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Title: The Limit
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 "The Limit" ***

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       *       *       *       *       *

Transcriber's Note:


The original spelling and punctuation were retained,
except for a few issues that were believed to be
typographical mistakes. The full list of corrections
can be found at the end of this document.


       *       *       *       *       *



THE LIMIT



    =THE LIMIT=

        BY

    ADA LEVERSON

      LONDON
  CHAPMAN & HALL

Originally published 1911 by Grant Richards Ltd.
Reissued 1950 by arrangement with the Richards Press Ltd.

Printed by Brüder Rosenbaum, Vienna, Austria
Cat. No. 5085/4



TO ROBERT ROSS



CONTENTS


Chapter                          Page

I       VALENTIA                   11

II      HARRY                      24

III     VAN BUREN                  32

IV      THE ELDER MRS. WYBURN      37

V       ROMER                      43

VI      HARRY'S ENTERTAINMENT      47

VII     DAPHNE                     62

VIII    IN FANCY DRESS             70

IX      A CELEBRITY AT HOME        79

X       MISCHIEF                   87

XI      THE FRIENDS               105

XII     A HOME CHAT               115

XIII    VALENTIA'S VISIT          123

XIV     A SUGGESTION              131

XV      MISS WALMER               137

XVI     MRS. FOSTER               144

XVII    ENGAGED                   156

XVIII   AT THE CARLTON            163

XIX     AT MISS WESTBURY'S        170

XX      A PROPOSAL                177

XXI     HEREFORD VAUGHAN          183

XXII    GILLIE INTERFERES         189

XXIII   THE BALD-FACED STAG       196

XXIV    THE GREEN GATE            203

XXV     A SUNDAY AFTERNOON        211

XXVI    IN THE ROSE GARDEN        223

XXVII   SEEING THE SUN RISE       230

XXVIII  "REPLY PAID"              235

XXIX    GLADYS                    241

XXX     "THE ANGLES"              248

XXXI    AT EDGWARE                256

XXXII   TENSION                   263

XXXIII  GOOD-BYE                  268

XXXIV   ROMER OVERHEARS           274

XXXV    THE LIMIT                 286

XXXVI   RECONCILIATION            291



CHAPTER I

VALENTIA


"Romer, are you listening?"

"Valentia, do I ever do anything else?"

"I've almost decided and absolutely made up my mind that it will look
ever so much better if you don't go with me to Harry's dinner after
all."

"Really?"

"Yes. We two--you _and_ I--always seem to make such an enormous family
party! Of course, I know we have to go about in these huge batches
sometimes--to your mother, and that sort of thing, but in this case it
will look better not."

Valentia made this rather ungracious suggestion, looking so pretty, so
serious, and yet with such a conciliating smile that it would have been
almost impossible for even the most touchy person to have been offended.

The tall, significant-looking husband stopped in his stroll across the
room.

It was a charming room, with pale grey walls and a pale green carpet,
and very little in it except, let in as a panel, a delicate low-toned
portrait of the mistress of the house, vaguely appearing through
vaporous curtains, holding pale flowers, and painted with a rather
mysterious effect by that talented young amateur, her cousin, Harry de
Freyne. It had been his sole success in art, and had been exhibited at
the Grafton Galleries under the name of The Gilded Lily. No one had ever
known or was ever likely to know whether the title referred to the
decorative, if botanically impossible, blossom in her hand, or to the
golden hair of the seductive sitter.

Romer Wyburn paused a moment--he always paused before speaking--and then
said very slowly--

"Oh! Really? You think it will look better if I don't go with you?"

He invariably spoke with the greatest deliberation, and with no
expression whatever.

"Oh yes, dear, I'm sure it would," she repeated coaxingly.

"Do you mean if you go without me?"

"What else can I mean?"

"It'll look better, you think; eh? Is that the idea?"

He sat down opposite the portrait, lighted a cigarette, and thought.
Then he said with ruminating interest--

"I don't see why. Why will it look so much better for me not to go with
you?"

"Oh, Romer dear, really! It's one of those things that are almost
impossible to explain. Oh, if you'd only do just what I advise--if you'd
only _go_ by me, and not want these long tedious explanations, how much
better it would be! You see, Harry is giving this dinner _on purpose_ so
that Daphne shall meet Van Buren by accident. You know all about Van
Buren, _the_ Van Buren--the millionaire, who turns out to be a dear
creature and quite charming! and has taken the _greatest_ fancy to
Harry, and clings on to him, and keeps on and on asking him to ask him
to meet people. You must own it would be rather jolly for Daphne,
because, of course, you can't _think_ how he's run after--I mean Van
Buren--and he isn't an ordinary American snob, and it really and truly
isn't only his millionairishness, but he's a real person, and
good-looking and nice as well; and though, Heaven knows, I'm as romantic
as anybody--for myself--I wouldn't be so selfish as to be romantic for
her too, and I can't help feeling it's our duty, being in the place of
parents to her, to give the angel a sporting chance! Of course, the
point is, Van Buren has told Harry he only likes nice English girls very
well brought up, and he wants to settle down in England, and he thinks
that any relation of Harry's must be perfect; and, naturally, I'm
pleased. I feel exactly like a mother to Daphne, although she's only six
years younger."

"Well, that's all right. I see all that."

Romer seemed rather bored, as men naturally are at a long catalogue of
another man's advantages. "Now, look here. Why would it look better for
me not to go?"

There was some excuse for his insistence on this point, for in a
superficial way Romer was very effective, fair and good-looking,
well-made and distinguished; but the entire absence of all expression
from his empty, regular face, and of all animation from his dry,
colourless voice and manner, soon counteracted the effectiveness.
Valentia often said that Romer should never do more than walk through a
room or look in for a few minutes where there were other people--even at
a club--and then go away immediately, when he would leave a striking
impression. If he stayed longer he became alarming. His personality was
so extraordinarily _nil_ that it was quite oppressive. Obviously kind
and not in the least pompous, yet his silence made him formidable,
especially to most of his wife's friends who, though they could hardly
be reproached with want of pluck as a general rule, had one great fear
in life--the fear of being bored. It was on this ground that they were
all terrified of Romer.

"Don't you think, Romer, if we both go it will look too marked? Almost
as if we were vulgarly trying to get Daphne married? A horrid idea!
Besides, if you don't turn up Harry can ask some one amusing in your
place. You see, he's promised to show Van Buren _interesting_ people....
No, darling, I don't mean it in that way. I'm sure you're interesting
enough, but I mean queer people, and celebrities and things. That's what
Van Buren wants, and that's what he must have. And that's one reason why
he's so delighted with Harry, because Harry can get them all, through
being a sort of artist, you see. What a good thing, after all, that he
didn't drift into diplomacy! As he's an American you can't expect Van
Buren to be really modern, and he has all the old-fashioned ideas about
what _he_ calls culture. He wants to go in for being intellectual and
artistic and knowing what he calls people with brains who really count.
I mean he wants to meet people like Seymour Hicks and Waller, and Thomas
Hardy, and so on, and not only celebrities and people who have made
their name, but even people with a future, and, in fact, any peculiar,
well-educated creatures--anything out of the way."

Romer looked rather dazed.

"Really? Then will Hicks or Hardy be asked in my place?"

Valentia laughed. "Don't be so absurdly literal and hopelessly idiotic,
darling! No, of course not. But I dare say Harry will get--well--perhaps
Rathbone, the tattooed man, his Oxford friend."

"Really! And will this chap's being tattooed make the party go off
better?"

"Oh yes, Romer dear; in a sort of way, because it makes him interesting,
although you can't see it. When he was quite young he was always having
lifelong passions for people, and being tattooed in their honour. He has
blue chain bracelets with initials on his left wrist, and a heart and an
anchor with other initials on his right arm, and a flight of
swallows--oh, and goodness knows what! In fact, when you come to think
of it Mr. Rathbone is really a kind of serial story--with illustrations.
I wonder Lord Northcliffe doesn't bring him out in monthly parts!" She
laughed again. "Harry might even get Hereford Vaughan, the man who has
written all the plays that are going on now. Harry knows him quite well,
and Van Buren would be so pleased."

"Does Daphne want to many this American chap?"

"Good gracious, no! The idea! Why, she doesn't even know him!... Yes, of
course she does, naturally."

"Oh!"

Romer, though he never by any chance smiled at his wife's careless
irresponsible chatter, nor laughed at her trivial jests, took the
deepest interest in them, and would listen, as if under a charm, by the
hour, to subtleties and frivolities that one would never have imagined
he would enjoy. Sometimes the faint shadow of a smile would illuminate
his face like a cold ray of wintry moonlight, but that was when she had
ceased speaking. The smile was the effect of having watched the sparkle
of her grey eyes, the expression of her pretty mouth, and her brilliant,
sunshiny grace.

"It's very sweet of Harry," she said thoughtfully, "to do all this for
me. It's all for me, or rather it's all for Daphne; he's so fond of
Daphne."

"Really? Why doesn't he marry her himself?"

She looked surprised and blushed slightly.

"Harry? Why, he never marries!"

"He doesn't as a rule, I know," Romer admitted.

"Then, why should he make an exception for Daphne? He's fond of her--of
us--in fact, devoted--just like a brother. Not that I ever saw a devoted
brother. Besides, Harry's made to be a bachelor, and he isn't well off
enough to marry."

"Really? Hard up? Poor chap! Never saw any sign of it."

"Hard up? No; how like you! Of course, he has plenty of money, for
_him_, but he spends it all, poor boy. Anyhow, of course, he's not
really rich like Van Buren. It's on a totally different scale--a
different sort of thing altogether. But, of course, Van Buren may not
care for Daphne; people have such funny tastes; and not only that, but
if he adores and worships the ground she treads on I shan't let her
dream of marrying him unless she absolutely returns it--at least, unless
she likes him fairly well."

All this seemed to absorb Romer, and after a pause he said--

"I suppose you'll get Daphne a new dress for Harry's beano?"

Valentia smiled pityingly.

"Yes, of course, you would think that. No! Why, that would be _l'enfance
de l'art_! First of all, Daphne looks ever so much better when she's
dressed really simply, not the latest fashion; on the very verge of
dowdiness! It suits her--shows her off. It would be silly to dress her
up like a doll or make her look _endimanchée_ on Thursday, or arranged
and got up expensively, on purpose for Van Buren. I wouldn't, for
instance, for anything, let her wear her new tulle dress from Armand!
He'd see through it. Besides, I want her to contrast with me as if I'd
taken any amount of trouble about my own appearance and none about hers.
It'll make him pity her a little, and think how well she'd look in the
sort of clothes he could give her. Besides, I myself am not going to be
very smart--just tidy."

"Paquin?"

"How clever of you to guess! Well, now I must go and see Harry and hear
all about the dinner, and tell him how sorry you are you can't come. And
you're going to lunch at the Club, aren't you? And won't you go and dine
with your mother on that evening?"

"I may as well."

"_Do_, Romer dear! I can't bear you to neglect her, although I never
think it's safe to let you dine with her without me. She always takes
advantage of my absence to be horrid about me, and then you _will_
defend me, although I've implored you not to heaps of times, and then
you quarrel. If, this time, she says I'm frivolous and worldly and an
utter fool and very deep, you must agree with every word. I'm so fond
of her, she's such a dear thing, it's too bad to worry her by
contradicting her, and she has such a vile temper! Telephone and invite
yourself--a pressing invitation, and give her my very best love."

Romer promised all she asked and then went out to the Club.

Valentia watched him through the window as he went. She thought he
looked very well through a window, and ought by rights always to be seen
in that way--as it were, under glass. She felt quite proud of him, of
his smart appearance. In his way, he was an elaborate dandy, and spent
years at his tailor's, slowly choosing the right thing. She remembered
she had married him chiefly because of his fine presence and mysterious
silence. She had thought at the time there must be so much at the back
of it all, so much in him. He was in love with her and seemed difficult
to understand. What could be more attractive? And now--well, he was
ideally kind and good-natured. And she certainly felt sometimes that she
couldn't even yet quite make him out. Then she gave a slight sigh, went
to the door and called Daphne.

Daphne came in, trimming a hat. She had lived with the Wyburns ever
since their marriage five years ago, and Valentia, having no children
and a most passionately tender disposition--far too much natural
affection to expend on Romer alone--lavished devotion on her sister. And
Daphne was so nice and so pretty, almost as pretty as herself, in a
satisfactorily different way. Valentia with her short straight features,
grey eyes under dark brows, low forehead almost hidden by wavy fair
hair, and a mouth curved and curled into subtle and complicated lines,
was the type loved by Rossetti and Burne-Jones. She had a wonderful fair
complexion, against which her long eyelashes showed, when she looked
down, dark and effective, and though she was rather tall, slim and very
modishly dressed, she never looked like a fashion-plate and had no air
of being a mere mannequin for clothes, but seemed essentially real, with
a suggestion in her personality of a beauty at once pagan and
spiritual--the pagan predominating. Her pictorial appearance had no
doubt made easier the artist's task, and the pale exquisite portrait had
truly been described as a whispering likeness.

Daphne, who was not quite eighteen, was a good deal taller, and more
slender. She had dark brown eyes, smooth dark hair, parted in the
middle, a rather bright colour and features of the classic type. Her
chin was rather long, and she had a brilliant, sudden smile, and all
the attractive freshness and slight abruptness of her age, with an
occasionally subdued air, caused by the shadow that had fallen on their
youth by the death of their beautiful mother. Her gentle grace and touch
of premeditated _naïveté_ made her charming. Beyond question she would
be a great success.

"Romer can't go on Thursday," Valentia said, taking the needle and hat
out of her sister's hand and beginning to sew. "I must go and see Harry
and tell him to get some one else. Really, Daphne, you go too far! It's
all very well to be clever with your needle, but you needn't tear a
Lewis hat to pieces and turn it inside out without asking my advice."

"Oh, I wasn't! I was only squashing in the brim and trying to make the
hat smaller. It seems to have got larger since I put it away."

"Don't be perfectly absurd, darling. It's because you've been seeing
smaller hats lately."

"Oh yes, I see. Who's going instead of Romer?"

"How should I know? We'll see."

"It's just as you like, darling," said Daphne in her level voice; "but
in case the American hates me, and I hate him, and Harry's talking to
you all the time, and I'm frightened of the celebrities, isn't anything
going to be done for me?"

"Of course not. What do you want? That Foster boy again? Don't look down
and blush, it makes me sick. All right, perhaps, if there's room. He's a
nice, decorative boy, but remember they don't dance at dinner, and
that's the only thing he can do."

"Indeed it isn't!" cried Daphne.

"I'm very sorry to hear it. Suppose Foster's engaged, or at Aldershot?"

"He won't be. It's too sweet of Romer not going. Did you marry him
because you knew he would do whatever you told him?"

"I don't think it was that so much," said Valentia, thoughtfully, trying
on the hat in front of the glass. "I thought he was a strong silent man,
a man with an orange up his sleeve, as it were. But I've never seen the
orange."

"How funny of you! I should hate a mysterious person. You don't want
your husband to be a kind of conjurer."

"Yes, I do, as long as he doesn't wear a conjurer's evening dress. I
like being surprised. Now let's go and surprise Harry at his studio; we
must be quick, he's expecting us."



CHAPTER II

HARRY


Harry de Freyne stood in his usual position, smoking a cigarette, and
leaning a little forward, with his back to the mirror as if to resist
the temptation of looking into it. The family good looks were acutely
accentuated in this young man. He had the smooth, glossy dark hair,
white teeth, and speaking dark grey eyes that women like; clearly-cut
features, and the rather prominent chin, generally and mistakenly
supposed to show strength of character. His pleasant, clean-shaven,
slightly sunburnt face bore an expression of animation with a certain
humorous anxiety natural in a man who was generally a good deal in debt
and always a little in love. Further he had the advantage of a tall,
strong yet supple figure, with a natural grace of movement and much
personal charm. Harry knew he was good-looking and did not undervalue
the fact, but regarded it solely as an asset, not as a private
satisfaction. He regarded everything as an asset. He was no fop,
although he wore a single eye-glass rather as a concession to some ideal
of dandyism than as a help to clear vision. He could see remarkably
well, with or without it.

The long Empire mirror was placed above a delightful early English large
open fireplace, in which burnt a Parisian-looking wood fire. Harry was
the possessor of a fine--indeed, a magnificent studio, full of good old
things, chiefly other people's, and bad new things, principally his own.
The theory that all bad art is the result of sincere feeling was
certainly not exemplified in his case. The portrait of his cousin that
had been regarded as so full of promise was, as he always, said, the
only decent piece of work he had ever done. He had been educated for
diplomacy, and learnt eight languages, some of which he spoke fluently,
and in all of which he could look with expression.

The room was no mere exhibition of bric-à-brac, but was a cosy, shadowy,
miscellaneous place, not without an ecclesiastical touch here and there.
One felt every subject could be gone into there, from stockbroking to
love, and that everything could be done there, whether it was praying,
eating, singing, or flirting--everything except perhaps painting.

When the servant announced Mrs. Wyburn and Miss de Freyne one might have
fancied Harry looked slightly disappointed, but he greeted the pretty
creatures with suitable effusion and high spirits.

They both sat down rather carefully in the corner seats by the fire.

"Romer can't come, he's dining with his mother," announced Valentia. "He
ought to, you know, now and then."

"I don't like her," said Daphne, "she abuses every one."

"I know she does, but she's really not so bad, dear, all the same; there
are many worse. She's rather spiteful, but warmhearted--awfully kind if
you break your leg," said Valentia.

"But you don't break your leg," said Harry.

"Oh, sometimes you do. At any rate you might. Don't encourage Daphne to
argue, Harry. Who did you say you'd ask instead if we couldn't get
Romer?"

"Rathbone's just written to accept in his place," said Harry, taking out
a letter. "But--don't you think we could persuade Romer if we tried
hard? However, you know best."

He took out a list. "Hereford Vaughan, Van Buren, Rathbone and
me--that's four; you two, Lady Walmer, and Miss Luscombe, the actress. I
think that'll do."

"Lady Walmer?" repeated Valentia. "Why?"

"And a real actress!" murmured Daphne.

"Not a real actress. She's walked on at all the principal theatres in
London, and somebody's always going to take a theatre for her, but
there's no danger. I told Van Buren that on the stage they think she's
in society, and in society they believe she's on the stage. And he
thinks it's real cute, and an extraordinary English type."

"How are you getting on with him?"

"Beautifully,--if he weren't so beastly intelligent and inquisitive. He
always wants to know all the news and all the latest gossip. What do you
think he asked me last night? Why Big Ben was called Big Ben! How on
earth should I know!"

"Big who?"

"Not big anybody;--the place, the thing;--the clock. He said no doubt I
must think him dreadfully ignorant for not knowing, but he felt he must
ask."

Smiling at the recollection, Harry lighted another cigarette.

"What did you say?" Daphne asked.

"If it had been the afternoon I think I'd have taken the risk and told
him I didn't know, but as it was the evening--he always gets rather
excited in the evening after dinner and so much Perrier water,--walking
back to the Ritz in the moonlight, and talking about London, I invented
a long story.--No, he won't repeat it, don't be frightened; it was
really rather awful; and when Van Buren gives you his word of honour not
to tell a thing ..."

"You're all right! That must be a great help," said Valentia
sympathetically.

"It shows he has a nice loyal nature," Daphne remarked. "I admire that
sort of thing very much."

"A nice loyal nature! I should think he has! He hates spreading scandal,
and he wouldn't say a single word now to take away the character of Big
Ben--if it was----"

"What?"

"Oh, if it was ever so! You ought to make Daphne wear one of those thin
tulle veils to match her hat. They're jolly--you can get them at that
shop close to me."

"Oh, she needn't, she's going to be manicured, and she's coming back
here for me in a quarter of an hour."

"Good-bye, darling," said Daphne, standing up, and she made a kind of
face, which Valentia understood to mean the word Foster.

"What is the child playing at?" said Harry. "If you two have a code it
would be as well to learn it."

"All right," said Valentia to Daphne.

Harry walked with her to the door and she ran out, saying, "I won't be
long."

"She wants Foster, the baby Guardsman," explained Valentia.

"Oh, why didn't you say so at first? Of course I suppose they've
arranged it. At any rate it's as good as done. Then there must be one
more woman. But never mind now."

Harry sat down beside her and said, in a different voice--he had a very
good voice, especially when he spoke caressingly--

"How interesting you are! One of your eyebrows is a little thicker than
the other."

"Oh, Harry!..."

"How are we all going to get home that evening?"

"What do you think?" she asked.

"Well, it's like this, as you may say. We'll all meet at the Ritz and
dine there. Good. Then we drive in separate vehicles to here, and have
some music. Then I see you both home, and--well, I think that's all.
It's not much."

"I don't quite like the way Lady Walmer looks at you, Harry."

"Oh, Valentia! If it comes to that, how do you fondly imagine I shall
like the way Rathbone is sure to look at you?"

"Oh, Harry! Why, he's tattooed!"

"You see," went on Harry seriously, "I really am making a dash for it
about Daphne. She'll really be happy with Van Buren, and _I_ shall be
ever so much happier,--with Van Buren and everyone else,--because,
through Daphne being always with you, I never see you alone for one
single second."

"Oh, you exaggerate, Harry!"

"I know I do. I don't see you for half a second."

"Romer has been so nice lately," she answered gently.

"Very amusing, I suppose?"

"But--I often think how very nice he really is."

"Oh, don't say that, even in fun. I'm coming to stay with you in the
summer--at the Green Gate--unless you'd rather ask Rathbone instead."

"Or unless you'd rather go yachting with the Walmers," she remarked.
"They have a daughter, haven't they?"

"Oh, Valentia, be anything but blasphemous!..."

"Really?... Oh, Harry!"

"Do you mean to say you need my saying it?"

"No."

"Then, I will. Valentia, I--"

She got up and opened the door so that Daphne should not have to ring
when she returned.

When the two sisters left a few minutes later, Harry sat down again as
if in deep thought and lighted a cigarette. His servant came in.

"Please, sir, Mr. Van Buren is at the telephone."

"Oh well, tell him ... Oh no--, all right--I'll go."



CHAPTER III

VAN BUREN


"It's extremely kind of you, Harry, to let me come around like this in
the morning. I dare say you want to be working sometimes. I'm really
afraid of being in the way, but I was rather at a loose end this morning
and I wanted to have a talk with you," said Van Buren apologetically.

"Rot. Awfully glad to see you, old chap. Have a cigarette?"

"Thanks, Harry, no. I find I'm very much better if I don't smoke till
after tea.... We're intimate friends now, and yet you never call me
anything but my surname, or 'old chap'. That reminds me, there's a
little request I'd like to make of you, Harry."

"What's that?"

"Call me Matthew--no, call me plain Mat. It would give me real
pleasure."

Harry smiled rather loudly--

"My dear fellow, I couldn't call you plain Mat. It wouldn't be
suitable! You're too good-looking!"

Van Buren smiled and shook his head. In its way it was a handsome head
in the fair, clean-shaven American style, with shining blond hair. He
had very broad shoulders, and a very thin waist, and that naïve
worldliness of air so captivating in many of his countrymen.

Except that he wore a buttonhole of Parma violets, he was dressed in
every particular exactly like Harry. But no one would have believed
it--he looked so much better dressed.

"That's your chaff, Harry. I'm not a Gibson man, and I don't pretend to
be."

He looked at his hands, which were small and white, the finger-tips
brilliantly polished, and said meditatively--

"I'm very much looking forward to meeting your cousin, Harry. I expect
she's the ideal of a young English lady. Dark, did you say?"

"Rather dark, and very pretty."

"It's a curious thing, Harry, that to me a broonette has always more
fascination than a blonde. It seems--I may be wrong--as though there's
more piquancy, more character."

"I quite agree with you," said Harry. "Now the sister--the married
one--is very fair."

"And she's quite what you call a professional beauty, isn't she?" asked
Van Buren with great relish.

"My dear fellow, I don't call anyone a professional beauty, and you
mustn't either. There's no such thing. I can't think how in America you
get hold of these prehistoric phrases! The expression must have been
dead long before either of us was born!... Still, she is a beauty all
the same."

"Is that so? Mind you, Harry, there's something very attractive about a
blonde, too. To me golden hair and blue eyes suggest gentleness and
womanliness.... What is Mrs. Wyburn like?"

"Well, she's rather like an angel on a Christmas card, with her hair
down--I mean she was, as a little girl," said Harry quickly. "Now she's
considered like 'Love among the Roses' by Burne-Jones."

"Do you really mean that, Harry? Why, she must be more beautiful than
Miss de Freyne!"

"I wouldn't worry about her, if I were you," Harry said.

"Why not, Harry?"

"Well, you see she's got a husband," said Harry, looking at the ceiling
as he puffed his cigarette.

"And a cousin," replied Van Buren with unexpected quickness. He then
burst out laughing.

"What do you mean?" asked Harry, not laughing.

"Harry, I do beg of you to forgive my indiscretion. I'm afraid you'll
think it shows great want of delicacy on my part. It was only meant for
English chaff. Don't be angry, Harry." Van Buren was quite distressed.

"That's all right, old chap."

"You see, I know you painted her portrait, and if you _had_ felt a
little sentiment for her, who could blame you? Of course, I'm well aware
that you're far too much a man of high principle to come any way between
a woman and her husband, or even to let her know if you had a fancy in
that direction.... I thoroughly do you justice there, Harry."

"I regard them as sisters," answered Harry.

Van Buren went to the window and stood looking out for a few minutes.

"Well, they are sisters.... What a wonderful place your London is!" he
said. "Now there's the sort of thing I never can understand, which has
just happened. A lady called a taxicab. Just as it came up a man--at
least I suppose he calls himself a man--opened the door. I thought he
meant to help her in. No! He got in himself and drove away.--Now, Harry,
how do you account for that?"

"I suppose he could walk quicker," said Harry.

"It's the one fault I have to find with you Englishmen, Harry--the
single fault. You're not gallant enough to the ladies. Nor is there, in
my opinion, quite enough respect shown to them. I am always astonished,
I admit, that they don't resent it. Why, in New York----."

"My dear fellow, they complain bitterly that there's too much respect
shown to them already," said Harry. "A little more, and they'd do
without us altogether!"

Van Buren laughed cheerily, and clapped Harry on the shoulder.

"What a fellow you are for chaff! Now, will you come around and have
lunch with me?"

"When? Now? Thanks, old chap."

"That's real good, Harry," said Van Buren, his eyes sparkling with joy,
"and we'll walk down Piccadilly together. I must say ..."

"What?"

"I shan't feel we're real pals till you call me Mat!"

Harry shivered ostentatiously.

They went out, both laughing with great cordiality.

At the corner Van Buren stopped to throw away his buttonhole. He saw
they were not being worn.



CHAPTER IV

THE ELDER MRS. WYBURN


Romer's mother usually received him with a sarcastic remark, such as
"Oh, so you remember that I'm not dead yet?" or "I wonder you find time
to come at all," or something of the same nature, calculated to cast a
gloom over any visit.

The widow of a rich brewer, Mrs. Wyburn lived in a bad-tempered looking
old house in Curzon Street, with a harassed footman, a domineering maid,
a cross cook, and other servants that were continually changing. She was
one of those excellent housekeepers who spend most of their time "giving
notice" and "taking up" characters. She nearly always wore a
hard-looking black silk dress. She had parted black hair, long earrings,
and a knot of rare old imitation lace at her throat. Eagerness,
impatience, love of teasing and sharp wit were visible in her face to
one who could read between the lines. But, notwithstanding this, as she
had a soft heart and plenty of hard cash, she was not altogether
unpopular. People enjoyed going to hear the nasty things she said about
their friends. She had a real _succès de scandale_ on her Wednesdays,
notwithstanding the fact that a more highly respectable lady had never
existed in the world.

She adored Romer, although his slow speech and long pauses often drove
her to the very verge of violence.

"Thought I'd look in," he remarked, rather heavily taking a seat in the
dark drawing-room, and he proceeded by slow stages to tell her that he
was coming to dinner on Thursday because Valentia was going out.

She gave him a quick look, combined of motherly pride and annoyance.

"Delighted, of course, dear. Who did you say was Valentia's hostess?"

"She's going with Daphne. Harry's dinner. At some restaurant."

"Oh, indeed!... Well, if you approve of these Bohemian arrangements it's
not _my_ business. I have my own opinion of Harry de Freyne; I always
have had--and I shall keep it."

"Do," said Romer, unconsciously epigrammatic.

She waited a minute and then said--

"I don't wish to worry you, my dear ..."

"No?"

"... But I, personally, if I were a man ... perhaps I oughtn't to say
it--if I saw my wife so much in the society of a person like Harry de
Freyne--upon my word, I should begin to ask myself what were their
relations!"

"Cousins," said Romer.

He began to tap his foot slowly against the rail of the chair, but
remembered Valentia's constant advice, and decided he would not quarrel.

"Well, you know your affairs best, dear. I'm only an interfering
disagreeable old woman, who knows very little of modern customs and
ways."

He nodded sympathetically, without answering.

"I love and admire Valentia--in many ways. She's so pretty, but not a
mere doll! And we women--even the happiest of us--have to go through so
much! Does she go through the housekeeping books herself, dear?" Mrs.
Wyburn inquired, with dangerous sweetness.

"Shouldn't think so."

"Ah! that seems rather a pity. Still, I'm just to every one, and I will
say that she's not extravagant--but has so much cleverness that she
could manage very well on half the allowance you give her!"

"Is that new--that china bird?" Romer asked, getting up to look at a
strange, shiny, abnormal-looking parrot on a twig that adorned the
mantelpiece.

"Do you like it?" she asked.

"It seems all right. Rather jolly."

"Oh! Well, it's funny you haven't noticed it before. Considering it's
been there all your life, and you used to play with it when you were
four, it's odd it's escaped your notice. You played with it when you
were four!" she repeated, growing rather heated.

"Did I though?"

"But things do escape your notice--that's just the point. I sometimes
wish I didn't see so much myself."

"So do I," he answered. "May I smoke, mother?"

"Of course you may, dear. You may do anything on earth you like. Have
some tea? _I_ never have anything but China tea, so it won't do you any
harm."

"I hate China tea," he answered reflectively, after what seemed to his
mother about half an hour's deep thought.

... "But what I always have said about Valentia is that though we all
admit, dear, that she has charming manners, is bright and amusing and
very sweet----"

He smiled.

"_Outwardly_, is there anything behind it all? Has she any depth?" She
quickly answered her own question, "_I_ think she has; a great deal. I
believe Valentia is extremely clever in her own way; she turns _you_
round her little finger. But that wouldn't matter so much--anything's
better than quarrelling and snapping and finding fault
continually--which is a thing I hate. But, really, there's one point I'm
quite anxious about--in fact, I often lie awake the whole night--the
entire night--and wake up in the morning utterly worn out through
thinking about it, Romer dear. There's nothing like a mother's
heart--and this does make me anxious, I own."

"What?"

"Why, that she should ever be talked about! That she should be
considered a flirt--and that sort of thing! I couldn't bear the idea of
my son's wife having her name coupled with that of any young man--or any
nonsense of that sort. It would be most painful to me. I'm sure I ask
every one who knows her if anything of that kind is ever said."

Romer threw away the cigarette and stood up.

"What infernal rot!" he said, with a heightened colour.

Her eyes brightened with pleasure. She was delighted to have irritated
him at last out of his calmness.

"Well, well, perhaps I'm a little over-anxious. It's all love, all
devotion to you, dear. Of course, people do talk. There's no doubt about
that; but good gracious! we all know there's nothing in it. Don't we?
Don't be cross with your poor old mother, Romer."

"That's all right. I must be off. Eight on Thursday, eh?"

She kissed him affectionately, walked with him to the landing, where she
kept him for about ten minutes complaining of the awful worry she had
had about the under-housemaid, and of the sickening impossibility of
getting a piano-tuner to attend to the instrument properly without
making any sound.

"For I'm a mass of nerves, my dear. Give my best love to dear
Valentia."



CHAPTER V

ROMER


Romer walked back, trying to throw off the irritating effect of his
mother's pin-pricks. As was his usual custom when he was a little
depressed, he went home and sat down in front of his wife's portrait. He
often sat there for an hour when she was out, looking at it. Any one
watching him would have thought he was in a state of calm and stupid
content. In reality, he was worshipping. His passion for his wife was
his one romance, his one interest, his one thought. He had been married
five years, and had never yet expressed it in words. He was one of the
unfortunate people who are not gifted with the power of expression,
either in word or look. He was practically inarticulate.

As he gazed at the picture--he was feeling a little sad--the sadness
melted away. The frail figure, bright yet dim, vaguely appearing through
vaporous curtains, holding an impossible gold flower, had the effect on
him of a beautiful Madonna on a deeply devout Catholic. It produced in
him a form of religious ecstasy. He adored her with passion, and with
the selfishness and jealousy of passion, but circumstances and his
temperament caused it to take the outward form, principally, of care for
her happiness. When she was actually present, she still dazzled him so
much that he could show his feeling only by listening to and agreeing
with every word she said, by doing what she asked him, and by trying to
protect her, often without her knowledge, from any kind of pain or
trouble. She would have been amazed had she realised the violence of his
devotion to her. Apparently cool and matter-of-fact, he was in reality a
reticent fanatic. He neither analysed nor showed his sentiment, nor did
he himself know its extent. He wondered why certain people, certain
subjects gave him pain. He trusted Valentia absolutely, nor could she in
his eyes do wrong, and it was only with the subconscious second sight of
love that he sometimes felt a curious and melancholy presentiment. He
did not know himself that this suffering was jealousy.

What nonsense his mother talked!...

Harry!... Harry was the best fellow in the world--almost like a brother,
his greatest friend, though not exactly an intimate friend. Romer was
too shy to be intimate with any one. Harry was lively, amusing, a
brilliant talker; kind, good-natured, a capital chap. He appreciated
Valentia, or he could not have painted that portrait. Romer was very
grateful for the portrait; yet it sometimes hurt him to think Harry had
painted it. It showed how well Harry understood Valentia.

This thought Romer always suppressed. He thought it was mean, and he
could not be mean.

He looked out of the window. It was raining--a chilly spring shower--but
there was a stir in the air, a rattle in the town, a sense of something
that was going to happen; summer was not far off, and in the summer, at
the end of the season, they would go down to the Green Gate, the lovely
country house with the dream garden as Valentia called it, all built,
planted, and arranged on purpose for her. Valentia was more herself at
the Green Gate than anywhere else. Leisure suited her, and roses.

Every year Romer silently counted the weeks until they went back there.
It was where he was happiest. Of course, they were not alone. Dear
little Daphne was always with them, dear little thing (she was nearly
six feet high)--and other people, very often, and Harry--always Harry.
Perhaps Daphne would marry soon, but what about Harry?

