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Title: The Debit Account
Author: Onions, Oliver [pseud.], 1873-1961
Language: English
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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.

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THE DEBIT ACCOUNT

by

OLIVER ONIONS

Author of "In Accordance With the Evidence,"
"The Exception," etc.



George H. Doran Company
New York

Publishers in America for Hodder & Stoughton

Copyright, 1913
By George H. Doran Company



TO
PHILIP CONNARD



CONTENTS

   PART ONE              PAGE
     THE COBDEN CORNER      7

   PART TWO
     VERANDAH COTTAGE      69

   PART THREE
     WELL WALK            149

   PART FOUR
     IDDESLEIGH GATE      239

   ENVOI                  289



PART I

THE COBDEN CORNER


THE DEBIT ACCOUNT

I

One day in the early June of the year 1900 I was taking a walk on
Hampstead Heath and found myself in the neighbourhood of the Vale of
Health. About that time my eyes were very much open for such things as
house-agents' notice-boards and placards in windows that announced that
houses or portions of houses were to let. I was going to be married, and
wanted a place in which to live.

My salary was one hundred and fifty pounds a year. I figured on the
wages-book of the Freight and Ballast Company as "Jeffries, J. H., Int.
Ex. Con.," which meant that I was an intermediate clerk of the
Confidential Exchange Department, and to this description of myself I
affixed each week my signature across a penny stamp in formal receipt of
my three pounds. I could have been paid in gold had I wished, but I had
preferred a weekly cheque, and I took care never to cash this cheque at
our own offices in Waterloo Place. I did not wish it to be known that I
had no banking account. As a matter of fact, I now had one, though I
should not have liked to disclose it to the Income Tax Commissioners.
The reason for this reticence lay in the smallness, not in the
largeness, of my balance. I had learned that in certain circumstances it
pays you to appear better off than you are.

It was a Sunday, a Whit-Sunday, on which I took my walk, and on my way
up from Camden Town across the Lower Heath I had passed among the canvas
and tent-pegs and staked-out "pitches" that were the preparation for the
Bank Holiday on the morrow. Tall _chevaux de frises_ of swings were
locked back with long bars; about the caravans picked out with red and
green, the proprietors of cocoanut-shies and roundabouts smoked their
pipes; and up the East Heath Road there rumbled from time to time,
shaking the ground, a traction-engine with its string of waggons and
gaudy tumbrils.

I was alone. Both my _fiancée_ and the aunt with whom she lived in a
boarding-house in Woburn Place had gone down to Guildford to attend the
funeral of a friend of the family--a Mrs Merridew; and as I had known
the deceased lady by name only, my own attendance had not been
considered necessary. So until lunch-time, when I had an engagement, I
was taking my stroll, with a particular eye to the smaller of the houses
I passed, and many conjectures about the rent of them.

You will remember, if you happen to know that north-western part of
London, that away across the Heath, on the Highgate side, there stands
up among the trees a lordly turreted place, the abode (I believe it then
was) of some merchant prince or other. My eyes had wandered frequently
to this great house, but I had lost it again as I had descended to the
pond with the swans upon it, and approached the tea-garden that, with
its swings and automatic machines, makes a sort of miniature standing
Bank Holiday all the year round. During the whole of a youth and early
manhood of extraordinary hardship (I was now nearing thirty-five) I had
been consumed with a violent but ineffectual ambition, of which those
distant turrets now reminded me.... I had been hideously poor, but,
heaven be thanked, I had managed to get my head above water at last.
Those horrible days were over, or nearly so. I had now, for example, a
banking account; and though I seldom risked drawing a cheque for more
than two pounds without first performing quite an intricate little sum,
the data for which were furnished by my cheque, pass and paying-in books
respectively, still--I had a banking account. I had also good boots, two
fairish suits of clothes (though no evening clothes), an umbrella, a
watch, and other possessions that, three or four years before, had
seemed beyond dreams unattainable.

And when I say that I had for long been ragingly ambitious, I do not
merely mean that I had constantly thought how fine it would be could I
wake up one morning and find myself rich and powerful and respected.
Had that been the whole of it, I don't think I should have differed
greatly from the costers and showmen who dotted the Heath that
Whit-Sunday morning. No; the point rather was, that I saw in the main
how I was going to get what I wanted. I, or rather my coadjutor "Judy"
Pepper and I between us, had ideas that we intended to "play" as one
plays a hand at cards. Therefore, as I walked, I dare say I thought as
much about that distant castellated house as I did about the far humbler
abode I intended to take the moment I could find a suitable one.

I wandered among the alleys and windings of the Vale of Health, noting
the villas with peeling plaster and the weather-boarded and
half-dilapidated cottages that make the place peculiar; and I was
ascending a steep hillock with willows at the foot of it and the level
ridge of the Spaniards Road running like a railway embankment past the
pines at the top, when, chancing to turn my head, I saw what appeared to
be the very place for me.

It could not have been very long empty, for I had passed its door, an
ivy-green one with lace curtains behind its upper panels of glass,
without noticing the usual signs of uninhabitation. Then I remembered
the approaching Quarter Day and smiled. The chances were that somebody
had done a "moonlight flit" and had left the lace curtains up in order
that his going might not be observed. There was no doubt, as I could
see from where I stood, about the place being untenanted now, nor that
it would not remain so for very long. I stood for a moment examining it
from half-way up the hillock.

There was not much of it to examine. It was very small, fronted with
stucco, and had a little square verandah built out on wooden posts over
its tiny garden. More than that I could hardly see of it, but it
adjoined a much larger house, and to this I turned my eyes. This larger
house was a low, French-windowed dwelling, with a pleasantly eaved and
flat-pitched roof, very refreshing to think of in these days of Garden
City roofs and diminutive dormers; and its garden was well kept, and gay
with virginia stock borders and delphinium and Canterbury bells in the
beds behind. It seemed likely that formerly the two houses had been one.

I was descending the hillock for a closer view when I remembered that I
could hardly expect to be shown round that day. I looked at my watch. It
was half-past twelve, and my appointment, which was with Pepper, was not
for another hour. There would be plenty of time for me to walk round by
my turreted place and back by Hampstead Lane. I left the Vale of Health,
crossed the Viaduct, and continued my saunter.

But I walked slowly, and in a deepening abstraction. The sight of that
little house had set my thoughts running on my _fiancée_ again. And as
I presently took that little house, and married my _fiancée_ not long
afterwards, and as, moreover, my meditation of that morning has a good
deal to do with my tale, I had better state at the beginning what the
trouble was, and have done with it.

I had known Evie Soames for close on five years; and though I had loved
her ever since the days when, with her skirt neither short nor long, and
her hair neither loose nor yet properly revealing the shape of her
slender and birch-like nape, she and I had attended the same Business
College in Holborn, it had been only during the last six months that we
had become engaged. On either of our parts a former engagement had ended
abruptly; and this, for her sake at least, was the reason why I would
gladly have had her anywhere but at Guildford that Sunday morning.

For it had been to the late Mrs Merridew's son that she had been
engaged, and the affair had terminated with tragical suddenness indeed.
You cannot but call it tragical when a young man is discovered, on his
wedding morning, hanging by the neck from a hook in his bedroom door,
with a letter in his pocket that only partly sets forth his reason for
taking his life, leaving the rest for the medical evidence to
determine--and then to be kept for very pity from his womenfolk. Yet
this had happened four years before; and it was because I dreaded to
revive the memory of it, and especially to revive the memories of those
subsequent days when Evie must have tormented herself with vain and
fruitless guessings at what a coroner and a jury-panel and a doctor in
Store Street had smothered up among themselves, that I walked brooding
and with downhung head.

And about women generally I had better confess myself at once as, past
praying for, a Philistine. I subscribe to nothing whatever that this New
Man so strangely risen in our midst nowadays appears to hold about the
ancient and changeless feminine. And I take it that most men not
profligates or fools will understand me when I say that I think there
are some things that it is worse than useless that women should know,
and that this sordid four-year-old business was one of them. To those
born to knowledge, knowledge will come; the others will never know, no
matter what the facts of their experience may be. Oh, I had seen these
weak and vainglorious vessels go to Life's Niagara before, thinking to
fill themselves at it--and had seen the flinders into which they had
been dashed. Therefore I had deliberately resolved to stand between Evie
Soames and many things. I ever thought of her as a flower, a flower of
dewy flesh, joining its fragrance to that of the morning of her mind;
and though I knew that that too lovely stage must quickly pass, perhaps
into something better, I could never think of that passing unmoved. I
was prepared to fight for a last--and perhaps impossible--protection of
it. There was much knowledge that I would take on myself for the pair of
us; a few more of life's weals and scars would make no difference to
me.... And if you tell me that this was merely a foredoomed attempt to
keep from her the knowledge of the world into which she had been born,
very well: I accept the responsibility of that. At any rate, she might
find what fantastic explanations she would of the mystery that I and the
jury and a doctor in Store Street could have explained. I would open no
door to admit her to horrors which would haunt her for ever though I
closed it again in a flash.

I hope you see why I cursed that funeral, for bringing even the fringe
of that old shadow back over us again.

So absorbed was I in my meditation, that I passed my turreted house
without noticing it. It was as I was approaching Waterlow Park that a
clock striking one woke me out of my reverie. I shook off the weight of
my thoughts. If this shadow had claimed Evie again, I must put something
in its place when I met her and her aunt at Victoria that evening, that
was all. I had now my coming interview with Pepper to think of.

I faced about and began to descend Hampstead Lane, suddenly occupied
with business, to the exclusion even of Evie.

"Judy" (now Sir Julius) Pepper and I have been partners for ten years
now; and while he is sometimes a little inclined to overrate what he
calls my "imaginative qualities," I on the other hand have never been
able sufficiently to admire his own hard, gay, polished efficiency. I
still think of him, as I thought of him then, as of a diamond, that
could encounter steel and come off with never an angle blunted nor a
facet scratched; and if he in turn likens me to the handle in which that
graver is set, and even to some extent to the guiding power, I pass
that, thinking it as graceful to accept a compliment as to pay one.
Exactly how our combination works is nobody else's concern; the
important thing is, that between us we undoubtedly have made our mark
since those days when he kept up appearances in Alfred Place, W., and I
poked about the Vale of Health in search of a house that should come
within the limits of my three pounds a week.


II

I was leaving the road at the Spaniards and striking across the West
Heath when I came upon him. He also appeared to have been early, and to
have been taking a walk to put away the time.

"Hallo!" I called, and he turned.

He was a short, rosy man of thirty-eight, with an inclination to
plumpness that he only defeated by assiduous exercise; and his silk hat,
"frocker" and grey cashmere trousers might have served some high tailor
for an advertisement plate of perfect clothes. Perhaps they did, for I
don't think that at that time he paid for them otherwise. His shirts and
undergarments, of which he spoke with interest and readiness, were also
perfect; and he not only made me feel in this respect like some rough
bear of a Balzac, always in a dressing-gown, but even gave me, though
quite without offensiveness, that and similar names. He gave me, in
fact, this one now.

"Well, my dear Balzac!" he said, his rosy face breaking as suddenly into
a smile as if a hundred invisible gravers had magically altered its
whole clean modelling. "Out seeking an appetite?"

I laughed. "You're walking last night's supper off, I suppose?"

"N-o," he said, as if impartially looking back on whatever the excellent
meal had been. "No--I'm scaling fairly low just now--just over the
eleven stone. What are you, by the way?"

"Sixteen and a half--but then look at my size!"

He had the neatest and smallest and most resolute mouth, from which came
speech so finished that I never heard a slurred word fall from it. He
made it a little bud now, and whistled.

"Sixteen and a----! I say, you'd better sign on at one of those shows I
saw over there!"

"Well, with you as showman I dare say we should make it pay," I
answered, falling in with this conception of our respective rôles.

His smile vanished as magically as it had come.

"Well, that's what we're going to talk about," he said; "but after lunch
will do.... What sort of a tree do you call that, now?"

That was one of Judy's little affectations. He knew as well as I did
that the tree at which he pointed was a birch, and I had thought, the
first time I had exposed this dissimulation in him, that he would not
try it on again. Fond hope! Though you knew that Pepper was laughing in
his sleeve at you, and let him see you knew it, his face remained
translucent and impenetrable as adamant.... So he took it as a piece of
new and interesting information that the tree was a birch, and we walked
on....

I had first met Pepper, or rather he had first spotted me, at the
F.B.C., and we were both still at the offices in Waterloo Place. But
while Pepper still moved his little wooden blocks (representing trains
and ships) about vast box-enclosed maps with glass lids that shut down
and locked, solving for the Company intricate problems of transport and
the distribution of produce and manufactured stuff, he had already
crossed the line that divides the Mercantile from the Political, or at
least from the Administrative. Already that highly tempered
cutting-point of manner had made a way for him into circles where I have
never been at my ease; and dining once a month or oftener with the
President and a Permanent Official of the Board of Trade, he was a
valuable channel of information in such matters as Arbitration and the
settlement of Trade Disputes. And he had been quicker than I to see the
Achilles' heel of our complicated mercantile economy. Hitherto this
vulnerable spot had been conceived to lie in Production, as in the last
resort it certainly does; but short of that and actual industrial war,
there was the equally effective and less perilous paralysis, the secret
of which lay in Distribution. Shipping lines, railways and the postal
organisation were the real nervous system; and Judy Pepper,
strike-preventer rather than strike-breaker, was getting the ju-jitsu of
it at his finger ends long before Syndicalism became aware of one of its
most potent weapons.

You will see the manifold bearings of this on a Democratic Age.

And it was no less bold a move than our secession together from the
F.B.C. and setting up on our own account that we were to discuss at
lunch at the Bull and Bush that day.

We walked along a short street with cottages on one side and a high wall
on the other, passed under the fairy-lamps of the Bull and Bush arch,
and sought one of the little trellised bowers at the edge of the lawn.

Waiters always bestirred themselves to attend to Pepper, and the two who
approached us at once neglected earlier comers to do so. Pepper gave his
order, and we went through the Sunday "ordinary." Then he ordered coffee
and liqueurs, bidding the waiter leave the bottle of _crème de menthe_
on the table and not disturb us again. He lighted a cigar; I, not yet a
practised smoker, fumbled with a cigarette, at the pasteboard packet of
which I saw my ally's glance; and then, spreading a number of papers
before him, he plunged into business.

It was highly technical, and I will not trouble you with more of it than
bore on our immediate secession from the F.B.C.--a step to which I was
strongly averse.

"You see," Pepper urged presently, "this Campbell Line award
precipitates matters rather." (I shook my head, but he went on.) "As a
precedent it's going to make an enormous difference. I'll show you the
Trinity Master's statement presently.... No, no, wait till I've
finished.... It means among other things a revision of the whole
Campbell scale, and the other lines will have to follow. Then that'll
make trouble with Labour, and Robson and the Board of Trade come in.
Here's Robson's letter; better make a note of it. You don't write
shorthand, do you?"

"N-o."

"Hm! You hardly seem quite sure whether you do or not!... Well, I'll get
Miss Levey to make an abstract for you. Here's what he says...."

And he began to read from the letter.

As he did so I was wondering what on earth had made me tell him I didn't
write shorthand. I do write shorthand. I keep, as a matter of fact, much
of my private journal in shorthand, and I had not the slightest
objection to Pepper or anybody else knowing of my accomplishment.... And
yet, as if Pepper had somehow taken me off my guard, that doubtful "N-o"
had come out. I bit my lip.

"Well," he concluded, folding the letter again, "there you have it. Of
course I see what you mean about our using the F.B.C. for the present,
merely as a going machine; but this seems to me to outweigh that.... You
still don't think so?"

I still did not. Laboriously, for I never could make a speech in my
life, I set my reasons before him. He nodded from time to time, opening
and shutting his slender silver pencil.

"So you still think wait?" he mused by-and-by. It was evident that I had
not spoken in vain.

"You can be going ahead with all you want to do as we are, and for the
rest I'd wait and see what happened."

"Of course there's this war----" he admitted reluctantly.

"It's not the war. It's what'll happen after the war."

"Well," he said, with a shrug, "you know you're my heaven-sent find, and
that I'm going to keep you to myself.... So we wait? That's decided?"

"Wait," I repeated doggedly.

Then, as if he had sufficiently tested my belief in myself, that smile
broke over his agate of a face again. He leaned back to look at me.

"You're an extraordinary chap!" he positively sparkled fondness at me.
"What are you getting now at the F.B.C.--three pounds?"

"Still I say wait," I said, nodding once or twice.

"And getting married on it!" he marvelled.

"Almost immediately."

Then Pepper laughed outright. "Well, I won't say you're like the chap
who asked for a rise to get married on. 'You get married--you'll get the
rise then!' his boss told him." Then, the smile going out again, he
added, "And suppose we're forestalled on this new scale of rates?"

I spoke with strongly suppressed energy. "They can't forestall you and
me. Don't you see? Don't you see we're _hors concours_--in a class by
ourselves? We are what they can only make a bluff at being--ever! 'There
is a tide'--but it hasn't got to be taken before the flood!"

He took the whole of me in in one shining look, as a camera might have
seen me. He was openly admiring me.

"By Jove," he burst out, "but you don't lack confidence!... Of course
you see the joke?"

"You mean--'Jeffries, J. H., Int. Ex. Con., £3'--two-ten for his
suits--eighteenpence for his dinners--getting married--and still hanging
back from this because it's going to pay fifty times better twelve
months from now?" That, I took it, was the joke.

"And you're quite--quite--sure?" he dared me for the last time, his face
radiant.

I brought my hand softly down on the table. "Yes!" I cried. "I'm talking
what I _know_--you're only talking what you _think_!"

His small manicured hand flew out to my great one.

"Oh--bravo!" he cried. "Wait it is, then. By Jove, when it does come,
you'll have deserved it!... Here, shove your glass over--I believe
you're entirely right--but if it was only for your consummate cheek we
should have to drink to it!"

And he filled up the two glasses with the vivid green liqueur again,
touching his against mine.

I left him shortly after, or rather he left me in order to keep one of
his urgent and mysterious appointments; and I wandered slowly down
towards my own abode.

This was a large upper room near the Cobden Statue--a proximity that for
some reason or other always afforded my partner-to-be private mirth. I
had taken it because its size fitted it both for living purposes and for
the storing of the things I had got against my marriage as well. It was
the fourth of the five floors of a new, terra-cotta-fronted, retail
drapery establishment (experience had taught me that the biggest rooms
are always over shops); and from its plate-glass windows below to its
sham gables held up like pieces of stage scenery by iron braces above,
it was a mass of ridiculous ornament--coats of arms, swags of fruit and
flowers, and feeble grotesques with horns and tails and grins, the whole
looking as if it had been squeezed on from some gigantic pink icing-tube
such as they use for the modelling of wedding-cakes. But I lived inside
it, not outside, and I had made the place exceedingly comfortable. I
had no fewer than four large windows, two looking over the High Street,
one diagonally from a rounded corner, and the fourth over the little
railing-enclosed garden of a neighbouring crescent. As I was high enough
up to dispense with blinds and curtains, these four windows admitted a
flood of admirable light on an interior that, large as it was, was
over-furnished; and there was no frippery to prevent my throwing up my
sashes and looking down among the terra-cotta gargoyles on the walking
hats below.

Evie and I had done much of our six months' courting in second-hand
dealers' shops. Resolving that our engagement should be a short one, and
knowing that those who have little either of money or time have, in
furnishing as in everything else, to pay through the nose for their
purchases, we had started at once. What had remained of a sum of money
Evie's aunt had long had in trust for her against her one day setting up
housekeeping on her own account had enabled us to do this. At first the
sum had been one hundred and fifty pounds; a former purchase of
clothing, of which only the black garments had ever been worn, had
reduced it by more than a third; and of what had become of more than
half the balance my light, lofty room now bore witness.

It improved my spirits to be among our joint belongings, and by the time
I had made tea for myself, much of my despondency of earlier in the day
had gone. I looked round, and began to tell myself over again the story
of our acquisitions. There was not a piece that did not contribute its
chapter. That bow-fronted chest of drawers with the old mirror on it we
had first seen on a pavement in Upper Street, Islington; and we had had
a long debate in Miss Angela Soames' sitting-room in Woburn Place before
deciding to buy it--a debate much interrupted by less practical matters,
with Miss Angela's pink-shaded lamp turned economically low, and Miss
Angela herself intelligently off to bed. I had only to look at our odd
assortment of chairs in order to see Evie again as she had stood in the
dim back parts of this shop or that--to see again the whites of her
eyes, brilliant as if her skin had been a Moor's, her hair dark as a
black sweet-pea, the round neck with the little pulse in it, and the
slender, just-grown lines of bosom or back or hips as she stooped or
straightened. Over one extravagance her voice had broken out in shocked
and delicious reproach; over another happy find she had had to turn away
lest the dealer should see her eagerness and increase the price; and
there had been laughs and bickerings and confusions and byplays without
number.... I have become something of a connoisseur since then; but
nothing I have acquired at Spink's or Christie's means to me what those
coppery old Sheffield cream-jugs and caddies and those now-valuable
sketches of Billy Izzard's meant....

