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Title: Man and Maid
Author: Nesbit, E. (Edith), 1858-1924
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 "Man and Maid" ***

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             MAN AND MAID

                  BY

              E. NESBIT

    [Illustration: Publisher's Logo]

                LONDON
            T. FISHER UNWIN
            ADELPHI TERRACE

                 MCMVI

        [_All rights reserved._]



                  TO
             ADA BREAKELL
      MY DEAREST AND OLDEST FRIEND



             MAN AND MAID



          By the same Author.

  _Illustrated. Crown 8vo. Cloth, 6s._


         The Treasure Seekers.

         Five Children and It.

    Nine Unlikely Tales for Children.

          The Would-be-Goods.

         New Treasure Seekers.


        LONDON: T. FISHER UNWIN



                               CONTENTS


                                                        PAGE

       I.  THE HAUNTED INHERITANCE                         1

      II.  THE POWER OF DARKNESS                          32

     III.  THE STRANGER WHO MIGHT HAVE BEEN OBSERVED      60

      IV.  RACK AND THUMBSCREW                            84

       V.  THE MILLIONAIRESS                             103

      VI.  THE HERMIT OF "THE YEWS"                      134

     VII.  THE AUNT AND THE EDITOR                       158

    VIII.  MISS MOUSE                                    178

      IX.  THE OLD WIFE                                  201

       X.  THE HOUSE OF SILENCE                          224

      XI.  THE GIRL AT THE TOBACCONIST'S                 245

     XII.  WHILE IT IS YET DAY                           268

    XIII.  ALCIBIADES                                    287



MAN AND MAID



I

THE HAUNTED INHERITANCE


The most extraordinary thing that ever happened to me was my going back
to town on that day. I am a reasonable being; I do not do such things. I
was on a bicycling tour with another man. We were far from the mean
cares of an unremunerative profession; we were men not fettered by any
given address, any pledged date, any preconcerted route. I went to bed
weary and cheerful, fell asleep a mere animal--a tired dog after a day's
hunting--and awoke at four in the morning that creature of nerves and
fancies which is my other self, and which has driven me to all the
follies I have ever kept company with. But even that second self of
mine, whining beast and traitor as it is, has never played me such a
trick as it played then. Indeed, something in the result of that day's
rash act sets me wondering whether after all it could have been I, or
even my other self, who moved in the adventure; whether it was not
rather some power outside both of us ... but this is a speculation as
idle in me as uninteresting to you, and so enough of it.

From four to seven I lay awake, the prey of a growing detestation of
bicycling tours, friends, scenery, physical exertion, holidays. By seven
o'clock I felt that I would rather perish than spend another day in the
society of the other man--an excellent fellow, by the way, and the best
of company.

At half-past seven the post came. I saw the postman through my window as
I shaved. I went down to get my letters--there were none, naturally.

At breakfast I said: "Edmundson, my dear fellow, I am extremely sorry;
but my letters this morning compel me to return to town at once."

"But I thought," said Edmundson--then he stopped, and I saw that he had
perceived in time that this was no moment for reminding me that, having
left no address, I could have had no letters.

He looked sympathetic, and gave me what there was left of the bacon. I
suppose he thought that it was a love affair or some such folly. I let
him think so; after all, no love affair but would have seemed wise
compared with the blank idiocy of this sudden determination to cut short
a delightful holiday and go back to those dusty, stuffy rooms in Gray's
Inn.

After that first and almost pardonable lapse, Edmundson behaved
beautifully. I caught the 9.17 train, and by half-past eleven I was
climbing my dirty staircase.

I let myself in and waded through a heap of envelopes and wrappered
circulars that had drifted in through the letter-box, as dead leaves
drift into the areas of houses in squares. All the windows were shut.
Dust lay thick on everything. My laundress had evidently chosen this as
a good time for her holiday. I wondered idly where she spent it. And now
the close, musty smell of the rooms caught at my senses, and I
remembered with a positive pang the sweet scent of the earth and the
dead leaves in that wood through which, at this very moment, the
sensible and fortunate Edmundson would be riding.

The thought of dead leaves reminded me of the heap of correspondence. I
glanced through it. Only one of all those letters interested me in the
least. It was from my mother:--

                                        "ELLIOT'S BAY, NORFOLK,
                                             _17th August_.

     "DEAR LAWRENCE,--I have wonderful news for you. Your
     great-uncle Sefton has died, and left you half his immense
     property. The other half is left to your second cousin Selwyn.
     You must come home at once. There are heaps of letters here for
     you, but I dare not send them on, as goodness only knows where
     you may be. I do wish you would remember to leave an address. I
     send this to your rooms, in case you have had the forethought
     to instruct your charwoman to send your letters on to you. It
     is a most handsome fortune, and I am too happy about your
     accession to it to scold you as you deserve, but I hope this
     will be a lesson to you to leave an address when next you go
     away. Come home at once.--Your loving Mother,

                                        "MARGARET SEFTON.

     "_P.S._--It is the maddest will; everything divided evenly
     between you two except the house and estate. The will says you
     and your cousin Selwyn are to meet there on the 1st September
     following his death, in presence of the family, and decide
     which of you is to have the house. If you can't agree, it's to
     be presented to the county for a lunatic asylum. I should think
     so! He was always so eccentric. The one who doesn't have the
     house, etc., gets £20,000 extra. Of course you will choose
     _that_.

     "_P.P.S._--Be sure to bring your under-shirts with you--the air
     here is very keen of an evening."

I opened both the windows and lit a pipe. Sefton Manor, that gorgeous
old place,--I knew its picture in Hasted, cradle of our race, and so
on--and a big fortune. I hoped my cousin Selwyn would want the £20,000
more than he wanted the house. If he didn't--well, perhaps my fortune
might be large enough to increase that £20,000 to a sum that he _would_
want.

And then, suddenly, I became aware that this was the 31st of August, and
that to-morrow was the day on which I was to meet my cousin Selwyn and
"the family," and come to a decision about the house. I had never, to my
knowledge, heard of my cousin Selwyn. We were a family rich in
collateral branches. I hoped he would be a reasonable young man. Also,
I had never seen Sefton Manor House, except in a print. It occurred to
me that I would rather see the house before I saw the cousin.

I caught the next train to Sefton.

"It's but a mile by the field way," said the railway porter. "You take
the stile--the first on the left--and follow the path till you come to
the wood. Then skirt along the left of it, cater across the meadow at
the end, and you'll see the place right below you in the vale."

"It's a fine old place, I hear," said I.

"All to pieces, though," said he. "I shouldn't wonder if it cost a
couple o' hundred to put it to rights. Water coming through the roof and
all."

"But surely the owner----"

"Oh, he never lived there; not since his son was taken. He lived in the
lodge; it's on the brow of the hill looking down on the Manor House."

"Is the house empty?"

"As empty as a rotten nutshell, except for the old sticks o' furniture.
Any one who likes," added the porter, "can lie there o' nights. But it
wouldn't be me!"

"Do you mean there's a ghost?" I hope I kept any note of undue elation
out of my voice.

"I don't hold with ghosts," said the porter firmly, "but my aunt was in
service at the lodge, and there's no doubt but _something_ walks there."

"Come," I said, "this is very interesting. Can't you leave the station,
and come across to where beer is?"

"I don't mind if I do," said he. "That is so far as your standing a drop
goes. But I can't leave the station, so if you pour my beer you must
pour it dry, sir, as the saying is."

So I gave the man a shilling, and he told me about the ghost at Sefton
Manor House. Indeed, about the ghosts, for there were, it seemed, two; a
lady in white, and a gentleman in a slouch hat and black riding cloak.

"They do say," said my porter, "as how one of the young ladies once on a
time was wishful to elope, and started so to do--not getting further
than the hall door; her father, thinking it to be burglars, fired out of
the window, and the happy pair fell on the doorstep, corpses."

"Is it true, do you think?"

The porter did not know. At any rate there was a tablet in the church
to Maria Sefton and George Ballard--"and something about in their death
them not being divided."

I took the stile, I skirted the wood, I "catered" across the meadow--and
so I came out on a chalky ridge held in a net of pine roots, where dog
violets grew. Below stretched the green park, dotted with trees. The
lodge, stuccoed but solid, lay below me. Smoke came from its chimneys.
Lower still lay the Manor House--red brick with grey lichened mullions,
a house in a thousand, Elizabethan--and from its twisted beautiful
chimneys no smoke arose. I hurried across the short turf towards the
Manor House.

I had no difficulty in getting into the great garden. The bricks of the
wall were everywhere displaced or crumbling. The ivy had forced the
coping stones away; each red buttress offered a dozen spots for
foothold. I climbed the wall and found myself in a garden--oh! but such
a garden. There are not half a dozen such in England--ancient box
hedges, rosaries, fountains, yew tree avenues, bowers of clematis (now
feathery in its seeding time), great trees, grey-grown marble
balustrades and steps, terraces, green lawns, one green lawn, in
especial, girt round with a sweet briar hedge, and in the middle of
this lawn a sundial. All this was mine, or, to be more exact, might be
mine, should my cousin Selwyn prove to be a person of sense. How I
prayed that he might not be a person of taste! That he might be a person
who liked yachts or racehorses or diamonds, or motor-cars, or anything
that money can buy, not a person who liked beautiful Elizabethan houses,
and gardens old beyond belief.

The sundial stood on a mass of masonry, too low and wide to be called a
pillar. I mounted the two brick steps and leaned over to read the date
and the motto:

     "Tempus fugit manet amor."

The date was 1617, the initials S. S. surmounted it. The face of the
dial was unusually ornate--a wreath of stiffly drawn roses was traced
outside the circle of the numbers. As I leaned there a sudden movement
on the other side of the pedestal compelled my attention. I leaned over
a little further to see what had rustled--a rat--a rabbit? A flash of
pink struck at my eyes. A lady in a pink dress was sitting on the step
at the other side of the sundial.

I suppose some exclamation escaped me--the lady looked up. Her hair was
dark, and her eyes; her face was pink and white, with a few little
gold-coloured freckles on nose and on cheek bones. Her dress was of pink
cotton stuff, thin and soft. She looked like a beautiful pink rose.

Our eyes met.

"I beg your pardon," said I, "I had no idea----" there I stopped and
tried to crawl back to firm ground. Graceful explanations are not best
given by one sprawling on his stomach across a sundial.

By the time I was once more on my feet she too was standing.

"It is a beautiful old place," she said gently, and, as it seemed, with
a kindly wish to relieve my embarrassment. She made a movement as if to
turn away.

"Quite a show place," said I stupidly enough, but I was still a little
embarrassed, and I wanted to say something--anything--to arrest her
departure. You have no idea how pretty she was. She had a straw hat
in her hand, dangling by soft black ribbons. Her hair was all
fluffy-soft--like a child's. "I suppose you have seen the house?" I
asked.

She paused, one foot still on the lower step of the sundial, and her
face seemed to brighten at the touch of some idea as sudden as welcome.

"Well--no," she said. "The fact is--I wanted frightfully to see the
house; in fact, I've come miles and miles on purpose, but there's no one
to let me in."

"The people at the lodge?" I suggested.

"Oh no," she said. "I--the fact is I--I don't want to be shown round. I
want to explore!"

She looked at me critically. Her eyes dwelt on my right hand, which lay
on the sundial. I have always taken reasonable care of my hands, and I
wore a good ring, a sapphire, cut with the Sefton arms: an heirloom, by
the way. Her glance at my hand preluded a longer glance at my face. Then
she shrugged her pretty shoulders.

"Oh well," she said, and it was as if she had said plainly, "I see that
you are a gentleman and a decent fellow. Why should I not look over the
house in your company? Introductions? Bah!"

All this her shrug said without ambiguity as without words.

"Perhaps," I hazarded, "I could get the keys."

"Do you really care very much for old houses?"

"I do," said I; "and you?"

"I care so much that I nearly broke into this one. I should have done it
quite if the windows had been an inch or two lower."

"I am an inch or two higher," said I, standing squarely so as to make
the most of my six-feet beside her five-feet-five or thereabouts.

"Oh--if you only would!" said she.

"Why not?" said I.

She led the way past the marble basin of the fountain, and along the
historic yew avenue, planted, like all old yew avenues, by that
industrious gardener our Eighth Henry. Then across a lawn, through a
winding, grassy, shrubbery path, that ended at a green door in the
garden wall.

"You can lift this latch with a hairpin," said she, and therewith lifted
it.

We walked into a courtyard. Young grass grew green between the grey
flags on which our steps echoed.

"This is the window," said she. "You see there's a pane broken. If you
could get on to the window-sill, you could get your hand in and undo
the hasp, and----"

"And you?"

"Oh, you'll let me in by the kitchen door."

I did it. My conscience called me a burglar--in vain. Was it not my own,
or as good as my own house?

I let her in at the back door. We walked through the big dark kitchen
where the old three-legged pot towered large on the hearth, and the old
spits and firedogs still kept their ancient place. Then through another
kitchen where red rust was making its full meal of a comparatively
modern range.

Then into the great hall, where the old armour and the buff-coats and
round-caps hang on the walls, and where the carved stone staircases run
at each side up to the gallery above.

The long tables in the middle of the hall were scored by the knives of
the many who had eaten meat there--initials and dates were cut into
them. The roof was groined, the windows low-arched.

"Oh, but what a place!" said she; "this must be much older than the rest
of it----"

"Evidently. About 1300, I should say."

"Oh, let us explore the rest," she cried; "it is really a comfort not to
have a guide, but only a person like you who just guesses comfortably at
dates. I should hate to be told _exactly_ when this hall was built."

We explored ball-room and picture gallery, white parlour and library.
Most of the rooms were furnished--all heavily, some magnificently--but
everything was dusty and faded.

It was in the white parlour, a spacious panelled room on the first
floor, that she told me the ghost story, substantially the same as my
porter's tale, only in one respect different.

"And so, just as she was leaving this very room--yes, I'm sure it's this
room, because the woman at the inn pointed out this double window and
told me so--just as the poor lovers were creeping out of the door, the
cruel father came quickly out of some dark place and killed them both.
So now they haunt it."

"It is a terrible thought," said I gravely. "How would you like to live
in a haunted house?"

"I couldn't," she said quickly.

"Nor I; it would be too----" my speech would have ended flippantly, but
for the grave set of her features.

"I wonder who _will_ live here?" she said. "The owner is just dead. They
say it is an awful house, full of ghosts. Of course one is not afraid
now"--the sunlight lay golden and soft on the dusty parquet of the
floor--"but at night, when the wind wails, and the doors creak, and the
things rustle, oh, it must be awful!"

"I hear the house has been left to two people, or rather one is to have
the house, and the other a sum of money," said I. "It's a beautiful
house, full of beautiful things, but I should think at least one of the
heirs would rather have the money."

"Oh yes, I should think so. I wonder whether the heirs know about the
ghost? The lights can be seen from the inn, you know, at twelve o'clock,
and they see the ghost in white at the window."

"Never the black one?"

"Oh yes, I suppose so."

"The ghosts don't appear together?"

"No."

"I suppose," said I, "whoever it is that manages such things knows that
the poor ghosts would like to be together, so it won't let them."

She shivered.

"Come," she said, "we have seen all over the house; let us get back into
the sunshine. Now I will go out, and you shall bolt the door after me,
and then you can come out by the window. Thank you so much for all the
trouble you have taken. It has really been quite an adventure...."

I rather liked that expression, and she hastened to spoil it.

"... Quite an adventure going all over this glorious old place, and
looking at everything one wanted to see, and not just at what the
housekeeper didn't mind one's looking at."

She passed through the door, but when I had closed it and prepared to
lock it, I found that the key was no longer in the lock. I looked on the
floor--I felt in my pockets, and at last, wandering back into the
kitchen, discovered it on the table, where I swear I never put it.

When I had fitted that key into the lock and turned it, and got out of
the window and made that fast, I dropped into the yard. No one shared
its solitude with me. I searched garden and pleasure grounds, but never
a glimpse of pink rewarded my anxious eyes. I found the sundial again,
and stretched myself along the warm brick of the wide step where she had
sat: and called myself a fool.

I had let her go. I did not know her name; I did not know where she
lived; she had been at the inn, but probably only for lunch. I should
never see her again, and certainly in that event I should never see
again such dark, soft eyes, such hair, such a contour of cheek and chin,
such a frank smile--in a word, a girl with whom it would be so
delightfully natural for me to fall in love. For all the time she had
been talking to me of architecture and archæology, of dates and periods,
of carvings and mouldings, I had been recklessly falling in love with
the idea of falling in love with her. I had cherished and adored this
delightful possibility, and now my chance was over. Even I could not
definitely fall in love after one interview with a girl I was never to
see again! And falling in love is so pleasant! I cursed my lost chance,
and went back to the inn. I talked to the waiter.

"Yes, a lady in pink had lunched there with a party. Had gone on to the
Castle. A party from Tonbridge it was."

Barnhurst Castle is close to Sefton Manor. The inn lays itself out to
entertain persons who come in brakes and carve their names on the walls
of the Castle keep. The inn has a visitors' book. I examined it. Some
twenty feminine names. Any one might be hers. The waiter looked over my
shoulder. I turned the pages.

"Only parties staying in the house in this part of the book," said the
waiter.

My eye caught one name. "Selwyn Sefton," in a clear, round, black
hand-writing.

"Staying here?" I pointed to the name.

"Yes, sir; came to-day, sir."

"Can I have a private sitting-room?"

I had one. I ordered my dinner to be served in it, and I sat down and
considered my course of action. Should I invite my cousin Selwyn to
dinner, ply him with wine, and exact promises? Honour forbade. Should I
seek him out and try to establish friendly relations? To what end?

Then I saw from my window a young man in a light-checked suit, with a
face at once pallid and coarse. He strolled along the gravel path, and
a woman's voice in the garden called "Selwyn."

He disappeared in the direction of the voice. I don't think I ever
disliked a man so much at first sight.

"Brute," said I, "why should he have the house? He'd stucco it all over
as likely as not; perhaps let it! He'd never stand the ghosts,
either----"

Then the inexcusable, daring idea of my life came to me, striking me
rigid--a blow from my other self. It must have been a minute or two
before my muscles relaxed and my arms fell at my sides.

"I'll do it," I said.

I dined. I told the people of the house not to sit up for me. I was
going to see friends in the neighbourhood, and might stay the night with
them. I took my Inverness cape with me on my arm and my soft felt hat in
my pocket. I wore a light suit and a straw hat.

Before I started I leaned cautiously from my window. The lamp at the bow
window next to mine showed me the pallid young man, smoking a fat,
reeking cigar. I hoped he would continue to sit there smoking. His
window looked the right way; and if he didn't see what I wanted him to
see some one else in the inn would. The landlady had assured me that I
should disturb no one if I came in at half-past twelve.

"We hardly keep country hours here, sir," she said, "on account of so
much excursionist business."

I bought candles in the village, and, as I went down across the park in
the soft darkness, I turned again and again to be sure that the light
and the pallid young man were still at that window. It was now past
eleven.

I got into the house and lighted a candle, and crept through the dark
kitchens, whose windows, I knew, did not look towards the inn. When I
came to the hall I blew out my candle. I dared not show light
prematurely, and in the unhaunted part of the house.

I gave myself a nasty knock against one of the long tables, but it
helped me to get my bearings, and presently I laid my hand on the stone
balustrade of the great staircase. You would hardly believe me if I were
to tell you truly of my sensations as I began to go up these stairs. I
am not a coward--at least, I had never thought so till then--but the
absolute darkness unnerved me. I had to go slowly, or I should have lost
my head and blundered up the stairs three at a time, so strong was the
feeling of something--something uncanny--just behind me.

I set my teeth. I reached the top of the stairs, felt along the walls,
and after a false start, which landed me in the great picture gallery, I
found the white parlour, entered it, closed the door, and felt my way to
a little room without a window, which we had decided must have been a
powdering-room.

Here I ventured to re-light my candle.

The white parlour, I remembered, was fully furnished. Returning to it I
struck one match, and by its flash determined the way to the
mantelpiece.

Then I closed the powdering-room door behind me. I felt my way to the
mantelpiece and took down the two brass twenty-lighted candelabra. I
placed these on a table a yard or two from the window, and in them set
up my candles. It is astonishingly difficult in the dark to do anything,
even a thing so simple as the setting up of a candle.

Then I went back into my little room, put on the Inverness cape and the
slouch hat, and looked at my watch. Eleven-thirty. I must wait. I sat
down and waited. I thought how rich I was--the thought fell flat; I
wanted this house. I thought of my beautiful pink lady; but I put that
thought aside; I had an inward consciousness that my conduct, more
heroic than enough in one sense, would seem mean and crafty in her eyes.
Only ten minutes had passed. I could not wait till twelve. The chill of
the night and of the damp, unused house, and, perhaps, some less
material influence, made me shiver.

I opened the door, crept on hands and knees to the table, and, carefully
keeping myself below the level of the window, I reached up a trembling
arm, and lighted, one by one, my forty candles. The room was a blaze of
light. My courage came back to me with the retreat of the darkness. I
was far too excited to know what a fool I was making of myself. I rose
boldly, and struck an attitude over against the window, where the
candle-light shone upon as well as behind me. My Inverness was flung
jauntily over my shoulder, my soft, black felt twisted and slouched over
my eyes.

There I stood for the world, and particularly for my cousin Selwyn, to
see, the very image of the ghost that haunted that chamber. And from my
window I could see the light in that other window, and indistinctly the
lounging figure there. Oh, my cousin Selwyn, I wished many things to
your address in that moment! For it was only a moment that I had to feel
brave and daring in. Then I heard, deep down in the house, a sound, very
slight, very faint. Then came silence. I drew a deep breath. The silence
endured. And I stood by my lighted window.

After a very long time, as it seemed, I heard a board crack, and then a
soft rustling sound that drew near and seemed to pause outside the very
door of my parlour.

Again I held my breath, and now I thought of the most horrible story Poe
ever wrote--"The Fall of the House of Usher"--and I fancied I saw the
handle of that door move. I fixed my eyes on it. The fancy passed: and
returned.

Then again there was silence. And then the door opened with a soft,
silent suddenness, and I saw in the doorway a figure in trailing white.
Its eyes blazed in a death-white face. It made two ghostly, gliding
steps forward, and my heart stood still. I had not thought it possible
for a man to experience so sharp a pang of sheer terror. I had
masqueraded as one of the ghosts in this accursed house. Well, the other
ghost--the real one--had come to meet me. I do not like to dwell on that
moment. The only thing which it pleases me to remember is that I did not
scream or go mad. I think I stood on the verge of both.

The ghost, I say, took two steps forward; then it threw up its arms, the
lighted taper it carried fell on the floor, and it reeled back against
the door with its arms across its face.

The fall of the candle woke me as from a nightmare. It fell solidly, and
rolled away under the table.

I perceived that my ghost was human. I cried incoherently: "Don't, for
Heaven's sake--it's all right."

The ghost dropped its hands and turned agonised eyes on me. I tore off
my cloak and hat.

"I--didn't--scream," she said, and with that I sprang forward and caught
her in my arms--my poor, pink lady--white now as a white rose.

I carried her into the powdering-room, and left one candle with her,
extinguishing the others hastily, for now I saw what in my extravagant
folly had escaped me before, that my ghost exhibition might bring the
whole village down on the house. I tore down the long corridor and
double locked the doors leading from it to the staircase, then back to
the powdering-room and the prone white rose. How, in the madness of that
night's folly, I had thought to bring a brandy-flask passes my
understanding. But I had done it. Now I rubbed her hands with the
spirit. I rubbed her temples, I tried to force it between her lips, and
at last she sighed and opened her eyes.

"Oh--thank God--thank God!" I cried, for indeed I had almost feared that
my mad trick had killed her. "Are you better? oh, poor little lady, are
you better?"

She moved her head a little on my arm.

Again she sighed, and her eyes closed. I gave her more brandy. She took
it, choked, raised herself against my shoulder.

"I'm all right now," she said faintly. "It served me right. How silly it
all is!" Then she began to laugh, and then she began to cry.

It was at this moment that we heard voices on the terrace below. She
clutched at my arm in a frenzy of terror, the bright tears glistening on
her cheeks.

"Oh! not any more, not any more," she cried. "I can't bear it."

"Hush," I said, taking her hands strongly in mine. "I've played the
fool; so have you. We must play the man now. The people in the village
have seen the lights--that's all. They think we're burglars. They can't
get in. Keep quiet, and they'll go away."

But when they did go away they left the local constable on guard. He
kept guard like a man till daylight began to creep over the hill, and
then he crawled into the hayloft and fell asleep, small blame to him.

But through those long hours I sat beside her and held her hand. At
first she clung to me as a frightened child clings, and her tears were
the prettiest, saddest things to see. As we grew calmer we talked.

"I did it to frighten my cousin," I owned. "I meant to have told you
to-day, I mean yesterday, only you went away. I am Lawrence Sefton, and
the place is to go either to me or to my cousin Selwyn. And I wanted to
frighten him off it. But you, why did you----?"

Even then I couldn't see. She looked at me.

"I don't know how I ever could have thought I was brave enough to do it,
but I did want the house so, and I wanted to frighten you----"

"To frighten _me_. Why?"

"Because I am your cousin Selwyn," she said, hiding her face in her
hands.

"And you knew me?" I asked.

"By your ring," she said. "I saw your father wear it when I was a little
girl. Can't we get back to the inn now?"

"Not unless you want every one to know how silly we have been."

"I wish you'd forgive me," she said when we had talked awhile, and she
had even laughed at the description of the pallid young man on whom I
had bestowed, in my mind, her name.

"The wrong is mutual," I said; "we will exchange forgivenesses."

"Oh, but it isn't," she said eagerly. "Because I knew it was you, and
you didn't know it was me: you wouldn't have tried to frighten _me_."

"You know I wouldn't." My voice was tenderer than I meant it to be.

She was silent.

"And who is to have the house?" she said.

"Why you, of course."

"I never will."

"Why?"

"Oh, because!"

"Can't we put off the decision?" I asked.

"Impossible. We must decide to-morrow--to-day I mean."

"Well, when we meet to-morrow--I mean to-day--with lawyers and chaperones
and mothers and relations, give me one word alone with you."

"Yes," she answered, with docility.

       *       *       *       *       *

"Do you know," she said presently, "I can never respect myself again? To
undertake a thing like that, and then be so horribly frightened. Oh! I
thought you really _were_ the other ghost."

"I will tell you a secret," said I. "I thought _you_ were, and I was
much more frightened than you."

"Oh well," she said, leaning against my shoulder as a tired child might
have done, "if you were frightened too, Cousin Lawrence, I don't mind so
very, very much."

It was soon afterwards that, cautiously looking out of the parlour
window for the twentieth time, I had the happiness of seeing the local
policeman disappear into the stable rubbing his eyes.

We got out of the window on the other side of the house, and went back
to the inn across the dewy park. The French window of the sitting-room
which had let her out let us both in. No one was stirring, so no one
save she and I were any the wiser as to that night's work.

       *       *       *       *       *

It was like a garden party next day, when lawyers and executors and
aunts and relations met on the terrace in front of Sefton Manor House.

Her eyes were downcast. She followed her Aunt demurely over the house
and the grounds.

"Your decision," said my great-uncle's solicitor, "has to be given
within the hour."

"My cousin and I will announce it within that time," I said and I at
once gave her my arm.

Arrived at the sundial we stopped.

"This is my proposal," I said: "we will say that we decide that the
house is yours--we will spend the £20,000 in restoring it and the
grounds. By the time that's done we can decide who is to have it."

"But how?"

"Oh, we'll draw lots, or toss a halfpenny, or anything you like."

"I'd rather decide now," she said; "_you_ take it."

"No, _you_ shall."

"I'd rather you had it. I--I don't feel so greedy as I did yesterday,"
she said.

"Neither do I. Or at any rate not in the same way."

"Do--do take the house," she said very earnestly.

Then I said: "My cousin Selwyn, unless you take the house, I shall make
you an offer of marriage."

"_Oh!_" she breathed.

"And when you have declined it, on the very proper ground of our too
slight acquaintance, I will take my turn at declining. I will decline
the house. Then, if you are obdurate, it will become an asylum. Don't be
obdurate. Pretend to take the house and----"

She looked at me rather piteously.

"Very well," she said, "I will pretend to take the house, and when it is
restored----"

"We'll spin the penny."

So before the waiting relations the house was adjudged to my cousin
Selwyn. When the restoration was complete I met Selwyn at the sundial.
We had met there often in the course of the restoration, in which
business we both took an extravagant interest.

"Now," I said, "we'll spin the penny. Heads you take the house, tails it
comes to me."

I spun the coin--it fell on the brick steps of the sundial, and stuck
upright there, wedged between two bricks. She laughed; I laughed.

"It's not _my_ house," I said.

"It's not _my_ house," said she.

"Dear," said I, and we were neither of us laughing then, "can't it be
_our_ house?"

And, thank God, our house it is.



II

THE POWER OF DARKNESS


It was an enthusiastic send-off. Half the students from her Atelier were
there, and twice as many more from other studios. She had been the belle
of the Artists' Quarter in Montparnasse for three golden months. Now she
was off to the Riviera to meet her people, and every one she knew was at
the Gare de Lyons to catch the pretty last glimpse of her. And, as had
been more than once said late of an evening, "to see her was to love
her." She was one of those agitating blondes, with the naturally rippled
hair, the rounded rose-leaf cheeks, the large violet-blue eyes that look
all things and mean Heaven alone knows how little. She held her court
like a queen, leaning out of the carriage window and receiving bouquets,
books, journals, long last words, and last longing looks. All eyes were
on her, and her eyes were for all--and her smile. For all but one, that
is. Not a single glance went Edward's way, and Edward, tall, lean,
gaunt, with big eyes, straight nose, and mouth somewhat too small, too
beautiful, seemed to grow thinner and paler before one's eyes. One pair
of eyes at least saw the miracle worked, the paling of what had seemed
absolute pallor, the revelation of the bones of a face that seemed
already covered but by the thinnest possible veil of flesh.

And the man whose eyes saw this rejoiced, for he loved her, like the
rest, or not like the rest; and he had had Edward's face before him for
the last month, in that secret shrine where we set the loved and the
hated, the shrine that is lighted by a million lamps kindled at the
soul's flame, the shrine that leaps into dazzling glow when the candles
are out and one lies alone on hot pillows to outface the night and the
light as best one may.

"Oh, good-bye, good-bye, all of you," said Rose. "I shall miss you--oh,
you don't know how I shall miss you all!"

She gathered the glances of her friends and her worshippers on her own
glance, as one gathers jewels on a silken string. The eyes of Edward
alone seemed to escape her.

"Em voiture, messieurs et dames."

Folk drew back from the train. There was a whistle. And then at the very
last little moment of all, as the train pulled itself together for the
start, her eyes met Edward's eyes. And the other man saw the meeting,
and he knew--which was more than Edward did.

So, when the light of life having been borne away in the retreating
train, the broken-hearted group dispersed, the other man, whose name by
the way was Vincent, linked his arm in Edward's and asked cheerily:
"Whither away, sweet nymph?"

"I'm off home," said Edward. "The 7.20 to Calais."

"Sick of Paris?"

"One has to see one's people sometimes, don't you know, hang it all!"
was Edward's way of expressing the longing that tore him for the old
house among the brown woods of Kent.

"No attraction here now, eh?"

"The chief attraction has gone, certainly," Edward made himself say.

"But there are as good fish in the sea----?"

"Fishing isn't my trade," said Edward.

"The beautiful Rose!----" said Vincent.

Edward raised hurriedly the only shield he could find. It happened to be
the truth as he saw it.

"Oh," he said, "of course, we're all in love with her--and all
hopelessly."

Vincent perceived that this was truth, as Edward saw it.

"What are you going to do till your train goes?" he asked.

"I don't know. Café, I suppose, and a vilely early dinner."

"Let's look in at the Musée Grévin," said Vincent.

The two were friends. They had been school-fellows, and this is a link
that survives many a strain too strong to be resisted by more intimate
and vital bonds. And they were fellow-students, though that counts for
little or much--as you take it. Besides, Vincent knew something about
Edward that no one else of their age and standing even guessed. He knew
that Edward was afraid of the dark, and why. He had found it out that
Christmas that the two had spent at an English country house. The house
was full: there was a dance. There were to be theatricals. Early in the
new year the hostess meant to "move house" to an old convent, built in
Tudor times, a beautiful place with terraces and clipped yew trees,
castellated battlements, a moat, swans, and a ghost story.

"You boys," she said, "must put up with a shake-down in the new house. I
hope the ghost won't worry you. She's a nun with a bunch of keys and no
eyes. Comes and breathes softly on the back of your neck when you're
shaving. Then you see her in the glass, and, as often as not, you cut
your throat." She laughed. So did Edward and Vincent, and the other
young men; there were seven or eight of them.

But that night, when sparse candles had lighted "the boys" to their
rooms, when the last pipe had been smoked, the last good-night said,
there came a fumbling with the handle of Vincent's door. Edward entered
an unwieldy figure clasping pillows, trailing blankets.

"What the deuce?" queried Vincent in natural amazement.

"I'll turn in here on the floor, if you don't mind," said Edward. "I
know it's beastly rot, but I can't stand it. The room they've put me
into, it's an attic as big as a barn--and there's a great door at the
end, eight feet high--raw oak it is--and it leads into a sort of
horror-hole--bare beams and rafters, and black as Hell. I know I'm an
abject duffer, but there it is--I can't face it."

Vincent was sympathetic, though he had never known a night-terror that
could not be exorcised by pipe, book, and candle.

"I know, old chap. There's no reasoning about these things," said he,
and so on.

"You can't despise me more than I despise myself," Edward said. "I feel
a crawling hound. But it is so. I had a scare when I was a kid, and it
seems to have left a sort of brand on me. I'm branded 'coward,' old man,
and the feel of it's not nice."

Again Vincent was sympathetic, and the poor little tale came out. How
Edward, eight years old, and greedy as became his little years, had
sneaked down, night-clad, to pick among the outcomings of a
dinner-party, and how, in the hall, dark with the light of an "artistic"
coloured glass lantern, a white figure had suddenly faced him--leaned
towards him it seemed, pointed lead-white hands at his heart. That next
day, finding him weak from his fainting fit, had shown the horror to be
but a statue, a new purchase of his father's, had mattered not one
whit.

Edward had shared Vincent's room, and Vincent, alone of all men, shared
Edward's secret.

And now, in Paris, Rose speeding away towards Cannes, Vincent said:
"Let's look in at the Musée Grévin."

The Musée Grévin is a wax-work show. Your mind, at the word, flies
instantly to the excellent exhibition founded by the worthy Madame
Tussaud, and you think you know what wax-works mean. But you are wrong.
The exhibition of Madame Tussaud--in these days, at any rate--is the
work of _bourgeois_ for a _bourgeois_ class. The Musée Grévin contains
the work of artists for a nation of artists. Wax, modelled and retouched
till it seems as near life as death is: this is what one sees at the
Musée Grévin.

