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Title: The Marriage of William Ashe
Author: Ward, Humphry, Mrs., 1851-1920
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "The Marriage of William Ashe" ***

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[Illustration: LADY KITTY BRISTOL]

The Marriage
of
William Ashe

BY

MRS. HUMPHRY WARD
Author of "Lady Rose's Daughter" "Eleanor" etc.


ILLUSTRATED BY
ALBERT STERNER

[Illustration]

1905



Contents

                                  PAGE
PART I. ACQUAINTANCE . . . . . . .   1
PART II. THREE YEARS AFTER . . . . 125
PART III. DEVELOPMENT  . . . . . . 293
PART IV. STORM . . . . . . . . . . 365
PART V. REQUIESCAT . . . . . . . . 511



TO

D.M.W.

DAUGHTER AND FRIEND

I INSCRIBE THIS BOOK


MARCH, 1905



Illustrations

LADY KITTY BRISTOL . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  _Frontispiece_
LADY TRANMORE AND MARY LYSTER  . . . . . . . . . . . . _Facing page_   6
"A SLIM GIRL IN WHITE AT THE FAR END OF THE LARGE ROOM"  . . . . . .  44
THE FINISHING TOUCHES  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 200
"HE GATHERED HER IN HIS ARMS"  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 278
"THE ACTRESS PAUSED TO STARE AT LADY KITTY"  . . . . . . . . . . . . 438
"SHE THOUGHT OF CLIFFE STANDING BESIDE THE DOOR OF THE GREAT HALL" . 474
"HE DREW SOME CHAIRS TOGETHER BEFORE THE FIRE" . . . . . . . . . . . 556



PART I

ACQUAINTANCE

                              "Just oblige me and touch
     With your scourge that minx Chloe, but don't hurt her much."



The Marriage of William Ashe



I


"He ought to be here," said Lady Tranmore, as she turned away from the
window.

Mary Lyster laid down her work. It was a fine piece of church
embroidery, which, seeing that it had been designed for her by no less a
person than young Mr. Burne Jones himself, made her the envy of her
pre-Raphaelite friends.

"Yes, indeed. You made out there was a train about twelve."

"Certainly. They can't have taken more than an hour to speechify after
the declaration of the poll. And I know William meant to catch that
train if he possibly could."

"And take his seat this evening?"

Lady Tranmore nodded. She moved restlessly about the room, fidgeting
with a book here and there, and evidently full of thoughts. Mary Lyster
watched her a little longer, then quietly took up her work again. Her
air of well-bred sympathy, the measured ease of her movements,
contrasted with Lady Tranmore's impatience. Yet in truth she was
listening no less sharply than her companion to the sounds in the
street outside.

Lady Tranmore made her way to the window, and stood there looking out on
the park. It was the week before Easter, and the plane-trees were not
yet in leaf. But a few thorns inside the park railings were already
lavishly green and there was a glitter of spring flowers beside the park
walks, not showing, however, in such glorious abundance as became the
fashion a few years later. It was a mild afternoon and the drive was
full of carriages. From the bow-window of the old irregular house in
which she stood, Lady Tranmore could watch the throng passing and
repassing, could see also the traffic in Park Lane on either side.
London, from this point of sight, wore a cheerful, friendly air. The dim
sunshine, the white-clouded sky, the touches of reviving green and
flowers, the soft air blowing in from a farther window which was open,
brought with them impressions of spring, of promise, and rebirth, which
insensibly affected Lady Tranmore.

"Well, I wonder what William will do, this time, in Parliament!" she
said, as she dropped again into her seat by the fire and began to cut
the pages of a new book.

"He is sure to do extremely well," said Miss Lyster.

Lady Tranmore shrugged her shoulders. "My dear--do you know that William
has been for eight years--since he left Trinity--one of the idlest young
men alive?"

"He had one brief!"

"Yes--somewhere in the country, where all the juniors get one in turn,"
said Lady Tranmore. "That was the year he was so keen and went on
circuit, and never missed a sessions. Next year nothing would induce
him to stir out of town. What has he done with himself all these eight
years? I can't imagine."

"He has grown--uncommonly handsome," said Mary Lyster, with a momentary
hesitation as she threaded her needle afresh.

"I never remember him anything else," said Lady Tranmore. "All the
artists who came here and to Narroways wanted to paint him. I used to
think it would make him a spoiled little ape. But nothing spoiled him."

Miss Lyster smiled. "You know, Cousin Elizabeth--and you may as well
confess it at once!--that you think him the ablest, handsomest, and
charmingest of men!"

"Of course I do," said Lady Tranmore, calmly. "I am certain,
moreover--now--that he will be Prime Minister. And as for idleness,
that, of course, is only a _façon de parler_. He has worked hard enough
at the things which please him."

"There--you see!" said Mary Lyster, laughing.

"Not politics, anyway," said the elder lady, reflectively. "He went
into the House to please me, because I was a fool and wanted to see
him there. But I must say when his constituents turned him out last
year I thought they would have been a mean-spirited set if they
hadn't. They knew very well he'd never done a stroke for them.
Attendances--divisions--perfectly scandalous!"

"Well, here he is, in triumphantly for somewhere else--with all sorts of
delightful prospects!"

Lady Tranmore sighed. Her white fingers paused in their task.

"That, of course, is because--now--he's a personage. Everything'll be
made easy for him now. My dear Mary, they talk of England's being a
democracy!"

The speaker raised her handsome shoulders; then, as though to shake off
thoughts of loss and grief which had suddenly assailed her, she abruptly
changed the subject.

"Well--work or no work--the first thing we've got to do is to marry
him."

She looked up sharply. But not the smallest tremor could she detect in
Mary Lyster's gently moving hand. There was, however, no reply to her
remark.

"Don't you agree, Polly?" said Lady Tranmore, smiling.

Her smile--which still gave great beauty to her face--was charming, but
a little sly, as she observed her companion.

"Why, of course," said Miss Lyster, inclining her head to one side that
she might judge the effect of some green shades she had just put in.
"But that surely will be made easy for him, too."

"Well, after all, the girls can't propose! And I never saw him take any
interest in a girl yet--outside his own family, of course," added Lady
Tranmore, hastily.

"No--he does certainly devote himself to the married women," replied
Miss Lyster, in the half-absent tone of one more truly interested in her
embroidery than in the conversation.

"He would sooner have an hour with Madame d'Estrées than a week with the
prettiest miss in London. That's quite true, but I vow it's the girls'
own fault! They should stand on their dignity--snub the creatures
more! In my young days--"

[Illustration: LADY TRANMORE AND MARY LYSTER]

"Ah, there wasn't a glut of us then," said Mary, calmly. "Listen!"--she
held up her hand.

"Yes," said Lady Tranmore, springing up. "There he is."

She stood waiting. The door flew open, and in came a tall young man.

"William, how late you are!" said Lady Tranmore, as she flew into his
arms.

"Well, mother, are you pleased?"

Her son held her at arm's-length, smiling kindly upon her.

"Of course I am," said Lady Tranmore. "And you--are you horribly tired?"

"Not a bit. Ah, Mary!--how do you do?"

Miss Lyster had risen, and the cousins shook hands.

"But I don't deny it's very jolly to come back--out of all that beastly
scrimmage," said the new member, as he threw himself into an arm-chair
by the fire with his hands behind his head, while Lady Tranmore prepared
him a cup of tea.

"I expect you've enjoyed it," said Miss Lyster, also moving towards the
fire.

"Well, when you're in it there's a certain excitement in wondering how
you're going to come out of it! But one might say that, of course, of
the infernal regions."

"Not quite," said Mary Lyster, smiling demurely.

"Polly! you _are_ a Tory. Everybody else's hell has moved--but yours!
Thank you, mother," as Lady Tranmore gave him tea. Then, stretching out
his great frame in lazy satisfaction, he turned his brown eyes from one
lady to the other. "I say, mother, I haven't seen anything as
good-looking as you--or Polly there, if she'll forgive me--for weeks."

"Hold your tongue, goose," said his mother, as she replenished the
teapot. "What--there were no pretty girls--not one?"

"Well, they didn't come my way," said William, contentedly munching at
bread-and-butter. "I have gone through all the usual humbug--and
perjured my soul in all the usual ways--without any consolation worth
speaking of."

"Don't talk nonsense, sir," said Lady Tranmore. "You know you like
speaking--and you like compliments--and you've had plenty of both."

"You didn't read me, mother!"

"Didn't I?" she said, smiling. He groaned, and took another piece of
tea-cake.

"My own family at least, don't you think, might omit that?"

"H'm, sir--So you didn't believe a word of your own speeches?" said Lady
Tranmore, as she stood behind him and smoothed his hair back from his
forehead.

"Well, who does?" He looked up gayly and kissed the tips of her fingers.

"And it's in that spirit you're going back into the House?" Mary Lyster
threw him the question--with a slight pinching of the lips--as she
resumed her work.

"Spirit? What do you mean, Polly? One plays the game, of course--and it
has its moments--its hot corners, so to speak--or I suppose no one would
play it!"

"And the goal?" She lifted a gently disapproving face, in a movement
which showed anew the large comeliness of head and neck.

"Why--to keep the other fellows out, of course!" He lifted an arm and
drew his mother down to sit on the edge of his chair.

"William, you're not to talk like that," said Lady Tranmore, decidedly,
laying her cheek, however, against His hand the while. "It was all very
well when you were quite a free-lance--but now--Oh! never mind
Mary--she's discreet--and she knows all about it."

"What--that they're thinking of giving me Hickson's place? Parham has
just written to me--I found the letter down-stairs--to ask me to go and
see him."

"Oh! it's come?" said Lady Tranmore, with a start of pleasure. Lord
Parham was the Prime Minister. "Now don't be a humbug, William, and
pretend you're not pleased. But you'll have to work, mind!" She held up
an admonishing finger. "You'll have to answer letters, mind!--you'll
have to keep appointments, mind!"

"Shall I?... Ah!--Hudson--"

He turned. The butler was in the room.

"His lordship, my lady, would like to see Mr. William before dinner if
he could make it convenient."

"Certainly, Hudson, certainly," said the young man. "Tell his lordship
I'll be with him in ten minutes."

Then, as the butler departed--"How's father, mother?"

"Oh! much as usual," said Lady Tranmore, sadly.

"And you?"

He laid his arm boyishly round her waist, and looked up at her, his
handsome face all affection and life. Mary Lyster, observing them,
thought them a remarkable pair--he in the very prime and heyday of
brilliant youth, she so beautiful still, in spite of the filling-out of
middle life--which, indeed, was at the moment somewhat toned and
disguised by the deep mourning, the sweeping crape and dull silk in
which she was dressed.

"I'm all right, dear," she said, quietly, putting her hand on his
shoulder. "Now, go on with your tea. Mary--feed him! I'll go and talk to
father till you come."

She disappeared, and William Ashe approached his cousin.

"She _is_ better?" he said, with an anxiety that became him.

"Oh yes! Your election has been everything to her--and your letters. You
know how she adores you, William."

Ashe drew a long breath.

"Yes--isn't it bad luck?"

"William!"

"For her, I mean. Because, you know--I can't live up to it. I know it's
her doing--bless her!--that old Parham's going to give me this thing.
And it's a perfect scandal!"

"What nonsense, William!"

"It is!" he maintained, springing up and standing before her, with his
hands in his pockets. "They're going to offer me the Under-Secretaryship
for Foreign Affairs, and I shall take it, I suppose, and be thankful.
And do you know"--he dropped out the words with emphasis--"that I don't
know a word of German--and I can't talk to a Frenchman for half an hour
without disgracing myself. There--that's how we're governed!"

He stood staring at her with his bright large eyes--amused, yet
strangely detached--as though he had very little to do with what he was
talking about.

Mary Lyster met his look in some bewilderment, conscious all the time
that his neighborhood was very agreeable and stirring.

"But every one says--you speak so well on foreign subjects."

"Well, any fool can get up a Blue Book. Only--luckily for me--all the
fools don't. That's how I've scored sometimes. Oh! I don't deny
that--I've scored!" He thrust his hands deeper into his pockets, his
whole tall frame vibrant, as it seemed to her, with will and good-humor.

"And you'll score again," she said, smiling. "You've got a wonderful
opportunity, William. That's what the Bishop says."

"Much obliged to him!"

Ashe looked down upon her rather oddly.

"He told me he had never believed you were such an idler as other people
thought you--that he felt sure you had great endowments, and that you
would use them for the good of your country, and"--she hesitated
slightly--"of the Church. I wish you'd talk to him sometimes, William.
He sees so clearly."

"Oh! does he?" said Ashe.

Mary had dropped her work, and her face--a little too broad, with
features a trifle too strongly marked--was raised towards him. Its pale
color had passed into a slight blush. But the more strenuous expression
had somehow not added to her charm, and her voice had taken a slightly
nasal tone.

Through the mind of William Ashe, as he stood looking down upon her,
passed a multitude of flying impressions. He knew perfectly well that
Mary Lyster was one of the maidens whom it would be possible for him to
marry. His mother had never pressed her upon him, but she would
certainly acquiesce. It would have been mere mock modesty on his part
not to guess that Mary would probably not refuse him. And she was
handsome, well provided, well connected--oppressively so, indeed; a man
might quail a little before her relations. Moreover, she and he had
always been good friends, even when as a boy he could not refrain from
teasing her for a slow-coach. During his electoral weeks in the country
the thought of "Polly" had often stolen kindly upon his rare moments of
peace. He must marry, of course. There was no particular excitement or
romance about it. Now that his elder brother was dead and he had become
the heir, it simply had to be done. And Polly was very nice--quite
sweet-tempered and intelligent. She looked well, moved well, would fill
the position admirably.

Then, suddenly, as these half-thoughts rushed through his brain, a
breath of something cold and distracting--a wind from the land of
_ennui_--seemed to blow upon them and scatter them. Was it the mention
of the Bishop--tiresome, pompous fellow--or her slightly pedantic
tone--or the infinitesimal hint of "management" that her speech implied?
Who knows? But in that moment perhaps the scales of life inclined.

"Much obliged to the Bishop," he repeated, walking up and down. "I am
afraid, however, I don't take things as seriously as he does. Oh, I hope
I shall behave decently--but, good Lord, what a comedy it is! You know
the sort of articles"--he turned towards her--"our papers will be
writing to-morrow on my appointment. They'll make me out no end of a
fine fellow--you'll see! And, of course, the real truth is, as you and I
know perfectly well, that if it hadn't been for poor Freddy's death--and
mother--and her dinners--and the chaps who come here--I might have
whistled for anything of the sort. And then I go down to Ledmenham and
stand as a Liberal, and get all the pious Radicals to work for me! It's
a humbugging world--isn't it?"

He returned to the fireplace, and stood looking down upon her--grinning.

Mary had resumed her embroidery. She, too, was dimly conscious of
something disappointing.

"Of course, if you choose to take it like that, you can," she said,
rather tartly. "Of course, everything can be made ridiculous."

"Well, that's a blessing, anyway!" said Ashe, with his merry laugh. "But
look here, Mary, tell me about yourself. What have you been
doing?--dancing--riding, eh?"

He threw himself down beside her, and began an elder-brotherly
cross-examination, which lasted till Lady Tranmore returned and begged
him to go at once to his father.

When he returned to the drawing-room, Ashe found his mother alone. It
was growing dark, and she was sitting idle, her hands in her lap,
waiting for him.

"I must be off, dear," he said to her. "You won't come down and see me
take my seat?"

She shook her head.

"I think not. What did you think of your father?"

"I don't see much change," he said, hesitating.

"No, he's much the same."

"And you?" He slid down on the sofa beside her and threw his arm round
her. "Have you been fretting?"

Lady Tranmore made no reply. She was a self-contained woman, not readily
moved to tears. But he felt her hand tremble as he pressed it.

"I sha'n't fret now"--she said after a moment--"now that you've come
back."

Ashe's face took a very soft and tender expression.

"Mother, you know--you think a great deal too much of me--you're too
ambitious for me."

She gave a sound between a laugh and a sob, and, raising her hands, she
smoothed back his curly hair and held his face between them.

"When do you see Lord Parham?" she asked.

"Eight o'clock--in his room at the House. I'll send you up a note."

"You'll be home early?"

"No--don't wait for me."

She dropped her hands, after giving him a kiss on the cheek.

"I know where you're going! It's Madame d'Estrées' evening."

"Well--you don't object?"

"Object?" She shrugged her shoulders. "So long as it amuses you--You
won't find _one_ woman there to-night."

"Last time there were two," he said, smiling, as he rose from the sofa.

"I know--Lady Quantock--and Mrs. Mallory. Now they've deserted her, I
hear. What fresh gossip has turned up I don't know. Of course," she
sighed, "I've been out of the world. But I believe there have been
developments."

"Well, I don't know anything about it--and I don't think I want to know.
She's very agreeable, and one meets everybody there."

"_Everybody_. Ungallant creature!" she said, giving a little pull to his
collar, the set of which did not please her.

"Sorry! Mother!"--his laughing eyes pursued her--"Do you want to marry
me off directly?--I know you do!"

"I want nothing but what you yourself should want. Of course, you must
marry."

"The young women don't care twopence about me!"

"William!--be a bear if you like, but not an idiot!"

"Perfectly true," he declared; "not the dazzlers and the high-fliers,
anyway--the only ones it would be an excitement to carry off."

"You know very well," she said, slowly, "that now you might marry
anybody."

He threw his head back rather haughtily.

"Oh! I wasn't thinking about money, and that kind of thing. Well, give
me time, mother--don't hurry me! And now I'd better stop talking
nonsense, change my clothes, and be off. Good-bye, dear--you shall hear
when the job's perpetrated!"

"William, really!--don't say these things--at least to anybody but me.
You understand very well"--she drew herself up rather finely--"that if I
hadn't known, in spite of your apparent idleness, you would do any work
they _set_ you to do, to your own credit and the country's, I'd never
have lifted a finger for you!"

William Ashe laughed out.

"Oh! intriguing mother!" he said, stooping again to kiss her. "So you
admit you did it?"

He went off gayly, and she heard him flying up-stairs three steps at a
time, as though he were still an untamed Eton boy, and there were no
three weeks' hard political fighting behind him, and no interview which
might decide his life before him.

He entered his own sitting-room on the second floor, shut the door
behind him, and glanced round him with delight. It was a large room
looking on a side street, and obliquely to the park. Its walls were
covered with books--books which almost at first sight betrayed to the
accustomed eye that they were the familiar companions of a student.
Almost every volume had long paper slips inside it, and when opened
would have been found to contain notes and underlinings in a somewhat
reckless and destructive abundance. A large table, also loaded untidily
with books and papers, stood in the centre of the room; many of them
were note-books, stored with evidences of the most laborious and patient
work; a Cambridge text lay beside them face downward, as he had left it
on departure. His mother's housekeeper, who had been one of his best
friends from babyhood, was the only person allowed to dust his room--but
on the strict condition that she replaced everything as she found it.

He took up the volume, and plunged a moment headlong into the Greek
chorus that met his eye. "_Jolly!_" he said, putting it down with a sigh
of regret. "These beastly politics!"

And he went muttering to his dressing-room, summoning his valet almost
with ill-temper. Yet half his library was the library of a politician,
admirably chosen and exhaustively read.

The footman who answered his call understood his moods and served him at
a look. Ashe complained hotly of the brushing of his dress-clothes, and
worked himself into a fever over the set of his tie. Nevertheless,
before he left he had managed to get from the young man the whole story
of his engagement to the under-housemaid, giving him thereupon some bits
of advice, jocular but trenchant, which James accepted with a readiness
quite unlike his normal behavior in the circles of his class.



II


Ashe took his seat, dined, and saw the Prime Minister. These things took
time, and it was not till past eleven that he presented himself in the
hall of Madame d'Estrées' house in St. James's Place. Most of her guests
were already gathered, but he mounted the stairs together with an old
friend and an old acquaintance, Philip Darrell, one of the ablest
writers of the moment, and Louis Harman, artist and man of fashion, the
friend of duchesses and painter of portraits, a person much in request
in many worlds.

"What a _cachet_ they have, these houses!" said Harman, looking round
him. "St. James's Place is the top!"

"Where else would you expect to find Madame d'Estrées?" asked Darrell,
smiling.

"Yes--what taste she has! However, it was I really who advised her to
take the house."

"Naturally," said Darrell.

Harman threw a dubious look at him, then stopped a moment, and with a
complacent proprietary air straightened an engraving on the staircase
wall.

"I suppose the dear lady has a hundred slaves of the lamp, as usual,"
said Ashe. "You advise her about her house--somebody else helps her to
buy her wine--"

"Not at all, my dear fellow," said Harman, offended--"as if I couldn't
do that!"

"Hullo!" said Darrell, as they neared the drawing-room door. "What a
crowd there is!"

For as the butler announced them, the din of talk which burst through
the door implied indeed a multitude--much at their ease.

They made their way in with difficulty, shaping their course towards
that corner in the room where they knew they should find their hostess.
Ashe was greeted on all sides with friendly words and congratulations,
and a passage was opened for him to the famous "blue sofa" where Madame
d'Estrées sat enthroned.

She looked up with animation, broke off her talk with two elderly
diplomats who seemed to have taken possession of her, and beckoned Ashe
to a seat beside her.

"So you're in? Was it a hard fight?"

"A hard fight? Oh no! One would have had to be a great fool not to get
in."

"They say you spoke very well. I suppose you promised them everything
they wanted--from the crown downward?"

"Yes--all the usual harmless things," said Ashe.

Madame d'Estrées laughed; then looked at him across the top of her fan.

"Well!--and what else?"

"You can't wait for your newspaper?" he said, smiling, after a moment's
pause.

She shrugged her shoulders good-humoredly.

"Oh! I _know_--of course I know. Is it as good as you expected?"

"As good as--" The young man opened his mouth in wonder. "What right
had I to expect anything?"

"How modest! All the same, they want you--and they're very glad to get
you. But you can't save them."

"That's not generally expected of Under-Secretaries, is it?"

"A good deal's expected of _you_. I talked to Lord Parham about you last
night."

William Ashe flushed a little.

"Did you? Very kind of you."

"Not at all. I didn't flatter you in the least. Nor did he. But they're
going to give you your chance!"

She bent forward and lightly patted the sleeve of his coat with the
fingers of a very delicate hand. In this sympathetic aspect, Madame
d'Estrées was no doubt exceedingly attractive. There were, of course,
many people who were not moved by it; to whom it was the conjuring of an
arch pretender. But these were generally of the female sex. Men, at any
rate, lent themselves to the illusion. Ashe, certainly, had always done
so. And to-night the spell still worked; though as her action drew his
particular attention to her face and expression, he was aware of slight
changes in her which recalled his mother's words of the afternoon. The
eyes were tired; at last he perceived in them some slight signs of years
and harass. Up till now her dominating charm had been a kind of timeless
softness and sensuousness, which breathed from her whole
personality--from her fair skin and hair, her large, smiling eyes. She
put, as it were, the question of age aside. It was difficult to think of
her as a child; it had been impossible to imagine her as an old woman.

"Well, this is all very surprising," said Ashe, "considering that four
months ago I did not matter an old shoe to anybody."

"That was your own fault. You took no trouble. And besides--there was
your poor brother in the way."

Ashe's brow contracted.

"No, that he never was," he said, with energy. "Freddy was never in
anybody's way--least of all in mine."

"You know what I mean," she said, hastily. "And you know what friends he
and I were--poor Freddy! But, after all, the world's the world."

"Yes--we all grow on somebody's grave," said Ashe. Then, just as she
became conscious that she had jarred upon him, and must find a new
opening, he himself found it. "Tell me!" he said, bending forward with a
sudden alertness--"who is that lady?"

He pointed out a little figure in white, sitting in the opening of the
second drawing-room; a very young girl apparently, surrounded by a group
of men.

"Ah!" said Madame d'Estrées--"I was coming to that--that's my girl
Kitty--"

"Lady Kitty!" said Ashe, in amazement. "She's left school? I thought she
was quite a little thing."

"She's eighteen. Isn't she a darling? Don't you think her very pretty?"

Ashe looked a moment.

"Extraordinarily bewitching!--unlike other people?" he said, turning to
the mother.

Madame d'Estrées raised her eyebrows a little, in apparent amusement.

"I'm not going to describe Kitty. She's indescribable. Besides--you
must find her out. Do go and talk to her. She's to be half with me, half
with her aunt--Lady Grosville."

Ashe made some polite comment.

"Oh! don't let's be conventional!" said Madame d'Estrées, flirting her
fan with a little air of weariness--"It's an odious arrangement. Lady
Grosville and I, as you probably know, are not on terms. She says
atrocious things of me--and I--" the fair head fell back a little, and
the white shoulders rose, with the slightest air of languid
disdain--"well, bear me witness that I don't retaliate! It's not worth
while. But I know that Grosville House can help Kitty. So!--" Her
gesture, half ironical, half resigned, completed the sentence.

"Does Lady Kitty like society?"

"Kitty likes anything that flatters or excites her."

"Then of course she likes society. Anybody as pretty as that--"

"Ah! how sweet of you!" said Madame d'Estrées, softly--"how sweet of
you! I like you to think her pretty. I like you to say so."

Ashe felt and looked a trifle disconcerted, but his companion bent
forward and added--"I don't know whether I want you to flirt with her!
You must take care. Kitty's the most fantastic creature. Oh! my life
now'll be very different. I find she takes all my thoughts and most of
my time!"

There was something extravagant in the sweetness of the smile which
emphasized the speech, and altogether, Madame d'Estrées, in this new
maternal aspect, was not as agreeable as usual. Part of her charm
perhaps had always lain in the fact that she had no domestic topics of
her own, and so was endlessly ready for those of other people. Those,
indeed, who came often to her house were accustomed to speak warmly of
her "unselfishness"--by which they meant the easy patience with which
she could listen, smile, and flatter.

Perhaps Ashe made this tacit demand upon her, no less than other people.
At any rate, as she talked cooingly on about her daughter, he would have
found her tiresome for once but for some arresting quality in that
small, distant figure. As it was, he followed what she said with
attention, and as soon as she had been recaptured by the impatient
Italian Ambassador, he moved off, intending slowly to make his way to
Lady Kitty. But he was caught in many congratulations by the road, and
presently he saw that his friend Darrell was being introduced to her by
the old habitué of the house, Colonel Warington, who generally divided
with the hostess the "lead" of these social evenings.

Lady Kitty nodded carelessly to Mr. Darrell, and he sat down beside her.

"That's a cool hand for a girl of eighteen!" thought Ashe. "She has the
airs of a princess--except for the chatter."

Chatter indeed! Wherever he moved, the sound of the light hurrying voice
made itself persistently heard through the hum of male conversation.

Yet once, Ashe, looking round to see if Darrell could be dislodged,
caught the chatterer silent, and found himself all at once invaded by a
slight thrill, or shock.

What did the girl's expression mean?--what was she thinking of? She was
looking intently at the crowded room, and it seemed to Ashe that
Darrell's talk, though his lips moved quickly, was not reaching her at
all. The dark brows were drawn together, and beneath them the eyes
looked sorely out. The delicate lips were slightly, piteously open, and
the whole girlish form in its young beauty appeared, as he watched, to
shrink together. Suddenly the girl's look, so wide and searching, caught
that of Ashe; and he moved impulsively forward.

"Present me, please, to Lady Kitty," he said, catching Warington's arm.

"Poor child!" said a low voice in his ear.

Ashe turned and saw Louis Harman. The tone, however--allusive, intimate,
patronizing--in which Harman had spoken, annoyed him, and he passed on
without taking any notice.

"Lady Kitty," said Warington, "Mr. Ashe wishes to be presented to you.
He is an old friend of your mother's. Congratulate him--he has just got
into Parliament."

Lady Kitty drew herself up, and all trace of the look which Ashe had
observed disappeared. She bowed, not carelessly as she had bowed to
Darrell, but with a kind of exaggerated stateliness, not less girlish.

"I never congratulate anybody," she said, shaking her head, "till I know
them."

Ashe opened his eyes a little.

"How long must I wait?" he said, smiling, as he drew a chair beside her.

"That depends. Are you difficult to know?" She looked up at him
audaciously, and he on his side could not take his eyes from her, so
singular was the small, sparkling face. The hair and skin were very
fair, like her mother's, the eyes dark and full of fire, the neck most
daintily white and slender, the figure undeveloped, the feet and hands
extremely small. But what arrested him was, so to speak, the embodied
contradiction of the personality--as between the wild intelligence of
the eyes and the extreme youth, almost childishness, of the rest.

He asked her if she had ever known any one confess to being easy, to
know.

"Well, I'm easy to know," she said, carelessly, leaning back; "but,
then, I'm not worth knowing."

"Is one allowed to find out?"

"Oh yes--of course! Do you know--when you were over there, I _willed_
that you should come and talk to me, and you came. Only," she sat up
with animation, and began to tick off her sentences on her
fingers--"Don't ask me how long I've been in town. Don't ask where I was
in Paris. Don't inquire whether I like balls! You see, I warn you at
once"--she looked up frankly--"that we mayn't lose time."

"Well, then, I don't see how I'm ever to find out," said Ashe, stoutly.

"Whether I'm worth knowing?" She considered, then bent forward eagerly.
"Look here! I'll just tell you everything in a lump, and then that'll
do--won't it? Listen. I'm just eighteen. I was sent to the Soeurs
Blanches when I was thirteen--the year papa died. I _didn't_ like
papa--I'm very sorry, but I didn't! However, that's by-the-way. In all
those years I have only seen maman once--she doesn't like children. But
my aunt Grosville has some French relations--very, _very_ 'comme il
faut,' you understand--and I used to go and stay with them for the
holidays. Tell me!--did you ever hunt in France?"

"Never," said Ashe, startled and amused by the sudden glance of
enthusiasm that lit up the face and expressed itself in the clasped
hands.

"Oh! it's such heaven," she said, lifting her shoulders with an
extravagant gesture--"such _heaven_! First there are the old
dresses--the men look such darlings!--and then the horns, and the old
ways they have--_si noble!--si distingué!_--not like your stupid English
hunting. And then the dogs! Ah! the _dogs_"--the shoulders went higher
still; "do you know my cousin Henri actually gave me a puppy of the
great breed--_the_ breed, you know--the Dogs of St. Hubert. Or at least
he _would_ if maman would have let me bring it over. And she wouldn't!
Just think of that! When there are thousands of people in France who'd
give the eyes out of their head for one. I cried all one
night--Allons!--faut pas y penser!"--she shook back the hair from her
eyes with an impatient gesture. "My cousins have got a château, you
know, in the Seine-et-Oise. They've promised to ask me next year--when
the Grand-Duke Paul comes--if I'll promise to behave. You see, I'm not a
bit like French girls--I had so many affairs!"

Her eyes flashed with laughter.

Ashe laughed too.

"Are you going to tell me about them also?"

She drew herself up.

"No! I play fair, always--ask anybody! Oh, I _do_ want to go back to
France so badly!" Once more she was all appeal and childishness.
"Anyway, I won't stay in England! I have made up my mind to that!"

"How long has it taken?"

"A fortnight," she said, slowly--"just a fortnight."

"That hardly seems time enough--does it?" said Ashe. "Give us a little
longer."

"No--I--I hate you!" said Lady Kitty, with a strange drop in her voice.
Her little fingers began to drum on the table near her, and to Ashe's
intense astonishment he saw her eyes fill with tears.

Suddenly a movement towards the other room set in around them. Madame
d'Estrées could be heard giving directions. A space was made in the
large drawing-room--a little table appeared in it, and a footman placed
thereon a glass of water.

Lady Kitty looked up.

"Oh, that _detestable_ man!" she said, drawing back. "No--I can't, I
can't bear it. Come with me!" and beckoning to Ashe she fled with
precipitation into the farther part of the inner drawing-room, out of
her mother's sight. Ashe followed her, and she dropped panting and elate
into a chair.

Meanwhile the outer room gathered to hear the recitation of some _vers
de société_, fondly believed by their author to be of a very pretty and
Praedian make. They certainly amused the company, who laughed and
clapped as each neat personality emerged. Lady Kitty passed the time
either in a running commentary on the reciter, which occasionally
convulsed her companion, or else in holding her small hands over her
ears.

When it was over, she drew a long breath.

"How maman _can!_ Oh! how _bête_ you English are to applaud such a man!
You have only _one_ poet, haven't you--one living poet? Ah! I shouldn't
have laughed if it had been he!"

"I suppose you mean Geoffrey Cliffe?" said Ashe, amused. "Nobody abroad
seems ever to have heard of any one else."

"Well, of course, I just long to know him! Every one says he is so
dangerous!--he makes all the women fall in love with him. That's
_delicious_! He shouldn't make me! Do you know him?"

"I knew him at Eton. We were 'swished' together," said Ashe.

She inquired what the phrase might mean, and when informed, flushed
hotly, denouncing the English school system as quite unfit for gentlemen
and men of honor. Her French cousins would sooner die than suffer such a
thing. Then in the midst of her tirade she suddenly paused, and fixing
Ashe with her brilliant eyes, she asked him a surprising question, in a
changed and steady voice:

"Is Lady Tranmore not well?"

Ashe was fairly startled.

"Thank you, I left her quite well. Have you--"

"Did maman ask her to come to-night?"

It was Ashe's turn to redden.

"I don't know. But--we are in mourning, you see, for my brother."

Her face changed and softened instantly.

"Are you? I'm so sorry. I--I always say something stupid. Then--Lady
Tranmore used to come to maman's parties--before--"

She had grown quite pale; it seemed to him that her hand shook. Ashe
felt an extraordinary pang of pity and concern.

"It's I, you see, to whom your mother has been kind," he said, gently.
"We're an independent family; we each make our own friends."

"No--" she said, drawing a deep breath. "No, it's not that. Look at that
room."

Following her slight gesture, Ashe looked. It was an old, low-ceiled
room, panelled in white and gold, showing here and there an Italian
picture--saint, or holy family, agreeable school-work--from which might
be inferred the tastes if not the _expertise_ of Madame d'Estrées' first
husband, Lord Blackwater. The floor was held by a plentiful collection
of seats, neither too easy nor too stiff; arranged by one who understood
to perfection the physical conditions at least which should surround the
"great art" of conversation. At this moment every seat was full. A sea
of black coats overflowed on the farther side, into the staircase
landing, where through the open door several standing groups could be
seen; and in the inner room, where they sat, there was but little space
between its margin and themselves. It was a remarkable sight; and in his
past visits to the house Ashe had often said to himself that the
elements of which it was made up were still more remarkable. Ministers
and Opposition; ambassadors, travellers, journalists; the men of fashion
and the men of reform; here a French republican official, and beyond
him, perhaps, a man whose ancestors were already of the most ancient
_noblesse_ in Saint-Simon's day; artists, great and small, men of
letters good and indifferent; all these had been among the guests of
Madame d'Estrées, brought to the house, each of them, for some quality's
sake, some power of keeping up the social game.

But now, as he looked at the room, not to please himself but to obey
Lady Kitty, Ashe became aware of a new impression. The crowd was no
less, numerically, than he had seen it in the early winter; but it
seemed to him less distinguished, made up of coarser and commoner items.
He caught the face of a shady financier long since banished from Lady
Tranmore's parties; beyond him a red-faced colonel, conspicuous alike
for doubtful money-matters and matrimonial trouble; and in a farther
corner the sallow profile of a writer whose books were apt to rouse even
the man of the world to a healthy and contemptuous disgust. Surely these
persons had never been there of old; he could not remember one of them.

He looked again, more closely. Was it fancy, or was the gathering itself
aware of the change which had passed over it? As a whole, it was
certainly noisier than of old; the shouting and laughter were incessant.
But within the general uproar certain groups had separated from other
groups, and were talking with a studied quiet. Most of the habitué's
were still there; but they held themselves apart from their neighbors.
Were the old intimacy and solidarity beginning to break up?--and with
them the peculiar charm of these "evenings," a charm which had so far
defied a social boycott that had been active from the first?

He glanced back uncertainly at Lady Kitty, and she looked at him.

"Why are there no ladies?" she said, abruptly.

He collected his thoughts.

"It--it has always been a men's gathering. Perhaps for some men
here--I'm sorry there are such barbarians, Lady Kitty!--that makes the
charm of it. Look at that old fellow there! He is a most famous old
boy. Everybody invites him--but he never stirs out of his den but to
come here. My mother can't get him--though she has tried often."

And he pointed to a dishevelled, gray-haired gentleman, short in
stature, round in figure, something, in short, like an animated egg, who
was addressing a group not far off.

Lady Kitty's face showed a variety of expressions.

"Are there many parties like this in London? Are the ladies asked, and
don't come? I--I don't--understand!"

Ashe looked at her kindly.

"There is no other hostess in London as clever as your mother," he
declared, and then tried to change the subject; but she paid no heed.

"The other day, at Aunt Grosville's," she said, slowly, "I asked if my
two cousins might come to-night, and they looked at me as though I were
mad! Oh, _do_ talk to me!" She came impulsively nearer, and Ashe noticed
that Darrell, standing against the doorway of communication, looked
round at them in amusement. "I liked your face--the very first moment
when I saw you across the room. Do you know--you're--you're very
handsome!" She drew back, her eyes fixed gravely, intently upon him.

For the first time Ashe was conscious of annoyance.

"I hope you won't mind my saying so"--his tone was a little short--"but
in this country we don't say those things. They're not--quite polite."

"Aren't they?" Her eyebrows arched themselves and her lips fell in
penitence. "I always called my French cousin, Henri la Fresnay, _beau!_
I am sure he liked it!" The accent was almost plaintive.

Ashe's natural impulse was to say that if so the French cousin must be
an ass. But all in a moment he found himself seized with a desire to
take her little hands in his own and press them--she looked such a
child, so exquisite, and so forlorn. And he did in fact bend forward
confidentially, forgetting Darrell.

"I want you to come and see my mother?" he said, smiling at her. "Ask
Lady Grosville to bring you."

"May I? But--" She searched his face, eager still to pour out the
impulsive, uncontrolled confidences that were in her mind. But his
expression stopped her, and she gave a little, resentful sigh.

"Yes--I'll come. _We_--you and I--are a little bit cousins too--aren't
we? We talked about you at the Grosvilles."

"Was our 'great-great' the same person?" he said, laughing. "Hope it was
a decent 'great-great.' Some of mine aren't much to boast of. Well, at
any rate, let's _be_ cousins--whether we are or no, shall we?"

She assented, her whole face lighting up.

"And we're going to meet--the week after next!" she said, triumphantly,
"in the country."

"Are we?--at Grosville Park. That's delightful."

"And _then_ I'll ask your advice--I'll make you tell me--a hundred
things! That's a bargain--mind!"

"Kitty! Come and help me with tea--there's a darling!"

Lady Kitty turned. A path had opened through the crowd, and Madame
d'Estrées, much escorted, a vision of diamonds and pale-pink satin,
appeared, leading the way to the supper-room, and the light
"refection," accompanied by much champagne, which always closed these
evenings.

The girl rose, as did her companion also. Madame d'Estrées threw a
quick, half-satirical glance at Ashe, but he had eyes only for Lady
Kitty, and her transformation at the touch of her mother's voice. She
followed Madame d'Estrées with a singular and conscious dignity, her
white skirts sweeping, her delicately fine head thrown back on her thin
neck and shoulders. The black crowd closed about her; and Ashe's eyes
pursued the slender figure till it disappeared.

Extreme youth--innocence--protest--pain--was it with these touching and
pleading impressions, after all, that his first talk with Kitty Bristol
had left him? Yet what a little _étourdie_! How lacking in the reserves,
the natural instincts and shrinkings of the well-bred English girl!

       *       *       *       *       *

Darrell and Ashe walked home together, through a windy night which was
bringing out April scents even from the London grass and lilac-bushes.

"Well," said Darrell, as they stepped into the Green Park, "so you're
safely in. Congratulate you, old fellow. Anything else?"

"Yes. They've offered me Hickson's place. More fools they, don't you
think?"

"Good! Upon my word, Bill, you've got your foot in the stirrup now! Hope
you'll continue to be civil to poor devils like me."

The speaker looked up smiling, but neither the tone nor the smile was
really cordial. Ashe felt the embarrassment that he had once or twice
felt before in telling Darrell news of good fortune. There seemed to be
something in Darrell that resented it--under an outer show of
felicitation.

However, they went on talking of the political moment and its prospects,
and of Ashe's personal affairs. As to the last, Darrell questioned, and
Ashe somewhat reluctantly replied. It appeared that his allowance was to
be largely raised, that his paralyzed father, in fact, was anxious to
put him in possession of a substantial share in the income of the
estates, that one of the country-houses was to be made over to him, and
so on.

"Which means, of course, that they want you to marry," said Darrell.
"Well, you've only to throw the handkerchief."

They were passing a lamp as he spoke, and the light shone on his long,
pale face--a face of discontent--with its large sunken eyes and hollow
cheeks.

Ashe treated the remark as "rot," and endeavored to get away from his
own affairs by discussing the party they had just left.

"How does she get all those people together? It's astonishing!"

"Well, I always liked Madame d'Estrées well enough," said Darrell, "but,
upon my word, she has done a beastly mean thing in bringing that girl
over."

"You mean?"--Ashe hesitated--"that her own position is too doubtful?"

"Doubtful, my dear fellow!" Darrell laughed unpleasantly. "I never
really understood what it all meant till the other night when old Lady
Grosville took and told me--more at any rate than I knew before. The
Grosvilles are on the war-path, and they regard the coming of this poor
child as the last straw."

"Why?" said Ashe.

Darrell gave a shrug. "Well, you know the story of Madame d'Estrées'
step-daughter--old Blackwater's daughter?"

"Ah! by his first marriage? I knew it was something about the
step-daughter," said Ashe, vaguely.

Darrell began to repeat his conversation with Lady Grosville. The tale
threatened presently to become a black one indeed; and at last Ashe
stood still in the broad walk crossing the Green Park.

"Look here," he said, resolutely, "don't tell me any more. I don't want
to hear any more."

"Why?" asked Darrell, in amazement.

"Because"--Ashe hesitated a moment. "Well, I don't want it to be made
impossible for me to go to Madame d'Estrées' again. Besides, we've just
eaten her salt."

"You're a good friend!" said Darrell, not without something of a sneer.

Ashe was ruffled by the tone, but tried not to show it. He merely
insisted that he knew Lady Grosville to be a bit of an old cat; that of
course there was something up; but it seemed a shame for those at least
who accepted Madame d'Estrées' hospitality to believe the worst. There
was a curious mixture of carelessness and delicacy in his remarks, very
characteristic of the man. It appeared as though he was at once too
indolent to go into the matter, and too chivalrous to talk about it.

Darrell presently maintained a rather angry silence. No man likes to be
checked in his story, especially when the check implies something like
a snub from his best friend. Suddenly, memory brought before him the
little picture of Ashe and Lady Kitty together--he bending over her, in
his large, handsome geniality, and she looking up. Darrell felt a twinge
of jealousy--then disgust. Really, men like Ashe had the world too
easily their own way. That they should pose, besides, was too much.



III


Rather more than a fortnight after the evening at Madame d'Estrées',
William Ashe found himself in a Midland train on his way to the
Cambridgeshire house of Lady Grosville. While the April country slipped
past him--like some blanched face to which life and color are
returning--Ashe divided his time between an idle skimming of the
Saturday papers and a no less idle dreaming of Kitty Bristol. He had
seen her two or three times since his first introduction to her--once at
a ball to which Lady Grosville had taken her, and once on the terrace of
the House of Commons, where he had strolled up and down with her for a
most amusing and stimulating hour, while her mother entertained a group
of elderly politicians. And the following day she had come alone--her
own choice--to take tea with Lady Tranmore, on that lady's invitation,
as prompted by her son. Ashe himself had arrived towards the end of the
visit, and had found a Lady Kitty in the height of the fashion, stiff
mannered, and flushed to a deep red by her own consciousness that she
could not possibly be making a good impression. At sight of him she
relaxed, and talked a great deal, but not wisely; and when she was gone,
Ashe could get very little opinion of any kind from his mother, who had,
however, expressed a wish that she should come and visit them in the
country.

Since then he frankly confessed to himself that in the intervals of his
new official and administrative work he had been a good deal haunted by
memories of this strange child, her eyes, her grace--even in her fits of
proud shyness--and the way in which, as he had put her into her cab
after the visit to Lady Tranmore, her tiny hand had lingered in his, a
mute, astonishing appeal. Haunted, too, by what he heard of her fortunes
and surroundings. What was the real truth of Madame d'Estrées'
situation? During the preceding weeks some ugly rumors had reached Ashe
of financial embarrassment in that quarter, of debts risen to
mountainous height, of crisis and possible disappearance. Then these
rumors were met by others, to the effect that Colonel Warington, the old
friend and support of the d'Estrées' household, had come to the rescue,
that the crisis had been averted, and that the three weekly evenings, so
well known and so well attended, would go on; and with this phase of the
story there mingled, as Ashe was well aware, not the slightest breath of
scandal, in a case where, so to speak, all was scandal.

And meanwhile what new and dolorous truths had Lady Kitty been learning
as to her mother's history and her mother's position? By Jove! it _was_
hard upon the girl. Darrell was right. Why not leave her to her French
friends and relations?--or relinquish her to Lady Grosville? Madame
d'Estrées had seen little or nothing of her for years. She could not,
therefore, be necessary to her mother's happiness, and there was a real
cruelty in thus claiming her, at the very moment of her entrance into
society, where Madame d'Estrées could only stand in her way. For
although many a man whom the girl might profitably marry was to be
found among the mother's guests, the influences of Madame d'Estrées'
"evenings" were certainly not matrimonial. Still the unforeseen was
surely the probable in Lady Kitty's case. What sort of man ought she to
marry--what sort of man could safely take the risks of marrying
her--with that mother in the background?

He descended at the way-side station prescribed to him, and looked round
him for fellow-guests--much as the card-player examines his hand. Mary
Lyster, a cabinet minister--filling an ornamental office and handed on
from ministry to ministry as a kind of necessary appendage, the public
never knew why--the minister's second wife, an attaché from the Austrian
embassy, two members of Parliament, and a well-known journalist--Ashe
said to himself flippantly that so far the trumps were not many. But he
was always reasonably glad to see Mary, and he went up to her, cared for
her bag, and made her put on her cloak, with cousinly civility. In the
omnibus on the way to the house he and Mary gossiped in a corner, while
the cabinet minister and the editor went to sleep, and the two members
of Parliament practised some courageous French on the Austrian attaché.

"Is it to be a large party?" he asked of his companion.

"Oh! they always fill the house. A good many came down yesterday."

"Well, I'm not curious," said Ashe, "except as to one person."

"Who?"

"Lady Kitty Bristol."

Mary Lyster smiled.

"Yes, poor child, I heard from the Grosville girls that she was to be
here."

"Why 'poor child'?"

"I don't know. Quite the wrong expression, I admit. It should be 'poor
hostess.'"

"Oh!--the Grosvilles complain?"

"No. They're only on tenter-hooks. They never know what she will do
next."

"How good for the Grosvilles!"

"You think society is the better for shocks?"

"Lady Grosville can do with them, anyway. What a masterful woman! But
I'll back Lady Kitty."

"I haven't seen her yet," said Mary. "I hear she is a very odd-looking
little thing."

"Extremely pretty," said Ashe.

"Really?" Mary lifted incredulous eyebrows. "Well, now I shall know what
you admire."

"Oh, my tastes are horribly catholic--I admire so many people," said
Ashe, with a glance at the well-dressed elegance beside him. Mary
colored a little, unseen; and the rattle of the carriage as it entered
the covered porch of Grosville Park cut short their conversation.

       *       *       *       *       *

"Well, I'm glad you got in," said Lady Grosville, in her full, loud
voice, "because we are connections. But of course I regard the loss of a
seat to our side just now as a great disaster."

"Very grasping, on your part!" said Ashe. "You've had it all your own
way lately. Think of Portsmouth!"

Lady Grosville, however, as she met his bantering look, did not find
herself at all inclined to think of Portsmouth. She was much more
inclined to think of William Ashe. What a good-looking fellow he had
grown! She heaved an inward sigh, of mingled envy and appreciation,
directed towards Lady Tranmore.

Poor Susan indeed had suffered terribly in the death of her eldest son.
But the handsomer and abler of the two brothers still remained to
her--and the estate was safe. Lady Grosville thought of her own three
daughters, plain and almost dowerless; and of that conceited young man,
the heir, whom she could hardly persuade her husband to invite, once a
year, for appearance sake.

"Why are we so early?" said Ashe, looking at his watch. "I thought I
should be disgracefully late."

For he and Lady Grosville had the library to themselves. It was a fine,
book-walled room, with giallo antico columns and Adam decoration; and in
its richly colored lamp-lit space, the seated figure--stiffly erect--of
Lady Grosville, her profile, said by some to be like a horse and by
others to resemble Savonarola, the cap of old Venice point that crowned
her grizzled hair, her black velvet dress, and the long-fingered, ugly,
yet distinguished hands which lay upon her lap, told significantly;
especially when contrasted with the negligent ease and fresh-colored
youth of her companion.

Grosville Park was rich in second-rate antiques; and there was a
Greco-Roman head above the bookcase with which Ashe had been often
compared. As he stood now leaning against the fireplace, the close-piled
curls, and eyes--somewhat "à fleur de tête"--of the bust were
undoubtedly repeated with some closeness in the living man. Those whom
he had offended by some social carelessness or other said of him when
they wished to run him down, that he was "floridly" handsome; and there
was some truth in it.

"Didn't you get the message about dinner?" said Lady Grosville. Then, as
he shook his head: "Very remiss of Parkin. I always tell him he loses
his head directly the party goes into double figures. We had to put off
dinner a quarter of an hour because of Kitty Bristol, who missed her
train at St. Pancras, and only arrived half an hour ago. By-the-way, I
suppose you have already seen her--at that woman's?"

"I met her a week or two ago, at Madame d'Estrées'," said Ashe,
apparently preoccupied with something wrong in the set of his white
waistcoat.

"What did you think of her?"

"A charming young lady," said Ashe, smiling. "What else should I think?"

"A lamb thrown to the wolves," said Lady Grosville, grimly. "How that
woman _could_ do such a thing!"

"I saw nothing lamblike about Lady Kitty," said Ashe. "And do you
include me among the wolves?"

Lady Grosville hesitated a moment, then stuck to her colors.

"You shouldn't go to such a house," she said, boldly--"I suppose I may
say that without offence, William, as I've known you from a boy."

"Say anything you like, my dear Lady Grosville! So you--believe evil
things--of Madame d'Estrées?"

His tone was light, but his eyes sought the distant door, as though
invoking some fellow-guest to appear and protect him.

Lady Grosville did not answer. Ashe's look returned to her, and he was
startled by the expression of her face. He had always known and
unwillingly admired her for a fine Old Testament Christian, one from
whom the language of the imprecatory Psalms with regard to her enemies,
personal and political, might have flowed more naturally than from any
other person he knew, of the same class and breeding. But this
loathing--this passion of contempt--this heat of memory!--these were new
indeed, and the fire of them transfigured the old, gray face.

"I have known a fair number of bad people," said Lady Grosville, in a
low voice--"and a good many wicked women. But for meanness and vileness
combined, the things I know of the woman who was Blackwater's wife have
no equal in my experience!"

There was a moment's pause. Then Ashe said, in a voice as serious as her
own:

"I am sorry to hear you say that, partly because I like Madame
d'Estrées, and partly--because--I was particularly attracted by Lady
Kitty."

Lady Grosville looked up sharply. "Don't marry her, William!--don't
marry her! She comes of a bad stock."

Ashe recovered his gayety.

"She is your own niece. Mightn't a man dare--on that guarantee?"

"Not at all," said Lady Grosville, unappeased. "I was a hop out of kin.
Besides--a Methodist governess saved me; she converted me, at eighteen,
and I owe her everything. But my brothers--and all the rest of us!" She
threw up her eyes and hands. "What's the good of being mealy mouthed
about it? All the world knows it. A good many of us were mad--and I
sometimes think I see more than eccentricity in Kitty."

"Who was Madame d'Estrées?" said Ashe. Why should he wince so at the
girl's name?--in that hard mouth?

Lady Grosville smiled.

"Well, I can tell you a good deal about that," she said. "Ah!--another
time!"

For the door opened, and in came a group of guests, with a gush of talk
and a rustling of silks and satins.

       *       *       *       *       *

Everybody was gathered; dinner had been announced; and the white-haired
and gouty Lord Grosville was in a state of seething impatience that not
even the mild-voiced Dean of the neighboring cathedral, engaged in
complimenting him on his speech at the Diocesan Conference, could
restrain.

"Adelina, need we wait any longer?" said the master of the house,
turning an angry eye upon his wife.

"Certainly not--she has had ample time," said Lady Grosville, and rang
the bell beside her.

Suddenly there was a whirlwind of noise in the hall, the angry barking
of a small dog, the sound of a girl's voice laughing and scolding, the
swish of silk skirts. A scandalized butler, obeying Lady Grosville's
summons, threw the door open, and in burst Lady Kitty.

"Oh! I'm so sorry," said the new-comer, in a tone of despair. "But I
couldn't leave him up-stairs, Aunt Lina! He'd eaten one of my shoes, and
begun upon the other. And Julie's afraid of him. He bit her last week.
_May_ he sit on my knee? I know I can keep him quiet!"

[Illustration: "A SLIM GIRL IN WHITE AT THE FAR END OF THE LARGE ROOM"]

Every conversation in the library stopped. Twenty amazed persons turned
to look. They beheld a slim girl in white at the far end of the large
room struggling with a gray terrier puppy which she held under her
left arm, and turning appealing eyes towards Lady Grosville. The dog,
half frightened, half fierce, was barking furiously. Lady Kitty's voice
could hardly be heard through the din, and she was crimson with the
effort to control her charge. Her lips laughed; her eyes implored. And
to add to the effect of the apparition, a marked strangeness of dress
was at once perceived by all the English eyes turned upon her. Lady
Kitty was robed in the extreme of French fashion, which at that moment
was a fashion of flounces; she was much _décolletée;_ and her fair,
abundant hair, carried to a great height, and arranged with a certain
calculated wildness around her small face, was surmounted by a large
scarlet butterfly which shone defiantly against the dark background of
books.

"Kitty!" said Lady Grosville, advancing indignantly, "what a dreadful
noise! Pray give the dog to Parkin at once."

Lady Kitty only held the struggling animal tighter.

"_Please_, Aunt Lina!--I'm afraid he'll bite! But he'll be quite good
with me."

"Why _did_ you bring him, Kitty? We can't have such a creature at
dinner!" said Lady Grosville, angrily.

Lord Grosville advanced behind his wife.

"How do you do, Kitty? Hadn't you better put down the dog and come and
be introduced to Mr. Rankine, who is to take you in to dinner?"

Lady Kitty shook her fair head, but advanced, still clinging to the dog,
gave a smile and a nod to Ashe, and a bow to the young Tory member
presented to her.

"You don't mind him?" she said, a flash of laughter in her dark eyes.
"We'll manage him between us, won't we?"

The young man, dazzled by her prettiness and her strangeness, murmured a
hopeful assent. Lord Grosville, with the air of a man determined on
dinner though the skies fall, offered his arm to Lady Edith Manley, the
wife of the cabinet minister, and made for the dining-room. The stream
of guests followed; when suddenly the puppy, perceiving on the floor a
ball of wool which had rolled out of Lady Grosville's work-table,
escaped in an ecstasy of mischief from his mistress's arm and flew upon
the ball. Kitty rushed after him; the wool first unrolled, then caught;
the table overturned and all its contents were flung pell-mell in the
path of Lady Grosville, who, on the arm of the amused and astonished
minister, was waiting in restrained fury till her guests should pass.

       *       *       *       *       *

"I shall never get over this," said Lady Kitty, as she leaned back in
her chair, still panting, and quite incapable of eating any of the foods
that were being offered to her in quick succession.

"I don't know that you deserve to," said Ashe, turning a face upon her
which was as grave as he could make it. The attention of every one else
round the room was also in truth occupied with his companion. There was,
indeed, a general buzz of conversation and a general pretence that Lady
Kitty's proceedings might now be ignored. But in reality every guest,
male or female, kept a stealthy watch on the red butterfly and the
sparkling face beneath it; and Ashe was well aware of it.

"I vow it was not my fault," said Kitty, with dignity. "I was not
allowed to have the dog I should have had. You'd never have found a dog
of St. Hubert condescending to bedroom slippers! But as I had to have a
dog--and Colonel Warington gave me this one three days ago--and he has
already ruined half maman's things, and no one could manage him but me,
I just had to bring him, and trust to Providence."

"I have been here a good many times," said Ashe, "and I never yet saw a
dog in the sanctuary. Do you know that Pitt once wrote a speech in the
library?"

"Did he? I'm sure it never made such a stir as Ponto did." Kitty's face
suddenly broke into laughter, and she hid it a moment in her hands.

"You brazen it out," said Ashe; "but how are you going to appease Lady
Grosville?"

Kitty ceased to laugh. She drew herself up, and looked seriously,
observantly at her aunt.

"I don't know. But I must do it somehow. I don't want any more worries."

So changed were her tone and aspect that Ashe turned a friendly
examining look upon her.

"Have you been worried?" he said, in a lower voice.

She shrugged her shoulders and made no reply. But presently she
impatiently reclaimed his attention, snatching him from the lady he had
taken in to dinner, with no scruple at all.

"Will you come a walk with me to-morrow morning?"

"Proud," said Ashe. "What time?"

"As soon as we can get rid of these people," she said, her eye running
round the table. Then as it paused and lingered on the face of Mary
Lyster opposite, she abruptly asked him who that lady might be.

Ashe informed her.

"Your cousin?" she said, looking at him with a slight frown. "Your
cousin? I don't--well, I don't think I shall like her."

"That's a great pity," said Ashe.

"For me?" she said, distrustfully.

"For both, of course! My mother's very fond of Miss Lyster. She's often
with us."

"Oh!" said Kitty, and looked again at the face opposite. Then he heard
her say behind her fan, half to herself and half to him:

"She does not interest me in the least! She has no ideas! I'm sure she
has no ideas. Has she?"

She turned abruptly to Ashe.

"Every one calls her very clever."

Kitty looked contempt.

"That's nothing to do with it. It's not the clever people who have
ideas."

Ashe bantered her a little on the meaning of her words, till he
presently found that she was too young and unpractised to be able to
take his thrusts and return them, with equanimity. She could make a
daring sally or reply; but it was still the raw material of
conversation; it wanted ease and polish. And she was evidently conscious
of it herself, for presently her cheek flushed and her manner wavered.

"I suppose you--everybody--thinks her very agreeable?" she said,
sharply, her eyes returning to Miss Lyster.

"She is a most excellent gossip," said Ashe. "I always go to her for the
news."

Kitty glanced again.

"I can see that already she detests me."

"In half an hour?"

The girl nodded.

"She has looked at me twice--about. But she has made up her mind--and
she never changes." Then with an abrupt alteration of note she looked
round the room. "I suppose your English dining-rooms are all like this?
One might be sitting in a hearse. And the pictures--no! _Quelles
horreurs_!"

She raised her shoulders again impetuously, frowning at a huge
full-length opposite of Lord Grosville as M.F.H., a masterpiece indeed
of early Victorian vulgarity.

Then suddenly, hastily, with that flashing softness which so often
transformed her expression, she turned towards him, trying to make
amends.

"But the library--that was _bien_--ah! _tr-rès, tr-rès_ bien_!"

Her r's rolled a little as she spoke, with a charming effect, and she
looked at him radiantly, as though to strike and to make amends were
equally her prerogative, and she asked no man's leave.

"You've not yet seen what there is to see here," said Ashe, smiling.
"Look behind you."

The girl turned her slim neck and exclaimed. For behind Ashe's chair was
the treasure of the house. It was a "Dance of Children," by one of the
most famous of the eighteenth-century masters. From the dark wall it
shone out with a flower-like brilliance, a vision of color and of grace.
The children danced through a golden air, their bodies swaying to one of
those "unheard melodies" of art, sweeter than all mortal tunes; their
delicate faces alive with joy. The sky and grass and trees seemed to
caress them; a soft sunlight clothed them; and flowers brushed their
feet.

Kitty turned back again and was silent. Was it Ashe's fancy, or had she
grown pale?

"Did you like it?" he asked her. She turned to him, and for the second
time in their acquaintance he saw her eyes floating in tears.

"It is too beautiful!" she said, with an effort--almost an angry effort.
"I don't want to see it again."

"I thought it would give you pleasure," said Ashe, gently, suddenly
conscious of a hope that she was not aware of the slight look of
amusement with which Mary Lyster was contemplating them both.

"So it did," said Kitty, furtively applying her lace handkerchief to her
tears; "but"--her voice dropped--"when one's unhappy--very
unhappy--things like that--things like _Heaven_--hurt! Oh, what a _fool_
I am!" And she sat straightly up, looking round her.

There was a pause; then Ashe said, in another voice:

"Look here, you know this won't do. I thought we were to be cousins."

"Well?" said Kitty, indifferently, not looking at him.

"And I understood that I was to be taken into respectable cousinly
counsel?"

"Well?" said Kitty again, crumbling her bread. "I can't do it here, can
I?"

Ashe laughed.

"Well, anyhow, we're going to sample the garden to-morrow morning,
aren't we?"

"I suppose so," said Kitty. Then, after a moment, she looked at her
right-hand neighbor, the young politician to whom as yet she had
scarcely vouchsafed a word.

"What's his name?" she asked, under her breath. Ashe repeated it.

"Perhaps I ought to talk to him?"

"Of course you ought," said Ashe, with smiling decision, and turning to
the lady whom he had brought in he left her free.

       *       *       *       *       *

When the ladies rose, Lady Grosville led the way to the large
drawing-room, a room which, like the library, had some character, and a
thin elegance of style, not, however, warmed and harmonized by the
delightful presence of books. The walls, blue and white in color, were
panelled in stucco relief. A few family portraits, stiff handlings of
stiff people, were placed each in the exact centre of its respective
panel. There were a few cases of china and a few polished tables. A
crimson Brussels carpet, chosen by Lady Grosville for its
"cheerfulness," covered the floor, and there was a large white sheepskin
rug before the fireplace. A few hyacinths in pots, and the bright fire
supplied the only gay and living notes--before the ladies arrived.

Still, for an English eye, the room had a certain cold charm, was
moreover full of _history_. It hardly deserved at any rate the shiver
with which Kitty Bristol looked round it.

But she had little time to dwell upon the room and its meanings, for
Lady Grosville approached her with a manner which still showed signs of
the catastrophe before dinner.

"Kitty, I think you don't know Miss Lyster yet--Mary Lyster--she wants
to be introduced to you."

Mary advanced smiling; Kitty held out a limp hand, and they exchanged a
few words standing in the centre of the floor, while the other guests
found seats.

"What a charming contrast!" said Lady Edith Manley in Lady Grosville's
ear. She nodded smiling towards the standing pair--struck by the fine
straight lines of Mary's satin dress, the roundness of her fine figure,
the oval of her head and face, and then by the little, vibrating,
tempestuous creature beside her, so distinguished, in spite of the
billowing flounces and ribbons, so direct and significant, amid all the
elaboration.

"Kitty is ridiculously overdressed," said Lady Grosville. "I hope we
shall soon change that. My girls are going to take her to their woman."

Lady Edith put up her eye-glass slowly and looked at the two Grosville
girls; then back at Kitty.

Meanwhile a few perfunctory questions and answers were passing between
Miss Lyster and her companion. Mary's aspect as she talked was extremely
amiable; one might have called it indulgent, perhaps even by an
adjective that implied a yet further shade of delicate superiority.
Kitty met it by the same "grand manner" that Ashe had several times
observed in her, a manner caught perhaps from some French model, and
caricatured in the taking. Her eyes meanwhile took note of Mary's face
and dress, and while she listened her small teeth tormented her
under-lip, as though she restrained impatience. All at once in the midst
of some information that Miss Lyster was lucidly giving, Kitty made an
impetuous turn. She had caught some words on the farther side of the
room; and she looked hard, eagerly, at the speaker.

"Who is that?" she inquired.

Mary Lyster, with a sharp sense of interruption, replied that she
believed the lady in question was the Grosville's French governess. But
in the very midst of her sentence Kitty deserted her, left her standing
in the centre of the drawing-room, while the deserter fled across it,
and sinking down beside the astonished mademoiselle took the
Frenchwoman's hand by assault and held it in both her own.

"Vous parlez Français?--vous êtes Française? Ah! ça me fait tant de
bien! Voyons! voyons!--causons un peu!"

And bending forward, she broke into a cataract of French, all the
elements of her strange, small beauty rushing, as it were, into flame
and movement at the swift sound and cadence of the words, like a dancer
kindled by music. The occasion was of the slightest; the Frenchwoman
might well show a natural bewilderment. But into the slight occasion the
girl threw an animation, a passion, that glorified it. It was like the
leap of a wild rain-stream on the mountains, that pours into the first
channel which presents itself.

"What beautiful French!" said Lady Edith, softly, to Mary Lyster, who
had found a seat beside her.

Mary Lyster smiled.

"She has been at school, of course, in a French convent." Somehow the
tone implied that the explanation disposed of all merit in the
performance.

"I am afraid these French convent schools are not at all what they
should be," said Lady Grosville.

And rising to a pyramidal height, her ample moiré dress swelling behind
her, her gray head magnificently crowned by its lace cap and black
velvet _bandeau_, she swept across the room to where the Dean's wife,
Mrs. Winston, sat in fascinated silence observing Lady Kitty. The
silence and the attention annoyed her hostess. The first thing to be
done with girls of this type, it seemed to Lady Grosville, was to prove
to them that they would _not_ be allowed to monopolize society.

       *       *       *       *       *

There are natural monopolies, however, and they are not easy to deal
with.

As soon as the gentlemen returned, Mr. Rankine, whom she had treated so
badly at dinner, the young agent of the estate, the clergyman of the
parish, the Austrian attaché, the cabinet minister, and the Dean, all
showed a strong inclination to that side of the room which seemed to be
held in force by Lady Kitty. The Dean especially was not to be gainsaid.
He placed himself in the seat shyly vacated by the French governess, and
crossed his thin, stockinged legs with the air of one who means to take
his ease. There was even a certain curious resemblance between him and
Kitty, as was noticed from a distance by Ashe. The Dean, who was very
much a man of the world, and came of an historic family, was, in his
masculine degree, planned on the same miniature scale and with the same
fine finish as the girl of eighteen. And he carried his knee-breeches,
his apron, and his exquisite white head with a natural charm and energy
akin to hers--mellowed though it were by time, and dignified by office.
He began eagerly to talk to her of Paris. His father had been
ambassador for a time under Louis Philippe, and he had boyish memories
of the great house in the Faubourg St. Honoré, and of the Orleanist
ministers and men of letters. And lo! Kitty met him at once, in a glow
and sparkle that enchanted the old man. Moreover, it appeared that this
much-beflounced young lady could talk; that she had heard of the famous
names and the great affairs to which the Dean made allusion; that she
possessed indeed a native and surprising interest in matter of the sort;
and a manner, above all, with the old, alternately soft and daring,
calculated, as Lady Grosville would no doubt have put it, merely to make
fools of them.

In her cousins' house, it seemed, she had talked with old people,
survivors of the Orleanist and Bourbon régimes--even of the Empire; had
sat at their feet, a small, excited hero-worshipper; and had then rushed
blindly into the memoirs and books that concerned them. So, in this
French world the child had found time for other things than hunting, and
the flattery of her cousin Henri? Ashe was supposed to be devoting
himself to the Dean's wife; but both he and she listened most of the
time to the sallies and the laughter of the circle where Kitty presided.

"My dear young lady," cried the delighted Dean, "I never find anybody
who can talk of these things--it is really astonishing. Ah, _now_, we
English know nothing of France--nor they of us. Why, I was a mere
school-boy then, and I had a passion for their society, and their
books--for their _plays_--dare I confess it?"--he lowered his voice and
glanced at his hostess--"their plays, above all!"

Kitty clapped her hands. The Dean looked at her, and ran on:

"My mother shared it. When I came over for my Eton holidays, she and I
lived at the Théâtre-Français. Ah, those were days! _I_ remember
Mademoiselle Mars in 'Hernani.'"

Kitty bounded in her seat. Whereupon it appeared that just before she
left Paris she had been taken by a friend to see the reigning idol of
the Comédie-Française, the young and astonishing actress, Sarah
Bernhardt, as Doña Sol. And there began straightway an excited duet
between her and the Dean; a comparison of old and new, a rivalry of
heroines, a hot and critical debate that presently silenced all other
conversation in the room, and brought Lord Grosville to stand gaping and
astounded behind the Dean, reflecting no doubt that this was not
precisely the Dean of the Diocesan Conference.

The old man indeed forgot his age, the girl her youth; they met as
equals, on poetic ground, till suddenly Kitty, springing up, and to
prove her point, began an imitation of Sarah in the great love-scene of
the last act, before arresting fate, in the person of Don Ruy, breaks in
upon the rapture of the lovers. She absolutely forgot the Grosville
drawing-room, the staring Grosville girls, the other faces, astonished
or severe, neutral or friendly. Out rolled the tide of tragic verse,
fine poetry, and high passion; and though it be not very much to say, it
must at least be said that never had such recitation, in such French,
been heard before within the walls of Grosville Park. Nor had the lips
of any English girl ever dealt there with a poetic diction so
unchastened and unashamed. Lady Grosville might well feel as though the
solid frame of things were melting and cracking round her.

Kitty ceased. She fell back upon her chair, smitten with a sudden
perception.

"You made me!" she said, reproachfully, to the Dean.

The Dean said another "Brava!" and gave another clap. Then, becoming
aware of Lord Grosville's open mouth and eye, he sat up, caught his
wife's expression, and came back to prose and the present.

"My dear young lady," he began, "you have the most extraordinary
talent--" when Lady Grosville advanced upon him. Standing before him,
she majestically signalled to her husband across his small person.

"William, kindly order Mrs. Wilson's carriage."

Lord Grosville awoke from his stupor with a jerk, and did as he was
told. Mrs. Wilson, the agent's timid wife, who was not at all aware that
she had asked for her carriage, rose obediently. Then the mistress of
the house turned to Lady Kitty.

"You recite very well, Kitty," she said, with cold and stately emphasis,
"but another time I will ask you to confine yourself to Racine and
Corneille. In England we have to be very careful about French writers.
There are, however, if I remember right, some fine passages in
'Athalie.'"

Kitty said nothing. The Austrian attaché who had been following the
little incident with the liveliest interest, retired to a close
inspection of the china. But the Dean, whose temper was of the quick and
chivalrous kind, was roused.

"She recites wonderfully! And Victor Hugo is a classic, please, my
lady--just as much as the rest of them. Ah, well, no doubt, no doubt,
there might be things more suitable." And the old man came wavering down
to earth, as the enthusiasm which Kitty had breathed into him escaped,
like the gas from a balloon. "But, do you know, Lady Kitty "--he struck
into a new subject with eagerness, partly to cover the girl, partly to
silence Lady Grosville--"you reminded me all the time so remarkably--in
your voice--certain inflections--of your sister--your step-sister, isn't
it?--Lady Alice? You know, of course, she is close to you to-day--just
the other side the park--with the Sowerbys?"

The Dean's wife sprang to her feet in despair. In general it was to her
a matter for fond complacency that her husband had no memory for gossip,
and was in such matters as innocent and as dangerous as a child. But
this was too much. At the same moment Ashe came quickly forward.

"My sister?" said Kitty. "My sister?"

She spoke low and uncertainly, her eyes fixed upon the Dean.

He looked at her with a sudden odd sense of something unusual, then went
on, still floundering:

"We met her at St. Pancras on our way down. If I had only known we were
to have had the pleasure of meeting you--Do you know, I think she is
looking decidedly better?"

His kindly expression as he rose expected a word of sisterly assent.
Meanwhile even Lady Grosville was paralyzed, and the words with which
she had meant to interpose failed on her lips.

Kitty, too, rose, looking round for something, which she seemed to find
in the face of William Ashe, for her eyes clung there.

"My sister," she repeated, in the same low, strained voice. "My sister
Alice? I--I don't know. I have never seen her."

       *       *       *       *       *

Ashe could not remember afterwards precisely how the incident closed.
There was a bustle of departing guests, and from the midst of it Lady
Kitty slipped away. But as he came down-stairs in smoking trim, ten
minutes later, he overheard the injured Dean wrestling with his wife, as
she lit a candle for him on the landing.

"My dear, what did you look at me like that for? What did the child
mean? And what on _earth_ is the matter?"



IV


After the ladies had gone to bed, on the night of Lady Kitty's
recitation, William Ashe stayed up till past midnight talking with old
Lord Grosville. When relieved of the presence of his women-kind, who
were apt either to oppress him, in the person of his wife, or to puzzle
him, in the persons of his daughters, Lord Grosville was not by any
means without value as a talker. He possessed that narrow but still most
serviceable fund of human experience which the English land-owner, while
our English tradition subsists, can hardly escape, if he will. As
guardsman, volunteer, magistrate, lord-lieutenant, member--for the sake
of his name and his acres--of various important commissions, as military
_attaché_ even, for a short space, to an important embassy, he had
acquired, by mere living, that for which his intellectual betters had
often envied him--a certain shrewdness, a certain instinct, as to both
men and affairs, which were often of more service to him than finer
brains to other persons. But, like most accomplishments, these also
brought their own conceit with them. Lord Grosville having, in his own
opinion, done extremely well without much book education himself, had
but little appreciation for it in others.

Nevertheless he rarely missed a chance of conversation with William
Ashe, not because the younger man, in spite of his past indolence, was
generally held to be both able and accomplished, but because the elder
found in him an invincible taste for men and women, their fortunes,
oddities, catastrophes--especially the latter--similar to his own.

Like Mary Lyster, both were good gossips; but of a much more
disinterested type than she. Women indeed as gossips are too apt to
pursue either the damnation of some one else or the apotheosis of
themselves. But here the stupider no less than the abler man showed a
certain broad detachment not very common in women--amused by the human
comedy itself, making no profit out of it, either for themselves or
morals, but asking only that the play should go on.

The incident, or rather the heroine of the evening, had given Lord
Grosville a topic which in the case of William Ashe he saw no reason for
avoiding; and in the peace of the smoking-room, when he was no longer
either hungry for his dinner or worried by his responsibilities as host,
he fell upon his wife's family, and, as though he had been the manager
of a puppet-show, unpacked the whole box of them for Ashe's
entertainment.

Figure after figure emerged, one more besmirched than another, till
finally the most beflecked of all was shaken out and displayed--Lady
Grosville's brother and Kitty's father, the late Lord Blackwater. And on
this occasion Ashe did not try to escape the story which was thus a
second time brought across him. Lord Grosville, if he pleased, had a
right to tell it, and there was now a curious feeling in Ashe's mind
which had been entirely absent before, that he had, in some sort, a
right to hear it.

Briefly, the outlines of it fell into something like this shape: Henry,
fifth Earl of Blackwater, had begun life as an Irish peer, with more
money than the majority of his class; an initial advantage soon undone
by an insane and unscrupulous extravagance. He was, however, a fine,
handsome, voracious gentleman, born to prey upon his kind, and when he
looked for an heiress he was not long in finding her. His first wife, a
very rich woman, bore him one daughter. Before the daughter was three
years old, Lord Blackwater had developed a sturdy hatred of the mother,
chiefly because she failed to present him with a son; and he could not
even appease himself by the free spending of her money, which, so far as
the capital was concerned, was sharply looked after by a pair of
trustees, Belfast manufacturers and Presbyterians, to whom the
Blackwater type was not at all congenial.

These restrictions presently wore out Lord Blackwater's patience. He
left his wife, with a small allowance, to bring up her daughter in one
of his Irish houses, while he generously spent the rest of her large
income, and his own, and a great deal besides, in London and on the
Continent.

Lady Blackwater, however, was not long before she obliged him by dying.
Her girl, then twelve years old, lived for a time with one of her
mother's trustees. But when she had reached the age of seventeen her
father suddenly commanded her presence in Paris, that she might make
acquaintance with his second wife.

The new Lady Blackwater was an extremely beautiful woman, Irish, as the
first had been, but like her in no other respect. Margaret Fitzgerald
was the daughter of a cosmopolitan pair, who after many shifts for a
living, had settled in Paris, where the father acted as correspondent
for various English papers. Her beauty, her caprices, and her "affairs"
were all well known in Paris. As to what the relations between her and
Lord Blackwater might have been before the death of the wife, Lord
Grosville took a frankly uncharitable view. But when that event
occurred, Blackwater was beginning to get old, and Miss Fitzgerald had
become necessary to him. She pressed all her advantages, and it ended in
his marrying her. The new Lady Blackwater presented him with one child,
a daughter; and about two years after its birth he sent for his elder
daughter, Lady Alice, to join them in the sumptuous apartment in the
Place Vendôme which he had furnished for his new wife, in defiance both
of his English and Irish creditors.

Lady Alice arrived--a fair slip of a girl, possessed, it was plain to
see, by a nervous terror both of her father and step-mother. But Lady
Blackwater received her with effusion, caressed her in public, dressed
her to perfection, and made all possible use of the girl's presence in
the house for the advancement of her own social position. Within a year
the Belfast trustees, watching uneasily from a distance, received a
letter from Lord Blackwater, announcing Lady Alice's runaway marriage
with a certain Colonel Wensleydale, formerly of the Grenadier Guards.
Lord Blackwater professed himself vastly annoyed and displeased. The
young people, furiously in love, had managed the affair, however, with a
skill that baffled all vigilance. Married they were, and without any
settlements, Colonel Wensleydale having nothing to settle, and Lady
Alice, like a little fool, being only anxious to pour all that she
possessed into the lap of her beloved. The father threw himself on the
mercy of the trustees, reminding them that in little more than three
years Lady Alice would become unfettered mistress of her own fortune,
and begging them meanwhile to make proper provision for the rash but
happy pair. Harry Wensleydale, after all, was a rattling good fellow,
with whom all the young women were in love. The thing, though naughty,
was natural; and the colonel would make an excellent husband.

One Presbyterian trustee left his business in Belfast and ventured
himself among the abominations of Paris. He was much befooled and
befeasted. He found a shy young wife tremulously in love; a handsome
husband; an amiable step-mother. He knew no one in Paris who could
enlighten him, and was not clever enough to invent means of getting
information for himself. He was induced to promise a sufficient income
for the moment on behalf of himself and his co-trustee; and for the rest
was obliged to be content with vague assurances from Colonel Wensleydale
that as soon as his wife came into her property fitting settlements
should be made.

Four years passed by. The young people lived with the Blackwaters, and
their income kept the establishment going. Lady Alice had a child, and
was at first not altogether unhappy. She was little more than a timid
child herself; and no doubt, to begin with, she was in love. Then came
her majority. In defiance of all her trustees, she gave her whole
fortune to her husband, and no power could prevent her from so doing.

The Blackwater ménage blazed up into a sudden splendor. Lady
Blackwater's carriage and Lady Blackwater's jewels had never been finer;
and amid the crowds who frequented the house, the slight figure, the
sallow face, and absent eyes of her step-daughter attracted little
remark. Lady Alice Wensleydale was said to be delicate and reserved; she
made no friends, explained herself to no one; and it was supposed that
she occupied herself with her little boy.

Then one December she disappeared from the apartment in the Place
Vendôme. It was said that she and the boy found the climate of Paris too
cold in winter, and had gone for a time to Italy. Colonel Wensleydale
continued to live with the Blackwaters, and their apartment was no less
sumptuous, their dinners no less talked of, their extravagance no less
noisy than before. But Lady Alice did not come back with the spring; and
some ugly rumors began to creep about. They were checked, however, by
the death of Lord Blackwater, which occurred within a year of his
daughter's departure; by the monstrous debts he left behind him; and by
the sale of the contents of the famous apartment, matters, all of them,
sufficiently ugly or scandalous in themselves to keep the tongues of
fame busy. Lady Blackwater left Paris, and when she reappeared, it was
in Rome as the Comtesse d'Estrées, the wife of yet another old man,
whose health obliged them to winter in the south and to spend the summer
in yachting. Her _salon_ in Rome under Pio Nono became a great
rendezvous for English and Americans, attracted by the historic names
and titles that M. d'Estrées' connections among the Black nobility, his
wealth, and his interest in several of the Catholic banking-houses of
Rome and Naples enabled his wife to command.

Colonel Wensleydale did not appear. Madame d'Estrées let it be
understood that her step-daughter was of a difficult temper, and now
spent most of her time in Ireland. Her own daughter, her "darling
Kitty," was being educated in Paris by the Soeurs Blanches, and she
pined for the day when the "little sweet" should join her, ready to
spread her wings in the great world. But mothers must not be impatient,
Kitty must have all the advantages that befitted her rank; and to what
better hands could the most anxious mother intrust her than to those
charming, aristocratic, accomplished nuns of the Soeurs Blanches?

Then one January day M. d'Estrées drove out to San Paolo fuori le Mura,
and caught a blast from the snowy Sabines coming back. In three days he
was dead, and his well-provided widow had snatched the bulk of his
fortune from the hands of his needy and embittered kindred.

Within six months of his death she had bought a house in St. James's
Place, and her London career had begun.

       *       *       *       *       *

"It is here that we come in," said Lord Grosville, when, with more
digressions and more plainness of speech with regard to his quondam
sister-in-law than can be here reproduced, he had brought his story to
this point. "Blackwater--the old ruffian--when he was dying had a moment
of remorse. He wrote to my wife and asked her to look after his girls,
'For God's sake, Lina, see if you can help Alice--Wensleydale's a
perfect brute.' That was the first light we had on the situation, for
Adelina had long before washed her hands of him; and we knew that _she_
hated us. Well, we tried; of course we tried. But so long as her
husband lived Alice would have nothing to say to any of us. I suppose
she thought that for her boy's sake she'd better keep a bad business to
herself as much as possible--"

"Wensleydale--Wensleydale?" said Ashe, who had been smoking hard and
silently beside his host. "You mean the man who distinguished himself in
the Crimea? He died last year--at Naples, wasn't it?"

Lord Grosville assented.

It appeared that during the last year of his life Lady Alice had nursed
her husband faithfully through disease and poverty; for scarcely a
vestige of her fortune remained, and an application for money made by
Wensleydale to Madame d'Estrées, unknown to his wife, had been
peremptorily refused. The colonel died, and within three months of his
death Lady Alice had also lost her son and only child, of
blood-poisoning developed in Naples, whither he had been summoned from
school that his father might see him for the last time.

Then, after seventeen years, Lady Alice came back to her kindred, who
had last seen her as a young girl--gentle, undeveloped, easily led, and
rather stupid. She returned a gray-haired woman of thirty-four, who had
lost youth, fortune, child, and husband; whose aspect, moreover,
suggested losses still deeper and more drear. At first she wrapped
herself in what seemed to some a dull and to others a tragic silence.
But suddenly a flame leaped up in her. She became aware of the position
of Madame d'Estrées in London; and one day, at a private view of the
Academy, her former step-mother went up to her smiling, with
out-stretched hand. Lady Alice turned very pale; the hand dropped, and
Alice Wensleydale walked rapidly away. But that night, in the Grosville
house, she spoke out.

"She told Lina and myself the whole story. You'd have thought the woman
was possessed. My wife--she's not of the crying sort, nor am I. But she
cried, and I believe--well, I can tell you it was enough to move a
stone. And when she'd done, she just went away, and locked her door, and
let no one say a word to her. She has told one or two other relations
and friends, and--"

"And the relations and friends have told others?"

"Well, I can answer for myself," said Grosville after a pause. "This
happened three months ago. I never have told, and never shall tell, all
the details as she told them to us. But we have let enough be known--"

"Enough?--enough to damn Madame d'Estrées?"

"Oh, well, as far as the women were concerned, she was mostly that
already. There are other tales going about. I expect you know them."

"No, I don't know them," said Ashe.

Lord Grosville's face expressed surprise. "Well, this finished it," he
said.

"Poor child!" said Ashe, slowly, putting down his cigarette and turning
a thoughtful look on the carpet.

"Alice?" said Lord Grosville.

"No."

"Oh! you mean Kitty? Yes, I had forgotten her for the moment. Yes, poor
child."

There was silence a moment, then Lord Grosville inquired:

"What do you think of her?"

"I?" said Ashe, with a laugh. "I don't know. She's obviously very
pretty--"

"And a handful!" said Lord Grosville.

"Oh, quite plainly a handful," said Ashe, rather absently. Then the
memory of Kitty's entry recurred to them both, and they laughed.

"Not much shyness left in that young woman--eh?" said the old man. "She
tells my girls such stories of her French doings--my wife's had to stop
it. She seems to have had all sorts of love-affairs already. And, of
course, she'll have any number over here--sure to. Some unscrupulous
fellow'll get hold of her, for naturally the right sort won't marry her.
I don't know what we can do. Adelina offered to take her altogether. But
that woman wouldn't hear of it. She wrote Lina rather a good letter--on
her dignity--and that kind of thing. We gave her an opening, and, by
Jove! she took it."

"And meanwhile Lady Kitty has no dealings with her step-sister?"

"You heard what she said. Extraordinary girl! to let the thing out plump
like that. Just like the blood. They say anything that comes into their
heads. If we had known that Alice was to be with the Sowerbys this
week-end, my wife would certainly have put Kitty off. It would be
uncommonly awkward if they were to meet--here for instance. Hullo! Is it
getting late?"

For the whist-players at the end of the library had pushed back their
chairs, and men were strolling back from the billiard-room.

"I am afraid Lady Kitty understands there is something wrong with her
mother's position," said Ashe, as they rose.

"I dare say. Brought up in Paris, you see," said the white-haired
Englishman, with a shrug. "Of course, she knows everything she
shouldn't."

"Brought up in a convent, please," said Ashe, smiling. "And I thought
the French _girl_ was the most innocent and ignorant thing alive."

Lord Grosville received the remark with derision.

"You ask my wife what she thinks about French convents. She knows--she's
had lots of Catholic relations. She'll tell you tales."

Ashe thought, however, that he could trust himself to see that she did
nothing of the sort.

       *       *       *       *       *

The smoking-room broke up late, but the new Under-secretary sat up still
later, reading and smoking in his bedroom. A box of Foreign Office
papers lay on his table. He went through them with a keen sense of
pleasure, enjoying his new work and his own competence to do it, of
which, notwithstanding his remarks to Mary Lyster, he was not really at
all in doubt. Then when his comments were done, and the papers replaced
in the order in which they would now go up to the Secretary of State, he
felt the spring night oppressively mild, and walking to the window, he
threw it wide open.

He looked out upon a Dutch garden, full of spring flowers in bloom. In
the midst was a small fountain, which murmured to itself through the
night. An orangery or conservatory, of a charming eighteenth-century
design, ran round the garden in a semicircle, its flat pilasters and
mouldings of yellow stone taking under the moonlight the color and the
delicacy of ivory. Beyond the terrace which bordered the garden, the
ground fell to a river, of which the reaches, now dazzling, now sombre,
now slipping secret under woods, and now silverly open to the gentle
slopes of the park, brought wildness and romance into a scene that had
else been tame. Beyond the river on a rising ground was a village church
with a spire. The formal garden, the Georgian conservatory, the park,
the river, the church--they breathed England and the traditional English
life. All that they implied, of custom and inheritance, of strength and
narrowness, of cramping prejudice and stubborn force, was very familiar
to Ashe, and on the whole very congenial. He was glad to be an
Englishman and a member of an English government. The ironic mood which
was tolerably constant in him did not in the least interfere with his
normal enjoyment of normal goods. He saw himself often as a shade among
shadows, as an actor among actors; but the play was good all the same.
That a man should know himself to be a fool was in his eyes, as it was
in Lord Melbourne's, the first of necessities. But fool or no fool, let
him find the occupations that suited him, and pursue them. On those
terms life was still amply worth living, and ginger was still hot in the
mouth.

