since March. I came to
meet you."

Constance bowed ironically. Then for the first time, since their
conversation began, it might have been seen that she had annoyed him.

"Friends are not allowed to doubt each other's statements!" he said with
animation. "You see I still persist that you allowed me that name,
when--you refused me a better. As to my work, ask any of my friends.
Talk to Meyrick. He is a dear boy, and will tell you anything you like.
He and I 'dig' together in Beaumont Street. My schools are now only
three weeks off. I work four hours in the morning. Then I play till
six--and get in another six hours between then and 1 a.m."

"Wonderful!" said Constance coolly. "Your ways at Cannes were different.
It's a mercy there's no Monte Carlo within reach."

"I play when I play, and work when I work!" he said with emphasis. "The
only thing to hate and shun always--is moderation."

"And yet you call yourself a classic! Well, you seem to be sure of your
First. At least Uncle Ewen says so."

"Ewen Hooper? He is a splendid fellow--a real Hellenist. He and I get on
capitally. About your aunt--I am not so sure."

"Nobody obliges you to know her," was the tranquil reply.

"Ah!--but if she has the keeping of you! Are you coming to tea with me
and my people? I have got a man in college to lend me his rooms. My
mother and sister will be up for two nights. Very inconsiderate of
them--with my schools coming on--but they would do it. Thursday?--before
the Eights? Won't my mother be chaperon enough?"

"Certainly. But it only puts off the evil day."

"When I must grovel to Mrs. Hooper?--if I am to see anything of you?
Splendid! You are trying to discipline me again--as you did at Cannes!"

In the semidarkness she could see the amusement in his eyes. Her own
feeling, in its mingled weakness and antagonism, was that of the
feebler wrestler just holding his ground, and fearing every moment to be
worsted by some unexpected trick of the game. She gave no signs of
it, however.

"I tried, and I succeeded!" she said, as she rose. "You found out that
rudeness to my friends didn't answer! Shall we go and get some lemonade?
Wasn't that why you brought me here? I think I see the tent."

They walked on together. She seemed to see--exultantly--that she had
both angered and excited him.

"I am never rude," he declared. "I am only honest! Only nobody, in this
mealy-mouthed world, allows you to be honest; to say and do exactly what
represents you. But I shall not be rude to anybody under your wing.
Promise me to come to tea, and I will appear to call on your aunt and
behave like any sucking dove."

Constance considered it.

"Lady Laura must write to Aunt Ellen."

"Of course. Any other commands?"

"Not at present."

"Then let me offer some humble counsels in return. I beg you not to make
friends with that red-haired _poseur_ I saw you talking to in the hall."

"Mr. Radowitz!--the musician? I thought him delightful! He is coming to
play to me to-morrow."

"Ah, I thought so!" said Falloden wrathfully. "He is an impossible
person. He wears a frilled shirt, scents himself, and recites his own
poems when he hasn't been asked. And he curries favour--abominably--with
the dons. He is a smug--of the first water. There is a movement going on
in college to suppress him. I warn you I may not be able to keep out
of it."

"He is an artist!" cried Constance. "You have only to look at him, to
talk to him, to see it. And artists are always persecuted by stupid
people. But you are not stupid!"

"Yes, I am, where _poseurs_ are concerned," said Falloden coldly. "I
prefer to be. Never mind. We won't excite ourselves. He is not worth it.
Perhaps he'll improve--in time. But there is another man I warn you
against--Mr. Herbert Pryce."

"A great friend of my cousins'," said Constance mockingly.

"I know. He is always flirting with the eldest girl. It is a shame; for
he will never marry her. He wants money and position, and he is so
clever he will get them. He is not a gentleman, and he rarely tells the
truth. But he is sure to make up to you. I thought I had better tell you
beforehand."

"My best thanks! You breathe charity!"

"No--only prudence. And after my schools I throw my books to the dogs,
and I shall have a fortnight more of term with nothing to do except--are
you going to ride?" he asked her abruptly. "You said at Cannes that you
meant to ride when you came to Oxford."

"My aunt doesn't approve."

"As if that would stop you! I can tell you where you can get a horse--a
mare that would just suit you. I know all the stables in Oxford. Wait
till we meet on Thursday. Would you care to ride in Lathom Woods? (He
named a famous estate near Oxford.) I have a permit, and could get you
one. They are relations of mine."

Constance excused herself, but scarcely with decision. Her plans, she
said, must depend upon her cousins. Falloden smiled and dropped the
subject for the moment. Then, as they moved on together through the
sinuous ways of the garden, flooded with the scent of hawthorns and
lilacs, towards the open tent crowded with folk at the farther end,
there leapt in both the same intoxicating sense of youth and strength,
the same foreboding of passion, half restlessness, and half
enchantment....

       *       *       *       *       *

"I looked for you everywhere," said Sorell, as he made his way to
Constance through the crowd of departing guests in the college gateway.
"Where did you hide yourself? The Lord Chancellor was sad not to say
good-bye to you."

Constance summoned an answering tone of regret.

"How good of him! I was only exploring the garden--with Mr. Falloden."

At the name, there was a quick and stiffening change in Sorell's face.

"You knew him before? Yes--he told me. A queer fellow--very able. They
say he'll get his First. Well--we shall meet at the Eights and then
we'll make plans. Goodnight."

He smiled on her, and went his way, ruminating uncomfortably as he
walked back to his college along the empty midnight streets. Falloden?
It was to be hoped there was nothing in that! How Ella Risborough would
have detested the type! But there was much that was not her mother in
the daughter. He vowed to himself that he would do his small best to
watch over Ella Risborough's child.

There was little or no conversation in the four-wheeler that bore the
Hooper party home. Mrs. Hooper and Alice were stiffly silent, while the
Reader chaffed Constance a little about her successes of the evening.
But he, too, was sleepy and tired, and the talk dropped. As they lighted
their bedroom candles in the hall, Mrs. Hooper said to her niece, in her
thin, high tone, mincing and coldly polite:

"I think it would have been better, Constance, if you had told us you
knew Lord Glaramara. I don't wish to find fault, but such--such
concealments--are really very awkward!"

Constance opened her eyes. She could have defended herself easily. She
had no idea that her aunt was unaware of the old friendship between her
parents and Lord Glaramara, who was no more interesting to her
personally than many others of their Roman _habitués_, of whom the world
was full. But she was too preoccupied to spend any but the shortest
words on such a silly thing.

"I'm sorry, Aunt Ellen. I really didn't understand."

And she went up to bed, thinking only of Falloden; while Alice followed
her, her small face pinched and weary, her girlish mind full of pain.



CHAPTER IV

On the day after the Vice-Chancellor's party, Falloden, after a somewhat
slack morning's work, lunched in college with Meyrick. After hall, the
quadrangle was filled with strolling men, hatless and smoking,
discussing the chances of the Eights, the last debate at the Union, and
the prospects of individual men in the schools.

Presently the sound of a piano was heard from the open windows of a room
on the first floor.

"Great Scott!" said Falloden irritably to Meyrick, with whom he was
walking arm in arm, "what a noise that fellow Radowitz makes! Why should
we have to listen to him? He behaves as though the whole college
belonged to him. We can't hear ourselves speak."

"Treat him like a barrel-organ and remove him!" said Meyrick, laughing.
He was a light-hearted, easy-going youth, a "fresher" in his first
summer term, devoted to Falloden, whose physical and intellectual powers
seemed to him amazing.

"Bombard him first!" said Falloden. "Who's got some soda-water
bottles?" And he beckoned imperiously to a neighbouring group of
men,--"bloods"--always ready to follow him in a "rag," and heroes
together with him of a couple of famous bonfires, in Falloden's
first year.

They came up, eager for any mischief, the summer weather in their veins
like wine. They stood round Falloden laughing and chaffing, till finally
three of them disappeared at his bidding. They came rushing back, from
various staircases, laden with soda-water bottles.

Then Falloden, with two henchmen, placed himself under Radowitz's
windows, and summoned the offender in a stentorian voice:

"Radowitz! stop that noise!"

No answer--except that Radowitz in discoursing some "music of the
future," and quite unaware of the shout from below, pounded and
tormented the piano more than ever. The waves of crashing sound seemed
to fill the quadrangle.

"We'll summon him thrice!" said Falloden. "Then--fire!"

But Radowitz remained deaf, and the assailant below gave the order.
Three strong right arms below discharged three soda-water bottles, which
went through the open window.

"My goody!" said Meyrick, "I hope he's well out of the way!" There was a
sound of breaking glass. Then Radowitz, furious, appeared at his window,
his golden hair more halolike than ever in the bright sun.

"What are you doing, you idiots?"

"Stop that noise, Radowitz!" shouted Falloden. "It annoys us!"

"Can't help it. It pleases me," said Radowitz shortly, proceeding to
close the window. But he had scarcely done so, when Falloden launched
another bottle, which went smash through the window and broke it. The
glass fell out into the quadrangle, raising all the echoes. The rioters
below held their laughing breaths.

"I say, what about the dons?" said one.

"Keep a lookout!" said another.

But meanwhile Radowitz had thrown up the injured window, and crimson
with rage he leaned far out and flung half a broken bottle at the group
below. All heads ducked, but the ragged missile only just missed
Meyrick's curly poll.

"Not pretty that!--not pretty at all!" said Falloden coolly. "Might
really have done some mischief. We'll avenge you, Meyrick. Follow me,
you fellows!"

And in one solid phalanx, they charged, six or seven strong, up
Radowitz's staircase. But he was ready for them. The oak was sported,
and they could hear him dragging some heavy chairs against it.
Meanwhile, from the watchers left in the quad, came a loud cough.

"Dons!--by Jove! Scatter!" And they rushed further up the staircase,
taking refuge in the rooms of two of the "raggers." The lookout in the
quadrangle turned to walk quietly towards the porter's lodge. The Senior
Tutor--a spare tall man with a Jove-like brow--emerged from the library,
and stood on the steps surveying the broken glass.

"All run to cover, of course!" was his reflection, half scornful, half
disgusted. "But I am certain I heard Falloden's voice. What a puppy
stage it is! They would be much better employed worrying old boots!"

But philosopher or no, he got no clue. The quadrangle was absolutely
quiet and deserted, save for the cheeping of the swallows flitting
across it, and the whistling of a lad in the porter's lodge. The Senior
Tutor returned to the library, where he was unpacking a box of
new books.

The rioters emerged at discreet intervals, and rejoined each other in
the broad street outside the college.

"Vengeance is still due!"--said Falloden, towering among them, always
with the faithful and grinning Meyrick at his side--"and we will repay.
But now, to our tents! Ta, ta!" And dismissing them all, including
Meyrick, he walked off alone in the direction of Holywell. He was going
to look out a horse for Constance Bledlow.

As he walked, he said to himself that he was heartily sick of this
Oxford life, ragging and all. It was a good thing it was so nearly done.
He meant to get his First, because he didn't choose, having wasted so
much time over it, not to get it. But it wouldn't give him any
particular pleasure to get it. The only thing that really mattered was
that Constance Bledlow was in Oxford, and that when his schools were
over, he would have nothing to do but to stay on two or three weeks and
force the running with her. He felt himself immeasurably older than his
companions with whom he had just been rioting. His mind was set upon a
man's interests and aims--marriage, travel, Parliament; they were still
boys, without a mind among them. None the less, there was an underplot
running through his consciousness all the time as to how best to punish
Radowitz--both for his throw, and his impertinence in monopolising a
certain lady for at least a quarter of an hour on the preceding evening.

At the well-known livery-stables in Holywell, he found a certain
animation. Horses were in demand, as there were manoeuvres going on in
Blenheim Park, and the minds of both dons and undergraduates were drawn
thither. But Falloden succeeded in getting hold of the manager and
absorbing his services at once.

"Show you something really good, fit for a lady?"

The manager took him through the stables, and Falloden in the end picked
out precisely the beautiful brown mare of which he had spoken to
Constance.

"Nobody else is to ride her, please, till the lady I am acting for has
tried her," he said peremptorily to Fox. "I shall try her myself
to-morrow. And what about a groom?--a decent fellow, mind, with a
decent livery."

He saw a possible man and another horse, reserving both provisionally.
Then he walked hurriedly to his lodgings to see if by any chance there
were a note for him there. He had wired to his mother the day before,
telling her to write to Constance Bledlow and Mrs. Hooper by the
evening's post, suggesting that, on Thursday before the Eights, Lady
Laura should pick her up at Medburn House, take her to tea at Falloden's
lodgings and then on to the Eights. Lady Laura was to ask for an answer
addressed to the lodgings.

He found one--a little note with a crest and monogram he knew well.

     Medburn House.

     "Dear Mr. Falloden,--I am very sorry I can not come to tea
     to-morrow. But my aunt and cousins seem to have made an
     engagement for me. No doubt I shall see Lady Laura at the
     boats. My aunt thanks her for her kind letter.

     "Yours very truly,

     "Constance Bledlow."

Falloden bit his lip. He had reckoned on an acceptance, having done
everything that had been prescribed to him; and he felt injured. He
walked on, fuming and meditating, to Vincent's Club, and wrote a reply.

     "DEAR LADY CONSTANCE,--A thousand regrets! I hope for better
     luck next time. Meanwhile, as you say, we shall meet
     to-morrow at the Eights. I have spent much time to-day in
     trying to find you a horse, as we agreed. The mare I told you
     of is really a beauty. I am going to try her to-morrow, and
     will report when we meet. I admire your nepticular (I believe
     _neptis_ is the Latin for niece) docility!

     "Yours sincerely,

     "DOUGLAS FALLODEN."

"Will that offend her?" he thought. "But a pin-prick is owed. I was
distinctly given to understand that if the proprieties were observed,
she would come."

In reality, however, he was stimulated by her refusal, as he was by all
forms of conflict, which, for him, made the zest of life.

He shut himself up that evening and the following morning with his
Greats work. Then he and Meyrick rushed up to the racket courts in the
Parks for an hour's hard exercise, after which, in the highest physical
spirits, a splendid figure in his white flannels, with the dark blue cap
and sash of the Harrow Eleven--(he had quarrelled with the captain of
the Varsity Eleven very early in his Oxford career, and by an heroic
sacrifice to what he conceived to be his dignity had refused to let
himself be tried for it)--he went off to meet his mother and sister at
the railway station.

It was, of course, extremely inconsiderate of his mother to be coming at
all in these critical weeks before the schools. She ought to have kept
away. And yet he would be very glad to see her--and Nelly. He was fond
of his home people, and they of him. They were his belongings--and they
were Fallodens. Therefore his strong family pride accepted them, and
made the most of them.

But his countenance fell when, as the train slowed into the railway
station, he perceived beckoning to him from the windows, not two
Fallodens, but four!

"What has mother been about?" He stood aghast. For there were not only
Lady Laura and Nelly, but Trix, a child of eleven, and Roger, the
Winchester boy of fourteen, who was still at home after an attack
of measles.

They beamed at him as they descended. The children were quite aware they
were superfluous, and fell upon him with glee.

"You don't want us, Duggy, we know! But we made mother bring us."

"Mother, really you ought to have given me notice!" said her reproachful
son. "What am I to do with these brats?"

But the brats hung upon him, and his mother, "fat, fair and forty,"
smiled propitiatingly.

"Oh, my dear Duggy, never mind. They amuse themselves. They've promised
to be good. And they get into mischief in London, directly my back's
turned. How nice you look in flannels, dear! Are you going to row this
afternoon?"

"Well, considering you know that my schools are coming on in a
fortnight--" said Falloden, exasperated.

"It's so annoying of them!" said Lady Laura, sighing. "I wanted to bring
Nelly up for two or three weeks. We could have got a house. But your
father wouldn't hear of it."

"I should rather think not! Mother, do you want me to get a decent
degree, or do you not?"

"But of course you're sure to," said Lady Laura with provoking optimism,
hanging on his arm. "And now give us some tea, for we're all ravenous!
And what about that girl, Lady Constance?"

"She can't come. Her aunt has made another engagement for her. You'll
meet her at the boats."

Lady Laura looked relieved.

"Well then, we can go straight to our tea. But of course I wrote. I
always do what you tell me, Duggy. Come along, children!"

"Trix and I got a packet of Banbury cakes at Didcot," reported Roger, in
triumph, showing a greasy paper. "But we've eat 'em all."

"Little pigs!" said Falloden, surveying them. "And now I suppose you're
going to gorge again?"

"We shall disgrace you!" shouted both the children joyously--"we knew we
should!"

But Falloden hunted them all into a capacious fly, and they drove off to
Marmion, where a room had been borrowed for the tea-party. Falloden sat
on the box with folded arms and a sombre countenance. Why on earth had
his mother brought the children? It was revolting to have to appear on
the barge with such a troop. And all his time would be taken up with
looking after them--time which he wanted for quite other things.

However, he was in for it. At Marmion he led the party through two
quads and innumerable passages, till he pointed to a dark staircase up
which they climbed, each member of the family--except the guide--talking
at the top of their voices. On the third floor, Falloden paused and
herded them into the room of a shy second-year man, very glad to do such
a "blood" as Falloden a kindness, and help entertain his relations.

"Well, thank God, I've got you in!" said Falloden gloomily, as he shut
the door behind the last of them.

       *       *       *       *       *

"How Duggy does hustle us! I've had nothing of a tea!" said Roger,
looking resentfully, his mouth full of cake, at his elder brother, who
was already beginning to take out his watch, to bid his mother and
sisters resume their discarded jackets, and to send a scout for a
four-wheeler.

But Falloden was inexorable. He tore his sister Nelly, a soft fluffy
creature of seventeen, away from the shy attentions of the second-year
man, scoffed in disgust at Trix's desire for chocolates after a
Gargantuan meal, and declared that they would all be late for the
Eights, if any more gorging was allowed. His mother rose obediently. To
be seen with such a son in the crowded Oxford streets filled her with
pride. She could have walked beside him for hours.

At the college gate, Trix pinched her brother's arm.

"Well, Duggy, say it!"

"Say what, you little scug?"

"'Thank God, I've got you out!'" laughed the child, laying her cheek
against his coat-sleeve. "That's what you're thinking. You know you are.
I say, Duggy, you do look jolly in those colours!"

"Don't talk rot!" grumbled Falloden, but he winked at her in brotherly
fashion, and Trix was more than happy. Like her mother, she believed
that Douglas was simply the handsomest and cleverest fellow in the
world. When he scolded it was better than other people's praise, and
when he gave you a real private wink, it raised a sister to the skies.
On such soil does male arrogance grow!

Soon they were in the stream of people crossing Christ Church river on
their way to the boats. The May sunshine lay broad on the buttercup
meadows, on the Christ Church elms, on the severe and blackened front of
Corpus, on the long gabled line of Merton. The river glittered in the
distance, and towards it the crowd of its worshippers--young girls in
white, young men in flannels, elderly fathers and mothers from a
distance, and young fathers and mothers from the rising tutorial homes
of Oxford--made their merry way. Falloden looked in all directions for
the Hooper party. A new anxiety and eagerness were stirring in him which
he resented, which he tried to put down. He did not wish, he did not
intend, if he could help it, to be too much in love with anybody. He was
jealous of his own self-control, and intensely proud of his own strength
of will, as he might have been of a musical or artistic gift. It was his
particular gift, and he would not have it weakened. He had seen men do
the most idiotic things for love. He did not intend to do such things.
Love should be strictly subordinate to a man's career; women should be
subordinate.

At the same time, from the second week of their acquaintance on the
Riviera, he had wished to marry Constance Bledlow. He had proposed to
her, only to be promptly refused, and on one mad afternoon, in the
woods of the Esterels, he had snatched a kiss. What an amazing fuss she
made about that kiss! He thought she would have cut him for ever. It was
with the greatest difficulty, and only after a grovelling apology, that
he had succeeded in making his peace. Yet all through the days of her
wrath he had been quite certain that he would in the end appease her;
which meant a triumphant confidence on his part that to a degree she did
not herself admit or understand, he had captured her. Her resolute
refusal to correspond with him, even after they had made it up and he
was on the point of returning to Oxford, had piqued him indeed. But he
was aware that she was due at Oxford, as her uncle's ward, some time in
May; and meanwhile he had coolly impressed upon himself that in the
interests of his work, it was infinitely better he should be without the
excitement of her letters. By the time she arrived, he would have got
through the rereading of his principal books, which a man must do in the
last term before the schools, and could begin to "slack." And after the
schools, he could devote himself.

But now that they had met again, he was aware of doubts and difficulties
that had not yet assailed him. That she was not indifferent to him--that
his presence still played upon her nerves and senses--so much he had
verified. But during their conversation at the Vice-Chancellor's party
he had become aware of something hard and resistant in her--in her whole
attitude towards him--which had considerably astonished him. His
arrogant self-confidence had reckoned upon the effect of absence, as
making her softer and more yielding when they met again. The reverse
seemed to be the case, and he pondered it with irritation....

"Oh, Duggy, isn't it ripping?" cried Trix, leaping and sidling at his
elbow like a young colt.

For they had reached the river, which lay a vivid blue, flashing under
the afternoon sun and the fleecy clouds. Along it lay the barges, a
curving many-tinted line, their tall flag-staffs flying the colours of
the colleges to which they belonged, their decks crowded with
spectators. Innumerable punts were crossing and recrossing the
river--the towing-path opposite was alive with men. Everything danced
and glittered, the white reflections in the river, the sun upon the
oars, the row of extravagantly green poplars on the further bank. How
strong and lusty was the May light!--the yellow green of the elms--the
gold of the buttercupped meadow! Only the dying moon in the high blue
suggested a different note; as of another world hidden behind the
visible world, waiting patiently, mysteriously, to take its place--to
see it fade.

"Oh, Duggy, there's somebody waving to you. Oh, it's Lord Meyrick. And
who's that girl with him? She's bowing to you, too. She's got an awfully
lovely frock! Oh, Duggy, do look at her!"

Falloden had long since looked at her. He turned carelessly to his
mother. "There's Meyrick, mother, on that barge in front. You know
you're dining with him to-night in Christ Church. And that's Constance
Bledlow beside him, to whom I asked you to write."

"Oh, is it? A good-looking girl," said his mother approvingly. "And who
is that man beside her, with the extraordinary hair? He looks like
somebody in Lohengrin."

Falloden laughed, but not agreeably.

"You've about hit it! He's a Marmion man. A silly, affected
creature--half a Pole. His music is an infernal nuisance in college. We
shall suppress it and him some day."

"What barge is it, Duggy? Are we going there?"

Falloden replied impatiently that the barge they were nearing belonged
to Christ Church, and they were bound for the Marmion barge, much
further along.

Meanwhile he asked himself what could have taken the Hooper party to the
Christ Church barge? Ewen Hooper was a Llandaff man, and Llandaff, a
small and insignificant college, shared a barge with another small
college some distance down the river.

As they approached the barge he saw that while Constance had Radowitz on
her right, Sorell of St. Cyprian's stood on the other side of her. Ah,
no doubt, that accounted for it. Sorell had been originally at "the
House," was still a lecturer there, and very popular. He had probably
invited the Hoopers with their niece. It was, of course, the best barge
in the best position. Falloden remembered how at the Vice-Chancellor's
party Sorell had hovered about Constance, assuming a kind of mild
guardianship; until he himself had carried her off. Why? What on earth
had she to do with Sorell? Well, he must find out. Meanwhile, she
clearly did not intend to take any further notice of his neighbourhood.
Sorell and Radowitz absorbed her. They were evidently explaining the
races to her, and she stood between them, a docile and charming vision,
turning her graceful head from side to side. Falloden and his party
crossed her actual line of sight. But she took no further notice; and
he heard her laugh at something Radowitz was saying.

"Oh, Mr. Falloden, is that you--and Lady Laura! This is a pleasure!"

He turned to see a lady whom he cordially detested--a head's wife, who
happened to be an "Honourable," the daughter of a small peer, and
terribly conscious of the fact. She might have reigned in Oxford; she
preferred to be a much snubbed dependent of London, and the smart people
whose invitations she took such infinite trouble to get. For she was
possessed of two daughters, tall and handsome girls, who were an
obsession to her, an irritation to other people, and a cause of blushing
to themselves. Her instinct for all men of family or title to be found
among the undergraduates was amazingly extensive and acute; and she had
paid much court to Falloden, as the prospective heir to a marquisate. He
had hitherto treated her with scant attention, but she was not easily
abashed, and she fastened at once on Lady Laura, whom she had seen once
at a London ball.

"Where are you going, Lady Laura? To Marmion? Oh, no! Come on to our
barge, you will see so much better, and save yourself another dusty bit
of walk. Here we are!"

And she waved her parasol gaily towards a barge immediately ahead,
belonging to one of the more important colleges. Lady Laura looked
doubtfully at her son.

Falloden suddenly accepted, and with the utmost cordiality.

"That's really very good of you, Mrs. Manson! I shall certainly advise
my mother to take advantage of your kind offer. But you can't do with
all of us!" He pointed smiling to Trix and Roger.

"Of course I can! The more the merrier!" And the lively lady stooped,
laid an affectionate hand on Roger's shoulder, and said in a stage
aside--"Our ices are very good!"

Roger hastily retreated.

       *       *       *       *       *

The starting-gun had boomed--communicating the usual thrill and sudden
ripple of talk through the crowded barges.

"Now they're off!"

Lady Laura, Nelly, and "the babes" hung over the railing of the barge,
looking excitedly for the first nose of a boat coming round the bend.
Falloden, between the two fair-haired Miss Mansons, manoeuvred them and
himself into a position at the rear where he could both see and be seen
by the party on the Christ Church barge, amid which a certain large
white hat with waving feathers shone conspicuous. The two girls between
whom he stood, who had never found him in the least accessible before,
were proud to be seen with him, and delighted to try their smiles on
him. They knew he was soon going down, and they had visions of dancing
with him in London, of finding an acquaintance, perhaps even a friend,
at last, in those chilly London drawing-rooms, before which, if their
mother knew no such weakness, they often shivered.

Falloden looked down upon them with a half sarcastic, half benignant
patronage, and made himself quite agreeable. From the barge next door,
indeed, the Manson and Falloden parties appeared to be on the most
intimate terms. Mrs. Manson, doing the honours of the college boat,
flattering Lady Laura, gracious to the children, and glancing every now
and then at her two girls and their handsome companion, was enjoying a
crowded and successful moment.

But she too was aware of the tall girl in white on the neighbouring
deck, and she turned enquiringly to Falloden.

"Do you know who she is?"

"The Risboroughs' daughter--Lady Constance Bledlow." Mrs. Manson's
eyebrows went up.

"Indeed! Of course I knew her parents intimately! Where is she staying?"

Falloden briefly explained.

"But how very interesting! I must call upon her at once. But--I scarcely
know the Hoopers!"

Falloden hung over the barge rail, and smiled unseen.

"Here they come!--here they come!" shouted the children, laying violent
hands on Falloden that he might identify the boats for them.

Up rolled a mighty roar from the lower reaches of the river as the boats
came in sight, "Univ" leading; and the crowd of running and shouting men
came rushing along the towing-path. "Univ" was gallantly "bumped" in
front of its own barge, and Magdalen went head of the river. A delirious
twenty minutes followed. Bump crashed on bump. The river in all its
visible length flashed with the rising and falling oars--the white
bodies of the rowers strained back and forth. But it was soon over, and
only the cheering for the victorious crews remained; and the
ices--served to the visitors!--of which Roger was not slow to remind
his hostess.

The barges emptied, and the crowd poured out again into the meadows.
Just outside the Christ Church barge, Constance with Nora beside her,
and escorted by Sorell and Lord Meyrick, lifted a pair of eyes to a tall
fellow in immaculate flannels and a Harrow cap. She had been aware of
his neighbourhood, and he of hers, long before it was possible to speak.
Falloden introduced his mother. Then he resolutely took possession of
Constance.

"I hope you approve what I have been doing about the mare?"

"I am of course most grateful. When am I to try her?"

"I shall take her out to-morrow afternoon. Then I'll report."

"It is extremely kind of you." The tone was strictly conventional.

He said nothing; and after a minute she could not help looking up. She
met an expression which showed a wounded gentleman beside her.

"I hope you saw the races well?" he said coldly.

"Excellently. And Mr. Sorell explained everything."

"You knew him before?"

"But of course!" she said, laughing. "I have known him for years."

"You never mentioned him--at Cannes."

"One does not always catalogue one's acquaintance, does one?"

"He seems to be more than an acquaintance."

"Oh, yes. He is a great friend. Mamma was so fond of him. He went with
us to Sicily once. And Uncle Ewen likes him immensely."

"He is of course a paragon," said Falloden.

Constance glanced mockingly at her companion.

"I don't see why he should be called anything so disagreeable. All we
knew of him was--that he was delightful! So learned--and simple--and
modest--the dearest person to travel with! When he left us at Palermo,
the whole party seemed to go flat."

"You pile it on!"

"Not at all. You asked me if he were more than an acquaintance. I am
giving you the facts."

"I don't enjoy them!" said Falloden abruptly.

She burst into her soft laugh.

"I'm so sorry. But I really can't alter them. Where has my party gone
to?"

She looked ahead, and saw that by a little judicious holding back
Falloden had dexterously isolated her both from his own group and hers.
Mrs. Manson and Lady Laura were far ahead in the wide, moving crowd that
filled the new-made walk across the Christ Church meadow; so were the
Hoopers and the slender figure and dark head of Alexander Sorell.

"Don't distress yourself, please. We shall catch them up before we get
to Merton Street. And this only pays the very smallest fraction of your
debt! I understood that if my mother wrote--"

She coloured brightly.

"I didn't promise!" she said hastily. "And I found the Hoopers were
counting on me."

"No doubt. Oh, I don't grumble. But when friends--suppose we take the
old path under the wall? It is much less crowded."

And before she knew where she was, she had been whisked out of the
stream of visitors and undergraduates, and found herself walking almost
in solitude in the shadow of one of the oldest walls in Oxford, the
Cathedral towering overhead, the crowd moving at some distance on
their right.

"That's better," said Falloden coolly. "May I go on? I was saying that
when one friend disappoints another--bitterly!--there is such a thing as
making up!"

There were beautiful notes in Falloden's deep voice, when he chose to
employ them. He employed them now, and the old thrill of something that
was at once delight and fear ran through Constance. But she looked him
in the face, apparently quite unmoved.

"Now it is you who are piling it on! You will use such tragic
expressions for the most trivial things. Of course, I am sorry if--"

"Then make amends!"--he said quickly. "Promise me--if the mare turns out
well--you will ride in Lathom Woods--on Saturday?"

His eyes shone upon her. The force of the man's personality seemed to
envelope her, to beat down the resistance which, as soon as he was out
of her sight, the wiser mind in her built up.

She hesitated--smiled. And again the smile--or was it the May sun and
wind?--gave her that heightening, that touch of brilliance that a face
so delicate must often miss.

Falloden's fastidious sense approved her wholly: the white dress; the
hat that framed her brow; the slender gold chains which rose and fell on
her gently rounded breast; her height and grace. Passion beat within
him. He hung on her answer.

"Saturday--impossible! I am not free till Monday, at least. And what
about the groom?" She looked up.

"I shall parade him to-morrow, livery, horse and all. I undertake he
shall give satisfaction. The Lathom Woods just now are a dream!"

"It is all a dream!" she said, looking round her at the beauty of field
and tree, of the May clouds, and the grey college walls--youth and
youth's emotion speaking in the sudden softening of her eyes.

He saw--he felt her--yielding.

"You'll come?"

"I--I suppose I may as well ride in Lathom Woods as anywhere else. You
have a key?"

"The groom will have it. I meet you there."

She flushed a bright pink.

"That might have been left vague!"

"How are you to find your way through those woods without a guide?" he
protested.

She was silent a moment, then she said with decision:

"I must overtake my people."

"You shall. I want you to talk to my mother--and--you have still to
introduce me to your aunt and cousins."

Mirth crept into her eyes. The process of taming him had begun.

       *       *       *       *       *

Falloden on the way back to his lodgings handed over his family to the
tender offices of Meyrick and a couple of other gilded youths, who had
promised to look after them for the evening. They were to dine at the
Randolph, and go to a college concert. Falloden washed his hands of
them, and shut himself up for five or six hours' grind, broken only by a
very hasty meal. The thought of Constance hovered about him--but his
will banished it. Will and something else--those aptitudes of brain
which determined his quick and serviceable intelligence.

When after his frugal dinner he gave himself in earnest to the article
in a French magazine, on a new French philosopher, which had been
recommended to him by his tutor as likely to be of use to him in his
general philosophy paper, his mind soon took fire; Constance was
forgotten, and he lost himself in the splendour shed by the original and
creative thought of a great man, climbing, under his guidance, as the
night wore on, from point to point, and height to height, amid the
Oxford silence, broken only by the chiming bells, and a benighted
footfall in the street outside, until he seemed to have reached the
bounds of the phenomenal and to be close on that outer vastness whence
stream the primal forces--_Die Mütter_--as Goethe called them--whose
play is with the worlds.

Then by way of calming the brain before sleep, he fell upon some notes
to be copied and revised, on the "Religious Aspects of Greek Drama," and
finally amused himself with running through an ingenious "Memoria
Technica" on the 6th Book of the Ethics which he had made for himself
during the preceding winter.

Then work was done, and he threw it from him with the same energy as
that wherewith he had banished the remembrance of Constance some hours
before. Now he could walk his room in the May dawn, and think of her,
and only of her. With all the activity of his quickened mental state, he
threw himself into the future--their rides together--their meetings, few
and measured till the schools were done--then!--all the hours of life,
and a man's most obstinate effort, spent in the winning of her. He knew
well that she would be difficult to win.

But he meant to win her--and before others could seriously approach her.
He was already nervously jealous of Sorell--and contemptuously jealous
of Radowitz. And if they could torment him so, what would it be when
Constance passed into that larger world of society to which sooner or
later she was bound? No, she was to be wooed and married now. The
Falloden custom was to marry early--and a good custom too. His father
would approve, and money from the estate would of course be forthcoming.
Constance was on her father's side extremely well-born; the Hooper blood
would soon be lost sight of in a Risborough and Falloden descent. She
was sufficiently endowed; and she had all the grace of person and mind
that a Falloden had a right to look for in his wife.

Marriage, then, in the autumn, when he would be twenty-four--two years
of travel--then Parliament--

On this dream he fell asleep. A brisk wind sprang up with the sunrise,
and rustled round his lightly-darkened room. One might have heard in it
the low laughter of Fortune on the watch.



CHAPTER V

"You do have the oddest ways," said Nora, perched at the foot of her
cousin's bed; "why do you stay in bed to breakfast?"

"Because I always have--and because it's the proper and reasonable thing
to do," said Constance defiantly. "Your English custom of coming down at
half past eight to eat poached eggs and bacon is perfectly detestable."

She waved her teaspoon in Nora's face, and Nora reflected--though her
sunburnt countenance was still severe--that Connie was never so
attractive as when, in the freshest of white dressing-gowns, propped
among the lace and silk of her ridiculous pillows and bedspreads, she
was toying with the coffee and roll which Annette brought her at eight
o'clock, as she had been accustomed to bring it since Connie was a
child. Mrs. Hooper had clearly expressed her disapproval of such habits,
but neither Annette nor Connie had paid any attention. Annette had long
since come to an understanding with the servants, and it was she who
descended at half past seven, made the coffee herself, and brought up
with it the nearest thing to the morning rolls of the Palazzo Barberini
which Oxford could provide--with a copy of _The Times_ specially ordered
for Lady Constance. The household itself subsisted on a copy of the
_Morning Post_, religiously reserved to Mrs. Hooper after Dr. Hooper had
glanced through it--he, of course, saw _The Times_ at the Union. But
Connie regarded a newspaper at breakfast as a necessary part of life.

After her coffee, accordingly, she read _The Times_, and smoked a
cigarette, proceedings which were a daily source of wonder to Nora and
reprobation in the minds of Mrs. Hooper and Alice. Then she generally
wrote her letters, and was downstairs after all by half past ten,
dressed and ready for the day. Mrs. Hooper declared to Dr. Ewen that she
would be ashamed for any of their Oxford friends to know that a niece of
his kept such hours, and that it was a shocking example for the
servants. But the maids took it with smiles, and were always ready to
run up and down stairs for Lady Connie; while as for Oxford, the
invitations which had descended upon the Hooper family, even during the
few days since Connie's arrival, had given Aunt Ellen some feverish
pleasure, but perhaps more annoyance. So far from Ewen's "position"
being of any advantage to Connie, it was Connie who seemed likely to
bring the Hoopers into circles of Oxford society where they had till now
possessed but the slenderest footing. An invitation to dinner from the
Provost of Winton and Mrs. Manson, to "Dr. and Mrs. Hooper, Miss Hooper
and Lady Constance Bledlow," to meet an archbishop, had fairly taken
Mrs. Hooper's breath away. But she declaimed to Alice none the less in
private on the innate snobbishness of people.

Nora, however, wished to understand.

"I can't imagine why you should read _The Times_," she said with
emphasis, as Connie pushed her tray away, and looked for her cigarettes.
"What have you to do with politics?"

"Why, _The Times_ is all about people I know!" said Connie, opening
amused eyes. "Look there!" And she pointed to the newspaper lying open
amid the general litter of her morning's post, and to a paragraph among
the foreign telegrams describing the excitement in Rome over a change of
Ministry. "Fall of the Italian Cabinet. The King sends for the Marchese
Bardinelli."

"And there's a letter from Elisa Bardinelli, telling me all about it!"
She tossed some closely-written sheets to Nora, who took them up
doubtfully.

"It is in Italian!" she said, as though she resented the fact.

"Well, of course! Did you think it would be in Russian? You really ought
to learn Italian, Nora. Shall I teach you?"

"Well--it might be useful for my Literature," said Nora slowly. "There
are all those fellows Chaucer borrowed from--and then Shakespeare. I
wouldn't mind."

"Thank you!" said Connie, laughing. "And then look at the French news.
That's thrilling! Sir Wilfrid's going to throw up the Embassy and
retire. I stayed with them a night in Paris on my way through--and they
never breathed. But I thought something was up. Sir Wilfrid's a queer
temper. I expect he's had a row with the Foreign Office. They were years
in Rome, and of course we knew them awfully well. Mamma adored her!"

And leaning back with her hands behind her head, Connie's sparkling look
subsided for a moment into a dreamy sweetness.

"I suppose you think Oxford a duck-pond after all that!" said Nora
pugnaciously.

Constance laughed.

"Why, it's new. It's experience. It's all to the good."

"Oh, you needn't suppose I am apologising for Oxford!" cried Nora. "I
think, of course, it's the most interesting place in the world. It's
ideas that matter, and ideas come from the universities!" And the
child-student of seventeen drew herself up proudly, as though she bore
the honour of all _academie_ on her sturdy shoulders.

Constance went into a fit of laughter.

"And I think they come from the people who do things, and not only from
the people who read and write about them when they're done. But
goodness--what does it matter where they come from? Go away, Nora, and
let me dress!"

"There are several things I want to know," said Nora deliberately, not
budging. "Where did you get to know Mr. Falloden?"

The colour ran up inconveniently in Connie's cheeks.

"I told you," she said impatiently. "No!--I suppose you weren't there. I
met him on the Riviera. He came out for the Christmas holidays. He was
in the villa next to us, and we saw him every day."

"How you must have hated him!" said Nora, with energy, her hands round
her knees, her dark brows frowning.

Constance laughed again, but rather angrily.

"Why should I hate him, please? He's extraordinarily clever--"

"Yes, but such a snob!" said Nora, setting her white teeth. Connie
sprang up in bed.

"Nora, really, the way you talk of other people's friends. You should
learn--indeed, you should--not to say rude and provoking things!"

"Why should it provoke you? I'm certain you don't care for him--you
can't!" cried Nora. "He's the most hectoring, overbearing creature! The
way he took possession of you the other day at the boats! Of course he
didn't care, if he made everybody talk about you!"

Constance turned a little white.

"Why should anybody talk?" she said coldly. "But really, Nora, I must
turn you out. I shall ring for Annette." She raised herself in bed.

"No, no!" Nora caught her hand as it stretched out towards the bell.
"Oh, Connie, you shall not fall in love with Mr. Falloden! I should go
mad if you did."

"You are mad already," said Constance, half laughing, half furious. "I
tell you Mr. Falloden is a friend of mine--as other people are. He is
very good company, and I won't have him abused--for nothing. His manners
are abominable. I have told him so dozens of times. All the same, he
amuses me--and interests me--and you are not to talk about him, Nora, if
you can't talk civilly."

And looking rather formidably great-ladyish, Constance threw severe
glances at her cousin.

Nora stood up, first on one foot, then on the other. She was bursting
with things to say, and could not find words to say them in. At last she
broke out--

"I'm not abusing him for nothing! If you only knew the horrid, rude
things--mean things too--at dances and parties--he does to some of the
girls I know here; just because they're not swells and not rich, and he
doesn't care what they think about him. That's what I call a
snob--judging people by whether they're rich and important--by whether
it's worth while to know them. Hateful!"

"You foolish child!" cried Connie. "He's so rich and important himself,
what can it matter to him? You talk as though he were a hanger-on--as
though he had anything to gain by making up to people. You are absurd!"

"Oh, no--I know he's not like Herbert Pryce," said Nora, panting, but
undaunted. "There, that was disgusting of me!--don't remember that I
ever said that, Connie!--I know Mr. Falloden needn't be a snob, because
he's got everything that snobs want--and he's clever besides. But it is
snobbish all the same to be so proud and stand-off, to like to make
other people feel small and miserable, just that you may feel big."

"Go away!" said Constance, and taking up one of her pillows, she threw
it neatly at Nora, who dodged it with equal skill. Nora retreated to the
other side of the door, then quickly put her head through again.

"Connie!--don't!"

"Go away!" repeated Connie, smiling, but determined.

Nora looked at her appealingly, then shut her lips firmly, turned and
went away. Connie spent a few minutes in meditation. She resented the
kind of quasi-guardianship that this clever _backfisch_ assumed towards
her, though she knew it meant that Nora had fallen in love with her. But
it was inconvenient to be so fallen in love with--if it was to mean
interference with her private affairs.

"As if I couldn't protect myself!"

The mere thought of Douglas Falloden was agitating enough, without the
consciousness that a pair of hostile eyes, so close to her, were on
the watch.

She sprang up, and went through her dressing, thinking all the time.
"What do I really feel about him? I am going to ride with him on
Monday--without telling anybody; I vowed I would never put myself in his
power again. And I am deliberately doing it. I am in my guardian's
house, and I am treating Uncle Ewen vilely."

And why?--why these lapses from good manners and good feeling? Was she
after all in love with him? If he asked her to marry him again, as he
had asked her to marry him before, would she now say yes, instead of no?
Not at all! She was further--she declared--from saying yes now, than she
had been under his first vehement attack. And yet she was quite
determined to ride with him. The thought of their rides in the radiant
Christmas sunshine at Cannes came back upon her with a rush. They had
been one continuous excitement, simply because it was Falloden who rode
beside her--Falloden, who after their merry dismounted lunch under the
pines, had swung her to her saddle again--her little foot in his strong
hand--so easily and powerfully. It was Falloden who, when she and two or
three others of the party found themselves by mistake on a dangerous
bridle-path, on the very edge of a steep ravine in the Esterels, and her
horse had become suddenly restive, had thrown himself off his own mount,
and passing between her horse and the precipice, where any sudden
movement of the frightened beast would have sent him to his death, had
seized the bridle and led her into safety. And yet all the time, she had
disliked him almost as much as she had been drawn to him. None of the
many signs of his autocratic and imperious temper had escaped her, and
the pride in her had clashed against the pride in him. To flirt with him
was one thing. The cloud of grief and illness, which had fallen so
heavily on her youth, was just lifting under the natural influences of
time at the moment when she and Falloden first came across each other.
It was a moment for her of strong reaction, of a welling-up and
welling-back of life, after a kind of suspension. The strong young,
fellow, with his good looks, his masterful ways, and his ability--in
spite of the barely disguised audacity which seemed inseparable from the
homage it pleased him to pay to women--had made a deep and thrilling
impression upon her youth and sex.

And yet she had never hesitated when he had asked her to marry him. Ride
with him--laugh with him--quarrel with him, yes!--marry him, no!
Something very deep in her recoiled. She refused him, and then had lain
awake most of the night thinking of her mother and feeling ecstatically
sure, while the tears came raining, that the dear ghost approved that
part of the business at least, if no other.

And how could there be any compunction about it? Douglas Falloden, with
his egotism, his pride in himself, his family, his wits, his boundless
confidence in his own brilliant future, was surely fair game. Such men
do not break their hearts for love. She had refused his request that he
might write to her without a qualm; and mostly because she imagined so
vividly what would have been his look of triumph had she granted it.
Then she had spent the rest of the winter and early spring in thinking
about him. And now she was going to do this reckless thing, out of
sheer wilfulness, sheer thirst for adventure. She had always been a
spoilt child, brought up with boundless indulgence, and accustomed to
all the excitements of life. It looked as though Douglas Falloden were
to be her excitement in Oxford. Girls like the two Miss Mansons might
take possession of him in public, so long as she commanded those
undiscovered rides and talks which revealed the real man. At the same
time, he should never be able to feel secure that she would do his
bidding, or keep appointments. As soon as Lady Laura's civil note
arrived, she was determined to refuse it. He had counted on her coming;
therefore she would not go. Her first move had been a deliberate check;
her second should be a concession. In any case she would keep the
upper hand.

Nevertheless there was an inner voice which mocked, through all the
patting and curling and rolling applied by Annette's skilled hands to
her mistress's brown hair. Had not Falloden himself arranged this whole
adventure ahead?--found her a horse and groom, while she was still in
the stage of thinking about them, and settled the place of rendezvous?

She could not deny it; but her obstinate confidence in her own powers
and will was not thereby in the least affected. She was going because it
amused her to go; not because he prescribed it.

The following day, Saturday, witnessed an unexpected stream of callers
on Mrs. Hooper. She was supposed to be at home on Saturday afternoons to
undergraduates; but the undergraduates who came were few and shy. They
called out of respect for the Reader, whose lectures they attended and
admired. But they seldom came a second time; for although Alice had her
following of young men, it was more amusing to meet her anywhere else
than under the eyes of her small, peevish mother, who seemed to be able
to talk of nothing else than ailments and tabloids, and whether the Bath
or the Buxton waters were the better for her own kind of rheumatism.

On this afternoon, however, the Hoopers' little drawing-room and the
lawn outside were crowded with folk. Alexander Sorell arrived early, and
found Constance in a white dress strolling up and down the lawn under a
scarlet parasol and surrounded by a group of men with whom she had made
acquaintance on the Christ Church barge. She received him with a
pleasure, an effusion, which made a modest man blush.

"This is nice of you!--I wondered whether you'd come!"

"I thought you'd seen too much of me this week already!" he said,
smiling--"but I wanted to arrange with you when I might take you to call
on the Master of Beaumont. To-morrow?"

"I shall be plucked, you'll see! You'll be ashamed of me."

"I'll take my chance. To-morrow then, at four o'clock before chapel?"

Constance nodded--"Delighted!"--and was then torn from him by her uncle,
who had fresh comers to introduce to her. But Sorell was quite content
to watch her from a distance, or to sit talking in a corner with Nora,
whom he regarded as a child,--"a jolly, clever, little thing!"--while
his mind was full of Constance.

The mere sight of her--the slim willowy creature, with her
distinguished head and her beautiful eyes--revived in him the memory of
some of his happiest and most sacred hours. It was her mother who had
produced upon his own early maturity one of those critical impressions,
for good or evil, which men so sensitive and finely strung owe to women.
The tenderness, the sympathy, the womanly insight of Ella Risborough had
drawn him out of one of those fits of bitter despondency which are so
apt to beset the scholar just emerging, strained and temporarily
injured, from the first contests of life.

He had done brilliantly at Oxford--more than brilliantly--and he had
paid for overwork by a long break-down. After getting his fellowship he
had been ordered abroad for rest and travel. There was nobody to help
him, nobody to think for him. His father and mother were dead; and of
near relations he had only a brother, established in business at
Liverpool, with whom he had little or nothing in common. At Rome he had
fallen in with the Risboroughs, and had wandered with them during a
whole spring through enchanted land of Sicily, where it gradually became
bearable again to think of the too-many things he knew, and to apply
them to his own pleasure and that of his companions. Ella Risborough was
then forty-two, seventeen years older than himself, and her only
daughter was a child of sixteen. He had loved them all--father, mother,
and child--with the adoring gratitude of one physically and morally
orphaned, to whom a new home and family has been temporarily given. For
Ella and her husband had taken a warm affection to the refined and
modest fellow, and could not do enough for him. His fellowship, and some
small savings, gave him all the money he wanted, but he was starved of
everything else that Man's kindred can generally provide--sympathy, and
understanding without words, and the little gaieties and kindnesses of
every day. These the Risboroughs offered him without stint, and rejoiced
to see him taking hold on life again under the sunshine they made for
him. After six months he was quite restored to health, and he went back
to Oxford to devote himself to his college work.

Twice afterwards he had gone to Rome on short visits to see the
Risboroughs. Then had come the crash of Lady Risborough's sudden death
followed by that of her husband. The bitterness of Sorell's grief was
increased by the fact that he saw no means, at that time, of continuing
his friendship with their orphan child. Indeed his fastidious and
scrupulous temperament forbade him any claim of the kind. He shrank from
being misunderstood. Constance, in the hands of Colonel King and his
wife, was well cared for, and the shrewd and rather suspicious soldier
would certainly have looked askance on the devotion of a man around
thirty, without fortune or family, to a creature so attractive and so
desirable as Constance Bledlow.

So he had held aloof, and as Constance resentfully remembered she had
received but two letters from him since her father's death. Ewen Hooper,
with whom he had an academic rather than a social acquaintance, had kept
him generally informed about her, and he knew that she was expected in
Oxford. But again he did not mean to put himself forward, or to remind
her unnecessarily of his friendship with her parents. At the
Vice-Chancellor's party, indeed, an old habit of looking after her had
seized him again, and he had not been able to resist it. But it was her
long disappearance with Falloden, her heightened colour, and preoccupied
manner when they parted at the college gate, together with the incident
at the boat-races of which he had been a witness, which had suddenly
developed a new and fighting resolve in him. If there was one type in
Oxford he feared and detested more than another it was the Falloden
type. To him, a Hellene in temper and soul--if to be a Hellene means
gentleness, reasonableness, lucidity, the absence of all selfish
pretensions--men like Falloden were the true barbarians of the day, and
the more able the more barbarian.

Thus, against his own will and foresight, he was on the way to become a
frequenter of the Hoopers' house. He had called on Wednesday, taken the
whole party to the boats on Thursday, and given them supper afterwards
in his rooms. They had all met again at the boats on Friday, and here he
was on Saturday, that he might make plans with Constance for Sunday and
for several other days ahead. He was well aware that things could not go
on at that pace; but he was determined to grasp the situation, and gauge
the girl's character, if he could.

[Illustration: The tea-party at Mrs. Hooper's]

He saw plainly that her presence at the Hoopers was going to transform
the household in various unexpected ways. On this Saturday afternoon
Mrs. Hooper's stock of teacups entirely ran out; so did her garden
chairs. Mrs. Manson called--and Lord Meyrick, under the wing of a young
fellow of All Souls, smooth-faced and slim, one of the "mighty men" of
the day, just taking wing for the bar and Parliament. Falloden, he
understood, had put in an appearance earlier in the afternoon; Herbert
Pryce, and Bobbie Vernon of Magdalen, a Blue of the first eminence,
skirmished round and round the newcomer, taking possession of her when
they could. Mrs. Hooper, under the influence of so much social success,
showed a red and flustered countenance, and her lace cap went awry.
Alice helped her mother in the distribution of tea, but was curiously
silent and self-effaced. It was dismally true that the men who usually
paid attention to her were now entirely occupied with Constance. Bobbie
Vernon, who was artistic, was holding an ardent though intermittent
discussion with Constance on the merits of old pictures and new. Pryce
occasionally took part in it, but only, as Sorell soon perceived, for
the sake of diverting a few of Connie's looks and gestures, a sally or a
smile, now and then to himself.

In the middle of it she turned abruptly towards Sorell. Her eyes
beckoned, and he carried her off to the further end of the garden, where
they were momentarily alone. There she fell upon him.

"Why did you never write to me all last winter?"

He could not help a slight flush.

"You had so many friends without me," he said, stammeringly, at last.

"One hasn't so many old friends." The voice was reproachful. "I thought
you must be offended with me."

"How could I be!"

"And you call me Lady Constance," she went on indignantly. "When did you
ever do such a thing in Rome, or when we were travelling?"

His look betrayed his feeling.

"Ah, but you were a little girl then, and now--"

"Now"--she said impatiently--"I am just Constance Bledlow, as I was
then--to you. But I don't give away my Christian name to everybody. I
don't like, for instance, being forced to give it to Aunt Ellen!"

And she threw a half-laughing, half-imperious glance towards Mrs. Hooper
in the distance.

Sorell smiled.

"I hope you're going to be happy here!" he said earnestly.

"I shall be happy enough--if I don't quarrel with Aunt Ellen!"

"Don't quarrel with anybody! Call me in, before you do. And do make
friends with your uncle. He is delightful."

"Yes, but far too busy for the likes of me. Oh, I dare say I shall keep
out of mischief."

But he thought he detected in her tone a restlessness, a forlornness,
which pained him.

"Why not take up some study--some occupation? Learn something--go in for
Honours!" he said, laughing.

She laughed too, but with a very decided shake of the head. Then she
turned upon him suddenly.

"But there is something I should like to learn! Papa began to teach me.
I should like to learn Greek."

"Bravo!" he said, with a throb of pleasure. "And take me for a teacher!"

"Do you really mean it?"

"Entirely." They strolled on, arranging times and seasons, Constance
throwing herself into the scheme with a joyous and childlike zest.

"Mind you--I shall make you work!" he said firmly.

"Rather! May Nora come too?--if she wishes? I like Nora!"

"Does that mean--"

"Only that Alice doesn't like me!" she said with a frank smile. "But I
agree--my uncle is a dear."

"And I hear you are going to ride?"

"Yes. Mr. Falloden has found me a horse and groom."

"When did you come to know Mr. Falloden? I don't remember anybody of
that name at the Barberini."

She explained carelessly.

"You are going out alone?"

"In general. Sometimes, no doubt, I shall find a friend. I must
ride!"--she shook her shoulders impatiently--"else I shall suffocate in
this place. It's beautiful--Oxford!--but I don't understand it--it's not
my friend yet. You remember that mare of mine in Rome--Angelica! I want
a good gallop--God and the grass!"

She laughed and stretched her long and slender arms, clasping her hands
above her head. He realised in her, with a disagreeable surprise, the
note that was so unlike her mother--the note of recklessness, of
vehement will. It was really ill-luck that some one else than Douglas
Falloden could not have been found to look after her riding.

       *       *       *       *       *

"I suppose you will be 'doing' the Eights all next week?" said Herbert
Pryce to the eldest Miss Hooper.

Alice coldly replied that she supposed it was necessary to take Connie
to all the festivities.

"What!--such a _blasé_ young woman! She seems to have been everywhere
and seen everything already. She will be able to give you and Miss Nora
all sorts of hints," said the mathematical tutor, with a touch of that
patronage which was rarely absent from his manner to Alice Hooper. He
was well aware of her interest in him, and flattered by it; but, to do
him justice, he had not gone out of his way to encourage it. She had
been all very well, with her pretty little French face, before this
striking creature, her cousin, appeared on the scene. And now of course
she was jealous--that was inevitable. But it was well girls should learn
to measure themselves against others--should find their proper place.

All the same, he was quite fond of her, the small kittenish thing. An
old friend of his, and of the Hoopers, had once described her as a girl
"with a real talent for flirtation and an engaging penury of mind."
Pryce thought the description good. She could be really engaging
sometimes, when she was happy and amused, and properly dressed. But ever
since the appearance of Constance Bledlow she seemed to have suffered
eclipse; to have grown plain and dull.

He stayed talking to her, however, a little while, seeing that Constance
Bledlow had gone indoors; and then he departed. Alice ran upstairs,
locked her door, and stood looking at herself in the glass. She hated
her dress, her hat, the way she had done her hair. The image of
Constance in her white silk hat with its drooping feathers, her
delicately embroidered dress and the necklace on her shapely throat,
tormented her. She was sick with envy--and with fear. For months she had
clung to the belief that Herbert Pryce would ask her to marry him. And
now all expectation of the magic words was beginning to fade from her
mind. In one short week, as it seemed to her, she had been utterly
eclipsed and thrown aside. Bob Vernon too, whose fancy for her, as shown
in various winter dances, had made her immensely proud, he being then in
that momentary limelight which flashes on the Blue, as he passes over
the Oxford scene--Vernon had scarcely had a word for her. She never knew
that he cared about pictures! And there was Connie--knowing everything
about pictures!--able to talk about everything! As she had listened to
Connie's talk, she had felt fairly bewildered. Of course it was no
credit to Connie to be able to rattle off all those names and things. It
was because she had lived in Italy. And no doubt a great deal of it was
showing off.

All the same, poor miserable Alice felt a bitter envy of Connie's
opportunities.



CHAPTER VI

"My brother will be here directly. He wants to show you his special
books," said Miss Wenlock shyly.

The Master's sister was a small and withered lady, who had been
something of a beauty, and was now the pink of gentle and middle-aged
decorum. She was one of those women it is so easy to ignore till you
live with them. Then you perceive that in their relations to their own
world, the world they make and govern, they are of the stuff which holds
a country together, without which a country can not exist. She might
have come out of a Dutch picture--a Terburg or a Metsu--so exquisite was
she in every detail--her small, white head, her regular features, the
lace coif tied under her chin, the ruffles at her wrist, the black
brocade gown, which never altered in its fashion and which she herself
cut out, year after year, for her maid to make,--the chatelaine of old
Normandy silver, given her by her brother years before, which hung at
her waist.

Opposite her sat a very different person, yet of a type no less
profitable to this mixed life of ours. Mrs. Mulholland was the widow of
a former scientific professor, of great fame in Oxford for his wit and
Liberalism. Whenever there was a contest on between science and
clericalism in the good old fighting days, Mulholland's ample figure
might have been seen swaying along the road from the Parks to
Convocation, his short-sighted eyes blinking at every one he passed, his
fair hair and beard streaming in the wind, a flag of battle to his own
side, and an omen of defeat to the enemy. His _mots_ still circulated,
and something of his gift for them had remained with the formidable
woman who now represented him. At a time when short dresses for women
were coming in universally, she always wore hers long and ample, though
they were looped up by various economical and thrifty devices; on the
top of the dress--which might have covered a crinoline, but didn't--a
shawl, long after every one else had ceased to wear shawls; and above
the shawl a hat, of the large mushroom type and indecipherable age. And
in the midst of this antique and generally untidy gear, the youngest and
liveliest face imaginable, under snow-white hair: black eyes full of
Irish fun, a pugnacious and humorous mouth, and the general look of one
so steeped in the rich, earthy stuff of life that she might have stepped
out of a novel of Fielding's or a page of "Lavengro."