"Let's look in at the Musée Grévin," said Vincent. He remembered the
pleasant thrill the Musée had given him, and wondered what sort of a
thrill it would give his friend.

"I hate museums," said Edward.

"This isn't a museum," Vincent said, and truly; "it's just wax-works."

"All right," said Edward indifferently. And they went. They reached the
doors of the Musée in the grey-brown dusk of a February evening.

One walks along a bare, narrow corridor, much like the entrance to the
stalls of the Standard Theatre, and such daylight as there may be fades
away behind one, and one finds oneself in a square hall, heavily
decorated, and displaying with its electric lights Loie Fuller in her
accordion-pleated skirts, and one or two other figures not designed to
quicken the pulse.

"It's very like Madame Tussaud's," said Edward.

"Yes," Vincent said; "isn't it?"

Then they passed through an arch, and behold, a long room with waxen
groups life-like behind glass--the _coulisses_ of the Opéra, Kitchener
at Fashoda--this last with a desert background lit by something
convincingly like desert sunlight.

"By Jove!" said Edward, "that's jolly good."

"Yes," said Vincent again; "isn't it?"

Edward's interest grew. The things were so convincing, so very nearly
alive. Given the right angle, their glass eyes met one's own, and
seemed to exchange with one meaning glances.

Vincent led the way to an arched door labelled: "Gallerie de la
Revolution."

There one saw, almost in the living, suffering body, poor Marie
Antoinette in prison in the Temple, her little son on his couch of rags,
the rats eating from his platter, the brutal Simon calling to him from
the grated window; one almost heard the words, "Ho la, little Capet--are
you asleep?"

One saw Marat bleeding in his bath--the brave Charlotte eyeing him--the
very tiles of the bath-room, the glass of the windows with, outside, the
very sunlight, as it seemed, of 1793 on that "yellow July evening, the
thirteenth of the month."

The spectators did not move in a public place among wax-work figures.
They peeped through open doors into rooms where history seemed to be
re-lived. The rooms were lighted each by its own sun, or lamp, or
candle. The spectators walked among shadows that might have oppressed a
nervous person.

"Fine, eh?" said Vincent.

"Yes," said Edward; "it's wonderful."

A turn of a corner brought them to a room. Marie Antoinette fainting,
supported by her ladies; poor fat Louis by the window looking literally
sick.

"What's the matter with them all?" said Edward.

"Look at the window," said Vincent.

There was a window to the room. Outside was sunshine--the sunshine of
1792--and, gleaming in it, blonde hair flowing, red mouth half open,
what seemed the just-severed head of a beautiful woman. It was raised on
a pike, so that it seemed to be looking in at the window.

"I say!" said Edward, and the head on the pike seemed to sway before his
eyes.

"Madame de Lamballe. Good thing, isn't it?" said Vincent.

"It's altogether too much of a good thing," said Edward. "Look
here--I've had enough of this."

"Oh, you must just see the Catacombs," said Vincent; "nothing bloody,
you know. Only Early Christians being married and baptized, and all
that."

He led the way, down some clumsy steps to the cellars which the genius
of a great artist has transformed into the exact semblance of the old
Catacombs at Rome. The same rough hewing of rock, the same sacred
tokens engraved strongly and simply; and among the arches of these
subterranean burrowings the life of the Early Christians, their
sacraments, their joys, their sorrows--all expressed in groups of
wax-work as like life as Death is.

"But this is very fine, you know," said Edward, getting his breath again
after Madame de Lamballe, and his imagination loved the thought of the
noble sufferings and refrainings of these first lovers of the Crucified
Christ.

"Yes," said Vincent for the third time; "isn't it?"

They passed the baptism and the burying and the marriage. The tableaux
were sufficiently lighted, but little light strayed to the narrow
passage where the two men walked, and the darkness seemed to press,
tangible as a bodily presence, against Edward's shoulder. He glanced
backward.

"Come," he said, "I've had enough."

"Come on, then," said Vincent.

They turned the corner--and a blaze of Italian sunlight struck at their
eyes with positive dazzlement. There lay the Coliseum--tier on tier of
eager faces under the blue sky of Italy. They were level with the
arena. In the arena were crosses; from them drooped bleeding figures. On
the sand beasts prowled, bodies lay. They saw it all through bars. They
seemed to be in the place where the chosen victims waited their turn,
waited for the lions and the crosses, the palm and the crown. Close by
Edward was a group--an old man, a woman--children. He could have touched
them with his hand. The woman and the man stared in an agony of terror
straight in the eyes of a snarling tiger, ten feet long, that stood up
on its hind feet and clawed through the bars at them. The youngest
child, only, unconscious of the horror, laughed in the very face of it.
Roman soldiers, unmoved in military vigilance, guarded the group of
martyrs. In a low cage to the left more wild beasts cringed and seemed
to growl, unfed. Within the grating on the wide circle of yellow sand
lions and tigers drank the blood of Christians. Close against the bars a
great lion sucked the chest of a corpse on whose blood-stained face the
horror of the death-agony was printed plain.

"Good God!" said Edward. Vincent took his arm suddenly, and he started
with what was almost a shriek.

"What a nervous chap you are!" said Vincent complacently, as they
regained the street where the lights were, and the sound of voices and
the movement of live human beings--all that warms and awakens nerves
almost paralysed by the life in death of waxen immobility.

"I don't know," said Edward. "Let's have a vermouth, shall we? There's
something uncanny about those wax things. They're like life--but they're
much more like death. Suppose they moved? I don't feel at all sure that
they don't move, when the lights are all out, and there's no one there."
He laughed. "I suppose you were never frightened, Vincent?"

"Yes, I was once," said Vincent, sipping his absinthe. "Three other men
and I were taking turns by twos to watch a dead man. It was a fancy of
his mother's. Our time was up, and the other watch hadn't come. So my
chap--the one who was watching with me, I mean--went to fetch them. I
didn't think I should mind. But it was just like you say."

"How?"

"Why, I kept thinking: suppose it should move--it was so like life. And
if it did move, of course it would have been because it _was_ alive,
and I ought to have been glad, because the man was my friend. But all
the same, if it had moved I should have gone mad."

"Yes," said Edward; "that's just exactly it."

Vincent called for a second absinthe.

"But a dead body's different to wax-works," he said. "I can't understand
any one being frightened of _them_."

"Oh, can't you?" The contempt in the other's tone stung him. "I bet you
wouldn't spend a night alone in that place."

"I bet you five pounds I do!"

"Done!" said Edward briskly. "At least, I would if you'd got five
pounds."

"But I have. I'm simply rolling. I've sold my Dejanira, didn't you know?
I shall win your money, though, anyway. But _you_ couldn't do it, old
man. I suppose you'll never outgrow that childish scare."

"You might shut up about that," said Edward shortly.

"Oh, it's nothing to be ashamed of; some women are afraid of mice or
spiders. I say, does Rose know you're a coward?"

"Vincent!"

"No offence, old boy. One may as well call a spade a spade. Of course,
you've got tons of moral courage, and all that. But you _are_ afraid of
the dark--and wax-works!"

"Are you trying to quarrel with me?"

"Heaven in its mercy forbid; but I bet _you_ wouldn't spend a night in
the Musée Grévin and keep your senses."

"What's the stake?"

"Anything you like."

"Make it, that if I do, you'll never speak to Rose again--and what's
more, that you'll never speak to me," said Edward, white-hot, knocking
down a chair as he rose.

"Done!" said Vincent; "but you'll never do it. Keep your hair on.
Besides, you're off home."

"I shall be back in ten days. I'll do it then," said Edward, and was off
before the other could answer.

Then Vincent, left alone, sat still, and over his third absinthe
remembered how, before she had known Edward, Rose had smiled on him;
more than on the others, he had thought. He thought of her wide, lovely
eyes, her wild-rose cheeks, the scented curves of her hair, and then and
there the devil entered into him.

In ten days Edward would undoubtedly try to win his wager. He would try
to spend the night in the Musée Grévin. Perhaps something could be
arranged before that. If one knew the place thoroughly! A little scare
would serve Edward right for being the man to whom that last glance of
Rose's had been given.

Vincent dined lightly, but with conscientious care--and as he dined, he
thought. Something might be done by tying a string to one of the
figures, and making it move, when Edward was going through that
impossible night among the effigies that are so like life--so like
death. Something that was not the devil said: "You may frighten him out
of his wits." And the devil answered: "Nonsense! do him good. He
oughtn't to be such a schoolgirl."

Anyway, the five pounds might as well be won to-night as any other
night. He would take a great coat, sleep sound in the place of horrors,
and the people who opened it in the morning to sweep and dust would bear
witness that he had passed the night there. He thought he might trust to
the French love of a sporting wager to keep him from any bother with the
authorities.

So he went in among the crowd, and looked about among the wax-works for
a place to hide in. He was not in the least afraid of these lifeless
images. He had always been able to control his nervous tremors. He was
not even afraid of being frightened, which, by the way, is the worst
fear of all. As one looks at the room of the poor little Dauphin, one
sees a door to the left. It opens out of the room on to blackness. There
were few people in the gallery. Vincent watched, and in a moment when he
was alone he stepped over the barrier and through this door. A narrow
passage ran round behind the wall of the room. Here he hid, and when the
gallery was deserted he looked out across the body of little Capet to
the gaolers at the window. There was a soldier at the window, too.
Vincent amused himself with the fancy that this soldier might walk round
the passage at the back of the room and tap him on the shoulder in the
darkness. Only the head and shoulders of the soldier and the gaoler
showed, so, of course, they could not walk, even if they were something
that was not wax-work.

Presently he himself went along the passage and round to the window
where they were. He found that they had legs. They were full-sized
figures dressed completely in the costume of the period.

"Thorough the beggars are, even the parts that don't show--artists, upon
my word," said Vincent, and went back to his doorway, thinking of the
hidden carving behind the capitols of Gothic cathedrals.

But the idea of the soldier who might come behind him in the dark stuck
in his mind. Though still a few visitors strolled through the gallery,
the closing hour was near. He supposed it would be quite dark then. And
now he had allowed himself to be amused by the thought of something that
should creep up behind him in the dark, he might possibly be nervous in
that passage round which, if wax-works could move, the soldier might
have come.

"By Jove!" he said, "one might easily frighten oneself by just fancying
things. Suppose there were a back way from Marat's bath-room, and
instead of the soldier Marat came out of his bath, with his wet towels
stained with blood, and dabbed them against your neck."

When next the gallery was empty he crept out. Not because he was
nervous, he told himself, but because one might be, and because the
passage was draughty, and he meant to sleep.

He went down the steps into the Catacombs, and here he spoke the truth
to himself.

"Hang it all!" he said, "I _was_ nervous. That fool Edward must have
infected me. Mesmeric influences, or something."

"Chuck it and go home," said Commonsense.

"I'm damned if I do!" said Vincent.

There were a good many people in the Catacombs at the moment--live
people. He sucked confidence from their nearness, and went up and down
looking for a hiding-place.

Through rock-hewn arches he saw a burial scene--a corpse on a bier
surrounded by mourners; a great pillar cut off half the still, lying
figure. It was all still and unemotional as a Sunday School oleograph.
He waited till no one was near, then slipped quickly through the
mourning group and hid behind the pillar. Surprising--heartening too--to
find a plain rushed chair there, doubtless set for the resting of tired
officials. He sat down in it, comforted his hand with the commonplace
lines of its rungs and back. A shrouded waxen figure just behind him to
the left of his pillar worried him a little, but the corpse left him
unmoved as itself. A far better place this than that draughty passage
where the soldier with legs kept intruding on the darkness that is
always behind one.

Custodians went along the passages issuing orders. A stillness fell.
Then suddenly all the lights went out.

"That's all right," said Vincent, and composed himself to sleep.

But he seemed to have forgotten what sleep was like. He firmly fixed his
thoughts on pleasant things--the sale of his picture, dances with Rose,
merry evenings with Edward and the others. But the thoughts rushed by
him like motes in sunbeams--he could not hold a single one of them, and
presently it seemed that he had thought of every pleasant thing that had
ever happened to him, and that now, if he thought at all, he must think
of the things one wants most to forget. And there would be time in this
long night to think much of many things. But now he found that he could
no longer think.

The draped effigy just behind him worried him again. He had been trying,
at the back of his mind, behind the other thoughts, to strangle the
thought of it. But it was there--very close to him. Suppose it put out
its hand, its wax hand, and touched him. But it was of wax: it could not
move. No, of course not. But suppose it _did_?

He laughed aloud, a short, dry laugh that echoed through the vaults. The
cheering effect of laughter has been over-estimated, perhaps. Anyhow, he
did not laugh again.

The silence was intense, but it was a silence thick with rustlings and
breathings, and movements that his ear, strained to the uttermost, could
just not hear. Suppose, as Edward had said, when all the lights were
out, these things did move. A corpse was a thing that had moved--given a
certain condition--Life. What if there were a condition, given which
these things could move? What if such conditions were present now? What
if all of them--Napoleon, yellow-white from his death sleep--the beasts
from the Amphitheatre, gore dribbling from their jaws--that soldier with
the legs--all were drawing near to him in this full silence? Those
death masks of Robespierre and Mirabeau, they might float down through
the darkness till they touched his face. That head of Madame de Lamballe
on the pike might be thrust at him from behind the pillar. The silence
throbbed with sounds that could not quite be heard.

"You fool," he said to himself, "your dinner has disagreed with you,
with a vengeance. Don't be an ass. The whole lot are only a set of big
dolls."

He felt for his matches, and lighted a cigarette. The gleam of the match
fell on the face of the corpse in front of him. The light was brief, and
it seemed, somehow, impossible to look, by that light, in every corner
where one would have wished to look. The match burnt his fingers as it
went out; and there were only three more matches in the box.

It was dark again, and the image left on the darkness was that of the
corpse in front of him. He thought of his dead friend. When the
cigarette was smoked out, he thought of him more and more, till it
seemed that what lay on the bier was not wax. His hand reached forward,
and drew back more than once. But at last he made it touch the bier,
and through the blackness travel up along a lean, rigid arm to the wax
face that lay there so still. The touch was not reassuring. Just so, and
not otherwise, had his dead friend's face felt, to the last touch of his
lips: cold, firm, waxen. People always said the dead were "waxen." How
true that was! He had never thought of it before. He thought of it now.

He sat still, so still that every muscle ached, because if you wish to
hear the sounds that infest silence, you must be very still indeed. He
thought of Edward, and of the string he had meant to tie to one of the
figures.

"That wouldn't be needed," he told himself. And his ears ached with
listening--listening for the sound that, it seemed, _must_ break at last
from that crowded silence.

He never knew how long he sat there. To move, to go up, to batter at the
door and clamour to be let out--that one could have done if one had had
a lantern, or even a full matchbox. But in the dark, not knowing the
turnings, to feel one's way among these things that were so like life
and yet were not alive--to touch, perhaps, these faces that were not
dead, and yet felt like death. His heart beat heavily in his throat at
the thought.

No, he must sit still till morning. He had been hypnotised into this
state, he told himself, by Edward, no doubt; it was not natural to him.

Then suddenly the silence was shattered. In the dark something moved.
And, after those sounds that the silence teemed with, the noise seemed
to him thunder-loud. Yet it was only a very, very little sound, just the
rustling of drapery, as though something had turned in its sleep. And
there was a sigh--not far off.

Vincent's muscles and tendons tightened like fine-drawn wire. He
listened. There was nothing more: only the silence, the thick silence.

The sound had seemed to come from a part of the vault where, long ago,
when there was light, he had seen a grave being dug for the body of a
young girl martyr.

"I will get up and go out," said Vincent. "I have three matches. I am
off my head. I shall really be nervous presently if I don't look out."

He got up and struck a match, refused his eyes the sight of the corpse
whose waxen face he had felt in the blackness, and made his way through
the crowd of figures. By the match's flicker they seemed to make way for
him, to turn their heads to look after him. The match lasted till he got
to a turn of the rock-hewn passage. His next match showed him the burial
scene: the little, thin body of the martyr, palm in hand, lying on the
rock floor in patient waiting, the grave-digger, the mourners. Some
standing, some kneeling, one crouched on the ground.

This was where that sound had come from, that rustle, that sigh. He had
thought he was going away from it: instead, he had come straight to the
spot where, if anywhere, his nerves might be expected to play him false.

"Bah!" he said, and he said it aloud, "the silly things are only wax.
Who's afraid?" His voice sounded loud in the silence that lives with the
wax people. "They're only wax," he said again, and touched with his
foot, contemptuously, the crouching figure in the mantle.

And, as he touched it, it raised its head and looked vacantly at him,
and its eyes were mobile and alive. He staggered back against another
figure, and dropped the match. In the new darkness he heard the
crouching figure move towards him. Then the darkness fitted in round him
very closely.

       *       *       *       *       *

"What was it exactly that sent poor Vincent mad: you've never told me?"
Rose asked the question. She and Edward were looking out over the pines
and tamarisks, across the blue Mediterranean. They were very happy,
because it was their honeymoon.

He told her about the Musée Grévin and the wager, but he did not state
the terms of it.

"But why did he think you would be afraid?"

He told her why.

"And then what happened?"

"Why, I suppose he thought there was no time like the present--for his
five pounds, you know--and he hid among the wax-works. And I missed my
train, and _I_ thought there was no time like the present. In fact,
dear, I thought if I waited I should have time to make certain of
funking it, so I hid there, too. And I put on my big black capuchon, and
sat down right in one of the wax-work groups--they couldn't see me from
the passage where you walk. And after they put the lights out I simply
went to sleep; and I woke up--and there was a light, and I heard some
one say: 'They're only wax,' and it was Vincent. He thought I was one of
the wax people, till I looked at him; and I expect he thought I was one
of them even then, poor chap. And his match went out, and while I was
trying to find my railway reading-lamp that I'd got near me, he began to
scream, and the night watchman came running. And now he thinks every one
in the asylum is made of wax, and he screams if they come near him. They
have to put his food beside him while he's asleep. It's horrible. I
can't help feeling as if it were my fault, somehow."

"Of course it's not," said Rose. "Poor Vincent! Do you know I never
_really_ liked him." There was a pause. Then she said: "But how was it
_you_ weren't frightened?"

"I was," he said, "horribly frightened. I--I--it sounds idiotic, but I
thought I should go mad at first--I did really: and yet I _had_ to go
through with it. And then I got among the figures of the people in the
Catacombs, the people who died for--for things, don't you know, died in
such horrible ways. And there they were, so calm--and believing it was
all all right. And I thought about what they'd gone through. It sounds
awful rot I know, dear--but I expect I was sleepy. Those wax people,
they sort of seemed as if they were alive, and were telling me there
wasn't anything to be frightened about. I felt as if I were one of them,
and they were all my friends, and they'd wake me if anything went wrong,
so I just went to sleep."

"I think I understand," she said. But she didn't.

"And the odd thing is," he went on, "I've never been afraid of the dark
since. Perhaps his calling me a coward had something to do with it."

"I don't think so," said she. And she was right. But she would never
have understood how, nor why.



III

THE STRANGER WHO MIGHT HAVE BEEN OBSERVED


"There he goes--isn't he simply detestable!" She spoke suddenly, after a
silence longer than was usual to her; she was tired, and her voice was a
note or two above its habitual key. She blushed, a deep pink blush of
intense annoyance, as the young man passed down the long platform among
the crowd of city men and typewriting girls, patiently waiting for the
belated train to allow them to go home from work.

"Oh, do you think he heard? Oh, Molly--I believe he did!"

"Nonsense!" said Molly briskly, "of course he didn't. And I must say I
don't think he's so bad. If he didn't look so sulky he wouldn't be
_half_ bad, really. If his eyebrows weren't tied up into knots, I
believe he'd look quite too frightfully sweet for anything."

"He's exactly like that Polish model we had last week. Oh, Molly, he's
coming back again."

Again he passed the two girls. His expression was certainly not amiable.

"How long have you known him?" Molly asked.

"I _don't_ know him. I tell you I only see him on the platform at Mill
Vale. He and I seem to be the only people--the only decent
people--who've found out the new station. He goes up by the 9.1 every
day, and so do I. And the train's always late, so we have the platform
and the booking office to ourselves. And there we sit, or stand, or
walk, morning after morning like two stuck pigs in a trough of silence."

"Don't jumble your metaphors, though you very nearly carried it off with
the trough, I own. Stuck pigs don't walk--in troughs, or anywhere else."

"Well, you know what I mean----"

"But what do you want the wretched man to do? He can't speak to you: it
wouldn't be proper----"

"Proper--why not? We're human beings, not wild beasts. At least, I'm a
human being."

"And he's a beast--I see."

"I wish I were a man," said Nina. "There he is again. His nose goes up
another half inch every time he passes me. What's he got to be so
superior about? If I were a man I'd certainly pass the time of day with
a fellow-creature if I were condemned to spend from ten to forty minutes
with it six days out of the seven."

"I expect he's afraid you'd want to marry him. My brother Cecil says men
are always horribly frightened about that."

"Your brother Cecil!" said Nina scornfully. "Yes; that's just the sort
of thing anybody's brother Cecil _would_ say. He simply looks down on me
because I go third. He only goes second himself, too. Here's the
train----"

The two Art students climbed into their third-class carriage, and their
talk, leaving Nina's fellow-traveller, washed like a babbling brook
about the feet of great rocks, busied itself with the old Italian
Masters, painting as a mission, and the aims of Art--presently running
through flatter country and lapping round perspective, foreshortening,
tones, values high lights and the preposterous lisp of the anatomy
lecturer.

Arrived at Mill Vale the Slade students jumped from their carriage to
meet a wind that swept grey curtains of rain across the bleak length of
the platform.

"And we haven't so much as a rib of an umbrella between us," sighed
Molly, putting her white handkerchief over the "best" hat which
signalised her Saturday to Monday with her friend. "You're right: that
man is a pig. There he goes with an umbrella big enough for all three of
us. Oh, it's too bad! He's putting it down--he's running. He runs rather
well. He's exactly like the cast of the Discobolus in the Antique Room."

"Only his manners have not that repose that stamps the cast. Come
on--don't stand staring after him like that. We'd better run, too."

"He'll think we're running after him. Oh, bother----"

A moment of indecision, and Nina had turned her skirt over her head, and
the two ran home to the little rooms where Nina lived--in the house of
an old servant. Nina had no world of relations--she was alone. In the
world of Art she had many friends, and in the world of Art she meant to
make her mark. For the present she was content to make the tea, and then
to set feet on the fender for a cosy evening.

"Did you see him coming out of church?" Nina asked next day. "He looked
sulkier than ever."

"I can't think why you bother about him," said the other girl. "He's not
really interesting. What do you call him?"

"Nothing."

"Why, everything has a name, even a pudding. _I_ made a name for him at
once. It is 'the stranger who might have been observed----'"

They laughed. After the early dinner they went for a walk. None of your
strolls, but a good steady eight miles. Coming home, they met the
stranger: and then they talked about him again. For, fair reader, I
cannot conceal from you that there are many girls who do think and talk
about young men, even when they have not been introduced to them. Not
really nice girls like yourself, fair reader--but ordinary, commonplace
girls who have not your delicate natures, and who really do sometimes
experience a fleeting sensation of interest even in the people whose
names they don't know.

Next morning they saw him at the station. The 9.1 took the bit in its
teeth, and instead of being, as usual, the 9.30 something, became merely
the 9.23. So for some twenty odd minutes the stranger not only might
have been, but was, observed by four bright and critical eyes. I don't
mean that my girls stared, of course. Perhaps you do not know that there
are ways of observing strangers other than by the stare direct. He
looked sulkier than ever: but he also had eyes. Yet he, too, was far
from staring, so far that the indignant Nina broke out in a distracted
whisper: "There! you see! I'm not important enough for him even to
perceive my existence. I'm always expecting him to walk on me. I wonder
whether he'd apologise when he found I wasn't the station door-mat?"

The stranger shrugged his shoulders all to himself in his second-class
carriage when the train had started.

"'Simply detestable!' But how one talks prose without knowing it, all
along the line! How can I ever have come enough into her line of vision
to be distinguished by an epithet! And why this one? Detestable!"

The epithet, however distinguishing, seemed somehow to lack charm.

At Cannon Street Station the stranger looked sulkier than Nina had ever
seen him. She said so, adding: "Than I've ever seen him? Oh--I'm
wandering. He looks sulkier than I've ever seen any one--sulkier than
I've ever dreamed possible. Pig----"

Through the week, painting at the school and black and white work in the
evenings filled Nina's mind to the exclusion even of strangers who
might, in more leisured moments, seem worthy of observation. She was
aware of the sulky one on platforms, of course, but talking about him to
Molly was more amusing somehow than merely thinking of him. When it came
to thinking, the real, the earnest things of life--the Sketch Club, the
chance of the Melville Nettleship Prize, the intricate hideousness of
bones and muscles--took the field and kept it, against strangers and
acquaintances alike.

Saturday, turning this week's scribbled page to the fair, clear page of
next week, brought the stranger back to her thoughts, and to eyes now
not obscured by close realities.

He passed her on the platform, with a dozen bunches of violets in his
hands.

Outside, on the railway bridge, the red and green lamps glowed dully
through deep floods of yellow fog. The platform was crowded, the train
late. When at last it steamed slowly in, the crowd surged towards it.
The third-class carriages were filled in the moment. Nina hurried along
the platform peering into the second-class carriages. Full also.

Then the guard opened the way for her into the blue-cloth Paradise of a
first-class carriage; and, just as the train gave the shudder of disgust
which heralds its shame-faced reluctant departure, the door opened
again, and the guard pushed in another traveller--the "stranger who
might----" of course. The door banged, the train moved off with an air
of brisk determination. A hundred yards from the platform it stopped
dead.

There were no other travellers in that carriage. When the train had
stood still for ten minutes or so, the stranger got up and put his head
out of the window. At that instant the train decided to move again. It
did it suddenly, and, exhausted by the effort, stopped after half a
dozen yards' progress with so powerful a turn of the brake that the
stranger was flung sideways against Nina, and his elbow nearly knocked
her hat off.

He raised his own apologetically--but he did not speak even then.

"The wretch!" said Nina hotly; "he might at least have begged my
pardon."

The stranger sat down again, and began to read the _Spectator_. Nina had
no papers. The train moved on an inch or two, and the reddening yellow
of the fog seemed like a Charity blanket pressed against each window.
Three of the bunches of violets shook and vibrated and slipped, the
train moved again and they fell on the floor of the carriage. Nina
watched their trembling in an agony of irritation induced by the fog,
the delay, and the persistent silence of her companion. When the flowers
fell, she spoke.

"You've dropped your flowers," she said. Again a bow, a silent bow, and
the flowers were picked up.

"Oh, I'm desperate!" Nina said inwardly. "He must be mad--or dumb--or
have a vow of silence--I wonder which?"

The train had not yet reached the next station, though it had left the
last nearly an hour before.

"Which is it? Mad, dumb, or a monk? I _will_ find out. Well, it's his
own fault; he shouldn't be so aggravating. I'm going to speak to him.
I've made up my mind."

In the interval between decision and action the train in a sudden brief
access of nervous energy got itself through a station, and paused a
furlong down the line exhausted by the effort.

The stranger had put down his _Spectator_ and was gazing gloomily out at
the fog.

Nina drew a deep breath, and said--at least she nearly said: "What a
dreadful fog!"

But she stopped. That seemed a dull beginning. If she said that he would
think she was commonplace, and she had that sustaining inward
consciousness, mercifully vouchsafed even to the dullest of us, of being
really rather nice, and not commonplace at all. But what should she say?
If she said anything about the colour of the fog and Turner or Whistler,
it might be telling, but it would be of the shop shoppy. If she began
about books--the _Spectator_ suggested this--she would stand as a prig
confessed. If she spoke of politics she would be an ignorant impostor
soon exposed. If----But Nina took out her watch and resolved: "When the
little hand gets to the quarter I _will_ speak. Whatever I say, I'll
say something."

And when the big hand did get to the quarter Nina did speak.

"Why shouldn't we talk?" she said.

He looked at her; and he seemed to be struggling silently with some
emotion too deep for words.

"It's so silly to sit here like mutes," Nina went on hurriedly--a little
frightened, now she had begun, but more than a little determined not to
be frightened. "If we were at a dance we shouldn't know any more of each
other than we do now--and you'd have to talk then. Why shouldn't we
now?"

Then the stranger spoke, and at the first sentence Nina understood
exactly what reason had decided the stranger that they should not talk.
Yet now they did. If this were a work of fiction I shouldn't dare to
pretend that the train took more than two hours to get to Mill Vale. But
in a plain record of fact one must speak the truth. The train took
exactly two hours and fifty minutes to cover the eleven miles between
London and Mill Vale. After that first question and reply Nina and the
stranger talked the whole way.

He walked with her to the door of her lodging, and she offered him her
hand without that moment of hesitation which would have been natural to
any heroine, because she had debated the question of that handshake all
the way from the station, and made up her mind just as they reached the
church, a stone's throw from her home. When the door closed on her he
went slowly back to the churchyard to lay his violets on a grave. Nina
saw them there next day when she came out of church. She saw him too,
and gave him a bow and a very small smile, and turned away quickly. The
bow meant: "You see I'm not going to speak to you. You mustn't think I
want to be always talking to you." The smile meant: "But you mustn't
think I'm cross. I'm not--only----"

In the hot, stuffy "life-room" at the Slade next day Molly teased with
ill-judged bread-crumbs an arm hopelessly ill drawn, and chattered
softly to Nina, who in the Saturday solitude had drawn her easel behind
her friend's "donkey." "It's all very well here when you first come in,
but when once you _are_ warm, oh dear, how warm you are! Why do models
want such boiling rooms? Why can't they be soaked in alum or myrrh or
something to harden their silly skins so that they won't mind a breath
of decent air? And I believe the model's deformed--she certainly is from
where I am. Oh, look at my arm! I ask you a little--look at the beastly
thing. Foreshortened like this it looks like a fillet of veal with a
pound of sausages tied on to it for a hand. Oh, my own and only
Nina--save the sinking ship!"

"It ought to go more like _that_," Nina said with indicative brush, "and
don't keep on rubbing out so fiercely. You'll get paralysed with
bread--it's a disease, you know. I heard Tonks telling you so only the
other day----"

"It's rather a good phrase: I wonder where he got it? He was rather nice
that day," said Molly. "Oh, this arm! It's no good--I believe the
model's moved--I tell you I _must_." More bread. Nina re-absorbed in her
canvas. "Yours is coming well. What's the matter with you to-day? You're
very mousy. Has the 'stranger who might' been scowling more than usual?
Or have you got a headache? I'm sure this atmosphere's enough to make
you. Did you see him this morning? Have you fainted at his feet yet?
Has he relented in the matter of umbrellas? I'm sure he can't have
passed the whole week without some act of grumpiness."

Nina leaned back and looked through half-shut eyes at the model's
beautiful form and stupid face.

"I went down in the same carriage with him on Thursday," she said
slowly.

"You did? Did he rush into the third class, where angels like himself
ought to fear to tread?"

"There was a fog. Thirds all full, and seconds too. The guard bundled us
both in, and the train started--and it took three or four hours to get
down."

"Any one else in the carriage?"

"Not so much as a mouse."

"What _did_ you do?"

"Do? What could I do? We sat in opposite corners as far as we could get
from each other, exchanging occasional glances of mutual detestation for
about an hour and a half. He knocked me down and walked on me once, and
took his hat off very politely and beg-pardoningly, but he never said a
word. He didn't even say he thought I was the door-mat. And then some
cabbages of his fell off the seat."

"Sure they weren't thistles?"

"Vegetables of some sort. And I said: 'You've dropped your----whatever
they were.' And he just bowed again in a thank-you-very-much-but-I'm-
sure-I-don't-know-what-business-it-is-of-yours sort of way. Do leave
that bread alone."

Molly, lost in the interest of the recital, was crumbling the bread as
though the floor of the life-room were the natural haunt of doves and
sparrows.

"Well?" she said.

"Well?" said Nina.

"Why ever didn't you ask him to put the window up, or down, or
something? I would have--just to hear if he has a voice."

"It wouldn't have been any good. He'd just have bowed again, and I'd had
enough bows to last a long time. No: I just said straight out that we
were a couple of idiots to sit there gaping at each other with our
tongues out, and why on earth shouldn't we talk?"

"You never did!"

"Or words to that effect, anyhow. And then he said----"

A long pause.

"What?"

"He told me why he never spoke to strangers."

"What a slap in the face! You poor----"

"Oh, he didn't say it like _that_, you silly idiot. And it was quite a
good reason."

"What was it?"

No answer.

"Tell me exactly what he said."

"He said, 'I--I--I----' At any rate, I'm satisfied, and I rather wish we
hadn't called him pigs and beasts, and things like that."

"Well?"

"That's all."

"Aren't you going to tell me the reason? Oh, very well--you leave it to
my guessing? Of course it's quite evident he's hopelessly in love with
you, and never ventured to speak for fear of betraying his passion. But,
encouraged by your advances----"

"Molly, go on with that arm, and don't be a vulgar little donkey."

Molly obeyed. Presently: "Cross-patch," she said.

"I'm not," said Nina, "but I want to work, and I like you best when
you're not vulgar."

"You're very rude."

"No: only candid."

Molly's wounded pride, besieged by her curiosity, held out for five
minutes. Then: "Did you talk to him much?"

"Heaps."

"All the way down?"

No answer.

"Is he nice?"

Silence.

"Is he clever?"

"I want to work."

"Well, what I want to know is, and then I'll let you alone--what did you
talk about? Tell me that, and I won't ask another question."

"We talked," said Nina deliberately, taking a clean brush, "we talked
about your brother Cecil. No, I shan't tell you what we said, or why we
talked about him, or anything. You've had your one question, now shut
up."

"Nina," said Molly calmly, "if I didn't like you so much I should hate
you."

"That certainty about the other has always been the foundation of our
mutual regard," said Nina calmly.

Then they laughed, and began to work in earnest.

The next time Molly mentioned the "stranger who might have been
observed" Nina laughed, and said: "The subject is forbidden; it makes
you vulgar."

"And you disagreeable."

"Then it's best to avoid it. Best for you and best for me."

"But do you ever see him now?"

"On occasion. He still travels by the 9.1, and I still have the use of
my eyes."

"Does he ever talk to you like he did that Thursday?"

"No--never. And I'm not going to talk about him to you, so it's no good.
Your turn to choose a subject. You won't? Then it becomes my turn. What
a long winter this is! We seem to have taken years to get from November
to February!"

The time went more quickly between February and May. It was when the
country was wearing its full dress of green and the hawthorn pearls were
opening into baby-roses in the hedgerows that it was Nina's fortune to
be put, by the zealous indiscretion of a mistaken porter, into an
express train for Beechwood--the wrong station--the wrong line.

