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Title: Helena Brett's Career
Author: Coke, Desmond, 1879-1931
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Helena Brett's Career" ***

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HELENA BRETT'S CAREER


BY

DESMOND COKE

AUTHOR OF THE BOOKS ON THE PAGE OPPOSITE

[Transcriber's note: this list has been moved to the end of this etext]



NEW YORK

E. P. DUTTON & CO.

3, WEST TWENTY-THIRD STREET

1913



TO

ARTHUR WAUGH,

CRITIC, PUBLISHER, AND FRIEND,

WHO STARTED ME AS NOVELIST

AND HAS NEVER FAILED SINCE

WITH ENCOURAGEMENT,

I DEDICATE THIS BOOK

IN GRATITUDE.



PREFATORY POSTSCRIPT

In these thin-skinned days when the words libel and traitor drift on
every breeze, it may be "wise" (I am told at the last), to make it
plain that my Author, Publisher, and Artist do not represent real
people!  So be it, then: the men, as also women, in this unromantic
comedy of married life are all imagined; but in declaring them not to
be individuals, I would not be thought to admit that they are
non-existent ... or universal.  Such men have been and will
be--self-centred authors, unscrupulous publishers, vulgar-minded
artists--nor does a paragon make the best food for fiction: but there
are also Others.  Logic still permits one to avoid Libel without
confessing Treachery, and I am little likely to "attack" my own
profession or two others from which I draw some of my nearest friends.
We are told that there are black sheep in every fold; but it is still
possible that a few among the others may be white.  It pleases some of
us to think so.

DESMOND COKE



CONTENTS


PART I

HOW IT HAPPENED

CHAPTER

     I.  ADVICE
    II.  "WHY MEN MARRY"
   III.  "WHY WOMEN WED"
    IV.  HYMEN


PART II

HUBERT BRETT'S WIFE

     V.  ROUTINE
    VI.  GROWTH
   VII.  THE CULT OF USELESSNESS
  VIII.  A SCENE IN THE HOME
    IX.  CINDERELLA
     X.  HONOUR
    XI.  PINK PAPERS AND ST. ANTHONY
   XII.  DEVILS
  XIII.  SECRETS
   XIV.  WAS IT WORTH WHILE?
    XV.  DISCOVERIES
   XVI.  A MATTER OF SALES
  XVII.  THE TEMPTER


PART III

HELENA BRETT'S CAREER

  XVIII.  ZOË
    XIX.  BUSINESS
     XX.  PLEASURE
    XXI.  EXPOSURE
   XXII.  THE IRON IN THE SOUL
  XXIII.  SECRET NUMBER TWO
   XXIV.  BATTLE ROYAL
    XXV.  THE BROKEN TRIANGLE
   XXVI.  TACT
  XXVII.  THE TWO WAYS
 XXVIII.  WOMAN PROPOSES
   XXIX.  HELENA BRETT'S CAREER



PART I

HOW IT HAPPENED


HELENA BRETT'S CAREER


CHAPTER I

ADVICE

"Of course," said Kenneth Boyd, with the abrupt conviction of one whose
argument is off the point at issue, "it's absolutely obvious.  You
ought to marry."

The man who ought to marry was no more pleased to hear it than most of
his kind.  He scowled angrily: then smiled, as though contempt were a
more fit reply.  He was tall, broad, firm-looking, with smooth dark
hair still low upon his forehead, and certainly looked in no need of
drastic remedies.

He knocked his pipe out on the grate before he answered, but when the
words came, they burst forth like an explosion.

"You married men," he cried, turning the attack, "are just like
parrots.  You can only say one thing.  You're worse than parrots:
you're gramophones--or parrots with a gramophone inside.  You're always
saying one thing, 'Marry!' and you say it jolly long.  I honestly
believe you've got a Trades Union, unless it's merely nasty feeling!
That probably is it.  You hate to see others as happy as you used to
be!"

Whereat, comforted, he stretched his long legs and lay back on the deep
chair in a better humour.

"No," said the other gently.  "We hate to see them miserable and know
they'll never realise man's one chance of happiness till it's too late."

He spoke in very earnest tones and looked almost anxiously across at
his friend, now quite happy again with the flushed sensation of having
achieved something at any rate not too far from an epigram.  A peaceful
smile played round the big mouth which alone betrayed weakness in his
pale, clear-cut face.

How young he was in some ways, Kenneth Boyd reflected--in
self-complacency, for one!  And yet, in others, how much too settled
and fixed for his years.  Here he was, a ten-year resident of these
rooms--comfortable enough, yes--looked after by a sister; turning out
his yearly novel, no worse but no better than the one before; an old
bachelor at thirty-five, and yet too young to speak of marriage as
anything except a rather tasteless joke!

He watched him anxiously, as he might watch his patients at the
hospital, and wondered whether he was beyond helping.

Hubert Brett said nothing.  He was angry.

Why, he was wondering, had he telephoned for Boyd to come along at all?
He always _had_ asked Boyd, of course, even in the dear old Oxford
days, when he was in a difficulty.  Boyd's great forehead, thick chin,
and deep voice gave him a sort of solid, comfortable air: and he was
never sympathetic....  Probably his medical work--it was not nice,
quite, to think of it like that--made him a restful person to consult?
He always smoothed you down and made you feel that what you meant to do
would be entirely for the best.

But he had been off form to-night....

Marry, indeed!  Why, that had nothing to do with the case at all.  It
was Ruth's maddening stupidity that had made him ask Kenneth in.  These
rows with one's sister were horrible--and bad for work....  Besides,
they used to be such pals as kids: it wasn't nice, now, to be
quarrelling like any costermonger and his wife.  Yet each absurd
quarrel was followed by one more absurd.

What had it been all about to-night?  He had forgotten that already.
The actual row was a surprise.  Ruth had started this one.  He had not
seen it coming, even, till they were both on their feet.

She was so maddening, you see!

He didn't mind an egoist.  He sometimes thought, in moments of
depression, he was one himself (but he did not believe in
introspection).  It was an egoist who claimed to be a martyr that
aroused his anger.

Ruth was always claiming to have sacrificed herself.  _She_ didn't
matter.  No one must consider her.  She hadn't married.  She gave her
life up willingly to her dear brother.  If he trod on her sometimes,
she only liked to feel that he was free to wing his way to fame.  And
all that sort of stuff ... when all the while, she never did a single
thing he wanted, but in the most selfish way made everything as hard as
it could be for his work, when she herself was doing nothing!  What a
fuss if he was half an hour or so late for their lonely meal!  How
could it matter?  He was in the middle of a paragraph, sometimes: and
what did she do after dinner, anyhow?  Nothing but play Patience, while
he went back to work!  How could it make any difference at what hour
she dined?...

Probably to-night had been some trifle of that sort: he had forgotten,
really; but at the end of it she had stood up and said, for the first
time: "Well, I can always be turned out.  There's no real reason why we
should live together."

"The first sensible remark you've made," he had replied, made
elementary by anger, and gone out to telephone to Boyd.

Why, after all, _did_ they live together?  Would he be happier without
her?  Or would a cook-housekeeper be worse?  How did other men get on?
Most of them, somehow, seemed to marry....  Boyd would know, though--he
went to so many homes.  But Boyd might say that it was not quite fair
on Ruth....  That was nonsense, though.  Brothers weren't ever meant or
bound to keep their sisters, and thirty-eight was not too old for women
to get married.  It was the fashionable age.  Nobody now cared for
girls.  Only Ruth never wanted to go out, or, if she did, it was to
some quite silly show where he could not be seen....  Well, he would
see what Boyd said.  That was the best way.

And Boyd, having listened to the passionate recital in an owlish
silence, had answered: "It's quite obvious.  You ought to marry!" Just
what those idiots of doctors always said.  Marriage and golf were their
only two ideas, even for any one with liver.

"_Why_ ought I to marry?" he blazed out suddenly, to the surprise of
his friend, who could not follow his thought during the long pause.

"Why, my dear fellow?  Because you're stagnating--because it is life's
second stage--because you've got beyond the first--because each of your
books is exactly like the last----"

This ceased to be theory.  Hubert was in arms at once.

"I don't see that," he said in a hard voice, almost sulkily.  "As a
matter of fact, several of the critics went out of their way to call
_The Bread of Idleness_ new, original, etcetera."

"Yes," replied Kenneth Boyd, who secretly enjoyed wounding just deeply
enough his friend's self-esteem; "the plot was different, but its
heroine the same.  You had her in _Wandering Stars_; you had her in
_Life_; you've had her in them all.  There is a Hubert Brett type no
less than a Gibson Girl."

"I still don't see, even so," Hubert icily replied, "exactly why I have
to marry."

Kenneth Boyd smiled unseen.  "Because to widen your art, you must widen
your idea of woman.  If you really know one woman, they say, then you
can know them all."

A good deal of the author's self-esteem returned.  He looked relieved.
So that was all, was it?

"If you know them all, as I do, by study," he answered, "you don't
_want_ to know one."

And now indeed Kenneth Boyd peered at him seriously, as at a patient
very critical.

"That sort of remark," he said, "just shows that you know nothing about
women and ought to marry one."

Hubert laughed.  "Dear old Kenneth!" and there was pity in his voice.
"Perhaps I should, if I knew nothing of them really.  But I'm afraid I
know too much."

His counsellor made no reply.  He always knew when he had failed.  He
also knew, from long experience, the only weapon that availed when once
the hard line came round Brett's weak lips.  He waited prudently, while
they both smoked, and then he grasped it firmly.

"Well, it's a pity, Hubert," he said gaily, as though he had abandoned
his attempt and could afford by now to laugh at it, "because you'd not
only solve the sister problem but--look at the advertisement!  'Famous
Author Weds.'  'Mr. Hubert Brett, the Novelist, who is to be married
this week.  Photo by Bassano.'  'Mr. Brett's beautiful young wife.'
'Mrs. Brett, wife of the celebrated author, opens a bazaar.'"

"Oh, shut up," cried Hubert quite youthfully, and made some pretence at
throwing a tobacco-pouch, but did not seem displeased.

"Then," went on the remorseless friend, "she is at parties every day,
and universally admired.  Who is she? everybody naturally asks.  Why,
the wife of Hubert Brett.  Have you read his new novel?  If not, do."

"You must think me a conceited fool," Hubert put in, "if you imagine I
swallow all that."  Sometimes he suspected Boyd of sneering.  Mrs.
Boyd, he knew, disliked him.  She had often tried a snub.  She was a
very brainless woman....

Kenneth Boyd dropped his manner of burlesque.

"All the same," he said, falling back into the old vein, "a wife _does_
a lot in one's career, you know.  She has so much more time for making
friends.  I always look on mine as my best canvasser!  Why, man" (and
now he shamelessly threw off the mask), "you simply don't know what
you're missing.  When I look back on my old single days, I hardly can
believe that it was me or how I could have been such an almighty ass as
to have wasted all those ghastly years.  Perhaps, though, I shouldn't
enjoy our life now so much, if I'd not had a good mouthful of the
other.  Good lord--the discomfort; the loneliness; the want of any one
who really cares; the feeling that there's nothing _permanent_; the
frantic writing round to make sure you won't have a lonely evening; the
sick despair when some one fails and you sit moping by your fire or
wander out among a crowd of laughing couples, damnably alone; the lack
of any purpose in life; the constant cadging round for somebody to save
you from a Soho restaurant.  Good lord, it simply can't be true I had
five years of it, and now...!  Of course, Hubert, I know what you'll
say.  We're all different; you're not that sort; you never feel all
this; you wouldn't feel as I do, if you married.  But you do--you
would.  We're all utterly the same, deep down.  You novelists forge
little differences to help out your stories, but I tell you, deep down,
men are all the same.  We all get lonely, we all get sad and hopeless
as the years go on, we want just _one_ who values us more than the
rest, who cares for our success, who smoothes away our failures.  We
can't, any one of us, get on alone.  You're only shy, that's all.  You
funk proposing--you'd feel such a fool!  But what's all that?  There
must be lots of jolly girls about.  Just you fix on one, get married,
and then come and settle down near us, out Hampstead way.  Think of it!
No climbing back into a grimy lodging--sorry, old man, but I mean the
fogs.  If you could just see Hampstead in a winter sunset!  Then a nice
little home, all new and clean; tea all put ready for you by your wife;
the kiddies keen to see you; that's the one way, I tell you, for _all_
men to come home.  We're not different, a bit.  We all want--_you_
want--love and comradeship; we want another thing beside ourselves, in
whose success we can feel proud; we want our wife, our children, and we
want our home.  And that's exactly what you want, my boy!"

Carried along midway, he suddenly became self-conscious and collapsed
with the last sentence.

Hubert ironically clapped his hands.  "Splendid, splendid!  You ought
to write advertisements; I'm sure the Garden City would pay a big
premium.  Title, 'The New Home!'"

He was much too absorbed to notice the hurt look that came over the
other's face.  Kenneth Boyd had been expensively educated, as a boy, in
all English ideals.  He never had dared, until just now, to show his
Self to any one except his wife.  Now, when it was mocked at, he felt a
hideous shame, a terrible resentment.  And he had only wished to help
his friend!

Hubert contentedly passed on to the analysis of his own state, a plea
for his own attitude.  "I am different, though," he said, "all the
same.  You can't understand.  My job, for one thing, is so different.
I must be left alone to do it.  I _don't_ 'come home,' as you so
poetically put it; I'm there all the time.  So would your 'kiddies' be,
and they'd be a damned bore.  Just when I was dying to get on with my
new book, they'd be what you call 'keen to see me' and squall if I
wouldn't.  Oh, I can see it all.  I've too much imagination, far, to
need to marry; I've been through it all a thousand times, without.  I
can see my dear wife, as you call her, filthily jealous of my work and
grudging every minute that I took for it.  It's all so different for
you fellows who go off to work.  You've got your hours of solitude all
free for business and then you come back to tea, if you're a slacker,
as you've just described.  But nobody ever believes that novelists do
any work; it's just their hobby in spare moments!  Any one may
interrupt and there is no harm done.  My dear wife would buzz in and
out and ask me what I liked for lunch....  Oh, yes, I can see it all."

"You've no idea of it at all," said Kenneth Boyd almost passionately in
his deep, sincere-sounding voice.

"And as to loneliness," Hubert went on, utterly ignoring him, "I see
too many people as it is.  I'm always booked.  I absolutely curse them
sometimes when I feel I haven't seen them for a century and they'll be
getting huffy.  Constant companion and all that stuff, indeed?  No,
thanks!  Shall I tell you _my_ idea of bliss?"

"This, I suppose?" the other asked, waving his pipe-stem pitilessly
around the untidy room, where school football-groups mingled with
Burne-Jones survivals from the Oxford age; where books usurped chairs,
sofa, floor, piano-top; where no intrusive female hand was suffered,
clearly, with methodic duster.

"No," answered Hubert, "though I'm fond of it.  It's good enough for me
as home.  No, my idea of bliss is just an afternoon when I've no teas,
appointments, duties, anything; when I am really free.  Then I put on
my very oldest suit and get out right along the river, Richmond
way--Kew, Putney, anywhere--and stretch my lungs and look at the old
book-shops and enjoy the river.  That's when _I_'m happy, you see!  I
look at the river, out by Richmond Bridge, broad and festive and the
sun upon it; everything all full of life; and I feel free, and that's
the time I take a deep breath in--or by the sea, of course--and say,
'Thank God that I'm alive!'"

"And thank God you're alone?" his friend enquired.  He looked across at
him, no longer by now as at a patient, but as he might have at a
curious specimen inside a labelled bottle.

Hubert was quite pleased to have this opportunity for self-analysis
thrust on him.  He liked to be thought peculiar but wished to be
sincere.  He reflected a little, then slowly blew out a funnel of smoke
with energy behind it.

"Yes," he said, "and thank God I'm alone."



CHAPTER II

"WHY MEN MARRY"

Hubert shut the door after his visitor with no deep feeling of regret.
He managed to refrain from slamming it.

He was angry still.

Men are peculiar about their troubles.  Woman, popularly thought to be
a sieve with secrets, will crush a worry down, grapple silently and
fight with it, nor ever let her very nearest know that it is there.
Perhaps heroic centuries of motherhood have taught her to endure her
own pain with a smile, where she can scarce bear to conceal another's
folly?  The man, in any case, is different.  Tell him what Mrs. Tomkins
stupidly said about the vicar: he will not breathe it to a living soul.
Quite possibly he will not even listen to the end....  But let him have
some small upset, some crisis where decision must be made, not a big
choice--nothing like those he makes off-hand each day up in his city
office--and you shall see him stripped of his pretence to all reserve
or strength.  Long time, like Homeric heroes, he sits tossing thought
hither and thither.  Nothing emerges from this exercise: it is a mere
convention.  He must think a little: people always do; but he knows
well enough that not this way lies decision.  He takes other steps.  If
he is a man of few friends, he will risk everything upon a coin's fall.
"Heads I do, and tails I don't," he mutters weakly, groping in his
pocket.  Up spins the penny.  Heads it is!  "Heads I do," he murmurs
once again; and adds, pathetically firm, "But all the same, I don't
think I will."  He has been helped to his decision.

If he has friends, he will use one of them in place of the penny.
Every man, almost, has one trusted friend whose advice he does not take
in all moments of perplexity.

Kenneth Boyd stood, so to speak, as Hubert's penny.  He always sat and
listened stolidly to his friend's trouble: then he answered "Heads" or
"Tails," as it seemed best to him; went back, braced by the contrast,
to his Hampstead home; and left Hubert to decide whether or no he would
take the spin as final.

In this case, as he sat down, Hubert said to himself with vehemence,
poking the fire fiercely, that he would not.  He had asked Kenneth
whether it would be mean to turn Ruth out, as she herself
suggested--and he had at once embarked on a long rigmarole about dear
wives, winter sunsets, kiddies, teapots, and all sorts of things....

With a last jab at the fire he dismissed the interview just over from
his mind and settled down to think.  He never ought to have asked that
monomaniac along.  He might have guessed what he would say.

Ruth was a nuisance, frankly; she jarred upon him constantly: their
life was one long quarrel nowadays; but--how would solitude affect his
work?

That was the big question.

To Hubert Brett his work was life, and nothing much else counted.  He
was a man who valued success less for its achievement than for its
reward.  He liked to be pointed out as one who wrote (he often was, in
little country places); he enjoyed meeting men and women whose names
were famous far and wide; he loved press-cuttings, revelled in his
photograph when reproduced, and was almost physically upset when he
received a real old-fashioned, slashing review.  To anything of this
sort he always replied, quoting the opinions of some other papers, and
"relying on the editor's sense of justice to give his letter
publicity."  Papers, in fact, that liked neither his novels nor his
letters, had ceased to notice the first-named, hoping to avoid the
last: and he was glad of this decision.  Letters from unknown readers
were shown to all his friends, who also had the privilege of reading
the longest reviews, left out upon his mantel-piece; though when they
took them up he would always protest, "Oh, that'll bore you: it's only
a few stray press-cuttings."  He liked at dinner-parties to sit next
women who had read his books (the dear, kind, tactful sex!), and asked
him how he wrote.  He had, in fact, published his first book under a
pseudonym (his father, as a clergyman, naturally objecting to the real
name being used), but found that no one recognised him as the author
under his own different name.  He therefore, on his father's death, had
paid some pounds and taken the name Brett permanently as his own for
ordinary use.  His sister, who was like most women in being petulant as
to trifles but mild about the things that matter, had submitted from
being Ruth Brettesley to become mere Ruth Brett.  Now, when he dined
out, Hubert often found that women next him would ask if he was "the
author."  It never had occurred to him, of course, that they were
coached by an ideal hostess.

It may be well imagined, then, that he now hesitated before taking any
step that might affect his very methodical arrangements about writing.
His sister, once thrown over (he told himself), would never return.
She would marry or something.  Women were like cats: they always did.
She would not stray about uncomfortably until he wanted her again.  No;
she would make a home: and he, as the years went on, would find himself
alone....

He had lit a pipe, and drew at it mechanically, but he was far too rapt
to taste it.  Kenneth Boyd's words on that one point had certainly gone
home.  His eyes fixed on a glowing cavern of red embers, he saw unroll
before him a grisly panorama of the days to be.

He could see himself, bereft of Ruth's care, moving to a bachelor flat
where they "did for" one; happy enough perhaps, at first, in solitude,
and working well--happy and working until illness came.  Then he saw
the change.  Ruth, he admitted, had been quite splendid--like her old
self--when he had been ill.  That was when you wanted a woman about....
Then, as Kenneth had said, he would grow older.  He could see himself
climbing, more and more shakily each year, the long flight to his flat;
too settled far by now to move even to a lower floor.  He could see the
porters and people saluting--oh, so respectfully!--till he was past,
and then imitating his old, broken shuffle.  He could see himself
turning on with fumbling hands the light he used to switch on so gaily
as he dashed in thirty years ago.  He could see himself all alone at
night, when it was too cold for an old man to walk about and no one
wanted him; sitting there with weary eyes tight closed, thinking of the
friends that he would like to see, the friends all dead or--married....
And finally he could see himself climb those stairs, so full of
memories, for the last time, and stagger in for the last time to that
small room where he had had such jolly parties in the years gone by,
and ring and have just strength to gasp out, "I must have a doctor."
Yes, and that old wreck lying there, alone but for a nurse he hated,
longing for sympathy, love--even Ruth's!--yes, that too would be him.
And then----

For one moment the knock on his door startled him.  He was like a small
child who, waked suddenly, continues a bad dream.  He thought that they
had come with that cheap, humble coffin which he had just seen borne up
the long stairs....  He very nearly cried out, "Bring it in," not
realising that he was the corpse.

"Why, it's you, Ruth!" he cried in vague annoyance.

"Of course it is," she laughed.  "Who else would it be, you stupid boy?
Perhaps you mean, though, you don't want me?"

"Of course I always want you, old girl."  This hideous geniality, he
felt, was the worst part of their whole constant warfare, recalling by
an empty mockery that they had once been such devoted chums; still
could be, possibly, if they were only parted.  "I'm not working," he
added almost grudgingly, as though he wished he had got that excuse.

But Ruth, indecision personified, still hovered restlessly in
mid-carpet.  "Are you quite sure you're not, Hugh?" she said.  "If you
_are_, do say so.  I've been alone all the evening till now, so it
won't hurt me to go on like that till bedtime.  I am used to it, you
see!" and she smiled patiently.

Hubert looked at her, wondering why she possessed this curious gift of
annoying him.  Did she try, or was she really meaning to be kind?  Her
face, set and hard already, gave no hint.  She smiled with her lips but
her eyes did not light up.  There was something tragic in her looks.
She was not ugly, yet she meant absolutely nothing.  She was just a
passable statue, into which the artist had failed somehow to put any
life.  She smiled doggedly with her lips, and she clearly was not
happy.  She had never lived.

She went on wanly smiling reassurance at him, as one who should say, "I
am not to be considered," till he schooled his voice to answer.
Whatever happened, he would not have another scene on this night which
seemed in some way big with a decision.

"It'll be nice to have a little chat, old girl," he said genially.
"Sit down and make yourself comfy."

She moved timidly towards an armchair with the mien of a scolded,
nervous child.  "If you're quite, quite sure?" she quavered.  "I wish I
felt certain you hadn't been just thinking you would settle down, now
Mr. Boyd had gone.  I should be absolutely happy with my Patience."

"Boyd was in great form," Hubert answered.  He could not trust himself
to assure her further.

"What did he say then?" and she let herself down into the chair
staidly.  She was not like a woman of thirty-eight.  Women of
thirty-eight nowadays are young, almost unfashionably young, and Ruth
was pathetically old.  She had given her youth to her mother: she was
prepared to lavish the rest of life upon her brother, asking in return
nothing except that he would not be what she tearfully and often called
unkind to her.

"Say?" answered Hubert, far more comfortably.  "What didn't he say?  My
dear Ruth, I've had a classic homily on Marriage!"

Ruth stiffened visibly.  "Marriage?  Then I suppose you asked him in to
give you his advice?"

"Really," said Hubert in another voice, "I imagine you can't object,
now, to what I ask my pals in for?--supposing that I did."

She smoothed all that kind of thing away with a restful gesture.

"My dear boy, you know I've no objection, as you call it, to anything
at all you do.  You are a man.  I'm only your guest.  I've no right to
object.  But I am naturally interested.  Of course, though, if you'd
rather not tell me what Mr. Boyd said"--she paused, "we'll talk of
something else."

"No we won't," cried Hubert, with a sudden passion.  "I'm sick to death
of all this constant friction."

"Friction!" and she raised her eyebrows ever so slightly.  Otherwise
her sad face remained expressionless, but her hands clasped each other
tensely under an old-fashioned shawl.

"Yes, friction.  That's the only word.  You know, Ruth, I don't want to
be a brute.  You know what pals we were as kids, what pals we still
are" (he forced the words out), "and that's why I intend to have it
out.  It isn't good enough.  You know what a row we had over dinner.
_That's_ why I asked Boyd along.  How do you expect a man to write when
he's just had a row that's brought his soul red-hot into his throat?
And you weren't very cheery company!  So naturally I asked Boyd in.  I
often do that or go out myself or else pretend to work, because I
simply can't endure your company a moment longer."

And now his sister leapt up to her feet.  When she came to life it was
always sudden.

"Hubert!" she cried in tearful reproach.  She only called him Hubert at
such moments.

He signalled her down without any ceremony.

"For goodness' sake," he said, and it was nearly stronger, "don't let's
have a row."  He took a moment to calm himself and then said levelly,
"Look here, old girl, I want to thrash this matter out once and for
all.  It's no use killing love in this world, is it?  It's rare enough,
God knows.  We've been such good pals, you and I, and now we are--like
this."  He pointed at her, and she fell back dully on her chair.

"We don't mean it really," she said, fumbling for her handkerchief.

Hubert spoke seriously.  "We do, though.  Anyhow, we should in time.
It's just like other habits.  It grows.  It grows quickly, too.  We
never used to fight at all, you know."

"_I_ never fight now," she protested, very near to tears.  "I've always
given in."

Poor, timid, self-sacrificing Ruth never could understand what her
brother's tempers were about.  She tried so hard not to stand up
against him!

"Oh, damn!" cried Hubert, and strode madly up and down the room.

It was all very futile, quite familiar.

She looked as pained as usual.  "What is it, Hugh?" she gently asked.

"Of course you've given in," he flung at her.  "You always do.  You're
always in the right: you are so keen to be!  You wouldn't make me cross
for worlds!  It's just your damned humility I can't endure.  No man on
earth could possibly endure it."

"I can't help my nature," she sobbed into her handkerchief.  "I do my
best to please you.  I try to fall into your ways, I'm sure."

Hubert came up to her presently and touched her on the shoulder.

"I'm sorry, Ruth," he said.  "It was my fault.  I lost my temper.  I
was a cad to swear but somehow--oh, I don't know," and he sank down
upon the chair again.  "I suppose really it's just what Boyd has often
said, brother and sister weren't ever made to live together.  He says
all relatives have a natural antipathy to one another and----"

"I'm sure _I_ haven't," interrupted Ruth.

This time he ignored her.  "It's all so difficult," he said in a new
tone, as though embarking upon an analysis.  "I know you're wanting
just to please me, Ruth; you are an awfully good sort; you'll make
somebody a splendid wife some day; but just because you are my sister,
I suppose, I get annoyed when you begin asking whether you can come in
and saying you don't want to if----"

"You'd be much more annoyed if I came in without," said Ruth, with an
unwonted spirit.

Hubert rose to the attack.  "You mean it's just my nature, and not you?
I'd get annoyed whichever way it was?  I'm just a selfish sort of
cross-grained swine?"

"I didn't say so, you _know_ I didn't; you're simply twisting my words
round."

Grown men and women, by some odd irony, are never nearer childhood than
when in a temper.  Hubert realised abruptly how ridiculous it was.
Once more he dropped his voice and dragged the conversation with a
wrench back to the point at issue.

"I was only telling you," he said with dignity, "what Boyd said, as you
asked to know.  He said all this"--once more he waved his hand--"was a
mistake, and that I ought to marry."

He threw it out at her like a threat at a naughty child.  She would not
like it if he took her at her word and really turned her out.

But even sisters can surprise a man.  "Oh Hugh," she cried, forgetting
all their differences, "do you mean you are really thinking----?  Only,
do let it be some one really nice, who'll make you as happy as you
deserve to be."

He was too flustered to feel touched.  "But wouldn't you mind?" he
asked; and in spite of his efforts, surprise appeared in it.

"Mind?"  She came across to him, sat on his chair-arm, and took his
hand in hers.  "How little you know me, old boy, really!  Of course I
shouldn't mind.  You must never, never consider me at all!  Do you
imagine I expect you to remain a bachelor your whole life long, just to
look after me?  I shall find work to do or something; and anyhow, what
is my life by the side of your career?"

Hubert at moments felt a brute, and this was one of them.  He knew that
he should thank her, kiss her, yet he could do neither.  He found
himself wondering in a dazed, abstract way, as often in these past
years, whether she was really genuine or whether it was just a woman's
bluff to make him feel his shaft had fallen short.  If she was quite
sincere, he felt almost aggrieved.  The end of their long life together
seemed to mean so little to her....

"No," he said automatically, not realising how inadequate it was; and
then, "Well, old girl, I really think perhaps _now_ I ought to work."
He patted her hand in a perfunctory way as he released his own from it.
"We've had our little chat and it's your bedtime, I am sure."

"Yes," answered Ruth, and hesitated.

"Hugh," she said presently, "aren't I to know who it is?"  Her tone was
more patient than aggrieved, but he read something of the other into it.

"Who what is?" he replied, although he guessed her meaning.

"Who you think of marrying.  Who's suddenly put the idea into your
head."  She waited a few moments; then, as he said nothing, she added
almost slyly, "Well, I think I know!  I've not forgotten Devonshire
yet, and what a lot there was in your letters about Miss--Miss--I
forget her name."

"Oh, that Miss Hallam, you mean," came the icy answer.

It chilled even her exuberance.  Her rare gaiety died quickly, and she
looked the martyr once again.

"I see you don't mean to tell me," she said.  "Very well.  Of course I
had no right to ask.  I thought you'd like to let me know."  She
sighed.  "I wish men weren't so terribly reserved."

"And I wish," he retorted, "that women weren't so horribly imaginative."

But she had shut the door.  She always went abruptly, never said good
night.  He had told her, long ago, that those words broke up his
evening and made him think of bed instead of work.

To-night indeed, after her going, although he had said he must do some
writing, he sat quietly where he had been and gazed into the fire.  He
was not, however, thinking about bed.  He was wondering whether all
women were so crude and vulgar with their brothers.  Ruth was the last
person who would ever have said that about Miss Hallam to anybody else.
Just because he chanced to write and say that he had met a jolly sort
of girl...!

It is a stale truism about good advice, that most natures must reject
it before they see their way to its acceptance.  Self-pride demands
that it shall be their own idea.

Just as Hubert had scoffed at his friend's idea of loneliness, which
now indeed seemed such a ghastly spectre, so did he next work slowly
back to the very words of his sister that had angered him the most.

For by now his mental questioning had spread across a chasm dreaded for
long years and flaunted itself gaily in a narrow field.

The first step was so clear by now.

Of course he had sworn always that he would not marry, but that was
true of the past only.  One changed every now and then....  He was at
the age when one grew lonely, when one naturally married.  Sisters were
a big mistake.  He could not endure year after year of silly quarrels
like the one just past.  With a wife he would start fresh.  She
wouldn't irritate him like Ruth: he wouldn't see through all her
motives; they need not fight for years....  Besides, he must find some
one less irritating, less selfish, than Ruth....  And as to Ruth, she
said herself that she was game to go.  She probably preferred it.  The
whole thing was her own suggestion....  Yes, she was right; they
certainly could not go on like this.  Yet if she went--that loneliness
when he got old, was ill...!  Kenneth had talked a lot of drivel but he
probably was right about stagnation.  He found, himself, his work was
getting stale....  And then the help that she----

But who?

Hubert flung himself across the chasm, refusing doggedly to see it, and
found himself, flushed and excited, in the little field beyond.

Who could he marry, possibly?  The question lent quite a new thrill to
life.  It was a big adventure, even if one never did it....

He hated clever women.  He was sure of that.  Hated them, at any rate,
as wives.  Mrs. Kenneth Boyd was one, and when he dined with them, she
always waited till he had thrown out a theory, quite impromptu,
possibly exaggerated rather, about something, and then said, "Really,
Mr. Brett?  But how unusual!" or something of the sort.  No, he could
not bear that.  He thought that type an insult to his sex.  He liked a
woman to be rather silly--well, not that quite--no, but shallow.  He
liked her to have not too many views herself: he hated suffragettes and
things, of course; but just to have the brains to understand one's own
ideas.  That was where the girl Ruth had mentioned was so splendid.
She saw the fun of things; she even saw the fun of her name, Helena
Hallam; but also she could enter into the plot of a book directly you
had told it her, and be immensely interested in hearing about people
you met at the Authors' Club.  She was almost too ignorant, of
course--knew nothing about life--but her naïve remarks amused him: so
what did it matter?

That really was the sort of woman he would like to marry.  Some one who
would be interested in his work but know she hadn't got the brain to
interfere; some one who'd look on his work-hours as sacred, because
given to a thing she couldn't do to save her very life.

Ruth was annoying about that, and silly.  If he read her out a chapter,
she would usually say, "I think it's quite good, old boy; but I never
feel you're made for fiction.  I suppose essays never sell, though, and
plays are quite impossible?"  It was too stupid.  She had said that
even about _Wandering Stars_, which had sold close upon five thousand
copies!  Not--of course--that he valued his novels according to their
sales....

The girl in Devonshire had been so different.  He smiled, recalling her
simplicity.  She had thought him so clever to write, even before she
had seen a word of it!  And when he read her out a chapter, she wanted
to know just how long it had taken him, asked to see how much he had
corrected, and clearly looked upon the whole thing as a miracle.

Thinking of her now he had a curiously vital image of her personality.
She was so fresh, so natural, so unspoilt, so splendidly a thing of
life.  She had never been to London.  How she would love to see it; how
gorgeous it would be to show!  How different from taking out Ruth, who
always said that the streets smelt of petrol and she had neuralgia and
wished they could live in the country, but of course _he_ must choose!
How different altogether!  How different when the lights were lit and
curtains drawn!  He still remembered how she sat, with one foot
underneath her body, and smiled through those curiously bright eyes, as
though always contentedly awaiting the next jolly thing that life could
not possibly fail to bestow upon her.  Ruth was so hideously gloomy and
apologetic.  She expected the worst but she never minded.

Yes, there was no doubt that was just the sort of sensible, unsloppy,
cheerful girl that he would like to marry.  She would be nice to have
about the house.  She wouldn't want the vote or anything.  She thought
so much of his work that she would never grumble, like Ruth, if he had
a long bout at it.  She'd take up needle-work or something.  She had
such a happy nature.  And then at nights they'd sit and have great,
jolly, sociable talks beside the fire, and he'd read out his books to
her.  Possibly, now and then, she would see some mistake--not in the
book itself, but in a woman's dress or something: women were so good at
details--and he would learn a lot, as Kenneth said, from seeing how her
refreshingly simple mind regarded things.  And then--she was a
child--they would play games and laugh and roast chestnuts and all that
sort of thing.  He could imagine quite a jolly evening.  The past hour
seemed like a nightmare by the side of it.

He got up and mixed a whisky and soda.

Really by now he wished he had thought of all this in Devonshire!  He
had said to himself then, watching her, that somebody someday would be
a lucky man--the girl was so herself, somehow.  But it had not occurred
to him that he could be the man.

Now, probably, he would never see the Hallams again.  Mrs. Hallam, of
course, had said they must meet soon in London, but every one always
said that and it was five weeks now since his return.  He had not,
naturally, ever written.

Of course--there was another thrill in this idea--he could go down to
Devonshire again with any false excuse trumped up; but even as this
came into his head, his fatally quick fancy, over-exercised, saw him
proposing to Miss Hallam, pouring out the sentimental stuff that a
love-scene demanded; perhaps--who knows?--even feeling bound to kneel
in the manner beloved of conventional romance!

