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Title: People of Position
Author: Hyatt, Stanley Portal, 1877-1914
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 "People of Position" ***

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PEOPLE OF POSITION


[Illustration: LALAGE]


PEOPLE OF POSITION

BY

STANLEY PORTAL HYATT

Author of "Little Brown Brother," "End of the Road," etc.

_With a Frontispiece by H. RICHARD BOEHM_


NEW YORK
WESSELS & BISSELL CO.
1910


COPYRIGHT, 1910, BY

WESSELS & BISSELL CO.

_September_

THE PREMIER PRESS
NEW YORK



PROLOGUE


Grierson refilled the magazine of his rifle carefully--when you are
dealing with South American patriots it is better to take no chances,
even though the enemy has retreated--then he wiped a couple of
half-dried blood spots off his cheek, and, after that, went over to
where lay the body of the man from whom that same blood had spurted.

For a full minute he stood very still, gazing with sombre eyes at the
kindly face which seemed to be smiling back at him even in death; then
he knelt down, and, with infinite gentleness, smoothed the ruffled hair,
arranged the collar so as to hide the bullet hole in the bronzed throat,
and crossed the hands on the breast. When he got up again his face was
twitching strangely, seeing which, the American officer, who had come up
behind him, suddenly became busy with his men.

It was one of those stories which seldom get into the newspapers,
possibly because they are so utterly unimportant in themselves--a ragged
band of half-breeds robbing and murdering in the name of liberty; a
landing party of marines from the nearest warship, which happened to be
American; and a futile little fight ending, as usual, in the defeat of
the brigands. Only this time, an Englishman, who had gone out with the
marines, had been killed; and now Grierson, his friend, was trying to
realise the fact.

"He was awfully good to me, the whitest man that ever stepped. I met him
down the coast a year ago--my luck was right out--and he brought me
along with him. I hadn't had a proper meal for days, much less a smoke,
and he'd only my word for who I was. Yet he risked it, and I've been
here ever since." Grierson, who had been walking in silence beside the
marine officer, spoke suddenly.

The American nodded sympathetically. "It was hard luck to be killed by a
rotten Dago outfit like that. Whenever you get a coloured man talking
about liberty you know he's just prospecting round for a chance to break
the Eighth Commandment."

Grierson muttered a curse; then, as if he wanted to confide in someone,
possibly as a relief to his own feelings, "His partner will be here in a
week's time; he was on his way already. When he comes I shall clear out
and go home."

Captain Harben nodded again. "Meaning England?" he asked.

"Yes, England--London. I've had ten years knocking about the
world--China, India, Australia, and all round this forsaken continent;
and the sum total of what I've got to show for it is the fever and a
couple of knife scars in my back--patriots again, one Hindu, one
Peruvian. So I think I had better go home and begin afresh--if I can."
And he gave a bitter little laugh.

The American glanced sharply at the tall, thin figure and haggard face.
When they had started out that morning to drive the saviours of their
country out of the spirit stores they were looting, Grierson had struck
him as a keen youngster with a rather infectious laugh, and his
appreciation had been increased by the way in which the other had
dropped a running insurgent at four hundred yards' range; now, however,
the captain found himself wondering whether, after all, it was not too
late for his companion to talk of beginning life afresh.

At dinner that night he expressed his doubts to the Consul, who shook
his head. "Locke, the man they killed to-day, told me young Grierson had
been through a pretty rough time, touched rock bottom. He was going into
the British Army, but had to throw it up, and went out to the Orient for
some Company which failed soon after, leaving him stranded. Since then
everything he had been in has turned out wrong; and now this has
gone.... Queer how some men do get the cards dealt them that way....
He's clever, writes very well, and might have done something at it.
Locke's death will be an ugly blow to him." Being a kindly man and none
too successful himself, he sighed in sympathy, then mixed another whisky
and soda, and passed on to official matters.

A little later Captain Harben harked back to the former question. "He's
got plenty of pluck. He was all there when it came to a fight. I like
him."

"So do I," the other answered, "only I guess pluck of that sort won't
help him much in England, and you know, or at least I know, that a
fellow who's knocked about a lot doesn't suit civilisation, or
civilisation doesn't suit him--put it which way you like, the result is
the same. His nerves go under, somehow, and it ends so," nodding towards
the whisky bottle.

Meanwhile Grierson was sitting on the verandah of his dead employer's
house staring out into the night, and trying to make plans for the
future.

"Whatever happens, I don't mean to starve again," he muttered.



PEOPLE OF POSITION



CHAPTER I


Mrs. Marlow flicked a crumb off her dress with rather unnecessary care.
"I've had a most annoying letter from Jimmy to-day. It came by the
second post, after Henry had gone to the City, and quite upset me. His
employer, Mr. Locke, has been killed in some disgraceful riot, and now
Jimmy himself is coming home. Of course, in a way, I shall be glad to
see him, and so will the rest of the family; but I know he's got no
money, and no profession to fall back upon, and I cannot see what he is
going to do for a living. If I asked him to do so, I have no doubt Henry
would make a place for him in the office; but I am not going to have my
husband burdened with my brother. Henry is too generous as it is; and
the Stock Exchange is in such a fearful state now that it is difficult
to make a bare living." She sighed heavily, and glanced round the
expensively furnished drawing-room, as if wondering whether that
abominable tendency towards suspicion on the part of the public, which
was causing it to eschew all sorts of speculation, might not result in
her losing the few luxuries she did possess.

Her visitor, Mrs. Grimmer, wife of the junior partner in the well-known
City firm of Hornaday, Grimes, and Grimmer, dried fruit brokers, nodded
with an affectation of sympathy which she did not feel--the Marlows had
a touring car and a motor-brougham, whilst she had only a one-horse
carriage--and held out her cup to be refilled. She had known her hostess
for a good many years, over thirty in fact, ever since she and May
Marlow, who was then May Grierson and had thick flaxen plaits tied with
blue ribbon, had met at their first children's party. Walter Grierson,
the eldest of the family, now a City solicitor, had been eleven at that
time, whilst May had been seven and Ida five; but Jimmy had not arrived
until three summers later.

Both Mr. and Mrs. Grierson belonged to eminently solid families, whose
forebears for generations had looked to the City for their living. To
them, the Square Mile stood for Respectability, just as the West End
typified Laxity and Luxury; whilst outside these limits there was
nothing but the Lower Classes. They ignored the Underworld, possibly
because they knew nothing of it, more likely because it had no place in
their Scheme of Things, the two main articles of their creed being that
every man must choose an occupation early and abide by his choice, and
that every good woman must stay at home. The logical result of these
Grierson ancestors and their kind was the Victorian age, the exaltation
of the Supremely Bad in Art and the Supremely Proper in mankind. Mrs.
Grierson had been Victorian in the fullest sense of the word, and she
had lived and died with all her principles intact, believing in the
Evangelical Church, the respectability of wealth, and the evil
tendencies of modern thought. On the other hand, some alien strain had
crept into Mr. Grierson, and he had not accepted the family traditions
in their entirety; in fact, both his own relatives and those of his wife
had found much to criticise in his ideas. Had he been able to shake
himself free of the family, he would have liked nothing better than to
possess a ranch in America or a sheep station in New South Wales. All
his life, he longed, in secret, for open air, and freedom, and the
society of men whose interests did not stop at Temple Bar; but, in the
end, Fate, in the form of a business bequeathed him by his father, sent
him to the City, and he resolutely put his dreams on one side. The
inevitable happened. He was essentially an honourable man, and, not
understanding the meaning of Commercial Morality, he imagined that
other men in the City were the same; consequently, he met the fate of
he who of old went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, though there was no
Samaritan to sympathise; rather otherwise, in fact, for his fellows
shook their heads scornfully over his failure, whilst admiring the
business capacity of those into whose hands his capital had passed.

The process of Mr. Grierson's ruin had been a comparatively slow one,
the law requiring certain decencies to be observed in these matters; and
his wife was dead, and his three elder children grown up and married,
before the day when he discovered his own ruin, and took the quickest
way out of the troubles of this world. He was mad, of course; everyone
agreed on that point: not the least of the proofs being the fact that
the only message he left was a letter for Jimmy, who was then at
Sandhurst. The coroner had read the letter, and handed it back with a
remark that it had no bearing whatsoever on the case; but no one else
had seen it, nor had Jimmy given a hint of its contents to any of the
family. It concerned him alone, he said. He would have to leave
Sandhurst now and wanted to go abroad, and the others let him go, if not
gladly, at least without any great regrets. They were all provided for;
Walter was partner in a growing firm of solicitors; May had married
Henry Marlow, a stockbroker; whilst Ida's husband was, if not actually
in the City, at least very respectable, being a Northampton boot factor.
They were very fond of Jimmy, genuinely fond of him, both from the
purely correct point of view, as being their brother, and for his own
happy disposition; but, none the less, there had always been a certain
jealousy of their father's evident preference for him, a jealousy
mingled with surprise, or even resentment, Jimmy being essentially
unpractical, and almost unconventional. Moreover, they had never liked
the idea of his going to Sandhurst. None of the family had been in the
Service before; and it was a matter of common knowledge that no man
could make financial headway in the Army. So, when, through Mr. Marlow's
influence, the boy obtained a billet in China, the family heaved sighs
of relief, and though, throughout the next ten years, his sisters kept
up as regular a correspondence as his wanderings allowed, their home
concerns and increasing families inevitably weakened their interest in
him. They had their own circles, in which he had no part, though, on the
other hand, when he did think of England, which was often during those
years of hardship and disappointment, Jimmy always looked on them as
essentially his own people, to whom, one day, he would return, having no
one else....

Mrs. Grimmer sipped her tea slowly, and asked for further particulars
concerning the absent wanderer.

"Does he say what he proposes to do?"

Mrs. Marlow shook her head. "No, only that he's sick of knocking about,
and thinks he will try his luck at home. It's very selfish of him,
because he has never been a credit to us; and, of course, naturally,
everyone will know he's our brother."

"What has he done that wasn't--wasn't quite the thing?" the visitor
asked.

Mrs. Marlow looked a little puzzled. "Well, I don't know that there's
anything, exactly--at least that way. Only, Luke Chapman and her husband
met him in Calcutta three years ago--Mr. Chapman has a branch there, you
know--and Luke told me that he was doing nothing, and living at a queer
sort of hotel, where ships' officers and those sort of people stay, not
at all the thing. Then, you see, he's done no good. He's just as poor as
when he went out ten years ago."

"So he's done no harm and no good. Then you can keep an open mind about
him, May. Meanwhile, if I were you, I should try and find him a wife
with money. He's sure to be interesting, you know. Men who travel
usually are. Let me know when he comes back, as I should like to meet
him again. Well, good-bye, dear, and don't worry too much about your
black sheep. The colour may come off, or you may be able to get him
whitewashed."

"Edith Grimmer was very flippant about it," Mrs. Marlow complained to
her husband that evening, after she had shown him Jimmy's letter and had
heard his remarks thereon. "I didn't like her tone at all. She has grown
rather coarse lately, since they have got into that new set. They dine
in town a good deal now, and I'm sure they can't afford it. She's taken
to smoking cigarettes, too."

Her husband, a small man with a waxed moustache and the most perfect
fitting clothes, frowned heavily. There had been girls, in fact there
were still some, who might blow whole clouds of cigarette smoke in his
face and only evoke a laugh from him; but they had nothing to do with
his home life. Where the latter was concerned, he was very careful; and
he fully agreed with May's prejudices. Such things injured one's
position in the neighbourhood. "Edith is a very foolish woman," he said
severely. "And Grimmer is little more sensible. He was talking a great
deal of nonsense about South African mines when we were coming down in
the train this evening. Crossley and Merchant were in the carriage, and
I am sure they were pleased when I took him up sharply. I do not know
whether he is aware that I was interested in the promotion of the
Umchabeze Gold Dredging Syndicate; if so, his remarks were positively
insulting. It seems he lost money over it. So did other people; but I
can't help that." He threw his cigar end into the fire with a rather
vicious gesture.

His wife came across to his chair, put her hands on his shoulders, and
kissed him gently on the forehead. "Never mind, dear. You mustn't let
these silly people annoy you. I'm sorry now I worried you to-night about
my brother, Jimmy. I might have left it until the morning, when you
weren't tired."

He drew her face down to his and returned her kiss. She was perfectly
content for him to be away all day, even for several days when he went
golfing, and he was content to go; yet, in a sense, they were lovers
still, after the fashion of those whose way through life has been easy.

"You were quite right to mention it, dear," he said. "Of course we must
do what we can for him, have him to stay here when he lands, and so on.
I daresay he will be quite presentable, after all. Why, a man I know at
the club, Heydon, Amos Heydon, was in the East for twelve years, in a
bank I think, and you would never imagine he had been out of the City.
He's got all our ways."

Mrs. Marlow sighed. "I hope you're right, Henry. You usually are, and
you've had so much experience. But I wish we knew what he intended to do
for a living. He is thirty now, or nearly that, and ought to be in a
better position. The whole thing is most annoying. I must take care he
does not tell the children stories which will make them dream at
nights--Harold is sure to ask him for some, and you know what a memory
the boy has. Then, too, we don't want Jimmy proposing to any of the nice
girls we know, like Laura Stephens or May Cutler; for then we should
have to confess that he had no means of any sort, and it would be
horribly humiliating. See how well those young Cutlers have got on in
their father's office. Of course, Edith Grimmer knows that Jimmy is a
failure; but she won't talk about it."

Yet, at that very moment, Mrs. Grimmer was retailing the story of May's
troubles to her husband and a couple of guests who had been dining with
them.

"Jimmy always was a nice boy, not a bit of a prig. But he's not what you
can call a success; and I fancy the Marlows won't want to exhibit him.
Still, I shall have him to dinner and get some nice girls to meet him."

Grimmer laughed. He had not forgotten what had passed between Marlow and
himself in the train, and he was far from forgiving his loss over the
gold dredging syndicate. "Have him by all means, Edith, if you think it
will annoy those people. Besides, a Grierson who was interesting would
be quite a show animal."



CHAPTER II


Jimmy Grierson landed in England a broken man. What was almost worse, he
was aware of the fact, and, whilst he resented the way in which Fate had
dealt with him, he had no great hopes of altering things. He had drifted
so long that, somehow, he supposed he must go on drifting. John Locke
had stopped the process for a time, and given him something to stick to,
something worth doing; but a bullet from an old Remington in the hands
of a ragged Dago, a bullet probably aimed at someone else, had sent him
adrift again. True, that same Dago had gone, a few seconds later, to
whatever place there is reserved for his kind; but that did not alter
matters; it avenged, perhaps, but it could not bring back, the one man
besides his father for whom Jimmy had ever cared, who had ever
understood him, and, therefore, been able to keep him from drifting.

His decision to return to England had been taken on the spur of the
moment, without reflection; but he held to it, because no other course
seemed to offer any better prospects. He knew, perfectly well, that
Locke's partner would not want to keep him on, and he shrank from the
ordeal of searching for employment again. He had been through it so
often before; and he had learnt, long since, that the man on the spot
only gets the temporary billets; the permanent staff is always recruited
at home. Moreover, he had the fevers of half a dozen different countries
in his system, and the shock of Locke's death brought at least one of
them to the surface. Two Dagos helped him on board ship, a wreck, and
though, physically, he was much stronger at the end of the voyage, his
nerves were far from being right.

London extended its welcome to him in the form of a drenching rain, and
he shivered a little under the thin, ready-made overcoat he had bought
from a German store on the Coast.

He had hoped that one of the family would have met the boat train, and
carried him off to a real home; but, though there had been a welcoming
hand for most of his fellow passengers, he, himself, scanned the crowd
in vain for a familiar face. Even those who had come across the ocean
with him seemed to forget him the moment they got out on to the
platform. He became the stranger at once; so he stood to one side until
they had all departed, feeling horribly alone. Still, he was home at
last, in his own country, and he tried to work up a proper sense of
elation as he waited in the station entrance, watching a porter hoisting
his battered trunks on to a cab.

It was already evening, and the stream of people was flowing inwards
through the gates of the terminus, London's workers returning to those
dreary rows of villas in the suburbs, which, probably, seemed
delightfully peaceful, almost rural, by comparison with the noise and
grime of the City. Some were closing dripping umbrellas; others, having
no umbrellas, shook the rain out of the brims of theirs hats, and turned
down their soaking coat-collars as they came under shelter. All looked
more or less draggled and weary; yet you could see that they were on
their way to their own houses, where there would be someone to welcome
them, someone who had been waiting for them. Suddenly all Jimmy's sense
of loneliness came back, and he shivered again as the cab splashed out
of the muddy station yard, towards the hotel to which he had told his
people to address their letters.

There was a letter from each of his sisters awaiting him, and he tore
them open more eagerly than was his wont. Ida, writing from her home in
Northampton, invited him to come down for a week at some vague future
date; one of the children was unwell, and until it recovered it was
impossible to fix a day. Still, they would be delighted to see him
again. Her letters always had a note of stiffness in them, which was
purely unintentional, or rather, purely natural, reflecting the one
salient point in her character.

May's letter began with an apology. They were so sorry they could not
ask him down that night; but they had a large dinner party on, and he
would have made an odd man. Doubtless, too, he would be tired after his
journey and disinclined for such a function. The following day, however,
they would be glad to have him. It was forty minutes' run from Victoria
Station, and she would send the car to meet him at the other end.

Jimmy thrust the letters into his pocket, and followed his luggage up to
his room, which was a perfect example of its kind, containing the
irreducible minimum of furniture an hotel guest could require, and
having, as its sole wall decoration, a notice imploring you to switch
out the electric light when you did not actually require it. He was
disappointed, though not annoyed. The excuses appeared genuine, if
rather inadequate and he never suspected that May had spent the
afternoon in a distressing state of anxiety lest he should change his
mind, and, instead of going to the hotel, come straight down in time for
dinner.

"There is no telling what he may be like," she said to her
sister-in-law, who was staying in the house. "We must see him first
before we introduce him to people here. Why, he may not even possess a
dress suit."

Jimmy dined in the hotel. The dining-room was very empty, and he had a
corner of it all to himself, a miserable contrast to the cheerful,
crowded saloon of the mail steamer he had quitted that morning. He ate
very little, and would not wait for coffee. He felt he must get outside
that gloomy barn of the hostelry, must go where there was life and
movement, and, and if he could find it, society.

The rain had ceased, and, as he came out of the dull side street into
the Strand, he experienced for the first time that strange thrill,
excitement, anticipation, almost exhilaration, which only the returned
wanderer who comes back to the Greatest of Cities after years of
absence, can know. When he had driven up to the hotel, the day
population had been hurrying home through the downpour; now, though the
street and the pavements were still glistening with the wet, and there
was another deluge to come, London, the night side of London, was out as
if there was no such things as rain and mud and sodden footwear.

Jimmy stood a couple of minutes, watching it, taking it all in, as
though he had never seen it before. A policeman on point duty eyed him
curiously, yet with no hint of suspicion. Most men, and practically
every woman, remembered Jimmy's face when they met him a second time. He
was not handsome, far from it; but, in some indefinable way, his grey
eyes suggested sympathy, whilst the poise of his head spoke of
determination verging on obstinacy.

He was looking at the scene as a whole, rather than at individuals, and
the policeman remarked, with a kind of grim satisfaction, that he let
the women pass him unnoticed. Even when one turned back at the next
corner and repassed him slowly, he seemed not to see her. Just as he was
turning away, however, a girl's face did catch his eye, and,
unconsciously, he stopped again. She was coming out of a restaurant a
few yards away, accompanied by a man in evening dress, though she
herself was in an ordinary walking costume. Tall and very graceful, with
dark eyes and a perfect profile, she formed a curious contrast to her
short and rather stout companion. It was only a question of a minute
before they got into a waiting hansom and driven away; but, somehow, the
incident worried Jimmy. He wondered who she was, what she was, and was
so preoccupied with her that as he walked on eastwards, he hardly
noticed that he left the Strand, with its life and hurry, for the
comparative quietude of Fleet Street by night. He had come out of the
hotel intending to have a drink at the first likely-looking bar he came
to; but he was half-way between the Griffin and Ludgate Circus before he
remembered he was thirsty.

"Hullo, Grierson, my best of piracy experts. So you've come to Fleet
Street at last, as I always said you would. Sneddon, let me introduce
Mr. Grierson, an old colleague of mine on a short-lived paper in
Shanghai. He knows more Chinese pirates than any man I ever met, not to
mention gunrunners and opium smugglers; and he's perfectly invaluable to
fill a column when the news has run short." The speaker, a man of about
Jimmy's own age, with a keen, smooth-shaven face and restless eyes,
shook hands heartily, and ordered another round of drinks.

At the sound of his voice, Jimmy's face lit up with genuine pleasure. He
had known Douglas Kelly well on the China Coast, when the other was
editing a local paper for a starvation wage, and, as Kelly said, he had
written him many a column to fill up space with when both copy and
advertisements were short. The British and American community, being
absorbed in trade, and knowing nothing of literature, and often very
little of the English language, as is the way of its kind, had failed
to see the genius under the wild and not too temperate exterior, and had
frowned on the young editor as a rather scandalous person entirely
devoid of commercial instincts; but Jimmy had always stood by him, and
when a sudden access of wealth, in the form of a draft for sixty pounds
for a series of short stories in an American magazine, had enabled Kelly
to say good-bye both to the China Coast and to his creditors, Grierson
has regretted him as much, or even more, than had the latter.

"So you've come to Fleet Street, at last," Kelly repeated. "I knew you
would. And I suppose you are going to enter into competition with me. I
believe you are the one man of whom I am really afraid."

Jimmy laughed. "I only landed to-day, and I wandered down here by
chance. As for writing, I have done very little since I saw you off on
that tramp steamer. There were two or three acquaintances of yours
watching the mail boat next day on the chance of finding you."

"Herbst, I suppose, and the other squarehead from the hotel--what was
his name?--oh, Heine, and that uncleanly Greek tailor. They were a dull
lot, and I've forgotten them long ago. Tell me about yourself. Where
have you been?"

"India, Australia, and the Dago Republics, where I saw the beginning
and the end of various presidents. I made a couple of trips on a
blockade runner, and went on a hidden treasure hunt. It sounds all
right, thrilling and exciting, yet, when I size it up in my own mind, it
comes down to a record of fever and disappointment; with a few purple
patches which were so good that, somehow, they seem to have come out of
another man's book, instead of being my own experiences."

Kelly stared into his glass. "I know," he said very quietly. "I know the
game, though I got out of it sooner than you did, being wiser, as I
always told you I was. I suppose you know I'm famous?"

Jimmy smiled; long ago, Douglas Kelly had explained to him his theory of
self-advertisement, how, once he was strong enough to do so, he intended
to go in for a regular system of blatant, unblushing egotism, which
would pay equally little regard to the feelings of others and to the
recognised canons of veracity. Now, it was evident that he was
translating his theory into practice.

"Even in the Dago countries we used to get papers containing articles of
yours," Jimmy said. "And I saw a review of one of your books. Did you
put some of our old friends of the China Coast into them?"

Douglas Kelly shook his head emphatically. "They weren't even worth
satirising. They might take it as flattery if I remembered their very
existence.... I've done what I said I would, Grierson. I'm making a
thousand a year now." He turned to his companion. "Sneddon, you might go
back to the office, and see if there's anything doing. If anyone wants
me, say I'm busy"; then when the other had gone, "How are things with
you, Jimmy?" he asked bluntly.

Jimmy laughed a little awkwardly. "Well, they shot my last employer, who
was also my best friend, out there; and I came home because I thought it
might change the luck."

"So you're broke, just as I used to be?"

"No, not exactly. I've got a few pounds left; but I've nothing to do,
and I don't know what to turn my hand to--that's all." Jimmy answered,
then as Kelly dived into his pocket and produced a cheque book, he
flushed quickly, "No, old man. If I want that, I'll come to you; but I
don't want it yet. Thanks very much, though."

Kelly shrugged his shoulders. "You're quite a change. It's generally the
other way round. Men ask me for money, and I do the refusing." Usually,
his expression was hard, almost cynical, but as he looked at Jimmy it
softened, and he seemed to grow years younger. He was back again on the
China Coast, in the days when success was a thing of the future, and
therefore greatly to be prized. "You'll do well, Grierson, you've got it
in you, just as I had. And, after all, London is the one place, the only
market worth bringing your stuff to."

"I will admit I had thought of writing, but I know how hard it is to get
a start, and----" Jimmy began; but Kelly cut him short.

"Rot! It's hard for the ruck, for the ninety and nine, who, after all,
ought to find it impossible, not merely hard. But it's different for you
and me, Jimmy Grierson, because we're not in the ruck. Of course you'll
write, for it's in you, and you would be a fool to try anything else.
You won't jump into a job right away; and you'll have to fight as I
fought. I started as a sub-editor on three pounds a week, correcting the
grammar in the copy of men who were getting five times that amount--but
I can get you a start of sorts, right away. Come around now to the
_Record_ office, and I'll introduce you to Dodgson, the editor, a
perfectly uninspired person, who ought to have been a grocer's assistant
and have sung in a chapel choir. But he has the grace to realise his
limitations, and take my advice. It will mean two guineas every now and
then for a Page Four article--a thousand words, you know."

Jimmy finished off his drink and stood up. He was beginning to
understand that, after all, there was an element of sane, cool common
sense behind Kelly's blatant self-assertiveness. It might irritate what
the other called the "ruck," but it also cowed them, and they got out of
his path; moreover, there was always the undeniable fact that the man
had genius of no common order. Jimmy had been perfectly sincere when he
said he had not come home intending to make his living by his pen. He
had thought of doing so, certainly, or rather had longed to do so; but,
like most amateurs, he had been deterred by what he had heard of the
difficulties, and had put the idea on one side. Now, however, the
proposition had come to him in a concrete form, from a man who had
succeeded, a man, moreover, who knew his capacity, and was able to judge
his prospects of success. After all, it was only part of that game of
drift which he had been playing for the last ten years; and the new
phase had this advantage--he might be able to make use of what he had
learned during the previous stages of his drifting. So he followed
Douglas Kelly out into Fleet Street, then down one of the narrow alleys,
to the _Herald_ office.

The main entrance to the _Record_ building, that through which the
general public enters, when it wishes to pay for advertisements, or
consult the files, or order back numbers, has a rather gorgeous swing
door and a quite gorgeous door-keeper in uniform with no less than four
medal ribbons on his breast; but all this is closed in by an iron grille
when normal people leave the City, and the staff has to enter through a
small door at the back, which is guarded by an old and surly porter,
over the window of whose box hangs a peremptory and uncleanly notice
forbidding anyone to smoke in the building.

Douglas Kelly ignored both the porter and the notice, and went straight
up to the second floor, where, after a moment's parley with a
weary-looking secretary, he and Jimmy were admitted to the editor's
room.

Somehow, Jimmy had always pictured the editor of a great daily as a
plethoric person with keen eyes, and a background of leather-bound
volumes; but this one was thin and insignificant; there was not a single
book in his room, and, at the first glance, Jimmy was inclined to
believe that his friend had been right when he spoke of the editor
singing in a chapel choir. Yet, after Kelly had introduced him briefly,
as an old colleague, and Dodgson had put a few curt questions, Grierson
began to change his mind.

Jimmy could talk well. He had, in an unusual degree, the art of putting
things vividly and crisply, and he possessed an extraordinary memory
for those little details which give actuality to the picture. When he
described the shooting of a presidential candidate, Dodgson could see
the man with his grimy hands and torn collar, crumpling up as the volley
from the firing party caught him. The editor himself had never come in
contact with crude realities such as this--a London County Councillor
escaping by a hair's breadth from a fully-deserved conviction for
corruption over a tramway contract was the nearest approach he had
witnessed--but he understood the value of Jimmy's reminiscences, and,
without a moment's hesitation, he asked him for an article, hinting
plainly that, if the written matter were as good as his spoken words,
the paper would be glad of many others.

Jimmy left the room with an unwonted sense of elation. Kelly had
withdrawn immediately he had introduced his friend, but he was waiting
in the doorway. "Well, what did you do?" he asked.

"He's going to give me a chance," Jimmy answered. Kelly nodded. "Of
course he will. He must. I introduced you. Don't you realise, James
Grierson, that I am a man they dare not offend, because the great
fool-public wants stuff with my signature; and, if the _Record_ upset
me, I could go across the road to the _Herald_ and, perhaps, get a
bigger salary? It's all a game of bluff, as I told you years ago in that
fan-tan shop in Shanghai. I know you won't bluff through as I have done,
because you have a streak of--what shall I call it?--early Victorian
modesty, in you; but still you will come out on top, because you've got
brains, instead of the whisky-soaked sponge which occupies the space
behind the brow of the average Fleet Street man."

"I shouldn't think you're very popular in Fleet Street," Jimmy remarked
grimly.

Douglas Kelly shrugged his shoulders. "The ruck would dislike me anyway,
because I know more than it does. Still, it need not worry. I am going
to quit journalism, and go in for fiction soon, as you will do in due
course.... What's the time?" They had come out into Fleet Street again,
and he glanced upwards at the _Telegraph's_ clock. "Half-past ten. It's
too late to take you down to stay at my place, as I can't telephone to
my wife. So I may as well stay in town. We'll wander round a bit, and
after closing time, I'll take you up to one of my clubs."

"Your wife. So you're married?" Jimmy smiled, as though at some
recollection. "You seem to have done pretty well all round; whilst I am
still where I was."

The other took him up sharply, "Still where you were. Why, you've got
your head full of copy, and you're right at your market, instead of
being on that forsaken China Coast. Well, let's have a drink here for a
start."



CHAPTER III


Jimmy awoke in the morning with a slight headache, and a fixed
determination not to go out again with Douglas Kelly. True, it had cost
him nothing, Kelly having carried him from one club to another, cashing
a cheque at each, and spending the proceeds with such freedom as to
evoke a protest from his guest.

"I want to impress you," Kelly had retorted. "I want to show you how
well I've done. I always do the same when I get hold of any of you
fellows from out there. Yet," he paused and looked at the other keenly,
"you're such a queer beggar, that I don't suppose you are impressed. I
needn't have tried it on you, after all," but, none the less, he had
declined to let his companion go, and it had been past three when a
sleepy night porter admitted Jimmy to the hotel, Kelly having declared
his intention of taking a room at the club they had visited last.

Jimmy drew up his blind to find the sun shining in a cloudless sky, and
his spirits went up at once. As a result of the deluge of the night
before, London looked almost clean and bright, and he began to wonder
at his depression of the previous evening. After all, it was very good
to be home again, and, thanks to Kelly, he had already made a small
start, which might lead to much bigger things. Kelly, himself, had
arrived in England with nothing, an unknown man.

From Kelly, his mind worked backwards to the girl he had seen enter the
cab. It was curious how her face seemed fixed in his memory. The thought
of her, and of her possible story, worried him all the time he was
shaving, and he found himself wishing he had never noticed her. Somehow,
he did not like the look of her companion, who seemed to treat her with
a very perfunctory sort of courtesy, verging on familiarity, or even
contempt. He was still thinking of her when he went down to breakfast;
but the sight of a copy of the _Record_, the first real English daily he
had seen for many years, a paper, moreover, which wanted him to write
for it, changed the current of his thoughts, and he forgot all about the
girl.

Dodgson had told him there was no hurry for the article, any time within
the next week or so would do, and he, himself, knew that it would be
impossible to write in the dreary atmosphere of the hotel; so he decided
to go down to the City and call on his brother, Walter. There was no
one else he wanted to see in town. All his former acquaintances had
dropped clean out of his life, or, rather, he had dropped out of theirs;
and, probably, he could not have found one of them, even had he wished
to do so, which was not the case. He was a very lonely man, he told
himself; and yet he did not feel bitter about that fact as he had done
on the previous night; his meeting with Kelly, and the new hope with
which the other had infused him, had changed his views greatly. Now, it
seemed as if he had a prospect of doing something definite, of starting
on a new career, his success in which would depend entirely on his own
exertions.

Walter Grierson was a short, clean-shaven man with a decidedly pompous
manner. He had been very successful in his profession, owing to his
energy, rather than to his mental capacity, and he regarded unsuccessful
men as little better than criminals. His whole outlook on life was
severe, except in his own home, where he was a generous husband and
indulgent father. Never having been tempted himself, he had no sympathy
with those who fell, being quite unable to understand them. Steadiness
was the virtue he most admired in younger men, meaning by that term the
capacity for choosing and sticking to an orthodox method of livelihood
and for maintaining an unwavering respectability of conduct. Jimmy's
career, the wanderings from one country to another, the continual
changes of occupation, had been a very real grief to him, violating as
it did every canon of his creed. No one could call his brother steady.

Walter Grierson was engaged when Jimmy called, and the visitor spent
half an hour glancing round the gloomy office, and wondering how anyone
could be content to spend his days in such a place. He wanted to smoke,
but something in the attitude of the clerks restrained him, and he put
his cigarette case back into his pocket. He was not sure about the three
younger ones, whether they would be scandalised, or whether the smell of
the tobacco would arouse cruel longings which could not be satisfied
until the too-brief luncheon hour came round; but there was no mistaking
the reprobation in the old managing clerk's face. Even their richest
clients knew better than to disturb the microbes on the upper shelves
with their smoke. Those same clients were all City men, dignified, and
understanding the ways of the City, which are very different from those
of San Francisco or Johannesburg. In London, it is only foreigners and
green-fruit brokers and such like doubtful people, with neither
self-respect nor position to maintain, who break the City's law.
Stockbrokers are, of course, men apart from the rest. They draw most of
their customers from a class which knows nothing of business; and must
therefore be humoured; moreover, a little eccentricity, a
lightheartedness, verging at times on the clownish, is useful, for, if
duly reported, it procures the Stock Exchange a free advertisement in
the Press. Even Mr. Marlow had been known to play football with a silk
hat and wave a little Union Jack, when the news of a British victory,
which meant an improvement in the Market, was recorded in a special
edition. But his brother-in-law, Walter Grierson, had never done any of
these things, having neither the need, nor the desire, for
advertisement. Jimmy did not know the City, but he knew a good deal of
mankind, and he gleaned something of the spirit and traditions of that
office, as his eyes wandered from the rows of black, shiny deed boxes to
the equally shiny pate of the managing clerk, and then to the
drab-looking girl typist, pale-faced and narrow-chested, who seemed to
finger the key-board as though the maddening click of her abominable
machine had killed any individuality she might once have had, and turned
her into a mere part of the mechanism of the City. The one spot of
colour in the office was an insurance company's calendar, and, even on
that, the design was crude and the inscription little more than a dull
list of figures. Jimmy sighed, pitying them all. He did not know that
those who have never experienced the crude things of life seldom have
any desire for them. Being prosaic, they are satisfied with prosaic
surroundings, which is a fortunate thing in an essentially prosaic age.
There is very little room for romance in a world which gauges success by
the measure of a reputed bank balance.

At last, the client, who proved to have side whiskers and an
ivory-handled umbrella, took his departure, and Walter Grierson came out
in his wake. The solicitor greeted Jimmy, if not warmly, at least
sincerely; then sat down and slowly took stock of the returned wanderer.

"You look better than I expected from what May told me you had said in
your last letter. Yes, you look decidedly better. Still, you have
changed a great deal, changed in many ways." He adjusted his gold-rimmed
pince-nez, in order to make a closer scrutiny.

Jimmy laughed. "Well, you must remember, it's ten years since you saw me
last, and I wasn't very old then. You, yourself, look exactly the same.
I should have known you anywhere. How are Janet and the children?"