The "stranger who might have been observed," on this occasion was not
observed, but observer. He saw and recognised the porter's error,
hesitated a moment, and then leaped into a carriage just behind hers. So
that when, after a swift journey made eventful by agonised recognition
of the fleeting faces of various stations where she might have changed
and caught her own train, Nina reached Beechwood, the stranger's hand
was ready to open the door for her.

"There's no train for ages," he said in tones deliberate, almost
hesitating. "Shall we walk home? It's only six miles."

"But you--aren't you going somewhere here?"

"No--I--I--I saw the porter put you in--and I thought--at least--anyway
you will walk, won't you?"

They walked. When they reached Beechwood Common, he said: "Won't you
take my arm?" And she took it. Her hands were ungloved; the other hand
was full of silver may and bluebells. The sun shot level shafts of gold
between the birch trees across the furze and heather.

"How beautiful it is!" she said.

"We've known each other three months," said he.

"But I've seen you every day, and we've talked for hours and hours in
those everlasting trains," she said, as if in excuse.

"I've seen you every day for longer than that; the first time was on the
3rd of October."

"Fancy remembering that!"

"I have a good memory."

A silence.

Nina broke it, to say again: "How pretty!" She knew she had said it
before, or something like it, but she could think of nothing else--and
she wanted to say something.

He put his hand over hers as it lay on his arm. She looked up at him
quickly.

"Well?" he said, stopping to look down into her eyes and tightening his
clasp on her hand. "Are you sorry you came to Beechwood?"

"No----"

"Then be glad. My dear, I wish you could ever be as glad as I am."

Then they walked on, still with his hand on hers.

       *       *       *       *       *

Nina and Molly sat on a locker swinging their feet and eating their
lunch in the Slade corridor next day. Nina was humming softly under her
breath.

"What are you so happy for all of a sudden?" Molly asked. "Your
sketch-club things are the worst I've ever seen, and the Professor was
down on you like a hundred of bricks this morning."

"I'm not happy," said Nina, turning away what seemed to Molly a new
face.

"What is it, then?"

"Nothing. Oh yes--by the way, I'm going to be married."

"Not _really_?"

"Check this unflattering display of incredulity--I am."

"Really and truly? And you never told me a thing. I hate slyness and
secretiveness. Nina, who is it? Do I know him?"

Nina named a name.

"Never even heard of him. But where did you meet him? It really is
rather deceitful of you."

"I always meant to tell you, only there was nothing to tell till
yesterday except----"

"Except everything," said Molly. "Well, tell me now."

Nina jumped up and shook the bath-bun crumbs off her green muslin
pinafore.

"Promise not to be horrid, and I will."

"I won't--I promise I won't."

"Then it's--it's him--the 'stranger who might'--you know. And I really
should have told you, though there wasn't anything to tell, only--don't
laugh."

"I'm not. Can't you see I'm not? Only what?"

"Well, when I spoke to him that day in the train, I said, 'Why shouldn't
we talk?' And he said, 'I--I--I--be--be--be--because I stammer so.' And
he _did_. You never heard anything like it. It was awful. He took hours
to get out those few words, and I didn't know where to look. And I felt
such a brute because of the things we'd said about him, that I had no
sense left; and I told him straight out how I'd wondered he never even
said he wondered how late the train was when we were waiting for the
9.1, and I was glad it was stammering and not disagreeableness. And then
I said I wasn't glad he stammered, but so sorry; and he was awfully nice
about it, and I told him about that man who cured your brother Cecil of
stammering, and he went to him at once: and he's almost all right now."

"Good gracious!" said Molly. "Are you sure--but why didn't he get cured
long ago?"

"He had a mother: she stammered frightfully--after the shock of his
father's death, or something, and he got into the way of it from her.
And--anyway he didn't. I think it was so as not to hurt his mother's
feelings, or something. I don't quite understand. And he said it didn't
seem to matter when she was dead. And he's an artist. He sells his
pictures too, and he teaches. He has a studio in Chelsea."

"It all sounds a little thin; but if you're pleased, I'm sure I am."

"I am," said Nina.

"But what did he say when he asked you?"

"He didn't ask me," said Nina.

"But surely he said he'd loved you since the first moment he saw you?"

Nina had to admit it.

"Then you see I wasn't such a vulgar little donkey after all."

"Yes, you were. You hadn't any business even to _think_ such things,
much less say them. Why, even _I_ didn't dare to think it for--oh--for
ever so long. But I'll forgive it--and if it's good it shall be a pretty
little bridesmaid, it shall."

"When is it to be?" asked Molly, still adrift in a sea of wonder.

"Oh, quite soon, he says. He says we're only wasting time by waiting.
You see we're both alone."

But Molly, looking wistfully at her friend's transfigured face,
perceived sadly that it was she who was alone, not they.

And the thought of the red-haired Pierrot with whom she had danced nine
times at the Students' Fancy Dress dance, an indiscretion hitherto her
dearest memory, now offered no solid consolation.

Nina went away, singing softly under her breath. Molly sighed and
followed slowly.



IV

RACK AND THUMBSCREW


Her eyelids were red and swollen, her brown hair, flattened out of its
pretty curves, clung closely to her head. Ink stained her hands, and
there was even a bluish smear of it on her wrist. A tray with tea-things
stood among the litter of manuscript on her table. The tea-pot had only
cold tea-leaves in it; the bread and butter was untouched.

She put down the pen, and went to the window. The rose-tint of the
sunset was reflected on the bank of mist and smoke beyond the river.
Above, where the sky was pale and clear, a star or two twinkled
contentedly.

She stamped her foot.

Already the beautiful garments of the evening mist, with veiled lights
in the folds of it, was embroidered sparsely with the early litten lamps
of impatient workers, and as she gazed, the embroidery was enriched by
more and more yellow and white and orange--the string of jewels along
the embankment, the face of the church clock.

She turned from the window to the room, and lighted her own lamp, for
the room was now deeply dusk. It was a large, low, pleasant room. It had
always seemed pleasant to her through the five years in which she had
worked, and played, and laughed, and cried there. Now she wondered why
she had not always hated it.

The stairs creaked. The knocker spoke. She caught her head in both
hands.

"My God!" she said, "this is too much!"

Yet she went to the door.

"Oh--it's only you," she said, and, with no other greeting, walked back
into the room, and sat down at the table.

The newcomer was left to close the outer door, and to follow at her own
pleasure. The newcomer was another girl, younger, prettier, smarter. She
turned her head sidewise, like a little bird, and looked at her friend
with very bright eyes. Then she looked round the room.

"My dear Jane," she said, "whatever have you been doing to yourself?"

"Nothing," said her dear Jane very sulkily.

"Oh, if genius burns--your stairs are devilish--but if you'd rather I
went away----"

"No, don't go, Milly. I'm perfectly mad." She jumped up and waved her
outstretched arms over the mass of papers on the table. "Look at all
this--three days' work--rot--abject rot! I wish I was dead. I was
wondering just now whether it would hurt much if one leaned too far out
of the window--and---- No, I didn't do it--as you see."

"What's the matter?" asked the other prosaically.

"Nothing. That's just it. I'm perfectly well--at least I was--only now
I'm all trembly with drink." She pointed to the tea-cups. "It's the
chance of my life, and I can't take it. I can't work: my brain's like
batter. And everything depends on my idiot brain--it has done for these
five years. That's what's so awful. It all depends on me--and I'm going
all to pieces."

"I told you so!" rejoined the other. "You would stay in town all the
summer and autumn, slaving away. I knew you'd break down, and now you've
done it."

"I've slaved for five years, and I've never broken down before."

"Well, you have now. Go away at once. Take a holiday. You'll work like
Shakespeare and Michelangelo after it."

"But I _can't_--that's just it. It's those stories for the _Monthly
Multitude_; I'm doing a series. I'm behind _now_: and if I don't get it
done this week, they'll stop the series. It's what I've been working for
all these years. It's the best chance I've ever had, and it's come
_now_, when I can't do it. Your father's a doctor: isn't there any
medicine you can take to make your head more like a head and less like a
suet pudding?"

"Look here," said Milly, "I really came in to ask you to come away with
us at Whitsuntide; but you ought to go away _now_. Just go to our
cottage at Lymchurch. There's a dear old girl in the village--Mrs
Beale--she'll look after you. It's a glorious place for work. Father did
reams down there. You'll do your stuff there right enough. This is only
Monday. Go to-morrow."

"Did he? I will. Oh yes, I will. I'll go to-night, if there's a train."

"No, you don't, my dear lunatic. You are now going to wash your face
and do your hair, and take me out to dinner--a real eighteenpenny dinner
at Roches. I'll stand treat."

It was after dinner, as the two girls waited for Milly's omnibus, that
the word of the evening was spoken.

"I do hope you'll have a good quiet time," Milly said; "and it really is
a good place for work. Poor Edgar did a lot of work there last year.
There's a cabinet with a secret drawer that he said inspired him with
mysterious tales, and---- There's my 'bus."

"Why do you say _poor_ Edgar?" Jane asked, smiling lightly.

"Oh, hadn't you heard? Awfully sad thing. He sailed from New York a
fortnight ago. No news of the ship. His mother's in mourning. I saw her
yesterday. Quite broken down. Good-bye. _Do_ take care of yourself, and
get well and jolly."

Jane stood long staring after the swaying bulk of the omnibus, then she
drew a deep breath and went home.

Edgar was dead. What a brute Milly was! But, of course, Edgar was
nothing to Milly--nothing but a pleasant friend. How slowly people
walked in the streets! Jane walked quickly--so quickly that more than
one jostled foot-passenger stopped to stare after her.

She had known that he was coming home--and when. She had not owned to
herself that the constant intrusion of that thought, "He is here--in
London," the wonder as to when and how she should see him again, had
counted for very much in these last days of fierce effort and resented
defeat.

She got back to her rooms. She remembers letting herself in with her
key. She remembers that some time during the night she destroyed all
those futile beginnings of stories. Also, that she found herself saying
over and over again, and very loud: "There are the boys--you know there
are the boys." Because, when you have two little brothers to keep, you
must not allow yourself to forget it.

But for the rest she remembers little distinctly. Only she is sure that
she did not cry, and that she did not sleep.

In the morning she found her rooms very tidy and her box packed. She had
put in the boys' portraits, because one must always remember the boys.

She got a cab and she caught a train, and she reached the seaside
cottage. Its little windows blinked firelit welcome to her, as she
blundered almost blindly out of the station fly and up the narrow path
edged with sea-shells.

Milly had telegraphed. Mrs Beale was there, tremulous, kindly,
effective; with armchairs wheeled to the April fire--cups of tea, timid,
gentle solicitude.

"My word, Miss, but you do look done up," said she. "The kettle's just
on the boil, and I'll wet you a cup o' tea this instant minute, and I've
a perfect picture of a chick a-roastin' ready for your bit o' dinner."

Jane leaned back in the cushioned chair and looked round the quiet,
pleasant little room. For the moment it seemed good to have a new place
to be unhappy in.

But afterwards, when Mrs Beale had gone and she was alone in the house,
there was time to think--all the time there had ever been since the
world began--all the time that there would ever be till the world ended.
Of that night, too, Jane cannot remember everything; but she knows that
she did not sleep, and that her eyes were dry: very dry and burning, as
though they had been licked into place between their lids by a tongue
of flame. It was a long night: a spacious night, with room in it for
more memories of Edgar than she had known herself mistress of.

Edgar, truculent schoolboy; Edgar at Oxford, superior to the point of
the intolerable; Edgar journalist, novelist, war correspondent--always
friend; Edgar going to America to lecture, and make the fortune that--he
said--would make all things possible. He had said that on the last
evening, when a lot of them--boys and girls, journalists, musicians, art
students--had gone to see him off at Euston. He had said it at the
instant of farewell, and had looked a question. Had she said "Yes"--or
only thought it? She had often wondered that, even when her brain was
clear.

Then--she pushed away the next thought with both hands, and drove
herself back to the day when the schoolboy next door whom she had
admired and hated, saved her pet kitten from the butcher's dog--an
heroic episode with blood in it and tears. Edgar's voice, the touch of
his hand, the swing of his waltz-step--the way his eyes smiled before
his mouth did. How bright his eyes were--and his hands were very strong.
He was strong every way: he would fight for his life--even with the
sea. Great, smooth, dark waves seemed rushing upon her in the quiet
room; she could hear the sound of them on the beach. Why had she come
near the sea? It was the same sea that---- She pushed the waves away with
both hands. The church clock struck two.

"You mustn't go mad, you know," she told herself very gently and
reasonably, "because of the boys."

Her hands had got clenched somehow, her whole body was rigid. She
relaxed the tense muscles deliberately, made up the fire, swept up the
hearth.

The new flame her touch inspired flickered a red reflection on the face
of the cabinet--the cabinet with the secret drawer that had "inspired
Edgar with mysterious tales."

Jane went to it, and patted it, and stroked it, and coaxed it to tell
her its secret. But it would not.

"If it would only inspire _me_," she said, "if I could only get an idea
for the story, I could do it now--this minute. Lots of people work best
at night. My brain's really quite clear again now, or else I shouldn't
be able to remember all these silly little things. No, no," she cried to
a memory of a young man kissing a glove, a little creeping memory that
came to sting. She trampled on it.

Next day Jane walked four miles to see a doctor and get a sleeping
draught.

"You see," she explained very earnestly, "I have some work to finish,
and if I don't sleep I can't. And I must do it. I can't tell you how
important it is."

The doctor gave her something in a bottle when he had asked a few
questions, and she went back to the cottage to go on bearing what was
left of the interminable, intolerable day.

That was the day when she set out the fair white writing paper, and the
rosy blotting-paper, and the black ink and the black fountain pen, and
sat and looked at them for hours and hours. She prayed for help--but no
help came.

"I'm probably praying to the wrong people," she said, when through the
dusk the square of paper showed vague as a tombstone in twilit
grass--"the wrong people--No, there are no tombstones in the sea--the
wrong people. If St Anthony helps you to find things, and the other
saints help you to be good, perhaps the dead people who used to write
themselves are the ones to help one to write!"

Jane is ashamed to be quite sure that she remembers praying to Dante and
Shakespeare, and at last to Christina Rossetti, because she was a woman
and loved her brothers.

But no help came. The old woman fussed in and out with wood for the
fire--candles--food. Very kindly, it appears, but Jane wished she
wouldn't. Jane thinks she must have eaten some of the food, or the old
woman would not have left her as she did.

Jane took the draught, and went to bed.

       *       *       *       *       *

When Mrs Beale came into the sitting-room next morning, a neat pile of
manuscript lay on the table, and when she took a cup of tea to Jane's
bedside, Jane was sleeping so placidly that the old woman had not the
heart to disturb her, and set the tea down on a chair by the pillow to
turn white and cold.

When Jane came into the sitting-room, she stood long looking at the
manuscript. At last she picked it up, and, still standing, read it
through. When she had finished, she stood a long time with it in her
hand. At last she shrugged her shoulders and sat down. She wrote to
Milly.

     "Here is the story. I don't know how I've done it, but here it
     is. Do read it--because I really am a little mad, and if it's
     any good, send it in at once to the _Monthly Multitude_. I
     slept all last night. I shall soon be well now. Everything is
     so delightful, and the air is splendid. A thousand thanks for
     sending me here. I am enjoying the rest and change
     immensely.--Your grateful

                                        "JANE."

She read it through. Her smile at the last phrase was not pretty to see.

When the long envelope was posted, Jane went down to the quiet shore and
gazed out over the sunlit sands to the opal line of the far receding
tide.

The story was written. There was an end to the conflict of agonies, so
now the fiercer agony had the field to itself.

"I suppose I shall learn to bear it presently," she told herself. "I
wish I had not forgotten how to cry. I am sure I ought to cry. But the
story is done, anyway. I daresay I shall remember how to cry before the
next story has to be done."

There were two more nights and one whole day. The nights had islands of
sleep in them--hot, misty islands in a river of slow, crawling, sluggish
hours. The day was light and breezy and sunny, with a blue sky
cloud-flecked. The day was worse than the nights, because in the day she
remembered all the time who she was, and where.

It was on the last day of the week. She was sitting rigid in the little
porch, her eyes tracing again and again with conscious intentness the
twisted pattern of the budding honeysuckle stalks. A rattle of wheels
suddenly checked came to her, and she untwisted her stiff fingers and
went down the path to meet Milly--a pale Milly, with red spots in her
cheeks and fierce, frowning brows--a Milly who drew back from the
offered kiss and spoke in tones that neither had heard before.

"Come inside. I want to speak to you."

The new disaster thus plainly heralded moved Jane not at all. There was
no room in her soul for any more pain. In the little dining-room,
conscientiously "quaint" with its spotted crockery dogs and corner
cupboard shining with willow pattern tea-cups, Milly shut the door and
turned on her friend.

"Now," she said, "I came down to see you, because there are some things
I couldn't write--even to you. You can go back to the station in the
cab, I've told the man to wait. And I hope I shall never see your face
again."

"What do you mean?" Jane asked the question mechanically, and not at all
because she did not know the answer.

"You know what I mean," the other answered, still with white fury. "I've
found you out. You thought you were safe, and Edgar was dead, and no one
would know. But as it happens _I_ knew; and so shall everybody else."

Jane moistened dry lips, and said: "Knew what?" and held on by the
table.

"You didn't think he'd told _me_ about it, did you?" Milly flashed--"but
he did."

"I think you must tell _me_ what you mean," Jane said, and shifted her
hold from table to armchair.

"Oh, certainly." Milly tossed her head, and Jane's fingers tightened on
the chair-back. "Yes, I don't wonder you look ill--I suppose you were
sorry when you'd done it. But it's no use being sorry; you should have
thought of all that before."

"Tell me," said Jane, low.

"I'll tell you fast enough. You shall see I do know. Well, then, that
story you sent me--you just copied it from a story of Edgar's that was
in the old cabinet. He wrote it when he was here; and he said it wasn't
good, and I said it was, and then he said he'd leave it in the secret
drawer, and see how it looked when he came back. And you found it. And
you thought you were very clever, I daresay, and that Edgar was dead,
and no one would know. But I knew, and----"

"Yes," Jane interrupted, "you said that before. So you think I found
Edgar's manuscript? If I did it I must have done it in my sleep. I used
to walk in my sleep when I was a child. You believe me, Milly, don't
you?"

"No," said Milly, "I don't."

"Then I'll say nothing more," said Jane with bitter dignity. "I will go
at once, and I will try to forgive your cruelty. _I_ would never have
doubted _your_ word--never. I am very ill--look at me. I had a sleeping
draught, and I suppose it upset me: such things have happened. You've
known me eight or nine years: have you ever known me do a dishonourable
thing, or tell a lie? The dishonour is in yourself, to believe such
things of me."

Jane had drawn herself up, and stood, tall and haggard, her dark eyes
glowing in their deep sockets. The other woman was daunted. She
hesitated, stammered half a word, and was silent.

"Good-bye," said Jane; "and I hope to God no one will ever be such a
brute to you as you have been to me." She turned, but before she reached
the door Milly had caught her by the arm.

"No, don't, don't!" she cried. "I _do_ believe you, I do! You poor
darling! You must have done it in your sleep. Oh, forgive me, Jane dear.
I'll never tell a soul, and Edgar----"

"Ah," said Jane, turning mournful eyes on her, "Edgar would have
believed in me."

And at that Milly understood--in part, at least--and held out her arms.

"Oh, you poor dear! and I never even guessed! Oh, forgive me!" and she
cried over Jane and kissed her many times. "Oh, my dear!" she said, as
Jane yielded herself to the arms and her face to the kisses, "I've got
something to tell you. You must be brave."

"No--no more," Jane said shrilly; "I can't bear any more. I don't want
to know how it happened, or anything. He's dead--that's enough."

"But----" Milly clung sobbing to her, sobbing with sympathy and
agitation.

Jane pushed her back, held her at arm's length and looked at her with
eyes that were still dry.

"You're a good little thing, after all," she said. "Yes--now I'll tell
you. You were quite right. It was a lie--but half of it was true--the
half I told you--but I wanted you to believe the other half too. I did
walk in my sleep, and I must have opened that cabinet and taken Edgar's
story out, because I found myself standing there with it in my hands.
And he was dead, and---- Oh, Milly. I knew he was dead, of course, and
yet he was there--I give you my word he was there, and I heard him say
'Take it, take it, take it!' quite plainly, like I'm speaking to you
now. And I took it; and I copied it out--it took me nearly all
night--and then I sent it to you. And I'd never have told you the truth
as long as you didn't believe me--never--never. But now you do believe
me I won't lie to you. There! Let me go. I think I was mad then, and I
know I am now. Tell every one. I don't care."

But Milly threw her arms round her again. The love interest had
overpowered the moral sense. What did the silly story, or the theft, or
the lie matter--what were they, compared with the love-secret she had
surprised?

"My darling Jane," she said, holding her friend closely and still
weeping lavishly, "don't worry about the story: I quite understand.
Let's forget it. You've got quite enough trouble to bear without that.
But there's one thing, it's just as well I found out before the story
was published. Because Edgar isn't dead. His ship has been towed in:
he's at home."

Jane laughed.

"Don't cry, dear," said Milly; "I'll help you to bear it. Only--oh dear,
how awful it is for you!--he's going to be married."

Jane laughed again; and then she thinks the great, green waves really
did rise up all round the quaint dining-room--rise mountains high, and,
falling, cover her.

       *       *       *       *       *

Jane was ill so long that Milly had to tell Edgar about the story after
all, and they sent it in, and it was published in Jane's name. So the
little brothers were all right. And he wrote the next story for her too,
and they corrected the proofs together.

Jane has always thought it a pity that Milly had not troubled to ask the
name of the girl whom Edgar intended to marry, because the name proved,
on enquiry, to be Jane.



V

THE MILLIONAIRESS


I

It is a dismal thing to be in London in August. The streets are up for
one thing, and your cab can never steer a straight course for the place
you want to go to. And the trees are brown in the parks, and every one
you know is away, so that there would be nowhere to go in your cab, even
if you had the money to pay for it, and you could go there without
extravagance.

Stephen Guillemot sat over his uncomfortable breakfast-table in the
rooms he shared with his friend, and cursed his luck. His friend was
away by the sea, and he was here in the dirty and sordid blackness of
his Temple chambers. But he had no money for a holiday; and when
Dornington had begged him to accept a loan, he had sworn at Dornington,
and Dornington had gone off not at all pleased. And now Dornington was
by the sea, and he was here. The flies buzzed in the panes and round the
sticky marmalade jar; the sun poured in at the open window. There was no
work to do. Stephen was a solicitor by trade; but, in fact and perforce,
an idler. No business came to him. All day long the steps of clients
sounded on the dirty, old wooden staircase--clients for Robinson on the
second, for Jones on the fourth, but none for Guillemot on the third.
Even now steps were coming, though it was only ten o'clock. The young
man glanced at the marmalade jar, at the crooked cloth stained with tea,
which his laundress had spread for his breakfast.

"Suppose it is a client----" He broke off with a laugh. He had never
been able to cure himself of that old hope that some day the feet of a
client--a wealthy client--would pause at his door, but the feet had
always gone by--as these would do. The steps did indeed pass his door,
paused, came back, and--oh wonder! it was _his_ knocker that awoke the
Temple echoes.

He glanced at the table. It was hopeless. He shrugged his shoulders.

"I daresay it's only a bill," he said, and went to see.

The newcomer was impatient, for even as Guillemot opened the door, the
knocker was in act to fall again.

"Is Mr Guillemot---- Oh, Stephen, I should have known you anywhere!"

A radiant vision in a white linen gown--a very smart tailor-made-looking
linen gown--and a big white hat was standing in his doorway, shaking him
warmly by the hand.

"Won't you ask me in?" asked the vision, smiling in his bewildered face.

He drew back mechanically, and closed the door after him as she went in.
Then he followed her into the room that served him for office and
living-room, and stood looking at her helplessly.

"You don't know me a bit," she said; "it's a shame to tease you. I'll
take off my hat and veil; you will know me then. It's these fine
feathers!"

And take them off she did--in front of the fly-spotted glass on the
mantel-piece; then she turned a bright face on him, a pretty mobile
face, crowned with bright brown hair. And still he stood abashed.

"I never thought you would have forgotten the friend of childhood's
hour," she began again. "I see I must tell you in cold blood."

"Why, it's Rosamund!" he cried suddenly. "Do forgive me! I never, never
dreamed---- My dear Rosamund, you aren't really changed a bit it's
only--your hair being done up and----"

"And the fine feathers," said she, holding out a fold of her dress.
"They are very pretty feathers, aren't they?"

"Very," said he. And then suddenly a silence of embarrassment fell
between them.

The girl broke it with a laugh that was not quite spontaneous.

"How funny it all is!" she said. "I went to New York with my uncle when
dear papa died--and then I went to Girton, and now poor uncle's dead,
and----" Her eye fell on the tablecloth. "I'm going to clear away this
horrid breakfast of yours," she said.

"Oh, please!" he pleaded, taking the marmalade jar up in his helpless
hands. She took the jar from him.

"Yes, I am," she said firmly; "and you can just sit down and try to
remember who I am."

He obediently withdrew to the window-seat and watched her as she took
away the ugly crockery and the uglier food to hide them in his little
kitchen; and as he watched her he remembered many things. The lonely
childhood in a country rectory--the long, dull days with no playfellows;
then the arrival of the new doctor and his little daughter Rosamund
Rainham--and almost at the same time, it seemed, the invalid lady with
the little boy who lodged at the Post Office. Then there were
playfellows, dear playfellows, to cheer and teach him--poor Stephen, he
hardly knew what play or laughter meant. Then the invalid lady died, and
Stephen's father awoke from his dreams amid his old books, as he had a
way of doing now and then, enquired into the circumstances of the boy,
Andrew Dornington, and, finding him friendless and homeless, took him
into his home to be Stephen's little brother and friend. Then the long
happy time when the three children were always together: walking,
boating, birdsnesting, reading, playing and quarrelling; the storm of
tears from Rosamund when the boys went to College; the shock of surprise
and the fleeting sadness with which Stephen heard that the doctor was
dead and that Rosamund had gone to America to her mother's brother. Then
the fulness of living, the old days almost forgotten, or only remembered
as a pleasant dream. Stephen had never thought to see Rosamund
again--had certainly never longed very ardently to see her; at any rate,
since the year of her going. And now--here she was, grown to womanhood
and charm, clearing away his breakfast things! He could hear the tap
running, and knew that she must be washing her hands at the sink, using
the horrid bit of yellow soap with tea-leaves embedded in it. Now she
was drying her hands on the dingy towel behind the kitchen door. No; she
came in drying her pink fingers on her handkerchief.

"What a horrid old charwoman you must have!" she said; "everything is
six inches deep in dust--and all your crockery is smeary."

"I am sorry it's not nicer," he said. "Oh, but it's good to see you
again! What times we used to have! Do you remember when we burned your
dolls on the 5th of November?"

"I should think I did. And do you remember when I painted your new
tool-chest and the handles of your saws and gimlets and things with pale
green enamel? I thought you would be so pleased."

She had taken her place, as she spoke, in the depths of the one
comfortable chair, and he answered from his window-seat; and in a moment
the two were launched on a flood of reminiscences, and the flight of
time was not one of the things they remembered. The hour and the
quarters sounded, and they talked on. But the insistence of noon, boomed
by the Law Courts' clock, brought Miss Rainham to her feet.

"Twelve!" she cried. "How time goes! And I've never told you what I came
for. Look here. I'm frightfully rich; I only heard it last week. My
uncle never seemed very well off. We lived very simply, and I used to do
the washing-up and the dusting and things; and now he's died and left me
all his money. I don't know where he kept it all. The people on the
floor above here wrote me about it. I was going to see them, and I saw
your name; and I simply couldn't pass it. Look here, Stephen--are you
very busy?"

"Not too busy to do anything you want. I'm glad you've had luck. What
can I do for you?"

"Will you really do anything I want? Promise."

"Of course I promise." He looked at her and wondered if she knew how
hard it would be to him to refuse her anything: for Mr Guillemot had
been fancy free, and this gracious vision, re-risen from old times, had
turned his head a little.

"Good! You must be my solicitor."

"But I can't. Jones----"

"Bother Jones!" she said. "I shan't go near him. I won't be worried by
Jones. What is the use of having a fortune--and it's a big fortune, I
can tell you--if I mayn't even choose my own solicitor? Look here,
Stephen--really--I have no relations and no friends in England--no man
friends, I mean--and you won't charge me more than you ought, but you
will charge me enough. Oh, I feel like Mr Boffin--and you are Mortimer
Lightwood, and Andrew is Eugene. Do you call him Dora still?"

It was the first question she had asked about the boy who had shared all
their youth with them.

"Oh, Dornington is all right. He'd be awfully sick if you called him
Dora nowadays. He's got on a little--not much. He goes in for
journalism. He's at Lymchurch just now; he lives here with me
generally."

"Yes--I know; I saw his name on the door." And Stephen did not wonder
till later why she had not mentioned that name earlier in the interview.

"Here, give me paper and pens, the best there is time to procure. Now
tell me what to say to Jones. I want to tell him that I loathe his very
name; that I know I could never bear the sight of him; and that you are
going to look after everything for me."

He resisted--she pleaded; and at last the letter was written, not quite
in those terms, and Stephen at her request reluctantly instructed her as
to the method of giving a Power of Attorney.

"You must arrange everything," she said; "I won't be bothered. Now I
must go. Jones is human, after all. He knew I should want money, and he
sent me quite a lot. And I am going away for a holiday--just to see what
it feels like to be rich."

"You're not going about alone, I hope," said Stephen. And then, for the
first time, he remembered that beautiful young ladies are not allowed to
clear away tea-things in the Temple, without a chaperon--even for their
solicitors.

"No; Constance Grant is with me. You don't know her. I got to know her
at Girton. She's a dear."

"Look here," he said, awkwardly standing behind her as she pinned her
hat and veil in front of his glass, "when you come back I'll come to see
you. But you mustn't come here again; it's--it's not customary." She
smiled at his reflection in the glass.

"Oh, I forgot your stiff English notions! So absurd! Not going to see
one's old friend _and_ one's _solicitor_! However, I won't come where
I'm not wanted----"

"You know----" he began reproachfully; but she interrupted.

"Oh yes, it's all right. Now remember that all my affairs are in your
hands, and when I come back you will have to tell me exactly what I am
worth--between eight and fourteen hundred thousand pounds, they say; but
_that's_ nonsense, isn't it? Good-bye."

And with a last switch of white skirts against the dirty wainscot, and a
last wave of a white-gloved hand, she disappeared down the staircase.

Stephen drew a long breath. "It can't be fourteen hundred thousand," he
said slowly; "but I wish to goodness it wasn't four-pence."


II

The tide was low, the long lines of the sandbanks shone yellow in the
sun--yellower for the pools of blue water left between them. Far off,
where the low white streak marked the edge of the still retreating sea,
little figures moved slowly along, pushing the shrimping-nets through
the shallow water.

On one of the smooth wave-worn groins a girl sat sketching the village;
her pink gown and red Japanese umbrella made a bright spot on the gold
of the sand.

Further along the beach, under the end of the grass-grown sea-wall, a
young man and woman basked in the August sun. Her sunshade was white,
and so were her gown and the hat that lay beside her. Since her
accession to fortune Rosamund Rainham had worn nothing but white.

"It is the prettiest wear in the world," she had told Constance Grant;
"and when you're poor, it's the most impossible. But now I can have a
clean gown every day, and a clean conscience as well."

"I'm not sure about the conscience," Constance had answered with her
demure smile. "Think of the millions of poor people."

"Oh, bother!" Miss Rainham had laughed, not heartlessly, but happily.
"Thank Heaven, I've enough to be happy myself and make heaps of other
people happy too. And the first step is that no one's to know I'm rich,
so remember that we are two high-school teachers on a holiday."

"I loathe play-acting," Constance had said, but she had submitted, and
now she sat sketching, and Rosamund in her white gown watched the
seagulls and shrimpers from under the sea-wall of Lymchurch.

"And so your holiday's over in three days," she was saying to the young
man beside her; "it's been a good time, hasn't it?"

He did not answer; he was piling up the pebbles in a heap, and always at
a certain point the heap collapsed.

"What are you thinking of? Poems again?"

"I had a verse running in my head," he said apologetically; "it has
nothing to do with anything."

"Write it down at once," she said imperiously, and he obediently
scribbled in his notebook, while she took up the work of building the
stone heap--it grew higher under her light fingers.

"Read it!" she said, when the scribbling of the pencil stopped, and he
read:

    "Now the vexed clouds, wind-driven, spread wings of white,
      Long leaning wings across the sea and land;
    The waves creep back, bequeathing to our sight
      The treasure-house of their deserted sand;
    And where the nearer waves curl white and low,
    Knee-deep in swirling brine the slow-foot shrimpers go.

    Pale breadth of sand where clamorous gulls confer
      Marked with broad arrows by their planted feet,
    White rippled pools where late deep waters were,
      And ever the white waves marshalled in retreat,
    And the grey wind in sole supremacy
    O'er opal and amber cold of darkening sky and sea."

"Opal and amber cold," she repeated; "it's not like that now. It's
sapphire and gold and diamonds."

"Yes," he said; "but that was how it was last week----"

"Before I came----"

"Yes, before you came;" his tone put a new meaning into her words.

"I'm glad I brought good weather," she said cheerfully, and the little
stone heap rattled itself down under her hand.

"You brought the light of the world," he said, and caught her hand and
held it. There was a silence. A fisherman passing along the sea-wall
gave them good-day. "What made you come to Lymchurch?" he said
presently, and his hand lay lightly on hers. She hesitated, and looked
down at her hand and his.

"I knew you were here," she said. His eyes met hers. "I always meant to
see you again some day. And you knew me at once. That was so nice of
you."

"You have not changed," he said; "your face has not changed, only you
are older, and----"

"I'm twenty-two; you needn't reproach me with it. Yours is the same to a
month."

He moved on his elbow a little nearer to her.

"Has it ever occurred to you," he asked, looking out to sea, "that you
and I were made for each other?"

"No; never."

He looked out to sea still, and his face clouded heavily.

"Ah--no--don't look like that, dear; it never occurred to me--I think I
must have always known it somehow, only----"

"Only what?--do you really?--only what?" A silence. Then, "Only what?"
he asked again.

"Only I was so afraid it would never occur to _you_!"

There was no one on the wide, bare sands save the discreet artist--their
faces were very near.

"We shall be very, very poor, I'm afraid," he said presently.

"I can go on teaching."

"No"--his voice was decided--"my wife shan't work--at least not anywhere
but in our home. You won't mind playing at love in a cottage for a bit,
will you? I shall get on now I've something to work for. Oh, my dear,
thank God I've enough for the cottage! When will you marry me? We've
nothing to wait for, no relations to consult, no settlements to draw up.
All that's mine is thine, lassie."

