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Title: The Twelfth Hour
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 Twelfth Hour" ***

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



Transcriber's note:

   Minor punctuation errors have been changed without notice. Printer
   errors have been changed and are listed at the end. All other
   inconsistencies are as in the original.



THE TWELFTH HOUR

by

ADA LEVERSON



London
Chapman & Hall

Originally published 1907 by Grant Richards Ltd.
Reissued 1951 by arrangement with the Richards Press Ltd.

Printed by Brüder Rosenbaum, Vienna, Austria
Cat. No. 5090/4



CONTENTS


   Chapter                                 Page

   I      FELICITY                            7

   II     THE TRIALS OF WOODVILLE            23

   III    A LOVE SCENE                       32

   IV     "AUNT WILLIAM"                     40

   V      ARTHUR MERVYN AT HOME              55

   VI     AN AGREEABLE RATTLE                70

   VII    THE NIGHT OF THE PARTY             82

   VIII   FELICITY AND HER CLIENTS          100

   IX     A DINNER AT WILLIS'S              112

   X      THE THIN END OF THE WEDGE         125

   XI     SAVILE AND SYLVIA                 138

   XII    AT THE STUDIO                     148

   XIII   AT MRS. OGILVIE'S                 155

   XIV    LORD CHETWODE                     166

   XV     MADAME TUSSAUD'S                  175

   XVI    A GOLDEN DAY                      189

   XVII   SAVILE TAKES A LINE               195

   XVIII  FELICITY'S ENGAGEMENTS            202

   XIX    THE VELVET CASE                   216

   XX     ZERO, THE SOOTHSAYER              232

   XXI    "THE OTHER GIRL"                  246

   XXII   SAVILE AND JASMYN                 255

   XXIII  SAVILE AND BERTIE                 261

   XXIV   THE EXPLANATION                   267

   XXV    THE QUARREL                       274

   XXVI   VERA'S ADVENTURE                  282

   XXVII  AUNT WILLIAM'S DAY                292

   XXVIII THE TWELFTH HOUR                  302



CHAPTER I

FELICITY


"Hallo, Greenstock! Lady Chetwode in?"

"Her ladyship is not at home, sir. But she is sure to see you, Master
Savile," said the butler, with a sudden and depressing change of manner,
from correct impassibility to the conventional familiarity of a
patronising old retainer.

"Dressing, eh? You look all right Greenstock."

"Well, I am well, and I am not well, Master Savile, if you can
understand that, sir. My harsthma" (so he pronounced it), "'as been
exceedingly troublesome lately."

"Ah, that's capital!" Not listening, the boy--he was sixteen, dark, and
very handsome, with a determined expression, and generally with an air
of more self-control than seemed required for the occasion--walked up
deliberately, three steps at a time, knocked, with emphasis, at his
sister's dressing-room door, and said--

"I say, Felicity, can I come in?"

"Who's there? Don't come in!"

Upon which invitation he entered the room with a firm step.

"Oh, it's you, Savile darling. I am glad to see you! Dear pet! Come and
tell me all about everything--papa and the party--and, look out, dear,
don't tread on my dresses! Give Mr. Crofton a chair, Everett. Even you
mustn't sit down on a perfectly new hat!"

Felicity was a lovely little blonde creature about twenty-five years
old, dressed in a floating Watteau-like garment of vaporous blue,
painted with faded pink roses. She was seated in a large carved and
gilded chair, opposite an excessively Louis-Quinze mirror, while her
pale golden hair was being brushed out by a brown, inanimate-looking
maid. Her little oval face, with its soft cloudy hair growing low on the
forehead, long blue eyes, and rosebud mouth, had something of the
romantic improbability of an eighteenth-century miniature. From the age
of two Felicity had been an acknowledged beauty. She profited by her
grasp of this fact merely by being more frank than most charming people,
and more natural than most disagreeable ones. With little
self-consciousness, she took a cool sportsmanlike pleasure in the effect
she produced, and perhaps enjoyed the envy and admiration she had
excited in her perambulator in Kensington Gardens almost as much as her
most showy successes in later life.

The most effective of these (so far) had been her marriage. Hopelessly
bowled over, as he called it, by her detailed loveliness, and not even
frightened by her general brilliance, Lord Chetwode had insisted on her
making the match of the previous season. He was a good-looking, amiable,
and wealthy young man, who was as lavish as if he had not had a penny,
and who showed his extravagantly long descent chiefly by being (for a
racing man) rather eccentrically interested in the subject of
decoration.

He was an owner of racehorses and a collector of curiosities, and these
tastes gave him certain interests apart from his wife. He was, however,
very much in love with her, and showed it chiefly by writing her nearly
every day long, elaborate, and conspicuously illegible love-letters. She
was not an expert in handwriting, nor had she time or patience to
decipher them. So she merely treasured them (unread) in a green and
white striped silk box. For under all her outward sentimentality,
Felicity was full of tenderness, especially for her husband. This was
not surprising, for he was a most agreeable companion, a great friend,
quite devoted to her, to his pretty home in London, and his picturesque
old house in the country, from all of which, however, he was as a rule
markedly absent. If one asked after Chetwode, the answer was nearly
always that he was away.

He had chosen every detail of the house in Park Street with a patience
worthy of his passion. In the bedroom, especially, not a concession was
made, not a point stretched. All was purest Louis-Quinze. But in spite
of this, and amidst all her tapestry and old French furniture, Felicity
had a very contemporary air. About everything was the recent look
characteristic of the home of a lately married couple. The room looked
as if it had been decorated the day before for a twentieth-century
Madame de Pompadour. But, if the background was almost archæological,
the atmosphere was absolutely modern. In this incongruity was a certain
fascination.

Though the bridal freshness still lingered, a more wilful element was
also observable. Invitation-cards, race-cards, the _Daily Mail_,
magazines, English and French novels, and cigarettes were freely
scattered about, and an expert would have seen at a glance that the
dresses lying in every direction could not have formed part of any
trousseau. They had obviously been chosen with (or against) the advice
of Lord Chetwode.

Savile sat down on a pink curved sofa, and said definitely--

"Look here, Felicity, I want to speak to you."

"Yes, darling?"

"Does Chetwode know what's going to win the Cambridgeshire?"

"How can he know, darling? Would it be fair? Of course he has some vague
_idea_. Candid Friend he said was the favourite. He says it's a
certainty. But _his_ certainties! (Everett, look out. You've been
overdoing the waving lately. Remember how careful I have to be not to
look like a wax-doll in a hair-dresser's shop ... with _my_ complexion)!
Go on, Savile,--what's the party going to be like?"

"Like nothing on earth, my dear, as usual. One of the governor's
baffling entertainments."

"Well, I don't care what people say, Savile! I think papa's parties are
the greatest fun one can get anywhere. It's a wonderful mixture,--a sort
of Russian salad. How exciting it is, for instance, never being quite
sure whether one is going to be taken to dinner by--Lord Rosebery,
or--Little Tich!"

"As it happens, my dear, they've both refused," said Savile ironically.

"Oh, Savile, don't be funny when I've no time to laugh. Do you deny
papa's peculiar talent for celebrities? Is De Valdez coming?"

"The Spanish composer? Oh, rather! He's coming over about his new opera.
He's all right. At least, I bear him rather, but girls like him."

"And who will be the great card this time, Savile?"

"Of course, Roy Beaumont, the inventor."

"What on earth's he invented?"

"Himself, I should think. He's only about twenty-one. Roy's a capital
chap, really. The only thing is, he wears hats that he thinks suit him.
Otherwise he dresses rather well, for a dandy."

"Why on earth shouldn't his hats suit him?" said Lady Chetwode in
surprise.

"Oh, never mind! I can't go into all that. Why, because you ought to
wear things, because they're _right_, not because----Oh, girls don't
understand dress! Don't let's fatigue ourselves discussing it. Any one
can see you've never been to Eton."

"Well, I should rather hope they could," murmured Felicity, looking in
the glass.

"F. J. Rivers and Arthur Mervyn, the actor, are coming, and--oh, a lot
more."

"I see, it's a clever party. Isn't it fun, Savile, being the only stupid
person in a crowd of clever people? They make such a fuss about one.
Aren't any real people coming?"

"A few. Some heavy M.P.'s and their wives, and Aunt William, and of
course old Ridokanaki."

"Oh, the Greek millionaire,--the banker?"

"Don't call him the banker; it reminds me of _The Hunting of the
Snark_."

Felicity laughed.

"Yes; Mr. Ridokanaki is rather like a sort of Snark, and you and papa
are hunting him for Sylvia. Will it come off?"

"Shouldn't think so," said Savile thoughtfully. "He's rather a bore, but
he's a good sort. Of course, Sylvia ought to marry him. All the pretty
girls are marrying these Anglo-Aliens. He's very keen. But about my
affairs--I say, Everett, do take away these fluffy rustling things."

Everett having completed her task, with a stiff smile, and a rainbow of
chiffons over her arm, faded away.

Felicity, completely dressed, turned her chair round and put up her
absurd little high-heeled shoes.

"Now then, fire away, old boy."

Savile, taking this command literally, stretched out his hand for the
cigarettes. Felicity snatched them away.

"How dare you! You won't grow any more! Here, have a chocolate!"

Savile looked at her with a pitying smile and said slowly--

"What rot! Grow! As if I wanted to grow! As if I had the time! I've got
more serious things than that to do I can tell you. I have two rather
awful troubles. Look here. Things are a bit off at home just now. The
Governor is furious about Chetwode not coming to the party."

Lady Chetwode's colour deepened.

"Well, what about me, Savile? Do you think I'm pleased? Is it my fault
the Cambridgeshire's run on Wednesday? Do be just to me! Do I make the
racing engagements? You can't pretend that I can alter the rules of
Newmarket because papa chooses to give a lot of absurd parties!"

"I know, old girl--but can't you make him give it up?"

"Who ever yet made Chetwode give up anything he wants to do? Besides,
it's not like a dinner-party, or his wedding, or anything like that,
Savile, you know. After all, he isn't _bound_ to be there!"

"All right; only it's the first thing we've given since your marriage
and----"

"I know, dear. I'm very angry about it. Very. Besides, I'm sure I don't
care if the darling prefers racing! Don't you know by this time that
whenever Chetwode is particularly wanted he is sure to be either at
Kempton or at Christie's?"

"Spending at Christie's what he's lost at Kempton, I suppose."

"Naturally, Savile. And if he prefers his horses, and his jockeys, and
his bookmakers, and even his old furniture, to taking his own wife to
her own father's party----"

"Hallo, old girl, don't tell me you haven't everything under the sun you
want! Because that would be a bit too thick," said Savile, sitting up.

"Who says I haven't?"

"No one, if you don't."

"I should hope not!"

Then Felicity murmured relentingly--

"Dear Chetwode! He's so heavenly in some ways. No, I won't worry and
oppose him, it's a fatal mistake. We'll make it up to you later--stay
with you on the river in August or something. What price you, dear?
What's your trouble?"

Savile fumbled a good deal with a tassel, laughed mirthlessly, frowned
gloomily, and then said with a jerk: "What price me? No price. It's her.
You know."

Felicity replied patiently.

"You always say that, and you never get any further,--never."

"Well, my dear, don't you see--there's two things."

"Go on."

"What ought a chap to do who,--I've consulted men of the world, and yet
I think you know best. You're so celebrated as a confidante."

"Well?" said his sister.

"What ought a chap to do--who ... oh, well ... if a chap--say a chap
has--well--a girl, say, frightfully keen on him (for the sake of the
argument), and she's a decent sort of girl, and at the same time the
poor chap is frightfully keen on another girl, who is frightfully keen
on another chap--who is a very decent chap too, mind you ... what ought
he to do?"

"Which chap, Savile?"

"Oh, don't be so muddle-headed, Felicity! Pull yourself together, can't
you? _Me_, of course!"

"Oh, you!"

"Yes."

"You mean Dolly Clive is in love with you" (Savile winced at the
feminine explicitness), "and you are in love with some one else, and
it's quite hopeless."

"I don't quite say that. But there are tremendous difficulties."

"Is she married? Oh, I do believe she's married. Oh, Savile! How
extraordinary and horrid of you!"

"Oh, it's all right, Felicity," said Savile, with a reassuring nod, at
which she laughed.

"I'm sure it is, dear. But who on earth is it?"

Savile took a photograph out of his pocket, and blushingly showed it to
his sister, with his head turned away.

As she looked at it her face expressed the most unfeigned bewilderment.

"Aunt William? But this is very sudden.... Oh, it's some mistake,
surely! You _can't_ be in love with Aunt William!"

With a howl of fury Savile snatched the portrait from her.

It was a quaint, faded photograph of an elderly aunt of his taken in the
early seventies. It represented a woman with an amiable expression and a
pointed face; parted hair, with a roll on the top, and what was in those
days known as an Alexandra curl on the left shoulder. She was leaning
her head on her hand, and her elbow on a vague shelf or balcony. The
photograph was oval in shape, and looked as if the lady were looking out
of a window. At the base of the window was a kind of board, on which was
written in her own handwriting, magnified (in white letters, relieved on
black), the beautiful words, "Yours truly, Mary Crofton."

"You are an idiot, Felicity!" said Savile angrily. "You make fun of
everything! I gave it you by mistake. I took it from Aunt William's
album for a joke. Give it me."

"Don't snatch! I want another prehistoric peep--and now tell me the real
person, dear," said Felicity, trying not to laugh.

"Oh no, you don't! I just shan't now."

"Mayn't I see the real one?"

Savile, after a glance at Aunt William, gave a short laugh, and said,
putting it away--

"Look here, and try to listen. This is how I stand. Last holidays, at
Christmas, I proposed to Dolly Clive in the square. She accepted me.
Very well. This holidays, I saw some one else; what is a fellow to do?
And then I went completely off my head about her, as any chap with a
grain of sense would do, and Doll's no more to me now than----"

"Aunt William," said Lady Chetwode.

"As a gentleman, I'm bound to Dolly; though, _don't_ forget I always
told her that if when she came out she met a chap she liked better, she
was quite free; (not but what I jolly well intended to punch the chap's
head). Still, there it was! Then this happens! And this time I fell
really in love."

"Where?"

"Never mind where. At a concert."

"But what concert, Savile?"

"_A_ concert."

"Whose concert? You've only been to one in your life. I know----the
Albert Hall!"

"You've hit in once, my dear."

"Is it?"

"Yes. Adelina Patti."

Savile got up and looked out of the window.

Felicity looked serious. Then she said gaily--

"Poor old boy! I think, dear, you should try and forget it."

"I can't, Felicity! She haunts me! Oh, the way she sings 'Comin through
the Rye!' She's simply--well, ripping's the only word!"

"It's hereditary. You're just like papa. He was madly in love with her
once."

"Only once!" Savile was contemptuous.

"Well, Savile dear, anyhow I advise you to break it off definitely with
Dolly. She's only just fourteen now, and it would interfere with her
lessons. Besides, I know her mother wants her to go in for Physical
Culture during the holidays. What are those exercises--Swedenborgian or
something--anyhow, it takes up time. Besides, I somehow feel that that
(the affair with Dolly) was more a sort of boy-and-girl fancy. Don't you
think so? This, of course, is the great romance of your life. It will
probably last for ever. Of course I know it's only a kind of distant
worship and adoration, but still----"

"How well you know, by Jove! Felicity, I tell you what--I'm not going to
think about it any more. I _know_ there's no hope. Is she likely to
sing again this season?"

"Perhaps."

"Oh, Felicity, let me come with you!... No, I won't. I'd rather go alone
in the balcony."

"We'll see, dear. Now, what's the other trouble?"

"Well, I'm rather worried about Sylvia."

"Oh, my dear boy, that's a mania of yours! You're always harping on
about her marrying Mr. Ridokanaki."

"Why shouldn't she?"

"Why should she, Savile? It wouldn't amuse her. And Sylvia is very happy
at home; the head of papa's house, perfect liberty, and only twenty----"

"I know; but do you know I sometimes suspect ... look here. Do you think
Woodville--don't you think Sylvia ... likes him?"

Felicity sat up with a jerk.

"Frank Woodville! That highly-principled, highly-strung,
highly-cultivated, intellectual young man? Oh _no_! _Oh_ no! Why he, as
papa's secretary, would no more try to----"

"Who says he would? She might like him all right, I suppose. Besides, if
he _is_ highly cultivated, as you call it, and all that, it's not his
fault, is it? He's a good-looking chap all the same. Face facts, I say!
and if the truth were known, and every one had their rights, he _may_
be human! You never know!"

Felicity laughed, and then said--

"I do hope he's not. It would be so impossible! Rather romantic too, a
puritanical secretary with a figure and a profile in love with the
pretty daughter of a pompous politician. He teaches her Latin too. Sort
of Abelard and Francesca--or something--But oh! I don't believe it."

"Abelard! Oh, what rot! Do shut up! Well, remember I've given you a
hint, and I don't ask you not to tell--I treat you as an officer and a
gentleman."

"Don't worry about me," said Felicity, smiling, "I talk so much that I
never have time to repeat a single thing about anybody--to the wrong
person."

"I know. Will you dine with us to-morrow, as Chetwode's out of town?"

"No, Savile darling, I can't. I'm dining with Mrs. Ogilvie. You needn't
mention it."

Savile arranged his tie in the mirror, and said in his slow, impressive
way--

"I don't mention things. But the Governor doesn't care for that go-ahead
set. And he's not wrong, either."

"We're only going to dine at Ranelagh,--to try her new motor, dear,"
said Felicity coaxingly.

"Does Chetwode know?"

"I thought you knew he was at Newmarket."

"Well! Take it as you like, and think me an interfering ass if you
choose, but if I were you I'd somehow get Chetwode back from
Newmarket,--and not go about so much with Mrs. Ogilvie."

"Why not, Savile?"

"Well, I shouldn't begin that drifting apart business, _just_ yet. It's
really rather rot, quite so soon. You're too young, and so on--been
married a year, and I'm hanged if he's not fond of you still! Why do it?
That's what I say----"

"A person may be very devoted, _and_ a perfect husband, and sweet in
every way, and not dream of drifting apart for ages and ages, and yet
want to see Tobacco Trust run, darling!"

"I know,--and I've put my last shilling on Penultimate!"

"Naughty boy! I hope it was really your last shilling,--not your last
sovereign!"

He laughed, kissed her, and walked downstairs, softly humming to
himself, "Gin a body meet a body...."

When he had gone, Felicity looked quite sensible for a little while as
she pondered indulgently on the weaknesses of her husband, cheerfully on
the troubles of her brother, and with some real sisterly anxiety
concerning the alarming attractions of Frank Woodville.



CHAPTER II

THE TRIALS OF WOODVILLE


Several hours of the morning had been passed by Woodville in an
occupation that, one might think, would easily pall on a spirited young
man--addressing envelopes and filling in invitation cards. The cards
stated with tedious repetition that Miss Crofton and Sir James Crofton,
M.P., would be At Home on the 30th April at ten o'clock. In the
left-hand corner were the words, "Herr Yung's White Viennese Orchestra."

Woodville's desk was close to the long French window, which opened on to
a charming garden. From this garden came the sound of excited
twitterings of birds and other pleasant suggestions of spring. Suddenly
a tall and graceful young girl, with hair like sunshine, came up to the
open window and smiled at him. She held up to show him some wonderful
mauve and blue hyacinths that she carried, and then passed on. Woodville
sighed. _It_ was too symbolic. The scent lingered. Like a
half-remembered melody, it seemed to have the insidious power of
recalling something in the past that was too wonderful ever to have
happened, and of suggesting vague hopes of the most improbable joys.
Sylvia seemed to the young man the incarnation of April. He put down his
pen, and shaded his eyes with his hand. Then the inner door from the
hall opened, and a pompous but genial voice exclaimed with heavy
briskness--

"Well, Woodville, finished, eh?"

"Not yet, Sir James, but I can go on later, if you want me now."

The secretary spoke with a deference that seemed surprising. He did not
look like a man who would be supple to an employer, or obsequious to any
one--even a woman.

"No hurry, no hurry," said Sir James, with that air of self-denial that
conveys the urgent necessity of intense speed. He was a handsome old
man, with thick grey hair, a white military moustache, bushy dark
eyebrows, and in his eyes that humorous twinkle that is so often seen in
those men of the last generation who are most devoid of a sense of
humour. Sir James was liable to the irritable changes of mood that would
nowadays be called neurotic or highly strung, but was in his young days
merely put down as bad temper. He had a high estimation of his mental
powers, and a poor opinion of those who did not share this estimation.
He took a special pride in his insight into character, and in that
instinctive penetration that is said to enable its fortunate possessor
to see as far through a brick wall as most people. (A modest ambition,
when all is said and done!) His contemporaries liked him: at least, they
smiled when his name was mentioned. He was warm-hearted and generous; he
had a curious mania for celebrities; was a hospitable host, a tedious
guest, and a loyal friend. His late wife (who was lovely, but weary) had
always described him in one word. The word was "trying".

Sir James sat down slowly on a depressed leather uneasy chair, and said,
"Presently I want you to take notes of a speech I intend making in the
House on Russia--I mean the present situation in Russia," he added
instructively.

"Of course," said Woodville, trying to look intelligently sympathetic,
and restraining his inclination to say that he had not expected a speech
at this time of day on our victories in the Crimea.

"Do let's have the speech while it's fresh in your mind. I can easily
return to this afterwards, Sir James."

"Later on, later on; when it's more matured--more matured...." He
pondered a few moments about nothing whatever, and then said, "Sent a
card to Roy Beaumont, the young inventor? That's right. That boy has a
future. Mark my words, he has a future before him."

"Oh! I thought it had begun some time ago, and was still going on. He is
quite twenty-three, isn't he?" asked Frank.

"About that--about that. He's a young man with Ideas, Woodville."

"Yes. I heard he had grown tired of button-holes, and is thinking of
training a creeper to crawl up the lapel of his coat."

"An original notion," said Sir James judicially. "If practicable. And
what else did he invent?"

"Wasn't it he who invented some new way of not posting letters--by
electricity?"

"I rather think you're confusing him with Marconi," said Sir James,
shaking his head. "But I always detect genius! It's a curious thing,
Woodville, but I never make a mistake! By the way, I should like to send
a card to the Leader of the Opposition and his wife. Inquire of Sylvia
about their address. I don't know them, socially, but I fancy they would
be rather surprised if I omitted them."

"It might, indeed, be rather marked," said Woodville, making a note, and
remembering that it is as impossible nowadays to ask every one one
knows as to know every one one asks.

"Well, I'll leave you to your work, and we'll do the speech later, a
little later ... much later," and Sir James meditatively bent his elbows
on the arms of the chair, accurately placed all the tips of his fingers
together, and slowly blinked his eyes. He did not mean any harm by this.
In fact, he meant nothing. His gestures and expression had no
significance at all. He simply behaved like any other elderly
Anglo-Saxon who believes himself to be political and to resemble the
"Younger Pitt."

"I rather wanted to ask Miss Crofton about a change of address," said
Woodville, glancing swiftly and hypocritically through the Red Book.

"I'll send her to you--I'll send her. Don't move. Sit still, sit still."

Woodville followed with his eyes the closing of the door; then he put
down his pen and gazed at the closed door. Sometimes he thought his life
was like a closed door. Yet, perhaps, there might be some one on the
other side of the door? (According to Maeterlinck--or is it Owen
Seaman?--there is always some one on the other side of a door.)

At a casual glance Woodville seemed the conventional type of a
good-looking young Englishman, tall, fair-haired, and well built. He
possessed, however, a forehead unnecessarily intellectual; and a
sparkle of more than mere animal spirits lurked in the depths of his
dark brown eyes. An observer would also have noticed that his mouth and
chin had something of the stern and sad look of fatalism that one sees
in the pictures of Rossetti and Burne-Jones. He had the unmistakable
public-school and University hall-mark, and if he had been fairly liked
at Eton, at Oxford, where (as Mr. Max Beerbohm so rightly says) the
nonsense knocked out of one at school is carefully and painlessly put
back, Woodville was really popular, and considered remarkably clever,
capable of enjoying, and even of conceiving, Ideas. Detesting the
ready-made cheap romantic, and yet in vague search of the unusual, he
often complained bitterly that his history--so far--was like the little
piece of explanation of the plot (for those who have missed it) at the
beginning of a chapter of a feuilleton in the _Daily Mail_. It was
rather hard to have to admit that he had been left an orphan at three
years old and adopted by his bachelor uncle, a baronet called Sir Bryce
Woodville, who had brought him up as his acknowledged heir, with the
prospect of a big estate.

Frank had gone with careless gaiety through school and college, when his
apparently sane and kind relative, growing tired of romantic drama,
suddenly behaved like a guardian in an old-fashioned farce. Instead of
making his wife his housekeeper, as most men do, he made his housekeeper
his wife. She was a depressing woman. In a year he had a son and heir,
and within two months after this event, he died, leaving his nephew
exactly one hundred pounds a year.

This curiously unpractical joke taught the young man that absurdly
improbable things are quite as liable to happen in real life as in weak
literature.

The legacy was, of course, abject poverty to a man who, having always
had an exceptionally large allowance, had naturally never thought about
money, and though Frank believed himself not to be extravagant because
he had never made large debts, his ideas of the ordinary necessities of
life were not conspicuously moderate, including, as they did, horses,
hospitality, travel, Art, and at least the common decency of a jolly
little motor of his own. He had often been warned by his uncle to spend
the twenty thousand a year to which he was heir freely but not lavishly.

Why Sir Bryce Woodville had shown so sudden and marked an interest in a
child he had known but for two months (and who had screamed most of
that time), preferring him to a young man of talent and charm for whom
he had shown indulgent affection for twenty-two years, was one of those
mysteries that seem unsolvable in elderly gentlemen in general and in
wicked uncles in particular. Sir Bryce had always been particularly fond
of young people, and certainly greater youth and the nearer relationship
were obviously the only points in which the son had the advantage over
the nephew.

When Woodville found himself really hard up he sought a certain
consolation in trying to do without things and in the strenuous hourly
endeavour to avoid spending sixpence; no easy task to a man whose head
was always in the clouds and his hand always in his pocket. As a novelty
even economy may have its pleasures, but they are not, perhaps to all
temperaments, either very sound or very lasting.

At the moment when omnibuses, cheap cigarettes, and self-denial were
beginning to pall he had accepted the offer of the secretaryship,
intending to look about to try to get something more congenial; perhaps
to drift into diplomacy. Nothing could be less to his taste than the
post of shorthandwriter to a long-winded old gentleman, to writing out
speeches that in all probability would never be made, and copying
pamphlets that would (most fortunately) never be printed. Often he
thought he would rather "break stones on the road," drive a hansom cab,
or even go on the stage, than be the superfluous secretary of such a
dull, though dear nonentity.

Woodville also went in for painting: he had a little talent and a great
deal of taste, sufficient, indeed, to despise his own work though he
enjoyed doing it. In his leisure time he even tried to make money by
copying old masters, and often sold them for quite amazing prices
(amazingly low, I mean) to a few people who honestly preferred them to
the originals on the undeniable grounds that they were at once cleaner
and less costly. He was ambitious and knew he had brains and energy,
besides being rather unusually well-turned-out in the matter of culture.
And yet he had remained at Onslow Square for five years! As a career it
was nothing. It could lead to nothing. Was there, then, some other
attraction, something that outweighed, transcended for him all the petty
pangs and penalties of his position?

This arch surmise of the writer will be found by the persevering reader
to be perfectly reasonable and founded on fact.



CHAPTER III

A LOVE SCENE


There was a knock at the door. Woodville looked up. It was Sylvia.

Sylvia had that curious gift, abstract beauty, the sort of beauty that
recalls vaguely some ideal or antique memory. Hence, at various times
various people had remarked on her striking resemblance to Helen of
Troy, Cleopatra, Dante's Beatrice, the Venus of the Luxembourg, one of
Botticelli's angels, and La Giaconda!

Her head was purely Greek, her hair, fine in texture, and in colour
golden-brown, grew very low in thick ripples on a broad forehead. The
illusion of the remote or mythical was intensified by the symmetry of
her slim figure, by her spiritual eyes, and beautiful, Pagan mouth. Tall
and slender, her rounded arms and fine hands with their short pointed
fingers seemed to terminate naturally in anything she held, such as a
fan or flower, or fell in graceful curves in her lap. Sylvia had not the
_chiffonnée_ restless charm of the contemporary pretty woman; she did
not, like Felicity, arouse with stimulating intensity one's sense of the
modern.

Goddess, heroine, or angel she might be (her height, indeed, suggested
heaven rather than hockey). Her beauty was of other days, not of the
Summer Number. She was not, however, to do her justice, intentionally
picturesque. She did not "_go in for the artistic style_"; that is to
say, she did not part her hair and draw it over her ears, wear
oddly-shaped blouses and bead necklaces, and look absent. The iron had
obviously entered into her hair (or into every seventh wave, at least,
of her hair), and her dresses fitted her as a flower its sheath. She was
natural, but not in the least wild; no primrose by a river's brim, nor
an artificial bloom, but rather a hothouse flower just plucked and very
carefully wired. Hence she was at once the despair of the portrait
painters, who had never as yet been able to help making her look on
canvas like a bad Leighton in a Doucet dress, and the joy of the
photographers, who in her honour set aside their pillars and their
baskets of flowers, their curtains and their picture hats, being certain
that she would pose herself exquisitely, and that her lines were so
right that not even a photographer could improve on them.

Sylvia was so truly artistic in temperament and so extremely
unpractical that it was not surprising she made an admirable
housekeeper, having fortunately that inborn gift for organisation, and
for seeing things on the whole, that is so much more important in home
life than any small fussing about the unimportant details. And she would
receive excuses from servants with a smile so sweet yet so incredulous
that it disarmed deceit and made incompetence hide its head (or give
notice).

She came round to the writing-table, bent her head over his shoulder,
and said in a low voice of emotion, as though it were a secret--

"How are you getting on? Did you want me to find anything--an address,
or anything?"

He put his hand on hers and looked up at her. Then he looked away.

"Don't, Sylvia. I wish you would go away. Or go to the other side of the
room ... I can't stand it."

"Oh, Frank! How rude and unkind!" But she was apparently not offended,
as she blushed and smiled while she moved a little away. Then she said,
looking at the cards--

"Will the party be awful, do you think?"

"No, it won't be bad. Except for me, of course. To see you talking to
other people. Not that I really care, because I know you have to. And
besides, you won't, will you?"

"I promise I won't! I'll just be a hostess, and talk to old ladies, or
stray girls, or perhaps just a few dull old married men."

"I approve of that programme. But--of course I have no right to advise,
and I may be entirely wrong--supposing you were to leave out the old
married men? You will have to talk to all the clever young men, I am
afraid. Don't go to supper with F. G. Rivers. That's all I ask. I
couldn't bear it."

"F. G. Rivers! Of course not! Felicity will do all that sort of thing.
She has a talent for celebrities--like papa. But why on earth _mustn't_
I go to supper with just F. G. Rivers?"

"Oh, I don't know. You can if you like. _I_ don't care," said Woodville
jealously.

"I thought he was a wonderfully clever novelist, tremendously successful
and celebrated!"

"Yes, I know. That's what I meant," Woodville said.

"Aren't his books rather weird and uncanny ... and romantic,--all about
local colour, and awfully cynical?"

"How well you know what to say about things! _Weird!_ Delightful! I dare
say that's what Rivers would expect a nice girl to say of his books. He
spends half his time being afraid people should think his work is lurid,
and the rest in being simply terrified that people should think it's
not. He's very clever really, and a delightful companion."

"Is he cynical?" she asked.

"He's so sceptical, that he believes in everything, but especially hard
work, like table-turning, crystal-gazing, and Sandow's exercises.... I
was at Oxford with him, you know," Frank added explanatorily.

"I see, it's an old affection. Anybody else I'm not to speak to?"

"Nonsense, Sylvia; I want you to be charming to every one, of course. I
believe in that sort of thing. It's the right atmosphere for a party.
Don't think about _me_."

"How can I help it?"

Her grey eyes were reproachful.

Woodville looked into them, then abruptly looked away.

"What are you going to wear, Sylvia?"

"My white satin, I think. Do you like it? Or don't you?"

"No; it makes you look too much like a Gainsborough--or no, more like a
Sargent--which is worse. I mean worse for me, of course."

"Oh, dear! why am I always _like_ something? Well, what am I to wear,
Frank? I've just ordered a sort of fluffy grey chiffon--like a cloud."

"Wear that. You're always in the clouds, and I'm always looking up at
them.... I hope it has a silver lining?"

"Perhaps it has. I don't know yet, it hasn't come home. Felicity's going
to wear a sort of Watteau-ish dress, pink and white and blue, you know.
Of course, she won't wear any jewels--she never will. You see, Chetwode
has such a lot of old ones in his family. She says she's afraid, if she
did, the _Perfect Lady_ or _Home Chirps_ might say 'Lady Chetwode as
usual appeared in the "Chetwode emeralds"'--or something idiotic of that
sort."

"How like her! Then just wear your string of pearls."

"Mayn't I wear the little turquoise heart that you--didn't give me, the
one I bought in the Brompton Road and gave it to myself from you, so
that I could honestly say you hadn't?"

"Better not, Sylvia. It looks as if it came out of a cracker. And we
don't need any symbols and things, do we?"

"Very well.... I'm afraid, Frank ... I shall have to go now."

Woodville looked hurt.

"What? Already! Then why did you waste the precious minutes alone in
making epigrams about F. G. Rivers? He's such a good fellow too, I
always got on with him at Oxford."

"Did I make epigrams? How funny! I didn't know I could."

She came a little nearer. Woodville said in a low voice, rather
quickly--

"You looked really divine just now through the window, with the
hyacinths in your hands--like the goddess of something or other--spring,
I suppose.... When I look at you, I understand all the old poetry. _To
Amaryllis_ and Herrick--and--you know."

"Dear Frank!... Am I to find an address?"

"You can't, dearest. There is no address. Besides, they've moved. And I
found it myself ever so long ago."

She laughed.

"Oh, Frank!"

Woodville put his hand out and took hers.

"Oh, don't go just yet!" he said imploringly.

"Why, you told me to go away just now--or to the other side of the
room!"

"Ah, but that was ages ago! Why, you haven't _been_ here two minutes!
You can't be in such a hurry.... Anyhow, come here a second."

She obeyed, and leant over his shoulder.... Then he said abruptly--

"Yes, you had better go."

Blushing, she glided away at once, without another word.

Woodville remained at the desk, looking a little pale, and frowning. He
had a theory that he was a very scrupulous man, with a high sense of
honour. It was a worrying theory.

With a sigh he returned to the invitation cards.



CHAPTER IV

"AUNT WILLIAM"


Mrs. William Crofton, the widow of Sir James's brother, was, in her own
way, quite a personage in London; at least, in the London that she knew.
We have already seen her in the photograph in Savile's possession taken
some forty years ago (by Mayall and Son, at Brighton). She was now an
elderly lady, and still occupied the large ugly house in South Audley
Street, where the children remembered their Uncle Mary. Felicity,
Sylvia, and Savile had chosen to reverse the order in which they were
told to speak of their uncle and aunt. Felicity had pointed out that not
only was Aunt William more like an uncle, but that by this ingenious
device they dodged a kind of history lesson. The great object always was
to counteract carefully any information conveyed to them during the time
of their education. All historians and teachers alike were regarded as
natural enemies from Pinnock to Plato. On the same principle, Savile
would never eat _Reading_ biscuits, because he feared that some form of
condensed study was being insidiously introduced into the system. Boys
had to be on their guard against any treachery of that kind.

If there were a certain charm in the exterior of this old house--solid
and aggressively respectable--its interior gave most visitors at first a
nervous shock. Aunt William still firmly believed æstheticism to be
fashionable, and a fad that should be discouraged. Through every varying
whim of the mode she had stuck, with a praiseworthy persistence, to the
wax flowers under glass, Indian chessmen, circular tables in the centre
of the room, surrounded by large books, and the rep curtains (crimson,
with green borders) of pre-artistic days. Often she held forth to
wondering young people, for whom the 1880 fashions were but an echo of
ancient history, on the sad sinfulness of sunflowers and the fearful
folly of Japanese fans. Had the poor lady been but a decade or two more
old-fashioned she would have been considered quaint and up-to-date. (A
narrow escape, had she only known it!)

She was a small, pointed person, with a depressing effect of having
(perhaps) been a beauty once, and she regarded Sylvia and Felicity with
that mingled affection, pride, and annoyance compounded of a wish to
serve them, a desire to boast of them, and a longing to bully them that
is often characteristic of elderly relatives. The only special fault she
found was that they were too young, especially Sylvia. Mrs. Crofton did
not explain for what the girls were too young, but did her best to make
Sylvia at least older by boring her to death about etiquette, religion,
politics, cooking recipes, and kindred subjects. Aunt William was one of
those rare women of theory rather than practice who prefer a menu to a
dinner, and a recipe to either. Indeed, recipes were a hobby of hers,
and one of her pleasures was to send to a young housekeeper some such
manuscript as the following:--

     "TO MAKE ELDERBERRY WINE REQUIRED--

   Half a peck of ripe elderberries.
   One and a half gallons of boiling water.