Walter Grierson's face brightened perceptibly. He was a family man above
everything, and he gave his brother very full details. "Let me see,
you've never seen George and Christine, have you?" he asked at the end
of the recital.

Jimmy shook his head. "No, I have seven or eight unknown nephews and
nieces to inspect, or I'm not sure that it isn't nine. I've rather lost
count."

The elder man frowned slightly; it was not quite the thing to refer to
members of the family in that flippant way. Surely Jimmy could recollect
the number of his sister's children. He gave the tally of the latter,
with their names and ages, and with guarded comments on their
peculiarities, from which Jimmy gathered that they were decidedly
inferior to the little Walter Griersons. And after that there came a
pause, short in duration, certainly, but very significant. After ten
years' separation the brothers had exhausted their subjects of mutual
interest in little over ten minutes.

Jimmy fingered the cigarette case in his pocket, knowing the consolation
and the wisdom to be found in tobacco; but he did not like to produce
it, and he had already noted that Walter's room was innocent of any
ash-tray; so, instead, he racked his brains for a new topic of
conversation. At last:

"You're the sole partner here now, aren't you?" he asked.

Walter nodded. "Yes, Jardine died three years back, and I don't want
anyone else till I can take in Ralph, my eldest boy. He has a nasty
cold, or you would have seen him in the office." He shook his head, as
though at the thought of the dangerous after-effects of colds, and it
struck Jimmy that, for a man of forty-three or forty-four, Walter was
very old and stuffy. He, himself, often felt old and more than a little
weary, but in quite another way. He was not snuffly and solemn in
consequence; it was only that he knew his youth was slipping from him
fast, perhaps had already slipped from him, as is the case with every
European who stays too long in countries made for the coloured man, and
it irritated him to think that, if success ever did come to him, it
would probably be when he had lost the capacity for enjoyment.

"Have you made any plans for your future movements?" Walter asked
suddenly.

Jimmy started. "Well, yes--at least, last night I met an old friend of
mine, and he advised me to go in for writing. I've done a bit of it, of
course, and this man, Douglas Kelly--I expect you know his name." Walter
shook his head; he never read anything except the _Times_. "He's a man
who's made a big hit, and he knows what I can do. So I think of taking
his advice. The _Record_ has already asked me for an article."

Once more, Walter Grierson frowned, and then he sighed. The only
journalists he had ever met had been connected with financial papers,
and his negotiations with them had taught him the subtleties of
scientific blackmail. Being a man of little imagination, though of
retentive memory, he judged the whole profession by the two or three
members of it, or rather pseudo-members, he had been unfortunate enough
to encounter professionally.

"I am sorry to hear your decision, Jimmy," he said. "Very sorry, indeed.
You will find it a most precarious way of life, and it will bring you
into contact with highly undesirable people. I had hoped, we had all
hoped, that now you had returned you would settle down to something
steady. Personally, I think you will be making a great mistake. But I
suppose you know your own business best." He shook his head, as though,
in his own mind, he was quite sure Jimmy did not know anything of the
sort.

Then, once more, there was an awkward pause, and it was a relief to both
of the brothers when the junior clerk came in with a card in his hand.
Walter Grierson glanced at the name, then got up. "I am sorry, Jimmy;
but this is a man with whom I had made an appointment. I would ask you
to lunch with me, but there is more than a probability of my having to
take him out. You must come down and stay with us soon. Janet told me to
give you her love, and ask you to fix a date. I am very glad you called.
Give my love to May when you see her to-night. And, Jimmy," he hesitated
a little, "of course it is not for me to advise you; but I do wish you
would reconsider that decision of yours. It's a most precarious calling,
most precarious, and, I am afraid, one full of temptations." There was
perfectly genuine concern in his voice, and yet, within a couple of
minutes, Jimmy and his affairs were clean out of his mind, and he was
deep in the business of his client.

Jimmy lighted a cigarette on the landing outside his brother's office;
but neither the tobacco, nor the drink he had a few minutes later, could
alleviate his sense of disappointment. He was a very lonely man.



CHAPTER IV


The Marlow motor-car, large and luxurious, with red panels and an
expensive alien chauffeur, met Jimmy at the station. Mrs. Marlow hurried
down to the hall as she heard the throbbing of the engine outside the
front door, and greeted her brother with emotion which verged on tears.

"I am very glad to see you again, Jimmy, dear," she said, kissing him a
second time. "And Henry, too, is delighted to have you. Of course, you
have grown a great deal older, but I don't know that you have changed
very much." She scrutinised his face, then noted, with something akin to
dismay, that his clothes, though well cut, were neither new nor
fashionable.

Jimmy, on his part, was trying to readjust his ideas. He had been
picturing May as still rather rosy and inclined to plumpness,
essentially suggestive of good nature and repose; now, he saw her thin,
almost angular, a little hard of feature, though retaining some of her
good looks. In his calculations, he had forgotten the four children she
had brought into the world since he had seen her last.

May asked him a number of questions about himself, his health, and his
doings, hardly waiting for his answers before passing on to something,
fresh, and hardly listening when she did allow him time to reply; then--

"I'll take you up to your room," she said. "Your trunks have gone up
already. I have had to give you one of the smaller spare rooms, because
my sister-in-law will be back to-night--you remember Laura, of
course--and there may be someone else coming to-morrow." At the door of
his room she paused. "Dinner is at half-past seven. We always dress, but
don't you trouble, if you would rather not, or, or----" She stammered a
little.

Jimmy understood. "I always retained my suit through all my ups and
downs," he said with a smile. "It is the one absolute essential. It will
get you credit when nothing else will. Many a time I have gone to an
hotel with only the suit and a lot of old newspapers in my trunk, and
not five dollars in my pocket."

Mrs. Marlow did not smile. Instead, she looked as she felt, shocked and
pained; and as she went downstairs she was casting round for some scheme
to stop Jimmy's flow of reminiscences. It would never do for him to talk
in that way before people like the Graylings or the Bashfords; whilst,
if the servants were to hear him, it would be all round the
neighbourhood in a couple of days that Mrs. Marlow's brother was, or had
been, a penniless adventurer.

Jimmy did not come down till the dinner gong went; consequently, after
he had shaken hands with Henry Marlow, they went straight into the
dining-room, and May lost her chance of saying anything.

Marlow himself was hungry and ate heartily, and the guest was distinctly
tired, thanks to Douglas Kelly; as a result, there was little said
during the first three courses, except by Mrs. Marlow, who gave her
husband a full account of all her own and the children's doings for that
day, and the names of the people on whom she had called, and of other
visitors whom she had met at their houses. Once or twice she tried to
include Jimmy in the conversation, by asking if he did not remember this
one or that, friends she had known before she was married; but, in every
case, they were merely names to him; they had all been grown up when he
was still at school, and now, after having forgotten their very
existence for ten years, he could not feel the slightest interest in
them.

After a while, Marlow, having taken the edge off his appetite, asked him
a few questions about his wanderings, but paid little heed to his
answers. Even when Jimmy told, in his essentially picturesque way, the
story of John Locke's death, his brother-in-law merely remarked that
such things were never allowed to occur in the British Empire, though,
doubtless, they were to be expected under governments which had injured
the market so greatly in the past by repudiating their bargains. Their
debased silver currency and their worthless paper money were an absolute
scandal, he added.

May, on her part, gave a little gasp when told of the end of Locke's
slayer; then, looking up, and seeing the parlour-maid standing
open-mouthed, with a sauce-boat balanced on a tray at a most dangerous
angle, she felt it was time to intervene.

"Please don't give us any more horrors, Jimmy. We are not used to them
here. Mary," severely, to the parlour-maid, "the master's plate."

Jimmy flushed and said no more; and, apparently, they were perfectly
content that it should be so, for the subject of his travels dropped,
and was not resumed, either then or afterwards. He saw that they were
not interested, even though they were his own people; and he listened in
silence when his sister went back to the apparently inexhaustible
subject of their friends. Certainly, whilst they sat smoking after
dinner, Henry Marlow did ask his guest some more questions, a great
many more in fact, and listened with considerable attention to the
replies; but, as Jimmy noted with a kind of grim amusement, they were
all of an impersonal nature, having reference solely to mining
conditions in South American states. Jimmy's own experiences at the
hands of Dago patriots left his brother-in-law unmoved, being things
which belonged rather to books, and certainly had no part in the lives
of people of position; but the effect of those same patriots' doings on
the development of the country, and, consequently, on the profits of
British Enterprise, aroused his bitterest wrath. Once, some years
before, he had lost over a thousand pounds through a new president
revoking a lead-mining concession which his predecessor had granted;
and, that predecessor having been sent where neither letters nor writs
could reach him, none of the purchase money had been recovered despite
the efforts of the Foreign Office. Mr. Marlow, himself, had never
forgiven either the Dagos or the diplomatists, especially as the
concession had eventually gone to a German firm, which had made a clear
half-million out of it; and he argued, not without reason, that the most
effective form of negotiation would have been a whiff of grapeshot, or
its modern equivalent, from the guns of a British cruiser.

Jimmy listened patiently to the grievance, which took some time in the
telling, involving, as it did, full details of the careers and financial
standing of the directors of the ill-fated company, men of position and
weight in the City, who deserved very different treatment.

"Disgraceful business, disgraceful," Henry added. "To think that the
British Government should allow us to be robbed by a snuff-coloured
rascal like that. Did you ever come across him?"

"Who? President Montez?" Jimmy laughed apologetically. "I'm very sorry;
but I helped him with that revolution. I was pretty hard up at the time,
and I knew something about field guns, so they gave me a job."

Mr. Marlow apparently saw nothing at which to laugh; in fact, he frowned
slightly. He held rather strong views on the subject of law and order;
moreover, there were people who would be very ready to sneer if they
heard Jimmy's story of the affair. But his chief thought was, as usual,
for his wife, who would be annoyed were she to learn the part Jimmy had
played.

"I shouldn't tell May, if I were you," he said. "In fact, I don't think
I should tell anyone. You see, it's not--what shall I say?--quite the
thing to be mixed up in those affairs, and it would stand in your light
over here, socially as well as from a practical point of view. You
understand?"

Jimmy nodded; at least he was beginning to understand.

May was doing some fancy work when they joined her in the drawing-room;
but she glanced up with a smile as Jimmy entered, and told him to take
the chair next to hers. After all, he looked presentable, this brother
of hers, at any rate, in evening dress, a little thin for his height and
rather yellow in the face perhaps, but still there was about him a
certain indefinable air of distinction which most men she knew lacked.
There were girls who might even call him handsome. As she thought of
that, her mouth hardened momentarily. She must guard against any folly
of that sort by not introducing him in dangerous quarters until he was
in a very much better position financially. The last thought suggested a
question she had been intending to ask him at the first opportunity.

"What are you thinking of doing now, Jimmy? I suppose you still intend
to remain at home?"

Henry Marlow muttered something about the evening paper. He was always
tactful where his wife was concerned, and this was a Grierson concern,
in which he might seem an intruder. May would tell him anything there
was to tell later.

Jimmy, remembering Walter's reception of his news, hesitated slightly.
The assurance with which Douglas Kelly's words had filled him was oozing
out rather rapidly. It was one thing to decide on a literary career when
one was in a Bohemian club and the time was long after midnight; but,
somehow, in an essentially staid drawing-room, where there was more than
a hint of Victorian influence in the furniture, and with a sense of a
heavy dinner still oppressing him, matters seemed different. After all,
it was only natural that it should be so. He was a Grierson, with a
veneration for conventions in his blood, and, in the appropriate
surroundings, the force, so long latent as to be practically forgotten,
began to make itself felt, not very strongly, perhaps, but still the
fact remained that it was there. Just as his father had given in at
last, and gone to the City, so, for a moment, it seemed to Jimmy that he
must go. But then he remembered Walter's office, where you could not
smoke, and the only spot of colour was that inartistic insurance
calendar with its grim lists of figures.

"I'm going to write," he said, "or at least try to write. I think I can
make a living at it. It's worth trying. There's nothing else, you see,"
he added, a little lamely.

May stopped in the middle of a stitch, and stared at him with something
akin to dismay. She remembered an article of his she had once read,
unsigned to be sure, and only in an obscure Hong Kong paper, but so
painfully outspoken that she had shown it to no one, not even to her
husband; and then rose up before her the vision of him writing similar
articles for London journals, and of the world, her world, knowing him
to be the author. She recognised her brother's cleverness, and it never
entered into her head to doubt that he could get his work into print;
she knew nothing of the financial side of journalism, and, for the
moment, what had formerly seemed the all-important question, Jimmy's
method of livelihood, was thrust into the background, owing to her fear
that he would do something to compromise both himself and his family.

Yet, the idea had taken her so greatly by surprise that at first she did
not know what to say. She was not afraid of offending Jimmy or of
hurting his feelings. To her, he was still a boy, who would; or at least
should, listen to her advice.

"Surely you don't mean that, Jimmy," she began. "I never dreamt of your
contemplating such a thing; and I shall be very sorry if you go on with
it. I am certain you will do yourself a lot of harm, for I know from
your letters that you have picked up a number of curious, and even
improper, ideas. We are all aware that there is a low public taste which
likes these things; but there are already more than enough writers
providing them. We had hoped that when you came home you would settle
down to regular work of some sort."

Jimmy had coloured a little. "What sort?" he asked quietly.

It was May's turn to flush; she did not quite like his tone, and,
moreover, she had no answer ready. "Some business, of course," she
answered tartly. "You have no profession. Henry has promised to see if
any of his friends have vacancies in their offices. I suppose you have
saved enough to keep you for a little while?"

Her brother got up rather suddenly. He had been alone so long, playing a
lone hand, that he had forgotten the great unwritten law of the Family
Inquisition, whose main clause is that the common rules of courtesy do
not apply when two of the same blood meet; but still, he recognised the
genuine kindness underlying the inquiry, and stifled his resentment,
which May would not have understood, because she and Walter and Ida were
in the habit of asking each other similar blunt questions.

"For a short time," he answered. "Enough for a week or two, and a friend
on the Press has put me in the way of getting one commission already.
As for a City office, I couldn't stand it for a day."

Mrs. Marlow put another stitch in her fancy work, then pulled her thread
a little viciously, breaking it. "Well, I hope you will be careful, and
not write anything we need feel ashamed of. Remember, that though you
may have no position to lose, we have one."

"You needn't be afraid of that, May." There was a suspicion of scorn,
and more than a suspicion of anger, in his voice. "It doesn't make much
difference if I don't write under my own name, so long as I can get the
dollars, which are what I'm out for."

Mrs. Marlow gave in with a sigh. After all, so long as he kept the
family name out of print, there would not be much harm done; and it was
a relief to find that he looked at matters from a practical point of
view. Of course, he ought to have accepted Henry's assistance and gone
into the City; but if he would not do so, as seemed to be the case, it
was some consolation to find that he was apparently anxious to make
money in other ways.

But when she talked the matter over with her husband after Jimmy had
gone up to bed, Henry Marlow shook his head. His opinions coincided
exactly with those of Walter Grierson. "A most precarious occupation,"
he said, "and one which I should certainly not allow our boys to take
up. It's a great pity, as I believe I could have got him into Foulger's
office--Foulger and Hilmon, you know, the jobbers."

Upstairs, Jimmy was smoking and staring into his fire. Somehow, he felt
very disappointed, as though he had been working on a false assumption,
and must readjust his ideas and then start afresh. He was little more at
home than he had been the previous night in the hotel.



CHAPTER V


The hours of Jimmy's stay with the Marlows dragged by slowly. The
children, four boys, proved uninteresting in the extreme, whilst between
himself and Laura Marlow, May's sister-in-law, there was little in
common. Two other guests, an elderly aunt and uncle of Henry's, arrived
in time for dinner on the second night, and Jimmy retired more and more
into the background, or, rather, he found himself in the background by a
kind of natural sequence. No one wanted to put him there; in fact, both
his brother-in-law and his sister were kindness itself; but he was the
outsider in the party, sharing none of the interests of the others.

He had been invited for a week, at least, longer if possible; yet at the
end of three days he was longing for an excuse to get back to town,
where he intended to take rooms; but no excuse presented itself, and so
he stayed on, spending most of his time in the billiard-room, a part of
the house seldom used in the daytime, writing, or trying to write, some
of the articles which Douglas Kelly had suggested. He had sent his copy
in to the _Record_, and each morning, immediately after breakfast, he
strolled down to the little news agent's shop to buy a copy of the
paper--Mr. Marlow took no halfpenny journals--but when Sunday came round
it had not appeared.

The Marlows were regular church-goers, at least Mrs. Marlow was, and her
husband always accompanied her when he was not away at the seaside,
golfing. May took her religion as part of her settled order of
existence. She had been bred up in it, and she would have resented any
attack on it as fiercely as she would have resented the abolition of
class distinctions. She believed in it, and, in a sense, she loved it;
but, with the one exception of her father's tragic death, her way
through life had been so smooth that she had never felt the need of its
consolations, and, consequently, had never analysed it in any way. Doubt
had never entered into her mind, because her creed seemed to suit her
circumstances so admirably. The well-dressed congregation, the
well-trained choir, the cushioned seats and reserved pews, the suave,
optimistic rector, and deferential curates--these were all part of a
nicely balanced state of society which kept motor-cars, or at least
broughams, and paid its tradesmen's bills by cheque on the first of the
month.

Henry Marlow seldom, if ever, gave the matter a thought; but he
subscribed generously when asked by the rector, and he kept the Ten
Commandments scrupulously, so far as his home life was concerned. He
respected the Church, as something which stood for solidity and the
security of property, like Consols and the Mansion House, and he
regarded Dissenters in much the same light as he did outside brokers, as
persons who should be watched by the police. He did not try to worship
both God and Mammon simultaneously; but, wholly unconsciously, he
divided his life into two parts, that which he spent in the City, and
that which he spent outside the Square Mile, and so avoided the
difficulty.

Jimmy, on the other hand, had heard very few services during the last
ten years, and of those the majority had been read by a layman, and had
begun with the words "I am the resurrection and the life, saith the
Lord." Lack of opportunity had kept him from attending in the first
case, and, after a while, having lost the habit of his boyhood, he had
ceased to think of taking such opportunities as did offer.

"I think it must be five years at least since I went to anything but a
funeral service," he remarked to May, as they walked towards the big
red-brick church.

Mrs. Marlow threw a swift glance over her shoulder, fearing her other
guests, who were following, might have heard. "Hush, Jimmy," she said.
"It sounds so bad. Never say that again, especially before the servants.
The rector's housemaid is sister to my parlour-maid, and it would be
sure to get round to him. Of course, I know you have been in wild places
where there were no churches, and we understand, but others might not.
And all our friends are Church-people."

Jimmy dropped the subject, and a few minutes later he was following her
rustling skirts up the broad centre aisle to the pew four rows back from
the pulpit. He wished it had not been so far forward, because the
worshippers interested him, if only by reason of their sameness of type.
You could see they were all people of position, with regular incomes and
hereditary political convictions, solid people of that slow-moving,
tenacious class which is the real backbone of the country, holding, as
it does, the greater part of the wealth, and producing, often by a kind
of apparent accident, the greater part of the intellect.

Jimmy belonged to them by birth, and yet, as he sat amongst them,
listening to the lisping voice of the senior curate, he found it hard to
realise the fact. He tried his best to follow the service, to keep his
mind on it, but, somehow, the whole atmosphere seemed wrong. The church
was a modern one, the work of a famous architect, and, therefore,
grossly inartistic, lacking every feature which makes for solemnity and
beauty. The detail was coarse and roughly finished, the red-brick walls,
as always, an offence to the eye; big texts seemed to squirm, like
semi-paralysed eels, over the chancel arch and round the East window.
The latter, off which Jimmy could hardly take his eyes, was a veritable
triumph of the Victorian tradition. Its colouring was gruesome, its
design grotesque; and yet it was a source of great pride to the
congregation as a whole, having been put in to the memory of a banker
who had left nearly a million. They no more dreamed of doubting its
artistic merits than they did of questioning the religion it was
supposed in some vague way to typify.

The singing was good, the sermon grammatical and well delivered, and yet
Jimmy left the church with a feeling of dissatisfaction. He had expected
that this, his first service in England after ten years, would have
carried him back to the days when he knew nothing of the Tree of
Knowledge; but, instead of that, it had made no appeal to him. Its
poetry was destroyed by the hideousness of the surroundings; whilst even
the glorious words of the Benediction seemed but a perfunctory
dismissal, giving the congregation leave to hasten away to the heavy
dinners which were awaiting it at home.

He was very silent on his way back, thinking of the past, and he was
only recalled to the present when May, seeing him producing his
cigarette case, thought it time to speak.

"Jimmy," she said, rather severely, "it is hardly correct to smoke on
your way home from church. People notice that sort of thing so much."

Her brother coloured, and thrust the case back into his pocket. A minute
later, he heard his sister's name spoken, and a tall, well-dressed woman
hurried up from behind.

"I have been trying to overtake you for the last five minutes, May," she
said. "Only you have been walking as if you were very, very hungry,"
then, disregarding Mrs. Marlow's little snort of annoyance, she turned
to Jimmy, "Don't you remember me, Jimmy--Mr. Grierson I suppose I ought
to say--I'm Ethel Grimmer, Ethel Jardine that was."

Jimmy laughed and took the outstretched hand.

"Of course I remember you now; but when I saw you in church where I
could only catch your profile obliquely, I was not quite sure who you
were. I didn't know you lived down here."

Mrs. Grimmer laughed too, but mentally she registered another grievance
against May. So this Jimmy Grierson, who dressed quite decently after
all, and had a distinctly interesting face, was to be kept in the
background.

"I suppose you and May have found so much to talk about," she said. "I'm
sure you must, after being apart all these years, and you have such a
lot to tell." She was a handsome woman with fine eyes, and she knew how
to use them. "When May has done with you, or rather when she can spare
you for an hour or two, you must come and see us--Jimmy." She blushed a
little. "When will you let him come, May? How would dinner on Tuesday
do? I know you and Henry are going to the Foulgers' that night, and this
poor boy will be alone."

May bit her lip to repress an exclamation of annoyance. She did not want
Jimmy to go to the Grimmers', but it was impossible to deny the
engagement with the Foulgers, and equally impossible to say that Jimmy
was going there with her--Ethel Grimmer knew how many people the Foulger
dining table would seat; so she gave in, and Jimmy arranged to go,
showing rather more eagerness over his acceptance than May considered
necessary. Indeed, she remarked so much to her husband whilst she was
taking off her hat; then a sudden thought struck her, and she paused,
with her fingers still grasping a half-withdrawn hatpin.

"Henry, do you remember what a silly fuss Ethel used to make over Jimmy,
just before he went abroad, how they used to go cycling together. Of
course, she's years older than he is, but still----"

Marlow nodded solemnly; he had never really liked the Grimmers, and he
knew that, several times lately, Ethel had gone out of her way to annoy
his wife, whilst Grimmer himself had behaved like a fool over the Gold
Dredging Company, actually hinting that, because they knew each other
socially, he ought to have been warned when the thing was going wrong.
As if sentiment of that sort could be allowed to intrude on business.
Billy Grimmer had been in the City over twenty years, and it was quite
time he knew its ways.

"Ethel is a vain, flighty woman," Marlow said, in reply to his wife's
remark. "She likes to have young men like Jimmy trailing after her; and
Grimmer only laughs. I suppose it's what they call being 'smart.' Pity
he doesn't put a little more smartness into his business affairs." He
chuckled slightly at the recollection of the dredging shares, which had
been some of those he, himself, had received as vendor. "Still, Jimmy
is old enough to take care of himself now," he went on, "and, after
all, he will be going back to town a day or two later."

But May shook her head. "I must warn him not to talk too much--he seems
terribly indiscreet--and I think I shall give him a plain hint about
falling in love, and so on. From what Ethel said the other day, she is
quite capable of getting some silly girls with money to meet him."

Meanwhile, Jimmy was staring out of the window of the billiard-room, and
smiling a little grimly at the memories which his meeting with Mrs.
Grimmer had reawakened. They had been very great friends in his
Sandhurst days, although she was several years his senior; and, for a
month or two after his departure from England, he had slept with her
photo under his pillow, and tried to imagine her warm farewell kisses on
his lips; and then, somehow, the photo had got mislaid, and the other
recollections had begun to lose their actuality, and when, a year later,
he had received the news of her engagement, he had written her a hearty,
and perfectly sincere, letter of congratulation. It would be distinctly
amusing to meet her under the new conditions, and see how much she was
disposed to remember.



CHAPTER VI


On Tuesday morning Jimmy opened the _Record_ as usual at page 4, and the
first thing that caught his eye was his own article. He glanced down it
quickly, with an unusual sense of exaltation: never before had anything
of his appeared in a great London daily; and the _Record's_ circulation
ran to a considerable fraction of a million. There was no one with him
to whom he could show it; but he was passing an hotel, the "Railway
Tavern," and he turned in at the door, to celebrate his luck, and read
his work through quietly.

The barmaid, who was polishing her spirit measures, looked at him
curiously. "You seem mighty pleased about something," she said at last,
perhaps a little resentfully, as though feeling that her own rather,
full-blown charms deserved more attention than the paper.

Jimmy glanced up with a smile. "There's an article of mine here," he
said, holding out the sheet.

The girl knit her brow and spelled out the heading. "My! Is that your
writing? What's it all about. Anything spicy?" But, though she was
regarding him with more interest than before, she made no attempt to
read his work.

Jimmy finished his drink and folded up the paper. Somehow, at the second
reading, it had not seemed so good. There were at least two clumsy
sentences, and the fool of a printer had chopped out half a dozen
commas. He could see now where he could have made several improvements,
and he had little doubt that Dodgson would see too, and, perhaps, reckon
him a careless workman. He had yet to learn how much, or how little, the
public recks of either grammar or punctuation, how it prefers
semi-truths tempered by split infinitives to facts stated in balanced
prose.

As he came out of the hotel, his mind was full of the career which
seemed to lie ahead of him, and he did not notice Laura Marlow walking
up the other side of the road; but Miss Marlow saw him, saw too where he
had been, and duly reported the fact to May when she returned to the
house.

Jimmy found his sister in her boudoir, busy with her tradesmen's books,
searching for the errors which certainly would have been there had the
butcher and the baker and the grocer not learned long since that Mrs.
Marlow was in the habit of checking her accounts, a habit which they
viewed with a mixture of scorn and wrath, tempered by not a little fear.
They regarded her much as a municipal politician regards a chartered
accountant; but they knew it was useless to add up two and five as
eight, or to charge for fresh butter when cooking butter had been
ordered. May allowed no one to rob her husband, even of a halfpenny.
They called her a hard woman, and said many bitter things about her as
they foregathered outside the chapel after service; but, none the less,
they supplied her with far better goods than those they sent to Mrs.
Grimmer, who paid her bills spasmodically, without attempting to check
them.

May glanced at the paper her brother held out, but she did not attempt
to take it. "I will read it by and by, when I've time," she said; then
she noticed his name below the heading and frowned. "I thought you were
going to write under an assumed name," she added.

Jimmy coloured slightly. "I've changed my mind," he said, rather
shortly. "I don't see why I should disguise myself. It's nothing to be
ashamed of, as you'll see if you read it."

His sister sighed and picked up her pencil again. "I must get on with
these tiresome tradesmen's books. Oh, don't leave that paper there,
Jimmy." He had put it down on the table. "There's so much litter about
already. I'll ask you for it later."

Jimmy picked up the _Record_ again and left the room without another
word. His sister's apparent lack of interest hurt him more than he cared
to acknowledge, even to himself; and his sense of grievance deepened as
the day went by without her making any other reference to his article.
Yet, after lunch, she found time to put in an hour studying a children's
fashion paper with the greatest attention. He had the cutting from the
_Record_ in his pocket-book, ready for her or any of the other guests to
see, but it remained there until the evening, and when he dressed to go
to the Grimmers' he left it behind deliberately. He was not going to
risk another snub.

On entering the Grimmer drawing-room, however, Ethel met him with a copy
of the paper in her hand.

"Billy just brought this home from town," she said. "A man showed it to
him in the train. I like it very much indeed, and so does my husband."
She paused and gave a little laugh. "It's awfully nice of you to come,
Jimmy, and--and, not be jealous or anything silly. Still, that was all
years ago, wasn't it?"

"You look just the same," he answered, smiling back at her.

She laughed again, flattered, and yet relieved at his tone--some men do
remember such a stupidly long time, and she had half feared lest her
guest might be one of them. "Now you are being silly," she answered,
lightly. "I am sure May wouldn't approve of that. But I know you're
going to be good, and, as a reward, I've got two very nice girls for you
to meet. Ah, here's Billy." Then she introduced the two men, adding,
"Billy knows all about you already."

The nice girls proved to be respectively Miss Farlow, the daughter of
the rector, and Miss Barton, whose mother had a large house next to that
of the Marlows, for whom she entertained that measure of good will which
usually exists between near neighbours; but, none the less, she was very
pleasant to Jimmy, knowing nothing of his financial position. Young men
were by no means plentiful in the neighbourhood.

The rector, too, was pleasant, for very similar reasons, although, as a
matter of fact, he was affable to all his parishioners and their
relatives. There were no poor amongst his flock, no self-evident black
sheep, and, consequently, he was able to know every member of his
congregation socially, which, as he was never tired of repeating, was
most comforting to a conscientious man.

Mrs. Grimmer, having secured Jimmy, did not mean to allow his light to
remain hidden, as May apparently intended it should be; consequently,
dinner had scarcely begun before she started to draw him out
scientifically, and, after the dullness of the last few days, her guest
was not loath to talk. He was always interesting, but this time he was
almost brilliant; and when Ethel gave the signal to the other ladies,
she left the room feeling that she had scored greatly over Mrs. Marlow,
who would now have to explain why she had kept this distinctly
interesting brother in the background. Grimmer, too, was pleased,
foreseeing a chance of annoying Marlow in the train by bringing up the
subject of Jimmy's adventures.

Ethel managed to keep her guest until the others had gone, and even then
she did not seem inclined to let him go.

"Stay and have a whisky and soda and another cigar with Billy. I know
you would like one, and I'm quite sure it won't hurt that fat butler of
May's to sit up an extra half-hour to let you in. I don't suppose May
has given you a latchkey."

Jimmy shook his head at the latter suggestion, then followed her into
the smoking-room.

"I think I shall have a cigarette, too, Billy," she said to her husband,
after she had settled her rather elaborate draperies into a big leather
chair, "only you mustn't tell May, Jimmy. I am quite sure she never
smoked. I didn't myself until this husband of mine taught me." She took
a few whiffs, then, "Which did you like best?" she asked, suddenly.
"Mary Barton will have the most money; but Vera Farlow is the better
looking, and, they say, her father will probably be a bishop some day.
You see, he has private means, and married an earl's granddaughter."

Her guest parried the question, a little awkwardly; whereupon Mrs.
Grimmer, seeing his embarrassment, let the matter drop, and went on to
ask about his plans for the future. "I wonder you don't live with some
of your own people," she said, when he told her of his intention to take
rooms. "But, still, I suppose it would be dull for you. What do you say,
Billy?... You must come down here for a week-end as soon as you can find
time."

It was an hour later when Jimmy left; and the fat butler had already
finished the bottle of port and gone to sleep, with the result that only
at the third ringing of the bell did he awaken and stumble upstairs to
the front door. Jimmy was feeling more than ever disappointed at the
attitude of his own people, more than ever ready to disregard both their
wishes and their advice. After all, Ethel Grimmer had far more brains
and sympathy than May; whilst Grimmer, though not over-brilliant, was
more interesting than Henry Marlow. He woke up next morning with his
sense of grievance still unabated; and his disappointment changed to
something very like anger when May called him into her boudoir after
breakfast, and proceeded to cross-examine him as to whom he had met at
the Grimmers'.

"I hope you will remember these people are all our friends, even more
than they are Ethel's, Jimmy," she said severely, "and I trust you will
not let Ethel fill your head with her own silly ideas about getting
married and so on. Both Mrs. Barton and Mrs. Farlow will only allow
their girls to marry men of means and position."

"And you mean that I have neither." Her brother laughed bitterly. "Good
heavens, May, do you think I came home to get married, and live on a
stodgy father-in-law? I've got plenty of other things to think about."
But although he brushed the matter aside scornfully, May's words
remained in his memory. Only men of means and position were wanted in
their circle.



CHAPTER VII


Jimmy's original intention had been to take a couple of rooms of which
Douglas Kelly had told him. They were somewhere in that queer maze of
little streets and courts which lies at the back of Fleet Street, and
would have suited him admirably. But May had objected strongly to the
idea. No one they knew had ever dwelt in such a quarter; and both she
and Henry agreed that it was not the thing for any young man, especially
for a young man of Jimmy's temperament, to live in a place where nobody
would know what he was doing, or what hours he kept. So she had written
to a former maid of hers, who had married and settled in a South London
suburb, and arranged for her to board and lodge Jimmy for a fixed weekly
sum.

Jimmy had given in reluctantly, though he had not shown his reluctance
openly. Abroad, he had gone his own way, doing just as it seemed good to
him; but in England it was different. He was not afraid of his own
people; but he was anxious not to shock them in any way; and, at the
same time, contact with them had brought back much of his respect for
those conventions which had governed his boyhood. He was a Bohemian by
habit, and largely so by nature, yet when he was amongst those who lived
settled lives their influence and example seemed to revive some latent
instinct of staid respectability within himself, and, to a certain
extent, he came to see things with their eyes. True, the phase passed
quickly, so quickly that often during the ensuing months his own people
wondered whether he were not a hypocrite. They were used to men with
fixed temperaments, men you could rely upon to maintain a suitable
standard of propriety. The other kinds they ignored socially, as they
certainly would have ignored Jimmy, had he not been of their own blood;
but they belonged to a class which reckons family as second only to
property, which, though it may quarrel with its relations, always
remembers the relationship, and the sacred right of interference which
relationship gives.

Jimmy's new lodgings were half an hour's journey from the City. You
reached them by means of an uncleanly train, whose driver seemed to be
perpetually on the look-out for an excuse to stop with a jolt. You got
out--usually ten minutes late--at a smoke-grimed station, and emerged
into a wide thoroughfare, lined on either side with shops of the
margarine-and-spot-cash variety, and horrible with the screeching and
rattling of gigantic municipal trams, which appeared to run solely for
the pleasure of the motorman and conductor. The third turning on the
right and then the second on the left brought you to Mrs. Benn's house,
semidetached and severe looking, with heavy curtains and a brass plate
on a front door bearing the single word "Apartments."

Jimmy groaned inwardly as the cab drew up at the little iron gate, and
he wished, once more, that he had not given way to his sister. A band,
obviously the product of a happy and musical Fatherland, was just
packing up its music stands some fifty yards lower down the street;
whilst, as he mounted the steps of the house, two Dagos appeared round
the next corner, trundling a piano organ, on the top of which was seated
what was apparently a small and long-tailed relative of their own. His
rooms, however--two on the first floor--though small, were quite
cheerful for their kind, whilst the meat tea, which the landlady
presently brought up, was distinctly promising.