"And all that's mine--Oh! Stephen!"

For, with a scattering of shingle, a man dropped from the sea-wall two
yards from them.

The situation admitted of no disguise, for Miss Rainham's head was on Mr
Dornington's shoulder. They sprang up.

"Why, Stephen!" echoed Andrew, "this--this is good of you! You remember
Rosamund? We have just found out that----" But Rosamund had turned, and
was walking quickly away over the sand.

Stephen filled a pipe and lighted it before he said: "You've made good
use of your time, old man. I congratulate you." His tone was cold.

"There is no reason why I should not make good use of my time,"
Dornington answered, and his tone had caught the chill of the other's.

"None whatever. You have secured the prize, and I congratulate you.
Whether it's fair to the girl is another question."

In moments of agitation a man instinctively feels for his pipe. It was
now Dornington's turn to fill and light.

"Of course it's your own affair," said Guillemot, chafing at the
silence, "but I think you might have given the heiress a chance.
However, it's each for himself, I suppose, and----"

"Heiress?"

"Yes, the heiress--the Millionairess, if you prefer it. I've been
looking into her affairs: it _is_ just about a million."

"Rather cheap chaff, isn't it?"

"It's a very lucky thing for you," said Stephen savagely. "Perhaps I
ought not to grudge it to you. But I must say, Dornington--I see we look
at the thing differently--but I must say, I shouldn't have cared to grab
at such luck myself."

Dornington had thrust his hands into his pockets, and stood looking at
his friend.

"I see," he said slowly. "And her fortune is really so much? I didn't
think it had been so much as that. Yes. Well, Guillemot, it's no good
making a row about it; I don't want to quarrel with my best friend. Go
along to my place, will you? Or stay: come and let me introduce you to
Miss Grant, and you can walk up with her; she'll show you where I live.
I'm going for a bit of a walk."

Five minutes later Stephen, in response to Rosamund's beckoning hand at
the window, was following Miss Grant up the narrow flagged path leading
to the cottage which Rosamund had taken. And ten minutes later Andrew
Dornington was striding along the road to the station with a Gladstone
bag in his hands.

Stephen lunched at the cottage. The girls served the lunch themselves;
they had no hired service in the little cottage. Rosamund exerted
herself to talk gaily.

As the meal ended, a fair-haired child stood in the door that opened
straight from the street into the sitting-room, after the primitive
fashion of Lymchurch.

"'E gave me a letter for you," said the child, and Rosamund took it,
giving in exchange some fruit from the pretty disordered table.

"Excuse me," she said, with the rose in her cheeks because she saw the
hand-writing was the hand-writing she had seen in many pencilled verses.
She read the letter, frowned, read it again. "Constance, you might get
the coffee."

Constance went out. Then the girl turned on her guest.

"This is _your_ doing," she said with a concentrated fury that brought
him to his feet facing her. "Why did you come and meddle! You've told
him I was rich--the very thing I didn't mean him to know till--till he
couldn't help himself. You've spoilt everything! And now he's gone--and
he'll never come back. Oh, I hope you will suffer for this some day.
You will, if there's any justice in the world!"

He looked as though he suffered for it even now, but when he spoke his
voice was equable.

"I am extremely sorry," he said, "but after all, there's very little
harm done. You should have warned me that you meant to play a comedy,
and I would have taken any part you assigned me. However, you've
succeeded. He evidently 'loves you for yourself alone.' Write and tell
him to come back: he'll come."

"How little you know him," she said, "after all these years! Even I know
him better than that. That was why I pretended not to be rich. Directly
I knew about the money I made up my mind to find him and try if I could
make him care. I know it sounds horrid; I don't mind, it's true. And I
had done it; and then you came. Oh, I hope I shall never see you again!
I will never speak to you again! No, I don't mean that----" She hid her
face in her hands.

"Rosamund, try to forgive me. I didn't know, I couldn't know. I will
bring him back to you--I swear it! Only trust me."

"You can't," she said; "it's all over."

"Let me tell you something. If you hadn't had this money--but if you
hadn't had this money I should never have seen you. But I have thought
of nothing but you ever since that day you came to the Temple. I don't
tell you this to annoy you, only to show you that I would do anything in
the world to prevent you from being unhappy. Forgive me, dear! Oh,
forgive me!"

"It's no good," she said; but she gave him her hand. When Constance
Grant came back with the coffee, she found Mr Guillemot alone looking
out of the window at the sunflowers and the hollyhocks.

"What is the matter?" she asked.

"I've made a fool of myself," he said, forgetting, as he looked at her
kind eyes, that three hours ago she was only a name to him.

"Could I do anything?"

"You're her friend," he said. "Miss Grant, I'm going down to the sea, if
you could come down with me and let me talk--but I've no right to bother
you."

"I'll come," said Constance. "I'll come by-and-by when I've cleared
lunch away. It's no bother. As you say, I'm her friend."


III

Rosamund stayed on at the little house behind the sea-wall, and she
wrote letters, long and many, which accumulated on the mantel-piece of
the rooms in the Temple. Andrew found them there when he returned to
town in the middle of October. The room was cheerless, tenantless,
fireless. He lit the gas and looked through his letters. He did not dare
to open those which came from her. There were bills, invitation cards, a
returned manuscript or two, a cheque for a magazine article, and a
letter in Stephen's hand-writing. It was dated a fortnight earlier.

     "DEAR OLD CHAP," it ran, "I'm off to my father's. I can't bear
     it. I can't face you or any one. I wish to God I'd never told
     you anything about Rosamund Rainham's money. There isn't any
     money: it was all in the Crystal Oil Co. No one had the least
     idea that it wasn't good, but I feel as if I ought to have
     known. There's a beggarly hundred or so in consols: that's the
     end of her million. It wasn't really my fault, of course. She
     doesn't blame me.--Yours,

                                        "STEPHEN GUILLEMOT."

Then he opened her letters--read them all--in the order of the dates on
the postmarks, for even in love Andrew was an orderly man--read them
with eyes that pricked and smarted. There were four or five of them.
First, the frank pleading of affection, then the coldness of hurt pride
and love; then, doubts, wonderings. Was he ill? Was he away? Would he
not at least answer? Passionate longing, tender anxiety breathed in
every word. Then came the last letter of all, written a fortnight ago:

     "DEAR ANDREW,--I want you to understand that all is over
     between us. I know you wished it, and now I see you are right.
     I could never have been anything to you but your loving friend,

                                        "ROSAMUND."

He read it through twice; it was a greater shock to him than Stephen's
letter had been. Then he understood. The Millionairess might stoop to
woo a poor lover whose pride had fought with and conquered his love:
the girl with only a "beggarly hundred in consols" had her pride too.

The early October dusk filled the room. Andrew caught up the bag he had
brought with him, slammed the door, and blundered down the stairs. He
caught a passing hansom in Fleet Street and the last train to Lymchurch.

A furious south-wester was waiting for him there. He could hardly stand
against it--it blew and tore and buffeted him, almost prevailing against
him as he staggered down the road from the station. The night was inky
black, but he knew his Lymchurch every inch, and he fought it manfully,
though every now and then he was fain to cling to a gateway or a post,
and hold on till the gust had passed. Thus, breathless and dishevelled,
his tie under his left ear, his hat battered in, his hair in crisp
disorder, he reached at last the haven of the little porch of the house
under the sea-wall.

Rosamund herself opened the door; her eyes showed him two things--her
love and her pride. Which would be the stronger? He remembered how the
question had been answered in his own case, and he shivered as she took
his hand and led him into the warm, lamp-lighted room. The curtains
were drawn; the hearth swept; a tabby cat purred on the rug; a book lay
open on the table: all breathed of the sober comfort of home. She sat
down on the other side of the hearth and looked at him. Neither spoke.
It was an awkward moment.

Rosamund broke the silence.

"It is very friendly of you to come and see me," she said. "It is very
lonely for me now. Constance has gone back to London."

"She has gone back to her teaching?"

"Yes; I wanted her to stay, but----"

"I've heard from Stephen. He is very wretched; he seems to think it is
his fault."

"Poor, dear boy!" She spoke musingly. "Of course it wasn't his fault. It
all seems like a dream, to have been so rich for a little while, and to
have done nothing with it except," she added with a laugh and a glance
at her fur-trimmed dress, "to buy a most extravagant number of white
dresses. How awfully tired you look, Andrew! Go and have a wash--the
spare room's the first door at the top of the stairs--and I'll get you
some supper."

When he came down again, she had laid a cloth on the table and was
setting out silver and glass.

"Another relic of my brief prosperity," she said, touching the forks and
spoons. "I'm glad I don't have to eat with nickel-plated things."

She talked gaily as they ate. The home atmosphere of the room touched
Dornington. Rosamund herself, in her white gown, had never appeared so
fair and desirable. And but for his own mad pride he might have been
here now, sharing her pretty little home life with her--not as her
guest, but as her husband. He flushed crimson. Blushing was an old trick
of his--one of those that had earned him his feminine nickname of Dora,
and in the confusion his blushing brought him, he spoke.

"Rosamund, can you ever forgive me?"

"I forgive you from my heart," she said, "if I have anything to
forgive."

But in her tone was the resentment of a woman who does not forgive. Yet
he had been right. He had sacrificed himself; and if he had chosen to
suffer? But what about the blue lines under her dear eyes, the hollows
in her dear face?

"You have been unhappy," he said.

"Well," she laughed, "I wasn't exactly pleased to lose my fortune."

"Dear," he said desperately, "won't you try to forgive me? It seemed
right. How could I sacrifice you to a penniless----"

"I'd enough for both--or thought I had," she said obstinately.

"Ah, but don't you see----"

"I see that you cared more for not being thought mercenary by Stephen
than----"

"Forgive me!" he pleaded; "take me back."

"Oh no"--she tossed her bright head--"Stephen might think me mercenary;
I couldn't bear _that_. You see you are richer than I am now. How much
did you tell me you made a year by your writing? How can I sacrifice you
to a penniless----"

"Rosamund, do you mean it?"

"I do mean it. And, besides----"

"What?"

"I don't love you any more." The bright head drooped and turned away.

"I have killed your love. I don't wonder. Forgive me for bothering you.
Good-bye!"

"What are you going to do?" she asked suddenly.

"Oh, don't be afraid, nothing desperate. Only work hard and try to
forgive you."

"Forgive _me_? You have nothing to forgive."

"No, nothing--if you had left off loving me? Have you? Is it true?"

"Good-bye!" she said. "You are staying at the 'Ship'?"

"Yes."

"Don't let's part in anger. I shall be on the sea-wall in the morning.
Let's part friends, then."

In the morning Andrew went into the fresh air. The trees, still gold in
calmer homes, stood almost leafless in wild, windy Lymchurch. He stood
in the sunlight, and in spite of himself some sort of gladness came to
him through the crisp October air. Then the _ping_ of a bicycle bell
sounded close behind him, and there was Stephen.

They shook hands, and Stephen's eyebrows went up.

"Is it all right?" he asked. "I knew you'd come here when I came home
last night and found you'd had my letter."

"No; it's not all right. She won't have me."

"Why?"

"Pride or revenge, or something. Don't let's talk about it."

"All right. I want some breakfast; we left town by the 7.20. I'm
starving."

"Who are 'we'?"

"Miss Grant and I. I thought Rosamund would be wanting a _chaperon_ or a
bridesmaid, or something, so I brought her and her bicycle."

"Always thoughtful," said Andrew, with something like a laugh.

Presently, strolling along the sea-wall they met the two girls. Rosamund
looked radiant. Where was the pale, hollow-eyed darling of last night?
The wind that ruffled her brown hair had blown roses into her cheeks.

"Do you forgive me?" whispered Stephen when they met.

"That depends," she answered.

They all walked on together, and presently Stephen and Constance fell
behind.

Then Rosamund spoke.

"You really think I ought to crush my pride, and--and----"

Hope laughed in Andrew's face--laughed and fled--for he looked in the
face of Miss Rainham, and there was no sign of yielding in it.

"Yes," he said almost sullenly.

"That is as much as to say that you were wrong."

"I--perhaps I was wrong. What does it matter?"

"It matters greatly. Suppose I had my money now would you run away from
me?"

"I--I suppose I should act as I did before."

"Then you don't care for me any more than you did?"

"I love you a thousand times more," he cried, turning angry, haggard
eyes to her. "Yes, I believe I was wrong. Nothing would send me from you
now but yourself----"

She clapped her hands.

"Then stay," she said, "for it's a farce, and my money is as safe as
houses."

He scowled at her.

"It's all a trick? You've played with me? Good-bye, and God forgive
you!"

He turned to go, but Constance, coming up from behind them, caught his
arm.

"Don't be such an idiot," she said. "_She_ had nothing to do with it.
She thought her money was gone. You don't suppose _she_ would have
played such a trick even to win _your_ valuable affections. You don't
deserve your luck, Mr Dornington."

Rosamund was looking at him with wet eyes, and her lips trembled.

"Constance only told me this morning," she said. "She and Stephen
planned it, to get you--to make me--to--to----"

"And then she nearly spoilt it all by being as silly as you were.
Whatever does it matter which of you has the money?"

"Nothing," said Rosamund valiantly; "I see that plainly. Don't you,
Andrew?"

"I see nothing but you, Rosamund," he said, and they turned and walked
along the sea-wall, hand in hand, like two children.

"That's all right," said Stephen; "but, by Jove, I've had enough of
playing Providence and managing other people's affairs."

"She was very sweet about it," said Constance, walking on.

"Well she may be; she has her heart's desire. But it was not easy. What
a blessing she is so unbusiness-like! I couldn't have done it but for
you."

"I am very glad to have been of some service," said Constance demurely.

"I couldn't have got on without you. I can't get on without you ever
again."

"But that's nonsense," said Miss Grant.

"You won't make me, Constance? There's no confounded money to come
between _us_."

He caught at the hand that swung by her side.

"But you said you loved _her_, and that was why----"

"Ah, but that was a thousand years ago. And it was nonsense, even then,
Constance."

And so two others went along the sea-wall in the October sunshine,
happily, like children, hand in hand.



VI

THE HERMIT OF "THE YEWS"


Maurice Brent knew a great deal about the Greek anthology, and very
little about women. No one but himself had any idea how much he knew of
the one, and no one had less idea than himself how little he knew of the
other. So that when, a stranger and a pilgrim hopelessly astray amid a
smart house-party, he began to fall in love with Camilla, it seemed to
be no one's business to tell him, what everybody else knew, that Camilla
had contracted the habit of becoming engaged at least once a year. Of
course this always happened in the country, because it was there that
Camilla was most bored. No other eligible young man happened to be free
at the moment: Camilla never engaged herself to ineligibles. The habit
of years is not easily broken: Camilla became engaged to Maurice, and,
for the six months of the engagement, he lived in Paradise. A fool's
Paradise, if you like, but Paradise all the same.

About Easter time Camilla told him, very nicely and kindly, that she had
mistaken her own heart--she hoped he would not let it make him very
unhappy. She would always wish him the best of good fortune, and
doubtless he would find it in the affection of some other girl much
nicer and more worthy of him than his sincere friend Camilla. Camilla
was right--no one could have been less worthy of him than she: but after
all it was Camilla he thought that he loved, Camilla he felt that he
wanted, not any other girl at all, no matter how nice or how worthy.

He took it very quietly: sent her a note so cold and unconcerned that
Camilla was quite upset, and cried most of the evening, and got up next
day with swollen eyelids and a very bad temper. She was not so sure of
her power as she had been--and the loss of such a certainty is never
pleasant.

He, meanwhile, advertised for a furnished house, and found one--by
letter, which seemed to be the very thing he wanted. "Handsomely and
conveniently furnished five miles from a railway station--a well-built
house standing in its own grounds of five acres--garden, orchard
pasture, magnificent view." Being as unversed in the ways of house
agents as in those of women, he took it on trust, paid a quarter's rent,
and went down to take possession. He had instructed the local house
agent to find a woman who would come in for a few hours daily to "do for
him."

"I'll have no silly women living in the house," said he.

It was on an inclement June evening that the station fly set him down in
front of his new house. The drive had been long and dreary, and seemed
to Maurice more like seventy miles than seven. Now he let down the
carriage window and thrust his head into the rain to see his new house.
It was a stucco villa, with iron railings in the worst possible taste.
It had an air at once new and worn out; no one seemed ever to have lived
in it, and yet everything about it was broken and shabby. The door stuck
a little at first with the damp, and when at last it opened and Maurice
went over his house, he found it furnished mainly with oil-cloth and
three-legged tables, and photographs in Oxford frames--like a seaside
lodging-house. The house was clean, however, and the woman in
attendance was clean, but the atmosphere of the place was that of a
vault. He looked out through the streaming panes at the magnificent view
so dwelt upon in the house agents' letters. The house stood almost at
the edge of a disused chalk quarry; far below stretched a flat plain,
dotted here and there with limekilns and smoky, tall chimneys. The five
acres looked very bare and thistly, and the rain was dripping heavily
from a shivering, half-dead cypress on to a draggled, long-haired grass
plot. Mr Brent shivered too, and ordered a fire.

When the woman had gone, he sat long by the fire in one of those cane
and wood chairs that fold up--who wants a chair to fold up?--so common
in lodging-houses. Unless you sit quite straight in these chairs you
tumble out of them. He gazed at the fire, and thought, and dreamed. His
dreams were, naturally, of Camilla; his thoughts were of his work.

"I've taken the house for three years," said he. "Well, one place is as
good as another to be wretched in. But one room I must furnish--for you
can't work on oil-cloth."

So next day he walked to Rochester and bought some old bureaux, and
chairs, and book-cases, a few Persian rugs and some brass things,
unpacked his books and settled down to the hermit's life to which he had
vowed himself. The woman came every morning from her cottage a mile
away, and left at noon. He got his meals himself--always chops, or
steaks, or eggs--and presently began to grow accustomed to the place.
When the sun shone it was not so bad. He could make no way against the
thorns and thistles on his five acres, and they quickly grew into a very
wilderness. But a wilderness is pleasant to wander in; and a few flowers
had survived long neglect, and here and there put out red, or white, or
yellow buds. And he worked away at his book about Greek poetry.

He almost believed that he was contented; he had never cared for people
so much as for books, and now he saw no people, and his books began to
crowd his shelves. No one passed by "The Yews"--so called, he imagined,
in extravagant compliment to the decaying cypress--for it stood by a
grass-grown by-way that had once connected two main roads, each a couple
of miles distant. These were now joined by a better road down in the
valley, and no one came past Maurice's window save the milk, the bread,
the butcher, and the postman.

Summer turned brown and dry and became autumn, autumn turned wet and
chilly and grew into winter, and all the winds of heaven blew cold and
damp through the cracks of the ill-built house.

Maurice was glad when the spring came; he had taken the house for three
years, and he was a careful man, and also, in his way, a determined. Yet
it was good to look out once more on something green, and to see
sunshine and a warm sky; it was near Easter now. In all these ten months
nothing whatever had happened to him. He had never been beyond his five
acres--and no one had been to see him. He had no relations, and friends
soon forget; besides, after all, friends, unlike relations, cannot go
where they are not invited.

It was on the Saturday before Easter that the quarryside fell in.
Maurice was working in his study when he heard a sudden crack and a
slow, splitting sound, and then a long, loud, rumbling noise, like
thunder, that echoed and re-echoed from the hills on each side. And,
looking from his window, he saw the cloud of white dust rise high above
the edge of the old quarry, and seem to drift off to join the
cotton-wool clouds in the blue sky.

"I suppose it's all safe enough here," he said, and went back to his
manuscripts. But he could not work. At last something had happened; he
found himself shaken and excited. He laid down the pen. "I wonder if any
one was hurt?" he said; "the road runs just below, of course. I wonder
whether there'll be any more of it--I wonder?" A wire jerked, the
cracked bell sounded harshly through the silence of the house. He sprang
to his feet. "Who on earth----" he said. "The house isn't safe after
all, perhaps, and they've come to tell me."

As he went along the worn oil-cloth of the hall he saw through the
comfortless white-spotted glass of his front door the outline of a
woman's hat.

He opened the door--it stuck as usual--but he got it open. There stood a
girl holding a bicycle.

"Oh!" she said, without looking at him, "I'm so sorry to trouble you--my
bicycle's run down--and I'm afraid it's a puncture, and could you let me
have some water, to find the hole--and if I might sit down a minute."

Her voice grew lower and lower.

He opened the door wide and put out his hand for the bicycle. She took
two steps past him, rather unsteadily, and sat down on the stairs--there
were no chairs: the furniture of the hall was all oil-cloth and hat
pegs.

He saw now that she was very pale; her face looked greenish behind her
veil's white meshes.

He propped the machine against the door, as she leaned her head back
against the ugly marbled paper of the staircase wall.

"I'm afraid you're ill," he said gently. But the girl made no answer.
Her head slipped along the varnished wall and rested on the stair two
steps above where she sat. Her hat was crooked and twisted; even a
student of Greek could see that she had fainted.

"Oh Lord!" said he.

He got her hat and veil off--he never knew how, and he wondered
afterwards at his own cleverness, for there were many pins, long and
short; he fetched the cushion from his armchair and put it under her
head; he took off her gloves and rubbed her hands and her forehead with
vinegar, but her complexion remained green, and she lay, all in a heap,
at the foot of his staircase.

Then he remembered that fainting people should be laid flat and not
allowed to lie about in heaps at the foot of stairs, so he very gently
and gingerly picked the girl up in his arms and carried her into his
sitting-room. Here he laid her on the ground--he had no sofa--and sat
beside her on the floor, patiently fanning her with a copy of the
_Athenæum_, and watching the pinched, pallid face for some sign of
returning life. It came at last, in a flutter of the eyelids, a
long-drawn, gasping breath. The Greek scholar rushed for whisky--brandy
he esteemed as a mere adjunct of channel boats--lifted her head and held
the glass to her lips. The blood had come back to her face in a rush of
carnation; she drank--choked--drank--he laid her head down and her eyes
opened. They were large, clear grey eyes--very bewildered-looking just
now--but they and the clear red tint in cheeks and lips transformed the
face.

"Good gracious," said he, "she's pretty! Pretty? she's beautiful!"

She was. That such beauty should so easily have hidden itself behind a
green-tinted mask, with sunken eyelid, seemed a miracle to the
ingenuous bookworm.

"You're better now," said he with feverish banality. "Give me your
hands--so--now can--yes, that's right--here, this chair is the only
comfortable one----"

She sank into the chair, and waved away the more whisky which he eagerly
proffered. He stood looking at her with respectful solicitude.

After a few moments she stretched her arms like a sleepy child, yawned,
and then suddenly broke into laughter. It had a strange sound. No one
had laughed in that house since the wet night when Mr Brent took
possession of it, and he had never been able to bring himself to believe
that any one had ever laughed there before.

Then he remembered having heard that women have hysterical fits as well
as fainting fits, and he said eagerly: "Oh don't! It's all right--you
were faint--the heat or something----"

"Did I faint?" she asked with interest. "I never fainted before.
But--oh--yes--I remember. It was rather horrible. The quarry tumbled
down almost on me, and I just stopped short--in time--and I came round
by this road because the other's stopped up, and I was so glad when I
saw the house. Thank you so much; it must have been an awful bother. I
think I had better start soon----"

"No, you don't; you're not fit to ride alone yet," said he to himself.
Aloud he said: "You said something about a puncture--when you are better
I'll mend it. And, look here--have you had any lunch?"

"No," said she.

"Then--if you'll allow me." He left the room, and presently returned
with the tray set for his own lunch; then he fetched from the larder
everything he could lay hands on: half a cold chicken, some cold meat
pudding, a pot of jam, bottled beer. He set these confusedly on the
table. "Now," he said, "come and try to eat."

"It's very good of you to bother," she said, a little surprise in her
tone, for she had expected "lunch" to be a set formal meal at which some
discreet female relative would preside. "But aren't you--don't you--do
you live alone, then?"

"Yes, a woman comes in in the mornings. I'm sorry she's gone: she could
have arranged a better lunch for you."

"Better? why, it's lovely!" said she, accepting the situation with frank
amusement, and she gave a touch or two to the table to set everything in
its place.

Then they lunched together. He would have served her standing, as one
serves a queen--but she laughed again, and he took the place opposite
her. During lunch they talked.

After lunch they mended the punctured tyre, and talked all the while;
then it was past three o'clock.

"You won't go yet," he said then, daring greatly for what seemed to him
a great stake. "Let me make you some tea--I can, I assure you--and let
us see if the tyre holds up----"

"Oh, the tyre is all right, thanks to your cleverness----"

"Well, then," said he desperately, "take pity on a poor hermit! I give
you my word, I have been here ten months and three days, and I have not
in that time spoken a single word to any human being except my
bedmaker."

"But if you want to talk to people why did you begin being a hermit?"

"I thought I didn't, then."

"Well--now you know better, why don't you come back and talk to people
in the ordinary way?"

This was the first and last sign she gave that the circumstances in
which she found herself with him were anything but ordinary.

"I have a book to finish," said he. "Would you like to have tea in the
wilderness or in here?" He wisely took her consent for granted this
time, and his wisdom was justified.

They had tea in the garden. The wilderness blossomed like a rose, to
Maurice's thinking. In his mind he was saying over and over again: "How
bored I must have been all this time! How bored I must have been!"

It seemed to him that his mind was opening, like a flower, and for the
first time. He had never talked so well, and he knew it--all the seeds
of thought, sown in those long, lonely hours, bore fruit now. She
listened, she replied, she argued and debated.

"Beautiful--and sensible," said Maurice to himself. "What a wonderful
woman!" There was, besides, an alertness of mind, a quick brightness of
manner that charmed him. Camilla had been languid and dreamy.

Suddenly she rose to her feet.

"I must go," she said, "but I have enjoyed myself so much. You are an
ideal host: thank you a thousand times. Perhaps we shall meet again some
day, if you return to the world. Do you know, we've been talking and
wrangling for hours and hours and never even thought of wondering what
each other's names are--I think we've paid each other a very magnificent
compliment, don't you?"

He smiled and said: "My name is Maurice Brent."

"Mine is Diana Redmayne. If it sounds like somebody in the _Family
Herald_, I can't help it." He had wheeled the bicycle into the road, and
she had put on hat and gloves and stood ready to mount before she said:
"If you come back to the world I shall almost certainly meet you. We
seem to know the same people; I've heard your name many times."

"From whom?" said he.

"Among others," said she, with her foot on the pedal, "from my cousin
Camilla. Good-bye."

And he was left to stare down the road after the swift flying figure.

Then he went back into the lonely little house, and about half-past
twelve that night he realised that he had done no work that day, and
that those hours which had not been spent talking to Diana Redmayne, had
been spent in thinking about her.

"It's not because she's pretty and clever," he said; "and it's not even
because she's a woman. It's because she's the only intelligent human
being I've spoken to for nearly a year."

So day after day he went on thinking about her.

It was three weeks later that the bell again creaked and jangled, and
again through the spotted glass he saw a woman's hat. To his infinite
disgust and surprise, his heart began to beat violently.

"I grow nervous, living all alone," he said. "Confound this door! how it
does stick--I must have it planed."

He got the door opened, and found himself face to face with--Camilla.

He stepped back, and bowed gravely.

She looked more beautiful than ever--and he looked at her, and wondered
how he could ever have thought her even passably pretty.

"Won't you ask me in?" she said timidly.

"No," said he, "I am all alone."

"I know," she said. "I have only just heard you're living here all
alone, and I came to say--Maurice--I'm sorry. I didn't know you cared so
much, or----"

"Don't," he said, stopping the confession as a good batsman stops a
cricket ball. "Believe me, I've not made myself a hermit because of--all
that. I had a book to write--that was all. And--and it's very kind of
you to come and look me up, and I wish I could ask you to come in,
but---- And it's nice of you to take an interest in an old friend--you
said you would, didn't you, in the letter--and--I've taken the advice
you gave me."

"You mean you've fallen in love with some one else."

"You remember what you said in your letter."

"Some one nicer and worthier, I said," returned Camilla blankly, "but I
never thought---- And is she?"

"Of course she seems so to me," said he, smiling at her to express
friendly feeling.

"Then--good-bye--I wish you the best of good fortune."

"You said that in your letter, too," said he. "Good-bye."

"Who is she?"

"I mustn't tell even you that, until I have told her," he smiled again.

"Then good-bye," said Camilla shortly; "forgive me for troubling you so
unnecessarily."

He found himself standing by his door--and Camilla on her bicycle sped
down the road, choking with tears of anger and mortification and deep
disappointment. Because she knew now that she loved him as much as it
was in her to love any one, and because she, who had humbled so many,
had now at last humbled herself--and to no purpose.

Maurice Brent left his door open and wandered down across his five
acres, filled with amazement. Camilla herself had not been more deeply
astonished at the words he had spoken than he had been. A moment before
he had not even thought that he was in love, much less contemplated any
confession of it: and now seemingly without his will he stood committed
to this statement. Was it true, or had he only said it to defend himself
against those advances of hers in which he merely saw a new trap? He had
said it in defence--yes--but it was true, for all that; this was the
wonderful part of it. And so he walked in the wilderness, lost in
wonder; and as he walked he noted the bicycles that passed his
door--along his unfrequented road, by ones and twos and threes--for this
was a Saturday, and the lower road was still lying cold and hidden under
its load of chalk, and none might pass that way. This road was hot and
dusty, and folk went along it continually. He strolled to his ugly iron
gate and looked over, idly. Perhaps, some day, she would come that way
again--she would surely stop--especially if he were at the gate--and
perhaps stay and talk a little. As if in mocking answer to the new-born
thought came a flash of blue along the road; Diana Redmayne rode by at
full speed--bowed coldly--and then at ten yards' distance turned and
waved a white-gloved hand, with a charming smile. Maurice swore softly,
and went indoors to think.

His work went but slowly on that day--and in the days that followed. On
the next Friday he went over to Rochester, and in the dusk of the
evening he walked along the road, about a mile from "The Yews," and
then, going slowly, he cast handfuls of something dark from his hand,
and kicked the white dust over it as it lay.

"I feel like the enemy sowing tares," said he.

Then he went home, full of anxious anticipation. The next day was hot
and bright. He took his armchair into the nightmare of a verandah, and
sat there reading; only above the top of the book his eyes could follow
the curve of the white road. This made it more difficult to follow the
text. Presently the bicyclists began to go past, by ones and twos and
threes; but a certain percentage was wheeling its machines--others
stopped within sight to blow up their tyres. One man sat down under the
hedge thirty yards away, and took his machine to pieces; presently he
strolled up and asked for water. Brent gave it, in a tin basin,
grudgingly, and without opening the gate.

"I overdid it," he said, "a quarter of a pound would have been enough;
yet I don't know--perhaps it's well to be on the safe side. Yet three
pounds was perhaps excessive."

Late in the afternoon a pink figure wheeling a bicycle came slowly down
the road. He sat still, and tried to read. In a moment he should hear
the click of the gate: then he would spring up and be very much
astonished. But the gate did not click, and when next he raised his eyes
the pink blouse had gone by, and was almost past the end of the five
acres. Then he did spring up--and ran.

"Miss Redmayne, can't I help you? What is it? Have you had a spill?" he
said as he overtook her.

"Puncture," said she laconically.

"You're very unfortunate. Mayn't I help you to mend it?"

"I'll mend it as soon as I get to a shady place."

"Come into the wilderness. See--here's the side gate. I'll fetch some
water in a moment."

She looked at him doubtfully, and then consented. She refused tea, but
she stayed and talked till long after the bicycle was mended.

On the following Saturday he walked along the road, and back, and along,
and again the place was alive with angry cyclists dealing, each after
his fashion, with a punctured tyre. He came upon Miss Redmayne sitting
by the ditch mending hers. That was the time when he sat on the roadside
and told her all about himself--reserving only those points where his
life had touched Camilla's.

The week after he walked the road again, and this time he overtook Miss
Redmayne, who was resolutely wheeling her bicycle back in the way by
which she had come.

"Let me wheel it for you," he said. "Whither bound?"

"I'm going back to Rochester," she said. "I generally ride over to see
my aunts at Felsenden on Saturdays, but I fear I must give it up, or go
by train; this road isn't safe."

"Not safe?" he said with an agitation which could not escape her notice.

"Not safe," she repeated. "Mr Brent, there is a very malicious person in
this part of the country--a perfectly dreadful person."

"What do you mean?" he managed to ask.

"These three Saturdays I have come along this road; each time I have had
a puncture. And each time I have found embedded in my tyre the evidence
of some one's malice. This is one piece of evidence." She held out her
ungloved hand. On its pink palm lay a good sized tin-tack. "Once might
be accident; twice a coincidence; three times is too much. The road's
impossible."

"Do you think some one did it on purpose?"

"I know it," she said calmly.

Then he grew desperate.

"Try to forgive me," he said. "I was so lonely, and I wanted so
much----"

She turned wide eyes on him.

"You!" she cried, and began to laugh.

Her laughter was very pretty, he thought.

"Then you didn't know it was me?" said the Greek student.

"You!" she said again. "And has it amused you--to see all these poor
people in difficulties, and to know that you've spoilt their poor little
holiday for them--and three times, too."

"I never thought about _them_," he said; "it was you I wanted to see.
Try to forgive me; you don't know how much I wanted you." Something in
his voice kept her silent. "And don't laugh," he went on. "I feel as if
I wanted nothing in the world but you. Let me come to see you--let me
try to make you care too."

"You're talking nonsense," she said, for he stopped on a note that
demanded an answer. "Why, you told Camilla----"

"Yes--but you--but I meant _you_. I thought I cared about her once--but
I never cared really with all my heart and soul for any one but you."

She looked at him calmly and earnestly.

"I'm going to forget all this," she said; "but I like you very much, and
if you want to come and see me, you may. I will introduce you to my
aunts at Felsenden as--as a friend of Camilla's. And I will be friends
with you; but nothing else ever. Do you care to know my aunts?"

Maurice had inspirations of sense sometimes. One came to him now, and he
said: "I care very much."

"Then help me to mend my bicycle, and you can call there to-morrow. It's
'The Grange'--you can't miss it. No, not another word of nonsense,
please, or we can't possibly be friends."

       *       *       *       *       *

He helped her to mend the bicycle, and they talked of the beauty of
spring and of modern poetry.

       *       *       *       *       *

It was at "The Grange," Felsenden, that Maurice next saw Miss
Redmayne--and it was from "The Grange," Felsenden, that, in September,
he married her.

"And why did you say you would never, never be anything but a friend?"
he asked her on the day when that marriage was arranged. "Oh! you nearly
made me believe you! Why did you say it?"

"One must say something!" she answered. "Besides, you'd never have
respected me if I'd said 'yes' at once."