      TO EACH GALLON OF JUICE

   Three pounds of loaf sugar,
   Four cloves,
   Six allspice.

Stalk the berries, put them into a large vessel with the boiling water,
cover it closely, and leave for twenty-four hours," and so on.

To one person she was quite devoted--her nephew Savile.

One morning Aunt William woke up at half-past seven, and complained to
her maid that she had had insomnia for twenty minutes. Having glanced at
the enlarged and coloured photograph of the late William that decorated
every room, she ordered a luncheon of roast mutton and rice pudding,
rhubarb tart and cream, almonds and raisins, and oranges, thinking that
this menu would be at once suitable and attractive to a boy of sixteen.
In a more indulgent moment she then sent out for a large packet of
milk-chocolate, and prepared to receive Savile at lunch.

When Savile arrived in his father's motor, Mrs. Crofton, who had been
looking out for him at the window, ran up to her room (she could run
when alone) and allowed him to be shown into the drawing-room by
himself. Aunt William resented automobiles as much as she disliked
picture postcards, week-ends, musical comedies, and bridge.

Savile walked up and down the enormous room, lost in thought, and
scarcely observing his surroundings. He smiled slightly as he
contemplated the portrait of Uncle Mary, who was represented as leaning
rather weakly for support against a pedestal that looked by no means
secure, with a heavy curtain and a lowering sky in the background.

"Jove! what short frock-coats those chaps wore!" thought Savile. "What
rotters they must have been!"

       *       *       *       *       *

"And so Lord Chetwode is out of town again?" Aunt William said, as they
sat over dessert.

"Gone to Newmarket."

"I see in the _Morning Post_ that your sister Sylvia was at Lady
Gaskaine's last night. I suppose she was the belle of the ball." She
offered him some preserved ginger.

"No, she wasn't. There's no such thing as a belle of the ball now, Aunt
William. She danced with Heath and Broughton, of course, and Caldrey,
and those chaps. Broughton took her to supper."

Aunt William seemed gratified.

"Curious! I recollect Lord Broughton in kilts when he was a little
toddling pet of seven! His father was considered one of the most
fascinating men of his day, my dear. What a beautiful place Broughton
Hall is!" She pressed another orange on him.

"Oh, Sylvia's all right," said Savile, impartially declining the fruit
and producing an aluminium cigarette-case. Aunt William, pretending not
to see it, passed him the matches as if in a fit of absence of mind. As
a matter of fact, Savile was really more at home with Aunt William than
with any one, even his sisters.

"And now, my dear boy, tell me about yourself."

Savile took out of his pocket the envelope containing her photograph.

"I say, I took this out of the album last time I came," he said
apologetically.

Aunt William almost blushed. She was genuinely flattered.

"But what's that--that green book I see in your pocket? I suppose it's
Euclid, or Greek, or something you're learning."

"No, it's not; it's poetry. A ripping poem I've just found out. I know
you like that sort of rot, so I brought it for you."

Her face softened. Savile was the only person who knew her romantic
side.

"A poem!" she said in a lowered voice. "Oh, what is it about?"

"Oh, about irises, and how 'In the Spring a Young Man's Fancy,' that
sort of thing--Tennyson, you know."

"Tennyson!" exclaimed Aunt William. "Do you know Eliza Cook? I think
'The Old Armchair' one of the loveliest poems in the language."

"Never heard of it."

"Savile," said Aunt William, when they were sitting by the fire in the
drawing-room, "I'm glad you're fond of poetry. Have you ever written any
at all? You needn't be ashamed of it, my dear boy, if you have. I
admire sentiment, but only up to a certain point, of course."

"Well, it's odd you should say that. I wrote something yesterday. I say,
you won't go and give it away, Aunt William?"

"Most certainly not!"

She grew animated.

"Show it to me, if you have it with you. A taste for literature is in
the family. Once a second cousin of ours--you never knew him--wrote me a
sonnet!"

"Did he, though? Well, I dare say it was all right. Here's my stuff. I
rather thought I'd consult you. I want to send it to some one."

Concealing his nervousness under a stern, even harsh demeanour, Savile
took out a folded sheet of paper from a brown pigskin letter-case.

Aunt William clasped her hands and leaned forward.

Savile read aloud in an aggressive, matter-of-fact manner the following
words:----

   "My singing bird, my singing bird,
    Oh sing, oh sing, oh sing, oh sing to me,
    Nothing like it has ever been heard,"

(Here he dropped the letter-case, and picked it up, blushing at the
contents that had fallen out.)

   "And I do love to hear thee sing."

His aunt looked a little faint. She leant back and fanned herself,
taking out her smelling-salts.

"That's not all," said Savile. Warming to his work, he went on more
gruffly:--

   "What should I do if you should stop?
    Oh wilt thou sing for me alone?
    For I will fly to hear your notes:
    Your tune would melt a heart of stone."

"My gracious, my dear, it's a poem!" said Aunt William.

"Who said it wasn't? But you can't judge till you've heard the whole
thing."

She turned away her head and struggled with a smile, while he read the
last verse defiantly and quickly, growing rather red:--

   "I haven't got a stony heart
    Or whatever it is, it belongs to you:
    I vow myself thy slave,
    And always I shall e'er be true!"

There was an embarrassed pause.

"Well, I really think that last line is rather pretty," said Aunt
William, who had regained her self-control. "But do you think it is
quite--"

"Is it all right to send to Her?" he said. "That's the point!"

"Well, I can hardly say. Would your father----"

"I say! You're not going to tell the Governor?"

"No, never, Savile dear. It shall be our secret," said Aunt William,
reassuringly.

"Of course, I know this sort of thing is great rot," he said
apologetically, "but women like it."

"Oh, do they really?" said Aunt William. "Well! what I always say is, if
you're born with a gift, you should cultivate it!"

Savile (thinking this encouragement rather meagre) replaced the poem and
said: "I shall have to be going now, Aunt William. Got an appointment."

"With whom, my dear?"

"Yes," said Savile dryly. He did not approve of this direct method of
ascertaining what one wants to know. He would confide, but never
answered questions. She accepted the hint, but would not acknowledge it.

"Ah, I see!" she said knowingly (wishing she did). "Well, if you must
go, you must!"

"Yes, Aunt William."

"But before you go, about that party ... I'm coming, of course. In fact,
I'm having my peach brocade done up. Tell dear Sylvia that if there's
anything I can do--I mean in the way of helping her with regard to the
supper----"

"We've telephoned to Benoist's. It's all fixed up. Thanks very much."

"Oh! But still I think I'll send my recipe for salmon mayonnaise. Don't
you think I might?"

"It can't do any harm, when you come to think of it," he answered,
getting up.

Before he left, Aunt William pressed a sovereign into his hand guiltily,
as if it were conscience money. He, on his side, took it as though it
were a doctor's fee, and both ignored the transaction.

"Tell your father I'm sure I shall enjoy his entertainment, though why
on _earth_ he still lives in Onslow Square, when he ought to be in
London, I can't and never shall, understand. However, I believe there's
quite a sort of society in Kensington, and no doubt _some_ of the right
people will be there. Are any of the Primrose League coming, do you
know, Savile?"

"Sure to be. There's Jasmyn Vere for one."

"Oh, Lord Dorking's son. He's a Knight Harbinger."

"Is he, though? He looks like a night porter," said Savile. "Good-bye."
He then turned back to murmur. "I say, Aunt William. Thanks most
awfully." She went back smiling.

       *       *       *       *       *

A few minutes later Savile was looking over the railings into Berkeley
Square.

In a kind of summer-house among the trees sat a little girl of fourteen
dressed in grey. She wore a large straw hat on her head and a blue bow
in her hair, and had evidently provided herself with materials of
amusement for the afternoon, for she had a "picture-postcard album" by
her side, and seemed absorbed in a thick volume of history.

Dolly Clive resembled in expression and the shape of her face one of Sir
Joshua's angel's heads (if one could imagine them brunettes). She had
large brown eyes and a long black plait, and was a graceful example of
what was formerly called "the awkward age." It needed no connoisseur to
see that she was going to be a very pretty woman. When she saw Savile,
she rushed to the gate and let him in with a key.

"Hallo, Dolly!"

"I say, Savile, wasn't King Charles the Second an angel? I've just been
reading all about him, and you can't think what fun they used to have!"

He seemed surprised at this greeting, walked slowly with her to the
arbour, and said rather suspiciously----

"Who had fun?"

"Why Lady Castlemaine, and Nell Gwynne, and the Duchess of
Portsmouth,--and all those people. It says so here, if you don't believe
it! I wish I'd lived at that time."

"I don't. There's fun now, too."

"Ah, but you don't know anything about it, Savile. I bet you anything
you like you can't tell me those clever lines about the poor darling
King's death!"

"Of course I can. Everybody knows them." Savile made an effort and then
said, "You mean Fain would I climb but that ..."

"Oh no, no, no! Oh, good gracious, no! One more try, now."

"Had I but served my God as faithfully as I have served my king ..."

"Wrong again. That's Sir Philip Sidney," she said, shutting up the book
with a bang. "It's

   Here lies our Sovereign Lord the King
   Whose word no man relies on ..."

"I say, old girl, I didn't come here to talk history, if you don't
mind."

"Well, what do you want to talk about? Shall I show you my new one of
Zena Dare?" said Dolly, opening the postcard album.

"Certainly not. I can't worry about Zena Dare. No, I've got something to
tell you--something rather serious. Zena Dare, indeed! What next?"

"Oh dear, are you in a bad temper?"

"How like a woman! No, I'm _not_ in a bad temper. Talking sense doesn't
show that one's in a bad temper. But it's a beastly thing to have to
do."

Dorothy sat on both the books, came nearer to Savile, and looked rather
pale, tactfully waiting, in silence.

Then suddenly he said in a different tone, quite cheerily----

"That's rather jolly, the way that blue bow is stuck in your hair,
Dolly."

"I thought you wanted to talk sense, Savile. What is it? Have you found
out--anything?"

"What do you mean? Yes, I've jolly well found out that I can't be
engaged to you any more. I've no right to be."

She did not seem overwhelmed by the news.

"Fancy! Just fancy! Oh--I see. Is there some one else? Who is it,
Savile?"

He smiled in his most superior way.

"My dear child, people don't go about mentioning women's names. Now look
here, Dolly, I meant to be straight, so I told you right out."

She smiled.

"I wonder what sort of girl she is! Well, it can't be Gladys: she's much
too hideous. That's _one_ comfort!"

"You're right, it can't. Besides, it's not."

"Well, Savile, you're a dear good boy to come and tell me about it. And,
the fact is, I was just wanting to tell you myself that perhaps we had
better not be engaged any more. Just be pals instead, you know."

"Who's the man?" He spoke sternly.

She began to talk very volubly.

"You know those people whom we met at Dinard last summer, the de Saules?
They're French, you know. Well, Madame de Saules,--you can't think how
pretty she is,--and dear little Thérèse, and Robert have just come over
here for the season. Thérèse is such a darling. You would love her. Only
a kid, of course, you know, but...."

"And what price this beastly French boy? Now, listen to me. Foreigners
are all rotters. I can tell you that if you're engaged to him you'll
live to regret it. I speak as a friend, Dolly."

"Oh dear no! We're not engaged! You don't understand! Private
engagements are not the proper thing in France. It isn't done. _Oh_ no!
Why, his mother would write to my mother and then he would send a
bouquet, or something, and then----"

"A bouquet! By Jove! Why, you're more prehistoric than Aunt William!
Well, look here, if this little blighter keeps his place I shan't
interfere. But, mind you, if I see the smallest sign of----"

He rose to his feet.

"Of what?" said Dolly, rising and looking angry. "He's a nice, handsome,
polite, dear boy. So there!"

"I should only wring his neck, that's all. Good-bye, old girl."

They walked to the gate together.

"It's only for your good, you know, Dolly. I don't mean to be a brute."

"Oh, it's all right, Savile."

"Dolly, dear."

"Yes, Savile."

"I'm awfully fond of you, really."

"Of course, I know, dear boy. Come again when you can, won't you?"

"_Won't_ I?" said Savile.



CHAPTER V

ARTHUR MERVYN AT HOME


Sometimes Sir James would confide in his secretary, and become after
dinner--he drank port--pompously communicative on the subject of the
alliances his daughter might contract--if she would. As he became more
and more confidential in fact, he would grow more and more distant in
manner, so that if they began dinner like old friends, they seemed
gradually to cool into acquaintances; and at the end of the
evening--such an evening!--Woodville felt as if they had barely been
introduced, or had met, accidentally, in a railway train. Yet he courted
these _tête-à-tête_ as one perversely courts a certain kind of
suffering. At least, Sir James talked on the _only_ interesting subject,
and Woodville was anxious to know everything about his rivals; for,
though he believed in Sylvia's affection, he was subject to acute,
almost morbid, attacks of physical jealousy. To see other men admire her
was torture, particularly as he had to efface himself and be treated by
her father as a faithful vassal.

And he really disliked deceiving Sir James, whose open liking was
evident and who thought him matrimonially as much out of the question as
the gardener.

"Hang it all, Woodville's a gentleman!" Sir James would have cried
furiously at any suggestion that it was imprudent to leave the young man
and Sylvia so much together. Sir James always remembered that Woodville
was a gentleman and forgot that he was a man.

Men who indulge in inexpensive cynicism say that women are complex and
difficult to understand. This may be true of an ambitious and hard
woman, but nothing can be more simple and direct than a woman in love.

Sylvia suffered none of Woodville's complications. She did not see why
he should want to run away with her, still less why he should run away
from her. Nothing could be wrong in her eyes connected with her love,
for it was also her religion. Like most girls who can love at all, her
life consisted, in fact, of this emotion only. She might go to the
stores, wave her hair, buy new hats, ride in the Park, order dinner for
her father (with great care, for he was a gourmet), read innumerable
books (generally falling back on Swinburne and Ella Wheeler Wilcox),
receive and meet innumerable people, go to the opera, and do many other
agreeable, tedious, or trivial things; but her life was her love for
Woodville. And she had all the courage and dignity of real
self-surrender. Whatever he did was right. Whatever he said was clever.
Everything was perfect, so long as he was _there_. To his scruples,
despairs, delights, and doubts she always answered that, after all, they
were only privately engaged, like heaps of people. And since Woodville
had this peculiar--she secretly thought insane--objection to marrying
her because she was an heiress and he was poor, then they must wait.
Something would happen, and all was sure to come right. She did not wish
to tell her father of the understanding at present, because she feared
Woodville would probably have to go away at once. They would tell him
when she was twenty-one. Only one year, and everything would be open and
delightful.

A strong motive that kept Woodville there was jealousy. Sylvia, discreet
as she was--no sparkling, teasing coquette--had yet all the irresistible
magnetism of a woman who is obviously made for tenderness. But she
showed as much deftness in keeping back her admirers as most girls do in
attracting them. She had curious deep delicacies; she disliked nothing
so much as to feel or show her power as a woman. Pride or vanity was
equally out of the question in her love; it was unselfish and yet it was
not exacting, as unselfish love generally is. So far as she knew, no
unselfishness was required from him. With the unconscious cruelty of
innocence she had kept him in this false position for years, looking
happily forward to a rose-coloured future.

Was it consistent that, with all his scruples, Woodville had drifted
into this romance?

A lovely girl of twenty and a remarkably good-looking young man of
twenty-eight meeting every day, every moment, at every meal--she,
romantic; he, the most impressionable of materialists! Surely nothing
could be expected but (for once) the obvious!

The Greek banker, Mr. Ridokanaki, said to be one of the richest men in
England, had of late begun to pay Sylvia what he considered marked
attention. Huge baskets of flowers, sometimes in the form of silver
ships, sometimes of wicker wheelbarrows, or of brocaded sedan-chairs,
and filled with orchids, lilies, roses, everything that, in the opinion
of a middle-aged banker, would be likely to dazzle and delight a nice
young girl, were sent periodically to Onslow Square. These floral
tributes flattered Sir James and Savile; Woodville said they were
hideous; and Sylvia (who neither wrote to thank their sender nor even
acknowledged them) always had them conveyed immediately to the
housekeeper's room. The Greek's intention of marrying Sylvia was in the
air. Woodville, Sylvia, and Savile were perhaps the only people who
doubted the event's coming off. Ridokanaki was a small, thin, yet rather
noticeable-looking man of fifty, with courteous cosmopolitan manners. He
had a triangular face, the details of which were vague though the
outline was clear, like a negative that had been left too long in the
sun. His slight foreign accent suggested diplomacy rather than the City;
he was a man of the world, had travelled everywhere, and had the
reputation of knowing absolutely everything. He was firm but kind--the
velvet hand beneath the mailed fist--irritatingly tactful, outwardly
conventional, _raffiné_, and rather tedious.

He called occasionally on Thursdays (Sylvia's day). Woodville was
usually having jealous palpitations in the library while Ridokanaki
talked strong, vague politics with Sir James, and drank weak tea poured
out by Sylvia (who always forgot that he never took sugar). After these
visits the powerful will of the Greek seemed to have asserted itself
without a word. It was his habit to express all his ideas in the most
hackneyed phrases except when talking business, so that he seemed
surprisingly dull and harmless, considering how much he _must_ know,
how much he must have seen and done. He had practically made his immense
fortune, and many people said that in his own line he was brilliant. It
was also often said of him (with surprise), "all the same Ridokanaki is
a very simple creature, _when you know him_." No one, however, had ever
yet really known him quite well enough to prove or justify this
description.

In the cumbrous continental fashion he was working up to the point of a
proposal, and something seemed to herald his future success. The
servants were all looking forward to the wedding. Only Price, the
footman, sometimes put in a word for poor Mr. Woodville. To say that the
romance was known and discussed with freedom in the servant's hall
should be needless. The illusion that domestics are ever in the dark
about what we fondly suppose to be our little secrets is still immensely
prevalent among persons who are young enough to know better.

"All I can say is, that's the man I'd marry if _I_ were a young lady,
whether or no," Price would say, sometimes adding, "With all his flowers
and motors, what _is_ the other gent after all but a sort of foreigner?
Mr. Woodville is the nephew of an English baronet. Give me an
Englishman!"

To this the housemaid would reply--

"Foreigner or no foreigner, Miss Sylvia is no fool; and, mark my words,
she would look all right in that house in Grosvenor Square!"

These dark sayings silenced Price, but they did not succeed in chilling
his romantic enthusiasm, though the other servants took the more worldly
view. Much as they liked Woodville, it could not be forgotten that
Ridokanaki had the agreeable habit (at times practised by Jupiter with
so much success) of appearing invariably in a shower of gold.
Trillionaire though he was, no hard-up nobleman could be more lavish,
especially in small things. Nowadays the romance of wealth is more
fascinating than the romance of poverty, even in the servants' hall. And
Ridokanaki was not, as they remarked, like one of those mere parvenus
from South Africa or America. Belonging to an old Greek family of
bankers who had been wealthy for generations, he had recently made a
personal position that really counted in European politics. It had been
rumoured that he might have married into a Royal if not particularly
regal family. What he had done for Greece and England was hinted at, not
generally known.

Sylvia's impersonal attitude, so obviously genuine, was a refreshing
change to a man who had been for years invited with so much assiduity
and who knew that he was still regarded in London not without hope as a
splendid match. Surely, he would suddenly turn round, settle down, and
look for a refined and beautiful wife to be head of his house.

       *       *       *       *       *

There was a feeling in the air that Sir James's party, with its White
Viennese Band, its celebrities, and general elaborate preparations, was
really intended to be a background for the declaration. Undoubtedly, he
would propose that night. All Sylvia thought about was, that she meant
to wear the grey chiffon dress that Woodville liked, and he would think
she looked pretty. She intended to conceal the little turquoise heart
that she had bought herself (_from him_) in the Brompton Road in her
dress, and to tell him about it afterwards.

To Felicity, the party was, like all entertainments, a kind of arena.
What is commonly called flirting, and what _she_ called bowling people
over, she regarded as a species of field-sport. Her heart might ache a
little under the Watteau-ish dress, because it appeared that nothing on
earth would induce darling Chetwode to return from Newmarket. When
Sylvia said gently she feared wild horses would not persuade him to come
back, Felicity answered, with some show of reason, that wild horses were
not likely to try. Indeed, little Felicity was rather depressed. What
was the fun of bowling people over, like so many ninepins, unless dear
Chetwode, her usual admiring audience, were there to see them
overthrown? However, no doubt, it would be fun. Felicity's view of life
was that it was great fun. As she had never had any real troubles, she
had not yet discovered that a sense of humour adds acutely to one's
sufferings at the time, though it may help recovery. To see the
absurdity of a grief increases it. It entirely prevents that real
enjoyment in magnifying one's misfortunes in order to excite
sympathy--an attribute so often seen in women, from char-woman to
duchess. But Felicity was not destined to misfortune. Ridokanaki
sometimes compared her to a ray of sunshine, and her sister to a
moonbeam. The comparison, if not startlingly original, was fairly just.
Felicity retorted by saying that the Greek was like a wax-candle burnt
at both ends and in the middle, while Woodville resembled a carefully
shaded electric light. She was anxious to know the words in which
Ridokanaki would propose, and had already had several rehearsals of the
scene with her sister, inducing Sylvia sometimes to refuse and sometimes
to accept, just to see how it went. Felicity said that if he were
rejected the marriage would in the end be a certainty, as a little
difficulty would gratify and surprise him, and make him "_bother about
it_" more. Everything was generally made so easy for him that he would
certainly enjoy a little trouble, and the idea of obtaining a girl
rather against her inclination would be sure to appeal to him.
Opposition in such matters is always attractive to a spirited
second-rate man.

       *       *       *       *       *

All the preparations being complete, Woodville, part of whose absurd
duties was to make quantities of unnecessary lists and go over the wine,
went, the day before the party, to see a friend of his, where the
atmosphere was so entirely different from his own that he regarded these
visits as a change of air.

"Mr. Mervyn in?"

"Oh yes, sir. There's a rehearsal to-day. So Mr. Mervyn has lunched
early."

A deep voice called from the inner room--

"Hallo, Frank! Come in, old chap!"

Arthur Mervyn had been at school and at Balliol with Woodville, and was
one of his favourite companions. The only son of a great tragic actor,
he possessed much of the genius of his late father, from whom he
inherited, also, his finely-cut features, like some old ivory carving,
his coal-black hair, and that sweet, humorous, yet sardonic smile that
relieved, like a sparkle in dark waters, his somewhat sinister good
looks.

Arthur Mervyn lived in a large, luxuriously furnished flat in
Bloomsbury. The decorations were miracles of Morris: obviously they
dated back about twenty years ago. Mervyn was not, however, a young man
who was keen about his surroundings: he was indifferent to them; they
had been chosen by his father, to whom background and all visible things
had been of the first importance. The faintly outlined involuted plants
on the wall-papers, the black oak friezes and old prints gave Arthur
neither more nor less pleasure than he would have received from striped
silk, white paint, and other whims of Waring. There were no swords,
foils, signed photographs of royalties, pet dogs, or babies, invitation
cards on the mantelpiece, nor any of the other luxuries usually seen in
illustrated papers as characteristic of "Celebrities at Home". A palm,
on its last legs, draped in shabby green silk, was dying by the window.
The gloom was mitigated by an air of cosiness. There were books,
first-rate and second-hand. Books (their outsides) were a hobby with
Mervyn. Smoking in this den seemed as natural as breathing, and rather
easier, though its owner never touched tobacco. On the Chesterfield sofa
there was one jarring note. It was a new, perfectly clean satin cushion,
of a brilliant salmon-pink, covered with embroidered muslin. Evidently
it was that well-known womanly touch that has such a fatal effect in
the rooms of a young man.

Woodville found Mervyn neither studying a part, reading his notices, nor
looking in the glass. He had, as usual, the noble air of a student
occupied with an Idea, and seemed absorbed.

"I say, Woodville, what do you think I've got?"

"A piece of rope that somebody wasn't hanged with?" asked Woodville.
Arthur's curious craze for souvenirs of crime was a standing joke with
them both.

"Better than that, old chap!" Mervyn spoke slowly, and always paused
between each sentence. "What do you think I did yesterday? You know
Jackson--chap who murdered people in a farm? I found out where he went
to school in the north of England--and I said to myself--this fellow
must have been photographed in a group as a boy."

There was a pause, disproportionately long.

"Sort of thing you _would_ say to yourself," said Woodville a little
irritably, as he lit a cigarette.

"Yes!--I took the 2.15--awful train. I went up there and went all over
the school, called at the photographers--and actually got the group!
And--there you are!"

Mervyn seemed very animated on the subject, and clapped his friend
several times on the back with short, delighted laughs.

"By Jove!" said Woodville, looking at the photograph.

"Why do you say 'By Jove!'?" asked Mervyn suspiciously.

"Why? Well! I must say _something_! You always show me things on which
no other comment is possible but an exclamation, or you tell me things
so unanswerable that there's nothing to say at all."

"So I do," admitted Mervyn, smiling, as he locked away the souvenir.
Then he sat down, and his animation dropped to a calmness bordering on
apathy.

"And how are you getting on?"

"Not at all."

"Aren't you, though?" Mervyn pushed the matches sympathetically towards
his friend, and seemed to fall into a reverie. Then he suddenly said,
brightly: "I say, Woodville, you want cheering up. Come with me and
see...."

"My dear chap, I'm not in the mood for theatres."

"Frank!" His friend looked at him with hurt reproach. "As though I'd
_let_ you see me in this new thing they're bringing out! No.--But I've
got a seat at the Old Bailey for to-morrow morning to see the trial;--I
think I could take you."

Woodville smiled.

"I appreciate immensely your methods of cheering people, Arthur, and I
know what that offer is from you. But I really don't care about it."

"Don't you?--What _do_ you care about?"

Woodville was silent. Then Mervyn said suddenly, "I say, how's Miss
Crofton and her sister? I like little Lady Chetwode awfully. She's a
pretty little thing, awfully amusing, and quite clever.--She's very keen
on crime, too, you know."

"Oh no, nonsense, Arthur! She only pretends to be, to humour you. It's
chaff. She hates it, really."

"Hates it! Does she, though?--Well, anyhow she promised to go with me to
the Chamber of Horrors one day. Make up a party, you know. And she says
she thinks all the criminals there have the most wonderful faces
physiognomically; benevolent foreheads, kindly eyes, and that sort of
thing; and then she said, well, perhaps any one _would_ look good with
such lovely complexions as they have! She says _she_ would have been
taken in! She would have engaged all the Hannahs--she says that
murderesses are always called Hannah--as housekeepers, they looked so
respectable--except for the glassy eye. Oh, we had a long talk. Yes, and
she'll bring her sister. You might come, too, one afternoon."

"Oh, of course I'll come. It would be rather jolly," said Woodville.

"Well, when this new thing is once out we'll fix it up, eh? I shall see
Lady Chetwode to-morrow--at your party."

"Oh, are you coming?"

"Oh, yes I'm going. Every one's going."

At this moment they heard outside the house a tremendous uproar, the
snorting, panting, puffing, and agonised throbbing that could only
proceed from a motor in distress.

"Who's that?" said Woodville, going to look out of the window.

Mervyn closed his eyes and leant back in his chair.

"It's nothing," he said. "It's Bertie--Bertie Wilton, you know."

"Oh! Good. Bertie's always exhilarating."



CHAPTER VI

AN AGREEABLE RATTLE


A moment later there entered the room a slim, good-looking young man of
about twenty-five years old, whose eyes were very bright and whose
clothes were very smart, and who gave the impression of being at once in
the highest spirits and at least a year in advance of the very latest
expression of the mode. He was very fair, clean shaven, with smooth
blond hair, white teeth, and the most mischievous smile in London.

Bertie Wilton had the reputation of being the wittiest of all the
dandies, but his one great weakness was a mania for being _dans le
mouvement_, and a certain contempt for any ideas, however valuable, that
had been suggested earlier than, say, yesterday afternoon. Extremely
good-natured, lively, and voluble, he was immensely popular, being
considered, as indeed he was, one of the last of the conversationalists.
He might be frivolous, but he was always interesting. He could talk
about anything--and he did.

"I didn't know you'd got a motor, Bertie," said Woodville.

Wilton looked at it lovingly out of the window, arranged the gardenia in
his button-hole, and said--

"Oh yes! I'm mad on motors. I've had three! This is my new toy. It's a
ripper, the only _right_ kind. It _can_ go, I'll say that for it. I've
been fined twice for exceeding the speed limit already."

"But you've never done anything else," said Woodville.

Bertie laughed.

"Ah! no; perhaps not. Well, anyway, I simply love it. I haven't even
come here this morning _merely_ to see you, Mervyn, or on the off-chance
of meeting old Woodville, but simply to try the new Daimler before
lunching in it--at least, not exactly lunching _in_ it, but _with_
it,--no, no, not _with_ it, you know what I mean--with the dearest old
gentleman who lives in the wilds of West Kensington. He's simply devoted
to me. Why, I can't think. But he's got a sort of idea that I saved his
life on a hill near Hastings. What really happened was, that his idiot
of a chauffeur had utterly smashed up the car, and he and the old
gentleman were sitting on the Downs with every probability of remaining
there for the rest of their natural lives!"

"And this, I suppose, is where you came in," said Woodville.

"Rather! I was spinning along from Brighton, and I saw those poor
creatures in their pitiable position. To hop out of the motor, have an
explanation with the old gentleman (who was stone deaf, by the way), to
persuade him to come with me, to drive him to his _intensely_
comfortable and charming country house in the heart of Hastings, and to
send for a surgeon to attend to the internal injuries of the car, was,
for me, the work of a moment! I made up quite a romance about the old
gentleman. You're a reading man, Woodville, and so you know, from books,
that the slightest politeness to an eccentric millionaire sets you up in
gilded luxury for life, don't you? I expected, of course, that he would
cut off his family with a shilling, and would leave me at the _very_
least £20,000 a year. Isn't it funny, my being wrong? It turned out that
he neither could nor would do anything of the sort. He was neither
eccentric nor a millionaire--though he was very well off and very
clever. But, perhaps you ask yourself, had he a lovely daughter, whose
hand he would offer me in marriage? Not he! He has only a hideous
married son and daughter-in-law who live in Manchester, and all I've
got out of the adventure, so far, is lunching with him, and talking to
him, and heaps of practice in shouting; he's so deaf. Besides, he's a
dear."

"What a wonderful chap you are! The last time I saw you, weren't you
secretary to a foreign Duke, with a brilliant diplomatic future before
you, or something?" said Woodville, while Mervyn appeared to be lost in
thought.

"I know, but that was _last_ season! Lots of people are just as keen as
I am, you know. Broughton, for instance, has actually invented a car of
his own. I once permitted myself to speak rather disrespectfully of
Broughton's quite ridiculous car, and, of course, some kind friend told
him practically every word I said; and he was quite hurt. We had a
regular sort of scene about it."

"What did you say against the car?" said Mervyn judicially, waking up.

"Well, I may be wrong, but it seems to me that it isn't an ideally
convenient arrangement (particularly for ladies) to have to climb into a
motor, by means of a ladder, over the back! I understood that though
Broughton's design had all sorts of capital new arrangements with regard
to cushions and clocks and looking-glasses, and mud-guards, he had,
_most_ unfortunately, quite forgotten the door.

"Well, we met at the Bellairs' Fancy Ball (I went as Louis the
Nineteenth) last week, you know, and had an explanation, and sort of
made it up, but I'm afraid, like that uncomfortable old king, though he
smiled at the jest, he never forgave the satire.

"I say, I must fly now. I have to lunch with the old gentleman. Can I
drop you anywhere, Woodville?"

"I've got to be at the theatre at one, to rehearse," said Mervyn
suddenly.

"Then you must be quick, old boy. It's a quarter to two now," said
Bertie.

They took their leave.

After many tender inquiries after its health from the chauffeur, Bertie
sprang into the motor with Woodville, and they started off.

"I say, Woodville," began Bertie, as they spun along, "I want to talk
about Lady Chetwode. I'm awfully in love with her."

"Didn't know you knew her."

"I don't. That's nothing to do with it. You can be awfully in love with
a person you don't know. In fact, I believe _I_ can be far more
seriously devoted to a perfect stranger than to a woman I know
personally. But I've often seen her at the Opera. And I'm _going_ to
know her. I'm going to be brought to your party to-morrow night by Mrs.
Ogilvie. Didn't you know? Tell me, why isn't Chetwode ever _there_?"

"Don't be an ass! They're devoted to each other. Turtle-doves aren't in
it."

Bertie's eyes sparkled.

"I _know_! I suppose he stays away for fear of her getting tired of him.
Quaint idea. Never been done before quite like that. Well, it may be
very clever, but I shouldn't do it! Frankly, I should always be there or
thereabouts, at all risks! You don't seem to understand (knowing them so
intimately, of course you wouldn't) what Lady Chetwode is going to be.
Why, she's simply _the_ person already. I hear of her everywhere, and
the sister, Miss Crofton; I saw her too the other night. She's quite
beautiful. I don't believe they know what to do with her."

"What on earth do you mean?" said Woodville.

"My dear boy, I have my faults, but I have one little gift, and that is
a _flair_ for success. It will be all very well for Miss Sylvia to marry
the Greek man to begin with----"

"Do you propose she should marry any one else to go on with then?"

"Don't be absurd. I mean, of course, that would start her, and so on.
He's a friend of exalted personages and that sort of thing, and it would
certainly bring her forward. Although I think she could do better. But
she ought to come out in tableaux or something and be really seen,
quite soon; while she's a novelty."

"I really think there's something wrong with your tonneau," said
Woodville.

Bertie smiled cheerfully. "Don't worry, my chauffeur's one of the best
drivers in London. But, about tableaux; next month at Worcester
House----"

"Miss Crofton doesn't care about that sort of thing," said Woodville.

"No? I heard she had rather a line of her own. What is her pose? She
ought to settle on it. You know there is nothing so uncomfortable as not
having settled on one's pose. Oh!" Bertie gave a start. "I beg your
pardon. I see the whole thing! But of course! You're in love with her.
What a fool I am!"

"You are indeed. I see very little of Miss Crofton. You're generally
positive, and always wrong."

"Oh, is it as bad as that? My dear Woodville, I'm so sorry! What a
tactless idiot I am! But Lady Chetwode, now. Her great friend, Vera
Ogilvie, I know very well indeed. I met her last Tuesday, so she's quite
an old friend. Mrs. Ogilvie's the pretty woman who thinks she has a
Byzantine profile. She's all over strange jewels and scarabs, and uncut
turquoises and things. She has a box on the second tier, and it was
there that it all happened."

"That what happened?"

"Why, my falling in love at first sight; I mean, with Lady Chetwode, of
course; and what makes me so bad is that I hear of her everywhere.
Nothing worse than that! Her frocks and her mots,--it seems she's very
clever, I hear, and says the most delightful things. And there's another
thing, if I don't make a dash for it this season, I shan't have a chance
next. I see that."

"Didn't I tell you she's simply wrapped up in her husband?"

"Of course. That's just the point. I don't know Chetwode, but he's the
fellow who has the wonderful collection. First Empire things, and china,
and all that. Besides, he goes racing. They say his horse has a chance
of winning the Derby. Oh, you don't know what a distinguished family
they are! Well, anyhow, you see he's busy, and if they _do_ have
honeymoons every now and then--as no doubt they do--I really hardly see
what that matters to me."

"Frankly, nor do I," said Woodville.

"No, indeed; I like it better, because I don't mind telling you I've got
heaps of things on just now."

"You look as if you had," said Woodville dryly.

"Is this meant for an attack on my tie? You'll be wearing one like it
yourself in a fortnight! Mrs. Ogilvie's great fun. Yesterday she took me
with her and a sort of country girl, a clergyman's daughter from Earl's
Court, to buy a hat at Lewis's; (for the girl I mean). It was
_extraordinary_! The girl isn't at all bad-looking, but naturally wears
her hair _perfectly_ flat, with a kind of knob at the back, the wrong
kind. On the top of this the milliners stuck, first, the most enormous
hat, eccentric beyond the dreams of the Rue de la Paix, all feathers,
and said, Oh, quel joli mouvement, Madame! The poor girl, frightened to
death, thinking the birds were alive, tore it off. So then they tried on
those absurd, tiny, high, little things that require at least
twenty-five imitation curls to keep them up, and show them off, and in
which poor Miss Winter looked like an escaped lunatic. We tried
everything in the shop, and at last Mrs. Ogilvie said, 'Perhaps we had
better come again, later in the season, when the hats would be smaller,
or not so large.'--Do you know Miss Winter? She has _rather_ pretty red
hair, and a dazed intellectual expression. She's the sort of girl who
can only wear a sailor hat (I never saw a sailor in a straw), as they
call them, or perhaps something considered picturesque in the suburbs;
you know, with skyblue _crêpe de chine_ strings under the chin. If
she'd only been an athletic girl we could have gone straight to Scott's,
and then we should have known where we were--but she's artistic, poor
thing." Bertie smiled mischievously.