Romer felt rather wearied when he remembered Valentia had said Harry
was made to be a bachelor. Was he tired of Harry? Not a bit! Harry was a
capital chap; besides, he didn't see so very much of him in London.

Heaps of people admired Valentia, and that did not annoy Romer at all
(though it did not please him particularly), but he knew, again
subconsciously, that Valentia cared less than nothing for any admirers,
but she certainly was awfully fond of Harry. And no wonder! Harry was
the best fellow in the world--lively, amusing, quite a brilliant talker;
kind, good natured, and he appreciated Valentia, or he could not have
painted that portrait....

Round and round the same thoughts passed through his brain.

It was raining--a chilly spring shower. Had Valentia got her wrap with
her?

He got up, went into the hall, and saw her fur cloak hanging on a peg.

She evidently didn't care for it. She was tired of it--perhaps it was
out of fashion; if so, she would never wear it. She might catch cold.

He was not a prompt man, but he went at once to the telephone and gave
orders to a shop in Bond Street that would result in a collection of
fur-lined cloaks being sent for her choice that evening. This would
please her; she would smile and try them on. Besides, it would prevent
her catching cold.



CHAPTER VI

HARRY'S ENTERTAINMENT


Van Buren, who was a business man, was an idealist; while Harry de
Freyne, the artist--was, emphatically, not.

Van Buren had been brought up on Thackeray and Dickens, above all on old
pictures from _Punch_; Du Maurier's drawings enjoyed at an early age had
made him romantic about everything connected with London. As soon as he
was able to leave his bank in New York--in fact, the moment he had
retired from business--he had realised his dream and come to live in
London. And Harry seemed to him the incarnation of everything
delightfully, amusingly English. He had a real hero-worship for Harry,
who was so astonishingly clever as well. Van Buren was not a snobbish
Anglomaniac, at least his snobbishness was not of the common quality nor
about the obvious things; he was a little ashamed of his money, but he
did not worship rank and titles; it was Intellect--but Intellect that
had the stamp of fashion--that held a glamour for him. So did everything
that he supposed to be modern, previous, and up-to-date. No one could
ever, whether in New York or in London, have been in life less modern
than poor Van Buren, though he was eminently contemporary and perhaps
even in advance in matters connected with business. For business he had
genius, and yet, curiously, no passion; he was unconsciously brilliant
on the subject; it was hereditary. But in his innermost heart he
believed that it was vulgar to be an American millionaire! And he had a
childish horror of vulgarity, and an innocent belief that an Englishman
who had been to Eton and Oxford and who was _dans le mouvement_, smart
and good-looking, and had deserted diplomacy for art, must of necessity
be refined, superior, cultured, everything that Van Buren wanted to be.

Of course he soon found out that Harry was frightfully hard up, and in
the most delicate manner imaginable--a delicacy rather wasted on his
friend--implored, as a special favour, to be allowed to be his banker.
But Harry had refused, having vague ideas of much more important extent
than a mere loan with regard to making Van Buren useful. He had thus
gone up in his friend's estimation, at the same time placing him under
a great and deeply felt obligation by gratifying his fancy for knowing
clever people and celebrities.

At last the friendship had culminated in Harry's suggestion of a
marriage between his young cousin, Daphne, and Van Buren. Harry felt
that if he could compass this arrangement he would at one stroke give
fortune to Daphne, freedom to himself--the child was very much in his
way in Valentia's house--and make Van Buren eternally grateful.

Harry really liked Van Buren and respected him; he regarded him as
touching, but also, at times, as a menace. A shadow sometimes came over
their friendship, the alarming shadow of the future bore. What was now
to his cynical mind screamingly funny about the American--his sensitive
delicate feelings, his high standard of morals with regard to what he
called the ladies, and illusions that one would rarely find in London in
a girl of seventeen, might some day develop into priggishness and
tediousness, and--especially--would take up too much time. For since
Harry had been intimate with Van Buren he had discovered that the
tradition of American hustling was, like most traditions, a fiction.
Americans always have time; Englishmen never. The leisurely way in which
Van Buren talked was an example of this--it was the way he thought; his
brain worked slowly. Harry and his like have no time to drawl; they have
to keep appointments.

On the evening of the Ritz dinner-party Harry was not in a particularly
good temper, and thought to himself he was rather like a Barnum as he
introduced his guests one by one to the modest millionaire, who said to
them all, "Pleased to meet you", and fixed his admiring glance with a
sentimental respect on Daphne, an undisguised admiration on Valentia,
and an almost morbid curiosity on Miss Luscombe, the first actress he
had ever met.

Miss Luscombe was a conventional, rather untidy-looking creature, very
handsome, with loose hair parted and waved over her ears, and with
apparently no design or general idea either in her dress or manner. She
varied from minute to minute from being what she thought theatrical to
appearing what she supposed to be social. She evidently hadn't settled
on her pose, always a disastrous moment for a natural woman who wishes
to be artificial. Practically she always wore evening dress except in
the evening, so while at her own flat in the afternoon she was
photographed in a _décolletée_ tea-gown, this evening she was dressed as
if for Ascot, except for the hat, with an emaciated feather boa and a
tired embroidered _crêpe de Chine_ scarf thrown over her shoulders,
also a fan, long gloves, and a rose in her hair by way of hedging. To
these ornaments she added a cold, of which she complained as soon as she
saw the other guests. But no one listened. No one ever listened to Miss
Luscombe, no one ever could, and yet in a way she was popular--a kind of
pet among a rather large circle of people. Women never disliked her
because she created no jealousy and always unconsciously put herself at
a disadvantage; men did not mind her prattle and coquettish airs, being
well aware that nothing was expected of them. For Miss Luscombe, though
vain, was a pessimist, and quite good-natured. She was also a standing
joke.

The other guests besides Valentia in yellow and Daphne in pink--both
looking as fresh as daisies and as civilised as orchids--consisted of
Lady Walmer, a smart, good-looking, commonplace woman, rather fatter
than she wished to be, but very straight-fronted, straightforward, and
sporting, with dark red hair and splendid jewels; a faded yet powerful
beauty who had been admired in the eighties, but had only had real
success since she turned forty-six.

With her was her daughter, a girl who at the first glance looked eight
feet high, but who really was not very much above the average length.
She was a splendid athlete, and her talk was principally of hockey. She
wore a very smart white dress and had a dark brown neck, pretty fair
hair, and an entirely unaffected bonhomie that quite carried off the
harshness of her want of style or charm--in fact it had a charm of its
own. Besides, it was well known that her grandmother had left her an
estate in the country and £ 7000 a year, and that Lady Walmer was
anxious to get her married. Hence Miss Walmer never wanted for partners
at balls nor for attention anywhere, but--it was always for _le bon
motif_. As Valentia said, she was the sort of girl (poor girl!) that one
could only marry.

Hereford Vaughan, who was an object of considerable curiosity to several
of the guests on account of his phenomenal success in having eleven
plays at the same time being performed in London, New York, Berlin,
Paris, and every other European city, was, to those who did not know him
before, an agreeable surprise. Heaven knows what exactly people expected
of him; perhaps the men feared 'side' and the women that he would be
overpowering after so many triumphs, but he was merely a rather pale,
dark, and rather handsome young man. He behaved like anybody else,
except that perhaps his manner was a little quieter than the average.
Unless one was very observant (which one isn't), or unless one listened
to what he said, he did not at first appear too alarmingly clever. He
had one or two characteristics which must have at times led to
misunderstandings. One was that whatever or whoever he looked at, his
dark opaque eyes were so full of vivid expression that women often
mistook for admiration what was often merely observation. For instance,
when he glanced at Lady Walmer she at once became quite confused, and
intensely flattered, nearly blushed and asked him to dinner. While, if
she had but known, behind that dark glance was merely the thought, "So
that's the woman that Royalty ... What extraordinary taste!"

Hereford Vaughan, who was himself thirty-four, did not share in the
modern taste for the battered as a charm in itself, though he could
forgive it--or, indeed, anything else--if he were amused.

Knowing that Miss Luscombe, hoping for a part, would be painfully nice
to Vaughan, Harry had good-naturedly placed them as far apart as
possible. Nevertheless she leaned across the table and said--

"How _do_ you think of all these clever things, Mr. Vaughan? I can't
think how you do it!"

"Yes, indeed, we'd all like to know that," said Captain Foster, the baby
Guardsman, as Valentia called him. He spoke enviously. He was a
perfectly beautiful blond, delightfully stupid, and had been longing for
enough money to marry somebody ever since he was seventeen.

"I'm sure I'd jolly soon write a play if I only knew how."

"It's perfectly easy, really," said Vaughan; "it's just a knack."

"Is it though?"

"That's all."

"How do you get the things taken?"

"Oh, that's a mere fluke--a bit of luck," said Vaughan.

Every one who heard this sighed with relief to think that was how he
regarded it.

Vaughan always used this exaggerated modesty as an armour against envy,
for envy, as a rule, is of success rather than of merit. No one would
have objected to his talent deserving recognition--only to his getting
it.

"Now what do you think of Miss Luscombe?" Valentia asked the dramatist.

"I don't think of her. I never regard people on the stage as real
people," Vaughan answered.

"Don't you, really? Well, you ought to know. You have made a sort of
corner in 'leading ladies'. What curious clothes she wears!"

"Doesn't she? On the stage she dresses like an actress, and off the
stage she doesn't dress like a lady. She's so extraordinarily vague," he
said.

"Yes; and yet I've heard that, though she's so dreamy and romantic,
she's quite wonderfully practical, really. She never accepts an
engagement unless she gets a large salary--and all that sort of thing."

"I see. She lives in the clouds, but she insists on their having a
silver lining," said Vaughan. "Who's the pink young man she's confiding
in now?"

"It's Mr. Rathbone. He likes theatres--at least he collects programmes
and posters, I think. Besides, he's tattooed."

"Oh, yes. That must be a great help in listening to Miss Luscombe. He's
been trained to suffer."

Miss Luscombe was talking rather loudly and most confidentially to
Rathbone, who had an expression of willing--but agonised--martyrdom on
his fair pink, clean-shaven features.

"I _told_ dear George Alexander that I would have been only _too_
pleased to understudy Irene in the new piece--in fact, it would have
just suited me, Mr. Rathbone, and left me plenty of time for my social
engagements too. Besides, if I once got a chance of a part like that I
feel I should have made a hit. Oh, it was a cruel disappointment! After
being too charming to me--or, at any rate, I was charming to him at the
Cashmores' reception, you know--I remember he was standing in the
refreshment-room with Mrs. Cashmore, and I went _straight_ up to him and
said, 'Don't you remember me, Mr. Alexander?'--and after all this he
only promised me--and that conditionally--a horrid, silly little part in
the curtain-raiser in No. 2 B Company on tour. On tour! Of course I
refused that--one must keep up one's prestige, Mr. Rathbone. There's a
great deal of injustice in the profession. Talent counts for
nothing--it's all influence. But I've always had a great ambition ever
since I was a little girl." Miss Luscombe put her head on one side and
talked as she had to the interviewer of _The Perfect Lady_. "It was
always my dream--do you know?--to marry a great actor--or, at any rate,
to be his great friend--like Irving and Ellen Terry--that sort of
thing--a great, lifelong friendship! And as a child I was madly in love
with the elder George Grossmith, but I don't think he ever knew it. Too
bad!"

She pouted childishly, gave her arch musical laugh with its three
soprano notes and upward inflection, and then accepted a quail with a
heavy sigh.

"When I was a boy," said Rathbone in a low concentrated voice of
reminiscence--he spoke rather quickly, for he had been trying in vain
during the whole of dinner to get a word in edgeways and feared to lose
his chance now--"when I was a boy I was in love, too, with some one
on the stage. Between ourselves--you won't mention it, will you, Miss
Luscombe?----"

"You can trust me," she said earnestly, with a look of Julia Neilson.

"Good! Well, I was in love, and I've got her initials--C. L.--tattooed
on me now!"

"Impossible! How exciting! Who is C. L.?"

He looked round the table and murmured in a low voice, "Cissie Loftus.
Isn't it odd? I wrote and told her about it, but I never received an
answer to my letter."

"Poor, poor boy! I call that really touching! Will you show me the
initials some day?"

"Oh no. Impossible." He was stern, adamantine. She hastily went on. "So
you're very keen--interested in the stage, Mr. Rathbone?"

"Well, in the stage door. I collect programmes, and I haven't missed a
first night since I was twenty!"

"Fancy! Then I ought to remember your face, at all the theatres!"

"I mean at the Gaiety," he said, "only the Gaiety."

"Oh, the Gaiety!" she turned her shoulder to him.

       *     *     *     *     *

"Yes, Miss Daphne, if you would come out to New York you'd have a real
good time. You'd turn all the young fellow's heads. I'm afraid you'd do
a terrible amount of damage there. I should like to show you and Mrs.
Wyburn Newport in the season, too. You ladies have it all your own way
over the other side of----may I say, the herringpond?"

"Oh, please do; yes, _do_ say the herringpond!"

Daphne leant forward and said to Harry:

"Do you know who is that very distinguished-looking man who has just
come in--rather weary and a little grey on the temples? He bowed and
kissed the woman's hand so charmingly--at the next table to us. Looks
like a great diplomatist."

"Then he must be a stockbroker," said Valentia decidedly. "Every one
with the grand manner always is."

"Really! I can't say; I don't know any stockbrokers," said Miss
Luscombe.

"How distinguished that sounds!" murmured Vaughan.

"It's very clever of you, Miss Luscombe," said Lady Walmer; "I don't see
how you can help it! I know nobody else. I always tell Alec she'll have
to marry one, and when she says she doesn't want to, 'My dear child,' I
say, 'you can't marry people you don't see!' And almost the only people
she ever sees at our house _are_ stockbrokers--except a few soldiers
who never have a penny."

Alec was the daughter, named after her distinguished godmother.

"It's quite gone out to be snobbish now," Lady Walmer continued in a
lower voice to Harry. "We're all only too glad to take all we can get in
exchange for anything we give!"

"And you don't call that snobbish?" said Harry.

"My dear, no!--of course, we give as little as possible. I talk like
this and yet I married for love--and you know the result! Walmer's
always gambling, always running after--goodness knows what--and leaves
me--not quite in the gutter, but certainly on the kerb!"

"Don't you want Alec to marry for love?"

"I'm afraid she'll have to, my dear--she's not very attractive. It's a
blessing she's an heiress. But if she's allowed to play hockey, and
skate, and fence, and dance, and the husband is fairly kind to her, I'm
sure she'll be happy--I mean, I have no idea of her marrying a duke,
Harry. I shall be satisfied if he's a charming man, and not too
selfish." She lowered her voice still more to add--"You know she likes
you, poor child, don't you?"

"You're making fun of me, dear Lady Walmer."

"No, I'm not.... Walmer's taken 'Flying Fish' again, and after Cowes
we're going for a long cruise. You must come with us. Her father will be
all right. He lets me have my own way about her. Well, aren't you
coming?"

"You're too frightfully kind, Lady Walmer, of course. But----"

"My dear boy, of course you're going to the Green Gate, but I wish you'd
listen to a woman of the world. That," she gave Valentia a piercing
glance, "can't go on for ever! You will find Romer making a row some
day, and that will be a bore for you. He's just the sort of man who
would."

Valentia, noticing their confidential tone and feeling instinctively
that some treachery was in the air, looked once angrily at Harry and
then became apparently absorbed in the conversation of Vaughan.

Every one was talking volubly and gaily. Only Daphne and Captain Foster
were silent as they sat side by side looking at their plates. But they
were the only people who had found the dinner a real success.

Harry, who with all his _usage du monde_ was peculiarly subject to
sudden obscure impulses as of the primitive man, became pale with a
strange and painful sensation as he looked at Valentia.

She was flirting with Vaughan, or so every one present must be thinking.
Of course it was only from pique, and he would soon put a stop to it.

And Vaughan, with his ironical glance and quiet manner, why did he look
into her eyes all the time?

What was he saying?

Harry asked them all to come back to the studio for some music, but even
as he made the arrangement to drive Valentia, he remembered that, _à la
fin des fins_, he would have to leave her at her husband's house. Would
Romer be sitting up? What an ass he was! What rot the whole dinner was!
It was all through Van Buren. Van Buren was a fool. Confound Romer!

Harry was jealous.



CHAPTER VII

DAPHNE


"More flowers from Van Buren? Let me look at them. A spray of lilies of
the valley; how touching! He expects you to wear them at the opera. I
think it's _such_ a mistake to wear real flowers on an evening dress.
They have a damp, chilly look, like fresh vegetables, at first, and when
they begin to fade they make you look faded, too. Never mind, Daphne; I
think perhaps you'd better wear them just to-night," said Valentia.

"Yesterday," said Daphne, "he sent me that basket of American Beauty
roses. The day before he sent me Ella Wheeler Wilcox's poems."

Valentia smiled. "Poor darling!--I mean Van Buren's a poor darling, not
you. You see, he's got the nice sort of Boston idea that a man ought
only to send a girl flowers or books, or music. He thinks it's
respectful. But, anyway, it's a very good sign."

"A good sign? But I thought there was so much of that sort of thing--I
mean fuss and attention, to girls in America. I thought that didn't mean
anything. I mean anything particular."

"Daphne, dear, don't blind yourself; don't shut your eyes to obvious
facts. It isn't a matter of what you think or what I think, or of
speculation at all. I _happen to know_ that Van Buren _is_ going to
propose to you. He'll probably do it at Henley or at Sandown, or in the
Park. He's certain to want it to be on a typically English background;
but you can take it from me, for a dead cert, that it's bound to come."

Daphne sat down and looked serious.

"Valentia, it's no good. Don't let him do it. It will be so frightfully
uncomfortable meeting him afterwards."

"Frightfully uncomfortable meeting the man to whom you're engaged? Why?"

"Because I shan't be engaged to him."

"Why not?"

"I shall never marry, Valentia."

Valentia stared at her in silence.

"What is your idea, darling? Why, you won't be eighteen till June. You
can't be sure you'll never want to marry!"

"Well, I don't care for Van Buren."

"I thought you liked him so much?"

"Well, he seems all right at first. But I simply couldn't stand him
always about."

"Couldn't you? Poor pet! But he mightn't _be_ always about."

"Well, I couldn't stand his marked attention. Valentia, I _hate_ marked
attention."

"Do you, really? Who'd have thought it?"

"Well--and he'd always be so considerate and so thoughtful and so
respectful!"

"That mightn't last when you were married," said Valentia consolingly.

"Perhaps he might not be so bad after we were once married.... But I
shouldn't like to risk it. And the engagement! Oh! I couldn't simply
_stand_ the engagement! Just think of the ring, and the sentiment, and
the fuss, and the letters! Oh, he'd enjoy it all so much! Oh, it would
make me simply sick to see how pleased he'd be!"

"I know that feeling," said Valentia sympathetically, nodding her head.

"Oh, and don't you see how he'd think he was engaged to a
well-brought-up, nice English girl who was a relation of Harry's, and
knew all the right people, and all that sort of thing? And he'd take a
big house--he's hinted this to me already--most likely in Park
Lane--anyhow, something just like a millionaire in a book. It's all so
dull, and cut-and-dried."

"Some of these cut-and-dried obvious things turn out quite jolly
afterwards. It's the uncomfortable, romantic things that are more often
failures. And you know, Daphne, you do like pretty things and clothes,
and going everywhere, and--not only that, he's really such a dear, and a
good sort, and so good-looking! And you'd put me into a very awkward
position with Harry if you refuse him. But, of course, darling, you must
do as you like."

"Well, then, Valentia, don't _let_ me refuse him. I don't want to. Don't
let it come to that. I'm sure I should loathe to hear him propose."

"Why?"

"It would make me sick."

"What can I tell Harry really as your reason for not being able to stand
Van?"

"I'm sure _I_ don't know!"

"He bores you," announced Valentia. "That's what's the matter. He
doesn't amuse you."

"It isn't that, it isn't that!" cried Daphne vehemently. "I don't _want_
to be amused. Do you think I like a man because he's clever, or funny,
and always making jokes? That bores me frightfully. Harry's way of being
lively and clever bores me to _death_! I don't want to marry a
professional entertainer! No, Valentia, that's more the sort of thing
you'd like. _You're_ quite sorry Romer's not like that."

"I don't suggest that it would be ideal to marry Harry Lauder, Daphne
dear. But wouldn't you really like someone fairly intelligent?"

"No. Why should I? Do you think I want to marry a man so horribly clever
that he wouldn't understand a word I said?"

"Let's have it out, dear. What do you think you want?" Valentia answered
herself; "It's Foster, of course! That dull, empty-headed, commonplace,
hard-up, handsome boy. You can't marry him. He's just twenty-two, and
has only a miserable allowance, and is in an expensive regiment, and
you, darling, will only have three hundred a year. I should love to see
you happy in your own way and having your wish, but don't you think it's
a childish fancy? You're both children. Of course he hasn't suggested
marriage, yet, has he? He knows perfectly well it's out of the
question."

"Valentia! Darling! Why, he proposed to me the day we were
introduced--at Prince's, and he's been doing it ever since."

"Oh, how utterly absurd of him! Well, anyhow, you must wait and see.
Even if he could afford it, I don't think it would be a success. Why,
there's nothing in the boy! What do you see in him?"

"I like the way he laughs," said Daphne, after a pause.

"Do you mind telling me one thing straight out? I'm being very nice to
you about this, dear. I ought to scold you. But, at any rate, you must
treat me with complete confidence."

"Of course, of course, dear."

"Tell me, he hasn't ever kissed you, has he?"

"Oh, Valentia!"

"I beg your pardon, darling. I felt sure he hadn't."

"Of course he has."

"He has!--Where?"

"How do you mean, where? Oh! at every dance where we've ever met. He
always does, whenever he can. Is it so dreadful? He's such a boy!"

"Fancy your liking him enough for that!" said Valentia, stupefied.

"Oh, he's a darling; and the only person I ever could possibly marry."

"It's rather serious," said Valentia; "and poor Van who is so devoted!"

"He isn't, really," said Daphne decidedly.

"Don't you think so? Why?"

"Oh, the whole thing's an _idea_--the sort of thing he _wants to do_.
It's not genuine."

"I should have thought the feelings of a man of thirty-four who could
marry any one he chose would be more real than the fancy of a mere boy!
Boys like anybody."

"Van isn't genuine like Cyril," said Daphne.

"Who on earth's Cyril?"

"Captain Foster."

Valentia walked round the room and then said--

"And you really suppose you're going to adore him all your life?"

"I _suppose_ so. I really don't know. I know about now. Oh, Valentia, be
a darling and let him come to the fancy ball with us." She kissed her.
"And, oh, do tell Harry to explain to Van that it can't go on, that he
must put it out of his head. Do, darling Valentia. Any well-brought-up
young girl will do for him just as well!"

"And wouldn't any well-brought-up young girl do for Cyril?"

"I don't know. But only Cyril will do for me. Oh! the jolly way he has
of saying 'Righto' and 'You're all right,' and calling me 'little girl!'
Oh, he _is_ a dear!"

"Oh, well, if he says such brilliant things as _that_!"

"It isn't what he _says_----"

"Oh, hush, Daphne, here is Romer. I shan't tell him a word about it.
Well, I'll think it over." She called Daphne back and said in a
half-hearted way--

"I suppose it wouldn't do just to sort of please Harry by marrying Van,
and then seeing that silly boy now and then. You'd so soon get tired of
him--but, no! that wouldn't be right. Forget that I said it--I don't
mean it."

"I couldn't stand Van at all," said Daphne definitely, "whether I saw
Cyril or not."

"Then you shan't be bothered with him. But can't you give up Cyril? I
know I'm right about it. It isn't only the hard-upness and the
impossibility--of course, I know he's got relations and all that--but,
it's he himself. You'll get bored with him, too, in a different way."

"I like him so much _now_," pleaded Daphne.

Romer came in and Valentia merely told him at great length every word of
the foregoing conversation with lavish comments by herself. Secretly
Romer was bitterly disappointed when he realised that the possibility of
his being left alone with his wife was more remote, but of course he
agreed with Valentia, as she changed her mind a dozen times on the
subject, and as usual the conversation ended in a telephone message to
Harry to come round at once.



CHAPTER VIII

IN FANCY DRESS


Van Buren had had many pleasures, many gratifications since he had been
in London; his dreams--the dreams inspired by Du Maurier's drawings when
he was a little boy--had been very nearly realised. Perhaps the greatest
triumph that he had had yet was the evening of the Artists' Fancy Ball.

He had succeeded in making up a party to go in costume. He was always
making up parties, and he had for many years been obsessed by a longing
to dress up.

Harry, in mockery of his passion for everything English, had advised him
to go as an Ancient Briton, with a coat of blue paint. Scorning such
ribald chaff, he had ordered a magnificent costume of chain armour.
Greatly to his satisfaction he had persuaded Hereford Vaughan to go as
Shakespeare, Valentia and Daphne respectively as Portia in scarlet and
Rosalind in green.

A large party were to dine at Van Buren's rooms before the ball. Fancy
dress has the effect of bringing out odd, unexpected little
characteristics in people. For example, Harry, good-looking and a dandy,
quite a romantic type, hated dressing up, and cared nothing whatever
about his costume; while Romer, the sober and serious, enjoyed it
immensely, and appeared to think his appearance of the utmost
importance--almost a matter of life and death.

The women were far less self-conscious in costume than the men, and
cared far less how they looked, probably because women are always more
or less in fancy dress, and it was not so much of a novelty to them.

Valentia had pointed out that Shakespeare, to be quite correct, should
wear ear-rings; so Vaughan called at her house on the way to Van
Buren's, as she had promised to lend him some.

"He won't know how to put them on," said Daphne, drawing on her long
boots. "Probably he hasn't had his ears pierced; you must go and screw
them on for him."

Valentia ran down. Just as she was screwing the long coral and pearl
ear-rings with rather painful energy on to the unfortunate young man's
ears, the servant, with a slight expression of terror that could not be
concealed, announced--

"Mrs. Wyburn."

The situation was really rather comic. Romer's mother, who was going to
a dinner-party in the same street, could not forgo the pleasure of
calling unexpectedly on them at half-past seven, vaguely hoping that it
might be inconvenient to them, and that she would catch them in
something they didn't want her to know--a true mother's instinct. But
not in her wildest dreams had she expected what she saw when she entered
the drawing-room--her daughter-in-law in her red mortar-board, red cloak
and bands, with, apparently, her arms round the neck of a young man in
purple silk stockings and jewelled embroidered gloves with rings outside
them.

Mrs. Wyburn literally sank into a chair.

Valentia was perfectly equal to the occasion. She thoroughly enjoyed the
baffling of Mrs. Wyburn.

"I can't think why Romer didn't tell you," she repeated several times,
"that Van Buren is giving a dinner for the fancy ball!" and she rang and
gave orders that her husband and sister were to come down immediately.

Romer had been four hours dressing; Daphne about ten minutes.

"I do think you ought to have a little make-up. Will you?" said Valentia
to Vaughan.

"I should love to," he answered, to Mrs. Wyburn's disgust and horror,
looking in the glass and taking very little notice of the indignant old
lady.

"He _does_ need just a touch of lip-salve and a little black under the
eyes, don't you think so?" Valentia asked, caressingly, pretending to
consult Mrs. Wyburn.

"I can't say, I'm sure. I've no idea what he wants," said Mrs. Wyburn
with a snap.

"But don't you think it would improve him, darling?" Valentia went on,
holding her head on one side and holding up her hand as if she were
looking at a picture.

"Not at all," said Mrs. Wyburn.

"Then do you think his lips are red enough already?" asked Valentia.

Vaughan hastily interrupted the absurd discussion.

"The human lip is never red enough," he said decidedly; "they ought to
be bright, light scarlet."

"That's just what I think. I've got some lovely scarlet stuff--the
colour of sealing-wax. Shall I fetch it for you?"

"Yes, do," he said.

"But won't it look rather----"

"No; merely decent," said the young man decidedly.

"And what does Romer say to _all this_?" said Mrs. Wyburn with a forced
smile and a voice trembling with uncontrollable rage.

"Oh, he likes it, darling. He loves it. No one's been so keen about
their dress as Romer. I'll go and fetch him, and my roll of parchment--I
had forgotten my roll of parchment."

She ran upstairs and came down saying--

"Romer won't be a minute, dear; he's awfully anxious for you to see his
dress. He's just darkening his eyelashes. That's all. He's Louis XIX or
something, you know."

She then deliberately and openly drew Vaughan to the window where there
was still bright June daylight and painted his lips a brilliant scarlet
to their mutual satisfaction and Mrs. Wyburn's unspeakable horror.

"Mad," murmured Mrs. Wyburn, half to herself, "quite mad! I shall be
quite upset for the Trott-Hellyers' dinner-party. It's Dr.
Trott-Hellyers' birthday. He only _lives_ three doors from you" (she
said this rather reproachfully), "and I dine with him _every_ year on
his birthday! And to think I only came in to see my son for a minute or
two, because I couldn't bear to pass his door ... his very door...."

"Sweet of you," said Valentia.

... "And then to think I should find----" She screamed suddenly.

Daphne had come in, in her green cloak, doublet and hose, and little
green cap, Romer in paint and powder, patches and lace ruffles, sword
and snuffbox. There was a lavish amount of rouge on his cheeks and his
eyes were blacked almost to the temples.

Hearing that his mother was there he had finished the left eye rather
hurriedly, the result being that he looked as if he had been fighting.

While the poor lady was trying to adjust herself to this sight, and
explaining for the sixth time why she was there, and making bitter
remarks about a young girl going to a ball in what she (Mrs. Wyburn)
called trousers, and while Daphne kept on wrapping herself in the folds
of her cloak and then undoing them again to show her nice high boots,
she was still more distressed at the arrival of her _bête noire_ and
mortal enemy, Harry de Freyne.

Van Buren had sent his motor for them, containing Harry.

Had his name not been announced by the servant, Mrs. Wyburn would
certainly not have recognised Harry. He was a pierrot in white satin,
with a violet tulle ruffle round his neck and a black velvet mask. One
would know him solely by his single eye-glass, his pleasant voice, and
fluent conversation.

Pretending to be a clown he jumped in, bowed low to Mrs. Wyburn, and
kissed first Daphne and then Valentia.

With a last-straw expression Mrs. Wyburn drew herself up to her full
height.

"Give me my cloak, Romer. I must go. No, don't come to the carriage with
me. Suppose the Trott-Hellyers were to see you--they'd never get over
it!"

"Why, it's all right, mother," Romer answered. "I'm all right. I'm a
courtier--of the tenth century--you know. I'm all right."

"And you approve of your young sister-in-law going to a public ball
dressed up as a man?"

"Rosalind wasn't a man, mother. You forget; you must read the _Midsummer
Night's Dream_ again. You've forgotten it."

"I shan't find Rosalind there. But that's not the point. When I came in
I found Valentia with that man--the man who writes in purple
knickerbockers----"

"No, he doesn't--he never writes in purple knickerbockers."

"Is this meant to be witty?" she asked with a freezing glare.

"What? No, I shouldn't think so."

"I found _your wife_," she said in a low hissing voice, as they passed
through the hall where there was a large looking-glass--Romer's
attention wandered--"within an inch of that young man's face, putting
ear-rings in his ears!"

"Well, she couldn't put them in a mile off," said Romer absently.

He was now frankly turning his back on his mother, and staring at his
face in the glass.

"Hang it all! I don't look so bad, do I?"

"You look a gentleman," she answered coldly; "any son of mine must look
a gentleman. Of course, you look ridiculous--and, as far as that goes,
you _are_ ridiculous; but that doesn't matter quite so much as long as
you look a gentleman."

"Oh, rot!"

Romer was trying to move a patch from one corner of his eye to the
other.

"But as to Harry de Freyne?... And shall you allow your wife to dance
with him in that costume?"

"Of course--why not? And--_doesn't_ Valentia look--jolly?"

"I think the scarlet with her golden hair is rather too--striking," she
answered spitefully.

"Oh, _she's_ all right!"

"I think you're all mad!" she answered as she reached the door.

The servant opened it.

"Oh, we're all right. Good night, mother. You'll be late for the
Trott-Hellyers."

Drawing her cloak over her narrow shoulders, Mrs. Wyburn stepped angrily
into the brougham.

Although it was only three doors from her son's house, she would not for
the world have walked.

When she arrived there, still in a very bad temper at all she had seen,
she nevertheless boasted to her neighbour about how remarkably
distinguished and handsome her son and daughter-in-law had looked in
costume, and of their success, charm, perfect domestic happiness, and
importance and perfection generally.

She succeeded in depressing the fossils on both sides of her, but they
smiled at each other, indulgent to the feminine weakness of so amiable
and devoted a mother.



CHAPTER IX

A CELEBRITY AT HOME


Miss Luscombe lived with her mother in a species of tank, or rather in a
flat that gave that impression because it was in the basement. It was
dark, and such glimpses as they had of people passing on the pavement
were extremely odd; it seemed a procession of legs and skirts, like
something in a pantomime or a cinematograph.

The Luscombes lived, as it were, beneath the surface; but that did not
prevent their being very much _dans le mouvement_, and coming up with
great frequency to the surface to breathe. And when one had once walked
down the steps and found one's way into the tank, it was an extremely
pleasant one, and quite artistic. It seemed original, too. There was
something almost freakish in being answered by the parlourmaid (who was
suitably like a fish in manner and profile), "Miss Luscombe is at home,
and will you please step downstairs?" when one had rung the bell on the
ground floor. And Miss Luscombe's ringing laugh with its three soprano
notes and upward cadence always greeted one charmingly and cordially,
and one always liked her; one couldn't help it. Her great fault was that
she was never alone. She existed in an atmosphere of teaparties and
'afternoons'; like the Lotus-Eaters, she lived in 'that land where it
was always afternoon'.

For an obscure person she led a singularly public life. In her existence
there seemed no secrets, no shadows, no contrasts, and no domesticity.
One could never imagine her except in what she regarded as full dress,
nor without, by her side, a perpetual bamboo table with three little
shelves in it, in which were distributed small cut pieces of very yellow
cake with very black currants, sandwiches, made of rather warm thin
bread and butter, pink and white cocoanut biscuits, and constant relays
of strong dark tea made in a drab china teapot. On crowded
afternoons--in fact, every other Thursday--little coffee cups containing
lumpy iced coffee were also handed round. When they had music there were
lemonade, mustard and cress sandwiches, and a buffet.

Even when Miss Luscombe was entirely alone she did not seem so. She had
got into the habit of talking always as if she were surrounded by
crowds, and said so much about the celebrities who ought to have turned
up that one felt almost as depressed as if they had really been there.
Sometimes they came, for there was no one like Miss Luscombe for
firmness. Also, she was never offended and was hospitality itself, and
she had a way of greeting one that was a reward for all one's
trouble--it seemed much more trouble than it really was, somehow, just
to step down into the tank. And she was so charming no one could help
being flattered till the next visitor arrived, when she was even more
charming.