"Could you have said it? Did you like me then?"

She looked at him, and her look was an answer. He stooped and gravely
kissed her.

"And you really cared, even then? I wish you had been braver," he said a
little sadly.

"Ah, but," she said, "I didn't know you then--you must try to forgive
me, dear. Think how much there was at stake! Suppose I had lost you!"



VII

THE AUNT AND THE EDITOR


Aunt Kate was the great comfort of Kitty's existence. Always kindly,
helpful, sympathetic, no girlish trouble was too slight, no girlish
question too difficult for her tender heart--her delicate insight. How
different from grim Aunt Eliza, with whom it was Kitty's fate to live.
Aunt Eliza was severe, methodical, energetic. In household matters she
spared neither herself nor her niece. Kitty could darn and mend and bake
and dust and sweep in a way which might have turned the parents of the
bluest Girtonian green with envy. She had read a great deal, too--the
really solid works that are such a nuisance to get through, and that
leave a mark on one's mind like the track of a steamroller. That was
Aunt Eliza's doing. Kitty ought to have been grateful--but she wasn't.
She didn't want to be improved with solid books. She wanted to write
books herself. She did write little tales when her aunt was out on
business, which was often, and she dreamed of the day when she should
write beautiful books, poems, romances. These Aunt Eliza classed roughly
as "stuff and nonsense"; and one day, when she found Kitty reading the
_Girls' Very Own Friend_, she tore that harmless little weekly across
and across and flung it into the fire. Then she faced Kitty with flushed
face and angry eyes.

"If I ever catch you bringing such rubbish into the house again,
I'll--I'll stop your music lessons."

This was a horrible threat. Kitty went twice a week to the Guildhall
School of Music. She had no musical talent whatever, but the journey to
London and back was her one glimpse of the world's tide that flowed
outside the neat, gloomy, ordered house at Streatham. Therefore Kitty
was careful that Aunt Eliza should not again "catch her bringing such
rubbish into the house." But she went on reading the paper all the same,
just as she went on writing her little stories. And presently she got
one of her little stories typewritten, and sent it to the _Girls' Very
Own Friend_. It was a silly little story--the heroine was _svelte_, I
am sorry to say, and had red-gold hair and a soft, _trainante_
voice--and the hero was a "frank-looking young Englishman, with a
bronzed face and honest blue eyes." The plot was that with which I
firmly believe every career of fiction begins--the girl who throws over
her lover because he has jilted her friend. Then she finds out that it
was not her lover, but his brother or cousin. We have all written this
story in our time, and Kitty wrote it much worse than many, but not
nearly so badly as most of us.

And the _Girls' Very Own Friend_ accepted the story and printed it, and
in its columns notified to "George Thompson" that the price, a whole
guinea, was lying idle at the office till he should send his address.
For, of course, Kitty had taken a man's name for her pen-name, and
almost equally, of course, had called herself "George." George Sand
began it, and it is a fashion which young authors seem quite unable to
keep themselves from following.

Kitty longed to tell some one of her success--to ask admiration and
advice; but Aunt Eliza was more severe and less approachable than usual
that week. She was busy writing letters. She had always a sheaf of
dull-looking letters to answer, so Kitty could only tell Mary in the
kitchen under vows of secrecy, and Mary in the kitchen only said: "Well,
to be sure, Miss, it's beautiful! I suppose you wrote the story down out
of some book?"

Therefore Kitty felt that it was vain to apply to her for intellectual
sympathy.

"I will write to Aunt Kate," said she, "_she_ will understand. Oh, how I
wish I could see her! She must be a dear, soft, pussy, cuddly sort of
person. Why shouldn't I go and see her? I will."

And on this desperate resolve she acted.

Now I find it quite impossible any longer to conceal from the
intelligent reader that the reason why Kitty had never seen Aunt Kate
was that "Aunt Kate" was merely the screen which sheltered from a vulgar
publicity the gifted person who wrote the "Answers to Correspondents"
for the _Girls' Very Own Friend_.

In fear and trembling, and a disguised handwriting; with a feigned name
and a quickly-beating heart, Kitty, months before, had written to this
mysterious and gracious being. In the following week's number had
appeared these memorable lines:

     "_Sweet Nancy._--So pleased, dear, with your little letter.
     Write to me quite freely. I love to help my girls."

So Kitty wrote quite freely, and as honestly as any girl of eighteen
ever writes: her hopes and fears, her household troubles, her literary
ambitions. And in the columns of the _Girls' Very Own Friend_ Aunt Kate
replied with all the tender grace and delightful warmth that
characterised her utterances.

The idea of calling on Aunt Kate occurred to Kitty as she was "putting
on her things" to go to the Guildhall. She instantly threw the plain
"everyday" hat from her, and pulled her best hat from its tissue-paper
nest in the black bandbox. She put on her best blouse--the
cream-coloured one with the browny lace on it, and her best brown silk
skirt. She recklessly added her best brown shoes and gloves, and the
lace pussy-boa. (I don't know what the milliner's name for the thing is.
It goes round the neck, and hangs its soft and fluffy ends down nearly
to one's knees.) Then she looked at herself in the glass, gave a few
last touches to her hair and veil, and nodded to herself.

"You'll do, my dear," said Kitty.

Aunt Eliza was providentially absent at Bath nursing a sick friend, and
the black-bugled duenna, hastily imported from Tunbridge Wells, could
not be expected to know which was Kitty's best frock, and which the
gloves that ought only to have been worn at church.

When Kitty's music lesson was over, she stood for a moment on the steps
of the Guildhall School, looking down towards the river. Then she
shrugged her pretty shoulders.

"I don't care. I'm going to," she said, and turned resolutely towards
Tudor Street. Kitty had been to a high school: therefore she was not
obviously shy. She asked her way frankly and easily of carman, or clerk,
or errand-boy; and though, at the door of the dingy office in a little
court off Fleet Street, her heart beat thickly as she read the
blue-enamelled words, _Girls' Very Own Friend_, her manner as she walked
into the office betrayed no nervousness, and, indeed, struck the
grinning idle office boy as that of "a bloomin' duchess."

"I want to see----" she began; and then suddenly the awkwardness of her
position struck her. She did not know Aunt Kate's surname. Abruptly to
ask this grinning lout for "Aunt Kate" seemed absolutely indecorous. "I
want to see the editor," she ended.

She waited in the grimy office while the boy disappeared through an
inner door, marked in dingy white letters with the magic words,
"Editor--Private." A low buzz of voices came to her through the door.
She looked at the pigeon-holes where heaps of back numbers of the
_Girls' Very Own_ lay in a dusty retirement. She looked at the insurance
company's tasteless almanack that hung all awry on the wall, and still
the buzz went on. Then suddenly some one laughed inside, and the laugh
did not please Kitty. The next moment the boy returned, grinning more
repulsively than ever, and said: "Walk this way."

She walked that way, past the boy; the door fell to behind her, and she
found herself in a cloud of tobacco smoke, compressed into a small
room--a very dusty, untidy room--in which stood three young men. Their
faces were grave and serious, but Kate could not forget that one of
them had laughed, and laughed _like that_. Her chin went up about a
quarter of an inch further.

"I am sorry to have disturbed you," she said severely. "I wanted to
see--to see the lady who signs herself Aunt Kate."

There was a moment of silence which seemed almost breathless. Two of the
young men exchanged a glance, but though Kitty perceived it to be
significant, she could not interpret its meaning. Then one of the three
turned to gaze out of the window at the blackened glass roof of the
printing office below. Kitty felt certain he was concealing a smile; and
the second hurriedly arranged a bundle of papers beside him.

The third young man spoke, and Kitty liked the gentle drawl, the
peculiar enunciation. The poor girl, in her Streatham seclusion, had
never before heard the "Oxford voice."

"I am very sorry," he said, "but 'Aunt Kate' is not here to-day.
Perhaps--is there anything I could do?"

"No, thank you," said Kitty, wishing herself miles away; the tobacco
smoke choked her, the backs of the two other men seemed an outrage. She
turned away with a haughty bow, and went down the grimy stairs full of
fury. She could have slapped herself. How could she have been such a
fool as to come there? There were feet coming down the stair behind
her--she quickened her pace. The feet came more quickly. She stopped on
the landing and turned with an odd feeling of being at bay. It was the
fair-haired young man with the Oxford voice.

"I am so very sorry," he said gently, "but I did not know. I did not
expect to see--I mean, I did not know who you were. And we had all been
smoking--I am so sorry," he said again, rather lamely.

"It doesn't matter," said Kitty, more shyly than she had ever spoken in
her life. She liked his eyes and his voice as much as she loathed the
expressive backs of his two companions.

"If you could come again: perhaps Aunt Kate will be here on Thursday. I
know she will be sorry to miss you," the young man went on.

"I think I won't call again, thank you," said Kitty. "I--I'll write,
thank you; it is all right. I oughtn't to have come. Good-bye."

There was nothing for it but to stand back and let her pass. The editor
went back slowly to his room. His friends had relighted their pipes.

"Appeased the outraged goddess?" asked one of them.

"Good old Aunt Kate!" said the other.

"Shut up, Sellars!" said the editor, frowning.

"Now, which of your correspondents is it?" pondered Sellars, ruffling
the bundle of papers in his hand. "Is it 'Wild Woodbine,' who wants to
know what will make her hands white? Chilcott, did you see her hands? Oh
no, of course--_bien chaussée, bien gantée_. All brown, too. Is it
'Sylph'?--no; she wants a pattern for a Zouave. What is a Zouave, if you
please, Mr Editor?"

"Dry up!" said the editor, but Sellars was busy with the papers.

"Eureka! I know her. She's 'Nut-brown Maid'--here's the letter--wants to
know if she may talk to 'a young gentleman she has not been properly
introduced to'--spells it 'interoduced,' too----"

The editor snatched the papers out of the other's hands.

"Now clear out," said he; "I'm busy."

"Am I dreaming?" said Sellars pensively; "or is this the editor who
invited us to collaborate with him in his 'Answers to Correspondents'?"

"I am the editor who will kick you down the entire five flights if he is
driven to it. You won't drive him, will you?"

The two laughed, but they took up their hats and went; Sellars put his
head round the door for a last word.

"What price love at first sight?" said he, and the office ruler dented
the door as he disappeared round it. The editor, left alone, sat down in
his chair and looked helplessly round him.

"Well!" he said musingly, "well, well, well, well!" Then after a long
silence he took up his pen and began the "Answers to Correspondents."

     "_Dieu-donnée._--Your hair is a very nice colour. I should not
     advise Aureoline.

     "_Shy Fairy._--By all means consult your mother. Heliotrope
     would suit your complexion, if it is, as you say, of a
     brilliant fairness.

     "_Contadina._--No, I should not advise scarlet velvet with the
     pale blue. Try myrtle green."

Presently he threw down the pen. "I suppose I shall never see her
again," he said, and he actually sighed.

But he did see her again. For on her way home poor Kitty's imagination
suddenly spread its wings and alighted accurately on the truth; she
formed a sufficiently vivid picture of what had happened in the office
after she left. She _knew_ that those other young men--"the pigs," she
called them to herself--had speculated as to whether she was "Little
One," who wanted to make her hair curl, and to know whether short waists
would be worn; or "Moss Rose," who was anxious about her complexion, and
the proper way to treat a jibbing sweetheart. So that very night she
wrote a note to Aunt Kate, but she did not sign it "Sweet Nancy" in the
old manner, and she did not disguise her hand. She signed it George
Thompson, in inverted commas, and she said that she would call on
Thursday.

And on Thursday she called. And was shown into the editor's room at
once.

The editor rose to greet her.

"Aunt Kate is not here," said he hurriedly; "but if you can spare a few
moments I should like to talk to you about business; I did not know the
other day that you were the author of that charming story 'Evelyn's
Error.'"

The room was clear of tobacco smoke--the editor was alone--some red
roses lay on the table. Kitty caught herself wondering for whom he had
bought them. The chair he offered her was carefully dusted. She took
it--and he began to talk about her story; criticising, praising,
blaming, and that so skilfully that criticism seemed a subtle flattery,
and the very blame conveyed a compliment. Then he asked for more
stories. And a new heaven and a new earth seemed to unroll before the
girl's eyes. If she could only write--and succeed--and----

"Will you come again?" he said at last. "Aunt Kate----"

"Oh," she said, with eyes shining softly, "it doesn't matter about Aunt
Kate now! I shall be so busy trying to write stories."

"The fact is----" said the editor slowly, racking his brains for a
reason that should bring her to the office again--"the fact is--_I_ am
Aunt Kate."

Kitty sprang to her feet. Her face flamed scarlet. She stood silent a
moment. Then: "_You?_" she cried. "Oh, it's _not_ fair--it's mean--it's
shameful! Oh--how could you! And girls write to _you_--and they think
it's a woman--and they tell you about their troubles. It's horrible!
It's underhand--it's abominable! I hate you for it. Every one ought to
know. I shall write to the papers."

"Please, please," said the editor hurriedly and humbly--"it's not my
fault. It _is_ a lady who does it generally, but she had to go away--and
I couldn't get any one else to do it. And I didn't see--till after you'd
been the other day--that it wasn't fair. And I was going to ask if _you_
would do it--the correspondence, I mean--just for this week. I wish you
would!"

"Could I?" she said doubtfully.

"Of course you could! And if you'd bring the copy on Monday--about two
columns, you know--we could go through it together and----"

"Well, I'll try," said Kitty abruptly, reaching out for the sheaf of
letters which he was gathering together.

And now who was happier than Kitty, seated behind her locked bedroom
door advising "Dieu-donnée" and "Shy Fairy" and "Contadina" out of the
unfathomable depths of her girlish inexperience. Her advice looked
wonderfully practical, though, in print, she thought, as with a thrill
of pride and joy she corrected the first proofs. And she wrote stories,
too, and they, too, were printed. It was indeed a bright and beautiful
world. Aunt Eliza stayed away for five glorious weeks. Kitty, with an
enthralling sense of reckless wickedness, gave up her useless music
lessons, and in going three times a week to the office experienced a
glowing consciousness of the joy and dignity of honest toil.

The editor, by the way, during these five weeks fell in love with Kitty,
exactly as he had known he would do when first he saw her grey eyes.
Kitty had never been so happy in all her life. The child honestly
believed hers to be the happiness that comes from congenial work. And
her editor was so clever and so kind! No one ever smoked in the office
now, and there were always roses. And Kitty took them home with her, so
that now there was no need to wonder for whom he had bought them.

Then came the inevitable hour. He met her one day with a clouded face
and a letter in his hand.

"It's all over," he said; "the real original old Aunt Kate is coming
back. She's the dearest old thing, so kind and jolly--but--but--but--
whatever shall we do?"

"I can still write stories, I suppose," said Kitty, but she realised
with a gasp that congenial toil would not be quite, quite the same
without congenial companionship.

"Yes," said he, picking up the bunch of red roses, "but--here are your
flowers--don't you know yet that I can't possibly do without you? In a
few months I'm to have the editorship of a new weekly, a much better
berth than this. If only you would----"

"Write the correspondence?" said Kitty, brightening; "of course I will.
I don't know what I should do without----"

"I wish," he interrupted, "that I could think it was _me_ you couldn't
do without." Her pretty eyes met his over the red roses, and he caught
her hands with the flowers in them. "Is it? Oh, say you can't do without
me either. Say it, say it!"

"I--I--don't want to do without you," said Kitty at last. He was holding
her hands fast, and she was trying, not very earnestly, perhaps, to pull
them away. The pair made a pretty picture.

"Oh, Kitty, Kitty, Kitty!" he said softly, and then the door opened, and
suddenly, without the least warning, a middle-aged lady became a
spectator of the little tableau. The newcomer wore a mantle with beads
on it, a black bonnet wherein nodded a violet flower--and beads and
flower and bonnet were absolutely familiar to each of the astonished
ones now standing consciously with the breadth of the office between
them. For in that middle-aged lady the editor recognised Aunt Kate, the
pleasant, sensible, companionable woman who for years had written those
sympathetic "Answers to Correspondents" in the _Girls' Very Own Friend_.
And at the same moment Kitty recognised, beyond all possibility of
doubt, Aunt Eliza--her own grim, harsh, uncongenial Aunt Eliza.

Kitty cowered--in her frightened soul she cowered. But her little figure
drew itself up, and the point of her chin rose a quarter of an inch.

"Aunt Eliza," she said firmly, "I know you will----"

"_Your Aunt Eliza_, Kitty?" cried the editor.

"'Kitty'?" said the aunt.

And now the situation hung all too nicely balanced on the extreme edge
of the absolutely impossible. Would this middle-aged lady--an aunt
beyond doubt--an aunt who so long had played a double _rôle_, assume,
now that one _rôle_ must be chosen, the part of Aunt Eliza the Terrible
or of Aunt Kate the Kind? The aunt was dumb. Kitty was dumb. But the
editor had his wits about him, and Kate, though shaken, was not
absolutely paralysed.

"It's almost too good to be true," he said, "that _my_ Aunt Kate is
really _your_ Aunt Eliza. Aunt Kate, Kitty and I have just decided that
we can't do without each other. I am so glad that you are the first to
wish us joy."

At his words all the "Kate" in the aunt rose triumphant, trampling down
the "Eliza."

"My dear boy," she said--and she said it in a voice which Kitty had
never heard before--the sound of that voice drew Kitty like a magnet.
She did the only possible thing--she put her arms timidly round her
aunt's neck and whispered: "Oh, don't be Aunt Eliza any more, be Aunt
Kate!"

It was Aunt Kate's arms undoubtedly that went round the girl. Certainly
not Aunt Eliza's.

"I will take a walk down Fleet Street," said the editor discreetly.

Then there were explanations in the office.

"But why," said Kitty, when all the questions had been asked and
answered, "why were you Aunt Eliza to me, and Aunt Kate to him?"

"My dear, one must spoil somebody, and I was determined not to spoil
_you_; I wanted to save you. All my life was ruined because I was a
spoiled child--and because I tried to write. I had such dreams, such
ambitions--just like yours, you silly child! But then I was never
clever--perhaps you may be--and it all ended in my losing my lover. He
married a nice, quiet, domestic girl, and I never made name or fame at
all--I never got anything taken but fashion articles--and 'Answers to
Correspondents.' Now, that's the whole tale. Don't mention it again."

"But you did love me, even when----"

"Of course I did," said Aunt Kate in the testy tones of Aunt Eliza; "or
why should I have bothered at all about whether you were going to be
happy or not? Now, Kitty, you're not to expect me to gush. I've
forgotten how to be sentimental except on paper."

"I don't want to be sentimental," said Kitty, a little injured, "neither
does----"

Here the editor came in.

"You don't want to be sentimental either," Kitty went on; "do you--Mr
Editor?"

The editor looked a little doubtful.

"I want to be happy, at any rate," said he, "and I mean to be."

"And he can't be happy unless you smile on him. Smile on him, Auntie!"
cried a new, radiant Kitty, to whom aunts no longer presented any
terrors. "Say 'Bless you, my children!' Auntie--do!"

"Get along with your nonsense!" said Aunt Eliza. Or was it Aunt Kate?



VIII

MISS MOUSE


They were poor, not with the desperate poverty that has to look on both
sides of a penny, but with the decent bearable poverty that must look at
a shilling with attention, and with respect at half-a-crown. There was
money for the necessities of life, the mother said, but no money to
waste. This was what she always tried to say when Maisie came in with
rainbow representations of the glories of local "sales" piteous pictures
of beautiful things going almost for nothing--things not absolutely
needed, but which would "come in useful." Maisie's dress was never
allowed those touches of cheap finery which would have made it
characteristic of her. Her clothes were good, and she had to patch and
mend and contrive so much that sometimes it seemed to her as though all
her life was going by in the effort to achieve, by a distasteful
process, a result which she abhorred. For her artistic sense was too
weak to show her how the bright, soft freshness of her tints gained by
contrast with the dull greys and browns and drabs that were her mother's
choice--good wearing colours, from which the pink and white of her face
rose triumphantly, like a beautiful flower out of a rough calyx.

The house was like Maisie, in that it never seemed to have anything
new--none of those bright, picturesque cushions and screens and
Japaneseries which she adored through the plate-glass windows of the big
local draper. The curtains were of old damask, faded but rich; the
furniture was mahogany, old and solid; the carpets were Turkey and
Aubusson--patched and darned this last, but still beautiful. Maisie knew
all about old oak--she had read her _Home Hints_ and her _Gentlewoman's
Guide_--but she had no idea that mahogany could be fashionable. None of
the photographs of the drawing-rooms of celebrities in her favourite
papers were anything like the little sitting-room where her mother sat
knitting by the hearth, surrounded by the relics of a house that had
been handsome in the 'sixties, when it was her girlhood's home. Maisie
hated it all: the chairs covered in Berlin-wool needlework, the dark,
polished surfaces of the tables and bureaux, the tinkling lustres of
Bohemian glass, the shining brass trivet on which the toast kept itself
warm, the crude colours of the tea-service, the smell of eau-de-Cologne
mingling with the faint scent of beeswax and cedar-wood. She would have
liked to change the old water-colours in their rubbed gilt frames for
dark-mounted autotypes. How should she know that those hideous pigs were
Morlands, and that the cow picture was a David Cox. She would have liked
Japanese blue transfers instead of the gold-and-white china--old
Bristol, by the way, but Maisie knew nothing of Bristol. The regular,
sober orderliness of the house chafed and fretted her; the recurrent
duties, all dull; the few guests who came to tea. Decent poverty cannot
give dinner parties or dances. She visited her school friends, and when
she came home again it seemed to her sometimes as though the atmosphere
of the place would choke her.

"I want to go out and earn my own living," she said to her cousin Edward
one Sunday afternoon when her mother was resting and he and she were
roasting chestnuts on the bars of the dining-room fire. "I'm simply
useless here."

Edward was a second cousin. To him the little house was the ideal home,
just as Maisie was--well, not, perhaps, the ideal girl, but the only
girl in the world, which comes to much the same thing. But he never told
her so: he dared not risk losing the cousin's place and missing for ever
the lover's.

So, in his anxiety lest she should know how much he cared, he scolded
her a good deal. But he took her to picture galleries and to _matinées_,
and softened her life in a hundred ways that she never noticed. He was
only "Poor old Edward," and he knew it.

"How can you?" he said. "Why, what on earth would Aunt do without you?
Here, have this one--it's a beauty."

"I ought to have been taught a trade, like other poor girls," she went
on, waving away the roasted chestnut. "Lots of the girls I was at school
with are earning as much as a pound a week now--typewriting or painting
birthday cards, and some of them are in the Post Office--and I do
nothing but drudge away at home. It's too bad."

Edward would have given a decent sum at that moment to be inspired with
exactly the right thing to say. As it was he looked at her helplessly.

"I don't understand, I'm afraid," said he.

"You never do," she answered crossly. There was a silence in which she
felt the growth of a need to justify herself--to herself as well as to
him. "Why, don't you see," she urged, "it's my plain duty to go out and
earn something. Why, we're as poor as ever we can be--I haven't any
pocket-money hardly--I can't even buy presents for people. I have to
_make_ presents out of odds and ends of old things, instead of buying
them, like other girls."

"I think you make awfully pretty things," he said; "much prettier than
any one can buy."

"You're thinking of that handkerchief-case I gave Aunt Emma at
Christmas. Why, you silly, it was only a bit of one of mother's old
dresses. I do wish you'd talk to mother about it. I might go out as
companion or something."

The word came before the thought, but the thought was brought by the
word and the thought stayed.

That very evening Maisie began to lay siege to her mother's desired
consent.

She put her arguments very neatly, so neatly that it was hard for the
mother to oppose them without being betrayed into an attitude that would
seem grossly selfish.

She sat looking into the fire, thinking of all the little, unceasing
sacrifices that had been her life ever since Maisie had been hers--even
the giving up of that treasured silk, her wedding dress, last Christmas,
because Maisie wanted something pretty to make Christmas presents out
of. She remembered it all; and now this new great sacrifice was called
for. She had given up to Maisie everything but her taste in dress, and
now it seemed that she was desired to give up even Maisie herself. But
the other sacrifices had been for Maisie's good or for her pleasure.
Would this one be for either?

She saw her little girl alone among strangers, snubbed, looked down
upon, a sort of upper servant with none of a servant's privileges; she
nerved herself to what was always to her an almost unbearable effort.
Her heart was beating and her hands trembling as she said: "My dear,
it's quite impossible; I couldn't possibly allow it."

"I must say I don't see why," said Maisie, with tears in her voice.

Her mother dropped the mass of fleecy white wool and the clinking
knitting needles and grasped the arms of her chair intensely. Her eyes
behind the spectacles clouded with tears. It seemed to her that her
child should surely understand the agony it was to her mother to refuse
her anything.

"I could earn money for you--it's not myself I'm thinking about," the
girl went on; the half-lie came out quite without her conscious
volition. "I wish you didn't always think I do everything for selfish
reasons."

"I don't, my dear," said the mother feebly.

"I'm sure it's my duty," Maisie went on, with more tears than ever in
her voice. "I'm eighteen, and I ought to be earning something, instead
of being a burden to you."

The mother looked hopelessly into the fire. She had always tried to
explain things to Maisie; how was it that Maisie never understood?

"I'm sure," said Maisie, echoing her mother's thought, "I always try to
tell you how I think about things, and you never seem to understand. Of
course, I won't go if you wish it, but I _do_ think----"

She left the room in tears, and the mother remained to torment herself
with the eternal questions, What had she done wrong? Why was Maisie not
contented? What could she do to please her? Would nothing please her but
the things that were not for her good--smart clothes, change, novelty?
How could she bear her life if Maisie was not pleased?

She went down to supper shivering with misery and apprehension. What a
meal it would be with Maisie cold and aloof, polite and indifferent! But
Maisie was cheerful, gay almost, and her mother felt a passion of
gratitude to her daughter for not being sulky or unapproachable. Maisie,
however, was only stepping back to jump the better.

The same scene, with intenser variations, was played about twice a week
till the girl got her way, as she always did in the end, except in the
matter of cheap finery. Taste in dress was as vital to the mother as her
religion. Then, through the influence of an old governess of her
mother's, Maisie got her wish. She was to go as companion to an old
lady, the mother of Lady Yalding, and she was to live at Yalding Towers.
Here was splendour--here would be life, incident, opportunity! For her
reading had sometimes strayed from _Home Hints_ to the _Family Herald_,
and she knew exactly what are the chances of romance to a humble
companion in the family of a lady of title.

And now Maisie's mother gave way to her, finally and completely, even on
the question of dress. The old wardrobe was ransacked to find materials
to fit her out with clothes for her new venture. It was a beautiful time
for Maisie. New things, and old things made to look as good as new, or
better. It was like having a trousseau. The mother lavished on her child
every inch of the old lace, every one of the treasured trinkets--even
the little old locket that had been the dead husband's first love-gift.

And Maisie, in the flutter of her excitement and anticipation, was
loving and tender and charming, and the mother had her reward.

Edward opposed a stolid and stony disapproval to all the new enthusiasm.
He said little because he feared to say too much.

"Poor little Maisie!" he said. "You'll soon find out that you didn't
know when you were well off."

"Edward, I hate you," said Maisie, and she thought she did.

But when all the beautiful new clothes were packed and her cab was at
the door, some sense of what she was leaving did come to the girl, and
she flung her arms round her mother in an embrace such as she had never
given in her life.

"I don't want to go," she cried. "Mummy darling, I've been a little
beast about it. I won't go if you say you'd rather not. Shall I send the
cab away? I will if you say so, my own dear old Mummy!"

Maisie's mother was not a very wise woman, but she was not fool enough
to trust this new softness.

"No, no, dearest," she said; "go and try your own way. God bless you, my
darling! You'll miss the train if you stay. God bless you, my darling!"

And Maisie went away crying hard through the new veil with the black
velvet spots on it; as for the mother--but she was elderly, and plain,
and foolishly fond, and her emotions can have but little interest for
the readers of romances.

And now Maisie, for the first time, knew the meaning of home. And before
she had been at Yalding a week she had learned to analyse home and to
give names to its constituents: love, interest, sympathy, liberty--these
were some.

At Yalding Towers Maisie was nothing to any one. No one knew or cared
one single little bit of a straw whether she was unhappy or no. Her time
was filled, and overfilled, by the attentions exacted by an old,
eccentric, and very disagreeable lady. When she put on, for the first
evening, the least pretty of the pretty dresses she had brought with
her, the old lady looked at her with a disapproval almost rising to
repulsion, and said: "I expect you to wear black; and a linen collar and
cuffs."

So another black dress had to be ordered from home, and all the pretty,
dainty things lay creasing themselves with disuse in the ample drawers
and cupboards of her vast, dreary bedroom.

Her employer was exacting and irritable. When on the third day Maisie
broke into tears under the constant flood of nagging, the old lady told
her to go away and not to come back till she could control her temper.

"I'll come back when you send for me, and not before, you hateful old
thing!" said Maisie to herself.

And she sat down in her fireless bedroom and wrote a long letter to her
mother, saying how happy she felt, and how kind every one was, and what
a lovely and altogether desirable place was Yalding Towers. Who shall
say whether pride or love, or both, dictated that letter?

When her employer did send for her, it was to tell her, very sharply,
that one more such exhibition of sullenness would cost her her
situation. So she had to learn to school herself. And she did it. But
the learning was hard, very hard, and in the learning she grew thinner,
and some of the pretty pink in her cheeks faded away.

Lady Yalding, when she swept in, in beautiful dream-dresses, always
spoke to the companion quite kindly and nicely and pleasantly, but there
were none of those invitations to come into the drawing-room after
dinner which the _Family Herald_ had led her to expect. Lady Yalding was
always charming to every one, and Maisie tortured herself with the
thought that it was only because she had no opportunity to explain
herself that Lady Yalding failed to see how very much out of the common
she was. She read Ruskin industriously, and once she left her own book
of Browning selections that Edward had given her in the conservatory.
She imagined Lady Yalding returning it to her with, "So, are you fond
of poetry?" or, "It's delightful to find that you are a lover of
Browning!" But the book was brought back to her by a footman, and the
old lady lectured her for leaving her rubbish littering about.

But towards Christmas a change came. Maisie had hoped--more intensely
than she had ever in her life hoped for anything--for a few days' grace,
for a sight of her mother, and the mahogany, and the damask curtains,
and--yes--of Edward. But the old lady, who really was exceptionally
horrid, wondered how she could ask for a holiday when she had only been
in her situation six weeks.

Then the old lady went off at half an hour's notice to spend Christmas
with her other daughter--Maisie would have suspected a "row" if Lady
Yalding had been a shade less charming--and the girl was left. Thus it
happened that Lord Yalding's brother lounged into Lady Yalding's room
one day, and said: "Who's the piteous black mouse you've tamed?"

"I beg your pardon, Jim?" said Lady Yalding.

"The crushed apple-blossom in a black frock--one meets her about the
corridors. Gloomy sight. Chestnut hair. Princess-in-exile sort of look."

"Oh, _that_! It's mother's companion."

"Poor little devil!" said the Honourable James. "What does she do now
the cat's away? I beg your pardon--my mind was running on mice."

"Do? I don't know," said Lady Yalding a little guiltily. "She's a good,
quiet little thing--literary tastes, reads Browning, and all that sort
of rot. She's all right."

"Why don't you give her a show? She'd take the shine out of some of the
girls here if you had her dressed."

"My dear Jim," Lady Yalding said, "she's all right as she is. What's the
good of turning the child's head and giving her notions out of her
proper station?"

"If I were that child I'd like to have a little bit of a fling just for
once. The poor little rat looks starved, as though it hadn't laughed for
a year. Then it's Christmas--peace and goodwill, and all that, don't you
know. If I were you I'd ask her down a bit----"

Lady Yalding thought--a thing she rarely did.

"Well," she said, "it _is_ pretty slow for her, I suppose. I'll send her
home to her people."

"On Christmas Eve? Fog and frost, and the trains all anyhow? Fanny,
Fanny!"

"Oh, very well. We'll have her down, and go the whole hog. Only don't
make a fool of the child, Jim; she's a good little thing."

And that was how the dream-dressed Lady Yalding came to sweep into the
old lady's sitting-room--it was as full of mahogany, by the way, as
Maisie's home in Lewisham--and spoke so kindly of Maisie's loneliness,
that the girl could have fallen down and worshipped at her Paris shoes.

When Maisie, in the figured lavender satin that had been her mother's,
swept across the great hall on the arm of the Honourable James, she felt
that this indeed was life. Here was the great world with its infinite
possibilities.

"How did you get on?" his sister-in-law asked him later.

"Oh, it's quite a decent sort of little mouse," he said. "Wants to make
sure you see how cultivated it is, quotes poetry--what?--and talks about
art. It's a little touching and all that to see how busy it is putting
all its poor little stock in the tiny shop-window."

Maisie, alone in her room, was walking up and down, trailing the
lavender satin, recalling with kindled eyes and red-rose cheeks every
word, every look of her cavalier. How kindly he had spoken, yet how
deferentially; how he had looked, how he had smiled! At dinner she
supposed it was his business to talk to her. But afterwards, when she
was sitting, a little forlornly and apart from the noisy chatter of the
bright-plumaged house-party, how he had come straight over to her
directly the gentlemen came into the drawing-room! And she felt that she
had not been wanting to herself on so great an occasion.

"I _know_ I talked well. I'm certain he saw directly that I wasn't a
silly idiot."

She lay long awake, and, as the men trooped up the stairs, she tried to
fancy that she could already distinguish his footsteps.

The letter she wrote to her mother next day was, compared to those other
lying letters, as a lit chandelier to a stable-lantern. And the mother
knew the difference.

"Poor darling!" she thought. "She must have been very miserable all
this time. But she's happy now, God bless her!"

By the week's end, every thought, every dream, every hope of Maisie's
life was centred in the Honourable James; her tenderness, her ambition
turned towards him as flowers to the sun.

And her happiness lighted a thousand little candles all around her. No
one could see the candles, of course, but every one saw the radiant
illumination of her beauty. And the other men of the house-party saw it
too. Even Lord Yalding distinguished her by asking whether she had read
some horrid book about earthworms.

"You're making a fool of that girl, Jim," said Lady Yalding. "I really
think it's too bad."

"My good Fanny, don't be an adorable idiot! I'm only trying to give the
poor little duffer a good time. There's nothing else to do. The other
girls really are--now, you know they are, Fanny--between ourselves----"

"They're all duty people, of course," she said. "Well, only do be
careful."

He was careful. He subdued his impulses to tenderness and gentle
raillery. He talked seriously to little Miss Mouse, and presently he
found that she was seriously talking to him--telling him, for instance,
how she wrote poetry, and how she longed to show it to some one and ask
whether it really was so bad as she sometimes feared.

What could he do but beg her to show it to him? But there he pulled
himself up short.

"There's skating to-morrow. We're going to drive over to Dansent. Would
you like to come?"