Then, with a swift gesture, he suddenly drained his whisky and soda to
its dregs, put the glass down jauntily as men do on the stage, and
walked, feeling younger than for ten whole years, to his writing-desk.
He gave a happy laugh as he took out some paper.

For he had got a great idea.  He was going to propose to Miss Hallam on
paper!  He was going to write it all down and see if it looked awful
rubbish....  He was enjoying himself to-night in a quite new way.

"DEAR MISS HALLAM," he began and added "My" in front.  Then as he saw
the meaning that might bear he laughed again.  He knew it was not right
just now to laugh, and marked it as an interesting fact.  Then, nervous
of detection, he took a new sheet and started--


"MY DEAR MISS HALLAM,

"You will be surprised to hear from me.

"The fact of the matter is--I find myself getting very bald now that I
really have to use my pen for something that matters!--I have been
thinking a lot of my jolly days in Devonshire, the tennis, the
sea-walks, the picnics, everything with all of you, and (if I'm allowed
to say it) especially with _you_ yourself."


Here he leant back and read what he had written.  It was not literature
but he felt satisfied.  He took up his pen again and wrote--


"I don't know that it's usual, but I am rather reserved and not too
romantic, so that I am _writing_ to ask whether you could think of
being my wife.  There has never been any one in my whole life of whom I
have thought as I have thought of you these last five weeks.  I could
never tell you how I feel in words, and I see now that I can't on
paper, but if you think in any way that you could grow fond of me, I am
convinced that we could be immensely happy.  I don't know that I have
much to offer you; but if you talk to your mother about this, as no
doubt you will, you must assure her that I can give you a comfortable
home and that I hope, as the years go by, to make myself something of a
name.

"I will say no more now.  I shouldn't have dared say so much, if I had
not thought that we got on rather well last month, and that if you did
not welcome this letter, you would at any rate be able to forgive it.

"Yours,
  "HUBERT BRETT."


It was not certainly at all like any of the love-letters that he had
written in fiction or read in the police-reports; but he had not
inwardly approved of either.  This seemed to him quite adequate.  She
was the sort of girl who wouldn't care for sentiment.  He honestly
believed she would write back sensibly and just say "Yes."

It is to be remarked that no question remained as to posting the letter
or not, so soon as it was finished.  He had begun it to see how it
looked: now he felt that it was something fated.  He must see what
happened.  Without waiting even to put on a hat, he hurried out to an
adjacent pillar-box and dropped the letter in with hardly more emotion
than if it had been an ordinary bill.

      *      *      *      *      *

Going up to bed, without repentance for the night's wild work, and in
fact oddly calm for any one in his position, he heard a curious noise
inside his sister's room.

He stopped and listened at the door.

She was obviously sobbing.

Hubert suddenly felt softened towards her.  So she cared, after all!
She felt the separation after these long years!

Had he sometimes wronged her?  Had he been impatient?  Was she really
fond of him; trying to consult his wishes and not to irritate him?  Was
he growing selfish?...

He very nearly tapped and went in to console her.  Then he reflected
that she almost certainly would engineer another scene, and that always
gave him a bad night.



CHAPTER III

"WHY WOMEN WED"

Helena had never thought much about marriage.  There was no reason
indeed why she should, for she was young and to her it still appeared,
like death to a small child, as something she was sure to reach some
day but need not worry with just now.

She was, in fact, nineteen, but her ideas were those of nineteen fifty
years ago or of fourteen to-day.  Devonshire, for one thing, has slept
on in its soft air, not much disturbed by any modern turmoil; and for
another, Helena's mother had ideas.  These, briefly put, consisted in
not letting her daughter have any.

It is, however, only human, from Eve downwards, to defy authority and
search for knowledge.  Helena, knowing that it was her lot to marry,
naturally felt some interest in the habit.  Whenever she came on
allusions to it, she stocked them in her brain, all in a healthy and
quite natural way, wondering in an abstract manner whether it would be
thus or thus with her.  She never dared to talk about it to her mother.
She had once mentioned her own hypothetic marriage, only to be told
that girls did not speak of such things in fun, and it would be quite
time enough when the occasion rose, and had she given the canary its
clean water?

Mrs. Hallam was a loving mother with stern theories.  Her own childhood
had been a season of repression, yet she was satisfied enough with her
morals as opposed to those of many round her.  She intended, therefore,
to repeat the process.  She had no patience--this was her favourite
expression--with the licence of young girls to-day: the manner in which
they read any novel, went to any play.  She had no patience with this
rubbish about ignorance not being innocence.  Of course it was; or if
it wasn't, it had very much the same result, and that was everything.
Girls read these trashy novels and got a notion that grown men and
women spent their whole lives falling in and out of love.  They
naturally tried it and began flirtation as a sort of duty.  If a girl
knew nothing, she did not know what to do.  If she had no notion what
flirtation meant, she clearly couldn't do it--especially if she saw no
men till she was safely beyond her teens.

In any case, till she was twenty, Helena had no plays, novels, or
man-friends.  Her reading was all lives, histories, and comic papers.
Her days were spent with relatives or younger friends, when she was not
alone.

She grew up an oddly fine tribute to the system, thus underlining the
depressing axiom which comes at length to all who study education: that
those who are going to be nice will turn out nice, whatever way you
train their youth, and much the same about the nasty.  She was simple,
healthy, buoyant, cheerful, natural; everything that Hubert thought.
And who shall blame her if she was a little immature?

Hubert's letter was a real excitement in her cloistered life.

She had enjoyed her meeting with him.  Men were a novelty, and to her
an author was still that thing of wonder which he appeared to a
suburban hostess twenty years ago.  She thought him marvellously clever
at first sight, and rather alarming.  Later, she thought him easy to
get on with and amusing.  He played tennis well, liked finding crabs,
and Mother did not seem to mind them talking.  It was quite a jolly
change.  She finally thought him a dear and missed him when he left for
Town.

And now--this letter!

Nothing ever could be less expected.  She read it and re-read, not
knowing really what she ought to do.  She was just as excited and
laughed as gaily as he one day before--vaguely infected, no less, with
a thrill of irresponsible adventure.

Now, indeed, was the moment to collect all the vague tit-bits she had
garnered as to marriage and fit them into a connected whole.  She knew
so little, really, of this thing that he suggested, and Mother, she
knew, would not help her.  The comic papers were curious about it.
They looked on all men who married as fools, sure to repent; all women
who didn't as ludicrously tragic.  The old maid was a figure to be as
much mocked and pitied as the old bachelor was to be envied.

Well, if this were so, it must be jolly hard for women to find a man
who would marry!  (Logic teaches that absurd premises will often lead
to sensible conclusions.)

She knew vaguely that one Asked Mamma.  There was a book even called
that in the old locked case in the big library.  She also knew,
however, that she must battle this thing out herself.  Her mother would
say no; what nonsense!  Of that she felt sure.  It was for her, then,
to decide.

Lock up your Danäe, stern mothers, in all the towers that man's wit may
devise; yet if she is born with a strong resolve knit on her pudgy,
slobbered, baby face, you cannot possibly prevail.  You battle with the
forces of uncounted Time.

Mrs. Hallam sat happily in her white drawing-room and read the new
_Queen_, while Helena, up in her bedroom, wrestled with the letter
which her mother luckily had not seen arrive.

Of course it would be a big change, she supposed?  Home was a bit dull,
but she had got quite used to it and one knew what to do.  Having a
house must be an awful business, and yet--rather thrilling!  Probably
Mr. Brett would make a big name; he was so immensely clever; and then
they'd have a great big house, and she'd ask Mother as a guest and give
her all the things she liked and said she never got in her own house!
She laughed at the idea.  The whole thing was tremendously amusing.

As Hubert had thought, she was laudably unsloppy.  Mrs. Hallam had
never let her guess that there was any sentiment in the whole world
beyond maternal love.  That was the heart's whole duty for a girl who
was an only child that had not even seen her father.

Yes, summing it all up, she really felt the chief thing was about women
having to marry or else be a joke, whereas men were a huge lark if they
did.  Imagine if, in all her life, she never met another man who would
be fool enough!  Home was very nice, of course, but horribly
monotonous.  She might read novels now, oh yes; the ones that Mother
chose; but it was just the others that she longed to read.  She felt
vaguely (for self-development is among the instincts natural to Man),
that there was something being _kept_ from her.  She had not been
meant, ever, to remain so ignorant.  She felt that Mr. Brett would not
wish to keep her back in the way Mother had.  Besides, if she remained
at home, some day her mother would die, and she be left--that dreaded
thing--an old maid, all alone, for every one to mock.  Nobody would
want her then!  Wouldn't it be awful to feel you had thrown away a
chance that lots of women, she had gathered, never got?  Fancy being
Helena Hallam, that absurd name, all your life!  H. H., one of her
uncles had called her stupidly, and she had said then that it sounded
like poor Miss Jowett in the village, whom everyone called "old J. J.,"
because her name was Jane.  Oh yes, she would end at last as old H.
H.--poor old H. H.--pottering about in her prim little garden with an
antiquated, rat-like dog dragging itself crookedly along behind her.
All the village poor would be so sorry when she died.

She shuddered at the thought.  She always wanted to put poor J. J.'s
old dog, the one with the pink satin bow, out of its misery.  It would
be kind, she knew.  She could with the air-gun, but Mother had seemed
really shocked.

She suddenly decided at this point that her thoughts had become
depressing and not really helpful towards a decision.  Without giving
herself time to feel alarmed, she rose abruptly and went to the
drawing-room.

She knew instinctively she must be firm.

This was the first thing ever that had really mattered, mattered to
_her_ as a separate person with a life to live, and she believed she
knew already what she ought to do.  She would listen, of course, to
Mother's views--she owed that from a real love and gratitude--but she
would not be bullied any longer.

She entered the room feeling herself in some way on a different
footing.  The latent, undeveloped thing that would be Helena had surged
towards birth at a mere spark from the outer world.

"Mother," she began, quite simply, "I've had a letter from Mr. Brett.
He has asked me to marry him and I think I rather shall."

Mrs. Hallam dropped her _Queen_.  She did not often find herself
surprised.

"You've what, dear?" she asked blankly.  Then not waiting for any
reply, "What do you know about marriage, my dear child?  What do you
know about Mr. Brett?"

"I don't want to be an old maid," answered Helena, playing her best
card at once.

Mrs. Hallam met it with a scornful laugh.  "Old maid!" she cried.
"That is a preposterous idea you've got out of your comic papers."

"They're all I've ever read, histories and them," Helena said mildly;
raising who shall say how many bitter doubts in the breast of a
theorist.

"You're nothing but a child, my darling girl," the mother said more
gently; "and even if you weren't, there's no disgrace in being what you
call an old maid.  Some of the world's best women have been that.
You've got to think of far more serious matters than that before you
can possibly decide on such a step as marriage;" and searching
frantically for objections which she felt sure must exist, she fell
back on her first thought.  "What do you know about Mr. Brett?"

"I liked him better than any of the men I've met."

"You've not met _any_ yet," snapped Mrs. Hallam; she had no patience
with this nonsensical idea.  Then, as her girl was silent, she realised
that here too she had flung out a taunt mainly against her own theories.

Mrs. Hallam loved Helena with real devotion, and it was a torture now
to feel that possibly her care had all been a mistake; had all been
shipwrecked by the unexpected action of an extraordinary man.  She knew
for a fact--she had taken care--that she and he had not indulged in any
sentimental rubbish.  Mr. Brett had seemed to hate all that, and she
had for this very reason asked him round so often.  Helena and he had
been like boy and girl, brother and sister, playing games or finding
their dear jelly-fish and crabs together, whilst he had talked to her
in just the way to broaden her views out a bit yet not stretch them too
far.  And now----!

It really was provoking.  The silly girl--all girls were silly--would
of course exalt him into the fine figure of her first love, the real
man for her, the man that she was not allowed to marry....

Mrs. Hallam, always frail and white, seemed to shrink visibly beneath
this trouble.  She held out a thin hand to the puzzled Helena, and drew
her down beside her on the sofa.

"Look here, dear," she said gently; "I want to talk seriously to you.
Life isn't so easy as you think.  I've kept you here, safe from all
worries and responsibilities and guarded you so that everything has
seemed quite simple; but there _are_ worries and responsibilities.
You've got to live your life now, you see, Helena, and you will have to
learn the habit of making quick choices whether you go this way or
that.  Life is full of cross-roads, you will find, and not all of them
lead right.  You can't marry the first man you meet just because he
asks you to.  Later on you might meet some one who, you would then see,
is the man you ought to have married....  I don't want to put such
terrible ideas into your head, dear child; I've never spoken to you of
them, but such things have occurred and may occur again."

Helena was really quite excited.  This was the first, almost, she had
ever heard of life and it seemed utterly tremendous.  She was tired of
having choices made for her.  She felt a call to the cross-roads.  She
waited silently for more.

"You see, dear," went on Mrs. Hallam, pressing her child to her as
though she could not at all afford to let her go and be left all alone,
"you're young, very young, and though I've never told you, very
beautiful.  You need not fear about being an old maid!" whereat, half
laughing and half crying, she kissed Helena, too dazed almost to
respond.  "That will be possibly life's most important choice.  Don't
make it, darling child, until you're fit for it.  Stay with me," and
there was a pathetic appeal in her words, "stay with me till I've
taught you how to be reliant.  You are a child still; I've kept you
young; I hope I have been right; you're not fit to go out and grapple
with the world.  Stay with me, Helena; tell Mr. Brett that he must
wait, and stay here, in your home, until I've made you strong enough to
take your part in life."

"Stay here?" Helena repeated automatically.

For one brief moment the barred gates had swung open and she had gained
a glimpse at life, its dangers and responsibilities perhaps, but all
its splendid thrill and glorious chance.  The few cold words from her
prim mother had conjured up a rich glowing picture to this girl, who
for years had chafed at the narrow round, longing for something--she
knew not what, but something broader, something where she could be much
more herself--longing, she knew now, for freedom and for life.

Mrs. Hallam looked at her with pain in her eyes.

"Aren't you happy, haven't you been happy here?" she asked.

"Why of course I have, you dearest of dear old mums," cried Helena, and
pressed her lips against her mother's cheek; "but----," and she
hesitated.

"But----?" asked her mother, smiling sadly.  How ridiculous, how almost
tragic, it all was!  She threw back her mind to her own first romance
and wondered where the man was now.  "But----?  Tell me, dear.  I shall
quite understand and I am sure you need not feel afraid of me!"

Helena thought deeply.  Words were so difficult.

"But----," she said once again; and then, suddenly inspired, she
started rapidly; "Well, it is what you said just now.  I--I _must_ live
my own life.  I want--I want to grow.  I've not grown since I was
fifteen.  I felt so silly, like a child, when I was talking to--to Mr.
Brett, and I am twenty now."  She said this most imposingly.

"And so," said Mrs. Hallam, trying not to smile, "you want to marry Mr.
Brett because he made you feel so silly when you talked to him?"

Helena flushed, still sensitive to ridicule.  "I want to marry Mr.
Brett," she said with dignity, "because he is clever, and being a fool,
I admire cleverness more than anything in the whole world, and I
believe _he'd_ let me expand."

"Do you mean I have kept you back?" asked her mother, in low, earnest
tones.  She had accused herself.

"No, you've been splendid."  Helena patted her hand.  "No girl ever had
such a good mother....  And now you are going to be good about this
too, and not be troublesome and try to keep me here!"  She jumped up
and stood facing her, excitement and expectancy.

Mrs. Hallam was suddenly conscious of her weakness.

It had been so easy to be strong when she was dealing with a child--and
she had kept Helena a child.  Now, in this moment, she realised that
she was dealing with a woman, a woman of a stronger will.  Something,
Mr. Brett perhaps, had altered Helena.  Even her way of talking had
changed in an instant.

"Expand" and "troublesome"----!  She looked up and saw before her no
longer an obedient child, but a girl almost bursting with the desire to
live at nearly any cost.

Mrs. Hallam was naturally alarmed.  She knew that any contest of the
wills was useless.  She fell back upon pathos.

"Helena dear," she said weakly, "you're twenty now.  I don't want to
dictate to you, to treat you as a child.  You have the right, as you
say, to live your own life.  But do you think it right," and now her
voice grew very feeble, very plaintive, "after I've done all I have for
you, not to think of me at all?"

"What do you mean?" asked Helena with quite an emphasis upon the second
word.  She felt a dim mistrust of this new tone.  She had been kindlier
to opposition, for indeed at the moment she almost longed to fight.

Mrs. Hallam, anxious to explain, to justify once and for all, began
again at the beginning.

"All these years, dear child, though you did not, could not of course
guess it, I've been moulding you according to a theory of my own; not a
new theory but what is far better, one that has stood the test of
centuries.  I wanted to form your character, your will, before you were
brought face to face with life.  That process is not quite complete
yet, although you seem to think it is."  She spoke the last words
rather bitterly, then with a sudden change to gentleness, went on, "But
even if it had been, do you think that when I've given up the best
years of my life to you, it is fair for you to dash away, leaving me
alone, and not to give me the reward of spending a few pleasant years
with the dear child I have helped to form?"

She smiled lovingly, but Helena looked coldly back at her.  It was the
other's point of view, to her, which was not fair.

"I don't see that," she answered almost fiercely, surprised at her own
words, oddly unlike herself of one hour ago and many years before.
"_That's_ not living your own life a bit.  _You_ didn't give those best
years of your life to your mother.  I shall often see you, and I expect
you did yours.  You gave the best years of your life to your daughter,
you say, and I want to give my best years to mine."

Mrs. Hallam loathed excitement, thinking it bad form; but now she
raised her voice.  "My dear!" she cried.  "Where did you get these most
extraordinary notions?  Was it from this Mr. Brett?"

"You said you liked all his ideas so much," laughed Helena, "and yet
you're shocked because I want to marry him!"

"There is a difference, dear," retorted Mrs. Hallam, her calmness
regained, "between liking a man's ideas and caring for him as a
son-in-law."

Helena, however, in her new mood wanted something more direct than
generalities.  "What have you got against him then?" she flashed.

Mrs. Hallam spread her thin hands soothingly.  "Nothing, dear,
absolutely nothing.  Do not let us have a scene.  I thought him a
charming man; possibly rather self-centred, but clever, cultured, and
with, I am sure, good motives.  I feel certain he will do extremely
well.  If you had wished to marry him in five years--but at
twenty----!"  She spoke as though it were fourteen.

"Well," remarked Helena slowly, as though reviewing the whole situation
from impartial ground, "I suppose the wedding won't be to-morrow.
Don't you usually wait a bit?"

Her mother noticed that there was no hypothesis--no "wouldn't
be"--about it.  She saw no good in a conflict.  The girl was twenty,
the man probably twelve or more years older; there was nothing, she
almost regretfully admitted, to be said against him; they had seemed
good chums.  Most mothers would have been delighted, for he was making
himself a name as a novelist.  Yet she was not, for he had come with
this preposterously worded letter to wreck all her plans.  She had
thought him so safe, from the mere fact that he had no romance or
sentiment about him.  He was so safe, yes, for Helena; a real platonic
friendship; opening her eyes a little to the bigger world outside, but
altogether to be trusted not to put ridiculous ideas into her head.  He
was the first man with whom she had ever trusted Helena at all alone,
and now----!

"Mother," laughed Helena, suddenly clasping her fondly round the neck,
"I can see from your cross face you _do_ mean to be troublesome!  Now
just be good instead and say that we may be at any rate engaged?  It
will be such fun, and we can see then how we feel about it."

Mrs. Hallam by now knew with all certainty that she was weak.  She felt
a vague sense of relief that Helena had asked permission; at one moment
she had not expected that....  If she refused it, what would be the
end?  Possibly elopement, suicide, or some other of those awful means
that modern girls employed so freely....  Whereas if she said yes, she
still retained her grip as mother and might use what authority she had
to disillusion slowly this girl, who looked on her engagement as mere
fun.

"Very well, my own dear daughter," she said and suddenly found herself
crying.

To Helena also things had turned out otherwise than she expected.  She
had not ever thought that she would get her mother's leave.  For one
moment it was almost a shock!  She felt suddenly thrust out beyond
recall upon a journey all mysterious to her.  She was not sure, now,
that she ever meant to do more than assert her right to do just as she
wanted.

Did she want to marry Hubert Brett?  She was not really sure.

She wanted certainly to get away from Home....

Five more years of this--that was what her mother hinted at--five more
years of being ignorant, of seeing no one, knowing nothing about
anything that mattered, being just your mother's daughter--five more
wasted years!...

So that, after having dried her mother's tears and told her, very
truly, how much she had always and would always love her, she hurried
upstairs to her writing-desk with quite a new sensation of life being a
most vital and palpitating thing.  Her days had been all terribly
alike: this was so different and thrilling!

The only thing was--how did one begin?

She wished she had asked Mother.  She couldn't very well go down and
ask her now.  Besides, she might just change her mind.

"Mr." looked so stiff like that; yet she did not like, quite, to call
him Hubert yet.

She gave a little laugh of excitement.  What fun it all was!  She
wondered if other people felt like this, when they were getting
married.  They probably knew all about it?

Oh yes, of course; she'd go by his letter....

But no; because when _he_ wrote they were not engaged!

So finally she thought it best to leave a blank and start straight off--


"I really don't know at all what I ought to say.  I am no good at
letters and this is very difficult, but I too enjoyed all our walks and
things, and if you really want to marry me I don't see why we shouldn't
be engaged.  I liked you very much down here and hope I shall make you
happy.  Mother doesn't seem very keen about it, I think she thinks I am
too young though I am twenty, but she has given her consent and will, I
am sure, come round to it, so don't worry.

"I'm afraid you'll think this letter very stupid, but you know how
ashamed I always was of my ignorance.  I seem to know nothing!  It is
very nice indeed of any one like you to care for me.

"Yours,
  "HELENA HALLAM.

"P.S.--You won't be able to tease me any more about my name,
afterwards!"


Perhaps to any real anthologist or expert of love-letters this would
seem but little better than the attempt it answered; yet if success
must be judged by results, it cannot have been much amiss, since for
the first time in his life Hubert Brett was melted to a display of
ridiculous emotion.  "Dear little girl!" he murmured aloud and kissed
the last words before her signature.

As for Helena, having run out to the village and posted the letter
unread by her mother--a cause of yet further misgiving to the
theorist--she began to wonder ever so little whether she had done quite
wisely.

From somewhere (who can say whence, since some things are inborn in
Man?) she had got the notion, possibly ridiculous, that courting and
proposals were quite different from this.  Even in the Lives and comic
papers men knelt and that sort of thing.  She felt she had been cheated
rather of Romance.

As things were, with her so ignorant and Mother like that, it was all a
little of a worry.

But it was also a way out....



CHAPTER IV

HYMEN

If Hubert had known how difficult a job it was to get married, he would
never have attempted it.  Or so at least he told himself.  All Boyd's
advice, all his own misgivings about lonely age, all Ruth's scenes,
would not have driven him to so much real hard work that had no
definite connection with his mapped and beloved life-career.

He always had imagined that the thing took half an hour, and even then
was managed by some luckless friend you roped in as best man.  And here
he was, worried all day about presents, relatives, guests, leases,
settlements, and heaven itself even probably could not say what else,
till he despaired about his autumn work.

Ruth, in particular, drove him almost frantic.

He was absolutely certain she loathed his marrying, and yet to judge
from the outside, nothing in the whole world could have pleased her
more than making the arrangements.  She would talk for forty minutes
about buying six new pairs of socks.  Her air of Willing Service
maddened him.  When she had nothing else to do, she would divide her
time between telling him that he was a cold lover and assuring him that
there was no need whatsoever to worry about her.  _She_ would be all
right.  He mustn't think of _her_....

"I don't," he would hurl back at length, firmly convinced of her
hypocrisy (he was a great believer in his intuitions), at which point
she usually cried.  Then he would go out and shake the pictures crooked
by slamming the door.  At their next meeting, all forgiveness, Ruth
would take up again the subject of those socks.

Finally he abandoned all idea of finishing his novel.  This would be
the first blank autumn since he started writing.  He felt cross with
Fate.

In all this, romanticists will no doubt be gratified to hear, Helena
was the sole consolation.

He was pleased with her--and he was pleased with his own cleverness in
having lit upon her.  If marriage was essential to him, he felt sure
she was just the very girl to be a wife who wouldn't get upon his
nerves.  The more he saw of her, the more he liked her; and that, too,
was encouraging.  She had, of course, come up to London with her
mother, no less busy than himself, and her delight with the great
shapeless place--its crowds, its fogs, its lights--was beautiful to
see.  She never wanted to be taken to theatres or show-places; the
spectacle of London being London was enough for her, as it should be,
indeed, for any one.  She loved the ceaseless motion, the sense of
something getting done; the whole feeling of energy massed in a little
space seemed to inspire this girl used only to the sleepy, uneventful
fields.

"Well, and how do you like it?  How does it strike you?" he asked, as
from an omnibus he showed her, for the first time, that thrilling crowd
which passes, ant-like, this way and that, seemingly purposeless yet
always full of purpose, past the Bank of England.  He loved to hear her
quaint, unformed ideas.

Helena thought for a moment.  "It makes me feel so _useless_," she
replied.

She was a delightful child, Hubert told himself--unspoilt, original,
and modest.  When he forgot about his ruined novel, he certainly was
happy.  His unhid admiration helped a little to melt Mrs. Hallam, who
was still looking pathetically for the absolute objection which she
felt sure she ought at last to find.  And all this while the day was
coming near.

Mrs. Hallam had rather naturally planned that the wedding should take
place in Devonshire; but the bridegroom had been so hideously shocked,
and Helena thought a London wedding so much better "fun," that Mrs.
Hallam, already feeling nobody, had given in to them with a weak smile.
She did not mind where it took place, so long as they were happy and it
was really for the best.  Besides, she had a brother who lived in a big
house in Langham Place.  He always had been very mean, and was a
bachelor, and it was time altogether that he did something for the
family....

On the last night, however, before the wedding-day, she tuned herself
at bedtime to a final effort.  She was sad and depressed: they had
talked long downstairs; her own instinct would have been to cry or go
to sleep; but she decided that, for her own later peace of mind if for
no higher motive, she must do something far less pleasant.  So along
she went to the second-best spare-room in the mean brother's house.

"Helena dear," she said, to meet her daughter's startled look, "I've
come along, although we've had our talk downstairs, because I feel I
can't sleep till I have asked you a question."

Helena was not greatly reassured.  She had not really understood a lot
of what her mother had sobbed out to her downstairs, and now when she
had thought it all over and had been feeling very sorry for the poor
lonely dear, there was to be another question!

"Why, what?" she asked, trying to put away unseen her going-away hat,
which she had been trying on.  She was afraid her mother might think it
unfeeling.

"A very important question," answered Mrs. Hallam, dropping frailly on
the sofa.  "And I'm afraid you may think it an extraordinary one.  Do
you really love Hubert?  Do you really want to marry him?"

Helena let go of the hat, which fell very gently on the floor beside
the dressing-table; then she went across and put her arms around her
mother.

"Why, you curious old dear," she said.  "What on earth makes you ask
that?  I _do_ call it extraordinary!"  And she laughed.

But her mother was serious.  "Don't think it would be wrong or wicked
to say no if you do not.  It would be very wicked not to...."  She
paused, and as Helena said nothing, she went on; "You see, darling
child, I feel responsible.  You are so young, and Mr. Brett being
almost the first man you ever spoke to, except just at At Homes and so
on----  It's not too late, my dear girl, although perhaps I should have
spoken sooner if I could have brought myself to it.  Girls often see
more clearly at the last.  We can easily announce that the wedding is
postponed, and then you could come down home for a few months and
see--if you're not sure----"

She spoke almost keenly by now, questioning with a hope quite pathetic.
The world for her held nothing but her daughter.

In Helena, however, the words raised a depressing vision.

Home--Devonshire--the lanes and muddy fields--the vicar--the
farmyard--the illustrated papers--the picked novels--the dull
people--her dear, good mother's absurd care of her....  And then,
flashing and dazzling by its contrast, London--its crowds and
mystery--its freedom--Hubert, so brilliant and kind--those jolly times
with him beside the sea or on the 'bus-tops--the talks on Art and Life
and all the things she couldn't understand but longed to--the liberty
to cease being a fool and ignorant--the open gate to real existence....

"I _am_ sure," she answered, with a passion that surprised herself.
"Quite sure."  She was not sure about love, but she wished to marry....

Hubert, in fact, wanted to escape his fond sister and a lone old age;
Helena desired to get away from a loving home and her own ignorance.
It is quite possible to fall in love with even negative abstractions.

At any rate they were very fond of one another, and practised
wedding-goers were able to make their usual remark: "How utterly
devoted they seem!  It is so nice to see them look at one another!"

Everybody said too, of course, that Helena had never looked so pretty.
She had been arranging presents until one o'clock and not left time to
get her hair in order, besides having been dog-tired for a week, and
the wedding-veil is seldom becoming, but all the guests seemed pleased.
Certainly, with bright eyes sparkling ever so gaily behind the old veil
of Argentan lace, and little wisps of hair exuding everywhere, Helena,
if not at her best, looked natural and young.

Hubert, on the other hand, looked old for his age and self-conscious as
only a man can look at his own wedding, but yet unusually handsome.  He
had not recovered from the dismal farce of a bachelor dinner, where
nobody had liked the champagne, the idea of speeches had fizzled out,
and every one had gone home before ten o'clock.  He was pale and
nervous.  Yet Helena's relatives decided quite honestly, and in fact
unexpectedly, that he was a good-looking man, and even Helena was quite
surprised.  His new Sunday coat revealed a slim, tall figure generally
hidden by old, well-loved tweeds, for he was not a London-dresser.  A
stiff collar made the greatest change in him, and (had he but guessed!)
so soon she decided he must always wear one.  His very agony improved
his looks.  Of the dark, clear-cut type, he was spoilt usually by a too
erratic mouth, which rambled on his face and lent a look of weakness to
the stern contour.  To-day his lips were pressed and firm.  He felt a
fool and told himself that the whole business was astounding rubbish.
If only she had liked it, he would have been married at a
registrar's--or down in Devonshire!...  He went about with an air of
doom among the revellers, and all of them said once again, if with more
truth than about Helena, that they had never seen him look so well.

"Only shows," whispered Mrs. Boyd, who did not love him or any author
over-much, "that those artistic people could easily look gentlemen.
It's nothing but a pose."

None the less, it was a genuine enough relief to Hubert when the time
came at which he was able to go upstairs and shed his fair raiment.
True, they were not his old tweeds that he was allowed to don, nor was
the collar soft; but still he felt more himself as he hastily descended
one flight and then waited ten minutes, with all of a new husband's
still untamed impatience, for his wife to be ready.

At last, when he was within four minutes of being able to feel
justified in shouting out that they would miss their train, Helena
appeared: full of amused excitement, still thinking it all the greatest
of great fun and very sweet in a quite married-looking velvet gown,
with the most colossal muff that matched a very cloud of furs, and over
all of it a plume that waved above her never steady hat until it looked
like a pillar of thin smoke.

Hubert, all impatience, quite forgot to say that she looked charming.
It was really lucky she had not been taught yet to expect it.

"Come along," he said instead.  "We're getting a bit late.  I rather
dread this part!"

"Oh, I don't know," she laughed.  She had loved all of it.

They went down to the lower flight, where all the guests were
pitilessly ranged on each side of the broad Georgian stairs.

Of course there was the funny man, who will happen even in the
best-born families.  Perhaps he has some use at such a time as this.
Ruth and Mrs. Hallam, both united in feeling tearful yet mutually
hostile, found amusement in his constant parrot-cry of "Here they are!"
or when he felt specially inspired, even "Here they aren't!"  It was a
relief to have any excuse at all to laugh.

And there at length they were, smiling gaily, shaking countless hands,
quailing under genial pats, avoiding silver horseshoes and gold
slippers.  (Rice and confetti were vetoed by the mean brother.)  And so
into the car, with Ruth and Mrs. Hallam smiling crookedly through
tears, until the funny man, dutifully fumbling with string and an old
slipper, was lost in a vast cloud of steam or something white let out
by the fresh-started engine, which sent the couple off amid a bellow of
good-omened laughter, and every one surged in with relief to say
good-bye and to agree they should have gone away much earlier.  It had
been hideously long, but weddings always were.

Helena, as a corner blotted out the house, came back into the car with
a gay laugh.

"Got your camera, my dear?" asked Hubert.  It is odd how soon a man
acquires the air of a proprietor.

"I _wish_ I'd thought of taking them as we went off," said Helena.
"They looked so funny."

He made no reply.  He seemed to be thinking.  She wondered what about.
Then, as he sat silent, she began to be afraid to interrupt his
thoughts.  Besides, she did not know quite what to say.  It was so
curious!  She realised, with rather a shock, how little really she knew
about this man, and here she was going away alone with him for life!...
But probably brides always felt like that?  It was a biggish thing to
do, anyhow, getting married.  She expected it would feel a bit funny
with any one.  Probably the man made very little difference....

And presently he spoke--if it is speaking to say, "Ah!"

They were at Charing Cross.

They had agreed to take old baggage and look a very long-established
couple, but somehow porters and people were nudging each other with
sympathetic joy long before they reached the first-class carriage with
its wickedly big label marked "engaged."

Helena, embarrassed if amused, sat on the far side.  Hubert leaned out
of the window and bought all the evening papers.  He knew that there
had been reporters.

"May as well see what they put," he said, almost as though in apology.
She could not understand his tones, but Mother had told her last night
that men were funny things with curious ideas.

He took up one after another and flipped through them all.

"Solemnised--Langham Place--écru lace," he read from the first; and
then more hurriedly, "Reception--residence--numerous and costly--happy
couple--Riviera."

Judging from his extracts, Helena thought, they were all very much
alike.  She wondered if one man had written the whole lot, and if so,
what all the rest of the reporters did.

Her husband's face grew blacker as he reached the last.  He threw it
down with a contemptuous laugh.

"Why, what is it?" she asked.  "Don't you like them?"  She still felt
oddly shy about using his name.  "Are you disappointed?"

"One doesn't expect much from journalists," he said.  "One's never
disappointed."

But he was.

One account said that he was "a" novelist, but that was all: no
adjective before it, not even "well-known."  The others didn't mention
that he _was_ an author.

They might have been just ordinary people.



PART II

HUBERT BRETT'S WIFE


CHAPTER V

ROUTINE

It was something of a career, Helena soon learnt, to be the wife of
Hubert Brett.

Gradually, however, she got a grip of the rough lines of her whole
duty.  At first it had been difficult, for she was not methodical by
nature; but now it all seemed natural, the ordinary thing.  When you
got into it, the day ran smoothly.  She never even had to think by now.
She had the housemaid's mind.

Everything in the little garden suburb home--for Hubert, capitulating
to Kenneth Boyd all along the whole line, had settled out at
Hampstead--every smallest detail was ordered to one end: the Work.

This, he reminded her so soon as they returned to England, was not just
his pride or hobby: it was their existence.  She had her three hundred
pounds a year, which he wished her to keep, whilst his fixed income was
a trifle less--his father had been that fatal sort of mongrel, half a
cleric, half a City man--and for the rest they must depend upon his
writing.  How important then, but how essential, that he should be left
free to do his very best.

"You're my little housekeeper," he told her playfully the first
evening, always loving to treat her as a child.  "You'll get new cooks
about every other day and try new dishes out of shilling books with
them, and I shall say: 'My dear, this isn't edible'--like that--and
then you'll cry----"

"Oh no, I shan't!" she laughed back, for they got on extremely well in
an unsentimental way.  It was almost as though Hubert had merely
exchanged his sister for a younger one.

"Well, I like to think you will," he answered.  "I shall be hurt if you
don't mind in the least when I'm cross....  But what I was going to say
is: whatever domestic tragedies there are--and kitchens are the last
home in England of poor Tragedy--don't bring them round to me.  I don't
mind _what_ I eat, I'm very tame that way really; but I don't want to
know who cooked the chop or where the large woman who cooked the last
one is.  Those details don't inspire an author, even with a realistic
novel!"  The which she thought great fun.  She loved to hear him talk.