Then, at seven o'clock, I washed, put on my hat, and went out. Evie and
her aunt were due to arrive at Victoria at a quarter to eight.

I picked them out by their attire far down the platform, and advanced to
meet them. With a leap of relief I noted Evie's little quickening as she
saw me. Black "suited" Miss Angela Soames--suited her tower of white yet
young-looking hair, as it also suited her habits of rather aimless
retrospect and toying with stingless memories; but I hoped that Evie's
present wearing of her four-year-old mourning would be her last.
Naturally, she had not passed the day without tears. Her eyes were
large, sombre patches; she held in her hand a little hard ball of damp
handkerchief; and I noticed that a little graveside clay still adhered
to the toes of her boots. But I judged that a night's rest would set her
up again, and as we rumbled in a bus past the Houses of Parliament and
up Whitehall, I bespoke her time for the afternoon of the morrow. I
asked her, could she guess why? and, putting the screwed-up handkerchief
away, she said something about the F.B.C.

"No," I replied,--"not directly, that is."

"Mr Pepper?"

"No."

Then, the decorum of her sorrow notwithstanding, she gave my sleeve a
quick, light touch.

"_Not_ a house, Jeff--you don't mean that you've found a _house_!"

But I refused to tell her. It was better that her mind should be
occupied with guessing.


III

As I have said, I took that house in the Vale of Health. It wanted only
three weeks of the June Quarter, so that I had to take it or leave it
without overmuch delay. Evie and I went up to see it on the following
day, and a scramble indeed we had to force our way through the Bank
Holiday crowds. It took me nearly half-an-hour to get the key at the
neighbouring tea-garden, where I had been told I must apply; on that
day, they said, they couldn't be bothered; but I got it, and at the mere
sight of the outside of the little house Evie gave a soft "Oh!" of
pleasure.

"_What_ a little darling!" she said. "Look--a separate tradesmen's
entrance--and a little garden--and the Heath at our very door! I wonder
what it's like inside!" she added, much as she still scans the
handwriting and postmark of a letter for a minute for information she
could have at once by opening it.

"I don't know yet," I replied.

"You dear, not to have seen it before me!"

I put the key into the glass-panelled door, and we entered.

Later I came to hate that little house; but that day, with Evie's
spirits still a little tremulous, I did not dwell on drawbacks. It had
only four rooms, two on each floor, and we walked straight from the
street into the room that later became our dining-room. Behind this lay
the kitchen, completing our ground-plan. Facing the door by which we had
entered, and with a triangular cupboard underneath it, rose a carved and
worn wooden staircase, that turned on itself after three or four steps
and gave access to the floor above. Here the drawing-room exactly
repeated the dining-room, as did the single bedroom the kitchen. But the
drawing-room, besides having an extra window over the street door, had
also the feature I had seen from the hillock on the previous day--the
platform or verandah built out on wooden posts over the garden. This was
gained by two steps and a glass door at the end of the room, and it
provided me with my first disappointment. For, when I stepped out on to
it, I found that we had _no_ garden. The garden belonged to the
adjoining house, the tenant of which had, moreover, secured his privacy
by building in our little platform with a screen of boards and trellis.
There would be just room enough on our little quarter-deck for a
tea-table and a couple of chairs; but of prospect, save for the side of
the hillock, had we none. For the rest, ceilings sagged, the worn old
floor creaked and did not seem over-safe, the panelling (the whole place
was wood-lined) was badly cracked, and the late tenants had turned the
bath into a dustbin and general receptacle for rubbish.

I saw Evie warm to the drawing-room, our best room, at once. Already in
her mind she was arranging our furniture. I, for my part, content to see
her kindling interest, began to poke my nose into corners, making notes
of such things as waterpipes, locks, window fastenings and the like. I
squeezed into the narrow bathroom again; I am a little squeamish about
baths, and, not much liking the pattern of this one, was wondering
whether it could be altered; but the room was little more than a
prolongation of a bedroom cupboard out over the staircase, and there
would have been no changing the bath without pulling half the interior
down. I bumped my head against its floor as I descended the stairs
again, and passed into the diminutive yard that had the verandah for a
roof. There I inspected a coal-house, and peeped through a knot-hole
into my neighbour's garden. Then I sought Evie in the drawing-room
again.

"Well?" I said, smiling, as she advanced to meet me....

Outside, the air was jocund with the incessant sounds of singing,
calling, penny trumpets, the steam organs of the distant roundabouts,
and all the bustle of the holiday. From our little verandah we could see
the sides of the hillock dotted with picnic parties and coster lads in
their bright neckerchiefs and girls in feathers and black lamb's-wool
coats, making love after their own fashion. A party came round the
house, singing and playing on mouth organs a dragging sentimental
song--arms linked about necks, feet breaking into little step-dances,
and feathers shaking from time to time to kisses that resembled
assaults; and I was glad of it all. It was precisely what I would have
chosen for Evie that day. She was dressed in brown again; a brown
jacket, brown velvet skirt, close brown toque of pheasants' feathers,
and brown shoes that showed their newness under their slender arches as
she walked; no more black! For Life, after all, was made for joy. We had
youth, she and I, in a truer sense than that of fewness of years--we had
the youth which is Hope. Oh, I thought, let us then meet the years to
come singingly--if a little stridently no matter--believing in our
luck--full and spilling over--and taking as it came, like these outside,
all the fun and dust and heat and perspiration of the fair! So I
thought, and Evie too took the contagion. We were standing by the glass
door of the verandah when suddenly she crushed herself hard and
impulsively against me. I knew what she meant. It did not need the
little tight grip of her hand to tell me that all was now "all right." I
drank those tidings from the deep wells of her eyes. And because the
flesh had little part in this promise, but must for once give place to
other things, I did not seek her lips. Instead, my own moved for a
moment about her hair....

Then a burst of catcalling caused us to fly from the verandah doorway.
We had been seen from the hillside by the party with the mouth organs.
Evie, adorably red, gave a low laugh ... and this time I did kiss her,
to fresh cheers and calls of "Wot cher!" The lads and lasses outside did
not see the caress, but perhaps, after all, it was not very wonderful
thought-reading.

Then, after another delighted tour, we locked the house up and came out
on to the Heath again.

And now that the scales of preoccupation were removed from our eyes, we
could look on all the life and colour and movement spread before us and
feel ourselves part of it. It was well worth looking at. There is a long
ravine near the Viaduct; we looked across it through a bright stipple of
sunny birches; and to close the eyes for a second or two only was to
see, on reopening them, a new picture. Purple and lavender and the black
lamb's-wool coats pervaded that picture; the colours were sown over the
hillside like confetti. They moved slowly, as coloured granules might
have moved in some half-fluid suspension; and spaces that one moment
were spangled with them, the next were unexpectedly empty patches of
green. I am speaking of the thing in the mass, as of a panorama.
Doubtless the sprinkling of white that lay everywhere would resolve
itself on the morrow into torn paper, to be laboriously impaled on
spiked sticks and carried away in baskets; doubtless to-day much of it
on a nearer view would consist of impure complexions and rank odour; but
it was strong and piping-hot Life, inspiring, infinitely analysable, and
irresistibly setting private griefs and joys and over-emphasised
sensations into place and proportion.... And as we left the Viaduct road
and approached a great show in a hollow, the increasing din of a steam
organ became as if we waded deeper and deeper into a sea, not of water,
but of sound.

I only remembered that I still had the key of the little house in my
pocket as we pushed and jostled through the crowded town of striped
canvas that covered the Lower Heath. My fingers encountered it as we
took a back way behind a long fluttering sheet against which cocoanut
balls smacked every moment. It was necessary to return with it; and, as
men behind the lace-curtained caravans began to make ready the naphtha
lights for the evening, we turned into another thoroughfare down which
the purple and lamb's-wool and lavender and bright neckerchiefs poured
as if down a river-bed. In twenty minutes we had reached the tea-garden
again; I spied a couple in the act of leaving a leafy arbour that held a
table awash with spilt beer; and I put Evie into a still warm seat and
bade her hold it against all comers. I left her, and presently returned
with two glasses, of which I had managed to retain the greater part of
the contents; and I sat down by her.

"Did you give them the key?" she asked, seizing my arm.

"Yes, I gave them 'the' key. I'm going to see the agent to-morrow."

"Oh, Jeff!" She said it as if there was something miraculous in it that
an agent might actually consent to be seen about that little house on
the morrow.

"That is, unless to-morrow's a holiday too."

"Oh, you _must_ go!" she broke out. "It would be _too_ awful if we were
to miss it!"

Then, as a waiter came with a sopping cloth to wipe down the table, we
ceased to talk.

Already they were beginning to light up everywhere. The crowded garden
became a complexity of ceaselessly moving shadows with a hundred little
accidents of light--the flames of sudden matches, yellow shafts as
people moved aside from windows, the twinkling festoons of the arbours,
the gleam of liquid spilt on tables. A glow like that of a furnace rose
behind the trees in front of us, and over the tree-tops rose swinging
boats, sometimes one, sometimes two or three at a time, with lads
standing with bent knees on the seats and the girls' feathers tossing
and boas flying in the golden haze. The noise became a ceaseless
twanging everywhere, and I watched with amusement a half-drunk but
wholly happy sailor at the next table, who nodded sleepily from time to
time, then looked with wideawake and amiable defiance about him, and had
quite forgotten that he wore his companion's hat hearsed with black
feathers.

"Do you want to change hats?" I said to Evie, with a glance at her
pheasants' feather toque.

"No--but----" I saw her own glance at the sailor's thick wrist, which
had appeared on our side of his companion.

The next moment, though with protests, she was leaning farther back in
the shadow.

Then, close and in murmurs, we began to talk.

I am not going to claim for Evie that she ever had any very remarkable
gift of tongues. I don't mean that on occasion she couldn't talk for
half a day on end; but I do mean that beyond a certain point she
displayed a diffidence, talk became something of an adventure to her,
and she had a way of advancing upon a silence as if it was a fortified
place, to be carried by assault, and not to be won by beleaguering.
Therefore, seeing her now sensible of a new liberation and joy, I was
not unprepared for little excesses, things said out of mere fulness, and
perhaps even to be slightly regretted on the morrow.

Yet I didn't want fulness on the subjects of which she now began to ease
her breast. I didn't want to hear of the events of the day before, nor
of the people who had been there, nor of whether these people had or
had not "thought it odd" that she should have become re-engaged. I
didn't want to hear about the late Mrs Merridew's lingering and comatose
illness. And when, in a burst of almost passionate candour, she spoke of
the relief it was to be able at last to unburden herself thus, I would
gladly have stopped her had I known how. But I lacked the courage to
tell her, when she asked me whether I did not think it a good idea that
she should keep nothing secret from me, that I thought it the worst of
ideas.

"You see, Jeff," she murmured, out of a beautiful sense of rest and
surrender, "I do so want ours to be a friendship as well as a marriage!"

Already the nearness and warmth of her had set me trembling. I don't
know that I wanted more "friendship" than needs be; I wanted something,
oh, far deeper and rarer. I wanted that full treasury of her warm blood
and odorous hair and large and mobile eyes. Friendship? I laughed
softly, and gathered these beauties closer.... Understand, I don't for a
moment mean that she was unaware of these possessions of hers; I call
that oval mirror that later we set up in our bedroom to witness that;
but she merely wanted something else, being human, and wanted it the
more, being feminine. And as she told me now what she wanted our
marriage to be, she put me away a little, with her hands on my breast.

"Don't you, too, darling?" she appealed, with a look that put
"friendship" quite out of existence....

"Don't I what, rogue?"

"Want it to be like that."

"No," I bantered, adoring her....

"Oh! Then there's something you won't tell _me_!... Very well," she
pouted, "keep your old secrets, but I shall tell you everything for all
that, just to shame you...."

With a laugh I was drawing her towards me again, when I was arrested by
a circumstance so oddly trivial that I really hesitate to set it down.
The first I knew of it was that with an involuntary and nervous start I
had checked the movement, and had put her slowly away again, looking
into her face as a moment before she had looked into mine. To explain
what I saw there I must mention that, a few minutes before, the sailor
and his girl had risen from the next table and lurched away, their heads
together making an apex that wobbled over its base of purple skirt and
wide trousers; but I had been only dimly conscious of the noise with
which a fresh party had pounced upon their empty places. Now suddenly
our alcove was filled with a raw crimson shine. Evie's face, as I held
it away, was as if a stage fire glared upon it. And scarcely had the
bloodshot light died away when it came again, another violent flood....

I had looked round in less time than it has taken me to explain this. It
was only one of the newcomers playing with a penny box of Bengal
matches. He struck another. This was a green one, and as he waved the
spluttering thing about the shadows of leaves ran to and fro in our
little interior.

Then as the match went out, all became an ashy darkness again.


Why, at the mere striking of those fusees, had all the life and joy
suddenly gone out of me? I did not know.... But stay; I am not sure that
in this I do not lie. Perhaps it would be nearer the truth to say that I
would not know, and yet again that is not all.... Perhaps I had better
pass on; you may know soon enough, if you care, what was the matter. Red
and gold would now have been better suited to those two mainsprings of
my life, my Love and my Ambition; but suddenly to change the gold into
green, the hated hue of my past Jealousy....

Let me pass on. The thing will soon be clear.


For a minute and more I had hardly heard Evie's chatter, but presently I
became conscious that she was repeating a phrase, as if a little
surprised that she got no answer. I roused myself.

"Eh?... What were you saying, dear?" I apologised.

As if the striking of those matches had made an alteration in her too,
her playfulness had vanished. Apparently another little access of
candour had taken its place. Evidently I had missed some necessary link,
for she was now murmuring, "Poor dear--I haven't been able to get her
out of my head--it seems wrong somehow that I should be so happy and
she----"

"She?... Who?" I asked in surprise, now fully awake again.

Evie mentioned a name. At the next table another crimson match went off,
leaving, as it died down fumily, the yellow twinklings of the garden a
bilious green. I spoke slowly. The name she had mentioned had been that
of my own former _fiancée_.

"Kitty Windus?" I said. "What about her?"

Evie made no answer, but only stroked her cheek against the cloth of my
shoulder--a familiar gesture of hers.

"I'm afraid I don't quite understand," I said.

Nor did I quite. I could not believe she was jealous. If Evie was
jealous, never, never woman had had less cause. Except as the bitterest
of mockeries, I had never been engaged to any woman but herself, for
only that old horrible poverty and despair of mine had been the cause of
my playing a trick with more of the falsely theatrical about it than of
real life--the deliberate engaging of myself to one woman as a means to
getting another. The impossible situation had lasted for a few months
only, and had then ended in the abrupt vanishing, without explanation,
of Kitty Windus from that part of London in which she had lived. From
that day to this I had not set eyes on her.

I leaned over Evie. "Dearest," I said gently, "do you mean that there's
something you would like to know about Kitty?"

Then, with a little shock, she seemed to realise that I might think what
in fact had for the moment crossed my mind--that she was jealous of
Kitty.

"Oh, Jeff ... no, no--really no!" she assured me in tones of which there
was no mistaking the sincerity. "I didn't mean that--poor thing!--I was
only joking when I said there was something you wouldn't tell me! Oh, do
see what I mean, dear! It's only because _I'm_ so happy that I want
everybody else to be--Kitty too--everybody! Really that's all, Jeff!"

It was not quite all, though it was enough to make my heart a little
lighter. Mingled with it was something very human that only endeared her
to me the more. Her glow and vitality had always put poor Kitty's
skimpiness completely into the shade, and what ailed her now was that
wistful longing of the victress to be magnanimous that is the uneasy
aftercrop of triumph. On herself it had all the effect of a generosity,
but that, and not jealousy, was really it....

"Well, after all, we don't know that she isn't happy," I said
cheerfully. "Anyway, she pleased herself, and--it's four years ago....
Just listen to the row!"

I was glad of the diversion that came just then. Led by a Jew's harp,
the party at the next table had broken into "Soldiers of the Queen," and
for the five hundredth time that day the song had "caught on" instantly.
The whole garden was now vociferating it, standing on seats, dancing
between the tables, their rising and falling heads a dark and bizarre
tumult in the conflicting lights. At the gate of the garden a
barrel-organ stopped and took up the same song in another key, but they
drowned it:--


     "Who've b--ee--een--my lads!
     And s--ee--een--my lads!"


Talk in that uproar was impossible, and again there enwrapped us that
strong sense of rich and rough and abundant life. As we leaned over our
little table to watch, Evie's finger was moving in time to the song, and
even the thought of the little house a few hundred yards away
disappeared for a moment from my own mind. A chair with a couple of
girls upon it broke, and there were shrieks and applause and whistles
and laughter; and then the song began to die away. Cheers followed it,
and cheers again, for throats cheered readily then; and then our
neighbours of the next table formed themselves into single file, and,
with a last shrill


     "Who've b--ee--een--my lads!
     And s--ee--een--my lads!"


marched round the garden and out into the crowds beyond. I seized my
opportunity. Evie and I followed them, I with her tucked safely away
under my arm; and we joined the dense stream that was already pouring
southwards. And as I struggled for places on a bus at Hampstead Heath
Station, my heart was grateful for that illusion of the day that had
banished, first, the remnant of Evie's sorrow, and had afterwards cut
short that impossible course of unmeasured confidences to which that
moodiness had given rise.


IV

I began to foresee those inconveniences that afterwards made me hate
that house in the Vale of Health as soon as I had signed my contract and
got the key. The contract was for a year only, and as for any period
less than three years the agents had refused to "do up" the place for
me, I became plasterer, painter and plumber myself. I suppose that from
the strictly conventional point of view Evie ought to have had no hand
in this; indeed, she read me, from the "Etiquette" column of one of her
weekly papers, a passage that informed me that between her choice of a
house and her going into it as its mistress in the eyes of all the world
a bride-elect ought to betray no knowledge of that house's existence;
but as she delivered this from over the bib of an enormous apron,
holding the journal in one hand, while the fingers of the other rubbed
the lumps out of a bucket of whitewash, the knowledge came too late to
be of much use. Anyway, there we were, with Miss Angela or an old
charwoman or else nobody at all for chaperon, scraping walls, mixing
paint, puttying cracks, fixing shelves, dragging at obstinate old nails;
and seeing that from the point of view of Etiquette we were already
numbered with the lost, we made no bones about walking into a shop in
Tottenham Court Road together and brazenly asking to be shown the
bedstead department. After that we took tea, with never a human eye upon
us, in my lofty room near the Cobden Statue. Doubtless this cut us off
finally from that dim eschatological hope when even the devil shall have
his respite of a thousand years. Our only solace was that we found
ourselves in the company of a good many others who have to square their
Etiquette with their opportunities as best they can.

But about those inconveniences. Why, with the whole Heath before them,
the children on their way to or from school should make our doorstep
their playground I didn't know; but they did, and it needed no gift of
prophecy to see that when the schools closed later in the summer they
would be an almost hourly nuisance. That was the first thing that struck
me. Next, the crown of my head was like to be sore from many bumpings
before I had learned to avoid the bathroom floor as I mounted our
creaking, turning stairs. Next, ready as I should have been to secure my
own garden from overlooking had I had one, I resented that screen of
trellis that limited the view from our little balcony to the slope of
hillside opposite. Add to these that not a window-sash fitted within
half or three-quarters of an inch, that not a door was truly hung, that,
wherever I wanted to make good a hinge or fastening, the woodwork was
soft as a mushroom with old screwholes, and that I should have ruined a
whole shopful of tools had I even attempted to level our splintery old
floor, and you will see why I rejoiced to think that our tenancy might
not be a very long one. But I need hardly add that, after all, these
things weighed but a trifle against my impatience, and that I was
careful not to let Evie suppose that I did not think our little nook the
most delightful spot imaginable.

As a matter of fact I was compelled to leave a large part of the work to
Evie; and capitally she did it. She had forgotten her old smattering of
business training so completely that she always found it easier to go
through her day's duties than she did to balance her expenditure
afterwards in the highly ornamental "Housekeeper's Book" I bought for
her; and while I was allowed my way in such unimportant things as where
we should put our old-fashioned chests of drawers and Sheffield caddies
and those sketches of Billy Izzard's, the department that began with the
frying-pan and ended with general cleaning was hers. I had given her a
second key, not only of the new house, but also of my own quarters in
Camden Town; and sometimes at the F.B.C. I would look up from my work,
gaze past the Duke of York's Column with its circling pigeons and away
over the Mall, and wonder what she was doing now--taking our new
dinner-service from its crates and washing it, peeping down the long
cylinder of kitchen linoleum and wishing I was there to cut it to the
floor, lighting fires to get rid of the damp, or (strictly against
orders) scrubbing out the bath which, later, strive as I would, I could
never successfully re-enamel. Then in the evening I would hasten for the
Hampstead bus, stride up from the Heath Station, and, arrived at home,
throw off my coat, put up shelves, fit carpets, see how my new paint (an
ivory white) was drying, and only knock off when, not Etiquette, but the
lateness of the hour and the distance I had to take Evie home compelled
me.