Her grey eyes looked up quickly, and the long lashes drooped over them.
She had read of that trick in a book, and for the life of him he could
not help knowing it. Her answer to his question came from a book, too,
though it also came from her heart.

"Ah," she said, "you know!"

Then the Honourable James was honestly frightened. Next day he had a
telegram, and departed abruptly. And as abruptly the old lady returned.

And now Maisie had a secret joy to feed on--a manna to sustain her in
the wilderness of her tiresome life. She thought of _him_. He loved her;
she was certain of it. Miss Mouse could imagine no reason but love for
the kindness he had shown her. He had gone away without a word, but that
was for some good reason. Probably he had gone to confess to his mother
how he had given his whole heart to a penniless orphan--well, she was
half an orphan, anyway. But the days slipped by and he did not come
back. All that bright time at Christmas had faded like a picture from a
magic-lantern when the slide is covered. Lady Yalding was quite nice and
kind, but she left Maisie to the work Maisie was paid for.

Maisie's mother perceived, through Maisie's studied accounts of her
happiness, more than a glimpse of the reality.

Then, at last, when the days grew unbearable, Maisie wrote to him, a
prim little letter with agitated heart-beats between the lines, where
he, being no fool, did not fail to find them. Yet he had to answer the
letter. He did it briefly.

     "DEAR MISS ROLLESTON," he wrote, "I have received your letter
     and the little poem, which is very nice. Poems about Spring are
     the pleasantest kind, I think.--With kind regards, I am yours
     sincerely."

It was not, as you may see, worth the heartache with which Maisie
watched for it.

It was when she wrote again, and sent more verses, that he decided he
must not mince matters.

     "DEAR MISS ROLLESTON," was his second letter, "it is good of
     you to write again. Now I do hope you won't be offended with me
     for what I am going to say. I am so much older than you, you
     know, and I know you are alone at Yalding, with no one to
     advise you, so it must be my duty to do it, though, for my own
     sake, I should, of course, like to advise you quite
     differently. It was a great pleasure to me to hear from you,
     but I must not allow myself that pleasure again, even if you
     were willing to give it to me. It would not be fair to you to
     let you write any more to a man who is not related to you. Try
     to forgive me for being unselfish and acting in your interests
     and not my own."

And again, with kind regards, he was hers sincerely.

"Poor, pretty little duffer!" he said, as he closed the envelope. "But
it's not real. Don't I know the sort of thing? She's simply bored to
death down there. And it's all my fault, anyhow. By Jove! I'll never
try to do any one a good turn again as long as I live. Fanny was
perfectly right."

The letter came by the second post, when Maisie was engaged in drearily
reading her employer to sleep after lunch.

It lay on her lap, but she kept her eyes from it and read on
intelligibly if not with expression.

The old lady dozed.

Maisie opened her letter. And before she could even have had time to put
up a hand to save herself, her Spanish castle was tumbling about her
ears. A curious giddy feeling seemed to catch at the back of her neck,
the room gave a sickening half-turn. She caught at her self-control.

"Not here. I mustn't faint here. Not with his letter in my hand."

She got out of the room somehow, and somehow she got into hat and jacket
and boots, put her quarter's salary in her purse, and walked out of the
front door and straight down the great drive that she had come up four
months ago with such bright hopes. She went to the station, and she took
a train, and she never stopped nor stayed till she was at home again.
She pushed past the frightened maid, and, pale and shabby, with
black-ringed eyes and dusty black gown, she burst into her mother's
room. The scent of eau-de-Cologne and bees'-wax and buttered toast met
her, and it was as the perfume of Paradise. Edward was there--but she
was in no mood to bother about Edward. She threw herself on her knees
and buried her face in the knitting on her mother's lap, and felt thin
arms go round her.

"It's nothing. I'm tired of it all. I've come home," was all she said.
But presently she reached out a hand to Edward, and he took it and held
it, as it were, absently, and the three sat by the fire and spoke little
and were content.

       *       *       *       *       *

To her dying day Maisie will never forget the sense of peace, of
enfolding care, and love unchanging and unchangeable that came to her as
she woke next morning to find her mother standing by her bed with a cup
of tea in her hands.

"Oh, Mummy darling," she cried, throwing her arms round her mother and
nearly upsetting the tea, "I haven't had a single drop of in-bed tea all
the time I've been away!"

That was all she found words to tell her mother. Later there was Edward,
and she told him most things, but, I imagine, not all. But the mother
was content without spoken confidences. She knew that Maisie had
suffered, and that now she had her little girl again, to wrap warm in
her love as before. This was happiness enough.

       *       *       *       *       *

This story, I know, is instructive enough for a Sunday School prize. It
ought to be tagged at the end with a Moral. I can't help it: it is true.
Of course, it is not what usually happens. Many companions, no doubt,
marry Honourable James's, or even Dukes, and are never at all glad to
get home to their mothers and their Edwards. But Maisie was different.
She feels now a sort of grateful tenderness for Yalding Towers, because,
but for the dream she dreamed there she might never have really
awakened--never have known fully and without mistake what it was in life
that she truly cared for. And such knowledge is half the secret of
happiness. That, by the way, is really the moral of this story.



IX

THE OLD WIFE


"Yes; married by the 30th of June, introduce my wife to the tenants on
Christmas Eve, or no fortune. That was my uncle's last and worst joke;
he was reputed a funny man in his time. The alternatives are pretty
ghastly either way."

"Doesn't that rather depend?" Sylvia queried, with a swift blue glance
from under veiling lashes.

Michael answered her with a look, the male counterpart of her own, from
dark Devon eyes, the upper lid arched in a perfect semicircle over pure
grey. "Yes; but my wife must have a hundred a year of her own in
Consols, to protect me from fortune-hunters--lone, lorn lamb that I am!"

Sylvia emphasised the sigh with which she admitted her indigence. Her
pretty eyebrows owned plaintively that she, a struggling artist, had no
claim against the nation.

"Mary has just a hundred a year," she said, her voice low-toned as she
looked across the room to where, demure in braided locks and grey
camlet, her companion sat knitting.

"I daresay," Michael answered indifferently, following her eyes' flight
and her tone's low pitch; "but she's young. I shall advertise for an
elderly housekeeper. And _qui vivra verra_."

The words, lightly cast on the thin soil of a foolish word-play with a
pretty woman, bore fruit.

A week later Michael Wood stood aghast before a tray heaped with
letters, answers to his advertisement:

     "Housekeeper wanted. Must be middle-aged. The older the better.
     Salary, £500 a year."

Not much, he had thought, £500 a year--if, by paying it, he might win a
wife who would entitle him to an annual £15,000, whose declining years
he might kindly cheer, and whose death would set him free to marry a
wife whom he could love. His fancy drifted pleasantly towards Sylvia.

Michael was a lazy man, who bristled with business instincts. He
telephoned to the nearest "typewriters' association" for a secretary,
and to this young woman he committed the charge of answering the letters
which his advertisement had drawn forth. The answer was to be the same
to all:

     "Call at 17 Hare Court, Temple, between 11 and 1."

And the dates fixed for such calling were arranged to allow about fifty
interviews daily for the next week or two, for Michael was a bold man as
well as a lazy one. The next morning, faultlessly dressed, with
carnations in his buttonhole, he composed himself in his pleasant
oak-furnished room to await his first batch of callers.

They came. And Michael, strong in his unswerving determination not to
forfeit his chance of inheriting the £15,000 a year left him under his
mad uncle's mad will, saw them all, one after the other.

But he did not like any of them. They were old; that he did not mind--it
was, indeed, of the essence of the contract. But they were frowsy, too,
with reticules of scarred brownish leather, and mangy fur trimmings,
worn fringes, and beaded mantles, whence time and poverty had clawed
handfuls of the bright beads. Each of them was, as a wife, even as a
wife in name, impossible. The task of rejection was softened to his hand
by the fact that not one of them could boast the necessary hundred a
year in Consols.

The interviews over, Michael, his spirit crushed by the spectacle of so
many women anxious to find a refuge at an age when their children and
grandchildren should, in their own homes, have been rising up to call
them blessed, went to lounge a restorative hour in Sylvia's bright
little studio, and laugh with her over his dilemma. He would have liked
to sigh with her, too, but the pathos of the homeless old women escaped
her. She saw only the humour of the situation.

"There's no harm done, if it amuses you," she said, "but you'll never
marry an old woman."

"Fifteen thousand pounds a year," said Michael softly.

Next day more poor old ladies, all eager, anxious, ineligible.

It was on the third day that the old lady in dove-colour came in, sweet
as a pressed flower in an old love-letter, dainty as a pigeon in spring.
Her white hair, the white lace of her collar, the black lace of her
mantle, her beautiful little hands in their perfect, dove-coloured
gloves, all appealed irresistibly to Michael's æsthetic sense.

"What an ideal housekeeper!" he said to himself, as he placed a chair
for her. And then an odd thrill of discomfort and shame shot through
him. This delicate, dainty old lady--he was to insult her by a form of
marriage, and then to live near her, waiting for her death? No; it was
impossible--the whole thing was impossible. He found himself in the
middle of a sentence.

"And so I fear I am already suited."

The old lady raised eyebrows as delicate as Sylvia's own.

"Hardly, I think," she said, "since your servant admitted me to an
interview with you. May I ask you one or two questions before you
finally decide against me?"

The voice was low and soft--the voice men loved in the early sixties,
before the shrill shriek became the voice of fashionable ladies.

"Certainly," Michael said. He could hardly say less, and in the tumult
of embarrassment that had swept over him, he could not for his life have
said more.

The old lady went on. "I am competent to manage a house. I can read
aloud fairly well. I am a good nurse in case of sickness; and I am
accustomed to entertain. But I gather from the amount of the salary
offered that some other duties would be required of me?"

"That's clever of her, too," Michael thought; "none of the others saw
that."

He bowed.

"Would you enlighten me," she went on, "as to the nature of the services
you would require?"

"Ah--yes--of course," he said glibly, and then stopped short.

"From your hesitation," said the old lady, with unimpaired
self-possession, "I gather that the matter involves an explanation of
some delicacy, or else--pardon the egotism--that my appearance is
personally unpleasing to you."

"No--oh, _no_," Michael said very eagerly; "on the contrary, if I may
say so, it is just because you are so--so--exactly my ideal of an old
lady, that I feel I can't go on with the business; and that's put
stupidly, so that it sounds like an insult. Please forgive me."

She looked him straight in the eyes through her gold-rimmed spectacles.

"You see, I am old enough to be your grandmother," she said. "Why not
tell me the truth?"

And, to his horror and astonishment, he told it.

"And that's what I meant to do," he ended. "It was a mad idea, and I see
now that if I do it at all I must marry some one who is not--who is not
like you. You have made me ashamed of myself."

A spot of pink colour glowed in her faded cheek. The old lady put up her
gloved hand and touched her cheek, as if it burned. She got up and
walked to the window, and stood there, looking out.

"If you _are_ going to do it," she said in a voice that was hardly
audible, "I have been used to live among beautiful surroundings--I
should like to end my days among them. I do not come of a long-lived
family. You would not have long to wait for your freedom and your second
wife."

Never in all his days had Michael known so sharp an agony of
embarrassment.

"When must you be married," the old lady went on calmly, "to ensure your
fortunes and estates?"

"In about a month."

"Well, Mr Wood, I make you a formal offer of marriage, and for
reference I can give you my banker and my solicitor----"

Her voice was calm; it was his voice that trembled as he answered: "You
are too good. I can't see that it would be fair to you. May I think
about it till to-morrow?"

The contrast between the old lady's dainty correctness of attire and
speech, and the extraordinary unconventionality of her proposal, made
Michael's brain reel. She turned from the window, again looked him
fairly in the eyes, and said: "You will not find me unconventional in
other matters. This is purely an affair of business, and I approach it
in a business spirit. You would be giving a home to one who wants it,
and I should be helping you to what you need still more. I have never
been married. I never wished to marry; and when I am dead---- Don't look
so horror-stricken. I should not die any sooner because you--you had
married me. My name is Thrale--Frances Thrale. That is my card that you
have been pulling to pieces while you have been talking to me. Shall I
come and see you again at this time to-morrow? It is not a subject on
which I should wish either to write or to receive letters."

He could only acquiesce. At the door the old lady turned.

"If you think I look so old as to make your marriage too absurd," she
said--and now, for the first time, her voice trembled--"I could dye my
hair."

"Oh no," Michael said, "your hair is beautiful. Good-bye, and thank
you."

As the old lady went down the dusty Temple stairs she stamped a small
foot angrily on the worn oak.

"Fool!" she said, "how could you? Hateful, shameless, unwomanly! And
it's all for nothing, too. He'll never do it. It's _too_ mad!"

Michael went straight to Sylvia, and told his tale.

"And I felt I couldn't," he said; "she is the daintiest, sweetest little
old lady. I couldn't marry her and see her every day and live in the
hope of her death."

"I don't see why not," Sylvia said, a little coldly. "She wouldn't die
any sooner because you married her, and, anyway, she can't have long to
live."

The words were almost those of the little old lady herself. Yet--or
perhaps for that very reason--they jarred on Michael's mood. He
alleged business, and cut short his call.

Next day Miss Thrale called again. Mr Wood was sorry to have given her
so much trouble. He had decided that the idea was too wild, and must be
abandoned.

"Is it because I am too old?" said the old lady wistfully; "would you
marry me if I were young?"

"Upon my word, I believe I would," Michael surprised himself by saying.
That it was not the answer Miss Thrale expected was evident from her
smile of sudden amusement.

"May I say," she said, "in return for what, in its way, is a compliment,
that I like you very much. I would take care of you, and I shall perhaps
not live more than a year or two."

The tremor of her voice touched him. The £15,000 a year pulled at his
will. In that instant he saw the broad glades of waving bracken, the big
trees of the park, the sober face of the great house he might inherit,
looking out over the smooth green lawns. He looked again at the little
lady. After all, he was more than thirty. The world would laugh--well,
they laughed best who laughed last. And, after a few years, there
would be Sylvia--pretty, charming, enchanting Sylvia. He put the thought
of her roughly away. Not because he was ashamed of it, but because it
hurt him. The thought that Sylvia should wait for a dead woman's shoes
had seemed natural; what hurt him was that she herself should see
nothing unnatural in such waiting.

The silence had grown to the limit that spells discomfort; the ticking
of the tall clock, the rustle of the plane tree's leaves outside the
window, the discords of Fleet Street harmonised by distance, all
deepened the silence and italicised it. She spoke.

"Well?" she said.

The plane tree's leaves murmured eloquently of the great oaks in the
park. The old lady's eyes looked at him appealingly through the
pale-smoked glasses. How she would like that old place! And his
debts--he could pay them all.

"I will," he said suddenly; "if you will, I will; and I pray you may
never regret it."

"I don't think _you_ will regret it," she said gently; "it is a truly
kind act to me."

Bank and solicitor, duly consulted, testified to Miss Thrale's
respectability and to her income--the requisite hundred a year in
Consols. And on a certain day in June Michael Wood woke from a feverish
dream, in which obstinacy and the longing for money had fought with many
better things and worsted them, to find himself married to a
white-haired woman of sixty.

The awakening took place in his rooms in the Temple. He had yielded to
the little old lady's entreaties, and consented, most willingly, to
forego the "wedding journey," in this case so sad a mockery.

The set was a large one--five rooms; it seemed that they might live
here, and neither irk the other.

And she was in the room he had caused to be prepared for her--dainty and
neat as herself--and he, left alone in the room where he had first seen
her, crossed his arms on the table, and thought. His wedding-day! And it
might have been Sylvia, the rustle of whose dress he could hear in the
next room. He groaned. Then he laid his head on his arms and cried--like
a child that has lost its favourite toy: for he saw, suddenly, that
respect for his old wife must keep him from ever seeing Sylvia now; and
life looked grey as the Thames in February twilight.

A timid hand on his shoulder startled him to the raising of his
tear-stained face. The little old lady stood beside him.

"Ah, don't!" she said softly--"don't! Believe me, it will be all right.
Your old wife won't live more than a year--I know it. Take courage."

"_Don't!_" he said in his turn; "it's a wicked thing I've done. Forgive
me! If only we could have been friends. I can't bear to think I shall
make you unhappy."

"My dear boy," she said, "we are friends. I am your housekeeper. In a
year at latest you will see the last of my white hairs. Be brave."

He could not understand the pang her words gave him.

And now began, for these two, a strange life. In those Temple
rooms--ideal nest for young lovers--Mrs Wood, the white-haired, kept
house with firm and capable little hands. Comfort, which Michael's lazy
nature loved but could not achieve, reigned peacefully. The old lady
kept much to her own rooms, but whenever he needed talk she was there.
And she could talk. She had read much, reflected much. In her mind his
own ideas found mating germs, and bore fruit of beautiful dreams, great
thoughts. His verses--neglected this long time, since Sylvia did not
care for poetry--flourished once more.

And music--Sylvia's taste in music had been Sullivan; the old wife
touched the piano with magic fingers, and Bach, Beethoven, Wagner came
to transfigure the Temple rooms. Michael had never been so
contented--never so wretched; for, as the quiet weeks went by, the
leaves fell from the plane tree, and the time drew near when he must
show his wife to the tenants--his white-haired wife. In these months a
very real friendship had grown up between them. Michael had never met a
woman, old or young, whose tastes chimed so tunefully with his own. Ah!
what a pity he had not met a _young_ woman with these tastes--this soul.
And now, liking, friendship, affection--all the finer, nobler side of
love--he could indeed feel for his old wife; but love--lovers' love,
that would set the seal on all the rest--this he might never know,
except for some other woman, who would succeed to his wife's title.

Badly as Michael had behaved, I think it is permissible to be sorry for
him. His wife, in fact, was very sorry.

One day he met Sylvia in the park, and all the other side of him
thrilled with pleasure. He sat by her an hour, his eyes drinking in her
fresh beauty, while his soul shrivelled more and more. Ah! why could she
not _talk_, as his wife could, instead of merely chattering?

His wife looked sad that evening. He asked the reason.

"I saw you in the park to-day," she said. "Are you going to see her?
Don't compromise her: it's not worth while."

He kissed her hand in its black mitten, and in a flash of pain saw the
black funeral, when she should be carried from his house, and he be left
free to marry Sylvia.

And now the days had dropped past; so even was their flow that it seemed
rapid, and in another week it would be Christmas.

"And I must show you to the tenants," said he.

"My poor boy," she said--it was just as she had risen to bid him good
night--"be brave. Perhaps it won't be so bad as you think. Good night."

He sat still after she had left him, gazing into the fire, and thinking
thoughts in which now the estate and the fortune played but little part.
At last he shrugged his shoulders.

"Well," he said, "I have no lover, no wife; but I have a companion, a
friend--one in a million." And again the black funeral trailed its slow
length before his eyes, and he shuddered.

I have not sought to deceive the reader. He knows as well as I do that
at this moment the door opened, and a young and beautiful woman stood on
the threshold. Her eyes were shining; round her neck were gleaming
pearls. She was playing for a high stake, and being a true woman she had
disdained no honest artifice that might help her. She wore shining white
silk, severely plain, and her brown hair was dressed high on her head. A
woman one shade less intuitive would have let the dusky masses fall over
a lace-covered tea-gown.

"Michael," she said, "I am your wife. Are you going to forgive me?"

He raised himself slowly from his chair, and his eyes dwelt on detail
after detail of the beauty before him.

"My wife!" he said. "You are a stranger!"

"I _did_ disguise myself well. My sister told me about your
advertisement; she lives with Sylvia Maddox. We each have a hundred
pounds a year. At first I did it for fun; but when I had seen how--how
nice you were--my mother is very poor. There are no excuses. But are you
going to forgive me?" Any other woman, to whom forgiveness meant all
that it meant to her, might have kneeled at his feet. Frances stood
erect by the door. "Anyway," she said, biting her lip, "I have saved you
from Sylvia. For the sake of that, forgive me."

That stung him, as she had known it would.

"Forgive you?" he said. "Never. You've spoiled my life." But he took a
step towards her as he spoke.

She took an equal step back.

"Take courage," she said. "Who knows but I may die before next June,
after all. Good night."

"I hate you," he said, and took another step forward. But the door
closed in his face.

Next morning the old lady, white haired and mittened, appeared behind
the breakfast tea. Michael almost thought he had dreamed, till her eyes,
now without their glasses, met his timidly.

"Let us end this play-acting, at least," he said. Ten minutes of fuming
ended in tepid tea poured by a beautiful brown-haired girl.

He watched her in silence.

"It's horrible," he broke out. "You're a strange woman, and there you
sit, pouring tea out as if---- Who are you? I don't know you."

"Don't you?" she said quietly. And then he remembered all the old talks
with the old wife.

"I beg your pardon," he said. "I don't want to be a brute."

"It's no use my saying I'm sorry," she said.

"_Are_ you?" He leaned forward to put the question.

"We must make the best of it," she said. "Perhaps---- Look here, don't
let's speak of it till after Christmas; let's just go on as we did
before."

So the days wore on. But the situation when Michael lived in torment in
the company of his old wife was simplicity itself compared to his new
life with a wife--young, beautiful, and a stranger, yet in all
essentials his dearest friend. This discomfort grew daily--hourly
branching out into ever fresh embarrassments--new and harassing,
vexatious, half understood, wholly resented.

The wife had her burden to bear also. The laundress had only known the
old wife as "Mrs Wood."

"She thought I was your mother," the wife said when Michael propounded
the difficulty. But the laundress's attitude to the new Mrs Wood had a
sting that was almost punishment enough to the wife, had Michael only
known, for all that she had done amiss.

The hour of departure for the Christmas festivities at Wood Grange came
as a relief from the persistent pinpricks of unexplained emotion which
tormented him. His wife was young and beautiful, yet he was only
conscious of repulsion. He hated her for her trickery. But most he hated
her because she had cheated him of the old wife--the friend, the
_confidante_, who had grown to be so much, and so much the best part, in
his life. For now there was no confidence between the two--no talk, no
reading, no music to brighten the Temple rooms. They lived in an almost
complete silence.

       *       *       *       *       *

Every window of the Grange shone out with yellow light across the snow.
For once Christmas had been kind and seasonable--a white sheet covered
the world. Holly gleamed against old oak. Priceless silver, saved from
the smelting-pot in Cromwell's hard days, shone above white napery on
the long tables. The tenants' dinner was over, and now was the moment
when, according to the will, Michael Wood's wife must be presented to
the tenants then assembled.

The slender figure in white woollen cloth and white fur, with Christmas
roses at its breast, stood on the daïs at the end of the great hall, and
the tenants cheered themselves hoarse at the mere sight of her beautiful
face, her kind eyes.

"It went off very well," Michael said when, the last guest gone, the
last shutter closed, the last servant departed, the two stood alone in
the long drawing-room.

"Yes; think if you had had to present to them the old white-haired
wife----"

"I loved the old wife," he said obstinately; but his voice was not quite
steady.

"I wish," she said, playing with the Christmas roses she wore, "I wish
you would try to forgive me. It was horribly wrong; but I began it as a
joke. You see, I had only just come over from the convent where I was
brought up. I thought it would be such fun: I was always good at
theatricals. I will never do anything silly again. And to-morrow I'll go
away, and you need never see me again. And you _have_ got the money and
the old place, haven't you? And I got them for you--and--do forgive me.
It began as a silly schoolgirl's joke indeed."

"But--a convent! You have read and thought----"

"It was my father. He made me read and think; and when he died all the
money went, and my mother is poor. Oh, Michael, don't be so flinty! Say
you forgive me before I go! It all began in a joke!"

"Began. Yes. But why did you go on?"

"Because I--I didn't like Sylvia--and I liked you--rather--but I won't
be a nuisance. I'll go back to mother. Say you forgive me. I'll go by
the first train in the morning."

"The first train," said Michael absently, "is the 9.17; but to-morrow is
Christmas Day--I daresay they'll run the same as on Sunday."

She took her white cloak from the settle by the fire.

"Good night," she said sadly; "you are very hard. Won't you even shake
hands?"

"We had no roses at our wedding," he said, still absently; "but there
are roses at Christmas." He raised his hand to the white flowers she
wore, and touched them softly. "White roses, too, for a wedding," he
said.

"Good night!" she said again.

"And you will go to your mother to-morrow by the 9.17 train, or the
10.5, if the trains run the same as on Sunday. And I am to forgive you,
and shake hands before we part. Well, well!"

He took the hand she held out, caught the other, and stood holding them,
his grey eyes seeking hers. Her head thrown back, her hands stretched
out, she looked at him from arm's length.

"Dear!" he said.

A mute glance questioned him. Then lashes longer than Sylvia's veiled
the dark eyes.

He spoke again. "Dear!"

"You know you hate me," she said.

He raised her hands to his lips.

"Have you forgotten Sylvia?"

"Absolutely, thank God! And you--I--after all, we are married, though
there were no roses at our June wedding."

Again her eyes questioned mutely.

He leaned forward and touched the Christmas roses with his lips. Then he
dropped her hands and caught her by the shoulders.

"Oh! foolish, foolish, foolish people!" he said. "We two are man and
wife. My wife! my wife! my wife! We are, aren't we?"

"I suppose we are," she said, and her face leaned a little towards his.

"Well, then!" said he.



X

THE HOUSE OF SILENCE


The thief stood close under the high wall, and looked to right and left.
To the right the road wound white and sinuous, lying like a twisted
ribbon over the broad grey shoulder of the hill; to the left the road
turned sharply down towards the river; beyond the ford the road went
away slowly in a curve, prolonged for miles through the green marshes.

No least black fly of a figure stirred on it. There were no travellers
at such an hour on such a road.

The thief looked across the valley, at the top of the mountain flushed
with sunset, and at the grey-green of the olives about its base. The
terraces of olives were already dusk with twilight, but his keen eyes
could not have missed the smallest variance or shifting of their lights
and shadows. Nothing stirred there. He was alone.

Then, turning, he looked again at the wall behind him. The face of it
was grey and sombre, but all along the top of it, in the crannies of the
coping stones, orange wallflowers and sulphur-coloured snapdragons shone
among the haze of feathery-flowered grasses. He looked again at the
place where some of the stones had fallen from the coping--had fallen
within the wall, for none lay in the road without. The bough of a mighty
tree covered the gap with its green mantle from the eyes of any chance
wayfarer; but the thief was no chance wayfarer, and he had surprised the
only infidelity of the great wall to its trust.

To the chance wayfarer, too, the wall's denial had seemed absolute,
unanswerable. Its solid stone, close knit by mortar hardly less solid,
showed not only a defence, it offered a defiance--a menace. But the
thief had learnt his trade; he saw that the mortar might be loosened a
little here, broken a little there, and now the crumbs of it fell
rustling on to the dry, dusty grass of the roadside. He drew back, took
two quick steps forward, and, with a spring, sudden and agile as a
cat's, grasped the wall where the gap showed, and drew himself up. Then
he rubbed his hands on his knees, because his hands were bloody from the
sudden grasping of the rough stones, and sat astride on the wall.

He parted the leafy boughs and looked down; below him lay the stones
that had fallen from the wall--already grass was growing upon the mound
they made. As he ventured his head beyond the green leafage, the level
light of the sinking sun struck him in the eyes. It was like a blow. He
dropped softly from the wall and stood in the shadow of the
tree--looking, listening.

Before him stretched the park--wide and still; dotted here and there
with trees, and overlaid with gold poured from the west. He held his
breath and listened. There was no wind to stir the leaves to those
rustlings which may deceive and disconcert the keenest and the boldest;
only the sleepy twitter of birds, and the little sudden soft movements
of them in the dusky privacy of the thick-leaved branches. There was in
all the broad park no sign of any other living thing.

The thief trod softly along under the wall where the trees were
thickest, and at every step he paused to look and listen.

It was quite suddenly that he came upon the little lodge near the great
gates of wrought iron with the marble gate-posts bearing upon them the
two gaunt griffins, the cognisance of the noble house whose lands these
were. The thief drew back into the shadow and stood still, only his
heart beat thickly. He stood still as the tree trunk beside him,
looking, listening. He told himself that he heard nothing--saw
nothing--yet he became aware of things. That the door of the lodge was
not closed, that some of its windows were broken, and that into its
little garden straw and litter had drifted from the open door: and that
between the stone step and the threshold grass was growing inches high.
When he was aware of this he stepped forward and entered the lodge. All
the sordid sadness of a little deserted home met him here--broken crocks
and bent pans, straw, old rags, and a brooding, dusty stillness.

"There has been no one here since the old keeper died. They told the
truth," said the thief; and he made haste to leave the lodge, for there
was nothing in it now that any man need covet--only desolation and the
memory of death.

So he went slowly among the trees, and by devious ways drew a little
nearer to the great house that stood in its walled garden in the middle
of the park. From very far off, above the green wave of trees that broke
round it, he could see the towers of it rising black against the sunset;
and between the trees came glimpses of its marble white where the faint
grey light touched it from the east.

Moving slowly--vigilant, alert, with eyes turning always to right and to
left, with ears which felt the intense silence more acutely than they
could have felt any tumult--the thief reached the low wall of the
garden, at the western side. The last redness of the sunset's reflection
had lighted all the many windows, and the vast place blazed at him for
an instant before the light dipped behind the black bar of the trees,
and left him face to face with a pale house, whose windows now were
black and hollow, and seemed like eyes that watched him. Every window
was closed; the lower ones were guarded by jalousies; through the glass
of the ones above he could see the set painted faces of the shutters.

From far off he had heard, and known, the plash-plash of fountains, and
now he saw their white changing columns rise and fall against the
background of the terrace. The garden was full of rose bushes trailing
and unpruned; and the heavy, happy scent of the roses, still warm from
the sun, breathed through the place, exaggerating the sadness of its
tangled desolation. Strange figures gleamed in the deepening dusk, but
they were too white to be feared. He crept into a corner where Psyche
drooped in marble, and, behind her pedestal, crouched. He took food from
his pockets and ate and drank. And between the mouthfuls he listened and
watched.

The moon rose, and struck a pale fire from the face of the house and
from the marble limbs of the statues, and the gleaming water of the
fountains drew the moonbeams into the unchanging change of its rise and
fall.

Something rustled and stirred among the roses. The thief grew rigid: his
heart seemed suddenly hollow; he held his breath. Through the deepening
shadows something gleamed white; and not marble, for it moved, it came
towards him. Then the silence of the night was shattered by a scream, as
the white shape glided into the moonlight. The thief resumed his
munching, and another shape glimmered after the first. "Curse the
beasts!" he said, and took another draught from his bottle, as the white
peacocks were blotted out by the shadows of the trees, and the stillness
of the night grew more intense.

In the moonlight the thief went round and about the house, pushing
through the trailing briers that clung to him--and now grown bolder he
looked closely at doors and windows. But all were fast barred as the
doors of a tomb. And the silence deepened as the moonlight waxed.

There was one little window, high up, that showed no shutter. He looked
at it; measured its distance from the ground and from the nearest of the
great chestnut trees. Then he walked along under the avenue of chestnuts
with head thrown back and eyes fixed on the mystery of their interlacing
branches.

At the fifth tree he stopped; leaped to the lowest bough, missed it;
leaped again, caught it, and drew up his body. Then climbing, creeping,
swinging, while the leaves, agitated by his progress, rustled to the
bending of the boughs, he passed to that tree, to the next--swift,
assured, unhesitating. And so from tree to tree, till he was at the
last tree--and on the bough that stretched to touch the little window
with its leaves.

He swung from this. The bough bent and cracked, and would have broken,
but that at the only possible instant the thief swung forward, felt the
edge of the window with his feet, loosed the bough, sprang, and stood,
flattened against the mouldings, clutching the carved drip-stone with
his hands. He thrust his knee through the window, waiting for the tinkle
of the falling glass to settle into quietness, opened the window, and
crept in. He found himself in a corridor: he could see the long line of
its white windows, and the bars of moonlight falling across the inlaid
wood of its floor.

He took out his thief's lantern--high and slender like a tall
cup--lighted it, and crept softly along the corridor, listening between
his steps till the silence grew to be like a humming in his ears.

And slowly, stealthily, he opened door after door; the rooms were
spacious and empty--his lantern's yellow light flashing into their
corners told him this. Some poor, plain furniture he discerned, a
curtain or a bench here and there, but not what he sought. So large was
the house, that presently it seemed to the thief that for many hours he
had been wandering along its galleries, creeping down its wide stairs,
opening the grudging doors of the dark, empty rooms, whose silence spoke
ever more insistently in his ears.

"But it is as he told me," he said inwardly: "no living soul in all the
place. The old man--a servant of this great house--he told me; he knew,
and I have found all even as he said."

Then the thief turned away from the arched emptiness of the grand
staircase, and in a far corner of the hall he found himself speaking in
a whisper because now it seemed to him that nothing would serve but that
this clamorous silence should be stilled by a human voice.

"The old man said it would be thus--all emptiness, and not profit to a
man; and he died, and I tended him. Dear Jesus! how our good deeds come
home to us! And he told me how the last of the great family had gone
away none knew whither. And the tales I heard in the town--how the great
man had not gone, but lived here in hiding---- It is not possible. There
is the silence of death in this house."

He moistened his lips with his tongue. The stillness of the place seemed
to press upon him like a solid thing. "It is like a dead man on one's
shoulders," thought the thief, and he straightened himself up and
whispered again: "The old man said, 'The door with the carved griffin,
and the roses enwreathed, and the seventh rose holds the secret in its
heart.'"

With that the thief set forth again, creeping softly across the bars of
moonlight down the corridor.

And after much seeking he found at last, under the angle of the great
stone staircase behind a mouldering tapestry wrought with peacocks and
pines, a door, and on it carved a griffin, wreathed about with roses. He
pressed his finger into the deep heart of each carven rose, and when he
pressed the rose that was seventh in number from the griffin, he felt
the inmost part of it move beneath his finger as though it sought to
escape. So he pressed more strongly, leaning against the door till it
swung open, and he passed through it, looking behind him to see that
nothing followed. The door he closed as he entered.

And now he was, as it seemed, in some other house. The chambers were
large and lofty as those whose hushed emptiness he had explored--but
these rooms seemed warm with life, yet held no threat, no terror. To the
dim yellow flicker from the lantern came out of the darkness hints of a
crowded magnificence, a lavish profusion of beautiful objects such as he
had never in his life dreamed of, though all that life had been one
dream of the lovely treasures which rich men hoard, and which, by the
thief's skill and craft, may come to be his.