None the less, it was not easy just at first.  There was a hideous lot
to remember for any one not good at lessons.  The kitchen with its rows
of plates, and all the currants and things you served out from
tins--this was quite splendid.  The hours and what you mustn't do were
the real worries.

Hubert Brett, in the old days of city life, had never breakfasted till
half-past nine.  "They sleep in the city, and more is the pity, but you
on the hills, awake!" exhorts the Harrow song.  But Hubert did not see
it in that light at all.  Nine-thirty had been his hour down in London;
nine-thirty seemed quite good enough up on the Hampstead hills.  So
nine-thirty it was--when it was not nine-forty-five.

This was the one fixed meal of the day....  Now work put in its claim.

At breakfast, he told people, was the only time that he could skim the
daily; he was so intensely busy; and certainly he propped the
_Telegraph_ before him on the table every morning (this shocked Helena
at first, for she had not seen any farces and had no notion it was ever
done); but somehow or other he appeared never to have quite finished
just the paragraph that he was reading when the meal concluded.  There
was an armchair temptingly near alike to table, fire, and cigarettes.

Helena's first important duty was to steer him tactfully from this
chair to the harder one whereon he sat to write.  She must not jar him,
must not hurry him, or he lost every one of his ideas, and it was all
her fault at lunch....  But, on the other hand, she must not let him
sit there, gazing at a thrice-read page--"thinking out my day's work,"
he called it--till too late.  This she certainly did not desire to do,
for Lily never was allowed to come and clear the meal away till he had
gone into his study (that upset him, too), so that delay bred chaos in
the household.

When once, however, he was safely at his writing-table, all was quiet,
must be, until lunch-time.  These were his best hours for work.  The
small house brooded under a funereal silence.

Lunch was a movable affair.

Hubert could not endure clocks in his working-room.  Their sound, which
he declared was just not regular, got on his nerves, and he found
himself on days when his inspiration would not flow, gazing at the dial
with growing despair, like a bad sleeper who begins to count the hours
which strike at ever lessening intervals, until he knows at last that
now he will not sleep at all.

The writer's estimate of time varied largely with the amount of his
success.  When he was writing well, the hours would speed away and he
would then emerge at half-past two or even--once--at three, full of a
joy so intense as to ignore, or even to melt, the iciness of Helena and
Lily.  At other times, when his pen dragged itself along the paper
sleepily or idly drew vague circles on the blotting-pad, he would get
tired and hungry.  On these days lunch was punctual at one o'clock.

After lunch, which was a meal solid almost to the limits of bad art, he
would subside on the tempting armchair again and Helena be asked to
bring him the weekly reviews.  Not only the literary pages were
digested; Hubert read the music, art, even the drama
columns--everything except the science meetings in the _Athenæum_.
This took, roughly, half-an-hour each day and the lonely time so
occupied, he told Helena when he explained his ways to her, was devoted
to "keeping in touch with the modern movements."  There is no one
English word for the Italian _siesta_.

Then came the part of the day to which Helena looked forward; the
afternoon, when they took ever such long tramps with Spook, the small
white Aberdeen, across the wide free heath, and so home to tea beside a
comfortable fire.  Helena could almost hate his work when at the stroke
of five he would get up, more stern by now than in the sleepy morn, and
leave her with the statutory kiss.  And when it rained, so that this
jolliest part of the day was lost and he said in a masculine way that
it would be a chance to do some letters (instead of having fun
indoors!), she would sit by the drenched windows and look out through
the jerky raindrops with all the pathetic grievance against Fate of
children in a seaside lodging on wet holidays.

This was a shorter bout of work and dinner was generally not later than
half-past seven, though there were times of course when it had to be
later.  This led to Hubert's prophecy about the change of cooks not
being too far from inspired.

After dinner was the other jolly time, if Hubert had worked well.  If
things had gone badly, he would mope and say that he was going to grow
cabbages instead and silly things like that, which worried her because
she knew he never would; but if a good sheaf of written paper was in
his hand, he would read it to her, while she sat against his legs upon
the hearthrug, and when she had said how good it was, they talked of
other things--he talked so well--and it was all as comfy as could be in
their own little home, and, oh, so different from Devonshire!

Sometimes she felt guilty about her poor mother, down there all alone
among those stodgy people; but she wrote to her every Sunday, and
sometimes on other days if Hubert was silent and gloomy (without of
course letting her know why she wrote).

His moods puzzled her a good deal in those first days, but she supposed
all really clever men were a bit odd or they would not be clever.
Certainly it was curious that Hubert, who was so strong and splendid in
most ways, was so awfully easily pleased or upset by anything about his
books.  Any success made him as cheery as could be and they would go to
Kew or somewhere and he'd say; "Blow the evening work!" although she
always said she was not sure they ought.  Once, a few months after the
wedding, a reader wrote to him from Surbiton and thanked him for a book
of his he had just read, because he thought it beautiful and full of
inspiriting ideas.  Of course she had been immensely pleased, but
Hubert had been more.  He had shown it to every one who called for
three weeks, and kept on wondering what sort of person could have
written it, and left it about on tables, and she was sure the servants
read it, and he told Mr. Alison about it twice, until she really began
to wonder whether people wouldn't laugh at him, but didn't say so
because he was so sensitive.

It was always the same, about a good review or anything.  Sometimes,
after one, he would ask in a thoughtful, puzzled way; "Why don't we
ever go to a theatre, dear?" but by the next night something had
probably upset him or he forgot, and she never reminded him because he
_did_ work hard--and, as he said, for _her_--and she was really very
happy in their little home, so long as he was not at work.

And then, he was so easily upset.

A bad review had just the opposite effect.  He got so violent about the
critics, saying they were men who had failed to create, and any ass
could say that elephants were rotten things but it took God to make
one, and other awful things like that; or else he'd begin thinking who
of his pals read the paper where the criticism was and sometimes
even--if she couldn't stop him--write and tell them why the critic was
so down on him, which she was half afraid they must think very silly;
unless, perhaps, they were clever too, so understood.

Once, too, at the end of the first year, he quite frightened her.

Among their wedding presents, duly numerous and costly--perhaps extreme
in both respects for a suburban home--the one that Helena prized and
used most was an enamelled watch.  It was the size, roughly, of a
shilling: deep translucent blue, decked with tiny pearls, and hung from
an appropriate brooch by a thin golden chain.  Too thin possibly, for
on arrival home one morning from what she called her marketing, the
little gewgaw, valued for ornament and use alike, was gone.  A few
links of the chain hung desolately from a brooch that, robbed of its
purpose, now looked almost vulgar.

Without thinking, without reflecting that no one was allowed to
interrupt him before lunch-time, she found her thoughts turning
restfully, in quite a wifely way, to Hubert.  She knocked at his door.

There was no answer but she had not waited for one.  She burst in.

The room was full of industry.  The very air seemed heavy with a
wished-for silence.  A clock would have been overpowering.

Hubert swung slowly round, with an expression on his face that made it
clear he was attempting not to lose touch with some great idea.  He
kept a finger on the sheet before him.

Helena was rather alarmed.  She had not seen his study in its present
state, and as she stood there at the door a moment, her eyes took in
the litter of loose paper; all the open books on table, chairs, and
floor; the derelict type-writer, long abandoned as fatal to all
inspiration; the velvet coat; and most of all, the worried look.  Her
plaint shrank instantly to an excuse.

"Oh Hugh," she said (she never could quite manage "Hubert"), "I _am_ so
sorry, but what do you think?"

"I can't imagine," he said in a cold voice so unlike his own.  "What?
Is your mother dead?"

Even Helena, so bad at scenting irony, could guess that he did not mean
that.

"Of course she isn't," she replied; "but I've lost the lovely little
watch she gave me, and I did love it so."  She tried not to let too
much sorrow come into her voice.  He always looked upon her as a baby,
anyhow.

Surely he was sorry?  He said nothing.  He looked at her so oddly that
she grew alarmed.

"Isn't it awful?" she added uneasily.

Hubert rose slowly to his feet.  "Really, Helena," he said, "you don't
mean you've broken my whole morning's work just to tell me you've lost
some silly trinket?  You might have waited until lunch-time.  Now, my
whole chapter--well, it simply means I've got to start it all again."

He took up a sheet of paper, tore it dramatically through, and let the
two halves fall upon the carpet.  Helena, full of an astounded guilt,
looked down to see how much of his work her thoughtlessness had wasted.
But all the writing must have been upon the under side....

"Oh, Hugh dear," she said, longing to touch him yet not daring quite;
he looked so cross and tall.  "I _am_ sorry.  It was stupid of me.  But
I thought you'd be sorry and could--could do something."

She ended lamely and he was not touched by her faith in him.

"Of course," he said bitterly, "I shall at once scour the heath, like a
police dog, on my hands and knees.  I shall watch the termini.  I shall
telephone----"

"Oh, I _am_ sorry," she broke in, "awfully.  I never thought all that
of course.  I simply felt it was so terrible and you might help,
because you always know about things, somehow."

That touched him at last.  He melted suddenly.

"Well," he said quite cheerily, "it's done now, so bother the old work.
We'll see if we can't find the thing and save a reward.  That's another
way of making money, eh?"

So after cross-examination as to routes and so on, out they went, and
he it was who found the watch, exactly where--she now remembered--she
had felt hot and pulled hard at the stiff clip of her chinchilla stole.

"Tally-ho!" he shouted gaily, holding it aloft and waving it; then as
she ran delightedly across from her own line of search, "so I've not
wasted my day's work in vain!"

She felt that more apologies must take the place of thanks.  She also
wished that she had never spoilt his work but paid five pounds reward
instead.  And she resolved that nothing short of thieves or fire would
take her into his room before lunch again.

Bad news, hereafter, she obediently kept till dinner.  His day's work
was over, and he had recovered by next morning's bout.

Other things, too, she learnt.  When possible, she would suppress a bad
review or lose the paper until evening.  Unluckily, he had them all
sent by an agency and she did not often succeed.  She always said,
however, that nobody went by that paper....  She never praised a writer
who was younger and more famous than himself.  She was conveniently
blind if envelopes arrived addressed in his own writing.  She always
saw that his room was left properly untidy--all except the flowers,
which must never show the slightest sign of age.  She came to avoid the
word "reliable" and after six months never once split an infinitive at
meals.  Hubert at such moments would throw down his knife with a
grimace of pain.  He said it was a physical sensation, like cut corks,
and spoilt his appetite, which she could never understand.  And
sometimes if it happened early in the day, she found at night that she
had spoilt his work as well....

Such was the routine of Hubert Brett, ex-bachelor at thirty-five and
writer of repute; all sacred and to be taken as an earnest matter--even
that half-hour wherein he Kept In Touch With Modern Movements.

Helena learnt this, too, early.

There had been great excitement in the suburb after lunch.  An
aeroplane had passed upon its way to Hendon, and passed very low.  The
noise had been colossal, like six motorcycles.  Every one, used as the
place was to aeroplanes, had dashed out to the garden--every one but
Hubert.  Helena, even in her disappointment, could admire his
self-restraint.

He seemed quite ignorant about it, too, when she made jokes upon the
noise, as they set out for their tramp on the Heath.

"What time about?" he said.  "Before lunch?"

"Why, Hugh," she laughed.  "You must have heard!  It sounded like a
motor having its teeth drilled."

"No," he said.  "I shouldn't have missed that.  It is a sound I've
never struck!"

She thought a moment.  "Why, I know," she said.  "You wouldn't have
heard.  Of course it was just after two and you were still keeping in
touch with the movements."

To her surprise he stopped short, and looking up, she saw his cheeks
were flushed below the eyes.

"My dear girl," he said pompously.  "I enjoy your humourous way of
looking at life, but it's a quite impossible position if a wife's going
to be funny at the expense of her husband's ideals."

With which he strode onward and she fell in, a model wife, behind.

But she, of her simplicity, had meant it.

She had always admired his powers of concentration on those dull old
literary weeklies.  She had not even thought of sleep.

Every wife, perhaps, should be able to see through her husband the
exact distance that he sees himself.



CHAPTER VI

GROWTH

Helena, when a year's passing had worn away the novelty of keeping
house and made its process slower, was naturally rather bored at times,
when Hubert was shut up with his work.  No one could have been happier
so long as she was with her husband; she still thought him immensely
clever, which is most good for married happiness; still found their
walks and treats the very greatest fun; but in the winter especially,
there were so many gaps of idle loneliness.

Luckily the remedy was near at hand.

To a girl almost bursting with the ashamed desire for self-development
a garden suburb must be Paradise indeed.  There is a natural connection
between New Art cottages with gardens round, and (let us say)
enthusiasms.  The ordinary man--that tame myope who gratefully accepts
life as it is--contentedly exists in squares, crescents and straight
lines; breathing the common air and never worrying at all whether his
house, which may be number 246, has individuality or not.  But the
enthusiast, whom others call by a less noble title, is of a different
sort.  He holds that what we see and breathe, especially when young, we
are.  His children, then, must have a quite uncommon setting; not grown
like the sordid brats in 245 "desirable villas" adjoining.  No, they
must live where there is air and a big back-yard patch; where the word
garden throws a soft glamour over muddied and unfinished roads; where
everything is beautiful and man himself is not so vile.

For, after all, he asks, what really wicked man would ever trouble to
live out at a tube's end?  No!  Vice ever lurks among the fogs and
shrubless rabbit-warrens of mid-London.  It would not flourish in a
garden suburb.

So out he goes, and sees to it that his house shall have something
different from all the other small white dwellings round about him.  An
architect might say that there was neither use nor fitness in his
timbered turret at the north-east corner, but he himself knows just why
it is there.  He knows that he has flung his little pebble, all he can
avail, upon the heap that some day, we all hope, will crush the
soul-destroying isms out of life, and make of man, not a type in
monotone, but a great hive of multi-coloured individuals.

So far, so good; but more remains to tell.

He settles proudly underneath his turret and waits for the great change
to start.  The neighbours call and he discovers they are cultured.
They are very cultured.  And he--with a sick horror he knows at length
that he is not.  All these people here have something different, not a
mere turret--something different about themselves.  Menzies believes
that eating sheep is murder in the sight of Heaven, and the same with
cows.  Du Cane will not let his children wear boots, because the notion
is not Greek.  Farren is convinced that you must sleep with your feet
to the south and your head, of course, in the opposite direction.
Blythe-Egerton believes in ghosts but says they can't have clothes.
Jerningham lives next the golf club house, an envied site, and holds
success in games has always been the first precursor of a nation's
downfall.  Escott knows exactly who should marry what; whilst Ferguson
can quite explain the Post-Impressionists, but fails to understand the
Royal Academy--peculiar in a Scotchman.  Yes, every single one of them
has some outstanding gift or knowledge, making him a pleasant man to
meet.

So out he goes, post-haste, to search a quality, and wishes now that he
had not spent all that extra money upon his symbolic turret.  He knows
a better secret, now, of how real individuality is gained.  It consists
not in bricks and mortar nor in any latticed garden-work--though these
may be its outward signs--but in a being different.  He hurries out and
buys the works of Chesterton and Bernard Shaw as a beginning.

Helena, of course, was predisposed to it since Devonshire.

She did not long to become different, so much: she hankered to cease
being ignorant.

Hubert was so clever, but that discouraged more than it helped her.  He
talked quite brilliantly about such deep things, but he would not
explain.  He laughed and said she was a jolly child.  He always treated
her rather as one and certainly they had great fun together, but she
longed to be clever without getting old, and when she had told him so,
he simply laughed and said she ought to be content to have such quaint
ideas.

"It's far better," he added, "to be original than clever.  Don't you
worry your dear little head with dull ideas and facts."

But Helena did worry.

She had now, apart from her old desire for self-development and
knowledge about life, all these dull lonely hours to fill; and as she
went about, slowly getting to know the people near, she found like our
enthusiast that every one of them was full of something--some vital,
all-absorbing topic, if nothing more than golf or their own handicap.
And that, she saw at once, was what she had to have if she wished ever
to make her life really full.  She could not go to matinées, like some,
or Hubert missed her all the afternoon; and if they went to an At Home,
he always dashed away at five, which looked so rude, and people--she
felt sure--said afterwards that she could not have much hold over him,
so soon.  She tried novels, but these she really could not understand.
Hubert watched cynically her attempts to get at grips with a sex-novel
more sexual than is expected even in these days of censorships and free
advertisement.

"But, Hubert," she said finally, "why did she do that?  Wasn't she fond
of her husband?  He seems quite nice.  Do these terrible things really
happen?"

"Oh no," he answered, as one would speak to a child.  "Of course they
never happen really."

Helena looked puzzled.  "Then why do people write or read them?" she
asked.

"My dear girl," he answered in the heavy-father manner that gave him
such pleasure, "if you could answer that, you would have solved one of
the most interesting problems about human nature!"

So then she was puzzled again and laid aside the book half read, before
she got even to the chapter that was really censured and commonly read
first.

Not that way, she saw, lay illumination.

At last she tried another road.  "You know," she said reflectively one
night, during those long hearthside chats that neither really would
have changed for any other social form, "I like all the people here and
so on, but they're terribly busy, aren't they, and I always feel I've
sort of come too late."

"How sort of?" he replied indulgently.

"Well, I've got no real friends and you're busy so much with your dull
old work.  Don't you know anybody?--really know, I mean--old friends,
who aren't too far away?"

Hubert thought for a few moments.  "It sounds absurd," he said at last,
"but I was such a hermit till I met you that I don't believe I've got a
single woman friend."

Helena, he noticed, was not flattered in the least degree.  That sort
of thing was what made her so splendid.  He told himself that a woman
who was womanly would be a bore about the house, and smiled adoringly
on his own child-like specimen, who waited silently, as though quite
sure that he would find a friend in the same way that after some time
he had found her brooch.  But there was a long pause and he made no
suggestions.

"Well, what about men then?" she added simply.  "I don't mind."

And he was once again enchanted by her naïveté.

"You shall have the pick of all my man-friends," he said, and then
puzzled her by laughing.

"What is it?" she asked.

"Oh, you're so perfect, dearest!" he said, and got up and kissed her.

It needed some thought, none the less.  Of his old pals--he suddenly
remembered that he had been married over a year now, and not seen any
one of them or wanted to--there were not many who lived near, and some
of these ... well, they were all right in their way, but vaguely he
felt they were not quite fit to introduce to any one so sweet as his
girl-wife....  Marriage frequently turns cynics into sentimentalists.
(The converse can be well ignored.)

"I know," he cried suddenly.

"I felt sure you would," she said.  It was just these remarks that made
her such an excellent companion.  "Who is it then?"

"Old Boyd--old Kenneth Boyd.  He's just the very man you'd like.  One
feels so awfully at home with him, he's restful you know;
old-friend-in-five-minutes sort of fellow.  Oh and," he added, "I
forgot just for the moment!  There is a wife too."

"I think I'm almost sorry," said Helena reflectively.  "I don't think
he sounds the sort of person who'd be much good unless alone.  But I'm
so silly with words.  I never can explain and I expect I'm wrong."

There seemed, at any rate, some wisdom in her cryptic estimate.

The dinner-party was not a success.

Helena was so charming to Kenneth Boyd that Hubert, almost beyond
himself with pride and refraining with difficulty from kissing her when
she was too especially delicious, wondered why on earth he had so long
delayed showing his old friends how sweetly original a little simpleton
he had secured in spite of all their jeers.  Kenneth, over a glass of
port from the local grocer, was absolute enthusiasm and delighted his
host till he turned suddenly and said; "Now own that I was absolutely
right?"  With the wives, however, it was different.  Mrs. Boyd said
afterwards to her husband: "Just the poor little undeveloped fool one
would expect any one so conceited to take as his wife!" whilst Helena
thought her a rude pig, and neither was too subtle in concealing her
opinion.

This instinct of hostility was fatal to any real union between the
households.  Hubert noted with amusement how, at each fresh encounter,
the two wives became more and more affectionately cold, and soon kissed
on meeting.

He turned, with Helena still urging him, to other possibilities.

It was then that he thought of Geoffrey Alison.

"Geoffrey Alison," exclaimed Hubert with far more conviction than about
Kenneth Boyd.  "He really _is_ the man!  Amusing, clever, full of
energy, and too young to be really busy."  This in a condescending way.

"Why, how old is he?" she enquired.  "I want some one, you know, who is
cleverer than me and can tell me things at galleries and places."

He smiled at her.  "Well, I think he could tell you things, he must be
twenty-nine by now.  Besides, I was able once to do him a good turn, he
is a sort of protégé; so he'd be only too glad to take you about and as
you call it, tell you things at galleries and places.  He's pretty good
on art."

The word protégé was rolled upon his tongue; the episode of Geoffrey
Alison had pleased him a good deal; but Helena did not seem reassured.

"Oh, thank you!" she said, girlishly for these days when she had begun
duly to expand as wished.  "If he'd think he was doing it as a great
favour, just to pay you back, I'd rather look at pictures and things by
myself and puzzle out their meaning.  It's only I've begun so late."
She paused for a moment, and then without enthusiasm, almost sulkily;
"What did you do for him?"

Hubert embarked on it with gusto.

"Why, it wasn't really very much.  It was just after my first book came
out, when I was twenty-six or so and he was at the Varsity or
somewhere.  I suppose he read a notice or heard the book was selling or
something.  Anyhow, he wrote me a most charming letter, the first I
ever had from any stranger, congratulating me on my success and asking,
if you please, how I had managed it as he heard I was young and he
wanted to become an author too!  I answered all the usual stuff about
hard work and so on, which I see now he must have thought astounding
twaddle if he really was at Oxford, and told him when he came to Town
I'd like to meet him and perhaps could give him a few introductions.
As a matter of fact," he went on after brief reflection, "I never did
the last because I don't believe in it; but he came round at nights and
talked to me and always said I had encouraged him a lot just when a
little bucking-up was needed."

"And did he?" was Helena's sole comment.

Hubert at times could not follow her mind, fledgeling though it was, in
all its flights.  "Did he what, dear?"

"Why, did he become an author?" answered Helena, with that impatient
tolerance which women keep for these occasions.

"Oh no," he said, vaguely annoyed, now, that he had not guessed it.
"Rather not!  He's an artist now.  Not terribly successful, you know,
but getting along.  I don't think you would care much for his pictures,
though."

Secretly, within his mind he reconstructed Alison, remembering now some
not too pleasant drawings that he had brought along one night;
wondering if he had mentioned him too soon.  But he saw only a keen,
harmless youth of the artistic type; a white man, certainly, who, even
if he had a morbid side, would never show it to a girl--or to his
benefactor's wife.

Yes, it was excellent.  He had feared sometimes that she must be lonely
in the mornings or from five to seven, and Alison, he knew, was of the
work-when-I-feel-in-the-mood brigade (yes, it had certainly been
Oxford), for he had finally been forced to tell him he was absolutely
never free till after dinner-time.

He was the very man indeed.  He spent his days in galleries, museums,
theatres; wanted not only something new, like the Athenians, but every
blessed new thing going; and if a heretic therefore on Art, was full of
knowledge and when he cared to, could be very nice.

Helena thought him very nice indeed.

Of course he was ever so much cleverer than she was; she need not have
feared that; and yet he did not seem to mind how elementary the thing
was that she wished to see.  He came with her and would explain it all.
And he was nearly always free.  Hubert had said that he was too young
to be busy, and yet she felt slightly puzzled.  If Geoffrey Alison
could be so nice to friends, of whom he must have several, it did seem
odd that Hubert never could afford a morning for his wife, when he had
only one!  But maybe Mr. Alison had not got many friends as yet or
wasn't as nice to them all?

At any rate life up at Hampstead was far less boring now.  Sometimes on
days when there was not much house-keeping to do, they would go by tube
or 'bus to Trafalgar Square and spend long hours in the National
Gallery or twenty minutes in the Tate to see the Watts room and three
of the statues.  At other times they would just ramble on the Heath,
and prim Mrs. Herbertson, the vicar's wife, amused Helena one day
enormously by thinking Mr. Alison was Hubert.

"Oh, I'm so sorry, dear Mrs. Brett!" she exclaimed, when Helena
laughingly told her the mistake; "but seeing you two about upon the
Heath so often in the mornings, I quite thought----!  You must forgive
my stupidity, please?"  And she smiled a false smile.

Helena thought this delicious, considering that Hugh was tall and broad
and dark and looked like a celebrity at once, whilst Mr. Alison was
rather short and slim, not one half so good-looking--funny-looking,
somehow, even when quite serious--with fair hair always a wee bit too
long!

"Won't Hugh be convulsed?" she asked.

"I don't think I should tell him," he said, to her absolute surprise.

"But why on earth not?" she enquired.

He would not tell her.  In other things he was so kind; unlike her
husband, he would try to fill her gaps in education; but here he was
quite firm.  He only let her force him to say that Hubert was a
splendid fellow but a curious sort of devil--which she had learnt
already, although she did not think that Mr. Alison should say so.  He
added that you never knew.  And finally she gave it up, quite angry.

But she said nothing to her husband and Mrs. Herbertson might easily
have made the same mistake again, except that she learnt Hubert was not
a church-goer--an atheist, she called him--and cut Helena entirely.
This left the young couple free, without social remorse, to make the
most wonderful excursions on Hubert's one free day.  All Sunday; the
afternoon walk; meal-times; after dinner--such was what Hubert gave
her, and for the rest, always half-conscious of his selfishness, he
felt delighted to think whilst working that Helena would not be bored.
She was so busy, dear little simpleton, with this chimæra of her
education!

It was Geoffrey Alison who first took her to causeries and lectures
(she learnt almost at once to recognise a causerie, because the seats
cost more), which took place at the Institute, conveniently after tea.
Surprisingly good men came down--or up?--to speak, and spoke on a
variety of subjects.  Helena, always too nervous to air her knowledge
before Hubert who was so clever and looked upon her (she knew) as a
child, gradually began to juggle chaotically in her brain with such
terms as Ethics, Syndicalism, Molecules, Collectivism, and Eugenics.
It was all most difficult, she told herself, but frightfully worth
while.

"Odd of her, this thirst for culture, isn't it?" said Hubert smilingly
to Kenneth Boyd, on one of their rare meetings away from the hostile
wives; "but it's quite harmless and it keeps them quiet."

Kenneth Boyd spoke gloomily.  "Not always," he said.  Perhaps he knew
more of Woman, even though he never wrote about her.  "Sometimes it has
the opposite effect."

"Oh, I know what you mean," Hubert replied, not caring to be
patronised; "but Helena is not that sort.  She doesn't want the Vote.
She's such a charming little innocent," and he laughed, half love but
half pity.

"Really?" said the enigmatic Boyd.  His thoughts had taken a far ampler
sweep, and he spoke almost darkly.

Hubert did not answer.  He was still thinking of the Vote.  Most men
persistently whittle down Woman's whole platform to a mere splinter
convenient for smashing.

"Why," he elaborated, "if she were given it, she wouldn't know what she
had got to do with it."



CHAPTER VII

THE CULT OF USELESSNESS

Helena certainly had small ambition towards the life political, even as
anything no more exalted than a latch-key voter.  She had been
compelled to read politics in Devonshire but like a schoolboy who is
forced to chapel, found it very dull, and took another course at the
first opportunity.  She could not think, she said, to Hubert's joy, how
grown men even took the trouble of electing members who had no
influence over their own party and spent most of the time in childishly
hindering the other.

She did, however, wish to gain her self-respect.

She met, now, people vastly cleverer than those who had made her feel
ignorant at home, so that her growing knowledge in no way kept pace
with her aspirations.  Those old vague yearnings for something which
she used to call Being Herself were stronger now and in a form more
definite.  She had learnt, in the first year of her married life, all
that a woman could learn about keeping house, but she still felt a
fool.  She knew that this was not enough for her, whatever it might be
for others.  She still loved to hear Hubert talking when he embarked on
Art or some really big subject; but she wished to do more than listen.

And she was learning, too.

Those who give their time to that most wonderful and noblest of all
trades, the making of a man, have lately come by the belief that
children have been taught quite wrongly.  They have been stuffed with
knowledge before their bodies were grown to receive it.  A deluge of
facts has been poured upon them, seated at their little desks, and most
of it has gone out through the open window into God's fresh air, where
they ought to have been themselves.  They have almost burst with
learning--and never learnt to learn.  They have known all Euclid at
thirteen: forgotten everything by thirty-one.  They have been
specialists at seventeen and city clerks at twenty-three.

Mrs. Hallam, that crusted theorist and advocate of the old way,
unconsciously had done a curiously modern thing.  She had kept her
daughter back, given her a healthy body, a mind anxious to expand and
able.  Now, at twenty-two, Helena began to specialise--in learning and
in life.  She had been kept back: now she leapt forward the better.

Contemptible enough perhaps to a superior eye, the salad of quite
disconnected lectures, random talks with a young artist-friend, and
pencilled passages from Mudie books, that formed this home curriculum;
but as in health, contentment, as with life itself, the will to be is
almost everything, and Helena was quite resolved to learn.

Her sole worry, in all the excitement of this onward surge into a
fuller life whose endless spaces thrilled and terrified, was that her
husband would not bear her company.  Oh, he was much too clever.  She
knew that.  She never blamed him.  He had no need for all her causeries
and things.  She would be dull to argue with; and yet----

Yet it is only human, only feminine, when one has got a clever husband
and is adventuring on the long road of Art, to wish that he should take
one's hand.

And she was proud of him.

Her simple mind had not yet probed the inwardness of Mrs. Herbertson's
"mistake."  It did not seem peculiar to her that Mr. Alison should be
seen always, and he only, as her companion at the Institute.  It merely
was that she wished it might sometimes have been Hubert.  She longed to
hear his views on all of it, and it would be nice, too, to show him.
It looked so odd that he would never come, when quite old-looking women
brought husbands triumphantly along!

At length, when fifteen months of lectures gave her a new confidence,
she tackled him point-blank one afternoon while they were walking on
the Heath.

He looked at her reproachfully, as though he were a master who had just
been asked for a half-holiday.

"My dear girl," he said, "is that quite logical?"

She knew at once that hope was dead.  It always was when logic once
appeared.  She never had a chance.

"I don't know why not," she said gaily, for nowadays she did not go
back to her kennel quite so easily.  They had been married for two
years.

Hubert was forced to put the thing in words.

"Well you see, my dear," he started, slowly, "I dare say other husbands
have got their work finished by six o'clock.  In fact"--and he
brightened visibly--"that is really why they fixed that hour, I dare
say.  City men are back.  But it's my best work-hour, you know."

"_Is_ it?" laughed Helena, and looked at him.  Then, as he did not seem
to see the joke, "The _morning_ is, you know, if I ask you to come out
shopping.  I'm afraid, Hugh, you're just a little naughty!"  And she
shook her finger.

"No," he said shortly, still not very much amused, for once, at her
nice childish ways.  "They _both_ are....  It's not much for a man to
work, just two short goes at it, and I simply can't spare the time,
however much I'd like to.  I mustn't go out between tea and dinner when
I'm on a book."

"You used to, though," persisted Helena, "in Devonshire."

It is a rash wife who recalls to her husband the days of single life.

"Very likely," he answered impatiently; "but we weren't married then.
I can't afford it now."

The rash wife had it, full between the eyes; a brutal blow provoked by
her incaution; and she reeled.

"Can't afford it, Hugh?" she repeated, with a vague sense of being
accused.  "Why, do I cost so much?  Do I cost more than Ruth?"

He had not looked for anything quite as direct as that.  He had blurted
it out and now, as often, felt ashamed.  He laughed and said in a much
kinder tone:

"Don't you worry your dear head about things like that.  We shall be
all right.  You won't find the man in possession by our fireside yet,
when you come home from market!"

Now it was her turn not to be amused.  "No, but tell me," she said.
"I'd much rather know.  Are we honestly hard up?"

"What a practical little thing it's getting," he said, patting her on
the back as they strode onward, always heralded by the long white dog
with its straight tail, as proud as a drum-major.  "Well, if you really
want to know," he went on, "we are and have been, but we shan't be.
Listen!"  He turned about and about, his finger to his mouth, upon the
empty spaces, clearly once more in the best of spirits.  "Never tell a
soul--and least of all the High-Art Alison--but I am doing a
pot-boiler!"

"What, something worse than you need?" she blurted out in her
astonishment.

He laughed at that.  "Yes, if you put it so!  Anyhow, something to make
money."

"But won't the critics hate that?" she asked seriously.

Hubert Brett, for a man who had been almost too kindly reviewed, was
always very hard on critics.

"Now listen," he said, "and I'll tell you something.  The public has a
natural suspicion of literary criticism.  It only reads the stuff to
see what to avoid.  If it sees some book is called sincere,
painstaking, artistic, a masterpiece, or anything like that, it passes
on until it comes to something labelled crude and elementary.  Then it
gets out its library list.  Think of the two best-selling novelists
to-day, and then think what the critics say of them!  They are a
journalistic joke.  Yes, the more the dear critics hurl abuse, the more
the darling public rushes out to Boot's.  I'm sick of good reviews and
rotten sales.  I'm not doing it because I married you, not I; but I
want columns of abuse and half a million copies!"

She loathed it, always, when he talked like this.  She never knew quite
what he meant.  She hoped he was not really writing a pot-boiler.

"No, but honestly," she said, "why are things worse than in the old
days?  Your books sell just as well.  Do tell me or I shall ask Ruth."

"Well," he said, but this time without rancour, merely telling her what
she had asked, "you see a house, even a hen-run like ours, always costs
ever so much more than rooms--rates and things like servants, don't you
see--and then Ruth used to make a bit with curious bazaar stuff all
gummed on to tins."

It was a mere backwash of his thought, as he drew the question out to a
solution--nothing more.  He never thought of a comparison.  Why, if the
thing had ever come to that, Helena had her allowance....

But it went home to her, whose early days had bred a diffidence to die
only with the years.  Ruth had helped him, then!

"I wish _I_ could do something," she said.  "I feel so useless!" She
had forgotten her bold attack with which this dialogue had started, and
her whole mind was filled now with its self-reproach.

Hubert felt a sudden shame.  The words threw back his memory to those
first hours in London when the vast City crowd had made her say; "It
makes me feel so useless!"  Dear little girl, what happy, jolly days
she had brought to his life since then!  And yet she thought that she
was useless....

She seemed so upset.  His one idea was consolation.  She must not think
he longed for Ruth again, in even one respect!

Perhaps at a less flustered time he might have thought of all that she
did in the house; those charming little meals, hot always at however
variable times; the pretty bowls of flowers; everything so
dainty--green and white--so different from the grimy lodgings.

But now he did not think of that.  He took her arm instinctively in his
and spoke what came into his mind.

"Dear little girlie," he said kindly, "I love you to be useless."

But she was not consoled.



CHAPTER VIII

A SCENE IN THE HOME

Hubert Brett could never quite escape from business; he analysed
himself too much.  His action sprung from impulse, education, ancestry,
whatever source philosophers may choose to say, but it was followed by
a sequel due to his own introspection.  He tended in this way to set up
something like a chain--a sequence of states which might almost be
expected after any given act.

He might have owned, found in a candid vein, that selfishness was his
besetting fault.  It had been so--this would be his excuse, if he
indeed admitted what certainly he knew--it had been so from birth; at
any rate since he recalled himself an only son and younger than his
only sister, pampered and indulged so far as even a small child could
wish.  He always _had_ got what he wanted.  Hence naturally sprang a
sort of self-centredom, a tendency to think first of what _he_ desired,
something which, well, hang it all, no, it wasn't selfishness, but
merely that self-confidence which all men who meant to get things done
must first of all possess....

None the less, every now and then (he noticed it more, since Helena had
been with him), he did, he knew, do things no doubt quite justifiable
if one were thinking only of success, efficiency, and so forth; but
rather beastly from the other person's--from Helena's--standpoint.  It
was so easy, when defending your own interests (and otherwise you'd get
no work done ever), to be thoughtless, irritable, mean.

About those lectures or whatever they were of the poor little girl's,
for instance....

