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Title: Bird of Paradise
Author: Leverson, Ada, 1862-1933
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 "Bird of Paradise" ***

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



BIRD OF PARADISE

by

ADA LEVERSON



Grant Richards Ltd. 1914



TO ERNEST



CONTENTS

    Chapter                                         Page

        I EXCUSES                                      9

       II LADY KELLYNCH                               25

      III NIGEL                                       38

       IV RUPERT AT RUMPELMEYER'S                     49

        V A HAPPY HOME                                63

       VI FUTURISM                                    77

      VII RUSSIAN BALLET                              90

     VIII PERCY                                       95

       IX AN ANONYMOUS LETTER                        110

        X MASTER CLIFFORD KELLYNCH                   120

        XI A DISCOVERY                               129

       XII A LOVE SCENE                              142

      XIII RECONCILIATION                            150

       XIV "TANGO"                                   155

        XV CLIFFORD'S HISTORICAL PLAY                163

       XVI A SECOND PROPOSAL                         167

      XVII MORE ABOUT RUPERT                         172

     XVIII "A SPECIAL FAVOUR"                        177

       XIX A DEVOTED WIFE                            184

        XX RUPERT AGAIN                              192

       XXI THE HILLIERS' ENTERTAINMENT               196

      XXII BERTHA AT HOME                            202

     XXIII NIGEL'S LETTER                            205

      XXIV LADY KELLYNCH AT HOME                     210

       XXV MRS. PICKERING                            219

      XXVI NEWS FROM VENICE                          227

     XXVII ANOTHER ANONYMOUS LETTER                  232

    XXVIII AN INTERVIEW                              237

      XXIX NIGEL AND MARY                            245

       XXX MISS BELVOIR                              256

      XXXI MARY'S PLAN                               263

     XXXII PRIVATE FIREWORKS AT THE PICKERINGS'      267

    XXXIII NIGEL ABROAD                              284

     XXXIV MOONA                                     289

      XXXV TWO WOMEN                                 300

     XXXVI PLAIN SAILING                             313



CHAPTER I

EXCUSES


Poor Madeline came into the room a little flustered and hustled, with
papers in her muff. She found Bertha looking lovely and serene as usual.

Madeline Irwin was a modern-looking girl of twenty-three; tall, thin,
smart and just the right shape; not pretty, but very sympathetic, with
thick dark hair and strongly marked eyebrows, a rather long and narrow
face, delicately modelled, a clear white complexion, and soft, sincere
brown eyes.

Bertha--Mrs. Percy Kellynch--was known as a beauty. She was indeed
improbably pretty, small, plump and very fair, with soft golden hair
that was silky and yet fluffy, perfectly regular little features, and a
kind of infantine sweetness, combined with an almost incredible
cleverness that was curious and fascinating. She was of a type remote
equally from the fashion-plate and the suffragette, and was so
physically attractive that one could hardly be near her without longing
to put out a finger and touch her soft, fair face or her soft hair; as
one would like to touch a kitten or a pretty child. And yet one felt
that it would not be an entirely safe thing to do; like the child or the
kitten she might scratch or run away. But it is probable that a large
average of her acquaintance had been weak enough--or strong enough--to
give way to the temptation and take the risk.

This charming little creature sat in a room furnished in clear, pale
colours--that was pink, white and blonde like herself. Madeline sat down
without greeting her, saying in a scolding voice, as she rustled a
letter:

"He's refused again ... more excuses ... always, always excuses!"

"Well, all the better; excuses are a form of compliment. I'd far rather
have a lot of apology and attenuation than utter coolness," said Bertha
consolingly. She had a low, even voice, and rarely made a gesture. Her
animation was all in her eyes. They were long, bluish-grey, with dark
lashes, and very expressive.

"Oh, you'd _like_ a man to write and say that he couldn't come to dinner
because it was his mother's birthday, and he always dined with her on
that occasion, and besides he was in deep mourning, and had influenza,
and was going to the first night at the St. James's, and was expecting
some old friends up from the country to stay with him, and would be out
of town shooting at the time?"

"Certainly; so much inventive ingenuity is most flattering. Don't you
think it's better than to say on the telephone that he wouldn't be able
to come that evening as he wouldn't be able to; and then ring off?" said
Bertha.

"Rupert would never do that! He's intensely polite; politeness is
ingrained in his nature. I'm rather hopeless about it all; and yet when
I think how sometimes when I speak to him and he doesn't answer but
gives that slight smile ..."

"How well I know that slight, superior smile--discouraging yet spurring
you on to further efforts! ... Rupert--Rupert! What a name! How can
people be called Rupert? It isn't done, you're not living in a
_feuilleton_, you must change the man's name, dear."

"Indeed I sha'n't! Nonsense; it's a beautiful name! Rupert Denison! It
suits him; it suits me. Bertha, you can't deny it's a handsome, noble
face, like a Vandyke portrait of Charles I, or one of those people in
the National Gallery. And he must take a certain amount of interest in
me, because he wants me to learn more, to be more cultured. He's so
accomplished! He knows simply everything. The other day he sent me a
book about the early Italian masters."

"Did he, though? How jolly!"

"A little volume of Browning, too--that tiny edition, beautifully
bound."

Bertha made an inarticulate sound.

"And you know he found out my birthday, and sent me a few dark red roses
and Ruskin's Stones of Venice."

"Nothing like being up to date," said Bertha. "Right up to the day after
to-morrow! Rupert always is. How did he find out your birthday?"

"How do you suppose?"

"I can't think. By looking in _Who's Who?_--going to Somerset House or
the British Museum?"

"How unkind you are! Of course not. No--I told him."

"Ah, I thought perhaps it was some ingenious plan like that. I should
think that's the way he usually finds out things--by being told."

"Bertha, why do you sneer at him?"

"Did I?--I didn't mean to. Why does he behave like a belated
schoolmaster?"

"Behave like a--oh, Bertha!"

Madeline was trying to be offended, but she could not succeed. It was
nearly impossible to be angry with Bertha, when she was present. There
were many reasons for this. Bertha had a small arched mouth, teeth that
were tiny and white and marvellously regular, a dimple in her left
cheek, long eyelashes that gave a veiled look to the eyes, and a
generally very live-wax-dollish appearance which was exceedingly
disarming. There was a touch, too, of the china shepherdess about her.
But, of course, she was not really like a doll, nor remote from life;
she was very real, living and animated; though she had for the
connoisseur all the charm of an exquisite _bibelot_ that is not for
sale.

       *       *       *       *       *

Bertha was twenty-eight, but looked younger than her age. Madeline might
have been her senior. Under this peachlike appearance, and with the
premeditated _naïveté_ of her manner, she was always astonishing people
by her penetration and general ingenuity; she was at once very quick and
very deep--quick especially to perceive and enjoy incongruities, and
deep in understanding them; extremely observant, and not in the least
superficial. Almost her greatest interest was the study of character;
she had an intellectual passion for going below the surface, and finding
out the little _coins inédits_ of the soul. She was rather unpractical,
but only in execution, and she had the gift of getting the practical
side of life well done for her, not letting it be neglected. Her
bonbonnière of a drawing-room seemed to be different from ordinary
rooms, though one hardly knew in what; partly from the absence of
superfluities; and somehow after many a triumph over the bewilderment of
a sulky yet dazzled decorator, Bertha had contrived, in baffling him, to
make the house look distinguished without being unconventional; dainty
without being artificial; she had made it suit her perfectly and, what
was more, the atmosphere was reposeful. Her husband always besought her
to do anything on earth she wished in her own home, rather in the same
way that one would give an intelligent canary _carte blanche_ about the
decoration of what was supposed to be its cage.

Percy Kellynch, the husband--he was spoken of as the husband (people
said: "Is that the husband?" or "What's the husband like?")--was a
rather serious-looking barrister with parliamentary ambitions, two mild
hobbies (which took the form of Tschaikowsky at the Queen's Hall and
squash rackets at the Bath Club), a fine forehead, behind which there
was less doing than one would suppose, polished manners, an amiable
disposition and private means.

For Madeline's sake, Bertha was interested in Rupert Denison, and
determined to understand him. When she reached bedrock in her friends,
it was not unusual for her to grow tired of them. But she was gentle and
considerate even to the people who left her cold; and when she really
cared for anyone, she was loyal, passionate and extraordinarily
tenacious.

       *       *       *       *       *

"A schoolmaster!" repeated Madeline rather dismally. "Well! perhaps
there may be just a touch of that in Rupert. When I'm going to see him I
do feel rather nervous and a little as if I was going up for an exam."

"Well, let's say a holiday tutor," conceded Bertha. "He _is_ so
educational!"

"At any rate, he bothers about what I ought and oughtn't to know; he
pays me _some_ attention!"

"The only modern thing about him is his paying you so little," said
Bertha. "And, Madeline, we mustn't forget that young men are very
difficult to get hold of nowadays--for girls. Everyone complains of it.
Formerly they wouldn't dance, but they'd do everything else. Now,
dancing's the only thing they will do. People are always making bitter
remarks to me about it. There's not the slightest doubt that, except for
dancing, young men just now, somehow or other, are scarce, wild and
shy. And the funny thing is that they'll two-step and one-step and
double-Boston and Tango the whole evening, but that's practically all.
Oh, they're most unsatisfactory! Lots of girls have told me so. And as
to proposals! Why, they're the _rarest_ thing! Even when the modern
young man is devoted you can't be sure of serious intentions, except, of
course, in the Royal Family, or at the Gaiety."

"Well, _I_ don't care! I'm sure I don't want all these silly dancing
young men. They bore me to death. Give me _culture_! and all that sort
of thing. Only--only Rupert! ... Very often after he's refused an
invitation, like this of mother's, he'll write and ask me to have tea
with him at Rumpelmeyer's, or somewhere; and then he'll talk and talk
the whole time about ... oh, any general instructive subject."

"For instance?"

"Oh ... architecture!"

"How inspiriting!"

"But does it all mean anything, Bertha?"

"I almost think it must," she answered dreamily. "No man could take a
girl out to eat ices and talk of the cathedral at Rouen, or discuss
Pointed Gothic and Norman arches over tea and bread and butter, without
_some_ intentions. It wouldn't be human."

"It's quite true he always seems to take a good deal for granted,"
remarked Madeline.

"But not enough."

"Exactly!"

"Rupert would make a very good husband--if you could stand him," said
Bertha meditatively; "he's one of those thoroughly well-informed people
who never know what is going on."

"If I could _stand_ him! Why, Bertha! I'd work my fingers to the bone,
and lay down my life for him!"

"He doesn't want your life, and, probably, not bony fingers either, but
he'll want incense swung, _all_ the time, remember; and always in front
of him only. He won't be half as good-natured and indulgent as Percy."

"Of course, Percy's very sweet, and kind and clever, and devoted to
you," said Madeline, "but I always feel that it would have been more
your ideal to have married your first love, Nigel; and far more
romantic, too. He's so good-looking and amusing, and how delightfully he
sings Debussy!"

"Nigel! Oh, nonsense. There's no one more really prosaic. Debussy,
indeed! I met him with his wife the other night at the opera and he
introduced us. My dear, she's got flat red hair, an aigrette, a
turned-up nose, a receding chin and long ear-rings; and she's quite
young and very dowdy: the sort of dowdiness that's rather smart. She
loathed me--that is to say, we took a mutual dislike, and a
determination never to meet again, so strong that it amounted to a kind
of friendship; we tacitly agreed to keep out of each other's way. I
suppose there's such a thing as a sort of comradeship in aversion,"
Bertha added thoughtfully.

"Oh, Bertha, fancy anybody disliking you!"

"It's only because Nigel had told her, _in camera_, that he was in love
with me once, and that we were almost engaged."

"Did he say who broke it off?"

"Yes, I should think he told the truth--that he did--but he didn't
mention the real reasons, that he was horribly hard up and saw a chance
of marrying an heiress. I daresay, too, that he said no other woman
would ever be quite the same to him again, for fear Mrs. Nigel should be
too pleased. Nigel is nice and amusing and he's sometimes very useful.
He thinks he treated me badly, and really has got to appreciate me
since, and as he knows I'm utterly indifferent to him now, he's devoted,
I mean as a friend--he'll do anything on earth for me. He has absolutely
nothing to do, you see; it's a kindness to employ him."

"What do you give him to do?"

"It depends. This time I've told him to get hold of Rupert and ask us
all three--I mean you, and me and Rupert--to dine and go to some play.
It would be so much less ceremonious than asking Rupert here, with
Percy."

"Oh, darling Bertha, you're an angel! I always said Nigel was charming.
What about Mrs. Nigel, and Percy?"

"Don't worry; that shall be arranged. Their rights shall not be ignored,
nor their interests neglected! Percy's little finger is worth all Nigel.
Still, Nigel has his good points; he might help us in this. There are so
many things he can do, he's so _fin_--and adaptable, and diplomatic.
That young brother of his, Charlie, is in love with you, Madeline. Now,
he's a boy who _could_ marry, and who wants to. If you gave him only a
look of encouragement he would propose at once. And he has a good deal
of Nigel's charm, though he's not so clever, but he's very much
steadier. Really, it's a pity you don't like him. I'm sorry."

"Oh, I couldn't," said Madeline.

"He's quite a nice boy, too; and I know how much he likes you, from
Nigel."

"Oh, I couldn't!" Madeline repeated, shaking her head.

Bertha seemed silently to assent.

"And will dear Nigel ask me all the same to meet Rupert, Bertha?"

"Oh yes; we'll arrange it to-day. Nigel's delightfully prompt, and never
delays anything."

"And what will happen to Percy? You scarcely ever go out without him."

"Oh, I can persuade Percy, for once, that he wants his mother to go with
him to the Queen's Hall. And I'll make Lady Kellynch think it's rather a
shame of her to take my place; then she'll enjoy it. We'll arrange it
for next week. I'm expecting her this afternoon."

"Oh, are you? I'm always rather afraid she doesn't like me," said
Madeline pensively.

"She doesn't _dis_like you. She doesn't dislike anybody; only, simply,
you don't exist for her. My mother-in-law really believes that the whole
of humanity consists of her own family; first, her late husband; then
Percy, then Clifford, the boy at school, and, in a very slight degree,
me too, because I'm married to Percy. I do like Clifford, though he's a
spoilt boy, and selfish. But he's great fun. How his mother adores him!
I hope she won't stay long to-day--Nigel will be here at six."

Madeline fell into a reverie, a sort of mental swoon. Then she suddenly
woke up and said with great animation,--

"No, I suppose I dare not hope it!--I believe I should expire with
joy!--but he _never_ will! But if he _did_ propose, how do you suppose
he'd do it, Bertha?"

"Heaven knows--quote Browning, I suppose," said Bertha, "I don't often
meet that type. I can only guess. Do you care so much, Madeline?"

"_Do_ I care!"

"And you believe it's the real thing?"

"I know it is--on my side; it's incurable."

"Everyone says Rupert's a good fellow, but he seems to me a little--what
shall I say?--too elaborate. Too urbane; too ornate. He expresses
himself so dreadfully well! I don't believe he ever uses a shorter word
than _individuality_!"

"Oh, I don't care what he is, I want him--I want him!" cried Madeline.

"Well! I suppose you know what you want. It isn't as though you were
always in love with somebody or other; as a rule, a girl of your age, if
she can't have the person she wants, can be very quickly consoled if you
give her someone else instead. Now, you've never had even a fancy
before. _I_ may not (I don't) see the charm of Rupert, but it must be
there; probably there's something in his temperament that's needed by
yours--something that he can supply to you that no one else can. If you
really want him, you must have him, darling," said Bertha, with
resolution. "You shall!"

"How can you say that; how can you make him care for me if he doesn't?"

"I don't know, but I shall. It's certain; don't worry; and do what I
tell you. Mind, I think that there are many other people far more
amusing, besides being better matches from the worldly point of
view--like Charlie Hillier, for instance--but the great thing is that
you care for your Rupert; and I don't believe you'll change."

They were never demonstrative to each other, and Madeline only looked at
her with trusting, beaming gratitude. Bertha was indeed convinced that
this mania for Rupert was the real thing; it would never fade from
fulfilment, nor even die if discouraged; it would always burn
unalterably bright.

"Yes; yes, it shall be all right," repeated Bertha.

She spoke in a curious, reassuring tone that Madeline knew, and that
always impressed her.

"Really? Yet you say they are so difficult nowadays!"

"Well, the majority of the men in our set certainly don't seem to be
exactly pining for hearth and home. Still, in some moods a man will
marry anyone who happens to be there."

"Then must I happen to be there? How can I?"

Bertha laughed. There was a confidence without reservation between them,
notwithstanding a slight tinge of the histrionic in Madeline, which
occasionally irritated Bertha. But the real link was that they both
instinctively threw overboard all but the essential; they cared
comparatively little for most of the preoccupations and smaller
solicitudes of the women in their own leisured class. There was in
neither of them anything of the social snob or the narrow outlook of the
bourgeoise; they were free from pose, petty ambitions, or trivial
affectations.

Madeline looked up to Bertha as a wonderful combination of kindness,
cleverness, beauty and knowledge of the world. Bertha felt that Madeline
was not quite so well equipped for dealing with life as she herself was;
there was a shade of protection in her friendship.

Bertha was far more daring than Madeline, but her occasional recklessness
was only pluck and love of adventure; not imprudence; it was always
guided by reason and an instinctive sense of self-preservation. She
was a little experimental, that was all. Madeline was more timid and
sensitive; though not nearly so quick to see things as Bertha she took
them to heart more, far more;--was far less lively and ironical.

"Though I find Rupert dull, as I say, I believe he's as good as gold, or
I wouldn't try and help you. Now if he were a man like Nigel!--who's
very much more fascinating and charming--I wouldn't raise a finger,
because I know he's fickle, dangerous and selfish, and wouldn't make you
happy. Charlie would, though; I wish you liked Charlie. But one can't
account for these things."

"Quite impossible," Madeline said, shaking her head.

"Well! It's quite possible that Rupert would suit you best; and I
believe if you once got him he'd be all right. And you shall!" she
repeated.

"_Thank_ you!" said Madeline fervently, as if Bertha had promised her a
box of chocolates or a present of some kind.

"Lady Kellynch!" announced the servant.



CHAPTER II

LADY KELLYNCH


A tall, stately, handsome woman, slow and quiet in movement, dressed in
velvet and furs, came deliberately into the room. The magnificent,
imposing Lady Kellynch had that quiet dignity and natural ease and
distinction sometimes seen in the widow of a knight, but unknown amongst
the old aristocracy. It was generally supposed, or, at all events,
stated, that the late Sir Percy Kellynch had been knighted by mistake
for somebody else; through a muddle owing to somebody's deafness. The
result was the same, since his demise left her with a handle to her
name, but no one to turn it (to quote the _mot_ of a well-known wit),
and she looked, at the very least, like a peeress in her own right.
Indeed, she was the incarnation of what the romantic lower middle
classes imagine a great lady;--a dressmaker's ideal of a duchess. She
had the same high forehead, without much thought behind it, so
noticeable in her son Percy, and the same clearly cut features; and it
was true, as Bertha had said, that she firmly believed the whole of the
world, of the slightest importance, consisted of her late husband,
herself, her married son Percy, and her boy Clifford at school; the rest
of the universe was merely an audience, or a background, for this unique
family.

       *       *       *       *       *

If anyone spoke of a European crisis that was interesting the general
public, she would reply by saying what Percy thought about it; if a more
frivolous subject (such as _You Shut Up_, or some other popular Revue)
was mentioned, she would answer, reassuringly, that she knew Clifford
had a picture post-card of one of the performers, implying thereby that
it _must_ be all right. She loved Bertha mildly, and with reservations,
because Percy loved her, and because Bertha wished her to; but she
really thought it would have been more suitable if Bertha had been a
little more colourless, a little plainer, a little stupider and more
ordinary; not that her attractions would ever cause any trouble to
Percy, but because it seemed as if a son of hers ought to have a wife to
throw him up more. Percy, however, had no idea that Bertha was anything
but a good foil to him, intellectually--and, as I have said, he regarded
her (or believed he regarded her) a good deal like a pet canary.

"Percy will soon be home, I suppose? To-day is not the day he goes to
the Queen's Hall, is it?" asked Lady Kellynch, who thought any hall was
highly honoured by Percy's presence, and very lucky to get it. She gave
a graceful but rather unrecognising bow to Madeline, whom she never knew
by sight. She really knew hardly anyone by sight except her sons; and
this was the more odd as she had a particularly large circle of
acquaintances, and made a point of accepting and returning every
invitation she received, invariably being amongst those present at every
possible form of entertainment, and punctiliously calling on people
afterwards. She was always mounting staircases, going up in lifts, and
driving about leaving cards, and was extremely hospitable and
superlatively social. Bertha always wondered at her gregariousness,
since one would fancy she could have got very little satisfaction in
continual intercourse with a crowd of people whom she forgot the instant
they were out of her sight. Lady Kellynch really knew people chiefly by
their telephone numbers and their days, when they had any. She would
say: "Mrs. So-and-so? Oh yes, six-three-seven-five Gerrard, at home on
Sundays," but could rarely recollect anything else about her. She was at
once vague and precise, quite amiable, very sentimental and utterly
heartless; except to her sons.

"No, Percy won't be home till dinner-time. To-day he's playing squash
rackets."

"That's so like his father," said Lady Kellynch admiringly. "He was
always so fond of sports, and devoted to music. When I say sports, to be
_strictly_ accurate I don't mean that he ever cared for rude, rough
games like football or anything cruel like hunting or shooting, but he
loved to look on at a game of cricket, and I've often been to Lord's
with him." She sighed. "Dominoes! he was wild about dominoes! I assure
you (dear Percy would remember), every evening after dinner he must have
his game of dominoes, and sometimes even after lunch."

"Dominoes, as you say, isn't exactly a field sport," sympathetically
agreed Bertha.

"Quite so, dear. But, however, that was his favourite game. Then, did I
say just now he was fond of music? He didn't care for the kind that
Percy likes, but he would rarely send a piano-organ away, and he even
encouraged the German bands. How fond he was of books too--and reading,
and that sort of thing! Percy gets his fondness for books from his
father. Clifford too is fond of books."

"He is indeed," said Bertha; "he's devoted to books. Last time I went to
see him, when he was at home for the holidays, I found among his books a
nice copy of 'The New Arabian Nights.' We hadn't one in the house at the
time, and I asked him to lend it to me."

"Did you indeed?"

Lady Kellynch looked a shade surprised, as if it had been rather a
liberty.

"Well," said Bertha, laughing, and turning to Madeline, "what do you
think he said? 'Bertha, I'm awfully sorry, but I make it a rule never to
lend books. I don't approve of it--half the time they don't come back,
and in fact--oh, I don't think it's a good plan. I never do it.' I took
up the book and found written in it: '_To Bertha, with love from
Percy_.' I said: 'So you don't approve of lending books. Do you see this
is my book?' He looked at it and said solemnly: 'Yes, so it is, but I
can't let you have it. I'm in the middle of it. Besides--oh! anyhow, I
want it!'"

Madeline and Bertha both laughed, saying that Clifford was really
magnificent for twelve years old.

Lady Kellynch seemed astonished at their amusement. She only said: "Oh
yes; I know Clifford's _most_ particular about his books."

"And even about my books," said Bertha.

"Quite so, dear. They say in his report that he's getting so orderly.
It's a very good report this term--er--at least, very good on the
_whole_."

"Oh, do let me see it."

"No, I don't think I'll show it you. But I'll tell you what I'll do,
I'll read you some extracts from it, if you like." She said this as if
it were an epic poem, and she was promising them a rare literary treat.

She took something out of her bag. "I know he doesn't work _very_ hard
at school, but then the winter term is such a trying one; so cold for
them to get up in the morning, poor little darlings!"

"Poor pets!" said Bertha.

Lady Kellynch took it out, while the others looked away discreetly, as
she searched for suitable selections.

After a rather long pause she read aloud, a little pompously and with
careful elocution:

"'_Doing fairly well in dictation, and becoming more accurate; in Latin
moderate, scarcely up to the level of the form. ..._'"

"Is it in blank verse?" asked Bertha.

"Oh no! ... Of course he's in a very high form for his age." She then
went on, after a longer pause: "'_Music and dancing: music, rather weak
... dancing, a steady worker._' That's very good, isn't it? ...
'_Map-drawing: very slovenly._'" (She read this rather proudly.)
"'_Conduct: lethargic and unsteady; but a fair speller._' Excellent,
isn't it? Of course they're frightfully severe at that school. ... Oh
yes, and there's '_Bible good, but deficient in general knowledge. Has a
little ability, but rarely uses it. ..._' It's dreadfully difficult to
please them, really! But I think it's very satisfactory, don't you?"

Realising that Lady Kellynch had only read aloud the very best and most
brilliant extracts that she could find in the report--purple patches, as
one may say--Bertha gathered that it could hardly have been worse. So
she congratulated the mother warmly and cordially, and said how fond she
was of Clifford.

"He will be home soon for the Easter holidays. You must let him come and
stay with us."

"It's very kind of you, dear. Certainly he shall come, part of the time.
I can't bear to part with him--especially at first. Yes--at first I feel
I never want him to leave me again! However, he enjoys himself so much
here that I like to send him to you towards the end. He looks upon
Bertha quite like a playmate," she said to Madeline. Something about
Madeline reminded her of someone she had met.

"I was at a dinner-party last night where I met a young man I saw here
once, who took you in to dinner. He knows Percy--he was at Balliol with
Percy--a Mr. Denison--Mr. Rupert Denison. He seemed inclined to be
rather intellectual. He talked to me a great deal about something--I
forget what; but I know it was some subject: something that Percy once
had to pass an examination in. ... I can't remember what it was. I used
to know his mother; Mrs. Denison--a charming woman! I'm afraid though
she didn't leave him very well off. I wonder how he manages to make two
ends meet?"

"He manages all right; he makes them lap over, I should think. Who did
he take to dinner?" Bertha asked this in Madeline's interest.

"Oh, a girl I don't like at all, whom I often see about. She's always
everywhere. I daresay you know her, a Miss Chivvey, a Miss Moona
Chivvey--a good family, the Chivveys of Warwickshire. But she's rather
artistic-looking." (Lady Kellynch lowered her voice as if she were
saying something improper:) "She has untidy hair and green beads round
her neck. I don't like her--I don't like her style at all."

"I've heard him mention her," said Madeline.

"He talked to her a good deal in the evening, and he gave me the
impression that he was giving her some sort of lesson--a lecture on
architecture, or something. Well, dear, as Percy won't be in yet, I
think I'd better go. I have a round of visits to pay."

"Percy is going to write to you. He wants you to go to a concert with
him. He particularly wants you to go."

Lady Kellynch brightened up. "Dear boy, does he? Of course I'll go.
Well, good-bye, darling."

She swept from the room with the queenly grace and dignity that always
seemed a little out of proportion to the occasion--one expected her to
make a court curtsy, and go out backwards.

"My mother-in-law really believes it matters whether she calls on people
or not," said Bertha, in her low, even voice. "Isn't it touching?"

Madeline seized her hand.

"Bertha, need I be frightened of Moona Chivvey? She's a dangerous sort
of girl; she takes interest in all the things Rupert does: pictures, and
poetry and art needlework."

"Does Rupert really do art needlework? What a universal genius he is!"

"Don't be absurd! I mean the things he understands. And she runs after
him, rather. Need I be afraid?"

"No, you need not," reassured Bertha. "I don't think she sounds at all
violent. There's a ring."

"Then I'll go."

       *       *       *       *       *

Almost immediately afterwards the servant announced "Mr. Nigel Hillier."

Nigel Hillier came in cheerily and gaily, brimming over with vitality
and in the highest spirits. At present he was like sunshine and fresh
air. There was a lurking danger that as he grew older he might become
breezy. But as yet there was no sign of a draught. He was just
delightfully exhilarating. He was not what women call handsome or
divine, but he was rather what men call a smart-looking chap: fair, with
bright blue eyes, and the most mischievous smile in London. He was
unusually rapid in thought, speech and movement, without being restless,
and his presence was an excellent cure for slackness, languor,
strenuousness or a morbid sense of duty.

"You look as if you had only just got up," remarked Bertha, as she gave
him her hand. "Not a bit as though you'd been through the fatigues and
worries and the heat and burden of the day."

"Oh, that's too bad!" he answered. "You know perfectly well I always get
up in time to see the glorious sunset! Why this reproach? I don't know
that I've ever seen you very early in the day; I always regard you less
as a daughter of the morning than as a minion of the moon."

"How is Mrs. Hillier?" replied Bertha rather coldly.

"All right--I promise I won't. Mary? Why Mary is well--very well--but
just, perhaps, a teeny bit trying--just a shade wearing. No--no, I don't
mean that. ... Well, I'm at your service for the play and so on. Shall I
write to Rupert Denison and Miss Irwin? And will you all come and dine
with me, and where shall we go?"

"Don't you think something thrilling and exciting and emotional--or,
perhaps, something light and frivolous?"

"For Rupert I advise certainly the trivial, the flippant. It would have
a better effect. Why not go to the new Revue--'_That will be
Fourpence_'--where they have the two young Simultaneous Dancers, the
Misses Zanie and Lunie Le Face--one, I fancy, is more simultaneous than
the other, I forget which. They are delightful, and will wake Denison
up. In fact, I don't know who they _wouldn't_ wake up, they make such a
row. They dance and sing, about Dixie and Honey and coons--and that sort
of thing. They sing quite well, too--I mean for them."

"But not for us? ... No, I don't want to take him with Madeline to
anything that could be called a music-hall--something more correct for a
_jeune fille_ would be better. ..."

"To lead to a proposal, you mean. Well, we'd better fall back upon His
Majesty's or Granville Barker. Poor Charlie! It's hard lines on that
boy, Bertha--he's really keen on Miss Irwin."

"I know; but what can we do? It's Rupert Denison she cares about."

"Likes him, does she?" said Nigel.

"Very much," answered Bertha, who rarely used a strong expression, but
whose eyes made the words emphatic.

Nigel whistled. "Oh, well, if it's as bad as that!"

"It is. Quite."

"Fancy! Lucky chap, old Rupert. Well, we must rush it through for them,
I suppose. About the play--you want something serious, what price
Shakespeare?"

"No price. Let's go to the Russian Ballet."

"Capital!" cried Nigel, moving quickly to the telephone in case she
should change her mind; "and we'll dine at the Carlton first. May I use
your telephone?"

"Please!"



CHAPTER III

NIGEL


The relation between Bertha and Nigel Hillier was a rather curious one.
He had met her when she was eighteen. The attraction had been sudden,
violent and mutual; and she was quite prepared to marry him against all
opposition. There had been a good deal in her own family, because Nigel
was what is euphemistically called without means, and she was the
daughter of a fashionable London vicar who, though distinguished for his
eloquence and extremely popular, successful and social, had a
comparatively small income and a positively large family. In a short
time Nigel--not Bertha--succumbed to the family opposition and the
general prudent disapproval of worldly friends. He wrote and told Bertha
that he was afraid after all they were right; persuaded to this view by
having meanwhile met the only daughter of a millionaire when staying for
a week-end at a country house. The girl had fallen in love with him,
and was practically independent.

A few months after his gorgeous wedding, described and photographed with
the greatest enthusiasm in all the illustrated papers, Bertha married
Percy Kellynch, to the great satisfaction of her relations. Nigel was,
by then, a lost illusion, a disappointed ideal; she did not long resent
his defection and it cured her passion, but she despised him for what
she regarded as the baseness of his motive.

She loved and looked up to Percy, but her marriage to him had not been
at the time one of romance--to her great regret. She would have liked it
to be, for she was one of those ardent souls to whom the glamour of love
was everything; she could never worship false gods. But Bertha had a
warm, grateful nature, and finding him even better than she expected,
her affection threw out roots and tendrils; became deeper and deeper;
her experience with Nigel had made her particularly appreciative of
Percy's good qualities. She was expansive, affectionate and constant;
and she really cared far more about Percy now than she did when she
married him. And this, though she was quite aware that he was entirely
wanting in several things that she had particularly valued in Nigel (a
sense of humour for one), and that he had inherited rather acutely the
depressing Kellynch characteristic of taking oneself seriously.

       *       *       *       *       *

Percy, on the other hand, had been quite carried away by her rosebud
charm and prettiness, and he had continued to regard her as a pet and a
luxury (for he was pre-eminently one of that large class of people who
see only the obvious). But he had never realised her complexities, and
was quite unaware of her depth and strength of mind. He was proud of her
popularity, and had never known a jealous moment. Since they had never
had a shadow of a quarrel, theirs might certainly be described as a
happy marriage; although Bertha had always found it from the first
rather deficient in the elements of excitement and a little wanting in
fun.

       *       *       *       *       *

Nigel, who had been in a frightful hole when he met the heiress, of
course made a point of discovering, as soon as all grinding money
troubles had been removed and agonising debts paid, that no material
things were capable of making him happy. The gratification to his vanity
of his big country house, and charming house in London and so forth,
amused him for a very short time. He became horribly bored, and when
Bertha married Percy Kellynch, felt pained and particularly surprised
and disappointed in her. He had always believed her to be so superior to
other girls, so true and loyal! It was quite a disillusion; to think
that she could get over _him_ so easily! Women usually took much longer
than that. However, he now despised himself even more as a fool than as
a coward for having given up Bertha, and not being of the type who
trouble to conceal their feelings in domestic life, he openly and
frankly showed to the unfortunate Mary that he knew he had made an
irrevocable mistake. This was the natural way of regaining his
self-respect, since he was under the deepest obligation to her. To add
to his annoyance, not long after the marriage he and his brother Charlie
came into a legacy from an unexpected and forgotten relative. He knew,
then, that if he had waited a little longer, (as she had wished), he
could, without sacrifice, have married Bertha; and so he was naturally
very angry with Mary.

       *       *       *       *       *

Now that Bertha was beyond his reach she seemed to him the one desirable
thing in the world. For several years they hardly met; then Nigel
contrived that they should become friends again. Her feeling for him
could never be revived. His was far more vivid than formerly. It was
fanned by her coolness, and was in a fair way to become an _idée fixe_,
for he was not material enough to live without some dream, some ideal,
and Bertha found him amusing. There always had been a certain mental
sympathy between them; in a sense (superficially and humorously), they
saw life very much from the same standpoint. With the instinctive tact
of the real lover of women he carefully concealed from her the secret
that made his home life miserable, instead of merely tedious. It was,
simply, that Mary was morbidly, madly jealous of him. He had shown far
too soon that he had married her for her money, and if he had convinced
her that she had bought him, it was perhaps natural in return that she
should wish for her money's worth. The poor woman was passionately in
love with Nigel. She suspected him of infidelity, with and without
reason, morning, noon, and night; it was almost a monomania. They had
two children in the first and second years of the marriage. Nigel was
carelessly fond of them, but he regarded them rather as a private luxury
and resource of his wife, mistakenly thinking their society could fill
up all the gaps made by his rather frequent absences. Nigel knew better
than to complain of his wife, or to ask for sympathy from Bertha, for he
was certain that if she had the faintest idea of the jealousy, her door
would be closed to him.