"Your valuable advice doesn't seem to have been much use, then?"

"_Rather_ not! Especially as Mrs. Ogilvie has this craze about thinking
she's Oriental (I wonder who put it into her head), and _would_ order
absurd beaded things, like Roman helmets, when of course she'd look
delightful in a dark claret-coloured velvet sort of Gainsborough, with
dull brown feathers. But women are so perverse. Look how they won't wear
black when nothing suits them so well!"

"Won't they? I wonder you don't go into the millinery business. I think
you'd do very well."

"Don't talk rot. I'm only interested as an amateur; it's art for art's
sake. But I _do_ understand frocks. I will say that I think women's
dress is the only thing worth being really extravagant on. Don't you?"

"No, I don't."

They were now proceeding down Bond Street at a pace that the crowd
compelled to be rather leisurely.

"There's Aunt William in her old-fashioned barouche with the grey
horses. It's _such_ a comfort to me, always, to see Mrs. Crofton; it
makes one feel at least there is something stationary in this changeable
world. Who's that boy looking at?--at you? Isn't it the Crofton boy?"

"Yes. Let's stop a minute; I want to speak to him."

Savile, seeing them, crossed the road, and said, before Bertie could
begin--

"Extraordinary weather for the time of--year!"

"Come off the roof!" said Woodville, smiling. "What are you doing in
Bond Street?"

"Oh, only going to Chappell's, the music shop, to get a song. One of
those Sylvia doesn't sing," said Savile, looking straight at him.

"Oh, I know what it is," said Bertie; "it's Pale Hands that Burn, or
Tosti's Good-bye!"

"No, it just isn't."

"Then it's something out of The Telephone Girl or something. Do tell us
what it is. I hate these musical mysteries."

"It's not a mystery at all. It's Home sweet Home," said Savile.

They tried to persuade him to join them, but he walked off.

"Delightful boy," said Bertie, after a moment. "So correct. I'm sure
he's _the_ person at home, and spoilt, and does what he likes with them
all, doesn't he? Of course, he's the person to be friends with if you
want anything fixed up! Well, here we are at Onslow Square. It was jolly
seeing you again. You must come for another longer spin soon. Isn't
Mervyn a good chap? He's so really distinguished that it wouldn't ever
matter what he wore, or where he went, or when. And you'd never _dream_
he was an actor, would you?"

"Not unless you saw him act," said Woodville, getting out.



CHAPTER VII

THE NIGHT OF THE PARTY


Sir James was in one of those heroic moods that were peculiarly alarming
to his valet. He was so abnormally good-tempered, and seemed so
exceedingly elated about something, that it was probable he might
suddenly, in Price's pathetic phrase, turn off nasty, or fly out.

As a matter of fact, Sir James was dominated by what are called mixed
feelings. The letter that he read and re-read as he walked about his
library enchanted him. But the appearance of that library was maddening.
It had been transformed into a ladies' cloak-room. On his own
writing-desk were an oval silver mirror, a large powder-puff, and
several packets of hairpins. All trace of politics seemed to have been
completely wiped out. Sir James thoroughly enjoyed picturing to himself
Mr. Ridokanaki in this room on the following morning, asking for a
blessing, on his knees, and to fancy himself saying solemnly, "Take
her, my boy, she is yours!" or words to that effect.

Not only had the trillionaire sent Sylvia six feet of flowers in a
gun-metal motor-car studded with sapphires, but Sir James, also, had
received a respectful request (practically a species of royal command)
for consent to his addresses. Ridokanaki stated that he had not as yet,
of course, said anything to Sylvia, but proposed, unless her father
objected, to try to win her fair hand that very evening. It was a
triumph, even for Sylvia. Sir James laughed, as he only laughed when
alone. But on looking up from the letter what he saw jarred on him. How
he could well imagine the wrap that would be placed carelessly over the
bust of Pitt in the corner, and all the cloaks and frivolous chiffons
which would lie on that solemn study table! Rage had the upper hand. Sir
James broke out, and rang the bell violently.

"Price, where's Miss Crofton? Tell her I want her immediately. This
instant! Lose no time. But tell her on no account to hurry. In fact, any
time will do as long as she comes at once. Wait a moment, wait a moment.
Don't be so precipitate, Price. You leave the room before you hear your
orders. I've had to speak to you about this before.... Is Miss Crofton
dressed yet?"

"Yes, Sir James. Miss Crofton is quite ready. Lady Chetwode is with
her."

"Oh! then tell her it doesn't matter. She needn't trouble."

"Yes, Sir James."

       *       *       *       *       *

The sisters were standing in Sylvia's pale blue bedroom in front of the
long mirror. Felicity's fair, almost silvery hair, puffed out round her
wilful little face, looked as though it were _poudré_. She wore a
striped brocade gown all over rosebuds, and resembled a Dresden china
figure. Sylvia's exquisitely modelled face and white shoulders emerged
from clouds of grey tulle.

"It's rather a shame, Sylvia; you'll bowl over everybody. Roy Beaumont
will say you look mythological. Oh, and poor Mr. Ridokanaki! You'll
refuse him to-night, I suppose! What fun it must be to be a pretty girl
going about refusing people in conservatories--like a short story in a
magazine! I've forgotten how I did it. In a year, darling? Quite. I say,
have I overdone the dix-huitième business? Do I look like a fancy ball?
Pass me a hairpin, dear. No, don't. I suppose you know that Chetwode has
never seen this dress! What do you think of _that_? One would think we
were an old married couple."

"Hardly, dear. Put it on to go and meet him at the station," said
Sylvia, rather unpractically. "No, you're not too last-century. I think
you look more like the next."

"Well, I hope so," said Felicity, fluttering a tiny Pompadour fan; "and
if De Valdez says I look like a Marquise of the olden times, as he once
did, I simply won't stand it. Let's go down. But first tell me what you
will say when Mr. Rid ... Oh, bother, I can't say all that. Let us call
him the man. 'Miss Crofton, might I respectfully venture to presume to
propose to hope to ask to have a word with you? You are like a grey
rose', or something or other."

"Oh, don't be absurd. Sometimes I think the whole thing is all your
fancy, and Savile's."

"My fancy! Then what was that enormous, immense thing in the hall I fell
over--a sort of tin jewelled bath, crammed with orchids and carnations?
Frank Woodville was helping Price to cart it away, and trying to break
some of the flowers by accident."

"Oh, was Mr. Woodville taking it away?" Sylvia smiled.

At that moment a firm knock at the door, and the words, "I say, Sylvia,"
announced Savile's entrance. He walked in slowly, brushed his sisters
aside like flies, and stood looking at himself in the long mirror, which
reached nearly from the ceiling to the floor. It was a solemn moment.
He was wearing his very first evening-dress suit.

They watched him breathlessly. He carefully kept every trace of
expression out of his face. Then he sat down, and said seriously to
himself--

"Right as rain. You're all right, girls, too. Rather rot Chetwode not
being here. Rather a pose, Felicity not wearing jewels. Why is the
Governor in such a state? He's frightfully pleased about something. He
flew out at me and said I ought to work for my button-holes, as he did.
Really rather rot! I said, 'Well, father, a pink carnation's all right.
The King wore one at Newmarket.' He said the _King_ could afford it.
Cheek! Sylvia, I say, you _are_ all right! I'm going down."

Suddenly remembering his broken heart, Savile paused at the door, caught
Felicity's eye, and sighed with an effort, heavily. Then, with his usual
air of polite self-restraint, out of proportion to the occasion, he left
the room.

Soon the White Viennese Band was tuning up, and the house, which was
built like a large bungalow, decorated all over with crimson rambler
rosebuds, looked very gay and charming. Sir James beamed as various
names, more or less well known in various worlds, were incorrectly
announced. Felicity went into a small room that had been arranged for
conversation to see through the window that the garden had been
artistically darkened for the occasion.

In the room were several men. Roy Beaumont the young inventor with his
calm face and inscrutable air was looking up as he spoke to De Valdez,
the famous composer. Roy Beaumont wore minute boot-buttons on his cuffs
and shirt front.

De Valdez (more difficult to secure at a party than a Prime Minister)
was a very handsome, unaffected, genial man who, though an Englishman,
had much of the Spanish grandee in his manner and bearing. He had a
great contempt for the smaller amenities of dress, and his thick curling
hair made more noticeable his likeness to the portraits of Byron.

Felicity at once said, as if in great anxiety--

"You _mustn't_ call me a Marquise of the olden time! Will you?" She
smiled at the composer as Roy Beaumont went upstairs, leaving Felicity
to begin the evening by trying the room with De Valdez.

Comparatively early, and quite suddenly, the rooms were crowded on the
usual principle that no one will arrive till every one is there. They
were filled with that inaudible yet loud chatter and the uncomfortable
throng which is the one certain sign that a party is a success. The
incorrect labelling of celebrities seemed to be an even more entrancing
occupation than flirting to the strains of the Viennese Band. A young
girl with red hair and eager eye-glasses, who had never in her life left
Kensington, except to go to Earl's Court, entreated a dark animated
young man who had just been introduced to her, but whose name she did
not catch, to "sit down quietly and tell her all about everybody."

He amiably complied.

"That," he said, "that man with the white beard is Henry Arthur James.
He writes all those books that no one can understand--and those clever
plays, you know, that every one goes to see."

"Does he really? Fancy! Can you point me out the man who wrote, 'Oh the
Little Crimson Pansies' and 'The Garden of Alice'? I love his work. It's
so weird. F. J. Rivers, you know."

"My dear Miss Winter, what a dreadful thing! I'm afraid you'll be very
disappointed. As a matter of fact, I am F. J. Rivers myself. Isn't it a
pity? I'm so sorry. And I'm afraid I am not weird. Do forgive me. I'd be
weird in a minute if I could. You know that, I'm sure. Don't you?"

"Fancy! Just fancy!" She blushed crimson. "I was being so natural. I had
no idea I was talking to a clever person."

"No wonder!"

"You see, I'm interested in things. I particularly love the intellectual
atmosphere of this house, and I read all the serious magazines and
things, the _Bookman_ and the _Saturday Review_ and the _Sketch_; and so
on."

"Should you say the atmosphere was really so intellectual here?" said
Rivers a little doubtfully.

The Viennese Band was playing _Caresses_ in its most Viennese way;
people were gaily coming up from supper or coquettishly going down, or
sitting in corners _à deux_, dreamily. The heavy scent of red rosebuds
hung over all. So becoming was the background at this particular moment
that nearly every woman looked fair and every man brave....

"I'm afraid--I mean, I suppose--you take what they call an intelligent
interest in the subjects of the day, Miss Winter?"

"I should think so, indeed!" she answered.

"Oh dear!" Rivers looked depressed as he tried to remember what he knew
about Radium and Russia.

"Somehow I don't feel frightened of _you_," she said. "Will you take me
to have a cup of tea?"

He escorted her downstairs, endeavouring to make up for any
disappointment she might feel by pointing out with reckless lavishness
Mr. Chamberlain, Beerbohm Tree, Arthur Balfour, Madame Melba, Filsen
Young, George Alexander, and Winston Churchill, none of whom, by a
curious coincidence, happened to be present.

"Surely I may talk to you a moment," Woodville murmured to Sylvia.
"Every one's happy eating, and you needn't bother. Just come out, one
second--on the verandah through the little room. After all, I'm a friend
of the family!"

"Why, so you are!"

She fluttered out with him through the French window of the little
conversation room to a part of the garden that had been boarded and
enclosed, forming with its striped awning and Japanese lanterns a kind
of verandah. No one was in sight.

"This is the first second to-night I haven't been utterly wretched,"
said Woodville firmly.

"Oh, Frank! How kind of you to talk like that!"

"How beautiful of you to look like that!--And this is the sort of thing
I have to stand--utterly ignored--I suppose you know I worship you? Do
you really belong to me, Sylvia?"

"Oh, Frank! Why, I _love_ you!"

"Do you really?"

"Of course. Look here, don't tell any one--not even yourself--but I'm
wearing the little locket after all."

The kiss was short but disturbing. As they came down to earth with a
shock, they saw, looking at them steadily through the half-open window,
Mr. Ridokanaki. He seemed interested.

At a look from Sylvia Mr. Woodville faded away, feeling as if he were
sneaking off. Sylvia went indoors.

"Good evening, Miss Crofton," said the harsh yet sympathetic pleasant
voice; "I have been seeking you since this half-hour.... I was coming to
ask if I might have the great honour of taking you to supper. Of course,
it is an immense privilege--far more than I might expect. Still, may I
venture to hope?"

"With pleasure," said Sylvia. She took his arm.

"It is very kind of you, Miss Crofton. What a very interesting face that
young man has!"

"Which young man?" Sylvia asked innocently.

"The young man who was in the garden. I am sure he is clever. Your
father's--er--secretary, I think? _What_ did you say his name was,
again?"

"His name is Mr. Woodville. Yes, I think he is clever. Quite an old
friend, you know," Sylvia added rather lamely.

       *       *       *       *       *

One could see no difference in the Greek, since he talked on in his
usual urbane way, and made no allusion of any sort the whole evening,
either to the floral tribute he had sent, to his letter to Sir James, or
to the little scene he had interrupted.

In the supper-room all was gaiety and laughter.

"How hollow all this sort of thing is, isn't it?" said De Valdez,
presenting Felicity with a plover's egg, as he passed carrying a plate
laden with them to some one else.

"They do seem rather hungry, don't they? But why aren't you eating any
supper, Mr. Wilton?"

Having done her duty to all her old friends, Felicity was occupying
herself very congenially by steadily bowling over a completely new young
man. It was Bertie Wilton, whom Mrs. Ogilvie had brought on the grounds
that he could have danced if it had been a dance, and that he was the
son of Lady Nora Wilton. Felicity was very much pleased with his
condition. It seemed most promising, considering she had known him about
a quarter of an hour.

"Supper! I should think two hot plates, one strawberry, and a sip of
champagne more than enough for a person who is falling every moment more
and more--Don't take that plover's egg, Lady Chetwode! It isn't fair!
You have given me the sole right to provide for you this evening, and
that man has no business to come interfering. Let him attend to his own
affairs."

"He only dropped one plover's egg on my plate, as an old friend--out of
kindness! He meant no harm," pleaded Felicity.

"Yes, that's all very well, but it was a liberty. It implies that I
cannot provide you with all that you require. He must learn better." Mr.
Wilton firmly removed the plover's egg and placed it on the next table,
at which Rivers and the red-haired girl were still chattering volubly.
Rivers immediately brought it back as lost property, courteously
presenting it to Felicity on a silver salver.

"This is becoming unbearable! I shall have to write to the _Times_."
Wilton gave the egg to a waiter and a furious glance at Rivers, and then
sat down again. He was remarkably good-looking with his sparkling blue
eyes and mischievous expression, and Felicity glanced at him with
approval. He would do very well--for the evening. He was quite worth
powder--and shot. At least, he was, to her, a perfect stranger, and
there was a great dearth of spring novelties at the party to-night.

"I've been waiting for you for years," said Bertie Wilton in a soft,
low, impressive voice.

"Fancy! How patient of you!--How did you know it was me?"

"Oh, instantaneous-sympathy, I suppose."

"On your side, do you mean? I should call it telepathy, or
perhaps--conceit."

"Call it what you like. But how is it you're so wonderful? Tell me
that."

"I can't think," she said dreamily.

"I'm certain I met you in a previous existence," continued the young
man.

"What a good memory you must have, Mr. Wilton! It's as much as I can do
to remember the people I meet in _this_ existence. I believe I saw you
in Mrs. Ogilvie's box at _Madame Butterfly_."

"I know, I saw you from there. I was rooted to the spot--I believe
that's the right expression, though it sounds rather agricultural--while
at the same time you might have knocked me down with a feather! It's
really true, you might. But I know you wouldn't have, you're far too
good and kind."

"I don't think I _had_ any feathers with me," said Felicity.

Bertie went on. "But this life is so short.--Do you think it's worth
it?--(Do have some mayonnaise.)--I mean the kind of thing one
does--waiting, waiting--at last asking, for instance, to call on your
day--only meeting in throngs--perhaps not getting a chance, for months,
to tell----"

"I suppose life _is_ rather long, isn't it?" Felicity said, as a
concession.

"Then I may come and see you the day after to-morrow?" he asked.

"Not till the day after to-morrow!" she exclaimed in surprise. "Why wait
so long?"

"At what time?" he persisted, smiling.

"You may call next Monday--at five. Not this week."

"That's impossible. I can't. It's too dreadful. I can't wait till
Monday, I can't.... Well, let me come on Tuesday, then?"

"_I_ see. You're particularly engaged on Monday. After all, why trouble?
There are so many people for you to call on!"

"If I might call to-morrow, ONCE, I'll never be engaged again! I'll
never call on any one else during the whole of my natural life."

"All right," she said absently. "Call to-morrow, ONCE, as you say. Not
that I ever heard of any one calling twice the same day, at least not
the first day."

"Oh, Lady Chetwode, how kind of you! Did you say five? Can't you make it
half-past four?"

"Very well."

"Won't you make it three? I beg your pardon. I'll walk up and down in
front of the house strewing flowers from three till half-past four and
then come in, may I? And will there be crowds of people there?"

"Well, you haven't given me much time," said Felicity. "I'll try to get
up a party by to-morrow, if you wish it."

"How can you be so unkind! Do you think me very pushing--and vulgar?"

"Very. No, only vulgar."

"At any rate, I'm sincere. It's like Tristan and Ysolde; at least, it's
like Tristan. You can't look me straight in the eyes and tell me I'm not
sincere!"

Felicity looked; and was quite satisfied.... How hard it was that
Chetwode was not there for her to tell him all about the conversation
going home! This thought vexed her so much that she became absent and
lost spirit to keep it up.

Mr. Rivers had promised to send the red-haired girl, who had fallen
hopelessly in love with him, his latest book. He had arranged to take
her and her mother to a concert at the Queen's Hall the following Sunday
afternoon.

Roy Beaumont was the centre of a crowd of interested people, chiefly
bearded men, who paid him sportive homage, and pretty women, as he
illustrated, by means of a wineglass, two knives, and a saltspoon, his
new invention for having one's boots fastened by electricity, which was
to do for Marconigrams, expose radium as a foolish fraud, and consign
clock-work to limbo. "You don't touch the buttons and the invention does
the rest," he pointed out.

Aunt William in her peach gown was taken down to supper by Jasmyn. He
was a plump middle-aged young man, a very social person, and quite an
arbiter on matters of fashion; known for his kindness and politeness to
dear old ladies and shy young men. A romantic affection for a certain
widow, whom his friends said he spoke of as "Agatha, Mrs. Wilkinson," to
give the effect of a non-existent title, had prevented him, so far, from
marrying. He was bland and plaintive, looked distinguished, supremely
good-natured, and rather absurd.

"It is too marvellous," said Aunt William, as she ate her _foie-gras_.
"What a collection my dear brother-in-law has assembled to-night. Half
the people here I have never heard of in the whole course of my life!"

"And the other half," said Jasmyn, "you have perhaps heard of rather
too often. No strawberries, Mrs. Crofton?"

"No thank you. I don't care for fruit, except in its proper season. My
dear husband always said strawberries were not eatable till the fourth
of June."

"Ah, how right he was!" said Jasmyn absently, eating a very large one.
"I suppose he didn't care for _primeurs_. Personally, I admit that I am
absolutely sick of asparagus by April, but I think it best to eat and
drink as much as possible because I suffer so terribly from depression."

"Depression! Yes, you would. Having everything on earth you want, and
being thoroughly spoilt, like all men of the present day, you would
naturally have low spirits."

"Ah, I dare say you don't believe me. But I assure you, Mrs. Crofton,
that under all my outward misery I generally have an aching heart....
How lovely Lady Chetwode's looking!"

"Lady Chetwode," said Aunt William loyally, "is a most brilliant woman.
Her sister is a beautiful girl, and her brother Savile is doing well at
Eton. His last report----"

"Do you know, I'm terribly frightened of Savile," said Jasmyn. "He's
such a man of the world that I feel positively crude beside him."

Before the end of the evening, Ridokanaki took an opportunity to ask if
Woodville would dine with him.

"I want to have a little talk with you," he said. "I have an idea--it
may be perfectly wrong--that what I have to say may interest you."

Woodville accepted; surprised at his rival's cordiality.

"At Willis's, then, at eight, Mr. Woodville?"

"At eight. Thanks very much."



CHAPTER VIII

FELICITY AND HER CLIENTS


When Felicity woke up in her enormous, over-draped, over-decorated,
gilded, carved, and curved bed she was immediately as wide awake as
though she had been up several hours.

There was no slow rousing to the realities of life, no sleepy yawning or
languid return from a land of dreams. She dashed the hair out of her
eyes, at once put on her glasses (for in private she was short-sighted),
and began immediately and systematically to tell her fortune by cards.
She did this regularly every morning. It was a preliminary to her day's
campaign, when Everett came in with the tea and letters, drew aside the
heavy blue curtains, embroidered all over with gold fleur-de-lys, and
let in a ray of April sunshine. According to her usual practice,
Felicity kept up a running commentary on her correspondence.

"From darling Chetwode.--'My own beautiful little angel, It is
quite'--what's this? hop-picking? no--'heart-breaking that I can't get
back to you for another week. Tobacco Trust was beaten by a short head,
as of course you know, but Onlooker is a dead certainty for to-morrow.
Will wire result.

"'I saw a most marvellous old cabinet in a cottage near here'--he
_would_!--'an extraordinary bargain. It will just go in the corner
of----'" She put the four closely written sheets down and opened some
more envelopes.

"'Lady Virginia Creeper at home. Five to seven.' Well, I can't help it.
Let her stop at home. It's the best place for her.

"'Dearest Lady Chetwode, you haven't forgotten, I am sure, that you
promised to see me at three to-morrow. I come to you with my tears. You
are the greatest adviser and consoler in all heart troubles. Of late I
have been enamoured of sorrow. But for your wonderful "Bureau de
Consultation Sentimentale," where should we poor sentimentalists be!
Agatha has been simply brutal to me lately. I can find no other word. I
look forward to pouring my grief into your shell-like ear. I will bring
my new song, "Cruel as the Grave."' How cheering! Jasmyn Vere is
perfectly absurd about Agatha. He's a bore, anyhow.

"'Dear old girl; I'm coming to lunch to-day. Everything is rather
rotten. I have news of HER. Your aff. brother Savile.'

"'Darling Felicity, be a perfect angel and let my maid see your mauve
tea-gown. I know you are so good-natured or I wouldn't dare to ask. I am
very anxious about HIM. Oh, why are men always the same? I found out
that the wretch instead of being ill, the other day, had taken that
awful Lucy Winter to a picture-gallery. What a girl! All red hair and
eye-glasses. Let me see you soon. Your devoted friend, Vera Ogilvie.' I
am sure Vera needn't worry. Lucy Winter was evidently wild about F. J.
Rivers last night. I must tell her. What stupid letters! Oh! here's a
new handwriting.

"'98 Half Moon Street, 2 o'clock a.m.--Dear Lady Chetwode, I should be
counting the minutes till 4.30, but they pass too slowly to be counted.
It's thirteen hours and a half, anyhow. I can't believe I shall really
see you again. How eternal yesterday was! Why do the gods follow each
feast day with a fast? By the way, I have a little Romney here so
marvellously like you that you really ought to see it.'" Felicity
smiled. "Steady! Rather a nice handwriting. 'Sincerely yours, Bertie
Wilton.' Very promising. 'P.S. I have left a long space between the
lines so that you should read between them.' Everett, I'll wear my
tailor-made dress this morning and for lunch. The mauve tea-gown at
four. I'm only going to the theatre to-night. Let me see, what is it?
Oh! the St. James's. The white _crêpe de chine_. Then, remind me to wire
to the Creepers on the evening of their afternoon to say I have a chill.
Have some gardenias and lilies for the drawing-room, and let me see
them. There's the telephone! I suppose Chetwode has rung me up again."

Then followed a one-sided conversation through the telephone, which was
fixed by the side of the Louis Quinze bed.

"Yes, darling.... Oh, all right.... Didn't he?... I say, you might come
back soon.... I really shouldn't bother about that screen.... What?... I
said screen, not scream.... We have heaps more than we want already....
Oh! and ever so many people are coming this afternoon.... A perfectly
new young man.... What?... Oh, not bad!... Safety in numbers?... Even if
you take the numbers one at a time?... Good-bye."

Savile at lunch was gloomy and taciturn. Absently he had partaken three
times of a certain favourite dish, made of chestnuts and cream,
repeatedly proffered, with _empressement_ and a sort of respectful
sympathy, by Greenstock. Then he pushed his plate away, and said when
they were alone--

"Funny! I can't eat a thing! Sylvia says I live on nothing but oranges.
Pretty rotten sign, eh? Here's what I've heard about HER."

He took out of his purse a neatly-cut-out paragraph from _The Queen_. It
stated that Madame Patti had been warmly greeted by all the village of
Craig-y-nos, and was about to give an afternoon concert there for the
benefit of the poor.

"I shan't have another chance to see HER before I go back," said Savile,
looking steadily at his sister.

She followed his idea in a second. "All right! Poor boy! There's no
great harm. Shall I give you the--change"--(to Savile, Felicity always
spoke of money as change)--"to run up to Wales and hear her sing, and
then come back the same evening? It doesn't really matter what time you
arrive home, you see. You can stay with me. I'll tell papa you're going
to a concert and I want you to stay with me."

Savile was nearly purple with joy. "Would you really? What bricks girls
can be!" He shook hands with her with intense self-restraint, and
murmured, "I shan't forget this, old girl."

Felicity completed the arrangements, and Savile left, a very happy boy.

At three o'clock Felicity, in her wonderful orchid-mauve tea-gown, was
conversing pathetically with Jasmyn Vere, one of the habitués of what
her friends called her sentimental bureau.

He was not one of her favourite clients. He was egotistical, and his
mania for Agatha was becoming rather a bore. Agatha was a plain,
muscular, middle-aged widow who drove him to distraction by her temper
and her flirtations. Felicity only stood it at all because he sang and
played beautifully, imitated popular actors in his lighter moments, and
gave amusing dinners at restaurants.

"What would you have done?" he said. "By mistake, Agatha posted this
letter to me!"

He took out of a pale grey morocco case a note with "Stanhope Gate" and
a large "A" on it in scarlet and black.

She read--

     Dear Bob,

     Excuse rush. All rubbish about Jasmin. He's a hopeless idiot, but a
     good old sort. Mind you fetch me in time for Lingfield Races
     to-morrow and put me on to a good thing.

                                  Yours,

                                      AGATHA.

Felicity handed it back.

"Just fancy, Lady Chetwode! I confronted her with this. She had put it
in the wrong envelope and sent a note meant for me to Captain
Henderson. She only roared with laughter. I broke it off finally and she
said I should probably break it on again next day."

"And did you?"

"Nothing of the kind. I went away and wrote her a really beautiful
letter. I said that I would wipe out the past and begin afresh if she
promised never even to recognise Captain Henderson again in the
street--or anywhere."

"What did she say, Mr. Vere?"

"Say! She wired 'Sorry imprac.' So it's all over. Now, what do you
advise?"

"If you would only leave her alone for about two minutes, she would come
round all right; she is so used to you. Or, make her jealous."

"Well, I hope you'll forgive me, but I did try that. In our last
interview I said I was coming to see you, and that you were a really
womanly woman."

"Oh, thanks very much," said Felicity angrily. "What did she say to
that?"

"Laughed that awful laugh of hers, and said I need not worry, as you
were very busy."

"She was perfectly right, I am," said Felicity. "Have you left her alone
since that?"

"Practically. At least, I only sent her a little thing I thought she'd
like."

"A diamond horse-shoe--by any chance?"

"Oh, just a trifle as a souvenir of our long friendship. Then I
suggested we should have one final meeting--a _diner d'adieu_."

"And she didn't send the trinket back, and she didn't refuse? Oh, you're
all right!"

"I am not all right, dear Lady Chetwode."

"When are you going to see her again?"

"I'm bound to say that I hope to see her next Saturday evening. But just
think! She has actually spoken, written of me as a 'hopeless idiot'!"

"Yes. I understood that."

"Should a man forgive such a thing?"

At this stage Felicity's eyes began straying to the clock. "Certainly,
if it is true," she said absently.

He left a copy of "Cruel as the Grave" when he went, with many
expressions of gratitude, and Felicity said to herself: "What an
extraordinary thing! What can he see in Agatha? What can Agatha see in
Bob? And there is Vera Ogilvie--really pretty and charming--worrying
herself about that dull Captain Henderson, who makes love to every woman
he sees, and doesn't care two straws about her." At this point she took
up a very handsome photograph of her husband, and looked at it until the
tears came into her eyes. It was a charming portrait.

When Bertie Wilton arrived, she brightened up a good deal. He looked
better in the afternoon than in the evening, she thought. She liked his
bright, intelligent face. And confidences about others do pall after a
time. The reaction from Jasmyn made her perhaps more encouraging than
she was aware of--she was so depressed about Chetwode's absence. After
tea and preliminary platitudes, Mr. Wilton sat beside her on the sofa
and took her hand.

"What on earth do you mean by that?" she said, looking more annoyed than
surprised.

"You said yourself that life was so short the other night! I haven't the
time--I tell you frankly--to be a tame cat and a hanger-on and one of
your collection!"

"Really! Sorry you're so busy. I looked upon you as one of the
unemployed." She was amazed at his tactlessness.

"You were mistaken. When a thing like this happens--a genuine
_coup-de-foudre_--a man is only a fool who doesn't face it and admit it
at once. I care for you really, though I haven't known you--very long.
I'll cut it out of my life unless you give me ever such a distant hope
that you will--like me--too."

"Will you look at my husband's photograph, Mr. Wilton? He's really very
handsome--and particularly amusing. We've been married just thirteen
months."

"An unlucky number! Yes, I know he's handsome--and, no doubt,
delightful. But he isn't here."

"What's that got to do with it?"

"Everything. You know he might be here--with you, and he's not."

"That's his business."

"And mine!" audaciously answered the young man.

"Will you please not take my hand, and recollect that I'm not a
housemaid 'walking out' with her young man?"

He did not obey her.

"I should never have suspected you of such bank-holiday manners," she
said, at once amused and angry.

"You can call it bank-holiday or anything you like--and if you don't
like it I'm sorry, but really you deserve it! You may drive people mad
with your little ways, and they may stand it if they like. I can't."

Evidently Mr. Wilton was losing his head. It was quite interesting.

"I saw from the first that firmness is my only chance with you," he said
half apologetically. He then made the terrible mistake of trying to kiss
her. She slid away like an acrobat, pressed the electric bell, and sat
down again with a heightened colour.

"I beg your pardon," said Wilton humbly. "I know it was very wrong. I
couldn't help it. You needn't ring and turn me out of the house,--I'll
go."

"I wasn't going to."

Greenstock appeared.

"Please bring a glass of iced-water," said Felicity in clear crystal
tones.

"Oh, Lady Chetwode!"

During the moment's somewhat awkward interval Felicity stroked up her
hair and looked tenderly at Lord Chetwode's photograph.

When the iced-water was brought in he drank it.

She burst out laughing.

"What a penance! Just after tea! Well, I'll forgive you this once only.
I think it unspeakable. You're of course very young, so you shall have
another chance. You never will be like that again, will you?"

He stood up.

"I never will. I'm very sorry. I quite understand. I can see you are
accustomed to invertebrate admirers who spoil you. I made a mistake,
because you see I don't happen to be one."

"Chetwode isn't invertebrate!"

Bertie bowed. "Ah, I dare say not. Of that I have no kind of doubt. But
you see, he's not here. He's never here. Good-bye."

He took his leave in a very final manner.

Felicity thought over the question with interest. She was sure she would
never see Wilton again. Why was Chetwode always away like this?
Everybody noticed it.

       *       *       *       *       *

When Felicity came back from the St. James's Theatre that night she
thought that she was a little in love with Bertie Wilton. But she knew
she wasn't.



CHAPTER IX

A DINNER AT WILLIS'S


"It seems to me," said Sylvia, "the most unnatural, _treacherous_ thing
I ever heard of."

She and Woodville were sitting in the library together after breakfast,
and he had just told her of Ridokanaki's invitation.

"Besides, I thought you hated him, Frank!"

"If we only dined with people we like, we should practically starve in
London."

"But why dine with my enemies?"

"He worships the ground you tread on."

"Then it's all the worse! He wants to spoil our happiness for his own
selfish purpose. You know that, and yet you go!"

"Darling, beautiful angel, do let me use my own judgment! I want to hear
what he has to say. Don't be angry, Sylvia. I couldn't very well refuse
on the ground that he was in love with you, when we--you and I--are not
officially--you see, dearest! Of course, it's better I should go."

The door opened slowly and Sir James came in like a procession, and sat
down slowly, in his stately, urbane manner.

"Excuse me one moment, Sir James," murmured Woodville, and he collected
some papers and vanished. Sylvia waited a few minutes and then rose.

"Don't go, Sylvia," said her father mildly. She stopped. Sylvia was the
only person with whom Sir James was never peremptory.

"What has become," he said, a little nervously, though with his usual
formality, "of that very sumptuous basket of flowers Mr. Ridokanaki was
so kind as to send you?"

"It's in the housekeeper's room, papa." Sylvia's voice to-day was very
sweet and high; a sign to those who knew her of some perturbation or
cussedness, as Savile used to say.

"Hum! There must be several floral offerings there. To the best of my
belief--correct me if I am mistaken--four arrived last week."

"Oh yes, there are _heaps_, papa! It's a perfect garden of flowers."

"So I suppose.... Will you have them brought up to the drawing-room at
_once_!--or, when convenient, darling?"

"No, papa. Several are rather faded."

Sir James paused, then with an attempt at calm determination said, with
finality--

"If any more arrive, will you recollect, my dear, that I _wish_ them to
be placed in the drawing-room?"

"Oh, I don't like so many flowers in the drawing-room, papa. But, if you
like, I might send them on to one of the hospitals. Perhaps the 'Home of
Rest for Chows and Poodles' might----"

"Ridiculous, child! They would not be appreciated there. What do our
canine friends care for carnations?" He smiled with satisfaction at the
phrase.

In his mind he saw a neat letter to the papers--the sort of thing he
dictated to Woodville, and never sent--about "Flowers and Our
Four-footed Favourites," signed "Paterfamilias." He was proud of his
well-turned phrases, but, though pompous, he was not persistent, and
when his secretary had once heard these rigmaroles, and their author had
seen them in type--I mean typewriting--Sir James felt for the moment
satisfied, and said he had "done a good morning's work."

"I won't have them sent to any hospital, Sylvia. I forbid it."

"Very well, papa. But they're _mine_; surely I can do what I like with
them?" she pouted.

"Since they are, as you justly say, my dear, your own personal property,
it seems to me only proper that you should write and acknowledge them,
thanking the thoughtful sender in an appropriate note."

"But, papa, the thoughtful sender is so _fearfully_ floral! I should
have to spend nearly all my time writing appropriate notes."

"I don't understand your tone, Sylvia. However, we may let that pass."
He opened the newspaper with much rustling and crackling, and said, as
if to end the discussion--

"If you receive another basket, or other offering of the same
description, from our good friend Ridokanaki, you will write and thank
him, will you not?"

"I will not," she answered amiably, as if assenting.

"You _will not_?"

He peered at the modern daughter from behind the _Times_, and recognised
in her grey eyes (with as much gratification as such meetings usually
afford us) a lifelong friend. It was his own hereditary obstinacy.

Sylvia went to the door, then turned round and said a shade
apologetically--

"You see, darling, it seems such a wicked _waste_! Surely the money
might be better spent! On--on the unemployed, or something. Why, the
other day he sent a thing from Gerard's so enormous that it came quite
alone in a van; and another came in a four-wheeler. And I wasn't rude,
you know--I kept it."

"I don't quite follow you, my dear. You kept what? The cab?"

"No, the flowers. And I must say it is a pleasure to go and give one's
orders now! The kitchen is like a fête at the Botanical Gardens."