He had no stuff of his own, beyond the clothes in his trunks, not even a
book or a photograph; and during his wandering days the lack of such
things had never struck him; but now he found himself registering a
mental vow to buy some pictures as soon as possible, if only to have an
excuse for banishing the German reproductions of mid-Victorian art
which disfigured the walls of his sitting-room. The painters of the
originals had all borne great names, or at least had been accounted
great in their generation; but as he sat smoking after tea, and staring
at these glazed abominations, he wondered who had been the greater
sinner, the English artist or the Teutonic engraver; probably the
former, he told himself, for, after all, the latter had only spoiled
what detail there might have been; he had copied the smugness and the
false sentiment, perhaps rejoiced in them as being essentially the
products of Teutonic thought, but it had been the Englishman who had put
that smugness on to the canvas in the first case.

Unfortunately, it was easier to want new pictures than to get them, even
though they might cost but a few shillings apiece. Jimmy's total capital
amounted to a bare fifteen pounds, and his means of subsistence so far
appeared to consist of the introduction to Dodgson of the _Record_. Not
that the fact troubled him greatly. A more sanguine man would have been
haunted by the fear of his money giving out before any earnest of future
success came to him; a less experienced man would never have dreamed of
making the attempt at all; but Jimmy was used to being hard pressed for
cash, and had learnt in a rough school not to expect very much. He was
used to drifting, and, in any case, he had practically nothing to lose.

On the first morning Jimmy went out to have a look at the neighbourhood,
but after an hour's walk he had seen enough to kill any desire he might
have felt for further exploration. The whole district was prosaic and
unlovely, saturated with the spirit of municipal government. There were
rows and rows of jerry-built houses running at right angles to the High
Street, houses with small rooms and big rates, occupied by tired-looking
men who hurried to the station about half-past eight every morning, and
did not get back again till after seven in the evening, when you would
meet them walking homewards rather slowly, shuffling a little perhaps,
as overworked clerks are prone to do, and still carrying the halfpenny
paper which they had bought on their way to town. They had read every
word in it, and their wives would be too busy, or too worn-out, to give
it a glance; but still it had a value as fire-lighting material.
Halfpennies were not negligible factors in those desirable villa
residences. You could see that when the women folk went out to do their
morning shopping. Some of them were flashily-smart, some, most perhaps,
drab and weary like their husbands; but all had to pay cash to those
prosperous tradesmen in the High Street, every one of whom looked like
a councillor, or, at the very least, a guardian, having the air of
growing rich at the expense of the multitude.

There seemed to be a council school, aggressive in its hideousness, up
every second side street; the grinding whirr of the municipal trams was
always in your ears, to remind you of the poverty of the neighbourhood
in case our eyes should play you false, that worst form of poverty which
has to wear a decent black suit and possesses the mockery of a vote;
whilst the only alternative to the pavements--laid by a
councillor-contractor, and kept in repair by means of a special
rate--was the recreation ground, in which a plethoric and guardian-like
official spent his days in keeping the embryo ratepayers off the
sacrosanct municipal grass. You felt you were in the clutch of a
horrible machine, or rather of two machines, unallied perhaps, yet very
similar in operation, for both took as much as possible and grudged
giving anything in return. From nine till six you were part of the
mechanism of the City, wearing yourself out for the bare means of
subsistence, often without the slightest hope of further advancement,
always with the dread of dismissal as soon as your hair began to turn
grey, when a younger, cheaper man, or a German volunteer, would take
your place. There was nothing in the present, save the eternal
necessity for economy; nothing in the future, save the fear of
unemployment. At night, you returned home, to be gripped by the
municipal Frankenstein's monster, which you and your fellows had helped
to make. You were never free man, you never could be free; because in
London the price of freedom is usually starvation for your children and
prison for yourself, if you cannot satisfy the demands of the "Guardians
of the Poor."

Jimmy smiled grimly to himself as he noted the new Town Hall. He had met
a good many robber-politicians during his wanderings in the Dago
Republics; but all of them had, at least, the saving grace of frankness.
The aim and end of their policy was to arrive safely in Paris, with the
contents of the national treasury as their baggage. They did not hunger
after honours, such as knighthoods, or aspire to speak at Sunday
afternoon gathering in pseudo-places of worship. Certainly, they told a
number of flamboyant falsehoods before getting into office, but that was
the only respect in which they copied civilised political methods; and
they did run a risk from which their English counterparts would have
shrunk in a cold sweat of fear. The price of failure was death.

The one tour of inspection satisfied Jimmy. He saw the tragedy
underlying the lives of these people, saw it far more clearly, perhaps,
than they did themselves, for he had known so many other phases, whilst
they were inured to the drab monotony, most had been born to it, and so
its full meaning was mercifully hidden from them. They would have waxed
wrath at hearing it called a poor locality, in fact it was not one,
being eminently respectable, as any house agent could tell you. Why, the
late mayor, who died during his third term of office, had left nearly a
hundred thousand pounds.

For three days Jimmy wrote steadily, doing no less than five articles of
the type which the _Record_ had accepted. One he sent to Dodgson, the
others to papers which Douglas Kelly had mentioned, and then, suddenly,
inspiration seemed to fail him. He could not write a line, could not
even think of a subject; and, for a whole day, he felt something nearly
akin to dismay. If his ideas ran out as quickly as this his prospects
were small indeed; and when the postman brought back two of his
manuscripts, with printed slips conveying the editor's thanks and
regrets, he began to curse his own folly in ever coming home.

That evening, the craving for companionship he had felt in the hotel the
night he landed came back to him again. He had spoken to no one, save
his landlady, for the better part of a week, and the loneliness seemed
unbearable. He sent his supper away, practically untasted, then, without
giving Mrs. Benn a chance to come up and comment on the smallness of his
appetite, took his hat and went out.

It was Early Closing Day, and the High Street was thronged, mainly with
the liberated shop assistants. Jimmy walked slowly, and, owing perhaps
to that fact, he got more than one glance, encouraging him to begin an
acquaintance with young ladies in cheap and showy raiment. But none of
them made the slightest appeal to him. He had no taste for an insipid
flirtation with a girl who would probably play havoc with the aspirates.
He had met many women far less innocent than these, and there had been
more than one passage in his life which he did not recall with pride;
and yet, withal, he was still fastidious where women were concerned. The
only one who had interested him since his return home was the girl whom
he had seen entering the cab in the Strand. Somehow, her face remained
fixed in his memory, and many times since that evening he had found
himself wondering who she was, what her story could be.

He walked down to the bottom of the High Street, to where the trams
swerved round a corner with a whirr and a jolt into the domain of the
next borough council. There was a large public house at that point, with
much brass work and mahogany about its swing doors, and he turned in,
not so much because he wanted anything to drink, but because it seemed
the obvious alternative to the dreariness of his own rooms or the
boredom of the street.

The presiding deity welcomed him with the smile she reserved for new
customers. Trade was not very brisk in the saloon bar--there were eight
other licensed houses in the street--and she tossed her peroxide-dyed
curls and flashed her new teeth at him as she poured out his whisky.

"You look pretty doleful about something," she remarked.

Jimmy laughed. "I was till I came in here." Then he began to chat to
her, about nothing in particular, and somehow the time passed so quickly
that it was closing time before he took his leave. She had not
interested him in the least; but she was someone to talk to, and the
five or six drinks he had taken had cheered him up temporarily. It was
only when he got out into the now-emptying street that he remembered
that he had not got a latchkey.

Mrs. Benn was sitting up for him, and received him with a rather sour
face.

"I didn't know you was going to be late, sir," she said severely. "Mrs.
Marlow wrote that you would always be in in good time."

Jimmy muttered an apology and took his candle. On the top stair of the
first flight he caught his foot in a loose piece of carpet, and
stumbled, dropping the candlestick, which broke off at the base. In
silence, Mrs. Benn fetched another, and handed it to him with an air of
resignation, then, "You'll be sure and put it out safe, sir," she said.

Jimmy saw what was in her mind, and laughed, though there was a note of
annoyance in his voice as he attempted to reassure her; but his
annoyance would have changed to wrath had he known that the early post
next morning carried a letter to May describing how he returned home the
worse for liquor.



CHAPTER VIII


The morning post consisted of a manuscript returned from the _Daily
Herald_. Jimmy tossed the package on to the side table, with an
exclamation of disgust, not even troubling to ascertain if there were
any enclosure beyond the ordinary printed slip. Then, suddenly, he
decided to go up to town to see if he could find Douglas Kelly.

"Will you be late again, sir?" Mrs. Benn asked, severely.

"I think not," Jimmy answered, then, remembering his former experience
with Kelly, he added, "still you might let me have a latchkey on the
chance. I meant to have asked you for one before."

Mrs. Benn sighed, fumbled in a pocket, took a key off her own bunch, and
handed it to her lodger with an air of resignation.

"Mrs. Marlow said as you would always be in early." She repeated her
remark of the previous evening. "But if you are going to be late, sir, I
must ask you to be very careful with the candle. One does read of such
awful things, folks burnt in their beds. I'm sure I'm afraid to look at
the papers in these days."

Jimmy tried to laugh, but the sound spoke of irritation rather than of
amusement. "I don't think you need be afraid of me, Mrs. Benn, though I
did twist my ankle on that loose piece of carpet last night."

The landlady sniffed, and descended to the basement, where she relieved
her feelings, and conveyed a moral lesson, by smacking the head of her
youngest son, who was not wearing his Band of Hope ribbon.

"Poor children, can't they keep sober without joining a temperance
society?" a young lady lodger had once said, with a show of sympathy,
and since then the badges had not been greatly in evidence; but now they
should be brought out again as a rebuke to Mrs. Marlow's brother.

Jimmy went to the club which he knew Kelly used most, but the journalist
was not there. The waiter on duty surveyed the caller critically through
a window, then, having grown grey and wise in the ways of literary men,
he decided that Jimmy was not a creditor, and volunteered some
information. "Mr. Kelly's not been in yet, sir; but he's sure to come to
get his letters. So you might call again."

Jimmy strolled about until two o'clock--he was not of the kind which
calls just before lunch-time--then went back to the club.

"Not in yet, sir," the waiter said. "But he may come about four o'clock
for a cup of tea. He usually does, if he's in town."

Jimmy sighed. He was sick of waiting about; but he craved for the
society of someone he knew, and the idea of going back to spend the rest
of the day in those suburban lodgings seemed intolerable. So he decided
to wait, and walked down the narrow side street into the Strand, and
thence westwards, in more or less aimless fashion. He had never known
town sufficiently well to note the changes which the last ten years had
brought; possibly, they would not have interested him greatly in any
case, for he was a Londoner by birth, and the true Londoner looks at the
people and ignores the buildings.

He walked slowly, up to Piccadilly Circus, and thence along Regent
Street to Oxford Circus, where he turned eastwards again.

"Are you saved?" A tall gaunt man, in shabby clerical costume and black
woollen gloves, whispered the words in his ear, endeavoured to thrust a
tract into his hand, then hurried on towards the Circus. Jimmy looked
round quickly to see him repeat the process with an obviously astonished
German, then forgot all about the crank and his ways, for, coming up
behind him, clad just as she had been the night he saw her getting into
the cab in the Strand, was the tall girl whose face had been haunting
his memory.

Jimmy turned aside quickly and stared into a shop whilst she was
passing, then started to follow her at a little distance, not with the
least idea of making her acquaintance, but because some curious instinct
seemed to compel him to do so. She was walking rather fast, holding her
head erect, and looking neither to the right nor to the left; and, a
moment later, Jimmy saw the reason, for, just behind her, obviously
dogging her steps, was a great, overdressed African native, typical of
those who are sent by scores to England, to have a so-called education
wasted on them, sensual and lickerous savages, who may be quite
admirable as carriers in the West Coast jungles, but are wholly
abominable when allowed loose in the streets of London.

In common with every sane Englishman who has travelled, Jimmy had no
illusions left on the colour question. To him, the bare idea of a
coloured man speaking to a white woman was horrible, and here was the
worst form of coloured man, the son of the cannibal and the
devil-worshipper, trying to force himself on a white girl. Jimmy went
hot suddenly, a woman who was passing gave a little gasp as she saw the
look in his eyes; then he quickened his pace to catch up the two in
front, coming behind them in time to see the native deliberately jostle
the girl, then raise his glossy silk hat with a lascivious smile and
begin an apology. With flaming cheeks, the girl turned quickly, coming
face to face with Jimmy; but her persecutor's blood was up, and he
followed, still hat in hand. In a moment, Jimmy saw red, and, almost
before he knew what he was doing, he had caught the other on the point
of the jaw with his fist. The black man staggered, but recovered
himself, and for an instant it looked as though he were going to show
fight; but his colour told, and he looked round for a line of retreat,
just as a policeman, seeing the rapidly-gathering knot of spectators,
came up to investigate.

Jimmy, white-faced and fierce-eyed, listened in contemptuous silence
whilst the coloured man was giving his version, which was corroborated
by a rather long-haired person with a small white tie, who professed to
have seen the incident.

"This person"--he indicated Jimmy with a wave of a podgy hand--"this
person struck the dark gentleman a most cruel blow, entirely unprovoked.
I shall be most happy to give evidence," and he produced a card, a
printed one, stating that he was the Rev. Silas Lark, whilst the
address indicated that his business was the conversion of the heathen.

The constable gave him a keen look, and took the slip of pasteboard
rather doubtfully. "I see," he said, then he turned to Jimmy. "What have
you got to say to it all, sir?"

Jimmy told his story in a few words, then he glanced round to where the
girl had been standing; but, with a mingled sense of disappointment and
relief, he saw that she had slipped away. "I don't want to bring the
lady's name into it, of course," he added, as he gave his own name and
address.

"Now, then, move on there." The constable closed his notebook and
dispersed the little crowd; then he turned to Jimmy again, "I don't
expect you'll hear any more of this, sir. We've had one or two
complaints about that black man and his friends, and as for the Reverend
Mr. Silas," he smiled, grimly, "we've been told to watch him as a
pickpocket." He glanced at Jimmy again. "You look as if you've come from
abroad, sir, or else I shouldn't have told you so much. Take it from me,
Oxford Street is just alive with wrong 'uns in the afternoon, women as
well as men." Then he drew himself up, and went on to superintend the
raising of a fallen cab-horse, which served also to draw off the few who
were still staring at Jimmy. He was looking for the tall girl; and, a
moment later, he was rewarded by seeing her coming out of a tea-shop
with a paper-bag in her hand. She gave him a frank little smile of
recognition, and, emboldened, he raised his hat and went up to her.

"Thank you so much," she said. "I--I hope there won't be trouble for
you. I couldn't be in it, you see, so I slipped in there on the excuse
of buying a bun."

"Oh, it'll be all right," Jimmy answered lightly. "I don't mind paying a
fine for the pleasure of teaching a nigger manners," then, seeing she
looked tired and upset, he asked suddenly, "Will you come and have some
tea in here?" indicating a large restaurant they were passing.

The girl nodded. "Thank you. I should like some," she answered simply.
Her voice was sweet and refined, and, seeing her closely, Jimmy found
that she was even better-looking than he had imagined, whilst her
carriage was perfection.

Nothing more was said until they were seated at one of the little tables
in the palm court, then, suddenly, "Oh, how I loathe those black men."
She brought the words out with a little shudder. "There are three or
four of them haunt Oxford Street."

"Are you often about town?" Jimmy asked. She looked at him with a kind
of grave surprise; then she turned away as she answered, "I am always
about town. I have to be. You understand?" Her voice was very low, but
the words were perfectly distinct.

Unconsciously, Jimmy twisted his gloves in his two hands so fiercely
that one of them tore nearly in half. The daylight seemed to have gone
suddenly, leaving the gilding of the place dull and heavy. He
understood. Her words had killed all the romance of their meeting; yet,
when he looked at her again, he could hardly believe she was speaking
the truth.

The waiter brought the tea, and she poured it out, with far more grace
of manner and movement than Mrs. Marlow would have shown. Moreover, she
made no affectation about not wanting the dainty little sandwiches and
cakes. "They are so delicious that I feel it's a sin to leave them," she
said, when he declared he would have no more.

"What is your name?" he asked abruptly, breaking what had been rather a
long silence. She was dusting some minute crumbs off her dress, and she
answered without looking up, "Penrose, Lalage Penrose."

She did not ask for his name, but he volunteered it; then, "May I come
and see you?" he added.

The girl hesitated a moment. "Why not?" she asked at last, but she
flushed at her own words, and her hand was unsteady as she wrote down
the address, which was one of a block of flats near Baker Street.

"Can I come to-morrow afternoon?"

She nodded and got up. At the entrance of the restaurant she stopped and
held out her hand. "Good-bye, and thank you."

"It's only _au revoir_, isn't it?" he answered, as he raised his hat,
then without looking back, for fear she would think he was watching her,
he walked away rapidly, his feelings a mixture of elation and of
something very nearly akin to misery.

Douglas Kelly was in when Jimmy called again at the club. "The waiter
gave me your card and I supposed you would come along soon. You look a
bit doleful. What are you going to drink?... That was a good article of
yours in the _Whitehall Gazette_ this evening."

Jimmy set his glass down suddenly. "I haven't seen it; in fact, I was
expecting to find the manuscript waiting for me when I got back."

Kelly laughed. "So that's the reason of the dumps? The postman drops 'em
through the letter-box with a kind of sickening thud, and you feel
there's nothing left to live for, unless it's to kill the editor. I went
through it all, until I made 'em understand they must have my signature
at my own price. Still, you haven't done so badly in the few days you've
been home. Dodgson tells me they've got another article of yours in
type. Here, Romsey," he hailed a man who had just come in, whose face
somehow seemed familiar to Jimmy, "I want to introduce you to an old
colleague of mine, Grierson, who is going to knock spots out of you
all."

The new-comer grinned. "I've seen him knocking spots out a nigger in
Oxford Street already. It'll be in the next edition of the _Evening
Post_, 'Outrageous assault on an African Prince.' I happened to be
passing and got seven shillings-worth of copy out of it," he added,
turning to Jimmy. "I left your name out, though. But, you see, the
_Evening Post_ believes in a man and a brother, and sacks its boys if it
finds they have been vaccinated; so the story exactly suited them. The
Prince, too, has just sold the gold-mining rights of his native swamp,
and has held a reception in Exeter Hall, so he in himself was good stuff
for us." Then he gave Kelly a moderately truthful account of what had
occurred.

Kelly did not laugh. "It won't go down here, Jimmy, that sort of thing.
Of course you were right; it's an abominable scandal to let these
niggers loose; but at home people'll never understand it. If your name
were to come out, you would be done, right away. And," he looked at him
keenly, "your lady friends should know better than to be alone in that
part of Oxford Street. Well, Romsey, are you going to pay for the drinks
out of your seven shillings, or am I? Then I'm going to put Jimmy up for
the club, and you can second him."



CHAPTER IX


That day Jimmy did not go back to his lodgings. Instead, he sent a wire
to Mrs. Benn, and went to dine and spend the night with the Kellys,
although he did not get away from the club until he had been introduced
to a score of journalists to whom his host described him as an old
colleague. As a result they were an hour late for dinner when they
reached the flat.

"It doesn't matter; my wife won't mind," Kelly remarked cheerfully as
they went up in the lift, and, a few moments later, when he met Mrs.
Kelly Jimmy saw that her husband was speaking the truth.

Dora Kelly was a pretty, thrifty little woman, with a mass of rather
untidy fair hair. She was still in the tea-gown which, apparently, she
had been wearing all the day, whilst her foot-gear consisted of a pair
of Japanese slippers; and yet the whole effect was charming, possibly
because she was entirely unaffected and obviously happy. The flat
reflected the character of its mistress. It was full of good things, all
in wonderful disarray. Even the drawing-room had an air of having
undergone a strenuous straightening up a month previously, since which
event it had not been touched again.

"Dinner won't be long, Douglas," Mrs. Kelly said. "But the cook went out
at four o'clock and hasn't come in yet; I'm afraid she must have got
drunk again; so I borrowed the Harmers' servant," she turned to Jimmy.
"Servants are such a nuisance, Mr. Grierson, yet one daren't discharge
them, and our cook is a treasure when she's sober. Douglas says you live
in lodgings in some suburb, so you don't have those worries, I suppose.
Here it's dreadful." She shook her head dolefully; but a moment later
she was smiling again and chattering gaily about her own experiences in
lodgings. She had been on the Press herself prior to her marriage, and
she knew, only too well, the ways of the London landlady.

If he had not chanced to saunter up Oxford Street that afternoon Jimmy
would have enjoyed immensely his dinner and the long talk which followed
it. He had been craving for the society of his own kind; yet now he had
got it it did not seem such a very great thing after all; for Lalage
Penrose had come into his life, and the thought of her was uppermost in
his mind. Even whilst he was talking over old times with Kelly, or
listening to Dora Kelly's laughing descriptions of the struggles of
their early married life, he was wondering how Lalage was spending the
evening, and the thought was making him sick at heart. Mentally, he
cursed himself for a fool, and tried hard to put the memory away from
him; but it was an effort all the time; and when Kelly finally allowed
him to go to bed, long after midnight, he shut his door with a sigh of
relief. But he did not undress. Instead, he sat in a big armchair,
staring into the fire, which, having been lighted by the borrowed
servant just before she left, a full three hours previously, had now
died down to a red glow.

He was a fool, and he knew it. The stronger part of his nature, that
which came of the alien streak in his father, warned him of the danger
of thinking seriously of chance female acquaintances, told him that no
man of the world ever did so; whilst to the Grierson strain in him
anything in the way of an intrigue was an unpardonable offence against
the canons of respectability. Douglas Kelly, the Bohemian, and Walter
Grierson, the city man, would both have called him mad, agreeing on this
point, if on none other; for they would argue that only a madman could
feel that he had any regard for a strange girl, who, by her own showing,
was without the pale. Suddenly he resolved to have no more to do with
Lalage. He would destroy her address, avoid those parts of the town
where he might possibly see her, drop the acquaintance before it went
any further.

He got up suddenly, took the slip of paper Lalage had given him out of
his pocket, and stood staring at words on it. It was well-written, in
the hand of an educated girl; but there was a shakiness in it which
suddenly destroyed all his wise resolutions, making an irresistible
appeal to his chivalry. After all, he himself, if not actually an
outcast, was one of life's failures. He had touched bed-rock, more than
once, and he knew too much of the bitterness of life to judge either man
or woman harshly. It is only those who have never suffered who show no
mercy to others.

What was it that American girl had said to him in Iquique, when she
insisted on lending him one hundred dollars, the time he was absolutely
penniless and too weak from fever to refuse? "The best thanks you can
give me, Jimmy, will be to help another girl if you ever get the
chance." He had returned the money a couple of months later, and he had
neither seen nor heard of her again; but the memory of her words had
remained, and now he seized on them as an excuse for the course he
wanted to follow. And so the slip of paper went back into his
pocket-book, tucked in carefully, though he knew every word that was on
it; and he sat down again, and remained, thinking and wondering, until
the fire had ceased to show even a spark of red, and the chill of the
room sent him shivering to bed, to dream of Lalage.

Jimmy came out of his room at nine o'clock next morning to find Mrs.
Kelly sweeping the dining-room. "The cook has not come back yet," she
remarked cheerfully. "I do hope the police haven't taken her, for she is
really a treasure when she's sober. And I can't very well borrow the
Harmers' servant again. So breakfast will be late; but you said last
night you weren't in a hurry, and Douglas isn't either. Won't you have a
whisky and soda, Mr. Grierson, whilst you're waiting. The decanter is on
the sideboard, or it should be--oh, no, I remember, Douglas has got it
in the dressing-room. I'll fetch it."

Breakfast was finally over about eleven o'clock. "We're not usually so
late, though it's always a movable feast," Mrs. Kelly explained, and
then Douglas prepared to go down to the office.

"They can always call me on the telephone if they want me specially," he
remarked, "and showing my independence is part of my scheme. I don't
think you'll ever be able to bluff, Jimmy. It isn't in you. At the back
of your mind, really, you're staid and respectable, with a reverence for
those set in authority over you, even for those who'll set themselves
there. So you'll have to trust to the merit of your work alone, and it's
a slow job getting recognition that way. What do you say, Dora?"

Mrs. Kelly smiled, and then suddenly her face grew grave, almost sad.
"Yes, it is a slow job sometimes," she said, softly. "Only Mr.
Grierson's old enough not to go under whilst he's waiting, and, of
course, he has the knowledge. It's those raw boys from the provinces I
pity." She shook her head as if at some memory, then followed her
husband to the front door. "Come again, Mr. Grierson, won't you," she
said as she shook hands. "Of course, you'll see Douglas often at the
club, and if he gives me longer warning I'll make sure the cook doesn't
get out. Douglas, dear, you might ask them at the police station if
they've got her. I've got a kind of creepy feeling which tells me that
they have, and, you know, the magistrate said he wouldn't fine her next
time."

"You're lucky," Jimmy said abruptly, as they came down the steps of the
mansions into the street.

Kelly looked up with a grin. "Do you mean in having our cook?"

Jimmy disregarded the question, and went on, "Were you lonely when you
first came home, before you married? Did you have to go through it, or
had you people of your own?"

He did not put it clearly, but the other showed he understood when he
answered, "My people are all in the North, and they're Nonconformists
and teetotallers. I went up once, and the governor and I quarrelled. I
haven't seen them since. Dora's never seen them. We were married six
months after I came home, on nothing. I wouldn't have risked it, but she
insisted for my sake. I was at the old game, you know."

Jimmy nodded. He understood, remembering vividly certain wild drinking
bouts which, incidentally, had given him some practical experience in
newspaper work, for on more than one occasion he had taken Kelly's
place, and brought out the little sheet.

They walked on a little way in silence, then, "Women are a confounded
sight better than we are," Kelly jerked out. "They see so much further.
We reckon we are being unselfish when we're only cowards; but they're
ready to back their own opinion and run the risk; and when they win they
let us take the credit."

"Some of them do, the right sort. But there are others----" Jimmy was
thinking of the girls to whom Ethel Grimmer had introduced him, those
whose parents had trained them in a due appreciation of the value of men
of position.

Kelly stopped suddenly and looked at him anxiously. "James Grierson," he
said, "I shall put you in a book some day when you're developed. At
present you're about twenty-one years old in many respects. Probably
you'll marry stodgily, or else you'll go to the other extreme and make
an even bigger ass of yourself."

Jimmy flushed uncomfortably, remembering Lalage; then went hot at the
thought of his own folly. He had only spoken to the girl once.



CHAPTER X


Lalage Penrose's flat was on the second floor of a small block of flats
in a narrow and grimy street. Opposite the main entrance was a fried
fish shop, and next door to that a coal and greengrocery stores, with
the latest price per hundredweight of what were untruthfully called the
"Best Household Coals" displayed in huge numerals on each of the
windows. Unwashed children from the uncleanly houses which made up the
rest of the street seemed to spend the whole day, and half the night,
dancing to barrel organs. Garbage and paper littered the roadway, except
where there was sufficient slimy black mud to cover these; but, on the
other hand, there was a large and gaudy public house at the corner,
opposite a similar block of flats, and a cab rank just down the side
turning.

Lalage's flat consisted of three very small rooms, for which she paid
fifty pounds a year. "Inclusive of rates," the agent had said; but, as
the landlord himself was on the Borough Council, his assessment was, of
course, not unduly high. By trade, the owner was a butcher in Maida
Vale, though his friends in Tooting did not know that; moreover,
besides being a councillor, he was a German by extraction; consequently,
with these two qualifications, it was quite natural that he should own
flats of that kind. In Capetown, where men are crude or brutal in their
ways, a judge and jury between them would probably have assessed his
merits at fifty lashes and two years' hard labour; in London, on the
other hand, not only was his person sacred and his property safe from
police raids, but he also had reasonable grounds for expecting to be
mayor in due course--which often meant a knighthood--whilst even the
greatest prize of all, the chairmanship of the new Electricity
Committee, a body having the giving of six-figure contracts, was not
beyond his grasp. He was quite a personage in the municipal life of West
London, as well as in the social life of Tooting, and, being a married
man with a family, he treated his tenants with righteous severity,
distraining on the slightest excuse when he suspected they possessed
anything of value, knowing well that his victims would not dare seek
redress in the Courts.

It was four o'clock exactly when Jimmy knocked at the door of the flat,
which was opened by Lalage herself. "I've no servant," she explained,
"only a woman who comes in once or twice a week." Then she led the way
into the tiny slip of a sitting-room, where she had tea laid out. "I'm
glad you've come," she added, "I was half afraid you wouldn't."

"Why?" he asked with a smile.

She looked at him seriously, her head a little on one side, as though
she were trying to read his character. "You seemed shy, different from
most men. Are you an Englishman?"

He nodded, and gave her a brief sketch of who he was. She listened with
evident interest. "It must be splendid to travel and see things. I have
always longed to, at least I did once, but now----" She broke off with a
hopeless little sigh, and got up abruptly. "I'll fetch the tea now."

The tea things, like everything else in the place, were of the simplest,
cheapest kind, yet as tasteful as was possible considering their price;
but, on the other hand, the tea itself was good, and there was a plate
of daintily-cut bread and butter and another of sandwiches.

"I was so glad of that tea yesterday." Lalage looked up suddenly. "I
hadn't had anything since some bread and milk at breakfast time, and
that horrible black man made me feel quite shaky."

Jimmy frowned. "Why do you starve yourself in that way?" he asked.

In after years, he often thought of this question and her answer. He
had been hungry himself more than once, and he knew, only too well, what
it meant; but, somehow, he had never pictured a well-dressed girl as
suffering that way.

"I only had a penny left, the one I spent on that bun, and no one will
trust you with as much as a loaf round here. I was afraid you would
notice how greedy I was at tea." Then, as he flushed awkwardly and began
to speak, she stopped him with a little gesture. "Why should you have
thought of it? You were very good, as it was. And I'm all right now. I
got a postal order last night," she added rather hurriedly; then she
changed the subject abruptly, and went on to talk of one or two matters
of passing interest, which the papers had been booming for want of
anything of real importance. She had evidently received an average
education, Jimmy could see that plainly, and yet he was puzzled, for in
many of her ideas, and especially in her strong prejudices, she belied
her apparent age; for they were those of a child of fourteen, rather
than of a girl of some two or three and twenty. Insensibly, he found
himself listening to her as one would to a child, and then, a moment
later, she would bring out some cynical scrap of wisdom, evidently the
fruit of bitter experience, which sounded strange coming from her lips.
Yet, despite the utter unconventionality, there was no hint of fastness
about her, and even when she touched by implication on her way of life,
she did so with a kind of frank simplicity, hiding nothing and trying to
excuse nothing.

"What do you think of my little flat?" she asked suddenly, after what
had been rather a long pause. "It's very tiny, of course; but it's a
home, and when you've had nowhere to go to, not even a lodging----" She
broke off, and stared into the fire. "It's simply awful to have
nowhere," she went on after a while. "To walk about hour after hour with
the mud squelching through your shoes, and nothing to eat; and getting
more hopeless as midnight comes on. I was out two whole nights."

Jimmy breathed heavily; he had often heard the same sort of thing from
men; but it sounded very different coming from the lips of a girl.

"And then one day I got ten pounds," Lalage continued, "and I made up my
mind I would have a home. I paid a month's rent in advance--they don't
worry over references if you do that--and I went to some hire-purchase
people for furniture. Then I bought a kettle at the sixpenny halfpenny
shop, and a cup and saucer and plate in the next street, where the
barrows are. By the time I had got curtains and some sheets and one or
two odd things like a lamp, there were only a few shillings left." She
looked up seriously. "You wouldn't think till you try how expensive
furnishing is; but I was so proud of my little home. I am still; and you
know, when you've a place of your own, if you only have bread and milk
no one is any the wiser. I've often been hard up since, but I've always
managed to scrape up the rent and the hire-purchase instalment. One must
do that; they don't give you a day's grace."

Jimmy was chewing savagely at the ends of his moustache. It never
entered into his head that she was trying to play upon his sympathies.
There was some curious quality of simplicity in her manner which forbade
that supposition. She interested him as no woman had ever interested him
before, and, suddenly, he was filled with a desire to know her past,
and, in that, to find excuses for the present.

"Where do you come from?" he asked.

"Hampshire," she answered, adding, "My people are dead. I'm quite alone
in the world." Then, as if to change the subject, she got up from her
seat. "You must have a look round my tiny place."

Jimmy felt almost guilty as he noted her obvious pride in the few little
articles she had collected together. May's cook would have rejected with
scorn the kettle from the sixpenny halfpenny bazaar, and the one or two
pots and pans which had since been bought at the same shop; whilst none
of the Marlow servants would have deigned to use the thick earthenware
plates on the dresser. Yet everywhere there was a perfect cleanliness,
which, possibly, those same servants would never have succeeded in
attaining in the smoke-laden atmosphere of that street.

"I do hate dirt and untidiness," Lalage explained when he made a remark
on the subject. "I do everything myself, except the scrubbing; and I
wouldn't have a woman in for that if it wasn't for my hands; I want to
keep them nice."

She held them out for Jimmy to inspect, with the first touch of vanity
he had seen in her. Perhaps, her pride was justifiable, for they were
well worth looking at, being small and perfectly shaped. She wore no
rings, nor, for the matter of that, any jewellery at all, whilst her
dress was of the simplest.

When they went back to the sitting-room he asked her the time. "I never
carry a watch," he said. "Mine went the way of a good many other things
when I was first knocked out with fever, and I've never managed to
afford another one."

Lalage nodded with sympathetic comprehension. "I know; but it's worst
when you've nothing left to pawn. As for clothes, they give you nothing
on them, at least round here. But you want to know the time." She
opened the window and listened a moment. "It's just on six. I can hear
the periwinkle man coming, and he's never late. This is the last part of
his round, you see, because he doesn't expect to sell much here; then he
goes to a stall for the evening. I know them all, and I think they like
me, because I chat to them. But the people in the other flats," she
shook her head with an air of disgust, "most of them are dreadful; a lot
of horrid foreigners, you know. Still, the caretaker sees they don't
fight on the stairs, and when I shut my door, I feel I shut them all
out."

Jimmy smiled a little grimly; he could picture those other tenants and
their ways. Then, "Will you put your hat on, and we'll go out and get
some dinner?"

She reflected a moment. "Why not get something and bring it in here? It
won't cost nearly so much, though it will be much nicer. Oh, in six
months I've got simply to loathe the smell of a café. There's a nice ham
and beef shop where we can get everything we want." She laughed rather
ruefully. "I remember yesterday when I was so hungry looking in there
and wishing I could get a roast chicken they had, all beautiful and
brown, you know, with jelly on it. But they wouldn't have trusted me
with even a quarter of a pound of beef. I suppose they've been robbed
so often. Well, I'll put on my hat, and we'll get what we want. Really,
honestly, I would much sooner have it like that than go to one of the
best restaurants. Don't you yourself think cafés are hateful?"

Jimmy watched her marketing with a distinct sense of admiration. She
knew the local price of everything, and she insisted on having exactly
what she ordered.

"I don't see why they should rob you," she said. "They make huge profits
anyway. Now, I think that's all we want." She ticked the articles off on
her fingers. "Oh, unless you care for something to drink.... Yes, I like
a whisky and soda with my meals; but don't get a whole bottle, it's only
a waste; and they will sell it you by the quartern in that public house.
I'll wait whilst you go in. But don't buy a bottle; I know you haven't
got any money to throw away?" she added.

When he came out, she noted, with evident satisfaction, that he had
obeyed her. "This will make a lovely supper," she declared, and her
smile showed she meant it. "I like shopping like this. It's always nicer
than a café, and much less expensive."

Her last remark reminded him of what she had said just as he was going
in for the whisky.

"Why do you think I haven't got any money to throw away?" he asked.

She gave a wise little nod. "You tell me you write, and I know literary
men never have anything to spare."