This was his usual philosophy. Religiously he was a sceptic, enormously
interested in religion. Should he ever become Prime Minister, as Lady
Tranmore prophesied, he would know much more theology than the bishops
he might be called on to appoint. Politically, at the same time, he was
an aristocrat, enormously interested in liberty. The absurdities of his
own class were still more plain to him perhaps than the absurdities of
the populace. But had he lived a couple of generations earlier he would
have gone with passion for Catholic emancipation, and boggled at the
Reform Bill. And if fate had thrown him on earlier days still, he would
not, like Falkland, have died ingeminating peace; he would have fought;
but on which side, no friend of his--up till now--could have been quite
sure. To have the reputation of an idler, and to be in truth a plodding
and unwearied student; this, at any rate, pleased him. To avow an
enthusiasm, or an affection, generally seemed to him an indelicacy; only
two or three people in the world knew what was the real quality of his
heart. Yet no man feigns shirking without in some measure learning to
shirk; and there were certain true indolences and sybaritisms in Ashe of
which he was fully and contemptuously aware, without either wishing or
feeling himself able to break the yoke of them.

At the present moment, however, he was rather conscious of much unusual
stirring and exaltation of personality. As he stood looking out into the
English night the currents of his blood ran free and fast. Never had he
felt the natural appetite for living so strong in him, combined with
what seemed to be at once a divination of coming change, and a thirst
for it. Was it the mere advancement of his fortunes--or something
infinitely subtler and sweeter? It was as though waves of softness and
of yearning welled up from some unknown source, seeking an object and an
outlet.

As he stood there dreaming, he suddenly became conscious of sounds in
the room overhead. Or rather in the now absolute stillness of the rest
of the house he realized that the movements and voices above him, which
had really been going on since he entered his room, persisted when
everything else had died away.

Two people were talking; or rather one voice ran on perpetually, broken
at intervals by the other. He began to suspect to whom the voice
belonged; and as he did so, the window above his own was thrown open. He
stepped back involuntarily, but not before he had caught a few words in
French, spoken apparently by Lady Kitty.

"Ciel! what a night!--and how the flowers smell! And the stars--I adore
the stars! Mademoiselle--come here! Mademoiselle! answer me--I won't
tell tales--now do you--_really and truly_--believe in God?"

A laugh, which was a laugh of pleasure, ran through Ashe, as he
hurriedly put out his lights.

"Tormentor!" he said to himself--"must you put a woman through her
theological paces at this time of night? Can't you go to sleep, you
little whirlwind?--What's to be done? If I shut my window the noise will
scare her. But I can't stand eavesdropping here."

He withdrew softly from the window and began to undress. But Lady Kitty
was leaning out, and her voice carried amazingly. Heard in this way
also, apart from form and face, it became a separate living thing. Ashe
stood arrested, his watch that he was winding up in his hand. He had
known the voice till now as something sharp and light, the sign surely
of a chatterer and a flirt. To-night, as Kitty made use of it to expound
her own peculiar theology to the French governess--whereof a few
fragments now and then floated down to Ashe--nothing could have been
more musical, melancholy, caressing. A voice full of sex, and the spell
of sex.

What had she been talking of all these hours to mademoiselle? A lady
whom she could never have set eyes on before this visit. He thought of
her face, in the drawing-room, as she had spoken of her sister--of her
eyes, so full of a bright feverish pain, which had hung upon his own.

Had she, indeed, been confiding all her home secrets to this stranger?
Ashe felt a movement of distaste, almost of disgust. Yet he remembered
that it was by her unconventionality, her lack of all proper reticence,
or, as many would have said, all delicate feeling, that she had made her
first impression upon him. Ay, that had been an impression--an
impression indeed! He realized the fact profoundly, as he stood
lingering in the darkness, trying not to hear the voice that thrilled
him.

At last!--was she going to bed?

"Ah!--but I am a pig, to keep you up like this! Allez dormir!" (The
sound of a kiss.) "I? Oh no! Why should one go to bed? It is in the
night one begins to live."

She fell to humming a little French tune, then broke off.

"You remember? You promise? You have the letter?"

Asseverations apparently from mademoiselle, and a mention of eight
o'clock, followed by remorse from Kitty.

"Eight o'clock! And I keep you like this. I am a brute beast!
Allez--allez vite!" And quick steps scudded across the floor above,
followed by the shutting of a door.

Kitty, however, came back to the window, and Ashe could still hear her
sighing and talking to herself.

What had she been plotting? A letter? Conveyed by mademoiselle? To whom?

       *       *       *       *       *

Long after all sounds above had ceased Ashe still lay awake, thinking of
the story he had heard from Lord Grosville. Certainly, if he had known
it, he would never have gone familiarly to Madame d'Estrées' house.
Laxity, for a man of his type, is one thing; lying, meanness, and
cruelty are another. What could be done for this poor child in her
strange and sinister position? He was ironically conscious of a sudden
heat of missionary zeal. For if the creature to be saved had not
possessed such a pair of eyes--so slim a neck--such a haunting and
teasing personality--what then?

The question presently plunged with him into sleep. But he had not
forgotten it when he awoke.

       *       *       *       *       *

He had just finished dressing next morning, when he chanced to see from
the front window of his room, which commanded the main stretch of the
park, the figure of a lady on one of the paths. She seemed to be
returning from the farther end of a long avenue, and was evidently
hurrying to reach the house. As she approached, however, she turned
aside into a shrubbery walk and was soon lost to view. But Ashe had
recognized Mademoiselle D. The matter of the letter recurred to him. He
guessed that she had already delivered it. But where?

At breakfast Lady Kitty did not appear. Ashe made inquiries of the
younger Miss Grosville, who replied with some tartness that she supposed
Kitty had a cold, and hurried off herself to dress for Sunday-school. It
was not at all the custom for young ladies to breakfast in bed on
Sundays at Grosville Park, and Lady Grosville's brow was clouded. Ashe
felt it a positive effort to tell her that he was not going to church,
and when she had marshalled her flock and carried them off, those left
behind knew themselves, indeed, as heathens and publicans.

Ashe wandered out with some official papers and a pipe into the spring
sunshine. Mr. Kershaw, the editor, would gladly have caught him for a
political talk. But Ashe would not be caught. As to the interests of
England in the Persian Gulf, both they and Mr. Kershaw might for the
moment go hang. Would Lady Kitty meet him in the old garden at
eleven-thirty, or would she not? That was the only thing that mattered.

However, it was still more than an hour to the time mentioned. Ashe
spent a while in roaming a wood delicately pied with primroses and
anemones, and then sauntered back into the gardens, which were old and
famous.

Suddenly, as he came upon a terrace bordered by a thick yew hedge, and
descending by steps to a lower terrace, he became aware of voices in a
strange tone and key--not loud, but, as it were, intensified far beyond
the note of ordinary talk. Ashe stood still; for he had recognized the
voice of Lady Kitty. But before he had made up his mind what to do a
lady began to ascend the steps which connected the upper terrace with
the lower. She came straight towards him, and Ashe looked at her with
astonishment. She was not a member of the Grosville house party, and
Ashe had never seen her before. Yet in her pale, unhappy face there was
something that recalled another person; something, too, in her gait and
her passionate energy of movement. She swept past him, and he saw that
she was tall and thin, and dressed in deep mourning. Her eyes were set
on some inner vision; he felt that she scarcely saw him. She passed like
an embodied grief--menacing and lamentable.

Something like a cry pursued her up the steps. But she did not turn. She
walked swiftly on, and was soon lost to sight in the trees.

Ashe hesitated a moment, then hurried down the steps.

On a stone seat beneath the yew hedge, Kitty Bristol lay prone. He heard
her sobs, and they went most strangely through his heart.

"Lady Kitty!" he said, as he stood beside her and bent over her.

She looked up, and showed no surprise. Her face was bathed in tears, but
her hand sought his piteously and drew him towards her.

"I have seen my sister," she said, "and she hates me. What have I done?
I think I shall die of despair!"



V


The effect of the few sobbing words, with which Kitty Bristol had
greeted his presence beside her, upon the feeling of William Ashe was
both sharp and deep, for they seemed already to imply a peculiar
relation, a special link between them. Had it not, indeed, begun in that
very moment at St. James's Place when he had first caught sight of her,
sitting forlorn in her white dress?--when she had "willed" him to come
to her, and he came? Surely--though as to this he had his qualms--she
could not have spoken with this abandonment to any other of her new
English acquaintances? To Darrell, for instance, who was expected at
Grosville Park that evening. No! From the beginning she had turned to
him, William Ashe; she had been conscious of the same mutual
understanding, the same sympathy in difference that he himself felt.

It was, at any rate, with the feeling of one whose fate has most
strangely, most unexpectedly overtaken him that he sat down beside her.
His own pulses were running at a great rate; but there was to be no sign
of it for her. He tried, indeed, to calm her by that mere cheerful
strength and vitality of which he was so easily master. "Why should you
be in despair?" he said, bending towards her. "Tell me. Let me try and
help you. Was your sister unkind to you?"

Kitty made no reply at once. The tears that brimmed her large eyes
slipped down her cheeks without disfiguring her. She was looking
absently, intently, into a dark depth of wood as though she sought there
for some truth that escaped her--truth of the past or of the present.

"I don't know," she said, at last, shaking her head, "I don't know
whether it was unkind. Perhaps it was only what we deserve, maman and
I."

"You!" cried Ashe.

"Yes," she said, passionately. "Who's going to separate between maman
and me? If she's done mean, shocking things, the people she's done them
to will hate me too. They _shall_ hate me! It's right."

She turned to him violently. She was very white, and her little hands as
she sat there before him, proudly erect, twisted a lace handkerchief
between them that would soon be in tatters. Somehow Ashe winced before
the wreck of the handkerchief; what need to ruin the pretty, fragile
thing?

"I am quite sure no one will ever hate you for what you haven't done,"
he said, steadily. "That would be abominably unfair. But, you see, I
don't understand--and I don't like--I don't wish--to ask questions."

"_Do_ ask questions!" she cried, looking at him almost reproachfully.
"That's just what I want you to do--Only," she added, hanging her head
in depression, "I shouldn't know what to answer. I am played with, and
treated as a baby! There is something horrible the matter--and no one
trusts me--every one keeps me in the dark. No one ever thinks whether I
am miserable or not."

She raised her hands to her eyes and vehemently wiped away her tears
with the tattered lace handkerchief. In all these words and actions,
however, she was graceful and touching, because she was natural. She was
not posing or conscious, she was hiding nothing. Yet Ashe felt certain
she could act a part magnificently; only it would not be for the lie's
sake, but for the sake of some romantic impulse or imagination.

"Why should you torment yourself so?" he asked her, kindly. Her hand had
dropped and lay beside her on the bench. To his own amazement he found
himself clasping it. "Isn't it better to forget old griefs? You can't
help what happened years ago--you can't undo it. You've got to live your
own life--_happily_! And I just wish you'd set about it."

He smiled at her, and there were few faces more attractive than his when
he let his natural softness have its way, without irony. She let her
eyes be drawn to his, and as they met he saw a flush rise in her clear
skin and spread to the pale gold of her hair. The man in him was
marvellously pleased by that flush--fascinated, indeed. But she gave him
small time to observe it; she drew herself impatiently away.

"Of course, you don't understand a word about it," she said, "or you
couldn't talk like that. But I'll tell you." Her eyes, half miserable,
half audacious, returned to him. "My sister--came here--because I sent
for her. I made mademoiselle go with a letter. Of course, I knew there
was a mystery--I knew the Grosvilles did not want us to meet--I knew
that she and maman hated each other. But maman will tell me nothing--and
I have a _right_ to know."

"No, you have no right to know," said Ashe, gravely.

She looked at him wildly.

"I have--I have!" she repeated, passionately. "Well, I told my sister to
meet me here--I had forgotten, you see, all about you! My mind was so
full of Alice. And when she came I felt as if it was a dream--a
horrible, tragic dream. You know--she is _so_ like me--which means, I
suppose, that we are both like papa. Only her face--it's not handsome,
oh no--but it's stern--and--yes, noble! I was proud of her. I would like
to have gone on my knee and kissed her dress. But she would not take my
hand--she would hardly speak to me. She said she had come, because it
was best, now that I was in England, that we should meet once, and
understand that we _couldn't_ meet--that we could never, never be
friends. She said that she hated my mother--that for years she had kept
silence, but that now she meant to punish maman--to drive her from
London. And then"--the girl's lips trembled under the memory--"she came
close to me, and she looked into my eyes, and she said, 'Yes, we're like
each other---we're like our father--and it would be better for us both
if we had never been born--'"

"Ah, cruel!" cried Ashe, involuntarily, and once more his hand found
Kitty's small fingers and pressed them in his.

Kitty looked at him with a strange, exalted look.

"No. I think it's true. I often think I'm not made to be happy. I can't
ever be happy--it's not in me."

"It's in you to say foolish things then!" said Ashe, lightly, and
crossing his arms he tried to assume the practical elder-brotherly air,
which he felt befitted the situation--if anything befitted it. For in
truth it seemed to him one singularly confused and ugly. Their talk
floated above tragic depths, guessed at by him, wholly unknown to her.
And yet her youth shrank from it knew not what--"as an animal shrinks
from shadows in the twilight." She seemed to him to sit enwrapped in a
vague cloud of shame, resenting and hating it, yet not able to escape
from thinking and talking of it. But she must not talk of it.

She did not answer his last remark for a little while. She sat looking
before her, overwhelmed, it seemed, by an inward rush of images and
sensations. Till, with a sudden movement, she turned to him and said,
smiling, quite in her ordinary voice:

"Do you know why I shall never be happy? It is because I have such a bad
temper."

"Have you?" said Ashe, smiling.

She gave him a curious look.

"You don't believe it? If you had been in the convent, you would have
believed it. I'm mad sometimes--quite mad; with pride, I suppose, and
vanity. The Soeurs said it was that."

"They had to explain it somehow," said Ashe. "But I am quite sure that
if I lived in a convent I should have a furious temper."

"You!" she said, half contemptuously. "You couldn't be ill-tempered
anywhere. That's the one thing I don't like about you--you're too
calm--too--too satisfied. It's--Well! you said a sharp thing to me, so I
don't see why I shouldn't say one to you. You shouldn't look as though
you enjoyed your life so much. It's _bourgeois_! It is, indeed." And she
frowned upon him with a little extravagant air that amused him.

By some prescience, she had put on that morning a black dress of thin
material, made with extreme simplicity. No flounces, no fanfaronnade. A
little girlish dress, that made the girlish figure seem even frailer and
lighter than he remembered it the night before in the splendors of her
Paris gown. Her large black hat emphasized the whiteness of her brow,
the brilliance of her most beautiful eyes; and then all the rest was
insubstantial sprite and airy nothing, to be crushed in one hand. And
yet what untamed, indomitable things breathed from it--a self surely
more self, more intensely, obstinately alive than any he had yet known.

Her attack had brought the involuntary blood to his cheeks, which
annoyed him. But he invited her to say why cheerfulness was a vice. She
replied that no one should look success--as much as he did.

"And you scorn success?"

"Scorn it!" She drew a long breath, clasped both her hands above her
head, then slowly let the thin arms fall again. "Scorn it! What
nonsense! But everybody who hasn't got it hates those who have."

"Don't hate me!" said Ashe, quickly.

"Yes," she said, with stubbornness, "I must. Do you know why I was such
a wild-cat at school? Because some of the other girls were more
important than I--much more important--and richer--and more
beautiful--and people paid them more attention. And that seemed to
_burn_ the heart in me." She pressed her hands to her breast with a
passionate gesture. "You know the French word _panache_? Well, that's
what I care for --that's what I _adore_! To be the first--the best--the
most distinguished. To be envied--and pointed at--obeyed when I lift my
finger--and then to come to some great, glorious, tragic end!"

Ashe moved impatiently.

"Lady Kitty, I don't like to hear you talk like this. It's wild, and
it's also--I beg your pardon--"

"In bad taste?" she said, catching him up breathlessly. "That's what you
meant, isn't it? You said it to me before, when I called you handsome."

"Pshaw!" he said, in vexation. She watched him throw himself back and
feel for his cigarette-case; a gesture of her hand gave him leave; she
waited, smiling, till he had taken a few calming whiffs. Then she gently
moved towards him.

"Don't be angry with me!" she said, in a sweet, low voice. "Don't you
understand how hard it is--to have that nature--and then to come here
out of the convent--where one had lived on dreams--and find one's
self--"

She turned her head away. Ashe put down his new-lit cigarette.

"Find yourself?" he repeated.

"Everybody scorns me!" she said, her brow drooping.

Ashe exclaimed.

"You know it's true. My mother is not received. Can you deny that?"

"She has many friends," said Ashe.

"She is _not received_. When I speak of her no one answers me. Lady
Grosville asked me here--_me_--out of charity. It would be thought a
disgrace to marry me--"

"Look here, Lady Kitty!--"

"And I"--she wrung her small hands, as though she clasped the necks of
her enemies--"I would never _look_ at a man who did not think it the
glory of his life to win me. So you see, I shall never marry. But then
the dreadful thing is--"

She let him see a white, stormy face.

"That I have no loyalty to maman--I--I don't think I even love her."

Ashe surveyed her gravely.

"You don't mean that," he said.

"I think I do," she persisted. "I had a horrid childhood. I won't tell
tales; but, you see, I don't _know_ maman. I know the Soeurs much
better. And then for some one you don't know--to have to--to have to
bear--this horrible thing--"

She buried her face in her hands. Ashe looked at her in perplexity.

"You sha'n't bear anything horrible," he said, with energy. "There are
plenty of people who will take care of that. Do you mind telling
me--have there been special difficulties just lately?"

"Oh yes," she said, calmly, looking up, "awful! Maman's debts
are--well--ridiculous. For that alone I don't think she'll be able to
stay in London--apart from--Alice."

The name recalled all she had just passed through, and her face
quivered. "What will she do?" she said, under her breath. "How will she
punish us?--and why?--for what?"

Her dread, her ignorance, her fierce, bruised vanity, her struggling
pride, her helplessness, appealed amazingly to the man beside her. He
began to talk to her very gently and wisely, begging her to let the past
alone, to think only what could be done to help the present. In the
first place, would she not let his mother be of use to her?

He could answer for Lady Tranmore. Why shouldn't Lady Kitty spend the
summer with her in Scotland? No doubt Madame d'Estrées would be abroad.

"Then I must go with her," said Kitty.

Ashe hesitated.

"Of course, if she wishes it."

"But I don't know that she will wish it. She is not very fond of me,"
said Kitty, doubtfully. "Yes, I would like to stay with Lady Tranmore.
But will your cousin be there?"

"Miss Lyster?"

Kitty nodded.

"How can I tell? Of course, she is often there."

"It is quite curious," said Kitty, after reflection, "how we dislike
each other. And it is so odd. You know most people like me!"

She looked up at him without a trace of coquetry, rather with a certain
timidity that feared possible rebuff. "That's always been my
difficulty," she went on, "till now. Everybody spoils me. I always get
my own way. In the convent I was indulged and flattered, and then they
wondered that I made all sorts of follies. I want a guide--that's quite
certain--somebody to tell me what to do."

"I would offer myself for the post," said Ashe, "but that I feel
perfectly sure that you would never follow anybody's advice in
anything."

"Yes, I would," she said, wistfully. "I would--"

Ashe's face changed.

"Ah, if you would--"

She sprang up. "Do you see "--she pointed to some figures on a distant
path--"they are coming back from church. You understand?--_nobody_ must
know about my sister. It will come round to Aunt Lina, of course; but I
hope it'll be when I'm gone. If she knew now, I should go back to London
to-day."

Ashe made it clear to her that he would be discretion itself. They left
the bench, but, as they began to ascend the steps, Kitty turned back.

"I wish I hadn't seen her," she said, in a miserable tone, the tears
flooding once more into her eyes.

Ashe looked at her with great kindness, but without speaking. The moment
of sharp pain passed, and she moved on languidly beside him. But there
was an infection in his strong, handsome presence, and her smiles soon
came back. By the time they neared the house, indeed, she seemed to be
in wild spirits again.

Did he know, she asked him, that three more guests were coming that
afternoon--Mr. Darrell, Mr. Louis Harman, _and_--Mr. Geoffrey Cliffe?
She laid an emphasis on the last name, which made Ashe say, carelessly:

"You want to meet him so much?"

"Of course. Doesn't all the world?"

Ashe replied that he could only answer for himself, and as far as he was
concerned he could do very well without Cliffe's company at all times.

Whereupon Kitty protested with fire that other men were jealous of such
a famous person because women liked him--because--

"Because the man's a coxcomb and the women spoil him?"

"A coxcomb!"

Kitty was up in arms.

"Pray, is he not a great traveller?--_a very_ great traveller?" she
asked, with indignation.

"Certainly, by his own account."

"And a most brilliant writer?"

"Macaulayese," said Ashe, perversely, "and not very good at that."

Kitty was at first struck dumb, and then began a voluble protest against
unfairness so monstrous. Did not all intelligent people read and admire?
It was mere jealousy, she repeated, to deny the gentleman's claims.

Ashe let her talk and quote and excite herself, applying every now and
then a little sly touch of the goad, to make her still run on, and so
forget the tragic hour which had overshadowed her. And meanwhile all he
cared for was to watch the flashing of her face and eyes, and the play
of the wind in her hair, and the springing grace with which she moved.
Poor child!--it all came back to that--poor child!--what was to be done
with her?

       *       *       *       *       *

At luncheon--the Sunday luncheon--which still, at Grosville Park, as in
the early Victorian days of Lord Grosville's mother, consisted of a huge
baronial sirloin to which all else upon the varied table appeared as
appurtenance and appendage, Ashe allowed himself the inward reflection
that the Grosville Park Sundays were degenerating. Both Lord and Lady
Grosville had been good hosts in their day; and the downrightness of the
wife had been as much to the taste of many as the agreeable gossip of
the husband. But on this occasion both were silent and absent-minded.
Lady Grosville showed no generalship in placing her guests; the wrong
people sat next to each other, and the whole party dragged--without a
leader.

And certainly Kitty Bristol did nothing to enliven it. She sat very
silent, her black dress changing her a good deal, to Ashe's thinking,
bringing back, as he chose to fancy, the pale convent girl. Was it so
that she went through her pious exercises?--by-the-way, she was, of
course, a Catholic?--said her lessons, and went to her confessor? Had
the French cousin with whom she rode stag-hunting ever seen her like
this? No; Ashe felt certain that "Henri" had never seen her, except as a
fashion-plate, or _en amazone_. He could have made nothing of this ghost
in black--this distinguished, piteous, little ghost.

After luncheon it became tolerably clear to Ashe that Lady Grosville's
preoccupation had a cause. And presently catching him alone in the
library, whither he had retired with some official papers, she closed
the door with deliberate care, and stood before him.

"I see you are interested in Kitty, and I feel as if I must tell you,
and ask your opinion. William, do you know what that child has been
doing?"

He looked up from his writing.

"Ah!--what have you been discovering?"

"Grosville told you the story last night."

Ashe nodded.

"Well--Kitty wrote to Alice this morning--and they met. Alice has kept
her room since--prostrate--so the Sowerbys tell me. I have just had a
note from Mrs. Sowerby. Wasn't it an extraordinary, an indelicate thing
to do?"

Ashe studied the frowning lady a moment--so large and daunting in her
black silk and white lace. She seemed to suggest all those aspects of
the English Sunday for which he had most secret dislike--its Pharisaism
and dulness and heavy meals. He felt himself through and through Lady
Kitty's champion.

"I should have thought it very natural," was his reply.

Lady Grosville threw up her hands.

"Natural!--when she knows--"

"How can she know?" cried Ashe, hotly. "How can such a child know or
guess anything? She only knows that there is some black charge against
her mother, on which no one will enlighten her. How can they? But
meanwhile her mother is ostracized, and she feels herself dragged into
the disgrace, not understanding why or wherefore. Could anything be more
pathetic--more touching?"

In his heat of feeling he got up, and began to pace up and down. Lady
Grosville's countenance expressed first astonishment--then wavering.

"Oh--of course, it's very sad," she said--"extremely sad. But I should
have thought Kitty was clever enough to understand at least that Alice
must have some grave reason for breaking with her mother--"

"Don't you all forget what a child she is," said Ashe, indignantly--"not
yet nineteen!"

"Yes, that's true," said Lady Grosville, grudgingly. "I must confess I
find it difficult to judge her fairly. She's so different from my own
girls."

Ashe hastily agreed. Then it struck him as odd that he should have
fallen so quickly into this position of Kitty's defender with her
father's family; and he drew in his horns. He resumed his work, and Lady
Grosville sat for a while, her hands in her lap, quietly observing him.

At last she said:

"So you think, William, I had better leave Kitty alone?"

"About what?" Ashe raised his curly head with a laugh. "Don't put too
much responsibility on me. I know nothing about young ladies."

"I don't know that I do--much," said Lady Grosville, candidly. "My own
daughters are so exceptional."

Ashe held his peace. Distant cousins as they were, he hardly knew the
Grosville girls apart, and had never yet grasped any reason why he
should.

"At any rate, I see clearly," said Lady Grosville, after another pause,
"that you're very sorry for Kitty. Of course, it's very nice of you, and
I find it's what most people feel."

"Hang it! dear Lady Grosville, why shouldn't they?" said Ashe, turning
round on his chair. "If ever there was a forlorn little person on earth,
I thought Lady Kitty was that person at lunch to-day."

"And after that absurd exhibition last night!" said Lady Grosville, with
a shrug. "You never know where to have her. You think she looked ill?"

"I am sure she has got a splitting headache," said Ashe, boldly. "And
why you and Grosville shouldn't be as sorry for her as for Lady Alice I
can't imagine. _She's_ done nothing."

"No, that's true," said Lady Grosville, as she rose. Then she added:
"I'll go and see if she has a headache. You must consult with us,
William; you know the mother so well."

"Oh, I'm no good!" said Ashe, with energy. "But I'm sure that kindness
would pay with Lady Kitty."

He smiled at her, wishing to Heaven she would go.

Lady Grosville stared.

"I hope we are always kind to her," she said, with a touch of
haughtiness. And then the library door closed behind her.

       *       *       *       *       *

"Kindness" was indeed, that afternoon, the order of the day, as from the
Grosvilles to Lady Kitty. Ashe wondered how she liked it. The girls
followed her about with shawls. Lady Grosville installed her on a sofa
in the back drawing-room. A bottle of sal-volatile appeared, and
Caroline Grosville, instead of going twice to Sunday-school, devoted
herself to fanning Kitty, though the weather--which was sunny, with a
sharp east wind--suggested, to Ashe's thinking, fires rather than fans.

He was himself carried off for the customary Sunday walk, Mr. Kershaw
being now determined to claim the sacred rights of the press. The
walkers left the house by a garden door, to reach which they had to pass
through the farther drawing-room. Kitty, a picturesque figure on the
sofa, nodded farewell to Ashe, and then, unseen by Caroline Grosville,
who sat behind her, shot him a last look which drove him to a
precipitate exit lest the inward laugh should out.

The walk through the flat Cambridgeshire country was long and strenuous.
Though for at least half of it the active journalist who was Ashe's
companion conceived the poorest opinion of the new minister. Ashe knew
nothing; had no opinions; cared for nothing, except now and then for the
stalking of an unfamiliar bird, or the antics of the dogs, or tales of
horse-racing, of which he talked with a fervor entirely denied to those
high political topics of which Kershaw's ardent soul was full.

Again and again did the journalist put them under his nose in their most
attractive guise. In vain; Ashe would have none of them. Till suddenly a
chance word started an Indian frontier question, vastly important, and
totally unknown to the English public. Ashe casually began to talk; the
trickle became a stream, and presently he was holding forth with an
impetuosity, a knowledge, a matured and careful judgment that fairly
amazed the man beside him.

The long road, bordered by the flat fen meadows, the wide silver sky,
the gently lengthening day, all passed unnoticed. The journalist found
himself in the grip of a _mind_--strong, active, rich. He gave himself
up with docility, yet with a growing astonishment, and when they stood
once more on the steps of the house he said to his companion:

"You must have followed these matters for years. Why have you never
spoken in the House, or written anything?"

Ashe's aspect changed at once.

"What would have been the good?" he said, with his easy smile. "The
fellows who didn't know wouldn't have believed me; and the fellows who
knew didn't want telling."

A shade of impatience showed in Kershaw's aspect.

"I thought," he said, "ours was government by discussion."

Ashe laughed, and, turning on the steps, he pointed to the splendid
gardens and finely wooded park.

"Or government by country-houses--which? If you support us in this--as I
gather you will--this walk will have been worth a debate--now won't it?"

The flattered journalist smiled, and they entered the house. From the
inner hall Lord Grosville perceived them.

"Geoffrey Cliffe's arrived," he said to Ashe, as they reached him.

"Has he?" said Ashe, and turned to go up-stairs.

But Kershaw showed a lively interest. "You mean the traveller?" he asked
of his host.

"I do. As mad as usual," said the old man. "He and my niece Kitty make a
pair."



VI


When Ashe returned to the drawing-room he found it filled with the sound
of talk and laughter. But it was a talk and laughter in which the
Grosville family seemed to have itself but little part. Lady Grosville
sat stiffly on an early Victorian sofa, her spectacles on her nose,
reading the _Times_ of the preceding day, or appearing to read it. Amy
Grosville, the eldest girl, was busy in a corner, putting the finishing
touches to a piece of illumination; while Caroline, seated on the floor,
was showing the small child of a neighbor how to put a picture-puzzle
together. Lord Grosville was professedly in a farther room, talking with
the Austrian count; but every other minute he strolled restlessly into
the big drawing-room, and stood at the edge of the talk and laughter,
only to turn on his heel again and go back to the count--who meanwhile
appeared in the opening between the two rooms, his hands on his hips,
eagerly watching Kitty Bristol and her companions, while waiting, as
courtesy bade him, for the return of his host.

Ashe at once divined that the Grosville family were in revolt. Nor had
he to look far to discover the cause.

Was that astonishing young lady in truth identical with the pensive
figure of the morning? Kitty had doffed her black, and she wore a
"demi-toilette" gown of the utmost elegance, of which the expensiveness
had, no doubt, already sunk deep into Lady Grosville's soul. At
Grosville Park the new fashion of "tea-gowns" was not favorably
regarded. It was thought to be a mere device of silly and extravagant
women, and an "afternoon dress," though of greater pretensions than a
morning gown, was still a sober affair, not in any way to be confounded
with those decorative effects that nature and sound sense reserved for
the evening.

But Kitty's dress was of some white silky material; and it displayed her
slender throat and some portion of her thin white arms. The Dean's wife,
Mrs. Winston, as she secretly studied it, felt an inward satisfaction;
for here at last was one of those gowns she had once or twice gazed on
with a covetous awe in the shop-windows of the Rue de la Paix, brought
down to earth, and clothing a simple mortal. They were then real, and
they could be worn by real women; which till now the Dean's wife had
scarcely believed.

Alack! how becoming were these concoctions to minxes with fair hair and
sylphlike frames! Kitty was radiant, triumphant; and Ashe was certain
that Lady Grosville knew it, however she might barricade herself behind
the _Times_. The girl's slim fingers gesticulated in aid of her tongue;
one tiny foot swung lightly over the other; the glistening folds of the
silk wrapped her in a shimmering whiteness, above which the fair
head--negligently thrown back--shone out on a red background, made by
the velvet chair in which she sat.

The Dean was placed close beside her, and was clearly enjoying himself
enormously. And in front of her, absorbed in her, engaged, indeed, in
hot and furious debate with her, stood the great man who had just
arrived.

"How do you do, Cliffe?" said Ashe, as he approached.

Geoffrey Cliffe turned sharply, and a perfunctory greeting passed
between the two men.

"When did you arrive?" said Ashe, as he threw himself into an arm-chair.

"Last Tuesday. But that don't matter," said Cliffe,
impatiently--"nothing matters--except that I must somehow defeat Lady
Kitty!"

And he stood, looking down upon the girl in front of him, his hands on
his sides, his queer countenance twitching with suppressed laughter. An
odd figure, tall, spare, loosely jointed, surmounted by a pale parchment
face, which showed a somewhat protruding chin, a long and delicate nose,
and fine brows under a strange overhanging mass of fair hair. He had the
dissipated, battered look of certain Vandyck cavaliers, and certainly no
handsomeness of any accepted kind. But as Ashe well knew, the aspect and
personality of Geoffrey Cliffe possessed for innumerable men and women,
in English "society" and out of it, a fascination it was easier to laugh
at than to explain.

Lady Kitty had eyes certainly for no one else. When he spoke of
"defeating" her, she laughed her defiance, and a glance of battle passed
between her and Cliffe. Cliffe, still holding her with his look,
considered what new ground to break.

"What is the subject?" said Ashe.

"That men are vainer than women," said Kitty. "It's so true, it's hardly
worth saying--isn't it? Mr. Cliffe talks nonsense about our love of
clothes--and of being admired. As if that were vanity! Of course it's
only our sense of duty."

"Duty?" cried Cliffe, twisting his mustache. "To whom?"

"To the men, of course! If we didn't like clothes, if we didn't like
being admired--where would you be?"

"Personally, I could get on," said Cliffe. "You expect us to be too much
on our knees."

"As if we should ever get you there if it didn't amuse you!" said Kitty.
"Hypocrites! If we don't dress, paint, chatter, and tell lies for you,
you won't look at us--and if we do--"

"Of course, it all depends on how well it's done," threw in Cliffe.

Kitty laughed.

"That's judging by results. I look to the motive. I repeat, if I powder
and paint, it's not because I'm vain, but because it's my painful duty
to give you pleasure."

"And if it doesn't give me pleasure?"

She shrugged her shoulders.

"Call me stupid then--not vain. I ought to have done it better."

"In any case," said Ashe, "it's your duty to please us?"

"Yes--" sighed Kitty. "Worse luck!"

And she sank softly back in her chair, her eyes shining under the
stimulus of the laugh that ran through her circle. The Dean joined in it
uneasily, conscious, no doubt, of the sharp, crackling movements by
which in the distance Lady Grosville was dumbly expressing
herself--through the _Times_. Cliffe looked at the small figure a
moment, then seized a chair and sat down in front of her, astride.

"I wonder why you want to please us?" he said, abruptly, his magnificent
blue eyes upon her.

"Ah!" said Kitty, throwing up her hands, "if we only knew!"

"You find it in the tragedy of your sex?"

"Or comedy," said the Dean, rising. "I take you at your word, Lady
Kitty. To-night it will be your duty to please _me_. Remember, you
promised to say us some more French." He lifted an admonitory finger.

"I don't know any 'Athalie,'" said Kitty, demurely, crossing her hands
upon her knee.

The Dean smiled to himself as he crossed the room to Lady Grosville, and
endeavored by an impartial criticism of the new curate's manner and
voice, as they had revealed themselves in church that morning, to
distract her attention from her niece.

A hopeless task--for Kitty's personality was of the kind which absorbs,
engulfs attention, do what the by-stander will. Eyes and ears were drawn
perforce into the little whirlpool that she made, their owners yielding
them, now with delight, now with repulsion.

Mary Lyster, for instance, came in presently, fresh from a walk with
Lady Edith Manley. She, too, had changed her dress. But it was a
discreet and reasonable change, and Lady Grosville looked at her soft
gray gown with its muslin collar and cuffs--delicately embroidered, yet
of a nunlike cut and air notwithstanding--with a hot energy of approval,
provoked entirely by Kitty's audacities. Mary meanwhile raised her
eyebrows gently at the sight of Kitty. She swept past the group, giving
a cool greeting to Geoffrey Cliffe, and presently settled herself in the
farther room, attended by Louis Harman and Darrell, who had just arrived
by the afternoon train. Clearly she observed Kitty and observed her with
dislike. The attitude of her companions was not so simple.

"What an amazing young woman!" said Harman, presently, under his breath,
yet open-mouthed. "I suppose she and Cliffe are old friends."

"I believe they never met before," said Mary.

Darrell laughed.

"Lady Kitty makes short work of the preliminaries," he said; "she told
me the other night life wasn't long enough to begin with talk about the
weather."

"The weather?" said Harman. "At the present moment she and Cliffe seem
to be discussing the 'Dame aux Camélias.' Since when do they take young
girls to see that kind of thing in Paris?"

Miss Lyster gave a little cough, and bending forward said to Harman:
"Lady Tranmore has shown me your picture. It is a dear, delicious thing!
I never saw anything more heavenly than the angel."

Harman smiled a flattered smile. Mary Lyster referred to a copy of a
"Filippo Lippi Annunciation" which he had just executed in water-color
for Lady Tranmore, to whom he was devoted. He was, however, devoted to a
good many peeresses, with whom he took tea, and for whom he undertook
many harmless and elegant services. He painted their portraits, in small
size, after pre-Raphaelite models, and he occasionally presented them
with copies--a little weak, but charming--of their favorite Italian
pictures. He and Mary began now to talk of Florence with much enthusiasm
and many caressing adjectives. For Harman most things were "sweet"; for
Mary, "interesting" or "suggestive." She talked fast and fluently; a
subtle observer might have guessed she wished it to be seen that for her
Lady Kitty Bristol's flirtations, be they in or out of taste, were
simply non-existent.

Darrell listened intermittently, watched Cliffe and Lady Kitty, and
thought a good deal. That extraordinary girl was certainly "carrying on"
with Cliffe, as she had "carried on" with Ashe on the night of her first
acquaintance with him in St. James's Place. Ashe apparently took it with
equanimity, for he was still sitting beside the pair, twisting a
paper-knife and smiling, sometimes putting in a word, but more often
silent, and apparently of no account at all to either Kitty or Cliffe.

Darrell knew that the new minister disliked and despised Geoffrey
Cliffe; he was aware, too, that Cliffe returned these sentiments, and
was not unlikely to be found attacking Ashe in public before long on
certain points of foreign policy, where Cliffe conceived himself to be a
master. The meeting of the two men under the Grosvilles' roof struck
Darrell as curious. Why had Cliffe been invited by these very
respectable and straitlaced people the Grosvilles? Darrell could only
reflect that Lady Eleanor Cliffe, the traveller's mother, was probably
connected with them by some of those innumerable and ever-ramifying
links that hold together a certain large group of English families; and
that, moreover, Lady Grosville, in spite of philanthropy and
Evangelicalism, had always shown a rather pronounced taste in
"lions"--of the masculine sort. Of the women to be met with at Grosville
Park, one could be certain. Lady Grosville made no excuses for her own
sex. But she was a sufficiently ambitious hostess to know that agreeable
parties are not constructed out of the saints alone. The men, therefore,
must provide the sinners; and of some of the persons then most in vogue
she was careful not to know too much. For, socially, one must live; and
that being so, the strictness of to-day may have at any moment to be
purchased by the laxity of to-morrow. Such, at any rate, was Darrell's
analysis of the situation.

He was still astonished, however, when all was said. For Cliffe during
the preceding winter, on his return from some remarkable travels in
Persia, had paused on the Riviera, and an affair at Cannes with a French
vicomtesse had got into the English papers. No one knew the exact truth
of it; and a small volume of verse by Cliffe, published immediately
afterwards--verse very distinguished, passionate, and obscure--had
offered many clews, but no solution whatever. Nobody supposed, however,
that the story was anything but a bad one. Moreover, the last book of
travels--which had had an enormous success--contained one of the most
malicious attacks on foreign missions that Darrell remembered. And if
the missionaries had a supporter in England, it was Lady Grosville. Had
she designs--material designs--on behalf of Miss Amy or Miss Caroline?
Darrell smiled at the notion. Cliffe must certainly marry money, and was
not to be captured by any Miss Amys--or Lady Kittys either, for the
matter of that.

But?--Darrell glanced at the lady beside him, and his busy thoughts took
a new turn. He had seen the greeting between Miss Lyster and Cliffe. It
was cold; but all the same the world knew that they had once been
friends. Was it some five years before that Miss Lyster, then in the
height of a brilliant season under the wing of Lady Tranmore, had been
much seen in public with Geoffrey Cliffe? Then he had departed eastward,
to explore the upper waters of the Mékong, and the gossip excited had
died away. Of late her name had been rather coupled with that of William
Ashe.

Well, so far as the world was concerned, she might mate with
either--with the mad notoriety of Cliffe or the young distinction of
Ashe. Darrell's bitter heart contracted as he reflected that only for
him and the likes of him, men of the people, with average ability, and a
scarcely average income, were maidens of Mary Lyster's dower and
pedigree out of reach. Meanwhile he revenged himself by being her very
good friend, and allowing himself at times much caustic plainness of
speech in his talks with her.

       *       *       *       *       *

"What are you three gossiping about?" said Ashe, strolling in presently
from the other room to join them.

"As usual," said Darrell. "I am listening to perfection. Miss Lyster and
Harman are discussing pictures."

Ashe stifled a little yawn. He threw himself down by Mary, vowing that
there was no more pleasure to be got out of pictures now that people
would try to know so much about them. Mary meanwhile raised herself
involuntarily to look into the farther room, where the noise made by
Cliffe and Lady Kitty had increased.

"They are going to sing," said Ashe, lazily--"and it won't be hymns."

In fact, Lady Kitty had opened the piano, and had begun the first bars
of something French and operatic. At the first sound of Kitty's music,
however, Lady Grosville drew herself up; she closed the volume of
Evangelical sermons for which she had exchanged the _Times_; she
deposited her spectacles sharply on the table beside her.

"Amy!--Caroline!"

Those young ladies rose. So did Lady Grosville. Kitty meanwhile sat with
suspended fingers and laughing eyes, waiting on her aunt's movements.

"Kitty, pray don't let me interfere with your playing," said Lady
Grosville, with severe politeness--"but perhaps you would kindly put it
off for half an hour. I am now going to read to the servants--"

"Gracious!" said Kitty, springing up. "I was going to play Mr. Cliffe
some Offenbach."

"Ah, but the piano can be heard in the library, and your cousin Amy
plays the harmonium--"

"_Mon Dieu_!" said Kitty. "We will be as quiet as mice. Or"--she made a
quick step in pursuit of her aunt--"shall I come and sing, Aunt Lina?"

Ashe, in his shelter behind Mary Lyster, fell into a silent convulsion
of laughter.

"No, thank you!" said Lady Grosville, hastily. And she rustled away
followed by her daughters.

Kitty came flying into the inner room followed by Cliffe.

"What have I done?" she said, breathlessly, addressing Harman, who rose
to greet her. "Mayn't one play the piano here on Sundays?"

"That depends," said Harman, "on what you play."

"Who made your English Sunday?" said Kitty, impetuously. "Je vous
demande--_who_?"

She threw her challenge to all the winds of heaven--standing tiptoe, her
hands poised on the back of a chair, the smallest and most delicate of
furies.

"A breath unmakes it, as a breath has made," said Cliffe. "Come and play
billiards, Lady Kitty. You said just now you played."

"Billiards!" said Harman, throwing up his hands. "On Sunday--_here_?"

"Can they hear the balls?" said Kitty, eagerly, with a gesture towards
the library.

Mary Lyster, who had been perfunctorily looking at a book, laid it down.

"It would certainly greatly distress Lady Grosville," she said, in a
voice studiously soft, but on that account perhaps all the more
significant.

Kitty glanced at Mary, and Ashe saw the sudden red in her cheek. She
turned provokingly to Cliffe. "There's quite half an hour, isn't there,
before one need dress--"

"More," said Cliffe. "Come along."

And he made for the door, which he held open for her. It was now Mary
Lyster's turn to flush--the rebuff had been so naked and unadorned. Ashe
rose as Kitty passed him.

"Why don't you come, too?" she said, pausing. There was a flash from
eyes deep and dark beneath a pair of wilful brows. "Aunt Lina would
never be cross with _you_!"

"Thank you! I should be delighted to play buffer, but unfortunately I
have some work I must do before dinner."

"Must you?" She looked at him uncertainly, then at Cliffe. In the dusk
of the large, heavily furnished room, the pale yet brilliant gold of her
hair, her white dress, her slim energy and elegance drew all their
eyes--even Mary Lyster's.

"I must," Ashe repeated, smiling. "I am glad your headache is so much
better."

"It is not in the least better!"

"Then you disguise it like a heroine."

He stood beside her, looking down upon her, his height and strength
measured against her smallness. Apparently his amused detachment, the
slight dryness of his tone annoyed her. She made a tart reply and
vanished through the door that Cliffe held open for her.

       *       *       *       *       *

Ashe retired to his own room, dealt with some Foreign Office work, and
then allowed himself a meditative smoke. The click of the billiard-balls
had ceased abruptly about ten minutes after he had begun upon his
papers; there had been voices in the hall, Lord Grosville's he thought
among them; and now all was silence.

He thought of the events of the afternoon with mingled amusement and
annoyance. Cliffe was an unscrupulous fellow, and the child's head might
be turned. She should be protected from him in future--he vowed she
should. Lady Tranmore should take it in hand. She had been a match for
Cliffe in various other directions before this.

What brought the man, with his notorious character and antecedents, to
Grosville Park--one of the dwindling number of country-houses in England
where the old Puritan restrictions still held? It was said he was on the
look-out for a post--Ashe, indeed, happened to know it officially; and
Lord Grosville had a good deal of influence. Moreover, failing an
appointment, he was understood to be aiming at Parliament and office;
and there were two safe county-seats within the Grosville sphere.

"Yet even when he wants a thing he can't behave himself in order to get
it," thought Ashe. "Anybody else would have turned Sabbatarian for once,
and refrained from flirting with the Grosvilles' niece. But that's
Cliffe all over--and perhaps the best thing about him."

He might have added that as Cliffe was supposed to desire an appointment
under either the Foreign Office or the Colonial Office, it might have
been thought to his interest to show himself more urbane than he had in
fact shown himself that afternoon to the new Under-Secretary for Foreign
Affairs. But Ashe rarely or never indulged himself in reflections of
that kind. Besides, he and Cliffe knew each other too well for posing.
There was a time when they had been on very friendly terms, and when
Cliffe had been constantly in his mother's drawing-room. Lady Tranmore
had a weakness for "influencing" young men of family and ability; and
Cliffe, in fact, owed her a good deal. Then she had seen cause to think
ill of him; and, moreover, his travels had taken him to the other side
of the world. Ashe was now well aware that Cliffe reckoned on him as a
hostile influence and would not try either to deceive or to propitiate
him.

He thought Cliffe had been disagreeably surprised to see him that
afternoon. Perhaps it was the sudden sense of antagonism acting on the
man's excitable nature that had made him fling himself into the wild
nonsense he had talked with Lady Kitty.

And thenceforward Ashe's thoughts were possessed by Kitty only--Kitty in
her two aspects, of the morning and the afternoon. He dressed in a
reverie, and went down-stairs still dreaming.

       *       *       *       *       *

At dinner he found himself responsible for Mary Lyster. Kitty was on the
other side of the table, widely separated both from himself and Cliffe.
She was in a little Empire dress of blue and silver, as extravagantly
simple as her gown of the afternoon had been extravagantly elaborate.

Ashe observed the furtive study that the Grosville girls could not help
bestowing upon her--upon her shoulder-straps and long, bare arms, upon
her high waist and the blue and silver bands in her hair. Kitty herself
sat in a pensive or proud silence. The Dean was beside her, but she
scarcely spoke to him, and as to the young man from the neighborhood who
had taken her in, he was to her as though he were not.

"Has there been a row?" Ashe inquired, in a low voice, of his companion.

Mary looked at him quietly.

"Lord Grosville asked them not to play--because of the servants."

"Good!" said Ashe. "The servants were, of course, playing cards in the
house-keeper's room."

"Not at all. They were singing hymns with Lady Grosville."

Ashe looked incredulous.

"Only the slaveys and scullery maids that couldn't help themselves.
Never mind. Was Lady Kitty amenable?"

"She seems to have made Lord Grosville very angry. Lady Grosville and I
smoothed him down."

"Did you?" said Ashe. "That was nice of you."

Mary colored a little, and did not reply. Presently Ashe resumed.

"Aren't you as sorry for her as I am?"

"For Lady Kitty? I should think she managed to amuse herself pretty
well."

"She seems to me the most deplorable tragic little person," said Ashe,
slowly.

Miss Lyster laughed.

"I really don't see it," she said.

"Oh yes, you do," he persisted--"if you think a moment. Be kind to
her--won't you?"

She drew herself up with a cold dignity.

"I confess that she has never attracted me in the least."

Ashe returned to his dinner, dimly conscious that he had spoken like a
fool.

When the ladies had withdrawn, the conversation fell on some important
news from the Far East contained in the Sunday papers that Geoffrey
Cliffe had brought down, and presumed to form part of the despatches
which the two ministers staying in the house had received that afternoon
by Foreign Office messenger. The government of Teheran was in one of its
periodical fits of ill-temper with England; had been meddling with
Afghanistan, flirting badly with Russia, and bringing ridiculous charges
against the British minister. An expedition to Bushire was talked of,
and the Radical press was on the war-path. The cabinet minister said
little. A Lord Privy Seal, reverentially credited with advising royalty
in its private affairs, need have no views on the Persian Gulf. But Ashe
was appealed to and talked well. The minister at Teheran was an old
friend of his, and he described the personal attacks made on him for
political reasons by the Shah and his ministers with a humor which kept
the table entertained.

Suddenly Cliffe interposed. He had been listening with restlessness,
though Ashe, with pointed courtesy, had once or twice included him in
the conversation. And presently, at a somewhat dramatic moment, he met a
statement of Ashe's with a direct and violent contradiction. Ashe
flushed, and a duel began between the two men of which the company were
soon silent spectators. Ashe had the resources of official knowledge;
Cliffe had been recently on the spot, and pushed home the advantage of
the eye-witness with a covert insolence which Ashe bore with surprising
carelessness and good-temper. In the end Cliff e said some outrageous
things, at which Ashe laughed; and Lord Grosville abruptly dissolved the
party.

Ashe went smiling out of the dining-room, caressing a fine white
spaniel, as though nothing had happened. In crossing the hall Harman
found himself alone with the Dean, who looked serious and preoccupied.

"That was a curious spectacle," said Harman. "Ashe's equanimity was
amazing."

"I had rather have seen him angrier," said the Dean, slowly.

"He was always a very tolerant, easy-going fellow."

The Dean shook his head.

"A touch of _soeva indignatio_ now and then would complete him."

"Has he got it in him?"

"Perhaps not," said the little Dean, with a flash of expression that
dignified all his frail person. "But without it he will hardly make a
great man."

Meanwhile Geoffrey Cliffe, his strange, twisted face still vindictively
aglow, made his way to Kitty Bristol's corner in the drawing-room. Mary
Lyster was conscious of it, conscious also of a certain look that Kitty
bestowed upon the entrance of Ashe, while Cliffe was opening a battery
of mingled chaff and compliments that did not at first have much effect
upon her. But William Ashe threw himself into conversation with Lady
Edith Manley, and was presently, to all appearance, happily plunged in
gossip, his tall person wholly at ease in a deep arm-chair, while Lady
Edith bent over him with smiles. Meanwhile there was a certain desertion
of Kitty on the part of the ladies. Lady Grosville hardly spoke to her,
and the girls markedly avoided her. There was a moment when Kitty,
looking round her, suddenly shook her small shoulders, and like a colt
escaping from harness gave herself to riot. She and Cliffe amused
themselves so well and so noisily that the whole drawing-room was
presently uneasily aware of them. Lady Grosville shot glances of wrath,
rose suddenly at one moment and sat down again; her girls talked more
disjointedly than ever to the gentlemen who were civilly attending them;
while, on the other hand, Miss Lyster's flow of conversation with Louis
Harman was more softly copious than usual. At last the Dean's wife
looked at the Dean, a signal of kind distress, and the Dean advanced.

"Lady Kitty," he said, taking a seat beside the pair, "have you
forgotten you promised me some French?"

Kitty turned on him a hot and mutinous face.

"Did I? What shall I say? Some Alfred de Musset?"

"No," said the Dean, "I think not."

"Some--some"--she cudgelled her memory--"some Théophile Gautier?"

"No, certainly not!" said the Dean, hastily.

"Well, as I don't know a word of him--" laughed Kitty.

"That was mischievous," said the Dean, raising a finger. "Let me suggest
Lamartine."

Kitty shook her head obstinately. "I never learned one line."

"Then some of the old fellows," said the Dean, persuasively. "I long to
hear you in Corneille or Racine. That we should _all_ enjoy."

And suddenly his wrinkled hand fell kindly on the girl's small, chilly
ringers and patted them. Their eyes met, Kitty's wild and challenging,
the Dean's full of that ethereal benevolence which blended so agreeably
with his character as courtier and man of the world. There was a bright
sweetness in them which seemed to say: "Poor child! I understand. But be
a _little_ good--as well as clever--and all will be well."

Suddenly Kitty's look wavered and fell. All the harshness dissolved from
her thin young beauty. She turned from Cliffe, and the Dean saw her
quiver with submission.

"I think I could say some 'Polyeucte,'" she said, gently.

The Dean clapped his hands and rose.

"Lady Grosville," he said, raising his voice--"Ladies and gentlemen,
Lady Kitty has promised to say us some more French poetry. You remember
how admirably she recited last night. But this is Sunday, and she will
give us something in a different vein."

Lady Grosville, who had risen impatiently, sat down again. There was a
general movement; chairs were turned or drawn forward till a circle
formed. Meanwhile the Dean consulted with Kitty and resumed:

"Lady Kitty will recite a scene from Corneille's beautiful tragedy of
'Polyeucte'--the scene in which Pauline, after witnessing the martyrdom
of her husband, who has been beheaded for refusing to sacrifice to the
gods, returns from the place of execution so melted by the love and
sacrifice she has beheld that she opens her heart then and there to the
same august faith and pleads for the same death."

The Dean seated himself, and Kitty stepped into the centre of the
circle. She thought a moment, her lips moving, as though she recalled
the lines. Then she looked down at her bare arms, and dress, frowned,
and suddenly approached Lady Edith Manley.

"May I have that?" she said, pointing to a lace cloak that lay on Lady
Edith's knee. "I am rather cold."

Lady Edith handed it to her, and she threw it round her.

"Actress!" said Cliffe, under his breath, with a grin of amusement.

At any rate, her impulse served her well. Her form and dress disappeared
under a cloud of white. She became in a flash, so to speak,
evangelized--a most innocent and spiritual apparition. Her beautiful
head, her kindled and transfigured face, her little hand on the white
folds, these alone remained to mingle their impression with the austere
and moving tragedy which her lips recited. Her audience looked on at
first with the embarrassed or hostile air which is the Englishman's
natural protection against the great things of art; then for those who
understood French the high passion and the noble verse began to tell;
while those who could not follow were gradually enthralled by the
gestures and tones with which the slight, vibrating creature, whom but
ten minutes before most of them had regarded as a mere noisy flirt,
suggested and conveyed the finest and most compelling shades of love,
faith, and sacrifice.

When she ceased, there was a moment's profound silence. Then Lady Edith,
drawing a long breath, expressed the welcome commonplace which restored
the atmosphere of daily life.

"How _could_ you remember it all?"

Kitty sat down, her lip trembling scornfully.

"I had to say it every week at the convent."

"I understand," said Cliffe in Darrell's ear--"that last night she was
Doña Sol. An accommodating young woman."

Meanwhile Kitty looked up to find Ashe beside her. He said,
"Magnificent!"--but it did not matter to her what he said. His face told
her that she had moved him, and that he was incapable of any foolish
chatter about it. A smile of extraordinary sweetness sprang into her
eyes; and when Lady Grosville came up to thank her, the girl impetuously
rose, and, in the foreign way, kissed her hand, courtesying. Lord
Grosville said, heartily, "Upon my word, Kitty, you ought to go on the
stage!" and she smiled upon him, too, in a flutter of feeling,
forgetting his scolding and her own impertinence, before dinner. The
revulsion, indeed, throughout the company--with two exceptions--was
complete. For the rest of the evening Kitty basked in sunshine and
flattery. She met it with a joyous gentleness, and the little figure,
still bedraped in white, became the centre of the room's kindness.

The Dean was triumphant.

"My dear Miss Lyster," he said, presently, finding himself near that
lady, "did you ever hear anything better done? A most remarkable
talent!"

Mary smiled.

"I am wondering," she said, "what they teach you in French convents--and
why! It is all so singular,--isn't it?"

       *       *       *       *       *

Late that night Ashe entered his room--before his usual time, however.
He had tired even of Lord Grosville's chat, and had left the
smoking-room still talking. Indeed, he wished to be alone, and there was
that in his veins which told him that a new motive had taken possession
of his life.

He sat beside the open window reviewing the scenes and feelings of the
day--his interview with Kitty in the morning--the teasing coquette of
the afternoon--the inspired poetic child of the evening. Rapidly, but
none the less strongly and steadfastly, he made up his mind. He would
ask Kitty Bristol to marry him, and he would ask her immediately.

Why? He scarcely knew her. His mother, his family would think it
madness. No doubt it was madness. Yet, as far as he could explain his
impulse himself, it depended on certain fundamental facts in his own
nature--it was in keeping with his deepest character. He had an inbred
love of the difficult, the unconventional in life, of all that piqued
and stimulated his own superabundant consciousness of resource and
power. And he had a tenderness of feeling, a gift of chivalrous pity,
only known to the few, which was in truth always hungrily on the watch,
like some starved faculty that cannot find its outlet. The thought of
this beautiful child, in the hands of such a mother as Madame d'Estrées,
and rushing upon risks illustrated by the half-mocking attentions of
Geoffrey Cliffe, did in truth wring his heart. With a strange
imaginative clearness he foresaw her future, he beheld her the prey at
once of some bad fellow and of her own temperament. She would come to
grief; he saw the prescience of it in her already; and what a waste
would be there!

No!--he would step in--capture her before these ways and whims, now
merely bizarre or foolish, stiffened into what might in truth destroy
her. His pulse quickened as he thought of the development of this
beauty, the ripening of this intelligence. Never yet had he seen a girl
whom he much wished to marry. He was easily repelled by stupidity, still
more by mere amiability. Some touch of acid, of roughness in the
fruit--that drew him, in politics, thought, love. And if she married him
he vowed to himself, proudly, that she would find him no tyrant. Many a
man might marry her who would then fight her and try to break her. All
that was most fastidious and characteristic in Ashe revolted from such a
notion. With him she should have _freedom_--whatever it might cost. He
asked himself deliberately, whether after marriage he could see her
flirting with other men, as she had flirted that day with Cliffe, and
still refrain from coercing her. And his question was answered, or
rather put aside, first by the confidence of nascent love--he would love
her so well and so loyally that she would naturally turn to him for
counsel; and then by the clear perception that she was a creature of
mind rather than sense, governed mainly by the caprices and curiosities
of the _intelligence_, combined with a rather cold, indifferent
temperament. One moment throwing herself wildly into a dangerous or
exciting intimacy, the next, parting with a laugh, and without a
regret--it was thus he saw her in the future, even as a wife. "She may
scandalize half the world," he said to himself, stubbornly--"I shall
understand her!"

But his mother?--his friends?--his colleagues? He knew well his mother's
ambitions for him, and the place that he held in her heart. Could he
without cruelty impose upon her such a daughter as Kitty Bristol?
Well!--his mother had a very large experience of life, and much natural
independence of mind. He trusted her to see the promise in this untamed
and gifted creature; he counted on the sense of power that Lady Tranmore
possessed, and which would but find new scope in the taming of Kitty.

But Kitty's mother? Kitty must, of course, be rescued from Madame
d'Estrées--must find a new and truer mother in Lady Tranmore. But money
would do it; and money must be lavished.

Then, almost for the first time, Ashe felt a conscious delight in wealth
and birth. _Panache_? He could give it her--the little, wild, lovely
thing! Luxury, society, adoration--all should be hers. She should be so
loved and cherished, she must needs love in turn.

His dreams were delicious; and the sudden fear into which he fell at the
end lest after all Kitty should mock and turn from him, was only in
truth another pleasure. No delay! Circumstances might develop at any
moment and sweep her from him. Now or never must he snatch her from
difficulty and disgrace--let hostile tongues wag as they pleased--and
make her his.

His political future? He knew well the influence which, in these days of
universal publicity, a man's private affairs may have on his public
career. And in truth his heart was in that career, and the thought of
endangering it hurt him. Certainly it would recommend him to nobody that
he should marry Madame d'Estrées' daughter. On the other hand, what
favor did he want of anybody? save what work and "knowing more than the
other fellows" might compel? The cynic in him was well aware that he had
already what other men fought for--family, money, and position. Society
must accept his wife; and Kitty, once mellowed by happiness and praise,
might live, laugh, and rattle as she pleased.

As to strangeness and caprice, the modern world delights in them; "the
violent take it by force." There is, indeed, a dividing-line; but it was
a love-marriage that should keep Kitty on the safe side of it.

He stood lost in a very ecstasy of resolve, when suddenly there was a
sharp movement outside, and a flash of white among the yew hedges
bordering the formal garden on which his windows looked. The night
outside was still and veiled, but of the flash of white he was
certain--and of a step on the gravel.

Something fell beside him, thrown from outside. He picked it up, and
found a flower weighted by a stone, tied into a fold of ribbon.

"Madcap!" he said to himself, his heart beating to suffocation.

Then he stole out of his room, and down a small, winding staircase which
led directly to the garden and a door beside the orangery. He had to
unbolt the door, and as he did so a dog in one of the basement rooms
began to bark. But there could be no flinching, though the whole thing
was of an imprudence which pricked his conscience. To slip along the
shadowed side of the orangery, to cross the space of clouded light
beyond, and gain the darkness of the ilex avenue beyond was soon done.
Then he heard a soft laugh, and a little figure fled before him. He
followed and overtook.

Kitty Bristol turned upon him.

"Didn't I throw straight?" she said, triumphantly. "And they say girls
can't throw."

"But why did you throw at all?" he said, capturing her hand.

"Because I wanted to talk to you. And I was restless and couldn't sleep.
Why did you never come and talk to me this afternoon? And why"--she beat
her foot angrily--"did you let me go and play billiards alone with Mr.
Cliffe?"

"Let you!" cried Ashe. "As if anybody could have prevented you!"

"One sees, of course, that you detest Mr. Cliffe," said the whiteness
beside him.

"I didn't come here to talk about Geoffrey Cliffe. I _won't_ talk about
him! Though, of course, you must know--"

"That I flirted with him abominably all the afternoon? _C'est
vrai--c'est ab-sol-ument vrai!_ And I shall always want to flirt with
him, wherever I am--and whatever I may be doing."

"Do as you please," said Ashe, dryly, "but I think you will get tired."

"No, no--he excites me! He is bad, false, selfish, but he excites me. He
talks to very few women--one can see that. And all the women want to
talk to him. He used to admire Miss Lyster, and now he dislikes her. But
she doesn't dislike him. No! she would marry him to-morrow if he asked
her."

"You are very positive," said Ashe. "Allow me to say that I entirely
disagree with you."

"You don't know anything about her," said the teasing voice.

"She is my cousin, mademoiselle."

"What does that matter? I know much more than you do, though I have only
seen her two days. I know that--well, I am afraid of her!"

"Afraid of her? Did you come out--may I ask--determined to talk
nonsense?"

"I came out--never mind! I _am_ afraid of her. She hates me. I
think"--he felt a shiver in the air--will do me harm if she can."

"No one shall do you harm," said Ashe, his tone changing, "if you will
only trust yourself--"

She laughed merrily.

"To you? Oh! you'd soon throw it up."

"Try me!" he said, approaching her. "Lady Kitty, I have something to say
to you."

Suddenly she shrank away from him. He could not see her face, and had
nothing to guide him.

"I haven't yet known you three weeks," he said, over-mastered by
something passionate and profound. "I don't know what you will
say--whether you can put up with me. But I know my own mind--I shall not
change. I--I love you. I ask you to marry me."

A silence. The night seemed to have grown darker. Then a small hand
seized his, and two soft lips pressed themselves upon it. He tried to
capture her, but she evaded him.

"You--you really and actually--want to marry me?"

"I do, Kitty, with all my heart."

"You remember about my mother--about Alice?"

"I remember everything. We would face it together."

"And--you know what I told you about my bad temper?"

"Some nonsense, wasn't it? But I should be bored by the domestic dove. I
want the hawk, Kitty, with its quick wings and its daring bright eyes."

She broke from him with a cry.

"You must listen. I _have_--a wicked, odious, ungovernable temper. I
should make you miserable."

"Not at all," said Ashe. "I should take it very calmly. I am made that
way."

"And then--I don't know how to put it--but I have fancies--overpowering
fancies--and I must follow them. I have one now for Geoffrey Cliffe."

Ashe laughed.

"Oh, that won't last."

"Then some other will come after it. And I can't help it. It is my
head"--she tapped her forehead lightly--"that seems on fire."

Ashe at last slipped his arm round her.

"But it is your heart--you will give me."

She pushed him away from her and held him at arm's-length.

"You are very rich, aren't you?" she said, in a muffled voice.

"I am well off. I can give you all the pretty things you want."

"And some day you will be Lord Tranmore?"

"Yes, when my poor father dies," he said, sighing. He felt her fingers
caress his hand again. It was a spirit touch, light and tender.

"And every one says you are so clever--you have such prospects. Perhaps
you will be Prime Minister."

"Well, there's no saying," he threw out, laughing--"if you'll come and
help."

He heard a sob.

"Help! I should be the ruin of you. I should spoil everything. You don't
know the mischief I can do. And I can't help it, it's in my blood."

"You would like the game of politics too much to spoil it, Kitty." His
voice broke and lingered on the name. "You would want to be a great lady
and lead the party."

"Should I? Could you ever teach me how to behave?"

"You would learn by nature. Do you know, Kitty, how clever you are?"

"Yes," she sighed. "I am clever. But there is always something that
hinders--that brings failure."

"How old are you?" he said, laughing. "Eighteen--or eighty?"

Suddenly he put out his arms, enfolding her. And she, still sobbing,
raised her hands, clasped them round his neck, and clung to him like a
child.

"Oh! I knew--I knew--when I first saw your face. I had been so miserable
all day--and then you looked at me--and I wanted to tell you all. Oh, I
adore you--I adore you!" Their faces met. Ashe tasted a moment of
rapture; and knew himself free at last of the great company of poets and
of lovers.

They slipped back to the house, and Ashe saw her disappear by a door on
the farther side of the orangery--noiselessly, without a sound. Except
that just at the last she drew him to her and breathed a sacred whisper
in his ear.

"Oh! what--what will Lady Tranmore say?"

Then she fled. But she left her question behind her, and when the dawn
came Ashe found that he had spent half the night in trying anew to frame
some sort of an answer to it.



PART II

THREE YEARS AFTER

"The world an ancient murderer is."



VII


"Her ladyship will be in before six, my lady. I was to be sure and ask
you to wait, if you came before, and to tell you that her ladyship had
gone to Madame Fanchette about her dress for the ball."

So said Lady Kitty's maid. Lady Tranmore hesitated, then said she would
wait, and asked that Master Henry might be brought down.

The maid went for the child, and Lady Tranmore entered the drawing-room.
The Ashes had been settled since their marriage in a house in Hill
Street--a house to which Kitty had lost her heart at first sight. It was
old and distinguished, covered here and there with eighteenth-century
decoration, once, no doubt, a little florid and coarse beside the finer
work of the period, but now agreeably blunted and mellowed by time.
Kitty had had her impetuous and decided way with the furnishing of it;
and, though Lady Tranmore professed to admire it, the result was, in
truth, too French and too pagan for her taste. Her own room reflected
the rising worship of Morris and Burse-Jones, of which, indeed, she had
been an adept from the beginning. Her walls were covered by the
well-known pomegranate or jasmine or sunflower patterns; her hangings
were of a mystic greenish-blue; her pictures were drawn either from the
Italian primitives or their modern followers. Celtic romance, Christian
symbolism, all that was touching, other-worldly, and obscure--our late
English form, in fact, of the great Romantic reaction--it was amid
influences of this kind that Lady Tranmore lived and fed her own
imagination. The dim, suggestive, and pathetic; twilight rather than
dawn, autumn rather than spring; yearning rather than fulfilment; "the
gleam" rather than noon-day: it was in this half-lit, richly colored
sphere that she and most of her friends saw the tent of Beauty pitched.

But Kitty would have none of it. She quoted French sceptical remarks
about the legs and joints of the Burne-Jones knights; she declared that
so much pattern made her dizzy; and that the French were the only nation
in the world who understood a _salon_, whether as upholstery or
conversation. Accordingly, in days when these things were rare, the girl
of eighteen made her new husband provide her with white-panelled walls,
lightly gilt, and with a Persian carpet of which the mass was of a
plain, blackish gray, and only the border was allowed to flower. A few
Louis-Quinze girandoles on the walls, a Vernis-Martin screen, an old
French clock, two or three inlaid cabinets, and a collection of lightly
built chairs and settees in the French mode--this was all she would
allow; and while Lady Tranmore's room was always crowded, Kitty's, which
was much smaller, had always an air of space. French books were
scattered here and there; and only one picture was admitted. That was a
Watteau sketch of a group from "L'Embarquement pour Cythère." Kitty
adored it; Lady Tranmore thought it absurd and disagreeable.

As she entered the room now, on this May afternoon, she looked round it
with her usual distaste. On several of the chairs large illustrated
books were lying. They contained pictures of seventeenth and eighteenth
century costume--one of them displayed a colored engraving of a
brilliant Madame de Pompadour, by Boucher.

The maid who followed her into the room began to remove the books.

"Her ladyship has been choosing her costume, my lady," she explained, as
she closed some of the volumes.

"Is it settled?" said Lady Tranmore.

The maid replied that she believed so, and, bringing a volume which had
been laid aside with a mark in it, she opened on a fantastic plate of
Madame de Longueville, as Diana, in a gorgeous hunting-dress.

Lady Tranmore looked at it in silence; she thought it unseemly, with its
bare ankles and sandalled feet, and likely to be extremely expensive.
For this Diana of the Fronde sparkled with jewels from top to toe, and
Lady Tranmore felt certain that Kitty had already made William promise
her the counterpart of the magnificent diamond crescent that shone in
the coiffure of the goddess.

"It really seemed to be the only one that suited her ladyship," said the
maid, in a deprecating voice.

"I dare say it will look very well," said Lady Tranmore. "And Fanchette
is to make it?"

"If her ladyship is not too late," said the maid, smiling. "But she has
taken such a long time to make up her mind--"

"And Fanchette, of course, is driven to death. All the world seems to
have gone mad about this ball."

Lady Tranmore shrugged her shoulders in a slight disgust. She was not
going. Since her elder son's death she had had no taste for spectacles
of the kind. But she knew very well that fashionable London was talking
and thinking of nothing else; she heard that the print-room of the
British Museum was every day besieged by an eager crowd of fair ladies,
claiming the services of the museum officials from dewy morn till eve;
that historic costumes and famous jewels were to be lavished on the
affair; that those who were not invited had not even the resource of
contempt, so unquestioned and indubitable was the prospect of a really
magnificent spectacle; and that the dress-makers of Paris and London, if
they survived the effort, would reap a marvellous harvest.

"And Mr. Ashe--do you know if he is going, after all?" she asked of the
maid as the latter was retreating.

"Mr. Ashe says he will, if he may wear just court-dress," said the maid,
smiling. "Not unless. And her ladyship's afraid it won't be allowed."

"She'll make him go in costume," thought Lady Tranmore. "And he will do
it, or anything, to avoid a scene."

The maid retired, and Lady Tranmore was left alone. As she sat waiting,
a thought occurred to her. She rang for the butler.

"Where is the _Times_?" she asked, when he appeared. The man replied
that it was no doubt in Mr. Ashe's room, and he would bring it.

"Kitty has probably not looked at it," thought the visitor. When the
paper arrived she turned at once to the Parliamentary report. It
contained an important speech by Ashe in the House the night before.
Lady Tranmore had been disturbed in the reading of it that morning, and
had still a few sentences to finish. She read them with pride, then
glanced again at the leading article on the debate, and at the
flattering references it contained to the knowledge, courtesy, and
debating power of the Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs.

"Mr. Ashe," said the _Times_, "has well earned the promotion he is now
sure to receive before long. In those important rearrangements of some
of the higher offices which cannot be long delayed, Mr. Ashe is clearly
marked out for a place in the cabinet. He is young, but he has already
done admirable service; and there can be no question that he has a great
future before him."

Lady Tranmore put down the paper and fell into a reverie. A great
future? Yes--if Kitty permitted--if Kitty could be managed. At present
it appeared to William's mother that the caprices of his wife were
endangering the whole development of his career. There were wheels
within wheels, and the newspapers knew very little about them.

Three years, was it, since the marriage? She looked back to her dismay
when William brought her the news, though it seemed to her that in some
sort she had foreseen it from the moment of his first mention of Kitty
Bristol--with its eager appeal to her kindness, and that new and
indefinable something in voice and manner which put her at once on the
alert.

Ought she to have opposed it more strongly? She had, indeed, opposed it;
and for a whole wretched week she who had never yet gainsaid him in
anything had argued and pleaded with her son, attempting at the same
time to bring in his uncles to wrestle with him, seeing that his poor
paralyzed father was of no account, and so to make a stubborn family
fight of it. But she had been simply disarmed and beaten down by
William's sweetness, patience, and good-humor. Never had he been so
determined, and never so lovable.

It had been made abundantly plain to her that no wife, however exacting
and adorable, should ever rob her, his mother, of one tittle of his old
affection--nay, that, would she only accept Kitty, only take the little
forlorn creature into the shelter of her motherly arms, even a more
tender and devoted attention than before, on the part of her son, would
be surely hers. He spoke, moreover, the language of sound sense about
his proposed bride. That he was in love, passionately in love, was
evident; but there were moments when he could discuss Kitty, her family,
her bringing-up, her gifts and defects, with the same cool acumen, the
same detachment, apparently, he might have given, say, to the Egyptian
or the Balkan problem. Lady Tranmore was not invited to bow before a
divinity; she was asked to accept a very gifted and lovely child, often
troublesome and provoking, but full of a glorious promise which only
persons of discernment, like herself and Ashe, could fully realize. He
told her, with a laugh, that she could never have behaved even tolerably
to a stupid daughter-in-law. Whereas, let London and society and a few
years of love and living do their work, and Kitty would make one of the
leading women of her time, as Lady Tranmore had been before her. "You'll
help her, you'll train her, you'll put her in the way," he had said,
kissing his mother's hand. "And you'll see that in the end we shall both
of us be so conceited to have had the making of her there'll be no
holding us."

Well, she had yielded--of course she had yielded. She had explained the
matter, so far as she could, to the dazed wits of her paralyzed husband.
She had propitiated the family on both sides; she had brought Kitty to
stay with her, and had advised on the negotiations which banished Madame
d'Estrées from London and the British Isles, in return for a handsome
allowance and the payment of her debts; and, finally, she had with
difficulty allowed the Grosvilles to provide the trousseau and arrange
the marriage from Grosville Park, so eager had she grown in her accepted
task.

And there had been many hours of high reward. Kitty had thrown herself
at first upon William's mother with all the effusion possible. She had
been docile, caressing, brilliant. Lady Tranmore had become almost as
proud of her gifts, her social effect, and her fast advancing beauty as
Ashe himself. Kitty's whims and humors; her passion for this person, and
her hatred of that; her love of splendor and indifference to debt; her
contempt of opinion and restraint, seemed to her, as to Ashe, the mere
crude growth of youth. When she looked at Ashe, so handsome, agreeable,
and devoted, at his place and prestige in the world, his high
intelligence and his personal attraction, Ashe's mother must needs think
that Kitty's mere cleverness would soon reveal to her her extraordinary
good-fortune; and that whereas he was now at her feet, she before long
would be at his.

Three years! Lady Tranmore looked back upon them with feelings that
wavered like smoke before a wind. A year of excitement, a year of
illness, a year of extravagance, shaken moreover by many strange gusts
of temper and caprice, it was so she might have summarized them. First,
a most promising début in London. Kitty welcomed on all hands with
enthusiasm as Ashe's wife and her own daughter-in-law, fêted to the top
of her bent, smiled on at Court, flattered by the country-houses, always
exquisitely dressed, smiling and eager, apparently full of ambition for
Ashe no less than for herself, a happy, notorious, busy little person,
with a touch of wildness that did but give edge to her charm and keep
the world talking.

Then, the birth of the boy, and Kitty's passionate, ungovernable recoil
from the deformity that showed itself almost immediately after his
birth--a form of infantile paralysis involving a slight but incurable
lameness. Lady Tranmore could recall weeks of remorseful fondling,
alternating with weeks of neglect; continued illness and depression on
Kitty's part, settling after a while into a petulant melancholy for
which the baby's defect seemed but an inadequate cause; Ashe's tender
anxiety, his willingness to throw up Parliament, office, everything,
that Kitty might travel and recover; and those huge efforts by which she
and his best friends in the House had held him back--when Kitty, it
seemed, cared little or nothing whether he sacrificed his future or not.
Finally, she herself, with the assistance of a new friend of Kitty's,
had become Kitty's nurse, had taken her abroad when Ashe could not be
spared, had watched over her, and humored her, and at last brought her
back--so the doctors said--restored.

Was it really recovery? At any rate, Lady Tranmore was often inclined to
think that since the return to London--now about a twelvemonth
since--both she and William had had to do with a different Kitty. Young
as she still was, the first exquisite softness of the expanding life was
gone; things harder, stranger, more inexplicable than any which those
who knew her best had yet perceived, seemed now and then to come to the
surface, like wreckage in a summer sea.

       *       *       *       *       *

The opening door disturbed these ponderings. The nurse appeared,
carrying the little boy. Lady Tranmore took him on her knee and caressed
him. He was a piteous, engaging child, generally very docile, but liable
at times to storms of temper out of all proportion to the fragility of
his small person. His grandmother was inclined to look upon his passions
as something external and inflicted--the entering-in of the Blackwater
devil to plague a tiny creature that, normally, was of a divine and
clinging sweetness. She would have taught him religion, as his only
shield against himself; but neither his father nor his mother was
religious; and Harry was likely to grow up a pagan.

He leaned now against her breast, and she, whose inmost nature was
maternity, delighted in the pressure of the tiny body, crooning songs to
him when they were left alone, and pausing now and then to pity and kiss
the little shrunken foot that hung beside the other.

She was interrupted by a soft entrance and the rustle of a dress.

"Ah, Margaret!" she said, looking round and smiling.

The girl who had come in approached her, shook hands, and looked down at
the baby. She was fair-haired and wore spectacles; her face was round
and childish, her eyes round and blue, with certain lines about them,
however, which showed that she was no longer in her first youth.

"I came to see if I could do anything to-day for Kitty. I know she is
very busy about the ball--"

"Head over ears apparently," said Lady Tranmore. "Everybody has lost
their wits. I see Kitty has chosen her dress."

"Yes, if Fanchette can make it all right. Poor Kitty! She has been in
such a state of mind. I think I'll go on with these invitations."

And, taking off her gloves and hat, Margaret French went to the
writing-table like one intimately acquainted with the room and its
affairs, took up a pile of cards and envelopes which lay upon it, and,
bringing them to Lady Tranmore's side, began to work upon them.

"I did about half yesterday," she explained; "but I see Kitty hasn't
been able to touch them, and it is really time they were out."

"For their party next week?"

"Yes. I hope Kitty won't tire herself out. It has been a rush lately."

"Does she ever rest?"

"Never--as far as I can see. And I am afraid she has been very much
worried."

"About that silly affair with Prince Stephan?" said Lady Tranmore.

Margaret French nodded. "She vows that she meant no harm, and did no
harm, and that it has been all malice and exaggeration. But one can see
she has been hurt."

"Well, if you ask me," said Lady Tranmore, in a low voice, "I think she
deserved to be."

Their eyes met, the girl's full of a half-smiling, half-soft
consideration. Lady Tranmore, on the other hand, had flushed proudly, as
though the mere mention of the matter to which she had referred had been
galling to her. Kitty, in fact, had just been guilty of an escapade
which had set the town talking, and even found its way here and there in
the newspapers. The heir to a European monarchy had been recently
visiting London. A romantic interest surrounded him; for a lady, not of
a rank sufficiently high to mate with his, had lately drowned herself
for love of him, and the young man's melancholy good looks, together
with the magnificent apathy of his manner, drew after him a chain of
gossip. Kitty failed to meet him in society; certain invitations that
for once she coveted did not arrive; and in a fit of pique she declared
that she would make acquaintance with him in her own way. On a certain
occasion, when the Princeling was at the play, his attention was drawn
to a small and dazzling creature in a box opposite his own. Presently,
however, there was a commotion in this box. The dazzling creature had
fainted; and rumor sent round the name of Lady Kitty Ashe. The Prince
despatched an equerry to make inquiries, and the inquiries were repeated
that evening in Hill Street. Recovery was prompt, and the Prince let it
be known that he wished to meet the lady. Invitations from high quarters
descended upon Kitty; she bore herself with an engaging carelessness,
and the melancholy youth was soon spending far more pains upon her than
he had yet been known to spend upon any other English beauties presented
to him. Ashe and Kitty's friends laughed; the old general in charge of
the Princeling took alarm. And presently Kitty's audacities, alack,
carried away her discretion; she began, moreover, to boast of her ruse.
Whispers crept round; and the general's ears were open. In a few days
Kitty's triumph went the way of all earthly things. At a Court ball, to
which her vanity had looked forward, unwarned, the Prince passed her
with glassy eyes, returning the barest bow to her smiling courtesy. She
betrayed nothing; but somehow the thing got out, and set in motion a
perfect hurricane of talk. It was rumored that the old Prime Minister,
Lord Parham, had himself said a caustic word to Lady Kitty, that Royalty
was annoyed, and that William Ashe had for once scolded his wife
seriously.

Lady Tranmore was well aware that there was, at any rate, no truth in
the last report; but she also knew that there was a tone of sharpness in
the London chatter that was new with regard to Kitty. It was as though a
certain indulgence was wearing out, and what had been amusement was
passing into criticism.

She and Margaret French discussed the matter a little, _sotto voce_,
while Margaret went on with the invitations and Lady Tranmore made a
French toy dance and spin for the babe's amusement. Their tone was one
of close and friendly intimacy, an intimacy based clearly upon one
common interest--their relation to Kitty. Margaret French was one of
those beings in whom, for our salvation, this halting, hurried world of
ours is still on the whole rich. She was unmarried, thirty-five, and
poor. She lived with her brother, a struggling doctor, and she had come
across Kitty in the first months of Kitty's married life, on some
fashionable Soldiers' Aid Committee, where Margaret had done the work
and Kitty with the other great ladies had reaped the fame. Kitty had
developed a fancy for her, and presently could not live without her. But
Margaret, though it soon became evident that she had taken Kitty and, in
due time, the child--Ashe, too, for the matter of that--deep into her
generous heart, preserved a charming measure in the friendship offered
her. She would owe Kitty nothing, either socially or financially. When
Kitty's smart friends appeared, she vanished. Nobody in her own world
ever heard her mention the name of Lady Kitty Ashe, largely as that name
was beginning to figure in the gossip of the day. But there were few
things concerning the Hill Street ménage that Lady Tranmore could not
safely and rightly discuss with her; and even Ashe himself went to her
for counsel.

"I am afraid this has made things worse than ever with the Parhams,"
said Lady Tranmore, presently.

Margaret shook her head anxiously.

"I hope Kitty won't throw over their dinner next week."

"She is talking of it!"

"Yesterday she had almost made up her mind," said Margaret, reluctantly.
"Perhaps you will persuade her. But she has been terribly angry with
Lord Parham--and with Lady P., too."

"And it was to be a reconciliation dinner, after the old nonsense
between her and Lady Parham," sighed Lady Tranmore. "It was planned for
Kitty entirely. And she is to act something, isn't she, with that young
De La Rivière from the embassy? I believe the Princess is
coming--expressly to meet her. I have been hearing of it on all sides.
She _can't_ throw it over!"

Margaret shrugged her shoulders. "I believe she will."

The older lady's face showed a sudden cloud of indignation.

"William must really put his foot down," she said, in a low, decided
voice. "It is, of course, most important--just now--"

She said no more, but Margaret French looked up, and they exchanged
glances.

"Let's hope," said Margaret, "that Mr. Ashe will be able to pacify her.
Ah, there she is."

For the front door closed heavily, and instantly the house was aware
from top to toe of a flutter of talk and a frou-frou of skirts. Kitty
ran up the stairs and into the drawing-room, still talking, apparently,
to the footman behind her, and stopped short at the sight of Lady
Tranmore and Margaret. A momentary shadow passed across her face; then
she came forward all smiles.

"Why, they never told me down-stairs!" she said, taking a hand of each
caressingly, and slipping into a seat between them. "Have I lost much of
you?"

"Well, I must soon be off," said Lady Tranmore. "Harry has been
entertaining me."

"Oh, Harry; is he there?" said Kitty, in another voice, perceiving the
child behind his grandmother's dress as he sat on the floor, where Lady
Tranmore had just deposited him.

The baby turned towards his beautiful mother, and, as he saw her, a
little wandering smile began to spread from his uncertain lips to his
deep-brown eyes, till his whole face shone, held to hers as to a magnet,
in a still enchantment.

"Come!" said Kitty, holding out her hands.

With difficulty the child pulled himself towards her, moving in sideway
fashion along the floor, and dragging the helpless foot after him. Again
the shadow crossed Kitty's face. She caught him up, kissed him, and
moved to ring the bell.

"Shall I take him up-stairs?" said Margaret.

"Why, he seems to have only just come down!" said Lady Tranmore. "Must
he go?"

"He can come down again afterwards," said Kitty. "I want to talk to you.
Take him, Margaret."

The babe went without a whimper, still following his mother with his
eyes.

"He looks rather frail," said Lady Tranmore. "I hope you'll soon be
sending him to the country, Kitty."

"He's very well," said Kitty. Then she took off her hat and looked at
the invitations Margaret had been writing.

"Heavens, I had forgotten all about them! What an angel is Margaret! I
really can't remember these things. They ought to do themselves by
clock-work. And now Fanchette and this ball are enough to drive one
wild."

She lifted her hands to her face and pressed back the masses of fair
hair that were tumbling round it, with a gesture of weariness.

"Fanchette can make your dress?"

"She says she will, but I couldn't make her understand anything I
wanted. She is off her head! They all are. By-the-way, did you hear of
Madeleine Alcot's. telegram to Worth?"

"No."

Kitty laughed--a laugh musical but malicious. Mrs. Alcot, married in the
same month as herself, had been her companion and rival from the
beginning. They called each other "Kitty" and "Madeleine," and saw each
other frequently; why, Lady Tranmore could never discover, unless on the
principle that it is best to keep your enemy under observation.

"She telegraphed to Worth as soon as her invitation arrived, 'Envoyez
tout de suite costume Vénus. Réponse.' The answer came at dinner--she
had a dinner-party--and she read it aloud: 'Remercîments. Il n'y en a
pas.' Isn't it delightful?"

"Very neat," said Lady Tranmore, smiling. "When did you invent that?
You, I hear, are to be Diana?"

Kitty made a gesture of despair.

"Ask Fanchette--it depends on her. There is no one but she in London who
can do it. Oh, by-the-way, what's Mary going to be? I suppose a Madonna
of sorts."