Sir James frowned absently, pretending to be suddenly absorbed in the
paper until she had gone away, and shut the door. Then he put down the
_Times_ carefully, and shook with laughter, comfortably to himself, as
he only laughed when alone. His daughter's way of receiving homage was
very much to his taste.

       *       *       *       *       *

At the door of the little restaurant in King Street, waiting for him,
Woodville found Ridokanaki.

Slight and thin as he was, with his weary, drooping grey moustache, he
looked always rather unusual and distinguished. He had black, wrinkled,
heavy-lidded eyes, in which Sylvia had discovered a remarkable
resemblance to the eyes of a parrot, though the fire in them was very
far from being extinguished. He wore a gay light red carnation, but the
flowerless Woodville looked far more festive. Woodville's enjoyment of
nearly all experiences which were not absolutely depressing was greater
than ever since his life of self-repression. To dine alone with the
great Ridokanaki on the brink of some kind of sentimental crisis was to
him a kind of intellectual, almost a literary joy, one which Sylvia
could never either share or understand.

Ridokanaki received him with his most courteous manner. Ridokanaki, like
most people, had two remarkably different manners. In society, he had a
certain flowery formality, a conventional _empressement_, that, though
far from being English, was absolutely different from the geniality of
the German, from French tact and bonhomie, and from the Italian grace.
It is a manner I have noticed chiefly in Scotchmen and in modern Greeks;
its origin is, I fancy, a desire to please, of which the root is pride,
not mere amiability or vanity, as in the Latin races. As unfortunately,
in Ridokanaki's case, it entirely lacked charm, people simply found him
tedious; especially women. On the other hand, in business or, indeed, in
anything _really serious_, Ridokanaki was quite royally frank, and
natural as a child; considering not at all the feelings of other people
and consequently irritating them very little. He had a supreme contempt
for petty diplomacy in such matters, regarding it as only worthy of a
commercial traveller. His absolute reliability and brutal frankness had
made him personally liked in the City, in spite of his phenomenal
success--a success that had led to an importance not merely social, but
political, and almost historical. Those who saw him in this blunt mood,
found him, for the first time, amusing. All really frank people _are_
amusing, and would remain so if they could remember that other people
may sometimes want to be frank and amusing too.

"There is a subtle difference," remarked Woodville, looking round,
"between Willis's and other restaurants. At all others one feels the
meal is a means to an end; somehow, here, it seems to be the end itself.
Eating is treated as a sacred rite, and in the public preparations of
sauces by a head waiter there is something of a religious sacrifice.
Look at the waiters, like acolytes, standing round the maitre d'hotel,
watching him."

"That's quite true," said Ridokanaki. "You mean people don't dine here
for amusement?"

It was not until the coffee and cigar stage was reached that Ridokanaki
suddenly said in his _earlier manner_, rather quickly and abruptly: "And
why don't you do something better, Mr. Woodville?"

"Could I be doing anything better?" said Woodville, laughing. "I
certainly couldn't be dining better."

His host blinked his eyes, waved his hand, and said quickly: "Any one
could do what you do for Sir James. It's quite ridiculous, with your
brains, that because your uncle didn't leave you a fortune, you should
have this absurd career. It isn't a career."

Woodville felt the delightful excitement beginning. To increase it, he
reminded himself how Ridokanaki, by a stroke of the pen, could move the
fate of nations, and then he turned cold at the thought that Ridokanaki
was in love with Sylvia.

"I know," he said, "that I am not doing any good, but I see no prospect
of anything better."

Ridokanaki frowned, staring at Woodville rather rudely, and then said:
"Of course we're both thinking of the same thing. I mean the same lady."

"Really, Mr. Ridokanaki, I have no idea what you are thinking about. But
there is no lady who can possibly concern _our_ conversation."

Ridokanaki looked at the clock. It immediately struck ten, tactfully, in
a clear subdued tone.

"But"--he spoke rather impatiently--"with all reverence and the most
distant respect in the world, there's no reason why I shouldn't speak of
the lady. I'm sorry, as you seem to dislike it, but I'm afraid I have no
time for fencing now."

Frank was silent.

"Every day," said Ridokanaki in an undertone, "you see that beautiful
girl. You live under the same roof. I see her only occasionally, but I
understand your feelings." He laughed harshly. "I have the same--as you
know."

"Your sentiments, no doubt, do you the greatest possible honour, Mr.
Ridokanaki. Mine are those of old friendship."

"Indeed! Well! mine aren't! Can't you see I'm trying to play the game?"
He spoke almost coarsely. Woodville liked him better. There was a pause.

"Perhaps," continued the host, "you _think_ you only want her
friendship, but I don't suppose _she_ thinks so. In reality, of course,
you want her."

"Really, Mr. Ridokanaki----!"

"Listen, listen! You can't marry her in your present position. I could
in mine, but she will never like me while you're there--possibly never.
At my best I never had what the French call _le don de plaire aux
dames_. Not that age matters, nor ugliness. I haven't the knack. I never
had. I bore women. I always did. In that I've always failed, and know
it. And it's the only thing I ever cared about. My failure is my
tragedy." He smiled. "You have all the advantages on your side, Mr.
Woodville. But you're both young, and for that very reason any fancy
that may have sprung up _might_ be forgotten. With me----"

Woodville looked at him. No, it was not possible to be jealous of his
host. Whatever truth there was about his past failure, he could never
fascinate Sylvia. She appreciated too fully the plastic side of life;
she was a romanticist, and therefore she attached immense importance to
the material. (Are not all romantic heroes and heroines beautiful to
look at, and always either beautifully or picturesquely dressed?) Sylvia
cared far more about her own admiration for a man than for his
admiration for her. Homage, except from the _One_, was to her no
pleasure, and fortunately she knew exactly what she wanted.
Instinctively Woodville knew that she would always love him. Unless,
indeed, he should change. But that was impossible. He felt it to be
impossible.

So, perhaps, after all, the reports about Ridokanaki's European
"successes" were all nonsense. Yes, he had revealed his wound quite
openly, and it was a bitter one. He had never been loved "for himself".
Woodville pitied him.

"What do you propose?" said Woodville, falling into the Greek's laconic
tone.

"Why should a man of your ability go twice a week in an omnibus to a
shabby studio, in hopes of making a few pounds a year by copying?
Because you're hard up. Why should you be so hard up? I met you once
going there, and thought how hard it was. It is dreadful to be hard
up.... This is what I propose. I can easily obtain for you a post in
connection with my bank. The salary to begin with will be two thousand
pounds a year. In Athens."

"Athens!"

"I propose that you try it for a year. During that year I will not see
the lady. I will efface myself. If at the end of that time you both
still feel the same I shall give up for ever my own wish. You can have a
similar post then in London."

"Mr. Ridokanaki, you are too kind. But why, _why_ should you?"

"Because I hate to see you near her. If your attachment for each other
is the real thing it will stand this separation. Then I shall sink my
own feelings. Of course, you see I mean it."

"Thank you," said Woodville, rather touched, and hesitating.

"Please understand," continued Ridokanaki, "that I don't hope for one
_moment_ there is in any case a chance for me. It's chiefly," he said
markedly, "to spare me a year's torture. I can't stand your being in the
same house with her. It kills me. I'll try, then, when you've given me
this chance, to turn into a friend, a godfather!" He poured out some
old brandy and drank it. Woodville changed colour. "They speak of me as
a Don Juan, I believe, but I'm really much more of a Don Quixote. If you
spare me this year I'll do anything to help you both."

He tapped the liqueur-glass on the table nervously, and went on. "I have
got this very badly. Very badly. Oh very."

"_How_ can I accept from you----"

"You gain nothing by refusing. The favour is to _me_--remember _that_.
In a year you'll be in the position you are now, or worse--if you stay.
If you go to Athens you will, of course, have a delightful time. You
speak French; you will not have much to do. Only the sort of thing you
can do easily and well. Don't you want to see different places,
different things?... You are the man I have been looking for. There is
some very interesting society in Athens. You would be adored there. But
I know that's not what you care about."

"No; I have not the 'true Hellenic spirit.' But I want to be
independent. I am afraid I couldn't."

"I shall keep this thing open for a month," said Ridokanaki. "Come and
see me. All right.--Yes,--I must go.... You had rather write, not come
and see me, eh?"

"You see, I must consult----"

"Of course, you want to consult some one. But, listen. _Don't_ go by
women! That would be really a pity. They don't know what's good for
them." He laughed a little vaguely.

They both stood up.

"Mr. Ridokanaki, you have been more than kind. It is difficult----"

"Well, you'll think it over. Good-bye, Woodville."

Woodville walked away from the restaurant feeling wildly excited. Mr.
Ridokanaki made hideous faces in the mirror in his carriage as he drove
away and said to himself--

"He thinks I'm the Frog Prince, and he's Prince Charming. Useless! Waste
of time! What a fool I am! An evening thrown away! She'll never let him
go. He's too good-looking."

       *       *       *       *       *

I have not given Mr. Ridokanaki's exact words in his soliloquy. This
book is intended for general reading.



CHAPTER X

THE THIN END OF THE WEDGE


Felicity was dressing to meet her husband at the station. She tried on
three new hats, and finally went back to one that Lord Chetwode had seen
before.

"It's too absurd," she said to herself as she drove off. "The
extraordinary long time he has been away! Of course I know that nothing
but racing or furniture takes him from me. What long letters he
writes--he can't be forgetting me! When I see him I never like him to
think that I mind. I think a husband ought to have perfect freedom; it's
the only way to keep him. It seems to keep him away! Very odd!"

Felicity arrived before the train was due. When it came in and no
Chetwode appeared, she blamed the porter and the guard, and asked to see
the station-master. He was very charmed with her, but could only
patiently repeat that there was not another train that day from the
remote little village where Chetwode had gone from Newmarket to pick up
an old piece of furniture.

"Really this is too much," said Felicity as she got into the carriage,
and with difficulty prevented herself from bursting into tears. "What
shall I do? How utterly sickening!" When she got home she found a
telegram from Chetwode putting off his return for a day or two, as there
was an old dresser in the kitchen of a farmhouse which the owner
wouldn't part with, and that he (Chetwode) was not going to lose. It
would be a crime to miss it. His telegram (they were always nearly as
long as his letters) concluded by saying that, given the information
straight from the stables, Peter Pan had a good chance at Sandown.

"Oh!" she said again to herself. "Why, good gracious, I'm miserable!
I've put off everything to-day. The worst of it is I can't do anything
Chetwode wouldn't like, because he likes everything I do."

She got back into the carriage, and told the coachman to drive to Mrs.
Ogilvie's. Poor Vera! She was unhappy too. On her way she met F. J.
Rivers walking with the red-haired girl, so she felt sure that Lucy
Winter was no longer a thorn in the flesh to Vera. And possibly Vera was
very happy to-day! So Felicity wasn't in the mood for her.

She drove to the Park instead (she had put aside all engagements because
Chetwode was coming home), and was thoughtful. Suddenly she caught sight
of Bertie Wilton chattering to another boy by the railings. He bowed
very formally. She stopped the carriage and beckoned to him.

"Would you like to come for a drive?" she said in her sweetest, lowest
tone.

"I should like to immensely, as you know only too well, Lady Chetwode,
but perhaps I'd better not. My bank-holiday manners might bore you."

"How fickle you are. Come along," she commanded.

He had just been on his way, he said, to an Exhibition of Old Masters to
see if there was anything there like the little Romney he had at Half
Moon Street that was so like her. So they drove to the New Gallery
together.

"I was in the depths of despair when I met you. So much so that I was
trying to drown my sorrows in gossip," said Mr. Wilton.

"And I am feeling rather sad," said Felicity; "if we are both horribly
depressed perhaps we shall cheer each other up."

"Ah, but I was depressed about you, and you were depressed about some
one else. I wonder who it is."

"Guess," she said.

"About some one who isn't here? How extraordinary of him not to be here!
Perhaps that's why you like him so much. Perhaps it's very clever--with
a person like you--to be never there! Perhaps it's the only way to make
you think about him!"

"What do you mean by a person like me?"

"You are right. There is no one like you. Anyhow, it's a cleverness I
could never pretend to. I know I should be always there, or thereabouts.
At all risks! Yes, all! I always say so."

The New Gallery certainly did seem to raise their spirits. They sat
there for a long time exchanging ideas and avoiding the pictures in a
marked manner. Felicity had nothing whatever to do that evening, which
she had intended to spend with her husband. Savile, who was staying with
her, wouldn't be back from Craig-y-nos till heaven knew when. Oddly
enough, Mr. Wilton also had no engagement that evening. "So much so," he
said, that he had taken a large box at the Gaiety all by himself, to go
and see that new thing. Felicity, oddly enough--it was the first
night--had not seen the piece. He advised that she should. Then she
would have to dine all alone at home while poor Mr. Wilton was going to
dine in lonely solemnity at the Carlton. Matters were adjusted so far
that she agreed to meet him at the restaurant on condition he made up a
party.

"Ask Vera Ogilvie and Captain Henderson. Perhaps the horrid noise and
vulgarity, and your society, may brighten me up," she said consolingly,
"or at least divert my thoughts."

He sincerely hoped so. Much telephoning at the Club resulted in a
promise from Bob and Mrs. Ogilvie to come too, so all was well.

But Felicity dressed for dinner in quite an irritable frame of mind, and
nearly cried because she accidentally broke a fan Chetwode had given
her.

Mr. Wilton could not have been quite so depressed, really, for after
flying off in the adored motor to the Gaiety and the Carlton on urgent
matters of business, he went home and looked a very long time at the
little Romney quite cheerfully. He found himself beaming so markedly in
the mirror over his button-hole and white waistcoat when dressing, that
it suddenly struck him both the smile and the button-hole were overdone.
They were triumphant, and triumph was vulgar (and premature). He removed
them both, and went out with a suitable tinge of gentle restrained
melancholy, at once very becoming, respectful, and, he trusted,
interesting. He knew he had not lost much ground by his boldness at his
first visit. A woman can pardon a moment of audacity more easily than a
moment of misplaced respectful coldness. The one may be an attack on her
dignity, but the other is a slight to her charm. And Felicity had such
pretty manners; there was a touch of formality always with all her
gaiety that left a dashing young man in doubt. It was certainly an
interesting doubt.

       *       *       *       *       *

"I never met any one quite so definite in my life as that young man,"
said Felicity as she ate her toast, holding the _Daily Mail_ upside
down. She and Savile were sitting rather late over a somewhat silent
breakfast. He appeared rather absent-minded and replied to her remark.

"Yes, she was perfectly gorgeous, she looked magnificent. (Pass me the
toast, old girl. Thanks.) I say, she looked at me!"

"He said such peculiar things. He's different from other people,
certainly," said Felicity argumentatively. "A really brilliant talker.
It's so rare."

"No wonder she was called the Nightingale! Thanks very much. Don't talk
to me about Jenny Lind."

"I wasn't. You see he's rather lonely and unhappy, after all, you know,
under all that cynicism and rattling. Every one has two sides to their
character (I believe in Browning up to a certain point)--one to face the
world with, and the other to show."

"As to Clara Butt, or any of these newfangled people, that's all rot! I
tell you straight, I don't believe it," said Savile.

"You're quite right, dear. One can't deny that he's amusing. There's
something so ready about him, and he's so kind and good-hearted as well
as clever. He has personality. That's the word."

"Yes, she's a ripping, glorious creature! Oh, it is a pity she married
again before I knew her! And a Swede too! But still, that's her
business...."

"Of course I told him not to call again until I wrote. There's a good
deal in him--when you know him better, you know."

Suddenly Savile looked up and said--

"I say, Felicity, what are you doing to-night?"

"I don't know, I haven't thought of it."

"Chetwode not turning up yesterday you were disappointed."

"I know I was. And, yet--look at this letter!" she showed him another of
her husband's long elaborate love-letters.

"Letters are all right, and of course no man, especially your husband,
would write all that stuff--I beg your pardon--unless everything was all
right. But Chetwode's eccentric."

"I suppose he is. I think I shall dine out to-night, Savile, after all."

"After all what?" asked Savile.

"I'm engaged to-night, dear."

"You're surely not going to dine with Mrs. Ogilvie and her pals--and
Wilton, at the Carlton again?"

"How right you are! Clever boy! I'm not, we're going to the Savoy."

"Same idea. Look here, Felicity, you're a bit off colour. It's about
Chetwode. He doesn't know it. He ought to."

"Somehow I can't tell him I hate his being away. When he's here there's
no need. Besides it's pride, or the family obstinacy."

"Look here, if I could go to Wales for myself, I can go to--what's the
name of the place--for you. I'll go off this morning, and pretend I've
come to help Chetwode to dig up old cabinets and things. I'll bring him
back, give him a hint that people talk. Oh, I know how to do it--and
there you are."

"My dear boy, how sweet of you! But it must come from yourself, mind.
Perhaps you'd better not. Then I shall see him to-night? You'll bring
him."

"I'll undertake to--if you'll give up your Savoy."

Felicity hesitated. "I'll ask them to dine here. I should be too
nervous alone. Then you will just come in with Chetwode as early as you
can this evening!" (She clapped her hands.) "This evening, won't you?
He'll be at the village this afternoon, you know. He says he'll return
to-morrow."

"And to-morrow he'll go straight on to York for the races. He only puts
it off because he doesn't know you want him. My dear old girl, this has
got to be put straight. Now, then, shut up, Felicity!"

"But, Savile, darling--pet! Suppose----"

"Pass me the Bradshaw!"

Felicity made no objection. He again started off for a long and tedious
journey. He was supported by the feeling he was doing the right thing,
and by re-reading the programme of the Craig-y-nos concert and
remembering the look he firmly believed SHE had given him.

Felicity, after telegraphing to Bertie Wilton--"Come to dine here
to-night. Can't go out. Felicity Chetwode"--then went to Onslow Square,
where she found Sylvia in the garden. Sylvia was not reading a book, and
seemed very busy smiling--smiling to herself in a dream of some
rose-coloured happiness.

They interchanged ideas without words for a time. Then Sylvia said, "I
do hope, Felicity, that Chetwode----"

"He's coming back to-night," she answered decidedly; then said rather
abruptly--

"How's Mr. Woodville?"

For the first time Sylvia blushed at his name, as she bent down to pick
up the book she had dropped.

"Oh, all right, I suppose. Won't it be nice when we go on the river?
We're going quite early--in July."

"Is papa going to have the same house he had last year?"

"Oh, yes; but he's having it all differently furnished. He means to buy
it, I think. And I'm to have a music-room opening out of my bedroom, in
pale green! Won't it be lovely?"

"Yes," said Felicity, "lovely. And ... what did you say you thought of
Bertie Wilton? There's something I rather like about his face."

"Yes, I know what it is--he's very good-looking. Not only that, he might
be--well, rather too much of a good thing, if you know what I mean. I
wouldn't flirt with him, Felicity."

"I know you wouldn't, darling." Felicity smiled.

"You don't really, I know! It's only fun. Besides, people only love
once. You would never care for any one but Chetwode."

"Care! I should think not. But Bertie Wilton's amusing. And he knows
simply everything. He's a perfectly brilliant gossip. What do you think
is the latest thing about the Valettas and Guy Scott?"

Mrs. Ogilvie and Bob preferred the restaurant; Wilton accepted by
telephone, telegraphing afterwards to know if it was all right. A
_tête-à-tête_ dinner on so short an acquaintance with the most
fascinating of hostesses seemed to him almost too great a privilege to
be real. Afterwards she told his fortune by cards and he told hers by
palmistry.

"You don't tell me all," she said.

"If I told you all--all you are to me--I suppose you would ring for a
glass of iced-water again?" said he.

"Oh, no, I shouldn't. I am in a very good temper to-night," said
Felicity, laughing.

She had a telegram announcing Chetwode's arrival by the 9.15. She had
not mentioned it.

Bertie Wilton looked at her. She seemed rather nervous. He persuaded
himself not to go too far again, but it was really rather wonderful that
she had, after the iced-water incident, asked him to spend the evening
with her.

They had music. He had a voice, a way of singing, and a choice of songs
that had often been most useful to him in the beginning of his social
and sentimental career. But he was surprised to see that while he was
singing something about "my dream, my desire, my despair" she was
standing in front of the looking-glass making play with a powder-puff as
if he wasn't present, and then appeared to be listening at the door.

He came from the piano and she thanked him with an absent-minded warmth.

Incautiously he said, "It's just what you are, 'My dream.' Will you tell
me something? But I shall be in disgrace if I ask."

"What is it?"

"Will you always be my despair?"

"Oh no; oh yes--I mean." Then she said, "There he is!"

There was a sound of cabs outside. Then the door opened and Savile came
in, while a voice outside with a slight drawl said, "Where are you,
Felicity?"

Felicity ran out of the room and shut the door.

"Extraordinary weather for the time of year," remarked Savile, with a
condescending air of putting Wilton at his ease. The young man was
smiling, rather uncomfortably for him.

"Very," he answered. "No, thanks," to Savile's hospitable offer of a
cigarette. "You've been travelling. How delightful."

"I've just come back with Chetwode from Yorkshire. By the way, you'll
excuse my sister for a few minutes. You know what these newly married
couples are!"

Bertie Wilton rose.

"Do I not? I should be more than grieved to intrude on anything so
sacred as a--shall I say--a home chat? Thanks very much. No, I won't
stay now. Ask Lady Chetwode to excuse me. I shall hope to have the
pleasure of meeting your brother-in-law here some time quite soon."

He took his leave very cordially, with his usual smiling courtesy,
Savile making no effort to detain him, and chuckling a little to himself
as he tried to fancy the language Wilton would probably use in the cab
on his way home. Then the boy, saying "Well, I've made that all right!"
went back to Onslow square.



CHAPTER XI

SAVILE AND SYLVIA


One gay irresponsible April afternoon Sir James and Woodville had gone
to the House, and Savile, thinking he might be useful as an escort,
strolled into Sylvia's boudoir. It was her favourite room, where she
received her intimate friends, played and sang, wrote letters, read
novels and poetry, and thought about Woodville. The scent from the lilac
in the vases seemed to harmonise with the chintz furniture, covered with
a design of large pink rosebuds and vivid green trellis-work; there was
a mandoline on the lacquered piano and old coloured prints on the walls;
books and music were scattered about in dainty disorder. Sylvia was
sitting on the sofa with her pretty fair head bent down and turned away.
She did not move when Savile came in, and he was shocked to see she was
crying.

Savile turned quite pale with horror. Young as he was, nature and
training had made all outward manifestations of emotion so contrary to
his traditions and mode of life, and it seemed so unlike Sylvia, that he
felt a kind of shame even more strongly than sympathy. He shut the door
quietly, whistled to show he was there, and walked slowly up and down
the room. Then he stood by the latticed window, looking out, and tried
to think of something to say. What comforted girls when they cried? The
inspiration "Tea" suggested itself, but that would mean the entrance of
outsiders. Presently he said shyly and sympathetically, "Shall I smoke,
Sylvia?"

She made a gesture signifying that nothing mattered now, and went on
crying.

"I say," said Savile, striking a match, "it can't be as bad as all
that."

He went up to the sofa and she held out her hand. Demonstrations of
sentiment made him acutely uncomfortable. He put the pretty hand back
carefully, and said in a level tone, "I tell you what I should do if I
were you. I should tell some one about it--Me, for instance. I've been
through a lot--more than any one knows." (Here he gave what he believed
to be a bitter smile.) "I might be some use; I'd do my best, anyway."

"Darling boy!"

"Oh, buck up, Sylvia! You're going to tell me every word about it, and
more, once you start! I'll help you to start." He waited a moment and
then said rather loudly and sternly, "What's wrong between you and
Woodville?"

Sylvia sat up, took her handkerchief from her eyes, and stared at him.

"What? Have you guessed?"

"Have I guessed! If I'm always as sharp as this I shall cut myself some
day," said the schoolboy ironically. "Why, what do you take me for? Do I
live here? Do I come down to breakfast? Aren't I and Woodville great
friends? Have I guessed?" He sighed in despair at her denseness.

"Dear boy, I'm sure I'd tell you anything. You're so wonderful and so
clever, but how could I know you'd be so sweet about it? Why papa said
even you wanted me to marry Mr. Ridokanaki. He quoted you."

"Well, why shouldn't he? I do wish it."

Sylvia's eyes blazed, and she tapped her foot on the carpet.

"Oh, do you? Very well, I'm sure I don't mind! You see it doesn't matter
in the very least what you think. After all you're only a little boy."

Savile smiled with genuine amusement, patted her golden hair paternally,
and said "Of course. But if I'd happened to suggest your going to the
registry office with Woodville this afternoon (I believe there's one
somewhere in Kensington, near the work-house), I suppose I'd have been
what you call a _dear_ little boy, and you'd have let me have some jam
for tea.... Poor girl! You must be bad." He laughed, and then said
quietly, "Now, then, go ahead."

"Well, Savile, it's too dreadful, and I _will_ confide in you. Last
night"--Sylvia began talking very volubly--"that horrid old brute--you
know, the Greek--asked Frank, Mr. Woodville, to dinner, and actually had
the impertinence to offer him a sort of post in a bank, starting at
£2000 a year, at Athens. ATHENS! Do you hear? It's in Greece."

"Don't rub it in. This is no time for geography. What else?"

"Well, it was on these conditions. Frank was to go for a year, and all
that time the _fiend_ has given word of honour never to come and see me,
or anything, and if at the end of the year Frank and I are still both
the same, _he_ will give it up--about me, I mean--and get Frank the same
sort of berth in London. And if we're not--just fancy making such a
horrible proposition! At Willis's, too!"

"Well, what's the matter with Willis's? Would it have been all right at
the 'Cheshire Cheese'?"

"What's the 'Cheshire Cheese'?"

"Never mind," said Savile mysteriously. (He didn't know.) "And if you're
_not_ still the same?"

"Oh, _then_"--she began to cry again--"of course the wretch thinks there
might be a chance for him. He _must_ be mad, mustn't he? But the
horrible part is that Frank actually thinks of _going_! Fancy! How
_degrading_! To accept a favour from my enemy! Isn't Ridokanaki exactly
like Machiavelli?"

"Mac who? I see nothing Scotch in the offer. But if he were the living
image of Robert Bruce or Robinson Crusoe, that's not the point. Now
let's have it straight. Would you marry him in any case?"

"Absolutely never," flashed Sylvia, showing all the celebrated family
obstinacy by her beautiful set mouth, "I'd rather----"

"Never mind what you'd rather. _I know_ what you'd rather, thanks very
much. All right, you mean it. Cross him out. And now we know where we
are."

"But still I'm afraid ... you don't seem to think I ought to marry Mr.
Woodville, do you?"

"Not that exactly," said Savile. "But I think the man who's been making
love to my sister ought to marry _her_. What's more, he's got to."

"Oh, Savile, how can you! Don't you think he cares for me?"

"Off the rails as usual! Yes, I do think so, but it doesn't matter a
straw what my thoughts are. It matters what's going to be done."

"But what can be done? Unless he goes away to Athens, I mean."

"Great Scott!" exclaimed Savile, starting up. "What's the use of all his
friends--Chetwode, and Mervyn, and Wilton, Vere and Broughton, and heaps
more--if they can't get him something? A splendid chap like old
Woodville! He was looked upon as a brilliant man at Balliol. I happen to
know that--never mind how."

She kissed him. "Do you think, then, that Arthur Mervyn would help him?
I mean, do you think that Frank might go on the stage?"

He looked at her quite anxiously, as though he thought her troubles had
turned her brain.

"Go on the _stage_! Go on _what_ stage? Oh, you'd like to see your
husband prancing about like a painted mountebank with a chorus of
leading ladies, would you?"

"Oh no, indeed I shouldn't! But are leading ladies all dreadful? And I
thought you were in love with a singer yourself," said Sylvia.

Savile threw away his cigarette, with what he hoped was a hollow laugh.

"My dear child, what I choose to do and what I allow my sister to do are
two very different things."

"I dare say they are, darling," said Sylvia mildly. "And, _please_ don't
imagine for one moment that I suppose you ever do anything at all--I
mean, that you oughtn't."

"No, I shouldn't worry about _me_," said Savile. "We're talking about
_your_ troubles.... As if Woodville were such an ass! Catch him going in
for such rot!" He laughed. "Sylvia, do you suppose that he's stayed here
in this hole," said Savile in a muffled undertone, looking round the
exquisite room, and then repeating loudly and defiantly, "I say, in this
_Hole_, except for you? Do you think he can't do anything better? Mind
you, the Governor's fond of Woodville, it's only the cash and all that.
If that idiot of an uncle of his hadn't married his housekeeper, it
would have been all right."

"Oh, Savile, fancy, I saw her once! She wore----"

"Describe her dress some other day, dear, for Heaven's sake. What I say
is that Woodville is the sort of man who could make his mark."

"Do you think he could make a name by painting?" she asked eagerly.

Savile looked rather sick, and said with patient resignation, "By
painting what? The front of the house? Look here, _some one's_ got to
talk sense. Leave this to me." He then waited a minute, and said,
"_I'll_ get him something to do!"

"Oh, Savile!--Angel!--Genius! How?"

"Would you mind, very kindly, telling me what Chetwode's our
brother-in-law for?" said Savile. "What use is he? When's he ever seen
with Felicity? He can't live at curiosity shops and race-meetings. He
can't expect to. Why (keep this to yourself) I brought him back last
night from Yorkshire! Just in time, don't you know. Felicity was as
pleased as Punch."

"My darling boy, I _know_ you're sweet and clever, but you talk as if
you had any amount of power and influence, and all that!"

"Well, I got Bertie Wilton a decoration!" He laughed. "The Order of the
Boot! Now, Sylvia, pull yourself together and I'll see it through. Don't
say a word to Woodville, mind that!"

"I adore you for this, Savile." During the interview the girl of twenty
seemed to have grown much younger and more inexperienced, and the boy
four years her junior, to have become a man.

"Tell me," she asked anxiously, "then am I to pretend to consent to his
going to Athens? Why, if he did _go_, well, it would kill me--to begin
with!"

"And what to go on with? Rot! It wouldn't kill you. It might spoil your
looks, or give you a different sort of looks, that mightn't suit you so
well. Awfully jolly it would be, too, having an anxious sister looking
out for the post. Thanks! What a life for me! How soon has he to give an
answer?"

"Oh, in a month," she answered.

"Well, let things slide; let them remain in ... what's that word?"

"I don't know. In doubt? In ... Chancery?"

"Chancery! Really, Sylvia! I know! In abeyance, that's the word," said
Savile. He seemed to take special pleasure in it. "Yes, _abeyance_," he
repeated, with a smile. "Well, good-bye! I'm going out." He looked to
see that his trousers were turned up and the last button of his
waistcoat left unfastened in the correct Eton fashion, and said, "Do
look all right in our box to-night, Sylvia. You can if you like, you
know."

"I _promise_, Savile! I'd do _anything_ for you! I shall never forget."

"You know, looking decent can't do any harm anyway anyhow, to anybody.
Never be seen out of uniform." He stopped at the door to say very
kindly, "Buck up, dear, and don't go confiding in people--I know what
girls are. I suppose now," remarked Savile sarcastically, "that you want
a powder-puff, and a cup of tea. I'll tell Price--about the tea, I
mean."



CHAPTER XII

AT THE STUDIO


Woodville let himself in with the key, and sat down, in deep
despondency, in front of his easel. On it was a second copy of a copy
that some one had found him doing at the National Gallery of the great
Leonardo. It was not good, and it made him sick to look at it. The
studio was a battered little barn in the depths of Chelsea, with the
usual dull scent of stale paint and staler tobacco, and very little
else; it was quite devoid of the ordinary artistic trappings. From the
window shrill cries were heard from the ragged children, who fought and
played in the gutter of a sordid street. Woodville had come here to
think.

He knew how shocked and distressed Sylvia had been when he had ventured
to say that he thought he saw something in the Athenian scheme. He
smiled with a slight reaction of gaiety at his surroundings, and
wondered, for the hundredth time, why that extraordinary old American
lady at the National Gallery had actually ordered from him the second
copy of his picture. How marvellously bad it was!

An unusual noise in the street--that of a hansom cab rattling up to the
door--startled him. He went to the window, with a strange feeling at his
heart. It was impossible that it could be Sylvia; she did not even know
the address. It was Sylvia, in pale grey, gracefully paying the cabman
while dirty children collected round her feet. He saw through the window
that she smiled at them, and gave them a bunch of violets and some
money, for which they fought. Horrified, he almost fell down the stairs
and opened the door. There was no one else in the house.

She followed him up to the studio, looking pale, but smiling bravely. He
closed the door and leant against it. He was panting.

"_What--on--earth_," he said, "do you mean by this madness?"

Sylvia, seeing he was angry, took the hatpin out of her hat, and looked
round for a place to sit down and quarrel comfortably.

There was no seat, except a thing that had once been red and once a
sofa, but was now a skeleton, and looked so cold and bare that she
instinctively took off her chinchilla fur cloak and covered it up. Then
she said--

"_Because--I--chose!_ I never can get a word with you at home, and I
have a perfect right to come and talk to my future husband on a subject
that concerns my whole happiness."

She had invented this speech coming along, being prepared for his anger.

"But what would people----"

"People! People! You live for people! Everything matters except me!"

He resolved on calmness.

"Sylvia, dear, since you _are_ here," he said quietly, "let us talk
reasonably."

He tried to sit next to her, but the sofa gave way, and he found himself
kneeling by her side.

They both laughed angrily. He got up and stood by the mantelpiece.

"So you think it is _decent_ to accept money to leave the country to
please my enemy?" said Sylvia.

"Will you tell me a really better plan by which we can marry in a year
on an assured income?" he asked patiently.

"Income! Haven't I when I marry----" But he looked too angry. She
changed the sentence and became imploring.

"Frank! If you love me _really_, you can't leave me. Think, every day,
every hour without you!"

"Very well! We'll tell your father to-night, and chance it. I won't
stand these subterfuges any more. After all, we have the right to do as
we like."

"No, Frank, you will _not_ tell him till I'm twenty-one. I haven't a
right before. You would only be called horrid things--have to go,
and--think how mean it is to poor Ridokanaki! Taking his kindness, only
to round on him next year! Have you no pride, Frank?"

"Sylvia, that's all very well. But he knows all that. It's his idea."

"Yes, it _would_ be! As if I didn't see through his mean, sly scheme.
Why, it's not kindness at all!" she exclaimed.

"Good God! Well, what is it? Does he think you'll forget me, do you
mean?" said Woodville.

"No, he doesn't. He _knows you'll_ forget _me_--in Athens. Oh, Frank,"
and she suddenly burst out crying, "there'll be Greeks there!"

At the sight of her tears Frank was deeply touched; but he smiled,
feeling more in the real world again--the world he knew.

"My dear girl, I don't pretend for one moment to deny that there will be
Greeks there. One can't expect the whole country to be expatriated
because I go to Athens to work in a bank. What do you want there?
Spaniards?"

"Oh! Vulgar taunts and jokes!" She dried her eyes proudly, and then
said--

"_Are you sure you'll be true to me?_"

Woodville met unflinchingly that terrible gaze of the inquisitional
innocent woman, before which men, guilty or guiltless equally, assume
the same self-conscious air of shame. His eyes fell. He had no idea why
he felt guilty. Certainly there had never been in his life anything to
which Sylvia need have taken exception. Then his spirit asserted itself
again.

"Oh, hang it all! I really can't stand this! All right, I won't go. Have
it your own way. Distrust me! I dare say you think I deserve it. Is it a
pleasure to leave you like this, surrounded by a lot of----Did any one
look at you as you came along in the cab?"

"_I_ don't know," she said.

He spoke tenderly, passionately now.

"I worship you, Sylvia. You've got that? You take it in?"

"Yes, dearest."

"Well, I'm yours. You can do what you like. I give in. I dare say your
woman's instinct is right. And, besides, I can't leave you. And now, my
darling, lovely, exquisite angel you will go--AT ONCE!"

"Oh, Frank, forgive me."

A violently loud knock startled them from each other's arms. There was
another cab at the door.

"Keep still. Keep over here, Sylvia," commanded Woodville.

From the window he saw, standing on the steps, Savile, in his Eton suit.
He smiled and waved his hand to the boy.

"It's Savile. I'll open the door. It'll be all right. I expect he
followed you."

In two seconds Sylvia was composed and calm, looking round at the
pictures in her chinchilla cloak.

Savile followed his host up, laughing vaguely, and said when he saw
Sylvia, in a rather marked way--

"Ah! You didn't believe me when I told you I'd come and fetch you! But,
you see, here I am."

"Sweet of you, dear," said Sylvia.

"And a fine place it is--well worth coming to see, isn't it?" said
Frank, laughing a great deal.

"Well, we'd better be off. I kept the cab because of dining at Aunt
William's to-night. You know, Sylvia, we're late."

"Oh, yes, dear. I'd almost given you up."