When Constance entered, Mrs. Mulholland turned round suddenly to look at
her. It was a glance full of good will, but penetrating also, and
critical. It was as though the person from whom it came had more than a
mere stranger's interest in the tall young lady in white, now advancing
towards Miss Wenlock.

But she gave no immediate sign of it. She and Miss Wenlock had been
discussing an Oxford acquaintance, the newly-married wife of one of the
high officials of the University. Miss Wenlock, always amiable, had
discreetly pronounced her "charming."

"Oh, so dreadfully charming!" said Mrs. Mulholland with a shrug, "and so
sentimental that she hardens every heart. Mine becomes stone when I talk
to her. She cried when I went to tea with her--a wedding visit if you
please! I think it was because one of the kangaroos at Blenheim had just
died in childbirth. I told her it was a mercy, considering that any of
them would hug us to death if they got a chance. Are you a
sentimentalist, Lady Constance?" Mrs. Mulholland turned gaily to the
girl beside her, but still with the same touch of something coolly
observant in her manner.

Constance laughed.

"I never can cry when I ought to," she said lightly.

"Then you should go to tea with Mrs. Crabbett. She could train anybody
to cry--in time. She cultivates with care, and waters with tears, every
sorrow that blows! Most of us run away from our troubles, don't we?"

Constance again smiled assent. But suddenly her face stiffened. It was
like a flower closing, or a light blown out.

Mrs. Mulholland thought--"She has lost a father and a mother within a
year, and I have reminded her. I am a cruel, clumsy wretch."

And thenceforward she roared so gently that Miss Wenlock, who never said
a malicious thing herself, and was therefore entirely dependent on Sarah
Mulholland's tongue for the salt of life, felt herself cheated of her
usual Sunday entertainment. For there were few Sundays in term-time when
Mrs. Mulholland did not "drop in" for tea and talk at Beaumont before
going on to the Cathedral service.

But under the gentleness, Constance opened again, and expanded. Mrs.
Mulholland seemed to watch her with increasing kindness. At last, she
said abruptly--

"I have already heard of you from two charming young men."

Constance opened a pair of conscious eyes. It was as though she were
always expecting to hear Falloden's name, and protecting herself against
the shock of it. But the mistake was soon evident.

"Otto Radowitz told me you had been so kind to him! He is an
enthusiastic boy, and a great friend of mine. He deals always in
superlatives. That is so refreshing here in Oxford where we are all so
clever that we are deadly afraid of each other, and everybody talks
drab. And his music is divine! I hear they talk of him in Paris as
another Chopin. He passed his first degree examination the other day
magnificently! Come and hear him some evening at my house. Jim Meyrick,
too, has told me all about you. His mother is a cousin of mine, and he
condescends occasionally to come and see me. He is, I understand, a
'blood.' All I know is that he would be a nice youth, if he had a little
more will of his own, and had nicer friends!" The small black eyes under
the white hair flamed.

Constance started. Miss Wenlock put up a soothing hand--

"Dear Sarah, are you thinking of any one?"

"Of course I am!" said Mrs. Mulholland firmly. "There is a young
gentleman at Marmion who thinks the world belongs to him. Oh, you know
Mr. Falloden, Grace! He got the Newdigate last year, and the Greek Verse
the other day. He got the Ireland, and he's going to get a First. He
might have been in the Eleven, if he'd kept his temper, and they say
he's going to be a magnificent tennis player. And a lot of other
tiresome distinctions. I believe he speaks at the Union, and speaks
well--bad luck to him!"

Constance laughed, fidgeted, and at last said, rather defiantly--

"It's sometimes a merit to be disliked, isn't it? It means that you're
not exactly like other people. Aren't we all turned out by the gross!"

Mrs. Mulholland looked amused.

"Ah, but you see I know something about this young man at home. His
mother doesn't count. She has her younger children, and they make her
happy. And of course she is absurdly proud of Douglas. But the father
and this son Douglas are of the same stuff. They have a deal more brains
and education than their forbears ever wanted; but still, in soul, they
remain our feudal lords and superiors, who have a right to the services
of those beneath them. And everybody is beneath them--especially women;
and foreigners--and artists--and people who don't shoot or hunt. Ask
their neighbours--ask their cottagers. Whenever the revolution comes,
their heads will be the first to go! At the same time they know--the
clever ones--that they can't keep their place except by borrowing the
weapons of the class they really fear--the professional class--the
writers and thinkers--the lawyers and journalists. And so they take some
trouble to sharpen their own brains. And the cleverer they are, the more
tyrannous they are. And that, if you please, is Mr. Douglas Falloden!"

"I wonder why you are so angry with him, my dear Sarah," said Miss
Wenlock mildly.

"Because he has been bullying my nice boy, Radowitz!" said Mrs.
Mulholland vehemently. "I hear there has been a disgraceful amount of
ragging in Marmion lately, and that Douglas Falloden--can you conceive
it?--a man in his last term, whom the University imagines itself to be
turning out as an educated specimen!--is one of the ring-leaders--the
ring-leader. It appears that Otto wears a frilled dress shirt--why
shouldn't he?--that, having been brought up in Paris till he was
nineteen, he sometimes tucks his napkin under his chin--that he uses
French words when he needn't--that he dances like a Frenchman--that he
recites French poetry actually of his own making--that he plays too well
for a gentleman--that he doesn't respect the customs of the college, et
cetera. There is a sacred corner of the Junior Common Room, where no
freshman is expected to sit after hall. Otto sat in it--quite
innocently--knowing nothing--and, instead of apologising, made fun of
Jim Meyrick and Douglas Falloden who turned him out. Then afterwards he
composed a musical skit on 'the bloods,' which delighted every one in
college, who wasn't a 'blood.' And now there is open war between him and
them. Otto doesn't talk of it. I hear of it from other people. But he
looks excited and pale--he is a very delicate creature!--and we, who are
fond of him, live in dread of some violence. I never can understand why
the dons are so indulgent to ragging. It is nothing but a continuation
of school bullying. It ought to be put down with the strongest
possible hand."

Miss Wenlock had listened in tremulous sympathy, nodding from time to
time. Constance sat silent and rather pale--looting down. But her mind
was angry. She said to herself that nobody ought to attack absent
persons who can't defend themselves,--at least so violently. And as
Mrs. Mulholland seemed to wait for some remark from her, she said at
last, with a touch of impatience:

"I don't think Mr. Radowitz minds much. He came to us--to my uncle's--to
play last night. He was as gay as possible."

"Radowitz would make jokes with the hangman!" said Mrs. Mulholland. "Ah,
well, I think you know Douglas Falloden"--the tone was just lightly
touched with significance--"and if you can lecture him--do!" Then she
abruptly changed her subject:

"I suppose you have scarcely yet made acquaintance with your two aunts
who live quite close to the Fallodens in Yorkshire?"

Constance looked up in astonishment.

"Do you know them?"

"Oh, quite well!" The strong wrinkled face flashed into laughter. But
suddenly the speaker checked herself, and laid a worn hand gently on
Constance's knee--"You won't mind if I tell you things?--you won't think
me an impertinent old woman? I knew your father"--was there just an
imperceptible pause on the words?--"when he was quite a boy; and my
people were small squires under the shelter of the Risboroughs before
your father sold the property and settled abroad. I was brought up with
all your people--your Aunt Marcia, and your Aunt Winifred, and all the
rest of them. I saw your mother once in Rome--and loved her, like
everybody else. But--as probably you know--your Aunt Winifred--who was
keeping house for your father--gathered up her silly skirts, and
departed when your father announced his engagement. Then she and your
Aunt Marcia settled together in an old prim Georgian house, about five
miles from the Fallodens; and there they have been ever since. And now
they are tremendously excited about you!"

"About me?" said Constance, astonished. "I don't know them. They never
write to me. They never wrote to father!"

Mrs. Mulholland smiled.

"All the same you will have a letter from them soon. And of course you
remember your father's married sister, Lady Langmoor?"

"No, I never even saw her. But she did sometimes write to father."

"Yes, she was not quite such a fool as the others. Well, she will
certainly descend on you. She'll want you for some balls--for a
drawing-room--and that kind of thing. I warn you!"

The girl's face showed her restive.

"Why should she want me?--when she never wanted me before--or any of
us?"

"Ah, that's her affair! But it is your other aunts who delight me. Your
Aunt Marcia, when I first knew her, was in an ascetic phase. People
called it miserliness--but it wasn't; it was only a moral hatred of
waste--in anything. We envied her abominably, when I was a girl in my
early teens, much bothered with dressing, because she had invented a
garment--the only one of any kind that she wore under her dress. She
called it a 'Unipantaloonicoat'--you can imagine why! It included
stockings. It was thin in summer and thick in winter. There was only one
putting on--pouf!--and then the dress. I thought it a splendid idea, but
my mother wouldn't let me copy it. Your Aunt Winifred had just the
opposite mania--of piling on clothes--because she said there were
'always draughts.' If one petticoat fastened at the back, there must be
another over that which fastened at the front--and another at the
side--and so on, _ad infinitum_. But then, alack!--they suddenly dropped
all their absurdities, and became quite ordinary people. Aunt Winifred
took to religion; she befriends all the clergy for miles round. She is
the mother of Mother Church. And Aunt Marcia, after having starved
herself of clothes for years and collected nothing more agreeable than
snails, now wears silks and satins, and gossips and goes out to tea, and
collects blue china like anybody else. I connect it with the advent of a
certain General who after all went off solitary to Malta, and died
there. Poor Marcia! But you will certainly have to go and stay there."

"I don't know!" said Constance, her delicate mouth setting rather
stiffly.

"Ah, well--they are getting old!"

Mrs. Mulholland's tone had softened again, and when it softened there
was a wonderful kindness in it.

A door opened suddenly. The Master came in, followed by Alexander
Sorell.

"My dear Edward!" said Miss Wenlock, "how late you are!"

"I was caught by a bore, dear, after chapel. Horace couldn't get rid of
his, and I couldn't get rid of mine. But now all is well. How do you do,
Lady Constance? Have you had enough tea, and will you come and see
my books?"

He carried her off, Connie extremely nervous, and wondering into what
bogs she was about to flounder.

But she was a scholar's daughter, and she had lived with books. She
would have scorned to pretend, and her pose, if she had one, was a pose
of ignorance--she claimed less than she might. But the Master soon
discovered that she had many of her father's tastes, that she knew
something of archæology--he bore it even when she shyly quoted
Lanciani--that she read Latin, and was apparently passionately fond of
some kinds of poetry. And all the time she pleased his tired eyes by her
youth and freshness, and when as she grew at ease with him, and began to
chatter to him about Rome, and how the learned there love one another,
the Master's startling, discordant laugh rang out repeatedly.

The three in the other room heard it.

"She is amusing him," said Miss Wenlock, looking rather bewildered.
"They are generally so afraid of him."

The Master put his head into the drawing-room.

"I am taking Lady Constance into the garden, my dear. Will you three
follow when you like?"

He took her through the old house, with the dim faces of former masters
and college worthies shining softly on its panelled walls, in the golden
lights from the level sun outside, and presently they emerged upon the
garden which lay like an emerald encased on three sides by surfaces of
silver-grey stone, and overlooked by a delicate classical tower designed
by the genius of Christopher Wren. Over one-half of the garden lay an
exquisite shadow; the other was in vivid light. The air seemed to be
full of bells--a murmurous voice--the voice of Oxford; as though the
dead generations were perpetually whispering to the living--"We who
built these walls, and laid this turf for you--we, who are dead, call
to you who are living--carry on our task, continue our march:

     "On to the bound of the waste--
     On to the City of God!"

A silence fell upon Constance as she walked beside the Master. She was
thinking involuntarily of that absent word dropped by her
uncle--"_Oxford is a place of training_"--and there was a passionate and
troubled revolt in her. Other ghostly wills seemed to be threatening
her--wills that meant nothing to her. No!--her own will should shape her
own life! As against the austere appeal that comes from the inner heart
of Oxford, the young and restless blood in her sang defiance. "I will
ride with him to-morrow--I will--I will!"

But the Master merely thought that she was feeling the perennial spell
of the Oxford beauty.

"You are going to like Oxford, I hope?"

"Yes--" said Constance, a little reluctantly. "Oh, of course I shall
like it. But it oppresses me--rather."

"I know!" he said eagerly--always trying to place himself in contact
with the young mind and life, always seeking something from them in
which he was constantly disappointed. "Yes, we all feel that! We who are
alive must always fight the past, though we owe it all we have. Oxford
has been to me often a witch--a dangerous--almost an evil witch. I
seemed to see her--benumbing the young forces of the present. And the
scientific and practical men, who would like to scrap her, have
sometimes seemed to me right. And then one changes--one changes!"

His voice dropped. All that was slightly grotesque in his outer man,
the broad flat head, the red hair, the sharp wedge-like chin,
disappeared for Constance in the single impression of his eyes--pale
blue, intensely melancholy, and most human.

"Take up some occupation--some study--" he said to her gently. "You
won't be long here; but still, ask us for what we can give. In Oxford
one must learn something--or teach something. If not, life here
goes sour."

Constance repeated Sorell's promise to teach her Greek.

"Excellent!" said the Master. "You will be envied. Sorell is a capital
fellow! And one of the ablest of our younger scholars--though of
course"--the speaker drew himself up with a slight acerbity--"he and I
belong to different schools of criticism. He was devoted to
your mother."

Constance assented dumbly.

"And shows already"--thought the Master--"some dangerous signs of being
devoted to you. Poor wretch!" Aloud he said--"Ah, here they come. I must
get some more chairs."

The drawing-room party joined them, and the gathering lasted a little
longer. Sorell walked up and down with Constance. She liked him
increasingly--could not help liking him. And apart from his personal
charm, he recalled all sorts of pleasant things and touching memories to
her. But he was almost oppressively refined and scrupulous and
high-minded. "He is too perfect!" she thought rebelliously. "One can't
be as good as that. It isn't allowed."

As to Mrs. Mulholland, Constance felt herself taken possession
of--mothered--by that lady. She could not understand why, but though
rather puzzled and bewildered, she did not resist. There was something,
indeed, in the generous dark eyes that every now and then touched the
girl's feeling intolerably, as though it reminded her of a tenderness
she had been long schooling herself to do without.

"Come and see me, my dear, whenever you like. I have a house in St.
Giles, and all my husband's books. I do a lot of things--I am a
guardian--I work at the schools--the town schools for the town children,
et cetera. We all try to save our souls by committees nowadays. But my
real business is to talk, and make other people talk. So I am always at
home in the evenings after dinner, and a good many people come. Bring
Nora sometimes. Alice doesn't like me. Your aunt will let you
come--though we don't know each other very well. I am very respectable."

The laughing face looked into Constance's, which laughed back.

"That's all right!" said Mrs. Mulholland, as though some confidences had
been exchanged between them. "You might find me useful. Consider me a
friend of the family. I make rather a good umbrella-stand. People can
lean against me if they like. I hold firm. Good-bye. That's the
Cathedral bell."

But Constance and Sorell, followed discreetly by Annette, departed
first. Mrs. Mulholland stayed for a final word to the Master, before
obeying the silver voice from St. Frideswide's tower.

"To think of that girl being handed over to Ellen Hooper, just when all
her love affairs will be coming on! A woman with the wisdom of a rabbit,
and the feelings of a mule! And don't hold your finger up at me,
Master! You know you can't suffer fools at all--either gladly--or sadly.
Now let me go, Grace!--or I shan't be fit for church."

       *       *       *       *       *

"A very pretty creature!" said Ewen Hooper admiringly--"and you look
very well on her, Constance."

He addressed his niece, who had been just put into her saddle by the
neat groom who had brought the horses.

Mrs. Hooper, Alice and Nora were standing on the steps of the old house.
A knot of onlookers had collected on the pavement--mostly errand boys.
The passing undergraduates tried not to look curious, and hurried by.
Constance, in her dark blue riding-habit and a _tricorne_ felt hat which
she had been accustomed to wear in the Campagna, kept the mare fidgeting
and pawing a little that her uncle might inspect both her and her rider,
and then waved her hand in farewell.

"Where are you going, Connie?" cried Nora.

"Somewhere out there--beyond the railway," she said vaguely, pointing
with her riding-whip. "I shall be back in good time."

And she went off followed by Joseph, the groom, a man of forty, lean and
jockey-like, with a russet and wrinkled countenance which might mean
anything or nothing.

"A ridiculous hat!" said Alice, maliciously. "Nobody wears such a hat in
England to ride in. Think of her appearing like that in the Row!"

"It becomes her." The voice was Nora's, sharp and impatient.

"It is theatrical, like everything Connie does," said Mrs. Hooper
severely. "I beg that neither of you will copy her."

Nora walked to the door opening on the back garden, and stood there
frowning and smiling unseen.

       *       *       *       *       *

Meanwhile Joseph followed close at Connie's side, directing her, till
they passed through various crowded streets, and left the railway
behind. Then trotting under a sunny sky, on a broad vacant road, they
made for a line of hills in the middle distance.

The country was early June at its best. The river meadows blazed with
buttercups; the river itself, when Constance occasionally caught a
glimpse of its windings, lay intensely blue under a wide azure sky,
magnificently arched on a great cornice built of successive strata of
white and purple cloud, which held the horizon. Over the Lathom Woods
the cloud-line rose and fell in curves that took the line of the hill.
The woods themselves lay in a haze of heat, the sunlight on the rounded
crests of the trees, and the shadows cast by the westerly sun, all fused
within the one shimmering veil of blue. The air was fresh and
life-giving. Constance felt herself in love with life and the wide
Oxford scene. The physical exercise delighted her, and the breathless
sense of adventure.

But it was disagreeable to reflect, as she must do occasionally, that
the sphinx-like groom knew perfectly well that she was going to the
Lathom Woods, that he had the key of the nearest gate in his pocket,
that he would be a witness of her meeting with Falloden, whatever they
did with him afterwards, and that Falloden had in all probability paid
him largely to hold his tongue. All that side of it was
odious--degrading. But the thought of the green rides, and the man
waiting for her, set all the blood in her wild veins dancing. Yet there
was little or nothing in her feeling of a girl's yearning for a lover.
She wanted to see Falloden--to talk with him and dispute with him. She
could not be content for long without seeing him. He excited
her--provoked her--haunted her. And to feel her power over him was
delightful, if it had not been spoilt by a kind of recurrent fear--a
panic fear of his power over her.

What did she know of him after all? She was quite aware that her
friends, the Kings, had made some enquiries at Cannes before allowing
her to see so much of him as she had done during his stay with the rich
and hospitable Jaroslavs. She believed Colonel King had not liked him
personally. But Douglas Falloden belonged to one of the oldest English
families, settled on large estates in Yorkshire, with distinguished
records in all the great services; he was heir presumptive to a
marquisate, so long as his uncle, Lord Dagnall, now past seventy, did
not take it into his head to marry; and there was his brilliant career
at Oxford, his good looks and all the rest of it. Constance had a strong
dash of the worldling in her mixed character. She had been brought up
with Italian girl friends of the noble class, in whom the practical
instincts of a practical race were closely interwoven with what the
Englishman thinks of as Italian "romance" or "passion." She had
discussed dowries and settlements since she was fifteen; and took the
current values of wealth and birth for granted. She was quite aware of
her own advantages, and was not at all minded to throw them away. A
brilliant marriage was, perhaps, at the back of her mind, as it is at
the back of the minds of so many beautiful creatures who look and
breathe poetry, while they are aware, within a few pounds, of what can
be done in London on five thousand--or ten thousand--a year. She
inevitably thought of herself as quite different from the girls of poor
or middle-class families, who must earn their living--Nora,
for instance.

And yet there was really a gulf between her and the ordinary worldling.
It consisted in little else than a double dose of personality--a richer
supply of nerve and emotion. She could not imagine life without money,
because she had always lived with rich people. But money was the mere
substratum; what really mattered was the excitement of loving, and being
loved. She had adored her parents with an absorbing affection. Then, as
she grew up, everywhere in her Roman life, among her girl friends, or
the handsome youths she remembered riding in the Villa Borghese
gymkhana, she began to be aware of passion and sex; she caught the hints
of them, as it were of a lightning playing through the web of life,
flashing, and then gone--illuminating or destroying. Her mind was full
of love stories. At twenty she had been the confidante of many, both
from her married and her unmarried friends. It was all, so far, a great
mystery to her. But there was in her a thrilled expectation. Not of a
love, tranquil and serene, such as shone on her parents' lives, but of
something overwhelming and tempestuous; into which she might fling her
life as one flings a flower into the current of Niagara.

It was the suggestion of such a possibility that had drawn her first to
Douglas Falloden. For three golden days she had imagined herself
blissfully in love with him. Then had come disillusion and repulsion.
What was violent and imperious in him had struck on what was violent and
imperious in her. She had begun to hold him off--to resist him. And that
resistance had been more exciting even than the docility of the first
phase. It had ended in his proposal, the snatched kiss, and a breach.
And now, she had little idea of what would happen; and would say to
herself, recklessly, that she did not care. Only she must see him--must
go on exploring him. And as for allowing her intimacy with him to
develop in any ordinary way--under the eyes of the Hoopers--or of
Oxford--it was not to be thought of. Rather than be tamely handed over
to him in a commonplace wooing, she would have broken off all connection
with him; and that she had not the strength to do.

       *       *       *       *       *

"Here is the gate, my lady."

The man produced a key from his pocket and got down to open it.
Constance passed into a green world. Three "drives" converged in front
of her, moss-carpeted, and close-roofed by oak-wood in its first rich
leaf. After the hot sun on the straight and shadeless road outside,
these cool avenues stretching away into a forest infinity, seemed to
beckon a visitant towards some distant Elysian scene--some glade
haunted of Pan.

Constance looked down them eagerly. Which was she to take?--suddenly,
far down the right hand drive, a horseman--coming into view. He
perceived her, gave a touch to his horse, and was quickly beside her.

Both were conscious of the groom, who had reined in a few yards behind,
and sat impassive.

Falloden saluted her joyously. He rode a handsome Irish horse, nearly
black, with a white mark on its forehead; a nervous and spirited
creature, which its rider handled with the ease of one trained from his
childhood to the hunting field. His riding dress, with its knee-breeches
and leggings pleased the feminine eye; so did his strong curly head as
he bared it, and the animation of his look.

"This is better, isn't it, than ''ammer, 'ammer, 'ammer on the 'ard 'igh
road!' I particularly want to show you the bluebells--they're gorgeous!
But they're quite on the other side--a long way off. And then you'll be
tired--you'll want tea. I've arranged it."

"Joseph"--he turned to the groom--"you know the head keeper's cottage?"

"Yes, sir."

"Well, go off there and wait. Tell the keeper's wife that I shall bring
a lady to tea there in about an hour. She knows." Joseph turned
obediently, took the left hand road, and was soon out of sight.

The two riders paced side by side through the green shadows of the wood.
Constance was flushed--but 'she looked happy and gracious. Falloden had
not seen her so gracious since Oxford had brought them again across each
other. They fell at once, for the first time since her arrival, into the
easy talk of their early Riviera days; and he found himself doing his
very best to please her. She asked him questions about his approaching
schools; and it amused him, in the case of so quick a pupil, to frame a
"chaffing" account of Oxford examinations and degrees; to describe the
rush of an Honour man's first year before the mods' gate is leaped; the
loitering and "slacking" of the second year and part of the third; and
then the setting of teeth and girding of loins, when a man realises that
some of the lost time is gone forever, and that the last struggle
is upon him.

"What I am doing now is degrading!--getting 'tips' from the
tutors--pinning up lists--beastly names and dates--in my rooms--learning
hard bits by heart--cribbing and stealing all I can. And I have still
some of my first year's work to go through again. I must cut Oxford for
the last fortnight--and go into retreat."

Constance expressed her wonder that any one could ever do any work in
the summer term--

"You are all so busy lunching each other's Sisters and cousins and
aunts! It is a great picnic--not a university," she said flippantly.

"Distracting, I admit--but--"

He paused.

"But--what?"

After a moment, he turned a glowing countenance towards her.

"That is not my chief cause of flight!"

She professed not to understand.

"It is persons distract me--not tea-parties. Persons I want to be seeing
and talking to--persons I can not keep myself away from."

He looked straight before him. The horses ambled on together, the reins
on their necks. In the distance a cuckoo called from the river meadows,
and round the two young figures one might have fancied an attendant
escort of birds, as wrens, tits, pippets, fled startled by
their approach.

Constance laughed. The laugh, though very musical, was sarcastic.

"I don't see you as a shuttlecock!"

"Tossed by the winds of fate? You think I can always make myself do what
I wish?"

"That's how I read you--at present."

'Hm--a charming character! Everything calculated--nothing spontaneous.
That I think is what you mean?"

"No. But I doubt your being carried away."

He flushed hotly.

"Lady Connie!--"

He paused. Her colour rushed too. She saw what he was thinking of; she
perceived her blunder.

"For what else did you castigate me at Cannes?" he said, in a low voice.
And his black eyes looked passionately into hers. But she recovered
herself quickly.

"At any rate, you have more will than most people," she said lightly.
"Aren't you always boasting of it? But you are quite right to go away."

"I am not going for a week," he put in quickly. "There will be time for
two more rides."

She made no reply, and they paced on. Suddenly the trees began to thin
before them, and a splendid wave of colour swept across an open glade in
full sunlight.

"Marvellous!" cried Constance. "Oh, stop a moment!"

They pulled up on the brink of a sea of blue. All around them the
bluebells lay glowing in the sunshine. The colour and sparkle of them
was a physical delight; and with occasional lingering tufts of primroses
among them and the young oak scrub pushing up through the blue in every
shade of gold and bronze, they made an enchanted garden of the glade.

Falloden dismounted, tied up his horse, and gathered a bunch for his
companion.

"I don't know--ought we?" she said regretfully. "They are not so
beautiful when they are torn away. And in a week they will be
gone--withered!"

She stooped over them, caressing them, as, taking a strap from the
pocket of his own saddle, he tied the flowers to her pommel.

He looked up impetuously.

"Only to spring again!--in this same wood--in other woods--for us to
see. Do you ever think how full the world is of sheer pleasure--small
and great?" And his eyes told her plainly what his pleasure was at
that moment.

Something jarred. She drew herself away, though with fluttering pulses.
Falloden, with a strong effort, checked the tide of impulse in himself.
He mounted again, and suggested a gallop, through a long stretch of
green road on the further side of the glade. They let their horses go,
and the flying hoof-beats woke the very heart of the wood.

"That was good!" cried Falloden, as they pulled up, drawing in deep
draughts of the summer wind. Then he looked at her admiringly.

"How well you hold yourself! You are a perfect rider!"

Against her will Constance sparkled under his praise. Then they turned
their horses towards the keeper's cottage, and the sun fell lower in
the west.

"Mr. Falloden," said Constance presently, "I want you to promise me
something."

"Ask me," he said eagerly.

"I want you to give up ragging Otto Radowitz!"

His countenance changed.

"Who has been talking to you?"

"That doesn't matter. It is unworthy of you. Give it up."

Falloden laughed with good humour.

"I assure you it does him a world of good!"

She argued hotly; astonished, in her young inexperience, that his will
could so soon reassert itself against hers; sharply offended, indeed,
that after she had given him the boon of this rendezvous, he could
hesitate for a moment as to the boon she asked in return--had humbled
herself to ask. For had she not often vowed to herself that she would
never, never ask the smallest favour of him; while on her side a diet of
refusals and rebuffs was the only means to keep him in check?

But that diet was now gaily administered to herself.

Falloden argued with energy that a man who has never been to a public
school has got to be "disciplined" at the university; that Otto
Radowitz, being an artist, was specially in need of discipline; that no
harm had been done him, or would be done him. But he must be made to
understand that certain liberties and impertinences would not be
tolerated by the older men.

"He never means them!" cried Constance. "He doesn't understand. He is a
foreigner."

"No! He is an Englishman here--and must behave as such. Don't spoil him,
Lady Connie!"

He looked at her imperiously--half smiling, half frowning.

"Remember!--he is my friend!"

"I do remember," he said drily. "I am not likely to forget." Constance
flushed, and proudly dropped the subject. He saw that he had wounded
her, but he quietly accepted it. There was something in the little
incident that made her more aware of his overbearing character
than ever.

"If I married him," she thought, "I should be his slave!"

Tea had been daintily spread for them under a birch-tree near the
keeper's lodge. The keeper's wife served them with smiles and curtsies,
and then discreetly disappeared. Falloden waited on Constance as a
squire on his princess; and all round them lay the green encircling
rampart of the wood. In the man's every action, there was the homage of
one who only keeps silence because the woman he loves imposes it. But
Constance again felt that recurrent fear creeping over her. She had been
a fool--a fool!

He escorted her to the gate of the wood where Joseph was waiting.

"And now for our next merry meeting?" he said, as he got down to tighten
her stirrup which had stretched a little.

Constance hurriedly said she could not promise--there were so many
engagements.

Falloden did not press her. But he held her hand when she gave it him.

"Are you angry with me?" he said, in a low voice, while his eyes mocked
a little.

"No--only disappointed!"

"Isn't that unkind? Haven't we had a golden time?" His tone smote her a
little.

"It was heavenly," she said, "till--"

"Till I behaved like a brute?"

She laughed excitedly, and waved farewell.

Falloden, smiling, watched her go, standing beside his horse--a
Siegfried parting from Brunhilde.

When she and the groom had disappeared, he mounted and rode off towards
another exit.

"I must be off to-morrow!" he said to himself with decision--"or my
schools will go to the dogs!"



CHAPTER VII

"Three more invitations!--since lunch," said Mrs. Hooper, as she came
into the schoolroom, where her elder daughter sat by the window
renovating a garden hat.

Her mother dropped the envelopes on a small table beside Alice, and
sitting down on the other side of it, she waited for her
daughter's comments.

Alice threw down her work, and hastily opened the notes. She flushed an
angry pink as she read them.

"I might as well not exist!" she said shortly, as she pushed them away
again.

For two of the notes requested the pleasure of Dr. and Mrs. Hooper's and
Lady Constance Bledlow's company at dinner, and the third, from a very
great lady, begged "dear Mrs. Hooper" to bring Lady Constance to a small
party in Wolsey College Gardens, to meet the Chancellor of the
University, a famous Tory peer, who was coming down to a public,
meeting. In none of the three was there any mention of the elder
Miss Hooper.

Mrs. Hooper looked worried. It was to her credit that her maternal
feeling, which was her only passion, was more irritated by this sudden
stream of invitations than her vanity was tickled.

What was there indeed to tickle anybody's vanity in the situation? It
was all Constance--Constance--Constance! Mrs. Hooper was sometimes sick
of the very name "Lady Constance Bledlow," It had begun to get on her
nerves. The only defence against any sort of "superiority," as some one
has said, is to love it. But Mrs. Hooper did not love her husband's
niece. She was often inclined to wish, as she caught sight of Alice's
pinched face, that the household had never seen her. And yet without
Connie's three hundred a year, where would the household be!

Mrs. Hooper was painfully, one might have said, guiltily aware of that
side of the business. She was an incompetent, muddling woman, who had
never learnt to practise the simple and dignified thrift so common in
the academic households of the University. For nowhere, really, was
plain living gayer or more attractive than in the new Oxford of this
date. The young mothers who wheeled their own perambulators in the
Parks, who bathed and dressed and taught their children, whose
house-books showed a spirited and inventive economy of which they were
inordinately proud, who made their own gowns of Liberty stuff in scorn
of the fashion, were at the same time excellent hostesses, keeping open
house on Sundays for their husbands' undergraduate pupils, and gallantly
entertaining their own friends and equals at small flowery
dinner-parties in Morris-papered rooms, where the food and wine mattered
little, and good talk and happy comradeship were the real fare.
Meanwhile the same young mothers were going to lectures on the Angevins,
or reading Goethe or Dante in the evenings--a few friends together,
gathering at each other's houses; then were discussing politics and
social reform; and generally doing their best--unconsciously--to silence
the croakers and misogynists who maintained that when all the girl
babies in the perambulators were grown up, and Oxford was flooded with
womenkind like all other towns, Oxford would have gone to "Death and
damnation."

But Mrs. Hooper, poor lady, was not of this young and wholesome
generation. She was the daughter of a small Midland manufacturer, who
had rushed into sudden wealth, for a few years, had spent it all in
riotous living, over a period just sufficient to spoil his children, and
had then died leaving them penniless. Ewen Hooper had come across her
when he was lecturing at a northern university, immediately after his
own appointment at Oxford. He had passed a harassed and penurious youth,
was pining for a home. In ten days he was engaged to this girl whom he
met at the house of a Manchester professor. She took but little wooing,
was indeed so enchanted to be wooed that Ewen Hooper soon imagined
himself in love with her; and all was done.

Nor indeed had it answered so badly for him--for a time. She had given
him children, and a home, though an uncomfortable one. Greek scholarship
and Greek beauty were the real idols of his heart and imagination. They
did not fail him. But his wife did him one conspicuous ill turn. From
the first days of their marriage, she ran her husband badly into debt;
and things had got slowly worse with the years. Mrs. Hooper was the most
wasteful of managers; servants came and went interminably; and while
money oozed away, there was neither comfort nor luxury to show for it.
As the girls grew up, they learnt to dread the sound of the front
doorbell, which so often meant an angry tradesman; and Ewen Hooper, now
that he was turning grey, lived amid a perpetual series of mean
annoyances with which he was never meant to cope, and which he was now
beginning to hand over, helplessly, to his younger daughter Nora, the
one member of the family who showed some power to deal with them.

The situation had been almost acute, when Lord Risborough died. But
there was a legacy in his will for Ewen Hooper which had given a
breathing space; and Connie had readily consented to pay a year's
maintenance in advance. Yet still the drawer of bills, on which Nora
kept anxious watch, was painfully full; and of late the perennial
difficulty of ready money had reappeared.

Mrs. Hooper declared she must have a new dress, if these invitations
were to be accepted.

"I don't want anything extravagant," she said fretfully. "But really
it's too bad of Nora to say that I could have my old blue one done up.
She never seems to care how her mother looks. If all this fuss is going
to be made about Constance and I am to take her out, I must be decent!"

The small underhung mouth shut obstinately. These musts of her mother's
and Alice's were Nora's terror. They always meant a new bill.

Alice said--"Of course! And especially when Constance dresses so
extravagantly!" she added bitterly. "One can't look like her
scullery-maid!"

Mrs. Hooper sighed. She glanced round her to see that the door was shut.

"That silly child, Nora, had quite a scene with Connie this morning,
because Connie offered to give her that pretty white dress in Brandon's
window. She told me Connie had insulted her. Such nonsense! Why
shouldn't Connie give her a dress--and you too? She has more money than
she knows how to spend."

Alice did not reply. She, too, wanted new dresses; she could hardly
endure the grace and costliness of Connie's garments, when she compared
them with her own; but there was something in her sad little soul also
that would not let her be beholden to Connie. Not without a
struggle, anyway.

"I don't want Connie to give me things either," she said sulkily. "She's
never been the least nice to me. She makes a pet of Nora, and the rest
of us might be doormats for all the notice she takes of us."

"Well, I don't know--she's quite civil," said Mrs. Hooper reflectively.
She added, after a minute--"It's extraordinary how the servants will do
anything for her!"

"Why, of course, she tips them!" cried Alice, indignantly. Mrs. Hooper
shrugged her shoulders. It was quite indifferent to her whether Connie
tipped them or not, so long as she gained by the result. And there was
no denying the fact that the house had never gone so smoothly as since
Connie's arrival. At the same time her conscience reminded her that
there was probably something else than "tipping" in the matter. For
instance--both Constance and Annette were now intimately acquainted with
each of Mrs. Hooper's three maids, and all their family histories;
whereas Mrs. Hooper always found it impossible to remember their
surnames. A few days before this date, Susan the housemaid had received
a telegram telling her of the sudden death of a brother in South Africa.
In Mrs. Hooper's view it was providential that the death had occurred in
South Africa, as there could be no inconvenient question of going to the
funeral. But Connie had pleaded that the girl might go home for two days
to see her mother; Annette had done the housework during her absence;
and both maid and mistress had since been eagerly interested in the
girl's mourning, which had been largely supplied out of Connie's
wardrobe. Naturally the opinion of the kitchen was that "her ladyship
is sweet!"

Alice, however, had not found any sweetness in Connie. Was it because
Mr. Herbert Pryce seemed to take a mysterious pleasure in pointing out
her, charms to Alice? Alice supposed he meant it well. There was a
didactic element in him which was always leading him to try and improve
other people. But it filled her with a silent fury.

"Is everybody coming to the picnic to-morrow?" asked Mrs. Hooper
presently.

"Everybody." Alice pointed indifferently to a pile of notes lying on her
desk.

"You asked Connie if we should invite Mr. Falloden?"

"Of course I did, mother. He is away till next week."

"I wonder if she cares for him?" said Mrs. Hooper vaguely.

Alice laughed.

"If she does, she consoles herself pretty well, when he's not here."

"You mean with Mr. Sorell?"

Alice nodded.

"Such a ridiculous pretence, those Greek lessons!" she said, her small
face flaming. "Nora says, after they have done a few lines, Constance
begins to talk, and Mr. Sorell throws himself back in his chair, and
they chatter about the places they've seen together, and the people they
remember, till there's no more time left. Nora says it's a farce."

"I say, who's taking my name in vain?" said Nora, who had just opened
the schoolroom door and overheard the last sentence.

"Come in and shut the door," said Alice, "we were talking about your
Greek lessons."

"Jolly fun they are!" said Nora, balancing herself, as usual, on the
window-sill. "We don't do much Greek, but that don't matter! What are
these notes, mother?"

Mrs. Hooper handed them over. Alice threw a mocking look at her sister.

"Who said that Oxford didn't care about titles? When did any of those
people ever take any notice of us?"

"It isn't titles--it's Connie!" said Nora stoutly. "It's because she's
handsome and clever--and yet she isn't conceited; she's always
interested in other people. And she's an orphan--and people were very
fond of her mother. And she talks scrumptiously about Italy. And she's
new--and there's a bit of romance in it--and--well, there it is!"

And Nora pulled off a twig from the banksia rose outside, and began to
chew it energetically with her firm white teeth, by way of assisting
her thoughts.

"Isn't conceited!" repeated Alice with contempt. "Connie is as proud as
Lucifer."

"I didn't say she wasn't. But she isn't vain."

Alice laughed.

"Can't you see the difference?" said Nora impatiently. "'Proud' means
'Don't be such a fool as to imagine that I'm thinking of you!'--'Vain'
means 'I wonder dreadfully what you're thinking of me?'"

"Well then, Connie is both proud and vain," said Alice with decision.

"I don't mean she doesn't know she's rich, and good-looking and run
after," said Nora, beginning to flounder. "But half the time, anyway,
she forgets it."

"Except when she is talking to men," said Alice vindictively, to which
Mrs. Hooper added with her little obstinate air--

"Any girl who likes admiration as much as Connie does must be vain. Of
course, I don't blame her."

"Likes admiration? Hm," said Nora, still chewing at her twig. "Yes, I
suppose she does. But she's good at snubbing, too." And she threw a
glance at her sister. She was thinking of a small evening party the
night before, at which, it seemed to her, Connie had several times
snubbed Herbert Pryce rather severely. Alice said nothing. She knew what
Nora meant. But that Connie should despise what she had filched away
only made things worse.

Mrs. Hooper sighed again--loudly.

"The point is--is she carrying on with that man, Mr. Falloden?"

Nora looked up indignantly. Her mother's vulgarity tormented her.

"How can she be 'carrying on,' mother? He won't be in Oxford again till
his schools."

"Oh, you never know," said Mrs. Hooper vaguely. "Well, I must go and
answer these notes."

She went away. Nora descended gloomily from the window-sill.

"Mother wants a new dress. If we don't all look out, we shall be in
Queer Street again."

"You're always so dismal," said Alice impatiently. "Things are a great
deal better than they were."

"Well, goodness knows what would have happened to us if they weren't!"
cried Nora. "Besides they 're not nearly so much better as you think.
And the only reason why they're better is that Uncle Risborough left us
some money, and Connie's come to live here. And you and mother do
nothing but say horrid things about her, behind her back!"

She looked at her sister with accusing eyes. But Alice tossed her head,
and declared she wasn't going to be lectured by her younger sister. "You
yourself told mother this morning that Connie had insulted you."

"Yes, and I was a beast to say so!" cried the girl "She meant it awfully
well. Only I thought she thought I had been trying to sponge on her;
because I said something about having no dresses for the Commem. balls,
even if I wanted to 'come out' then--which I don't!--and she
straightaway offered to give me that dress in Brandon's. And I was
cross, and behaved like a fiend. And afterwards Connie said she was
awfully sorry if she'd hurt my feelings."

And suddenly Nora's brown eyes filled with tears.

"Well, you get on with her," said Alice, with fresh impatience--"and I
don't. That's all there is to it. Now do go away and let me get on
with the hat."

       *       *       *       *       *

That night, after Connie had finished her toilet for the night and was
safely in bed, with a new novel of Fogazzaro before her and a reading
lamp beside her, she suddenly put out her arms, and took Annette's
apple-red countenance--as the maid stooped over her to straighten the
bed-clothes--between her two small hands.

"Netta, I've had a real bad day!"

"And why, please, my lady?" said Annette rather severely, as she
released herself.

"First I had a quarrel with Nora--then some boring people came to
lunch--then I had a tiresome ride--and now Aunt Ellen has been pointing
out to me that it's all my fault she has to get a new dress, because
people will ask me to dinner-parties. I don't want to go to
dinner-parties!"

And Connie fell back on her pillows, with a great stretch, her black
brows drawn over eyes that still smiled beneath them.

"It's very ungrateful of you to talk of a tiresome ride--when that
gentleman took such pains to get you a nice horse," said Annette, still
tidying and folding as she moved about the room. Constance watched her,
her eyes shining absently as the thoughts passed through them. At
last she said:

"Do come here, Annette!"

Annette came, rather unwillingly. She sat down on the end of Constance's
bed, and took out some knitting from her pocket. She foresaw a
conversation in which she would need her wits about her, and some
mechanical employment steadied the mind.

"Annette, you know," said Constance slowly, "I've got to be married some
time."

"I've heard you say that before." Annette began to count some stitches.

"Oh, it's all very well," said Constance, with amusement--"you think you
know all about me, but you don't. You don't know, for instance, that I
went to ride over a week ago with a young man, without telling you, or
Aunt Ellen, or Uncle Ewen, or anybody!" She waited to see the effect of
her announcement. Annette did appear rather startled.

"I suppose you met him on the road?"

"I didn't! I made an appointment with him. We went to a big wood, some
miles out of Oxford, belonging to some people he knows, where there are
beautiful grass rides. He has the key of the gates--we sent away the
groom--and I was an hour alone with him--quite! There!"

There was a defiant accent on the last word. Annette shook her head. She
had been fifteen years in the Risboroughs' service, and remembered
Connie when she was almost a baby.

"Whatever were you so silly for? You know your mamma wouldn't have let
you."

"Well, I've not got my mamma," said Connie slowly. "And I'm not going to
be managed by Aunt Ellen, Netta. I intend to run my own show."

"Who is it?" said Annette, knitting busily.

Connie laughed.

"Do you think I'm going to tell you?"

"You needn't. I've got eyes in my head. It's that gentleman you met in
France."

Connie swung herself round and laid violent hands on Annette's knitting.

"You shan't knit. Look at me! You can't say he's not good-looking?"

"Which he knows--a deal sight more than is good for him," said Annette,
setting her mouth a little grimly.

"Everybody knows when they're good-looking, you dear silly! Of course,
he's most suitable--dreadfully so. And I can't make up my mind whether I
care for him a bit!"

She folded her arms in front of her, her little chin fell forward on
her white wrappings, and she stared rather sombrely into vacancy.

"What's wrong with him?" said Annette after a pause--adopting a tone in
which she might have discussed a new hat.

"Oh, I don't know," said Connie dreamily.

She was thinking of Falloden's sudden departure from Oxford, after his
own proposal of two more rides. His note, "crying off" till after the
schools, had seemed to her not quite as regretful as it might have been;
his epistolary style lacked charm. And it was impertinent of him to
suggest Lord Meyrick as a substitute. She had given the Lathom Woods a
wide berth ever since her first adventure there; and she hoped that Lord
Meyrick had spent some disappointed hours in those mossy rides.

All the same it looked as though she were going to see a good deal of
Douglas Falloden. She raised her eyes suddenly.

"Annette, I didn't tell you I'd heard from two of my aunts to-day!"

"You did!" Annette dropped her knitting of her own accord this time, and
sat open-mouthed.

"Two long letters. Funny, isn't it? Well, Aunt Langmoor wants me to go
to her directly--in time anyway for a ball at Tamworth House--horribly
smart--Prince and Princess coming--everybody begging for tickets. She's
actually got an invitation for me--I suppose by asking for it!--rather
calm of her. She calls me 'Dearest Connie.' And I never saw her! But
papa used to be fond of her, and she was never rude to mamma. What
shall I say?"

"Well, I think you'd much better go," said Annette decidedly. "You've
never worn that dress you got at Nice, and it'll be a dish-cloth if you
keep it much longer. The way we have to crush things in this place!"

And she looked angrily even at the capacious new wardrobe which took up
one whole side of the room.

"All right!" laughed Constance. "Then I'll accept Aunt Langmoor, because
you can't find any room for my best frock. It's a toss up. That settles
it. Well, but now for Aunt Marcia--"

She drew a letter from the pages of her French book, and opened it.

       *       *       *       *       *

"My dear Constance"--so it ran--"I should like to make your
acquaintance, and I hear that you are at Oxford with your uncle. I would
come and see you but that I never leave home. Oxford, too, depresses me
dreadfully. Why should people learn such a lot of useless things? We are
being ruined by all this education. However, what I meant to say was
that Winifred and I would be glad to see you here if you care to come.
Winifred, by the way, is quite aware that she behaved like a fool
twenty-two years ago. But as you weren't born then, we suggest it
shouldn't matter. We have all done foolish things. I, for instance,
invented a dress--a kind of bloomer thing--only it wasn't a bloomer. I
took a shop for it in Bond Street, and it nearly ruined me. But I
muddled through--that's our English way, isn't it?--and somehow things
come right. Now, I am very political, and Winifred's very churchy--it
doesn't really matter what you take up. So do come. You can bring your
maid and have a sitting-room. Nobody would interfere with you. But, of
course, we should introduce you to some nice people. If you are a
sensible girl--and I expect you are, for your father was a very clever
man--you must know that you ought to marry as soon as possible. There
aren't many young men about here. What becomes of all the young men in
England, I'm sure I don't know. But there are a few--and quite possible.
There are the Kenbarrows, about four miles off--a large
family--_nouveaux riches_--the father made buttons, or something of the
kind. But the children are all most presentable, and enormously rich.
And, of course, there are the Fallodens--quite near--Mr. and Lady Laura,
Douglas, the eldest son, a girl of seventeen, and two children. You'll
probably see Douglas at Oxford. Oh, I believe Sir Arthur Falloden,
_père_, told me the other day you had already met him somewhere.
Winifred and I don't like Douglas. But that's neither here nor there.
He's a magnificent creature, who can't be bothered with old ladies.
He'll no doubt make himself agreeable to you--_cela va sans dire_. I
don't altogether like what I hear sometimes about the Fallodens. Of
course Sir Arthur's very rich, but they say he's been speculating
enormously, and that he's been losing a good deal of money lately.
However, I don't suppose it matters. Their place, Flood Castle, is
really splendid--old to begin with, and done up! They have copied the
Americans and given every room a bathroom. Absurd extravagance! And
think of the plumbing! It was that kind of thing gave the Prince of
Wales typhoid. I hate drains!

"Well, anyway, do come and see us. Sophia Langmoor tells me she has
written to you, and if you go to her, you might come on here afterwards.
Winifred who has just read this letter says it will 'put you off.' I
don't see why it should. I certainly don't want it to. I'm downright, I
know, but I'm not hypocritical. The world's just run on white lies
nowadays--and I can't stand it. I don't tell any--if I can help.

"Oh, and there is Penfold Rectory not very far off--and a very nice man
there, though too 'broad' for Winifred. He tells me he's going to have
some people staying with him--a Mr. Sorell, and a young musician with a
Polish name--I can't remember it. Mr. Sorell's going to coach the young
man, or something. They're to be paying guests, for a month at least.
Mr. Powell was Mr. Sorell's college tutor--and Mr. Powell's dreadfully
poor--so I'm glad. No wife, mercifully!

"Anyway, you see, there are plenty of people about. Do come.

"I am, dear Constance,
   Your affectionate aunt,
      MARCIA RISBOROUGH."

"Now what on earth am I going to do about that?" said Constance, tossing
the letter over to Annette.

"Well, Mr. and Mrs. Hooper are going, cook says, to the Isle of Wight,
and Miss Alice is going with them," said Annette, "and Miss Nora's going
to join them after a bit in Scotland."

"I know all that," said Constance impatiently. "The question is--do you
see me sitting in lodgings at Ryde with Aunt Ellen for five or six
weeks, doing a little fancy-work, and walking out with Aunt Ellen and
Alice on the pier?"

Annette laughed discreetly over her knitting, but said nothing.

"No," said Connie decidedly. "That can't be done. I shall have to sample
Aunt Marcia. I must speak to Uncle Ewen to-morrow. Now put the light
out, please, Annette; I'm going to sleep."

But it was some time before she went to sleep. The night was hot and
thunderous, and her windows were wide open. Drifting in came the
ever-recurring bells of Oxford, from the boom of the Christ Church
"Tom," far away, through every variety of nearer tone. Connie lay and
sleepily listened to them. To her they were always voices, half alive,
half human, to which the dreaming mind put words that varied with the
mood of the dreamer.

Presently, she breathed a soft good night into the
darkness--"Mummy--mummy darling! good night!" It was generally her last
waking thought. But suddenly another--which brought with it a rush of
excitement--interposed between her and sleep.

"Tuesday," she murmured--"Mr. Sorell says the schools will be over by
Tuesday. I wonder!--"

And again the bluebell carpet seemed to be all round her--the light and
fragrance and colour of the wood. And the man on the black horse beside
her was bending towards her, all his harsh strength subdued, for the
moment, to the one end of pleasing her. She saw the smile in his dark
eyes; and the touch of sarcastic _brusquerie_ in the smile, that could
rouse her own fighting spirit, as the touch of her whip roused the
brown mare.

       *       *       *       *       *

"Am I really so late?" said Connie, in distress, running downstairs the
following afternoon to find the family and various guests waiting for
her in the hall.

"Well, I hope we shan't miss everybody," said Alice sharply. "How late
are we?"

She turned to Herbert Pryce.

The young don smiled and evaded the question.

"Nearly half an hour!" said Alice. "Of course they'll think we're not
coming."

"They" were another section of the party who were taking a couple of
boats round from the lower river, and were to meet the walkers coming
across the Parks, at the Cherwell.

"Dreadfully sorry!" said Connie, who had opened her eyes, however, as
though Alice's tone astonished her. "But my watch has gone quite mad."

"It does it every afternoon!" murmured Alice to a girl friend of Nora's
who was going with the party. It was an aside, but plainly heard by
Constance--whose cheeks flushed.

She turned appealingly to Herbert Pryce.

"Please carry my waterproof, while I button my gloves." Pryce was
enchanted. As the party left the house, he and Constance walked on
together, ahead of the others. She put on her most charming manners, and
the young man was more than flattered.

What was it, he asked himself, complacently, that gave her such a
delicate distinction? Her grey dress, and soft grey hat, were, he
supposed, perfect of their kind. But Oxford in the summer term was full
of pretty dresses. No, it must be her ease, her sureness of herself that
banished any awkward self-consciousness both in herself and her
companions, and allowed a man to do himself justice.

He forgot her recent snubs and went off at score about his own affairs,
his college, his prospects of winning a famous mathematical prize given
by the Berlin Academy, his own experience of German Universities, and
the shortcomings of Oxford. On these last he became scornfully voluble.
He was inclined to think he should soon cut it, and go in for public
life. These university towns were really very narrowing!

"Certainly," said Constance amiably. Was he thinking of Parliament?

Well, no, not at once. But journalism was always open to a man with
brains, and through journalism one got into the House, when the chance
came along. The House of Commons was dangerously in want of new blood.

"I am certain I could speak," he said ardently. "I have made several
attempts here, and I may say they have always come off."

Constance threw him a shy glance. She was thinking of a dictum of Uncle
Ewen's which he had delivered to her on a walk some days previously.
"What is it makes the mathematicians such fools? They never seem to grow
up. They tell us they're splendid fellows, and of course we must believe
them. But who's to know?"

Meanwhile, Alice and Sorell followed them at some distance behind, while
Mrs. Hooper and three or four other members of the party brought up the
rear. Scroll's look was a little clouded. He had heard what passed in
the hall, and he found himself glancing uncomfortably from the girl
beside him to the pair forging so gaily ahead. Alice Hooper's expression
seemed to him that of something weak and tortured. All through the
winter, in the small world of Oxford, the flirtation between Pryce of
Beaumont and Ewen Hooper's eldest girl had been a conspicuous thing,
even for those who had little or no personal knowledge of the Hoopers.
It was noticed with amusement that Pryce had at last found some one to
whom he might talk as long and egotistically as he pleased about himself
and his career; and kindly mothers had said to each other that it would
be a comfort to the Hoopers to have one of the daughters settled, though
in a modest way.

"It is pleasant to see that your cousin enjoys Oxford so much," said
Sorell, as they neared the museum, and saw Pryce and Connie disappearing
through the gate of the park.

"Yes. She seems to like it," said Alice coldly.

Sorell began to talk of his first acquaintance with the Risboroughs, and
of Connie's mother. There was no hint in what he said of his own
passionate affection for his dead friends. He was not a profaner of
shrines. But what he said brought out the vastness of Connie's loss in
the death of her mother; and he repeated something of what he had heard
from others of her utter physical and mental collapse after the double
tragedy of the year before.

"Of course you'll know more about it than I do. But one of the English
doctors in Rome, who is a friend of mine, told me that they thought at
one time they couldn't pull her through. She seemed to have nothing else
to live for."

"Oh, I don't think it was as bad as that," said Alice drily. "Anyway,
she's quite well and strong now."

"She's found a home again. That's a great comfort to all her mother's
old friends."

Sorell smiled upon his companion; the sensitive kindness in his own
nature appealing to the natural pity in hers.

But Alice made no reply; and he dropped the subject.

They walked across the park, under a wide summer sky, towards the
winding river, and the low blue hills beyond it. At the Cherwell
boat-house they found the two boats, with four or five men, and Nora, as
usual, taking charge of everything, at least till Herbert Pryce
should appear.

Connie was just stepping into the foremost boat, assisted by Herbert
Pryce, who was in his shirt-sleeves, while Lord Meyrick and another
Marmion man were already in the boat.

"Sorell, will you stroke the other boat?" said Pryce, "and Miss Nora,
will you have a cushion in the bows? Now I think we're made up. No--we
want another lady. And running his eyes over those still standing on the
bank, he called a plump little woman, the wife of a Llandaff tutor, who
had been walking with Mrs. Hooper.

"Mrs. Maddison, will you come with us? I think that will about trim us."

Mrs. Maddison obeyed him with alacrity, and the first boat pushed off.
Mrs. Hooper, Alice, Sorell, two St. Cyprian undergraduates and Nora's
girl friend, Miss Watson, followed in the second.

Then, while the June evening broadened and declined, the party wound in
and out of the curves of the Cherwell. The silver river, brimming from a
recent flood, lay sleepily like a gorged serpent between the hay meadows
on either side. Flowers of the edge, meadow-sweet, ragged-robin and
yellow flags, dipped into the water; willows spread their thin green
over the embattled white and blue of the sky; here and there a rat
plunged or a bird fled shrieking; bushes of wild roses flung out their
branches, and everywhere the heat and the odours of a rich open land
proclaimed the fulness of the midland summer.

Connie made the life of the leading boat. Something had roused her, and
she began to reveal some of the "parlour-tricks," with which she had
amused the Palazzo Barberini in her Roman days. A question from Pryce
stirred her into quoting some of the folk-songs of the Campagna, some
comic, some tragic, fitting an action to them so lively and true that
even those of her hearers who could not follow the dialect sat
entranced. Then some one said--"But they ought to be sung!" And
suddenly, though rather shyly, she broke into a popular _canzone_ of the
Garibaldian time, describing the day of Villa Gloria; the march of the
morning, the wild hopes, the fanfaronade; and in the evening, a girl
hiding a wounded lover and weeping both for him and "Italia" undone.

The sweet low sounds floated along the river.

"Delicious!" said Sorell, holding his oar suspended to listen. He
remembered the song perfectly. He had heard her sing it in many
places--Rome, Naples, Syracuse. It was a great favourite with her
mother, for whom the national upheaval of Italy--the heroic struggle of
the Risorgimento--had been a life-long passion.

"Why did Connie never tell us she could sing!" said Mrs. Hooper in her
thin peevish voice. "Girls really shouldn't hide their accomplishments."

Sorell's oar dropped into the water with a splash.

       *       *       *       *       *

At Marston Ferry, there was a general disembarking, a ramble along the
river bank and tea under a group of elms beside a broad reach of the
stream. Sorell noticed, that in spite of the regrouping of the two boat
loads, as they mingled in the walk, Herbert Pryce never left Connie's
side. And it seemed to him, and to others, that she was determined to
keep him there. He must gather yellow flag and pink willow-herb for her,
must hook a water-lily within reach of the bank with her parasol, must
explain to her about English farms, and landlords, and why the labourers
were discontented--why there were no peasant owners, as in Italy--and so
on, and so on. Round-faced Mrs. Maddison, who had never seen the
Hoopers' niece before, watched her with amusement, deciding that,
distinguished and refined as the girl was, she was bent on admiration,
and not too critical as to whence it came. The good-natured,
curly-haired Meyrick, who was discontentedly reduced to helping Alice
and Nora with the tea, and had never been so bored with a river picnic
before, consoled himself by storing up rich materials for a "chaff" of
Douglas when they next met--perhaps that evening, after hall? Alice
meanwhile laughed and talked with the freshman whom Meyrick had brought
with him from Marmion. Her silence and pallor had gone; she showed a
kind of determined vivacity. Sorell, with his strange gift of sympathy,
found himself admiring her "pluck."