I liked the daily life at the F.B.C. Our various departments were to a
great extent isolated, so that the intermediate clerks like myself could
only guess at the relation of their own portion of the work to the whole
intricate business; but I have told you how I myself was privately "let
in on the ground floor" by Pepper. I had three "Juns. Ex. Con." as my
immediate subordinates, and they were first-rate fellows, and amusing
company into the bargain. All three, Whitlock, Stonor and Peddie, were
younger than I by some years; and as they were all bachelors, and there
was plenty of time yet for them to begin to take their work very
seriously, they showed not a trace of envy of me. Indeed, being rather
"doggish" in their dress, and reckoning the work of the day as little
more than a killing of time until the pleasures of the evening should
begin, they even made something of a pet of their "Balzac in a
dressing-gown"; and as if the nearness of our offices to Piccadilly put
on them some responsibility that the character for gaiety of that gay
part of London should not suffer through their negligence, they had an
air of owning the quarter. They furnished drinks at Epitaux's as a man
might in his own house, and introduced their companions at Stone's as if
they had been veritable guests. True, funds did not often run to the old
Continental over the way; but they knew by sight many of the loungers
who entered its portals from four o'clock in the afternoon on, and would
exchange intelligent glances over their filing or posting as suède
boots, or picture hat, or something that looked as if it had stepped out
of Stagg & Mantle's window tripped seductively by.

Pepper, of course, was my own immediate superior, as I was of my three
boys; and while our private arrangement put me after office hours
straightway on a level with the mandarins of the concern, we strictly
kept our respective positions at Waterloo Place. I prepared drafts for
him of such matters as Paying Ballast, Railway Digests, the daily
postings at Lloyd's and the fluctuations of Insurance Rates; and these
he changed into factors of policy in high council with the lords of
other departments. His private office was immediately above ours; and
twenty times a day his secretary, Miss Levey, descended the broad mosaic
staircase or came down in the gilt and upholstered lift, either
commanding my attendance, or bringing me instructions. It was a
"wheeze" among my three boys to pose as her admirers, but I never
thought she was quite so unconscious of their real thoughts as they
supposed.

I was going to pass on; but while I am about it I may as well say a
little more about this Miss Levey, and my reasons for regarding her as a
person to be rather carefully watched. She was short, and a victim to
her race's tendency to early stoutness; and as she had no neck, and
always wore hats far too large for her, her appearance was top-heavy. Of
her too large and prominent features her pot-hook nose was the most
prominent. Her manner towards myself was that of one who would have
liked to be familiar, but lacked the confidence; and doubtless her
perpetual hovering on the confines of a liberty arose out of some slight
acquaintance she had had with Evie in the days of her business training.
As if Evie's health was as liable to fluctuations as the Export charts
and Trade returns on our walls, Miss Levey never omitted to inquire
after it each morning, becoming daily more _empressée_ as our engagement
proceeded; but so far she had not succeeded in what I divined to be her
object, an invitation to renew the old acquaintance. And though I could
keep the greater part of our intercourse strictly to business, I could
hardly avoid occasional meetings on the stairs, in the lift, or
sometimes a walk up Lower Regent Street with her as far as the Circus.

It was during the course of one of these short walks, one lunch-time,
that, having obtained from me her daily bulletin, Miss Levey rather put
me in a hole by asking me what I thought Evie would like for a wedding
present. Secretly I neither wanted a wedding present from Miss Levey nor
wished Evie to receive one, but I could hardly give her the slap on the
face of telling her so. Instead I answered, a little abruptly, that I
really didn't know--that it was awfully kind of her--and that she wasn't
to think of it; but she did not take the hint. So, knowing her capacity
for swallowing, but not forgetting snubs, and really feeling that
perhaps I had gone a little too far, I hastened to repair a possible
rudeness. We were approaching the tea-shop near the Circus at which I
usually lunched; we reached it, and paused together on the kerb; and
then, on the spur of the moment, I suggested that she should lunch with
me. With a little demonstration of pleasure she accepted, and we entered
and took our places at a small round table in the shadow of the
pay-desk.

I knew, of course, that I had been cornered, and that she knew it too;
but in these cases the thick-skinned person always has the advantage. I
resolved that that advantage should be as slight as possible. And for a
time--though probably not for one moment longer than she wished--I
succeeded. As she ate her rissole and sipped her chocolate she talked
with animation of this and that--the morning's business, the people in
the crowded shop, the theatres, and so on; and then she returned to the
subject of the wedding present, the date of my marriage, where we were
going to live, and the rest of it. I was as reserved as my unwillingly
given invitation allowed me to be, but presently I had to promise to ask
Evie what form she would like the present to take. With that, Miss Levey
went off at score, speaking of Evie as she had known her.

"I suppose she's prettier than ever?" she said. "Such a lovely girl I
used to think her! I'm sure you're very lucky, Mr Jeffries, if you don't
mind my saying so!"

I did rather mind her saying anything about it at all, but I answered
quite conventionally that I considered myself very lucky indeed.

"Those were jolly days!" she passed on into reminiscence. "I loved that
poky little old place in Holborn!... Do you remember the Secretary Bird,
Mr Jeffries?"

I did remember Weston, the wan, middle-aged "professor."

"Poor old soul! I wonder if he's going with them to the new place? Of
course you know they're pulling the old one down?"

"Yes."

"Such a huge one, that one in Kingsway! All the latest
improvements--everything! But it won't ever be the same to me.... 'Not
room to turn round'?... No, I suppose there wasn't, but I suppose I'm
rather faithful to old places and old faces. You aren't, Mr Jeffries?"

"Not just because they're old," I fancied.

"Oh, I think I am, just because they're old!" she replied brightly.

From faces and places she passed to names, though--this was quite
marked--only to certain ones; and I became rather obstinately silent
except when she actually paused for a remark. For far more significant
were the names she omitted than those she pronounced. These, indeed, she
positively had the effect of shouting at me, and I suppose it was some
heavy-handed delicacy that led her to speak of Weston but not of Archie
Merridew, of Evie, but not of Kitty Windus and others she had known far
better. I supposed her to be merely gratifying her racial greed for
general (including personal) information, on the chance, so to speak, of
turning up in the dustheap something she might later sell for twopence;
and, noting one of her marked omissions, it occurred to me to wonder
whether she might not have seen Kitty Windus, and, failing to get
anything out of her, was now pumping myself and looking for an opening
to pump Evie also. My eyes rested from time to time on her
prominent-featured face and wide, high shoulders; and she did not know
that I was wondering whether she was so deeply in Pepper's secrets that
we should not be able to dispense with her services when he and I
cleared out of the F.B.C. together.

I maintained my silence while she went on with her _Hamlet_ without the
Prince, that is to say, while she talked of the now demolished Business
College without mentioning Archie Merridew, Kitty Windus, Louie Causton
and the rest; and then, pleading an engagement, I rose. She rose too.
With her purse in her hand, she made quite an ado about refusing to
allow me to pay for the lunch to which I had invited her. "Please--or I
shall feel as if we can't lunch together again!" she said; "let me see;
sevenpence, that's right, isn't it? There! You will remember me to Evie,
won't you?"

And she scrupulously put the sevenpence into one of my hands while with
the other I held the door open for her to pass out.

I did not give Evie Miss Levey's message that evening, for when, at a
little after seven, I reached the Vale of Health, I found Miss Angela
there. The elder Miss Soames, I ought to say, regarded our wedding as so
exclusively Evie's (myself sometimes appearing to have no part whatever
in it) that I was constantly invited to share her own detached delight.
Giving up Evie's bedroom only, she intended to stay on at Woburn Place;
but from the number of offerings she brought us her own sitting-room was
like to be sadly denuded. She brought, and if possible hid in a corner
for us to discover after she had left, heavy old silver tablespoons,
her shield-shaped embroidered fire-screen, her Colport dressing-table
set with the little coral-like trees for rings, and other gifts; and it
was in vain that Evie laughingly protested.

"But if you go on like this we shall have to have you come and live with
us!" she said. "Make you up a bed on the verandah--but perhaps that's
what she's really after, Jeff----"

But Miss Angela shook her head demurely, ignoring the joke. "No,
no--young people ought to be alone; they don't want old things like me
interfering. I shall be just as happy thinking of you both as if it was
my own wedding."

And I really believe she was.

For the Etiquette of our preparations, Aunt Angela threw herself
pathetically on my mercy.

Her sitting-room in Woburn Place, however, was not the only one that was
rapidly becoming denuded. My own place with the terra-cotta festoons and
hobgoblins was now more than half empty. But I was not relinquishing it
yet. I knew I was committing a sentimental extravagance in thus being
lord of two domiciles, but (Etiquette having to be considered) I did not
wish to go into the new place until I should go there with Evie. So
already two cartloads of my belongings had been fetched away, and that
very day Miss Angela had been assisting in a task that more than any
other seemed the beginning of the end--the removal of my carpet. They
did not tell me of this removal. They allowed me to discover it for
myself when I went, without light, upstairs into the drawing-room. They
had already laid it down; my foot struck its softness in the dark; and I
experienced a sudden little thrill of pleasure. It seemed to bring all
so suddenly near....

They had crept up after me with a lamp to enjoy my surprise. The room
really looked delightful, and all my sense of drawbacks vanished. Four
glass candle-sconces with musical little drops--I had picked them up
cheap in the street that runs from the Britannia to Regent's Park--were
fastened to the walls, two between the window-bays over my breast-high
mahogany bookshelves, the other two at the sides of the fireplace in the
opposite wall; and across the windows themselves the long chintz
curtains were drawn. Evie set the lamp down on the little table that
folded almost to nothing against the wall, and tripped round with a
taper, lighting up. All my chairs were there, and the couch for which I
had ransacked half the catacombs of the Tottenham Court Road, and I
can't tell you how pretty it all was, with its ivory woodwork, its dark
blue and crimson blotted carpet, and the candle flames turning the
polished glass lustres to soft sprinklings of gems. Miss Angela,
delicate Pandar, seeing Evie's hand steal towards mine, affected to be
very busy at the mantelpiece....

"So," I grumbled presently, "this is your idea of the cheapest way of
lighting a room--candles at goodness knows how much a pound?"

"Well, there's no electric light," retorted Evie.

"And what have you left me at the other place? A bed and a broken chair,
I suppose, to make shift with for three weeks and more!"

"_And_ a jampot for your shaving-water. Quite enough for a bachelor."

"And I'm to get my meals out, I suppose, and pay twice as much for
them."

But they only begged me to look where they had put Billy Izzard's two
sketches--one on either side of the verandah door.

I had, in truth, begun to feel the least bit alarmed at the rate at
which the money was going. Kitchens, I learned, cost like the dickens;
but, as Evie frugally extinguished the candles again and led me down
into her special province, I could not deny that that looked pretty too,
with its bright tins, hanging jugs, overlapping rows of plates and
saucers and the new linoleum of its floor. The dining-room, into which
(as Evie said) "all the dirt was brought," had been left until the last,
and was knee-deep in straw, torn packing-paper, split box-lids and cut
string, and of course I grumbled again that good brown paper had been
torn and useful string spoiled, until I was brought into good temper
again by being allowed another peep at the lighted drawing-room--this
time without Aunt Angela.


V

We were to be married at half-past ten on the following Saturday morning
but one, at St. George's, Hart Street, Bloomsbury. We had chosen a
Saturday because of our honeymoon, which was to be a steamboat trip
either down the river to Greenwich or up the river to Hampton Court--we
had not decided which. A good friend of mine, Sydney Pettinger, who had
given me my start with F.B.C., had promised to give Evie away. Pepper
would have done so, but Pepper always dazzled Evie a little. He was
almost inhumanly never at a loss for a word.

Our little house was now quite ready. They had left me not so much as a
chair in my room near the Cobden Statue. My pallet bed and my
shaving-tackle were about all that remained within its walls, and I was
on the point of disposing of the bed as it stood to a dealer in Queen's
Crescent, when Billy Izzard proposed to me that he should take over the
place.

Let me describe Billy Izzard as he was then--as he still to a great
extent is for the matter of that, for his innumerable quarrels with
dealers and intransigence on hanging committees have resulted in his
being less well known than the high quality of his painting warrants. He
was a tall, double-jointed, monkey-up-a-stick of a lad of twenty-four,
with well-shaped features that always seemed a little larger than the
ordinary (as if you saw them through a very weak lens), and two or three
distinct voices, the most startling of which was the sudden, imperious
tone into which he broke when he "saw" something--saw it absolute, in
the flat, and as if it had never been seen before--but possibly you know
his painting. He had exquisite manners, which he never used; he dressed
in tweeds that made my own shaggy garments look like the finest
broadcloth--they always seemed stuck over with fishing-flies; and, a
sufficiently large studio being beyond his means until he should cease
to quarrel with his bread and butter, he too had discovered the
advantages of the large rooms that are to be found over shops.

He came up with his wedding present, yet another painting, just as I was
contemplating the sale of my bed. The picture, wrapped in newspaper, was
under his arm. He scratched his head under his porringer of a "sports"
cap, looked round the big four-windowed room, and said, "Good
light--south and east though--what?"

"South and east," I replied; and added, knowing Billy, "Rent paid
monthly, in advance."

"How much?" he demanded.

"Twelve bob a week."

"Hm! Rather a lot for me," said the man whose practice (for his theory
never amounted to much) has since been made the foundation of a whole
school of modern painting. "Wish I hadn't brought you this now--I was
offered three pounds for it--that would have paid for the first
month----"

I hastened to grab the painting, to make sure of getting it. It was only
a small flower group, a straggle of violets, a few white ones among
them, in a lustre bowl, but the other day I refused sixty pounds for it.

"Too late, Billy," I said; "you know you can't fight me for it.... I'll
throw you in my bed if you want the place, but you're not to give my
name as a reference for your solvency."

"I think it might do," he said. "I could shut off some of the light, and
I don't suppose they'd mind my making it an un-Drapery Establishment
sometimes."

Billy was just beginning to paint flesh as truly and seeingly as he
painted flowers.

With the exception of Aunt Angela's constant trickle, Billy's was our
first wedding-present; but others followed quickly. Pepper, of course,
contrived to get his joke out of his own very handsome offering. One
day, at the end of one of our morning interviews in his office, he said:
"Oh, by the way--I sent a small parcel off to you yesterday. I suppose
'Jeffries, Verandah Cottage, Vale of Health' finds you?"

"Yes."

"It brings all good wishes, of course. Being a bachelor I've had to rely
on my own unaided taste. If the things don't seem very useful just at
present, they will be."

In spite of his twinkle, I did not fear that his present would not be in
the best of taste, and I thanked him for it, whatever it was. Then, when
I returned to my own office, I found another surprise. A square,
shop-packed, registered parcel lay on my desk. This, when I opened it, I
found to contain a large silver cigarette-box with my name upon it, the
offering of my three "Juns. Ex. Con." It was full of cigarettes of a far
finer quality than any for which I had yet acquired the taste; and
though only the mandarins of the F.B.C. were supposed to smoke on the
premises, "Whitlock--Peddie----," I said, "have a cigarette?"

All of them appeared to come with a start out of a quite unusual
absorption in their work.

"This is very good of you fellows," I said awkwardly.

So we lighted up, the four of us, and with the coming of lunch-time I
had to stand whiskies and soda at Stone's. I learned later that on my
wedding evening all three of them got quite disinterestedly drunk in
honour of the occasion.

I found on reaching home that evening that Pepper's "small parcel" was
really two, the larger one about the size of an ordinary bureau, the
smaller one perhaps no bigger than a tea-chest. As both were addressed
to me, neither had been opened; but I really feared that this severe
continence had done both Evie and her aunt an injury--so much so that I
mercifully cut short my affectation of not noticing the huge packages.

"If he's not going to sit down without opening them!" cried Evie,
revolted. "And a hammer and chisel put ready to his hand----!"

"Oh, these things," I said. "They're from Pepper, I suppose. Do you want
them opened at once?"

"Do we want----! Open them instantly!"

"Well, I can't in here----"

I carried the boxes out into our tiny verandah-roofed yard, and there
prised the lids off. Then I fell back before the onslaught they made on
the straw with which the cases were filled. The smaller one contained a
silver-mounted champagne-cooler; the larger one two enormous branched
silver candlesticks, big enough to have furnished the table that stood
before the Ark of the Covenant. So splendid were they that Evie, seeing
them, did not dare to touch them; and I remember how Pepper had said
that they would be useful by-and-by--which, I may say, they were.

"Hm!" I said. "Well, we'd better pawn 'em at once. We've certainly
nowhere to put them."

And indeed, the objects, the cases they came in, and ourselves, almost
cubically filled the little yard. Besides taking the shine completely
out of the rest of the house, they cost me getting on towards a pound of
candles that night, for of course we had to have another grand
illumination in their honour; but Pepper only laughed when I told him.

"I'm setting you a scale of living, my boy," he said. "If you spend a
lot you've got to make a lot--that's all about it."

"Well, I'll be even with you," I replied, "for your champagne-cooler's
going to be my waste-paper basket."

And so it was, for long enough.

In this "setting me a scale of living" Pepper was aided and abetted by
Pettinger, for if the candlesticks of the one meant the extravagance of
candles, so did the two great china bowls of the other a constant
expenditure of money on flowers. The only immediate profit I had of any
of these magnificences was a plentiful supply of firewood. The cases
they all came in, when knocked to pieces, made quite a respectable stack
of timber.

There were only a couple more wedding presents that I need
particularise. The first of these puzzled us for a long time. It came by
letter post, a small, soft parcel addressed to Evie, containing a
crochet-bordered teacloth; and except for an "L." written on a blank
card, there was no indication of who the sender might be. Then I
remembered Miss Levey.

"Of course--how stupid not to think of it!" said Evie. "I'll write her a
note at once, and you can give it to her to-morrow."

"Oh--we'll spend a penny on it," I said.

But that very evening, before the note was posted, Miss Levey's present
came, a pair of chimney ornaments--bronzed Arabs taming mettlesome
steeds--brought by a young man who might have been either a cousin or a
pawnbroker's assistant.

And as an explicit note accompanied the Arabs, the crochet teacloth
remained unaccounted for.


And so the days slipped by. I was now unfit for anything until I should
be married, and Evie was as restless as myself. A great shyness now
began to come over her at times, leaving her, perhaps in the middle of a
conversation, with never a word to say; and I understood, and secretly
exulted. She bloomed indeed at those moments....

Let me, without losing any more time, come to the eve of my wedding and
the last night I spent in my bachelor rooms.

I paced for long up and down my empty room that night. I had put on a
pair of soft slippers, for the room was immediately above a dormitory
where a number of shop-girls who "lived in" slept; and the light of my
single candle was reflected in one or other of the squares of my naked
windows as I walked. Then I threw up one of the sashes, and looked out
among my terra-cotta Satans and festoons.

It was a marbled night of velvet black and iron grey, the two hues so
mysteriously counterchanged that you could have fancied either to be the
cloud and the other the abyss beyond until a star peeped out to tell you
of your mistake. It was very still, and must have been very late, for
down the road a mechanical sweeper was dragging along with a hiss of
bristles. I watched it, but not out of sight, for before it had
disappeared my eyes had wandered from it and were not looking at
anything in particular.

I was thinking of Life--not only of that stormy share of it that up to
the present had been my own, but also of that other portion of it that
lay, unknown and unknowable until it should arrive, still before me. And
so all my thoughts turned on the morrow as on a pivot. In nine hours or
less I should be a married man, and a new time would have begun for me.

It was on the nearness of that new beginning that I brooded restlessly
and passionately. For just as my Ambition had set itself the aim of that
large house over Highgate way, so my Love also was going to be a thing
of brightness and terraces and spires--nothing meaner, such as men shake
down to out of their failure and disillusion. Ah, if care could compass
it, mine was going to be a marriage! I believed that, and looking out
over the Cobden Statue, I appointed that moment of our union for an
expunging of all--all, all--that had gone before.

For what man old enough to have heaped up his sins does not, out of that
very ache for a new beginning, seek to bespeak one of heaven by
appointing a time and a season for it? Not one. Poor pathetic things of
the fancy though his decrees may be, he cannot live without their
expediencies. In his mind at least he sets an hour for his release.

And on that night of all nights I could not but remember all. Sins I had
committed; and though some might have called that a sin which I should
have proclaimed in the face of heaven to have been a righteous act, that
also I remembered.... It seemed, that night, to matter little that I was
acquitted of one guilt when I had incurred a wrath by other guilts
innumerable; it was from the whole body of an ancient death that I
fainted to be delivered. My worldly ambition I knew to be not an empty
boast; oh, might but this other rebirth of mine prove to be equally well
founded! A rebirth--a white page for Evie and myself to write the story
of our love upon--and even that spectre of her own life, of the dreadful
coming of which this was in a sense the anniversary, would not have been
an agony endured for nothing! Not all in vain would have been the grim
discovery of that which, four years before, had hung from a hook in a
bedroom door! Not all lost, not all lost, might but the morrow prove my
second natal day!

So, passionate and unresting, I prayed among my swags and emblems and
gargoyles. The street-sweeper had long since gone; soon would come a
lamplighter extinguishing the street lamps; now all was quiet. I dropped
my head on my arms for a moment....