As they went to the door, Savile suddenly turned round, and having
decided a debate in his mind, said--

"I know all about it. I congratulate you, Woodville. But we'll keep it
dark a bit yet, eh?"

Savile thought his knowing of the engagement made it more conventional.

The brother and sister drove off.

Sylvia was silent. Savile did not say a single word until they nearly
reached home. Then he remarked casually--

"As I found out where you'd gone, I thought it would sort of look
better, eh, for me to fetch you? Didn't mean to be a bore or anything."

"Oh, Savile dear, _thank_ you! I'll never----"

"Yes; it's not going to happen again. Go and dress, old girl. Wear your
pink. Motor'll be round in half an hour; heaps of time. I'm going too,
you know--at Aunt William's."



CHAPTER XIII

AT MRS. OGILVIE'S


"I know what's the matter with you, Vera," said Felicity decidedly, as
she sat down in her friend's flat in Cadogan Place. "It's that you
haven't got the personal note!"

"I?" said Vera indignantly.

Mrs. Ogilvie was a very pretty dark woman of about thirty, who minimised
her good looks and added to her apparent age by dressing in the style
which had always suited her. Her dainty drawing-rooms were curiously
conventional--the natural result of _carte-blanche_ to a fashionable
upholsterer. She wore a blue-green Empire tea-gown, a long chain of
uncut turquoises, a scarab ring, and a curious comb in her black, loose
hair, and was always trying, and always trying in vain, to be unusual.
Her name was Lucy (as any one who understood the subject of names must
have seen at a glance), but she had changed it to Vera, on the ground
that it was more Russian. There seemed no special object in this, as
she had married a Scotchman. One really rare possession she certainly
had--a husband who, notwithstanding that he felt a mild dislike for her
merely, bullied her and interfered with her quite as much as if he were
wildly in love. He was a rising barrister, and nearly every evening Vera
had to undergo a very cross examination as to what she had done during
the day, while being only too well aware that he neither listened to her
answers, nor would have been interested if he had.

She sought compensation by being in a continual state of vague
enthusiasm about some one or other, invariably choosing for the god of
her idolatry some young man who, for one reason or another, could not
possibly respond in any way. Yet she was always very much admired,
except by the objects of her own Platonic admiration. This gave a
certain interest to her life; and her other great pleasure was
worshipping and confiding in her friend Felicity.

"Not the personal note!" repeated Mrs. Ogilvie, as if amazed. "I? I'm
nothing if not original! Why, I actually copied that extraordinary gown
we saw at the Gymnase when we were in Paris, and I wore it last night.
It was a good deal noticed too----"

"Oh, yes, you wore it; but you'd copied it. That's just the point,"
said Felicity. "You can't become original by imitating some one else's
peculiarities. The only way to be really unusual is to be oneself--which
hardly anybody is. I can't see, though, why on earth you should wish it.
It's much nicer to be like everybody else, I think."

"Oh, that you can know from hearsay only, dear," said Vera. "Your
husband's come back, hasn't he?" she added irrelevantly.

"Yes. Now, there _is_ an unusual man, if you like!" said Felicity. "He
has no pose of any sort or kind, and he hasn't the ordinary standard
about anything in any way, but likes people really and genuinely on
their _own_ merits--as he likes things--not because they're cheap or
dear!"

"It seems to me so extraordinary that a racing man who is more or less
of a sportsman should think little ornaments matter so much! I mean,
should worry about china, and so on."

"It is hereditary, dear," said Felicity calmly. "One of his ancestors
was a great collector, and the other wasn't--I forget what he was. I
_think_ a friend of James I, or something military of that sort."

"I'm afraid Chetwode's rather a gambler--that's the only thing that
worries me for _you_, dear," said Vera.

"What do you mean by that?" said Felicity.

"Well ... I mean I shouldn't mind my husband attending sales and
bringing home a lot of useless beautiful things.... At Christie's you
know where you are to a certain extent ... but at Newmarket you don't."

"Chetwode," said Felicity, "isn't a gambler in the ordinary sense. He
never plays cards. Little pictures on paste-board fidget him, he says;
he loathes Monte Carlo because it's vulgar, and he dislikes roulette and
bridge. He's only a gambler in the best sense of the word--and that's a
very fine sense!"

"Oh dear, you _are_ so clever, Felicity! What _do_ you mean?"

"Isn't every one worth anything more or less of a gambler? Isn't going
to a dinner-party a risk--that you may be bored? Isn't marriage a
lottery--and all that sort of thing? Chetwode is prepared to take risks.
That's what I admire about him!"

"He certainly stays away a great deal," said Vera.

"Now, you're only pretending to be disagreeable. You don't mean it. He
has just been explaining to me that he hates the sort of things that
amuse _me_,--dances and the opera, and social things. Why, then, should
he go with me? He does sometimes, but I know it's an agonising
sacrifice. What do you think he is going to do to-night? A really rather
dreadful thing."

"_I_ don't know."

"Dine with me at Aunt William's! A sort of family dinner. Aunt William
has asked papa, Sylvia, Savile, and us, and I know just the sort of
thing it will be. She has got some excellent match to take Sylvia to
dinner, a boring married man for _me_, a suitable old widow or married
man's wife for papa, Dolly Clive for Savile (although she isn't out--but
then I suppose HE isn't out either, but she spoils Savile), and probably
Chetwode will take HER in. Fairly horrible, isn't it? And you know the
house. Wax flowers under glass, rep curtains. And the decorations on the
table! A strip of looking-glass, surrounded by smilax! And the dinner!
Twelve courses, port and sherry--all the fashions of 1860, or a little
later, which is worse. Not mahogany and walnuts. Almonds and raisins."

"How is it that you're not ill, and unable to go?" said Vera, looking
really concerned, and almost anxious.

"Because I happen to know that she has asked two or three people to come
in in the evening. Bertie Wilton is one. He amuses her."

"Bertie Wilton?" exclaimed Vera.

"Yes. He's so clever and persevering! He's been making up steadily to
Aunt William for several days, so that she might ask him to meet me. At
last she has. As he says, everything comes to the man who won't wait."

"I wonder she approves of him."

"Well, she does in a sort of peculiar way, because he's of a good old
family, and hasn't gone into anything--like stockbroking or business of
any kind, and she thinks she can find him a nice suitable wife. She
thinks Lucy Winter would be very suitable. Aunt William lives for
suitability, you know. Isn't it funny of her?"

Vera laughed. "Lucy? Why, I took him with Lucy and me to choose a hat,
and there wasn't a thing she could wear. They don't get on at all. Lucy
likes serious, intellectual men; she says Bertie's frothy and trivial.
She wants to marry a great author, or a politician. However, thank
goodness, she's left off bothering about Bobby Henderson." Here Vera
sighed heavily.

"Has Bobby left off bothering about Agatha? That's the point."

"_I_ don't know," said Vera. "I don't understand him; we've been having
some very curious scenes together lately. I can't think what he means."

"He doesn't mean anything at all," said Felicity "and that's what you
_won't_ understand. What curious things, as you call them, has he been
doing lately?"

"Well, he called yesterday by appointment."

"_Your_ appointment, I suppose?" said Felicity.

"By telephone," said Vera evasively. "And stayed two hours. And at last
I took a very strong line."

"Oh, good gracious! What were you wearing?"

"My yellow gown--and the amber beads; it was quite late and the
lights--pink shades--were turned on--or else it would have been too
glaring, you know, dear."

"What was your strong line?" said Felicity.

"I suddenly said to him, like some one in a play, 'Do you dislike me,
Captain Henderson?'"

Felicity began to laugh. "What a fine speech! What did he say?"

"He answered, 'If I did, I shouldn't be here.' After that--not directly
after--he said, 'You look all right in yellow, Mrs. Ogilvie.' Do you
think that shows great admiration--or not?"

"I've heard more passionate declarations," said Felicity impartially.
"It's the sort of thing Savile would say to _me_. What else did he talk
about?"

"Oh, about horses and things, and the new play at the Gaiety, and then I
said, 'It's rather a tragic thing for a woman to say, perhaps, but I'm
sure you don't care a bit for me, so perhaps you'd better not call any
more.'"

"What on earth did he say to that?" said Felicity.

"I'll tell you the exact truth, dear," Vera answered. "He got up and
walked round the room, and then said, 'I say, would you think it too
awful if I asked for a drink?' What do you think that showed?"

"It showed he was thirsty. I don't think he was going to faint away.
Still, I suppose he _had_ a drink; and--then--what happened?"

"I hardly like to tell you, dear."

"Go on!"

"I pressed him for his real opinion of me quite frankly, and he said:
'Frankly, I think you're a very pretty woman, and very jolly, but aren't
you a bit dotty on some subjects?' Of course I was very much hurt, and
said, 'Certainly not about _you_!' So then he said, 'For instance, you
always write that you have something particular to say to me, but you
never say it. I left several important appointments this afternoon to
come round, and you don't seem to have any news.' I _had_ said it, you
see, but he didn't take it in. I was very much offended at his calling
me dotty, but he explained afterwards he only meant that I was
'artistic'!"

Felicity went into fits of laughter. "Well, how did it end?"

"I asked him to dinner for next Wednesday, and he said he was going out
of town, and didn't know when he would be back. Now tell me, darling
Felicity, _do_ you think he is going away to--try and conquer his
feelings--or anything of that sort? That is what I should like to
think," said Vera.

"No," answered Felicity. "Either it was a lie, because your husband
bores him and he didn't _want_ to come to dinner, or else he's really
going to Newmarket, and doesn't know when he'll be back."

"Tell me, Felicity. I can bear it.... Then--he does not care about me,
and I ought to cut him out of my life?"

"I think he likes you all right, but I really shouldn't worry about
him," said Felicity.

"Then I certainly shan't. I am far too proud! _How_ different Bertie
Wilton is," she went on. "So amusing, and lively and nice to every one!
But _he_ is devoted to _you_."

"Oh, you can have him if you like," said Felicity, "and if you can. You
wouldn't get on, really. You see, he isn't romantic, like you, and he
likes people best who don't run after him."

"Yes, I have often noticed that in people," said Vera thoughtfully.
"I'll tell you _some one_, though, who really interests me; that is
your friend, Arthur Mervyn, the actor. He has such a wonderful profile."

"Yes--in fact, two. Oh, that reminds me, I came to ask you to come to
Madame Tussaud's to-morrow afternoon. We're making up a party to go to
the Chamber of Horrors. I'm taking Sylvia and Bertie. But I can't manage
Arthur Mervyn and Bertie too,--at least, not at the Waxworks,--so I'm
going some other day with him--I mean Arthur."

"Oh, what fun! I should love to come! Thanks, dearest."

"All right. Meet us there at four, and if you ever meet Arthur Mervyn
again, _don't_ talk about the stage. He hates it."

"What does he like?"

"He's interested in murders, and things of that kind," said Felicity;
"or anything cheery, you know, but _not_ the theatre."

"Do you think he would come to see me if I asked him?" asked Vera.

"He hates paying visits," said Felicity, and she glanced round the room
judicially, "but if you can make him believe that some horrible crime
has been acted here,--I must say it doesn't look like it, all pink and
white!--then I think he _would_ call. Or, if you suggested--just
hinted--that you believed the liftman had once been mixed up in some
horrible case--I think he likes poisoning or strangling best--then he'd
come like a shot!"

Felicity got up laughing.

"I say," she continued as she fastened her white furs, "have you heard
the very latest thing about the Valettas and Guy Scott? Bertie's going
to tell me all about it to-night; he is the only _really_ brilliant
gossip I know. He's raised it to such an art that it's no longer gossip:
it's modern history and psychology! First he gets his facts right; then
he takes a sort of vivid analytical interest in every one--always a
humorously sympathetic view, of course--and has so much imagination that
he makes you _see_ the whole thing!"

"Good gracious! I think I don't care for gossip about other people,"
said Vera; "I'm sure I shouldn't like that at all. I am really only
interested in my own life."

"Then no wonder you find it so difficult to be amused, darling."

They parted, kissing affectionately.



CHAPTER XIV

LORD CHETWODE


"I have to go down to Fulham this morning; don't let me forget it," said
Lord Chetwode.

He was sitting in the green library with Felicity, markedly abstaining
from the newspapers surrounding him, and reading over an old catalogue.
He was a fair, delicate-looking young man of twenty-eight years the
amiability of whose expression seemed accentuated by the upward turning
of his minute blonde moustache. He had deep blue eyes, rather far apart,
regular features, and a full, very high forehead, on which the fair hair
was already growing scanty. Tall and slight, he had a rather casual,
boyish air, and beautiful but useful-looking white hands, the hands of
the artist. His voice and manner had the soft unobtrusive gentleness
that comes to those whose ancestors for long years have dared and
commanded. In time, when there's nothing more to fight for, the dash
naturally dies out.

"My dear boy, why Fulham?" said Felicity, who was sitting at her
writing-table not answering letters.

"About that bit of china."

"We don't want any more china, dear."

"It isn't a question of what we want! It is a question of what it would
be a crime to miss. Old Staffordshire going for nothing! Really,
Felicity!"

Felicity gave up the point. "I see.... How long are you going to stay in
London?" she said.

"Well, I was just thinking.... You know, I don't care much about the
season."

"You haven't had ten days of it," his wife answered. "Don't you think it
looks rather odd always letting me go to dances and things alone?"

"No. Why odd? You like them. I don't."

She looked rather impatient. "Has it ever struck you that I'm--rather
young--and not absolutely hideous?"

"Yes, very often," he said smiling. "Don't I show how it strikes me?
Why?"

"It's so difficult to say. Don't you see; people try to flirt with me,
and that sort of thing."

"Oh yes, they would. Naturally."

"Sometimes," said Felicity, darting a look at him like a needle, "I
shouldn't be surprised if people fell in love with me. So there!"

"You couldn't be less surprised than I should," said her husband, rather
proudly. "Shows their good taste."

"Well, for instance--you know Bertie Wilton, don't you?"

"Oh yes, I think I've seen him. A boy who rattles about in a staring red
motor-car. How any one on earth can stand those things when they can
have horses----"

"That's not the point, Chetwode. I think Bertie Wilton is really in love
with me. I really do."

Chetwode tried to look interested. "Is he though?"

"Well, I don't like it," she said pettishly.

"Then, don't stand it. But why? Isn't he a nice fellow?"

"Oh yes, he's very _nice_. But he seems to--sort of think you neglect
me."

"But other men go away, for months at a time, shooting big game, or
anything of that sort. Only shows he doesn't know.... _What_ an ass he
must be!" Chetwode's voice showed slight irritation.

"No he's not. He was quite disappointed that you came home the other
night when Savile went to fetch you. He went away at once."

"Poor chap!--Well, ask him to dinner," relented Chetwode.

She got up and went close to him. "You're hopeless! Chetwode, do you
really care for me--or do you like your curiosities and things better?"

Lord Chetwode looked slightly nervous. His one mortal horror was
anything that bore the most distant resemblance to a scene.

"My dear child, why, surely you know you are far and away the most
beautiful thing _I_ am ever likely to have in my collection!" he said,
most admiringly.

She turned away. She was terribly hurt; in her heart she had always
feared her husband regarded her as a bibelot. The subject was, to her,
too painful to discuss further. That he was sure of her--that showed
knowledge of her--that she deserved. But he ought to have _minded about
little things_ as she would. And he ought not always to be satisfied to
leave her safe as the gem of the collection--and just come and look at
it sometimes.

Chetwode returned to the catalogue, and then said, "Of course you know
I'm going to Teignmouth's for a week."

"And you don't want _me_ to go?"

"It's a man's party, darling! Only a week."

"But wouldn't you like me to go racing with you sometimes? I would. I
should love to."

He looked up lazily. "I don't think a racecourse is the place for a
woman. I like you better here. Of course, come if you like. Whenever you
like. Would you like to see Princess Ida run?"

"No, thanks.--Shall you be home to lunch?"

"Yes, I dare say I shall. Are you lunching at home?"

"I was going to Vera's, but I'd rather stay at home--for you."

"Oh, don't do that, dear," he said decidedly. "I may look in at
White's."

"Well, when shall I see you?"

"Why this evening, of course. Aren't we going to the opera, or
something?" he asked.

"Is it great agony for you to sit out Wagner?" She showed real sympathy.
"It's Tannhäuser, you know."

"Can't say I'm keen about it," he answered in a depressed voice.

"If you _like_," she said, slightly piqued, "I could easily go with
Sylvia and papa."

"All right--or, I know--don't let us go at all!" said Chetwode. He was
now in the hall, and she followed him. "Anything I can do for you,
darling?" Then he added, "Don't move for a minute!" He was admiring her
golden hair against the tapestry, and smiled with the real pride of the
_collectionneur_. "Yes, you must really have your portrait painted,
Felicity," he said. "Sargent's the man, I think--or--well, we'll talk
it over." He went out, and the door banged relentlessly.

Felicity moved back to the library and looked in the little carved
silver mirror that lay on the table. She saw tears gradually stealing
into her beautiful blue eyes, enlarging them, and she grew so sorry for
the lovely little sad face--in fact for herself!--that she hastily put
down the looking-glass, ran upstairs, and rang for her maid to dress her
to go out.

       *       *       *       *       *

Chetwode completely failed in his mission, as the china-man, not
expecting him to call so soon, had gone out for the day. He strolled
down the Brompton Road, stopping from time to time to look at various
pretty things in little curiosity shops, and then he thought, as a
contrast, he would have a look at the Albert Memorial. But, changing his
mind again, he went a little way into Kensington Gardens. Suddenly, he
thought he recognised two people, rather beautiful people, who were
sitting under a tree, talking together with animation. It was his
sister-in-law, Sylvia, with her little dog, and Woodville. Before they
saw him, Sylvia got up and walked quickly towards the Row with the dog.
Woodville looked after her, and then strolled slowly towards the bridge.
How well the sylvan surroundings suited them! Sylvia was a wood nymph
in a fashionable dress; Woodville, a faun in Bond Street clothes.
Chetwode smiled to himself. Then for a moment he was surprised.... It
seemed odd to see the secretary so far from his usual haunts. Why should
Sylvia sit in Kensington Gardens with him, and then go on alone to the
Row? However, he thought, it wasn't his business. As he walked towards
Knightsbridge, it struck him that he would tell Felicity. She would
understand, and explain. Then he thought he wouldn't tell Felicity. He
had a curious delicate dislike to mentioning anything he had seen
accidentally. He would chaff Sylvia about it when he saw her again....
No, he wouldn't; it would be a shame to make a girl uncomfortable. He
would mention it to Woodville. Yes, that was it; he would chaff
Woodville about it....

Seeing a hansom, he jumped into it and went to the Club. As he drove
there he remembered vaguely several little things that he had noticed
subconsciously before, and he began to think that probably Woodville and
Sylvia were in love with each other. What more natural! In that case one
wouldn't talk about it. It might annoy them. There was nothing on earth
Lord Chetwode disliked so much as the idea of anything that would annoy
any one.

So he never did tell Woodville nor anybody else. When it did not slip
his memory, his almost morbid dread of anything disagreeable prevented
his mentioning it, and he left London without having spoken of the
incident. Probably it was of no importance after all.

At this time Woodville was really miserable. Their position was more
difficult than ever. Of course he had kept his word to her, and written
to Ridokanaki that he could not accept the offer. They remained
privately engaged, and waiting; Savile their only confidant. He had got
rid of the little studio, and was half sorry and half relieved not to be
able to go there as a retreat. It had some painful but also some
exquisite associations. Since he had made the sacrifice of Athens for
Sylvia--for it was a sacrifice--he was, of course, more in love with her
than before. That quarter of an hour in Kensington Gardens this morning
was the only clandestine appointment they had ever made in the course of
five years.

How often he remembered the day he had first arrived at the Croftons!
Sylvia was fifteen then, and her governess, Miss Dawe, took the place,
as far as could be, of her dead mother, chaperoning Felicity and
teaching Sylvia. He remembered that it was bitterly cold and snowing
hard. As he passed the schoolroom, of which the door was open, to his
own room, escorted by the servant, he heard what sounded like a quarrel
going on. A poor old man with a battered accordion was making a pathetic
noise on the cold pavement.

"You shall _not_ do it, Sylvia!" Miss Dawe was speaking authoritatively.
"Your father did not give you five pounds to throw away. It isn't the
right thing for young ladies to run down to the hall." And Felicity's
voice said imperiously, he knew it afterwards, "Quick; ring the bell,
and tell Price to give him the money."

While the electric bell was being rung he distinctly heard the window
flung wide open, and a soft thud on the pavement. Sylvia had thrown her
purse into the street. From his own room next to the schoolroom, he saw
the man pick it up and go away. The doors were closed now, but he
imagined the governess's anger. The incident had afterwards seemed very
characteristic of the two girls, and he often thought of it.... That
evening at dinner he met Sylvia for the first time, and he felt now as
if he had loved her ever since. But it was not until three years ago,
when she was seventeen, that he betrayed himself, by some word or
look.... As she grew into a woman she filled his life, became his one
joy and torment. On Felicity's wedding-day he had told Sylvia of his
love, and they had become engaged. How was it to end?



CHAPTER XV

MADAME TUSSAUD'S


"Savile," said Sylvia, smoothing his tie unnecessarily (a process that
he endured like a martyr who had been very well brought up), "Felicity's
coming to fetch me to go to Madame Tussaud's this afternoon. Would you
like to come too, dear?"

"Who's your party?"

"Frank is going to meet us there, and Mrs. Ogilvie and Bertie Wilton."

"Oh, then, can I bring Dolly Clive?"

"Yes, of course, she's sweet. But--will they let her come?"

"Yes, they will with us. It's good for her history, and she can have a
look in at her precious Charles II. What time?"

"Punctually about four," Felicity said. "Don't forget, Savile!"

"Righto! I'll bring Dolly and take her back. I say, shall we have tea
there?"

"Of course, if you want to. Why fancy, Frank said it would be the
greatest joke to _dine_ there! You can, you know, if you like;
wouldn't it be fun, and ghastly, with Byron and Peace, and Sir
Campbell-Bannerman, and people like that, looking on?"

"No it wouldn't. These ghastly jokes never come off. They last too long.
While you're about it, have a good dinner for Heaven's sake. And I dare
say the people at the Savoy are quite as bad--if that's all--if you only
knew, and more up to date."

"Yes, very likely, and people at real places often have no more
expression than the waxworks. But, Savile, I thought it was all off
between you and Dolly now?"

He answered, with a sigh, "So it is, in a way, but you'll learn in this
life, old girl, that you must take what you can get--especially if
you're not sure you can get it! Mind you," lowering his voice, "that
little foreign bounder, de Saules, isn't going to have it all his own
way."

"Oh," Sylvia, being in good spirits, was inclined to tease him, "I
should have thought it would be a capital opportunity to show an
intelligent foreigner the sights of London!"

"The intelligent foreigners _are_ the sights of London," said Savile as
he went out.

The same morning Vera rustled into her friend's room, with her usual air
of vagueness and devotion, and said with a sort of despairing cry--

"Oh, Felicity darling! you're the only person in the world who always
has clothes for every occasion, and knows everything. How on earth does
one dress for Tussaud's? Should you regard it as a Private View, or
treat it more like--say--Princes'?"

"Neither. Why on earth Princes'? Were you thinking of bringing your
skates?"

"Don't be absurd. Then I had better not wear my new Paquin?"

"Certainly not. Nothing trailing, or showy. But for Heaven's sake don't
dress for skating or bicycling. I fancy there is a notice up to say you
can't do either of those things there. And please not too much of your
Oriental embroideries."

"Well, my new tailor-made dress then, and a large hat?"

Felicity laughed.

"My dear girl, what does it matter? If you fondly imagine that any one
will look at your dress while there are _real_ horrors to see----!"

"Darling little creature!" said Vera, who absolutely idolised Felicity,
and looked up to her in the most absurd way, although she was five years
younger--often taking her ironical advice quite literally, and regarding
her as a rare combination of faultless angel, brilliant genius, and
perfect beauty.

"And now," said Felicity, standing up to her full height--which was far
from imposing--"_Go_, please, Vera! I expect the hairdresser."

"Oh, then, you're taking a little trouble, after all," Vera said,
laughing, and she vanished vaguely, behind a brocaded _portière_,
leaving a very faint perfume of gilliflower.

The party met fairly punctually in the hideous hall, furnished with
draughts and red velvet. The gloom was intensified by the sound of an
emaciated orchestra playing "She was a Miller's Daughter," with a thin
reckless airiness that was almost ghostly.

"Let's be a regular party," said Felicity, "and keep together, and get
that nice chasseur-looking person to show us round."

Savile and Dolly preferred to stroll about alone, with a catalogue, and
"take the Royal Family in their order." Woodville and Sylvia sat down
near the band.

The amiable chasseur, who greatly enjoyed his work, and who saw that the
living celebrities left our friends rather cold, showed them "The road
to ruing," as displayed in six tableaux.

"No. 1, Temptation. 'Ere you see the young man being tempted to 'is
ruing by cards--and what not."

The party gazed at the green table on which were strewn a few cards.

"Fancy being able to be ruined by only half a pack of cards!" said
Felicity admiringly.

"Who," asked Wilton with interest, "is the lady in crimson satin, with
pearls as big as oysters and diamonds like broken windows, holding out
her hand so cordially to welcome the young man with long hair and an
intelligent expression? (Obviously a very excellent model of Arthur
Symons, the poet)."

"Why, she's the Decoy," said the chasseur, with intense relish. A
sinister man with very black hair (probably in collusion with the decoy)
was looking on, enjoying the scene.

"How symbolic those two champagne-glasses are on the card-table! What is
that dark brown liquid in them?" asked Wilton.

"Still champagne, I suppose," said Felicity.

"Oh dear, yes, ma'am! It ain't been changed. Nothing's been changed."

"How sad it all is!" sighed Vera.

"It gets better later on," said Bertie consolingly.

"No. 3. 'Ere you find 'im ruinged by gambling. Take notice of the evil
appearance of 'is accomplice."

The young man was now forging ahead for all he was worth (and a great
deal more) with a cheque-book and a fountain pen. The sinister friend
was leaning over his shoulder as if to jog his elbow.

"No. 4. 'Ere you see the sad result of all these goings on," said the
chasseur morally, if vaguely. "The pore young man is condemned to
several years."

"Does he break out again?" asked Wilton.

"Oh, lor', yes, sir! Don't you fret! _he_ breaks out again all right.
And 'ere you 'ave _Revenge_! A dark resolve 'as taken distinct form in
the ruinged man's mind."

"Poor man, how long his hair has grown in prison," murmured Felicity
sympathetically. "Who has he killed?"

"Why, the decoy!" said the chasseur, "and (if you ask me) serve 'er
right!"

"How helpful all this is," said Bertie Wilton. "I feel really a better
man since I've seen it. Seriously, I don't think I shall ever drink
champagne of that colour now that we have seen the appalling results.
It's a terrible lesson, isn't it, Lady Chetwode?"

They left the young man to his fate and followed the showman.

"'Ere we see Mary Manning, also Frederick George of same name, who, in
singularly atrocious circumstances, killed a retired custom-'ouse
officer."

"Why?" asked Vera inquisitively.

"They took against him, miss."

"I think I like the ladies best," said Bertie. "Who is this really
terrible-looking woman?"

The showman hurried towards him, still repeating like a parrot what he
wished to tell them about Manning.

"Yes, Manning was a railway guard, and 'is wife was highly connected
with the best families--as lady's-maid. Ah, sir, you're looking at
Cathering Webster. She was executed for the murder of another lady at
Richmond. Jealousy was the reason of 'er motive for the crime."

"I say," said Felicity suddenly, to the guide, "don't you find all this
terribly depressing? Do you hate all these creatures?"

"No, miss," said the showman smilingly, "I'm so used to them. I regard
them almost like relations. 'Ere we 'ave a couple of French criminals.
_Their_ little game, if you please, was to decoy to their 'ome young
ladies, and take away all their belongings, and everything else they
possessed."

"Oh, how horrid of them!" said Vera indignantly.

The chasseur grinned. "Yes, they weren't nice people, miss."

"I think you would like Burke and Hare, sir," he said persuasively to
Wilton. "Let me tell you a bit about them."

"He talks as if they were Marshall and Snelgrove," murmured Wilton.

"What was the reason of their motive?" asked Felicity.

"Strychnine, miss," readily answered the well-informed guide.

"I suppose people get awfully hardened, eventually, to this sort of
thing? _I'm_ not. I'm terribly nervous. I'm frightened out of my life.
If it weren't for you, Lady Chetwode, I should faint, and be carried out
by the emergency exit."

While the chasseur went into atrocious details, Bertie was so frightened
that he had to hold Felicity's hand.... Vera felt quite out of it, and
in the cold. When once they got into the Chamber of Horrors, nobody had
taken any notice of her, nor even heard her remarks. Felicity and Bertie
were evidently at once excited and amused. As she was standing alone
pretending to look at some relics, the gallant chasseur came up and
said, "There's an emergency exit 'ere, if you like to go out 'ere,
madam."

"There seems to be nothing else," said Bertie. "As soon as you get into
Madame Tussaud's the main object seems to be to drive you out. They
keep on telling you _how_ you can get out, and _where_ you can get out,
and when. How wonderful a fire would be here!"

"Do you think Sylvia got out by one of the emergency exits? I haven't
seen her or Woodville for some time."

"Oh, can't you let them have tea in peace?" said Bertie.

"I'm sure they are not having tea. Sylvia hates Bath buns. But we'll go
and look for them, and the children too."

Savile and Dolly were found on a red velvet sofa, sulking, while Sylvia
and Woodville were still listening to the band.

Dolly complained that Savile had been "horrid to her about Charles II,"
and that he said she was too young to see the Horrors.

Sylvia and Woodville had simply forgotten all about the waxworks.

The band was so very good and had been playing musical-comedy airs so
charmingly.

Wilton declared his nerves were completely shattered and he must have a
rest cure in the form of being driven home by Felicity, he could not
possibly go alone.

Vera had to fetch Mr. Ogilvie from the chambers. Savile, feeling very
grown-up, drove Dolly back in a hansom.

"Oughtn't I to take you?" said Felicity to Sylvia.

"My dear Lady Chetwode, please remember that Woodville is staying in the
same house as Miss Crofton, and it is perfectly absurd, and cruelty to
the horses to drag them out of their way, when you live in Park Street,
and I only a stone's-throw from you! _Do_ be practical!" cried Wilton.

"Oh, all right."

"Won't you take Miss Sylvia home?" said Bertie.

"Oh, certainly," said Woodville, and they walked a little way towards
the cab together.

       *       *       *       *       *

Ever since Ridokanaki's departure, Woodville, having consented to keep
their engagement secret until Sylvia was twenty-one, had sought, and
thought he had found, a solution, which was at once balm to his
conscience and support to his pride. Sylvia and he should make a compact
that they should be to one another in reality as they appeared to her
father, and to the world: friends only. They would neither seek nor
avoid _tête-a-têtes_, and when alone would ignore, crush, and
temporarily forget their tenderer relations. Sylvia had willingly,
eagerly agreed. She knew, in fact, that these were the only terms on
which he would remain there. And yet it was rather hard. She remembered
(how clearly!) that during all these years he had kissed her on seven
separate occasions only, and those occasions, after the first, were
always, or nearly always, at her suggestion--because it was her
birthday--or because it was Christmas Day--because she was unhappy--or
because he was in good spirits, and similar reasons. How admirable they
had seemed! How sophistically she argued!

All this, Woodville had explained, must now cease. He tried with some
difficulty to point out to her that this innovation was because he loved
her, not less, but more. He could not trust himself, and did not intend
to try. She was so happy to think he had given up going to Athens that
she was only too glad to consent to anything.

       *       *       *       *       *

This was the first time they had been alone since the compact. She
looked at him beamingly as they started on their drive.

"But I'm not going home," said Woodville.

"Aren't you? Where are you going?"

"To the Beafsteak Club. I'm dining with Mervyn, and we're not going to
dress. I'll take you home first, if you like."

"No," said Sylvia. "I shall drive you nearly as far as the Club, drop
you, and then go home by myself." She spoke decidedly, and gave the
direction to the cabman. She had calculated that it would be a longer
drive.

"It's twice as far!" she said with childish triumph. He looked at her
trusting, adoring eyes, her smiling, longing lips, and looked out of the
window. She put her hand on his arm, and he moved away quickly, almost
shaking her off. With a smile she sat as far from him as possible. They
began talking of all kinds of things--Sylvia talked most and most
gaily--then, gradually, they fell into silence.

It was the end of a warm April day; they passed quickly, in the jingling
cab, through the stale London streets, breathing the spring air that
paradoxically suggested country walks, tender vows, sentiment and
romance.... Was she hurt at his coldness? On the contrary, it seemed to
exhilarate her. So close, yet so absolutely separated--not in mind, but
by his will only--by that extraordinary moral sense of his, that was, to
her, in her innocence, a dark mystery. Sylvia never forgot that drive.
She felt one of those unforgettable moments of exalted passion, like the
attainment of some great height that one may never reach again. She
worshipped him.

As they reached the end of their drive, the personal magnetism was
almost too strong for her--she nearly took his hand again, but
resisted. The cab stopped.

"I should like to drive you back, Sylvia," he said, as he got out,
"but--it's better not."

"All right!--Good-bye! I suppose I shall see you to-morrow morning."

"I hate leaving you here," he said.

"Never mind!" She smiled brightly, and waved her hand. The cab drove
off, and he seemed to be swallowed up by the darkness of the street,
looking, as she thought, very wonderful, very handsome.... Then, quite
suddenly, she felt cold, quite lonely, almost forsaken....

For hours she could not shake off the horrible impression of his walking
away from her into the darkness, leaving her alone.

After her conventional evening at home, she shed bitter tears on her
pillow. Could he care for her really? She knew he did, and she suddenly
suspected that it was a sort of pleasure, a kind of indulgence to him to
play the ascetic when so near her, and at this fancy she felt a little
momentary resentment. But as soon as she saw him again, a word or a
smile was sunshine and life to her. She wanted so little, and she was
again her happy and gentle self.... At least, she could see him--while,
if he had gone to Athens.... Surely they would not have to wait a year?
No--Savile would find out some splendid arrangement that would make it
all right. She loved Woodville too much not to be hopeful; he cared too
much for her not to feel, almost, despair. The conditions of their
present existence were far harder for him, though she never knew it, and
did not dream how much she--not he--was exacting.



CHAPTER XVI

A GOLDEN DAY


Woodville was sitting in the library, supposed to be digging up old
Bluebooks for Sir James, but, instead, he found himself lingering over a
curious book of poems with a white cover and a black mask on the
outside. He read (and sighed):

   Dear, were you mine for one full hour,
     A lifetime, an hour, that is all I ask.
   Dear, like a thing of lace, or a flower
     Before the end would you drop your mask?

   Dear, days and hours are not for me--
     I may not know you, nor forgive,
   For you are like the distant sea,
     And I upon the hills must live.

"This," he said to himself, "is rot for me! It isn't a good poem,--and
if it were a good poem (it has _some_ good qualities) it's idiotic for
me to read poetry. What _is_ the matter with me?" He put down all the
books, and went and looked at himself in the mirror. He saw a face
rather paler, more worn than some weeks ago.

For the last few nights Woodville had suffered from insomnia--a trouble
at which he used to scoff and smile, firmly believing, until it had been
his own experience, that it was affectation. The second day that he had
gone to look out of the window at about five o'clock in the morning,
feeling that curious lucid clearness of brain, almost a kind of
second-sight, sometimes produced by unwonted sleeplessness, he still
thought that people made much too much fuss about a restless night or
two.

"Suppose a fellow couldn't sleep for a time! Well, he can read, or work.
It was nothing." But, about eleven in the morning the exaltation of the
wakefulness had gone off, and he felt stupid and depressed. He suddenly
began to feel anxious about himself. Of course, it was all Sylvia! This
life, seeing her more or less all day, under the same roof, pretending
to be only friends, without any sort of vent, any expression, verbal or
otherwise, for his sentiment, was impossible! It was unbearable! He
ought to have gone to Athens.... Suddenly Sylvia came into the room. She
looked the picture of freshness and happiness. She had come to fetch a
book, she said. But she lingered a moment, to ask Woodville if he liked
her new dress. It was a Paris marvel of simplicity in pale grey, and
neither disguised nor over-emphasised the lines of her exquisite figure.

"Yes, I think it's all right," said Woodville.

"_All right!_" she exclaimed indignantly. "Don't you _see_ how it fits?
Why, it's simply wonderful! How heartless you are!" There was just a
tinge of coquetry in her manner, which was rather unwonted. "You're not
looking very well to-day," she said, looking sympathetically at him.

"I'm very well. I'm always all right."

"Are you angry with me, Frank? What's the matter? What's that you're
reading?" She snatched the book of poems away from him, read the poem
and blushed with pleasure.