When the party returned to the boat-house in the evening, Sorell, whose
boat had arrived first at the landing-stage, helped Constance to land.
Pryce, much against his will, was annexed by Nora to help her return the
boats to the Isis; the undergraduates who had brought them being due at
various engagements in Oxford. Sorell carried Constance off. He thought
that he had never seen her look more radiant. She was flushed with
success and praise, and the gold of the river sunset glorified her as
she walked. Behind them, dim figures in the twilight, followed Mrs.
Hooper and Alice, with the two other ladies, their cavaliers having
deserted them.

"I am so glad you like Mr. Pryce," said Sorell suddenly.

Constance looked at him in astonishment.

"But why? I don't like him very much!"

"Really? I was glad because I suppose--doesn't everybody suppose?"--he
looked at her smiling--"that there'll be some news in that quarter
presently?"

Constance was silent a moment. At last, she said--

"You mean--he'll propose to Alice?"

"Isn't that what's expected?" He too had reddened. He was a shy man, and
he was suddenly conscious that he had done a marked thing.

Another silence. Then Constance faced him, her face now more than
flushed--aflame.

"I see. You think I have been behaving badly?"

He stammered.

"I didn't know perhaps--whether--you have been such a little while
here--whether you had come across the Oxford gossip. I wish
sometimes--you know I'm an old friend of your uncle--that it could be
settled. Little Miss Alice has begun to look very worn."

Constance walked on, her eyes on the ground. He could see the soft lace
on her breast fluttering. What foolish quixotry--what jealousy for an
ideal--had made him run this hideous risk of offending her? He held his
breath till she should look at him again. When she did, the beauty of
the look abashed him.

"Thank you!" she said quietly. "Thank you very much. Alice annoyed
me--she doesn't like me, you see--and I took a mean revenge. Well, now
you understand--how I miss mamma!"

She held out her hand to him impulsively, and he enclosed it warmly in
his; asking her, rather incoherently, to forgive his impertinence. Was
it to be Ella Risborough's legacy to him--this futile yearning to
help--to watch over--her orphaned child?

Much good the legacy would do him, when Connie's own will was really
engaged! He happened to know that Douglas Falloden was already in Oxford
again, and in a few more days Greats would be over, and the young man's
energies released. What possible justification had he, Sorell, for any
sort of interference in this quarter? It seemed to him, indeed, as to
many others, that the young man showed every sign of a selfish and
violent character. What then? Are rich and handsome husbands so
plentiful? Have the moralists ever had their way with youth and sex in
their first turbulent hour?



CHAPTER VIII

This little scene with Sorell, described in the last chapter, was of
great importance to Connie's after history. It had placed her suddenly
on a footing of intimacy with a man of poetic and lofty character, and
had transformed her old childish relation to him--which had alone made
the scene possible--into something entirely different. It produced a
singular effect upon her that such a man should care enough what befell
her to dare to say what he had said to her. It had been--she admitted
it--a lesson in scrupulousness, in high delicacy of feeling, in
magnanimity. "You are trifling with what may be the life of
another--just to amuse yourself--or to pay off a moment's offence. Only
the stupid or cruel souls do such things--or think lightly of them. But
not you--your mother's daughter!"

That had been the meaning of his sudden incursion. The more Connie
thought of it, the more it thrilled her. It was both her charm and her
weakness, at this moment, that she was so plastic, so responsive both
for good and evil. She said to herself that she was fortunate to have
such a friend; and she was conscious of a new and eager wish to win his
praise, or to avoid his blame.

At the same time it did not occur to her to tell him anything of her
escapade with Douglas Falloden. But the more closely she kept this to
herself, the more eager she was to appease her conscience and satisfy
Sorell, in the matter of Alice and Herbert Pryce. Her instinct showed
her what to do, and Sorell watched her struggling with the results of
her evening's flirtation with much secret amusement and applause.
Herbert Pryce having been whistled on, had to be whistled off, and Alice
had to be gently and gradually reassured; yet without any obvious
penitence on Connie's part, which would only have inflicted additional
wounds on Alice's sore spirit.

And Connie did it, broadly speaking, during the week of Falloden's
schools. Sorell himself was busy every day and all day as one of the
Greats examiners. He scarcely saw her for more than two half-hours
during a hideously strenuous week, through which he sat immersed in the
logic and philosophy papers of the disappearing generation of Honour
men. Among the papers of the twenty or thirty men who were the certain
Firsts of the year, he could not help paying a special attention to
Douglas Falloden's. What a hard and glittering mind the fellow
had!--extraordinarily competent and well-trained; extraordinarily
lacking, as it seemed to Sorell, in width or pliancy, or humanity. One
of the ablest essays sent in, however, was a paper by Falloden on the
"Sentimentalisms of Democracy"--in which a reasoned and fierce contempt
for the popular voice, and a brilliant glorification of war and of a
military aristocracy, made very lively reading.

On the later occasion, when Sorell and Constance met during the week, he
found Radowitz in the Hoopers' drawing-room. Sorell had gone in after
dinner to consult with Ewen Hooper, one of his fellow examiners, over
some doubtful papers, and their business done, the two men allowed
themselves an interval of talk and music with the ladies before
beginning work again till the small hours.

Constance, in diaphanous black, was at the piano, trying to recall, for
Radowitz's benefit, some of the Italian folk-songs that had delighted
the river-party. The room was full of a soft mingled light from the
still uncurtained windows and the lamp which had been just brought in.
It seemed to be specially concentrated on the hair, "golden like ripe
corn," of the young musician, and on Connie's white neck and arms.
Radowitz lay back in a low chair gazing at her with all his eyes.

On the further side of the room Nora was reading, Mrs. Hooper was busy
with the newspaper, and Alice and Herbert Pryce were talking with the
air of people who are, rather uncomfortably, making up a quarrel.

Sorell spent his half-hour mostly in conversation with Mrs. Hooper and
Nora, while his inner mind wondered about the others. He stood with his
back to the mantelpiece, his handsome pensive face, with its intensely
human eyes, bent towards Nora, who was pouring out to him some
grievances of the "home-students," to which he was courteously giving a
jaded man's attention.

When he left the room Radowitz broke out--

"Isn't he like a god?"

Connie opened astonished eyes.

"Who?"

"My tutor--Mr. Sorell. Ah, you didn't notice--but you should. He is like
the Hermes--only grown older, and with a soul. But there is no Greek
sculptor who could have done him justice. It would have wanted a
Praxiteles; but with the mind of Euripides!"

The boy's passionate enthusiasm pleased her. But she could think of
nothing less conventional in reply than to ask if Sorell were popular
in college.

"Oh, they like him well enough. They know what trouble he takes for
them, and there's nobody dares cheek him. But they don't understand him.
He's too shy. Wasn't it good fortune for me that he happens to be
my friend?"

And he began to talk at headlong speed, and with considerable eloquence,
of Sorell's virtues and accomplishments. Constance, who had been brought
up in a southern country, liked the eloquence. Something in her was
already tired of the slangy brevities that do duty in England for
conversation. At the same time she thought she understood why Falloden,
and Meyrick, and others called the youth a _poseur_, and angrily wished
to snub him. He possessed besides, in-bred, all the foreign aids to the
mere voice--gesticulation of hands and head, movements that to the
Englishman are unexpected and therefore disagreeable. Also there,
undeniably, was the frilled dress-shirt, and the two diamond studs, much
larger and more conspicuous than Oxford taste allowed, which added to
its criminality. And it was easy to see too that the youth was
inordinately proud of his Polish ancestry, and inclined to rate all
Englishmen as _parvenus_ and shopkeepers.

"Was it in Paris you first made friends with Mr. Sorell?" Connie asked
him.

Radowitz nodded.

"I was nineteen. My uncle had just died. I had nobody. You understand,
my father was exiled twenty years ago. We belong to German Poland;
though there has always been a branch of the family in Cracow. For more
than a hundred years these vile Germans have been crushing and
tormenting us. They have taken our land, they have tried to kill our
language and our religion. But they can not. Our soul lives. Poland
lives. And some day there will be a great war--and then Poland will rise
again. From the East and the West and the South they will come--and the
body that was hewn asunder will be young and glorious again." His blue
eyes shone. "Some day, I will play you that in music. Chopin is full of
it--the death of Poland--and then her soul, her songs, her hopes, her
rising again. Ah, but Sorell!--I will explain. I saw him one night at a
house of kind people--the master of it was the Directeur of the Ecole
des Sciences Politiques--and his wife. She was so beautiful, though she
was not young; and gentle, like a child; and so good. I was nothing to
them--but I went to some lectures at the school, while I was still at
the Conservatoire, and I used to go and play to them sometimes. So when
my uncle died, they said, 'Come and stay with us.' I had really nobody.
My father and mother died years ago. My mother, you understand, was half
English; I always spoke English with her. She knew I must be a musician.
That was settled when I was a child. Music is my life. But if I took it
for a profession, she made me promise to see some other kinds of life
first. She often said she would like me to go to Oxford. She had some
old engravings of the colleges she used to show me. I am not a pauper,
you see,--not at all. My family was once a very great family; and I have
some money--not very much, but enough. So then Mr. Sorell and I began to
talk. And I had suddenly the feeling--'If this man will tell me what to
do, I will do it.' And then he found I was thinking of Oxford, and he
said, if I came, he would be my friend, and look after me. And so he
advised me to go to Marmion, because some of the tutors there were great
friends of his. And that is why I went. And I have been there nearly
a year."

"And you like it?" Connie, sitting hunched on the music-stool, her chin
on her hand, was thinking of Falloden's outburst, and her own rebuff in
Lathom Woods.

The boy shrugged his shoulders. He looked at Connie with his brilliant
eyes, and she seemed to see that he was on the point of confiding in
her, of complaining of his treatment, and then proudly checked himself.

"Oh, I like it well enough," he said carelessly. "I am reading classics.
I love Greek. There is a soul in Greek. Latin--and Rome--that is too
like the Germans! Now let me play to you--something from Poland."

He took her seat at the piano, and began to play--first in a dreamy and
quiet way, passing from one plaintive folk-song to another; then
gradually rising into passion, defiance, tragedy. Constance stood
listening to him in amazement--entranced. Music was a natural language
to her as it was to Radowitz, though her gift was so small and slight
compared to his. But she understood and followed him; and there sprang
up in her, as she sat turning her delicate face to the musician, that
sudden, impassioned delight, that sense of fellowship with things vast
and incommunicable--"exultations, agonies, and love, and man's
unconquerable mind"--which it is the glorious function of music to
kindle in the human spirit.

[Illustration: _Lady Connie had stood entranced by the playing of
Radowitz_]

The twilight darkened. Every sound in the room but Radowitz's playing
had ceased; even Mrs. Hooper had put down her newspaper. Nora, on the
further side of the room, was absorbed in watching the two beautiful
figures under the lamplight, the golden-haired musician and the
listening girl.

Suddenly there was a noise of voices in the hall outside. The
drawing-room door was thrown open, and the parlourmaid announced:

"Mr. Falloden."

Mrs. Hooper rose hastily. Radowitz wavered in a march finale he was
improvising, and looked round.

"Oh, go on!" cried Constance.

But Radowitz ceased playing. He got up, with an angry shake of his wave
of hair, muttered something about "another couple of hours' work" and
closed the piano.

Constance remained sitting, as though unaware of the new arrival in the
room.

"That was wonderful!" she said, with a long breath, her eyes raised to
Radowitz. "Now I shall go and read Polish history!"

A resonant voice said:

"Hullo--Radowitz! Good-evening, Lady Connie. Isn't this a scandalous
time to call? But I came about the ball-tickets for next Wednesday--to
ask how many your aunt wants. There seems to be an unholy rush on them."

Connie put out a careless hand.

"How do you do? We've been having the most divine music! Next Wednesday?
Oh, yes, I remember!" And as she recovered her hand from Falloden, she
drew it across her eyes, as though trying to dispel the dream in which
Radowitz's playing had wrapped her. Then the hand dropped, and she saw
the drawing-room door closing on the player.

Falloden looked down upon her with a sarcastic mouth, which, however,
worked nervously.

"I'm extremely sorry to bring you down to earth. I suppose he's awfully
good."

"It's genius," said Connie, breathlessly--"just that--genius! I had no
idea he had such a gift." Falloden shrugged his shoulders without reply.
He threw himself into a chair beside her, his knees crossed, his hands
on the topmost knee, with the finger-tips lightly touching, an attitude
characteristic of him. The lamp which had been brought in to light the
piano shone full upon him, and Constance perceived that, in spite of his
self-confident ease of bearing, he looked haggard and pale with the long
strain of the schools. Her own manner relaxed.

"Have you really done?" she asked, more graciously.

"I was in for my last paper this afternoon. I am now a free man."

"And you've got your First?"

He laughed.

"That only the gods know. I may just squeak into it."

"And now you've finished with Oxford?"

"Oh, dear, no! There's a fortnight more. One keeps the best--for the
last."

"Then your people are coming up again for Commem.?" The innocence of the
tone was perfect.

His sparkling eyes met hers.

"I have no domestic prospects of that sort," he said drily. "What I
shall do with this fortnight depends entirely--on one person."

The rest of the room seemed full of a buzz of conversation which left
them unobserved. Connie had taken up her large lace fan and was slowly
opening and closing it. The warm pallor of her face and throat, the
golden brown of her hair, the grace of her neck and shoulders, enchanted
the man beside her. For three weeks he had been holding desire in check
with a strong hand. The tide of it rushed back upon him, with the joy of
a released force. But he knew that he must walk warily.

"Will you please give me some orders?" he went on, smiling, seeing that
she did not reply. "How has the mare been behaving?"

"She is rather tame--a little too much of the sheep in her composition."

"She wants a companion. So do I--badly. There is a little village beyond
the Lathom Woods--which has a cottage--for tea--and a strawberry garden.
Shall we sample it?"

Constance shook her head laughing.

"We haven't an hour. Everybody asks us to parties, all day and all night
long. London is a joke to Oxford."

"Don't go!" said Falloden impatiently. "I have been asked to meet
you--three times--at very dull houses. But I shall go, of course, unless
I can persuade you to do something more amusing."

"Oh, dear, no! We're in for it. But I thought people came here to read
books?"

"They do read a few; but when one has done with them one feels towards
them like enemies whom one has defeated--and insults. I chucked my Greek
lexicon under the sofa, first thing, when I got back from the schools
this afternoon."

"Wasn't that childish--rather? I am appalled to think how much you
know."

He laughed impatiently.

"Now one may begin to learn something. Oxford is precious little use.
But it's not worth while being beaten--in anything. Shall we say
Thursday, then?--for our ride?"

Constance opened her eyes in pretended astonishment.

"After the ball? Shall I be awake? Let's settle it on Wednesday!"

He could get no more definite promise from her, and must needs take his
leave. Before he went, he asked her to keep the first four dances for
him at the Marmion ball, and two supper-dances. But Constance evaded a
direct assent. She would do her best. But she had promised some to Mr.
Pryce, and some to Mr. Radowitz.

Falloden's look darkened.

"You should not allow him to dance with you," he said imperiously. "He
is too eccentric. He doesn't know how to behave; and he makes his
partners conspicuous."

Constance too had risen, and they confronted each other--she all
wilfulness.

"I shall certainly dance with him!" she said, with a little determined
air. "You see, I like foreign ways!"

He said good night abruptly. As he stood a few minutes on the further
side of the room, making a few last arrangements as to the ball with
Mrs. Hooper and Alice, Constance, still standing by the piano, and
apparently chatting with Herbert Pryce, was really aware of Falloden's
every movement. His manner to her aunt was brusque and careless; and he
forgot, apparently, to say good night either to Alice or Nora. Nobody in
the room, as she well knew, except herself, found any pleasure in his
society. Nora's hostile face in the background was a comic study. And
yet, so long as he was there, nobody could forget or overlook him; so
splendid was the physical presence of the man, and so strong the
impression of his personality--even in trivial things.

       *       *       *       *       *

Meanwhile, everybody in the house had gone to bed, except Nora and her
father. She had lit a little fire in his study, as the night had grown
chilly; she had put a little tray with tea on it by his side, and helped
him to arrange the Greats papers, in which he was still immersed, under
his hand. And finally she brought his pipe and filled it for him.

"Must you sit up long, father?"

"An hour or two," said Ewen Hooper wearily. "I wish I didn't get so
limp. But these Honour exams take it out of one. And I have to go to
Winchester to-morrow."

"For the scholarship?"

He nodded.

"Father! you work a great deal too hard--you look dog-tired!" cried Nora
in distress. "Why do you do so much?"

He shook his head sadly.

"You know, darling."

Nora did know. She knew that every pound was of importance to the
household, that the temporary respite caused by the legacy from Lord
Risborough and by Connie's prepayment would very soon come to an end,
and that her father seemed to be more acutely aware of the position
than he had yet been. Her own cleverness, and the higher education she
was steadily getting for herself enabled her to appreciate, as no one
else in the family could or did, her father's delicate scholarly gifts,
which had won him his reputation in Oxford and outside. But the
reputation might have been higher, if so much time had not been claimed
year after year by the sheer pressure of the family creditors. With
every year, Nora had grown up into a fuller understanding of her
father's tragedy; a more bitter, a more indignant understanding. They
might worry through; one way or another she supposed they would worry
through. But her father's strength and genius were being sacrificed. And
this child of seventeen did not see how to stop it.

After she had brought him his pipe, and he was drawing at it contentedly
over the fire, she stood silent beside him, bursting with something she
could not make up her mind to say. He put out an arm, as she stood
beside his chair, and drew her to him.

"Dear little Trotty Veck!" It had been his pet name for her as a child.
Nora, for answer, bent her head, and kissed him.

"Father"--she broke out--"I've got my first job!"

He looked up enquiringly.

"Mr. Hurst"--she named her English Literature tutor, a fellow of
Marmion--"has got it for me. I've been doing some Norman-French with
him; and there's a German professor has asked him to get part of a
romance copied that's in the Bodleian--the only manuscript. And Mr.
Hurst says he'll coach me--I can easily do it--and I shall get
ten pounds!"

"Well done, Trotty Veck!" Ewen Hooper smiled at her affectionately.
"But won't it interfere with your work?"

"Not a bit. It will help it. Father!--I'm going to earn a lot before
long. If it only didn't take such a long time to grow up!" said Nora
impatiently. "One ought to be as old as one feels--and I feel quite
twenty-one!"

Ewen Hooper shook his head.

"That's all wrong. One should be young--and taste being young, every
moment, every day that one can. I wish I'd done it--now that I'm
getting old."

"You're not old!" cried Nora. "You're not, father! You're not to say
it!"

And kneeling down by him, she laid her cheek against his shoulder, and
put one of his long gaunt hands to her lips.

Her affection was very sweet to him, but it could not comfort him. There
are few things, indeed, in which the old can be comforted by the
young--the old, who know too much, both of life and themselves.

But he pulled himself together.

"Dear Trotty Veck, you must go to bed, and let me do my work. But--one
moment!" He laid a hand on her shoulder, and abruptly asked her whether
she thought her Cousin Constance was in love with Douglas Falloden.
"Your mother's always talking to me about it," he said, with a wearied
perplexity.

"I don't know," said Nora, frowning. "But I shouldn't wonder."

"Then I shall have to make some enquiries," said Connie's guardian, with
resignation. "She's a masterful young woman. But she can be very sweet
when she likes. Do you see what she gave me to-day?"

He pointed to a beautiful Viennese edition of Aeschylus, in three
sumptuous volumes, which had just appeared and was now lying on the
Reader's table.

Nora took it up with a cry of pleasure. She had her father's passion for
books.

"She heard me say to Sorell, apparently, that I would give my eyes for
it, and couldn't afford it. That was a week ago. And to-day, after
luncheon, she stole in here like a mouse--you none of you saw or heard
her--holding the books behind her--and looking as meek as milk. You
would have thought she was a child, coming to say she was sorry! And she
gave me the books in the prettiest way--just like her mother!--as though
all the favour came from me. I'm beginning to be very fond of her. She's
so nice to your old father. I say, Nora!"--he held her again--"you and I
have got to prevent her from marrying the wrong man!"

Nora shook her head, with an air of middle-aged wisdom.

"Connie will marry whomever she has a mind to!" she said firmly. "And
it's no good, father, you imagining anything else."

Ewen Hooper laughed, released her, and sent her to bed.

The days that followed represented the latter part of the interval
between the Eights and Commemoration, before Oxford plunged once more
into high festival.

It was to be a brilliant Commem.; for an ex-Viceroy of India, a retired
Ambassador, England's best General, and five or six foreign men of
science and letters, of rather exceptional eminence, were coming to get
their honorary degrees. When Mrs. Hooper, _Times_ in hand, read out at
the breakfast-table the names of Oxford's expected guests, Constance
Bledlow looked up in surprised amusement. It seemed the Ambassador and
she were old friends; that she had sat on his knee as a baby through
various Carnival processions in the Corso, showing him how to throw
_confetti_; and that he and Lady F. had given a dance at the Embassy for
her coming-out, when Connie, at seventeen, and His Excellency--still the
handsomest man in the room, despite years and gout--had danced the first
waltz together, and a subsequent minuet; which--though Connie did not
say so--had been the talk of Rome.

As to the ex-Viceroy, he was her father's first cousin, and had passed
through Rome on his way east, staying three or four days at the Palazzo
Barberini. Constance, however, could not be induced to trouble her head
about him. "He bored Mamma and me dreadfully," she said--"he had seven
pokers up his back, and was never human for a minute. I don't want to
see him at all." Oxford, however, seemed to be of the opinion that
ex-viceroys do want to see their cousins; for the Hooper party found
themselves asked as a matter of course to the All Souls' luncheon, the
Vice-Chancellor's garden-party, and to a private dinner-party in Christ
Church on the day of the Encænia, at which all the new-made doctors were
to be present. As for the ball-tickets for Commem. week, they poured in;
and meanwhile there were endless dinner-parties, and every afternoon had
its river picnic, now on the upper, now on the lower river.

It was clear, indeed, both to her relations and to Oxford in general,
that Constance Bledlow was to be the heroine of the moment. She would be
the "star" of Commem., as so many other pretty or charming girls had
been before her. But in her case, it was no mere undergraduate success.
Old and young alike agreed to praise her. Her rank inevitably gave her
precedence at almost every dinner-party, Oxford society not being rich
in the peerage. The host, who was often the head of a college and
grey-haired, took her in; and some other University big-wig, equally
mature, flanked her on the right. When she was undressing in her little
room after these entertainments, she would give Annette a yawning or
plaintive account of them. "You know, Annette, I never talk to anybody
under fifty now!" But at the time she never failed to play her part. She
was born with the wish to please, which, as every one knows, makes three
parts of the art of pleasing.

Meanwhile Sorell, who was at all times a very popular man, in great
request, accepted many more invitations than usual in order to see as
much as he could of this triumphal progress of Lady Risborough's
daughter. Oxford society was then much more limited than now, and he and
she met often. It seemed to him whenever he came across Douglas Falloden
in Connie's company during these days, that the young man's pursuit of
Constance, if it was a pursuit, was making no progress at all, and that
his temper suffered accordingly. Connie's endless engagements were
constantly in the way. Sorell thought he detected once or twice that
Falloden had taken steps to procure invitations to houses where
Constance was expected; but when they did meet it was evident that he
got but a small share of her attention.

Once Sorell saw them in what appeared intimate conversation at a Christ
Church party. Falloden--who was flushed and frowning--was talking
rapidly in a low voice; and Constance was listening to him with a look
half soft, half mocking. Her replies seemed to irritate her companion,
for they parted abruptly, Constance looking back to smile a
sarcastic good-bye.

Again, on the Sunday before the Encænia, a famous high churchman
preached in the University church. The church was densely crowded, and
Sorell, sitting in the masters' seats under the pulpit, saw Constance
dimly, in the pews reserved for wives and families of the University
doctors and masters, beneath the gallery. Immediately to her right, in
the very front of the undergraduates' gallery, he perceived the tall
form and striking head of Douglas Falloden; and when the sermon was over
he saw that the young man was one of the first to push his way out.

"He hopes to waylay her," thought Sorell.

If so, he was unsuccessful. Sorell emerging with the stream into the
High Street saw Connie's black and white parasol a little ahead.
Falloden was on the point of overtaking her, when Radowitz, the
golden-haired, the conspicuous, crossed his path. Constance looked
round, smiled, shook hands with Radowitz, and apparently not seeing
Falloden in her rear, walked on, in merry talk with the beaming
musician. Sorell, perhaps, was the only person who noticed the look of
pale fury with which Falloden dropped out of the crowded pathway,
crossed the street, and entered a smart club opposite, exclusively
frequented by "bloods."

Commem. week itself, however, would give a man in love plenty of
chances. Sorell was well aware of it. Monday dawned with misty sunshine
after much rain. In the Turl after luncheon, Sorell met Nora Hooper
hurrying along with note-books under her arm. They turned down
Brasenose Lane together, and she explained that she was on her way to
the Bodleian where she was already at work on her first paid job. Her
pleasure in it, and the childish airs she gave herself in regard to it,
touched and amused Sorell, with whom--through the Greek lessons--she had
become a great favourite.

As they parted at the doorway leading to the Bodleian, she said with a
mischievous look--

"Did you know Mr. Falloden's party is off?"

And she explained that for the following day, Falloden had arranged the
most elaborate and exclusive of river-parties, with tea in the private
gardens of a famous house, ten miles from Oxford. His mother and sister
had been coming down for it, and he had asked other people from London.

"It was all for Connie--and Connie's had to scratch! And Mr. Falloden
has put it all off. He says his mother, Lady Laura, has a chill and
can't come, but every one knows--it's Connie!"

She and Sorell smiled at each other. They had never had many words on
the subject, but they understood each other perfectly.

"What made her scratch?" asked Sorell, wondering.

"Royalties," said Nora shortly, with a democratic nose in air.

It appeared that a certain travelled and artistic Princess had been
spending the week-end in a ducal house in the neighbourhood. So, too,
had the ex-Viceroy. And hearing from him that the only daughter "of
those dear Risboroughs" was at Oxford, twelve miles off, her Royal
Highness, through him, had "commanded" Constance for tea under the ducal
roof on Tuesday. A carriage was to be sent for her, and the ex-Viceroy
undertook to convey her back to Oxford afterwards, he being due himself
to dine and sleep at the Vice-Chancellor's the night before the Encænia.

"Constance didn't want to go a bit. She was dreadfully annoyed. But
father and mother made her. So she sent a note to Mr. Falloden, and he
came round. She was out, but Alice saw him. Alice says he scarcely said
a word, but you could feel he was in a towering rage."

"Poor Falloden!" said Sorell.

Nora's eyes twinkled.

"Yes, but so good for him! I'm sure he's always throwing over other
people. Now he knows

     "'Golden lads and lasses must
     Like chimney-sweepers come to dust.'"

"Vandal!" cried Sorell--"to twist such a verse!"

Nora laughed, threw him a friendly nod, and vanished up the steps of the
Bodleian.

But Falloden's hour came!

The Encænia went off magnificently. Connie, sitting beside Mrs. Hooper
in the semicircle of the Sheldonian Theatre, drew the eyes of the crowd
of graduates as they surged into the arena, and tantalised the
undergraduates in the gallery, above the semicircle, who were well aware
that the "star" was there, but could not see her. As the new doctors'
procession entered through the lane made for it by the bedells, as the
whole assembly rose, and as the organ struck up, amid the clapping and
shouting of the gods in the gallery, Connie and the grey-haired
Ambassador, who was walking second in the red and yellow line, grinned
openly at each other, while the ex-Viceroy in front, who had been
agreeably flattered by the effect produced by his girl-cousin in the
august circles of the day before, nodded and smiled at the young lady in
the white plumes and pale mauve dress.

"Do you know my cousin, Lady Constance Bledlow?--the girl in mauve
there?" he said, complacently in the ear of the Public Orator, as they
stood waiting till the mingled din from the organ and the
undergraduates' gallery overhead should subside sufficiently to allow
that official to begin his arduous task of introducing the
doctors-elect.

The Public Orator, in a panic lest one of the Latin puns in his
forthcoming address should escape him, said hurriedly--"Yes!"--and then
"No"--being quite uncertain to which girl in mauve the great man
referred, and far too nervous to find out. The great man smiled, and
looked up blandly at the shrieking gallery overhead, wondering--as all
persons in his position do wonder in each succeeding generation--whether
the undergraduates were allowed to make quite such an infernal noise
when he was "up."

Meanwhile, Constance herself was only conscious of one face and figure
in the crowded theatre. Falloden had borrowed a master's gown, and as
the general throng closed up behind the doctors' procession, he took up
a position in the rear, just in front of the great doors under the organ
loft, which, as the day was very hot, remained unclosed. His dark head
and athlete's figure, scarcely disguised by the ampler folds of the
borrowed gown, showed in picturesque relief against the grey and sunlit
background of the beautiful Divinity School, which could be seen through
the doorway. Constance knew that his eyes were on her; and she guessed
that he was only conscious of her, as she at that moment was only
conscious of him. And again that tremor, that premonition of some coming
attack upon her will which she half dreaded, and half desired, swept
over her. What was there in the grave and slightly frowning face that
drew her through all repulsion? She studied it. Surely the brow and eyes
were beautiful--shaped for high thought, and generous feeling? It was
the disdainful sulky mouth, the haughty carriage of the head, that
spoilt a noble aspect. Yet she had seen the mouth quiver into softness;
and those broad shoulders had once stood between her and
danger--possibly death. Her heart trembled. "What do you want of me?" it
was asking--helplessly--of the distant man; "and can I--dare
I--give it?"

Then her thoughts flew onward to the ball of the evening, for it was the
night of the Marmion ball. No more escape! If she went--and nothing
should prevent her from going--it would be Falloden's evening,
Falloden's chance. She had been perfectly conscious of evading and
thwarting him during the previous week. There had been some girlish
mischief, but more excitement in it. Now, would he take his revenge?

Her heart beat fast. She had never yet danced with him. To-night she
would feel his arm round her in the convention of the waltz. And she
knew that for her it would be no convention; but something either to be
passionately accepted--or impatiently endured.

       *       *       *       *       *

Oxford went early to the Marmion ball. It was a very popular gathering.
So that before ten o'clock the green quadrangle was crowded with guests
waiting to see other guests come in; while the lights from the Gothic
hall, and the notes of the "Blue Danube," then in its first prime, flung
out their call to youth and sex.

In they thronged--young men and maidens--a gay procession through the
lawns and quadrangles, feeling the world born anew for them, and for
them only, as their fathers and mothers had felt before them.

Falloden and Meyrick, with half a dozen other chosen spirits, met
Constance at the entrance and while Mrs. Hooper and Alice followed,
pleased against their will by the reflected fame which had fallen upon
them also, the young men formed a body-guard round Constance, and
escorted her like a queen to the hall.

Sorell, eagerly waiting, watched her entrance into the beautiful and
spacious room, with its throng of dancers. She came in, radiant, with
that aureole of popular favour floating round her, which has so much to
do with the loveliness of the young. All the world smiled on her; she
smiled in return; and that sarcastic self behind the smile, which Nora's
quick sense was so often conscious of, seemed to have vanished. She
carried, Sorell saw, a glorious bunch of pale roses. Were they
Falloden's gift?

That Douglas Falloden danced with her repeatedly, that they sat out
together through most of the supper-dances, that there was a sheltered
corner in the illuminated quad, beside the Græco-Roman fountain which an
archæological warden had given to the college, where, involuntarily, his
troubled eyes discovered them more than once:--this at least Sorell
knew, and could not help knowing. He saw that she danced twice with
Radowitz, and that Falloden stood meanwhile in the doorway of the hall,
twisting his black moustache, and chaffing Meyrick, yet all the time
with an eye on the ballroom. And during one long disappearance, he
found himself guessing that Falloden had taken her to the library for
greater seclusion. Only a very few people seemed to know that the fine
old room was open.

"Where is Connie?" said poor Mrs. Hooper fretfully--when three o'clock
had long struck. "I can't keep awake!"

       *       *       *       *       *

And now a midsummer sun was rising over Oxford. The last carriage had
rumbled through the streets; the last merry group of black-coated men,
and girls in thin shoes and opera-cloaks had vanished. The summer dawn
held the whole beautiful and silenced city in its peace.

Constance, in her dressing-gown, sat at the open window, looking out
over the dewy garden, and vaguely conscious of its scents as one final
touch of sweetness in a whole of pleasure which was still sending its
thrill through all her pulses.

At last, she found pen and paper on her writing-table, and wrote an
instruction for Annette upon it.

       *       *       *       *       *

"Please send early for the horses. They should be here at a quarter to
nine. Call me at eight. Tell Aunt Ellen that I have gone for a ride, and
shall be back by eleven. It was quite a nice ball."

       *       *       *       *       *

Then, with a silent laugh at the last words, she took the sheet of
paper, stole noiselessly out of her room, and up the stairs to Annette's
room, where she pushed the message under the door. Annette had not been
well the day before, and Connie had peremptorily forbidden her to
sit up.



CHAPTER IX

The day was still young in Lathom Woods. A wood-cutter engaged in
cutting coppice on the wood's eastern skirts, hearing deep muffled
sounds from "Tom" clock-tower, borne to him from Oxford on the light
easterly breeze, stopped to count the strokes.

Ten o'clock.

He straightened himself, wiped the sweat from his brow, and was
immediately aware of certain other sounds approaching from the wood
itself. Horses--at a walk. No doubt the same gentleman and lady who had
passed him an hour earlier, going in a contrary direction.

He watched them as they passed him again, repeating his reflection that
they were a "fine-lookin' couple"--no doubt sweethearts. What else
should bring a young man and a young woman riding in Lathom Woods at
that time in the morning? "Never seed 'em doin' it before, anyways."

Connie threw the old man a gracious "Good morning!"--to which he
guardedly responded, looking full at her, as he stood leaning on
his axe.

"I wonder what the old fellow is thinking about us!" she said lightly,
when they had moved forward. Then she flushed, conscious that the remark
had been ill-advised.

Falloden, who was sitting erect and rather sombre, his reins lying
loosely on his horse's neck, said slowly--

"He is probably thinking all sorts of foolish things, which aren't true.
I wish they were."

Connie's eyes were shining with a suppressed excitement.

"He supposes at any rate we have had a good time, and in fact--we
haven't. Is that what you mean?"

"If you like to put it so."

"And we haven't had a good time, because--unfortunately--we've
quarrelled!"

"I should describe it differently. There are certain proofs and tests of
friendship that any friend may ask for. But when they are all refused--"

"Friendship itself is strained!" laughed Constance, looking round at her
companion. She was breathing quickly. "In other words, we have been
quarrelling--about Radowitz--and there seems no way of making it up."

"You have only to promise me the very little thing I asked," said
Falloden stiffly.

"That I shouldn't dance with him to-night, or again this week? You call
that a little thing?"

"I should have thought it a small thing, compared--"

He turned and faced her. His dark eyes were full of proud agitation--of
things unspoken. But she met them undaunted.

"Compared to--friendship?"

He was silent, but his eyes held her.

"Well then"--said Constance--"let me repeat that--in my opinion,
friendship which asks unreasonable things--is not friendship--but
tyranny!"

She drew herself up passionately, and gave a smart touch with her whip
to the mare's flank, who bounded forward, and had to be checked by
Falloden's hand on her bridle.

"Don't get run away with, while you are denouncing me!" he said,
smiling, as they pulled up.

"I really didn't want any help!" said Constance, panting. "I could have
stopped her quite easily."

"I doubt it. She is really not the lamb you think her!"

"Nor is her mistress: I return the remark."

"Which has no point. Because only a mad-man--"

"Could have dreamed of comparing me--to anything soft and docile?"
laughed Constance.

There was another silence. Before them at the end of a long green vista
the gate opening on the main road could be seen.

Constance broke it. "Wounded pride, and stubborn will were hot within
her.

"Well, it is a great pity we should have been sparring like this. I
can't remember who began it. But now I suppose I may do what I like with
the dances I promised you?"

"I keep no one to their word who means to break it," said Falloden
coldly.

Constance grew suddenly white.

"That"--she said quietly--"was unpardonable!"

"It was. I retract it."

"No. You have said it--which means that you could think it. That decides
it."

They rode on in silence. As they neared the gate, Constance, whose face
showed agitation and distress, said abruptly--

"Of course I know I must seem very ungrateful--"

A sound, half bitter, half scornful from Falloden stopped her. She threw
her head back defiantly.

"All the same I could be grateful enough, in my own way, if you would
let me. But what you don't understand is that men can't lord it over
women now as they used to do. You say--you"--she stammered a
little--"you love me. I don't know yet--what I feel. I feel many
different things. But I know this: A man who forbids me to do this and
that--to talk to this person--or dance with some one else--a man who
does not trust and believe in me--if I were ever so much in love with
him, I would not marry him! I should feel myself a coward and a slave!"

"One is always told"--said Falloden hoarsely--"that love makes it easy
to grant even the most difficult things. And I have begged the
merest trifle."

"'Begged'?" said Constance, raising her eyebrows. "You issued a decree.
I am not to dance with Radowitz--and I am not to see so much of Mr.
Sorell--if I am to keep your--friendship. I demurred. You repeated
it--as though you were responsible for what I do, and had a right to
command me. Well, that does not suit me. I am perfectly free, and I have
given you no right to arrange my life for me. So now let us understand
each other."

Falloden shrugged his shoulders.

"You have indeed made it perfectly plain!"

"I meant to," said Constance vehemently.

But they could not keep their eyes from each other. Both were pale. In
both the impulse to throw away pride and hold out a hand of yielding was
all but strong enough to end their quarrel. Both suffered, and if the
truth were told, both were standing much deeper than before in the
midstream of passion.

But neither spoke another word--till the gate was reached.

Falloden opened it, and backed his horse out of Connie's way. In the
road outside, at a little distance, the groom was waiting.

"Good-bye," said Falloden, with ceremonious politeness. "I wish I had
not spoilt your ride. Please do not give up riding in the woods, because
you might be burdened with my company. I shall never intrude upon you.
All the woodmen and keepers have been informed that you have full
permission. The family will be all away till the autumn. But the woodmen
will look after you, and give you no trouble."

"Thank you!" said Constance, lightly, staying the mare for a moment.
"But surely some of the rides will be wanted directly for the pheasants?
Anyway I think I shall try the other side of Oxford. They say Bagley is
delightful. Good-bye!"

She passed through, made a signal to Joseph, and was soon trotting fast
towards Oxford.

       *       *       *       *       *

On that return ride, Constance could not conceal from herself that she
was unhappy. Her lips quivered, her eyes had much ado to keep back the
onset of tears--now that there was no Falloden to see her, or provoke
her. How brightly their ride had begun!--how miserably it had ended! She
thought of that first exhilaration; the early sun upon the wood; the
dewy scents of moss and tree; Falloden's face of greeting--"How can you
look so fresh! You can't have slept more than four hours--and here you
are! Wonderful! 'Did ever Dian so become a grove'--"

An ominous quotation, if she had only remembered at the time where it
came from! For really his ways were those of a modern Petruchio--ways
that no girl of any decent spirit could endure.

Yet how frank and charming had been his talk as they rode into the
wood!--talk of his immediate plans, which he seemed to lay at her feet,
asking for her sympathy and counsel; of his father and his two sisters;
of the Hoopers even. About them, his new tone was no doubt a trifle
patronising, but still, quite tolerable. Ewen Hooper, he vowed, was "a
magnificent scholar," and it was too bad that Oxford had found nothing
better for him than "a scrubby readership." But "some day, of course,
he'll have the regius professorship." Nora was "a plucky little
thing--though she hates me!" And he, Falloden, was not so sure after all
that Miss Alice would not land her Pryce. "Can't we bring it about?"

And Falloden ran, laughing, through a catalogue of his own smart or
powerful relations, speculating what could be done. It was true, wasn't
it, that Pryce was anxious to turn his back on Oxford and the higher
mathematics, and to try his luck in journalism, or politics? Well,
Falloden happened to know that an attractive post in the Conservative
Central Office would soon be vacant; an uncle of his was a very
important person on the Council; that and other wires might be pulled.
Constance, eagerly, began to count up her own opportunities of the same
kind; and between them, they had soon--in imagination--captured the
post. Then, said Falloden, it would be for Constance to clinch the
matter. No man could do such a thing decently. Pryce would have to be
told--"'The world's your oyster--but before you open it, you will kindly
go and propose to my cousin!--which of course you ought to have done
months ago!'"

And so laughing and plotting like a couple of children they had gone
rambling through the green rides and glades of the wood, occasionally
putting their horses to the gallop, that the pulse of life might run
still faster.

But a later topic of conversation had brought them into even closer
contact. Connie spoke of her proposed visit to her aunts. Falloden,
radiant, could not conceal his delight.

"You will be only five miles from us. Of course you must come and stay
at Flood! My mother writes they have collected a jolly party for the
12th. I will tell her to write to you at once. You must come! You must!
Will you promise?"

And Constance, wondering at her own docility, had practically promised.
"I want you to know my people--I want you to know my father!" And as he
plunged again into talk about his father, the egotistical man of fashion
disappeared; she seemed at last to have reached something sincere and
soft, and true.

And then--what had begun the jarring? Was it--first--her account of her
Greek lessons with Sorell? Before she knew what had happened, the brow
beside her had clouded, the voice had changed. Why did she see so much
of Sorell? He, like Radowitz, was a _poseur_--a wind-bag. That was what
made the attraction between them. If she wished to learn Greek--

"Let me teach you!" And he had bent forward, with his most brilliant and
imperious look, his hand upon her reins.

But Constance, surprised and ruffled, had protested that Sorell had been
her mother's dear friend, and was now her own. She could not and would
not give up her lessons. Why indeed should she?

"Because friends"--Falloden had laid a passionate emphasis on the
word--"must have some regard--surely--to each other's likes and
dislikes. If you have an enemy, tell me--he or she shall be
mine--instantly! Sorell dislikes me. You will never hear any good of me
from him. And, of course, Radowitz hates me. I have given him good
cause. Promise--at least--that you will not dance with Radowitz again.
You don't know what I suffered last night. He has the antics of
a monkey!"

Whereupon the quarrel between them had broken like thunder, Constance
denouncing the arrogance and unkindness that could ask such promises of
her; Falloden steadily, and with increasing bitterness, pressing
his demand.

And so to the last scene between them, at the gate.

Was it a breach?--or would it all be made up that very night at the
Magdalen ball?

No!--it was and should be a breach! Constance fought back her tears, and
rode proudly home.

       *       *       *       *       *

"What are you going to wear to-night?" said Nora, putting her head in at
Constance's door. Constance was lying down by Annette's strict command,
in preparation for her second ball, which was being given by Magdalen,
where the college was reported to have surpassed itself in the
lavishness of all the preparations made for lighting up its beautiful
walks and quadrangles.

Constance pointed languidly to the sofa, where a creation in white silk
and tulle, just arrived from London, had been laid out by the
reverential hands of Annette.

"Why on earth does one go to balls?" said Constance, gloomily pressing
both hands upon a pair of aching temples.

Nora shut the door behind her, and came to the side of the bed.

"It's time to dress," she said firmly. "Alice says you had a _succès
fou_ last night."

"Go away, and don't talk nonsense!" Constance turned on her side, and
shut her eyes.

"Oh, Alice hadn't a bad time either!" said Nora, complacently, sitting
on the bed. "Herbert Pryce seems to have behaved quite decently. Shall I
tell you something?" The laughing girl stooped over Connie, and said in
her ear--"Now that Herbert knows it would be no good proposing to you,
he thinks it might be a useful thing to have you for a relation."

"Don't be horrid!" said Constance. "If I were Alice--"

"You'd punch my head?" Nora laughed. "All very well. But Alice doesn't
much care why Herbert Pryce marries her, so long as he does marry her."

Constance did not reply. She continued to feign a headache. But all the
time she was thinking of the scene in the wood that morning, when she
and Falloden had--to amuse themselves--plotted the rise in life, and the
matrimonial happiness, of Herbert and Alice. How little they had cared
for what they talked about! They talked only that they might laugh
together--hear each other's voices, look into each other's eyes--

"Where did you ride this morning?" said Nora suddenly.

"Somewhere out towards Godstowe," said Constance vaguely.

"I saw Mr. Falloden riding down the High this morning, when I was on
the way to the Bodleian. He just looks splendid on horseback--I must
give him that. Why doesn't he ride with you sometimes, as he chose
your horse?"

"I understand the whole of Oxford would have a fit if a girl went out
riding with an undergraduate," said Constance, her voice muffled in the
pillow. Then, after a moment she sprang up, and began to brush her hair.

"Mr. Falloden's not an undergraduate now. He can do what he likes," said
Nora.

Constance made no reply. Nora observed her with a pair of shrewd brown
eyes.

"There are two bouquets for you downstairs," she said abruptly.

Constance turned round startled, almost hidden by the thick veil of her
brown hair.

"Who's sent them?"

"One comes from Mr. Radowitz--a beauty. The other's from Lord Meyrick.
Isn't he a jolly boy?"

Constance turned back to the dressing-table, disappointed. She had half
expected another name. And yet she would have felt insulted if Falloden
had dared to send her flowers that evening, without a word of
apology--of regret for their happy hour, spoilt by his absurd demands.

"Well, I can't carry them both; and one will be offended."

"Oh, you must take Radowitz's!" cried Nora. "Just to show that you stand
by him. Mr. Sorell says everybody likes him in college--except Mr.
Falloden's horrid set, who think themselves the lords of creation. They
say that Otto Radowitz made such an amusing speech last week in the
college debating society attacking 'the bloods.' Of course they didn't
hear it, because they have their own club, and turn up their nose at the
college society. But it's going to be printed somewhere, and then it'll
make them still more furious with him. They'll certainly pay him out
some time."

"All right," said Constance, who had suddenly recovered colour and
vivacity. "I'll take Mr. Radowitz's bouquet."

"Then, of course, Lord Meyrick will feel snubbed. Serve him right! He
shouldn't be so absurdly fond of Mr. Falloden!"

Nora was quite aware that she might be provoking Constance. She did it
with her eyes open. Her curiosity and concern after what Alice had told
her of the preceding night's ball were becoming hard to conceal. Would
Connie really engage herself to that horrid man?

But no rise could be got out of Constance. She said nothing. Annette
appeared, and the important business of hair-dressing went forward.
Nora, however, had yet another fly to throw.

"Alice passed Mr. Falloden on the river this afternoon--he was with the
Mansons, and another lady, an awfully pretty person. Mr. Falloden was
teaching her to row. Nobody knew who she was. But she and he seemed
great friends. Alice saw them also walking about together at Iffley,
while the others were having tea."

"Indeed?" said Constance. "Annette, I think I'll wear my black after
all--the black tulle, and my pearls."

Annette unwillingly hung up the "creation."

"You'd have looked a dream in it, my lady. Why ever won't you wear it?"

But Constance was obstinate. And very soon she stood robed in clouds of
black tulle and jet, from which her delicate neck and arms, and her
golden-brown head stood out with brilliant effect. Nora, still sitting
on the bed, admired her hugely. "She'll look like that when she's
married," she thought, by which she meant that the black had added a
certain proud--even a sombre--stateliness to Connie's good looks.

"Now my pearls, Annette."

"Won't you have some flowers, my lady?"

"No. Not one. Only my pearls."

Annette brought them, from the locked dressing-case under her own bed
where she jealously kept them. They were famous pearls and many of them.
One string was presently wound in and out through the coils of hair that
crowned the girl's delicate head; the other string coiled twice round
her neck and hung loose over the black dress. They were her only
ornament of any kind, but they were superb.

Connie looked at herself uneasily in the glass.

"I suppose I oughtn't to wear them," she said doubtfully.

"Why?" said Nora, staring with all her eyes. "They're lovely!"

"I suppose girls oughtn't to wear such things. I--I never have worn
them, since--mamma's death."

"They belonged to her?"

"Of course. And to papa's mother. She bought them in Rome. It was said
they belonged to Marie Antoinette. Papa always believed they were looted
at the sack of the Tuileries in the Revolution."

Nora sat stupefied. How strange that a girl like Connie should possess
such things!--and others, nothing!

"Are they worth a great deal of money?"

"Oh, yes, thousands," said Connie, still looking at herself, in mingled
vanity and discomfort. "That's why I oughtn't to wear them. But I shall
wear them!" She straightened her tall figure imperiously. "After all
they were mamma's. I didn't give them myself."

       *       *       *       *       *

Popular as the Marmion ball had been, the Magdalen ball on the following
night was really the event of the week. The beauty of its cloistered
quadrangle, its river walks, its President's garden, could not be
rivalled elsewhere; and Magdalen men were both rich and lavish, so that
the illuminations easily surpassed the more frugal efforts of other
colleges. The midsummer weather still held out, and for all the young
creatures, plain and pretty, in their best dancing frocks, whom their
brothers and cousins and friends were entertaining, this particular ball
struck the top note of the week's romance.

"Who is that girl in black!" said his partner to Douglas Falloden, as
they paused to take breath after the first round of waltzing. "And--good
heavens, what pearls! Oh, they must be sham. Who is she?"

Falloden looked round, while fanning his partner. But there was no need
to look. From the moment she entered the room, he had been aware of
every movement of the girl in black.

"I suppose you mean Lady Constance Bledlow."

The lady beside him raised her eyebrows in excited surprise.

"Then they're not sham! But how ridiculous that an unmarried girl should
wear them! Yes they are--the Risborough pearls! I saw them once, before
I married, on Lady Risborough, at a gorgeous party at the Palazzo
Farnese. Well, I hope that girl's got a trustworthy maid!"

"I dare say Lady Constance values them most because they belonged to her
mother!" said Falloden drily.

The lady sitting beside him laughed, and tapped him on the arm.

"Sentimentalist! Don't you know that girls nowadays--babes in the
schoolroom--know the value of everything? Who is she staying with?"

Falloden briefly explained and tried to change the subject. But Mrs.
Glendower could not be persuaded to leave it. She was one of the
reigning beauties of the moment, well acquainted with the Falloden
family, and accustomed since his Eton days to lay violent hands on
Douglas whenever they met. She and her husband had lately agreed to live
apart, and she was now pursuing amusement wherever it was to be had. A
certain Magdalen athlete was at the moment her particular friend, and
she had brought down a sister to keep her in countenance. She had no
intention, indeed, of making scandal, and Douglas Falloden was a
convenient string to her bow.

Falloden was quite aware of the situation. But it suited him to dance
with Mrs. Glendower, and to dance with her a great deal. He and
Constance exchanged greetings; he went through the form of asking her to
dance, knowing very well that she would refuse him; and then, for the
rest of the evening, when he was not dancing with Mrs. Glendower, he was
standing about, "giving himself airs," as Alice repeated to her mother,
and keeping a sombre watch on Constance.

"My dear--what has happened to Connie!" said Mrs. Hooper to Alice in
bewilderment. Lord Meyrick had just good-naturedly taken Aunt Ellen into
supper, brought her back to the ballroom, and bowed himself off,
bursting with conscious virtue, and saying to himself that Constance
Bledlow must now give him at least two more dances.

Mrs. Hooper had found Alice sitting solitary, and rather drooping.
Nobody had offered her supper; Herbert Pryce was not at the ball; her
other friends had not showed her any particular attention, and her
prettiness had dribbled away, like a bright colour washed out by rain.
Her mother could not bear to see her--and then to look at Connie across
the room, surrounded by all those silly young men, and wearing the
astonishing jewels that were the talk of the ball, and had only been
revealed to Mrs. Hooper's bewildered gaze, when the girl threw off her
wraps in the cloak-room.

Alice answered her mother's question with an irritable shake of the
head, meant to indicate that Connie was nothing to her.

Whereupon Mrs. Hooper settled herself carefully in the chair which she
meant to keep for the rest of the evening, smoothing the bright folds of
the new dress over her knee. She was much pleased with the new dress;
and, of course, it would be paid for some time. But she was almost
forgetting it in the excitement of Connie's behaviour.

"She has never danced once with Mr. Falloden!" she whispered in Alice's
ear. "It has been all Mr. Radowitz. And the talk!" She threw up her
hands maliciously.

"It's the way they dance--that makes people talk!" said Alice. "As for
Mr. Falloden--perhaps she's found out what a horrid creature he is."

The band struck up. It was a mazurka with a swinging tune. Radowitz
opposite sprang to his feet, with a boyish gesture of delight.

"Come!" he said to Constance; and they took the floor. Supper had
thinned the hall, and the dancers who stood in the doorways and along
the walls involuntarily paused to watch the pair. Falloden and Mrs.
Glendower had just returned from supper. They too stood among the
spectators.

The dance they watched was the very embodiment of youth, and youth's
delight in itself. Constance knew, besides, that Falloden was looking
on, and the knowledge gave a deeper colour to her cheek, a touch of
wildness to her perfect grace of limb and movement. Radowitz danced the
Polish dance with a number of steps and gestures unknown to an English
ballroom, as he had learnt them in his childhood from a Polish
dancing-mistress; Constance, with the instinct of her foreign training,
adapted herself to him, and the result was enchanting. The slim girl in
black, and the handsome youth, his golden hair standing up straight, _en
brosse_, round his open brow and laughing eyes, seemed, as dancers, made
for each other. They were absorbed in the poetry of concerted movement,
the rhythm of lilting sound.

"Mountebank!" said Falloden to Meyrick, contemptuously, as the couple
passed.

Radowitz saw his enemy, and though he could not hear what was said, was
sure that it was something insulting. He drew himself up, and as he
passed on with Constance he flung a look of mingled triumph and defiance
at the group of "bloods" standing together, at Falloden in particular.
Falloden had not danced once with her, had not been allowed once to
touch her white hand. It was he, Radowitz, who had carried her off--whom
she had chosen--whom she had honoured. The boy's heart swelled with joy
and pride; the artist in him, of another race than ours, realising and
sharpening the situation, beyond the English measure.

And, afterwards, he danced with her again--many times. Moreover with him
and an escort of his friends--for in general the young Pole with his
musical gift and his romantic temperament was popular in
Oxford--Constance made the round of the illuminated river-walks and the
gleaming cloisters, moving like a goddess among the bevy of youths who
hung upon her smiles. The intoxication of it banished thought and
silenced regret.

But it was plain to all the world, no less than to Mrs. Hooper, that
Falloden of Marmion, who had seemed to be in possession of her the night
before, had been brusquely banished from her side; that Oxford's
charming newcomer had put her supposed suitor to open contumely; and
that young Radowitz reigned in his stead.

       *       *       *       *       *

Radowitz walked home in a whirl of sensations and recollections that
made of the Oxford streets an "insubstantial fairy place," where only
Constance lived.

He entered Marmion about four o'clock in a pearly light of dawn.
Impossible to go to bed or to sleep!

He would change his clothes, go out for a bathe, and walk up into the
Cumnor hills.

In the quadrangle he passed a group of men in evening dress returned
like himself from the ball. They were talking loudly, and reading
something which was being passed from hand to hand. As he approached,
there was a sudden dead silence. But in his abstraction and excitement
he noticed nothing.

When he had vanished within the doorway of his staircase, Meyrick, who
had had a great deal too much champagne, said fiercely--

"I vote we give that young beggar a lesson! I still owe him one for that
business of a month ago."

"When he very nearly settled you, Jim," laughed a Wykehamist, a
powerfully built fellow, who had just got his Blue for the Eleven, had
been supping freely and was in a mood for any riotous deed.

"That was nothing," said Meyrick--"but this can't be stood!"

And he pointed to the sheet that Falloden, who was standing in the
centre of the group, was at the moment reading. It was the latest number
of an Oxford magazine, one of those _éphémérides_ which are born, and
flutter, and vanish with each Oxford generation. It contained a verbatim
report of the attack on the Marmion "bloods" made by Radowitz at the
dinner of the college debating society about a fortnight earlier. It was
witty and damaging in the highest degree, and each man as he read it had
vowed vengeance. Falloden had been especially mocked in it. Some pompous
tricks of manner peculiar to Falloden in his insolent moods, had been
worked into a pseudo-scientific examination of the qualities proper to
a "blood," with the happiest effect. Falloden grew white as he read it.
Perhaps on the morrow it would be in Constance Bledlow's hands. The
galling memories of the evening just over were burning too in his veins.
That open humiliation in the sight of Oxford had been her answer to his
prayer--his appeal. Had she not given him a right to make the appeal?
What girl could give two such rendezvous to a man, and not admit some
right on his part to advise, to influence her? It was monstrous she
should have turned upon him so!

And as for this puppy!--

A sudden gust of passion, of hot and murderous wrath, different from
anything he had ever felt before, blew fiercely through the man's soul.
He wanted to crush--to punish--to humiliate. For a moment he saw red.
Then he heard Meyrick say excitedly: "This is our last chance! Let's
cool his head for him--in Neptune."

Neptune was the Græco-Roman fountain in the inner quad, which a former
warden had presented to the college. The sea god with his trident,
surrounded by a group of rather dilapidated nymphs, presided over a
broad basin, filled with running water and a multitude of goldfish.

There was a shout of laughing assent, and a rush across the grass to
Radowitz's staircase. College was nearly empty; the Senior Tutor had
gone to Switzerland that morning; and those few inmates who still
remained, tired out with the ball of the night before, were fast asleep.
The night porter, having let everybody in and closed the gate, was
dozing in his lodge.

There was a short silence in the quadrangle. Then the rioters who had
been for a few minutes swallowed up in a distant staircase on the
western side of the quadrangle reëmerged, with muffled shouts and
laughter, bringing their prey with them--a pale, excited figure.

"Let me alone, you cowardly bullies!--ten of you against one!"

But they hurried him along, Radowitz fighting all the way, and too proud
to call for help. The intention of his captors--of all save one--was
mere rowdy mischief. To duck the offender and his immaculate white
flannels in Neptune, and then scatter to their beds before any one could
recognise or report them, was all they meant to do.

But when they reached the fountain, Radowitz, whose passion gave him
considerable physical strength, disengaged himself, by a sudden effort,
from his two keepers, and leaping into the basin of the fountain, he
wrenched a rickety leaden shell from the hand of one of Neptune's
attendant nymphs and began to fling the water in the faces of his
tormentors. Falloden was quickly drenched, and Meyrick and others
momentarily blinded by the sudden deluge in their eyes. Robertson, the
Winchester Blue, was heavily struck. In a wild rage he jumped into the
fountain and closed with Radowitz. The Pole had no chance against him,
and after a short struggle, Radowitz fell heavily, catching in his fall
at a piece of rusty piping, part of some disused machinery of
the fountain.

There was a cry. In a moment it sobered the excited group of men.
Falloden, who had acted as leader throughout, called peremptorily to
Robertson. "Is he hurt? Let him up at once."

Robertson in dismay stooped over the prostrate form of Radowitz, and
carried him to the edge of the fountain. There it was seen that the lad
had fainted, and that blood was streaming from his right hand.