Jimmy laughed. "How do you know?"

Lalage turned away. "Never mind, but I do know, only too well."



CHAPTER XI


"I have not heard from you for several days," Mrs. Marlow wrote to
Jimmy, "though I have had a couple of letters from Eliza Benn, who says
that for two consecutive nights you did not come home. The first night
you wired to her, but the second time she sat up until after midnight,
fearing lest it might not be safe to let you have a light. I need not
say how annoying it is to hear these things from one's former servants.
Both Henry and I trust that you are not already getting into dissipated
ways, and that you will remember that you belong to a respectable
family, which will have to bear a large share of any disgrace into which
you may fall, or be led." Then there was a postscript. "Eliza Benn is a
person for whom I have a great regard; and I hear that her husband holds
quite an excellent situation in Mr. Grimmer's salesrooms, where he is
paid thirty-five shillings a week, which, Henry says, would only be
given to a most experienced and steady man."

Jimmy tore the letter across savagely and tossed it into the fire. It
annoyed him the more because his sister had got within measurable
distance of the truth, at least from her point of view. He had already
had some uncomfortable moments over the thought of what the family would
say if it ever came to know of Lalage. He had not seen the latter again,
but, though it was less than forty-eight hours since they had parted, he
had written to her twice, and he could not disguise from himself the
fact that she filled his life to the exclusion of all else. No other
woman had ever appealed to him in the same way. Lalage had gripped his
imagination. He could remember every word she had said, and, having been
on the rocks himself, he could understand what she had suffered--the
rain squelching through the thin little shoes, the bitter loneliness of
the great city, the meals of bread and milk which had to last the whole
day, the passionate longing for a home of some sort. He did not attempt
to argue the thing out logically, as a Grierson would have done. The
thought of her way of life inspired him, not with the scorn or loathing
a man of position would have felt, even when taking advantage of it, but
with a terrible, gnawing jealousy. Probably, he would not have admitted,
even to himself, that he was in love, for, somehow, the phrase seemed
hopelessly inapplicable. It belonged to the Grierson part of his nature,
and was supposed to signify a preliminary to marriage, an altogether
decorous kind of affection for a decorously-behaved girl, who had never
been homeless or hungry or cold. All he cared for now was to get Lalage
away, to be with her always, and, for the moment at least, anything
which did not help towards that end seemed of absolutely no importance.
He had thrust family considerations on one side, thrust on one side all
those good resolutions, or rather those revived instincts of the past,
which had been uppermost in his mind when he first came home. His own
world, the Griersons and Marlows and Grimmers, would have called him
either mad or hopelessly immoral, according to the degree of charity
latent in their respective natures; Kelly would have warned him bluntly
not to endanger his prospects by being a fool; a mental specialist would
have explained that the shock of John Locke's death, coming on top of
the ten years of almost continual overstrain in bad climates, had
temporarily affected his balance, an opinion with which Lalage herself
would have agreed, knowing, after all, nothing of men's love; but
neither opinions nor diagnosis would have altered Jimmy's determination.

He had put in two days of almost savagely hard work. Without money he
would be helpless. True, most of his manuscripts had come back; but
still three had actually appeared in print, and he could feel he had
made a start. The old semi-indifference on the question of his ultimate
success or failure had vanished completely. He was in deadly earnest
now; Lalage should have no more bread-and-milk days, if he could help
it.

Mrs. Marlow's letter had arrived by the first delivery, in the cheerful
company of a returned manuscript. He had heard from Lalage, her first
letter to him, the evening before, and he did not expect another till
that night; but when the second postman knocked at the door, and, a
moment later, Mrs. Benn came creaking upstairs, he hurried to meet her,
hoping the envelope might bear the West London postmark. But he was
doomed to disappointment. The letter was from Ida, his sister in
Northampton. "When I heard from you last week you said any day this week
would do," Ida Fenton wrote. "We find we shall be able to have you
to-morrow, and hope you will stay four or five days. The best train is
one at 2:15, and I will meet you by that, so you need not worry about
answering this note. We are all looking forward to seeing you, and
though, of course Joseph is at business all day, and the children at
school, I daresay you will find the rest do you good."

Jimmy frowned as he folded it up and put it back into the envelope. He
had arranged to spend the next day with Lalage; they were going to have
a run out somewhere--"somewhere inexpensive, like the Crystal Palace,"
Lalage had said in her letter--and then they were going to have another
of those delightful marketing expeditions in the grimy street where the
barrows were. Now, all that would have to be postponed. Jimmy would not
have scrupled greatly about disappointing Ida--she had been in no hurry
to see him--but May's letter had shown him how he was being watched and
his doings reported, and he did not want to arouse further suspicion. He
intended to move very shortly, though his plans were as yet but half
formed, and, moreover, he shrank from doing anything which would offend
May. He might not be afraid of his relations; but at the back of his
mind he was sufficiently conscious of his own departure from the paths
of rectitude to feel the weakness of his position.

He wrote to Lalage that evening, explaining matters; consequently, she
was not surprised when he came up next morning carrying a handbag. At
first, it struck him that she was looking rather pale and worried, but
she greeted him with frank pleasure, and, in a few minutes, she was her
usual self again. As Jimmy learned later, she had in a peculiar degree
the art of seeing the best side of things. In a sense, she was almost a
fatalist, and though she made no disguise about the regret she felt for
her ruined life, a moment later she always seemed to put the regrets
aside as useless. "I try to keep as respectable as I can," she said to
Jimmy.

Normal people, being respectable themselves, would probably have
sneered, knowing that those who have fallen are all on the level, and
that only in those far-off days when He who pitied the Magdalen and bade
the sinless cast the first stone trod the earth was there forgiveness
for this greatest of sins. But Jimmy, not being normal, and being
anxious to find excuses for Lalage, did not sneer, and before long he
found that, though she might not be able to rise again, she was
determined to fall no lower. She was almost fastidious in her hatred of
bad language, and there was, as a matter of fact, an immeasurable
distance between her and the German women who formed the majority of the
other tenants.

"Of course I am sorry to have to go away," Lalage said in answer to
Jimmy's complaints of having to go to Northampton. "But still, it's only
right. Your own people ought to come first, and I shall see you when you
get back, if you haven't forgotten me."

Jimmy took both her hands in his. "I shall never forget you, Lalage,
never."

She shook her head. "Others have said the same, and have forgotten,
none the less. I'm afraid to hope too much sometimes, for fear of
disappointment. It's easier when you haven't expected anything." She
freed her hands and went across to the window, where she stood,
apparently staring at the gigantic telephone post on the roof opposite.

Jimmy came up behind her. "Would you be sorry if I were to forget?" he
asked.

She answered without looking round, "Of course I should."

"Why would you be sorry?" he went on.

"Because I like you very much. You are always gentlemanly and nice in
your ways." Still she did not face him.

"Do you like anyone else, anyone at all?" Jimmy's voice was not very
steady.

"No, no." Now she turned her head, and he saw that her eyes were wet.
"There's no one I like. I don't know why I've told you things, only,
somehow, you seemed to understand how hard life is; and you don't treat
me----" she paused as though looking for a word, "you don't treat me
lightly. You're careful to raise your hat and open the door for me, and
all those little things, just as though I were," her voice broke
slightly, "a good girl."

Jimmy coloured, and muttered something which Lalage did not catch,
then, suddenly, she gave a little gasp of annoyance. "Jimmy, you left
your bag in the hall, and it's got your name on it. The charwoman was
cleaning the kitchen and now she's out in the hall. Do get it at once."

He obeyed her with obvious surprise, then looked at her inquiringly.
"Blackmail," she answered simply. "All these women round here do it if
they get a chance, and they say the landlord puts them up to it.
Everyone about here preys on us, in one way or another. The district
lives on us, tradesmen, landlords, agents, even the gas and electric
light people; and when they've bled us dry they seize our homes and turn
us out. They know we can't go to law, and yet whilst they're robbing us
they're sitting as guardians or councillors and going to chapel every
Sunday. They treat us like dirt, and their wives and daughters shake
their skirts at us, and all the time it's we who earn the money for
them."

Jimmy went over to the mantelpiece, and buried his head on his hands. He
was wholly unconscious of what he was doing, being too miserable to
think of appearances. Lalage watched him a moment, then put her arm
gently round his neck, and, for the first time, kissed him of her own
accord.

"What is it, dear, tell me," she said.

"I can't stand it. The whole thing's horrible, abominable." It was the
man's voice which was broken now.

"You can't help it, Jimmy dear," she answered sadly. "It's too late now.
There's no road back in these things. It's my own fault, and I must pay
for it."

"There must be a way out," he answered fiercely. "I will find it when I
can get this wretched visit over. You can't go on like this."

She tried to soothe him down, almost as a mother soothes a child. "All
right, dear, you shall find it when you come back. We'll see what can be
done."

Lalage went down to the station to see him off. They arrived in plenty
of time, and when he had taken his ticket they went into the refreshment
booth for some sandwiches. They sat down, and for a minute or two,
neither said anything. Then, suddenly, Jimmy turned to her.

"How are you off for money, Lalage?" he asked.

The girl coloured slightly. "Quite all right, thanks," she answered
after a moment's hesitation. "Really I am, Jimmy, and, anyway, I
wouldn't let you run yourself short."

But he was not satisfied. "Are you sure? Take some in case of
accidents."

She shook her head. "No, there's no need. I shall be able to pull
along."

He gave in reluctantly. "Well, you've got my address. Let me know if you
do get short, because I should hate to think----" He broke off abruptly,
then went on. "Promise you'll let me know."

Lalage nodded. "Yes, I promise."



CHAPTER XII


Ida Fenton, Jimmy's younger sister, was a tall, fair woman with a
beautiful profile and hazel-blue eyes. Women who did not like her called
her a stick, and even her friends admitted that she was severe.
Stiffness was the dominant note in her character. Most men, including
even her husband, wondered that she had ever married. In pre-Reformation
times she would certainly have been a nun, and probably a saint, being
passionless, and therefore able to avoid all carnal sins without effort.
However, she belonged to an age which regarded marriage as the one
vocation for women, at least for those of position, and she had accepted
Joseph Fenton, if not with enthusiasm, at least with satisfaction. He
appeared to fulfil all the necessary conditions, and she had never found
reason to regret her choice. If Fenton himself sometimes appeared hurt
at the fact that she did not display more outward affection towards him
or the children, she seldom worried over the matter, being fully
conscious of her own rectitude of conduct and feeling.

Jimmy felt chilled the moment he entered the Fenton house. Ida's own
personality seemed to be reflected in everything, in the furniture, in
the pictures, and above all in the unnaturally tidy children to whom he
was presently introduced. He could still feel the one cold kiss which
Ida had given him, and, when he was shown up to his room, he
unconsciously gave the spot an extra dab with the sponge.

The weather was bitter, yet there was no fire in the big spare room, Ida
holding that fires in bedrooms were unhealthy and extravagant,
consequently, being still thin blooded as a result of ten years in
tropical climates, he was shivering when he got downstairs again.

"Can I have a little whisky, Joe?" he said to his brother-in-law, whom
he found in the smoking-room. "I've got a bit of a chill on me, and it
takes very little to bring out my malaria."

Ida, who had just entered, frowned slightly. "Ammoniated quinine would
do you more good, Jimmy. Joseph himself never drinks between meals. It's
such a bad example if the children happen to come in."

Jimmy stifled a retort to the effect that the obvious course was to keep
the children out; but he refused the proffered quinine and helped
himself to some of the whisky which his brother-in-law had already
produced.

Ida sighed and went out, whereupon Fenton lost no time in making use of
the second glass which was on the tray.

"Ida likes giving people ammoniated quinine," he remarked.

Jimmy nodded sympathetically, knowing his sister of old. She had managed
their father's household during the period between their mother's death
and her own marriage, and he still had lively recollections of her
régime.

Dinner was a dreary meal. Fenton, who was essentially a cheerful person,
made several spasmodic attempts at conversation, but Ida, cold and
beautiful, seemed to check him by her own silence; whilst Jimmy was
thinking of Lalage, contrasting the luxury of his present surroundings,
the massive plate, the costly dinner service, the deferential,
silently-moving butler, with Lalage's little room, and its hire-purchase
furniture, earthenware plates, and the meal bought at the ham and beef
shop. Now, he was amongst his own people, a Grierson come back to the
Griersons; and yet he hated it all, because he had reached the point of
wanting to share everything with Lalage, whom he could never hope to
introduce into houses like the Fentons'.

The long meal came to an end at last, and they went into the
smoking-room, where Ida joined them. Mrs. Fenton had asked no questions
at dinner, when the servants were present, but Jimmy quickly found that
there were many things she wanted to know, not about the past, but about
his doings since he had come home, and about his plans for the future.
In a flash, he understood that May must have arranged this sudden
invitation to Northampton, and he was on his guard at once. Inwardly, he
was furious and a little uneasy, foreseeing the possibility of future
trouble; but he kept both his temper and his composure, and in the end
he lulled Ida's suspicions. When she had gone, Fenton himself breathed a
sigh, which sounded curiously like one of relief, and, pulling out a
couple of big volumes in the bottom shelf of the bookcase, produced a
bottle of whisky of a brand greatly superior to that which stood on the
tray.

"She doesn't like to see it go too fast." He motioned towards the other
bottle.

Jimmy nodded sympathetically, understanding; then helped himself.

"They're afraid of you going the pace." Joseph Fenton jerked the words
out, looking away almost guiltily.

Once more Jimmy nodded. He liked this brother-in-law, always had liked
him, knowing him to be a man, and, for a moment, he felt inclined to
tell him of Lalage; but, before he could make up his mind, Joseph went
on:

"They don't understand, Jimmy--Ida and May and my own sisters too. Yet,
hang it all, in a way I suppose they're right, because of the kids, you
know." He tossed his cigar into the grate and lighted another, rather
carefully. "You fellows who have knocked about, you get ideas and
ways----. But, they won't do here, Jimmy, believe me." He paused again,
to help himself to another whisky, then went on, hurriedly, "This work
of yours, it's a bit uphill. Are you all right for cash? If not come to
me."

Jimmy flushed. He wanted some money badly, how badly only a man in his
position, the lover of Lalage, could know; but still he could not take
it from Fenton, for that purpose. Joseph would never understand his
motives. So he stood up, suddenly.

"Thanks, very much, Joe; but I can rub along, at least I think so. If I
am dead stuck, I will come to you; but I believe I can pull through."
Then he said good night, and went upstairs, to think of Lalage, and to
curse his own idiocy in not taking the proffered loan. Twenty pounds
would have been nothing to his brother-in-law, yet to Lalage and himself
it would have meant a new start. Before he lay down he had made up his
mind to ask Joseph for it, after all, and he went to sleep with that
resolution in his mind; but when he awoke in the morning things somehow
seemed different, and before breakfast was over he had changed his mind.
This was his world, and these were his own people, living ordered lives,
with soles and grilled kidneys for breakfast, and family plate on the
table, knowing nothing of ham and beef shops, or of milkmen who demanded
cash in exchange for their milk. He belonged to them, he was one of
them, sharing their principles and their prejudices, worshipping their
gods, as his ancestors and theirs had done. What real kinship had he
with Lalage, who made her breakfast tea out of a quarter-pound packet
bought the evening before at the little general shop round the corner,
and took an obvious delight in the sixpenny haddock they had purchased
off the barrow with the glaring oil lamps over it?

And yet, when the postman brought him no letter from that same Lalage,
he grew silent and restless, as his sister's eyes were quick to note.
When Joseph had departed to his office, he himself went to the
smoking-room and wrote three whole sheets to the girl who lived in the
flat, for the first time throwing all prudence to the winds, and saying
the things he felt. His pen travelled quickly, and, whilst he was
writing, he forgot all about his surroundings, his mind being full of
Lalage. When, at last, he had finished and signed his name, in full, as
a sign of his trust in her, disdaining any subterfuge, he looked round
the luxuriously furnished room, and for an instant he was filled with a
sense of his own folly; then, hurriedly, as though ashamed of what he
was doing, he thrust the letter into an envelope and sealed it down,
afterwards posting it with his own hands.

The hours dragged by slowly. The Marlow house had seemed dull; but the
Fentons' was almost unbearable. Ida meant to be kind; but, perhaps,
because she tried to show her intention, she only succeeded in making
Jimmy feel his position as a poor relation. She took him for a drive in
the afternoon to call on one or two elderly ladies in reduced
circumstances, whom she patronised unconsciously, greatly to the
discomfort of her brother, who had a kind of fellow feeling for her
victims. Yet, on the other hand, he was conscious of a grim admiration
for Ida; she was so sure of her own rectitude, so convinced that her
husband's wealth--which meant her own position--entitled her to lecture
and to interfere. It was all interesting, even amusing, or it would have
been so, had Lalage never come into his life, in which case he could
have regarded Mrs. Fenton from a more or less impersonal point of view.
Now, however, she was a possible danger, to be guarded against,
and--though he did not like to put it that way--to be lied to, if
occasion demanded.

That night, Jimmy hardly closed his eyes, being occupied with the
problem of inventing an excuse for getting back to town. The evening
post had brought him no letters; and, though it was improbable that
Lalage would have any real news for him, he was terribly worried at her
silence. Lying then through the long hours, praying for the sleep which
would not come to ease him from the hideous pain of jealousy, he
suffered as few men can suffer in their lives. He had no right to
control Lalage, no more claim on her than anyone else had, he was mad to
trouble about her, knowing what he did of her, and having ten years'
experience of women behind him. Yet he lay there, wide-eyed, wondering,
and tormenting himself. Twice he got up and endeavoured to smoke a
cigarette, but all to no purpose. The tobacco tasted rank, and, after a
few whiffs, he let the thing go out. When, towards morning, he did fall
into a heavy sleep, it was only to dream of Lalage, with the mud and
rain squelching through her shoes, looking for someone to give her
shelter.



CHAPTER XIII


If Ida felt any relief when, at the end of four miserably long days,
Jimmy returned to town, she did not say so, even to her husband. It had
been a trial in many ways, but, at the same time, she was conscious of
having done her duty. She had impressed her brother with a sense of what
he owed to the family in the matter of conduct, and his very depression
seemed to show that he had taken the matter to heart.

"Jimmy's nerves are all wrong. He's like a man on wires. He wants a
comfortable home and a wife to look after him," Fenton ventured to
remark whilst his brother-in-law was upstairs, packing; but Ida brushed
the theory aside scornfully.

"I am surprised at you, Joseph. It is not at all the way to speak of
marriage. The Griersons have always waited until they were in a position
to marry, and have never held those disgusting ideas of nerves and so
on. Jimmy most emphatically cannot think of marrying for many years to
come. He is perfectly well, or he would be if he did not smoke and drink
so much. He has the remedy in his own hands."

Fenton shrugged his shoulders and turned away, wondering inwardly
whether the Grierson strain would predominate in his own children. He
almost wished Jimmy had not come down. It was annoying to be disturbed
and made to think after having got out of the habit of so doing.

The men and women of the type Ida usually invited to the house never
worried him in that way, belonging as they did to the class which can
afford to take its theories as facts.

Jimmy had heard once from Lalage, a brief little note, just
acknowledging his letters, and telling him nothing. Mrs. Fenton had
watched carefully whilst he was reading it--she had detected a woman's
handwriting--but he had managed to keep his composure, and then, the
better to deceive her, he had rolled the paper into a ball and tossed it
on to the fire, though it cut him to the heart to part with anything
which had once been Lalage's.

He had hoped the girl would have been waiting for him at the station;
but he failed to see her tall figure on the platform, so, jumping into a
cab, he told the driver to take him to the mansions. However, as they
went up the last street, he caught sight of Lalage coming out of a
hairdresser's shop. A moment later he was beside her.

Jimmy's first impression was one of delight at the look of genuine
pleasure which, had come into her eyes; then he noted with concern how
worn and pale she looked.

"I didn't expect you quite so soon," she said. "I must have made a
mistake in the time, and I wanted to get my hair done nicely before you
got back."

"What has been the matter with you? Why didn't you write, dear?" he
asked.

She parried the questions until they got inside the flat, when he
repeated them, holding her hands, and looking into her eyes. She tried
to avoid his scrutiny.

"I've been all right," she answered, "only there was nothing to write
about."

But he would not be put off like that, and at last, with a sob, she told
him. "It's over now, and I didn't mean you to know. I--I've had the
brokers in." She was speaking hurriedly, in a low voice. "You see,
someone has been paying my rent, and I expected it the day you went
away--it should have come that morning--and it was due next day. I never
heard, and I only had a few shillings, so they put the brokers in at
once. These landlords always do."

Jimmy cursed silently. "Why didn't you wire to me? You know I would have
sent it at once."

She shook her head. "No, no. I hate taking money from you, above
everyone."

"What did you do in the end?"

She looked up and faced him, with a kind of desperate courage. "I got it
by going away for two days. It's no good disguising things, trying to
make out that I don't."

It was a question which was the paler, the man or the woman. It had come
home to him, as it had never done before. He dropped her hands and went
over to the window, where he stood very still, staring out with
absolutely unseeing eyes; whilst she watched him with a deadly pain at
her heart, thinking she had killed the love which she knew had grown up
in him.

"Perhaps it's best, after all, perhaps it's best." She tried desperately
hard to say the words to herself, then, almost unconsciously, she took a
step towards him. Possibly her action altered the whole course of two
lives, for, like a flash, he turned round, seized her in his arms, and
covered her face with kisses.

"I don't care, now I've come back, because it'll never happen again, it
can't happen again, and what went before has nothing to do with me.
We'll start afresh, dearest, we'll start afresh." He repeated the words
several times, savagely, as though wishing to assure himself that it
would be so.

Lalage was crying on his shoulder, sobbing quietly without noise or
movement, as overwrought women do; but it was soon over, and she pulled
herself together bravely.

"I think you're very tired and we had better have some tea now," she
said, smiling at him with wet eyes. He kissed away her tears, then
released her, and sat down whilst she hurried into the kitchen to
prepare the tray.

It was very much later, in fact not until after they had finished the
supper, which she insisted should come from the next street--"Because it
was so nice last time," she explained--that he went back to the subject
of their future. He was so desperately in earnest that he succeeded in
blinding himself to the financial difficulties ahead; and, though
perhaps he did not convince either Lalage or himself, they were both in
the mood to risk things.

"I'll give up my rooms at Mrs. Benn's, thankfully, and we can take some
others, somewhere near Fleet Street, until we can get on our feet," he
went on.

But Lalage demurred. "I can't give up this flat, at least not without
losing all I've paid on the furniture, until the end of my agreement, in
six months' time. Why shouldn't we stay on here?"

Jimmy frowned. He loathed the place and all its associations, but he was
not in a position to give her another home of her own, as yet, and he
could not answer her argument, especially when she added:

"I can tell them at the agent's office that we are married, and we can
give them some name or other."

She said it simply, without the least intention of hurting him; but the
words cut him like a whip, for though, for one mad moment, he had
thought of marriage, real marriage, he had put the idea on one side as
utterly impossible. He was a Grierson, owing a duty to the family, and
he could not do the thing. Only he had the grace not even to hint of it
to her, and she gave no sign that she had the least expectation of any
promise from him. She had recovered her spirits, and, apparently, was
quite content with the arrangement he proposed. He was fully conscious
that Society would condemn him unsparingly, if it found out, and he
could not justify his own conduct, even to himself; but Lalage never
seemed to consider the moral aspect of the question, that curious
element of irresponsibility, almost childishness, which he had marked at
the very outset, was now more noticeable than ever.

Suddenly, a new fear gripped him. "It will never do to give my people
this address," he said. "They would make inquiries at once, and
then----" He gave a grim little smile.

Lalage's face grew hard. "Why should they hunt you like that? If they
really cared, they would have looked after you, instead of sending you
to those lodgings. They want you to be like a little boy, to do just
what they say, and never to have a mind of your own--oh, yes, but they
do. They ought to have seen that after all you've been through, you need
care and love."

He looked up with a queer light in his eyes. "Do you love me, Lalage?
You've never said so."

"I like you very, very much," she answered.

But he was not satisfied. "Do you love me?" he repeated.

"I like you better, much better, than anyone else I ever met," and with
that he had to be content.



CHAPTER XIV


"I know someone who will let you a room, just as an address, in case
those horrid sisters of yours make inquiries." Lalage turned round
suddenly from the looking-glass, her hands still busy with her hair.

"Who is she? Where does she live?" Jimmy asked lazily, being at the
moment more interested in that same hair than in anything else.

"She lives just the other side of Baker Street, and really she's a kind
of agent, you know." Lalage made a gesture of supreme disgust. "But
she's not so bad as most of them, and, as her husband is a clerk in the
Council office, anyone would tell your people that the house is quite
respectable. Why, it belongs to the mayor himself."

Jimmy frowned. He loathed the idea of putting himself in the hands of
people of that sort, people who would understand exactly how matters
stood, and judge, not only himself, but Lalage as well, according to
their own standards.

"I would sooner we had nothing whatever to do with any of them," he
said.

He was touching mud for the first time in his life, real mud, and he did
not like the feeling of it. Moreover, he had suddenly grown very
particular about Lalage. They might not be married, in fact he had
decided that there could be no question of marriage between them; but,
none the less, as long as he was going under another name, he wanted
people to believe they had legalised their union, and to respect Lalage
accordingly. Had he not belonged to a family of position, he might have
seen himself as a coward or a cad; but the Griersons were essentially of
the Victorian age, and so he was able to quiet his conscience with
platitudes; whilst under the seeming calmness with which Lalage had
accepted his proposal, she was too glad of any change from the nightmare
of the past to be very critical. She hoped--that was all, resolutely
refusing to allow herself any fears or misgivings. And, after all, Jimmy
was very young so far as these things were concerned, and Lalage was
even younger; so, probably, they would not have listened to, much less
have believed, anyone who had warned them that they were attempting the
impossible. They were happy at the moment, having put the past behind
them, and they were ready to assume that their happiness would last,
ignoring its dangerous insecure foundations.

In the end, Lalage had her way, so far as the room was concerned. Mrs.
Fagin, the landlady, scenting money easily earned, was absolutely
servile. Jimmy stammered a little over his explanations, but Lalage put
things more plainly. "He will seldom be here; in fact I do not think he
will ever actually need the room," she said. "But it will be an address
for his letters, and you will know what to say if there are any
inquiries. What would be your terms?"

Mrs. Fagin looked at Jimmy, as if to get his measure. "I'm sure I don't
know, sir," she began. "We haven't had that same thing before, but----."

"He will pay three shillings a week," Lalage interrupted, "and begin
next week. That should suit you, Mrs. Fagin. Very well," and she sailed
out.

Jimmy looked at her admiringly. "You do know how to deal with them,
Lalage," he remarked.

She sighed a little wearily. "I've had to learn that, and a good many
other things, since I came to town."

Down at the apartment house in the dreary suburban street, Mrs. Benn
accepted a week's notice from Jimmy with a sniff of anger.

"Very well, sir. You know your own business best, though Mrs. Marlow did
say as how you would be permanent. Without that, I shouldn't have gone
out of my way to give you our own best room, and to wear my health,
which is not too good, out in making you comfortable. But then, Mrs.
Marlow was evidently mistook all round, for she said you would keep
respectable hours and act as such."

Whereupon Jimmy lost his temper, paid her a week in lieu of notice, and
went straight back to Lalage, who received him with delight. "So you
haven't changed your mind at the last moment, as you would have done if
you had been wise, and good and," she laughed mischievously,
"Grierson-like."

"All I care about is being good to you, sweetheart," he answered. "But
why do you say 'Grierson-like'?"

She looked at him critically, her head a little on one side. "Because
you're two men--James Grierson, who is stodgy and respectable and ought
to marry what the other Griersons call a good girl, that is one with
money; and Jimmy, who is awfully sweet and unselfish, just the opposite
to James. Just now, you're Jimmy, the nice side of you is uppermost; but
some day it may be the other way about and then you'll run off and leave
poor Lalage."

He flushed, and tried to draw her to him. "Never, never," he declared.
"I shall always stick to you. Who else have I got?"

She shook her head. "You've got your own people, always, ready to have
you, when you'll be one of them; whilst I'm all alone, and only Lalage,
the girl you met by chance in Oxford Street."

Her words reawakened his curiosity as to her past. Twice before he had
tried to learn her story, but now, as on those occasions, she baffled
his questions.

"I am Lalage Penrose, that's all. I was a fool, and I've paid for my
folly, and there's nothing else worth telling."

"Still, I should like to hear," he persisted.

"Well, perhaps you shall some day, if you don't turn into James Grierson
before then. But--but, don't ask me, Jimmy." Her bantering manner
changed suddenly, and with a queer little sob she jumped up and hurried
into the other room.

Jimmy did not try to follow her. Instead, he lighted a cigarette, and
endeavoured to settle down to work on an article which had been
suggested by a paragraph in that morning's Record. A quarter of an hour
later Lalage came back with a little bundle of his socks in her hand.

"These want darning," she remarked; then, in the most natural manner,
she sat down in the big wicker chair beside him, and started to ply her
needle.

From time to time Jimmy glanced up from his writing. He was breaking
the moral code in which he had been brought up, the code which he knew,
as every sane man does know, is essentially right in principle; he was
risking a rupture with his own people who, certainly, would never
tolerate Lalage; he was face to face with an ugly financial situation,
almost penniless himself and with another dependent on him; and yet he
felt more at peace than he had done for many months past. Lalage, intent
on her needlework, frowning prettily over the large holes in his socks,
looked so sweet and girlish, so entirely unsoiled, outwardly at least,
by what she had been through, that it seemed as if, after all, there
could be nothing wrong. Marriage was only a formality, he told himself,
and from that time on he tried to school himself to think so, almost
succeeding after a while.

When his article was finished, Jimmy glanced through it rapidly, made
one or two corrections, scrawled his signature at the foot, then turned
to Lalage. "What is the time, dear? Have any of your clock-men come down
the street lately?"

She looked up with a smile. "Yes, the watercress man, which means five
o'clock. Have you finished now?"

Jimmy nodded. "I thought of taking it down to the office now. It's
topical, so there's just a chance they'll use it to-night. Will you
come too?"

"Of course," she answered. "We can get a motor 'bus at the end of the
street, and it'll be a nice little run out. Besides, it'll be lucky if I
go with you. They'll be sure to take it. I've a feeling I shall bring
you luck. Don't you think so yourself?"

He kissed her lightly on the hair. "I'm sure you will, sweetheart. And
we want lots of luck just now."

"What a dirty place and what a grumpy old man!" Lalage remarked as they
came out of the _Record_ office, after handing the envelope to the surly
porter, who had taken it with an inarticulate growl and tossed it to a
waiting boy. "Still, if they use it and they're good to you, I don't
mind how dusty their passage is, or how bad tempered the porter looks."

Jimmy pressed her arm. "Good to us, you mean, don't you?"

She laughed. "Yes, good to us, I should say now." In the morning Jimmy
was out early to buy a copy of the paper; and, as she opened the door to
him, his radiant face told her the news.

"They've used it," he said, unnecessarily.

She laughed softly. "I felt sure they would. You see Lalage is lucky to
you already."



CHAPTER XV


"That last article of yours I used was a very good one, and I shall
always be glad to see anything you like to submit; but the amount of
space we can give to foreign stuff, however good, is limited, and I do
not like to have the same signature more than three or four times a
month," Dodgson wrote, in returning Jimmy's next manuscript.

Jimmy passed the letter to Lalage. "Not very encouraging, is it dear?"

The girl read it through. "Oh, I think so. Three or four months means
six or eight guineas from one paper alone, and then, you see, there are
so many others. I'm sure you'll do well, because you're very, very
clever, and because you're good to Lalage."

"Will that bring me luck?" he asked, smiling.

"Of course," she answered. "Everyone who is good to me gets on and those
who are horrid come to grief. I've seen it, lots of times." She spoke
seriously, with an air of conviction.

"Well, I hope you're right." Jimmy sighed. He had not sold any
manuscript for several days, and was feeling distinctly worried about
the future. His original capital had dwindled down to a few shillings,
despite Lalage's careful management, and, so far, he had not been paid
for any of his work. Already, the need of money was crippling him,
robbing him of his powers of imagination, and by that hideous perversity
of effect which every writer knows to his cost, making him do less
instead of the more he longed to produce.

Lalage, ever an optimist, did her best to cheer him up and to assist
him, searching the papers for news items which might form the basis of
an article, counting the number of words in his manuscripts to see they
did not exceed the regulation column length, and even copying out his
rough notes in her clear, bold handwriting.

"I wish you could get a typewriter machine, Jimmy," she remarked. "I'm
sure your stuff would have a better chance, and I could soon learn to
use the thing. Other girls do, so I'm sure I can."

"They cost a lot of money," Jimmy answered, rather wearily.

Lalage tossed her head. "You can get them on the hire-purchase system. I
believe you think I should get tired of it, you old silly. Now don't
you?"

The man stooped down and kissed her. "I don't think anything of the
kind. I know you're a brick, only----." He broke off with a sigh, then,
"I'm going down to the club, to see if I can find Kelly. I must do
something before we get in a fix."

She looked up at him anxiously. "Will you be long, dear? And do be
careful, won't you? You walk through the traffic as if it wasn't there,
unless you have me to look after you."

When he had gone out, she sat for a long time, very still, staring into
the fire. Already, she was getting a little afraid. Twice, Jimmy had
gone down to the club in the vain hope of hearing of something to do or
picking up some useful hints, and each time he had returned a little
flushed and inclined to be apologetic. Lalage did not blame him, even in
her own mind. It was inevitable, she told herself, after all he had been
through, to the strain of which was now added the anxiety of the
present. She did not blame him, but at the same time, as she glanced
round her little home, she gave a shudder of fear at the possibility of
losing it all and of losing Jimmy as well. "If I were only sure of him,
if I dare trust him, I wouldn't mind, I'd risk it all. But to lose
everything, and then be homeless and alone again----" She suddenly felt
very cold and stooped down to poke the little fire.

A moment later, the electric bell rang, three times in rapid
succession, a signal she knew well. She stood up quickly, her face very
pale. "It's Ralph," she muttered. "And we want money so badly. I wonder
if he would just lend it." She stood, with clenched hands, trying to
decide. The bell rang again, seemingly more insistently; then,
deliberately, she sat down, and put her fingers in her ears. "Oh, Jimmy,
I won't, because I love you. But I don't believe you trust me, and I
don't believe you understand."

Down at the club, Jimmy was seeking advice of Douglas Kelly.

"Hasn't the _Record_ paid you yet?" the latter asked. "Oh, you haven't
sent in an account? You should have done so on the Wednesday after your
stuff appeared, then you would have got a cheque on the Friday
afternoon. Still, if you go down to-day, before five, the cashier will
give it to you. He's a very decent fellow, and, if you're ever badly
stuck, he'll let you have it the day your article appears. I've been
glad enough to get it that way, more than once."

Jimmy felt that sudden relief which only those who have been desperately
short of money can know. He had led Lalage to understand that he had a
couple of shillings in his pocket for his own needs beyond the
half-crown he left her, whereas he had not even got his omnibus fare
back from Fleet Street.

"I hate to think of you going out without the money for a drink and so
on," she had said. "What's more, I'm not going to let you do it." So he
had lied bravely to her, knowing that, unless he had some luck, the
half-crown would be needed for food for the morrow. Now, however, he
would have money enough for a good many to-morrows.

Kelly knew nothing of Lalage, but he understood what the sudden
brightening of Jimmy's face meant.