       *       *       *       *       *

Bertha was peculiarly kind, peculiarly full of sympathy for her own sex.
And yet she was not at all fond of the society of women, with few
exceptions; and she was often bored by the liking and admiration she
usually inspired in them. Something in her personality disarmed ordinary
jealousy, for though she was pretty and attractive, it was easy for
other women to see that she was not trying to attract. What the average
woman resents in another woman is not her involuntary charm; it is her
making use of it.

       *       *       *       *       *

With the casual indiscretion of the selfish man, Nigel, of course, told
his wife at length, early in the honeymoon, all about his romance with
Bertha. This Mary had never forgiven. Curiously, she minded more this
old innocent affair of ten years ago, which he had broken off for _her_,
than any of his flirtations since. Bertha had rightly guessed that, when
they met, Mary had taken a great dislike to her. But she had no idea
that Nigel's wife was suspicious, nor that she seriously and bitterly
resented his visits. He never admitted them to Mary if he could help
it, for he had learnt by now to be so far considerate to her--or to
himself--that he would tell her fifty fibs in half-an-hour rather than
let out one annoying fact. Nigel saw--he was very quick in these
matters--that the only terms on which he could ever see anything of
Bertha were those of the intimate old brotherly friend; the slightest
look or suggestion of sentiment of any kind made her curl up and look
angry. She made it utterly impossible for him to make the slightest
allusion to the past. The friendliness had been growing to intimacy, and
Nigel believed that perhaps with time he might get back to the old
terms, or something like them. It was becoming the chief object of his
life. He was a keen sportsman, and the ambition of the hunter was added
to the longing of the lover. A born diplomatist, he had, of course,
easily made Percy like him immensely. But he hated Percy, and could
never forgive him for the unpardonable injury he had done to him, Nigel,
in consoling Bertha. Nigel could not bear to own, even to himself, that
Bertha was happy in her married life. Sometimes he would swear to
himself when he remembered that it was all his own doing, that she might
have been _his_ wife. How coolly she had taken it! She had accepted it
at the time with calm acquiescence, and met him again with amiable
composure. Had she ever really forgiven him?

       *       *       *       *       *

It had opened her eyes, had been a shock. She saw him now as the
shattered dream of her childish fancy, and she was thankful for her
escape. Yet deep down in her heart was a slight scar. It did not make
her hate Nigel, but apart from the fun and pleasantness of their
intercourse her real indifference to him was slightly tinged with
acidity: probably she would have been less sorry for him in any trouble
than for anybody else.

       *       *       *       *       *

Bertha's vanity was not a very vivid part of her, and it took only one
form. When she cared for anyone she was deeply (though not outwardly)
exacting; she wanted that person entirely. To say that the general
admiration she received gave her no pleasure would be an absurd
exaggeration; if she had suddenly lost it, she would have missed it very
much, no doubt. But after all, she valued it chiefly because she thought
it was good for Percy. Privately she was not satisfied that Percy valued
her enough. Had her many friends and acquaintances been told that the
chief wish of the pretty Mrs. Kellynch was the more complete and
absolute conquest of her own husband--who seemed much more devoted than
most husbands--they would have been surprised, incredulous, perhaps even
a little shocked.

Nigel had promised to use all the means at his disposal to help
Madeline. Bertha was anxious her friend should have what she had just
missed.

       *       *       *       *       *

"Well! Soon after the dinner I shall go and see Rupert in his rooms. I
shall get to know him well, and I shall gradually tell him about
Charlie, and how keen he is, and lead up to Miss Irwin, and say what a
charming girl she is, and all that sort of thing. Nothing makes so much
impression."

"Don't make him jealous of Charlie," said Bertha. "Anything that he
regarded as a slight I think would put an end to it. Rupert is not quite
a commonplace man."

"Jealous? Oh no, I should merely imply that Miss Madeline won't have
anything to say to Charlie, and that I wonder why. But it can't do him
any harm to know someone else wants her. My dear girl, a man understands
another man. That is where women are such fools. They think they know
more about men than men do, and that is why they are always being----"
He stopped.

She smiled.

"Oh no. I quite do you justice, Nigel. I am never above consulting you
on that sort of subject. I may know just a little bit more about men
than some women do, for one reason----"

"And what is that? Because you attract them?"

"No, that doesn't help much. It's because I have brothers, and they have
always confided in me without reserve. Oh! there was one more thing I
_may_ have to ask you. I don't want to, and I don't like it at all, on
account of Mrs. Hillier; but still it might happen to be necessary. It's
_just_ possible I may ask you to flirt a little with a girl called Moona
Chivvey."

"Oh, _I_ know her." He smiled. "Of course I'd do anything for you, but
_that_ would be about the hardest thing you could command."

"She's not uninteresting," said Bertha. "I shall find out how she stands
with Rupert, and I don't think there's much danger. But if it should be
required--well--you might go further and fare worse."

"I expect I should go further than Rupert," murmured Nigel.

"Nigel, _don't_ think I haven't scruples about things. I have, very
much, but I know a good deal about Moona, and I really think that any
harmless thing we can do to remove obstacles for poor Madeline should be
done. I promised Madeline. I shall be grateful if you'll help, Nigel."

"There's no question about it," said Nigel. "Of course it must be rushed
through. And now I suppose you want me to go?"

"Oh no! Please don't! Percy will be here directly."

He got up.

"Good-bye. I'll ring you up to-morrow. It's some little consolation for
being an idle man to have leisure to fulfil your commands."

She answered that he was very good and she was very pleased with him,
and he went away.



CHAPTER IV

RUPERT AT RUMPELMEYER'S


At a quarter to four precisely, in a heavy shower of rain, Madeline
sprang out of a taxicab in St. James's Street, and tripped into
Rumpelmeyer's. As it was pouring lavishly and she had no umbrella, she
hastily and enthusiastically overpaid the cabman, with a feeling of
superstition that it might bring her luck; besides, a few drops of rain,
she reflected, would ruin her smart new hat if she waited for change. It
was a very small hat, over her eyes, decorated with a very high feather,
in the form of a lightning-conductor. She was charmingly dressed in a
way that made her look very tall, slim and elegant. Her rather long,
sweet face was paler than usual, her sincere brown eyes brighter. She
had come to have tea with Rupert.

       *       *       *       *       *

From the back room, waiting for her, rose the worshipped hero. He was,
as she had described him, very much like a Vandyke picture. He had
broad shoulders, and a thin waist, a pointed brown beard, regular
features, very large deep blue eyes, and an absurdly small mouth with
dazzling white teeth. If he was almost too well dressed--so well that
one turned round to look at his clothes--his distinguished manners and
_grand seigneur_ air carried it off. One saw it was not the
over-dressing of the _nouveau riche_, but the rather old-world dandyism
of a past generation. This was the odder as the year was 1913, and he
was exactly thirty. He always wore a buttonhole--to-day it was made of
violets to match his violet socks--and invariably carried a black ebony
stick, with an ivory handle.

With a quiet smile on his small mouth, he greeted and calmed the
agitated Madeline.

She dropped her bag on the floor before she sat down, and when Rupert
picked it up for her she dropped it again on a plate of cream cakes. He
then took it and moved it to his side of the table.

"I thought," he said smoothly, in a rather low, soothing voice, "that
you'd like these cakes better than toast."

She eagerly assured him that he was right, though it happened to be
quite untrue.

"And China tea, of _course_?"

"Oh, of _course_!" She disliked it particularly.

"And now, tell me, how has life been treating you?" he asked, as he
looked first at her, and then with more eager interest at his pointed
polished finger-nails.

Before she could answer, he went on:

"And that book on architecture that I sent you--tell me, have you read
it?"

"Every word."

This was perfectly true; she could have passed an examination in it.

"That's delightful. Then, now that you know something about it, I should
like very much to take you to Westminster Abbey or St. Paul's, or to see
one of those really beautiful old cathedrals. ... We must plan it out."

"Oh, please do. I revel in old things," she said, thinking the remark
would please him.

He arranged his buttonhole of Parma violets, then looked up at her,
smiling.

"Do you mean that at your age you really appreciate the past?"

"Indeed, I do."

"But you mustn't live for it, you know--not over-value it. You must
never forget that, after all, the great charm of the past is that it is
over. One must live for the hour, for the moment. ... You'll remember
that, won't you?"

"Oh yes, I _do_," she said gratefully, taking a bite of cream cake.

"What they call Futurism (I hope you understand) is absolute rubbish and
inconsistent nonsense. For this reason. It's impossible to enjoy the
present or the future if you eliminate the past entirely, as the
so-called Futurists wish to do. Destruction of old associations and
treasures would ruin one's sense of proportion; it's worse than living
in the prehistoric. Besides, at least we know what _has_ happened, and
what _is_ happening, but we can't possibly know what is _going_ to be,
what the future holds for us; so what's the point of thinking only of
that? Why should we live only for posterity, when, as the old joke says,
posterity has done nothing for us!"

"Well, the truth is _I_ always feel nothing matters except now," said
Madeline candidly.

He laughed. "And, in a way, you're right; it's all we're quite sure of."

"Yes, I'm afraid it is."

"By the way," he said, dropping his instructive manner, "can you tell me
where you get your hats? Do you mind?"

"Oh yes, of course I can; at several places. This one came from----" She
hesitated a moment.

"Paquin?" he asked, in a low, mysterious voice.

"Selfridge," she replied.

"Oh, I didn't know you were a Selfridgette! But, please forgive my
asking, won't you? Someone who didn't seem to know ... I mean, a friend
of mine. ... Oh, well, I know you don't mind telling me."

He looked hard at her hat, could find no fault with it. Evidently its
value was not diminished in his eyes. He was rather gratified that it
did not come from some impossibly costly place. This pleased her; it was
a good sign. Satisfaction at a moderate indication of economy suggested
serious intentions.

"It suits you very well," he went on, in his kind, approving way. "Now,
will you give me another cup of tea?"

She poured it out rather shakily.

"No sugar, please."

"Oh!" She had already nervously dropped in about three lumps.

"Oh well, never mind. ... Yes, you're looking charming, Madeline--it's
absurd calling you Miss Irwin after knowing each other so long, isn't
it?"

She was so delighted that she almost thanked him for calling her by her
Christian name.

"Do you know, Madeline," he went on, "that, at times, you're almost a
beauty."

She opened her mouth with surprise.

"_Almost._ You were one evening--I forget which evening--you had
something gold in your hair, and you were quite Byzantine. And then,
again, a few days after I saw you, and--er--oh well, anyhow--you always
look nice."

"I suppose you mean," she murmured, feeling shy at talking so much of
herself, "that most girls look best in the evening."

"There I venture to differ from you entirely. All girls, all women, look
their best in the afternoon. The hat is everything. Evening dress is the
most trying and unbecoming thing in the world; only the most perfect
beauties, who are also very young and fresh, can stand it. The most
becoming thing for a woman is either _négligé_, or a hat. You,
particularly, Madeline, look your best in the afternoon."

"I wish then that I lived in that land where it is always afternoon!"
she said, laughing.

He gave his superior little smile. "The Lotus Eaters? Good. I didn't
know you cared for Tennyson."

"I don't," she answered hastily, anxious to please.

He raised his eyebrows. "Then you should. Have you a favourite poet,
Madeline?"

"Oh yes, of course--Swinburne."

She thought this a perfectly safe thing to say.

"Strong meat for babes," he of course replied, and then began to murmur
to himself: "_For a day and a night love sang to us, played with us._
You think that beautiful, Madeline?"

"Oh yes. How beautifully you say it!"

He laughed. "Quoting poetry at Rumpelmeyer's! Well, perhaps no place is
quite prosaic where ..."

She looked up.

He took another tea-cake.

... "Where there's anyone so interested, so intelligent as yourself."

He had returned to the indulgent, encouraging schoolmaster's tone.

"Do you know In the Orchard?" he went on, and murmured: "_Ah God, ah
God! that day should be so soon!_ Well! May I smoke a cigarette?"

"Oh, of _course_."

"Oh ... Madeline!"

"Yes, Mr. Denison?"

"Who is Nigel Hillier?"

"Oh, don't you know him?"

"Of course I know him; we belong to the same club, and that sort of
thing, but that doesn't tell me who he is."

She was wondering what Rupert meant exactly by who, but supposed he was
speaking socially, so she said hesitatingly:

"Well, Nigel Hillier ... he married that Miss----"

He interrupted her, putting up his hand rather like a policeman in the
traffic. "I know all about his marriage, my dear friend. I didn't ask
you whom he married. Who _is_ he?"

"Bertha and Percy have known him all their lives--at least all Bertha's
life."

"Oh yes. Then he's a friend of Percy Kellynch? But that doesn't tell me
what I want to know. WHO is he?"

With a flash of inspiration she said:

"Oh yes! Oh, he's a _nephew_ of Lord Wantage. He has no father and
mother, I believe. He and his brother Charlie----"

"Ah yes, yes. It comes back to me now--I remember which Hilliers they
are. Well, Hillier has asked me to dine with him and go to the Russian
Ballet. Rather nice of him. I'm going, and--do you know why I accepted,
Madeline?"

"You like the Russian Ballet."

"I was told that Mrs. Kellynch and _you_ were to be of the party."

"I'm glad you're going," she answered. "Bertha's so awfully kind----"
She stopped suddenly, as if she had made a _gaffe_.

He smiled. "Really? And what has Bertha's kindness to do with it?"

"Oh, nothing. I mean she always takes me out wherever she can; she's so
good-natured."

"She strikes me as being a very beautiful and brilliant person," said
Rupert coldly. "Very wonderful--very delightful. ... It appears that
Mrs. Hillier has influenza."

"Oh yes," said Madeline quickly--too quickly.

"You knew it? No; you thought that she probably _would_ have," said he,
laughing, as he struck a match. Then he leant back, smoking, with that
slow, subtle smile about nothing in particular that had a peculiar,
hypnotic effect upon Madeline.

She adored him more and more every moment. She knew she was never at her
best in his company; he made her nervous, shy, and schoolgirlish, and so
modest that she seemed to be longing to ooze away, to eliminate herself
altogether. Then he said:

"Well, Madeline, it wouldn't be nice if I kept you too long away from
your mother--she won't trust me with you again."

She jumped up.

"Have I been too long?"

"Nonsense, child," he said. "But still----" With one look at the clock
he rather hurriedly gave her her belongings.

"I'm going to put you into a nice taxi, and send you home. We shall meet
at Hillier's dinner, that will be nice, and we shall see the wonderful
ballet together."

She murmured that it would be lovely.

"I should like to drive you home," he said rather half-heartedly, as
they stood at the door in the rain; "in fact, I should insist upon doing
so ..."

"Oh no!"

... "But I have an appointment with a friend I'm expecting to call for
me here. Au revoir, then!"

She went away happy, disturbed, anxious and delighted, as she always was
when she had seen him. She ran straight to her dressing-table, took off
her hat, put something gold in her hair and tried to look Byzantine.

He returned to the little table. He had it cleared, and ordered fresh
tea and cakes. Then he took out his watch.

In about twenty minutes, during which he grew rather nervous and
impatient, he rose and went to the door again to greet another guest,
who had been invited to tea an hour and a half later than Madeline.

She also was a young girl, good-looking, very dark and rather inclined
to fullness in face and figure. When I say that she had handsome
regular aquiline features, two thick curtains of black hair drawn over
her ears, from which depended long ear-rings of imitation coral, it
seems almost unnecessary to add (for this type of girl always dresses in
the same way) that she wore a flat violet felt hat, the back of which
touched her shoulders, a particularly tight dark blue serge coat and
skirt, a very low collar, and lisle thread stockings which showed above
low shiny shoes with white spats. In her hands she held a pair of new
white gloves, unworn.

She bounced in with a good deal of _aplomb_, and, without apologising
for her lateness, began to chatter a little louder than most of the
people present, and with great confidence.

"No, not China tea, thanks. I prefer Indian. Oh, not cream cakes; I hate
them. Can't I have hot tea-cakes? Thanks. I've no idea what the time is.
I've been to Mimsie's studio. She would insist on doing a drawing of me,
and I'm sitting to her"--she turned her face a little on one side--"like
this, you know."

"Is it like you, Miss Chivvey?"

"Oh, good gracious, I hope not! At least I hope I'm not like _it_! I
don't want to have a pretty picture, I'm sure. But Mimsie's awfully
clever. It's sure to be all right. Do you know her? I must take you to
her studio one day."

"Thanks immensely," said Rupert Denison, a little coolly. "But--it may
seem odd to you, but I haven't the slightest desire to increase my
acquaintance at my age. In fact, do you know, I think I know quite
enough people--in every set," he added.

As he poured out some milk, she jumped and gave a little shriek.

"Oh, _don't_ do that. I never take milk. What a bad memory you've got!
Funny place this, isn't it?" She was looking round. "I don't think I've
ever been here before."

"Don't you like the plan of it?" he said, looking round at the walls and
ceiling. "It may not be perfect, but really, for London, it isn't bad.
It seems to me that anyone can see that it was designed by a gentleman."

"You mean anyone can see it's not designed by an architect?" she asked,
with a laugh so loud that he raised a finger.

He then carefully introduced the subject of hats and advised her to go,
for millinery, to Selfridge. They discussed it at length, and it was
settled by his offering her a hat as a birthday present. She accepted,
of course, with a loud laugh.

Rupert, with his mania for educating and improving young people, had
begun, about a fortnight ago, trying to polish Miss Chivvey. But he had
his doubts as to its being possible; and he was, all the same, beginning
to be a little carried away. She was sometimes (he owned) amusing; and
it was unusual for him to be laughed at. How differently Madeline
regarded him!

However, he drove Moona home to Camden Hill and promised to meet her and
help her to choose a hat.

"But I sha'n't let you interfere too much. What do men know of
millinery?" she asked contemptuously.

"I am sure I know what would suit you," he replied. "You see, you're
very vivid, and very much alive; you stand out, so you really want, if I
may say so, attenuating, subduing, shading."

"Perhaps you would like me to put my head in a bag?"

"No one would regret that more than I should."

"I foresee we're going to quarrel about this hat," she answered. "Now,
Mr. Denison, do let me explain to you, I don't want anything _smart_. I
don't want to look like _Paris Fashions_."

"No? What do you want to look like?"

"Why, artistic, of course! What a blighter you are!"

Rupert winced at this vague accusation. They were nearly at her house
and he put his hand on hers in a way that was rather controlling than
caressing.

"Let me have one little pleasure. Let me choose your hat myself," he
said. He was terrified at the idea of what she might come out in on
artistic grounds. Then she would tell all her friends it was a present
from him! She had no sort of reticence.

"Well, I suppose you must have your own way. Do you really know anything
about it?" she asked doubtfully.

"Rather. Everything!"

They arrived. She jumped out.

"Well, I'll ring you up and tell you when I can go there and meet you.
Good-bye! You _are_ a nut!"



CHAPTER V

A HAPPY HOME


The first six months after his marriage it used to give Nigel a thrill
of gratification and vanity to go home to his house, one of the finest
in Grosvenor Street, and splendidly kept up. Then he had suddenly grown
horribly sick of it, longed for freedom in a garret, and now he
associated it with no thrill of pride or pleasure, but with boredom,
depression, quarrels and lack of liberty. Liberty! Ah! That was it; that
was what he felt more than anything else. He had married for money
chiefly to _get_ liberty. One was a slave, always in debt--but it was
much worse now. The master of the house lost all his vitality, gaiety
and air of command the moment he came into the hall.

"Where's Mrs. Hillier?"

"Mrs. Hillier is in the boudoir, sir."

The boudoir was a little pink and blue Louis Seize room on the ground
floor, opposite the dining-room. From the window Mary could watch for
Nigel. That was what she always did. She hardly ever did anything else.
Few women were so independent of such aids to idleness as light
literature (how heavy it generally is!), newspapers, needlework or a
piano. Few people indeed had such a concentrated interest in one
subject. She was sitting in an arm-chair, with folded hands, looking out
of the window. It was a point of vantage, whence she could see Nigel
arrive more quickly than from anywhere else.

As soon as he caught the first glimpse of her at the window it began to
get on his nerves. It was maddening to be waited for. ...

"You're five minutes late," she said abruptly, as he came in. She always
spoke abruptly, even when she wanted to be most amiable. He was
determined not to be bad-tempered, and smiled good-naturedly.

"Am I? So sorry." He was very quick and rapid in every word and
movement, but soft and suave--never blunt, as she was.

"Where have you been?"

"I went to look at those pictures in Bond Street," he replied, without a
moment's hesitation.

He had come straight from seeing Bertha--on the subject of Madeline and
Rupert--but he never thought of telling her that.

"Oh! Why didn't you take _me_?"

"I really don't know. I didn't think of it, I suppose. We'll go another
day."

He sat down opposite her and began to smoke a cigarette, having
permission always. She sat staring at him with clasped hands and eager
eyes.

Bertha's description of her as having flat red hair, a receding chin and
long ear-rings was impressionistically accurate. It was what one noticed
most. Mrs. Hillier was plain, and not at all pleasant-looking, though
she had a pretty figure, looked young, and might have been made
something of if she had had charm. There was something eager, sharp and
yet depressed about her, that might well be irritating.

She got up and came and stood next to Nigel; playing with his tie, a
little trick which nearly drove him mad, but he was determined to hide
it. When he couldn't bear it any longer he said: "That will do, dear."

She moved away.

"How do you mean 'that will do'?"

"Nothing; only don't fidget."

"You're nervous, Nigel. You are always telling me not to fidget."

"Am I? Sorry. Where are the children?"

"Never mind the children for a minute. They're out with Mademoiselle."

"Seen much of them to-day?"

"They came in to lunch. No, I have _not_, as a matter of fact. Do you
expect me to spend my whole time with children of eight and nine?"

He didn't answer, but it was exactly what he really did expect, and
would have thought perfectly natural and suitable.

"Some women," continued Mary, "seem to care a great deal more for their
children than they do for their husbands. I'm _not_ like that--I don't
pretend to be."

Nigel already knew this, to his great regret.

"I care more for you than I do for the children," she repeated.

"Yes."

"What do you mean by 'Yes'?"

"I was assenting: that's all. I meant--that you've told me all this
before, my dear. Haven't you?"

"Do you object? Do you _mind_ my caring more for you than for the
children?"

"If I object to anything it's only to your repeating yourself. I
mean--we've had all this; haven't we?"

"Nigel, are you trying to quarrel with me for loving you better than the
children?"

Nigel turned pale with irritation but controlled himself and stood up
and looked out of the window.

"Not in the least. It's most flattering. I only don't want to be told it
every time I see you. ... I mean that of course I should think it
perfectly natural if you were fond of the children too."

"I _am_ fond of them," she answered, "but they are not everything to me.
They don't fill up my whole time and all my thoughts. They won't do
instead of you."

"No one suggested that, I think. Have you been for a drive to-day?"

"No--I haven't."

"What a funny woman you are, Mary! You might as well not have a motor
for all the use you make of it."

"I had nowhere to go."

He looked at some invitation cards on the mantelpiece. "Oh, my dear,
that's absolute nonsense. You mean you don't care to go anywhere. It
_is_ extraordinary, how you drop people, Mary! When we first came to
this house we had a lot of parties and things. Now you never seem to
care for them."

"It's quite true," she answered. "We did have parties and things. They
made me miserable. I hated them."

"Rather odd; aren't you?"

"I hated them and loathed them," she continued. "For it only meant there
were crowds of women who tried to flirt with you."

"That's an _idée fixe_ of yours, my dear. Pure fancy, you know."

"Well; all I know is I hated to see you talking to the women who came
here. I tell you, quite frankly, _that's_ the reason why I've given up
accepting invitations and giving them. Of course, if you _insist_, I
will. I would do anything you told me."

"Oh, good God, no! Let's cut out the parties, then. Don't have them for
_me_! I thought it would be fun for you. ... What _do_ you do all day,
Mary, if I may ask? You never seem to have any shopping--or hobbies--or
anything that other women have to do."

"I do the housekeeping in the morning," she said; "I see cook and look
after everything to make things as _you_ like."

"And I'm sure you do it very well indeed. But it doesn't take long; and
after that----?"

"I sit in that chair looking out of the window for you."

He bit his lip impatiently, trying not to be irritable.

"It's very nice of you, Mary, I'm sure. But I do wish you wouldn't!"

"Why not? Don't you _like_ me to be waiting for you?"

"No--I don't. I should like to think you were enjoying yourself; having
a good time."

"Well, I shouldn't do it if you took me out with you always."

"My dear, I'm always delighted to take you with me, but I can't take you
everywhere."

"Where can't you take me?"

"Well--to the club!" He smiled, and took up a newspaper.

"I suppose you must go to your club sometimes," she said rather
grudgingly. "But tell me, Nigel, would you like us to go in more for
society again as we used at first?"

He thought a moment. There were more quarrels when they saw more
people--in fact, the fewer people they met the fewer subjects arose for
scenes.

"Well," he said, "suppose you give just one party this year. Just to
'keep our circle together,' as they say--then we can stop it again, if
you like."

"What sort of party?"

"Any sort. Musical, if you like."

"Oh! that means having horrid singers and players, and performers! I
don't like that set, Nigel."

"All right. Let's give a dance. We've got a splendid floor."

"A _dance_? Oh no. I don't dance; and I couldn't bear to see you dancing
with anyone."

"This is all very flattering, my dear, but you know you're really rather
absurd. Girls wouldn't be fighting to dance with an old married man like
me. Altogether,--the way you regard me,--the way you imagine I'm the
marked-down prey of every woman you know,--would be too comical if it
wasn't so pathetic."

"Oh, really? So you say! You're thirty-five;--you're better-looking than
ever."

"Thanks. It's very kind of you to think so." He laughed rather
contemptuously. "What a fatuous idiot I should be if I believed you.
But--to go back to what we were talking about--it really is in a way
rather a pity you're gradually dropping everybody like that. It seems to
me that one should either have a cosy, clever, interesting little set of
amusing and really intimate _friends_; or else, a large circle of
acquaintances; or both. I'm not speaking of parties, for me. No man of
course cares about all that sort of rot; it's only for you; women like
going out as a rule."

"I didn't care much about the sort of society you introduced me to when
we first married. I didn't like any of them much."

"What's the matter with them?" he asked. He knew she had always felt
morbidly and bitterly out of it because she mistakenly believed that
everybody was interested in the fact that her grandfather had made a
fortune in treacle, and that her husband was Lord Wantage's nephew. As a
matter of fact, no one who came to the house cared in the slightest
degree about either of these circumstances (even if they knew them) but
merely wished candidly to enjoy themselves in a large, jolly, hospitable
house, owned by a very attractive man with a large number of amusing
friends and, apparently, a harmless and good-natured little wife. Mary
detested and soon put a stop to intimate or Bohemian friends who sat up
all night smoking, talking art or literature, or being musical; and she
managed rapidly to reduce their circle to a much smaller one at a much
greater distance. She had not a single intimate friend. With women she
only exchanged cards. "What's wrong with them all?" Nigel repeated, for
he was beginning to lose patience.

"Oh! their manners are all right. If you really want to know what I
think of the whole set--I mean that sort of half-clever, half-smart set
you were in--the barristers and writers, artists, sporting and gambling
men, and women mad on music and the theatre--well, it is that the men
are silly and frivolous, and the women horrid and--and _fast_! Some are
cold and just as hard as nails, others are positively _wicked_! I admit
most of the men have nice manners and the women are not stupid. They all
dress well."

Nigel was silent a moment.

"Well, after all, if you don't like them, why should you see them?" he
said, good-naturedly enough. He did not feel inclined to defend all his
acquaintances. "But may I ask, do you consider that this set, as you
call it, lead a _useless_ life?"

"Yes; of course I do."

"Oh! Good. That's all I wanted to know."

"I see what you mean quite well," she said, walking up and down the
room. "You think _I_ lead a useless life--that I'm not accomplished or
literary or even domestic, or social. You think I lead an empty life
with all my money."

"Well, why shouldn't you, if you like it? But I wish you enjoyed it
yourself more, that's the point."

"I can never enjoy myself--if you want to know, Nigel--except when I'm
with you; and even then I'm often not happy, because I think you don't
care to be with me."

"Oh, Mary! really! How awful you are! What rot all this is! I can't say
more than that you can do whatever you like from morning to night, and
that I don't wish to interfere with you in any possible way."

"But I should like you to be _with_ me more."

He restrained the obvious retort (that she didn't make herself
agreeable).

"Well, I _am_ with you." He humoured her gently.

"Yes--at this moment."

"Aren't we going to dine together?"

"Yes, we are. But about an hour afterwards I know you'll find some sort
of excuse either to go out, or to go into the library and read. Why
can't you read while I'm looking at you? Why not?"

"Don't be always looking forward, meeting troubles half way," he said
jokingly. "Perhaps I sha'n't read." Then, after a moment's pause:
"Excuse my saying so, my dear, but if _you_ sometimes read a book, or
the papers, or saw more people, you would have more to tell me when we
did meet, wouldn't you?"

"It doesn't matter about that. You can tell me what you've been reading
or seeing. Who did you see at the picture gallery? Was Mrs. Kellynch
there?"

"Look here"--he was looking at the paper--"would you like to go to the
opera after dinner? Let's go one of these days soon."

"No; I shouldn't like it at all."

He stared at her in surprise.

"Why not, pray? I thought you enjoyed it the other night?"

"_You_ enjoyed it," she replied.

"I thought you seemed rather pleased with yourself when we went out,
with all your furs and tiaras and things. You looked very smart," he
said pleasantly.

"Well, I tell you I hated it, Nigel."

"And why?"

Mary was at least candid, and she spoke bluntly.

"Because we met Mrs. Kellynch; and you talked to her and seemed pleased
to see her."

"Oh, good heavens! I can hardly cut dead all the women I ever knew
before we were married."

"Do you think her pretty?" said Mary.

"Yes, of course I do; and so does everyone. She is pretty. It's a
well-known fact. But what does it matter? It's of no interest to me."

"Are you sure it isn't? Didn't you tell me you were almost engaged
once?"

"Oh, _do_ let's drop the prehistoric," he entreated, appearing bored.
"Never mind about ancient history now. She's married and seems very
happy." (He stopped himself in time from saying like us.) "Kellynch is a
very good sort."

"Is he? Do you envy him?"

"Mary, really, don't be absurd. Let me tell you that there's not one man
in a hundred who could stand ..." and he moved a step farther away.

"Could stand what?" She came nearer to him. "My caring for you so much?"

Half-a-minute passed in something near torture, as she played with his
tie again, and he controlled himself and spoke with a determinedly kind
smile.

"Go along and dress for dinner," he said.

"What shall I wear?"

"Oh! Your pretty yellow teagown," he answered.

She could not go out in that, he was reflecting, and if he suddenly
wanted to go for a walk----

"Very well, Nigel. Oh, dear Nigel! I don't mean to be disagreeable."

"I'm sure you don't," he answered, "let's leave it at that, my dear."

"All right," she said smiling, and went away, with a rather coquettish
kiss of the hand to him.

He opened the door and shut it after her, with gallant attention. Then
he threw up his arms with a despairing gesture.

"My God! What a woman! Why--why was I such a fool? ... How much longer
_can_ I bear it?"

The Hilliers' relatives and intimate friends often said cheerfully about
them: "Mary is very fond of Nigel, but she rather gets on his nerves."

       *       *       *       *       *

No one seemed yet to have discovered that there was a large double
tragedy in that simple, commonplace sentence.



CHAPTER VI

FUTURISM


It had long been Nigel's dream, since he had practically given up all
hope of calm and peaceful happiness at home, to have, at least, a secret
sorrow that everyone knew of and sympathised with. And certain people
did feel for him, understanding the great worry of his wife's morbid
jealousy. But the general public thought him extremely fortunate to have
married a woman--or rather a young girl--whose enormous wealth was only
equalled by her extraordinary devotion. Yet from the one person who
mattered, the look of tacit sympathy was denied him. How it would have
soothed him and made him absolutely happy! And Bertha was the only human
being who must never be allowed to know of his domestic troubles. She
was extremely proud, and it would have caused her great anger and pain
to think that after throwing her over (as he really had, for worldly
advantages), he should then want to come back, complain ungratefully of
the benefactress he had chosen and philander and amuse himself again. So
he had never referred to his unhappy life. His plan was deeper than
that. It was to appear merely the amusing friend, until by some chance,
he should feel his way to be more secure; to be, in fact, a kind of tame
cat, a _camarade_, useful, and intellectually sympathetic, unselfishly
devoted--until, perhaps, the time might come when she might find she
could not do without him. His calculations happened to be completely
wrong, but that, of course, he could not know. Like all collectors,
whether of women or of any other works of art or nature, although a
connoisseur, he did not quite recognise the exceptional when he met
it--his rules of life were too general. And his love for Bertha--what
word can one use but the word-of-all-work, love, which means so many
variations and shades, and complications of passion, sentiment, vanity
and attraction?--his love had greatly increased, was growing stronger:
sometimes he wondered whether it was the mere contradictory, defiant
obstinacy of the discouraged admirer; and, certainly, there was in his
devotion a strong infusion of a longing to score off his tyrannising
wife and the fortunate, amiable Percy. Nigel's jealousy of Percy--and
not of Percy only, but in a less degree of most men Bertha knew--was not
very far behind his wife's jealousy of him. A morbid propensity that
causes great suffering in domestic life is often curiously infectious to
the very person for whom it creates most suffering. Nigel sometimes
found himself positively imitating Mary in many little ways; watching,
and listening and asking indirect questions to find things out: if he
had dared he would have made Bertha a violent scene every time her
husband came into the house! He tried to hide it and had made Percy like
him. But Bertha could see perfectly well the tinge of jealousy for every
other friend of hers, and an inclination to crab and run down and sit
out, especially, any smart young man. This neither amused nor annoyed
her. She did not think about it.

Nigel really felt, besides, that most cruel of all remorse--_selfish_
remorse, that he had cheated himself in having thrown over love for
money. For his was not, after all, a mere smug, second-rate nature which
gold, and what it meant, in however great quantities, could really ever
satisfy. Putting aside the fact that his wife irritated him nearly to
madness, even if he had been allowed to live alone, and perfectly
free,--wealth and its gratifications would never have made him happy.
He had mistaken himself in a passing fit of despair and cupidity, aided
by the torturing agonies of being deeply in debt all round, and the
ghastly fear of a social smash.

He had a longing to feel at ease; he had a love of pleasure, too, of
freedom, of idleness; and the sort of talent that consists in
brilliantly describing what one could do and what one would like to do:
in sketching schemes, verbally--literary, financial, artistic, no matter
what--with so much charm, such aplomb that everyone believed in him, and
enjoyed to hear his projects, but he had not either the genius that
compels its owner to work nor the steadiness, the determination of
character that makes a man a successful drudge, who gets there in the
end.