"Not at all," said Lady Tranmore, dryly; "she has chosen a Sir Joshua
costume I found for her."

"A vocation missed," said Kitty, shaking her head. "She ought to have
been a 'Vestal Virgin' at least.... Do you know that you look _such_ a
duck this afternoon!" The speaker put up two small hands and pulled and
patted at the black lace strings of Lady Tranmore's hat, which were tied
under the delicately wrinkled white of her very distinguished chin.

"This hat suits you so--you are such a _grande dame_ in it. Ah! Je
t'adore!"

And Kitty softly took the chin aforesaid into her hands, and dropped a
kiss on Lady Tranmore's cheek, which reddened a little under the sudden
caress.

"Don't be a goose, Kitty." But Elizabeth Tranmore stooped forward all
the same and returned the kiss heartily. "Now tell me what you're going
to wear at the Parhams'."

Kitty rose deliberately, went to the bell and rang it.

"It must be quite time for tea."

"You haven't answered my question, Kitty."

"Haven't I?" The butler entered. "Tea, please, Wilson, at once."

"Kitty!--"

Lady Kitty seated herself defiantly a short distance from her
mother-in-law and crossed her hands on her lap.

"I am not going to the Parhams'."

"Kitty!--what do you mean?"

"I am not going to the Parhams'," repeated Kitty, slowly. "They should
behave a little more considerately to me if they want to get me to amuse
their guests for them."

At this moment Margaret French re-entered the room. Lady Tranmore turned
to her with a gesture of distress.

"Oh, Margaret knows," said Kitty. "I told her yesterday."

"The Parhams?" said Margaret.

Kitty nodded. Margaret paused, with her hand on the back of Lady
Tranmore's chair, and there was a short silence. Then Lady Tranmore
began, in a tone that endeavored not to be too serious:

"I don't know how you're going to get out of it, my dear. Lady Parham
has asked the Princess, first because she wished to come, secondly as an
olive-branch to you. She has taken the greatest pains about the dinner;
and afterwards there is to be an evening party to hear you, just the
right size, and just the right people."

"Cela m'est égal," said Kitty, "par-faite-ment égal! I am not going."

"What possible excuse can you invent?"

"I shall have a cold, the most atrocious cold imaginable. I take to my
bed just two hours before it is time to dress. My letter reaches Lady
Parham on the stroke of eight."

"Kitty, you would be doing a thing perfectly unheard of--most rude--most
unkind!"

The stiff, slight figure, like a strained wand, did not waver for a
moment before the grave indignation of the older woman.

"I should for once be paying off a score that has run on too long."

"You and Lady Parham had agreed to make friends, and let bygones be
bygones."

"That was before last week."

"Before Lord Parham said--what annoyed you?"

Kitty's eyes flamed.

"Before Lord Parham humiliated me in public--or tried to."

"Dear Kitty, he was annoyed, and said a sharp thing; but he is an old
man, and for William's sake, surely, you can forgive it. And Lady Parham
had nothing to do with it."

"She has not written to me to apologize," said Kitty, with a most
venomous calm. "Don't talk about it, mother. It will hurt you, and I am
determined. Lady Parham has patronized or snubbed me ever since I
married--when she hasn't been setting my best friends against me. She is
false, false, _false_!" Kitty struck her hands together with an emphatic
gesture. "And Lord Parham said a thing to me last week I shall never
forgive. Voilà! Now I mean to have done with it!"

"And you choose to forget altogether that Lord Parham is William's
political chief--that William's affairs are in a critical state, and
everything depends on Lord Parham--that it is not seemly, not possible,
that William's wife should publicly slight Lady Parham, and through her
the Prime Minister--at this moment of all moments."

Lady Tranmore breathed fast.

"William will not expect me to put up with insults," said Kitty, also
beginning to show emotion.

"But can't you see that--just now especially--you ought to think of
nothing--_nothing_--but William's future and William's career?"

"William will never purchase his career at my expense."

"Kitty, dear, listen," cried Lady Tranmore, in despair, and she threw
herself into arguments and appeals to which Kitty listened quite unmoved
for some twenty minutes. Margaret French, feeling herself an
uncomfortable third, tried several times to steal away. In vain. Kitty's
peremptory hand retained her. She could not escape, much as she wished
it, from the wrestle between the two women--on the one side the mother,
noble, already touched with age, full of dignity and protesting
affection; on the other the wife, still little more than a child in
years, vibrating through all her slender frame with passion and
insolence, more beautiful than usual by virtue of the very fire which
possessed her--a mænad at bay.

Lady Tranmore had just begun to waver in a final despair when the door
opened and William Ashe entered.

He looked in astonishment at his mother and wife. Then in a flash he
understood, and, with an involuntary gesture of fatigue, he turned to
go.

"William!" cried his mother, hurrying after him, "don't go. Kitty and I
were disputing; but it is nothing, dear! Don't go, you look so tired.
Can you stay for dinner?"

"Well, that was my intention," said Ashe, with a smile, as he allowed
himself to be brought back. "But Kitty seems in the clouds."

For Kitty had not moved an inch to greet him. She sat in a high-back
chair, one foot crossed over the other, one hand supporting her cheek,
looking straight before her with shining eyes.

Lady Tranmore laid a hand on her shoulder.

"We won't talk any more about it now, Kitty, will we?"

Kitty's pinched lips opened enough to emit the words:

"Perhaps William had better understand--"

"Goodness!" cried Ashe. "Is it the Parhams? Send them, Kitty, if you
please, to ten thousand _diables_! You won't go to their dinner? Well,
don't go! Please yourself--and hang the expense! Come and give me some
dinner--there's a dear."

He bent over her and kissed her hair.

Lady Tranmore began to speak; then, with a mighty effort, restrained
herself and began to look for her parasol. Kitty did not move. Lady
Tranmore said a muffled good-bye and went. And this time Margaret French
insisted on going with her.

       *       *       *       *       *

When Ashe returned to the drawing-room, he found his wife still in the
same position, very pale and very wild.

"I have told your mother, William, what I intend to do about the
Parhams."

"Very well, dear. Now she knows."

"She says it will ruin your career."

"Did she? We'll talk about that presently. We have had a nasty scene in
the House with the Irishmen, and I'm famished. Go and change, there's a
dear. Dinner's just coming in."

Kitty went reluctantly. She came down in a white, flowing garment, with
a small green wreath in her hair, which, together with the air of a
storm which still enwrapped her, made her more mænad-like than ever.
Ashe took no notice, gave her a laughing account of what had passed in
the House, and ate his dinner.

Afterwards, when they were alone, and he was just about to return to the
House, she made a swift rush across the dining-room, and caught his coat
with both hands.

"William, I can't go to that dinner--it would kill me!"

"How you repeat yourself, darling!" he said, with a smile. "I suppose
you'll give Lady Parham decent notice. What'll you do? Get a doctor's
certificate and go away?"

Kitty panted. "Not at all. I shall not tell her till an hour before."

Ashe whistled.

"War? I see. Open war. Very well. Then we shall get to Venice for
Easter."

Kitty fell back.

"What do you mean?"

"Very plain, isn't it? But what does it matter? Venice will be
delightful, and there are plenty of good men to take my place."

"Lord Parham would pass you over?"

"Not at all. But I can't work in public with a man whom I must cut in
private. It wouldn't amuse me. So if you're decided, Kitty, write to
Danieli's for rooms."

He lit his cigarette, and went out with a perfect nonchalance and
good-temper.

       *       *       *       *       *

Kitty was to have gone to a ball. She countermanded her maid's
preparations, and sent the maid to bed. In due time all the servants
went to bed, the front door being left on the latch as usual for Ashe's
late return. About midnight a little figure slipped into the child's
nursery. The nurse was fast asleep. Kitty sat beside the child,
motionless, for an hour, and when Ashe let himself into the house about
two o'clock he heard a little rustle in the hall, and there stood Kitty,
waiting for him.

"Kitty, what are you about?" he said, in pretended amazement. But in
reality he was not astonished at all. His life for months past had been
pitched in a key of extravagance and tumult. He had been practically
certain that he should find Kitty in the hall.

With great tenderness he half led, half carried her up-stairs. She clung
to him as passionately as, before dinner, she had repulsed him. When
they reached their room, the tired man, dropping with sleep, after a
Parliamentary wrestle in which every faculty had been taxed to the
utmost, took his wife in his arms; and there Kitty sobbed and talked
herself into a peace of complete exhaustion. In this state she was one
of the most exquisite of human beings, with words, tone, and gestures of
a heavenly softness and languor. The evil spirit went out of her, and
she was all ethereal tenderness, sadness, and remorse. For more than two
years, scenes like this had, in Ashe's case, melted into final delight
and intoxication which more than effaced the memory of what had gone
before. Now for several months he had dreaded the issue of the crisis,
no less than the crisis itself. It left him unnerved as though some
morbid sirocco had passed over him.

When Kitty at last had fallen asleep, Ashe stood for some time beside
his dressing-room window, looking absently into the cloudy night, too
tired even to undress. A gusty northwest wind tore down the street and
beat against the windows. The unrest without increased the tension of
his mind and body. Like Lady Tranmore, he had, as it were, stepped back
from his life, and was looking at it--the last three years of it in
particular--as a whole. What was the net result of those years? Where
was he? Whither were he and Kitty going? A strange pang shot through
him. The mere asking of the question had been as the lifting of the lamp
of Psyche.

The scene that night in the House of Commons had been for him a scene of
conflict; in the main, also, of victory. His virile powers, capacities,
and ambitions had been at their height. He had felt the full spell of
the English political life, with all its hard fighting joy, the
exhilaration which flows from the vastness of the interests on which it
turns, and the intricate appeal it makes, in the case of a man like
himself, to a hundred inherited aptitudes, tastes, and traditions.

And here he stood in the darkness, wondering whether indeed the best of
his life were not over--the prey of forebodings as strong and vagrant as
the gusts outside.

Birds of the night! He forced himself to bed, and slept heavily. When he
woke up, the May sun was shining into his room. Kitty, in the freshest
of morning dresses, was sitting on his bed like a perching bird, waiting
impatiently till his eyes should open and she could ask him his opinion
on her dress for the ball. The savor and joy of life returned upon him
in a flood. Kitty was the prettiest thing ever seen; he had scored off
those Tory fellows the night before; the Parhams' dinner was all right;
and life was once more kind, manageable, and full of the most agreeable
possibilities. A certain indolent impatience in him recoiled from the
mere recollection of the night before. The worry was over; why think of
it again?



VIII


Meanwhile Lady Tranmore had reached home, and after one of those
pathetic hours in her husband's room which made the secret and sacred
foundation of her daily life, she expected Mary Lyster, who was to dine
at Tranmore House before the two ladies presented themselves at a
musical party given by the French Ambassadress. Before her guest's
arrival, Lady Tranmore wandered about her rooms, unable to rest, unable
even to read the evening papers on Ashe's speech, so possessed was she
still by her altercation with Kitty, and by the foreboding sense of what
it meant. William's future was threatened; and the mother whose whole
proud heart had been thrown for years into every successful effort and
every upward step of her son, was up in arms.

Mary Lyster arrived to the minute. She came in, a tall gliding woman,
her hair falling in rippled waves on either side of her face, which in
its ample comeliness and placidity reminded the Italianate Lady Tranmore
of many faces well known to her in early Siennese or Florentine art.
Mary's dress to-night was of a noble red, and the glossy brown of her
hair made a harmony both with her dress and with the whiteness of her
neck that contented the fastidious eye of her companion. "Polly" was now
thirty, in the prime of her good looks. Lady Tranmore's affection for
her, which had at one time even included the notion that she might
possibly become William Ashe's wife, did not at all interfere with a
shrewd understanding of her limitations. But she was daughterless
herself; her family feeling was strong; and Mary's society was an old
and pleasant habit one could ill have parted with. In her company,
moreover, Mary was at her best.

Elizabeth Tranmore never discussed her daughter-in-law with her cousin.
Loyalty to William forbade it, no less than a strong sense of family
dignity. For Mary had spoken once--immediately after the
engagement--with energy--nay, with passion; prophesying woe and
calamity. Thenceforward it was tacitly agreed between them that all
root-and-branch criticism of Kitty and her ways was taboo. Mary was,
indeed, on apparently good terms with her cousin's wife. She dined
occasionally at the Ashes', and she and Kitty met frequently under the
wing of Lady Tranmore. There was no cordiality between them, and Kitty
was often sharply or sulkily certain that Mary was to be counted among
those hostile forces with which, in some of her moods, the world seemed
to her to bristle. But if Mary kept, in truth, a very sharp tongue for
many of her intimates on the subject of Kitty, Lady Tranmore at least
was determined to know nothing about it.

On this particular evening, however, Lady Tranmore's self-control failed
her, for the first time in three years. She had not talked five minutes
with her guest before she perceived that Mary's mind was, in truth,
brimful of gossip--the gossip of many drawing-rooms--as to Kitty's
escapade with the Prince, Kitty's relations to Lady Partham, Kitty's
parties, and Kitty's whims. The temptation was too great; her own guard
broke down.

"I hear Kitty is furious with the Parhams," said Mary, as the two ladies
sat together after their rapid dinner. It was a rainy night, and the
fire to which they had drawn up was welcome.

Lady Tranmore shook her head sadly.

"I don't know where it is to end," she said, slowly.

"Lady Parham told me yesterday--you don't mind my repeating it?"--Mary
looked up with a smile--"she was still dreadfully afraid that Kitty
would play her some trick about next Friday. She knows that Kitty
detests her."

"Oh no," said Lady Tranmore, in a vague voice, "Kitty
couldn't--impossible!"

Mary turned an observant eye upon her companion's conscious and troubled
air, and drew conclusions not far from the truth.

"And it's all so awkward, isn't it?" she said, with sympathy, "when
apparently Lady Parham is as much Prime Minister as he is."

For in those days certain great houses and political ladies, though not
at the zenith of their power, were still, in their comparative decline,
very much to be reckoned with. When Lady Parham talked longer than usual
with the French Ambassador, his Austrian and German colleagues wrote
anxious despatches to their governments; when a special mission to the
East of great importance had to be arranged, nobody imagined that Lord
Parham had very much to do with the appointment of the commissioner, who
happened to have just engaged himself to Lady Parham's second girl. No
young member on the government side, if he wanted office, neglected
Lady Parham's invitations, and admission to her more intimate dinners
was still almost as much coveted as similar favors had been a generation
before in the case of Lady Jersey, or still earlier, in that of Lady
Holland. She was a small old woman, with a shrewish face, a waxen
complexion, and a brown wig. In spite of short sight, she saw things
that escaped most other people; her tongue was rarely at a loss; she
was, on the whole, a good friend, though never an unreflecting one; and
what she forgave might be safely reckoned as not worth resenting.

Elizabeth Tranmore received Mary's remark with reluctant consent. Lady
Parham--from the English aristocratic stand-point--was not well-born.
She had been the daughter of a fashionable music-master, whose blood was
certainly not Christian. And there were many people beside Lady Tranmore
who resented her domination.

"It will be so perfectly easy when the moment comes to invent some
excuse or other for shelving William's claims," sighed Ashe's mother.
"Nobody is indispensable, and if that old woman is provoked, she will be
capable of any mischief."

"What do you want for William?" said Mary, smiling.

"He ought, of course, to have the Home Office!" replied Lady Tranmore,
with fire.

Mary vowed that he would certainly have it. "Kitty is so clever, she
will understand how important discretion is, before things go too far."

Lady Tranmore made no answer. She gazed into the fire, and Miss Lyster
thought her depressed.

"Has William ever interfered?" she asked, cautiously.

Lady Tranmore hesitated.

"Not that I know of," she said, at last. "Nor will he ever--in the sense
in which any ordinary husband would interfere."

"I know! It is as though he had a kind of superstition about it. Isn't
there a fairy story, in which an elf marries a mortal on condition that
if he ever ill-treats her, her people will fetch her back to fairyland?
One day the husband lost his temper and spoke crossly; instantly there
was a crash of thunder and the elf-wife vanished."

"I don't remember the story. But it's like that--exactly. He said to me
once that he would never have asked her to marry him if he had not been
able to make up his mind to let her have her own way--never to coerce
her."

But having said this, Lady Tranmore repented. It seemed to her she had
been betraying William's affairs. She drew her chair back from the fire,
and rang to ask if the carriage had arrived. Mary took the hint. She
arrayed herself in her cloak, and chatted agreeably about other things
till the moment for their departure came.

As they drove through the streets, Lady Tranmore stole a glance at her
companion.

"She is really very handsome," she thought--"much better-looking than
she was at twenty. What are the men about, not to marry her?"

It was indeed a puzzle. For Mary was increasingly agreeable as the years
went on, and had now quite a position of her own in London, as a
charming woman without angles or apparent egotisms; one of the
initiated besides, whom any dinner-party might be glad to capture. Her
relations, near and distant, held so many of the points of vantage in
English public life that her word inevitably carried weight. She talked
politics, as women of her class must talk them to hold their own; she
supported the Church; and she was elegantly charitable, in that popular
sense which means that you subscribe to your friends' charities without
setting up any of your own. She was rich also--already in possession of
a considerable fortune, inherited from her mother, and prospective
heiress of at least as much again from her father, old Sir Richard
Lyster, whose house in Somersetshire she managed to perfection. In the
season she stayed with various friends, or with Lady Tranmore, Sir
Richard being now infirm, and preferring the country. There was a
younger sister, who was known to have married imprudently, and against
her father's wishes, some five or six years before this. Catharine was
poor, the wife of a clergyman with young children. Lady Tranmore
sometimes wondered whether Mary was quite as good to her as she might
be. She herself sent Catharine various presents in the course of the
year for the children.

--Yes, it was certainly surprising that Mary had not married. Lady
Tranmore's thoughts were running on this tack when of a sudden her eyes
were caught by the placard of one of the evening papers.

"Interview with Mr. Cliffe. Peace assured." So ran one of the lines.

"Geoffrey Cliffe home again!" Lady Tranmore's tone betrayed a shade of
contemptuous amusement.

"We shall have to get on without our daily telegram. Poor London!"

If at that moment it had occurred to her to look at her companion, she
would have seen a quick reddening of Mary's cheeks.

"He has had a great success, though, with his telegrams!" replied Miss
Lyster. "I should have thought one couldn't deny that."

"Success! Only with the people who don't matter," said Lady Tranmore,
with a shrug. "Of what importance is it to anybody that Geoffrey Cliffe
should telegraph his doings and his opinions every morning to the
English public?"

We were in the midst of a disagreement with America. A whirlwind was
unloosed, and as it happened Geoffrey Cliffe was riding it. For that
gentleman had not succeeded in the designs which were occupying his mind
when he had first made Kitty's acquaintance in the Grosvilles'
country-house. He had desired an appointment in Egypt; but it had not
been given him, and after some angry restlessness at home, he had once
more taken up a pilgrim's staff and departed on fresh travels, bound
this time for the Pamirs and Thibet. After nearly three years, during
which he had never ceased, through the newspapers and periodicals, to
keep his opinions and his personality before the public, he had been
heard of in China, and as returning home by America. He arrived at San
Francisco just as the dispute had broken out, was at once captured by an
English paper, and sent to New York, with _carte blanche_. He had risen
with alacrity to the situation. Thenceforward for some three weeks,
England found a marvellous series of large-print telegrams, signed
"Geoffrey Cliffe," awaiting her each morning on her breakfast-table.

"'The President and I met this morning'--'The President considers, and I
agree with him'--'I told the President'--etc.--'The President this
morning signed and sealed a memorable despatch. He said to me
afterwards'"--etc.

Two diverse effects seemed to have been produced by these proceedings. A
certain section of Radical opinion, which likes to see affairs managed
_sans cérémonie_, and does not understand what the world wants with
diplomatists when journalists are to be had, applauded; the
old-fashioned laughed.

It was said that Cliffe was going into the House immediately; the young
bloods of the party in power enjoyed the prospect, and had already
stored up the _ego et Rex meus_ details of his correspondence for future
use.

"How could a man make such a fool of himself!" continued Lady Tranmore,
the malice in her voice expressing not only the old aristocratic dislike
of the press, but also the jealousy natural to the mother of an official
son.

"Well, we shall see," said Mary, after a pause. "I don't quite agree
with you, Cousin Elizabeth--indeed, I know there are many people who
think that he has certainly done good."

Lady Tranmore turned in astonishment. She had expected Mary's assent to
her original remark as a matter of course. Mary's old flirtation with
Geoffrey Cliffe, and the long breach between them which had followed it,
were things well known to her. They had coincided, moreover, with her
own dropping of the man whom for various reasons she had come to regard
as unscrupulous and unsafe.

"Good!" she echoed--"_good_?--with that boasting, and that
_fanfaronnade_. Polly!"

But Miss Lyster held her ground.

"We must allow everybody their own ways of doing things, mustn't we? I
am quite sure he has meant well--all through."

Lady Tranmore shrugged her shoulders. "Lord Parham told me he had had
the most grotesque letters from him!--and meant henceforward to put them
in the fire."

"Very foolish of Lord Parham," said Mary, promptly. "I should have
thought that a Prime Minister would welcome information--from all sides.
And of course Mr. Cliffe thinks that the government has been _very_
badly served."

Lady Tranmore's wonder broke out. "You don't mean--that--you hear from
him?"

She turned and looked full at her companion. Mary's color was still
raised, but otherwise she betrayed no embarrassment.

"Yes, dear Cousin Elizabeth. I have heard from him regularly for the
last six months. I have often wished to tell you, but I was afraid you
might misunderstand me, and--my courage failed me!" The speaker,
smiling, laid her hand on Lady Tranmore's. "The fact is, he wrote to me
last autumn from Japan. You remember that poor cousin of mine who died
at Tokio? Mr. Cliffe had seen something of him, and he very kindly wrote
both to his mother and me afterwards. Then--"

"You didn't forgive him!" cried Lady Tranmore.

Mary laughed.

"Was there anything to forgive? We were both young and foolish. Anyway,
he interests me--and his letters are splendid."

"Did you ever tell William you were corresponding with him?"

"No, indeed! But I want very much to make them understand each other
better. Why shouldn't the government make use of him? He doesn't wish at
all to be thrown into the arms of the other side. But they treat him so
badly--"

"My dear Mary! are we governed by the proper people, or are we not?"

"It is no good ignoring the press," said Mary, holding herself
gracefully erect. "And the Bishop quite agrees with me."

Lady Tranmore sank back in her seat.

"You discussed it with the Bishop?" It was now some time since Mary had
last brought the family Bishop--her cousin, and Lady Tranmore's--to bear
upon an argument between them. But Elizabeth knew that his appearance in
the conversation invariably meant a _fait accompli_ of some sort.

"I read him some of Mr. Cliffe's letters," said Mary, modestly. "He
thought them most remarkable."

"Even when he mocks at missionaries?"

"Oh! but he doesn't mock at them any more. He has learned wisdom--I
assure you he has!"

Lady Tranmore's patience almost departed, Mary's look was so penetrated
with indulgence for the prejudices of a dear but unreasonable relation.
But she managed to preserve it.

"And you knew he was coming home?"

"Oh yes!" said Mary. "I meant to have told you at dinner. But something
put it out of my head--Kitty, of course! I shouldn't wonder if he were
at the embassy to-night."

"Polly! tell me--"--Lady Tranmore gripped Miss Lyster's hand with some
force--"are you going to marry him?"

"Not that I know of," was the smiling reply. "Don't you think I'm old
enough by now to have a man friend?"

"And you expect me to be civil to him!"

"Well, dear Cousin Elizabeth--you know--you never did break with him,
quite."

Lady Tranmore, in her bewilderment, reflected that she had certainly
meant to complete the process whenever she and Mr. Cliffe should meet
again. Aloud she could only say, rather stiffly:

"I can't forget that William disapproves of him strongly."

"Oh no--excuse me--I don't think he does!" said Mary, quickly. "He said
to me, the other day, that he should be very glad to pick his brains
when he came home. And then he laughed and said he was a 'deuced clever
fellow'--excuse the adjective--and it was a great thing to be 'as free
as that chap was'--'without all sorts of boring colleagues and
responsibilities.' Wasn't it like William?"

Lady Tranmore sighed.

"William shouldn't say those things."

"Of course, dear, he was only in fun. But I'll lay you a small wager,
Cousin Elizabeth, that Kitty will ask Mr. Cliffe to lunch as soon as she
knows he is in town."

Lady Tranmore turned away.

"I dare say. No one can answer for what Kitty will do. But Geoffrey
Cliffe has said scandalous things of William."

"He won't say them again," said Mary, soothingly. "Besides, William
never minds being abused a bit--does he?"

"He should mind," said Lady Tranmore, drawing herself up. "In my young
days, our enemies were our enemies and our friends our friends. Nowadays
nothing seems to matter. You may call a man a scoundrel one day and ask
him to dinner the next. We seem to use words in a new sense--and I
confess I don't like the change. Well, Mary, I sha'n't, of course, be
rude to any friend of yours. But don't expect me to be effusive. And
please remember that my acquaintance with Geoffrey Cliffe is older than
yours."

Mary made a caressing reply, and gave her mind for the rest of the drive
to the smoothing of Lady Tranmore's ruffled plumes. But it was not easy.
As that lady made her way up the crowded staircase of the French
Embassy, her fine face was still absent and a little stern.

Mary could only reflect that she had at least got through a first
explanation which was bound to be made. Then for a few minutes her mind
surrendered itself wholly to the question, "Will he be here?"

       *       *       *       *       *

The rooms of the French Embassy were already crowded. An ambassador,
short, stout, and somewhat morose, his plain features and snub nose
emerging with difficulty from his thick, fair hair, superabundant beard,
and mustache--with an elegant and smiling ambassadress, personifying
amid the English crowd that Paris from which through every fibre she
felt herself a pining exile--received the guests. The scene was ablaze
with uniforms, for the Speaker had been giving a dinner, and Royalty was
expected. But, as Lady Tranmore perceived at once, very few members of
the House of Commons were present. A hot debate on some detail of the
naval estimates had been sprung on ministers, and the whips on each side
had been peremptorily keeping their forces in hand.

"I don't see either William or Kitty," said Mary, after a careful
scrutiny not, in truth, directed to the discovery of the Ashes.

"No. I suppose William was kept, and Kitty did not care to come alone."

Mary said nothing. But she was well aware that Kitty was never
restrained from going into society by the mere absence of her husband.
Meanwhile Lady Tranmore was lost in secret anxieties as to what might
have happened in Hill Street. Had there been a quarrel? Something
certainly had gone wrong, or Kitty would be here.

"Lady Kitty not arrived?" said a voice, like a macaw's, beside her.

Elizabeth turned and shook hands with Lady Parham. That extraordinary
woman, followed everywhere by the attentive observation of the crowd,
had never asserted herself more sharply in dress, manner, and coiffure
than on this particular evening--so it seemed, at least, to Lady
Tranmore. Her ample figure was robed in the white satin of a bride, her
wrinkled neck disappeared under a weight of jewels, and her bright
chestnut wig, to which the diamond tiara was fastened, positively
attacked the spectator, so patent was it and unashamed. Unashamed, too,
were the bold, tyrannous eyes, the rouge-spots on either cheek, the
strength of the jaw, the close-shut ability of the mouth. Elizabeth
Tranmore looked at her with a secret passion of dislike. Her English
pride of race, no less than the prejudices of her taste and training,
could hardly endure the fact that, for William's sake, she must make
herself agreeable to Lady Parham.

Agreeable, however, she tried to be. Kitty had seemed to her tired in
the afternoon, and had, no doubt, gone to bed--so she averred.

Lady Parham laughed.

"Well, she mustn't be tired the night of my party next week--or the
skies will fall. I never took so much trouble before about anything in
my life."

"No, she must take care," said Lady Tranmore. "Unfortunately, she is not
strong, and she does too much."

Lady Parham threw her a sharp look.

"Not strong? I should have thought Lady Kitty was made on wires. Well,
if she fails me, I shall go to bed--with small-pox. There will be
nothing else to be done. The Princess has actually put off another
engagement to come--she has heard so much of Lady Kitty's reciting. But
you'll help me through, won't you?"

And the wrinkled face and harsh lips fell into a contortion meant for a
confidential smile; while through it all the eyes, wholly independent,
studied the face beside her--closely, suspiciously--until the owner of
it in her discomfort could almost have repeated aloud the words that
were ringing in her mind--"I shall _not_ go to Lady Parham's! My note
will reach her on the stroke of eight."

"Certainly--I will keep an eye on her!" she said, lightly. "But you
know--since her illness--"

"Oh no!" said Lady Parham, impatiently, "she is very well--very well
indeed. I never saw her look so radiant. By-the-way, did you hear your
son's speech the other night? I did not see you in the gallery. A great
pity if you missed it. It was admirable."

Lady Tranmore replied regretfully that she had not been there, and that
she had not been able to have a word with him about it since.

"Oh, he knows he did well," said Lady Parham, carelessly. "They all do.
Lord Parham was delighted. He could do nothing but talk about it at
dinner. He says they were in a very tight place, and Mr. Ashe got them
out."

Lady Tranmore expressed her gratification with all the dignity she could
command, conscious meanwhile that her companion was not listening to a
word, absorbed as she was in a hawklike examination of the room through
a pair of gold-rimmed eye-glasses.

Suddenly the eye-glasses fell with a rattle.

"Good Heavens!" cried Lady Parham. "Do you see who that is talking to
Mr. Loraine?"

Lady Tranmore looked, and at once perceived Geoffrey Cliffe in close
conversation with the leader of the Opposition. The lady beside her gave
an angry laugh.

"If Mr. Cliffe thinks he has done himself any good by these ridiculous
telegrams of his, he will find himself mistaken! People are perfectly
furious about them."

"Naturally," said Lady Tranmore. "Only that it is a pity to take him
seriously."

"Oh, I don't know. He has his following; unfortunately, some of our own
men are inclined to think that Parham should conciliate him. Ignore him,
I say. Behave as though he didn't exist. Ah! by-the-way"--the speaker
raised herself on tiptoe, and said, in an audacious undertone--"is it
true that he may possibly marry your cousin, Miss Lyster?"

Lady Tranmore kept a smiling composure. "Is it true that Lord Parham may
possibly give him an appointment?"

Lady Parham turned away in annoyance. "Is that one of the inventions
going about?"

"There are so many," said Lady Tranmore.

At that moment, however, to her infinite relief, her companion abruptly
deserted her. She was free to observe the two distant figures in
conversation--Geoffrey Cliffe and Mr. Loraine, the latter a man now
verging on old age, white-haired and wrinkled, but breathing still
through every feature and every movement the scarcely diminished energy
of his magnificent prime. He stood with bent head, listening
attentively, but, as Lady Tranmore thought, coldly, to the arguments
that Cliffe was pouring out upon him. Once he looked up in a sudden
recoil, and there was a flash from an eye famous for its power of
majestic or passionate rebuke. Cliffe, however, took no notice, and
talked on, Loraine still listening.

"Look at them!" said Lady Parham, venomously, in the ear of one of her
intimates. "We shall have all this out in the House to-morrow. The
Opposition mean to play that man for all he's worth. Mr. Loraine,
too--with his puritanical ways! I know what he thinks of Cliffe. He
wouldn't _touch_ him in private. But in public--you'll see--he'll
swallow him whole--just to annoy Parham. There's your politician."

And stiff with the angry virtue of the "ins," denouncing the faction of
the "outs," Lady Parham passed on.

Elizabeth Tranmore meanwhile turned to look for Mary Lyster. She found
her close behind, engaged in a perfunctory conversation, which evidently
left her quite free to follow things more exciting. She, too, was
watching; and presently it seemed to Lady Tranmore that her eyes met
with those of Cliffe. Cliffe paused; abruptly lost the thread of his
conversation with Mr. Loraine, and began to make his way through the
crowded room. Lady Tranmore watched his progress with some attention. It
was the progress, clearly, of a man much in the eye and mouth of the
public. Whether the atmosphere surrounding him in these rooms was more
hostile or more favorable, Lady Tranmore could not be quite sure.
Certainly the women smiled upon him; and his strange face, thinner,
browner, more weather-beaten and life-beaten than ever, under its crest
of grizzling hair, had the old arrogant and picturesque power, but, as
it seemed to her, with something added--something subtler, was it, more
romantic than of yore? which arrested the spectator. Had he really been
in love with that French woman? Lady Tranmore had heard it rumored that
she was dead.

It was not towards Mary Lyster, primarily, that he was moving, Elizabeth
soon discovered; it was towards herself. She braced herself for the
encounter.

The greeting was soon over. After she herself had said the appropriate
things, Lady Tranmore had time to notice that Mary Lyster, whose turn
came next, did not attempt to say them. She looked, indeed, unusually
handsome and animated; Lady Tranmore was certain that Cliffe had noticed
as much, at his first sight of her. But the remarks she omitted showed
how minute and recent was their knowledge of each other's movements.
Cliffe himself gave a first impression of high spirits. He declared that
London was more agreeable than he had ever known it, and that after his
three years' absence nobody looked a day older. Then he inquired after
Ashe.

Lady Tranmore replied that William was well, but hard-worked; she hoped
to persuade him to get a few days abroad at Whitsuntide. Her manner was
quiet, without a trace of either discourtesy or effusion. Cliffe began
to twist his mustache, a sign she knew well. It meant that he was in
truth both irritable and nervous.

"You think they'll last till Whitsuntide?"

"The government?" she said, smiling. "Certainly--and beyond."

"I give them three weeks," said Cliffe, twisting anew, with a vigor that
gave her a positive physical sympathy with the tortured mustache. "There
will be some papers out to-morrow that will be a bomb-shell."

"About America? Oh, they have been blown up so often! You, for instance,
have been doing your best--for months."

His perfunctory laugh answered the mockery of her charming eyes.

"Well--I wish I could make William hear reason."

Lady Tranmore held herself stiffly. The Christian name seemed to her an
offence. It was true that in old days he and Cliffe had been on those
terms. Now--it was a piece of bad taste.

"Probably what is reason to you is folly to him," she said, dryly.

"No, no!--he _knows_," said Cliffe, with impatience. "The others don't.
Parham is more impossible--more crassly, grossly ignorant!" He lifted
hands and eyes in protest. "But Ashe, of course, is another matter
altogether."

"Well, go and see him--go and talk to him!" said Lady Tranmore, still
mocking. "There are no lions in the way."

"None," said Cliffe. "As a matter of fact, Lady Kitty has asked me to
luncheon. But does one find Ashe himself in the middle of the day?"

At the mention of her daughter-in-law Elizabeth made an involuntary
movement. Mary, standing beside her, turned towards her and smiled.

"Not often." The tone was cold. "But you could always find him at the
House." And Lady Tranmore moved away.

"Is there a quiet corner anywhere?" said Cliffe to Mary. "I have such
heaps to tell you."

So while some Polish gentleman in the main drawing-room, whose name
ended in _ski_, challenged his violin to the impossible, Cliffe and Mary
retired from observation into a small room thrown open with the rest of
the suite, which was in truth the morning-room of the ambassadress.

As soon as they found themselves alone, there was a pause in their
conversation; each involuntarily looked at the other. Mary certainly
recognized that these years of absence had wrought a noticeable change
in the man before her. He had aged. Hard living and hard travelling had
left their marks. But, like Lady Tranmore, she also perceived another
difference. The eyes bent upon her were indeed, as before, the eyes of a
man self-centred, self-absorbed. There was no chivalrous softness in
them, no consideration. The man who owned them used them entirely for
his own purposes; they betrayed none of that changing instinctive
relation towards the human being--any human being--within their range,
which makes the charm of so many faces. But they were sadder, more
sombre, more restless; they thrilled her more than they had already
thrilled her once, in the first moment of her youth.

What was he going to say? From the moment of his first letter to her
from Japan, Mary had perfectly understood that he had some fresh purpose
in his mind. She was not anxious, however, to precipitate the moment of
explanation. She was no longer the young girl whose equilibrium is upset
by the mere approach of the man who interests her. Moreover, there was a
past between herself and Cliffe, the memory of which might indeed point
her to caution. Did he now, after all, want to marry her--because she
was rich, and he was comparatively poor, and could only secure an
English career at the cost of a well-stored wife? Well, all that should
be thought over; by herself no less than by him. Meanwhile her vanity
glowed within her, as she thus held him there, alone, to the
discomfiture of other women more beautiful and more highly placed than
herself; as she remembered his letters in her desk at home; and the
secrets she imagined him to have told her. Then again she felt a rush of
sudden disquiet, caused by this new aspect--wavering and remote--as
though some hidden grief emerged and vanished. He had the haggard air of
a man who scarcely sleeps. All that she had ever heard of the French
affair rushed through her mind, stirring there an angry curiosity.

These impressions took, however, but a few minutes, while they exchanged
some conventionalities. Then Cliffe said, scrutinizing the face and form
beside him with that intentness which, from him, was more generally
taken as compliment than offence:

"Will you excuse the remark? There are no women who keep their first
freshness like Englishwomen."

"Thank you. If we feel fresh, I suppose we look it. As for you, you
clearly want a rest."

"No time to think of it, then; I have come home to fight--all I know; to
make myself as odious as possible."

Mary laughed.

"You have been doing that so long. Why not try the opposite?"

Cliffe looked at her sharply.

"You think I have made a failure of it?"

"Not at all. You have made everybody furiously uncomfortable, and you
see how civil even the Radical papers are to you."

"Yes. What fools!" said Cliffe, shortly. "They'll soon leave that off.
Just now I'm a stick to beat the government with. But you don't believe
I shall carry my point?"

The point concerned a particular detail in a pending negotiation with
the United States. Cliffe had been denouncing the government for what he
conceived to be their coming retreat before American demands. America,
according to him, had been playing the bully; and English interests were
being betrayed.

Mary considered.

"I think you will have to change your tactics."

"Dictate them, then."

He bent forward, with that sudden change of manner, that courteous
sweetness of tone and gesture, which few women could resist. Mary's
heart, seasoned though it were, felt a charming flutter. She talked, and
she talked well. She had no independence of mind, and very little real
knowledge; but she had an excellent reporter's ability; she knew what to
remember, and how to tell it. Cliffe listened to her attentively,
acknowledging to himself the while that she had certainly gained. She
was a far more definite personality than she had been when he last knew
her; and her self-possession, her trained manner, rested him. Thank
Heaven, she was not a clever woman--how he detested the breed! But she
was a useful one. And the smiling commonplace into which she fell so
often was positively welcome to him. He had known what it was to court a
woman who was more than his equal both in mind and passion; and it had
left him bitter and broken.

"Well, all this is most illuminating," he said at last. "I owe you
immense thanks." And he put out a pair of hands, thin, brown, and
weather-stained as his face, and pressed one of hers. "We're very old
friends, aren't we?"

"Are we?" said Mary, drawing back.

"So far as any one can be the friend of a chap like me," he said,
hastily. "Tell me, are you with Lady Tranmore?"

"No. I go to her in a few days--till I leave London."

"Don't go away," he said, suddenly and insistently. "Don't go away."

Mary could not help a slight wavering in the eyes that perforce met his.
Then he said, abruptly, as she rose:

"By-the-way, they tell me Ashe is a great man."

She caught the note of incredulous contempt in his voice and laughed.

"They say he'll be in the cabinet directly."

"And Lady Kitty, I understand, is a scandal to gods and men, and the
most fashionable person in town?"

"Oh, not now," said Mary. "That was last year."

"You mean people are tired of her?"

"Well, after a time, you know, a naughty child--"

"Becomes a bore. Is she a bore? I doubt; I very much doubt."

"Go and see," said Mary. "When do you lunch there?"

"I think to-morrow. Shall I find you?"

"Oh no. I am not at all intimate with Lady Kitty."

Cliffe's slight smile, as he followed her into the large drawing-room,
died under his mustache. He divined at once the relation between the
two, or thought he did.

As for Mary, she caught her last sight of Cliffe, standing bareheaded on
the steps of the embassy, his lean distinction, his ugly good looks
marking him out from the men around him. Then, as they drove away she
was glad that the darkness hid her from Lady Tranmore. For suddenly she
could not smile. She was filled with the perception that if Geoffrey
Cliffe did not now ask her to marry him, life would utterly lose its
savor, its carefully cherished and augmented savor, and youth would
abandon her. At the same time she realized that she would have to make a
fight of it, with every weapon she could muster.



IX


"Wasn't I expected?" said Darrell, with a chilly smile.

"Oh yes, sir--yes, sir!" said the Ashes' butler, as he looked
distractedly round the drawing-room. "I believe her ladyship will be in
directly. Will you kindly take a seat?"

The man's air of resignation convinced Darrell that Lady Kitty had
probably gone out without any orders to her servants, and had now
forgotten all about her luncheon-party--a state of things to which the
Hill Street household was, no doubt, well accustomed.

"I shall claim some lunch," he thought to himself, "whatever happens.
These young people want keeping in their place. Ah!"

For he had observed, placed on a small easel, the print of Madame de
Longueville in costume, and he put up his eye-glass to look at it. He
guessed at once that its appearance there was connected with the fancy
ball which was now filling London with its fame, and he examined it with
some closeness. "Lady Kitty will make a stir in it--no doubt of that!"
he said to himself, as he turned away. "She has the keenest _flair_ of
them all for what produces an effect. None of the others can touch
her--Mrs. Alcot--none of them!"

He was thinking of the other members of a certain group, at that time
well known in London society--a group characterized chiefly by the
beauty, extravagance, and audacity of the women belonging to it. It was
by no means a group of mere fashionables. It contained a large amount of
ability and accomplishment; some men of aristocratic family, who were
also men of high character, with great futures before them; some persons
from the literary or artistic world, who possessed, besides their
literary or artistic gifts, a certain art of agreeable living, and some
few others--especially young girls--admitted generally for some peculiar
quality of beauty or manner outside the ordinary canons. Money was
really presupposed by the group as a group. The life they belonged to
was a life of the rich, the houses they met in were rich houses. But
money as such had no power whatever to buy admission to their ranks; and
the members of the group were at least as impatient of the claims of
mere wealth as they were of those of mere virtue.

On the whole the group was an element of ferment and growth in the
society that had produced it. Its impatience of convention and
restraint, the exaltation of intellectual or artistic power which
prevailed in it, and even the angry opposition excited by its
pretensions and its exclusiveness, were all, perhaps, rather profitable
than harmful at that moment of our social history. Old customs were much
shaken; the new were shaping themselves, and this daring coterie of
young and brilliant people, living in one another's houses, calling one
another by their Christian names, setting a number of social rules at
defiance, discussing books, making the fame of artists, and, now and
then, influencing politics, were certainly helping to bring the new
world to birth. Their foes called them "The Archangels," and they
themselves had accepted the name with complacency.

Kitty, of course, was an Archangel, so was Mrs. Alcot. Cliffe had
belonged to them before his travels began. Louis Harman was more or less
of their tribe, and Lady Tranmore, though not herself an Archangel,
entertained the set in London and in the country. Like various older
women connected with the group, she was not of them, but she "harbored"
them.

Darrell was well aware that he did not belong to them, though personally
he was acquainted with almost all the members of the group. He was not
completely indifferent to his exclusion; and this fact annoyed him more
than the exclusion itself.

He had scarcely finished his inspection of the print when the door again
opened and Geoffrey Cliffe entered. Darrell had not yet seen him since
his return and since his attack on the government had made him the hero
of the hour. Of the newspaper success Darrell was no less jealous and
contemptuous than Lady Tranmore, though for quite other reasons. But he
knew better than she the intellectual quality of the man, and his
disdain for the journalist was tempered by his considerable though
reluctant respect for the man of letters.

They greeted each other coolly, while Cliffe, not seeing his hostess,
looked round him with annoyance.

"Well, we shall probably entertain each other," said Darrell, as they
sat down. "Lady Kitty often forgets her engagements."

"Does she?" said Cliffe, coldly, pretending to glance through a book
beside him. It touched his vanity that his hostess was not present, and
still more that Darrell should suppose him a person to be forgotten.
Darrell, however, who had no mind for any discomfort that might be
avoided, made a few dexterous advances, Cliffe's brow relaxed, and they
were soon in conversation.

The position of the ministry naturally presented itself as a topic. Two
or three retirements were impending, the whole position was precarious.
Would the cabinet be reconstructed without a dissolution, or must there
be an appeal to the country?

Cliffe was passionately in favor of the latter course. The party
fortunes could not possibly be retrieved without a general shuffling of
the cards, and an opportunity for some wholly fresh combination
involving new blood.

"In any case," said Cliffe, "I suppose our friend here is sure of one or
other of the big posts?"

"William Ashe? Oh, I suppose so, unless some intrigue gets in the way."
Darrell dropped his voice. "Parham doesn't, in truth, hit it off with
him very well. Ashe is too clever, and Parham doesn't understand his
paradoxes."

"Also I gather," said Cliffe, with a smile, "that Lady Parham has her
say?"

Darrell shrugged his shoulders.

"It sounds incredible that one should still have to reckon with that
kind of thing at this time of day. But I dare say it's true."

"However, I imagine Lady Kitty--by-the-way, how much longer shall we
give her?"--Cliffe looked at his watch with a frown--"may be trusted to
take care of that."

Darrell merely raised his eyebrows, without replying. "What, not a
match for one Lady Parham?" said Cliffe, with a laugh. "I should have
thought--from my old recollections of her--she would have been a match
for twenty?"

"Oh, if she cared to try."

"She is not ambitious?"

"Certainly; but not always for the same thing."

"She is trying to run too many horses abreast?"

"Oh, I am not a great friend," said Darrell, smiling. "I should never
dream of analyzing Lady Kitty. Ah!"--he turned his head--"are we not
forgotten, or just remembered--which?"

For a rapid step approached, the door opened, and a lady appeared on the
threshold. It was not Kitty, however. The new-comer advanced, putting up
a pair of fashionable eye-glasses, and looking at the two men in a kind
of languid perplexity, intended, as Darrell immediately said to himself,
merely to prolong the moment and the effect of her entry. Mrs. Alcot was
very tall, and inordinately thin. Her dark head on its slim throat, the
poetic lines of the brow, her half-shut eyes, the gleam of her white
teeth, and all the delicate detail of her dress, and, one might even
say, of her manner, gave an impression of beauty, though she was not, in
truth, beautiful. But she had grace and she had daring--the two
essential qualities of an Archangel; she was also a remarkable artist,
and no small critic.

"Mr. Cliffe," she said, with a start of what was evidently agreeable
surprise, "Kitty never told me. When did you come?"

"I arrived a few days ago. Why weren't you at the embassy last night?"

"Because I was much better employed. I have given up crushes. But I
would have come--to meet you. Ah, Mr. Darrell!" she added, in another
tone, holding out an indifferent hand. "Where is Kitty?" She looked
round her.

"Shall we order lunch?" said Darrell, who had given her a greeting as
careless as her own.

"Kitty is really too bad; she is never less than an hour late," said
Mrs. Alcot, seating herself. "Last time she dined with us I asked her
for seven-thirty. She thought something very special must be happening,
and arrived--breathless--at half-past eight. Then she was furious with
me because she was not the last. But one can't do it twice.
Well"--addressing herself to Cliffe--"are you come home to stay?"

"That depends," said Cliffe, "on whether England makes itself agreeable
to me."

"What are your deserts? Why should England be agreeable to you?" she
replied, with a smiling sharpness. "You do nothing but croak about
England."

Thus challenged, Cliffe sat down beside her and they fell into a
bantering conversation. Darrell, though inwardly wounded by the small
trouble they took to include him, let nothing appear, put in a word now
and then, or turned over the pages of the illustrated books.

After five minutes a fresh guest arrived. In walked the little Dean, Dr.
Winston, who had originally made acquaintance with Lady Kitty at
Grosville Park. He came in overflowing with spirits and enthusiasm. He
had been spending the morning in Westminster Abbey with another Dean
more famous though not more charming than himself, and with yet another
congenial spirit, one of the younger historians, all of them passionate
lovers of the rich human detail of the past, the actual men and women,
kings, queens, bishops, executioners, and all the shreds and tatters
that remained of them. Together they had opened a royal tomb, and the
Dean's eyes were sparkling as though the ghost of the queen whose ashes
he had been handling still walked and talked with him.

He passed in his light, disinterested way through most sections of
English society, though the slave of none; and he greeted Darrell and
Mrs. Alcot as acquaintances. Mrs. Alcot introduced Cliffe to him, and
the small Dean bowed rather stiffly. He was a supporter of the
government, and he thought Cliffe's campaign against them vulgar and
unfair.

"Is there no hope of Lady Kitty?" he said to Mrs. Alcot.

"Not much. Shall we go down to lunch?"

"Without our hostess?" The Dean opened his eyes.

"Oh, Kitty expects it," said Mrs. Alcot, with affected resignation, "and
the servants are quite prepared. Kitty asks everybody to lunch--then
somebody asks her--and she forgets. It's quite simple."

"Quite," said Cliffe, buttoning up his coat, "but I think I shall go to
the club."

He was looking for his hat, when again there was a commotion on the
stairs--a high voice giving orders--and in burst Kitty. She stood still
as soon as she saw her guests, talking so fast and pouring out such a
flood of excuses that no one could get in a word. Then she flew to each
guest in turn, taking them by both hands--Darrell only excepted--and
showing herself so penitent, amusing, and charming that everybody was
propitiated. It was Fanchette, of course--Fanchette the criminal, the
incomparable. Her dress for the ball. Kitty raised eyes and hands to
heaven--it would be a marvel, a miracle. Unless, indeed, she were lying
cold and quiet in her little grave before the time came to wear it. But
Fanchette's tempers--Fanchette's caprices--no! Kitty began to mimic the
great dressmaker torn to pieces by the crowd of fashionable ladies,
stopping abruptly in the middle to say to Cliffe:

"You were going away? I saw you take up your hat."

"I despaired of my hostess," said Cliffe, with a smile. Then as he
perceived that Mrs. Alcot had taken up the theme and was holding the
others in play, he added in a lower voice, "and I was in no mood for
second-best."

Kitty's eyes twinkled a moment as she turned them on Madeleine Alcot.

"Ah, _I_ remember--at Grosville Park--what a bad temper you had. You
would have gone away furious."

"With disappointment--yes," said Cliffe, as he looked at her with an
admiration he scarcely endeavored to conceal. Kitty was in black, but a
large hat of white tulle, in the most extravagant fashion of the day,
made a frame for her hair and eyes, and increased the general lightness
and fantasy of her appearance. Cliffe tried to recall her as he had
first seen her at Grosville Park, but his recollection of the young girl
could not hold its own against the brilliant and emphatic reality before
him.

At luncheon it chafed him that he must divide her with the Dean. Yet she
was charming with the old man, who chatted history, art, and Paris to
her, with a delightful innocence and ignorance of all that made Lady
Kitty Ashe the talk of the town, and an old-fashioned deference besides,
that insensibly curbed her manner and her phrases as she answered him.
Yet when the Dean left her free she returned to Cliffe, as though in
some sort they two had really been talking all the time, through all the
apparent conversation with other people.

"I have read all your telegrams," she said. "Why did you attack William
so fiercely?"

Cliffe was taken by surprise, but he felt no embarrassment--her tone was
not that of the wife in arms.

"I attacked the official--not the man. William knows that."

"He is coming in to-day if possible. He wanted to see you."

"Good news! William knows that he would have hit just as hard in my
place."

"I don't think he would," said Kitty, calmly. "He is so generous."

The color rushed to Cliffe's face.

"Well scored! I wish I had a wife to play these strokes for me. I shall
argue that a keen politician has no right to be generous. He is at war."

Kitty took no notice. She leaned her little chin on her hand, and her
eyes perused the face of her companion.

"Where have you been--all the time--before America?"

"In the deserts--fighting devils," said Cliffe, after a moment.

"What does that mean?" she asked, wondering.

"Read my new book. That will tell you about the deserts."

"And the devils?"

"Ah, I keep them to myself."

"Do you?" she said, softly. "I have just read your poems over again."

Cliffe gave a slight start, then looked indifferent.

"Have you? But they were written three years ago. Dieu merci, one finds
new devils like new acquaintances."

She shook her head.

"What do you mean?" he asked her, half amused, half arrested.

"They are always the old," she said, in a low voice. Their eyes met. In
hers was the same veiled, restless melancholy as in his own. Together
with the dazzling air of youth that surrounded her, the cherished,
flattered, luxurious existence that she and her house suggested, they
made a strange impression upon him. "Does she mean me to understand that
she is not happy?" he thought to himself. But the next moment she was
engaged in a merry chatter with the Dean, and all trace of the mood she
had thus momentarily shown him had vanished.

Half-way through the luncheon, Ashe came in. He appeared, fresh and
smiling, irreproachably dressed, and showing no trace whatever of the
hard morning of official work he had just passed through, nor of the
many embarrassments which, as every one knew, were weighing on the
Foreign Office. The Dean, with his keen sense for the dramatic, watched
the meeting between him and Cliffe with some closeness, having in mind
the almost personal duel between the two men--a duel of letters,
telegrams, or speeches, which had been lately carried on in the sight of
Europe and America. For Ashe now represented the Foreign Office in the
House of Commons, and had been much badgered by the Tory extremists who
followed Cliffe.

Naturally, being Englishmen, they met as though nothing had happened and
they had parted the day before in Pall Mall. A "Hullo, Ashe!" and
"Hullo, Cliffe! glad to see you back again," completed the matter. The
Dean enjoyed it as a specimen of English "phlegm," recalling with
amusement his last visit to the Paris of the Second Empire--Paris torn
between government and opposition, the _salons_ of the one divided from
the _salons_ of the other by a sulphurous gulf, unless when some Lazarus
of the moment, some well-known novelist or poet, cradled in the
Abraham's bosom of Liberalism, passed amid shrieks of triumph or howls
of treason into the official inferno.

Not that there was any avoiding of topics in this English case. Ashe had
no sooner slipped into his seat than he began to banter Cliffe upon a
letter of a supporter which had appeared in that morning's _Times_. It
was written by Lord S., who had played the part of public "fool" for
half a generation. To be praised by him was disaster, and Cliffe's flush
showed at once that the letter had caused him acute annoyance. He and
Ashe fell upon the writer, vying with each other in anecdotes that left
him presently close-plucked and bare.

"That's all very well," said Kitty, amid the laughter which greeted the
last tale, "but he never told _you_ how he proposed to the second Lady
S."

And lifting a red strawberry, which she held poised against her red,
laughing lips, she waited a moment--looking round her. "Go on, Kitty,"
said Ashe, approvingly; "go on."

Thus permitted, Kitty gave one of the little "scenes," arranged from
some experience of her own, which were very famous among her intimates.
Ashe called them her "parlor tricks," and was never tired of making her
exhibit them. And now, just as at Grosville Park, she held her audience.
She spoke without a halt, her small features answering perfectly to
every impulse of her talent, each touch of character or dialogue as
telling as a malicious sense of comedy could make it; arms, hands,
shoulders all aiding in the final result--a table swept by a very storm
of laughter, in the midst of which Kitty quietly finished her
strawberry.

"Well done, Kitty!" Ashe, who sat opposite to her, stretched his hand
across, and patted hers.

"Does she love him?" Cliffe asked himself, and could not make up his
mind, closely as he tried to observe their relations. He was more and
more conscious of the exciting effect she produced on himself, doubly
so, indeed, because of that sudden stroke of melancholy wherewith--like
a Rembrandt shadow, she had thrown into relief the gayety and frivolity
of her ordinary mood.

The stimulus, whatever it was, played upon his vanity. He, too, sought
an opening and found it. Soon it was he who was monopolizing the
conversation with an account of two days spent with Bismarck in a
Prussian country-house, during the triumphant days of the winter which
followed on Sadowa. The story was brilliantly told, and of some
political importance. But it was disfigured by arrogance and
affectation, and Ashe's eyes began to dance a little. Cliffe meanwhile
could not forget that he was in the presence of a rival and an official,
could not refrain after a while from a note of challenge here and there.
The conversation diverged from the tale into matters of current foreign
politics. Ashe, lounging and smoking, at first knew nothing, had heard
of nothing, as usual. Then a comment or correction dropped out; Cliffe
repeated himself vehemently--only to provoke another. Presently, no one
knew how, the two men were measured against each other _corps à
corps_--the wide knowledge and trained experience of the minister
against the originality, the force, the fantastic imagination of the
writer.

The Dean watched it with delight. He was very fond of Ashe, and liked to
see him getting the better of "the newspaper fellow." Kitty's lovely
brown eyes travelled from one to the other. Now it seemed to the Dean
that she was proud of Ashe, now that she sympathized with Cliffe. Soon,
however, like the god at Philippi, she swept upon the poet and bore him
from the field.

"Not a word more politics!" she said, peremptorily, to Ashe, holding up
her hand. "_I_ want to talk to Mr. Cliffe about the ball."

Cliffe was not very ready to obey. He had an angry sense of having been
somehow shown to disadvantage, and would like to have challenged his
host again. But Kitty poured balm into his wounds. She drew him apart a
little, using the play of her beautiful eyes for him only, and talking
to him in a new voice of deference.

"You're going, of course? Lady M. told me the other day she _must_ have
you."

Cliffe, still a little morose, replied that his invitation had been
waiting for him at his London rooms. He gave the information carelessly,
as though it did not matter to him a straw. In reality, as soon as,
while still in America, he had seen the announcement of the bail in one
of the New York papers, he had written at once to the Marchioness who
was to give it--an old acquaintance of his--practically demanding an
invitation. It had been sent indeed with alacrity, and without waiting
for its arrival Cliffe had ordered his dress in Paris. Kitty inquired
what it was to be.

"I told my man to copy a portrait of Alva."

"Ah, that's right," said Kitty, nodding--"that's right. Only it would
have been better if it had been Torquemada."

Rather nettled, Cliffe asked what there might be about him that so
forcibly suggested the Grand Inquisitor. Kitty, cigarette in hand, with
half-shut eyes, did not answer immediately. She seemed to be perusing
his face with difficulty.

"Strength, I suppose," she said at last, slowly. Cliffe waited, then
burst into a laugh.

"And cruelty?" She nodded.

"Who are my victims?"

She said nothing.

"Whose tales have you been listening to, Lady Kitty?"

She mentioned the name of a French lady. Cliffe changed countenance.

"Ah, well, if you have been talking to her," he said, haughtily, "you
may well expect to see me appear as Diabolus in person."

"No. But it's since then that I've read the poems again. You see, you
tell the public so much--"

"That you think you have the right to guess the rest?" He paused, then
added, with impatience, "Don't guess, Lady Kitty. You have everything
that life can give you. Let my secrets alone."

There was silence. Kitty looking round her saw that Madeleine Alcot was
entertaining her other guests, and that she and Cliffe were unobserved.
Suddenly Cliffe bent towards her, and said, with roughness, his face
struggling to conceal the feeling behind it:

"You heard--and you believed--that I tormented her--that I killed her?"

The anguish in his eyes seemed to strike a certain answering fire from
Kitty's.

"Yes, but--"

"But what?"

"I didn't think it very strange--"

Cliffe watched her closely.

"--that a man should be--an inhuman beast--if he were jealous--and
desperate. You can sympathize with these things?"

She drew a long breath, and threw away the cigarette she had been
holding suspended in her small fingers.

"I don't know anything about them."

"Because," he hesitated, "your own life has been so happy?"

She evaded him. "Don't you think that jealousy will soon be as dead
as--saying your prayers and going to church? I never meet anybody that
cares enough--to be jealous."

She spoke first with passionate force, then with contempt, glancing
across the room at Madeleine Alcot. Cliffe saw the look, and remembered
that Mrs. Alcot's husband, a distinguished treasury official, had been
for years the intimate friend of a very noble and beautiful woman,
herself unhappily married. There was no scandal in the matter, though
much talk. Mrs. Alcot meanwhile had her own affairs; her husband and she
were apparently on friendly terms; only neither ever spoke of the other;
and their relations remained a mystery.

Cliffe bent over to Kitty.

"And yet you said you could understand?--such things didn't seem strange
to you."

She gave a little, reckless laugh.

"Did I? It's like the people who think they could act or sing, if they
only had the chance. I choose to think I could feel. And of course I
couldn't. We've lost the power. All the old, horrible, splendid things
are dead and done with."

"The old passions, you mean?"

"And the old poems! _You'll_ never write like that again."

"God forbid!" said Cliffe, under his breath. Then as Kitty rose he
followed her with his eyes. "Lady Kitty, you've thrown me a challenge
that you hardly understand. Some day I must answer it."

"Don't answer it," said Kitty, hastily.

"Yes, if I can drag the words out," he said, sombrely. She met his look
in a kind of fascination, excited by the memory of the story which had
been told her, by her own audacity in speaking of it, by the presence of
the dead passion she divined lying shrouded and ghastly in the mind of
the man beside her. Even the ugly things of which he was accused did but
add to the interest of his personality for a nature like hers, greedy of
experience, and discontented with the real.

While he on his side was nattered and astonished by her attitude towards
him, as Ashe's wife, she would surely dislike and try to trample on him.
That was what he had expected.

       *       *       *       *       *

"I hear you are an Archangel, Lady Kitty," said the Dean, who, having
obstinately outstayed all the other guests, had now settled his small
person and his thin legs into a chair beside his hostess with a view to
five agreeable minutes. He was the most harmless of social epicures, was
the Dean, and he felt that Lady Kitty had defrauded him at lunch in
favor of that great, ruffling, Byronic fellow Cliffe, who ought to have
better taste than to come lunching with the Ashes.

"Am I?" said Kitty, who had thrown herself into the corner of a sofa,
and sat curled up there in an attitude which the Dean thought charming,
though it would not, he was aware, "have become Mrs. Winston.

"Well, you know best," said the Dean. "But, at any rate, be good and
explain to me what is an Archangel."

"Somebody whom most men and all women dislike," said Kitty, promptly.

"Yet they seem to be numerous," remarked the Dean.

"Not at all!" cried Kitty, with an air of offence; "not at all! If they
were numerous they would, of course, be popular."

"And in fact they are rare--and detested? What other characteristics
have they?"

"Courage," said Kitty, looking up.

"Courage to break rules? I hear they all call one another by their
Christian names, and live in one another's rooms, and borrow one
another's money, and despise conventionalities. I am sorry you are an
Archangel, Lady Kitty."

"I didn't admit that I was," said Kitty, "but if I am, why are you
sorry?"

"Because," said the Dean, smiling, "I thought you were too clever to
despise conventionalities."

Kitty sat up with revived energy, and joined battle. She flew into a
tirade as to the dulness and routine of English life, the stupidity of
good people, and the tyranny of English hypocrisy. The Dean listened
with amusement, then with a shade of something else. At last he got up
to go.

"Well, you know, we have heard all that before. My point of view is so
much more interesting--subtle--romantic! Anybody can attack Mrs. Grundy,
but only a person of originality can adore her. Try it, Lady Kitty. It
would be really worth your while."

Kitty mocked and exclaimed.

"Do you know what that phrase--that name of abomination--always recalls
to me?" pursued the old man.

"It bores me, even to guess," was Kitty's petulant reply.

"Does it? I think of some of the noblest people I have ever known--brave
men--beautiful women--who fought Mrs. Grundy, and perished."

The Dean stood looking down upon her, with an eager, sensitive
expression. Tales that he had heeded very little when he had first
heard them ran through his mind; he had thought Lady Kitty's intimate
_tête-à-tête_ with her husband's assailant in the press disagreeable and
unseemly; and as for Mrs. Alcot, he had disliked her particularly.

Kitty looked up unquelled.

     "''Tis better to have fought and lost
     Than never to have fought at all--'"

she quoted, with one of her most radiant and provoking smiles.

"Incorrigible!" cried the Dean, catching up his hat. "I see! Once an
Archangel--always an Archangel."

"Oh no!" said Kitty. "There may be 'war in heaven.'"

"Well, don't take Mrs. Alcot for a leader, that's all," said the Dean,
as he held out a hand of farewell.

"And now I understand!" cried Kitty, triumphantly. "You detest my best
friend."

The Dean laughed, protested, and went. Ashe, who had been writing
letters while Kitty and the Dean were talking, escorted the old man to
the door.

       *       *       *       *       *

When he returned he found Kitty sitting with her hands in her lap, lost
apparently in thought.

"Darling," he said, looking at his watch, "I must be off directly, but I
should like to see the boy."

Kitty started. She rang, and the child was brought down. He sat on
Kitty's knee, and Ashe coming to the sofa, threw an arm round them both.

"You are not a bad-looking pair," he said, kissing first Kitty and then
the baby. "But he's rather pale, Kitty. I think he wants the country."

Kitty said nothing, but she lifted the little white embroidered frock
and looked at the twisted foot. Then Ashe felt her shudder.

"Dear, don't be morbid!" he cried, resentfully. "He will have so much
brains that nobody will remember that. Think of Byron."

Kitty did not seem to have heard.

"I remember so well when I first saw his foot--after your mother told
me--and they brought him to me," she said, slowly. "It seemed to me it
was the end--"

"The end of what?"

"Of my dream."

"What _do_ you mean, Kitty!"

"Do you remember the mask in the 'Tempest'? First Iris, with saffron
wings, and rich Ceres, and great Juno--"

She half closed her eyes.

"Then the nymphs and the reapers--dancing together on 'the short-grassed
green,' the sweetest, gayest show--"

She breathed the words out softly. "Then, suddenly--"

She sat up stiffly and struck her small hands together:

"Prospero starts and speaks. And in a moment--without warning--with 'a
strange, hollow, and confused noise'"--she dragged the words
drearily--"_they heavily vanish_. That"--she pointed, shuddering, to the
child's foot--"was for me the sign of Prospero."

Ashe looked at her with anxiety, finding it indeed impossible to laugh
at her.

She was very pale, her breath came with difficulty, and she trembled
from head to foot. He tried to draw her into his arms, but she held him
away.

"That first year I had been so happy," she continued, in the same voice.
"Everything was so perfect, so glorious. Life was like a great pageant,
in a palace. All the old terrors went. I often had fears as a
child--fears I couldn't put into words, but that overshadowed me. Then
when I saw Alice--the shadow came nearer. But that was all gone. I
thought God was reconciled to me, and would always be kind to me now.
And then I saw that foot, and I knew that He hated me still. He had
burned His mark into my baby's flesh. And I was never to be quite happy
again, but always in fear, fear of pain--and death--and grief--"

She paused. Her large eyes gazed into vacancy, and her whole slight
frame showed the working of some mysterious and pitiful distress.

A wave of poignant alarm swept through Ashe's mind, coupled also with a
curious sense of something foreseen. He had never witnessed precisely
this mood in her before; but now that it was thus revealed, he was
suddenly aware "that something like it had been for long moving
obscurely below the surface of her life. He took the child and laid him
on the floor, where he rolled at ease, cooing to himself. Then he came
back to Kitty, and soothed her with extraordinary tenderness and skill.
Presently she looked at him, as though some obscure trouble of which she
had been the victim had released her, and she were herself again.

"Don't go away just yet," she said, in a voice which was still low and
shaken. He came close to her, again put his arms round her, and held her
on his breast in silence.

"That is heavenly!" he heard her say to herself after a while, in a
whisper.

"Kitty!" His eyes grew dim and he stooped to kiss her.

"Heavenly--" she went on, still as though following out her own thought
rather than speaking to him, "because one _yields_--_yields_! Life is
such tension--always."

She closed her eyes quickly, and he watched the beautiful lashes lying
still upon her cheek. With an emotion he could not explain--for it was
not an emotion of the senses, just as her yielding had not been a
yielding of the senses but a yielding of the soul--he continued to hold
her in his arms, her life, her will given to him wholly, sighed out upon
his heart.

       *       *       *       *       *

Then gradually she recovered her balance; the normal Kitty came back.
She put out her hand and touched his face.

"You must go back to the House, William."

"Yes, if you are all right."

She sat up, and began to rearrange some of her hair that had slipped
down.

"You have carried us both into such heights and depths, darling!" said
Ashe, after he had watched her a little in silence, "that I have
forgotten to tell you the gossip I brought back from mother this
morning."

Kitty paused, interrogatively. She was still pale.

"Do you know that mother is convinced Mary Lyster has made up her mind
to marry Cliffe?"

There was a pause, then Kitty said, with incredulous contempt: "He would
never _dream_ of marrying her!"

"Not so sure! She has a great deal of money, and Cliffe wants money
badly."

Ashe began to put his papers together. Kitty questioned him a little
more, intermittently, as to what his mother had said. When he had left
her, she sat for long on the sofa, playing with some flowers she had
taken from her dress, or sombrely watching the child, as it lay on the
floor beside her.



X


"My lady! It's come!"

The maid put her head in just to convey the good news. Kitty was in her
bedroom walking up and down in a fury which was now almost speechless.

The housemaid was waiting on the stairs. The butler was waiting in the
hall. Till that hurried knock was heard at the front door, and the
much-tried Wilson had rushed to open it, the house had been wrapped in a
sort of storm silence. It was ten o'clock on the night of the ball. Half
Kitty's costume lay spread out upon her bed. The other half--although
since seven o'clock all Kitty's servants had been employed in rushing to
Fanchette's establishment in New Bond Street, at half-hour intervals, in
the fastest hansoms to be found--had not yet appeared.

However, here at last was the end of despair. A panting boy dragged the
box into the hall, the butler and footman carried it up-stairs and into
their mistress's room, where Kitty in a white peignoir stood waiting,
with the brow of Medea.

"The boy that brought it looked just fit to drop, my lady!" said the
maid, as she undid the box. She was a zealous servant, but she was glad
sometimes to chasten these great ones of the land by insisting on the
seamy side of their pleasures.

Kitty paused in the eager task of superintendence, and turned to the
under-housemaid, who stood by, gazing open-mouthed at the splendors
emerging from the box.

"Run down and tell Wilson to give him some wine and cake!" she said,
peremptorily. "It's all Fanchette's fault--odious creature!--running it
to the last like this--after all her promises!"

The housemaid went, and soon sped back. For no boy on earth would she
have been long defrauded of the sight of her ladyship's completed gown.

"Did Wilson feed him?" Kitty flung her the question as she bent,
alternately frowning and jubilant, over the creation before her.

"Yes, my lady. It was quite a little fellow. He said his legs were just
run off his feet," said the girl, growing confused as the moon-robe
unfolded.

"Poor wretch!" said Kitty, carelessly. "I'm glad I'm not an
errand--Blanche! you know Fanchette may be an old demon, but she _has_
got taste! Just look at these folds, and the way she's put on the
pearls! Now then--make haste!"

Off flew the peignoir, and, with the help of the excited maids, Kitty
slipped into her dress. Ten times, over did she declare that it was
hopeless, that it didn't fit in the least, that it wasn't one bit what
she had ordered, that she couldn't and wouldn't go out in it, that it
was simply scandalous, and Fanchette should never be paid a penny. Her
maids understood her, and simply went on pulling, patting, fastening, as
quickly as their skilled fingers could work, till the last fold fell
into its place, and the under-housemaid stepped back with clasped hands
and an "Oh, my lady!" couched in a note of irrepressible ecstasy.

"Well?" said Kitty, still frowning--"eh, Blanche?"

The maid proper would have scorned to show emotion; but she nodded
approval. "If you ask me, my lady, I think you have never looked so well
in anything."

Kitty's brow relaxed at last, as she stood gazing at the reflection in
the large glass before her. She saw herself as Artemis--á la Madame de
Longueville--in a hunting-dress of white silk, descending to the ankles,
embroidered from top to toe in crescents of seed pearls and silver, and
held at the waist by a silver girdle. Her throat was covered with
magnificent pearls, a Tranmore family possession, lent by Lady Tranmore
for the occasion. The slim ankles and feet were cased in white silk,
cross-gartered with silver and shod with silver sandals. Her belt held
her quiver of white-winged arrows; her bow of ivory inlaid with silver
was slung at her shoulder, while across her breast, the only note of
color in the general harmony of white, fell a scarf of apple-green
holding the horn, also of ivory and silver, which, like the belt and
bow, had been designed for her in Madame de Longueville's Paris.

But neither she nor her model would have been finally content with an
adornment so delicately fanciful and minute. Both Kitty and the goddess
of the Fronde knew that they must hold their own in a crowd. For this
there must be diamonds. The sleeves, therefore, on the white arms fell
back from diamond clasps; the ivory spear in her right hand was topped
by a small genius with glittering wings; and in the masses of her fair
hair, bound with pearl fillets, shone the large diamond crescent that
Lady Tranmore had foreseen, with one small attendant star at either
side.

[Illustration: THE FINISHING TOUCHES]

"Well, upon my word, Kitty!" said a voice from her husband's
dressing-room.

Kitty turned impetuously.

"Do you like it?" she cried. Ashe approached. She lifted her horn to her
mouth and stood tiptoe. The movement was enchanting; it had in it the
youth and freshness of spring woods; it suggested mountain distances and
the solitudes of high valleys. Intoxication spoke in Ashe's pulses; he
wished the maids had been far away that he might have taken the goddess
in his very human arms. Instead of which he stood lazily smiling.

"What Endymion are you calling?" he asked her. "Kitty, you are a dream!"

Kitty pirouetted, then suddenly stopped short and held out a foot.

"Look at those silk things, sir. Nobody but Fanchette could have made
them look anything but a botch. But they spoil the dress. And all to
please mother and Mrs. Grundy!"

"I like them. I suppose--the nearest you could get to buskins? You would
have preferred ankles _au naturel_? I don't think you'd have been
admitted, Kitty."

"Shouldn't I? And so few people have feet they can show!" sighed Kitty,
regretfully.

Ashe's eyes met those of the maid, who was trying to hide her smiles,
and he and she both laughed.

"What do you think about it, eh, Blanche?"

"I think her ladyship is much better as she is," said the maid,
decidedly. "She'd have felt very strange when she got there."

Kitty turned upon her like a whirlwind. "Go to bed!" she said, putting
both hands on the shoulders of the maid. "Go to bed at once! Esther can
give me my cloak. Do you know, William, she was awake all last night
thinking of her brother?"

"The brother who has had an operation? But I thought there was good
news?" said Ashe, kindly.

"He's much better," put in Kitty. "She heard this afternoon. She won't
be such a goose as to lie awake, I Should hope, to-night. Don't let me
catch you here when I get back!" she said, releasing the girl, whose
eyes had filled with tears. "Mr. Ashe will help me, and if he pulls the
strings into knots, I Shall just cut them--so there! Go away, get your
supper, and go to bed. Such a life as I've led them all to-day!" She
threw up her hands in a perfunctory penitence.

The maid was forced to go, and the housemaid also returned to the hall
with Kitty's Opera-cloak and fan, till it should please her mistress to
descend. Both of them were dead tired, but they took a genuine
disinterested pleasure in Kitty's beauty and her fine frocks. She was
not by any means always considerate of them; but still, with that
wonderful generosity that the poor show every day to the rich, they
liked her; and to Ashe every servant in the house was devoted.

Kitty meanwhile had driven Ashe to his own toilette, and was walking
about the room, now Studying herself in the glass, and now chattering to
him through the open door.

"Have you heard anything more about Tuesday?" she asked him, presently.

"Oh yes!--compliments by the dozen. Old Parham overtook me as I was
walking away from the House, and said all manner of civil things."

"And I met Lady Parham in Marshall's," said Kitty. "She does thank so
badly! I should like to show her how to do it. Dear me!" Kitty sighed.
"Am I henceforth to live and die on Lady Parham's ample breast?"

She sat with one foot beating the floor, deep in meditation.

"And shall I tell you what mother said?" shouted Ashe through the door.

"Yes."

He repeated--so fat as dressing would let him a number of the charming
and considered phrases in which Lady Tranmore, full of relief, pleasure,
and a secret self-reproach, had expressed to him the effect produced
upon herself and a select public by Kitty's performance at the Parhams'.
Kitty had indeed behaved like an angel--an angel _en toilette de bal_,
reciting a scene from Alfred de Musset. Such politeness to Lady Parham,
such smiles, sometimes a shade malicious, for the Prime Minister, who on
his side did his best to efface all memory of his speech of the week
before from the mind of his fascinating guest; smiles from the Princess,
applause from the audience; an evening, in fact, all froth and
sweetstuff, from which Lady Parham emerged grimly content, conscious at
the same time that she was henceforward very decidedly, and rather
disagreeably, in the Ashes' debt; while Elizabeth Tranmore went home in
a tremor of delight, happily persuaded that Ashe's path was now clear.

Kitty listened, sometimes pleased, sometimes inclined to be critical or
scornful of her mother-in-law's praise. But she did love Lady Tranmore,
and on the whole she smiled. Smiles, indeed, had been Kitty's portion
since that evening of strange emotion, when she had found herself
sobbing in William's arms for reasons quite beyond her own defining. It
was as if, like the prince in the fairy tale, some iron band round her
heart had given way. She seemed to dance through the house; she devoured
her child with kisses; and she was even willing sometimes to let William
tell her what his mother suspected of the progress of Mary's affair with
Geoffrey Cliffe, though she carefully avoided speaking directly to Lady
Tranmore about it. As to Cliffe himself, she seemed to have dropped him
out of her thoughts. She never mentioned him, and Ashe could only
suppose she had found him disenchanting.

"Well, darling! I hope I have made a sufficient fool of myself to please
you!"

Ashe had thrown the door wide, and stood on the threshold, arrayed in
the brocade and fur of a Venetian noble. He was a somewhat magnificent
apparition, and Kitty, who had coaxed or driven him into the dress, gave
a scream of delight. She saw him before her own glass, and the crimson
senator made eyes at the white goddess as they posed triumphantly
together.

"You're a very rococo sort of goddess, you know, Kitty!" said Ashe. "Not
much Greek about you!"

"Quite as much as I want, thank you," said Kitty, courtesying to her own
reflection in the glass. "Fanchette could have taught them a thing or
two! Now come along! Ah! Wait!"

And, gathering up her possessions, she left the room. Ashe, following
her, saw that she was going to the nursery, a large room on the back
staircase. At the threshold she turned back and put her finger to her
lip. Then she slipped in, reappearing a moment afterwards to say, in a
whisper, "Nurse is not in bed. You may come in." Nurse, indeed, knew
much better than to be in bed. She had been sitting up to see her
ladyship's splendors, and she rose smiling as Ashe entered the room.

"A parcel of idiots, nurse, aren't we?" he said, as he, too, displayed
himself, and then he followed Kitty to the child's bedside. She bent
over the baby, removed a corner of the cot-blanket that might tease his
cheek, touched the mottled hand softly, removed a light that seemed to
her too near--and still stood looking.

"We must go, Kitty."

"I wish he were a little older," she said, discontentedly, under her
breath, "that he might wake up and see us both! I should like him to
remember me like this."

"Queen and huntress, come away!" said Ashe, drawing her by the hand.

Outside the landing was dimly lighted. The servants were all waiting in
the hall below.

"Kitty," said Ashe, passionately, "give me one kiss. You're so sweet
to-night--so sweet!"

She turned.

"Take care of my dress!" she smiled, and then she held out her face
under its sparkling crescent, held it with a dainty deliberation, and
let her lips cling to his.

       *       *       *       *       *

Ashe and Kitty were soon wedged into one of the interminable lines of
carriages that blocked all the approaches to St. James's Square. The
ball had been long expected, and there was a crowd in the streets, kept
back by the police. The brougham went at a foot's pace, and there was
ample time either for reverie or conversation. Kitty looked out
incessantly, exclaiming when she caught sight of a costume or an
acquaintance. Ashe had time to think over the latest phase of the
negotiations with America, and to go over in his mind the sentences of a
letter he had addressed to the _Times_ in answer to one of great
violence from Geoffrey Cliffe. His own letter had appeared that morning.
Ashe was proud of it. He made bold to think that it exposed Cliffe's
exaggerations and insincerities neatly, and perhaps decisively. At any
rate, he hummed a cheerful tune as he thought of it.

Then suddenly and incongruously a recollection occurred to him.

"Kitty, do you know that I had a letter from your mother, this morning?"

"Had you?" said Kitty, turning to him with reluctance. "I suppose she
wanted some money."

"She did. She says she is very hard up. If I cared to use it, I have an
easy reply."

"What do you mean?"

"I might say,' D---n it, we are, too!'"

Kitty laughed uneasily.

"Don't begin to talk money matters now, William, _please_."

"No, dear, I won't. But we shall really have to draw in."

"You _will_ pay so many debts!" said Kitty, frowning.

Ashe went into a fit of laughter.

"That's my extravagance, isn't it? I assure you I go on the most
approved principles. I divide our available money among the greatest
number of hungry claimants it will stretch to. But, after all, it goes a
beggarly short way."

"I know mother will think my diamond crescent a horrible extravagance,"
said Kitty, pouting. "But you are the only son, William, and we must
behave like other people."

"Dear, don't trouble your little head," he said; "I'll manage it,
somehow."

Indeed, he knew very well that he could never bring his own indolent and
easy-going temper in such matters to face any real struggle with Kitty
over money. He must go to his mother, who now--his father being a
hopeless invalid--managed the estates with his own and the agent's help.
It was, of course, right that she should preach to Kitty a little; but
she would be sensible and help them out. After all, there was plenty of
money. Why shouldn't Kitty spend it?

Any one who knew him well might have observed a curious contrast between
his private laxity in these matters and the strictness of his public
practice. He was scruple and delicacy itself in all financial matters
that touched his public life--directorships, investments, and the like,
no less than in all that concerned interest and patronage. He would have
been a bold man who had dared to propose to William Ashe any expedient
whatever by which his public place might serve his private gain. His
proud and fastidious integrity, indeed, was one of the sources of his
growing power. But as to private debts--and the tradesmen to whom they
were owed--his standards were still essentially those of the Whigs from
whom he descended, of Fox, the all-indebted, or of Melbourne, who has
left an amusing disquisition on the art of dividing a few loaves and
fishes in the shape of bank-notes among a multitude of creditors.

Not that affairs were as yet very bad. Far from it. But there was little
to spare for Madame d'Estrées, who ought, indeed, to want nothing; and
Ashe was vaguely meditating his reply to that lady when a face in a
carriage near them, which was trying to enter the line, caught his
attention.

"Mary!" he said, "à la Sir Joshua--and mother. They don't see us. Query,
will Cliffe take the leap to-night? Mother reports a decided increase of
ardor on his part. Sorry you don't approve of it, darling!"

"It's just like lighting a lamp to put it out--that's all!" said Kitty,
with vivacity. "The man who marries Mary is done for."

"Not at all. Mary's money will give him the pedestal he wants, and trust
Cliffe to take care of his own individuality afterwards! Now, if you'll
transfer your alarms to _Mary_, I'm with you!"

"Oh! of _course_ he'll be unkind to her. She may lay her account for
that. But it's the _marrying_ her!" And Kitty's upper-lip curled under a
slow disdain.

William laughed out.

"Kitty, really!--you remind me, please, of Miss Jane Taylor:

     "'I did not think there could be found--a little heart so hard!'

Mary is thirty; she would like to be married. And why not? She'll give
quite as good as she gets."

"Well, she won't get--anything. Geoffrey Cliffe thinks of no one but
himself."

Ashe's eyebrows went up.

"Oh, well, all men are selfish--and the women don't mind."

"It depends on how it's done," said Kitty.

Ashe declared that Cliffe was just an ordinary person, "l'homme sensuel
moyen"--with a touch of genius. Except for that, no better and no worse
than other people. What then?--the world was not made up of persons of
enormous virtue like Lord Althorp and Mr. Gladstone. If Mary wanted him
for a husband, and could capture him, both, in his opinion, would have
pretty nearly got their deserts.

Kitty, however, fell into a reverie, after which she let him see a face
of the same startling sweetness as she had several times shown him of
late.

"Do you want me to be nice to her?" She nestled up to him.

"Bind her to your chariot wheels, madam! You can!" said Ashe, slipping a
hand round hers.

Kitty pondered.

"Well, then, I won't tell her that I _know_ he's still in love with the
Frenchwoman. But it's on the tip of my tongue."

"Heavens!" cried Ashe. "The Vicomtesse D---, the lady of the poems? But
she's dead! I thought that was over long ago."

Kitty was silent for a moment, then said, with low-voiced emphasis:

"That any one could write those poems, and then _think_ of Mary!"

"Yes, the poems were fine," said Ashe, "but make-believe!"

Kitty protested indignantly. Ashe bantered her a little on being one of
the women who were the making of Cliffe.

"Say what you like!" she said, drawing a quick breath. "But, often and
often, he says divine things--divinely! I feel them there!" And she
lifted both hands to her breast with an impulsive gesture.

"Goddess!" said Ashe, kissing her hand because enthusiasm became her so
well. "And to think that I should have dared to roast the divine one in
a _Times_ letter this morning!"

       *       *       *       *       *

The hall and staircase of Yorkshire House were already filled with a
motley and magnificent crowd when Ashe and Kitty arrived. Kitty, still
shrouded in her cloak, pushed her way through, exchanging greetings with
friends, shrieking a little now and then for the safety of her bow and
quiver, her face flushed with pleasure and excitement. Then she
disappeared into the cloak-room, and Ashe was left to wonder how he was
going to endure his robes through the heat of the evening, and to
exchange a laughing remark or two with the Parliamentary Secretary to
the Admiralty, into whose company he had fallen.

"What are we doing it for?" he asked the young man, whose thin person
was well set off by a Tudor dress.

"Oh, don't be superior!" said the other. "I'm going to enjoy myself like
a school-boy!"

And that, indeed, seemed to be the attitude of most of the people
present. And not only of the younger members of the dazzling company.
What struck Ashe particularly, as he mingled with the crowd, was the
alacrity of the elder men. Here was a famous lawyer already nearing the
seventies, in the Lord Chancellor's garb of a great ancestor; here an
ex-Viceroy of Ireland with a son in the government, magnificent in an
Elizabethan dress, his fair bushy hair and reddish beard shining above a
doublet on which glittered a jewel given to the founder of his house by
Elizabeth's own hand; next to him, a white-haired judge in the robes of
Judge Gascoyne; a peer, no younger, at his side, in the red and blue of
Mazarin: and showing each and all in their gay complacent looks a clear
revival of that former masculine delight in splendid clothes which came
so strangely to an end with that older world on the ruins of which
Napoleon rose. So with the elder women. For this night they were young
again. They had been free to choose from all the ages a dress that
suited them; and the result of this renewal of a long-relinquished
eagerness had been in many cases to call back a bygone self, and the
tones and gestures of those years when beauty is its own chief care.

As for the young men, the young women, and the girls, the zest and
pleasure of the show shone in their eyes and movements, and spread
through the hall and up the crowded staircase, like a warm, contagious
atmosphere. At all times, indeed, and in all countries, an aristocracy
has been capable of this sheer delight in its own splendor, wealth, good
looks, and accumulated treasure; whether in the Venice that Petrarch
visited; or in the Rome of the Renaissance popes; in the Versailles of
the Grand Monarque; or in the Florence of to-day, which still at moments
of _festa_ reproduces in its midst all the costumes of the Cinque-cento.

In this English case there was less dignity than there would have been
in a Latin country, and more personal beauty; less grace, perhaps, and
yet a something richer and more romantic.

At the top of the stairs stood a marquis in a dress of the Italian
Renaissance, a Gonzaga who had sat for Titian; beside him a fair-haired
wife in the white satin and pearls of Henrietta Maria; while up the
marble stairs, watched by a laughing multitude above, streamed
Gainsborough girls and Reynolds women, women from the courts of
Elizabeth, or Henri Quatre, of Maria Theresa, or Marie Antoinette, the
figures of Holbein and Vandyck, Florentines of the Renaissance, the
youths of Carpaccio, the beauties of Titian and Veronese.

"Kitty, make haste!" cried a voice in front, as Kitty began to mount the
stairs. "Your quadrille is just called."