"Yes! You see that's what I'm reduced to!" he said.

"Frank, I don't think you go out enough. Look, what a lovely day it is!"

"Where do you propose I should go? To the theatre to-night? I hate
theatres." He spoke irritably.

"No," she said in a low, soft voice; "let's break the compact, just for
once--_just for once!_" She was instinctively taking advantage of a kind
of weakness he showed this morning for the first time--due to his
nervous fatigue--the weariness of long self-repression.

"Certainly not!" he answered, with no conviction whatever. "Whose
birthday is it? It isn't Christmas Day--it isn't Midsummer Day. No! I
don't see any excuse for doing it."

"Yes, there's a reason! It will be Sexagesima Sunday next week!"

"So it will!"

"Ah, you admit that! Well, let's go and have lunch at Richmond--or
somewhere like that!"

"My poor dear child, what's the matter! You're not sane.... Besides,
it's impossible," said Woodville, hesitating, in a hopeful voice.

"It isn't impossible. Papa's gone out for the whole day. Leave it to me!
I'll arrange it. If the worst came to the worst, I could tell papa that
I longed for a little air and made you take me down to Richmond! Why!
you know he wouldn't mind. He would see nothing in it. We'd be back
before five."

Woodville looked tempted.

"Besides, there would _be_ nothing in it," added Sylvia softly.

He took her hand. "Temptress!" he said. "Of course there wouldn't be any
earthly harm in it," he said doubtfully.

"Then we're going to do it!"

"Are we, Eve?"

"Oh, Frank!" she exclaimed passionately, "it's too absurd, too
unnatural! Why shouldn't we have a moment's happiness? Aren't we going
to be married next year?"

"Probably, if I live through this one."

She was smiling, for she knew she had won. "Yes, you'll live through it
all right--if you only have a little fresh air and change of scene now
and then!"

"I couldn't do it, Sylvia!--How should we go?"

"Drive in a hansom?"

"No, I'll meet you at the Underground Railway at Earl's Court."

"When?" she asked.

"In twenty minutes."

"All right. We'll have a holiday! Everybody has a holiday sometimes!
It's a heavenly day! We will go and walk in Richmond Park and forget all
about the compact worries till we come back at tea-time. Papa won't,
then, be back, and no one will ever know anything about it!" She clapped
her hands. He smiled at her.

"It's settled," he said.

As she went out of the door, she murmured, "In twenty minutes, then,"
and vanished, radiant.

When she had gone, he found all trace of his usual scruples had
inexplicably disappeared. It was natural, and (he said to himself) it
was right! What use was this continual sacrifice of the precious hours
and days of their youth--for an Idea? Besides, she looked so lovely. A
man must be a stone to refuse such a delightful suggestion, or a fool.
He was neither. The reaction was inevitable, and in half an hour they
were in the train together, in the highest spirits, all cares thrown
aside, in the hope of the spring, of sunlight, fresh air, and above all,
being together alone, free, for several hours. It seemed like a dream, a
dream with the added substantial tangible joy of being real.



CHAPTER XVII

SAVILE TAKES A LINE


"Hallo, Savile!" said Felicity, who was putting the last touch to her
veil in front of the mirror. "Nice boy! You're just what I wanted. Come
out with me!"

It was about twelve o'clock, a lovely warm morning. The first hum of the
season was just beginning, like the big orchestra of London tuning up.
There seemed a sort of suppressed excitement in the air. People of
average spirits appeared unusually happy; the very highly strung seemed
just a little wild; their eyes dancing, their tread lighter, and laughs
were heard on the smallest provocation. Certainly the vision that met
Felicity in the mirror was exhilarating enough. Dressed in the softest
of blues, with a large brown hat on her golden hair, she looked like a
pastel--a combination of the vagueness, remoteness, and delicacy of a
Whistler with the concrete piquancy of a sketch in _L'Art et La Mode_.

Savile, however, showed none of the intoxicating effect of a gay London
morning. He seemed more serious, more self-controlled, more correct even
than usual.

"Where's Chetwode?" he asked.

"Oh, he's just going out, dear, I think. Do you want him? Shall I ring?"

"No; I shouldn't ring. What's the point of that except to delay my
seeing him? No; I want to see him, so I'll go and look for him, and
perhaps go out with him. I suppose you're driving, and don't need me?"

"_Need_ you? Oh no, darling; not exactly. Only I thought it would be fun
to go out and look at the people in the Row--and laugh at them. Besides,
I always drive down Piccadilly and Bond Street when I have a new hat, to
find out whether it suits me. It's such fun. I can always tell."

"Frightfully comic, no doubt, but I've got something more important to
think about this morning."

"What a bad temper you're in, Savile! Anything wrong, darling?"

"Just like a girl!" said Savile. "I never _yet_ showed any woman I had
something to do that she didn't say I was in a bad temper."

Felicity laughed. He went to the door and added--

"Oh, by the way, don't trouble to give my love to Wilton."

She made a rush for him, and he ran out of the room.

He found Lord Chetwode, as usual, in the green library, not reading the
newspapers, and reposefully smoking. Savile accepted a cigarette and sat
down.

"Thought you were going out?" said Savile.

"Yes, so did I. But why go out? It's all right here. Besides, I _am_
going out. No hurry."

"Good," said Savile, and they smoked in silence.

"You're not stopping in town long, are you?" said Savile.

"No, old boy. Season's beginning. I hate London. I'm going week-ending
next Saturday."

"And you won't come back?"

"I shall probably stop ten days."

"I've got something to say to you," said Savile.

Lord Chetwode smiled encouragingly.

"Fire away!"

"There's something I want particularly to ask you."

There was a pause. Such a remark as this from any one but Savile would
have alarmed Chetwode, suggesting something in the nature of a scene,
but he felt pretty safe with his brother-in-law of sixteen. He wondered
what on earth the boy wanted, and felt only good-humouredly amused.
Savile had chosen his words before he came, and had that rash longing we
all feel when we have made out a verbal programme, to make the suitable
remark before the occasion arises.

"We're both men of the world," began Savile.

"Are we, though?" said Chetwode. "Please spare me this irony! _You_'re a
man of the world all right, I know. _I_ don't pretend to be."

"May as well come to the point," said Savile. "You know Woodville, don't
you?"

"Woodville? Rather. Capital chap. What's wrong with him?"

"There's nothing wrong with him," said Savile, "but I want to get him
something to do."

"Really? Doesn't he like being with you and Sir James and Sylvia, and
all that?"

"Yes, he likes it all right. But he isn't much with Sylvia and all that.
He'd like to be more. So would she--a good deal more. That's the point."

Chetwode instantly recollected the incident in the Park. He said without
turning a hair, "Quite so. Most natural, I'm sure----" and then thought
a moment. Savile was silent.

"What Woodville _needs_," said Chetwode, lighting another cigarette,
"is, of course, less of you and Sir James, and a great deal more of
Sylvia; and he can't very well marry her while he's her father's
secretary. Though--by Jove!--I don't see why not!"

"What rot!" said Savile.

"Yes, you're right, Savile. It's true Sir James wouldn't give him a
minute's time for anything. Well, you want me to get him something to do
then?"

"Now, look here, Chetwode, don't play the fool about this. Here's a
chap, considered a brilliant man at Oxford; in every way a thoroughly
good sort, and a gentleman, who, if it weren't for circumstances, would
have been called a good match."

"If it weren't for circumstances, anybody would be called a good match,"
said Chetwode casually.

"What sort of thing do you think you can get him?" asked Savile, "before
Saturday?"

"Before Saturday? Well, what sort of thing does he want before
Saturday?"

"Oh, something political. Or some post--or something diplomatic."

"You're pleased to be vague," said Chetwode, bowing.

"Oh, all right! Then you can't do it?" Savile stood up.

"Please, Savile, no violence! Take another cigarette. Of course, the
idea is that I must talk to somebody. Perhaps Teignmouth----"

"Put the whole thing before him," said Savile.

"The beastly part is no one will stand being talked to about things, and
everybody hates having the whole matter put before them--unless it's
gossip. Then, by Jove, won't they go into details!"

Savile controlled his feelings, and said, "Well, here's a romantic
story, a lovely girl--young man disinherited----"

Chetwode visibly shrank from the explicitness.

"All right, old boy. Look here, I see your point--I give you my word
I'll try."

Savile, terrified at the thought that he might have been a bore, got up
again and held out his hand.

"When will you let me know?"

"As soon as I've seen anybody or done anything that seems to help at
all.... Let's see, what's your telephone number?"

"I haven't got any telephone number," said Savile, "at least, not on
_this_ subject. Won't kill you to wire and let me know when I can see
you again."

"Good! that's the idea. And look here, Savile, you think I am not going
to trouble, I can see that. But you happen to be wrong. I'll fix it up
all right."

"I thought you would," said Savile.

"And we won't talk it over, don't you know, to--a--women or anything.
Eh?"

"Catch me," said Savile.

"Well, I must go out now," said Chetwode. "Can I drop you?"

"Think I'll walk," said Savile.

They shook hands most cordially. Chetwode went out smiling to himself,
and strolled towards the Club.



CHAPTER XVIII

FELICITY'S ENGAGEMENTS


"Is Lady Chetwode at home?"

Before Greenstock, who seemed about to give a negative answer, could
reply, Wilton went on.

"Oh yes, she _must_ be at home; please ask her to read this note, and
send me down a verbal answer immediately."

"Very well, sir."

"I won't get out, Greenstock. I'll just wait in the motor till I get an
answer."

"Yes, sir."

Wilton turned to the chauffeur and said, "How do you think she's looking
to-day, Pearce?"

The motor had recently been painted green, because Felicity had said it
was too compromising to drive with Wilton in a scarlet one.

"Never better, sir," said the chauffeur.

"You know I _was_ right, Pearce. Green suits her much better than
scarlet. In fact, I rather doubt whether you could point me out a case
in which I am ever wrong, Pearce. With regard to the motor, I mean, of
course."

"Oh no, sir."

"How do you mean 'Oh no'? Do you mean I'm ever wrong then?"

"Oh no, sir."

They both looked with suppressed pride at the automobile which was
snorting rather impatiently under these personal remarks.

Greenstock appeared.

"Will you step in, sir?"

At the summons Wilton sprang out and ran quickly up into the
drawing-room.

It was a beautiful room with hardly anything in it; a large, high, empty
room in pure First Empire style. A small yellow sofa with gilded claws,
and narrow bolster cushions, was near the fireplace; a light blue curved
settee, with animals' heads, was in the middle of the room. There was a
highly polished parquet floor with no carpet, a magnificent chandelier,
and the curtains were held up by elaborately carved and gilded cornices
with warlike ornaments.

Bertie wandered round the room, tried, vainly, to see himself in the
narrow looking-glass, which was placed too high, and admired the
refreshing absence of fat cushions, unnecessary draperies, photographs,
and vases of flowers. On a small console-table was one immense basket
of mauve orchids. Bertie was looking at this with some curiosity, not
unmixed with annoyance, when Felicity came into the room.

"How _marvellous_ of you!" he exclaimed. "Again I'm thunderstruck at
your having _exactly_ the right thing to wear, to come down early in the
morning to see a too persistent friend!" He looked at her dress. "Pale
green--how well it suits you; and how wonderful of you to be so
empireish--at this hour!"

"What _do_ you want, Bertie?" said Felicity, smiling, but impatiently.

"Oh, please don't be so definite! and I thought you knew!"

"Please don't be so imbecile; I don't want to know."

They both sat down, and she held out the letter.

"I didn't read all this," she said; "but you seem to have given me a
programme of your engagements for to-day. I can't think why."

"Because I want to know yours. To come to the point," said Wilton. "If I
go to the Ogilvies', will you be there?"

"Well, of course! As if Vera could have a musical afternoon without me!"

"Good, that's settled. And what are you doing to-night?"

"Well, which do you advise?" she said. "The Creepers'? Or Jasmyn Vere's
party?"

"If I might advise, _do_ go there. His things are really rather jolly.
Is Chetwode coming?"

"No, Chetwode's struck. He won't go to anything more. He's going away on
Saturday for the week end, so I shall stop at home with him to-morrow.
To-night I'll go to Jasmyn Vere's. What time does one get there?"

"One gets there a little before you do, for the pleasure of the anxiety
and agonising suspense of dreading you won't come and knowing you will."
He got up. "If you would turn up at half-past ten--before the crush--we
could sort of sit out, and laugh at the people."

"Perhaps I shall," said Felicity.

"Lady Chetwode, you are as good as you are beautiful."

"Oh, don't carry on like that, Bertie! I suppose it's through your
having gone to that ball as Louis XIX; every now and then you seem to
think you're in the last century."

"But when I'm here, I know I'm in the next," and he took his leave in
the highest spirits.

       *       *       *       *       *

At lunch, "Chetwode," said Felicity, "I shall be at Vera's till seven.
They're going to have the wonderful new child harpist. He looks like a
sort of cherub, with golden hair."

"Little beast," said Chetwode, "he ought to be in bed."

"Oh, darling, not at four in the afternoon! And what about to-night? I
suppose we dine together at home? and then I'm going to Jasmyn Vere's,
one of his musical parties."

"Oh, yes."

"Chetwode dear, you know the horses will be out all the afternoon. I
thought I'd have the carriage just to _take_ me to the party and come
home in a cab--it's only round the corner. Is there any off-chance of
your coming to fetch me? Oh _do_! You really might!"

"No," said Chetwode. He added, "No doubt Wilton will see you home."

She looked up quickly. Was there a tone of irony in his voice? Could he
be a shade jealous? How delightful!

"Why, I can come home alone," she said. "It's not sure that Bertie and I
will both want to leave at the same time."

"But I should think it's on the cards," said Chetwode, rather coldly.

"No use bothering you to come?"

"None at all. Who does the hostess at Jasmyn's parties?"

"Oh, Bertie's mother, Lady Nora Wilton, you know."

"I see."

"Did you think," said Felicity, laughing, "that it would be Agatha, Mrs.
Wilkinson?"

"Oh--you mean the woman who's so fond of horses. Why, is she a friend of
Vere's?"

"Some people say so, of course I don't know."

"I always see her," said Chetwode, "at races, with Bobby Henderson."

"Oh yes," said Felicity, "but that's only intellectual sympathy! I can't
see the point of Bobby Henderson, can you? Vera likes him so much too."

"There _is_ no point about him. He's just the usual sporting, stupid
guardsman."

Felicity lit her husband's cigarette and left him.

       *       *       *       *       *

Her dress this afternoon had been very carefully thought out to contrast
with Vera's.

Vera was dressed in dull flame colour, becoming to her white skin and
black hair. Felicity was in black and white. She wore a white hat, with
a black velvet bow, and one enormous gardenia. It was impossible not to
be pleased at Bertie's suppressed enthusiasm when she arrived. He was so
fastidious about clothes, and she knew she was a real success to-day.

"Oh, Felicity, isn't it too _horrible_? The chief person can't come!"
Vera was fluttering a telegram and evidently trying not to cry. "The
_great_ tenor, you know." She turned to Wilton. "Isn't it cruel at the
last minute?"

"Oh, don't worry, darling. Most likely no one will notice it--you see
you kept it dark as a surprise, luckily," said Felicity.

"And it _is_ a surprise--to me!" said Vera.

"Oh, isn't the little harpy infant phenomenon coming?" asked Felicity.

"Oh yes, _that's_ all right; he's here now, playing draughts with his
mother in my room to prevent him getting nervous; and eating bread and
jam. Thank goodness for that!"

"Oh, what sort of jam?" asked Wilton eagerly. "Pray don't keep it from
me! Raspberry, greengage--_please_ tell me, Mrs. Ogilvie!"

"Why, what _can_ it matter?"

"It matters enormously."

"One would think you were a reporter," said Felicity.

"I'm not. I'm only a psychologist."

"Same thing," said Felicity.

"Well, anyhow, it's marmalade--so there!" said Vera.

"Oh, how delightful," exclaimed Wilton; "to match his hair, of course.
Of course it's his mother's idea though. What a good mother she must
be!"

"Oh, here he is, at last. Where are his wings?"

The boy, with his white suit and golden hair and small harp, looked,
literally, angelic. There was a murmur of admiration.

"There oughtn't to be a dry eye in the room when he plays Schumann,"
said Felicity; "and fancy, Savile wouldn't come because he said he would
long to kick him, and he was afraid Vera wouldn't like it."

"I rather agree with Vera there," said Bertie.

"No one would like, at one's musical party, to have one's artists
kicked!"

"Everything is all right," said Felicity, as she smiled and bowed to
some one.

"Why is everything all right? You gave one of your _special_ smiles just
now! Who was it?"

"De Valdez. It's rather jolly of him to have come here to-day. He was
expected at the Spanish Embassy."

"Probably going on afterwards."

"Possibly not," said Felicity.

"I admit I admire De Valdez very much," said Wilton. "Caring for nothing
on earth but music and philosophy, and the kindest-hearted man in the
world, he has been literally hounded into society by admiring women, and
all the fuss about him hasn't spoilt him a bit; he would keep a royal
party waiting for luncheon while he ran down to Bedford Park to spend
the day with an old friend."

"The point is," said Felicity calmly, "that he's a genius."

"Oh, is he? I don't know much about music," said Wilton rather
jealously.

"I know you don't."

"The point is, that he's remarkably handsome," said Bertie.

"Now you're being disagreeable. Of course he's handsome, but that's
_not_ the point."

At this moment De Valdez joined them. Felicity took his arm and went
down to tea.

The boy harpist created wildest enthusiasm; a little later De Valdez
sang (after which nearly every husband present suggested it was time to
go), and, on the whole, the afternoon was as great a success as these
things ever are.

Quite late Bob Henderson arrived, full of tips--straight from the
stable. Vera did not try to detain her lingering guests. Mr. Ogilvie
never appeared on these occasions, but came home to dinner at eight,
cross-questioned Vera, and did not listen to her answers in his usual
amiable manner.

       *       *       *       *       *

Jasmyn Vere was extremely anxious, as he always was, to have something a
little out of the way for his party. He literally lived for society,
and, in a minor degree, for Agatha. As he was a bachelor, and had
devoted even more time and energy to knowing none of the wrong people
than to knowing all the right ones, a party of his was looked upon as
not a thing to miss, particularly as a decorous originality was always
to be expected.

Lady Nora Wilton, a beauty of the early '80's, was a graceful and still
pretty woman of forty-five; it was probably from her that Bertie had
inherited his good looks and high spirits.

"What _can_ we do just a little original?" Jasmyn had asked her.

"What sort of thing? You don't mean to be American and let all the
people come dressed as children, or ask some wild animals to look in in
the evening?"

Jasmyn threw up his hands in horror.

"My dear Lady Nora, don't make fun of me! No, some rather intelligent
people are coming."

"Really? I thought your parties were always very smart!"

"There'll be some people who can talk, don't you know."

"What about?" said Lady Nora.

"Ah! that's the point! Now, I propose that when supper's on there shall
be a special supper served at one table for ten in my little octagon
room, and _with_ the menu a subject for conversation with each item! It
will, of course, not bore people, because, from the programme, they will
see there is an ordinary supper-room too, and they can choose!"

"It will be a general conversation, remember; and people aren't very
keen on that," said Lady Nora.

"Well, we shall see. So long as you don't disapprove (and one other lady
to whom I shall speak of it). I think it's not a bad idea. I shall not
have good music, Lady Nora. It isn't a concert--it's a conversazione."

"But you won't have _bad_ music? I can't imagine anything bad in your
house," said Lady Nora.

"No, but music that encourages talk. De Valdez once sang at my
house--_Everybody_ was there, and they _all_ talked! He got up and said,
in the middle of Although, that lovely song, 'Here are five hundred
people who want to talk, and only one who wants to sing. The odds are
not fair. I give in.' And nothing would induce him to go on. But as he
remained and was most agreeable to every one, one could hardly call it
the caprice of a spoilt artist. Indeed, I think he was quite right."

Lady Nora sighed. "But how uncomfortable! Well, then, you'd better have
the Blue Hungarians and the Red ones too. Those who don't like the one
can listen to the other."

He laughed and said, "Bertie's the image of his mother. I shall have a
first-rate band and second-rate music."

"Agatha, Mrs. Wilkinson," was delighted at all the plans but said she
simply _must_ go to supper with Bobby Henderson, as it would be too
marked to be escorted by the host.

As a matter of fact, nothing Agatha did was ever noticed, because she
never did anything that was not extraordinary.

       *       *       *       *       *

"Do I look all right, Chetwode?"

"Quite unnecessarily so," said Chetwode, and he gave her a look, which
she recognised as the greatest compliment she ever received.

Her eyes brightened and she blushed.

"And who," said Chetwode, "may I ask, put it into your head to wear an
entirely gold dress with your golden hair?"

She hesitated half a second.

"Oh! not the dressmaker? and it wasn't your own idea? I can only think
of one other person. Do congratulate Wilton from me on his success as a
designer."

"Chetwode! if I did ask him to design it, it was so that you should be
pleased with the dress."

He smiled. "Quite so. And I am."

"Oh, won't you come and fetch me?"

"It's quite impossible. How late shall you stay?"

"I'll come back just when you like."

"Oh, enjoy yourself, dear. I'm going to stop at home."

He seemed to have regained the equanimity that for a moment he seemed to
have lost.

Driving along, Felicity thought, "Perhaps if Chetwode _could_ be a shade
jealous of Bertie, it might be a good thing. Still, that sort of thing
is so commonplace. _We_ oughtn't to have to descend to it."

Surely Chetwode, who never went by the opinion of others, who absolutely
judged for himself, and for whom general success by no means raised the
value of his choice, could not care a shade more for his wife because
she was admired by Wilton, and would care less for her if he did not
think her incapable of admiring any one but himself.

"Are any of those eternal vulgar theories about love really ever true?"
thought Felicity. Then wasn't Chetwode superior? Of course he was. That
was why she loved him, and in wishing him to be an ordinary jealous
man, she was wishing him to descend. However, when "Faute des roses"
greeted her (exquisitely played by the Hungarians), and she was sitting
in a bower of roses in her gold dress, with her respectfully worshipping
and delightfully amusing Bertie, Felicity forgot her anxiety and
thoroughly enjoyed herself. She was made much of, and admired; the
homage was intoxicating, she was young, and she imprudently gave every
one present the impression that she was flirting desperately with Bertie
Wilton.



CHAPTER XIX

THE VELVET CASE


Savile, remembering that Chetwode had told him he was going away for 'a
week end for ten days', and that Felicity had said he was going away for
three days, went to see his sister. He had not received the promised
wire from Chetwode, but instead a cordial invitation to lunch at the
Savoy, in the course of which he told Savile that the whole thing had
been laid before Teignmouth; that Teignmouth was slow but sure; that he
was frightfully keen on arranging it, but said it can't be done in three
days. Savile forbore to press the matter, and said that he, of course,
disliked going back to school under the present circumstances; but if he
could rely on Chetwode and Teignmouth he would only worry _two_ more
people. The spirit of emulation that Savile hoped to rouse in his
brother-in-law was not observable. But Savile knew him to be a man of
his word, and really felt certain of Teignmouth's influence--he had
Aunt William and Jasmyn Vere up his sleeve. Aunt William was very rich
and very interested in politics, being an ardent member of the Primrose
League; Jasmyn Vere was so frightfully good-natured, and so anxious to
set people at their ease, that if Savile appeared with a shy request (he
smiled to himself as he thought of _his_ being shy of old Jasmyn!) he
would probably grant the request if he could. In fact, having seen in
the _World_ a paragraph speaking of Jasmyn as "one of the leaders of
society, the brilliancy of whose entertainments was only equalled by
their delightful originality" had decided Savile on the question.

"A chap," he said to himself, "who has a room arranged on purpose for
bright conversation at supper, with the subjects on the menu, and spends
thousands on orchids and gardenias for his parties, and admires Mrs.
Wilkinson, and _yet_ is at large, must have some peculiar power! I
should have thought he'd got nothing in him; but he's got such a
tremendous lot _on_ him and around him, I suppose it does instead."

Thus Savile, lost in these thoughts, rang rather judicially at the house
in Park Street that no ordinary house-agent could speak of without
emotion as a noble mansion; others, more genuinely enthusiastic still,
called it, with self-restraint, a commodious residence.

In the little blue-striped room that opened out of her bedroom he found
Felicity in tears and a tea-gown. He remembered that day he had found
Sylvia crying, and congratulated himself; first, that he was not a girl,
secondly, that he and not another man had seen them thus grieving.

Felicity looked up and said, "Oh, Savile, you're just the person I
want--an appalling thing has happened."

Savile sat down, lit a cigarette, and offered one to her, which she
accepted.

Her manner was rather like that of a young man who, though he dislikes
it, has decided to confide in a friend.

"Look here," she said, "I've had a wire from Chetwode to say he's going
to stay on at the Tregellys till next week."

"Well, what of that? _That_ can't be all, surely?"

"You're right, it's not. I was looking in one of his innumerable carved
chests for some novels, when I found a locked velvet case." She stopped
a minute. He was silent.

"I found a key that fitted it," she went on.

"Did you, though?" said Savile.

"In it I found a lovely porcelain picture of a woman. Blanche Tregelly
was written on the back. Where he's staying, you know. I've never seen
her. I vaguely knew Tregelly was more or less married: he was at Oxford
with Chetwode; but as they live so far away I've never got to know
them."

"Don't see your point," said Savile.

"_Why_ has he got that picture, _and_ is staying on?"

"Tregelly," said Savile, "probably gave it to Chetwode to get something
done to it--get it framed or something."

"Chetwode's not a framemaker! Why is he staying on?"

"Because he's having a good time."

"You're shirking the whole thing. The point is that when he stays away
so long, it isn't only racing."

"Of course not. At the Tregellys, it's bridge."

"Yes--and Mrs. Tregelly."

Angry tears again filled her eyes, but she brushed them away.

"You know Chetwode _does_ admire beauty," she said.

Savile looked at the picture. "But only the very _most_ beautiful. I've
never yet seen him admire anything second-rate. Have you?"

She beamed and said, "Savile, _is_ she second-rate?"

"Perhaps not, on porcelain."

"Savile, you _know_ that if Chetwode likes her, she's not only pretty,
but very charming. In fact, I'm certain Blanche is perfectly delightful!
Pretending to oneself that one's rival is hideous and vulgar is a bit
_too_ cheap. It doesn't console me."

"You're worse than an ordinary woman, Felicity," said Savile, with a
laugh. "What do you propose to do? Go and consult George Lewis?"

"You're worse than an ordinary boy. I'm consulting you."

"No, you're not. You're asking my opinion. Chetwode is very----" He
paused. "I've never seen him look at any other woman."

"Let's face facts, dear," said Felicity. "It's not what we've seen, of
course."

"What have you decided to do?" said Savile. "To write and tell him
you've found the photograph?"

"Yes."

"I thought you wanted him to come home."

"Don't you?"

"Yes, rather!" said Savile. "And I don't think he _would_ come home if
he thought there was going to be a row of any kind. Lots of people love
rows. He doesn't."

She looked rather at a loss, and then said, "Well, _what_ would you do
if you were in my place?"

He waited a minute and then said: "Don't you always write to him, when
he's away, as if you were enjoying yourself?"

"Yes."

"Doesn't he ever think that there's a good deal of Wilton one--way or
another?"

"I think he has," she said, brightening up a little.

"Well, for heaven's sake don't try that with Chetwode! The more he was
riled, the more he'd say to himself, 'Of course she's enjoying herself.
There's no harm in it. No hurry to go back.'"

"Chetwode," said Felicity, "is one of those very English men who would
never own they're jealous unless things came to extremities, which, of
course, naturally, they never would."

"Look here, you're making a fool of yourself," said Savile. "You're
making yourself miserable over nothing at all." He stood up. "Don't do
_anything_ till after lunch, perhaps not till this evening. You've just
had a bit of a shock. You'll find you're wrong. Telephone when you want
me."

He kissed her and went away.

Felicity closed the velvet case. She then dressed very beautifully to go
out, but when it came to putting on her hat she couldn't. It requires
fairly good spirits to put on a modern hat and veil. She thought she
would go downstairs and think. Then she saw Bertie's green motor at the
door. She hesitated a moment about letting him come in; then she thought
that she would tell him about it, and according to how he behaved, would
test him once for all. If he didn't do exactly the right thing, she
would never see him again.

As Wilton came in, all the fluent conversation and compliments, the
gossip and jokes he had been saving up to tell her, died away on his
lips. He saw she had been crying. He sat down further away than usual,
and said--

"Don't tell me if you'd rather not. I'll go away, shall I? I'm quite
sure you're not in the mood for me."

She said, "No, don't go."

There was a moment's silence.

"What was the party like last night at the Harpers?" she then asked.

"I haven't the slightest idea," he answered.

"But you must have been there? I didn't tell you I'd changed my mind
about going. I meant to, and then at the last minute something rather
dreadful happened, and I stayed at home."

"Yes, I'm almost sure I was there," said Wilton thoughtfully. "I think I
must have gone if I expected to see you. But I don't remember anything
about it. I must look in the _Morning Post_ and see if I'm in the list
of guests. I'm afraid you think I'm not the sort of friend to tell
anything serious to, but really, Lady Chetwode, you're wrong there. If
there was anything on earth that I could do----"

"It's something so annoying, so horrid," she said. Her voice was
trembling.

"Tell me."

He looked so genuinely unhappy for her sake that, not being of the
disposition that conceals its sorrows from the sympathetic, Felicity of
course told him all about it.

He waited a minute, pale with interest, and then said--

"I appreciate your telling me this. But, of course, the whole trouble is
entirely imaginary. Oh, I know that doesn't make it any better for the
moment; but it's more evanescent."

"Imaginary? Why do you think that?"

"Well, the one thing that I pride myself on just the _least_ little bit
is an instinct--an instinct for temperament. I would undertake to swear
that Chetwode is one of those exceptional people who only love one woman
in their lives. He would never think of looking at any one except you.
Of course, I know there are many men who don't really appreciate the
most perfect woman if she happens to belong to them. But Chetwode isn't
like that. He hasn't a fickle nature; he doesn't seek for variety and
novelty. What you suppose is impossible to him. Not only now, but it
always will be."

"You may be quite right about his temperament, Bertie. I dare say you
are. But how do you account for the picture?"

"I don't. But there is an explanation. I don't pretend to be one of
those wonderful thought-readers who, in some public calamity, see in the
crystal everything they've read in the papers. You'll soon find out
about it. It's some mistake."

She held out the picture to him.

"But she's very pretty, Bertie."

Wilton examined the picture.

"A very dull, harmless, insipid style of prettiness," he said
consolingly. "The kind of face that once seen is never remembered, as
has been so well said of the characteristic British face. This woman is
devoted to her husband; goes to church every Sunday, takes great
interest in parish work, adores her children----"

"How many has she?"

He looked at the picture again.

"From her expression, I should say two--two boys; and I'm quite sure
she's very much more interested in their reports and their colds, their
sins and their talents, than in--for instance--Chetwode, or in anything
of the kind you seem to suggest."

"She never comes to London," said Felicity. "They live nearly all the
year round at their country place."

"Of course she doesn't come to London. Why should she? She has a
domestic face. Her home is her world. If she ever does come to town, she
wears a short serge skirt and a blouse with tight sleeves--because she
doesn't know they're coming in again--and takes one of the boys to the
dentist."

"And you can see all that in the porcelain picture?" said Felicity,
laughing.

"More. Far more. And all in your favour."

"But I think you're rather prejudiced, Bertie. You're such a convinced
Londoner yourself that you think every one who lives in the country must
be a paragon of virtue, just as people who live in the country suppose
their London friends to be given up to wickedness and frivolity. Lots of
people have a very good time in the country."

"No one knows that better than I do. I assure you I'm not a bit
prejudiced. I quite believe and realise that people can have a good time
anywhere. Why, even in provincial towns--what was that case at Bradford,
that astonished everybody so much? However, my point is, that Mrs.
Tregelly doesn't."

"Why? I think she looks very happy," said Felicity.

"Yes. Exactly. Happy, but perfectly calm. A woman placed as she is could
not possibly look as calm as that if she had a secret purple romance
with Chetwode, or with any other man. It just shows--if I may say
so--how blind Love is. If this had happened to anybody else, you would
be the first to see, on the face of it, that anything like a flirtation
between the Lady of the Velvet Case and your husband is one of those
hopeless impossibilities that only the wildly imaginative and charming
people who have no relation to real life, like yourself, could possibly
conceive."

Felicity seemed comforted.

"You think it utterly impossible?"

"Oh, I go further than that. I think it highly improbable. Can you see,"
continued Wilton, "this gentle, harmless creature, a woman capable of
having her portrait painted on porcelain, from a photograph, and framed
in crimson velvet, who never in her life had a secret except when she
concealed from her husband her real reason for sending the housemaid
away in order to give the girl another chance by giving her a good
character--can you see _her_, I say, privately slipping this enormous
case into Chetwode's small and reluctant white hand just as she was
going to church, and saying, 'Keep it for my sake'?"

"You make the whole thing so ridiculous, Bertie, I begin to think you're
right, but still it's very extraordinary that he did have it."

"Our not knowing the reason is not nearly so extraordinary as your
explanation."

"But I can't wait for the real explanation. Suspense is torture," she
said.

"But delightful--or there'd be no gambling in the world. Still, if you
dislike it, why not telegraph?" Wilton suggested.

"Because, you see, if there's nothing in it, I should appear so utterly
absurd. And if there was, _is_ it likely that Chetwode would wire and
say so?"

"Scarcely. You have sparks of real genius, Lady Chetwode, I must say! I
never thought of that! The best way would be to make him come back as
quickly as possible. Of course, he'd return if you were ill?"

"Rather. Besides, I am. Very."

"So you are. Then write to that effect."

"I think I will, but not yet." She remembered Savile's advice to wait
till after dinner.

"May I ask," inquired Wilton, "if you're delaying in order to confide in
women? This, I know, seems very impertinent of me, but I can't help
advising you not. You'd be so sorry afterwards! When you go and tell
Vera that it is all right after all, however pleased she is, there'll
always be an uncomfortable feeling on your side that perhaps she doesn't
quite believe you--that she thinks you're making the best of it. And
Miss Sylvia will be so gloriously indignant and jealous for you that she
won't do you any good."

"I know, Bertie. You are absolutely right. But I never do confide in
women--only in men whom I can trust. Like you--and Savile."

"Thank you. And how right you are! Then if you're going to delay any
action in the matter and put the picture aside, what are you going to do
to-day?"

"I half promised Vera to meet her marvellous new palmist, Madame Zero,
at her house this afternoon."

She took Vera's note out of a long grey envelope sealed with an Egyptian
seal.

"It seems she's _too_ wonderful. Only one or two people are going."

"Mrs. Ogilvie kindly asked me," said Bertie modestly. "Of course you'll
go and hear what the soothsayer has to say about the velvet case?"

"Perhaps, but I'm not sure.... I feel restless.... I must say, it does
seem unlikely there could be much harm in a woman who has her portrait
painted in porcelain from a photograph--by the young lady at the
photographer's, I dare say, who makes the appointments and touches up
the negatives. And yet--perhaps that very innocence--that sweet, blank
expression--even the tight sleeves and the two boys may make her all the
more attractive!"

Wilton got up.

"Good-bye," he said. "You're perverse. It's no use, I see, telling you
not to worry; but please try to realise there's no occasion."

"Wouldn't you say just the same if you thought there had been occasion?"
she persisted.

"Absolutely. But that doesn't prove I'm not sincere now."

He pressed her hand with a look that he hoped conveyed the highest
respect, the tenderest sympathy, a deep, though carefully suppressed
passion, and a longing to administer some refined and courteous
consolation, and went away.

Wilton was only twenty-five, so, naturally, as soon as he got home, he
tried the expression in the mirror, and was horribly disappointed in it.

"I must have looked as if I'd suddenly got an awful twinge of
neuralgia," he said to himself.

"It shows how careful one ought to be. Confound it!"

       *       *       *       *       *

Felicity, however, was not troubling herself about Wilton or his
expressive looks. The complicated glance, which he feared was a failure,
had not even been seen by her. What he had said cheered her for the
moment, and _au fond_, at the back of her brain, with her real sound
common sense, she did not actually believe in the cause of her grief.
But passion and jealousy, unfortunately, are not governed by sound
common sense; they work in circles. Argument and reasoning have but a
temporary effect on them; they come back to the point at which they
started.