"He's cut it on that beastly piping--it's all jagged," gasped Robertson.
"I say, can anybody stop the bleeding?"

One Desmond, an Etonian who had seen one or two football accidents,
knelt down, deadly pale, by Radowitz and rendered a rough first-aid. By
a tourniquet of handkerchiefs he succeeded in checking the bleeding. But
it was evident that an artery was injured.

"Go for a doctor," said Falloden to Meyrick, pointing to the lodge.
"Tell the porter that somebody's been hurt in a lark. You'll probably
find a cab outside. We'll carry him up."

In a few minutes they had laid the blood-stained and unconscious
Radowitz on his bed, and were trying in hideous anxiety to bring him
round. The moment when he first opened his eyes was one of unspeakable
relief to the men who in every phase of terror and remorse were gathered
round him. But the eyelids soon fell again.

"You'd better go, you fellows," said Falloden, looking round him.
"Robertson and I and Desmond will see the doctor."

The others stole away. And the three men kept their vigil. The
broad-shouldered Wykehamist, utterly unnerved, sat by the bed trembling
from head to foot. Desmond kept watch over the tourniquet.

Falloden stood a little apart, in a dead silence, his eyes wandering
occasionally from the figure on the bed to the open window, through
which could be seen the summer sky, and a mounting sun, just touching
the college roofs. The college clock struck half past four. Not two
hours since Radowitz and Constance Bledlow had held the eyes of Oxford
in the Magdalen ballroom.



CHAPTER X

Radowitz woke up the following morning, after the effects of the dose of
morphia administered by the surgeon who had dressed his hand had worn
off, in a state of complete bewilderment. What had happened to him? Why
was he lying in this strange, stiff position, propped up with pillows?

He moved a little. A sharp pain wrung a groan from him. Then he
perceived his bandaged hand and arm; and the occurrences of the
preceding night began to rush back upon him. He had soon reconstructed
them all; up to the moment of his jumping into the fountain. After that
he remembered nothing.

He had hurt himself somehow in the row, that was clear. A sudden terror
ran through him. "It's my right hand!--Good God! if I lost my hand!--if
I couldn't play again!" He opened his eyes, trembling, and saw his
little college room; his clothes hanging on the door, the photographs of
his father and mother, of Chopin and Wagner on the chest of drawers. The
familiar sight reassured him at once, and his natural buoyancy of spirit
began to assert itself.

"I suppose they got a doctor. I seem to remember somebody coming. Bah,
it'll be all right directly. I heal like a baby. I wonder who else was
hurt. Who's that? Come in!"

The door opened, and his scout looked in cautiously. "Thought I heard
you moving, sir. May the doctor come in?"

The young surgeon appeared who had been violently rung up by Meyrick
some five hours earlier. He had a trim, confident air, and pleasant
eyes. His name was Fanning.

"Well, how are you? Had some sleep? You gave yourself an uncommonly
nasty wound. I had to set a small bone, and put in two or three
stitches. But I don't think you knew much about it."

"I don't now," said Radowitz vaguely. "How did I do it?"

"There seems to have been a 'rag' and you struck your hand against some
broken tubing. But nobody was able to give a clear account." The doctor
eyed him discreetly, having no mind to be more mixed up in the affair
than was necessary.

"Who sent for you?"

"Lord Meyrick rang me up, and when I got here I found Mr. Falloden and
Mr. Robertson. They had done what they could."

The colour rushed back into the boy's pale cheeks.

"I remember now," he said fiercely. "Damn them!"

The surgeon made no reply. He looked carefully at the bandage, asked if
he could ease it at all--took pulse and temperature, and sat some time
in silence, apparently thinking, by the bed. Then rising, he said:

"I shan't disturb the dressing unless it pains you. If it does, your
scout can send a message to the surgery. You must stay in bed--you've
got a little fever. Take light food--I'll tell your scout all about
that--and I'll come in again to-night."

He departed. The scout brought warm water and a clean sheet. Radowitz
was soon washed and straightened as well as masculine fingers could
achieve it.

"You seem to have lost a lot of blood, sir, last night!" said the man
involuntarily, as he became aware in some dismay of the white flannels
and other clothes that Radowitz had been wearing when the invaders broke
into his room, which were now lying in a corner, where the doctor had
thrown them.

"That's why I feel so limp!" said Radowitz, shutting his eyes again.
"Please get me some tea, and send a message round to St. Cyprian's--to
Mr. Sorell--that I want to see him as soon as he can come."

The door closed on the scout.

Left alone Radowitz plunged into a tumult of feverish thought. He seemed
to be standing again, just freshly dressed, beside his bed--to hear the
noise on the stairs, the rush into his sitting-room. Falloden, of
course, was the leader--insolent brute! The lad, quivering once more
with rage and humiliation, seemed to feel again Falloden's iron grip
upon his shoulders--to remember the indignity of his forced descent into
the quad--the laughter of his captors. Then he recollected throwing the
water--and Robertson's spring upon him--

If _she_ had seen it! Whereupon, a new set of images displaced the
first. He was in the ballroom again, he had her hand in his; her
charming face with its small features and its beautiful eyes was turned
to him. How they danced, and how deliriously the music ran! And there
was Falloden in the doorway, with his dark face,--looking on. The rag on
his part, had been mere revenge; not for the speech, but for the ball.

Was she in love with him? Impossible! How could such a hard, proud
being attract her? If she did marry him he would crush and wither her.
Yet of course girls did do--every day--such idiotic things. And he
thought uncomfortably of a look he had surprised in her face, as he and
she were sitting in the New Quad under the trees and Falloden passed
with a handsome dark lady--one of the London visitors. It had been
something involuntary--a flash from the girl's inmost self. It had
chilled and checked him as he sat by her. Yet the next dance had driven
all recollection of it away.

"She can't ever care for me," he thought despairingly. "I know that. I'm
not her equal. I should be a fool to dream of it. But if she's going to
throw herself away--to break her heart for that fellow--it's--it's
devilish! Why aren't we in Paris--or Warsaw--where I could call
him out?"

He tossed about in pain and fever, irritably deciding that his bandage
hurt him, and he must recall the doctor, when he heard Sorell's voice at
the door. It quieted him at once.

"Come in!"

Sorell came in with a scared face.

"My dear boy--what's the matter?"

"Oh, there was a bit of a row last night. We were larking round the
fountain, trying to push each other in, and I cut my hand on one of
those rotten old pipes. Beastly luck! But Fanning's done everything. I
shall be all right directly. There's a little bone broken."

"A bone broken!--your hand!" ejaculated Sorell, who sat down and looked
at him in dismay.

"Yes--I wish it had been my foot! But it doesn't matter. That kind of
thing gets well quickly, doesn't it?" He eyed his visitor anxiously.
"You see I never was really ill in my life."

"Well, we can't run any risks about it," said Sorell decidedly. "I shall
go and see Fanning. If there's any doubt about it, I shall carry you up
to London, and get one of the crack surgeons to come and look at it.
What was the row about?"

Radowitz's eyes contracted so that Sorell could make nothing out of
them.

"I really can't remember," said the lad's weary voice. "There's been a
lot of rowing lately."

"Who made the row?"

"What's the good of asking questions?" The speaker turned irritably
away. "I've had such a lot of beastly dreams all night, I can't tell
what happened, and what didn't happen. It was just a jolly row, that's
all I know."

Sorell perceived that for some reason Radowitz was not going to tell him
the story. But he was confident that Douglas Falloden had been at the
bottom of it, and he felt a fierce indignation. He had however to keep
it to himself, as it was clear that questions excited and annoyed
the patient.

He sat by the boy a little, observing him. Then he suggested that
Bateson the scout and he should push the bed into the sitting-room, for
greater air and space. Radowitz hesitated, and then consented. Sorell
went out to speak to Bateson.

"All right, sir," said the scout. "I've just about got the room
straight; but I had to get another man to help me. They must have gone
on something fearful. There wasn't an article in the room that wasn't
knocked about."

"Who did it?" said Sorell shortly.

The scout looked embarrassed.

"Well, of course, sir, I don't know for certain. I wasn't there to see.
But I do hear Mr. Falloden, and Lord Meyrick, and Mr. Robertson were in
it--and there were some other gentlemen besides. There's been a deal of
ragging in this college lately, sir. I do think, sir, as the fellows
should stop it."

Sorell agreed, and went off to the surgery, thinking furiously. Suppose
the boy's hand--and his fine talent--had been permanently injured by
that arrogant bully, Falloden, and his set! And Constance Bledlow had
been entangling herself with him--in spite of what anybody could say! He
thought with disgust of the scenes of the Marmion ball, of the reckless
way in which Constance had encouraged Falloden's pursuit of her, of the
talk of Oxford. His work with the Greats' papers had kept him away from
the Magdalen ball, and he had heard nothing of it. No doubt that foolish
child had behaved in the same way there. He was thankful he had not been
there to see. But he vowed to himself that he would find out the facts
of the attack on Radowitz, and that she should know them.

Yet the whole thing was very surprising. He had seen on various
occasions that Falloden was jealous of Connie's liking for Radowitz, of
the boy's homage, and of Connie's admiration for his musical gift. But
after the Marmion night, and the triumph she had so unwisely given the
fellow--to behave in this abominable way! There couldn't be a spark of
decent feeling in his composition.

       *       *       *       *       *

Radowitz lay still--thinking always of Falloden, and Lady Constance.

Another knock at his door--very timid and hesitating. Radowitz said
"Come in."

The door opened partially, and a curly head was thrust in. Another head
appeared behind it.

"May we come in?" said a muffled voice. "It's Meyrick--and Robertson."

"I don't care if you do," said Radowitz coldly. "What do you want?"

The two men came in, stepping softly. One was fair and broad-shouldered.
The other exceedingly dark and broad-shouldered. Each was a splendid
specimen of the university athlete. And two more sheepish and hang-dog
individuals it would have been difficult to find.

"We've come to apologise," said Meyrick, standing by the bed, his hands
in his pockets, looking down on Radowitz. "We didn't mean to hurt you of
course, and we're awfully sorry--aren't we, Robertson?"

Robertson, sheltering behind Meyrick, murmured a deep-voiced assent.

"If we hadn't been beastly drunk we should never have done it," said
Meyrick; "but that's no excuse. How are you? What does Fanning say?"

They both looked so exceedingly miserable that Radowitz, surveying them
with mollified astonishment, suddenly went into a fit of hysterical
laughter. The others watched him in alarm.

"Do sit down, you fellows!--and don't bother!" said Radowitz, as soon as
he could speak. "I gave it to you both as hard as I could in my speech.
And you hit back. We're quits. Shake hands."

And he held out his left hand, which each of them gingerly shook. Then
they both sat down, extremely embarrassed, and not knowing what to say
or do next, except that Meyrick again enquired as to Fanning's opinion.

"Let's have some swell down," said Meyrick urgently. "We could get him
in a jiffy."

But Radowitz impatiently dismissed the subject. Sorell, he said, had
gone to see Fanning, and it would be all right. At the same time it was
evident through the disjointed conversation which followed that he was
suffering great pain. He was alternately flushed and deadly pale, and
could not occasionally restrain a groan which scared his two companions.
At last they got up to go, to the relief of all three.

Meyrick said awkwardly:

"Falloden's awfully sorry too. He would have come with us--but he
thought perhaps you wouldn't want him."

"No, I don't want him!" said Radowitz vehemently. "That's another
business altogether."

Meyrick hummed and hawed, fidgeting from one foot to the other.

"It was I started the beastly thing," he said at last. "It wasn't
Falloden at all."

"He could have stopped it," said Radowitz shortly. "And you can't deny
he led it. There's a long score between him and me. Well, never mind, I
shan't say anything. And nobody else need. Good-bye."

A slight ghostly smile appeared in the lad's charming eyes as he raised
them to the pair, again holding out his free hand. They went away
feeling, as Meyrick put it, "pretty beastly."

       *       *       *       *       *

By the afternoon various things had happened. Falloden, who had not got
to bed till six, woke towards noon from a heavy sleep in his Beaumont
Street "diggings," and recollecting in a flash all that had happened,
sprang up and opened his sitting-room door. Meyrick was sitting on the
sofa, fidgeting with a newspaper.

"Well, how is he?"

Meyrick reported that the latest news from Marmion was that Sorell and
Fanning between them had decided to take Radowitz up to town that
afternoon--for the opinion of Sir Horley Wood, the great surgeon.

"Have you seen Sorell?"

"Yes. But he would hardly speak to me. He said we'd perhaps spoilt his
life."

"Whose?"

"Radowitz's."

Falloden's expression stiffened.

"That's nonsense. If he's properly treated, he'll get all right. Besides
it was a pure accident. How could any of us know those broken pipes
were there?"

"Well, I shall be glad when we get Wood's opinion," said Meyrick
gloomily. "It does seem hard lines on a fellow who plays that it should
have been his hand. But of course--as you say, Duggy--it'll probably be
all right. By the way, Sorell told me Radowitz had absolutely refused to
let anybody in college know--any of the dons--and had forbidden Sorell
himself to say a word."

"Well of course that's more damaging to us than any other line of
action," said Falloden drily. "I don't know that I shall accept it--for
myself. The facts had better be known."

"Well, you'd better think of the rest of us," said Meyrick. "It would
hit Robertson uncommonly hard if he were sent down. If Radowitz is
badly hurt, and the story gets out, they won't play him for
the Eleven--"

"If he's badly hurt, it will get out," said Falloden coolly.

"Well, let it alone, anyway, till we see."

Falloden nodded--"Barring a private friend or two. Well, I must dress."

When he opened the door again, Meyrick was gone.

In an unbearable fit of restlessness, Falloden went out, passed Marmion,
looked into the quad which was absolutely silent and deserted, and found
his way aimlessly to the Parks.

He must see Constance Bledlow, somehow, before the story reached her
from other sources, and before everybody separated for the vac. A large
Nuneham party had been arranged by the Mansons for the following day in
honour of the ex-Ambassador and his wife, who were prolonging their stay
in Christ Church so as to enjoy the river and an Oxford without crowds
or functions. Falloden was invited, and he knew that Constance had been
asked. In his bitterness of the day before, after their quarrel in the
wood, he had said to himself that he would certainly go down before the
party. Now he thought he would stay.

Suddenly, as he was walking back along the Cherwell edge of the park,
under a grey sky with threatening clouds, he became aware of a lady in
front of him. Annoying or remorseful thought became in a moment
excitement. It was impossible to mistake the springing step and tall
slenderness of Constance Bledlow.

He rapidly weighed the pros and cons of overtaking her. It was most
unlikely that she had yet heard of the accident. And yet she might have
seen Sorell.

He made up his mind and quickened his pace. She heard the steps behind
her and involuntarily looked round. He saw, with a passionate delight,
that she could not immediately hide the agitation with which she
recognised him.

"Whither away?" he said as he took off his hat. "Were you up as late as
I? And are balls worth their headaches?"

She was clearly surprised by the ease and gaiety of his manner, and at
the same time--he thought--inclined to resent his interruption of her
walk, before she had made up her mind in what mood, or with what aspect
to meet him next. But he gave her no time for further pondering. He
walked beside her, while she coldly explained that she had taken Nora to
meet some girl friends at the Cherwell boat-house, and was now hurrying
back herself to pay some calls with her aunt in the afternoon.

"What a week you have had!" he said when she paused. "Is there anything
left of you? I saw that you stayed very late last night."

She admitted it.

"As for me, of course, I thought the ball--intolerable. But that of
course you know--you must know!" he added with a sudden vehement
emphasis. "May I not even say that you intended it? You meant to scourge
me, and you succeeded."

Constance laughed, though he perceived that her lip trembled a little.

"The scourging had, I think--compensations."

"You mean I took refuge with Mrs. Glendower? Yes, she was kind--and
useful. She is an old friend--more of the family than mine. She is
coming to stay at Flood in August."

"Indeed?" The tone was as cool as his own. There was a moment's pause.
Then Falloden turned another face upon her.

"Lady Constance!--I have something rather serious and painful to tell
you--and I am glad of this opportunity to tell you before you hear it
from any one else. There was a row in college last night, or rather this
morning, after the ball, and Otto Radowitz was hurt."

The colour rushed into Connie's face. She stopped. All around them the
park stretched, grey and empty. There was no one in sight on the path
where they had met.

"But not seriously," she breathed.

"His hand was hurt in the scuffle!"

Constance gave a cry.

"His hand!"

"Yes. I knew you'd feel that. It was a horrible shame--and a pure
accident. But you'd better know the whole truth. It was a rag, and I was
in it. But, of course, nobody had the smallest intention of hurting
Radowitz."

"No--only of persecuting and humiliating him!" cried Constance, her eyes
filling with tears. "His hand!--oh, how horrible! If it were really
injured, if it hindered his music--if it stopped it--it would just
kill him!"

"Very likely it is only a simple injury which will quickly heal," said
Falloden coldly. "Sorell has taken him up to town this afternoon to see
the best man he can get. We shall know to-morrow, but there is really no
reason to expect anything--dreadful."

"How did it happen?"

"We tried to duck him in Neptune--the college fountain. There was a
tussle, and his hand was cut by a bit of broken piping. You perhaps
don't know that he made a speech last week, attacking several of us in a
very offensive way. The men in college got hold of it last night. A man
who does that kind of thing runs risks."

"He was only defending himself!" cried Constance. "He has been ragged,
and bullied, and ill-treated--again and again--just because he is a
foreigner and unlike the rest of you. And you have been the worst of
any--you know you have! And I have begged you to let him alone! And
if--if you had really been my friend--you would have done it--only to
please me!"

"I happened to be more than your friend!"--said Falloden passionately.
"Now let me speak out! You danced with Radowitz last night, dance after
dance--so that it was the excitement, the event of the ball--and you did
it deliberately to show me that I was nothing to you--nothing!--and he,
at any rate, was something. Well!--I began to see red. You
forget--that"--he spoke with difficulty--"my temperament is not exactly
saintly. You have had warning, I think, of that often. When I got back
to college, I found a group of men in the quad reading the skit in _The
New Oxonian_. Suddenly Radowitz came in upon us. I confess I lost my
head. Oh, yes, I could have stopped it easily. On the contrary, I led
it. But I must ask you--because I have so much at stake!--was I alone to
blame?--Was there not some excuse?--had you no part in it?"

He stood over her, a splendid accusing figure, and the excited girl
beside him was bewildered by the adroitness with which he had carried
the war into her own country.

"How mean!--how ungenerous!" Her agitation would hardly let her speak
coherently. "When we were riding, you ordered me--yes, it was
practically that!--you warned me, in a manner that nobody--_nobody_
--has any right to use with me--unless he were my fiancé or my
husband--that I was not to dance with Otto Radowitz--I was not to see so
much of Mr. Sorell. So just to show you that I was really not at your
beck and call--that you could not do exactly what you liked with me--I
danced with Mr. Radowitz last night, and I refused to dance with you.
Oh, yes, I know I was foolish--I daresay I was in a temper too--but how
you can make that any excuse for your attack on that poor boy--how you
can make me responsible, if--"

Her voice failed her. But Falloden saw that he had won some advantage,
and he pushed on.

"I only want to point out that a man is not exactly a stock or a stone
to be played with as you played with me last night. Those things are
dangerous! Can you deny--that you have given me some reason to
hope--since we met again--to hope confidently, that you might change
your mind? Would you have let me arrange those rides for you--unknown to
your friends--would you have met me in the woods, those heavenly
times--would you have danced with me as you did--would you have let me
pay you in public every sort of attention that a man can pay to a girl,
when he wants to marry her, the night of the Marmion ball--if you had
not felt something for me--if you had not meant to give me a little
hope--to keep the thing at least uncertain? No!--if this business does
turn out badly, I shall have remorse enough, God knows--but you can't
escape! If you punish me for it, if I alone am to pay the penalty, it
will be not only Radowitz that has a grievance--not only Radowitz whose
life will have been spoilt!"

She turned to him--hypnotised, subdued, by the note of fierce
accusation--by that self-pity of the egotist--which looked out upon her
from the young man's pale face and tense bearing.

"No"--she said trembling--"no--it is quite true--I have treated you
badly. I have behaved wilfully and foolishly. But that was no
reason--no excuse--"

"What's the good of talking of 'reason'--or excuse'?" Falloden
interrupted violently. "Do you understand that I am in love with
you--and what that means to a man? I tore myself away from Oxford,
because I knew that if I stayed another day within reach of you--after
that first ride--I should lose my class--disappoint my father--and
injure my career. I could think of nothing but you--dream of nothing but
you. And I said to myself that my success--my career--might after all be
your affair as well as mine. And so I went. And I'm not going to boast
of what it cost me to go, knowing that other people would be seeing
you--influencing you--perhaps setting you against me--all the time I was
away. But then when I came back, I couldn't understand you. You avoided
me. It was nothing but check after check--which you seemed to enjoy
inflicting. At last, on the night of our ball I seemed to see clear. On
that night, I did think--yes, I did think, that I was something to
you!--that you could not have been so sweet--so adorable--in the sight
of the whole world--unless you had meant that--in time it would all come
right. And so next day, on our ride, I took the tone I did. I was a
fool; of course. All men are, when they strike too soon. But if you had
had any real feeling in your heart for me--if you had cared one
ten-thousandth part for me, as I care for you, you couldn't have treated
me as you did last night--so outrageously--so cruelly!"

The strong man beside her was now trembling from head to foot.
Constance, hard-pressed, conscience-struck, utterly miserable, did not
know what to reply. Falloden went on impetuously:

"And now at least don't decide against me without thinking--without
considering what I have been saying. Of course the whole thing may blow
over. Radowitz may be all right in a fortnight. But if he is not--if
between us, we've done something sad and terrible, let's stand together,
for God's sake!--let's help each other. Neither of us meant it. Don't
let's make everything worse by separating and stabbing each other. I
shall hear what has happened by to-night. Let me come and bring you the
news. If there's no great harm done--why--you shall tell me what kind of
letter to write to Radowitz. I'm in your hands. But if it's bad--if
there's blood-poisoning and Radowitz loses his hand--that they say is
the worst that can happen--I of course shall feel like hanging
myself--everybody will, who was in the row. But next to him, to Radowitz
himself, whom should you pity more than--the man--who--was three parts
to blame--for injuring him?"

His hoarse voice dropped. They came simultaneously, involuntarily to a
standstill. Constance was shaken by alternate waves of feeling. Half of
what he said seemed to her insolent sophistry; but there was something
else which touched--which paralysed her. For the first time she knew
that this had been no mere game she had been playing with Douglas
Falloden. Just as Falloden in his careless selfishness might prove to
have broken Otto Radowitz's life, as a passionate child breaks a toy, so
she had it in her power to break Falloden.

They had wandered down again, without knowing it, to the banks of the
river, and were standing in the shelter of a group of young chestnuts,
looking towards the hills, over which hung great thunder-clouds.

At last Constance held out her hand.

"Please go now," she said pleadingly. "Send me word to-night. But don't
come. Let's hope. I--I can't say any more."

And indeed he saw that she could bear no more. He
hesitated--yielded--took her unresisting hand, which he pressed
violently to his lips--and was gone.

       *       *       *       *       *

Hour after hour passed. Falloden had employed Meyrick as an intermediary
with a great friend of Sorell's, one Benham, another fellow of St.
Cyprian's, who had--so Meyrick reported--helped Sorell to get Radowitz
to the station in time for the two o'clock train to London. The plan,
according to Benham, was to go straight to Sir Horley Wood, who had been
telegraphed to in the morning, and had made an appointment for 4.30.
Benham was to hear the result of the great surgeon's examination as soon
as possible, and hoped to let Meyrick have it somewhere between seven
and eight.

Four or five other men, who had been concerned in the row, including
Desmond and Robertson, hung about college, miserably waiting. Falloden
and Meyrick ordered horses and went off into the country, hardly
speaking to each other during the whole of the ride. They returned to
their Beaumont Street lodgings about seven, and after a sombre dinner
Meyrick went out to go and enquire at St. Cyprian's.

He had scarcely gone when the last Oxford post arrived, and a letter was
brought up for Falloden. It was addressed in his father's hand-writing.
He opened it mechanically; and in his preoccupation, he read it several
times before he grasped his meaning.

       *       *       *       *       *

"My dear Son,"--wrote Sir Arthur Falloden--"We expected you home early
this week, for you do not seem to have told us that you were staying up
for Commem. In any case, please come home at once. There are some very
grave matters about which I must consult with you, and which will I fear
greatly affect your future. You will find me in great trouble, and far
from well. Your poor mother means very kindly, but she can't advise me.
I have long dreaded the explanations which can not now be avoided. The
family situation has been going from bad to worse,--and I have said
nothing--hoping always to find some way out. But now it is precisely my
fear that--if we can't discover it--you will find yourself, without
preparation, ruined on the threshold of life, which drives me to tell
you everything. Your head is a cleverer one than mine. You may think of
something. It is of course the coal-mining that has come to grief, and
dragged in all the rest. I have been breaking down with anxiety. And
you, my poor boy!--I remember you said when we met last, that you hoped
to marry soon--perhaps this year--and go into Parliament. I am afraid
all that is at an end, unless you can find a girl with money, which of
course you ought to have no difficulty in doing, with your advantages.

"But it is no good writing. Come to-morrow, and wire your train.

             "Your loving father,
                    ARTHUR FALLODEN."

"'Ruined on the threshold of life'--what does he mean?"--thought
Falloden impatiently. "Father always likes booky phrases like that. I
suppose he's been dropping a thousand or two as he did last
year--hullo!"

As he stood by the window, he perceived the Hoopers' parlourmaid coming
up Beaumont Street and looking at the numbers on the houses. He ran out
to meet her, and took a note from her hand.

"I will send or bring an answer. You needn't wait." He carried it into
his own room, and locked the door before opening it.

       *       *       *       *       *

"Dear Mr. Falloden,--Mr. Sorell has just been here. He left Mr. Radowitz
at a nursing home after seeing the surgeons. It is all terrible. The
hand is badly poisoned. They hope they may save it, but the injuries
will make it impossible for him ever to play again as he has done. He
may use it again a little, he may compose of course, but as a performer
it's all over. Mr. Sorell says he is in despair--and half mad. They will
watch him very carefully at the home, lest he should do himself any
mischief. Mr. Sorell goes back to him to-morrow. He is himself
broken-hearted.

"I am very, very sorry for you--and for Lord Meyrick,--and everybody.
But I can't get over it--I can't ever forget it. There is a great deal
in what you said this afternoon. I don't deny it. But, when it's all
said, I feel I could never be happy with you; I should be always afraid
of you--of your pride and your violence. And love mustn't be afraid.

"This horrible thing seems to have opened my eyes. I am of course very
unhappy. But I am going up to-morrow to see Mr. Radowitz, who has asked
for me. I shall stay with my aunt, Lady Langmoor, and nurse him as much
as they will let me. Oh, and I must try and comfort him! His poor
music!--it haunts me like something murdered. I could cry--and cry.

    "Good night--and good-bye!

          "CONSTANCE BLEDLOW."

The two notes fell at Falloden's feet. He stood looking out into
Beaumont Street. The long narrow street, which only two days before had
been alive with the stream of Commemoration, was quiet and deserted. A
heavy thunder rain was just beginning to plash upon the pavements; and
in the interval since he had taken the note from the maid's hand, it
seemed to Falloden that the night had fallen.



PART II



CHAPTER XI

"So, Connie, you don't want to go out with me this afternoon?" said Lady
Langmoor, bustling into the Eaton Square drawing-room, where Connie sat
writing a letter at a writing-table near the window, and occasionally
raising her eyes to scan the street outside.

"I'm afraid I can't, Aunt Sophia. You remember, I told you, Mr. Sorell
was coming to fetch me."

Lady Langmoor looked rather vague. She was busy putting on her white
gloves, and inspecting the fit of her grey satin dress, as she saw it in
the mirror over Connie's head.

"You mean--to see the young man who was hurt? Dreadfully sad of course,
and you know him well enough to go and see him in bed? Oh, well, of
course, girls do anything nowadays. It is very kind of you."

Connie laughed, but without irritation. During the week she had been
staying in the Langmoors' house, she had resigned herself to the fact
that her Aunt Langmoor--as it seemed to her--was a very odd and hardly
responsible creature, the motives of whose existence she did not even
begin to understand. But both her aunt and Lord Langmoor had been very
kind to their new-found niece. They had given a dinner-party and a
tea-party in her honour; they had taken her to several crushes a night,
and introduced her to a number of their own friends. And they would have
moved Heaven and earth to procure her an invitation to the Court ball
they themselves attended, on the day after Connie's arrival, if only,
as Lady Langmoor plaintively said--"Your poor mother had done the right
thing at the right time." By which she meant to express--without
harshness towards the memory of Lady Risborough--how lamentable it was
that, in addition to being christened, vaccinated and confirmed,
Constance had not also been "presented" at the proper moment. However
Constance probably enjoyed the evening of the Court ball more than any
other in the week, since she went to the Italian Embassy after dinner to
help her girl friend, the daughter of Italy's new Prime Minister, Elisa
Bardinelli, to dress for the function; and the two girls were so
enchanted to see each other, and had so much Roman gossip to get
through, that Donna Elisa was scandalously late, and the Ambassador
almost missed the Royal Procession.

But that had been the only spot of pleasure in Connie's fortnight. Lady
Langmoor was puzzled by her pale looks and her evident lack of zest for
the amusements offered her. She could only suppose that her niece was
tired out with the balls of Commem., and Connie accepted the excuse
gratefully. In reality she cared for nothing day after day but the
little notes she got from Sorell night and morning giving her news of
Radowitz. Till now he had been too ill to see her. But at last the
doctor had given leave for a visit, and as soon as Lady Langmoor had
gone off on her usual afternoon round of concerts and teas, Connie moved
to the window, and waited for Sorell.

How long was it since she had first set foot in England and Oxford?
Barely two months! And to Constance it seemed as if these months had
been merely an unconscious preparation for this state of oppression and
distress in which she found herself. Radowitz in his misery and
pain--Falloden on the Cherwell path, defending himself by those
passionate retorts upon her of which she could not but admit the partial
justice--by these images she was perpetually haunted. Certainly she had
no reason to look back with pleasure or self-approval on her Oxford
experiences. In all her dealings with Falloden she had behaved with a
reckless folly of which she was now quite conscious; courting risks; in
love with excitement rather than with the man; and careless whither the
affair might lead, so long as it gratified her own romantic curiosities
as to the power of woman over the masculine mind.

Then, suddenly, all this had become serious. She was like the playing
child on whose hand the wasp sat down. But in this case the moral sting
of what had happened was abidingly sharp and painful. The tragedy of
Radowitz, together with the charm interwoven with all her few
recollections of him, had developed in Connie feelings of unbearable
pity and tenderness, altogether new to her. Yet she was constantly
thinking of Falloden; building up her own harrowed vision of his
remorse, or dreaming of the Marmion ball, and the ride in the bluebell
wood,--those two meetings in which alone she had felt happiness with
him, something distinct from vanity, and a challenging love of power.
Now it was all over. They would probably not meet again, till he had
forgotten her, and had married some one else. She was quite aware of his
fixed and businesslike views for himself and his career--as to marriage,
travel, Parliament and the rest; and it had often pleased her wilfulness
to think of modifying or upsetting them. She had now far more abundant
proof of his haughty self-centredness than their first short
acquaintance on the Riviera had given her; and yet--though she tried to
hide it from herself--she was far more deeply absorbed in the thought of
him. When all was said, she knew that she had treated him badly. The
effect of his violence and cruelty towards Radowitz had been indeed to
make her shudder away from him. It seemed to her still that it would be
impossible to forgive herself should she ever make friends with Douglas
Falloden again. She would be an accomplice in his hardness of heart and
deed. Yet she recognised guiltily her own share in that hardness. She
had played with and goaded him; she had used Radowitz to punish him; her
championship of the boy had become in the end mere pique with Falloden;
and she was partly responsible for what had happened. She could not
recall Falloden's face and voice on their last walk without realising
that she had hit him recklessly hard, and that her conduct to him had
been one of the causes of the Marmion tragedy.

She was haunted by these thoughts, and miserable for lack of some
comforting, guiding, and--if possible--absolving voice. She missed her
mother childishly day and night, and all that premature self-possession
and knowledge of the world, born of her cosmopolitan training, which at
Oxford had made her appear so much older than other English girls of
twenty, seemed to have broken away, and left her face to face with
feelings she could not check, and puzzles she wanted somebody else
to judge.

For instance--here was this coming visit to her aunts in Yorkshire.
Their house in Scarfedale was most uncomfortably near to Flood Castle.
The boundaries of the Falloden estate ran close to her aunts' village.
She would run many chances of coming across Douglas himself, however
much she might try to avoid him. At the same time Lady Marcia wrote
continually, describing the plans that were being made to entertain
her--eager, affectionate letters, very welcome in spite of their oddity
to the girl's sore and orphaned mood. No she really couldn't frame some
clumsy excuse, and throw her aunts over. She must go, and trust to luck.

And there would be Sorell and Otto to fall back upon--to take refuge
with. Sorell had told her that the little rectory on the moors, whither
he and Otto were bound as soon as the boy could be moved, stood
somewhere about midway between her aunts' house and Flood, on the
Scarfedale side of the range of moors girdling the Flood Castle valley.

It was strange perhaps that she should be counting on Sorell's
neighbourhood. If she had often petulantly felt at Oxford that he was
too good, too high above her to be of much use to her, she might perhaps
have felt it doubly now. For although in some undefined way, ever since
the night of the Vice-Chancellor's party, she had realised in him a deep
interest in her, even a sense of responsibility for her happiness, which
made him more truly her guardian than poor harassed Uncle Ewen, she knew
very well that she had disappointed him, and she smarted under it. She
wanted to have it out with him, and didn't dare! As she listened indeed
to his agitated report on Radowitz's injuries, after the first verdict
of the London surgeons, Connie had been conscious of a kind of moral
terror. In the ordinary man of the world, such an incident as the
Marmion ragging of a foreign lad, who had offended the prejudices of a
few insolent and lordly Englishmen, would have merely stirred a jest. In
Sorell it roused the same feelings that made him a lover of Swinburne
and Shelley and the nobler Byron; a devoted reader of everything
relating to the Italian Risorgimento; and sent him down every long
vacation to a London riverside parish to give some hidden service to
those who were in his eyes the victims of an unjust social system. For
him the quality of behaviour like Falloden's towards Otto Radowitz was
beyond argument. The tyrannical temper in things great or small, and
quite independent of results, represented, for him, the worst treason
that man can offer to man. In this case it had ended in hideous
catastrophe to an innocent and delightful being, whom he loved. But it
was not thereby any the worse; the vileness of it was only made manifest
for all to see.

This hidden passion in him, as he talked, seemed to lay a fiery hand on
Constance, she trembled under it, conscience-stricken. "Does he see the
same hateful thing in me?--though he never says a word to hurt
me?--though he is so gentle and so courteous?"

       *       *       *       *       *

A tall figure became visible at the end of the street. Connie shut up
her writing and ran upstairs to put on her things. When she came down,
she found Sorell waiting for her with a furrowed brow.

"How is he?" She approached him anxiously. Sorell's look changed and
cleared. Had she put on her white dress, had she made herself a vision
of freshness and charm, for the poor boy's sake? He thought so; and his
black eyes kindled.

"Better in some ways. He is hanging on your coming. But these are
awfully bad times for the nurses--for all of us."

"I may take him some roses?" she said humbly, pointing to a basket she
had brought in with her.

Sorell smiled assent and took it from her. As they were speeding in a
hansom towards the Portland Place region, he gave her an account of the
doctors' latest opinion. It seemed that quite apart from the
blood-poisoning, which would heal, the muscles and nerves of the hand
were fatally injured. All hope of even a partial use of it was gone.

"Luckily he is not a poor man. He has some hundreds a year. But he had a
great scheme, after he had got his Oxford degree, of going to the new
Leschetizsky school in Vienna for two years, and then of giving concerts
in Warsaw and Cracow, in aid of the great Polish museum now being formed
at Cracow. You know what a wild enthusiasm he has for Polish history and
antiquities. He believes his country will rise again, and it was his
passion--his most cherished hope--to give his life and his gift to her.
Poor lad!"

The tears stood in Connie's eyes.

"But he can still compose?" she urged piteously.

Sorell shrugged his shoulders.

"Yes, if he has the heart--and the health. I never took much account
before of his delicacy. One can see, to look at him, that he's not
robust. But somehow he was always so full of life that one never thought
of illness in connection with him. But I had a long talk with one of the
doctors last week, who takes rather a gloomy view. A shock like this
sometimes lets loose all the germs of mischief in a man's constitution.
And his mother was undoubtedly consumptive. Well, we must do our best."

He sighed. There was silence till they turned into Wimpole Street and
were in sight of the nursing home. Then Connie said in a queer, strained
voice: "You don't know that it was partly I who did it."

Sorell turned upon her with a sudden change of expression. It was as
though she had said something he had long expected, and now that it was
said a great barrier between them had broken down. He looked at her with
shining eyes from which the veil of reserve had momentarily lifted. She
saw in them both tenderness and sorrow.

"I don't think you need feel that," he said gently. Her lips trembled.
She looked straight before her into the hot vista of the street.

"I just played with him--with his whole future, as it's turned
out--without a thought."

Sorell knew that she was thinking of the Magdalen ball, of which he had
by now heard several accounts. He guessed she meant that her provocation
of Falloden had contributed to the tragedy, and that the thought
tormented her. But neither of them mentioned Falloden's name. Sorell put
out his hand and grasped hers. "Otto's only thought about you is that
you gave him the happiest evening he ever spent in England," he said
with energy. "You won't misunderstand."

Her eyes filled with tears. But there was no time to say more. The
hansom drew up.

[Illustration: _Connie sat down beside Radowitz and they looked at each
other in silence_]

They found Radowitz lying partly dressed on the balcony of his back
room, which overlooked a tiny walled patch of grass and two plane-trees.
The plane-tree seems to have been left in pity to London by some
departing rural deity. It alone nourishes amid the wilderness of brick;
and one can imagine it as feeling a positive satisfaction, a quiet
triumph, in the absence of its stronger rivals, oak and beech and ash,
like some gentle human life escaped from the tyrannies of competition.
These two great trees were the guardian genii of poor Otto's afternoons.
They brought him shade and coolness, even in the hottest hours of a
burning June.

Connie sat down beside him, and they looked at each other in silence.
Sorell, after a few gay words, had left them together. Radowitz held her
hand in his own left. The other was bandaged and supported on a pillow.
"When she got used to the golden light filtering through the plane
leaves, she saw that he was pale and shrunken, that his eyes were more
living and blue than ever, and his hair more like the burnished halo of
some Florentine or Siennese saint. Yet the whole aspect was of something
stricken. She felt a foreboding, a terror, of which she knew she must
let nothing appear.

"Do you mind my staring?" he said presently, with his half-sad,
half-mischievous smile. "You are so nice to look at."

She tried to laugh.

"I put on my best frock. Do you like it?"

"For me?" he said, wondering. "And you brought me these roses?"

He lifted some out of the basket, looked at them, then let them drop
listlessly on his knee. "I am afraid I don't care for such things, as I
used to do. Before--this happened, I had a language of my own, in which
I could express everything--as artists or poets can. Now--I am struck
dumb. There is something crying in me--that can find no voice. And when
one can't express, one begins not to feel!"

She had to check the recurring tears before she could reply.

"But you can still compose?"

Her tone, in repeating the same words she had used to Sorell, fell into
the same pleading note.

He shook his head, almost with irritation.

"It was out of the instrument--out of improvisation--that all my
composing grew. Do you remember the tale they tell of George Sand, how
when she began a novel, she made a few dots and scratches on a sheet of
paper, and as she played with them they ran into words, and then into
sentences--that suggested ideas--and so, in half an hour, she had
sketched a plot, and was ready to go to work? So it was with me. As I
played, the ideas came. I am not one of your scientific musicians who
can build up everything _in vacuo_. I must translate everything into
sound--through my fingers. It was the same with Chopin." He pointed to a
life of Chopin that was lying open on the couch beside him.

"But you will do wonders with your left hand. And your right will
perhaps improve. The doctors mayn't know," she pleaded, catching at
straws. "Dear Otto--don't despair!"

He flushed and smiled. His uninjured hand slipped back into hers again.

"I like you to call me Otto. How dear that was of you! May I call you
Constance?"

She nodded. There was a sob in her throat that would not let her speak.

"I don't despair--now," he said, after a moment. "I did at first. I
wanted to put an end to myself. But, of course, it was Sorell who saved
me. If my mother had lived, she could not have done more."

He turned away his face so that Constance should not see it. When he
looked at her again, he was quite calm and smiling.

"Do you know who come to see me almost every day?"

"Tell me."

"Meyrick--Lord Meyrick, and Robertson. Perhaps you don't know him. He's
a Winchester man, a splendid cricketer. It was Robertson I was
struggling with when I fell. How could he know I should hurt myself? It
wasn't his fault and he gave up his 'choice' for the Oxford Eleven. They
put him in at the last moment. But he wouldn't play. I didn't know till
afterwards. I told him he was a great fool."

There was a pause. Then Connie said--with difficulty--"Did--did Mr.
Falloden write? Has he said anything?"

"Oh yes, he sent a message. After all, when you run over a dog, you send
a message, don't you?" said the lad with sudden bitterness. "And I
believe he wrote a letter--after I came here. But I didn't open it. I
gave it to Sorell."

Then he raised himself on his pillows and looked keenly at Connie.

"You see the others didn't mean any harm. They were drunk, and it was a
row. But Falloden wasn't drunk--and he did mean--"

"Oh, not to hurt you so?" cried Connie involuntarily.

"No--but to humble and trample on me," said the youth with vehemence,
his pale cheeks flaming. "He knew quite well what he was about. I felt
that when they came into my room. He is cruel--he has the temper of the
torturer--in cold blood--"

A shudder of rage went through him. His excitable Slav nature brought
everything back to him--as ugly and as real as when it happened.

"Oh, no--no!" said Constance, putting her hand over her eyes.

Radowitz controlled himself at once.

"I won't say any more," he said in a low voice, breathing deep--"I won't
say any more." But a minute afterwards he looked up again, his brow
contracting--"Only, for God's sake, don't marry him!"

"Don't be afraid," said Constance. "I shall never marry him!"

He looked at her piteously. "Only--if you care for him--what then? You
are not to be unhappy!--you are to be the happiest person in the world.
If you did care for him--I should have to see some good in him--and that
would be awful. It is not because he did me an injury, you understand.
The other two are my friends--they will be always my friends. But there
is something in Falloden's soul that I hate--that I would like to
fight--till either he drops or I. It is the same sort of feeling I have
towards those who have killed my country."

He lay frowning, his blue eyes sombrely fixed and strained.

"But now"--he drew himself sharply together--"you must talk of something
else, and I will be quite quiet. Tell me where you have been--what you
have seen--the theatre--the opera--everything!"

She did her best, seeing already the anxious face of the nurse in the
window behind. And as she got up to go, she said, "I shall come again
very soon. And when you go to Yorkshire, I shall see you perhaps
every day."

He looked up in astonishment and delight, and she explained that at
Scarfedale Manor, her aunts' old house, she would be only two or three
miles from the high moorland vicarage whither he was soon to be moved.

"That will do more for me than doctors!" said Radowitz with decision.
Yet almost before she had reached the window opening on the balcony, his
pain, mental and physical, had clutched him again. He did not look up as
she waved farewell; and Sorell hurried her away.

Thenceforward she saw him almost every day, to Lady Langmoor's
astonishment. Sorell too, and his relation to Connie, puzzled her
greatly. Connie assured her with smiles that she was not in love with
the handsome young don, and never thought of flirting with him. "He was
mother's friend, Aunt Sophia," she would say, as though that settled the
matter entirely. But Lady Langmoor could not see that it settled it at
all. Mr. Sorell could not be much over thirty--the best time of all for
falling in love. And here was Connie going to pictures with him, and the
British Museum, and to visit the poor fellow in the nursing home. It was
true that the aunt could never detect the smallest sign of love-making
between them. And Connie was always putting forward that Mr. Sorell
taught her Greek. As if that kind of thing wasn't one of the best and
oldest gambits in the great game of matrimony! Lady Langmoor would have
felt it her solemn duty to snub the young man had it been at all
possible. But it was really not possible to snub any one possessed of
such a courteous self-forgetting dignity. And he came of a good
Anglo-Irish family too. Lady Langmoor had soon discovered that she knew
some of his relations, and placed him socially to a T. But, of course,
any notion of his marrying Connie, with her money, her rank, and her
good looks, would be simply ridiculous, so ridiculous that Lady Langmoor
soon ceased to think about it, accepted his visits, and began to like
him on her own account.

       *       *       *       *       *

One evening towards the end of the first week in July, a hansom drew up
before a house in Portman Square. Douglas Falloden emerged from it, as
the door was opened by a maidservant.

The house, which had been occupied at the beginning of the season by the
family, was given over now to a charwoman and a couple of housemaids,
the senior of whom looked a little scared at the prospect of having to
wait on the magnificent gentleman who had just entered the house. In
general, when Mr. Douglas came up to town in the absence of his family,
he put up at his own very expensive club, and the servants in Portman
Square were not troubled with him. But they, like every one else, knew
that something was going wrong with the Fallodens.

Falloden walked into the deserted and dust-sheeted house, while the
cabman brought in his portmanteau. "Is Mr. Gregory here?" he enquired
of the maid.

"Yes, sir, he is in the library. Please, sir, Mrs. O'Connor wants to
know if you'll want dinner."

Falloden impatiently said "No," and walked on down a long passage to the
library, which had been built out at the back of the house. Here the
blinds had been drawn up, only to reveal the dusty desolation of an
unused room, in which a few chairs had been uncovered, and a table
cleared. A man rose from a chair beside the table, and he and Falloden
shook hands. He was a round-faced and broad-shouldered person, with one
of the unreadable faces developed by the life of a prominent solicitor,
in contact with all sorts of clients and many varieties of business; and
Falloden's sensitive pride had soon detected in his manner certain
shades of expression to which the heir of Flood Castle was not
accustomed.

"I am sorry to hear Sir Arthur is not well." Mr. Gregory spoke politely,
but perhaps without that accent of grave and even tragic concern which
six months earlier he would have given to the same words. "There is a
great deal of heavy, and, I am afraid, disagreeable business to
be done."

"My father is not fit for it," said Falloden abruptly. "I must do the
best I can."

Mr. Gregory gave a sign of assent. He drew a packet of documents from
his pocket, and spreading out a letter from Sir Arthur Falloden on the
table, proceeded to deal with the points in it seriatim. Falloden sat
beside him, looking carefully through the various documents handed to
him, asking questions occasionally, and making notes of his own. In the
dusty northern light of the room, his face had a curiously purple and
congested look; and his eyes were dead tired. But he showed so much
shrewdness in his various remarks that the solicitor secretly admitted
his capacity, reflecting indeed once or twice that, young as he was, it
would have been a good thing if his father had taken him into counsel
earlier. After the discussion had lasted half an hour, Falloden pushed
the papers away.

"I think I see. The broad facts are that my father can raise no more
money, either on his securities, or on the land; his two banks are
pressing him; and the Scotch mortgages must be paid. The estates, of
course, will have to be sold. I am quite willing."

"So I understand. But it will take time and the bank overdrafts are
urgent. Mason's Bank declare that if their debt is not paid--or freshly
secured--within a month from now, they will certainly take proceedings.
I must remind you they have been exceedingly forbearing."

"And the amount?" Falloden consulted his papers.

"Forty thousand. The securities on which Sir Arthur obtained it are now
not worth more than eight."

The lawyer paused a moment, looked at his companion, and at last said--

"There are, of course, your own expectations from Lord Dagnall. I do not
know whether you and your father have considered them. But I imagine it
would be possible to raise money on them."

Falloden laughed. The sound was a mixture of irritation and contempt.

"Uncommonly little! The fact is my uncle--at seventy-two--is
philandering with a lady-housekeeper he set up a year ago. She seems to
be bent on netting him, and my father thinks she'll do it. If she does,
my uncle will probably find himself with an heir of his own. Anyway the
value of my prospects is enormously less than it was. All the neighbours
are perfectly aware of what is going on. Oh, I suppose he'll leave me
something--enough to keep me out of the workhouse. But there's nothing
to be got out of it now."

There was another silence. Falloden pondered the figures before him.

"There are always the pictures," he said at last, looking up.

The lawyer's face lightened.

"If you and Sir Arthur will sell! But as you know they are heirlooms,
and you could stop it."

"On the contrary, I am ready to agree to it," said Falloden briefly.
"But there will be a lot of legal business, won't there?"

"Certainly. But it can all be put through in time. And directly it was
known that you would sell, the whole situation would be changed."

"We might save something out of the wreck?" said Falloden, looking up.

The lawyer nodded gravely.

"Something--certainly."

"What are they worth?" said Falloden, taking a note-book from his
pocket, and looking at a list scribbled on its first page.

Mr. Gregory laughed.

"There is no market in the ordinary sense for such pictures as yours.
There are only half a dozen millionaires in the world who could buy
them--and one or two museums." He paused a moment, looking thoughtfully
at the young man before him. "There happens, however,"--he spoke
slowly--"to be a buyer at this moment in London, whom it would be
difficult to beat--in the matter of millions."

He mentioned the name.

"Not an American? Well, send him along." Falloden raised his eyebrows.
"If my father doesn't feel able to see him, I can tackle him. He can
choose his own day and hour. All our best pictures are at Flood."

"And they include--"

"Four Rembrandts," said Falloden, looking at his list, "two Titians, two
Terburgs, a Vermeer of Delft, heaps of other Dutchmen--four full-length
Gainsboroughs, and three half-lengths--two full-length Reynoldses, three
smaller--three Lawrences, a splendid Romney, three Hoppners, two
Constables, etc. The foreign pictures were bought by my grandfather from
one of the Orléans collections about 1830. The English pictures--the
portraits--have all been at Flood since they were painted, and very few
of them have ever been exhibited. I scribbled these few facts down
before I left home. There is, of course, an elaborate catalogue."

For the first time the lawyer's countenance as he listened showed a
flash of active sympathy. He was himself a modest collector, and his
house at Richmond contained a number of pretty things.

"Sir Arthur will mind parting with them very much, I fear," he said with
real concern. "I wish with all my heart it had been possible to find
some other way out. But we have really done our best."

Falloden nodded. He sat looking straight before him, one hand drumming
on the table. The whole attitude was haughtily irresponsive. The slight
note of compassion in Mr. Gregory's tone was almost intolerable to him,
and the lawyer guessed it.

"Insolent cub!" he thought to himself; and thenceforward allowed himself
no departure from a purely business tone. It was settled that the
buyer--with legal caution, Mr. Gregory for the moment threw no further
light upon him--was, if possible, to be got hold of at once, and an
appointment was to be made for Flood Castle, where Falloden, or his
father, would receive him.

Then the solicitor departed, and Falloden was left to pace up and down
the dismal room, his hands in his pockets--deep in thought.

He looked back upon a fortnight of unbroken worry and distress. The news
with which his father had received him on his return from Oxford had
seemed to him at first incredible. But the facts on which it was based
were only too substantial, and his father, broken in health and nerve,
now that silence was once thrown aside, poured out upon his son a flood
of revelation and confession that soon made what had happened tragically
clear. It was the familiar story of wealth grasping at yet more wealth,
of the man whose judgment and common sense begin to play him false, when
once the intoxication of money has gone beyond a certain point. Dazzled
by some first speculative successes, Sir Arthur had become before long a
gambler over half the world, in Canada, the States, Egypt, Argentina.
One doubtful venture supported another, and the City, no less than the
gambler himself, was for a time taken in. But the downfall of a great
Egyptian company, which was to have extracted untold wealth from a strip
of Libyan desert, had gradually but surely brought down everything else
in its train. Blow after blow fell, sometimes rapidly, sometimes
tardily. Sir Arthur tried every expedient known to the financier _in
extremis_, descending ever lower in the scale of credit and reputation;
and in vain. One tragic day in June, after a long morning with the
Gregory partners, Sir Arthur came home to the splendid house in
Yorkshire, knowing that nothing now remained but to sell the estates,
and tell Douglas that his father had ruined him. Lady Laura's settlement
was safe; and on that they must live.

The days of slow realisation, after Douglas's return, had tried both
father and son severely. Sir Arthur was worn out and demoralised by long
months of colossal but useless effort to retrieve what he had done.
Falloden, with his own remorse, and his own catastrophe to think over,
was called on to put it aside, to think for and help his father. He had
no moral equipment--no trained character--equal to the task. But
mercifully for them both, his pride came into play; his shrewd
intelligence also, and his affection for his father--the most penetrable
spot so far in his hard and splendid youth. He had done his best--a
haughty, ungracious best--but still he had done it, and in the course of
a few days, now that the tension of concealment was over, Sir Arthur had
become almost childishly dependent upon him.

A church clock struck somewhere in the distance. Falloden looked at his
watch. Time to go to some restaurant and dine. With Gregory's figures
running in his head, he shrank from his Club where he would be sure to
meet a host of Harrow and Oxford acquaintance, up for the Varsity match,
and the latter end of the season. After dinner he would look into a
music-hall, and about eleven make his way to the Tamworth House ball.

He must come back, however, to Portman Square sometime to dress. Lady
Tamworth had let it be known privately that the Prince and Princess
were coming to her ball, and that the men were expected to appear in
knee-breeches and silk stockings. He had told his valet at Flood to pack
them; and he supposed that fool of a housemaid would be equal to
unpacking for him, and putting out his things.

       *       *       *       *       *

"How do you do, Douglas?" said Lady Tamworth, an imposing, bejewelled
figure standing at the head of the galleried staircase of Tamworth
House. "Saw your father yesterday and thought him looking very seedy."

"Yes, he's not the thing," said Douglas. "We shall have to get him away
to Marienbad, or somewhere of that kind."

Lady Tamworth looked at him closely, her eyelids fluttering just a
little. Douglas noticed the flutter, and knew very well what it meant.
Lady Tamworth and his father were first cousins. No doubt all their
relations were busy discussing their affairs day and night; the City, he
knew, was full of rumours, and certain newspapers had already scented
the quarry ahead, and were beginning to make ghoulish hints and
gibberings. As he passed on into the ballroom, every nerve in him was
sensitive and alive. He seemed to have eyes at the back of his head, to
catch everywhere the sudden attention, the looks of curiosity, sometimes
of malice, that followed him through the crowd. He spoke to a great many
acquaintance, to girls he had been accustomed to dance with and their
mothers. The girls welcomed him just as usual; but the casual or
interrupted conversation, which was all the mothers could spare him,
showed him very soon how much was known or guessed, of the family
disasters. He understood that he was no longer in the running for these
exquisite creatures in their silks and satins. The campaigning mothers
had already dropped him out of their lists. His pride recoiled in
self-contempt from its own smart. But he had been accustomed to walk
this world as one of its princelings, and indifference to what it might
think of him was not immediately attainable.

All the same, he was still handsome, distinguished, and well born. No
one could overlook him in a ballroom, and few women could be quite
indifferent to his approach. He danced as much as he wished, and with
the prettiest girls. His eyes meanwhile were always wandering over the
crowd, searching in vain for a delicate face, and a wealth of brown
hair. Yet she had told him herself that Lady Langmoor was to bring her
to this ball. He only wanted to see her--from a distance--not to speak
to her--or be spoken to.

"Douglas," said a laughing voice in his ear--"will you dance the royal
quadrille with me? Something's happened to my partner. Mother sent me
to ask you."

He turned and saw the youngest daughter of the house, Lady Alice, with
whom he had always been on chaffing, cousinly terms; and as she spoke a
sudden stir and hush in the room showed that the royal party had
arrived, and were being received in the hall below.

Falloden's first irritable instinct was to refuse. Why should he go out
of his way to make himself a show for all these eyes? Then a secret
excitement--an expectation--awoke in him, and he nodded a laughing
comment to Lady Alice, who just stayed to throw him a mocking compliment
on his knee-breeches, and ran away. Immediately afterwards, the royal
party came through the lane made for them, shaking hands with their
acquaintance, and bowing right and left. As they disappeared into the
room beyond, which had been reserved for them, the crowd closed up
behind them. Falloden heard a voice at his elbow.

"How are you? I hear you're to be in the quadrille. You'll have the
pretty lady we saw at Oxford for a colleague."

He turned to see Mrs. Glendower, very much made-up and glittering with
diamonds. Her face seemed to him to have grown harder and plainer, her
smile more brazen since their Oxford meeting. But she filled up time
agreeably till the quadrille was ready. She helped him to pin on the
small rosette made of the Tamworth colours which marked all the dancers
in the royal quadrille, and she told him that Constance Bledlow was to
dance it with the Tamworths' eldest son, Lord Bletchley.

"There's a great deal of talk about her, as perhaps you know. She's very
much admired. The Langmoors are making a great fuss about her, and
people say she'll have all their money as well as her own some day--not
to speak of the old aunts in Yorkshire. I shouldn't wonder if the
Tamworths had their eye upon her. They're not really well off."

Falloden gaily declared that he would back his cousin Mary Tamworth to
get anything she wanted. Mrs. Glendower threw him a sudden, sharp look.
Then she was swept into the crowd. A couple of men in brilliant uniform
came by, clearing a space in the centre of the room, and Falloden saw
Lady Alice beckoning.

In another minute or two he and she were in their places, and what the
newspapers who record these things call "a brilliant scene" was in full
tide:--the Prince and Princess dancing with the master and mistress of
the house, and the rest of the quadrille made up of the tallest men and
handsomest women that Lady Tamworth, with a proper respect both to rank
and to looks, had been able to collect.

The six-foot-three Falloden and his fairylike partner were much
observed, and Lady Alice bubbling over with fun and spirits, found her
cousin Douglas, whom in general she disliked, far better company than
usual. As for him, he was only really conscious of one face and form in
the stately dance itself, or in the glittering crowd which was eagerly
looking on. Constance Bledlow, in filmy white, was his _vis-à-vis_. He
saw her quick movement as she perceived him. Then she bowed slightly, he
ceremoniously. Their hands touched at intervals, and not a few of the
spectators noticed these momentary contacts with a thrill of
pleasure--the splendid physique of the young man, the flowerlike grace
of the girl. Once or twice, as they stood together in the centre of the
"chain," a few words would have been possible. But Constance never
spoke, nor did Falloden. He had thought her very pale at first sight.
But her cheek flushed with dancing; and with every minute that passed
she seemed to him more lovely and more remote, like a spirit from
another world, into which he could not pass.