"Been hard up?" he asked, with a smile. "Why didn't you come to me, as I
told you to do? Of course, you'll find it an uphill game, and I would
advise you to leave it now, at the start, if I were not sure you would
succeed in the end. You'll have a hard fight, because you've got ability
and experience of the world, and those will tell against you at first."

"Why?" Jimmy asked.

Kelly gave a cynical little laugh. "Because there's not much demand for
either in Fleet Street. You've only got to study the Press to see
that--dailies, weeklies, magazines, the whole lot. They want writers who
are just on the level of the mob, because then the mob can understand
them. All your travel won't help you to get a job; but if you could go
into a newspaper office and say, 'I know more about Upper Clapton, or
Stockwell, or some such beastly place than any man living,' or 'I'm a
crime expert, and I can give the names, and dates of execution, of every
man hanged in London for the last twenty years,' then they'd welcome you
as a long-lost brother, and give you about ten pounds a week."

Jimmy laughed, not quite believing him. "Then how did you yourself get
on?"

Kelly finished his drink, and ordered some more before answering the
question, then, "I bluffed," he said. "There was a coal strike coming
on, and I swore I was an expert on coal mining, so the _Evening
Guardian_ gave me a job. I picked up a little knowledge locally, just a
few technical terms and so on; and, as for the rest, neither the editor
nor the public knew that half my stuff was utter rot. It read well, and
lent itself to good headlines."

"And then, after that?" Jimmy asked.

"After that? Oh, well, I had got my foot in, and it was easy. I
advertised myself, and made the ruck get out of my way, as I told you
before. I'm not loved, but then I'm not in Fleet Street for the sake of
earning the regard of its population."

Jimmy looked surprised. "They all seem pretty eager to talk to you."

"Of course they do." Kelly laughed grimly. "Of course they do, because
I'm a power already and I may be an editor by-and-by; but, if I went
down, all they would think about would be to scramble for my place.
Don't think I'm blaming them; they're a decent enough crowd, awfully
decent, but the fight is too hard to have time for thinking about anyone
else. Why you, yourself, are already the common foe, in a sense. You're
taking up space in the _Record_ which, but for you, someone else would
fill. You won't get any help or advice, and most people would say I was
a fool for introducing a possible competitor of my own. You'll feel the
same, if you stick in Fleet Street long enough, which you won't do."

"I thought you said I was going to succeed," Jimmy retorted.

Kelly yawned. "So I did, my bright child. But when you've learnt the
ropes, and can afford it, you'll go in for fiction. But just now, all
your ideas are chaotic, and you won't do a decent story until you've
sorted them out and fallen in love."

Jimmy coloured. "How do you know I've never done that yet?"

The other man shook his head. "You're too sweetly young in many of your
ways and ideas. Oh, I daresay there's some prim maiden belonging to
your sister's circle, with an aldermanic papa in the City--but you,
yourself, would never really be in love with her. I know you too well;
and if you did marry her, you would never write a book, until you had
run away from her, as you would certainly do. Well," he got up abruptly,
as if to avoid giving any reasons for his ideas, "I'm going over to the
_Record_ office now, and if you come, I'll introduce you to the cashier
and you can get your cheque."

Jimmy did not waste any time after he left the _Record_ office. The
cashier himself changed the cheque for him, the banks being shut. Jimmy
hesitated a moment as to whether he should take a hansom, then
remembered the lean days of the past, and jumped on an omnibus. Lalage
could make a shilling go a surprisingly long way.

He found the girl sitting in the dark, in front of an almost dead fire,
and his conscience smote him on account of the time he had spent in the
warm, comfortable club smoking-room.

"We're in luck, sweetheart," he said, putting his hands on her
shoulders, and kissing her. "I've got the six guineas out of the
_Record_."

She reached up and pulled his face down to hers again, in one of her
rare bursts of outward affection. "Oh, I'm so glad. I was reckoning up,
and I found you must have gone out without any money, even for tobacco
or a drink, and I was picturing you trudging back in this cold drizzle.
You are a naughty boy to do those things."

"And how about you, if I spent all the money? Wouldn't you think to
yourself that I was a selfish beast?"

Lalage shook her head. "You could never be selfish; it's not your
nature. You might be thoughtless, that's all. Promise me you won't go
out like that again. I shall worry ever so much if you don't. I know,
only too well, what it means to trudge about in the London mud without a
penny for even a glass of hot milk. Oh, the cold." She gave a little
shiver. "You know that shop in Regent Street, where they have the big
fires in the window, showing off some stoves. I've stood there for as
long as I dare, more than once, trying to think I was feeling the heat
through the glass."

"Don't, please don't," Jimmy muttered thickly. "I do hate to think of it
all. And it shan't be so again, I swear it shan't. Let's forget it all
to-night, and go out and have some dinner somewhere, for a change.
You're all on a shiver now. I'll go out and get some brandy, whilst you
put your things on. I may as well bring in a bottle."

Lalage put her hand on his arm. "Not a bottle, dear, only a quartern.
That'll be quite enough. Do what Lalage tells you this time."

"Don't I always do what you tell me?" he asked, laughing.

"Oh, I don't want you to say that," she answered quickly. "You ought to
be your own master; only when I know a thing is right I do like to tell
you. A woman should, I think."

For an instant, Jimmy felt a wild longing to beg her to change the word
"woman" to that of "wife," but she had already turned towards the door,
and at the same moment the noise of the grimy street seemed to come in
through the window and somehow fill the room. The sound recalled him to
his normal self. How could he, a Grierson, take a wife from those
surroundings?



CHAPTER XVI


Mrs. Marlow had learnt of her brother's sudden change of address with
mingled annoyance and anxiety. It was not pleasant to have him quit the
lodgings she had found for him after so short a trial, and she could not
help feeling that there was some very strong attraction drawing him to
town. Mrs. Benn, that uncompromising "Son of Temperance," had come over
herself to explain matters to Jimmy's sister, and had taken the
opportunity to enlarge on the number of bottles she had found in her
lodger's room, omitting to state, however, that these had included the
best part of a dozen of Bass, which, possibly because she hated liquor
so much, she had promptly sold to her next-door neighbour at a halfpenny
a bottle below the retail price.

"I'm afraid as how the house was too quiet for Mr. Grierson, mum," she
wound up. "Having nothing to do hisself, except just write, he seemed to
think other folks couldn't be tired and want to go to bed, folks that
worked." She emphasised her words with a truly British scorn for those
who live by their brains. "I'm sure the hours and hours as I've sat up
for him, it's fair worn me out. And him your brother, mum, and uncle to
these lovely little children, what I remember coming into the world."

Mrs. Marlow wrote plainly to her brother, doing her duty without
flinching. Jimmy read the letter with a grim smile, then handed it to
Lalage, who was bubbling over with wrath long before she reached the end
of it.

"They are horrid, Jimmy, really they are. They see something wrong in
everything you do. It's quite enough to drive you to the bad, never
giving you a chance, and treating you like a silly little boy. I'm sure
you don't drink as she says you do. She must be a nasty-minded woman.
You know I should be the last to want to separate you from your family,
or anything like that, if they were good to you; but as it is, I'm sure
you're much better here than in those miserable lodgings, all alone and
moping. That would make you drink."

They were having breakfast at the time, but Lalage looked so sweet,
lying back in a big wicker chair, wrapped in an old kimono of Jimmy's,
that he felt compelled to lean over and kiss her.

"You won't let me go to drink, will you, Lalage?" he asked.

"Of course not," she answered promptly. "You know how I feel about
that. Yet your people would never believe it if they found me--when they
find me. We girls," she looked up, a little defiantly, "we girls are
supposed to be everything that is bad; whilst they, your City people,
have got all the virtues, except charity, which they don't imagine they
need."

Jimmy coloured. "You're a bit rough on them sometimes, Lalage," he said.

She shook her head emphatically. "I'm not too rough. Have they any idea
of charity, any idea of forgiveness? If I were able to live respectably
again, live a good life, would they, or any of their kind, allow me to
wipe out the past and start afresh?"

Jimmy suddenly became busy with a cigarette he was rolling. "You are
living a respectable life now," he muttered, weakly evading the
question.

But Lalage smiled bitterly, and then, with a sudden change of
expression, she laid her hand on his, very gently. "No, Jimmy dear,
let's be straight, even amongst ourselves. You are all right, because
you're a man, and men are allowed to do these things; but they would all
treat me as a bad woman, as something rather worse than a dog. Even you,
dear, don't respect me, in your heart, although I have tried to make
you."

The man got up suddenly, tossing his newly made cigarette into the
grate. "I do respect you, you know I do. To me, you come before everyone
else in the world; and I think as much of you, as if, as if----" He
stammered a little, and, still very gently, she finished the sentence
for him.

"As if I were your wife."

Jimmy's eyes flashed. Somehow, it sounded wonderfully sweet, coming from
her lips, and all his caution, all his Grierson traditions, seemed to
slip from him suddenly. He stood up, very straight, facing her.

"My wife," he said in a low voice. "My wife. Will you be my wife,
Lalage?"

The girl turned white, and her hand went to her throat, as though she
were choking, then she looked away, staring into the fire, whilst he
watched her, waiting for her answer with almost pitiful anxiety.

"Dearest," she began at last, "it's very sweet of you----" Then she
paused again, as though searching for the words, which came to her at
last. "Jimmy, dearest, do you really mean it? Remember, you've only
known me quite a little time, and you can't be sure of me yet. Can you?
You see, if you made a mistake it would spoil your whole life. It means
so much to you."

"And what does it mean to you?" he asked, thickly.

"Everything," she answered, simply. "But then, I've spoilt my life
already, and I mustn't spoil yours too."

"You wouldn't spoil it. You, know that as well as I do. You would give
me something to work for, make me keep up to the mark." He was
thoroughly in earnest now, carried away by the fear of losing her. He
walked up and down the room a couple of times, then stopped in front of
her. "Lalage," he asked, very quietly, "do you love me?"

The girl nodded, without looking up.

"Then will you marry me?" He said it deliberately. She clenched her
hands, but answered nothing, till he repeated his question, then she
faced him, white-lipped and wild-eyed.

"God forgive me for saying it--yes. But not yet, Jimmy, not yet," and
without allowing him to kiss her, she jumped up and ran into the other
room, shutting the door behind her.

Jimmy walked down to the club that day, not from reasons of
economy--there was still some of the _Record_ money left--but because he
wanted to think matters over, quietly and deliberately. He was conscious
of an unwonted sense of elation--Lalage was to be his, definitely and
finally, so that they could face the world openly, with none of this
miserable business of subterfuge and bogus address; no one would know of
the past. And then, suddenly, he went cold at the thought of the family
inquisition, and the falsehoods he would have to tell; whilst, even if
the latter were not detected, his people would never forgive him for
marrying a stranger, never agree to his marriage until he was in what
they would consider a good position, which would mean years of waiting.
He tried to picture Lalage, with her almost childish outlook on life,
being cross-examined by the cold and immaculate Ida, or sitting down to
dinner in the Marlow house, where even the servants would turn up their
noses at the mention of the ham and beef shop.

And then if, after they were married, they came across someone belonging
to Lalage's old life--that was the worst idea of all, intolerable,
wholly abominable. Insensibly, he quickened his pace, as though trying
to get away from the thought, then, finding that useless, turned into a
saloon bar, where he remained a full hour, drinking whisky practically
neat, and endeavouring to interest himself in the other people who came
into the place. When, at last, he did reach the club, he was feeling
much more certain of the wisdom of his choice and his ability to manage
his own affairs. He had determined to tell Douglas Kelly, as
practically his only friend, about his engagement; and yet, somehow, he
felt a distinct sense of relief when, in reply to his question, the
waiter said:

"Mr. Kelly, sir? He has been in, in a great hurry, just for letters and
so on. But," and he lowered his voice discreetly, knowing Kelly to be a
friend of Jimmy's and two other members being near, "but he's gone to
Russia, sir, all in a hurry. Told me to tell you he wouldn't be there
very long, at least he thought not."

As Jimmy turned away, he found himself face to face with Romsey of the
_Evening Post_, of whom he had seen a good deal during the last few
weeks.

"Hullo, Grierson," the other said. "You don't look too cheerful. I
suppose you are wondering how the smash is going to affect you."

Jimmy knit his brow. "What do you mean?" he demanded. "Who has gone to
smash?"

The reporter gave him an incredulous look. "Where on earth do you live
that you haven't heard? Why the _Comet_ ceased publication last night
without warning, which means there are forty of the best men in Fleet
Street out of jobs, ready to scramble for the space you and I and the
other fellows used to have. Cheerful prospect, isn't it?"

Jimmy did not answer. He was wondering dully whether any of these men
had ever felt the same degree of desperate anxiety about the future as
he was feeling then.



CHAPTER XVII


Things were bad in Fleet Street. Everyone said so, and therefore it
followed that the statement was true. Certainly Jimmy found no reason to
doubt it. His manuscripts came back with horrible regularity, not so
much because they were unsuitable but because there was so little space
and so many eager to fill it. Had he been more experienced he would have
known that things are always bad to the majority, whilst the successful
minority has no time to waste in telling others how it is getting on;
but he was raw to the game, and not over-sanguine by nature, so instead
of being elated by such little luck as he did get he was terribly
discouraged when he counted up the total results of a month's hard work.
He had just managed to scrape together the rent of the flat and the
instalment on the hire-purchase furniture, but that had been all. There
was nothing due to him from any of the papers; he was practically
penniless, as well as a little in debt to such of the local tradesmen as
would allow any credit. His own boots were growing uncomfortably thin,
whilst, as for Lalage, he had not been able to buy her a single thing.
Not that she asked him for anything, rather otherwise.

"I can manage," she said with a brave attempt at cheerfulness. "These
shoes will do me for some little time yet, as I hardly ever go out, and
I know you'll get me lots of nice clothes when we grow rich."

But though she tried to encourage him she was not very successful. It is
no easy task to put a new heart into someone else when there is a deadly
fear gripping at your own, and as day after day went by and she saw him
growing thinner, shabbier, more weary and despondent, her own hopes for
the future dwindled down to the vanishing point. Hitherto he had kept
away from his own people, none of whom had seen him since his return
from Northampton; but they were always there in the background, and she
knew that he had only to abandon her and come into line with their ideas
to get his immediate needs supplied and some provision made for his
future in the shape of a steady, respectable occupation. She believed in
his ability as a writer far more than he did himself, but success meant
months, even years, of waiting, and she saw that he had not the strength
to wait. Already his nerve was going and he was trying to steady himself
with whisky. Towards herself he was very loving and gentle, at least
most of the time; but he was quickly becoming too worried to work in
the flat. The sharp knock at the door which heralded the daily visit of
one or other of their small creditors would put him off work for the
rest of the day, and before long he took to spending the day at the
club, sometimes writing, more often mooning about in the vague hope of
meeting someone who could help him into a regular berth on one of the
papers.

For Lalage these days passed with unutterable slowness. There was, of
necessity, very little to do in the way of cooking, and she had not the
heart to go out. It is miserable work looking into the shop windows
whilst your own pockets are empty, and, moreover, she had long since
divined the terrible jealousy of the past which was always at the back
of Jimmy's mind, and she knew that he hated her to be out by herself,
although, on the other hand, he seemed afraid to be seen out with her.
It was the dread of meeting some of his own people, she understood that
perfectly well, and the knowledge increased her fears for the future. In
the end she was going to lose everything, not only Jimmy but her little
home as well; and all because she had been insane enough to forget that
love was not for such as herself, because she had been wilfully blind to
the fact that Jimmy came from the Griersons, and must ultimately go
back to the Griersons and their kind.

Now and then there was a red-letter day, when Dodgson of the _Record_
wired for a special article, which probably meant two guineas on the
morrow. On those occasions Lalage always went down to the office with
Jimmy to hand in the copy because, as Jimmy declared, she was lucky to
him, and, being elated by the commission, he was able to put on one side
the fear of meeting anyone who knew him. But the next returned
manuscript brought back his depression and sent him down to the club
again to waste his time and drink whisky.

Lalage did not blame him for leaving her the task of meeting the little
tradesmen, who grew foul-mouthed and truculent over an account of two or
three shillings, as is their wont in that part of London. Rather, she
sorrowed over the far smaller share of worry which did fall to him, and
tried to take it all on to her own shoulders. He would leave her, she
fully believed that, and, had she been as her kind is supposed to be, as
perhaps it is, she would have hastened his going in order to be free
again; but because she loved him she was ready to sacrifice anything to
keep him as long as possible. For Jimmy's own sake, too, she dreaded his
going back to his people, knowing, as she did, that he could never
forget her, and that he would inevitably seek oblivion and find death in
the bottle. She had divined his tendency that way from the very first,
and the fear of it had never been out of her mind since.

Jimmy was still keeping up the nominal address at the house just off
Baker Street, and so far Mrs. Fagin, the landlady, had treated him with
fawning politeness when he paid his weekly rent, but from the very first
he had distrusted her, and he always had the feeling that she would sell
his secret if she discovered the market. Once Mrs. Marlow had called and
had been told by the maid that Mr. Grierson was out for the day and his
room was locked, but there was ever the chance that she might call again
and disclose her identity to Mrs. Fagin. The whole thing was a nightmare
to Jimmy, who sometimes found himself blaming Lalage in his heart for
having suggested the arrangement. He was a supremely miserable man, at
least when he was alone, fearful of his own people, terribly worried
about money matters, jealous almost to the point of madness, and haunted
by the dread of losing Lalage in the end. If only they could have faced
the world openly half the battle would have been over, and they could,
he told himself, have got through the rest somehow together. And yet
since that one day of madness when he had made her promise to be his
wife he had never referred to the subject again. He wanted her for his
own, and yet he shrank from the sacrifice of marriage. He tried to quiet
his conscience by telling himself it was wiser to wait, that it really
made little difference after all; whilst Lalage said nothing, being
already broken-hearted and bankrupt of hope.



CHAPTER XVIII


When she found time to think about him seriously, which was not very
often, Mrs. Marlow was far from being satisfied as to Jimmy's doings or
prospects. Someone had reported having seen him walking down Fleet
Street late at night, looking ill and down at heel, and the news upset
her. It was not pleasant to have these things said about one of the
family, even though he, himself, might be entirely to blame for it. She
would have asked him down to stay for a week-end, but for the fact that
she did not want him to meet Ethel Grimmer again, having the feeling
that he might tell that lady things which he would not confide to his
own sister. But she took counsel with Ida, and, in the end, they decided
that Walter Grierson was the right person to make an investigation.

Rather unwillingly, Walter undertook the task, or said he would
undertake it, and, after consultation with his wife, who was not in the
least interested, detesting both Ida and May, asked Jimmy down to stay,
three or four days.

"I'm sure I haven't any desire to go," Jimmy said, as he read the
letter to Lalage. Then he coughed a little and put his handkerchief to
his mouth.

Lalage watched him with big, troubled eyes, not for the first time. "I
think you had better go, dear," she said. "The change may do you good,
and it'll take your mind off these stupid worries. I shall manage all
right alone. I'm used to it, you see."

He took her words in the wrong sense, and glanced at her with sudden
jealous suspicion, which she saw and strove hard to ignore. "You see,
there's nothing urgent due just now," she went on, hurriedly, "and I've
enough food in the house to last me out. If I get some condensed milk
in, I can pretend we're both away."

Jimmy had the grace to feel ashamed of his own thoughts. "I must see you
fixed up, sweetheart, of course, and, anyway, one night will be enough
for me at Walter's. As for money, there will be a guinea and a half
coming from the _Sunday Echo_ to-morrow. It's their pay day, the second
Friday."

But Lalage shook her head. "You must have that for a new pair of boots,
Jimmy, and one or two little things. I can't let you go as you are. I
only wish there had been more time, so that we could have saved enough
for a new suit for you." She looked at his figure critically. "I know a
place where they sell misfits very cheap, good ones, and you might get
one to fit you. They would take my dinner dress in exchange, I'm sure."

"No, no." Jimmy leaned forward and kissed her hand. "I won't have that.
I can manage, and if Mrs. Walter thinks I'm too shabby, she won't ask me
again, which will be a relief."

Lalage sighed. "I hate to see you looking thin and ill and poor. It just
breaks my heart." She gave a little sob. "But, oh, Jimmy dearest, when
you get to your brother's big house, don't despise Lalage and our poor
little place here; because we have been so happy in it, in spite of all
our troubles."

He drew her to him, very gently. "That will never happen, dear. I won't
go at all, if you're afraid of anything like that. I would much rather
not go, anyway. You are all I want."

But she had her way in everything, save that he insisted on leaving her
five shillings, in addition to laying in a stock of provisions.

"Really, I don't want any money," she said; "or a shilling at the most,
in case I want to wire to you. Take the money, Jimmy, do; you will want
a drink at the station, and that sort of thing."

He looked at her with shining eyes. "Do you ever think of yourself?" he
asked.

"Of course I do," she laughed. "I want to make you happy, and then I'm
happy, so really I'm selfish, after all."

In the end, Jimmy stayed three days at Walter's, and, if he did not
actually enjoy himself, at least he was well content to be there. It was
very refreshing to be away from all worries, to have no one asking you
for money, to feel you could go out of the door without the fear of
meeting some miserable creditor. There was plenty to eat, plenty to
drink; and, even if he was not actually in sympathy with Walter and his
ways, there was always the tie of blood between them. Mrs. Walter, too,
made herself very pleasant. She had induced her husband to promise not
to lend Jimmy any money, so she had nothing to fear from this
brother-in-law; whilst, by getting on good terms with him otherwise, she
might be able to use him as a pawn in her never-ending game against May
and Ida.

Jimmy thought of Lalage frequently, wondering how she was getting on,
and trying to persuade himself that he was anxious to get back to her;
and yet, all the time, he was comparing his present surroundings with
those of the flat, and dreading the return to the dreary struggle for
existence, the hateful knockings at the door, the insolent refusal of
goods without cash down, the feeling that you were always on thin ice,
in the grip of the Council, the blackmailers, and the hire-purchase
dealers, who did to you as they pleased, because they knew well that you
dare not face the world openly. There was nothing like that at the
Walter Griersons'. They lived as people of position ought to live, as
he, Jimmy Grierson, might have lived, had he not been a fool. And then,
suddenly, he thought of Lalage's unselfishness and courage and tried to
tell himself that, after all, it was worth while. But still, he never
felt as he had felt at Ida's, that fierce longing to be back at Lalage's
side, to fight the world on her behalf. London had broken his nerve
rapidly, and was now breaking his health. Somehow, things had changed.
He longed for rest and comfort and security, such as his own people
enjoyed.

Walter Grierson took his wife's advice and did not attempt to pry into
Jimmy's affairs. "He is quite old enough to look after himself," Mrs.
Walter said, "and I don't see why you should be private detective for
May and Ida. I believe they would try and manage you, too, if I would
let them. Oh, but they would, my dear. And yet I'm sure we have a better
position than either of them. Joseph is very coarse at times, whilst
you say yourself that you do not approve of several of Henry's
companies." She scouted the idea that Jimmy looked unwell. "He's got a
cold, that's all; and he smokes too much. Otherwise, he is well enough."

Walter sighed. "I wish he would go into something steady. I'm afraid he
will never make an income at his present work."

Mrs. Walter shrugged her shoulders. "He wouldn't take your advice when
he first came home, so he can't blame you whatever happens. May seems to
be afraid he may make some foolish marriage, but I'm sure I see no signs
of that. Of course, if he likes to be sensible and come to you for
advice again, I should be pleased if you were able to find him work in
the City; but, at present, you are not called upon to interfere. I am
sure our own children come first."

Her husband sighed again. He was quite fond of this brother of whom he
knew so little, but he never ran counter to his wife's wishes in family
affairs; and so, when Jimmy's stay came to an end, he allowed Mrs.
Walter to send May a vague, though generally satisfactory, report of
their visitor and his doings, which had the result of staving off
further inquiries for a time, at least.

"You look better, dear," Lalage said when Jimmy got back. "I knew the
change would do you good. No, I've not been worried at all. Only, of
course, it's been dull without you.... Are you going down to the club
for letters? Well, be in to supper, won't you, dear? I've got something
very nice for you."

"What is it?" he asked, smiling.

"You'll see," she answered. "If I don't tell you, you'll hurry home to
find out. Otherwise, you may stay ever so late at that horrid old club."

The first man Jimmy met in the club was Douglas Kelly, newly returned
from the Continent. Kelly listened attentively to his tale of
ill-success, and when he had done, "I really don't see why you should be
so down in the mouth, Jimmy," the elder man said. "I believe you've done
better than most who start freelancing when they're new to Fleet Street.
Why don't you try some magazine work? It's a better game than doing
articles for the dailies."

Jimmy shook his head. "I have tried, but I don't seem to get the grip of
a story. I suppose I've no inventive power."

"Rot," Kelly answered cheerfully. "It's because you're worrying, and you
can't do that and write decent stuff. Have you tried for a job
anywhere?"

The other nodded. "Half a dozen. But they all want experienced men, and,
as things stand, I don't see how I'm ever going to get the experience."

"Would you do sub-editing?" Kelly asked. "It's not pleasant work, going
through other people's copy, and so on; but it's good training. You
would take anything? All right. I'll see Dodgson to-night. I know he was
thinking of sacking one of the subs, and he might take you on. I'll
leave a note here for you if I don't see you again. Of course, the pay
is rotten, as I suppose you know."

Jimmy was so full of his conversation with Kelly that he had forgotten
all about Lalage's promised surprise which was awaiting him at the flat.
True, he hurried back, but she saw at once that it was to tell her his
news, and not to find out what she had prepared for him; in fact, he sat
down at the table, and was about to carve, before it struck him that the
dinner was an unusually elaborate one; then, "How on earth did you
manage it, sweetheart?" he asked.

She laughed. "How do you think? I schemed it out for a whole day, all on
that five shillings you made me keep. I meant you to have it, and you
see you've had to, after all."

The man flushed. "You are a brick," he said. "You haven't spent a penny
on yourself, and yet I've been living on the fat of the land at
Walter's. But this is better than anything they gave me there."

"That's right," she answered. "So long as you enjoy it, I don't mind all
the trouble--so long as we enjoy it together, I meant. And now if you
get this work perhaps the luck will change."



CHAPTER XIX


It was quite time that the _Record_ had a vacancy for a sub-editor, and
Dodgson was willing to give the berth to Jimmy; only his ideas of salary
were far from being satisfactory.

"You see, you're new to the work, wholly inexperienced," he explained,
"and, under the circumstances, I cannot give you more than two pounds a
week for a start. Afterwards, if the chief sub-editor is satisfied, I
will raise it. If it is worth your while you can start to-morrow."

Jimmy bit his lip. He had expected three pounds at the very least, and
this would be poor news to take back to Lalage. Still, his work would
only be from about six in the evening until midnight, and he could do
some articles or stories during the day, or at any rate he hoped so.
After all, a certain two pounds was far better than nothing, even though
the rent of the flat would swallow fully half of it. So he accepted,
after a nervous and unsuccessful attempt to get Dodgson to increase the
offer by ten shillings.

As he walked back westwards, he found himself wondering what the editor
would have said had he explained how much that extra ten shillings
would have meant to him. The paper was paying a dividend of twenty per
cent., and if the wages of all the sub-editors had been doubled the
shareholders would never have noticed the difference; but to Lalage and
Jimmy the lack of that half-sovereign would involve semi-starvation,
unless it were possible to sell some articles.

Lalage put on a brave face when he told her. "It's a beginning, dear,"
she said. "Of course, it's a shame to pay a clever man like you so
little; but now you've got your foot in, you'll soon get on. You mustn't
be downhearted about it, Jimmy." She glanced at him keenly. "You're
tired out to-night, and I don't believe you've spent anything on
yourself in getting a drink and so on; and you've walked all the way
from Fleet Street. Now haven't you?"

Jimmy tried to protest he was all right, but his heavy eyes betrayed
him, and she insisted that he should go out and get a quartern of
brandy.

"But that will take pretty well all we've got," he answered. "And what
will you do to-morrow?"

"Oh, something will happen," she retorted. "And the worst thing for me
would be to have you ill. What would poor Lalage do then? Now go, like a
dear good boy."

As the door closed behind him, all the brightness left her face. "I
suppose his people would say I was making him drink," she sighed. "Oh,
Jimmy, Jimmy, I'm so afraid. If only I dare agree to give up this flat,
and we could go into quite cheap lodgings. But how can I risk losing
everything?"

Jimmy's work proved more tiring than he had expected. He was thoroughly
conscientious, savagely anxious to satisfy the chief sub-editor and get
a raise; moreover, he was in anything but good health. Consequently, he
always got back to the flat in the early mornings tired out, and, though
he tried hard to write during the daytime, even he, himself, could see
that the work he produced was below his usual level. Anyway, it did not
sell, coming back every time with sickening regularity.

Despite his protests, Lalage always insisted on sitting up for him. "You
must have something hot when you come in," she declared, "even if we can
only run to a cup of cocoa and a little bit of plaice from the fried
fish shop. You can't do brain work on nothing."

Jimmy gladly left all the finances to her. Sometimes he wondered how she
contrived to feed him as well as she did, besides paying the rent, and
letting him have at least a shilling a night when he went down to the
office. She even managed to get some bottled stout for him, and yet, at
any rate whilst he was at home, no one came to the door to dun her for
money. Had he been stronger, he would probably have been suspicious and
have made inquiries; but he was thoroughly run down and weary, and only
too ready to be free from household worries. He had never kept house
himself, knew but little of the cost of things, and had infinite faith
in Lalage's capacity for management.

Once or twice, during the first three months of Jimmy's engagement at
the _Record_, Dodgson asked him to write a special article with
reference to something which had happened abroad, and, when he went to
draw his money for the first of these, Jimmy found that his rate had
been raised to three guineas a column; but his weekly wage remained the
same, and, somehow, he could not summon up courage to ask boldly for a
raise. He was, as Lalage could see plainly, growing a little thinner, a
little more weary and nervous, every week.

At the end of the second month, Lalage sprang a surprise on him. They
were at breakfast when, with a rather heightened colour, she brought
five sovereigns out of her purse and gave them to him. "Jimmy," she
said, hurriedly, "you must get a new suit, and some collars and ties
and things, really you must."

He looked at the money, then at her. "Where did you get this, Lalage?"
he asked, very quietly.

She faced him so bravely that his suspicions vanished at once. "I saved
it up, from those articles of yours."

"And how about you? You want things far more than I do, sweetheart. I
don't think you have had any new clothes since I met you."

Lalage shook her head vehemently. "That's for you. You have to go to
work, and it worries me terribly when I see you shabby. You will feel
ever so much better when you've got a new suit, and they'll think more
of you at the office. Clothes give one confidence. Now, you shall come
out this morning and order a nice dark tweed, or a grey. I'm not sure I
shan't like you best in grey. Anyway, we'll see."

The new clothes certainly made Jimmy look better, and, for a little
while, Lalage deluded herself into the belief that he really was growing
stronger; then one night he came home shivering, with a severe chill,
and his old enemy, the malaria, gripped him again. True, he was only
absent from the office two nights; but the trouble seemed to remain, and
Lalage had to redouble her efforts to feed him up. Often, during those
days, she tried to steel herself into sending him away, into forcing
him to go back to his own people to be nursed as they could afford to
nurse him; but when it came to the point of speaking, her resolution
always failed her. She could not bear to part from him--yet. And, if she
did send him away, there was always the fear, amounting almost to a
certainty, that he would drink to drown remembrance of her.

No, she told herself, she must keep him as long as she could, for his
own sake, as well as for hers. What would happen to herself if the
parting did come, she never tried to consider. The thought of it was too
awful. Jimmy had been so sweet and kind and thoughtful that it was
absolutely impossible for her to imagine anyone replacing him. The fact
that the question of marriage between them had been tacitly dropped did
not weigh with her now. She had never dared to hope that he would redeem
his promise eventually; and, latterly, she had tried to make herself
forget that the matter had ever been mentioned between them.

Jimmy had seen none of his own people since his visit to the Walter
Griersons'. His work gave him a good and sufficient excuse for not
leaving town, and it never occurred to him to call on either Henry or
Walter in the City. Still, he wrote frequently; and, as time went on,
he began to lose some of his fear of their discovering the existence of
Lalage. Neither Ida nor May seemed to have any suspicions, so far as he
could judge from their letters. Consequently, it gave him a terrible
shock when, one morning, about the beginning of his fourth month on the
_Record_, he received a wire from May commanding him to meet her as soon
as possible at Walter's office.

Lalage, who had gone deadly pale, picked up the detestable brown
envelope.

"It's addressed here. So they know," she whispered.

"Yes, they know," he repeated dully.

They sat for a long time in silence, then he got up, evidently intending
to go out.

Lalage stood up, too. "Jimmy, you will leave me," she said.

He turned round quickly and took her in his arms. "Never, never,
sweetheart. After all you've done for me! You ought to know me better."

For answer, she gave him a long, passionate kiss, as though saying
farewell.



CHAPTER XX


Mrs. Marlow was a good woman. The rector himself had told her so only
the week before when she had given him a cheque for twenty guineas in
aid of his favourite charity, the Mission to the Moabites. Consequently,
the discovery of Jimmy's double life had filled her with both sorrow and
loathing; sorrow at the thought that a Grierson should have been so weak
and foolish, loathing at the conduct of the woman who led him astray.
She was sitting very grim and upright in the client's chair when Jimmy
came in; whilst Walter was at the other side of the table, nervously
playing with his eyeglasses and wishing inwardly he had telegraphed for
his wife, a proposal which May had vetoed.

"Excuse me, Walter, but this is a matter for our father's children
only," she had said, and Walter had, as usual, bowed to her ruling. Ever
since their mother's death May had been the high priestess of the family
fetish, the position of the Griersons.

The two brothers shook hands in silence, but Mrs. Marlow made no move
beyond the very slightest nod, which seemed to be merely a recognition
of the fact that the culprit had arrived.

Jimmy laid his hat on the table, then went and leaned against the
fireplace with an assumption of indifference. "Well, May," he said at
last, "what is it?"

His sister turned on him suddenly. "Please don't be a hypocrite any
more, Jimmy, if you can help it." Her voice was hard and scornful. "You
must know from my wire that we have found out all about your disgraceful
conduct. As a matter of fact we knew of it a week ago, and might have
sent for you then, but we have had detectives making inquiries into
that," she hesitated, "that person's character and antecedents in the
hope of being able to open your eyes. Isn't that so, Walter?"

The elder man nodded and gave a little grunt of acquiescence, though it
was obvious he did not relish being dragged into the matter at all.

Jimmy, white with sudden passion, took a step forward. "Confound it,
May----" he began.

His sister put her hands to her ears. "Please don't make it worse by
swearing at me. I am not the Penrose woman. We have the right to speak
to you as one of the family, if only to save you from further disgrace,
and perhaps prosecution,"--she emphasised the last words, and then
repeated them, "yes, from prosecution. Not only has this person been
bleeding you, working you to death, and taking your last penny----"

Jimmy, remembering all that Lalage had done for him during the past
three months, cut her short savagely. "That's a lie. She's been
everything a woman should be to me."

His sister laughed in bitter scorn. "And to half a dozen other men as
well. Oh, Jimmy, Jimmy, what a fool you are, how you've been fooled. Do
you think she's been true to you? Do you think a vile creature like that
could be true to anyone? No, I will speak for all your swearing at me.
Do you think that whilst you have been slaving at that office at nights
she has been at home thinking of you? Oh, you have been a blind fool!
She has told you lies about everything, over the rent, over the amount
she had to pay to the hire-purchase people, over what she was spending.
Do you think your paltry two pounds a week was sufficient to dress her
and keep her in luxury?"