Ought he, came the doubt when he was back in his own den at one minute
past five o'clock--ought he to have given in to her for once, if she
was really so immensely keen to take him?  After all there often were
days when he had finished work easily by six o'clock; whole months,
even, between books, when he did no work after tea; but there was such
a thing as System, and though a married man, he was quite bachelor
enough to love this time of solitude with pipe and books.  Helena was
sweet; no man could ever have been luckier about his wife; but he saw
her for much more than one-half the day and all of it on Sundays.

Yes really, he could not see that she had any right to look for more.
Perhaps those City men took their wives to these precious causeries,
but they were ever so much more away.  Oh yes, he saw a lot of her and
however much she might complain, he knew that she was really lucky....

All the same, as he never had and the dear child wanted it, perhaps----?

Whereat Hubert, having worked comfortably around his usual
circle--Selfishness, Remorse, Ample Self-Excuse, and Noble
Expiation--got up, feeling very light of heart, and went back to the
drawing-room.

Helena was startled.  She never thought of tragedies, she had known
none in her well-sheltered days, or she might easily have feared that
there was something wrong.  Never in these two years and more had he
come back, once gone, till dinner-time.  Many modern wives might have
resented such a sudden entry.  Luckily this specimen was in no more
compromising a position than that of eating the last jam sandwich, a
thing she never could resist before Lily came and took away the tea.
She waved it at him without shame.

"Hullo!" she said.  "Why what's brought you back?"

He smiled indulgently.  He liked her to be young.

"Look here, Helena," he said, "I've been feeling I was a bit of a brute
about those causeries of yours.  I could easily spare an evening some
day, if you'd like me to.  Let's see the list and then we'll fix on
one."

Many modern wives, again, might have been tiresome about an amende
honourable indeed but so obviously planned.  Not Helena, however.  She
leapt to get the circular, all thrilled excitement and babbling
gratitude.

Hubert ran a proud finger down the list.  "Hullo," he said in
unflattering surprise.  "They've got some quite good men."

He had always utterly ignored her ventures in self-education.  He did
not, for one thing, approve of them; and he had vaguely thought they
were connected with the parish church, Pleasant Sunday Evenings, and
everything like that.

"I'm so glad you're pleased," she put in, quite without irony.

"That's the one we'll do together," he said, and read out--"'January
29: Art as a Religion.--G. K. Shaw.'  And only ten days off, too!"

It was the best, far, on the list; he would perhaps be called on, as a
local author, to make some remarks; and he might meet the lecturer....

"Oh, but how splendid!" she cried, duly grateful.  "Just the very one I
wanted you to come to.  You really _are_ a dear!  And that's a late one
too, at eight o'clock, because the lecturer objected, so your old work
won't suffer after all!"

She talked of it for days to come, what great fun it would be, till
Hubert felt even more guilty.  He had never realised how much she felt
the fact of his not coming.  He had not ever heard, you see, dear Mrs.
Boyd say: "What!  No husband again?  I don't think you keep him in at
_all_ good order; does she, Kenneth?"--as one who should say, "You have
no power over him, at all!"  He did not guess how lonely she had felt
sometimes when Geoffrey Alison could not escort her.  Still he saw her
great keenness now and told himself he would have gone to these
lectures before--if only he had known they were not University
Extension.

He was distinctly flattered by the way she harped upon this small
concession.  Little things like that had a curious power of making
Hubert Brett well satisfied with life.

She could see that afresh, six mornings later.

He was opening his letters, a process which made breakfast quite a
nervous time for her, because one small reverse--no more than an
unflattering review--upset him so and sometimes ruined his whole
morning's work, which meant he would be silent and depressed at
lunch-time.

To-day, however, having opened first the only letter in an unknown hand
as promising the most adventure, he said with real exhilaration:

"Ah, that's encouraging.  That bucks one up!"

"What, good news, Hugh dear?" she inquired, delighted.

"Yes, the Kit Kat Club has asked me as its guest of honour."

Inwardly she was a little disappointed; she had hoped it would be some
money.

"How excellent!" she said, good wife; and then, "What _is_ the Kit Kat
Club?"

"Why, it's a well-known literary club," he answered, slightly hurt.
"They meet"--he read the card again--"at Lewisham."

"Capital!" she said: not because she had ever heard of Lewisham as a
great literary centre, but because he was so terrifically pleased.
"And when is it to be?"

"Very short notice," he said, looking once more at the invitation.
"This very Tuesday, January 29th.  Lucky we never dine out!"

"But Hugh," she began, oh so disappointed, and then stopped.  She had
told every one--well, Mrs. Boyd--that she was bringing Hugh this
time....

He understood.  "Why, it's the lecture or debate," he said.  "I _am_
sorry."  There clearly was no question which should go.  Then, much
more gently, remembering her keenness: "Never mind, little girl: we'll
find another nice debate.  Let's see the list and we will pick one now."

Treats, of course, are seldom a success the second time.  Helena, now,
did not dash for the list.  In fact Hubert, looking up, saw that great
tears were rolling down her cheeks.

She could have killed herself for shame.  It only proved how difficult
it was to be grown up, if you began too late!

And Hubert was not even touched by it.  The silly action had no
sanction in success.

He got up angrily, without a word, but making it clear that he had
thought her selfish.  He sat on the armchair and took up the
_Spectator_.  This announced that breakfast was now over.

Helena felt that his rebuke was thoroughly deserved.  What must he
think of her, when they took place each week and he had offered to come
to another?  Of course he didn't know about that rude pig, Mrs. Boyd!

"Hugh dear," she said, also getting up, "I am so sorry; I feel such a
beast.  It's only I was disappointed.  Of course my meeting's simply
nothing.  I ought to have been glad about the Kit Kats, and I am."

Some men, after that, would possibly have changed their minds and taken
her to her dear meeting; but to Hubert nothing came before success.

"That's a dear unselfish little wife," he answered soothingly and gave
her a forgiving kiss.  The episode was closed.

"You're sure it is the twenty-ninth of this month?" she therefore
angered him by asking.  Helena could not believe in Fate being so
brutal.

"Well, there's the card," he answered brusquely.

She took it up, filled with an abrupt, unchristian desire to tear it
into fragments.  It had a silly black cat in silhouette upon it and she
_had_ thought he would come at last....

"Why Klub with a K?" she did allow herself to ask.

"Just a literary conceit, I suppose," he answered, trying to control
his voice; and that silenced her, because she had no theories as to
what a literary conceit might be.

But Hubert could not quite allow the matter to rest there.  He felt
that she was thinking he had acted selfishly and he must prove to her
that everything would be all right.  What odd disguises can Remorse
assume!

"You can get Alison to take you," he threw out.  "He's sure to be
going."

"Oh no," answered Helena.  "I told him you were coming.  He'll be
booked.  No, I shan't go at all."

Face Mrs. Boyd exultant?  No, not she.  Afterwards, if needed, some
excuse.  But anyhow not that!  She had said she was bringing Hubert.

"That's silly, my dear."  He did not often call her that.  "Alison will
take you gladly, I know, or if not you can go alone.  You often have
before."

"Yes," she retorted, "but not when I've told every one that you were
taking me.  I have a little pride."

He shut his paper and got up.  He never could bear scenes.

"Just as you like," he said, trying to speak evenly.  "It's your
concern.  I was only thinking of your comfort.  Whatever you do won't
hurt _me_."

      *      *      *      *      *

A man can escape everything except himself; and so it chanced that
Hubert Brett felt a brute twice, repented twice, about one causerie.

He felt it most acutely in his little room.

He very nearly went back to her now, a second time, and said so; but
then he remembered what a nasty scene it had been, about nothing.  Of
course in the old anti-marriage days it had been his pet theory that
every wedded pair inevitably--by force of Nature, which meant every one
to dwell apart--ended in continued rows; but it had seemed so quite
impossible with Helena.  Perhaps it always did!...

So sweet and pliable and ignorant of life she had been--yes, this was a
new Helena and more like the old Ruth!

No, he would not go back.

He would be hanged if he encouraged her.



CHAPTER IX

CINDERELLA

Helena tried not to look as though she minded when Hubert came down,
glorious in evening dress at six o'clock.

"It _is_ an early start," she said cheerfully.

"Yes," he replied; "but that means I shall be home all the earlier.
The dinner begins at seven and I shan't make a long speech--trust
me--so you can expect me back not later than half past ten or eleven at
the very latest."

He just restrained himself from saying once more that he thought her
stupid not to go across to the Institute instead of moping all alone
till then.  Even so his farewell was a little cold for, though he kept
silence, he could not help feeling she had been selfish over the whole
business.  Her air of martyrdom had rubbed some gilt off the occasion's
splendour.

As for Helena, having waved him gaily out of sight, she did not return
and give way to a natural sorrow, as he imagined, typically penitent so
soon as he had parted from her.  She looked, it is true, hard and
thoughtful for a moment.  Then she laughed almost happily.  What did it
matter really?  It would only be one evening alone, one lecture
missed;--and who was Mrs. Boyd?  Why of course any one really nice
would be glad that her husband had been honoured by these beastly Kit
Kats, whoever they might be.

She sat down and wrote a long letter--about everything else in the
world--to her lonely mother, who after all never had any one at all to
dine with her, unless you counted clergymen.

That finished, it was dinner-time and that was fun because she had
ordered or brought in all her pet kickshaws--shrimps, dough-nuts and so
forth--which Hubert always vetoed, describing them expansively as dirty
feeding.  Men, she decided, got so little out of life; always beef and
cabbages and yesterday to-morrow....

It was really quite a philosophic meal.  She often was alone, for some
big part indeed in every day, but there was something in this first
lonely dinner that made a curious break and gave, as the French say, to
think.  She thought of her old life in Devonshire; she thought of her
ambitions towards self-development when she decided upon marriage; she
thought without pride of herself as she was at present; and she thought
of Hubert.

She had reached the dough-nut course, and also the conclusion that they
were an odd couple but probably most couples were, when the front door
bell sounded, as it always did, through the whole little house.

Helena looked at the clock.  Ten minutes to eight!  No parcel-post.
What could it be, possibly?  Not Hubert back?  She felt a quick shame
of the dough-nut.

It was beneath the table safely before Lily entered.

"Please'm," said the maid, "it's Mr. Alison wants to speak to you."

Helena went out into the hall.  "Hullo," she said, hoping he had not
expected dinner.  "Have you been to the Institute?  What was it like?"

"Been," he laughed.  "No!  It's only ten to eight.  This is an
eight-o'clocker, you know.  G. K. S. will never stand things at the
ordinary time!"

This was a blow.  Helena, not letting herself think of all that she was
missing, had yet fancied that it was safely over.  And it had not even
begun...  "Oh," was all that she said.

"I went along," Geoffrey Alison proceeded quickly, as though every
instant counted, "because I am a steward so had to be early, and asked
just out of curiosity where you were sitting.  They said, so to speak,
you weren't!  I knew you both intended coming so I ran across.  I've
got two tickets just returned, so if----"

"How very kind of you," said Helena, feeling that she could almost slay
him; "but it wasn't that we couldn't get in.  Hubert at the last moment
found that he wasn't free, so we sent our seats back.  He suddenly
remembered he was dining out."  She tried to make it sound as though
there had not been a tiff.

"Dining out?" repeated Geoffrey Alison, "Well then, you're free to come
along like all the other ones?"

"Oh no, thank you; I don't think I will," said Helena.  She had not
forgotten about Mrs. Boyd.

"But you simply _must_," replied the other, pulling out his watch.
"They'll be beginning if we don't make haste.  You couldn't miss this
possibly; it's far the best of the whole series.  Old Dr. Kenyon, too,
thinks art is a disease and intends asking questions.  It will be
tremendous.  Come along or you will make us late."

"But I'm not tidy or anything," said Helena.  Definite objections are
the first steep steps down from refusal to complaisance.

He recognised this.  "So much the better," he cried in prompt triumph.
"Unprepared things are always the best sport.  You don't need wraps;
it's like a summer night and you look very smart.  Come on!  Your
husband won't object.  It will be simply grand.  We'll have a picnic
causerie!"

Helena was swept away.  Bother Mrs. Boyd and every one!  It really
would be fun and she would be so bored at home.  Hubert had told her
she should go.  Besides--did she feel dimly, ever so little even, that
she was somehow getting even with him?  Let us pass quickly on, with
all the charity that we can muster....

The Institute was packed.  This was clearly a great night.

Helena, directly she entered the room, full of an excitement that had
almost the sensation of magnetic waves, was glad that she had come.
And as they found their seats, the chairman and the speaker entered.

That evening, as Mr. Alison had promised, was the jolliest of the whole
of the series.  She even enjoyed merely looking at this G. K. Shaw.

He was ever such a big man, who swelled genially outward and then ended
unexpectedly in quite a savage beard.  He looked so comfortable and
friendly that she felt certain all the nice things he meant to say (you
could tell from his eyes) got somehow twisted all wrong in that horrid
beard.

Certainly, to judge by mere words, there was a lot with which she could
not sympathise and some she could not understand.  If only Hubert had
been free!

He said, for instance, that conventional Religion was man's excuse to
the Almighty: that faith was the power of believing what we could not
prove untrue: and that churches should possibly be built, because of
unemployment, but left empty for the glory of their Maker.  All this
puzzled her, and Mr. Alison would only chuckle, while most others
grunted.  Then the lecturer got round to Art and said that life was the
Creator's masterpiece.  He roughly defined Art as that which never
found its way to paper.  He admitted the existence of a body of
literature and paintings.  He did not for a moment wish to conceal the
existence of the Royal Academy.  One corn-crake, however, did not cause
a winter: and he wished to-night to speak only about Art.  The modern
out-look was parochial and men failed to see even the parish for
looking at the clergymen.  An Artist had no fatherland.  He had the key
of the World: for paint was thicker than blood.  No two nations had
ever agreed on armaments or treaties: but all admitted that Farnese was
greater than Phil May.  The worry with the world to-day was not that it
was old: it was a million years too young.  No man troubled with the
future, because he knew that it must some day be the past.  Religion
hinted at the future: Art alone interpreted the present.  Five thousand
years had thrown mud at the workman: Brangwyn proved him the sole
dignified thing left in a dead-level age.  For centuries they had
destroyed old ruined tenements, and Bone had shown them to be the only
kind that ought to be allowed.  Art dealt with the beautiful and live;
the Church with what was gloomy and decayed.  You could not make people
wicked by Act of Parliament; the plain man was an artist when he shaved
his face.  Art was to the English what death had been to the Egyptians,
but London was full of things that no one ever spoke about.  There was,
for instance, the Imperial Institute.  It was better to be beautiful
than dead.  Some of those he met were neither.  He wished that they
were both.  He should be glad if any one would raise objections, for
their mutual advantage.  Every one was right and nobody was ever wrong.

There had been ever so much more than that, she knew; but this was all
she could recall when finally he took his seat, and now, already, she
was not altogether sure how it had been connected.  She was not by any
means convinced but she was tremendously encouraged.  New vistas of an
unsuspected length and freshness opened out from a drab world, whilst
the fat, bearded man was speaking.  Sometimes she supposed he must be
very funny?

"Capital, capital," murmured Mr. Alison, and only that.  He usually had
such a lot to say, too!  She was disappointed.

But now grimly and deliberately there uprose an elderly man of stern
broad face and a respectable frock-coat.  He must apologise for letting
his heavy periods drop on the top of the last speaker's brilliant
flippancies, but truth, he regretted to say, was truth.

"That's old Kenyon," her neighbour whispered gleefully.

The doctor, having said so much of calm preface as due to a visitor,
suddenly blazed out into a quicker time and a more violent mood.  So
far, he said, from Art being a religion, it was a disease.
(Sensation.)  He proved this at some length, largely in the dead
languages, with extracts read from small pamphlets which (he announced)
he had the honour to have contributed to various of the famous
Monthlies.

The soldier-type, he argued, was the most essentially male, 'and it was
furthest-moved from the artistic.  He went so far, in conclusion, as to
say that literary creation was only possible to a hybrid creature
half-male and half-female, of whichever sex.

The general feeling was that this was rude to Mr. G. K. Shaw.

The famous author rose, however, blandly and swung his body round to
Dr. Kenyon.

"Now there'll be some fun," said Geoffrey Alison.

"I consider," said Mr. G. K. Shaw quite gravely, holding his beard
steady, "that the last speaker's mongrel theory of literature is
plausible and valuable.  I am, however, puzzled as to how he accounts
for his own admirable pamphlets?"

Which certainly was fun and everybody laughed, to the annoyance of old
Dr. Kenyon, who was thenceforth nicknamed "Mongrel" and shortly after
moved to Wimbledon.

But beyond all this, Helena found a vague excitement in the evening.
It was not like those other causeries at six o'clock; she wished they
always could take place at eight.  The mere fact, too, of having come
so on the moment's spur lent quite a new attraction.  As Geoffrey
Alison had hinted, picnics are more romantic than a dinner-party and
this had bulked into almost an adventure.

He saw her home.  The speeches had been long and it was half-past ten
already, but all was darkness in the little house.

Helena had quite a feeling of nervousness at the idea of switching on
light after light, alone.  "Come along in," she said simply.
"Hubert'll be here in half a moment.  Then he'll give you a drink, and
we will all exchange experiences!"  All rancour had gone; yet--well,
she would rather like to show Hugh that his absence didn't mean she
merely sat and cried!  Women _are_ human--and women.

"No, I don't think I will, thanks very much," he said.

His face and tone puzzled her.  "Don't say _you_'re busy, now!" she
cried.  "It's a regular disease."

"Oh no, I never work at night," he answered.  "Artists can't very well.
That is the one advantage of our job!"

"Well don't be tiresome then, and come on in," she said, holding the
door open.  "Hugh will be furious if he knows you're just gone.  So
don't be stupid.  _I_ was tame, just now!"

"If you really mean it," he replied almost solemnly and entered.

"Of course I do," she laughed.  "Should I invite you, otherwise?  How
curious you are!  Come into the dining-room and then when Hugh comes,
he can give you--Oh no, let's come into here!"  She hastily pointed to
the drawing-room.

Geoffrey Alison went in, puzzled, thinking.

He did not know, and she had only just remembered, about that dough-bun.



CHAPTER X

HONOUR

Hubert meanwhile was enjoying quite another sort of artistic evening.
On first arrival, indeed, at the Club (which proved to meet in a Hotel
Coffee Room), he found himself wondering whether he might not have been
wiser in keeping to the old arrangement.  The Lewisham Kit Kats, on
entry to their circle, did not promise so much intellectual reward as
G. K. Shaw and the scorned Institute.  They had not the exotic charm of
their great prototype.

He had imagined, always, a band of young enthusiasts in Literature,
fresh maybe from the 'Varsity, who would be glad to hear what he had
got to say and welcome him to their--it might be--weekly dinner.  But
here were no evening suits except his own, of which he grew now only
too aware.  The common dress was dark suit, bow-tie, and moustache; or
with the women--for it was "mixed"--what he imagined would be blouse
and skirt.  They were a frowsy-looking lot, he told himself; horribly
genial; and he more than suspected them of being Bohemian.  There was a
tortured look of gladness upon every face.  They bowed elaborately and
shook hands with fervour, until the whole room buzzed with brotherly
salutes.  And Hubert, in his dress-suit, stood among them.  One by one
the members were brought up and all of them shook hands.  Not one among
the sixty who failed to be very proud to meet him.  Hubert sighed for
Helena and G. K. Shaw, finding his only means of consolation in
elaborating it as a good story.  He wished that he could say with truth
that they had not an _h_ among them, but this was not so.  He would
have liked them better, he decided, if that had been true.  They were
snobs in their own way, he felt confident, and their gentility was an
affair of effort.  They were that trying set, the in-betweens....

It was with genuine relief he heard that dinner was now served, and in
they trooped: he first with his allotted woman; the rest, all
apologetic smiles, falling in anyhow behind.  They settled at the
tables in a hungry silence.  Hubert could see the waiters smiling at
his evening dress,--or thought he could, which was equally unpleasant.
He turned hurriedly to his neighbour, whose name he had failed to catch
in his agitation.  He only remembered the friendly President murmuring
in his ear: "Her brother is a book-reviewer," as though that gave her a
niche all apart.

"How often do you have these dinners?" he decided to begin.

She aimed a toothy smile straight at him.  Hubert had never noticed how
unusually fat she was before, and tried hard not to seem as though he
had observed it now.  He looked doggedly at her light yellow hair, and
then looked down again when he saw that it was not real.

"I'm not a Kit Kat, you know, Mr. Hubert Brett," she answered coyly.
"They meet every Tuesday, but we ladies are only asked when there is
some special attraction, so you see you should feel very honoured!  I
find it most interesting" (she laid the accent upon the third
syllable), "because you see, my brother is a book reviewer, so I
naturally take a special interest."

"Naturally," answered Hubert.

"We always say," she went on, very animated, "just for a joke, you
know, only among ourselves, that the Kit Kats have a far gayer time
when we ladies are not admitted: we see them on their best behaviour!"

"Yes?" Hubert said absently, forgetting to smile or to live up in any
way to this pet joke amongst the ladies.  He was thinking.  "What does
your brother review for?" he enquired as a result.

The big lady looked on him a little sternly, not at all sure whether he
had not intended to be rude.  He had been very short with her
pleasantry, and now was he doubting about Harold?  He ought to know the
name.

"For several books," she said with dignity, and turned to the man on
her other side, who might not be a famous author but was the Mayor's
cousin and far less stuck-up.

Hubert knew that he had failed, and his other neighbour proved
unhappily to be deaf on the near side.  He spent the rest of a long and
essentially British meal in trying to appease the critic's sister.  It
was all rather difficult, and he was glad now that he had told the
President he must leave early, as his wife was nervous and he had a
long way to go.  He could escape a little before half-past nine and
they would be much happier without him.  He wished now that he had
refused the whole thing.  Still, it _was_ something to be chosen as the
guest of honour....

And, indeed, when all the meal had gone except its odour and the
President had facetiously announced that the ladies might now smoke, it
proved to be a very big thing indeed to be the Kit Kats' guest of
honour.

Even Hubert Brett's tried capacity for absorbing flattery was strained
when Mr. President, as everybody called him always, spoke minute after
minute in praise of his books: recalling their names (from a list
propped up on his cigar-tray), although he was sure Kit Kats would not
need reminding.  These sterling merits which he had just enumerated had
won, he said, for Hubert Brett, if he might drop the Mr. in Art's
fellowship (applause), a big following in Lewisham, and to-night's
event, he felt confident, would render it yet bigger.  Frankly, as
President, when he thought of this fixture he had felt pleased.
(Applause.)  Of the distinguished novelist's affability in acceding to
their desire in spite of the many calls upon his time and recent
marriage (laughter), he intended to say nothing.  (Some applause.)  He
here read out, he confessed with a certain pride, the names of
distinguished authors who had so acceded formerly, and Hubert was half
disappointed yet half flattered to find himself able to agree with the
President's remark that none of them was so popular or well-known an
author as their guest to-night.  "He has told me," slyly concluded the
orator, "that the trains home are bad and that his wife is sitting up
for him.  (Laughter.)  Those of us who are married men will
understand."  (Loud laughter and a high-voiced "Shame," then female
tittering.)  "I only pull aside the veil in this way so as to let you
realise why I draw my remarks short to-night and call upon our guest of
honour, Hubert Brett, for the pleasure of a few words upon the
literature of to-day, in which he plays so considerable a part."

Enormous applause greeted this conclusion and to it was added the
clapping of white gloves (for all the ladies wore them), as Hubert rose
and stood behind his chair.  Even the lady whose brother reviewed,
possibly melted by hearing that her neighbour was a genius to whom much
always is forgiven, smacked him playfully on the back as he got up to
speak.

He was not a good speaker and prudently had written out the headings of
his speech and a few epigrams that might pass as impromptu after wine.
There had not, unluckily, been any wine and all the early epigrams
passed quite unnoticed.  A speech devised for 'Varsity enthusiasts was
not of the true Kit Kat bouquet.

Hubert had so far got the instincts of an orator that he could realise
this fact.  The chilly aspect of his listeners told him that he had not
gripped them; a swift ranging back to the last speech supplied the
cause.  He was not broad enough in his effects.  They did not care for
theories on writing; they wanted something personal.  They wanted
reminiscences.  Their welcome, when he first got up, had shown they
took him seriously.  Nobody of his own set was there!  What harm?

Hubert Brett's speech (for no one ever used the Mr. of him afterwards)
is still remembered as the most enjoyable of all the Kit Kats ever
heard.  Such interesting people had he met and known, known well; such
vivid lights he threw upon the full life of a famous literary man.

No single member who got up to join in the discussion afterwards but
started with an eulogy of their guest's work and speech.

Hubert was very pleased.  He had warmed to the Kit Kat manner.  He
should not tell it as a comic story; it would not be fair.  After all,
perhaps they were not an artistic set, but then not everybody could
belong to that, and they were very genial.  You only had to get to know
them.  They were the Public anyhow, the class for whom one wrote, and
possibly they might have influence, some few of them.  This woman next
door, now so affable, had got a brother who reviewed for several
papers.  All of this must help.  It was absurd to be exclusive when one
came to Art.  He looked upon this evening as one of the most
encouraging in his whole life.  Wouldn't Helena be pleased to hear it
all?

And that reminded him.

With a hot shame he drew out his watch.

His speech had been long and one of many after a full dinner.  It was
very nearly half-past ten and a long journey home....

Full of guilt, he pulled himself together, to make his excuses.  There
was a gap now.  No one seemed to volunteer as speaker.  He----

But Mr. President was on his feet.  He must not interrupt.

"Gentlemen--_and_ Ladies!" said the President amid appreciative
laughter, "all the volunteers now being exhausted, I shall proceed in
accordance with Kit Kat tradition to call out the reserve and ask them
to speak, whether they wish it or no.  And the first gentleman I think
we all feel we should like to hear speak is our old valued friend and
excellent critic, Mr. Henry Jenks."

This met with such general applause that Hubert felt it would be
ridiculous to get up now.  It also would be rude and pointed.  Besides,
"critic"--did he mean professional?  It might be silly to offend him.
After all, these people who were asked to speak would surely be better,
their estimate of his work more worth while, than those who simply
wanted to hear their own voice?

Helena wouldn't mind.  She was so easy-going, bless her.  She would
love to hear.

To the flattered relief of a vigilant President, who had observed the
guest of honour's restless movement, Hubert settled once more in his
chair.

He would stay ... just a little.



CHAPTER XI

PINK PAPERS AND ST. ANTHONY

It is both easy and comforting to divide men simply into opposites.
Honest, dishonest; truthful, lying; clean, dirty;--what a lot of worry
it undoubtedly prevents.  You trust one person all the way, another
nowhere; you tell your secrets to the first and to the second nothing;
it is so simple that few people can resist it, when they come to life.
And it is good enough for working purposes.

But in reality it is not so.  A man all white or all black is but
rarely met: the last is soon removed, the first impossible for common
use.  Man was devised from a more subtle palette; and if in all the
millions of faces no two are alike, that is yet truer, said about the
heart.  The man you trust so freely has his see-saw moments, like
anybody else, and if as a rule he lands the right end down, it may have
been your very confidence that lent him weight.  It is the same with
all.  They must be entered for convenience beneath the colour which
they most display, but every one of them is a true moral rainbow and
much more.  Take it all in all, we humans are the most mixed thing that
any one has ever yet invented: the reason why some scorn all other
hobbies or amusements, so long as there is Man.

Geoffrey Alison was an especially odd mixture--all of course kept
rigidly inside.  To the mere eye he was, like most, quite simple,
almost to the point of dulness.  Oh yes; I see, yes; the artistic type;
a gentleman though; trustworthy but slack; quite modest although jolly
clever; pretty much of a white man...  But inwardly he was a thing to
watch because his types conflicted, and that ends with fireworks.

He joined the artist's soul--a real love for the beautiful and
noble--to what perhaps may be most easily described as a pink-paper
mind.  He could sit and gaze happily for hours at a Corregio,
forgetting the plush benches and the noisy tourists, utterly absorbed;
he found a joy that was almost physical in a sudden landscape or the
moon which breaks loose from its clouds and gleams on a rough sea; he
would watch with a smile of pleasure the way of a woman with her child
or a child with its toy; he shrank with loathing from all that was
ugly, sordid--the sight of needless misery or the sound of a woman's
oath; and yet--and yet he could not rid himself of the idea that there
was something palpitating, wicked, spicy, about a shop-girl who held up
her skirt to cross a muddy road.  There was a thrill for him each time
that he passed a stage-door.  Garters--champagne (always known as
fizz)--corsets--chorus girls--these all held for him a brimming measure
of romance.  He was convinced that there was something specially
cryptic and alluring about bar-maids, though he would never enter bars
as he did not like other people's glasses.  Paris to him stood for a
riot of continued orgies shaming a white dawn.  He was of those who for
peculiar reasons can thoroughly enjoy a really English ballet.  The
thought of studios and models had half consciously affected the choice
of his career; and if he now knew that to be illusion, so far as his
experiences went, he still liked--well, one half of him--to read the
old exciting fairy-tales.  Perhaps they happened somewhere, still.

At times, when he was on a holiday or anywhere except at his own
news-shop, he would buy, half-ashamed and furtive, those strange,
elemental papers whose main task it is to tickle the broad tastes of
City youths or Army officers.  And he thoroughly enjoyed them--until
afterwards.

Army men, in fact, who had glared at him all through a long
dinner-party, often revised their estimate when coffee had come in and
their wives departed; if, be it understood, the conversation drifted
into a right channel.  On the way home, should their wives say; "I
liked that Mr. Alison, so clever!" they would reply: "M'yes?  Rather an
affected ass, my dear: I can't stand those artistic johnnies.  Still,
he came out a bit over the wine and showed he _had_ got something in
him.  Not a bad fellow I dare say; bit of a sportsman possibly--in
spite of his long hair.  But I'm not sure we want to have him calling?"
Which only shows how useful it may be for any man to have two sides.
You never can please all the world with one!

Of course the one in question was entirely abstract.  Geoffrey Alison
would never have even dreamt of doing all the things he liked to read
on paper.  It would perhaps have been more healthy if he had; but no,
he realised, himself, that it was only an idea.

It was an idea, too, that he shared with no one.  His friends--artists
and authors--somehow were not amused by anything of that sort, although
the papers he enjoyed were read by millions.  It was curious!  He kept
it to himself, and that was bad as well.  To Hubert he had raised the
curtain for one moment, with those sketches of his own, but the
audience had not seemed keen for more.  And as for Helena--well,
inwardly Geoffrey Alison was an odd mixture; but he remained a
gentleman outside.

All the same, to-night was trying him a little hard.

Helena's friendliness had thrilled him from the day they met.  He had
never met a woman--anyhow not young and pretty--who had taken to him
like that from the first.  He never had regarded himself as a lady's
man; he was too small and timid; yet she had seemed to find nothing
wrong with him.  She had adopted him as her guide and philosopher in
art; gone about with him more, almost, than with that absurdly busy
fellow Brett; until the cattish vicar's wife----!

And now----!

Of course he knew that she was just a girl, and jolly innocent and all
that sort of thing (Brett liked to keep her back), but even so, any one
surely would admit that it was a little bit exciting and peculiar.  The
way she asked him in; and then he could not make out why she changed
her mind about the dining-room and came into the drawing-room where she
sat down upon the sofa and looked simply ripping.  It was all very odd!

Of course she was innocent and jolly, but he believed that she was fond
of him and some day he would love--when they were all alone like
this--if only half in fun--to give her just one kiss.  She surely
couldn't mind?  It would be splendid and exciting.  (It may be added
that Geoffrey Alison thought more of its excitement than its splendour.)

The very idea made being with her like this so difficult and trying.
He could not think of anything to say.  It all sounded wrong.

Even Helena noticed, at last.

"How dull you are to-night!" she said peevishly, for they were old
friends and she never troubled to sort out her words.  "I believe you
_did_ want to work or else had something else to do."

"Of course not," he protested, feeling horribly wronged in the
circumstances.  "This is awfully jolly."  Why couldn't he be natural?

Helena was not so confident about the jollity.  "Hugh _must_ be here
soon," she remarked rather wearily.

"Why do you call him Hugh?" he asked, jumping at a topic.  "Surely
that's not really short for Hubert?  It ought to be Bert!"

"Oh, how dare you?" she asked gaily; she felt that they had got back on
to the old easy paths.  "Bert indeed--for him!  I wonder how you----"
and she clapped her hands excitedly.  "Yes," she said, her boredom all
forgotten, "that's it!  I always thought that Mr. Alison was far too
stiff; I've got a name for you."

"For _me_?"  That silly blood was jumping in his brain.

"Yes," she cried.  "Ally!  I shall call you Ally, just like Ally
Sloper!  That's better than Bert."

Ally.  It was not romantic, no; but still----

Gad, what a ripping little girl she was!

He wished to goodness he hadn't ever thought about that kiss.  He could
have been ever so much more amusing, make her like him more, if only he
hadn't got that possibility before him.  And yet ... perhaps it was
worth while.

But Helena had no such abstract thrill to keep her eyes open and it was
well after eleven.  She wished now that Mr. Alison had not come in.
When Hubert got back, they'd sit and have drinks.  She wished that he
would go.  And how she longed to yawn!  If only he would even be
amusing....

"Have you seen my snap-shot album?" she asked.  In their two years of
friendship, it had never come to this before.

"No," he said.  "May I?" feeling very young.  He knew that he was being
entertained.

She leant down wearily to get it from the bookshelfs lower row.  Her
smooth white neck stretched in a rounded slope before him.  By Gad!
His hands moved restlessly towards her.  This was his great chance.
She might not even ever know!

And then--she was so innocent.  Suppose she boxed his ears or anything
like that?  Supposing she told Brett?...

"No, don't worry with it," he said, finding it quite hard to speak.  "I
think I'd better go.  It's too late for snap-shots!  He must have
missed his train."

"He'll be here any moment now," she felt compelled to say.

"I know," he answered meaningly, as though that explained his going.
She did not notice of course, was just puzzled for a moment, but it
gave him another thrill.  As he passed through the hall, with her
beside him, he saw the minute hand was nearer to midnight than to any
other hour; a very dissipated time....

And outside, in the little garden, he drew a long breath, as though to
set free the vanquished evil thoughts.  He felt he had been very good
to-night in face of opportunities for other things.

St. Anthony himself could not have felt much more complacent.



CHAPTER XII

DEVILS

Hubert groped his way homewards along the ill-lit road, filled by a
certain shame but also nearly chuckling to himself.

What a splendid, encouraging night it had been!  Those last and most
important speakers were if anything even more enthusiastic about all
his novels.  It was nice to get into touch with those for whom you
wrote and know that they are pleased.  It took away the great drawback
of a writer's job as compared with the vocalist's or actor's; that you
never heard the clapping.  (He did not, of course, think about the
hisses.)

Wouldn't Helena be glad to hear it all!

He had forgotten by now that there had been any trouble as to this
evening's fixture, remembering only how delighted she was always, bless
her, with his least success.  Imagine, now, if he were going back to
lonely digs--or Ruth!

By this time he had reached the crossroads whence the house is visible,
and now his bubbling pleasure suddenly went flat.  He could see their
bedroom windows from here, and there was no light....  He had told her
not to sit up, certainly, but he had naturally thought that she would
read in bed and keep awake to hear about the evening.  Of course he was
a little late; but still, he thought resentfully, she might----

Then he remembered.

How feminine!  She wished to spite him for deserting her in favour of
the Kit Kats!  She was asleep, or anyhow pretending, and thought to
punish him, like comic-paper husbands, by making him fumble his way
into bed in a considerate darkness!

He smiled at her simplicity.  How like her!  She knew nothing about
anything.  He'd soon show her how childish she had been.  He meant to
turn the light on and bang drawers and then--it really would be rather
comic to see her, like the child she was, pretending to awake.  In this
grim mood of resolution, creditable to a bullied sex, he turned into
his gate and as he moved slowly out into the dark garden from under the
thick ivy arch, was conscious of a male figure not three feet away.

Instantly his trained imagination nimbly leapt from point to point.  He
understood now why there was no light up there; he could fancy the poor
frightened girl listening to a scraping noise; the useless, snoring
servants; possibly a struggle, she was so brave----

God, if anything had happened to her!

In a second flash he had seen, for the first time possibly, how much
she meant to him.  We moan our tragedies and scarcely notice blessings
till they go.