Kitty smiled and nodded, but did not hurry her pace by a second. The
staircase was not so full as it had been, and she knew well as she
mounted it, her slender figure drawn to its full height, her eyes
flashing greeting and challenge to those in the gallery, the diamond
genius on her spear glittering above her, that she held the stage, and
that the play would not begin without her.

And indeed her dress, her brilliance, and her beauty let loose a hum of
conversation--not always friendly.

"What is she?" "Oh, something mythological! She's in the next
quadrille." "My dear, she's Diana! Look at her bow and quiver, and the
moon in her hair." "Very incorrect!--she ought to have the towered
crown!" "Absurd, such a little thing to attempt Diana! I'd back Actæon!"

The latter remark was spoken in the ear of Louis Harman, who stood in
the gallery looking down. But Harman shook his head.

"You don't understand. She's not Greek, of course; but she's fairyland.
A child of the Renaissance, dreaming in a wood, would have seen Artemis
so--dressed up and glittering, and fantastic--as the Florentines saw
Venus. Small, too, like the fairies!--slipping through the leaves; small
hounds, with jewelled collars, following her!"

He smiled at his own fancy, still watching Kitty with his painter's
eyes.

"She has seen a French print somewhere," said Cliffe, who stood close
by. "More Versailles in it than fairyland, I think!"

"It is _she_ that is fairyland," said Harman, still fascinated.

Cliffe's expression showed the sarcasm of his thought. Fairy,
perhaps!--with the touch of malice and inhuman mischief that all
tradition attributes to the little people. Why, after that first
meeting, when the conversation of a few minutes had almost swept them
into the deepest waters of intimacy, had she slighted him so, in other
drawing-rooms and on other occasions? She had actually neglected and
avoided him--after having dared to speak to him of his secret! And now
Ashe's letter of the morning had kindled afresh his sense of rancor
against a pair of people, too prosperous and too arrogant. The stroke
in the _Times_ had, he knew, gone home; his vanity writhed under it, and
the wish to strike back tormented him, as he watched Ashe mounting
behind his wife, so handsome, careless, and urbane, his jewelled cap
dangling in his hand.

       *       *       *       *       *

The quadrille of gods and goddesses was over. Kitty had been dancing
with a fine clumsy Mars, in ordinary life an honest soldier and
deer-stalker, the heir to a Scotch dukedom; having as her _vis-à-vis_
Madeleine Alcot--as the Flora of Botticelli's "Spring"--and slim as
Mercury in fantastic Renaissance armor. All the divinities of the
Pantheon, indeed, were there, but in Gallicized or Italianate form;
scarcely a touch of the true antique, save in the case of one beautiful
girl who wore a Juno dress of white whereof the clinging folds had been
arranged for her by a young Netherlands painter, Mr. Alma Tadema, then
newly settled in this country. Kitty at first envied her; then decided
that she herself could have made no effect in such a gown, and threw her
the praises of indifference.

When, to Kitty's sharp regret, the music stopped and the glittering crew
of immortals melted into the crowd, she found behind her a row of
dancers waiting for the quadrille which was to follow. This was to
consist entirely of English pictures revived--Reynolds, Gainsborough,
and Romney--and to be danced by those for whose families they had been
originally painted. As she drew back, looking eagerly to right and left,
she came across Mary Lyster. Mary wore her hair high and powdered--a
black silk scarf over white satin, and a blue sash.

"Awfully becoming!" said Kitty, nodding to her. "Who are you?"

"My great-great aunt!" said Mary, courtesying. "You, I see, go even
farther back."

"Isn't it fun?" said Kitty, pausing beside her. "Have you seen William?
Poor dear! he's so hot. How do you do?" This last careless greeting was
addressed to Cliffe, whom she now perceived standing behind Mary.

Cliffe bowed stiffly.

"Excuse me. I did not see you. I was absorbed in your dress. You are
Artemis, I see--with additions."

"Oh! I am an 'article de Paris,'" said Kitty. "But it seems odd that
some people should take me for Joan of Arc." Then she turned to Mary. "I
think your dress is quite lovely!" she said, in that warm, shy voice she
rarely used except for a few intimates, and had never yet been known to
waste on Mary. "Don't you admire it enormously, Mr. Cliffe?"

"Enormously," said Cliffe, pulling at his mustache. "But by now my
compliments are stale."

"Is he cross about William's letter?" thought Kitty. "Well, let's leave
them to themselves."

Then, as she passed him, something in the silent personality of the man
arrested her. She could not forbear a look at him over her shoulder.
"Are you--Oh! of course, I remember--" for she had recognized the dress
and cap of the Spanish grandee.

Cliffe did not reply for a moment, but the harsh significance of his
face revived in her the excitable interest she had felt in him on the
day of his luncheon in Hill Street; an interest since effaced and
dispersed, under the influence of that serenity and home peace which
had shone upon her since that very day.

"I should apologize, no doubt, for not taking your advice," he said,
looking her in the eyes. Their expression, half bitter, half insolent,
reminded her.

"Did I give you any advice?" Kitty wrinkled up her white brows. "I don't
recollect."

Mary looked at her sharply, suspiciously. Kitty, quite conscious of the
look, was straightway pricked by an elfish curiosity. Could she carry
him off--trouble Mary's possession there and then? She believed she
could. She was well aware of a certain relation between herself and
Cliffe, if, at least, she chose to develop it. Should she? Her vanity
insisted that Mary could not prevent it.

However, she restrained herself and moved on. Presently looking back,
she saw them still together, Cliffe leaning against the pedestal of a
bust, Mary beside him. There was an animation in her eyes, a rose of
pleasure on her cheek which stirred in Kitty a queer, sudden sympathy.
"I _am_ a little beast!" she said to herself. "Why shouldn't she be
happy?"

Then, perceiving Lady Tranmore at the end of the ballroom, she made her
way thither surrounded by a motley crowd of friends. She walked as
though on air, "raining influence." And as Lady Tranmore caught the
glitter of the diamond crescent, and beheld the small divinity beneath
it, she, too, smiled with pleasure, like the other spectators on Kitty's
march. The dress was monstrously costly. She knew that. But she forgot
the inroad on William's pocket, and remembered only to be proud of
William's wife. Since the Parhams' party, indeed, the unlooked-for
submission of Kitty, and the clearing of William's prospects, Lady
Tranmore had been sweetness itself to her daughter-in-law.

But her fine face and brow were none the less inclined to frown. She
herself as Katharine of Aragon would have shed a dignity on any scene,
but she was in no sympathy with what she beheld.

"We shall soon all of us be ashamed of this kind of thing," she declared
to Kitty. "Just as people now are beginning to be ashamed of enormous
houses and troops of servants."

"No, please! Only bored with them!" said Kitty. "There are so many other
ways now of amusing yourself--that's all."

"Well, this way will die out," said Lady Tranmore. "The cost of it is
too scandalous--people's consciences prick them."

Kitty vowed she did not believe there was a conscience in the room; and
then, as the music struck up, she carried off her companion to some
steps overlooking the great marble gallery, where they had a better view
of the two lines of dancers.

It is said that as a nation the English have no gift for pageants. Yet
every now and then--as no doubt in the Elizabethan mask--they show a
strange felicity in the art. Certainly the dance that followed would
have been difficult to surpass even in the ripe days and motherlands of
pageantry. To the left, a long line, consisting mainly of young girls in
their first bloom, dressed as Gainsborough and his great contemporaries
delighted to paint these flowers of England--the folds of plain white
muslin crossed over the young breast, a black velvet at the throat, a
rose in the hair, the simple skirt showing the small pointed feet, and
sometimes a broad sash defining the slender waist. Here were Stanleys,
Howards, Percys, Villierses, Butlers, Osbornes--soft slips of girls
bearing the names of England's rough and turbulent youth, bearing
themselves to-night with a shy or laughing dignity, as though the touch
of history and romance were on them. And facing them, the youths of the
same families, no less handsome than their sisters and brides--in
Romney's blue coats, or the splendid red of Reynolds and Gainsborough.

To and fro swayed the dancers, under the innumerable candles that filled
the arched roof and upper walls of the ballroom; and each time the lines
parted they disclosed at the farther end another pageant, to which that
of the dance was in truth subordinate--a dais hung with blue and silver,
and upon it a royal lady whose beauty, then in its first bloom, has been
a national possession, since as, the "sea-king's daughter" she brought
it in dowry to her adopted country. To-night she blazed in jewels as a
Valois queen, with her court around her, and as the dancers receded,
each youth and maiden seemed instinctively to turn towards her as roses
to the sun.

"Oh, beautiful, beautiful world!" said Kitty to herself, in an ecstasy,
pressing her small hands together; "how I love you!--_love_ you!"

       *       *       *       *       *

Meanwhile Darrell and Harman stood side by side near the doorway of the
ballroom, looking in when the crowd allowed.

"A strange sight," said Harman. "Perhaps they take it too seriously."

"Ah! that is our English upper class," said Darrell, with a sneer. "Is
there anything they take lightly?--_par exemple!_ It seems to me they
carry off this amusement better than most. They may be stupid, but they
are good-looking. I say, Ashe"--he turned towards the new-comer who had
just sauntered up to them--"on this exceptional occasion, is it allowed
to congratulate you on Lady Kitty's gown?"

For Kitty, raised upon her step, was at the moment in full view.

Ashe made some slight reply, the slightest of which indeed annoyed the
thin-skinned and morbid Darrell, always on the lookout for affronts. But
Louis Harman, who happened to observe the Under-Secretary's glance at
his wife, said to himself, "By George! that queer marriage is turning
out well, after all."

       *       *       *       *       *

The Tudor and Marie Antoinette quadrilles had been danced. There was a
rumor of supper in the air.

"William!" said Kitty, in his ear, as she came across him in one of the
drawing-rooms, "Lord Hubert takes me in to supper. Poor me!" She made an
extravagant face of self-pity and swept on. Lord Hubert was one of the
sons of the house, a stupid and inarticulate guardsman, Kitty's butt and
detestation. Ashe smiled to himself over her fate, and went back to the
ballroom in search of his own lady.

Meanwhile Kitty paused in the next drawing-room, and dismissed her
following.

"I promised to wait here for Lord Hubert," she said. "You go on, or
you'll get no tables."

And she waved them peremptorily away. The drawing-room, one of a suite
which looked on the garden, thinned temporarily. In a happy fatigue,
Kitty leaned dreamily over the ledge of one of the open windows, looking
at the illuminated space below her. Amid the colored lights, figures of
dream and fantasy walked up and down. In the midst flashed a
flame-colored fountain. The sounds of a Strauss waltz floated in the
air. And beyond the garden and its trees rose the dull roar of London.

A silk curtain floated out into the room under the westerly breeze,
then, returning, sheathed Kitty in its folds. She stood there hidden,
amusing herself like a child with the thought of startling that great
heavy goose, Lord Hubert.

Suddenly a pair of voices that she knew caught her ear. Two persons,
passing through, lingered, without perceiving her. Kitty, after a first
movement of self-disclosure, caught her own name and stood motionless.

"Well, of course you've heard that we got through," said Lady Parham.
"For once Lady Kitty behaved herself!"

"You were lucky!" said Mary Lyster. "Lady Tranmore was dreadfully
anxious--"

"Lest she should cut us at the last?" cried Lady Parham. "Well, of
course, Lady Kitty is 'capable de tout.'" She laughed. "But perhaps as
you are a cousin I oughtn't to say these things."

"Oh, say what you like," said Mary. "I am no friend of Kitty's, and
never pretended to be."

Lady Parham came closer, apparently, and said, confidentially: "What on
earth made that man marry her? He might have married anybody. She had
no money, and worse than no position."

"She worked upon his pity, of course, a good deal. I saw them in the
early days at Grosville Park. She played her cards very cleverly. And
then, it was just the right moment. Lady Tranmore had been urging him to
marry."

"Well, of course," said Lady Parham, "there's no denying the beauty."

"You think so?" said Mary, as though in wonder. "Well, I never could see
it. And now she has so much gone off."

"I don't agree with you. Many people think her the star to-night. Mr.
Cliffe, I am told, admires her."

Kitty could not see how the eyes of the speaker, under a Sir Joshua
turban, studied the countenance of Miss Lyster, as she threw out the
words.

Mary laughed.

"Poor Kitty! She tried to flirt with him long ago--just after she
arrived in London, fresh out of the convent. It was so funny! He told me
afterwards he never was so embarrassed in his life--this baby making
eyes at him! And now--oh no!"

"Why not now? Lady Kitty's very much the rage, and Mr. Cliffe likes
notoriety."

"But a notoriety with--well, with some style, some distinction! Kitty's
sort is so cheap and silly."

"Ah, well, she's not to be despised," said Lady Parham. "She's as clever
as she can be. But her husband will have to keep her in order."

"Can he?" said Mary. "Won't she always be in his way?"

"Always, I should think. But he must have known what he was about. Why
didn't his mother interfere? Such a family!--such a history!"

"She did interfere," said Mary. "We all did our best"--she dropped her
voice--"I know I did. But it was no use. If men like spoiled children
they must have them, I suppose. Let's hope he'll learn how to manage
her. Shall we go on? I promised to meet my supper-partner in the
library."

They moved away.

       *       *       *       *       *

For some minutes Kitty stood looking out, motionless, but the beating of
her heart choked her. Strange ancestral things--things of evil--things
of passion--had suddenly awoke, as it were, from sleep in the depths of
her being, and rushed upon the citadel of her life. A change had passed
over her from head to foot. Her veins ran fire.

At that moment, turning round, she saw Geoffrey Cliffe enter the room in
which she stood. With an impetuous movement she approached him.

"Take me down to supper, Mr. Cliffe. I can't wait for Lord Hubert any
more, I'm _so_ hungry!"

"Enchanted!" said Cliffe, the color leaping into his tanned face as he
looked down upon the goddess. "But I came to find--"

"Miss Lyster? Oh, she is gone in with Mr. Darrell. Come with me. I have
a ticket for the reserved tent. We shall have a delicious corner to
ourselves."

And she took from her glove the little coveted paste-board,
which--handed about in secret to a few intimates of the house--gave
access to the sanctum sanctorum of the evening.

Cliffe wavered. Then his vanity succumbed. A few minutes later the
supper guests in the tent of the _élite_ saw the entrance of a darkly
splendid Duke of Alva, with a little sandalled goddess. All compact, it
seemed, of ivory and fire, on his arm.



XI


The spring freshness of London, had long since departed. A crowded
season; much animation in Parliament, where the government, to its own
amazement, had rather gained than lost ground; industrial trouble at
home, and foreign complications abroad; and in London the steady growth
of a new plutocracy, the result, so far, of American wealth and American
brides. In the first week of July, the outward things of the moment
might have been thus summed up by any careful observer.

On a certain Tuesday night, the debate on a private member's bill
unexpectedly collapsed, and the House rose early. Ashe left the House
with his secretary, but parted from him at the corner of Birdcage Walk,
and crossed the park alone. He meant to join Kitty at a party in
Piccadilly; there was just time to go home and dress; and he walked at a
quick pace.

Two members sitting on the same side of the House with himself were also
going home. One of them noticed the Under-Secretary.

"A very ineffective statement Ashe made to-night--don't you think so?"
he said to his companion.

"Very! Really, if the government can't take up a stronger line, the
general public will begin to think there's something in it."

"Oh, if you only shriek long enough and sharp enough in England
something's sure to come of it. Cliffe and his group have been playing a
very shrewd game. The government will get their agreement approved all
right, but Cliffe has certainly made some people on our side uneasy.
However--"

"However, what?" said the other, after a moment.

"I wish I thought that were the only reason for Ashe's change of tone,"
said the first speaker, slowly.

"What do you mean?"

The two were intimate personal friends, belonging, moreover, to a group
of evangelical families well known in English life; but even so, the
answer came with reluctance:

"Well, you see, it's not very easy to grapple in public with the man
whose name all smart London happens to be coupling with that of your
wife!"

"I say"--the other stood still, in genuine consternation and
distress--"you don't mean to say that there's that in it!"

"You notice that the difference is not in _what_ Ashe says, but in _how_
he says it. He avoids all personal collision with Cliffe. The government
stick to their case, but Ashe mentions everybody but Cliffe, and
confutes all arguments but his. And meanwhile, of course, the truth is
that Cliffe is the head and front of the campaign, and if he threw up
to-morrow, everything would quiet down."

"And Lady Kitty is flirting with him at this particular moment? Damned
bad taste and bad feeling, to say the least of it!"

"You won't find one of the Bristol lot consider that kind of thing when
their blood is up!" said the other. "You remember the tales of old Lord
Blackwater?"

"But is there really any truth in it? Or is it mere gossip?"

"Well, I hear that the behavior of both of them at Grosville Park last
week was such that Lady Grosville vows she will never ask either of them
again. And at Ascot, at Lord's, the opera, Lady Kitty sits with him,
talks with him, walks with him, the whole time, and won't look at any
one else. They must be asked together or neither will come--and
'society,' as far as I can make out, thinks it a good joke and is always
making plans to throw them together."

"Can't Lady Tranmore do anything?"

"I don't know. They say she is very unhappy about it. Certainly she
looks ill and depressed."

"And Ashe?"

His companion hesitated. "I don't like to say it, but, of course, you
know there are many people who will tell you that Ashe doesn't care
twopence what his wife does so long as she is nice to him, and he can
read his books and carry on his politics as he pleases!"

"Ashe always strikes me as the soul of honor," said the other,
indignantly.

"Of course--for himself. But a more fatalist believer in liberty than
Ashe doesn't exist--liberty especially to damn yourself--if you must and
will."

"It would be hard to extend that doctrine to a wife," said the other,
with a grave, uncomfortable laugh.

       *       *       *       *       *

Meanwhile the man whose affairs they had been discussing walked home,
wrapped in solitary and disagreeable thought. As he neared the
Marlborough House corner a carriage passed him. It was delayed a moment
by other carriages, and as it halted beside him Ashe recognized Lady
M----, the hostess of the fancy ball, and a very old friend of his
parents. He took off his hat. The lady within recognized him and
inclined slightly--very slightly and stiffly. Ashe started a little and
walked on.

The meeting vividly recalled the ball, the _terminus a quo_ indeed from
which the meditation in which he had been plunged since entering the
park had started. Between six and seven weeks ago, was it? It might have
been a century. He thought of Kitty as she was that night--Kitty
pirouetting in her glittering dress, or bending over the boy, or holding
her face to his as he kissed her on the stairs. Never since had she
shown him the smallest glimpse of such a mood. What was wrong with her
and with himself? Something, since May, had turned their life
topsy-turvy, and it seemed to Ashe that in the general unprofitable rush
of futile engagements he had never yet had time to stop and ask himself
what it might be.

Why, at any rate, was _he_ in this chafing irritation and discomfort?
Why could he not deal with that fellow Cliffe as he deserved? And what
in Heaven's name was the reason why old friends like Lady M---- were
beginning to look at him coldly, and avoid his conversation?

His mother, too! He gathered that quite lately there had been some
disagreeable scene between her and Kitty. Kitty had resented some
remonstrance of hers, and for some days now they had not met. Nor had
Ashe seen his mother alone. Did she also avoid him, shrink from speaking
out her real mind to him?

Well, it was all monstrously absurd!--a great coil about nothing, as far
as the main facts were concerned, although the annoyance and worry of
the thing were indeed becoming serious. Kitty had no doubt taken a wild
liking to Geoffrey Cliffe--

"And, by George!" said Ashe, pausing in his walk, "she warned me."

And there rose in his memory the formal garden at Grosville Park, the
little figure at his side, and Kitty's franknesses--"I shall take mad
fancies for people. I sha'n't be able to help it. I have one now, for
Geoffrey Cliffe."

He smiled. There was the difficulty! If only the people whose envious
tongues were now wagging could see Kitty as she was, could understand
what a gulf lay between her and the ordinary "fast" woman, there would
be an end of this silly, ill-natured talk. Other women might be of the
earth earthy. Kitty was a sprite, with all the irresponsibility of such
incalculable creatures. The men and women--women especially--who
gossiped and lied about her, who sent abominable paragraphs to
scurrilous papers--he had one now in his pocket which had reached him at
the House from an anonymous correspondent--spoke out of their own vile
experience, judged her by their own standards. His mother, at any
rate--he proudly thought--ought to know better than to be misled by them
for a moment.

At the same time, something must be done. It could not be denied that
Kitty had been behaving like a romantic, excitable child with this
unscrupulous man, whose record with regard to women was probably wholly
unknown to her, however foolishly she might idealize the _liaison_
commemorated in his poems. What had Kitty, indeed, been doing with
herself this six weeks? Ashe tried to recall them in detail. Ascot,
Lord's, innumerable parties in London and in the country, to some of
which he had not been able to accompany her, owing to the stress of
Parliamentary and official work. Grosville Park, for instance--he had
been stopped at the last moment from going down there by the arrival of
some important foreign news, and Kitty had gone alone. She had
reappeared on the Monday, pale and furious, saying that she and her aunt
had quarrelled, and that she would never go near the Grosvilles either
in town or country again. She had not volunteered any further
explanation, and Ashe had refrained from inquiry. There were in him
certain disgusts and disdains, belonging to his general epicurean
conception of existence, which not even his love for Kitty could
overcome. One was a disdain for the quarrels of women. He supposed they
were inevitable; he saw, by-the-way, that Kitty and Lady Parham were
once more at daggers drawn; and Kitty seemed to enjoy it. Well, it was
her own affair; but while there was a Greek play, or a Shakespeare
sonnet, or even a Blue Book to read, who could expect him to listen?

What had old Lady Grosville been about? He understood that Cliffe had
been of the party. And Kitty must have done something to bring down upon
her the wrath of the Puritanical mistress of the house.

Well, what was he to do? It was now July. The session would last
certainly till the middle of August, and though the American business
would be disposed of directly, there was fresh trouble in the Balkan
Peninsula, and an anxious situation in Egypt. Impossible that he should
think of leaving his post. And as for the chance of a dissolution, the
government was now a good deal stronger than it had been before
Easter--worse luck!

Of course he ought to take Kitty away. But short of resignation how was
it to be done? And what, even, would resignation do--supposing, _per
impossibile_, it could be thought of--but give to gnawing gossip a
bigger bone, and probably irritate Kitty to the point of rebellion? Yet
how induce her to go with any one else? Lady Tranmore was out of the
question. Margaret French, perhaps?

Then, suddenly, Ashe was assailed by an inner laughter, hollow and
discomfortable. Things were come to a pretty pass when he must even
dream of resigning because a man whom he despised would haunt his house,
and absorb the company of his wife; when, moreover, he could not even
think of a remedy for such a state of things without falling back
dismayed from the certainty of Kitty's temper--Kitty's wild and furious
temper.

For during the last fortnight, as it seemed to Ashe, all the winds of
tempest had been blowing through his house. Himself, the servants, even
Margaret, even the child, had all suffered. He also had lost his temper
several times--such a thing had scarcely happened to him since his
childhood. He thought of it as of a kind of physical stain or weakness.
To keep an even and stoical mind, to laugh where one could not
conquer--this had always seemed to him the first condition of decent
existence. And now to be wrangling over an expenditure, an engagement, a
letter, the merest nothing--whether it was a fine day or it
wasn't--could anything be more petty, degrading, intolerable?

He vowed that this should stop. Whatever happened, he and Kitty should
not degenerate into a pair of scolds--besmirch their life with quarrels
as ugly as they were silly. He would wrestle with her, his beloved,
unreasonable, foolish Kitty; he ought, of course, to have done so
before. But it was only within the last week or so that the horizon had
suddenly darkened--the thing grown serious. And now this beastly
paragraph! But, after all, what did such garbage matter? It would of
course be a comfort to thrash the editor. But our modern life breeds
such creatures, and they have to be borne.

       *       *       *       *       *

He let himself into a silent house. His letters lay on the hall-table.
Among them was a handwriting which arrested him. He remembered, yet
could not put a name to it. Then he turned the envelope. "H'm. Lady
Grosville!" He read it, standing there, then thrust it into his pocket,
thinking angrily that there seemed to be a good many fools in this world
who occupied themselves with other people's business. Exaggeration, of
course, damnable _parti pris_! When did she ever see Kitty except with a
jaundiced eye? "I wonder Kitty condescends to go to the woman's house!
She must know that everything she does is seen there _en noir_.
Pharisaical, narrow-minded Philistines!"

The letter acted as a tonic. Ashe was positively grateful to the "old
gorgon" who wrote it. He ran up-stairs, his pulses tingling in defence
of Kitty. He would show Lady Grosville that she could not write to him,
at any rate, in that strain, with impunity.

He took a candle from the landing, and opened his wife's door in order
to pass through her room to his own. As he did so, he ran against
Kitty's maid, Blanche, who was coming out. She shrank back as she saw
him, but not before the light of his candle had shone full upon her. Her
face was disfigured with tears, which were, indeed, still running down
her cheeks.

"Why, Blanche!" he said, standing still--then in the kind voice which
endeared him to the servants--"I am afraid your brother is worse?"

For the poor brother in hospital had passed through many vicissitudes
since his operation, and the little maid's spirits had fluctuated
accordingly.

"Oh no, sir--no, sir!" said Blanche, drying her eyes and retreating into
the shadows of the room, where only a faint flame of gas was burning.
"It's not that, sir, thank you. I was just putting away her ladyship's
things," she said, inconsequently, looking round the room.

"That was hardly what caused the tears, was it?" said Ashe, smiling. "Is
there anything in which Lady Kitty or I could help you?"

The girl, who had always seemed to him on excellent terms with Kitty,
gave a sudden sob.

"Thank you, sir; I've just given her ladyship warning."

"Indeed!" said Ashe, gravely. "I'm sorry for that. I thought you got on
here very well."

"I used to, sir, but this last few weeks there's nothing pleases her
ladyship; you can't do anything right. I'm sure I've worked my hands
off. But I can't do any more. Perhaps her ladyship will find some one
else to suit her better."

"Didn't her ladyship try to persuade you to stay?"

"Yes--but--I gave warning once before, and then I stayed. And it's no
good. It seems as if you must do wrong. And I don't sleep, sir. It gets
on your nerves so. But I didn't mean to complain. Good-night, sir."

"Good-night. Don't sit up for your mistress. You look tired out. I'll
help her."

"Thank you, sir," said the maid, in a depressed voice, and went.

       *       *       *       *       *

Half an hour later, Ashe mounted the staircase of a well-known house in
Piccadilly. The evening party was beginning to thin, but in a side
drawing-room a fine Austrian band was playing Strauss, and some of the
intimates of the house were dancing.

Ashe at once perceived his wife. She was dancing with a clever Cambridge
lad, a cousin of Madeleine Alcot's, who had long been one of her
adorers. And so charming was the spectacle, so exhilarating were the
youth and beauty of the pair, that Ashe presently suspected what was
indeed the truth, that most of the persons gathering in the room were
there to watch Kitty dance, rather than to dance themselves. He himself
watched her, though he professed to be talking to his hostess, a woman
of middle age, with honest eyes and a brow of command.

"It is a delight to see Lady Kitty dance," she said to him, smiling.
"But she is tired. I am sure she wants the country."

"Like my boy," said Ashe. "I wish to goodness they'd both go."

"Oh, I know it's hard to leave the husband toiling in town!" said his
companion, who, as the daughter, wife, and mother of politicians, had
had a long experience of official life.

Ashe glanced at her--at her face moulded by kind and scrupulous
living--with a sudden relief from tension. Clearly no gossip had reached
her. He lingered beside her, for the sheer pleasure of talking to her.
But their _tête-à-tête_ was soon interrupted by the approach of Lady
Parham, with a daughter--a slim and silent girl, to whom, it was
whispered, her mother was giving "a last chance" this season, before
sending her into the country as a failure, and bringing out her younger
sister.

Lady Parham greeted the hostess with effusion. It was a rich house, and
these small, informal dances were said to be more helpful to matrimonial
development than larger affairs. Then she perceived Ashe, and her whole
manner changed. There was a very evident bristling, and she gave him a
greeting deliberately careless.

"Confound the woman!" thought Ashe, and his own pride rose.

"Working as hard as usual, Lady Parham?" he asked her, with a smile.

"If you like to put it so," was the stiff reply. "There is, of course, a
good deal of going out."

"I hope, if I may say so, you don't allow Lord Parham to do too much of
it."

"Lord Parham never was better in his life," said Lord Parham's spouse,
with the air of putting down an impertinence.

"That's good news. I must say when I saw him this afternoon I thought he
seemed to be feeling his work a good deal."

"Oh, he's worried," said Lady Parham, sharply. "Worried about a good
many things." She turned suddenly, and looked at her companion--an
insolent and deliberate look.

"Ah, that's where the wives come in!" replied Ashe, unperturbed. "Look
at Mrs. Loraine. She has the art to perfection--hasn't she? The way she
cushions Loraine is something wonderful to see."

Lady Parham flushed angrily. The suggested comparison between herself,
and that incessant rattle and blare of social event through which she
dragged her husband--conducting thereby a vulgar campaign of her own, as
arduous as his and far more ambitious--and the ways and character of
gentle Mrs. Loraine, absorbed in the man she adored, scatter-brained and
absent-minded towards the rest of the world, but for him all eyes and
ears, an angel of shelter and protection--this did not now reach the
Prime Minister's wife for the first time. But she had no opportunity to
launch a retort, even supposing she had one ready, for the music ceased,
and the tide of dancers surged towards the doors. It brought Kitty
abruptly face to face with Lady Parham.

"Oh! how d'you do?" said Kitty, in a tone that was already an offence,
and she held out a small hand with an indescribably regal air.

Lady Parham just touched it, glanced at the owner from top to toe, and
walked away. Kitty slipped in beside Ashe for a moment, with her back to
the wall, laughing and breathless.

"I say, Kitty," said Ashe, bending over her and speaking in her small
ear, "I thought Lady Parham was eternally obliged to us. What's wrong
with her?"

"Only that I can't stand her," said Kitty. "What's the good of trying?"
She looked up, a flame of mutiny in her cheeks.

"What, indeed?" said Ashe, feeling as reckless as she. "Her manners are
beyond the bounds. But look here, Kitty, don't you think you'll come
home? You know you do look uncommonly tired."

Kitty frowned.

"Home? Why, I'm only just beginning to enjoy myself! Take me into the
cool, please," she said to the boy who had been dancing with her, and
who still hovered near, in case his divinity might allow him yet a few
more minutes. But as she put out her hand to take his arm, Ashe saw her
waver and look suddenly across the room.

A group parted that had been clustering round a farther door, and Ashe
perceived Cliffe, leaning against the doorway with his arms crossed. He
was surrounded by pretty women, with whom he seemed to be carrying on a
bantering warfare. Involuntarily Ashe watched for the recognition
between him and Kitty. Did Kitty's lips move? Was there a signal? If so,
it passed like a flash; Kitty hurried away, and Ashe was left, haughtily
furious with himself that, for the first time in his life, he had played
the spy.

He turned in his discomfort to leave the dancing-room. He himself
enjoyed society frankly enough. Especially since his marriage had he
found the companionship of agreeable women delightful. He went
instinctively to seek it, and drive out this nonsense from his mind.
Just inside the larger drawing-room, however, he came across Mary
Lyster, sitting in a corner apparently alone. Mary greeted him, but
with an evident coldness. Her manner brought back all the preoccupations
of his walk from the House. In spite of her small cordiality, he sat
down beside her, wondering with a vicarious compunction at what point
her fortunes might be, and how Kitty's proceedings might have already
affected them. But he had not yet succeeded in thawing her when a voice
behind him said:

"This is my dance, I think, Miss Lyster. Where shall we sit it out?"

Ashe moved at once. Mary looked up, hesitated visibly, then rose and
took Geoffrey Cliffe's arm.

"Just read your remarks this evening," said Cliffe to Ashe. "Well, now,
I suppose to-morrow will see your ship in port?"

For it was reasonably expected that the morrow would see the American
agreement ratified by a substantial ministerial majority.

"Certainly. But you may at least reflect that you have lost us a deal of
time."

"And now you slay us," said Cliffe. "Ah, well--'_dulce et decorum est_,'
etcetera."

"Don't imagine that you'll get many of the honors of martyrdom," laughed
Ashe--in Cliffe's eyes an offensive and triumphant figure, as he leaned
carelessly upon a marble pedestal that carried a bust of Horace Walpole.

"Why?" Cliffe's hand had gone instinctively to his mustache. Mary had
dropped his arm, and now stood quietly beside him, pale and somewhat
jaded, her fine eyes travelling between the speakers.

"Why? Because the heresies have no martyrs. The halo is for the true
Church!"

"H'm!" said Cliffe, with a reflective sneer. "I suppose you mean for the
successful?"

"Do I?" said Ashe, with nonchalance. "Aren't the true Church the people
who are justified by the event?"

"The orthodox like to think so," said Cliffe. "But the heretics have a
way of coming out top."

"Does that mean you chaps are going to win at the next election? I
devoutly hope you may--_we_'re all as stale as ditch-water--and as for
places, anybody's welcome to mine!" And so saying, Ashe lounged away,
attracted by the bow and smile of a pretty Frenchwoman, with whom it was
always agreeable to chat.

"Ashe trifles it as usual," said Cliffe, as he and Mary forced a passage
into one of the smaller rooms. "Is there anything in the world that he
really cares about?"

Mary looked at him with a start. It was almost on her lips to say, "Yes!
his wife." She only just succeeded in driving the words back.

"His not caring is a pretence," she said. "At least, Lady Tranmore
thinks so. She believes that he is becoming absorbed in politics--much
more ambitious than she ever thought he would be."

"That's the way of mothers," said Cliffe, with a sarcastic lip. "They
have got to make the best of their sons. Tell me what you are going to
do this summer."

He had thrown one arm round the back of a chair, and sat looking down
upon her, his colorless fair hair falling thick upon his brow, and
giving by contrast a strange inhuman force to the dark and singular eyes
beneath. He had a way of commanding a woman's attention by flashes of
brusquerie, melting when he chose into a homage that had in it the note
of an older world, a world that had still leisure for, passion and its
refinements, a world still within sight of that other which had produced
the _Carte du tendre_. Perhaps it was this, combined with the
virilities, not to be questioned, of his aspect, the signs of hard
physical endurance in the face burned by desert suns, and the
suggestions of a frame too lean and gaunt for drawing-rooms, that gave
him his spell and preserved it.

Mary's conversation with him consisted at first of much cool fencing on
her part, which gradually slipped back, as he intended it should, into
some of the tones of intimacy. Each meanwhile was conscious of a secret
range of thoughts--hers concerned with the effort and struggle, the
bitter disappointments and disillusions of the past six weeks; and his
with the schemes he had cherished in the East and on the way home, of
marrying Mary Lyster, or more correctly, Mary Lyster's money, and so
resigning himself to the inevitable boredoms of an English existence.
For her the mental horizon was full of Kitty--Kitty insolent,
Kitty triumphant. For him, too, Kitty made the background of
thought--environed, however, with clouds of indecision and resistance
that would have raised happiness in Mary could she have divined them.

For he was now not easy to capture. There had been enough and more than
enough of women in his life. The game of politics must somehow replace
them henceforth, if, indeed, anything were still worth while, except the
long day in the saddle and the dawn of new mornings in untrodden lands.

Mingled, all these, with hot dislike of Ashe, with the fascination of
Kitty, and a kind of venomous pleasure in the commotion produced by his
pursuit of her; inter penetrated, moreover, through and through with the
memory of his one true feeling, and of the woman who had died, alienated
from and despising him. He and Mary passed a profitless half-hour. He
would have liked to propitiate her, but he had no notion what he should
do with the propitiation, if it were reached. He wanted her money, but
he was beginning to feel with restlessness that he could not pay the
cost. The poet in him was still strong, crossed though it were by the
adventurer.

He took her back to the dancing-room. Mary walked beside him with a
dull, fierce sense of wrong. It was Kitty, of course, who had done
it--Kitty who had taken him away from her.

"That's finished," said Cliffe to himself, with a long breath of relief,
as he delivered her into the hands of her partner. "Now for the other!"

       *       *       *       *       *

Thenceforward, no one saw Kitty and no one danced with her. She spent
her time in beflowered corners, or remote drawing-rooms, with Geoffrey
Cliffe. Ashe heard her voice in the distance once or twice, answering a
voice he detested; he looked into the supper-room with a lady on his
arm, and across it he saw Kitty, with her white elbow on the table and
her hand propping a face that was turned--half mocking and yet wholly
absorbed--to Cliffe. He saw her flitting across vistas or disappearing
through far doorways, but always with that sinister figure in
attendance.

His mind was divided between a secret fury--roused in him by the pride
of a man of high birth and position, who has always had the world at
command, and now sees an impertinence offered him which he does not know
how to punish--and a mood of irony. Cliffe's persecution of Kitty was a
piece of confounded bad manners. But to look at it with the round,
hypocritical eyes some of these people were bringing to bear on it was
really too much! Let them look to their own affairs--they needed it.

At last the party broke up. Kitty touched him on the shoulder as he was
standing on the stairs, apparently absorbed in a teasing skirmish with a
charming child in her first season, who thought him the most delightful
of men.

"I'm ready, William."

He turned sharply, and saw that she was alone.

"Come along, then! In five minutes more I should have been asleep on the
stairs."

They descended. Kitty went for her cloak. Ashe sent for the carriage. As
he was standing on the steps Cliffe pushed past him and called for a
hansom. It came in the rear of two or three carriages already under the
portico. He ran along the pavement and jumped in. The doors were just
being shut by the linkman when a little figure in a white cloak flew
down the steps of the house and held up a hand to the driver of the
hansom.

"Do you see that?" said Lady Parham, in a voice of suppressed but
contemptuous amazement, as she turned to Mary Lyster, who was driving
home with her. "Call my carriage, please!" she said, imperiously, to one
of the footmen at the door. Her carriage, as it happened, was
immediately behind the hansom; but the hansom could not move because of
the small lady who had jumped upon the step and was leaning eagerly
forward.

There was a clamor of shouting voices: "Move on, cabby! Move on!" "Stand
clear, ma'am, please," said the driver, while Cliffe opened the door of
the cab, and seemed about to jump down again.

"Who is it?" said an impatient judge behind Lady Parham. "What's the
matter?"

Lady Parham shrugged her shoulders.

"It's Lady Kitty Ashe," whispered the _débutante_, who was the judge's
daughter, "talking to Mr. Cliffe. Isn't she pretty?"

A sudden silence fell upon the group in the porch. Kitty's high, clear
laugh seemed to ring back into the house. Then Ashe ran down the steps.

"Kitty, don't stop the way." He peremptorily drew her back.

Cliffe raised his hat, fell back into the hansom, and the man whipped up
his horse.

Kitty came back to the outer hall with Ashe. Her cheeks had a rose
flush, her wild eyes laughed at the crowd on the steps, without really
seeing them.

"Are you going with Lady Parham?" she said, absently, to Mary Lyster.

"Yes."

Kitty looked up and Ashe saw the two faces as she and Mary confronted
each other--the contempt in Mary's, the startled wrath in Kitty's.

"Come, Miss Lyster!" said Lady Parham, and pushing past the Ashes
without a good-night, she hurried to her carriage, drawing up the glass
with a hasty hand, though the night was balmy.

For a few moments none of those left on the steps spoke, except to fret
in undertones for an absent carriage. Then Ashe saw his own groom, and
stormed at him for delay. In another minute he and Kitty were in the
carriage, and the figures under the porch dropped out of sight.

       *       *       *       *       *

"Better not do that again, Kitty, I think," said Ashe.

Kitty glanced at him. But both voice and manner were as usual. "Why
shouldn't I?" she said, haughtily; he saw that she had grown very white.
"I was telling Geoffrey where to find me at Lord's."

Ashe winced at the "Archangelism" of the Christian name.

"You kept Lady Parham waiting."

"What does that matter?" said Kitty, with an angry laugh.

"And you did Cliffe too much honor," said Ashe. "It's the men who should
stand on the steps--not the women!"

Kitty sat erect. "What do you mean?" she said, in a low, menacing voice.

"Just what I say," was the laughing reply.

Kitty threw herself back in her corner, and could not be induced to open
her lips or look at her companion till they reached home.

On the landing, however, outside her bedroom, she turned and said:
"Don't, please, say impertinent things to me again!" And drawn up to her
full height, the most childish and obstinate of tragedy queens, she
swept into her room.

Ashe went into his dressing-room. And almost immediately afterwards he
heard the key turn in the lock which separated his room from Kitty's.

For the first time since their marriage! He threw himself on his bed,
and passed some sleepless hours. Then fatigue had its way. When he
awoke, there was a gray dawn in the room, and he was conscious of
something pressing against his bed. Half asleep, he raised himself and
saw Kitty, in a long white dressing-gown, sitting curled up on the
floor, or rather on a pillow, her head resting on the edge of the bed.
In a glass opposite he saw the languid grace of her slight form and the
cloud of her hair.

"Kitty"--he tried to shake himself into full consciousness--"do go to
bed!"

"Lie down," said Kitty, lifting her arm and pressing him down, "and
don't say anything. I shall go to sleep."

He lay down obediently. Presently he felt that her cheek was resting on
one of his hands, and in his semi-consciousness he laid the other on her
hair. Then they both fell asleep.

His dreams were a medley of the fancy ball and of some pageant scene in
which Iris and Ceres appeared, and there was a rustic dance of maidens
and shepherds. Then a murmur as of thunder ran through the scene,
followed by darkness. He half woke, in a hot distress, but the soft
cheek was still there, his hand still felt the silky curls, and sleep
recaptured him.



XII


When Ashe woke up in earnest he was alone. He sprang up in bed and
looked round the darkened room, ashamed of his long sleep; but there was
no sign of Kitty.

After dressing, he knocked, as usual, at Kitty's door.

"Oh, come in," cried Kitty's lightest voice. "Margaret's here; but if
you don't mind her, she won't mind you."

Ashe entered. Kitty, as was her wont four days out of the seven, was
breakfasting in bed. Margaret French was beside her with a batch of
notes, mostly bills and unanswered invitations, with which she was
trying to make Kitty cope.

"Excuse me, Mr. Ashe," Margaret lifted a smiling face. "I had to be out
on business for my brother all day, so I thought I'd come early and
remind Kitty of some of these tiresome things while there was still a
chance of finding her."

"I don't know why guardian angels excuse themselves," said Ashe, as they
shook hands.

"Oh, dear, what a lot of them there are!" said Kitty, tossing over the
notes with a bored air. "Refuse them all, Margaret; I'm tired to death
of dining out."

"Not all, I think," pleaded Margaret. "Here's that nice woman--you
remember--who wanted to thank Mr. Ashe for what he'd done for her son.
You promised to dine with her."

"Did I?" Kitty wriggled with annoyance. "Well, then, I suppose we must.
What did William do for her? When I ask him to do something for the
nicest boys in the world, he won't lift a finger."

"I gave him some introductions in Berlin," laughed Ashe. "What you
generally want me to do, Kitty, is to stuff the public service with
good-looking idiots. And there I really can't oblige you."

"Every one knows that corruption gets the best men," said Kitty. "Hullo,
what's that?" and she lifted a dinner-card, and looked at it strangely.

"My dear Kitty! when did it come?" exclaimed Margaret French, in dismay.

It was a dinner-card, whereby Lord and Lady Parham requested the honor
of Mr. and Lady Kitty Ashe's company at dinner, on a date somewhere
within the first week of July.

Ashe bent over to look at it.

"I think that came ten days ago," he said, quietly. "I imagined Kitty
accepted it."

"I never thought of it from that day to this," said Kitty, who had
clasped her hands behind her head and was staring at the ceiling. "Say,
please, that"--she spaced out the words deliberately--"Mr. and Lady
Kitty Ashe--are unable to accept--Lord and Lady Parham's
invitation--etc.--"

"Kitty!" said Margaret, firmly, "there must be a 'regret' and a 'kind.'
Think! Ten days! The party is next week!"

"No 'regret,' and no 'kind'!" said Kitty, still staring overhead. "It's
my affair, please, Margaret, altogether. And I'll see the note before it
goes, or you'll be putting in civilities."

Margaret, in despair, looked entreatingly at Ashe. He and she had often
conspired before this to soften down Kitty's enormities. But he said
nothing--made not the smallest sign.

With difficulty Margaret got a few more directions out of Kitty, over
whom a shade of sombre taciturnity had now fallen. Then, saying she
would write the notes down-stairs and come back, she gathered up her
basketful of letters and departed.

As soon as she was alone with Ashe, Kitty took up a novel beside her,
and pretended to be absorbed in it.

He hesitated a moment, then he stooped over her and took her hand.

"Why did you come in to visit me, Kitty?" he said, in a low voice.

"I don't know," was her indifferent reply, and her hand pulled itself
away, though not with violence.

"I wish I could understand you, Kitty." His tone was not quite steady.

"Well, I don't understand myself!" said Kitty, shortly, reaching out for
a bunch of roses that Margaret had just brought her, and burying her
face among them.

"Perhaps, if you submitted the problem to me," said Ashe, laughing, "we
might be able to thresh it out together!"

He folded his arms and leaned against the foot of the bed, delighting
his eyes with the vision of her amid the folds of muslin and lace, and
all the costly refinements of pillow and coverlet with which she liked
to surround herself at that hour of the morning. She might have been a
French princess of the old regime, receiving her court.

Kitty shook her head. The roses fell idly from her hands, and made
bright patches of blush pink about her. Ashe went on:

"Anyway, dear, don't give silly tongues _too_ good a handle!"

He threw her a gay comrade's look, as though to say that they both knew
the folly of the world, but he perhaps the better, as he was the elder.

"You mean," said Kitty, calmly, "that I am not to talk so much to
Geoffrey Cliffe?"

"Is he worth it?" said Ashe. "That's what I want to know--worth the fuss
that some people make?"

"It's the fuss and the people that drive one on," said Kitty, under her
breath.

"You flatter them too much, darling! Do you think you were quite kind to
me last night?--let's put it that way. I looked a precious fool, you
know, standing on those steps, while you were keeping old Mother Parham
and the whole show waiting!"

She looked at him a moment in silence, at his heightened color and
insistent eyes.

"I can't think what made you marry me," she said, slowly.

Ashe laughed, and came nearer.

"And I can't think," he said, in a lower voice, "what made you come--if
you weren't a little bit sorry--and lean your dear head against me like
that, last night."

"I wasn't sorry--I couldn't sleep," was her quick reply, while her eyes
strove to keep up their war with his.

A knock was heard at the door. Ashe moved hastily away. Kitty's maid
entered.

"I was to tell you, sir, that your breakfast was ready. And Lady
Tranmore's servant has brought this note."

Ashe took it and thrust it into his pocket.

"Get my things ready, please," said Kitty to her maid. Ashe felt himself
dismissed and went.

As soon as he was gone, Kitty sprang out of bed, threw on a
dressing-gown, and ran across to Blanche, who was bending over a chest
of drawers. "Why did you say those foolish things to me yesterday?" she
demanded, taking the girl impetuously by the arm, and so startling her
that she nearly dropped the clothes she held.

"They weren't foolish, my lady," said Blanche, sullenly, with averted
eyes.

"They were!" cried Kitty. "Of course, I'm a vixen--I always was. But you
know, Blanche, I'm not always as bad as I have been lately. Very soon I
shall be quite charming again--you'll see!"

"I dare say, my lady." Blanche went on sorting and arranging the
_lingerie_ she had taken out of the drawer.

Kitty sat down beside her, nursing a bare foot which was crossed over
the other.

"You know how I abused you about my hair, Blanche? Well, Mrs. Alcot
said, that very night, she never saw it so well done. She thought it
must be Pierrefitte's best man. Wasn't it hellish of me? I knew quite
well you'd done it beautifully."

The maid said nothing, but a tear fell on one of Kitty's night-dresses.

"And you remember the green garibaldi--last week? I just loathed
it--because you'd forgotten that little black rosette."

"No!" said Blanche, looking up; "your ladyship had never ordered it."

"I did--I did! But never mind. Two of my friends have wanted to copy it,
Blanche. They wouldn't believe it was done by a maid. They said it had
such style. One of them would engage you to-morrow if you really want to
go--"

A silence.

"But you won't go, Blanchie, will you?" said Kitty's silver voice. "I'm
a horrid fiend, but I did get Mr. Ashe to help your young man--and I did
care about your poor brother--and--and--" she stroked the girl's arm--"I
do look rather nice when I'm dressed, don't I? You wouldn't like a great
gawk to dress, would you?"

"I'm sure I don't want to leave your ladyship," said the girl, choking.
"But I can't have no more--"

"No more ructions?" said Kitty, meditating. "H'm, of course that's
serious, because I'm made so. Well, now, look here, Blanchie, you won't
give me warning again for a fortnight, whatever I do, mind. And if by
then I'm past praying for, you may. And I'll import a Russian--or a
Choctaw--who won't understand when I call her names. Is that a bargain,
Blanchie?"

The maid hesitated.

"Just a fortnight!" said Kitty, in her most seductive tones.

"Very well, my lady."

Kitty jumped up, waltzed round the room, the white silk skirts of her
dressing-gown floating far and wide, then thrust her feet into her
slippers, and began to dress as though nothing had happened.

       *       *       *       *       *

But when her toilette was accomplished, Kitty having dismissed her maid,
sat for some time in front of her mirror in a brown study.

"What _is_ the matter with me?" she thought. "William is an angel, and I
love him. And I can't do what he wants--I _can't_!" She drew a long,
troubled breath. The lips of the face reflected in the glass were dry
and colorless, the eyes had a strange, shrinking expression. "People
_are_ possessed--I know they are. They can't help themselves. I began
this to punish Mary--and now--when I don't see Geoffrey, everything is
odious and dreary. I can't care for anything. Of course, I ought to care
for William's politics. I expect I've done him harm--I know I have.
What's wrong with me?"

But suddenly, in the very midst of her self-examination, the emotion and
excitement that she had felt of late in her long conversations with
Cliffe returned upon her, filling her at once with poignant memory and a
keen expectation to which she yielded herself as a wild sea-bird to the
rocking of the sea. They had started--those conversations--from her
attempt to penetrate the secret history of the man whose poems had
filled her with a thrilling sense of feelings and passions beyond her
ken--untrodden regions, full, no doubt, of shadow and of poison, but
infinitely alluring to one whose nature was best summed up in the two
words, curiosity and daring. She had not found it quite easy. Cliffe, as
we know, had resented the levity of her first attempt. But when she
renewed it, more seriously and sweetly, combining with it a number of
subtle flatteries, the flattery of her beauty and her position, of the
private interest she could not help showing in the man who was her
husband's public antagonist, and of an admiration for his poems which
was not so much mere praise as an actual covetous sharing in them, a
making their ideas and their music her own--Cliffe could not in the end
resist her. After all, so far, she only asked him to talk of himself,
and for a man of his type the process is the very breath of his being,
the stimulus and liberation of all his powers.

So that before they knew they were in the midst of the most burning
subjects of human discussion--at first in a manner comparatively veiled
and general, then with the sharpest personal reference to Cliffe's own
story, as the intimacy between them grew. Jealousy, suffering, the "hard
cases" of passion--why men are selfish and exacting, why women mislead
and torment--the ugly waste and crudity of death--it was among these
great themes they found themselves. Death above all--it was to a thought
of death that Cliffe's harsh face owed its chief spell perhaps in
Kitty's eyes. A woman had died for love of him, crushed by his jealousy
and her own self-scorn. So Kitty had been told; and Cliffe's tortured
vanity would not deny it. How could she have cared so much? That was the
puzzle.

But this vicarious relation had now passed into a relation of her own.
Cliffe was to Kitty a problem--and a problem which, beyond a certain
point, defied her. The element of sex, of course, entered in, but only
as intensifying the contrasts and mysteries of imagination. And he made
her feel these contrasts and mysteries as she had never yet felt them;
and so he enlarged the world for her, he plunged her, if only by
contact with his own bitter and irritable genius, into new regions of
sentiment and feeling. For in spite of the vulgar elements in him there
were also elements of genius. The man was a poet and a thinker, though
he were at the same time, in some sense, an adventurer. His mind was
stored with eloquent and beautiful imagery, the poetry of others, and
poetry of his own. He could pursue the meanest personal objects in an
unscrupulous way; but he had none the less passed through a wealth of
tragic circumstance; he had been face to face with his own soul in the
wilds of the earth; he had met every sort of physical danger with
contempt; and his arrogant, imperious temper was of the kind which
attracts many women, especially, perhaps, women physically small and
intellectually fearless, like Kitty, who feel in it a challenge to their
power and their charm.

His society, then, had in these six weeks become, for Kitty, a
passion--a passion of the imagination. For the man himself, she would
probably have said that she felt more repulsion than anything else. But
it was a repulsion that held her, because of the constant sense of
reaction, of on-rushing life, which it excited in herself.

Add to these the elements of mischief and defiance in the situation, the
snatching him from Mary, her enemy and slanderer, the defiance of Lady
Grosville and all other hypocritical tyrants, the pride of dragging at
her chariot wheels a man whom most people courted even when they loathed
him, who enjoyed, moreover, an astonishing reputation abroad, especially
in that France which Kitty adored, as a kind of modern Byron, the only
Englishman who could still display in public the "pageant of a bleeding
heart," without making himself ridiculous, and perhaps enough has been
heaped together to explain the infatuation that now, like a wild spring
gust on a shining lake, was threatening to bring Kitty's light bark into
dangerous waters.

"I don't care for him," she said to herself, as she sat thinking alone,
"but I must see him--I _will_! And I will talk to him as I please, and
where I please!"

Her small frame stiffened under the obstinacy of her resolution. Kitty's
will at a moment of this kind was a fatality--so strong was it, and so
irrational.

       *       *       *       *       *

Meanwhile, down-stairs, Ashe himself was wrestling with another phase of
the same situation. Lady Tranmore's note had said: "I shall be with you
almost immediately after you receive this, as I want to catch you before
you go to the Foreign Office."

Accordingly, they were in the library, Ashe on the defensive, Lady
Tranmore nervous, embarrassed, and starting at a sound. Both of them
watched the door. Both looked for and dreaded the advent of Kitty.

"Dear William," said his mother at last, stretching her hand across a
small table which stood between them and laying it on her son's, "you'll
forgive me, won't you?--even if I do seem to you prudish and absurd. But
I am afraid you _ought_ to tell Kitty some of the unkind things people
are saying! You know I've tried, and she wouldn't listen to me. And you
ought to beg her--yes, William, indeed you ought!--not to give any
further occasion for them."

She looked at him anxiously, full Of that timidity which haunts the
deepest and tenderest affections. She had just given him to read a
letter from Lady Grosville to herself. Ashe ran through it, then laid it
down with a gesture of scorn.

"Kitty apparently enjoyed a moonlight walk with Cliffe. Why shouldn't
she? Lady Grosville thinks the moon was made to sleep by--other people
don't."

"But, William!--at night--when everybody had gone to bed--escaping from
the house--they two alone!"

Lady Tranmore looked at him entreatingly, as though driven to protest,
and yet hating the sound of her own words.

Ashe laughed. He was smoking with an air so nonchalant that his mother's
heart sank. For she divined that criticism in the society around her
which she was never allowed to hear. Was it true, indeed, that his
natural indolence could not rouse itself even to the defence of a young
wife's reputation?

"All the fault of the Grosvilles," said Ashe, after a moment, lighting
another cigarette, "in shutting up their great heavy house, and drawing
their great heavy curtains on a May night, when all reasonable people
want to be out-of-doors. My dear mother, what's the good of paying any
attention to what people like Lady Grosville say of people like Kitty?
You might as well expect Deborah to hit it off with Ariel!"

"William, don't laugh!" said his mother, in distress. "Geoffrey Cliffe
is not a man to be trusted. You and I know that of old. He is a boaster,
and--"

"And a liar!" said Ashe, quietly. "Oh! I know that."

"And yet he has this power over women--one ought to look it in the
face. William, dearest William!" she leaned over and clasped his hand
close in both hers, "do persuade Kitty to go away from London now--at
once!"

"Kitty won't go," said Ashe, quietly, "I am sorry, dear mother. I hate
that you should be worried. But there's the fact. Kitty won't go!"

"Then use your authority," said Lady Tranmore.

"I have none."

"William!" Ashe rose from his seat, and began to walk up and down. His
aspect of competence and dignity, as of a man already accustomed to
command and destined to a high experience, had never been more marked
than at the very moment of this helpless utterance. His mother looked at
him with mingled admiration and amazement.

Presently he paused beside her.

"I should like you to understand me, mother. I cannot fight with Kitty.
Before I asked her to marry me, I made up my mind to that. I knew then
and I know now that nothing but disaster could come of it. She must be
free, and I shall not attempt to coerce her."

"Or to protect her!" cried his mother.

"As to that, I shall do what I can. But I clearly foresaw when we
married that we should scandalize a good many of the weaker brethren."

He smiled, but, as it seemed to his mother, with some effort.

"William! as a public man--"

He interrupted her.

"If I can be both Kitty's husband and a public man, well and good. If
not, then I shall be--"

"Kitty's husband?" cried Lady Tranmore, with an accent of bitterness,
almost of sarcasm, of which she instantly repented her. She changed her
tone.

"It is, of course, Kitty, first and foremost, who is concerned in your
public position," she said, more gently. "Dearest William--she is so
young still--she probably doesn't quite understand, in spite of her
great cleverness. But she _does_ care--she _must_ care--and she ought to
know what slight things may sometimes affect a man's prospects and
future in this country."

Ashe said nothing. He turned on his heel and resumed his pacing. Lady
Tranmore looked at him in perplexity.

"William, I heard a rumor last night--"

He held his cigarette suspended.

"Lord Crashaw told me that the resignations would certainly be in the
papers this week, and that the ministry would go on--after a
rearrangement of posts. Is it true?"

Ashe resumed his cigarette.

"True--as to the facts--so far as I know. As to the date, Lord Crashaw
knows, I think, no more than I do. It may be this week, it may be next
month."

"Then I hear--thank goodness I never see her," Elizabeth went on,
reluctantly--"that that dreadful woman, Lady Parham, is more infuriated
than ever--"

"With Kitty? Let her be! It really doesn't matter an old shoe, either to
Kitty or me."

"She can be a most bitter enemy, William. And she certainly influences
Lord Parham."

Ashe smoked and smiled. Lady Tranmore saw that his pride, too, had been
aroused, and that here he was likely to prove as obstinate as Kitty.

"I wish I could get her out of my mind!" she sighed.

Ashe glanced at her kindly.

"I daresay we shall hold our own. Xanthippe is not beloved, and I don't
believe Parham will let her interfere with what he thinks best for the
party. Will it pay to put me in the cabinet or not?--that's what he'll
ask. I shall be strongly backed, too, by most of our papers."

A number of thoughts ran through Lady Tranmore's brain. With her long
experience of London, she knew well what the sudden lowering of a man's
"consideration"--to use a French word--at a critical moment may mean. A
cooling of the general regard--a breath of detraction coming no one
knows whence--and how soon new claims emerge, and the indispensable of
yesterday becomes the negligible of to-day!

But even if she could have brought herself to put any of these anxieties
into words, she had no opportunity. Kitty's voice was in the hall; the
handle turned, and she ran in.

"William! Ah!--I didn't know mother was here."

She went up to Elizabeth, and lightly kissed that lady's cheek.

"Good-morning. William, I just came to tell you that I may be late for
dinner, so perhaps you had better dine at the House. I am going on the
river."

"Are you?" said Ashe, gathering up his papers. "Wish I was."

"Are you going with the Crashaw's party?" asked Elizabeth. "I know they
have one."

"Oh, dear, no!" said Kitty. "I hate a crowd on the river. I am going
with Geoffrey Cliffe."

Ashe bent over his desk. Lady Tranmore's eyebrows went up, and she could
not restrain the word:

"Alone?"

"_Naturellement_!" laughed Kitty. "He reads me French poetry, and we
talk French. We let Madeleine Alcot come once, but her accent was so
shocking that Geoffrey wouldn't have her again!"

Lady Tranmore flushed deeply. The "Geoffrey" seemed to her intolerable.
Kitty, arrayed in the freshest of white gowns, walked away to the
farther end of the library to consult a _Bradshaw_. Elizabeth, looking
up, caught her son's eyes--and the mingled humor and vexation in them,
wherewith he appealed to her, as it were, to see the whole silly
business as he himself did. Lady Tranmore felt a moment's strong
reaction. Had she indeed been making a foolish fuss about nothing?

Yet the impression left by the miserable meditations of her night was
still deep enough to make her say--with just a signal from eye and lips,
so that Kitty neither saw nor heard--"Don't let her go!"

Ashe shook his head. He moved towards the door, and stood there
despatch-box in hand, throwing a last look at his wife.

"Don't be late, Kitty--or I shall be nervous. I don't trust Cliffe on
the river. And please make it a rule that, in locks, he stops quoting
French poetry."

Kitty turned round, startled and apparently annoyed by his tone.

"He is an excellent oar," she said, shortly.

"Is he? At Oxford we tried him for the Torpids--" Ashe's shrug completed
his remark. Then, still disregarding another imploring look from Lady
Tranmore, he left the room.

Kitty had flushed angrily. The belittling, malicious note in Ashe's
manner had been clear enough. She braced herself against it, and Lady
Tranmore's chance was lost. For when, summoning all her courage, and
quite uncertain whether her son would approve or blame her, Elizabeth
approached her daughter-in-law affectionately, trying in timid and
apologetic words to unburden her own heart and reach Kitty's, Kitty met
her with one of those outbursts of temper that women like Elizabeth
Tranmore cannot cope with. Their moral recoil is too great. It is the
recoil of the spiritual aristocrat; and between them and the children of
passion the links are few, the antagonism eternal.

She left the house, pale, dignified, the tears in her eyes. Kitty ran
up-stairs, humming an air from "Faust," as though she would tear it to
pieces, put on a flame-colored hat that gave a still further note of
extravagance to her costume, ordered a hansom, and drove away.

       *       *       *       *       *

Whether Kitty got much joy out of the three weeks which followed must
remain uncertain. She had certainly routed Mary Lyster, if there were
any final satisfaction in that. Mary had left town early, and was now in
Somersetshire helping her father to entertain, in order, said the
malicious, to put the best face possible on a defeat which this time had
been serious. And instead of devoting himself to the wooing of a
northern constituency where he had been adopted as the candidate of a
new Tory group, Cliffe lingered obstinately in town, endangering his
chances and angering his supporters. Kitty's influence over his actions
was, indeed, patent and undenied, whatever might be the general opinion
as to her effect upon his heart. Some of Kitty's intimates at any rate
were convinced that his absorption in the matter was by now, to say the
least, no less eager and persistent than hers. At this point it was by
no means still a relation of flattery on Kitty's side and a pleased
self-love on his. It had become a duel of two personalities, or rather
two imaginations. In fact, as Kitty, learning the ways of his character,
became more proudly mistress of herself and him, his interest in her
visibly increased. It might almost be said that she was beginning to
hold back, and he for the first time pursued.

Once or twice he had the grace to ask himself where it was all to end.
Was he in love with her? An absurd question! He had paid his heavy
tribute to passion if any man ever had, and had already hung up his
votive tablet and his garments wet from shipwreck in the temple of the
god. But it seemed that, after all said and done, the society of a
woman, young, beautiful, and capricious, was still the best thing which
the day--the London day, at all events--had to bring. At Kitty's
suggestion he was collecting and revising a new volume of his poems. He
and she quarrelled over them perpetually. Sometimes there was not a line
which pleased her; and then, again, she would delight him with the
homage of sudden tears in her brown eyes, and a praise so ardent and so
refined that it almost compared--as Kitty meant it should--with that of
the dead. In the shaded drawing-room, where every detail pleased his
taste, Cliffe's harsh voice thundered or murmured verse which was
beyond dispute the verse of a poet, and thereby sensuous and
passionate. Ostensibly the verse concerned another woman; in truth, the
slight and lovely figure sitting on the farther side of the flowered
hearth, the delicate head bent, the finger-tips lightly joined, entered
day by day more directly into the consciousness of the poet. What harm?
All he asked was intelligence and response. As to her heart, he made no
claim upon it whatever. Ashe, by-the-way, was clearly not jealous--a
sensible attitude, considering Lady Kitty's strength of will.

Into Cliffe's feeling towards Ashe there entered, indeed, a number of
evil things, determined by quite other relations between the two
men--the relation of the man who wants to the man who has, of the man
beaten by the restlessness of ambition to the man who possesses all that
the other desires, and affects to care nothing about it--of the
combatant who fights with rage to the combatant who fights with a smile.
Cliffe could often lash himself into fury by the mere thought of Ashe's
opportunities and Ashe's future, combined with the belief that Ashe's
mood towards himself was either contemptuous or condescending. And it
was at such moments that he would fling himself with most resource into
the establishing of his ascendency over Kitty.

The two men met when they did meet--which was but seldom--on perfectly
civil terms. If Ashe arrived unexpectedly from the House in the late
afternoon to find Cliffe in the drawing-room reading aloud to Kitty, the
politics of the moment provided talk enough till Cliffe could decently
take his departure. He never dined with them alone, Kitty having no mind
whatever for the discomforts of such a party; and in the evenings when
he and Kitty met at a small number of houses, where the flirtation was
watched nightly with a growing excitement, Ashe's duties kept him at
Westminster, and there was nothing to hinder that flow of small and yet
significant incident by which situations of this kind are developed.

Ashe set his teeth. He had made up his mind finally that it was a plague
and a tyranny which would pass, and could only be magnified by
opposition. But his temper suffered. There were many small quarrels
during these weeks between himself and Kitty, quarrels which betrayed
the tension produced in him by what was--in essentials--an iron
self-control. But they made daily life a sordid, unlovely thing, and
they gave Kitty an excuse for saying that William was as violent as
herself, and for seeking refuge in the exaltations of feeling or of
fancy provided by Cliffe's companionship.

Perhaps of all the persons in the drama, Lady Tranmore was the most to
be pitied. She sat at home, having no heart to go to Hill Street, and
more tied indeed than usual by the helpless illness of her husband.
Never, in all these days, did Ashe miss his daily visit to his father.
He would come in, apparently his handsome, good-humored self, ready to
read aloud for twenty minutes, or merely to sit in silence by the sick
man, his eyes making affectionate answer every now and then to the dumb
looks of Lord Tranmore. Only his mother sought and found that slight
habitual contraction of the brow which bore witness to some equally
persistent disquiet of the mind. But he kept her at arm's-length on the
subject of Kitty. She dared not tell him any of the gossip which
reached her.

Meanwhile these weeks meant for her not only the dread of disgrace, but
the disappointment of a just ambition, the humiliation of her mother's
pride. The political crisis approached rapidly, and Ashe's name was less
and less to the front. Lady Parham was said to be taking an active part
in the consultations and intrigues that surrounded her husband, and it
was well known by now to the inner circle that her hostility to the
Ashes, and her insistence on the fact that cabinet ministers must be
beyond reproach, and their wives persons to whose houses the party can
go without demeaning themselves, were likely to be of importance.
Moreover, Ashe's success in the House of Commons was no longer what it
had been earlier in the session. The party papers had cooled. Elizabeth
Tranmore felt a blight in the air. Yet William, with his position in the
country, his high ability, and the social weight belonging to the heir
of the Tranmore peerage and estates, was surely not a person to be
lightly ignored! Would Lord Parham venture it?

       *       *       *       *       *

At last the resignations of the two ministers were in the _Times_; there
were communications between the Queen and the Premier, and London
plunged with such ardor as is possible in late July into the throes of
cabinet-making. Kitty insisted petulantly that of course all would be
well; William's services were far too great to be ignored; though Lord
Parham would no doubt slight him if he dared. But the party and the
public would see to that. The days were gone by when vulgar old women
like Lady Parham could have any real influence on political
appointments. Otherwise, who would condescend to politics?

Ashe brought her amusing reports from the House or the clubs of the
various intrigues going on, and, as to his own chances, refused to
discuss them seriously. Once or twice when Kitty, in his presence,
insisted on speaking of them to some political intimate, only to provoke
an evident embarrassment, Ashe suffered the tortures which proud men
know. But he never lost his tone of light detachment, and the conclusion
of his friends was that, as usual, "Ashe didn't care a button."

The hours passed, however, and no sign came from the Prime Minister.
Everything was still uncertain; but Ashe had realized that at least he
was not to be taken into the inner counsels of the party. The hopes and
fears, the heartburnings and rivalries of such a state of things are
proverbial. Ashe wondered impatiently when the beastly business would be
over, and he could get off to Scotland for the air and sport of which he
was badly in need.

       *       *       *       *       *

It was a Friday, in the first week of August. Ashe was leaving the
Athenæum with another member of the House when a newspaper boy rushing
along with a fresh bundle of papers passed them with the cry, "New
cabinet complete! Official list!" They caught him up, snatched a paper,
and read. Two men of middle age, conspicuous in Parliament, but not
hitherto in office, one of them of great importance as a lawyer, the
other as a military critic, were appointed, the one to the Home Office,
the other to the Ministry of War; there had been some shuffling in the
minor offices, and a new Privy Seal had dawned upon the world. For the
rest, all was as before, and in the formal list the name of the
Honorable William Travers Ashe still remained attached to the
Under-Secretaryship for Foreign Affairs.

Ashe's friend shrugged his shoulders, and avoided looking at his
companion. "A bomb-shell, to begin with," he said; "otherwise the
flattest thing out."

"On the contrary," laughed Ashe. "Parham has shown a wonderful amount of
originality. If you and I are taken by surprise, what will the public
be? And they'll like him all the better--you'll see. He has shown
courage and gone for new men--that's what they'll say. _Vive_ Parham!
Well, good-bye. Now, please the Lord, we shall get off--and I may be
among the grouse this day week."

He stopped on his way out of the club to discuss the list with the men
coming in. He was conscious that some would have avoided him. But he had
no mind to be avoided, and his caustic, good-humored talk carried off
the situation. Presently he was walking homeward, swinging his stick
with the gayety of a school-boy expecting the holidays.

As he mounted St. James's Street a carriage descended. Ashe mechanically
took off his hat to the half-recognized face within, and as he did so
perceived the icy bow and triumphant eyes of Lady Parham.

He hurried along, fighting a curious sensation, as of a physical
bruising and beating. The streets were full of the news, and he was
stopped many times by mere acquaintances to talk of it. In Savile Row he
turned into a small literary club of which he was a member, and wrote a
letter to his mother. In very affectionate and amusing terms it begged
her not to take the disappointment too seriously. "I think I won't come
round to-night. But expect me first thing to-morrow."

He sent the note by messenger and walked home. When he reached Hill
Street it was close on eight. Outside the house he suddenly asked
himself what line he was going to take with Kitty.

Kitty, however, was not at home. As far as he could remember she had
gone coaching with the Alcots into Surrey, Geoffrey Cliffe, of course,
being of the party. Presently, indeed, he discovered a hasty line from
her on his study table, to say that they were to dine at Richmond, and
"Madeleine" supposed they would get home between ten and eleven. Not a
word more. Like all strong men, Ashe despised the meditations of
self-pity. But the involuntary reflection that on this evening of
humiliation Kitty was not with him--did not apparently care enough about
his affairs and his ambitions to be with him--brought with it a soreness
which had to be endured.

The next moment, he was inclined to be glad of her absence. Such things,
especially in the first shock of them, are best faced alone. If, indeed,
there were any shock in the matter. He had for some time had his own
shrewd previsions, and he was aware of a strong inner belief that his
defeat was but temporary.

Probably, when she had time to remember such trifles, Kitty would feel
the shock more than he did. Lady Parham had certainly won this round of
the rubber!

He settled to his solitary dinner, but in the middle of it put down
Kitty's Aberdeen terrier, which, for want of other company, he was
stuffing atrociously, and ran up to the nursery. The nurse was at her
supper, and Harry lay fast asleep, a pretty little fellow, flushed into
a semblance of health, and with a strong look of Kitty.

Ashe bent down and put his whiskered cheek to the boy's. "Never mind,
old man!" he murmured, "better luck next time!"

Then raising himself with a smile, he looked affectionately at the
child, noticed with satisfaction his bright color and even breathing,
and stole away.

He ran through the comments of the evening papers on the new cabinet
list, finding in only two or three any reference to himself, then threw
them aside, and seized upon a pile of books and reviews that were lying
on his table. He carried them up to the drawing-room, hesitated between
a theological review and a new edition of Horace, and finally plunged
with avidity into the theological review.

For some two hours he sat enthralled by an able summary of the chief
Tübingen positions; then suddenly threw himself back with a stretch and
a laugh.

"Wonder what the chap's doing that's got my post! Not reading theology,
I'll be bound."

The reflection followed that were he at that moment Home Secretary and
in the cabinet, he would not probably be reading it either--nor left to
a solitary evening. Friends would be dropping in to congratulate--the
modern equivalent of the old "turba clientium."

As his thoughts wandered, the drawing-room clock struck eleven. He rose,
astonished and impatient. Where was Kitty?

By midnight she had not arrived. Ashe heard the butler moving in the
hall and summoned him.

"There may have been some mishap to the coach, Wilson. Perhaps they have
stayed at Richmond. Anyway, go to bed. I'll wait for her ladyship."

He returned to his arm-chair and his books, but soon drew Kitty's
_couvre-pied_ over him and went to sleep.

When he awoke, daylight was in the room. "What has happened to them?" he
asked himself, in a sudden anxiety.

And amid the silence of the dawn he paced up and down, a prey for the
first time to black depression. He was besieged by memories of the last
two months, their anxieties and quarrels--the waste of time and
opportunity--the stabs to feeling and self-respect. Once he found
himself groaning aloud, "Kitty! Kitty!"

When this huge, distracting London was left behind, when he had her to
himself amid the Scotch heather and birch, should he find her
again--conquer her again--as in the exquisite days after their marriage?
He thought of Cliffe with a kind of proud torment, disdaining to be
jealous or afraid. Kitty had amused herself--had tested her freedom, his
patience, to the utmost. Might she now be content, and reward him a
little for a self-control, a philosophy, which had not been easy!

A French novel on Kitty's little table drew his attention. He thought
not without a discomfortable humor of what a French husband would have
made of a similar situation--recalling the remark of a French
acquaintance on some case illustrating the freedom of English wives. "Il
y a un élément turc dans le mari français, qui nous rendrait ces
moeurs-là impossibles!"

_À la bonne heure_! Let the Frenchman keep up his seraglio
standards as he pleased. An Englishman trusts both his wife and his
daughter--scorns, indeed, to consider whether he trusts them or no! And
who comes worst off? Not the Englishman--if, at least, we are to believe
the French novel on the French _ménage!_

He paced thus up and down for an hour, defying his unseen critics--his
mother--his own heart.

       *       *       *       *       *

Then he went to bed and slept a little. But with the post next morning
there was no letter from Kitty. There might be a hundred explanations of
that. Yet he felt a sudden need of caution.

"Her ladyship comes up this morning by train," he said to Wilson, as
though reading from a note. "There seems to have been a mishap."

Then he took a hansom and drove to the Alcots.

"Is Mrs. Alcot at home?" he asked the butler. "Can I have an answer to
this note?"

"Mrs. Alcot has been in her room since yesterday morning, sir. She was
taken ill just before the coach was coming round, and the horses had to
be sent back. But the doctor last night hoped it would be nothing
serious."

Ashe turned and went home. Then Kitty was not with Madeleine Alcot--not
on the coach! Where was she, and with whom?

He shut himself into his library and fell to wondering, in bewilderment,
what he had better do. A tide of rage and agony was mounting within him.
How to master it--and keep his brain clear!

He was sitting in front of his writing-table staring at the floor, his
hands hanging before him, when the door opened and shut. He turned.
There, with her back to the door, stood Kitty. Her aspect startled him
to his feet. She looked at him, trembling--her little face haggard and
white, with a touch of something in it which had blurred its youth.

"William!" She put both her hands to her breast, as though to support
herself. Then she flew forward. "William! I have done nothing
wrong--nothing--nothing! William--look at me!"

He sternly put out his hand, protecting himself.

"Where have you been?" he said, in a low voice--"and with whom?"

Kitty fell into a chair and burst into wild tears.



XIII


There was silence for a few moments except for Kitty's crying. Ashe
still stood beside his writing-table, his hand resting upon it, his eyes
on Kitty. Once or twice he began to speak, and stopped. At last he said,
with obvious difficulty:

"It's cruel to keep me waiting, Kitty."

"I sent you a telegram first thing this morning." The voice was choked
and passionate.

"I never got it."

"Horrid little fiend!" cried Kitty, sitting up and dashing back her hair
from her tear-stained cheeks. "I gave a boy half a crown this morning to
be at the station with it by eight o'clock. And I couldn't possibly
either write or telegraph last night--it was too late."

"Where were you?" said Ashe, slowly. "I went to the Alcots' this
morning, and--"

"--the butler told you Madeleine was in bed? So she is. She was ill
yesterday morning. There was no coach and no party. I went with
Geoffrey."

Kitty held herself erect; her eyes, from which the tears were
involuntarily dropping, were fixed on her husband.

"Of course I guessed that," said Ashe.

"It was Geoffrey brought me the news--here, just as I was starting to go
to the Alcots'. Then he said he had something to read me--and it would
be delicious to go to Pangbourne--spend the day on the river--and come
back from Windsor--at night--by train. And I had a horrid headache--and
it was so hot--and you were at the office"--her lip quivered--"and I
wanted to hear Geoffrey's poems--and so--"

She interrupted herself, and once more broke down--hiding her face
against the chair. But the next moment she felt herself roughly drawn
forward, as Ashe knelt beside her.

"Kitty!--look at me! That man behaved to you like a villain?"

She looked up--she saw the handsome, good-humored face transformed--and
wrenched herself away.

"He did," she said, bitterly--"like a villain." She began to twist and
torment her handkerchief as Ashe had seen her do once before, the small
white teeth pressed upon the lower lip--then suddenly she turned upon
him--

"I suppose you want me to tell you the story?"

All Kitty in the words! Her frankness, her daring, and the impatient,
realistic tone she was apt to impose upon emotion--they were all there.

Ashe rose and began to walk up and down.

"Tell me your part in it," he said, at last--"and as little of that
fellow as may be."

Kitty was silent. Ashe, looking at her, saw a curious shade of reverie,
a kind of dreamy excitement steal over her face.

"Go on, Kitty!" he said, sharply. Then, restraining himself, he added,
with all his natural courtesy--"I beg your pardon, Kitty, but the sooner
we get through with this the better."

The mist in which her expression had been for a moment wrapped fell
away. She flushed deeply.

"I told you I had done nothing vile!" she said, passionately. "Did you
believe me?"

Their eyes met in a shock of challenge and reply.

"Those things are not to be asked between you and me," he said, with
vehemence, and he held out his hand. She just touched it--proudly. Then
she drew a long breath.

"The day was--just like other days. He read me his poems--in a cool
place we found under the bank. I thought he was rather absurd now and
then--and different from what he had been. He talked of our going
away--and his not seeing me--and how lonely he was. And of course I was
awfully sorry for him. But it was all right till--"

She paused and looked at Ashe.

"You remember the inn near Hamel Weir--a few miles from Windsor--that
lonely little place."

Ashe nodded.

"We dined there. Afterwards we were to row to Windsor and come home by a
train about ten. We finished dinner early. By-the-way, there were two
other people there--Lady Edith Manley and her boy. They had rowed down
from somewhere--"

"Did Lady Edith--"

"Yes--she spoke to me. She was going back to town--to the Holland House
party--"

"Where she probably met mother?"

"She did meet her!" cried Kitty. She pointed to a letter which she had
thrown down as she entered. "Your mother sent round this note to me this
morning--to ask when I should be at home. And Wilson sent word--There!
Of course I know she thinks I'm capable of anything."

She looked at him, defiant, but very miserable and pale.

"Go on, please," said Ashe.

"We finished dinner early. There was a field behind the inn, and then a
wood. We strolled into the wood, and then Geoffrey--well, he went mad!
He--"

She bit her lip fiercely, struggling for composure--and words.

"He proposed to you to throw me over?" said Ashe, as white as she.

With a sudden gesture she held out her arms--like a piteous child.

"Oh! don't stand there--and look at me like that--I can't bear it."

Ashe came--unwillingly. She perceived the reluctance, and with a flaming
face she motioned him back, while she controlled herself enough to pour
out her story. Presently Ashe was able to reconstruct with tolerable
clearness what had occurred. Cliffe, intoxicated by the long day of
intimacy and of solitude, by Kitty's beauty and Kitty's folly, aware
that parting was near at hand, and trusting to the wildness of Kitty's
temperament, had suddenly assumed the language of the lover--and a lover
by no means uncertain of his ultimate answer. So long as they understood
each other--that, indeed, for the present, was all he asked. But she
must know that she had broken off his marriage with Mary Lyster, and
reopened in his nature all the old founts of passion and of storm. It
had been her sovereign will that he should love her; it had been
achieved. For her sake--knowing himself for the seared and criminal
being that he was--for Ashe's sake--he had tried to resist her spell. In
vain. A fatal fusion of their two natures--imaginations--sympathies--had
come about. Each was interpenetrated by the other; and retreat was
impossible.

A kind of sombre power, indeed--the power of the poet and the
dreamer--seemed to have spoken from Cliffe's strange wooing. He had
taken no particular pains to flatter her, or to conceal his original
hesitation. He put her own action in a hard, almost a brutal light. It
was plain that he thought she had treated her husband badly; that he
warned her of a future of treachery and remorse. At the same time he let
her see that he could not doubt but that she would face it. They still
had the last justifying cards in their hands--passion, and the courage
to go where passion leads. When those were played, they might look each
other and the world in the face. Till then they were but triflers--mean
souls--fit neither for heaven nor for hell.

Ashe's whole being was soon in a tumult of rage under the sting of this
report, as he was able to piece it out from Kitty. But he kept his
self-command, and by dint of it he presently arrived at some notion of
her own share in the scene. Horror, recoil, disavowal--a wild resentment
of the charges heaped upon her, of the pitiless interpretation of her
behavior which broke from those harsh lips, of the incredulity passing
into something like contempt with which Cliffe had endured her wrath and
received her protestations--then a blind flight through the fields to
the little wayside station, where she hoped to catch the last train;
the arrival and departure of the train while she was still half a mile
from the line, and her shelter at a cottage for the night; these things
stood out plainly, whatever else remained in obscurity. How far she had
provoked her own fate, and how far even now she was delivered from the
morbid spell of Cliffe's personality, Ashe would not allow himself to
ask. As she neared the end of her story, it was as though the great
tempest wave in which she had been struggling died down, and with a
merciful rush bore him to a shore of deliverance. She was there beside
him; and she was still his own.

He had been leaning over the side of a chair, his chin on his hand, his
eyes fixed upon her, while she told her tale. It ended in a burst of
self-pity, as she remembered her collapse in the cottage, the
impossibility of finding any carriage in the small hamlet of which it
made part, the faint weariness of the night--

"I never slept," she said, piteously. "I got up at eight for the first
train, and now I feel"--she fell back in her chair, and whispered
desolately with shut eyes--"as if I should like to die!"

Ashe knelt down beside her.

"It's my fault, too, Kitty. I ought to have held you with a stronger
hand. I hated quarrelling with you. But--oh, my dear, my dear--"

She met the cry in silence, the tears running over her cheeks. Roughly,
impetuously, he gathered her in his arms and kissed her, as though he
would once more re-knit and reconsecrate the bond between them. She lay
passively against him, the tangle of her fair hair spread over his
shoulder--too frail and too exhausted for response.

"This won't do," he said, presently, disengaging himself; "you must have
some food and rest. Then we'll think what shall be done."

She roused herself suddenly as he went to the door.

"Why aren't you at the Foreign Office?"

"I sent a message early. Lawson came"--Lawson was his private
secretary--"but I must go down in an hour."

"William!"

Kitty had raised herself, and her eyes shone large and startled in the
small, tear-stained face.

"Yes." He paused a moment.

"William, is the list out?"

"Yes."

Kitty tottered to her feet.

"Is it all right?"

"I suppose so," he said, slowly. "It doesn't affect me."

And then, without waiting, he went into the hall and closed the door
behind him. He wrote a note to the Foreign Office to say that he should
not be at the office till the afternoon, and that important papers were
to be sent up to him. Then he told Wilson to bring wine and sandwiches
into the library for Lady Kitty, who had been detained by an accident on
the river the night before, and was much exhausted. No visitors were to
be admitted, except, of course, Lady Tranmore or Miss French.

When he returned to the library he found Kitty with crimson cheeks, her
hands locked behind her, walking up and down. As soon as she saw him she
motioned to him imperiously.

[Illustration: "HE GATHERED HER IN HIS ARMS"]

"Shut the door, William. I have something very important to say to you."

He obeyed her, and she walked up to him deliberately. He saw the
fluttering of her heart beneath her white dress--the crushed, bedraggled
dress, which still in its soft elegance, its small originalities, spoke
Kitty from head to foot. But her manner was quite calm and collected.

"William, we must separate! You must send me away."

He started.

"What do you mean?"

"What I say. It is--it is intolerable--that I should ruin your life like
this."

"Don't, please, exaggerate, Kitty! There is no question of ruin. I shall
make my way when the time comes, and Lady Parham will have nothing to
say to it!"

"No! Nothing will ever go well--while I'm there--like a millstone round
your neck. William"--she came closer to him--"take my advice--do it! I
Warned you when you married me. And now you see--it was true."

"You foolish child," he answered, slowly, "do you think I could forget
you for an hour, wherever you were?"

"Oh yes," she said, steadily, "I know you would forget me--- if I wasn't
here. I'm sure of it. You're very ambitious, William--more than you
know. You'll soon care--"

"More for politics than for you? Another of your delusions, Kitty.
Nothing of the sort. Moreover, if you will only let me advise you--trust
your husband a little--think both for him and yourself. I see nothing
either in politics or in our life together that cannot be retrieved."

He spoke with manly kindness and reasonableness. Not a trace of his
habitual indolence or indifference. Kitty, listening, was conscious of
the most tempestuous medley of feelings--love, remorse, shame, and a
strange gnawing desolation. What else, what better _could_ she have
asked of him? And yet, as she looked at him, she thought suddenly of the
moonlit garden at Grosville Park, and of that young, headlong chivalry
with which he had thrown himself at her feet. This man before her, so
much older and maturer, counting the cost of his marriage with her in
the light of experience, and magnanimously, resolutely paying it--Kitty,
in a flash, realized his personality as she had never yet done, his
moral independence of her, his separateness as a human being. Her
passionate self-love instinctively, unconsciously, had made of his life
the appendage of hers. And now--? His devotion had never been so plain,
so attested; and all the while bitter, terrifying voices rang upon the
inner ear, voices of fate, vague and irrevocable.

She dropped into a chair beside his table, trembling and white.

"No, no," she said, drawing her handkerchief across her eyes, with a
gesture of childish misery, "it's all been a--a horrid mistake. Your
mother was quite right. Of course she hated your marrying me--and
now--now she'll see what I've done. I guess perfectly what she's
thinking about me to-day! And I can't help it--I shall go on--if you let
me stay with you. There's a twist--a black drop in me. I'm not like
other people."

Her voice, which was very quiet, gave Ashe intolerable pain.

"You poor, tired, starved child," he said, kneeling down beside her.
"Put your arms round my neck. Let me carry you up-stairs."

With a sob she did as she was told. Ashe's library a comparatively late
addition to the rambling, old-fashioned house, communicated by a small
staircase at the back with his dressing-room above. He lifted the small
figure with ease, and half-way up-stairs he impetuously kissed the
delicate cheek.

"I'm glad you're not Polly Lyster, darling!"