Jimmy turned away, gripping the mantelpiece for support. He remembered
many little things which had given him a momentary pang of suspicion at
the time; now, suddenly those suspicions became certainties; and when he
looked round again his face was five years older, for he had loved
Lalage, and he knew that May was telling him the truth. He had been a
blind fool; but still the remembrance of the past was strong in him, and
he made a last fight against believing.

"It's a lie, it's a lie," he repeated hoarsely. There was something in
his eyes which nearly broke down May's hardness, a look she had never
seen on any man's face before, which she never got out of her memory
again.

"I know it hurts, Jimmy, dear," she said far more gently. "It must hurt
because you've been infatuated by a very clever and bad woman; but for
all that it is true. Do you know anything of her past? What has she told
you? We know now that she was the daughter of a scientific writer, and
that, even when he lay on his dying bed, she went away with someone,
then came back with a lie in her mouth, about having been to town,
selling one of his unpublished books. Her own aunt told us of it, her
aunt by marriage."

"I don't believe it. I won't believe it," Jimmy muttered.

May shrugged her shoulders. "We have proofs, the best of proofs. Is it
not so, Walter?"

The elder brother nodded without looking up. In his case, too, it was
the first time tragedy, real tragedy, had come into his life, and it was
making him think. He realised dimly that the light had gone out for
Jimmy, and as he scratched lines on his blotting-pad with the rim of his
eyeglasses, he fell to wondering, in a dull, far-off sort of way,
whether his brother would shoot himself as their father had done, and
what the coroner's verdict would be, and what the world, by which he
meant the City, would say. Then the spring of his glasses snapped
suddenly, and the annoyance brought him back sharply to the immediate
present.

"Yes, we have complete proof, legal proof," he said. "Your sister is
quite right." Words seemed to be failing him, then he got up abruptly
and laid a kindly hand on Jimmy's shoulder, as he had often done many
years before when they had both been boys. "It's better for you to know,
old man. She's a bad lot, and you're well clear of it all. You'll soon
forget her and find someone very different."

His words had the effect of rousing May's anger anew. "Don't talk like
that, Walter, please," she said sharply. "It's hardly decent under the
present circumstances. I presume, Jimmy, that after what we have told
you, you will neither see nor write to that creature again."

Jimmy's eyes flashed. "I shall see her and ask her side of it. Am I to
condemn her unheard on the strength of the gossip some vile hangers-on
have concocted in return for your money? I shall go down there at once."

Mrs. Marlow's laugh was very scornful. "I said you were a fool. Of
course, she'll lie to you again, and wheedle round you. As for the
hangers-on, to use your own elegant term, I heard first from Mrs. Fagin,
who is a most respectable woman, I find, with a husband in a very good
position in the Council office. She had no idea she was lending herself
to such a deception, and sent me to the mayor, who very kindly had
inquiries made. Then we actually caught this woman, as you can see by
these."

She held out a little bundle of papers which Jimmy took mechanically,
fingered for a moment, then with a sudden resolution he tossed it into
the fire, and as it did not catch immediately drove it down into the
glowing coals with the heel of his boot.

May watched him in silence, but when the blaze had died down again,
"That stupid action won't alter the facts," she said; "and I may as well
tell you that the mayor has asked the police to make her leave that
flat. I am only sorry there is no charge we can bring against her.
Anyway, she will be watched," she added vindictively. "Ida has gone to
warn her now in case she tries to blackmail you."

Jimmy took up his hat quickly. "Good-bye, Walter," he said quietly,
and, ignoring his sister, fumbled a little uncertainly for the handle of
the door.

May sprang up and seized his arm. "Jimmy, oh, Jimmy, dear, don't go like
that, don't go back to her. We are your own people, you must remember
that, and because we love you, we want to overlook all this and see you
get on. Don't spoil your life in this way and make us all miserable. If
you see her again she has enough wicked cleverness to get you back into
her power."

There was genuine feeling in her voice, and for a moment Jimmy was
inclined to change his mind, then he released her clutch very gently,
and without another word went out of the office.

"He will go back to her, Walter, I am sure he will. He is weak enough
for anything where a woman is concerned," May sobbed.

Walter shook his head. "I think not. No, I'm sure he won't," he said
with a degree of assurance he was far from feeling; then he looked at
his watch. "Well, I've got an appointment with a client in a few
minutes, May; I don't want to hurry you off, but----"

May wiped her eyes and drew down her veil. "I do hope Ida manages to
frighten her away before Jimmy gets there," she said.



CHAPTER XXI


Ida Fenton did not shrink from the task of interviewing Lalage. Rather
otherwise, in fact, for her own conduct had always been so correct, both
her nature and her circumstances combining to keep her out of
temptation, that she felt a repulsion, verging almost on hatred, towards
those who had erred; consequently, she took a kind of grim pleasure in
chastening the sinner. Unconsciously, too, Joseph Fenton had made things
worse for Lalage by attempting a remonstrance.

"I think you and May are going too far, putting the police on her and so
on," he had said. "Why can't you be content to give Jimmy a warning, and
leave the girl alone. It looks bad, being so vindictive."

Whereupon Ida had turned on him in one of those cold outbursts of fury
which his rare attempts at independence always provoked. She had given
up her life to this man, whose natural, easy-going weakness of character
she knew so well; and now he actually dared to put in a good word for an
abandoned woman. As a rule, Joseph bowed to the storm, but on this
occasion he, too, had lost his temper, and then, suddenly Ida had
understood, or had thought she understood. Joseph knew Lalage's address.
Jealousy redoubled Ida's bitterness, and she went to the flat more than
ever determined to hunt its occupant out into the streets. A woman as
good as herself had a perfect right to be merciless.

When Lalage opened the door she realised instantly who her visitor must
be. That hard, beautiful face was as like Jimmy's in features as it was
unlike his in expression. Looking at it, Lalage understood that her own
cause was lost; it would be quite useless pleading to Ida Fenton.

The visitor swept in scornfully. Lalage closed the door and then stood,
waiting, white-faced and desperate.

"I have come for Mr. Grierson's things. Kindly pack them up and have
them taken down to my cab." Ida's quiet voice belied the savage anger
which the sight of this girl had aroused.

Lalage started. She had never thought of this. Could it be that Jimmy
was not coming back at all, even to say "Good-bye," that she would never
see him again?

"Did he send you?" she asked breathlessly.

In a good cause, Ida did not hesitate to strain the truth. "Of course,"
she answered impatiently, then she went a little too far, and added
something which she thought would hurt. "He is waiting down below now."

Lalage made a rapid mental calculation. Jimmy had only set out for the
City twenty minutes before, and could not have returned, so she laughed
bitterly. "I will give them to Mr. Grierson when he comes for them
himself," she answered.

Ida's steely eyes glittered. "He will not be such a fool as to come
back, weak and wicked though he has been."

The younger woman took a step forward so suddenly that Mrs. Fenton
recoiled. "He is not weak and wicked. It is abominable for you, his
sister, to say so. He is far too good for any of you, and whatever he
has done wrong, you are to blame for it. You never tried to understand
him or help him. You just left him drift away because he didn't fall in
with your narrow-minded ideas. I may have done wrong, I have done wrong;
but he has always been all that is good and true and honourable. He may
leave me, but he'll never go back to you, never, never, never." She
paused, breathless.

Ida Fenton had recovered her composure. "Perhaps it will alter your
point of view when I tell you that if my brother continues to know you,
he will never get anything from his family. We shall cut him off
entirely. I believe that is the kind of argument which appeals to
persons of your sort." She emphasised the last two words. "He may have
misled you with the idea that he could get money out of us; but that was
quite wrong; whilst, as for his own prospects, he is no good and never
will be."

"You shan't say that about him," Lalage broke in passionately. "It's
only your ignorance and your jealousy of his cleverness."

Ida shrugged her shoulders scornfully. "No doubt you are a judge of what
is correct and right. You should know my brother by now. But I think he,
too, will have learnt all about you this morning. That telegram which
trapped you a few nights back, calling you out to meet a man in the West
End, was sent by one of my brother-in-law's clerks. You were watched
then, and recognised by the police. You will get notice to leave here
to-day, and I do not think you will find another place in London. If you
can explain all that to my brother to his satisfaction, he must be such
a fool that you will be welcome to him."

Then she swept out, feeling she had vindicated the Grierson tradition.

It was an hour later, when Lalage heard Jimmy's key in the lock. She was
sitting huddled up in a big armchair, his favourite chair; but she did
not move when he came in, and stood in front of her, though she had
noticed that he was dragging his feet a little, and breathing heavily,
as though the stairs had exhausted him.

"Well?" he said at last.

She turned her head away. "Your sister came soon after you left," she
said, in a curious, dull voice.

Jimmy started. "Ida? Ida has been here already?" He passed his hand over
his forehead in a dazed sort of way, then tried to pull himself
together, as though to meet a blow. "Is it true, Lalage?" he asked.

She answered him with a nod.

On the second time that day, Jimmy steadied himself by the mantelpiece,
only now his head went down on to his arms, and Lalage heard him give a
sob.

In an instant she was on her feet, trying to turn his face towards hers.
"Oh, I did it all for you, Jimmy, I did it all for you. Do you believe
that, oh, you must believe that. You were ill and half-starving, and I
had to get you nourishment and clothes. It was the quickest way, the
only way I could think of; and it seemed so lovely to get you good food,
and make you stronger. It was awful, but it would have been more awful
to see you dying. Jimmy, believe me, you must believe me, every penny
went for you. I didn't want it for myself, only for you; and I thought
when the worry and the knocking at the door by the tradesmen were over,
you would soon get on, and then I would have stopped, oh, so gladly.
Jimmy, dear, Jimmy, sweetheart, say you understand, even if you don't
forgive."

The man looked up, and, for the first time, Lalage saw how he had
changed. He was livid and ghastly, and, when he tried to speak, he
caught his breath and coughed heavily. Lalage waited with pitiful
anxiety for his answer.

"I understand," he said, "but you ought not to have done it, after your
promising to marry me."

She turned away hopelessly, and sank into the chair again, knowing she
had lost him. "I did it for the best," she wailed. "I only thought of
you, Jimmy, only of you."

"You were wrong," he answered dully. "We were both wrong. It has all
been a mistake from the first. There is nothing but misery in this sort
of life, there can only be misery." He was talking in a detached kind of
way, as though the pain of the blow had been succeeded by a mental
numbness.

Lalage was sobbing very quietly in the chair; it was the end of
everything for her.

After a while, "What will you do now?" he asked.

She shook her head. "I don't know. I don't think I care, now I've lost
you." She waited a moment in a last, desperate hope he would correct
her, then went on, "Your people have been to the police, and they're
hunting me out. Already, the agent has been round to give me notice to
go immediately, and the hire-purchase people are sending for the
furniture back. Everything has gone. Still I shall manage."

In a flash, he was jealous again. "Do you mean to say----" he began; but
she cut him short.

"No, Jimmy, not that. You need never fear the old life again."

Her words gave him a new fear. "Will you promise you won't kill
yourself?" He had come nearer to her, and she thought he was going to
touch her.

For a moment she hesitated, confirming his suspicions.

"Promise," he said, almost sternly.

Then she looked up, and asked him a question in turn: "What will you do,
Jimmy?"

He had no reply ready, or, at any rate, he did not reply, and she went
on. "I will promise that, Jimmy, if you will promise me something.
Promise, on your word of honour, not to let this ruin your life, not to
go wrong and drink."

Jimmy did as she had done; he hesitated a moment. "I will promise, if
you will do as I want--go down into the country, away from this horrible
town, and live quietly. I will manage the money, somehow."

"And not see you again? Jimmy, you don't mean not see you again, just as
a friend, only as a friend?"

His silence answered her, and she fell to sobbing once more, very
quietly this time, whilst he stood at the window, staring out at
nothing. At last, she grew calm and stood up, drying her eyes.

"Very well," she said. "I will leave it all to you, because I can't help
myself. After a time, when I feel better, I shall get something to do,
perhaps, in a shop, or dressmaking. Only, the quieter the place the
better; and, Jimmy, whatever you do, you must not let your people know
where I am."

"It is hardly likely I shall see much of them," he answered grimly. "I
think you had better go to some quiet hotel to-night," he added. "Get
your things together, and I will see you to-morrow and arrange matters
then. You say they are seizing all this furniture and so on."

They had both got back to a kind of forced calmness now, and she
answered him quietly. "Yes, my poor little home is going. It's no good
protesting; your sisters have made that impossible; and these people can
do just as they like. I suppose the landlord telephoned to the furniture
people, and they are going shares. Yet I have already paid more than the
goods are worth."

Half an hour later, she came out of the bedroom with her hat on.

"I have packed your things as well, Jimmy. What are you going to do with
them? Will you take them away now, and then I can leave the keys at the
agent's office as we go past."

Jimmy started. He had forgotten they were both homeless now. "Yes, I
suppose so. I hadn't thought. I will go to the hotel I stayed at before,
and then take you down to another. I will go and get a cab."

Whilst he was out, Lalage hastily tidied up her little kitchen; then,
taking a dustpan and brush, she swept up a few scraps of mud which had
come off Jimmy's boots. In a drawer of the table she found his pen and a
scrap of blotting paper he had used, and thrust them hurriedly into her
dress. Then, during a final look round, she kissed in turn each article
of furniture he had been wont to use, heedless of the tears that were
dropping on them, coming last of all to his own chair, where she knelt
down and buried her face in the seat. She was still there when she heard
his step on the stairs; but she jumped up hastily and met him in the
little hall, whither she had dragged the luggage.

"It is all ready now," she said, and went out without looking back.

When Jimmy got down to the club a couple of hours later, he found a
telegram waiting for him in the rack, signed "Joseph Fenton."

It read: "Meet me any time to-night at the Grand Central Hotel. Shall be
alone."



CHAPTER XXII


Jimmy heaved a sigh of relief as he read the telegram. In after years,
he looked back on it as the one ray of brightness in the most ghastly
day of his life. It did not alter the essential fact that everything had
gone to pieces--nothing could alter that--but it made matters less
complicated so far as Lalage's immediate future was concerned. He had
intended asking his brother-in-law for a loan, and it was a load off his
mind to find that Joseph was actually in town. A letter might, probably
would, have fallen into Ida's hands, and this was one of those cases
where an interview was better than many pages of explanations.

In reply to the telegram, Jimmy wired that he would be at the hotel at
nine o'clock. He had given up all idea of going to the office that
night, or, rather, of ever going there again. He must get away, at once,
from everything which might remind him of the old life. He must cut
himself adrift from it, immediately, altogether, if he wished to
preserve his sanity. For himself, he cared nothing, at least at the
moment; but, though he might never see her again once she had left
London, he had to provide for Lalage. The Grierson strain in him had
asserted itself in so far as it had made him determine to leave Lalage.
He was able now to see her sin and his own, especially hers; but still
he could not abandon her to her fate, as a true Grierson would have
done, because he had been passionately in love, whilst the love of the
true Grierson is always decorous, and truly tempered by financial
considerations. The dowerless bride is regarded with coldness; the bride
with a past is anathema; there is no road back, at least in the opinion
of those who have sub-edited their religion in the interests of
propriety.

Jimmy had no difficulty in finding a substitute to take on his work at
the _Record_ office, especially when he made it known that there was
going to be a vacancy on the staff immediately.

"I'm a bit knocked out," he explained. "The malaria has got hold of me
again, and the doctor says I must go out at once."

The other man nodded sympathetically, and suggested a drink. He,
himself, had been out of work for nearly six months, and the chance of
securing Jimmy's berth had altered the whole outlook for him.

"Yes, you do look off colour," he said. "I've noticed it several times
lately. Night work doesn't suit you, I suppose. Now, I'm used to it,
been at it for years. Well, I'll give Dodgson this note of yours. It'll
be all right. He knows me well enough. So long. Thanks very much for
thinking of me."

Jimmy turned wearily, and went down the corridor to the dining-room. He
had eaten nothing all day, and it struck him Lalage would be worried if
she knew.

"Bring me anything you like," he said to the waiter, but when the plates
came he merely took one mouthful, and then sat, staring with unseeing
eyes at a paper he had picked up, whilst the gravy grew cold and greasy.
He was wondering what Lalage was doing, alone in that little hotel near
the General Post Office.

"As long as it's quiet, Jimmy, that's all I care about; and the further
from the West End the better. Noise would drive me quite mad, I think,"
she had said.

So far, he had not tried to analyse his own feelings toward Lalage. All
he knew was that he was sounding the lowest depths of misery, and he
speculated, more or less vaguely, whether she could understand what he
was suffering. He wanted to blame her, in fact he knew that he ought to
blame her, that she had betrayed him and had sinned beyond all hope of
forgiveness; and yet in his ears there was still ringing her
heart-broken wail, "I did it all for you Jimmy, I did it all for you."

At last the voice of the waiter broke in on his thoughts. "You don't
seem to like that, sir. Anything I can get for you instead?"

Jimmy started. "No, no. It's quite all right. I don't feel hungry now,
that's the only trouble, thanks."

The waiter was a kindly man, and he had seen a good deal of life during
nearly thirty years of service in clubs; consequently, he shook his head
mournfully as Jimmy went out. "Mr. Grierson's in trouble," he remarked
to the carver. "He looks fair broken up, as though he didn't care what
came next."

The carver, who had no imagination, grunted. "Got the sack, I suppose,"
he said, and began to dissect a chicken.

The waiter shook his head again. "That doesn't make a man pay for food
he's not going to eat. It's a woman has played the fool with him. I
shouldn't be surprised if we don't see him here again. And he's a nice
gentleman, too, always polite to you and so on."

Jimmy had an hour and a half to kill before going to Joseph Fenton's
hotel, and, ordinarily, he would have spent the time reading or writing
in the club; but already the place had become unbearable to him;
everything in it seemed to speak to him of Lalage, to remind him of her
and of that past which had suddenly become such a horrible memory. Why,
it was Lalage herself who had saved up the two guineas to pay his
subscription, only a couple of months ago. He went hot at the thought of
it, for it brought back the remembrance of so many other things she had
done for him. For a moment he hesitated. She was calling him back to her
side. "It was all for you, Jimmy, all for you." That part of it was
true, whatever else had been false; and she was alone in that gloomy
little hotel, eating her heart out, conscious that she had lost him. She
had betrayed his trust because she loved him so well, because she could
not bear to part with him--for a few seconds he understood that, and
felt he could forgive everything; but an instant later he was a Grierson
again. She had lied to him; she had been false to him in the greatest of
all things; and there could be no forgiveness. His people had found her
out, had proved to him what she really was, and he could not give them
up for her, knowing that she understood nothing of honour or truth. So,
instead of going to the hotel in the City, Jimmy went westwards, slowly,
listlessly, with no aim but to kill time. The Strand was thronged with
its night population, just as it had been on the first evening of his
return; but now he looked on everyone with suspicion, almost with
hatred. Any of these men might know his secret, might have heard of him
from Lalage and have laughed at him. There was madness in the thought,
and his eyes gleamed so suddenly that a policeman in plain clothes,
having noticed him, thought it well to follow him for a while; but the
fit passed almost as quickly as it had come on, and he became listless
again, shuffling his feet a little on the pavement, as though utterly
weary and disillusioned.

The women caught his eye now, hard-faced, painted, weirdly-dressed, and
he began to wonder how they could possibly attract anyone, and to
compare them with Lalage. She had never looked like that, there had been
no sort of kinship between her and these creatures, and yet--she had
confessed that May's charges were true.

His way to the hotel led him in the direction of the flat. At first, he
was inclined to avoid the little back street, for fear that he might be
recognised and pointed at; then the longing to have one more look
overcame the fear, and he turned up the road where the barrows were,
past the ham and beef shop, and came opposite the grimy mansion. It
seemed but natural to glance upwards at what had been Lalage's windows;
though it gave him a shock to see that, whilst the curtains had been
torn down, leaving a broken tape hanging forlornly, there was a light
in the rooms; then he noticed, for the first time, that there was a van
outside the front entrance. They were just finishing the task of
clearing out the flat.

From the shelter of a big gateway opposite, Jimmy watched them bring
down Lalage's own chair and a wash hand stand which he himself had made
for her out of an old packing case in those early days before London had
taken the life out of him. Then, suddenly, the light upstairs was
extinguished, and a few minutes later a short, stout man in a seedy
frock coat and decrepit silk hat came down the steps, and ordered the
van to drive away.

"That's the lot," he said. "Now get back to the shop quick. These things
may have to go out again to-morrow. Tell Mr. Gluck to have them polished
up first thing in the morning." Then he mopped his forehead with an
uncleanly bandana handkerchief, and made his way to a public-house lower
down the street. Jimmy followed him thither with no definite object,
save perhaps a kind of morbid curiosity.

The publican greeted the furniture dealer with a friendly nod. "Clearing
another out, Mr. Ludwig?"

The other grunted assent. "One of the soft sort. She ran away. It just
comes in right, as I have another customer for the goods, and there was
a lot paid on them. Pretty girl she was, too," and he gave a leer which
made Jimmy go red first and then very white, and leave hurriedly without
touching the whisky he had ordered.

Joseph Fenton was waiting for his brother-in-law in the hall of his
hotel. Jimmy, scarcely knowing what sort of reception to expect, had
come in white-faced and hard-eyed, but the elder man's handshake eased
his mind at once.

Fenton led the way into the smoking-room, selected a couple of chairs in
the further corner, then held out his cigar case. "Have a smoke?" he
said.

Jimmy helped himself, and, for a minute or two, they smoked in silence;
then:

"This is a bit of an upset, Jimmy," Joseph remarked; getting no reply
beyond a curt nod, he went on, "I'm not going to talk to you about the
moral side of it--I expect your sisters have done that, too much
perhaps--but what is this girl going to do now? You can't let her
starve."

"Ida and May say she ought to," Jimmy answered grimly. The elder man
made a gesture of annoyance. "I know. Ida told me, and we disagreed." He
paused and stared at the smoke curling upwards from his cigar, as though
trying to find inspiration in it. He was always a little slow and
awkward in his speech, and now he seemed worse than ever; but at last he
went on: "Look here, Jimmy, I went through much the same sort of thing
myself, before I was engaged to your sister, so I understand. You see?
My people found out and sent me abroad; and I didn't hear of the girl
again until it was too late." He sighed heavily, and stared once more at
the cigar smoke.

Jimmy looked up. "What had happened?" he asked.

Joseph started. "She had drowned herself." He spoke very quietly, but
none the less Jimmy realised what the memory meant to this man whom he
had always thought a little dull and prosaic. "When I let them ship me
away--I was only a youngster at the time--I thought they would help her
to get a fresh start, but they didn't. It's spoilt my life, and that's
why I don't want yours spoilt. At least give her the chance to go
right." He drew a packet of bank-notes from his pocket. "Here's fifty to
go on with. Come to me when you want some more. Only, send her right
away, where you won't be tempted to go and see her. You must drop it
now. There can be no question of your marrying her; and there's only
misery in this free love, as you, yourself, have seen."

Jimmy held out his hand gratefully. "It's awfully good of you, Joseph.
I was coming to you for a loan when I got your wire. She,"--somehow he
could not bring himself to mention Lalage's name,--"she is only too
anxious to get away from town, and this money will make it possible. I
suppose in time she'll get something to do; but there's been no time to
make plans yet."

"Well, let me know when you want some more money. Write to the office,
not to the house. I only wish you had asked me before this happened.
I've been pretty successful, at least in business; but that's not
everything." He paused and then went on, in short, jerky sentences.
"Don't marry a saint, Jimmy. They're better to watch than to live with.
Your sister never forgives anything, and that's a big mistake. It makes
life hard sometimes. I suppose I'm getting a bit old, and I feel things.
The doctor says I must be careful."

Jimmy glanced at him keenly; although his mind was full of his own
troubles, it had struck him that Joseph looked far from well. "Is there
anything special the matter?" he asked.

Joseph nodded. "Heart," he answered briefly. "Well, I'm glad I've seen
you. Don't say anything about it to Ida. I think I'll go up now, I'm
feeling a little tired. Good night, Jimmy. Give her a chance to go
straight, and then try to forget her."

It was the following afternoon, when Jimmy got back to the club after
having seen Lalage off at the station, that he found a note from May
awaiting him.

"You will be shocked to hear," May wrote, "that Joseph was discovered
dead in bed this morning. The doctor says it was heart disease. I need
hardly say that Ida is terribly upset."

Two or three days later, Jimmy learnt that his brother-in-law had left
him a thousand pounds.



CHAPTER XXIII


Dr. Gregg pulled up his trap and hailed the man who was stalking along
on the other side of the road.

"Are you going my way, Grierson? Can I give you a lift? Right. Whoa,
mare, stand still. It's some time since I saw you, Grierson. Been away?"

Jimmy, who was already climbing into the dog-cart, did not answer until
the question was repeated, then, "Yes," he said rather unwillingly.
"I've been over to Paris for two or three days."

The doctor drew his ragged-looking grey eyebrows down until they formed
almost a straight line. "The old game," he growled.

The young man was staring away over the hedge at the sweep of country
beyond, and replied without looking round. "Yes, as you say, the old
game--the inevitable game, if you like that better. The only difference
being that it was liqueur brandy this time instead of whisky."

"Silly fool." The doctor was not noted for his gentle speech. "Silly
fool, you know what I told you, that it means death in your case, with
perhaps a spell of lunacy first--that is, if you're not really a lunatic
already. You had better get some other medical man to attend you next
time." He slashed at an overhanging bough with his frayed old whip, and
apparently the action relieved him, for he went on in a very different
voice, "How's the book getting on? Is it published yet?"

"It's coming out next week," Jimmy answered. "I got an advance copy
to-day. They've bound it and made it up rather nicely."

The doctor nodded. "So they ought to. It's good stuff, but you would
never have written it at all if it hadn't been for me." The thought
seemed to bring back his grievances, for he went on querulously, "Why do
you always go to Paris or Brussels or some place like that? Can't you
find enough bad liquor and bad company in London, at far less cost?"

Jimmy flushed. "Look here, Gregg," he began angrily, then broke off with
a bitter laugh. "I suppose I've no right to take offence at you, after
all. I never go to London, haven't been there for a year, I loathe the
place."

"Bad memories, eh?" The doctor jerked the words out as he guided his
horse past a big dray.

"Bad memories," Jimmy assented wearily. "The worst of bad memories."

"That's the advantage of being a medical man." They had just passed the
dray and were coming to the outskirts of the little country town. "We
understand what it means, you see, and when a woman lets us down, we
don't make it worse, as you are doing. Oh, I know you didn't say
anything about a woman, but I know, too, that you meant one. It's a poor
compliment to her if she's any good, and if she isn't, why worry?"

Jimmy did not answer, and the doctor changed the subject abruptly, as
was his way. "Did they tell you that Drylands, the big house close to
your cottage, was let at last? You'll have some society now. I hear
they're people who entertain a lot."

"What is their name?" Jimmy demanded.

"Something not unlike your own--Grimston, I think."

Jimmy shrugged his shoulders. "Never heard of them, and, anyway, it
probably wouldn't affect me. The neighbourhood as a whole hasn't exactly
tumbled over itself in its anxiety to make my acquaintance."

"That's your own fault," the doctor retorted. "You haven't given the
neighbourhood much encouragement to know you, although you would be
welcome enough. You're a surly brute in many ways, Grierson."

"Thanks," Jimmy answered with a hard laugh. "At least you're outspoken.
And now this is my destination, the news agent's shop. I'll try to
follow your professional advice--for as long as I can."

The doctor grunted something unintelligible and drove on. It was market
day, and there were several farmers he wanted to interview before the
excitement, or the local ale, or a combination of both, rendered their
ideas a little more vague than at ordinary times.

       *       *       *       *       *

It was a year since Jimmy had taken the cottage a mile outside the
sleepy little town. He had gone there in the first place because it was
far removed from everyone and everything he knew, and in some ways the
experiment had proved a success. The deaf old woman who came in to do
his cooking and housework worried him little, and apparently did not
gossip about his actions or his habits; whilst the three rooms he had
furnished were more than sufficient for his needs.

At first, on hearing of Joseph Fenton's legacy, he had thought of going
abroad again, of seeking oblivion of the past few months in travel and
excitement; but a chance remark of May's spoken at Joseph Fenton's
funeral, the only occasion on which he had met any of the Griersons
since the interview at Walter's office, had shown him that the family
would welcome his departure, that it even regarded voluntary exile as
the proper course for him to take under the circumstances, and, if only
for that reason, he determined to stay. Probably he would have stayed in
any case, for, though he had cut himself adrift from Lalage, had never
seen her since she left London, and heard from her but seldom--brief,
gentle little notes which invariably made him break his promise to
her--all the old wild jealousy remained. It was torture whilst he was in
England, but he felt it would mean madness if there were the ocean
between them. His love for her was dead, or at least he told himself so,
that part of love which comes from the joy of possession, which brings
with it peace and courage, and a good comrade in the never-ending
struggle against fate; but the other part, the fear and the hopelessness
and the fever, remained with him always.

Once, and once only, he had had Lalage watched. He had lain awake night
after night until his jealousy had culminated in his sending down a
private detective. He had read the report--which was wholly in her
favour, even the church working party of the village in which she was
living being unable to rake up any charge against her--with an
unutterable sense of shame and self-contempt, and then had thrust it
hurriedly into the fire; but instead of bringing him peace it gave him
another memory to brood over, and at times to try and drown.

Lalage's fears had only been too well founded. The locality was healthy
enough, the doctor had said with almost brutal frankness the first time
Jimmy had occasion to consult him; and then he had gone on to diagnose
his patient's case without mincing his words.

"You don't show it outwardly, at least not to a layman, but any medical
man would see what was the matter with you. What makes you drink?"

Jimmy had shrugged his shoulders, half-ashamed, half-irritated. "Habit,
I suppose," he had answered, whereupon the other had growled.

"A confoundedly bad and stupid habit. The sooner you get some new ones
the better. You write, don't you? How do you expect to make a success of
it when you're sapping your brain power in this fool's way?"

He had added a few more things, pointed and true, but none the less they
had parted good friends, and for a time Jimmy tried to fight his enemy,
remembering his promise to Lalage; but it was always the same in the
end. His black hour would come on him, and he would recall his great
treason, and tell himself bitterly that she had been the first to set
the example in the matter of broken faith.

Whatever fears May might have had on the point--and the matter certainly
had worried her a good deal during the last twelve months--there had
never been any question of Jimmy going back to Lalage. True, he had
broken away from the Grierson tradition when he went to live at the
flat, had thrown that tradition to the winds, but still he had never
repudiated it openly, and in the end if he had not actually gone back to
his own people, at least he had recognised that the standards of his own
people were right. He was ashamed of himself, even more ashamed of
Lalage. He saw his conduct--and hers--in its true light, its stupidity,
and its immorality, and in the days following Joseph Fenton's death he
had reached the nadir of contrition and misery, and would have made
confession, and sought for absolution, had the family given him the
chance. He was in the mood for it, being run-down and broken-hearted.
But Joseph's death had altered the focus of things for the moment,
making Jimmy's affairs a secondary consideration, and after the reading
of the will, Joseph's legacy had effectually destroyed any hope of
peace, at least as far as Ida was concerned. Fenton had left, it is
true, nearly a hundred thousand to his wife, but the odd thousand to
Jimmy almost neutralised the generosity of his other bequests, at least
in Ida's sight, and Ida's personality dominated the whole family for the
time being.

Curiously enough, no one knew of Jimmy's last meeting with Joseph. At
first Jimmy had held his peace about it, not wishing in any way to add
to Ida's troubles; then, when he found that his own misdeeds were
supposed to have preyed on his brother-in-law's mind and hastened his
death, he continued to keep silence, in a kind of savage contempt. He,
at least, knew what Joseph's feelings had been, and all his sympathy and
all his regrets were for the dead man, and not for the saint, who, after
the manner of her kind, had understood nothing and forgiven nothing.

Yet, none the less, he would gladly have made peace with the family,
just as May and Walter would have made peace with him, had Ida's
bitterness not rendered that so hard as to be almost impossible. She was
too good a woman to overlook his sin, or to allow anyone else to
overlook it. She believed in the punishment of the sinner, not in his
pardon, and she did not think that Jimmy had suffered enough; possibly
she believed that he had not suffered at all, for had he not in the end
received a thousand pounds which should, by rights, have gone to her own
children? So, though he had repudiated Lalage to pacify his people,
and--it must be admitted also--to satisfy his own conscience, his only
reward had been a ghastly sense of isolation, both from his own world,
where the Grierson tradition rules, and from that other world into which
he had strayed for a few short never-to-be-forgotten months.

Jimmy had turned a little grey during the last year, and the boyish
charm had gone out of his face. Alas! he had grown careless as regarded
his appearance, and he had ceased to trouble about a number of little
things on the observance of which Lalage had once insisted. He never
worried as to whether his boots were cleaned or no, and he only shaved
when he was going into the little town. After all, what did it matter?
He had no friends, and he wanted none; society, or at any rate women's
society, had ceased to be a factor in his life.

On the other hand, success had come to him professionally, though it
meant very little to him, or very little compared with what it would
have meant in the London days, when half the income he was making now
would have seemed wealth. Joseph's legacy had allowed him breathing
space. He had quitted Fleet Street finally, abandoned all thought of
journalism, and gone in for the writing of short stories. Some quality
in the latter, possibly the cynical outlook on life which coloured them
all, caught the fancy of editors accustomed to the milk-and-water
optimism of the average writer, and in a few months his work was not
only selling, but was actually in demand. Moreover, he had written a
novel, and, his luck still holding good, had placed it with the second
publisher to whom he offered it; but even that success had given him no
sense of elation; and, when he had come to read the proofs, he had found
himself wishing that he had put the manuscript into the fire. It was not
the book he had dreamed of doing, the book he had so often discussed
with Lalage. The doctor, who had also seen the proofs, thought highly of
it; the publisher was urging him to get on with another; but he,
himself, knew well that the book lacked something. He had been afraid to
give it life by drawing on his own experience. He had been so anxious
not to widen the breach with his family that he had ended by writing a
novel for Griersons. As Jimmy walked homewards after his meeting with
the doctor, he found himself wondering what Lalage would think of his
novel, whether she would feel pride, or grief, or contempt. Somehow,
although she had no part in his life now, he was more afraid of her
judgment than of that of anyone else. "Lalage's author," she had called
him in the old days, and she had always believed in him. "I know you
will write nice books for Lalage, by and by; because you're very, very
clever"--she had said so more than once, when he had seemed to be losing
heart over his work in the _Record_ office. And now he had written the
book--in which Lalage had had no part. Unconsciously, he quickened his
pace, as if to get away from the thought, and, perhaps for that reason,
he did not notice a motor-car which was coming up behind him. When the
horn was sounded, he merely drew into the hedge and did not look round.
The car passed him, slowly on account of a flock of sheep which was
coming out of a gate a little way ahead, and he noted, without the
slightest sense of interest, that there were a couple of well-dressed
women in the tonneau; consequently, he was greatly surprised when one of
the women called to the driver to stop, then looked back, and beckoned
excitedly to himself.

"Mr. Grierson, Mr. Grierson--Jimmy!" she cried.

As he came up, she raised the heavy veil she was wearing, and he found
himself looking into the laughing eyes of Ethel Grimmer.