Then, looking up at the marbled clouds behind which the stars seemed to
drift, I muttered, to Whomsoever might be up there to hear:

"Oh, let it all but sink and die away--let it all but sink and die
away--and my life shall be--it shall be----"

I do not know whether my lips framed the promise of what my life should
be, could I but strike my bargain.



PART II

VERANDAH COTTAGE


I

In speaking of the early days of my married life I must throw myself
largely on your consideration. I have not guarded through the years that
sharp impatience that I presently came to feel with that tiny house in
the Vale of Health. Lately I have thought more kindly of it, as if at
some stage of my journey through Life (though I cannot tell when) I had
heard a call behind me, turned my head, and, forgetting to turn it back
again, had continued to advance backwards, recognising things in
proportion as they receded. I live now in a mansion in Iddesleigh Gate;
that ambition of mine, my spur in the past, is becoming a mere desire
that when I go my successor shall find all in working order to his hand;
and so the shabby brown earth I once trod has taken the lightsome blue
of distance, and many things are seen through a sheen that, perhaps,
never was there. Therefore if you would see that sheen it must be by
your own favour and through whatever of glamour time and distance have
given to your own young years.

For, when all allowances are made, I still think that that relation
which is more than friendship was ours. Male and female (the New Man
notwithstanding) we were created, and to a lower conception than that I
have never in all my life declined. I have seen that declension in
others, and know how it sinks ultimately to the mere comfortable
security of a banking account. Whatever else I have known I have escaped
that. By what wide circuit of the spirit I know not, I have returned to
find the divine where others have not stirred from grossness. And I have
even had glimpses of that shadowy apocalypse that finds its images, not
in thrones and sceptres, but in the flesh-hooks and seething-pots of the
kitchen.... But to Verandah Cottage and the Vale of Health.

I was happy with Evie, she with me. From my daily leaving her at nine
o'clock in the morning until my return at half-past seven at night, she
had almost, if not quite, enough to occupy her; and though I could have
wished she had more friends, so that when she had finished her work the
summer afternoons might not have appeared quite so long, yet I exercised
a care that almost amounted to a jealousy in this regard. Understand me,
however. It was against no person that I protected her with this jealous
care. It was always with pleasure that I learned that Billy Izzard had
looked in and talked to her for an hour at tea, or that Aunt Angela had
been up to take the air or to fetch her out for a couple of hours'
shopping. I merely mean that I saw no reason for her identifying herself
with a set of circumstances that before long would probably have
changed completely. It was part of my Ambition that, until I should have
attained it, we should be a little solitary. Nor was it that I thought
that the people we might by-and-by be able to meet on equal terms would
be any better than those we might have known at once. It was a question
of the place we were ultimately to occupy. And I begged Evie, if at
times she did feel a little lonely, to be patient for my sake. So for
quite a long time Billy and her aunt remained her only visitors.

The house next door might have been untenanted for all we saw of its
inmates, and that, I confess, made me a little angry. I did not know the
niceties of the matter, nor whether the difference between a thirty-five
pound rental and one of perhaps eighty pounds outweighed those confident
dicta of Evie's penny journals about "cards," "calls," and the rest; nor
yet did I deem it a reason for taking anybody to my bosom that only a
wall separated our dwellings; but the fact that they, whoever they were,
never called stiffened me. An eighty-pound house! To put on airs about a
matter of eighty pounds!... But I saw the humour of it too, and laughed.

"I'm sorry if it's rather slow, little woman," I used to say, "but wait
just a bit. Let's stick it out on our own for just a little while. You'd
rather be with me, now, than have waited for a year or two till we were
better off, wouldn't you?"

"How absurd you are!" she would reply, nestling up to me.

"Well, keep going for a bit longer, and see what happens. I'm not
deliberately hanging back from Pepper's offer for nothing, I promise
you.... And at any rate the Vicar will be calling."

You see, we had agreed on the imprudence of having children at once.

But the Vicar never came, which was a fair enough hit back if he meant
it for one, since we only attended his church once, and after that, I am
afraid, went to churches here and there, attracted by good singing, a
beautiful fabric, a man with brains preaching, and other things that
perhaps mitigated the quality of our worship. And very frequently we did
not go to church at all, but explored the Heath instead. And often, on
Saturdays and Sundays, we went still farther afield. Greenwich had been
hallowed to us by our half-day's honeymoon, and as if in this Hampton
Court had suffered a slight, we made amends by going to the latter place
quite often. We must have gone four or five times that summer, so that
we got to know the Lelys and the Holbeins and the tea-shops, and the
long drag home again from Waterloo in the old horse-bus, quite well. And
one week-end we spent with Pettinger, at his place at Bedford, with two
cattle-show men, an actor and an International footballer, all on their
best behaviour until Evie had gone to bed. Then, when I joined her, she
accused me of having had more than one glass of whisky, and wanted to
know what we had been talking about all that time. I tried to tell her
"the bubonic plague," but my tongue betrayed me, and I came a cropper.

So, as I had done before during our engagement, I could look up from my
work during the day, past the Duke of York's Column and over the Mall,
and wonder what she was doing at that moment--changing our pillow-cases,
popping the pared potatoes into the saucepan of cold water, dusting,
washing up, polishing, or pottering about the flower-boxes I had set on
our little balcony.

Miss Levey had still not been asked to come up and see Evie, but so
quietly tenacious of her purpose did I divine her to be, that I was
sorry I had not invited her at once and got it over. The thing was
beginning to look almost like an unacknowledged contest between us. At
times I forgot my original reason for keeping her at arm's-length--her
forwardness, pertinacity, and racial hunger for the rags and bones and
old bottles of gossip; and that she "spelt" to be asked was in itself
reason enough for ignoring her hints. I may say that by doing so I cut
myself from quite a distinguished circle of acquaintances, and on this
point had sometimes to check my three clerks. For never a notability
called on Pepper but Miss Levey, on the strength of being called in to
take down in shorthand a conversation, claimed him for a close
acquaintance. And as far as I can make out, she must actually have
believed it, for she kept up the fiction even to us, who knew perfectly
well all about it. Goodness knows what she told outsiders.... So with
Whitlock, Stonor and Peddie it became a byword to say, when speaking of
somebody exalted: "You know who I mean--that pal of Miss Levey's--Lord
Ernest," or "Miss Levey's friend--what's his name--the President of the
Board of Trade."

After the present of the silver cigarette-box, not to speak of the
handsome compliment of their intoxication on my wedding night, I had
thought it the least I could do to ask Whitlock and Stonor (Peddie lived
out Croydon way, too far to come) to come up one Sunday and have tea
with us. So they had been, and for two hours had displayed manners as
highly starched as their collars. They had been, I fancy, a little
surprised that, if I was a Balzac in a dressing-gown, my wife at any
rate was no Sand in a flannelette peignoir. (For that matter, nothing
was ever neater than Evie's skirts and blouses, and when by-and-by she
began to make her own things there could hardly have been anything more
becoming than her clear, sweet-pea-coloured muslins, that really would
have been too rippling and Tanagra-like altogether had it not been for
the stiffer petticoats beneath.) I surmised later that Stonor had taken,
so to speak, a mental pattern of Evie, for matching purposes when he
should come upon another girl like her; and Whitlock, whose pose it was
that he would never marry, could on that very account admire the more
openly.

The visit of the two clerks, of course, made my attitude towards Miss
Levey all the more pointed; but I still preferred not to have her at the
Vale of Health. And seeing this, Evie vowed that she did not want her
either. The two Arab horse-tamers stood on our drawing-room mantelpiece,
not because I admired them, but simply because we had nowhere else to
put them; and they were all of Miss Levey that was absolutely needful to
our happiness.

Yet I recognised that the lack, not of Miss Levey, but of company in
general, was far harder on Evie than it was on me. I knew exactly why I
didn't want overmuch company; Evie, who had the deprivation actually to
bear, had to take the reason on trust. All my interests lay ahead; she
knew only the tedium of the present. It was her part, if I may so
express it, to keep bright those ridiculous empty candlesticks of
Pepper's without my own certainty that candles were coming to fill
them--to polish those rose bowls of Pettinger's without knowing where
the roses were coming from. And I could hardly blame her if sometimes
she seemed to be a little in doubt whether, after all, the things I
prophesied so confidently were not merely fancy pictures of what I
should like the future to be.

So, more to occupy her than anything else, I bought her out of my small
earnings a hand sewing-machine, and paid for a lesson for her once a
week at a skirt-maker's. And that made things rather easier. She could
now pick not only her blouses to pieces, but her skirts also; and from a
fear lest my interest in these occupations of hers might appear
simulated when she showed me the results on my return at night, I
actually did cast an eye on a costumier's or modiste's window now and
then, relating to her, though goodness only knows in what masculine
terms of my own, what I had seen. And during the day I could gaze past
the Duke of York's Column with its wheeling pigeons and think of her,
unpicking, pinning tissue-paper patterns, basting, threading the eye of
her sewing-machine needle, or, with some garment or other tucked under
her crumpled chin, trying to see the whole of herself at once in the
narrow strip of mirror she had fetched from the bedroom.

Between Evie's happiness and my important affairs with Pepper, I do not
know which was my major and which my minor preoccupation. If my Love and
my Ambition were really one, that only meant that often I had to do half
a thing at a time. Since Judy and I did not discuss our private affairs
at the offices in Waterloo Place, it followed that we had to do so after
the day's work was over; and, having been away from home all day, this
sometimes caused me to absent myself for the greater part of the
evening also. At first, unwilling to do this, I had brought Pepper home
with me; but as he always seemed altogether too bright a jewel for our
little cottage, and as Evie, moreover, besides getting flurried about
what she was to give him to eat, always drew in her horns in his
presence, reproaching herself afterwards that she had seemed stupid to
my friend, that had not so far proved a great success. The only
alternative was, that I should dine with him, getting away afterwards as
soon as I could. I did not like this, but it was unavoidable.

From my observation of some at least of the hotels Pepper took me to, I
judged that he had some sort of a running account, balanced afterwards,
whether in cash or consideration, I knew not how; for often enough,
barring the tip to the waiter, no money seemed to change hands. At other
times and other places he paid what seemed to me extravagant sums.
Sometimes he was in evening dress, sometimes not; I, of course, never
was; and so, places where the plastron was _de rigueur_ being closed to
us, I did not at first see Judy in the full blaze of his splendour. On
the whole, we dined most frequently at Simpson's, where morning dress is
not conspicuous; and it was one night at Simpson's that Judy mentioned
this very matter to me.

"By the way," he said suddenly, over his coffee, as if he had been on
the point of forgetting something, "better keep a week next Wednesday
free. I want you to meet Robson."

I was conscious of a sudden slight constriction somewhere inside me.
Robson was not royalty, but as far as I was concerned he might almost as
well have been.

"The Berkeley, at eight," Judy continued. "You'll dress, of course!"

I wondered what in. His champagne-cooler and candlesticks, perhaps....

"You needn't be afraid of Robson," Pepper continued, perhaps noticing my
dismay. "As a matter of fact, he's rather afraid of me, so _you_ ought
to be able to pulverize him."

I saw that I must take my stand at once.

"You can bring Robson to Verandah Cottage if you like," I said shortly,
"but I'm not going to the Berkeley."

"Rubbish," Pepper remarked lightly. "The table's booked. Robson's coming
down from Scotland specially, and Campbell will be there too, and George
Hastie. Hastie's put off a visit to Norway on purpose. You've got to
tell 'em what you told me that Sunday at the Bull and Bush."

"Then if they want to hear that, they'll have to have it from you."

Pepper showed not a trace of impatience. "My dear chap, don't I just
wish I _could_ put it as you did!" he flattered me.... "No, no; I've
told them all about you, and it's you, not me, they're coming to see....
What's the difficulty?" he asked, with a little scintillation of
amusement.

"The difficulty is that if you'd told me this a week ago, I should have
stopped it."

"So I thought," he replied dryly.... "Do you know West's, in Bond
Street?"

"No."

"Well, you'd better go there to-morrow." Then he patted my arm. "Can't
be helped, Jeff. The plunge has to be taken. You won't find 'em snobs.
It's the waiters you dress for--I expect that's why you dress like 'em.
Good Lord, these chaps have got far too much on their minds to bother
about _that_!... Go to West's and take my card; I'll 'phone 'em. I gave
way to you before; if you don't give way to me now, you'll wreck us. I'd
have had it at Alfred Place if I could, but I don't want Hastie and
Robson there. So you go to West's to-morrow, and remember, a week on
Wednesday, at eight."

I did go to West's on the morrow, and my brow grows moist yet when I
think of it. It appeared that before West's could dress me they had to
undress me, and my wild and half-formed thoughts that I might pass as a
bushranger or miner or wealthy and eccentric antipodean vanished.
Miners' flannel shirts are not patched as neatly as Evie had patched
mine; bushrangers do not wear loose cuffs with gold-washed links at
eighteenpence a pair; and the respectful "Sirs" to which my two acolytes
treated me made my hands itch dangerously to knock their heads
together.... So they ran their fingers over my burning body; and because
Pepper had let me in for this, I partly, but only partly, got back at
him by ordering an admirable lounge suit also, which, for all I know, he
owes for to this day. Then I left that place of torture, almost prepared
to think twice of my Ambition if it was going to involve very much of
this kind of thing.

Evie had received the news of my approaching introduction to exalted
personages with a certain wistfulness, which she had tried to cover with
an extreme brightness of manner. Of course my position was altogether
anomalous; that "scale of living" of Pepper's, coming far too early for
my circumstances, was a white elephant; but I don't think it was that
that made Evie at the same time brightly fussy and secretly shrinking.
Rather, I imagine, it was that for the first time she began to fear my
Ambition a little. I don't mean that hitherto she had been hoping that
my great plans were baseless imaginings, but I do mean that she was
settled and happy as she was, and that a Verandah Cottage twice as big
would have contented her to the end of her days. When I brought that
really splendid dress suit home (for I had had it sent to the F.B.C.,
not wishing those ducal tailors to know the poverty of my address), I
think her mind suddenly enlarged to strange disturbing vistas, and she
examined the stitching of the garments thoughtfully.

"They're beautifully made," she said softly. "I never saw anything
finished like that. But I wish Mr Pepper had not had to pay for them."

"Pepper pay?" I laughed. "Pepper'll pay when the cows come home. It
isn't that that's troubling me."

"What then?" she asked.

"I want to see you dressed like that too.... But don't you want to see
me with them on?"

"Yes," she said, but as it were obediently, because I had suggested it.

I went upstairs and got into those costly garments. I had ordered
shirts, and ties too, and, not being in the habit of wearing
undergarments, I had to consider what to do with the small tab beneath
the plastron that should have anchored me forrard. With my penknife I
finally performed the operation for appendicitis upon it. Then, looking
bigger even than usual, I descended, black, white and majestical.

"Your tie won't do," said Evie. "Come here."

But suddenly, as she was refashioning my bow, she flung her arms about
my neck and burst into tears on my breast. Then, when I asked her gently
what was the matter, she only withdrew herself, wiped her eyes, and
said that she was silly. Queer creatures. It was only the newness and
unfamiliarity of the prospect. It was as if she was quite happy in her
poverty, merely thinking of riches....

I myself had the trifling care on my mind of who was going to sit with
Evie while I lorded it at the Berkeley. Ordinarily I should have counted
on her aunt, but Miss Angela had announced that she must go to Guildford
that day on some business or other connected with the late Mrs
Merridew's will. There was, of course, Miss Levey, but I still
considered Verandah Cottage too humble for the friend of Lord Ernest and
the confidante of the President of the Board of Trade. Evie protested
that she would be quite all right alone, but that I would not hear of.

"I'll tell you what," I said. "Give Billy Izzard dinner that evening.
I'll go round and ask him to sit with you. That'll be the best thing."

"I should be quite, quite all right, dear," she said again.

"No," I replied, "I'll get Billy. I'll write a note to him now. Then
I'll show you the other suit."

The other suit did not flutter her quite so much. It was just as
exquisite in its way, an iron-grey hopsack, with trousers for which I
had had to peel three times, but it did not speak quite so plainly of
functions and high assemblages. I really did not know where I was going
to keep these two suits, as I had no trousers press, and our wardrobe
accommodation was exceedingly limited; and I discovered, on arriving
home early on the evening of the Berkeley dinner, that I had no summer
overcoat fit for my _grande tenue_. As the choice lay between taking a
cab the whole of the way and wearing my heavy winter ulster, I chose the
latter alternative; and Evie tied my bow and turned up the bottoms of
those trousers that pre-supposed broughams and wicker wheel-guards and
alightings on red druggets under awnings built out over pavements.

"Billy'll be here in an hour," I said. "I'll look in on him as I pass.
You'll be quite all right till then, and I'll be back as soon as I can.
Good-bye, darling."

She stood in skirt and delaine blouse at the ivy-green, glass-panelled
door, and waved her hand as I turned the corner. I sought the bus
terminus in the High Street, treading carefully, for it had been
raining, and there were puddles to avoid. The bus started. Twenty
minutes later I got down opposite my old place with the gargoyles and
terra-cotta ornaments. I mounted the stairs and tapped at Billy's door,
entering as I tapped.

"Time you were starting for Verandah Cottage, Billy," I said....

The next moment I was staring open-mouthed at what was before me.


II

"All right, Louie--thanks," said Billy Izzard. "Right-o, Jeffries--I
didn't think it was so late----"

But the model on the throne did not get down.

I had parted my ulster in coming up the stairs, and my dress beneath
showed. The contrast struck me as brutal. For one moment I was conscious
of it; I don't think that she was, even for one moment. I don't think
she saw anything of me but my eyes. I did not of her.

Billy had turned his back on his work, but still she did not move. More
even than my own ceremonial dress the bit of crochet woolwork that lay
on the edge of the throne seemed to accentuate the drama that was all
sight, with never a word spoken. As if my eyes had moved from hers,
which they did not, I seemed to see the whole of that room that had been
my own--the imps beyond the sills, Billy's traps, his arrangements of
curtains about the four windows, the bed behind the screen where I
divined her clothing to lie. I say I saw all these things without once
looking at them....

The exquisite study was on the easel, and I saw that too--the thing as
it was, east-lighted, admirably cool, the work of an unrepeatable two
hours. Billy, I knew, would look on that canvas on the morrow as an
athlete afterwards measures with astonishment his effortless jump. It
was the eye's flawless understanding....

"It isn't a picture," Billy grunted over his shoulder, his fingers
rattling the tubes in his box. "Where the deuce did I put that
palette-knife?--Just a study--I had it in my hand not two minutes
ago----"

Still she and I stood as motionless as a couple of stones.

"Dashed if I won't be methodical yet! I never--ah, here it is.... Right,
Louie; I've finished. Chuck my coat over the screen, will you? Sorry,
Jeff--I'd forgotten the time--but I must wash these brushes."

My eyes parted from Louie Causton's as reluctantly as a piece of soft
iron parts from the end of the magnet. She moved, became alive, stepped
down from the throne; and as she passed without noise to the screen I
saw again, by what legerdemain of visual memory I cannot tell you, the
soft flow of draperies that had always drawn my eyes as she had moved
about the old Business College in Holborn.

Not until she had disappeared did I myself move from the spot I had
occupied since I had taken my first two strides into the room.

"Just turn that thing with its face to the wall; I don't want to see it
till morning," said Billy, bustling about. "Sha'n't be a minute----"

He dashed out with a cake of soap and a handful of brushes. The tap was
on the landing below. From behind the screen came soft sounds as Miss
Causton dressed....

I have wasted paper in trying to set down what my thoughts and
sensations were. Not to waste any more, I will tell you instead what I
did. It was some minutes later, and already the running of the tap at
which Billy was washing his brushes below had ceased. Time pressed.
Without quite knowing how I got there, I was standing by the screen. I
spoke in a low and very hurried voice.

"Miss Causton----"

The moving of clothes stopped.

"I can't see you now--I'm late already," I said.

Miss Causton's voice had formerly been drawlingly slow, but it came back
quickly enough now, and altogether without surprise.

"Yes, yes--I want to see you too--quick--how late shall you be?"

"I don't know--eleven--I can't ask you to wait----"

"I'll wait--I'll have my dinner here----"

"Where, then?"

"Where are you going?"

"Piccadilly way----"

Then, breathlessly, "Swan & Edgar's, at eleven----"

"No, no----"

"Sssh--there's no time to talk--there, at eleven----"

"Half-past ten----"

"Yes----"

Billy came in again, but I was away from the screen by then. "Better
hurry, unless you want a cold dinner," I said, moving towards the door;
and "Better hurry yourself," I heard him say as I left....

I dashed across the road for a bus that was just starting; but it was
not for some minutes after I had settled myself inside it that I began
to realise what I had just done.

Then as bit by bit I grew calmer, it struck me as in the last degree
remarkable. What had so suddenly impelled me to say, "I can't see you
now?" And why had she replied that she too wished to see me? Why should
I have wished to see her at all? Or she me? And why that long, long
stare of eyes into eyes?

Robson, the Berkeley, my painfully marshalled statement, Pepper and
Hastie and Campbell and all--these things had gone as completely out of
my mind as if they had had no bearing at all on my life and fortunes.