Nigel is being rather severely analysed. But let it be understood that
with it all, besides having very great charm of look and manner, wit and
high spirits, in certain ways he was quite a good fellow: he had no
sneers for the more fortunate, no envy, nothing petty: he was
warm-hearted, generous even--when it did not cross some desire of his;
lavish with money, both on himself and on anyone who aided his pleasure,
and quite kind and tender-hearted in that he couldn't bear to see
anyone suffer--even Mary, with whom, as a matter of fact, he was very
weak.

The saint thinks only of the claims of others: the criminal solely of
his own. Between these extremes, there are, obviously, countless shades.
Unfortunately, Nigel had this in common with the worst; that when he
really wanted anything, everything had to go to the wall: all rights of
others, principles and pity were forgotten, everything was thrown
over--everyone pushed out of the way. He became unscrupulous. So when he
had required money he threw over his first love who, he knew, adored
him; now when he found out the mistake and was seriously in love with
Bertha, he would have thrown over anything on earth to get her, and
admired himself for doing it. He thought himself now noble-spirited and
sporting. He would have run away with her at any moment, even if he
thought they would have two or three hundred a year to live on, or
nothing at all. Not only that, he would have been devoted to her and
worshipped her and never reproached her--and been faithful to her
too--until he fell in love with someone else, which might, or might not
have happened.

Often he wondered why he cared so much more for Bertha now that she was
twenty-eight than when she was eighteen. Perhaps she had really
increased in charm: certainly she had in magnetism and in knowledge of
the world, and she was just as attractive, a sweet little creature whom
one wanted to protect and yet whom, in a way, one could lean on and rely
on, too. She was so subtle, so strangely wise and sensible--she seemed
to know everything while having the naïve, unconscious air of a person
who knows next to nothing. And all these gifts she used--for what? She
made Percy happy, she was charming and kind, clear-sighted, indulgent
(if a little cynical), and always amusing; full of dash and spirit, and
yet with the most feminine softness, and above all that invaluable
instinct, always, for doing and saying the right thing ... and (he knew
instinctively) a genius for love. ...

Yes, he thought, she was an extraordinary woman! There was nobody
like her: in his opinion she was thrown away on Percy. But _she_
did not think so, and he envied, hated the husband, with an absurd
bitterness--envied him for several reasons, but chiefly because Nigel
had now developed what had been in abeyance at the time of their
youthful engagement--that real sensuous discrimination, which has
comparatively little to do with taste for beauty, that power of
weighing amorous values, given only to the authentic Sybarite.

       *       *       *       *       *

On the day arranged for the Russian Ballet party, Nigel made an excuse
for seeing Bertha to arrange tactics with regard to Rupert and Madeline.
She told him she was expecting the Futurist painter, the Italian,
Semolini, but she received him first.

"About Rupert, now," said Nigel. "Isn't it odd?--I always think of
Rupert with a rapier concealed somewhere about his person. Ruperts and
rapiers are inseparably associated in my mind. Well--shall I, after
supper, drive back with Rupert and praise up Miss Irwin--or not?"

"Yes, if you think it is a good thing."

"_If_ I think it's a good thing! Nothing in the world has such a good
effect on a man as the admiration of another man for the girl he
admires."

"But don't do too much digging in the ribs--don't overdo it. Rupert,
though he doesn't carry a rapier, isn't quite a modern cynical man, and
with all his affectations I believe he has a very sweet nature. He'll be
good to Madeline--I want her to be happy."

"Well, at any rate, if she likes him she may as well have her fling at
him," said Nigel carelessly.

Bertha looked annoyed.

"That isn't the point only--silly! If she liked _you_ ever so much and
you were free, do you suppose I would take her side--help her?"

"I hope not," said Nigel insinuatingly, suddenly changing his seat to
one close to Bertha.

She looked calmly away, as if bored.

He saw it was the wrong tone and stood up, with his back to the
mantelpiece, looking at her.

"I like your frock, Bertha."

She looked down at it.

"You have an extraordinary air of not knowing what you have got on. I
never saw a woman look so unconscious of her dress. There's a good deal
of the art that conceals art about it, I fancy. Your clothes are
attractive--in an impressionist way!"

"The only thing I think of about my dresses, is that they should make
people admire me--not my dressmaker," said Bertha candidly. "I don't
care for much variety, and I leave real smartness to Madeline and the
other tall, slim girls. My figure is so wrong! How dare I be short and
tiny, and yet not thin, nowadays?"

"You're exquisite--at least in my opinion. I've never been an admirer of
the lamp-post as the type of a woman's figure."

She looked bored again. "Oh, please don't! I don't care what you
like--so long as you like Mary, who was very graceful and _chic_, I
thought, the other night at the opera."

It was Nigel's turn to look bored.

"Yes. ... What is this chap like, this Semolini man?"

"He's not like anything. He's a nice little thing."

"Signor Semolini," announced the servant.

A very small, very brown young man came in, clean-shaven, with large
bright blue eyes, black hair, and a single eyeglass with a black ribbon.

They greeted him cordially, convinced him that he was welcome, made him
feel at home, gave him tea. It was his first visit, but no one was ever
shy long with Bertha. He soon began chattering very volubly in a sort of
English, which, if not exactly broken, was decidedly cracked.

"I like those things of yours--at the gallery, I mean," said Nigel
patronisingly. He was always patronising to all artists, even when he
didn't know them, as in this case, to be cranks. "I think they're
top-hole; simply _awfully_ good, I thought. I didn't quite understand
them, though, I admit."

"But you saw ze idea?"

"What idea?"

"Why, the simultaneity of the plastic states of mind in the art? That is
our intoxicating object, you know."

"Oh, that! Ah, yes--yes, quite so. I thought it was that." Nigel looked
knowing, and shook his head wisely.

Under this treatment the young Italian became very animated.

"You were right! You see, it is ze expansion of coloured forms in space,
combined with the co-penetration of plastic masses which forms what we
call futurism."

"Oh yes, of course," said Nigel. "It would be. I mean to
say--well!--almost anyone would guess that, wouldn't they?"

Semolini turned to Bertha, talking more and more quickly, and
gesticulating with a little piece of bread and butter in his right hand.
"It is ze entire liberation from the laws of logical perspective that
makes movement--the Orphic cubism--if you will allow me to say so!"

"Oh, certainly," smiled Bertha. "_Do_ say so!"

"Orphic cubism! I say! Isn't that a bit strong before a lady?" murmured
Nigel.

Semolini laughed heartily without understanding a word, and continued to
address himself to Bertha, whose eyes looked sympathetic. "It is
painting, pure painting--painting new masses with elements borrowed
chiefly from the reality of mental vision!" cried the artist.

"Funny! Just what I was going to say!" said Nigel.

Bertha contented herself with encouraging smiles.

The young Italian was due to lecture on his views, and had to leave. At
least three appointments were made with him, none of which Nigel had the
slightest intention of keeping--to "go into the matter more
thoroughly"--then Semolini vanished, charmed with his reception.

"Good heavens! will someone take me away and serve me up on a cold
plate?" said Nigel, directly he had gone. "Look here, Bertha, is the
chap off his head, a fraud, or serious?"

"Awfully serious. Are you going to see him to look into the matter?"

"I _think_ not," said Nigel, "at least I don't want to see his pictures,
face to face, until I've insured my life. I must think of my widow and
the children."

Here Nigel's young brother, Charlie, arrived. He was a slimmer, younger,
but less good-looking edition of Nigel. He had just come down from
Oxford, was pleasant, gentle, and appeared to be trying to repress a
natural inclination to be a nut. He called on Bertha in the hope of
seeing Madeline.

"I say, the Futurist chap has just been here," said Nigel to Charlie.

"Good! What's he like?"

"A little bit of all right. Frightfully fascinating, as girls say," said
Nigel.

"He's not so bad," said Bertha mildly.

"Isn't he? I've seen the pictures. But what _is_ he like? The sort of
chap you'd like to be seen with?" asked the young man.

"Well--not acutely," replied Nigel.

"Very dark, is he? quite black?"

"Yes."

"Good teeth?"

"Yes, several."

"Clean-shaven?"

"Not very."

There was a pause.

"But is he really an Italian?" asked Charlie.

"Shouldn't think so," said Nigel carelessly.

"What then?" asked Bertha, laughing.

"Scotch, probably."

"Very likely, if he's clever. They say all the clever people come from
Scotland," Charlie remarked.

"And the cleverer they are, the sooner they come, I suppose," said
Bertha. "Fancy the MacFuturist in a kilt!"

"But where does he come from ... where does he really live?" continued
Charlie, who seemed to have a special, suspicious curiosity on the
subject.

"Rapallo," said Bertha.

"Where's that?"

"The first turning to the left on the map as you go to Monte Carlo,"
said Nigel.

"But what _did_ he say--was he very odd and peculiar?"

"Oh, he carried on like one o'clock about Futurism," said Bertha.

"I thought every moment would be my next," said Nigel.

"What nonsense you're both talking," said Bertha.

"Yes, and if Charlie thinks he's going to sit me out by asking
questions, he's jolly well mistaken," Nigel said. "Look here, old chap,
Bertha's going out. I know she wants to get into her glad raiment. I'll
drop you."

"Right-o!" said Charlie, jumping up.

They took their leave. Bertha looked amused.



CHAPTER VII

RUSSIAN BALLET


Arrangements had been made that Mrs. Nigel Hillier was to have a little
dinner at home for her mother (with whom Nigel was not supposed to be on
terms); and she and her parent were to go to the St. James's Theatre,
for which two stalls had been purchased. Nigel pretended he was dining
with an old friend at the club.

Coming in brightly, but, as usual, losing half his personality in the
hall, he found Mary at seven o'clock sitting in the little boudoir, in
the usual arm-chair, looking our for him, not, apparently, thinking of
dressing for dinner.

"Hallo, Mary!" he said. "Hadn't you better get ready for your mother?"

"No," she responded rather coldly and bitingly, "I've put mother off."

He glanced at her with self-control. She looked, he thought, far more
bitter than usual.

"That's a pity, because you will be alone--dear. Besides, the stalls
will be wasted."

"No, they won't," she said. "You'll stay at home with me, and take me to
the St. James's. You can easily put off your man at the club." She
looked him full in the eyes.

Colour rose to his face and then faded away.

"I'm sorry, my dear, but that's impossible."

"It isn't impossible--you mean you don't want to do it. ... Oh, do
please--please, Nigel!" She came towards him and played with his
tie--the trick of hers that he hated most.

She mistook his silence, which was hesitation as to what plan to adopt,
for vacillation, and thought she was going to win. ...

"Oh, 'oo will, 'oo will!" she exclaimed, with a rather sickly imitation
of a spoilt child, with her head on one side. It was a pose that did not
suit her in any way.

He drew back; the shiny red hair gave him a feeling of positive nausea.
She was attempting to defeat him--she was trying to be coquettish--poor
thing! ... She suspected something; she hadn't put off her mother for
nothing. ... He was going to the Russian Ballet with Bertha--how could
he leave Bertha in the lurch? With Madeline and Rupert, too--what harm
was there in it? (The fact that he heartily wished there _was_ had
really nothing to do with the point.)

Husbands and wives usually know when opposition is useless. Mary
privately gave it up when she heard Nigel speak firmly and quickly--not
angrily.

"I've made the arrangement now, and I can't back out."

"And what about me?" she said, in a shrill voice.

He went out of the room hastily, saying:

"I can't help it now; if you alter your arrangements at the last
minute--stop at home and read a book, or take some friend to the St.
James's."

He ran upstairs like a hunted hare; he was afraid of being late. He had
got his table at the Carlton.

Left alone in the boudoir, a terrible expression came over Mary's face.
She said to herself quite loudly:

"He is not going to the club; he'd give it up if he were. It's something
about that woman. ..."

A wave of hysteria came over her, also a half-hearted hope of succeeding
still by a new kind of scene. ...

There were two large china pots on the mantelpiece; she threw them,
first one, then the other, at the half-open door, smashing them to
atoms. Excited at her own violence, she ran upstairs screaming,
regardless of appearance:

"You sha'n't go! You sha'n't go! I hate you. I'll kill myself.
Oh--oh--oh! Nigel! Nigel!"

       *       *       *       *       *

At eight to the minute Nigel in the Palm Court received Bertha Kellynch
dressed in black, Madeline in white, and Rupert Denison with a little
mauve orchid in his buttonhole.

The dinner, subtly ordered, was a complete success, and Madeline Irwin
was in a dream of happiness, but Bertha was sorry to see that Nigel, who
was usually remarkably moderate in the matter of champagne, and to-night
drank even less than usual, had the whole evening a trembling hand. Even
at the ballet, where he was more than usually ready to enjoy every shade
of the enjoyable, he was not quite free from nervous agitation. He did
not drive Rupert home, but let Rupert drop him in Grosvenor Street at
twelve-thirty--for a slight supper was inevitable and Rupert had taken
them to the Savoy.

       *       *       *       *       *

Mrs. Hillier was in bed and asleep. The maid said she had been ill and
excited. The maid, frightened, had sent for the doctor. His remedy had
succeeded in calming her.

The next day Mary seemed subdued, and was amiable. Both ignored the
quarrel. Nigel believed it would not occur again. He thought his
firmness had won and that she was defeated. He did not understand her.



CHAPTER VIII

PERCY


"I've had such a lovely letter from Rupert, Bertha. I'm so excited, I
can't read it almost!"

Bertha held out her hand. Madeline was looking agitated.

"He says," said Madeline, looking closely at the letter in her
short-sighted way, "that he wishes he could burn me like spice on the
altar of a life-long friendship! Fancy!"

"Rather indefinite, isn't it?"

"Oh, but listen!" And Madeline read aloud eagerly: "_Yesterday evening
was perfect: but to-day and for several days I shall be unable to see
you. Why is a feast day always followed by a fast?_"

"Is it Doncaster to-morrow?" asked Bertha.

"Don't be absurd, that's nothing to do with it. Listen to this. _What a
curiously interesting nature you have! Am I not right when I say that I
fancy in time, as you develop and grow older, you may look at life eye
to eye with me?_"

"Madeline dear, _please_ don't mistake that for a proposal. I assure you
that it isn't one."

Madeline looked up sharply. "Who said it was? But, anyhow, it shows
interest. He must be rather keen--I mean interested--in me. It's all
very well to say it means nothing, but for a man nowadays to sit down
and write a long letter all about nothing at all, it must have some
significance. Look how easily he might have rung up! I know you're
afraid of encouraging me too much, and it's very kind of you--but I must
confess I _do_ think that letters mean a great deal. Think of the
trouble he's taken. And there's a great deal about himself in it, too."

"Of course, Madeline, I don't deny that it does show interest, and he
probably must be a little in love with someone--perhaps with himself--to
write a letter about nothing. As you say, it's unusual nowadays. But you
mustn't forget that, though Rupert's young, he belongs to the '95
period. Things were very different then. People thought nothing of
writing a long letter; and a telegram about nothing was considered quite
advanced and American."

"Oh, bother!" said Madeline, "I hate being told about the period he
belongs to. It makes it seem like ancient history. Listen to what he
says about you--such lovely things! '_Mrs. Kellynch is a delightful
contrast to you, and is all that is charming and brilliant, in a
different way. Is she not one of those (alas, too few) who are always
followed by the flutes of the pagan world?_'"

"That's really very sweet of him. I say, I wonder what it means
exactly?"

"I have no idea. But it just shows, doesn't it?"

With a satisfied smile, Madeline put the letter away. Bertha did not
press to see it, but remarked: "I see he didn't sign himself very
affectionately. Evidently there's nothing compromising in the letter."

"Why do you say that?"

"Because you put it away. Otherwise you would have shown it to me.
Nobody cares to show an uncompromising love-letter--with a lukewarm
signature."

"At any rate," said Madeline, gliding over the point and leaving the
letter in its cover, "your taking us out last night was a very great
help. I feel I've made progress; he thinks more of me."

"Yes, I thought it would be a good thing to do. Now you'd better not
answer the letter, and please don't show any anxiety if you don't see
him for a little while, either."

"I sha'n't be a bit anxious, Bertha, especially if it's only racing, or
something of that sort. Or, in fact, anything, unless I get afraid he's
seeing Miss Chivvey. Do you ever think that Rupert still takes an
interest in Miss Chivvey?"

"A little, but I don't think it matters. I think she's needed as a
contrast to you. She surprises and shocks him, and that amuses him, but
she isn't his real taste. I don't think Miss Chivvey's dangerous,
seriously. She uses cheap scent."

"Oh!" cried Madeline, delighted. "There's nothing so awful as cheap
scent!"

"Except expensive scent, because it's stronger," said Bertha.

Madeline looked at her admiringly.

"How extraordinary you are, Bertha! It's wonderfully sweet of you to
take such an interest in my wretched little romance. You might have so
many of your own, if you cared to."

"Ah, but I don't care to. I'm rather exacting in a way, but I don't want
variety. I've no desire for an audience. I don't want a little of
everybody. All I want is the whole of one person."

"Is that all! Well, you've got it," replied Madeline.

"I hope so," she answered, rather seriously. "I'm not altogether
satisfied. I can't settle down to the idea of a dull, humdrum sort of
life--and of Percy's being fond of me casually."

"Oh, good gracious, I'm sure he isn't casual! What a strange idea of
yours!"

"I hope I'm wrong. I believe I want something that's very nearly
impossible. I've always had a sort of ideal or dream of making an
ordinary average married life into a romance."

"Well, and can't it be?"

"I don't really see why it shouldn't. But there's no doubt there are
immense difficulties in the way. It seems to be necessary, first of all,
for there to be not only one exceptional temperament, but two. And
that's a good deal to expect. Of course, the obvious danger is the
probability of people getting tired of anything they've got. I'm afraid
that's human nature. The toys the children see in the shop-window always
seem much less wonderful when they're home in the nursery. As a brother
of mine used to say a little vulgarly, 'You don't run after an omnibus
when once you've caught it.'"

"Perhaps not."

"As soon as you belong to a person, obviously, Madeline, they don't
value you _quite_ in the same kind of way. The glamour seems to go."

"But you don't want necessarily always to be _run after_, surely? You
want to be treasured and valued--all that sort of thing."

"Yes, I know! But my ideal would be that there should be just as much
excitement and romance and _fun_ after marriage as before--if it were
possible."

"Oh, good heavens, Bertha! then, if one were to go by that horrible
theory of your brother's, one ought never to marry the person one loves,
if one wants to keep them."

"No, in theory, one ought not. But then, where are you if he goes and
marries someone else? After all, you'd rather he got tired of _you_ than
of the other person! Wouldn't you prefer he should make _your_ life
miserable than any other woman's? Besides, one must take a risk. It's
worth it."

"I should think it is, indeed!" cried Madeline. "Why, I would marry
Rupert if I thought I should never see him again after a month or
two--if I knew for a fact he would get tired of me!"

"Of course you would, and quite right too. But remember people are not
all alike. There are any number of men who are absolutely incapable of
being really in love with anyone who belongs to them. They simply can't
help it. It's the instinct of the chase. And it's mere waste of time and
energy to attempt to change them."

"Are you speaking of men or husbands?"

"Either, really. But don't let's forget that there are a great many
others, on the other hand, who care for nothing and no one who isn't
their own. Collectors, rather than hunters. Surely you've noticed that,
Madeline? It's a passion for property. The kind of man who thinks _his_
house, _his_ pictures, _his_ cook, even his mother, everything connected
with him must be better than the possessions of anyone else. Well, this
kind of man is quite capable of remaining very devoted to his own wife,
and in love with her, if she's only decently nice to him; and even if
she's not. I mean the sort of man one sometimes sees at a party,
pointing out some utterly insignificant person there, and declaring that
Gladys or Jane, or whoever it is, takes the shine out of everyone else,
and that there's no one else in the room to touch her. His wife, of
course. I don't mean out of devotion--that's another, finer
temperament--but simply and solely because she belongs to him."

"Well, Bertha, I don't care what his reason is, I _like_ that man!"

"Oh, rather! So do I. And very often he's not a bit appreciated; though
he would be by us. Perhaps the most usual case of all is for the
husband, if he's married for love, to remain in love for the first two
or three years, and for the love then to turn gradually into a warm
friendship, or even a deep affection, which may go on growing
deeper--it's only the romance and the glamour and sparkle that seems to
go--the excitement. And that's such a pity. I can't help thinking in
many cases it really needn't be. More often than not, I believe, it's
the woman's mistake. Just at first, she's liable to take too much
advantage of the new sort of power she feels."

"Do you mean, Bertha, that the woman generally doesn't take enough
trouble with the house to make it pleasant for him at home--and all
that?"

"I _didn't_ mean that, though it might be so. But sometimes it's just
the other way. More often than not she takes a great deal too much
trouble about the home, and bothers him about it. There's far too much
domesticity. It's like playing at houses at first, but soon it grows
tedious. At any rate the whole thing is worth studying very deeply. I
can tell you I haven't given it up yet."

"You? Oh, Bertha, I can't think what fault you have to find. You, as you
say, certainly are exacting."

"I blame myself, solely. I feel that, somehow or other, I've allowed
things to get too prosaic. Percy takes everything for granted:
everything goes on wheels. Of course, if I were satisfied to settle down
at twenty-eight with complete contentment at the prospect of a humdrum
existence, it would be all right; but I'm not. In another few years
Percy will be getting on very well as a barrister, taking himself
seriously, and regarding me just as part of the furniture at home. You
know he always calls me a canary; that shows his point of view. Well,
then, he might get a little interested in a wilder kind of bird, and I
shouldn't like it!"

"What would your idea be, then? Would you flirt to make him jealous?"

"No, I certainly shouldn't. That's frightfully obvious and common. If I
ever did flirt, it wouldn't be for such a silly reason as that. It would
be for my own amusement and for nothing else, but I don't think I ever
shall. I think it's a fatal mistake for a woman to lower herself in any
way in the other person's eyes. Her lasting hold and best one, is that
he must think her perfection; it's the safest link with a really nice
man. Anyone can be worse than you are, but it's not easy when you take
the line that none can be _better_! because no one else is going to try!
But if, after all, he still gets tired of her, as they sometimes do,
well--it's very hard--but I am afraid she must manage badly."

"I never should have dreamed you thought of all these things, Bertha.
You seem so serene and happy."

"I am. It's the one subject I ever worry about. I'm always prepared for
the worst."

"And I'm quite sure you've no cause to be. Why not wait till trouble
comes?" suggested Madeline.

"Why, then it would be too late. No, I want to ward it off long before
there's any danger."

"I think it's very unlike you--almost morbid--bothering about
possibilities that will never happen."

"I daresay it is, in a way. But, you know, I fancy I've second sight
sometimes. What I feel with us is that things are too smooth, too calm,
a little dull. Something ought to happen."

"You're looking so pretty, too," said Madeline rather irrelevantly.

"I'm glad to hear it; but I only want one person to think so."

"But it's obvious that he does; he's very proud of you."

"I sometimes think he's too much accustomed to me. He takes me as a
matter of course."

"If that is so, I daresay you'll be able to alter matters," said
Madeline, getting up to go.

"Yes, I daresay I shall; it only needs a little readjusting," Bertha
said.

They shook hands in cordial fashion. They did not belong to the gushing
school, and, notwithstanding their really deep mutual affection, neither
would ever have dreamed of kissing the other.

As soon as Madeline had gone Bertha went and looked steadily and
seriously in the glass, for some considerable time. She thought on the
whole that it was true that she was looking pretty: on this subject she
was perfectly calm, cool and unbiassed, as if judging the appearance of
a stranger. For, though she naturally liked to be admired, as all women
do, she was entirely without that fluffy sort of vanity, that weak
conceit, so indulgent to itself, that makes nearly all pretty women
incapable of perceiving when they are beginning to go off, or unwilling
to own it to themselves.

The one person for whose admiration and interest she cared for more and
more, her Percy, she fancied was growing rather cooler. This crumpled
rose-leaf distressed her extremely.

At this moment he arrived home. She heard his voice and his step, and
waited for him to come up, with an increasing vividness of colour and
expression, with a look of excited animation, that in so sophisticated a
woman was certainly, after ten years, a remarkable tribute to a
husband.

Percy, who was never very quick, was this evening much longer coming
upstairs than usual. He was looking at the letters in the hall. With his
long, legal-looking, handsome face, his even features, his fine figure
and his expression of mild self-control, and the large, high brow, he
had a certain look of importance. He appeared to have more personality
then he really had. His manner was impressive, even when one knew--as
Bertha certainly did--that he was the mildest, the most amiable and
good-natured of serious barristers.

With one of those impulses that are almost impossible to account for,
Percy took one of the letters up before the others. It was directed in
type. He half opened it, then put it in his pocket. He felt anxious to
read it; for some quite inexplicable reason he felt there was something
about it momentous, and of interest. It was not a circular, or a bill.
It made him feel uncomfortable. After waiting a moment he opened it and
read part of it. Then he replaced it in his pocket, and ran up to his
room, taking the other unopened letters with him.

"Percy!" called Bertha, as he passed the drawing-room.

"I shall be down in a few minutes," he called out.

He went upstairs and shut himself into his room.

She also felt unaccountably uncomfortable and anxious, as if something
had happened, or was going to happen. Why was Percy so long?

When he came down at last she gave him his tea and a cigarette and
noticed, or perhaps imagined, that he looked different from usual. He
was pale. Yes, he was distinctly a little pale. Poor Percy!

       *       *       *       *       *

Instead of telling him he was not looking very well, and asking him what
was the matter, complaining that he had not taken any notice of her, or
behaving otherwise idiotically, after the usual fashion of affectionate
wives, she remained silent, and waited till he seemed more as usual.

Then he said: "Has anyone been here to-day?"

"No one but Madeline. She's only just gone."

"Oh yes--been out at all?"

"I went out this morning for a little while."

He seemed absent.

"You enjoyed yourself last night, didn't you?" he asked.

"Oh yes, it was rather fun. Yet, somehow, the Russian Ballet never
leaves me in good spirits for the next day. It doesn't really leave a
pleasant impression somehow--an agreeable flavour."

"Doesn't it--why?"

"One wants to see it, one is interested, from curiosity, and then,
afterwards, there's a sort of Dead Sea-fruitish, sour-grapes,
autumn-leaves, sort of feeling! It's too remote from real life and yet
it hasn't an uplifting effect. At any rate it always depresses me."

He gave her a rather searching look, and then said:

"Did Hillier like it?"

"I think he enjoys everything. He's always so cheery."

"And to-night we're dining at home?"

"Oh yes, I hope so. We'll have a quiet evening."

After a moment Percy said, in a slightly constrained way:

"I think I shall have to go out for half-an-hour. I want to see a man at
the club."

"Oh, must you? But it's raining so much. Why don't you ring him up and
ask him to come here?"

She was anxious not to betray a womanish fear that he might be getting
influenza, as she knew that nothing would annoy him so much as bothering
about him.

"No; I must go out."

She dropped the subject. He took up a new book she had been reading and
talked about it somewhat pompously and at great length. The whole time
it struck her he was not like himself. Something was wrong. He was
either worried, or going to be ill. He had either a temper or a
temperature. But she did not refer to it. Dinner was sometimes a good
cure for such indispositions.

He continued to make conversation in a slightly formal way until he went
out. After he had gone she observed to herself that his manner had
varied from polite absent-mindedness to slight irritability. He had gone
out without telling her anything about his plans. He had not even kissed
her.



CHAPTER IX

AN ANONYMOUS LETTER


Mrs. Hillier habitually had breakfast in her own room, for no particular
reason, but because Nigel encouraged her in this luxurious manner of
beginning the day. He said a woman ought not to have to come down until
the day had been a little warmed, and got ready for her; that she should
have time to choose her clothes to harmonise with her moods--time, after
a look at the weather, and hearing the news of the day, to settle on
what the moods should be. For a man, on the contrary, he thought it
ridiculous and weakly idle--indolent in a way not suited to a man. A
man, according to Nigel, ought no more to have his breakfast in bed than
to come down with a bow of blue ribbon in his hair, or to go and lie
down before dressing for a dinner-party.

However, one morning it darted suddenly into Mary's head that Nigel, on
going downstairs to breakfast, while she did not, had nearly an hour to
himself. What a horrible idea! What injustice to her! And it occurred to
her that for years she had never seen Nigel open his letters. She had,
indeed, not the slightest idea what his manner at breakfast was like.
Was this fair? He always managed to get out of any invitation to the
country which included them both.

As soon as she had thought of this, she rang for her maid, and dressed
in the wildest hurry, as though she had to catch a train: leaving her
tray on the little table untouched, the maid running after her to fasten
hooks, and buttons, to stick in pins, and tie ribbons, as though they
were playing a game.

Mary won. She was flying out of the room when the maid ran after her,
saying:

"Madame, your tortoiseshell comb is falling out of your hair; won't you
let me finish dressing it?"

"Don't worry, Searle. What _does_ it matter?"

She flew downstairs.

Nigel looked up with that intense surprise that no one can succeed in
disguising as the acutest pleasure.

"Well, by Jove," he said, in his quick way, which was so cool and casual
that it almost had the effect of a drawl. He looked at her closely, and
said reassuringly:

"After all, it may not be true; and if it is, it may be for the best."

"What may not be true, Nigel. What do you mean?"

"Why, this sudden bad news."

"What news? There is no news."

"Isn't there? By Jove, this is splendid! Just come down to have
breakfast with me, then! Capital. What will you have, dear?"

He rang the bell.

"Are you sorry to see me?" she asked, darting looks at the envelopes by
his plate, looks that were almost sharp enough to open them.

"Sorry to see you? Don't be absurd! Your comb's falling into the sugar
basin, and I shouldn't think it would improve the taste of the coffee.
Look out! Help! Saved! Mary dear, why don't you do your hair?"

"I was afraid you might go out before I came down."

"Why, I'm not going out for ages, yet."

He gave her his letters in their envelopes, with a half-smile.

"I don't want to see them," she said. "Why do you pass me the letters,
as though you thought I came down for that?"

Nigel pretended not to hear. He opened the newspaper.

"I thought," she went on, "it seemed rather a shame that I should always
have breakfast upstairs, and leave you alone, without anyone to keep you
company."

"Awfully kind of you, but, really, I don't mind a bit."

He gave a quick look round the room. He had again that curious, bitter
sensation of being trapped. Was he now not even going to have this
pleasant morning hour to himself?

Probably there was not a prettier room in London than this one. It had
the pale pink and green, blue and mauve colouring of spring flowers; the
curved shapes of the dainty artificial creatures who lived for fine and
trivial pleasure only; the best Louis Quinze decoration. And to-day it
was a lovely day; and the warm west wind blew in the breath of the pink
and blue hyacinths in the window-boxes. There was that pleasant gay
buzzing sound of London in June outside in Grosvenor Street: the growing
hum of the season, that made one feel right in it, even if one wasn't.
Everything was peacefully happy, harsh and hard things seemed unreal;
the world seemed made for birds and butterflies, light sentiment,
colour, perfume and gay music. In this London life seemed like a Watteau
picture.

Nigel saw that he had never yet realised why he was so fond of this
room, where he always had breakfast. It was because there he was free,
and alone.

       *       *       *       *       *

Now he was determined that there should be no quarrelling to-day. It is
only fair to Nigel to say that he was always quite determined to keep
away the quarrels; and fought against them. Placed as they were, with
such infinitely more possibilities of happiness than nine _ménages_ out
of ten--though leaving out unfortunately one, and that the most
important part--love--it was terrible that they should quarrel. He was
so easy-going, so ready to ignore her faults, to make the best of things
as they were. And she liked to quarrel, merely because it made her, for
the time, of importance to him. In fact, being madly in love with him,
and both wildly and stupidly jealous, to get up a quarrel was almost the
only satisfaction she ever had, the only effect she ever produced now.

Since the other evening, when she had behaved with entire want of
self-control, or, perhaps, rather with a kind of instinctive
premeditated hysteria, she appeared to recognise that manner had not
been a real success. She had tried, at all costs, to prevent him going
to the theatre, and had failed.

The next day they ignored the trouble; and for some time afterwards she
seemed pleasanter, while he was kind and attentive, believing she had
really forgotten her grievance.

On the contrary, it was more firmly fixed in her mind than before. She
was absolutely determined that, on no excuse whatever, should he
continue to see Bertha Kellynch.

She had found out that the host of the evening at the ballet had been
Rupert Denison, and that Madeline Irwin, Bertha and Nigel were the
guests. For more than a week Mary had entirely given up the quarrelsome
and nagging mood, so that Nigel believed she no longer had this absurd
fancy about Bertha. As a matter of fact, for the first time, she had
really been dissembling, had spent a good deal of time and money in
finding out how both Bertha and Nigel spent their time. What little she
had found out had given her an entirely false impression, and that had
resulted in a very desperate determination. She meant to carry it out
this morning. But she wanted to talk a little more to Nigel first.

"Nigel dear, you know what you said the other evening about giving
parties?"

"Yes."

"I've been thinking, perhaps, dear, you're right. I find I've dropped
nearly all your old friends. I think we'd better give one big party--a
reception, I think. Our drawing-room has never been seen yet."

Nigel looked up, really pleased to see her taking a more normal sort of
interest in her existence.

"By Jove! I am glad. That's capital! Yes, of course. To start with we'll
give an At Home, as they call 'em."

"Do you think there ought to be any sort of entertainment, Nigel?"

"Well, just as you like. You said you didn't want music. ... How would
it be to have a band to play the whole evening?"

"Yes, that would do very well. Oh, and, Nigel! I find I've been so
careless and forgotten all the addresses and lost the cards of people
that we used to know. I shall want someone to help me."

"Yes, I suppose Mademoiselle won't do."

"Oh no, she's no use. I shall engage a typewriter to go through the list
with me and send out cards."

"Right-o! good idea."

He was quite surprised and satisfied, and thought to himself how wise it
was of him the other day to ignore the absurd fit of excitement when she
had smashed the vases. Certainly she had been better ever since.

"You'd like me to help you with the list, wouldn't you, dear?" he said
presently.

She gave him a sharp look.

"I suppose we'd better ask everybody we know to this sort of thing," she
said.

"Your mother and I are not on the best of terms, I'm afraid. But you
must be sure to ask her, and we'll make it up."

Nigel thought to himself that really would be only fair, considering
that he had practically and ingeniously invented the quarrel on purpose;
in order that he could have an excuse to go out when Mary's mother came
to see her. But, really, Nigel liked her personally and knew that she
liked him, and that she was not without sympathy for anyone who had to
live with her daughter.

"I suppose you'll want me to ask the Kellynches?" asked Mary, in a
rather low voice.

"It would look natural if you did. But, really, I have seen so little of
them for the last few years that you can please yourself about it."