"Isn't she pretty!--Connie Bledlow?" said Lady Alice enthusiastically.
"She's having a great success. Of course other people are much
handsomer, but there's something--"

Yes, there was something!--and something which, like an exquisite
fluttering bird, had just escaped from Douglas Falloden, and would now,
he supposed, forever escape him.

When the quadrille was over he watched her delicate whiteness disappear
amid the uniforms, the jewels, and the festoons or roses hanging across
the ballroom. The barbaric, overdecorated scene, with all its
suggestions of a luxurious and self-confident world, where every one was
rich and privileged, or hunting riches and privilege--a world without
the smallest foreboding of change, the smallest doubt of its own right
to exist--forced upon him by contrast the recollection of the hour he
had just spent with Mr. Gregory in his father's dusty dismantled
library. He and his were, it seemed, "ruined"--as many people here
already guessed. He looked at the full-length Van Dycks on the wall of
the Tamworths' ballroom, and thought, not without a grim leap of humour,
that he would be acting showman and auctioneer, within a few days
perhaps, to his father's possessions of the same kind.

But it was not the loss of money or power that was separating him from
Constance Bledlow. He knew her well enough by now to guess that in spite
of her youth and her luxurious bringing up, there was that in her which
was rapidly shaping a character capable of fighting circumstance, as her
heart might bid. If she loved a man she would stand by him. No, it was
something known only to her and himself in all those crowded rooms. As
soon as he set eyes on her, the vision of Radowitz's bleeding hand and
prostrate form had emerged in consciousness--a haunting presence,
blurring the many-coloured movements of the ballroom.

And yet it was not that maimed hand, either, which stood between himself
and Constance. It was rather the spiritual fact behind the visible--that
instinct of fierce, tyrannical cruelty which he had felt as he laid his
hands on Radowitz in the Oxford dawn a month ago. He shrank from it now
as he thought of it. It blackened and degraded his own image of himself.
He remembered something like it years before, when he had joined in the
bullying of a small boy at school--a boy who yet afterwards had become
his good friend. If there is such a thing as "possession," devilish
possession, he had pleaded it on both occasions. Would it, however, have
seemed of any great importance to him now, but for Constance Bledlow's
horror-struck recoil? All men of strong and vehement temperament--so his
own defence might have run--are liable to such gusts of violent, even
murderous feeling; and women accept it. But Constance Bledlow,
influenced, no doubt, by a pale-blooded sentimentalist like Sorell, had
refused to accept it.

"I should be always afraid of you--of your pride and your violence--and
love mustn't be afraid. Good-bye!"

He tried to scoff, but the words had burnt into his heart.



CHAPTER XII

It was in the early morning, a few days after her arrival at Scarfedale
Manor, the house of her two maiden aunts, that Connie, while all the
Scarfedale household was still asleep, took pen and paper and began a
letter to Nora Hooper.

On the evening before Connie left Oxford there had been a long and
intimate scene between these two. Constance, motherless and sisterless,
and with no woman friend to turn to more understanding than Annette, had
been surprised in passionate weeping by Nora, the night after the
Marmion catastrophe. The tact and devotion of the younger girl had been
equal to the situation. She humbly admired Connie, and yet was directly
conscious of a strength in herself, in which Connie was perhaps lacking,
and which might be useful to her brilliant cousin. At any rate on this
occasion she showed so much sweetness, such power, beyond her years, of
comforting and understanding, that Connie told her everything, and
thenceforward possessed a sister and a confidante. The letter ran as
follows:--

       *       *       *       *       *

"DEAREST NORA,--I have only been at Scarfedale Manor a week, and already
I seem to have been living here for months. It is a dear old house, very
like the houses one used to draw when one was four years old--a doorway
in the middle, with a nice semicircular top, and three windows on either
side; two stories above with seven windows each, and a pretty dormered
roof, with twisted brick chimneys, and a rookery behind it; also a
walled garden, and a green oval grass-plot between it and the road. It
seems to me that everywhere you go in England you find these houses,
and, I dare say, people like my aunts living in them.

"They are very nice to me, and as different as possible from each other.
Aunt Marcia must have been quite good-looking, and since she gave up
wearing a rational dress which she patented twenty-five years ago, she
has always worn either black silk or black satin, a large black satin
hat, rather like the old 'pokes,' with black feathers in winter and
white feathers in summer, and a variety of lace scarves--real
lace--which she seems to have collected all over the world. Aunt
Winifred says that the Unipantaloonicoat'--the name of the patented
thing--lost Aunt Marcia all her lovers. They were scared by so much
strength of character, and could not make up their minds to tackle her.
She gave it up in order to capture the last of them--a dear old general
who had adored her--but he shook his head, went off to Malta to think it
out, and there died of Malta fever. She considers herself his widow and
his portrait adorns her sitting-room. She has a poor opinion of the
lower orders, especially of domestic servants. But her own servants
don't seem to mind her much. The butler has been here twenty years, and
does just what he pleases. The amusing thing is that she considers
herself extremely intellectual, because she learnt Latin in her
youth--she doesn't remember a word of it now!--because she always read
the reviews of papa's books--and because she reads poetry every morning
before breakfast. Just now she is wrestling with George Meredith; and
she asks me to explain 'Modern Love' to her. I can't make head or tail
of it. Nor can she. But when people come to tea she begins to talk about
Meredith, and asks them if they don't think him very obscure. And as
most people here who come to tea have never heard of him, it keeps up
her dignity. All the same, she is a dear old thing--and she put a large
case of chocolate in my room before I arrived!

"Aunt Winifred is quite different. Aunt Marcia calls her a
'reactionary,' because she is very high church and great friends with
all the clergy. She is a very quiet little thing, short and fair, with a
long thin nose and eyes that look you through. Her two great passions
are--curates, especially consumptive curates--and animals. There is
generally a consumptive curate living the open-air life in the garden.
Mercifully the last patient has just left. As for animals, the house is
full of stray dogs and tame rabbits and squirrels that run up you and
look for nuts in your pocket. There is also a mongoose, who pulled the
cloth off the tea-table yesterday and ran away with all the cakes. Aunt
Marcia bears it philosophically, but the week before I came there was a
crisis. Aunt Winifred met some sheep on the road between here and our
little town. She asked where they were going to. And the man with them
said he was taking them to the slaughter-house. She was horrified, and
she bought them all--there and then! And half an hour later, she
appeared here with the sheep, and Aunt Marcia was supposed to put them
up in the garden. Well, that was too much, and the aunts had words. What
happened to the sheep I don't know. Probably Aunt Winifred has eaten
them since without knowing it.

"Dear Nora--I wonder why I write you all these silly things when there
is so much else to say--and I know you want to hear it. But it's
horribly difficult to begin.--Well, first of all, Mr. Sorell and Otto
Radowitz are about three miles from here, in a little vicarage that has
a wide lookout upon the moors and a heavenly air. The aunts have found
me a horse, and I go there often. Otto is in some ways very much better.
He lives an ordinary life, walks a fair amount, and is reading some
classics and history with Mr. Sorell, besides endless books of musical
theory and biography. You know he passed his first musical exam last
May. For the second, which will come off next year, he has to write a
composition in five-part harmony for at least five stringed instruments,
and he is beginning work for it now. He writes and writes, and his
little study at the vicarage is strewn deep in scribbled music-paper.
With his left hand and his piano he does wonders, but the poor right
hand is in a sling and quite useless, up to now. He reads scores
endlessly, and he said to me yesterday that he thought his intellectual
understanding of music--his power of grasping it through the eye--of
hearing it with the mind--'ditties of no tone!'--had grown since his
hand was injured. But the pathetic thing is that the sheer pleasure--the
joy and excitement--of his life is gone; those long hours of dreaming
and composing with the piano, when he could not only make himself
blissfully happy, but give such exquisite pleasure to others.

"He is very quiet and patient now--generally--and quite determined to
make a name for himself as a composer. But he seems to me
extraordinarily frail. Do you remember that lovely French poem of Sully
Prudhomme's I read you one night--'_Le Vase Brisé_'? The vase has had a
blow. No one knew of it. But the little crack widens and grows. The
water ebbs away--the flowers die. '_Il est brisé_--_n'y touchez pas_!' I
can see it is just that Mr. Sorell feels about Otto.

"What makes one anxious sometimes, is that he has hours of a kind of
fierce absent-mindedness, when his real self seems to be far away--as
though in some feverish or ugly dream. He goes away and wanders about by
himself. Mr. Sorell does not attempt to follow him, though he is always
horribly anxious. And after some hours he comes back, limp and worn out,
but quite himself again--as though he had gone through some terrible
wrestle and escaped.

"Mr. Sorell gave him, a little while ago, a wonderful new automatic
thing--a piano-player, I think they call it. It works with a roll like a
musical box and has pedals. But Otto can't do much with it. To get any
expression out of it you must use your hands--both hands; and I am
afraid it has been more disappointment than joy. But there are rumours
of some development--something electric--that plays itself. They say
there is an inventor at work in Paris, who is doing something wonderful.
I have written to a girl I know at the Embassy to ask her to find out.
It might just help him through some weary hours--that's all one can say.

"The relation between him and Mr. Sorell is wonderful. Oh, what an angel
Mr. Sorell is! How can any human being, and with no trouble at all
apparently, be so unselfish, so self-controlled? What will any woman do
who falls in love with him? It won't make any difference that he'll
think her so much better than himself--because she'll know the truth. I
see no chance for her. My dear Nora, the best men are better than the
best women--there! But--take note!--I am not in love with him, though I
adore him, and when he disapproves of me, I feel a worm.

"I hear a good deal of the Fallodens, but nobody sees them. Every one
shrinks from pestering them with society--not from any bad feeling--but
because every one knows by now that they are in hideous difficulties,
and doesn't want to intrude. Lady Laura, they say, is very much changed,
and Sir Arthur looks terribly ill and broken. Aunt Marcia hears that
Douglas Falloden is doing all the business, and impressing the lawyers
very much. Oh, I do hope he is helping his father!

"I can't write about him, Nora darling. You would wonder how I can feel
the interest in him I do. I know that. But I can't believe, as Otto
does, that he is deliberately cruel--a selfish, hard-hearted monster. He
has been a spoilt child all his life. But if some great call were made
upon him, mightn't it stir up something splendid in him, finer things
than those are capable of 'who need no repentance'?

"There--something has splashed on my paper. I have written enough. Now
you must tell me of yourselves. How is your father? Does Aunt Ellen like
Ryde? I am so delighted to hear that Mr. Pryce is actually coming. Tell
him that, of course, I will write to Uncle Langmoor, and Lord Glaramara,
whenever he wishes, about that appointment. I am sure something can be
done. Give Alice my love. I thought her new photographs charming. And
you, darling, are you looking after everybody as usual? I wish I could
give you a good hug. Good-bye."

       *       *       *       *       *

To which Nora replied, a couple of days later--

       *       *       *       *       *

"Your account of Aunt Marcia and Aunt Winifred amused father
tremendously. He thinks, however, that he would like Aunt Marcia better
than Aunt Winifred, as he--and I--get more anticlerical every year. But
we keep it to ourselves. Mamma and Alice wouldn't understand. Ryde is
very full, and mamma and Alice want nothing more than the pier and the
sands and the people. Papa and I take long walks along the coast, or
across the island. We find a cliff to bask on, or a wood that comes down
to the water, and then papa gets out a Greek book and translates to me.
Sometimes I listen to the sea, instead of to him, and go to sleep. But
he doesn't mind. He is looking better, but work is loading up for him
again as soon as we get back to Oxford about a week from now. If only he
could get rid of drudgery, and write his best about the things he loves.
Nobody knows what a mind he has. He is not only a scholar--he is a poet.
He could write things as beautiful as Mr. Pater's, but his life is
ground out of him.

"I won't go on writing this--it's no good.

"Herbert Pryce came down yesterday, and has taken mother and Alice out
boating to-day. If he doesn't mean to propose to Alice, it is very odd
he should take the trouble to come here. But he doesn't say anything
definite; he doesn't propose; and her face often makes me furious. His
manner to mamma--and to me--is often brusque and disagreeable. It is as
though he felt that in marrying Alice--if he is going to marry her--he
is rather unfairly burdened with the rest of us. And it is no good
shirking the fact that you count for a good deal in the matter. He was
delighted with your message, and if you can help him he will propose to
Alice. Goodness, fancy marrying such a man!

"As to Mr. Falloden, I don't believe he will ever be anything but hard
and tyrannical. I don't believe in conversion and change of heart, and
that kind of thing. I don't--I don't! You are not to be taken in,
Connie! You are not to fall in love with him again out of pity. If he
does lose all his money, and have to work like anybody else, what does
it matter? He was as proud as Lucifer--let him fall like Lucifer. You
may be sure he won't fall so very far. That kind never does. No, I want
him put down. I want him punished. He won't repent--he can't repent--and
there was never any one less like a lost sheep in the world.

"After which I think I will say good-night!"

       *       *       *       *       *

A few days later, Connie, returning from a ramble with one of Lady
Winifred's stray dogs along the banks of the Scarfe, found her two aunts
at tea in the garden.

"Sit down, my dear Connie," said Lady Marcia, with a preoccupied look.
"We have just heard distressing news. The clergy are such gossips!"

The elevation of Aunt Winifred's sharp nose showed her annoyance.

"And you, Marcia, are always so dreadfully unfair to them. You were
simply dying for Mr. Latimer to tell you all he knew, and then you
abuse him."

"Perfectly true," said Lady Marcia provokingly, "but if he had snubbed
me, I should have respected him more."

Whereupon it was explained to Connie that a Mr. Latimer, rector of the
Fallodens' family living of Flood Magna, had just been paying a long
visit to the two ladies. He was a distant cousin and old crony of
theirs, and it was not long before they had persuaded him to pour out
all he knew about the Falloden affairs. "They must sell everything!"
said Lady Marcia, raising her hands and eyes in protest--"the estates,
the house, the pictures--my dear, think of the pictures! The nation of
course ought to buy them, but the nation never has a penny. And however
much they sell, it will only just clear them. There'll be nothing left
but Lady Laura's settlement--and that's only two thousand a year."

"Well, they won't starve," said Aunt Winifred, with a sniff, applying
for another piece of tea-cake. "It's no good, Marcia, your trying to
stir us up. The Fallodens are not beloved. Nobody will break their
hearts--except of course we shall all be sorry for Lady Laura and the
children. And it will be horrid to have new people at Flood."

"My dear Connie, it is a pity we haven't been able to take you to
Flood," said Lady Marcia to her niece, handing a cup of tea. "You know
Douglas, so of course you would have been shown everything. Such
pictures! Such lovely old rooms! And then the grounds--the cedars--the
old gardens! It really is a glorious place. I can't think why Winifred
is so hard-hearted about it!"

Lady Winifred pressed her thin lips together.

"Marcia, excuse me--but you really do talk like a snob. Before I cry
over people who have lost their property, I ask myself how they have
lost it, and also how they have used it." The little lady drew herself
up fiercely.

"We have all got beams in our own eyes," cried Aunt Marcia. "And of
course we all know, Winifred, that Sir Arthur never would give you
anything for your curates."

"That has nothing to do with it," said Lady Winifred angrily. "I gave
Sir Arthur a sacred opportunity--which he refused. That's his affair.
But when a man gambles away his estates, neglects his duties and his
poor people, wastes his money in riotous living, and teaches his
children to think themselves too good for this common world, and then
comes to grief--I am not going to whine and whimper about it. Let him
take it like a man!"

"So he does," said her sister warmly. "You know Mr. Latimer said so, and
also that Douglas was behaving very well."

"What else can he do? I never said he wasn't fond of his father. Well,
now let him look after his father."

The two maiden ladies, rather flushed and agitated, faced each other
nervously. They had forgotten the presence of their niece. Constance sat
in the shade, her beautiful eyes passing intently from one sister to the
other, her lips parted. Aunt Marcia, by way of proving to her sister
Winifred that she was a callous and unkind creature, began to rake up
inconsequently a number of incidents throwing light on the relations of
father and son; which Lady Winifred scornfully capped by another series
of recollections intended to illustrate the family arrogance, and
Douglas Falloden's full share in it. For instance:

_Marcia_--"I shall never forget that charming scene when Douglas made a
hundred, not out, the first day of the Flood cricket week, when he was
sixteen. Sir Arthur's face! And don't you remember how he went about
half the evening with his arm round the boy's shoulders?"

_Winifred_--"Yes, and how Douglas hated it! I can see him wriggling now.
Do you remember that just a week after that, Douglas broke his
hunting-whip beating a labourer's boy, whom he found trespassing in one
of the coverts, and how Sir Arthur paid fifty pounds to get him out of
the scrape?"

_Marcia_, indignantly--"Of course that was just a lad's high spirits! I
have no doubt the labourer's boy richly deserved it."

_Winifred_--"Really, Marcia, your tone towards the lower orders! You
don't allow a labourer's boy any high spirits!--not you! And I suppose
you've quite forgotten that horrid quarrel between the hunt and the
farmers which was entirely brought about by Douglas's airs. 'Pay
them!--pay them!' he used to say--'what else do the beggars want?' As if
money could settle everything! And I remember a farmer's wife telling me
how she had complained to Douglas about the damage done by the Flood
pheasants in their fields. And he just mocked at her. 'Why don't you
send in a bigger bill?' 'But it's not only money, my lady,' she said to
me. 'The fields are like your children, and you hate to see them wasted
by them great birds--money or no money. But what's the good of talking?
Fallodens always best it!'"

_Marcia_--with the air of one defending the institutions of her
country--"Shooting and hunting have to be kept up, Winifred, for the
sake of the physique of our class; and it's the physique of our class
that maintains the Empire. What do a few fields of corn matter compared
with that! And what young man could have done a more touching--a more
heroic thing--than--"

_Winifred_, contemptuously--"What?--Sir Arthur's accident? You always
did lose your head about that, Marcia. Nothing much, I consider, in the
story. However, we shan't agree, so I'd better go to my choir practice."

When she was out of sight, and Marcia, who was always much agitated by
an encounter with her sister, was still angrily fanning herself, Connie
laid a hand on her aunt's knee. "What was the story, Aunt Marcia?"

Lady Marcia composed herself. Connie, in a thin black frock, with a
shady hat and a tea-rose at her waist, was looking up at the elder lady
with a quiet eagerness. Marcia patted the girl's hand.

"Winifred never asked your opinion, my dear!--and I expect you know him
a great deal better than either of us."

"I never knew him before this year. That's a very little while. I--I'm
sure he's difficult to know. Perhaps he's one of the people--who"--she
laughed--"who want keeping."

"That's it!" cried Lady Marcia, delighted. "Of course that's it. It's
like a rough fruit that mellows. Anyway I'm not going to damn him for
good at twenty-three, like Winifred. Well, Sir Arthur was very badly
thrown, coming home from hunting, six years ago now and more, when
Douglas was seventeen. It was in the Christmas holidays. They had had a
run over Leman Moor and Sir Arthur and Douglas got separated from the
rest, and were coming home in the dark through some very lonely
roads--or tracks--on the edge of the moor. They came to a place where
the track went suddenly into a wood, and a pheasant was startled by the
horses, and flew right across Sir Arthur, almost in his face. The
horse--it was always said no one but Sir Arthur Falloden could ride
it--took fright, bolted, dashed in among the trees, threw Sir Arthur,
and made off. When Douglas came up he found his father on the ground,
covered with blood, and insensible. There was no one anywhere near. The
boy shouted--no one came. It was getting dark and pouring with rain--an
awful January night--I remember it well! Douglas tried to lift his
father on his own horse, but the horse got restive, and it couldn't be
done. If he had ridden back to a farm about a mile away he could have
got help. But he thought his father was dying, and he couldn't make up
his mind, you see, to leave him. Then--imagine!--he somehow was able--of
course he was even then a splendid young fellow, immensely tall and
strong for his age--to get Sir Arthur on his back, and to carry him
through two fields to a place where he thought there was a cottage. But
when he got there, the cottage was empty--no lights--and the door
padlocked. He laid his father down under the shelter of the cottage, and
called and shouted. Not a sign of help! It was awfully cold--a bitter
north wind--blowing great gusts of rain. Nobody knows quite how long
they were there, but at last they were found by the vicar of the village
near, who was coming home on his bicycle from visiting a sick woman at
the farm. He told me that Douglas had taken off his own coat and a
knitted waistcoat he wore, and had wrapped his father in them. He was
sitting on the ground with his back to the cottage wall, holding Sir
Arthur in his arms. The boy himself was weak with cold and misery. The
vicar said he should never forget his white face, when he found them
with his lamp, and the light shone on them. Douglas was bending over his
father, imploring him to speak to him--in the tenderest, sweetest way.
Then, of course, when the vicar, Mr. Burton, had got a cart and taken
them to the farm, and a carriage had come from Flood with two doctors,
and Sir Arthur had begun to recover his senses, Douglas--looking like a
ghost--was very soon ordering everybody about in his usual lordly
manner. 'He slanged the farmer,' said Mr. Burton, 'for being slow with
the cart; he sent me off on errands as though I'd been his groom; and
when the doctors came, you'd have thought he was more in charge of the
case than they were. They thought him intolerable; so he was. But I made
allowances, because I couldn't forget how I had seen them first--the
boy's face, and his chattering teeth, and how he spoke to his father.
He's spoilt, that lad! He's as proud as Satan. If his father and mother
don't look out, he'll give them sore hearts some day. But he can
feel!--and--if he could have given his life for his father's that night,
he would have done it with joy.'--Well, there it is, Connie!--it's a
true story anyway, and why shouldn't we remember the nice things about
a young man, as well as the horrid ones?"

"Why not, indeed?" said Connie, her chin on her hands, her eyes bent on
the ground.

Lady Marcia was silent a moment, then she said with a tremulous accent
that belied her height, her stateliness and her black satin gown:

"You see, Connie, I know more about men than Winifred does. We have had
different experiences."

"She's thinking about the General," thought Connie. "Poor old dear!" And
she gently touched her aunt's long thin hand.

Lady Marcia sighed.

"One must make allowances for men," she said slowly.

Connie offered no reply, and they sat together a few more minutes in
silence. Then Connie rose.

"I told the coachman, Aunt Marcia, I should ride for an hour or so after
tea. If I take the Lawley road, does that go anywhere near Flood?"

"It takes you to the top of the moor, and you have a glorious view of
the castle and all its woods. Yes, do go that way. You'll see what the
poor things have lost. You did like Douglas, didn't you?"

"'Like' is not exactly the word, is it?" said Constance with a little
laugh, vexed to feel that she could not keep the colour out of her
cheeks. "And he doesn't care whether you like him or not!"

She went away, and her elderly aunt watched her cross the lawn. Lady
Marcia looked puzzled. After a few moments' meditation a half light
broke on her wrinkled face. "Is it possible? Oh, no!"

It was a rich August evening. In the fields near the broad river the
harvest had begun, and the stubbles with their ranged stocks alternated
with golden stretches still untouched. The air was full of voices--the
primal sounds of earth, and man's food-gathering; calling reapers,
clattering carts, playing children. And on the moors that closed the
valley there were splashes and streaks of rose colour, where the heather
spread under the flecked evening sky.

Constance rode in a passion of thought. "On the other side of that
moor--five miles away--there he is! What is he doing now--at this
moment? What is he thinking of?"

Presently the road bent upward, and she followed it, soothed by the
quiet movement of her horse and by the evening air. She climbed and
climbed, till the upland farms fell behind, and the road came out upon
the open moor. The distance beyond began to show--purple woods in the
evening shadow, dim valleys among them, and wide grassy stretches. A
little more, and she was on the crest. The road ran before
her--westward--a broad bare whiteness through the sun-steeped heather.
And, to the north, a wide valley, where wood and farm and pasture had
been all fashioned by the labour of generations into one proud setting
for the building in its midst. Flood Castle rose on the green bottom of
the valley, a mass of mellowed wall and roof and tower, surrounded by
its stately lawns and terraces, and girdled by its wide "chase," of
alternating wood and glade--as though wrought into the landscape by the
care of generations, and breathing history. A stream, fired with the
sunset, ran in loops and windings through the park, and all around the
hills rose and fell, clothed with dark hanging woods.

[Illustration: _Lady Connie held in her horse, feeding her eyes upon
Flood Castle and its woods_]

Constance held in her horse, feeding her eyes upon the castle and its
woods. Her mind, as she looked, was one riot of excuse for Douglas
Falloden. She knew very well--her own father had been an instance of
it--that a man can be rich and well-born, and still remain modest and
kind. But--but--"How hardly shall they that have riches--!"

She moved slowly on, thinking and gazing, till she had gone much further
than she intended, and the light had begun to fail. She would certainly
be late for dinner. Looking round her for her bearings, she saw on the
Scarfedale side of the hill, about three miles away, what she took to be
her aunts' house. Surely there must be a short cut to it. Yes! there was
a narrow road to be seen, winding down the hill, and across the valley,
which must certainly shorten the distance. And almost immediately she
found herself at the entrance to it, where it abutted on the moor; and a
signpost showed the name of Hilkley, her aunts' village. She took the
road at once, and trotted briskly along, as the twilight deepened.

A gate ahead! Well, never mind. The horse was quiet; she could easily
manage any ordinary latch.

But the gate was difficult, and she fumbled at, it. Again and again, she
brought up her horse, only to fail. And the cob began to get nervous and
jump about--to rear a little. Whenever she stooped towards the gate, it
would swerve violently, and each unsuccessful attempt made it more
restive. She began to get nervous herself.

"How abominable! Must I go back? Suppose I get off? But if I do, can I
get on again?" She looked round her for a log or a stone.

Who was that approaching? For suddenly she saw a horse and rider coming
from the Hilkley direction towards the gate. A moment--then through the
dusk she recognised the rider; and agitation--suffocating,
overwhelming--laid hold upon her.

A sharp movement on the part of the horseman checked his horse. Falloden
pulled up in amazement on the further side of the gate.

"You?--Lady Constance!"

She controlled herself, with a great effort.

"How do you do? My horse shies at the gate. He's so tiresome--I was just
thinking of getting off. It will be most kind if you will let
me through."

She drew aside, quieting and patting the cob, while he opened the gate.
Then she passed through and paused, looking back.

"Thank you very much. Are there any more gates?"

"Two more I am afraid," he said formally, as he turned and joined her.
"Will you allow me to open them for you?"

"It would be very good of you," she faltered, not knowing how to refuse,
or what to say.

They walked their horses side by side, through the gathering darkness.
An embarrassed and thrilling silence reigned between them, till at last
he said: "You are staying at Scarfedale--with your aunts?"

"Yes."

"I heard you were there. They are only five miles from us."

She said nothing. But she seemed to realise, through every nerve, the
suppressed excitement of the man beside her.

Another couple of minutes passed. Then he said abruptly:

"I should like to know that you read my last letter to you--only that! I
of course don't ask for--for any comments upon it."

"Yes, I received it. I read it."

He waited a little, but she said no more. He sharply realised his
disappointment, and its inconsequence. The horses slowly descended the
long hill. Falloden opened another gate, with the hurried remark that
there was yet one more. Meanwhile he saw Connie's slender body, her
beautiful loosened hair and black riding-hat outlined against the still
glowing sky behind. Her face, turned towards the advancing dusk, he
could hardly see. But the small hand in its riding-glove, so close to
him, haunted his senses. One movement, and he could have crushed it
in his.

Far away the last gate came into sight. His bitterness and pain broke
out.

"I can't imagine why you should feel any interest in my affairs," he
said, in his stiffest manner, "but you kindly allowed me to talk to you
sometimes about my people. You know, I presume, what everybody knows,
that we shall soon be leaving Flood, and selling the estates."

"I know." The girl's voice was low and soft. "I am awfully, awfully
sorry!"

"Thank you. It doesn't of course matter for me. I can make my own life.
But for my father--it is hard. I should like you to know"--he spoke with
growing agitation--"that when we met--at Cannes--and at Oxford--I had no
knowledge--no idea--of what was happening."

She raised her head suddenly, impetuously.

"I don't know why you say that!"

He saw instantly that his wounded pride had betrayed him into a
blunder--that without meaning it, he had seemed to suggest that she
would have treated him differently, if she had known he was not a
rich man.

"It was a stupid thing to say. Please consider it unsaid."

The silence deepened, till she broke it again--

"I see Mr. Radowitz sometimes. Won't you like to know that he is
composing a symphony for his degree? He is always working at it. It
makes him happy--at least--contented."

"Yes, I am glad. But nothing can ever make up to him. I know that."

"No--nothing," she admitted sadly.

"Or to me!"

Constance started. They had reached the last gate.

Falloden threw himself off his horse to open it and as she rode through,
she looked down into his face. Its proud regularity of feature, its rich
colour, its brilliance, seemed to her all blurred and clouded. A
flashing insight showed her the valley of distress and humiliation
through which this man had been passing. His bitter look, at once of
challenge and renunciation, set her trembling; she felt herself all
weakness; and suddenly the woman in her--dumbly, unguessed--held out
its arms.

But he knew nothing of it. Rather her attitude seemed to him one of
embarrassment--even of _hauteur_. It was suddenly intolerable to him to
seem to be asking for her pity. He raised his hat, coldly gave her a
few directions as to her road home, and closed the gate behind her. She
bowed and in another minute he was cantering away from her, towards
the sunset.

Connie went on blindly, the reins on her horse's neck, the passionate
tears dropping on her hands.



CHAPTER XIII

Douglas Falloden rode home rapidly after parting from Connie. Passion,
impatience, bitter regret consumed him. He suffered, and could not
endure to suffer. That life, which had grown up with him as a flattering
and obsequious friend, obeying all his whims, yielding to all his
desires, should now have turned upon him in this traitorous way,
inflicting such monstrous reprisals and rebuffs, roused in him the
astonishment and resentment natural to such a temperament.

He, too, drew rein for a moment at the spot where Connie had looked out
over Flood Castle and its valley. The beautiful familiar sight produced
in him now only a mingling of pain and irritation. The horrid thing was
settled, decided. There was no avoiding ruin, or saving his inheritance.
Then why these long delays, these endless discomforts and humiliations?
The lawyers prolonged things because it paid them to do so; and his poor
father wavered and hesitated from day to day, because physically and
morally he was breaking up. If only his father and mother would have
cleared out of Flood at once--they were spending money they could not
possibly afford in keeping it up--and had left him, Douglas, to do the
odious things, pay the creditors, sell the place, and sweep up the whole
vast mess, with the help of the lawyers, it would have been infinitely
best. His own will felt itself strong and determined enough for any
such task. But Sir Arthur, in his strange, broken state, could not be
brought to make decisions, and would often, after days of gloom and
depression, pass into a fool's mood, when he seemed for the moment to
forget and ignore the whole tragedy. Since he and Douglas had agreed
with the trustees to sell the pictures, that sheer bankruptcy might just
be escaped, Sir Arthur had been extravagantly cheerful. Why not have
their usual shooting-party after all?--one last fling before the end! He
supposed he should end his days in a suburban villa, but till they left
Flood the flag should be kept flying.

During all this time of tension indeed, he was a great trial to his son.
Douglas's quick and proud intelligence was amazed to find his father so
weak and so incompetent under misfortune. All his boyish life he had
looked up to the slender, handsome man, whom he himself so much
resembled, on a solider, more substantial scale, as the most indulgent
of fathers, the princeliest of hosts, the best of shots and riders,
chief indeed of the Falloden clan and all its glories, who, like other
monarchs, could do no wrong.

But now the glamour which must always attend the central figure of such
a scene withered at the touch of poverty and misfortune. And, in its
absence, Douglas found himself dealing with an enthusiastic, vain,
self-confident being, who had ruined himself and his son by
speculations, often so childishly foolish that Douglas could not think
of them without rage. Intellectually, he could only despise and condemn
his father.

Yet the old bond held. Till he met Constance Bledlow, he had cared only
for his own people, and among them, preëminently, for his father. In
this feeling, family pride and natural affection met together. The
family pride had been sorely shaken, the affection, steeped in a
painful, astonished pity, remained. For the first time in his life
Douglas had been sleeping badly. Interminable dreams pursued him, in
which the scene in Marmion quad, his last walk with Constance along the
Cherwell, and the family crash, were all intermingled, with the fatuity
natural to dreams. And his wakings from them were almost equally haunted
by the figures of Constance and Radowitz, and by a miserable yearning
over his father, which no one who saw his hard, indifferent bearing
during the day could possible have guessed. "Poor--poor old fellow!"--he
had once or twice raised himself from his bed in the early morning, as
though answering this cry in his ears, only to find that he himself had
uttered it.

He had told his people nothing of Constance Bledlow beyond the bare fact
of his acquaintance with her, first at Cannes, and then at Oxford. And
they knew nothing of the Radowitz incident. Very few people indeed were
aware of the true history of that night which had marred an artist's
life. The college authorities had been painfully stirred by the reports
which had reached them; but Radowitz himself had written to the Head
maintaining that the whole thing was an accident and a frolic, and
insisting that no public or official notice should be taken of it, a
fact which had not prevented the Head from writing severely to Falloden,
Meyrick, and Robertson, or the fellows of the college from holding a
college meeting, even in the long vacation, to discuss what measures
should be taken in the October term to put down and stamp out ragging.

Falloden had replied to the Head's letter expressing his "profound
regret" for the accident to Otto Radowitz, and declaring that nobody in
the row had the smallest intention of doing him any bodily harm.

What indeed had anybody but himself to do with his own malignant and
murderous impulse towards Radowitz? It had had no casual connection
whatever with the accident itself. And who but he--and Constance
Bledlow--was entitled to know that, while the others were actuated by
nothing but the usual motives of a college rag, quickened by too much
supping, he himself had been impelled by a mad jealousy of Radowitz, and
a longing to humiliate one who had humiliated him? All the same he hated
himself now for what he had said to Constance on their last walk. It had
been a mean and monstrous attempt to shift the blame from his own
shoulders to hers; and his sense of honour turned from the recollection
of it in disgust.

How pale she had looked, beside that gate, in the evening light--how
heavy-eyed! No doubt she was seeing Radowitz constantly, and grieving
over him; blaming herself, indeed, as he, Falloden, had actually invited
her to do. With fresh poignancy, he felt himself an outcast from her
company. No doubt they sometimes talked of him--his bitter pride guessed
how!--she, and Sorell, and Radowitz together. Was Sorell winning her? He
had every chance. Falloden, in his sober senses, knew perfectly well
that she was not in love with Radowitz; though no one could say what
pity might do with a girl so sensitive and sympathetic.

Well, it was all over!--no good thinking about it. He confessed to
himself that his whole relation to Constance Bledlow had been one
blunder from beginning to end. His own arrogance and self-confidence
with regard to her, appeared to him, as he looked back upon them, not so
much a fault as an absurdity. In all his dealings with her he had been a
conceited fool, and he had lost her. "But I had to be ruined to find it
out!" he thought, capable at last of some ironic reflection on himself.

He set his horse to a gallop along the moorland turf. Let him get home,
and do his dreary tasks in that great house which was already becoming
strange to him; which, in a sense, he was now eager to see the last of.
On the morrow, the possible buyer of the pictures--who, by the way, was
not an American at all, but a German shipping millionaire from
Bremen--was coming down, with an "expert." Hang the expert! Falloden,
who was to deal with the business, promised himself not to be
intimidated by him, or his like; and amid his general distress and
depression, his natural pugnacity took pleasure in the thought of
wrestling with the pair.

When he rode up to the Flood gateway everything appeared as usual. The
great lawns in front of the house were as immaculately kept as ever, and
along the shrubberies which bordered the park there were gardeners still
at work pegging down a broad edge of crimson rambler roses, which seemed
to hold the sunset. Falloden observed them. "Who's paying for them?" he
thought. At the front door two footmen received him; the stately head
butler stood with a detached air in the background.

"Sir Arthur's put off dinner half an hour, sir. He's in the library."

Douglas went in search of his father. He found him smoking and reading a
novel, apparently half asleep.

"You're very late, Duggy. Never mind. We've put off dinner."

"I found Sprague had a great deal to say."

Sprague was the subagent living on the further edge of the estate.
Douglas had spent the day with him, going into the recent valuation of
an important group of farms.

"I dare say," said Sir Arthur, lying back in his armchair. "I'm afraid I
don't want to hear it."

Douglas sat down opposite his father. He was dusty and tired, and there
were deep pits tinder his eyes.

"It will make a difference of a good many thousands to us, father, if
that valuation is correct," he said shortly.

"Will it? I can't help it. I can't go into it. I can't keep the facts
and figures in my head, Duggy. I've done too much of them this last ten
years. My brain gives up. But you've got a splendid head,
Duggy--wonderful for your age. I leave it to you, my son. Do the
best you can."

Douglas looked at his father a moment in silence. Sir Arthur was sitting
near the window, and had just turned on an electric light beside him.
Douglas was struck by something strange in his father's attitude and
look--a curious irresponsibility and remoteness. The deep depression of
their earlier weeks together had apparently disappeared. This mood of
easy acquiescence--almost levity--was becoming permanent. Yet Douglas
could not help noticing afresh the physical change in a once splendid
man--how shrunken his father was, and how grey. And he was only
fifty-two. But the pace at which he had lived for years, first in the
attempt to double his already great wealth by adventures all over the
world, and latterly in his frantic efforts to escape the consequences of
these adventures, had rapidly made an old man of him. The waste and
pity--and at the same time the irreparableness of it all--sent a shock,
intolerably chill and dreary, through the son's consciousness. He was
too young to bear it patiently. He hastily shook it off.

"Those picture chaps are coming to-morrow," he said, as he got up,
meaning to go and dress.

Sir Arthur put his hands behind his head, and didn't reply immediately.
He was looking at a picture on the panelled wall opposite, on which the
lingering western glow still shone through the mullioned window on his
right. It was an enchanting Romney--a young woman in a black dress
holding a spaniel in her arms. The picture breathed a distinction, a
dignity beyond the reach of Romney's ordinary mood. It represented Sir
Arthur's great-grandmother, on his father's side, a famous Irish beauty
of the day.

"Wonder what they'll give me for that," he Said quietly, pointing to it.
"My father always said it was the pick. You remember the story that
she--my great-grandmother--once came across Lady Hamilton in Romney's
studio, and Emma Hamilton told Romney afterwards that at last he'd found
a sitter handsomer than herself. It's a winner. You inherit her eyes,
Douglas, and her colour. What's it worth?"

"Twenty thousand perhaps." Douglas's voice had the cock-sureness that
goes with new knowledge. "I've been looking into some of the
recent prices."

"Twenty thousand!" said Sir Arthur, musing. "And Romney got seventy-five
for it, I believe--I have the receipt somewhere. I shall miss that
picture. What shall I get for it? A few shabby receipts--for nothing. My
creditors will get something out of her--mercifully. But as for me--I
might as well have cut her into strips. She looks annoyed--as though she
knew I'd thrown her away. I believe she was a vixen."

"I must go and change, father," said Douglas.

"Yes, yes, dear boy, go and change. Douglas, you think there'll be a few
thousands over, don't you, besides your mother's settlement, when it's
all done?"

"Precious few," said Douglas, pausing on his way to the door. "Don't
count upon anything, father. If we do well to-morrow, there may be
something."

"Four or five thousand?--ten, even? You know, Duggy, many men have built
up fortunes again on no more. A few weeks ago I had all sorts of ideas."

"That's no good," said Douglas, with emphasis. "For God's sake, father,
don't begin again."

Sir Arthur nodded silently, and Douglas left the room.

His father remained sitting where his son had left him, his fingers
drumming absently on the arms of his chair, his half-shut eyes wandering
over the splendid garden outside, with its statues and fountains, and
its masses of roses, all fused in the late evening glow.

The door opened softly. His wife came in.

Lady Laura had lost her old careless good humour. Her fair complexion
had changed for the worse; there were lines in her white forehead, and
all her movements had grown nervous and irritable. But her expression as
she stood by her husband was one of anxious though rather childish
affection.

"How are you, Arthur? Did you get a nap?"

"A beauty!" said her husband, smiling at her, and taking her hand. "I
dreamt about Raby, and the first time I saw you there in the old Duke's
day. What a pretty thing you were, Laura!--like a monthly rose,
all pink."

He patted her hand; Lady Laura shrugged her shoulders rather pettishly.

"It's no good thinking about that now.... You're not really going to
have a shooting-party, Arthur? I do wish you wouldn't!"

"But of course I am!" said her husband, raising himself with alacrity.
"The grouse must be shot, and the estate is not sold yet! I've asked
young Meyrick, and Lord Charles, and Robert Vere. You can ask the
Charlevilles, dear, and if my lady doesn't come I shan't break my heart.
Then there are five or six of the neighbours of course. And no whining
and whimpering! The last shoot at Flood shall be a good one! The keeper
tells me the birds are splendid!"

Lady Laura's lips trembled.

"You forget what Duggy and I shall be feeling all the time, Arthur. It's
very hard on us."

"No--nonsense!" The voice was good-humouredly impatient. "Take it
calmly, dear. What do places matter? Come to the Andes with me. Duggy
must work for his fellowship; Nelly can stay with some of our relations;
and we can send the children to school. Or what do you say to a winter
in California? Let's have a second honeymoon--see something of the world
before we die. This English country gentleman business ties one
terribly. Life in one's own house is so jolly one doesn't want anything
else. But now, if we're going to be uprooted, let's enjoy it!"

"Enjoy it!" repeated his wife bitterly. "How can you say such things,
Arthur?"

She walked to the window, and stood looking out at the garden with its
grandiose backing of hill and climbing wood, and the strong broken
masses of the cedar trees--the oldest it was said in England--which
flanked it on either side. Lady Laura was, in truth, only just beginning
to realise their misfortunes. It had seemed to her impossible that such
wealth as theirs should positively give out; that there should be
nothing left but her miserable two thousand a year; that something
should not turn up to save them from this preposterous necessity of
leaving Flood. When Douglas came home, she had thrown herself on her
clever son, confident that he would find a way out, and his sombre
verdict on the hopelessness of the situation had filled her with terror.
How could they live with nothing but the London house to call their own?
How could they? Why couldn't they sell off the land, and keep the house
and the park? Then they would still be the Fallodens of Flood. It was
stupid--simply stupid--to be giving up everything like this.

So day by day she wearied her husband and son by her lamentations,
which were like those of some petted animal in distress. And every now
and then she had moments of shrinking terror--of foreboding--fearing she
knew not what. Her husband seemed to her changed. Why wouldn't he take
her advice? Why wouldn't Douglas listen to her? If only her father had
been alive, or her only brother, they could have helped her. But she had
nobody--nobody--and Arthur and Douglas would do this horrible thing.

Her husband watched her, half smiling--his shrunken face flushed, his
eyes full of a curious excitement. She had grown stout in the last five
years, poor Laura!--she had lost her youth before the crash came. But
she was still very pleasant to look upon, with her plentiful fair hair,
and her pretty mouth--her instinct for beautiful dress--and her soft
appealing manner. He suddenly envisaged her in black--with a plain white
collar and cuffs, and something white on her hair. Then vehemently
shaking off his thought he rose and went to her.

"Dear--didn't Duggy want you to ask somebody for the shoot? I thought I
heard him mention somebody?'

"That was ages ago. He doesn't want anybody asked now," said Lady Laura
resentfully. "He can't understand why you want a party."

"I thought he said something about Lady Constance Bledlow?"

"That was in June!" cried Lady Laura. "He certainly wouldn't let me ask
her, as things are."

"Have you any idea whether he may have wanted to marry her?"

"He was very much taken with her. But how can he think about marrying,
Arthur? You do say the strangest things. And after Dagnall's
behaviour too."

"_Raison de plus!_ That girl has money, my dear, and will have more,
when the old aunts depart this life. If you want Duggy still to go into
Parliament, and to be able to do anything for the younger ones, you'll
keep an eye on her."

Lady Laura, however, was too depressed to welcome the subject. The gong
rang for dinner, and as they were leaving the room, Sir Arthur said--

"There are two men coming down to-morrow to see the pictures, Laura. If
I were you, I should keep out of the way."

She gave him a startled look. But they were already on the threshold of
the dining-room, where a butler and two footmen waited. The husband and
wife took their places opposite each other in the stately panelled room,
which contained six famous pictures. Over the mantelpiece was a
half-length Gainsborough, one of the loveliest portraits in the world, a
miracle of shining colour and languid grace, the almond eyes with their
intensely black pupils and black eyebrows looking down, as it seemed,
contemptuously upon this after generation, so incurably lacking in its
own supreme refinement. Opposite Lady Laura was a full-length Van Dyck
of the Genoese period, a mother in stiff brocade and ruff, with an
adorable child at her knee; and behind her chair was the great Titian of
the house, a man in armour, subtle and ruthless as the age which bred
him, his hawk's eye brooding on battles past, and battles to come, while
behind him stretched the Venetian lagoon, covered dimly with the fleet
of the great republic which had employed him. Facing the Gainsborough
hung one of Cuyp's few masterpieces--a mass of shipping on the Scheldt,
with Dordrecht in the background. For play and interplay of everything
that delights the eye--light and distance, transparent water, and
hovering clouds, the lustrous brown of fishing boats, the beauty of
patched sails and fluttering flags--for both literary and historic
suggestion, Dutch art had never done better. Impressionists and
post-impressionists came down occasionally to stay at Flood--for Sir
Arthur liked to play Mæcenas--and were allowed to deal quite frankly
with the pictures, as they wandered round the room at dessert, cigarette
in hand, pointing out the absurdities of the Cuyp and the Titian. Their
host, who knew that he possessed in that room what the collectors of two
continents desired, who felt them buzzing outside like wasps against a
closed window, took a special pleasure in the scoffs of the advanced
crew. They supplied an agreeable acid amid a general adulation that
bored him.

To-night the presence of the pictures merely increased the excitement
which was the background of his mind. He talked about them a good deal
at dinner, wondering secretly all the time, what it would be like to do
without them--without Flood--without his old butler there--without
everything.

Douglas came down late, and was very silent and irresponsive. He too was
morbidly conscious of the pictures, though he wished his father wouldn't
talk about them. He was conscious of everything that meant money--of his
mother's pearls for instance, which she wore every evening without
thinking about them. If he did well with the pictures on the morrow she
might, perhaps, justly keep them, as a dowry for Nelly. But if not--He
found himself secretly watching his mother, wondering how she would take
it all when she really understood--what sort of person she would turn
out to be in the new life to which they were all helplessly tending.

After dinner, he followed his father into the smoking room.

"Where is the catalogue of the pictures, father?"

"In the library, Duggy, to the right hand of the fire-place. I paid a
fellow a very handsome sum for making it--a fellow who knew a lot--a
real expert. But, of course, when we published it, all the other experts
tore it to pieces."

"If I bring it, will you go through it with me?"

Sir Arthur shrugged his shoulders.

"I don't think I will, Duggy. The catalogue--there are a great many
marginal notes on it which the published copies haven't got--will tell
you all I know about them, and a great deal more. And you'll find a
loose paper at the beginning, on which I've noted down the prices people
have offered me for them from time to time. Like their impudence, I used
to think! I leave it to you, old boy. I know it's a great responsibility
for a young fellow like you. But the fact is--I'm pumped. Besides, when
they make their offer, we can talk it over. I think I'll go and play a
game of backgammon with your mother."

He threw away his cigar, and Douglas, angry at what seemed to him his
father's shirking, stood stiffly aside to let him pass. Sir Arthur
opened the door. He seemed to walk uncertainly, and he stooped a great
deal. From the hall outside, he looked back at his son.

"I think I shall see M'Clintock next time I'm in town, Duggy. I've had
some queer pains across my chest lately."

"Indigestion?" said Douglas. His tone was casual.

"Perhaps. Oh, they're nothing. But it's best to take things in time."

He walked away, leaving his son in a state of seething irritation.
Extraordinary that a man could think of trumpery ailments at such a
time! It was unlike his father too, whose personal fitness and
soundness, whether on the moors, in the hunting field, or in any other
sort of test, had always been triumphantly assumed by his family, as
part of the general brilliance of Sir Arthur's role in life.

Douglas sombrely set himself to study the picture catalogue, and sat
smoking and making notes till nearly midnight. Having by that time
accumulated a number of queries to which answers were required, he went
in search of his father. He found him in the drawing-room, still playing
backgammon with Lady Laura.

"Oh Duggy, I'm so tired!" cried his mother plaintively, as soon as he
appeared. "And your father will go on. Do come and take my place."

Sir Arthur rose.

"No, no, dear--we've had enough. Many thanks. If you only understood its
points, backgammon is really an excellent game. Well, Duggy, ready to
go to bed?"

"When I've asked you a few questions, father."

Lady Laura escaped, having first kissed her son with tearful eyes. Sir
Arthur checked a yawn, and tried to answer Douglas's enquiries. But very
soon he declared that he had no more to say, and couldn't keep awake.

Douglas watched him mounting the famous staircase of the house, with its
marvellous _rampe_, bought under the Bourbon Restoration from one of the
historic chateaux of France; and, suddenly, the young man felt his heart
gripped. Was that shrunken, stooping figure really his father? Of course
they must have M'Clintock at once--and get him away--to Scotland
or abroad.

       *       *       *       *       *

"The two gentlemen are in the red drawing-room, sir!" Douglas and his
father were sitting together in the library, after lunch, on the
following afternoon, when the butler entered.

"Damn them!" said Sir Arthur under his breath. Then he got up, smiling,
as the servant disappeared. "Well, Duggy, now's your chance. I'm a brute
not to come and help you, my boy. But I've made such a mess of driving
the family coach, you'd really better take a turn. I shall go out for an
hour. Then you can come and report to me."

Douglas went into the red drawing-room, one of the suite of rooms dating
from the early seventeenth century which occupied the western front of
the house. As he entered, he saw two men at the farther end closely
examining a large Constable, of the latest "palette-knife" period, which
hung to the left of the fire-place. One of the men was short, very
stout, with a fringe of grey hair round his bald head, a pair of very
shrewd and sparkling black eyes, a thick nose, full lips, and a double
chin. He wore spectacles, and was using in addition, a magnifying glass
with which he was examining the picture. Beside him stood a thin,
slightly-bearded man, cadaverous in colour, who, with his hands in his
pockets, was holding forth in a nonchalant, rather patronising voice.

Both of them turned at Douglas's entrance, surveying the son of the
house with an evident and eager curiosity.

"You are, I suppose, Mr. Douglas Falloden?" said the short man, speaking
perfect English, though with a slight German accent. "Your father is not
able to see us?"

"My father will be pleased to see you, when you have been the round of
the pictures," said Douglas stiffly. "He deputes me to show you what
we have."

The short man laughed.

"I expect we know what you have almost as well as you. Let me introduce
Mr. Miklos."

Douglas bowed, so did the younger man. He was, as Douglas already knew,
a Hungarian by birth, formerly an official in one of the museums of
Budapest, then at Munich, and now an "expert" at large, greatly in
demand as the adviser of wealthy men entering the field of art
collecting, and prepared to pay almost anything for success in one of
the most difficult and fascinating _chasses_ that exist.

"I see you have given this room almost entirely to English pictures,"
said Mr. Miklos politely. "A fine Constable!"--he pointed to the picture
they had just been considering--"but not, I think, entirely by
the master?"

[Illustration: _Herr Schwarz was examining a picture with a magnifying
glass when Falloden entered_]

"My great-grandfather bought it from Constable himself," said
Douglas. "It has never been disputed by any one."

Mr. Miklos did not reply, but he shook his head with a slight smile, and
walked away towards a Turner, a fine landscape of the middle period,
hanging close to the Constable. He peered into it short-sightedly, with
his strong glasses.

"A pity that it has been so badly relined," he said presently, to
Douglas, pointing to it.

"You think so? Its condition is generally thought to be excellent. My
father was offered eight thousand for it last year by the
Berlin Museum."

Douglas was now apparently quite at his ease. With his thumbs in the
armholes of his white waistcoat, he strolled along beside the two
buyers, holding his own with both of them, thanks to his careful study
of the materials for the history of the collection possessed by his
father. The elder man, a Bremen ship-owner,--one Wilhelm Schwarz--who
had lately made a rapid and enormous fortune out of the Argentine trade,
and whose chief personal ambition it now was to beat the New York and
Paris collectors, in the great picture game, whatever it might cost, was
presently forced to take some notice of the handsome curly-headed youth
in the perfectly fitting blue serge suit, whose appearance as the
vendor, or the vendor's agent, had seemed to him, at first, merely one
more instance of English aristocratic stupidity.

As a matter of fact, Herr Schwarz was simply dazzled by the contents of
Flood Castle. He had never dreamt that such virgin treasures still
existed in this old England, till Miklos, instructed by the Falloden
lawyer, had brought the list of the pictures to his hotel, a few days
before this visit. And now he found it extremely difficult to conceal
his excitement and delight, or to preserve, in the presence of this very
sharp-eyed young heir, the proper "don't care" attitude of the buyer. He
presently left the "running down" business almost entirely to Miklos,
being occupied in silent and feverish speculations as to how much he
could afford to spend, and a passion of covetous fear lest somehow
A----, or Z----, or K----, the leading collectors of the moment, should
even yet forestall him, early and "exclusive" as Miklos assured him
their information had been.

They passed along through the drawing-rooms, and the whole wonderful
series of family portraits, Reynolds', Lawrences, Gainsboroughs,
Romneys, Hoppners, looked down, unconscious of their doom, upon the
invaders, and on the son of the house, so apparently unconcerned. But
Douglas was very far from unconcerned. He had no artistic gift, and he
had never felt or pretended any special interest in the pictures. They
were part of Flood, and Flood was the inseparable adjunct of the
Falloden race. When his father had first mooted the sale of them,
Douglas had assented without much difficulty. If other things went,
why not they?

But now that he was in the thick of the business, he found, all in a
moment, that he had to set his teeth to see it through. A smarting sense
of loss--loss hateful and irreparable, cutting away both the past and
the future--burnt deep into his mind, as he followed in the track of the
sallow and depreciatory Miklos or watched the podgy figure of Herr
Schwarz, running from side to side as picture after picture caught his
eye. The wincing salesman saw himself as another Charles Surface; but
now that the predicament was his own it was no longer amusing. These
fair faces, these mothers and babies of his own blood, these stalwart
men, fighters by sea and land, these grave thinkers and churchmen, they
thronged about him transformed, become suddenly alien and hostile, a
crowd of threatening ghosts, the outraged witnesses of their own
humiliation. "For what are you selling us?"--they seemed to say.
"Because some one, who was already overfed, must needs grab at a larger
mess of pottage--and we must pay! Unkind! degenerate!"

Presently, after the English drawing-rooms, and the library, with its
one Romney, came the French room, with its precious Watteaus, its
Latours, its two brilliant Nattiers. And here Herr Schwarz's coolness
fairly deserted him. He gave little shrieks of pleasure, which brought a
frown to the face of his companion, who was anxious to point out that a
great deal of the Watteau was certainly pupil-work, that the Latours
were not altogether "convincing" and the Nattiers though extremely
pretty, "superficial." But Herr Schwarz brushed him aside.

"_Nein, nein, lieber freund_! Dat Nattier is as fine as anything at
Potsdam. Dat I must have!" And he gazed in ecstasy at the opulent
shoulders, the rounded forms, and gorgeous jewelled dress of an
unrivalled Madame de Pompadour, which had belonged to her brother, the
Marquis de Marigny.

"You will have all or nothing, my good sir!" thought Falloden, and bided
his time.

Meanwhile Miklos, perceiving that his patron was irretrievably landed
and considering that his own "expert" dignity had been sufficiently
saved, relaxed into enthusiasm and small talk. Only in the later
Italian rooms did his critical claws again allow themselves to scratch.
A small Leonardo, the treasure of the house, which had been examined and
written about by every European student of Milanese art for half a
century, was suavely pronounced--

"A Da Predis, of course, but a very nice one!" A Bellini became a
Rondinelli; and the names of a dozen obscure, and lately discovered
painters, freely applied to the Tintorets, Mantegnas and Cimas on the
walls, produced such an effect on Herr Schwarz that he sat down
open-mouthed on the central ottoman, staring first at the pictures and
then at the speaker; not knowing whether to believe or to doubt.
Falloden stood a little apart, listening, a smile on his handsome mouth.

"We should know nothing about Rondinelli," said Miklos at last,
sweetly--"but for the great Bode--"

"_Ach_, Bode!" said Herr Schwarz, nodding his head in complacent
recognition at the name of the already famous assistant-director of the
Berlin Museum.

Falloden laughed.

"Dr. Bode was here last year. He told my father he thought the Bellini
was one of the finest in existence."

Miklos changed countenance slightly.

"Bode perhaps is a trifle credulous," he said in an offended tone.

But he went back again to the Bellini and examined it closely. Falloden,
without waiting for his second thoughts, took Herr Schwarz into the
dining-room.

At the sight of the six masterpieces hanging on its walls, the Bremen
ship-owner again lost his head. What miraculous good-fortune had
brought him, ahead of all his rivals, into this still unravaged hive? He
ran from side to side,--he grew red, perspiring, inarticulate. At last
he sank down on a chair in front of the Titian, and when Miklos
approached, delicately suggesting that the picture, though certainly
fine, showed traces of one of the later pupils, possibly Molari, in
certain parts, Herr Schwarz waved him aside.

"_Nein, nein!_--Hold your tongue, my dear sir! Here must I judge for
myself."

Then looking up to Falloden who stood beside him, smiling, almost
reconciled to the vulgar, greedy little man by his collapse, he said
abruptly--

"How much, Mr. Falloden, for your father's collection?"

"You desire to buy the whole of it?" said Falloden coolly.

"I desire to buy everything that I have seen," said Herr Schwarz,
breathing quickly. "Your solicitors gave me a list of sixty-five
pictures. No, no, Miklos, go away!"--he waved his expert aside
impatiently.

"Those were the pictures on the ground floor," said Falloden. "You have
seen them all. You had better make your offer in writing, and I will
take it to my father."

He fetched pen and paper from a side-table and put them before the
excited German. Herr Schwarz wrinkled his face in profound meditation.
His eyes almost disappeared behind his spectacles, then emerged
sparkling.

He wrote some figures on a piece of paper, and handed it to Douglas.

Douglas laughed drily, and returned it.

"You will hardly expect me to give my father the trouble of considering
that."

Herr Schwarz puffed and blowed. He got up, and walked about excitedly.
He lit a cigarette, Falloden politely helping him. Miklos
advanced again.

"I have, myself, made a very careful estimate--" he began,
insinuatingly.

"No, no, Miklos,--go away!--go away!" repeated Schwarz impatiently,
almost walking over him. Miklos retreated sulkily.

Schwarz took up the paper of figures, made an alteration, and handed it
to Falloden.

"It is madness," he said--"sheer madness. But I have in me something of
the poet--the Crusader."

Falloden's look of slightly sarcastic amusement, as the little man
breathlessly examined his countenance, threw the buyer into despair.
Douglas put down the paper.