Kitty laughed through her tears. Presently he deposited her on the large
sofa in her own room, and stood beside her, panting a little.

"It's all very well," said Kitty, as she nestled down among the pillows,
"but we're _none_ of us feathers!"

Her eyes were beginning to recover a little of their sparkle. She looked
at him with attention.

"You look horribly tired. What--what did you do--last night?" She turned
away from him.

"I sat up reading--then went to sleep down-stairs. I thought the coach
had come to grief, and you were somewhere with the Alcots."

"If I had known that," she murmured, "_I_ might have gone to sleep. Oh,
it was so horrible--the little stuffy room, and the dirty blankets." She
gave a shiver of disgust. "There was a poor baby, too, with
whooping-cough. Lucky I had some money. I gave the woman a sovereign.
But she wasn't at all nice--she never smiled once. I know she thought I
was a bad lot."

Then she sprang up.

"Sit there!" She pointed to the foot of the sofa. Ashe obeyed her.

"When did you know?"

"About the ministry? Between six and seven. I saw Lady Parham afterwards
driving in St. James's Street. She never enjoyed anything so much in her
life as the bow she gave me.'"

Kitty groaned, and subsided again, a little crumpled form among her
cushions.

"Tell me the names."

Ashe gave her the list of the ministry. She made one or two shrewd or
bitter comments upon it. He fully understood that in her inmost mind she
was registering a vow of vengeance against the Parhams; but she made no
spoken threat. Meanwhile, in the background of each mind there lay that
darker and more humiliating fact, to which both shrank from returning,
while yet both knew that it must be faced.

There was a knock at the door, and Blanche appeared with the tray which
had been ordered down-stairs. She glanced in astonishment at her
mistress.

"We had an accident on the river last night, Blanche," said Kitty. "Come
back in half an hour. I'm too tired to change just yet."

She kept her face hidden from the maid, but when Blanche had departed,
Ashe saw that her cheeks were flaming.

"I hate lying!" she said, with a kind of physical disgust--"and now I
suppose it will be my chief occupation for weeks."

It was true that she hated lying, and Ashe was well aware of it. Of such
a battle-stroke, indeed, as she had played at the ball, when her prompt
falsehood snatched Cliffe from Mary Lyster, she was always capable. But
in general her pride, her very egotism and quick temper kept her true.

Perhaps the fact represented one of those deep sources whence the well
of Ashe's tenderness was fed. At any rate, consciously or not, it was at
this moment one of his chief motives for not finding the past
intolerable or the future without hope. He took some wine and a sandwich
from the tray, and began to feed her. In the middle, she pushed his
hands away, and her eyes brimmed again with tears.

"Put it down," she commanded. And when he had done so, she raised his
hands deliberately, one after the other, and kissed them, crying:

"William!--I have been a horrible wife to you!"

"Don't be a goose, Kitty. You know very well that--till this last
business--And don't imagine that I feel myself a model, either!"

"No," she said, with a long sigh. "Of course, you ought to have beaten
me."

He smiled, with an unsteady lip.

"Perhaps I might still try it."

She shook her head.

"Too late. I am not a child any more."

Then throwing her soft arms round his neck, she clung to him, saying the
most adorable and poignant things, dissolved, indeed, in a murmuring
anguish of remorse; until, with the same unexpectedness as before, she
again disengaged herself--urging, insisting that he should send her
away.

"Let me go and live at Haggart, baby and I." (Haggart was one of the
Tranmore "places," recently handed over to the young people.) "You can
come and see me sometimes. I'll garden--and write books. Half the smart
women I know write stories--or plays. Why shouldn't I?"

"Why, indeed? Meanwhile, madam, I take you to Scotland--next week."

"Scotland?" She pressed her hands over her eyes.
"'Anywhere--anywhere--out of the world!'"

"Kitty!" Startled by the abandonment of her words, Ashe caught her hands
and held them. "Kitty!--- you regret--"

"That man? Do I?" She opened her eyes, frowning. "I loathe him! When I
think of yesterday, I could drown myself. If I could pile the whole
world between him and me--I would. But"--she shivered--"but yet--if he
were sitting there--"

"You would be once more under the spell?" said Ashe, bitterly.

"Spell!" she repeated, with scorn. Then snatching her hands from his,
she threw back the hair from her temples with a wild gesture. "I warned
you," she said--"I warned you."

"A man doesn't pay much attention to those warnings, Kitty."

"Then it is not my fault. I don't know what's wrong with me," she said,
sombrely; "but I remember saying to you that sometimes my brain was on
fire. I seem to be always in a hurry--in a desperate, desperate
hurry!--to know or to feel something--while there is still time--before
one dies. There is always a passion--always an effort. More life--_more
life_!--even if it lead to pain--and agony--and tears."

She raised her strange, beautiful eyes, which had at the moment almost a
look of delirium, and fixed them on his face. But Ashe's impression was
that she did not see him.

He was conscious of the same pang, the same sudden terror that he had
felt on that never-to-be-forgotten evening when she had talked to him of
the mask in the "Tempest." He thought of the Blackwater stories he had
heard from Lord Grosville. "_Mad, my dear fellow, mad!_"--the old man's
frequent comment ran through his memory. Was there, indeed, some unsound
spot in Kitty?

He sat dumb and paralyzed for a moment; then, recovering himself, he
said, as he recaptured the cold little hands:

"'More _light_,' Kitty, was what Goethe said, in dying. A better prayer,
don't you think?"

There was a strong, even a stern insistence in his manner which quieted
Kitty. Her face as it came back to full consciousness was exquisitely
sweet and mournful.

"That's the prayer of the _calm_," she said, in a whisper, "and my
nature is hunger and storm. And Geoffrey Cliffe is the same. That's why
I couldn't help being--"

She sprang up.

"William, don't let's talk nonsense. I can't ever see that man again.
How's it to be done?"

She moved up and down--all practical energy and impatience--her mood
wholly altered. His own adapted itself to hers.

"For the present, fear nothing," he said, dryly. "For his own sake
Cliffe will hold his tongue and leave London. And as to the future--I
can get some message conveyed to him--by a man he won't disregard. Leave
it to me."

"You can't write to him, William!" cried Kitty, passionately.

"Leave it to me," he repeated. "Then suppose you take the boy--and
Margaret French--to Haggart till I can join you?"

"And your mother?" she said, timidly, coming to stand beside him and
laying a hand on each shoulder.

"Leave that also to me."

"How she'll hate the sight of me," she said, under her breath. Then,
with another tone of voice--"How long, William, do you give the
government?"

"Six months, perhaps--perhaps less. I don't see how they can last beyond
February."

"And then--we'll _fight_!" said Kitty, with a long breath, smoothing
back the hair from his brow.

"Allow me, please, to command the forces! Well, now then, I must be
off!" He tried to rise, but she still held him.

"Did you have any breakfast, William?"

"I don't remember."

"Sit still and eat one of my sandwiches." She divided one into strips,
and standing over him began to feed him. A knock at the door arrested
her.

"Don't move!" she said, peremptorily, before she ran to open the door.

"Please, my lady," said Blanche, "Lady Tranmore would like to see you."

Kitty started and flushed. She looked round uncertainly at Ashe.

"Ask her ladyship to come up," said Ashe, quietly.

The maid departed.

"Feed me if you want to, Kitty," said Ashe, still seated.

Kitty returned, her breath hurried, her step wavering. She looked
doubtfully at Ashe--then her eyes sparkled--as she understood. She
dropped on her knees beside him, kissing the sleeve of his coat, against
which her cheek was pressed--in a passion of repentance.

He bent towards her, touching her hair, murmuring over her. His mind
meanwhile was torn with feelings which, so to speak, observed each
other. This thing which had happened was horribly serious--important. It
might easily have wrecked two lives. Had he dealt with it as he
ought--made Kitty feel the gravity of it?

Then the optimist in him asked impatiently what was "the good of
exaggerating the damned business"? That fellow has got his lesson--could
be driven headlong out of his life and Kitty's henceforward. And how
could _he_ doubt the love shown in this clinging penitence, these soft
kisses? How would the Turk theory of marriage, please, have done any
better? Kitty had had her own wild way. No fiat from without had bound
her; but love had brought her to his feet. There was something in him
which triumphed alike in her revolt and her submission.

       *       *       *       *       *

Meanwhile, in the cool drawing-room to which the green _persiennes_ gave
a pleasant foreign look, Lady Tranmore had been waiting for the maid's
return. She shrank from every sound in the house; from her own
reflection in Kitty's French mirrors; from her own thoughts most of all.

Lady Edith Manley--at Holland House--had been the most innocent of
gossips. A little lady who did no wrong herself--and thought no wrong of
others; as white-minded and unsuspicious as a convent child. "Poor Lady
Kitty! Something seemed to have gone wrong with the Alcots' coach, and
they were somehow divided from all their party. I can't remember exactly
what it was they said, but Mr. Cliffe was confident they would catch
their train. Though my boy--you remember my boy? they've just put him in
the eight!--thought they were running it _rather_ fine."

Then, five minutes later, in the supper-room, Lady Tranmore had run
across Madeleine Alcot's husband, who had given her in passing the whole
story of the frustrated expedition--Mrs. Alcot's chill, and the despatch
of Cliffe to Hill Street. "Horrid bore to have to put it off! Hope he
got there in time to stop Lady Kitty getting ready. Oh, thanks,
Madeleine's all right."

And then no more, as the rush of the crowd swept them apart.

After that, sleep had wholly deserted Lady Tranmore--if, indeed, after
the publication of the cabinet list in the afternoon, and William's
letter following upon it, any had been still possible. And in the early
morning she had sent her note to Kitty--a _ballon d'essai_, despatched
in a horror of great fear.

"Her ladyship has not yet returned." The message from Hill Street,
delivered by the footman's indifferent mouth, struck Lady Tranmore with
trembling.

"Where is William?" she said to herself, in anguish. "I must find
him--but--what shall I say to him?" Then she went up-stairs, and,
without calling for her maid, put on her walking things with shaking
hands.

She slipped out unobserved by her household, and took a hansom from the
corner of Grosvenor Street. In the hansom she carefully drew down her
veil, with the shrinking of one on whom disgrace--the long pursuing,
long expected--has seized at last. All the various facts, statements,
indications as to Kitty's behavior, which through the most diverse
channels had been flowing steadily towards her for weeks past, were now
surging through her mind and memory--a grievous, damning host. And every
now and then, as she caught the placards in the streets, her heart
contracted anew. Her son, her William, in what should have been the
heyday of his gifts and powers, baffled, tripped up, defeated!--by his
own wife, the selfish, ungrateful, reckless child on whom he had
lavished the undeserved treasures of the most generous and untiring
love. And had she not only checked or ruined his career--was he to be
also dishonored, struck to the heart?

She could scarcely stand as she rang the bell at Hill Street, and it was
only with a great effort that she could ask her question:

"Is Mr. Ashe at home?"

"Mr. Ashe, my lady, is, I believe, just going out," said Wilson. "Her
ladyship arrived just about an hour ago, and that detained him."

Elizabeth betrayed nothing. The training of her class held good.

"Are they in the library?" she asked--"or up-stairs?"

Wilson replied that he believed her ladyship was in her room, and Mr.
Ashe with her.

"Please ask Mr. Ashe if I can see him for a few minutes."

Wilson disappeared, and Lady Tranmore stood motionless, looking round at
William's books and tables. She loved everything that his hand had
touched, every sign of his character--the prize books of his college
days, the pictures on the wall, many of which had descended from his
Eton study, the photographs of his favorite hunter, the drawing she
herself had made for him of his first pony.

On his writing-table lay a despatch-box from the Foreign Office. Lady
Tranmore turned away from it. It reminded her intolerably of the shock
and defeat of the day before. During the past six months she had become
more rejoicingly conscious than ever before of his secret, deepening
ambition, and her own heart burned with the smart of his disappointment.
No one else, however, should guess at it through her. No sooner had she
received his letter from the club than, after many weeks of withdrawal
from society, she had forced herself to go to the Holland House party,
that no one might say she hid herself, that no one might for an instant
suppose that any hostile act of such a man as Lord Parham, or any malice
of that low-minded woman, could humiliate her son or herself.

Suddenly she saw Kitty's gloves--Kitty's torn and soiled gloves--lying
on the floor. She clasped her trembling hands, trying to steady herself.
Husband and wife were together. What tragedy was passing between them?

Of course there _might_ have been an accident; her thoughts might be all
mistake and illusion. But Lady Tranmore hardly allowed herself to
encourage the alternative of hope. It was like Kitty's audacity to have
come back. Incredible!--unfathomable!--like all she did.

"Her ladyship says, my lady, would you please go up to her room?"

The message was given in Blanche's timid voice. Lady Tranmore started,
looked at the girl, longed to question her, and had not the courage. She
followed mechanically, and in silence. Could she, must she face it?
Yes--for her son's sake. She prayed inwardly that she might meet the
ordeal before her with Christian strength and courage.

       *       *       *       *       *

The door opened. She saw two figures in the pretty, bright-colored room,
William sat astride upon a chair in front of Kitty, who, like some small
mother-bird, hovered above him, holding what seemed to be a tiny strip
of bread-and-butter, which she was dropping with dainty deliberation
into his mouth. Her face, in spite of the red and swollen eyes, was
alive with fun, and Ashe's laugh reflected hers. The domesticity, the
intimate affection of the scene--before these things Elizabeth Tranmore
stood gasping.

"Dearest mother!" cried Ashe, starting up.

Kitty turned. At sight of Lady Tranmore she hung back; her smiles
departed; her lip quivered.

"William!"--she pursued him and touched him on the shoulder. "I--I
can't--I'm afraid. If mother ever means to speak to me again--come and
tell me."

And, hiding her face, Kitty escaped like a whirlwind. The dressing-room
door closed behind her, and mother and son were left alone.

"Mother!" said Ashe, coming up to her gayly, both hands out-stretched.
"Ask me nothing, dear. Kitty has been a silly child--but things will go
better now. And as for the Parhams--what does it matter?--come and help
me send them to the deuce!"

Lady Tranmore recoiled. For once the good-humor of that handsome
face--pale as the face was--seemed to her an offence--nay, a disgrace.
That what had happened had been no mere _contretemps_, no mere accident
of trains and coaches, was plain enough from Kitty's eyes--from all that
William did _not_ say, no less than from what he said. And still this
levity!--this inconceivable levity! Was it true, as she knew was said,
that William had no high sense of honor, that he failed in delicacy and
dignity?

In reality, it was the same cry as the Dean's--upon another and smaller
occasion. But in this case it was unspoken. Lady Tranmore dropped into a
chair, one hand abandoned to her son, the other hiding her face. He
talked fast and tenderly, asking her help--neither of them quite knew
for what--her advice as to the move to Haggart--and so forth. Lady
Tranmore said little. But it was a bitter silence; and if Ashe himself
failed in indignation, his mother's protesting heart supplied it amply.



PART III

DEVELOPMENT


"Es bildet ein Talent sich in der Stille, Sich ein Character in dem
Strom, der Welt."



XIV


"What does Lady Kitty do with herself here?" said Darrell, looking round
him. He had just arrived from town on a visit to the Ashes, to find the
Haggart house and garden completely deserted, save for Mrs. Alcot, who
was lounging in solitude, with a cigarette and a novel, on the wide lawn
which surrounded the house on three sides.

As he spoke he lifted a chair and placed it beside her, under one of the
cedars which made deep shade upon the grass.

"She plays at Lady Bountiful," said Mrs. Alcot. "She doesn't do it well,
but--"

"--The wonder is, in Johnsonian phrase, that she should do it at all.
Anything else?"

"I understand--she is writing a book--a novel."

Darrell threw back his head and laughed long and silently.

"Il ne manquait que cela," he said--"that Lady Kitty should take to
literature!"

Mrs. Alcot looked at him rather sharply.

"Why not? We frivolous people are a good deal cleverer than you think."

The languid arrogance of the lady's manner was not at all unbecoming.
Darrell made an inclination.

"No need to remind me, madam!" A recent exhibition at an artistic club
of Mrs. Alcot's sketches had made a considerable mark. "Very soon you
will leave us poor professionals no room to live."

The slight disrespect of his smile annoyed his companion, but the day
was hot and she had no repartee ready. She only murmured as she threw
away her cigarette:

"Kitty is much disappointed in the village."

"They are greater brutes than she thought?"

"Quite the contrary. There are no poachers--and no murders. The girls
prefer to be married, and the Tranmores give so much away that no one
has the smallest excuse for starvation. Kitty gets nothing out of them
whatever."

"In the way of literary material?"

Mrs. Alcot nodded.

"Last week she was so discouraged that she was inclined to give up
fiction and take to journalism."

"Heavens! Political?"

"Oh, _la haute politique_, of course."

"H'm. The wives of cabinet ministers have often inspired articles. I
don't remember an instance of their writing them."

"Well, Kitty is inclined to try."

"With Ashe's sanction?"

"Goodness, no! But Kitty, as you are aware"--Mrs. Alcot threw a prudent
glance to right and left--"goes her own way. She believes she can be of
great service to her husband's policy."

Darrell's lip twitched.

"If you were in Ashe's position, would you rather your wife neglected or
supported your political interests?"

Mrs. Alcot shrugged her shoulders.

"Kitty made a considerable mess of them last year."

"No doubt. She forgot they existed. But I think if I were Ashe, I should
be more afraid of her remembering. By-the-way--the glass here seems to
be at 'Set Fair'?"

His interrogative smile was not wholly good-natured. But mere
benevolence was not what the world asked of Philip Darrell--even in the
case of his old friends.

"Astonishing!" said Mrs. Alcot, with lifted brows. "Kitty is immensely
proud of him--and immensely ambitious. That, of course, accounts for
Lord Parham's visit."

"Lord Parham!" cried Darrell, bounding on his seat. "Lord
Parham!--coming here?"

"He arrives to-morrow. On his way from Scotland--to Windsor."

Mrs. Alcot enjoyed the effect of her communication on her companion. He
sat open-mouthed, evidently startled out of all self-command.

"Why, I thought that Lady Kitty--"

"Had vowed vengeance? So, in a sense, she has. It is understood that she
and Lady Parham don't meet, except--"

"On formal occasions, and to take in the groundlings," said Darrell, too
impatient to let her finish her sentence. "Yes, that I gathered. But you
mean that _Lord_ Parham is to be allowed to make his peace?"

Madeleine Alcot lay back and laughed.

"Kitty wishes to try her hand at managing him."

Darrell joined her in mirth. The notion of the white-haired,
bullet-headed, shrewd, and masterful man who at that moment held the
Premiership of England managed by Kitty, or any other daughter of
Eve--always excepting his wife--must needs strike those who had the
slightest acquaintance with Lord Parham as a delicious absurdity.

Suddenly Darrell checked himself, and bent forward.

"Where--if I may ask--is the poet?"

"Geoffrey? Somewhere in the Balkans, isn't he?--making a revolution."

Darrell nodded.

"I remember. They say he is with the revolutionary committee at
Marinitza. Meanwhile there is a new volume of poems out--to-day," said
Darrell, glancing at a newspaper thrown down beside him.

"I have seen it. The 'portrait' at the end--"

"Is Lady Kitty." They spoke under their breaths.

"Unmistakable, I think," said Kitty's best friend. "As poetry, it seems
to me the best thing in the book, but the audacity of it!" She raised
her eyebrows in a half-unwilling, half-contemptuous admiration.

"Has she seen it?"

Mrs. Alcot replied that she had not noticed any copy in the house, and
that Kitty had not spoken of it, which, given the Kitty-nature, she
probably would have done, had it reached her.

Then they both fell into reverie, from which Darrell emerged with the
remark:

"I gather that last year some very important person interfered?"

This opened another line of gossip, in which, however, Mrs. Alcot showed
herself equally well informed. It was commonly reported, at any rate,
that the old Duke of Morecambe, the head of Lady Eleanor Cliffe's
family, the great Tory evangelical of the north, who was a sort of
patriarch in English political and aristocratic life, had been induced
by some undefined pressure to speak very plainly to his kinsman on the
subject of Lady Kitty Ashe. Cliffe had expectations from the duke which
were not to be trifled with. He had, accordingly, swallowed the lecture,
and, after the loss of his election, had again left England with an
important newspaper commission to watch events in the Balkans.

"May he stay there!" said Darrell. "Of course, the whole thing was
absurdly exaggerated."

"Was it?" said Mrs. Alcot, coolly. "Kitty richly deserved most of what
was said." Then--on his start--"Don't misunderstand me, of course. If
twenty actions for divorce were given against Kitty, I should believe
nothing--_nothing_!" The words were as emphatic as voice and gesture
could make them. "But as for the tales that people who hate her tell of
her, and will go on telling of her--"

"They are merely the harvest of what she has sown?"

"Naturally. Poor Kitty!"

Madeleine Alcot rested her thin cheek on a still frailer hand and looked
pensively out into the darkness of the cedars. Her tone was neither
patronizing nor unkind; rather, the shade of ironic tenderness which it
expressed suited the subject, and that curious intimacy which had of
late sprung up between herself and Darrell. She had begun, as we have
seen, by treating him _de haut en bas_. He had repaid her with manner of
the same type; in this respect he was a match for any Archangel. Then
some accident--perhaps the publication by the man of a volume of essays
which expressed to perfection his acid and embittered talent--perhaps a
casual meeting at a northern country-house, where the lady had found the
man of letters her only resource amid a crowd of uncongenial
nonentities--had shown them their natural compatibility. Both were in a
secret revolt against circumstance and their own lives; but whereas the
reasons for the man's attitude--his jealousies, defeats, and
ambitions--were fairly well understood by the woman, he was almost as
much in the dark about her as when their friendship began.

He knew her husband slightly--an eager, gifted fellow, of late years a
strong High Churchman, and well known in a certain group as the friend
of Mrs. Armagh, that muse--fragile, austere, and beautiful--of several
great men, and great Christians, among the older generation. Mrs. Alcot
had her own intimates, generally men; but she tired of them and changed
them often. Mr. Alcot spent part of every year within reach of the
Cornish home of Mrs. Armagh; and during that time his wife made her
round of visits.

Meanwhile her thin lips were sealed as to her own affairs. Certainly she
made the impression of an unhappy woman, and Darrell was convinced of
some tragic complication. But neither he nor any one of whom he had yet
inquired had any idea what it might be.

"By-the-way--where is Lady Kitty?--and are there many people here?"

Darrell turned, as he spoke, to scrutinize the house and its approaches.
Haggart Hall was a large and commonplace mansion, standing in the midst
of spreading "grounds" and dull plantations, beyond which could be
sometimes seen the tall chimneys of neighboring coal-mines. It wore an
air of middle-class Tory comfort which brought a smile to Darrell's
countenance as he surveyed it.

"Kitty is at the Agricultural Show--with a party."

"Playing the great lady? _What_ a house!"

"Yes. Kitty abhors it. But it will do very well for the party
to-morrow."

"Half the county--that kind of thing?"

"_All_ the county--some royalties--and Lord Parham."

"Lord Parham being the end and aim? I thought I heard wheels."

Mrs. Alcot rose, and they strolled back towards the house.

"And the party?" resumed Darrell.

"Not particularly thrilling. Lord Grosville--"

"Also, I presume, _en garçon_."

Mrs. Alcot smiled.

"--the Manleys, Lady Tranmore, Miss French, the Dean of Milford and his
wife, Eddie Helston--"

"That, I understand, is Lady Kitty's undergraduate adorer?"

"It's no use talking to you--you know all the gossip. And some county
big-wigs, whose names I can't remember--come to dinner to-night." Mrs.
Alcot stifled a yawn.

"I am very curious to see how Ashe takes his triumph," said Darrell, as
they paused half-way.

"He is just the same. No!" said Madeleine Alcot, correcting
herself--"no--not quite. He _meant_ to triumph, and he _knows_ that he
has done so."

"My dear lady!" cried Darrell--"a quite _enormous_ difference! Ashe
never took stock of himself or his prospects in his life before."

"Well, now--you will find he takes stock of a good many things."

"Including Lady Kitty?"

His companion smiled.

"He won't let her interfere again."

"_L'homme propose_," said Darrell. "You mean he has grown ambitious?"

Mrs. Alcot seemed to find it difficult to cope with these high things.
Fanning herself, she languidly supposed that the English political
passion, so strong and unspent still in the aristocratic families, had
laid serious hold at last on William Ashe. He had great schemes of
reform, and, do what he might to conceal it, his heart was in them. His
wife, therefore, was no longer his occupation, but--

Mrs. Alcot hesitated for a word.

"Scarcely his repose?" laughed Darrell.

"I really won't discuss Kitty any more," said Mrs. Alcot, impatiently.
"Here they are! Hullo! What has Kitty got hold of now?"

Three carriages were driving up the long approach, one behind the other.
In the first sat Kitty, a figure beside her in the dress of a nurse, and
opposite to them both an indistinguishable bundle, which presently
revealed a head. The carriage drew up at the steps. Kitty jumped down,
and she and the nurse lifted the bundle out. Footmen appeared; some
guests from the next carriage went to help; there was a general movement
and agitation, in the midst of which Kitty and her companions
disappeared into the house.

Lady Edith Manley and Lord Grosville began to cross the lawn.

"What is the matter?" asked Mrs. Alcot, as they converged.

"Kitty ran over a boy," said Lord Grosville, in evident annoyance. "The
rascal hadn't a scratch, but Kitty must needs pick him up and drive him
home with a nurse. 'I ain't hurt, mum,' says the boy. 'Oh! but you must
be,' said Kitty. I offered to take him to his mother and give him half a
crown. 'It's my duty to look after him,' says Kitty. And she lifted him
up herself--dirty little vagabond!--and put him in the carriage. There
were some laborers and grooms standing near, and one of them sang out,
'Three cheers for Lady Kitty Ashe!' Such a ridiculous scene as you never
saw!"

The old man shrugged his shoulders contemptuously.

"Lady Kitty is always so kind," said the amicable Lady Edith. "But her
pretty dress--I _was_ sorry!"

"Oh no--only an excuse for a new one," said Mrs. Alcot.

The Dean and Lady Tranmore approached--behind them again Ashe and Mrs.
Winston.

"Well, old fellow!" said Ashe, clapping a hand on Darrell's shoulder.
"Uncommonly glad to see you. You look as though that damned London had
been squeezing the life out of you. Come for a stroll before dinner?"

The two men accordingly left the talkers on the lawn, and struck into
the park. Ashe, in a straw hat and light suit, made his usual impression
of strength and good-humor. He was gay, friendly, amusing as ever. But
Darrell was not long in discovering or imagining signs of change. Any
one else would have thought Ashe's talk frankness--nay,
indiscretion--itself. Darrell at once divined or imagined in it shades
of official reserve, tracts of reticence, such as an old friend had a
right to resent.

"One can see what a personage he feels himself!"

Yet Darrell would have been the first to own that Ashe had some right to
feel himself a personage. The sudden revelation of his full intellectual
power, and of his influence in the country, for which the general
election of the preceding winter had provided the opportunity, was still
an exciting memory among journalists and politicians. He had gone into
the election a man slightly discredited, on whose future nobody took
much trouble to speculate. He had emerged from it--after a series of
speeches laying down the principles and vindicating the action of his
party--one of the most important men in England, with whom Lord Parham
himself must henceforth treat on quasi-equal terms. Ashe was now Home
Secretary, and, if Lord Parham's gout should take an evil turn, there
was no saying to what height fortune might not soon conduct him.

The will--the iron purpose--with which it had all been done--that was
the amazing part of it. The complete independence, moreover. Darrell
imagined that Lord Parham must often have regretted the small intrigue
by which Ashe's promotion had been barred in the crisis of the summer.
It had roused an indolent man to action, and freed him from any
particular obligation towards the leader who had ill-treated him. Ashe's
campaign had not been in all respects convenient; but Lord Parham had
had to put up with it.

The summer evening broadened as the two men sauntered on through the
park, beside a small stream fringed with yellow flags. Even the dingy
Midland landscape, with its smoke-blackened woods and lifeless grass,
assumed a glory of great light; the soft, interlacing clouds parted
before the dying sun; the water received the golden flood, and each coot
and water-hen shone jet and glossy in the blaze. A few cries of birds,
the distant shouts of harvesters, the rustling of the water-flags along
the stream, these were the only sounds--traditional sounds of English
peace.

"Jolly, isn't it?" said Ashe, looking round him--"even this spoiled
country! Why did we go and stifle in that beastly show!"

The sensuous pleasure and relaxation of his mood communicated itself to
Darrell. They talked more intimately, more freely than they had done for
months. Darrell's gnawing consciousness of his own meaner fortunes, as
contrasted with the brilliant and expanding career of his school-friend,
softened and relaxed. He almost forgave Ashe the successes of the
winter, and that subtly heightened tone of authority and self-confidence
which here and there bore witness to them in the manner or talk of the
minister. They scarcely touched on politics, however. Both were tired,
and their talk drifted into the characteristic male gossip--"What's ----
doing now?" "Do you ever see So-and-so?" "You remember that fellow at
Univ.?"--and the like, to the agreeable accompaniment of Ashe's best
cigars.

So pleasant was the half-hour, so strongly had the old college intimacy
reasserted itself, that suddenly a thought struck upward in Darrell's
mind. He had not come to Haggart bent merely on idle holiday--far from
it. At the moment he was weary of literature as a profession, and
sharply conscious that the time for vague ambitions had gone by. A post
had presented itself, a post of importance, in the gift of the Home
Office. It meant, no doubt, the abandonment of more brilliant things;
Darrell was content to abandon them. His determination to apply for it
seemed, indeed, to himself an act of modesty--almost of sacrifice. As to
the technical qualifications required, he was well aware there might be
other men better equipped than himself. But, after all, to what may not
general ability aspire--general ability properly stiffened with
interest?

And as to interest, when was it ever to serve him if not now--through
his old friendship with Ashe? Chivalry towards a much-solicited mortal,
also your friend--even the subtler self-love--might have counselled
silence--or at least approaches more gradual. It had been far from his
purpose, indeed, to speak so promptly. But here were the hour and the
man! And there, in a distant country town, a woman--whereof the mere
existence was unsuspected by Darrell's country-house acquaintance--sat
waiting, in whose eyes the post in question loomed as a
condition--perhaps indispensable. Darrell's secret eagerness could not
withstand the temptation.

So, with a nervous beginning--"By-the-way, I wished to consult you about
a personal matter. Of course, answer or not, as you like. Naturally, I
understand the difficulties!"--the plunge was taken, and the petitioner
soon in full career.

After a first start--a lifted brow of astonishment--Ashe was
uncomfortably silent--till suddenly, in a pause of Darrell's eloquence,
his face changed, and with a burst of his old, careless freedom and
affection, he flung an arm along Darrell's shoulder, with an impetuous--

"I say, old fellow--don't--don't be a damned fool!"

An ashen white overspread the countenance of the man thus addressed. His
lips twitched. He walked on in silence. Ashe looked at him--stammered:

"Why, my dear Philip, it would be the extinguishing of you!"

Darrell said nothing. Ashe, still holding his friend captive, descanted
hurriedly on the disadvantages of the post "for a man of your gifts,"
then--more cautiously--on its special requirements, not one of which did
Darrell possess--hinted at the men applying for it, at the scientific
and professional influences then playing upon himself, at his strong
sense of responsibility--"Too bad, isn't it, that a duffer like me
should have to decide these things"--and so on.

In vain. Darrell laughed, recovered himself, changed the subject; but as
they walked quickly back to the house, Ashe knew, perchance, that he had
lost a friend; and Darrell's smarting soul had scored another reckoning
against a day to come.

       *       *       *       *       *

As they neared the house they found a large group still lingering on the
lawn, and Kitty just emerging from a garden door. She came out
accompanied by the handsome Cambridge lad who had been her partner at
Lady Crashaw's dance. He was evidently absorbed in her society, and they
approached in high spirits, laughing and teasing each other.

"Well, Kitty, how's the bruised one?" said Ashe, as he sank into a chair
beside Mrs. Alcot.

"Doing finely," said Kitty. "I shall send him home to-night."

"Meanwhile, have you put him up in my dressing-room? I only ask for
information."

"There wasn't another corner," said Kitty.

"There!" Ashe appealed to gods and men. "How do you expect me to dress
for dinner?"

"Oh, now, William, don't be tiresome!" said Kitty, impatiently. "He was
bruised black and blue"--("Serve him right for getting in the way,"
grumbled Lord Grosville)--"and nurse and I have done him up in arnica."

She came to stand by Ashe, talking in an undertone and as fast as
possible. The little Dean, who never could help watching her, thought
her more beautiful--and wilder--than ever. Her eyes--it was hardly
enough to say they shone--they glittered--in her delicate face; her
gestures were more extravagant than he remembered them; her movements
restlessness itself.

Ashe listened with patience--then said:

"I can't help it, Kitty--you really must have him removed."

"Impossible!" she said, her cheek flaming.

"I'll go and talk to Wilson; he'll manage it," said Ashe, getting up.

Kitty pursued him, arguing incessantly.

He lounged along, turning every now and then to look at her, smiling and
demurring, his hat on the back of his head.

"You see the difference," said Mrs. Alcot, in Darrell's ear. "Last year
Kitty would have got her way. This year she won't."

Darrell shrugged his shoulders.

"These domesticities should be kept out of sight, don't you think?"

Madeleine Alcot looked at him curiously.

"Did you have a pleasant walk?" she said.

Darrell made a little face.

"The great man was condescending."

Madeleine Alcot's face was still interrogative.

"A touch of the _folie des grandeurs?_"

"Well, who escapes it?" said Darrell, bitterly.

       *       *       *       *       *

Most of the party had dispersed. Only Lady Tranmore and Margaret French
were on the lawn. Margaret was writing some household notes for Kitty;
Lady Tranmore sat in meditation, with a book before her which she was
not reading. Miss French glanced at her from time to time. Ashe's mother
was beginning to show the weight of years far more plainly than she had
yet done. In these last three years the face had perceptibly altered; so
had the hair. The long strain of nursing, and that pathetic change which
makes of the husband who has been a woman's pride and shelter her
half-conscious dependent, had, no doubt, left deep marks upon a beauty
which had so long resisted time. And yet Margaret French believed it was
rather with her son than with her husband that the constant and wearing
anxiety of Lady Tranmore's life should be connected. All the ambition,
the pride of race and history which had been disappointed in her husband
had poured themselves into her devotion to her son. She lived now for
his happiness and success. And both were constantly threatened by the
personality and the presence of Kitty.

Such, at least, as Margaret French well knew, was the inmost
persuasion--fast becoming a fanaticism--of Ashe's mother. William might,
indeed, for the moment have triumphed over the consequences of Kitty's
bygone behavior. But the reckless, untamed character was there still at
his side, preparing Heaven knew what pitfalls and catastrophes. Lady
Tranmore lived in fear. And under the outward sweetness and dignity of
her manner was there not developing something worse than fear--that
hatred which is one of the strange births of love?

If so, was it just? There were many moments when Margaret would have
indignantly denied it.

It was true, indeed, that Kitty's eccentricity seemed to develop with
every month that passed. The preceding winter had been marked, first by
a mad folly of table-turning--involving the pursuit of a particular
medium whose proceedings had ultimately landed him in the dock; then by
a headlong passion for hunting, accompanied by a series of new
flirtations, each more unseemly than its predecessor, as it seemed to
Lady Tranmore. Afterwards--during the general election--a political
phase! Kitty had most unfortunately discovered that she could speak in
public, and had fallen in love with the sound of her own voice. In
Ashe's own contest, her sallies and indiscretions had already begun to
do mischief when Lady Tranmore had succeeded in enticing her to London
by the bait of a French _clairvoyante_, with whom Kitty nightly tempted
the gods who keep watch over the secrets of fate--till William's poll
had been declared.

All this was deplorably true. And yet no one could say that Kitty in
this checkered year had done her husband much harm. Ashe was no longer
her blind slave; and his career had carried him to heights with which
even his mother might have been satisfied. Sometimes Margaret was
inclined to think that Kitty had now less influence with him and his
mother more than was the just due of each. She--the younger woman--felt
the tragedy of Ashe's new and growing emancipation. Secretly--often--she
sided with Kitty!

       *       *       *       *       *

"Margaret!"

The voice was Kitty's. She came running out, her pale-pink skirts flying
round her. "Have you seen the babe?"

Margaret replied that he and his nurse were just in sight.

Kitty fled over the lawn to meet the child's perambulator. She lifted
him out, and carried him in her arms towards Margaret and Lady Tranmore.

"Isn't it piteous?" said Margaret, under her breath, as the mother and
child approached. Lady Tranmore gave her a sad, assenting look.

For during the last six months the child had shown signs of brain
mischief--a curious apathy, broken now and then by fits of temper. The
doctors were not encouraging. And Kitty varied between the most
passionate attempts to rouse the child's failing intelligence and
days--even weeks--when she could hardly bring herself to see him at all.

She brought him now to a seat beside Lady Tranmore. She had been trying
to make him take notice of a new toy. But the child looked at her with
blank and glassy eyes, and the toy fell from his hand.

"He hardly knows me," said Kitty, in a low voice of misery, as she
clasped her hands round the baby of three, and looked into his face, as
though she would drag from it some sign of mind and recognition.

But the blue eyes betrayed no glimmer of response, till suddenly, with a
gesture as of infinite fatigue, the child threw itself back against her,
laying its fair head upon her breast with a long sigh.

Kitty gave a sob, and bent over him, kissing--and kissing him.

"Dear Kitty!" said Lady Tranmore, much moved. "I think--partly--he is
tired with the heat."

Kitty shook her head.

"Take him!" she said to the nurse--"take him! I can't bear it."

The nurse took him from her, and Kitty dried her tears with a kind of
fierceness.

"There is the post!" she said, springing up, as though determined to
throw off her grief as quickly as possible, while the nurse carried the
child away.

The footman brought the letters across the lawn. There were some for
Lady Tranmore and for Margaret French. In the general opening and
reading that ensued, neither lady noticed Kitty for a while. Suddenly
Margaret French looked up. She saw Kitty sitting motionless with a book
on her lap, a book of which the wrapper lay on the grass beside her. Her
finger kept a page; her eyes, full of excitement, were fixed on the
distant horizon of the park; the hurried breathing was plainly
noticeable under the thin bodice.

"Kitty--time to dress!" said Margaret, touching her.

Kitty rose, without a word to either of them, and walked quickly away,
her hands, still holding the book, dropped in front of her, her eyes on
the ground.

"Oh, Kitty!" cried Margaret, in laughing protest, as she stooped to pick
up the litter of Kitty's letters, some of them still unopened, which lay
scattered on the grass, as they had fallen unheeded from her lap.

But the little figure in the trailing skirts was already out of hearing.

       *       *       *       *       *

At dinner Kitty was in her wildest spirits--a sparkling vision of
diamonds and lace, much beyond--so it seemed to Lord Grosville--what the
occasion required. "Dressed out like a comedy queen at a fair!" was his
inward comment, and he already rolled the phrases in which he should
describe the whole party to his wife. Like the expected Lord Parham, he
was there in sign of semi-reconciliation. Nothing would have induced
Kitty to invite her aunt; the memory of a certain Sunday was too strong.
On her side, Lady Grosville averred that nothing would have induced her
to sit at Kitty's board. As to this, her husband cherished a certain
scepticism. However, her resolution was not tried. It was Ashe, in fact,
who had invited Lord Grosville, and Lord Grosville, who was master in
his own house, and had no mind to break with William Ashe just as that
gentleman's company became even better worth having than usual, had
accepted the invitation.

But his patience was sorely tried by Kitty. After dinner she insisted on
table-turning, and Lord Grosville was dragged breathless through the
drawing-room window, in pursuit of a table that broke a chair and
finally danced upon a flower-bed. His theology was harassed by these
proceedings and his digestion upset. The Dean took it with smiles; but
then the Dean was a Latitudinarian.

Afterwards Kitty and the Cambridge boy--Eddie Helston--performed a
duologue in French for the amusement of the company. Whatever could be
understood in it had better not have been understood--such at least was
Lord Grosville's impression. He wondered how Ashe--who laughed
immoderately--could allow his wife to do such things; and his only
consolation was that, for once, the Dean--whose fancy for Kitty was
ridiculous!--seemed to be disturbed. He had at any rate walked away to
the library in the middle of the piece. Kitty was, of course, making a
fool of the boy all through. Any one could see that he was head over
ears in love with her. And she seemed to have all sorts of mysterious
understandings with him. Lord Grosville was certain they passed each
other notes, and made assignations. And one night, on going up himself
to bed very late, he had actually come upon the pair pacing up and down
the long passage after midnight!--Kitty in such a _negligée_ as only an
actress should wear, with her hair about her ears--and the boy out of
his wits and off his balance, as any one could see. Kitty, indeed, had
been quite unabashed--trying even to draw _him_ into their unseemly talk
about some theatrical nonsense or other; and such blushes as there were
had been entirely left to the boy.

He supposed there was no harm in it. The lad was not a Geoffrey Cliffe,
and it was no doubt Kitty's mad love of excitement which impelled her
to these defiances of convention. But Ashe should put his foot down;
there was no knowing with a creature so wild and so lovely where these
things might end. And after the scandal of last year--

As to that scandal, Lord Grosville, as a man of the world, by no means
endorsed the lurid imaginations of his wife. Kitty and Cliffe had
certainly behaved badly at Grosville Park--that is to say, judged by any
ordinary standards. And the gossip of the season had apparently gathered
and culminated round some incident of a graver character than the
rest--though nobody precisely knew what it might be. But it seemed that
Ashe had at last asserted himself; and if in Kitty's abrupt departure to
the country, and the sudden dissolution of the intimacy between herself
and Cliffe, those who loved her not had read what dark things they
pleased, her uncle by marriage was quite content to see in it a mere
disciplinary act on the part of the husband.

Lord Grosville believed that some rumors as to Cliffe's private
character had entered into the decisive defeat--in a constituency
largely Nonconformist--which had befallen that gentleman at the polls.
Poor Lady Tranmore! He saw her anxieties in her face, and was truly
sorry for her. At the same time, inveterate gossip that he was, he
regarded her with a kind of hunger. If she only _would_ talk things over
with him! So far, however, she had given him very little opening. If she
ever did, he would certainly advise her to press something like a
temporary separation on her son. Why should not Lady Kitty be left at
Haggart when the next session began? Lord Grosville, who had been a
friend of Melbourne's, recalled the early history of that great man.
When Lady Caroline Lamb had become too troublesome to a political
husband, she had been sent to Brocket. And then Mr. Lamb was only Irish
Secretary--without a seat in the cabinet. How was it possible to take an
important share in steering the ship of state, and to look after a giddy
wife at the same time?

       *       *       *       *       *

Ashe and his guests lingered late below-stairs. When, somewhere about
one o'clock, he entered his dressing-room, he was suddenly alarmed by a
smell of burning. It seemed to come from Kitty's room. He knocked
hastily at her door.

"Kitty!"

No answer. He opened the door, and stood arrested.

The room was in complete darkness save for some weird object in the
centre of it, on which a fire was burning, sending up a smoke which hung
about the room. Ashe recognized an old Spanish brazier of beaten copper,
standing on iron feet, which had been a purchase of his own in days when
he trifled with _bric-à-brac_. Upon it, a heap of some light material,
which fluttered and crackled as it burned, was blazing and smoking away,
while beside it--her profile set and waxen amid the drifts of smoke, her
fair hair blanched to whiteness by the strange illumination from below,
and all her slight form, checkered with the light and shade of the fire,
drawn into a curve of watchfulness, vindictive and intent--stood Kitty.

"What in the name of fortune are you doing, Kitty?" cried Ashe.

She made no answer, and he approached. Then he saw that in the centre
of the pile, and propped up against some small pieces of wood, a
photograph of Geoffrey Cliffe was consuming slow and dismally. The fire
had just sent a line across his cheek. The lower limbs were already
charred, and the right hand was shrivelling.

All around were letters, mostly consumed; while at the top of the pile
above the culprit's head, stuck in a cleft stick, and just beginning to
be licked by the flames, was what seemed to be a leaf torn out of a
book. The book from which it had apparently been wrenched lay open on a
chair near.

Kitty drew a long breath as Ashe came near her.

"Keep off!" she said--"don't touch it!"

"You little goose!" cried Ashe--"what are you about?"

"Burning a coward in effigy," said Kitty, between her teeth.

Ashe thrust his hands into his pockets.

"I wish to God you'd forget the creature, instead of flattering him with
these attentions!"

Kitty made no reply, but as she drew the fire together Ashe captured her
hand.

"What's he been doing now, Kitty?"

"There are his poems," said Kitty, pointing to the chair. "The last one
is about me."

"May I be allowed to see it?"

"It isn't there."

"Ah! I see. You've topped the pile with it. With your leave, I'll delay
its doom." He snatched the leaf from its stick, and bending down read it
by the light of the burning paper. Kitty watched him, frowning, her hand
on her hip, the white wrap she wore over her night-dress twining round
her in close folds a slender, brooding sorceress, some Canidia or
Simaetha, interrupted in her ritual of hate.

But Ashe was in no mood for literary reminiscence. His lip was
contemptuous, his brow angry as he replaced the leaf in its cleft stick,
whither the flames immediately pursued it.

"Wretched stuff, and damned impertinence!--that's all there is to say.
For Heaven's sake, Kitty, don't let any one suppose you mind the
thing--for an instant!"

She looked at him with strange eyes. "But if I do mind it?"

His face darkened to the shade of hers. "Does that mean--that you still
think of him--still wish to see him?"

"I don't know," said Kitty, slowly. The fire had died away. Nothing but
a few charred remnants remained in the brazier. Ashe lit the gas, and
disclosed a tragic Kitty, flushed by the audacity of her last remark. He
took her masterfully in his arms.

"That was bravado," he said, kissing her. "You love _me_! And I may be a
poor stick, but I'm worth a good many Cliffes. Defy me--and I'll write
you a better poem, too!"

The color leaped afresh in Kitty's cheek. She pushed him away, and,
holding him, perused his handsome, scornful face, and all the manly
strength of form and attitude. Her own lids wavered.

"What a silly scene!" she said, and fell--a little, soft, yielding
form--into his arms.



XV


The church clock of Haggart village had just struck half-past six. A
white, sunny mist enwrapped the park and garden. Voices and shouts rang
through the mist; little could yet be seen, but the lawns and the park
seemed to be pervaded with bustle and preparation, and every now and
then as the mist drifted groups of workmen could be distinguished,
marquees emerged, flags floated, and carts laden with benches and
trestle-tables rumbled slowly over the roads and tracks of the park.

The house itself was full of gardeners, arranging banks of magnificent
flowers in the hall and drawing-rooms, and superintended by the head
gardener, a person of much greater dignity than Ashe himself, who swore
at any underling making a noise, as though the slumbers of the "quality"
in the big house overhead and the danger of disturbing them were the
dearest interests of a burdened life.

As to the mistress of the house, at any rate, there was no need for
caution. The clocks of the house had barely followed the church clock in
striking the half-hour when the workmen on the ground floor saw Lady
Kitty come down-stairs and go through the drawing-room window into the
garden. There she gave her opinion on the preparations, pushing on
afterwards into the park, where she astounded the various contractors
and their workmen by her appearance at such an hour, and by the vigor
and decision of her orders. Finally she left the park behind, just as
its broad, scorched surfaces began everywhere to shake off the mist, and
entered one of the bordering woods.

She had a basket on her arm, and, when she had found for herself a mossy
seat amid the roots of a great oak, she unpacked it. It contained a mass
of written pages, some fresh scribbling-paper, ink and pens, and a small
portfolio. When they were all lying on the moss beside her, Kitty turned
over the sheets with a loving hand, reading here and there.

"It is good!" she said to herself. "I vow it is!"

Dipping her pen in the ink, she began upon corrections. The sun filtered
through the thick leafage overhead, touching her white dress, her small
shoes, and the masses of her hair. She wore a Leghorn garden-hat, tied
with pink ribbons under her chin, and in her morning freshness and
daintiness she looked about seventeen. The hours of sleep had calmed the
restlessness of the wide, brown eyes; they were full now of gentleness
and mirth.

"I wonder if he'll come?"

She looked up and listened. And as she did so, her eyes and sense were
seized with the beauty of the wood. The mystery of early solitary hours
seemed to be still upon it; both in the sunlight and the shadow there
was a magic unknown to the later day. In a clearing before her spread a
lake of willow-herb, of a pure bright pink, hemmed in by a golden shore
of ragwort. The splash of color gave Kitty a passionate delight.

"Dear, dear world!" She stretched out her hands to it in a childish
greeting.

Then the joy died sharply from her eyes. "How many years left--to enjoy
it in--before one dies--or one's heart dies?"

Invariably, now, her moments of sensuous pleasure ended in this dread of
something beyond--of a sudden drowning of beauty and delight--of a
future unknown and cruel, coming to meet her, like some armed assassin
in a narrow path.

William! When it came could William save her? "William is a _darling_!"
she said to herself, her face full of yearning.

As for that other--it gave her an intense pleasure to think of the
flames creeping up the form and face of the photograph. Should she hear,
perhaps, in a week or two that he had been seized with some mysterious
illness, like the witch-victims of old? A shiver ran through her, a
thrill of repentance--till the bitter lines of the poem came back to
memory--lines describing a woman with neither the courage for sin nor
the strength for virtue, a "light woman" indeed, whom the great passions
passed eternally by, whom it was a humiliation to court and a mere
weakness to regret. Then she laughed, and began again with passionate
zest upon the sheets before her.

A sound of approaching footsteps on the wood-path. She half rose,
smiling.

The branches parted, and Darrell appeared. He paused to survey the oread
vision of Lady Kitty.

"Am I not to the minute?" He held up his watch in front of her.

"So you got my note?"

"Certainly. I was immensely flattered." He threw himself down on the
moss beside her, his sallow, long-chinned face and dark eyes toned to a
morning cheerfulness, his dress much fresher and more exact than usual.
"But he is one of the men who look so much better in their old clothes!"
thought Kitty.

"Well, what can I do for you, Lady Kitty?" he resumed, smiling.

"I wanted your advice," said Kitty--not altogether sure, now that he was
there beside her, that she did want it.

"About your literary work?"

She threw him a quick glance.

"Do you know? How do you know? I have been writing a book!"

"So I imagined--"

"And--and--" She broke now into eagerness, bending forward, "I want you
to help me get it published. It is a deadly secret. Nobody knows--"

"Not even William?"

"No one," she repeated. "And I can't tell you about it, or show you a
line of it, unless you vow and swear to me--"

"Oh! I swear," said Darrell, tranquilly--"I swear."

Kitty looked at him doubtfully a moment--then resumed:

"I have written it at all sorts of times--when William was away--in the
middle of the night--out in the woods. _Nobody_ knows. You see"--her
little fingers plucked at the moss--"I have a good many advantages. If
people want 'Society' with a big S, I can give it them!"

"Naturally," said Darrell.

"And it always amuses people--doesn't it?"

Kitty clasped her hands round her knees and looked at him with candor.

"Does it?" said Darrell. "It has been done a good deal."

"Oh, of course," said Kitty, impatiently, "mine's not the proper thing.
You don't imagine I should try and write like Thackeray, do you? Mine's
_real_ people--_real_ things that happened--with just the names
altered."

"Ah!" said Darrell, sitting up--"that sounds exciting. Is it libellous?"

"Well, that's just what I want to know," said Kitty, slowly. "Of course,
I've made a kind of story out of it. But you'd have to be a great fool
not to guess. I've put myself in, and--"

"And Ashe?"

Kitty nodded. "All the novels that are written about politics
nowadays--except Dizzy's--are such nonsense, aren't they? I just wanted
to describe--from the inside--how a real statesman"--she threw up her
head proudly--"lives, and what he does."

"Excellent subject," said Darrell. "Well--anybody else?"

Kitty flushed. "You'll see," she said, uncertainly.

Darrell's involuntary smile was hidden by a bunch of honeysuckle at
which he was sniffing. "May I look?" he asked, stretching out a hand for
the sheets.

She pushed them towards him, half unwilling, half eager, and he began to
turn them over. Apparently it had a thread of story--both slender and
extravagant. And on the thread--Hullo!--here was the fancy ball; he
pounced upon it. A portrait of Lady Parham--Ye powers! he chuckled as he
read. On the next page the Chancellor of the Exchequer--snub-nosed
_parvenu_ and Puritan--admirably caught. Further on a speech of Ashe's
in the House--with caricature to right and caricature to left ... Ah! the
poet!--at last! He bent over the page till Kitty coughed and fidgeted,
and he thought it best to hurry on. But it was war, he perceived--open,
undignified, feminine war. On the next page, the Archbishop of
Canterbury--with Lady Kitty's views on the Athanasian Creed! Heavens!
what a book! Next, Royalty itself, not too respectfully handled. Then
Ashe again--Ashe glorified, Ashe explained, Ashe intrigued against, and
Ashe triumphant--everywhere the centre of the stage, and everywhere, of
course, all unknown to the author, the fool of the piece. Political
indiscretions also, of the most startling kind, as coming from the wife
of a cabinet minister. Allusions, besides, scattered broadcast, to the
scandals of the day--material as far as he could see for a dozen libel
actions. And with it all, much fantastic ability, flashes of wit and
romance, enough to give the book wings beyond its first personal
audience--enough, in fact, to secure to all its scandalous matter the
widest possible chance of fame.

"Well!"

He rolled over on his elbows, and lay staring at the sheets before
him--dumb. What was he to say?

A thought struck him. As far as he could perceive, there was an empty
niche.

"And Lord Parham?"

A smile of mischief broadened on Kitty's lips.

"That'll come," she said--and checked herself. Darrell bowed his face on
his hands and laughed, unseen. To what sacrificial rite was the
unconscious victim hurrying--at that very moment--in the express train
which was to land him at Haggart Station that afternoon?

"Well!" said Kitty, impatiently--"what do you think? Can you help me?"

Darrell looked up.

"You know, Lady Kitty, that book can't be published like that. Nobody
would risk it."

"Well, I suppose they'll tell me what to cut out."

"Yes," said Darrell, slowly, caught by many reflections--"no doubt some
clever fellow will know how near the wind it's possible to sail. But,
anyway, trim it as you like, the book will make a scandal."

"Will it?" Kitty's eyes flashed. She sat up radiant, her breath quick
and defiant.

"I don't see," he resumed, "how you can publish it without consulting
Ashe."

Kitty gave a cry of protest.

"No, no, _no_! Of course he'd disapprove. But then--he soon forgives a
thing, if he thinks it clever. And it is clever, isn't it?--some of it.
He'd laugh--and then it would be all right. _He'd_ never pay out his
enemies, but he couldn't help enjoying it if some one else did--could
he?" She pleaded like a child.

"'No need to forgive them,'" murmured Darrell, as he rolled over on his
back and put his hat over his eyes--"for you would have 'shot them
all.'"

Under the shelter of his hat he tried to think himself clear. What
_really_ were her motives? Partly, no doubt, a childish love of
excitement--partly revenge? The animus against the Parhams was clear in
every page. Cliffe, too, came badly out of it--a fantastic Byronic
mixture of libertine and cad. Lady Kitty had better beware! As far as
he knew, Cliffe had never yet been struck, with impunity to the striker.

If these precious sheets ever appeared, Ashe's position would certainly
be shaken. Poor wretch!--endeavoring to pursue a serious existence,
yoked to such an impish sprite as this! His own fault, after all. That
first night, at Madame d'Estrées', was not her madness written in her
eyes?

"Now tell me, Lady Kitty"--he roused himself to look at her with some
attention--"what do you want me to do?"

"To find me a publisher, and"--she stooped towards him with a laughing
shyness--"to get me some money."

"Money!"

"I've been so awfully extravagant lately," said Kitty, frankly.
"Something really will have to be done. And the book's worth some money,
isn't it?"

"A good deal," said Darrell. Then he added, with emphasis--"I really
can't be responsible for it in any way, Lady Kitty."

"Of course not. I will never, _never_ say I told you! But, you see, I'm
not literary--I don't know in the least how to set about it. If you
would just put me in communication?"

Darrell pondered. None of the well-known publishers, of course, would
look at it. But there were plenty of people who would--and give Lady
Kitty a large sum of money for it, too.

What part, however, could he--Darrell--play in such a transaction?

"I am bound to warn you," he said, at last, looking up, "that your
husband will probably strongly disapprove this book, and that it may do
him harm."

Kitty bit her lip.

"But if I tell nobody who wrote it--and you tell nobody?"

"Ashe would know at once. Everybody would know."

"William would know," his companion admitted, unwillingly. "But I don't
see why anybody else should. You see, I've put myself in--I've said the
most shocking things!"

Darrell replied that she would not find that device of much service to
her.

"However--I can no doubt get an opinion for you."

Kitty, all delight, thanked him profusely.

"You shall have the whole of it before you go--Friday, isn't it?" she
said, eagerly gathering it up.

Darrell was certainly conscious of no desire to burden himself with the
horrid thing. But he was rarely able to refuse the request of a pretty
and fashionable woman, and it flattered his conceit to be the sole
recipient of what might very well turn out to be a political secret of
some importance. Not that he meant to lay himself open to any just
reproach whatever in the matter. He would show it to some fitting
person--to pacify Lady Kitty--write a letter of strong protest to her
afterwards--and wash his hands of it. What might happen then was not his
business.

Meanwhile his inner mind was full of an acrid debate which turned
entirely upon his interview with Ashe of the day before. No doubt, as an
old friend, aware of Lady Kitty's excitable character, he might have
felt it his duty to go straight to Ashe, _coûte que coûte_, and warn
him of what was going on. But what encouragement had been given him to
play so Quixotic a part? Why should he take any particular thought for
Ashe's domestic peace, or Ashe's public place? What consideration had
Ashe shown for _him_? "Tu l'as voulu, Georges Dandin!"

So it ended in his promising to take the MS. to London with him, and let
Lady Kitty know the result of his inquiries. Kitty's dancing step as
they returned to the house betrayed the height of her spirits.

       *       *       *       *       *

A rumor flew round the house towards the middle of the day that Harry,
the little heir, was worse. Kitty did not appear at luncheon, and the
doctor was sent for. Before he came, it was known only to Margaret
French that Kitty had escaped by herself from the house and could not be
found. Ashe and Lady Tranmore saw the doctor, who prescribed, and would
not admit that there was any cause for alarm. The heat had tried the
child, and Lady Kitty--he looked round the nursery for her in some
perplexity--might be quite reassured.

Margaret found her, wandering in the park--very wild and pale--told her
the doctor's verdict, and brought her home. Kitty said little or
nothing, and was presently persuaded to change her dress for Lord
Parham's arrival. By the time the operation was over she was full as
usual of smiles and chatter, with no trace apparently of the mood which
had gone before.

Lord Parham found the house-party assembled on the lawn, with Kitty in a
three-cornered hat, fantastically garnished at the side with a great
plume of white cock's feathers, presiding at the tea-table.

"Ah!" thought the Premier, as he approached--"now for the tare in Ashe's
wheat!"

Nothing, however, could have been more gracious than Kitty's reception
of him, or more effusive than his response. He took his seat beside her,
a solid and impressive figure, no less closely observed by such of the
habitual guests of the political country-houses as happened to be
present, than by the sprinkling of local clergy and country neighbors to
whom Kitty was giving tea. Lord Parham, though now in the fourth year of
his Premiership, was still something of a mystery to his countrymen;
while for the inner circle it was an amusement and an event that he
should be seen without his wife.

For some time all went well. Kitty's manners and topics were alike
beyond reproach. When presently she inquired politely as to the success
of his Scottish tour, Lord Parham hoped he had not altogether disgraced
himself. But, thank Heaven, it was done. Meanwhile Ashe, he supposed,
had been enjoying the pursuits of a scholar and a gentleman?--lucky
fellow!

"He has been reading the Bible," said Kitty, carelessly, as she handed
cake. "Just now he's in the Acts. That's why, I suppose, he didn't hear
the carriage. John!" She called a footman. "Tell Mr. Ashe that Lord
Parham has arrived!"

The Premier opened astonished eyes.

"Does Ashe generally study the Scriptures of an afternoon?"

Kitty nodded--with her most confiding smile. "When he can. He says"--she
dropped her voice to a theatrical whisper--"the Bible is such a 'd----d
interesting' book!"

Lord Parham started in his seat. Ashe and some of his friends still
faintly recalled, in their too familiar and public use of this
particular naughty word, the lurid vocabulary of the Peel and Melbourne
generation. But in a lady's mouth the effect was prodigious. Lord
Grosville frowned sternly and walked away; Eddie Helston smothered a
burst of laughter; the Dean, startled, broke off a conversation with a
group of archaeological clergymen and came to see what he could do to
keep Lady Kitty in order; while Lady Tranmore flushed deeply, and began
a hasty conversation with Lady Edith Manley. Meanwhile Kitty,
quite unconscious, "went on cutting"--or rather, dispensing
"bread-and-butter"; and Lord Parham changed the subject.

"What a charming house!" he said, unwarily, waving his hand towards the
Haggart mansion. He was short-sighted, and, in truth, saw only that it
was big.

Kitty looked at him in wonder--a friendly and amiable wonder. She said
it was very kind of him to try and spare her feelings, but, really,
anybody might say what they liked of Haggart. She and William weren't
responsible.

Lord Parham, rather nettled, put on his eye-glass, and, being an
obstinate man, still maintained that he saw no reason at all to be
dissatisfied with Haggart, from the æsthetic point of view. Kitty said
nothing, but for the first time a gleam of mockery showed itself in her
changing look.

Lady Tranmore, always nervously on the watch, moved forward at this
point, and Lord Parham, with marked and pompous suavity, transferred his
conversation to her.

Thus assured, as he thought, of a good listener, and delivered from his
uncomfortable hostess, Lord Parham crossed his legs and began to talk at
his ease. The guests round the various tea-tables converged, some
standing and some sitting, and made a circle about the great man. About
Kitty, too, who sat, equally conspicuous, dipping a biscuit in milk, and
teasing her small dog with it. Lord Parham meanwhile described to Lady
Tranmore--at wearisome length--the demonstrations which had attended his
journey south, the railway-station crowds, addresses, and so forth. He
handled the topic in a tone of jocular humility, which but slightly
concealed the vast complacency beneath. Kitty's lip twitched; she fed
Ponto hastily with all possible cakes.

"No one, of course, can keep any count of what he says on these
occasions," resumed Lord Parham, with a gracious smile. "I hope I talked
some sense--"

"Oh, but why?" said Kitty, looking up, her large fawn's eyes bent on the
speaker.

"Why?" repeated Lord Parham, suddenly stiffening. "I don't follow you,
Lady Kitty."

"Anybody can talk sense!" said Kitty, throwing a big bit of muffin at
Ponto's nose. "It's the other thing that's hard--isn't it?"

"Lady Kitty," said the Dean, lifting a finger, "you are plagiarizing
from Mr. Pitt."

"Am I?" said Kitty. "I didn't know."

"I imagine that Mr. Pitt talked sense sometimes," said Lord Parham,
shortly.

"Ah, that was when he was drunk!" said Kitty. "Then he wasn't
responsible."

Lord Parham and the circle laughed--though the Premier's laugh was a
little dry and perfunctory.

"So you worship nonsense, Lady Kitty?"

Kitty nodded sweetly.

"And so does William. Ah, here he is!"

For Ashe appeared, hurrying over the lawn, and Lord Parham rose to greet
his host.

"Upon my word, Ashe, how well you look! _You_ have had some holiday!"

"Which is more than can be said of yourself," said Ashe, with smiling
sympathy. "Well!--how have the speeches gone? Is there anything left of
you? Edinburgh was magnificent!"

He wore his most radiant aspect as he sat down beside his guest; and
Kitty watching him, and already conscious of a renewed and excitable
dislike for her guest, thought William was overdoing it absurdly, and
grew still more restive.

The Premier brought the tips of his fingers lightly together, as he
resumed his seat.

"Oh! my dear fellow, people were very kind--too much so! Yes--I think it
did good--it did good. I should now rest and be thankful--if it weren't
for the Bishops!"

"The Bishops!" said the Rector of the parish standing near. "What have
the Bishops been doing, my lord?"

"Dying," said Kitty, as she fell into an attitude which commanded both
William and Lord Parham. "They do it on purpose."

"Another this morning!" said Ashe, throwing up his hands.

"Oh! they die to plague me," said the Prime Minister, with the air of
one on whom the universe weighs heavy. "There never was such a
conspiracy!"

"You should let William appoint them," said Kitty, leaning her chin upon
her hands and studying Lord Parham with eyes all the more brilliant for
the dark circles which fatigue, or something else, had drawn round them.

"Ah, to be sure!" said Lord Parham, affably. "I had forgotten that Ashe
was our theologian. Take me a walk before dinner!" he added, addressing
his host.

"But you won't take his advice," said Kitty, smiling.

The Premier turned rather sharply.

"How do you know that, Lady Kitty?"

Kitty hesitated--then said, with the prettiest, slightest laugh:

"Lady Parham has such strong views--hasn't she?--on Church questions!"

Lord Parham's feeling was that a more insidiously impertinent question
had never been put to him. He drew himself up.

"If she has, Lady Kitty, I can only say I know very little about them!
She very wisely keeps them to herself."

"Ah!" said Kitty, as her lovely eyebrows lifted, "that shows how little
people know."

"I don't quite understand," said Lord Parham. "To what do you allude,
Lady Kitty?"

Kitty laughed. She raised her eyes to the Rector, a spare High
Churchman, who had retreated uncomfortably behind Lady Tranmore.

"Some one--said to me last week--that Lady Parham had saved the
Church!"

The Prime Minister rose. "I must have a little exercise before dinner.
Your gardens, Ashe--is there time?"

Ashe, scarlet with discomfort and annoyance, carried his visitor off. As
he did so, he passed his wife. Kitty turned her little head, looked at
him half shyly, half defiantly. The Dean saw the look; saw also that
Ashe deliberately avoided it.

The party presently began to disperse. The Dean found himself beside his
hostess--strolling over the lawn towards the house. He observed her
attentively--vexed with her, and vexed for her! Surely she was thinner
than he had ever seen her. A little more, and her beauty would suffer
seriously. Coming he knew not whence, there lit upon him the sudden and
painful impression of something undermined, something consumed from
within.

"Lady Kitty, do you ever rest?" he asked her, unexpectedly.

"Rest!" she laughed. "Why should I?"

"Because you are wearing yourself out."

She shrugged her shoulders.

"Do you ever lie down--alone--and read a book?" persisted the Dean.

"Yes. I have just finished Renan's _Vie de Jésus_!"

Her glance, even with him, kept its note of audacity, but much softened
by a kind of wistfulness.

"Ah! my dear Lady Kitty, let Renan alone," cried the Dean--then with a
change of tone--"but are you speaking truth--or naughtiness?"

"Truth," said Kitty. "But--of course--I am in a temper."

The Dean laughed.

"I see Lord Parham is not a favorite of yours."

Kitty compressed her small lips.

"To think that William should have to take his orders from that man!"
she said, under her breath.

"Bear it--for William's sake," said the Dean, softly, "and,
meanwhile--take my advice--and don't read any more Renan!"

Kitty looked at him curiously.

"I prefer to see things as they are."

The Dean sighed.

"That none of us can do, my dear Lady Kitty. No one can satisfy his
_intelligence_. But religion speaks to the _will_--and it is the only
thing between us and the void. Don't tamper with it! It is soon gone."

A satirical expression passed over the face of his companion.

"Mine was gone before we had been a month married. William killed it."

The Dean exclaimed:

"I hear always of his interest in religious matters!"

"He cares for nothing so much--and he doesn't believe one single word of
anything! I was brought up in a convent, you know--but William laughed
it all out of me."

"Dear Lady Kitty!"

Kitty nodded. "And now, of course, I know there's nothing in it. Oh! I
_do_ beg your pardon!" she said, eagerly. "I never meant to say anything
rude to _you._ And I must go!" She looked up at an open window on the
second floor of the house. The Dean supposed it was the nursery, and
began to ask after the boy. But before he could frame his question she
was gone, flying over the grass with a foot that scarcely seemed to
touch it.

"Poor child, poor child!" murmured the Dean, in a most genuine distress.
But it was not the boy he was thinking of.

Presently, however, he was overtaken by Miss French, of whom he inquired
how the baby was.

Margaret hesitated. "He seems to lose strength," she said, sadly. "The
doctor declares there is no danger, unless--"

"Unless what?"

"Oh! but it's so unlikely!" was her hasty reply. "Don't let's think of
it."

       *       *       *       *       *

Kitty was just giving a last look at herself in the large mirror which
lined half one of the sides of her room when Ashe invaded her. She
glanced at him askance a little, and when the maid had gone Kitty
hurriedly gathered up gloves and fan and prepared to follow her.

"Kitty--one word!"

He caught her in his arm, and held her while he looked down upon her
sparkling dress and half-reluctant face. "Kitty, do be nice to that old
fellow to-night! It's only for two nights. Take him in the right way,
and make a conquest of him--for good. He's been very decent to me in our
walk--though you did say such extraordinary things to him this
afternoon. I believe he really wants to make amends."

"I do hate his white eyelashes so," said Kitty, slowly.

"What does it matter," cried Ashe, angrily, "whether he were a
blue-faced baboon!--for two nights? Just listen to him a little,
Kitty--that's all he wants. And--don't be offended!--but hold your own
small tongue--just a little!"

Kitty pulled herself away.

"I believe I shall do something dreadful," she said, quietly.

A sternness to which Ashe's good-humored face was almost wholly strange
showed itself in his expression.

"Why should you do anything dreadful, please? Lord Parham is your guest,
and my political chief. Is there any woman in England who would not do
her best to be civil to him under the circumstances?"

"I suppose not," said Kitty, with deliberation. "No, I don't think there
can be."

"Kitty!"

For the first time Ashe was conscious of real exasperation. What was to
be done with a temperament and a disposition like this?

"Do you never think that you have it in your power to help me or to ruin
me?" he said, with vehemence.

"Oh yes--often. I mean--to help you--in my own way."

Ashe's laugh was a sound of pure annoyance.

"But please understand, it would be _infinitely_ better if you would
help me, in _my_ way--in the natural, accepted way--the way that
everybody understands."

"The way Lord Parham recommends?" Kitty looked at him quietly. "Never
mind, William. I _am_ trying to help you."

Her eyes shone with the strangest glitter. Ashe was conscious of another
of those sudden stabs of anxiety about her which he had felt at
intervals through the preceding year. His face softened.

"Dear, don't let's talk nonsense! Just look at me sometimes at dinner,
and say to yourself, 'William asks me--for his sake--to be nice to Lord
Parham.'"

He again drew her to him, but she repulsed him almost with violence.

"Why is he here? Why have we people dining? We ought to be alone--in the
dark!"

Her face had become a white mask. Her breast rose and fell, as though
she fought with sobs.

"Kitty--what do you mean?" He recoiled in dismay.

"Harry!"--she just breathed the word between her closed lips.

"My darling!" cried Ashe, "I saw Dr. Rotherham myself this afternoon. He
gave the most satisfactory account, and Margaret told me she had
repeated everything to you. The child will soon be himself again."

"He is _dying_!" said Kitty, in the same low, remote voice, her gaze
still fixed on Ashe.

"Kitty! Don't say such things--don't think them!" Ashe had himself grown
pale. "At any rate"--he turned on her reproachfully--"tell me _why_ you
think them. Confide in me, Kitty. Come and talk to me about the boy. But
three-fourths of the time you behave as though there were nothing the
matter with him--you won't even see the doctor--and then you say a thing
like this!"

She was silent a moment; then with a wild gesture of the head and
shoulders, as of one shaking off a weight, she moved away--drew on her
long gloves--and going to the dressing-table, gave a touch of rouge to
her cheeks.

"Kitty, why did you say that?" Ashe followed her entreatingly.

"I don't know. At least, I couldn't explain. Now, shall we go down?"

Ashe drew a long breath. His frail son held the inmost depths of his
heart.

"You have made the party an abomination to me!" he said, with energy.

"Don't believe me, then--believe the doctor," said Kitty, her face
changing. "And as for Lord Parham, I'll try, William--I'll try."

She passed him--the loveliest of visions--flung him a hand to kiss--and
was gone.



XVI


There could be no question that in all external matters Lord Parham was
that evening magnificently entertained by the Home Secretary and Lady
Kitty Ashe. The chef was extravagantly good; the wines, flowers, and
service lavish to a degree which made both Ashe and Lady Tranmore
secretly uncomfortable. Lady Tranmore in particular detested "show,"
influenced as much by aristocratic instinct as by moral qualms; and
there was to her mind a touch of vulgarity in the entertaining at
Haggart, which might be tolerated in the case of financiers and
_nouveaux riches_, while, as connected with her William and his wife,
who had no need whatever to bribe society, it was unbecoming and
undignified. Moreover, the winter had been marked by a financial crisis
caused entirely by Kitty's extravagance. A large sum of money had had to
be raised from the Tranmore estates; times were not good for the landed
interest, and the head agent had begun to look grave.

If only William would control his wife! But Haggart contained one of
those fine, slowly gathered libraries which make the distinction of so
many English country-houses; and in the intervals of his official work,
which even in holiday time was considerable, Ashe could not be beguiled
from the beloved company of his books to help Kitty sign checks, or
scold her about expenditure.

So Kitty signed and signed; and the smaller was Ashe's balance, the
more, it seemed, did Kitty spend. Then, of course, every few months,
there were deficits which had to be made good. And as to the debts which
accumulated, Lady Tranmore preferred not to think about them. It all
meant future trouble and clipping of wings for William; and it all
entered into that deep and hidden resentment, half anxious love, half
alien temperament, which Elizabeth Tranmore felt towards Ashe's wife.

However--to repeat--Lord Parham, as far as the fleshpots went, was
finely treated. Kitty was in full force, glittering in a spangled dress,
her dazzling face and neck, and the piled masses of her hair, thrown out
in relief against the panelled walls of the dining-room with a
brilliance which might have tempted a modern Rembrandt to paint an
English Saskia. Eddie Helston, on her left, could not take his eyes from
her. And even Lord Parham, much as he disliked her, acknowledged, during
the early courses, that she was handsome, and in her own way--thank God!
it was not the way of any womankind belonging to him--good company.

He saw, too, or thought he saw, that she was anxious to make him amends
for her behavior of the afternoon. She restrained herself, and talked
politics. And within the lines he always observed when talking to women,
lines dictated by a contempt innate and ineradicable, Lord Parham was
quite ready to talk politics too. Then--it suddenly struck him that she
was pumping him, and with great adroitness. Ashe, he knew, wanted an
early place in the session for a particular measure in which he was
interested. Lord Parham had no mind to give him the precedence that he
wanted; was, in fact, determined on something quite different. But he
was well aware by now that Ashe was a person to be reckoned with; and he
had so far taken refuge in vagueness--an amiable vagueness, by which
Ashe, on their walk before dinner, had been much taken in, misled no
doubt by the strength of his own wishes.

And now here was Lady Kitty--whom, by-the-way, it was not at all easy to
take in--trying to "manage" him, to pin him to details, to wheedle him
out of a pledge!

Lord Parham, presently, looked at her with cold, smiling eyes.

"Ah! you are interested in these things, Lady Kitty? Well--tell me your
views. You women have such an instinct--"

--whereby the moth was kept hovering round the flame. Till, in a flash,
Kitty awoke to the fact that while she had been listening happily to her
own voice, taking no notice whatever of the signals which William
endeavored to send her from the other end of the table--while she had
been tripping gayly through one indiscretion after another, betraying
innumerable things as to William's opinions and William's plans that she
had infinitely better not have betrayed--Lord Parham had said nothing,
betrayed nothing, promised nothing. A quiet smile--a courteous nod--and
presently a shade of mockery in the lips--the meaning of them, all in a
moment, burst on Kitty.

Her face flamed. Thenceforward it would be difficult to describe the
dinner. Conversationally, at Kitty's end it became an uproar. She
started the wildest topics, and Lord Parham had afterwards a bruised
recollection as of one who has been dragged or driven, Caliban-like,
through brake and thicket, pinched and teased and pelted by elfish
fingers, without one single uncivil speech or act of overt offence to
which an angry guest could point. With each later course, the Prime
Minister grew stiffer and more silent. Endurance was written in every
line of his fighting head and round, ungraceful shoulders, in his veiled
eyes and stolid mouth. Lady Tranmore gave a gasp of relief when at last
Kitty rose from her seat.

       *       *       *       *       *

The evening went no better. Lord Parham was set down to cards with
Kitty, Eddie Helston, and Lord Grosville. Lord Grosville, his partner,
played, to the Premier's thinking, like an idiot, and Lady Kitty and the
young man chattered and sparred, so that all reasonable play became
impossible. Lord Parham lost more than he at all liked to lose, and at
half-past ten he pleaded fatigue, refused to smoke, and went to his
room.

Ashe was perfectly aware of the failure of the evening, and the
discomfort of his guest. But he said nothing, and Kitty avoided his
neighborhood. Meanwhile, between him and his mother a certain tacit
understanding began to make itself felt. They talked quietly, in
corners, of the arrangements for the speech and fête of the morrow. So
far, they had been too much left to Kitty. Ashe promised his mother to
look into them. He and she combined for the protection of Lord Parham.

When about one o'clock Ashe went to bed, Kitty either was or pretended
to be fast asleep. The room was in darkness save for the faint
illumination of a night-light, which just revealed to Ashe the delicate
figure of his wife, lying high on her pillows, her cheek and brow hidden
in the confusion of her hair.

One window was wide open to the night, and once more Ashe stood lost in
"recollection" beside it, as on that night in Hill Street, more than a
year before. But the thoughts which on that former occasion had been
still as tragic and unfamiliar guests in a mind that repelled them had
now, alack, lost their strangeness; they entered habitually,
unannounced--frequent, irritating, deplorable.

Had the relation between himself and Kitty ever, in truth, recovered the
shock of that incident on the river--of his night of restlessness, his
morning of agonized alarm, and the story to which he listened on her
return? It had been like some physical blow or wound, easily healed or
conquered for the moment, which then, as time goes on, reveals a hidden
series of consequences.

Consequences, in this case, connected above all with Kitty's own nature
and temperament. The excitement of Cliffe's declaration, of her own
resistance and dramatic position, as between her husband and her lover,
had worked ever since, as a poison in Kitty's mind--Ashe was becoming
dismally certain of it. The absurd incident of the night before with the
photograph had been enough to prove it.

Well, the thing, he supposed, would right itself in time. Meanwhile,
Cliffe had been dismissed, and this foolish young fellow Eddie Helston
must soon follow him. Ashe had viewed the affair so far with an amused
tolerance; if Kitty liked to flirt with babes it was her affair, not
his. But he perceived that his mother was once more becoming restless,
under the general _inconvenance_ of it; and he had noticed distress and
disapproval in the little Dean, Kitty's stanchest friend.

Luckily, no difficulty there! The lad was almost as devoted to
him--Ashe--as he was to Kitty. He was absurd, affected, vain; but there
was no vice in him, and a word of remonstrance would probably reduce him
to abject regret and self-reproach. Ashe intended that his mother should
speak it, and as he made up his mind to ask her help, he felt for the
second time the sharp humiliation of the husband who cannot secure his
own domestic peace, but must depend on the aid of others. Yet how could
he himself go to young Helston? Some men no doubt could have handled
such an incident with dignity. Ashe, with his critical sense for ever
playing on himself and others; with the touch of moral shirking that
belonged to his inmost nature; and, above all, with his half-humorous,
half-bitter consciousness that whoever else might be a hero, he was
none: Ashe, at least, could and would do nothing of the sort. That he
should begin now to play the tyrannous or jealous husband would make him
ridiculous both in his own eyes and other people's.

And yet Kitty must somehow be protected from herself!... Then--as to
politics? Once, in talking with his mother, he had said to her that he
was Kitty's husband first, and a public man afterwards. Was he prepared
now to make the statement with the same simplicity, the same
whole-heartedness?

Involuntarily he moved closer to the bed and looked down on Kitty.
Little, delicate face!--always with something mournful and fretful in
repose.

He loved her surely as much as ever--ah! yes, he loved her. His whole
nature yearned over her, as the wife of his youth, the mother of his
poor boy. Yet, as he remembered the mood in which he had proposed to
her, that defiance of the world and life which had possessed him when he
had made her marry him, he felt himself--almost with bitterness--another
and a meaner man. No!--he was _not_ prepared to lose the world for
her--the world of high influence and ambition upon which he had now
entered as a conqueror. She _must_ so control herself that she did not
ruin all his hopes--which, after all, were hers--and the work he might
do for his country.

What incredible perversity and caprice she had shown towards Lord
Parham! How was he to deal with it--he, William Ashe, with his ironic
temper and his easy standards? What could he say to her but "Love me,
Kitty!--love yourself!--and don't be a little fool! Life might be so
amusing if you would only bridle your fancies and play the game!"

As for loftier things, "self-reverence, self-knowledge,
self-control"--duty--and the passion of high ideals--who was he to prate
about them? The little Dean, perhaps!--most spiritual of worldlings.
Ashe knew himself to be neither spiritual nor a hypocrite. A certain
measure, a certain order and harmony in life--laughter and good-humor
and affection--and, for the fight that makes and welds a man, those
great political and social interests in the midst of which he found
himself--he asked no more, and with these he would have been abundantly
content.

He sighed and frowned, his muscles stiffening unconsciously. Yes, for
both their sakes he must try and play the master with Kitty, ridiculous
as it seemed.

... He turned away, remembering his sick child--and went noiselessly to
the nursery. There, along the darkened passages, he found a night-nurse,
sitting working beside a shaded lamp. The child was sleeping, and the
report was good. Ashe stole on tiptoe to look at him, holding his
breath, then returned to his dressing-room. But a faint call from Kitty
pursued him. He opened the door, and saw her sitting up in bed.

"How is he?"

She was hardly awake, but her expression struck him as very wild and
piteous. He went to her and took her in his arms.

"Sleeping quietly, darling--so must you!"

She sank back on her pillows, his arm still round her.

"I was there an hour ago," she murmured. "I shall soon wake up--"

But for the moment she was asleep again, her fair head lying against his
shoulder. He sat down beside her, supporting her. Suddenly, as he looked
down upon her with mingled passion, tenderness, and pain, a sharp
perception assailed him. How thin she was--a mere feather's weight! The
face was smaller than ever--the hands skin and bone! Margaret French had
once or twice bade him notice this, had spoken with anxiety. He bent
over his wife and observed her attentively. It was merely the effect of
a hot summer, surely, and of a constant nervous fatigue? He would take
her abroad for a fortnight in September, if his official work would let
him, and perhaps leave her in north Italy, or Switzerland, with Margaret
French.

       *       *       *       *       *

The great day was half-way through, and the throng in Haggart Park and
grounds was at its height. A flower-show in the morning; then a tenants'
dinner with a speech from Ashe; and now, in a marquee erected for the
occasion, Lord Parham was addressing his supporters in the county.
Around him on the platform sat the Whig gentry, the Radical
manufacturers, the town wire-pullers and local agents on whom a great
party depended; in front of him stretched a crowded meeting drawn in
almost equal parts from the coal-mining districts to the north of
Haggart and from the agricultural districts to the south....

The August air was stifling; perspiration shone on the broad brows and
cheeks of the farmers sitting in the front half of the audience; Lord
Parham's gray face was almost white; his harsh voice labored against the
acoustic difficulties of the tent; effort and heat, discomfort and ennui
breathed from the packed benches, and from the short-necked,
large-headed figure of the Premier.

Ashe sat to the speaker's right, outwardly attentive, inwardly ashamed
of his party and his chief. He himself belonged to a new generation, for
whom formulæ that had satisfied their fathers were empty and dead. But
with these formulas Lord Parham was stuffed. A man of average intriguing
ability, he had been raised, at a moment of transition, to the place he
held, by a consummate command of all the meaner arts of compromise and
management, no less than by an invaluable power of playing to the
gallery. He led a party who despised him--and he complacently imagined
that he was the party. His speech on this occasion bristled with
himself, and had, in truth, no other substance; the I's swarmed out upon
the audience like wasps.

Ashe groaned in spirit, "We have the ideas," he thought, "but they are
damned little good to us--it is the Tories who have the men! Ye gods!
must we all talk like this at last?"...

Suddenly, on the other side of the platform, behind Lord Parham, he
noticed that Kitty and Eddie Helston were exchanging signs. Kitty drew
out a tablet, wrote upon it, and, leaning over some white-frocked
children of the Lord Lieutenant who sat behind her, handed the torn leaf
to Helston. But from some clumsiness he let it drop; at the moment a
door opened at the back of the platform, and the leaf, caught by the
draught, was blown back across the bench where Kitty and the house-party
were sitting, and fluttered down to a resting-place on the piece of red
baize wheron Lord Parham was standing--close beside his left foot.

Ashe saw Kitty's start of dismay, her scarlet flush, her involuntary
movement. But Lord Parham had started on his peroration. The rustics
gaped, the gentry sat expressionless, the reporters toiled after the
great man. Kitty all the time kept her eyes fixed on the little white
paper; Ashe no less. Between him and Lord Parham there was first the
Lord Lieutenant, a portly man, very blind and extremely deaf--then a
table with a Liberal peer behind it for chairman.

Lord Parham had resumed his seat. The tent was shaken with cheers, and
the smiling chairman had risen.

"Can you ask Lord Parham to hand me on that paper on the floor," said
Ashe, in the ear of the Lord Lieutenant, "it seems to have dropped from
my portfolio."

The Lord Lieutenant, bending backward behind the chairman as the next
speaker rose, tried to attract Lord Parham's attention. Eddie Helston
was, at the same time, endeavoring to make his way forward through the
crowded seats behind the Prime Minister.

Meanwhile Lord Parham had perceived the paper, raised it, and adjusted
his spectacles. He thought it was a communication from the audience--a
question, perhaps, that he was expected to answer.

"Lord Parham!" cried the Lord Lieutenant again, "would you--"

"Silence, please! Speak up!"--from the audience, who had so far failed
to catch a word of what the new speaker was saying.

"What _is_ the matter? You really can't get through here!" said a
gray-haired dowager crossly to Eddie Helston.

Lord Parham looked at the paper in mystification. It contained these
words:

"Hope you've been counting the 'I's.' I make it fifty-seven.--K."

And in the corner of the paper a thumb-nail sketch of himself,
perorating, with a garland of capital I's round his neck.

The Premier's face became brick-red, then gray again. He folded up the
paper and put it in his waistcoat-pocket.

The meeting had broken up. For the common herd, it was to be followed by
sports in the park and refreshments in big tents. For the gentry, Lady
Kitty had a garden-party to which Royalty was coming. And as her guests
streamed out of the marquee, Lord Parham approached his hostess.

"I think this belongs to you, Lady Kitty." And taking from his pocket a
folded slip of paper he offered it to her.

Kitty looked at him. Her color was high, her eyes sparkled.

"Nothing to do with me!" she said, gayly, as she glanced at it. "But
I'll look for the owner."

"Sorry to give you the trouble," said Lord Parham, with a ceremonious
inclination. Then, turning to Ashe, he remarked that he was extremely
tired--worn out, in fact--and would ask his host's leave to desert the
garden-party while he attended to some most important letters. Ashe
offered to escort him to the house. "On the contrary, look after your
guests," said the Premier, dryly, and, beckoning to the Liberal peer who
had been his chairman, he engaged him in conversation, and the two
presently vanished through a window open to the terrace.

Kitty had been joined meanwhile by Eddie Helston, and the two stood
talking together, a flushed, excited pair. Ashe overtook them.

"May I speak to you a moment, Kitty?"