"You've accepted several invitations from them," said Mary, in rather a
cutting tone. "Perhaps it would be as well to return them."

"I don't think I've ever dined there," said Nigel casually.

"Didn't you meet them that night at the Russian Ballet? Don't deny it! I
know you all went to supper at the Savoy."

"Who's denying it! You know that Denison asked me to supper at the
Savoy, and that Madeline Irwin was there, and Mrs. Kellynch."

"Quite a nice little _partie carrée_," said Mary, unable to keep up her
plan of self-control, and speaking in a trembling voice.

"Now, Mary, don't be absurd! You know it's hardly usual for a bachelor
like Rupert to ask three women or three men to supper!"

"I suppose he drove Miss Irwin home?" said Mary, commanding herself as
well as she could.

"No, he didn't. Why should he? Mrs. Kellynch who is Madeline's intimate
friend, naturally drove Miss Irwin home in her car. And Rupert, who
lives near here, dropped me. It was some little time ago, by the way,
but I remember it quite well. Nice feller Rupert--we ought to ask him,
too."

"All right, dear."

They parted amiably.

       *       *       *       *       *

An hour later Mary was going through her lists of cards and addresses
with the typewriter when she suddenly said:

"Oh, Miss Wilson, I'm writing a sort of story. And it's to be told in a
series of letters."

"Oh yes."

"Will you please take this down. This is the address: Percy Kellynch,
Esq., 100 Sloane Street. It begins like this: 'Dear Mr. Kellynch----'"
...



CHAPTER X

MASTER CLIFFORD KELLYNCH


Lady Kellynch was in the room she usually chose for sitting in for any
length of time, when her son, Clifford (twelve years old), was at home
for the holidays.

A widow, handsome and excessively dignified, as I have mentioned, with
her prim notions, she was essentially like the old-fashioned idea of an
old maid. As her fine house was very perfectly and meticulously
furnished, she treated the presence of Clifford as an outrage in any
room but this particularly practical and saddle-bag old apartment, where
there was still a corner with a little low chair in it, and boxes full
of toys and other things, which were not only far outgrown by Clifford,
but which were absolutely never seen nowadays at all, and would be
considered far behindhand as amusements for a child of four.

This extra, additional child, born eighteen years after his brother, and
just before the death of his father, was still looked upon by Lady
Kellynch as a curious mixture of an unexpected blessing, an unnecessary
nuisance, and a pleasant surprise. She was always delighted to see him
when he first came home from school, but he was very soon allowed to go
and stay with Bertha and Percy. Bertha adored him and delighted in him
in reality; Lady Kellynch worshipped him in theory, but though she
hardly knew it herself, his presence absolutely interfered with all her
plans about nothing, spoilt her little arrangements for order, and
jarred on the clockwork regularity of her life, especially in her
moments of sentiment.

He was a very good-looking boy, with smooth black hair and regular
features like his brother, Percy. Perhaps because he was, according to
his mother's view, very much advanced for his age, he regarded her
rather as a backward child, to whom it would be highly desirable, but
unfortunately practically impossible, to explain life as it is now
lived.

Lady Kellynch was doing a peculiar little piece of bead embroidery. She
did it every day for ten minutes after lunch with a look at Clifford
every now and then, occasionally counting her beads, as if she was not
altogether quite sure whether or not he ate them when she wasn't
looking. This was the moment that she always chose to have conversation
with him, so as to learn to know his character. A couple of suitable
books, "The Jungle Book," and "Eric, or Little by Little," were placed
on a low table by Clifford's side; but, as a matter of fact, he was
reading _The English Review_.

"Clifford darling!"

He put the magazine down, shoving a newspaper over it.

"Well, mother?"

"Tell me something about your life at school, darling."

He glanced at the ceiling, then looked down for inspiration.

"How do you mean?"

"Well, haven't you any nice little friends at school, Clifford--any
favourites?"

He smiled.

"Oh, good Lord, mother, of course I haven't! People don't have little
friends. I don't know what you mean."

She looked rather pained.

"No friends! Oh, dear, dear, dear! But are there no nice boys that you
like?"

"No. Most of them are awful rotters."

She put down her beads.

"Clifford! I'm shocked to hear this. Rotters! I suppose that's one of
your school expressions--you mean no nice boys? Poor little fellow! I
shall make a note of that."

He looked up, rather frightened.

"What on earth for?"

"Why, I shall certainly speak to your master about it. Oh! to think that
you haven't got a single friend in the school! _All_ bad boys! There
must be something wrong somewhere!"

"Oh, mummy, for goodness sake don't speak to anybody about it. If you
say a word, I tell you, I sha'n't go back to school. I never heard of
such a thing! I didn't say they were all bad boys--rot! No. Some of them
aren't so bad."

"Well, tell me about one--if it's only one, Clifford."

He thought a moment.

"I'm afraid you'll go writing to the master, as you call it, and get me
expelled for telling tales, or something."

"Oh, my darling, of course I won't! Poor boy! tell me about this one."

"There's one chap who's fairly decent, a chap called Pickering."

"To think," she murmured to herself, stroking her transformation, and
shaking her head, "to think there should be only one boy fairly decent
in all that enormous school!"

"Oh, well! _he's_ simply _frightfully_ decent, as a matter of fact.
Pickering fairly takes it. He's top-hole. There's nothing he can't do."

"What does he do, darling?"

"Oh, I can't exactly explain. He's a bit of all right. It's frightfully
smart to be seen with him."

Lady Kellynch looked surprised at this remark.

"Clifford--really! I'd no idea you had these social views. Of course
you're quite right, dear. I've always been in favour of your being
friends with little gentlemen. But I shouldn't like you to be at
all--what is called a snob. So long as he _is_ a little gentleman, of
course, that's everything."

Clifford laughed.

"I never said Pickering was a gentleman! big or little! You don't
understand, mother. I mean it's smart to be seen with him because--oh! I
can't explain. He's all right."

His mother thought for a little while, then, having heard that it is
right to encourage school friendships at home, so as to know under what
influence your boy got, she said:

"Would you like, dear, to have this young Master Pickering to tea here
one day?"

He looked up, and round the room.

"Oh no, mother; I shouldn't care for him to come here."

"Why not, dear?"

"Oh, I can't explain exactly; it isn't the sort of place for him."

Lady Kellynch was positively frightened to ask why, for fear her boy
should show contempt for his own home, so she didn't go into the matter,
but remarked:

"I should think a beautiful house in Onslow Square, with a garden like
this, was just the thing for a boy to like."

He shook his head with a humorous expression of contempt.

"Pickering wouldn't go into a _Square_ garden, mother!"

She waited a moment, wondering what shaped garden was suited to him,
what form of pleasaunce was worthy of the presence of this exceptional
boy, and then said, trying to ascertain the point of view:

"Would you take him to see Percy?"

He brightened up directly.

"Percy! Oh yes, rather. I'd like him to see Bertha. I shall ask her to
let me take him one day."

Lady Kellynch felt vaguely pained, and envious and jealous, but on
reflection realised to herself that probably the wonderful Pickering
would be a very great nuisance, and make a noise, and create general
untidiness and confusion, in which Bertha was quite capable of taking
part; so she said:

"Do so, if you like, dear. You're going to see Bertha soon, aren't you?"

"Yes. I'm going to see her to-day." He quickly put _The English Review_
under the cushion, sitting on it as he saw his mother look up from her
work.

"Bertha's all right; she's pretty too."

"She's very good and kind to you, I must say," said Lady Kellynch. "As
they have asked you so often, I think I should like you to pay her a
nice little attention to-day, dear. Take her a pretty basket of
flowers."

Clifford's handsome dark face became overclouded with boredom.

"Oh, good Lord, mother! can't you telephone to a florist and have it
sent to her, if she's _got_ to have vegetables?"

"But surely, dear, it would be nicer for you to take it."

"Oh, mother, it would be awful rot, carting about floral tribs in a taxi
all over London."

"Floral tribs? What are floral tribs? Oh, tributes! I see! In a taxi!
No. I never dreamt of your doing such a thing. Ridiculous extravagance!
Go from Kensington to Sloane Street in a taxi!"

"How did you suppose I'd take it, then?"

"I supposed you'd walk," said Lady Kellynch, in a frightened voice.

"Walk! Great Scott! Walk with a basket of flowers! What next! I didn't
know you were bringing me up as a messenger-boy. No, mother, I'm too old
to be a boy scout, or anything of that sort. What have you got Warden
for? Why don't you send the footman? But far the most sensible way is to
ring up the place itself, and give the order."

"No, dear," said Lady Kellynch, rather crushed. She had pictured his
entrance with some beautiful flowers to please his sister-in-law. "Never
mind; it doesn't matter."

"Mind you," said the spoilt boy, standing up, and looking at himself in
the glass. "Mind you I should be awfully glad to give Bertha anything
she likes. I don't mind. I'll tell you what I'll do. I'll call in at
that place in Bond Street, and get her some chocolates."

"Charbonnel and Walker's, I suppose you mean," said his mother.

He smiled.

"They'll do. Pickering says his brother, who's an artist, is going to do
a historical picture for next year's Academy on the subject of 'The
First Meeting between Charbonnel and Walker.'"

She looked bewildered.

"Just as you like, my dear. Take her some bonbons if you prefer it.
Wait! One moment, Clifford. Bertha hates sweets. She never touches
them."

"It doesn't matter," he answered. "I do."



CHAPTER XI

A DISCOVERY


"Come in, old boy!"

Bertha was lying on the sofa reading a large book. She didn't put down
either her little feet or the book when her young brother-in-law came
in.

He also had a book in his pocket, which he took out. Then he produced a
box in silver paper.

"For you," he remarked, and then immediately cut the blue ribbon with a
penknife and proceeded to begin the demolition of the chocolates.

"A present for me?" said Bertha.

"Yes," he said, taking a second one rather quickly and glancing at the
second row.

"I'm so glad you've got me the kind you like. I hope you've got those
with the burnt almonds that you're so particularly fond of?"

"Oh yes, rather!"

"Thanks. That was nice and thoughtful of you; I know they're your
favourite sort."

"Yes, they are."

"And what I always think is so nice about you, Clifford," Bertha went
on, "is that you're so truly thoughtful. I mean, you never forget your
own tastes. You really take trouble to get yourself any little thing you
like. You put yourself out."

"Oh--I----"

"Oh no, I'm not flattering you; I really mean it. You're such a nice
thoughtful boy. I've seen you take a lot of trouble, rather than deprive
yourself of anything you cared for."

"Oh, Bertha!"

"Are you going to stay long to-day?"

"Yes, I am," said Clifford, taking up the book he had brought with him.
"As long as I can."

"Oh."

"How long can I?"

"Till dinner, or till anyone turns up that I want to talk to."

"Right-o! But you can send me into another room. I needn't go home, need
I?"

She laughed.

"Oh, you silly boy! Of course not."

"I say, have you seen my report?" he asked gravely.

"Some of it. Your mother read out little bits."

"Which little bits?" he asked rather anxiously.

"Oh, the worst of course!" said Bertha. "The purple patches! You're a
credit to the family, I don't think!"

"She asked me who was my nicest little friend at school," said Clifford.

"And what did you say?"

"I told her about Pickering. I say, Bertha, ... can I bring Pickering
here?"

"Of course you can."

"May I give him a regular sort of invitation from you, then?"

"Yes, rather. Tell him that I and Percy ask him to come and live here
from to-morrow morning for the rest of his natural life. Or, if that
doesn't seem cordial enough, we'll adopt him as our only son."

"Oh no! I think that's too much."

"Is it? Well, make it from to-morrow afternoon. Or perhaps we'd better
not be effusive; it wouldn't look well. So, instead of that, I'll invite
him to go to the Zoological Gardens on Sunday fortnight for an hour, and
you and he can have buns and tea at your own expense there. That's not
too hospitable and gushing, is it?"

He laughed.

"You do look smart, Bertha!" he remarked. "Your shoes are always so
frightfully right. I say, can't you tell mother to wear the same sort of
shoes? And tell her to look narrower, and not have such high collars."

"My dear boy, your mother dresses beautifully," said Bertha. "What do
you want her to look like?"

"I should like her to look like some of those little cards on cigarette
boxes, or like a picture post-card, if you want to know," he admitted
candidly.

"That's absurd, Cliff."

"But, Bertha, some of the fellows' mothers do."

"Remember your mother is _Percy's_ mother, too."

"Pickering's mother doesn't look much older than you," he replied.

"Oh--what a horrid woman!"

He smiled. "Why do you call her a horrid woman? For not looking older
than you?"

"Oh! tell her to mind her own business, and not go interfering with me.
I shall look whatever age I choose without consulting her!" Bertha
pretended to pout and be offended, and went on reading for a little
while.

He took another chocolate and turned a page.

She did not ask to see the book.

"That's what I call so jolly about you," presently said Clifford. "When
I come to see you, you don't keep asking me questions, or giving me
things, or advice, or anything. You do what you like, and I do what I
like--I mean to say, we both do just what we like."

"Yes; that's the way to be pleasant companions," said Bertha. "I go your
way, and you go mine."

"How's Percy?" the boy asked presently.

"Percy's the same as usual. Only I fancy he seems a little depressed."

Presently Clifford looked up and said:

"Anyway, you'll think it over, Bertha; and see what you decide to do
about asking Pickering?"

"Rather!" said Bertha, turning a page absently. "He's rather a wonderful
chap, then?"

"Isn't he!"

"What sort?"

"What _sort_?" cried Clifford, dropping his book. "Why, Bertha, I was
_with_ him, _actually with him_, when he went into the country post
office and asked the woman if she would let him have small change for
ten shillings, and he found he hadn't the half-sovereign then, but would
pay her when he didn't see her again! And then he said if she wouldn't
do that, he'd like to buy some stamps, and asked if she'd show him some
to choose from. And then he said--I saw him do it--'I'll take those two
in the middle--I like the colour.' When she said they were fivepence he
said that was too expensive, and he couldn't run to it. And then he
wanted to buy some sweets--they sell everything at those country
shops--and she wrapped some up for him, and then he said he hadn't got a
penny, and would she put it down to Lord Arthur's account--that's an
uncle of his who didn't know anything about it, and hadn't got any
account. And when she refused, fancy, Bertha! he asked if she'd take
stamps, as she seemed fond of them, and when she said she would, he
stamped twice on the floor and ran out of the shop, and I ran after him.
She _was_ angry!"

"He seems a useful boy."

"Rather! His people are frightfully rich, you know," went on Clifford.
"When they tease him about it at school, he says he's never allowed to
use the same motor twice, and that they're made of solid gold! He chaffs
everybody."

Clifford murmured on rather disjointedly, and Bertha read without
listening much, occasionally making some remark, when the telephone
rang.

Bertha had an extension on the little table next to her sofa.

"Shall I go?" asked Clifford.

"No. Just to the other end of the room."

He obeyed, and fell into the depths of a fat arm-chair.

"That you, Nigel? How is it all going on? Madeline hasn't heard from him
lately--not for ages."

"Quite so," answered Nigel's voice. "I've found out something I want you
to know. It isn't really serious--at least I'm pretty sure I can put it
right, but I'd like to see you about it; it wouldn't take you a moment."

"But is it a thing that may make any difference?" she asked rather
anxiously.

"No. Not if it's taken in time," he answered.

"Oh, can't you 'phone about it, Nigel?"

"Not very well, my dear. It really wouldn't take you a minute to hear
about it _viva voce_."

"But you can't keep on calling every day!" cried Bertha, exasperated.

"Quite so. Couldn't you go in for a few minutes to-morrow morning at the
Grosvenor Gallery in Bond Street? Say at about eleven or twelve? I won't
keep you five minutes, I promise, and you can tell me if you approve of
my plan."

"Very well, I'll do that. Quarter-past eleven," added Bertha.

"Only one thing, Bertha, don't tell anyone--not a soul."

"Why not?"

"I'll explain when I see you. But you mustn't mention it. It's
nothing--two seconds."

"Oh, all right! But why so many mysteries? You might just as well tell
me now on the telephone."

"I'm afraid I can't; I have to show you a letter."

"I suppose Rupert has been seeing Moona Chivvey again? Is that it?"

"Well, yes. But that's not all. Not a word to Madeline! Isn't it
curious, Bertha, troubles about women are always the same. Either _they_
want _you_ to marry _them,_ or _they_ won't marry _you_!"

"Oh, really? Good-bye."

"How brilliant you're looking, Bertha! You've got your hair done in that
mysterious new way again."

"How on _earth_ can you know through the telephone?"

"Why, easily. By your voice. You talk in a different way--to suit it."

"Do I? How funny! Good-bye."

Ten minutes later Percy came in.

He seemed pleased to see his young brother.

"What's that book you've brought, Cliff?"

"It's 'The New Arabian Nights.'"

Percy laughed.

"Oh yes, I know--the copy I gave Bertha. Have you decided to let her
have it back on mature consideration?"

"Oh, I say, Percy! Come off the roof, there's a good chap," said the
boy, blushing a little.

"I think I shall have to take a holiday from chambers to-morrow," Percy
said. "Shall we take him out to lunch, Bertha?"

"By all means; or, at any rate, you take him, Percy."

"Are you engaged in the morning?" he asked her very quickly.

"I ought to look in at my dressmaker's for a minute," she said, feeling
angry with Nigel that he had made her promise to conceal even a few
minutes of her day.

No more was said on the subject.

Presently, Percy went upstairs to his room and turned the key. He then
took out of a drawer and placed in front of him, in their order, three
rather curious-looking letters, written in typewriting on ordinary plain
white notepaper. The first two, both of which began "_Dear Mr.
Kellynch_," were four pages long, and gave some information in somewhat
mysterious terms. The third one had no beginning, and merely mentioned
an hour and a place where, he was told, he would find his wife on the
following morning, if he wished to do so, in the company of an
individual with the initials N. H. The letter further advised him to go
there and find her and take steps to put a stop to the proceedings which
had been watched for some time by somebody who signed the letter "your
true and reliable friend."

       *       *       *       *       *

The right thing to do, according to all unwritten laws of the conduct of
a gentleman, would be to destroy such communications and at once forget
them. To show them to her, Percy felt, would be degrading to himself and
to such a woman as his wife, whom he now realised he placed on a
pedestal. The idea of seeing the pedestal rock seemed to take the earth
from under his feet. But not only that, he now felt that, though he
hadn't known it, he loved her, not with a mild, half-patronising
affection, but with the maddening jealousy of a lover in the most
passionate stage of love. A man placed in his position nearly always
thinks that it is the idea of being deceived that hurts the most.
Particularly when the object of suspicion is his wife. Now he knew it
was not that; he could forgive the deception; but he couldn't bear to
think that any other man could think of her from that point of view at
all. And if he found that the mere facts stated in the three letters
were true, even if the inferences suggested were utterly false, he had
made up his mind what to do. He would go and see Nigel on the subject,
forbid him the house, saying that too frequent visits had caused talk,
and never mention the subject to Bertha. That was his present plan.
Perhaps it would not be possible to carry it out, but that was his idea.

       *       *       *       *       *

The fact that Bertha had been vague about her morning engagement--for it
was really unlike her not to seem pleased at the idea of spending the
whole day with him and the little brother--so agonised Percy that he
pretended to have a headache and saw practically nothing of Bertha till
the next day. He said then that he would go to chambers, meet Clifford
at Prince's and come home after lunch and take Bertha out somewhere.
This was to leave her perfectly free, so that she need not alter any
arrangements. He wished to see what she would do.

It was a glorious morning, and Percy felt rather mean and miserable and
unlike the day as he left the house.

Bertha was already dressed, looking deliciously fresh and pink, and
sparkling and fair as the sunshine. A second of acute physical jealousy
made him remark rather bitterly before he left that her hat was a little
bit striking, wasn't it? Upon which she at once, in her good-tempered,
amiable way (only too delighted that he should have noticed anything in
her toilette even to object to it), plucked the white feather out of the
black hat and put a little coat on over her dress, so as to look less
noticeable.

At a quarter past eleven Percy paid his shilling at the gallery, walked
in, looking slowly at the drawings on the walls in the narrow passage
that led to the rooms.

The moment he reached the first door on the left-hand side, which was
open, he saw through it, exactly opposite to him, seated on a sofa,
Bertha, looking up and chattering to Nigel Hillier, who was looking down
in a protecting manner, and listening with great interest to her
conversation.

Neither of them saw him.

The pain of finding one part of the letter true was so startling and
terrible that he dared not look another moment; a second more, and he
might have made a scandal, perhaps for ever after to be regretted, and
possibly entirely groundless.

He walked straight out of the gallery again, and drove to Sloane Street
in a taxi. During the drive he felt extraordinary sensations. He
remembered an occasion when he had been to a dentist as a little boy,
and the strange new suffering it had caused him. Then he thought that
when he got home, he would feel better. Instead of that the sight of the
familiar house was unbearable agony; he could not endure to go into it;
he drove back again to the club of which both he and Nigel were members,
and where Nigel was generally to be found before lunch. There he tried
to wait and master himself a little; it was peculiar torture to have
left them there now. He felt he would like to go back to the gallery and
at least spoil their morning. But that, his sound sense told him, would
be a mistake. He would wait there till Nigel came in.



CHAPTER XII

A LOVE SCENE


Percy waited on and on, minute after minute, half-hour after half-hour,
reading the morning papers, staring with apparent deep interest at the
pictures in the weekly journals--rather depressing foreshortened
snapshots of society at racecourses. These people, caught unawares,
seemed to be all feet and parasols, or smiles and muffs. Then, feeling
rather exhausted, he ordered a drink, and forgot it, and smoked a
cigarette. When he saw anyone he knew, he put on an absent-minded air,
and avoided the friend's eye. He looked at his watch as if in sudden
anxiety, and found that it was half-past one. This was the time he was
to meet his little brother at Prince's. He made inquiries and found that
Nigel was expected to lunch at the club. It was horrible! He could not
leave the boy at the restaurant waiting for him, and he was not up to
the mark either, at the moment, for seeing Nigel Hillier; he felt as if
the top of his head had been smashed in. Yet his common-sense and
reasoning power gradually prevailed over his emotion. And as he sat
there, Percy changed his mind.

       *       *       *       *       *

At first he had thought it would be cowardly to her to attack his wife
on the subject; it was the man with whom he should quarrel. And now it
seemed to him different. His point of view altered. It seemed only fair
now to give Bertha herself a chance of explaining matters. Thinking of
her fresh, frank expression that morning, and looking back, he began to
have, by some sort of second sight, a vision of his own stupid
injustice. No! he must have been wrong! Nigel may have been a scoundrel,
or--anything--but it couldn't be Bertha's fault. She may have been
imprudent, out of pure innocence; that was all.

He got up, and now he decided to take his brother out to lunch, and then
go back and talk to Bertha.

       *       *       *       *       *

During the noisy, crowded lunch at Prince's, which entertained the boy
so much that there was no necessity for the elder brother to talk, Percy
came to a firm decision.

He would never tell Bertha anything at all about the anonymous letters.

He would tell her that he had seen her this morning at the gallery--as
if by accident; but he would frankly admit a jealousy, even a suspicion
of Nigel.

He would ask Bertha in so many words not to see Nigel again.

If she would agree to this, and if she were as affectionate as formerly,
what did the rest matter? The letters must have been slanders; who
_could_ have written them? But, after all, what did it matter? If Bertha
consented to do as he asked, they were untrue, and that was everything.
He and Bertha would drop Hillier, and he would put the whole horrible
business behind him; he would wipe it out, and forget it. The mere
thought of such joy made him tremble ... it seemed too glorious to be
real, and as they approached the house again he began to believe in it.

Clifford had thoroughly enjoyed himself. He felt quite grown-up as he
parted with Percy at Sloane Street, and drove home, singing to himself
the refrain of Pickering's favourite song: "How much wood would a
woodchuck chuck, if a woodchuck would chuck wood?"

       *       *       *       *       *

"Percy, what is the matter?" Bertha asked anxiously, as she looked at
him.

He had gone through a great deal that morning and looked rather worn
out. ... He spoke in a lower voice than usual.

"Look here, Bertha," he said, "I have something to tell you."

She waited, then, at a pause, said, rather pathetically:

"Oh, Percy, do tell me what it is? I've felt so worried about you
lately. You seem to be changed. ... I have felt very pained and hurt.
Tell me what it is."

Percy looked at her. She was looking sweet, anxious and sincere. She
leant forward, holding out her little hand. ... If this was not genuine,
then nothing on earth ever could be!

"Tell me, Percy," she repeated, looking up at him, as he stood by the
fire, with that little movement of her fair head that he used to say was
like a canary.

Percy looked down at her; all his imposingness, all his air of
importance, and his occasional tinge of pompousness, had entirely
vanished. He was simple, angry and unhappy.

"I found I hadn't got to go to chambers early this morning after all, so
I walked down Bond Street. I went into the Grosvenor Gallery. I saw you
there. ... It seemed very strange you hadn't told me. Why didn't you?
Why didn't you? Bertha, don't tell me anything that isn't true!"

Her eyes sparkled. She stood up beaming radiant joy. She went to him
impulsively; everything was all right; he was jealous!

"Oh, Percy! I can explain it all."

Hastily, eagerly, impulsively, with the most obvious honesty and
frankness, she told him of how Nigel had promised to help her with
Madeline, of how he had planned with her to make Madeline happy; she
told him of the variable and unaccountable conduct of Rupert Denison to
Madeline, of his marked attention at one moment, his coldness at
another. Foolishly, she had been led to believe that Nigel could make
things all right. Now this morning Nigel had asked her to meet him to
tell her that Rupert had been seen choosing hats for another girl.
Bertha was in doubt whether she ought to tell Madeline, and make her try
and cure her devotion. And Bertha had thought it all the kinder of Nigel
because his brother, Charlie, was very much in love with her.

Percy stopped her in the middle of the story. He could take no sort of
interest in it at present. He was much too happy and relieved; he was in
the seventh heaven.

"Yes ... yes ... all right, dear. Only you oughtn't to have made an
appointment with him. Only promise that never again---- You see, things
can be misconstrued. And, anyhow, I don't like to see you with Nigel
Hillier. Frankly, I can't stand it. You'll make this sacrifice for
me--if it is one, Bertha?"

He had quite decided to conceal all about the letters.

"Indeed, indeed I will; and I know I was wrong," she said. "I mean it's
no good trying to help people too much. They must play their own game.
You understand, don't you? Nigel was only to show me a letter he had
written inviting the other girl to lunch--to take her away from Rupert.
But it's all nonsense, and I'll have nothing more to do with it."

"Then that's all right," said Percy, sitting down, with a great sigh of
relief.

"You didn't really think for a moment, seriously, that I ever--that I
didn't--oh, you never stopped knowing how much I love you?" she asked,
with tears in her eyes.

Percy said that he had not exactly thought that. Also, he was not
jealous--that was not the word--he merely wished her to promise never to
see or speak to Nigel again as long as they lived, and never to
recognise him if she met him: that was all. He was perfectly
reasonable.

"It's perhaps a little bit difficult in some ways, dearest. But I
promise you faithfully to do my very, very best. And this I absolutely
swear--I will never see him without your approving and knowing all about
it. But as I shouldn't exactly like him to think you thought anything--I
mean--I think you must leave it a little to me--to my tact, to get rid
of him; and trust me. And I want you to know that I shouldn't care if I
never saw him again. I don't even like him. And I really don't think he
cares for me; I'm quite certain it's your fancy."

"Can you give me your word of honour that he never----"

"Never, by word or look," answered Bertha.

"That's all right," said Percy.

       *       *       *       *       *

Bertha sat on the arm of his chair and leant her head against his
shoulder.

At that moment he thought he had never known what happiness was before.

Then she said:

"It's all right now, then, Percy? That was all, and the cloud's gone?"

"Quite, absolutely," he answered, mentally tearing the letters into
little bits.

Then she said:

"Percy, of course you never really thought ... you never could think
that I meant to deceive you in any way. ... But supposing Nigel had had
any treacherous ideas--let us say, supposing that Nigel, though he's
married, and all that--suppose you found out that he had liked me, and
wanted to spoil our happiness? ... I mean, suppose you found out that he
had been making love to me? ... What would you have done?"

"I should have killed him," replied Percy. Could a man have said
anything that would please a woman as much as this primitive assertion?

Bertha threw her arms round his neck. She was perfectly happy. He was in
love with her.



CHAPTER XIII

RECONCILIATION


Bertha decided it was better to curtail Nigel's visits and make them
fewer gradually; she had quite convinced Percy of her sincerity, and he
also had come to the conclusion that it would be foolish and _infra dig_
to let the jealousy be suspected. He trusted her again now; and they
were both deeply and intensely happy. Being ashamed of the letters,
Percy said nothing about them; in a day or two he had come to the
conclusion that he would leave it entirely to Bertha's tact.

"All I ask is," he said, "that you will see him as little and as seldom
as you can, without making too much fuss about it, or letting him know
what I thought."

"And I promise to do that," she said. "I long never to see him again.
It's only on account of Madeline I wanted to have one more little talk
with him--about her and Rupert. After that I'll manage without him, I
assure you. I swear not to give him anything more to do for me. But
what I can't understand, dear, is what put the idea into your head."

"Never mind. You were seeing him too often. And, remember, I know that
he was in love with you once and wanted to marry you."

"But, dear boy, that was ten years ago, and he married somebody else."

"Which he may regret by now. Well, I trust all to your tact, Bertha."

"He's coming to-day," Bertha said. "And then I'm going to make him
understand I no longer want his help."

"Right."

Percy went out, looking very happy. He did not forget to kiss her now,
and he himself had sent the large basket of flowers that Nigel nearly
fell over when he came in the afternoon.

"A new admirer?" asked Nigel.

"No, an old one. So you say that you met Rupert buying a hat for Miss
Chivvey, and saw them the next day walking together, and she was wearing
it."

"Yes. And, as I told you, I thought this rather serious, so I wrote and
invited the young lady to lunch with me."

"Did she accept?"

"That is what I've come to tell you about to-day. She was engaged, but
asked me to invite her another time."

"Exactly. Now, Nigel, I want to tell you something. I think I've been
doing wrong intriguing for Madeline, and it hasn't been fair to her
really. I've decided to tell her what you told me about Rupert, and then
leave things to take their course. And I oughtn't to countenance asking
the other girl to lunch. It was horrid of me--I'm ashamed of myself,
both on account of her and of Mary. Don't do it; I'd rather not."

Nigel looked up at her sharply.

"Do these sudden and violent scruples mean simply that you don't want me
any more?"

"A little," she replied.

"I've noticed you've seemed very cold and unkind to me the last week or
so," he said. "You seem to be trying to change our relations."

"I don't see why we should have any relations," answered Bertha. "After
all, I know instinctively that Mary doesn't like me."

"What in heaven's name does that matter?" he asked.

"A good deal to me."

There was a moment's silence.

Nigel looked surprised and more hurt than she would have expected. Then
he said:

"All right, Bertha. I hope I can take a hint. I won't bother you any
more. I won't try to help you in anything till you ask me."

She was silent.

Then he went on:

"Might I venture to ask whether you suspect I've been making the most of
our plans for Madeline to see as much of you as I could?"

"Oh, I didn't say that."

"If you had, perhaps you would have been right," he said, but seeing her
annoyed expression he changed his tone, and said:

"No, my dear, truly I only wanted to do a good turn for you and your
friend. It's off now, that's all. I sha'n't interfere again."

He stood up.

She hesitated for one moment.

"Do you think Rupert has not been sincere with Madeline?"

"I can't say. I wouldn't go so far as that. I think he varies--likes the
contrast between the two. But if he decides to marry, I don't think he'd
propose to Miss Chivvey. Well, good-bye. I won't call again till you ask
me."

Her look of obvious relief as she smilingly held out her hand piqued him
into saying:

"I see you want your time to yourself more. Before I go, will you answer
me one little question?"

"Of course I will."

He still held her hand. She took it away.

"What is the question?"

"Who sent you those flowers, Bertha?"

"Have you any right to ask?"

"I think so--as an old friend. They're compromisingly large, and there's
a strange mixture of orchids and forget-me-nots, roses and gardenias
that I don't quite like. It looks like somebody almost wildly
lavish--not anxious to show off his taste, but sincerely throwing his
whole soul into the basket."

She laughed, pleased.

"Who sent you the flowers, Bertha?"

He was standing up by the door.

"Percy," she answered.

"Oh!"



CHAPTER XIV

"TANGO"


Madeline had taken the gossip about Rupert and Miss Chivvey very
bravely, but very seriously. It pained her terribly, but she was
grateful to Bertha for telling her.

A fortnight passed, during which she heard nothing from Rupert, and then
one morning, the day after a dance, she called to see Bertha.

Percy had had no more anonymous letters, and Nigel had remained away. He
was deeply grateful, for he supposed Bertha had managed with perfect
tact to stop the talk without giving herself away, or making him
ridiculous.

Bertha had never looked happier in her life. She was sitting smiling to
herself, apparently in a dream, when her friend came in.

"Bertha," she said, "I have some news. I danced the tango with Nigel's
brother Charlie last night, and at the end--he really does dance
divinely--what do you think happened? I had gone there perfectly
miserable, for I had seen and heard nothing of Mr. Denison except that
one letter after the Ballet--and then Charlie proposed to me, and I
accepted him, like in a book!"

Bertha took her hand.

"My dear Madeline, how delightful! This is what I've always wanted. It's
so utterly satisfactory in every way."

"I know, and he is a darling boy. I was very frank with him, Bertha. I
didn't say I was in love with him, and he said he would teach me to be."

"It's frightfully satisfactory," continued Bertha. "Tell me Madeline,
what made you change like this?"

"Well, dear, I've been getting so unhappy: I feel Rupert has been simply
playing with me. I heard the other day that _they_ were dining out alone
together--I mean Rupert and that girl. I don't blame him, Bertha. It was
I, in a sense, who threw myself at his head. I admired and liked him and
gradually let myself go and get silly about him. But this last week I've
been pulling myself together and seeing how hopeless it was, and just as
I'd begun to conquer my feeling--to fight it down--then this nice dear
boy, so frank and straightforward and sincere, came along, and--oh! I
thought I should like it. To stop at home with mother after my sort of
disappointment seemed too flat and miserable: I couldn't bear it. Now I
shall have an object in life. But, Bertha," continued Madeline, putting
her head on her shoulder, "I've been absolutely frank, you know."

"I guessed you would be; it was like you. But I hope you didn't say too
much to Charlie. It would be a pity to cloud his pleasure and spoil the
sparkle of the fun. By the time you're choosing carpets together and
receiving your third cruet-stand you will have forgotten such a person
as Rupert Denison exists--except as a man who played a sort of
character-part in the curtain-raiser of your existence."

"Well, I hope so. But I did tell Charlie I was not in love with him, and
he said he would try to make me."

"I only hope that you're not doing it so that your mother should ask
Rupert to the wedding? Not that I myself sha'n't enjoy that."