CHAPTER XXIV


Mrs. Grimmer shook hands very cordially. "This is an unexpected
pleasure," she said. "Who would have dreamt of seeing you down here!"
then, without waiting for his explanation, she turned to her companion.
"Vera, you remember Mr. Grierson, don't you? May Marlow's brother.
Jimmy, I hope you haven't been so rude as to forget Miss Farlow. You met
her at our house, on that one visit you paid us, before you suddenly
went away and lost yourself."

Jimmy flushed, and raised his hat again. He remembered the pretty,
rather prim-looking girl as the daughter of May's favourite rector, and
he remembered, too, Ethel's outspoken advice about his possible
matrimonial plans.

Vera Farlow bowed, a little severely, but Ethel Grimmer gave neither of
the others the chance to speak. "I've often asked May how you were
getting on, but she always seemed vague as to where you were. She said
you were living in the country in cottages, so as to be able to work
quietly; but I never, never thought of finding you down here. Do you
live in a cottage now; or have you made so much money out of those
nice, wicked stories of yours that you've bought a big house?"

Jimmy laughed. "No, I've still got a cottage, the only cottage I ever
had. It's about half a mile from here."

"How jolly! Do jump in now and come along with us. Then you shall tell
us all about the place and its people. We've just taken a furnished
house--Drylands, I suppose you know it?--to see if we like the
neighbourhood. If we do, Billy wants to build a nice place for
ourselves. He's going to retire from business at the end of the year. I
tell him it's better, for he can afford to, and if he stays in the City,
he'll only get stodgy, and perhaps lose his money. And now do come up
and have some tea with us, unless you're very busy, which I can't
understand you being. Billy won't be down till Saturday, and I persuaded
Vera to come with me, so that I shouldn't be too dull."

Jimmy went with them willingly, and, even if he had wished to raise an
objection, Ethel Grimmer would have given him no hearing. She was
obviously delighted at the meeting; and, in the end, Jimmy stayed, not
only to tea, but to dinner as well.

"Never mind about dressing," Ethel said. "Vera and I won't change
anyway--you see we only got down this morning--and it's so nice to meet
someone one knows."

It was the first time since he had left town that Jimmy had mixed
socially with his own world, and he watched anxiously for anything which
would show whether Ethel knew about Lalage; but before dinner was over
he realised, with a sense of relief, amounting almost to gratitude, that
May and Ida had kept the knowledge of the scandal to the circle of the
family. Ethel was not even curious as to his reasons for avoiding the
Marlow house; detesting May cordially, she found it quite natural that
Jimmy should prefer to go his own way.

Vera Farlow thawed considerably before the evening was over. She was a
well-read girl, and at home it was but seldom that she met any men who
had interests outside their business or their sports. Jimmy was an
entirely new type to her, and yet, as she was well aware, he belonged to
a family whose standing was above question. Had a man of whom she knew
nothing talked as Jimmy talked, she would probably have regarded him
with a certain degree of suspicion; but there was no question of that in
the case of Mrs. Marlow's brother. Jimmy, on his part, was distinctly
attracted--Ethel saw that long before he got up to take a reluctant
farewell; and being entirely loyal to her own husband, she felt not the
slightest jealousy of Vera Farlow; in fact, as she went upstairs that
evening she was wondering whether it might not be possible to turn the
scheme, which she had once propounded more or less in a spirit of
banter, into an accomplished fact. It would be a good thing for Jimmy, a
good thing for Vera, and, perhaps most important of all, it would annoy
May Marlow and Mrs. Fenton intensely. Ethel went to bed to dream of a
gorgeous wedding, in which she played the part of fairy godmother; and
she awoke next morning more than ever determined to arrange the match.
Vera had money, Jimmy had brains, and they both belonged to families of
position. She felt she almost owed it to Jimmy to find him a wife,
whilst Vera was her dearest girl friend. Billy would help, she knew
that. Billy always did what she told him, and though he sometimes
spoiled things by laughing at the wrong time, for which she scolded him
duly and without mercy, she knew he meant to do his best. His impending
retirement had been one of her greatest triumphs. She was sick to death
of the circle of City people, of what she flippantly called "Square
milers," and that had been the main reason she had given to her husband
in urging him to give up business and go into the country.

"Let's go amongst people who don't have to catch trains, Billy," she
had urged. "I'm sure you don't get half enough enjoyment out of life
now, going up to town every day," and Billy had finally given way, on
those grounds, never suspecting that at the back of her mind was always
the fear of his being drawn into speculation and coming to grief. He was
not very brilliant. Ethel knew that well, and she knew, too, what
measure of sympathy the City has for those who fail.

The night he dined at Drylands, Jimmy barely thought of Lalage. He was
excited, and yet, at the same time, conscious of a feeling of
restfulness, somewhat akin to that he had experienced when he first saw
the shores of England on his return from South America. Once again, it
seemed as if he had been a long time in the wilderness, and was getting
back to his own people at last. Vera Farlow was of those who stand above
suspicion. It was impossible to picture her knowing anything about life
in a flat; and, whilst the memory of the past gave him a momentary sense
of shame, this was quickly put aside. It was all dead, done with; and,
if any women had a part in his future, they would be those like Vera
Farlow, women whom the Grierson family would accept and respect.

When he turned in, Jimmy helped himself to one whisky, and one only,
instead of the usual three or four, or even more, which he took when a
fit of sleeplessness was on him. After all, old Dr. Gregg had been
right. He was playing a fool's game. He awoke in the morning feeling
much fresher than usual, and fully determined to call at Drylands on
some excuse or other. As a rule, he was not down till after the postman
had called; but on this occasion he met that worthy at the front door.

"Fine morning, sir. Three for you to-day," the official said.

Jimmy took the letters and glanced at the addresses. One he crumpled up
and tossed unopened into the waste paper basket, recognising the
envelope of a press-cutting bureau, which circularised him regularly
once a fortnight; but he looked at the others with a frown, for though
the first was from Kelly, whose letters were always welcome, the
remaining one had been addressed to his club in Lalage's unmistakable
handwriting.

For a moment, Jimmy handled the letters with an air of hesitation; then,
as though he feared some shock, and wanted to brace himself up to meet
it, he went to the decanter and poured out some whisky, which he
swallowed neat; yet, even then, he opened Kelly's letter first. There
proved to be nothing special in it--congratulations on his book, some
caustic comments on Fleet Street and its ways, and the always-repeated
invitation to come to town, and stay with Kelly and his wife.

"My wife says she feels sure you must be in love with someone down
there, otherwise you could never stand the dulness of the country after
town; but I always say that your fate is to marry into a solid City
family, now that you have missed going to the other extreme."

Jimmy frowned as he read the last sentence. He had never given Kelly a
hint, and no one else could have told him. Possibly, it was the thought
of that which worried him, and made him turn to the decanter again; at
any rate, he had another whisky before he opened Lalage's letter. It had
been very different in the early days of their acquaintance; then, he
had torn the envelopes open eagerly, and almost learnt the contents by
heart before he thought of his other correspondence.

Jimmy had never given Lalage his address. All her letters went to the
club, whilst those he wrote to her he sent on under cover to one of the
waiters, who posted them in town. He, himself, never understood his own
reasons for this caution. It was not because he feared her blackmailing
him--even in his most bitter moments he had never thought of that; and
he knew her too well to be afraid she might pay him a visit unasked in
the hope of recapturing his affection; but probably it was due to some
vague feeling that it kept them further apart in spirit, helped to
preserve the barrier between them. Not that she had ever attempted to
break that barrier down. On the other hand, she seemed to have accepted
his decision as right, or at any rate as unalterable, and at times that
was the most horrible part of all to him, for it suggested the
possibility of someone succeeding him in her love, and, as she had long
since declined to take any more money from him, he had no right to
control her.

Lalage wrote from a little Yorkshire town, nearly two hundred miles
distant from Jimmy. "You know I told you I had a post as nurse-companion
to an old invalid lady. I am very grieved to say she died about three
weeks ago. She was the sweetest, best woman I ever met; she took me
without references, because she said she liked my face; and I really
believe her greatest sorrow at dying was due to the thought that she
could leave me nothing. All she had was a small annuity. Yet, in another
way, I was fortunate; for almost at once I got a situation in a draper's
shop, the only drapers here. It is not very much to boast of, I know;
but still I am making my own living honestly, and it is the sort of
place where one can stay all one's life. I am looking at the papers
every day to see if your book is out. I do wish you the best of success
with it, Jimmy," and then, without any conventional phrase before it,
came the simple signature, "Lalage."

Jimmy did not touch his breakfast that morning. Instead, he sat very
still, staring out of the window, trying to picture Lalage--who had once
been his Lalage--serving behind the counter in a stuffy little draper's
shop. "The sort of place where you can stay all your life." Would she,
could she, stand the idea of such a future? Would she go on alone
always, whilst he would be getting on in the world, climbing the ladder
to such fame as novelists get in these days of many novels, getting back
into his own world, and possibly----?

There was a knock at the front door, and as if in confirmation of his
thought, he found the Grimmer chauffeur standing on the step.

"Note for you, sir," he said.

Jimmy tore it open. "Vera and I are going for a run round the country,"
Ethel wrote. "Will you come with us?"

Jimmy turned round to the hat rack and took down his cap and overcoat.

"Have you brought the car down for me?" he asked.



CHAPTER XXV


Mr. Grimmer looked up with a grin. "I don't know what the old joker will
say if you bring your scheme to a head," he remarked.

Ethel, who was standing in front of the fireplace, smoking daintily,
tried hard to look shocked.

"My dear Billy," she drawled. "That is hardly the way to speak of an
Honorary Canon who expects to become a bishop, if his father-in-law
lives long enough to get into another Cabinet. Then, for one thing,
Jimmy won't propose for some time yet, not until Vera has been away and
come back again; and when they are engaged what can the old joker, as
you call him, do to me?"

"He might preach about you," her husband suggested.

Ethel shrugged her shoulders. "I shouldn't be there to hear him; it
would make May Marlow blush and send that hateful Ida Fenton white with
passion. By the way, did I tell you that Ida had taken a house in town?
They think she's going to be married again, to that horrid, clean-shaven
man with the damp hands, who's always collecting for some mission or
other. You must know him, Billy. Surely you do; we used to call him the
Additional Curate. Well, to go back to Jimmy. He wouldn't give Vera up,
and her money is under her own control."

"He had to give you up," Grimmer said.

His wife laughed. "He never had me to give up, really. Besides, I hardly
knew you then, Billy, so it didn't count, did it?... Billy, you must not
behave in that ridiculous way; you have crushed my flowers, and the gong
will go in a moment."

It was a fortnight since Jimmy had met Ethel Grimmer again, and during
that time he had not written a line. Every day, and often twice a day,
he had been up at Drylands, at first, because Ethel had insisted on his
attendance; and latterly, because it seemed the natural thing to do. His
original feeling had been one of sincere relief at the break in the
monotony of his exile, and he had been equally glad to see both Vera and
Ethel; but after a while Ethel seemed to become almost uninteresting by
comparison with the younger woman. He was not passionately in love, as
he had been with Lalage. The thought of Vera gave him no sleepless
nights. In fact, now he slept far better than he had done for many
months past. He had a sense of restfulness to which he had long been a
stranger, as though he had taken some mental opiate to soothe the pain
of remembrance. London, and the flat, and the grinding drudgery of Fleet
Street, the miserable little creditors worrying at the door--all these
seemed now to belong to some former existence, to be part of the life of
a different Jimmy Grierson. Vera knew nothing of such things; and, in
her society, he himself managed to forget them.

Lalage's letter was still unanswered. Day after day he meant to write;
but, somehow, there was never time. He wanted to think it over
carefully, he kept on telling himself, and then deliberately turned his
mind to something else.

He had smartened himself up considerably so far as appearance went.
True, once or twice, it gave him a twinge of remorse when he found that
he was doing again the very things on which Lalage had insisted with
gentle patience in those now-distant days, observing little conventions
which he had dropped during his sojourn abroad, and had lately dropped
anew. Then, too, he was drinking far less. He did not need the spirit
now to bring him oblivion, and he did want to keep his hand steady and
his eye clear. Vera had once spoken very strongly on the subject of
intemperance, which she knew only in theory; and Jimmy had listened to
her words with respectful contrition. She would never forgive a man who
drank, she said, and he had gone a little cold at the thought. Yet,
forgetting that Lalage had known of his failing, and had tried to help
him fight his demon, he told himself that Vera's was the right view for
a girl of her position. She was too good and pure to come into contact
with the ugly things of life.

Already, he had made up his mind to ask her to marry him, later on, when
she came back from a promised visit of indefinite duration. There was no
hurry, Ethel had told him so frankly, no other suitor being in the
running. At first, the thought of the past troubled him a little, in the
abstract, as a kind of treason to Vera; but, after a while, he put that
thought aside. She need never know, and Lalage had gone out of his life
now.

His book had been published a week, and the one or two reviews which had
appeared had been satisfactory, almost flattering, though one reviewer
apparently voiced the general opinion when he said, "Mr. Grierson seems
anxious to uphold the conventions of modern society, and yet he writes
of them without conviction, as though he would like to believe in them,
and could not manage to do so."

Vera had frowned over the notice. "What rubbish, Mr. Grierson. It is as
much as to say that you would write one of the nasty kind of book, if
you dared. I think yours is very, very good and perfectly sincere."
Whereupon Jimmy had gone home well pleased, feeling that, at last, he
was receiving absolution, if not from his own family, at least from his
own people.

When Vera went back to town, Ethel deputed Jimmy to see her off at the
station, alleging that she herself had a headache.

"It's only _au revoir_," Jimmy said, as he shook hands at the railway
carriage door.

Miss Farlow smiled brightly. "That's all. I am coming down again very
soon. Father is going away for a couple of months' holiday; and, as he
is taking my younger sister, Florence, Ethel has made me promise to come
down here. She is awfully good-hearted, isn't she?"

Jimmy nodded emphatically. "She is indeed. One of the best I know."

As the train steamed out of the station, he stood a full minute deep in
thought, staring at it until it disappeared round a slight curve; then
he turned to find the doctor watching him with a grim smile.

"Hullo, Grierson," the old man said. "I've hardly seen you lately, only
caught glimpses of you whizzing past in a motor, surrounded by
millinery." Then he scanned the other's face critically. "You're
looking better. Found the cure for it, eh? I always thought that both
the reason and the remedy would prove to wear skirts."

Jimmy flushed awkwardly. He did not altogether admire Dr. Gregg's
frankness; and yet he was grateful for the implied testimony to his
reformation, so he answered with a laugh, and, after a few minutes'
conversation, willingly consented to go up to dinner at the doctor's
that night. After all, it would be dull alone in the cottage, and he
knew that Ethel would not want him, as she, too, was dining out.

The doctor was an old bachelor, or at least the town assumed him to be
one. True, when he had first bought the practice, thirty years
previously, he had made no definite statement on the matter; and, for a
time, people had shaken their heads, and, on that purely negative
evidence, had done what they called "drawing their own conclusions." His
wife had run away from him, and they would hear of her one day, in
connection with some scandal, and she would allege, and probably prove,
that he had ill-used her. However, as months went by, and they did not
hear--in fact they never heard anything--they admitted they had been
wrong, and began to pity him as the husband of an incurable lunatic, who
was confined in an asylum near London. But even that story had died a
lingering death from sheer want of nourishment, and long before Jimmy
had appeared in the neighbourhood, even the mothers' meetings had ceased
to discuss the doctor's private affairs. He was just the gruff and
well-beloved friend of everyone in the place, a man of whom even the
preacher in the Peculiar People's chapel spoke with respect.

"Old friends of yours at Drylands, after all?" the doctor asked
abruptly, as they sat smoking in his study after dinner.

Jimmy nodded. "Yes, you got the name wrong, you see, and, naturally, I
didn't recognise it. I've known the Grimmers, or at least Mrs. Grimmer,
all my life."

"It's a bad thing to get out of touch with people you know," the other
went on. "A very bad thing. Never have a family quarrel, if you can
avoid it, Grierson, or, rather, never have another."

"How do you know I have had one?" Jimmy demanded.

The old man smiled. "You've as good as told me so, a score of times. Bad
things family quarrels. After all, your relations are your own flesh and
blood."

Jimmy did not answer; latterly, he had begun to realise the truth of
what the other was saying; and he knew more than ever the value of
peace.

For a little while they smoked in silence, then, "How did you happen to
light on this town in the first instance?" the doctor asked.

"I hardly know myself," Jimmy answered. "I wanted some quiet place, and
someone--I have never been able to remember who it was--had once
mentioned it to me as the ideal spot. The name had stuck in my memory,
so I came down here on chance and liked it from the first. I must say,
though, I've found it dull at times."

"No place is dull when you know it well enough," the old man retorted.
"Yes, I mean it. You, as a writer, ought to understand that. It's only
dull if you make it so for yourself by being out of sympathy with its
people.... How's the book getting on?"

"Pretty well, I believe. The publishers say they're quite satisfied with
it for a first novel. One doesn't expect to make a big splash at the
start."

"Some never make a splash at all, even though they do good work. I knew
one." The doctor shook his head sadly. "He lived in this town, only a
few doors from here. He used to write scientific books, and was admitted
to be the best man in England on his own subject; yet he got more and
more hard up all the time. I don't know what he and his daughter really
did live on for the last year or two. It ended in something very like a
tragedy. Ah, it was a bad business, a terrible business," and he sighed
heavily.

Jimmy's lips seemed suddenly to have become dry and hard; but his voice
was almost normal as he asked, "What was it, doctor?"

The old man began to fill a pipe with rather exaggerated care. "It was
the daughter," he answered, without looking up. "She was a sweet girl,
the best, most unselfish girl I ever knew; but curiously young in many
ways, dangerously young--you understand? She had been brought up alone
with him--no woman to tell her things. That's bad. Confound it all,
sir,"--he raised his voice in a sudden explosion of wrath,--"parents
have no right to keep their girls in ignorance. It's criminal
negligence; at least it was in this case. They were desperately poor,
and he was dying; wanted all sorts of things." He paused again and made
a show of lighting his pipe, but the match burnt out ineffectually, then
he went on. "They hadn't a shilling, and none of the tradesmen would
trust them. And a man, a young scoundrel belonging to this very town,
offered her ten pounds to go away with him for a couple of days, showed
her the gold.... What was that?" he demanded quickly as Jimmy's pipe
stem snapped suddenly in his hands.

Jimmy himself had shifted slightly, so that the lamplight did not fall
on his face; but the old man was not looking at him as he resumed his
story.

"She said she was going to town, to beg his publishers for money, and
he, luckily, died believing it. But someone else had seen her; and the
women hunted her out. She fled to London, no money, no friends, and you
can guess what must have happened. Poor child!"

"What happened to the man?" Jimmy asked in a voice which made the doctor
give a grim little nod of approval as he answered:

"I felt that way myself. He abandoned her like a skunk, and his people
threw the blame on her for tempting him. Tempting him! He had a motor
smash soon after, and I tried my utmost to pull him through, because he
would have been a hideously disfigured cripple; but he died, and I never
regretted a patient more."

Jimmy got up abruptly. He knew now who it was who had mentioned that
town to him, and unconsciously sent him to live there. He had not the
slightest doubt in his own mind what the answer would be when he asked:

"What was their name?"

"Penrose," the doctor answered. "She was Lalage Penrose."



CHAPTER XXVI


Jimmy's mind was in a fever as he walked home that night; in fact, he
felt it would be useless to try to sleep, so he went on, past the
cottage, past Drylands, where the lights were all out, right to the next
village, three miles away. But whilst he stalked along he gradually grew
calmer. Things seemed to become simpler, more easy to bear, and to
understand. He saw Lalage now in a different light, and he felt that, as
her character was partially cleared, so, in some subtle way, his own sin
became less, and he need no longer have any compunction about asking
Vera Farlow to be his wife.

True, for one wild moment, his old love for Lalage seemed to surge up
within him; but he was passing Drylands on his way back at the time,
and, as he glanced at the windows, the Grierson strain in him asserted
itself triumphantly. He might pity and forgive Lalage; but his wife must
be one whom he could take anywhere, introduce anywhere; there must be no
horrible fear of the past coming to light again, and, possibly ruining,
not only his own career, but that of his children as well. He thought
of Lalage tenderly, but almost with condescension; and, when he turned
in finally, Vera Farlow--who belonged to the Grierson world--was
uppermost in his mind. Consequently, he slept well and awoke, not to
brood over what Dr. Gregg had told him, but to speculate on a future in
which Vera should play the main part.

Vera had money of her own, Jimmy knew that, and, unquestionably, the
fact weighed with him, not from a sordid point of view, but because it
made the risks of marriage so much smaller. There would be no fear of
his wife being left penniless, dependent on the charity of relatives. As
for his own prospects, he was inclined to take a rosy view of them. He
had made a good start, and that, as he was well aware, was more than
half the battle. Another year, and he ought to be earning enough to
justify him in marrying.

It would be very pleasant to have his own house, a permanent home. Vera
had plenty of friends, and he knew that there were many others who would
be glad enough to meet the rising author. They would soon have a
position, especially if, as seemed probable, Canon Farlow did get the
first vacant bishopric.

Jimmy had not much fear as to what Vera's answer would be. They had got
to know one another very well in that fortnight at Drylands, and much
of her almost prim reserve had already disappeared. She was twenty-five,
or thereabouts, quite old enough to know her own mind, and it was not
likely that her father, having three other unmarried daughters on his
hands, would offer any serious objection. May, too, would probably be
pleased when she came to look at the matter in the right light, because,
as he told himself with a cynical little smile, it would prove that the
Lalage episode was definitely at an end. And then, for a moment, he
thought of Lalage again, the Lalage of whom the doctor had told him,
young, almost childish in her inexperience, sacrificing her innocence
for the sake of her dying father. Suddenly he got up, feeling half
choked. If only that man had not died after the motor smash, if only he
had lived to suffer.

He walked up and down the little room several times, trying to regain
his self-control, trying to put Lalage out of his mind, and to think
only of Vera. But it was impossible. Phrases the doctor had used seemed
to be engraved on his memory. Almost against his will, he found himself
repeating them, and with them came a mental picture of Lalage's pitiful
shame and grief when the real meaning of what she had done came home to
her. And then the horror of it, the crowning tragedy of it all--her
father had died in the end, and she had been driven to the streets of
London.

He had thought he had forgotten, and now he found he remembered
everything. He could see her with the mud squelching through her shoes,
friendless, penniless, homeless, without either references or
experience, tramping hour after hour in the rain, standing outside the
shop window where the big kitchen stoves were on exhibition, trying to
imagine that some of the heat from the fires was reaching her numbed
body; and then someone spoke to her--oh, it was all too hideous.

He had intended putting in a hard day's work, starting a new novel, but
there could be no question of that now. He picked up the morning paper
and tried to read that, but, somehow, the pages seemed to be one huge
blurr, and, when the letters did come into line, they always formed the
word "Lalage." At last, in sheer desperation, he took his hat, shut up
the cottage, and went into the town. In the smoking-room of the
principal hotel, he met several men he knew slightly. As a rule, he
would merely have nodded to them, but now the old craving for
companionship was on him again, and he greeted them cordially, whilst,
instead of the one drink he had intended to take, he had so many that he
lost count. When, at last, he did come out, he was still sober so far
as external appearance went; and yet perhaps because the sunlight was
bright whilst the smoking-room had been dark, he failed to notice a
carriage containing a couple of ladies whom he had met at Drylands. They
bowed to him, and then, when he did not raise his hat, exchanged meaning
glances.

The elder, Mrs. Richards, wife of a local magnate, put their thoughts
into words. "We caught sight of him going in there two hours ago, and
now he cannot see us. I had heard a rumour that there was that especial
failing, but I had hoped it wasn't true. Now, however----" She was a
kindly-natured woman, and she broke off with a sigh.

Her companion nodded. "I wonder if that nice Miss Farlow knows. Mrs.
Grimmer hinted that an engagement was quite possible, and I think
someone ought to warn the girl. It would be a dreadful thing if she
found out too late."

Jimmy's outbreak was, however, of very short duration. Even as he walked
back to the cottage Vera's influence, or rather, the thought of all that
marriage with Vera would mean, reasserted itself, and the memory of
Lalage began to grow dim again. After all, what was the good of making
himself miserable about the dead past? It could not be changed, and so
the best thing to do was to try and forget it, as far as possible. It
was but a very poor compliment to Vera if, only the day after her
departure, his mind was full of another woman.

He might pity Lalage, but he was not going to let the remembrance of her
ruin his future. He had a prospect now of regaining what he had lost
when he first met her, and he would be a fool to imperil that prospect
by mere foolish sentiment. Moreover, he would leave that wretched whisky
alone; it was a weak and idiotic habit to drink as he had been drinking,
and the knowledge of it would shock Vera terribly. Men in her world,
which was, after all, his own world too, did not do those things. He saw
it now. Before the Grimmers came down it had been different. For a time,
he had lost all ambition, all sense of self-respect; but contact with
Ethel and Vera had changed all that, had brought out the dormant
Grierson instincts, the passion for order and respectability, and the
comforts of life, and he had grown to detest the old mode of existence.

One thing was certain; before he proposed to Vera he must break off all
correspondence with Lalage. He told himself so, several times, and tried
to think out the letter he would write. He would send her a cheque for a
fair amount, so that she would have a reserve fund, and then--he would
never hear of her again, never know if she were alive or dead, if she
had enough food, or even if she were married. Suddenly, that same queer,
choking sensation came back, and he got up quickly as if wanting air. He
seemed to hear Lalage's cry on that most ghastly day of his life: "I did
it all for you, Jimmy. I did it all for you."

And so, in the end, he compromised with his conscience, and wrote her a
briefer letter than usual. Possibly, he might have been surprised had he
known that Lalage cried herself to sleep over that same letter, though
next day, and for many days after, until she heard again, she carried it
in her dress through the long hours of drudgery in the little shop, and
slept with it under her pillow at night. Jimmy's hand had touched that
precious slip of paper.



CHAPTER XXVII


Jimmy's engagement to Vera Farlow was an accomplished fact.

"You have got to thank me for it all, Jimmy," Ethel said, when he came
to her for congratulations. "You would certainly never have done it
alone. In fact, once or twice lately I have been afraid that my
suggestions and advice were going to be wasted after all. Yet, I don't
quite know what to think of you, even now." She put her head on one side
and surveyed him critically.

"What do you mean?" he asked, smiling.

Ethel laughed. "I've known you to make love more ardently. Oh, yes. I
have a very good memory. Still, I won't tell Vera. And now I'm going to
write to your sister May and gloat over her. Of course I shall gloat,
because I suggested getting you married off when we first heard you were
coming home, and May got furious with me. Will you write too?"

Jimmy shook his head. "No, yours will do, at least for a start. I've got
to write to Canon Farlow. Vera says he won't be home from Switzerland
for another week. Otherwise, I would have gone to see him."

"He's rather an old stick, if I may say that of your beloved's father,"
Ethel went on. "You will find that out, and his sermons are very long,
so don't live in his parish if you can help it. You'll have plenty of
church in any case, you poor Jimmy."

"Why 'poor Jimmy,' when you've just been congratulating me?"

Ethel gave an impatient little sigh. "I don't know, I'm sure. Now I've
done it I'm wondering if I was right. It's a big responsibility, and you
may both end by hating me ever after. Promise me you won't, Jimmy, do
promise that." Her voice had grown unusually earnest, and her eyes were
suspiciously bright.

"Of course I promise, Ethel," he said gravely. "But I don't think there
is much fear of my feeling anything except gratitude."

But Mrs. Grimmer was not satisfied. "I wish I had left it alone. I don't
know how it is, but you're not the old Jimmy any longer, and I can't
understand you. You're not half as happy as you ought to be under the
circumstances. Now, are you?"

He protested vigorously against the idea, and yet he left her so
entirely unconvinced that, instead of going to Vera, she sought out her
husband and had a good cry on his shoulder.

"I ought not to have done it, Billy," she sobbed. "If anything goes
wrong when it's too late, Jimmy will take it to heart so terribly. I
wish I wasn't responsible, but I am, and I can't deny it."

Billy tried to comfort her. "My dear, they seem happy enough over it. I
know Vera is very grateful to you."

Ethel shrugged her shoulders. "Vera! Oh, she would be happy, because she
doesn't feel very deeply. She never did about anything. It was always
the same with her when she was a child. But Jimmy is different. He's not
in love."

"Then why did he propose?" Billy retorted. "Was it her money?"

"No, no," Ethel repudiated the idea emphatically. "Jimmy is not that
sort. I think he proposed because he's been very miserable over
something, and Vera took his thoughts off his other troubles. But he
won't be happy."

There was no mistaking the conviction in her voice, and, for a moment,
even her husband was moved out of his usual good-humoured complacency;
but he soon recovered and tried to laugh away her fears, without,
however, achieving much success. She was not in a mood to be reassured,
although she contrived to put on a smiling face when she met the newly
engaged pair at dinner.

Vera was a little inclined to blush, but obviously happy. Jimmy, on the
other hand, was by turns silent, almost moody, and then feverishly
talkative. Vera seemed to notice nothing amiss--possibly she put it down
to natural excitement--but Ethel watched him with anxiety, which she
tried hard to conceal. As she said, the whole thing was her doing. She
had engineered it carefully, and she was, at least in matters like
these, a clever woman. True, once or twice, she felt a slight misgiving,
but she had made up her mind to succeed, and had brushed her fears
aside. Only when Jimmy came with the news that her scheme had become an
accomplished fact did she realise that match-making is a dangerous
occupation. He neither looked nor spoke like a lover who had just been
accepted, but rather like a man who sees the crisis of his life a little
way ahead of him, and is fearful of his own capacity to pass through it.

Vera was quite satisfied with Jimmy's farewell kiss. Had there been
passion in it she might have been frightened; but, as it was, the caress
he gave her seemed very sweet. She was very proud of this lover of hers,
of his undoubted cleverness, his good looks, and his powers of
conversation. It would be very pleasant to see his name on all the
bookstalls, to know that almost every other girl of her acquaintance
would envy her the possession of her author. So far, she had hardly
thought of marriage and its responsibilities; all that part seemed a
long way off, in the distant future, and, for the moment, she thought
only of the engagement. But as Jimmy walked home in the moonlight, Vera
Farlow was hardly in his mind at all; he was thinking of other kisses he
had given and received, and, try as he would, he could not drive out a
horrible feeling that, every time his lips touched Vera's, he was being
unfaithful to Lalage. It was absurd, wholly ridiculous, he told himself
so savagely; but still a sense of shame and ingratitude remained.
Lalage, who had suffered so much, and, as he realised now, had suffered,
too, for him, was in that shop, the sort of place where one could spend
one's whole life, and he was going to marry Vera Farlow, and cut the
last slender link between himself and the girl he had once loved, was
going to make her a last present, of money, and ask her not to write
again.

Jimmy let himself into the cottage, fully determined to go through with
the task there and then, to write the letter almost before he had time
to think, and to post it immediately. Yet dawn found him still sitting
at his desk with a pile of cigarette ends and an empty decanter on the
tray, and a blank sheet of paper in front of him. At last, he got up
with a sigh, extinguished the lamp, and stumbled wearily to bed. It was
not that the spirit had affected him--he felt he would have given
anything to have it do so--but he was utterly exhausted mentally, and,
the moment he lay down, he went into a heavy, dreamless sleep, which
lasted until ten o'clock.

When Jimmy awakened in the morning the first thing he remembered was
that he had promised to meet Vera at eleven. He would have no time for
breakfast, but that did not trouble him, as he would have eaten nothing
in any case. His meal, however, was not the only matter which would have
to be left over. He would only have just sufficient time to shave and
dress and walk up to Drylands; consequently, as he told himself with an
undeniable sense of relief, his letter to Lalage must be put off until
the evening, if not until the following day.

Vera did not seem to notice anything unusual in his appearance, or, if
she did, she made no remark on it; but when they met Ethel a little
later, that lady scanned his face anxiously, and took the first
opportunity of calling him aside.

"You didn't sleep, Jimmy. You're worrying about something," she said,
bluntly.

Jimmy made a rather unsuccessful attempt to laugh. "I'm taking on
responsibilities," he said. "I realise it now, and the letter to Canon
Farlow is still unwritten, although I must do it before the afternoon
post goes out. Vera had better help me, I think. Did you write to May?"

"Last night, after you had gone," Ethel answered. "It went by the
nine-thirty this morning, so May will know before she goes to bed
to-night." Then she went back to the subject of himself. "What is it you
are worrying about, Jimmy? Is it anything that I can help you with?"

He shook his head. "There's no trouble, really there isn't. What can
there be? Vera and I both know our own minds, and in another year's time
I ought to be making a decent income. You will be able to point us out
proudly as a couple whose happiness you secured."

He tried to speak lightly, but he did not convince her in the least;
though she put on a smile when Vera came out again.

"Jimmy hasn't written to your father yet, Vera," she said. "You had
better take him into the library now, and make him do it at once, or
else he'll keep on putting it off. I know his ways of old. He lacks all
his family's instinct for business-like promptitude. Now, his brother
Walter probably had all such letters ready, or at least drafted out,
before he proposed. Jimmy has none of the Grierson ways, as May will
doubtless tell you."

Vera frowned slightly. Sometimes Ethel's flippant speech jarred on her a
little. Family matters are treated as serious things in the household of
a canon who has relatives possessing influence; moreover, it was by no
means pleasant to be told that Jimmy was different from the Griersons.
It was almost an implied slur on his respectability. However, before she
had time to make any protest, Ethel had moved off, and Jimmy changed the
current of her thoughts by suggesting that the letter to Canon Farlow
had better be written at once, and she led the way into the library,
well pleased at the idea.

Possibly because the letter to Lalage would be so terribly difficult to
compose, Jimmy found that to his future father-in-law comparatively
easy. There was not much feeling in it perhaps--even Vera, who read it
with partial eyes, could not help noting the fact--but, after all, it
was in a sense a matter of business; and so she was able to find
consolation in its clear, incisive phrasing. She was glad when it was
finished, more glad still when they had strolled down to the pillar box
outside the gates, and dropped the envelope in it. Their relations were
on a definite footing now, and she had little doubt that her father
would be well pleased. Of course, Jimmy was still a poor man; he had
been perfectly frank on that point; but still he was making a name, and,
as he said, he would now have a still stronger incentive to work.
Altogether, she was quite satisfied with her prospects, and convinced
that she had done a wise thing in saying "Yes." Perhaps, somewhere at
the back of her mind, there was sense of disappointment, a feeling that
both she and her lover were wanting in enthusiasm; but, if she did
experience anything of the sort, she crushed it down resolutely, knowing
well that passion is closely allied to wickedness, if it is not even a
form of wickedness. She had been taught from childhood that sentiment is
of necessity either sinful or ridiculous, and that the basis of a
successful marriage--which was her people's phrase for a happy
marriage--is equality of position, combined with business instincts on
the part of the man. People in her world lived to get on; it was a
sacred duty with them; failure to do so was discreditable, almost
criminal, as she had often heard her mother say when engaged in district
visiting amongst the homes of the improvident poor. Jimmy would get on,
she fully believed that, especially when he had a sensible wife to help
him; moreover, he was both good looking and sweet natured; consequently,
she told herself that he was all she could have wished for. It had
never occurred to her that he might have a past, because neither the
Griersons, nor the Farlows, nor anyone in their world, ever had such
things. They seemed to live in a monotonous present of negative virtue,
wholly safe and solid. So she had asked him no questions, and he had
volunteered no confessions.