After the Fancy Ball she had got hold of Valentia, who came to see her
on one of those Thursdays that she had pointed out as peculiarly her
own--one of _my_ Thursdays. She really believed that for any one else to
receive on that day was a kind of infringement of copyright.

Miss Luscombe was wearing on this occasion a drab taffeta silk dress
with transparent sleeves and a low neck. She wore a rose in her hair, a
necklace, and long gloves, because she said she wouldn't have time to
dress again before going out to dinner.

About a dozen people were there--vague shamefaced young men with nothing
to say, and confident, satirical, fluent young men with a great deal to
laugh at. Most of the older women seemed a shade patronising in tone,
and looked as if they had never been there before. On the faces of the
young women and the girls could be read the resolution never to go there
again.

Mrs. Luscombe, the mother, was so refined that there was scarcely
anything of her; her presence was barely perceptible. She had learnt the
art of self-effacement to the point of showing no trace of being there
at all. To add to the effect of not being noticeable, she wore a dress
exactly the same colour as the sofa on which she sat--like those insects
who, when hiding from their foes, become the colour of the leaves on
which they live. She was practically invisible.

On the other hand, Miss Luscombe herself was very much there--very much
_en évidence_. Smiling, greeting, archly laughing, sweetly pouting;
coquetting, eating, playing, singing, acting--almost dancing--an ideal
and delightful hostess.

She said to every one as they arrived how sweet it was of them to come
so early, or how naughty it was of them to come so late, or how horrid
it was of them not to come last time, or how dear it would be of them if
they came next. She always introduced people to each other who were not
on speaking terms, and had intentionally cut each other for years. She
had a real genius for making people accidentally meet who had just
broken off their engagement, or had some other awkward reason for not
wishing to see each other--and then pushing them together so that they
could not get away. At heart she was intensely a peacemaker, but people
who had met there rarely made up their quarrels.

When the favourite actor arrived she introduced him to every one till he
was ready to drop, and when the great singer telegraphed he couldn't
come, she showed the wire to everybody. Most of the guests preferred his
not coming. Very few could have endured her triumph had he really
arrived. On the other hand, they would themselves have far preferred to
receive a telegram of refusal rather than not to hear from him at all.

When these entertainments were over and the mother and daughter were
left alone, the daughter became far more thoroughly artificial than she
was when surrounded by her friends. There was no throwing off the mask;
on the contrary, it was fixed more firmly on, and Miss Luscombe gave
free vent to her sham passion for imitation comedy.

On this particular Thursday, as soon as Flora Luscombe had laughed her
last visitor archly to the door, she knelt by her mother's side, put her
arms round her, and said--

"Dear, dear Mummy, how sweet it is to be alone!"

Mrs. Luscombe shrank back a little. This pet name, only too appropriate,
always got a little on her nerves, but she felt bound to play up in an
amateurish sort of way to a certain extent.

"Hadn't you better go and take off that beautiful dress?" she said.
"You're not really dining out, are you?"

"No, dearest, I managed to get out of it, but alas! I've got to go to
the Reception--you know--that horrid Royal Institution of Water
Colours--afterwards. It isn't worth while to change again. Oh, how weary
one does get of the continual round! And then to-morrow!" She sighed.

"What is it to-morrow?"

"To-morrow! Don't talk of it! There's Mrs. Morris's At Home in Maida
Hill, and then right at the other end of London the Hyslop-Dunn's in
Victoria Grove. Oh, dear! And yet one feels one must be _seen_ at all
these places, darling, or else it's remarked at once."

"You live too much for the world," replied her mother, tidying up some
half-finished watercress sandwiches with a sharp knife. She wondered if,
thus repaired, they would do for next Thursday.

"You know, Mummy dear, that's the worst of our terrible profession. We
must keep before the public, or else we drop out and are forgotten. What
a sweet creature Valentia Wyburn is! I thought she was quite, quite
dear. And the husband and the cousin are darlings too. Of course they
wouldn't come; I couldn't get them to an afternoon."

She got up and looked in the glass.

"What a crowd there was to-day! Three people came up to the front door
at the same time. I think they enjoyed themselves, don't you? Though I
feel I can't pay every one proper attention when there's such a crush,
but I do my little best.... Mr. Simpson came up to me and told me I
looked quite wonderful. But he's a silly thing." She pouted and put her
head on one side. "Did I look too hideous, darling?"

"Beautiful, of course. The only thing is ..."

Miss Luscombe clapped her hands and laughed.

"Did its little girlie really look as nice as all that? Oh, Mummy,
Mummy!"

"Charming, dear, I only wish that ..."

"It's too proud of its little daughter, that's what it is," said Miss
Luscombe, sitting on the arm of her mother's chair. "It's a silly, vain,
conceited mother, that it is. It can't see any fault in its pet."

She tried to pat her mother's cheek. Mrs. Luscombe moved aside with
justifiable irritation.

"Don't do that, Flora! Yes, dear, of course, I think you're wonderful,
and looked sweet to-day; but I do wish ..."

"No, no, it doesn't want anything," said Flora.

"I should be so pleased--if you'd put on just a little less lip-salve
and not quite so much of that bluish powder."

Having succeeded in completing her sentence, her mother got up and faded
quickly out of the room and shut the door, leaving Flora looking quite
surprised and rather upset with being found fault with.

Indeed, she did not quite recover her equanimity until she had looked
over the cards in the hall and put on a great deal more powder and
lip-salve, after which she told her mother perhaps she was right, and in
any case she, Flora, would always do what she asked, and would always
follow her dear, dear Mummy's advice.

She was so charming and amiable that Mrs. Luscombe pretended to believe
her, and said it was _sweet_ of her to take it all off and go out that
evening without any adventitious aids to beauty; and this she said in
spite of the obvious fact that Flora had evidently put on considerably
more than usual.



CHAPTER X

MISCHIEF


The elder Mrs. Wyburn was seated at the gloomy window of her
sulky-looking house in Curzon Street one bright day in the season,
looking out with some anxiety.

"Of course she's late; but if that woman doesn't come I'll never forgive
her. She's a silly fool, but at least she does hear what's going on,"
she reflected.

At this moment an old-fashioned-looking victoria drove up, drawn by two
large grey horses. In it sat a rather fat and important-looking lady,
with greyish red hair, a straight decided mouth, and several firm chins.
Her most marked characteristic was her intense decision on trivialities.
She was always curiously definite on the vaguest of subjects, and
extraordinarily firm and sensible about nothing in particular.

Miss Westbury was a rich unmarried woman, with a peculiarly matronly
appearance, a good-natured love of giving advice, and with views that
obviously dated--one did not know exactly from when. If she had some of
the Victorian severities of the sixties, she had also many of the
sentimental vagaries of the eighties. The serious business of her life
was gossip. In her lighter moments she collected autographs. But her
gossip differed from that of the nervous, impatient Mrs. Wyburn in that
it was far more pompous and moral, and not nearly so spiteful and
accurate.

Miss Westbury sailed in--I need hardly say she was dressed in
heliotrope--and sat down rather seriously in a large--and the only
comfortable--armchair.

"My dear Millie, how extremely good of you to come!" exclaimed Mrs.
Wyburn.

Miss Westbury had been christened Maria, but Millie was the name which
she had chosen to be called by her friends.

"I am very pleased to come, dear Isabella. To call on you on one of your
Wednesdays is, I know, quite hopeless if one has anything to say. To
call on any one on a day at home, except as a mere matter of form, I do
not consider sensible."

"Quite so. Will you have some tea?"

Mrs. Wyburn rang the bell rather fretfully. She did not care for
Millie's made conversation, and hated her way of gaining time.

"I will have what I always have, dear Mrs. Wyburn, at five o'clock, if I
may--hot water with one teaspoonful of milk, and a saccharine tablet
which I bring with me. I am not a faddist, and I think all those sort of
fancies about what is and what is not good for one are exceedingly
foolish; but when I go in for a régime, dear, I give it a fair chance.
Otherwise there is no sense in it!"

She settled herself still more sensibly and decidedly in her chair.

"I wonder," said Mrs. Wyburn nervously--one could see she was not
listening, and thought Miss Westbury was merely drivelling on--"whether
you will come to the point at once? It would be a great comfort if you
would. I have been feeling quite anxious about your visit. I rather
foolishly took some coffee after lunch, and it kept me awake the whole
afternoon--either that, or my anxiety."

"If you take coffee after lunch," replied Miss Westbury, "you should
take it made as I do. Two teaspoonfuls of coffee in a large
breakfast-cup full of hot water, a saccharine tablet, and a teaspoonful
of condensed----"

"What was it you really heard, Millie dear, about my daughter-in-law?"
interrupted Mrs. Wyburn sharply.

Here the footman brought in the tea. Miss Westbury frowned, and
ostentatiously changed the subject.

"Have you been to the Grafton? I was persuaded to go. I think, myself,
there's a great deal too much fuss made about pictures nowadays. When
one thinks of the money that's wasted on them, when it might be sent to
a hospital, it makes one's blood boil! And some of those that are made
the most fuss about--both the Old Masters and the very new ones--these
post-men, or whatever they're called--seem to me perfect nonsense. A
daub and a splash--no real trouble taken--and then you're expected to
rave about it. There's one man--some one wants me to buy a picture of
his--he paints all his pictures in tiny squares of different colours;
when you're close you can't see anything, but it seems that if you walk
five feet away it forms into a kind of pattern. It seems it's the
tessellated school, and they tell me that in a few years nothing else
will count. And what I thought was a mountain in a mist turns out to be
'A Nun with cows grazing.' Silly nonsense I call it!"

"Was the nun grazing, or the cows?" asked Mrs. Wyburn.

"Goodness knows, dear. Then there was that other one called Waning Day,
or something. Two people in a boat sailing on dry land! Then that
picture of a purple man with a green beard! Oh, my dear! The people who
took me there told me it was full of--something French--_essayage_, or
_mouvement_, I think. The man who tried to make me buy it said it was
symbolical. But of course I refused. You know I never have anything to
do with nonsense. Well now, my dear----" Taking pity on Mrs. Wyburn's
extreme impatience, Miss Westbury came a little nearer. "What I heard
was simply this. My cousin, Jane Totness, took her little boy, who is in
London for the holidays, to the British Museum. She always likes to
improve his mind as much as possible; besides, he had been promised a
treat after having a tooth out; the first week of the holidays he always
has a tooth out and a treat after. Jane is like that; she's a sensible
woman, and I must say I think she brings her boys up very well. I myself
might have been more inclined to take him to Madame Tussaud's, or even
to a matinée, or to have an ice at Buzzard's; but I dare say I'm
old-fashioned enough in some ways, and Jane knows her own business
best."

"No doubt she does," said Mrs. Wyburn, quivering with impatience,
tapping her foot on the floor, and trying to restrain herself. "And so
she took the little boy--Charlie, isn't it?--to the British Museum? Go
on, dear!"

"Not Charlie, Mrs. Wyburn. It was little Laurence--little Laurence. He
was called Laurence after his grandfather, Lord Dorking. It's the rule
in the Totness family; the second son is always called after the
grandfather, the eldest son after his father, and the third son--I mean,
of course, if there is one--after the mother's father. Don't you think
it's a very sensible plan, dear?"

Mrs. Wyburn gave her friend first a sympathetic smile, and then a
murderous glance.

"Yes. Well?"

"Oh yes. Well, she was just pointing out something to little
Laurence--he's an intelligent boy, and I dare say he was enjoying it
very much--when, to her great surprise, _who_ should she see but Mrs.
Romer Wyburn, talking away like anything on a seat with--who do you
think?"

"Who?"

"That young man Harry de Freyne--her cousin, isn't it?"

"How extraordinary!" exclaimed Mrs. Wyburn. "Did they seem uncomfortable
when they saw Jane?"

"Oh dear, no, my dear. They seemed most comfortable. Jane bowed to
them--of course rather coldly, she says--and they smiled and nodded, and
Valentia kissed her hand to Laurence. Of course, Jane was very much
pained and shocked about it all. I must say her first thought, dear, was
that I should tell you. Jane Totness is a thoroughly good woman--so
thoughtful."

"Do you see anything so very peculiar about it?" said Mrs. Wyburn. "You
know, the young man--I disapprove of him as strongly as any one can--but
he's an artist, and she is his cousin, and perhaps he wanted to show her
something in the British Museum?"

"My dear Mrs. Wyburn, far be it from me to look on the dark side of
things, but, as Jane said, who on earth would go to the British Museum,
unless they were dragged there by force, except to have a private
interview?"

"But if he wanted to speak to her alone, I don't see why he shouldn't
call on her."

"That's just it. If it were a simple, innocent, harmless conversation,
that is what he would have done. But it was quite clear that there was
something clandestine about it, and you may be quite sure Romer knew
nothing of it. Besides, they are always together."

"It does look odd," said Mrs. Wyburn. "What would you advise me to do?
Shall I speak to my son or my daughter-in-law about it?"

"To neither, my dear. If you speak only to your son, he will tell her,
and she will get round him, and prove there's nothing in it. If you
speak to her she will get round you, and say that Romer knew all about
it. My advice is, if you really want to put a stop to this
flirtation--I'm sure it's gossiped about--even Jane, who is the last
person in the world to talk, speaks of it to every one. If I were you, I
would speak to the young man himself."

"To Harry de Freyne? Yes, it's rather a good idea."

It struck Mrs. Wyburn that to do this would, perhaps, cause more
annoyance than anything else. She was now anxious to get rid of Miss
Westbury, who evidently had nothing more to impart. But that lady was
not so easy to dispose of. She broke into a long monologue on the
subject of régime, servants, and little dressmakers, occasionally
returning to the subject of the British Museum, and the shocking
frivolity there.

Mrs. Wyburn was just thinking of having a violent toothache or some
other ill, when Miss Westbury suddenly made up her mind to depart.

As soon as she had gone Mrs. Wyburn flew to the Blue Book, looked up
Harry's address, and wrote him the following note:--

     "Dear Mr. de Freyne,

     "Probably you hardly remember me, but I have met you on two or
     three occasions at the house of my daughter-in-law, Mrs. Romer
     Wyburn. There is something I want to say to you which I hardly
     like to write. I should be glad if you would come and see me
     to-morrow afternoon at four o'clock. I shall not keep you long.
     You may think this a strange request, knowing you so slightly as
     I do, but when we meet, I am sure you will understand.

                                             "Yours truly,
                                             "ISABELLA WYBURN."

Having written this note, Mrs. Wyburn felt too impatient to send it by
post; she was simply longing to know that Harry was feeling
uncomfortable, as he was very certain to feel when he got the letter.
Although she had a great suspicion and general dislike of the Messenger
Boy Service, she relented for once in their favour so far as to make use
of them, and the letter was sent by hand.

She was rewarded for thus conquering her prejudice. Harry was at home,
and accepted her invitation with most respectful alacrity. His
manners--especially on paper--were, with old and young ladies, always
equally perfect--unless he was out of temper.

Mrs. Wyburn eagerly hoped Harry would see Valentia, or somehow convey to
her about the letter, because it would be sure to make her uneasy also.

       *     *     *     *     *

The next day the young man was punctual to the moment. The old lady left
him alone for a few minutes in the dark, dismal drawing-room. She
thought it would have a salutary effect.

She found him, when she came in, stroking the china bird, and looking at
himself in the mirror above it.

He received her with such charming grace that she felt almost
disconcerted, and as if she ought to apologise.

"You received my letter?" she said, rather abruptly.

"With great pleasure. That is why I am here."

He was still standing, smiling delightfully.

"Sit down," she said, with cold graciousness. "I hope you are not in a
great hurry?"

"All my day belongs to you," he replied with a low bow, taking the seat
she had indicated. He looked at her with soft deference under his long
eyelashes.

She found what she had to say more difficult than she had expected. She
spoke quietly, in a low yet rasping voice, with a sharp dignity.

"I will come straight to the point. To put it plainly, a report has
reached my ears, Mr. de Freyne, which has caused me very great pain and
anxiety--I mean, as a mother. And I wondered whether you----"

"As a mother? Surely, Mrs. Wyburn, nothing against Romer? I'm sure I, as
one of his oldest friends...."

"Against Romer!" She drew herself up stiffly. "Most certainly not!
There's never been a word breathed otherwise than in dear Romer's favour
since he was a little boy."

Harry appeared much relieved.

"It's a great comfort to hear you say that. It's only what I was going
to assure you."

"Besides, do you suppose for one moment that if I had any fault to find
with my son I should send for you?"

She already had an annoying fancy that he was defeating her, laughing at
her, and turning the tables.

"It seemed certainly rather strange," Harry said.

"No, indeed! When I say I was troubled as a mother, I meant it in a
very different sense. What I'm afraid of is that dear Romer might be
worried if he heard the report to which I refer."

"And that is?..."

She looked at him spitefully, yet with a reluctant admiration.

He was irritatingly good-looking, good-humoured, and at his ease, and
particularly well-dressed, without appearing in the least conscious of
it. She wished immensely that he had been plain, or awkward, or even out
at elbows, or absurdly dandified, or looked _nouveau riche_, or
something! She felt jealous of him for Romer, and, at the back of her
brain, she grudgingly and perversely sympathised a little with her
daughter-in-law. Harry radiated a peculiar charm for women of all ages.
He did not study them nor try very much to please them; the fascination
was involuntary; he simply used it.

"And that is, that you and my daughter-in-law, Valentia, were seen
_alone_----" she paused a moment, showing a latent instinct for dramatic
effect.

He smiled a little more, and bent his head forward with every sign of
intelligent interest.

She spoke with emphasis.

"_Alone_--the other morning--at the British Museum!"

Somehow she felt the shot had missed fire. It had fallen flat. It was
less effective than she had hoped. It did not sound so very shocking
after all.

He continued to smile with the air of waiting for the climax. She
gathered herself together and went on--

"I heard it from Miss Westbury, so it is a fact!"

Harry thought of saying that he preferred an old wives' tale any day to
an old maid's fact, but he only smiled on.

"Of course, if this is untrue, Mr. de Freyne--if it is a mistake, or a
false report, you have merely to deny it. Assure me it is incorrect--on
your word of honour--and I will then contradict it in the proper
quarter."

He decided on his line. "My dear lady, pray don't contradict it. As a
report it is a gem--it is unique. Not merely because it's absolutely
true--for, as a matter of fact, I think most reports are--but because of
its utter unimportance! It seems to me so trivial--so dull--so wanting
in interest to the general public."

"You think reports are usually true, Mr. de Freyne?"

"I am convinced they are. I believe firmly in the no-smoke-without-fire
theory. Oh, do you know, I think it is _so_ true!... This certainly is
true--it's a solemn fact."

"You admit it?"

"I do indeed! Surely I could hardly refuse to go when I was asked?"

"Oh, you were asked?"

"Certainly. And Romer is really such a very old friend of mine, I could
hardly refuse his request. I may be wrong, but I think one should always
be ready to take a little trouble for an old friend."

"No doubt you have very strict ideas on the duties and obligations of
friendship! At _his_ request--my son's?"

"Yes; your son asked me to go and escort Valentia."

"It is very peculiar; you must see that your explanation sounds
extremely odd."

"Not at all odd," he answered softly, "if you will allow me to
contradict you." He thought a moment. Then he went on: "You may have
heard, perhaps, about the dance that little American, Mrs. Newhaven, is
getting up at the Grafton Galleries for _Deaf and Dumb Dogs and Cats_.
No? Well, every one is going, and they're arranging to have, by way of
novelty, Quadrilles of different nationalities. Romer and his wife are
to dance in the Egyptian Quadrille, and he asked me to take her to the
British Museum to look round and see if we could find some inspiration
for Egyptian costumes that wouldn't be too impossible. But when we got
there, we suddenly remembered the awful story about one of the mummies
being unlucky, so we went into the Print Room and remained there."

De Freyne paused.

"Of course, if that is all--if my son knows of your going, and even
asked you to go, there's nothing more to be said ... though I think it
very foolish, and I don't approve of any of that sort of thing at all."

"What, not of Egyptian quadrilles, Mrs. Wyburn?" asked Harry, with
surprised innocence and in a coaxing voice. "Why, I'm sure it will be
frightfully harmless--in fact, very invigorating to the mind. It's not
as though the dresses were becoming! We saw the most hideous things at
the Museum. We met Lady Totness, who was dragging a wretched little boy
about--I suppose as a punishment for something."

Mrs. Wyburn smiled slightly. She began to feel rather inclined to relent
at the implication that Lady Totness was hideous.

"There you really are wrong, Mr. de Freyne. The boy was taken there as a
treat."

"A _treat_! For whom? For him? What a strange idea--I mean, to think it
could be a treat to go anywhere with her, Mrs. Wyburn."

"It is, rather," she acknowledged.

"Well, then, if that is really all that was troubling you, I do hope
you're happy now?"

He said this with one of his subtle, insinuating changes of tone that
were always so effective. Musicians will understand when I say it was
like a change from the common chord in the minor to the dominant in the
major. It was partly from force of habit, partly because he really
wished to win Mrs. Wyburn over.

"Of course, now you've given the explanation it's, _so far_, all right.
You'll have a cup of tea with me, won't you?"

"I should enjoy it particularly. Let me ring." After a minute or two she
said--

"But perhaps I might venture to suggest it might be better--more
prudent--if you were to go about a little less with Valentia?... Of
course, I quite see now that you're so devoted to Romer, and like a
brother and so forth, but I can't help considering what people say."

"Don't call Lady Totness people, Mrs. Wyburn! Think what a disagreeable,
insincere woman she is--not a bit _femme du monde_, and so exceptionally
stupid and spiteful!"

Harry stayed with her for an hour, having tea, chatting, telling her
stories against every one she didn't like, and speaking with a kind of
tender and admiring familiarity of both Valentia and Romer, in a way
that at once reassured and flattered her.

Finally, she actually found herself begging Harry to use his influence
with the young couple to be less frivolous and mondains, and not to be
always going out, which he promised to do. She even confided to him her
great wish that they had two or three children, which would steady them
down, and he warmly agreed with her, but said that he felt that on that
subject it was, perhaps, hardly for him to interfere.

Of course he confided in her, in his turn, how frightfully hard up one
was, with no one buying pictures, and outsiders winning all the big
races after having no earthly chance on any form they had shown that
season. Mrs. Wyburn positively tried to talk racing with him for a
minute or two--rather pathetically--but soon got out of her depth and
fell back on Art. She said she thought, candidly, that Harry's portrait
of his cousin was a pity.

They parted excellent friends, she even asking him as a favour not to
tell Romer the reason of his visit. To Valentia he might mention it, as
Mrs. Wyburn thought it might be a lesson to her.

Harry professed, at first, some little scruple on the point. He scarcely
liked, he said, the idea of concealing it from Romer. They always told
each other everything. But Mrs. Wyburn was afraid of her son's
anger--which she could not endure, unless _she_ was in the right--and
of appearing ridiculously meddling. Harry owned that her conduct
_might_ seem rather malicious and absurd. At last he consented, and it
was agreed that neither of them should ever say anything about it to
Romer at all.

It is scarcely necessary to say that Harry kept his promise of silence
to the letter. Had he not done so the story would at least have had the
interest of novelty, for Romer had never yet heard anything about the
expedition to the British Museum, and he never did.

A week or two later, when Mrs. Newhaven's ball at the Grafton Galleries
was described in the paper, Mrs. Wyburn, who read the account, observed
that there was no reference whatever to quadrilles of various
nationalities--Egyptian or otherwise; and she rather wondered at the
omission. But it did not occur to her to suppose that this portion of
the entertainment had been entirely imaginary--a lurid figment of
Harry's vivid fancy and fertile invention.

He left, it must be said, on the old lady a lasting impression--by no
means an unfavourable one. Even when she had reason to grow seriously
anxious again on the same subject, she never could bring herself in her
own mind to blame Harry--she could not at heart think ill of him. She
was only extremely angry with Romer and Valentia.



CHAPTER XI

THE FRIENDS


Harry had baffled Mrs. Wyburn for the time. He always dealt with his
difficulties one by one as they cropped up, not _en masse_, and
invariably in a manner that relieved the tension for a short time
only--he rarely did anything radical.

His financial position was, however, growing rather serious, and
occasionally the thought of Miss Walmer flitted through his mind.

To marry Miss Walmer would be far the quickest and simplest way out of
his difficulties, and she would really be very little trouble, as little
trouble, perhaps, as any wife could be. Besides, Harry had, with reason,
great confidence in his own powers of dealing with women--getting
whatever it was that he wanted from them, and afterwards preventing
their being a nuisance. But he did not much like the idea of this
mercenary marriage, because he was not in the least tired of his romance
with Valentia, and saw great difficulties in the way of keeping it up
later on. He had worrying doubts as to her consenting to revive it
afterwards if he married.

Her grey eyes and soft fair hair with its dense waves held a lasting
fascination for him. It has been well said that for each individual
there exists in some other being some detail which he or she could find
only in this particular person. It might be the merest trifle. Harry
knew what it was in Val that had a specially compelling charm to him--it
was the way her hair grew on her forehead. And there was something
childlike in her expression that made a peculiar appeal to him. The
power her face had over him was undiminished--it had begun seriously
when he painted her portrait, and had grown gradually since then. And
she was the only woman he had ever met whose affection for him did not
cool his own enthusiasm. On the contrary, it was one of the things which
held him to her most.

In a sense he was even loyal to her. Harry was not one of those
extravagant Don Juans who made conquests solely for the gratification of
their vanity by adding to their collection. Essentially cool and
calculating, he used his attractiveness only when he thought it would be
of some genuine value to him, or some real satisfaction. As a Lovelace
he was economical.

Though a great connoisseur of feminine charm and beauty, and
superficially susceptible and excitable, with all this, as many women
knew, Harry was as hard as nails.

Valentia was the only woman for whom he had ever felt, besides the
physical attraction, a kind of indulgent tenderness. This was partly, no
doubt, because they had been fond of each other as children, and because
of a racial sympathy, a _sentiment de famille_ due to their
relationship. But it was not really to be depended on.

No one could be a more charmingly devoted lover than Harry. There was no
one like him for little attentions and inattentions, charming little
thoughts, caressing words, and the little jealous scenes that women
value. It was not the mere mechanically experienced love-making that
women see through and to which they often prefer a clumsy sincerity. It
was natural, spontaneous. He had, in fact, a genius for love-making, but
he had not, like Romer, a genius for love. Harry had all the gift of
expression--poor Romer had only the gift of feeling.

But notwithstanding Harry's magnetism, a woman once disillusioned by him
was disillusioned for ever. Women never forgave him. His romances
generally ended suddenly, and always irrevocably.

       *     *     *     *     *

Harry had no great love of truth in the abstract, but, at least, he
never deceived himself. He saw through his own unscrupulousness, and
rather despised it just as he despised his own work as a painter. He had
grown really fond of Van Buren for the simple, sincere qualities in
which Harry knew himself to be deficient; and the American's
whole-hearted admiration--almost infatuation--for him gave Harry the
pleasure one feels in the frank devotion of a child. It touched him,
even while he intended to make use of it, because it was his nature to
make use of everything. It is an infallible sign of the second-rate in
nature and intellect to make use of everything and every one. The genius
is incapable of making use of people. It is for the second-rate clever
people to make use of him.

One morning Harry had heard unexpectedly that he had sold a picture--a
thing that rarely happened--and was looking at the cheque he had
received, when Van Buren came into the studio. Harry told the news.

"Well, Harry, I do congratulate you, with all my heart! What are you
going to do with that?"

"Frame it," said Harry. "It's the only one I've had for three years.
It's a curiosity."

The American laughed.

"Harry, I guess what you're really going to do--you're going to give
yourself the humble joy of paying some of the more pressing liabilities.
I know you!"

"My dear fellow, that would be mad extravagance! Oh no. You see, this
cheque is--just enough to be no earthly use."

Van Buren sat down.

"Harry, if you'd only let me.... But I know that vexes you, so I won't
talk of it. You're Quixotic, that's what's the matter with you." He
smiled, pleased with the word. "Yes, Quixotic! I want to speak to you
about your cousin--I mean Miss Daphne, the beauteous broo-nette."

"Well, how do you think you're getting on?" asked Harry, who already
knew from Valentia that it was hopeless.

"Not as well as I should like, Harry. I can't say I feel I'm making any
very great progress. She's a dream, but I'm afraid she regards me as a
heavy-weight. She's only a child, really, I know. She would prefer a
little boy of her own age who would make her laugh. Maybe she thinks I'm
too old. What do you say?"

"You must give her time."

"I pay her every little attention that I can," said Van Buren seriously.

"Perhaps you're too attentive."

"I'd give her anything in the world she wanted, Harry, if she'd let me."

"Well, give her a miss for safety."

"What's that?"

"Why--this evening you're going to meet her at a dance, aren't you--at
the Walmers'?"

"Yes; I'm looking forward to that."

"Well, don't go--don't turn up. Then she'll miss you. Say, to-morrow,
you were prevented."

Van Buren began to smile.

"I see what you mean. It's an idea. You do hand me some good advice! Is
it what you would do yourself, Harry?"

"It's what I'm always doing."

"But then I don't like the idea of being rude. One always wants to give
the impression of being well-bred, no matter what the facts maybe."

"It won't be rude. She'll be thinking about you much more than if you
were there, wondering why you're not."

"You mean it will keep her guessing, Harry?"

"That's the idea. I shan't say you're not coming. I'll pretend to be
expecting you too."

"Well, perhaps I'll try that. I know I've only got an outside chance.
She counts me as one of the also-rans."

"Are you really very devoted, old chap? Would you break your heart if it
didn't come off?"

Van Buren thought a moment, then said with his scrupulous truthfulness--

"Well, no: I can hardly say that, Harry. I'm not so far gone as all
that. But I think she's a very beautiful, charming, well-brought-up
young lady--a typical English girl--a June rose, a real peach. She's the
ideal of the sort of girl I'd like to marry. But if she's out of my
reach--well, I should resign myself."

"Would you try for some one else? There are probably about a million
girls just like that, you know, who would be only too delighted."

Van Buren shook his head.

"She's the only girl I should care about marrying. If it doesn't come
off I shall go back to New York. And I do wish you'd come with me. A
fellow with your talents would do splendidly there. Why, I'd find you a
place in the Bank in New York. I'd see you made your fortune pretty
quick. But you'd never leave London."

"I'm not so sure. Anyway, we'll give it a chance till the autumn."

"Yes, I must see it to a finish."

"If you don't settle down here, then, would you marry an American girl?"

"No. In that case I shan't marry at all. I shall settle down to the life
of a lonely bachelor--choose the broad and easy path that leads to
single misery, Harry." He laughed.

"Instead of the straight and narrow road that leads to married
unhappiness," said Harry. "So you _are_ very keen on Daphne?"

"Not exactly that, perhaps. But it must be her or no one for a
life-partner. She's the only girl who ever made any appeal to me from
the point of view of domestic life. When I think of a happy home and a
fireside with her, it makes me curl like an autumn leaf."

"What a curious chap you are," said Harry, smiling.

"See here," said Van Buren, taking a letter out of his pocket. "I've got
a letter from a lady--it's signed Flora Luscombe--but I don't seem to
remember anything about her."

Harry took the letter. It was written on mauve paper in a somewhat
straggling hand, and was dated from "Dimsdale Mansions, St. Stephen's
Road, North Kensington." It was a pathetic, yet cheery invitation to
tea.

"It's Miss Luscombe, of the Tank, as we call it," said Harry.

"Oh, the actress? Well, I think I shall go, Harry. I've never had the
opportunity of mixing much in dramatic circles. It's real kind of her to
have asked me, I must say. I didn't even remember her."

"No one ever remembers her. But it's amusing and absurd. You'll meet
some of the people you like. Flora will show you round--point out all
the obscurities there, and so forth. Oh, she's a good soul--old Flora."

"Is she old, Harry?"

"About twenty-three, or thirty-three. I like her, though she's rather a
snob."

"Ah, they say all Americans are snobs, Harry, but I feel sure I'm not.
Still, if I really liked a man I can't say I should turn against him
even if he had a title."

"And if I really hated a person I should never get to like him, even if
he had a bad reputation."

Van Buren looked surprised and impressed, also delighted.

"Is that a paradox, or an epigram, Harry?"

"I can't think!"

"Won't you tell me what it is?"

"It's bosh," said Harry impressively, "mere bosh!"

"Tell me what you really mean by it."

"How should I know? I haven't the very slightest idea," Harry said,
stretching himself.

Van Buren looked thoughtfully out of the window.

"How do you suppose our ro-mances will end?"

"As badly as possible; romances always do," said Harry. "We ought to be
only too thankful that they end at all."

"Why, I'm afraid you're a pessimist! How do you define a pessimist,
Harry?"

"What a mania you have for definition, old chap! I think I agree with
the little girl who said that an optimist is the man who looks after
your eyes, and the pessimist the person who looks after your feet."

"Why, that's very subtle. I quite see what she means. There's a lot in
that idea, Harry." He thought gravely.

"Is there? Well, come out to lunch."



CHAPTER XII

A HOME CHAT


"Yes, Romer, on the whole I don't think our season's been a success.
With any amount of struggle, worry, bother, clothes, motoring, and
making up parties, we've just succeeded in not getting Daphne married to
Van Buren, and putting your mother in a perpetual, constant, lasting bad
temper."

"Have we?" said Romer.

He was sitting in an arm-chair listening, as usual, while Valentia
talked. He did not always understand what she was saying, nor did he
even always know the subject she was discussing, but he loved to hear
her voice, that was like an incantation in his ears. He said a few words
occasionally, desiring that the musical sound should continue.

"All our old friends seem to have grown dull and sensible except Harry,
and he's been rather jerky and unsatisfactory--and all the new ones have
turned out complete failures. When I say they're complete failures, of
course I mean they've bored me. But, of course, it may not have been
their object in life to do anything else."

"Yes."

"Look at Mr. Rathbone--a man like that, tattooed, and collecting old
programmes of theatres. Well, he's as dull as ditchwater, perfectly
stupid and always saying the right thing to the wrong people. Then
Captain Foster, who seemed perfectly harmless and only decorative, turns
out to be really dangerous, and to count. He's in love with Daphne, and
he has got his mother, who is very weak and foolish and sentimental,
round on his side, and Daphne's always going to tea or to lunch there,
and they've utterly spoilt her--at least, her taste in hats has gone all
wrong, and she told me that Mrs. Foster had pink paper shavings in her
drawing-room fireplace, and asked me why I didn't have them too!"

"Really?"