He passed through the rooms, turning the light of his lantern this way
and that, and ever the darkness withheld more than the light revealed.
He knew that thick tapestries hung from the walls, velvet curtains
masked the windows; his hand, exploring eagerly, felt the rich carving
of chairs and presses; the great beds were hung with silken cloth
wrought in gold thread with glimmering strange starry devices. Broad
sideboards flashed back to his lantern's questionings the faint white
laugh of silver; the tall cabinets could not, with all their reserve,
suppress the confession of wrought gold, and, from the caskets into
whose depths he flashed the light, came the trembling avowal of rich
jewels. And now, at last, that carved door closed between him and the
poignant silence of the deserted corridors, the thief felt a sudden
gaiety of heart, a sense of escape, of security. He was alone, yet
warmed and companioned. The silence here was no longer a horror, but a
consoler, a friend.

And, indeed, now he was not alone. The ample splendours about him, the
spoils which long centuries had yielded to the grasp of a noble
family--these were companions after his own heart.

He flung open the shade of his lantern and held it high above his head.
The room still kept half its secrets. The discretion of the darkness
should be broken down. He must see more of this splendour--not in
unsatisfying dim detail, but in the lit gorgeous mass of it. The narrow
bar of the lantern's light chafed him. He sprang on to the dining-table,
and began to light the half-burnt chandelier. There were a hundred
candles, and he lighted all, so that the chandelier swung like a vast
living jewel in the centre of the hall. Then, as he turned, all the
colour in the room leapt out at him. The purple of the couches, the
green gleam of the delicate glass, the blue of the tapestries, and the
vivid scarlet of the velvet hangings, and with the colour sprang the
gleams of white from the silver, of yellow from the gold, of
many-coloured fire from strange inlaid work and jewelled caskets, till
the thief stood aghast with rapture in the strange, sudden revelation of
this concentrated splendour.

He went along the walls with a lighted candle in his hand--the wax
dripped warm over his fingers as he went--lighting one after another,
the tapers in the sconces of the silver-framed glasses. In the state
bedchamber he drew back suddenly, face to face with a death-white
countenance in which black eyes blazed at him with triumph and delight.
Then he laughed aloud. He had not known his own face in the strange
depths of this mirror. It had no sconces like the others, or he would
have known it for what it was. It was framed in Venice glass--wonderful,
gleaming, iridescent.

The thief dropped the candle and threw his arms wide with a gesture of
supreme longing.

"If I could carry it all away! All, all! Every beautiful thing! To sell
some--the less beautiful, and to live with the others all my days!"

And now a madness came over the thief. So little a part of all these
things could he bear away with him; yet all were his--his for the
taking--even the huge carved presses and the enormous vases of solid
silver, too heavy for him to lift--even these were his: had he not found
them--he, by his own skill and cunning? He went about in the rooms,
touching one after the other the beautiful, rare things. He caressed the
gold and the jewels. He threw his arms round the great silver vases; he
wound round himself the heavy red velvet of the curtain where the
griffins gleamed in embossed gold, and shivered with pleasure at the
soft clinging of its embrace. He found, in a tall cupboard,
curiously-shaped flasks of wine, such wine as he had never tasted, and
he drank of it slowly--in little sips--from a silver goblet and from a
green Venice glass, and from a cup of rare pink china, knowing that any
one of his drinking vessels was worth enough to keep him in idleness for
a long year. For the thief had learnt his trade, and it is a part of a
thief's trade to know the value of things.

He threw himself on the rich couches, sat in the stately carved chairs,
leaned his elbows on the ebony tables. He buried his hot face in the
chill, smooth linen of the great bed, and wondered to find it still
scented delicately as though some sweet woman had lain there but last
night. He went hither and thither laughing with pure pleasure, and
making to himself an unbridled carnival of the joys of possession.

In this wise the night wore on, and with the night his madness wore
away. So presently he went about among the treasures--no more with the
eyes of a lover, but with the eyes of a Jew--and he chose those precious
stones which he knew for the most precious, and put them in the bag he
had brought, and with them some fine-wrought goldsmith's work and the
goblet out of which he had drunk the wine. Though it was but of silver,
he would not leave it. The green Venice glass he broke and the cup, for
he said: "No man less fortunate than I, to-night, shall ever again drink
from them." But he harmed nothing else of all the beautiful things,
because he loved them.

Then, leaving the low, uneven ends of the candles still alight, he
turned to the door by which he had come in. There were two doors, side
by side, carved with straight lilies, and between them a panel wrought
with the griffin and the seven roses enwreathed. He pressed his finger
in the heart of the seventh rose, hardly hoping that the panel would
move, and indeed it did not; and he was about to seek for a secret
spring among the lilies, when he perceived that one of the doors wrought
with these had opened itself a little. So he passed through it and
closed it after him.

"I must guard my treasures," he said. But when he had passed through the
door and closed it, and put out his hand to raise the tattered tapestry
that covered it from without, his hand met the empty air, and he knew
that he had not come out by the door through which he had entered.

When the lantern was lighted, it showed him a vaulted passage, whose
floor and whose walls were stone, and there was a damp air and a
mouldering scent in it, as of a cellar long unopened. He was cold now,
and the room with the wine and the treasures seemed long ago and far
away, though but a door and a moment divided him from it, and though
some of the wine was in his body, and some of the treasure in his hands.
He set about to find the way to the quiet night outside, for this
seemed to him a haven and a safeguard since, with the closing of that
door, he had shut away warmth, and light, and companionship. He was
enclosed in walls once more, and once more menaced by the invading
silence that was almost a presence. Once more it seemed to him that he
must creep softly, must hold his breath before he ventured to turn a
corner--for always he felt that he was not alone, that near him was
something, and that its breath, too, was held.

So he went by many passages and stairways, and could find no way out;
and after a long time of searching he crept by another way back to come
unawares on the door which shut him off from the room where the many
lights were, and the wine and the treasure. Then terror leaped out upon
him from the dark hush of the place, and he beat on the door with his
hands and cried aloud, till the echo of his cry in the groined roof
cowed him back into silence.

Again he crept stealthily by strange passages, and again could find no
way except, after much wandering, back to the door where he had begun.

And now the fear of death beat in his brain with blows like a hammer. To
die here like a rat in a trap, never to see the sun alight again, never
to climb in at a window, or see brave jewels shine under his lantern,
but to wander, and wander, and wander between these inexorable walls
till he died, and the rats, admitting him to their brotherhood, swarmed
round the dead body of him.

"I had better have been born a fool," said the thief.

Then once more he went through the damp and the blackness of the vaulted
passages, tremulously searching for some outlet, but in vain.

Only at last, in a corner behind a pillar, he found a very little door
and a stair that led down. So he followed it, to wander among other
corridors and cellars, with the silence heavy about him, and despair
growing thick and cold like a fungus about his heart, and in his brain
the fear of death beating like a hammer.

It was quite suddenly in his wanderings, which had grown into an aimless
frenzy, having now less of search in it than of flight from the
insistent silence, that he saw at last a light--and it was the light of
day coming through an open door. He stood at the door and breathed the
air of the morning. The sun had risen and touched the tops of the towers
of the house with white radiance; the birds were singing loudly. It was
morning, then, and he was a free man.

He looked about him for a way to come at the park, and thence to the
broken wall and the white road, which he had come by a very long time
before. For this door opened on an inner enclosed courtyard, still in
damp shadow, though the sun above struck level across it--a courtyard
where tall weeds grew thick and dank. The dew of the night was heavy on
them.

As he stood and looked, he was aware of a low, buzzing sound that came
from the other side of the courtyard. He pushed through the weeds
towards it; and the sense of a presence in the silence came upon him
more than ever it had done in the darkened house, though now it was day,
and the birds sang all gaily, and the good sun shone so bravely
overhead.

As he thrust aside the weeds which grew waist-high, he trod on something
that seemed to writhe under his feet like a snake. He started back and
looked down. It was the long, firm, heavy plait of a woman's hair. And
just beyond lay the green gown of a woman, and a woman's hands, and her
golden head, and her eyes; all about the place where she lay was the
thick buzzing of flies, and the black swarming of them.

The thief saw, and he turned and he fled back to his doorway, and down
the steps and through the maze of vaulted passages--fled in the dark,
and empty-handed, because when he had come into the presence that
informed that house with silence, he had dropped lantern and treasure,
and fled wildly, the horror in his soul driving him before it. Now fear
is more wise than cunning, so, whereas he had sought for hours with his
lantern and with all his thief's craft to find the way out, and had
sought in vain, he now, in the dark and blindly, without thought or
will, without pause or let, found the one way that led to a door, shot
back the bolts, and fled through the awakened rose garden and across the
dewy park.

He dropped from the wall into the road, and stood there looking eagerly
to right and left. To the right the road wound white and sinuous, like a
twisted ribbon over the great, grey shoulder of the hill; to the left
the road curved down towards the river. No least black fly of a figure
stirred on it. There are no travellers on such a road at such an hour.



XI

THE GIRL AT THE TOBACCONIST'S


John Selwyn Selborne cursed for the hundredth time the fool that had
bound him captive at the chariot wheels of beauty. That is to say, he
cursed the fool he had been to trust himself in the automobile of that
Brydges woman. The Brydges woman was pretty, rich, and charming;
omniscience was her pose. She knew everything: consequently she knew how
to drive a motor-car. She learned the lesson of her own incompetence at
the price of a broken ankle and a complete suit of bruises. Selborne
paid for his trusting folly with a broken collar-bone and a deep cut on
his arm. That was why he could not go to Portsmouth to see the last of
his young brother when he left home for the wars.

This was why he cursed. The curse was mild--it was indeed less a curse
than an invocation.

"Defend us from women," he said; "above all from the women who think
they know."

The grey gloom that stood for dawn that day crept through the curtains
and made ghosts of the shadows that lingered still in his room. He
stretched himself wearily, and groaned as the stretched nerves vibrated
to the chord of agony.

"There's no fool like an old fool," said John Selwyn Selborne. He had
thirty-seven years, and they weighed on him as the forty-seven when
their time came would not do.

He had said good-bye to the young brother the night before; here in this
country inn, the nearest to the scene of the enlightenment of the
Brydges woman. And to-day the boy sailed. John Selborne sighed.
Twenty-two, and off to the wars, heart-whole. Whereas he had been
invalided at the very beginning of things and now, when he was well and
just on the point of rejoining--the motor-car and the Brydges woman! And
as for heart-whole ... the Brydges woman again.

He fell asleep. When he awoke there was full sunshine and an orchestra
of awakened birds in the garden outside. There was tea--there were
letters. One was from Sidney--Sidney, who had left him not twelve hours
before.

He tore it open, and hurt his shoulder in the movement.

     "DEAR JOHN," said the letter, "I wanted to tell you last night,
     but you seemed so cheap, I thought I'd better not bother you.
     But it's just come into my head that perhaps I may get a bullet
     in my innards, and I want you to know. So here goes. There's a
     girl I mean to marry. I know she'll say Yes, but I can't ask
     her till I come back, of course. I don't want to have any
     humbug or concealing things from you; you've always been so
     decent to me. I know you hate jaw, so I won't go on about that.
     But I must tell you I met her first when she was serving in a
     tobacconist's shop. And her mother lets lodgings. You'll think
     this means she's beneath me. Wait till you see her. I want you
     to see her, and make friends with her while I'm away."

Here followed some lover's raptures, and the address of the lady.

John Selborne lay back and groaned.

Susannah Sheepmarsh, tobacconist's assistant, lodging-house keeper's
daughter, and Sidney Selborne, younger son of a house whose pride was
that it had been proud enough to refuse a peerage.

John Selborne thought long and deeply.

"I suppose I must sacrifice myself," he said. "Little adventuress! 'How
easy to prove to him,' I said, 'that an eagle's the game her pride
prefers, though she stoops to a wren instead.' The boy'll hate me for a
bit, but he'll thank me later. Yalding? That's somewhere on the Medway.
Fishing? Boating? Convalescence is good enough. Fiction aid us! What
would the villain in a book do to come between fond lovers? He would
take the lodgings: at least he would try. And one may as well do
something."

So he wrote to Mrs Sheepmarsh--she had rooms to let, he heard. Terms?
And Mrs Sheepmarsh wrote back; at least her reply was typewritten, which
was a bit of a shock. She had rooms. They were disengaged. And the terms
were thus and such.

Behold John Selwyn Selborne then, his baggage neatly labelled with his
first and second names, set down on the little platform of Yalding
Station. Behold him, waggonette-borne, crossing the old stone bridge and
the golden glory of the Leas, flushed with sunset.

Mrs Sheepmarsh's house was long and low and white. It had a classic
porch, and at one end a French window opened through cascades of jasmine
to a long lawn. There were many trees. A middle-aged lady in decent
black, with a white cap, and white lace about her neck, greeted him with
formal courtesy. "This way," she said, and moved for him to follow her
through a green gate and down a shrubbery that led without disguise or
pretence straight away from the house. It led also to a little white
building embowered in trees. "Here," said the lady. She opened the door.
"I'll tell the man to bring your luggage. Good evening----"

And she left him planted there. He had to bend his head to pass under
the low door, and he found himself in a tiny kitchen. Beyond were a
sitting-room and two bedchambers. All fitted sparsely, but with old
furniture, softly-faded curtains, quiet and pleasant to look upon. There
were roses in a jug of Grès de Flandre on the gate-table in the
sitting-room.

"What a singular little place!" he said. "So these are the lodgings. I
feel like a dog in a kennel. I suppose they will throw me a bone
by-and-by--or, at any rate, ask me what kind of bones I prefer."

He unpacked his clothes and laid his belongings in the drawers and
cupboards; it was oddly charming that each shelf or drawer should have
its own little muslin bag of grey lavender. Then he took up a book and
began to read. The sunset had died away, the daylight seemed to be
glowing out of the low window like a tide, leaving bare breadths of
darkness behind. He lighted candles. He was growing hungry--it was past
eight o'clock.

"I believe the old lady has forgotten my existence," he said, and
therewith opened his cottage door and went out into the lighter twilight
of the garden. The shrubbery walks were winding. He took the wrong
turning, and found himself entering on the narrow lawn. From the French
window among the jasmine came lamplight--and voices.

"No servant, no food? My good mother, you've entertained a lunatic
unawares."

"He had references."

"Man cannot live by references alone. The poor brute must be
starving--unless he's drunk."

"Celia! I do wish you wouldn't----"

John Selborne hastening by, put a period to the conversation by boots
crunching heavily and conscientiously on the gravel. Both voices
ceased. He presented himself at the lamp-lit oblong of the window.

Within that lamplight glowed on the last remnants of a meal--dinner, by
the glasses and the fruit. Also on the lady in the cap, and on a
girl--the one, doubtless, who had evolved the lunatic idea. Both faces
were turned towards him. Both women rose: there was nothing for it but
advance. He murmured something about intrusion--"awfully sorry, the
walks wind so," and turned to go.

But the girl spoke: "Oh, wait a moment. Is this Mr Selwyn, mother?"

"My daughter, Miss Sheepmarsh--Mr Selwyn," said the mother reluctantly.

"We were just talking about you," said the girl, "and wondering whether
you were ill or anything, or whether your servant hasn't turned up, or
something."

"Miss Sheepmarsh." He was still speechless. This the little adventuress,
the tobacconist's assistant? This girl with the glorious hair severely
braided, the round face, the proud chin, the most honest eyes in the
world? She might be sister to the adventuress--cousin, perhaps? But the
room, too--shining mahogany, old china, worn silver, and fine
napery--all spoke of a luxury as temperate as refined: the luxury of
delicate custom, of habit bred in the bone; no mushroom growth of gross
self-indulgence, but the unconscious outcome of generations of clear
self-respect.

"Can we send anything over for you?" the elder lady asked. "Of course
we----"

"We didn't mean by 'entirely private' that we would let our tenant
starve," the girl interrupted.

"There is some mistake." Selborne came to himself suddenly. "I thought I
was engaging furnished apartments with er--attendance."

The girl drew a journal from a heap on the sofa.

"This was the advertisement, wasn't it?" she asked.

And he read:

     "Four-roomed cottage, furnished, in beautiful grounds. Part of
     these are fenced in for use of tenant of cottage. And in the
     absence of the family the whole of the grounds are open to
     tenant. When at home the family wish to be entirely private."

"I never saw this at all," said Selborne desperately. "My--I mean I was
told it was furnished lodgings. I am very sorry I have no servant and
no means of getting one. I will go back to London at once. I am sorry."

"The last train's gone," said Miss Sheepmarsh. "Mother, ask Mr Selborne
to come in, and I'll get him something to eat."

"My dear," said the mother, "surely Mary----"

"My dear mother," said the girl, "you know Mary is having her supper."

The bewildered Selborne presently found himself seated at the
white-spread, silver-sparkling table, served with food and drink by this
Hebe with the honest eyes. He exerted himself to talk with the
mother--not of the difference between a lodger and a tenant, but of
music, art, and the life of the great world.

It was the girl who brought the conversation down from the gossip of
Courts and concert-rooms to the tenant's immediate needs.

"If you mean to stay, you could have a woman in from the village," said
she.

"But wouldn't you rather I went?" he said.

"Why should we? We want to let the cottage, or we shouldn't have
advertised it. I'll get you some one to-morrow. Mrs Bates would be the
very thing, mother. And you'll like her, Mr Selwyn. She's a great
dear----"

Sure enough, the next morning brought a gentle, middle-aged woman to "do
for" Mr Selwyn. And she did excellently. And three slow days passed. He
got a boat and pulled up and down the green willow-fringed river. He
tried to fish; he read somewhat, and he thought more. And he went in and
out of his cottage, which had its own private path debouching on the
highway. Many times a day he went in and out, but he saw no more the red
hair, the round face, and the honest eyes.

On the fourth day he had nursed his interest in the girl to a strong,
well-grown sentiment of curiosity and attraction. Coming in at his own
gate, he saw the mother leaving hers, with sunshade and cardcase--an
afternoon of calls evidently setting in.

Now or never! The swift impulse took him, and before he had time to
recall the terms of that advertisement, he had passed the green fence of
division, and his feet were on the wandering ways of the shrubbery. He
felt, as he went, a glow of gratitude to the fate which was rewarding
his care of his brother's future with an interest like this. The
adventuress?--the tobacconist's assistant?--he could deal with her
later.

Through the garden's green a gleam of white guided--even, it seemed,
beckoned.

He found the girl with the red hair and the honest eyes in a hammock
swung between two cedars.

"Have pity on me," he said abruptly.

She raised her eyes from her book.

"Oh, it's you!" she said. "I am so glad. Get a chair from under the
weeping ash, and sit down and talk."

"This turf is good enough for me," said he; "but are you sure I'm not
trespassing?"

"You mean the advertisement? Oh, that was just because we had some
rather awful people last year, and we couldn't get away from them, and
mother wanted to be quite safe; but, of course, you're different. We
like you very much, what we've seen of you." This straightforward
compliment somehow pleased him less than it might have done. "The other
people were--well, he was a butterman. I believe he called himself an
artist."

"Do you mean that you do not like persons who are in trade," he asked,
thinking of the tobacconist's assistant.

"Of course I don't mean that," she said; "why, I'm a Socialist!
Butterman just means a person without manners or ideals. But I do like
working people better than shoppy people, though I know it's wrong."

"How can an involuntary liking or disliking be wrong?" he asked.

"It's snobbish, don't you think? We ought to like people for what they
are, not for what they have, or what they work at."

"If you weren't so pretty, and hadn't that delightful air of having just
embraced the Social Gospel, you'd be a prig," he said to himself. To her
he said: "Roughly speaking, don't you think the conventional
classifications correspond fairly well with the real ones?"

"No," she answered roundly.

And when the mother returned, weary from her calls, she found her tenant
and her daughter still discussing the problems of good and evil, of
heredity and environment, of social inequalities and the injustice of
the world. The girl fought for her views, and she fought fairly, if
fiercely. It was the first of many such fights. When he had gone the
mother protested.

"Dearest," said the girl, "I can't help it! I must live my own life, as
people say in plays. After all, I'm twenty-six. I've always talked to
people if I liked them--even strangers in railway carriages. And people
aren't wild beasts, you know: everything is always all right. And this
man can talk; he knows about things. And he's a gentleman. That ought to
satisfy you--that and his references. Don't worry, there's a darling.
Just be nice to him yourself. He's simply a godsend in a place like
this."

"He'll fall in love with you, Celia," said the mother warningly.

"Not he!" said the daughter. But the mother was right.

Living alone in the queer little cottage, the world, his accustomed
life, the Brydges woman, all seemed very far away. Miss Sheepmarsh was
very near. Her frank enjoyment of his talk, her gay acceptance of their
now almost constant companionship, were things new in his experience of
women, and might have warned him that she at least was heart-whole. They
would have done had he ever faced the fact that his own heart had caught
fire. He bicycled with her along the pleasant Kentish lanes; he rowed
with her on the little river of dreams; he read to her in the quiet of
the August garden; he gave himself up wholly to the pleasure of those
hours that flew like moments--those days that passed like hours. They
talked of books and of the heart of books--and inevitably they talked of
themselves. He talked of himself less than most men, but he learned much
of her life. She was an ardent social reformer; had lived in an
Art-and-Culture-for-the-People settlement in Whitechapel; had studied at
the London School of Economics. Now she had come back to be with her
mother, who needed her. She and her mother were almost alone in the
world; there was enough to live on, but not too much. The letting of the
little house had been Celia's idea: its rent was merely for "luxuries."
He found out from the mother, when she came to tolerate him, that the
"luxuries" were Celia's--the luxuries of helping the unfortunate,
feeding the hungry, and clothing little shivering children in winter
time.

And all this while he had not heard a word of sister or cousin--of any
one whom he might identify as the tobacconist's assistant.

It was on an evening when the level sunbeams turned the meadows by the
riverside to fine gold, and the willows and alders to trees of Paradise,
that he spoke suddenly, leaning forward on his sculls. "Have you," he
asked, looking into her face, "any relation who is in a shop?"

"No," said she; "why?"

"I only wondered," said he coldly.

"But what an extraordinary thing to wonder!" she said. "Do tell me what
made you think of it."

"Very well," he said, "I will. The person who told me that your mother
had lodgings, also told me that your mother had a daughter who served in
a shop."

"Never!" she cried. "What a hateful idea!"

"A tobacconist's shop," he persisted; "and her name was Susannah
Sheepmarsh."

"Oh," she answered, "that was me." She spoke instantly and frankly, but
she blushed crimson.

"And you're ashamed of it,--Socialist?" he asked with a sneer, and his
eyes were fierce on her burning face.

"I'm not! Row home, please. Or I'll take the sculls if you're tired, or
your shoulder hurts. I don't want to talk to you any more. You tried to
trap me into telling a lie. You don't understand anything at all. And
I'll never forgive you."

"Yes, you will," he said to himself again and again through the silence
in which they plashed down the river. But when he was alone in his
cottage, the truth flew at him and grappled him with teeth and claws. He
loved her. She loved, or had loved--or might have loved--or might
love--his brother. He must go: and the next morning he went without a
word. He left a note for Mrs Sheepmarsh, and a cheque in lieu of notice;
and letter and cheque were signed with his name in full.

He went back to the old life, but the taste of it all was gone. Shooting
parties, house parties, the Brydges woman even, prettier than ever, and
surer of all things: how could these charm one whose fancy, whose heart
indeed, wandered for ever in a green garden or by a quiet river with a
young woman who had served in a tobacconist's shop, and who would be
some day his brother's wife?

The days were long, the weeks seemed interminable. And all the time
there was the white house, as it had been; there were mother and
daughter living the same dainty, dignified, charming life to which he
had come so near. Why had he ever gone there? Why had he ever
interfered? He had meant to ensnare her heart just to free his brother
from an adventuress. An adventuress! He groaned aloud.

"Oh, fool! But you are punished!" he said; "she's angry now--angrier
even than that evening on the river, for she knows now that even the
name you gave her to call you by was not the one your own people use.
This comes of trying to act like an ass in a book."

The months went on. The Brydges woman rallied him on his absent air. She
spoke of dairymaids. He wondered how he could ever have found her
amusing, and whether her vulgarity was a growth, or had been merely
hidden.

And all the time Celia and the white house were dragging at his
heart-strings. Enough was left of the fool that he constantly reproached
himself for having been, to make him sure that had he had no brother,
had he met her with no duty to the absent to stand between them she
would have loved him.

Then one day came the South African mail, and it brought a letter from
his brother, the lad who had had the sense to find a jewel behind a
tobacconist's counter, and had trusted it to him.

The letter was long and ineffective. It was the postscript that was
vital.

     "I say, I wonder whether you've seen anything of Susannah? What
     a young fool I was ever to think I could be happy with a girl
     out of a shop. I've met the real and only one now--she's a
     nurse; her father was a clergyman in Northumberland. She's such
     a bright little thing, and she's never cared for any one before
     me. Wish me luck."

John Selborne almost tore his hair.

"Well, I can't save him across half the world! Besides----"

At thirty-seven one should have outgrown the wild impulses of youth. He
said this to himself, but all the same it was the next train to Yalding
that he took.

Fate was kind; at Yalding it had almost always been kind. The glow of
red firelight shone out over the snow through the French window among
the brown jasmine stalks.

Mrs Sheepmarsh was out, Miss Sheepmarsh was at home. Would he step this
way?

He stepped into the presence of the girl. She rose from the low chair by
the fire, and the honest eyes looked angrily at him.

"Look here," he said, as the door closed between them and the
maid-servant, "I've come to tell you things. Just this once let me talk
to you; and afterwards, if you like, I can go away and never come back."

"Sit down," she said coldly. "I don't feel friends with you at all, but
if you want to speak, I suppose you must."

So then he told her everything, beginning with his brother's letter, and
ending with his brother's letter.

"And, of course, I thought it couldn't be you, because of your being
called Celia; and when I found out it really was you, I had to go away,
because I wanted to be fair to the boy. But now I've come back."

"I think you're the meanest person I ever knew," she said; "you thought
I liked your brother, and you tried to make me like you so that you
might throw me over and show him how worthless I was. I hate you and
despise you."

"I didn't really try," he said miserably.

"And you took a false name to deceive us."

"I didn't: it really is my second name."

"And you came here pretending to be nice and a gentleman, and----" She
was lashing herself to rage, with the lash of her own voice, as women
will. John Selborne stood up suddenly.

"Be quiet," he said, and she was quiet. "I won't hear any more
reproaches, unless---- Listen, I've done wrong--I've owned it. I've
suffered for it. God knows I've suffered. You liked me in the summer:
can't you try to like me again? I want you more than anything else in
the world. Will you marry me?"

"Marry you," she cried scornfully; "you who----"

"Pardon me," he said. "I have asked a question. Give me no for an
answer, and I will go. Say yes, and then you may say anything else you
like. Yes or no. Shall I go or stay? Yes or no. No other word will do."

She looked at him, her head thrown back, her eyes flashing with
indignation. A world of scorn showed in the angle of the chin, the poise
of her head. Her lips opened. Then suddenly her eyes met his, and she
knew that he meant what he said. She covered her face with her hands.

"Don't--don't cry, dear one," he said. "What is it? You've only to
choose. Everything is for you to decide."

Still she did not speak.

"Good-bye, then," he said, and turned. But she caught at him blindly.

"Don't--don't go!" she cried. "I didn't think I cared about you in the
summer, but since you went away, oh, you don't know how I've wanted
you!"

       *       *       *       *       *

"Well," he said, when her tears were dried, "aren't you going to scold
me?"

"Don't!" said she.

"At least tell me all about my brother--and why he thought you would be
so ready to marry him."

"That? Oh, that was only his conceit. You know I always do talk to
people in railway carriages and things. I suppose he thought it was only
him I talked to."

"And the name?"

"I--I thought if I said my name was Susannah he wouldn't get
sentimental."

"You 'took a false name to deceive him'?"

"Don't--oh, don't!"

"And the tobacco shop?"

"Ah--that rankles?" She raised her head to look at him.

"Not it," he answered coolly. "I simply don't believe it."

"Why? But you're quite right. It was a woman in my district in London,
and I took the shop for her for three days, because her husband was
dying, and she couldn't get any one else to help her. It was--it was
rather fun--and--and----"

"And you wouldn't tell me about it, because you didn't want me to know
how proud you were of it."

"Proud? Ah, you do understand things! The man died, and I had given her
those three days with him. I wasn't proud, was I?--only glad that I
could. So glad--so glad!"

"But you let my brother think----"

"Oh yes, I let him think it was my trade; I thought it might make him
not be silly. You see, I always knew he couldn't understand things."

"Celia?"

"Yes?"

"And have you really forgiven me?"

"Yes, yes, I forgive you! But I never should have if---- There's mother
at the front door. Let me go. I want to let her in myself."

"If?"

"Let me go. If----"

"If?"

"If you hadn't understood and----"

"Yes?"

"If you hadn't come back to me!"



XII

WHILE IT IS YET DAY


"And is it really true? Are you going to govern the Fortunate Islands?"

"I am, indeed--or rather, to be accurate, I am going to deputy-govern
them--I mean, father is--for a year."

"A whole year!" he said, looking down at her fan. "What will London do
without you?"

"London will do excellently," she answered--"and that's my pet fan, and
it's not used to being tied into knots." She took it from him.

"And what shall I do without you?"

"Oh! laugh and rhyme and dance and dine. You'll go out to the proper
number of dinners and dances, and make the proper measure of pretty
little speeches and nice little phrases; and you'll do your reviews, and
try to make them as like your editor's as you can; and you'll turn out
your charming little rondeaux and triolets, and the year will simply
fly. Heigho! I'm glad I'm going to see something big, if it's only the
Atlantic."

"You are very cruel," he said.

"Am I? But it's not cruel to be cruel if nobody's hurt, is it? And I am
so tired of nice little verses and pretty little dances and dainty
little dinners. Oh, if I were only a man!"

"Thank God you're not!" said he.

"If I were a man, I would do just one big thing in my life, even if I
had to settle down to a life of snippets and trifles afterwards."

Her eyes were shining. They always glittered, but now they were starry.
The drifted white folds across her breast stirred to her quickened
breath.

"If you loved me, Sybil, I could do something great!" said he.

"But I _don't_," she said--"at any rate, not now; and I've told you so a
dozen times. My dear Rupert, the man who needs a woman to save him isn't
worth the saving."

"What would you call a big thing?" he asked. "Must I conquer an empire
for you, or start a new religion? Or shall I merely get the Victoria
Cross, or become Prime Minister?"

"Don't sneer," said she; "it doesn't become you at all. You've no idea
how horrid you look when you're sneering. Why don't you----? Oh! but
it's no good! By the way, what a charming cover Housman has designed for
your _Veils and Violets_! It's a dear little book. Some of the verses
are quite pretty."

"Go on," said he, "rub it in. I know I haven't done much yet; but
there's plenty of time. And how can one do any good work when one is for
ever sticking up one's heart like a beastly cocoanut for you to shy at?
If you'd only marry me, Sybil, you should see how I would work!"

"May I refer you to my speech--not the last one, but the one before
that."

He laughed; then he sighed.

"Ah, my Pretty," he said, "it was all very well, and pleasant enough to
be scolded by you when I could see you every day; but now----"

"How often," she asked calmly, "have I told you that you must not call
me that? It was all very well when we were children; but now----"

"Look here," he said, leaning towards her, "there's not a soul about;
they're in the middle of the Lancers. Let me kiss you once--it can't
matter to you--and it will mean so very much to me."

"That's just it," she said; "if it didn't mean----"

"Then it shan't mean anything but good-bye. It's only about eight years
since you gave up the habit of kissing me on every occasion."

She looked down, then she looked to right and left, then suddenly she
looked at him.

"Very well," she said suddenly.

"No," he said; "I won't have it unless it _does_ mean something."

There was a silence. "Our dance, I think?" said the voice of one bending
before her, and she was borne away on the arm of the partner from whom
she had been hiding.

Rupert left early. He had not been able to secure any more dances with
her. She left late. When she came to think the evening over, she sighed
more than once. "I wish I loved him a little less, or a little more,"
she said; "and I wish--yes, I do wish he had. I don't suppose he'll care
a bit for me when I come back."

So she set sail for the Fortunate or other Isles, and in dainty verses
on loss and absence he found some solace for the pain of parting with
her. Yet the pain was a real thing, and grew greater, and life seemed to
have no taste, even tobacco no charm. She had always been a part of his
life since the days when nothing but a sunk fence divided his father's
park from her father's rabbit-warren. He grew paler, and he developed a
wrinkle or two, and a buoyant friend meeting him in Piccadilly assured
him that he looked very much off colour, and in his light-hearted way
the friend advised the sort of trip round the world from which yesterday
had seen his own jovial return.

"Do you all the good in the world, my boy. 'Pon my soul, you have a
tired sort of look, as if you'd got some of these jolly new diseases
people have taken to dying of lately--appendi-what's-its-name, you know,
and things like that. You book your passage to Marseilles at once. So
long! You take my tip."

What Rupert took was a cab. He looked at himself in one of the little
horseshoe mirrors. He certainly did look ill; and he felt ill--tired,
bored, and nothing seemed worth while. He drove to a doctor friend, who
punched and prodded him and listened with tubes at his chest and back,
looked grave, and said: "Go to Strongitharm--he's absolutely at _the_
top. Twenty-guinea fee. But it's better to know where we are. You go to
Strongitharm."

Rupert went, and Strongitharm gave his opinion. He gave it with a voice
that trembled with sympathy, and he supplemented it with
brandy-and-soda, which he happened to have quite handy.

Then Rupert disappeared from London and from his friends--disappeared
suddenly and completely. He had plenty of money, and no relations near
enough to be inconveniently anxious. He went away and he left no
address, and he did not even write excuses to the people with whom he
should have danced and dined, nor to the editor whose style he should
have gone on imitating.

The buoyant friend rejoiced at the obvious and natural following of his
advice.

"He was looking a little bit below himself, you know, and I said: 'Go
round the world; there's nothing like it,' and, by Jove! he went. Now,
that's the kind of man I like--knows good advice when he gets it, and
acts on it right off."

So the buoyant one spread the rumour that ran its course and died, and
had to be galvanised into life once more to furnish an answer to Sybil's
questionings, when, returning from the Fortunate or other Isles, she
asked for news of her old friend. And the rumour did not satisfy her.
She had had time to think--there was plenty of time to think in those
Islands whose real name escapes me--and she knew very much more than she
had known on the evening when Rupert had broken her pet fan and asked
for a kiss which he had not taken. She found herself quite fervently
disbelieving in the grand tour theory--and the disbelief was so strong
that it distorted life and made everything else uninteresting. Sybil
took to novel-reading as other folks have in their time taken to drink.
She was young, and she could still lose herself in a book. One day she
lost herself most completely in a new novel from Mudie's, a book that
every one was talking about. She lost herself; and suddenly, in a
breathless joy that was agony too, she found _him_. This was his book.
No one but Rupert could have written it--all that description of the
park, and the race when she rode the goat and he rode the pig--and--she
turned the pages hastily. Ah yes, Rupert had written this! She put the
book down and she dressed herself as prettily as she knew how, and she
went in a hansom cab to the office of the publisher of that book, and on
the way she read. And more and more she saw how great a book it was, and
how no one but Rupert could have written just that book. Thrill after
thrill of pride ran through her. He had done this _for her_--because of
what she had said.