I had squeezed into a corner of the bus farthest from the door, and the
vehicle had glass panels forward. These were blurred with a fresh
shower, orange squares, with now the halo of a lamp moving slowly past,
now a muffled or umbrella-ed figure. We pulled up for a moment before
the pear-shaped globes of a chemist's window, ruby and emerald, and then
went forward again, and I seemed once more to hear that breathless "Swan
& Edgar's--eleven," and my own "No, no!"...

I had not wanted that. I had not wanted to keep her at _that_ corner,
draggle-skirted, searching faces for the face she wanted, looked at in
her turn, perhaps moved along by the police. For whatever I had thought
before, if I had thought anything, that long union of our eyes had held
no meanings of commonness....

But why the appointment at all?

"Well," I thought within myself as the bus drew up for a moment at the
Adam and Eve, and then started forward again down Tottenham Court Road,
"at least this explains the 'L' on the teacloth."...

After a lapse of time of which I was hardly conscious, I became aware of
the glow of the Palace and the lights of Shaftesbury Avenue. By sheer
force of will I dragged myself back to the present. Inexplicable as it
all was, it must wait. My other business could not wait. Now for the
Berkeley....

Perhaps the strange incident helped me rather than otherwise in a thing
I had had quite heavily on my mind. This was the stepping out of the
hansom I had picked up in the Circus and my entry into the hotel.
Concerned with so much else, I had now no unconcern to rehearse. I threw
my hat and coat into a pair of hands that for all I knew might not have
been attached to any human body, and grunted out Pepper's name as if I
had been a preoccupied monarch. I was one of twenty others who lounged
or waited in the softly lighted hall, but I think the only conspicuous
thing about me was my size.... Then I was aware of Pepper himself,
beckoning to me across intervening heads and shoulders.

"Here he is--late as usual," he said, as if a nightly unpunctuality at
such places as the Berkeley was a weakness without which I should have
been an excellent fellow.

To my abstracted apology I added that not only was I late, but must
leave fairly early also.

"Not unless it's for a woman," Pepper laughed. "We'll let him go then,
eh, Robson? This is Jeffries--Sir Peregrine Campbell--Mr Robson. Well,
let's go up. _Seniores priores_, Campbell."

We sought the private room Pepper had engaged.

Even had the deep disturbance of my meeting Louie Causton face to face
(if I may call it that) not banished things of less consequence, I still
do not think that, socially speaking, I should have let Pepper down too
badly. It was less formidable than I had feared. Robson, whom I need not
describe, since you know his face from his countless photographs, had
evidently, from the look of his shoulders, brushed his hair after
putting his coat on; and Sir Peregrine Campbell made his vast silver
beard a reason for not wearing a tie beneath it. A watch-chain or a ring
apart, Hastie's and Pepper's clothes were no better than those I wore.
The table was round. I was put between Pepper and Robson, and Pepper's
command to a waiter, "Just take that thing away, will you?"--the thing
being a centrepiece of flowers--enabled me to see Hastie and Campbell on
the other side.

Pepper's tact on my behalf that night was matchless. Especially during
the early part of the meal, when Robson was talking about Scotch moors,
Hastie of tarpon-fishing in Florida, and Sir Peregrine (in a Scotch
accent harsh as a macadam plough) of places half over the globe, he
protected me (who had seen the sea only at Brighton and Southend) with
such unscrupulousness and mendacity and charm that I really believe I
passed as one who could have given them tale for tale had I chosen; and
I gathered that he had carefully concealed my connection with the
F.B.C.... "Has Jeffries shot bear?" he interrupted Hastie once,
intercepting a direct question. "Look at him--he doesn't shoot 'em--he
_wrestles_ 'em--Siberian fashion, with a knife and a dog!... I beg
pardon, Robson, I interrupted you----" And so on. He told me afterwards
that my hugeness and my taciturnity had created exactly the impression
he had wished. You would have rubbed your eyes had you been told, seeing
me in those evening clothes, that less than four years before I had worn
a commissionaire's uniform in Fleet Street and touched my cap to the
proprietors of Pettinger's paper.

But until our real business should begin I took leave to drop out of the
conversation more and more. That low, urgent whispering over Billy
Izzard's screen ran in my head again, with the thought that I had made
an inconvenient and apparently purposeless appointment for half-past
ten. _Why_ had that quick exchange of whispers been as it were torn out
of us, and _what_ had she to say to me, I to her?

Again I remembered her and her story. I remembered her cynical
concealment of depth under the ruffled shallows of lazy speech, the dust
it had pleased her to throw into eyes by her affectations of
perverseness or indifference, her munching of sweets, her exquisite
hands, her violin-like foot, her soaps and pettings of a person that
even then I had divined to be ill-matched with her not strikingly pretty
face. I remembered the vivid contrast between her and Kitty
Windus--Kitty's ridiculous fears of non-existent dangers from men in
omnibuses or under gas-lamps, and Louie Causton's nonchalant, "Men, my
dear? So long since I've spoken to one I really forget what they're
like!" And I remembered the event that had unstrung poor Kitty and
shocked Evie once for all out of her unthinking girlhood--the news that,
however it had come about, Miss Causton had one day given birth to a
son. That son must be between four and five years old now....

Yet it was hardly likely she had wished to speak to me about her little
boy....

And why had she sent Evie that piece of crochet as a wedding present?
That too became the odder the more I thought of it. Had the teacloth
been, not primarily a present to Evie, but a message to myself? The
teacloth--that long, long stare--that breathless conversation over the
screen--were these, all of them, calls of some sort to me?

Yet to appoint Swan & Edgar's, at half-past ten! I disliked that
intensely. Not every lonely woman who has taken to herself a lover would
willingly court what, were I but five minutes late, she would have to
endure at that rendezvous. And the more I thought of it the more
convinced I was that, not anything base, but austerity, command and a
glassy clearness had lain in that long regard I had met on pushing at
Billy's studio door and seeing her standing there....

Then it crossed my mind that Evie was probably thinking of me that
moment and wondering how I was getting along in my high company....

I could not have told you that night what the Berkeley dinners were
like. I ate and spoke mechanically, and plates were taken away from me
of which I had barely tasted, yet of which I had had enough. Then there
came an interval without plate, or rather with a plate, doyley and
finger-bowl all stacked together, and I heard Pepper say: "Let's have
coffee now and then see we aren't disturbed.... Well, what about
business?"

Five minutes later we were deep in the matters that were the reason of
my being there.

These again Judy handled exquisitely, making of my own statement
especially the most skilful of examinations-in-chief. Ostensibly laying
down lines of policy himself, he contrived that these should be a
drawing of me out; and it was only afterwards that I recognised how
frequently he set up a falsity for me, coming heavily in, to demolish.
Though ordinarily I can concentrate my thoughts when necessary for a day
and a night together, I have no power of sustained speech; and so Pepper
"fed" me with opportunities for destruction or approbation or comment.
No large occurrence in any part of the world is immaterial to our
business; as we have to look forward, reasonably probable occurrences
and developments are more important still; and so our talk ranged from
current events, such as Hunter's recent loss, Rundle's operations, or
Loubet's plans for a _rapprochement_ of the municipalities, to the
coming American elections, the state of the labour world, and the
health of the Queen. To the test of these general conditions, particular
proposals were submitted; and though I had long known Pepper's private
"hand," the skill with which he now played it was a revelation to me. At
one and the same time he was laying the foundations of a dividend-paying
business and of an administrative programme of which he and I were to be
an indispensable part; and so, knowing more of some things than Robson,
and more of others than Campbell, he set them one at another, coming in
himself from time to time with an idea born of themselves five minutes
before, but given back so cut and polished that it had the appearance of
a new thing. I prudently said little save on an overwhelming certitude,
but I think I encompassed it all and made my presence felt, now
sweepingly, now as a mere deflection. I was now oblivious of all, save
our conference. I seem to remember that at one juncture I must have
spoken for getting on for five minutes, a feat unparalleled for me; but
I knew my ground. It was of the academic Socialism and the newer kind,
then just showing over the horizon, and perhaps better understood by
those who like myself had gone through the fire than by any official. I
was only interrupted once, by Pepper, when I mentioned Schmerveloff's
name, the Russian social doctrinaire. "Ah yes, your neighbour," he
murmured, and I went on....

Then suddenly I looked at my watch. It was ten minutes past ten. I still
had some minutes, and I used them for a sort of cadenza to whatever my
performance might have been. Then, rising abruptly, I said I must be
off.

"I must be getting along myself presently," said Pepper.

He came downstairs with me and saw me into my hat and coat. I saw his
glance at my new topper, but he said nothing either about my appearance
or my recent demeanour. Instead it was I who said suddenly, as we walked
to the door, "By the way--you didn't tell me that that neighbour of mine
was Schmerveloff."

He laughed. "Didn't I? Well, you ought to know who your neighbour is
better than I do!" It was only then that he added, "Well, I think we've
done the trick, Jeffries!"

I left him, and turned towards Swan & Edgar's. I had another trick to do
now, though of what its nature might prove to be I had not the faintest
conception.


III

As they had done three hours before, again our eyes met simultaneously.
She had been sheltering in a doorway, but she advanced immediately, and
without hesitation took my arm. I suppose she must have chosen our
direction, for we had crossed to the corner of Lower Regent Street
before I had as much as wondered where, at that hour of the night, we
were to go. It was still raining; the flimsy umbrella she carried
protected her soft grey hat, but not her skirts; and I did not wish to
take her to any of the brightly lighted establishments of the Circus for
two reasons--first, because I had only four shillings in my pocket, and
secondly, because I wanted--well, say to distinguish. The west-bound
buses start from the corner to which we had crossed, and it looked as if
we should have to talk in whichever of them took her homewards.

"This one?" I said laconically, as a West Kensington bus drew up.

But she drew me away. "Let's go this way," she said.

I took her umbrella, and with her hand still on my arm she led me down
Lower Regent Street.

If we had anything important to say to one another, it was
extraordinary how we delayed to say it. We reached the offices of the
F.B.C. without having spoken, and turned along Pall Mall East and into
Trafalgar Square still without a word. And when presently she did speak,
at the top of Parliament Street, it was merely to tell me that my hat
would be spoiled if I didn't take my share of the umbrella.

"Then you might at least turn your trousers up," she added, as I made no
reply; and I stooped and did so. We resumed our walk, stopped at the
Horse Guards, and made our way slowly towards the Mall.

"Are you warm?" I asked some minutes later.

"Quite," she replied; and the silence fell on us again.

At last, somewhere near the spot where the Artillery Memorial now is,
she did speak. It was a curious question she put, her fingers working
slightly on my sleeve as she did so. During the past minutes a sense--I
hardly know how to describe it except as a sense of protection--had
begun to grow on me, the odd thing being that it was not I who protected
her, but she me. Perhaps the perfect calm with which she had claimed my
arm had begun it; it certainly now informed the very curious question
she suddenly put.

"Are you happy?" she asked.

You may imagine I was a little surprised. Quite apart from the nameless
reassurance that thrilled in her tone, some queer gage of fidelity,
though fidelity to what I could not make out, the question itself was a
long way out of the ordinary. Was I happy! Ought I not, from any point
of view she could possibly have, to be happy? Newly married--sure of
myself--wearing clothes the luxury of which was only an
anticipation--fresh from a conference with the great ones of the land
(though to be sure she could hardly know all this)--what else should I
be but happy? It looked as if for some reason or other she had supposed
I would _not_ be happy.... I spoke slowly.

"I wish you would tell me," I said, "what makes you ask that?"

She looked straight before her through the rain. "Why I ask that? It's
just that that I wanted to ask you," she replied.

"It's just that that you----" I repeated after her, stopping, however,
half-way.

Yet I felt somehow that that she had just uttered was no banal
compliment. She was not thinking of the kind of felicitation that had
been implied when she had sent Evie the teacloth. She had not asked
after Evie, and was not, I knew already, thinking of Evie. And again I
had that odd sense that she was protecting me, and would continue to
protect me.

"Well, it's an odd question--the whole thing's odd, of course--but
since you ask, I don't mind telling you. I am happy."

She turned under the umbrella eagerly, almost (I thought) joyously.

"You _are_?"

"_I_ am," I emphasised slightly.

But still she did not mention Evie. Again we walked. Then:

"You are? After all--that?"

Softly from the background of my memory there came forward what I
conceived to be her meaning. It was a humiliating one, and I hung my
head humbly.

"You mean after--poor Kitty?"

But it seemed I was quite wrong. "No, I don't mean that," she said. "Or
at any rate only partly that."

"Then," I asked quickly, "will you tell me what you _do_ mean?"

In Billy's studio we had been positively straining at one another to
speak; since then, free any time this last half-hour to say what we
would, we had hung just as desperately back; but now came a sudden
enough end both to straining and to reluctance. She turned to me; my
eyes would have fallen before the gaze she gave me, but were compelled
to endure it; and the lightning is not more instantaneous and direct
than were the words that now burst from her.

"Tell me--you killed that boy, didn't you?"


I said you should have it soon. It has been a little longer than I
thought. At any rate you have it now.


The remaining events of that evening are easier to set down than to
account for. My difficulty perhaps is that I am trying to tell an
extraordinary thing in terms that are inappropriately plain. Nothing,
for example, would be simpler than to say how we stopped in our walk,
presently resumed it, slowly passed the Palace and the Royal Mews, and
in course of time found ourselves walking up Grosvenor Place. It is true
that we did these things, but it is also true that they are all more or
less beside the mark. I need not urge my point, how beside the mark they
are, by comparison with the remarkable results of being asked by a woman
whom you have known only slightly and whom you have almost forgotten all
about whether you have killed a certain young man. Therefore if, as may
very well be the case, you yourself have no experience on such a point,
that is all the more reason why you should trust me to give, in my own
way, the essence of an hour without parallel in my experience, and, I
imagine, to be matched in that of few others.

As she had spoken I had stepped back, without haste, a pace from her,
taking her umbrella with me. I was stepping back another pace, when my
back encountered the iron railings, stopping me. Until then her hand had
not left my sleeve. Now perhaps three yards separated us, she standing
in the rain, I with her gimcrack of an umbrella. There was a lamp not
far away; the veil of falling rain held and diffused the light of it, so
that I actually saw her with more evenness of detail than I should have
done had she stood directly in the light, one side of her face
illumined, and the other dark; and probably my own face was not entirely
lost in the shadow of the umbrella. Our eyes had met again, exactly as
they had met in the studio....

On her soft floppy hat and over the shoulders of her three-quarters grey
coat I saw the rime of fine rain gather. It became a sort of soft moss
of rain, that gave her figure a faintly discerned outline of light.
Though her wrists were damp and dark, and her skirts straight and heavy,
I still did not think of passing her the umbrella; it is wonderful how
many small things escape you when you have just been asked whether you
have put an end to a young man's life. The rain came on still more
sharply. I saw it gleam on the backs of her kid gloves....

It never occurred to me to wonder how she knew. I suppose I ought to
have wondered this, but I gave it no thought. Instead, I was wondering
why I had never noticed before what her eyes were like--why, indeed, I
had thought them to be quite different. Had you asked me that morning
what Louie Causton's eyes were like I should first have rummaged in my
memory for who Louie Causton was, then have dismissed them as ordinary
and a sort of grey, and so have missed a wonder. Grey? Yes, they were
grey, but that is not saying anything. And perhaps after all it was not
the eyes that held me. Perhaps the eyes were no more than rounds of
crystal between us, pure crystal, hiding nothing. Better still, perhaps
they were of that substance which, placed across itself, allows no light
to pass, but, turned parallel, ceases to intercept. Formerly I had seen
those tourmaline rounds of Louie Causton's grey eyes as it were
transversely placed, opaque, riddling, mocking, impenetrable; now,
quicker than the flicker of a camera-shutter, they had changed, and, for
me, would never again change back. I had seen down into her soul. Her
physical form, three hours before, had not been more openly offered to
my gazing than was that measureless deep interior she showed me now....

And that she too had plunged to the bottom of my own soul, her question
was sufficient evidence.

And now, as that vision of her spirit, stark and piercing as Billy
Izzard's of her body had been, must abide with me for ever, there was no
special need for hurrying matters. Though I had known it not, it was for
that last stripping look that I had whispered so breathlessly to her
over the screen; and she, unlike me, had known why she had whispered
back. So, the thing being now done, our time was our own. As slowly as I
had retreated to the railings, I advanced from them again. Once more I
held the umbrella over her.

"Come," I said. "You're getting wet."

Again, without a moment's hesitation, she passed her hand under my arm,
and we moved towards the Palace.

There are some supreme moments--they say the moment of violent death is
one of them--in which all Life's obscurations are made instantaneously
clear; but if my own supreme moment ought to have taken that form, I can
only say that it did not. No sudden explanations of the hitherto
inexplicable flashed through my mind. Afterwards, when a certain amount
of imperfection had supervened between me and that perfect look, these
explanations did present themselves, yes, in crowds, but not then. I did
not ask why, knowing me for a murderer, she should still take my arm. I
did not wonder how she regarded the matter from Merridew's point of
view. I did not trouble myself about how she knew, nor, for the matter
of that, whether she did know--for she had made no charge, had only put
a question. I cared for nothing but that sweet yet terrible depth and
stillness I had seen beyond the tourmalines of her eyes. Indeed,
somewhere near the Palace, I suddenly found myself irresistibly longing
to look into those eyes again. We were approaching another lamp. I
stopped. Again I did not notice that I did so under a dripping
plane-tree. I looked. They were still the same--flawless transmitters,
accesses to the ether of her soul....

Again she put her question.

"You did kill that boy, didn't you?"

"Yes." (I could not have dared to lie to her.)

"Ah!"...

We walked on again.

And I know not what rest, akin to the longing of a weary spirit for
death, I found in it all. Nor do I know whence came the special and
unimaginable peace that filled me. For that peace was special. My
marriage had been a different rapture; the dreams of the first days of
my love had not been the same; and it was perhaps this that I had
implored in vain that night when, stretching out among my swags and
gargoyles, I had cried to Whatever lay beyond the marbled sky that,
might I but be delivered from this body of an ancient death, my life
should be a dedicated thing. And now, when I least expected it, I had
it. Between me, a man who had committed murder, and her, the mother of a
nameless child, something I knew not--something still and splendid and
awful--had come into being. Do you wonder that, in the stillness and
splendour and awe of it, my brain slumbered within me, so that though
those grey abysses full of answers waited for me, not a question did I
put?...

"Yes," I said. "You know I killed him."

And "Ah!" she said again.

You will not find it difficult to believe that when you have been asked
the question I had been asked, you and your questioner are not on
ordinary terms. Indeed--believe me--you are hardly flesh and blood at
all. You become eyes and voices, and yet not exactly that either--you
are parts of an immanent vision and speech. You will also see that to
dare such a question is to dare to be questioned in your turn.
Therefore, less as wanting the information than as doing her the
reciprocal honour of putting her on the same stark footing as myself, I
again sought those marvellous eyes.

"You asked me," I said, "whether I was happy. I told you.... Are you?"

You have learned what she was; to what you already know I will add one
or two things I picked up later. I wish to show you what elements she
had to make happiness out of. She did fairly well out of her sittings.
Ordinarily she made as much as two pounds a week, and she made more
still when she was engaged for an evening class. To this were to be
added the small sums she made by her crochet-work during her short
rests. (Evie's teacloth had been made during the rests.) When she did
not crochet, she made garments for her boy. She rose daily at seven,
dressed her boy, breakfasted with him, and at nine o'clock brought him
out with her. They walked a quarter of a mile together to her bus, where
the child was met each day by a guardian, an old governess she trusted.
She kissed him, and blew him another kiss as the bus turned the corner.
He always waited with the old governess for this, but sometimes other
buses intervened, so that she went without her last glimpse of him. Then
she sought the studio where she happened to be engaged. There she posed,
crocheted, posed again, lunched, and once more posed. She usually
reached home again at eight o'clock, but when she secured evening
sittings it was eleven before she got back. By that time her boy was in
bed. She dressed him well, fed him well, told him tales, and bought him
tops and toy soldiers. She paid the governess ten shillings a week.
Sundays were her heavenly days. If they were cold or wet, she spent them
in playing with the tops and soldiers on the floor; if they were fine
she took him out on to the commons of Clapham or Wandsworth, or to the
Zoo, for which her employers gave her Sunday tickets. She had saved a
few pounds, and was adding to this sum by shillings and half-crowns,
against the day when she would have to send him to school and start him
in the world. This was her life.

And when I asked her if she was happy, she said, in a voice little
above a whisper, "Yes--now."

Then, with another deep, clear look, she added, "I think I have all the
best of Life."

It did not occur to me just then to wonder what she meant by that "now."
I was pondering her last words. All at once, on a sudden impulse (though
I was pretty sure beforehand what her answer would be), I said:

"He left you?"

Her answer was supremely tranquil and unaffected.

"Yes--as far as he was ever there to leave. It meant nothing--a
folly--merely stupid--it had no significance whatever. I've no grudge
against him. He didn't really wrong me. It hardly mattered, ever--it
doesn't matter--now----"

A question must have shown in my eyes even as I decided not to put it,
for all at once she laughed a little.