"Yes. And though she's very good, I know it'll end in our having to give
in, and a pretty wedding, and a tiny flat, and utter wretchedness! And
Daphne will get to like old Mrs. Foster better than me, and they'll have
five hundred a year at the most; and even if they aren't really
miserable she'll have to gradually grow suburban, and come up to the
theatre and have to rush off so as to catch the last train back to
Boshan or Doddington or somewhere! I mean if they take a little house
out of town--near Mrs. Foster. However, I'm not going to give in just
yet.... I could understand a slight sacrifice--or even a big one if I
were in love with Captain Foster, but I'm not. I suppose you'll say that
I needn't be, but that isn't the point. The utter absurdity is that all
Daphne wants of him she could see now. No one minds her seeing him. But
why should she break up her life and spoil her future for it? Of course,
_that_ part is _his_ idea. He is so selfish that he isn't satisfied with
the harmless fun they have now, but wants her to live all her life in a
sort of workman's cottage or tenement building just for the sake of the
joy, privilege, and honour of having every meal with him!"

"What a brute!" said Romer mildly.

"Isn't he? And suppose a war broke out, and that darling, handsome boy
perhaps put an end to suddenly by a bullet, or mentioned in despatches,
or something, and promoted--oh, please don't talk to me about it any
more, Romer. I hate the life. But I suppose she'll have to go her own
way."

Valentia paused and looked pensively in the glass.

"And dear Van Buren, he's been pretty badly treated, I think. I suppose
he knows it isn't my fault or Harry's. I try to make up for it in lots
of ways--by getting him an introduction to the man who wants to fly
across the Atlantic. I really hoped he would say to Van Buren, 'Fly with
me!' but he didn't, and in the most roundabout way and by the most
fearful lot of trouble--chiefly through me--he was asked to dinner to
meet that other man--I forget his name, the one who keeps on discovering
the North Pole. And it seems he is a dear, and awfully good-looking. And
then he--Van, I mean--has met Bernard Shaw, and Graham White, and Lloyd
George, and Thomas Hardy, and Sargent, and Lord Roberts, and Henry
James, and even Gabrielle Ray, so he hasn't had such a bad time in
London. I don't see that he has anything to complain of, do you, Romer?"

"Shouldn't think so."

"That was what he wanted, you know," continued Valentia. "But if we
couldn't get him a wife as well, it's not our fault. I'm sure we've
tried our best. He's such a dear, and very fond of England. He has been
most useful to Harry, I'm sure; and----I think the new fashions are
simply frightful. The new way they're going to do the hair will be
revoltingly unbecoming, and the whole thing will make every one look
hopelessly dowdy. The smarter you are, the more of a frump you will
look!"

"Oh, I say, Val!"

"Yes, you will--I mean I will, but I won't.... Because I'm not going to
follow the fashion like a sheep. And if you're not very careful I shall
dress in a style of my own."

"Like a sheep! Do sheep follow the fashion?"

"Of course they do. Didn't you know that? What one does all the rest do.
Of course it doesn't change so often--even in the best Southdown
circles--at least _we_ don't notice the change. When a new kind of 'baa'
comes in and they all echo it we don't see any difference, but I don't
suppose they see any difference in our fashions either. Oh, and Romer,
I've been worried because I feel I've got so frightfully empty-headed
and unintellectual through just _living_, never reading or thinking,
when we go down to the Green Gate I shall read a lot of serious books.
I'm going to read H. G. Wells, and Hichens, and Aristotle, and some
history, and all sorts of 'improving' things. When are we going?"

"As soon as possible," said Romer, brightening up. "Let's go next
Wednesday."

"Oh, I can't be ready quite as soon as that, Romer dear! Let's go on
Tuesday. I'll arrange it all."

"Good!" said Romer, beaming.

"And I'll get Harry to come down with us."

"Thought he was going yachting with the Walmers?"

"Oh no, he's not, after all.... He doesn't really care for the sea."

"Oh!"

"Harry, of course, is sorry for Van Buren," continued Valentia. "And yet
he takes Daphne's part about Cyril Foster. He knows it's spoiling her,
but he thinks she ought to be spoilt; he's so fond of Daphne."

"Why doesn't he marry her himself?" asked Romer.

"Harry?" She looked at him in surprise. "Why, Romer, what a harpist you
are. If I've told you once, I've told you a hundred times, he never
marries! Harry has a great many bad habits, goodness knows. But marrying
isn't one of them."

"Do you think he's keen on some one else?" asked Romer after a rather
long pause.

She seemed annoyed at the question, then smiled again.

"I don't know! The other day I called at the studio unexpectedly to ask
for something I'd forgotten, and found Harry improvising at the
piano--you know that way he has of improvising from memory--an
inaccurate memory--of some well-known composer. I've never known him do
it except when he wanted to--please some woman. Well, Lady Walmer was
there, leaning over the piano and listening. Should you think from that
he's keen, as you call it, on her?"

"Lady Walmer! At her age!"

"Why, Romer, she's no older than anybody else! It doesn't matter
nowadays in the very slightest degree whether one is twenty-eight, or
thirty-eight, or even forty-eight. To a modern man it's all exactly the
same. Of course, if a flapper is what is required, well then, naturally,
he must be shown to another department. But apart from that--why, Lady
Walmer would be quite as dangerous a rival for me as a woman ten years
or twenty years younger. And I'm not twenty-five yet."

"Rival to _you_? What do you mean?"

Romer stared at her, a spark of his fanatic admiration showing in his
eyes.

She laughed and hurried on.

"Nothing. I never mean anything. I know what you think, Harry is not a
marrying man, but he might become one. But a girl like Alec Walmer! With
the figure of a suffragette and the mind of a canary who plays cricket,
or a goose who goes in for golf----"

"Heaps of cash."

"Yes, I know. But Harry's an artist--he needs sympathy."

"He's got his head screwed on the right way."

"But his heart's in the right place."

"What is the right place?"

"Don't be irritating, Romer. We'll go to the Green Gate on Monday then.
And now I must go out and order a short tweed skirt, and a garden
roller, and a few other things that we shall need in the country. Leave
it all to me! No, I never forget anything; even your mother says I'm
practical. And oh, do let's try and put her in a good temper before we
go away. You'd better go and see her and say good-bye to-day, early in
the afternoon, alone. And then I'll go in late and take away the
impression of anything you've said wrong. Do you see, darling? Dear
Romer!"

She went out of the room like a sunbeam in a hurry.

Romer followed her with a wondering expression. To him her movements,
her hair, her eyes seemed to suggest some fascinating language he had
not yet learnt. She seemed to him almost a magic creature.

As usual, he showed his sensations simply by obeying. He went to say
good-bye to his mother.



CHAPTER XIII

VALENTIA'S VISIT


Romer's mother, looking intensely cross--it was her form of deep
thought--was re-embroidering, with extra little stitches, and
unnecessary little French knots, and elaborate little buttonholes that
would never see a button, a large and fine piece of embroidery on which
she had been working for many months. She had that decadent love of
minute finish in the unessential so often seen in persons of a nervous
yet persistent temperament.

She was expecting her daughter-in-law. Romer had said, "Val will look in
this afternoon."

       *     *     *     *     *

Valentia arrived, delightfully dressed, and, to the casual observer,
looking just as usual, but in her costume there was just that nuance of
difference--what was it?--extra sobriety, a more subdued look--some
trifle that she had worn last year to suggest to the seeing eye a hint
of praiseworthy economy?--at any rate, a shade that other young married
women would recognise at once as the right note when calling on one's
mother-in-law.

Mrs. Wyburn greeted her with real pleasure, and with far more warmth
than she ever showed to her son (her affection for him being authentic).
The sight of Valentia, however, always genuinely raised her spirits. She
was fascinated by her, and had an obscure desire to gain Valentia's
liking, and even admiration--by force, if necessary! At the same time
she felt jealousy, disapproval, an odd pride in the girl's charming
appearance, and a venomous desire to give her slight pain.

"Romer has been here, I see--I mean, I guess he has by the cigarette.
He's the only person who's allowed to smoke here. Yes, Mrs. Wyburn,
we're off on Wednesday. Won't you miss us awfully? But I shall be very
glad to go. I've really had enough of the season." Val spoke with a
shade of weariness.

"No wonder! I suppose you've hardly had one quiet evening at home the
last three weeks?"

"Very likely not one. Even when we're quite alone Harry comes round, and
often his American friend too."

This was a challenge.

Valentia was sitting opposite the light, dressed in blue, in a black
hat of moderate size, looking straight at the elder lady with a smile,
and stirring her cup of tea.

Mrs. Wyburn admired her pluck and the fit of her dress.

"Yes, exactly--just what I should have thought. You know what a horror I
have of displaying anything in the shape or form of _interference_, dear
Valentia. But, since you've mentioned it yourself, may I just say,
doesn't it seem almost a pity that you should never be alone with your
husband?"

Valentia began to laugh.

"Oh, really, Mrs. Wyburn, why do you assume that? But of course we're
longing for a quiet time. That is why we're going away so early. What
_delicious_ China tea! Yours is the only house where one gets it quite
like this."

She put down her cup, which was more than half full, with a slight sigh.

"Romer hates China tea too," said Mrs. Wyburn. "It would be really
better for your nerves if you'd drink it, my dear."

"And when do you go to Bournemouth?"

"The first week in August. So I shall be able to come down one day--as
Romer asked me--before I go, and just have a peep at what you're all
doing at the Green Gate."

She smiled with grotesque playfulness.

"Oh, that will be nice," said Valentia. "It must be looking lovely now.
Did Romer say anything else of any importance?"

"He never says much, as you know, important or not! He's very like his
poor father, who really used to sit opposite to me for hours at a time
without opening his lips."

"A strong, silent man," murmured Val sympathetically. "I know so well
what you mean."

"Indeed you don't," snapped Mrs. Wyburn. "He was the weakest
creature--_morally_, I mean, poor dear--that ever breathed. He was a
very tall, fine man, but yet any pretty woman could turn him round her
little finger! It was his most marked characteristic."

"Fancy! Devoted to you, of course. Romer's often told me."

"I'm sure he hasn't. What can Romer know of my domestic troubles, as he
was just four when he lost his poor father? But however that may be, I
do hope, Valentia, you will wear warm, _sensible_ clothes for the
garden. I never quite like the idea of your sitting out on that little
terrace late in the evening with practically nothing on your shoulders.
People should be so careful of the night air."

"How thoughtful of you, Mrs. Wyburn! But I have a wrap--I never sit out
without a wrap."

"Pink chiffon, I suppose?"

"Now how did you know? You seem to have second sight!"

"Yes; I guessed as much. Very candidly, dear Valentia, I don't approve
of pink chiffon. But we women of an elder generation are never listened
to, though our advice is worth hearing, I can tell you."

"Oh no, Mrs. Wyburn, don't say that. What would you advise instead
then--a red crochet woollen shawl? I'll get one, of course. How lovely
that embroidery is getting that you're doing! I remember last February
thinking that it was as beautiful as it could be, and now it is more
wonderful still. Let me look."

She bent down her pretty head to admire it.

"Is it my fancy, or the light, or hasn't your hair grown a little
brighter in colour lately, Valentia dear?"

"Oh, do you really think so? I'm so glad. I was afraid it was just the
same--just as it was in Harry's portrait of me, you know."

"It does look very like the portrait. But, very frankly--you won't mind
my saying so?--I think that if it were not quite so fair it would be an
improvement."

"Oh, naughty Mrs. Wyburn! Fancy your wanting me to touch up my
hair--make it dark at the roots, I suppose, as so many people seem to
do! Oh! I wouldn't! What would Romer say? He likes it like this."

Before the elder lady had quite recovered from the blow, Valentia went
on carelessly--

"Daphne sent her love to you. She mayn't have time to come and see you
before we leave."

"Has she been going to any more fancy balls as Rosalind?" asked Mrs.
Wyburn sarcastically.

"No, oh no. There haven't been any more."

"I heard a report--oh, only a report--that Mr. Van Buren is a great
admirer of your sister's; indeed, it was even said that they were going
to be engaged."

This was really a sore subject to Valentia. Her temper began to waver
slightly. It had been a very pet scheme of hers, and only Daphne herself
had defeated it by refusing the millionaire. But of course she knew
better than to tell Mrs. Wyburn that.

"Oh yes, you heard that. I believe he does admire her very much. But I
hope I'm not going to lose Daphne yet."

Something in her expression warned Mrs. Wyburn, who said
affectionately--

"Well, there's plenty of time; she's _so_ young. I don't believe in
girls marrying till they're sensible women and know something of
housekeeping, and are fitted to deal with their servants."

"I hope you haven't been having any more trouble with yours lately?"

"Indeed I have! I had just sent for the housemaid to give her notice
because she never dusts the lustres properly, when she turned round and
gave it--notice, I mean--to _me_!"

"What a blessing! It saved you the trouble."

"On the contrary, if you knew anything of domestics, Valentia, you would
see that it put me in a most awkward position--most awkward; and now I
shall have to live at Mrs. Hunt's!"

"To live at Mrs. Hunt's?" repeated Val, as if stupefied. "Why, you're
not going to leave your charming house? And who is Mrs. Hunt?--an old
friend of yours?"

"Don't you really know who Mrs. Hunt is, Valentia?" Mrs. Wyburn's voice
trembled.

"No; I haven't the faintest idea."

"She's a Registry Off----Well, may you never know! Certainly I'm not
going to leave my house. The idea of such a thing!"

"Oh, I'm _so_ glad," said Val, getting up. "I'm afraid I must leave it,
though. I have so many little things to do before I go. Now, Mrs.
Wyburn, take great care of yourself, and I do _hope_ you'll get a nice
housemaid quite soon. That sort of thing is so worrying, isn't it?"

Mrs. Wyburn accompanied her to the door, and as usual stood on the
landing with her, complaining of various troubles, and finally parted
with caressing words and advice about going for country clothes to "a
little dressmaker--quite near here--who runs up one's blouses and
skirts."

"Does she? Fancy! She must be small! Good-bye!"...

... "What a woman!" murmured Val as she got into the carriage.

"What a wife for Romer!" exclaimed Mrs. Wyburn as the door shut.



CHAPTER XIV

A SUGGESTION


Miss Luscombe, humming a tune, was wandering round her drawing-room,
arranging it. She always hummed a little tune when she was alone, if
possible some quaint old French air. Not that she was really alone now;
only her invisible mother was with her. To do her justice, Flora took as
much trouble to impress this almost imperceptible audience as if she
represented a large crowd.

"There!" she said. She dusted a little blue vase and put it further
back. "Now you're nice and tidy. No, you go back there, you ugly thing!"
pouting at a photograph, "you're not wanted to-day! Come out more in the
light, Lady Charles! We want you to be seen. _That's_ better!"

From the depths of an arm-chair, where she was hidden, Mrs. Luscombe,
who was watching her with intense irritation, said sharply--

"Who do you expect to-day?"

"Oh! how you startled me, Mummy! I didn't know you were there.... Isn't
it funny, when you wear that dark red dress, _just_ the colour of the
armchair, one doesn't see you?"

She went on humming in the low, sweet voice, "_La violette double,
double--la violette double-ra-ra._"

"Pray stop that, Flora. My nerves won't bear it. Who did you say you
expect?"

"Mr. Rathbone, darling, if you _must_ know. Mr. John Ryland Rathbone, to
be exact. You know he's one of the Catford Rathbones, don't you, Mummy?"

"What's a Catford Rathbone?"

"Dear mamma!" she laughed. "It's quite a good old family. One of the
untitled aristocracy."

"I thought you told me his father was a farmer?"

"No, dear--that's a little mistake. I told you his father had _taken_ to
farming--as a hobby. Besides, that's just what I mean--a fine old yeoman
stock--the backbone of the country."

"Why are you praising up this Mr. Backbone--or Rathbone--so much? Is he
in love with you?"

Flora laughed coquettishly, putting on her Russian Princess manner. It
was voluble, disdainful, and condescending. She often changed, quite
suddenly, from an _ingénue_ to a _grande dame_, and then to an
adventuress and back again before you knew where you were.

"Of course he's in love with me. What of that? Poor boy, he must take
his chance like the others! '_La violette double, double----_' Oh, I
forgot, dear. I beg your pardon."

"What's he coming here for?" pursued the relentless mother.

Miss Luscombe now became a soubrette of a somewhat hooligan type, and
pretended to throw a little feather duster she was holding into the
depths of the arm-chair.

"That remains to be seen. But I'm a girl who knows how to take care of
herself. I shall keep him in his place, old dear. Don't you worry."

"I don't."

There was a ring at the door. Flora blushed genuinely, and put some
powder on. She became sweet and tactful again, and refined, the amiable
woman of the world. She helped her mother out of the arm-chair, quite
unnecessarily, but perhaps to hurry her departure.

"You'd better leave us alone now, darling," she said, "and girlie will
tell you all about it afterwards."

Mrs. Luscombe ran like a hare through a side door.

The servant announced, throwing open the folding doors, "Mr. Rathbone."

In two seconds the feather-duster was behind a screen, and Flora,
looking really very handsome--she was, as usual in the daytime, in
semi-evening dress--was reading a little book covered in old vellum, and
kept for the purpose of her being found reading it. She put it down and
welcomed her guest charmingly.

Rathbone, looking very fair and pink and rather determined, had brought
with him a kind of case containing his collection of old theatre
programmes, so that he gave the impression of being a diplomat of high
importance with a portfolio.

She helped him prettily to show her the programmes, and was pleased to
see that there was something else on his mind.

She gave him a cigarette and they had tea. He told her the ancient story
of his writing to Cissie Loftus, and how he had never received an
answer. She welcomed the anecdote as though it combined the brilliance
of a jewel with the freshness of a daisy.

Then he spoke in a somewhat thick voice and with that rather gruff
manner that she associated with sincerity.

"Miss Luscombe, I ..."--he sighed deeply. "To tell you the truth,
there's something--for a long time I've wanted to ask you."

He fixed on her intently his blue eyes, in which there was an ardent
glare.

"Really, Mr. Rathbone? What can I do for you?"

"A great deal. The question is, what would you do for me?"

"Oh, that depends," she said, smiling, looking down, and enjoying
herself.

"Not to put too fine a point upon it, Miss Luscombe----"; he stopped
nervously.

"Miss Luscombe sounds so formal," she murmured.

"You wouldn't allow me to call you Flora, would you?"

He smiled, but she thought he looked disappointed. Perhaps he was a man
who needed difficulties--opposition.

"Well ... I ... it depends," she said.

"Look here, Flora, you're a very charming woman. I have a great
admiration for you. What is more, I believe you to be a thoroughly
good----" he hesitated again; was he going to say 'woman,'
'actress?'--he decided on 'sort.'

"Oh!"

"Now I'll reveal to you the dream of my life, which I wouldn't tell to
anybody else."

"I wonder if I can guess it?" she said, wishing he would hurry up. Lady
Charles was coming at half-past five to get the address of that fur
place Flora knew of, where you got things practically for nothing--and
they were worth it, too.

"I know I'm not so very young," continued the young man.

"Why, you're only about thirty-four, aren't you? I call that young."

"Do you--do you really? Now I was afraid I was getting rather too old to
begin, as it were, a fresh life. Well now"--he came a little nearer and
touched her hand, which lay on the table; it was a pretty hand, thin and
bony, with pink polished nails and a garnet ring--"will you do it for
me? will you help me? will you not think me foolish--too daring--too
sanguine?..."

"What?"

"Yes. I see you've guessed. Yes. I want to go on the stage."



CHAPTER XV

MISS WALMER


"And so you see, don't you, Lady Walmer, that I really simply couldn't
do it--I mean I must do it. They're expecting me there for the whole
summer. How could I throw them over at the last minute?"

Harry spoke in his most convincing voice. He was calling on Lady Walmer,
and they were both sitting in her little yellow boudoir. She had just
come in from a bazaar, and was wearing a rather angry-looking hat, very
much turned up on one side, with enormous purple feathers. She was
looking very far from pleased. Her handsome chin appeared squarer than
usual. There was a look in her eyes that more than one man besides Harry
would have been by no means anxious to meet.

She drew off her gloves, stroked one over the other thoughtfully, and
said--

"Why did you promise to come on the yacht? The whole summer's spoilt for
Alec."

"I hoped I could--I thought I could manage it. Surely you
understand----"

"But it's got to come to that sooner or later, Harry. You can't make an
omelette without breaking eggs. If you want to be a respectable, dull
married man, you'll have to dissolve your romance, you know. I should
have thought you were the last person to be weak about anybody else's
feelings!--No, it's your own, my dear boy."

Harry's colour rose a little.

"My dear Lady Walmer! I'm going to tell--my cousin Valentia--all about
it--I mean about my hopes. I'm certain that she will be charming about
it--only too glad, for my sake."

"Oh! And yet I thought she was human! Or--is there some one else?"

"Certainly there's some one else--there's Romer. She's very devoted to
him."

"Harry, my boy, we should get on so very much better if you wouldn't
tell so many unnecessary fibs," remarked the lady.

She stood up and drew the hatpins out of her hat.

He said, "I'm quite frank with you. I don't think I've been anything
else. And, after all, I only ask to do it in my own way--at my own time.
To choose my moment. Really, one can't behave like an _impossible_
bounder."

"Oh, can't one? Well, perhaps not."

She took the hat off and put it on a table, giving the impression
suddenly, without it, of being smooth, a little bald, and very
good-tempered.

"Then you'll forgive me, Lady Walmer--you'll understand? I should think
that in about three or four weeks I shall be able to join you somewhere.
But, about fixing the date--that's impossible. Can't I see Alec to-day?"

She smiled graciously.

"Certainly you may; I want you to. You must cheer her up and say nice
things to her. Poor child, I wish she weren't so ridiculously pleased
with you. You don't care two straws for her."

"I give you my word of honour that I will make her happy."

"I suppose you'll make her as happy as any one would. It's always
something to get one's wish, even if the wish is a failure."

"Now, why do you say that? It won't be a failure."

"All right. I'll send her to you. Now be a good boy, Harry. I'm
jealous--for Alec--of the Green Gate." She smiled in her attractive way.
"Will there be an absolute rupture between you and your ... cousins, do
you think?"

"Oh, good heavens, Lady Walmer, no!" said Harry rather irritably. "We
shall all be perfect friends, of course ... what impossible things you
expect."

"I expect only what is certain."

She went away.

Vanity was as elemental in Harry as in any other good-looking young man.
With him, though, it was not a mere useless pursuit--an
art-for-art's-sake joy--but invariably calculated and used as a means to
an end.

He looked in the glass earnestly, then started as Alec came in.

He was always surprised and even a little _gêné_ each time he saw her,
by her immense apparent height. It seemed so much greater than it was
because of the somewhat monotonous lines of her figure and her rather
bird-like face.

Harry watched her, listened to her as she chattered away her hurried,
inexpressive unmeaning slang, and looked at him with her bright, small,
beadlike eyes.

He did not appreciate her. He did not know that behind the jerky manner
and inexpressive face there was a Soul.

She had not been trained to talk sentiment, and she could not express
her ideas; so, though she adored Harry, she only said to her mother in
confidence, when in a serious mood, that he was all right; and when in a
more playful frame of mind to her girl-friends, that he was a little
_bit_ of all right.

"Alec," he said, making her sit down in the lowest chair (he could not
bear her towering over him), "isn't it a bore that I can't come on the
yacht?"

"Pretty useless," she answered.

He took her hand.

"You won't forget me while I'm away, will you, Alec?"

"What do _you_ think?" she answered in a trembling voice, and then gave
a loud laugh.

"I don't think--I don't know."

"Oh, shut up!"

"Will you be just as nice when I see you again?" continued Harry, in a
carefully-modulated voice.

"Why do you ask me all this rot?" she said, with another uneasy laugh.
"Of course I shall."

"Good."

Harry couldn't think of anything else to say. Then he remembered....

"When I join you again I'm going to bring you a ring. What's your
favourite stone?"

"Rubies and diamonds," she answered without a moment's hesitation. "I
say, how sporting of you! That'll be ripping!"

He tried to feel touched by her artless joy. He knew he was not an
ideally ardent suitor.

"Well, we'll have a good time later on, eh?" he said in her own tone.

"Don't be a silly ass!" replied the girl, her eyes full of tears and
tenderness, and her heart of the most sincere joy and affection.

Harry laughed.

"Tell me, Alec, is your mother a soothing companion? Is she a nice woman
to live with?"

"Oh! _she's_ all right. A bit off colour sometimes. At least--well, she
_is_ all right, if you understand--and yet she's _not_--if you know what
I mean."

"Ah! that is a dark saying. You are pleased to be
mysterious--sphinx-like."

"You _are_ a rotter, Harry!"

"How subtle you are, Alec. How elusive is the lightning-play of your
wit!"

"_How_ much?"

"The random poppy of paradox grows too often in the golden cornfield of
your conversation," Harry went on, taking her hand.

"Oh, rats!" exclaimed the artless girl. "Can't make out what you're
driving at half the time, when you go on like that. Don't believe you
know yourself."

"Don't I? Really now, you know, we're almost--well--privately engaged.
May I kiss you, Alec?"

She blushed crimson, turned her face away, and said, "Please yourself."

Unable to help laughing, he kissed the top of her head, told her to
write to him, and left the house, feeling like an entirely new and
recently-discovered kind of bounder.

He hated the double game. It didn't amuse him a bit. But now he felt he
was free for a month's holiday, during which he had, however, the
unpleasant holiday task of breaking the news to Valentia.

He was driving home, but changed his mind and called out to the cabman
to drive to Valentia's house.

He found her trying on furs--furs in mid-summer!

She greeted the arrival of his exquisite discrimination and taste with
clapped hands, soft, beaming eyes, and her smile--Valentia's smile. Miss
Walmer couldn't smile at all--she didn't know how. She could only
laugh.



CHAPTER XVI

MRS. FOSTER


Daphne had come to say good-bye to Mrs. Foster.

This lady lived in a kind of model cottage in a garden in Ham Common. It
was not at all like the ideal, 'quaint' model cottages that one sees
advertised by well-known firms of furnishers, though it might have been.
Mrs. Foster was rebellious to Waring, and sincerely disliked anything
modern.

The little drawing-room, and indeed every other room in the house, was
principally furnished by photographs and groups of her son Cyril--Cyril
as a very plain boy, in a skirt, with hardly any eyes or hair, and a
pout; Cyril as a 'perfect pet' of a sailor, at six. Then Cyril in
cricketing groups (how he stood out against the other ordinary
boys!)--in Etons (looking neat and supercilious), and then in his
uniform, in which he looked simply lovely.

Daphne had an intense and growing desire to please his mother. In fact,
curiously, she was more anxious to gain her approbation than that of
Cyril himself. To this end she usually remade her hats, when possible,
in the train on her way to Ham Common, and her pocket when she arrived
there was usually filled with artificial flowers, feathers, or other
ornaments that she had taken off her hat, so as to look simple. Also she
turned it down all the way round to make it look as if it were merely a
protection from the sun--not a hat.

To-day she wore a pink-spotted muslin dress and a straw hat, with pink
ribbon. She certainly looked extremely pretty, and not at all what she
had such a dread of before Mrs. Foster, smart. Mrs. Foster had a horror
of smartness in the _jeune fille_.

Daphne delighted her. She was a very sentimental woman, with a strong
theoretical bias for the practical. She was by way of teaching Daphne
housekeeping and how to manage on a small income (of which art she knew
very little herself, but was supposed to know a great deal because she
wore a kind of cap). She had a pretty, delicate, kind face, and was
wearing large wash-leather gloves, in case she should wish to do a
little gardening later on.

Daphne had still much of the child in her, and there was nothing she
enjoyed quite so much as gardening with Mrs. Foster, and occasionally
stopping to eat a gingerbread-nut, and hear something about Cyril and
the brilliant remarks he had made as a child.

Mrs. Foster had a chiffonnier of a kind Daphne had never seen before,
which fascinated her because such queer delightful things came out of it
in the middle of the morning--slices of seed cake, apples, and the
gingerbread-nuts. There were pink shavings in the fireplace, and
wherever there was not a photograph of Cyril there was one of the Prince
Imperial. Evidently he had been the passion of Mrs. Foster's earlier
life. She loved to tell the story of how she had seen him at
Chislehurst, and how she thought he had looked at her.

There were other nice things in the cottage: there were two rather large
vases of pink china on which were reproduced photographs of Cyril's
great-uncle and great-aunt--one in whiskers, the other in parted but
raised hair with an Alexandra curl on the left shoulder. In these vases
folded slips of paper called spills were kept. A modern note was struck
by the presence of a baby Grand--a jolly, clumsy, disproportioned
youthful piano, rather like a colt, on which Daphne played Chopin to
Mrs. Foster, and sometimes The Chocolate Soldier to Cyril; and Mrs.
Foster, at twilight, sometimes played and even sang, "_I cannot sing
the old songs, they are too dear to me,_" which her mother used to sing,
or, coming a little nearer to the present, "_Ask nothing more, nothing
more, all I can give thee, I give,_" a passionate song of the early
eighties.

No one, except Daphne, ever did ask any more.

The whole thing was, to Daphne, a treat. Something in the atmosphere of
Ladysmith Cottage--that was its name--fascinated and amused her.

Mrs. Foster was a widow. Her husband had been a distinguished soldier.
Almost the whole of her extremely small income had been devoted to
Cyril's education, and with the assistance of an uncle who took interest
in him, he had been got into the Guards, where he existed happily with a
comparatively small allowance.

Mrs. Foster had not been at all surprised or annoyed at his wishing to
marry at twenty-two. She thought it extremely natural. It seemed to her
very sensible of Daphne to accept him, and that she was the most
fortunate girl in existence.

"I hope your sister doesn't mind my taking you away from the gay,
fashionable world for a day?" she archly asked.

"Oh no, of course not. We're going in the country next week, so I wanted
to see you."

"Cyril's at Aldershot. I don't think he'll be able to come down this
afternoon. He can't get away this week, I'm afraid."

"I shall see him before I go," said Daphne.

"Do you have a letter from him every day, darling?"

"Oh yes, a few lines."

"He is a noble boy!" said Mrs. Foster enthusiastically. "How he always
hated writing letters! I remember how I guided his little hand to write
his first letter to his uncle, General Rayner. Just as we got to the end
of the letter Cyril suddenly jumped up and threw over the table. The
letter was simply drenched in ink. Dear boy! I've got it still.... Oh,
you must come into the garden, Daphne. I've something new to show you. A
friend of mine has just let her house. She didn't know what to do with
her dovecot--nobody wanted it--so she's given it to me. Come and see the
dear little creatures--they are so pretty."

They went out into the garden and stood looking at a sort of depressed
pigeon-house.

Mrs. Foster made strange noises, which she thought suitable to attract
the inmates, and Daphne saw two doves who struck her as if they had
married in haste and were repenting at leisure.

"Why don't you let them go free?" suggested the girl. "Just think how
happy and delighted they'd be."

"I doubt it. I don't think they'd know what to do with their freedom.
They're not used to my garden yet, that's what's the matter. I do wish
they would coo; perhaps they will a little later on." (This was a
favourite expression of Mrs. Foster's.) "I want to see one perched on
your shoulder, Daphne. It would make such a pretty picture."

"I'd rather give them something to eat," said Daphne.

Mrs. Foster started.

"Oh yes, of course. I fed them all yesterday afternoon, but I forgot
about them this morning. Henry! Henry!"

The smallest boy appeared that had ever been called by that name.

"Henry, feed the doves."

"Yes, ma'am."

"Then bring the watering-can. We're going to water the flowers."

Henry, who seemed of a morose nature, went to obey.

"I'm obliged to have a boy for the knives, and he acts as a gardener
when I'm busy," explained Mrs. Foster. "There isn't much of a kitchen
garden, only a few gooseberries and apples, as you know, dear, but it's
nice to think they grow there, isn't it?"

"Very."

"Of course, I can't make much show with them. Henry always eats them
before they're ripe, which is _rather_ hard. But he's a good, honest
boy. One of his sisters has gone in for making blouses--in the village,
you know. She's a brave girl, and I feel sure will get on."

"She must be! Have you ever ...?"

"Oh _no_. Of course not. _I_ couldn't. When a woman reaches a certain
age, my dear, a certain style is necessary. I don't mean great expense,
but simple little things that would suit you, darling, wouldn't do for
me. Now that little pink thing that you're wearing--I should look
_nothing_ in it, and yet I dare say Henry's sister.... Where did you get
it, dear?"

"Well, it _came_ from Paquin's," said Daphne. "It's not new."

"Oh! Well, we mustn't be always talking of chiffons together, that's
very frivolous. You're fond of poetry, aren't you?"

"Not so very," said Daphne truthfully.

"But you would like to hear mine; I know you would, dear," said Mrs.
Foster, nodding, and patting her hand. "Dear girl, you shall. I've got a
tiny little volume, all in manuscript. It's quite a secret, darling.
Hardly any one--now--knows that I was poetical. But I can tell you
anything--you're so sympathetic. I had at one time a great wish to be a
sort of--not exactly Elizabeth Barrett Browning, or Christina
Rossetti--you know who I mean, don't you?"

"Oh yes."

"But a singer of songs--songs of feeling. Well, let us go into the
garden. I will show it to you later."

They sprinkled a few dead flowers, picked a few weeds, and then Mrs.
Foster became thoughtful, took off her gloves, and went to her room and
remained there for some time. She came down with a manuscript book in
her hand. It had a shiny cover, and in the right-hand corner a piece of
the cover was cut out. On the paper, showing through, was written in
Mrs. Foster's delicate handwriting, "Fireflies of Fancy."

"This," she said, patting it, "is my little book, and after lunch I'll
read you some of the poems, dear Daphne, though I'm not at all sure that
all of them are quite suitable for you to hear."

"Oh, Mrs. Foster!" Daphne found difficulty in believing it.

"You see," continued the delicate-looking old lady, in her sweet,
refined voice, "I was very much under the influence of the Passionate
School--Swinburne, Rossetti, Ella Wheeler Wilcox, and so on--at the time
that I wrote. My husband never wished me to publish them. He didn't like
them--he didn't understand them. I don't mind admitting to you, dear,
that since I lost him I have sent one or two of the less--well--shall we
say strongly coloured?--poems to the magazines at times, of course under
a _nom de plume_. But they were all returned. I think they were
considered too--well, too----However, I've given up the idea of making
a name as a poetess now, and very rarely show them to anybody; _very_
rarely."

Daphne answered, with absolute sincerity, that she was dying to see
them.

After lunch, when they retired to the little drawing-room, Mrs. Foster
sat down with her back to the light, and a slight flush on her cheek,
and took up the book.

Daphne sat in a low little crimson arm-chair exactly opposite her,
clasping her knees, her brown eyes fixed with the greatest interest as
Mrs. Foster turned and turned the pages as if unable to select a
suitable verse.