As she looked at Mrs. Tregelly's picture, the feverish chills of
suspicion again took possession of her. She told herself repeatedly that
she had only been married a year, that Chetwode was in love with her,
and had always seemed cold to other women. But he was continually away.
He was charming and attractive. Perhaps the other women he met thought
_she_ lived for amusement and was utterly neglectful of him. She was
afraid she had been imprudent in being seen so much with Wilton, but
Chetwode never seemed, really, to mind. He trusted her as she deserved,
and as she ought to trust him. Considering the terms that they were
on--far more like lovers than husband and wife--it would be real
treachery on his part. He was incapable of treachery. She would trust
him.

Then the image of Chetwode making love to that pretty woman abruptly
forced itself on her mental vision in spite of all reasoning, like a
sudden violent physical pain, and she burst into tears.

       *       *       *       *       *

She controlled them as soon as possible, for she strongly dissented from
the old-fashioned idea that a good cry was consoling. On the contrary,
she thought that the headache and unbecoming traces of emotion that
followed tears had a particularly depressing effect, and left one with
nerves. She resolved to dismiss the subject for the moment, anyhow, and
to go to Vera's in the afternoon to meet Madame Zero and two or three of
Vera's most favoured and intimate friends.



CHAPTER XX

ZERO, THE SOOTHSAYER


Mrs. Ogilvie looked more Egyptian than ever to-day. She always dressed
for her parts; and as a believer in the Unseen, she felt it right, in
honour of the sibyl, to wear her hair very low, with some green pins in
it, long earrings, and a flowing gown, with Japanese sleeves.

"Vera, you're almost in fancy dress," said Felicity, as she arrived.
"It's very becoming; but why?"

"Am I, dear? Well, it's as a sort of compliment to this wonderful girl.
I've been draping the little boudoir with gold embroideries--and burning
joss-sticks, too (though they give me a headache). I thought it would
bring out her gift--make her feel more at home, you know."

"Good gracious, is she an Algerian or an Indian or anything?"

"Oh dear no, darling. Of course not. She's a Highlander, that's all. It
runs in her family. To know things that haven't happened, I mean."

"But that _will_ happen?"

"I hope so, I'm sure. She's in there," said Vera, pointing to a beaded
curtain, that concealed the small drawing-room. "She's gazing into the
crystal for Bob Henderson. You shall go next, darling."

"I should have imagined Captain Henderson the very last person in the
world to dabble in the occult, as they call it in the newspapers. I
should have thought he would laugh at superstition."

"Oh, so he does, dear, but he wants to know what's going to win the
Derby."

"From all I've heard about racing," said Felicity, "if he wants to know
that, he'd better wait till it's run."

"Oh, Felicity, don't cast a sort of damper on the thing before him!
Perhaps he'll be converted. He may take it quite seriously now. It would
do him good, he's so matter-of-fact."

At this moment a very loud and hearty laugh was heard, and Captain
Henderson appeared through the beaded curtain and joined them.

"What a long time you've been," said Vera.

"She's a pretty girl," said Captain Henderson.

"Any success?" asked Felicity.

"She saw some horses in the crystal. But as she didn't know their names,
it was no earthly use to me. Says I'll back the winner for a place,
though. She's got second-rate sight--second sight, I mean."

"A great many of these old Highland families have," said Felicity
seriously, to please Vera.

"Have they, though? She says she's half Irish," said Henderson, with his
characteristic puzzled look. "She's been telling my character
too--reading between the lines, you know, the lines on my hand. She
doesn't seem to think much of me, Mrs. Ogilvie." He laughed again.

"As soon as she's had some tea," said Vera, ringing, "you must go in,
Felicity. We mustn't tire her. It's frightfully exhausting work."

"Must be," assented Bob.

"It takes it out of her ever so much more with some people than with
others," said Vera.

"Ah, it would," said Bob solemnly, shaking his head.

"I suppose complicated people are more wearing than the simpler kind,"
said Felicity. "There's more in them to find out."

"You mean it must have been pretty plain sailing with me?" said
Henderson.

Here Wilton arrived.

"There's something about the tone of your delightful home to-day," he
said as he greeted Vera, "that makes me feel curiously Oriental. I don't
exactly know what it is, but I feel I want to sit down cross-legged on
a mat and smoke a hookah. How do you account for it?"

"You 'hear the East a-calling,' and all that sort of thing," said
Henderson, laughing. "Eh?"

"Yes. But perhaps after all it's only the east wind. No, it's the
incense some one's been burning. At your shrine, of course, Mrs.
Ogilvie. What a talent you have for creating the right atmosphere."

Vera was highly flattered.

"And now I think you might go in, Felicity," she said.

       *       *       *       *       *

Felicity found a young girl with bright pleasant eyes, seated in front
of a little yellow table. She had a magnifying-glass on one side of her
and a crystal ball on the other. She was very neatly dressed in the
tailor-made style, and had no superfluous decorations of any kind.
Anything less like a sibyl could not be easily imagined.

Felicity took off her glove and placed her hand on a yellow cushion. As
she did so, she remembered charming things that Chetwode had said about
her hands, how he had compared them to white flowers; and she sighed....

"You're vurry sensitive indeed," said the palmist, with a slight
American accent. "Your nerves seem to me to be vibrating."

"But isn't that usual?" said Felicity shyly. "I thought nerves always
did."

"Just hold the crystal in your hand for a minute or two. Thank you. Ah!
there's a slight cloud on your horizon at this moment, but it will pass
away--I see it passing away."

"What else do you see?"

"I see you in a large space surrounded by a hurrying crowd. There are
bookstalls, trucks of luggage, trains, I can't say precisely what it
is."

"Surely a railway station?" said Felicity.

"You are perfectly right. I should fancy from this that you are either
going to take a journey by rail, or that you are going to see a friend
off."

"Do you advise me to take the journey?"

"I fear advice one way or the other would have vurry little effect. I am
a believer in Fate. Either you're going to take that journey, or you're
not, in spite of anything I may suggest to the contrary."

And the palmist smiled archly, then leant back and closed her eyes.
Felicity wondered if she were tired with the noise of the railway
station. But she opened them suddenly, and took Felicity's hand, which
she looked at through the magnifying-glass.

"This is a most interesting hand. Mrs. Ogilvie's gentleman friend, who
was in here just now, also had a vurry interesting hand. She's a lovely
woman, and her hand is most interesting too...."

She paused.

"You have a curious temperament. You are easily impressed by the
personality of other people. You are impulsive and emotional, and yet
you have a remarkable amount of calm judgment, so that you can analyse,
and watch your own feelings and those of the other persons as well as if
it were a matter of indifference to you. Your strong affections never
blind you to the faults and weaknesses of their object, and those faults
do not make you care for them less, but in some cases attach you even
more strongly. You are fond of gaiety; your moods vary easily, because
you vibrate to music, bright surroundings, and sympathy. But you have
depth, and in an emergency I should say you could be capable even of
heroism. You have an astonishing amount of intuition."

"What a horrid little creature!" said Felicity.

"Your tact and knowledge of how to deal with people are so natural to
you that you are scarcely conscious of them. You should have been the
wife of a great diplomatist."

"But aren't they always very ugly?" asked Felicity.

"You're not as trivial as you wish to appear," replied the palmist;
"you are very frank and straightforward, but reserved on subjects that
are nearest your heart.... Is there any question you would like to ask
me?"

"I should like to know," said Felicity, giving herself away as the most
sceptical victim always does, "whether the person I care for is true to
me."

As she said the words she thought they sounded as if she were a
sentimental shop-girl whose young man had shown signs of ceasing his
attentions. And why not? She felt exactly like that shop-girl. It was
precisely the same thing.

The palmist smiled sympathetically, and said, "He has no other thought
but you. Believe me, you are his one object, and he will be true to you
through life."

"And how on earth can you see that?" said Felicity, unreasonably
cheered, though inclined to laugh.

"I can't say. It's not possible to explain these things; but here, you
see, your Fate line is a wonderfully good one, and it goes parallel (if
I may say so) with the heart line. Now, if the _Life_ line had crossed
it, or reached the Mount of Luna--well, I should have said you were
destined to disappointment in love. But that is not so. You have a lucky
hand. You have artistic tastes, but would never work in any direction,
except the social--that is why I say a diplomatic circle would have
suited you."

Felicity feared the soothsayer was getting rather bored with her, so she
said--

"Thank you. Have you any advice to give me before I go?"

"Yes. It would be to your advantage if you used your head less and
followed your natural impulses more."

"Then I must throw something at Chetwode's head when I see him," thought
Felicity.

As she got up, "I see two beautiful children in your hand," added the
palmist.

"Oh, when?" said Felicity, starting, and accidentally knocking down the
crystal ball.

"Within the next few years," answered the palmist cautiously.

       *       *       *       *       *

"Now it's my turn," said Bertie, as Felicity joined them. "Do tell me,"
he said in an undertone, "was there anything about me in your hand?"

"Rather not--not a trace of you. Why, what did you expect?"

"Oh, then I don't think much of her. I thought at least she would see my
initials all over your lifeline. I assure you, any good palmist would.
I'm afraid she's a fraud."

"I trust not. She was rather consoling," said Felicity thoughtfully.

"She was wonderful with me," said Vera, as Bertie disappeared. "I wonder
what her nationality really is."

"Thought you said she was a Highlander." Bob looked more puzzled than
ever.

"Well, so she is, partly. In a way. Unless I'm mixing her up with some
one else."

"And yet Zero isn't a Scotch name," remarked Felicity thoughtfully.

"No; and it's a rotten name too--doesn't suit her a bit. But it's not
her real name. On her card is Miss Cora G. Donovan," said Bob.

"How do you know?" asked Vera sharply.

"Well, I had to ask her address. I've got to see her again, don't you
know. Before the Derby. To make sure. Only fair to give it a chance,"
said Bob, rather apologetically.

"She's an Irish American," decided Felicity.

"Is she? I dare say she is. I wonder what she'll say to Wilton now,"
said Bob meditatively.

"Bertie will tell her everything he knows about himself, and about every
one else in whom either he or she takes the slightest interest. Then
he'll go on to tell her character, and prophesy her future, and she'll
confide in him, and he'll give her good advice. He always tells
fortune-tellers their fortune. That's why he's so popular in the occult
world," said Felicity.

"Wonder they stand it," said Bob.

"Why, naturally, they enjoy it. Mustn't they get frightfully bored, poor
things, with talking all the time about other people, and be only too
thankful and delighted to be allowed to talk about themselves a little?
Fancy how refreshing it must be; what a relief! Think of the tedium of
always bothering about perfect strangers--pretending to care about their
luck and their love affairs, their fortunes and their failures, and all
their silly little private affairs. It must be absolutely fascinating
for them to meet a person so interested in other people as Bertie."

"Perhaps he only does it out of kindness," said Vera. "I shouldn't
wonder. Asks them questions and shows interest just to please them."

"Well, I call it infernal cheek," said Bob resentfully.

"Not at all. Some people aren't always absorbed in themselves," said
Vera, with a reproachful look as she gave Bob a cup of tea.

At this moment Sylvia was announced. She looked very happy and excited.

"I hope I'm not too late. I only want to ask Madame Zero _one_
question. I shan't be a moment."

"Of course you shall, dear, and I know you won't keep her long, as
she'll be very tired now after seeing us all. Now, Sylvia"--Vera turned
to Felicity--"is unusual. She's neither curious about other people nor
intensely interested in herself."

"I don't mind how interested people are in themselves, so long as
they're interesting people," said Felicity.

"Do you call it taking too much interest in oneself to want to back a
winner just once--for a change? I had tips straight from the stable
about three horses yesterday, at Haydock Park. And I give you my word,
Lady Chetwode, they all went down."

"Dead certainties never seem to do anything else," Felicity answered.

"Mind you, it was partly my own fault," continued Bob. "If I'd had the
sense to back Little Lady for the Warrington Handicap Hurdle Race--as
any chap in his senses would have done after her out-jumping the
favourite and securing a lead at the final obstacle in the Stayer
Steeplechase, I should have got home on the day--or at any rate on the
week. But then, you see, I'd seen her twice refuse at the water--and I
was a bit too cautious, I suppose!"

"You generally are," murmured Vera, but he did not hear, having sunk
into a racing reverie.

Bertie appeared through the curtains.

"I congratulate you, Mrs. Ogilvie. Your soothsayer is a marvel."

"Isn't she!" triumphantly said his hostess.

"It's the most extraordinary thing I ever came across in my life. She
simply took my breath away. Yes, tea, please. She's a genius."

"Does she seem very exhausted? Or do you think Sylvia might just ask her
one question?"

"Oh, surely--Miss Sylvia's so reposeful," said Bertie. "I fancy I could
answer the one question myself," he added in a low voice to Sylvia, as
he held the curtains back for her to pass.

"She's been a success with you, I see," said Felicity.

"She has, indeed! She got right there every time--as she would say
herself in her quaint Eastern phraseology. She has one of the most
remarkable personalities I ever met. No one would believe what that girl
has gone through in her life--and she's been so brave and plucky through
it all! Did you notice what remarkable hands she has?"

"I told you so," laughed Felicity. "She's been confiding in Bertie and
he's told _her_ fortune! I knew it."

Bertie coloured slightly as he ate a pink cake.

"Shouldn't have thought that of her," grumbled Bob. "She seemed a
sensible sort of girl."

"My dear Henderson, don't be absurd. After her wonderful divination
about me, of course I couldn't help asking her a few questions as to how
she developed the gift--and so on--and she told me the most amazing
things."

"She would, I'm sure," said Vera sympathetically. "I wonder if she'll
tell Sylvia anything about what Mr. Ridokanaki is doing."

"Oh, I can tell you all about him," said Bertie readily. "He's having a
very good time in Paris just now. I hear he's always about with the
Beaugardes. Miss Beaugarde's a very pretty girl just out of her convent.
Her mother's working it for all she's worth. Clever woman. I shouldn't
be surprised if it came off, if Madame Beaugarde can make him believe
the girl's in love with him for himself."

"You see we really need no sibyls and soothsayers when we have Bertie,"
said Felicity. "To know him really is a liberal education. He knows
everything."

"Sort of walking _Harmsworth's Self-educator_," said Bob rather
bitterly, as he took his hat.

Sylvia returned, evidently content. She told Felicity afterwards that
Madame Zero had seen her in the crystal in a large building of a sacred
character, dressed all in white and holding a bouquet. The sound of the
chanting of sweet boys' voices was in the air. What could it possibly
mean?

       *       *       *       *       *

Whether or not Madame Zero had demonstrated her gifts so convincingly as
to have converted a sceptic, there was no doubt that she had perceptibly
raised the spirits of the whole party (not excluding her own), so the
séance was quite deservedly pronounced an immense success.



CHAPTER XXI

"THE OTHER GIRL"


Savile had received a note from Dolly, asking him to go and see her in
the square. Savile was feeling rather sore because Dolly and her French
friends had gone to a fancy ball the night before, a kind of
semi-juvenile party where all the children wore powdered hair. Dolly had
offered to get him an invitation, but he scornfully refused, knowing she
was going to dance the cotillon with Robert de Saules.

So depressed had he seemed that evening that Sylvia had played "Home,
Sweet Home" to him five or six times. It made him miserable, which he
thoroughly enjoyed, and he was feeling altogether rather cynical and
bitter when he got Dolly's little note. He had heard nothing more of
Chetwode, and intended to see Jasmyn Vere before he left; there was only
another week before the end of his holidays. Should he be cool to Dolly?
or not let her know how he felt about the fancy ball?

As soon as he arrived he thought she looked different. The powder had
been imperfectly brushed out of her hair; also she had been crying. She
greeted him very gently. She wore a pretty white dress and a pale blue
sash.

"I suppose you've been very happy these holidays?" said Dolly.

"Oh, I don't know! I've had a great deal to--to see to," said Savile.

"I suppose you see a great deal of The Other Girl?" said Dolly.

Considering that he had only been once to Wales to hear his idol sing at
a concert, there was a certain satisfaction in giving Dolly to
understand that he hadn't really had half a bad time; so he smiled and
didn't answer.

"Is she grown up?" asked Dolly.

Savile was cautiously reserved on the subject, but seemed to think he
might go so far as to say she _was_ grown up.

"Did you have fun last night?" he then asked.

"No. I was simply miserable."

"Why?"

"I kept the cotillon for Robert, though he hadn't exactly asked for it,
and when the time came the girl of the house, who is eighteen, actually
danced it with him!"

"Hope you didn't show you cared."

"No, I didn't; but I danced with a lot of stupid little boys, and I was
so bored! Besides, I _hate_ Robert. Wasn't it mean of him? He went to
supper with this grown-up girl, who was awfully amused at his foreign
accent, and he behaved as if _I_ was just a child, a friend of his
little sister Thérèse. Now, do you think, Savile, as a man of the world,
that I ought ever to speak to him again?"

"When's he going away?" asked Savile.

"Next week; at the end of the holidays."

"If you cut him dead as he deserves," said Savile, "it's treating him as
if he mattered. Of course, you _really_ showed you were offended?"

"Well--I suppose I did. You see, his head was quite turned by these old
grown-up girls making a fuss about him."

"What a rotter!" said Savile kindly. "Well, do you still like him?"

"No; I simply hate him, I tell you," said Dolly.

"Then don't bother about him any more."

Savile forbore to say, "I told you so!" He was however naturally
gratified.

"What I should like," said Dolly candidly, "would be to be able to tell
Thérèse--who would tell Robert--that I'm engaged to _you_!"

"Well, tell her so, if you like."

"Oh, what a brick you are! It's not very truthful though, is it?"

Savile said that didn't matter with foreigners.

"It is a pity," Dolly murmured, with a sigh, "that it can't _be_ true!"

"Yes--isn't it?" said Savile.

"After all," said Dolly, "you're not exactly _engaged_ to the other
girl."

"How do _you_ know?"

"Oh, I'm sure you're not."

"As a matter of fact I'm not."

"But you think she might marry you when you're grown up?"

Savile smiled. "Before there'll be a chance of marrying her, I shall be
dead of old age."

"When shall you see her again?"

"Next Wednesday, the day before I go away."

Felicity had promised to take him to a concert where he might not only
see her but possibly even be introduced to her in the artists' room,
through the good nature of De Valdez, who had been told of Savile's
romantic devotion.

But Savile was now feeling rather tenderly towards Dolly, who had
evidently learnt by experience to put her trust in Englishmen. In fact,
at this moment he was thoroughly enjoying himself again.

"I don't think after all I _shall_ say I'm engaged to you," said Dolly
sadly. "There's something depressing about it when it isn't true."

"Oh well, let's make it true."

"Really; but what about The Other Girl?"

"You don't quite understand. That's a different thing. There she
is--but--that's all. It's nothing to do with being engaged to you."

She looked bewildered.

"But is she very fond of you?"

"Not at all," said Savile.

"Oh, she _must_ be," said Dolly admiringly.

Savile blushed and said, "My dear girl, she doesn't know me from Adam!
So there!"

"Then why on earth did you break it off before?" said Dolly, clapping
her hands and beaming.

"Well, you see, I think a good deal of her," said Savile, "and then,
what with one thing and another--you didn't seem to want me much."

"But I do _now_!" said Dolly frankly.

"Oh, all right. Well, look here, old girl, we'll be engaged, just as we
were before; but--I must have my freedom."

"Indeed you shan't," said Dolly, with flashing eyes. "I never heard such
nonsense! What do you mean by your freedom? Then can't I have mine too?"

"Rather not! What a baby you are, Dolly. Don't you know, there's one law
for a man and another for a woman?"

She gasped with rage.

"I never heard such nonsense in my life. I shall certainly not allow
anything of the kind. Either we're engaged or we're not."

"Very well, my dear, keep calm about it. It doesn't matter. Here I
offer," said Savile, "to please you, to be engaged again, and you don't
like my terms. Then it's off."

"I think you're more cruel than Robert," said Dolly.

"But not such an ass," said Savile.

"And not so treacherous," admitted Dolly, who seemed as if she did not
want him to go.

"Just tell me what you _mean_ by your freedom," she said pleadingly.

"As I'm placed," said Savile mysteriously, "all I want is to see The
Other Girl once, on Wednesday. I shall probably only have a few words
with her. Then I believe they are going away, and I'm going back to
school."

"_They_ are going away," said Dolly, mystified. "Then is there more than
one?"

"More than one? Good God, no! One's enough!" said Savile, with a sigh.

"After all," said Dolly very prettily, "I do trust you, Savile."

Savile was intensely pleased, but he only answered gruffly, "That's as
well to know!"

"Then I'll try not to be jealous of her. I won't think about her at
all."

"No, I shouldn't," said Savile.

"Then we are engaged," said Dolly again, "definitely?"

"Of course we are. And look here, you've got to do what I tell you."

"What am I to do?"

"You're to be jolly, just as you used to be; you're to come and meet me
here every day, and--I'm not quite sure we really saw Madame Tussaud's
properly that day."

"Well, you were so cross, Savile."

"I shan't be cross now. I'll take you there, and we'll have tea. Could
you go to-day?"

"I think, just to-day," said Dolly, "I _might_ be allowed. A particular
friend of mamma's is coming to-day whom she hasn't seen for ages. She
told me not to come into the drawing-room."

"All right. Run in now and fix it up."

"Mamma," said Dolly, "will expect me to go to the De Saules; but as my
holiday task is about Charles II, and we shall see him at the
waxworks----"

"I leave all that to you," said Savile.

"Very well, then. Come and fetch me at three. I'm sure I can arrange it.
Won't Robert be surprised!"

"One more thing," said Savile rather sternly. "Remember that I don't
care _two_ straws whether he's surprised or not, and I don't want his
name mentioned again."

"Then it's not to annoy him?"

"No. It's to please me. Us."

"Very well."

She gave him her hand.

"And you won't even--now that we're engaged properly--give up
seeing--The Other Girl on Wednesday?" she pleaded.

Savile frowned darkly.

"You may be sure I shall do the right thing," he said rather grandly,
"and you're not to refer to her again. I've told you I shall only see
her once, and that's enough for you."

"I think you are very tyrannical," said Dolly, pouting.

"That won't do you any harm, my dear."

"And--you don't seem fond of me a bit!"

"Yes I am. What a fool you are! I'm awfully fond of you, Dolly."

"And are you very happy?"

"Yes, very fairly happy," said Savile. "And mind you have that powder
all brushed out of your hair. I don't like it."

They walked to the gate.

"I really have missed you awfully, dear," said Savile gently.

"You have your faults, Savile, but you are reliable, I _will_ say that."

"Rather," said Savile. "I'll bring you a ring this afternoon or
to-morrow."

"What! How lovely! But I shan't be allowed to wear it."

"Then keep it till you can."

"It's very sweet of you. Good-bye, Savile."

"Good-bye, dear. I say, Dolly?"

"Yes?"

"Oh, nothing!"



CHAPTER XXII

SAVILE AND JASMYN


Savile had written asking Jasmyn Vere to see him on a matter of
importance.

Jasmyn promptly and courteously made an appointment, and spent the
intervening hours chuckling to himself at the solemn tone of the letter,
and wondering what in Heaven's name the child could possibly want.

He received Savile in a kind of winter garden, or conservatory at the
back of his house, and went to meet him with the most charming
cordiality, to put the boy at his ease. He would have been rather
surprised had he known that something about his reddish hair, and his
mouth open with hospitable welcome against the green background,
reminded the boy irresistibly of an amiable gold-fish.

"So delighted, dear boy, that you should have thought of me. Anything,
of course, in the world that I could do for you, or for any of your
charming family, I should look upon as a real privilege. Have a
cigarette? You smoke, of course? You oughtn't to. Take this nice
comfortable chair--not that one, it's horrid--and tell me all about it."

"Thanks, awfully," said Savile seriously, intensely amused at his host's
nervous, elaborate politeness, and trying hard to repress the
inclination to laugh that Jasmyn always inspired in him. How fluttered
and flattered the dear old thing seemed! Savile wasn't a bit frightened
of him.

"I knew you know all about things, Mr. Vere," said Savile, accepting a
cigarette and a cushioned deck-chair, "and I thought I'd ask your advice
about something."

Jasmyn was completely at a loss. Could it be a question of a tenner? It
so often was. But no, he felt sure that it was nothing quite so
commonplace, or quite so simple.

In a few minutes he had heard and thoroughly taken in the whole story.

He was most interested, and particularly sympathetic about Sylvia,
though from his own point of view--the worldly social-conventional
view--she ought to have done better. As he thought it over he walked up
and down the winter garden.

Some birds were twittering in gold cages among the palms and plants, and
every now and then he stopped to talk to them in the little language
one uses to pets, which irritated Savile to the verge of madness.

"I know of one thing," said Jasmyn, "and only one, that might do. I know
a charming young fellow who's been ordered to travel for a year, and
needs a companion. He doesn't want to go, a bit; but his relatives might
be able to persuade him to, if he took a fancy to Woodville, and I'm
sure he would. He's just a little mad. That would be delightful for your
friend if he could get it: yachting for six months; a motoring tour in
Italy; all sorts of nice things. He's a man called Newman Ferguson."

"But you see, it's Woodville himself who wants a companion," said
Savile. "I don't think in his present state he'd be particularly keen on
being shut up alone on a yacht with a raving lunatic, and struggling
with him in a padded state-room. I shouldn't think he'd do for the post.
Then, I don't see how his going away for a year would help."

"True, my dear boy. How clever you are! Well, I suppose I must think it
over, and look round."

Savile looked very disappointed.

"I mustn't let you go without giving you some hope, though. I see how
much your heart is in it!" said Jasmyn good-naturedly.

"Can you give any general sort of advice?" Savile asked. "How _does_ a
chap get things?"

"It's very, very difficult, dear Savile, and it's getting more and more
difficult--unless you're related to somebody--or have heaps of money.
The really best thing, of course, for our friend, would be to go into
some kind of business. I'll look out and see if something turns up. Now
look here," and Jasmyn put his arm in Savile's, "if it's something of
that sort, and it's merely some--a--cash for capital that's required,
let him look upon me as his banker. Tell him that, Savile. You'll know
how."

"No, I shan't know how, Mr. Vere. He wouldn't like it. And then,
besides, you see he doesn't know anything about it--I mean about my
coming to you like this. Sylvia doesn't, either. Of course, old
Woodville would be very pleased if I went and told him he'd got some
capital appointment. He'd soon forgive me then for my cheek in
interfering. But not what you've just said. Awfully jolly of you,
though."

Jasmyn took a few steps back and stared at Savile.

"You mean to say you've undertaken this all on your own? Why, you're a
marvel! Haven't you really mentioned it to a soul?"

"As a matter of fact," said Savile scrupulously, "I _did_ just mention
something about it--not your name or theirs, of course--to the girl I'm
engaged to. But she doesn't know any more about it than she did before."

Jasmyn exploded with laughter.

"Savile, you'll go far. So much prudence combined with so much
pluck--why you'll end by being Prime Minister!"

"I shouldn't care for that. Besides, I can't," Savile said
apologetically, "I'm going into the army."

"And what about _your_ engagement?"

"Nothing about it. It won't make any difference."

"To whom?"

"Why, to me--or to _her_ either--so far as that goes."

"Tell me why you're so keen about Woodville, and what you're taking all
this trouble for, old boy?"

"Why, for my sister, of course!" Savile answered, surprised.

"You're a dear good boy. And you shan't be disappointed. As soon as I
hear of anything I'll let you know, and we'll talk it over again. When
do you go back to school?"

"In a few days," said Savile, getting up to go.

"Poor chap! Well, well, we'll see what happens. Must you go now? Cheer
up. It's sure to come all right. And I say, Savile----"

"Yes?"

"Remember me kindly to your fiancée, won't you?"

"Of _course_ I shan't! She's never heard of you. Her mother doesn't let
her read the papers, not even the _Morning Post_. And besides, it's
quite a private engagement."

"You can trust me, Savile. Just tell me one thing," Jasmyn said, with an
inquisitive leer. "Is she dark or fair?"

"Not very," said Savile.



CHAPTER XXIII

SAVILE AND BERTIE


As Wilton was convinced that a satisfactory ending to the trouble was
imminent, he naturally felt a great desire to be, somehow, the cause of
Felicity's renewed happiness; to get, as it were, the credit of it. That
his admiration (to put it mildly) should take the form of chivalrous
devotion would be, at least, something; especially as it was evident
that no other satisfaction was likely to come his way. Her one other
confidant was Savile; and it struck Bertie that a kind of confederation
with the boy might be a success.

Besides, it would be fun.... Savile hadn't ever been cordial with him,
but had retained a rather cool, ironical manner, as if suspicious of his
attitude. Bertie had that peculiar vanity that consists in an acute
desire to be able to please everybody. He had always felt absurdly
annoyed at being unable to gain Savile's approval. And the wish to make
a conquest of every one connected with Her was no doubt part of his
reason for sending Savile an urgent message to come and see him
immediately.

He was now waiting in his rooms at Half-Moon Street for the boy's
arrival.

Savile had promised to come round in a reserved and cautious note, but
the request had given him intense gratification and joy. He felt he
really was becoming a person of importance.

The instant Savile arrived he made up his mind that as soon as he was
grown up and able to have rooms of his own, they should be arranged, in
every particular, exactly like Wilton's. But instead of the Romney, the
one picture that Bertie possessed, and which bore so striking a likeness
to Felicity, he decided he would have in its place a large portrait of
Madame Patti.

"Look here, old boy, perhaps you think this rather cheek of me. But we
both know that your sister's rather worried just now."

"She _is_ a bit off colour," admitted Savile.

"Well, why on earth don't you put it straight?"

Savile's expression remained impassible. He said:

"Think I ought?"

"You're the only person who can."

"All right," said Savile. "I'll write to Chetwode."

"It'll take some time, writing and getting an answer," said Wilton.

"No good expecting an answer," said Savile. "He's the sort of chap who
never writes letters unless they're unnecessary."

"And Lady Chetwode will be in a hurry," observed Bertie.

"You know her pretty well," said Savile.

"Then what's your idea?"

"I shall send him an enormous wire," said Savile--"he's more likely to
read it than a letter--explaining the whole thing, and telling him to
come home at once. I shan't ask for an answer."

"Why not?"

"Because I shouldn't get it."

"Good. That's a capital idea. But--a--Savile, can you afford these
luxuries? I couldn't have, when I was a boy at Eton.--Look here, let
me----"

Savile turned round and looked Wilton straight in the face.

"No, thanks," he said deliberately, shaking his head. Bertie's colour
rose.

"But, my dear boy, why on earth not?"

"Oh, I expect you know," said Savile. Then feeling a little remorseful
for the rebuff, he added: "Don't you bother about that. Besides, Aunt
William gave me a couple of quid the other day to buy a ring for the
girl I'm engaged to. I shan't buy it just yet. That's all."

Bertie concealed his amusement.

"Then you'll have to keep the poor girl waiting," he said.

"Keep her waiting?" said Savile. "Of course I shall. It's a very good
plan." He got up and took his hat. "Makes them more keen. Don't you find
it so?"

"In _my_ unfortunate experience nothing makes them keen at all, unless,
of course, it's some one one doesn't want. And then everything does."

"Hard luck!" said Savile, shaking his head wisely, and took his leave,
thinking with a smile that Wilton, having obviously got the chuck, was
trying to keep in favour by playing the good friend. "He's not half a
bad chap," thought Savile. "And I'll send that wire; it's a good idea."

He stood under a lamp at the corner of Half-Moon Street and counted his
money.

"Confound it, I've only got a bob! It'll just pay for a cab to Aunt
William's."

Thoroughly enjoying this exciting and adventurous life of diplomacy, he
arrived at his aunt's. She was dressing for dinner. Nevertheless, for
Savile, she came downstairs in a magenta wrapper.

"I hope there's nothing wrong, my dear boy," she said.

"No, everything's quite all right. But--you know what you gave me the
other day, Aunt William?"

"Yes, dear."

"Sorry to say it's all gone."

"Oh, Savile!"

"Before I go back," said Savile, with a note of pathos in his voice,
"I've one or two little presents I'm awfully keen on giving. I dare say
you understand."

She didn't understand, but she gave him a five-pound note.

He beamed, and said, "Well, of all the bricks!"

"You promise me to spend it wisely, Savile dear. But I know I can trust
you."

"Rather! This will be more frightfully useful than you can possibly
imagine. Well, it seems beastly to rush in and get all I can, and then
fly; but I've simply got to go. Besides, you want to dress," said
Savile, looking at the wrapper.

"Yes. Get along with you, and I do hope that you won't turn out a
dreadful, extravagant, fast young man when you're grown up," said Aunt
William, with relish at the idea.

Savile smiled.

"Don't you worry about _that_, Aunt William! Why, you're thinking of
ages ago, or Ouida, or something. There's no such thing nowadays as a
fast young man, as you call it. They're always talking about how ill
they are, or how hard up, and how they don't want to be bothered with
women."

"How do you mean, dear?"

"Why, they're frightened to death of girls marrying them against their
will--or getting mixed up in things--oh, I don't know! Anyhow, women
seem to think it a great score to get hold of one. So that proves it,
don't you think?"

"Then why is it that your sisters, for instance, are always surrounded
by admirers?" said Aunt William.

"First of all, surrounded is bosh. Just as much as what you're always
saying, that Sylvia has the world at her feet. They happen to be
particularly pretty, and Felicity's jolly clever. But after all, they
have only one or two each--admirers, I mean. And _they_--the girls--are
exceptions."

Aunt William sighed.

"You're very worldly-wise, and you're a very clever boy, but you don't
know everything."



CHAPTER XXIV

THE EXPLANATION


The fact that Chetwode was returning more than a week sooner than she
had expected, seemed to Felicity a hopeful sign. She hesitated for about
half an hour as to whether or not she should go and meet him at the
station. Doubt and dignity suggested remaining at home, but impatience
carried the day.

As she was waiting on the platform, the prophecy of Madame Zero occurred
to her, and she thought to herself, with a smile--

"She doesn't seem so bad at prophesying what one's _going_ to do. It's
when she prophesies what one _ought_ to have done that the poor dear
gets out of her depth."

When he had arrived, and they were driving off together, she thought he
looked neither more nor less serene and casual than usual; his actual
presence seemed to radiate calm and dispose of anxiety; her suspicions
began to melt away.

They had dined together, and talked on generalities, and neither had
mentioned the subject. Chetwode's intense dislike to any disturbing
topic infected Felicity; she now felt a desire to let him off even an
explanation. She wished she had never seen the velvet case, or, at any
rate, that she had never mentioned it to any one. He didn't, she
fancied, look as if he were deceiving her in any way. His affection was
not more marked than usual, nor less so. She observed there was no tinge
in his manner of an attempt to make up for anything. Yet the question
had to be asked.

"What did you do most of the time there?" began Felicity.

"Nothing. Played bridge."

"By the way," said Felicity, "you've never told me what _Mrs._
Tregelly's like."

"Of course I haven't. She isn't like anything."

"Isn't she very pretty?"

"Oh, I suppose she's all right--for Tregelly," said Chetwode.

"Then if you don't admire her at all, would you mind telling me why you
have her portrait locked up in a velvet case?" demanded Felicity in a
soft, sweet voice.

"I wonder!" said Chetwode.

"Oh, don't be so irritating. Don't you _know_ you have it?"

"I haven't known it long."

His coolness roused her, and she said angrily--

"Then you ought to have known. I've been fearing that your casual ways
are a very convenient screen for----"

"For what?" he asked, smiling. He was disposed to tease her for having
doubted him.

She did not answer. He came and sat next to her.

"And so you would have cared?"

"Cared? I should think so. I've been miserable!"

"What a shame! I'm very sorry--I mean, very glad. But you might have
spared yourself all this worry, dear, if you'd thought two minutes."

"How? How do you prove that what I imagined isn't true?"

"My dear girl, could you seriously suspect me of wanting to possess a
coloured portrait on porcelain taken from a photograph? Did you think
I'd have such a thing in the house--except inadvertently?"

"It's a pretty face," she said.

"But it's an appalling picture! Don't I _care_ about things? I hope I
haven't got any silly vanity about it, but I don't think I ever have
anything wrong--I mean, artistically."

He looked round the room with the uncontrollable pride of the collector.

"No, my dear," he went on, "you've done me an injustice. From you I'm
really surprised."

"But _anything_, as a souvenir of a person you like very much ..." she
said hesitatingly.

"Oh, all right!" he answered. "Do you suppose if I'd an awful oleograph
of _you_, even--that I'd keep it as a souvenir? Good heavens, Felicity,
one doesn't bring sentiment into _that_ sort of thing! You ought to have
known me better."

She waited a moment.

"Then on those grounds alone I'm to consider I'm utterly wrong?"

"Rather! Suppose you'd found a wonderful early sketch by Whistler or
Burne-Jones, say, of a pretty woman--even then I should never have
believed you'd be such a Philistine as to suppose that the person who
_sat_ for it had any interest for me. But a thing like that!" He laughed
and shrugged his shoulders.

"How did it get there?"