And whilst his brain sped along those twin paths, his arm sprang out
and gripped the fellow by the throat.

"I say, Brett," cried a strangled voice, "it's me."

"Who is it?" asked Hubert.  "Alison?" and he released his hold.

"Yes," said the other, making sure that all his throat was there.
Brett, he ruefully reflected, was one of those big devils and big
devils never knew their strength.  "I've been taking your wife to the
causerie."

"Oh!" answered Hubert.  Perhaps it was excitement only, but he felt of
a sudden as though he could resume his grip with pleasure.  "It must
have been a long affair."

The sneer was obvious.  He never had been jealous about Helena
before--but things were happening to-night.

"Oh," laughed the other apologetically: and Hubert realised what an ass
he was, wondered why he had ever got to know him, "we've been in some
time."

"I see," said Hubert.  "Well, good-night."  He could not trust himself
much longer.  It was so dark, and that grip had been vaguely satisfying
to some primæval side of him....

Geoffrey Alison returned the greeting and slid away with definite
relief.  He had not liked the way that Brett said that "I see."  It was
so obvious he did.  And then about the causerie having been long----!

When he grew cooler, sitting in the tube, he began to wonder nervously
how this would affect his friendship with Helena (he always thought of
her as that), and looked rather doubtfully along the future.  Well, he
should see.  He wouldn't call again until she wrote.

Only one thing was certain.  Her husband suspected him--and he felt
wickeder than ever....

Hubert meanwhile let himself into the dark hall and merely throwing
down his hat, without taking off his coat, strode full of war into the
drawing-room.  Helena had just finished the postponed yawn with some
luxuriance and decided that Mr. Alison must get up very early and do
all his work then, and that made him so dull at night.  She turned
delightedly as the door opened.  Good: Hugh already!

"Helena," he said, storming in, "why did you pretend you weren't going
to the show to-night?"

"What _do_ you mean, Hugh?" she asked, utterly surprised.  "I wasn't."
She hoped that he had not been drinking.  Men, she believed, mostly did
when they got out alone.

"You must think me a fool," he said.  "But I don't intend to have an
argument about it.  I only want to say at once that I think it would be
far better if you saw less of your friend Mr. Alison.  I meant to say
it anyhow.  People are talking."

"But I don't understand," she faltered, almost as a question.

He laughed scornfully.  "I know you're ignorant but you are not a fool,
so don't pretend you are.  Of course married women don't need
chaperons, I know all that, but a mere girl like you and that young ass
and almost midnight--but don't let's go into all that."  He calmed
himself, swallowing his wrath, and said more gently; "I know it's all
right really, dear, don't think I don't, it's only--well, you know what
people say."

"_What_ do they say?" she asked indignantly.

"As you ask," he answered, letting the words out coldly, "I heard one
man telling another at the Golf Club yesterday that Mrs. Herbertson was
saying she had not yet found out whether Alison or I was Mr. Brett, but
thought _he_ was as you saw more of him.  That's a local joke!  It's
jolly, isn't it?"

"_I_ think it's disgusting," she answered oddly calm.  "I shouldn't
ever care what people with that sort of mind think."

"Well _I_ do," he almost shouted at her, "and I want you to understand
as my wife that I forbid you to see that young Alison again.  I don't
know anything about him except that I did him a favour once.  And I
don't mean to have it."

"I think you're excited," she said calmly, not at all like the child
that he had always known.  She gathered new strength from his sudden
weakness.  One of them must have reserve.

"Excited!" he mocked.  "Well, who wouldn't be?  A dirty-minded little
cad like that!"

"Hubert," she said roused at last, "you've got no right to call him
that.  It's you and Mrs. Herbertson and every one that have the dirty
minds.  I don't know what you think.  He's not a cad.  He's _your_
friend and I like him.  He's been nice to me."  A devil tempted her,
urging her on beyond the point of a good friend's defence.  "I'm very
fond of him," she said, provocatively.

And then that devil entered into Hubert Brett.  It had been a full
night and excitement all the way.  He had not yet recovered from that
garden scene.  And now, listening to her words, hearing his rival
praised, he felt again as he had felt when he thought that some harm
had come to her.  He seized her in his arms with an unreasoning
passion; held her there, resisting; kissed her furiously on lips, eyes,
everywhere; laughing and saying: "You are mine, mine.  You belong to
me, I tell you.  You're all mine!"

"Let me go, Hubert," she cried terrified.  She could not understand.

He let her go, at that.  She moved away and stood behind the table, as
though that gave her protection.  He gazed at her smiling, panting.

"I'm sorry," he said presently.  "It was your fault: you were so
maddening.  You don't see what it means to me."

The little gods of Comedy laughed out upon the tragic spectacle of a
man released by oddly joined emotions from his chains of Self and a
wife who wondered in fear whether Kit Kats drank champagne....

"And how did the dinner go off?" she asked soon, in her usual tones.



CHAPTER XIII

SECRETS

Helena came to the conclusion that her mother had been right in one
point: life was difficult.  She decided further that it was the Mrs.
Herbertsons who caused the trouble.  Things would be all right if no
one ever thought about them!

But she had Consolations beyond this Philosophy.

For one thing, Hubert almost instantly relented, the next day to be
precise, about poor Mr. Alison.  She, giving way in turn, had said she
would appease the vicar's wife and golfers by seeing less of him.  So
all that stupid fuss was over.

This, however, was not the real Consolation.  No, she had a secret.

Helena Brett's secret was not a typically wifely one.  It was based,
rather, on her childish games.  Every little girl has secrets--to the
scorn of boys--and when, like Helena, she is an only child, she has
them to herself.  Of course it is less satisfactory, because although
by its nature even a pretending secret needs but one, the whole fun
lies in telling it to some one else.

Helena told no one about hers.  And it was much more thrilling than
those early Devonshire affairs, which largely hinged on the exact
position of a fast-decaying mole.

The secret differed too from those of many wives in this, that it was
all about a woman; a woman she had never met, a woman she could never
meet.

For over a year now, since causeries and lectures on assorted topics
began to fit into a shapeless enough whole--a something that explained
or might explain what Helena called "Things"--she had put stray
thoughts down into a shilling diary.  At first they had been merely
sentences that touched her or inspired, things heard and read.  Then as
her mind began to feel its way, she wrote these extracts down, and half
ashamed at first, though nobody would ever see them, added her comments
on their theories.  How elementary the first had been!  She blushed,
re-reading them.  "'The best pilots are ashore'" (ran one on page two).
"Then are they really pilots?"

Soon, as was to be expected, she could not endure these accusing words,
even herself; and throwing the slim volume pell-mell in the fire,
bought and embarked upon a more ambitious tome.

Then indeed began the proper secret, for up till now though nobody had
ever known, (she could hear Hubert laughing at her and calling her "so
refreshing" ...) it had not been tremendously exciting.

Now it was, however, for the new book, started ambitiously enough as a
sort of brief record of her daily moods--she had so much time now that
she saw less of Geoffrey Alison--gradually burgeoned into something
even more colossal.

They never had been quite her own sensations in this second volume.
Those were so extremely dull!  No, they had been those of some one like
herself: a young wife with a busy husband, some one who felt a fool and
wanted not to, wanted very much, but he quite liked it really----oh
yes, sometimes, the first day or two, she felt a cad.  Hubert really
wasn't the least bit like that; it was all over-done; but she supposed
that it was easier--he always said it was--if you exaggerated than if
you just kept to the truth.  It all seemed rather horrid, somehow.  She
thought about tearing up the book.

And then--just about the time of the Kit Kat affair--began the real,
astounding, secret.

Virginia, as she called the wife inwardly (for it was all in the first
person)--Virginia began to grow!

It was not Helena's own moods and feelings now that went upon the
paper: something endlessly more thorough, more intense, more--well,
Helena's own word was "sloppy."

Frankly she despised Virginia.  That scene about the Kit Kats came into
her diary (it was not Helena's), quite different, about a different
thing in fact, and more hysterical.  She hoped she would not end up
like Virginia!  Yet in a way she saw herself there too, just as beneath
the husband she could detect ever so cruel a parody of Hubert in his
most naughty moments....

But oh, what fun it was!

When Hubert got up nowadays with some remark like; "Well, _I_ must do
my work!" she no longer felt lonely or out in the cold or inferior or
anything.  She just said to herself: "And so must I."

It was too splendid, having secrets.

She told nobody; not even Ally, who liked her to be ambitious.

No, it was her secret.



CHAPTER XIV

WAS IT WORTH WHILE?

Love in a cottage is admittedly no failure, quite delightful; but those
who have tried it usually end by owning that love in comfort would be
no less charming.

So it was with Hubert.

Nobody, he told himself, could be a better little housekeeper than
Helena, no little home more fresh and dainty than their own: but though
she never worried him, cleverly adapting their ways to a variable
income, he was always faced by the uncomfortable thought: "If this book
fails--" or "unless I write some short stories--" and after a while
these things begin to tell.  Within two years from marriage they had
told upon Hubert Brett.

And so had come into being that pot-boiler, confessed to Helena with
such solemnity on the wide, prudent, spaces of the Heath.

At first he had thought that it would be a hardship to exchange his own
realistic method, his studies of character, for those banalities of
plot and action independent of all motive, which wearied him even when
read, boiled down, in a magazine.  But slowly his mood of cynical
disdain changed to a real enjoyment, for any task is splendid so soon
as a man gets at firm grips with it.  He began to see that when once
you had got rid of the idea that action must proceed from character,
there was a certain joy in letting wild event pile up on wild event and
then be rapidly forgotten under even wilder.  When once you had
abandoned all reserve, there was a fierce delight in splashing pages
with unfettered sentiment; making frank puppets think, love, and
renounce as they had thought, loved, and renounced since the old fruity
days of the three-volume novel.  Of course it was all footle,
balderdash, but still (he told himself with pride) it was good footle,
splendid balderdash.  He had bought some of the most "popular" of
recent novels in six-penny editions, novels that had brought fortunes
to their authors, and by comparison with his, they did the same thing
in a bungling manner.  No able novelist, he cynically told his wife,
had ever tried till now to write a really good bad novel!

Helena loathed the whole enterprise, not only because she vaguely felt
that it was marriage with her which had made it needful, but because
she thought it so unworthy.  And not least unworthy, not least
loathsome, did she find his way of talking.  It had been so splendid to
hear him speak about his work in the old days: and now it was so
horrible.

"I've found a title at last," he said, emerging at lunch-time one day
when the book was in its revision-stage, and coming to her in the
drawing-room as usual.

"Hooray!" she cried, genuinely pleased because he had been worried as
to that and this would mean a cheery walk.  "What is it?  Is it good?"

"Couldn't be better," he replied, and as usual she missed the irony.
He paused and then; "_Was It Worth While?_"

"Oh, Hugh," she could not help exclaiming.  "That _isn't_ the title?"

"Don't you like it?" he enquired sardonically and let himself down
cheerily upon the sofa.

Helena of late had begun to express quite elaborate opinions even to
Hubert, who somehow always terrified her, rather, when it came to
intellect.  He was so much cleverer, she knew, and never seemed to take
her views as anything except a joke.  She always spoke a little
timidly.  He would have been surprised to hear how cleverly she talked
to Alison and others.  But that is true of many married couples.

"No," she began slowly.  "It's so--I don't know, but--well, so cheap.
All your others were so dignified and simple; I think _Wandering Stars_
was simply excellent; but this--it sort of reminds me of those plays
with names like _Did She Do It?_  You know what I mean!"

Hubert smiled grimly.  "You seem to think I'm trying to be dignified.
Not a bit of it: we're out for money!  Money, my dear Helena: no more
worry about bills, and our own motor-car!"  She could not bring herself
to be amused and he went on more moodily: "Do you imagine any woman
wants novels with titles that are dignified? and men aren't fools
enough to read them.  Of course you picked out my best seller for your
argument; but look at _The Bread of Idleness_.  That was dignified
enough and splendidly reviewed and sold two thousand copies; just about
a hundred pounds for me for one year's work!  No thanks, I've done with
dignity, _pro tem_.  There may be just about two thousand women with a
taste in dignity, but I want all the shop-girls this time: I'm out for
my hundred thousand!  I want them when they go to the seaside library
and pay their twopences to notice _Was It Worth While?_ in big letters
on a purple ground.  That'll make them think!  No more dignity for me:
you want to make them think, to make them wonder "Why?"  I'd call the
book _Why Smith Left Home_, if only it was new."

She did not answer for a few moments: then she said very gently but
with a new firmness; "Hugh dear, is it really necessary to do all this?
Can't we just go on as we have been doing?  I dare say I could manage
better, really, and I've often told you I simply don't know what to do
with my allowance: it's eating its head off in the bank!  Surely we're
not so hard up as all that?  I hate the whole idea."

"What whole idea?" he asked coldly.  One did look for encouragement
from one's own wife.  He got up to leave her.

"This pot-boiler, as you call it; the title; the way you talk about it;
everything.  It's all so different, and I've been so proud of the
others."  She gathered courage and went on: "Look here, Hugh, why not
give it up; start on a really good one that'll help your name; and
we'll live meanwhile on all that from my allowance in the bank?"  She
rose and took him by the arm persuasively.

"My dear child," he said with condescension, "you seem to think it's
all just money.  Tear the whole book up?  Don't worry your little head
with such things, but just go and see if Lily can't give us some early
lunch and then we'll go to Kew for tea!"

Helena, released with a kiss, went out feeling oddly rebellious in
spite of the Kew treat; and as for him, he was annoyed.  Give it up,
indeed!  She talked as though "all this" (for she had called it that)
were something criminal, instead of merely a book that was bound to
sell!  He certainly had no idea of sacrificing all his work for her
absurd dislikes....

Even the best artists do not so much object to popularity, when they
reach thirty-eight.

Hubert Brett, indeed, was more excited over this novel's birth than
over that of any other.  Almost every day he had to go up to see agent,
publisher, or editor.  He told Helena, as his excuse for leaving her so
much, that it was most important this book, as a "popular" one, should
be widely advertised and publishers were such eternal fools about that
sort of thing.  They always spent all their money upon other people's
trash and then said they could not afford to help on your own books!

As the day for publishing drew nearer, this theory bulked almost into
an obsession.  Helena came to dread the paper boy's arrival.  Hubert
would tear the dailies open, dash by instinct to the literary page, and
then give a discordant laugh of scorn or anger.

"Of course not," he would say.  "They won't tell any one till it's been
out a week!  They mean to keep it dark, trust them!"

"I dare say they're saving up for later on, dear," was her soothing
reply.  It was not always she, by now, who was the child.

But he would not be soothed.

Helena was glad when the day arrived, although it was a nervous time.
He had been full, the night before, of how amusing it would be to hear
the critics slang him for a change, instead of finding all those dull
superlatives that put the public off: but remembering his past fury
with those few reviews which found some blemish in his work, she had
her misgivings.

"Only I expect," she said, "it may seem rather curious at first--having
bad notices, I mean."  She looked across at him covertly and anxiously.
She had begun, by now, to knit waistcoats for him and felt as though
they had been married for eternity.

Hubert, lounging idly in the other armchair, merely laughed.  "Curious?
Well, amusing....  It'll certainly be something new to be slated by the
critics and rushed after by the libraries.  It's usually been the other
way about!"  He knew, himself, that he would feel the blame from
critics who had liked his work, but then----  After all, if the readers
liked it and were thousands where they had been hundreds----!  And
there was the money....

Next morning the paper boy delivered a specially large roll of papers
and Hubert flung himself upon them with unusual vigour.  Helena, her
eyes fixed on a letter where the words all flickered, was anxious to
what might seem an unjustified extent.  She could just see him with one
corner of her eye.

Paper after paper was torn open; his gaze ran greedily along the
columns; but he never paused to read.

At length he flung the last one down with a fierce gesture.

"It's a boycott," he cried petulantly.  "I've always had at least two
notices, for years, upon the day.  We sent them out early on purpose.
It's nothing but a boycott."

He seemed to find some consolation in that word with its historical
immensity.

"How too bad, dearest," murmured Helena, in duty and with a sinking
heart.  She saw no cause for any boycott.  And she knew that his other
novels had better deserved any privilege.

On four dreary mornings the same tragic farce took place, and also with
the evening papers.  Then on the fifth day Hubert's fast-travelling
eyes stopped abruptly, he said "Ha!" and then read out with a naïve joy
"_Was It Worth While?_"

"Good," exclaimed Helena, still doubtful.

Suddenly he gave a wild laugh.  "I like that," he said.  "That is
rich."  He put the paper down very gently on the table.  Then he raised
the cover from the buttered eggs.

"What is it, dear?" she compelled herself to ask.

"They say," announced Hubert in extremely level tones, "this habit of
publishing a well-known author's early works as new is one that has
grown far too common."

Then, letting himself go; "Early works?  I'll show them!  It is
libellous.  I can prove my case to the hilt."

"I shouldn't worry with them," she said, feeling inadequate.  "Perhaps
it will just make the book sell?  We expected them to be all nasty,
didn't we?"  She tried to speak brightly.  Then an inspiration came to
her.  "Perhaps there are some better ones?" she said.  The great thing
would be to divert his mind.  A law-case would be terrible.  Nobody got
anything, ever, except the barristers.

He passed the heap of unopened papers scornfully across to her.  "You
look at them," he said.  "I don't know why I do or why one cares.
They're just a pack of failures.  I always despise myself for looking
at their stuff at all."  He opened a letter with unneeded violence.

With slow unpractised fingers Helena began to search for reviews.  "No,
no," she said at each, until she thought (he was so quiet), that this
might be annoying him and went on with her task in silence.

Then her hands suddenly clutched the paper tightly, symbolic of her
effort to say nothing, for her eyes had caught the heading, _Was It
Worth While?_  The notice ran to half a column and this was an
important paper.  She blessed her cleverness in having looked.

One moment later, she was blessing her forethought in not saying
anything.  For this was the review:


"_Was It Worth While?_

"For some time now it has been an interesting question, with those who
can find any interest at all in the popular novels of to-day, as to
what exactly may be the peculiar touchstone of popularity.  We can most
of us recall the names of two or three books which have run into their
quarter of a million copies, according to advertisements: and in
reading them hungrily for a solution of the problem, we have been more
than a little astounded by the crudeness of the fare submitted.  We
have been unwilling, as good optimists of human nature, to believe that
mere literary vices can account for any library demand.

"Mr. Hubert Brett, perhaps unconsciously, has done us a good service.
We do not, let it be premised at once, refer to our gratitude for his
latest novel.  Some of Mr. Brett's work, notably _Splendid Misery_ and
_The Bread of Idleness_, has been praised in these columns for the
sincere attempt which the author made in it to get at grips with the
problems of real life, forgetting (as few authors can) the fictionists
who went before him.  In _Was It Worth While?_ he seems to have
thought, for a change, of almost nothing else.  The book is a weird
salad of remembered scenes, an olla podrida of episodes we wish we
could forget.  It would be wasting time and space indeed to attempt
synopsis of Mr. Brett's astounding tale--for it is not a novel, however
one define that vaguest of all literary products.  By lumping together
the worst and cheapest portion of all the bad and clap-trap tales which
have seen light since printing was unhappily invented, one may arrive
at a far better notion of this book than can be gained by wading
through its crowded pages.  The process, let us add, is also less
fatiguing.

"But this is where Mr. Brett has done us, we repeat, a service.  _Was
It Worth While?_ (the name alone is symptomatic) has all the qualities
of its successful predecessors: the well-worn types, that call for no
brain-effort after work; the utterly untrammelled sentiment; the
shapeless slices of religion: he has put into his salad all the right
ingredients, except one, which he, less lucky than the other cooks, did
not possess.  And that ingredient, we now believe, is no less than
sincerity.  The other writers have done this sort of thing well,
because they could do no better; and whilst the large public applauded,
we have pitied.  Mr. Brett has done this sort of thing, although he can
do better; and whilst the public will see through him, we despise his
effort.  Into his motives it would be impertinent to enquire.  Perhaps,
after all, the book is a mere literary squib.  Mr. Brett, it well may
be, has no desire to gull the public into a belief in his weak
sentiment and crude religion: he wishes to deride those qualities in
others.  If so, we congratulate and thank him once again: we understand
at last the essential quality (and it is, we confess, a fine one) in
the Library big-seller.  On any other ground, however, it certainly was
not _Worth While_."


Helena did not dare to read all down the column.  She read the last
words and she bit her lips to keep back tears of which she was ashamed.
She knew that it was true--and she hated, loathed the man or woman who
had written it.  She would give anything, all she possessed, all that
poor Hubert had thought he would make from the horrid book, to spare
him this review: to shield him from the pain that she knew it was bound
to give him.

"Found one?" he asked.  Her hands almost dropped the paper.

"No," she said.  "There don't seem any more, unless I've managed to
miss one.  Now I'm seeing what has happened!"  And she contrived to
laugh.

He appeared to feel relief rather than disappointment.

"You don't often do that," he said cheerily enough.  "I thought you
despised politics and everything like that?"

"I don't often get the chance to read them," she said and hurriedly
turned on to the next page, "considering you always cling firmly to the
D.T. till I've got to begin my housework!"  This last was her name for
what he, in a Yankee spirit, nicknamed "chores."

So for the moment that danger was averted, but Helena knew it was
really no more than postponed, and long before the day was over, wished
that she had faced it instantly.

When he came in to her just before dinner she knew that he had seen
before he spoke a word.  He drew the notice, neatly cut out, from his
pocket, and she made a pretence of reading it.

"It's merely spite," was all he said.  "How dare they call me
insincere?  They know it's a good seller and that's just what they
can't stand.  I've written to the editor and I hope I get that swine
the boot."

"Is that very kind, dear?" she asked.  "It's his job, you know, and you
said bad reviews would sell the book."

He gave an angry snort.  "Yes, I dare say, but not this kind.  No plot,
nothing except that its fatiguing and _may_ be a burlesque.  English
people hate being puzzled even more than they hate being bored."

This saying had the effect, she thought, of cheering him a little, for
he gave a sardonic laugh and said:

"Well, no matter, let them do their worst.  Trust the public later on
to find out that the novel's bad! ... When's dinner?"



CHAPTER XV

DISCOVERIES

An Ethical Society might pass a winter's evening in this debate: Does
it need more strength to endure failure or to bear success?  The
dangers upon either road stand out easily, for all but the actual
wayfarer.  By the one he may fall into the slough of Bitterness, whilst
the other, far more pleasant as it draws him on, may lead to no more
than the pitiable, luxurious cities of Arrogance and Meanness.

The problem certainly needs no elaboration in this place, since
Hubert's path lay all too clearly towards failure.  "I fear," wrote his
publisher as an old friend, "it is no use concealing the fact that
people do not want the book.  There have as yet been no repeat orders
from libraries or booksellers.  We can only face the fact and hope to
do better with the next.  As you know, in my opinion the book was not
up to your usual high level."

"Who wants his damned opinion?" growled Hubert out loud, though alone,
and crumpled up the letter.  Why, publishers weren't even critics!

As to these last, their unanimity for once was wonderful.

There are ingenious authors who amuse themselves by printing excerpts
from reviews of their last novel, alternately conflicting, thuswise;
"An able novel: _Tooting Sentinel_.  Weak and formless: _Times_.  An
arresting piece of work, whoever by: _Stafford News_.  An amateur
affair: _Standard_;"--thinking in this manner to have blackened for
evermore the ancient art of Criticism in any decent-minded person's
eyes.  They scarcely realise, poor injured souls, that the thing is an
Art.  Were it but a machine, it doubtless would attain the same result
from each book, whether put before it by a Fleet Street expert or a
Stafford tyro.  Because it is an Art, however, and all Art is merely
the expression of an individual emotion, it follows that each book must
react on every critic in a different way.  These notices, so pompous
with _The Times_ or _Stafford News_ above them, are not worked out with
prayer by the whole paper's staff; they stand for one opinion, no
less--and no more--than the opinion of a woman-reader over the
tea-tray.  Opinions, moreover, vary; praise to God!  How fresh and
hopeful, what a message, seems this story to the un-read Staffordian;
how stale and hopeless, what an ancient dish, it appears to him of
Printing House Square, who has read more than he can hope ever to
forget!

And yet beneath it all there is a principle.  Bad Of Its Sort is bad,
whatever sort one likes; which is all Plato's Ideas in a convenient
nutshell.

And every one agreed that _Was it Worth While?_ was bad of its sort.
It tried to be something it was not, and what can be more shocking?

Hubert, then, had an admirable chance of showing what effect a failure,
after some years of moderate success, had on his character; and took it
to the full.  As the reviews came in, he grew more and more violent.
It was not many days before he countermanded all the extra papers, but
his faithful Press-Cutters sent in the notices religiously and he could
not help reading them.  Helena would come down first (she always did)
at breakfast time and hide the small green envelopes, which then
arrived by the last post and were brought in at 9 p.m. by the
complaisant Lily.

Then what a flow of words!  Poor critics, publishers, and readers; what
a set they were, how blind, how asinine, how spiteful!  Sometimes he
would at once go to his study and write a reply, which Helena did not
in every case succeed in rescuing before it got into the pillar-box,
though certainly her score was bigger.

It was a trying month and he did not spare even her.  When there were
no reviews to tear verbally--and sometimes other ways--in fragments, he
would moan plaintively that this meant he would never get another sou
out of the book beyond the small advance already paid, and nobody would
want to read the next one either, and Heaven knew how they would pay
the house-bills.

"I don't suppose any one will even publish it," he would say, almost
gloating, like a schoolboy probing his cut finger.

"Oh, Hugh!" she cried, believing him, "it does seem awful.  And to
think you were so successful till you married me and had to write this
terrible pot-boiler.  Oh, how I wish you'd never done it!"

"What, married you?" he asked, suddenly laughing.  "Bother shop!  Come
along out and see if we can't find a good stick to throw for the
hound;" and as he passed, he kissed her on the hair and drew her up on
to her feet.

His moods were so abrupt, just now, that sometimes she grew frightened.

It was lucky, then, that she had got her consolation; the great secret.
Geoffrey Alison was far less frequent in the house these days, not
having totally forgotten yet that grip upon his throat, and she would
have been very desolate when Hubert was locked in with his work if she
could not have flown excitedly to hers.  Absorbed entirely in the
opinion and career of the increasingly contemptible Virginia, she found
herself free for a while from all the worries of real life, returning
to them with a mind refreshed as by the most luxurious of sleep; the
reason why there will be always writers, even when cinemas and cheap
editions have made it not a paid, but an extravagant, profession.

So utterly absorbed was she, indeed, about six weeks after the fatal
day of publication, that the drawing-room door was open before she had
noticed any warning noise outside.  Helena realised that it was far too
late by now to hide the sheets of manuscript and substitute a letter,
as she always did.  Any attempt like that would only make detection
certain--and far worse.

To her relief it was not Hubert, only Mr. Alison, with Lily holding the
door open.  She would not so much mind his knowing--he was so
encouraging--supposing that he noticed.

And this of course he promptly did.

"Hullo!" was in fact his very first remark.  "Are you too among the
authors?"  He waved his hand towards the little pile of manuscript that
should have been inside a drawer.

"Yes," she said, hoping that she was not blushing.  "But not too loud
as it's an awful secret.  Hubert doesn't know."

He tip-toed at it with exaggerated caution.  "Oh-ho!" he whispered.
"Then I guess: it's all about him!  It is a safety-valve."

This was a little joke: they were devoted, he knew, though he could
never understand what she saw in the great, conceited, selfish brute:
but Helena felt sure now that the blush was there.

"No," she was bound to answer, and when he asked, "Fiction?" in
surprise, it must be "Yes."  And so it was, by now, she argued.  A
safety-valve at first perhaps, because Hugh seemed to loathe her having
even the most usual ideas, but fiction certainly by now, for the ideas
of Virginia were not her own ideas; the silly, sloppy thing!

"I'm going to read it please," he said and began collecting the loose
pages (the book had long ago been cast aside).

"Certainly not," she answered, very dignified, and trying to forget
that they were the words of a comic song she had heard on the
gramophone.

"Oh, but yes," he answered.

"Give it to me," she said, turning now to melodrama for her
catch-phrase.

He held the prize by sitting on it.  "Listen," he began, as staidly
argumentative as though he had been drunk: and then he paused.  "If you
let me read it," he said presently, "I'll tell you what I think of it
and I bet it's original.  If you don't let me read it, I shall
tell--your husband!"

"You wouldn't be such a cad," she answered.  She never knew when he was
serious, because he often looked most funny then.

"I'm not so sure," he said.  "Anyhow let me?  I'll begin to-night."

"You won't do that," she retorted laughingly, "because the first bit's
in a volume, locked away upstairs."

He whistled.  "What!  An opus?  Tut!  Now don't be selfish.  When you
first wanted to know about Art, I told you all I could, and now you're
doing things, I think it's only fair that I should be the first to see."

He looked so funny, leaning forward eagerly yet taking care to keep his
weight still on the manuscript, that she laughed heartily.  He surely
wasn't serious now?

He looked extremely hurt.  "Very well," he said, getting up.  "If you
think it's so funny, that's all right.  I suppose, now, you've done
with me: you've got all out of me you needed: so now you don't even
tell me that you're trying to create."  He got up from the bureau with
much dignity and moved towards the door.  One sheet of the manuscript
stuck to his clothes until he reached the centre-table.  She was just
wondering what to do about this, when it fluttered downward.  That
broke her inaction.

"Oh, no," she said, "don't be stuffy.  I never meant it.  I thought you
were being ironical about my 'art' and I can't ever see it.  Please
don't be offended, Ally."  In spite of her announced resolve she hardly
ever called him that, and now she said it with a slight burr, dwelling
on it till the name became a thing of beauty, almost a caress.

He wavered at the door; but he was shrewd in business by heredity.
"Well, will you let me read it?" he said firmly.

"Yes, if you really want to," she replied.  "I'll fetch the other
half."  Secretly she longed for an opinion, and she would never dare to
ask for Hubert's.  "Promise not to look at this bit," she said, coy as
a young singer.  "I couldn't bear you to see it till you are right
away."

He promised and she left him to his thoughts, which were of an
expectant nature.  She was a girl that he had never really understood
(in actual practice he had very small experience of girls), and he knew
well enough that first books, even when all fiction, are half true.  He
was amused inwardly at her simplicity in lending him the manuscript.

She came back with something like a baby scrap-book in her hand.  "I
got bored with writing in this," she said.  "It was so uncomfortable,
the edges cut my hand."  Then, as though half repenting; "You must
promise not to look at it till you get home and never to tell Hubert."

"Is that likely?" he asked, referring to the last condition.  It made
the business far more thrilling.

He had the common sense, however, to see that she was already doubtful
of her wisdom: so that as soon as volume and loose sheets were in his
hand, he changed the subject tactfully.

"Well," he asked, "and how is the new book going?"

"Oh, isn't it awful?" Helena replied.  "I don't know if I ought to tell
you, but it's not sold at all: not, I mean, except those sold before
publication and I never understand quite how that happens."

"Then I expect it's good," said Geoffrey Alison a trifle cheaply.

Helena replied with emphasis, as though rebutting a grave charge.
"_No_, not at all.  That's just it: it's much worse than his other
ones.  He's in an awful way.  I don't believe he's sold a thousand
copies!"

"My dear Mrs. Brett," he said (he always hated calling her that, but he
dared not embark on "Helena"), "comfort yourself with the idea that a
thousand copies is a very good sale for any decent novel.  Each copy,
after all, is read by twenty people in these days of libraries, so that
means twenty thousand readers.  Of course if Hubert wrote for
shop-girls, he might find a million: but do you think that any really
serious study of real life--the sort of book that simply gets at
character and doesn't fuss with plot: the real, artistic novel--is
going to find more than twenty thousand people in dull old England who
can understand it?  And that's your thousand-copy sale!  I don't mind
betting no really 'artistic' novel--it's a beastly word--ever sells
more than that."

His one idea in all this had been to console her, for he guessed a
little what it meant when Hubert Brett was "in an awful way"; but now
she seemed if anything more troubled.  She sat in dazed silence,
looking like a small child who has seen something which it absolutely
cannot understand at all.

"But _Wandering Stars_," she said presently, "I've often heard, sold
quite five thousand."

"Oh yes, I dare say," came the unthinking answer.  Had she forgotten
about her MS.?

"Well, wasn't that artistic?"  There was a note of battle in her voice.

He saw now where he had drifted.  "Oh yes," he began.  "But not quite
in the way I meant.  That was a good story, very, and was popular.  I
meant, really, quite a different sort of book."  He floundered in
excuses.

"What sort?" she asked pitilessly.  "Better ones?"

"Oh no," he said, more and more embarrassed.  "Not that exactly.  You
can't say that.  You can't compare different kinds in Art.  You've got
to judge a man by his success in what he has attempted.  A good
caricature is much better than a bad Madonna," and firmly upon Art with
the feeling of a mariner safe in port after a storm, he drew her mind
away--or so he thought, this man who knew so little about women--and
after a while, sooner than usual, made his excuses and departed.

Outside he got as near to saying "Whew!" as any live man ever has.  He
had jolly nearly put his foot in it!  He wouldn't for millions let that
little girl suspect that really artistic people--his own set--did not
think so much of Brett's work as Brett did himself.  What a lumbering
idiot he had been!  The fact was, he had thought she meant to get that
writing of hers back and he had wanted to distract her mind.  In that,
anyhow, he had succeeded.

On the way back, he could not resist dipping into the book as he walked.

He skimmed a page and chuckled Fiction?  He recognised himself already!



CHAPTER XVI

A MATTER OF SALES

Long after Geoffrey Alison had gone, Helena sat motionless at her desk,
biting a pen-holder; looking out into the garden and thinking.

She was not thinking, as he would have imagined, about her manuscript.
She was thinking about Hubert's work.

In one sense she had no great opinion of Geoffrey Alison, although she
liked to have him as her friend.  She did not respect him, did not
think him manly, would never be swayed by his estimate of her: he was
an odd, amusing, clever, little thing and she was never altogether sure
when he was serious.  But in another way she thought more of his words
than even she had ever admitted to herself.  Hubert had never taken her
development as serious at all; had made it clear he thought her stupid,
as he said once, "to burden her dear little head with brains, when she
was so original already"; so that it had been Mr. Alison (who must be
really very kind, at any rate) that had initiated her into the
thrilling mysteries of Art.  He had taken her round galleries, to
lectures; told her this was bad or that good, then tried to show her
why; and though they argued nowadays, her basic views were his: she
judged things by the touchstone he had given her.  What then more
natural than that she should value his ideas on Art?

And now--now he had told her (oh, without meaning it, she knew, but
that made it no better)--told her that Hubert's novels were not thought
artistic really, they were good stories but no more, and not in the
same class as vague others which sold always badly.  She had been so
proud of them, until _Was It Worth While?_ appeared; and now it seemed
that all the others had belonged to a class of no merit, too.  They
were good of their sort--like a caricature...!  Hubert had always
spoken with such scorn of novels which were "popular": and now she had
heard Mr. Alison joining that fatal adjective to his pet _Wandering
Stars_....

It may be thought peculiar that Helena should have believed so easily;
but as she sat there and gazed out through unseeing eyes, nothing of
any weight stood in the other balance.

When she had married him, proud of his name, she was a simple girl.
She had not read a word of his until she was engaged: and how could she
judge after that, if she had been the best of critics?  Then, once his
wife--well, who would tell her anyhow?  Ally, she knew, had never meant
to and she liked him better than she had, for it.  Hubert was so
contemptuous about his paintings, that she knew he must have often felt
the obvious temptation to revenge.

Hubert, in fact, had been so scornful about everybody else's work.  In
Literature--she now recalled--she had relied entirely on his estimates.
Mr. Alison, till now, had said he really was no judge of books and told
her she must ask her husband....  She had got the idea that Hubert's
work was of the best sort, the most properly artistic, and when she
wondered why it did not make more money, he had said that it was too
good....

Now with a shock that somehow loosened far more than merely her ideas
on books, this young wife learnt that the great Hubert Brett, with all
his endless moods--the house revolving round his inspiration--only
created novels which were "popular" in class, yet nearly always failed
to sell!