"Honestly, Bertha, I don't think so. More than anything it's because I
want an object in life."

"Here's a letter from Nigel," said Bertha. "I expect he'll be making
this an excuse to drop in again."

"Yes; but you mustn't tease Percy, because everything happened just as
you wanted it to," said Madeline. "I really was surprised at how
suddenly and determinedly Charlie began again. He had seemed almost to
give me up. He dances the tango so beautifully; I think it all came
through that. We got on so splendidly at tango teas. At any rate, but
for that I shouldn't have seen him so often."

"It's a tango marriage," said Bertha.

       *       *       *       *       *

Bertha strongly suspected a little manoeuvring of Nigel's in the
course of the last fortnight, but did not realise how much there had
been of it. The day Bertha had practically said he was not to interfere
any longer, Nigel thoroughly realised that Percy must be jealous. He was
wildly annoyed at this, since it would be a great obstacle, besides
proving Percy was in love, but he saw the urgency of falling in at once
with her wish; not opposing it, being absolutely obedient to it. This
was not the moment to push himself forward--to show his feelings. Tact
and diplomacy must be used. Of course, he had not the faintest notion
about Mary and her letters, but merely thought that a sudden relapse of
conjugal affection on Percy's side--confound him!--and an attack of
unwonted jealousy had made Percy say something to Bertha to cause her
coldness.

He remained away, but he thought of more than one plan to regain the old
intimacy.

Quite unscrupulously he played several little tricks, at least he made
several remarks about one to the other, to make the apparently
hesitating Rupert more interested in Miss Chivvey and less so in
Madeline, while he urged his brother Charlie on, and insisted on his
continuing his court. The result was quicker than he had expected, and
after a very little diplomacy Charlie had found Madeline willing to
accept him. As Madeline was to Bertha just like a sister, it was natural
that they should meet again now, and in this letter Nigel asked
permission to call and have a chat.

Bertha agreed, for although she was slightly on her guard against the
possibility of his wishing to flirt, she had not the faintest idea, as I
have said, of Nigel's determined resolve.

Nigel had been fairly unhappy of late. Caring very little for any of his
other friends, and having this _idée fixe_ about Bertha--which became
much stronger at the opposition and the idea of Percy's jealousy--he
moped a good deal and had spent more time than usual with Mary. Nigel
was one of those very rare men, who are becoming rarer and rarer, who,
having passed the age of thirty-five, still regard love as the principal
object of life. That Nigel did so was what made him so immensely popular
with women as a rule. Women feel instinctively when this is so, and the
man who makes sport, ambition or art his first interest, and women, and
romance in general, a mere secondary pleasure, is never regarded with
nearly the same favour as the man who values women chiefly, even though
that very man is naturally far less reliable in his affection and almost
invariably deceives them. To be placed in the background of life is what
the average woman dislikes the most; she would rather be of the first
importance as a woman even if she knows she has many rivals.

Bertha was exceptional, in that she did not care for the Don Juan type
of man, but was rather inclined to despise him. She would far rather
have ambition, business, art, duty, any other object in life as her
rival, than another woman.

       *       *       *       *       *

Percy received no more of the singular typewritten letters. He kept
those that he had locked up in a box. Mary had grown a little frightened
at the apparent success of those she sent. She never heard anything
about them, but she knew that Nigel had not been seeing Bertha since the
note about the picture gallery. She began to be happier again. Nigel was
a great deal more at home, though not more affectionate. And Mary was
one of those women, by no means infrequent, who are fairly satisfied if
they can, by hook or by crook, by any trick or any tyranny, keep the man
they care for somehow under the same roof with them--if only his body is
in the house, even if they know it is against his will, and that his
soul is far away. She would far rather that his desire was elsewhere, if
only _he_ were positively present--the one dread, really, being that he
should be enjoying himself with anyone else. Mary preferred a thousand
times a silent, sulky evening with Nigel going up to his room about the
same time that she went to hers, than, as he used to be when they were
first married, gay, affectionate and caressing to her, and then going
out. She would gladly make him a kind of prisoner, even at the cost of
making him almost dislike her, rather than give him his freedom--even to
please him--a freedom which included the possibility of his seeing
Bertha again.

Although she was unjust and mistaken in her facts, it was, of course, a
correct instinct that made her aware that Bertha was the great
attraction--the one real object of passion in Nigel's life. But she was
incapable of believing that Bertha did not care for him, that if she had
she would never have flirted with the husband of another woman. Merely
because Bertha was pretty and admired, Mary, with her strange
narrow-minded bitterness, took it for granted that it was impossible
that she could be also a delicately scrupulous, generous, and
high-minded creature. But just as passion will make one singularly
quick-sighted, it can also make one dense and stupid. Considering that
Mary was madly in love with her own husband, it was absurd she should
suppose it impossible that Bertha should take the slightest interest in
hers. Of course Mary had heard that they were very devoted--if she had
not, what would have been the use of writing the letters?--but she chose
to believe that it was only on the husband's side, and that Bertha must
of necessity be, of course, sly and deceitful. She hated Bertha
violently, and yet she was by nature the kindest of women; only this one
mania of hers completely altered her, and made her bitter, wild, hard
and unscrupulous, stupid and clever, cowardly and reckless. A woman's
jealousy of another woman is always sufficiently dreadful, but when the
object of jealousy is hers by legal right, when the sense of personal
property is added to it, then it is one of the most terrible and
unreasonable things in nature.



CHAPTER XV

CLIFFORD'S HISTORICAL PLAY


Bertha was sitting with her little brother-in-law. She was to give him
half-an-hour, after which she expected a visit from Nigel.

"What on earth is it, old boy?"

She saw he had some rather untidy papers in his hand and was looking
extremely self-conscious, so she spoke kindly and encouragingly.

"Well, I daresay you noticed, Bertha, in my report, that history was
very good."

"I think I did," she said gravely. "If I recollect right the report
said: 'History nearly up to the level of the form.'"

"Oh, I say, was that all? Gracious! Well, anyhow, I've read a lot of
history, and I'm fearfully keen about it. And, I say, my idea was, you
see, I thought I'd write a historical play."

"Oh! what a splendid idea!" cried Bertha, jumping up, looking very
pleased, but serious. "Have you got it there, Cliff?"

"Yes. Well, as a matter of fact, I have got a bit of it here."

"Are you going to let me read it?"

"Well, I don't think you can," he answered rather naïvely. "It's not
quite clean enough; but I'll read a bit of it to you, if you don't mind.
Er--you see--it's about Mary."

"Which Mary?"

"Oh, Bertha! what a question! As if I'd write about William and Mary,
or--er--er--I beg your pardon--I mean the other Mary. No, Mary, Queen of
Scots, is the only one who's any good for a play."

"Well, go on, Clifford."

"Well, it's a little about"--he spoke in a low, gruff voice--"at least
partly about hawking. You know, the thing historical people used to
do--on their wrists."

"Oh yes, I know, I know! I beg your pardon, Clifford."

"With birds, you know," he went on. "Oh, and I wanted to ask you, what
time of the year _do_ people hawk?"

"What time of the year? Oh, well, I should think almost any time, pretty
well, whenever they liked, or whenever it was the fashion."

"I see." He made a note. "Well, I hope you won't be fearfully bored,
Bertha."

"I say, Cliff, don't apologise so much. Get on with it."

"Well, you see, it's a scene at a country inn to begin with."

"Ah, I see. Yes, it would be," she murmured.

"At a country inn, and this is how it begins. It's at a country inn, you
see. 'Scene: a country inn. The mistress of the inn, a buxom-looking
woman of middle age, is being busy about the inn. It is a country inn.
She is making up the fire, polishing tankards, etc., drawing ale, etc.
On extreme L. of stage is seated, near a tankard, a youth of some
nineteen summers, who is sitting facing the audience, chin dropped, and
apparently wrapped in thought.'"

"Excuse me a moment, old chap, but that sounds as if his chin was
wrapped in thought."

"So it does; I'll change that. Thanks awfully for telling me, Bertha."

"Not at all, dear."

"But it is frightfully decent of you."

"All right. Get on."

"'At the back of the stage R. are seated two men; one of some eight and
twenty summers the other of some six and twenty years old. They are
seated in the corners of the stage and in apparently earnest
conversation.' (Now the dialogue begins, Bertha, listen):

"'YOUTH: Are you there, mistress? Is my ale nigh on ready? Zounds, I'm
mighty thirsty, I am.'

"'MISTRESS: Ay, ay, great Scot! here's your ale. You can't expect to be
served before the quality.'"

"What did Pickering think of this?" interrupted Bertha.

"Pickering! Oh! I wouldn't show it to a chap like that. At any rate, not
unless you think it's all right, Bertha."

"Why, my dear boy, you'd better tell me the plot, I think, before you
read me any more."

"Mr. Nigel Hillier," announced the servant.

Nigel sprang brightly in (just a little agitated though he managed to
hide it), Bertha took her toes off the sofa, Clifford took up his play
and shoved it into his pocket with a slight scowl.



CHAPTER XVI

A SECOND PROPOSAL


The day after Madeline's engagement two letters were handed to her. One
in Charlie's handwriting, short and affectionate; full of the exuberance
of the newly affianced, touchingly happy. The other one she opened,
feeling somewhat moved, as she recognised the handwriting of Rupert
Denison. To her utter astonishment she found it was four sheets of his
exquisite little handwriting, and it began thus:

    "MY DEAR, MY VERY DEAR MADELINE,--The last note I had from
    you--now nearly a month ago--came to me like a gift of silver
    roses. I did not answer it, but during the dark days in which I
    have not seen you, I have been learning to know myself. You
    wondered, perhaps, how I was occupied, why you did not hear from
    me again--at least I hope you did. ("I didn't, for I knew only
    too well," Madeline murmured to herself.) Now I have learnt to
    understand myself. Sometimes almost inhumanly poetic you have
    seemed to me, and others; when I remembered your simple refined
    beauty you suggested the homelike atmosphere that is my dream."

She started and went on reading.

    "Madeline, do you understand, all this time, though perhaps I
    hardly knew it myself, I loved you. I love you and shall never
    change. It is my instinct to adore the admirable, and I know now
    that you are the most adorable of creatures. No words can
    describe your wonderfulness, so I send you my heart instead.

    "I think, dear, our life together will be a very beautiful one.
    It will be a great joy to me to lead you into beautiful paths.
    How glad I shall be to see the bright look of your eyes, when
    you greet me after this letter! What a perfect companion you
    will be! Write at once. I have much more to say when we meet.
    When shall this be? Your ever devoted and idolising

        "RUPERT.

    "_P.S._--I propose not to make our engagement public quite yet,
    but to keep our happiness to ourselves for a few weeks, and be
    married towards the end of the summer. What do you say, my
    precious Madeline?"

Madeline was at once delighted and horrified. How characteristic the
letter was! Why had she not waited? There was no doubt about it, she had
made a mistake. Rupert was the man she loved--notwithstanding his taking
everything so for granted. Charlie must be sacrificed. But she must tell
Rupert what had happened, of course.

After sending a telegram to Rupert asking him to meet her at a picture
gallery, for she could not bear asking him to call until everything was
settled up, the bewildered girl rushed off to see Bertha.

       *       *       *       *       *

Bertha took in the situation at once. Madeline had only accepted Charlie
in despair, thinking and believing that Rupert cared for another girl.
It was madness, equally unfair to herself and to Charlie, to go on with
the marriage now. Bertha quite agreed, though she grieved for the boy,
and regretted how things had turned. ... But, after all, Madeline cared
for Rupert and she could not be expected to throw away her happiness now
it was offered to her.

Bertha advised complete frankness all round. The only thing at which she
hesitated a little was Madeline's intention of telling of her engagement
to Rupert. She feared a little the effect on the complicated subtlety of
that conscientious young man. ... However, it was to be.

Fortunately no one as yet knew of the engagement except the very nearest
relatives. Madeline's mother would only regret bitterly that Madeline
could not accept them both, it being very rare nowadays for two
agreeable and eligible young men to propose to one girl in two days.

Nigel was furious and had no patience with these choppings and
changings, as he called them.

Charlie took it bravely and wrote Madeline a very generous and noble
letter, which touched her, but it did not alter her intention. She had
just received it when she went to meet Rupert.

       *       *       *       *       *

The day which had dragged on with extraordinary excitement and with what
seemed curious length had just declined in that hour between six and
seven when the vitality seems to become somewhat lowered; when it is
neither day nor evening, the stimulation of tea is over and one has not
begun to dress for dinner.

At this strange moment Madeline burst in again on Bertha and said:

"Bertha, isn't it terrible! I've told him everything and he refuses me.
He's sent me back. He says if I'm engaged to Charlie it's my duty to
marry him. He's fearfully hurt with me and shocked at my conduct to
Charlie. Oh, it's too dreadful; I'm heartbroken!"

"Oh, what an irritating creature!" cried Bertha. "It's just the sort of
thing he would do. I'd better see him at once, Madeline."

"You can't; he's going to Venice to-night," said Madeline, and burst
into tears.



CHAPTER XVII

MORE ABOUT RUPERT


Rupert had gone through a great many changes during the last few weeks.
He had begun to grow rather captivated by Miss Chivvey and in his
efforts to polish, refine and educate her had become rather carried away
himself. But towards the end she began to show signs of rebellion; she
was bored, though impressed. He took her to a serious play and explained
it all the time, during which she openly yawned. Finally, when she
insisted on his seeing a statuette made of her by her artistic friend,
an ignorant, pretentious little creature, known as Mimsie, they
positively had a quarrel.

"Well, I don't care what you say; I think it's very pretty," when Rupert
pointed out faults that a child could easily have seen.

"So it may be, my dear child--not that I think it is. But it's
absolutely without merit; it's very very bad. It could hardly be worse.
If she went all over London I doubt if she could find a more ridiculous
thing calling itself a work of art. Can't you see it's like those little
figures they used to have on old-fashioned Twelfth Cakes, made of
sugar."

"No, I can't. Shut up! I mayn't know quite so much as you, but ever
since I was a child everybody's always said I was very artistic."

They were sitting in her mother's drawing-room in Camden Hill. Rupert
glanced round it: it was a deplorable example of misdirected aims and
mistaken ambitions; a few yards of beaded curtains which separated it
from another room gratified Moona with the satisfactory sensation that
her surroundings were Oriental. As a matter of fact, the decoration was
so commonplace and vulgar that to attempt to describe it would be
painful to the writer whilst having no sort of effect on the reader,
since it was almost indescribable. From the decorative point of view,
the room was the most unmeaning of failures, the most complete of
disasters.

Rupert had hoped, nevertheless, to cultivate her taste, and educate her
generally. He was most anxious of all to explain to her that, so far
from being artistic, she was the most pretentious of little Philistines.
Why, indeed, should she be anything else? It was the most irritating
absurdity that she should think she was, or wish to be.

Rupert was growing weary of this, and beginning to think his object was
hopeless.

A certain amount of excitement that she had created in him by her
brusque rudeness, her high spirits, even the jarring of her loud laugh,
was beginning to lose its effect; or rather the effect was changed.
Instead of attracting, it irritated him.

About another small subject they had a quarrel--she was beginning to
order him about, to regard him as her young man, her property--and was
getting accustomed to what had surprised her at first--that he didn't
make love to her. She had ordered him to take her somewhere and he had
refused on the ground that he wanted to stop at home and think!

She let herself go, and when Moona Chivvey lost her temper it was not
easily forgotten. She insulted him, called him a blighter, a silly ass,
a mass of affectation.

He accepted it with gallant irony, bowing with a chivalrous humility
that drove her nearly mad, but he never spoke to her again.

       *       *       *       *       *

Perhaps nothing less than this violent scene would have shaken Rupert
into examining his own feelings, and with a tremendous rebound he saw
that he was in love with Madeline, and decided to marry her at once. How
delighted the dear child would be!

He had seen very little of her lately, and he appreciated her all the
more.

In her was genuine desire for culture; longing to learn; real refinement
and intelligence, charm and grace, if not exactly beauty. Ah, those
sweet, sincere brown eyes! Rupert would live to see her all she should
be, and there was not the slightest doubt about her happiness with him.
It never occurred to him for a single moment that anyone else could have
been trying to take his place. Far less still that she should have
thought of listening to any other man on earth but himself. When she
came and told him all that had happened, the shock was great. He had
never cared for her so much. But he declined to allow her to break her
engagement; she could not play fast and loose with this unfortunate
young man, Charlie Hillier, and although she declared, with tears, that
she should break it off in any case, and never see him again, Rupert
kept to his resolution, and started for Paris that night.

In answer to one more passionate and pathetic letter from her, he
consented to write to her as a friend in a fortnight, but he said she
must have known her own mind when she accepted Charlie.

Rupert clearly felt that he had been very badly treated; he said he
never would have thought it of her; it was practically treachery.

       *       *       *       *       *

When he went away he felt very tired, and had had enough, for the
present, at any rate, of all girls and their instruction. Girls were
fools.

He looked forward to the soothing consolations of the gaieties of Paris.
He was not the first to believe that he could leave all his troubles and
tribulations this side of the Channel.



CHAPTER XVIII

"A SPECIAL FAVOUR"


"I admire Madeline's conduct very much. I think it was splendid how she
stood up to all the reproaches, and even ridicule; she told me that she
had once, and only once, in her life been untrue to herself (she meant
in accepting Charlie), and since then she has spoken the absolute truth
to everybody about it all. She has been very plucky, and very
straightforward, and only good can come of it. Honesty and pluck,
especially for a girl--it's made so difficult for girls--they're the
finest things in the world, _I_ think."

Bertha was speaking to Nigel.

He had remained away for what seemed to him an extraordinarily long
time. He was afraid that she was slipping out of his life, without even
noticing it. Stopping away until she missed him was a complete failure,
since she _didn't_ miss him. And the day was approaching for the party
Mary had consented to give. He knew that Bertha had accepted but was
afraid she didn't mean to come. That would be too sickening! To have all
that worry with Mary, all that silly trouble and fuss for a foolish
entertainment that he detested, all for nothing at all! And Mary was
secretly enjoying the fact that she felt absolutely certain Percy would
never let her come to Nigel's house. She did not suppose Percy had
guessed the writer of the letters; but he must have thought his wife was
talked about, and some effect certainly they had had; for in the last
few weeks, she happened to know for a fact, Nigel had neither called on
or met Mrs. Kellynch. This afternoon she knew nothing of, for her
suspicions were beginning to fade, and she was not, at present, having
him followed. Nigel had taken his chance and dropped in to tea and found
luck was on his side--Bertha had just come in from a drive with
Madeline.

"It's all very well," he answered, "to say you admire her conduct, her
bravery, and all that! Whom had she to fight against? Only her mother,
whom she isn't a bit afraid of, and Charlie, who, poor chap, is more
afraid of her. The engagement wasn't even public before she broke it
off."

"Yes; but, Nigel, it was very frank of her to tell everything so openly
to Charlie. And now, poor girl, she's very unhappy, but very
courageous--she's absolutely resolved never to marry. She says she's
lost her Rupert by her own faults, and it serves her right."

"And suppose Rupert goes teaching English to an Italian girl at Venice,
or gives her history lessons, or anything? Now he's once thought of
marrying, he may marry his third pupil. Wouldn't Charlie have a chance
then?"

"Never, unfortunately," Bertha replied.

"Do you think she'd wait on the chance that Rupert might have a
divorce?"

"Nigel, how horrid you are to sneer like that. You never appreciated
Madeline!"

"I think I did, my dear, considering I was especially keen on her
marrying my brother, even when I knew she liked somebody else."

"Oh, that was only for him."

"Or, perhaps, do you think a little for me? I might have felt if my
brother married your greatest friend that we were sort of relations," he
said, with a laugh.

Bertha glanced at the clock.

"You can't send me away just this minute," he said. "You like honesty
and frankness, and I've honestly come to ask you--are you coming to my
party?"

Bertha paused a moment.

"Why?" she said. "Do you very particularly want me to?"

"Very. And I'll tell you the reason. It's to please Mary."

"Why should Mary care?"

"Bertha, I give you my word that she'll be terribly disappointed and
offended if you don't. And"--he waited a moment--"I hardly know how to
explain--it'll do me harm if you don't come--you and Percy. I can't
exactly explain. Do me this good turn, Bertha. A special favour, won't
you?"

He was artfully trying to suggest what he supposed to be the exact
contrary to the fact. He knew Mary would be wild with joy if Bertha did
not come, though he had no idea how extremely astonished and furious she
would be if she should arrive, considering she had accepted. Of course
in reality Mary thought nothing of the acceptance. She was both certain
and determined that her "door would not be darkened" by Bertha's
presence.

Bertha had not intended to go since she saw Percy's pleasure and relief
at the cessation of the intimacy. But now? After all, Percy couldn't
mind going in with her for a few minutes if she begged him.

"If you tell me it'll do you a good turn, Nigel--but I don't
understand!"

"Do you wish me to explain?"

"No, I don't. I'll take your word. But all the more I don't want you to
be always calling. I'm afraid Mary doesn't like me."

"It isn't that exactly."

Bertha thought of her own happiness with Percy. Her warm, kind heart
made her say gently:

"Nigel, I hope you're nice and considerate to Mary? You make her happy?"

"Doesn't this look like it?" he answered. "She'll be in a state if you
don't turn up." He sighed. "I've never said a word about it, but she's
rather trying and tiresome if you want to know."

"Then I'm very, very sorry for her," said Bertha, "and you can't do
enough for her. ... Why, with those lovely children I'm sure she'd be
ideally happy if----"

"Oh, you think, of course, it's my fault. It never occurs to you whether
I'm happy!"

A look from her which she tried to repress reminded him of his
deliberate choice. He thought the time had come to make her a little
sorry for him, knowing her extreme tenderness of heart. He spoke in a
lower voice, and looked away.

"If I'm sometimes a bit miserable, it serves me right."

"Be good to her," said Bertha.

"I'll do anything on earth you'll tell me."

"What are the children's names?"

"Nigel and Marjorie."

"Darling pets, I suppose?"

"Isn't it extraordinary, Bertha," he said. "I've no right to say it to
you, but that's my great trouble."

"What?"

"She doesn't care much about them."

"I don't believe it," said Bertha, shaking her head. "It's you who are
mistaken."

"Am I?"

"Nigel, remember, I know you pretty well."

"And you think I'm trying to make you sorry for me?"

"I won't say that. But you ought to be happy, and so ought your wife."

He spoke in a different tone, with his usual cheery smile.

"Well, if you will grace our entertainment, I promise we will be happy.
Do come, Bertha!" He was taking all this trouble simply so as not to
have a boring evening at his own home!

"Very well, Nigel," she answered, with a kind, frank smile. "I'll come.
Lately Percy's had so much work that in the evenings he hasn't been very
keen on going out to parties."

"And you don't go without him?" he asked with curiosity.

"No. Aren't I unfashionable?"

"You're delightful."

"Good-bye," she said, holding out her hand.

He took it, and held it, saying:

"And now I sha'n't see you again until a few minutes at the party, and
heaven knows when after that."

"I'll bring Madeline. Shall I?"

"Oh yes, do. It'll be _some_ party, as the Americans say, and Charlie
won't be there."

"Good-bye again."

"What are you going to wear?" he asked, in his old, brotherly voice,
lingering by the door.

"Salmon-coloured chiffon with a mayonnaise sash," she answered, fairly
pushing him out of the room. "Do go."



CHAPTER XIX

A DEVOTED WIFE


To anyone who knew Percy Kellynch and his wife, it would have been a
matter of some surprise to observe the extreme enthusiasm and devotion
that she showed for him. He was an excellent fellow, and had many good
qualities, but he was not mentally by any means anything at all
extraordinary; she was a very much more highly organised being in every
possible way than he was. Percy was exceedingly kind and straight, yet
there were, doubtless, many thousands of men exactly like him in
England. In his rather simple and commonplace point of view he was,
perhaps more like an ordinary English soldier than a barrister. He did
not worship false gods, but, not being a soldier, and having perhaps
learnt more of life in some respects than they generally do, he was
inclined to be rather surprised at his own cleverness. In a quiet way he
had a high opinion of himself. He had been disposed to be a superior
young man at twenty, and now, at thirty, he was not without a tinge of
self-satisfaction, even pompousness. That his quickly discerning, subtle
little wife should like and appreciate his good qualities; that she
should, being of an affectionate nature, value him, was not surprising;
but that, with her sense of humour and remarkable quickness, even depth
of intellect, she should absolutely worship and adore him--for it
amounted to that--was rather a matter of astonishment. But it must be
remembered that her first love, Nigel Hillier, when she was eighteen,
was, obviously, just exactly what one would have expected to dazzle
her--quick, lively, fascinating and witty--this early romance had been a
terrible disappointment. Bertha had bravely been prepared to wait for
years, or to marry him on the moment; she had not the faintest idea that
the money difficulties would be used to put an end to it on _his_ side.
When he had broken it off, saying that he feared her father was right,
and that it was for her sake, she was terribly pained, seeing at once
that his love was not of the same quality as hers. But when, in less
than a week after that, he told her of his other engagement, it very
nearly broke her heart, as the phrase goes. Yet she cured herself; and
considering how young she was, she had an astonishing power of
self-control; she was almost cured of her love, if not her grief, in a
fortnight! She accepted Percy at the time without romance, though with a
great liking, and looking up to him with a certain trust, but very soon
the good qualities, in which he differed so remarkably from Nigel, and
even the points in which he was deficient and in which Nigel excelled,
made her care for him more. As the years went on, Bertha, who could do
nothing by halves, began to adore Percy more and more. She thought
absolutely nothing of Nigel at all, so very little that she had let him
dangle about without a thought of the past, being under the impression
that he was contented in his married life. When he began again to find
excuses to see her, and to start a sort of friendship, she did not
discourage it, for the very reason that she wanted him to see that
chapter in her life was absolutely closed and forgotten.

       *       *       *       *       *

His extreme desire that she should come to their entertainment, his
various implications--that Mary should think there was something in it
if she didn't come--then this new suggestion that he was not happy at
home, and, on looking back, Percy's extraordinary behaviour, suddenly
made her see things in a different light. She saw that Nigel probably
now imagined himself in love with her, and that it was not entirely
Percy's imagination; that it was even more necessary than she had
thought to put an end to the friendship. It made her furious when she
thought of it--the selfishness, the treachery--meanly to throw her over
because Mary was rich, and afterwards to try and come back and spoil
both their homes in amusing himself by a romance with her. Even if
Bertha had not cared for her husband, Nigel would have been the very
last man in the world she could have looked upon from that point of
view. Amusing as he was, she never thought of him without a slightly
contemptuous smile. And she loved Percy so very much; he was so entirely
without self-interest: he might have a certain amount of harmless
vanity, but he was purely unworldly, generous, broadminded and good, and
his own advantage was the very last thing that ever entered his head.

Until the trouble about Nigel she had feared he was growing cold, but
Percy's conduct on that subject had thoroughly satisfied her. He had
been very jealous but kind to her: he trusted and believed in her when
she was frank, and he certainly seemed more in love with her than ever.
Percy was so reliable, so true and _real_. She took up the dignified,
charmingly flattered photograph of him. ... What a noble forehead! What
a beautiful figure he had! And though he seemed so calm and so cold, he
was passionate and could be violent. His intellect was not above the
average, but his power of emotion most certainly was. ... Dear Percy!

       *       *       *       *       *

And now she had promised to go to Nigel's house, she would get Percy to
agree that evening.

Bertha told him of Nigel's visit, and of the request.

He frowned.

"You've accepted, and that's enough. I suppose you had to say you were
going. You can easily write Mrs. Hillier an excuse the next day. Dozens
of people will do it."

"Percy, I want to go."

He looked up angrily and in surprise.

"You want to go? You certainly can't. I don't wish it. Why, remember
what you promised. Is this infernal intimacy beginning again?"

"Percy, to-day is only the third time I've seen him since we talked
about it! And I hadn't the faintest idea he was coming to-day. I was
surprised and annoyed to see him. Since Madeline broke it off with
Charlie, we've heard nothing about them. Don't you believe me?"

"Naturally, I do. But it's a very odd thing a man should call here, and
beg you to promise to come to his wife's party! Isn't it?"

"Perhaps it is. We stopped seeing him so suddenly, you see."

"What's that got to do with it?" said Percy, with angry impatience. The
typewritten letters were torturing him. He had long been ashamed of not
having shown them to Bertha, and made a clean breast of it. It was
another reason why he hated Nigel and wanted the whole subject
absolutely put aside and forgotten.

"In my opinion it suggests a very curious relation his coming here
to-day like this. Not on your side, dear," he continued gently, putting
his hand on hers. "But, if you don't mind my saying so, you don't know
very much of the world, dear little Bertha, and in your innocence you
are liable to be imprudent."

This was Percy's mistaken view of Bertha, but she did not dislike it.
She was so determined now to be completely open that she did not try to
put him off, and said candidly:

"It may be perfectly true that he's rather more anxious for me to be at
the party than he need be. But, after all, there's not much harm in
that, Percy. All I want is to go in with you for twenty minutes or
half-an-hour, and then go away quite quickly. After that, if you like,
I'll give you my word of honour not to see him again."

"What's the object of it? No, I'm hanged if I go to that man's house."

"I promised as a special favour that I'd go."

"But what's the reason? Why is he so desperate you should be seen
there?"

Percy frowned and thought a moment.

"Has his wife--do you think it's been noticed he doesn't come here so
often?"

"It may have been. He didn't say so."

"Then it's damned impertinence of him to dare to come and ask you. Why
should I take you there to make things comfortable with him and his
wife?"

"Oh, Percy!"

"I don't want to have anything to do with them," Percy repeated,
frowning angrily at her.

She paused and said sweetly:

"Don't look worried, darling. Won't you anyhow think it over for a day
or two?"

Percy thought. He was a lawyer and it struck him that if the letters
were to be really ignored it might be better for them to go in and be
seen at the party, and if Bertha promised never to see him again, he
knew she was telling the truth. But it was hard; it jarred on him.

"We'll leave the subject for a few days, Bertha," he said. "I'll think
it over. But what I decide then must be final."

"Very well, Percy. ... I've got _such_ a lovely new dress! Pale primrose
colour."

"The dress I saw you trying on? The canary dress?"

"Yes."

"No. I'm hanged if you'll wear that there!" he exclaimed.

Bertha went into fits of laughter.

"Oh, Percy, _how_ sweet of you to say that! You're becoming a regular
jealous husband, do you know? Darling! How delightful!"



CHAPTER XX

RUPERT AGAIN


After the first reaction, Rupert felt, of course, to a certain extent,
relieved and grateful to think that he was not engaged to Madeline.
Undoubtedly, had he cared for her as she did for him, he would not have
declined to marry her because of her accepting Charlie, more or less out
of pique, or in despair. Yet, after having once really proposed he felt
his emotions stirred, and almost as soon as he had sent her back (so to
speak) to Charlie, he began to regret it--he began to be unhappy. _Au
fond_ he knew she would break it off with Charlie now, and would wait
vaguely in hope for him. At first to recover from the intense annoyance
of the whole thing, he thought he would, before Venice, go in a little
for the gaieties of Paris. Rupert was still young enough to believe that
the things presented to him as gaiety must necessarily be gay. A certain
delicacy prevented his telling Madeline this now; though formerly when
he had been to Paris, especially when he had had no intention of
accepting any Parisian opportunities of amusement, he had often rubbed
it in to her about the dazzling and dangerous charms of the gay city's
dissipations, at which she was suitably impressed. But a nicer feeling
made him now wish her to think of him as gliding down the lagoons of
Venice, and dreaming of what might have been.

       *       *       *       *       *

Madeline herself was really entirely without hope. She was certain she
had lost all the prestige that she had had in his eyes; and she thought
that she thoroughly deserved what had happened. She resolved to remain
unmarried, and try to do good. Though she was hurt, and thought it
showed how much less was Rupert's love than hers, still she respected
him and admired him all the more for refusing to take her after
accepting Charlie. She did not see that Rupert was a little too serious
to be taken quite seriously.

       *       *       *       *       *

Her mother added immensely to her depression. Mrs. Irwin was a woman who
detested facts, so much so that she thought statistics positively
indecent (though she would never have used the expression). When she was
told there were more women than men in England, she would bite her lips
and change the subject. She had had all the Victorian intense desire to
see her daughter married young, and all the Victorian almost absurd
delicacy in pretending she didn't. When, in one week, her only
daughter--a girl who was not remarkably pretty, and had only a little
money--should have proposals from no less than two attractive and
eligible young men and should have muddled it up so badly that, though
she had been prepared to accept both of them, she was now unable to
marry either, her mother was, naturally, pained and disgusted.

Madeline, who was usually gentle and amiable to her, in this case spoke
with a violence and determination that left no possible hope of her
returning to Charlie Hillier. She left Mrs. Irwin nothing to do but to
put on an air of refined resignation, of having neuralgia, which she now
called neuritis, because Madeline had annoyed her so much, and of
behaving, when Madeline sat with her, as much as possible like a person
who was somewhere else.

Bertha was Madeline's only consolation and resource. Bertha took life
with such delightful coolness.

"How would you advise me to behave to him, if it _had_ come off--I mean
if I _had_ married Rupert?" Madeline asked Bertha.

She was fond of these problematical speculations.

"I should say be an angel, if he deserved it, or a devil if he
appreciated it. Then--now and then--be non-existent, charming and
indifferent, when you wanted to hedge--when there was no particular
response. You'll go with me to the Hilliers' party, won't you, as
Charlie will be away?"

"Of course I will--if you like. But will Percy go--and let you go?"

"He says he won't, but I think he will," she replied.



CHAPTER XXI

THE HILLIERS' ENTERTAINMENT


No more had been said between them about the Hilliers' party; and Percy
began to hope that it would be dropped. But on the morning Bertha asked
him if he would like to take her out to dinner first with Madeline;
assuming that, as he had said no more about it, he intended to go.

With those letters upstairs in the box, how could he?

"I simply can't," he answered. "I don't wish to go to that man's house."

"Then must I take Madeline alone?" said Bertha. "In all these years,
Percy, I don't think I've ever been to a party without you."

"And I don't see why you should begin now," he answered.

"But, Percy, I want to go. Only for a few minutes."

"I'd much rather you didn't."

Bertha thought this tyrannical. She had promised Nigel, because he had
implied to her that it would get him out of the domestic difficulty.

"Oh, do, Percy dear. It's treating me as if you didn't trust me. After
all ... if you like I'll swear to arrange never to see Nigel again."

"I wish you would."

"It's only because I think it would look marked."

Percy thought there was something in that, and he didn't dislike the
idea of proving to the person, whoever it was, that had written the
letters, how little effect they had had. Yet, they had left a tinge of
jealousy that would easily be roused again, especially at her
insistence. He noticed that she didn't make the fact that she was
chaperoning Madeline an excuse, as most women would have done. She was
frank about it. Still, he tried once more.