"Oh, I'd tell you if you wished to know, but you'd be no wiser. It's a
name you've never heard. But one thing I should like----" For one moment
she hesitated.

"I ask you nothing."

"No; but I should like you to know one thing--oh, quite for my own sake!
If ever you _should_ hear a name--three names--four--you needn't believe
them. I lied perfectly recklessly. It seemed to me--stupidly
perhaps--that I owed him that. So I blackened myself. You see, they
tried to find out--my friends----"

"You mean----?"

"Oh, one lover was enough," she answered, with another laugh, rich, low,
and without bitterness. "And it doesn't matter--_now_."

It was then that I knew what she meant by that reiterated "now." The
thing that beat suddenly in on me explained in a flash that curious
attitude of protection towards myself. That kiss blown from the top of
the morning bus--the shillings she earned by sitting to morose and
impatient artists--those heavenly Sundays--that desertion which also she
ranked as a happiness--her self-slanders rather than betray her
betrayer--all these things together had not, somehow, seemed to me to
make up that "best part of Life" of which she spoke. Beyond even her
beautiful devotion to her boy must lie some other deep sustaining dream.
Without such a dream, her life would not have been what patently it
was--full....

But now it was all in the eyes she turned on me....

And I knew that the look that told me she loved _me_, had long loved me,
and must now go on loving me to the end, put love between us high out of
our reach for ever.

"You can't prevent it," she almost triumphed, shining it all out on me.
"It's mine, whether you want me to have it or not. And of course it
makes no difference to you----"

"None," I murmured mechanically....

"Then _haven't_ I all the best of Life?" she exulted, smiling up at me.

And before that strange tension that for so long had held us had quite
left us, I had muttered, with a little choke, "God bless your little
chap, anyway!"

It was all I could say. The other thing she had told me could make no
difference to me.


Then came the swift change. It came as we reached the top of Grosvenor
Place, turned, and descended again. It came as a torrent of rapid
speech, sometimes both of us speaking at once, both stopping and
waiting, and then both breaking out simultaneously as before. They were
short, half sentences, taken and given back with bewildering quickness.

"And now you want to know----" she said.

"Yes----?"

"--how I knew?"

"How did you?"

"I didn't--quite--I knew in myself--not otherwise."

"In yourself--how?"

"Oh, how does one know these things? One sees this--hears that----"

I clutched at her hand.

"Not so quickly. What 'this'? What 'that'?"

"Well, for one thing, Kitty Windus----"

"Does she know?"

"No----"

"You hesitate."

"She doesn't know. She helped me to knowledge. She doesn't know she
did."

Again I snatched at her hand.

"That's not the same thing. She may know of--that other--but not know
she's let you know."

"That's just possible. That's why I----"

"Oh, anything's possible!" I broke out. "Let's be plain. Does she know
that I killed----?"

"I don't think so. Indeed I'll say no."

"But you hesitate again. (Come this way--it's quieter.)"

As if a fusillade had been suspended there came a thrilling silence. We
were passing St. Peter's Church at the east end of Eaton Square. We were
in the Square before she replied.

"Very well. Don't interrupt unless I ask you questions. I'll be as plain
as I can. It's extraordinarily difficult...."

I waited.

"You see," she began carefully, "Kitty's so--queer. You couldn't expect
that insane arrangement with her to go on indefinitely--I mean that
incredible engagement of yours. She was bound to find out something.
She----"

"Yes--that's it--what _did_ she find out?" broke once more from me.

"Sssh!... Of course she found out--about Evie--that it was Evie you were
in love with. Naturally she did. What woman wouldn't? _I_ saw it, with
far less reason than Kitty had. We won't waste time over that. So after
she left you, she expected week by week to hear of the next thing--your
becoming engaged to Evie. Week by week, I say. How many weeks was it?"

"Four years."

"Week by week, for four years. All those weeks. If it didn't come one
week it would be the next--you see. She prophesied it. It became an
_idée fixe_. You never saw her during that time?"

"I never as much as----"

"Nor heard of her?"

"No."

"You didn't hear of her breakdown?"

"No; but all this doesn't----"

"Doesn't go beyond you and Evie. I know. Don't interrupt. And Evie
didn't hear of her breakdown either?"

"No--I think I can say that."

"What did Evie think of--let us say Archie Merridew's suicide?"

I hesitated. "What should she think? She thought what everybody
thought--more or less."

"As something inexplicable?"

"I assume so--but of course I've never----"

"What does she think now?"

"I hope she doesn't think of it at all. As far as I've been able----"

"Yes, yes, yes.... Plainly, then, have you told her? Told her what you
did?"

"Told her? No!"

"Have you _thought_ of telling her?"

"Have I thought ... do you mean have I thought of killing her too?"

Louie was suddenly silent. A hansom slipped swiftly through the deserted
Square, its wheels making no sound and the slap of the horse's hoofs
dying gradually away in the distance. The rain had stopped, but the
trees still dripped sadly, and something vague and far away had
approached, resolved itself into a policeman's shining cape, and passed
again before Louie spoke.

"Well," she said slowly, "after all, that's not the immediate point.
That comes later. The first thing's Kitty's condition. That condition,
as far as I can make it out, is this. You showed yourself clever and
unscrupulous almost beyond belief in one thing, and she found you out in
that; now, I fancy, she thinks there's no end to your cleverness and
unscrupulousness. Positively no end. You're _capable de tout_.... So she
broods. Of course she ought never to have been allowed to live alone....
And she knows she has these--fancies--about you--and so when she's all
right she's quite persuaded they _are_ fancies. And most of the time she
_is_ all right. Then the fits come, and--she's off."

A quick shiver took me. "Do you mean----?" I faltered.

"Violently? Oh no. At the best she's just as she used to be; at the
worst she's merely helpless, a child. Otherwise I should never dare to
have her come and live with me."

"What, you're----?"

"Well, somebody's got to look after her."

"And so you----?"

"She's coming to me next week."

"I see," I said slowly....

Again such a silence fell on us as, after prolonged sound, has an
importunate quality that even sound has not. As if in a dream, I strove
to realise that Evie and Billy Izzard were away over in the Vale of
Health, dozing probably, awaiting my return from the Berkeley. I tried
to understand the plain fact that I was walking the wet streets in the
company of a woman who, judged by ordinary standards, bore a smirched
reputation, and that I had permitted that woman to make, though without
words, a declaration of her love for me. As this last grew on me a
little, I let my mind take that particular bypath of speculation. I
almost forgot her presence by my side in my odds and ends of memories of
her. Once, at a breaking-up party at the old Business College, she had
said to me: "As you don't come to me, I come to you," and at the same
party she had asked me for a cup of coffee, which I had brought to her
in the crowded room instead of giving it to her in some sequestered
corner where we could "sit out." Then other memories came. Memory adding
itself to memory until I had all the leading facts of her story--that
fatal, insignificant, desperate accident--then, mockingly too late, her
love for myself--her so strangely happy life, its fulness now to be
turned into a superabundance by her voluntary taking up the care of a
weak-minded woman--all, all her happy-unhappy story. And now for us to
be thrown together like this! Extraordinary, extraordinary! I fancy we
were somewhere in the neighbourhood of Sloane Square by this
time--Sloane Square, with Evie and Billy waiting for me in the Vale of
Health, and her boy asleep many hours ago!... I smiled, though grimly
enough, as my eyes encountered my own trousers. Those expensive garments
were soaked to the knees. Louie, broken by her day's arduous sitting,
now hung heavily on my arm. Her sleeves lay flat to her arms, and her
skirt held pounds' weight of water. And we were still walking down Lower
Sloane Street, and approaching the Barracks....

It was in Lower Sloane Street--there is a little naturalist's shop
thereabouts--that I stopped, once more facing her. It seemed to me that
there was something which, if she didn't know it, she ought to know.

"Louie," I said slowly, putting a hand on her shoulder to turn her face
towards mine, "I don't know whether you know what you ought to do?"

I saw that she did know. For the first time I saw a return of her old
ironical smile. But "What's that?" she asked.

"What, unless you do to me, I can now equally do to you."

"And what's that?" she smiled.

"There are no accessories in this business. You're a principal too."

She laughed outright. "All right, Jim," she said. "I'll trust you not to
give me away."

"But listen to me----"

That was exactly what she would not do. She cut in brusquely.

"Oh, my good man, be quiet! Anybody'd think you thought I was going to
blackmail you!" Then, leaning heavily on me once more, "I suppose all
you men take that view of it," she went on, with an energy that
triumphed momentarily over her fatigue, "but here's _my_ view if you
must have it--that men deserve rewards who stamp out creatures like
that! Oh, you needn't look at me--_I'm_ experienced if anybody is, and
_I_ know why young men hang themselves just before their weddings! And
that, Jim--come along, it's no good standing here--that's why I asked
you whether you'd told Evie. You know your own business best, but I'll
tell you this--that if women were on juries not a jury in the land would
convict you! _Oh!_----" She shuddered the more strongly that she earned
her daily bread in the way she did. "_I_ can face these things. I've
learned--I've had to. Am I the same woman you once knew? I think not.
And I tell you plainly, that if you'd done what you have done for me I'd
kiss your feet and ask you to bless me! But of course there's Evie. I
don't know why you haven't told her: I don't know her very well, you
see. My own opinion is that you'll find you've got to tell her. I'm sure
that sooner or later you'll find that. And that reminds me of something
else. What do you suppose you ought to do about Kitty?"

I smothered a groan. "Oh, I'm past supposing," I answered dully.

"Poor man!... Well, this is how it is. Kitty's unreliable. She has these
outbreaks. I hope she'll be better with me, but I can't answer for that.
So--I'm only preparing you, Jim, but it _may_ come to this, that before
she gets it fixed in her head once for all that young Merridew _didn't_
hang himself she's got to be made quite certain that he _did_. Even if
she's got to be told so she must be made certain of that. And I shall be
greatly surprised if you haven't to tell Evie exactly the opposite.
_Voilà!_"

I scarcely heard her now. An overwhelming weariness had come over me.
It was a weariness of the mind no less than of the body. My mind too
seemed to be making an endless pilgrimage through wet and benighted
streets, far from its rest; and even that strange hallucination of
Louie's protection had left me now. After leaving Lower Sloane Street I
suppose we must have turned still farther west, for I seem to remember
that we passed the Chelsea Hospital, but in this I may be wrong, unless
they have since pulled down a row of old houses I distinctly remember
seeing across the road. It must have been not very far from there that I
went for a time, physically and mentally, all to pieces. Probably the
net result of all this talk had just begun to sink into me--that, the
intervening years notwithstanding--my well-nigh flawless planning
notwithstanding[1]--my cares and prayers and vigils notwithstanding--all
was not yet over. I have boasted in my time that I have been untroubled
by what I had done, and that is also no lie; but the consequences are
another matter. Suppose even that Louie were right, and that I had done
nothing but a worthy act; there are still worthy acts that overwhelm the
doer of them. So the prophets were hounded to their death--and I was no
prophet, but, for a space of time of which I took no account, a broken
man, who, in a doorway somewhere near Swan Walk (it was an old doorway,
with a porter's grille and an antique bell-rod), gave out utterly,
began to double at the knees, and would have fallen but for the two arms
of a woman as spent as himself--a woman who murmured, with unthinkable
selflessness and a charity and encouragement and comfort past telling:
"Oh, come, come--come, come!"...

By-and-by--it could not have lasted very long, for a clock somewhere was
striking one, and the public-houses had been closing as we had left
Sloane Square--I was better. I was well enough to walk, still supported
by her, to a bench on the Embankment, where we sat down. Her umbrella
was still in my hands; how I had come to break it I didn't know; but I
had broken it, and I remember thinking dully, as if it had been a great
matter, that I ought to get her another ... or get that one mended....
It was only right that I should pay for it. Somebody would have to pay
for it, and in common fairness it ought not to be she.... And, I
thought, while I was about it, I might as well get her a cab also. She
must be unspeakably tired, and I had four shillings in my pocket....

"Thanks," I said. She had taken off my ruined silk hat and unfastened my
white bow and collar, and was bending over me solicitously, fanning my
face ineffectually, now with my own hat, now with her hand. "Thanks.
That was absurd of me. I'm not--not in the habit of giving out like
this--but we'll finish--another time, if you don't mind. Where do you
live?"

She lived near Clapham Junction. "But what about you?" she said, as we
rose.

"Oh, I'll take a cab too. I'll walk a little way though. Up here--this
seems a likely place for cabs----"

We took one of the minor streets that led to the King's Road. There I
hailed a hansom that was returning eastwards. I had put her into it when
a thought struck me.

"By the way," I said, "what is your name--your business name, I mean?"

She smiled, as if at a wasted care. "Oh, the same," she said.

"Does Billy Izzard know you know me?"

"No. That is, he didn't."

"Well, he does by this time probably. If Evie and he have been
talking----"

("'Urry up, gov'nor!" growled the cabman.)

"He'll think it odd I didn't speak to you. Never mind. Where can I hear
from you?"

"Your office----?"

"Yes--no, I mean, not there." I had suddenly remembered Miss Levey.
"Give me your address."

She gave it to me, and I gave it to the cabman. "You really will take a
cab?" she said, looking anxiously at me as the vehicle pivoted round.

"Yes, yes."

And she was off.

I was in the King's Road, without a penny. It was a quarter to two when
I passed the Post Office near Sloane Square, and it was twenty past by
the time I reached Park Lane. After Park Lane I lost count of the time.
I came out of the doze in which I walked to find myself at various times
in Upper Baker Street, near Lords, and, I don't know how long after
that, on the point of missing the turning into Fitzjohns Avenue. The day
began to break greyly. I still walked, sleeping as I went. It was only
as I ascended Heath Street, hardly a quarter of a mile from home, that I
came sufficiently out of my torpor to begin to wonder what account I
should give of my absence to Evie.

FOOTNOTE:

[1] See "In Accordance with the Evidence."


IV

Three weeks or a month after that night on which I had reopened, so to
speak, a bottle containing a grim and familiar genie, an incident
happened that riled me exceedingly. This was nothing less than an
unexpected meeting, on one of our Sunday visits to Hampton Court, with
Miss Levey.

Under other circumstances this meeting would have been too ludicrous for
annoyance. It happened in the Maze, of all places, where, in some moment
of physiological high spirits, I had taken Evie, threatening to lose her
and leave her there. As a matter of fact, I had lost both her and
myself. Perhaps you know the Maze. Its baffling windings of eight-foot
hedges have their single legitimate way out, which you may find if you
can; but, for the release of burrowers at turning-out time, there is
also a locked iron gate, as impossible to miss as the true exit is to
find. Half-a-dozen times, believing ourselves to be at last in the
proper alley of green, we had been brought up by this gate; and it was
at the gate that we met Miss Levey.

At certain points, where the high mattress-like hedges are a little
thin, you can almost see through them; and several times we had caught
sight of a scarlet shadow, accompanied by a young man in checks. Now,
at the gate, we came full tilt upon this scarlet. Her wide hat and
buttons only were black, and from her bosom projected an enormous frill,
very white against the red cloth, that gave her the appearance of a
pouter pigeon. She had lost Lord Ernest or the President of the Board of
Trade or whoever her companion was, and of course there was no avoiding
her.

"_You_ here!" she cried, seizing both Evie's hands and setting her head
so far back and on one side that it was half lost behind the frill.
"Vell!" (I write it so, though her accent was in reality less marked.)
"This _is_ delightful!--You see, Mr Jeffries----!"

I was mortified, but couldn't very well show it. I laughed. "Oh! What do
I see?"

"Dear Evie and I do meet after all!" she half jested.

"Oh!" I laughed again. "Well, if that's all, you could have met long
ago. I assumed that you didn't come up to see us because you didn't want
to."

It was, of course, lame in the extreme, but Miss Levey saw fit to affect
to believe it. Again she put her head back like an inquisitive bird,
dandling Evie's hands up and down.

"Oh, _I_ thought I wasn't wanted! So of course I stayed away.... Vell,
Evie, I _am_ glad!"

So Evie said she was glad, and I said that I was glad too, with
something about the ridiculousness of such old acquaintances standing on
ceremony, and Miss Levey, I knew, was the only glad one of the three.

"Isn't it annoying, the way we always find ourselves at this gate!" she
said, when at last she had dropped Evie's hands. "Aschael and I have
been here at least ten times! You ought to know the way out, Mr
Jeffries, a clever man like you!"

"I'm afraid I don't, but there's the man up the perch there--he'll
always point out the way."

"Oh, but one doesn't like to be beaten!" she said, with a covert look at
me. "Dear me, I'm quite hot! I think Aschael must have given me the
slip. Perhaps you wouldn't mind finding him for me, Mr Jeffries?"

My polite "With pleasure" didn't in the least represent my feelings, but
as I thought I should recognise the pawnbroker's assistant who had
brought our Arab horse-tamers, I bade them stay where they were, and
left them.

After I had found the ringleted Aschael it took us half-an-hour to
escape from the pair of them, and even then it was done only at the cost
of the invitation I had so obstinately withheld. Miss Levey was to come
up with me from the F.B.C. on the following Wednesday evening, and
Aschael was to fetch her away again at ten o'clock. It seemed quite a
nicely balanced point whether she would kiss Evie or not when she left,
but she did not, and for some minutes after we had lost sight of them I
saw the man up the perch pointing out turnings and heard his calling to
them.

"Deuce take her!" I muttered, twenty minutes later, when Evie and I had
also been shown the way out. We had passed the glowing parterre, and
were just turning into the cool Fountain Court.

"It couldn't be helped, dear," said Evie. "It was all there was to do.
We needn't get into the habit of asking her if you don't want her."

"Oh, it doesn't matter," I answered absently. I was once more wondering
whether Pepper intended to take Miss Levey over presently from the
F.B.C. Already I was pretty well resolved that he should not.

And I was quite resolved on this point when Evie next spoke. We had
stopped by one of the arches, and were looking over the grass plot and
fountain in the middle. The Court was deliciously cool, and I should
have liked Billy Izzard to make a sketch of Evie as she leaned against
the pillar, dressed in soft pink muslin, her hand touching her cheek,
and only her dark eyes darker than that Black Knight sweet-pea of her
hair. Those eyes were full of grave thought.

"Jeff," she said diffidently by-and-by.

"What, dear?"

"You know where you left us just now----"

"Left you and Miss Levey?"

"Yes.... She told me something I think I ought to tell you."

"Oh? She didn't lose much time," I could not forbear remarking.

"It was something I know you'd far rather I told you--it was something
about poor Kitty," Evie went awkwardly on.

"Oh?"...

You may guess from this "Oh?" that I had told Evie no more than I had
thought fit about my meeting with Louie. Indeed, of that extraordinary
walk that had begun at Swan & Edgar's corner and ended in the King's
Road, Chelsea, I had told her nothing at all. When I had reached home
again, at four o'clock in the morning, Evie had been in bed, Billy
asleep by the ashes of the dining-room fire. He had yawned hugely and
stiffly: "A-a-a-h!... I like your idea of a couple of hours in the
evening, my friend! I say, you look rather done up; what have you been
doing with yourself?... Evie? She went to bed at two; she would sit up
till then. What time is it? Nice goings-on at the Berkeley!"

And Billy and I had lighted the fire and breakfasted, moving about
quietly so as not to wake Evie. Evie did not know the exact hour of my
return, and had made no remark about the condition of my hat and
trousers.

It seems an odd thing to say, but I simply had not dared to tell her.
When I say that she would never, never have understood I am not
belittling her either; she simply would not have understood. It would
have been different had I been able to tell her all, but better nothing
than half. Nay, what she already knew was in its way almost too much,
for of course Billy, taking studio mysteries for granted, had told her,
rather as a joke against myself, of my coming upon Louie Causton. Seeing
Evie's almost painful blush, he had been a little sorry he had spoken.
For while Evie liked Billy, she could never get used to the idea of his
models. It was a little as if some outwardly very charming person should
be in reality a known dynamiter. And even when she had grasped the model
(so to speak) in theory, it had only to be made a personal matter for
the blood to rise into her cheeks. Suppose I had come upon Aunt Angela
thus!... So, unable to tell her all, of the later events I had told her
nothing.

But now she said again, looking over the quiet Fountain Court, "It's
about poor Kitty. Louie didn't tell you, I suppose?" (I had admitted
having had a few words with Louie.)

"In Billy's studio, do you mean?"

"Yes."

"No," I answered, with what strictness of veracity you will observe.

I saw, by the way she dropped her great eyes and pushed a bit of gravel
about with her toe, what had come over her again. Just as, on that Bank
Holiday evening in the tea-garden in the Vale of Health, she had had
Kitty, if not on her conscience, at any rate on her magnanimity, so she
had her now. By reason of that slight emptiness and waiting state of her
life (in spite of all that I could do), her thoughts still flew back.
Between my departures in the mornings and returns again o' nights,
reminiscences, the freer in their play that her work was merely
mechanical, still occupied her. These reminiscences welled up again in
her now, and, added to them, filling her breast completely, was that
half-compunctious desire of the victress for the squaring of accounts
that is to be found in the exercise of compassion.