"We gave you the first chance, Herr Schwarz. As you know, nobody is yet
aware of our intentions to sell. But I shall advise my father to-night
to let one or two of the dealers know."

"_Ach, lieber Gott!_" said Herr Schwarz, and walking away to the window,
he stood looking into the rose-garden outside, making a curious
whistling sound with his prominent lips, expressive, evidently, of
extreme agitation.

Falloden lit another cigarette, and offered one to Miklos.

At the end of two or three minutes, Schwarz again amended the figures on
the scrap of paper, and handed it sombrely to Falloden.

"Dat is my last word."

Falloden glanced at it, and carelessly said--

"On that I will consult my father."

He left the room.

Schwarz and Miklos looked at each other.

"What airs these English aristocrats give themselves," said the
Hungarian angrily--"even when they are beggars, like this young man!"

Schwarz stood frowning, his hands in his pockets, legs apart. His
agitation was calming down, and his more prudent mind already half
regretted his impetuosity.

"Some day--we shall teach them a lesson!" he said, under his breath, his
eyes wandering over the rose-garden and the deer-park beyond. The
rapidly growing docks of Bremen and Hamburg, their crowded shipping, the
mounting tide of their business, came flashing into his mind--ran
through it in a series of images. This England, with her stored wealth,
and her command of the seas--must she always stand between Germany and
her desires? He found himself at once admiring and detesting the English
scene on which he looked. That so much good German money should have to
go into English pockets for these ill-gotten English treasures! What a
country to conquer--and to loot!

"And they are mere children compared to us--silly, thick-headed
children! Yet they have all the plums--everywhere."

       *       *       *       *       *

Falloden came back. The two men turned eagerly.

"My father thanks you for your offer, gentlemen. He is very sorry he is
not able to see you as he hoped. He is not very well this afternoon. But
I am to say that he will let you have an answer in twenty-four hours.
Then if he agrees to your terms, the matter will have to go before the
court. That, of course, our lawyers explained to you--"

"That will not suit me at all!" cried Herr Schwarz. "As far as your
father is concerned, my offer must be accepted--or rejected--now."

He struck his open hand on the polished mahogany of the table beside
him.

"Then I am very sorry you have had the trouble of coming down," said
Falloden politely. "Shall I order your carriage?"

The great ship-owner stared at him. He was on the point of losing his
temper, perhaps of withdrawing from his bargain, when over Falloden's
head he caught sight of the Titian and the play of light on its shining
armour; of the Van Dyck opposite. He gave way helplessly; gripped at the
same moment by his parvenu's ambition, and by the genuine passion for
beautiful things lodged oddly in some chink of his common and Philistine
personality.

"I have the refusal then--for twenty-four hours?" he said curtly.

Falloden nodded, wrote him a statement to that effect, ordered whisky
and soda, and saw them safely to their carriage.

       *       *       *       *       *

Then pacing slowly through the rooms, he went back towards the library.
His mind was divided between a kind of huckster's triumph and a sense of
intolerable humiliation. All around him were the "tribal signs" of race,
continuity, history--which he had taken for granted all his life. But
now that a gulf had opened between him and them, his heart clung to them
consciously for the first time. No good! He felt himself cast
out--stripped--exposed. The easy shelter fashioned for him and his by
the lives of generations of his kindred had fallen in fragments
about him.

"Well--I never earned it!"--he said to himself bitterly, turning in
disgust on his own self-pity.

When he reached the library he found his father walking up and down deep
in thought. He looked up as his son entered.

"Well, that saves the bankruptcy, Duggy, and--as far as I can
see--leaves a few thousands over--portions for the younger children, and
what will enable you to turn round."

Douglas assented silently. After a long look at his son, Sir Arthur
opened a side door which led from the library into the suite of
drawing-rooms. Slowly he passed through them, examining the pictures
steadily, one by one. At the end of the series, he turned and came back
again to his own room, with a bent head and meditative step. Falloden
followed him.

In the library, Sir Arthur suddenly straightened himself.

"Duggy, do you hate me--for the mess I've made--of your inheritance?"

The question stirred a quick irritation in Falloden. It seemed to him
futile and histrionic; akin to all those weaknesses in his father which
had brought them disaster.

"I don't think you need ask me that," he said, rather sharply, as he
opened a drawer in his father's writing-table, and locked up the paper
containing Herr Schwarz's offer.

Sir Arthur looked at him wistfully.

"You've been a brick, Duggy--since I told you. I don't know that I had
any right to count upon it."

"What else could I do?" said Douglas, trying to laugh, but
conscious--resenting it--of a swelling in the throat.

"You could have given a good many more twists to the screw--if you'd
been a different sort," said his father slowly. "And you're a tough
customer, Duggy, to some people. But to me"--He paused, beginning again
in another tone--

"Duggy, don't be offended with me--but did you ever want to marry Lady
Constance Bledlow? You wrote to me about her at Christmas."

Douglas gave a rather excited laugh.

"It's rather late in the day to ask me that question."

His father eyed him.

"You mean she refused you?"

His son nodded.

"Before this collapse?"

"Before she knew anything about it"

"Poor old Duggy!" said his father, in a low voice. "But perhaps--after
all--she'll think better of it. By all accounts she has the charm of her
mother, whom Risborough married to please himself and not his family."

Falloden said nothing. He wished to goodness his father would drop the
subject. Sir Arthur understood he was touching things too sore to
handle, and sighed.

"Well, shake hands, Duggy, old boy. You carried this thing through
splendidly to-day. But it seems to have taken it out of me--which isn't
fair. I shall go for a little walk. Tell your mother I shall be back in
an hour or so."

The son took his father's hand. The strong young grasp brought a
momentary sense of comfort to the older man. They eyed each other, both
pale, both conscious of feelings to which it was easier to give no
voice. Then their hands dropped. Sir Arthur looked for his hat and
stick, which were lying near, and went out of the open glass door into
the garden. He passed through the garden into the park beyond walking
slowly and heavily, his son's eyes following him.



CHAPTER XIV

Out of sight of the house, at the entrance of the walk leading to the
moor, Sir Arthur was conscious again of transitory, but rather sharp
pains across the chest.

He sat down to rest, and they soon passed away. After a few minutes he
pursued his walk, climbing towards the open stretches of heathery moor,
which lay beyond the park, and a certain ghyll or hollow with a wild
stream in it that cleft the moor high up--one of his favourite haunts.

He climbed through ferny paths, and amid stretches of heather just
coming to its purple prime, up towards the higher regions of the moor
where the millstone grit cropped out in sharp edges, showing gaunt and
dark against the afternoon sky. Here the beautiful stream that made a
waterfall within the park came sliding down shelf after shelf of
yellowish rock, with pools of deep brown water at intervals, overhung
with mountain ash and birch.

After the warm day, all the evening scents were abroad, carried by a
gentle wind. Sir Arthur drank them in, with the sensuous pleasure which
had been one of his gifts in life. The honey smell of the heather, the
woody smell of the bracken, the faint fragrance of wood-smoke wafted
from a bonfire in the valley below--they all carried with them an
inexpressible magic for the man wandering on the moor. So did the
movements of birds--the rise of a couple of startled grouse, the
hovering of two kestrels, a flight of wild duck in the distance. Each
and all reminded him of the halcyon times of life--adventures of his
boyhood, the sporting pleasures of his manhood. By George!--how he had
enjoyed them all!

Presently, to his left, on the edge of the heathery slope he caught
sight of one of the butts used in the great grouse-shoots of the moor.
What a jolly party they had had last year in that week of wonderful
October weather! Two hundred brace on the home moor the first day, and
almost as many on the Fairdale moor the following day. Some of the men
had never shot better. One of the party was now Viceroy of India;
another had been killed in one of the endless little frontier fights
that are the price, month by month, which the British Empire pays for
its existence. Douglas had come off particularly well. His shooting from
that butt to the left had been magnificent. Sir Arthur remembered well
how the old hands had praised it, warming the cockles of his own heart.

"I will have one more shoot," he said to himself with passion--"I will!"

Then, feeling suddenly tired, he sat down beside the slipping stream. It
was fairly full, after some recent rain, and the music of it rang in his
ears. Stretching out a hand he filled it full of silky grass and thyme,
sniffing at it in delight. "How strange," he thought, "that I can still
enjoy these things. But I shall--till I die."

Below him, as he sat, lay the greater part of his estate stretching east
and west; bounded on the west by some of the high moors leading up to
the Pennine range, lost on the east in a blue and wooded distance. He
could see the towers of three village churches, and the blurred greys
and browns of the houses clustering round them--some near, some far.
Stone farm-buildings, their white-washed gables glowing under the level
sun, caught his eye, one after the other--now hidden in wood, now
standing out upon the fields or the moorland, with one sycamore or a
group of yews to shelter them. And here and there were larger houses;
houses of the middle gentry, with their gardens and enclosures. Farms,
villages, woods and moors, they were all his--nominally his, for a few
weeks or months longer. And there was scarcely one of them in the whole
wide scene, with which he had not some sporting association; whether of
the hunting field, or the big autumn shoots, or the jolly partridge
drives over the stubbles.

But it suddenly and sharply struck him how very few other associations
he possessed with these places spread below him in the declining August
sunshine. He had not owned Flood more than fifteen years--enough however
to lose it in! And he had succeeded a father who had been the beloved
head of the county, a just and liberal landlord, a man of scrupulous
kindness and honour, for whom everybody had a friendly word. His ruined
son on the moorside thought with wonder and envy of his father's popular
arts, which yet were no arts. For himself he confessed,--aware as he
was, this afternoon, of the presence in his mind of a new and strange
insight with regard to his own life and past, as though he were writing
his own obituary--that the people living in these farms and villages had
meant little more to him than the troublesome conditions on which he
enjoyed the pleasures of the Flood estates, the great income he drew
from them, and the sport for which they were famous. He had his friends
among the farmers of course, though they were few. There were men who
had cringed to him, and whom he had rewarded. And Laura had given away
plentifully in the villages. But his chief agent he knew had been a hard
man and a careless one; and he had always loathed the trouble of looking
after him. Again and again he had been appealed to, as against his
agent; and he had not even answered the letters. He had occasionally
done some public duties; he had allowed himself to be placed on the
County Council, but had hardly ever attended meetings; he had taken the
chair and made a speech occasionally, when it would have cost him more
effort to refuse than to accept; and those portions of the estate which
adjoined the castle were in fairly good repair. But on the remoter
farms, and especially since his financial resources had begun to fail,
he knew very well that there were cottages and farm-houses in a
scandalous state, on which not a farthing had been spent for years.

No, it could not be said he had played a successful part as a landowner.
He had meant no harm to anybody. He had been simply idle and
preoccupied; and that in a business where, under modern conditions,
idleness is immoral. He was quite conscious that there were good men,
frugal men, kind and God-fearing men, landlords like himself, though on
a much smaller scale, in that tract of country under his feet, who felt
bitterly towards him, who judged him severely, who would be thankful to
see the last of him, and to know that the land had passed into other and
better hands. Fifty-two years of life lived in that northern Vale of
Eden; and what was there to show for them?--in honest work done, in
peace of conscience, in friends? Now that the pictures were sold, there
would be just enough to pay everybody, with a very little over. There
was some comfort in that. He would have ruined nobody but himself and
Duggy. Poor Laura would be quite comfortable on her own money, and would
give him house-room no doubt--till the end.

The end? But he might live another twenty years. The thought was
intolerable. The apathy in which he had been lately living gave way. He
realised, with quickened breath, what this parting from his inheritance
and all the associations of his life would mean. He saw himself as a
tree, dragged violently out of its native earth--rootless and rotten.

Poor Duggy! Duggy was as proud and wilful as himself; with more personal
ambition however, and less of that easy, sensuous recklessness, that
gambler's spirit, which had led his father into such quagmires. Duggy
had shown up well these last weeks. He was not a boy to talk, but in
acts he had been good.

And through the man's remorseful soul there throbbed the one deep,
disinterested affection of his life--his love for his son. He had been
very fond of Laura, but when it came to moments like this she meant
little to him.

He gave himself up to this feeling of love. How strange that it should
both rend and soothe!--that it and it alone brought some comfort, some
spermaceti for the inward bruise, amid all the bitterness connected with
it. Duggy, in his arms, as a little toddling fellow, Duggy at
school--playing for Harrow at Lord's--Duggy at college--

But of that part of his son's life, as he realised with shame, he knew
very little. He had been too entirely absorbed, when it arrived, in the
frantic struggle, first for money, and then for solvency. Duggy had
become in some ways during the last two years a stranger to him--his own
fault! What had he done to help him through his college life--to
"influence him for good," as people said? Nothing. He had been
enormously proud of his son's university distinctions; he had supplied
him lavishly with money; he had concealed from him his own financial
situation till it was hopeless; he had given him the jolliest possible
vacation, and that was all that could be said.

The father groaned within himself. And yet again--how strangely!--did
some fraction of healing virtue flow from his very distress?--from his
remembrance, above all, of how Duggy had tried to help him?--during
these few weeks since he knew?

Ah!--Tidswell Church coming out of the shadows! He remembered how one
winter he had been coming home late on horseback through dark lanes,
when he met the parson of that church, old and threadbare and
narrow-chested, trudging on, head bent, against a spitting rain. The
owner of Flood had been smitten with a sudden compunction, and
dismounting he had walked his horse beside the old man. The living of
Tidswell was in his own gift. It amounted, he remembered, to some £140 a
year. The old man, whose name was Trevenen, had an old wife, to whom Sir
Arthur thought Lady Laura had sometimes sent some cast-off clothes.

Mr. Trevenen had been baptising a prematurely born child in a high
moorland farm. The walk there and back had been steep and long, and his
thin lantern-jawed face shone very white through the wintry dusk.

"You must be very tired," Sir Arthur had said, remembering uncomfortably
the dinner to which he was himself bent--the chef, the wines, the large
house-party.

And Mr. Trevenen had looked up and smiled.

"Not very. I have been unusually cheered as I walked by thoughts of the
Divine Love!"

The words had been so simply said; and a minute afterwards the old
pale-faced parson had disappeared into the dark.

What did the words mean? Had they really any meaning?

"The Divine Love." Arthur Falloden did not know then, and did not know
now. But he had often thought of the incident.

He leaned over, musing, to gather a bunch of hare-bells growing on the
edge of the stream. As he did so, he was conscious again of a sharp pain
in the chest. In a few more seconds, he was stretched on the moorland
grass, wrestling with a torturing anguish that was crushing his life
out. It seemed to last an eternity. Then it relaxed, and he was able to
breathe and think again.

"What is it?"

Confused recollections of the death of his old grandfather, when he
himself was a child, rose in his mind. "He was out hunting--horrible
pain--two hours. Is this the same? If it is--I shall die--here--alone."

He tried to move after a little, but found himself helpless. A brief
intermission, and the pain rushed on him again, like a violent and
ruthless hand, grinding the very centres of life. When he recovered
consciousness, it was with the double sense of blissful relief from
agony and of ebbing strength. What had happened to him? How long had he
been there?

"Could you drink this?" said a voice behind him. He opened his eyes and
saw a young man, with a halo of red-gold hair, and a tremulous, pitying
face, quite strange to him, bending over him.

There was some brandy at his lips. He drank with difficulty. What had
happened to the light? How dark it was!

"Where am I?" he said, looking up blindly into the face above him.

"I found you here--on the moor--lying on the grass. Are you better?
Shall I run down now--and fetch some one?"

"Don't go--"

The agony returned. When Sir Arthur spoke again, it was very feebly.

"I can't live--through--much more of that. I'm dying. Don't leave me.
Where's my son? Where's my son--Douglas? Who are you?"

The glazing eyes tried to make out the features of the stranger. They
were too dim to notice the sudden shiver that passed through them as he
named his son.

"I can't get at any one. I've been calling for a long time. My name is
Radowitz. I'm staying at Penfold Rectory. If I could only carry you! I
tried to lift you--but I couldn't. I've only one hand." He pointed
despairingly to the sling he was wearing.

"Tell my son--tell Douglas--"

But the faint voice ceased abruptly, and the eyes closed. Only there was
a slight movement of the lips, which Radowitz, bending his ear to the
mouth of the dying man, tried to interpret. He thought it said "pray,"
but he could not be sure.

Radowitz looked round him in an anguish. No one on the purple side of
the moor, no one on the grassy tracks leading downwards to the park;
only the wide gold of the evening--the rising of a light wind--the
rustling of the fern--and the loud, laboured breathing below him.

He bent again over the helpless form, murmuring words in haste.

       *       *       *       *       *

Meanwhile after Sir Arthur left the house, Douglas had been urgently
summoned by his mother. He found her at tea with Trix in her own
sitting-room. Roger was away, staying with a school friend, to the
general relief of the household; Nelly, the girl of seventeen, was with
relations in Scotland, but Trix had become her mother's little shadow
and constant companion. The child was very conscious of the weight on
her parents' minds. Her high spirits had all dropped. She had a wistful,
shrinking look, which suited ill with her round face and her childishly
parted lips over her small white teeth. The little face was made for
laughter; but in these days only Douglas could bring back her smiles,
because mamma was so unhappy and cried so much; and that mamma should
cry seemed to bring her whole world tumbling about the child's ears.
Only Douglas, for sheer impatience with the general gloom of the house,
would sometimes tease her or chase her; and then the child's laugh would
ring out--a ghostly echo from the days before Lady Laura "knew."

Poor Lady Laura! Up to the last moment before the crash, her husband had
kept everything from her. She was not a person of profound or sensitive
feeling; and yet it is probable that her resentment of her husband's
long secrecy, and the implications of it, counted for a great deal in
her distress and misery.

The sale of the pictures, as shortly reported by Douglas, had
overwhelmed her. As soon as her son appeared in her room, she poured out
upon him a stream of lamentation and complaint, while Trix was
alternately playing with the kitten on her knee and drying furtive tears
on a very grubby pocket-handkerchief.

Douglas was on the whole patient and explanatory, for he was really
sorry for his mother; but as soon as he could he escaped from her on the
plea of urgent letters and estate accounts.

The August evening wore on, and it was nearing sunset when his mother
came hurriedly into the library.

"Douglas, where is your father?"

"He went out for a walk before tea. Hasn't he come in?"

"No. And it's more than two hours. I--I don't like it, Duggy. He hasn't
been a bit well lately--and so awfully depressed. Please go and look for
him, dear!"

Douglas suddenly perceived the terror in his mother's mind. It seemed to
him absurd. He knew his father better than she did; but he took his hat
and went out obediently.

He had happened to notice his father going towards the moor, and he took
the same path, running simply for exercise, measuring his young strength
against the steepness of the hill and filling his lungs with the sweet
evening air, in a passionate physical reaction against the family
distress.

Five miles away, in this same evening glow, was Constance Bledlow
walking or sitting in her aunts' garden? Or was she nearer still--at
Penfold Rectory, just beyond the moor he was climbing, the old
rectory-house where Sorell and Radowitz were staying? He had taken good
care to give that side of the hills a wide berth since his return home.
But a great deal of the long ridge was common ground, and in the private
and enclosed parts there were several rights of way crossing the moor,
besides the one lonely road traversing it from end to end on which he
had met Constance Bledlow. If he had not been so tied at home, and so
determined not to run any risks of a meeting, he might very well have
come across Sorell at least, if not Radowitz, on the high ground
dominating the valleys on either side. Sorell was a great walker. But
probably they were as anxious to avoid a casual meeting as he was.

The evening was rapidly darkening, and as he climbed he searched the
hillside with his quick eyes for any sign of his father. Once or twice
he stopped to call:

"Father!"

The sound died away, echoing among the fields and hollows of the moor.
But there was no answer. He climbed further. He was now near the stream
which descended through the park, and its loud jubilant voice burst upon
him, filling the silence.

Then, above the plashing of the stream and the rising of the wind, he
heard suddenly a cry:

"Help!"

It came from a point above his head. A sudden horror came upon him. He
dashed on. In another minute a man's figure appeared, higher up, dark
against the reddened sky. The man put one hand to his mouth, and
shouted through it again--"Help!"

Douglas came up with him. In speechless amazement he saw that it was
Otto Radowitz, without a coat, bareheaded, pale and breathless.

"There's a man here, Falloden. I think it's your father. He's awfully
ill. I believe he's dying. Come at once! I've been shouting for a
long time."

Douglas said nothing. He rushed on, following Radowitz, who took a short
cut bounding through the deep ling of the moor. Only a few yards till
Douglas perceived a man, with a grey, drawn face, who was lying full
length on a stretch of grass beside the stream, his head and shoulders
propped against a low rock on which a folded coat had been placed as
a pillow.

"Father!"

Sir Arthur opened his eyes. He was drawing deep, gasping breaths, the
strong life in him wrestling still. But the helplessness, the ineffable
surrender and defeat of man's last hour, was in his face.

Falloden knelt down.

"Father!--don't you know me? Well soon carry you home. It's Duggy!" No
answer. Radowitz had gone a few yards away, and was also kneeling, his
face buried in his hands, his back turned to the father and son.

Douglas made another agonised appeal, and the grey face quivered. A
whisper passed the lips.

"It's best, Duggy--poor Duggy! Kiss me, old boy. Tell your mother--that
young man--prayed for me. She'll like to--know that. My love--"

The last words were spoken with a great effort; and the breaths that
followed grew slower and slower as the vital tide withdrew itself. Once
more the eyes opened, and Douglas saw in them the old affectionate look.
Then the lips shaped themselves again to words that made no sound; a
shudder passed through the limbs--their last movement.

Douglas knelt on, looking closely into his father's face, listening for
the breath that came no more. He felt rather than saw that Radowitz had
moved still further away.

Two or three deep sobs escaped him--involuntary, almost unconscious.
Then he pulled himself together. His mother? Who was to tell her?

He went to call Radowitz, who came eagerly.

"My father is dead," said Falloden, deadly pale, but composed. "How long
have you been here?"

"About half an hour. When I arrived he was in agonies of pain. I gave
him brandy, and he revived a little. Then I wanted to go for help, but
he begged me not to leave him alone. So I could only shout and wave my
handkerchief. The pains came back and back--and every time he grew
weaker. Oh, it was _angina_. I have seen it before--twice. If I had only
had some nitrite of amyl! But there was nothing--nothing I could do." He
paused, and then added timidly, "I am a Catholic; I said some of
our prayers."

He looked gravely into Falloden's face. Falloden's eyes met his, and
both men remembered--momentarily--the scene in Marmion Quad.

"We must get him down," said Falloden abruptly. "And there is my
mother."

"I would help you to carry him, of course; but--you see--I can't."

[Illustration: _Douglas knelt, looking into his father's face, and
Radowitz moved farther away_]

His delicate skin flushed deeply. Falloden realised for the first
time the sling across his shoulder and the helpless hand lying in it. He
turned away, searching with his eyes the shadows of the valley. At the
moment, the spot where they stood was garishly illuminated by the
rapidly receding light, which had already left the lower ground. The
grass at their feet, the rocks, the stream, the stretches of heather
were steeped and drenched in the last rays of sun which shot upon them
in a fierce concentration from the lower edge of a great cloud. But the
landmarks below were hard to make out--for a stranger's eyes.

"You see that cottage--where the smoke is?"

Radowitz assented.

"You will find a keeper there. Send him with three or four men."

"Yes--at once. Shall I take a message to the house?"

Radowitz spoke very gently. The red-gold of his hair, and his blue eyes,
were all shining in the strange light. But he was again as pale as
Falloden himself. Douglas drew out a pencil, and a letter from his
pocket. He wrote some words on the envelope, and handed it to Radowitz.

"That's for my mother's maid. She will know what to do. She is an old
servant. I must stay here."

Radowitz rushed away, leaping and running down the steep side of the
hill, his white shirt, crossed by the black sling, conspicuous all the
way, till he was at last lost to sight in the wood leading to the
keeper's cottage.

Falloden went back to the dead man. He straightened his father's limbs
and closed his eyes. Then he lay down beside him, throwing his arm
tenderly across the body. And the recollection came back to him of that
hunting accident years ago--the weight of his father on his
shoulders--the bitter cold--the tears which not all his boyish scorn of
tears could stop.

His poor mother! She must see Radowitz, for Radowitz alone could tell
the story of that last half hour. He must give evidence, too, at
the inquest.

_Radowitz_! Thoughts, ironic and perverse, ran swarming through
Falloden's brain, as though driven through it from outside. What a
nursery tale!--how simple!--how crude! Could not the gods have devised a
subtler retribution?

Then these thoughts vanished again, like a cloud of gnats. The touch of
his father's still warm body brought him back to the plain, tragic fact.
He raised himself on his elbow to look again at the dead face.

The handsome head with its grizzled hair was resting on Radowitz's coat.
Falloden could not bear it. He took off his own, and gently substituted
it for the other. And as he laid the head down, he kissed the hair and
the brow. He was alone with his father--more alone than he ever would be
again. There was not a human step or voice upon the moor. Night was
coming rapidly on. The stream rushed beside him. There were a few cries
of birds--mostly owls from the woods below. The dead man's face beside
him was very solemn and quiet. And overhead, the angry sunset clouds
were fading into a dim and star-strewn heaven, above a world sinking
to its rest.

       *       *       *       *       *

The moon was up before Radowitz came back to the little rectory on the
other side of the moor. Sorell, from whose mind he was seldom absent,
had begun to worry about him, was in fact on the point of setting out in
search of him. But about nine o'clock he heard the front gate open and
jumping down from the low open window of the rectory drawing-room he
went to meet the truant.

Radowitz staggered towards him, and clung to his arm.

"My dear fellow," cried Sorell, aghast at the bay's appearance and
manner--"what have you been doing to yourself?"

"I went up the moor for a walk after tea--it was so gorgeous, the clouds
and the view. I got drawn on a bit--on the castle side. I wasn't really
thinking where I was going. Then I saw the park below me, and the house.
And immediately afterwards, I heard a groaning sound, and there was a
man lying on the ground. It was Sir Arthur Falloden--and he died--while
I was there." The boy's golden head dropped suddenly against Sorell. "I
say, can't I have some food, and go to bed?"

Sorell took him in and looked after him like a mother, helped by the
kind apple-faced rector, who had heard the castle news from other
sources also, and was greatly moved.

When Otto's exhaustion had been fed and he was lying in his bed with
drawn brows, and no intention or prospect of going to sleep, Sorell let
him tell his tale.

"When the bearers came, I went down with them to the castle, and I saw
Lady Laura"--said the boy, turning his head restlessly from side to
side. "I say, it's awful--how women cry! Then they told me about the
inquest--I shall have to go to-morrow--and on the way home I went to
see Lady Connie. I thought she ought to know."

Sorell started.

"And you found her?"

"Oh, yes. She was sitting in the garden."

There was a short silence. Then Otto flung up his left hand, caught a
gnat that was buzzing round his head, and laughed--a dreary
little sound.

"It's quite true--she's in love with him."

"With Douglas Falloden?"

Otto nodded.

"She was awfully cut up when I told her--just for him. She didn't cry of
course. Our generation doesn't seem to cry--like Lady Laura. But you
could see what she wanted."

"To go to him?"

"That's it. And of course she can't. My word, it is hard on women!
They're hampered such a lot--by all their traditions. Why don't they
kick 'em over?"

"I hope she will do nothing of the kind," said Sorell with energy. "The
traditions may just save her."

Otto thought over it.

"You mean--save her from doing something for pity that she wouldn't do
if she had time to think?"

Sorell assented.

"Why should that fellow be any more likely now to make her happy--"

"Because he's lost his money and his father? I don't know why he should.
I dare say he'll begin bullying and slave-driving again--when he's
forgotten all this. But--"

"But what?"

"Well--you see--I didn't think he could possibly care about anything but
himself. I thought he was as hard as a millstone all through. Well, he
isn't. That's so queer!"

The speaker's voice took a dreamy tone.

Sorell glanced in bitterness at the maimed hand lying on the bed. It was
still bandaged, but he knew very well what sort of a shapeless, ruined
thing it would emerge, when the bandages were thrown aside. It was
strange and fascinating--to a student of psychology--that Otto should
have been brought, so suddenly, so unforeseeably, into this pathetic and
intimate relation with the man to whom, essentially, he owed his
disaster. But what difference did it make in the quality of the Marmion
outrage, or to any sane judgment of Douglas Falloden?

"Go to sleep, old boy," he said at last. "You'll have a hard time
to-morrow."

"What, the inquest? Oh, I don't mind about that. If I could only
understand that fellow!"

He threw his head back, staring at the ceiling.

Otto Radowitz, in spite of Sorell's admonitions, slept very little that
night. His nights were apt to be feverish and disturbed. But on this
occasion imagination and excitement made it impossible to stop the brain
process, the ceaseless round of thought; and the hours of darkness were
intolerably long. Memory went back behind the meeting with the dying man
on the hillside, to an earlier experience--an hour of madness, of
"possession." His whole spiritual being was still bruised and martyred
from it, like that sufferer of old whom the evil spirit "tore" in
departing. What had delivered him? The horror was still on him, still
his master, when he became aware of that white face on the grass--

He drowsed off again. But in his half-dream, he seemed to be kneeling
again and reciting Latin words, words he had heard last when his mother
was approaching her end. He was more than half sceptical, so far as the
upper mind was concerned; but the under-consciousness was steeped in
ideas derived from his early home and training, ideas of sacrifice,
forgiveness, atonement, judgment--the common and immortal stock of
Christianity. He had been brought up in a house pervaded by the
crucifix, and by a mother who was ardently devout.

But why had God--if there was a God--brought this wonderful thing to
pass? Never had his heart been so full of hatred as in that hour of
lonely wandering on the moor, before he perceived the huddled figure
lying by the stream. And, all in a moment, he had become his enemy's
proxy--his representative--in the last and tenderest service that man
can render to man. He had played the part of son to Falloden's dying
father--had prayed for him from the depths of his heart, tortured with
pity. And when Falloden came, with what strange eyes they had looked at
each other!--as though all veils had dropped--all barriers had, for the
moment, dropped away.

"Shall I hate him again to-morrow?" thought Radowitz. "Or shall I be
more sorry for him than for myself? Yes, that's what I felt!--so
marvellously!"

So that when he went to Constance with his news, and under the emotion
of it, saw the girl's heart unveiled--"I was not jealous," he thought.
"I just wanted to give her everything!"

Yet, as the night passed on, and that dreary moment of the first
awakening earth arrived, when all the griefs of mankind weigh heaviest,
he was shaken anew by gusts of passion and despair; and this time for
himself. Suppose--for in spite of all Sorell's evasions and
concealments, he knew very well that Sorell was anxious about him, and
the doctors had said ugly things--suppose he got really ill?--suppose he
died, without having lived?

He thought of Constance in the moonlit garden, her sweetness, her
gratefulness to him for coming, her small, white "flower-face," and the
look in her eyes.

"If I might--only once--have kissed her--have held her in my arms!" he
thought, with anguish. And rolling on his face, he lay prone, fighting
his fight alone, till exhaustion conquered, and "he took the gift
of sleep."



CHAPTER XV

Douglas Falloden was sitting alone in his father's library surrounded by
paper and documents. He had just concluded a long interview with the
family lawyer; and a tray containing the remains of their hasty luncheon
was on a side-table. The room had a dusty, dishevelled air. Half of the
house-servants had been already dismissed; the rest were disorganised.
Lady Laura had left Flood the day before. To her son's infinite relief
she had consented to take the younger children and go on a long visit to
some Scotch relations. It had been left vague whether she returned to
Flood or not; but Douglas hoped that the parting was already
over--without her knowing it; and that he should be able to persuade
her, after Scotland, to go straight to the London house--which was her
own property--for the winter.

Meanwhile he himself had been doing his best to wind up affairs. The
elaborate will of twenty years earlier, with its many legacies and
bequests, had been cancelled by Sir Arthur only six weeks before his
death. A very short document had been substituted for it, making Douglas
and a certain Marmaduke Falloden, his uncle and an eminent K.C., joint
executors, and appointing Douglas and Lady Laura guardians of the
younger children. Whatever property might remain "after the payment of
my just debts" was to be divided in certain proportions between Douglas
and his brother and sisters.

The estates, with the exception of the lands immediately surrounding
the castle, were to be sold to the tenants, and the dates of the auction
were already fixed. For the castle itself, negotiations had been opened
with an enormously successful soap-boiler from the north, but an
American was also in the market, and the Falloden solicitors were
skilfully playing the two big fish against each other. The sale of the
pictures would come before the court early in October. Meanwhile the
beautiful Romney--the lady in black--still looked down upon her stripped
and impoverished descendant; and Falloden, whose sole companion she
often was through dreary hours, imagined her sometimes as tragic or
reproachful, but more commonly as mocking him with a malicious
Irish glee.

There would be some few thousand pounds left for himself when all was
settled. He was determined to go into Parliament, and his present
intention was to stand for a Merton fellowship, and read for the bar. If
other men could make three or four thousand a year within three years or
so of being called, why not he? His character had steeled under the
pressure of disaster. He realised with a clearer intelligence, day by
day, all that had gone from him--his father--his inheritance--the
careless ease and self-assurance that goes with the chief places at the
feast of life. But if he must now drop to the lower rooms, it would not
be "with shame" that he would do that, or anything else. He felt within
himself a driving and boundless energy, an iron will to succeed. There
was even a certain bitter satisfaction in measuring himself against the
world without the props and privileges he had hitherto possessed. He was
often sore and miserable to his heart's depths; haunted by black
regrets and compunction he could not get rid of. All the same it was
his fixed resolve to waste no thoughts on mere happiness. His business
was to make a place for himself as an able man among able men, to ask of
ambition, intelligence, hard work, and the sharpening of brain on brain,
the satisfaction he had once hoped to get out of marriage with Constance
Bledlow, and the easy, though masterly, use of great wealth.

He turned to look at the clock.

She had asked him for five. He had ordered his horse accordingly, the
only beast still left in the Flood stables, and his chief means of
escape during a dreary fortnight from his peevish co-executor, who was
of little or no service, and had allowed himself already to say
unpardonable things about his dead brother, even to that brother's son.

It was too soon to start, but he pushed his papers aside impatiently.
The mere prospect of seeing Constance Bledlow provoked in him a dumb and
troubled excitement. Under its impulse he left the library, and began to
walk aimlessly through the dreary and deserted house, for the mere sake
of movement. The pictures were still on the walls, for the sale of them
had not yet been formally sanctioned by the court; but all Lady Laura's
private and personal possessions had been removed to London, and
dust-sheets covered the furniture. Some of it indeed had been already
sold, and workmen were busy packing in the great hall, amid a dusty
litter of paper and straw. All the signs of normal life, which make the
character of a house, had gone; what remained was only the débris of a
once animated whole. Houses have their fate no less than books; and in
the ears of its last Falloden possessor, the whole of the great
many-dated fabric, from its fourteenth century foundations beneath the
central tower, to the pseudo-Gothic with which Wyatt had disfigured the
garden front, had often, since his father's death, seemed to speak with
an almost human voice of lamentation and distress.

But this afternoon Falloden took little notice of his surroundings. Why
had she written to him?

Well, after all, death is death, and the merest strangers had written to
him--letters that he was now wearily answering. But there had been
nothing perfunctory in her letter. As he read it he had seemed to hear
her very voice saying the soft, touching things in it--things that women
say so easily and men can't hit upon; and to be looking into her
changing face, and the eyes that could be so fierce, and then again so
childishly sweet and sad--as he had seen them, at their last meeting on
the moor, while she was giving him news of Radowitz. Yet there was not a
word in the letter that might not have been read on the house-tops--not
a trace in it of her old alluring, challenging self. Simplicity--deep
feeling--sympathy--in halting words, and unfinished sentences--and yet
something conspicuously absent and to all appearance so easily,
unconsciously absent, that all the sweetness and pity brought him more
smart than soothing. Yes, she had done with him--for all her wish to be
kind to him. He saw it plainly; and he turned back thirstily to those
past hours in Lathom Woods, when he had felt himself, if only for a
moment, triumphant master of her thoughts, if not her heart; rebelled
against, scolded, flouted, yet still tormentingly necessary and
important. All that delicious friction, those disputes that are the
forerunner of passion were gone--forever. She was sorry for him--and
very kind. His touchy pride recoiled, reading into her letter what she
had never dreamt of putting into it, just because of the absence of that
something--that old tremor--those old signs of his influence over her,
which, of course, she would never let him see again.

All the same he had replied at once, asking if he might come and say
good-bye before she left Scarfedale. And she had sent him a
telegram--"Delighted--to-morrow--five o'clock."

And he was going--out of a kind of recklessness--kind of obstinate
recoil against the sorrowful or depressing circumstance of life. He had
given up all thoughts of trying to win her back, even if there were any
chance of it. His pride would not let him sue as a pauper; and of course
the Langmoors to whom she was going--he understood--from Scarfedale,
would take good care she did not throw herself away. Quite right too.
Very likely the Tamworths would capture her; and Bletchley was quite a
nice fellow.

When he did see her, what could they talk about? Radowitz?

He would like to send a message through her to Radowitz--to say
something--

What could he say? He had seen Radowitz for a few minutes after the
inquest--to thank him for his evidence--and for what he had done for Sir
Arthur. Both had hurried through it. Falloden had seemed to himself
stricken with aphasia. His mouth was dry, his tongue useless. And
Radowitz had been all nerves, a nickering colour--good God, how deathly
he looked!

Afterwards he had begun a letter to Radowitz, and had toiled at it,
sometimes at dead of night and in a feverish heat of brain. But he had
never finished or sent it. What was the use? Nothing was changed. That
black sling and the damaged hand in it stood for one of those hard facts
that no wishing, and no sentimentalising, and no remorse could get over.

"I wish to God I had let him alone!"

That now was the frequent and bitter cry of Falloden's inmost being.
Trouble and the sight of trouble--sorrow--and death--had been to him, as
to other men, sobering and astonishing facts. The most decisive effect
of them had been to make him vulnerable, to break through the hard
defences of pride and custom, so that he realised what he had done. And
this realisation was fast becoming a more acute and haunting thing than
anything else. It constantly drove out the poignant recollection of his
father's death, or the dull sense of financial loss and catastrophe.
Loss and catastrophe might be at some distant time made good. But what
could ever give Radowitz back his art--his career--his natural object in
life? The hatches of the present had just got to be closed over this
ugly, irreparable thing. "I can't undo it--nothing can ever be undone.
But I can't spend my life in repenting it; one must just go forward, and
not let that, or anything else, hamstring a man who has got his fight to
fight, and can't get out of it."

Undo it? No. But were no, even partial, amends possible?--nothing that
could be offered, or done, or said?--nothing that would give Constance
Bledlow pleasure, or change her opinion?--efface that shrinking in her,
of which he hated to think?

He cudgelled his brains, but could think of nothing.

Money, of course, was of no use, even if he still possessed it.
Radowitz, in all matters connected with money, was hypersensitive and
touchy. It was well known that he had private means; and it was
certainly probable that he was now the richer man of the two.

No--there was nothing to be done. He had maimed forever the vital,
energising impulse in another human being, and it could never be
repaired. "His poor music!--_murdered_"--the words from Constance
Bledlow's horror-stricken letter were always in his mind. And the day
after the inquest on Sir Arthur, he had had some conversation on the
medical points of his father's case, and on the light thrown on them by
Radowitz's evidence, with the doctor who was then attending Lady Laura,
and had, it appeared, been several times called in by Sorell during the
preceding weeks to see Radowitz and report on the progress of the hand.
"A bad business!" said the young man, who had intelligence and was fresh
from hospital--"and awful hard luck!--he might have hurt his hand in a
score of ways and still have recovered the use of it, but with this
particular injury"--he shook his head--"nothing to be done! And the
worst of it is that a trouble like this, which cuts across a man's
career, goes so deep. The thing I should be most afraid of is his
general health. You can see that he's delicate--narrow-chested--a bundle
of nerves. It might be phthisis--it might be"--he shrugged his
shoulders--"well, depression, bad neurasthenia. And the poor lad seems
to have no family--no mother or sisters--to look after him. But he'll
want a lot of care, if he's to pull round again. An Oxford row, wasn't
it? Abominable!"

But here the sudden incursion of Lady Laura's maid to ask a question
for her mistress had diverted the doctor's thoughts and spared
Falloden reply.

       *       *       *       *       *

A little later, he was riding slowly up the side of the moor towards
Scarfedale, looking down on a landscape which since his childhood had
been so intimate and familiar a part of himself that the thought of
being wrenched away from it, immediately and for good, seemed
merely absurd.

September was nearly gone; and the trees had long passed out of their
August monotony, and were already prophetic of the October blaze. The
level afternoon light was searching out the different planes of
distance, giving to each hedgerow, elm or oak, a separate force and
kingship: and the golden or bronze shades, which were day by day
stealing through the woods, made gorgeous marriage with the evening
purple. The castle, as he gazed back upon it, had sunk into the shadows,
a dim magnificent ghost, seen through mist, like the Rhine maidens
through the blue water.

And there it would stand, perhaps for generations yet, long after he and
his kindred knew it no more. What did the plight of its last owner
matter to it, or to the woods and hills? He tried to think of that
valley a hundred years hence--a thousand!--and felt himself the merest
insect crawling on the face of this old world, which is yet so young.
But only for a moment. Rushing back, came the proud, resisting sense of
personality--of man's dominance over nature--of the Nietzschean "will to
power." To be strong, to be sufficient to one's self; not to yield, but
to be forever counterattacking circumstance, so as to be the master of
circumstance, whatever blows it might choose to strike--that seemed to
be the best, the only creed left to him.

When he reached the Scarfedale house, and a gardener had taken his
horse, the maid who opened the door told him he would find Lady
Constance on the lawn. The old ladies were out driving.

Very decent of the old ladies, he thought, as he followed the path into
the garden.

There she was!--her light form lost, almost, in a deep chair, under a
lime-tree. The garden was a tangle of late blooming flowers; everything
growing rank and fast, as though to get as much out of the soil and the
sun as possible, before the first frost made execution. It was
surrounded by old red walls that held the dropping sun, and it was full
of droning bees, and wagtails stepping daintily over the lawns.

Connie rose and came towards him. She was in black with pale pink roses
in her hat. In spite of her height, she seemed to him the slightest,
gracefullest thing, and as she neared him, she lifted her deep brown
eyes, and it was as though he had never seen before how beautiful
they were.

"It was kind of you to come!" she said shyly.

He made no reply, till she had placed him beside her under the lime.
Then he looked round him, a smile twitching his lip.

"Your aunts are not at home?"

"No. They have gone for their drive. Did you wish to see them?"

"I am in terror of your Aunt Winifred. She and I had many ructions when
I was small. She thought our keepers used to shoot her cats."

"They probably did!"

"Of course. But a keeper who told the truth about it would have no
moral sense."

They both laughed, looking into each other's faces with a sudden sense
of relief from tension. After all the tragedy and the pain, there they
were, still young, still in the same world together. And the sun was
still shining and flowers blooming. Yet, all the same, there was no
thought of any renewal of their old relation on either side. Something
unexpressed, yet apparently final, seemed to stand between them;
differing very much in his mind from the something in hers, yet equally
potent. She, who had gone through agonies of far too tender pity for
him, felt now a touch of something chill and stern in the circumstance
surrounding him that seemed to put her aside. "This is not your
business," it seemed to say; so that she saw herself as an inexperienced
child playing with that incalculable thing--the male. Attempts at
sympathy or advice died away--she rebelled, and submitted.

Still there are things--experiments--that even an inexperienced child, a
child "of good will" may venture. All the time that she was talking to
Falloden, a secret expectation, a secret excitement ran through her
inner mind. There was a garden door to her left, across a lawn. Her eyes
were often on it, and her ear listened for the click of the latch.

Meanwhile Falloden talked very frankly of the family circumstances and
his own plans. How changed the tone was since they had discussed the
same things, riding through the Lathom Woods in June! There was little
less self-confidence, perhaps; but the quality of it was not the same.
Instead of alienating, it began to touch and thrill her. And her heart
could not help its sudden tremor when he spoke of wintering "in or near
Oxford." There was apparently a Merton prize fellowship in December on
which his hopes were set, and the first part of his bar examination to
read for, whether he got a fellowship or no.

"And Parliament?" she asked him.

"Yes--that's my aim," he said quietly. "Of course it's the fashion just
now, especially in Oxford, to scoff at politics and the House of
Commons. It's like the 'art-for-arters' in town. As if you could solve
anything by words--or paints!"

"Your father was in the House for some time?"

She bent towards him, as she mentioned his father, with a lovely
unconscious gesture that sent a tremor through him. He seemed to
perceive all that shaken feeling in her mind to which she found it so
impossible to give expression; on which his own action had placed so
strong a curb.

He replied that his father had been in Parliament for some twelve years,
and had been a Tory Whip part of the time. Then he paused, his eyes on
the grass, till he raised them to say abruptly:

"You heard about it all--from Radowitz?"

She nodded.

"He came here that same night." And then suddenly, in the golden light,
he saw her flush vividly. Had she realised that what she had said
implied a good deal?--or might be thought to imply it? Why should
Radowitz take the trouble, after his long and exhausting experience, to
come round by the Scarfedale manor-house?

"It was an awful time for him," he said, his eyes on hers. "It was very
strange that he should be there."

She hesitated. Her lips trembled.

"He was very glad to be there. Only he was sorry--for you."

"You mean he was sorry that I wasn't there sooner--with my father?"

"I think that was what he felt--that there was only a stranger."

"I was just in time," said Falloden slowly. "And I wonder--whether
anything matters, to the dying?"

There was a pause, after which he added, with sudden energy--

"I thought--at the inquest--he himself looked pretty bad."

"Otto Radowitz?" Constance covered her eyes with her hands a moment--a
gesture of pain. "Mr. Sorell doesn't know what to do for him. He has
been losing ground lately. The doctors say he ought to live in the
open-air. He and Mr. Sorell talk of a cottage near Oxford, where Mr.
Sorell can go often and see him. But he can't live alone."

As she spoke Falloden's attention was diverted. He had raised his head
and was looking across the lawn towards the garden entrance. There was
the sound of a clicking latch. Constance turned, and saw
Radowitz entering.

The young musician paused and wavered, at the sight of the two under the
lime. It seemed as though he would have taken to flight. But, instead,
he came on with hesitating step. He had taken off his hat, as he often
did when walking; and his red-gold hair _en brosse_ was as conspicuous
as ever. But otherwise what a change from the youth of three months
before! Falloden, now that the immediate pressure of his own tragedy
was relaxed, perceived the change even more sharply than he had done at
the inquest; perceived it, at first with horror, and then with a wild
sense of recoil and denial, as though some hovering Erinys advanced with
Radowitz over the leaf-strewn grass.

Radowitz grew paler still as he reached Connie. He gave Falloden a
short, embarrassed greeting, and then subsided into the chair that
Constance offered him. The thought crossed Falloden's mind--"Did she
arrange this?"

Her face gave little clue--though she could not restrain one quick,
hesitating glance at Falloden. She pressed tea on Radowitz, who accepted
it to please her, and then, schooled as she was in all the minor social
arts, she had soon succeeded in establishing a sort of small talk among
the three. Falloden, self-conscious, and on the rack, could not imagine
why he stayed. But this languid boy had ministered to his dying father!
And to what, and to whom, were the languor, the tragic physical change
due? He stayed--in purgatory--looking out for any chance to escape.

"Did you walk all the way?"

The note in Connie's voice was softly reproachful.

"Why, it's only three miles!" said Radowitz, as though defending
himself, but he spoke with an accent of depression. And Connie
remembered how, in the early days of his recovery from his injury, he
had spent hours rambling over the moors by himself, or with Sorell. Her
heart yearned to him. She would have liked to take his poor hands in
hers, and talk to him tenderly like a sister. But there was that other
dark face, and those other eyes opposite--watching. And to them too, her
young sympathy went out--how differently!--how passionately! A kind of
rending and widening process seemed to be going on within her own
nature. Veils were falling between her and life; and feelings, deeper
and stronger than any she had ever known, were fast developing the woman
in the girl. How to heal Radowitz!--how to comfort Falloden! Her mind
ached under the feelings that filled it--feelings wholly
disinterested and pure.

"You really are taking the Boar's Hill cottage?" she asked, addressing
Radowitz.

"I think so. It is nearly settled. But I am trying to find some
companion. Sorell can only come occasionally."

As he spoke, a wild idea flashed into Falloden's brain. It seemed to
have entered without--or against--his will; as though suggested by some
imperious agency outside himself. His intelligence laughed at it.
Something else in him entertained it--breathlessly.

Radowitz stooped down to try and tempt Lady Marcia's dachshund with a
piece of cake.

"I must anyhow have a dog," he said, as the pampered Max accepted the
cake, and laid his head gratefully on the donor's knee; "they're
always company."

He looked wistfully into the dog's large, friendly eyes.

Connie rose.

"Please don't move!" she said, flushing. "I shall be back directly. But
I must put up a letter. I hear the postman!" She ran over the grass,
leaving the two men in acute discomfort. Falloden thought again, with
rising excitement: "She planned it! She wants me to do something--to
take some step--but what?"

An awkward pause followed. Radowitz was still playing with the dog,
caressing its beautiful head with his uninjured hand, and talking to it
in a half whisper. As Constance departed, a bright and feverish red had
rushed into his cheeks; but it had only made his aspect more ghostly,
more unreal.

Again the absurd idea emerged in Falloden's consciousness; and this time
it seemed to find its own expression, and to be merely making use of his
voice, which he heard as though it were some one else's.

He bent over towards Radowitz.

"Would you care to share the cottage with me?" he said abruptly. "I want
to find a place to read in--out of Oxford."

Radowitz looked up, amazed--speechless! Falloden's eyes met Otto's
steadily. The boy turned away. Suddenly he covered his face with his
free hand.

"Why did you hate me so?" he said, breathing quickly. "What had I done
to you?"

"I didn't hate you," said Falloden thickly. "I was mad."

"Because you were jealous? What a fool you were! She never cared a brass
farthing for me--except as she, does now. She would like to nurse
me--and give me back my music. But she can't--and you can't."

There was silence again. Otto's chest heaved. As far as he could with
his one hand, he hid the tears in his eyes from his companion. And at
last he shook off emotion--with a laugh in which there was no mirth.

"Well, at least, I shouldn't make such a row now as I used to
do--practising."

Falloden understood his reference to the soda-water bottle fusillade, by
which the "bloods," in their first attack upon him, had tried to silence
his piano.

"Can't you play at all?" he said at last, choosing the easiest of
several remarks that presented themselves.

"I get about somehow on the keys. It's better than nothing. And I'm
writing something for my degree. It's rather good. If I could only keep
well!" said the boy impatiently. "It's this damned health that gets
in the way."

Then he threw himself back in his chair, all the melancholy of his face
suddenly breaking up, the eyes sparkling.

"Suppose I set up one of those automatic pianos they're now talking
about--could you stand that?"

"I would have a room where I didn't hear it. That would be all right."

"There's a wonderful idea I heard of from Paris a week or two ago," said
Otto excitedly--"a marvellous electric invention a man's at work on,
where you only turn a handle, or press a button, and you get
Rubinstein--or Madame Schumann or my country-man, Paderewski, who's
going to beat everybody. It isn't finished yet. But it won't be for the
likes of me. It'll cost at least a thousand pounds."

"They'll get cheaper," said Falloden, his chin in his hands, elbows on
knees, and eyes fixed on his companion. It seemed to him he was talking
in a dream, so strange was this thing he had proposed; which apparently
was going to come to pass. At any rate Radowitz had not refused. He sat
with the dachshund on his knees, alternately pulling out and folding its
long ears. He seemed to be, all in a moment, in high spirits, and when
he saw Connie coming back through the garden gate, with a shy,
hesitating step, he sprang up eagerly to greet her. But there was
another figure behind her. It was Sorell; and at sight of him "something
sealed" the boy's lips. He looked round at Falloden, and dropped back
into his chair.

Falloden rose from his seat abruptly. A formal and scarcely perceptible
greeting passed between him and Sorell. All Falloden's irritable
self-consciousness rushed back upon him as he recognised the St. Cyprian
tutor. He was not going to stay and cry _peccavi_ any more in the
presence of a bloodless prig, for whom Oxford was the world. But it was
bitter to him all the same to leave him in possession of the garden and
Connie Bledlow's company.

"Thank you--I must go," he said brusquely, as Connie tried to detain
him. "There is so much to do nowadays. I shall be leaving Flood next
week. The agent will be in charge."

"Leaving--for good?" she asked, in her appealing voice, as they stood
apart.

"Probably--for good."

"I don't know how to say--how sorry I am!"

"Thank you. But I am glad it's over. When you get back to Oxford--I
shall venture to come and call."

"That's a promise," she said, smiling at him. "Where will you be?"

"Ask Otto Radowitz! Good-bye!"

Her start of surprise pleased him. He approached Radowitz. "Shall I hear
from you?" he said stiffly.

"Certainly!" The boy looked up. "I will write to-morrow."

       *       *       *       *       *

The garden door had no sooner closed on Falloden than Radowitz threw
himself back, and went into a fit of laughter, curious, hollow laughter.

Sorell looked at him anxiously.

"What's the meaning of that, Otto?"

"You'll laugh, when you hear! Falloden and I are going to set up house
together, in the cottage on Boar's Hill. He's going to read--and I'm to
be allowed a piano, and a piano-player. Queer, isn't it?"

"My dear Otto!" cried Sorell, in dismay. "What on earth do you mean?"

"Well, he offered it--said he'd come and look after me. I don't know
what possessed him--nor me either. I didn't exactly accept, but I shall
accept. Why shouldn't I?"

"Because Falloden's the last person in the world to look after
anybody--least of all, you!" said Sorell with indignant energy. "But of
course it's a joke! You mean it for a joke. If he proposed it, it was
like his audacity. Nobody would, who had a shred of delicacy. I suppose
he wants to disarm public opinion!"

Radowitz looked oddly at Sorell from under his finely marked eyebrows.

"I don't believe he cares a hang for public opinion," he said slowly.
"Nor do I. If you could come, of course that would settle it. And if you
won't come to see me, supposing Falloden and I do share diggings, that
settles it too. But you will come, old man--you will come!"

And he nodded, smiling, at hid quasi-guardian. Neither of them noticed
Connie. Yet she had hung absorbed on their conversation, the breath
fluttering on her parted lips. And when their talk paused, she bent
forward, and laid her hand on Sorell's arm:

"Let him!" she said pleadingly--"let him do it!"

Sorell looked at her in troubled perplexity. "Let Douglas Falloden make
some amends to his victim; if he can, and will. Don't be so unkind as to
prevent it!" That, he supposed, was what she meant. It seemed to him the
mere sentimental unreason of the young girl, who will not believe that
there is any irrevocableness in things at all, till life teaches her.

Radowitz too! What folly, what mistaken religiosity could make him dream
of consenting to such a house-mate through this winter which might
be his last!

Monstrous! What kind of qualities had Falloden to fit him for such a
task? All very well, indeed, that he should feel remorse! Sorell hoped
he might feel it a good deal more sharply yet. But that he should ease
his remorse at Otto's expense, by offering what he could never fulfil,
and by taking the place of some one on whom Otto could have really
leaned--that seemed to Sorell all of a piece with the man's egotism, his
epicurean impatience of anything that permanently made him uncomfortable
or unhappy. He put something of this into impetuous words as well as he
could. But Otto listened in silence. So did Constance. And Sorell
presently felt that there was a secret bond between them.

       *       *       *       *       *

Before the aunts returned, the rectory pony-carriage came for Radowitz,
who was not strong enough to walk both ways. Sorell and Constance were
left alone.

Sorell, observing her, was struck anew by the signs of change and
development in her. It was as though her mother and her mother's soul
showed through the girl's slighter temperament. The old satiric
aloofness in Connie's brown eyes, an expression all her own, and not her
mother's, seemed to have slipped away; Sorell missed it. Ella
Risborough's sympathetic charm had replaced it, but with suggestions of
hidden conflict and suffering, of which Lady Risborough's bright
sweetness had known nothing. It was borne in upon him that, since her
arrival in Oxford, Constance had gone through a great deal, and gone
through it alone. For after all what had his efforts amounted to? What
can a man friend do for a young girl in the fermenting years of her
youth! And when the man friend knows very well that, but for an iron
force upon himself, he himself would be among her lovers? Sorell felt
himself powerless--in all the greater matters--and was inclined to think
that he deserved to be powerless. Yet he had done his best; and through
his Greek lessons he humbly knew that he had helped her spiritual
growth, just as the Greek immortals had helped and chastened his own
youth. They had been reading Homer together--parts both of the "Iliad"
and the "Odyssey"; and through "that ageless mouth of all the world,"
what splendid things had spoken to her!--Hector's courage, and
Andromache's tenderness, the bitter sorrow of Priam, the pity of
Achilles, mother love and wife love, death and the scorn of death. He
had felt her glow and tremble in the grip of that supreme poetry; for
himself he had found her the dearest and most responsive of pupils.

But what use was anything, if after all, as Radowitz vowed, she was in
love with Douglas Falloden? The antagonism between the man of Scroll's
type--disinterested, pure-minded, poetic, and liable, often, in action
to the scrupulosity which destroys action; and the men of Falloden's
type--strong, claimant, self-centred, arrogant, determined--is
perennial. Nor can a man of the one type ever understand the attraction
for women of the other.

Sorell sat on impatiently in the darkening garden, hoping always that
Connie would explain, would confess; for he was certain that she had
somehow schemed for this preposterous reconciliation--if it was a
reconciliation. She wanted no doubt to heal Falloden's conscience, and
so to comfort her own. And she would sacrifice Otto, if need be, in the
process! He vowed to himself that he would prevent it, if he could.

Connie eyed him wistfully. Confidences seemed to be on her very lips;
and then stopped there. In the end she neither explained nor confessed.
But when he was gone, she walked up and down the lawn under the evening
sky, her hands behind her--passionately dreaming.

She had never thought of any such plan as had actually sprung to light.
And she understood Sorell's opposition.

All the same, her heart sang over it. When she had asked Radowitz and
Douglas to meet, each unbeknown to the other, when she had sent away the
kind old aunts and prepared it all, she had reckoned on powers of
feeling in Falloden, in which apparently only she and Aunt Marcia
believed; and she had counted on the mystical and religious fervour she
had long since discovered in Radowitz. That night--after Sir Arthur's
death--she had looked tremblingly into the boy's very soul, had
perceived his wondering sense of a special message to him through what
had happened, from a God who suffered and forgives.

Yes, she had tried to make peace.

And she guessed--the tears blinding her as she walked--at the true
meaning of Falloden's sudden impulse, and Otto's consent. Falloden's was
an impulse of repentance; and Otto's had been an impulse of pardon, in
the Christian sense. "If I am to die, I will die at peace with him." Was
that the thought--the tragic and touching thought--in the boy's mind?