"I don't want you to go."

"But I want to."

She was not particularly fond of opposition, and began to look annoyed.
She thought Percy was beginning to sit on her a little too much.

"Well," he said, "I shall not dine out with you and Madeline first: I
don't care to. But I'll hire an electric motor for you at eleven, and it
shall fetch you at twelve-thirty. If Madeline doesn't want to come
then, she can easily go back alone. It isn't far for her."

"Oh, she won't want to stop any longer than that."

"Oh, very well, we'll leave it like that. I shall dine at the club."

"It's unkind of you. I believe you don't want to see me start."

"You're quite right. I hate the idea of your appearing there in your
lovely new dress. I suppose you want to wear it?"

"Oh, I don't care in the least," she answered, "if you'd rather not."

"Oh, hang it! Wear what you like," he answered rather crossly.

       *       *       *       *       *

She did not see him again before she started, and, naturally, being a
woman, she put on the new dress.

It was pale yellow, and she knew Percy would have liked it and would
have called her a canary.

She went out, not in the best of tempers, and Madeline also, though
looking very charming, did not look forward to the entertainment, and
was thinking, with rather an aching heart, of Rupert in the lagoons of
Venice.

The Hilliers' house was arranged with the utmost gorgeousness. Nigel
felt a little return of his pride in it to-night. It was covered all
over with rambler roses, and looked magnificent. There was such a crowd
that Nigel hoped to get a little talk alone with Bertha, but feared she
would not come. He was agreeably surprised to see her arrive alone with
Madeline.

It so happened that Mary was not in the room when they were announced,
and very soon Nigel managed to take her down, first into the
refreshment-room, and then into the boudoir, which had been arranged
with draperies and shaded lights.

"I just want to have a few words with you," he said, and got her into a
little corner.

There was a heavy scent of roses; the music sounded faintly.

"Bertha!" he said. "It was too sweet of you to come. I shall never
forget it. You don't know how miserable I am."

"Oh, rubbish!" she answered. "You've no earthly reason to be. I wish you
wouldn't talk nonsense."

"I've never seen you look so lovely."

"I shall go away if you talk like that. Can't you see I don't like it?"

"I wonder Percy allowed you to come alone, looking like that."

"I came because I promised," she said. "You made me think, in some
mysterious way, it would be a good thing for you. But after what you
said about Mary, I want this to be distinctly understood: you are not to
come and see me any more. Nothing in the world I should loathe so much
as to be the cause of any trouble."

"Oh, my dear, but that you never could," he answered quickly.

"I hope not, and I'm not going to risk it. You chose your life, Nigel,
and you have every reason to be happy."

"Have I? You don't know."

"Think of your children. I haven't got that pleasure, and yet I'm
happy."

"Are you madly in love with Percy?" he asked, with a smile.

"Yes, I am," she answered.

At this moment a small crowd of people came in at the door. Mary, who
was with them, looked hurriedly round the room, and seeing Bertha and
Nigel in the corner, called him, taking no notice of her.

Bertha half rose, intending to go and shake hands with her, and Nigel
quickly went to meet her, but Bertha paused, thinking Mary looked
strange. She was very pale, and the white dress she wore made her look
paler against her dull red hair. She wore a tiara, which seemed a
little crooked, and her hair was disarranged. She was pale and
trembling, but spoke in a loud voice that Bertha could hear. Within two
yards of her, she said to Nigel, gesticulating with a feather fan:

"If you don't make that woman go away at once, I shall make a public
scene!"

Bertha started up and looked at her in astonishment.

Mary, glaring at her, and still talking loudly, allowed Nigel to lead
her out of the room.

He then came back.

"I think my wife's gone mad! Forgive her. She's ill, or something."

"I'm going now at once," said Bertha calmly. "Have a cab called for me,
and let Madeline know that the motor will be here for her at half-past
twelve. Leave me now--I don't want anything."

"For God's sake forgive me. She's off her head," said Nigel
incoherently.

At her wish he ran upstairs.

Bertha got her cloak, and telling a friend she met that she was going on
to a dance, she got into a taxi and went home.



CHAPTER XXII

BERTHA AT HOME


Bertha drove back, furiously angry, principally with Nigel, whom she
also pitied a little. It could be no joke to live with a woman like his
wife. But he should not have deceived Bertha; he should have let her
know; he should not have induced her to come against Percy's wish, at
the risk of being insulted.

She was not anxious about Madeline, knowing that that sensible young
lady would go to her own home when the carriage came, and that she could
explain matters to her the next morning. Madeline was not _une faiseuse
d'embarras_.

       *       *       *       *       *

Bertha had brought her key as Percy had promised to wait up for her; the
servants were to be allowed to go to bed. It was not long after twelve;
she saw a light in the library and went in, fully intending to tell
Percy everything.

She found him sitting by the fire, with a book. He had fallen asleep.
She watched him for some moments, and she thought he looked pale and a
little worried. ... How wilful, how foolish it had been of her to go to
the party without him! What did it matter? How trivial to insist on her
own way! How ungrateful! For lately Percy had been devoted. And how
lucky she was that he should care for her so much, after all these
years.

As Bertha watched, she felt that strange suffering which is always the
other side of intense love--the reverse of the medal of the ecstasy of
passion--and she thought she would tell him nothing about it. Why should
he be hurt, annoyed, and humiliated? It would spoil all the pleasure of
her coming back so early--the unexpected delightful time they might
have. ... In this Bertha committed an error of judgment, for she forgot
that he would probably hear of the scene some time or other, and would
attach more importance to it than if she told him now.

"Percy," she whispered.

He woke up.

"You already! Why, it's only twelve o'clock! Oh, dear, how good of you
to come so early."

"I didn't enjoy myself a bit," she murmured. "I'll never go out without
you again. Do forgive me for going!"

"How is it you didn't enjoy it?"

"Because you hadn't seen me in my new dress. Do I look like a canary?"

"No," he said. "Let me look at you. No, you're not a canary--you're a
Bird of Paradise."



CHAPTER XXIII

NIGEL'S LETTER


Next morning, as Bertha expected, Madeline came round to see her early.
She brought with her a note. She said that Nigel had implored her to
give it to her friend from him. He had put Madeline in the carriage, and
had seemed greatly distressed. He told the girl that his wife had been
ill lately and was not quite herself, and he feared she had offended
Bertha.

"She certainly behaved like a lunatic," Bertha said, as she took the
letter.

"Did you tell Percy?"

"As a matter of fact, no."

"Didn't he wonder at your coming home so early?"

"I'm afraid I pretended I rushed back to please him. Was it wrong of me?
I'm afraid it was."

"I believe in frankness with people you can trust. And remember, quite a
little while ago, Bertha, you were worried and depressed because you
thought Percy was becoming a little casual and like an ordinary husband,
and now, you naughty child, that he's been so _empressé_ and
affectionate, and jealous and attentive and everything that you
like--now you first insist on going to a party when he doesn't wish it,
and then you come home and tell him stories about it."

"I'm afraid I was wrong; but it was to spare him annoyance. Besides, I
daresay I was weak. It was so delightful giving him a pleasant
surprise."

She read the letter.

    "Forgive me for asking your friend to give you this note--I only
    did it because I feared in writing to you to refer to what
    happened. Is it asking too much, Bertha, to beg you not to
    resent it? Not to hate me for to-night? Think of my shame and
    misery about it--to think I had pressed and begged you to come
    to be insulted in my house. You see now what I have tried to
    conceal. I am utterly miserable. My wife is terrible and
    impossible. Seeing you occasionally had been my one joy--my only
    consolation. And only to-night--before--you had been telling me
    not to come and see you any more. Now I feel our friendship is
    all over. I could not expect you to see me again. You are such
    an angel, that you will, if I ask you, I believe, try to wipe
    out from your memory this horrible evening! I would rather have
    died than it should have happened. Of course, you see now that
    by instinct Mary guessed right--I mean in knowing my feeling for
    you--though heaven knows I haven't deserved this. She's
    screaming for me, and I must stop. All I ask is, don't hate me!
    I'm so miserable when I think that you, beautiful angel as you
    are, might have belonged to me. I doubt if I shall be able to
    live this life much longer.

    "In humblest apology, and with that deep feeling that writing
    can never express, your idolising

        "NIGEL.

    "_P.S._--I ought not to have written that. But I fear so much
    that I may not see you again, and that this may be my last
    letter, and I feel I would like you to know honestly all I feel
    for you. But words may not bear such burdens. Send me one word,
    only one word of pardon."

Bertha was obviously shocked and surprised at this letter. She folded it
up, looking grave. Then she said to Madeline:

"What a very extraordinary thing it has been that both Mary and Percy
have been suspicious and jealous of Nigel and myself, while there's
been absolutely nothing in it!"

"But they both felt by instinct, perhaps, that that was no fault of
his," returned Madeline.

"I have no sympathy with him," said Bertha, who seemed for her quite
hard. "If he does like me, all the more he ought to have kept away.
Besides, it's only because he wants to be amused! What right has he to
make his wife unhappy, when he deliberately chose her, and to be
willing--if he is willing--to smash up my happiness with Percy?"

"Of course that's horrid of him," said Madeline; "but somehow I do think
his wife is rather awful; I think she might do anything. But won't you
answer his letter?"

"Yes; I think I'd better write him a line," said Bertha.

She sat down and wrote:

    "DEAR MR. HILLIER,--Pray don't think again of the unpleasant
    little incident.

    "I have already forgotten it.

    "I think that if you will make your children the interest of
    your life--though it's very impertinent of me to say
    so--happiness must come of it.

    "Good-bye. Yours very sincerely,

        "BERTHA KELLYNCH"

"I've written," said Bertha, "what I wouldn't mind either Percy or Mary
seeing."

"I'm sure you have, dear. But Percy would rather you didn't write at
all."

"Perhaps. But I think it's right. Besides, otherwise, he might write
again, or even call."

"Yes, that's true."



CHAPTER XXIV

LADY KELLYNCH AT HOME


Although Lady Kellynch was a widow, and had had two sons (at the unusual
interval of eighteen years), there was something curiously old-maidish
about her--I should say that she had a set of qualities that were
formerly known by that expression, as there are no such things nowadays
as old maids and maiden aunts as contrasted to British matrons. There
are merely married or unmarried women. And Lady Kellynch belonged to a
long-forgotten type; she was no suffragette; politics did not touch her,
and at fifty-four she did not regard herself as the modern middle-aged
woman does. It never occurred to her for a moment, for example, to have
lessons in the Tango or to learn ski-ing or any other winter sports, in
a white jersey and cap. She was not seen clinging to the arm of a
professor of roller-skating, nor did she go to fancy-dress balls as
Folly or Romeo, as a Pierrette or Joan of Arc, as many of her
contemporaries loved to do. She dressed magnificently and in the fashion
of the day, and yet she always remained and looked extremely
old-fashioned; and though she would wear her hats as they were made
nowadays, her hair then had a look that did not go with it; no
hairdresser or milliner could ever induce her to do it in a style later
than 1887. The larger number of women have had some period of their
lives when the fashion has happened to suit them, or when, for some
reason or another, they have had a special success, and most of these
cling fondly to that epoch. Lady Kellynch never got away from 1887 and
the time of Queen Victoria's first Jubilee. All the fads of the hour
seemed to have passed over her since then, from bicycling to flying,
from classical dancing or ragtime to enthusiasm about votes for women;
the various movements had passed over her without leaving any hurt or
effect. Lady Kellynch had had a success in 1887; she cherished tenderly
a photograph of herself in an enormous bustle, with an impossibly small
waist, a thick high fringe over her eyes, and a tight dog-collar. The
bald bare look about the ears, and the extraordinary figure resembling a
switchback made her look very much older then than she did now. But more
than one smart young soldier (now, probably, steady retired generals,
who passed their time saying that the country was going to the dogs), an
attaché long since married and sunk into domestic life, and one or two
other men had greatly admired her; she had had her little dignified
flirtations, much as she adored the late Sir Percy Kellynch; her
portrait had been painted by Herkomer, and the Prince of Wales (as he
then was) had looked at her through his opera glass during the
performance of Gounod's _Romeo and Juliet_. These were things not to be
forgotten. When her husband died, Percy married and Clifford went to
school, and Lady Kellynch was left alone in her big house in South
Kensington, she became again what I call old-maidish. She had a hundred
little rules and fussy little arrangements, of which the slightest
disorganisation drove her to distraction. She had long consultations
every day with the cook at nine o'clock as to what was to be done with
what was left. She liked to be domestic, and would stand over the man
who was cleaning the windows and tell him how to do it. Certain things
she liked to do herself.

In the drawing-room was a chandelier of the seventies, beautiful in its
way, though out of date, and she used to take the lustres down and
polish them with her own fingers, taking a great pride in doing this
herself. She cared really for no one in the world but her two sons, but
she was extremely fond, in her own way, of society and of receiving. She
did not keep open house, and hers was not by any means casual
hospitality. She hated anyone to call upon her unexpected and uninvited,
except on the first and third Thursday of every month. She was very much
surprised that in the rush of the present day people had a way of
forgetting these days and calling on others. The first Thursday was
peculiarly ill-treated and ignored, and preparations on that day were
often wasted, while on the second Thursday she would come home and find
a quantity of cards, belonging to more or less smart, if dull, people
who had left them, with a sigh of relief at their mistake.

Lady Kellynch was good-natured in a cold kind of way, and even lavish;
yet she had her queer, petty economies, and was always talking about a
mysterious feat that she spoke of as _keeping the books down_, and was
also fond of discovering tiny little dressmakers who used to be with
some celebrated one and had now set up for themselves.

Lady Kellynch was very kind to these little dressmakers--she spoke of
them as if they were minute to the point of being midgets or
dwarfs--she was really rather the curse of their lives, and after a
while they would have been glad to dispense with her custom. She wanted
them to do impossibilities, such as making her look exactly as she did
at Queen Victoria's first Jubilee (the time when she was so much admired
and had such a success), and yet making her look up-to-date now, without
any of the horrid fast modern style.

When Clifford was at home things were considerably turned upside down,
and when the time of his holidays drew to an end she was conscious of
being relieved.

It was the first Thursday, and Lady Kellynch was at home. A day or two
before Clifford had spent a day with Pickering and his mother. She had
told him he might ask the boy to tea.

"Mother," said Clifford, who had received a note, "Pickering can't come
to-day."

"Oh, indeed--what a pity."

She was really rather glad. Boys at an At Home were a bore and ate all
the cake.

"Er--no--he can't come. But, I say, you won't mind, will you?--his
mother's coming."

"His mother!" exclaimed Lady Kellynch, rather surprised.

"Er--yes--I asked her. I thought, perhaps, you wouldn't mind. She wants
to know you."

"Really? It's very kind of her, I'm sure."

"You see, in a way, though she's awfully rich--I suppose she's a bit of
a--you know what I mean--a sort of a _nouveau riche_. She wants to visit
a few decent people, especially not too young."

"Oh, indeed!"

"She says it'll sort of pose her, and help her to get into society."

"What curious things to say to a boy."

"Oh, she's awfully jolly, mother. She says everything that comes into
her head. She's ripping--I do like her."

"Who was she?" asked his mother, with a rather chilling accent.

"I'm sure I don't know who she was," said the boy. "I can tell you who
she is: she's the prettiest woman I've ever seen."

"Good gracious me!"

"We had awful larks," went on Clifford. "She played with us and
Pickering's kiddy sister. We danced the Tango and had charades. You
can't think what fun it was. And we had tableaux. Mrs. Pickering and I
did a lovely tableau, 'Death in the Desert.' She fell down dead
suddenly, on the sand, you know, and I was a vulture. I'm an awfully
good vulture. And I vultured about and hopped round her for some
considerable time."

"Horrible!" cried Lady Kellynch. "Revolting! What an unpleasant subject
for a game."

"It wasn't a game: it was a proper tableau: we had a curtain and all
that sort of thing. They said I made a capital vulture. I pecked at Mrs.
Pickering. It was a great success."

"Dear me! Was it indeed? Well, if this lady's coming, you'd better go
and wash your hands," said Lady Kellynch, who felt a disposition to snub
Clifford on the subject.

"Of course I will! I say, mother, what cakes have you got?"

"Really, Clifford, I think you can leave that to me."

"They have jolly little _foie gras_ sandwiches at the Pickerings."

"I daresay they have."

"Can I go and tell cook to make some?"

"Most certainly not, Clifford!" cried the indignant mother.

"But if there aren't any, she might miss them," said Clifford.

"She will probably enjoy the change."

"You can't think how pretty she is! I say, mother."

"Yes, dear."

"I say, can't you have fur put round the edge of your shoes!"

"Fur round the edge of my shoes!" she repeated in a hollow voice.

He twisted his hands together self-consciously.

"Mrs. Pickering had an awful ripping violet sort of dress, and violet
satin boots with fur round the edge. ... I noticed them when we played
'Death in the Desert.' I thought they were rather pretty."

"Extremely bad style, I should think. At any rate, not the sort of thing
that I should dream of wearing. Now get along."

Clifford went down to the kitchen and worried the cook with descriptions
of the gorgeous cakes he had seen at the Pickerings till she said that
his ma had better accept her notice, and engage the Pickerings' cook
instead.

"Orders from you, Master Clifford, I will not take. And now you've got
it straight. _For grars_ in the afternoon is a thing I don't hold with
and never would hold with, and I've lived in the best families. There's
some nice sandwiches made of _gentlemen's relish_ made of Blootes'
paste, your ma's always 'ad since I've been here; it's done for her and
the best families I've lived in. _Fors grars_ is served at the end of
dinner with apsia and jelly, or else in one of them things with crust on
the top and truffles. But for tea I consider it quite out of place."

She went on to say that if she couldn't have her kitchen to herself
without the young gentlemen of the house putting their oar in, she would
leave that day month.

Clifford fled, frightened, and tidied himself.

At about five, when two or three old cronies of Lady Kellynch's were
sitting round, talking about the royal family, a gigantic motor, painted
white, came to the door, and Mrs. Pickering was announced.

She was very young and very pretty. Her hair was the very brightest
gold, and she had rather too much mauve and too much smile; she almost
curtsied to her hostess, and instantly gave that lady the impression
that she must have been not so very long ago the principal boy at some
popular pantomime.



CHAPTER XXV

MRS. PICKERING


"Our boys are such very great friends--I really felt I must know you!"
cried Mrs. Pickering in the most cordial way. She spoke with a very
slight Cockney accent. She bristled with aigrettes and sparkled with
jewels. Her bodice was cut very low, her sleeves very short, and her
white gloves came over the braceleted elbows. She wore a very high,
narrow turban, green satin shoes and stockings, and altogether was
dressed rather excessively; she looked like one of Louis Bauer's
drawings in _Punch_. She was certainly most striking in appearance, and
a little alarming in a quiet room, but most decidedly pretty and with a
very pleasant smile.

Lady Kellynch received her with great courtesy, but was not sufficiently
adaptable and subtle to conceal at once the fact that Mrs. Pickering's
general appearance and manner had completely taken her breath away.
Also, she was annoyed that Lady Gertrude Münster was there to-day. Lady
Gertrude was one of her great cards. She was a clever, glib,
battered-looking, elderly woman, who, since her husband had once been at
the Embassy in Vienna, had assumed a slight foreign accent; it was meant
to be Austrian but sounded Scotch. Lady Gertrude looked rather muffled
and seemed to have more thick veils and feather boas on than was
necessary for the time of the year. She was an old friend of Lady
Kellynch's, and they detested each other, but never missed an
opportunity of meeting, chiefly in order to impress each other, in one
way or another, or cause each other envy or annoyance.

Lady Kellynch was always very specially careful whom she asked, or
allowed, to meet Lady Gertrude. She had wanted Bertha particularly
to-day and was vexed at this unexpected arrival.

"Your daughter-in-law, my dear?" asked Lady Gertrude, in a surprised
tone, putting up her long tortoiseshell glass.

"Oh _dear_, no, Gertrude! Surely you know Bertha by sight! I never had
the pleasure of meeting Mrs. Pickering before."

"Charmed to meet you," said Mrs. Pickering again, giving a kind of
curtsy and smiling at Lady Gertrude. "Ah, there's my little friend!
Well, Cliff, didn't we have fun the other day? Eustace was sorry he
couldn't come to-day. We had the greatest larks, Lady Kellynch! I play
with the kids just like one of themselves. We've got a great big room
fixed up on purpose for Cissie and Eustace to romp. We haven't been
there very long yet, Lady Kellynch. You know that big corner house in
Hamilton Place leading into Park Lane. My husband thinks there's nothing
good enough for the children. If it comes to that, he thinks there's
nothing good enough for me." She giggled. "He gave me this emerald
brooch only this morning. 'Oh, Tom,' I said, 'what a silly you are. You
don't want to make a fuss about birthdays now we're getting on.' But he
is silly about me! It's a nice little thing, isn't it?" she said,
showing it to Lady Gertrude, who put up her glass to examine it.

"Lady Gertrude Münster--Mrs. Pickering," said Lady Kellynch. "Some tea?"

"Thanks, no tea. It's a pretty little thing, isn't it, Lady Münster?"

"Rather nice. Are they real?" asked Lady Gertrude.

Mrs. Pickering laughed very loudly. "You're getting at me. I shouldn't
be so pleased with it if it came out of a cracker! But what I always say
about presents, Lady Kellynch, is, it isn't so much the kind thought,
it's the value of the gift I look at. No, I meant----"

"What you said, I suppose," said Lady Gertrude, who was rather enjoying
herself, as she saw her hostess was irritated.

"Whoever's that pretty picture over there?"

Mrs. Pickering got up and went to look at the piano.

Lady Kellynch still retained (with several other _passé_ fashions) the
very South Kensington custom of covering up her large piano with a
handsome piece of Japanese embroidery, which was caught up at intervals
into bunchy bits of drapery, fastened by pots of flowers with sashes
round their necks and with a very large number of dark photographs in
frames, so very artistic in their heavy shading that one saw only a
gleam of light occasionally on the tip of the nose or the back of the
neck--all the rest in shadow--all with very large dashing signatures
slanting across the corners, chiefly of former dim social celebrities or
present well-known obscurities. The photograph she was looking at now
was a pretty one of Bertha.

"Ah, that is my daughter-in-law."

Lady Kellynch pointed it out to Lady Gertrude.

"This _is_ pretty--what you can see of it."

"Here she is herself."

Bertha came in.

"Mrs. Pickering--Mrs. Percy Kellynch."

The hostess gave Bertha an imploring look. She took in the situation at
a glance and drew Mrs. Pickering a little aside, where Lady Gertrude
could not listen to her piercing Cockney accent.

Clifford joined the group.

If Lady Kellynch had been, almost against her will, reminded by
something in her visitor of a pantomime, Bertha saw far more. She was
convinced at once that the rich eldest son of Pickering, the Jam King,
had been dazzled and carried away, some fourteen years ago, and bestowed
his enormous fortune and himself, probably against his family's wish, on
a little provincial chorus girl. Her cheery determination to get on, and
an evident sense of humour, made Bertha like her, in spite of her
snobbishness and her manner. She was a change, at least, to meet here,
and when Mrs. Pickering produced her card, which she did to everyone to
whom she spoke, Bertha promised to call and asked her also. Of course
one would have to be a shade careful whom one asked to meet her, but
probably it would be a jolly house to go to. And nowadays! Still, Bertha
was a little surprised that Clifford was so infatuated with the mother
of his friend. She forgot that at twelve years old one is not
fastidious; the taste is crude. If he admired Bertha's fair hair, he
thought Mrs. Pickering's brilliant gold curls still prettier. Besides,
Mrs. Pickering petted and made much of him, and was very kind.

She stayed much too long for a first visit, and as she went of course
produced another card, saying to the muffled lady:

"Pleased to have met you, Lady Münster. I hope you'll call and see our
new house. We're going to give a ball soon. We're entertaining this
season."

"She certainly is," murmured Lady Gertrude. Then, as she left: "My dear,
where do you pick up your extraordinary friends?"

This was a particularly nasty one for Lady Kellynch, who made such a
point of her exclusiveness.

"Clifford is responsible for this, I think," said Bertha. "The boys are
at the same school, and they've been very kind to him. I think she's
very amusing, and a good sort."

"Oh, quite a character! She told me she met her husband at Blackpool. He
fell in love with her when she was playing Prince Charming in No. 2 B
Company on tour with the pantomime _Little Miss Muffet_."

"Just what one would have thought!" said Lady Kellynch, rather
tragically.

"I've come to ask you if you'll go with Percy to the Queen's Hall
to-morrow," Bertha said. "He wants you to come so much."

The mother delightedly consented.

"Curious fad that is the mania for serious music," said Lady Gertrude.
"You don't share your husband's taste for it, it seems?"

"Well, I do, really. But it's such a treat for him to take his mother
out!" said Bertha tactfully.

"I say, Bertha, may I come back with you? I'm going back to school next
week."

"Of course you shall, if your mother likes."

His mother was glad to agree. She did not feel inclined to discuss Mrs.
Pickering with the boy that evening.

"Try and make him see what an awful woman she is," she murmured.

"I will; but it isn't dangerous," laughed Bertha. "Madeline is spending
the evening with me to-morrow."

"Oh yes, that nice quiet girl. By the way, do you know, I heard she was
engaged to young Charles Hillier. And then somewhere else I was told it
was Mr. Rupert Denison."

"It's neither," calmly replied Bertha, "But I believe each of them
proposed to her."

"Is that a fact? Dear me! Just fancy her refusing them both! What a
grief for poor Mrs. Irwin!"

Bertha laughed as she remembered that as a matter of fact Madeline had
accepted both, within two days.



CHAPTER XXVI

NEWS FROM VENICE


Madeline was sitting one afternoon with her mother in their little
Chippendale flat, all inlaid mahogany and old-fashioned chintz, china in
cabinets, and miniatures on crimson velvet; it was so perfectly in
keeping that the very parlourmaid's cap looked Chippendale, and it
somehow suggested Hugh Thomson's illustrations to Jane Austen's books.
Mrs. Irwin and Madeline were not, however, in the least degree like Miss
Austen's heroines and their mothers, except that Mrs. Irwin, though very
thin and elegant, had this one resemblance to the immortal Mrs. Bennet
in "Pride and Prejudice": "the serious object of her life was to get her
daughter married; its solace, gossiping and news." Also she had much of
the same querulousness, and complained every night of nerves, and each
morning of insomnia.

Madeline was reading John Addington Symonds' Renaissance and everything
that she could get on the subject of Italian history and cinquecento
art. These studies she pursued still as a sort of monument to Rupert, or
as a link with him. And to-day, as she was waiting for Bertha to call
and take her out, she received a letter from him, from Venice.

It was one of his long, friendly, cultured letters; making no allusion
to any thoughts of becoming more than friends to each other, and no
reference to the interlude of his proposal, or the episode of her
engagement to Charlie. This memory seemed to have faded away, and he
wrote in his old instructive way a long letter in his pretty little
handwriting, speaking of gondoliers, Savonarola, hotels, pictures,
lagoons, fashions and the weather. This last, he declared to be so
unbearable that he thought of coming back to London before very long. He
asked for an answer to his letter, and wished to know what she was
reading, what concerts she had been to, and whether she had seen the
exhibition at the Goupil Gallery.

But though it took her back to long before the period of his
love-letter, and he appeared to wish the whole affair to be forgotten,
it gave her considerable satisfaction. He wanted to hear of her, and,
what was more, he was coming back. Of course Mrs. Irwin saw that the
letter was from him, and she remarked that she had always said everyone
had a right to their own letters, and that after twenty-one, nowadays,
she supposed girls could do exactly what they liked, which she thought
was only fair; that mothers, very rightly, hardly counted in the present
day, were regarded as nobody, and were treated with no confidence of any
kind, of which she thoroughly approved; that Madeline's new coat and
skirt suited her very badly and did not fit; and that grey had never
been her colour.

Madeline's reply to this was to place the long letter into her mother's
hand.

Having read it, Mrs. Irwin said she did not wish to force anybody's
confidence, and she was evidently disappointed at its contents. However,
she advised her daughter to answer without loss of time.

The conversation was interrupted by Bertha's arrival.

"You know my brother-in-law, Clifford?" she said. "The funny boy has
'littery' tastes and began writing an historical play! But he got tired
of it and now he's taken to writing verses. I've brought you one of his
poems; they're so funny I thought it would amuse you. Fancy if a brother
of Percy's should grow up to be a 'littery gent'. I suspect it to be
addressed to the mother of his beloved friend, Pickering. He is devoted
to her."

"Where are you going to-day?" inquired Mrs. Irwin.

"I'm taking Madeline to see Miss Belvoir. She has rather amusing
afternoons. Her brother, Fred Belvoir, whom she lives with, is a curious
sort of celebrity. When he went down from Oxford they had a sort of
funeral procession because he was so popular. He's known on every
race-course; he's a great hunting man, an authority on musical comedy,
and is literary too--he writes for _Town Topics_. Miss Belvoir is the
most good-natured woman in the world, and so intensely hospitable that
she asks everyone to lunch or dinner the first time she meets them, and
sometimes without having been introduced, and she asks everyone to bring
their friends. They have a charming flat on the Thames Embankment and a
dear little country house called The Lurch, where her brother often
leaves her. They're mad on private theatricals, too, and are always
dressing up."

"It sounds rather fun," said Madeline.

"Not very exclusive," suggested her mother.

"No, not a bit. But it's great fun," said Bertha, "and I've heard people
say that you can be as exclusive as you like at Miss Belvoir's by
bringing your own set and talking only to them. People who go to her
large parties often don't know her by sight; she's so lost in the
crowd, and she never remembers anybody, or knows them again. To be ever
so little artistic is a sufficient passport to be asked to the
Belvoirs'. In fact if a brother-in-law of a friend of yours once sent an
article to a magazine which was not inserted, or if your second cousin
once met Tree at a party, and was not introduced to him, that is quite
sufficient to make you a welcome guest there. Now that my little
brother-in-law has written a poem, I shall have a _raison d'être_ in
being there. You'll see, Madeline, you'll enjoy yourself."



CHAPTER XXVII

ANOTHER ANONYMOUS LETTER


"Oh, Bertha, I've heard from Rupert again," said Madeline, as they drove
along.

"I saw you'd had a letter from that talented young cul-de-sac," replied
Bertha.

"What do you mean?"

"Nothing. I didn't mean anything. I like to tease you, and you must
confess that he's the sort of man--well, nothing ever seems to get much
forrarder with him! What does he say?"

"It's just the sort of letter he wrote long before he ever dreamt of
proposing to me."

"Well, I think that's rather a good sign. He's reassumed his early
manner. I believe he's going to work his way up all over again--all
through the beaten paths, and ignore the incident that hurt his vanity,
and then propose again. We may have rather fun here to-day. Sometimes
there are only a few fly-blown celebrities, and sometimes there are very
new beginners without a future, debutantes who will never _débuter_,
singers who can't sing, actors who never have any engagements, and
editors who are just thinking of bringing out a paper. Miss Belvoir
collects people who are unknown but prominent, noticeable and yet
obscure. Here we are."

       *       *       *       *       *

While Bertha and Madeline were being entertained in Miss Belvoir's
drawing-room something more serious was happening to Percy.

The day after the Hilliers' party Nigel had a terrible quarrel with his
wife, and he threatened that if she ever again lost her self-control and
disgraced him or herself by anything in the way of a scene, that he
would leave her and never come back. This really frightened her, for she
knew she had behaved unpardonably. She would not have minded so very
much if he had gone away for a little while, but how was she to prevent
the Kellynches going to the same place--even travelling with him? She
had been amazed to see Bertha. At the time she sent the letters there
had certainly been a marked change, a new movement, as she thought. They
had had an effect, without a doubt, though how or what she hardly knew,
but she supposed she had roused Percy's suspicions and he had stopped
the meetings. And then Mrs. Kellynch calmly came to the party without
her husband, which seemed to prove she knew nothing of the letters, and
disappeared at once with Nigel into the shaded conversation-room,
snatching her host and openly flirting with him in the most marked way!
It had been too much for her self-restraint. But now Mary saw she had
gone too far. Her open fury had been less successful than her secret
intriguing, so she apologised most humbly, entreated him to forgive her,
and even swore never to interfere again. He was to be quite free. He
might see Mrs. Kellynch whenever he liked. But all this was, of course,
too late for Nigel, since Bertha herself had declined to see him again,
and Mary resolved to start afresh. Probably the husband had lost his
suspicions and they must be roused again. If only Bertha had told him
all that had happened at the party, and if only Percy had frankly shown
her the letters and concealed nothing from her, there would have been no
more trouble. But each of them, from mistaken reasons, had concealed
these facts from the other. So, within a week of the entertainment, when
he had been so enchanted with her coming home early, Percy received
another shock, another warning anonymous letter.

It told him that his wife had made herself so conspicuous with Nigel
Hillier that the hostess had requested her to leave, also that their
meetings and their intrigue were the talk of London. He was again
advised to put a stop to it, but was not this time given any day and
hour or place to find them.

This time Percy said nothing to his wife. He made up his mind to have it
out, for several reasons, with Nigel. Though he was angry and jealous,
he now did not believe for a moment that Bertha was in any way to blame,
but simply that Nigel must be paying her marked attention, and whatever
the cause of the talk he was determined to stop it.

He thought for some time about where he could have an interview with
Nigel. He could not ask him to his own house, nor could he go and see
him at Grosvenor Street. His former idea of talking at the club he saw
to be impossible.

He sat down and wrote:

    "DEAR HILLIER,--I want to have a talk with you. Will you come
    and see me at my chambers at four o'clock the day after
    to-morrow? No. 7 Essex Court, Temple. Yours sincerely,

        "PERCIVAL KELLYNCH."

Nigel was amazed to receive this, and rather alarmed too. It was about a
week since he had had Bertha's little letter, but he had made no attempt
to see her since.

He answered immediately that he would call at the time appointed and
passed a very restless day and night beforehand.



CHAPTER XXVIII

AN INTERVIEW


Nigel, filled with curiosity, and rather anxious, arrived punctually to
the moment. He was shown into Percy's chambers by a stout and
prosperous-looking middle-aged clerk, with a gold watch-chain.

He waited there for some minutes, walking slowly up and down the room
and examining it. It was a very dull, serious room, almost depressing.
On the large table lay bulbous important-looking briefs, tied up with
red tape. Framed caricatures of judges and eminent barristers from
_Vanity Fair_ hung round the walls. The furniture was scarce, large and
heavy. On the mantelpiece was a framed photograph with a closed leather
cover. It looked interesting and expensive, and Nigel with his quick
movements had the curiosity to go across the room to open it. It
contained two lovely photographs of Bertha: one in furs and a hat, the
other in evening dress. It irritated Nigel. ... A sound of footsteps
gave him only just time to close it with a spring, and sit down.