The day passed all too quickly for Jimmy, too quickly, not because he
was revelling in the society of his fiancée, but because each hour
brought him nearer the moment when he must write that final letter to
Lalage. He stayed later than usual, so late that Ethel had a hard task
to hide her yawns; but when, at last, he did go back to the cottage, he
made no attempt to carry out what had now become the most hateful task
of his life.

"It will do in the morning," he muttered as he turned out the lamp.



CHAPTER XXVIII


May looked up from Ethel's letter with a little cry of indignation.
"Jimmy is engaged to Vera Farlow, Henry! Did you ever hear of such a
thing! It seems the Grimmers have been staying quite close to Jimmy's
cottage, and Ethel had Vera down on purpose--at least I'm sure she did.
I had no idea they had met Jimmy. He never mentioned it in his last
letter, nor did Ethel when I met her in town."

Henry Marlow had put down the evening paper and was staring at his wife
solemnly. He scented trouble, possibly unpleasantness, and he was by no
means sure what course he would be expected to take. Had they been alone
it would have been different; but Ida was staying with them, and though
Marlow admired his sister-in-law greatly in the abstract, or at any rate
in a photograph, he was unaffectedly afraid of her, even in his own
house. So he said nothing when May read out Mrs. Grimmer's letter, only
shook his head twice, very gravely, and waited for Mrs. Fenton to speak.

Ida held out her hand in silence for the letter, which she read through
carefully, then, "It has been a deliberate plot on Ethel Grimmer's
part," she said. "She has gone out of her way to do it. I know she has
got fast and vulgar lately, smoking cigarettes and talking slang; but I
did not think she would do an immoral thing like this."

Henry, who really had a sneaking admiration for Mrs. Grimmer, went
rather red. "Oh, I say, Ida, that's going a little too far, isn't it?"
he began, but his sister-in-law exchanged a meaning glance with May, and
then cut him short.

"I beg your pardon, Henry. Have you forgotten Jimmy's conduct in town?
He is hardly the fit husband for an innocent young girl like Vera
Farlow; and, moreover, is he in a position to marry? He has no settled
income, and his only capital was the thousand pounds which Joseph was
foolish enough to leave him. I expect, too, that he has squandered that
already."

Henry got up abruptly. He had heard that legacy discussed until he
loathed the very mention of it; and now he had no intention of listening
whilst the whole matter was threshed out anew.

"Well, I'll leave you to talk it over whilst I go and have a smoke," he
said.

But his wife caught his sleeve. "Dear, you've had a cigar already this
evening, and you might stay and advise us now. We must make up our minds
what we are going to do."

Rather sulkily, Henry turned back, and went over to the fireplace,
where he leaned against the mantelpiece, and began to fidget with his
watch chain.

"I don't see what there is for you to do," he said. "It's an affair for
Miss Farlow and Jimmy to settle between them. Your brother has sown his
wild oats now, and he'll be steady enough."

May shook her head sadly. "I know you're very kind to him, dear, kinder
than he deserves; but we must not let our feelings stand in the way of
our duty. What do you say, Ida?"

Mrs. Fenton nodded. "We know that besides the affair of that creature in
town, Jimmy used to drink too much. Probably, he does still. We don't
want to have a scandal, and perhaps to have his wife and children
penniless on our hands."

Somehow, that night Henry Marlow's temper was not quite under control,
and his voice was distinctly sharp as he retorted, "Miss Farlow has
money of her own, at least two hundred a year, settled on her, so they
wouldn't starve. What is it you propose to do?"

"Tell Canon Farlow the truth, of course," Ida answered with asperity;
"then he can judge for himself. It will relieve us of responsibility in
the matter. It is the only thing we can do."

Marlow frowned. "It's not my idea of what is right. You know Jimmy left
this girl long ago. Why can't you forget it, and give him a chance to
start again?" He addressed himself almost pointedly to his wife; but May
shook her head.

"One can't forget in that way, Henry," she replied, gently; "at least
not in this case. It wouldn't be fair to Vera, knowing what we do about
Jimmy's instincts. No; Ida is right. We must certainly tell Canon
Farlow."

"But he's left the girl," Henry persisted; he had always liked Jimmy,
even if he had never understood him or been greatly interested in him;
moreover, the whole idea of writing to the prospective father-in-law was
repugnant to his ideas of fairness.

"How do you know he has really left her?" Ida asked coldly. "He has
deceived us before and may be deceiving us again. The only address he
has given us is his club, and this letter from Ethel is the first
intimation we have had as to where he was living. She may be there,
too."

Mr. Marlow laughed scornfully. "And under Ethel Grimmer's eyes? Hardly,
Ida. And, according to the character you give her, she is not likely to
allow him to get engaged to someone else. When did you hear of her
last?"

"Never, after she fled that night." It was May who answered. "I wish we
had been able to follow her up."

"Why?" Henry demanded. "I think you got pretty well revenged as it was."

Ida picked up her needlework again, rather ostentatiously. She had never
seen her brother-in-law in this combative mood before, and it made her a
little uneasy; but she was not going to let him see that fact, so she
answered even more coldly than before:

"There was no question of revenge, Henry. Really, the suggestion is a
little coarse, if May will forgive my saying so. Why we wished to find
her was for this reason. Gilbert"--she coloured rather becomingly as she
pronounced the name--Gilbert was Mr. Fugnell, Ethel's "Additional
Curate," to whom she had recently become engaged--"Gilbert is greatly
interested in a home for these people, where they do laundry work, and
so on, and he was very anxious to save her. He said they had several
vacancies, and they had been forced to refuse work for want of hands.
That, if you want to know, is why we were anxious to discover where she
had gone. It was entirely for her own good."

Marlow did not answer. He was a keen business man himself, and he liked
clear balance sheets, even from a charitable institution, but Mr.
Fugnell's charities issued no accounts at all. Moreover, of late a
certain weekly paper had been displaying a great deal of interest in
this very Home of which Ida was speaking, and only that day, coming down
in the train, Henry had been wondering whether he ought not to mention
the matter to Ida; but now he realised that his very advocacy of Jimmy's
claim to be left alone had practically rendered it impossible for him to
warn his sister-in-law. He would be doing the same thing he had
condemned in her. So he held his peace, and, by a kind of tacit consent,
the whole matter was dropped for the time being.

When Ida had gone up to bed, however, Marlow broached the question again
to his wife. "Don't you really think you had better leave Jimmy to
settle his own affairs, dear?" he said. "Just think how we should have
felt if anyone had come between us when we were engaged. I know it would
have sent me wrong altogether."

For a moment, May wavered; then she laid her hand on his arm very
tenderly. "You mustn't say that, Henry. I know you would never have done
anything you shouldn't do; and then, you see, you had no past to be
afraid of, which makes all the difference. No, I think Canon Farlow must
be told, so that he can investigate matters and judge for himself. Think
if there were a scandal after they were married, this other woman
making a fuss at the house, and perhaps causing them to separate. It
would ruin our position, too, and we must think of the children, even
though we were ready to take the risks ourselves. Really, sweetheart,
I'm right. Jimmy has only himself to blame."

Her husband sighed, then bent down and kissed her. "Well, I leave it to
you, May. He is your brother, not mine. But if this sends him wrong
again, you mustn't blame him too much. He will be very bitter with you
and Ida."

May's face grew hard again. "We cannot help it if he is. None of us
would agree to have the Grierson name dragged in the mud again."



CHAPTER XXIX


The news of Jimmy's engagement spread rapidly. Dr. Gregg heard it within
twenty-four hours, and mentioned it the same evening to Mrs. Richards,
the lady whose bow Jimmy had failed to acknowledge when he was coming
out of the hotel.

Mrs. Richards shook her head over the tidings. "I cannot say I am
pleased to hear it, Doctor. Mr. Grierson can be very nice, and I am told
he is very clever; but still I am sorry for Miss Farlow. He has an
unfortunate failing."

"Do you mean he drinks?" the doctor asked bluntly.

The lady nodded. "I, myself, have seen him under the influence of
liquor, before mid-day; and my maid tells me it's a common subject of
conversation amongst the lower classes in the town. I understand a great
many writers have the same weakness," she added, grimly.

Dr. Gregg snorted. "Nonsense, madam. When Grierson is married he will be
as steady as your own sons. I know him very well, and have a great
respect for him. The girl ought to be proud. He is going to make a big
name for himself; whilst as for the lower classes in this town, and the
upper classes as well, for that matter, their chief object in life seems
to be to make up and spread lying tales."

"Dr. Gregg, was more brusque than ever to-day," Mrs. Richards remarked
to her husband an hour later. "Really, he is such a bear that if one
could trust Dr. Hart I would have him instead. It's not nice to be
stormed at and practically called a scandalmonger, especially when I
know that what I was saying is true."

Her husband took her complaints lightly, remembering that only a year
before that same bear of a doctor had snatched their youngest child out
of the grip of death, and knowing well that, so long as the old man
remained in practice, his wife would take his word before that of the
most famous specialist in London. "What was the trouble with Gregg this
time, Kate?" he asked, smiling.

"It was over Miss Farlow's engagement," she answered. "I was saying that
I'm sorry for the girl, because I'm sure young Grierson drinks; and the
doctor got rude about it at once."

"Perhaps you were not very wise, because Grierson is a friend of his, as
well as a patient; but still, I am afraid what you said was true. I
don't know the man personally; but Bateman and Knowles and one or two
men who do know him say the same. I hear he's been better lately,
though, since the Grimmers took Drylands. Perhaps he was lonely, or
something like that. He knew very few people then, and it must have been
horribly dull for him."

"I don't see that there is any excuse in that." Mrs. Richards' voice was
unusually severe. "He could have known people if he liked. Mr. Button,
the vicar, called on him; but he's never been to church once in over a
year, at least he never went until Miss Farlow came on the scene."

Her husband smiled. "Perhaps she's converted him," he suggested.

But Mrs. Richards was in earnest. "Conversions of that sort never last,"
she went on. "He will be just as bad again after marriage, when the
novelty has worn off. I am sure I would never allow a man of that sort
to marry one of our daughters."

Mr. Richards smiled again. "You might mislead a stranger by that
statement, Kate, seeing that they are both married already."

Then the dinner gong sounded, and he straightway forgot all about the
matter; but his wife could not get it out of her mind. Her dearest girl
friend had married a man who had turned out to be an incurable
drunkard, and the tragedy of those two ruined lives came back to her
vividly, so vividly in fact that she determined to call at Drylands on
the following day, nominally to offer her congratulations to Vera
Farlow, really to see if she could not whisper a word of warning into
Mrs. Grimmer's ear.

"Mrs. Grimmer is not at home," the servant said, in answer to her
inquiry.

Mrs. Richards began to open her card case, then, acting on a sudden
resolution, she looked up again and asked, "Is Miss Farlow in?"

"Yes, madam," the maid answered.

Mrs. Richards closed her card case with a snap, and followed the maid
into the drawing-room.

Vera looked so happy that for a moment the visitor hesitated, then the
very innocence and gentleness of the girl strengthened her resolution,
clinched it, and she saw her path of duty more clearly than ever.
Deliberately, she sought for an opening.

"Have you known Mr. Grierson long?" she asked.

"Not very long, really," Vera answered. "I met him first nearly two
years ago, at dinner. But after that, I did not see him again until I
came down here with the Grimmers. Still, he's a very old friend of
Ethel's--Mrs. Grimmer, I mean--and his people are parishioners of my
father's."

"Does he often go down to see his people?" Mrs. Richards asked, a new
suspicion breaking on her mind.

Vera shook her head. "He's been so busy, you see; and it's a long way;
in fact, I don't think he has been there for over a year."

Mrs. Richards' last doubt had disappeared now. So Jimmy's people knew of
his failing and would not receive him in their homes. Evidently, it was
time that someone interfered to save this girl.

"It is sometimes a great risk marrying a very clever man. They are not
always too steady."

Vera, who was rather bored with her visitor, was staring out of the
window, wondering where Jimmy was, but now she looked round sharply, a
glint of anger in her eyes.

"I am not afraid of that in Mr. Grierson's case," she answered coldly.
"Perhaps he is one of the exceptions, that is, if the rule itself is not
one of those silly ideas people get hold of and insist on believing in
for no reason at all, except perhaps because they're jealous."

Mrs. Richards coloured slightly, but she did not take offence. Rather,
her heart went out in sympathy to this girl whose loyalty was likely to
be so ill repaid.

"My dear," she said very gently, "I came intending to warn you, because
I was afraid no one else would have the courage to tell you. No, don't
jump up. Let me finish. I am afraid, in fact, I am sure, that Mr.
Grierson has that very failing we referred to. It is a matter of common
knowledge here; and, though he may keep steady whilst you are about, I
am sorry to say that the very first day after you went away last time, I
myself saw him the worse for liquor."

Vera's first impulse was to do something theatrical, to ring for the
servants to turn this abominable woman out, to rush out herself and find
Jimmy and implore him to avenge the insult; but something in Mrs.
Richards' manner checked her, and in the end she listened in silence,
sitting very still with her hand in her lap.

When the other had done, she made one attempt at disbelief. "It's not
true, it's not true," she murmured, then she went on, "Oh, say it isn't
true. Do say so. Why did you come and tell me when I was so happy?"

There were tears in Mrs. Richards' eyes as she answered. "My dear, it's
better to know now than when it's too late, when your life is ruined. If
you want confirmation you had better make other inquiries. Ask Mr.
Grierson himself. He cannot deny it."

To Vera's own astonishment, she let the visitor kiss her before they
parted; in fact, she returned the kiss; and yet, when looking back on it
afterwards, it seemed quite natural, for no one could have doubted the
honesty of Mrs. Richards' purpose, even if they had doubted her
statements. But Vera doubted neither. She knew the accusation was true;
and when on Jimmy coming in a few moments later and finding her red-eyed
and white-faced, she taxed him with it, he recognised the futility of
denial, though he pleaded extenuating circumstances.

"I was miserable and lonely, and until I met you everything seemed to
have gone to pieces. It will never happen again, darling, really it
won't. You know that, don't you? surely you know it." He was fighting,
not only for her love, but for his whole future, his position in
society, the respect of his own class. If he lost her, he felt he would
lose everything else which a Grierson holds dear. He would never have
the heart to make another try.

"I don't know," she sighed at last. "I had such faith in you, and this
has been such an awful shock. Oh, Jimmy, Jimmy, I could never have
believed it."

Even in his misery, it struck him that she had believed it, very
readily, and a hint of anger came into his bearing. After all, his
promise of reformation, or rather the fact that he had already reformed,
should have some weight with her. But she was judging him by the past,
in which she had had no part. Still, he spoke gently, pleadingly.

"Vera, dear, you must forgive me. It will never happen again now that I
have you to look after me. You will keep me straight."

But he struck the wrong chord, and she looked up almost indignantly.
"You ought to be manly enough to keep straight by yourself, you ought
never to have sunk as you have done. There can be no excuse for it, none
whatever."

"And no forgiveness?" he asked very quietly. She covered her face with
her hands again. "Oh, I don't know, I don't know. Everything seems so
dreadful, and I shall be afraid to trust you. Go away now, and let me
think it over quietly."

"Very well. I will come back after dinner. Meet me down by the
summer-house." There was something masterful in his tone, and for a
moment she felt inclined to obey; then her sense of injury came to her
aid, and she shook her head.

"No, to-morrow morning at the earliest. I cannot decide so quickly."

Jimmy took his hat off the table. "Good-bye, then. I will come
to-morrow morning." And he left the room without another word. As the
door closed behind him, Vera stood up, straightened her hair in front of
the glass on the mantelpiece, dabbed the tears out of her eyes with her
handkerchief, and then went upstairs, holding her head rather erect, but
otherwise showing no sign of emotion.

Jimmy filled his pipe whilst he went down the front steps, and as he
rammed the tobacco into the bowl he noticed, with a cynical little
smile, that his hand was perfectly steady. In his heart he did not
believe that the quarrel would prove final, that she would break off the
engagement on the grounds of his past failings. It was just a passing
cloud, he told himself. Both of them would have been more upset had
their love affair come to a sudden and abrupt close. He remembered how
he had felt when he had parted from Lalage, the fever and the agony of
it, the sense of utter desolation and hopelessness. And from that he
came to think of Lalage herself. She had never turned on him because he
drank. Far otherwise. The knowledge had made her more tender, more
watchful over his comfort, more anxious to shield him from worries which
might drive him into the power of his enemy. She had never blamed him,
even by implication. And why? He knew the answer only too well. Because
she had loved him. Now the fever, which the parting from Vera had failed
to arouse, came on him again. His pipe went out, and, unconsciously, he
quickened his steps, as was his way when deeply stirred.

Lalage loved him. Lalage loved him too well to turn on him. The words
drummed through his brain with maddening persistency; and then, as a
corollary to them, came the questions, "Did Vera love him well enough to
take the risk, to give him a chance to run straight? Was he always to be
the Black Sheep, and herd with others of his kind?"



CHAPTER XXX


It was only a couple of hours after Jimmy had left Vera that the
chauffeur from Drylands brought him a note in Mrs. Grimmer's sprawling
handwriting.

"It will be all right," Ethel wrote. "Vera has agreed to take the
sensible view, and let you show outward and visible signs of reformation
during your engagement. So you must be very good, and, if you can, even
pious. Come up to lunch to-morrow with a jaunty air as though nothing
had happened."

Jimmy heaved a sigh of relief as he folded up the note and thrust it
into his pocket. So the crisis was safely over, after all. Straightway
he began to make excuses for Vera, her youth, her inexperience, the
atmosphere in which she had been reared; yet he could not help
remembering that Lalage was younger, by a year at least, and that her
chances of gaining experience at home had been far smaller, and still
Lalage had understood him and tried to help him, whilst Vera was only
taking him as an offender on probation.

The latter was not pleasant thought, especially as the final letter to
Lalage remained unwritten. He had intended to do it that night, had
really made up his mind to do it; but now this scene with Vera seemed to
have shaken his nerves, and he felt he could stand no more strain until
he had had a good sleep. There was really no immediate hurry for a day
or two. Both his letters to Lalage and her letters to him were so brief
and so few in number that no one could object to the correspondence. So,
in the end, he went to bed, moderately satisfied with his own prospects,
having written nothing at all.

Jimmy got up in the morning with a certain sense of relief in his mind.
He was rather glad now that Vera did know something of his past
failings; it was better for her to understand, and to forgive, than for
him to live with the fear of exposure ever in his thoughts. Their little
quarrel, if quarrel it could be called, would serve a useful purpose in
clearing the air; and now there would be no more trouble. He would soon
reassure her by giving positive proofs of reformation. Moreover, he
could write to Lalage that night, after making, his peace with Vera.

The morning postman brought nothing more interesting than a receipted
laundry bill, which Jimmy tossed angrily on to the desk. He had been
expecting a letter of congratulation from May, in fact, he had looked
to receive it twenty-four hours previously, and its non-arrival worried
him a little. He had been hoping that the news of his engagement would
have led to a treaty of peace with his family, being, as it was,
significant of his surrender to the Grierson ideals. Surely May would
see that he had sown his wild oats, and was ready, eager even, to marry
into a respectable family and live respectably.

His breakfast finished, Jimmy glanced through his newspapers, at the
same time keeping a look-out for the second postman; but when the latter
did come down the road he hurried by without even glancing at the
cottage. Obviously, he had nothing to deliver. Jimmy got up abruptly, a
frown on his face. They might have written to him, and have offered
their congratulations. He had given in to their ideas completely now;
his engagement was in itself tacit recognition of the code of the
Griersons, and he could not understand why the family should still
harbour bitterness against him. Surely he had suffered enough for his
revolt. But May and Ida and Walter had always been the same, obstinate,
self-satisfied, regarding everything he did as necessarily wrong. In the
world of men who thought, Jimmy knew that he, himself, was quickly
gaining a position, and that his wife would also have a position,
through him; but his family gauged position by the standard of the
pass-book, the only book it considered of any permanent importance. The
successful business man was respectable by virtue of his success; it
made little difference whether he had grown rich as a banker, a
merchant, or a member of a County Council committee; but the man who
lived by his brains it regarded with suspicion, as one who made an
income without possessing capital.

Jimmy was in a bitter mood. The little matter of the delayed letter had
brought out that alien streak in him again, and once more he saw the
Griersons as he had seen them in the early days of his return,
unsympathetic, prejudiced, almost smug. He had been striving hard to win
their approval. He had given up Lalage; he had written only things of
which they could approve; he had become engaged to a girl essentially of
their world, and now----

A sharp knock on the door brought him to his feet, and he opened the
latch to find the ragged little girl, who generally acted as telegraph
boy, holding out a yellow envelope. "Any answer, sir?" she chanted.

Jimmy read the message through. It was from Canon Farlow, and had been
despatched at the London terminus. "Meet me on the station at
twelve-thirty. Most important," it said.

Jimmy crushed the paper up, and thrust it into his pocket. "No answer,
thanks," he said, then he glanced at the clock. He had an hour and a
half still to wait. For a moment he thought of going up to Drylands
first, to see if Vera too had heard, but he put the idea aside
immediately after. Already, he had scented trouble. There must be
something very serious to have brought the Canon back from Switzerland
in such a hurry, and he preferred to see it through alone, to keep Vera
out of it, if possible.

He was on the station platform a little early, in fact, he had time for
several drinks in the refreshment-room before the train came in; then,
rather to his surprise, he found the Drylands' chauffeur also waiting at
the barrier.

The Canon, a portly man, clean shaven, and obviously prosperous, emerged
from a first-class carriage with a bag in one hand and a rug on the
other arm. Perhaps for that reason, he did not offer to shake hands with
Jimmy; but even when the chauffeur had hurried forward for his things,
he had made no attempt to remedy the omission.

"Good morning, Mr. Grierson," he said. "I am glad to see you received
my telegram. Yes, Jones," to the chauffeur, "put those in the motor-car,
and kindly wait for me. I shall be going up shortly. And please put the
hood up, if possible.

"Now, Mr. Grierson, is there anywhere we can talk. I have a few
questions of a rather serious nature, of a distinctly serious nature, I
might say, to ask you."

Jimmy, now fully convinced that his theory of trouble ahead was right,
pulled himself together to meet it. The Canon's manner had already
aroused his antagonism, and he was in no mood to submit tamely.

"We can talk in there, if you like," he answered, nodding towards the
refreshment-room. "I see the waiting-rooms are occupied."

The Canon frowned, thinking he detected a hint of flippancy in the
younger man's manner. "I said it was a serious matter," he replied,
severely, "and a public bar is hardly the place for discussion, hardly
the place I should be likely to visit in any case." He glanced along the
platform, which was already deserted. "I think we will walk up that
direction, if you please."

Jimmy, now thoroughly nettled, took out his case and lighted a cigarette
with rather ostentatious coolness, waiting for the other to begin.

At last when they got to the open end of the platform, Canon Farlow
cleared his voice with a little cough which he had often found most
effective on solemn occasions. "I understand from your letter that you
have proposed marriage to my daughter, Vera."

Jimmy corrected him quietly. "I am engaged to Miss Farlow. I am sorry if
I didn't make that quite clear to you."

If men in his position did such things, the Canon would have snorted; as
it was, however, he remembered his dignity in time. "Pardon me, Mr.
Grierson, my daughter knows better than to accept a proposal of marriage
from any man without my permission. Anything she may have said was
provisional, simply provisional, until I, myself, had made inquiries. I
regret to say now that what I have learnt about you is greatly to your
discredit, terribly so. I have had a letter from your sister, Mrs.
Fenton."

Jimmy was pale already, and he went, if possible, a shade paler, with
anger; but he spoke very calmly. "Yes, and what does Ida say about me?
Something pleasant, surely."

Hitherto the Canon had spoken more in sorrow than in wrath, but now he
began to lose his temper; he was not accustomed to being treated
lightly. "Something most unpleasant on the other hand," he snapped.
"Something which, if true, as I believe it to be, renders you totally
unfit to associate with an innocent young girl like my daughter. Mrs.
Fenton informs me that a little while ago you were living a most
scandalous life in London."

Jimmy knew that his case was hopeless. He had been betrayed, and had
already been judged, unheard. Still, he made one last attempt at
defence. "It was over a year ago, and I have never seen her since. I
have run straight enough since the time I left London; and I know I
should be true to your daughter."

"You admit it is correct, then?" The canon gave the sigh he reserved for
the convicted sinner. "And where is this woman now?"

The colour came back to Jimmy's face, suddenly. "That I shall not tell
you, or anybody else," he answered curtly.

"Do you still keep up a correspondence with her?"

Jimmy realised that the question was the fatal one. For a moment he
thought of explaining, of going into details as to how he was going to
break the last slender tie, of pleading all the extenuating
circumstances, of appealing for a chance to prove his reformation; then
he glanced at his companion, and knew there was no mercy in his face.
"Yes, I still correspond with her," he replied quietly.

The Canon's wrath blazed out. "And yet you dare propose marriage to my
daughter. You are a debased profligate, sir, absolutely unfit for any
respectable people to know. You, you----" he spluttered a little, "you
are a positive danger to society. The idea of keeping up communication
with a vile creature like that, and expecting to marry my daughter." He
was snorting in earnest now.

Jimmy's eyes had grown dangerously bright. "I allow no one to call my
friends vile creatures, not even a man who is supposed to be a preacher
of charity and good will. Whatever Miss Penrose has been in the past,
she has led a perfectly good life since we parted, and I respect her as
much as I respect any other woman living." He spoke proudly, defiantly,
looking the cleric full in the face.

For a moment Canon Farlow was speechless, then he attempted to take
refuge in scorn. "If you are really so foolish as to believe that those
creatures ever reform----" he began.

But Jimmy cut him short sternly. "You have said more than enough
already. Good morning." He turned on his heel and went a couple of
steps, then something struck him and he faced round again. "May I
venture one suggestion? Next time you preach you might take as your
text, 'He amongst you who is without sin, let him throw the first
stone,'" and he stalked down the platform, leaving the canon bereft of
even a trace of his well-known pulpit manner.



CHAPTER XXXI


Jimmy did not attempt to go back to the cottage. Instead, he walked very
slowly up the street towards the hotel, the door of which he was just
entering when the Grimmer motor-car dashed past with the Canon sitting
very erect in the tonneau. As a matter of fact, that grave personage had
eventually entered the refreshment-room, feeling he needed something to
steady his nerves after such a trying interview. True, the brandy did
restore him a little, but the memory of Jimmy's words remained. He never
forgot them, and, as his wrath subsided, they began to affect him in
another way, making him ask himself whether, after all, he had read some
of his Master's words aright. As time went by, the matter troubled him
more and more--it is always a serious thing when a man past middle age,
and a dignitary of the Church at that, begins to think--and when, a year
later, Vera became engaged to the son of one of his own church-wardens,
a young City man of exemplary life and undoubted wealth, he was
conscious of a distinct sense of disappointment. He would have liked a
son-in-law who would have understood his new point of view. He married
them himself, in the blatantly new church with the sprawling texts round
the chancel arch; and the world, his world, congratulated him. But on
the following Sunday he preached a sermon which shocked his congregation
beyond measure, and really cost him that bishopric; for he took Jimmy's
suggested text, and argued, with an eloquent fire, quite alien to his
nature, that if the Master was ready to forgive, His followers must do
the same.

Ida voiced the opinion of a good part of the congregation, when she
said, on the way home after the service, "Poor Canon Farlow! It is too
terrible. The excitement of the wedding must have unhinged his mind."

But her new husband, Mr. Tugnell, himself a candidate for orders, the
owner of the living having promised that he should succeed the canon,
expressed the more general view, when he said sharply, "Nonsense, my
dear, the man had been drinking. Anyone could see that."

And Ida agreed, as she did to everything Mr. Tugnell said. Even when he
had suggested that she should settle half of Joseph Fenton's hard-earned
money on himself she had consented, knowing that he was a
philanthropist, and therefore would use it well.

May Farlow, on the other hand, grieved honestly for the canon, and
still retained sittings in the parish church, though she usually took
the children to the chapel-of-ease, "where is an old friend of ours,"
she said, "and I'm not going to turn my back on him. There are always
two sides to a question after all, and I want to hear both. Perhaps
we've been wrong in some things, Ida. At any rate, now that my children
are growing up, I want more than ever to be right, so that I can guide
them, and prevent them from making mistakes. Sometimes I think we were
too severe in the past."

       *       *       *       *       *

Jimmy hardly noticed the canon passing him. His mind was too full of
other things. Vera was lost to him, he knew that, and, somehow, the fact
troubled him little. With her, also, he had lost all present chance of
going back to the Grierson world, of becoming a true and complete
Grierson again, and curiously enough, that troubled him equally little.
He had ceased to have the slightest desire for such a thing. A black
sheep himself, he preferred to herd with his kind.

His first feeling had been one of bitter wrath against his sisters. They
had betrayed him; they had thrust him back again when he was trying to
pull himself up; they were keeping him down, keeping him at a distance
for fear he should damage their position. And then his anger seemed to
pass away, and he laughed, first at them, then at himself. What did he
care about position, what did he care about Vera Farlow, what did he
care about anything--except Lalage?

He knew it now. He knew why his engagement had made him so utterly
miserable, knew why he had been unable to write that final letter to
Lalage. There was only one place in the world he wanted to be--where
Lalage was; only one object in life for him--to make Lalage happy, and
by so doing wipe out all memory of his intended unfaithfulness to her.

But would she have him back now, would she forgive his coldness and his
neglect, above all his repudiation of her in the London days? Did she
still love him, as he knew she had done once, love him enough to forgive
and forget, love him as he loved her? The thought drove everything else
out of his mind. Vera, her father, his sisters, all seemed to belong to
some distant past with which he now had no connection. His bitterness
against Ida and May, his anger against the canon, his first feeling of
grief, or rather of wounded pride, when he learnt that Vera was lost to
him--these were as nothing compared to the fear that Lalage would refuse
him. He was like a man who had awakened from a long sleep full of
dreams to find that, whilst he had slumbered, a deadly peril had come
down on him, a peril which could be averted only by immediate action.

Jimmy had ordered a drink, more or less mechanically, as a tribute
levied by the house; but he pushed it away untasted.

"I'm going to be absolutely sober when I do this," he muttered, then
went back into the hall, where he spent five minutes poring over a
timetable, following the trains down the lines of figures with a finger
which trembled slightly. Every hour seemed of supreme importance now.
Had he not been in dreamland for over a year? At last he found his
trains. He had three hours to wait in the town, two hours in London; but
he would finally arrive in the little Yorkshire town about half-past
seven in the morning, before Lalage had started work in that hateful
little shop.

There was no need for him to write the trains down. Their times of
departure were already graven on his memory; all he had to do now was
cross the road to the post-office and wire to Lalage. He was cool again,
a perfectly normal man. All his anger and his excitement had gone; but,
none the less, he did not hesitate a moment over taking what might be,
what he hoped would be, an irrevocable step.

An hour later, the kindly, grey-bearded old draper beckoned Lalage into
his private office. "There's a wire for you, Miss Penrose," he said.

Lalage opened the envelope with trembling fingers--only one person in
the world would wire to her--then she swayed a little and gripped the
table for support, as she read, "Meet me at the station half-past seven
to-morrow morning. Jimmy."

The draper was watching her anxiously. "No bad news, I hope," he said.

She looked at him with a smile which reassured him instantly. "No, it's
good news, the best of good news," she answered.

When she had gone out the old man shook his head sadly. His own wife had
died thirty years before, and he had passed nearly half of his life in
waiting for the meeting on the other side; so he knew what that smile
meant. Only a man, and the right man, can bring it to a woman's lips.

When Jimmy left the post-office he went straight back to the cottage.
The fear of meeting any of the Drylands people did not worry him in the
least. They all belonged to the dream, even Ethel, and now he had got
back to the reality. Yet, when he opened the door and found a note from
Mrs. Grimmer lying on the floor, he did not feel a twinge of uneasiness,
dreading reproaches from her, as his hostess.

But Ethel wrote kindly. "Don't take it to heart too much, dear old boy.
It was a nasty trick for Ida to play you, although just what I should
have expected from her or May. As for the canon, I am afraid I have
offended him mortally by sticking up for you. Vera is hopelessly weak. I
was never more disappointed in anyone in my life. Still, after all, it
was a mistake, and you would have never been happy. Take comfort from
that, and don't do anything rash."

Jimmy read it through a second time, then tore it up. Ethel was a good
sort, but if he did what he hoped to do, she would probably say he had
disregarded her advice and acted rashly. So she, too, had better become
part of the dream and be forgotten, which is the proper fate of dreams
and dream-people.

It did not take him long to pack his bag and shut up the cottage;
consequently, he had plenty of time to catch his train; but on this
occasion he did not go into the refreshment-room. He needed no stimulant
to keep him going now. If she refused to hear him it might be different;
but until he saw her he was going to touch nothing. He would speak
deliberately, in cold blood.

For a moment, when he came out of the terminus, London affected him as
it had done on the night of his home-coming; but the feeling passed
immediately, and the town became simply one stage on his journey to
Lalage. Moreover, as he drove across to the other terminus, he felt none
of that sickness at heart which he had dreaded so greatly, which had
made him avoid the place as a plague spot. All the old memories seemed
to have lost their bitterness. The women in the streets had not the
slightest kinship with Lalage. His jealousy of the past had vanished,
the hateful thoughts which had once gone nigh to driving him mad had
lost all their power, and now the only thing in his mind was the fear
that the new Lalage, which was the real Lalage, would not risk joining
her life to his again.

As the train came into the station he saw her standing there, tall, very
pale, and, as he thought, looking even more beautiful than ever in her
plain black dress. She was the only person on the platform, just as he
was the only passenger to alight; but, seeing the look in her eyes, it
would have been the same had there been a crowd.

"Lalage," he said, and took her in his arms.

When she disengaged herself, blushing, for the ticket collector had just
come out, she scanned his face eagerly, and then the colour left her
cheek again.

"Jimmy, oh, Jimmy, dear, you look so ill. Hasn't anyone taken care of
you all these months?"

He laughed happily, knowing now that everything was well. "I will tell
you all about it by and by." Then he stopped, regardless of the
indignant glances of the ticket collector, who was thinking of his
cooling breakfast. "Shall I send my bag to the hotel, or shall I leave
it here?"

She understood his meaning. "Send it to the hotel," she answered in a
low voice.

Nothing more was said until they were clear of the station yard, then,
"Where can we go and have a quiet talk?" he asked.

For answer she led him into a little public park near by. It was
deserted at that hour, and he got the chance to speak at once.

"Lalage," he said in a tone she hardly recognised, "I've broken my
promise to you. I've been ruining my health with liquor, trying to
forget you; and I've been engaged to another woman. I know you're
infinitely too good for me in every way; but I've come to ask you to
marry me, not in the distant future, but now, at once, as soon as I can
get a licence."

She stood very still, and, for a few seconds, he feared he had come too
late, then she spoke haltingly. "Jimmy, I'm afraid ... after the past
... that you wouldn't trust me. And that would be even worse than this."

He took her hand. "Lalage, dearest, there's no question of that now,
there can be no question of it when we're married. You say no one has
taken care of me. Won't you do it, sweetheart, and save me from myself?"

She looked at him with shining eyes. "You haven't said yet why you want
to marry me, Jimmy."

Once more he took her in his arms unresisting. "Because I love you,
dearest, because you're everything in this wide world to me, because I
honour you and trust you above all women, and because life would not be
worth living unless I had you as my wife."

THE END





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