As to Falloden, could he do it?--could he rise to the height of what was
offered him? She prayed he might; she believed he could.

Her whole being was aflame. Douglas was no longer in love with her; that
was clear. What matter, if he made peace with his own soul? As for her,
she loved him with her whole heart, and meant to go on loving him,
whatever any one might say. And that being so, she would of course
never marry.

Could she ever make Nora understand the situation? By letter, it was
certainly useless to try!



PART III



CHAPTER XVI

Constance Bledlow stepped out of the Bletchley train into the crowded
Oxford station. Annette was behind her. As they made their way towards
the luggage van, Connie saw a beckoning hand and face. They belonged to
Nora Hooper, and in another minute Connie found herself taken possession
of by her cousin. Nora was deeply sunburnt. Her colour was more garishly
red and brown, her manner more trenchant than ever. At sight of Connie
her face flushed with a sudden smile, as though the owner of the face
could not help it. Yet they had only been a few minutes together before
Connie had discovered that, beneath the sunburn, there was a look of
tension and distress, and that the young brown eyes, usually so bright
and bold, were dulled with fatigue. But to notice such things in Nora
was only to be scorned. Connie held her tongue.

"Can't you leave Annette to bring the luggage, and let us walk up?" said
Nora.

Connie assented, and the two girls were soon in the long and generally
crowded street leading to the Cornmarket. Nora gave rapidly a little
necessary information. Term had just begun, and Oxford was "dreadfully
full." She had got another job of copying work at the Bodleian, for
which she was being paid by the University Press, and what with that and
the work for her coming exam, she was "pretty driven." But that was what
suited her. Alice and her mother were "all right."

"And Uncle Ewen?" said Connie.

Nora paused a moment.

"Well, you won't think he looks any the better for his holiday," she
said at last, with an attempt at a laugh. "And of course he's doing ten
times too much work. Hang work! I loathe work: I want to 'do nothing
forever and ever.'"

"Why don't you set about it then?" laughed Connie.

"Because--" Nora began impetuously; and then shut her lips. She diverged
to the subject of Mr. Pryce. They had not seen or heard anything of him
for weeks, she said, till he had paid them an evening call, the night
before, the first evening of the new term.

Connie interrupted.

"Oh, but that reminds me," she said eagerly, "I've got an awfully nice
letter--to-day--from Lord Glaramara. Mr. Pryce is to go up and see him."

Nora whistled.

"You have! Well, that settles it. He'll now graciously allow himself to
propose. And then we shall all pretend to be greatly astonished. Alice
will cry, and mother will say she 'never expected to lose her daughter
so soon.' What a humbug everybody is!" said the child, bitterly, with
more emphasis than grammar.

"But suppose he doesn't get anything!" cried Connie, alarmed at such a
sudden jump from the possible to the certain.

"Oh, but he will! He's the kind of person that gets things," said Nora
contemptuously. "Well, we wanted a bit of good news!"

Connie jumped at the opening.

"Dear Nora!--have things been going wrong? You look awfully tired. Do
tell me!"

Nora checked herself at once. "Oh, not much more than usual," she said
repellently. "And what about you, Connie? Aren't you very bored to be
coming back here, after all your grand times?"

They had emerged into the Corn. Before them, was the old Church of St.
Mary Magdalen, and the modern pile of Balliol. In the distance stretched
the Broad, over which the October evening was darkening fast; the
Sheldonian in the far distance, with its statued railing; and the gates
of Trinity on the left. The air was full of bells, and the streets of
undergraduates; a stream of young men taking fresh possession, as it
were, of the grey city, which was their own as soon as they chose to
come back to it. The Oxford damp, the Oxford mist, was everywhere,
pierced by lamps, and window-lights, and the last red of a
stormy sunset.

Connie drew in her breath.

"No, I am not sorry, I am very glad to be back--though my aunts have
been great dears to me."

"I'll bet anything Annette isn't glad to be back--after the Langmoors!"
said Nora grimly.

Connie laughed.

"She'll soon settle in. What do you think?" She slipped her arm into her
cousin's. "I'm coming down to breakfast!"

"You're not! I never heard such nonsense! Why should you?"

Connie sighed.

"I think I must begin to do something."

"Do something! For goodness' sake, don't!" Nora's voice was fierce. "I
did think you might be trusted!"

"To carry out your ideals? So kind of you!"

"If you take to muddling about with books and lectures and wearing ugly
clothes, I give you up," said Nora firmly.

"Nora, dear, I'm the most shocking ignoramus. Mayn't I learn something?"

"Mr. Sorell may teach you Greek. I don't mind that."

Connie sighed again, and Nora stole a look at the small pale face under
the sailor hat. It seemed to her that her cousin had somehow grown
beautiful in these months of absence. On her arrival in May, Connie's
good looks had been a freakish and variable thing, which could be often
and easily disputed. She could always make a certain brilliant or
bizarre effect, by virtue of her mere slenderness and delicacy, combined
with the startling beauty of her eyes and hair. But the touch of
sarcasm, of a half-hostile remoteness, in her look and manner, were
often enough to belie the otherwise delightful impression of first
youth, to suggest something older and sharper than her twenty years had
any right to be. It meant that she had been brought up in a world of
elder people, sharing from her teens in its half-amused, half-sceptical
judgments of men and things. Nothing was to be seen of it in her roused
moments of pleasure or enthusiasm; at other times it jarred, as though
one caught a glimpse of autumn in the spring.

But since she and Nora had last met, something had happened. Some heat
of feeling or of sympathy had fused in her the elements of being; so
that a more human richness and warmth, a deeper and tenderer charm
breathed from her whole aspect. Nora, though so much the younger, had
hitherto been the comforter and sustainer of Connie; now for the first
time, the tired girl felt an impulse--firmly held back--to throw her
arms round Connie's neck and tell her own troubles.

She did not betray it, however. There were so many things she wanted to
know. First--how was it that Connie had come back so soon? Nora
understood there were invitations to the Tamworths and others. Mr.
Sorell had reported that the Langmoors wished to carry their niece with
them on a round of country-house visits in the autumn, and that Connie
had firmly stuck to it that she was due at Oxford for the beginning
of term.

"Why didn't you go," said Nora, half scoffing--"with all those frocks
wasting in the drawers?"

Connie retorted that, as for parties, Oxford, had seemed to her in the
summer term the most gay and giddy place she had ever been in, and that
she had always understood that in the October and Lent terms people
dined out every night.

"But all the same--one can think a little here," she said slowly.

"You didn't care a bit about that when you first came!" cried Nora. "You
despised us because we weren't soldiers, or diplomats, or politicians.
You thought we were a little priggish, provincial world where nothing
mattered. You were sorry for us because we had only books and ideas!"

"I wasn't!" said Connie indignantly. "Only I didn't think Oxford was
everything--and it isn't! Nora!"--she looked round the Oxford street
with a sudden ardour, her eyes running over the groups of
undergraduates hurrying back to hall--"do you think these English boys
could ever--well, fight--and die--for what you call ideas--for their
country--as Otto Radowitz could die for Poland?"

"Try them!" The reply rang out defiantly. Connie laughed.

"They'll never have the chance. Who'll ever attack England? If we had
only something--something splendid, and not too far away!--to look back
upon, as the Italians look back on Garibaldi--or to long and to suffer
for, as the Poles long and suffer for Poland!"

"We shall some day!" said Nora hopefully. "Mr. Sorell says every nation
gets its turn to fight for its life. I suppose Otto Radowitz has been
talking Poland to you?"

"He talks it--and he lives it," said Connie, with emphasis. "It's
marvellous!--it shames one."

Nora shrugged her shoulders.

"But what can he do--with his poor hand! You know Mr. Sorell has taken a
cottage for him at Boar's Hill--above Hinksey?"

Yes, Connie knew. She seemed suddenly on her guard.

"But he can't live alone?" said Nora. "Who on earth's going to look
after him?"

Connie hesitated. Down a side street she perceived the stately front of
Marmion, and at the same moment a tall man emerging from the dusk
crossed the street and entered the Marmion gate. Her heart leapt. No!
Absurd! He and Otto had not arrived yet. But already the Oxford dark,
and the beautiful Oxford distances were peopled for her with visions and
prophecies of hope. The old and famous city, that had seen so much
youth bloom and pass, spoke magic things to her with its wise,
friendly voice.

Aloud, she said--

"You haven't heard? Mr. Falloden's going to live with him."

Nora stopped in stupefaction.

"_What?_"

Connie repeated the information--adding--

"I dare say Mr. Sorell didn't speak of it to you, because--he hates it."

"I suppose it's just a theatrical _coup_," said Nora, passionately, as
they walked on--"to impress the public."

"It isn't!--it isn't anything of the kind. And Otto had only to say no."

"It's ridiculous!--preposterous! They'll clash all day long."

Connie replied with difficulty, as though she had so pondered and
discussed this matter with herself that every opinion about it seemed
equally reasonable.

"I don't think so. Otto wishes it."

"But why--but _why_?" insisted Nora. "Oh, Connie!--as if Douglas
Falloden could look after anybody but himself!"

Then she repented a little. Connie smiled, rather coldly.

"He looked after his father," she said quietly. "I told you all that in
my letters. And you forget how it was--that he and Otto came across each
other again."

Nora warmly declared that she had not forgotten it, but that it did not
seem to her to have anything to do with the extraordinary proposal that
the man more responsible than any one else for the maiming--possibly
for the death--of Otto Radowitz, if all one heard about him were true,
should be now installed as his companion and guardian during these
critical months.

She talked with obvious and rather angry common sense, as one who had
not passed her eighteenth birthday for nothing.

But Connie fell silent. She would not discuss it, and Nora was obliged
to let the subject drop.

       *       *       *       *       *

Mrs. Hooper, whose pinched face had grown visibly older, received her
husband's niece with an evident wish to be kind. Alice, too, was almost
affectionate, and Uncle Ewen came hurrying out of his study to greet
her. But Connie had not been an hour in the house before she had
perceived that everybody in it was preoccupied and unhappy; unless,
indeed, it were Alice, who had evidently private thoughts of her own,
which, to a certain extent, released her from the family worries.

What was the matter? She was determined to know.

It happened that she and Alice went up to bed together. Nora had been
closeted with her father in the little schoolroom on the ground floor,
since nine o'clock, and when Connie proposed to look in and wish them
good night, Alice said uncomfortably--

"Better not. They're--they're very busy."

Connie ruminated. At the top of the stairs, she turned--

"Look here--do come in to me, and have a talk!"

Alice agreed, after a moment's hesitation. There had never been any
beginnings of intimacy between her and Connie, and she took Connie's
advance awkwardly.

The two girls were however soon seated in Connie's room, where a blazing
fire defied the sudden cold of a raw and bleak October. The light danced
on Alice's beady black eyes, and arched brows, on her thin but very red
lips, on the bright patch of colour in each cheek. She was more than
ever like a Watteau sketch in black chalk, heightened with red, and the
dress she wore, cut after the pattern of an eighteenth-century sacque,
according to an Oxford fashion of that day, fell in admirably with the
natural effect. Connie had very soon taken off her tea-gown, loosened
and shaken out her hair, and put on a white garment in which she felt at
ease. Alice noticed, as Nora had done, that Connie was fast becoming a
beauty; but whether the indisputable fact was to be welcomed or resented
had still to be decided.

Connie had no sooner settled herself on the small sofa she had managed
to fit into her room than she sprang up again.

"Stupid!--where are those letters!" She rummaged in various drawers and
bags, hit upon what she wanted, after an impetuous hunt, and returned
to the fire.

"Do you know I think Mr. Pryce has a good chance of that post? I got
this to-day."

She held out a letter, smiling. Alice flushed and took it. It was from
Lord Glaramara, and it concerned that same post in the Conservative
Central Office on which Herbert Pryce had had his eyes for some time.
The man holding it had been "going" for months, but was now, at last,
gone. The post was vacant, and Connie, who had a pretty natural turn
for wire-pulling, fostered by her Italian bringing up, had been trying
her hand, both with the Chancellor and her Uncle Langmoor.

"You little intriguer!" wrote Lord Glaramara--"I will do what I can.
Your man sounds very suitable. If he isn't, I can tell you plainly he
won't get the post. Neither political party can afford to employ fools
just now. But if he is what you say--well, we shall see! Send him up to
see me, at the House of Lords, almost any evening next week. He'll have
to take his chance, of course, of finding me free. If I cotton to him,
I'll send him on to somebody else. And--_don't talk about it!_ Your
letter was just like your mother. She had an art of doing these things!"

Alice read and reread the note. When she looked up from it, it was with
a rather flustered face.

"Awfully good of you, Connie! May I show it--to Mr. Pryce?"

"Yes--but get it back. Tell him to write to Lord Glaramara to-morrow.
Well, now then"--Connie discovered and lit a cigarette, the sight of
which stirred in Alice a kind of fascinated disapproval,--"now then,
tell me what's the matter!--why Uncle Ewen looks as if he hadn't had a
day's rest since last term, and Nora's so glum--and why he and she go
sitting up at night together when they ought to be in their beds?"

Connie's little woman-of-the-world air--very evident in this
speech--which had always provoked Alice in their earlier acquaintance,
passed now unnoticed. Miss Hooper sat perplexed and hesitating, staring
into the fire. But with that note in her pocket, Alice felt herself at
once in a new and detached position towards her family.

"It's money, of course," she said at last, her white brow puckering.
"It's not only bills--they're dreadfully worrying!--we seem never to get
free from them, but it's something else--something quite new--which has
only happened, lately. There is an old loan from the bank that has been
going on for years. Father had almost forgotten it, and now they're
pressing him. It's dreadful. They know we're so hard up."

Connie in her turn looked perplexed. It was always difficult for her to
realise financial trouble on a small scale. Ruin on the Falloden scale
was intelligible to one who had heard much talk of the bankruptcies of
some of the great Roman families. But the carking care that may come
from lack of a few hundred pounds, this the Risboroughs' daughter had to
learn; and she put her mind to it eagerly.

She propped her small chin on her hands, while Alice told her tale.
Apparently the improvement in the family finance, caused by Connie's
three hundred, had been the merest temporary thing. The Reader's
creditors had been held off for a few months; but the rain of
tradesmen's letters had been lately incessant. And the situation had
been greatly worsened by a blow which had fallen just before the
opening of term.

In a former crisis, five years before this date, a compassionate cousin,
one of the few well-to-do relations that Mrs. Hooper possessed, had come
to the rescue, and had given his name to the Hoopers' bankers as
guarantee for a loan of £500. The loan was to have been repaid by yearly
instalments. But the instalments had not been paid, and the cousin had
most unexpectedly died of apoplexy during September, after three days'
illness. His heir would have nothing to say to the guarantee, and the
bank was pressing for repayment, in terms made all the harsher by the
existence of an overdraft, which the local manager knew in his financial
conscience ought not to have been allowed. His letters were now so many
sword-thrusts; and post-time was a time of terror.

"Father doesn't know what to do," said Alice despondently. "He and Nora
spend all their time trying to think of some way out. Father got his
salary the other day, and never put it into the bank at all. We must
have something to live on. None"--she hesitated--"none of the tradesmen
will give us any credit." She flushed deeply over the confession.

"Goodness!" said Connie, opening her eyes still wider.

"But if Nora knows that I've been telling you"--cried Alice--"she'll
never forgive me. She made me promise I wouldn't tell you. But how can
you help knowing? If father's made a bankrupt, it wouldn't be very nice
for you! How could you go on living with us? Nora thinks she's going to
earn money--that father can sell two wretched little books--and we can
go and live in a tiny house on the Cowley Road--and--and--all sorts of
absurd things!"

"But Why is it Nora that has to settle all these things?" asked Connie
in bewilderment. "Why doesn't your mother--"

"Oh, because mother doesn't know anything about the bills," interrupted
Alice. "She never can do a sum--or add up anything--and I'm no use at it
either. Nora took it all over last year, and she won't let even me help
her. She makes out the most wonderful statements--she made out a fresh
one to-day--that's why she had a headache when she came to meet you.
But what's the good of statements? They won't pay the bank."

"But why--why--" repeated Connie, and then stopped, lest she should hurt
Alice's feelings.

"Why did we get into debt? I'm sure I don't know!" Alice shook her head
helplessly. "We never seemed to have anything extravagant."

These things were beyond Connie's understanding. She gave it up. But her
mind impetuously ran forward.

"How much is wanted altogether?"

Alice, reluctantly, named a sum not much short of a thousand pounds.

"Isn't it awful?"

She sighed deeply. Yet already she seemed to be talking of other
people's affairs!

"We can't ever do it. It's hopeless. Papa's taken two little
school-books to do. They'll kill him with work, and will hardly bring in
anything. And he's full up with horrid exams and lectures. He'll break
down, and it all makes him so miserable, because he can't really do the
work the University pays him to do. And he's never been abroad--even to
Rome. And as to Greece! It's dreadful!" she repeated mechanically.

Connie sprang up and began to pace the little room. The firelight played
on her mop of brown hair, bringing out its golden shades, and on the
charming pensiveness of her face. Alice watched her, thinking "She could
do it all, if she chose!" But she didn't dare to say anything, for
fear of Nora.

Presently Connie gave a great stretch.

"It's damnable!" she said, with energy.

Alice's instinct recoiled from the strong word. It wasn't the least
necessary, she thought, to talk in that way.

Connie made a good many more enquiries--elicited a good many more facts.
Then suddenly she brought her pacing to a stop.

"Look here--we must go to bed!--or Nora will be after us."

Alice went obediently. As soon as the door had shut upon her, Connie
went to a drawer in her writing table, and took out her bank-book. It
had returned that morning and she had not troubled to look at it. There
was always enough for what she wanted.

Heavens!--what a balance. She had quite forgotten a wind-fall which had
come lately--some complicated transaction relating to a great industrial
company in which she had shares and which had lately been giving birth
to other subsidiary companies, and somehow the original shareholders, of
whom Lord Risborough had been one, or their heirs and representatives,
had profited greatly by the business. It had all been managed for her by
her father's lawyer, and of course by Uncle Ewen. The money had been
paid temporarily in to her own account, till the lawyer could make some
enquiries about a fresh investment.

But it was her own money. She was entitled to--under the terms of her
father's letter to Uncle Ewen--to do what she liked with it. And even
without it, there was enough in the bank. Enough for this--and for
another purpose also, which lay even closer to her heart.

"I don't want any more new gowns for six months," she decided
peremptorily. "It's disgusting to be so well off. Well, now,--I
wonder--I wonder where Nora keeps those statements that Alice
talks about?"

In the schoolroom of course. But not under lock and key. Nobody ever
locked drawers in that house. It was part of the general
happy-go-luckishness of the family.

Connie made up the fire, and sat over it, thinking hard. A new
cheque-book, too, had arrived with the bank-book. That was useful.

She waited till she heard the schoolroom door open, and Nora come
upstairs, followed soon by the slow and weary step of Uncle Ewen. Connie
had already lowered her gas before Nora reached the top landing.

The house was very soon silent. Connie turned her light on again, and
waited. By the time Big Ben had struck one o'clock, she thought it would
be safe to venture.

She opened her door with trembling, careful fingers, slipped off her
shoes, took a candle and stole downstairs. The schoolroom door creaked
odiously. But soon she was inside and looking about her.

There was Nora's table, piled high with the books and note-books of her
English literature work. Everything else had been put away. But the top
drawer of the table was unlocked. There was a key in it, but it would
not turn, being out of repair, like so much else in the house.

Connie, full of qualms, slowly opened the drawer. It was
horrid--horrid--to do such things!--but what other way was there? Nora
must be presented with the _fait accompli_, otherwise she would upset
everything--poor old darling!

Some loose sheets lay on the top of the papers in the drawer. The first
was covered with figures and calculations that told nothing. Connie
lifted it, and there, beneath, lay Nora's latest "statement," at which
she and her father had no doubt been working that very night. It was
headed "List of Liabilities," and in it every debt, headed by the bank
claim which had broken the family back, was accurately and clearly
stated in Nora's best hand. The total at the foot evoked a low whistle
from Connie. How had it come about? In spite of her luxurious bringing
up, there was a shrewd element--an element of competence--in the girl's
developing character, which was inclined to suggest that there need be
no more difficulty in living on seven hundred a year than seven
thousand, if you knew you had to do it. Then she rebuked herself
fiercely for a prig--"You just try it!--you Pharisee, you!" And she
thought of her own dressmakers' and milliners' bills, and became in the
end quite pitiful over Aunt Ellen's moderation. After all it might have
been two thousand instead of one! Of course it was all Aunt Ellen's
muddling, and Uncle Ewen's absent-mindedness.

She shaded her candle, and in a guilty hurry copied down the total on a
slip of paper lying on the table, and took the address of Uncle Ewen's
bank from the outside of the pass-book lying beside the bills. Having
done that, she Closed the drawer again, and crept upstairs like the
criminal she felt herself. Her small feet in their thin stockings seemed
to her excited ears to be making the most hideous and unnatural noise on
every step. If Nora heard!

At last she was safe in her own room again. The door was locked, and the
more agreeable part of the crime began. She drew out the new
cheque-book lying in her own drawer, and very slowly and deliberately
wrote a cheque. Then she put it up, with a few covering words--anxiously
considered--and addressed the envelope to the Oxford branch of a
well-known banking firm, her father's bankers, to which her own account
had been transferred on her arrival at Oxford. Ewen Hooper had
scrupulously refrained from recommending his own bank, lest he should
profit indirectly by his niece's wealth.

"Annette shall take it," she thought, "first thing. Oh, what a row
there'll be!"

And then, uneasily pleased with her performance, she went to bed.

And she had soon forgotten all about her raid upon Uncle Ewen's affairs.
Her thoughts floated to a little cottage on the hills, and its two
coming inhabitants. And in her dream she seemed to hear herself say--"I
oughtn't to be meddling with other people's lives like this. I don't
know enough. I'm too young! I want somebody to show me--I do!"

       *       *       *       *       *

The following day passed heavily in the Hooper household. Nora and her
father were closeted together all the morning; and there was a sense of
brooding calamity in the air. Alice and Connie avoided each other, and
Connie asked no questions. After luncheon Sorell called. He found Connie
in the drawing-room alone, and gave her the news she was pining for. As
Nora had reported, a cottage on Boar's Hill had been taken. It belonged
to the head of an Oxford college, who had spent the preceding winter
there for his health, but had now been ordered abroad. It was very
small, pleasantly furnished, and had a glorious view over Oxford in the
hollow, the wooded lines of Garsington and Nuneham, and the distant
ridges of the Chilterns. Radowitz was expected the following day, and
his old college servant, with a woman to cook and do housework, had been
found to look after him. He was working hard, at his symphony, and was
on the whole much the same in health--very frail and often extremely
irritable; with alternations of cheerfulness and depression.

"And Mr. Falloden?" Connie ventured.

"He's coming soon--I didn't ask," said Sorell shortly. "That arrangement
won't last long."

Connie hesitated.

"But don't wish it to fail!" she said piteously.

"I think the sooner it is over the better," said Sorell, with rather
stern decision. "Falloden ought never to have made the proposal, and it
was mere caprice in Otto to accept it. But you know what I think. I
shall watch the whole thing very anxiously; and try to have some one
ready to put into Falloden's place--when it breaks down. Mrs. Mulholland
and I have it in hand. She'll take Otto up to the cottage to-morrow, and
means to mother Radowitz as much as he'll let her. Now then"--he changed
the subject with a smile--"are you going to enjoy your winter term?"

His dark eyes, as she met them, were full of an anxious affection.

"I have forgotten all my Greek!"

"Oh no--not in a month. Prepare me a hundred lines of the 'Odyssey,'
Book VI.! Next week I shall have some time. This first week is always a
drive. Miss Nora says she'll go on again."

"Does she? She seems so--so busy."

"Ah, yes--she's got some work for the University Press. Plucky little
thing! But she mustn't overdo it."

Connie dropped the subject. These conferences in the study, which had
gone on all day, had nothing to do with Nora's work for the Press--that
she was certain of. But she only said--holding out her hands, with the
free gesture that was natural to her--

"I wish some one would give me the chance of 'overdoing it'! Do set me
to work--hard work! The sun never shines here."

Her eyes wandered petulantly to the rainy sky outside, and the
high-walled college opposite.

"Southerner! Wait till you see it shining on the Virginia creeper in our
garden quad. Oxford is a dream in October!--just for a week or two, till
the leaves fall. November is dreary, I admit. All the same--try and
be happy!"

He looked at her gravely and tenderly. She coloured a little as she
withdrew her hands.

"Happy? That doesn't matter--does it? But perhaps for a change--one
might try--"

"Try what?"

"Well!"--she laughed, but he thought there were tears in her eyes--"to
do something--for somebody--occasionally."

"Ask Mrs. Mulholland! She has a genius for that kind of thing. Teach
some of her orphans!"

"I couldn't! They'd find me out."

Sorell, rather puzzled, suggested that she might become a Home Student
like Nora, and go in for a Literature or Modern History Certificate.
Connie, who was now sitting moodily over a grate with no fire in it,
with her chin in her hands, only shook her head.

"I don't know anything--I never learnt anything. And everybody here's so
appallingly clever!"

Then she declared that she would go and have tea with the Master of
Beaumont, and ask his advice. "He told me to learn something"--the tone
was one of depression, passing into rebellion--"but I don't want to
learn anything!--I want to do something!"

Sorell laughed at her.

"Learning is doing!"

"That's what Oxford people think," she said defiantly. "I don't agree
with them."

"What do you mean by 'doing'?"

Connie poked an imaginary fire.

"Making myself happy"--she said slowly, "and--and a few other people!"

Sorell laughed again. Then rising to take his leave, he stooped over
her.

"Make me happy by undoing that stroke of yours at Boar's Hill!"

Connie raised herself, and looked at him steadily.

Then gravely and decisively she shook her head.

"Not at all! I shall keep an eye on it!--so must you!"

Then, suddenly, she smiled--the softest, most radiant smile, as though
some hope within, far within, looked out. It was gone in a moment, and
Sorell went his way; but as one who had been the spectator of an event.

       *       *       *       *       *

After his departure Connie sat on in the cold room, thinking about
Sorell. She was devoted to him--he was the noblest, dearest person. She
wished dreadfully to please him. But she wasn't going to let him--well,
what?--to let him interfere with that passionate purpose which seemed to
be beating in her, and through her, like a living thing, though as yet
she had but vaguely defined it even to herself.

       *       *       *       *       *

After tea, which Mrs. Hooper dispensed with red eyes, and at which
neither Nora nor Dr. Hooper appeared, Constance found a novel, and
established herself in the deserted schoolroom. She couldn't go out. She
was on the watch for a letter that might arrive. The two banks were only
a stone's throw apart. The local post should deliver that letter
about six.

Once Nora looked in to find a document, and was astonished to see Connie
there. But she was evidently too harassed and miserable to talk. Connie
listened uneasily to the opening and shutting of a drawer, with which
she was already acquainted. Then Nora disappeared again. What were they
trying to do, poor dears!--Nora, and Uncle Ewen? What could they do?

The autumn evening darkened slowly. At last!--a ring and a double knock.
The study door opened, and Connie heard Nora's step, and the click of
the letter-box. The study door closed again.

Connie put down her novel and listened. Her hands trembled. She was full
indeed of qualms and compunctions. Would they be angry with her? She had
meant it well.

Footsteps approaching--not Nora's.

Uncle Ewen stood in the doorway--looking very pale and strained.

"Connie, would you mind coming into my study? Something rather strange
has happened."

Connie got up and slowly followed him across the hall. As she entered
the study, she saw Nora, with blazing eyes and cheeks, standing by her
father's writing-table, aglow with anger or excitement--or both. She
looked at Connie as at an enemy, and Connie flushed a bright pink.

Uncle Ewen shut the door, and addressed his niece. "My dear Connie, I
want you, if you can--to throw some light on a letter I have just
received. Both Nora and I suspect your hand in it. If so, you have done
something I--I can't permit."

He held out a letter, which Connie took like a culprit. It was a
communication from his Oxford bankers to Professor Hooper, to the effect
that, a sum of £1100 having been paid in to his credit by a person who
desired to remain unknown, his debt to them was covered, and his account
showed a balance of about six hundred pounds.

"My dear!"--his voice and hand shook--"is that your doing?"

"Of course it is!" interrupted Nora passionately. "Look at her, father!
How dared you, Connie, do such a thing without a word to father! It's a
shame--a disgrace! We could have found a way out--we could!"

And the poor child, worn out with anxiety and lack of sleep, and in her
sensitive pride and misery ready to turn on Connie and rend her for
having dared thus to play Lady Bountiful without warning or permission,
sank into a chair, covered her face with her hands, and burst
out sobbing.

Connie handed back the letter, and hung her head. "Won't you--won't you
let the person--who--sent the money remain unknown, Uncle Ewen?--as they
wished to be?"

Uncle Ewen sat down before his writing-table, and he also buried his
face in his hands. Connie stood between them--as it were a prisoner at
the bar--looking now very white and childish.

"Dear Uncle Ewen--"

"How did you guess?" said Nora vehemently, uncovering her face--"I never
said a word to you!"

Connie gave a tremulous laugh.

"Do you think I couldn't see that you were all dreadfully unhappy about
something? I--I made Alice tell me--"

"Alice is a sieve!" cried Nora. "I knew, father, we could never trust
her."

"And then"--Connie went on--"I--I did an awful thing. I'd better tell
you. I came and looked at Nora's papers--in the schoolroom drawer. I saw
that." She pointed penitentially to a sheet of figures lying on the
study table.

Both Nora and her uncle looked up in amazement, staring at her.

"It was at night," she said hurriedly--"last night. Oh, I put it all
back!"--she turned, pleading, to Nora--"just as I found it. You
shouldn't be angry with me--you shouldn't indeed!"

Then her own voice began to shake. She came and laid her hand on her
uncle's shoulder.

"Dear Uncle Ewen--you know, I had that extra money! What did I want with
it? Just think--if it had been mamma! Wouldn't you have let her help?
You know you would! You couldn't have been so unkind. Well then, I knew
it would be no good, if I came and asked you--you wouldn't have let me.
So I--well, I just did it!"

Ewen Hooper rose from his table in great distress of mind.

"But, my dear Connie--you are my ward--and I am your guardian! How can I
let you give me money?"

"It's my own money," said Connie firmly. "You know it is. Father wrote
to you to say I might spend it now, as I liked--all there was, except
the capital of my two thousand a year, which I mayn't spend--till I am
twenty-five. This has nothing to do with that. I'm quite free--and so
are you. Do you think"--she drew herself up indignantly--"that you're
going to make me happy--by turning me out, and all--all of you going to
rack and ruin--when I've got that silly money lying in the bank? I won't
have it! I don't want to go and live in the Cowley Road! I won't go and
live in the Cowley Road! You promised father and mother to look after
me, Uncle Ewen, and it isn't looking after me--"

"You can't reproach me on that score as much as I do myself!" said Ewen
Hooper, with emotion. "There's something in that I admit--there's
something in that."

He began to pace the room. Presently, pausing beside Connie, he plunged
into an agitated and incoherent account of the situation--of the efforts
he had made to get even some temporary help--and of the failure of all
of them. It was the confession of a weak and defeated man; and as made
by a man of his age to a girl of Connie's, it was extremely painful.
Nora hid her eyes again, and Connie got paler and paler.

At last she went up to him, holding out again appealing hands.

"Please don't tell me any more! It's all right. I just love you, Uncle
Ewen--and--and Nora! I want to help! It makes me happy. Oh, why won't
you let me!"

He wavered.

"You dear child!" There was a silence. Then he resumed--as though
feeling his way--

"It occurs to me that I might consult Sorell. If he thought it right--if
we could protect you from loss--!"

Connie sprang at him and kissed him in delight.

"Of course!--that'll do splendidly! Mr. Sorell will see, at once, it's
the right thing for me, and my happiness. I can't be turned out--I
really can't! So it's settled. Yes--it's settled!--or it will be
directly--and nobody need bother any more--need they? But--there's one
condition."

Ewen Hooper looked at her in silence.

"That you--you and Nora--go to Borne this Christmas time, this very
Christmas, Uncle Ewen! I think I put in enough--and I can give you such
a lot of letters!"

She laughed joyously, though she was very near crying.

"I have never been able to go to Home--Or Athens--never!" he said, in a
low voice, as he sat down again at his table. All the thwarted hopes,
all the sordid cares of years were in the quiet words.

"Well, now you're going!" said Connie shyly. "Oh, that would be ripping!
You'll promise me that--you must, please!"

Silence again. She approached Nora, timidly.

"Nora!"

Nora rose. Her face was stained with tears.

"It's all wrong," she said heavily--"it's all wrong. But--I give in.
What I said was a lie. There is nothing else in the world that we could
possibly do."

And she rushed out of the room without another word. Connie looked
wistfully after her. Nora's pain in receiving had stirred in her the
shame-faced distress in giving that lives in generous souls. "Why should
I have more than they?"

She stole out after Nora. Ewen Hooper was left staring at the letter
from his bankers, and trying to collect his thoughts. Connie's voice was
still in his ears. It had all the sweetness of his dead sister's.

       *       *       *       *       *

Connie was reading in her room before dinner. She had shut herself up
there, feeling rather battered by the emotions of the afternoon, when
she heard a knock that she knew was Nora's.

"Come in!"

Nora appeared. She had had her storm of weeping in private and got over
it. She was now quite composed, but the depression, the humiliation
even, expressed in her whole bearing dismayed Connie afresh.

Nora took a seat on the other side of the fire. Connie eyed her
uneasily.

"Are you ever going to forgive me, Nora?" she said, at last.

Nora shrugged her shoulders.

"You couldn't help it. I see that."

"Thank you," said Connie meekly.

"But what I can't forgive is that you never said a word--"

"To you? That you might undo it all? Nora, you really are an absurd
person!" Connie sprang up, and came to kneel by the fire, so that she
might attack her cousin at close quarters. "We're told it's 'more
blessed to give than to receive.' Not when you're on the premises, Nora!
I really don't think you need make me feel such an outcast! I say--how
many nights have you been awake lately?"

Nora's lip quivered a little.

"That doesn't matter," she said shortly.

"Yes, but it does matter! You promised to be my friend--and--you have
been treating me abominably!" said Connie, with flashing eyes.

Nora feebly defended herself, but was soon reduced to accept a pair of
arms thrown round her, and a soft shoulder on which to rest an
aching head.

"I'm no good," she said desparingly. "I give up--everything."

"That's all right!" Connie's tone was extremely cheerful. "Which means,
I hope, that you'll give up that absurd copying in the Bodleian. You get
about twopence halfpenny for it, and it'll cost you your first-class.
How are you going to get a First I should like to know, with your head
full of bills, and no sleep at nights?"

Nora flushed fiercely.

"I want to earn my living--I mean to earn my living! And how do you
know--after all"--she held Connie at arm's length--"that Mr. Scroll's
going to approve of what you've done? And father won't accept, unless
he does."

Connie laughed.

"Mr. Sorell will do--exactly what pleases me. Mr. Sorell"--she began to
search for a cigarette--"Mr. Sorell is an angel."

A silence. Connie looked up, rather surprised.

"Don't you agree?"

"Yes," said Nora in an odd voice.

Connie observed her. A flickering light began to play in the brown eyes.

"H'm. Have you been doing some Greek already?--stealing a march on me?"

"I had a lesson last week."

"Had you? The first I've heard of it!" Connie fluttered up and down the
room in her white dressing-gown, occasionally breaking into a
dance-step, as though to work off a superfluity of spirits.

Finally she stopped in front of Nora, looking her up and down.

"I dare you to hide anything again from me, Nora!"

Nora sat up.

"There is nothing to hide," she said stiffly.

Connie laughed aloud; and Nora suddenly sprang from her chair, and ran
out of the room.

Connie was left panting a little. Life in Medburn House seemed certainly
to be running faster than of old!

"I never gave him leave to fall in love with Nora!" she thought, with an
unmistakable pang of common, ordinary jealousy. She had been so long
accustomed to take her property in Sorell for granted!--and the summer
months had brought her into such intimate contact with him. "And he
never made love to me for one moment!--nor I to him. I don't believe
he's made love to Nora--I'm sure he hasn't--yet. But why didn't he tell
me of that Greek lesson?"

She stood before the glass, pulling down her hair, so that it fell all
about her.

"I seem to be rather cut out for fairy-godmothering!" she said pensively
to the image in the glass. "But there's a good deal to do for the
post!--one must admit there's a good deal to do--Nora's got to be fixed
up--and all the money business. And then--then!"

She clasped her hands behind her head. Her eyelids fell, and through her
slight figure there ran a throb of yearning--of tender yet
despairing passion.

"If I could only mend things there, I might be some use. I don't want
him to marry me--but just--just--"

Then her hands fell. She shook her head angrily. "You humbug!--you
humbug! For whom are you posing now?"



CHAPTER XVII

Falloden had just finished a solitary luncheon in the little dining-room
of the Boar's Hill cottage. There was a garden door in the room, and
lighting a cigarette, he passed out through it to the terrace outside. A
landscape lay before him, which has often been compared to that of the
Val d'Arno seen from Fiesole, and has indeed some common points with
that incomparable mingling of man's best with the best of mountain and
river. It was the last week of October, and the autumn was still warm
and windless, as though there were no shrieking November to come.
Oxford, the beautiful city, with its domes and spires, lay in the hollow
beneath the spectator, wreathed in thin mists of sunlit amethyst. Behind
that ridge in the middle distance ran the river and the Nuneham woods;
beyond rose the long blue line of the Chilterns. In front of the cottage
the ground sank through copse and field to the river level, the hedge
lines all held by sentinel trees, to which the advancing autumn had
given that significance the indiscriminate summer green denies. The
gravely rounded elms with their golden caps, the scarlet of the beeches,
the pale lemon-yellow of the nearly naked limes, the splendid blacks of
yew and fir--they were all there, mingled in the autumn cup of misty
sunshine like melting jewels. And among them, the enchanted city shone,
fair and insubstantial, from the depth below; as it were, the spiritual
word and voice of all the scene.

Falloden paced up and down the terrace, smoking and thinking. That was
Otto's open window. But Radowitz had not yet appeared that morning, and
the ex-scout, who acted butler and valet to the two men, had brought
word that he would come down in the afternoon, but was not to be
disturbed till then.

"What lunacy made me do it?" thought Falloden, standing still at the end
of the terrace which fronted the view.

He and Radowitz had been nearly three weeks together. Had he been of the
slightest service or consolation to Radowitz during that time? He
doubted it. That incalculable impulse which had made him propose himself
as Otto's companion for the winter still persisted indeed. He was
haunted still by a sense of being "under command"--directed--by a force
which could not be repelled. Ill at ease, unhappy, as he was, and
conscious of being quite ineffective, whether as nurse or companion,
unless Radowitz proposed to "throw up," he knew that he himself should
hold on; though why, he could scarcely have explained.

But the divergences between them were great; the possibilities of
friction many. Falloden was astonished to find that he disliked Otto's
little fopperies and eccentricities quite as much as he had ever done in
college days; his finicky dress, his foreign ways in eating, his
tendency to boast about his music, his country, and his forebears, on
his good days, balanced by a brooding irritability on his bad days. And
he was conscious that his own ways and customs were no less teasing to
Radowitz; his Tory habits of thought, his British contempt for vague
sentimentalisms and heroics, for all that _panache_ means to the
Frenchman, or "glory" to the Slav.

"Then why, in the name of common sense, are we living together?"

He could really give no answer but the answer of "necessity"--of a
spiritual need--issuing from a strange tangle of circumstance. The
helpless form, the upturned face of his dying father, seemed to make the
centre of it, and those faint last words, so sharply, and, as it were,
dynamically connected with the hateful memory of Otto's fall and cry in
the Marmion Quad, and the hateful ever-present fact of his maimed life.
Constance too--his scene with her on the river bank--her letter,
breaking with him--and then the soft, mysterious change in her--and that
passionate, involuntary promise in her eyes and voice, as they stood
together in her aunts' garden--all these various elements, bitter and
sweet, were mingled in the influence which was shaping his own life. He
wanted to forgive himself; and he wanted Constance to forgive him,
whether she married him or no. A kind of sublimated egotism, he said to
himself, after all!

But Otto? What had really made him consent to take up daily life with
the man to whom he owed his disaster? Falloden seemed occasionally to be
on the track of an explanation, which would then vanish and evade him.
He was conscious, however, that here also, Constance Bledlow was somehow
concerned; and, perhaps, the Pole's mystical religion. He asked himself,
indeed, as Constance had already done, whether some presentiment of
doom, together with the Christian doctrines of forgiveness and vicarious
suffering, were not at the root of it? There had been certain symptoms
apparent during Otto's last weeks at Penfold known only to the old
vicar, to himself and Sorell. The doctors were not convinced yet of the
presence of phthisis; but from various signs, Falloden was inclined to
think that the boy believed himself sentenced to the same death which
had carried off his mother. Was there then a kind of calculated charity
in his act also--but aiming in his case at an eternal reward?

"He wants to please God--and comfort Constance--by forgiving me. I want
to please her--and relieve myself, by doing something to make up to him.
He has the best of it! But we are neither of us disinterested."

       *       *       *       *       *

The manservant came out with a cup of coffee.

"How is he!" said Falloden, as he took it, glancing up at a still
curtained window.

The man hesitated.

"Well, I don't know, sir, I'm sure. He saw the doctor this morning, and
told me afterwards not to disturb him till three o'clock. But he rang
just now, and said I was to tell you that two ladies were coming
to tea."

"Did he mention their names?"

"Not as I'm aware of, sir."

Falloden pondered a moment.

"Tell Mr. Radowitz, when he rings again, that I have gone down to the
college ground for some football, and I shan't be back till after six.
You're sure he doesn't want to see me?"

"No, sir, I think not. He told me to leave the blind down, and not to
come in again till he rang."

Falloden put on flannels, and ran down the field paths towards Oxford
and the Marmion ground, which lay on the hither side of the river. Here
he took hard exercise for a couple of hours, walking on afterwards to
his club in the High Street, where he kept a change of clothes. He found
some old Marmion friends there, including Robertson and Meyrick, who
asked him eagerly after Radowitz.

"Better come and see," said Falloden. "Give you a bread and cheese
luncheon any day."

They got no more out of him. But his reticence made them visibly uneasy,
and they both declared their intention of coming up the following day.
In both men there was a certain indefinable change which Falloden soon
perceived. Both seemed, at times, to be dragging a weight too heavy for
their youth. At other times, they were just like other men of their age;
but Falloden, who knew them well, realised that they were both
hag-ridden by remorse for what had happened in the summer. And indeed
the attitude of a large part of the college towards them, and towards
Falloden, when at rare intervals he showed himself there, could hardly
have been colder or more hostile. The "bloods" were broken up; the dons
had set their faces steadily against any form of ragging; and the story
of the maimed hand, of the wrecking of Radowitz's career, together with
sinister rumours as to his general health, had spread through Oxford,
magnifying as they went. Falloden met it all with a haughty silence; and
was but seldom seen in his old haunts.

And presently it had become known, to the stupefaction of those who were
aware of the earlier facts, that victim and tormentor, the injured and
the offender, were living together in the Boar's Hill cottage where
Radowitz was finishing the composition required for his second musical
examination, and Falloden--having lost his father, his money and his
prospects--was reading for a prize fellowship to be given by Merton
in December.

       *       *       *       *       *

It was already moonlight when Falloden began to climb the long hill
again, which leads up from Folly Bridge to the height on which stood the
cottage. But the autumn sunset was not long over, and in the mingled
light all the rich colours of the fading woodland seemed to be suspended
in, or fused with, the evening air. Forms and distances, hedges, trees,
moving figures, and distant buildings were marvellously though dimly
glorified; and above the golds and reds and purples of the misty earth,
shone broad and large--an Achilles shield in heaven--the autumn moon,
with one bright star beside it.

Suddenly, out of the twilight, Falloden became aware of a pony-carriage
descending the hill, and two ladies in it. His blood leapt. He
recognised Constance Bledlow, and he supposed the other lady was Mrs.
Mulholland.

Constance on her side knew in a moment from the bearing of his head and
shoulders who was the tall man approaching them. She spoke hurriedly to
Mrs. Mulholland.

"Do you mind if I stop and speak to Mr. Falloden?"

Mrs. Mulholland shrugged her shoulders--

"Do as you like, my dear. Only don't expect me to be very forthcoming!"

Constance stopped the carriage, and bent forward.

"Mr. Falloden!"

He came up to her. Connie introduced him to Mrs. Mulholland, who bowed
coldly.

"We have just been to see Otto Radowitz," said Constance. "We found
him--very sadly, to-day." Her hesitating voice, with the note of wistful
appeal in it, affected him strangely.

"Yes, it has been a bad day. I haven't seen him at all."

"He gave us tea, and talked a great deal. He was rather excited; but he
looked wretched. And why has he turned against his doctor?"

"Has he turned against his doctor?" Falloden's tone was one of surprise.
"I thought he liked him."

"He said he was a croaker, and he wasn't going to let himself be
depressed by anybody--doctor or no."

Falloden was silent. Mrs. Mulholland interposed.

"Perhaps you would like to walk a little way with Mr. Falloden? I can
manage the pony."

Constance descended. Falloden turned back with her towards Oxford. The
pony-carriage followed at some distance behind.

Then Falloden talked freely. The presence of the light figure beside
him, in its dark dress and close-fitting cap, seemed to thaw the chill
of life. He began rapidly to pour out his own anxieties, his own sense
of failure.

"I am the last man in the world who ought to be looking after him; I
know that as well as anybody," he said, with emphasis. "But what's to be
done? Sorell can't get away from college. And Radowitz knows very few
men intimately. Neither Meyrick nor Robertson would be any better
than I."

"Oh, not so good--not nearly so good!" exclaimed Constance eagerly. "You
don't know! He counts on you."

Falloden shook his head.

"Then he counts on a broken reed. I irritate and annoy him a hundred
times a day."

"Oh, no, no--he does count on you," repeated Connie in her soft,
determined voice. "If you give up, he will be much--much worse off!"
Then she added after a moment--"Don't give up! I--I ask you!"

"Then I shall stay."

They moved on a few steps in silence, till Connie said eagerly--

"Have you any news from Paris?"

"Yes; we wrote in the nick of time. The whole thing was just being given
up for lack of funds. Now I have told him he may spend what he pleases,
so long as he does the thing."

"Please--mayn't I help?"

"Thank you. It's my affair."

"It'll be very, very expensive."

"I shall manage it."

"It would be kinder"--her voice shook a little--"if I might help."

He considered it--then said doubtfully:

"Suppose you provide the records?--the things it plays? I don't know
anything about music--and I have been racking my brains to think of
somebody in Paris who could look after that part of it."

Constance exclaimed. Why, she had several friends in Paris, in the very
thick of the musical world there! She had herself had lessons all one
winter in Paris at the Conservatoire from a dear old fellow--a Pole--a
pupil of Chopin in his youth, and in touch with the whole Polish colony
in Paris, which was steeped in music.

"He made love to me a little"--she said, laughing--"I'm sure he'd do
anything for us. I'll write at once! And there is somebody at the
Embassy--why, of course, I can set all kinds of people to work!"

And her feet began to dance along the road beside him.

"We must get some Polish music"--she went on--"there's that marvellous
young pianist they rave about in Paris--Paderewski. I'm sure he'd help!
Otto has often talked to me about him. We must have lots of Chopin--and
Liszt--though of course he wasn't a Pole!--And Polish national
songs!--Otto was only telling me to-day how Chopin loved them--how he
and Liszt used to go about the villages and farms and note them down.
Oh, we'll have a wonderful collection!"

Her eyes shone in her small, flushed face. They walked on fast, talking
and dreaming, till there was Folly Bridge in front of them, and the
beginnings of Oxford. Falloden pulled up sharply.

"I must run back to him. Will you come again?"

She held out her hand. The moonlight, shining on his powerful face and
curly hair, stirred in her a sudden, acute sense of delight.

"Oh yes--we'll come again. But don't leave him!--don't, please, think of
it! He trusts you--he leans on you."

"It is kind of you to believe it. But I am no use!"

He put her back into the carriage, bowed formally, and was gone, running
up the hill at an athlete's pace.

The two ladies drove silently on, and were soon among the movement and
traffic of the Oxford streets. Connie's mind was steeped in passionate
feeling. Till now Falloden had touched first her senses, then her pity.
Now in these painful and despondent attempts of his, to adjust himself
to Otto's weakness and irritability, he was stirring sympathies and
enthusiasms in her which belonged to that deepest soul in Connie which
was just becoming conscious of itself. And all the more, perhaps,
because in Falloden's manner towards her there was nothing left of the
lover. For the moment at any rate she preferred it so. Life was all
doubt, expectation, thrill--its colour heightened, its meanings
underlined. And in her complete uncertainty as to what turn it would
take, and how the doubt would end, lay the spell--the potent tormenting
charm--of the situation.

She was sorry, bitterly sorry for Radowitz--the victim. But she loved
Falloden--the offender! It was the perennial injustice of passion, the
eternal injustice of human things.

       *       *       *       *       *

When Falloden was half-way up the hill, he left the road, and took a
short cut through fields, by a path which led him to the back of the
cottage, where its sitting-room window opened on the garden and the
view. As he approached the house, he saw that the sitting-room blinds
had not been drawn, and some of the windows were still open. The whole
room was brilliantly lit by fire and lamp. Otto was there alone, sitting
at the piano, with his back to the approaching spectator and the moonlit
night outside. He was playing something with his left hand; Falloden
could see him plainly. Suddenly, he saw the boy's figure collapse. He
was still sitting, but his face was buried in his arm which was lying on
the piano; and through the open window, Falloden heard a sound which,
muffled as it was, produced upon him a strange and horrible impression.
It was a low cry, or groan--the voice of despair itself.

Falloden stood motionless. All he knew was that he would have given
anything in the world to recall the past; to undo the events of that
June evening in the Marmion quadrangle.

Then, before Otto could discover his presence, he went noiselessly round
the corner of the house, and entered it by the front door. In the hall,
he called loudly to the ex-scout, as he went upstairs, so that Radowitz
might know he had come back. When he returned, Radowitz was sitting over
the fire with sheets of scribbled music-paper on a small table before
him. His eyes shone, his cheeks were feverishly bright. He turned with
forced gaiety at the sight of Falloden--

"Well, did you meet them on the road?"

"Lady Constance, and her friend? Yes. I had a few words with them. How
are you now? What did the doctor say to you?"

"What on earth does it matter!" said Radowitz impatiently. "He is just a
fool--a young one--the worst sort--I can put up with the old ones. I
know my own case a great deal better than he does."

"Does he want you to stop working?" Falloden stood on the hearth,
looking down on the huddled figure in the chair; himself broad and tall
and curly-haired, like the divine Odysseus, when Athene had breathed
ambrosial youth upon him. But he was pale, and his eyes frowned
perpetually under his splendid brows.

"Some nonsense of that sort!" said Radowitz. "Don't let's talk about
it."

They went into dinner, and Radowitz sent for champagne.

"That's the only sensible thing the idiot said--that I might have that
stuff whenever I liked."

His spirits rose with the wine; and presently Falloden could have
thought what he had seen from the dark had been a mere illusion. A
review in _The Times_ of a book of Polish memoirs served to let loose a
flood of boastful talk, which jarred abominably on the Englishman. Under
the Oxford code, to boast in plain language of your ancestors, or your
own performances, meant simply that you were an outsider, not sure of
your footing. If a man really had ancestors, or more brains than other
people, his neighbours saved him the trouble of talking about them. Only
the fools and the _parvenus_ trumpeted themselves; a process in any case
not worth while, since it defeated its own ends. You might of course be
as insolent or arrogant as you pleased; but only an idiot tried to
explain why.

In Otto, however, there was the characteristic Slav mingling of quick
wits with streaks of childish vanity. He wanted passionately to make
this tough Englishman feel what a great country Poland had been and
would be again; what great people his ancestors had been; and what a
leading part they had played in the national movements. And the more he
hit against an answering stubbornness--or coolness--in Falloden, the
more he held forth. So that it was an uncomfortable dinner. And again
Falloden said to himself--"Why did I do it? I am only in his way. I
shall bore and chill him; and I don't seem to be able to help it."

But after dinner, as the night frost grew sharper, and as Otto sat over
the fire, piling on the coal, Falloden suddenly went and fetched a warm
Scotch plaid of his own. When he offered it, Radowitz received it with
surprise, and a little annoyance.

"I am not the least cold--thank you!"

But, presently, he had wrapped it round his knees; and some restraint
had broken down in Falloden.

"Isn't there a splendid church in Cracow?" he asked casually, stretching
himself, with his pipe, in a long chair on the opposite side of
the fire.

"One!--five or six!" cried Otto indignantly. "But I expect you're
thinking of Panna Marya. Panna means Lady. I tell you, you English
haven't got anything to touch it!"

"What's it like?--what date?" said Falloden, laughing.

"I don't know--I don't know anything about architecture. But it's
glorious. It's all colour and stained glass--and magnificent tombs--like
the gate of heaven," said the boy with ardour. "It's the church that
every Pole loves. Some of my ancestors are buried there. And it's the
church where, instead of a clock striking, the hours are given out by a
watchman who plays a horn. He plays an old air--ever so old--we call it
the 'Heynal,' on the top of one of the towers. The only time I was ever
in Cracow I heard a man at a concert--a magnificent player--improvise on
it. And it comes into one of Chopin's sonatas."

He began to hum under his breath a sweet wandering melody. And suddenly
he sprang up, and ran to the piano. He played the air with his left
hand, embroidering it with delicate arabesques and variations, catching
a bass here and there with a flying touch, suggesting marvellously what
had once been a rich and complete whole. The injured hand, which had
that day been very painful, lay helpless in its sling; the other
flashed over the piano, while the boy's blue eyes shone beneath his
vivid frieze of hair. Falloden, lying back in his chair, noticed the
emaciation of the face, the hollow eyes, the contracted shoulders; and
as he did so, he thought of the scene in the Magdalen ballroom--the
slender girl, wreathed in pearls, and the brilliant foreign
youth--dancing, dancing, with all the eyes of the room upon them.

Presently, with a sound of impatience, Radowitz left the piano. He could
do nothing that he wanted to do. He stood at the window for some minutes
looking out at the autumn moon, with his back to Falloden.

Falloden took up one of the books he was at work on for his fellowship
exam. When Radowitz came back to the fire, however, white and shivering,
he laid it down again, and once more made conversation. Radowitz was at
first unwilling to respond. But he was by nature _bavard_, and Falloden
played him with some skill.

Very soon he was talking fast and brilliantly again, about his artistic
life in Paris, his friends at the Conservatoire or in the Quartier
Latin; and so back to his childish days in Poland, and the uprising in
which the family estates near Warsaw had been forfeited. Falloden found
it all very strange. The seething, artistic, revolutionary world which
had produced Otto was wholly foreign to him; and this patriotic passion
for a dead country seemed to his English common sense a waste of force.
But in Otto's eyes Poland was not dead; the White Eagle, torn and
blood-stained though she was, would mount the heavens again; and in
those dark skies the stars were already rising!

At eleven, Falloden got up--

"I must go and swat. It was awfully jolly, what you've been telling me.
I know a lot I didn't know before."

A gleam of pleasure showed in the boy's sunken eyes.

"I expect I'm a bore," he said, with a shrug; "and I'd better go to
bed."

Falloden helped him carry up his books and papers. In Otto's room, the
windows were wide open, but there was a bright fire, and Bateson, the
ex-scout, was waiting to help him undress. Falloden asked some questions
about the doctor's orders. Various things were wanted from Oxford. He
undertook to get them in the morning.

When he came back to the sitting-room, he stood some time in a brown
study. He wondered again whether he had any qualifications at all as a
nurse. But he was inclined to think now that Radowitz might be worse off
without him; what Constance had said seemed less unreal; and his effort
of the evening, as he looked back on it, brought him a certain bitter
satisfaction.

       *       *       *       *       *

The following day, Radowitz came downstairs with the course of the
second movement of his symphony clear before him. He worked feverishly
all day, now writing, now walking up and down, humming and thinking, now
getting but of his piano--a beautiful instrument hired for the
winter--all that his maimed state allowed him to get; and passing hour
after hour, between an ecstasy of happy creation, and a state of
impotent rage with his own helplessness. Towards sunset he was worn out,
and with tea beside him which he had been greedily drinking, he was
sitting huddled over the fire, when he heard some one ride up to the
front door.

In another minute the sitting-room door opened, and a girl's figure in a
riding habit appeared.

"May I come in?" said Connie, flushing rather pink.

Otto sprang up, and drew her in. His fatigue disappeared as though by
magic. He seemed all gaiety and force.

"Come in! Sit down and have some tea! I was so depressed five minutes
ago--I was fit to kill myself. And now you make the room shine--you do
come in like a goddess!"

He busied himself excitedly in putting a chair for her, in relighting
the spirit kettle, in blowing up the fire.

Constance meanwhile stood in some embarrassment with one hand on the
back of a chair--a charming vision in her close fitting habit, and the
same black _tricorne_ that she had worn in the Lathom Woods, at
Falloden's side.

"I came to bring you a book, Otto, the book we talked of yesterday." She
held out a paper-covered volume. "But I mustn't stay."

"Oh, do stay!" he implored her. "Don't bother about Mrs. Grundy. I'm so
tired and so bored. Anybody may visit an invalid. Think this is a
nursing home, and you're my daily visitor. Falloden's miles away on a
drag-hunt. Ah, that's right!" he cried delightedly, as he saw that she
had seated herself. "Now you shall have some tea!"

She let him provide her, watching him the while with slightly frowning
brows. How ill he looked--how ill! Her heart sank.

"Dear Otto, how are you? You don't seem so well to-day."

"I've been working myself to death. It won't come right--this beastly
_andante_. It's too jerky--it wants _liaison_. And I can't hear it--I
can't hear it!--that's the devilish part of it."

And taking his helpless hand out of the sling in which it had been
resting, he struck it bitterly against the arm of his chair. The tears
came to Connie's eyes.

"Don't!--you'll hurt yourself. It'll be all right--it'll be all right!
You'll hear it in your mind." And bending forward under a sudden
impulse, she took the maimed hand in her two hands--so small and
soft--and lifting it tenderly she put her lips to it.

He looked at her in amazement.

"You do that--for me?"

"Yes. Because you are a great artist--and a brave man!" she said,
gulping. "You are not to despair. Your music is in your soul--your
brain. Other people shall play it for you."

He calmed down.