Then she began to read, in her soft, yet rather high voice, which seemed
suited only to gentle greetings and adieux, or quavering orders to
Henry.

    "NIGHT TIME

    _He glanced as he passed,
    And I hope, and I quiver,
    I howl and I shudder with pains;
    And like a she-tiger
    Or overcharged river,
    My blood rushes on through my veins._"

She stopped suddenly.

"No, no, dear. I won't read this. Wait a minute. I remember now that was
the one that was returned because it was too--er----I'll find you
another one."

"Oh, do finish that one," said Daphne, "please! Isn't the light too much
for your eyes?"

She jumped up quickly and pulled down the blind an inch or two, and then
came back, having controlled herself.

Mrs. Foster looked at her rather sharply, and took no notice of what she
supposed was emotion.

"Ah, here is something more suited to you, darling."

    SPRING

    A QUESTION, AND AN ANSWER

    _Will all the year be summer-time,
    And each night have a moon?
    Ah no, the Spring will quickly go,
    And winter cometh soon._

    _And will your clasp warm mine like wine?
    And will you love me true?
    Ah no, the autumn leaves arrive,
    And we must bid adieu._

"That's a rather pretty thing, in its way, isn't it?" she said.

"Very."

"Here's one more.

    A REMEMBRANCE

    _Seems it well to see
    A wild honey bee
    Gold in the sun,
    Ere day is done,
    Sitting on a rose,
    As the summer time grows._

    _Ah, the bold, brave days,
    Ere the glass of Time
    'Neath the sun's rays,
    Like a flame of fire,--
    And the_ ..."

She stopped again.

"No, I don't think this is quite----"

"Do, do go on!"

Mrs. Foster looked at her.

"You have a great deal of sensibility, Daphne. I believe you have tears
in your eyes."

"No, I haven't really." She turned away her head, nearly choking.

A loud knock was heard at the front door.

Mrs. Foster looked out of the window.

"It's Cyril!" she exclaimed. "He's got away after all. Quick! Quick!"
She threw the book under a cushion and sat on it. With trembling
fingers she took up some needlework out of a basket.

"Not a word--not a word! Go and meet him in the hall, dear. He's come to
give us a surprise. I'll wait."

Blushing and laughing Daphne ran downstairs.



CHAPTER XVII

ENGAGED


Daphne and Cyril sat in the garden together. The conditions seemed
ideal. It was a lovely afternoon; the sun was hot, but a gay
irresponsible little west wind stirred the trees; bees hummed
industriously, butterflies darted casually about among the few flowers,
and even the reticent doves cooed from time to time, condescendingly.
Peeping through the blind Mrs. Foster thought the two young people made
a perfect picture, and was reminded of the Golden Age. Indeed, they had
very much the charming, almost improbable air of the figures in a Summer
Number of an illustrated paper. Perhaps the conditions were too perfect:
the lovers had, of course, nothing to sit on but a rustic seat--Mrs.
Foster would have thought it a crime to have anything else in a garden,
and rustic seats are, no doubt, picturesque, but they are very
uncomfortable; they seem to consist of nothing but points and knobs,
gnarls and corners.

When Daphne was alone with Cyril like this she felt contented and
peaceful at first, and then she began to wonder why she wasn't happier
still--why she didn't feel ecstatic. She was proud of Cyril; he looked
very handsome in flannels, his regular features, smooth fair hair, small
head and small feet all added to his resemblance to the hero in the
holiday number.

Cyril said--

"Dear little girl!" and took her hand.

She laughed and answered--

"Dear old boy!"

Then he said--

"By Jove! you do look ripping, Daphne."

She smiled.

"Jolly being here like this, isn't it?" said Cyril.

"Isn't it?" she answered.

"Jolly day, too."

"Yes."

"Wasn't it lucky I was able to get away?"

"Rather."

"It was a fearful rush."

"It must have been."

"Jove, it is hot!"

There was a pause.

"Darling!"

"Dear boy!"

"May I smoke a cigarette, dear?"

"Yes, do."

He lit a cigarette, and then put his arm round her waist.

"Don't, Cyril."

"Why not?" he asked, removing it.

"Oh, I don't know. Henry or some one might see."

"What's Henry?"

"A sort of gardener boy--the boy whose sort of sister makes kind of
blouses in the village."

"Oh, does he matter?"

Cyril was wondering if he could ask for a drink.

When they were left entirely alone, on purpose to be free, he always
felt rather shy and awkward, and intensely thirsty.

Daphne began to think about what time it was, and about her train
back--subjects that never occurred to her when she was alone with Mrs.
Foster.

"I'm afraid I shall soon have to be going," she said.

"Oh, I say! What, the moment I've arrived?"

He tried not to feel a little relieved. He wondered why he hadn't more
to say to her. He had been desperate to get consent to their engagement,
and was always extremely anxious and counting the minutes till they met,
and when they were together, alone after much elaborate scheming, he
felt a little embarrassed, and, like his fiancée, was surprised he
wasn't happier.

"I say, Daphne!"

"Yes, dear."

"You do look sweet."

"Do you really think so?"

"Simply ripping! I say!"

"Yes."

"Won't it be jolly when we're married?"

"Yes; lovely."

"It will be all the time just like this, you see--only nicer ... I say!
Isn't it hot?"

They sat holding hands, he looking at her admiringly, she feeling mildly
pleased that such a dear, handsome boy should be so fond of her. In the
minds of both was another sensation, which they did not recognise, or,
at all events, would not admit to themselves. They both, especially
Cyril, counted the minutes to these _tête-à-têtes_, and immediately
afterwards looked back on them with regret, feeling they had missed
something. They wrote to each other frequent, short, but intensely
affectionate letters about the happiness these interviews had given
them. Yet, while they actually lasted, both Cyril and Daphne, had they
only known it, were really rather bored. The next day, or the same
evening, Cyril would write to her:--

"My own Darling,--How jolly it was having you a little to myself
to-day! And to think that you really care for me!" and so on.

And she would enjoy writing back:--

"Dearest,--Didn't we have a heavenly time in the garden yesterday?" and
so forth.

       *     *     *     *     *

As a matter of fact, they had not had a heavenly time at all; when he
kissed her, which he sometimes did, she did not really like it, though
she knew she ought, and it gave her a sort of mental gratification to
think that he _had_ given this manifestation of love, as she knew it was
considered the right thing.

He did not really regard her as a woman at all, but more as a lovely
doll, or sweet companion, and it pleased his vanity immensely to think
he should be allowed this privilege, which at the same time seemed to
him a little unnecessary, and even derogatory to her, though he enjoyed
it very much too, in a somewhat uncomfortable way.

The fact that their engagement was so indefinite, that they had hardly
any hope of being married for at least two years, perhaps added a little
to the _gêne_ of these meetings. The instant they were separated he
began to long to see her alone again. Daphne felt sure she must be
really in love because she took comparatively little interest in
anything that was not more or less connected with the idea of Cyril.
Perhaps she enjoyed the things she associated with him more than his
actual presence. Talking about him to Valentia, or hearing about him
from his mother, seemed more amusing and exciting than sitting with him
alone and holding his hand. She would have liked best never to see him
except in evening dress at a party, only to hear about him or think
about him all day.

Cyril was sure that his feeling was real love, because he did not care
two straws how hard up they should be when they were married, and
because if he heard any one sing a sentimental song, however badly, he
immediately thought of her with the greatest tenderness. He believed he
missed her every moment of the day, and he took great trouble to see
her, especially when there was a chance of their being alone. But, as a
matter of fact, he was rather glad when Mrs. Foster came out into the
garden; and when he had seen Daphne off at the station, although it was
a pang to see her go away without him, it was perhaps also a slight
relief.

When Val came to meet her at the station, full of news about the
extraordinary number of exciting things that had happened in the day,
and they dashed back to dress for a dinner Harry was giving before going
to a dance, Daphne felt a tinge of sentiment and regret for the idyllic
happiness in the garden, and began to count the hours until they should
meet alone again. The glamour always returned an hour or so after they
had been separated.



CHAPTER XVIII

AT THE CARLTON


With characteristic amiability, combined with that courage which had
caused impatient people, who snubbed her in vain, to say she had the
hide of a rhinoceros, Miss Luscombe had accepted the blow of Rathbone's
proposal--the proposal which she had taken for an offer of marriage, but
which was really an offer to go on the stage. She set to work at once
making little efforts (most of which she knew to be futile) to arrange
the matter. After all, if she should succeed in getting him some sort of
a part, mightn't he, out of gratitude?... And she saw visions. Again, he
had evidently got it very badly, this mania for acting and dressing up,
and he had really quite enough money, if he chose to devote it to this
object only; why shouldn't he take a theatre--make himself the manager
and _jeune premier_, or, for the matter of that, _vieux dernier_--it
really didn't matter--and let her be the leading lady? That was if he
failed in every other scheme. She wrote letters to various people whom
she knew on the stage, mentioning Rathbone's enormous willingness to
take _anything_, his gentlemanly appearance, and, she felt sure, really
_some_ talent, though no experience. Most people took no notice, but
after a while she received an offer for him to play one of the gentlemen
in the chorus of _Our Miss Gibbs_ in a second-rate little touring
company of the smaller northern provincial towns.

It was an excuse for an interview, certainly; but this for a man who
wished to play Romeo! And if, in his enthusiasm, he should actually
accept it, it would take him away from her. However, hearing that she
had some news for him, he, in his delighted gratitude, asked her to tea
at the Carlton.

       *     *     *     *     *

They were seated in the Palm Court eating their tea-cakes and sandwiches
to the sound of "The Teddy Bear's Picnic," which made one feel cheerful
and reckless, followed by "Simple Aveu," a thin, sentimental solo on the
violin that made one feel resigned and melancholy. It was played by a
man with a three-cornered face and a very bald head, who gazed at the
ceiling as if in a kind of swoon--a swoon that might have been induced
either by tender ecstasy or acute boredom.

All around them were noisy Americans, neatly dressed, and a good many
prim, self-conscious ladies on the stage who had come on from their
_matinées_ and were accompanied mostly either by very young and rather
chinless adorers, or by fat, fatuous men with dark moustaches, hair
inclined to curl, and clothes a shade too gorgeous.

Here and there a simple, provincial-looking family were to be seen who
had come up for a few days and had been to an afternoon performance, and
were talking with great animation of the rights and wrongs of the hero
and heroine of the play. It was characteristic of the provincials that
they were really excited about the play itself, hardly knowing who were
performing, while the suburbanites took interest only in the actors, all
of whom they knew well by name and reputation, even their private
life--at least, as much of it as got into the _Prattler_, _The Perfect
Lady_, and _Home Chirps_.

On the whole it was a very characteristic London crowd, in that it
consisted almost entirely of desirable aliens. Here and there, indeed,
one saw a thin, slim, pretty woman with a happy but bothered-looking
young man, both obviously English, who talked in low tones, and were
evidently at some stage or other of a rose-coloured romance; but they
were the exception.

Amidst this noisy and confused clientèle, with its showy clothes and
obvious feminine charms, Miss Luscombe looked a strange, stray, untidy
hothouse plant. She was odd and artificial, and dressed like nothing on
earth, in pale and faded colours; but she was not vulgar. She was rather
queer and delicate, and intensely amiable. Her self-consciousness made
no claim on one; she was not exacting--always pleased and good-tempered.
Rathbone recognised these qualities in her, and liked her better to-day,
amidst the scent of the tea-cakes and cigarettes and the whine of the
violin, than he had ever liked her before.

Pink, fair, calm, clean, and really hardly anything else, except
extremely correct, and always good form, without being too noticeably
so, no one would have dreamed that this quiet young man, who looked like
a shy subaltern, was simply dying to disport himself on the stage, and
that it was the dream of his life to make an utter ass of himself as
Hamlet, or a hopeless fool of himself as (say) the hero in _Still Waters
Run Deep_--a play he had seen as a boy and had always longed to act in.

She had broken the news to him.

"Miss Luscombe, do you mean to say that is the very best you can do for
me?"

She explained the difficulties.

He was only one of so many! Unless the name was known it was
frightfully difficult--even for geniuses--to get on. Of course, he might
try, and go and see the various managers himself, but, frankly, probably
nothing would come of it.

He was deeply depressed. What should she suggest?

"Might I ask if you care very, very much?" she asked.

"You might. I do." Yes. His heart was set on it.

Was it really? Well, if he simply hadn't the strength to go on living
another day without going on the stage, the only thing, clearly, was
just to hire a theatre and _go_ on! A _matinée_, perhaps. Why not Romeo?

"And why not Juliet?" said he, rather rashly.

"Oh, that would be lovely!"

Her attention wandered at this moment. A very pretty, fair woman was
rising from behind a palm where she had been seated with her back to the
room. She went out rather quickly, followed by a good-looking young man
with a single eye-glass.

"They have been trying to hide!" she exclaimed. "What a joke! It's that
sweet Valentia Wyburn and Harry de Freyne. They must have been here when
we arrived, for we should have seen them come in. I wonder what they
came for?"

"To have tea, perhaps?" suggested Rathbone, after deep thought,
shrewdly.

"Yes, yes, I know. But why hide like that?"

"Perhaps they didn't want to be seen," said Rathbone brilliantly.

"Yes, of course, but why not? I hope it doesn't show...."

"Well, it shows there's nothing in it, or they wouldn't come here."

"Does it?" said Miss Luscombe, rather disappointed.

"Well, where's the harm in being here? Ain't we here?"

"Oh yes, of course; but that's different. They're cousins, too, of
course; I had forgotten."

"I don't see why you should worry if Romer doesn't," said Rathbone.

Before they left Rathbone had very nearly promised to see about engaging
a theatre, and either for a charity or as an invitation _matinée_, rope,
as he expressed it, all his friends in, lock the door, and force them to
see him play Romeo to Miss Luscombe's Juliet.

Flora was deliriously happy at the idea, but had too much experience to
rely on it, and was quite prepared to be thrown over for another more
professional actress, and asked to play one of the ladies at the ball in
the first act instead, probably in a mask. She went home and read over
her one good notice--a great treasure--that had appeared in an evening
paper, and had spoken of her as "_a young actress with a bright and
winsome personality_." That was in a very small part, ten years ago.
Would she ever get another real chance?



CHAPTER XIX

AT MISS WESTBURY'S


Mrs. Wyburn found Miss Westbury being sensible and decided and holding
forth about things in general to one or two friends over the tea-cups.
Something in the way the old lady sat down and unfastened her mantle, so
as to be sure to feel the benefit of it when she went out again, made
the other women present feel that they were not wanted, and Miss
Westbury did not attempt to detain them. For (though she would not have
put it like that) she knew that she would get more fun out of her
friend's _méchanceté_ if they were alone. Scandal, gossip made tedious
by morality, is only really enjoyable _en tête-à-tête_.

"I do so hope, Isabella, that you haven't had any more annoyance about
the silly things that are being said about your pretty daughter-in-law,"
remarked Miss Westbury, leaning back with the comfortable amiability of
a fat woman who expects to be amused.

Mrs. Wyburn looked round the room.

"Curious you never have your ceiling painted," she said. "I've often
wondered why it is. It looks--you'll forgive me for saying so, Millie,
won't you?--as if you left it in its present state from motives of, may
I say, economy? But, of course, I know it isn't that--I always say, it's
simply that you haven't noticed it. Thanks, no--no tea."

Miss Westbury's serenity was slightly disturbed, as her friend intended.

"I certainly don't spend my whole time lying on my back looking at the
ceiling," she answered rather brusquely. "I have far too much to do."

"I never suggested that you should," quickly replied Mrs. Wyburn. "Such
a thing never occurred to me for a single moment. And please don't think
I wish to interfere, or to make remarks about anything that doesn't
concern me. It merely struck me that if, at any time, you thought by
some curious chance of having the house done up, it might be a pity to
leave out the ceiling. But that was all. I do assure you, Millie, I
never dreamt of hurting your feelings."

Miss Westbury laughed with a rather cackling sound--a sound Mrs. Wyburn
recognised with satisfaction. It showed just the degree of slight
annoyance she loved to cause in any one to whom she was speaking. Miss
Westbury, however, waived the question and became hospitable.

"Do let me persuade you to have a toasted bun. Our baker makes them in a
special way on purpose for me. There's nothing in the world more
sensible with one's tea than a small toasted currant bun. I was speaking
to Dr. Gribling about it only the other day, oddly enough, and he quite
agreed with me."

"Why _only the other day_? and why _oddly enough_, Millie?--I dare say
you speak to him constantly about it and about other equally urgent
matters." She spoke with what she meant to be a slight sneer, in reply
to which Miss Westbury behaved in a manner that is sometimes described
as bridling up. She gave a movement meant to be a toss of the head and
placed her lips firmly together.

"I like Dr. Gribling, Isabella, because he's a thoroughly sensible
man--a man you can say anything to."

Mrs. Wyburn thought that Miss Westbury would say anything to any one,
and she shrewdly suspected that Millie was probably the one gleam of
amusement in poor old Dr. Gribling's dreary round. However, she waved
the eminent physician aside and said--

"About Valentia. She and Romer have gone down to the country, you know."

"Oh, indeed! Quite early to go. Very nice. Have they a large party
there, do you know? The Green Gate is such a charming place--so
picturesque."

"Have you ever seen it?" Mrs. Wyburn asked.

"Only in the _Daily Mail_--I mean accounts of week-ends there, and that
sort of thing. But I believe it's quite charming. It seems almost a pity
though, doesn't it, at the end of the season to begin the same
frivolities and gaieties all over again. I wonder they don't take a
little rest."

"I believe they are resting. Valentia wrote to me that no one was
staying there at all, except, of course, Daphne."

"And Harry de Freyne?"

"Yes, and Mr. de Freyne."

"Strange," said Miss Westbury comfortably. "Curious that extraordinary
infatuation of your--son for this young man. But he's a very charming
man, isn't he? Most agreeable?"

"He's not absolutely unpleasant."

"I suppose he brightens them up--amuses them? Probably he has very high
spirits. Perhaps he has the _jar de veev_." Miss Westbury had a private
pronunciation of foreign expressions all her own. "It is unfortunate,
but do you know one often sees that in unprincipled people, Isabella."

"He knows that he's not quite a gentleman, and is trying to laugh it
off," said Mrs. Wyburn.

"Does he really? Dear, dear--what a sad thing!--and yet he certainly
_ought_ to be a gentleman, you know. On his mother's side he is
connected with the----"

"That's not the point," snapped Mrs. Wyburn. "And of course I don't mean
to say that--outwardly--he's not. His manner and appearance are
distinguished. It's the soul that's vulgar."

"Ah, I see! You mean you're afraid he isn't one of _nature's_
gentlemen?"

"Nature? How do you mean? He has nothing to do with nature. He's a man
about town."

"Oh, I beg your pardon--I understood he was an artist. And sometimes,
you know, artists are extremely fond of nature; in fact, far _too_
fond."

"I believe all that painting is only done to throw dust in people's
eyes--an excuse for idleness. Candidly, I don't like studios; I don't
think they're respectable."

"I know what you mean; but still, after all"--Miss Westbury made a
feeble attempt at a good-natured defence--"after all, if they all like
it--I mean to say, if they're all so happy, why should we----"

"I doubt if my son is happy."

"Oh, really, really? Do you think he's _ever noticed anything?_ Isn't he
devoted to Harry de Freyne?"

"Of course he hates him like poison," replied the mother.

Miss Westbury started in delighted horror, and replied sharply, "How do
you know that? Did he tell you?"

"Tell me! He would never tell me. Besides, he couldn't tell me--he
doesn't know it."

"And how do you know it?"

"Mothers know everything," she replied.

After a minute's pause, Miss Westbury said--

"But if you feel sure that Romer isn't happy, and that he, almost
unconsciously perhaps, doesn't really like this young man being always
about, mightn't it some day end in some trouble--some explosion?"

"It's quite possible."

"Then I wonder what Romer would do?"

"I know what he would do."

"Good heavens, Isabella, you don't mean to say that he would ever bring
a----"

"It's really strange," said Mrs. Wyburn, "that at your age you should
still be so silly. Will you never learn to understand anything at all?
Of course not. He would protect her."

"Can't something be done? Why don't you speak to Valentia?"

"The advice of a relative-in-law in a case of this kind has never yet
been known to be of any real use, Millie. I can only hope the whole
thing may gradually wear itself out."

"May it be so, my dear!" echoed Miss Westbury, unctuously.

Mrs. Wyburn got up to go.

Miss Westbury helped her to fasten her mantle.

"I'm so glad you loosened it, or else you might not feel the benefit of
it when you go out, Isabella," she observed, for she was not one to miss
an opportunity of making a remark of this kind. "And _do_ look on the
bright side. I always say that things of this sort may not be true, and
even if they are, everything may be for the best in the end."

Mrs. Wyburn liked to excite Millie's interest, and yet somehow loathed
her sympathy.

"Yes; do you know, I really _should_ have the ceiling painted, if I were
you," she said, as if it were a new idea. "Otherwise your house is
looking so nice--quite charming. I think it such an excellent plan not
to have flowers in the windows, only ever-greens."

"So glad you think so. It _is_ rather a good arrangement, because, you
see, they always look exactly the same all the year round."

"That they certainly do--and nevergreens would be a better name for
them," spitefully said Mrs. Wyburn to herself as she drove off.

"What a tiresome mood Isabella was in to-day," said Miss Westbury to
herself. "I must go and see Jane Totness and tell her what she said....
Ceiling, indeed! She _was_ nasty!"



CHAPTER XX

A PROPOSAL


Miss Luscombe was looking out of the window, looking up to the street,
waiting. At last she saw from her basement (the "tank," as her friends
called it) a glimpse on the pavement of a pair of feet that she knew.
They were the feet of Mr. John Ryland Rathbone. She hastened to prepare
herself for his visit.

It is obvious that people who live in a basement must look at life from
a different point of view from all others. The proudest of women in that
position must necessarily see it _de bas en haut_. The woman looking out
of the drawing-room or higher for the person she is expecting to see
gets more or less of a bird's-eye view. She sees the top of a hat first,
and the person necessarily foreshortened. From the dining-room or
ground-floor window she sees the approaching visitor through glass, but
practically on a level, almost face to face, and therefore is incapable
of judging him on the whole or of taking a very large view, since any
object placed close to the eye deprives one of a sense of
proportion--shuts out everything else. But from a basement window things
are very different. It is wonderful how much character one learns to see
in feet, and it is still more curious how, to the accustomed eye, their
expression can vary from time to time. Flora saw at a glance by the
obstinate stamp, the bad-tempered look of his boots, by the nervous
impatience of his stride, that Mr. Rathbone was coming to see her in a
state of agitation. One would hardly have believed that, without having
seen his face at all, she would be so prepared for his behaviour when he
arrived as to greet him anxiously from the door, even before he came in,
with "Good heavens, what _is_ the matter?"

"How do you know anything is the matter?"

"I guessed. I saw your steps."

"Everything is going wrong about the play. The expenses get larger every
day. To sell even _one_ ticket for a charity, they tell me, is simply
out of the question! I must invite everybody, and even then most of them
won't come. Just think, my dear Miss Luscombe, all this trouble, worry,
and expense for amateurs to play _Romeo and Juliet_ at an invitation
performance to an absolutely empty house!"

"Why do you think it will be empty?... Your friends?"

"My friends? You're my only friend! Every chap at the Club I have spoken
to about it said they would be out of town that day. One or two said
they would come on afterwards and join me at supper. Supper! I said it
was a _matinée_; so then they suggested I should give a dinner
afterwards. And even women, they're quite as bad. I mentioned it to Lady
Walmer. She is always so keen on going everywhere, and makes a hobby of
odd charities and things. She said she was going yachting that day, and
also that she was going to a wedding."

"What does it matter just about Lady Walmer?"

"Nothing, but it's an indication. Do we want to have no one in a theatre
but the dressmakers who made the costumes? Miss Luscombe--Flora! I am
beginning to think we'd better chuck it."

"Oh, Mr. Rathbone! The waste and the disappointment!"

"It would be a greater waste to make an utter fool of oneself in an
empty house than to postpone it. I'm nervous. I'm really frightened. I'm
beginning to see that I've been a fool. As to disappointment, _that_,
Flora, you could console me for if you chose."

"Oh, Mr. Rathbone!"

"You really have been so sweet, so patient, it's my opinion that you are
an angel!"

"Oh, indeed I'm not!"

"Well, you have the patience of one. You never think about yourself.
You're all kindness and sweetness and thought for other people. To speak
perfectly frankly, you have only one tiny fault, Flora. And that is,
that you seem a _little_ artificial. But it's my opinion that such
affectations as you have are natural to you and you can't help them, and
you would be an ideal wife."

Flora was actually silent with gratification. She did not even laugh.

"Look here, Flora, we'd better chuck the performance altogether. Let's
give it up, and have a show instead at St. George's, Hanover Square."

"Are you making fun of me?" she asked, in a trembling voice, "because
that would not be right. It wouldn't be nice of you--in fact, it would
be rather cruel."

"You don't mean to say you care for me the least little bit?" He took
both her hands and stared hard at her face. "Is there something real
about you then?" he continued.

Tears came to her eyes. She turned her head away.

"This seems too good to be true," she murmured.

"Let's be married," he cried, "on the day we were going to have the
show. Let's go to Oberammergau for our honeymoon, and don't let us ever
go near the theatre again. Will you, dear? Or am I dreaming?"

"Of course. I always have," she answered ingenuously; "but I hadn't a
scrap of hope, and I didn't know how much I cared for you."

"Dear Flora, I shall give up the stage and devote all my time to you."

"So will I," she said. "I shall never want to act again."

"Nor I, never--never!"

"I shall rush home and countermand everything," he cried.

"Oh, go not yet; it is not yet near day," she quoted in the tender voice
she used for recitation.

He burst into peals of laughter, and put his arms round her and kissed
her impetuously.

"Oh, Flora, what a fool I have been all this time! And you knew it--you
knew it perfectly well. I thought when we were rehearsing that once you
said the words, 'O Romeo, wherefore art _thou_ Romeo?' with rather
marked emphasis on the 'thou'...."

"Do you know that I never cared for any one but you in my life, Flora?"

"Oh, oh! Why is 'C. L.' tattooed on your wrist?"

"I'll have it taken out. I'll have Flora put on instead. I'll have
anything you like tattooed in your honour--a hunting scene, a snap-shot
of the Coronation--anything you like."

"No, please not. I don't like it; I can't bear it. It's the only thing I
ever haven't liked about you. But we'll forget it now, won't we?" she
said.

"And I'll forget the stage. Oh, Flora, how I have worried you! Forgive
me. We won't think of anything but each other now."

They repeated this sentiment again and again in these and other words
for about an hour and a half, and forgot to turn up lights and ring the
bell.

       *     *     *     *     *

The first real love scene Flora had ever acted in was a triumphant
success.



CHAPTER XXI

HEREFORD VAUGHAN


To have eleven plays, all written out of one's own head, and all being
performed simultaneously in American, in Eskimo, and even in Turkish,
besides in every known European language; to have money rolling in, and
the strange world of agents and managers pursuing you by every post and
imploring for more contracts by every Marconigram; and these triumphs to
have come quite suddenly, was really enough to have turned the head of
any young man; yet Hereford Vaughan's (known by his very few intimate
friends as Gillie) had remained remarkably calm. He was not even
embittered by success.

To know his jokes were being got over the footlights of so many lands
was a curious sensation, and it often made him laugh suddenly to reflect
how wicked certain quips must sound in, say, Japanese. Perhaps his
friends were rather inclined to resent the way he retained his balance
after what was really an almost unheard-of hit. They would have been
readier to pardon it had he shown some sign of boring fatuity; or
perhaps they thought he might at least have had a temporary nervous
breakdown; taking the form (for choice) of losing all sense of the value
of money and wildly throwing bank-notes and gold at every one he saw.
But he remained quiet, reserved, and as apparently modest as ever.

Modesty is a valuable merit (as I think Schopenhauer has discovered) in
people who have no other, and the appearance of it is extremely useful
to those who have, but I am not suggesting that Vaughan was not human,
and there was, no doubt, many a moment when he smiled to himself, and
felt that he was a great man.

He was rather secretive and mysterious than blatant or dashing, and
this, of course, made him, on the whole, more interesting to women. The
fact that he had made a fortune and lived alone in a charming house with
nothing but housekeepers, secretaries, telephones, typewriters, and
cooks, of course made all the women of his acquaintance who had the
match-making instinct (and what woman has not?) desire to see him
married. As he showed no sign of doing so, they tried to console
themselves by pretending that he had some secret romance. Old ladies
hoped he had a broken heart for some fiancée who was lying under the
daisies, having died of decline in the classical middle-Victorian way.
Young ladies thought that he was probably fixed up in some way that
would be sure in time to dissolve, and that he would marry later on. Far
the most popular theory was that he didn't marry simply because he _was_
married, privately; and that he had, no doubt, hurriedly espoused,
before he was of age (and before the Registrar), some barmaid or
chorus-girl, or other dreadful person, who had turned out far too
respectable to divorce, and that he was thus a young man marred. They
had no grounds for the rumour except that clever and promising young men
often did these things, and he had always been a particularly promising
young man, and in this unfortunate case had probably kept his promise.

Vaughan was sitting one morning reading his notices (never believe the
greatest men when they tell you that they don't do that!), when Muir
Howard came cheerily, almost boisterously, into the room. He was an old
school friend who had been devoted to Gillie long before his arrival,
and of whose faults, virtues, cheeriness, and admiration Vaughan had
made a confirmed habit.

Muir was a very good-looking barrister, with vague parliamentary
ambitions and a definite love of machinery. He always had pink cheeks,
and wore a pink carnation, and looked as flourishing, gay, and yet,
somehow, battered, as Vaughan looked pale, fresh, and sardonic. One of
the things that surprised the general public was that Vaughan could not
live without the continuous society of a person who certainly could not
understand a word he wrote or much that he said. They didn't realise
that Vaughan was so accustomed to not listening to Muir's long
confidences, to disputing every proposition he made, and contradicting
every word he said, that he always felt lost when his friend was away.
Muir regarded him as a combination of hero, genius, pet, and child, and
was always giving him advice and imploring him not to do too much. To
Vaughan he was, as I have said, a habit, and there is always something
agreeable in a habit of which one is a little tired.

He had arrived this morning on his bicycle, and came in bringing a whiff
of heartiness, self-complacency, and fresh air, saying, "Hallo! hallo!
hallo! Priceless to find you in, Gillie!" All he got for it was that
Vaughan looked up and said--

"You used to be only breezy. Now you're becoming a thorough draught.
Fold up and keep quiet, can't you?"

"Nervous, I suppose," said Muir, in a sympathetic voice. "I wonder you
don't take that stuff that you see in the papers about what is good
for----"

"Sudden pains in the back on washing-day, bending over the tub, and so
forth? The portraits of the people before taking the remedy and after
decided me. It seems, by the pictures, to make your hair grow long and
give you whiskers and a ghastly squint. Ruins your clothes, too. Your
collars get the wrong shape."

"Oh well, leave it alone, then. Perhaps you're right.... You haven't
asked me about the Walmers' dance. I took Miss de Freyne to supper. The
American chap never turned up, and I was getting on with her simply
rippingly, when _what_ do you think she said? Confided in me that she
was privately engaged to and frightfully keen on that boy you met at
Harry's. The baby Guardsman. Isn't it sickening?"

"What did Miss Walmer do?" asked Vaughan.

"She sort of hung about, waiting for Harry, who seemed to be getting on
all right with the two strings to his bow, or two stools, or two bundles
of hay, or whatever it is. What luck some people have!"

"Not in this case. He'll lose them both."

"Really? Why?"

"He's not a diplomatist, and he wants such a lot for himself. He wants
too much. No self-restraint."

"Pretty useless for Mrs. Wyburn. I like her. She looked topping last
night, too. But I dare say it'll be all right. Romer's a good chap.
Awfully dull."

"Most interesting. Are you going to stay here much longer, Muir?"

"Why? Yes."

Vaughan got up.

"All right. Do. I'm going out."

"Where?"

Vaughan did not answer, but gave the heap of notices to his friend, and
said--

"Just divide the sheep and goats for me, will you? That's just what they
are, the critics--either sheep or goats."

"Of course I will. But, I say--I came here to have a talk."

"I know you did. You have talked."

He went out. Muir smiled to himself, enjoying this treatment as an
eccentricity of genius.

Five minutes later Gillie came back.



CHAPTER XXII

GILLIE INTERFERES


He was not much surprised to find Muir proudly examining the invitation
cards on the mantelpiece. Muir started and turned round as he came in.

"Back again? Capital!"

"Well, of all the snobs!" said Vaughan.

"Hang it, Gillie, it's only for you. I'm pleased you're getting on,
that's all."

"No words can tell you how I despise your point of view. Just tell me
something I want to know. Wasn't there a sort of little scene at this
dance last night?"

"I didn't see anything," he answered.

"You never do."

"Oh, I remember now, I heard something. It appears that Romer left his
wife and Daphne at the dance and then came back in an hour to fetch
them, and she wasn't there."

"Who wasn't where?"

"Val and Harry had gone for a little fresh air in a taxi for about a
quarter of an hour, that's all. They came back and explained it."

"They would. Don't apologise."

"But just the few minutes that Romer was looking for them made--well,
rather a fuss. It was perfectly all right afterwards. They all had
supper together. So there wasn't much talk about it, except, as I say,
while Romer was waiting for them. I never in my life saw any one look so
ghastly as that chap did."

Vaughan sat down and looked thoughtful.

"Only you, Muir, would leave out the only thing of the slightest
importance that you had to tell me, which I hear the second I leave the
house from that round-faced tattooed idiot, Rathbone, at the corner of
the street."

"But I tell you it's all right, old chap."

"All right? Don't you see that this sort of thing constantly happening
will gradually undermine ...? I like Valentia. It's a great shame."

"Harry certainly isn't worth smashing up a happy home for," Muir
answered, "if that's what you're afraid of. But ... when he marries Miss
Walmer it'll be all right. Val will forget about him, and settle down
with Romer again. I'm deeper than you think, Gillie ... ah, I don't say
much, but I can see as far through a brick wall as most people!"

"Just about as far, I should think," said Vaughan contemptuously.

"What do you propose to do about it?"

"It's likely I'd tell you." Gillie sat down to his desk and rang a bell.

"I suppose I've got to go now, eh?"

"Almost time, I should think."

"Ha, ha, ha! Capital! Well, so long! Be good."

Muir went away as heartily as he had arrived.

The bell was answered by the entrance of the housekeeper, Mrs. Mills.
She was a muddle-headed, elderly woman in black silk, whom Vaughan kept
because her extraordinary tactlessness amused him. She invariably
managed to do and say the wrong thing at the right time. To-day it was a
hot morning in July. She came in holding in her hand a little card
covered with frost and robins.