Arrived at the publisher's, she was met by a blank wall. Neither partner
was visible. The senior clerk did not know the address of the author of
"Work While it is Yet Day," nor the name of him; and it was abundantly
evident that even if he had known, he would not have told.

Sybil's prettiness and her charm so wrought upon this dry-as-dust
person, however, that he volunteered the address of the literary agent
through whom the book had been purchased. And Sybil found him on a first
floor in one of those imposing new buildings in Arundel Street. He was
very nice and kind, but he could not give his client's name without his
client's permission.

The disappointment was bitter.

"But I'll send a letter for you," he tried to soften it with.

Sybil's self-control almost gave way. A tear glistened on her veil.

"I do want to see him most awfully," she said, "and I know he wants to
see me. It was I who rode the goat in the book, you know----"

She did not realise how much she was admitting, but the literary agent
did.

"Look here," he said smartly, "I'll wire to him at once; and if he says
I may, I'll give you the address. Can you call in an hour?"

Sybil wandered on the Embankment for a conscientious hour, and then went
back.

The literary agent smiled victory.

"The answer is 'Yes,'" he said, and handed her a slip of paper--

     "THREE CHIMNEYS,
          NEAR PADDOCK WOOD,
                       KENT."

"Have you a time-table?" asked she.

       *       *       *       *       *

The dusty, hired fly lumbered and jolted along the white roads, and in
it, as in the train, Sybil read the novel, the book every one was
talking about--the great book--and her heart was full to overflowing of
joy and pride and other things.

The carriage shook itself fiercely and stopped, and she looked up from
the last page of the book with eyes that swam a little, to find herself
at the broken wooden gate of a low, white house, shabbily blindless, and
a long way off its last painting and whitewashing.

She paid for the carriage and dismissed it. She would walk back to the
station with _him_. She passed in at the rickety gate and up the flagged
path, and a bell in answer to her touch jangled loudly, as bells do in
empty houses.

Her dress was greeny, with lace about it of the same colour as very nice
biscuits, and her hat seemed to be made entirely of yellow roses. She
was not unconscious of these facts.

Steps sounded within, and they, like the bell, seemed to sound in an
empty house. The door opened, and there was Rupert. Sybil's lips were
half-parted in a smile that should match the glow of gladness that must
shine on his face when he saw her--Her--the unattainable, the
unapproachable, at his very door. But her smile died away, for his face
was grave. Only in his eyes something that was bright and fierce and
like a flame leapt up and shone a moment.

"You!" he said.

And Sybil answered as most people do to such questions: "Yes, me." There
was a pause: her eyes wandered from his to the blank face of the house,
the tangle of the untidy garden. "Mayn't I come in?" she asked.

"Yes; oh yes, come in!"

She crossed the threshold--the doorstep was dank with green mould--and
followed him into a room. It was a large room, and perfectly bare: no
carpet, no curtains, no pictures. Loose bricks were arranged as a
fender, and dead embers strewed the hearth. There was a table; there was
a chair; there were scattered papers, pens, and ink. From the window one
saw the neglected garden, and beyond it the round shoulders of the
hills.

He drew forward the one chair, and she sat down. He stood with his back
to the fireless grate.

"You are very, very pretty," he said suddenly. And the explanation of
his disappearance suddenly struck her like a blow between the eyes. But
she was not afraid. When all a woman's thoughts, day and night for a
year, have been given to one man, she is not afraid of him; no, not even
if he be what Sybil for one moment feared that this man was. He read the
fear in her eyes.

"No, I'm not mad," he said. "Sybil, I'm very glad you came. Come to
think of it, I'm very glad to see you. It is better than writing. I was
just going to write out everything, as well as I could. I expect I
should have sent it to you. You know I used to care for you more than I
did for any one."

Sybil's hands gripped the arms of the windsor chair. Was he really--was
it through her that he was----

"Come out," she said. "I hate this place; it stifles me. And you've
lived here--worked here!"

"I've lived here for eleven months and three days," he said. "Yes, come
out."

So they went out through the burning July sun, and Sybil found a
sheltered spot between a larch and a laburnum.

"Now," she said, throwing off her hat and curling her green, soft
draperies among the long grass. "Come and sit down and tell me----"

He threw himself on the grass.

"Sure it won't bore you?" he asked.

She took his hand and held it. He let her take it; but his hand did not
hold hers.

"I seem to remember," he said, "the last time I saw you--you were going
away, or something. You told me I ought to do something great; and I
told you--or, anyway, I thought to myself--that there was plenty of time
for that. I'd always had a sort of feeling that I _could_ do something
great whenever I chose to try. Well--yes, you did go away, of course; I
remember perfectly--and I missed you extremely. And some one told me I
looked ill; and I went to my doctor, and he sent me to a big swell, and
_he_ said I'd only got about a year to live. So then I began to think."

Her fingers tightened on the unresponsive hand.

"And I thought: Here I've been thirty years in this world. I've the
experience of twenty-eight and a half--I suppose the first little bit
doesn't count. If I'd had time, I meant to write another book, just to
show exactly what a man feels when he knows he's only got a year to
live, and nothing done--nothing done."

"I won't believe it," she said. "You don't _look_ ill; you're as lean as
a greyhound, but----"

"It may come any day now," he went on quietly; "but I've done something.
The book--it _is_ great. They all say so; and I know it, too. But at
first! Just think of gasping out your breath, and feeling that all the
things you had seen and known and felt were wasted--lost--going out with
you, and that you were going out like the flame of a candle, taking
everything you might have done with you."

"The book _is_ great," she said; "you _have_ done something."

"Yes. But for those two days I stayed in my rooms in St James's Street,
and I thought, and thought, and thought, and there was no one to care
where I went or what I did, except a girl who was fond of me when she
was little, and she had gone away and wasn't fond of me any more. Oh,
Sybil--I feel like a lunatic--I mean you, of course; but you never
cared. And I went to a house agent's and got the house unfurnished, and
I bought the furniture--there's nothing much except what you've seen,
and a bed and a bath, and some pots and kettles; and I've lived alone in
that house, and I've written that book, with Death sitting beside me,
jogging my elbow every time I stopped writing, and saying, 'Hurry up;
I'm waiting here for you, and I shall have to take you away, and you'll
have done nothing, nothing, nothing.'"

"But you've done the book," said Sybil again. The larch and the garden
beyond were misty to her eyes. She set her teeth. He must be comforted.
Her own agony--that could be dealt with later.

"I've ridden myself with the curb," he said. "I thought it all
out--proper food, proper sleep, proper exercise. I wouldn't play the
fool with the last chance; and I pulled it off. I wrote the book in four
months; and every night, when I went to sleep, I wondered whether I
should ever wake to go on with the book. But I did wake, and then I used
to leap up and thank God, and set to work; and I've done it. The book
will live--every one says it will. I shan't have lived for nothing."

"Rupert," she said, "dear Rupert!"

"Thank you," he said forlornly; "you're very kind." And he drew his
limp hand from hers, and leaned his elbows on the grass and his chin on
his hands.

"Oh, Rupert, why didn't you write and tell me?"

"What was the use of making you sad? You were always sorry for maimed
things--even the worms the gardener cut in two with his spade."

She was struggling with a growing desire to scream and shriek, and to
burst out crying and tear the grass with her hands. He no longer loved
her--that was the lesser evil. She could have borne that--have borne
anything. But he was going to die! The intensity of her belief that he
was going to die caught her by the throat. She defended herself
instinctively.

"I don't believe it," she said.

"Don't believe what?"

"That you're going to die."

He laughed; and when the echo of that laugh had died away in the quiet
garden, she found that she could no longer even say that she did not
believe.

Then he said: "I am going to die, and all the values of things have
changed places. But I have done something: I haven't buried my talent
in a napkin. Oh, my Pretty, go away, go away! You make a fool of me
again! I had almost forgotten how to be sorry that you couldn't love me.
Go away, go away! Go, go!"

He threw out his hands, and they lay along the grass. His face went down
into the tangled green, and she saw his shoulders shaken with sobs. She
dragged herself along the grass till she was close to him; then she
lifted his shoulders, and drew his head on to her lap, and clasped her
arms round him.

"My darling, my dear, my own!" she said. "You're tired, and you've
thought of nothing but your hateful book--your beautiful book, I
mean--but you do love me really. Not as I love you, but still you do
love me. Oh, Rupert, I'll nurse you, I'll take care of you, I'll be your
slave; and if you have to die, I shall die too, because there'll be
nothing left for me to do for you."

He put an arm round her. "It's worth dying to hear that," he said, and
brought his face to lie against her waist.

"But you shan't die. You must come back to London with me now--this
minute. The best opinion----"

"I had the best," he said. "Kiss me, my Pretty; oh, kiss me now that it
does mean something! Let me dream that I'm going to live, and that you
love me."

He lifted his face, and she kissed him.

"Rupert, you're _not_ going to die. It can't be true. It isn't true. It
shan't be true."

"It is; but I don't mind now, except for you. I'm a selfish beast. But
this is worth it all, and I _have_ done something great. You told me
to."

"Tell me," she said, "who was the doctor? Was he really the best?"

"It was Strongitharm," he said wearily.

She drew a long breath and clasped him closer. Then she pushed him away
and sprang to her feet.

"Stand up!" she said. "Let me look at you!"

He stood up, and she caught him by the elbows and stood looking at him.
Twice she tried to speak, and twice no voice obeyed; then she said
softly, huskily: "Rupert, listen! It's all a horrid dream. Wake up.
Haven't you seen the papers? Strongitharm went mad several months ago.
It was drink. He told _all_ his patients they were going to die of this
new disease of his that he'd invented. It's all his madness. You're
well--I know it. Oh, Rupert, you aren't going to die, and we love each
other! Oh, God is very good!"

He drew a long breath.

"Are you sure? It's like coming back from chloroform; and yet it hurts,
and yet--but I wrote the book! Oh, Sybil, I shall never write another
great book!"

"Ah yes, you will--you shall," she said, looking at him with wet eyes.

"I have you," he said. "Oh, thank God, I have you! but I shall never
write another great book."

And he never has.

But he is very happy. And Sybil cannot see that his later works are not
in the same field with the first. She thinks the critics fools. And he
loves her the more for her folly.



XIII

ALCIBIADES


"Oh, _do_ let me have him in the carriage with me; he won't hurt any
one, he's a perfect angel."

"Angels like him travels in the dog-box," said the porter.

Judy ended an agonised search for her pocket.

"Would you be offended," she said, "if I offered you half-a-crown?"

"Give the guard a bob, Miss." The hand curved into a cup resting on the
carriage window, answered her question. "It's more'n enough for him,
being a single man, whereas me, I'm risking my situation and nine
children at present to say no more, when I----"

The turn of a railway key completed the sentence.

Judy and the angel were alone. He was a very nice angel--long-haired and
brownly-black--his race the Aberdeen, his name Alcibiades. He put up a
respectful and adoring nose, and his mistress kissed him between the
eyes.

"How could they try to part us," she asked, "when there's only us two
left?"

Alcibiades, with swimming eyes, echoed in a little moan of true love the
question: "How could they?"

The question was put again by both later in the day. Judy was to stay
with an aunt while her mother sailed to Madeira to meet there the father
returning from South Africa, full of wounds and honour, and to spend on
the Island what was left of the winter. Now it was December.

A thick fog covered London with a veil of ugliness; the cabman was
aggrieved and aggrieving--Alcibiades had tried to bite him--and Judy was
on the verge of tears when the fog at last lifted, and allowed her to be
driven to her aunt's suburban house, yellow brickish, with a slate roof
and a lean forecourt, wherein cypresses, stunted and blackened, spoke
eloquently of lives more blank than the death whose emblem they were.

Through the slits of the drab Venetian blinds, gaslight streamed into
the winter dusk.

"There'll be tea, anyhow," sighed Judy, recklessly overpaying the
cabman.

Inside the house where the lights were, the Aunt was surrounded by a
dozen ladies of about her own age and station; "Tabbies" the world might
have called them. All were busy with mysteries of many coloured silks
and satins, lace and linen; at least all held such in their hands. The
gathering was in fact a "working party" for the approaching bazaar. But
the real work of bazaars is not done at parties.

"Yes," the Aunt was saying, "so nice for dear Julia. I'm truly glad that
she should begin her visit with a little gaiety. In parting or sorrow we
should always seek to distract the mind, should we not, dear Mrs
Biddle?"

"The young are all too easily distracted by the shows of this world,"
said dear Mrs Biddle heavily.

And several ladies murmured approval.

"But you can't exactly call a church bazaar the shows of this world, can
you?" urged the Aunt, sitting very upright, all black and beady.

"It's the thin end of the Rubicon sometimes," said Mrs Biddle.

"Then why----" began the youngest Tabby--and then the door bell rang,
and every one said: "Here she is!"

The prim maid announced her, and she took two steps forward, and stood
blinking in the gaslight with her hat on one side, and no gloves. Every
one noticed that at once.

"Come in, my dear," said the Aunt, rustling forward. "I have a few
friends this afternoon, and--Oh, my gracious, what has happened!"

What had happened was quite simple. In her rustling advance some
wandering trail of the Aunt's black beadiness had caught on the knotted
fringe of the table-cloth, and drawn this after her. A mass of silk and
lace and ribbon lay sprinkled along the edges of the table where the
Tabbies sat; a good store of needles, scissors, and cotton reels mingled
with it. Now all this swept to the floor on the moving table-cloth, at
the very instant when a rough brownly-black, long-eared person with a
sharp nose and very muddy paws bounded into the room, to the full length
of his chain. His bound landed him in the very middle of the
ribbon-lace-cotton-reel confusion. Judy caught the dog up in her arms,
and her apologies would have melted my heart, or yours, dear reader, in
an instant. But Tabbies are Tabbies, and a bazaar is a bazaar. No more
sewing was done that day; what was left of the afternoon proved all too
short for the disentangling, the partial cleansing of the desecrated
lace-cotton-reel-silk-muddle. And Alcibiades was tied up in the
back-kitchen to the wheel of the patent mangle; he howled without
ceasing.

"My dear," said the Aunt, when tea was over, and the last Tabby had
found her goloshes and gone home in them, "you are most welcome under
any roof of mine, but--(may I ask you to close the baize door at the top
of the kitchen stairs--thank you--and now this one--I am obliged. One
cannot hear oneself speak for that terrible animal)--you must get rid of
the cur to-morrow."

"Oh, Aunt! he's not a cur--he's pure-bred."

"Thank you," said the Aunt, "I believe I am as good a judge of dogs as
any lady. My own dear Snubs has only been dead a year and two months
last Tuesday. I know that a well-bred dog should have smooth hair, at
any rate----"

The mother of Snubs had been distantly related to a family of
respectable middle-class fox-terriers.

"I am very sorry," said Judy. She meant apology, but the Aunt took it
for sympathy, and softened somewhat.

"A nice little smooth-coated dog now," she said, "a fox-terrier, or an
Italian greyhound; you see I am not ignorant of the names of various
patterns of dog. I will get you one myself; we will go to the Dogs' Home
at Battersea, where really nice dogs are often sold quite cheap. Or
perhaps they might take your poor cur in exchange."

Judy began to cry.

"Yes, cry, my dear," said the Aunt kindly; "it will do you a world of
good."

When the Aunt was asleep--she had closed her ears to the protests of
Alcibiades with wadding left over from a handkerchief sachet--Judy crept
down in her woolly white dressing-gown, and coaxed the kitchen fire back
to life. Then she sat in front of it, on the speckless rag carpet, and
nursed Alcibiades and scolded him, and explained that he really must be
a good dog, and that we all have something to put up with in this life.

"You know, Alby dear," she said, "it's not very nice for me either, but
_I_ don't howl and try to upset mangles. Don't you be afraid, dear: you
shan't go to the Dogs' Home."

So kindly, yet strongly, did she urge her point that Alcibiades, tied to
the leg of the kitchen table, consented to sleep quietly for the rest of
the night.

Next day, when the Aunt enquired searchingly as to Judy's powers of
fancywork, and what she would do for the bazaar, Judy declared outright
that she did not know one end of a needle from the other.

"But I can paint a little," she said, "and I am rather good at
wood-carving."

"That will be very nice." The Aunt already saw, in fancy, her stall
outshine those of all other Tabbies, with glories of sabots and
tambourines decorated with rosy sprays "hand-painted," and carved white
wood boxes just the size to hold nothing useful.

"And I'll do you some," said Judy; "only I can't work if I'm distracted
about Alby--my dog, you know. Oh, Aunt, _do_ let him stay! He really is
valuable, and he hasn't made a bit of noise since last night."

"It is quite useless," the Aunt was sternly beginning--then suddenly her
voice changed. "Is the cur _really_ valuable?" she asked.

"Uncle Reggie gave five guineas for him when he was a baby boy," said
Judy eagerly, "and he's worth much more now."

"But he must be very old--when your Uncle Reggie was a boy----"

"I mean when Alcibiades was a boy."

"And who is Alcibiades?"

Judy began all over again, and urged one or two new points.

"I don't want to be harsh," said the Aunt at last, "you _shall_ have the
little breakfast room to paint and carve in as you suggest. Of course I
couldn't have shavings and paint pots lying about all over the
dining-room and drawing-room. And you shall keep your cur."

"Oh, Aunty," cried Judy, "you are a darling!"

"Yes," the Aunt went on complacently, "you shall keep your cur till the
bazaar, and then we will sell it for the benefit of the Fund for the
Amelioration of the Daughters of the Country Clergy."

And from this decision no tears and no entreaties would move her.

Judy made a den for herself and Alcibiades in the little breakfast room.
There was no painting light--so she looked out a handful of the sketches
that she had done last summer and framed them. Most of her time she
spent in writing to her friends to know whether any one could take care
of a darling dog, who was a perfect angel. And alas! no one could--or
would.

With the connivance of the cook, Alcibiades had a bed in a box in the
den, and from the very first he would at a word conceal himself in it
the moment the step of the Aunt sounded on the oil-cloth-covered stairs.
The sketches were framed, and some of the frames were lightly carved.
The Aunt was enchanted, but, on the subject of Alcibiades, adamant.

And now it was the day of the bazaar. Judy had run wires along the wall
of the schoolroom behind her Aunt's stall, and from it hung the best of
the sketches. She had arranged the stall herself, glorifying it with the
Eastern shawls and draperies that her father had sent her from India. It
did far outshine any other stall, even that of Lady Bates, the wife of
the tallow Knight. The Aunt was really grateful--truly appreciative.
But her mind was made up about the "cur."

"If it really _is_ worth anything we'll sell it. If not----" She paused
on the dark hint, and Judy's miserable fancy lost itself among ropes and
rivers and rat-poison.

To Alcibiades the bazaar was as much a festival as to any Tabby of them
all. He had been washed, which is terrible at the time, but makes you
self-respecting afterwards, a little puffed-up even. He had been allowed
to come out by the front door, with his mistress in her beautiful dress
that reminded him of rabbits. No one but Alcibiades himself will ever
know what tortures of shame and misery, fighting with joy and affection,
he had endured on those other occasions when he had been smuggled out of
the back door in the early morning to take the damp air with his beloved
lady and she had worn a shabby mackintosh and a red tam-o-shanter.
To-day he wore a blue ribbon; it was uncomfortable, but he knew it spelt
distinction. He rode in a carriage. It was not like the little
governess-cart which had carried him and his mistress through the lanes
about Maidstone; but it was a carriage, and a large horse was his
slave. His mistress herself had tied his blue ribbon; it was she, too,
who adjusted the chain that attached him to a strong staple driven in
just above the schoolroom wainscotting. The chain allowed him to sit at
her feet as she stood by the stall waiting for purchasers, and scanning
the face of each newcomer in an eager anxiety to find there the
countenance of some one who really loved dogs.

But the people were most awful, and she had to own it to herself. There
were Tabbies by the dozen, and young ladies by the score--young ladies
all dressed differently, yet all alike in the fashion of the year before
last; all vacant-faced, smiling agreeably because they knew they ought
to smile--the young of the Tabby kind--Tabby kittens, in fact. No doubt
they were really worthy and interesting, but they did not seem so to
Judy.

There was a sprinkling of men--middle-aged mostly, and bald. There were
a few youths; by some fatality all were fair, and reminded Judy of pork.
A Tabby stopped at her stall, turned over all things and bought a beaded
table-napkin ring. The purchase and the purchaser seemed to Judy to
typify her whole life and surroundings. All her soul reached out to the
Island. She sighed, then she looked up. The crowd had thickened since
she last surveyed it. Four steps led down to the schoolroom from the
outer world: on the top step was a lady, well dressed--oh! marvel!--and
beside her a man--a gentleman. Well, Judy supposed all these poor dear
people were gentlefolk, but these two were of her world. As she gazed
her eyes and those of the man met; the lady was lost in the crowd, and
Judy saw her no more. The man made straight for the stall where were the
framed sketches, the white dress, fur-trimmed, the russet hair and green
eyes of Judy, and the brownly-black, blue-ribboned Alcibiades. But
before he reached them a wave of buyers broke on the shore of Judy's
stall, and he had been watching her for nearly half an hour before a
young woman's long-deferred choice of a Christmas gift for a grandfather
fell happily on a pair of purple bed-socks, and, for the moment, Judy
breathed free.

"I told you so," said the Aunt, rattling money in a leather bag; "I
_knew_ just before Christmas was _the_ time. Everybody _has_ to give
Christmas presents to all their relations. You see! the things are going
like wildfire."

"Yes, Aunt," said Judy. Alcibiades took advantage of the momentary calm
to lick her hand exhaustively. Judy wondered wearily what had become of
the man, the only man in that cheerless assembly who looked as though he
liked dogs. "He must have been trying to get somewhere else," she said;
"he just looked in here by mistake, and when he saw the sort of people
we were, he--well--I don't wonder," she sighed, and, raising her eyes,
met his.

"I beg your pardon," said he. He meant apology.

She took it for enquiry, and smiled. "Do you want to buy something?" she
asked.

Her smile was more tired than she knew.

"I suppose I do," he said; "one does at bazaars, don't you know."

"Do you want a Christmas present?" asked Judy, businesslike; "if so, and
if you will tell me what kind of relation you want it for, perhaps I can
find something that they'd like."

"Could you? Now, that is really good. I want things for two aunts, three
cousins, a little sister, and my mother--but I needn't get _hers_ here
unless you've got something you think really--By Jove!"--his eyes had
caught the sketches--"are _those_ for sale?"

"That is rather the idea," said Judy. Her spirits were rising, though
she couldn't have told you why. "Things at a bazaar are usually for
sale, aren't they?"

"Everything?" said he--and he stroked the not resentful neck of
Alcibiades; "this good little beast isn't in the market, I'm afraid?"

"Why? Would you buy him?"

"I'd think twice before I said no. My mother is frightfully fond of
dogs."

Quite unreasonably Judy felt that she did not want to sell Alcibiades as
a present to any one's mother.

"The sketches," she said.

"The sketches," said he; "why, there's Maidstone Church and Farley and
Teston Lock and Allington. How much are they?"

She told him.

"I must have some. May I have a dozen? They're disgracefully cheap, and
I feel like an American pork man buying works of art by the dozen--for
they _are_ jolly good--and it brings back old times. I was quartered
there once."

"I knew it," she said to herself. Alcibiades stood up with his paws on
her arm. "Be quiet," she said to him; "you mustn't talk now. I'm busy."

Alcibiades gave her a reproachful look, and lay down.

The stranger smiled; a very jolly smile, Judy thought.

"Ripping little beast, isn't he?" said the stranger.

"I suppose you're invalided home?" she said. She couldn't help it. A man
in the Service. One who had been quartered at Maidstone, her own dear
Maidstone. He was no longer a stranger.

"Yes," he said; "beastly bore. But I shall be all right in two or three
months; I hope the fighting won't be all over by then."

"Have you sold this gentleman anything?" said the Aunt firmly, "because
Mrs Biddle wants to look at some d'oyleys."

"I'm just selling something," answered Judy. Then she turned to him and
spoke softly. "I say, do you really like dogs?" said she.

"Of course I do." The young man opened surprised grey eyes at her, as
who should say: "Now, do I look like a man who doesn't like dogs?"

"Well, then," she said, "Alcibiades _is_ for sale."

"Is that his name? Why?"

"Oh, surely you know: wasn't it Alcibiades who gave up being dictator or
something rather than have his dog's ears cut off?"

"I seem to remember something of the sort," he said.

"Well," said she, "his price is twenty guineas, but----"

He whistled very softly.

"Yes--I know," she said, "but I'll--yes, Aunt, in one moment!" She went
on in an agonised undertone: "His price is twenty guineas. Say you'll
have him. Say it _loud_. You won't really have to pay anything for
him--No, I'm not mad."

"I'll give you twenty guineas for the dog," said the man, standing
straight and soldierly against the tumbled mass of mats and pin-cushions
and chair-backs.

The Aunt drew a long breath and turned to minister to Mrs Biddle's deep
need of d'oyleys.

"Come and have tea," said the stranger; "you're tired out."

"No--I can't. Of course I can't--but I'll take you over to Mrs Piddock's
stall and----" She led him away. "Look here," she said, "I'm sure you're
a decent sort. Here's the money to pay for him. My aunt says if I don't
sell him she'll have him killed. Will you keep him for me till my people
come home? Oh, do--he really _is_ an angel. And give me your name and
address. You must think me a maniac, but I am so horribly fond of him.
Will you?"

"Of course I will," he said heartily, "but I shall pay for him. I'll
write a cheque: you can pay me when you get him back. Thank you--yes, I
am sure that pin-cushion would delight my aunt."

Judy, with burning cheeks, found her way back to her stall.

"Oh, Alcibiades," she said, unfastening the blue ribbon, "I'm sure he's
nice. Don't bite him, there's a dear!"

A cheque signed "Richard Graeme" and a card with an address came into
Judy's hands, and the chain of Alcibiades left them.

"I know you'll be good to him," she said; "don't give him meat, only
biscuit, and sulphur in his drinking water. But you know all that.
You've got me out of a frightful hole, and I'll bless you as long as I
live. Good-bye." She stooped to the Aberdeen, now surprised and pained.
"Good-bye, my dear old boy!"

And Alcibiades, stubborn resistance in every line of his figure, in
every hair of his coat, was dragged away through the crowded bazaar.

Judy went to bed very tired. The bazaar had been a success, and the
success had been talked over and the money counted till late in the
evening--nearly eleven, that is, which is late for Tabbies--yet she woke
at four. Some one was calling her. It was--no, he was gone--her eyes
pricked at the thought--yet--surely that could be the voice of no other
than Alcibiades? She sat up in bed and listened. It was he! That was his
dear voice whining at the side gate. Those were his darling paws
scratching the sacred paint off it.

Judy swept down the stairs like a silent whirlwind, turned key, drew
bolts, and in a moment she and the cur were "sobbing in each other's
arms."

She carried him up to her room, washed his dear, muddy paws, and spread
her golf cape that he might lie on the bed beside her.

In chilliest, earliest dawn she rose and dressed. She found a wire that
had supported her pictures at the bazaar, and she wrote a note and tied
it to the collar of Alcibiades, where she noticed and untied a frayed
end of rope. This was the note:

     "He has run home to me. Why did you take the chain off? He
     always bites through cord. Don't beat him for it; he'll soon
     forget me."

The tears came into her eyes as she wrote it; it seemed to her so very
pathetic. She did not quite believe that Alcibiades would soon forget
her--but if he did----?

The note did not lack pathos, either, in the eyes of Captain Graeme,
when, two hours later, he found it under the chin of a mournfully
howling Alcibiades, securely attached by picture wire to the railings of
his mother's house.

The Captain took a turn on the Heath, and thought. And his thoughts were
these: "She's the prettiest girl I've seen since I came home. It's
deuced dull here. Shouldn't wonder if she's dull too, poor little girl."

Then he went home and cut a glove in pieces and sewed the pieces
together, slowly but solidly as soldiers and sailors do sew. So that
when, two nights later, the claws and the voice of Alcibiades roused
Judy from sleep--her aunt most fortunately slept on the other side of
the house--she found, after the first rapturous hug of reunion, a
something under the hand that caressed the neck of Alcibiades.

The gaslight in her own room defined the something as a bag of leather,
the tan leather of which gentlemen's gloves are made. There was a bit of
worn strap hanging below it. Within was a note.

     "A thousand thanks for bringing him home. If he _should_ run
     away again, please let me know. And don't trouble to send him
     back. I'll call for him, if I may.

                                        "RICHARD GRAEME."

Judy would very much have liked to let Captain Graeme call, but there
are such things as aunts.

She tied another note to the "cur's" collar and wired him once more to
the Paragon House railings. The note said:

     "It's no use. He can bite through leather. Do use a chain."

Next time Alcibiades returned he dragged a half yard of fine chain. It
was neatly filed, but Judy was a woman and the detail escaped her.

That morning she and Alcibiades slept late, the dressing-bell was
ringing as she woke.

The cook helped; the Aunt most fortunately had a luncheon engagement
with a Tabby in Sidcup. Alcibiades being promised a walk later,
consented to wait, trifling with a bone, in silence and the coal cellar.
At eleven Judy rewarded his patience. She went out with him, and somehow
it seemed wise to put on a pleasant-coloured dress, and one's best furs
and one's prettiest hat.

"I am afraid I shall see him," she told herself; "but," she added, "I am
much more afraid that my aunt will see Alcibiades." On the edge of the
Heath she met him. "Here's the dear dog," she said. "Oh, can't you find
a stronger chain?"

"I'll try," said he. "What a ripping day, isn't it? Oh, are you going
straight back? I wish we'd met anywhere but at a bazaar."

"So do I," she said heartfeltly, and caressed the now careless Aberdeen:
it was at a bazaar that she had had to sell that angel.

"Mayn't I walk home with you?" he said. And she could not think of any
polite way of saying no, though she knew just how terrible Alcibiades
would make the final parting.

Next morning the chain dragged by Alcibiades was slightly thicker; it
also was filed, and this too Judy failed to notice. Early as it was she
did not go out in the mackintosh but in something simple and blue, with
kingfisher's wings in her hat.

The morning was thinly bright. Alcibiades saw a cat and chased it
towards Morden College just as Judy met Captain Graeme. It was, for her,
impossible not to follow the "cur." And how could the Captain do
otherwise than follow, too? And if two people walk together it is
churlish not to talk.

Next day the chain was thicker, the hour propitious, and the walk
longer; that was the day when she found out that he had known her father
in South Africa.

The days passed with a delightful monotony. The Aunt and her pet Tabbies
all day, a sound sleep, an early waking, a heavenly meeting with
Alcibiades at the back door, the restoring of him to his master. And
every day the chain grew heavier, the walks longer, the talks more
interesting and more intimate.

It was very wrong, of course, but what was the girl to do? You cannot be
rude to a man who is saving your dog, your darling, from rat-poisons,
rivers and ropes. And if dogs _will_ break chains, why--so will girls.

It was on Christmas Day that the spell was shattered. Judy awoke at the
accustomed time, but no welcome whine, no pathetic scrabble of eager
paws broke the respectable stillness of the Aunt's house. Judy listened.
She even crept down to the side gate. A feeling of misery, of real
physical faintness came over her. Alcibiades was not there! he had not
come! He had, indeed, forgotten her.

The conviction that the master of Alcibiades would be the last to
appreciate the new attachment of his dog comforted her a little; but for
all that the day was grey, life seemed well-nigh worthless. Judy now had
leisure to reconsider her position, and she was not pleased with
herself. It was in the thick of the Christmas beef that the thought
awoke.

"_He_ is tired of meeting me; he has locked Alcibiades up. If he hadn't,
the darling _must_ have come." Since this solution left Alcibiades
without a stain upon his faithful character, it ought to have been
comforting, but it wasn't.

She felt her cheeks flush.

"Good gracious, child," said the Aunt, "what are you turning that
curious purple colour for? If the fire's too much for you, let Mary put
the screen to the back of your chair, for goodness' sake."

When the plum-pudding's remains had passed away and the perfunctory
dessert was over the Aunt retired to rest.

Judy was left to face the grey afternoon alone. She sat staring into the
fire till her eyes ached. She felt very lonely, very injured, very
forlorn. There was a footfall on the steps--a manly tread; a knock at
the door--a kind of I have-a-perfect-right-to-knock-here-if-I-like sort
of knock.

Judy jumped up to look in the glass and pat her hair, for no one but an
idiot could have helped knowing who it was that stepped and knocked.

He came in.

"Alone?" said he. "What luck! I asked for the Aunt. Meant to say Friend
of your Father's, and all that. But this is better. Judy, I couldn't
stand it.... She's coming. I can hear her."

There was indeed a sound of stout house boots trampling overhead, of
drawers being pulled out, of wardrobe doors being opened.

"I wish everything was different," said he; "but, oh Judy, darling, do
say yes! say it now, this minute; and then when she comes down I can
tell her we're engaged--see?"

       *       *       *       *       *

"It's all very well," said Judy, two hours later, when, with the licence
of an engaged young lady, she said good-bye to her lover at the front
door. "You say you do--and--and yes, of course, I'm glad--but Alcibiades
doesn't love me any more."

"Doesn't he? you wait till I bring him to-morrow!"

"But he never came this morning."

"Poor little beast! Judy, the fact is I've gone on making the chain
heavier and heavier, and this morning--well, it was too much for him. He
couldn't drag it all the way: it was a regular ship's cable, don't you
know? I came up with him at Blackheath Station, and he was so done I had
to carry him all the way home in my arms. He's quite all right again
now; I left him at home, tied to the fire-irons in my bedroom."

"Then he _does_ love me, after all," said Judy.

"Well, he's not the only one," said the Captain.

And at that moment came from the other side of the front door the
familiar whine, the well-known scratching mingled with strange clanking
noises.

Next instant three happy people were embracing on the door-mat amid the
sobs of Judy, the laughter of her lover, the yelps of Alcibiades, and
the deafening rattle of a poker, a pair of tongs, and half a shovel.



  PRINTED AT THE EDINBURGH PRESS, 9 AND 11 YOUNG STREET.


       *       *       *       *       *


                       Transcriber's Note


     Punctuation has been standardized. Hyphenation has been retained
     as it appears in the original publication. The following changes
     were made to the original text:

       Page 21,  "candelabre" changed to "candelabra"
                 (two brass twenty-lighted candelabra)

       Page 32,  duplicate "the" removed from text
                 (Half the students)

       Page 39,  "accordian" changed to "accordion"
                 (her accordion-pleated skirts)

       Page 99,  "stammererd" changed to "stammered"
                 (stammered half a word)

       Page 197, "her's" changed to "hers"
                 (he was hers sincerely)

       Page 276, duplicate "in" removed
                 (Can you call in an hour?)





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