"At least I am not deaf, like Beethoven," he said, trying to please her.
"That would have been worse. Do you know, last night Falloden and I had
a glorious talk? He was awfully decent. He made me tell him all about
Poland and my people. He never scoffed once. He makes me do what the
doctor says. And last night--when it was freezing cold--he brought
a rug and wrapped it round me. Think of that!"--he looked at
her--half-shamefaced, half-laughing--"_Falloden!_"

Her eyes shone.

"I'm glad!" she said softly. "I'm glad!"

"Yes, but do you know why he's kind--why he's here at all?" he asked her
abruptly.

"What's the good of silly questions?" she said hastily. "Take it as it
comes."

He laughed.

"He does it--I'm going to say it!--yes, I am--and you are not to be
angry--he does it because--simply--he's in love with you!"

Connie flushed again, more deeply, and he, already alarmed by his own
boldness, looked at her nervously.

"You are quite wrong." Her tone was quiet, but decided. "He did it,
first of all, because of what you did for his father--"

"I did nothing!" interposed Radowitz.

She took no notice.

"And secondly"--her voice shook a little--"because--he was sorry.
Now--now--he is doing it"--suddenly her smile flashed out, with its
touch of humour--"just simply because he likes it!"

It was a bold assertion. She knew it. But she straightened her slight
shoulders, prepared to stick to it.

Radowitz shook his head.

"And what am I doing it for? Do you remember when I said to you I
loathed him?"

"No--not him."

"Well, something in him--the chief thing, it seemed to me then. I felt
towards him really--as a man might feel towards his murderer--or the
murderer of some one else, some innocent, helpless person who had given
no offence. Hatred--loathing--abhorrence!--you couldn't put it too
strongly. Well then,"--he began poking at the fire, while he went on
thinking aloud--"God brought us together in that strange manner. By the
way"--he turned to her--"are you a Christian?"

"I--I don't know. I suppose I am."

"I am," he said firmly. "I am a practising Catholic. Catholicism with us
Poles is partly religion, partly patriotism--do you understand? I go to
confession--I am a communicant. And for some time I couldn't go to
Communion at all. I always felt Falloden's hand on my shoulder, as he
was pushing me down the stairs; and I wanted to kill him!--just that!
You know our Polish blood runs hotter than yours. I didn't want the
college to punish him. Not at all. It was my affair. After I saw you in
town, it grew worse--it was an obsession. When we first got to
Yorkshire, Sorell and I, and I knew that Falloden was only a few miles
away, I never could get quit of it--of the thought that some
day--somewhere--I should kill him. I never, if I could help it, crossed
a certain boundary line that I had made for myself, between our side of
the moor, and the side which belonged to the Fallodens. I couldn't be
sure of myself if I had come upon him unawares. Oh, of course, he would
soon have got the better of me--but there would have been a struggle--I
should have attacked him--and I might have had a revolver. So for your
sake"--he turned to look at her with his hollow blue eyes--"I kept away.
Then, one evening, I quite forgot all about it. I was thinking of the
theme for the slow movement in my symphony, and I didn't notice where I
was going. I walked on and on over the hill--and at last I heard a man
groaning--and there was Sir Arthur by the stream. I saw at once that he
was dying. There I sat, alone with him. He asked me not to leave him. He
said something about Douglas, 'Poor Douglas!' And when the horrible
thing came back--the last time--he just whispered, 'Pray!' and I said
our Catholic prayers that our priest had said when my mother died. Then
Falloden came--just in time--and instead of wanting to kill him, I
waited there, a little way off, and prayed hard for myself and him!
Queer, wasn't it? And afterwards--you know--I saw his mother. Then the
next day, I confessed to a dear old priest, who was very kind to me, and
on the Sunday he gave me Communion. He said God had been very gracious
to me; and I saw what he meant. That very week I had a hemorrhage, the
first I ever had."

Connie gave a sudden, startled cry. He turned again to smile at her.

"Didn't you know? No, I believe no one knew, but Sorell and the doctors.
It was nothing. It's quite healed. But the strange thing was how
extraordinarily happy I felt that week. I didn't hate Falloden any more.
It was as though a sharp thorn had gone from one's mind. It didn't last
long of course, the queer ecstatic feeling. There was always my
hand--and I got very low again. But something lasted; and when Falloden
said that extraordinary thing--I don't believe he meant to say it at
all!--suggesting we should settle together for the winter--I knew
that I must do it. It was a kind of miracle--one thing after
another--driving us."

His voice dropped. He remained gazing absently into the fire.

"Dear Otto"--said Constance softly--"you have forgiven him?"

He smiled.

"What does that matter? Have you?"

His eager eyes searched her face. She faltered under them.

"He doesn't care whether I have or not."

At that he laughed out.

"Doesn't he? I say, did you ask us both to come--on purpose--that
afternoon?--in the garden?"

She was silent.

"It was bold of you!" he said, in the same laughing tone. "But it has
answered. Unless, of course, I bore him to death. I talk a lot of
nonsense--I can't help it--and he bears it. And he says hard, horrid
things, sometimes--and my blood boils--and I bear it. And I expect he
wants to break off a hundred times a day--and so do I. Yet here we stay.
And it's you"--he raised his head deliberately--"it's you who are really
at the bottom of it."

Constance rose trembling from her chair.

"Don't say any more, dear Otto. I didn't mean any harm. I--I was so
sorry for you both."

He laughed again softly.

"You've got to marry him!" he said triumphantly. "There!--you may go
now. But you'll come again soon. I know you will!"

She seemed to slip, to melt, out of the room. But he had a last vision
of flushed cheeks, and half-reproachful eyes.



CHAPTER XVIII

On the day following Constance's visit to the Boar's Hill cottage she
wrote to Radowitz:--

     "DEAR OTTO,--I am going to ask you not to raise the subject
     you spoke of yesterday to me again between us. I am afraid I
     should find my visits a pain instead of a joy, if you did so.
     And Mrs. Mulholland and I want to come so much--sometimes
     alone, and sometimes together. We want to be mother and
     sister as much as we can, and you will let us! We know very
     well that we are poor painted things compared with real
     mothers and sisters. Still we should love to do our best--_I_
     should--if you'll let me!"

To which Otto replied:--

     "DEAR CONSTANCE,--(That's impudence, but you told me!)--I'll
     hold my tongue--though I warn you I shall only think the
     more. But you shan't have any cause to punish me by not
     coming. Good heavens!--if you didn't come!

     "The coast is always clear here between two and four. I get
     my walk in the morning."

Two or three days a week accordingly, Constance, or Mrs. Mulholland, or
both took their way to the cottage. They did all that women with soft
hearts can do for a sick man. Mrs. Mulholland managed the servants, and
enquired into the food. Connie brought books and flowers, and all the
Oxford gossip she could collect. Their visit was the brightness of the
boy's day, and thanks to them, many efforts were made to soften his
calamity. The best musical talent that Oxford could furnish was eager to
serve him; and a well-known orchestra was only waiting for the
completion of his symphony and the result of his examination to produce
the symphony in the hall of Marmion.

Meanwhile Connie very rarely saw Falloden--except in connection either
with Otto's health, or with the "Orpheus," as to which Falloden was in
constant communication with the inventor, one Auguste Chaumart, living
in a garret on the heights of Montmartre; while Constance herself was
carrying on an eager correspondence with friends of her own or her
parents, in Paris, with regard to the "records" which were to make the
repertory of the Orpheus. The automatic piano--or piano-player--which
some years later became the pianola, was in those days rapidly
developing. The difference between it and the Orpheus lay in the fact
that the piano-player required hands and feet of flesh and blood for
anything more than a purely mechanical rendering of the music provided
by the rolls; while in the Orpheus, expression, accent, interpretation,
as given by the best pianists of the day, had been already registered in
the cylinders.

On the pianola, or what preceded it--then as now--the player provided
his own rendering. But the Orpheus, the precursor also of types that
have since been greatly perfected, was played by an electrical
mechanism, and the audience was intended to listen to Chopin or
Beethoven, to Schumann or Brahms, as interpreted by the famous players
of the moment, without any intervening personality.

These things are very familiar to our generation. In the eighties, they
were only a vision and a possibility, and Falloden's lavish expenditure
was in fact stimulating one of the first inventors.

But Connie also was playing an important part. Both Lord and Lady
Risborough had possessed devoted friends in Paris, and Connie had made
others of her own among the young folk with whom she had danced and
flirted and talked during a happy spring with her parents in the Avenue
Marceau. She had set these playfellows of hers to work, and with most
brilliant success. Otto's story, as told by her vivacious letters, had
gone the round. No woman of twice her age could have told it more
adroitly. Otto appeared as the victim of an unfortunate accident in a
college frolic; Falloden as the guardian friend; herself, as his
lieutenant. It touched the romantic sense, the generous heart of musical
Paris. There were many who remembered Otto's father and mother and the
musical promise of the bright-haired boy. The Polish colony in Paris, a
survival from the tragic days of Poland's exodus under the revolutionary
skies of the thirties and the sixties, had been appealed to, and both
Polish and French musicians were already in communication with Chaumart,
and producing records under his direction. The young Polish marvel of
the day--Paderewski--had been drawn in, and his renderings of Chopin's
finest work were to provide the bulk of the rolls. Connie's dear old
Polish teacher, himself a composer, was at work on a grouping of
folk-songs from Poland and Lithuania--the most characteristic utterance
of a martyred people.

"They are songs, _chère petite_," wrote the old man--"of revolt, of
exile, and of death. There is no other folk-song like them in the
world, just as there is no history in the world like Poland's. Your poor
friend knows them all--has known them all from his childhood. They will
speak to him of his torn country. He will hear in them the cry of the
White Eagle--the White Eagle of Poland--as she soars wounded and
bleeding over the southern plains, or sinks dying into the marshes and
forests of Lithuania. It is in these songs that we Poles listen to the
very heart-beats of our outraged country. Our songs--our music--our
poets--our memories:--as a nation that is all we have--except the faith
in us that never dies. _Hinc surrectura!_ Yes, she shall rise again, our
Poland! Our hope is in God, and in the human heart, the human
conscience, that He has made. Comfort your friend. He has lost much,
poor boy!--but he has still ears to hear, a brain, an imagination to
conceive. Let him work still for music and for Poland--they will some
day reward him!"

And as a last contribution, a young French pianist, rising rapidly into
fame both as a virtuoso and a composer, was writing specially a series
of variations on the lovely theme of the "Heynal"--that traditional
horn-song, played every hour in the ears of Cracow, from the tower of
Panna Marya--of which Otto had spoken to Falloden.

But all these things were as yet hidden from Otto. Falloden and
Constance corresponded about them, in letters that anybody might have
read, which had behind them, nevertheless, a secret and growing force of
emotion. Even Mrs. Mulholland, who was rapidly endearing herself both to
Constance and Radowitz, could only guess at what was going on, and when
she did guess, held her tongue. But her relations with Falloden, which
at the beginning of his residence in the cottage had been of the
coldest, gradually became less strained. To his own astonishment, he
found the advice of this brusque elderly woman so important to him that
he looked eagerly for her coming, and obeyed her with a docility which
amazed himself and her. The advice concerned, of course, merely the
small matters of daily life bearing on Otto's health and comfort, and
when the business was done, Falloden disappeared.

But strangely amenable, and even humble as he might appear in these
affairs to those who remembered his haughty days in college, for both
Constance and Mrs. Mulholland quite another fact emerged from their
experience of the cottage household during these weeks:--simply
this--that whatever other people might do or be, Falloden was steadily,
and perhaps unconsciously, becoming master of the situation, the
indispensable and protecting power of Otto's life.

How he did it remained obscure. But Mrs. Mulholland at least--out of a
rich moral history--guessed that what they saw in the Boar's Hill
cottage was simply the working out of the old spiritual paradox--that
there is a yielding which is victory, and a surrender which is power. It
seemed to her often that Radowitz was living in a constant state of
half-subdued excitement, produced by the strange realisation that he and
his life had become so important to Falloden that the differences of
training and temperament between them, and all the little daily rubs, no
longer counted; that he existed, so to speak, that Falloden
might--through him--escape the burden of his own remorse. The hard,
strong, able man, so much older than himself in character, if not in
years, the man who had bullied and despised him, was now becoming his
servant, in the sense in which Christ was the "servant" of his brethren.
Not with any conscious Christian intention--far from it; but still under
a kind of mysterious compulsion. The humblest duties, the most trivial
anxieties, where Radowitz was concerned, fell, week by week,
increasingly to Falloden's portion. A bad or a good night--appetite or
no appetite--a book that Otto liked--a visit that amused him--anything
that for the moment contented the starved musical sense in Otto, that
brought out his gift, and his joy in it--anything that, for the moment,
enabled him to forget and evade his injuries--these became, for Falloden
also, the leading events of his own day. He was reading hard for his
fellowship, and satisfying various obscure needs by taking as much
violent exercise as possible; but there was going on in him, all the
time, an intense spiritual ferment, connected with Constance Bledlow on
the one side, and Otto Radowitz on the other.

Meanwhile--what was not so evident to this large-hearted observer--Otto
was more than willing--he burned--to play his part. All that is mystical
and passionate in the soul of a Polish Catholic, had been stirred in him
by his accident, his growing premonition of short life, the bitterness
of his calamity, the suddenness of his change of heart towards Falloden.

"My future is wrecked. I shall never live to be old. I shall never be a
great musician. But I mean to live long enough to make Constance happy!
She shall talk of me to her children. And I shall watch over
her--perhaps--from another world."

These thoughts, and others like them, floated by day and night through
the boy's mind; and he wove them into the symphony he was writing.
Tragedy, passion, melody--these have been the Polish heritage in music;
they breathe through the Polish peasant songs, as through the genius of
a Chopin; they are bound up with the long agony of Polish history, with
the melancholy and monotony of the Polish landscape. They spoke again
through the beautiful thwarted gift of this boy of twenty, through his
foreboding of early death, and through that instinctive exercise of his
creative gift, which showed itself not in music alone, but in the
shaping of two lives--Falloden's and Connie's.

       *       *       *       *       *

And Constance too was living and learning, with the intensity that comes
of love and pity and compunction. She was dropping all her spoilt-child
airs; and the bower-bird adornments, with which she had filled her
little room in Medburn House, had been gradually cleared away, to Nora's
great annoyance, till it was almost as bare as Nora's own. Amid the
misty Oxford streets, and the low-ceiled Oxford rooms, she was played
upon by the unseen influences of that "august place," where both the
great and the forgotten dead are always at work, shaping the life of the
present. In those days Oxford was still praising "famous men and the
fathers who begat" her. Their shades still walked her streets. Pusey was
not long dead. Newman, the mere ghost of himself, had just preached a
tremulous last sermon within her bounds, returning as a kind of
spiritual Odysseus for a few passing hours to the place where he had
once reigned as the most adored son of Oxford. Thomas Hill Green, with
the rugged face, and the deep brown eyes, and the look that made
pretence and cowardice ashamed, was dead, leaving a thought and a
teaching behind him that his Oxford will not let die. Matthew Arnold had
yet some years to live and could occasionally be seen at Balliol or at
All Souls; while Christ Church and Balliol still represented the rival
centres of that great feud between Liberal and Orthodox which had
convulsed the University a generation before.

In Balliol, there sat a chubby-faced, quiet-eyed man, with very white
hair, round whom the storms of orthodoxy had once beaten, like the
surges on a lighthouse; and at Christ Church and in St. Mary's the
beautiful presence and the wonderful gift of Liddon kept the old fires
burning in pious hearts.

And now into this old, old place, with its thick soil of dead lives and
deeds, there had come a new seed, as to which no one could tell how it
would flower. Women students were increasing every term in Oxford.
Groups of girl graduates in growing numbers went shyly through the
streets, knowing that they had still to justify their presence in this
hitherto closed world--made by men for men. There were many hostile eyes
upon them, watching for mistakes. But all the generous forces in Oxford
were behind them. The ablest men in the University were teaching women
how to administer--how to organise. Some lecture-rooms were opening to
them; some still entirely declined to admit them. And here and there
were persons who had a clear vision of the future to which was trending
this new eagerness of women to explore regions hitherto forbidden them
in the House of Life.

Connie had no such vision, but she had a boundless curiosity and a
thrilling sense of great things stirring in the world. Under Nora's lead
she had begun to make friends among the women students, and to find her
way into their little bed-sitting-rooms at tea time. They all seemed to
her superhumanly clever; and superhumanly modest. She had been brought
up indeed by two scholars; but examinations dazzled and appalled her.
How they were ever passed, she could not imagine. She looked at the
girls who had passed them with awe, quite unconscious the while of the
glamour she herself possessed for these untravelled students, as one
familiar from her childhood with the sacred places of history--Rome,
Athens, Florence, Venice, Sicily. She had seen, she had trodden; and
quiet eyes--sometimes spectacled--would flame, while her easy talk
ran on.

But all the time there were very critical notions in her, hidden deep
down.

"Do they never think about a _man_?" some voice in her seemed to be
asking. "As for me, I am always thinking about a man!" And the colour
would flush into her cheeks, as she meekly asked for another cup of tea.

Sometimes she would go with Nora to the Bodleian, and sit patiently
beside her while Nora copied Middle-English poetry from an early
manuscript, worth a king's ransom. Nora got sevenpence a "folio," of
seventy-two words, for her work. Connie thought the pay scandalous for
so much learning; but Nora laughed at her, and took far more pleasure in
the small cheque she received at the end of term from the University
Press than Connie in her quarterly dividends.

But Connie knew very well by this time that Nora was not wholly absorbed
in Middle English. Often, as they emerged from the Bodleian to go home
to lunch, they would come across Sorell hurrying along the Broad, his
master's gown floating behind him. And he would turn his fine ascetic
face towards them, and wave his hand to them from the other side of the
street. And Connie would flash a look at Nora,--soft, quick,
malicious--of which Nora was well aware.

But Connie rarely said a word. She was handling the situation indeed
with great discretion; though with an impetuous will. She herself had
withdrawn from the Greek lessons, on the plea that she was attending
some English history lectures; that she must really find out who fought
the battle of Hastings; and was too lazy to do anything else. Sometimes
she would linger in the schoolroom till Sorell arrived, and then he
would look at her wistfully, when she prepared to depart, as though to
say--"Was this what I bargained for?"

But she always laughed and went. And presently as she crossed the hall
again, and heard animated voices in the schoolroom, her brown eyes would
show a merry satisfaction.

Meanwhile Nora was growing thinner and handsomer day by day. She was
shedding awkwardness without any loss of that subacid sincerity that was
her charm. Connie, as much as she dared, took her dressing in hand. She
was never allowed to give a thing; but Annette's fingers were quick and
clever, and Nora's Spartan garb was sometimes transformed by them under
the orders of a coaxing or audacious Constance. The mere lifting of the
load of care had let the young plant shoot. So that many persons passing
Ewen Hooper's second daughter in the street would turn round now to look
at her in surprise. Was that really the stout, podgy schoolgirl, who had
already, by virtue of her strong personality, made a certain impression
in the university town? People had been vaguely sorry for her; or
vaguely thought of her as plain but good. Alice of course was pretty;
Nora had the virtues. And now here she was, bursting into good looks
more positive than her sister's.

The girl's heart indeed was young at last, for the neighbourhood of
Connie was infectious. The fairy-godmothering of that young woman was
going finely. It was the secret hope at the centre of her own life which
was playing like captured sunshine upon all the persons about her. Her
energy was prodigious. Everything to do with money matters had been
practically settled between her and Sorell and Uncle Ewen; and settled
in Connie's way, expressed no doubt in business form. And now she was
insisting firmly on the holiday visit to Rome, in spite of many protests
from Uncle Ewen and Nora. It was a promise, she declared.
Rome--Rome--was their fate. She wrote endless letters, enquiring for
rooms, and announcing their coming to her old friends. Uncle Ewen soon
had the startled impression that all Rome was waiting for them, and that
they could never live up to it.

Finally, Connie persuaded them to settle on rooms in a well-known small
hotel, overlooking the garden-front of the Palazzo Barberini, where she
had grown up. She wrote to the innkeeper, Signor B., "a very old friend
of mine," who replied that the "_amici_" of the "_distintissima
signorina_" should be most tenderly looked after. As for the contessas
and marchesas who wrote, eagerly promising their "dearest Constance"
that they would be kind to her relations, they were many; and when Ewen
Hooper said nervously that it was clear he must take out both a
frock-coat and dress clothes, Constance laughed and said, "Not at
all!--Signer B. will lend you any thing you want,"--a remark which, in
the ears of the travellers to be, threw new and unexpected light on the
functions of an Italian innkeeper. Meanwhile she piled up guide-books,
she gathered maps; and she taught both her uncle and Nora Italian. And
so long as she was busied with such matters she seemed the gayest of
creatures, and would go singing and laughing about the house.

In another old house in Oxford, too, her coming made delight. She spent
many long hours beside the Master of Beaumont's fire, gathering fresh
light on the ways of scholarship and scholars. The quarrels of the
learned had never hitherto come her way. Her father had never quarrelled
with anybody. But the Master--poor great man!--had quarrelled with so
many people! He had missed promotions which should have been his; he had
made discoveries of which others had got the credit; and he kept a quite
amazing stock of hatreds in some pocket of his vast intelligence.
Constance would listen at first to the expression of them in an awed
silence. Was it possible the world contained such mean and treacherous
monsters? And why did it matter so much to a man who knew
everything?--who held all the classics and all the Renaissance in the
hollow of his hand, to whom "Latin was no more _difficile_, than to a
blackbird 'tis to whistle"? Then, gradually, she began to have the
courage to laugh; to try a little soft teasing of her new friend and
mentor, who was at once so wonderful and so absurd. And the Master bore
it well, could indeed never have too much of her company; while his
white-haired sister beamed at the sight of her. She became the child of
a childless house, and when Lady Langmoor sent her peremptory
invitations to this or that country mansion where she would meet "some
charming young men," Connie would reply--"Best thanks, dear Aunt
Langmoor--but I am very happy here--and comfortably in love with a
gentleman on the sunny side of seventy. Please don't interfere!"

Only with Herbert Pryce was she ever thorny in these days. She could not
forgive him that it was not till his appointment at the Conservative
Central Office, due to Lord Glaramara's influence, was actually signed
and sealed that he proposed to Alice. Till the goods had been delivered,
he never finally committed himself. Even Nora had underrated his
prudence. But at last one evening he arrived at Medburn House after
dinner with the look of one whose mind is magnificently made up. By
common consent, the drawing-room was abandoned to him and Alice, and
when they emerged, Alice held her head triumphantly, and her lover was
all jocosity and self-satisfaction.

"She really is a dear little thing," he said complacently to Connie,
when the news had been told and excitement subsided. "We shall do
capitally."

"_Enfin?_" said Connie, with the old laugh in her eyes. "You are quite
sure?"

He looked at her uneasily.

"It never does to hurry these things," he said, rather pompously. "I
wanted to feel I could give her what she had a right to expect. We owe
you a great deal, Lady Constance--or--perhaps now--I may call you
Constance?"

Constance winced, and pointedly avoided giving him leave. But for
Alice's sake, she held her tongue. The wedding was to be hurried on, and
Mrs. Hooper, able for once to buy new frocks with a clear conscience,
and possessed of the money to pay for them, was made so happy by the
bustle of the trousseau that she fell in love with her prospective
son-in-law as the cause of it. Ewen Hooper meanwhile watched him with
mildly shrewd eyes, deciding once more in his inner mind that
mathematicians were an inferior race.

Not even to Nora--only to Mrs. Mulholland, did Constance ever lift the
veil, during these months. She was not long in succumbing to the queer
charm of that lovable and shapeless person; and in the little
drawing-room in St. Giles, the girl of twenty would spend winter
evenings, at the feet of her new friend, passing through various stages
of confession; till one night, Mrs. Mulholland lifted the small face,
with her own large hand, and looked mockingly into the brown eyes:

"Out with it, my dear! You are in love with Douglas Falloden!"

Connie said nothing. Her little chin did not withdraw itself, nor did
her eyes drop. But a film of tears rushed into them.

The truth was that in this dark wintry Oxford, and its neighbouring
country, there lurked a magic for Connie which in the high summer pomps
it had never possessed. Once or twice, in the distance of a winding
street--on some football ground in the Parks--in the gallery of St.
Mary's on Sunday, Constance caught sight, herself unseen, of the tall
figure and the curly head. Such glimpses made the fever of her young
life. They meant far more to passion than her occasional meetings with
Falloden at the Boar's Hill cottage. And there were other points of
contact. At the end of November, for instance, came the Merton
Fellowship. Falloden won it, in a brilliant field; and Connie contrived
to know all she wanted to know as to his papers, and his rivals. After
the announcement of his success, she trod on air. Finally she allowed
herself to send him a little note of congratulation--very short and
almost formal. He replied in the same tone.

Two days later, Falloden went over to Paris to see for himself the
condition of the Orpheus, and to arrange for its transport to England.
He was away for nearly a week, and on his return called at once in
Holywell, to report his visit. Nora was with Connie in the drawing-room
when he was announced; and a peremptory look forbade her to slip away.
She sat listening to the conversation.

Was this really Douglas Falloden--this grave, courteous man--without a
trace of the "blood" upon him? He seemed to her years older than he had
been in May, and related, for the first time, to the practical every-day
world. This absorption too in Otto Radowitz and his affairs--incredible!
He and Connie first eagerly discussed certain domestic details of the
cottage--the cook, the food, the draughts, the arrangements to be made
for Otto's open-air treatment which the doctors were now insisting
on--with an anxious minuteness! Nora could hardly keep her face straight
in the distance--they were so like a pair of crooning housewives. Then
he began on his French visit, sitting sideways on his chair, his elbow
on the back of it, and his hand thrust into his curly mass of
hair--handsomer, thought Nora, than ever. And there was Connie
listening spell-bound in a low chair opposite, her delicate pale profile
distinct against the dark panelling of the room, her eyes fixed on him.
Nora's perplexed eyes travelled from one to the other.

As to the story of the Orpheus and its inventor, both girls hung upon
it. Falloden had tracked Auguste Chaumart to his garret in Montmartre,
and had found in him one of those marvellous French workmen, inheritors
of the finest technical tradition in the world, who are the true sons of
the men who built and furnished and carved Versailles, and thereby
revolutionised the minor arts of Europe. A small pinched fellow!--with a
sickly wife and children sharing his tiny workshop, and a brain teeming
with inventions, of which the electric piano, forerunner of the
Welte-Mignons of later days, was but the chief among many. He had spent
a fortune upon it, could get no capitalist to believe in it, and no firm
to take it up. Then Falloden's astonishing letter and offer of funds,
based on Radowitz's report--itself the echo of a couple of letters from
Paris--had encouraged the starving dreamer to go on.

Falloden reproduced the scene, as described to him by the chief actor in
it, when the inventor announced to his family that the thing was
accomplished, the mechanism perfect, and how that very night they should
hear Chopin's great Fantasia, Op. 49, played by its invisible hands.

The moment came. Wife and children gathered, breathless. Chaumart turned
on the current, released the machinery.

"_Ecoutez, mes enfants! Ecoutez, Henriette_!"

They listened--with ears, with eyes, with every faculty strained to its
utmost. And nothing happened!--positively nothing--beyond a few wheezing
or creaking sounds. The haggard inventor in despair chased everybody out
of the room, and sat looking at the thing, wondering whether to smash
it, or kill himself. Then an idea struck him. In feverish haste he took
the whole mechanism to pieces again, sitting up all night. And as the
morning sun rose, he discovered in the very heart of the creature, to
which by now he attributed an uncanny and independent life, the most
elementary blunder--a vital connection missed between the
power-supplying mechanism and the cylinders containing the records. He
set it right; and nearly dead with fatigue and excitement, unlocked his
door, and called his family back. Then what triumph! What falling on
each other's necks--and what a _déjeuner_ in the Palais Royal--children
and all--paid for by the inventor's last napoleon!

All this Falloden told, and told well.

Connie could not restrain her pleasure as he came to the end of his
tale. She clapped her hands in delight.

"And when--when will it come!"

"I think Christmas will see it here. I've only told you half--and the
lesser half. It's you that have done most--far the most."

And he took out a little note-book, running through the list of visits
he had paid to her friends and correspondents in Paris, among whom the
rolls were being collected, under Chaumart's direction. The Orpheus
already had a large musical library of its own--renderings by some of
the finest artists of some of the noblest music. Beethoven, Bach, Liszt,
Chopin, Brahms, Schumann--all Otto's favourite things, as far as Connie
had been able to discover them, were in the catalogue.

Suddenly, her eyes filled with tears. She put down the note-book, and
spoke in a low voice, as though her girlish joy in their common secret
had suddenly dropped.

"It must give him some pleasure--it must!" she said, slowly, but as
though she asked a question.

Falloden did not reply immediately. He rose from his seat. Nora, under a
quick impulse, gathered up a letter she had been writing, and slipped
out of the room.

"At least"--he looked away from her, straight out of the window--"I
suppose it will please him--that we tried to do something."

"How is he--really?"

He shrugged his shoulders. Connie was standing, looking down, one hand
on her chair. The afternoon had darkened; he could see only her white
brow, and the wealth of her hair which the small head carried so
lightly. Her childishness, her nearness, made his heart beat. Suddenly
she lifted her eyes.

"Do you know"--it seemed to him her voice choked a little--"how
much--you matter to him? Mrs. Mulholland and I couldn't keep him
cheerful while you were away."

He laughed.

"Well, I have only just escaped a catastrophe to-day."

She looked alarmed.

"How?"

"I offended Bateson, and he gave notice!" Connie's "Oh!" was a sound of
consternation. Bateson, the ex-scout had become a most efficient and
comfortable valet, and Otto depended greatly upon him.

"It's all right," said Falloden quickly. "I grovelled. I ate all the
humble-pie I could think of. It was of course impossible to let him go.
Otto can't do without him. I seem somehow to have offended his dignity."

"They have so much!" said Connie, laughing, but rather unsteadily.

"One lives and learns." The tone of the words was serious--a little
anxious. Then the speaker took up his hat. "But I'm not good at managing
touchy people. Good night."

Her hand passed into his. The little fingers were cold; he could not
help enclosing them in a warm, clinging grasp. The firelit room, the
dark street outside, and the footsteps of the passers-by--they all
melted from consciousness. They only saw and heard each other.

In another minute the outer door had closed behind them. Connie was left
still in the same attitude, one hand on the chair, her head drooping,
her heart in a dream.

Falloden ran through the streets, choosing the by-ways rather than the
thoroughfares. The air was frosty, the December sky clear and starlit,
above the blue or purple haze, pierced with lights, that filled the
lower air; through which the college fronts, the distant spires and
domes showed vaguely--as beautiful "suggestions"--"notes"--from which
all detail had disappeared. He was soon on Folly Bridge, and hurrying up
the hill he pushed straight on over the brow to the Berkshire side,
leaving the cottage to his right. Fold after fold of dim wooded country
fell away to the south of the ridge; bare branching trees were all
about him; a patch of open common in front where bushes of
winter-blossoming gorse defied the dusk. It was the English winter at
its loveliest--still, patient, expectant--rich in beauties of its own
that summer knows nothing of. But Falloden was blind to it. His pulses
were full of riot. She had been so near to him--and yet so far away--so
sweet, yet so defensive. His whole nature cried out fiercely for her. "I
want her!--_I want her!_ And I believe she wants me. She's not afraid of
me now--she turns to me. What keeps us apart? Nothing that ought to
weigh for a moment against our double happiness!"

He turned and walked stormily homewards. Then as he saw the roof and
white walls of the cottage through the trees his mood wavered--and fell.
There was a life there which he had injured--a life that now depended on
him. He knew that, more intimately than Connie knew it, often as he had
denied it to her. And he was more convinced than Otto himself--though
never by word or manner had he ever admitted it for a moment--that the
boy was doomed--not immediately, but after one of those pitiful
struggles which have their lulls and pauses, but tend all the same
inevitably to one end.

"And as long as he lives, I shall look after him," he thought, feeling
that strange compulsion on him again, and yielding to it with mingled
eagerness and despair.

For how could he saddle Connie's life with such a charge--or darken it
with such a tragedy?

Impossible! But that was only one of many reasons why he should not take
advantage of her through their common pity for Otto. In his own eyes he
was a ruined man, and having resolutely refused to live upon his
mother, his pride was little more inclined to live upon a wife, common,
and generally applauded, though the practice might be. About five
thousand pounds had been saved for himself out of the wreck; of which he
would certainly spend a thousand, before all was done, on the Orpheus.
The rest would just suffice to launch him as a barrister. His mother
would provide for the younger children. Her best jewels indeed had been
already sold and invested as a dowry for Nelly, who showed signs of
engaging herself to a Scotch laird. But Falloden was joint guardian of
Trix and Roger, and must keep a watchful eye on them, now that his
mother's soft incompetence had been more plainly revealed than ever by
her widow-hood. He chafed under the duties imposed, and yet fulfilled
them--anxiously and well--to the amazement of his relations.

In addition he had his way to make in the world.

But Constance had only to be a little more seen and known in English
society to make the most brilliant match that any scheming chaperon
could desire, Falloden was aware through every pulse of her fast
developing beauty. And although no great heiress, as heiresses now go,
she would ultimately inherit a large amount of scattered money, in
addition to what she already possessed. The Langmoors would certainly
have her out of Oxford at the earliest possible moment--and small
blame to them.

In all this he reasoned as a man of his class and antecedents was likely
to reason--only with a bias against himself. To capture Connie, through
Otto, before she had had any other chances of marriage, seemed to him a
mean and dishonorable thing.

If he had only time--time to make his career!

But there would be no time given him. As soon as her Risborough
relations got hold of her, Constance would marry directly.

He went back to the cottage in a sombre mood. Then, as Otto proved to be
in the same condition, Falloden had to shake off his own depression as
quickly as possible, and spend the evening in amusing and distracting
the invalid.

       *       *       *       *       *

But Fortune, which had no doubt enjoyed the nips she had inflicted on so
tempting a victim, was as determined as before to take her own
capricious way.

By this time it was the last week of term, and a sharp frost had set in
over the Thames Valley. The floods were out north and south of the city,
and a bright winter sun shone all day over the glistening ice-plains,
and the throng of skaters.

At the beginning of the frost came the news of Otto's success in his
musical examination; and at a Convocation, held shortly after it, he put
on his gown as Bachelor of Music. The Convocation House was crowded to
see him admitted to his degree; and the impression produced, as he made
his way through the throng towards the Vice-Chancellor, by the frail,
boyish figure, the startling red-gold hair, the black sling, and the
haunting eyes, was long remembered in Oxford. Then Sorell claimed him,
and hurried him up to London for doctors and consultations since the
effort of the examination had left him much exhausted.

Meanwhile the frost held, and all Oxford went skating. Constance
performed indifferently, and both Nora and Uncle Ewen were bent upon
improving her. But there were plenty of cavaliers to attend her,
whenever she appeared, either on Port Meadow or the Magdalen flood
water; and her sound youth delighted physically in the exercise, in the
play of the brisk air about her face, and the alternations of the bright
winter day--from the pale blue of its morning skies, hung behind the
snow-sprinkled towers and spires of Oxford, down to the red of sunset,
and the rise of those twilight mists which drew the fair city gently
back into the bosom of the moonlit dark.

But all the time the passionate sense in her watched and waited. The
"mere living" was good--"yet was there better than it!"

And on the second afternoon, out of the distance of Magdalen meadow, a
man came flying towards her as it seemed on the wings of the wind.
Falloden drew up beside her, hovering on his skates, a splendid vision
in the dusk, ease and power in every look and movement.

"Let me take you a run with the wind," he said, holding out his hand.
"You shan't come to any harm."

Her eyes and her happy flush betrayed her. She put her hand in his, and
away they flew, up the course of the Cherwell, through the flooded
meadows. It seemed the very motion of gods; the world fell away. Then,
coming back, they saw Magdalen Tower, all silver and ebony under the
rising moon, and the noble arch of the bridge. The world was all
transmuted. Connie's only hold on the kind, common earth seemed to lie
in this strong hand to which she clung; and yet in that touch, that
hold, lay the magic that was making life anew.

But soon the wind had risen gustily, and was beating in her face,
catching at her breath.

"This is too cold for you!" said Falloden abruptly; and wheeling round,
he had soon guided her into a more sheltered place, and there, easily
gliding up and down, soul and sense fused in one delight, they passed
one of those hours for which there is no measure in our dull human time.
They would not think of the past; they shrank from imagining the future.
There were shadows and ghosts behind them, and ahead of them; but the
sheer present mastered them.

Before they parted, Falloden told his companion that the Orpheus would
arrive from Paris the following day with a trio of French workmen to set
it up. The electric installation was already in place. Everything would
be ready by the evening. The instrument was to be placed behind a screen
in the built-out room, once a studio, which Falloden had turned into a
library. Otto rarely or never went there. The room looked north, and he,
whose well-being hung upon sunshine, disliked it. But there was no other
place for the Orpheus in the little cottage, and Falloden who had been
getting new and thick curtains for the windows, improving the
fire-place, and adding some armchairs, was eagerly hopeful that he could
turn it into a comfortable music-room for Otto in the winter evenings,
while he--if necessary--read his law elsewhere.

"Will you come for a rehearsal to-morrow?" he asked her. "Otto comes
back the day after."

"No, no! I won't hear anything, not a note--till he comes! But is he
strong enough?" she added wistfully. Strong enough, she meant, to bear
agitation and surprise. But Falloden reported that Sorell knew
everything that was intended, and approved. Otto had been very listless
and depressed in town; a reaction no doubt from his spurt of work before
the musical exam. Sorell thought the pleasure of the gift might rouse
him, and gild the return to Oxford.



CHAPTER XIX

"Have some tea, old man, and warm up," said Falloden, on his knees
before a fire already magnificent, which he was endeavouring to improve.

"What do you keep such a climate for?" growled Radowitz, as he hung
shivering over the grate.

Sorell, who had come with the boy from the station, eyed him anxiously.
The bright red patches on the boy's cheeks, and his dry, fevered look,
his weakness and his depression, had revived the most sinister fears in
the mind of the man who had originally lured him to Oxford, and felt
himself horribly responsible for what had happened there. Yet the London
doctors on the whole had been reassuring. The slight hemorrhage of the
summer had had no successor; there were no further signs of active
mischief; and for his general condition it was thought that the nervous
shock of his accident, and the obstinate blood-poisoning which had
followed it, might sufficiently account. The doctors, however, had
pressed hard for sunshine and open-air--the Riviera, Sicily, or Algiers.
But the boy had said vehemently that he couldn't and wouldn't go alone,
and who could go with him? A question that for the moment stopped the
way. Falloden's first bar examination was immediately ahead; Sorell was
tied to St. Cyprian's; and every other companion so far proposed had
been rejected with irritation.

Unluckily, on this day of his return, the Oxford skies had put on again
their characteristic winter gloom. The wonderful fortnight of frost and
sun was over; tempests of wind and deluges of rain were drowning it fast
in flood and thaw. The wind shrieked round the little cottage, and
though it was little more than three o'clock, darkness was coming fast.

Falloden could not keep still. Having made up the fire, he brought in a
lamp himself; he drew the curtains, then undrew them again, apparently
that he might examine a stretch of the Oxford road just visible through
the growing dark; or he wandered in and out of the room, his hands in
his pockets whistling. Otto watched him with a vague annoyance. He
himself was horribly tired, and Falloden's restlessness got on
his nerves.

At last Falloden said abruptly, pausing in front of him--

"You'll have some visitors directly!"

Otto looked up. The gaiety in Falloden's eyes informed him, and at the
same time, wounded him.

"Lady Constance?" he said, affecting indifference.

"And Mrs. Mulholland. I believe I see their carriage."

And Falloden, peering into the stormy twilight, opened the garden door
and passed out into the rain.

Otto remained motionless, bent over the fire. Sorell was talking with
the ex-scout in the dining-room, impressing on him certain medical
directions. Radowitz suddenly felt himself singularly forlorn, and
deserted. Of course, Falloden and Constance would marry. He always knew
it. He would have served to keep them together, and give them
opportunities of meeting, when they might have easily drifted entirely
apart. He laughed to himself as he thought of Connie's impassioned
cry--"I shall never, never, marry him!" Such are the vows of women. She
would marry him; and then what would he, Otto, matter to her or to
Falloden any longer? He would have been no doubt a useful peg and
pretext; but he was not going to intrude on their future bliss. He
thought he would go back to Paris. One might as well die there
as anywhere.

There were murmurs of talk and laughter in the hall. He sat still,
hugging his melancholy. But when the door opened, he rose quickly,
instinctively; and, at the sight of the girl coming in so timidly behind
Mrs. Mulholland, her eyes searching the half-lit room, and the smile, in
them and on her lips, held back till she knew whether her poor friend
could bear with smiles, Otto's black hour began to lift. He let himself,
at least, be welcomed and petted; and when fresh tea had been brought
in, and the room was full of talk, he lay back in his chair, listening,
the deep lines in his forehead gradually relaxing. He was better, he
declared, a great deal better; in fact there was very little at all the
matter with him. His symphony was to be given at the Royal College of
Music early in the year. Everybody had been awfully decent about it. And
he had begun a nocturne that amused him. As for the doctors, he repeated
petulantly that they were all fools--it was only a question of degree.
He intended to manage his life as he pleased in spite of them.

Connie sat on a high stool near him while he talked. She seemed to be
listening, but he once or twice thought, resentfully, that it was a
perfunctory listening. He wondered what else she was thinking about.

The tea was cleared away. And presently the three others had
disappeared. Otto and Constance were left alone.

"I have been reading so much about Poland lately," said Constance
suddenly. "Oh, Otto, some day you must show me Cracow!"

His face darkened.

"I shall never see Cracow again. I shall never see it with you."

"Why not? Let's dream!"

The smiling tenderness in her eyes angered him. She was treating him
like a child; she was so sure he never could--or never would--make
love to her!

"I shall never go to Cracow," he said, with energy, "not even with you.
I was to have gone--a year from now. It was all arranged. We have
relations there--and I have friends there--musicians. The _chef
d'orchestre_--at the Opera House--he was one of my teachers in Paris.
Before next year, I was to have written a concerto on some of our Polish
songs--there are scores of them that Liszt and Chopin never discovered.
Not only love-songs, mind you!--songs of revolution--battle-songs."

His eyes lit up and he began to hum an air--to Polish words--that even
as given out in his small tenor voice stirred like a trumpet.

"Fine!" said Constance.

"Ah, but you can't judge--you don't know the words. The words are
splendid. It's 'Ujejski's Hymn'--the Galician Hymn of '46." And he fell
to intoning.

     "Amid the smoke of our homes that burn,
     From the dust where our brothers lie bleeding--
     Our cry goes up to Thee, oh God!

"There!--that's something like it."

And he ran on with a breathless translation of the famous dirge for the
Galician rebels of '46, in which a devastated land wails like Rachel for
her children.

Suddenly a sound rose--a sound reedy and clear, like a beautiful voice
in the distance.

"Constance!"

The lad sprang to his feet. Constance laid hold on him.

"Listen, dear Otto--listen a moment!"

She held him fast, and breathing deep, he listened. The very melody he
had just been humming rang out, from the same distant point; now pealing
through the little house in a rich plenitude of sound, now delicate and
plaintive as the chant of nuns in a quiet church, and finally crashing
to a defiant and glorious close.

"What is it?" he Said, very pale, looking at her almost threateningly.
"What have you been doing!"

"It's our gift--our surprise--dear Otto!"

"Where is it? Let me go."

"No!--sit down, and listen! Let me listen with you. I've not heard it
before! Mr. Falloden and I have been preparing it for months. Isn't it
wonderful? Oh, dear Otto!--if you only like it!" He sat down trembling,
and hand in hand they listened.

The "Fantasia" ran on, dealing with song after song, now simply, now
with rich embroidery and caprice.

"Who is it playing?" said Otto, in a whisper.

"It _was_ Paderewski!" said Constance between laughing and crying. "Oh,
Otto, everybody's been at work for it!--everybody was so
marvellously keen!"

"In Paris?"

"Yes--all your old friends--your teachers--and many others."

She ran through the names. Otto choked. He knew them all, and some of
them were among the most illustrious in French music.

But while Connie was speaking, the stream of sound in the distance sank
into gentleness, and in the silence a small voice arose, naïvely,
pastorally sweet, like the Shepherd's Song in "Tristan." Otto buried his
face in his hands. It was the "Heynal," the watchman's horn-song from
the towers of Panna Marya. Once given, a magician caught it, played with
it, pursued it, juggled with it, through a series of variations till,
finally, a grave and beautiful modulation led back to the noble dirge of
the beginning.

"I know who wrote that!--who must have written it!" said Otto, looking
up. He named a French name. "I worked with him at the Conservatoire
for a year."

Constance nodded.

"He did it for you," she said, her eyes full of tears. "He said you were
the best pupil he ever had."

The door opened, and Mrs. Mulholland's white head appeared, with
Falloden and Sorell behind.

"Otto!" said Mrs. Mulholland, softly.

He understood that she called him, and he went with her in bewilderment,
along the passage to the studio.

Falloden came into the sitting-room and shut the door.

"Did he like it?" he asked, in a low voice, in which there was neither
pleasure nor triumph.

Connie, who was still sitting on the stool by the fire with her face
turned away, looked up.

"Oh, yes, yes!" she said in a kind of desperation, wringing her hands;
"but why are some pleasures worse than pain--much worse?"

Falloden came up to her, and stood silently, his eyes on hers.

"You see"--she went on, dashing tears away--"it is not his work--his
playing! It can't do anything--can it, for his poor starved self?"

Falloden said nothing. But she knew that he felt with her. Their scheme
seemed to be lying in ruins; they were almost ashamed of it.

Then from the further room there came to their ears a prelude of Chopin,
played surely by more than mortal fingers--like the rustling of summer
trees, under a summer wind. And suddenly they heard Otto's laugh--a
sound of delight.

Connie sprang up--her face transformed.

"Did you hear that? We have--we have--given him pleasure!"

"Yes--for an hour," said Falloden hoarsely. Then he added--"The doctors
say he ought to go south.".

"Of course he ought!" Connie was pacing up and down, her hands behind
her, her eyes on the ground. "Can't Mr. Sorell take him?"

"He could take him out, but he couldn't stay. The college can't spare
him. He feels his first duty is to the college?"

"And you?" She raised her eyes timidly.

"What good should I be alone?" he said, with difficulty. "I'm a pretty
sort of a nurse!"

There was a pause. Connie trembled and flushed. Then she moved forward,
both her little hands outstretched.

"Take me with you!" she murmured under her breath. But her eyes said
more--far more.

The next moment she was in Falloden's arms, strained against his
breast--everything else lost and forgotten, as their lips met, in the
just selfishness of passion.

Then he released her, stepping back from her, his strong face quivering.

"I was a mean wretch to let you do that!" he said, with energy.

She eyed him.

"Why?"

"Because I have no right to let you give yourself to me--throw
yourself away on me--just because we have been doing this thing
together,--because you are sorry for Otto--and"--his voice
dropped--"perhaps for me."

"Oh!" It was a cry of protest. Coming nearer she put her two hands
lightly on his shoulders--.

"Do you think"--he saw her breath fluttering--"do you think I should let
any one--any one--kiss me--like that! just because I was sorry for
them--or for some one else?"

He stood motionless beneath her touch.

"You are sorry for me--you angel!--and you're sorry for Otto--and you
want to make up to everybody--and make everybody happy--and--"

"And one can't!" said Connie quietly, her eyes bright with tears. "Don't
I know that? I repeat"--her colour was very bright--"but perhaps you
won't believe, that--that"--then she laughed--"_of my own free will_, I
never kissed anybody before?"

"Constance!" He threw his strong arms round her again. But she slipped
out of them.

"Am I believed?" The tone was peremptory.

Falloden stooped, lifted her hand and kissed it humbly.

"You know you ought to marry a duke!" he said, trying to laugh, but with
a swelling throat.

"Thank you--I never saw a duke yet I wanted to marry."

"That's it. You've seen so little. I am a pauper, and you might marry
anybody. It's taking an unfair advantage. Don't you see--what--"

"What my aunts will think?" asked Constance coolly. "Oh, yes, I've
considered all that."

She walked away, and came back, a little pale and grave. She sat down on
the arm of a chair and looked up at him.

"I see. You are as proud as ever."

That hurt him. His face changed.

"You can't really think that," he said, with difficulty.

"Yes, yes, you are!" she said, wildly, covering her eyes a moment with
her hands. "It's just the same as it was in the spring--only
different--I told you then--"

"That I was a bully and a cad!"

Her hands dropped sharply.

"I didn't!" she protested. But she coloured brightly as she spoke,
remembering certain remarks of Nora's. "I thought--yes I did think--you
cared too much about being rich--and a great swell--and all that. But so
did I!" She sprang up. "What right had I to talk? When I think how I
patronised and looked down upon everybody!"

"You!" his tone was pure scorn. "You couldn't do such a thing if you
tried for a week of Sundays."

"Oh, couldn't I? I did. Oxford seemed to me just a dear, stupid old
place--out of the world,--a kind of museum--where nobody mattered.
Silly, wasn't it?--childish?" She drew back her head fiercely, as though
she defied him to excuse her. "I was just amusing myself with it--and
with Otto--and with you. And that night, at Magdalen, all the time I was
dancing with Otto, I was aiming--abominably--at you! I wanted to provoke
you--to pay you back--oh, not for Otto's sake--not at all!--but just
because--I had asked you something--and you had refused. That was what
stung me so. And do you suppose I should have cared twopence, unless--"

Her voice died away. Her fingers began fidgeting with the arm of the
chair, her eyes bent upon them.

He looked at her a moment irresolute, his face working. Then he said
huskily--

"In return--for that--I'll tell you--I must tell you the real truth
about myself. I don't think you know me yet--and I don't know myself.
I've got a great brutal force in me somewhere--that wants to brush
everything--that hinders me--or checks me--out of my path. I don't know
that I can control it--that I can make a woman happy. It's an awful risk
for you. Look at that poor fellow!" He flung out his hand towards that
distant room whence came every now and then a fresh wave of music. "I
didn't intend to do him any bodily harm--"

"Of course not! It was an accident!" cried Connie passionately.

"Perhaps--strictly. But I did mean somehow to crush him--to make it
precious hot for him--just because he'd got in my way. My will was like
a steel spring in a machine--that had been let go. Suppose I felt like
that again, towards--"

"Towards me?" Connie opened her eyes very wide, puckering her pretty
brow.

"Towards some one--or something--you care for. We are certain to
disagree about heaps of things."

"Of course we are. Quite certain!"

"I tell you again"--said Falloden, speaking with a strong simplicity and
sincerity that was all the time undoing the impression he honestly
desired to make--"It's a big risk for you--a temperament like mine--and
you ought to think it over seriously. And then"--he paused abruptly in
front of her, his hands in his pockets--"why should you--you're so
young!--start life with any burden on you? Why should you? It's
preposterous! I must look after Otto all his life."

"So must I!" said Connie quickly. "That's the same for both of us."

"And then--you may forget it--but I can't. I repeat--I'm a pauper. I've
lost Flood. I've lost everything that I could once have given you. I've
got about four thousand pounds left--just enough to start me at the
bar--when I've paid for the Orpheus. And I can't take a farthing from my
mother or the other children. I should be just living upon you. How do I
know that I shall get on at the bar?"

Connie smiled; but her lips trembled.

"Do think it over," he implored; and he walked away from her again, as
though to leave her free.

There was a silence. He turned anxiously to look at her.

"I seem"--said Connie, in a low voice that shook--"to have kissed
somebody--for nothing."

That was the last stroke. He came back to her, and knelt beside her,
murmuring inarticulate things. With a sigh of relief, Connie subsided
upon his shoulder, conscious through all her emotion of the dear
strangeness of the man's coat against her cheek. But presently, she drew
herself away, and looked him in the eyes, while her own swam.

"I love you"--she said deliberately--"because--well, first because I
love you!--that's the only good reason, isn't it; and then, because
you're so sorry. And I'm sorry too. We've both got to make up--we're
going to make up all we can." Her sweet face darkened. "Oh, Douglas,
it'll take the two of us--and even then we can't do it! But we'll help
each other."

And stooping she kissed him gently, lingeringly, on the brow. It was a
kiss of consecration.

       *       *       *       *       *

A few minutes more, and then, with the Eighth Prelude swaying and
dancing round them, they went hand in hand down the long approach to the
music-room.

The door was open, and they saw the persons inside. Otto and Sorell were
walking up and down smoking cigarettes. The boy was radiant,
transformed. All look of weakness had disappeared; he held himself
erect; his shock of red-gold hair blazed in the firelight, and his eyes
laughed, as he listened silently, playing with his cigarette. Sorell
evidently was thinking only of him; but he too wore a look of
quiet pleasure.

Only Mrs. Mulholland sat watchful, her face turned towards the open
door. It wore an expression which was partly excitement, partly doubt.
Her snow-white hair above her very black eyes, and her frowning, intent
look, gave her the air of an old Sibyl watching at the cave's mouth.

But when she saw the two--the young man and the girl--coming towards
her, hand in hand, she first peered at them intently, and then, as she
rose, all the gravity of her face broke up in laughter.

"Hope for the best, you foolish old woman!" she said to herself--"'Male
and female made He them!'--world without end--Amen!"

"Well?" She moved towards them, as they entered the room; holding out
her hands with a merry, significant gesture.

Otto and Sorell turned. Connie--crimson--threw herself on Mrs.
Mulholland's neck and kissed her. Falloden stood behind her, thinking of
a number of things to say, and unable to say any of them.

The last soft notes of the Prelude ceased.

It was for Connie to save the situation. With a gentle, gliding step,
she went across to Otto, who had gone very white again.

"Dear Otto, you told me I should marry Douglas, and I'm going to. That's
one to you. But I won't marry him--and he agrees--unless you'll promise
to come to Algiers with us a month from now. You'll lend him to us,
won't you?"--she turned pleadingly to Sorell--"we'll take such care of
him. Douglas--you may be surprised!--is going to read law at Biskra!"

Otto sank into a chair. The radiance had gone. He looked very frail and
ghostly. But he took Connie's outstretched hand.

"I wish you joy," he said, stumbling painfully over the words. "I do
wish you joy!--with all my heart."

Falloden approached him. Otto looked up wistfully. Their eyes met, and
for a moment the two men were conscious only of each other.

Mrs. Mulholland moved away, smiling, but with a sob in her throat.

"It's like all life," she thought--"love and death, side by side."

And she remembered that comparison by a son of Oxford, of each moment,
as it passes, to a watershed "whence equally the seas of life and
death are fed."

But Connie was determined to carry things off with a laugh. She sat down
beside Otto, looking businesslike.

"Douglas and I"--the name came out quite pat--"have been discussing how
long it really takes to get married."

Mrs. Mulholland laughed.

"Mrs. Hooper has been enjoying Alice's trousseau so much, you needn't
expect she'll let you get through yours in a hurry."

"It's going to be my trousseau, not Aunt Ellen's," said Connie with
decision. "Let me see. It's now nearly Christmas. Didn't we say the 12th
of January?" She looked lightly at Falloden.

"Somewhere near it," said Falloden, his smile at last answering hers.

"We shall want a fortnight, I suppose, to get used to each other," said
Connie coolly. "Then"--she laid a hand on Mrs. Mulholland's knee--"you
bring him to Marseilles to meet us?"

"Certainly--at your orders."

Connie looked at Otto.

"Dear Otto?" The soft tone pleaded. He started painfully.

"You're awfully good to me. But how can I come to be a burden on you?"

"But I shall go too," said Mrs. Mulholland firmly.

Connie exclaimed in triumph.

"We four--to front the desert!--while he"--she nodded towards
Sorell--"is showing Nora and Uncle Ewen Rome. You mayn't know it"--she
addressed Sorell--"but on Monday, January 24th--I think I've got the
date right--you and they go on a picnic to Hadrian's Villa. The
weather's arranged for--and the carriage is ordered."

She looked at him askance; but her colour had risen. So had his. He
looked down on her while Mrs. Mulholland and Falloden were both talking
fast to Otto.

"You little witch!" said Sorell in a low voice--"what are you after
now?"

Connie laughed in his face.

"You'll go--you'll see!"

       *       *       *       *       *

The little dinner which followed was turned into a betrothal feast.
Champagne was brought in, and Otto, madly gay, boasted of his forebears
and the incomparable greatness of Poland as usual. Nobody minded. After
dinner the magic toy in the studio discoursed Brahms and Schumann, in
the intervals of discussing plans and chattering over maps. But Connie
insisted on an early departure. "My guardian will have to sleep upon
it--and there's really no time to lose." Every one took care not to see
too much of the parting between her and Falloden. Then she and Mrs.
Mulholland were put into their carriage. But Sorell preferred to walk
home, and Falloden went back to Otto.

Sorell descended the hill towards Oxford. The storm was dying away, and
the now waning moon, which had shone so brilliantly over the frozen
floods a day or two before, was venturing out again among the scudding
clouds. The lights in Christ Church Hall were out, but the beautiful
city shone vaguely luminous under the night.

Sorell's mind was full of mingled emotion--as torn and jagged as the
clouds rushing overhead. The talk and laughter in the cottage came back
to him. How hollow and vain it sounded in the spiritual ear! What could
ever make up to that poor boy, who could have no more, at the most, than
a year or two to live, for the spilt wine of his life?--the rifled
treasure of his genius? And was it not true to say that his loss had
made the profit of the two lovers--of whom one had been the author of
it? When Palloden and Constance believed themselves to be absorbed in
Otto, were they not really playing the great game of sex like any
ordinary pair?

It was the question that Otto himself had asked--that any cynic must
have asked. But Sorell's tender humanity passed beyond it. The injury
done, indeed, was beyond repair. But the mysterious impulse which had
brought Falloden to the help of Otto was as real in its sphere as the
anguish and the pain; aye, for the philosophic spirit, more real than
they, and fraught with a healing and disciplining power that none could
measure. Sorell admitted--half reluctantly--the changes in life and
character which had flowed from it. He was even ready to say that the
man who had proved capable of feeling it, in spite of all past
appearances, was "not far from the Kingdom of God."

Oxford drew nearer and nearer. Tom Tower loomed before him. Its great
bell rang out. And suddenly, as if he could repress it no longer, there
ran through Scroll's mind--his half melancholy mind, unaccustomed to the
claims of personal happiness--the vision that Connie had so sharply
evoked; of a girl's brown eyes, and honest look--the look of a child to
be cherished, of a woman to be loved.

Was it that morning that he had helped Nora to translate a few lines of
the "Antigone"?

"Love, all conquering love, that nestles in the fair cheeks of a
maiden--"

It is perhaps not surprising that Sorell, on this occasion, after he had
entered the High, should have taken the wrong turn to St. Cyprian's, and
wakened up to find himself passing through the Turl, when he ought to
have been in Radcliffe Square.





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