"Mr. Vaughan, sir, I appened to be going through my things, and I come
across this, sir. I thought pre-aps you'd like it. It is pretty."

She insisted on his taking it.

"Charming, Mrs. Mills, but I don't quite see----"

"Oh, look at the words, sir! They're what I call so appropriate! Do read
them."

He read the beautiful words--

     _Wishing you a blithe and gladsome Yule._

"What on earth----?"

"Well, sir, I only thought they was pretty, and pre-aps you'd like to
keep it, sir, or send it to one of your young ladies; but I'll take it
away if you don't like it." She put it back in her pocket.

"Frankly, I don't. What a genius you have for the wrong thing! Are you
going to give me plum pudding and turkey on Midsummer Day?"

"I shouldn't dream of such a thing, sir."

Gillie had scribbled a letter.

"Go and ring up a messenger boy, will you?"

"May I send Johnson, sir? I don't old with telephones. They buzz at you
or makes you jump. And the young person keeps on saying ave you got
them? before you've ad time to breathe, in a manner of speaking."

She took the note. Vaughan sat down on a sofa to wait for the answer,
glanced at the clock, and said, "Confound Muir! He's made me waste
another morning."

When the answer came, Gillie went out and strolled towards Mount Street.

He found Valentia at home, evidently flattered and fluttered at seeing
him.

"How sweet of you to come!" she said.

"You'll stay to lunch, of course?"

"I'm afraid I can't."

"Oh! lunching with a leading lady, I suppose?"

"No."

"With whom?"

"With Romeike and Curtice."

"Not really? What fun! What are they like?"

"Oh, Romeike is all right. I don't care so much about Curtice."

She gave him a cigarette.

"I never in my life," said Vaughan, "before to-day, attempted to
interfere in anybody else's affairs."

She stared at him.

"But in this case it--may I really smoke?--does seem such a pity! Of
course you know what I mean, don't you?"

"Do I?"

"You see, I feel so certain that if you were, let's say--married to
_Harry_ and met Romer after, you'd be so wildly in love with Romer."

"So I was," she said in a low voice. "Tremendously! I thought he was a
strong silent man with a great deal in him.... Oh! I've told you."

"Yes, but so he is. It's commonplace of you, really, Val, not to see
it."

"I'm awfully sorry.... I do love Romer, and I think I appreciate him.
But somehow it's a little dull. It's not exciting as I thought it would
be."

"Well! if you _must_ have fun, and amusement, and make a hero of
somebody, why just Harry? Why not a superior man? Me, for instance?"

He was laughing.

"I've been told that an adoration for you would be hopeless, utterly
hopeless." She smiled. "And we're friends. I can't imagine----"

"Nor I. Of course I know it's utterly absurd to come and give people
advice on these subjects, and one can't dispute about tastes and all
that. But my practical mind revolts to see any one so delightful as you
throwing away the substance for the shadow. You see, I'm a mass of
platitudes."

"Shadows are very attractive sometimes."

"But they go away too. And then where are you?"

She was silent.

"They do, really. I know what I'm talking about." He stood up. "Think
over what I've said."

"You're kind, but you're rather depressing, Gillie," said Val. She
looked a little frightened, but very pretty.

"When do you go back to the country?"

"Oh, to-day. We're there now. We only came up for the dance. We're
motoring down to the Green Gate.... All of us."

"Oh yes.... I'm afraid you must think me very impertinent."

"Indeed I don't."

"And when I've gone you will give orders that you're never at home to me
again. But, somehow, I couldn't help it. If it makes you hate me to
remember what I've said, forget it."

She laughed as he rose to go.

"That's all right, Gillie; but what I want to know is, where you're
really going."

"I'll tell you, exactly. I'm going home to lunch, because I've an urgent
appointment immediately afterwards."

"More plays, I suppose? What sort this time?"

"A light comedy, with a very slight love interest," he answered, "all
dialogue, no action.... At least, so far."

"Oh, then it isn't finished yet?"

"Not quite. Good-bye. And if you ever want a change, remember--a
_superior_ man!"

They both laughed insincerely.

He left her looking thoughtfully out of the window.



CHAPTER XXIII

THE BALD-FACED STAG


Vaughan went home, and after lunching, chiefly on a newspaper and a cup
of coffee, he got into a taxicab and gave a direction.

The vehicle flew smoothly along down Park Lane, past the Marble Arch
into the Edgware Road, and on from there between houses and shops,
growing gradually uglier and uglier, to Maida Vale, up Shoot-up Hill,
and so on until there was a glimpse of suburban country, and gasworks,
and glaring posters of melodramas on hoardings, till it stopped suddenly
at a real little old roadside inn, straight out of Dickens--"The
Bald-faced Stag at Edgware." Edgware suggested _John Gilpin_, Gillie's
favourite poem.

Here he got out, and was positively welcomed, and heartily, by a real
roadside innkeeper--also out of Dickens--resembling the elder Weller--a
local magnate called Tom Brill, who looked a relic of the coaching days,
though really he never did anything but stand in front of the inn in
his shirt-sleeves and welcome people.

Vaughan, obviously an habitué, walked through the inn into a perfectly
adorable garden, which was so large, so quiet, and so full of pinks,
hollyhocks, and other old-fashioned flowers, so absolutely peaceful and
sleepy, that one could have imagined oneself miles away in the country.

The garden belonged as much to the Dickens period as the inn itself. It
contained a great many wooden arbours in which one could imagine ladies
in crinolines archly accepting tea, or refusing sips of shrub (whatever
that may be) with whiskered gentlemen. There was a large cage full of
Persian pheasants with gorgeous Indian colouring, which always suggested
to Vaughan--he didn't know why--the Crimean War. There was a parlour
covered with coloured prints of racehorses and boxing matches, and in
which was a little round table painted as a draught-board, and furnished
with a set of Indian chessmen of red and white ivory. The whole thing,
though only twenty minutes' drive from Mayfair, was unknown, unspoilt,
and apparently had not altered in any particular since about 1856. Its
great charm was that it was utterly unself-conscious; it had no idea
that it was quaint.

Vaughan sat down on a rustic seat and plunged into the atmosphere of the
period that he loved, revelling in the soothing, delightful calm, and in
the fact that nobody there knew who he was (though they knew him well by
name), and that none of his friends and acquaintances would have dreamt
that he was there.

A large field beyond the garden contained cows, hay, and other rustic
things.

Presently Tom Brill came up to him, and he asked after Mrs. Brill, whom
her husband always described, with confidential pride, as "Though I say
it that shouldn't say it, as fine a woman as you'll meet in a day's
march."

Vaughan always assented to this proposition. As he had never himself in
his life been for a day's march, and probably never would, he certainly
would have had no right to contradict Mr. Brill on the subject.

"Is Miss Brill at home?" he presently asked. "May I see her?"

"Certainly, sir, of course you shall. She's helping her mother. I'll
call her. Don't move, sir, don't move."

Miss Brill, who had been helping her mother to look out of the window,
now came into the garden, which immediately became idyllic.

She was not in any way like the innkeeper's daughter of Comic Opera.
She was a schoolgirl of sixteen, with a long, fair plait, a short serge
skirt, and a seraphic oval face. She ought to have been called Fanny or
Clara. Unluckily her name was Gladys.

She said in a very sweet voice--

"You're quite a stranger, sir." And she amplified the assertion by
adding, "You haven't been here not this ever so long."

"I know I haven't, but I've been longing to come."

"Not you!" she said ironically.

She was standing opposite him, with her hands behind her back. Without a
hat, in the glaring afternoon sun, with the complexion, pale pink and
white, of a china doll that had never made up, she was a refreshing
sight after the theatrical world in London, not to speak of society.
Vaughan seemed to think so.

"Well, how did you enjoy the play?" he asked.

"It was very kind of you to send us the tickets. Mother enjoyed it."

"You didn't care much for the piece yourself?"

"I thought it was rather silly," she answered.

He had never had a criticism on his work that pleased him more.

"I mean," she went on, "I shouldn't have thought--well, nobody would go
on like that."

"Go on how?"

"Why, go on so silly."

"You wouldn't like to see another play, written by the same man, then?"

"I wouldn't mind another one. Wild horses wouldn't drag me to see that
again."

"Wild horses are not likely to try," he observed. At which jest she
laughed loudly and charmingly, showing marvellous teeth. She had no
cockney accent, though she occasionally and fitfully dropped an H.

"Oh, Gladys, do take me for a walk in the field."

"Want to see the calf?"

"No; I can live without seeing the calf. I want to sit in the field with
you."

"You are a caution! Come on then, but I can't stay long."

They climbed the gate, which she seemed to think a quicker mode of
entrance than sending for the key, and sat in the field, from which Mr.
Brill always declared you could see three counties. Perhaps you could;
if so, they all looked exactly alike.

"It's quiet here, isn't it? I shan't have much more of it," she
remarked.

"Oh, Gladys! Don't say you're going away!"

"Of course I am. Don't you know I'm going to be a manicure in Bond
Street?"

"Bond Street? How revolting! Is that your ambition?"

"Why, I think it would be very nice. I must do something. Father's
settled about it. First I'm going to pay to learn it, and then I shall
earn quite a lot. It's a great hairdresser's."

"I think it's horrible, Gladys. Perhaps you'll fall in love with a
German hairdresser, and be lost to me for ever."

"I shan't fall in love with no foreigners, don't you fret."

"I'm not fretting. Will you have your hair done up?" he asked, lifting
the long plait.

"Well, of course I shall, and waved, and that."

"Gladys, they'll spoil you."

The conversation went on in this strain for some time. She alternately
repeated the exclamation, "How you do go on!" or accused him of the
mysterious crime of being a caution, but she never stopped looking
perfectly beautiful and seraphic.

When they went back to the garden a few other visitors had straggled in.
They all seemed to come in high dog-carts, and they always ordered eggs,
jam, and watercress with their tea, and were immensely impressed by the
Persian pheasants.

Vaughan went back to London feeling refreshed, and already, strangely,
counting the days till he could come back.

There was not a woman in the world he knew whom he would have taken the
slightest trouble to see except Gladys, the innkeeper's daughter. She
was an illiterate schoolgirl; and though she had a lovely face, she was
stupid, and probably not so angelic as she looked; but he always felt a
little disappointed as he drove back. He wished she were in love with
him.

And this ungratified wish was, in all his full life with its brilliant
success, perhaps his greatest real pleasure.



CHAPTER XXIV

THE GREEN GATE


When Harry came down to breakfast, a little late, he found Valentia
waiting to pour out his coffee, and some letters on his plate. She
watched him as he opened them. Most of them looked like bills. On the
envelope of one was a little blue flag. Harry put this letter in his
pocket, and went on eating.

"It's a lovely morning, Harry. So fresh; just the sort of day not to do
anything at all."

"Ah! that's what's so delightful about you all," he answered. "You never
say, 'What shall we do?' and neither of you have ever said yet that this
is Liberty Hall, which means, as a rule, in a country house, 'Breakfast
at eight o'clock sharp, you won't mind it being a little cold if you're
late, and then we are going for a motor drive at 9.30.' Still, I think,
perhaps, one ought to take a little exercise. I feel almost equal to a
game of croquet this afternoon--later on--when I'm stronger. Is any one
coming down to-day?"

"No. And only Van Buren, and Vaughan and Muir Howard on Sunday. I see
you've heard from the Walmers. What do they say?"

"It's sure to be nothing of interest. How I love your hair parted on one
side! It makes you look like a boy."

"Not a principal boy, I hope. Why not read the letter?"

Harry got up and fetched himself something from the sideboard.

"I don't feel quite strong enough yet. When I've had breakfast. I should
like to paint you as you're looking now, Val. I think I'll do a sketch
of you in the rose garden, all in black and white, like a Beardsley,
with the balustrades and steps and things behind you. Will you sit to
me?"

"That's all very well. But why don't you read your letter?"

"There's sure to be nothing in it."

"How can you tell till you've opened it?"

"I know. I always feel what's in a letter without opening it. Don't you?
I absorb the essence, as it were, through the covers of the envelope, as
somebody or other--Macaulay, I think--used to absorb all the important
things through the covers of a book. Or wasn't it Macaulay? Anyhow, it
doesn't matter. It was some tiresome person whom one oughtn't to talk
about on a morning like this."

Harry evidently was not quite at his ease.

"But why not read it?" She spoke playfully.

"How persistent women are, just like children. To tease you I just
shan't."

"Oh, Harry!"

"I shan't read it now at all," he went on. "I can answer it without
reading it."

"It's only that I should like to know how the Walmers are enjoying
themselves on _Flying Fish_. Lady Walmer was a little afraid they
mightn't like it."

Here Romer came up to the window and called out--

"I say, Val, come here a minute. I want to ask you something."

"Here I am, dear," and she vanished into the garden.

The second she had gone Harry opened the letter very carefully, and
read--

     "Dearest Harry,

     "You are a rotter never to write. I'm having _such_ a time. Weather
     priceless, but very sick at not hearing from you. Algie Thynne is
     here. Do you know him? He's rather a nut. Wish you were here. No
     more to-day. Bye-bye, old son.

                                             "Your loving "ALEC."

     "P.S.--Do write. The moonlight nights are simply topping. Just like
     a picture. I think you'd like it; otherwise everything is beastly.

     "I love you more than ever.

                                                             "A."

He put the letter back in the untorn envelope and carefully fastened it
up again. He then placed it on the mantelpiece, and having finished his
breakfast, lit a cigarette.

He looked thoughtful.

"Algie Thynne, indeed!" he said to himself. "How pathetic, trying to
make me jealous! Well, it's a pretty letter, and what's more, it must be
answered."

Val came back.

"Romer wants the lawn mown," she said. "He's perfectly mad on the
subject of mowing the lawn. He seems to think it ought to be shaved
every day. It's the only thing he knows about the country. Well, have
you read your letter?"

"There it is," said Harry. "You can read it if you like." He watched her
carefully as she took it from the mantelpiece.

"I don't want to read it," she said, holding it.

"Nor do I," said Harry.

"Harry, tell me honestly, wouldn't you really mind if I tore it into
little bits and put it in the waste-paper basket--just as it is?"

"Not a straw," said Harry, shaking his head.

She clapped her hands, tore it into tiny pieces, and threw it in the
basket. Then she said, in a low voice of deep gratitude--

"Oh, Harry, you are sweet! Do forgive me."

"I don't see that there's anything to forgive," said Harry.

"Yes, there is; lots. I'm afraid I've been horrid. I'll never bother you
about any thing again."

She was simply beaming.

"Good," answered Harry indifferently.

But as he followed her into the garden he looked rather perplexed. He
felt that this sort of thing was not leading up very well to what he
would have to tell her soon. However, why spoil a lovely day by thinking
of it?

Like a schoolboy with his holiday task before him, he put it off as long
as possible.

Though he didn't own it to himself, and was disdainfully amused at
Alec's letter, still the thought of Algie Thynne, moonlight nights on
the yacht, topping weather, and his own neglect, gave him some cause for
alarm. Algie Thynne was _criblé_ with debts, and probably keen on
marrying for money. Contemptible young ass! Why didn't he _work_? Harry
despised him.

At the earliest opportunity (which, by the way, did not arise until he
had made an excuse to go into the village, where he wrote at the post
office) the answer was sent.

Even Harry found the beginning of the letter too difficult, so he always
began (as Valentia might have said) without a beginning, which impressed
Miss Walmer much more. Ever since he had reached the age of discretion,
which, in his case, was at his majority, Harry had been thoroughly
trained in the habit of writing letters that gratified the recipient
enormously without compromising the writer in the slightest degree. The
habitual dread of those _bêtes noires_ of Don Juan--the breach of
promise case and the Divorce Court--had got him into the way of writing
the sort of letter that he would have had no objection to hear read
aloud in court. Perhaps that was why the sentences were always polished,
and the meaning a little vague.

     "... I don't speak your language, perhaps, but I understand your
     letter, reading between the lines. It came like a whiff of fresh
     sea air. Yes, it would be delightful to be on board _Flying Fish_
     now. However, no doubt Algie Thynne--(_how_ eloquently, by the way,
     you describe him! putting all the complications of his character
     and the dazzling charm of his personality in a nutshell by the
     simple sentence '_He's rather a nut!_')--amply compensates for my
     absence. You ask if I know him. I do, though perhaps more by
     reputation than anything else. We have met once or twice. Where? I
     can't quite recall. Perhaps at the Oratory, or at the Supper Club
     or some place of that sort. But somehow I never pursued his
     acquaintance, nor did it ever ripen into friendship. I felt,
     instinctively, that he was too clever for me.

     "I trust all the same that his brilliance will not altogether
     overshadow your memory of _others_. I should not like to think that
     we were drifting apart. Still, if it should be so, I must resign
     myself. I could still be happy in thinking of you, Alec.

         _'Love that is love at all
         Asks for no earthly coronal'_--

     but, I remember, you once expressed to me your opinion that _all
     poetry is rot_. So I will not bore you with quotations. It is
     pleasant here, and my cousins are very kind, and leave me alone to
     think as much as I like. I'm not, somehow, quite in the mood for
     the usual gaieties and frivolities of a country house. Last night
     we played Musical Chairs until two in the morning, and to-day I am
     a little weary. Your postscript gave me joy. I need not say that I
     reciprocate it, need I?...

     "I feel all that you are feeling, and somehow even know what you
     are doing, and if you did not write again until we meet, I should
     not be anxious. I have a trusting nature. But when you wire,
     remember that the telegraph boy has a good way to walk, and when
     telegrams arrive after midnight, it causes a sensation and much
     inquiry. Also I cannot help feeling that every one in the village,
     as well as at the Green Gate, has read the words I would like to
     keep to myself alone. I have a curious love of mystery--isn't
     mystery the great charm of all romance?--So to gratify this fancy
     of mine, sign your next telegram 'Johnson.' I know you won't mind.

     "When we meet again, all, I trust, will be clear and definite
     before us. Best love to dear Lady Walmer, and to yourself what I am
     sure you will know. Don't be angry with me for not writing oftener.
     I find it very difficult to express my thoughts, for alas, I have
     no command of language. Not only that, the pens here have one great
     fault--they won't write. Otherwise they're quite excellent.... Yes,
     your note has given me, as the French say, 'furiously to think.'

     "Hoping that all will go well with you, and looking forward, think
     me as always,

                                    "Yours, faithfully,
                                    "HARRY BROKE DE FREYNE."

"There! that ought to keep her quiet for a month," he thought as he
posted the letter, and with a sigh of relief turned back towards the
Green Gate.



CHAPTER XXV

A SUNDAY AFTERNOON


By this time Van Buren was entirely in Harry's confidence; that is to
say, Harry had gradually trained him to bear without flinching the
situation as Harry represented it. He believed Harry had a hopeless
romantic affection for Mrs. Romer Wyburn which he was trying to stifle,
and that Miss Walmer being hopelessly in love with _him_, he was doing
his best to marry her, partly, as he candidly admitted, on worldly
grounds.

Van Buren was deeply touched at Harry's trust in him, and was always
trying to keep him up to his good resolutions by pointing out that any
understanding (however Platonic) between the pretty Valentia and the
handsome guest was dishonourable, a breach of hospitality towards Romer,
that silent but admirable host.

Indeed, he repeated to Harry so often and so firmly, "It can't be done;
one can't make love to the wife of a friend," that Harry was driven to
the point of replying that he hardly saw whom else, as a matter of fact,
one _could_ very well make love to; it being impossible to have romances
with people one didn't know. And in this case the fact that Harry was
very fond of Romer made the temptation far greater, as he explained;
Harry being (as he pointed out) so very sensitive and highly strung that
he could never, somehow, be really attracted by a woman whose husband
was not sympathetic to him. Which point of view Van Buren, shaking his
head, regarded as unsound.

Harry now spent much time giving picturesque sketches and impressions of
his feelings to his friend, for he had an almost feminine love of
talking over personal affairs to the sympathetic. In his benevolence Van
Buren longed to protect Valentia and Romer, and to give Miss Walmer all
she wanted; but most of all his idea was to save Harry from himself, so
he always accepted with alacrity invitations to the Green Gate for
altruistic reasons. Besides, his desire to see Daphne, although she was
now becoming more and more remote to him, was still persistent, if a
little less vivid.

"I've had a beautiful womanly letter from Alec to-day," Harry confided
in Van as soon as he arrived. "You know the sort of thing she writes:
all in jerks and subaltern's slang. With sincere sentiment showing
between the lines. And I answered it."

"A beautiful manly letter, I hope? I'm sure you could do that as well as
any one, Harry."

Harry smiled.

"Oh, just some vague, cautious slosh, not unamusing in its way--it'll
_get_ there all right."

"Yes, Harry, I know, but I do hope----Ah, Miss Daphne, how beautiful
your England is looking to-day! In America we never have a day like
this, warm and yet cool, with all those nice, white, fleecy clouds in
the sky. Our atmosphere is always so hard and clear. Now this garden
with those large trees is just like a Corot. They _are_ fine trees.
Poplars, I presume?"

"You _do_ presume," smiled Daphne; "I don't know what they are, but I'm
perfectly sure they're not poplars."

"Oh yes--I'm wrong. They're oaks, I've no doubt." He hummed, "'The oak
and the ash and the bonny ivy tree.' Do let's walk over and look at them
closer, Miss Daphne."

"I'm afraid I can't. Tea's ready."

To his annoyance Van was obliged to follow Daphne and join the group
round the tea-table. He declined with some formality of manner to accept
the glass of iced water Daphne offered him, and looked at her with that
look of tender, fixed, respectful reproach that had the effect of
irritating her very nearly to the point of incivility.

She turned to Muir Howard, who was looking very pink and cheery. Muir
was a popular man for his great ease in making conversation, the kind
that is as the pudding part in a plum pudding, and without which the
plums, however delightful, could hardly stick together. Though the great
majority of people talk commonplaces, their banalities are by no means
always the kind that help. Muir's particular way of opening open doors,
flogging dead horses, and genially enjoying any spark of fun in his
friends, coupled with his good looks and pleasant, hearty disposition,
made him a most useful and welcome guest, as a sort of super. He was
quite decorative, and could be turned on to talk newspaper politics to
dull men, pretty platitudes to plain women; to make himself generally
useful, and altogether to help things to go. In this way he was
invaluable. Young girls always liked him; he was a great favourite with
elderly ladies, and with men of his own age also, who were, however,
occasionally bored with his worship for his friend Vaughan. He found it
very difficult not to mention Gillie less than once in every five
minutes.

That distinguished young man, who was beginning to look a little jaded
with incense, was engrossed with his hostess. Whenever he was there
Harry always became particularly devoted in his manner to Valentia, and
scarcely ever left her other side. This was one of the reasons that she
enjoyed Gillie's presence, besides that she was, now that she knew him
well, particularly fond of him. His conversation and personality in
general had a special flavour.

Every one was talking and laughing with the light intoxication produced
by tea and cigarettes in the open air on a fine Sunday afternoon,
excepting only Romer, who as usual said hardly anything, absorbed in
admiration of his wife. He suddenly remarked--

"I say, Val. The Campbells are coming."

He wondered why this statement produced a burst of irresponsible
laughter.

"What fun! Will there be bagpipes?" Vaughan asked.

"No, no. Romer means the Prebendary Campbell, or at least his wife and
daughter. They're coming to see us this afternoon. I had quite
forgotten. Please all behave nicely. They've been a long time making up
their minds. I believe they think we're frivolous."

"Not really? How could they? It reminds one of the story of Henry
James." Vaughan stopped to light a cigarette.

"Go on."

"It appears that for some time his near neighbours in the country
looked a little coldly on him on the grounds that, being a writer, he
must be Bohemian. At last the local doctor's wife and clergyman's wife
called on him, and finding him perfectly respectable, stayed for many
hours. They were particularly tedious and rather self-righteous. When
they had gone, he said thoughtfully to some one who was pitying him for
being bored, 'One of those poor wantons has a certain cadaverous
grace.'"

The story was well received, except by Van Buren, who seemed painfully
shocked.

Daphne, who had gone into the house to fetch some snapshots, now came
running back saying--

"Val, Val! The Campbells are arriving in a fly, and they seem to have
brought their foreigner with them--that man Miss Campbell told me about.
He's a kind of Belgian, and awfully clever--he's invented something."

"What's he invented?"

"Brussels sprouts?" suggested Harry rather sleepily.

"But they've been invented already."

"Why shouldn't he invent them over again? Give him a chance."

Muir began to sing softly, "Young Lochinvar has come out of the West,"
which he appeared to think a suitable serenade, but he stopped suddenly
at Gillie's entreaty.

"I don't mind anything Muir does, as long as he doesn't sing," he always
explained.

"It's awful hard lines. I've got a ripping baritone voice, but I never
have a chance to use it," murmured Muir.

"You shall sing to me this afternoon. I'll accompany you," whispered
Daphne.

Muir had gratefully answered that it was frightfully decent of her, when
the servant announced--

"Mrs. and Miss Campbell. Mr.----" He left a blank, unable to pronounce
the name.

But Mrs. Campbell introduced Mynheer von Stoendyck.

       *     *     *     *     *

Mrs. Campbell was an amiable, colourless woman, with a greyish brown
fringe that looked as if it were made of Berlin wool. Though she was not
yet forty-five, she wore a bonnet with violet velvet strings, and had a
very long waist. Also, her skirt, in reality quite normal, looked, to
the eye used to contemporary fashion, grotesquely wide at the end.

Her daughter was an ordinary Rectory girl, spoilt by a dash of culture.
At a glance all present saw she was in love with Mr. Stoendyck. He was a
well-set-up man of about thirty-five, with a military manner and
scientific eye-glasses, also a turned-up light moustache. He spoke all
languages with one rasping accent, but Mrs. Campbell seemed to suffer
under the delusion that he could only understand broken English. So
whenever people spoke to him she translated their remarks into a sort of
baby language that seemed singularly out of place from her.

"I'm afraid you must think me dreadfully worldly, calling on you on a
Sunday," said Mrs. Campbell, laughing socially as she sat down. "But
what the Prebendary always says is, the better the day the better the
deed."

"Oh, does he always say that?" Harry asked with great apparent interest,
waking up. He had been overpowered with languor ever since lunch.

"Yes, and I felt sure you wouldn't mind our bringing our friend, Mr.
Stoendyck. He is so clever. He's come over to England about an
invention."

Val thought of Brussels sprouts, but did not suggest it.

Mrs. Campbell apparently couldn't take her eyes off the Belgian, whom
she watched as one watches a rather dangerous pet, though he appeared
particularly safe.

Muir, for an unknown reason addressing the Belgian as Professor, was
asking him his impressions of England. Mrs. Campbell bent forward, and
said with a nod--

"E ope you like it--Angleterre, you know"--and nodded idiotically.

"I find it most interesting," said Mr. Stoendyck raspingly, in admirable
English. "There are opportunities in this country for the pursuance of
science, art, and social intercourse which one would hardly have
expected. I do not take tea, I thank you much."

"Have a glass of beer?" said Romer, suddenly inspired.

Simple as the sentence was, Mrs. Campbell thought it necessary to
translate it with more nods.

"E ask you, ave beer. _Bière_, you know! Glass," and then she went on in
her usual tone, "Most thoughtful of Mr. Wyburn, I'm sure. What a
charming place this is of yours, Mrs. Wyburn. I always say the Green
Gate is the most picturesque place in the neighbourhood. And Mr. de
Freyne, I understand, is an artist. Do you know my daughter, Marion, is
_so_ interested in art! And my younger son, Garstin, though he is only
twelve years old, shows great artistic talent, too. He did a map of
Buckinghamshire that really surprised me, almost any one would recognise
it at a glance. I always say I'm sure some day Garstin will be in the
Royal Academy."

Van Buren had approached and began to talk to Mrs. Campbell. Val went
over to the Belgian, but she heard the American beginning a sentence as
usual with, "Pleased to meet you. I've never had the opportunity of
mixing much in clerical circles in New York, Mrs. Campbell," and felt
sure he was going to ask impossible questions about Prebendaries and
Rural Deans.

The rasping Belgian, on whom both the mother and daughter cast continual
anxious and admiring eyes, though he seemed thoroughly able to take care
of himself, said to Muir, who was taking him on--

"No, I do not spend my entire time over my invention. Mrs. Campbell is
so kind as to take me for drives in the environment, to give me a right
impression of the beauties of Hertfordshire. For relaxation I play the
piano."

"Ha! Musical, eh, Professor?" asked Muir shrewdly. "That's right; so am
I. I'm awfully keen on music." He spoke reassuringly.

Mr. Stoendyck looked at him through his glasses, and said without
interest--

"Indeed. I find Beethoven's Fifth Symphony, even on the piano,
extraordinarily satisfying and refreshing to the mind after the strain
of looking at English scenery." He drank a long draught of iced lager.

"Oh! Classical, eh? I'm not up to that. Queen's Hall, eh? That sort of
thing."

"I beg your pardon? Is there----Has the Queen a hall in this
neighbourhood?"

"How do you mean, Professor?"

"What do you say?"

"I beg your pardon?"

Mrs. Campbell, who managed to hear through her own conversation with Van
Buren, called out--

"E say e no understand," and nodded smilingly, seeming to think she had
helped matters considerably.

Miss Campbell talked of tennis, matins, hats and the opera to Daphne,
but appeared to be absent, and occasionally smiled at the foreigner, who
ignored her.

At last the Campbells and their Belgian withdrew, Mrs. Campbell saying
that the Prebendary wished them to go to Evensong. Their departure left,
as such visits do, a blank and a reaction. Our friends were silent for a
minute.

Then Vaughan said--

"I feel crushed, and a little flattened out, too."

"_I_ feel as if my brain were made of cotton wool," said Harry.

"Come and sing," suggested Daphne to Muir, and they went off to the
drawing-room, from which strains were soon heard about _It IS not
because_,--something or other.

In the middle of the song Daphne played a wrong note, stopped, and
said--

"Oh, I wish Cyril was here!"

"So do I. If he can accompany, I wish he was here."

"Oh, go on!"

"_It IS not because thy heart is mine_"....

       *     *     *     *     *

The party in the garden listened with a worried expression.

"How about croquet?" suggested Val. "The tapping noise will take it
off."

"Yes. Come on."

"You can't," said Romer. "The lawn wants mowing."



CHAPTER XXVI

IN THE ROSE GARDEN


"How lovely this place must look at dawn!"

"By Jove! That's an idea, Gillie," said Harry. "It must look glorious."

They were sitting in the rose garden with Valentia. It was still quite
light, though the sunset glow had nearly faded. There was a rich mellow
tone in the sky, a promise of peace, a feeling that it was the end of
the day, which, combined with the almost cloyingly sweet scent of the
roses, was enough to make any one feel poetical.

"To think we've never seen the sun rise here!" exclaimed Valentia.

Romer here joined them, smoking a cigarette.

"Hasn't Romer ever seen the sun rise here?" Vaughan asked.

"Never," said Romer.

"Why not?"

"I don't know. I suppose because it always happens after I've gone to
bed," he answered drily.

"Let's sit up all night and see it to-morrow," suggested Valentia.

"Yes. Capital! Do let us!" said Harry.

Romer did not appear much taken with this scheme.

"Oh no, you mustn't _sit_ up," said Vaughan. "That's not the way to see
it."

"Is there so much difference between staying up and getting up then?"
Val asked.

"Yes, indeed, all the difference in the world. You must get up fresh,
with the birds."

"What time do birds get up? Is it _very_ early?"

"It would do if you were out at three this time of the year, or even at
four."

"Well, let's do it!"

"Oh, I don't think I shall," said Harry.

He looked at Valentia.

She answered--

"You might make a sketch, you know, of the early birds getting up to
catch the worms. But--I don't think I shall. Anyhow, not _to-morrow_ at
_half-past three_."

"All right," said Harry with a nod, "we won't. Don't tell Daphne, or
she'll be out at 3.15 to the tick, to take a snapshot of the dawn."

"A snapshot of the dawn! Wouldn't that be sacrilege?"

"Young girls are always inclined to that. They're so prosaic," said
Harry, getting up. "I must go and see what Van is doing."

He walked away with his usual quick, supple step and casual bearing.
They watched his slim figure as he went. Then Romer followed him,
slowly.

Vaughan turned to Valentia and said: "I shouldn't if I were you."

"Wouldn't what?"

"Why, meet Harry at half-past three to-morrow morning in the rose
garden."

"Good gracious! I never thought of doing such a thing. Besides, it was
your idea.... As a matter of fact, I really assure you it wouldn't be
here. It would be in the orchard if anywhere. There is the loveliest
cherry-tree there, with a seat all round it."

"How jolly! I'd like to see it. Will you give me the key?"

"Who told you it was kept locked?"

She looked rather annoyed.

"You did, but not intentionally."

"I don't see that you have really any right to suppose----Why
shouldn't I go in my own orchard, at any hour I like?"

"But, Val--of course you ought to go in your own orchard. But why don't
you meet Romer there?"

"Oh, Gillie, really!..."

"He is so straight, so good-looking, and, under all that manner, he's
exactly like Vesuvius. Yes. Fancy, you're living with a volcano and you
don't appreciate it!"

"Gillie, it's really rather stupid of you to put things like that. It
isn't a question of liking either one person _or_ another. If Romer were
ill, or anything like that, don't you _know_----"

"I know you'd devote yourself to him, like a sister or a mother. You'd
put Harry aside for a time as a pleasure that mustn't be indulged in.
Now that's just where you're wrong. No! _I_ want to see you being ever
so good and kind to dear Harry as a duty to a ne'er-do-well of a cousin;
and regarding Romer----"

She did not answer.

"My point is," he went on, "that it's really too distressingly
conventional of you to suppose that because you happen to be legally
married there can be no sort of romance. Only comradeship, or perhaps
affectionate sentiment? That's what you believe."

"Isn't it always so?"

"Most often, I grant. That's generally through the man's point of view.
But Romer is an exception. He's as much in love as if he had no hope of
ever being within a mile of you."

She seemed rather flattered. "Do you really think so? But even that
isn't everything."

"Oh, there's a great deal to be done with Romer," was Vaughan's reply.

He spoke with dreamy significance, and she was silent. Then she
exclaimed, turning round suddenly--

"I suppose what you really mean is that Harry doesn't care a bit about
me?"

"No, I don't. But he cares a bit about a lot of people, and things. He's
superficial, and he has no courage."

"No courage? _Harry!_"

"He'd crumble up in a crisis if a strong man took him in hand."

"That's all nonsense." She was growing angry. "Hasn't he been up in an
aeroplane, and done--oh, all sorts of things? I call Harry daring and
brave!"