"How did it get there?" he answered. "Last time I stayed with them,
Tregelly sent it up to me for my critical opinion on it as a work of
art." He laughed. "It made me so sick that I locked it up, and dropped
or lost the key, or else I told the man to put it away. As he's an ass,
I suppose he packed it among my things. I suppose Tregelly thought I
gave it to his wife, and she thought I gave it back to him, as I heard
no more about the thing then. But this time, as soon as I arrived," he
smiled, "it was passionately reclaimed by both--and I promised to have a
look."

Felicity clapped her hands.

"Then I'll send it back at once, and--will you have a look?"

"Good God, no! Never let me see the thing again." He took up a paper as
if tired of the subject.

"Did you come back to look for it?" she asked.

"I came back because I received a three-volume novel wire from Savile,
explaining what he called the situation."

"Fancy! Isn't he wonderful?"

"He's the limit," said Chetwode, laughing.

"But you might tell me, dear Chetwode; it isn't really for her that you
go there?"

"Really, Felicity! I hardly ever see her! She's always busy with her
children or rattling her house-keeping keys. Oh, she's all
_right_--suits Tregelly, poor chap! Are we through now?" he asked, with
patience.

"No. Won't you kiss me and forgive me?"

"Presently," he said, turning a page of the paper.

"May I just say that nothing of this sort could ever have happened
if--if you didn't go away just a _little_ too much? From the very first
you know you were always absolutely free. I've the greatest horror of
bothering you, or tyrannising in any way, but don't you think it's gone
a little too far? If we hadn't been rather separated, I couldn't have
made such a mistake about you. Suppose you'd found, privately locked up,
a similar portrait of Bertie Wilton, say, wouldn't _you_ have thought
things?"

"Wilton's an ass," said Chetwode. "But he does _know_. To give him his
due, I couldn't have found a similar portrait of him. He isn't capable
of allowing such a thing to exist."

"Well, say a good portrait," said Felicity. "Do let us be perfectly
frank with each other."

"We will," said Chetwode. "I _am_ rather sick of Wilton."

"He's really an awfully good boy," said Felicity.

"Then let him be a good boy somewhere else. I'm tired of him."

"I'll see less of him," she answered.

"Good!" said Chetwode.

"And--I know it was a very long speech I made just now, but don't you
think I'm right?"

"I didn't hear," he answered. "I was listening to your voice."

"Then must I say it all over again? I _really_ want you to take it in,
Chetwode," she said pleadingly.

"Say it all over again, and as much more as you like, dear."

"And then will you tell me you haven't heard?"

He threw down the newspaper.

"Very likely. I shall have been looking at your lips."



CHAPTER XXV

THE QUARREL


"The other day," said Sylvia, "you were perfectly sweet to me. I was
really happy; I knew you loved me, and that was quite enough. Now again
I feel that miserable doubtfulness."

"May I ask," said Woodville, who was sitting in front of a pile of
papers, while Sylvia was leaning her head on her hand opposite him at
the table, "how it is that you're here again?"

He spoke in a tone that was carefully not affectionate and that he tried
not to make irritable.

"Certainly. I arranged to go out with Felicity--before papa--and then I
telephoned to her that I had a headache."

"Isn't that what you did on Thursday?"

"No; on Thursday I said I was going to the dentist. And came in here
instead."

"Do you intend to do this often?" he asked.

"Yes, continually."

He rustled the papers.

"Why shouldn't I? Don't you like it?" she said.

"I can't help thinking it's rather risky. Suppose Felicity comes and
finds you in blooming health?"

"Surely I can recover from my headache if I like? Besides, she
telephoned to me to get some aspirin. She won't expect me to be down
till this afternoon, and she won't come till then."

"_Did_ you get some?"

"Frank, what idiotic questions you ask!"

There was a pause.

"Don't you think, dear," she said, "this is very jolly, to arrange to
have two hours like this alone together?"

"Oh, delightful! But I don't see what's the good of it, as we're
placed."

"Not to have a nice quiet talk?"

"I have nothing to talk about." He seemed nervous.

"Are you going to be like this when we're married?" asked Sylvia in a
disappointed voice.

"Not at all!"

"Oh, I'm _so_ glad! If you'll excuse my saying so, Frank darling, you
seem to me to have a rather sulky disposition."

He seized the papers and threw them on the floor.

"Sulky? _I, sulky?_ You never made a greater mistake. You're not a good
judge of character, Sylvia. Don't go in for it. Leave it alone. You'll
never make anything of it, you haven't the gift. As it happens, I have a
very good temper, except that now and then I'm 'rather violent when
roused,' as the palmists say, but sulky--never!"

Sylvia seemed to have made up her mind to be irritating. She laughed a
good deal. (She looked most lovely when laughing.)

"What are you laughing at?" he asked.

"At you. Pretending to be violent, good-tempered. Of course you're
neither. What you think is self-control is merely sulkiness."

His eyes flashed.

"What do you want?" he said, in an undertone.

"Why, I want you to be sensible and jolly; like you were that day at
Richmond."

"How can I be like I was that day at Richmond? It was a lovely day; we
were in the country; it was our escapade. It was an exceptional case."

"Oh dear! Then will you only be _like that_ as an exceptional case?"

"My dear child, you don't understand. When a man has--has work to do,"
he said rather hesitatingly.

She laughed again.

"Work! It must be frightfully important work if you throw it on the
floor from temper."

He bore this well, and answered, picking up the papers, "Important or
not, it's what I'm here for--it's what your father pays me for. How on
earth he can think I'm the slightest use to him I can't imagine."

"Oh, he knows you're not, really, dear," said Sylvia soothingly. "But
he's grown used to you, and to have a secretary makes him feel he's a
sort of important public man. Don't you see?"

"What! I'm _not_ useful to him?" Woodville asked angrily. "I should like
to know----" Here he stopped.

"I suppose you think he won't know what to do without you when we're
married," said Sylvia.

"Oh, I do wish you'd leave off saying that, Sylvia."

"Saying what?"

"When we're married. You have no idea how irritating you are, darling."

"Irritating? Oh dear, Frank, I'm so sorry. Do forgive me. Perhaps it is
rather bad taste, but I say it to cheer you up, to remind you you have
something to look forward to. Do you see?"

She looked at him sweetly, but he would not meet her eyes.

"Perhaps you're _not_ looking forward to it?" she said in a piqued
voice.

"Sylvia, would you mind going away?"

"Oh, all right. Very well. I won't disturb you any more. It's very sweet
and conscientious of you to bother about the papers. I'll go. Shan't you
want me always with you when we're married?"

"Never!" he answered. "At least, not if I have any other occupation."

Her eyes brightened.

"Oh! then it isn't that I worry you, but I sort of distract your
attention. Is that it?"

He made no answer.

"I'm afraid," said Sylvia sadly, "that we shall quarrel dreadfully."

"Quarrel? Rot!" said Woodville. "We shall _never_ quarrel. You'll do
exactly what I tell you--and I shall devote myself to doing everything
for your good."

"If I thought you meant anything as dull as that I should break it off
at once," said Sylvia. "The programme doesn't sound attractive."

He laughed. "How do you think it ought to be then?"

"There'll be only one will between us," said Sylvia, "that is to say,
you'll do everything I want always, Frank. Do you hear? Won't you
answer? Well, I see you're in a bad temper." She got up. "Good-bye." She
held out her hand. "I shall hardly see you again all day, and Frank----I
see you don't want to kiss me once before I go."

"Oh, you see that, do you?"

"Of course, I think you're an ideal man and a darling in every way, and
I love you very much, but I think it's a pity you're so cold and
heartless." She came nearer to him.

"Don't say that again," he said, with a rather dangerous look.

"But you are! You're absolutely cold. I think you only love me as a
duty."

At this Woodville seemed to lose his head. He seized her in his arms and
kissed her roughly and at random, holding her close to him.

"Oh don't, Frank. How can you be so horrid? You're making my hair
untidy. Oh, Frank!"

When he at last released her, he walked to the window and looked out.
She went to the looking-glass with tears in her eyes, and arranged her
hair.

"I didn't think," she said reproachfully, "that you could behave like
that, Frank!"

He made no reply.

As she stood at the door she said, pouting, "You didn't seem to care
whether _I_ liked it or not."

"And I didn't!" said Woodville. "I wasn't thinking about what you'd
like."

"And--shan't you ever think about what I'd like?"

"Oh, I shall think a great deal about what you'd like," said Woodville,
"and I shall see that you like it. But that will be different. I don't
apologise; you brought it on yourself."

"I'll try to forgive you," said Sylvia. "But now, I really _have_ a
headache."

"Take some aspirin," said Woodville.

"How peculiar you are! Then I'm not to come in to-morrow morning?"

"Do as you like; you know what to expect."

"Why, you don't mean to say you would behave like that _again_?"

"I shall make it a rule," he answered.

"It's unkind of you to say that, because now you know I _can't_ come."

"This sort of thing is becoming impossible," said Woodville. "You make
it worse for me."

"I'm sorry," she said gently. "I assure you it wasn't what I wanted,
really."

"I dare say not. But you don't understand."

"Will you promise never to break the compact again?" said Sylvia,
looking up at him sweetly.

"Will you go?" he answered in a low voice.

This time she went.



CHAPTER XXVI

VERA'S ADVENTURE


Mrs. Ogilvie stopped at Hatchards' and fluttered in her usual vague way
to the bookshop.

"I want some serious books," she said. "Something about Life or
Philosophy or anything of that kind."

The young man said he understood exactly what she meant, and produced a
new book by Hichens.

"But that's a novel! I want a real philosophical work."

"_Maxims of Love_, by Stendhal," suggested the young man.

"What a pretty book! No--I mean something _really_ dull. Have you
anything by Schopenhauer? or Dr. Reich?"

The young man said that he thought anything of that kind could be got,
and meanwhile suggested Benson.

"No, that's too frivolous," said Vera seriously. She then bought
casually _Mr. Punch on the Continong_, and left orders for books by
Plato, Herbert Spencer, and various other thoughtful writers, to be sent
to her without loss of time.

She then drove to the dressmaker's. Whenever she had fallen freshly in
love she got new dresses and new books. To-day she ordered a rather ugly
but very expensive new evening dress, rather weakly, at the last moment,
buying a tea-gown that she did not want.

Then she began to think she wanted to see Felicity, and yet she liked to
feel she had a sort of secret to herself for a little while. It really
had been a declaration, and Felicity had a way of inquiring into these
things and examining them until they were entirely analysed away.

No, she thought she would like to see him again before saying anything
about it. He was a serious man. She had met him at a musical German
lunch, where she had not expected to be amused. He looked as if he had
suffered--or, perhaps, sat up too late.... He had dark blue eyes, which
she chose to call violet. He talked, beautifully about philosophy. He
made her feel she had a Soul--which was just the sort of thing she
needed; and though he was at a musical German lunch, he was neither
musical nor German, and his satisfaction in sitting next to her instead
of next a celebrated German singer who was present was both obvious and
complimentary. Yet what had he really said?

He had said, "My dear Mrs. Ogilvie, human nature is human nature all the
world over, and there's no getting away from it, try how you will. Oh!
don't get me on my hobby, because I'm afraid I shall bore you, but I'm a
bit of a philosopher in my way."

How clever! But what did he mean? He told her to read philosophy. He
said she had the eyes of a mystic. She had spent several minutes looking
in the mirror trying to see the strange mysticism he saw in her eyes,
and remembering the prophesies of Zero.

They talked a long time after lunch in the deep window seat, where the
music was audible but not disturbing, and she had not asked him to call.
She was always asking people to call, and they always called, and it was
always the same, nothing ever came of it. Probably some instinct told
her she would see him again, or she could not have resisted. Finally he
said, "We have known each other in a previous existence. This is an old
friendship. I shall come and see you to-morrow."

"Not to-morrow--Thursday," said Vera, thinking she would not have time
to get a new dress. So he was coming to-morrow. Perhaps he would give
her some new philosophy of life. He would make the riddle of existence
clear. He had bright and beautiful eyes, but--and here came in Vera's
weakness--she could not make up her mind even to fall in love without
some comment of Felicity's.

Supposing Felicity said it was charming and just the right thing for
her, how delightful that would be! On the other hand, she might make one
of those terrible enlightening little remarks that smashed up all
illusions and practically spoilt the fun. How right she had been about
Bobby! "_Not worth worrying about._" How right about many other people!
Then Felicity now settled nothing (with regard to people) without
consulting Bertie. Instead of taking a person just as he appeared as
Vera did, "Charming man, most cultured--I'm sure you'll like him," as
the hostess, Mrs. Dorfenstein, had said, Bertie would know everything
about him--who his father and mother were, why he happened to be at the
German lunch, his profession, his favourite hobbies, what was his usual
method, and a hundred other things likely to prevent any sort of
surprises. Really, Felicity and Bertie together were a rather formidable
couple of psychologists. Felicity often amused herself by experimenting
on the people that Bertie had discovered. What Vera feared more than
anything else was that Mr. Newman Ferguson would be pronounced a very
simple case. When she came home from her drive she saw a letter--a new
handwriting, which she instinctively felt certain was from Mr. Ferguson.
Therefore, although she was alone, she put it in her muff, went and
locked herself into her room, and began to read it.

The first thing that struck her was the remarkably beautiful, carefully
formed handwriting, and the immense length of the letter.

Pink with joy and excitement, her hat and furs still on, she read--

"_My dear Mrs. Ogilvie, ... Ships that pass in the night.... Friends
signalling.... Elective affinities._" ... "Oh, good gracious!" She
glanced hastily at the signature. "_Strange as it may seem, I am now and
for all time your devoted slave, Newman Ferguson._"

       *       *       *       *       *

At last Vera's wish had been granted; some one had really fallen in love
with her. But she had not patience to read the letter through. Her
friend's counsel was necessary instantly.

She flew to the telephone. "Felicity!--Oh, there you are!... I meant not
to tell you, but something _so_ exciting has happened.... Yesterday at
the German lunch ... a wonderful person.... His name?--Newman
Ferguson.... Have you ever heard of him?... You'll find out all about
him from Bertie.... Thanks.... Couldn't I see you to-day? Very well,
then, ring me up if you have any news.... Keep calm indeed! I _am_
keeping calm!"

Mr. Ogilvie's knock was heard. Vera hid the letter and went downstairs.

Felicity walked in at ten o'clock the next morning. Vera thought she had
rather a peculiar expression.

"Don't you think it sounds lovely?" said Vera.

"I should like to see the letter."

They read the letter together.

"What an extraordinary conglomeration! I can't make head or tail of it."

"He's coming to see me this afternoon."

"Is he, though?"

"What do you know about him?"

"Well, Bertie knows the Dorfensteins who gave the lunch, and he says
they don't know anything about him at all. He was just sort of brought
instead of some one else."

"Does Bertie know him?" asked Vera.

"Well, yes, he does a little, and he says he's very nice generally."

"What _do_ you mean by 'generally'?"

At this moment the servant came in and said, "Mr. Newman Ferguson has
called and wishes to see you immediately."

"Good heavens!" said Vera.

"Show him in!" said Felicity.

They were sitting in the little yellow boudoir, Mr. Ogilvie having just
gone out.

Mr. Newman Ferguson came in, carrying an enormous bouquet. He bowed most
courteously, offered Vera the bouquet, and said--

"Human nature is human nature all the world over, my dear lady. There's
no getting away from it, try how you will."

"It's very early for you to think of such a clever thing to say," said
Felicity.

"I trust you don't think it's too early to call."

"Not at all," said Vera, looking terrified.

"The only thing is," said Felicity, "that my friend and I are just going
out."

She stood up.

"Then pray excuse me," said Mr. Newman Ferguson; "I will call a little
later on to-day instead."

"Where did you say you were staying now?" said Felicity.

"I'm at the Savoy at present, but I hope to move very soon," he said,
with a meaning look.

Felicity saw him to the door where he had left his cab, came back, and
stood silently looking at her friend and the bouquet.

"My dear Felicity, there's no doubt he's madly in love with me," said
Vera. "Can you deny it?"

"My dear Vera, he's raving mad," answered Felicity.

"What?" cried Vera.

"Is it possible that you don't see it?"

"But look at that clever letter!" said Vera.

"It's the maddest letter I ever read. Besides, dear, I know about it.
Don't distress yourself. Bertie says he was always eccentric, but
sometimes he's quite all right for years. Then, any sudden excitement,
especially Falling in Love----"

"Then you own he _did_ fall in love with me?"

"Oh, of course, of course! Certainly! No one denies that. But I really
think we ought to write to the Dorfensteins and get them to tell the
Savoy people to look after him. It's very sad. He has rather a nice
manner--nice eyes."

Vera buried her face in her handkerchief.

"Now don't worry, darling," said Felicity affectionately. "Be out when
he calls, and I'm quite sure we shall soon find some one quite sane who
will amuse you just as much."

"Never!" sobbed Vera. "It's just like my luck! Oh, and the books I
ordered, and the new dress. I can never bear to look at them."

"It's a very good thing we found it out," said Felicity.

"But how on earth does Bertie know?"

"He knows everything--about people, I mean--and he's always right. In
fact, he sent you a message to ask you to be very careful, and said he'd
come and see you about it."

"Rather cool! It seems I can't have _any_ secret to myself now," panted
Mrs. Ogilvie.

"Well, you see, dear, you _did_ ask me to get all the information I
could, and after all I only told Bertie you _met_ Mr. Ferguson. He
guessed that he would fall in love with you, and bring you a bouquet
early in the morning, and write you a lot of letters about philosophy."

"How did he know?"

"Well, if you don't mind my saying so, dear, it's because it's what he
always does."

Vera began to laugh.

"Tell Bertie he need not trouble to call about it, I'd rather forget
it."

"Oh, of course he won't _now_!"

"He doesn't know, then, that I was in love with him? Besides, I wasn't."

"Certainly he doesn't. Besides, you weren't."

"I hate the sight of that bouquet," said Vera.

"Yes, let's send it away; and now come for a drive with me."

"All right, dear. I say, couldn't we countermand those philosophical
books?"

"Yes, of course we will. What do you feel you'd like instead?"

"Oh, something by Pett Ridge," said Vera, recklessly.



CHAPTER XXVII

AUNT WILLIAM'S DAY


It was a chilly spring afternoon and Aunt William was seated by the fire
doing wool-work, for she disapproved of the idle habits of the present
day and thought that a lady should always have her fingers employed in
some way; not, of course, either with cards or cigarettes. She was
getting on steadily with the foot-stool she was making; a neat design of
a fox's head with a background of green leaves. In the course of her
life Aunt William had done many, many miles of wool-work. It was neither
embroidery nor tapestry; it was made on canvas with what is known for
some mysterious reason as Berlin wool; and was so simple that it used to
be called the Idiot Stitch; but the curious elaboration of the design
and sort of dignified middle-Victorian futility about it cast a glamour
over the whole, and dispelled any association of idiocy from the
complete work. A banner screen was now in front of the fire, which Aunt
William had worked during a winter at St. Leonards, and which
represented enormous squashed roses like purple cauliflowers, with a
red-brown background--a shade called, in her youth, Bismarck brown, and
for which she always retained a certain weakness.

It was her day, and on Aunt William's day she invariably wore a
shot-silk dress, shot with green and violet; the bodice trimmed with
bugles, the skirt plain and flowing. Aunt William did not have that
straight-fronted look that is such a consolation to our modern women who
are getting on in years, but went in decidedly at the waist, her figure
being like a neat pincushion. Her voice was deep, her mind of a somewhat
manly and decided order, so that the touches of feminine timidity or
sentiment taught her in early youth sat oddly enough on her now. In
reality she hated wool-work, but did it partly from tradition and partly
from a contrary disposition; because other people didn't like it, and
even because she didn't like it herself.

Her first visitor was a very old and dear friend of hers whom she
particularly disliked and disapproved of, Lady Virginia Harper. Lady
Virginia was a very tall, thin, faded blonde, still full of shadowy
vitality, who wore a flaxen transformation so obviously artificial that
not the most censorious person by the utmost stretch of malice could
assume it was meant to deceive the public. With equal candour she wore a
magnificent set of teeth, and a touch of rouge on each cheek-bone. To
Aunt William's extreme annoyance Lady Virginia was dressed to-day in a
strange medley of the artistic style combined oddly with a rather wild
attempt at Parisian smartness. That is to say, in her cloak and furs she
looked almost like an outside coloured plate on the cover of _Paris
Fashions_; while when she threw it open one could see that she wore a
limp _crêpe de chine_ Empire gown of an undecided mauve, with a waist
under the arms and puffed sleeves. On her head was a very smart bright
blue flower toque, put on entirely wrong, with a loose blue veil hanging
at the back. Had anything been required to decide the question of her
looking grotesque, I should mention that she wore long mauve _suède_
gloves. That settled it. A gold bag dangled from her left wrist, and she
carried a little fan of carved ivory. She looked, naturally,--or
unnaturally--slightly absurd, but had great distinction and no sort of
affectation, while an expression that alternated between amiable
enthusiasm and absent-minded depression characterised her shadowy
indefinite features.

Aunt William received her with self-control, and she immediately asked
for tea.

"Certainly. It is half-past three, and I regard five as tea-time. But as
you wish, dear Virginia." Aunt William pulled the bell with manly vigour
and ill-tempered hospitality.

"Have you heard that _divine_ new infant harpist? He's perfectly
exquisite--a genius. But _the_ person I've come to talk to you about,
Mary, is the new singer, Delestin. He's perfectly heavenly! And so
good-looking! I've taken him up--quite--and I want you to be kind about
him, dear Mary."

"I'll take two tickets for his concert," said Aunt William harshly. "But
I won't go to the concert and I won't come and hear him sing."

"Now that's so like you, Mary! He isn't _giving_ a concert, and I _want_
you to hear him sing. He's too charming. Such a gentle soft creature,
and so highly-strung. The other day after he had sung at my house--it
was something of Richard Strauss's, certainly a very enervating song, I
must own that--he simply fainted at the piano, and had to be taken away.
So, if you give a party, do have him, dear Mary! You will, won't you?"

"Most certainly not! A protégé of yours who faints at the piano wouldn't
be at all suitable for one of _my_ Evenings, thank you, Virginia."

Lady Virginia did not answer. She evidently had not heard. She never
listened and never thought of one subject for more than two seconds at a
time. She used a long-handled lorgnette, but usually dropped it before
it had reached her eye.

"Oh! and there's something else I wanted to speak to you about. A sweet
girl, a friend of mine (poor thing!), has lost her parents. They were
generals or clergymen or something, and she's obliged to do something,
so she's going in for hats. So sensible and brave of her! She's taken
the _sweetest_ little shop just out of Bond Street. Do, dear, go and get
some toques there, for my sake. Won't you?"

"_Some toques?_" repeated Aunt William. "I don't know what you mean.
Hats are not things you order by the half-dozen. I have my winter's
bonnet, my spring bonnet which I have got already, a sun-hat for
travelling in the summer, and so forth."

"I got a beautiful picture-hat from her," said Lady Virginia dreamily.
"An enormous black one, with Nattier blue roses in front and white
feathers at the back--- only five guineas. But then she makes special
prices for me, of course."

"No doubt she does," said Aunt William.

"Of course I can't wear it, my dear," continued Virginia. "I hate to
attract attention so, and I look too showy in a picture-hat with my fair
hair. But it was a kindness to the girl. Poor girl!"

Aunt William was boiling over.

"Of course you can't wear it. Do you imagine you can wear the hat you've
got on now, Virginia?"

"What this? It's only a little flower toque."

"At _our_ age," said Aunt William, "_only_ little flower toques, as you
call them, should be left to younger people. Oh how much nicer you would
look, Virginia, in a black or brown silk dress, and a close bonnet with
strings, say with a chrysanthemum or two, and a few bugles if you like.
It would be so much more suitable."

"What _is_ a close bonnet?" asked Lady Virginia, trying to concentrate
her thoughts and not in the least offended.

The arrival of Savile at this moment created a diversion. His air of
inscrutability and self-restraint was neither more nor less marked than
usual; but, to the acute observer, it would have been evident that he
was crammed with suppressed and exciting information.

"You remember my nephew, Virginia? My brother James's only son, you
know." Aunt William spoke proudly, as if his being an only son were some
remarkable merit of his own.

"Not at all," murmured Savile indistinctly.

"Oh, is he really? What a darling! I adore children," said Lady
Virginia, benevolently smiling at him. "And _so_ tall for his age, too!"

"You don't know his age," snapped Aunt William.

"No, I don't; but I can see he's tall--a very fine child. What do you
learn at school, darling?"

"Oh, nothing much," said Savile, with patience.

Lady Virginia laughed inconsequently.

"What a clever boy he is! Children _are_ so wonderful nowadays! When
Delestin was only six he played all Chopin's Valses and Liszt's
Rhapsodies by heart. Of course that's some time ago now, but it shows
what boys _can_ do."

"By Jove!" said Savile.

"Who's your great friend at school, dear?"

"Oh--I suppose Sweeny's my _greatest_ pal. He's in the eleven," added
Savile explanatorily.

"Oh, yes! I daresay--a very nice boy too. He has a marvellous likeness
to you, Mary dear," Lady Virginia said, using the long-handled glass,
"especially about the--well--the ears--and forehead. Are you musical, my
dear?"

"I like some of it," said Savile, with a sigh.

"You're like James, too," said Lady Virginia, "and I think I see a look
of his mother, Mary."

"You never saw her, and you know it," said Aunt William, who always
tried in vain to pin Virginia down to facts.

"Yes, but that was merely by chance," said Lady Virginia, getting into
her cloak. "Then I shall expect you, Mary, to come and hear Delestin
play? Oh, no, I forgot--you said you couldn't. I'm so sorry; but I
_must_ fly.... I've a thousand things to do. You know my busy life! I'm
the President of the Young Girls' Typewriting Society, and I have to go
and see about it. How we poor women ever get through the season with all
the work we do is more than I can ever understand."

Aunt William became much more cordial at the prospect of her friend's
departure, and when Virginia had at last fluttered out, after dropping
the gold bag and the ivory fan twice, Savile said--

"Do you expect _many_ more visitors like that to-day, Aunt William?"

"None like that."

"Well, while you're alone I've got some news to tell you. Sylvia would
have come herself, but she's engaged--this afternoon."

"Not engaged to be married, I suppose!" said Aunt William, with a sort
of triumphal archness.

"Yes, you've hit it in once. At least, up to a certain point. It'll be
all right. But the Governor's a bit nasty--and the fact is, we want you
to come and see him, and sort of talk him over, you know."

"Savile! Do you mean it? How charming!... But who's the young man--and
what's the objection?"

Savile thought a moment, and remembered her tinge of snobbishness. "He's
Sir Bryce Woodville's nephew. Chap who died. I mean, the uncle died.
It's Woodville, _you_ know!"

"Your father's secretary?"

"Yes, and a rattling good chap, too. Sylvia's liked him for ages, and he
didn't like to come up to the scratch because he was hard up. Now
something's turned up. Old Ridokanaki's written him a letter--wants him
to go into his bank. He'll have three thousand a year. It's only _habit_
with the Governor to pretend to mind. But a few words with you will
settle it. I'll tell you more about it later on."

"I _am_ amazed at the news, Savile. He's a very fine young man, but----"

"He's all right, Aunt William."

"But I thought the Greek gentleman with the unpronounceable name was
madly in love with Sylvia himself? I've often talked it over with your
father. He and I took opposite views."

"So he was, but he's got some one else now. It's simply _got_ to come
off. Now _will_ you come and see us?"

"Certainly. When?"

"As soon as possible. I wish you'd come now."

"But this is my Day, Savile! How can I go out on my _Day_?"

"Of course you can. You'll have heaps of other days, but none like
this--for Sylvia."

Aunt William hesitated, then her intense romantic curiosity got the
upper hand.

"Savile, I'll come back with you now! Do you think James will listen to
reason? He never agrees with me. And I don't know yet what to think
myself."

"Of course he will. You're a brick, Aunt William. I'll tell you more
about it in the cab. It's as right as rain for Sylvia, or you may be
pretty certain _I_ shouldn't have allowed it," said Savile.

To get Aunt William to go out on her Day, a thing she had not done for
thirty years, was so great a triumph that he had little fear of not
getting her to be on the right side. He knew she always made a point of
disagreeing with his father on every subject under heaven, so he rubbed
in Sir James's opposition, and gradually worked on her sentimental side
until she was almost tearfully enthusiastic.

"How shall I behave? Go right in and tell your father he must
consent?--or what?"

"Play for safety," said Savile.



CHAPTER XXVIII

THE TWELFTH HOUR


Sir James was extremely annoyed with the weather. In his young days, as
he remarked with bitterness, spring was spring, and it didn't thunder
and snow in April. He was prattling pompously of the sunshine in the
past, when a sudden heavy shower of hail, falling rather defiantly in
spite of his hints, made him lose his temper. Sir James, looking angrily
up at the sky, declared that unless it stopped within half an hour he
would write to the _Times_ about it.

Whether or not this threat had any real meteorological influence, there
is no doubt that the clouds dispersed rather hastily, the sun hurriedly
appeared, and the weather promptly prepared to enable Sir James to
venture out, which he did with a gracious wave of the hand to the entire
horizon, as though willing to say no more about it.

Sylvia had been as anxious for the thermometer to go up as her father
himself, for it was several days now since she had seen Woodville alone.
And he had been nervously counting the minutes until the moment of
freedom, having, to-day, a stronger reason than ever before to desire a
quiet talk.

Woodville had expressed some remorse--not much, though considerably more
than he felt--for what Sylvia called his conduct during their last
interview, and she meant this morning to forgive him.

"I've only come," said Sylvia, sitting opposite him at the
writing-table, "because I saw you were _really_ sorry for ... the other
day. _Are_ you sorry?"

"Awfully."

"_That's_ not very flattering," said Sylvia.

"I wanted you, too, dreadfully this morning," he said eagerly. "I've got
something wonderful to tell you--to show you."

"Anything dreadful?" she asked, turning pale.

He took out a letter.

"Listen! Since the other day I had made up my mind to go away from here.
I began to see I couldn't bear it. At least, for a time."

"What!" cried Sylvia, rising to her feet.

"Yes. But you needn't worry. I've changed my mind, darling. And before I
tell you any more----"

He leant across the writing-table and kissed her softly, and at some
length.

"Now," he said, "read this letter."

"From the Greek fiend! Is he trying to take you away from me again?"

"No, he's not. Read it aloud."

Sylvia read:--

                                       "'RITZ HOTEL, PARIS.

     "'My dear Woodville,--In the short time since I had the pleasure of
     seeing you, certain changes have come over my views on many
     subjects; my future is likely to be entirely different from what I
     had supposed, and I felt impelled to let you know, before any one
     else, of the unexpected happiness that is about to dawn for me.'

"Oh, Frank, how long-winded and flowery!"

"Never mind that. It's his style always when he's sentimental. Do go on
reading."

Sylvia went on. "'I was greatly disappointed at first to know you were
unwilling to go to Athens. Perhaps, however, it is better as it is.
Briefly, I have found in la _ville lumière_ what I had longed for and
despaired of--a reciprocal affection--that of a young and innocent
girl--'"

"Sylvia, don't waste time. Go on!"

"'My heart'"--Sylvia continued to read--"'is filled with joy; but I will
not take up all my letter to you with ecstatic rhapsodies; nor will I
indulge myself by referring to her beauty, her charm, her Madonna-like
face and sylph-like form. Her extraordinary affection for me (I speak
with all humility)--tempered as it naturally was by the modesty of her
age (she is barely seventeen)--was, I think, what first drew me towards
her. We are to be married in May. You know that the sorrow of my life
was that I had never been loved for myself. I have been called a
successful man, but in my own heart I know that this is the only real
success I have ever had during fifty-five years. It is certainly a great
pleasure to think, as I do, that I shall be able to give my Gabrielle
all (humanly speaking) that she can desire....'"

"Will you stop laughing? You _must_ get through the preliminaries,
Sylvia!"

"It seems all preliminaries," murmured Sylvia.

"'But, in my happiness, your troubles are not forgotten: and I hope now
to be able to remove them in all essentials.

"'First, let me ask you to remember me to Miss Sylvia, and to tell her
that with the deepest respect I now formally relinquish all hopes of her
hand.'

"Very kind of him! He seems to claim some merit for not wanting to marry
us both," Sylvia cried.

     "'No doubt you remember my telling you of a post, similar to that
     which I proposed for you in the bank at Athens, and that might be
     vacant soon, in London. Since, to please my bride, (who is devoted
     to her mother), I intend to make my home in Paris, I have made
     arrangements for you to take that post now, if you will.

     "'Shortly after this epistle a formal note will reach you,
     explaining all details. You will, I am sure, not refuse me the
     great pleasure of smoothing a little your path, under the present
     circumstances--since it is a very dear wish of mine to see you and
     Miss Sylvia happy.

     "'I foresee no obstacles now to your wishes. Explain to Sir James
     that I intend to be your best friend, and shall be able, no doubt,
     to be of great assistance to you if you adopt this career.

     "'At some future date I hope to present to you Mademoiselle de
     Beaugarde--and looking forward to your reply, I remain,

                                  "'My dear Woodville,

                        "'Yours, with a thousand good wishes,

                                   "'G. RIDOKANAKI.

     "'P.S.--I should have written at greater length, but I am expecting
     Madame Beaugarde and her daughter, as I am to escort them to see
     some pictures. You will, therefore, grant me your indulgence for
     the bold, almost abrupt way in which I have conveyed to you my
     news. You will make excuses for the happy lover! She has an oval
     face, with a peach-like complexion. Her eyes resemble sapphires:
     her teeth are like pearls. Let me hear from you soon.'"

"Now, isn't he a wonderful chap?" asked Woodville. "And the best fellow
in the world. I always liked him. How gifted he is! He describes people
in detail, and by the yard, without giving one the very slightest idea
of their appearance. He has a real genius for platitudes."

"And what an original description! Peach cheeks and sapphire eyes! Fruit
and jewellery! But I daresay she's a dear, and I forgive him now. And
Frank, _do_ you realise what this means--to us?"

"I've been realising it since the first post this morning, Sylvia."

"You'll accept it?"

"Naturally. Everything is right, as you said it would be. We'll tell Sir
James to-day."

"Look here, darling Frank, let me ring up a messenger to send a wire at
_once_ to accept, so that nothing can come between us!"

"Not just yet," said Woodville.

       *       *       *       *       *

Savile's only comment when they told him was, "Just like that rotter to
prefer another alien!" and he immediately wrote brief notes to Chetwode
and Jasmyn Vere.

Sir James heard the news with real surprise and conventional
indignation, principally because it was his practice to receive news in
that way.

He refused his consent, sent Sylvia to her room, and turning round on
Savile declared that the whole thing was caused by the disgraceful
idleness of that boy, who ought to be at school. Such long holidays were
not heard of in his younger days, and did the greatest harm mentally and
physically to the boys and all their relatives.

The arrival of Aunt William diverted the storm. Sir James became far
more angry with her for defending the young people than with them for
requiring defence.

When she had left, he said that perhaps he would take it into
consideration in a couple of years, if Woodville left the house at once,
and they neither met nor corresponded in the interval.

At dinner he began to chaff them a little, and said Sylvia always got
her own way with him.

After dinner, when he was smoking in the library, the desire to say
"Take her, you dog, and be happy," or words to that effect, was too
strong for him. He sent for Woodville, consented enthusiastically, and
from that moment began to believe that with farseeing thoughtfulness he
had planned her marriage from the very beginning. And he began to look
forward to the list of political and other celebrities that would appear
in the papers the day after the wedding.

Of course it was to be a long engagement and a quiet wedding; but
entirely through the eager impetuosity of Sir James, they were married
in six weeks, and every one said that in general splendour and
gorgeousness it surpassed even the wedding of Sir James's elder
daughter. Savile's attitude as best man was of such extraordinary
correctness that it was the feature of the ceremony, and even distracted
public attention from the bride and bridegroom.


                         THE END



       *       *       *       *       *



Transcriber's note


The following changes have been made to the text:

Page 9: "expert in hand-writing" changed to "expert in handwriting".

Page 12: "I bar him rather" changed to "I bear him rather".

Page 58: "goodlooking young man" changed to "good-looking young man".

Page 96: "Wont you make" changed to "Won't you make".

Page 111: "St.James's" changed to "St. James's".

Page 155: "blue-green Empire teagown" changed to "blue-green Empire
tea-gown".

Page 159: ""Bertie Wilton?" axclaimed" changed to ""Bertie Wilton?"
exclaimed".

Page 173: "Saville their only confidant" changed to "Savile their only
confidant".

Page 218: "in tears and a teagown" changed to "in tears and a tea-gown".

Page 228: "you going to do today" changed to "you going to do to-day".

Page 243: "sooth-sayer is a marvel" changed to "soothsayer is a marvel".





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