She had not of course got the matter quite so definite as that in her
own mind, when there came to her ears the warning sound of his door
opening.  There were no sheets of manuscript to hide to-day, but she
put down a cedar pen-holder which had grown very ragged at the top in a
half-hour.

"Well," she said, leaping up and forcing herself, like a trained wife,
to be cheery, "what success to-day?"  She always asked him that.  He
liked it.

Hubert was not satisfied to-day.  "Rotten," he said; "absolutely
rotten.  That idiot Lily had put all the candle-sticks and things the
wrong way round on my writing-desk and I'd to move them all, just when
I got there feeling in the mood to work."

"Oh, I'm so sorry, dear," she answered humbly.  "I will tell her."  She
knew, you see, the whole of a wife's duty now.

"Don't worry about that, my dear," he said without much conviction;
"but these housemaids seem to think an artist is a sort of navvy who
only wants a pen and everything's all right.  They don't seem to
understand that when you're doing work like mine, the least thing out
of its accustomed place catches your eye and absolutely breaks the
inspiration: you get up to move it.  I never worked back to the proper
state at all this morning.  I might as well have played a round of
golf."

Helena, with a curious sensation that was almost fear--fear, it may be,
of herself--realised that his plaint, oft-heard, left her cold this
morning.  Till now she had always thought how wonderful he was, how
different from her dull self, how sensitively made.  To-day she
felt--she felt that it was all a needless fuss!  This last half-hour
had crystallised thoughts vaguely growing during a whole year.

She could not trust herself to any comment.  She felt that probably all
writers had these affectations, and yet there _was_ this sudden lack of
sympathy about the candlesticks....

"But I hope," she merely said, "the new book's working out all right?"

Hubert dropped upon the sofa, a dead weight of hopelessness.  "I don't
believe," he said, "I'm meant for an author--not in these days anyhow,
when it's a trade.  You know, my dear, it's too absurd but I can _not_
forget those beastly critics!  They've put me off entirely.  Every line
I write, I think that such and such a paper won't like that: just as
though I was writing for them and not for the public!"  He took up a
magazine and flung it down violently on the sofa.  "I tell you though,"
he said confidently, as though that changed his mood, and rose to go:
"I jolly well mean to get at the public, _this_ time."

"Hugh," she said, ludicrously horror-struck, "it's not another
pot-boiler?"  She had not dared to ask and he had vouchsafed literally
nothing yet.

He smiled grimly, standing by the door.  "You'll see," he said.  "I'm
nearly through with the synopsis now and I'll read you the first
chapter soon.  It's not like the last, anyhow.  It's called _Eternity_.
And there's one thing," he went on with a kind of brutal joy, "if it's
a frost, we shall absolutely have to pack up and move off into cheaper
quarters: I can't afford to keep you here!"

"But, Hugh," she began in sympathetic protest.

But he had closed the door, outside.



CHAPTER XVII

THE TEMPTER

Helena did not possess the vice of introspection.

Conscious as she was that something had changed in her attitude towards
her husband's moods and work, those tyrants of her married life to
which till now she had bowed down so humbly, she told herself in a
general way that things would soon shake down again, that it was
probably her fault, and that she must make sure what Mr. Alison had
really meant.  This time she would keep him to it and not let him drift
off to Madonnas.  She wished he would make haste and call.  Why had she
lent him all that stuff about Virginia?  He was probably wondering what
on earth to say to her about it and that was why he did not call.  What
a nuisance he was!  She longed to ask him definitely what people really
thought of Hubert's work and whether he had meant all that.  You never
really knew, with him....

When, however, he finally arrived, it was with such an air of
mysterious excitement that she was forced to wait a moment.

He stood in silence until Lily's heavy steps had died away and then, in
a stage whisper: "Is Hubert safely out of hearing?"

"Yes," she laughed.  He always amused her when he was funny like this.
"He always works, you know quite well, from five till seven.  I suppose
all this 'sshing is because you want to give me back my silly
manuscript.  Where is it?"  She was glad, in a way, that he was going
to be stupid over it.

"Ah," he replied, "that's it," and raised a cryptic finger.

"You _are_ funny," she said lazily from her armchair, like some one who
claps in the stalls.

He looked slightly hurt.  "You always say that if I'm serious," he
protested.  Then less plaintively, as though heartened by what was to
come: "As a matter of fact though, I've done you a very good turn."

"Me?" asked Helena, as he made an effective pause and there seemed
nothing else to say.  She couldn't thank, in case it really was a joke.

"Yes, you.  Your silly manuscript, as you like to call it, is
good--jolly good.  I don't suppose you realise that, do you?  It's
something original, these days, and that is everything.  It's----"

"I'm glad it amused you," Helena said, thinking that he had quitted
himself well and now she must help him out; "but----"

"But where's the good turn?" he broke in, interpreting her wrongly.
"Well, I'll tell you.  I showed it--I knew you wouldn't mind----" (and
here he looked a little timidly at her sideways), "I showed it to a
publisher I've met about, a very decent fellow----"

"How dare you?" Helena flashed out youthfully, just as though they were
playing Interruptions.  "I lent it you to read and I think----"

He kept up the game.  "Listen," he said with a firmness rare in him,
confident of what he had to tell.  "He said it was new and vital and
had money in it: those are his exact words; and he wants to publish it
if you can think of a good ending.  There!"

At last it was out and he stood complacent, waiting for her thanks: but
she was not even appeased.  "I don't care _what_ he said," she cried,
and for this moment of her childish anger it was true.  "I only know I
lent it you and not to him; do you think I want everybody reading all
my diaries?"

"But it was not a diary," he answered, keeping his head clear, "and he
had no idea of course who wrote it."

"He would, though, if he published it."  She thought that she had
crushed him; but he merely gained fresh hope, seeing her dally thus
with the idea.

"Never," he replied dramatically.  "Nobody will ever know except
yourself and me."

Before that masterly touch, "will," she crumpled up, and fell back on a
new line of defence.  "I can't believe," she said, more peaceable,
"he's serious.  I know quite well, and so do you, it's nothing: just to
make the time go while I was alone.  I took no trouble: wrote it any
odd old time."

"You surely don't imagine," he said, "writers really have to wait for
times and seasons and the proper mood?  They could work ten to six like
anybody else, except it wouldn't be artistic.  Do you imagine nothing's
good unless it's written with a lobelia in front of you and all that
sort of thing?  Some of the world's best stuff has come out of an
attic.  The whole thing's nothing but a pose."

She had her answer about Hubert, without asking.  Geoffrey Alison, two
years discreet, had suddenly begun to throw bricks in this happy home,
and never even heard the crash.

"Oh," she said, lingering on the syllable till it grew into three.

He did not understand.  He saw her hesitate and he threw all his weight
to drive her the way he desired.  "After all," he said, using that most
persuasive of openings to a temptation or a fallacy, "what right have
you, artistically, to keep to yourself a thing that may please and help
millions?  You especially, who don't even approve of private Art
Galleries because you can't see them! ... I know what it is, exactly;
you're thinking of your husband, naturally; but he need never know.
I'll do the business, all of it, and show you any notices and no one
else will ever guess at all.  Think what fun it would be!"  (He saw her
eyes light up and knew that he had won.)  "Besides there'll be the
money too and any one can do with that."

"Yes," said Helena, clinging to an earlier sentence, as women will,
"but the manuscript gives it away hopelessly that I'm an author's wife,
on almost every page."

"Well, how many authors do you think there are?" he said; then with the
Tempter's fluency, "and they notoriously marry more than any one.  Who
in the world could guess?  Every one would think that it was by a man.
They always do if anybody writes a very intimate peep at a woman's
soul."  He smiled, remembering how intimate the peep in question
sometimes was.  "Fancy reading all their silly guesses!  Come on!  You
can't be so selfish!"

Her eyes glistened and she moved on to an earlier point.  "It wouldn't
really bring much money, would it?" she asked.  "Books don't seem to,
ever."

"Blatchley--that's the publisher--thinks it would sell like anything:
he says it's new.  That's why he wants it.  There isn't any sentiment
in Blatchley.  He's right, too: people love these human documents.  I
dare say it'd bring in several hundred pounds."

Helena gasped.  He had offered her the proper fruit at last, this
worried little child of Eve, who, feigning to cut down the household
bills, had long time satisfied a husband intolerant of change by
drawing on her bank account, now perilously near its end.

"What should I call myself?" she answered simply.  Several hundred
pounds--and all the fun as well!

He thought a moment.  "Not Helena," he said with firmness.  "They'd
guess.  Besides no authoress could ever be called Helena: it sounds
like Eleanor after a careless housemaid's accident."

"Joan is my second name," she answered humbly.

"Joan," he repeated, and she felt quite ashamed already: he made it
sound so long and flat.  "No, no; not Joan.  That is like Jones with
the last letter dropped.  It must be something literary.  I know."  He
hesitated, as though weighing the discovered nugget: then, satisfied;
"We'll call you Zoë Baskerville."

"Splendid!" she laughed.  Already this was a new interest in life.
Then a doubt struck her.  "_Are_ those literary names?  Who were they
both?"

"I'm blest if I know," he confessed; "but I've seen both in
catalogues."  So that was settled.

"I never liked Helena for you," he said.  "Zoë is just the name.  I
shall always think of you as Zoë."  Then, greatly daring, with a swift
rush; "May I call you Zoë?"

He felt as though he were upon the absolute edge of his chair, but she
seemed to think nothing of his question.  "If you like it," she said,
off-hand.  "You want some revenge for Ally!  But not in front of Hugh
or he'll guess when the book comes out, and that would be too terrible."

"No," he said with feeling, "that shall be our secret," and leant
slightly forward.

"When will it appear?" she asked excitedly: and he was as near cursing
the book, now, as he had been to blessing it, a moment earlier.

He left the house, however, shortly before seven o'clock, stepping upon
air.  He had never expected to get her consent.  Old Blatchley would
think him no end of a clever devil and Blatchley was a useful man.
Besides, the comedy and excitement of it all!  And, best of all, it was
a new bond with--Zoë!

Gad, fancy having a ripping little girl like that as pal; and a secret
between them absolutely, from her husband even; and calling her Zoë,
which he knew in some odd Greek way was a jolly daring sort of name,
though he forgot quite how....

Yes, Geoffrey Alison was satisfied.

And as for Helena, with certain shapeless misgivings and fears there
mingled a most natural exaltation: since whether one writes for fame or
mere "fun," what can be more exciting than the acceptance of one's
first book by the first publisher who sees it?

She still could not understand it.  She did not realise of course how
fresh her view of married life had been: she did not guess perhaps in
quite what sense her new-appointed agent had used the word "intimate";
she did not realise that the book's very blemishes were its chief claim
to Truth.  She could see nothing in the thing at all.

But it was all exciting, very.  She would just end it up: make poor
Virginia, who was Zoë now, work her way round to happiness, as Ally had
said that she must not kill her; then send it up to him and he had
vowed she should not even get a single letter; he literally would "do
the rest."  Then if it failed, no harm was done and she had made her
secret yet more thrilling: whilst if in some mad way the book caught on
and she received those hundreds--well what a blessing they would be
just now with bills, and Hubert who was so silly with practical affairs
like that would merely imagine that she was running things more
cheaply.  (Every woman, deep down, thinks every man a child.)

Besides--if Geoffrey Alison stepped lightly homewards upon air, Helena
too felt that the grey world stretched a little softer under her.  That
shapeless longing for development of a real Self, that almost morbid
shame of her own ignorance, had issued finally in something tangible.
She was an authoress!

No doubt her book was not like Hubert's, built up carefully on
scientific scaffolding; but still--it had pleased Mr. Alison and it had
satisfied a publisher!

Small wonder, then, if totally forgetful though she was of her new
theories on Hubert's mode of work--immersed by now in the palpitating
thrill of her new secret--she yet sat opposite to him this night at
dinner with a less feeling of abasement, a new confidence.  She found
it hard at moments to attend to him and throw in, as she usually did,
appreciative comments now and then.

"Of course," he was saying now, criticising a review, "all this about
'painting' with a pen is rubbish.  The two arts have no resemblance.
The painter used to be a monk--and is a mountebank!  He never yet has
been a writer."

"Oh, I don't know.  What about Rossetti?  Or even Whistler?" she put in
absently, just as though it had been Geoffrey Alison.

Hubert was brought up with a jerk.  He hated people who corrected one.
It was like Mrs. Boyd, exactly.  Of course he knew that she was right
and he wrong, handsomely--although he'd no idea _she_ knew--but it
would be so dull if every one was accurate!

"My dear," he said coldly, "I know all about that, but do you think you
need interrupt my argument to tell me?  I shall be afraid to speak at
all if I am going to be heckled!"

He waved the thing aside with a short laugh, as though to say she was
forgiven.  But something in his manner had annoyed Helena to-night.

"I wasn't 'heckling'," she said, trying to speak lightly; "but you
know, Hugh, it's a bit mediæval if I know things and mayn't say
anything!"

Hubert gaped at her.

Mediæval!  That was a real Mrs. Boyd idea.  He made no answer, but he
was more than vaguely annoyed.  This was his simple little Helena no
longer.  It was those damned lectures....

He felt that from this moment they stood on a new footing.



PART III

HELENA BRETT'S CAREER


CHAPTER XVIII

ZOË

Helena unfolded the slip, pasted on its blue half-sheet, and began to
read it, thoroughly engrossed.  She seemed forgetful of Geoffrey
Alison, who in turn watched her with hardly less attention, more
anxiety.  He knew the thing by heart.


"_Confessions of an Author's Wife_ (Blatchley & Co.) is by its name
confessed as of the Human Document category, and this sort of book is
never without its attraction.  The present volume, chastely bound in
green appropriately virginal, recounts the growth of a young girl
married to a more or less successful author.  Zoë Baskerville, who on
one page lets somebody call her Virginia (a lapse not making for
conviction), tells in the first person her laudable efforts to develop
an ego in the face of a husband who has enough of it for ten.  His
selfish absorption in his own moods and the conditions suitable to his
own labours not unnaturally create in Zoë a feeling of thwarted
ambition, which results in a watered, girlish, form of cynicism about
Man and Woman.  This, however, passes off in the last chapter, where
for some reason not easy of access to the mere reader Zoë suddenly
sloughs her despondency and bursts into an exultant Credo: 'I believe
that Life, all in all, is the most splendid gift a kind God could give
to his children.  I believe that Man'--and so on for the last four
pages.

"It will be seen that subtlety and cohesion are not the strongest
points in these confessions, which we hope we have taken seriously
enough.  About their popularity there can be no doubt.  The book
possesses pathos, humour, freshness; a mixture beyond failing; and
moreover, impinges on life, married life, at moments with a frankness
more essentially French than English.  This fact may induce those still
in Zoë's earlier mood of cynicism to suspicion a male, Fleet Street,
author: but for our part, remembering the naïveté of female Youth and
that incriminating name Virginia, we are quite ready to accept the
volume's authenticity, if we misdoubt somewhat The End's sincerity.

"Taken thus, as a real document, the book has a persuasive charm.
Pathetic little Zoë is a figure as real as her selfish husband, who
emerges in some way as less great than has been actually stated.
(Perhaps we were wrong in denying the book any subtlety.)  We can
foresee a long and lucrative discussion as to the Author's identity.
For our part, we make a gift of the discovered clue 'Virginia,' and
shall wait patiently until the publisher, as a good man and true, duly
announces the authorship before issuing a cheap edition.  Till that day
we shall hope to live our lives in much the same round as before."


Helena stared so long at the narrow slip, obviously deep in thought,
that Geoffrey Alison found his anxiety turn to a nervous guilt.

Of course, he told himself, he knew the part that worried her in this,
her first review.  He would have kept it back if he had been quite sure
that she would never see it.  He rather wished now that he had.  It was
that stupid bit of course about more French than English.  He only
hoped they wouldn't all be like that--and none of them worse.

He recalled, as moment joined past moment, his own amusement at some of
the passages.  They had solved all his problems about Helena.  No one
but a really innocent girl could be so frank, because to the impure all
truth is suspicious.  It was only after reading these delicious
passages two or three times that Geoffrey Alison, getting a tardy view
of the whole book, realised how it might interest the world at large
and seem worth while to that shrewd devil Blatchley.

Now, when still she sat impassive, looking at that notice with a slight
frown on her forehead, he began to suspect that possibly he had been
just a little of a cad.  He ought perhaps to have warned her that some
of it, though absolutely all right if everybody had pure minds,----

Yet after all, how could he have told her that?  It would be jolly
awkward, you know, and only putting ideas into her head.  Besides, of
course, with those bits cut out, Blatchley would probably have called
it tame and struck....  His silence had been really for her good.

At last these alternate surges of guilt and self-justification grated
on his nerves.  He could endure her silence not a moment longer.

"That's only the first one," he said; "and it's not much of a paper."
Now for the reproaches!  Better to turn the tap on than to shiver,
waiting.

But not for the first time he had misjudged her.  It was not that part
of the review which had struck home to her so different mind.

"Do you really think the husband stands out as such a brute as all
that?" she surprised him by asking.

"No.  I thought it exactly like Hubert," was his answer.  He could not
read her mind; he said the first thing that came into his.

He could not have said a worse.  It strengthened all her doubts, fears,
and regrets.  She really had forgotten, almost, what was in the book.
It had been written in such hot excitement and she had scarcely read it
since.  Ally would not let her see the proofs; he said it wasn't safe,
with Hubert there....  She had imagined that the wife was far more
silly than herself, the husband altogether different from Hubert.  Now,
reading that synopsis, she saw (for the first time), how truly that
summed up their married life: she _had_ wished to "develop an ego," he
_had_ thwarted her.  He would read it too, that or another, and
suspect.  Then he would get the book--and know.  And he would think she
meant it all, meant all the wild complaints of Zoë, Zoë whom at first
she used to think of as "sloppy" Virginia!

It was too horrible.  She loathed the stupid book, she wished that she
had never shown it.  She loathed Geoffrey Alison.  If poor old Hubert
ever saw...!

"I suppose we can't possibly suppress the book?" she jerked out
suddenly.

Her conversation was more startling than ever to the male brain,
to-day.  "Suppress it on the strength of the first notice?  When it's
been out two days?  And when the notice says there can't be any doubt
about its popularity?  Suppress it, indeed!  What about friend
Blatchley?"

Helena gave a little sigh of absolute despair.  It had been so exciting
until now: the little green book, locked away upstairs, and libraries
actually buying it before it was out, just in the weird way they did
Hubert's and real people's!

Now she loathed the book and feared it.

There was terror indeed in her very tones.  "But you don't think," she
said, "they really can ever find out who the writer was?  They seem to
think it's only a question of time.  Mr. Blatchley couldn't be so mean."

"My dear Zoë" (he felt bound to soothe her and it was so thrilling to
say), "how can they possibly?  There isn't any 'they' about it.  I'm
the only person in the world who knows and I suppose you can trust
_me_?"  He got up from the sofa whilst speaking and struck an attitude
quite close to her, at the last words.

"Of course I do, Ally; you're a splendid pal and I know you will never
breathe a word.  It means a lot to me you see;" and she just pressed
his hand.

It was not much perhaps, but it meant a great deal to him.  _He_ did
not loathe the book.



CHAPTER XIX

BUSINESS

Helena's oppression, as of some impending blow, refused to disappear.
She could not believe, whatever Geoffrey Alison might say, that their
secret could be kept until the end.  Every fresh notice of the book
caused fresh alarm.  With one accord reviewers harped upon the
authorship, some of the less reputed papers embarking upon guesses.

That, to Mr. Blatchley's genuine delight, began denials.  He eagerly
collected all of them, and not a month had passed before Geoffrey
Alison arrived full of importance and excitement.  He came, now, almost
daily after five; as often, quite, as in the old days before the
garden-scene with Hubert; his mind full of the need to cheer this poor
sad Zoë who got no joy at all from her success.  Surely as it grew and
there was still no prospect of detection, she would begin to think of
all the money she was earning and enjoy the praise?  He hoped so.

"Look at this," he said keenly, waving an extract at her.

Her tones were dull.  "What is it?  Another review?"

"No, an advertisement.  Awfully clever and suits our game too!"

He held it out to her.  In bold print it ran thus:


"WHO?

"Already the wives of the following famous authors have publicly
declared that they did NOT write

_CONFESSIONS OF AN AUTHOR'S WIFE._"

(Here followed a list of eight names.)

"Ah!  But who did?

WHO?"


"I don't see it suits us at all," she said without enthusiasm.

"Why, it's putting people on the wrong track," he tried to argue.

She would not have it.  "It's making people want to know when they
don't really care a bit," she said with a ripe worldly wisdom quite
beyond her years.

And soon, to Mr. Blatchley's yet greater delight, people did begin to
care.  They cared so much, in fact, that they all read the book in
order to find out.  And nobody knew even then.  It was, however,
something to discuss at boring dinner-parties; so every one was
pleased.  Every one but Helena.

Reading the book afresh, she was astounded, terrified, to see how near
it was to life.  She had thought it all altered beyond recognition:
fiction merely based on fact.  But now she realised that all the parts
of it which mattered--Zoë's ambitions, her husband's repression--were
true, truer than she ever knew indeed: whilst all the
variations--names, place, ages, children, work--made no real difference
at all.  In all life it is the soul alone that matters, for there lies
happiness and all those others are mere accidents.  And the soul of Zoë
was the soul of Helena; the life of Helena, the life of Zoë.  Reading
her book, she realised for the first time her life.

Daily the thing became more of a nightmare.

Hubert, of course, noticed nothing: but Geoffrey Alison grew weary of
her constant admonitions as to silence.

"Oh, for Heaven's sake, Zoë," he cried at last (for he was getting
almost husbandly in his remarks, encouraged by their common secret),
"do try and get rid of the idea that 'all is discovered' and I'm a
silly ass or else a beastly cad!"

"It isn't that," she answered with a gloomy petulance; "but something
might easily happen and I simply don't know how I should face Hubert."

"Hubert?  Why, I expect he would be jolly proud of you."

"Proud?" she repeated bitterly; "when he has been so splendid to me
always, and here I am making him out a selfish brute who sacrifices his
wife's happiness to his career and me a poor little bullied creature
who goes upstairs and cries.  He'd never believe that it was all
exaggerated--and nor, of course, would anybody else.  Proud, indeed?  I
do like that!"

Indeed, when she thought of what an awful thing she had done, Helena
very often could have gone upstairs like flabby Zoë (_née_ Virginia)
and wept.

Geoffrey Alison at length got thoroughly impatient with her.

_He_ was enjoying it all hugely and he failed to see why she should not
enjoy it too.  Every day he opened his paper eagerly to see what new
scheme the resourceful Blatchley had devised to spur a public interest
which as yet showed no signs of flagging.

Helena, in sympathy with her whole scheme, had much exaggerated the
eminence of the Husband's position.  It was not a case of any
back-street Kit Kats here: he was away, night after night, delivering
most brilliant lectures to exclusive West End literary clubs or even
travelling four hundred miles to unveil well-earned lapidary tributes
of great authors who had actually managed to be dead now for a hundred
years.  This husband, who deserted his wife and was jealous if she went
to anything with any other man, was not an author of the Hubert Brett
class, so that big names were thrown about at parties where in very
truth the problem soon became a topic.  Each had it on the best
authority that So-and-So, the celebrated author, or Mrs. So-and-So, had
said this or the opposite; and nobody believed the other's story.

Nothing sells a book like talk.  The printed word, paid or unpaid, is
only useful to set tongues a-wagging.  And as the authorship was
bandied here and there, editions trickled slowly from the Press.

Mr. Blatchley was delighted.  His firm was not among the
old-established, and this could rank as his first great success; but it
was very great.  The book was only three-and-six; people actually
bought it; the libraries roared out for more.

Journalists, hot upon dinner-table topics as vultures after flesh,
interviewed him, each hoping to be in the office at that crucial moment
when he decided the book's sale would gain by an announcement of the
much-debated name.

But even when the interest began to wane--for nothing lasts Londoners
more than a fortnight--Mr. Blatchley to every one's surprise was
adamant.  He still persisted in the stupid lie that he had not found
out, himself....

"Look here, Alison," he said one day, when Geoffrey Alison had called
in at his little office off the Strand, "you're not playing cricket,
quite."  He was a podgy little alien man, fattened beyond his years,
and he said this with all a British sportsman's sternness.

"Oh come, you know; don't say that," exclaimed the other, naturally
shocked.  (His life average in the game itself would be a decimal.)

"I do, though," said the publisher and offered him a cigar.  The artist
did not care for that especial form of smoke, but felt that this was
not the moment to be firm.  He must not lose further prestige.  He
would leave soon and throw it away.

There was a pause of some seconds, broken only by a crossing of
"Thanks" as they got things in order; then Blatchley lay back in his
office chair and blew out the first whiff of smoke.

"I certainly do," he said more definitely.  "Look at it this way.  _The
Confessions_ has been out eight weeks and we have sold just over thirty
thousand copies.  That is pretty good, I know, and I'm extremely
grateful to you.  But that is the past.  Now look at the present.  By
careful advertising I've induced the public to be really interested in
the question as to Zoë's real identity.  That's not going to last, my
son.  Somebody will do a murder or find out a home cure for corpulence.
In half a week the chatty columns of the Daily will be full of
something else.  Every one who wants to has read Zoë and decided who
she is.  Very well, then.  Now," and here he raised a podgy but
dramatic finger, "this is the moment when we must say officially, 'The
Author-Husband is Dash Blank.'  In a moment the whole thing revives;
every one is saying, 'I say, it _was_ Dash Blank.  I knew you were
wrong.  But what a show-up!  What, not read it?  Well, then, do.'  The
sales will leap up to the fifty thousand and nobody can say where they
will stop.  Without it, the book's dead."  He stopped, dramatically
sudden.

These were the only times when Geoffrey Alison shared Helena's ideas
about the volume.  "I'm very sorry if so," he said wearily, "but it's
sold like anything and I expect it will.  I still don't see why it's
not cricket?"  (He spoke more warmly now.)  "I always warned you that I
couldn't tell you who had written it."

"Bah!"  The publisher waved that aside with a smooth fat hand which
left a trail of smoke.  "That's always so in the beginning, it's part
of the game, but now it's in my interest, the book's, your friend's,
your own as her adviser--I shall see you're mentioned as discoverer of
the diary's great merits--in everybody's interest...."

Geoffrey Alison stood up abruptly.  Each of these points had been
emphasised by that fat hand; the office was the tiniest of rooms; and
he disliked the smell more almost than the taste.

"I'm sorry, Blatchley," he said, as though bored with the whole affair,
"but as I've told you half a dozen times...."

The man of business never fights a losing battle.  "Of course, of
course, my dear fellow.  I understand.  The feeling does you credit.
Don't imagine I'm ungrateful.  Not at all."  He smoothed him with a
diplomatic hand.  His Zoë might write other books.

"Oh no, I don't," said the other dully.

"Look here," the publisher exclaimed, putting his cigar between
protruding lips and drawing a note-book from a no less prominent
waistcoat.  "Why not dine with me one night to show there's no
ill-will?  I'm sure I owe you some commission!  A little dinner
somewhere gay, then the Empire or a supper--well, no details!--but what
of something like that?  Monday?"

"Thanks very much," said Geoffrey Alison more warmly.  This was the
sort of evening he liked, when some one else would pay.  Then,
suspiciously, in the old tones; "So long as you'll swear not to worry
me any more about Zoë."

The publisher seemed hurt at this idea.  "My dear fellow," he said,
patting him again upon the back in a most soothing way, "what do you
imagine?  Business is business, yes," (he waved the hand once more
expressively around his little office), "but pleasure's pleasure.
Monday then: my flat: at eight."



CHAPTER XX

PLEASURE

Thomas Blatchley (which downright English names his mother and father
did not give him in his baptism) was accustomed to boast that he was
not an old-fashioned publisher.  He wished of course to uphold the fine
traditions of literature and so forth, but he believed in modern
methods.  He did not see that book-production had any essential
connection with fine-panelled ante-rooms where authors waited in
upholstered pomp.  The modern plan was not to keep them waiting.

It may therefore be perhaps set down to his modernity of business
spirit that he prepared to entertain his benefactor, Geoffrey Alison,
with so much thoroughness.  Here (he may be imagined to have said) was
a man who had done him a good turn in business.  Every care, then, must
be taken to provide him with an evening exactly to his taste.  Then,
maybe, he might do him another.

However that may be, Geoffrey Alison was thoroughly delighted.
Everything was just how he would have arranged it for himself, had he
been a millionaire and not a struggling artist.  When Blatchley, whom
he really hardly knew, had first suggested this evening together, the
programme mapped out had appealed to him; but safely home again, he had
repented and been within an inch of cancelling.  Yet was it wise to
risk offending this man, a hard business devil, who already thought he
was not playing cricket? ... So out he had come, mistrustful of the
other's hospitality; with visions of Soho, and half expecting he would
pay the bill.

Yet Blatchley, without any of that awkward "Where shall we dine?"
business common to bad hosts, had instantly said; "Shall we try the
Ritz?" as quite the natural thing.  To this he had assented no less
instantly, only regretting that he had decided against a white
waistcoat.  Then Blatchley had proposed the actual champagne he liked.
Then there had come the Empire: two half-guinea stalls, in which they
hardly sat, for Blatchley (who turned out to be a very decent sort)
said he always liked the promenade much better than the programme.  So
they had sat about and had a drink or two, and laughed, and debated
which of the beautiful ladies around them they should introduce
themselves to without finally deciding upon any (exactly his own pet
routine), and so on to the Café de l'Europe, where they had merely had
a Kümmel and looked round a bit.

And now here they were at the Savoy, the proper end for any festive
evening; with people, music, food, wine, light and everything exactly
as it should be, and peace inside the soul of Geoffrey Alison.
Blatchley was a dam good sort and not a business swine at all.

It would be untrue to say that Geoffrey Alison was drunk.  No one is
ever drunk at the Savoy.  He was inanely genial.  Blatchley was a dam
good fellow....

"Well," said his host, as half the lights suddenly went out, obedient
to a grandmaternal law of his adopted and free fatherland, "I think we
must toast the lady to whom we owe this very pleasant evening!"  He
raised his glass, (they had worked back through brandy to champagne),
and cried, mock-heroically: "To the unknown Zoë."

"My word, yes," answered Geoffrey Alison with a fat laugh, "I'll drink
that!"  He raised his glass and drank it off: no heeltaps.

The publisher had merely sipped the brim of his, but he filled up his
guest's.  "I dare say, my boy!" he laughed cheerily.  "I dare say you
will.  I've my suspicions about you and Zoë."

"No, no," warmly retorted the other.  He was so genial as to be nearly
truculent.  "I won't let you say that."  He was not quite so sure now
about Blatchley.  "That's not right.  She's a dam nice girl is Zoë, and
she's as innocent as anybody makes 'em.  I'm very fond of her, I tell
you, and she's fond of me too."  He pulled himself together in a very
doggy way.  "But that's all there is.  I won't have you having
suspicions.  She doesn't know what all that means.  I won't let you say
that, Blatchley.  She never thinks of anybody but her husband, damn
him!"  He looked very fierce indeed for a very few seconds: then he
chuckled feebly.  Dam conceited idiot, that ass Brett....

"I see," answered his host vaguely.  He was waiting.

The other's swiftly-changing moods veered, the next moment, to
suspicion.  He gave a discordant laugh.  "You're a clever swine,
Blatchley," he said, with a sudden longing to strike this man
flickering across the table.

"You thought I was tight!  You thought I should give Zoë away.  You
want to know who she is, don't you?  But not much!  I'm less of an ass
than you think, old man!  Yes, that was it," he added in a sudden mood
of contemplative depression; "you thought I was tight."  All his anger
had evaporated.  It was a mere statement.

"Take more than that to make _you_ tight," said his host, relapsing
upon flattery as a safe weapon.  He could afford to wait.  They would
not be turned out yet for a while and he had learnt already that Zoë
was quite young, a girl.  That ruled out many authors' wives....

But Geoffrey Alison was on his guard.  An air of watchful cunning
settled on him.  He saw the game now, in his own fuddled way, and he
did not mean to be drawn.

"Give it up, Blatchley, old man," he said so happily as not to be
offensive.  "Give it up.  You won't get anything from me.  I'm less of
an ass than you think.  You won't get anything from me."

He had flung his cards, bang! upon the table.  The other took them up.
"I hope you don't mean to imply, Alison," he said in injured tones,
"I've stood you this evening just to pump your secret out of you."

"My dear fellow, my dear fellow," crooned Geoffrey Alison, stretching
out a shaky hand to reassure the other's sleeve.

The publisher withdrew his arm with dignity, as one who did not intend
to be patted by a man with those ideas.  "It looks extremely like it,"
he said coldly.  "I look on your remarks as damned offensive.  Here
have I stood you a pleasant evening--at least I hope so--from
gratitude, and you attribute it to the most disgusting motives."

"My dear fellow," continued the other, who had listened to this with an
open mouth suspended in the act of speech, "you misunderstand me."  It
came out with a rush, like one long syllable.  "You misunderstand me
entirely.  We're gentlemen, both gentlemen.  There isn't any question
about anything like that.  You utterly misunderstand me."

But Thomas Blatchley was not so easy to console.  "It was rather hard,
Alison, to understand what you said any other way."

"Look here, Blatchley old man: it's like this," said the artist,
embarked now upon self-defence.  "You're a good fellow, dam good
fellow; very pleasant evening indeed; and I want to help you.  But
there's Zoë, you see; Zoë!"  He laughed happily; then, more gloomy,
"And there's Zoë's husband."

He sat gazing fixedly before him, as though content with having thus
explained everything at last.

The great room was almost empty and yet more nearly dark, by now.  A
waiter who had stood anxiously close by, stepped forward eagerly,
thinking that this pause would give him his chance.  The publisher
waved him impatiently aside with an oath easy to read from the lips.

"I don't see," he said, friendly once more, to his guest, "that Zoë's
husband matters much."

Geoffrey Alison looked very wise.  "Oh, but he does, you know," he
answered.  "He does matter.  Mind you, I dislike him.  Dam conceited
ass.  But he does matter," and he wagged his head.

"How?" asked the other, who saw the head waiter approaching.  It was
all or nothing.

Geoffrey Alison found that the question needed thought.  "Well," he
said very slowly, and there was only one more table-full for the head
waiter to dislodge, "well, put yourself in his place, you know.  All
the dam papers with their headlines.  Oh yes, he does matter."

"How headlines?"  He could kill the stubborn ass.  He knew that it was
luck, not cleverness.

His guest, unconscious of all this emotion, aimlessly drew headlines
high up in the air.  "'Zoë mystery solved.  Selfish swine discovered.
Hubert Brett the author.'  All that sort of stuff," he said, chuckling
at his own journalistic readiness.  "Oh yes, he does matter.  Dam
unpleasant for him."

"Well, I suppose so," answered Thomas Blatchley with resignation.  "Ah,
here's the chucker-out!"  He pointed facetiously towards the splendid
person now close on them.  "We must go."

"A very pleasant evening, Blatchley old boy," his guest murmured
without rancour, as he got up with excessive dignity and walked, grimly
intent, towards the door.  He was not drunk.  Just genial....

As he undressed that night, he laughed suddenly, aloud.  That swine
Blatchley had thought he was going to pump him and in the end he had
done nothing except pay the bill!  Betray Helena, dear little girl?
Not he!

He fell asleep, chuckling and with one sock on.  People said artists
were dam fools, but he had scored off a business man and got the better
of a publisher....

As to Thomas Blatchley, he was far more calm.  Success had long ago
become a habit.  He merely felt a little scorn for Geoffrey Alison.

This was by no means his first good stroke of business over two
glasses--one full and one empty--of champagne.  He was not a believer
in mere whisky: stale, and not making towards confidence.  No, a good
dinner and then, at the end, quite conversational; "You know, your
books don't get one half the booming they deserve.  You made a mistake
in not coming to _me_!  I'd make an offer now; I would have long ago,
if it was only cricket.  And even now, old man, if ever...."

Of course it ran one into money.  To-night, no doubt, had run him
generously into double figures: but what might that sum not produce in
interest?  Business was bound to be expensive.  You either went about
or else you sat in a huge office.  He merely spent on drinks what other
publishers spent on glass-doors.