And as I saw her perturbation, something welled up in me too. She did
not know I was looking at her, but I was, and already I had begun to see
the only thing that would be more than temporarily efficacious against
these strayings. There was only one thing. A picture came into my mind
of a woman who blew a kiss from the top of a bus, played on the floor on
Sundays with her boy, and found her life full and happy....

"Oh, my darling," I thought as I looked at her, "is it so very, very
long--so very long and empty?... Very well.... It will modify a good
many plans, but better that.... Your life too shall be full--and your
arms----"

When next she looked up there was, about her eyes, a tiny bright edging
of tears that did not fall.

"Jeff," she said, unusually quickly, "Kitty's ill. She has attacks of
some kind. I couldn't quite make it out. I suppose Miriam Levey'll tell
us all about it on Wednesday. I know you don't like Miriam, but she's
awfully troubled about Kitty, and thinks she ought to be looked after.
Somebody told her--told Miriam--that poor Kitty'd been found one night
walking round and round Lincolns Inn Fields, and when the policeman
asked her, she couldn't remember at first where she lived. Oh, Jeff, it
does seem so sad!"

Privately I found that horrible. It had been in Lincolns Inn Fields that
Kitty and I had walked together, and to think of her still haunting the
place, alone, I found very horrible. But if that horror was mine, it was
not going to be Evie's if I could help it. I nodded gravely, and took
her arm.

"Well," I said (although I was again cudgelling my brains to see how
Miss Levey's visit could be frustrated), "no doubt you will hear all
about it next Wednesday. I wouldn't worry till then.... What about tea?"

We left the Palace, and sought the teashop near the Bridge. Miss Levey
and Aschael passed the door of the shop as we sat, and Miss Levey waved
her hand and gave us an artificially bright smile. But her goose was
cooked with Jeffries & Pepper. I had far too much respect for her
inquisitiveness and persistence to admit her to our new enterprise.
Between her and myself Pepper would not hesitate for long, and I
intended, if necessary, to put the matter in precisely that form....

After tea, Evie and I took another turn in the Palace. It was a golden
evening, with a wonderful bloom on the old walls, windows flashing
yellow, and the forests of twisted chimney-stacks brightly gilded. Her
arm was in mine, and her hand made little delicious pressures from time
to time, and ever and again her cheek seemed to be on the point of
falling against my shoulder. Louie Causton's touch had not thrilled me
thus. Some high forbiddance would ever have said Louie Causton and
myself Nay, but here was flesh of my flesh, and the promise of sweet and
rosy flesh between us--for we had spoken of it, and the west that bathed
all in golden light was not more tranquil than that other heaven in our
hearts....

I remember very well our journey back from Waterloo in the old horse-bus
that night. I remember it because of that whispered new pact between
Evie and myself. She, tired out no less by that gentle vista than by the
fatigues of the day, slept for the greater part of the way with her head
on my shoulder and her hat in my lap; and I had to wake her to change
buses. In the new bus she settled down again; and I was left free to
consider whether the promise I had passed would or would not
necessitate a hastening of matters with Pepper. If it should turn out
so, so much the worse. In any case it had to be done. For fear of the
seven devils, Evie's mind was no longer going to be left as it now was,
swept and garnished.

As it happened, I was spared the trouble, though not the subsequent
responsibility, of putting Miss Levey off for the following Wednesday
evening. On the morning of that very day, as I took Judy a number of
drafts, he said, in Miss Levey's hearing, "Are you doing anything
to-night?"

"To-night? I'm afraid I am," I replied, though solely for Miss Levey's
benefit. "To-morrow I'm not."

"To-morrow won't do. You're a dashed difficult man to get, Jeffries!"

"You should have given me a little notice," I said, though foreseeing
already that Pepper would eat Miss Levey's supper that night.

"Well, we'll talk about it presently; if you can possibly put your
engagement off, do.... Now, Miss Levey----"

He began to give instructions to Miss Levey.

Later in the morning Miss Levey sought me.

"Oh, Mr Jeffries," she began, very _empressée_, "I think we won't come
to-night. Mr Pepper----"

"It is rather awkward," I admitted. "I'm awfully sorry----"

"Please don't apologise. It really doesn't matter. I can come up any
evening, you know."

"Well, in that case----"

"We'll fix another evening. I know you and Mr Pepper have private
affairs."

"Yes," I thought, not very graciously, "and to be in at 'em's the only
thing you want more than to pry into my domestic ones." But aloud I
said, "It's awfully good of you--do tell Mr Aschael how sorry I am."

So it was Judy Pepper, and not Miriam Levey and Aschael, who dined at
Verandah Cottage that night.

Were it for no other reason than to let you know a little of these
Schmerveloff neighbours of mine I should have to tell you of Judy's
visit that evening. This sounds a little portentous, as if my tale were
about to take a sensational turn, with bombs and secret agents in it. Be
calm, it is not; I only mention these Schmerveloffs as standing, in a
way, for certain forces of which Pepper and I intended to make use. A
very few words will explain what I mean.

We are not social theorists, Pepper and I; we have to handle social
problems practically, as they come; and so in the wider humanitarian
sense we may be all wrong. But even then this Schmerveloff school of
thought had its importance for us. It was very useful to us, for
instance, when the Aliens' Act was drafting; and with the outbreak of
Syndicalism, with all the bearings that has had on Trades Disputes, it
became very important indeed. Perhaps, after all, the only hint I need
give you as to the way in which we handled it is this: that, the rate of
progress of this International Socialism being necessarily that of the
slowest-moving and most backward partner in the alliance--Russia--we
have used that fact either as a drag on Syndicalism or as an apparent
encouragement of it, as the needs of the moment dictated. And when I say
"apparent encouragement," I mean that we have winked at all this
translation from the Russian pessimists that has harnessed art to
purposes of social propaganda. That, since racial development is of far
greater lasting weight than economic theory, has seemed to us the
readiest way of letting folk see that Russia's problems are not
necessarily ours; and if we can only keep Syndicalism in check, they may
Russianise our literature completely for all Pepper and I care.

So we talked of Russia that night. Evie, as soon as she had seen Pepper
instead of Miss Levey, had worked herself into a flurry in changing
preparations at the last moment, and had had to run out for candles for
our guest's candlesticks. But when dinner was at last served,
half-an-hour late, nowhere could have been found a prettier waitress
than we had--Evie herself. Indeed, she seemed to prefer waiting to
dining. As long as she was doing things she felt herself on safe
ground; it was the folding hands afterwards to talk to our terribly
engaging visitor that she dreaded. She strove to attain by little
formalisms what he achieved by the mere ease of nature, and, as she
stuck tenaciously to it, I admired what was neither more nor less than a
kind of courage in her. We finished dinner, and ascended to the
drawing-room, I carrying those cumbersome candlesticks.

Pepper worked really hard that night to put Evie at her ease, but alas!
through no fault of anybody's, but by the sheer decreeing of the stars,
his labours were not a success. The first accident he had was when he
asked her how she found her neighbours, compelling her to say that she
didn't find them at all--didn't know them. And when he said, "Ah,
Russians are like that," and related an anecdote, she perturbed me a
little by asking him whether he had been in Russia--for I did not know
that the extraordinary man had, and fancied the question not very kindly
put. But Pepper surprised me by saying "Oh yes," and went on to tell
more stories....

With these stories he was safe for a time, but presently he again had
bad luck. He was speaking, as if he had come for no other purpose than
to tell us travellers' tales, of the difficulty of the Russian language,
which I gathered to be great; and suddenly he said, "But it's an
exceedingly valuable asset from a commercial point of view. Should you
have a boy to put into business, Mrs Jeffries, let him learn Russian."

It was, of course, hyper-sensitive of Evie, but not unnatural in the
circumstances. She coloured deeply; she rose; she said good-night; and
even then Pepper was not at the end of his troubles, for, advancing
punctiliously to open the bedroom door for her, that insecure old door,
that always opened at a touch, flew back, displaying the unmade bed on
which Evie had lain that afternoon, and the general disorder of the
interior. Pepper was already in the midst of a deep bow, but he must
have seen.... After that I got him whisky; we settled down to our talk,
and, ordinary speech being plainly audible from the bedroom, he dropped
his voice to match my own tones--and was, I dare say, heartily glad when
the evening was over.

This mention of our cramped quarters reminds me that I may as well get
those inconveniences of which I told you over at once. To save time, I
will tell you both what they were then, and what they afterwards became.

I had begun well-nigh to hate children. The schools, you see, had not
yet reopened, and urchins played under our windows till half-past nine
or ten o'clock at night. I frequently had work in the evenings that
demanded close concentration, and it mostly happened that, when I sat
down to it, as if by appointment the noise began. I do not know which
howl or thump or bump was the most hideous. Iron hoops, driven with a
hooked iron rod, were bad, but the shouts and whoops and calls, all in a
blood-curdling Cockney accent, were worse; for while by great resolution
you can nerve yourself to endure an iron hoop, you never know which yell
or shout a child is going to emit next. These had all the horror of
unexpectedness. I used to make mental bets on it, and I was always
wrong.... And then sometimes there would come an endless racket that
resembled nothing so much as a fire-engine in full career, which, on
descending, I should discover to come from a diminutive cart at the end
of a string, pulled by a toddler of four.

Sometimes these noises drove me half frantic. I carried my papers from
the dining-room to the drawing-room--thence to the bedroom--I even tried
the kitchen; and this, mark you, was important work, work that has
since, I may say without boasting, become of national value. I spoke to
policemen--I even used the power of beauty, and got Evie to speak to
policemen--but only to be told that they were as helpless as I:
"Children is eddicated now, and not as afraid of bobbies as they used to
be." And on a fatal evening I was so unthinking as to distribute a
number of pennies in order to buy an hour's peace for a calculation that
seriously involved the interests of three shipping lines. That settled
it. Thenceforward I was never without children. One Sunday afternoon I
forgot myself and boxed the ears of the biggest of them. That brought
round a parent--not a father, but a mother.... Ugh!----

And the house itself was far too small. Billy Izzard's sketches on our
walls shook to my tread, and passing vans made the very foundations
tremble. In order to get even our small belongings into the place Evie
had to put boxes inside boxes, and boxes inside these again, so that in
the finding of a garment she had not worn for some time the whole tiny
bedroom floor was choked with boxes. Save for the little recess in the
kitchen, the triangular cupboard under the stairs was the only storage
accommodation we had. With the greatest care, Evie could not always
avoid hanging an old skirt over my best hopsack (West's, Bond Street),
or mislaying some article of which I had need in the very moment of
bolting for my bus. And worst of all was that screen on the verandah
that gave us nothing to look at but a short slope of parched green.
Verandah Cottage! By Jove, yes!...

One other thing I will mention, though this did not come till the
winter. The neighbouring house, which hitherto had been a tomb, became
alive. I never knew the reason for this sudden awakening, nor whether
Schmerveloff had suddenly found himself reduced to taking in lodgers, or
whether he was merely holding out a helping hand to co-revolutionaries
in the hour of their need; but I do know that presently he began to
have a succession of extraordinary visitors. Hairy, uncouth-looking men,
with soft hats, came for a week or a month, and brought their women,
fat, spare, astrakhan-capped or bare-headed. They wore smocks and
embroidered _portières_, and worked at peasant industries. One of them
had a child, the sweetest of little girls--but oh, her sweetness
vanished from me when she began to play at all hours in the garden,
shouting, crowing, and impossible to turn away! I went so far as to wait
on Schmerveloff himself about this dreadful child, and was told that,
inconvenient as these things might be to me, the question was not a
private one at all. It was a Social Question. Society oppressed them,
they oppressed me; it was Society that was wrong.... I told our fellows
this afterwards, when the Aliens' Act was drafting; Robson was immensely
amused. "What did you say?" he asked.... Of course there was nothing to
say....

And then, about Christmas, the Social Question became acute indeed. For
the development of the peasant industries the most Asiatic barber-robber
of the lot set up a furnace, a lathe and an anvil....

No wooden walls (save Nelson's) could have kept that racket out....

Had the sum of the world's beautiful things been added to, I could have
grinned and borne it, but it was beaten copper-work the Asiatic made.

And I could do nothing.

I pass on.

Weeks before this invasion of beards and embroidered casement-cloth, I
earnestly hoped that my firstborn, when I should have one, would never
remember that little house with the glass-panelled door and the
verandah. But the prospect of our "domestic event," as Miss Levey called
it, hardly weighed on me yet. I gave little heed to Louie Causton's
prophecy, that I might sooner or later find myself driven to take the
desperate course of telling Evie what, so far, only Louie and myself
knew; and I did not see, as Louie seemed to see, where the peril lay. If
it was only a question of keeping Evie busy and amused for a little
while longer, I thought I should be able to manage that. Only later did
I see myself as a man who pours water constantly into a vessel and tells
himself that because the level remains the same there is no leak. I
still intended to stand between Evie and Life. In effect, if necessary,
I would live much of her life for her. And now let me, before I leave
this part of my tale, tell you briefly what that life was at its
loveliest.


V

Had there ever been any shadow of a division between Evie and myself,
which there had not, it must have vanished now. I did not attempt to
conceal from myself that her gifts did not extend in all directions
equally. Socially expert in Pepper's sense, for example, she could
hardly yet be expected to be, and I should have been unreasonable to
have reproached her for not grasping the intricate problems that, if the
truth must be told, frequently filled Pepper and myself with perplexity.
But these things are independent of deep humanity, and by as much as she
fell short in them she was richly dowered in other ways. It was still
the love of a woman I wanted, not the semblance of a masculine
friendship; and I had it, and was glad at the thought of my rich
possession. Often, for pure emotion, I caught her in my arms when I saw
her, rejoicing yet timorous before that which was presently to come to
pass; and whether it was a pallor that sometimes crossed her face, or a
sudden glow as of some warm and Venetian underpainting or else a
smiling, happy lassitude infinitely moving in its appeal, all spoke of
the pledge that had been given and taken between us.

Quite past telling was the peace this pledge brought to me. I was, after
all, to begin anew. Despite Life's mauling of my hapless self, here was
a tiny white leaf preparing for the writing of a record that should
supersede and obliterate my own. Deeper things than men know were seeing
to that ushering, and by nothing less miraculous than a birth was I
going to be delivered from the body of that haggard death. Often, as I
seemed to be busily writing at our small folding table, I quite lost
myself in the contemplation of this coming manumission; and day by day,
looking out over Waterloo Place and the Mall, I conjured up her
image--resting while Aunt Angela (who now came up from Woburn Place
almost daily) dusted or swept or washed up, taking her easy walks on the
Heath, sewing (though not now for herself), or doing such light work as
would not tire her. Fortunately, the Social Question next door had
reached the crisis of over-production in the beaten-copper market; a
glut had supervened; and the making of the wooden bowls and carved
porridge-sticks that are designed for oppressed serfs and sold at a high
price to the amateurs of the Difficult Life, caused less disturbance to
our panels and pictures. The whooping child too had gone.

Aunt Angela had bought Evie a deep wicker basket lined with pale blue,
and with the greatest circumspection I delayed to fill this basket too
quickly. We talked for a week before making a purchase, and, in one
case, for quite three weeks. This was when I bought, at a shop near
Great Turnstile, what Evie called a "jangle"--a beautiful Jacobean coral
mounted in silver, with many silver bells and a faint piping whistle at
one end. Both as I entered the shop and left it again a grey nightmare
tried to fasten itself upon me, of a woman who had forgotten where she
lived, walking the Fields round the corner, alone at night; but I shook
the horror off.... Even down to such details did I keep Evie from
fancies--for she had fancies, the ousting of which was a matter for
diversion rather than argument. One of these fancies was that she now
wanted to see Miriam Levey. Another was that she did not want, just then
at any rate, to see Louie Causton.

For as it chanced, Louie came the nearest (though with a nearness sad
enough) to a married woman of anybody she happened at present to know;
this, of course, largely as a result of my own exclusive attitude. Aunt
Angela, by virtue of George and her other experiences, knew as much as
ten married women, and that was frequently precisely the difficulty.
Certain charwomen, I gathered, inured to immoderate families, gave Evie
the benefit of their advice now and then, but that was about all. And it
was one evening as I cast about for an opening to introduce Louie's name
that Evie herself said once more that she would like to see Miss Levey.

"Certainly," I said, with a readiness that was only the result of
seeing no way out of it this time. "As long as she won't tire you."

"I won't let her do that," Evie promised.

"All right," I said.... "And by the way"--I put this as if it had just
occurred to me--"should you care to have Louie Causton up if Billy knows
where to find her?"

"Yes, I should some time--but not just now, dear. You'll tell Miriam,
then?"

"Yes."

I had promised it before I remembered something that might have made me
less ready to promise it. It was now the beginning of October. We had to
take our holidays in rotation at the F.B.C.; for a fortnight I had been
working late in order that Whitlock might take his; and next on the list
in our department was Miss Levey. Grumbling that it was almost too late
to take a holiday at all, she was going away for a week-end only.
Instantly, I saw what that meant....

The next day I capitulated to her as gracefully as I could.

"You'll be able to have a really satisfactory visit now, a whole day," I
said. "It would only have been a couple of hours before."

"I'll take _such_ good care of her!" she purred.

"I am sure you will," I said conciliatingly....

Three days later Miss Levey was up at Verandah Cottage. She was up there
the next day also. Although she had always gone by the time I returned
at night, she was up several times after that.

Well, it couldn't be helped ... and I was going to tell you, not about
Miriam Levey, but about my happiness and Evie's.

Today, in my house in Iddesleigh Gate, there are many things thrust into
dark corners that will ever occupy odd corners of my heart. They are the
pieces of furniture from that poky old place in the Vale of Health. The
people of my household tell me they are shabby, but as I never see them
divorced from a hundred gentle associations, their shabbiness matters
nothing to me. In the children's day-nursery there is the old
shop-damaged couch from the Tottenham Court Road cellar. Its pegamoid is
frayed and its springs broken, but Evie lay on it before those
destructive little hands came into being. She lay on it with her legs
wrapped in an old, faded, mignonette-coloured Paisley shawl--for
presently the days were shortening, we had started fires, and Verandah
Cottage was a Cave of the Winds for draughts; and my housekeeper had a
bad five minutes only the other day when that shawl nearly went out of
the house with the bottles and crates and old rags. The bookshelves Evie
used to dust and polish still serve me; and quite a number of smaller
things, including that first wicker basket into which the "jangle" was
put (Evie keeps that) carry my mind back in a twinkling to that early
time.

Evie had her little jokes about our unborn mite. Still further to repair
the slight on Hampton Court of our Greenwich honeymoon, the infant at
one time was to be called "Hampton," but as she had ten different names
for it each week, a name more or less didn't matter. Its eyes were to be
so-and-so--the colour also varied day by day. If a boy, it was to be of
my own bone and stature; if a girl, less. I used to joke with her when,
seeing her brooding and gently smiling, I pretended to discover these
and a hundred other patterns and specifications in her eyes; but,
however lovely these imaginings were, they were no lovelier than
herself. Though the days now seemed less long, the little _élans_ with
which she ran to me when she heard my step at night were a passionate
rendering of herself far greater than before; and I will end this part
of my tale with the first time, the very first, I heard her sing.

She had gone into the bedroom that night, and I had heard her moving
about; and then there had stolen out low contralto notes that might have
belonged to somebody else, so new were they to me.... She was happy. She
was so happy that she was learning to sing. I stood listening, with
tears gathering in my eyes and suddenly rolling down my cheeks....

She was happy....

She did not know why, a few moments later, with the face of one who
hears joyful news, I pushed at the bedroom door and took her, half
ready for bed as she was, into my arms.

Oh, to hear her, of her own accord, sing--and to know that soon her song
would not more gently rock those feeble limbs and close those unknowing
eyes than it now brought rest to my own weary frame and sleep to my own
heavy eyes, weary with watching for the day that at last, at last was
coming!



PART III

WELL WALK


I

As far as my worldly position is concerned, two leaps have sufficed to
place me where I stand to-day--the first from the Vale of Health to the
Well Walk, not a quarter of a mile away, and the second from Well Walk
to Iddesleigh Gate. I am omitting such interludes as furnished rooms for
short periods and odd times in which I have packed Evie off with the
children to the seaside. We were in the Vale of Health for exactly a
year, and in Well Walk for three. I took the Iddesleigh Gate House,
wonderful ceilings and Amaranth Room and all, from the late Baron
Stillhausen.

But this is a very summary statement of what my real advance has been.
Those who have called me a lucky man--which on the whole I also am
persuaded I am--know nothing of my hidden labour. Of this, since it is
just beginning to show in the contemporary history of my country, I
cannot say very much; and so, picking out a fact here and an incident
there, I shall take leave for the rest of my tale to keep as closely as
may be to my increasingly intricate personal story.

The incident with which I will resume--the incident which resulted in
Louie Causton's appointment to the post still held by Miss Levey--came
about as follows.