Eddie Helston glanced at the fine form and stiffened bearing of his
host, understood that his presence counted for something in the
annoyance of Ashe's expression, and departed abashed.

"I should like to see that paper, Kitty, if you don't mind."

His frown and straightened lip brought fresh wildness into Kitty's
expression.

"It is my property." She kept one hand behind her.

"I heard you just disavow that."

Kitty laughed angrily.

"Yes--that's the worst of Lord Parham--one has to tell so many lies for
his _beaux yeux_!"

"You must give it me, please," said Ashe, quietly. "I ought to know
where I am with Lord Parham. He is clearly bitterly offended--by
something, and I shall have to apologize."

Kitty breathed fast.

"Well, don't let's quarrel before the county!" she said, as she turned
aside into a shrubbery walk edged by clipped yews and hidden from the
big lawn. There she paused and confronted him. "How did you know I wrote
it?"

"I saw you write it and throw it."

He stretched out his hand. Kitty hesitated, then slowly unclosed her
own, and held out the small, white palm on which lay the crumpled slip.

Ashe read it and tore it up.

"That game, Kitty, was hardly worth the candle!"

"It was a perfectly harmless remark--and only meant for Eddie! Any one
else than Lord Parham would have laughed. _Then_ I might have begged his
pardon."

"It is what you ought to do now," said Ashe. "A little note from you,
Kitty--you could write it to perfection--"

"Certainly not," said Kitty, hastily, locking her hands behind her.

"You prefer to have failed in hospitality and manners," he said,
bitterly. "Well, I'm afraid if you don't feel any disgrace in it I do.
Lord Parham in our _guest_!"

And Ashe turned on his heel and would have left her, when Kitty caught
him by the arm.

"William!"

She had grown very pale.

"Yes."

"You've never spoken to me like that before, William--never! But--as I
told you long ago, you can stop it all if you like--in a moment."

"I don't know what you mean, Kitty--but we mustn't stay arguing here any
longer--"

"No!--but--don't you remember? I told you, you can always send me away.
Then I shouldn't be putting spokes in your wheel."

"I don't deny," said Ashe, slowly, "it might be wisest if, next spring,
you stayed here, for part at least of the session--or abroad. It is
certainly difficult carrying on politics under these conditions. I
could, of course, come backward and forward--"

Kitty's brown eyes that were fixed upon his face wavered a little, and
she grew even whiter.

"Very well. That would be a kind of separation, wouldn't it?"

"There would be no need to call it by any such name. Oh! Kitty!" cried
Ashe, "why can't you behave like a reasonable woman?"

"Separation," she repeated, steadily. "I know that's what your mother
wants."

A wave of sound reached them amid the green shadow of the yews. The
cheers that heralded Royalty had begun.

"Come!" said Kitty.

And she flew across the grass, reaching her place by the central tent
just as the Royalties drove up.

The Prime Minister sulked in-doors; and Kitty, with the most engaging
smiles, made his apologies. The heat--the fatigue of the speech--a
crushing headache, and a doctor's order!--he begged their Royal
Highnesses to excuse him. The Royal Highnesses were at first astonished,
inclined, perhaps, to take offence. But the party was so agreeable, and
Lady Kitty so charming a hostess, that the Premier's absence was soon
forgotten, and as the day cooled to a delicious evening, and the most
costly bands from town discoursed a melting music, as garlanded boats
appeared upon the river inviting passengers, and, with the dusk,
fireworks began to ascend from a little hill; as the trees shone green
and silver and rose-color in the Bengal lights, and amid the sweeping
clouds of smoke the wide stretches of the park, the close-packed groups
of human beings, appeared and vanished like the country and creatures of
a dream--the success of Lady Kitty's fête, the fame of her gayety and
her beauty, filled the air. She flashed hither and thither, in a dress
embroidered with wild roses and a hat festooned with them--attended
always by Eddie Helston, by various curates who cherished a hopeless
attachment to her, and by a fat German grand-duke, who had come in the
wake of the Royalties.

Her cleverness, her resource, her organizing power were lauded to the
skies, Royalty was gracious, and the grand-duke resentfully asked an
aide-de-camp on the way home why he had not been informed that such a
pretty person awaited him.

"I should den haf looked beforehand--as vel as tinking behind," said the
grand-duke, as he wrapped himself sentimentally in his military cloak,
to meditate on Lady Kitty's brown eyes.

Meanwhile Lord Parham remained closeted in his sitting-room with his
secretary. Ashe tried to gain admittance, but in vain. Lord Parham
pleaded great fatigue and his letters; and asked for a _Bradshaw_.

"His lordship has inquired if there is a train to-night," said the
little secretary, evidently much flustered.

Ashe protested. And, indeed, as it turned out, there was no train worth
the taking. Then Lord Parham sent a message that he hoped to appear at
dinner.

Kitty locked her door while she was dressing, and Ashe, whose mind was a
confusion of many feelings--anger, compunction, and that fascination
which in her brilliant moods she exercised over him no less than over
others--could get no speech with her.

They met on the threshold of the child's room, she coming out, he going
in. But she wrenched herself from him and would say nothing. The report
of the little boy was good; he smiled at his father, and Ashe felt a
cooling balm in the touch of his soft hands and lips. He descended--in a
more philosophical mind; inclined, at any rate, to "damn" Lord Parham.
What a fool the man must be! Why couldn't he have taken it with a laugh,
and so turned the tables on Kitty?

Was there any good to be got out of apologizing? Ashe supposed he must
attempt it some time that night. A precious awkward business! But
relations had got to be restored somehow.

Lady Tranmore overtook him on the way down-stairs. In the press of the
afternoon they had hardly seen each other.

"What is really wrong with Lord Parham, William?" she asked him,
anxiously. Ashe hesitated, then whispered a word or two in her ear,
begging her to keep the great man in play for the evening. He was to
take her in, while Kitty would fall to the Bishop of the diocese.

"She gets on perfectly with the clergy," said Lady Tranmore, with an
involuntary sigh. Then, as the sense of humor was strong in both, they
laughed. But it was a chilly and perfunctory laughter.

They had no sooner passed into the main hall than Kitty came running
down-stairs, with a large packet in her hand.

"Mr. Darrell!"

"At your service!" said Darrell, emerging from the shadows of one of the
broad corridors of the ground-floor.

"Take it, please!" said Kitty, panting a little, as she gave the packet
into his hands. "If I look at it any more, I _might_ burn it!"

"Suppose you do!"

"No, no!" said Kitty, pushing the bundle away, as he laughingly tendered
it. "I must see what happens!"

"Is the gap filled?"

She laid her finger on her lips. Her eyes danced. Then she hurried on to
the drawing-room.

Whether it were the soothing presence of the clergy or no, certainly
Kitty was no less triumphant at dinner than she had been in the
afternoon. The chorus of fun and pleasure that surrounded her, while he
himself sat, tired and bored, between Lady Edith Manley and Lady
Tranmore, did but make her offence the greater in the eyes of Lord
Parham. He had so far buried it in a complete and magnificent silence.
The meeting between him and his hostess before dinner had been marked by
a strict conformity to all the rules. Kitty had inquired after his
headache; Lord Parham expressed his regrets that he had missed so
brilliant a party; and Kitty, flirting her fan, invented messages from
the Royalties which, as most of those present knew, the Royalties had
been far too well amused to think of. Then after this _pas seul_, in the
presence of the crowded drawing-room, had been duly executed, Kitty
retired to her Bishop, and Lord Parham led forth Lady Tranmore.

       *       *       *       *       *

"What a lovely moon!" said Lady Edith Manley to the Dean. "It makes even
this house look romantic."

They were walking outside the drawing-room windows, on a terrace which
was, indeed, the only feature of the Haggart façade which possessed some
architectural interest. A low balustrade of terra-cotta, copied from a
famous Italian villa, ran round it, broken by large terra-cotta pots now
filled with orange-trees. Here and there between the orange-trees were
statues transported from Naples in the late eighteenth century by a
former Lord Tranmore. There was a Ceres and a Diana, a Vestal Virgin, an
Athlete, and an Antinous, now brought into strange companionship under
the windows of this ugly English house. Chipped and blackened as they
were, and, to begin with, of a mere decorative importance, they still
breathed into the English evening a note of Italy or Greece, of things
lovely and immortal. The lamps in the sitting-rooms streamed out through
the widely opened windows upon the terrace, checkering the marble
figures, which now emerged sharply in the light, and now withdrew in the
gloom; while at one point they shone plainly upon an empty pedestal
before which the Dean and his companion paused.

The Dean looked at the inscription. "What a pity! This once held a
statue of Hebe holding a torch. It was struck by lightning fifty years
ago."

"Lady Kitty might stand for her to-night," said Edith Manley.

For Kitty, the capricious, had appeared at dinner in a _quasi_-Greek
dress, white, soft, and flowing, without an ornament. The Dean
acquiesced, but rather sadly.

"I wish she had the bloom of Hebe! My dear Lady Edith, our hostess looks
_ill_!"

"Does she? I can't tell--I admire her so!" said the woman beside him,
upon whose charming eyes some fairy had breathed kindness and optimism
from her cradle.

"_Ouf!_" cried Kitty, as she sprang across the sill of the window behind
them. "They're _all_ gone! The Bishop wishes me to become a
vice-president of the Women's Diocesan Association. And I've promised
three curates to open bazaars. _Ah, mon Dieu!_" She raised her white
arms with a wild gesture, and then beckoned to Eddie Helston, who was
close beside her.

"Shall we try our dance?"

The young men of the house, a group of young guardsmen and diplomats,
gathered round, laughing and clapping. Kitty's dancing had become famous
during the winter as one of her many extravagances. She no longer
recited; literature bored her; motion was the only poetry. So she had
been carefully instructed by a _danseuse_ from the Opera, and in many
points, so the enthusiasts declared, had bettered her instructions. She
was now in love with a tempestuous Spanish dance, taught her by a gypsy
_señorita_ who had been one of the sensations of the London season. It
required a partner, and she had been practising it with young Helston,
for several mornings past, in the empty ballroom. Helston had spread its
praises abroad; and all Haggart desired to see it.

"There!" said Kitty, pointing her partner to a particular spot on the
terrace. "I think that will do. Where are the castanets, I wonder?"

"Kitty!" said a voice behind her. Ashe emerged from the drawing-room.

"Kitty, please! It is nearly midnight. Everybody is tired--and you
yourself must be worn out! Say good-night, and let us all go to bed."

She turned. Willam's voice was low, but peremptory. She shook back her
hair from her temples and neck, with the gesture he had learned to
dread.

"Nobody's tired--and nobody wants to go to bed. Please stand out of the
way, William. I want plenty of room for my steps."

And she began pirouetting, as though to try the capacities of the space,
humming to herself.

"Helston--this must be, please, for another night," said Ashe,
resolutely, in the young man's ear. "Lady Kitty is much too tired."
Then to Lady Edith, and the Dean--"Lady Edith, it would be very kind of
you to persuade my wife to go to bed. She never knows when she is done!"

Lady Edith warmly acquiesced, and, hurrying up to Kitty, she tried to
persuade her in soft, caressing phrases.

"I stand on my rights!" said the Dean, following her. "If my hostess is
used up to-night, there'll be no hostess for me to-morrow."

Kitty looked at them all, silent--her head bending forward, a curious
_méchant_ look in the eyes that shone beneath the slightly frowning
brows. Meanwhile, by her previous order, a footman had brought out two
silver lamps and placed them on a small table a little way behind her.
Whether it was from some instinctive sense of the beauty of the small
figure in the slender, floating dress under the deep blue of the night
sky and amid the romantic shadows and lights of the terrace--or from
some divination of things significant and hidden--it would be hard to
say; but the group of spectators had fallen back a little from Kitty, so
that she stood alone, a picture lit from the left by the lamps just
brought in.

The Dean looked at her--troubled by her wild aspect and the evident
conflict between her and Ashe. Then an idea flashed into his mind,
filled always, like that of an innocent child, with the images of poetry
and romance.

"One moment!" he said, raising his hand. "Lady Kitty, you spoil us!
After amusing us all day, now you would dance for us all night. But your
guests won't let you! We love you too well, and we want a bit of you
left for to-morrow. Never mind! You offered us a dance--you bring us a
vision--and a poem!--Friends!"

He turned to those crowding round him, his white hair glistening in the
lamplight, his delicate face, so old and yet so eager, the smile on his
kind lips, and all the details of his Dean's dress--apron and
knee-breeches, slender legs and silver buckles--thrown out in sharp
relief upon the dark....

"Friends! you see this pedestal. Once Hebe, the cup-bearer of the gods,
stood there. Then--ungrateful Zeus smote her, and she fell! But the
Hours and the Graces bore her safe away, into a golden land, and now
they bring her back again. Behold her!--Hebe reborn!"

He bowed, his courtly hand upon his breast, and a wave of laughter and
applause ran through the young group round him as their eyes turned from
the speaker to the exquisite figure of Kitty. Lady Edith smiled kindly,
clapping her soft hands. Mrs. Winston, the Dean's wife, had eyes only
for the Dean. In the background Lady Tranmore watched every phase of
Kitty's looks, and Lord Grosville walked back into the dining-room,
growling unutterable things to Darrell as he passed.

Kitty raised her head to reply. But the Dean checked her. Advancing a
step or two, he saluted her again--profoundly.

"Dear Lady Kitty!--dear bringer of light and ambrosia!--rest, and
good-night! Your guests thank you by me, with all their hearts. You have
been the life of their day, the spirit of their mirth. Good-night to
Hebe!--and three cheers for Lady Kitty!"

Eddie Helston led them, and they rang against the old house. Kitty with
a fluttering smile kissed her hand for thanks, and the Dean saw her look
round--dart a swift glance at Ashe. He stood against the window-frame,
in shadow, motionless, his arms folded.

Then suddenly Kitty sprang forward.

"Give me that lamp!" she said to the young footman behind her.

And in a second she had leaped upon the low wall of the terrace and on
the vacant pedestal. The lad to whom she had spoken lost his head and
obeyed her. He raised the lamp. She stooped and took it. Ashe, who was
now standing in the open window with his back to the terrace, turned
round, saw, and rushed forward.

"Kitty!--put it down!"

"Lady Kitty!" cried the Dean, in dismay, while all behind him held their
breath.

"Stand back!" said Kitty, "or I shall drop it!" She held up the lamp,
straight and steady. Ashe paused--in an agony of doubt what to do, his
whole soul concentrated on the slender arm and on the brightly burning
lamp.

"If you make me speeches," said Kitty, "I must reply, mustn't I? (Keep
back, William!--I'm all right.) Hebe thanks you, please--_mille fois_!
She herself hasn't been happy--and she's afraid she hasn't been good!
_N'importe!_ It's all done--and finished. The play's over!--and the
lights go out!"

She waved the lamp above her head.

"Kitty! for God's sake!" cried Ashe, rushing to her.

"She is mad!" said Lord Parham, standing at the back. "I always knew
it!"

The other spectators passed through a second of anguish. The bright
figure on the pedestal wavered; one moment, and it seemed as though the
lamp must descend crashing upon the head and neck and the white dress
beneath it; the next, it had fallen from Kitty's hand--fallen away from
her--wide and safe--into the depths of the garden below. A flash of wild
light rose from the burning oil and from the dry shrubs amid which it
fell. Kitty, meanwhile, swayed--and dropped--heavily--unconscious--into
William Ashe's arms.

       *       *       *       *       *

Kitty barely recovered life and sense during the night that followed.
And while she was still unconscious her boy passed away. The poor babe,
all ignorant of the straits in which his mother lay, was seized with
convulsions in the dawn, and gave up his frail life gathered to his
father's breast.

Some ten weeks later, towards the end of October, society knew that the
Home Secretary and Lady Kitty had started for Italy--bound first of all
for Venice. It was said that Lady Kitty was a wreck, and that it was
doubtful whether she would ever recover the sudden and tragic death of
her only child.



PART IV

STORM

     "Myself, arch-traitor to myself;
     My hollowest friend, my deadliest foe,
     My clog whatever road I go."



XVII


"'Among the numerous daubs with which Tintoret, to his everlasting
shame, has covered this church--'"

"Good Heavens!--what does the man mean?--or is he talking of another
church?" said Ashe, raising his head and looking in bewilderment, first
at the magnificent Tintoret in front of him, and then at the lines he
had just been reading.

"William!" cried Kitty, "_do_ put that fool down and come here; one sees
it splendidly!"

She was standing in one of the choir-stalls of San Giorgio Maggiore,
somewhat raised above the point where Ashe had been studying his German
hand-book.

"My dear, if this man doesn't know, who does!" cried Ashe, flourishing
his volume in front of him as he obeyed her.

"'Dans le royaume des aveugles,'" said Kitty, contemptuously. "As if any
German could even begin to understand Tintoret! But--don't talk!"

And clasping both hands round Ashe's arm, she stood leaning heavily upon
him, her whole soul gazing from the eyes she turned upon the picture,
her lips quivering, as though, from some physical weakness, she could
only just hold back the tears with which, indeed, the face was charged.

She and Ashe were looking at that "Last Supper" of Tintoret's which
hangs in the choir of San Giorgio Maggiore at Venice.

It is a picture dear to all lovers of Tintoret, breathing in every line
and group the passionate and mystical fancy of the master.

The scene passes, it will be remembered, in what seems to be the
spacious guest-chamber of an inn. The Lord and His disciples are
gathered round the last sacred meal of the Old Covenant, the first of
the New. On the left, a long table stretches from the spectator into the
depths of the picture; the disciples are ranged along one side of it;
and on the other sits Judas, solitary and accursed. The young Christ has
risen; He holds the bread in His lifted hands and is about to give it to
the beloved disciple, while Peter beyond, rising from his seat in his
eagerness, presses forward to claim his own part in the Lord's body.

The action of the Christ has in it a very ecstasy of giving; the bending
form, indeed, is love itself, yearning and triumphant. This is further
expressed in the light which streams from the head of the Lord, playing
upon the long line of faces, illuminating the vehement gesture of Peter,
the adoring and radiant silence of St. John--and striking even to the
farthest corners of the room, upon a woman, a child, a playing dog.
Meanwhile, from the hanging lamps above the supper-party there glows
another and more earthly light, mingled with fumes of smoke which darken
the upper air. But such is the power of the divine figure that from this
very darkness breaks adoration. The smoke-wreaths change under the
gazer's eye into hovering angels, who float round the head of the
Saviour, and look down with awe upon the first Eucharist; while the
lamp-light, interpenetrated by the glory which issues from the Lord,
searches every face and fold and surface, displays the figures of the
serving men and women in the background, shines on the household stuff,
the vases and plates, the black and white of the marble floor, the beams
of the old Venetian ceiling. Everywhere the double ray, the two-fold
magic! Steeped in these "majesties of light," the immortal scene lives
upon the quiet wall. Year after year the slender, thought-worn Christ
raises His hands of blessing; the disciples strain towards Him; the
angels issue from the darkness; the friendly domestic life, happy,
natural, unconscious, frames the divine mystery. And among those who
come to look there are, from time to time, men and women who draw from
it that restlessness of vague emotion which Kitty felt as she hung now,
gazing, on Ashe's arm.

For there is in it an appeal which torments them--like the winding of a
mystic horn, on purple heights, by some approaching and unseen
messenger. Ineffable beauty, offering itself--and in the human soul, the
eternal human discord: what else makes the poignancy of art--the passion
of poetry?

       *       *       *       *       *

"That's enough!" said Kitty, at last, turning abruptly away.

"You like it?" said Ashe, softly, detaining her, while he pressed the
little hand upon his arm. His heart was filled with a great pity for his
wife in these days.

"Oh, I don't know!" was Kitty's impatient reply.

"It haunts me. There's still another to see--in a chapel. The
sacristan's making signs to us."

"Is there?" Ashe stifled a yawn. He asked Margaret French, who had come
up with them, whether Kitty had not had quite enough sight-seeing. He
himself must go to the Piazza, and get the news before dinner. As an
English cabinet minister, he had been admitted to the best club of the
Venice residents. Telegrams were to be seen there; and there was anxious
news from the Balkans.

Kitty merely insisted that she could not and would not go without her
remaining Tintoret, and the others yielded to her at once, with that
indulgent tenderness one shows to the wilfulness of a sick child. She
and Margaret followed the sacristan. Ashe lingered behind in a passage
of the church, surreptitiously reading an Italian newspaper. He had the
ordinary cultivated pleasure in pictures; but this ardor which Kitty was
throwing into her pursuit of Tintoret--the Wagner of painting--left him
cold. He did not attempt to keep up with her.

Two ladies were already in the cloister chapel, with a gentleman. As
Kitty and her friend entered, these persons had just finished their
inspection of the damaged but most beautiful "Pietà" which hangs over
the altar, and their faces were towards the entrance.

"Maman!" cried Kitty, in amazement.

The lady addressed started, put up a gold-rimmed eye-glass, exclaimed,
and hurried forward.

Kitty and she embraced, amid a torrent of laughter and interjections
from the elder lady, and then Kitty, whose pale cheeks had put on
scarlet, turned to Margaret French.

"Margaret!--my mother, Madame d'Estrées."

Miss French, who found herself greeted with effusion by the strange
lady, saw before her a woman of fifty, marvellously preserved. Madame
d'Estrées had grown stout; so much time had claimed; but the elegant
gray dress with its floating chiffon and lace skilfully concealed the
fact; and for the rest, complexion, eyes, lips were still defiant of the
years. If it were art that had achieved it, nature still took the
credit; it was so finely done, the spectator could only lend himself and
admire. Under the pretty hat of gray tulle, whereof the strings were
tied bonnet-fashion under the plump chin, there looked out, indeed, a
face gay, happy, unconcerned, proof one might have thought of an
innocent past and a good conscience.

Kitty, who had drawn back a little, eyed her mother oddly.

"I thought you were in Paris. Your letter said you wouldn't be able to
move for weeks--"

"_Ma chère!_--_un miracle!_" cried Madame d'Estrées, blushing, however,
under her thin white veil. "When I wrote to you, I was at death's
door--wasn't I?" She appealed to her companion, without waiting for an
answer. "Then some one told me of a new doctor, and in ten days, _me
voici_! They insisted on my going away--this dear woman--Donna Laura
Vercelli--my daughter, Lady Kitty Ashe!--knew of an apartment here
belonging to some relations of hers. And here we are--charmingly
_installées_!--and really _nothing_ to pay!"--Madame d'Estrées
whispered, smiling, in Kitty's ear--"nothing, compared to the hotels.
I'm economizing splendidly. Laura looks after every sou. Ah! my dear
William!"

For Ashe, puzzled by the voices within, had entered the chapel, and
stood in his turn, open-mouthed.

"Why, we thought you were an invalid."

For, some three weeks before, a letter had reached him at Haggart, so
full of melancholy details as to Madame d'Estrées' health and
circumstances that even Kitty had been moved. Money had been sent;
inquiries had been made by telegraph; and but for a hasty message of a
more cheerful character, received just before they started, the Ashes,
instead of journeying by Brussels and Cologne, would have gone by Paris
that Kitty might see her mother. They had intended to stop there on
their way back. Ashe was not minded that Kitty should see more of Madame
d'Estrées than necessity demanded; but on this occasion he would have
felt it positively brutal to make difficulties.

And now here was this moribund lady, this forsaken of gods and men,
disporting herself at Venice, evidently in the pink of health and
attired in the freshest of Paris toilettes! As he coldly shook hands,
Ashe registered an inner vow that Madame d'Estrées' letters henceforward
should receive the attention they deserved.

And beside her was her somewhat mysterious friend of London days, the
Colonel Warington who had been so familiar a figure in the gatherings of
St. James's Place--grown much older, almost white-haired, and as
gentlemanly as ever. Who was the lady? Ashe was introduced, was aware of
a somewhat dark and Jewish cast of face, noticed some fine jewels, and
could only suppose that his mother-in-law had picked up some one to
finance her, and provide her with creature comforts in return for the
social talents that Madame d'Estrées still possessed in some abundance.
He had more than once noticed her skill in similar devices; but, indeed,
they were indispensable, for while he allowed Madame d'Estrées one
thousand a year, she was, it seemed, firmly determined to spend a
minimum of three.

He and Warington looked at each other with curiosity. The bronzed face
and honest eyes of the soldier betrayed nothing. "Are you going to marry
her at last?" thought Ashe. "Poor devil!"

Meanwhile Madame d'Estrées chattered away as though nothing could be
more natural than their meeting, or more perfect than the relations
between herself and her daughter and son-in-law.

As they all strolled down the church she looked keenly at Kitty.

"My dear child, how ill you look!--and your mourning! Ah, yes, of
course!"--she bit her lip--"I remember--the poor, poor boy--"

"Thank you!" said Kitty, hastily. "I got your letter--thank you very
much. Where are you staying? We've got rooms on the Grand Canal."

"Oh, but, Kitty!" cried Madame d'Estrées--"I was so sorry for you!"

"Were you?" said Kitty, under her breath. "Then, please, never speak of
him to me again!"

Startled and offended, Madame d'Estrées looked at her daughter. But what
she saw disarmed her. For once even she felt something like the pang of
a mother. "You're _dreadfully_ thin, Kitty!"

Kitty frowned with annoyance.

"It's not my fault," she said, pettishly. "I live on cream, and it's no
good. Of course, I know I'm an object and a scarecrow; but I'd rather
people didn't tell me."

"What nonsense, _chére enfant!_ You're much prettier than you ever
were."

A wild and fugitive radiance swept across the face beside her.

"Am I?" said Kitty, smiling. "That's all right! If I had died it
wouldn't matter, of course. But--"

"Died! What do you mean, Kitty?" said Madame d'Estrées, in bewilderment.
"When William wrote to me I thought he meant you had overtired
yourself."

"Oh, well, the doctors said it was touch and go," said Kitty,
indifferently. "But, of course, it wasn't. I'm much too tough. And then
they fussed about one's heart. And that's all nonsense, too. I couldn't
die if I tried."

But Madame d'Estrées pondered--the bright, intermittent color, the
emaciation, the hollowness of the eyes. The effect, so far, was to add
to Kitty's natural distinction, to give, rather, a touch of pathos to a
face which even in its wildest mirth had in it something alien and
remote. But she, too, reflected that a little more, a very little more,
and--in a night--the face would have dropped its beauty, as a rose its
petals.

The group stood talking awhile on the steps outside the church. Kitty
and her mother exchanged addresses, Donna Laura opened her mouth once or
twice, and produced a few contorted smiles for Kitty's benefit, while
Colonel Warington tipped the sacristan, found the gondolier, and studied
the guide-book.

As Madame d'Estrées stepped into her gondola, assisted by him, she
tapped him on the arm.

"Are you coming, Markham?"

The low voice was pitched in a very intimate note. Kitty turned with a
start.

       *       *       *       *       *

"A casa!" said Madame d'Estrées, and she and her friend made for one of
the canals that pierce the Zattere, while Colonel Warington went off for
a walk along the Giudecca.

Kitty and Ashe bade their gondoliers take them to the Piazzetta, and
presently they were gliding across waters of flame and silver, where the
white front and red campanile of San Giorgio--now blazing under the
sunset--mirrored themselves in the lagoon. The autumn evening was fresh
and gay. A light breeze was on the water; lights that only Venice knows
shone on the tawny sails of fishing-boats making for the Lido, on the
white sides of an English yacht, on the burnished prows of the gondolas,
on the warm reddish-white of the Ducal Palace. The air blowing from the
Adriatic breathed into their faces the strength of the sea; and in the
far distance, above that line of buildings where lies the heart of
Venice, the high ghosts of the Friulian Alps glimmered amid the sweeping
regiments and purple shadows of the land-hurrying clouds.

"This does you good, darling!" said Ashe, stooping down to look into his
wife's face, as she nestled beside him on the soft cushions of the
gondola.

Kitty gave him a slight smile, then said, with a furrowed brow:

"Who could ever have thought we should find maman here!"

"Don't have her on your mind!" said Ashe, with some sharpness. "I can't
have anything worrying you."

She slipped her hand into his.

"Is that man going to marry her--at last? She called him 'Markham.'
That's new."

"Looks rather like it," said Ashe. "Then _he'll_ have to look after the
debts!"

They began to piece together what they knew of Colonel Warington and his
relation to Madame d'Estrées. It was not much. But Ashe believed that
originally Warington had not been in love with her at all. There had
been a love-affair between her and Warington's younger brother, a smart
artillery officer, when she was the widowed Lady Blackwater. She had
behaved with more heart and scruple than she had generally been known to
do in these matters, and the young officer adored her--hoped, indeed, to
marry her. But he was called on--in Paris--to fight a duel on her
account, and was killed. Before fighting, he had commended Lady
Blackwater to the care of his much older brother, also a soldier,
between whom and himself there existed a rare and passionate devotion;
and ever since the poor lad's death, Markham Warington had been the
friend and quasi-guardian of the lady--through her second marriage,
through the checkered years of her existence in London, and now through
the later years of her residence on the Continent, a residence forced
upon her by her agreement with the Tranmores. Again and again he had
saved her from bankruptcy, or from some worse scandal which would have
wrecked the last remnants of her fame.

But, all the time, he was himself bound by strong ties of gratitude and
affection to an elder sister who had brought him up, with whom he lived
in Scotland during half the year. And this stout Puritan lady detested
the very name of Madame d'Estrées.

"But she's dead," said Ashe. "I remember noticing her death in the
_Times_ some three months ago. That, of course, explains it. Now he's
free to marry."

"And so maman will settle down, and be happy ever afterwards!" said
Kitty, with a sarcastic lifting of the brow. "Why should anybody be
good?"

The bitterness of her look struck Ashe disagreeably. That any child
should speak so of a mother was a tragic and sinister thing. But he was
well aware of the causes.

"Were you very unhappy when you were a child, Kitty?" He pressed the
hand he held.

"No," said Kitty, shortly. "I'm too like maman. I suppose, really, at
bottom, I liked all the debts, and the excitement, and the shady
people!"

"That wasn't the impression you gave me, in the first days of our
acquaintance!" said Ashe, laughing.

"Oh, then I was grown up--and there were drawbacks. But I'm made of the
same stuff as maman," she said, obstinately--"except that I can't tell
so many fibs. That's really why we didn't get on."

Her brown eyes held him with that strange, unspoken defiance it seemed
so often beyond her power to hide. It was like the fluttering of some
caged thing hungering for it knows not what. Then, as they scanned the
patient good-temper of his face, they melted; and her little fingers
squeezed his; while Margaret French kept her eyes fixed on the two
columns of the Piazzetta.

"How strange to find her here!" said Kitty, under her breath. "Now, if
it had been Alice--my sister Alice!"

William nodded. It had been known to them for some time that Lady Alice
Wensleydale, to whom Italy had become a second country, had settled in a
villa near Treviso, where she occupied herself with a lace school for
women and girls.

The mention of her sister threw Kitty into what seemed to be a
disagreeable reverie. The flush brought by the sea-wind faded. Ashe
looked at her with anxiety.

"You have done too much, Kitty--as usual!"

His voice was almost angry.

She shrugged her shoulders.

"What does it matter? You know very well it would be much better for you
if--"

"If what?"

"If I followed Harry." The words were just breathed, and her eyes shrank
from meeting his. Ashe, on the other hand, turned and looked at her
steadily.

"Are you quite determined I sha'n't get _any_ joy out of my holiday?"

She shook her head uncertainly. Then, almost immediately, she began to
chatter to Margaret French about the sights of the lagoon, with her
natural trenchancy and fun. But her hand, hidden under the folds of her
black cloak, still clung to William's.

"It is her illness," he said to himself, "and the loss of the child."

And at the remembrance of his little son, a wave of sore yearning filled
his own heart. Deep under the occupations and interests of the mind lay
this passionate regret, and at any moment of pause or silence its
"buried life" arose and seized him. But he was a busy politician,
absorbed even in these days of holiday by the questions and problems of
the hour. And Kitty was a delicate woman--with no defence against the
torture of grief.

He thought of those first days after the child's death, when in spite of
the urgency of the doctors it had been impossible to keep the news from
Kitty; of the ghastly effect of it upon nerves and brain already
imperilled by causes only half intelligible; of those sudden flights
from her nurses, when the days of convalescence began, to the child's
room, and, later, to his grave. There was stinging pain in these
recollections. Nor was he, in truth, much reassured by his wife's more
recent state. It was impossible, indeed, that he should give it the same
constant thought as a woman might--or a man of another and more
emotional type. At this moment, perhaps, he had literally no _time_ for
the subtleties of introspective feeling, even had his temperament
inclined him to them, which was, in truth, not the case. He knew that
Kitty had suddenly and resolutely ceased to talk about the boy, had
thrown herself with the old energy into new pursuits, and, since she
came to Venice in particular, had shown a feverish desire to fill every
hour with movement and sight-seeing.

But was she, in truth, much better--in body or soul?--poor child! The
doctors had explained her illness as nervous collapse, pointing back to
a long preceding period of overstrain and excitement. There had been
suspicions of tubercular mischief, but no precise test was then at
command; and as Kitty had improved with rest and feeding the idea had
been abandoned. But Ashe was still haunted by it, though quite
ready--being a natural optimist--to escape from it, and all other
incurable anxieties, as soon as Kitty herself should give the signal.

As to the moral difficulties and worries of those months at Haggart,
Ashe remembered them as little as might be. Kitty's illness, indeed, had
shown itself in more directions than one, as an amending and appeasing
fact. Even Lord Parham had been moved to compassion and kindness by the
immediate results of that horrible scene on the terrace. His
leave-taking from Ashe on the morning afterwards had been almost
cordial--almost intimate. And as to Lady Tranmore, whenever she had been
able to leave her paralyzed husband she had been with Kitty, nursing her
with affectionate wisdom night and day. While on the other members of
the Haggart party the sheer pity of Kitty's condition had worked with
surprising force. Lord Grosville had actually made his wife offer
Grosville Park for Kitty's convalescence--Kitty got her first laugh out
of the proposal. The Dean had journeyed several times from his distant
cathedral town, to see and sit with Kitty; Eddie Helston's flowers had
been almost a nuisance; Mrs. Alcot had shown herself quite soft and
human.

The effect, indeed, of this general sympathy on Lord Parham's relations
to the chief member of his cabinet had been but small and passing. Ashe
disliked and distrusted him more than ever; and whatever might have
happened to the Premier's resentment of a particular offence, there
could be no doubt that a visit from which Ashe had hoped much had ended
in complete failure, that Parham was disposed to cross his powerful
henchman where he could, and that intrigue was busy in the cabinet
itself against the reforming party of which Ashe was the head Ashe,
indeed, felt his own official position, outwardly so strong, by no means
secure. But the game of politics was none the less exhilarating for
that.

As to Kitty's relation to himself--and life's most intimate and tender
things--in these days, did he probe his own consciousness much
concerning them? Probably not. Was he aware that, when all was said and
done, in spite of her misdoings, in spite of his passion of anxiety
during her illness, in spite of the pity and affection of his daily
attitude, Kitty occupied, in truth, much less of his mind than she had
ever yet occupied?--that a certain magic--primal, incommunicable--had
ceased to clothe her image in his thoughts?

Again--probably not. For these slow changes in a man's inmost
personality are like the ebb and flow of summer tides over estuary
sands. Silent, the main creeps in, or out; and while we dream, the great
basin fills, and the fishing-boats come in--or the gentle, pitiless
waters draw back into the bosom of ocean, and the sea-birds run over the
wide, untenanted flats.

       *       *       *       *       *

They landed at the Piazzetta as the lamps were being lit. The soft
October darkness was falling fast, and on the ledges of St. Mark's and
the Ducal Palace the pigeons had begun to roost. An animated crowd was
walking up and down in the Piazza where a band was playing; and on the
golden horses of St. Mark's there shone a pale and mystical light, the
last reflection from the western sky. Under the colonnades the jewellers
and glass-shops blazed and sparkled, and the warm sea-wind fluttered
the Italian flags on the great flag-staffs that but so recently had
borne the Austrian eagle.

Ashe walked with his head thrown back, thinking absently, in this centre
of Venice, of English politics, and of a phrase of Metternich's he had
come across in a volume of memoirs he had been lately reading on the
journey:

"Le jour qui court n'a aucune valeur pour moi, excepté comme la veille
du lendemain. C'est toujours avec le lendemain que mon esprit lutte."

The phrase pleased him particularly.

He, too, was wrestling with the morrow, though in another sense than
Metternich's. His mind was alive with projects; an exultant
consciousness both of capacity and opportunity possessed him.

"Why, you've passed the club, William!" said Kitty.

Ashe awoke with a start, smiled at her, and with a wave of the hand
disappeared in a stairway to the right.

Margaret French lingered in a bead-shop to make some purchases. Kitty
walked home alone, and Margaret, whose watchful affection never failed,
knew that she preferred it, and let her go her way.

The Ashes had rooms on the first bend of the Grand Canal looking south.
To reach them by land from the Piazza, Kitty had to pass through a
series of narrow streets, or _calles_, broken by _campos_, or small
squares, in which stood churches. As she passed one of these churches
she was attracted by the sound of gay music and by the crowd about the
entrance. Pushing aside the leathern curtain over the door, she found
herself in a great rococo nave, which blazed with lights and
decorations. Lines of huge wax candles were fixed in temporary holders
along the floor. The pillars were swathed in rose-colored damask, and
the choir was ablaze with flowers, and even more brilliantly lit, if
possible, than the rest of the church.

Kitty's Catholic training told her that an exposition of the Blessed
Sacrament was going on. Mechanically she dipped her fingers into the
holy water, she made her genuflection to the altar, and knelt down in
one of the back rows.

How rich and sparkling it was--the lights, the bright colors, the
dancing music! "_Dolce Sacramento! Santo Sacramento!_" these words of an
Italian hymn or litany recurred again and again, with endless iteration.
Kitty's sensuous, excitable nature was stirred with delight. Then,
suddenly, she remembered her child, and the little face she had seen for
the last time in the coffin. She began to cry softly, hiding her face in
her black veil. An unbearable longing possessed her. "I shall never have
another child," she thought. "_That's_ all over."

Then her thoughts wandered back to the party at Haggart, to the scene on
the terrace, and to that rush of excitement which had mastered her, she
scarcely knew how or why. She could still hear the Dean's voice--see the
lamp wavering above her head. "What possessed me! I didn't care a straw
whether the lamp set me on fire--whether I lived or died. I wanted to
die."

Was it because of that short conversation with William in the
afternoon?--because of the calmness with which he had taken that word
"separation," which she had thrown at him merely as a child boasts and
threatens, never expecting for one moment to be taken at its word? She
had proposed it to him before, after the night at Hamel Weir; she had
been serious then, it had been an impulse of remorse, and he had laughed
at her. But at Haggart it had been an impulse of temper, and he had
taken it seriously. How the wound had rankled, all the afternoon, while
she was chattering to the Royalties! And as she jumped on the pedestal,
and saw his face of horror, there was the typical womanish triumph that
she had made him _feel_--would make him feel yet more.

How good, how tender he had been to her in her illness! And yet--yet?

"He cares for politics, for his plans--not for me. He will never trust
me again--as he did once. He'll never ask me to help him--he'll find
ways not to--though he'll be very sweet to me all the time."

And the thought of her nullity with him in the future, her
insignificance in his life, tortured her.

Why had she treated Lord Parham so? "I can be a lady when I choose," she
said, mockingly, to herself. "I wasn't even a lady."

Then suddenly there flashed on her memory a little picture of Lord
Parham, standing spectacled and bewildered, peering into her slip of
paper. She bent her head on her hands and laughed, a stifled, hysterical
laugh, which scandalized the woman kneeling beside her.

But the laugh was soon quenched again in restless pain. William's
affection had been her only refuge in those weeks of moral and physical
misery she had just passed through.

"But it's only because he's so terribly sorry for me. It's all quite
different. And I can't ever make him love me again in the old way.... It
wasn't my fault. It's something born in me--that catches me by the
throat."

And she had the actual physical sense of some one strangled by a
possessing force.

"_Dolce Sacramento! Santo Sacramento!_"... The music swayed and echoed
through the church. Kitty uncovered her eyes and felt a sudden
exhilaration in the blaze of light. It reminded her of the bending
Christ in the picture of San Giorgio. Awe and beauty flowed in upon her,
in spite of the poor music and the tawdry church. What if she tried
religion?--recalled what she had been taught in the convent?--gave
herself up to a director?

She shivered and recoiled. How would she ever maintain her faith against
William--William, who knew so much more than she?

Then, into the emptiness of her heart there stole the inevitable
temptations of memory. Where was Geoffrey? She knew well that he was a
violent and selfish man; but he understood much in her that William
would never understand. With a morbid eagerness she recalled the play of
feeling between them, before that mad evening at Hamel Weir. What
perpetual excitement--no time to think--or regret!

During her weeks of illness she had lost all count of his movements. Had
he been still writing during the summer for the newspaper which had sent
him out? Had there not been rumors of his being wounded--or attacked by
fever? Her memory, still vague and weak, struggled painfully with
memories it could not recapture.

The Italian paper of that morning--she had spelled it out for herself at
breakfast--had spoken of a defeat of the insurrectionary forces, and of
their withdrawal into the highlands of Bosnia. There would be a lull in
the fighting. Would he come home? And all this time had he been the mere
spectator and reporter, or fighting, himself? Her pulses leaped as she
thought of him leading down-trodden peasants against the Turk.

But she knew nothing. Surely during the last few months he had purposely
made a mystery of his doings and his whereabouts. The only sign of him
which seemed to have reached England had been that volume of poems--with
those hateful lines! Her lip quivered. She was like a weak child--unable
to bear the thought of anything hostile and unkind.

If he had already turned homeward? Perhaps he would come through Venice!
Anyway, he was not far off. The day before she and Margaret had made
their first visit to the Lido. And as Kitty stood fronting the Adriatic
waves, she had dreamed that somewhere, beyond the farther coast, were
those Bosnian mountains in which Geoffrey had passed the winter.

Then she started at her own thoughts, rose--loathing herself--drew down
her veil, and moved towards the door.

       *       *       *       *       *

As she reached the leathern curtain which hung over the doorway, a lady
in front who was passing through held the curtain aside that Kitty might
follow. Kitty stepped into the street and looked up to say a mechanical
"Thank you."

But the word died on her lips. She gave a stifled cry, which was echoed
by the woman before her.

Both stood motionless, staring at each other.

Kitty recovered herself first.

"It's not my fault that we've met," she said, panting a little. "Don't
look at me so--so unkindly. I know you don't want to see me. Why--why
should we speak at all? I'm going away." And she turned with a gesture
of farewell.

Alice Wensleydale laid a detaining hand on Kitty's arm.

"No! stay a moment. You are in black. You look ill."

Kitty turned towards her. They had moved on instinctively into the
shelter of one of the narrow streets.

"My boy died--two months ago," she said, holding herself proudly aloof.

Lady Alice started.

"I hadn't heard. I'm very sorry for you. How old was he?"

"Three years old."

"Poor baby!" The words were very low and soft. "My boy--was fourteen.
But you have other children?"

"No--and I don't want them. They might die, too."

Lady Alice paused. She still held her half-sister by the arm, towering
above her. She was quite as thin as Kitty, but much taller and more
largely built; and, beside the elaborate elegance of Kitty's mourning,
Alice's black veil and dress had a severe, conventual air. They were
almost the dress of a religious.

"How are you?" she said, gently. "I often think of you. Are you happy in
your marriage?"

Kitty laughed.

"We're such a happy lot, aren't we? We understand it so well. Oh, don't
trouble about me. You know you said you couldn't have anything to do
with me. Are you staying in Venice?"

"I came in from Treviso for a day or two, to see a friend--"

"You had better not stay," said Kitty, hastily. "Maman is here. At
least, if you don't want to run across her."

Lady Alice let go her hold.

"I shall go home to-morrow morning."

They moved on a few steps in silence, then Alice paused. Kitty's
delicate face and cloud of hair made a pale, luminous spot in the
darkness of the _calle_. Alice looked at her with emotion.

"I want to say something to you."

"Yes?"

"If you are ever in trouble--if you ever want me, send for me. Address
Treviso, and it will always find me."

Kitty made no reply. They had reached a bridge over a side canal, and
she stopped, leaning on the parapet.

"Did you hear what I said?" asked her companion.

"Yes. I'll remember. I suppose you think it your duty. What do you do
with yourself?"

"I have two orphan children I bring up. And there is my lace-school. It
doesn't get on much; but it occupies me."

"Are you a Catholic?"

"Yes."

"Wish I was!" said Kitty. She hung over the marble balustrade in
silence, looking at the crescent moon that was just peering over the
eastern palaces of the canal. "My husband is in politics, you know. He's
Home Secretary."

"Yes, I heard. Do you help him?"

"No--just the other thing."

Kitty lifted up a pebble and let it drop into the water.

"I don't know what you mean by that," said Alice Wensleydale, coldly.
"If you don't help him you'll be sorry--when it's too late to be sorry."

"Oh, I know!" said Kitty. Then she moved restlessly. "I must go in.
Good-night." She held out her hand.

Lady Alice took it.

"Good-night. And remember!"

"I sha'n't want anybody," said Kitty. "_Addio!_" She waved her hand, and
Alice Wensleydale, whose way lay towards the Piazza, saw her disappear,
a small tripping shadow, between the high, close-piled houses.

Kitty was in so much excitement after this conversation that when she
reached the Campo San Maurizio, where she should have turned abruptly to
the left, she wandered awhile up and down the campo, looking at the
gondolas on the Traghetto between it and the Accademia, at the Church of
San Maurizio, at the rising moon, and the bright lights in some of the
shop windows of the small streets to the north. The sea-wind was still
warm and gusty, and the waves in the Grand Canal beat against the marble
feet of its palaces.

At last she found her way through narrow passages, past hidden and
historic buildings, to the back of the palace on the Grand Canal in
which their rooms were. A door in a small court opened to her ring. She
found herself in a dark ground-floor--empty except for the _felze_ or
black top of a gondola--of which the farther doors opened on the canal.
A cheerful Italian servant brought lights, and on the marble stairs was
her maid waiting for her. In a few minutes she was on her sofa by a
bright wood fire, while Blanche hovered round her with many small
attentions.

"Have you seen your letters, my lady?" and Blanche handed her a pile.
Upon a parcel lying uppermost Kitty pounced at once with avidity. She
tore it open--pausing once, with scarlet cheeks, to look round her at
the door, as though she were afraid of being seen.

A book--fresh and new--emerged. _Politics and the Country Houses_; so
ran the title on the back. Kitty looked at it frowning. "He might have
found a better name!" Then she opened it--looked at a page here and a
page there--laughed, shivered--and at last bethought her to read the
note from the publisher which accompanied it.

"'Much pleasure--the first printed copy--three more to follow--sure to
make a sensation'--hateful wretch!--'if your ladyship will let us
know how many presentation copies--' Goodness!--not _one_!
Oh--well!--Madeleine, perhaps--and, of course, Mr. Darrell."

She opened a little despatch-box in which she kept her letters, and
slipped the book in.

"I won't show it to William to-night--not--not till next week." The book
was to be out on the 20th, a week ahead--three months from the day when
she had given the MS. into Darrell's hands. She had been spared all the
trouble of correcting proofs, which had been done for her by the
publisher's reader, on the plea of her illness. She had received and
destroyed various letters from him--almost without reading them--during
a short absence of William's in the north.

Suddenly a start of terror ran through her. "No, no!" she said,
wrestling with herself--"he'll scold me, perhaps--at first; of course I
know he'll do that. And then, I'll make him laugh! He can't--he can't
help laughing. I _know_ it'll amuse him. He'll see how I meant it, too.
And nobody need ever find out."

She heard his step outside, hastily locked her despatch-box, threw a
shawl over it, and lay back languidly on her pillows, awaiting him.



XVIII


The following morning, early, a note was brought to Kitty from Madame
d'Estrées:

     "Darling Kitty,--Will you join us to-night in an expedition? You
     know that Princess Margherita is staying on the Grand Canal?--in
     one of the Mocenigo palaces. There is to be a serenata in her honor
     to-night--not one of those vulgar affairs which the hotels get up,
     but really good music and fine voices--money to be given to some
     hospital or other. Do come with us. I suppose you have your own
     gondola, as we have. The gondolas who wish to follow meet at the
     Piazzetta, weather permitting, eight o'clock. I know, of course,
     that you are not going out. But this is _only_ music!--and for a
     charity. One just sits in one's gondola, and follows the music up
     the canal. Send word by bearer. Your fond mother,

     "Marguerite d'Estrées."

Kitty tossed the note over to Ashe. "Aren't you dining out somewhere
to-night?"

Her voice was listless. And as Ashe lifted his head from the cabinet
papers which had just reached him by special messenger, his attention
was disagreeably recalled from high matters of state to the very evident
delicacy of his wife. He replied that he had promised to dine with
Prince S---- at Danieli's, in order to talk Italian politics. "But I can
throw it over in a moment, if you want me. I came to Venice for _you_,
darling," he said, as he rose and joined her on the balcony which
commanded a fine stretch of the canal.

"No, no! Go and dine with your prince. I'll go with maman--Margaret and
I. At least, Margaret must, of course, please herself!"

She shrugged her shoulders, and then added, "Maman's probably in the
pink of society here. Venice doesn't take its cue from people like Aunt
Lina!"

Ashe smiled uncomfortably. He was in truth by this time infinitely
better acquainted with the incidents of Madame d'Estrées's past career
than Kitty was. He had no mind whatever that Kitty should become less
ignorant, but his knowledge sometimes made conversation difficult.

Kitty was perfectly aware of his embarrassment.

"You never tell me--" she said, abruptly. "Did she really do such
dreadful things?"

"My dear Kitty!--why talk about it?"

Kitty flushed, then threw a flower into the water below with a defiant
gesture.

"What does it matter? It's all so long ago. I have nothing to do with
what I did ten years ago--nothing!"

"A convenient doctrine!" laughed Ashe. "But it cuts both ways. You get
neither the good of your good nor the bad of your bad."

"I have no good," said Kitty, bitterly.

"What's the matter with you, miladi?" said Ashe, half scolding, half
tender. "You growl over my remarks as though you were your own small dog
with a bone. Come here and let me tell you the news."

And drawing the sofa up to the open window which commanded the
marvellous waterway outside, with its rows of palaces on either hand, he
made her lie down while he read her extracts from his letters.

Margaret French, who was writing at the farther side of the room,
glanced at them furtively from time to time. She saw that Ashe was
trying to charm away the languor of his companion by that talk of his,
shrewd, humorous, vehement, well informed, which made him so welcome to
the men of his own class and mode of life. And when he talked to a woman
as he was accustomed to talk to men, that woman felt it a compliment.
Under the stimulus of it, Kitty woke up, laughed, argued, teased, with
something of her natural animation.

Presently, indeed, the voices had sunk so much and the heads had drawn
so close together that Margaret French slipped away, under the
impression that they were discussing matters to which she was not meant
to listen.

She had hardly closed the door when Kitty drew herself away from Ashe,
and holding his arm with both hands looked strangely into his eyes.

"You're awfully good to me, William. But, you know--you don't tell me
secrets!"

"What do you mean, darling?"

"You don't tell me the real secrets--what Lord Palmerston used to tell
to Lady Palmerston!"

"How do you know what he used to tell her?" said Ashe, with a laugh. But
his forehead had reddened.

"One hears--and one guesses--from the letters that have been published.
Oh, I understand quite well! You can't trust me!"

Ashe turned aside and began to gather up his papers.

"Of course," said Kitty, a little hoarsely, "I know it's my own fault,
because you used to tell me much more. I suppose it was the way I
behaved to Lord Parham?"

She looked at him rather tremulously. It was the first time since her
illness began that she had referred to the incidents at Haggart.

"Look here!" said Ashe, in a tone of decision; "I shall _really_ give up
talking politics to you if it only reminds you of disagreeable things."

She took no notice.

"Is Lord Parham behaving well to you--now--William?"

Ashe colored hotly. As a matter of fact, in his own opinion, Lord Parham
was behaving vilely. A measure of first-rate importance for which he was
responsible was already in danger of being practically shelved, simply,
as it seemed to him, from a lack of elementary trustworthiness in Lord
Parham. But as to this he had naturally kept his own counsel with Kitty.

"He is not the most agreeable of customers," he said, gayly. "But I
shall get through. Pegging away does it."

"And then to see how our papers flatter him!" cried Kitty. "How little
people know, who think they know! It would be amusing to show the world
the real Lord Parham."

She looked at her husband with an expression that struck him
disagreeably. He threw away his cigarette, and his face changed.

"What we have to do, my dear Kitty, is simply to hold our tongues."

Kitty sat up in some excitement.

"That man never hears the truth!"

Ashe shrugged his shoulders. It seemed to him incredible that she should
pursue this particular topic, after the incidents at Haggart.

"That's not the purpose for which Prime Ministers exist. Anyway, _we_
can't tell it him."

Undaunted, however, by his tone, and with what seemed to him
extraordinary excitability of manner, Kitty reminded him of an incident
in the life of a bygone administration, when the near relative of an
English statesman, staying at the time in the statesman's house, had
sent a communication to one of the quarterlies attacking his policy and
belittling his character, by means of information obtained in the
intimacy of a country-house party.

"One of the most treacherous things ever done!" said Ashe, indignantly.
"Fair fight, if you like! But if that kind of thing were to spread, I
for one should throw up politics to-morrow."

"Every one said it did a vast deal of good," persisted Kitty.

"A precious sort of good! Yes--I believe Parham in particular profited
by it--more shame to him! If anybody ever tried to help me in that sort
of way--anybody, that is, for whom I felt the smallest responsibility--I
know what I should do."

"What?" Kitty fell back on her cushions, but her eye still held him.

"Send in my resignation by the next post--and damn the fellow that did
it! Look here, Kitty!" He came to stand over her--a fine formidable
figure, his hands in his pockets. "Don't you ever try that kind of
thing--there's a darling."

"Would you damn me?"

She smiled at him--with a tremor of the lip.

He caught up her hand and kissed it. "Blow out my own brains, more
like," he said, laughing. Then he turned away. "What on earth have we
got into this beastly conversation for? Let's get out of it. The Parhams
are there--male and female--aren't they?--and we've got to put up with
them. Well, I'm going to the Piazza. Any commissions? Oh,
by-the-way"--he looked back at a letter in his hands--"mother says Polly
Lyster will probably be here before we go--she seems to be touring
around with her father."

"Charming prospect!" said Kitty. "Does mother expect me to chaperon
her?"

Ashe laughed and went. As soon as he was gone, Kitty sprang from the
sofa, and walked up and down the room in a passionate preoccupation. A
tremor of great fear was invading her; an agony of unavailing regret.

"What can I do?" she said to herself, as her upper lip twisted and
tortured the lower one.

Presently she caught up her purse, went to her room, where she put on
her walking things without summoning Blanche, and stealing down the
stairs, so as to be unheard by Margaret, she made her way to the back
gate of the Palazzo, and so to the streets leading to the Piazza.
William had taken the gondola to the Piazzetta, so she felt herself
safe.

She entered the telegraphic office at the western end of the Piazza, and
sent a telegram to England that nearly emptied her purse of francs. When
she came out she was as pale as she had been flushed before--a little,
terror-stricken figure, passing in a miserable abstraction through the
intricate backways which took her home.

"It won't be published for ten days. There's time. It's only a question
of money," she said to herself, feverishly--"only a question of money!"

       *       *       *       *       *

All the rest of the day, Kitty was at once so restless and so languid
that to amuse her was difficult. Ashe was quite grateful to his amazing
mother-in-law for the plan of the evening.

As night fell, Kitty started at every sound in the old Palazzo. Once or
twice she went half-way to the door--eagerly--with hand
out-stretched--as though she expected a letter.

"No other English post to-night, Kitty!" said Ashe, at last, raising his
head from the finely printed _Poetæ Minores_ he had just purchased at
Ongania's. "You don't mean to say you're not thankful!"

       *       *       *       *       *

The evening arrived--clear and mild, but moonless. Ashe went off to dine
with his prince, in the ordinary gondola of commerce, hired at the
Traghetto; while Margaret and Kitty followed a little later in one which
had already drawn the attention of Venice, owing to the two handsome
gondoliers, habited in black from head to foot, who were attached to it.
They turned towards the Piazzetta, where they were to meet with Madame
d'Estrées' party.

Kitty, in her deep mourning, sank listlessly into the black cushions of
the gondola. Yet almost as they started, as the first strokes carried
them past the famous palace which is now the Prefecture, the spell of
Venice began to work.

City of rest!--as it seems to our modern senses--how is it possible that
so busy, so pitiless, and covetous a life as history shows us should
have gone to the making and the fashioning of Venice! The easy passage
of the gondola through the soft, imprisoned wave; the silence of wheel
and hoof, of all that hurries and clatters; the tide that comes and
goes, noiseless, indispensable, bringing in the freshness of the sea,
carrying away the defilements of the land; the narrow winding ways, now
firm earth, now shifting sea, that bind the city into one social whole,
where the industrial and the noble alike are housed in palaces, equal
often in beauty as in decay; the marvellous quiet of the nights, save
when the northeast wind, Hadria's stormy leader, drives the furious
waves against the palace fronts in the darkness, with the clamor of an
attacking host; the languor of the hot afternoons, when life is a dream
of light and green water, when the play of mirage drowns the foundations
of the _lidi_ in the lagoon, so that trees and buildings rise out of the
sea as though some strong Amphion-music were but that moment calling
them from the deep; and when day departs, that magic of the swiftly
falling dusk, and that white foam and flower of St. Mark's upon the
purple intensity of the sky!--through each phase of the hours and the
seasons, _rest_ is still the message of Venice, rest enriched with
endless images, impressions, sensations, that cost no trouble and breed
no pain.

It was this spell of rest that descended for a while on Kitty as they
glided downward to the Piazzetta. The terror of the day relaxed. Her
telegram would be in time; or, if not, she would throw herself into
William's arms, and he _must_ forgive her!--because she was so foolish
and weak, so tired and sad. She slipped her hand into Margaret's; they
talked in low voices of the child, and Kitty was all appealing
melancholy and charm.

At the Piazzetta there was already a crowd of gondolas, and at their
head the _barca_, which carried the musicians.

"You are late, Kitty!" cried Madame d'Estrées, waving to them. "Shall we
draw out and come to you?--or will you just join on where you are?"

For the Vercelli gondola was already wedged into a serried line of boats
in the wake of the _barca_.

"Never mind us," said Kitty. "We'll tack on somehow."

And inwardly she was delighted to be thus separated from her mother and
the chattering crowd by which Madame d'Estrées seemed to be surrounded.
Kitty and Margaret bade their men fall in, and they presently found
themselves on the Salute side of the floating audience, their prow
pointing to the canal.

The _barca_ began to move, and the mass of gondolas followed. Round
them, and behind them, other boats were passing and repassing, each with
its slim black body, its swanlike motion, its poised oarsman, and its
twinkling light. The lagoon towards the Guidecca was alive with these
lights; and a magnificent white steamer adorned with flags and
lanterns--the yacht, indeed, of a German prince--shone in the
mid-channel.

On they floated. Here were the hotels, with other illuminated boats in
front of their steps, whence spoiled voices shouted, "Santa Lucia," till
even Venice and the Grand Canal became a vulgarity and a weariness.
These were the "serenate publiche," common and commercial affairs, which
the private serenata left behind in contempt, steering past their
flaring lights for the dark waters of romance which lay beyond.

Suddenly Kitty's sadness gave way; her starved senses clamored; she woke
to poetry and pleasure. All round her, stretching almost across the
canal, the noiseless flock of gondolas--dark, leaning figures impelling
them from behind, and in front the high prows and glow-worm lights; in
the boats, a multitude of dim, shrouded figures, with not a face
visible; and in their midst the _barca_, temple of light and music,
built up of flowers, and fluttering scarves, and many-colored lanterns,
a sparkling fantasy of color, rose and gold and green, shining on the
bosom of the night. To either side, the long, dark lines of
thrice-historic palaces; scarcely a poor light here and there at their
water-gates; and now and then the lamps of the Traghetti.... Otherwise,
darkness, soundless motion, and, overhead, dim stars.

"Margaret! Look!"

Kitty caught her companion's arm in a mad delight.

Some one for the amusement of the guests of Venice was experimenting on
the top of the campanile of St. Mark's with those electric lights which
were then the toys of science, and are now the eyes and tools of war. A
search-light was playing on the basin of St. Mark's and on the mouth of
the canal. Suddenly it caught the Church of the Salute--and the whole
vast building, from the Queen of Heaven on its topmost dome down to the
water's brim, the figures of saints and prophets and apostles which
crowd its steps and ledges, the white whorls, like huge sea-shells, that
make its buttresses, the curves and volutes of its cornices and
doorways, rushed upon the eye in a white and blinding splendor, making
the very darkness out of which the vision sprang alive and rich. Not a
Christian church, surely, but a palace of Poseidon! The bewildered gazer
saw naiads and bearded sea-gods in place of angels and saints, and must
needs imagine the champing of Poseidon's horses at the marble steps,
straining towards the sea.

The vision wavered, faded, reappeared, and finally died upon the night.
Then the wild beams began to play on the canal, following the serenata,
lighting up now the palaces on either hand, now some single gondola,
revealing every figure and gesture of the laughing English or Americans
who filled it, in a hard white flash.

"Oh! listen, Kitty!" said Margaret. "Some one is going to sing 'Ché
faro.'"

Miss French was very musical, and she turned in a trance of pleasure
towards the _barca_ whence came the first bars of the accompaniment.

She did not see meanwhile that Kitty had made a hurried movement, and
was now leaning over the side of the gondola, peering with arrested
breath into the scattered group of boats on their left hand. The
search-light flashed here and there among them. A gondola at the very
edge of the serenata contained one figure beside the gondolier, a man in
a large cloak and slouch hat, sitting very still with folded arms. As
Kitty looked, hearing the beating of her heart, their own boat was
suddenly lit up. The light passed in a second, and while it lasted those
in the flash could see nothing outside it. When it withdrew all was in
darkness. The black mass of boats floated on, soundless again, save for
an occasional plash of water or the hoarse cry of a gondolier--and in
the distance the wail for Eurydice.

Kitty fell back in her seat. An excitement, from which she shrank in a
kind of terror, possessed her. Her thoughts were wholly absorbed by the
gondola and the figure she could no longer distinguish--for which,
whenever a group of lamps threw their reflections on the water, she
searched the canal in vain. If what she madly dreamed were true, had she
herself been seen--and recognized?

The serenata in honor of Italy's beautiful princess duly made its way to
the Grand Canal. The princess came to her balcony, while the "Jewel
Song" in "Faust" was being sung below, and there was a demonstration
which echoed from palace to palace and died away under the arch of the
Rialto. Then the gondolas dispersed. That of Lady Kitty Ashe had some
difficulty in making its way home against a force of wind and tide
coming from the lagoon.

       *       *       *       *       *

Kitty was apparently asleep when Ashe returned. He had sat late with his
hosts--men prominent in the Risorgimento and in the politics of the new
kingdom--discussing the latest intricacies of the Roman situation and
the prospects of Italian finance. His mind was all alert and vigorous,
ranging over great questions and delighting in its own strength. To come
in contact with these able foreigners, not as the mere traveller but as
an important member of an English government, beginning to be spoken of
by the world as one of the two or three men of the future--this was a
new experience and a most agreeable one. Doors hitherto closed had
opened before him; information no casual Englishman could have commanded
had been freely poured out for him; last, but not least, he had at
length made himself talk French with some fluency, and he looked back on
his performance of the evening with a boy's complacency.

For the rest, Venice was a mere trial of his patience! As his gondola
brought him home, struggling with wind and wave, Ashe had no eye
whatever for the beauty of this Venice in storm. His mind was in
England, in London, wrestling with a hundred difficulties and
possibilities. The old literary and speculative habit was fast
disappearing in the stress of action and success. His well-worn Plato or
Horace still lay beside his bedside; but when he woke early, and lit a
candle carefully shaded from Kitty, it was not to the poets and
philosophers that he turned; it was to a heap of official documents and
reports, to the letters of political friends, or an unfinished letter of
his own, the phrases of which had perhaps been running through his
dreams. The measures for which he was wrestling against the intrigues of
Lord Parham and Lord Parham's clique filled all his mind with a lively
ardor of battle. They were the children--the darlings--of his thoughts.

Nevertheless, as he entered his wife's dim-lit room the eager arguments
and considerations that were running through his head died away. He
stood beside her, overwhelmed by a rush of feeling, alive through all
his being to the appeal of her frail sweetness, the helplessness of her
sleep, the dumb significance of the thin, blue-veined hand--eloquent at
once of character and of physical weakness--which lay beside her. Her
face was hidden, but the beautiful hair with its childish curls and
ripples drew him to her--touched all the springs of tenderness.

It was a loveliness so full, it seemed, of meaning and of promise. Hand,
brow, mouth--they were the signs of no mere empty and insipid beauty.
There was not a movement, not a feature, that did not speak of
intelligence and mind.

And yet, were he to wake her now and talk to her of the experience of
his evening, how little joy would either get out of it.

Was it because she had no intellectual disinterestedness? Well, what
woman had! But other women, even if they saw everything in terms of
personality, had the power of pursuing an aim, steadily, persistently,
for the sake of a person. He thought of Lady Palmerston--of Princess
Lieven fighting Guizot's battles--and sighed.

By Jove! the women could do most things, if they chose. He recalled
Kitty's triumph in the great party gathered to welcome Lord Parham,
contrasting it with her wilful and absurd behavior to the man himself.
There was something bewildering in such power--combined with such folly.
In a sense, it was perfectly true that she had insulted her husband's
chief, and jeopardized her husband's policy, because she could not put
up with Lord Parham's white eyelashes.

Well, let him make his account with it! How to love her, tend her, make
her happy--and yet carry on himself the life of high office--there was
the problem! Meanwhile he recognized, fully and humorously, that she had
married a political sceptic--and that it was hard for her to know what
to do with the enthusiast who had taken his place.

Poor, pretty, incalculable darling! He would coax her to stay abroad
part of the Parliamentary season--and then, perhaps, lure her into the
country, with the rebuilding and refurnishing of Haggart. She must be
managed and kept from harm--and afterwards indulged and spoiled and
_fêted_ to her heart's content.

If only the fates would give them another child!--a child brilliant and
lovely like herself, then surely this melancholy which overshadowed her
would disperse. That look--that tragic look--she had given him on the
day of the _fête_, when she spoke of "separation"! The wild adventure
with the lamp had been her revenge--her despair. He shuddered as he
thought of it.

He fell asleep, still pondering restlessly over her future and his own.
Amid all his anxieties he never stooped to recollect the man who had
endangered her name and peace. His optimism, his pride, the sanguine
perfunctoriness of much of his character were all shown in the omission.

       *       *       *       *       *

Kitty, however, was not asleep while Ashe was beside her. And she slept
but little through the hours that followed. Between three and four she
was finally roused by the sounds of storm in the canal. It was as though
a fleet of gigantic steamers--in days when Venice knew but the
gondola--were passing outside, sending a mountainous "wash" against the
walls of the old palace in which they lodged. In this languid autumnal
Venice the sudden noise and crash were startling. Kitty sprang softly
out of bed, flung on a dressing-gown and fur cloak, and slipped through
the open window to the balcony.

A strange sight! Beneath, livid waves, lashing the marble walls; above,
a pale moonlight, obscured by scudding clouds. Not a sign of life on
the water or in the dark palaces opposite. Venice looked precisely as
she might have looked on some wild sixteenth-century night in the years
of her glorious decay, when her palaces were still building and her
state tottering. Opposite, at the Traghetto of the Accademia, there were
lamps, and a few lights in the gondolas; and through the storm-noises
one could hear the tossed boats grinding on their posts.

The riot of the air was not cold; there was still a recollection of
summer in the gusts that beat on Kitty's fair hair and wrestled with her
cloak. As she clung to the balcony she pictured to herself the tumbling
waves on the Lido; the piled storm-clouds parting like a curtain above a
dead Venice; and behind, the gleaming eternal Alps, sending their
challenge to the sea--the forces that make the land, to the forces that
engulf it.

Her wild fancy went out to meet the tumult of blast and wave. She felt
herself, as it were, anchored a moment at sea, in the midst of a war of
elements, physical and moral.

Yes, yes!--it was Geoffrey. Once, under the skipping light, she had seen
the face distinctly. Paler than of old--gaunt, unhappy, absent. It was
the face of one who had suffered--in body and mind. But--she trembled
through all her slight frame!--the old harsh power was there unchanged.

Had he seen and recognized her--slipping away afterwards into the mouth
of a side canal, or dropping behind in the darkness? Was he ashamed to
face her--or angered by the reminder of her existence? No doubt it
seemed to him now a monstrous absurdity that he should ever have said he
loved her! He despised her--thought her a base and coward soul. Very
likely he would make it up with Mary Lyster now, accept her nursing and
her money.

Her lip curled in scorn. No, _that_ she didn't believe! Well, then, what
would be his future? His name had been but little in the newspapers
during the preceding year; the big public seemed to have forgotten him.
A cloud had hung for months over the struggle of races and of faiths now
passing in the Balkans. Obscure fighting in obscure mountains; massacre
here, revolt there; and for some months now hardly an accredited voice
from Turk or Christian to tell the world what was going on.

But Geoffrey had now emerged--and at a moment when Europe was beginning
perforce to take notice of what she had so far wilfully ignored. _À lui
la parole!_ No doubt he was preparing it, the bloody, exciting story
which would bring him before the foot-lights again, and make him once
more the lion of a day. More social flatteries, more doubtful
love-affairs! Fools like herself would feel his spell, would cherish and
caress him, only to be stung and scathed as she had been. The bitter
lines of his "portrait" rung in her ears--blackening and discrowning her
in her own eyes.

She abhorred him!--but the thought that he was in Venice burned deep
into senses and imagination. Should she tell William she had seen him?
No, no! She would stand by herself, protect herself!

So she stole back to bed, and lay there wakeful, starting guiltily at
William's every movement. If he knew what had happened!--what she was
thinking of! Why on earth should he? It would be monstrous to harass
him on his holiday--with all these political affairs on his mind.

Then suddenly--by an association of ideas--she sat up shivering, her
hands pressed to her breast. The telegram--the book! Oh, but _of course_
she had been in time!--_of course_! Why, she had offered the man two
hundred pounds! She lay down laughing at herself--forcing herself to try
and sleep.



XIX


Sir Richard Lyster unfolded his _Times_ with a jerk.

"A beastly rheumatic hole I call this," he said, looking angrily at the
window of his hotel sitting-room, which showed drops from a light shower
then passing across the lagoon. "And the dilatoriness of these Italian
posts is, upon my soul, beyond bearing! This _Times_ is _three_ days
old."

Mary Lyster looked up from the letter she was writing.

"Why don't you read the French papers, papa? I saw a _Figaro_ of
yesterday in the Piazza this morning."

"Because I can't!" was the indignant reply. "There wasn't the same
amount of money squandered on _my_ education, my dear, that there has
been on yours."

Mary smiled a little, unseen. Her father had been, of course, at Eton.
She had been educated by a succession of small and hunted governesses,
mostly Swiss, whose remuneration had certainly counted among the
frugalities rather than the extravagances of the family budget.

Sir Richard read his _Times_ for a while. Mary continued to write checks
for the board wages of the servants left at home, and to give directions
for the beating of carpets and cleaning of curtains. It was dull work,
and she detested it.

Presently Sir Richard rose, with a stretch. He was a tall old man, with
a shock of white hair and very black eyes. A victim to certain obscure
forms of gout, he was in character neither stupid nor inhuman, but he
suffered from the usual drawbacks of his class--too much money and too
few ideas. He came abroad every year, reluctantly. He did not choose to
be left behind by county neighbors whose wives talked nonsense about
Botticelli. And Mary would have it. But Sir Richard's tours were
generally one prolonged course of battle between himself and all foreign
institutions; and if it was Mary who drove him forth, it was Mary also
who generally hurried him home.

"Who was it you saw last night in that ridiculous singing affair?" he
asked, as he put the fire together.

"Kitty Ashe--and her mother," said Mary--after a moment--still writing.

"Her mother!--what, that disreputable woman?"

"They weren't in the same gondola."

"Ashe will be a great fool if he lets his wife see much of that woman!
By all accounts Lady Kitty is quite enough of a handful already.
By-the-way, have you found out where they are?"

"On the Grand Canal. Shall we call this afternoon?"

"I don't mind. Of course, I think Ashe is doing an immense amount of
harm."

"Well, you can tell him so," said Mary.

Sir Richard frowned. His daughter's manners seemed to him at times
abrupt.

"Why do you see so little now of Elizabeth Tranmore?" he asked her, with
a sharp look. "You used to be always there. And I don't believe you even
write to her much now."

"Does she see much of anybody?"

"Because, you mean, of Tranmore's condition? What good can she be to him
now? He knows nobody."

"She doesn't seem to ask the question," said Mary, dryly.

A queer, soft look came over Sir Richard's old face.

"No, the women don't," he said, half to himself, and fell into a little
reverie. He emerged from it with the remark--accompanied by a smile, a
little sly but not unkind:

"I always used to hope, Polly, that you and Ashe would have made it up!"

"I'm sure I don't know why," said Mary, fastening up her envelopes. As
she did so it crossed her father's mind that she was still very
good-looking. Her dress of dark-blue cloth, the plain fashion of her
brown hair, her oval face and well-marked features, her plump and pretty
hands, were all pleasant to look upon. She had rather a hard way with
her, though, at times. The servants were always giving warning. And,
personally, he was much fonder of his younger daughter, whom Mary
considered foolish and improvident. But he was well aware that Mary made
his life easy.

"Well, you were always on excellent terms," he said, in answer to her
last remark. "I remember his saying to me once that you were very good
company. The Bishop, too, used to notice how he liked to talk to you."

When Mary and her father were together, "the Bishop" was Sir Richard's
property. He only fell to Mary's share in the old man's absence.

Mary colored slightly.

"Oh yes, we got on," she said, counting her letters the while with a
quick hand.

"Well, I hope that young woman whom he _did_ marry is now behaving
herself. It was that fellow Cliffe with whom the scandal was last year,
wasn't it?"

"There was a good deal of talk," said Mary.

"A rum fellow, that Cliffe! A man at the club told me last week it is
believed he has been fighting for these Bosnian rebels for months.
Shocking bad form I call it. If the Turks catch him, they'll string him
up. And quite right, too. What's he got to do with other people's
quarrels?"

"If the Turks will be such brutes--"

"Nonsense, my dear! Don't you believe any of this radical stuff. The
Turks are awfully fine fellows--fight like bull-dogs. And as for the
'atrocities,' they make them up in London. Oh, of course, what Cliffe
wants is notoriety--we all know that. Well, I'm going out to see if I
can find another English paper. Beastly climate!"

But as Sir Richard turned again to the window, he was met by a burst of
sunshine, which hit him gayly in the face like a child's impertinence.
He grumbled something unintelligible as Mary put him into his Inverness
cape, took hat and stick, and departed.

Mary sat still beside the writing-table, her hands crossed on her lap,
her eyes absently bent upon them.

She was thinking of the serenata. She had followed it with an
acquaintance from the hotel, and she had seen not only Kitty and Madame
d'Estrées, but also--the solitary man in the heavy cloak. She knew quite
well that Cliffe was in Venice; though, true to her secretive temper,
she had not mentioned the fact to her father.

Of course he was in Venice on Kitty's account. It would be too absurd to
suppose that he was here by mere coincidence. Mary believed that nothing
but the intervention of Cliffe's mighty kinsman from the north had saved
the situation the year before. Kitty would certainly have betrayed her
husband but for the _force majeure_ arrayed against her. And now the
magnate who had played Providence slumbered in the family vault. He had
passed away in the spring, full of years and honors, leaving Cliffe some
money. The path was clear. As for the escapade in the Balkans, Geoffrey
was, of course, tired of it. A sensational book, hurried out to meet the
public appetite for horrors--and the pursuance of his intrigue with Lady
Kitty Ashe--Mary was calmly certain that these were now his objects. He
was, no doubt, writing his book and meeting Kitty where he could. Ashe
would soon have to go home. And then! As if that girl Margaret French
could stop it!

Well, William had only got his deserts! But as her thoughts passed from
Kitty or Cliffe to William Ashe, their quality changed. Hatred and
bitterness, scorn or wounded vanity, passed into something gentler. She
fell into recollections of Ashe as he had appeared on that bygone
afternoon in May when he came back triumphant from his election, with
the world before him. If he had never seen Kitty Bristol!--

"I should have made him a good wife," she said to herself. "_I_ should
have known how to be proud of him."

And there emerged also the tragic consciousness that if the fates had
given him to her she might have been another woman--taught by happiness,
by love, by motherhood.

It was that little, heartless creature who had snatched them both from
her--William and Geoffrey Cliffe--the higher and the lower--the man who
might have ennobled her--and the man, half charlatan, half genius, whom
she might have served and raised, by her fortune and her abilities. Her
life might have been so full, so interesting! And it was Kitty that had
made it flat, and cold, and futureless.

Poor William! Had he really liked her, in those boy-and-girl days? She
dreamed over their old cousinly relations--over the presents he had
sometimes given her.

Then a thought, like a burning arrow, pierced her. Her hands locked,
straining one against the other. If this intrigue were indeed
renewed--if Geoffrey succeeded in tempting Kitty from her husband--why
then--then--

She shivered before the images that were passing through her mind, and,
rising, she put away her letters and rang for the waiter, to order
dinner.

"Where shall we go?" said Kitty, languidly, putting down the French
novel she was reading.

       *       *       *       *       *

"Mr. Ashe suggested San Lazzaro." Margaret looked up from her writing as
Kitty moved towards her. "The rain seems to have all cleared off."

"Well, I'm sure it doesn't matter where," said Kitty, and was turning
away; but Margaret caught her hand and caressed it.

"Naughty Kitty! why this sea air can't put some more color into your
cheeks I don't understand."

"I'm _not_ pale!" cried Kitty, pouting. "Margaret, you do croak about me
so! If you say any more I'll go and rouge till you'll be ashamed to go
out with me--there! Where's William?"

William opened the door as she spoke, the _Gazetta di Venezia_ in one
hand and a telegram in the other.

"Something for you, darling," he said, holding it out to Kitty. "Shall I
open it?"

"Oh no!" said Kitty, hastily. "Give it me. It's from my Paris woman."

"Ah--ha!" laughed Ashe. "Some extravagance you want to keep to yourself,
I'll be bound. I've a good mind to see!"

And he teasingly held it up above her head. But she gave a little jump,
caught it, and ran off with it to her room.

     "Much regret impossible stop publication. Fifty copies distributed
     already. Writing."

She dropped speechless on the edge of her bed, the crumpled telegram in
her hand. The minutes passed.

"When will you be ready?" said Ashe, tapping at the door.

"Is the gondola there?"

"Waiting at the steps."

"Five minutes!" Ashe departed. She rose, tore the telegram into little
bits, and began with deliberation to put on her mantle and hat.

"You've got to go through with it," she said to the white face in the
glass, and she straightened her small shoulders defiantly.

       *       *       *       *       *

They were bound for the Armenian convent. It was a misty day, with
shafts of light on the lagoon. The storm had passed, but the water was
still rough, and the clouds seemed to be withdrawing their forces only
to marshal them again with the darkness. A day of sudden bursts of
watery light, of bands of purple distance struck into enchanting beauty
by the red or orange of a sail, of a wild salt breath in air that seemed
to be still suffused with spray. The Alps were hidden; but what sun
there was played faintly on the Euganean hills.

"I say, Margaret, at last she does us some credit!" said Ashe, pointing
to his wife.

Margaret started. Was it rouge?--or was it the strong air? Kitty's
languor had entirely disappeared; she was more cheerful and more
talkative than she had been at any time since their arrival. She
chattered about the current scandals of Venice--the mysterious contessa
who lived in the palace opposite their own, and only went out, in deep
mourning, at night, because she had been the love of a Russian
grand-duke, and the grand-duke was dead; of the Carlist pretender and
his wife, who had been very popular in Venice until they took it into
their heads to require royal honors, and Venice, taking time to think,
had lazily decided the game was not worth the candle--so now the sulky
pair went about alone in a fine gondola, turning glassy eyes on their
former acquaintance; of the needy marchese who had sold a Titian to the
Louvre, and had then found himself boycotted by all his kinsfolk in
Venice who were not needy and had no Titians to sell--all these tales
Kitty reeled out at length till the handsome gondoliers marvelled at the
little lady's vivacity and the queer brightness of her eyes.

"Gracious, Kitty, where do you get all these stories from?" cried Ashe,
when the chatter paused for a moment.

He looked at her with delight, rejoicing in her gayety, the slight
touches of white which to-day for the first time relieved the sombreness
of her dress, the return of her color. And Margaret wondered again how
much of it was rouge.

At the Armenian convent a handsome young monk took charge of them. As
George Sand and Lamennais had done before them, they looked at the
printing-press, the garden, the cloister, the church; they marvelled
lazily at the cleanliness and brightness of the place; and finally they
climbed to the library and museum, and the room close by where Byron
played at grammar-making. In this room Ashe fell suddenly into a
political talk with the young monk, who was an ardent and patriotic son
of the most unfortunate of nations, and they passed out and down the
stairs, followed by Margaret French, not noticing that Kitty had
lingered behind.

Kitty stood idly by the window of Byron's room, thinking restlessly of
verses that were not Byron's, though there was in them, clothed in forms
of the new age, the spirit of Byronic passion, and more than a touch of
Byronic affectation--thinking also of the morning's telegram. Supposing
Darrell's prophecy, which had seemed to her so absurd, came true, that
the book did William harm, not good--that he ceased to love her--that he
cast her off?...

... A plash of water outside, and a voice giving directions. From the
lagoon towards Malamocco a gondola approached. A gentleman and lady were
seated in it. The lady--a very handsome Italian, with a loud laugh and
brilliant eyes--carried a scarlet parasol. Kitty gave a stifled cry as
she drew back. She fled out of the room and overtook the other two.

"May we go back into the garden a little?" she said, hurriedly, to the
monk who was talking to William. "I should like to see the view towards
Venice."

William held up a watch, to show that there was but just time to get
back to the Piazza, for lunch. Kitty persisted, and the monk,
understanding what the impetuous young lady wished, good-naturedly
turned to obey her.

"We must be _very_ quick!" said Kitty. "Take us please, to the edge,
beyond the trees."

And she herself hurried through the garden to its farther side, where it
was bounded by the lagoon.

The others followed her, rather puzzled by her caprice.

"Not much to be seen, darling!" said Ashe, as they reached the
water--"and I think this good man wants to get rid of us!"

And, indeed, the monk was looking backward across the intervening trees
at a party which had just entered the garden.

"Ah, they have found another brother!" he said, politely, and he began
to point out to Kitty the various landmarks visible, the arsenal, the
two asylums, San Pietro di Castello.

The new-comers just glanced at the garden apparently, as the Ashes had
done on arrival, and promptly followed their guide back into the
convent.

Kitty asked a few more questions, then led the way in a hasty return to
the garden door, the entrance-hall, and the steps where their gondola
was waiting. Nothing was to be seen of the second party. They had passed
on into the cloisters.

       *       *       *       *       *

Animation, oddity, inconsequence, all these things Margaret observed in
Kitty during luncheon in a restaurant of the Merceria, and various
incidents connected with it; animation above all. The Ashes fell in with
acquaintance--a fashionable and harassed mother, on the fringe of the
Archangels, accompanied by two daughters, one pretty and one plain, and
sore pressed by their demands, real or supposed. The parents were not
rich, but the girls had to be dressed, taken abroad, produced at
country-houses, at Ascot, and the opera, like all other girls. The
eldest girl, a considerable beauty, was an accomplished egotist at
nineteen, and regarded her mother as a rather inefficient _dame de
compagnie_. Kitty understood this young lady perfectly, and after
luncheon, over her cigarette, her little, sharp, probing questions gave
the beauty twenty minutes' annoyance. Then appeared a young man,
ill-dressed, red-haired, and shy. Carelessly as he greeted the mother
and daughters, his entrance, however, transformed them. The mother
forgot fatigue; the beauty ceased to yawn; the younger girl, who had
been making surreptitious notes of Kitty's costume in the last leaf of
her guide-book, developed a charming gush. He was the owner of the
Magellan estates and the historic Magellan Castle; a professed hater of
"absurd womankind," and, in general, a hunted and self-conscious person.
Kitty gave him one finger, looked him up and down, asked him whether he
was yet engaged, and when he laughed an embarrassed "No," told him that
he would certainly die in the arms of the Magellan housekeeper.

This got a smile out of him. He sat down beside her, and the two laughed
and talked with a freedom which presently drew the attention of the
neighboring tables, and made Ashe uncomfortable. He rose, paid the bill,
and succeeded in carrying the whole party off to the Piazza, in search
of coffee. But here again Kitty's extravagances, the provocation of her
light loveliness, as she sat toying with a fresh cigarette and
"chaffing" Lord Magellan, drew a disagreeable amount of notice from the
Italians passing by.

"Mother, let's go!" said the angry beauty, imperiously, in her mother's
ear. "I don't like to be seen with Lady Kitty! She's impossible!"

And with cold farewells the three ladies departed. Then Kitty sprang up
and threw away her cigarette.

"How those girls bully their mother!" she said, with scorn. "However, it
serves her right. I'm sure she bullied hers. Well, now we must go and do
something. Ta-ta!"

Lord Magellan, to whom she offered another casual finger, wanted to know
why he was dismissed. If they were going sight-seeing, might he not come
with them?"

"Oh no!" said Kitty, calmly. "Sight--seeing with people you don't really
know is too trying to the temper. Even with one's best friend it's
risky."

"Where are you? May I call?" said the young man.

"We're always out," was Kitty's careless reply. "But--"

She considered--

"Would you like to see the Palazzo Vercelli?"

"That magnificent place on the Grand Canal? Very much."

"Meet me there to-morrow afternoon," said Kitty. "Four o'clock."

"Delighted!" said Lord Magellan, making a note on his shirt-cuff. "And
who lives there?"

"My mother," said Kitty, abruptly, and walked away.

Ashe followed her in discomfort. This young man was the son of a certain
Lady Magellan, an intimate friend of Lady Tranmore's--one of the noblest
women of her generation, pure, high-minded, spiritual, to whom neither
an ugly word nor thought was possible. It annoyed him that either he or
Kitty should be introducing _her_ son to Madame d'Estrées.

It was really tiresome of Kitty! Rich young men with characters yet
indeterminate were not to be lightly brought in contact with Madame
d'Estrées. Kitty could not be ignorant of it--poor child! It had been
one of her reckless strokes, and Ashe was conscious of a sharp
annoyance.

However, he said nothing. He followed his companions from church to
church, till pictures became an abomination to him. Then he pleaded
letters, and went to the club.

"Will you call on maman to-morrow?" said Kitty, as he turned away,
looking at him a little askance.

She knew that he had disapproved of her invitation to Lord Magellan. Why
had she given it? She didn't know. There seemed to be a kind of revived
mischief and fever in the blood, driving her to these foolish and
ill-considered things.

Ashe met her question with a shake of the head and the remark, in a
decided tone, that he should be too busy.