"That's all vanity. All that is show and vanity. Oh, Valentia, do
forgive me."

"I'll try.... here he is."

He was seen coming towards them again. Her anger flickered out at once.

"I suppose he thinks we've been here long enough," she said, smiling as
women do at such symptoms.

"Of course he does. Vanity--just vanity." Vaughan strolled away.

"Look here! What were you two talking about?"

"Nothing. About you, Harry."

"Rubbish. What was he talking about?"

"You, only you."

"I can't see that that chap's so brilliant! It seems to me he's just
like anybody else. And his work shows it too, really. No soul, no real
heart in it. All from the outside."

"Nonsense, Harry, nobody is more kind-hearted, more----"

"Look here, Val, I won't have it. Do you hear?"

"Have what, Harry?"

He lowered his voice. "I won't have it. You must go back. It isn't that
_I_ mind. But Romer will soon think it extraordinary, your sitting out
alone so long."

"No, he won't."

"All right then, he won't. He must be an ass," said Harry angrily. "I
don't know what he's thinking of. Hasn't he got eyes?"

"Yes, of course he has."

"And eyelids too," said Harry. "I dare say he pretends not to see that
Vaughan admires you. Too indolent to bother about it."

"Really. Harry--you go too far. Are you thinking of pointing it out?"

She got up.

"One second," said Harry pleadingly. "It's cruel of you to go now."

"I thought you said we'd better get back?"

"Your hands look so lovely by this light," he spoke in his softest
voice.

"We really must go."

"Then at half-past three. I'll bring my sketchbook. Do you know where
the key is? Perhaps you've lost it. You are so dreadfully careless." He
now spoke in the tone of a reproving husband.

"I've got it. Do you think we'd better? I'm rather tired. Shall you be
able to wake?"

Harry turned away.

"All right, it doesn't matter, Val. I shall be going soon, and then----"

She followed him quickly.

"No, no, Harry. Of course."

He gave her a grateful look. They joined the group on the little
verandah in front of the house. Van Buren was sitting in the corner and
seemed in the depths of depression. From the windows could be heard once
more strains of music. Daphne was playing an accompaniment. Muir had
again begun the song, and got a little further into it--"_It is not
because thy heart is mine, mine only, mine alone._" But Vaughan came up
promptly and stopped it.



CHAPTER XXVII

SEEING THE SUN RISE


What a delicate air there was in the garden! There had been a little
rain in the night, but Valentia supposed it to be dew. Every little
sound seemed the softest music, to the sound of which little dainty
things seemed to be dancing in the air. The Green Gate, a red Georgian
house, seen in the early glamour with all its blinds down, except one,
seemed like a thing half asleep with one eye open.

For a moment she was a little frightened. He was late. She had perhaps
got up for nothing. But no, it was worth it. It was lovely here.

Another eye of the house slowly opened, and soon Romeo, or Paolo, or
Faust, appeared. True, he was disguised as a flannelled fool, with a
sketch-book under his arm. But it _was_ Faust, or Romeo, or Paolo, all
the same. He looked very handsome. The thought of scoring off other
people in the house had raised his spirits and had even made him wake up
in time. Valentia's conversation with Vaughan, whom she knew to be
honest and believed to be brilliant, had left a certain insidious
influence on her which would tell gradually, and yet their talk had had
rather a contradictory effect for the moment. She wanted to prove to
herself that he was wrong. And Harry felt that his time was growing
short. Very soon he must put an end to it all.

This thought made him more affectionate. It occurred to him for a moment
that he would tell her in the orchard; but, of course, he didn't. Every
day he thought he would tell her, and something always happened to
prevent it. Besides, there would have to be a quarrel anyhow at the end,
so why make it longer than necessary?

They sat down under the cherry-tree.

"Fancy you, Valentia, a minion of the moon, rising before dawn! Let me
look at you. You fill me with wonder and joy."

"Did you mind getting up _very_ much, Harry?"

"It _was_ rather hard. Listen!... That's a thrush, making a scene with
another thrush in the tree."

"Is it? How do you know?"

"Of course it is! How do _you_ know things? How did you know exactly
what to wear, Val? I knew you had clothes for every possible occasion;
but still, to choose the _exact_ right dress to put on to meet your
cousin at dawn in the orchard seems--well, rather extraordinary. Pinkish
blue--or is it bluish pink?--to match the sky. How jolly! It fastens in
front."

"Well, of course I couldn't expect Ogburn to get up in the middle of the
night."

"And no hatpins for once, thank goodness."

"Well, if we _sat up_ till now I shouldn't be wearing a hat, should I?"

"Don't argue. It's too early."

"It isn't really early. It's very late."

"Oh, Val! You're being logical."

He took her hands and looked at them, and quoted--

    "_They are pale with the pallor of ivories,
    But they blush at the tips like a curved sea-shell._"

"Oh, Harry!"

He was thinking. He looked almost miserable. "I don't see--I must
admit--how I shall ever be able to leave your hands!"

She looked at him suspiciously.

"Why should you? What do you mean?"

"Nothing. I only meant I couldn't...."

"Oh!"

"What's that?... Some one coming along the lawn."

"Doesn't it sound curious?" she said--"so _rustly_!"

"Who can it be? Surely your friend Vaughan couldn't get up at this
hour."

"Nonsense! Of course not. They're coming here." She jumped up.

"Go and open the gate at once," said Harry, giving her the key. "I'll
wait here a minute." While she obeyed he used a good deal of language.
He now felt that he would give all he possessed to keep her there five
minutes longer.

"Fancy! It's Romer!" exclaimed Valentia. "He hasn't seen me yet."

"Go to him at _once_. Tell him you got up to see the sun rise. I'll come
directly and join you. Oh, confound it! _Do_ look sharp. Seem pleased to
see him." He spoke in a harsh tone of command.

She ran to meet Romer, saying jokingly, "Fancy meeting you!"

"I thought you'd be here. I went to your room and found you were out.
Thought I'd get up early."

"I'm so glad. _Isn't_ it lovely and worth seeing here? Come and pick
some fruit in the orchard."

"No, thanks."

"Oh, _do_! Harry's devouring gooseberries. He's sketching the sky."

"Why doesn't Harry come?" said Romer.

He had no expression, and it was always impossible to guess by his
looks or his tone what he was thinking or feeling, except when he
smiled.

"Here he is."

Harry joined them.

"Good gracious, old boy! Who in the world--! What on earth made you come
out so early?"

Romer now smiled and looked at Valentia admiringly.

"Gardener's not up yet. Thought perhaps I'd mow the lawn," he said
apologetically.



CHAPTER XXVIII

"REPLY PAID"


Valentia had been hurt at the tone in which Harry had given his orders,
and turned from him to help to find the mowing-machine.

"Doesn't she look jolly at sunrise? All that pink and mauve in the sky
tones in so well. It seems to suit her. That's how she really should be
painted," said Harry, in the tone of an artist admiring his model.
"Don't you think so?"

"Yes," said Romer.

"She looks like a golden rose," Harry went on. He wanted to please Val,
who he saw was annoyed with him, and to emphasise the openness of his
admiration to Romer. "Doesn't she?"

"Quite," said her husband.

Harry felt the morning was spoilt and the situation absurd. He could not
bear to be thwarted in any way. He went back to his own room, bounced
angrily on to his bed, and went to sleep again, after having seen
Valentia through the window helping to push the mower, and saying to
himself--

"How like a woman! I shall go up to town with Van Buren and send a wire
to Alec."

This was his revenge.

Their momentary fears about Romer were completely dissipated. He seemed
exactly as usual. As a rule he was even-tempered. Not many people had
seen him put out, though he could be very angry, except with Valentia.
During this day he seemed, for him, a little irritable. Perhaps, Val
thought, through getting up too early.

Harry went up to town with Van Buren for the day, intending to return
the same evening. He soon recovered himself in the course of copious
confidences in the train. As soon as he had arrived in London he began
to count the minutes before he should go back.

Valentia expected the elder Mrs. Wyburn to lunch.

"What shall we do with her to-day?" Val asked Daphne. "She must be kept
in a good temper, because it's the last time she'll come down before
going to Bournemouth. It's rather a pity they've all gone. Romer is sure
to say the wrong thing to her--let out some trifle that we have been
carefully concealing for months--praise up Harry, or something."

"Doesn't she like Harry?"

"Since he went to see her she likes him for herself, but not for me."

"What cheek! But he's not here."

"No, if he were she might like him again all right. Then, Romer talks
too slowly for her. Her mind works quicker than his, and one can only
deal with him by racing on in front, and turning round to beckon. With
Mrs. Wyburn there are only two things that are any use--dash and
volubility. It's difficult to keep the thing going when she's alone with
us."

"Well, why not pass the time this afternoon by returning the Campbells'
visit, and take Mrs. Wyburn with us to 'The Angles'?" Daphne suggested.

"Oh no! It's treating them almost like royalty to go so soon. And
there's the Belgian man."

"Doesn't she like Belgians then, Val?"

"I've never asked her. Only, don't you see, it isn't that but the
Belgian is what Harry calls a blighter--a beano-blighter; and so is Mrs.
Wyburn, and it doesn't do to have two beano-blighters in the same
party."

"Ah, I see; they'd clash. What _is_ a beano-blighter exactly, Val?"

"A person who blights beanos. Who makes every one a little
uncomfortable, casts a gloom over entertainments--has to be taken in
hand and dealt with separately from the others--doesn't blend, you
know."

"You mean some one who isn't the life and soul of the party?"

"No, I don't. That's almost as bad in its way. In fact, the
life-and-soul-of-the-party person casts almost as great a gloom on the
rest as a blighter."

"Oh dear! Yes, I see."

"We must meet her at the station in the motor. I shall put on my blue
serge and my plain sailor. She mustn't see me in the garden without a
hat, nor in a real one. You do the same, Daphne."

"But my sailor's too large in the head, and that makes it fall over my
eyes, and that gives it a Frenchy look, like _L'Art et la Mode_,"
protested Daphne.

"Stuff it with paper. Here's the _Bystander_."

"Oh, isn't it a pity? There's such a pretty picture of----"

"Oh, don't bother."

Mrs. Wyburn was gracious to-day, and all was going well when, about
half-past five, a telegram, reply paid, was brought. It was addressed to
Harry.

"What shall we do?"

"Why, keep it till he comes. He'll be back to dinner," Romer said.

"Suppose it's something urgent," said Val, seeming a little agitated.
"Don't you think perhaps we ought to open it? He won't mind."

"You can't. It's addressed to Harry," said Romer.

Mrs. Wyburn's quick eyes took in some signs of tension, but she
continued giving them advice about the garden. She thought the flowers
too florid, and was always a little shocked at the extravagant scent and
exuberance of the roses. She seemed to think they should be kept more in
their place--not allowed to climb all over the house, and romp or lean
about the garden doing just what they liked. She had winced in the
drawing-room, relented in the dining-room, and refrained, really, only
in the kitchen, that she had insisted upon seeing. It was the only room
to the decoration of which she gave whole-hearted praise and approval.
The cooking at the Green Gate she admitted to be perfect, without
pretension. In fact, she thought everything in the house a little
overdone, except the mutton.

"I can't think who that wire can be from," Val said several times to
Daphne when her mother-in-law had gone. She meant that she could think.

"Well, you'll know directly. Harry's arriving."

Harry found it in the hall, and came in with it.

"You open it for me," he said, giving it to Val.

Since his last instructions to Alec he felt perfectly safe.

She read--

     "_Thousand thanks awfully bucked at letter at Queens' Hotel Cowes
     for three days could you join us there wire reply fondest love and
     kisses._

                                                  _Johnson_."



CHAPTER XXIX

GLADYS


On arriving in London, Vaughan found his secretary with the usual
heaps of letters. One envelope, addressed in a large and rather
infantine hand, was put aside for him. The note ran--

                                         "The Baldfaced Stag,
                                              Edgware.

     "Dear Mr. Vaughan,

     "I eard only yesterday that the play you kindly sent me and mother
     to was wrote by you, I call it a shame you didn't tell me before,
     we saw the name on the programme, but never thought it could be the
     same but yesterday mother saw a piece in the paper about you in the
     weekly dispatch and she said it was the same, I'm sory I said the
     people in the play went on silly I beg pardon for calling the play
     silly I wouldnt have done it if Id known, so hope youre not angry,
     they seemed to me to go on silly, but I dont reelly know much
     about those kind of ladies and gentlemen, we saw the piece in the
     paper only yesterday and mother said it was the same, we hope you
     will soon come again to tea the calf is better believe me yours
     truly

                                      "GLADIS ADELAIDE BRILL."

He instantly wrote back--

     "Dear Miss Brill,

     "I am _so_ relieved and thankful to hear the calf is better, all
     the more because I had no idea it had been indisposed. I fancied,
     though, it was looking a little pale the last time I had the
     pleasure of meeting it in the field. Please don't think again of
     your criticism. It gave me very great pleasure. You must think me
     very foolish. You could say nothing that I would not like except to
     ask me not to come and see you. I am very busy just now and so have
     little time for afternoon calls, but will come one of these days
     soon.

                                          "Yours always,
                                    "GILBERT HEREFORD VAUGHAN."



He waited a moment, and then added--

     "I will turn up to-morrow at four. Try not to forget me till then."

For the rest of the day he was in high spirits. The letter seemed to
keep him up through the various little bothers of the day. He had been
going to France for the summer. He admitted to himself that this
semi-flirtation was keeping him in England. He didn't like the idea of
going away very long from the possibility of turning up at the
"Bald-faced Stag."

The explanation Harry gave about Johnson's telegram satisfied Valentia
for the time, as he declined the invitation to Cowes, but the incident
left an uneasy feeling in Val's mind. She could not bear to own to
herself that he was deceiving her, and he hadn't the courage to give it
away yet, not that he cared so very much about hurting her, but he was
happier at the Green Gate than anywhere else. He liked the house, the
atmosphere, and Romer; but what kept him most was, of course, that
curious charm Valentia had for him, which was perhaps stronger than ever
because he knew that the end was not far off. He often thought he was a
fool not to have taken the opportunity to break it off on this occasion.
He couldn't stand the idea of not seeing her, just because of the way
her hair grew on her forehead! So low, and in such thick waves! Alec
Walmer's hair, also fair, was thin and unmeaning. She had a low
forehead, and yet the hair began high up. In the evening when it was
carefully arranged, and the iron had entered into it, it looked like a
stiff transformation, even worse than when left to nature.

But of course, in spite of the reconciliation, a residue of mistrust
remained, and on his side a sensation of restlessness which left him
irritable; less amiable and pleasant than usual.

They were sitting on the little terrace. He was smoking and reading the
paper. He suddenly threw it down and said--

"How quiet you are, Val! Why don't you talk?"

"I don't think I've got anything to say."

"You seem depressed," he said, rather aggressively.

"I feel a little depressed."

Harry gave expression to the usual injustice of the unfaithful.

"What a mistake women make in being gloomy! How foolish it is. Shall I
tell you the key of the whole situation between men and women?"

"Do."

"Well, dear, it's just--a _smile_. Never be dull, never be ill, never be
depressed. Be gay--always gay. That's what men like--that's the one
thing that they go out for and come in for--a smile."

"Your ideal of a woman seems to be a Cheshire cat," she answered,
looking rather amused. "Your motto is, like the man in _The Arcadians_:
Always Merry and Bright. Well, I'm sure there's a good deal in it. But
I'm not usually accused of being a dreary person."

"Of course you're not; you're charming, lively, amusing, sympathetic.
That's your great attraction, Val. But the last few days you seem rather
to have lost it."

"You can hardly resent my feeling a little down, Harry. One or two
little things that have happened lately have made me anxious."

"Never be anxious. You ought to trust, trust--always trust."

"Oh, that's all very well! That wire...."

"Are we going to have that all over again? I thought I'd explained." He
assumed the air of a patient martyr.

"I know you _explained_ all right. Well, I won't think about it any
more. Don't be horrid, Harry.... Have you seen this week's _Punch_?
There's something in it simply _too_ heavenly--such a joke! Let me read
it to you."

"It's very sweet of you--but do you ever realise----I wonder if it's
ever struck you, Val, that men aren't always in the mood for heavenly
jokes? There are times when one likes to think--to see life as it is--to
discuss abstract things, even."

"Oh! Well ... what do you think of Daphne's dress? Isn't it pretty? It
was made by Ogburn, all out of nothing, in no time."

He looked at Daphne, who was sitting under a tree reading Cyril's last
letter over again.

"It's all right. It suits _her_. I don't call _that_ a serious subject."

"What subject would you like, then?"

"Well--Romer, for instance. Where is he?"

"Talking to the gardener about mowing. Do you want him? I'll call him if
you like."

"Dear Val, it's not quite like you to be ironical to _me_.... You ought
not to laugh at Romer either. I'm complex, perhaps--I know I am; but it
jars on me when you do that."

She stared at him.

"Look here--I know I'm tiresome," said Harry, returning to his usual
caressing manner. "Don't take any notice of it. It's--the weather, I
think, or want of exercise. I'll go and improvise a little."

He pushed back his chair, and, with a parting look of forgiveness, he
went into the house and began to improvise (rather dismally) a
well-known funeral march. Or perhaps it was only a coincidence. Perhaps
he would have thought of it if Chopin hadn't.

Harry was only musical by fits and starts, and generally either to
impress some one or because he was out of temper. Val never regarded it
as a good sign when he grappled with the Steinway.

In ten minutes he had grown tired of his mood of melody, and strolled
into the rose garden with a book.

Yes, certainly Harry was restless.



CHAPTER XXX

THE ANGLES


"You're very quiet, Val," remarked Daphne, as they flew along in the
motor on their way to call on the Prebendary's wife at The Angles.

Both sisters wore little cottage bonnets, blue motor-veils, and large
loose white coats with high collars.

"How can I talk when we're exceeding the speed limit?" said Valentia.

"You usually do. Is anything the matter?"

"No, nothing at all.... Harry's been horrid lately."

"I suppose he _is_ occasionally."

"No, he's not. He's got the artistic temperament, and of course he can't
always be the same, poor dear."

"What a pity one can't be an artist without having the artistic
temperament! It always seems to mean being late for meals, and losing
your temper, or being amusing when every one wants to go to bed."

"As a matter of fact," said Valentia, "I never knew any one with less of
it than Harry. There isn't a more hard-headed business man in the world
in his way, though he _has_ read poetry and plays the piano sometimes,
and paints. He is an artist too ... but--well, not in any of the
recognised arts.... I hear Miss Luscombe and Rathbone--I mean Mr. and
Mrs. Rathbone--have gone to Oberammergau for their honeymoon."

"Oh! Is that the latest thing to do?"

"Of course not, Daphne, but she thinks it is. Miss Luscombe has spent
her life in trying to catch the last omnibus and always just missing it,
and she's not going to leave off now just because she happens to be
married. Here we are!"

The Prebendary's wife received them very graciously. Her waist looked
longer than ever, and her skirt seemed more than usually abnormal in
width. She did all that she could to entertain them. She showed them her
son Garstin's map of Buckinghamshire, and then said--

"I'll send for Mr. Stoendyck. He's upstairs inventing. You can't _think_
how clever he is and how hard he works. It's really wonderful! We often
leave him alone for hours to think things out, and sometimes he plays
sonatas; he says it refreshes him. He really is an extraordinary man."

Mr. Stoendyck came in, looking very martial and scientific and pleased
with himself, as though he had just invented gunpowder. Mrs. Campbell
began as usual to talk baby language, and play a kind of Dumb Crambo at
him. He never seemed able to guess the word.

"I hope we haven't interrupted you in your studies," said Val politely.

"She say she ope she not interrupt. Work, you know. Oeuvre--Arbeit."

"I was just amusing myself with the very witty paper from Germany,
_Kladderadatsch_. It is very funny," he said.

"It sounds funny," said Val sympathetically.

"What I find in England is that you're all wonderfully serious,
wonderfully courteous, wonderfully kind"--he bowed to his hostess; "but,
you'll excuse my saying so, I don't find enough wit or lightness for my
temperament. For humour I have to go to Belgium or Germany."

He spoke with intense solemnity.

Mrs. Campbell now began to translate him even to himself.

"You say you like fun, wit--just fun to make laugh?" She made strange
signs with her fingers.

He did not appear to understand the code. He stared at her with a frown,
and rasped on seriously--

"I find a few comical jokes occasionally a great relief after my heavy
work. It is very deep work."

"I suppose it would be indiscreet to ask what the invention is?" said
Valentia, smiling.

"Not at all. There is nothing indiscreet whatever in your curiosity,
Mrs. Wyburn."

He took a scone covered with butter and swallowed it in an
extraordinarily short time, and in an ingenious manner.

"No, there's no indiscretion in the matter at all. Do not trouble
yourself on that score. It is merely the natural interest that a
cultivated and intellectual English lady would naturally take when she
hears of an extraordinary invention from another country." He bowed, and
having thus explained her to herself, he then ate another scone.

"She say she want to know, you know," nodded Mrs. Campbell, putting up a
playful and threatening finger with dignified coquetry and a stony
smile. (She was subject to fits of this kind of marble archness
unexpectedly.)

"Yes. So I understood."

The Belgian was looking at Daphne with distinct admiration. Of course
Miss Campbell came and sat down beside him. Women always follow their
instinct to come and sit on the other side of any man whom they regard
as their property. They seem to think that merely by sitting on the
other side they protect him from freebooters. As a matter of fact, it
would be more sensible, if to distract his attention were the object, to
sit opposite with some one else.

Mr. Stoendyck turned his back on her completely, and said to Daphne--

"Very charming, those motor-veils, and the whole costume. At the same
time, while being thoroughly practical and sensible, it is, if I may say
so, extremely becoming."

He bowed with a condescending air, and went on--

"The English young girl--at least, such specimens as I have seen in the
neighbourhood, especially in the country--seems to me a wonderfully
beautiful object. In Belgium we are getting on, but we have not reached,
as yet, the point of freedom combined with modesty that you constantly
see over here. Particularly, as I say, in rural districts."

He then made what can only be described, vulgarly, as a distinct 'eye.'

Both the Campbells looked uneasy.

"The Prebendary will be in soon," said Mrs. Campbell. "He promised
faithfully to come back to tea to-day. He also is a very busy man. He
come in soon," she spoke reassuringly.

Daphne was suddenly taken with a _fou rire_ and began to laugh
helplessly. Val, seeing her condition, and knowing that when she once
started there was no hope but in immediate flight, took leave.

They were cordially asked to come again by Mrs. Campbell. But Mr.
Stoendyck invited them to lunch, and wanted to fix a day and hour. Mrs.
Campbell, however, declined his invitation for them. Mrs. Wyburn, she
said, must have a great many engagements.

They left Stoendyck standing in the hall, looking sentimental.

"All foreigners not of the Latin race go on like that," said Val, as
they drove back. "They may be scientific, or soldiers, philosophers, or
musicians, but if they're Germans or Belgians or Austrians, or anything
of that sort, they always get bowled over by a young girl, a blue
ribbon, plumpness, or fair hair."

"But I'm very thin and dark," said Daphne angrily.

"I don't care if you are. You're a pretty girl, you're unmarried, you've
got blue chiffon round your head--and there it is.... I don't mean
Prussian officers, of course."

"_They_ would appreciate _you_, I suppose you mean!"

"One can't say. They'd probably take on anything."

Valentia took out the little looking-glass from her motor-bag, looked at
it, put it back, and added--

"Anything possible, I mean."

"Go on, Val."

"Go on how?"

"Telling me things. You're so interesting, you know such a lot. Now,
about the Latin races--wouldn't they like--er--me?"

"Of course they would. But they'd like you better if you were married to
Cyril or any one. Frenchmen and Italians always want their love-making
or flirtations to have something in it of the nature of a _score_. They
love scoring off a third person, whoever it may be,--whether it's their
friend's wife, or their wife's friend, or anything."

"They're not sincere, then?"

"Don't be silly. If they weren't sincere, why are there nothing but
unwritten-law crimes all over France and Italy? And why do Parisians
think and talk of ... nothing else! They're _sincere_ all right: it's
their hobby. Italians, of course, are more jealous and faithful, and
Parisians are frightfully vain--there's a good deal of a sort of
snobbism about it. They love to show off. That's why they're so keen on
dress."

"Do you think," said Daphne, with sudden anxiety, "that if you don't
dress to perfection you can't keep a man's love? I _do_ hope not! I mean
because when I'm married to Cyril I shan't be able to afford to wear
anything at all, except a clean blouse which I shall have to iron out
myself, like in _Hearth and Home_."

Valentia shook her head.

"Dressing to perfection doesn't make men love you, silly. It only makes
women hate you. And I never have yet seen the advantage of that."

"Oh, then, do Parisians want other women to hate you?" asked Daphne. Her
sister hesitated.

"Sometimes. Very often they don't. They want you to be admired by other
people, whoever they are, men or women. But in Paris dress counts in a
different sort of way--it means more--it stands for more. Oh, don't
bother!"

"Well, give me a straightforward Englishman!" exclaimed Daphne.

"Yes, indeed!" replied Val. "That Belgian Herr, anyhow, doesn't count. I
can't think why Mrs. Preb. and Miss Campbell are so much in love with
him."

"Isn't it funny? Why do you think it is, Val?"

"Perhaps it's because he's a man. You see, they're accustomed to
curates."



CHAPTER XXXI

AT EDGWARE


Miss Brill had twisted up her hair and put on her Sunday dress to
receive Vaughan.

To harmonise with the Dickens's garden it ought to have been white
muslin with flounces and a pink sash. But it was a quite long, dark blue
Liberty satin, made by a smart dressmaker in the Finchley Road. It had a
high collar, an Empire waist, and gathers.

Her mother was delighted with it. Gladys had not been quite satisfied
herself, and had tried to tie it in round the ankles with concealed
string, to make it look more like a nobble skirt, as she called it.

Her almost too abundant hair had been piled over a pad, which gave her
the appearance of having a swollen head. Yet even so she looked lovely,
rather like an old-fashioned picture in the Academy of _I'se Gan'ma_, or
something of the kind, suggesting a baby disguised as a
grown-up-person.

Vaughan went through the usual ritual of asking after Mrs. Brill--he
rather hurried Mr. Brill over his remark about the finest woman one
would see in a day's march--then admired the weather, ordered tea, and
asked for Miss Brill.

Gladys came and sat down with a rather shy, self-conscious air.

She soon lost it, however, and began to get natural again.

"Oh, Mr. Vaughan! I _never_ was more surprised than I was at that piece
in the paper! And mother come over quite queer, she was so surprised.
You were kind in your letter to forgive me for being rude. Who'd ever
have thought you was clever?"

"Who, indeed! But, Gladys, why this get-up? Why are you dressed up in
satin and dark colours on a summer day?"

"Why, mother said a nice navy blue was always useful. I'd rather have
had a Cambridge blue myself. Mother says navy blue's so ladylike. Don't
you like it?"

"Charming. But I don't like what you've done to your hair."

"Don't you, though? Fancy! Well, I don't seem to care much for it
myself. It's a Pompadour, you know--a pad."

"Take it off," said Vaughan.

"Oh, I can't!"

"All right, _I_ will. Come in the field."

"Well, I don't mind if you do. I'll say I took my hair down because it
was heavy."

"You've tried to spoil yourself, but you haven't succeeded. Why did you
do it, Gladys?"

"Seeing you was clever, I thought pr'aps I'd better try to look more
grown-up."

"Ah! what a mistake! Your great charm is that you're such a regular
J.F."

"What's that?"

"A _jeune fille_."

"What does that mean? What's a J.F. in English?"

"A jolly flapper."

"Oh, I say!"

       *     *     *     *     *

In the field Vaughan, with several interruptions and reproaches for
being a caution, managed to take the pad off her head and to throw it in
the field. But an unfortunate thing happened. All the corn-coloured hair
fell down over his face and he had kissed her--by accident--before he
knew it.

"Oh, I say! You are a caution!" was her only remark. But she did not
laugh, and as she hastily did a little amateur coiffing, he thought she
looked slightly annoyed. At any rate, she hadn't much more to say to
him, and he went back to London almost immediately, feeling quite
absurdly agitated about such an unimportant trifle.

       *     *     *     *     *

An hour later, when quietly at home in his study, Vaughan was suddenly
seized by that species of madness that has been known to wreck careers, "to
launch a thousand ships," to cause all kinds of chaos. It was that terrible
_once-on-board-the-lugger-and-the-girl-is-mine-I-must-and-shall-possess-her_
feeling in its most acute form. Most men have known it at some time in
their lives. He thought of Harry de Freyne, and felt noble and superior
in contrast to what _his_ conduct would have been, as he sat down and
wrote with intense pleasure--

     "Darling Gladys,

     "I love you. Will you marry me? Please try. I'm writing to your
     father. Don't keep me waiting long for the answer.

                                            "Yours for always,
                                                "GILLIE."

He then wrote a long and sensible letter to Mr. Brill; all business,
respect, and urgency, saying he knew that Gladys was very young, but
that he would make her happy, and so forth.

These two letters he sent off by express messenger in a taxicab to the
"Bald-faced Stag," and then sat down to dinner.

What a dinner! And what an evening he spent! He planned a long
journey--what fun to show the child new places and things! Why shouldn't
he marry the charming, refined, and beautiful daughter of an
hotel-keeper? He decided even on alterations in the house, and he meant
to be ecstatically happy.

What did he care for people? He had never lived either to _épater_ the
_bourgeois_ or to satisfy the ideal of the gentleman next door. He was
going to do something _he_ liked!...

       *     *     *     *     *

He woke up the next morning at six o'clock with a ghastly chilly horror
on him. What had he done? Had he been mad? To marry Miss Brill, the
daughter of the landlord of a little suburban public-house! A girl of
sixteen, pretty enough certainly, but with no pretensions to being a
lady, no possibility of having anything in common with him. But it
wasn't so much the question of what people would say--of course, most of
the women he knew would drop him, and the men would laugh at him and
make love to her--but, how long would it last? How long would this
strange mania endure? Perhaps not a week. The poor child would have an
awful time, too. She was much happier as she was.

Well! He was a sportsman, and had taken the risk. He must wait now. At
the back of his mind he was wondering how he could get out of it.

He had not to wait long. His letters were answered by the first post.
Evidently, the "Bald-faced Stag" had been kept up late that night to
reply in time.

Gladys wrote very respectfully that she was very sorry she hadn't told
him before, but she was privately engaged to the son of the landlord of
the Green Man at Stanmore: the Eldest Son, she wrote with pride (as
though he would inherit the title). She was awfully sorry. Besides, she
was going to be a manicure, first, for two years, and then settle down
at Stanmore. Her fiancé was twenty-one. She hoped Mr. Vaughan would come
over to tea very soon, and she thought his letter was very kind, and
remained his truly, Gladys Brill.

Mr. Brill had written a long and slightly rambling letter which
suggested rough copies and even some assistance from the old vintages of
the "Bald-faced Stag." He refused most firmly, though thoroughly
sensible of the honour done him by Mr. Vaughan's offer, but he couldn't
go back on his word to his friend at the Green Man. The arrangement had
been made, when Gladys and the son were in their cradles, by him and
his pal of the Green Man and he couldn't go back on his word. And Gladys
liked the young chap; and it was a great honour, indeed, that Mr.
Vaughan had done them, and it would have been splendid for Gladys in the
worldly sense. But there! it was better, perhaps, not to mix up
Stations. Mr. Brill repeated this sentiment over and over again, always
using a capital S for station--(as though Vaughan had expressed an
insane desire to confuse Victoria with the Great Western). And he
remained very respectfully, Tom Brill.

"A manicure in Bond Street and then the landlady of a common country
inn! Never! She shan't! I'll go down and persuade her. I'll make them
come round."

Vaughan was so hurt and disappointed that he felt he could never smile
again.

But he did.



CHAPTER XXXII

TENSION


When the sisters came back from their drive Harry was sitting on the
little marble terrace reading _Count Florio and Phillis K._ and smoking
cigarettes. With almost conjugal unfairness he complained that Valentia
always went out just before he arrived. In fact, he had begged her to
get the visit over that afternoon, as he intended to be late.

Valentia sat down and began a lively account of "The Angles," but he
implored her not to describe those awful people at home, and
particularly not to tell him anything about that poisonous Belgian. Then
he told Val that blue didn't suit her, and, when she agreed with him,
petulantly complained that she had no ideas of her own.

"But I had an idea of my own; only now you say it's wrong."

"So it is. But, even if it is wrong, you should stick to it. You should
have more individuality."

"What an awful word," she said.

"What's the matter with the word?"

"Nothing. It's so long."

"You're talking nonsense, Valentia."

"Well, why shouldn't I talk nonsense? I'm sure I've heard you say
there's nothing so depressing as a woman with no nonsense about her."

"I know. But there needn't be nothing else."

"Harry, are you trying to quarrel? If so I'd better go away."

"Oh, all right! Very well! Do as you like," said Harry. "It seems a
curious way to treat a guest: to go out when you expect him, and then
the moment you come in to make an excuse to leave him alone again. But
please yourself!"

He took up his book and turned away.

Valentia went into the house, to her room, and sat down opposite the
looking-glass with a sigh. It was at moments like these that she
sometimes thought, with a slight reaction, of Romer. Romer was never
capricious, never irritable, never trying. It was true that he rarely
answered her except in monosyllables, but yet she knew that he delighted
in and tacitly encouraged her fluency. He did not respond to every idea
she expressed as Harry did (when Harry was in a good temper), but she
knew she had no better audience. His extreme quietness might be
admitted, occasionally, to cast a slight gloom, but negatively what
enormous advantages his silence had! Romer never scolded, never laid
down the law; never thought it necessary to give her long, minute,
detailed accounts of his impressions of art, or life, or literature;
never insisted on pointing out, as if it were a matter of life and
death, precisely where he differed in his opinions of a book, a play, or
an incident, from the criticisms in the daily papers. Nor did he refer
to some annoying past incident half a dozen times a day as a sealed
subject. He had other qualities. He could take tickets, he could sign
cheques (and even seemed to like doing it). He could see about things.
He wasn't selfish. Yes, Valentia thought, when she saw Harry at his
worst, that perhaps she didn't really quite appreciate her husband. How
irritating Harry would have been in that capacity!

Daphne came in, and Valentia went on, as usual, with her thoughts aloud.

"Wouldn't Harry be a maddening husband?" she said as she brushed out her
hair.

"Oh! Would he? In what way?"

"He'd be so selfish, so obtrusive--he'd always want you to do exactly
what he liked, just when he liked, and never when he didn't, or when you
liked, I mean."

"How could he like you to do what he liked when he didn't like? That
would be expecting too much. I don't see what you mean, Val."

"I only mean that when he's in a bad temper Harry's tiresome, and if he
were married he'd be in one oftener."