He wished, as he got comfortable for a well-earned night's rest, it had
been some one better known than Hubert Brett.



CHAPTER XXI

EXPOSURE

"Both for you, sir!" said Lily with the air of an old friend, entering
the drawing-room at nine o'clock two evenings later.  She held out on a
silver tray, the wedding gift of Kenneth Boyd, two letters.  One was
from Ruth and had been left, now, by the postman; the other, in the
familiar green of the press-cutter, had lain in her pantry since the
early post.

"Ah, a press cutting!" ejaculated Hubert.

"Splendid.  How exciting!" Helena replied, as though delighted and
surprised.

Lily went out.  She did not even really want to smile by now.  She had
been in three places before this, and in each of them the husband had
needed humouring in one way or another.  She probably would never marry.

"It's very late," said Hubert expectantly.  Two months had passed since
the last straggling notice of _Was It Worth While?_ and after this gap
he could open his green envelopes without a sense of irritation; yes,
even with excitement.

"The last one is sometimes the best, isn't it?"  Helena threw the hope
out soothingly, but from the corner of her eyes she watched him with a
little nervousness.  Certainly the most restful times were those like
the last weeks, when there were no reviews.  They did seem to upset him
so.  She wished now that she had opened this--except that she would
never dare to give it him if it chanced to be good.

She wished this wicked wish a thousand times more strongly, half a
minute later.  Never, in these three years, had she seen Hubert so
affected by a notice.  Great veins swelled out on his forehead, till
she was really terrified.  She could pretend no longer not to notice.

"What is it, Hubert?" she asked as he said nothing.  "I hope not a bad
one?"

"This is too scandalous," he cried, half choked and speaking like a
pompous old man in his anger.  "Where will the newspapers ever stop?"

"What have they said now, dear?"  He missed the tragic resignation in
that one word "now."

"Read it," he said and thrust it almost roughly at her, as though
blaming the whole world.

It did not seem, however, as though he could wait for her opinion.
"Newer," "practically unknown," he fired out at intervals, and other
adjectives.

But she heard none of them.

The paper swam before her eyes and every dim word filled her with a
sick dread, a resentful wonder, an absolute despair, for this is what
she saw:


"AUTHOR'S WIFE FIASCO

"OFFICIAL REVELATIONS

"Suburban tea-tables need buzz no more with questions as to the
identity of that now famous Author's Wife whose recent confessions have
raised such a pother.  A representative of this paper found Mr.
Blatchley, this morning, at last in an unbending mood.

"'The secret is out,' said the publisher, 'the author in question is
Mr. Hubert Brett.  The book, I may add, is naturally by his wife.
There were reasons till now why her identity should not be divulged.'

"Those reasons will perhaps be guessed by all who remember the fierce
controversy that raged recently and the big names that were thrown
about, also the big sales.  Whether these last will be helped by this
official revelation will remain to be seen.  The context had certainly
prepared us for the wife-sacrificing author to be some one slightly
better known.  Mr. Hubert Brett is of the newer school of novelists,
whose work is practically unknown to the bigger public.  From _Who's
Who_ we learn that he has written some fourteen novels since 1899, and
of these _Wandering Stars_ is possibly the most familiar to
library-readers.

"In this rather disappointing manner the Mystery of the Author's Wife
leaves the select company of The Man in the Iron Mask, Jack the Ripper,
Shakespeare, The Lady and the Tiger and other insolubles, to rank for
ever with The Mango Tree, Fiona Macleod, The Englishwoman, and other
mysteries which stupidly got solved."


Her eyes somehow deciphered the main points, and then she sat looking
at the thin slip, seeing nothing.

"Practically unknown," suddenly came to her ears; "considering that
_Wandering Stars_ sold close upon six thousand!"

Then she heard herself speaking.  "It's only a rag, not one of the real
evening papers."  She dared not say what she had got to say.  She dared
not face the storm.  Hate, now, that was what ruled in her chaotic
brain, hate and loathing for that treacherous, mean, little Mr. Alison.
She knew she always had despised him, now--but he had been so kind....
Why had she trusted a weak man like him?  Why had she ever
written--married--been born--anything?  Oh, what would happen now?

Her husband got up suddenly.  That broke her tortured reverie, broke
her inaction.

"Well, I shall write at once," he stormed.  "Let's have the filthy
thing."

She rose weakly to her feet and held it out to him.  "What will you
say?" she asked, still feebly trying to gain time, like men faced by a
rope that they cannot possibly avoid.

"Say?" he repeated scornfully.  "Tell them what they are and contradict
the whole thing as a lie."

She almost staggered and caught hold of his arm.  "No," she said.
"Listen.  You--you mustn't."

"Mustn't?"  He looked curiously at her.

She suddenly burst into tears, clinging to him there as if for pity.
"Hubert," she sobbed out, "don't take it as real.  You're the best
husband there could ever be.  I wrote like you do.  It was only----"

"My God!" he cried, clutching her arms roughly.  "You _didn't_ write
it?  You didn't----"  He broke off and let go of her, holding her one
moment at arm's length.  She never could forget his eyes.

He stooped and picked up the cutting.  He read it slowly through, as if
that might help--or possibly to calm himself.  Helena fell limply on
the sofa.  Minutes seemed to pass in silence.

Suddenly he crumpled up the little roll of paper and hurled it in the
fireplace.  Then he laughed and that alarmed her more than anything.

"Well," he said, trying to speak naturally, "that's that, then.  It's
no use having scenes, is it?"  He stood very still, looking vacantly
before him as though not realising what it meant.

"Hubert," she began again, as though in some way his name was a shield,
and went to him, "let me explain----" but he waved her aside.

"What's the use?" he said gloomily.  "It's all so obvious.  The gutter
Press has let itself go over me for weeks as the mysterious,
self-centred Husband; the man who sacrificed his wife!  I don't see why
you should explain.  It only makes things worse."

"But you don't see," she answered.  "The husband wasn't you, any more
than people in your novels.  I wrote it--wrote it just for fun" (he
snorted with an irony that even she observed), "never meaning the Press
or any one--and then one day Mr. Alison----"

"Oh, _he_ was in it?" Hubert asked with a swift passion.  The old
antipathy revived.  That young ass always _had_ been in it, somehow.

"He promised never to tell any one," said Helena.  "You know, we wanted
money so."

He laughed scornfully.  "Oh yes, we wanted money.  Money's everything.
So long as we have money, what does it matter everybody knowing you
think me a selfish brute or that----?"  He broke off abruptly.

It was clear that he mastered himself only with an effort.  "Have you
_got_ the book?" he asked with an icy calmness, presently.  "I suppose
as your husband I've the right to read it?"

She could not answer.  Somehow she got to the door, to her own room;
unlocked her jewel-case and took from it the loathsome little book in
its clean, innocent, green cover: then she went down and handed it
without a word to him.

"So this is it?" he said with all Scorn in the words.  He opened it at
random.  "'I am the background,'" he read in slow, cold tones as to a
child; "'the background for _his_ work no less than the wall-paper of
the one room where he can write; and I must be as quiet.'"

She stood there, thrown back fifteen years, a girl again before her
governess: and he little suspected that with those words he was killing
all her penitence and injuring her love.

"Anything sounds rubbish if you read it out," she suddenly blazed at
him in quite another mood.

He shut the little book with a mild glance of surprise.  "Don't let's
have any scenes," he said once more.  "This has just happened.  It's
pretty ghastly; don't let's make it worse.  You'd better go to bed when
you feel tired; I shall just sit and read--I want to know the worst.
Don't wait up for me.  It'd be rather a mockery to wish each other
good-night!"

He moved towards the door.  It was the time they always spent together,
the best of her day.

She stood by the mantel-piece, leaning for support on it, wondering how
any one could be so cruel--and feeling she deserved his cruelty....  It
was so awful, put as he had put it: yet she had never meant----

His hand was on the door.  She moved a few steps forward.

"Hugh," she cried, as though the name must surely explain everything:
but he did not turn, even.  He shut the door, quietly.

Helena threw herself face downwards on the sofa, but she could not cry.



CHAPTER XXII

THE IRON IN THE SOUL

To Helena the most terrible part about her husband's attitude was his
astounding calmness.  If he had but raged and stormed, she could have
endured it.  She might even have explained.  What she could not bear
was this chill resignation.

"We had better talk as usual in front of Lily," was all he said,
coldly, before breakfast the next morning.  "There's no reason why she
should guess that anything is different."

"Must it be different?" she brought herself to say, though even that
was difficult, with him like this.

As usual, he laughed contemptuously.  "Do you expect it to be just the
same, when I know, everybody knows----"  He broke off.  "Well," he
said, "I suppose _most_ married couples spend their time living up to
their domestics.  It's only we were lucky for a bit...."

They talked about the weather, then, and the day's news till Lily had
gone out; he even called her "dear," but she could not live up to that:
and when they were alone again, he gave a sigh which she interpreted to
mean relief and finally retired behind his propped-up morning paper.

When he had finished breakfast--she ate nothing--he moved silently into
his accustomed chair.

She moved across as usual to light a match for his after-breakfast pipe.

"No thanks," he said brutally.  "I don't want to smoke.  And I shan't
work to-day of course."

She went out, hardened against such a foul attack, and half a minute
later, from the next room, heard him strike a match....

Soon after eleven, when he had gone--work or no--into his own room,
Lily announced Mr. Alison.

"Yes, I suppose so," she said dully.

He came in, very different from his late jaunty self, and threw a rapid
glance at her, limp on the sofa.  Her red eyes told their tale.

"You know then?" he asked.  It was in some ways a relief.

She waited until she judged Lily to be safely through the swing-door:
then she got up, by a natural instinct, and confronted him.

"I wonder," she said, "you dare come at all."

He looked anxiously about him.  "Tell me," he asked almost in a
whisper, "is he very sick?"

It was her turn to laugh contempt.  "Oh, of course you think of
yourself first!  You're safe, though, here; trust him not to come near
_me_!"

"No," said the other with an absurd dignity, "you wrong me.  I meant,
is he jealous?"

"Jealous?" she retorted in bewilderment.  "No, why should he be?  Of
what?"

Geoffrey Alison suddenly found this difficult to answer and whilst he
hesitated, feeling justly hurt, the storm was on him with its utmost
force.

"I wonder," she said once again, for Man flies to a tag in moments of
emotion, "I wonder you dare come and see me.  I trusted you with all my
happiness--with everything; you swore you'd never fail me; and now----"
She spread her arms in a pathetic gesture; then suddenly inadequate, a
girl: "It really is too bad of you."

"Oh, come I say," he started.  He had arrived full of shame and dread,
realising from his newspaper that he had been tricked into a betrayal;
but now that her onslaught was so tame--merely "too bad,"--he visibly
regained his courage.  "I think," he went on, almost aggrieved, "you
might give me a chance of clearing myself.  It's not my fault at all,
it's that swine Blatchley.  I dined with him three nights ago and
utterly refused to say a word about it, but he tricked me somehow.  I
still don't see how the cad did it, but he must have because nobody
else knew.  I'm awfully sorry, Zoë----"

That roused her.  "Don't call me that," she broke in fiercely.  "Never
call me that again.  As though I didn't loathe the name and everything
it stands for!  You wouldn't understand.  It's wrecked everything,
spoilt my whole life."

"Oh, come I say," he repeated automatically in a half-dazed manner.

"I hate it," she said, working herself up; "hate the book, hate
everything to do with it, hate you.  I wish to goodness I had never met
you; then this never would have happened."

"Oh, come I say," he said a third time, still standing close beside the
door, "I don't think that's fair.  I only did it as a good turn to you.
I thought it would be a new interest; you'd always so much time to
spare; and then it might be useful too, the money----"

"Oh, I know," she interrupted.  "You meant well.  People always do."
It was an old cynicism new to her.  She saw life wrecked before her
feet--and here was the fool who had tried to help her.

"Well," he mildly summed up the whole case, "I can't do more, can I,
than say I'm very sorry."

She could not even gain the relief of a real scene with this flabby
nerveless creature.  She turned upon him with contempt.

"No," she said, "you can't do anything of course!  How could you?  It's
a great pity that you ever _did_.  People like you aren't meant to--and
I trusted you!"

"Well, what _can_ I do then?" he enquired in hurt, plaintive tones.

"Go away," she blazed out, getting something like her chance; "go right
away and never come near here again.  Leave me alone to try and put the
thing straight without your silly meddling.  That's what you can do."
She sank upon the sofa and took up a magazine with very shaky fingers.

"All right then," he said, recovering his dignity, "I will."  He had a
kind of feeling that Brett was sure to come in soon if this went on,
and he should hate a scene....

"I will go," he repeated at the door, "and I'll tell Blatchley, now, to
act direct with you."  With this reminder of all that he had done for
her, he went out very stiffly.  She did not call him back, although so
soon she felt half sorry for the silly little man.  He had meant well
and he was fond of her....  No woman finds it too hard to forgive a man
whose sins are due to those two causes.

Helena, not so comforted by this scene as she should have been, sat
with the magazine held limply in her fingers and wondered with a numb
brain whether there was no way out of her life's labyrinth.

Hugh would not listen.  That was the whole difficulty.  If only he
would let her speak, she knew she could explain.  She loved him; they
had had such jolly times; he wasn't in the least like Zoë's husband;
she hadn't realised, till that first review came, that life in the two
homes had been even similar; and if----

Suddenly she gave a little happy laugh, the first for hours that seemed
already months, then leapt up girlishly and ran to her bureau.

Of course!  It was the very thing.  Speaking was difficult, and somehow
he always made her feel so young and nervous.  But this was easy and he
always loved things just a little different--what he called her "odd
little ways."

Feverish with excitement, she sat down and wrote her Apologia:--


"MY OWN DEAREST HUGH

"(I _can_ call you that on paper and in my own heart, whatever you say
about speaking.)

"Let me explain.  If you can bear how things are now, I can't, and I
feel so terrible because although I meant absolutely nothing, I know
it's all my fault.  I _am_ sorry, do believe that, go on reading, but
not a word of Zoë is _me_, really honestly.  It's just Fiction like
your books, but it's the only sort of life I knew.  Surely you can't
believe I think of you like that?  The Husband was imaginary, and I
only did it in the winter, to pass all the hours while you were
working.  I never called it _The Confessions of an Author's Wife_ at
all, that was the publisher and people, and they never let me see it
again till it was printed or I should have cut out a lot.

"Really, my own darling husband, _it was not my fault_.  It's all very
awful and I am so sorry for you, but don't let's make it worse by
quarrelling ourselves.  I'm sure we can live it down and nothing will
be worse than if we're seen to have quarrelled.  We will write a note
together to the papers saying it was Fiction.

"Hugh, let me be forgiven and help you through this horrid time my
_stupidity_, and that's all, has brought you to.  You don't know how
already I long to hear your laugh and just one kind word.  We've not
been sloppy, have we? but no one could be fonder or prouder of her
husband, and I see so little of you anyhow.  Don't rob me even of that.
Come and tell me I'm forgiven and be your dear old comfy self again.  I
can't stand this.

"Your loving and Oh so sorry,
  "H."


She read it over again, laughing through tears, for now everything
would be all right.  Then, when she had sealed it and was about to
write his name, another idea came to her.  He might tear it up, unread!

On the outside she wrote:


  To a very dear husband from a very
      sorry wife.
      _Quite short._
      Read it!


By now she felt almost on the old terms--and how dear they had been,
she could see now--with him.  This was the sort of thing he always
liked so much.  It made him call her "child."  She had sent notes
before, when she had to go out or something.

Very quietly she went to his door, slipped the note silently beneath
it, then with her bent finger gave it a good flick.  She heard it whizz
across the polished floor.  He could not fail to see or hear it, as he
always did.

With a new sense of peace she went back to the drawing-room and waited.
She was ashamed to notice, in the glass, how red her eyelids were.

Did other wives spend awful hours like this or was it just that she was
silly?

Minutes passed; the hour struck; the quarter; the half-hour.

He was not coming, then, till lunch time.  What a slave of habit;--or
was he trying to punish her by this suspense?...

She fought that last idea: it would not be like Hugh.  Possibly he had
written and left it in the hall?  She went out.  There was nothing
there.

One o'clock struck, and almost instantly she heard his door open.  She
half rose, then she decided to sit where she was.

Would he never come? ... He was pottering about in the hall!  Tapping
the glass now! ... How could men be so curious? ... At last the handle
turned.  What were resolves?  She could not help getting up, after all;
but he must speak first.

There was no need, really.  His set face told her everything.  He did
not come beyond the door.

"Helena," he said sternly, in a low voice that obviously considered
Lily, "I think it'll be better if we don't discuss this matter any
further.  We may possibly forget.  Anyhow, it's no time for childish
games.  I'd already written, as you suggest to the newspapers.  We
won't speak of this at all in front of Lily."

It was clearly a message learnt by heart, and with its last word the
door shut.  He had never let go the handle.

Helena stood gazing after him with a face no less set than his own.



CHAPTER XXIII

SECRET NUMBER TWO

Three days passed, seeming like a year, and everything was just the
same.  Each felt in the wrong, each had a grievance; and that is fatal
for a settlement.

Helena, rebuffed, was quite determined to make no more appeals: and he
was silent, that mockery of talk in front of Lily over, except that now
and then he would throw out questions--with the hard air of counsel
cross-examining--questions that showed upon what string his mind was
harping, questions to do always with the hated book.  These she
answered patiently, as one who knows she has deserved her punishment.

What she had not deserved, what she would not endure, Helena decided,
was his whole treatment of her.  Each afternoon he had an agent,
publisher, friend, somebody that took him into London; each night he
had some work to do--and this although he told her brutally that she
had fatally wrecked his new novel.  It was a fresh routine.

Helena found herself sentenced--apparently for life--to solitary
confinement in a new-art cottage.  Callers arrived, suspicious in their
frequency, but she said, "Not At Home" to all, caring but little to
feed their taste for a tit-bit of scandal.  Letters came too from dear
friends who congratulated her ... but these she tore up, unanswered.
Others came from Mr. Blatchley--unctuous, consoling, full of the glad
news that sales were leaping up as a result, and sending a big cheque
as a polite advance.  Helena loathed herself for not destroying this as
well; but she had sold her happiness, so why not take the price?
Besides, if Hubert's new book had really had to be abandoned,----!

"I hope to get some reviewing work," he said at the end of the fourth
ghastly lunch.  "That will be something.  I am off to town about it but
shall be back to dinner."

She forced herself to speak in the same level tones that he adopted.
"Doesn't it occur to you," she asked, "that it's not very pleasant for
me, just now, to be always left alone?  I can't go out like that, with
everybody saying that we've quarrelled."

"Are you blaming me, now?" he asked in icy surprise.

She refused to argue this; she felt that it was mean.  "What am I to
do," she said, "all these lonely afternoons?"

"I should send for your good friend Alison," he answered with a grim
humour, and went out to his own room.

Helena sighed, a sigh of despair; then she got up with more energy than
during all these days, buoyed by a resolve.

Anything was better than inaction.  Even a row would not be so awful as
this freezing calmness!  She would do something--must!

She took his advice.  She went to the telephone and left a message with
the Studio porter.  She asked Mr. Alison to tea.

Then she went back to the drawing-room, and as she tidied the neglected
flowers there was on her tight-pressed lips the whole eternal mystery
of the sphinx-woman.

He arrived punctually to the moment--one second after the
tea-urn--secretly nervous but outwardly full of a relieved delight.  "I
am forgiven then?" he cried, and she felt cheered already.  It was
something to talk.  Besides, he really _did_ look funny....  He laid on
the table some roses he had bought and now had not the courage to
present.

"I'm afraid I was a pig," she answered, nobly.  One feud was quite
enough for her.  "I know you never meant to do it and you were awfully
good about it all till then.  You helped me such a lot."

"And I hope to do the same again," he said with an absurd little bow.

"Not give me away again?" she asked, mainly as a good excuse for
smiling.  But really she felt happier already.  Tea smelt almost good
again!

He looked at her with the reproachful eyes of a whipped hound.  "You
know I shouldn't, you know I never meant to.  And I'm afraid you'll
never trust me any more."  He sighed cavernally.

"That's just what I'm going to do," she said, and then she could not
refrain from laughing, for he looked so alarmed at new responsibility.
"Oh, nothing like the other," she went on gaily, "this is a most
harmless secret."

"What is it?" he answered keenly.  "Tell me?"  He hoped that Brett was
teaing out somewhere.

"Well," said Helena, giving him his tea, "you know you said I ought to
follow up the other with a second book and I said no?  Well, now I
think I will."  She felt heroic and excited, merely saying it.  It was
her new resolve.

"Hooray!" cried Geoffrey Alison, catching some of the great moment's
fire.  "Blatchley _will_ be bucked.  He was immensely keen."

"Bother Blatchley," answered Helena.  "I think he has behaved
disgracefully and it is all his fault.  But I can't stand this any
longer; Hugh won't even speak to me; besides, if I write other books
about quite different husbands, nobody can say they are all us."

"Excellent," said the other, grasping the involved idea at once, "and
so----"

Helena laughed.  "So now I'm going to write one about a woman married
to an artist, and you must give me all the local colour."

"Shall _I_ be Zoë's husband?" he asked eagerly.  It still pleased him
to say things like that.

"Oh no," she said, unconsciously ruthless, "no more than Hugh was the
first; but I mean you must tell me what--well, what artists do."

"They paint," he answered gravely; and that made her laugh again.  Ally
was not a man to trust; she had been a real fool; but he was splendid
company.  He told her everything that artists did.  He made her laugh a
lot.  Those endless hours of misery seemed nightmares of the
past--until she was alone again.

But when business released Hubert Brett conveniently in time for their
silent meal, he found in the hall a wife somehow less broken and
submissive; less the girl-penitent serving a long sentence, much more a
woman with secret laughter playing round the hard lines of her mouth.

"I'm glad you've got back," she said in the usual tone.  "I took your
advice and asked Mr. Alison to tea."

He had the sense to make no answer.  But back in his study, he was weak
enough to slam the door.  And she was glad to hear it.



CHAPTER XXIV

BATTLE ROYAL

Geoffrey Alison felt very well content as he rang the bell and hastily
fluffed out his hair.  He was the bringer of good tidings and
everything in general was going as it ought to go.  Zoë was quite her
old self again (would even let him call her that), had recovered from
her silly temper, seen that he was not to blame, and now looked like
making a bit of a stand against the conceited swine Brett, whom she had
seen through finally.

He beamed on Lily, who remained impassive.  There were, to her
expressed mind, men and men.  Mr. Alison, she had told Cook, was of the
second kind.

"Is Mrs. Brett at home?" he asked.

"Mr. Brett, did you say, sir?" asked Lily.  Humour is a wonderful
assistance to those whose work is with the daily round.

"No; _Mrs._," he replied, dwelling upon the sibilants in a way to
delight an elocution-tutor.

He certainly did not want to see Brett, he told himself as Lily finally
held the door open.  He had not seen him since the crash, and fellows
who had met him in the tube said that he was pretty surly.  Geoffrey
Alison did not like surly people--nor had he quite forgotten that scene
in the garden.

Now whether it was that in his general delight with life he rang the
bell with more than customary vigour and so brought out the owner of
the house, or whether (as seems probable) there is some devilish
telepathy that always tinkles into people's heads the exact thought one
most wishes to avoid--whatever the cause, as in Lily's wake Geoffrey
Alison stepped quietly past the study door this morning, it opened and
Hubert looked out with something between suspicion and alarm upon his
worried features.

Geoffrey Alison instinctively took a step backward.

The owner of the house, however, merely looked at him as though he had
been dirt.

"Oh, it's you, Alison," he said, not holding out his hand; and then
with an obvious sneer, "As busy as ever?"  With which he put his head
back and promptly shut the door.  He might have acted thus if it had
been the plumber--and he had wanted to change plumbers.

The other, naturally upset, poured this out instantly to Helena.

"Just like him, isn't it?" he said.

Helena would not be drawn to disloyalty, even about trifles.

"Hugh's such a worker," she said.  "He thinks of nothing but his
writing."

The artist, who was never busy, snorted.  "He certainly does not think
much about his wife," he answered.  Extraordinary how a hog like Brett
could keep the respect of a dear little girl like this!

"Well, what news have _you_ got?" she enquired, to change the subject.

That reminded him.  That scene with the great beast Brett had quite
thrown the good news out of his head; but now, remembering, he won back
his complacency.

"Capital!" he said, sitting down happily and pulling up his trousers to
show light grey socks.  Life was itself again.  "Couldn't be better.
What do you think?  Guess."

"It might be anything at all, you see," she said with desolating common
sense.  "I never guess; it's only wasting time; so tell me."

"Well," began Geoffrey Alison, a little crushed, "I called along
yesterday, after our talk, to tell Blatchley he had acted like a common
cad."

"I don't see that's so very splendid," she objected.  "You might have
done it sooner, and anyhow he must have known that all the time.  He
only did it to get money, and he's getting it."

The other sighed, such a sigh as man has ever sighed when arguing with
woman.

"You women _will_ interrupt," he said loftily.  Yes, they were quite on
their old terms again....  "If you would only let me finish, I was
going to tell you that he said he knew he had acted too hastily but
that he hoped you would believe--and then he told a pack of lies, but
here's the point."  He spoke impressively.  "If you'll let him have the
new book, he'll pay you two hundred pounds down, only as a first dab of
the royalties of course, and boom it better than ever, and he
guarantees a still greater success, providing it's one half as good.
So there, Miss Zoë, what do you think of your agent now?"

She did not exhibit the delirious gratitude which he clearly had
expected.  She sat, obviously thinking; and he for his part reflected
that women were odd devils, however well you knew them.  Surely nobody
could know a woman better than he knew little Zoë; he saw more of her
now than Brett did; talked to her with the direct ease of a
husband--said just what he thought.  Hadn't he just told her not to
interrupt?  Well, that meant knowing a girl pretty well; yet if any one
had told him that she wouldn't be delighted about this book she wanted
to write so much----

"I shall have to ask Hugh," she said very slowly, breaking in upon his
thoughts.

This was the last word....  Ask Hugh!  Ask Brett, who had behaved like
a damned swine about the other book, who wouldn't speak to her except
to snub her, who thought of nothing except his own rotten work!  The
girl must be mad!

"Ask him?" he said in amazement.

"I ought to have asked him about the other," she merely replied.  "Then
everything would have been quite all right."

"Yes," he assented, mocking; "then you'd have never had your book out,
never had all this success.  Everything would have been quite all
right."

"Yes," she said, seriously.

After this there was no argument.  He could not bring himself to stay.
It was so asinine.  People must go mad when once they married!  Oh yes,
he could stay no longer.  Ask Hugh, indeed, when she had got the chance
of her whole lifetime!  He could guess what Hugh, dear Hugh, would say.

"Well," she said, "if you must really go so early?"  She had no
suspicion of his mental turmoil.  "And I'll let you know to-morrow
about the new book, when I've asked Hugh."

But he had clapped his green hat on impatiently and strode away.  He
knew she would not listen to anything against her husband; she had such
young ideas about that sort of thing; but really!----

Helena, meanwhile, still innocent of the rage she had stirred up in
him, spent the time till lunch in wondering how best to attack her not
easy task.  Before Hugh came in, she must have the book in its rough
lines all in her head, so as to convince him that it was mere fiction
and would make people believe at last the other had been meant for
nothing more.  Then he would surely not object, and be pleased; or if
not--well, why worry about that?  A row, she had decided, could not
hurt like his cold silence.  It would be human, anyhow.  And what an
outlet, what a boon for lonely evenings, the new book would be!

If war it must be, then let it be war; but she would do her best for
peace.

When he duly entered, however, all her good natural openings and
deprecating explanations were mere labour lost.  He fired the first
shot--and in quite a different campaign.

"Look here, Helena," he said, coming into the drawing-room and actually
sitting down, though not, of course, near her, "all this Alison
nonsense must cease."  He clutched the chair-arm firmly.

"What exactly do you mean by that?" she asked, very calm; but inwardly
her spirit veered decisively to war.

"What do _I_ mean?" he snorted.  "Surely it's quite obvious!  Most
husbands would be jealous, but I'm not like that.  I know it's mere
stupidity; I couldn't be jealous of a knock-kneed ass like Alison; but
all the same----"  In spite of himself he relaxed his hold of the
chair-arm and got up, pacing hurriedly about the little room.  "Look
here, Helena," he said once again, more calmly, "I see through it all;
don't fancy not, for half a moment.  You women are so obvious.  I know
you think you've only got to make us jealous for everything to be all
right, but it's not going to work here."

"I don't know even what you mean," she answered, rather as though he
had just made a dirty joke.

"Well, _I_ do," he thundered, "and I mean it, too.  This has got to
stop, I tell you.  I asked you long ago, when--when things were
different, to see less of this fellow.  I don't trust him.  I ran
across him just now, and he cringed.  Grrrr!" (and here he made a
gesture as of one who washes hands).  "It's bad enough that you and he
should be about together, day and night, till everybody talks; but when
it comes to a cad like that calling you Zoë and----"

"So you've been listening," she said.  It seemed so easy to keep calm,
now that Hubert was excited.

He laughed scornfully.  "That's likely, isn't it?  I heard him
bellowing it out in the hall....  No, this has got to stop.  It's bad
enough to have the Boyds and all our friends here sniggering, but when
the servants----"

She got up abruptly, and he sat down; the room was too small for two
rovers.

"Perhaps," she began icily, "you'll let me say a word.  You haven't let
me for a week."  He spread his arms, hopeless, and sat down.  "I'm glad
you're not jealous," she went on slowly, as to a child.  "That'd be
stupid.  You know quite well that Mr. Alison is nothing but a friend.
I couldn't respect him as----" but no, she wouldn't seem to beg for
mercy; she broke off and spoke again in a much fiercer tone.  "Perhaps
though, as you've told me what I mustn't do, you'll tell me what I can.
_You_ won't come out with me, you shun me like a criminal, you only
talk to me in front of Lily.  Do you think I can live like that?  Do
you really think I'm going out alone, alone with the dog, and everybody
saying: 'There's poor Mrs. Brett; she's in disgrace; he's punishing
her'?  No, I'd rather let them see me with Mr. Alison and let them
think it's I who am avoiding you!"

He looked at her as at some strange being in his house.  "Helena," he
said, "this can't be you who's speaking."

"Isn't it?" she laughed.  Then calming herself, "Perhaps then," she
added, borrowing some of his irony, "if I'm not to go out with Mr.
Alison, you'll tell me what I _am_ to do."

"What do most wives do," he asked, "whose husbands are away?  They
don't rush about everywhere with artist-wasters; they do some work or
something."

It was a vague ending, but it lent Helena her chance.

"Exactly what I wanted you to say," she cried.  "I don't want to do
anything again without your leave; but now I _will_ do some work.  I'll
live my own life, if you don't want me to share yours."

"What do you mean, Helena?" he asked.  This was a new mood.

"I mean," she said surprised at her own calmness, "that Blatchleys have
offered me two hundred pounds advance for my new novel.  I said I must
ask you first, but now I shall accept it."

"I utterly forbid it," he cried wildly and leapt to his feet.  They
were both standing now.

"What?" she exclaimed.  "Forbid?  What do you forbid?  How can you
forbid?  You could have, in the old days; I wouldn't have done anything
if you had asked me not; but now--how can you forbid?"

"I do," he cried excitedly.  "I utterly forbid it."  He was gaining
time to think.

There was a pause while they stood facing one another.

"Do you think," he said presently, "apart from all that's happened,
this horrible publicity, my friends all chaffing me, I ever would have
married the sort of woman you propose becoming?  I wanted a wife to
look after me, to be a nice companion; I didn't want a woman-writer.  I
hate that type of woman.  You were a simple, jolly girl when I first
married you, and now--writing this popular clap-trap!--you must see,
Helena, it isn't fair?"  His stern air melted almost to appeal.

She would not allow herself to listen but forced the argument on to a
safer plane.  "This one," she said, "has nothing to do with an author
at all, there can't be all those terrible misunderstandings.  Oh, don't
you see, Hubert," she cried, "that if I wrote another book, all
obviously fiction, these horrid gossips may believe at last the other
was all like that too?  Besides, it's stupid to refuse two hundred
pounds just when you say things are so bad and we may have to move."

She had not meant it so, but this was her worst cut of all.

Hubert remembered his own failure; was reminded of her huge success.

A wife selling her books ten times as well as his own--a wife who wrote
"for fun" in idle hours--a wife whom he had treated as a silly
child....  "This one'll fail," he said almost fiercely, "it's bound to.
You're nothing but an amateur, _I_'ve been at the job fifteen years.
Two hundred's all you'll get, and much good may it do you!"

Full of conflicting moods; sullen yet ashamed; aware of his unworthy
jealousy yet hardly able to endure the thought; sorry for her yet sick
with his own wound; he turned away before the better side in him should
win and he implore the pardon of this woman that he would always love,
however much he hated her.

"Hubert," she began, aghast at his excitement.

"We won't argue," he said, back at the safe level of those days just
past, and moved towards the door.  She hesitated, not sure who had won.

At the door he turned.  "Oh, by the way," he said, as to a servant.  "I
shall want a room for Ruth to-morrow.  She's coming down before
teatime."

Helena gave a short bitter laugh, which he just heard as the door
closed.

She saw the issue of the tussle now.

He had failed to subdue the disobedient wife, and he was asking down
his sister!



CHAPTER XXV

THE BROKEN TRIANGLE

Geoffrey Alison, bursting with anxiety for Helena's decision, found her
next morning in exultant readiness.

"I accept," she cried excitedly, almost before he had got inside the
door.  "I accept Blatchley's offer.  The book is growing splendidly.
I've done two chapters and I see it all."

He thought he had never seen her in such good form, and he wondered.
She had been so cold about it yesterday.  He did not, of course, know
about the meals between....

She could not, however, help telling him a little of it.

"Oh," she cried, "you don't know how glorious it'll be, having some
work to do again; I've missed Virginia, I mean Zoë, horribly!  It seems
so endless, the day, now that Hubert's cross."

"Is he still sick?" the other asked.  He only knew till now what people
said.  He was dying to hear, but she was so funny.

"Sick," she laughed mirthlessly.  "That is a lovely word for it!  He
seems to be entirely different.  I knew directly it came out, I had
done something awful, but I thought he would understand and see I
hadn't meant him really and forgive.  But he gets worse and worse.  I
think his friends keep teasing him, and then he can't get on with his
book in the least.  It's sickening."

The artist was encouraged to a blow at his old enemy.  "I expect really
he's jealous of your success.  He's always sensitive.  He hates anybody
his own age succeeding better."  It was the first time she had ever
said, or listened to, anything against her husband.

Helena was silent for a moment, dazed.  Did this explain his harshness?
Was he really jealous?

"Oh, I don't think so," she said, not letting herself think, for all
the puzzling little bits began to fit, now, with a deadly ease.  "I
don't think it's that.  He's naturally--'sick'!" and she forced out a
laugh.

"I'm so sorry," he said.  It was his first attempt at sympathy.  Their
talk had been on flippant lines.

She did not dare to look at him, remembering how funny he was when
quite serious.  "Thank you, Ally," she said gently.  He was a good sort.

"_I_'m sorry," he repeated.  "You know that, Zoë, don't you?  I'm your
pal, whatever Hubert is."

"Hubert's splendid," she said, childishly inadequate; and with these
words, she who had been a hard woman for long days--melted perhaps by
fatal sympathy or her own noble lie--suddenly found hot tears streaming
down her cheeks.  She turned away, ashamed, and hoped he would not see.

But he had seen.

What they had said just now had been enough--and this was far too much.
Dear little Zoë--pretty little girl, too--married to that great swine
Brett--in trouble--crying--wanting to be cheered.

The worst, of course, of keeping harmless vices as tame pets is that
for years they only come out when needed and are very pleasant.  Then,
however, as time makes them stronger, comes the fatal moment when they
gain the mastery, turn on their former owner and drag him where they
will.

This was such a moment for Geoffrey Alison.