Privately he thought it a piece of impertinence that Madame d'Estrées
should expect either Kitty or himself to appear in her drawing-room at
all. That this implied a complete transformation of his earlier attitude
he was well aware; he accepted it with a curious philosophy. When he and
Kitty first met he had never troubled his head about such things. If a
woman amused or interested him in society, so long as his taste was
satisfied she might have as much or as little character as she pleased.
It stirred his mocking sense of English hypocrisy that the point should
be even raised. But now--how can any individual, he asked himself, with
political work to do, affect to despise the opinions and prejudices of
society? A politician with great reforms to put through will make no
friction round him that he can avoid--unless he is a fool. It weighed
sorely, therefore, on his present mind that Madame d'Estrées was in
Venice--that she was a person of blemished repute--that he must be and
was ashamed of her. It would have been altogether out of consonance with
his character to put any obstacle in the way of Kitty's seeing her
mother. But he chafed as he had never yet chafed under the humiliation
of his relationship to the notorious Margaret Fitzgerald of the forties,
who had been old Blackwater's _chère amie_ before she married him, and,
as Lady Blackwater, had sacrificed her innocent and defenceless
step-daughter to one of her own lovers, in order to secure for him the
step-daughter's fortune--black and dastardly deed!

Was it all part of the general growth and concentration that any shrewd
observer might have read in William Ashe?--the pressure--enormous,
unseen--of the traditional English ideals, English standards, asserting
itself at last in a brilliant and paradoxical nature? It had been
so--conspicuously--in the case of one of his political predecessors.
Lord Melbourne had begun his career as a person of idle habits and
imprudent adventures, much given to coarse conversation, and unable to
say the simplest thing without an oath. He ended it as the man of
scrupulous dignity, tact, and delicacy, who moulded the innocent youth
of a girl-queen, to his own lasting honor and England's gratitude. In
ways less striking, the same influence of vast responsibilities was
perhaps acting upon William Ashe. It had already made him a sterner,
tougher, and--no doubt--a greater man.

The defection of William only left Kitty, it seemed, still more greedy
of things to see and do. Innumerable sacristans opened all possible
doors and unveiled all possible pictures. Bellini succeeded Tintoret,
and Carpaccio Bellini. The two sable gondoliers wore themselves out in
Kitty's service, and Margaret's kind, round face grew more and more
puzzled and distressed. And whence this strange impression that the
whole experience was a _flight_ on Kitty's part?--or, rather, that
throughout it she was always eagerly expecting, or eagerly escaping from
some unknown, unseen pursuer? A glance behind her--a start--a sudden
shivering gesture in the shadows of dark churches--these things
suggested it, till Margaret herself was caught by the same suppressed
excitement that seemed to be alive in Kitty. Did it all point merely to
some mental state--to the nervous effects of her illness and her loss?

When they reached home about five o'clock, Kitty was naturally tired
out. Margaret put her on the sofa, gave her tea, and tended her, hoping
that she might drop asleep before dinner. But just as tea was over, and
Kitty was lying curled up, silent and white, with that brooding look
which kept Margaret's anxiety about her constantly alive, there was a
sudden sound of voices in the anteroom outside.

"Margaret!" cried Kitty, starting up in dismay--"say I'm not at home."

Too late! Their smiling Italian housemaid threw the door open, with the
air of one bringing good-fortune. And behind her appeared a tall lady,
and an old gentleman hat in hand.

"May we come in, Kitty?" said Mary Lyster, advancing. "Cousin Elizabeth
told us you were here."

Kitty had sprung up. The disorder of her fair hair, her white cheeks,
and the ghostly thinness of her small, black-robed form drew the curious
eyes of Sir Richard. And the oddness of her manner as she greeted them
only confirmed the old man's prejudice against her.

However, greeted they were, in some sort of fashion; and Miss French
gave them tea. She kept Sir Richard entertained, while Kitty and Mary
conversed. They talked perfunctorily of ordinary topics--Venice, its
sights, its hotels, and the people staying in them--of Lady Tranmore and
various Ashe relations. Meanwhile the inmost thought of each was busy
with the other.

Kitty studied the lines of Mary's face and the fashion of her dress.

"She looks much older. And she's not enjoying her life a bit. That's my
fault. I spoiled all her chances with Geoffrey--and she knows it. She
_hates_ me. Quite right, too."

"Oh, you mean that nonsensical thing last night?" Sir Richard was saying
to Margaret French. "Oh no, I didn't go. But Mary, of course, thought
she must go. Somebody invited her."

Kitty started.

"You were at the serenata?" she said to Mary.

"Yes, I went with a party from the hotel."

Kitty looked at her. A sudden flush had touched her pale cheeks, and she
could not conceal the trembling of her hands.

"That was marvellous, that light on the Salute, wasn't it?"

"Wonderful!--and on the water, too. I saw two or three people I
knew--just caught their faces for a second."

"Did you?" said Kitty. And thoughts ran fast through her head. "Did she
see Geoffrey?--and does she mean me to understand that she did? How she
detests me! If she did see him, of course she supposes that I know all
about it, and that he's here for me. Why don't I ask her, straight out,
whether she saw him, and make her understand that I don't care
twopence?--that she's welcome to him--as far as I'm concerned?"

But some hidden feeling tied her tongue. Mary continued to talk about
the serenata, and Kitty was presently conscious that her every word and
gesture in reply was closely watched. "Yes, yes, she saw him. Perhaps
she'll tell William--or write home to mother?"

And in her excitement she began to chatter fast and loudly, mostly to
Sir Richard--repeating some of the Venice tales she had told in the
gondola--with much inconsequence and extravagance. The old man listened,
his hands on his stick, his eyes on the ground, the expression on his
strong mouth hostile or sarcastic. It was a relief to everybody when
Ashe's step was heard stumbling up the dark stairs, and the door opened
on his friendly and courteous presence.

"Why, Polly!--and Cousin Richard! I wondered where you had hidden
yourselves."

Mary's bright, involuntary smile transformed her. Ashe sat down beside
her, and they were soon deep in all sorts of gossip--relations,
acquaintance, politics, and what not. All Mary's stiffness disappeared.
She became the elegant, agreeable woman, of whom dinner-parties were
glad. Ashe plunged into the pleasant malice of her talk, which ranged
through the good and evil fortunes--mostly the latter--of half his
acquaintance; discussed the debts, the love-affairs, and the follies of
his political colleagues or Parliamentary foes; how the Foreign
Secretary had been getting on at Balmoral--how so-and-so had been ruined
at the Derby and restored to sanity and solvency by the Oaks--how Lady
Parham, at Hatfield, had been made to know her place by the French
Ambassador--and the like; passing thereby a charming half-hour.

Meanwhile Kitty, Margaret French, and Sir Richard kept up intermittent
remarks, pausing at every other phrase to gather the crumbs that fell
from the table of the other two.

Kitty was very weary, and a dead weight had fallen on her spirits. If
Sir Richard had thought her bad form ten minutes before, his unspoken
mind now declared her stupid. Meanwhile Kitty was saying to herself, as
she watched her husband and Mary:

"I used to amuse William just as well--last year!"

When the door closed on them, Kitty fell back on her cushions with an
"ouf!" of relief. William came back in a few minutes from showing the
visitors the back way to their hotel, and stood beside his wife with an
anxious face.

"They were too much for you, darling. They stayed too long."

"How you and Mary chattered!" said Kitty, with a little pout. But at the
same moment she slipped an appealing hand into his.

Ashe clasped the hand, and laughed.

"I always told you she was an excellent gossip."

       *       *       *       *       *

Sir Richard and Mary pursued their way through the narrow _calles_ that
led to the Piazza. Sir Richard was expatiating on Ashe's folly in
marrying such a wife.

"She looks like an actress!--and as to her conversation, she began by
telling me outrageous stories and ended by not having a word to say
about anything. The bad blood of the Bristols, it seems to me, without
their brains."

"Oh no, papa! Kitty is very clever. You haven't heard her recite. She
was tired to-night."

"Well, I don't want to flatter you, my dear!" said the old man,
testily, "but I thought it was pathetic--the way in which Ashe enjoyed
your conversation. It showed he didn't get much of it at home."

Mary smiled uncertainly. Her whole nature was still aglow from that
contact with Ashe's delightful personality. After months of depression
and humiliation, her success with him had somehow restored those
illusions on which cheerfulness depends.

How ill Kitty looked--and how conscious! Mary was impetuously certain
that Kitty had betrayed her knowledge of Cliffe's presence in Venice;
and equally certain that William knew nothing. Poor William!

Well, what can you expect of such a temperament--such a race? Mary's
thoughts travelled confusedly towards--and through--some big and
dreadful catastrophe.

And then? After it?

It seemed to her that she was once more in the Park Lane drawing-room;
the familiar Morris papers and Burne-Jones drawings surrounded her; and
she and Elizabeth Tranmore sat, hand in hand, talking of William--a
William once more free, after much folly and suffering, to reconstruct
his life....

"Here we are," said Sir Richard Lyster, moving down a dark passage
towards the brightly lit doorway of their hotel.

With a start--as of one taken red-handed--Mary awoke from her dream.



XX


Madame d'Estrées and her friend, Donna Laura, occupied the _mezzanin_ of
the vast Vercelli palace. The palace itself belonged to the head of the
Vercelli family. It was a magnificent erection of the late seventeenth
century, at this moment half furnished, dilapidated, and forsaken. But
the _entresol_ on the eastern side of the _cortile_ was in good
condition, and comfortably fitted up for the occasional use of the
Principe. As he was wintering in Paris, he had let his rooms at an
ordinary commercial rent to his kinswoman, Donna Laura. She, a soured
and melancholy woman, unmarried in a Latin society which has small use
or kindness for spinsters, had seized on Marguerite d'Estrées--whose
acquaintance she had made in a Mont d'Or hotel--and was now keeping her
like a caged canary that sings for its food.

Madame d'Estrées was quite willing. So long as she had a sofa on which
to sit enthroned, a sufficiency of new gowns, a maid, cigarettes,
breakfast in bed, and a supply of French novels, she appeared the most
harmless and engaging of mortals. Her youth had been cruel, disorderly,
and vicious. It had lasted long; but now, when middle age stood at last
confessed, she was lapsing, it seemed, into amiability and good
behavior. She was, indeed, fast forgetting her own history, and soon the
recital of it would surprise no one so much as herself.

It was five o'clock. Madame d'Estrées had just established herself in
the silk-panelled drawing-room of Donna Laura's apartment, expectant of
visitors, and, in particular, of her daughter.

In begging Kitty to come on this particular afternoon, she had not
thought fit to mention that it would be Donna Laura's "day." Had she
done so, Kitty, in consideration of her mourning, would perhaps have
cried off. Whereas, really--poor, dear child!--what she wanted was
distraction and amusement.

And what Madame d'Estrées wanted was the presence beside her, in public,
of Lady Kitty Ashe. Kitty had already visited her mother privately, and
had explored the antiquities of the Vercelli palace. But Madame
d'Estrées was now intent on something more and different.

For in the four years which had now elapsed since the Ashe's marriage
this lively lady had known adversity. She had been forced to leave
London, as we have seen, by the pressure of certain facts in her past
history so ancient and far removed when their true punishment began that
she no doubt felt it highly unjust that she should be punished for them
at all. Her London debts had swallowed up what then remained to her of
fortune; and, afterwards, the allowance from the Ashes was all she had
to depend on. Banished to Paris, she fell into a lower stratum of life,
at a moment when her faithful and mysterious friend, Markham Warington,
was held in Scotland by the first painful symptoms of his sister's last
illness, and could do but little for her. She had, in fact, known the
sordid shifts and straits of poverty, though the smallest moral effort
would have saved her from them. She had kept disreputable company, she
had been miserable, and base; and although shame is not easy to persons
of her temperament, it may perhaps be said that she was ashamed of this
period of her existence. Appeals to the Ashes yielded less and less, and
Warington seemed to have forsaken her. She awoke at last to a
panic-stricken fear of darker possibilities and more real suffering than
any she had yet known, and under the stress of this fear she collapsed
physically, writing both to Warington and to the Ashes in a tone of
mingled reproach and despair.

The Ashes sent money, and, though Kitty was at the moment not fit to
travel, prepared to come. Warington, who had just closed the eyes of his
sister, went at once. He was now the last of his family, without any
ties that he could not lawfully break. Within two days of his arrival in
Paris, Madame d'Estrées had promised to marry him in three months, to
break off all her Paris associations, and to give her life henceforward
into his somewhat stern hands. The visit to Venice was part of the price
that he had had to pay for her decision. Marguerite pleaded, with a
shudder, that she must have a little amusement before she went to live
in Dumfriesshire; and he had been obliged to acquiesce in her
arrangement with Donna Laura--stipulating only that he should be their
escort and guardian.

What had moved him to such an act? His reasons can only be guessed at.
Warington was a man of religion, a Calvinist by education and
inheritance, and of a silent and dreamy temperament. He had been
intimate with very few women in his life. His sister had been a second
mother to him, and both of them had been the guardians of their younger
brother. When this adored brother fell shot through the lungs in the
hopeless defence of Lady Blackwater's reputation, it would have been
natural enough that Markham should hate the woman who had been the
occasion of such a calamity. The sister, a pious and devoted Christian,
had indeed hated her, properly and duly, thenceforward. Markham, on the
contrary, accepted his brother's last commission without reluctance. In
this matter at least Lady Blackwater had not been directly to blame; his
mind acquitted her; and her soft, distressed beauty touched his heart.
Before he knew where he was she had made an impression upon him that was
to be life-long.

Then gradually he awoke to a full knowledge of her character. He
suffered, but otherwise it made no difference. Finding it was then
impossible to persuade her to marry him, he watched over her as best he
could for some years, passing through phases of alternate hope and
disgust. His sister's affection for him was clouded by his strange
relation to the Jezebel who in her opinion had destroyed their brother.
He could not help it; he could only do his best to meet both claims upon
him. During her lingering passage to the grave, his sister had nearly
severed him from Marguerite d'Estrées. She died, however, just in time,
and now here he was in Venice, passing through what seemed to him one of
the ante-rooms of life, leading to no very radiant beyond. But, radiant
or no, his path lay thither. And at the same time he saw that although
Marguerite felt him to be her only refuge from poverty and disgrace, she
was painfully afraid of him, and afraid of the life into which he was
leading her.

       *       *       *       *       *

The first guest of the afternoon proved to be Louis Harman, the painter
and dilettante, who had been in former days one of the _habitués_ of the
house in St. James's Place. This perfectly correct yet tolerant
gentleman was wintering in Venice in order to copy the Carpaccios in San
Giorgio dei Schiavoni. His copies were not good, but they were all
promised to artistic fair ladies, and the days which the painter spent
upon them were happy and harmless.

He came in gayly, delighted to see Madame d'Estrées in flourishing
circumstances again, delivered apparently from the abyss into which he
had found her sliding on the occasion of various chance visits of his
own to Paris. Warington's doing, apparently--queer fellow!

"Well!--I saw Lady Kitty in the Piazza this afternoon," he said, as he
sat down beside his hostess. Donna Laura had not yet appeared. "Very
thin and fragile! But, by Jove! how these English beauties hold their
own."

"Irish, if you please," said Madame d'Estrées, smiling.

Harman bowed to her correction, admiring at the same time both the
toilette and the good looks of his companion. Dropping his voice, he
asked, with a gingerly and sympathetic air, whether all was now well
with the Ashe ménage. He had been sorry to hear certain gossip of the
year before.

Madame d'Estrées laughed. Yes, she understood that Kitty had behaved
like a little goose with that _poseur_ Cliffe. But that was all
over--long ago.

"Why, the silly child has everything she wants! William is devoted to
her--and it can't be long before he succeeds."

"No need to go trifling with poets," said Harman, smiling. "By-the-way,
do you know that Geoffrey Cliffe is in Venice?"

Madame d'Estrées opened her eyes. "Est-il possible? Oh! but Kitty has
forgotten all about him."

"Of course," said Harman. "I am told he has been seen with the Ricci."

Madame d'Estrées raised her shoulders this time in addition to her eyes.
Then her face clouded.

"I believe," she said, slowly, "that woman may come here this
afternoon."

"Is she a friend of yours?" Harman's tone expressed his surprise.

"I knew her in Paris," said Madame d'Estrées, with some hesitation,
"when she was a student at the Conservatoire. She and I had some common
acquaintance. And now--frankly, I daren't offend her. She has the most
appalling temper!--and she sticks at nothing."

Harman wondered what the exact truth of this might be, but did not
inquire. And as guests--including Colonel Warington--began to arrive,
and Donna Laura appeared and began to dispense tea, the _tête-à-tête_
was interrupted.

Donna Laura's _salon_ was soon well filled, and Harman watched the
gathering with curiosity. As far as it concerned Madame d'Estrées--and
she was clearly the main attraction which had brought it together--it
represented, he saw, a phase of social recovery. A few prominent
Englishmen, passing through Venice, came in without their wives, making
perfunctory excuse for the absence of these ladies. But the
cosmopolitans of all kinds, who crowded in--Anglo-Italians, foreign
diplomats, travellers of many sorts, and a few restless Venetians,
bearing the great names of old, to whom their own Venice was little more
than a place of occasional sojourn--made satisfactory amends for these
persons of too long memories. In all these travellers' towns, Venice,
Rome, and Florence, there is indeed a society, and a very agreeable
society, which is wholly irresponsible, and asks few or no questions.
The elements of it meet as strangers, and as strangers they mostly part.
But between the meeting and the parting there lies a moment, all the
gayer, perhaps, because of its social uncertainty and freedom.

Madame d'Estrées was profiting by it to the full. She was in excellent
spirits and talk; bright-rose carnations shone in the bosom of her
dress; one white arm, bared to the elbow, lay stretched carelessly on
the fine cut-velvet which covered the gilt sofa--part of a suite of
Venetian Louis Quinze, clumsily gorgeous--on which she sat; the other
hand pulled the ears of a toy spaniel. On the ceiling above her, Tiepolo
had painted a headlong group of sensuous forms, alive with vulgar
movement and passion; the _putti_ and the goddesses, peering through
aërial balustrades, looked down complacently on Madame d'Estrées.

Meanwhile there stood behind her--a silent, distinguished figure--the
man of whom Harman saw that she was always nervously and sometimes
timidly conscious. Harman had been reading Molière's _Don Juan_. The
sentinel figure of Warington mingled in his imagination with the statue
of the Commander.

Or, again, he was tickled by a vision of Madame d'Estrées grown old,
living in a Scotch house, turreted and severe, tended by servants of the
"Auld Licht," or shivering under a faithful minister on Sundays. Had she
any idea of the sort of fold towards which Warington--at once Covenanter
and man of the world--was carrying his lost sheep?

The sheep, however, was still gambolling at large. Occasionally a guest
appeared who proved it. For instance, at a certain tumultuous entrance,
billowing skirts, vast hat, and high-pitched voice all combining in the
effect, Madame d'Estrées flushed violently, and Warington's stiffness
redoubled. On the threshold stood the young actress, Mademoiselle Ricci,
a Marseillaise, half French, half Italian, who was at the moment the
talk of Venice. Why, would take too long to tell. It was by no means
mostly due to her talent, which, however, was displayed at the Apollo
theatre two or three times a week, and was no doubt considerable. She
was a flamboyant lady, with astonishing black eyes, a too transparent
white dress, over which was slung a small black mantilla, a scarlet hat
and parasol, and a startling fan of the same color. Both before and
after her greeting of Madame d'Estrées--whom she called her "chérie" and
her "belle Marguerite"--she created a whirlwind in the _salon_. She was
noisy, rude, and false; it could only be said on the other side that she
was handsome--for those who admired the kind of thing; and famous--more
or less. The intimacy of the party was broken up by her, for wherever
she was she brought uproar, and it was impossible to forget her. And
this uneasy attention which she compelled was at its height when the
door was once more thrown open for the entrance of Lady Kitty Ashe.

"Ah, my darling Kitty!" cried Madame d'Estrées, rising in a soft
enthusiasm.

Kitty came in slowly, holding herself very erect, a delicate and
distinguished figure, in her deep mourning. She frowned as she saw the
crowd in the room.

"I'll come another time!" she said, hastily, to her mother, beginning to
retreat.

"Oh, Kitty!" cried Madame d'Estrées, in distress, holding her fast.

At that moment Harman, who was watching them both with keenness, saw
that Kitty had perceived Mademoiselle Ricci. The actress had paused in
her chatter to stare at the new-comer. She sat fronting the entrance,
her head insolently thrown back, knees crossed, a cigarette poised in
the plump and dimpled hand.

A start ran through Kitty's small person. She allowed her mother to lead
her in and introduce her to Donna Laura.

"Ah-ha, my lady!" said Harman, to himself. "Are you, perhaps, interested
in the Ricci? Is it possible even that you have seen her before?"

Kitty, however, betrayed herself to no one else. To other people it was
only evident that she did not mean to be introduced to the actress. She
pointedly and sharply avoided it. This was interpreted as aristocratic
_hauteur_, and did her no harm. On the contrary, she was soon chattering
French with a group of diplomats, and the centre of the most animated
group in the room. All the new-comers who could attached themselves to
it, and the actress found herself presently almost deserted. She put up
her eye-glass, studied Kitty impertinently, and asked a man sitting near
her for the name of the strange lady.

"Isn't she lovely, my little Kitty!" said Madame d'Estrées, in the ears
of a Bavarian baron, who was also much occupied in staring at the small
beauty in black. "I may say it, though I am her mother. And my
son-in-law, too. Have you seen him? Such a handsome fellow!--and _such_
a dear!--so kind to me. They _say_, you know, that he will be Prime
Minister."

The baron bowed, ironically, and inquired who the gentleman might be. He
had not caught Kitty's name, and Madame d'Estrées had been for some time
labelled in his mind as something very near to an adventuress.

Madame d'Estrées eagerly explained, and he bowed again, with a
difference. He was a man of great intelligence, acquainted with English
politics. So that was _really_ the wife of the man to whose personality
and future the London correspondent of the _Allgemeine Zeitung_ had
within the preceding week devoted a particularly interesting article,
which he had read with attention. His estimate of Madame d'Estrées'
place in the world altered at once. Yet it was strange that she--or,
rather, Donna Laura--should admit such a person as Mademoiselle Ricci to
their _salon_.

The mother, indeed, that afternoon had much reason to be socially
grateful to the daughter. Curious contrast with the days when Kitty had
been the mere troublesome appendage of her mother's life! It was clear
to Marguerite d'Estrées now that if she was to accept restraint and
virtuous living, if she was to submit to this marriage she dreaded, yet
saw no way to escape, her best link with the gay world in the future
might well be through the Ashes. Kitty could do a great deal for her;
let her cultivate Kitty; and begin, perhaps, by convincing William Ashe
on this present occasion that for once she was not going to ask him for
money.

In the height of the party, Lord Magellan appeared. Madame d'Estrées at
first looked at him with bewilderment, till Kitty, shaking herself free,
came hastily forward to introduce him. At the name the mother's face
flashed into smiles. The ramifications of two or three aristocracies
represented the only subject she might be said to know. Dear Kitty!

Lord Magellan, after Madame d'Estrées had talked to him about his family
in a few light and skilful phrases, which suggested knowledge, while
avoiding flattery, was introduced to the Bavarian baron and a French
naval officer. But he was not interesting to them, nor they to him;
Kitty was surrounded and unapproachable; and a flood of new arrivals
distracted Madame d'Estrées' attention. The Ricci, who had noticed the
restrained _empressement_ of his reception, pounced on the young man,
taming her ways and gestures to what she supposed to be his English
prudery, and produced an immediate effect upon him. Lord Magellan, who
was only dumb with English marriageable girls, allowed himself to be
amused, and threw himself into a low chair by the actress--a capture
apparently for the afternoon.

Louis Harman was sitting behind Kitty, a little to her right. He saw her
watching the actress and her companion; noticed a compression of the
lip, a flash in the eye. She sprang up, said she must go home, and
practically dissolved the party.

Mademoiselle Ricci, who had also risen, proposed to Lord Magellan that
she should take him in her gondola to the shop of a famous dealer on the
Canal.

"Thank you very much," said Lord Magellan, irresolute, and he looked at
Kitty. The look apparently decided him, for he immediately added that he
had unfortunately an engagement in the opposite direction. The actress
angrily drew herself up, and proposed a later appointment. Then Kitty
carelessly intervened.

"Do you remember that you promised to see me home?" she said to the
young man. "Don't if it bores you!"

Lord Magellan eagerly protested. Kitty moved away, and he followed her.

"Chère madame, will you present me to your daughter?" said the Ricci, in
an unnecessarily loud voice.

Madame d'Estrées, with a flurried gesture, touched Kitty on the arm.

"Kitty, Mademoiselle Ricci."

Kitty took no notice. Madame d'Estrées said, quickly, in a low,
imploring voice:

"Please, dear Kitty. I'll explain."

Kitty turned abruptly, looked at her mother, and at the woman to whom
she was to be introduced.

"Ah! comme elle est charmante!" cried the actress, with an inflection of
irony in her strident voice. "Miladi, il faut absolument que nous nous
connaissions. Je connais votre chère mère depuis si longtemps! À Paris,
l'hiver passé c'était une amitié des plus tendres!"

The nasal drag she gave to the words was partly natural, partly
insolent. Madame d'Estrées bit her lip.

"Oui?" said Kitty, indifferently. "Je n'en avais jamais entendu parler."

Her brilliant eyes studied the woman before her. "She has some hold on
maman," she said to herself, in disgust. "She knows of something shady
that maman has done." Then another thought stung her; and with the most
indifferent bow, triumphing in the evident offence that she was giving,
she turned to Lord Magellan.

"You'd like to see the Palazzo?"

Warington at once offered himself as a guide.

But Kitty declared she knew the way, would just show Lord Magellan the
_piano nobile_, dismiss him at the grand staircase, and return. Lord
Magellan made his farewells.

As Kitty passed through the door of the _salon_, while the young man
held back the velvet _portière_ which hung over it, she was aware that
Mademoiselle Ricci was watching her. The Marseillaise was leaning
heavily on a _fauteuil_, supported by a hand behind her. A slow,
disdainful smile played about her lips, some evil threatening thought
expressed itself through every feature of her rounded, coarsened beauty.
Kitty's sharp look met hers, and the curtain dropped.

       *       *       *       *       *

"Don't, please, let that woman take you anywhere--to see anything!" said
Kitty, with energy, to her companion, as they walked through the rooms
of the _mezzanino_.

Lord Magellan laughed. "What's the matter with her?"

"Oh, nothing!" said Kitty, impatiently, "except that she's wicked--and
common--and a snake--and your mother would have a fit if she knew you
had anything to do with her."

The red-haired youth looked grave.

"Thank you, Lady Kitty," he said, quietly. "I'll take your advice."

"Oh, I say, what a nice boy you are!" cried Kitty, impulsively, laying a
hand a moment on his shoulder. And then, as though his filial instinct
had awakened hers, she added, with hasty falsehood: "Maman, of course,
knows nothing about her. That was just bluff what she said. But Donna
Laura oughtn't to ask such people. There--that's the way."

And she pointed to a small staircase in the wall, whereof the trap-door
at the top was open. They climbed it, and found themselves at once in
one of the great rooms of the _piano nobile_, to which this quick and
easy access from the inhabited _entresol_ had been but recently
contrived.

"What a marvellous place!" cried Lord Magellan, looking round him.

They were in the principal apartment of the famous Vercelli palace, a
legacy from one of those classical architects whose work may be seen in
the late seventeenth-century buildings of Venice. The rooms, enormously
high, panelled here and there in tattered velvets and brocades, or
frescoed in fast-fading scenes of old Venetian life, stretched in
bewildering succession on either side of a central passage or broad
corridor, all of them leading at last on the northern side to a vast
hall painted in architectural perspective by the pupils of Tiepolo, and
overarched by a ceiling in which the master himself had massed a
multitude of forms equal to Rubens in variety and facility of design,
expressed in a thin trenchancy of style. Figures recalling the ancient
triumphs and possessions of Venice, in days when she sat dishonored and
despoiled, crowded the coved roof, the painted cornices and pediments.
Gayly colored birds hovered in blue skies; philosophers and poets in
grisaille made a strange background for large-limbed beauties couched on
roses, or young warriors amid trophies of shining arms; and while all
this garrulous commonplace lived and breathed above, the walls below,
cold in color and academic in treatment, maintained as best they could
the dignity of the vast place, thus given up to one of the greatest of
artists and emptiest of minds.

On the floor of this magnificent hall stood a few old and broken chairs.
But the candelabra of glass and ormolu, hanging from the ceiling, were
very nearly of the date of the palace, and superb. Meanwhile, through a
faded taffeta of a golden-brown shade, the afternoon light from the high
windows to the southwest poured into the stately room.

"How it dwarfs us!" said Lord Magellan, looking at his companion. "One
feels the merest pygmy! From the age of decadence indeed!" He glanced at
the guide-book in his hand. "Good Heavens!--if this was their decay,
what was their bloom?"

"Yes--it's big--and jolly. I like it," said Kitty, absently. Then she
recollected herself. "This is your way out. Federigo!" she called to an
old man, the _custode_ of the palace, who appeared at the magnificent
door leading to the grand staircase.

"Commanda, eccellenza!" The old man, bent and feeble, approached. He
carried a watering-pot wherewith he was about to minister to some
straggling flowers in the windows fronting the Grand Canal. A thin cat
rubbed itself against his legs. As he stood in his shabbiness under the
high, carved door, the only permanent denizen of the building, he seemed
an embodiment of the old shrunken Venetian life, still haunting a city
it was no longer strong enough to use.

"Will you show this signor the way out?" said Kitty, in tourists'
Italian. "Are you soon shutting up?"

For the main palazzo, which during the day was often shown to
sightseers, was locked at half-past five, only the two _entresols_--one
tenanted by Donna Laura, the other by the _custode_--remaining
accessible.

The old man murmured something which Kitty did not understand, pointing
at the same time to a door leading to the interior of the _piano
nobile_. Kitty thought that he asked her to be quick, if she wished
still to go round the palace. She tried to explain that he might lock up
if he pleased; her way of retreat to the _mezzanino_, down the small
staircase, was always open. Federigo looked puzzled, again said
something in unintelligible Venetian, and led the way to the grand
staircase followed by Lord Magellan.

       *       *       *       *       *

A heavy door clanged below. Kitty was alone. She looked round her, at
the stretches of marble floor, and the streaks of pale sunshine that lay
upon its black and white, at the lofty walls painted with a dim superb
architecture, at the crowded ceiling, the gorgeous candelabra. With its
costly decoration, the great room suggested a rich and festal life;
thronging groups below answering to the Tiepolo groups above; beauties
patched and masked; gallants in brocaded coats; splendid senators, robed
like William at the fancy ball.

Suddenly she caught sight of herself in one of the high and narrow
mirrors that filled the spaces between the windows. In her mourning
dress, with the light behind her, she made a tiny spectre in the immense
hall. The image of her present self--frail, black-robed--recalled the
two figures in the glass of her Hill Street room--the sparkling white of
her goddess dress, and William's smiling face above hers, his arm round
her waist.

How happy she had been that night! Even her wild fury with Mary Lyster
seemed to her now a kind of happiness. How gladly would she have
exchanged for it either of the two terrors that now possessed her!

With a shiver she crossed the hall, and pushed her way into the suite of
rooms on the northern side. She felt herself in absolute possession of
the palace. Federigo no doubt had locked up; her mother and a few guests
were still talking in the _salon_ of the _mezzanine_, expecting her to
return. She would return--soon; but the solitariness and wildness of
this deserted place drew her on.

Room after room opened before her--bare, save for a few worm-eaten
chairs, a fragment of tapestry on the wall, or some tattered portraits
in the Longhi manner, indifferent to begin with, and long since ruined
by neglect. Yet here and there a young face looked out, roses in the
hair and at the breast; or a Doge's cap--and beneath it phantom features
still breathing even in the last decay of canvas and paint the violence
and intrigue of the living man--the ghost of character held there by
the ghost of art. Or a lad in slashed brocade, for whom even in this
silent palace, and in spite of the gaping crack across his face, life
was still young; a cardinal; a nun; a man of letters in clerical dress,
the Abbé Prévost of his day....

Presently she found herself in a wide corridor, before a high, closed
door. She tried it, and saw a staircase mounting and descending. A
passion of curiosity that was half romance, half restlessness, drove her
on. She began to ascend the marble steps, hearing only the echo of her
own movements, a little afraid of the cold spaces of the vast house, and
yet delighting in the fancies that crowded upon her. At the top of the
flight she found, of course, another apartment, on the same plan as the
one below, but smaller and less stately. The central hall entered from a
door supported by marble caryatids, was flagged in yellow marble, and
frescoed freely with faded eighteenth-century scenes--cardinals walking
in stiff gardens, a pope alighting from his coach, surrounded by
peasants on their knees, and behind him fountains and obelisk and the
towering façade of St. Peter's. At the moment, thanks to a last glow of
light coming in through a west window at the farther end, it was a place
beautiful though forlorn. But the rooms into which she looked on either
side were wreck and desolation itself, crowded with broken furniture,
many of them shuttered and dark.

As she closed the last door, her attention was caught by a strange bust
placed on a pedestal above the entrance. What was wrong with it? An
accident? An injury? She went nearer, straining her eyes to see.
No!--there was no injury. The face indeed was gone. Or, rather, where
the face should have been there now descended a marble veil from brow to
breast, of the most singular and sinister effect. Otherwise the bust was
that of a young and beautiful woman. A pleasing horror seized on Kitty
as she looked. Her fancy hunted for the clew. A faithless wife, blotted
from her place?--made infamous forever by the veil which hid from human
eye the beauty she had dishonored? Or a beloved mistress, on whom the
mourning lover could no longer bear to look--the veil an emblem of
undying and irremediable grief?

Kitty stood enthralled, striving to pierce the ghastly meaning of the
bust, when a sound--a distant sound--a shock through her. She heard a
step overhead, in the topmost apartment, or _mansarde_ of the palace, a
step that presently traversed the whole length of the floor immediately
above her head and began to descend the stair.

Strange! Federigo must have shut the great gates by this time--as she
had bade him? He himself inhabited the smaller _entresol_ on the farther
side of the palace, far away. Other inhabitants there were none; so
Donna Laura had assured her.

The step approached, resonant in the silence. Kitty, seized with nervous
fright, turned and ran down the broad staircase by which she had come,
through the series of deserted rooms in the _piano nobile_, till she
reached the great hall.

There she paused, panting, curiosity and daring once more getting the
upperhand. The door she had just passed through, which gave access to
the staircase, opened again and shut. The stranger who had entered came
leisurely towards the hall, lingering apparently now and then to look at
objects on the way. Presently a voice--an exclamation.

Kitty retreated, caught at the arm of a chair for support, clung to it
trembling. A man entered, holding his hat in one hand and a small white
glove in the other.

At sight of the lady in black, standing on the other side of the hall,
he started violently--and stopped. Then, just as Kitty, who had so far
made neither sound nor movement, took the first hurried step towards the
staircase by which she had entered, Geoffrey Cliffe came forward.

"How do you do, Lady Kitty? Do not, I beg of you, let me disturb you. I
had half an hour to spare, and I gave the old man down-stairs a franc or
two, that he might let me wander over this magnificent old place by
myself for a bit. I have always had a fancy for deserted houses. You, I
gather, have it, too. I will not interfere with you for a moment. Before
I go, however, let me return what I believe to be your property."

He came nearer, with a studied, deliberate air, and held out the white
glove. She saw it was her own and accepted it.

"Thank you."

She bowed with all the haughtiness she could muster, though her limbs
shook under her. Then as she walked quickly towards the door of exit,
Cliffe, who was nearer to it than she, also moved towards it, and threw
it open for her. As she approached him he said, quietly:

"This is not the first time we have met in Venice, Lady Kitty."

She wavered, could not avoid looking at him, and stood arrested. That
almost white head!--that furrowed brow!--those haggard eyes! A slight,
involuntary cry broke from her lips.

Cliffe smiled. Then he straightened his tall figure.

"You see, perhaps, that I have not grown younger. You are quite right. I
have left my youth--what remained of it--among those splendid fellows
whom the Turks have been harrying and torturing. Well!--they were worth
it. I would give it them again."

There was a short silence.

The eyes of each perused the other's face. Kitty began some words, and
left them unfinished. Cliffe resumed--in another tone--while the door he
held swung gently backward, his hand following it.

"I spent last winter, as perhaps you know, with the Bosnian insurgents
in the mountains. It was a tough business--hardships I should never have
had the pluck to face if I had known what was before me. Then, in July,
I got fever. I had to come away, to find a doctor, and I was a long time
at Cattaro pulling round. And, meanwhile, the Turks--God blast
them!--have been at their fiends' work. Half my particular friends, with
whom I spent the winter, have been hacked to pieces since I left them."

She wavered, held by his look, by the coercion of that mingled passion
and indifference with which he spoke. There was in his manner no
suggestion whatever of things behind, no reference to herself or to the
past between them. His passion, it seemed, was for his comrades; his
indifference for her. What had he to do with her any more? He had been
among the realities of battle and death, while she had been mincing and
ambling along the usual feminine path. That was the utterance, it
seemed, of the man's whole manner and personality, and nothing could
have more effectually recalled Kitty's wild nature to the lure.

"Are you going back?" She had turned from him and was pulling at the
fingers of the glove he had picked up.

"Of course! I am only kicking my heels here till I can collect the money
and stores--ay, and the _men_--I want. I give my orders in London, and I
must be here to see to the transshipment of stores and the embarkation
of my small force! Not meant for the newspapers, you see, Lady
Kitty--these little details!"

He drew himself up smiling, his worn aspect expressing just that
mingling of dare-devil adventure with subtler and more self-conscious
things which gave edge and power to his personality.

"I heard you were wounded," said Kitty, abruptly.

"So I was--badly. We were defending a _polje_--one of their high
mountain valleys, against a Beg and his troops. My left arm"--he pointed
to the black sling in which it was still held--"was nearly cut to
pieces. However, it is practically well."

He took it out of the sling and showed that he could use it. Then his
expression changed. He stepped back to the door, and opened it
ceremoniously.

"Don't, however, let me delay you, Lady Kitty--by my chatter."

Kitty's cheeks were crimson. Her momentary yielding vanished in a
passion of scorn. What!--he knew that she had seen him before, seen him
with that woman--and he dared to play the mere shattered hero, kept in
Venice by these crusader's reasons!

"Have you another volume on the way?" she asked him, as she advanced. "I
read your last."

Her smile was the smile of an enemy. He eyed her strangely.

"Did you? That was waste of time."

"I think you intended I should read it."

He hesitated.

"Lady Kitty, those things are very far away. I can't defend myself--for
they seem wiped out." He had crossed his arms, and was leaning back
against the open door, a fine, rugged figure, by no means repentant.

Kitty laughed.

"You overstate the difference!"

"Between the past and the present? What does that mean?"

She dropped her eyes a moment, then raised them.

"Do you often go to San Lazzaro?"

He bowed.

"I had a suspicion that the vision at the window--though it was there
only an instant--was you! So you saw Mademoiselle Ricci?"

His tone was assurance itself. Kitty disdained to answer. Her slight
gesture bade him let her pass through; but he ignored it.

"I find her kind, Lady Kitty. She listens to me--I get sympathy from
her."

"And you want sympathy?"

Her tone stung him. "As a hungry man wants food --as an artist wants
beauty. But I know where I shall _not_ get it."

"That is always a gain!" said Kitty, throwing back her little head. "Mr.
Cliffe, pray let me bid you good-bye."

He suddenly made a step forward. "Lady Kitty!"--his deep-set, imperious
eyes searched her face--"I can't restrain myself. Your look--your
expression--go to my heart. Laugh at me if you like. It's true. What
have you been doing with yourself?"

He bent towards her, scrutinizing every delicate feature, and, as it
seemed, shaken with agitation. She breathed fast.

"Mr. Cliffe, you must know that any sympathy from you to me--is an
insult! Kindly let me pass."

He, too, flushed deeply.

"Insult is a hard word, Lady Kitty. I regret that poem."

She swept forward in silence, but he still stood in the way.

"I wrote it--almost in delirium. Ah, well"--he shook his head
impatiently--"if you don't believe me, let it be. I am not the man I
was. The perspective of things is altered for me." His voice fell.
"Women and children in their blood--heroic trust--and brute hate--the
stars for candles--the high peaks for friends--those things have come
between me and the past. But you are right; we had better not talk any
more. I hear old Federigo coming up the stairs. Good-night, Lady
Kitty--good-night!"

He opened the door. She passed him, and, to her own intense annoyance, a
bunch of pale roses she carried at her belt brushed against the
doorway, so that one broke and fell. She turned to pick it up, but it
was already in Cliffe's hand. She held out hers, threateningly.

"I think not." He put it in his pocket. "Here is Federigo. Good-night."

It was quite dark when Kitty reached home. She groped her way up-stairs
and opened the door of the _salon_. So weary was she that she dropped
into the first chair, not seeing at first that any one was in the room.
Then she caught sight of a brown-paper parcel, apparently just
unfastened, on the table, and within it three books, of similar shape
and size. A movement startled her.

"William!"

Ashe rose slowly from the deep chair in which he had been sitting. His
aspect seemed to her terrified eyes utterly and wholly changed. In his
hand he held a book like those on the table, and a paper-cutter. His
face expressed the remote abstraction of a man who has been wrestling
his way through some hard contest of the mind.

She ran to him. She wound her arms round him.

"William, William! I didn't mean any harm! I didn't! Oh, I have been so
miserable! I tried to stop it--I did all I could. I have hardly slept at
all--since we talked--you remember? Oh, William, look at me! Don't be
angry with me!"

Ashe disengaged himself.

"I have asked Blanche to pack for me to-night, Kitty. I go home by the
early train to-morrow."

"Home!"

She stood petrified; then a light flashed into her face.

"You'll buy it all up? You'll stop it, William?"

Ashe drew himself together.

"I am going home," he said, with slow decision, "to place my resignation
in the hands of Lord Parham."



XXI


Kitty fell back in silence, staring at William. She loosened her mantle
and threw it off, then she sat down in a chair near the wood fire, and
bent over it, shivering.

"Of course you didn't mean that, William?" she said, at last.

Ashe turned.

"I should not have said it unless I had meant every word of it. It is,
of course, the only thing to be done."

Kitty looked at him miserably. "But you _can't_ mean that--that you'll
resign because of that book?"

She pulled it towards her and turned over the pages with a hand that
trembled. "That would be too foolish!"

Ashe made no reply. He was standing before the fire, with his hands in
his pockets, and a face half absent, half ironical, as though his mind
followed the sequences of a far distant future.

"William!" She caught the sleeve of his coat with a little cry. "I wrote
that book because I thought it would help you."

His attention came back to her.

"Yes, Kitty, I believe you did."

She gulped down a sob. His tone was so odd, so remote.

"Many people have done such things. I know they have. Why--why, it was
only meant--as a skit--to make people laugh! There's _no_ harm in it,
William."

Ashe, without speaking, took up the book and looked back at certain
pages, which he seemed to have marked. Kitty's feeling as she watched
him was the feeling of the condemned culprit, held dumb and strangled in
the grip of his own sense of justice, and yet passionately conscious how
much more he could say for himself than anybody is ever likely to say
for him.

"When did you have the first idea of this book, Kitty?"

"About a year ago," she said, in a low voice.

"In October? At Haggart?"

Kitty nodded.

Ashe thought. Her admission took him back to the autumn weeks at
Haggart, after the Cliffe crisis and the rearrangement of the ministry
in the July of that year. He well remembered that those weeks had been
weeks of special happiness for both of them. Afterwards, the winter had
brought many renewed qualms and vexations. But in that period, between
the storms of the session and Kitty's escapades in the hunting-field,
memory recalled a tender, melting time--a time rich in hidden and
exquisite hours, when with Kitty on his breast, lip to lip and heart to
heart, he had reaped, as it seemed to him, the fruits of that indulgence
which, as he knew, his mother scorned. And at that very moment, behind
his back, out of his sight, she had begun this atrocious thing.

He looked at her again--the bitterness almost at his lips, almost beyond
his control.

"I wish I knew what could have been your possible object in writing
it?"

She sat up and confronted him. The color flamed back again into her pale
cheeks.

"You know I told you--when we had that talk in London--that I wanted to
write. I thought it would be good for me--would take my thoughts
off--well, what had happened. And I began to write this--and it amused
me to find I could do it--and I suppose I got carried away. I loved
describing you, and glorifying you--and I loved making caricatures of
Lady Parham--and all the people I hated. I used to work at it whenever
you were away--or I was dull and there was nothing to do.

"Did it never occur to you," said Ashe, interrupting, "that it might get
you--get us both--into trouble, and that you ought to tell me?"

She wavered.

"No!" she said, at last. "I never did mean to tell you, while I was
writing it. You know I don't tell lies, William! The real fact is, I was
afraid you'd stop it."

"Good God!" He threw up his hands with a sound of amazement, then thrust
them again into his pockets and began to pace up and down.

"But then"--she resumed--"I thought you'd soon get over it, and that it
was funny--and everybody would laugh--and you'd laugh--and there would
be an end of it."

He turned and stared at her. "Frankly, Kitty--I don't understand what
you can be made of! You imagined that that sketch of Lord Parham"--he
struck the open page--"a sketch written by _my wife_, describing my
official chief--when he was my guest--under my own roof--with all sorts
of details of the most intimate and offensive kind--mocking his
speech--his manners--his little personal ways--charging him with being
the corrupt tool of Lady Parham, disloyal to his colleagues, a man not
to be trusted--and justifying all this by a sort of evidence that you
could only have got as my wife and Lord Parham's hostess--you actually
supposed that you could write and publish _that!_--without in the first
place its being plain to every Tom, Dick, and Harry that you had written
it--and in the next, without making it impossible for your husband to
remain a colleague of the man you had treated in such a way? Kitty!--you
are not a stupid woman! Do you really mean to say that you could write
and publish this book without _knowing_ that you were doing a wrong
action--which, so far from serving me, could only damage my career
irreparably? Did nothing--did no one warn you--if you were determined to
keep such a secret from your husband, whom it most concerned?"

He had come to stand beside her, both hands on the back of a
chair--stooping forward to emphasize his words--the lines of his fine
face and noble brow contracted by anger and pain.

"Mr. Darrell warned me," said Kitty, in a low voice, as though those
imperious eyes compelled the truth from her--"but of course I didn't
believe him."

"Darrell!" cried Ashe, in amazement--"Darrell! You confided in him?"

"I told him all about it. It was he who took it to a publisher."

"Hound!" said Ashe, between his teeth. "So that was his revenge."

"Oh, you needn't blame him too much," said Kitty, proudly, not
understanding the remark. "He wrote to me not long ago to say it was
horribly unwise--and that he washed his hands of it."

"Ay--when he'd done the deed! When did you show it him?" said Ashe,
impetuously.

"At Haggart--in August."

"_Et tu, Brute!_" said Ashe, turning away. "Well, that's done with. Now
the only thing to do is to face the music. I go home. Whatever can be
done to withdraw the book from circulation I shall, of course, do; but I
gather from this precious letter"--he held up the note which had been
enclosed in the parcel--"that some thousands of copies have already been
ordered by the booksellers, and a few distributed to 'persons in high
places.'"

"William," she said, in despair, catching his arm again--"listen! I
offered the man two hundred pounds only yesterday to stop it."

Ashe laughed.

"What did he reply?"

"He said it was impossible. Fifty copies had been already issued."

"The review copies, no doubt. By next week there will be, I should say,
five thousand in the shops. Your man understands his business, Kitty.
This is the kind of puff preliminary he has been scattering about."

And with sparkling eyes he handed to her a printed slip containing an
outline of the book for the information of the booksellers.

It drew attention to the extraordinary interest of the production as a
painting of the upper class by the hand of one belonging to its inmost
circle. "People of the highest social and political importance will be
recognized at once; the writer handles cabinet ministers and their wives
with equal freedom, and with a touch betraying the closest and most
intimate knowledge. Details hitherto quite unknown to the public of
ministerial combinations and intrigues--especially of the feminine
influences involved--will be found here in their lightest and most
amusing form. A certain famous fancy ball will be identified without
difficulty. Scathing as some of the portraits are, the writer is by no
means merely cynical. The central figure of the book is a young and
rising statesman, whose aim and hopes are touched with a loving
hand--the charm of the portrait being only equalled by the venom with
which the writer assails those who have thwarted or injured his hero.
But our advice is simply--'Buy and Read!' Conjecture will run wild about
the writer. All we can say is that the most romantic or interesting
surmise that can possibly be formed will fall far short of the reality."

"The beast is a shrewd beast!" said Ashe, as he raised himself from the
stooping position in which he had been following the sentences over
Kitty's shoulder. "He knows that the public will rush for his wares! How
much money did he offer you, Kitty?"

He turned sharply on his heel to wait for her reply.

"A hundred pounds," said Kitty, almost inaudibly--"and a hundred more if
five thousand sold." She had returned again to her crouching attitude
over the fire.

"Generous!--upon my word!" said Ashe, scornfully turning over the two
thick-leaved, loosely printed Mudie volumes. "A guinea to the public, I
suppose--fifteen shillings to the trade. Darrell didn't exactly advise
you to advantage, Kitty."

Kitty kept silence. The sarcastic violence of his tone fell on her like
a blow. She seemed to shrink together; while Ashe resumed his walk to
and fro.

Presently, however, she looked up, to ask, in a voice that tried for
steadiness:

"What do you mean to do--exactly--William?"

"I shall, of course, buy up all I can; I shall employ some lawyer
fellow, and appeal to the good feelings of the newspapers. There will be
no trouble with the respectable ones. But some copies will get out, and
some of the Opposition newspapers will make capital out of them.
Naturally!--they'd be precious fools if they didn't."

A momentary hope sprang up in Kitty.

"But if you buy it up--and stop all the papers that matter," she
faltered--"why should you resign, William? There won't be--such great
harm done."

For answer he opened the book, and without speaking pointed to two
passages--the first, an account full of point and malice of the
negotiations between himself and Lord Parham at the time when he entered
the cabinet, the conditions he himself had made, and the confidential
comments of the Premier on the men and affairs of the moment.

"Do you remember the night when I told you those things, Kitty?"

Yes, Kitty remembered well. It was a night of intimate talk between man
and wife, a night when she had shown him her sweetest, tenderest mood,
and he--incorrigible optimist!--had persuaded himself that she was
growing as wise as she was lovely.

Her lip trembled. Then he pointed to the second--to the pitiless picture
of Lord Parham at Haggart.

"You wrote that--when he was under our roof--there by our pressing
invitation! You couldn't have written it--unless he had so put himself
in your power. A wandering Arab, Kitty, will do no harm to the man who
has eaten and drunk in his tent!"

She looked up, and as she read his face she understood at last how what
she had done had outraged in him all the natural and all the inherited
instincts of a generous and fastidious nature. The "great gentleman," so
strong in him as in all the best of English statesmen, whether they
spring from the classes or the masses, was up in arms.

She sprang to her feet with a cry. "William, you can't give up politics!
It would make you miserable."

"That can't be helped. And I couldn't go on like this, Kitty--even if
this affair of the book could be patched up. The strain's too great."

They were but a yard apart, and yet she seemed to be looking at him
across a gulf.

"You have been so happy in your work!" This time the sob escaped her.

"Oh, don't let's talk about that," he said, abruptly, as he walked away.
"There'll be a certain relief in giving up the impossible. I'll go back
to my books. We can travel, I suppose, and put politics out of our
heads."

"But--you won't resign your seat?"

"No," he said, after a pause--"no. As far as I can see at present, I
sha'n't resign my seat, though my constituents, of course, will be very
sick. But I doubt whether I shall stand again."

Every phrase fell as though with a thud on Kitty's ear. It was the wreck
of a man's life, and she had done it.

"Shall you--shall you go and see Lord Parham?" she asked, after a pause.

"I shall write to him first. I imagine"--he pointed to the letter lying
on the table--"that creature has already sent him the book. Then later I
daresay I shall see him."

She looked up.

"If I wrote and told him it was all my doing, William?--if I grovelled
to him?"

"The responsibility is mine," he said, sternly. "I had no business to
tell even you the things printed there. I told them at my own risk. If
anything I say has any weight with you, Kitty, you will write nothing."

She spread out her hands to the fire again, and he heard her say, as
though to herself:

"The thing is--the awful thing is, that I'm mad--I must be mad. I never
thought of all this when I was writing it. I wrote it in a kind of
dream. In the first place, I wanted to glorify you--"

He broke into an exclamation.

"Your _taste_, Kitty!--where was your taste? That a wife should praise a
husband in public! You could only make us both laughing-stocks."

His handsome features quivered a little. He felt this part of it the
most galling, the most humiliating of all; and she understood. In his
eyes she had shown herself not only reckless and treacherous, but
indelicate, vulgar, capable of besmirching the most sacred and intimate
of relations.

She rose from her seat.

"I must go and take my things off," she said, in "a vague voice," and as
she moved she tottered a little. He turned to look at her. Amid his own
crushing sense of defeat and catastrophe, his natural and righteous
indignation, he remembered that she had been ill--he remembered their
child. But whether from the excitement, first of the meeting in the
Vercelli palace, and now of this scene--or merely from the heat of the
fire over which she had been hanging, her cheeks were flushed, her eyes
blazed. Her beauty had never been more evident; but it made little
appeal to him; it was the wild, ungovernable beauty from which he had
suffered. He saw that she was excited, but there was an air also of
returning physical vigor; and the nascent feeling which might have been
strengthened by pallor and prostration died away.

Kitty moved as though to pass him and go to her room, which opened out
of the _salon_. But as she neared him she suddenly caught him by the
arm.

"William!--William! don't do it!--don't resign! Let me apologize!"

He was angered by her persistence, and merely said, coldly:

"I have given you my reasons, Kitty, why such a course is impossible."

"And--and you start to-morrow morning?"

"By the early train. Please let me go, Kitty. There are many things to
arrange. I must order the gondola, and see if the people here can cash
me a check."

"You mean--to leave me alone?" The words had a curious emphasis.

"I had a few words with Miss French before you came in. The packet
arrived by the evening post, and seeing that it was books--for you--I
opened it. After about an hour"--he turned and walked away again--"I saw
my bearings. Then I called Miss French, told her I should have to go
to-morrow, and asked her how long she could stay with you."

"William!" cried Kitty again, leaning heavily on the table beside
her--"don't go!--don't leave me!"

His face darkened.

"So you would prevent me from taking the only honorable, the only decent
way out of this thing that remains to me?"

She made no immediate reply. She stood--wrapped apparently in painful
abstraction--a creature lovely and distraught. The masses of her fair
hair loosened by the breeze on the canal had fallen about her cheeks and
shoulders; her black hat framed the white brow and large, feverish eyes;
and the sable cape she had worn in the gondola had slipped down over the
thin, sloping shoulders, revealing the young figure and the slender
waist. She might have been a child of seventeen, grieving over the death
of her goldfinch.

Ashe gathered together his official letters and papers, found his
check-book, and began to write. While he wrote he explained that Miss
French could keep her company at least another fortnight, that he could
leave with them four or five circular notes for immediate expenses, and
would send more from home directly he arrived.

In the middle of his directions Kitty once more appealed to him in a
passionate, muffled voice not to go. This time he lost his temper, and
without answering her he hastily left the room to arrange his packing
with his valet.

       *       *       *       *       *

When he returned to the _salon_ Kitty was not there. He and Miss
French--who knew only that something tragic had happened in which Kitty
was concerned--kept up a fragmentary conversation till dinner was
announced and Kitty entered. She had evidently been weeping, but with
powder and rouge she had tried to conceal the traces of her tears; and
at dinner she sat silent, hardly answering when Margaret French spoke to
her.

After dinner Ashe went out with his cigar towards the Piazza. He was in
a smarting, dazed state, beginning, however, to realize the blow more
than he had done at first. He believed that Parham himself would not be
at all sorry to be rid of him. He and his friends formed a powerful
group both in the cabinet and out of it. But they were forcing the pace,
and the elements of resistance and reaction were strong. He pictured the
dismay of his friends, the possible breakdown of the reforming party. Of
course they might so stand by him--and the suppression of the book might
be so complete--

At this moment he caught sight of a newspaper contents bill displayed at
the door of the only shop in the Piazza which sold English newspapers.
One of the lines ran, "Anonymous attack on the Premier." He started,
went in and bought the paper. There, in the "London Topics" column, was
the following paragraph:

"A string of extracts from a forthcoming book, accompanied by a somewhat
startling publisher's statement, has lately been sent round to the
press. We are asked not to print them before the day of publication, but
they have already roused much attention, if not excitement. They
certainly contain a very gross attack on the Prime Minister, based
apparently on first-hand information, and involving indiscretions
personal and political of an unusually serious character. The wife of a
cabinet minister is freely named as the writer, and even if no violation
of cabinet secrecy is concerned, it is clear that the book outrages the
confidential relations which ought to subsist between a Premier and his
colleagues, if government on our English system is to be satisfactorily
carried on. The statements it makes with every appearance of authority
both as to the relations between Lord Parham and some of the most
important members of his cabinet, and as to the Premier's intentions
with regard to one or two of the most vital questions now before the
country, are calculated seriously to embarrass the government. We fear
the book will have a veritable _succès de scandale_."

"That fellow at least has done his best to kick the ball, damn him!"
thought Ashe, with contempt, as he thrust the paper into his pocket.

It was no more than he expected; but it put an end to all thoughts of a
more hopeful kind. He walked up and down the _Piazza_ smoking, till
midnight, counting the hours till he could reach London, and revolving
the phrases of a telegram to be sent to his solicitor before starting.

Kitty made no sign or sound when he entered her room. Her fair head was
turned away from him, and all was dark. He could hardly believe that she
was asleep; but it was a relief to him to accept her pretence of it, and
to escape all further conversation. He himself slept but little. The
mere profundity of the Venetian silence teased him; it reminded him how
far he was from home.

Two images pursued him--of Kitty writing the book, while he was away
electioneering or toiling at his new office--and then, of his returns to
Haggart--tired or triumphant--on many a winter evening, of her glad rush
into his arms, her sparkling face on his breast.

Or again, he conjured up the scene when the MS. had been shown to
Darrell--his pretence of disapproval, his sham warnings, and the smile
on his sallow face as he walked off with it. Ashe looked back to the
early days of his friendship with Darrell, when he, Ashe, was one of the
leaders at Eton, popular with the masters in spite of his incorrigible
idleness, and popular with the boys because of his bodily prowess, and
Darrell had been a small, sickly, bullied colleger. Scene after scene
recurred to him, from their later relations at Oxford also. There was a
kind of deliberation in the way in which he forced his thoughts into
this channel; it made an outlet for a fierce bitterness of spirit, which
some imperious instinct forbade him to spend on Kitty.

He dozed in the later hours of the night, and was roused by something
touching his hand, which lay outside the bedclothes. Again the little
head!--and the soft curls. Kitty was there--crouched beside
him--weeping. There flashed into his mind an image of the night in
London when she had come to him thus; and unwelcome as the whole
remembrance was, he was conscious of a sudden swelling wave of pity and
passion. What if he sprang up, caught her in his arms, forgave her, and
bade the world go hang!

No! The impulse passed, and in his turn he feigned sleep. The thought of
her long deceit, of the selfish wilfulness wherewith she had requited
deep love and easy trust, was too much; it seared his heart. And there
was another and a subtler influence. To have forgiven so easily would
have seemed treachery to those high ambitions and ideals from which--as
he thought, only too certainly--she had now cut him off. It was part of
his surviving youth that the catastrophe seemed to him so absolute. Any
thought of the fresh efforts which would be necessary for the
reconquering of his position was no less sickening to him than that of
the immediate discomforts and humiliations to be undergone. He would go
back to books and amusement; and in the idling of the future there would
be plenty of time for love-making.

       *       *       *       *       *

In the morning, when all preparations were made, the gondoliers waiting
below, Ashe's telegram sent, and the circular notes handed over to
Margaret French, who had discreetly left the room, William approached
his wife.

"Good-bye!" said Kitty, and gave him her hand, with a strange look and
smile.

Ashe, however, drew her to him and kissed her--against her will. "I'll
do my best, Kitty," he said, in a would-be cheery voice--"to pull us
through. Perhaps--I don't know!--things may turn out better than I
think. Good-bye. Take care of yourself. I'll write, of course. Don't
hurry home. You'll want a fortnight or three weeks yet."

Kitty said not a word, and in another minute he was gone. The Italian
servants congregated below at the water-gate sent laughing "A
rivederlas" after the handsome, good-tempered Englishman, whom they
liked and regretted; the gondola moved off; Kitty heard the plash of the
water. But she held back from the window.

Half-way to the bend of the canal beyond the Accademia, Ashe turned and
gave a long look at the balcony. No one was there. But just as the
gondola was passing out of sight, Kitty slipped onto the balcony. She
could see only the figure of Piero, the gondolier, and in another second
the boat was gone. She stayed there for many minutes, clinging to the
balustrade and staring, as it seemed, at the sparkle of autumnal sun
which danced on the green water and on the red palace to her right.

       *       *       *       *       *

All the morning Kitty on her sofa pretended to write letters. Margaret
French, working or reading behind her, knew that she scarcely got
through a single note, that her pen lay idle on the paper, while her
eyes absently watched the palace windows on the other side of the canal.
Miss French was quite certain that some tragic cause of difference
between the husband and wife had arisen. Kitty, the indiscreet, had for
once kept her own counsel about the book, and Ashe had with his own
hands packed away the volumes which had arrived the night before; so
that she could only guess, and from that delicacy of feeling restrained
her as much as possible.

Once or twice Kitty seemed on the point of unburdening herself. Then
overmastering tears would threaten; she would break off and begin to
write. At luncheon her look alarmed Miss French, so white was the little
face, so large and restless the eyes. Ought Mr. Ashe to have left her,
and left her apparently in anger? No doubt he thought her much better.
But Margaret remembered the worst days of her illness, the anxious looks
of the doctors, and the anguish that Kitty had suffered in the first
weeks after her child's death. She seemed now, indeed, to have forgotten
little Harry, so far as outward expression went; but who could tell what
was passing in her strange, unstable mind? And it often seemed to
Margaret that the signs of the past summer were stamped on her
indelibly, for those who had eyes to see.

Was it the perception of this pity beside her that drove Kitty to
solitude and flight? At any rate, she said after luncheon that she would
go to Madame d'Estrées, and did not ask Miss French to accompany her.

She set out accordingly with the two gondoliers. But she had hardly
passed the Accademia before she bid her men take a cross-cut to the
Giudecca. On these wide waters, with their fresher air and fuller
sunshine, a certain physical comfort seemed to breathe upon her.

"Piero, it is not rough! Can we go to the Lido?" she asked the gondolier
behind her.

Piero, who was all smiles and complaisance, as well he might be with a
lady who scattered _lire_ as freely as Kitty did, turned the boat at
once for that channel "Del Orfano" where the bones of the vanquished
dead lie deep amid the ooze.

They passed San Giorgio, and were soon among the piles and sand-banks of
the lagoon. Kitty sat in a dream which blotted the sunshine from the
water. It seemed to her that she was a dead creature, floating in a dead
world. William had ceased to love her. She had wrecked his career and
destroyed her own happiness. Her child had been taken from her. Lady
Tranmore's affection had been long since alienated. Her own mother was
nothing to her; and her friends in society, like Madeleine Alcot, would
only laugh and gloat over the scandal of the book.

No--everything was finished! As her fingers hanging over the side of the
gondola felt the touch of the water, her morbid fancy, incredibly quick
and keen, fancied herself drowned, or poisoned--lying somehow white and
cold on a bed where William might see and forgive her.

Then with a start of memory which brought the blood rushing to her face,
she thought of Cliffe standing beside the door of the great hall in the
Vercelli palace--she seemed to be looking again into those deep,
expressive eyes, held by the irony and the passion with which they were
infused. Had the passion any reference to her?--or was it merely part of
the man's nature, as inseparable from it as flame from the volcano? If
William had cast her off, was there still one man--wild and bad, indeed,
like herself, but poet and hero nevertheless--who loved her?

She did not much believe it; but still the possibility of it lured her,
like some dark gulf that promised her oblivion from this pain--pain
which tortured one so impatient of distress, so hungry for pleasure and
praise.

       *       *       *       *       *

In those days the Lido was still a noble and solitary shore, without the
degradations of to-day.

Kitty walked fast and furiously across the sandy road, and over the
shingles, turning, when she reached the firm sand, southward towards
Malamocco. It was between four and five, and the autumn afternoon was
fast declining. A fresh breeze was on the sea, and the short waves,
intensely blue under a wide, clear heaven, broke in dazzling foam on the
red-brown sand.

She seemed to be alone between sea and sky, save for two figures
approaching from the south--a fisher-boy with a shrimping-net and a man
walking bareheaded. She noticed them idly. A mirage of sun was between
her and them, and the agony of remorse and despair which held her
blunted all perceptions.

Thus it was that not till she was close upon him did her dazzled sight
recognize Geoffrey Cliffe.

He saw her first, and stopped in motionless astonishment on the edge of
the sand. She almost ran against him, when his voice arrested her.

"Lady Kitty!"

She put her hand to her breast, wavered, and came to a stand-still. He
saw a little figure in black between him and those "gorgeous towers and
cloud-capped palaces" of Alpine snow, which dimly closed in the north;
and beneath the drooping hat a face even more changed and tragic than
that which had haunted him since their meeting of the day before.

[Illustration: "SHE THOUGHT OF CLIFFE STANDING BESIDE THE DOOR OF THE
GREAT HALL."]

"How do you do?" she said, mechanically, and would have passed him.
But he stood in her path. As he stared at her an impulse of rage ran
through him, resenting the wreck of anything so beautiful--rage against
Ashe, who must surely be somehow responsible.

"Aren't you wandering too far, Lady Kitty?" His voice shook under the
restraint he put upon it. "You seem tired--very tired--and you are
perhaps farther from your gondola than you think."

"I am not tired."

He hesitated.

"Might I walk with you a little, or do you forbid me?"

She said nothing, but walked on. He turned and accompanied her. One or
two questions that he put to her--Had she companions?--Where had she
left her gondola?--remained unanswered. He studied her face, and at last
he laid a strong hand upon her arm.

"Sit down. You are not fit for any more walking."

He drew her towards some logs of driftwood on the upper sand, and she
sank down upon them. He found a place beside her.

"What is the matter with you?" he said, abruptly, with a harsh
authority. "You are in trouble."

A tremor shook her--as of the prisoner who feels on his limbs the first
touch of the fetter.

"No, no!" she said, trying to rise; "it is nothing. I--I didn't know it
was so far. I must go home."

His hand held her.

"Kitty!"

"Yes." Her voice was scarcely audible.

"Tell me what hurts you! Tell me why you are here, alone, with a face
like that! Don't be afraid of me! Could I lift a finger to harm a
mother that has lost her child? Give me your hands." He gathered both
hers into the warm shelter of his own. "Look at me--trust me! My heart
has grown, Kitty, since you knew me last. It has taken into itself so
many griefs--so many deaths. Tell me your griefs, poor child!--tell me!"

He stooped and kissed her hands--most tenderly, most gravely.

Tears rushed into her eyes. The wild emotions that were her being were
roused beyond control. Bending towards him she began to pour out, first
brokenly, then in a torrent, the wretched, incoherent story, of which
the mere telling, in such an ear, meant new treachery to William and new
ruin for herself.



XXII


On a certain cloudy afternoon, some ten days later, a fishing-boat, with
a patched orange sail, might have been seen scudding under a light
northwesterly breeze through the channels which connect the island of
San Francesco with the more easterly stretches of the Venetian lagoon.
The boat presently neared the shore of one of the cultivated
_lidi_--islands formed out of the silt of many rivers by the travail of
centuries, some of them still mere sand or mud banks, others covered by
vineyards and fruit orchards--which, with the _murazzi_ or sea-walls of
Venice, stand sentinel between the city and the sea. On the _lido_ along
which the boat was coasting, the vintage was long since over and the
fruit gathered; the last yellow and purple leaves in the orchards, "a
pestilent-stricken multitude," were to-day falling fast to earth, under
the sighing, importunate wind. The air was warm; November was at its
mildest. But all color and light were drowned in floating mists, and
darkness lay over the distant city. It was one of those drear and
ghostly days which may well have breathed into the soul of Shelley that
superb vision of the dead generations of Venice, rising, a phantom host
from the bosom of the sunset, and sweeping in "a rapid mask of death"
over the shadowed waters that saw the birth and may yet furnish the tomb
of so vast a fame.

Two persons were in the boat--Kitty, wrapped in sables, her straying
hair held close by a cap of the same fur--and Geoffrey Cliffe. They had
been wandering in the lagoons all day, in order to escape from Venice
and observers--first at Torcello, then at San Francesco, and now they
were ostensibly coming home in a wide sweep along the northern _lidi_
and _murazzi_, that Cliffe might show his companion, from near by, the
Porto del Lido, that exit from the lagoons where the salt lakes grow
into the sea.

A certain wildness and exaltation, drawn from the solitudes around them
and from their _tête-à-tête_, could be read in both the man and the
woman. Cliffe watched his companion incessantly. As he lay against the
side of the boat at her feet, he saw her framed in the curving sides of
the stern, and could read her changing expressions. Not a happy
face!--that he knew! A face haunted by shadows from an underworld of
thought--pursuing furies of remorse and fear. Not the less did he
triumph that he had it _there_, in his power; nor had the flashes of
terror and wavering will which he discerned in any way diminished its
beauty.

"How long have you known--that woman?" Kitty asked him, suddenly, after
a pause broken only by the playing of the wind with the sail.

Cliffe laughed.

"The Ricci? Why do you want to know, madame?"

She made a contemptuous lip.

"I knew her first," said Cliffe, "some years ago in Milan. She was then
at La Scala--walking on--paid for her good looks. Then somebody sent her
to Paris to the Conservatoire, which she only left this spring. This is
her first Italian engagement. Her people are shopkeepers here--in the
Merceria--which helped her. She is as vain as a peacock and as dangerous
as a pet panther."

"Dangerous!" Kitty's scorn had passed into her voice.

"Well, Italy is still the country of the knife," said Cliffe,
lightly--"and I could still hire a bravo or two--in Venice--if I wanted
them."

"Does the Ricci hire them?"

Cliffe shrugged his shoulders.

"She'd do it without winking, if it suited her." Then, after a
pause--"Do you still wonder why I should have chosen her society?"

"Oh no," said Kitty, hastily. "You told me."

"As much as a _friend_ cares to know?"

She nodded, flushing, and dropped the subject.

Cliffe's mouth still smiled, but his eyes studied her with a veiled and
sinister intensity.

"I have not seen the lady for a week," he resumed. "She pesters me with
notes. I promised to go and see her in a new play to-morrow night,
but--"

"Oh, go!" said Kitty--"by all means go!"

"'Ruy Blas' in Italian? I think not. Ah! did you see that gleam on the
Campanile?--marvellous!... Miladi, I have a question to ask you."

"_Dites!_" said Kitty.

"Did you put me into your book?"

"Certainly."

"What kind of things did you say?"

"The worst I could!"

"Ah! How shall I get a copy?" said Cliffe, musing.

She made no answer, but she was conscious of a sudden movement--was it
of terror? At the bottom of her soul was she, indeed, afraid of the man
beside her?

"By-the-way," he resumed, "you promised to tell me your news of this
morning. But you haven't told me a word!"

She turned away. She had gathered her furs around her, and her face was
almost hidden by them.

"Nothing is settled," she said, in a cold, reluctant voice.

"Which means that you won't tell me anything more?"

She was silent. Her lip had a proud line which piqued him.

"You think I am not worthy to know?"

Her eye gleamed.

"What does it matter to you?"

"Oh, nothing! I should have been glad to hear that all was well, and
Ashe's mind at rest about his prospects."

"His prospects!" she repeated, with a scorn which stung. "How _dare_ we
mention his name here at all?"

Cliffe reddened.

"I dare," he said, calmly.

Kitty looked at him--a quivering defiance in face and frame; then bent
forward.

"Would you like to know--who is the best--the noblest--the
handsomest--the most generous--the most delightful man I have ever met?"

Each word came out winged and charged with a strange intensity of
passion.

"Do I?" said Cliffe, raising his eyebrows--"do I want to know?"

Her look held him.

"My husband, William Ashe!"

And she fell back, flushed and breathless, like one who throws out a
rebel and challenging flag.

Cliffe was silent a moment, observing her.

"Strange!" he said, at last. "It is only when you are miserable you are
kind. I could wish you miserable again, _chérie_."

Tone and look broke into a sombre wildness before which she shrank. Her
own violence passed away. She leaned over the side of the boat,
struggling with tears.

"Then you have your wish," was her muffled answer.

The three bronzed Venetians, a father and two sons, who were working the
_bragozzo_ glanced curiously at the pair. They were persuaded that these
charterers of their boat were lovers flying from observation, and the
unknown tongue did but stimulate guessing.

Cliffe raised himself impatiently.

They were nearing a point where the line of _murazzi_ they had been
following--low breakwaters of great strength--swept away from them
outward and eastward towards a distant opening. On the other side of the
channel was a low line of shore, broadening into the Lido proper, with
its scattered houses and churches, and soon lost in the mist as it
stretched towards the south.

"Ecco!--il Porto del Lido!" said the older boatman, pointing far away to
a line of deeper color beneath a dark and lowering sky.

Kitty bent over the side of the boat staring towards the dim spot he
showed her--where was the mouth of the sea.

"Kitty!" said Cliffe's voice beside her, hoarse and hurried--"one word,
and I tell these fellows to set their helm for Trieste. This boat will
carry us well--and the wind is with us."

She turned and looked him in the face.

"And then?"

"Then? We'll think it out together, Kitty--together!" He bent his lips
to her hand, bending so as to conceal the action from the sailors. But
she drew her hand away.

"You and I," she said, fiercely--"would tire of each other in a week!"

"Have the courage to try! No!--you should not tire of me in a week! I
would find ways to keep you mine, Kitty--cradled, and comforted, and
happy."

"Happy!" Her slight laugh was the forlornest thing. "Take me out to
sea--and drop me there--with a stone round my neck. That might be worth
doing--perhaps."

He surveyed her unmoved.

"Listen, Kitty! This kind of thing can't go on forever."

"What are you waiting for?" she said, tauntingly. "You ought to have
gone last week."

"I am not going," he said, raising himself by a sudden movement--"till
you come with me!"

Kitty started, her eyes riveted to his.

"And yet go I will! Not even you shall stop me, Kitty. I'll take the
help I've gathered back to those poor devils--if I die for it. But
you'll come with me--you'll come!"

She drew back--trembling under an impression she strove to conceal.

"If you will talk such madness, I can't help it," she said, with
shortened breath.

"Yes--you'll come!" he said, nodding. "What have you to do with Ashe,
Kitty, any longer? You and he are already divided. You have tried life
together and what have you made of it? You're not fit for this mincing,
tripping London life--nor am I? And as for morals--- I'll tell you a
strange thing, Kitty." He bent forward and grasped her hands with a
force which hurt--from which she could not release herself. "I
believe--yes, by God, I believe!--that I am a better man than I was
before I started on this adventure. It's been like drinking at last at
the very source of life--living, not talking about it. One bitter night
last February, for instance, I helped a man--one of the insurgents--who
had taken to the mountains with his wife and children--to carry his
wife, a dying woman, over a mountain-pass to the only place where she
could possibly get help and shelter. We carried her on a litter, six men
taking turns. The cold and the fatigue were such that I shudder now when
I think of it. Yet at the end I seemed to myself a man reborn. I was
happier than I had ever been in my life. Some mystic virtue had flowed
into me. Among those men and women, instead of being the selfish beast
I've been all these years, I can forget myself. Death seems
nothing--brotherhood--liberty!--everything! And yet--"

His face relaxed, became ironical, reflective. But he held the hands
close, his grasp of them hidden by the folds of fur which hung about
her.

"And _yet_--I can say to you without a qualm--put this marriage which
has already come to naught behind you--and come with me! Ashe cramps
you. He blames you--you blame yourself. What _reality_ has all that? It
makes you miserable--it wastes life. _I_ accept your nature--I don't ask
you to be anything else than yourself--your wild, vain, adorable self!
Ashe asks you to put restraint on yourself--to make painful efforts--to
be good for his sake--the sake of something outside. _I_ say--come and
look at the elemental things--death and battle--hatred, solitude, love.
_They'll_ sweep us out of ourselves!--no need to strive and cry for
it--into the great current of the world's being--bring us close to the
forces at the root of things--the forces which create--and destroy. Dip
your heart in that stream, Kitty, and feel it grow in your breast. Take
a nurse's dress--put your hand in mine--and come! I can't promise you
luxuries or ease. You've had enough of those. Come and open another door
in the House of Life! Take starving women and hunted children into your
arms--- feel with them--weep with them--look with them into the face of
death! Make friends with nature--with rocks, forests, torrents--with
night and dawn, which you've never seen, Kitty! They'll love
you--they'll support you--the rough people--and the dark forests.
They'll draw nature's glamour round you--they'll pour her balm into your
soul. And I shall be with you--beside you!--your guardian--your
lover--your _lover_, Kitty--till death do us part."

He looked at her with the smile which was his only but sufficient
beauty; the violent, exciting words flowed in her ear, amid the sound of
rising waves and the distant talk of the fishermen. His hand crushed
hers; his mad, imploring eyes repelled and constrained her. The wild
hungers and curiosities of her being rushed to meet him; she heard the
echo of her own words to Ashe: "More life--more _life_!--even though it
lead to pain--and agony--and tears!"

Then she wrenched herself away--suddenly, contemptuously.

"Of course, that's all nonsense--romantic nonsense. You've perhaps
forgotten that I am one of the women who don't stir without their maid."

Cliffe's expression changed. He thrust his hands into his pockets.

"Oh, well, if you must have a maid," he said, dryly, "that settles it. A
maid would be the deuce. And yet--I think I could find you a Bosnian
girl--strong and faithful--"

Their eyes met--his already full of a kind of ownership, tender,
confident, humorous even--hers alive with passionate anger and
resistance.

"_Without a qualm_!" she repeated, in a low voice--"without a qualm! Mon
Dieu!"

She turned and looked towards the Adriatic.

"Where are we?" she said, imperiously.

For a gesture of command on Cliffe's part, unseen by her, had sent the
boat eastward, spinning before the wind. The lagoon was no longer
tranquil. It was covered with small waves; and the roar of the outer
sea, though still far off, was already in their ears. The mist lifting
showed white, distant crests of foam on a tumbling field of water, and
to the north, clothed in tempestuous purple, the dim shapes of
mountains.

Kitty raised herself, and beckoned towards the captain of the
_bragozzo_.

"Giuseppe!"

"Commanda, Eccellenza!"

The man came forward.

With a voice sharp and clear, she gave the order to return at once to
Venice. Cliffe watched her, the veins on his forehead swelling. She knew
that he debated with himself whether he should give a counter-order or
no.

"A Venezia!" said Kitty, waving her hand towards the sailors, her eyes
shining under the tangle of her hair.

The helm was put round, and beneath a tacking sail the boat swept
southward.

With an awkward laugh Cliffe fell back into his seat, stretching his
long limbs across the boat. He had spoken under a strong and genuine
impulse. His passion for her had made enormous strides in these few wild
days beside her. And yet the fantastic poet's sense responded at a touch
to the new impression. He shook off the heroic mood as he had doffed his
Bosnian cloak. In a few minutes, though the heightened color remained,
he was chatting and laughing as though nothing had happened.

       *       *       *       *       *

She, exhausted physically and morally by her conflict with him, hardly
spoke on the way home. He entertained her, watching her all the time--a
hundred speculations about her passing through his brain. He understood
perfectly how the insight which she had allowed him into her grief and
her remorse had broken down the barriers between them. Her incapacity
for silence, and reticence, had undone her. Was he a villain to have
taken advantage of it?

Why? With a strange, half-cynical clearness he saw her, as the obstacle
that she was, in Ashe's life and career. For Ashe--supposing he, Cliffe,
persuaded her--there would be no doubt a first shock of wrath and
pain--then a sense of deliverance. For her, too, deliverance! It excited
his artist's sense to think of all the further developments through
which he might carry that eager, plastic nature. There would be a new
Kitty, with new capacities and powers. Wasn't that justification enough?
He felt himself a sculptor in the very substance of life, moulding a
living creature afresh, disengaging it from harsh and hindering
conditions. What was there vile in that?

The argument pursued itself.

"The modern judges for himself--makes his own laws, as a god, knowing
good and evil. No doubt in time a new social law will emerge--with new
sanctions. Meanwhile, here we are, in a moment of transition,
manufacturing new types, exploring new combinations--by which let those
who come after profit!"

Little delicate, distinguished thing!--every aspect of her, angry or
sweet, sad or wilful, delighted his taste and sense. Moreover, she was
_his_ deliverance, too--from an ugly and vulgar entanglement of which he
was ashamed. He shrank impatiently from memories which every now and
then pursued him of the Ricci's coarse beauty and exacting ways. Kitty
had just appeared in time! He felt himself rehabilitated in his own
eyes. Love may trifle as it pleases with what people call "law"; but
there are certain æsthetic limits not to be transgressed.

The Ricci, of course, was wild and thirsting for revenge. Let her!
Anxieties far more pressing disturbed him. What if he tempted Kitty to
this escapade--and the rough life killed her? He saw clearly how frail
she was.

But it was the artificiality of her life, the innumerable burdens of
civilization, which had brought her to this! Women were not the
weaklings they seemed, or believed themselves to be. For many of them,
probably for Kitty, a rude and simple life would mean not only fresh
mental but fresh physical strength. He had seen what women could endure,
for love's or patriotism's sake! Make but appeal to the spirit--the
proud and tameless spirit--and how the flesh answered! He knew that his
power with Kitty came largely from a certain stoicism, a certain
hardness, mingled, as he would prove to her, with a boundless devotion.
Let him carry it through--without fears--and so enlarge her being and
his own! And as to responsibilities beyond, as to their later lives--let
time take care of its own births. For the modern determinist of Cliffe's
type there _is_ no responsibility. He waits on life, following where it
leads, rejoicing in each new feeling, each fresh reaction of
consciousness on experience, and so links his fatalist belief to that
Nietzsche doctrine of self-development at all costs, and the coming man,
in which Cliffe's thought anticipated the years.

       *       *       *       *       *

Kitty meanwhile listened to his intermittent talk of Venice, or Bosnia,
with all its suggestions of new worlds and far horizons, and scarcely
said a word.

But through the background of the brain there floated with her, as with
him, a procession of unspoken thoughts. She had received three letters
from William. Immediately on his arrival he had tendered his
resignation. Lord Parham had asked him to suspend the matter for ten
days. Only the pressure of his friends, it seemed, and the consternation
of his party had wrung from Ashe a reluctant consent. Meanwhile, all
copies of the book had been bought up; the important newspapers had
readily lent themselves to the suppression of the affair; private wraths
had been dealt with by conciliatory lawyers; and in general a far more
complete hushing-up had been attained than Ashe had ever imagined
possible. There was no doubt infinite gossip in the country-houses. But
sympathy for Kitty in her grief, for Ashe himself, and Lady Tranmore,
had done much to keep it within bounds. The little Dean especially,
beloved of all the world, had been incessantly active on behalf of peace
and oblivion.

All this Kitty read or guessed from William's letters. After all, then,
the harm had not been so great! Why such a panic!--such a hurry to leave
her!--when she was ill--and sorry? And now how curtly, how measuredly he
wrote! Behind the hopefulness of his tone she read the humiliation and
soreness of his mind--and said to herself, with a more headlong
conviction than ever, that he would never forgive her.

No, _never!_--and especially now that she had added a thousandfold to
the original offence. She had never written to him since his departure.
Margaret French, too, was angry with her--had almost broken with her.

       *       *       *       *       *

They left their boat on the Riva, and walked to the _Piazza_, through
the now starry dusk. As they passed the great door of St. Mark's, two
persons came out of the church. Kitty recognized Mary Lyster and Sir
Richard. She bowed slightly; Sir Richard put his hand to his hat in a
flurried way; but Mary, looking them both in the face, passed without
the smallest sign, unless the scorn in face and bearing might pass for
recognition.

Kitty gasped.

"She cut me!" she said, in a shaking voice.

"Oh no!" said Cliffe. "She didn't see you in the dark."

Kitty made no reply. She hurried along the northern side of the Piazza,
avoiding the groups which were gathered in the sunset light round the
flocks of feeding pigeons, brushing past the tables in front of the
cafe's, still well filled on this mild evening.

"Take care!" said Cliffe, suddenly, in a low, imperative voice.

Kitty looked up. In her abstraction she saw that she had nearly come
into collision with a woman sitting at a café table and surrounded by a
noisy group of men.

With a painful start Kitty perceived the mocking eyes of Mademoiselle
Ricci. The Ricci said something in Italian, staring the while at the
English lady; and the men near her laughed, some furtively, some loudly.

Cliffe's face set. "Walk quickly!" he said in her ear, hurrying her
past.

When they had reached one of the narrow streets behind the Piazza, Kitty
looked at him--white and haughtily tremulous. "What did that mean?"

"Why should you deign to ask?" was Cliffe's impatient reply. "I have
ceased to go and see her. I suppose she guesses why."

"I will have no rivalry with Mademoiselle Ricci!" cried Kitty.

"You can't help it," said Cliffe, calmly. "The powers of light are
always in rivalry with the powers of darkness."

And without further pleading or excuse he stalked on, his gaunt form and
striking head towering above the crowded pavement. Kitty followed him
with difficulty, conscious of a magnetism and a force against which she
struggled in vain.

       *       *       *       *       *

About a week afterwards Kitty shut herself up one evening in her room to
write to Ashe. She had just passed through an agitating conversation
with Margaret French, who had announced her intention of returning to
England at once, alone, if Kitty would not accompany her. Kitty's hands
were trembling as she began to write.

       *       *       *       *       *

"I am glad--oh! so glad, William--that you _have_ withdrawn your
resignation--that people have come forward so splendidly, and _made_ you
withdraw it--that Lord Parham is behaving decently--and that you have
been able to get hold of all those copies of the book. I always hoped it
would not be quite so bad as you thought. But I know you must have gone
through an awful time--and I'm _sorry_.

"William, I want to tell you something--for I can't go on lying to
you--or even just hiding the truth. I met Geoffrey Cliffe here--before
you left--and I never told you. I saw him first in a gondola the night
of the serenata--and then at the Armenian convent. Do you remember my
hurrying you and Margaret into the garden? That was to escape meeting
him. And that same afternoon when I was in the unused rooms of the
Palazzo Vercelli--the rooms they show to tourists--he suddenly
appeared--and somehow I spoke to him, though I had never meant to do so
again.

"Then when you left me I met him again--that afternoon--and he found out
I was very miserable and made me tell him everything. I know I had no
right to do so--they were your secrets as well as mine. But you know how
little I can control myself--it's wretched, but it's true.

"William, I don't know what will happen. I can't make out from Margaret
whether she has written to you or not--she won't tell me. If she has,
this letter will not be much news to you. But, mind, I write it of my
own free will, and not because Margaret may have forced my hand. I
should have written it anyway. Poor old darling!--she thinks me mad and
bad, and to-night she tells me she can't take the responsibility of
looking after me any longer. Women like her can never understand
creatures like me--and I don't want her to. She's a dear saint, and as
true as steel--not like your Mary Lysters! I could go on my knees to
her. But she can't control or save me. Not even you could, William.
You've tried your best, and in spite of you I'm going to perdition, and
I can't stop myself.

"For, William, there's something broken forever between you and me. I
know it was I who did the wrong, and that you had no choice but to leave
me when you did. But yet you _did_ leave me, though I implored you not.
And I know very well that you don't love me as you used to--why should
you?--and that you never can love me in the same way again. Every letter
you write tells me that. And though I have deserved it all, I can't
bear it. When I think of coming home to England, and how you would try
to be nice to me--how good and dear and magnanimous you would be, and
what a beast I should feel--I want to drown myself and have done.