Percy came in looking as Nigel had never seen him look before. There had
been an unimportant case in court, but he had been unable to get away
before. He was so orderly as a rule that he detested keeping anybody
waiting. He looked flushed and hurried, and his black smooth hair was
extraordinarily rough and wild. Of course, Nigel remembered, he had just
taken off his wig. There was a red line on his forehead, the mark left
by this ornament. The effect made him look like a different person. He
threw off his coat and spoke seriously and rather formally.

"Sorry, Hillier. Delayed in court. Hope I haven't kept you?"

"It doesn't matter in the least," Nigel answered in his cheery way.

Nigel was looking exceedingly at ease, and happy, though the manner was
really assumed to-day. He was very smartly dressed, with light gloves
and a buttonhole of violets, and looked a gay contrast to Percy, with
his unusually rough hair and solemn expression.

"I was very interested. I don't think I've ever seen a barrister's
chambers before. Jolly rooms you've got here. What a charming place the
Temple is. ... Well! I've been simply dying of curiosity," he went on,
with a pleasant smile.

"Sit down," said Percy. "Have a cigarette?"

Nigel lighted up. Percy did not.

"It's not very pleasant what I want to say to you. It's simply that I
don't want you to come to our house any more."

Nigel looked surprised and coloured slightly.

"And may I ask your reason?"

"I don't see why I should give it, but I will. I don't wish you to see
my wife any more."

"This is very extraordinary, Kellynch! Why?"

"I've reason to believe that your old friendship has been the cause of
some talk--some scandal. I don't like it. I won't have it, and that's
sufficient. I insist on you avoiding her in future."

Nigel stared blankly.

"I can only agree of course. I'll do just as you tell me. But I think,
as we've known each other so long, that it would be only fair for you to
tell me what is your reason for thinking this."

Nigel walked up and down the room, turned suddenly and said: "What has
put this idea into your head?"

Percy hesitated a moment.

"I'll tell you if you like. But, mind, I want no explanations. I needn't
say," he glanced at the closed photograph, "that I could have no doubt
of any kind. ... But I have a right to choose my friends and my wife's
also."

"She doesn't object?"

Percy frowned and looked him straight in the face.

"I undertake to say she will not object. We'll make this conversation as
short as we can. You've asked me my reason and I'll give it you. I've
had a series of extraordinary anonymous letters concerning you."

Nigel stared, horrified.

"She knows nothing about it," continued Percy, "and I attach no
importance to them, except, as I say, they show that your acquaintance
must have been misconstrued, and I won't have a shadow ... on her."

"This is rather hard on me, Kellynch. However, I have the satisfaction
of knowing my conscience is absolutely clear, and of course, I'll do
just as you wish. Have you any objection to showing me the letters?"

After a moment's pause, Percy said:

"No. I don't know that I have. I've got them here. I meant to shove them
in the fire, but I'll let you read them first, if you like."

He went to a drawer, unlocked it, gave Nigel the letters, and watched
him while he read them.

       *       *       *       *       *

The moment Nigel glanced at them he knew they were written by Mary. He
remembered by the dates when she had had the typewriter; he remembered,
even, seeing some of the white notepaper. He read them all. Then he
looked up and said:

"Kellynch, it's good of you to show these to me. I'm sorry to say I know
who wrote them. The earlier ones telling of the appointments are all
perfectly true, but entirely misrepresented. They can all be explained."

"I understand that," said Percy. "Of course the suggestion and the
impression the writer tries to give are absolutely false."

"Quite so. May I burn the letters now?"

There was a fire and Nigel threw them into it. He saw no point in
keeping them to confront Mary with. She would confess anyhow.

"May I ask one thing more?"

"My wife knows nothing about them," repeated Percy.

Nigel thought what a pity that was. If she had, she would not have come
to the party; things might have been tided over. But now. ... He had no
hope of the wish of his life, he was as furious as a spoilt child who
is deprived of a favourite toy--or, rather, disappointed of all hopes of
getting one. He became more and more angry with Percy and longed to
annoy him. The fellow was too satisfied--too lucky--he had everything
too much his own way!

"May I ask one thing?" said Nigel, as the letters were burning and he
gave them one last irritated touch with the poker, "may I ask, does this
affair give you the impression that I--only I naturally--had
any--er--motives in trying to see Mrs. Kellynch often? If I may put it
plainly, did you think I cared for her in a way that I had no right to?"

"To tell you the honest truth," said Percy, "as I choose to be frank
with you, I won't say you had ... motives, but I have the impression
that you--er--admire her too much."

Nigel waited a moment.

"And there you are perfectly right, Kellynch."

Percy started up, looking a little pale.

       *       *       *       *       *

Nigel had got a little of his revenge.

He had annoyed the comfortable Percy.

"But let me say that all this time I have never, never shown it by word
or look. Our talks were almost entirely about Madeline Irwin and my
brother, or about Rupert Denison. Your wife is so exceedingly kind and
good that she wished to see Miss Madeline as happy as herself."

"Yes, yes, I know all that," said Percy impatiently.

"I shall follow your wishes to the very letter," said Nigel. "You see
how very open I've been. How will you explain to her that I drop your
acquaintance?"

"I think I shall tell her now," said Percy, "that I had received a
letter and that I've seen you. But I shall tell her we parted the best
of friends, and nothing must be done, above all things, to annoy or
agitate her."

He looked at the closed leather case again.

"Just now I want to take special care of her. I daresay she won't notice
not meeting you, as we're not going out in the evening the rest of the
season nor entertaining."

Nigel looked amazed. An idea occurred to him that caused him absurd
mortification. It dawned upon his mind that perhaps Bertha was going to
have her wish. If so, he would be forgotten more completely than ever.

"Forgive me for asking, Kellynch. I think you've been very good to me,
really. I trust your wife is not ill?"

"Ill?--oh dear, no."

Percy smiled a smile that to Nigel seemed maddeningly complacent. "She
merely wants a little care for a time. We shall go to the country very
early this year. As a matter of fact, it's something she's very pleased
about." He stopped.

Nigel gave a pale smile. Percy was too irritating!

"Well, you were right not to worry her about the letters. I'm very sorry
for the whole thing. I think it's been hard on me, Kellynch."

He stood up.

"Good-bye, Hillier!"

Nigel held out his hand; Percy shook it coldly.

As he went to the door, taking up his hat and stick, Nigel said:

"I sincerely hope you won't miss me!"



CHAPTER XXIX

NIGEL AND MARY


Nigel rushed back. On his way, he decided that he had got a real excuse
for a holiday; he had every right to go away for a time from such a
wife; and he found himself thinking chiefly about where he would go and
how he would amuse himself. If the husband had only known it, Bertha had
already, if not exactly forbidden him the house, discouraged his
calling, almost as distinctly, though more kindly, than Percy did.
Still, if Percy had not given him that piece of information, he would
have remained in London, and left it to chance that they might meet
again somehow. He was such an optimist, and was really so very much in
love with her. Curious that this news of Bertha should annoy and should
excite him so much! Why, it seemed to him to be a matter of more
importance and far more interest than in his own wife's case. That he
had taken quite as a matter of course, an ordinary everyday occurrence
"which would give her something to do." He was really disappointed when
he found that Mary did not absorb herself in her children, and found she
was only anxious--foolishly anxious--that he should not think that they
could take his place as companions.

Nigel was affectionate by nature, and if Mary had insisted on that
note--if she had made him proud of his children, encouraged his
affection for them, if she had played the madonna--his affection for her
would have been immensely increased. She would have had a niche in his
heart--a respect and tenderness, even if she had never been able to make
him entirely faithful, which, perhaps, only one woman could have done.
But, instead of that, Mary had been jealous and silly and violently
exacting. She wished him to be her slave and under her thumb, and yet
she wanted him to be her lover. Every word she had ever spoken,
everything she had ever done since their marriage had had the exact
contrary effect of what she desired. She had sent him further and
further away from her. That she knew he had married her for her money
embittered her and yet made her tyrannical. She wanted to take advantage
of that fact, in a way that no man could endure. Yet she was to be
pitied. Anyone so exacting must be terribly unhappy.

It was not in Nigel, either, to care long for anyone who cared for him
so much. And even if Bertha, who was now his ideal and his dream, had
been as devoted to him as Mary, and shown it in anything like the same
sort of way, he would in time have become cool and ceased to appreciate
her. He thought now that he would always adore her, and yet, when they
had been actually engaged, it had been he who had allowed it to lapse.
He might think that he cared for her far more now and understood her
better, and now no worldly object would induce him to give up the
possibility of their passing their lives together. And yet the fact
remained. She had loved him as a girl--worshipped him. But he had broken
it off. So now that he has lost all hope of his wish, he does not,
strictly speaking, deserve any sympathy; yet all emotional suffering
appeals to one's pity rather than to one's sense of justice. And Nigel
was miserable.

       *       *       *       *       *

The letter Bertha had sent him the other day, though it put an end to
their meeting, had a sort of fragrance; a tender kindness about it. He
could make himself believe that she also was a little sorry. Perhaps she
did it more from motives of duty than from her own wish; something about
it left a little glamour, and he had still hope that somehow or other
circumstances might alter so much that even so they might be friends
again. But now! it was very different. Percy's quiet satisfaction showed
that they were on the most perfect terms, and he could imagine Bertha's
delight--her high spirits--and her charming little ways of showing her
pleasure. It forced itself on his mind against his will, that she was
very much in love with Percy after all these ten years, difficult as it
seemed to him to realise it.

So they were hardly going out any more! So they were going to the
country early to have a sort of second honeymoon! It seemed to him that
after ten years of gay camaraderie they were now suddenly going to
behave like lovers, like a newly married young couple.

How sickening it was, and how absorbed she would be now! People always
made much more of an event like that when it happened after some years.
Personally he tried to think it made him like her less, at any rate it
seemed to make her far more removed from him. But all the real
estrangement had been caused undoubtedly by his wife.

       *       *       *       *       *

On the whole, to be just, that pompous ass, as he called him, Percy
Kellynch, had really behaved very well. He had accused Nigel of nothing;
he had suggested nothing about his wife, who was still, evidently, on a
pedestal; he had really done the right thing and been considerate to her
in the highest degree. Any man who cared for his wife would have
naturally requested him, Nigel, to keep away. And it was really decent,
frightfully decent of him, to let him see the letters, really kind and
fair. Of course what put old Percy in a good temper, in spite of all,
was this news, and, no doubt, Bertha was being angelic to him.

Nigel made up his mind to try and throw it off. But he couldn't do it by
staying with his wife.

To look at her would be agonising now.

Still he made up his mind he would be calm, he would not be unkind to
her; he would be firm, and, as far as possible, have no sort of scene.

       *       *       *       *       *

When he went in, she was sitting in the boudoir looking out of the
window as usual. She saw him before he came in. It was not six o'clock
yet and quite light.

"Well, Nigel darling?" She ran up to him.

He moved away.

"Please don't, Mary. I've got something serious to speak to you about."

She turned pale, guiltily.

"What is it? What on earth is it?"

"You shall hear. Shall we talk about it now, or wait till after dinner?
I think I'd rather wait. I've got a bit of a headache."

"After dinner, then," murmured Mary.

This was very unlike her. Had she had nothing on her conscience, nothing
she was afraid of, she would never have ceased questioning and worrying
him to get it all out of him.

       *       *       *       *       *

He went up to his room, and asked her to leave him, and this she
actually did. She wanted time to think!

With the weak good nature that was in Nigel, curiously side by side with
a certain cruel hardness, he now felt a little sorry for her. It must be
awful to be waiting like this. And she really had been in the wrong. It
was an appalling thing to do--mad, hysterical, dangerous. It might have
caused far more trouble than it had! Suppose Percy had believed it all!

Nigel thought of scandals, divorces, all sorts of things. Yes, after
all, Kellynch had really been kind; and clever. He was not a bad sort.
Then Nigel found that last little letter of Bertha's. How sweet it was!
But he saw through it now, that she was deeply happy and didn't want to
be bothered with him. She forgave the scene his wife had made at the
party, as not one woman in a hundred would do--but she didn't want him.
The moment she realised that he wanted to flirt with her, that there was
even a chance of his loving her, she was simply bored. Yes, that was
it--gay, amusing, witty, attractive Nigel bored her! Dull, serious,
conventional Percy did not! She was in love with him.

In books and plays it was always the other way: it was the husband that
was the bore; but romances and comedies are often far away from life.
Curious as it seemed, this was life, and Nigel realised it. He destroyed
her letter and went down to dinner.

They were quiet at dinner, talked a little only for the servants. Nigel
asked about the little girl.

"How's Marjorie getting on with her music lessons?"

Mary answered in a low voice that the teacher thought she had talent.
...

They were left alone.

"Well, what is it, Nigel?" She spoke in querulous, frightened voice.

They were sitting in the boudoir again. Coffee had been left on the
table.

Nigel lighted a cigarette.

He was still a little sorry for her. Then he said:

"Look here, Mary, I'm sorry to say I've found out you've been doing a
very terrible thing! I ask you not to deny it, because I know it. The
only chance of our ever being in peace together again, or in peace at
all, is for you to speak the truth."

She did not answer.

"I've forgiven heaps of things--frightful tempers, mad suspicions, that
disgraceful scene you made at our party--but I always thought you were
honourable and truthful. What you've done is very dishonourable. Don't
make it worse by denying it." He paused. "You have written five
anonymous letters, dictated in typewriting, about me and Mrs. Kellynch
to her husband. I don't know what you thought, but you certainly tried
to give the impression that our harmless conversations meant something
more. That there was an intrigue going on. Did you really think this,
may I ask?"

"Yes, I did," she said, in a low voice, looking down.

"Well, first allow me to assure you that you are entirely wrong. It was
completely false. Can't you see now how terrible it was to suggest these
absolute lies as facts to her husband? Did you write the letters?"

"Yes, I did; I was in despair. I couldn't think of anything else to stop
it."

Nigel gave a sigh of relief.

"Thank God you've admitted it, Mary. I'm glad of that. At least if we
have the truth between us, we know where we are."

"Did she--did she--tell you?"

"She knows nothing whatever about it," said Nigel. "She has never been
told, and never will be. You need worry no more about the letters. Her
husband gave them to me this afternoon, and I destroyed them before him.
And he doesn't know who wrote them."

Nigel forgot that he had told Percy or did not choose to say.

"They're completely wiped out, and will be forgotten by the person to
whom you sent them. The whole affair is cleared up and finished and
regarded as an unfortunate act of folly."

"Oh, Nigel!" Mary burst into tears. "You're very good."

"Now listen, Mary ... I can't endure to stay with you any more at
present."

"What!" she screamed.

"If I continue this existence with you I shall grow to hate it. I wish
to go away for a time."

"You want to leave me!"

"Unless I go now for a time to try and get over this act of yours, I
tell you frankly that I shall leave you altogether."

He spoke sternly.

"If you will have the decency not to oppose my wishes, I will go away
for six or seven weeks, and when I come back we'll try and take up our
life again a little differently. You must be less jealous and exacting
and learn to control yourself. I will then try to forget and we'll try
to get on better together. But I must go. My nerves won't stand it any
longer."

She sobbed, leaning her head on the back of an arm-chair.

"If you agree to this without the slightest objection," said Nigel, "I
will come and join you and the children somewhere in the first week in
August. Till then I'm going abroad, but I don't exactly know where. You
shall have my address, and, of course, I shall write. I may possibly go
to Venice. I have a friend there."

She still said nothing, but cried bitterly. She was in despair at the
idea of his leaving her, but secretly felt she might have been let off
less lightly.

One thing Nigel resolved. He would not let her know he had been
forbidden the house. She would be too pleased at having succeeded. But
he said:

"One thing you may as well know, I shall see nothing more of the
Kellynches, because they are going into the country in a few days. They
have had no quarrel, they are perfectly devoted to each other, and she
has not the faintest idea of it. So you see you haven't done the harm,
or caused the pain you tried to, except to me. I was ashamed when I
saw----"

"Oh, Nigel, forgive me! I am sorry! Don't go away!"

"Unless I go away now, I shall go altogether. Don't cry. Try to cheer
up!"

With these words he left the room.



CHAPTER XXX

MISS BELVOIR


We left Bertha and Madeline in the lift going up to call on Miss
Belvoir. This lady was sitting by the fire, holding a screen. She came
forward and greeted them with great cordiality. She was a small, dark,
amiable-looking woman about thirty. Her hair and eyes were of a
blackness one rarely sees, her complexion was clear and bright, her
figure extremely small and trim. Without being exactly pretty, she was
very agreeable to the eye, and also had the attraction of looking
remarkably different from other people. Indeed her costume was so
uncommon as to be on the verge of eccentricity. Her face had a slightly
Japanese look, and she increased this effect by wearing a gown of which
a part was decidedly Japanese. In fact it was a kimono covered with
embroidery in designs consisting of a flight of storks, some
chrysanthemums, and a few butterflies, in the richest shades of blue. In
the left-hand corner were two little yellow men fighting with a sword
in each hand; otherwise it was all blue. It was almost impossible to
keep one's eyes from this yellow duel; the little embroidered figures
looked so fierce and emotional and appeared to be enjoying themselves so
much.

The room in which Miss Belvoir received her friends was very large, long
and low, and had a delightful view of the river from the Embankment. It
was a greyish afternoon, vague and misty, and one saw from the windows
views that looked exactly like pictures by Whistler. The room was
furnished in a Post-Impressionist style, chiefly in red, black and
brown; the colours were all plain--that is to say, there were no designs
except on the ceiling, which was cosily covered with large, brilliantly
tinted, life-sized parrots.

Miss Belvoir's brother, Fred, often declared that when he came home
late, which he generally did--between six and nine in the morning were
his usual hours--he always had to stop himself from getting a gun, and
he was afraid that some day he might lose his self-control and be
tempted to shoot the parrots. He was an excellent shot.

The room was full of low bookcases crammed with books, and large fat
cushions on the floor. They looked extremely comfortable, but as a
matter of fact nobody ever liked sitting on them. When English people
once overcame their natural shyness so far as to sit down on them, they
were afraid they would never be able to get up again.

Three or four people were dotted about the room, but no one had ventured
on the cushions. There was one young lady whose hair was done in the
early Victorian style, parted in the middle, with bunches of curls each
side. As far as her throat she appeared to be strictly a Victorian--very
English, about 1850--but from that point she suddenly became Oriental,
and for the rest was dressed principally in what looked like beaded
curtains.

Leaning on the mantelpiece and smoking a cigarette with great ease of
manner was a striking and agreeable-looking young man, about eight and
twenty, whom Miss Belvoir introduced as Mr. Bevan Fairfield. He was fair
and good-looking, very dandified in dress, and with a rather humorously
turned-up nose and an excessively fluent way of speaking.

"I was just scolding Miss Belvoir," he said, "when you came in. She's
been playing me the trick she's always playing. She gets me here under
the pretext that some celebrity's coming and then they don't turn up.
Signor Semolini, the Futurist, I was asked to meet. And then she gets a
telegram--or says she does--that he can't come. Very odd, very curious,
they never can come--at any rate when I'm here. Some people would rather
say, 'Fancy, I was asked to Miss Belvoir's the other day to meet
Semolini, only he didn't turn up,' than not say anything at all. Some
people think it's a distinction not to have met Semolini at Miss
Belvoir's."

"It's quite a satisfactory distinction," remarked Bertha. "Semolini has
been to see us once, but he really isn't very interesting."

"Ah, but still you're able to say that. I sha'n't be able to say, 'I met
Semolini the other day, and, do you know, he's such a disappointment.'"

"Well, I couldn't help it, Bevan," murmured Miss Belvoir, smiling.

"No, I know you couldn't help it. Of course you couldn't help it. That's
just it--you never expected the man. I went to lunch with another liar
last week--I beg your pardon, Miss Belvoir--who asked me to meet Dusé.
She was so sorry she couldn't come at the last minute. She sent a
telegram. Well, all I ask is, let me see the telegram."

"But you couldn't; he 'phoned," objected Miss Belvoir.

"So you _say_," returned the young man, as he passed a cup of tea to
Bertha.

"Will you have China tea and lemon and be smart, or India tea and milk
and sugar and enjoy it? I don't mind owning that I like stewed tea--I
like a nice comfortable washer-woman's cup of tea myself. Well, I
suppose we're all going to the Indian ball at the Albert Hall. What are
you all going as? I suppose Miss Belvoir's going as a nautch-girl, or a
naughty girl or something."

"I'm going as a Persian dancer," said Miss Belvoir.

"I'm not going as anything," said Bertha. "I hate fancy balls. One takes
such a lot of trouble and then people look only at their own dresses. If
you want to dress up for yourself, you'd enjoy it just as much if you
dressed up alone, I think."

"Well, of course it's not so much fun for women," said Mr. Fairfield.
"You are always more or less in fancy dress; it's no change for you. But
for us it is fun. The last one I went to I had a great success as a
forget-me-not. Miss Belvoir and I met an elephant, an enormous creature,
galumphing along, knocking everybody down, and wasn't it clever of me? I
recognised it! 'Good heavens!' I exclaimed, 'this must be the
Mitchells!' And so it turned out to be. Mr. Mitchell was one leg, Mrs.
Mitchell the other, two others were their great friends and their
little nephew was the trunk. Frightfully uncomfortable, but they did
attract a great deal of attention. They nearly died of the stuffiness,
but they took a prize. My friend Linsey usually takes a prize, though he
always contrives some agonising torture for himself. The last time he
was a letter-box, and he was simply dying of thirst and unable to move.
I saved his life by pouring some champagne down the slit for the
letters, on the chance. Another friend of mine who was dressed in a real
suit of armour had to be lifted into the taxi, and when he arrived home
he couldn't get out. When he at last persuaded the cabman to carry him
to his door--it was six o'clock in the morning--the man said, 'Oh, never
mind, sir, we've had gentlemen worse than this!' And the poor fellow
hadn't had a single drop or crumb the whole evening, because his visor
was down and he couldn't move his arm to lift it up. If you went as
anything, Mrs. Kellynch, you ought to be a China Shepherdess. I never
saw anyone so exactly like one."

"And what ought I to go as?" asked Madeline.

"You would look your best as a Florentine page," replied Mr. Fairfield.
"Or both of you would look very nice as late Italians."

"I'm afraid we shall be late Englishwomen unless we go now," said
Bertha. "I can only stay a very few minutes to-day, Miss Belvoir."

They persuaded her to remain a little longer, and Mr. Fairfield
continued to chatter on during the remainder of their visit. He did not
succeed in persuading them to join in making up the party for the Indian
ball.



CHAPTER XXXI

MARY'S PLAN


Mary was so terrified that Nigel might keep his threat altogether and
really leave her permanently that she made less opposition than he
expected. She felt instinctively that it was her only chance of getting
him back. She could see when he really meant a thing, and this time it
was evident he intended to follow out his scheme, and she could not help
reflecting that it might have been very much worse. How much more angry
many husbands might have been! On the whole she had been let off fairly
lightly. There was this much of largeness in Nigel's nature that he
could not labour a point, or nag, or scold, or bully. He was really
shocked and disgusted, besides being very angry at what she had done,
and he did not at all like to dwell on it. He was even grateful that she
spared him discussions of the subject, and sincerely thankful that she
had admitted it. All men with any generosity in their temperament are
disarmed by frankness, and most irritated by untruth. He wondered at her
daring, and when she humbly owned she saw how dreadful it was--that she
saw it in the right light and would never be tempted to do anything of
the sort again--he was glad to forgive her. But he wanted to go away and
forget it, and he certainly made up his mind to make the whole affair an
excuse for having more freedom. He had never been away without her for
more than a day, and he looked forward to it with great pleasure. He
determined to let his journey help to cure him of his passion for
Bertha, though it seemed at present an almost impossible task.

He was resolved to strike when the iron was hot, and to get away while
she was in this docile mood. She was gentle and quiet and seemed very
unhappy, but made no objections to his plans; she would not, perhaps,
have minded his leaving her for a day or two, since she felt
uncomfortable and in the wrong, but she dreaded his being away for
weeks. He said he would join Rupert at Venice; and this she rather
preferred, as Rupert was known to be a quiet, steady, studious young
man.

But when the last moment came and the packed trunks were put on the cab,
he had said good-bye to her and the children and that last terrible bang
of the hall door resounded in her heart, she could not look out of the
window in her usual place. She had felt the agony known to all loving
hearts, the conviction that a traveller is already at a distance before
he goes. He is no longer with her when his thoughts are with stations
and tickets--indeed the real parting is long before he starts. Then the
unconscious sparkle of pleasure in his eyes as he imagines himself away!
He had gone already before he went; she did not want to see the last of
him. She went up to her room and locked the door, and threw herself on
the sofa in a terrible fit of despair and jealousy. Jealousy still, that
was her great fear of his going away. He would forget her and be
unfaithful, she thought. ...

       *       *       *       *       *

She suffered terribly that evening, and the next day resolved to take a
somewhat singular step. If she had been doing Bertha an injustice, as it
seemed, if Bertha was not seeing him at all, why should she not go and
see her? She felt instinctively that besides getting the truth out of
her, and perhaps apologising for what had happened at the party, Bertha
might give her some advice. Everyone said she was so kind and clever.
She decided not to write, but she rang up on the telephone and asked if
Bertha would receive her at three o'clock. She felt a strange
curiosity, a longing to see her. She received the answer, Mrs. Kellynch
would be delighted to see her at any time in the afternoon.



CHAPTER XXXII

PRIVATE FIREWORKS AT THE PICKERINGS'


"I say, Clifford, when is your birthday?" This momentous question was
asked of Clifford with the liveliest interest by Cissy Pickering, a
remarkably pretty little girl of about his own age.

They were in the gigantic and gorgeous apartment set apart as a playroom
for the young Pickerings in Hamilton Place, Park Lane, and arranged
partly as a gymnasium--it had all the necessities--partly as a
schoolroom. It contained a magnificent dolls' house fitted up with Louis
Quinze furniture and illuminated with real electric light; a miniature
motor car in which two small people could drive themselves with
authentic petrol round and round the polished floor; a mechanical
rocking-horse; a miniature billiard-table and croquet set; a gramophone;
cricket on the hearth, roller-skates; a pianola, and countless other
luxuries.

Decorated by illustrations of fairy tales on the walls, it was
altogether a delightful room; made for all a child could want.

It is all very well to say that children are happier with mud pies and
rag dolls than with these elaborate delights. There may be something in
this theory, but when their amusements are carried to such a point of
luxurious and imaginative perfection it certainly gives them great and
even unlimited enjoyment at the time. Whether such indulgence and
realisation of youthful dreams have a good effect on the character in
later life is a different question. At any rate, to go to tea with the
Pickerings was the dream of all their young friends and gave them much
to think of and long for, while it gave to the young host and hostess
immense gratification and material pride.

"My birthday? Oh, I don't know--oh, it's on the twenty-seventh May,"
said Clifford, who was far more shy of the young lady than of her
mother.

"Fancy! Just fancy! and mine's on the twenty-eighth June! _Isn't_ it
funny!"

Cissy was surprised at almost everything. It added to her popularity.

"Not particularly."

"Oh, Clifford!"

"You must be born some time or other, I mean," he said, wriggling his
head and twisting his feet, as he did when he felt embarrassed. Miss
Pickering made him feel embarrassed because she asked so many direct
personal questions, seemed so interested and surprised at everything,
and volunteered so much private--but, it seemed to him,
unimportant--information.

"My name is Cecilia Muriel Margaret Pickering. My birthday's on the
twenty-eighth June, and Eustace's birthday is on the fifteenth February.
Isn't it funny?"

"No, not at all," said Clifford.

"His name is Eustace Henry John Pickering, after father. At least John's
after father and Henry's after grandpapa--I mean, mummy's father, you
know. Eustace is just a fancy name--a name mummy thought of. Do you like
it?"

"Not much."

"Oh, Clifford! Why not?"

"Well, it's rather a queer name."

"Do you call him Eustace?"

"I call him Pickering, of course," said Clifford. "At school we don't
know each other's Christian names."

"Oh! ... Did you know mine before you came here, Clifford?"

"No. I only knew he had a kiddy sister, but he didn't tell me your
name."

She looked rather crushed. Cissy was a lovely child with golden hair,
parted on one side, and a dainty white and pink dress like a doll. Cissy
was in love with Clifford, but Clifford was in love with her mother.
This simple nursery tragedy may sound strange, but as a matter of fact
it is a kind of thing that happens every day. Similar complications are
to be found in almost every schoolroom.

"I hope you don't mind my saying that," said Clifford, who began to be
sorry for her. "About your being a kid. It doesn't matter a bit--for a
girl."

"Oh, Clifford! No, I don't mind." She smiled at him, consoled. "Eustace
will soon be home. He's gone to get something."

"Oh, good."

"Do you mind his not being here yet?"

"No, not a bit."

"You told me you had something to show me," said the little girl.
"You've been writing poetry. I _should_ so like to see it."

He blushed and said: "I've brought it. But I don't think it's any good.
I don't think I'll show it to you."

"Oh, please, please, _please_, do!"

"You'll go telling everyone. Girls always do."

"I promise, I _swear_ I won't! Not a soul. Not even mummy. I never tell
Eustace's secrets."

"I should think not! Now mind you don't, then. Will you, Cissy?"

"Oh, do go on, dear Clifford; because when Eustace is here we shall have
to play games--'Happy Families' or something--and I sha'n't have another
chance. I believe he's got some joke on. I hear you've written a play.
Have you?"

"Well, I began an historical play," said Clifford, who was beginning to
think a little sister with proper respect for one might be rather a
luxury, "but I chucked it. I found it was rather slow. So then I tried
to write a poem. But I'm not going to grow up and be one of those rotten
poets with long hair, that you read of. Don't think that."

"Aren't you? Oh, that's right. What are you going to be, Clifford?"

"Oh! I think I shall be an inventor or an explorer, and go out after the
North or South Pole, or shoot lions."

"Oh! How splendid! Won't you take me? I'd _love_ to come!"

He smiled. "It wouldn't do for girls."

"But I sha'n't be a girl then. I'll be grown-up. _Do_ let me come!"

"We'll see. Don't bother."

"Well! Show me the poem," she said, for she already had the instinct to
see that it pleased him and interested him much more to show her what he
was doing at present than to make promises and plans about her future.

They went and sat on the delightful wide-cushioned window-seat. Clifford
pulled out of his pocket a crumpled paper, covered with pencil marks. He
curled himself up, and Cissy curled herself up beside him and looked
over his shoulder.

He began: "I'm afraid this one's no use--no earthly---- I say, Cissy,
take your hair out of my eyes."

She shook it back and sat a little farther off, with her eyes and mouth
open as he read in a rather gruff voice:

"Sonnet."

"What's a sonnet, Clifford?"

He was rather baffled. "This is."

He went on:

    "'_The day when first I saw
         Her standing by the door,
       I was taken by surprise
       By her pretty blue eyes,
         And then I thought her hair
         So very fair
       That I felt inclined to sing
         About Mrs. Pickering._'"

"Lovely! How beautiful!" exclaimed Cissy, like a true woman. "But Mrs.
Pickering! Fancy! Does it mean mummy?"

"Why, yes. As a matter of fact it certainly _does_."

"Oh, Clifford! _How_ clever! How splendid! But mustn't she know it?"

"Oh no. I'd rather not. At any rate, not now."

"I wish it was to me!" exclaimed the child. "Then you needn't be so shy
about it. Why don't you change it to me? Look here--like this. Say:

    "'_I felt inclined to sing
       About Cissy Pickering._'

Cissy instead of _Mrs._!"

"Oh no, my dear. That wouldn't do at all. It isn't done. You can't alter
a sonnet to another person. If it came to that I'd sooner write one to
you as well, some time or another, when you're older."

"Oh, _do_, _dear_ Cliff! I _should_ love it."

"All right. Perhaps I will some day. But, you see, just now I want to do
the one about _her_."

"It's very nice and polite of you," she said in a doubting voice. "But
you said you'd done some more."

"Rather. So I have. You mustn't think it's cheek, you know, if I call
your mother by her Christian name in the poetry. It's only for the
rhyme."

Blushing and apologetically he read aloud in his gruff, shy voice:

    "'_Geraldine, Geraldine,
       She has the nicest face I have ever seen,
           She did not say
           Until the other day
       That I might call her Geraldine,
       And I think she is like a Queen._'

"As a matter of fact she never said it at all," said the boy, folding it
up. "That's only because it's poetry. And I only used her name for the
rhyme."

"Yes, I see. You're very clever!"

"Don't you see any faults in it? I wish you'd tell me straight out
exactly what you think, if you see anything wrong," said Clifford, like
all young writers who think they are pining for criticism but are really
yearning for praise. "I would like," he said, "for you to find any fault
you possibly could! Say exactly what you really mean."

He really thought he meant it.

"Well, I don't see _one_ fault! I think it's perfect," replied Cissy,
like all intelligent women in love with the writer. Her instinct warned
her against finding any fault. Had she found any it would have been the
only thing Clifford would have thought she happened to be wrong about.
As it was, his opinion of her judgment and general mental capacity went
up enormously, and he decided that she was a very clever kid. A decent
little girl too, and not at all bad looking.

"But aren't they a little short, Cissy?" he asked.

"Perhaps they are. But you can easily make them longer, can't you?"

"Oh yes, rather, of course I can."

"Don't you want mummy to see them?"

"Oh no, I don't think I do; wouldn't she laugh at me?"

"Oh no, I'm sure she wouldn't, Clifford. She's coming to have tea with
us to-night."

"Well, mind you don't tell," he said threateningly.

"Of course, I won't. You can trust me. I say, Clifford."

"Well?"

"What do you think I used to want to do?"

"Haven't the slightest idea."

She hesitated a moment. "Shall I tell you?"

"If you like."

"Well, I used to want to marry Henry Ainley!"

"Did you, though," said Clifford, not very interested.

"Yes. But I don't now."

"Don't you, though?"

"No, not the least bit."

"Did he want to marry you?" asked Clifford. This idea occurred to him as
being conversational, but he was still not interested.

"Oh, good gracious, no!" she exclaimed. "Of course not! rather not! Why,
he doesn't know me. And if he did he would think I was a little girl."

"Well, so you are," said Clifford.

"I know. Shall I tell you why I don't want to marry Henry Ainley any
more?"

"You can if you want to." These matrimonial schemes seemed to bore him,
but he thought he ought to endure them as a matter of fair play, as she
had listened to his poetry.

"Well, I don't care so much about marrying him now, because I should
like to marry you!"

"Me! Oh, good Lord, I don't want to be engaged, thanks."

"Oh, Clifford, do!"

"None of the chaps at school are engaged. It isn't done. Being engaged
is rot. Pickering isn't engaged."

"Yes; but I don't see why we shouldn't," she said, pouting.

"Well, I do, and I sha'n't be."

"But mightn't you later on, when we're older?" she implored.