All those nice exciting stories, laudably abstract, bulked suddenly
into the real.  Here was a girl, crying--pretty too; dam pretty--and
everybody knew that when dam pretty girls cried--why, they expected
it....

"Zoë," he cried, surging forward, "why do you stand it?  Why do you let
him treat you like that?  You're too good for him; I wish that I had
half the trust, the love you give to him.  I've done so much for
you--the book and everything--and you're so hard to me."

An automatic thrill came in his voice, he leant a little forward; he
stretched out timid arms towards her, ready to protect.  There was no
need to think; it came so easily.  He had read the whole scene so
often.  The blood throbbed in his veins.

"My God!" he said, unthinking what it meant.  They always did.

But Helena quite failed to play her part.

She got up hurriedly as his protective arms swayed over her; she backed
and stared at him.  He wasn't serious?  She never knew....

Her tears had ceased.  She felt a stupid terror.  It was all so vulgar.

He dropped his arms slowly, chilled by her stare, and stood with his
mouth ludicrously open.

"Oh!" she said at length, as though realising what the whole past had
meant.  "I thought you liked me--and it was only this."

They never had said that at all.  He had no answer ready.

"Oh, come," he replied presently, "don't be so serious about it."

She spoke very seriously.  "It was _my_ fault," she said.  "I ought to
have seen.  People told me.  I thought you just liked me, and I suppose
I was flattered.  If only I had guessed!  But I was always such a fool.
You see, I never really had a chance.  _You_ taught me all I knew of
art or anything.  And that's why it's so terrible."  The crisis over,
she sank limply on a chair.  She had never thought that anything like
this could happen, ever.  She knew it did in those books that she
couldn't finish; but Mr. Alison----!  He had been so amusing always;
she had thought him a funny and kind little man.  She had not even
thought of any one but Hubert....

"Oh, come, you know," he was saying again.  "Don't go on as though
there had been a tragedy!  That's the worst of you awfully innocent
women; you always think any one means so much worse than he does.  Why
you'd imagine I 'd suggested--well, almost anything; and all I wanted,
just as my reward, was nothing but a kiss!"

Somehow, as he drew to an end of his halting apology, he realised how
great the fall had been.  Was this the man who had been almost
throttled by a jealous husband?  He felt, with a surge of
self-contempt, that he had reached the level of a river-side tea-garden.

And to Helena, although far less consciously, the same feeling.  It
would have been better almost, less sordid, if he had meant something
worse.  A kiss--as his reward!...  She understood why Hubert said
"Grrrr!" and then washed his hands when he spoke about Mr. Alison.  He
was "funny" no longer; merely vulgar--vulgar and horrible.

"Please go," she said, more voicing her thoughts than meaning to speak.
Then having started, she explained.  "I don't want to be nasty; you've
always been so kind; but it will be much better if we don't meet again.
Hubert had asked me, anyhow ... and then, you see, I couldn't ever feel
the same, quite, with you.  Oh, I'm so sorry," she said, noticing his
look--"but you do understand, don't you?"

"Oh yes, I understand," he answered, very deep down, and serious for
once without seeming comic; "I've been a fool, a swine.  He'd kick me
if he knew--and he'd be right.  But look here" (he could not keep away
from his excuses), "do try to see it wasn't very much.  Lots of
women----"  Then he caught her eye and said; "But you're so different
and that's why I feel such a cad.  Good-bye."

"Good-bye," she said and as he turned miserably away, she held her hand
out to him, "and thank you all the same for what you've done.  You've
been a real good friend to me."

He had not looked for this and it was the worst part to bear.  "I wish
to God," he said passionately, "I'd been more worthy of your
friendship.  It's been the best thing in my life so far," and he turned
hurriedly away, cursing himself for the damned fool he was.  He had
thrown everything away just for a moment that could never have meant
anything.  He had seen his real Self in her contemptuous eyes.

Helena stood, now, as the front door slammed, with eyes full of an
emotion very different from contempt.  She felt sorry--till her mind
ranged swiftly back over all she had ever said to him, over the
meanings he, a man like that, might read in it; and then she felt
ashamed.

But all the while, unaccountably, she felt more alone than ever.  She
seemed so utterly thrown back on Hubert, now....

Presently, unable to bear the room's stillness, she went upstairs,
mechanical as any housemaid, and busied herself needlessly about Ruth's
room.



CHAPTER XXVI

TACT

Hubert at lunch made no reference whatever either to their own drawn
battle or to that other, of which the sounds, she feared, might easily
have reached him.

His one remark, indeed, beyond the usual polite abstractions for Lily's
benefit, was "Ruth will be here at four o'clock.  I want to see her
before tea."

"Very well," was her submissive answer.

But this life of a housekeeper--how could she endure it after what had
been?  Hubert's only comments were aroused by letters, which his
humorous friends still continued to send, quizzing him about his
author-wife or sometimes facetiously alluding to some of the
peculiarities of down-trodden Zöe's husband.  "This I owe to you," he
would say, throwing it across; or, "_You'll_ enjoy this better," if a
press-cutting contained nothing more pleasing to his vanity than a
reference to himself as the notorious Husband.

Helena dreaded anything of this sort in front of his sister.  She
dreaded her visit entirely and hoped that it would not be long.  Who
could tell whether Ruth were not to be installed as her perpetual
guardian, to watch over the wicked child?  If so--but why make plans
until things happened?  The present was enough, and her chief wisdom
lay in making the situation seem, to a third party, as easy as she
could.  She would _force_ Hugh to speak.

There was a little fun in this idea, formed during lunch: and glancing
across at his sullen face, with the too active mouth now tightly enough
pressed, she only just restrained a laugh.  It would have been the
first during these ghastly and interminable meals.

So soon as he had got up, with his horribly polite; "Finished?" and the
usual sigh, she ran almost lightly to the baize-door and called Lily.

"Lily," she asked, trying to compromise between an obvious whisper and
a voice too audible, "were there any press-cuttings this morning?"

"Yes, mum," answered the always respectful conspirator.

"You kept them, I hope?"

"Oh _yes_, mum,"--almost hurt.

"Well, Lily," and she hesitated, the coward of Conscience; "I think
I'll have them now and not to-night.  Miss Brett will be here then."

Lily retreated and came back with the small envelope.  Her eyes
glistened sympathetically in the half-darkness.  Perhaps she
guessed--but she knew her own favourite among the Bretts.

Helena with that delicious thrill which makes crime so popular a hobby
among those unable to afford sport or collecting, went into the
drawing-room and boldly tore open the envelope addressed to "Hubert
Brett, Esq."  She did not want unpleasantness in front of Ruth.

She spread the cutting out, to read.  He had not published a book now
for months, so it was certain to refer to hers.

It did.

It was from _People And Paragraphs_, (which its admirers call by its
initials,) and it ran, in the crisp, breezy, style which makes that
sheet so popular:


  "TURNING THE TABLES.

"Many a woman finds herself socially snuffed out by being wedded to a
luminary: she is Mr. Dash Blank's wife _et voila tout_.  There have
been cases exactly opposite; but hist!  They say the lady herself is
now touchy on the point.  It cannot often have happened, however, that
the tables have been turned so neatly as in the case of the Hubert
Bretts.  As a novelist, he has for a decade of years formed one of the
small and essentially select _coterie_ that largely exists, like the
ladies who lived on each other's washing, by patting one another's
backs.  His reputation has been large, his notices extremely good; but
neither adjective would fit his sales.  Any librarian (librarians, _en
passant_, are interesting men) could throw an odd light upon the
curious relations between

  REVIEWS AND ROYALTIES


"Now mark the sequel.  Pretty little Mrs. Hubert, bored with her
husband's neglect, indites a diary, which a keen-sighted publisher
gives to the world.  Hey presto! as dear old 'Bertie' Zoda used to say
at the never-to-be-forgotten Pen-Pushers' Saturday nights (or were they
Sunday mornings?  Tush!), in a moment all is changed.  She sells fifty
copies to her husband's one; the book is in everybody's hands and
mouth; the next is eagerly awaited--and poor Hubert finds himself,
after all these years of manly efforts, as nothing more glorious than
Zoë Brett's husband.  Rough luck, Bertie, very!"


With a feeling of almost physical sickness Helena realised how narrow
had been the escape.  If he had read that, with his sister there----!
She tore it viciously across and across, until no hand could ever piece
it back to its vile self again.  She felt the very action a relief.

In future, so long at any rate as Ruth was with them, she would open
and destroy all cuttings.  They could refer to nothing but her book.
She went along and told the still impassive Lily to keep them all for
her.  She waited, this done, for Ruth Brett's arrival with far more
complacency.  At any rate her eyes weren't red....

It is typical of Hubert Brett's peculiar temperament that he had never
thought of Ruth--at any rate as guest--until he needed her.  He had
marked her birthday down in his small pocket-diary, so soon as he
bought it each year, and never failed to send a cheery note, however
busy; and the same at Christmas.  Also, when she had written letters
filled with endless details about people he had never met and clearly
should dislike, even if he had not read them all, he left no single one
unanswered.  But for the rest, she had her little cottage on the
Norfolk coast and he his little home; so why should either trouble with
the other?  Many people sacrificed their life to relatives!

When, however, Helena grew so defiant over this affair which had been
her own fault entirely, he thought at once of Ruth.  She had been
always full of doctrines of submission--almost maddeningly so; _she_
saw that women who lived with men who were busy should be considerate,
unselfish.  She would not, he knew, approve of Helena's idea that she
should be an author too, neglect her wifely duties and become a rival
to himself.  Ruth had been tiresome, certainly, in her persistent
martyrdom, but she had never done a thing like that.

As for Ruth Brett herself, she did not question her brother's command.
There is a lot in habit; besides, she happened to be fond of him.  She
took the train, directly she received his wire, and came.  She hoped
that it was nothing serious.  He might have told her--but he wouldn't
think....

She had met Helena so few times; Hubert had kept them apart in the old
days; but now, so soon as the young wife stepped out into the hall, she
flung herself upon her and cried, "What is it?  Is he ill?  What has
happened?  Quick!"

Helena was overwhelmed.  She had rehearsed so many meetings--always
with one idea: to seem at ease in an united home--and none of them of
course was right.

"Oh no, he's all right," she said in confusion.  How could she explain?
"He wants to see you first.  In there!"  And the bewildered Ruth,
scarce entered, still with her umbrella, was thrust at once towards
another door; leaving Helena with the reflection that after all things
had not turned out too badly, even though all the rehearsals had been
absolutely useless.

Hubert jumped up from his table with a cry of welcome.

"But Ruth!" he said, holding her by both arms, "what's happened?  I
should not have known you."  He did not realise the difference which
changed environment can make in the chameleon, Woman.

"Well, it's three years," she explained.

"But you look ten years younger!" he cried, laughing.  Just for a
moment he forgot his troubles.  It was incredible, this new Ruth with
firm cheeks and bright colour; gayer even of costume.  He could not
understand--and he was little used to that.  "I know!" he said; and
then accusingly; "Ruth, you're in love."

At once a little of the old-time pathos crept into her face.

"No," she replied, "I think I've left all that too late."

"What is it, then?" persisted he, manlike.

"It's Norfolk," she said.  Not for a million pounds would she have told
him it was Freedom....  "Tell me, Hugh," she added quickly, "what has
happened?  Why did you wire for me?  Everything seems quite all right!"

"Everything is utterly all wrong," answered Hubert, finding some
consolation in a saying so tremendous; "it couldn't possibly be worse,"
and he poured the whole story forth with the accumulated passion of a
week's not easy silence.  How many times he had rehearsed his grievance
to himself--when he felt any danger of relenting!

She listened to the end, attentively, in silence, and as she listened,
it occurred to her too that these three years had wrought a miracle of
change in her.  All this, that he was hurling forth indignantly, seemed
to her now so tragically small.  She realised the pathos of a life in
which--as with her, in the days gone by--one sense of wrong after
another would always wreck his happiness and wreck the life of any one
he loved.  It had been her; now it was Helena; there always would be,
must be, a victim to his tragical self-centred brooding.  And he would
not be happy, ever.  He would stand alone upon the dignity of his
achievement; alone, he would distress himself that nobody considered
his work, him; alone, upon his deathbed, he would understand too late
that he had never lived at all.

She looked at him with pity as he ended, the tempest lulled by its own
blown-out fury.

"Well," he said presently, as she was silent.

"I can't understand," Ruth answered slowly.

"Can't understand?"

"I haven't read the book," she said, "our village library does not
believe in modern fiction, but--well, what I don't understand is this.
You say _she_ swears the husband wasn't meant for you.  Well, then,
from what you tell me of his character in the book--weak, selfish,
bloated with conceit, a little man who thinks he's great, full of
absurd cranks about 'atmosphere' and so on, cruel to his wife--I wonder
_you_ can ever pretend, or care to pretend to think that it was meant
for you!  You surely don't think three years have made you like
_that_?" and she gave a laugh as at some absolute absurdity, confident
in her own knowledge of how splendid a man he had always been.

He looked up swiftly.  He suspected her.  But she did not flinch, for
this was a new Ruth indeed.  She looked straight at him--puzzled
innocent surprise--and it was his gaze that fell after all.  He knew
what she meant--and she knew also that he knew.

The woman's tact had conquered in a sentence.

"Anyhow," he answered sulkily, acknowledging defeat in that one word,
"you must see _she_ is in the wrong?  I know you women always hold
together, but you must see that it's not--well, not exactly pleasant
for me to be paragraphed in every rag as the selfish author-husband,
whether I was meant or not.  She had no right to publish it without my
knowing."

"Oh yes," assented Ruth, "I see that, quite.  She has been very silly,
but I'm sure she meant nothing and perhaps----"  Then she stopped
abruptly and repeated; "But she has certainly been silly."

Hubert, oddly full of guilt and humiliation, was glad to leave this
interview at such an end.  He had planned it in a way very different.

"Well," he said decisively, as he got up, "I can do nothing with her.
She persists that she will bring another book out now, and so revive
the whole unpleasant business!  Tea will be ready and you must want it,
but afterwards" (he touched her lovingly upon the arm), "I know you'll
want to help me, dear old girl.  You'll go and talk to her quite
firmly, won't you?"

"I'll go and talk to her, yes," said Ruth, pressing his arm no less
fondly.

He did not notice that she dropped the adverbs.



CHAPTER XXVII

THE TWO WAYS

It was not a comfortable meal, this tea, and though Helena no less than
Ruth knew it to be the prelude to a scene, neither could feel much
regret when Hubert with clumsy ill-ease said; "Well, it is five
o'clock, I'll leave you two to a chat," and so out, colliding with the
door.

They were left staring at each other, the wife and the sister.

Helena, although she knew the object of this chat and the whole visit,
could not work herself up to the pitch of feeling so much resentment as
she had intended.  This was such a different woman, who looked across
at her with bright understanding eyes, from the one she remembered:
shrivelled, worthy, with a hint of tracts to come.  Helena looked back
across the fireplace at her almost with a smile.

It was Ruth who spoke first.  "Well," she said, "of course you know
I've been asked down to make peace."

It was so unexpected that Helena did actually smile.  "To make me a
good girl," she emended.

"I'm afraid," laughed Ruth, "as usual with children, you are both to
blame."

It all seemed easy in a moment.  Helena suddenly felt the thick clouds
of misery lift from her soul.  She believed in Ruth.  The whole air of
the little room appeared to change from stiff hostility to friendly
hope.  Tea seemed a thousand years ago.  She gave a cheery little laugh.

"Look here," said Ruth, encouraged, "I'm so glad you're taking it like
this; I hated coming down.  I know how people feel about in-laws and I
thought you'd think I had come down to side with Hubert blindly.  I've
not, a bit.  I'm very fond of him, but I see all his faults.  I only
want him to be happy.  I'm forty, you know, and I've seen a good deal
of things, so possibly----"  She broke off and said, by an abrupt
change; "You see, I lived with him for years and years so I can
understand.  He's difficult, I know, when you're with him, but when you
get away--isn't he a dear?"  She smiled.

"He's _more_ than that," said Helena, suddenly wanting to cry.

She had said it unthinking, moved by the other's appeal, but to Ruth it
was everything, for it meant that her task was easy.  She embarked with
confidence.

"When I first lived with him," she began, "I met a lot of well-known
writers, artists, actors.  He used to go out more then, and it
flattered him to meet men who were famous.  Well, I came to the
conclusion that the greatest men are the most tragic, the most
pathetically childish.  I suppose you _have_ to be self-centred to
succeed; and then somehow, they can't get used to the little things.
You know how press-notices upset poor Hubert?  Well, they're all like
that about something or other.  You see, you married a man of that sort
and you must make allowances."

"Oh, I do," said Helena, leaping at self-defence.  "I always did.  It's
_him_.  He won't forgive me, won't believe I'm sorry, won't let me put
things right.  You don't know what this week has been.  I can't endure
it, really."

"And so," asked Ruth, "you mean to write another book?"

Helena for just one moment scented battle and replied more stiffly.
She would not throw her arms down till she knew there was to be no
fighting.  "What do you expect me to do, otherwise?  He won't allow me
to see other men, won't talk to me himself.  A little house like this
is nothing.  What am I to do?  It isn't even as though I'd a child."

Ruth answered very slowly.  "Hugh is just a child," she said with a
great tenderness.

Helena laughed.  "A child indeed?  If you could have heard him this
week!"  She suddenly grew hostile.  "Why," she demanded passionately,
"should everything in the house hinge round _his_ career?  Why am I not
to write another book?  Is it because I am a woman?  Mine has sold
better than all his put together and yet I'm not to do another!  I'm
just to sit at home, here in this tiny room, while _he_ works and says
we've no money!  No, I utterly refuse.  I've got an offer and I mean to
take it."

Ruth looked troubled, feeling that she had been confident too soon.

"Helena," she said very gently, thrusting the name forward to make
peace, "I'm not going to ask you to give up your career; I'm asking you
to spare Hugh his illusions."

"I don't see," answered Helena, suspicious.

"No," said the other, and then paused.  Helena thought that she had
finished, when she suddenly began again.  "I've been alone a good deal
these three years, and I have thought a lot about marriage.  Oh, not
for myself, no" (she spoke so sadly that Helena relented for a moment);
"but because my life now is so different from the one I spent with
Hubert, and that makes one think.  You know, if I'd my life to live
again, I'd live it all alone--I'm afraid, yes, I'd sacrifice Hubert:
men are born to marry, not to live with sisters!--but I'd have my
life-work."

"And yet," swiftly interrupted Helena in triumph, "you ask me to give
up mine?"

"I don't."  She spoke decisively.  "I only ask you not to sacrifice
Hubert's to it."

"I still don't understand."  Her voice was almost resentful.

"Hubert married you," began Ruth expansively, "because he is the sort
of man who needs encouragement.  He wanted some one who'd think his
work wonderful and ask him how he did it.  You surely see the
difference?  Imagine his life now, for any one like him: your bigger
sales, your long reviews, your photographs, his own eclipse.  It is
impossible."

Helena remembered the press-notice and spoke more obediently.  "What
are you asking me to do then?"

"Leave him."  The words dropped out like heavy weights.

"Leave him?" cried Helena, and by a natural dramatic instinct she rose
from her chair.  "Leave him when I'm fond of him?"

Ruth looked very earnest.  "Leave him," she said again, "unless you're
fond enough of him to give up your career.  I tell you--I _know_--you
can not have both, with Hubert."

"You cannot serve God and Mammon," murmured Helena.  She did not know
that she had said it.  She sank down into her chair again and forced
her numb brain to thought.

"Don't break all his illusions," she heard Ruth saying, miles away.
"Be gentle with him if you're fond of him.  You know how sensitive he
is.  Your books, you say, sell better.  How do you think he could ever
endure that, he who--I tell you--is nothing but a child?  It would be
agony, a life-time agony; disgrace.  He lives upon success, on
admiration, on being the centre even of a little house.  How could a
man like that endure to be just Helena Brett's husband? ... Oh no, you
won't do it, you can't be so brutal.  No one can forbid you your
career, but go away and work it out alone.  _I_ will look after Hubert,
if he needs me."

That struck home, among these words that came dully to Helena through
the chaos of her thought.  "So that's it," she said with a bitter
laugh, longing to hurt somehow.  "You're thinking of yourself."

"God knows," said Ruth solemnly, "I wouldn't come back willingly for
half the world, fond as I am of Hugh.  I've _lived_ since I got right
away alone beside the sea.  He always trampled on me; I lay down; I
haven't got your courage.  I often cried myself to sleep--and he not
even guessing he had been unkind!  It was hideous, I see now; hideous
every day of it.  But I'd go through it all again, and worse, sooner
than expose him to this agony."

There was conviction in her tones.  Helena tried to arouse herself.
"Leave him?" she said dully.  "Surely there's some other way?  Even if
he didn't mind, think of----  You talk about agony, but how can you
advise me to do this, when you know how his friends----"

"Nothing would hurt him," said Ruth earnestly, "nothing in all the
world--that is the awful part--so much as this blow to his pride, this
shattering of all his life-work.  He thinks--he told me so--he thinks
this book of yours was just a fluke, an amateur attempt; that you can
never do another.  Oh, don't you see?" (she cried impatiently): "Must I
put it in words?  He thinks that _he_ is a real author, you just
nobody; that _he_ has studied, he has nerves and everything an artist
has, but you are just a woman.  He lives upon his self-conceit....  Oh
yes, I've said it now; I had to.  It's not disloyalty.  I'm fond of
Hubert too--everybody is, because he is so thorough in it, such a
perfect child.  And everybody spares him too.  Men of his sort are
never told; everybody pities them the shock.  They smile on him and
like to see him so contented.  They call him 'dear old Hubert.'  It's
half pity, yes--but also it's half love.  I've seen it all so clearly
since I got away.  I've sometimes told myself that if I had those years
again, I should let him have the whole truth; but I know that I
shouldn't.  And _you_ won't either, Helena.  Nobody ever does.  They
dream on happily, and all we others seem the selfish ones to them.
It's all a comedy, when you're not near enough to see the tragedy.
I've thought a lot about it, and I'm so glad now I was gentle.  And
_you_'ll be gentle too, I know.  You'll either go away or you won't
write: it's not for me to settle which; but you'll be gentle.  You said
just now you hadn't got a child.  You have.  No married woman is
without a child.  You won't be hard, I know, will you, because your
child has been a little spoilt and things have suddenly gone wrong,
and--just for a little bit--he loves to hurt his toys?"

"I--I never thought of it like that," said Helena, an odd look in her
eyes.  "I thought him so splendid and clever, so terribly above me.  It
all seemed so hopeless."

For answer Ruth went across and kissed this girl who made her feel so
old.  "I wish we had known each other sooner," she said.  "I must go
and unpack."

But outside in the hall she stood for a few moments, dabbing at her
eyes with a quite fashionably small handkerchief.



CHAPTER XXVIII

WOMAN PROPOSES

Ruth had abandoned her pleading at a clever moment, for she had left
Helena with a sense of pity, and pity means more to a woman than
conviction.

Poor old Hubert!  She was glad now, oh so glad, that she had spared
him.  It had been on her tongue yesterday, when he was so contemptuous
about her book being popular claptrap, herself an amateur, to answer:
"Well, I have found out about your own work too: it tries to be popular
and isn't,"--to tell him she had also learnt that one could write
without upsetting the whole household by one's fads and poses....  But
in the end she hadn't.  Perhaps it was as Ruth had said: every one
would always spare him.  Something, in any case, had held her back, and
now she was glad; for that once said, it would have been too late.  She
felt that Ruth had spoken truly: he never could have cared for her
again.

Poor old Hugh!

Buoyed by this feeling, crushing under it all others, she went to her
bureau and unlocked the drawer where she kept her secret manuscript.
There were three chapters.  She would destroy them before her mood
changed.  Then she would go to him and say that he was right, she was
not clever in the way that he was--she was an amateur.  He would take
days perhaps, yes even weeks, before he could forgive her quite; but it
was as Ruth had just said.  The rivalry gone, he would soon learn to
bear the rest.  He would have won back his self-sufficiency, ... poor
Hugh!

She took out the written sheets with all the feelings of a mother who
sacrifices her own son, touching them gently as if even in this last
hour they had been something sacred.

Then--weak if you will, but do not be too hard upon
the-Mother-soul--then she began to read.... just a few sentences.

And as she read, the whole thing leapt to instant life; began to grow,
as poor Virginia had grown.  She saw the painter, strong in a way--not
Geoffrey Alison at all--but with a fatal vanity.  Yes, that would be
his fall, of course.  He would be all right with the women he admired;
there were so many, he was safe enough: but when he met the woman who
admired him----!

She had not thought of it like that before.  She did not know where the
idea had come from now.  Before it went she hurriedly seized up her
pen, to add a note to the confused synopsis.

Then she remembered.

What was the use if she was just going to destroy it?

If----!

And its constant sequel: Why?

_Why_ should she destroy her work?

It was her work no less than Hubert's work was his, however much more
easily she worked.  That hers came to her brain, she knew not whence,
whilst he hammered out his from formulæ, was very likely nothing much
against it.

Why had he said this second book would never sell?  It interested her:
why should it not interest others?  How could he possibly know, when he
had never seen it?

It was mere jealousy of course.

Ruth had said practically that.  She had said that he could not endure
rivalry; he must be supreme, if only in a little house.  He knew that
her book had sold better, ever so much better than any of his own, and
that was what he really minded.  Yes, she saw it all now; all from the
beginning.  He had not minded in the least that she should think him
(as he still believed) self-centred, cruel, or neglectful; that had not
pained him in the least, he had not really minded her publishing the
book.  No, what had really hurt him always--she saw now--was the book's
success; what Ruth had called his own eclipse.  He had worked, as he
said, for fifteen years; he had called it a "job"; and in one moment
she had cut him out!

That, Helena decided in a rapid flash, was the whole mainspring of his
anger.

And was she to sacrifice her work to satisfy the petty vanity of such a
man?  Was she to admit her failure, to feign life-long admiration for
his work, when she knew that with practice she could almost certainly
do better?

No!

The answer came decisively.

As if to clinch it, she thrust the manuscript back in its drawer and
turned the key with a decisive twist.

She would not sacrifice her own career to his conceit.  He had spoilt
Ruth's life, used her as a housekeeper until she was too old for
anybody else; then turned her out--and now he thought he could spoil
hers.  And every one would spare him, because they were sorry!  Why
should she spare him?  Why should she be sorry?

Helena stood with her fingers still upon the key, transfixed by the
enormity of this new thought.

Why should she either smother her ambition or else creep away, sparing
him the reason; leaving Ruth to be his victim once again?--poor Ruth,
emerging into life again, escaped from this vampire who had left her an
old withered woman at the age of forty.

No, she would not.  Others might spare him; _she_ would tell the truth.

She would go now, whilst Ruth was upstairs, and would tell him what
she, what Ruth, what everybody thought.  She would tell him that he was
murdering the love of those who loved him by his own selfish blindness;
that all this nonsense about moods and inspiration was mere pose, that
you could write quite well wherever your two candlesticks were put;
that every one saw through him but himself; that he should be proud of
his wife's success, not jealous, if he had a spark of decent feeling in
him; would tell him she too was ambitious, though a woman, she too had
a life to live; that she was bored all day, with him at work, and now
she meant to have her own work too; that Zoë had been right--yes, had
been Helena, Helena not then but Helena as she was now; that she saw
now, as Zoë had declared, she had been nothing but a background to his
work.  Now that was over and she would sacrifice herself no longer.

Oh yes, and she would tell him the rest too--that she was fond of him,
would always be; admired him for his strength as much as she despised
the flabby Mr. Alison of whom he had been jealous; that she would try
to make him happy, comfortable and happy, not neglect the house; and
they would be proud of each other's work, and even if she was not a
success, her little earnings would all help to pay those horrid bills.

And if this did not satisfy him, if he could not live like that--well,
then, there was what Ruth had said....

When he had heard the truth, the choice should lie with him!  He might
choose then between the sister and the author-wife.  But they must have
the truth.  She would not sacrifice poor Ruth to him again.  He had
been spared enough already.  The truth would make him happier.  What
could a man so selfish know of happiness?

Poor Ruth, contented with her mission, laying on her bed a dress that
would astonish Hubert by contrast with the prim grey horrors of old
time, little guessed how too thoroughly she had let in the light to
Helena's young eyes!

Helena released the key and moved with firm resolve into the hall.  She
dared not stop to think.  She strode across the narrow carpet and
boldly turned the handle of his sacred room at this forbidden hour.
She did not even knock.

There is much courage in a symbol.



CHAPTER XXIX

HELENA BRETT'S CAREER

Helena stood at the door, as on the day when she had lost her watch;
and now again each detail stamped itself instantly upon her brain.

But this time Hubert was not working.

He sat at his desk, his hands stretched forward to hold open a paper
laid before him.  Helena even observed the wrapper from which it had
come, rolled up quite tight beside the blotting-pad.  She saw Hubert's
air of rapt attention and noticed that he had not heard her enter.  She
saw two letters unopened on the table, and she thought how like him it
was to open first a paper almost certainly sent him because it had some
mention of himself.  Yes, she could see now the blue pencil marks
beside the paragraphs that he was reading.  And they were exclamation
marks....

Then, last of all, she recognised the paper.

It was _People And Paragraphs_--and he was reading that comment on the
Hubert Bretts!  She had destroyed the cutting; never thought of his
dear friends.

In one moment all the words rehearsed died on her tongue.  Afterwards
perhaps, but for the moment she must comfort him.  She could not hurt
him more just now.

"Oh, Hubert," she cried, running to him and putting her hand
impulsively upon his shoulder, all forgotten save the instinct to
console, "they haven't sent you that?"

He turned round with quite a dazed look, apparently not in the least
surprised to see her there.  "Oh yes," he said in a hard voice,
"there'll be lots of those.  It's only just beginning."  He stared
dully at the spiteful, vulgar, words.

She knew what they must mean to him and once again her soul veered
round to Ruth's mood of pity--pity and regret.  It was her fault, this,
she knew that; he had been right all through.  He was so right and
strong, and that was partly where her anger lay.  She could have
forgiven a weak idiot like Ally better.

She looked down at him; wavering, torn by two instincts, doubtful.

She looked.  She could not see his face, but on the blotting-pad there
dropped two tears.

She had not known that men could cry.  Those two damp spots that spread
on the green pad beneath her fascinated eyes told her of what his agony
of tortured pride must be--and brought back to her memory those words
of Ruth's; "He's nothing but a child: be gentle."

He was _not_ strong and right.  He did _not_ have a soul of iron, this
man: _not_ despise her as a weakling.  He was weak himself.  He was a
child and wanted sympathy....

Some other words of his came drifting back to her as she stared blankly
at those spots of darker green and he sat with his head averted--was it
in anger or in shame?

He never would have married a woman who wrote: hated clever women!  All
that came back to her.  Had she played fair?  He wanted somebody to
help, encourage; could she be his rival?  For better, for worse----

Suddenly she found herself talking.

"Hugh," she was saying, back on the words of a yet earlier rehearsal,
"I'm so sorry.  I've been such a beast, and I _have_ wanted so to do
the proper thing.  I've been a beastly wife to you, and now I've come
to say you're right.  I can't finish the new book; I can't get on at
all."  She paused and said deliberately; "I'm just an amateur."

And in one moment, before she had finished, he was on his feet.  He had
his arms round her with all of his old love, and held her at arms'
length, and looked at her with pride, as though she had just spoken of
anything except her failure.

"Darling little girl," he said, "don't, don't, you make me feel so bad.
Don't say you've been a beast.  Do you think _I_ don't know what I've
been to you?  Do you think I don't know how true the whole book was?"

She smiled back at him, and he never saw the little bitterness or
pathos there was in it, as she heard his old word of tolerant
affection--"little."

He had not used that word for ages....

He drew her to him and kissed her very lovingly.  "Oh, Helena," he
murmured, close beside her ear, "if only you knew how I've missed you,
how miserable I've been, how I have loathed myself.  You splendid
people think we horrid selfish beasts don't realise our vices.  Oh yes,
we do though, those of us who think, but we hope no one else observes
them.  I knew that I had bullied Ruth, sacrificed her life to mine, and
I vowed when I married you--but what's the use?  You never change your
nature, and I'm just a selfish swine."

"Don't say such awful things, Hugh," she said gently.

He laughed.  "I'd say them for ten years as penance if it did any good.
But now you've told me, now I know you know, it's easier.  When I get
selfish, when I begin forgetting _your_ side of the thing, you'll have
to tell me; see?  And if you don't, well I've still got your copy of
_The Confessions of_----"

But she stopped his mouth with a kiss.  "Hugh," she cried, going to the
table and taking up the paper which had changed their lives, "we'll
never mention that vile book again, and as for those who do"--she tore
the paper savagely across.  "And you must _not_ say you are selfish.
It's only that your work----"

"My work!" interrupted Hubert, with a discordant laugh.  "I've done
none this last week.  I've thought--thought about myself, and that's
good when you're forty but it isn't pleasant.  Do you know what is
wrong with me?"

"Nothing," she said gaily, for he spoke with a cavernal gloom and she
desired to change his mood.

He utterly ignored her.  "I took a long time finding myself out," he
answered.  "That's all.  Everybody starts, about eighteen, thinking
he's a genius and bound to end up on Olympus; then about twenty-five,
we settle we're just common fools and take a city job.  But I did not.
I've gone on in what they call a fool's paradise; feeding upon praise
and threatening those who did the other thing, until I really thought
that I was some one great!  Boyd always _said_ that I was undeveloped;
there was something lacking....  But I've got it now.  I think I got it
when you cut me out as author!"

"Don't, please," she cried, "you mustn't talk like that."

"I must," he answered gloomily.  "I've given half my life to
writing--and only just found out that I can't write!"

She came to him then.  "Look here, dear," she said, taking his arm in
quite a mother's way, "you're just beginning your success.  Men never
_do_ succeed till forty.  You've just found yourself.  You're going to
do splendid things and you will let me help."

"What?  You and I collaborate?"  Was there a tinge of the old-time
suspicion?

"No," she said quickly.  "I shan't ever write again; that's done with;
we'll just talk the stories over when we're out upon our dear old
rambles, and then, you see, you'll get the woman's view as well.  And
possibly I may get plots sometimes, although I couldn't write them."

"Then we'll sign Helena and Hubert Brett," he said in swift penitence,
forcing himself to nobility.  "That really does sound excellent!"

"No," she replied slowly, "you must always sign.  You see your name is
known.  Helena Brett has never written anything, and Zoë Baskerville is
dead--thank goodness!"  She forced herself to smile.  She must remain
the amateur!  That touch of pity, she knew, must be there if things
were ever to be right again....

Perhaps he guessed a little, for suddenly he clasped her in his arms
again.  "My God, Helena," he cried passionately, "how insignificant and
mean you make me feel!  You women can forgive, and we're so obstinate.
You've spared me such a lot, I know.  If you had told me all I know you
could, I never should have cared for you again!  It's pretty damnable,
that, isn't it?  But swine like me go on repenting and repenting, and
then we're twice as bad again.  We're cursed, I think; we----"

She put her hand over his mouth.  "It's over now," she said: "time up,"
and laughed, herself again.

He looked at her as at some miracle beyond his understanding.  "And you
won't ever long to--well, to be Zoë again?"

She looked him full in the face, and her eyes smiled happiness.  "No,"
she said, "_I_'ve found myself out as well.  I'm nothing but a woman
after all!"

"The dearest woman in the whole world," he replied and kissed her.

Ruth knocked at the door.



THE END



PRINTED BY WILLIAM CLOWES AND SONS, LIMITED, LONDON AND BECCLES.



_BOOKS BY DESMOND COKE_


NOVELS

  THE COMEDY OF AGE
  THE CALL
  THE PEDESTAL
  THE GOLDEN KEY
  BEAUTY FOR ASHES


STUDIES OF BOY NATURE

  THE BENDING OF A TWIG
  WILSON'S


HUMOUR (_ex hypothesi_)

  SANDFORD OF MERTON
  THE DOG FROM CLARKSON'S
  THE CURE


STORIES FOR BOYS

  THE HOUSE PREFECT
  THE SCHOOL ACROSS THE ROAD
  THE BENDING OF A TWIG (_Revised Edn._)





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