"It all seems to me so hopeless. It is my own nature--- the stuff out of
which I am cut--that's all wrong. I may promise my breath away that I
will be discreet and gentle and well behaved, that I'll behave properly
to people like Lady Parham, that I'll keep secrets, and not make absurd
friendships with absurd people, that I'll try and keep out of debt, and
so on. But what's the use? It's the _will_ in me--the something that
drives, or ought to drive--that won't work. And nobody ever taught me or
showed me, that I can remember, till I met you. In Paris at the Place
Vendôme, half the time I used to live with maman and papa, be hideously
spoiled, dressed absurdly, eat off silver plate, and make myself sick
with rich things--and then for days together maman would go out or away,
forget all about me, and I used to storm the kitchen for food. She
either neglected me or made a show of me; she was my worst enemy, and I
hated and fought her--till I went to the convent at ten. When I was
fourteen maman asked a doctor about me. He said I should probably go
mad--and at the convent they thought the same. Maman used to throw this
at me when she was cross with me.

"Well, I don't repeat this to make you excuse me and think better of
me--- it's all too late for that--but because I am such a puzzle to
myself, and I try to explain things. I _did_ love you, William--I
believe I do still--but when I think of our living together again, my
arms drop by my side and I feel like a dead creature. Your life is too
great a thing for me. Why should I spoil or hamper it? If you loved me,
as you did once--if you still thought _everything_ worth while, then, if
I had a spark of decency left, I might kill myself to free you, but I
should never do--what I may do now. But, William, you'll forget me soon.
You'll pass great laws, and make great speeches, and the years when I
tormented you--and all my wretched ways--will seem such a small, small
thing.

"Geoffrey says he loves me. And I think he does, though how long it will
last, or may be worth, no one can tell. As for me, I don't know whether
I love him. I have no illusion about him. But there are moments when he
absolutely holds me--when my will is like wax in his hands. It is
because, I think, of a certain grandness--_grandeur_ seems too
strong--in his character. It was always there; because no one could
write such poems as his without it. But now it's more marked, though I
don't know that it makes him a better man. He thinks it does; but we all
deceive ourselves. At any rate, he is often superb, and I feel that I
could die, if not for him, at least with him. And he is not unlikely to
die in some heroic way. He went out as you know simply as correspondent
and to distribute relief, but lately he has been fighting for these
people--of course he has!--and when he goes back he is to be one of
their regular leaders. When he talks of it he is noble, transformed. It
reminds me of Byron--his wicked life here--and then his death at
Missolonghi. Geoffrey can do such base, cruel things--and yet--

"But I haven't yet told you. He asks me to go with him, back to the
fighting-lines in upper Bosnia. There seems to be a great deal that
women can do. I shall wear a nurse's uniform, and probably nurse at a
little hospital he founded--high up in one of the mountain valleys. I
know this will almost make you laugh. You will think of me, not knowing
how to put on a button without Blanche--and wanting to be waited on
every moment. But you'll see; there'll be nothing of that sort. I wonder
whether it's hardship I've been thirsting for all my life--even when I
seemed such a selfish, luxurious little ape?

"At the same time, I think it will kill me--and that would be the best
end of all. To have some great, heroic experience, and then--'cease upon
the midnight with no pain!...'

"Oh, if I thought you'd care very, _very_ much, I should have
pain--horrible pain. But I know you won't. Politics have taken my place.
Think of me sometimes, as I was when we were first married--and of
Harry--my little, little fellow!

"--Maman and I have had a ghastly scene. She came to scold me for my
behavior--to say I was the talk of Venice. _She!_ Of course I know what
she means. She thinks if I am divorced she will lose her allowance--and
she can't bear the thought of that, though Markham Warington is quite
rich. My heart just _boiled_ within me. I told her it is the poison of
her life that works in me, and that whatever I do, _she_ has no right to
reproach me. Then she cried--and I was like ice--and at last she went.
Warington, good fellow, has written to me, and asked to see me. But what
is the use?

"I know you'll leave me the £500 a year that was settled on me. It'll be
so good for me to be poor--and dressed in serge--and trying to do
something else with these useless hands than writing books that break
your heart. I am giving away all my smart clothes. Blanche is going
home. Oh, William, William! I'm going to shut this, and it's like the
good-bye of death--a mean and ugly--_death_.

"... Later. They have just brought me a note from Danieli's. So Margaret
did write to you, and your mother has come. Why did you send her,
William? She doesn't love me--and I shall only stab and hurt her. Though
I'll try not--for your sake."

Two days later Ashe received almost by the same post which brought him
the letter from Kitty, just quoted, the following letter from his
mother:

     "My DEAREST WILLIAM,--I have seen Kitty. With some difficulty she
     consented to let me go and see her yesterday evening about nine
     o'clock.

     "I arrived between six and seven, having travelled straight through
     without a break, except for an hour or two at Milan, and
     immediately on arriving I sent a note to Margaret French. She came
     in great distress, having just had a fresh scene with Kitty. Oh, my
     dear William, her report could not well be worse. Since she wrote
     to us Kitty seems to have thrown over all precautions. They used to
     meet in churches or galleries, and go out for long days in the
     gondola or a fishing-boat together, and Kitty would come home alone
     and lie on the sofa through the evening, almost without speaking
     or moving. But lately he comes in with her, and stays hours,
     reading to her, or holding her hand, or talking to her in a low
     voice, and Margaret cannot stop it.

     "Yet she has done her best, poor girl! Knowing what we all knew
     last year, it filled her with terror when she first discovered that
     he was in Venice and that they had met. But it was not till it had
     gone on about a week, with the strangest results on Kitty's spirits
     and nerves, that she felt she must interfere. She not only spoke to
     Kitty, but she spoke and wrote to him in a very firm, dignified
     way. Kitty took no notice--only became very silent and secretive.
     And he treated poor Margaret with a kind of courteous irony which
     made her blood boil, and against which she could do nothing. She
     says that Kitty seems to her sometimes like a person moving in
     sleep--only half conscious of what she is doing; and at others she
     is wildly excitable, irritable with everybody, and only calming
     down and becoming reasonable when this man appears.

     "There is much talk in Venice. They seem to have been seen together
     by various London friends who knew--about the difficulties last
     year. And then, of course, everybody is aware that you are not
     here--and the whole story of the book goes from mouth to mouth--and
     people say that a separation has been arranged--and so on. These
     are the kind of rumors that Margaret hears, especially from Mary
     Lyster, who is staying in this hotel with her father, and seems to
     have a good many friends here.

     "Dearest William--I have been lingering on these things because it
     is so hard to have to tell you what passed between me and Kitty.
     Oh! my dear, dear son, take courage. Even now everything is not
     lost. Her conscience may awaken at the last moment; this bad man
     may abandon his pursuit of her; I may still succeed in bringing her
     back to you. But I am in terrible fear--and I must tell you the
     whole truth.

     "Kitty received me alone. The room was very dark--only one lamp
     that gave a bad light--so that I saw her very indistinctly. She was
     in black, and, as far as I could see, extremely pale and weary. And
     what struck me painfully was her haggard, careless look. All the
     little details of her dress and hair seemed so neglected. Blanche
     says she is far too irritable and impatient in the mornings to let
     her hair be done as usual. She just rolls it into one big knot
     herself and puts a comb in it. She wears the simplest clothes, and
     changes as little as possible. She says she is soon going to have
     done with all that kind of thing, and she must get used to it. My
     own impression is that she is going through great agony of
     mind--above all, that she is ill--ill in body and soul.

     "She told me quite calmly, however, that she had made up her mind
     to leave you; she said that she had written to you to tell you so.
     I asked her if it was because she had ceased to love you. After a
     pause she said 'No.' Was it because some one else had come between
     you? She threw up her head proudly, and said it was best to be
     quite plain and frank. She had met Geoffrey Cliffe again, and she
     meant henceforward to share his life. Then she went into the
     wildest dreams about going back with him to the Balkans, and
     nursing in a hospital, and dying--she hopes!--of hard work and
     privations. And all this in a torrent of words--and her eyes
     blazing, with that look in them as though she saw nothing but the
     scenes of her own imagination. She talked of devotion--and of
     forgetting herself in other people. I could only tell her, of
     course, that all this sounded to me the most grotesque sophistry
     and perversion. She was forgetting her first duty, breaking her
     marriage vow, and tearing your life asunder. She shook her head,
     and said you would soon forget her. 'If he had loved me he would
     never have left me!' she said, again and again, with a passion I
     shall never forget.

     "Of course that made me very angry, and I described what the
     situation had been when you reached London--Lord Parham's state of
     mind--and the consternation caused everywhere by the wretched book.
     I tried to make her understand what there was at stake--the hopes
     of all who follow you in the House and the country--the great
     reforms of which you are the life and soul--your personal and
     political honor. I impressed on her the endless trouble and
     correspondence in which you had been involved--and how meanwhile
     all your Home Office and cabinet work had to be carried on as
     usual, till it was decided whether your resignation should be
     withdrawn or no. She listened with her head on her hands. I think
     with regard to the book she is most genuinely ashamed and
     miserable. And yet all the time there is this unreasonable, this
     monstrous feeling that you should not have left her!

     "As to the scandalous references to private persons, she said that
     Madeleine Alcot had written to her about the country-house gossip.
     That wretched being, Mr. Darrell, seems also to have written to
     her, trying to save himself through her. And the only time I saw
     her laugh was when she spoke of having had a furious letter from
     Lady Grosville about the references to Grosville Park. It was like
     the laugh of a mischievous, unhappy child.

     "Then we came back to the main matter, and I implored her to let me
     take her home. First I gave her your letter. She read it, flushed
     up, and threw it away from her. 'He commands me!' she said,
     fiercely. 'But I am no one's chattel.' I replied that you had only
     summoned her back to her duty and her home, and I asked her if she
     could really mean to repay your unfailing love by bringing anguish
     and dishonor upon you? She sat dumb, and her stubbornness moved me
     so that I fear I lost my self-control and said more, much more--in
     denunciation of her conduct--than I had meant to do. She heard me
     out, and then she got up and looked at me very bitterly and
     strangely. I had never loved her, she said, and so I could not
     judge her. Always from the beginning I had thought her unfit to be
     your wife, and she had known it, and my dislike of her, especially
     during the past year, had made her hard and reckless. It had seemed
     no use trying. I just wanted her dead, that you might marry a wife
     who would be a help and not a stumbling-block. Well, I should have
     my wish, for she would soon be as good as dead, both to you and to
     me.

     "All this hurt me deeply, and I could not restrain myself from
     crying. I felt so helpless, and so doubtful whether I had not done
     more harm than good. Then she softened a little, and asked me to
     let her go to bed--she would think it all over and write to me in
     the morning....

     "So, my dear William, I can only pray and wait. I am afraid there
     is but little hope, but God is merciful and strong. He may yet save
     us all.

     "But whatever happens, remember that you have nothing to reproach
     yourself with--that you have done all that man could do. I should
     telegraph to you in the morning to say, 'Come, at all hazards,' but
     that I feel sure all will be settled to-morrow one way or the
     other. Either Kitty will start with me--or she will go with
     Geoffrey Cliffe. You could do nothing--absolutely nothing. God help
     us! She seems to have some money, and she told me that she counted
     on retaining her jointure."

       *       *       *       *       *

On the night following her interview with Lady Tranmore, Kitty went from
one restless, tormented dream into another, but towards morning she fell
into one of a different kind. She dreamed she was in a country of great
mountains. The peaks were snow-crowned, vast glaciers filled the chasms
on their flanks, forests of pines clothed the lower sides of the hills,
and the fields below were full of spring flowers. She saw a little
Alpine village, and a church with an old and slender campanile. A plain
stone building stood by--it seemed to be an inn of the old-fashioned
sort--and she entered it. The dinner-table was ready in the low-roofed
_salle-à-manger_, and as she sat down to eat she saw that two other
guests were at the same table. She glanced at them, and perceived that
one was William and the other her child, Harry, grown older--and
transfigured. Instead of the dull and clouded look which had wrung her
heart in the old days, against which she had striven, patiently and
impatiently, in vain, the blue eyes were alive with mind and affection.
It was as if the child beheld his mother for the first time and she him.
As he recognized her he gave a cry of joy, waving one hand towards her
while with the other he touched his father on the arm. William raised
his head. But when he saw his wife his face changed. He rose from his
seat, and drawing the little boy into his arms he walked away. Kitty saw
them disappear into a long passage, indeterminate and dark. The child's
face over his father's shoulder was turned in longing towards his
mother, and as he was carried away he stretched out his little hands to
her in lamentation.

Kitty woke up bathed in tears. She sprang out of bed and threw the
window nearest to her open to the night. The winter night was mild, and
a full moon sailed the southern sky. Not a sound on the water, not a
light in the palaces; a city of ebony and silver, Venice slept in the
moonlight. Kitty gathered a cloak and some shawls round her, and sank
into a low chair, still crying and half conscious. At his inn, some few
hundred yards away, between her and the Piazzetta, was Geoffrey Cliffe
waking too?--making his last preparations? She knew that all his stores
were ready, and that he proposed to ship them and the twenty young
fellows, Italians and Dalmatians, who were going with him to join the
insurgents, that morning, by a boat leaving for Cattaro. He himself was
to follow twenty-four hours later, and it was his firm and confident
expectation that Kitty would go with him--passing as his wife. And,
indeed, Kitty's own arrangements were almost complete, her money in her
purse, the clothes she meant to take with her packed in one small trunk,
some of the Tranmore jewels which she had been recently wearing ready
to be returned on the morrow to Lady Tranmore's keeping, other jewels,
which she regarded as her own, together with the remainder of her
clothes, put aside, in order to be left in the custody of the landlord
of the apartment till Kitty should claim them again.

One more day--which would probably see the departure of Margaret
French--one more wrestle with Lady Tranmore, and all the links with the
old life would be torn away. A bare, stripped soul, dependent henceforth
on Geoffrey Cliffe for every crumb of happiness, treading in unknown
paths, suffering unknown things, probing unknown passions and
excitements--it was so she saw herself; not without that corroding
double consciousness of the modern, that it was all very interesting,
and as such to be forgiven and admired.

Notwithstanding what she had said to Ashe, she did believe--with a
clinging and desperate faith--that Cliffe loved her. Had she really
doubted it, her conduct would have been inexplicable, even to herself,
and he must have seemed a madman. What else could have induced him to
burden himself with a woman on such an errand and at such a time? She
had promised, indeed, to be his lieutenant and comrade--and to return to
Venice if her health should be unequal to the common task. But in spite
of the sternness with which he put that task first--a sternness which
was one of his chief attractions for Kitty--she knew well that her
coming threw a glamour round it which it had never yet possessed, that
the passion she had aroused in him, and the triumph of binding her to
his fate, possessed him--for the moment at any rate--heart and soul. He
had the poet's resources, too, and a mind wherewith to organize and
govern. She shrank from him still, but she already envisaged the time
when her being would sink into and fuse with his, and like two colliding
stars they would flame together to one fiery death.

Thoughts like these ran in her mind. Yet all the time she saw the high
mountains of her dream, the old inn, the receding face of her child on
William's shoulder; and the tears ran down her cheeks. The letter from
William that Lady Tranmore had given her lay on a table near. She took
it up, and lit a candle to read it.

       *       *       *       *       *

"Kitty--I bid you come home. I should have started for Venice an hour
ago, after reading Miss French's letter, but that honor and public duty
keep me here. But mother is going, and I implore and command you, as
your husband, to return with her. Oh, Kitty, have I ever failed
you?--have I ever been hard with you?--that you should betray our love
like this? Was I hard when we parted--a month ago? If I was, forgive me,
I was sore pressed. Come home, you poor child, and you shall hear no
reproaches from me. I think I have nearly succeeded in undoing your rash
work. But what good will that be to me if you are to use my absence for
that purpose to bring us both to ruin? Kitty, the grass is not yet green
on our child's grave. I was at Haggart last Sunday, and I went over in
the dusk to put some flowers upon it. I thought of you without a
moment's bitterness, and prayed for us both, if such as I may pray. Then
next morning came Miss French's letter. Kitty, have you no heart--and no
conscience? Will you bring disgrace on that little grave? Will you dig
between us the gulf which is irreparable, across which your hand and
mine can never touch each other any more? I cannot and I will not
believe it. Come back to me--come back!"

       *       *       *       *       *

She reread it with a melting heart--with deep, shaking sobs. When she
first glanced through it the word "command" had burned into her proud
sense; the rest passed almost unnoticed. Now the very strangeness in it
as coming from William--the strangeness of its grave and deep
emotion--held and grappled with her.

Suddenly--some tension of the whole being seemed to give way. Her head
sank back on the chair, she felt herself weak and trembling, yet happy
as a soul new-born into a world of light. Waking dreams passed through
her brain in a feverish succession, reversing the dream of the
night--images of peace and goodness and reunion.

Minutes--hours--passed. With the first light she got up feebly, found
ink and paper, and began to write.

       *       *       *       *       *

_From Lady Tranmore to William Ashe_:


"Oh! my dearest William--at last a gleam of hope.

"No letter this morning. I was in despair. Margaret reported that Kitty
refused to see any one--had locked her door, and was writing. Yet no
letter came. I made an attempt to see Geoffrey Cliffe, who is staying at
the 'Germania,' but he refused. He wrote me the most audacious letter to
say that an interview could only be very painful, that he and Kitty must
decide for themselves, that he was waiting every hour for a final word
from Kitty. It rested with her, and with her only. Coercion in these
matters was no longer possible, and he did not suppose that either you
or I would attempt it.

"And now comes this blessed note--a respite at least! '_I am going to
Verona to-night with Blanche. Please let no one attempt to follow me. I
wish to have two days alone--absolutely alone. Wait here. I will write.
K_.'

"... Margaret French, too, has just been here. She was almost hysterical
with relief and joy--and you know what a calm, self-controlled person
she is. But her dear, round face has grown white, and her eyes behind
her spectacles look as though she had not slept for nights. She says
that Kitty will not see her. She sent her a note by Blanche to ask her
to settle all the accounts, and told her that she should not say
good-bye--it would be too agitating for them both. In two days she
should hear. Meanwhile the maid Blanche is certainly going with Kitty;
and the gondola is ordered for the Milan train this evening.

"Two P.M. There is one thing that troubles me, and I must confess it. I
did not see that across Kitty's letter in the corner was written 'Tell
_nobody_ about this letter.' And Polly Lyster happened to be with me
when it came. She has been _au courant_ of the whole affair for the last
fortnight--that is, as an on-looker. She and Kitty have only met once or
twice since Mary reached Venice; but in one way or another she has been
extraordinarily well informed. And, as I told you, she came to see me
directly I arrived and told me all she knew. You know her old friendship
for us, William? She has many weaknesses, and of late I have thought her
much changed, grown very hard and bitter. But she is always _very_
loyal to you and me--and I could not help betraying my feeling when
Kitty's note reached me. Mary came and put her arms round me, and I said
to her, 'Oh, Mary, thank God!--she's broken with him! She's going to
Verona to-night on the way home!' And she kissed me and seemed so glad.
And I was very grateful to her for her sympathy, for I am beginning to
feel my age, and this has been rather a strain. But I oughtn't to have
told her!--or anybody! I see, of course, what Kitty meant. It is
incredible that Mary should breathe a word--or if she did that it should
reach that man. But I have just sent her a note to Danieli's to warn her
in the strongest way.

"Beloved son--if, indeed, we save her--we will be very good to her, you
and I. We will remember her bringing up and her inheritance. I will be
more loving--more like Christ. I hope He will forgive me for my
harshness in the past.... My William!--I love you so! God be merciful to
you and to your poor Kitty!"

       *       *       *       *       *

"Will the signora have her dinner outside or in the _salle-à-manger?"_

The question was addressed to Kitty by a little Italian waiter belonging
to the Albergo San Zeno at Verona, who stood bent before her, his white
napkin under his arm.

"Out here, please--and for my maid also."

The speaker moved wearily towards the low wall which bounded the foaming
Adige, and looked across the river. Far away the Alps that look down on
Garda glistened under the stars; the citadel on its hill, the houses
across the river were alive with lights; to the left the great mediæval
bridge rose, a dark, ponderous mass, above the torrents of the Adige.
Overhead, the little outside restaurant was roofed with twining
vine-stems from which the leaves had fallen; colored lights twinkled
among them and on the white tables underneath. The night was mild and
still, and a veiled moon was just rising over the town of Juliet.

"Blanche!"

"Yes, my lady?"

"Bring a chair, Blanchie, and come and sit by me."

The little maid did as she was told, and Kitty slipped her hand into
hers with a long sigh.

"Are you very tired, my lady?"

"Yes--but don't talk!"

The two sat silent, clinging to each other.

A step on the cobble-stones disturbed them. Blanche looked up, and saw a
gentleman issuing from a lane which connected the narrow quay whereon
stood the old Albergo San Zeno with one of the main streets of Verona.

There was a cry from Kitty. The stranger paused--looked--advanced. The
little maid rose, half fierce, half frightened.

"Go, Blanche, go!" said Kitty, panting; "go back into the hotel."

"Not unless your ladyship wishes me to leave you," said the girl,
firmly.

"Go at once!" Kitty repeated, with a peremptory gesture. She herself
rose from her seat, and with one hand resting on the table awaited the
new-comer. Blanche looked at her--hesitated--and went.

Geoffrey Cliffe came to Kitty's side. As he approached her his eyes
fastened on the loveliness of her attitude, her fair head. In his own
expression there was a visionary, fantastic joy; it was the look of the
dreamer who, for once, finds in circumstance and the real, poetry
adequate and overflowing.

"Kitty!--why did you do this?" he said to her, passionately, as he
caught her hand.

Kitty snatched it away, trembling under his look. She began the answer
she had devised while he was crossing the flagged quay towards her. But
Cliffe paid no heed. He laid a hand on her shoulder, and she sank back
powerless into her chair as he bent over her.

"Cruel--cruel child, to play with me so! Did you mean to put me to a
last test?--or did your hard little heart misgive you at the last
moment? I cross-examined your landlady--I bribed the servants--the
gondoliers. Not a word! They were loyal--or you had paid them better. I
went back to my hotel in black despair. Oh, you artist!--you plotter!
Kitty--you shall pay me this some day! And there--there on my table--all
the time--lay your little crumpled note!"

"What note?" she gasped--"what note?"

"Actress!" he said, with an amused laugh.

And cautiously, playfully, lest she should snatch it from him, he
unfolded it before her.

Without signature and without date, the soiled half-sheet contained this
message, written in Italian and in a disguised handwriting:

       *       *       *       *       *

"Too many spectators. Come to Verona to-night.
                                       "K."

Kitty looked at it, and then at the face beside her--infused with a
triumphant power and passion. She seemed to shrink upon herself, and her
head fell back against one of the supports of the _pergola_. One of the
blue lights from above fell with ghastly effect upon the delicate tilted
face and closed eyes. Cliffe bent over her in a sharp alarm, and saw
that she had fainted away.



PART V

REQUIESCAT


     "Pluck, pluck cypress, O pale maidens,
     Dusk the hall with yew!"



XXIII


"How strange!" thought the Dean, as he once more stepped back into the
street to look at the front of the Home Secretary's house in Hill
Street. "He is certainly in town."

For, according to the _Times_, William Ashe the night before had been
hotly engaged in the House of Commons fighting an important bill, of
which he was in charge, through committee. Yet the blinds of the house
in Hill Street were all drawn, and the Dean had not yet succeeded in
getting any one to answer the bell.

He returned to the attack, and this time a charwoman appeared. At sight
of the Dean's legs and apron, she dropped a courtesy, or something like
one, informing him that they had workmen in the house and Mr. Ashe was
"staying with her ladyship."

The Dean took the Tranmores' number in Park Lane and departed thither,
not without a sad glance at the desolate hall behind the charwoman and
at the darkened windows of the drawing-room overhead. He thought of that
May day two years before when he had dropped in to lunch with Lady
Kitty; his memory, equally effective whether it summoned the detail of
an English chronicle or the features of a face once seen, placed firm
and clear before him the long-chinned fellow at Lady Kitty's left, to
whose villany that empty and forsaken house bore cruel witness. And the
little lady herself--what a radiant and ethereal beauty! Ah me! ah me!

He walked on in meditation, his hands behind his back. Even in this May
London the little Dean was capable of an abstracted spirit, and he had
still much to think over. He had his appointment with Ashe. But Ashe had
written--evidently in a press of business--from the House, and had
omitted to mention his temporary change of address. The Dean regretted
it. He would rather have done his errand with Lady Kitty's injured
husband on some neutral ground, and not in Lady Tranmore's house.

At Park Lane, however, he was immediately admitted.

"Mr. Ashe will be down directly, sir," said the butler, as he ushered
the visitor into the commodious library on the ground-floor, which had
witnessed for so long the death-in-life of Lord Tranmore. But now Lord
Tranmore was bedridden up-stairs, with two nurses to look after him, and
to judge from the aspect of the tables piled with letters and books, and
from the armful of papers which a private secretary carried off with him
as he disappeared before the Dean, Ashe was now fully at home in the
room which had been his father's.

There was still a fire in the grate, and the small Dean, who was a
chilly mortal, stood on the rug looking nervously about him. Lord
Tranmore had been in office himself, and the room, with its bookshelves
filled with volumes in worn calf bindings, its solid writing-tables and
leather sofas, its candlesticks and inkstands of old silver, slender and
simple in pattern, its well-worn Turkey carpet, and its political
portraits--"the Duke," Johnny Russell, Lord Althorp, Peel,
Melbourne--seemed, to the observer on the rug, steeped in the typical
habit and reminiscence of English public life.

Well, if the father, poor fellow, had been distinguished in his day, the
son had gone far beyond him. The Dean ruminated on a conversation
wherewith he had just beguiled his cup of tea at the Athenæum--a
conversation with one of the shrewdest members of Lord Parham's cabinet,
a "new man," and an enthusiastic follower of Ashe.

"Ashe is magnificent! At last our side has found its leader. Oh! Parham
will disappear with the next appeal to the country. He is getting too
infirm! Above all, his eyes are nearly gone; his oculist, I hear, gives
him no more than six months' sight, unless he throws up. Then Ashe will
take his proper place, and if he doesn't make his mark on English
history, I'm a Dutchman. Oh! of course that affair last year was an
awful business--the two affairs! When Parliament opened in February
there were some of us who thought that Ashe would never get through the
session. A man so changed, so struck down, I have seldom seen. You
remember what a handsome boy he was, up to last year even! Now he's a
middle-aged man. All the same, he held on, and the House gave him that
quiet sympathy and support that it can give when it likes a fellow. And
gradually you could see the life come back into him--and the ambition.
By George! he did well in that trade-union business before Easter; and
the bill that's on now--it's masterly, the way in which he's piloting it
through! The House positively likes to be managed by him; it's a sight
worthy of our best political traditions. Oh yes, Ashe will go far; and,
thank God, that wretched little woman--what has become of her,
by-the-way?--has neither crushed his energy nor robbed England of his
services. But it was touch and go."

To all of which the Dean had replied little or nothing. But his heart
had sunk within him; and the doubtfulness of a certain enterprise in
which he was engaged had appeared to him in even more startling colors
than before.

However, here he was. And suddenly, as he stood before the fire, he
bowed his white head, and said to himself a couple of verses from one of
the Psalms for the day:

     "Who will lead me into the strong city: who will bring me into Edom?
     Oh, be thou our help in trouble: for vain is the help of man."

The door opened, and the Dean straightened himself impetuously, every
nerve tightening to its work.

       *       *       *       *       *

"How do you do, my dear Dean?" said Ashe, enclosing the frail, ascetic
hand in both his own. "I trust I have not kept you waiting. My mother
was with me. Sit there, please; you will have the light behind you."

"Thank you. I prefer standing a little, if you don't mind--and I like
the fire."

Ashe threw himself into a chair and shaded his eyes with his hand. The
Dean noticed the strains of gray in his curly hair, and that aspect, as
of something withered and wayworn, which had invaded the man's whole
personality, balanced, indeed, by an intellectual dignity and
distinction which had never been so commanding. It was as though the
stern and constant wrestle of the mind had burned away all lesser
things--the old, easy grace, the old, careless pleasure in life.

"I think you know," began the Dean, clearing his throat, "why I asked
you to see me?"

"You wished, I think, to speak to me--about my wife," said Ashe, with
difficulty.

Under his sheltering hand, his eyes looked straight before him into the
fire.

The Dean fidgeted a moment, lifted a small Greek vase on the
mantel-piece, and set it down--then turned round.

"I heard from her ten days ago--the most piteous letter. As you know, I
had always a great regard for her. The news of last year was a sharp
sorrow to me--as though she had been a daughter. I felt I must see her.
So I put myself into the train and went to Venice."

Ashe started a little, but said nothing.

"Or, rather, to Treviso, for, as I think you know, she is there with
Lady Alice."

"Yes, that I had heard."

The Dean paused again, then moved a little nearer to Ashe, looking down
upon him.

"May I ask--stop me if I seem impertinent--how much you know of the
history of the winter?"

"Very little!" said Ashe, in a low voice. "My mother got some
information from the English consul at Trieste, who is a friend of
hers--to whom, it seems, Lady Kitty applied; but it did not amount to
much."

The Dean drew a small note-book from a breast-pocket and looked at some
entries in it.

"They seem to have reached Marinitza in November If I understood aright,
Lady Kitty had no maid with her?"

"No. The maid Blanche was sent home from Verona."

"How Lady Kitty ever got through the journey!--or the winter!" said the
Dean, throwing up his hands. "Her health, of course, is irreparably
injured. But that she did not die a dozen times over, of hardship and
misery, is the most astonishing thing! They were in a wretched village,
nearly four thousand feet up, a village of wooden huts, with a wooden
hospital. All the winter nearly they were deep in snow, and Lady Kitty
worked as a nurse. Cliffe seems to have been away fighting, very often,
and at other times came back to rest and see to supplies."

"I understand she passed as his wife?" said Ashe.

The Dean made a sign of reluctant assent.

"They lived in a little house near the hospital. She tells me that after
the first two months she began to loathe him, and she moved into the
hospital to escape him. He tried at first to melt and propitiate her;
but when he found that it was no use, and that she was practically lost
to him, he changed his temper, and he might have behaved to her like the
tyrant he is but that her hold over the people among whom they were
living, both on the fighting-men and the women, had become by this time
greater than his own. They adored her, and Cliffe dared not ill-treat
her. And so it went on through the winter. Sometimes they were on more
friendly terms than at others. I gather that when he showed his
dare-devil, heroic side she would relent to him, and talk as though she
loved him. But she would never go back--to live with him; and that after
a time alienated him completely. He was away more and more; and at last
she tells me there was a handsome Bosnian girl, and--well, you can
imagine the rest. Lady Kitty was so ill in March that they thought her
dying, but she managed to write to this consul you spoke of at Trieste,
and he sent up a doctor and a nurse. But this you probably know?"

"Yes," said Ashe, hoarsely. "I heard that she was apparently very ill
when she reached Treviso, but that she had rallied under Alice's
nursing. Lady Alice wrote to my mother."

"Did she tell Lady Tranmore anything of Lady Kitty's state of mind?"
said the Dean, after a pause.

Ashe also was slow in answering. At last he said:

"I understand there has been great regret for the past."

"Regret!" cried the Dean. "If ever there was a terrible case of the
dealings of God with a human soul--"

He began to walk up and down impetuously, wrestling with emotion.

"Did she give you any explanation," said Ashe, presently, in a voice
scarcely audible--"of their meeting at Verona? You know my mother
believed--that she had broken with him--that all was saved. Then came a
letter from the maid, written at Kitty's direction, to say that she had
left her mistress--and they had started for Bosnia."

"No; I tried. But she seemed to shrink with horror from everything to do
with Verona. I have always supposed that fellow in some way got the
information he wanted--bought it no doubt--and pursued her. But that
she honestly meant to break with him I have no doubt at all."

Ashe said nothing.

"Think," said the Dean, "of the effect of that man's sudden
appearance--of his romantic and powerful personality--your wife alone,
miserable--doubting your love for her--"

Ashe raised his hand with a gesture of passion.

"If she had had the smallest love left for me she could have protected
herself! I had written to her--she knew--"

His voice broke. The Dean's face quivered.

"My dear fellow--God knows--" He broke off. When he recovered composure
he said:

"Let us go back to Lady Kitty. Regret is no word to express what I saw.
She is consumed by remorse night and day. She is also still--as far as
my eyes can judge--desperately ill. There is probably lung trouble
caused by the privations of the winter. And the whole nervous system is
shattered."

Ashe looked up. His aspect showed the effect of the words.

"Every provision shall be made for her," he said, in a voice muffled and
difficult. "Lady Alice has been told already to spare no expense--to do
everything that can be done."

"There is only one thing that can be done for her," said the Dean.

Ashe did not speak.

"There is only one thing that you or any one else could do for her," the
Dean repeated, slowly, "and that is to love--and forgive her!" His
voice trembled.

"Was it her wish that you should come to me?" said Ashe, after a moment.

"Yes. I found her at first very despairing--and extremely difficult to
manage. She regretted she had written to me, and neither Lady Alice nor
I could get her to talk. But one day"--the old man turned away, looking
into the fire, with his back to Ashe, and with difficulty pursued his
story--"one day, whether it was, the sight of a paralyzed child that
used to come to Lady Alice's lace-class, or some impression from the
service of the mass to which she often goes in the early mornings with
her sister, I don't know, but she sent for me--and--and broke down
entirely. She implored me to see you, and to ask you if she might live
at Haggart, near the child's grave. She told me that according to every
doctor she has seen she is doomed, physically. But I don't think she
wants to work upon your pity. She herself declares that she has much
more vitality than people think, and that the doctors may be all wrong.
So that you are not to take that into account. But if you will so far
forgive her as to let her live at Haggart, and occasionally to go and
see her, that would be the only happiness to which she could now look
forward, and she promises that she will follow your wishes in every
respect, and will not hinder or persecute you in any way."

Ashe threw up his hands in a melancholy gesture. The Dean understood it
to mean a disbelief in the ability of the person promising to keep such
an engagement. His face flushed--he looked uncertainly at Ashe.

"For my part," he said, quickly, "I am not going to advise you for a
moment to trust to any such promise."

Rising from his seat, Ashe began to pace the room. The Dean followed him
with his eyes, which kindled more and more.

"But," he resumed, "I none the less urge and implore you to grant Lady
Kitty's prayer."

Ashe slightly shook his head. The little Dean drew himself together.

"May I speak to you--with a full frankness? I have known and loved you
from a boy. And"--he stopped a moment, then said, simply--"I am a
Christian minister."

Ashe, with a sad and charming courtesy, laid his hand on the old man's
arm.

"I can only be grateful to you," he said, and stood waiting.

"At least you will understand me," said the Dean. "You are not one of
the small souls. Well--here it is! Lady Kitty has been an unfaithful
wife. She does not attempt to deny or cover it. But in my belief she
loves you still, and has always loved you. And when you married her, you
must, I think, have realized that you were running no ordinary risks.
The position and antecedents of her mother--the bringing up of the poor
child herself--the wildness of her temperament, and the absence of
anything like self-discipline and self-control, must surely have made
you anxious? I certainly remember that Lady Tranmore was full of fears."

He looked for a reply.

"Yes," said Ashe, "I was anxious. Or, rather, I saw the risks clearly.
But I was in love, and I thought that love could do everything."

The Dean looked at him curiously--hesitated--and at last said:

"Forgive me. Did you take your task seriously enough?--did you give Lady
Kitty all the help you might?"

The blue eyes scanned Ashe's face. Ashe turned away, as though the words
had touched a sore.

"I know very well," he said, unsteadily, "that I seemed to you and
others a weak and self-indulgent fool. All I can say is, it was not in
me to play the tutor and master to my wife."

"She was so young, so undisciplined," said the Dean, earnestly. "Did you
guard her as you might?"

A touch of impatience appeared in Ashe.

"Do you really think, my dear Dean," he said, as he resumed his walk up
and down, "that one human being has, ultimately, any decisive power over
another? If so, I am more of a believer in--fate--or liberty--I am not
sure which--than you."

The Dean sighed.

"That you were infinitely good and loving to her we all know."

"'Good'--'loving'?" said Ashe, under his breath, with a note of scorn.
"I--"

He restrained himself, hiding his face as he hung over the fire.

There was a silence, till the Dean once more placed himself in Ashe's
path. "My dear friend--you saw the risks, and yet you took them! You
made the vow 'for better, for worse.' My friend, you have, so to speak,
lost your venture! But let me urge on you that the obligation remains!"

"What obligation?"

"The obligation to the life you took into your own hands--to the soul
you vowed to cherish," said the Dean, with an apostolic and passionate
earnestness.

Ashe stood before him, pale, and charged with resolution.

"That obligation--has been cancelled--by the laws of your own Christian
faith, no less than by the ordinary laws of society."

"I do not so read it!" cried the Dean, with vivacity. "Men say so, 'for
the hardness of their hearts.' But the divine pity which transformed
men's idea of marriage could never have meant to lay it down that in
marriage alone there was to be no forgiveness."

"You forget your text," said Ashe, steadily. "Saving for the cause--'"
His voice failed him.

"Permissive!" was the Dean's eager reply--"permissive only. There are
cases, I grant you--cases of impenitent wickedness--where the higher law
is suspended, finds no chance to act--where relief from the bond is
itself mercy and justice. But the higher law is always there. You know
the formula--'It was said by them of old time. But _I_ say unto you--'
And then follows the new law of a new society. And so in marriage. If
love has the smallest room to work--if forgiveness can find the
narrowest foothold--love and forgiveness are imposed on--demanded
of--the Christian!--here as everywhere else. Love and forgiveness--_not_
penalty and hate!"

"There is no question of hate--and--I doubt whether I am a Christian,"
said Ashe, quietly, turning away.

The Dean looked at him a little askance--breathing fast.

"But you are a _heart_, William!" he said, using the privilege, of his
white hairs, speaking as he might have spoken to the Eton boy of twenty
years before--"ay, and one of the noblest. You gathered that poor thing
into your arms--knowing what were the temptations of her nature, and she
became the mother of your child. Now--alas! those temptations have
conquered her. But she still turns to you--she still clings to you--and
she has no one else. And if you reject her she will go down unforgiven
and despairing to the grave."

For the first time Ashe's lips trembled. But his speech was very quiet
and collected.

"I must try and explain myself," he said. "Why should we talk of
forgiveness? It is not a word that I much understand, or that means much
to men of my type and generation. I see what has happened in this way.
Kitty's conduct last year hit me desperately hard. It destroyed my
private happiness, and but for the generosity of the best friends ever
man had it would have driven me out of public life. I warned her that
the consequences of the Cliffe matter would be irreparable, and she
still carried it through. She left me for that man--and at a time when
by her own action it was impossible for me to defend either her or
myself. What course of action remained to me? I _did_ remember her
temperament, her antecedents, and the certainty that this man, whatever
might be his moments of heroism, was a selfish and incorrigible brute in
his dealings with women. So I wrote to her, through this same consul at
Trieste. I let her know that if she wished it, and if there were any
chance of his marrying her, I would begin divorce proceedings at once.
She had only to say the word. If she did not wish it, I would spare her
and myself the shame and scandal of publicity. And if she left him, I
would make additional provision for her which would insure her every
comfort. She never sent a word of reply, and I have taken no steps. But
as soon as I heard she was at Treviso, I wrote again--or, rather, this
time my lawyers wrote, suggesting that the time had come for the extra
provision I had spoken of, which I was most ready and anxious to make."

He paused.

"And this," said the Dean, "is all? This is, in fact, your answer to
me?"

Ashe made a sign of assent.

"Except," he added, with emotion, "that I have heard, only to-day, that
if Kitty wishes it, her old friend Miss French will go out to her at
once, nurse her, and travel with her as long as she pleases. Miss
French's brother has just married, and she is at liberty. She is most
deeply attached to Kitty, and as soon as she heard Lady Alice's
report of her state she forgot everything else. Can you not
persuade--Kitty"--he looked up urgently--"to accept her offer?"

"I doubt it," said the Dean, sadly. "There is only one thing she pines
for, and without it she will be a sick child crossed. Ah! well--well! So
to allow her to share your life again--however humbly and
intermittently--is impossible?"

It seemed to the Dean that a shudder passed through the man beside him.

"Impossible," said Ashe, sharply. "But not only for private reasons."

"You mean your public duty stands in the way?"

"Kitty left me of her own free will. I have put my hand to the plough
again--and I cannot turn back. You can see for yourself that I am not at
my own disposal--I belong to my party, to the men with whom I act, who
have behaved to me with the utmost generosity."

"Of course Lady Kitty could no longer share your public life. But at
Haggart--in seclusion?"

"You know what her personality is--how absorbing--how impossible to
forget! No--if she returned to me, on any terms whatever, all the old
conditions would begin again. I should inevitably have to leave
politics."

"And that--you are not prepared to do?"

The Dean wondered at his own audacity, and a touch of proud surprise
expressed itself in Ashe.

"I should have preferred to put it that I have accepted great tasks and
heavy responsibilities--and that I am not my own master."

The Dean watched him closely. Across the field of imagination there
passed the figure of one who "went away sorrowful, having
great possessions," and his heart--the heart of a child or a
knight-errant--burned within him.

But before he could speak again the door of the room opened and a lady
in black entered. Ashe turned towards her.

"Do you forbid me, William?" she said, quietly--"or may I join your
conversation?"

Ashe held out his hand and drew her to him. Lady Tranmore greeted her
old friend the Dean, and he looked at her overcome with emotion and
doubt.

"You have come to us at a critical moment," he said--"and I am afraid
you are against me."

She asked what they had been discussing, though, indeed, as she said,
she partly guessed. And the Dean, beginning to be shaken in his own
cause, repeated his pleadings with a sinking heart. They sounded to him
stranger and less persuasive than before. In doing what he had done he
had been influenced by an instinctive feeling that Ashe would not treat
the wrong done him as other men might treat it; that, to put it at the
least, he would be able to handle it with an ethical originality, to
separate himself in dealing with it from the mere weight of social
tradition. Yet now as he saw the faces of mother and son together--the
mother leaning on the son's arm--and realized all the strength of the
social ideas which they represented, even though, in Ashe's case, there
had been a certain individual flouting of them, futile and powerless in
the end--the Dean gave way.

"There--there!" he said, as he finished his plea, and Lady Tranmore's
sad gravity remained untouched. "I see you both think me a dreamer of
dreams!"

"Nay, dear friend!" said Lady Tranmore, with the melancholy smile which
lent still further beauty to the refined austerity of her face; "these
things seem possible to you, because you are the soul of goodness--"

"And a pious old fool to boot!" said the Dean, impatiently. "But I am
willing--like St. Paul and my betters--to be a fool for Christ's sake.
Lady Tranmore, are you or are you not a Christian?"

"I hope so," she said, with composure, while her cheek flushed. "But our
Lord did not ask impossibilities. He knew there were limits to human
endurance--and human pardon--though there might be none to God's."

"'Be ye perfect, as your Father which is in heaven is perfect,'" cried
the Dean. "Where are the limits there?"

"There are other duties in life besides that to a wife who has betrayed
her husband," she said, steadily. "You ask of William what he has not
the strength to give. His life was wrecked, and he has pieced it
together again. And now he has given it to his country. That poor,
guilty child has no claim upon it."

"But understand," said Ashe, interposing, with an energy that seemed to
express the whole man--"while I live, _everything_--short of what you
ask--that can be done to protect or ease her, shall be done. Tell her
that."

His features worked painfully. The Dean took up his hat and stick.

"And may I tell her, too," he said, pausing--"that you forgive her?"

Ashe hesitated.

"I do not believe," he said, at last, "that she would attach any more
meaning to that word than I do. She would think it unreal. What's done
is done."

The Dean's heart leaped up in the typical Christian challenge to the
fatal and the irrevocable. While life lasts the lost sheep can always be
sought and found; and love, the mystical wine, can always be poured into
the wounds of the soul, healing and recreating! But he said no more. He
felt himself humiliated and defeated.

Ashe and Lady Tranmore took leave of him with an extreme gentleness and
affection. He would almost rather they had treated him ill. Yes, he was
an optimist and a dreamer!--one who had, indeed, never grappled in his
own person with the worst poisons and corrosions of the soul. Yet still,
as he passed along the London streets--marked here and there by the
newspaper placards which announced Ashe's committee triumphs of the
night before--he was haunted anew by the immortal words:

"One thing thou lackest," ... and "Come, follow me!"

       *       *       *       *       *

Ah!--could he have done such a thing himself? or was he merely the
scribe carelessly binding on other men's shoulders things grievous to be
borne? The answering passion of his faith mounted within him--joined
with a scorn for the easy conditions and happy, scholarly pursuits of
his own life, and a thirst which in the early days of Christendom would
have been a thirst for witness and for martyrdom.

       *       *       *       *       *

Three days later the Dean--a somewhat shrunken and diminished figure, in
ordinary clerical dress, without the buckles and silk stockings that
typically belonged to him--stood once more at the entrance of a small
villa outside the Venetian town of Treviso.

He was very weary, and as he sought disconsolately through all his
pockets for the wherewithal to pay his fly, while the spring rain
pattered on his wide-awake, he produced an impression as of some
delicate, draggled thing, which would certainly have gone to the heart
of his adoring wife could she have beheld it. The Dean's ways were not
sybaritic. He pecked at food and drink like a bird; his clothes never
caused him a moment's thought; and it seemed to him a waste of the night
to use it for sleeping. But none the less did he go through life finely
looked after. Mrs. Winston dressed him, took his tickets and paid his
cabs, and without her it was an arduous matter for the Dean to arrive at
any destination whatever. As it was, in the journey from Paris he had
lost one of the two bags which Mrs. Winston had packed for him, and he
looked remorsefully at the survivor as it was deposited on the steps
beside him.

It did not, however, remain on the steps. For when Lady Alice's
maid-housekeeper appeared, she informed the Dean, with a certain flurry
of manner, that the ladies were not at home. They had gone off that
morning--suddenly--to Venice, leaving a letter for him, should he
arrive.

"_Fermate!_" cried the Dean, turning towards the cab, which was trailing
away, and the man, who had been scandalously overpaid, came back with
alacrity, while the Dean stepped in to read the letter.

When he came out again he was very pale and in a great haste. He bade
the man replace the bag and drive him at once to the railway-station.

On the way thither he murmured to himself, "Horrible!--horrible!"--and
both the letter and a newspaper which had been enclosed in it shook in
his hands.

He had half an hour to wait before the advent of the evening train for
Venice, and he spent it in a quiet corner poring over the newspaper. And
not that newspaper only, for he presently became aware that all the
small, ill-printed sheets offered him by an old newsvender in the
station were full of the same news, and some with later detail--nay,
that the people walking up and down in the station were eagerly talking
of it.

An Englishman had been assassinated in Venice. It seemed that a body had
been discovered early on the preceding morning floating in one of the
small canals connecting the Fondamente Nuove with the Grand Canal. It
had been stabbed in three places; two of the wounds must have been
fatal. The papers in the pocket identified the murdered man as the
famous English traveller, poet, and journalist, Mr. Geoffrey Cliffe. Mr.
Cliffe had just returned from an arduous winter in the Balkans, where he
had rendered superb service to the cause of the Bosnian insurgents. He
was well known in Venice, and the terrible event had caused a profound
sensation there. No clew to the outrage had yet been obtained. But Mr.
Cliffe's purse and watch had not been removed.

The Dean arrived in Venice by the midnight train, and went to the hotel
on the Riva whither Lady Alice had directed him. She was still up,
waiting to see him, and in the dark passage outside Kitty's door she
told him what she knew of the murder. It appeared that late that night a
startling arrest had been made--of no less a person than the Signorina
Ricci, the well-known actress of the Apollo Theatre, and of two men
supposed to have been hired by her for the deed. This news was still
unknown to Kitty--she was in bed, and her companion had kept it from
her.

"How is she?" asked the Dean.

"Frightfully excited--or else dumb. She let me give her something to
make her sleep. Strangely enough, she said to me this morning on the
way from Treviso: 'It is a woman--and I know her!'"

The following day, when the Dean entered the dingy hotel sitting-room, a
thin figure in black came hurriedly out of the bedroom beside it, and
Kitty caught him by the hand.

"Isn't it horrible?" she said, staring at him with her changed,
dark-rimmed eyes. "She tried once, in Bosnia. One of the Italians who
came out with us--she had got hold of him. Do you think--he suffered?"

Her voice was quite quiet. The Dean shuddered.

"One of the stabs was in the heart," he said. "But try and put it from
you, Lady Kitty. Sit down." He touched her gently on the shoulder.

Kitty nodded.

"Ah, then," she said--"_then_ he couldn't have suffered--could he? I'm
glad."

She let the Dean put her in a chair, and, clasping her hands round her
knees, she seemed to pursue her own thoughts.

Her aspect affected him almost beyond bearing. Ashe's brilliant
wife?--London's spoiled child?--this withered, tragic little creature,
of whom it was impossible to believe that, in years, she was not yet
twenty-four? So bewildered in mind, so broken in nerve was she, that it
was not till he had sat with her some time, now entering perforce into
the cloud of horror that brooded over her, now striving to drag her from
it, that she asked him about his visit to England.

He told her in a faltering voice.

She received it very quietly, even with a little, queer, twisting
laugh.

"I thought he wouldn't. Was Lady Tranmore there?"

The Dean replied that Lady Tranmore had been there.

"Ah, then, of course there was no chance," said Kitty. "When one is as
good as that, one never forgives."

She looked up quickly. "Did William say he forgave me?"

The Dean hesitated.

"He said a great deal that was kind and generous."

A slight spasm passed over Kitty's face.

"I suppose he thought it ridiculous to talk of forgiving. So did
I--once."

She covered her eyes with her hands--removing them to say, impatiently:

"One can't go on being sorry every moment of the day. No, one can't! Why
are we made so? William would agree with me there."

"Dear Lady Kitty!" said the Dean, tenderly--"God forgives--and with Him
there is always hope, and fresh beginning."

Kitty shook her head.

"I don't know what that means," she said. "I wonder whether"--she looked
at him with a certain piteous and yet affectionate malice--"if you'd
been as deep as I, whether _you_'d know."

The Dean flushed. The hidden wound stung again. Had he, then, no right
to speak? He felt himself the elder son of the parable--and hated
himself anew.

But he was a Christian, on his Master's business. He must obey orders,
even though he could feel no satisfaction, or belief in himself--though
he seem to himself such a shallow and perfunctory person. So he did his
tender best for Kitty. He spent his loving, enthusiastic, pitiful soul
upon her; and while he talked to her she sat with her hands crossed on
her lap, and her eyes wandering through the open window to the forests
of masts outside and the dancing wavelets of the lagoon. When at last he
spoke of the further provision Ashe wished to make for her, when he
implored her to summon Margaret French, she shook her head. "I must
think what I shall do," she said, quietly; and a minute afterwards, with
a flash of her old revolt--"He cannot prevent my going to Harry's
grave!"

       *       *       *       *       *

Early the following morning the murdered man was carried to the cemetery
at San Michele. In spite of some attempt on the part of the police to
keep the hour secret, half Venice followed the black-draped barca, which
bore that flawed poet and dubious hero to his rest.

It was a morning of exceeding beauty. On the mean and solitary front of
the Casa dei Spiriti there shone a splendor of light; the lagoon was
azure and gold; the main-land a mist of trees in their spring leaf;
while far away the cypresses of San Francesco, the slender tower of
Torcello, and the long line of Murano--and farther still the majestic
wall of silver Alps--greeted the eyes that loved them, as the ear is
soothed by the notes of a glorious and yet familiar music.

Amid the crowd of gondolas that covered the shallow stretch of lagoon
between the northernmost houses of Venice and the island graveyard,
there was one which held two ladies. Alice Wensleydale was there against
her will, and her pinched and tragic face showed her repulsion and
irritation. She had endeavored in vain to dissuade Kitty from coming;
but in the end she had insisted on accompanying her. Possibly, as the
boat glided over the water amid a crowd of laughing, chattering
Italians, the silent Englishwoman was asking herself what was to be the
future of the trust she had taken on herself. Kitty in her extremity had
remembered her half-sister's promise, and had thrown herself upon it.
But a few weeks' experience had shown that they were strange and
uncongenial to each other. There was no true affection between
them--only a certain haunting instinct of kindred. And even this was
weakened or embittered by those memories in Alice's mind which Kitty
could never approach and Alice never forget. What was she to do with her
half-sister, stranded and dishonored as she was?--How content or comfort
her?--How live her own life beside her?

Kitty sat silent, her eyes fixed upon the barca which held the coffin
under its pall. Her mind was the scene of an infinite number of floating
and fragmentary recollections; of the day when she and Cliffe had
followed the _murazzi_ towards the open sea; of the meeting at Verona;
of the long winter, with its hardship and its horror; and that hatred
and contempt which had sprung up between them. Could she love no one,
cling faithfully to no one? And now the restless brain, the vast
projects, the mixed nature, the half-greatness of the man had been
silenced--crushed--in a moment, by the stroke of a knife. He had been
killed by a jealous woman--because of his supposed love for another
woman, whose abhorrence, in truth, he had earned in a few short weeks.
There was something absurd mingled with the horror--as though one
watched the prank of a demon.

Her sensuous nature was tormented by the thought of the last moment. Had
he had time to feel despair--the thirst for life? She prayed not. She
thought of the Sunday afternoon at Grosville Park when they had tried to
play billiards, and Lord Grosville had come down on them; or she saw him
sitting opposite to her, at supper, on the night of the fancy ball, in
the splendid Titian dress, while she gloated over the thoughts of the
trick she had played on Mary Lyster--or bending over her when she woke
from her swoon at Verona. Had she ever really loved him for one
hour?--and if not, what possible excuse, before gods or men, was there
for this ugly, self-woven tragedy into which she had brought herself and
him, merely because her vanity could not bear that William had not been
able to love her, for long, far above all her deserts?

William! Her heart leaped in her breast. He was thirty-six--and she not
twenty-four. A strange and desolate wonder overtook her as the thought
seized her of the years they might still spend on the same
earth--members of the same country, breathing the same air--and yet
forever separate. Never to see him--or speak to him again!--the thought
stirred her imagination, as it were, while it tortured her; there was in
it a certain luxury and romance of pain.

Thus, as she followed Cliffe to his last blood-stained rest, did her
mind sink in dreams of Ashe--and in the dismal reckoning up of all that
she had so lightly and inconceivably lost. Sometimes she found herself
absorbed in a kind of angry marvelling at the strength of the old moral
commonplaces.

It had been so easy and so exciting to defy them. Stones which the
builders of life reject--do they still avenge themselves in the old way?
There was a kind of rage in the thought.

On the way home Kitty expressed a wish to go into St. Mark's alone. Lady
Alice left her there, and in the shadow of the atrium Kitty looked at
her strangely, and kissed her.

An hour after Lady Alice had reached the hotel a letter was brought to
her. In it Kitty bade her--and the Dean--farewell, and asked that no
effort should be made to track her. "I am going to friends--where I
shall be safe and at peace. Thank you both with all my heart. Let no one
think about me any more."

Of course they disobeyed her. They made what search in Venice they
could, without rousing a scandal, and Ashe rushed out to join it, using
the special means at a minister's disposal. But it was fruitless. Kitty
vanished like a wraith in the dawn; and the living world of action and
affairs knew her no more.



XXIV


"Well, I must have a carriage!" said William Ashe to the landlord of one
of the coaching inns of Domo Dossola--"and if you can't give me one for
less, I suppose I shall have to pay this most ridiculous charge. Tell
the man to put to at once."

The landlord who owned the carriages, and would be sitting snugly at
home while the peasant on the box faced the elements in consideration of
a large number of extra francs to his master, retired with a deferential
smile, and told Emilio to bring the horses.

Meanwhile Ashe finished an indifferent dinner, paid a large bill, and
went out to survey the preparations for departure, so far as the pelting
rain in the court-yard would let him. He was going over the Simplon,
starting rather late in the day, and the weather was abominable. His
valet, Richard Dell, kept watch over the luggage and encouraged the
ostlers, with a fairly stoical countenance. He was an old traveller, and
though he would have preferred not to travel in a deluge, he disliked
Italy, as a country of sour wine, and would be glad to find himself
across the Alps. Moreover, he knew the decision of his master's
character, and, being a man of some ability and education, he took a
pride in the loftiness of the affairs on which Ashe was generally
engaged. If Mr. Ashe said that he _must_ get to Geneva the following
morning, and to London the morning after, on important business--why, he
_must_, and it was no good talking about weather.

They rattled off through the streets of Domo Dossola, Dell in front with
the driver, under a waterproof hood and apron, Ashe in the closed landau
behind, with a plentiful supply of books, newspapers, and cigars to
while away the time.

At Isella, the frontier village, he took advantage of the custom-house
formalities and of a certain lull in the storm to stroll a little in
front of the inn. On the Italian side, looking east, there was a certain
wild lifting of the clouds, above the lower course of the stream
descending from the Gondo ravine; upon the distant meadows and mountain
slopes that marked the opening of the Tosa valley, storm-lights came and
went, like phantom deer chased by the storm-clouds; beside him the
swollen river thundered past, seeking a thirsty Italy; and behind, over
the famous Gondo cleft, lay darkness, and a pelting tumult of rain.

Ashe turned back to the carriage, bidding a silent farewell to a country
he did not love--a country mainly significant to him of memories which
rose like a harsh barrier between his present self and a time when he,
too, fleeted life carelessly, like other men, and found every hour
delightful. Never, as long as he lived, should he come willingly to
Italy. But his mother this year had fallen into such an exhaustion of
body and mind, caused by his father's long agony, that he had persuaded
her to let him carry her over the Alps to Stresa--a place she had known
as a girl and of which she often spoke--for a Whitsuntide holiday. He
himself was no longer in office. A coalition between the Tories and
certain dissident Liberals had turned out Lord Parham's government in
the course of a stormy autumn session, some eight months before. It had
been succeeded by a weak administration, resting on two or three loosely
knit groups--with Ashe as leader of the Opposition. Hence his
comparative freedom, and the chance to be his mother's escort.

But at Stresa he had been overtaken by some startling political
news--news which seemed to foreshadow an almost immediate change of
ministry; and urgent telegrams bade him return at once. The coalition on
which the government relied had broken down; the resignation of its
chief, a "transient and embarrassed phantom," was imminent; and it was
practically certain, in the singular dearth of older men on his own
side, since the retirement of Lord Parham, that within a few weeks, if
not days, Ashe would be called upon to form an administration....

The carriage was soon on its way again, and presently, in the darkness
of the superb ravine that stretches west and north from Gondo, the
tumult of wind and water was such that even Ashe's slackened pulses felt
the excitement of it. He left the carriage, and, wrapped in a waterproof
cape, breasted the wind along the water's edge. Wordsworth's magnificent
lines in the "Prelude," dedicated to this very spot, came back to him,
as to one who in these later months had been able to renew some of the
literary habits and recollections of earlier years

     "--Tumult and peace, the darkness and the light!"

But here on this wild night were only tumult and darkness; and if Nature
in this aspect were still to be held, as Wordsworth makes her, the Voice
and Apocalypse of God, she breathed a power pitiless and terrible to
man. The fierce stream below, the tiny speck made by the carriage and
horses straining against the hurricane of wind, the forests on the
farther bank climbing to endless heights of rain, the flowers in the
rock crannies lashed and torn, the gloom and chill which had thus
blotted out a June evening: all these impressions were impressions of
war, of struggle and attack, of forces unfriendly and overwhelming.

A certain restless and melancholy joy in the challenge of the storm,
indeed, Ashe felt, as many another strong man has felt before him, in a
similar emptiness of heart. But it was because of the mere provocation
of physical energy which it involved; not, as it would have been with
him in youth, because of the infinitude and vastness of nature,
breathing power and expectation into man:

     "Effort, and expectation and desire--
     And something evermore about to be!"

He flung the words upon the wind, which scattered them as soon as they
were uttered, merely that he might give them a bitter denial, reject for
himself, now and always, the temper they expressed. He had known it
well, none better!--gone to bed, and risen up with it--the mere joy in
the "mere living." It had seasoned everything, twined round everything,
great and small--a day's trout-fishing or deer-stalking; a new book, a
friend, a famous place; then politics, and the joys of power.

Gone! Here he was, hurrying back to England, to take perhaps in his
still young hand the helm of her vast fortunes; and of all the old
"expectation and desire," the old passion of hope, the old sense of the
magic that lies in things unknown and ways untrodden, he seemed to
himself now incapable. He would do his best, and without the political
wrestle life would be too trifling to be borne; but the relish and the
savor were gone, and all was gray.

       *       *       *       *       *

Ah!--he remembered one or two storm-walks with Kitty in their engaged or
early married days--in Scotland chiefly. As he trudged up this Swiss
pass he could see stretches of Scotch heather under drifting mist, and
feel a little figure in its tweed dress flung suddenly by the wind and
its own soft will against his arm. And then, the sudden embrace, and the
wet, fragrant cheek, and her Voice--mocking and sweet!

Oh, God! where was she now? The shock of her disappearance from Venice
had left in some ways a deeper mark upon him than even the original
catastrophe. For who that had known her could think of such a being,
alone, in a world of strangers, without a peculiar dread and anguish?
That she was alive he knew, for her five hundred a year--and she had
never accepted another penny from him since her flight--was still drawn
on her behalf by a banking firm in Paris. His solicitors, since the
failure of their first efforts to trace her after Cliffe's death, had
made repeated inquiries; Ashe had himself gone to Paris to see the
bankers in question. But he was met by their solemn promise to Kitty to
keep her secret inviolate. Madame d'Estrées supplied him with the name
of the convent in which Kitty had been brought up; but the mother
superior denied all knowledge of her. Meanwhile no course of action on
Kitty's part could have restored her so effectually to her place in
Ashe's imagination. She haunted his days and nights. So also did his
memory of the Dean's petition. Insensibly, without argument, the whole
attitude of his mind thereto had broken down; since he had been out of
office, and his days and nights were no longer absorbed in the detail of
administration and Parliamentary leadership, he had been the defenceless
prey of grief; yearning and pity and agonized regret, rising from the
deep subconscious self, had overpowered his first recoil and
determination; and in the absence of all other passionate hope, the one
desire and dream which still lived warm and throbbing at his heart was
the dream that still in some crowd, or loneliness, he might again,
before it was too late, see Kitty's face and the wildness of Kitty's
eyes.

And he believed much the same process had taken place in his mother's
feeling. She rarely spoke of Kitty; but when she did the doubt and
soreness of her mind were plain. Her own life had grown very solitary.
And in particular the old friendship between her and Polly Lyster had
entirely ceased to be. Lady Tranmore shivered when she was named, and
would never herself speak of her if she could help it. Ashe had tried in
vain to make her explain herself. Surely it was incredible that she
could in any way blame Mary for the incident at Verona? Ashe, of course,
remembered the passage in his mother's letter from Venice, and they had
the maid Blanche's report to Lady Tranmore, of Kitty's intentions when
she left Venice, of her terror when Cliffe appeared--of her swoon. But
he believed with the Dean that any treacherous servant could have
brought about the catastrophe. Vincenzo, one of the gondoliers who took
Kitty to the station, had seen the luggage labelled for Verona; no doubt
Cliffe had bribed him; and this explanation was, indeed, suggested to
Lady Tranmore by the maid. His mother's suspicion--if indeed she
entertained it--was so hideous that Ashe, finding it impossible to make
his own mind harbor it for an instant, was harrowed by the mere
possibility of its existence; as though it represented some hidden sore
of consciousness that refused either to be probed or healed.

As he labored on against the storm all thought of his present life and
activities dropped away from him; he lived entirely in the past. "What
is it in me," he thought, "that has made the difference between my life
and that of other men I know--that weakened me so with Kitty?" He
canvassed his own character, as a third person might have done.

The Christian, no doubt, would say that his married life had failed
because God had been absent from it, because there had been in it no
consciousness of higher law, of compelling grace.

Ashe pondered what such things might mean. "The Christian--in
speculative belief--fails under the challenge of life as often as other
men. Surely it depends on something infinitely more primitive and
fundamental than Christianity?--something out of which Christianity
itself springs? But this something--does it really exist--or am I only
cheating myself by fancying it? Is it, as all the sages have said, the
pursuit of some eternal good, the identification of the self with
it--the 'dying to live'? And is this the real meaning at the heart of
Christianity?--at the heart of all religion?--the everlasting meaning,
let science play what havoc it please with outward forms and
statements?"

Had he, perhaps, _doubted the soul?_

He groaned aloud. "O my God, what matter that I should grow wise--if
Kitty is lost and desolate?"

And he trampled on his own thoughts--feeling them a mere hypocrisy and
offence.

As they left the Gondo ravine and began to climb the zigzag road to the
Simplon inn, the storm grew still wilder, and the driver, with set lips
and dripping face, urged his patient beasts against a deluge. The road
ran rivers; each torrent, carefully channelled, that passed beneath it
brought down wood and soil in choking abundance; and Ashe watched the
downward push of the rain on the high, exposed banks above the carriage.
Once they passed a fragment of road which had been washed away; the
driver pointing to it said something sulkily about "_frane"_ on the
"other side."

This bad moment, however, proved to be the last and worst, and when they
emerged upon the high valley in which stands the village of Simplon, the
rain was already lessening and the clouds rolling up the great sides and
peaks of the Fletschhorn. Ashe promised himself a comparatively fine
evening and a rapid run down to Brieg.

Outside the old Simplon posting-house, however, they presently came upon
a crowd of vehicles of every description, of which the drivers were
standing in groups with dripping rugs across their shoulders--shouting
and gesticulating.

And as they drove up the news was thundered at them in every possible
tongue. Between the hospice and Bérizal two hundred metres of road had
been completely washed away. The afternoon diligence had just got
through by a miracle an hour before the accident occurred; before
anything else could pass it would take at least ten or twelve hours'
hard work, through the night, before the laborers now being
requisitioned by the commune could possibly provide even a temporary
passage.

Ashe in despair went into the inn to speak with the landlord, and found
that unless he was prepared to abandon books and papers, and make a push
for it over mountain paths covered deep in fresh snow, there was no
possible escape from the dilemma. He must stay the night. The navvies
were already on their way; and as soon as ever the road was passable he
should know. For not even a future Prime Minister of England could Herr
Ludwig do more.

He and Dell went gloomily up the narrow stone stairs of the inn to look
at the bedrooms, which were low-roofed and primitive, penetrated
everywhere by the roar of a stream which came down close behind the inn.
Through the open door of one of the rooms Ashe saw the foaming mass,
framed as it were in a window, and almost in the house.

He chose two small rooms looking on the street, and bade Dell get a fire
lit in one of them, a bed moved out, an arm-chair moved in, and as large
a table set for him as the inn could provide, while he took a stroll
before dinner. He had some important letters to answer, and he pointed
out to Dell the bag which contained them.

Then he stepped out into the muddy street, which was still a confusion
of horses, vehicles, and men, and, turning up a path behind the inn, was
soon in solitude. An evening of splendor! Nature was still in a tragic,
declamatory mood--sending piled thunder-clouds of dazzling white across
a sky extravagantly blue, and throwing on the high snow-fields and
craggy tops a fierce, flame-colored light. The valley was resonant with
angry sound, and the village, now in shadow, with its slender, crumbling
campanile, seemed like a cowering thing over which the eagle has passed.

The grandeur and the freshness, the free, elemental play of stream and
sky and mountain, seized upon a man in whom the main impulses of life
were already weary, and filled him with an involuntary physical delight.
He noticed the flowers at his feet, in the drenched grass which was
already lifting up its battered stalks, and along the margins of the
streams--deep blue colombines, white lilies, and yellow anemones.
Incomparable beauty lived and breathed in each foot of pasture; and when
he raised his eyes from the grass they fed on visionary splendors of
snow and rock, stretching into the heavens.

No life visible--except a line of homing cattle, led by a little girl
with tucked-up skirt and bare feet. And--in the distance--the slender
figure of a woman walking--stopping often to gather a flower--or to
rest? Not a woman of the valley, clearly. No doubt a traveller,
weather-bound like himself at the inn. He watched the figure a little,
for some vague grace of movement that seemed to enter into and make a
part of that high beauty in which the scene was steeped; but it
disappeared behind a fold of pasture, and he did not see it again.

In spite of the multitude of vehicles gathered about the inn there were
not so many guests in the _salle-à-manger_, when Ashe entered it, as he
had expected. He supposed that a majority of these vehicles must be
return carriages from Brieg. Still there was much clatter of talk and
plates, and German seemed to be the prevailing tongue. Except for a
couple whom Ashe took to be a Genevese professor and his wife, there was
no lady in the room.

He lingered somewhat late at table, toying with his orange, and reading
a _Journal de Genève_, captured from a neighbor, which contained an
excellent "London letter." The room emptied. The two Swiss handmaidens
came in to clear away soiled linen and arrange the tables for the
morning's coffee. Only, at a farther table, a _couvert_ for one person,
set by itself, remained still untouched.

He happened to be alone in the room when the door again opened and a
lady entered. She did not see him behind his newspaper, and she walked
languidly to the farther table and sat down. As she did so she was
seized with a fit of coughing, and when it was over she leaned her head
on her hands, gasping.

Ashe had half risen--the newspaper was crushed in his hand--when the
Swiss waitress whom the men of the inn called Fräulein Anna--who was,
indeed, the daughter of the landlord--came back.

"How are you, madame?" she said, with a smile, and in a slow English of
which she was evidently proud.

"I'm better to-day," said the other, hastily. "I shall start to-morrow.
What a noise there is to-night!" she added, in a tone both fretful and
weary.

"We are so full--it is the accident to the road, madame. Will madame
have a _thé complet_ as before?"

The lady nodded, and Frãulein Anna, who evidently knew her ways, brought
in the tea at once, stayed chatting beside her for a minute, and then
departed, with a long, disapproving look at the gentleman in the corner
who was so long over his coffee and would not let her clear away.

Ashe made a fierce effort to still the thumping in his breast and decide
what he should do. For the guests there was only one door of entrance or
exit, and to reach it he must pass close beside the new-comer.

He laid down his newspaper. She heard the rustling, and involuntarily
looked round.

There was a slight sound--an exclamation. She rose. He heard and saw her
coming, and sat tranced and motionless, his eyes bent upon her. She came
tottering, clinging to the chairs, her hand on her side, till she
reached the corner where he was.

"William!" she said, with a little, glad sob, under her
breath--"William!"

He himself could not speak. He stood there gazing at her, his lips
moving without sound. It seemed to him that she turned her head a
moment, as though to look for some one beside him--with an exquisite
tremor of the mouth.

"Isn't it strange?" she said, in the same guarded voice. "I had a dream
once--a valley--and mountains--and an inn. You sat here--just like
this--and--"

She put up her hands to her eyes a moment, shivered, and withdrew them.
From her expression she seemed to be waiting for him to speak. He moved
and stood beside her.

"Where can we talk?" he said, with difficulty. She shook her head
vaguely, looking round her with that slight frown, complaining and yet
sweet, which was like a touch of fire on memory.

The waitress came back into the room.

"It _is_ odd to have met you here!" said Kitty, in a laughing voice.
"Let us go into the _salon de lecture_. The maids want to clear away.
Please bring your newspaper."

Fräulein Anna looked at them with a momentary curiosity, and went on
with her work. They passed into the passage-way outside, which was full
of smokers overflowing from the crowded room beyond, where the humbler
frequenters of the inn ate and drank.

Kitty glanced round her in bewilderment. "The _salon de lecture_ will be
full, too. Where shall we go?" she said, looking up.

Ashe's hand clinched as it hung beside him. The old gesture--and the
drawn, emaciated face--they pierced the heart.

"I told my servant to arrange me a sitting-room up-stairs," he said,
hurriedly, in her ear. "Will you go up first?--number ten."

She nodded, and began slowly to mount the stairs, coughing as she went.
The man whom Ashe had taken for a Genevese professor looked after her,
glanced at his neighbor, and shrugged his shoulders. "Phthisique," he
said, with a note of pity. The other nodded. "Et d'un type très avancé!"

They moved towards the door and stood looking into the night, which was
dark with intermittent rain. Ashe studied a map of the commune which
hung on the wall beside him, till at a moment when the passage had
become comparatively clear he turned and went up-stairs.

The door of his improvised _salon_ was ajar. Beyond it his valet was
coming out of his bedroom with wet clothes over his arm. Ashe hesitated.
But the man had been with him through the greater part of his married
life, and was a good heart. He beckoned him back into the room he was
leaving, and the two stepped inside.

"Dell, my good fellow, I want your help. I have just met my wife
here--Lady Kitty. You understand. Neither of us, of course,
had any idea. Lady Kitty is very ill. We wish to have a
conversation--uninterrupted. I trust you to keep guard."

The young man, son of one of the Haggart gardeners, started and flushed,
then gave his master a look of sympathy.

"I'll do my best, sir."

Ashe nodded and went back to the next room. He closed the door behind
him. Kitty, who was sitting by the fire, half rose. Their eyes met. Then
with a stifled cry he flung himself down, kneeling beside her, and she
sank into his arms. His tears fell on her face, anguish and pity
overwhelmed him.

"You may!" she said, brokenly, putting up her hand to his cheek, and
kissing him--"you may! I'm not mad or wicked now--and I'm dying!"

Agonized murmurs of love, pardon, self-abasement passed between them. It
was as though a great stream bore them on its breast; an awful and
majestic power enwrapped them, and made each word, each kiss, wonderful,
sacramental. He drew himself away at last, holding her hair back from
her brow and temples, studying her features, his own face convulsed.

"Where have you been? Why did you hide from me?"

"You forbade me," she said, stroking his hair. "And it was quite right.
The dear Dean told me--and I quite understood. If I'd gone to Haggart
then there'd have been more trouble. I should have tried to get my old
place back. And now it's all over. You can give me all I want, because I
can't live. It's only a question of months, perhaps weeks. Nobody could
blame you, could they? People don't laugh when--it's death. It
simplifies things so--doesn't it?"

She smiled, and nestled to him again.

"What do you mean?" he said, almost violently. "Why are you so ill?"

"It was Bosnia first, and then--being miserable--I suppose. And Poitiers
was very cold--and the nuns very stuffy, bless them--they wouldn't let
me have air enough."

He groaned aloud while he remembered his winter in London, in the
forlorn luxury of the Park Lane house.

"Where have you been?" he repeated.

"Oh! I went to the Soeurs Blanches--you remember?--where I used to be.
You went there, didn't you?"--he made a sign of miserable assent--"but I
made them promise not to tell! There was an old mistress of novices
there still who used to be very fond of me. She got one of the houses of
the Sacré Coeur to take me in--at Poitiers. They thought they were
gathering a stray sheep back into the fold, you understand, as I was
brought up a Catholic--of sorts. And I didn't mind!" The familiar
intonation, soft, complacent, humorous, rose like a ghost between them.
"I used to like going to mass. But this Easter they wanted to make me
'go to my duties'--you know what it means?--and I wouldn't. I wanted to
confess." She shuddered and drew his face down to hers again--"but only
once--to--you--and then, well then, to die, and have done with it. You
see, I knew one can't get on long with three-quarters of a lung. And
they were rather tiresome--they didn't understand. So three weeks ago I
drew some money out and said good-bye to them. Oh! they were very kind,
and very sorry for me. They wanted me to take a maid, and I meant to.
But the one they found wouldn't come with me when she saw how ill I
was--and it all lingered on--so one day I just walked out to the
railway-station and went to Paris. But Paris was rainy--and I felt I
must see the sun again. So I stayed two nights at a little hotel maman
used to go to--horrid place!--and each night I read your speeches in the
reading-room--and then I got my things from Poitiers, and started--"

A fit of coughing stopped her, coughing so terrible and destructive that
he almost rushed for help. But she restrained him. She made him
understand that she wanted certain remedies from her own room across the
corridor. He went for them. The door of this room had been shut by the
observant Dell, who was watching the passage from his own bedroom
farther on. When Ashe had opened it he found himself face to face as it
were with the foaming stream outside. The window, as he had seen it
before, was wide open to the water-fall just beyond it, and the
temperature was piercingly cold and damp. The furniture was of the
roughest, and a few of Kitty's clothes lay scattered about. As he
fumbled for a light, there hovered before his eyes the remembrance of
their room in Hill Street, strewn with chiffons and all the elegant and
costly trifles that made the natural setting of its mistress.

He found the medicines and hurried back. She feebly gave him directions.
"Now the strychnine!--and some brandy."

He did all he could. He drew some chairs together before the fire, and
made a couch for her with pillows and rugs. She thanked him with smiles,
and her eyes followed his every movement.

"Tell your man to get some milk! And listen"--she caught his hand. "Lock
my door. That nice woman down-stairs will come to look after me, and
she'll think I'm asleep."

It was done as she wished. Ashe took in the milk from Dell's hands, and
a fresh supply of wood. Then he turned the key in his own door and came
back to her. She was lying quiet, and seemed revived.

"How cosey!" she said, with a childish pleasure, looking round her at
the bare white walls and scoured boards warmed with the fire-light. The
bitter tears swam in Ashe's eyes. He fell into a chair on the other side
of the fire, and stared--seeing nothing--at the burning logs.

"You needn't suppose that I don't get people to look after me!" she went
on, smiling at him again, one shadowy hand propping her cheek. And she
prattled on about the kindness of the chambermaids at Vevey and Brieg,
and how one of them had wanted to come with her as her maid. "Oh! I
shall find one at Florence if I get there--or a nurse. But just for
these few days I wanted to be free! In the winter there were so many
people about--so many eyes! I just pined to cheat them--get quit of
them. A maid would have bothered me to stay in bed and see doctors--and
you know, William, with this illness of mine you're so _restless_!"

"Where were you going to?" he said, without looking up.

"Oh! to Italy somewhere--just to see some flowers again--and the sun.
Only not to Venice!"

There was a silence, which she broke by a sudden cry as she drew him
down to her.

"William! you know--I was coming home to you, when that man--found me."

"I know. If it had only been I who killed him!"

"I'm just--_Kitty_!" she said, choking--"as bad as bad can be. But I
couldn't have done what Mary Lyster did."

"Kitty--for God's sake!"

"Oh, I know it," she said, almost with triumph--"now I _know_ it. I
determined to know--and I got people in Venice to find out. She sent the
message--that told him where I was--and I know the man who took it. I
suppose it would be pathetic if I sent her word that I had forgiven her.
But I _haven't_!"

Ashe cried out that it was wholly and utterly inconceivable.

[Illustration: "HE DREW SOME CHAIRS TOGETHER BEFORE THE FIRE"]

"Oh no!--she hated me because I had robbed her of Geoffrey. I had killed
her life, I suppose--she killed mine. It was what I deserved, of
course; only just at that moment--If there is a God, William, how could
He have let it happen so?"

The tears choked her. He left his seat, and, kneeling beside her, he
raised her in his arms, while she murmured broken and anguished
confessions.

"I was so weak--and frightened. And _he_ said, it was no good trying to
go back to you. Everybody knew I had gone to Verona--and he had followed
me--No one would ever believe--And he wouldn't go--wouldn't leave me. It
would be mere cruelty and desertion, he said. My real life was--with
him. And I seemed--paralyzed. Who _had_ sent that message? It never
occurred to me--I felt as if some demon held me--and I couldn't
escape--"

And again the sighs and tears, which wrung his heart--with which his own
mingled. He tried to comfort her; but what comfort could there be? They
had been the victims of a crime as hideous as any murder; and
yet--behind the crime--there stretched back into the past the
preparations and antecedents by which they themselves, alack, had
contributed to their own undoing. Had they not both trifled with the
mysterious test of life--he no less than she? And out of the dark had
come the axe-stroke that ends weakness, and crushes the unsteeled,
inconstant will.

       *       *       *       *       *

After long silence, she began to talk in a rambling, delirious way of
her months in Bosnia. She spoke of the _cold_--of the high mountain
loneliness--of the terrible sights she had seen--till he drew her,
shuddering, closer into his arms. And yet there was that in her talk
which amazed him; flashes of insight, of profound and passionate
experience, which seemed to fashion her anew before his eyes. The hard
peasant life, in contact with the soil and natural forces; the elemental
facts of birth and motherhood, of daily toil and suffering; what it
means to fight oppressors for freedom, and see your dearest--son, lover,
wife, betrothed--die horribly amid the clash of arms; into this caldron
of human fate had Kitty plunged her light soul; and in some ways Ashe
scarcely knew her again.

She recurred often to the story of a youth, handsome and beardless, who
had been wounded by a stray Turkish shot in the course of the long climb
to the village where she nursed. He had managed to gain the height, and
then, killed by the march as much as by the shot, he had sunk down to
die on the ground-floor of the house where Kitty lived.

"He was a stranger--no one knew him in the village--no one cared. They
had their own griefs. I dressed his wound--and gave him water. He
thought I was his mother, and asked me to kiss him. I kissed him,
William--and he smiled once--before the last hemorrhage. If you had seen
the cold, dismal room--and his poor face!"

Ashe gathered her to his breast. And after a while she said, with closed
eyes:

"Oh, what pain there is in the world, William!--what _pain_! That's
what--I never knew."

       *       *       *       *       *

The evening wore on. All the noises ceased down-stairs. One by one the
guests came up the stone stairs and along the creaking corridor. Boots
were thrown out; the doors closed. The strokes of eleven o'clock rang
out from the village campanile; and amid the quiet of the now drizzling
rain the echoes of the bell lingered on the ear. Last of all a woman's
step passed the door--stopped at the door of Kitty's room, as though
some one listened, and then gently returned. "Fräulein Anna!" said
Kitty--"she's a good soul."

Soon nothing was heard but the roar of the flooded stream on one side of
the old narrow building and the dripping of rain on the other. Their low
voices were amply covered by these sounds. The night lay before them,
safe and undisturbed. Candles burned on the mantel-piece, and on a table
behind Kitty's head was a paraffine lamp. She seemed to have a craving
for light.

"Kitty!" said Ashe, suddenly bending over her--"understand! I shall
never leave you again."

She started, her head fell back on his arm, and her brown eyes
considered him:

"William! I saw the _Standard_ at Geneva. Aren't you going home--because
of politics?"

"A few telegrams will settle that. I shall take you to Geneva to-morrow.
We shall get doctors there."

A little smile played about her mouth--a smile which did not seem to
have any reference to his words or to her next question.

"Nobody thinks of the book now, do they, William?"

"No, Kitty, no! It's all forgotten, dear."

"Oh, it was abominable!" She drew a long breath. "But I can't help it--I
did get a horrid pleasure out of writing it--till Venice--till you left
off loving me. Oh, William! William!--what a good thing it is I'm
dying!"

"Hush, Kitty--hush."

"It gives one such an unfair advantage, though, doesn't it? You can't
ever be angry with me again. There won't be time. William, dear!--I
haven't had a brain like other people. I know it. It's only since I've
been so ill--that I've been sane! It's a strange feeling--as though one
had been _bled_--and some poison had drained away. But it would never do
for me to take a turn and live! Oh no!--people like me are better safely
under the grass. Oh, my beloved! my beloved! I just want to say that all
the time, and nothing else--I've hungered so to say it!"

He answered her with all the anguish, all the passionate, fruitless
tenderness and vain comfortings that rise from the human heart in such a
strait. But when he asked her pardon for his hardness towards the Dean's
petition, when he said that his conscience had tormented him
thenceforward, she would scarcely hear a word.

"You did quite right," she said, peremptorily--"quite right."

Then she raised herself on her arm and looked at him.

"William!" she said, with a strange, kindled expression. "I--I don't
think I can live any more! I think--I'm dying--here--now!"

She fell back on her pillows, and he sprang to his feet, crying that he
must go for Fräulein Anna and a doctor. But she held him feebly,
motioning towards the brandy and strychnine. "That's all--you can do."

He gave them to her, and again she revived and smiled at him.

"Don't be frightened. It was a sudden feeling--it came over me--that
this dear little room--and your arms--would be the end. Oh, how much
best! There!--that was foolish!--I'm better. It isn't only the lungs,
you see; they say the heart's worst. I nearly went at Vevey, one night.
It was such a long faint."

Then she lay quiet, with her hand in his, in a dreamy, peaceful
state, and his panic subsided. Once she sent messages to Lady
Tranmore--messages full of sorrow, touched also--by a word here, a look
there--by the charm of the old Kitty.

"I don't deserve to die like this," she said, once, with a
half-impatient gesture. "Nothing can prevent it's being beautiful--and
touching--you know; our meeting like this--and your goodness to me. Oh,
I'm glad! But I don't want to glorify--what I've done. _Shame! Shame!"_

And again her face contracted with the old habitual agony, only to be
soothed away gradually by his tone and presence, the spending of his
whole being in the broken words of love.

Towards the morning, when, as it seemed to him, she had been sleeping
for a time, and he had been, if not sleeping, at least dreaming awake
beside her, he heard a little, low laugh, and looked round. Her brown
eyes were wide open, till they seemed to fill the small, blighted face;
and they were fixed on an empty chair the other side of the fire.

"It's so strange--in this illness," she whispered--"that it makes one
dream--and generally kind dreams. It's fever--but it's nice." She turned
and looked at him. "Harry was there, William--sitting in that chair. Not
a baby any more--but a little fellow--and so lively, and strong, and
quick. I had you both--_both_."

Looking back afterwards, also, he remembered that she spoke several
times of religious hopes and beliefs--especially of the hope in another
life--and that they seemed to sustain her. Most keenly did he recollect
the delicacy with which she had refrained from asking his opinion upon
them, lest it should trouble him not to be able to uphold or agree with
her; while, at the same time, she wished him to have the comfort of
remembering that she had drawn strength and calm, in these last hours,
from religious thoughts.

       *       *       *       *       *

For they proved, indeed, to be the last hours. About three the morning
began to dawn, clear and rosy, with rich lights striking on the snow.
Suddenly Kitty sat up, disengaged herself from her wraps, and tottered
to her feet.

"I'll go back to my room," she said, in bewilderment. "I'd rather."

And as she clung to him, with a startled yet half-considering look, she
gazed round her, at the bright fire, the morning light, the chair from
which he had risen--his face.

He tried to dissuade her. But she would go. Her aspect, however, was
deathlike, and as he softly undid the doors, and half-helped,
half-carried her across the passage, he said to her that he must go and
waken Fräulein Anna and find a doctor.

"No--no." She grasped him with all her remaining strength; "stay with
me."

They entered the little room, which seemed to be in a glory of light,
for the sun striking across the low roof of the inn had caught the foamy
water-fall beyond, and the reflection of it on the white walls and
ceiling was dazzling.

Beside the bed she swayed and nearly fell.

"I won't undress," she murmured--"I'll just lie down."

She lay down with his help, turning her face to make a fond, hardly
articulate sound, and press her cheek against his. In a few minutes it
seemed to him that she was sleeping again. He softly went out of the
room and down-stairs. There, early as it was, he found Fräulein Anna,
who looked at him with amazement.

"Where can I find a doctor?" he asked her; and they talked for a few
minutes, after which she went up-stairs beside him, trembling and
flushed.

They found Kitty lying on her side, her face hidden entirely in the
curls which had fallen across it, and one arm hanging. There was that in
her aspect which made them both recoil. Then Ashe rushed to her with a
cry, and as he passionately kissed her cold cheek he heard the clamor of
the frightened girl behind him. "Ach, Gott!--Ach Gott!"--and the voices
of others, men and women, who began to crowd into the narrow room.


THE END





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