"Why, no, I shouldn't think so. Why, your mother would be very angry.
You're only twelve. You're not out. You can't be engaged before you're
out. Your mother would think it awful cheek of me."

"Well, I won't say anything more about it now," she said. "But,
Clifford, will you, _perhaps_, _when_ I am out?"

"Oh, good Lord! What utter bosh. How do I know what I'll do when you're
out?"

She began to look tearful.

"Oh, well, all right. I'll see. Perhaps I may. Mind, I don't promise."

He was thinking that if he refused her irrevocably and unconditionally
he might not be asked to the house again. And he liked going on account
of Pickering, Mrs. Pickering, and the house.

"Look here," he said after a moment's pause. "Let's forget all about
this. I don't think your mother would like it."

"You think so much of my mother," she answered.

"Well, I should think so, don't you?"

"Oh yes, Clifford, I love her, of course."

"Well, then, don't you want me to like her?"

"Oh yes; but not much more than me."

"Oh, well, I can't help that," he said very decidedly.

She looked subdued.

"Then you do like me a little bit too, Clifford?"

"Yes, of course. I say, don't worry."

"All right, I beg your pardon, Clifford. ... Oh, there's Eustace!"

His step was heard. When his friends were there his sister called him
Pickering, not to be out of it.

"Won't you kiss me to show you're not cross with me, Clifford?"

"Yes, if you like, my dear. But we're not engaged, you know."

"Right-o," she answered.

He kissed her hurriedly and Eustace came in. Eustace was a big dark thin
boy of fourteen, not good-looking or like his sister in any way, but
with a very pleasant humorous expression. He was remarkably clever at
school, and his reports were, with regard to work, quite unusually high.
Conduct was not so satisfactory, though he was popular both with boys
and masters. His two hobbies were chemistry and practical jokes.
Unfortunately the clear distinction between the two was not always
sufficiently marked; the one merged too frequently into the other. Hence
occasional trouble.

Eustace had his arms full of parcels, which looked rather exciting. He
informed his delighted sister and friend that they were going to have
private fireworks on the balcony.

"Gracious, how ripping!" cried Clifford. "But it isn't the fifth of
November."

"Who on earth ever said it was?"

"Is it anybody's birthday?" asked Cissy.

"I daresay," said Pickering. "Sure to be."

"But you don't know that it's anybody's birthday for a fact, do you?"

"Yes, I do. It's a dead cert that it's somebody's. Somebody's born every
day. It's probably several people's birthday."

"But you don't know whose?"

"No. I don't know whose and I don't want to; what does it matter? Who
cares?"

They both laughed heartily. It was so like Pickering! That was Pickering
all over to give an exhibition of fireworks in honour of the birthday of
somebody he didn't know anything about, or in honour of its not being
the fifth November.

"But will mummy mind? Won't she be afraid?"

"She won't mind, because she won't know. And she won't be afraid because
she and father are going out to dinner and they won't hear anything
about it until all the danger's over. I've got rockets and Bengal
lights and all sorts of things here."

"But suppose they catch fire to the curtains on the balcony and we have
a fire-escape here," suggested Cissy.

"Well, and wouldn't that be ripping?"

They admitted that it would.

"Have you ever been down a fire-escape, Clifford?" asked Pickering.

"Me? Down a fire-escape? Wait a minute, let me think. No, no. Now I come
to think of it, upon my word, I don't think I ever have. Not down a
_fire-escape_."

"Ah, I thought not," said Pickering knowingly, as if he had spent his
life doing nothing else. "No, you wouldn't have."

"Well, have you?"

"Me?" said Pickering. "Well, I don't know that I have, _exactly_. But I
know all about it. Besides I once drove to a fire with one of the
firemen. It was jolly."

"But you're not going to give a fire-escape performance to-night, are
you? I thought you were only going to have fireworks."

"Yes, of course, that's all, and there's no danger really. How surprised
the people in the street will be when they see those ripping rockets go
whizzing up! I daresay we shall have a crowd round us."

"But I say, Eustace. Won't mummy say it's _vulgar_?"

"What's vulgar?"

"Why, to have fireworks. She says we oughtn't to attract too much
attention and do anything ostentatious. She often says so."

"Oh, my dear, that's all right. These are _private_ fireworks! No one
will know about it."

"But you'll have to tell Wenham," said Cissy.

Wenham was a confidential butler who helped Pickering out of many
scrapes.

"Of course I shall tell Wenham; at least, I shall as soon as they have
started. Now shut up about it. Here's mummy."

Pretty Mrs. Pickering joined them at tea, played games with them--they
did some delightful charades--and amused them and herself until it was
time for her to go and dress for dinner, leaving Clifford more enchanted
with her than ever.

       *       *       *       *       *

About a quarter to eight the children had the house more or less to
themselves. Cissy's governess had a holiday and the aged nurse (who had
no sort of control over Pickering) was the only person there who had
even a shadow of authority. She was to see that Cissy didn't play wild
games, and went to bed at half-past eight, but as a matter of fact the
aged nurse did neither. Cissy stayed with the boys as long as they
would allow her. At last the joyous moment arrived, they went on the
balcony and Pickering started his first rocket. Cissy, a little
frightened, clung to Clifford.

"Suppose we have a crowd round the house," she murmured.

"You see how easy it is," Pickering said. "Anyone with a little sense
can do it. Now! Now, Cissy! get out of the way!"

They waited and waited. But, alas! nothing happened. He tried again and
yet again, but it turned out a failure, the sort of tragedy that is more
disappointing than any danger or even any accident. ... It fell
completely flat.

       *       *       *       *       *

There must have been something the matter with the infernal fireworks.
It couldn't have been Pickering not knowing how to do them.

That was impossible, simply because Pickering always knew how to do
everything.

The wretched man who sold them to him must have cheated.

It was a terrible _fiasco_. Not a single one of the rotten things went
off. The most awful thing happened that could happen in life. After
great fear, hope, suspense, excitement and joy, _the squibs were damp_!

Nothing went off. Nothing happened. As to the Bengal fire, nothing was
ever seen of it but some damp paper and a very horrible scent.

Certainly there was no vulgarity about it, no ostentation, except the
perfume. The fireworks were as private as they could possibly be!

"At any rate," said Cissy, trying to console her guest, "perhaps it's
better than if the house had caught fire and we had all been burnt up!"

They weren't so very sure. It wouldn't have been so flat.

Then Pickering made an attempt to imply that the whole thing was simply
a practical joke of his.

"Well, if it is," said Clifford to himself, "by Jove, if it is--it's the
greatest success I've ever seen in my life!"



CHAPTER XXXIII

NIGEL ABROAD


Nigel "ran across" Rupert in Paris--Englishmen who are acquainted with
each other always do meet in Paris--and they agreed to dine together.
Each was pleased to see the other, not so much for each other's own
sake, but for the pleasure of associations. The sight of Rupert reminded
Nigel of one of the pleasantest evenings in his life--that evening they
had spent at the Russian Ballet. Bertha had sat next to him. Bertha had
been delightful. She had looked lovely and laughed at his jokes, and had
been all brightness and amiability--it had been before the first shadow,
the first thought of _arrière pensée_ had risen in her mind to cloud her
light heart. And he at that time, with what he saw now to be his dense
stupidity, had believed that she was beginning to like him, that she was
even on the way to get to care for him in time if he managed with great
tact and did not annoy Percy nor seem wanting in deference for him, and
above all if he did not give it away about Mary's jealousy. He always
knew that if Bertha once learnt that, it would be fatal to his hopes.
She was never to know it.

       *       *       *       *       *

And now everything had come out, everything had gone wrong in the most
horrible, hideous way. It had all gone off like young Pickering's
fireworks. When he remembered that dreadful scene at the party it made
him shudder. How hopelessly stupid he had been to persuade her to come!
How could he have been so idiotic? Looking at Rupert reminded him of the
delightful little meetings and talks he had had with Bertha about him
and Madeline. How charmingly grateful and delighted she had been at his
offering to help her and smooth away the difficulties by diplomacy. And
this was how he had done it! Madeline was now engaged to nobody.

Bertha knew all about the jealousy and had been exposed to insults. And
Percy knew even more about it than she did. Talk of diplomacy! Nigel
must have been indeed a poor diplomatist, since, without having ever
done the slightest harm or indeed really said a word of love to Bertha,
he had yet brought her husband down upon him, forbidding him the house
and sending him to the devil. That was diplomacy, wasn't it? and as to
success, she regarded him with indifference bordering on aversion and
was clearly madly in love with that dull uninteresting Percy. All (Nigel
admitted), all his own stupidity. Whether or not wickedness is punished
in another world, there can be no doubt that stupidity and folly is most
decidedly punished in this.

But then, could he help it that Mary went behind his back and wrote the
most dreadful letters, that she had this terrible mania for writing
letters? But if he had been so very clever and diplomatic he would
somehow or another have prevented it. Oh yes, there was no doubt he was
a fool, and he had without doubt been made supremely ridiculous. He was
well aware that he was ridiculous.

       *       *       *       *       *

Rupert Denison liked Nigel, but he had no idea how intimate he was with
Nigel. In other words he hadn't the faintest idea how well Nigel knew
him. And this is a case which happens every day owing to the present
custom of confidential gossip; and is too frequently rather unfairly
arranged through the intimate friendship of women. For example,
Madeline, regarding Bertha as the most confidential of sisters, told her
every little thing, showed her every letter, and had no shadow of a
secret from her in word or thought. Bertha was almost equally confiding
except than an older married woman is never quite so frank with a girl
friend--there must always be certain reservations. Bertha was an
intimate friend of Nigel and practically told _him_ every little
thing--he was "the sort of man you could tell everything to," he was
interested, amused, and gave excellent advice. The result was obvious;
very little about Rupert and his private romance with Madeline was
unrevealed to Nigel.

Nigel felt inclined to smile when he remembered all he had heard.
Rupert, on the other hand, was not "the sort of man you could tell
everything to"; he therefore had no confidential women friends and knew
nothing at all about Nigel. For all he knew, he was just as much as ever
_l'ami de la maison_ at Percy's house.

At the very end of the dinner, which was a very pleasant one, during
which Nigel had been sparkling and Rupert a little quiet, Nigel suddenly
"felt it in his bones," as Bertha used to say--dear Bertha, she used to
declare that her bones were so peculiarly and remarkably sensitive to
anything of interest--Nigel felt, as I say, Rupert was longing to talk
about Madeline.

He therefore led the conversation to her, remarked how quiet she had
been of late, and told him various things about her.

"Did she ever mention me?" asked Rupert, as he looked down at his
wineglass.

"Oh yes, rather."

"What did she say?"

"She said," replied Nigel, "that she was jolly glad she never saw you
now and that you were a silly rotter!"

"I recognise Miss Madeline's style," replied Rupert with a smile, as he
rose from the table.



CHAPTER XXXIV

MOONA


Like all cultivated people, particularly those who attach much
importance to pleasure and amusement, variety, art, and the play, Nigel
was very fond of Paris; it always pleased him to go there; and yet he
doubted if he were quite as fond of it in reality as he was in theory.
The best acting, the best cooking, the best millinery in the world was
to be found in Paris; and yet Nigel wasn't sure that he didn't enjoy
those things more when he got them in London--that he enjoyed French
cooking best in an English restaurant, and even a French play at an
English theatre. Certainly Paris was the centre of art. Nigel was fond
of pictures, and he amused himself more with a few young French artists
whom he happened to know living here than with anybody else in the city;
and yet when he went back to London he sometimes felt that the
recollection of it, the chatter of studios, the slang of the critics,
even the whole sense and sound of Paris gave him a little the
recollection as of a huge cage of monkeys. Like most modern Englishmen,
he talked disparagingly about British hypocrisy, Anglo-Saxon humbug,
English stiffness and London fog; and yet, after all, he missed and
valued these very things. Wasn't the fog and the hypocrisy--one was the
symbol of the other--weren't all these things the very charm of London?
Fog and hypocrisy--that is to say, shadow, convention, decency--these
were the very things that lent to London its poetry and romance.

Everything in Paris, it was true, was picturesque, everything had colour
and form, everything made a picture. But it was all too obvious;
everything was all there ready for one's amusement, ready for one's
pleasure. People were too obliging, too willing. And the men! Well,
Nigel was far more of a _viveur_, of a lover of pleasure than
ninety-nine Englishmen out of a hundred, yet he found too much of that
point of view among the men he came across in Paris. From boys to old
gentlemen, from the artists to a certain set among the _haute
finance_--of whom he had some acquaintances--from the sporting young
sprig of the Faubourg to the son of the sham jeweller in the Rue de
Rivoli--all, without a single exception, seemed to think of nothing else
but pleasure, in other words, of _les petites femmes_. For that--paying
attention more or less serious to _les petites femmes_--seemed the one
real idea of pleasure. Of this point of view Nigel certainly grew very
tired, and he marvelled at the wonderful energy, the unflagging interest
in the same eternal subject.

They said, and of course thought, that there was nothing so charming as
a French woman, particularly the Parisienne; but, except on one point,
he was not entirely inclined to agree. This point was their dress. Their
dress was delightful, their fashion was an art, and it had great, real
charm. In whatever walk of life they were placed they were always
exquisitely dressed. Nigel appreciated this sartorial gift, it was an
art he understood and that amused, but weren't they on the whole--also
in every walk of life--a little too much arranged, overdone, too much
_maquillées_; weren't their faces too white, their lips too red, their
hats too new? They knew how to put on their clothes to perfection, but
he was not sure that he didn't prefer these beautiful clothes not quite
so well put on; he thought he liked to see the pretty French dress put
on a little wrong on a pretty Englishwoman; and then he thought of
Bertha, of course. Nowhere in Paris was there anything quite like
Bertha, that pink and white English complexion, that abundant fair hair,
the natural flower-like look.

Of course Bertha was unusually clever, lively and charming; she was not
stiff or prim, she was very exceptional, but distinctly English, and he
admired her more than all the Parisiennes in the world. Besides, he
thought, one got very tired of them. When they _were bourgeoises_ they
were so extremely _bourgeoises_; when they were smart they were so
excessively _snob_. Perhaps it was through having seen a good deal of
them for a little while that he met a compatriot of his with unexpected
gratification.

       *       *       *       *       *

He was walking with one of his artist friends on the boulevard when, to
his great surprise, the artist was stopped by a young lady walking alone
who evidently knew him. She was dressed in a very tight blue serge coat
and skirt, she had black bandeaux of hair over her ears, from which
depended imitation coral ear-rings. She had shoes with white spats, and
a very small hat squashed over her eyes. She did not look in the least
French. He knew her at once. It was the girl whose artistic education
Rupert had at one time undertaken. It was Moona Chivvey.

"Ah! Miss Chivvey! What a pleasure! And what are you doing here?"

She replied that she and her friend, Mimsie Sutton, had taken a little
studio and were studying art together with a number of other English
and American girls with a great artist.

Nigel's friend left his arm and went away. Nigel strolled on with Miss
Chivvey.

"And are you here quite alone with no chaperon," asked Nigel, with that
momentary sort of brotherly feeling of being shocked that an Englishman
nearly always feels when he sees a compatriot behaving unconventionally
in a foreign land.

"Chaperon! Oh! come off the roof," replied the young lady in her
boisterous manner, which he saw had not at all toned down. "Of course
I'm being chaperoned by Miss Sutton. I'm staying with Mimsie. Mother
couldn't come, and didn't want me to come, but there's no hope of
learning art in London; it's simply _hopeless_. You see we're serious,
Mr. Hillier, we're studying really hard. We're going to do big things.
Mimsie's a genius. I'm not; but I'm industrious. I'm a tremendous
worker. Oh, I shall do something yet!"

She was full of fire and enthusiasm, and continued to give him an
immense quantity of information. He listened with interest and thought
it rather touching. Of course she was genuine and believed in herself;
equally, of course, she had no sort of talent. She was in a position in
which no girl in her own class could be placed who was not English,
except an American, and then it wouldn't be the same thing. No doubt she
knew thoroughly well how to take care of herself, and most likely there
was no need, even, that she should. Still, he thought it was rather
pathetic that she should leave her parents and a thoroughly comfortable
home in Camden Hill, in order to live in a wretchedly uncomfortable
studio--he was sure it was wretchedly uncomfortable--and have a dull
life with other depressing girls--all for the cultivation of a gift that
was purely imaginary.

"You must come and dine with me to-night, won't you, Miss Chivvey?"

She was rather pretty, rather amusing, and she was English. He liked
talking English again.

"Well, I should like to very much, Mr. Hillier. Is your wife here?"

"No; she's going to Felixtowe in a week or two with the children, and
I'm going to join her there. I'm quite alone, so you must take pity on
me. Must we have your friend Miss Sutton too?" he asked.

"Oh no--I don't think it's necessary; it will be a change to go out
without her. You see, here I am a worker and a Bohemian," she explained.
"I don't go in for chaperons. I'm not social here!"

"Besides, I'm English. You're all right with me," he returned in his
most charming way. "Have you many English friends here?"

He wanted to find out whether she was seeing Rupert; he soon discovered
she was not, and he determined not to tell her of the presence of that
young man. They might make it up, and Nigel thought it would be far
better for Rupert to come back to Madeline. He was sure she was his real
taste. And he still wanted to please Bertha.

       *       *       *       *       *

They dined in a small but particularly excellent restaurant. She seemed
to enjoy herself immensely, and grew every moment more confidential.
Nigel tried not to flirt. He had no intention of doing so, and, had they
met in London, would not have dreamt of such a thing; but meeting an
English girl placed as she was gave a tinge of adventure and romance to
his taking her out.

She told him she had no flirtations and cared for no man in the world.
He then led the conversation gradually to Rupert Denison. It did not
take long for her to work herself up to give him a somewhat highly
coloured version of their quarrel, which amused him. It ended with "and
so I never saw him again."

"I can't see that you have any real grievance, I must say. He seems to
have been very nice to you, taken you out a great deal, and gone to see
you pretty often. Did he not make love to you?"

"Never, never, never," she replied. "He was just like a brother, or,
rather, a sort of schoolmaster."

"Then I believe that's what made you angry," he replied.

"Indeed it isn't. At any rate, if it was a little, I assure you I'm not
in love with him."

He laughed, teased her about it, and now he found that she wished to go
home. Feeling he ought not to take advantage of her position here, he
was exceedingly respectful, and drove her to her flat, not before she
had consented to dine and go to the theatre with him the next day.

"That sort of girl is rather difficult to understand," he thought, as he
drove away from the studio. "Perhaps now she's thinking me a fool as she
thought Rupert."

However, he remembered _he_ was married. He looked forward to the next
evening with interest. At least Miss Chivvey was different from other
people. One wasn't quite sure of her, and that fact had its attraction.
She was really very good-looking too, very young, had beautiful eyes and
teeth, and the high spirits of youth and health and enthusiasm. Pity
she thought she could draw. How much better if she had gone in for
first-rate plain cooking! He was sure she could learn that--if it was
really plain.

Next day he sent her a few flowers. After all, an Englishman must be
gallant to his country-woman; but the next evening he thought she met
him with a slightly cooler air and even with a little embarrassment.
This melted away before the end of the evening.

He then took her to the theatre in a little box. He was careful to
choose a piece that he would have taken his own sister to see, but he
forgot that he would not have let his own sister go to see it with a
married man and no chaperon.

His manner was becoming a shade more tender than was necessary, and he
was sitting perhaps a shade nearer to her than was absolutely required,
when, looking up, he saw two young men in the stalls, one of whom was
looking at him and his companion with very great interest through an
opera-glass. It was Rupert.

Moona had not seen him, and Nigel now became aware of a distinct anxiety
that she should not. He was rather sorry he had come: it might give
Rupert a mistaken impression. It was not right to compromise her. He
would explain, of course, the next day. But it was annoying to have to
explain, and he would have explained anyhow. Nigel greatly disliked
getting the credit, or, rather, the discredit, of something he did not
deserve.

He pretended to be bored with the play, and persuaded her to come and
have an ice at a quiet and respectable place before she saw Rupert. She
went in high spirits and great innocence.

When they left Nigel said: "Do you know that I oughtn't to have taken
you there to-night? It was wrong of me. If anyone had seen us there they
would probably have mistaken our relations."

She gave her boisterous laugh and said: "I see. Well, you would have had
all the credit and none of the trouble."

"You mean," he replied, "that I should have had all the infamy and none
of the satisfaction."

As they drove to the studio he took her hand and said: "One kiss."

"Certainly not," she replied, taking it away. "Certainly not. Do you
want me to be sorry I came out with you?"

"I should like you to be glad," he replied. "Never mind, Miss Chivvey,
forgive me. I won't ask you out again."

"Why not? Haven't I been nice?"

"Very nice. Too nice, too charming, too dangerous." He kissed her hand
respectfully. "Good-bye. I'm angry with myself."

"Never mind, I'll forgive you," she laughed flippantly.

He drove away. Yes, one loses one's bearings travelling about alone,
taking _jeunes filles_ to the theatre who live alone in Paris, say
anything, have no chaperons, and are prudes all the time.

"Confound it. I've made a fool of myself. But I must go and see Rupert."

He lunched with that young man that day and told him word for word what
had passed, even to the incident in the cab.

He need not have been so expansive nor have humbled himself so much.

Rupert had not for a moment misconstrued their presence at the theatre.

Also he was not in the least surprised about the incident in the cab.

Rupert was on the whole irritating. Nigel was glad to leave him.



CHAPTER XXXV

TWO WOMEN


Bertha was very much surprised at Mary's wishing to see her. She thought
it most extraordinary and was much inclined to refuse, remembering the
strangely insulting way Mary had behaved at her party. Nigel had
apologised indeed; had implored for forgiveness; and she had written to
say it was forgotten. But it is not an easy thing to forget.

Percy had given a mild version of his interview with Nigel. He had also
told her now about the destroyed letters. Bertha was certainly vexed
that she had not been told before. It would have, at least, prevented
her going to the party. However, she was soon tired of the subject and
agreed with Percy not to mention it again. Bertha was, as she said
herself, nothing of a harpist. She could not go on playing on one
string. She made up her mind to forget it. She had begun to do so when
Mary's telephone message reached her.

Bertha was sitting by the fire when Mary was shown in. She looked at her
most serene, her calmest and prettiest. It was not in her nature to bear
malice nor even to be angry for more than a few hours about anything. By
the end of that time she was always inclined to see the humorous side of
anything, and to see that it was of less importance than appeared. She
had already laughed several times to herself at the mere thought of the
absurdity of a hostess asking one to her house and then behaving as Mary
had done. Also she saw a comic--though pathetic--side to the typewritten
letters. But it was painful, too, and she would very much rather have
avoided this visit from Mrs. Hillier. It must be embarrassing for her,
at least, and could hardly be other than disagreeable.

       *       *       *       *       *

Mary came in looking very pale and rather untidy. In the excitement of
her mind and her general perturbation she had come out with two
left-handed gloves, and during the whole of her visit endeavoured to
force a left hand into a right-hand glove. It was maddening to watch
her.

Just as she started to go to see Bertha, poor Mary had gone to her
toilet-table and put what she supposed to be powder lavishly on her nose
without again looking in the glass. It was red rouge--the reddest and
brightest. Although she afterwards rubbed a little of it off, she never
saw herself in the glass again before starting. The result of this was
to give her that touch of the grotesque that is so fatal to any scene of
a serious nature but that in this case appealed to Bertha's kindness and
sympathy rather than her sense of humour.

"How are you, Mrs. Hillier? I have really hardly met you to speak to
until to-day."

"Good-morning, Mrs. Kellynch. ... It was kind of you to let me come."

Mary sat down awkwardly and began to put her left hand into the
right-hand glove. She sat near the light, and Bertha saw that she had
been covering her face with what she supposed to be powder, but what was
nothing else than carmine.

Should she tell her?

Could she let her remain in ignorance of this until afterwards? She
would find it out when she went home.

"I want to speak to you very much, Mrs. Kellynch. ... It is very
awkward, but I feel I must."

"Have some tea first," said Bertha, and while she poured it out and
passed it to Mrs. Hillier she felt she could no longer leave her in
ignorance of her appearance.

She pointed to the silver looking-glass that stood on a small table, and
said: "Mrs. Hillier, just look at that. I fancy you've put something on
your face by mistake. Do forgive me!"

Mary gave a shriek.

"Good heavens, how horrible! I must have put rouge on instead of powder!
I look like a comic actor!"

Both of them laughed, and this rather cleared the air.

"It was very good of you to tell me," said Mary. "Thank you. It's so
like me! When I'm agitated I become too appallingly absent-minded for
words. That's the sort of thing I do. How you must sneer--I mean, laugh
at me, Mrs. Kellynch!"

"Indeed not! What an idea. It could happen to anyone."

"Well, I came to see you for two reasons. One is this: Mrs. Kellynch, I
want to beg your pardon. I'm very, very sorry."

"For what, Mrs. Hillier?"

"For many things. I was horribly rude--I behaved shamefully at my party
the other day. I must have been mad. I was so miserable." She said this
in a low voice.

Bertha held out her hand. The poor girl--she was not much more--looked
so miserable, and had just looked so absurd! It must have been such a
humiliation to know that one had called on one's rival got up like a
comedian--a singer of comic songs at the Pavilion.

"Mrs. Hillier, don't say any more. I quite forgive you, and will not
think of it again. Don't let us talk of it any more. Have some more
tea?"

"No, thank you, Mrs. Kellynch. This isn't all. I have something else to
tell you, and then I want, if I may, to consult you. I did a dreadful,
dreadful thing! I don't know how I could! Oh, when I see you--when I
look at you and see how sweet and kind you are----"

Bertha, terrified that Mary would begin to cry and get hysterical, tried
to stop her.

"Don't, Mrs. Hillier. Don't tell me any more. It might--I guess what you
are going to say--I know it might have caused great trouble. But it
didn't. So never mind. You were upset--didn't think."

"Oh no, Mrs. Kellynch; you must let me confess it. I sha'n't be at peace
till I do. I want to tell--my husband--that I confessed and apologised.
I actually wrote----"

"Really, all this is unnecessary. You are giving us both unnecessary
pain," said Bertha. "I know it--I guess it. Won't you leave it at that?
All traces of--the trouble were destroyed, and, if you want to be kind
to me now, you'll not speak of it any more."

Mary had begun to cry, but she controlled herself, seeing it would
please Bertha best.

"Very well, I'll say no more. Only do, _do_ try to forgive me."

"I do with all my heart."

"Then you're angelic. Thank you." After a moment's pause, Mary put away
her handkerchief.

"Have a cigarette," suggested Bertha, who hardly knew what to do to
compose her agitated visitor.

"No, no, thank you. Mrs. Kellynch, may I really ask you a great, _great_
favour?"

"Please do."

"May I consult you? I'm _so_ miserable--I'm wretched. Nigel has gone
away and left me!"

"Gone away."

"Yes."

"But he'll come back? Surely, he means to come back?"

"I _hope_ so. But he never left me before. Never since we have been
married! And I am miserable. What shall I do--what can I do to make him
fond of me?"

This pathetic question brought tears to Bertha's eyes. She was truly
sorry for the poor little creature.

"Is he angry with you then?"

"He's not exactly angry, now. He has been very kind. He has behaved
beautifully. But he said he must go away for a time, and when he came
back he would not refer to--to the subject of our quarrel again."

"Well, that's all right then. There is no cause for being unhappy. It's
nothing his going away for a week or two."

"He says six weeks. Six long, dreadful weeks!"

"Even _six_ weeks--it's nothing. After, you'll both be much happier, I'm
sure," said Bertha consolingly. "Sometimes there is a sort of strain and
a change is needed. It will be all right."

"But, Mrs. Kellynch, you don't know--you don't understand. I have always
been so terribly, madly jealous. I have worried him into it. You see--I
can't help it, I love him so much! I do love him. You can't imagine what
it is!"

"Indeed I can!" cried Bertha. "I care _quite_ as much for Percy. You
can't think how much."

"Really and truly? But that's so different, because _he_ cares quite as
much for you."

"Indeed, I hope so," said Bertha seriously.

"Yes. But Nigel doesn't--he's kind, but I don't think he cares much
about me. What shall I do?"

Bertha paused, deeply sorry. Then she said:

"Nonsense! Of course he does, but you--if you'll excuse my saying
so--you seem to worry him, to bother him with imaginary grievances, with
unjust suspicious. What man will bear that?"

"Then will you tell me what to do?" she asked, like a child.

"First, don't beg him to come back. Write kindly, unselfishly,
cheerfully."

"Cheerfully! Oh, I can't."

"Yes; you must if you want it to be all right. What man wants to be
deluged with tears and complaints? Dear Mrs. Hillier, I'm speaking as a
genuine friend. I'm speaking frankly. I'm advising you as I would my own
sister. Write to him cheerily, and take an interest in his doings, but
not _too_ great. Show less curiosity. Above all, no jealousy, no
suspicions. It's the worst thing in the world."

"Is it? Go on, dear Mrs. Kellynch. Tell me more."

"Talk of the children--show interest in them--make him proud of them.
There you have an advantage no other woman has. You're the mother of his
children."

"Does he care for that?"

"Of course he does--and he will more, if you do. Show an interest and a
pride in it, and you will be what no one else can be to him."

Mary thought, and seemed to see it. "Go on, go on!" she said, putting
out her hand.

"Dear Mrs. Hillier, I have envied you so for that! All these years, I've
never had that great happiness. At last"--she paused--"I'll tell you, if
you care to know--at last, after ten years, I am going to have my wish."

"Really! And you are pleased?"

"I'm divinely happy, delighted!"

"Then I'm very glad for you, Mrs. Kellynch. But can't you
imagine--you're so pretty and charming and good-tempered and clever. I'm
none of all these things. I'm not pretty, and I'm very bad-tempered and
terribly jealous by nature and not clever."

"You are his wife and he chose you. And he is a charming, pleasant man.
You ought to be very happy together."

"To tell the truth--I don't mind what I tell you--I feel you're kind and
good and sincere--I have always had a horrible feeling that he married
me--because--because he was hard up. And I had money! And yet----"

"Oh, Mrs. Hillier, don't talk nonsense! It's dreadful of you to say so.
You ought to be very glad to be able to have everything you want,
without having to consider for your children. It's a great thing, I
assure you, to have no money troubles. It's another very big reason for
you and Nigel to be happy. You don't know what it is. It's agony! I do,
because before I was married I was one of a very large family, and my
father was a very popular preacher and all that, but it was a terrible
struggle. To send the boys to public schools and Oxford, the girls had
to be really dreadfully pinched! And always worries about bills! I was
brought up in that atmosphere, and I know that to be entirely free from
it is a most enormous relief and comfort. You will probably never know
how fortunate you are."

"You are right. Of course Nigel is not the man to endure money troubles
well."

"Exactly. Well, now, can't you see that you've every possible chance of
happiness together?"

"May I call you Bertha?" answered Mary. "You've been a real angel to me,
I might have expected you to refuse to see me, or at least to be cold
and unkind--and instead you're as sorry as you can be for me and want to
see me happy! You are sweet."

"Of course I'd like to see you happy," said Bertha. "You understand now
that I also care for my husband? You're not the only one in the world,
though I admit we're rather exceptions nowadays!"

"Yes; and I thought because you were so pretty and sweet that you _must_
be a flirt--at the very least."

"I don't say I'm not, all the same. But I would never wish to interfere
with other people's happiness."

"I sometimes think it might be better if I were a little of a flirt,"
sighed Mary. "But I can't--it's not my nature--or, rather, I'm too busy
always looking after Nigel!"

"Well, don't do that so much and he'll look after you all the more. Show
interest in your appearance and society--let him be proud of you--and
_don't_ be afraid of being fond of the children!"

"I'm really tremendously fond of them," said Mary. "Only I was always so
afraid he would think they would do instead of him! I have such a horror
of his sending me off with them and thinking they will fill up all my
life, while he was living like a gay bachelor! And when he was very
sweet to them I really was jealous of them!"

"But all this is absurd. If you show your affection for them he will
love you far more, and when _he_ is devoted to them it shows he's
devoted to you. Don't be foolish, Mrs. Hillier, you have had a sort of
crisis. Do let it end there. Let things be different. He will be
delighted to see you cheerful and jolly again. It's all in your own
hands, really."

"Thank you. It was a shame to bother you."

She got up to go.

"May I tell you, later on ... how things are? I shall follow your advice
_exactly_!"

Mary was looking at her now in a kind of worshipping gratitude and
trust.

"Yes, do. But I know it will be all right. Only be a little patient just
now. ... He will miss you awfully, I know," said Bertha, smiling.

"Oh! Will he _really_? How _sweet_ of you to say that! Good-bye, Bertha.
Dear Bertha, you have been kind. I'm _so_ sorry." Tears came to her eyes
again, but as she passed the little mirror she began to laugh. "To think
I should have come to see you for the first time got up like a dame in a
pantomime. How grotesque!"

They both laughed. Laughter altered and improved Mary wonderfully. It
was a faculty she never exercised. She was always much too serious.

"Do you know, I haven't one woman friend," said Mary.

"Yes, you have, _now_." Bertha pressed her hand.

"Good-bye! ... Oh, Bertha, do you _really_ think he'll miss me?"

"Of course he will! Awfully!"

"Thanks. Good-bye!"

       *       *       *       *       *

"Poor girl!" Bertha said to herself as Mary left the house.



CHAPTER XXXVI

PLAIN SAILING


Whether or not it was through meeting Nigel, at any rate, Rupert became
exceedingly anxious to see Madeline again. It would have happened
anyhow, but perhaps a little more slowly, since Nigel's rapid views may
have had some influence on that more deliberate young man.

       *       *       *       *       *

However that may be, in the early autumn Madeline, almost overcome with
joy, was married to her adored and cultured instructor. She always
remained his painstaking pupil; and he seemed highly gratified with her
general progress; while she continued to be equally pleased with his
mode of instruction and anxious not to neglect her education in any way.

       *       *       *       *       *

When Nigel joined his wife he found her decidedly improved. Perhaps he
really had missed the fact that he was of far more importance to her
than to anyone else in the world. She never conquered her jealousy; but
she learnt to conceal it, and thus to keep the peace; the children
became gradually a source of mutual interest that was a real tie between
them; in fact it grew in time into a positive hobby and a cause of so
much pride and satisfaction as to be rather a bore to many of their
friends.

       *       *       *       *       *

I find I am finishing my story in a manner no less strange than
unconventional nowadays: I am leaving no less than three almost
perfectly happy couples! If this is a strain on the imagination of the
reader, let it be remembered that they had all had their troubles and
storms before they reached this point of smooth water.

       *       *       *       *       *

Nigel, of course, deserved his peace and comfort the least. Percy,
however, with his squash rackets and afternoon concerts (which, however,
he grew to neglect in order to be more with Bertha), was the least
interesting of all my heroes. Yet Bertha remained, I must admit, of all
my heroines, by far the most in love.





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