"Oh dear! Are most men bad-tempered when they're married, Val?"

"Yes. Nearly always."

"_What?_ Then, will Cyril ..."

"Cyril's a pleasant, easy-going boy, but, as you won't have enough
money, he's sure to be bad-tempered at times."

"Then aren't married men bad-tempered when they have plenty of money,
Val?"

"Oh, if they have a great deal they're awfully bad-tempered, too;
because, you see, then they lose it, or if they don't do that they're
always trying to enjoy themselves with it and finding the enjoyment
flat, and then they blame their wives. Besides, anyhow, having enough
money leads to all sorts of complications."

"Oh dear! Then what do you advise?" Daphne hung on Valentia's words,
respecting her superior knowledge and experience.

"Oh, I advise enough, anyhow. It can't make you happy, but it can avoid
certain troubles. Love in a cottage is only all right for the week-end
when you have a nice house in London as well, and a season ticket or a
motor, and electric light and things, and a telephone. Oh, by the way,
our telephone here is eating its head off. We never use it. Go and ring
up to the grocer, not to forget to send the things, will you, dear? He's
got a telephone, too--the only tradesman in the village who has."

"What things isn't he to forget to send?"

"How should I know?--the usual things. He never does forget, but it
looks well to remind him, and the 'phone needs exercise."

"All right. But before I go, Val--suppose you can't have the sort of
love-in-a-cottage you mean, and there's no fear of your being so rich
that it makes you miserable, what is the best thing to do?"

"Why, I suppose the old business in the old novels, a competence with
the man of your heart, would do all right."

Daphne looked pleased.

"For six months, anyhow. Or a year or two, perhaps," Val added.

"Oh dear!" cried Daphne again, as she left the room.

"Poor pet," Val murmured to herself. "I hope I'm not teaching her to be
cynical."



CHAPTER XXXIII

GOOD-BYE


The only person in the family who did not thoroughly approve of Gladys's
decision was her mother. Mrs. Brill thought it sheer madness to decline
proposals of a 'gentleman from the West End,' as she called him; so
clever and so rich, so handsome and so much in love. She was romantic
and yet worldly in her views, and was much excited at the idea of the
rivalry for her daughter. There were bitter scenes between Mr. and Mrs.
Brill on the subject. Mr. Brill was not romantic nor worldly, but he was
very sentimental, and he didn't hold with breaking his word to the Green
Man, nor indeed with that mixing up of Stations to which he had already
alluded.

Between the opposing views of her parents Gladys became somewhat
bewildered. She liked the son of the Green Man (he was in reality only a
green boy, but good-looking, and she had always known him), and she
wished to be loyal to him. Yet her mother's remarks about Mr. Vaughan
began to appeal to her imagination, such as it was. She was rather
dazzled and began to weaken. She was at the age when one can really be
in love with anybody, and she was flattered. Though she felt she would
feel more at home with her childhood's friend, she began, very slightly,
to look down upon him when she compared him with Gillie.

Vaughan came down the day after he had received her letter, and behaved
precisely as usual.

Mr. Brill, meeting him with a rather shamefaced air in the garden, said
straightforwardly--

"Very pleased indeed to see you, Mr. Vaughan. You got my letter, sir?"

"Yes, indeed. To my sorrow. I want to talk to you about it."

"Well, I was sorry to write it, sir, if you take my meaning. But there!
Well, Mrs. Brill 'as expressed a wish for a few words with you, if you
wouldn't mind."

"I shall be delighted, of course. But--may I see Gladys?"

"Why, yes, sir. Tea and bread and butter? The usual thing?"

"Yes, please. As usual." Mr. Brill lingered.

"Ave some watercress with it, sir," he added sympathetically, "or we've
got some very nice little radishes. Ow about them?"

Vaughan nearly laughed.

"No, thank you! I'm afraid they wouldn't be any use to me, Mr. Brill."

"Ha, ha! You will have your joke!"

Mr. Brill went in and told his wife that Mr. Vaughan was "sitting there
looking that miserable it was enough to make one's heart ache."

With this satisfactory intelligence he sent Gladys into the garden.

She was all blushes and shyness. Her hair had gone back into the long
plait, and she wore her schoolgirl dress again.

"You're too proud, Gladys!" he said reproachfully. "Why did you never
tell me of your engagement?"

"Why, I didn't ardly count it to interest you, Mr. Vaughan. Besides,
it's not to be for two years."

"Are you in love with him?"

"Why, what a question! I _like_ him. He's a nice boy."

"I suppose he's very much in love with you?"

"Oh, he's all right."

"That was a very cruel letter you wrote me, Gladys."

"I was afraid you'd think it rude," she answered apologetically.

"No, dear. It isn't rude to refuse a proposal. You can't accept them
all, can you?"

"You've made a wretched tea, Mr. Vaughan. Is there anything else you'd
like?"

"Yes, I want to go in the field again, like the day before yesterday."

"Was it only the day before yesterday? So it was. A lot seems to ave
appened since. Well, come along."

She looked such an absolute child as she climbed the gate that Gillie
felt almost ashamed of his proposal, and thought that probably her
father was quite right.... But her face was so exactly like Sir Joshua
Reynolds' angels' heads, she might have sat for them. She was too
absurdly pretty. And sweet, too, he thought. She had no vulgar
pretensions, she was simple. She only wanted a little polish. He could
teach her everything necessary. No task could have been more
congenial....

"So you think I'm too old for you. Is that it?"

"No, it isn't. It isn't that. It's what father told you."

"Would you hate to go for a long journey with me, to see other places,
other countries?"

"Oh no; I'd like it. We went to Clacton last summer. It _was_ fun."

He thought a little.

"Gladys, as you're so young, won't you leave the whole thing in abeyance
for a time?"

"In what, did you say?"

"Undecided. Let me come and talk to you about it in six months. The only
thing I can't bear you to do is to be a manicure. I'm going to speak to
your mother about it. I can't stand it."

"Oh, why, Mr. Vaughan? I should have thought it was nice for me to sort
of better myself."

"Nonsense. Far better stay here. Well, will you agree to that?"

"To give up the manicuring and to leave the engagement open like? Is
that what you mean?"

"That's the idea."

She thought a minute.

"I really don't see how I can. And--my boy would feel it something cruel
if I put him off like that."

"When do you see him?" he asked jealously.

"Why, on Sundays. Only on Sundays."

"Ah, that's why I've never seen him. I wondered why I'd never met my
hated rival."

She laughed.

"Oh, now, you're going on silly, like the people in the play!... I don't
believe you alf mean it."

"Don't you believe I love you?"

"How can you? You don't ardly know me, except as a friend."

"I'll tell you why I love you if you like, dearest."

"Well, why?" She spoke with girlish curiosity.

"Because you're lovely, and lovable, and sweet. Because you're a
darling."

"Oh, I say!"

"Doesn't your boy, as you call him, say these things to you?"

"Not like that. I only see him on Sundays."

"And does he kiss you on Sundays?"

"Oh yes."

Vaughan got up.

"All right, I won't worry you any more.... I'll let you be happy in your
own way, dear.... I must go now."

"Oh, _must_ you?"

She seemed very disappointed.

"Yes, I'm going to France."

"What, to-day?"

"No, next week."

"Oh, I am sorry."

"Good-bye, dear."

He went in and bid adieu to Mr. and Mrs. Brill and the "Bald-faced Stag"
for ever. He said to her father that he was resigned.

       *     *     *     *     *

As soon as he had gone, Gladys went upstairs to her room, looked in the
glass, then burst out crying.

She had fallen in love with Gillie.



CHAPTER XXXIV

ROMER OVERHEARS


Romer started to go by himself for a five-mile walk, leaving Daphne,
Valentia and Harry in the garden, but a nail in his boot hurt so much
that, after the first half-mile, Romer decided he couldn't stand it any
longer, and would walk back, go quietly in, and then surprise them by
coming to tea in the garden.

He was gone a very short time, but he hastened his steps, looking
forward immensely to the removal of the boot, and also to seeing
Valentia again.

Lately he had been more than ever devoted to her. Ever since they had
been at the Green Gate she had been specially gentle and charming--but
not nearly so lively as usual. Sometimes she looked quite anxious and
preoccupied. He thought, too, that she was occasionally irritable; which
was unlike her--and her spirits varied continually.

He asked her one day what was the matter, and she assured him that
there was nothing, so he believed her. But he was always thinking about
her, trying to find some means to please her. He was dissatisfied about
her.

He came back, went into his room, and his spirits incalculably raised by
the cessation of the torture, he went and sat by the window, and looked
out at the lovely garden.

It was a hot summer day; a little wind was in the trees.

Exactly under the window, on the little verandah, sat Harry with
Valentia. Daphne was no longer there.

They were talking; and talking, it seemed to him, in an agitated way.

Leaning a little over he could see Valentia on a bamboo chair. To his
horror he saw that she was crying.

Harry, speaking in a suppressed but rather angry voice, appeared to be
trying to comfort her.

Without a second's hesitation or a moment's scruple, Romer intently
listened. He did not hide or draw behind the curtain. He remained in
full view, in the window, so that they could see him easily if they
happened to look up. But they did not; they were far too much
preoccupied.... He heard Harry speaking volubly, saying, in a tone of
irritated apology and explanation--

"My dear girl, I do wish to heaven you wouldn't take it like that. I
haven't changed--I never shall. I don't care two straws about Miss
Walmer. But really, it is such a splendid chance for me! You ought no
more to expect me to give it up than any other good business opportunity
that might crop up."

"I should never see you again," she answered, her voice broken by sobs.

"Yes, you would. We should be the same as ever. You know we can't do
without each other. You're part of my life."

He spoke casually, but with irritation, as if mentioning a self-evident
fact.

"Oh yes, you say that," she answered sadly. "But nothing could alter the
fact that you wish to be treacherous, and throw me over--and just for
money! It's simply degrading. It's all nonsense to say it will be just
the same!"

"Well, of course--for a time--immediately after the marriage--it
couldn't be; but it would gradually drift into very much the same."

"It wouldn't, even if it could, because I should never see you again,"
she repeated.

Harry stood up with his hands in his pockets, his shoulders raised.

Romer could see his face quite plainly, and wondered at its hard,
selfish, almost cruel expression.

"Well, if you won't you won't," he said. "How can I waste all my life
dangling after a woman who is married to somebody else? I should be only
too delighted--if I could afford it. But I can't, and that's the brutal
truth. And then, you know, there has been a little talk. That
mother-in-law of yours has been gossiping about us. Some day, Romer's
bound to get hold of it, and then where shall we be? Don't you see,
dear," he went on more gently, "this will stop all that? Wouldn't it be
better for me to be married--just in this official sort of way--to
remain in England, and be able to see you just the same as ever--very
soon--than to go out to the colonies or somewhere, and never see you
again at all? There's no doubt I've got to do something. I'm in a
frightful hole. Seven thousand a year--a place in the country--and a
decent sort of girl, dropped down on me, as it were, from heaven! I
hadn't the slightest idea of such luck--and hadn't any pretensions to
it. But the girl has taken a liking to me, and her mother wants to get
her married. It's ugly--unromantic--but there are the facts. If you
cared for me really, I shouldn't think you would want to stand in my
way."

"Very well, do it, then," she said, drying her eyes. "If you can speak
in this heartless way it shows you are very different from what I
believed you. But it will kill me; I shall never get over it."

She was rushing away when Harry caught her hand and stopped her.

"Listen," he said, in an impressive voice. "Go to your room, bathe your
eyes, and calm yourself down. Make no more scenes, for heaven's sake,
and we'll see what can be done."

"Oh, Harry, really--_is_ there any hope? Or are you deceiving me again?"

"I've almost agreed to it, you know," he said. "Still, there's not what
one could call an actual engagement yet. At any rate, it might be
delayed. I'll see; I'll think--really if I weren't so hard up I wouldn't
do it."

"Oh, Harry!" A gleam of joy came into her eyes, and she clasped her
hands.

"Then you won't worry me any more about it for the next few days?" he
asked.

"I promise;" and smiling sweetly through her tears she left him, going
into the house. Her room, on the same floor as Romer's, was at the other
end of the corridor, so she did not even pass his door, and had not the
slightest idea that he was at home.

He was still at the window, looking out apparently at the garden.

Harry gave an impatient sigh, lit a cigarette and strolled off through
the garden.

It had been about three o'clock when Romer had come in and sat down by
the window. He was still there in precisely the same position at seven,
when his valet brought his hot water.

But Romer could not dress and go down to dinner. He could not see them
till he had made up his mind what to do. He always thought slowly, and
now he was acutely anxious to make no mistake. He felt that by the
slightest wrong move he might lose Valentia altogether. That, at least,
was his instinctive dread. He sent Valentia a message that he had to go
up to London to see his mother, and would be back the next day. He
arranged that she did not get the message till he was driving to the
station--just before dinner.

He went up to London and stayed at an hotel, but did not go to his
mother's, and thought nearly all night till he had made a resolution.
Then he slept till nine o'clock, feeling much happier. He remembered
clearly that Harry was coming to town and going to the studio on this
day, as he often did. He calculated that he would be likely to arrive by
the quick early morning train, and was standing waiting at the door of
the studio at twelve o'clock when Harry drove up, looking intensely
surprised, with hand outstretched, cordial and delighted.

"My dear fellow, how jolly of you to remember I was coming up! Come in,
come in! I've only got this bothering business to attend to, then we'll
lunch together, and go back by the four train, shall we? You won't have
to stop on here, will you?"

"I don't know," said Romer, as he followed Harry.

"Your mother's not ill, I hope," said Harry, throwing himself into an
arm-chair.

"I don't think so," said Romer; "she's at Bournemouth."

"Bournemouth! How like her! But you haven't been down there to see her?"

"No."

"Are you going?"

"Don't think so."

"Then it isn't your mother that brought you up to town, old chap?"

"No."

"Is anything wrong?" asked Harry, after a moment's pause.

It struck him that Romer looked very odd, and as he noted a slightly
greyish tinge in Romer's face, he turned pale himself under his becoming
sunburn.

"What is the matter?" repeated Harry, who could not be quiet. His
weakness lay in the fact that he never, under any circumstances, could
entirely "hold his tongue."

Romer put down his stick and hat, which he had been holding, took a
chair exactly opposite Harry, stared him in the face, and said in a dry,
hard voice, much less slowly than usual--

"There's something I wish you to do."

"You wish me to----"

"Yes. Write to Miss Walmer definitely breaking off your engagement."

"My--engagement?"

"I heard what you said yesterday afternoon. I came back from my
walk--there was a nail in my boot. I heard every word from the window in
my room."

"You listened?"

"Yes, I listened."

"Romer, my dear fellow, I swear to you that ..."

"Don't swear anything to me," said Romer quietly. "And don't dare to
defend Valentia to me.... I advise you not."

Harry was silent, utterly bewildered.

"I find that your----friendship, instead of being a pleasure to her, is
making her miserable. For some reason she likes to have you about. She
doesn't wish you to marry Miss Walmer. Well, you shan't! Do you hear
that? You shan't! You're not going to marry that girl and then come
dangling about again."

He waited a minute and then said--

"Valentia's got to be happy. You're not going to have everything _you_
want. You can surely make a little sacrifice to be her friend!" Then for
one moment only Romer nearly lost his control. He said--

"We've been married five years, and I've never said a word or done a
thing that she didn't like. And _you_ made her cry. You! You made her
cry!"

"My dear Romer, I assure you it's all ..."

Romer interrupted him in a low voice, impatiently.

"Oh, shut up, will you? I want no talk or discussion. I want only one
thing. You're to write immediately, definitely putting an end to this
engagement. While you write the letter I'll wait, and then I'll post it
myself. Will you do it?"

"My dear fellow, of course I'll do anything. But how strange you are! I
should have thought----"

"I don't want to know what you would have thought, and I don't care a
straw what you think of my attitude. On condition you do what I say, I
shall never refer to the subject again, and everything shall be as it
has been."

Harry was obviously greatly relieved.

"I will do whatever you wish," he said, looking and feeling ashamed of
himself.

Seeing that Romer was evidently in a hurry for the letter, he drew
writing materials to him.

Then Romer said--

"One more thing. You are not to tell Valentia anything about this. She's
not to know I overheard. I won't have her distressed. Remember that."

"I give you my word of honour," said Harry.

"Very well. And when I've posted the letter we'll wipe out the whole
thing. Don't even say you saw me in town."

"Of course I won't."

As Harry bent his head low over the writing-table, Romer, who was
sitting motionless, looked at a curious dagger that was hanging on the
wall, with a horrible sudden longing to plunge it in Harry's neck....
Horrified at his own fancy, he looked away from it and thought of
Valentia. Valentia would smile and be happy now, and everything would go
smoothly again. He would not have to say anything painful to her; she
would never be uncomfortable in his presence. In time she would probably
grow tired of Harry and could turn to him, Romer, again, with more
affection than if anything painful had passed between them.... His
attitude had been extraordinarily unselfish, and yet it had its root in
the deep scheming selfishness and subtle calculation of the passion of
love. To get Valentia back, as he vaguely hoped, some time, however
distant, he had acted most wisely, and he knew it. For he cared for her
far too much ever to have conventional thoughts on the subject. It never
even occurred to him to try to act as the husband ought to act, or as by
the incessant insidious influence of plays and novels most of us have
been brought up to think he ought to act. Most people are far more
guided than they know in their views of life by the artificial
conventions of the theatre and of literature, or by tradition. In fact,
most people are other people. Romer was himself. He thought simply for
himself, like a child. And so it happened that he acted in a crisis
terrible to him, more wisely for his own interest than the most
sophisticated of men....

       *     *     *     *     *

"Here is the letter. Will you read it?"

Romer read it and put it back in the envelope. Then he said--

"All right. You're going back to the Green Gate this afternoon?"

"If I may."

"I shall be back to-morrow," said Romer, in his ordinary voice.

Harry accompanied him to the door and held out his hand.

Romer hesitated a moment. Then he said--

"Good-bye," with a nod, and went away, taking no notice of it.

       *     *     *     *     *

"By Jove!" said Harry, to himself.



CHAPTER XXXV

THE LIMIT


Romer went back to his hotel that evening feeling happier than he had
ever expected to be again. He felt sure now that everything would be
perfectly right. He refused to allow himself to dwell for a moment on
possibilities, and on what had been, or on what might have been. But he
was like a man who had been slightly stunned by a blow on the head and
was beginning to feel the pain the next day. Yet the pain was not very
acute; he did not quite realise it, but, unconsciously, it made him
feverish. And he was still a little stupefied. It did not occur to him
to go to the Club, or to look up any friends, and he remained in the
little hotel in Jermyn Street, filled at this time of the year
principally by Americans, and he dined alone there--dined well, and
smoked a long cigar. Then he went for a walk. London at the beginning of
August was not empty, but stale, crowded, untidy, hot--unlike itself. He
tried not to think of the garden of the Green Gate. Suddenly, with a
stab, he imagined Harry and Valentia; probably now he was telling her
that the engagement was broken off, and she was smiling and happy. Well!
it was what he wished. Since what had happened he felt his great love
for Valentia was much less vivid than it had been. He cared for her more
remotely. She seemed at a great distance. He thought that he felt more
to her as if she were a dear sister and living far away. Yes, that was
it; he loved her now like a sister.

Surprised at his own calm, and much pleased with his behaviour in the
matter, he retired to bed. The instant he had closed his eyes he seemed
to see, with the clearness of an hallucination, Harry's head bending low
over the writing-table, and, hanging above him on the wall of the
studio, the curious dagger; a Japanese weapon that was one of Harry's
treasures. And Romer felt again precisely the same horrible longing that
he had felt that morning at the studio--the sudden longing to plunge it
into Harry's neck. Horrified at the fancy and at himself, he turned up
the light and tried to read. He could not fix his attention on a word of
the article "Silk and Stuff" in the _Pall Mall_....

Of course he was not angry with Valentia; how could she help it? She
must be made happy. But she seemed dim, distant, remote. It was an
effort to recall her face.... Harry--Harry did not seem very real to him
either. It was all unreal. But he, Romer, had done the right thing.
Harry would never make her cry again.

Everything would go on as before. And _he_ had never said a word that it
would be painful for them both to remember. There was nothing
uncomfortable between them. He felt she would grow tired of Harry of her
own accord, and would then return to him, Romer, with no disagreeable
recollection of scenes, nor of their having said horrible things to one
another. Yes, he had been quite right. Yet she did not seem to him so
near as she used to be. He was not angry with her.... No, of course not.
He was not jealous. Perhaps she seemed more remote, more distant,
because he felt a certain coldness, and--yes--the coldness was there
because he was a little hurt perhaps.... And then he tried to go to
sleep again. But instantly his insane vision came back, and he got up
and walked round the room and tried to banish it.... At last he really
went to sleep, and awoke trembling with horror. He had had a horrible
dream. He dreamt that Harry was writing a letter, and that he had taken
the dagger from the wall of the studio and killed him. This was simply
horrible.

Then he began to realise the reason. It was subconscious jealousy. Then
he saw that he had set himself a task too big for him, and that he could
not endure to see Harry with Valentia now. It would be impossible to
bear it. He would have to tell him to go. He had mistaken his own
feelings. What he had heard on the verandah, what he had imagined, could
never be obliterated. Indeed, he saw clearly that if he tried to endure
it he would break down. The effort would lead to madness.--It was
impossible.... He had sent Harry back to her! He had actually sent him;
it was unbearable.

He would go back the next day, take Harry aside, and tell him that he
had found he couldn't bear it, and that on some pretext he must go away.
He would tell him that he had reached the limit of his endurance and
could bear no more. He would never speak of it to Valentia. Valentia
would be sad--but that could not be helped. He knew, now, that he could
not endure the sight of Harry again.

Having made this resolution, he became much calmer. But the dream
recurred each time he went to sleep until, in dread of it, he resolved
to sleep no more. His nerves felt shattered.

And then, he began to count the minutes till he could be back at the
Green Gate. To see Valentia again and to banish Harry for ever! And all
the obvious, human feelings that he thought he was free from had come
back. He broke down; bitter tears of self-pity, of sentiment, and of
heartbroken humiliation fell from his eyes. He remembered their
engagement and their honeymoon, and then the eternal and everlasting
amusing cousin; Harry, and his sickening good looks and ceaseless
chatter. No more of it, by heaven! It would be something worth having
lived for to have no more of the brilliant Harry. He saw now that he had
always been subconsciously jealous of him--that he had always loathed
and hated him. And rightly, by instinct; for not only had he done the
most unpardonable injury one friend can do to another, without a scruple
and without a hesitation, but he had shown the same baseness to her. He
made her unhappy. He made her cry. He wanted to marry for money and come
back again, treacherous to every one--hard, heartless, selfish, vulgar
in mind and in attitude to life. Romer hated him.

Well! Romer would tell him that very day that he had changed his mind
and that he was to go anywhere--anyhow--only to go. Neither he nor
Valentia should ever see him again.

Valentia seemed a long way off. She seemed remote and distant. That was
because he was still hurt and angry. When Harry had once gone, perhaps
she would seem near again.



CHAPTER XXXVI

RECONCILIATION


Romer had made one mistake in his calculations. He had forgotten that
Harry was a talker. He fully believed that the young man would go back
and get all possible credit from Valentia for breaking off the
engagement, and would adhere to the very letter of their strange
agreement. This, indeed, Harry fully intended to do. When he first went
back he told her, to her immense joy and satisfaction, merely that he
had broken it off. But when some people who had come to dinner had gone
away and she and Harry could be alone, the habit of confidential gossip,
the habit, especially, of impressing and surprising her, and, above all,
the inability to keep to himself anything so amazing, was too strong for
him.

Picturesquely, vividly, and quite amusingly Harry told her every word of
the story; first exacting a solemn promise not to repeat it.

"Isn't he _impayable_? Isn't he a marvel? No, Valentia, don't look so
grave, or I shall think you've lost your sense of humour."

"But do you believe he really thinks----"

"He doesn't think," said Harry, stopping her. "He won't think. You're
faultless in his eyes. He would never allow himself to imagine you
anything else. Valentia, this is a wonderful situation--you don't
appreciate it! It's unheard of! He particularly wished that everything
should go on as before."

He took her hand. She immediately took it away and drew back coldly.

"A wonderful situation! Do you think Van Buren will enjoy it?" she asked
satirically.

"Van Buren! What on earth do you mean, Val? Do you suppose for a minute
that I'd talk about it?"

"I know you will. You couldn't resist it. It's _impayable_ you say....
Oh, but it was mean of you to tell me!"

"Mean!" cried Harry indignantly. "Why, it was very generous! I might
easily have pleased you very much more by saying I broke it off quite of
my own accord."

"That wasn't why you told me. You wanted me to laugh at Romer and think
him ridiculous."

"I don't at all. I was in the ridiculous position. Be a woman of the
world, Val. Don't talk bosh! We shall soon forget it happened."

"I shall never forget," she answered. "And things _can't_ go on as they
were, because I think he's behaved magnificently, because I think he's
heroic. And if I didn't appreciate the way he spared me I should be....
Why, don't you realise what it must have been for him, Harry, to hear
every word we said? And yet he didn't try to make me suffer for it!"

"He complained that _I_ made you cry!" said Harry with a ghost of a
smile.

"Look here, Harry, it's no good. I see I was right about Romer from the
first. I married him because I thought there was something
remarkable--something finer than other people about him. And I was
right."

"If you talk like that, I shall know you're in love with him," said
Harry tauntingly and angrily. "_I_ was a fool to tell you. You're just
upset, my dear," he added, "at the idea of his knowing of the whole
thing. By to-morrow, when he comes back, everything will have calmed
down."

"I want to be left alone," said Valentia.

Harry was annoyed, for he himself was not just now in the mood for
reverie, and even in the smallest things he disliked giving up his own
wishes.

"Oh, very well," he said ungraciously; "perhaps it's a pity I wrote the
letter."

"Perhaps it is," she answered as she went away and shut the door.

Harry sat up late, swearing at his own indiscretion and the
unaccountability of women. But he was not prepared for what followed.

The next morning, as he was dressing, a note was given to him. It said--

     "Dear Harry,

     "After what you told me yesterday, I feel I never wish to see you
     again. This is not anger; but it's incurable. I can't account for
     it, but it is there. How you could have been so stupid as to think
     I could remain with both you and Romer in the house with this
     knowledge between us, I simply can't understand. How could I help
     contrasting his generosity with your self-interested selfishness? I
     am not angry any more about Miss Walmer. I'm quite indifferent. If
     you married her to-morrow it would give me no pain. The only kind
     thing you can do for me now, and the one thing I implore, is to go
     away on any pretext you like and without seeing me again. To put it
     perfectly plainly, Harry, I have changed entirely since last night.
     I see everything differently. Everything _is_ different. Forgive
     me, but I don't wish to see you any more.      "VALENTIA.

     "P.S.--I will send your photographs and other things to the studio.
     I should like you to burn mine, but do not send them back. I don't
     want to look at anything that reminds me of you. Do not be angry--I
     can't help it. I am so unhappy.

                                                            V.

     "If you don't go I know I shall be seriously ill."

After reading this letter Harry was probably about a thousand times more
in love with Valentia than he had ever been in his life. Indeed, he felt
that he had never cared for her before. He pretended even to himself to
laugh at it, and walked up and down his room, saying to himself: "What a
couple! What a woman! What a man! They're unique. No, they're too
wonderful!"

But he didn't succeed in deceiving himself. He _knew_ that letter was
final. He did not give it up at once. He wrote her three letters. The
first, one of indignant reproach: "_You never really cared for me_," and
so forth, which she did not answer; the second, witty and trivial, with
allusions to mountains and molehills and tragedy queens; the third,
desperately imploring her to see him once before he went away. To the
third one she sent a reply, simply saying--

"Please, please go as soon as possible."

After all his emotion and passionate correspondence it was by this time
only about half-past ten. Harry packed, dressed, and went off to the
station, mad with rage. He left no word for Romer at all. He felt he had
better leave all that to the wife. He had lost her absolutely and for
ever--and Miss Walmer too.

In prompt response to his wire Van Buren met him at the station.

And what a wonderful consolation it was to tell him all about it!

Certainly no man ever had a better audience; no one more impressed,
shocked, delighted, horrified, amused, grieved, pleased and sympathetic
ever listened to a confidence. For Van Buren it was as good as a _cause
célèbre_, a musical comedy, a _feuilleton_ in the _Daily Mail_ and a
series of snapshots from the homes of the upper classes--all in one.
Never in his life had he heard anything so intensely English. The story
gave him the acute, objective, artistic joy that one takes in the best
literature, an intellectual pleasure that is usually more or less
mingled with the merely spiteful satisfaction that we are accused of
taking in the misfortunes of our best friends. And how well Harry told
it!

His style was perfect. It was brilliancy, charm, humour, and pathos; he
laughed at himself, and yet made himself an object of real sympathy,
without losing either his dignity or his dash.

He knew that his confidence aroused enormous interest, and to him that
was a great gratification. And so Harry drowned his sorrows in talk, as
other men drown theirs in wine, or in sport, or in taking some violent
step. He intoxicated and soothed himself with conversation.

But Harry was not an unpractical man--not one of those for whom words
take place of actions--and he could face facts. Valentia was irrevocably
lost to him. To attempt to regain Miss Walmer, although it might perhaps
not be impossible, would make him ridiculous. The letter he had written
at Romer's dictation had been too definite. He would give himself away
hopelessly as a fortune-hunter if he tried to go back on that. Besides,
he was absolutely sick of it all, and if he was more in love with
Valentia than he had ever supposed himself to be because she no longer
wanted him, he disliked the thought of Miss Walmer far more than he ever
had before, because he was convinced she would forgive him and be
devoted to him even now.

Van Buren had taken the knock, as he expressed it, using with relish the
English slang phrase, with regard to Daphne, and he had made up his mind
to return to New York. Under the circumstances he now had little
difficulty in persuading Harry to come out with him right away. He
undertook to provide for his friend's future, and that he should make a
fortune in the Bank, and perhaps when this was agreed upon Van Buren
had never been so happy. He was far more genuinely a man's man than was
Harry. He regarded women from the point of view of the well-bred
American--with deference, a sort of distant tenderness, a most
chivalrous and gentle respect. He looked upon them as ornamental and as
delightful adjuncts to life, like flowers in a ball-room, but not
seriously as part of it. Nor, either, as mere toys. He placed women far
more highly than Harry did; he thought everything should be done for
them, given to them, that they had a right to any position they were
able to hold, that they should be treated with reverence, consideration,
liberality ... and even justice; but--he could do without them. Harry
couldn't. And so they would always continue to fall in love with Harry,
and to find Van Buren a little dull.

       *     *     *     *     *

When Romer arrived at the Green Gate that afternoon he found Valentia
sitting alone in the drawing-room. Her hands were clasped, she had a
serious, anxious, thoughtful expression that he had never seen before.
He was surprised at the painful start it gave him to see her again, but
he came in defying this sensation.

"Hallo!" he said, in what he meant to be a perfectly easy manner.

He glanced round the room.

"Where's Harry?"

"Harry's gone," said Valentia, in a low voice.

"Oh, has he?"

Romer walked to the window. He looked at her dress, a white dress that
he liked, but did not meet her eyes. Then he said--

"Oh, he's gone. When is he coming back?"

"Never," she said.

Romer didn't answer, nor ask why.

After a minute he said--

"Where's Daphne?"

"Gone to stay with Mrs. Foster for a week."

"Oh! Who's coming down to-day?"

"Nobody. I thought perhaps you wouldn't mind--being alone, I mean." She
spoke without her usual fluency.

He stood staring out of the window into the quiet, damp garden. Then he
turned slowly round and looked at her. He looked at her little feet in
their little white laced shoes; at the slim, narrow line of the white
dress; at the hands clasped in her lap....

And he felt a sudden pang of cruel, realistic jealousy. But he looked at
her eyes and saw tears in them, and, pitying her, he crushed it down for
ever.

The marvellous instinct with which women are usually credited seems too
often to desert them on the only occasions when it would be of any real
use. One would say it was there for trivialities only, since in a crisis
they are usually dense, fatally doing the wrong thing. It is hardly too
much to say that most domestic tragedies are caused by the feminine
intuition of men and the want of it in women. Fortunately, Valentia's
feeling of remorseful tenderness towards Romer enabled her to read him
now. Of course she would have loved to cry, to explain at great length,
to beg him to forgive her and have a reconciliation. But something told
her that he could not have borne it; that the subject must never be
touched; that she must spare him any reference to it--any scene.

So she said nothing.

       *     *     *     *     *

And, during the curious silence, he gradually and slowly took in the
soothing facts. He regained his sense of proportion, of perspective. He
saw she was disillusioned about Harry; he felt that the infatuation was
over; and, what was more, he realised, to his unutterable relief, that
she was not going to talk about it. How he dreaded that terrible
explicitness of women, their passion for tidying up, their love of
labels! He would not even have to hear it called a sealed subject, and
he would not have to say anything at all.

       *     *     *     *     *

He looked out of the window again, began to whistle in a slightly
embarrassed way, and then said casually--

"Let's come out, Val. The lawn wants mowing."


THE END



       *       *       *       *       *

Transcriber's Notes


The original spelling and punctuation were retained, except for
a few issues that were believed to be typographical mistakes.

The full list of corrections is as follows:

+------+--------------------+--------------------+-------------------+
| page | original text      | corrected to       | explanation       |
+------+--------------------+--------------------+-------------------+
|  15  | old-fashoned       | old-fashioned      | a misspelling     |
|      |                    |                    |                   |
|  32  | ,old chap'         | 'old chap'         | comma corrected   |
|      |                    |                    |   to single quote |
|      |                    |                    |                   |
| 142  | of colour          | off colour         | a misspelling     |
|      |                    |                    |                   |
| 144  | CAPTER             | CHAPTER            | a misspelling     |
|      |                    |                    |                   |
| 153  | darling.           | darling."          | Double quote      |
|      |                    |                    | added.            |
|      |                    |                    |                   |
| 181  | on the 'thou.'"... | on the 'thou.'..." | The position of   |
|      |                    |                    | ellipsis was      |
|      |                    |                    | changed.          |
|      |                    |                    |                   |
| 201  | airdresser's       | hairdresser's      | a misspelling     |
|      |                    |                    |                   |
| 220  | "Ha! musical,      | "Ha! Musical,      | Lowercase         |
|      |                    |                    | corrected         |
|      |                    |                    | to uppercase.     |
|      |                    |                    |                   |
| 256  | Dicken's           | Dickens's          | a misspelling     |
|      |                    |                    |                   |
| 273  | things to you?'    | things to you?"    | Single quote      |
|      |                    |                    | corrected to      |
|      |                    |                    | double quote.     |
+------+--------------------+--------------------+-------------------+





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