In taking the Well Walk house--(here I am skipping six months; my infant
son was born; I still had seven or eight weeks to run with the F.B.C.,
but already our plans were perfected, and the new Consolidation had
already secured its premises in Pall Mall)--in taking the Well Walk
house I had made a woeful miscalculation of how far the Verandah Cottage
furniture would go. Indeed I had so over-estimated its quantity that our
new abode was almost as bare as a barracks, and, occupied as I was with
important business, I had almost got used to its barrenness. But as Evie
had to live in the place, I had found that I really must raise a sum of
money for carpets, curtains, and other things indispensable to married
folk who find themselves three; and I had decided that part of the one
hundred pounds I got as an advance from Pepper was going to be spent on
a dining-room table that I had not always to remember I must not sit
down on. Well, on a Saturday afternoon in October this table came. I saw
it into the dining-room, and then, feeling the need of air, I put on my
hat and coat and took a walk as far as the Whitestone Pond. There I met
Billy Izzard, in the dickens of a temper.

"Well, how goes it, Billy?" I asked cheerfully, seeing that he was put
out. Billy's grumblings always have the effect of cheering me up.

He looked up, scowled, and then resumed his gazing across the Pond. Then
he watched the passage of a horse and cart through the water, looked up
again, and broke out.

"It goes rottenly--that's how it goes!" he growled. "Do you remember
coming into my place one evening when I had a girl sitting for
me--tallish girl, with a perfectly exquisite figure--Louie Causton her
name was?"

I said that I did remember it.

"Well, she's the trouble. I want her--must have her--and I can't get
her. She says she isn't sitting any more; her doctor's forbidden it. Her
doctor!... The jade's as sound as a bell; she never had a doctor in her
life, I'll swear; she just won't sit, doesn't want to. She wheedled that
sketch out of me too, the one I was doing that day--walked off with it
under her arm--stole it, practically--and now I can't get her for love
or money."

This interested me. It interested me so much that to conceal my
interest, I made a joke. "Oh? Tried both?" I said; but Billy went on.

"Perhaps she'll change her mind when she finds she's nothing to live on.
She'll sit in costume, it appears; some cock and bull story about
chills; and she said, Couldn't I paint her in some old supers' duds that
she can hire at the Models' Club for sixpence a day?--me painting
theatrical wardrobes _à la_ Coleman, Roma?... And her crochet!"

"What about her crochet?"

"Her crochet? Why, when I told her she wouldn't make fifteen shillings a
week as Marguerite with the jewel-casket--she's not pretty--I told her
so--she said she could fall back on her crochet! A goddess, I tell you
... and she pitches me a tale about a doctor that she can't help
laughing at herself!"

He ran on, to Louie's detriment from his special point of view, but
already I was wondering what her own point of view might be.

That I had not heard from Louie since that night of the Berkeley dinner
had been, as far as it went, reassuring. Had she needed me, or I her,
whichever in the tangled circumstances it might be, I should have heard
from her; and I had had no reason for seeking her out. When Evie had
told me that Louie now had charge of Kitty Windus she had told me
nothing that I had not already known; and as Evie had had this from
Miriam Levey, I find I must break off for a moment to speak of my
relation with that lady.

Since she had got her fat, high-heeled foot inside my door, Miss Levey's
devotion to Evie had been as unremitting as if, lacking her attentions,
my little son would never have got himself born at all. Not a week had
passed but she had dropped in once or twice, mostly alone, but not
infrequently with the ringleted Aschael. It annoyed me that Evie should
like her as much as apparently she did, and my annoyance was the greater
that I could give no reason for it. One night I had given way rather
petulantly to this annoyance. It had been just before we had left
Verandah Cottage. Billy Izzard had come in and had made some remark
about our Arab horsemen, and, more that I might relish its artistic
vulgarity than for any other reason, I had taken one of these objects
down from the mantelpiece. I had not known that I had held the thing in
a rather vindictive grip until suddenly the plaster had broken in my
hand. My other hand had made an instinctive movement by no means
prompted by presence of mind. I had saved the body of the ornament from
total smash, but the heads both of tamer and steed were in fragments. I
had been on the point of throwing the ridiculous thing away, but had
changed my mind, and put it back on the mantelpiece. Later I had
expressed bland sorrow to Miss Levey, and had assured her that I was
going to have it mended; but I had not done so during the remainder of
our stay at Verandah Cottage. I did not know what had become either of
it or of its companion statue.

During the last anxious days before the birth of our child, Miss Levey
had triumphed over me completely. There had been no withstanding her.
She had bidden me fetch hot-water bottles, had informed me when it was
time for Evie to go to bed, and, conspiring with Aunt Angela, had, in a
word, taken things out of my hands entirely. Once or twice she had
overdone this even in Evie's eyes, but I had been dull enough not to see
at first that her ascendancy over Evie was not direct, but mediate. Only
lately had I discovered that Evie's real interest was, not in Miriam
Levey, but in Kitty Windus.

For those talks I had dreaded yet had been powerless to prevent had
already borne fruit. I don't think it was so much that Evie experienced
again those compassions and magnanimities that had given her that gentle
heartache in the tea-gardens on that Bank Holiday evening, as that she
remembered the wish into which they had solidified--the wish to have
Kitty completely off her mind. Miss Levey, I was pretty sure, had seen
to it that this wish should become firmly fixed. She had evidently
assumed, for example, that I should be adverse to a meeting between
Kitty and Evie. "Your husband wouldn't like it," I could imagine her as
having said; "quite naturally, my dear; one can't blame him; and so I
suppose that ends it." And to the last words I could imagine her as
having given the meaning, "We do seem to be dependent on the will of
this dull opinionative sex for some reason or other--why I can't make
out." Miss Levey, you see, was an economically emancipated woman.

So, though not a word had been said, Kitty had come, by reason of I knew
not what sympathy Miriam Levey had worked up on her behalf, to be
between Evie and myself. That poor Kitty deserved all the sympathy we
could give her I had never a doubt, but you see the two things that
stood in the way--the lesser thing that Miss Levey assumed I "should not
like," and that other huge and fatal thing that was the truth. To the
multitudinous harassings of my business these two things made a dense
background of private harassings.... But I did not intend that another
long and dogged duel should begin between Miriam Levey and myself. She
was not going to be taken over by Pepper, Jeffries and the
Consolidation. If this enterprise did anything at all it would do
something very big indeed; soon I should be placed high above the
wretched little Jewess's power to hurt; and after all, there is no man
who attains to great power but leaves in his train a score of these
carpers, wishful yet impotent to harm.

But the offering of the new post to Louie Causton was another matter. I
hesitated and wavered. Plainly, I doubted whether I had the right to
find Louie a job. In the close-packed fulness of her life, struggles and
anxieties and all, her happiness consisted; and though she might need
the money, as matters stood she had a peace that money could not give,
and might take away. Let her, I thought at first, toil and keep her
heaven.

But that, I thought presently, might be all very high and fine, but
practically not very much to the point. Billy had been perfectly right
when he had said that by costume-sitting and crochet she would hardly
make fifteen shillings a week. I knew of old what heaven in those
circumstances meant, and I had had no boy to look after, and no woman
intermittently infirm. One can have too much even of heaven on those
terms....

And yet it would be impossible to attach her to my own office. What I
had seen in those grey eyes on the night of the Berkeley dinner would
not brook daily meetings, dictation of letters, and the other duties I
had already cast Whitlock for. Myself left out of the question, she, I
was quite sure, would never accept it. Turn her over to Pepper, then?
That would hardly be fair to Pepper, who might wish to choose for
himself....

And one other thing, of which I will speak presently, had already caused
my cheeks to burn.

Well, I should have to see what I could do.

It did not surprise me much that when I reached Well Walk again, Miss
Levey was there. That echoing, half-furnished house of ours, I ought to
say, was on the south side of the Walk, and my own study was on the
ground floor at the back, with Evie's drawing-room immediately overhead.
I heard this drawing-room door open as I entered, and it was on the bare
half-landing, against the red and blue window, with cut-glass stars
round its border, that I saw Miss Levey's flamingo-coloured costume with
the black satin buttons.

"Oh, here he is," Evie was saying; "he'll take you on to your bus.
Good-bye, Miriam, dear--remember me to Aschael----"

"Good-bye, darling--don't forget, will you?"

"Good-bye."

I remember that it was as I took Miss Levey to her bus that afternoon
that she asked me to call her by her Christian name. Instantly I did
so--and forgot her request again with a promptitude even greater. To
tell the truth, that "Remember me to Aschael" of Evie's stuck a little
in my throat. A little more ceremony, it seemed to me, would have fitted
the relation better, and I differed from Miss Levey if she thought that
in asking me to call her "Miriam," she, and not I, was conferring the
favour. Therefore as I saw her off I again addressed her as "Miss Levey"
and let her take it as an inadvertence or not as she list. Then, with
that "Remember me to Aschael" again uppermost in my mind, I returned to
Evie.

In hoping to see her alone, however, I was again disappointed. This time
Aunt Angela was there. She was standing by the new dining-table, and
apparently deploring my purchase.

"_What_ a pity!" she was saying. "Just when I'd arranged for you to have
that one of mine! I meant it as a surprise--oh, why didn't I tell you
sooner!"

I have referred, I hope not unkindly, to a certain laxity in this dear
and harmless spinster's hold on life. Since the birth of our child this
laxity had become intensified, if such a word can be used of laxity, and
very rarely had she come up to see us empty-handed. From some mysterious
hoard of belongings that seemed ever on the point of exhaustion and yet
ever stood the strain of another gift, she had brought, now a tiny pair
of knitted woollen socks, now a shawl, now a bit of silver, and even the
mite's cradle was that in which Evie herself had been rocked. She found
a pleasure quite paradisal in these continual givings. I think they were
her spiritual boasts of how little she required for herself.

"_What_ a pity!" she purred again. "But I dare say they'd take it
back----"

"Hallo!" I said, shaking hands. "Take what back? What's that you're
saying?"

"This table. I'm sure they'd let you off your bargain for ten shillings
or so. The money would be so much more useful."

I laughed. "Oh, money's no object," I said.

This, of course, was mere mischief. The truth was that Angela Soames,
like Evie, had begun to hold my ambition a good deal in dread. It had
been good fun to think about in the early stages; they had enjoyed that
part as much as anybody; but to take the plunge as I was taking it
was--in Miss Angela's case I might almost say "impious"; certainly it
was a storming of destiny that was bound to bring a crop of consequences
they were sure I had not sufficiently weighed. So it had become my
habit to hold their timidity over them as a joke, talking sometimes in
sums that might have staggered even the Consolidation. "Oh, money's no
object!" I said, laughing.

"Well!" Aunt Angela retorted, "even you can't afford to throw it away
till you've got it. So, Evie, I thought my round table in place of this
one--send this back--and the tea-urn I promised you in the middle of the
sideboard, with Mr. Pepper's candlesticks on each side of it--just
here--and you could buy a quite nice pair of curtains with the pound
Jeff turns up his nose at."

I interrupted. "Your tea-urn? Oh, come, come! We're not going to accept
that!"

But she only dropped her eyes. "My wants are few," she said, "and I've
more than enough for them. You young people come first. How do you know
I haven't had a legacy?... And of course I shall have the table
repolished, Evie, and if Jeff _will_ be stupid, you can have it in the
drawing-room, in that corner by the bureau----"

I was about to laugh again at the artless mixture in her of expansive
unworldliness and quite astute machination when suddenly I thought
better of it, and turned away. Aunt Angela was taking off her hat and
giving coquettish touches to her tall, snowy hair. As that meant that
she proposed to spend the evening with us, I had to postpone what I
wished to say to Evie until she should have departed.


II

This was no more than that I thought the Christian name business was
being a little overdone; but the more I thought of it, the less easy did
it become to put. Perhaps you see my difficulty. It was, in a word,
this: that a man on whom circumstances have pressed with such unique
urgency that he has had, or conceived himself to have, no choice but to
effect the removal of a fellow-being from the world, cannot take even so
small a matter as this precisely as another man can. The quick of his
soul is perpetually exposed. There are no trifles in his world. What is
another man's slight annoyance is to him the menace of an assassination;
another's nothings are his doom. A single unconscious touch and the
toucher starts back with an amazed "What's this?"

Yet I have said that it was not remorse that bred this sensitiveness in
me, and I hasten to maintain that. Remorse is a damage, in which a man
is penally mulcted; but this of mine was no more than a price, fairly
and squarely agreed upon, which I was prepared to pay. It was a heavy
one; you may take my word for it that there is no more costly purchase
in the whole market of human happenings than a righteous murder; but it
still remained a price, in the fixing of which I had concurred. More
than this: men have been known, from remorse, to give themselves up; but
at the thought of such a surrender I grew hot and vehement. I
appreciated the point of view of the very revolutionaries against whom
my life's work has been directed. What! Suffer an outside judgment when
I was acquitted in my own!... I laughed, and in my laughter found
courage. Not I!...

And a man is not in the grip of remorse who, asked whether he would do
his deed again, can reply with a deep "By heaven--yes!"

Nevertheless, I was perilously open. I alone among men could not rebuff
the freedom of a Christian name without bringing my soul into the
transaction; nay, I could not even buy a dining-table without having (as
I had just had) to check an utterance and to turn away. For at Aunt
Angela's words, "How do you know I haven't had a legacy?" I had become
vigilant again. She had had no legacy; I knew that; but she _had_ been
twice or thrice to Guildford, and, if she wished to indulge herself in
the luxury of giving, would be likely to make the most rather than the
least of whatever mementoes of the late Mrs Merridew she might have
chanced to come by. You see how, on an afternoon taken at random, two
nothings had made still denser by a fraction that background of which I
was every moment conscious. I was beginning to realise that I was the
man who was denied the luxury of carelessness. I might not jest or laugh
or move a finger without first looking around the corner. I went
hampered among free men. I tell you it is a hard thing to live in a
world that has no trifles....

Still, exposed or guarded, I had my life to live, and I was no longer
disposed in the matter of this intimacy with Miss Levey to do nothing at
all. Therefore, when I returned from seeing Aunt Angela away and found
Evie still in the dining-room, I took my risk.

She ought to have been in bed; but instead she had drawn up a chair to
an old bureau, and was quite unnecessarily fiddling with old papers and
letters and nondescript objects put away in the nest of drawers. She
looked up as I entered, and the vivacity with which she spoke seemed a
little forced.

"Fancy, Jeff!" she exclaimed, her fingers in the leaves of some old
twopenny notebook or other, "I can actually read my old shorthand yet! I
should have thought I'd forgotten all about it, after all this time!
I'll bet I could read as quickly as you!"

I stirred the dying fire. "Isn't it time you were in bed?" I said.

"Oh, just let me tidy this--I sha'n't be many minutes."

And while I picked up an evening paper she went on with her pottering
about the bureau.

But the light sound of the moving paper began to get a little on my
nerves. It does that sometimes. I suppose it's like some people
fidgeting if there is a cat in the room. And presently I noticed that
when she supposed me to be busily reading the rustling stopped. It was
no good going on like this; the sooner I came to the point and said what
I had to say, the better. I thought for a moment, and then put down my
newspaper.

"Evie----" I said.

"Yes, dear?" she said brightly....

I put it with perfect gentleness. Suddenness and sharpness also are
among the trifles of life I had had to forego. When I had finished, she
did not seem surprised. She only nodded once or twice.

"I see," she said slowly. "Well, Miriam--I mean Miss Levey, if you wish
it, dear----"

"No, darling; I don't know that I go as far as that. I was only speaking
of these broadcast intimacies."

"Miriam, then--Miriam said you would object----"

"Well, I never denied Miriam a certain acuteness."

But she shook her head. For a minute or two I had been sure that I was
not the only one who had something to say. When she did go on, it was at
first haltingly, and then with just such a little setting of her
resolution as she had used when, years ago, a sweet and awkward flapper,
she had complimented me on my spurious engagement to the lady whose
name she now suddenly mentioned.

"I don't mean to object to--to what you've been saying, Jeff. I mean--I
mean object to this about poor Kitty. I know," she quickened, as if to
forestall a remark, "that we haven't said anything about it--you and
I--for a long time--but"--once more the rush--"I've felt you've known
what I've been thinking, Jeff----"

I gained a little time. "But I wasn't speaking of Kitty Windus, dear," I
said. "It was something quite different."

Then, before her look of trouble and appeal, I ceased my pretence.

"Very well, dearest," I sighed. "But tell me one thing. If I hadn't said
anything to-night, _you_ wanted to say something."

"Yes," she mumbled in a low voice to the twopenny notebook.

"Is that what Miss Levey meant when she said 'Don't forget' an hour or
two ago?"

"Yes."

"You hadn't to forget to--to bring something, whatever it is, up about
Kitty?"

Her silence told me that that was so. Then, slowly:

"And why should she think I should object to that?" I asked.

Evie's manner changed with almost electrical suddenness. She thrust her
hands into her lap, straightened her back, and spoke almost
victoriously.

"_There!_ I _knew_! I told her so!" she triumphed. "'Miriam,' I said,
'you're _quite_ wrong in thinking that--that----'"

"In thinking there's something to be ashamed of in an old engagement
you've changed your mind about?" I suggested gently.

"Yes!" she exulted. "I said to her, 'Jeff wouldn't in the _least_ mind
my going to see her if I wanted'--and you wouldn't, would you, Jeff?"

"No," I said quickly. I said it quickly lest I should not say it at all.
Then I qualified. "No.... One shrinks from pain, that's all, either
enduring it or giving it."

"Giving Kitty pain?"

"Well, does Miss Levey think it would be pleasant to her--or is she
merely willing to hurt her if she can hurt me too?"

"But--but--Miriam says she would really be awfully pleased--Kitty
would--and I'm sure you're wrong, Jeff, about things like that lasting
for years and years! They don't. I----" She checked herself.

But whether it was the check or what not that made the difference, all
at once she started forward from the bureau and sank on her knees at my
side. She herself put one of my hands about her waist, as if to compel
it to a caress, and stroked her cheek against the other. The words she
murmured were disjointed enough, but her tone was, oh, so eloquent....

"Dear, dear!" she besought me. "Miriam _was_ wrong, wasn't she? Not that
I care in the very least, only I've been, oh, so wretched, thinking
there was something between us! I don't want to see her--Miriam--nor
Kitty--very much--but it was so lonely--till Jack came--and there isn't
anything now, is there, Jeff? I know there has been--but it's gone now,
hasn't it?... Great strong hand!" She moistened it with her
breathing.... "But it _is_ all right now, isn't it, Jeff?"

I did not know why, all in a moment, I found myself remembering that
curious prophecy of Louie Causton's: "I think you'll find that sooner or
later you've got to tell her." Perhaps it was that in that moment I had
my first glimpse of what Louie had really meant. Already it was useless
to say there had been no slight shadow between us; Evie, who knew few
things, at least knew that; but I had not dared to acknowledge it for
fear of worse.... Yes, I began to see; and with my seeing I again grew
hot and rebellious.

Why, since the act I had committed had had at least as much of good as
of evil in it, should I be hounded thus? Why should trifles accrete to
an ancient and hideous memory until it became a corporeal, living,
malignant thing? Why should that commonest of experiences, an old
rescinded engagement, not, in my case also, be what Evie thought it
was--a wound made whole again, or at any rate so hardened over that it
could be touched without provoking a sharp scream of pain? It was
intolerable....

Oh, never, if you can help it, live in a world without trifles!

Evie, at my knee, continued to supplicate. "Oh, darling, I've so, _so_
wanted it to be like it was at first! Do you remember--in Kensington
Gardens, sweetheart?"

And she turned up those loveliest eyes I ever looked into....


It had been in Kensington Gardens, early on a September evening, that I
had asked her to marry me. Our chairs had been so drawn back into the
clump of laurels that the man with the tickets had not noticed us, and
we ourselves had seen little but a distant corner of the Palace, and,
forty yards away across the grass, a dead ash gilded by the setting sun.
At the F.B.C. Pepper had just begun to single out his new Jun. Ex. Con.
for special jobs, and as a matter of fact I had had a small rise of
salary that very week. Little enough it had been; certainly not enough
to warrant me in exchanging our footing--one of increasingly frequent
calls at Woburn Place and goodness knows how much lingering in likely
streets on the chance of a sight of her--for a more explicit relation;
but--well, as I say, I had thrust all else recklessly aside, and that
evening had asked her to marry me.

There are some things that one must needs exaggerate if one is to speak
of them at all; so if I say that at first it had seemed to her that my
proposal was merely that two bruised spirits should thenceforward make
the best of things together, I must leave you to discount that. I don't
think she had known clearly what she had felt. The hand I had taken had
trembled a little, and in the great dark eyes that had looked
steadfastly away to the dead ash I had fancied I had discerned the
beginnings of a refusal--a refusal out of mere customariness and a
settled acceptance of our former relation. I had fancied that----

But even to the trembler a tremble may speak truer than words, and she
had trembled and become conscious of it. For the first time it had
occurred to her, sweet soul, that we had been all unconsciously passing
from friendship to love, and were now making the discovery together. She
had not known that I had never had anything but love from which to pass;
and another access of trembling had taken her....

"The last evening you and I had a walk together," she had whispered at
last, her eyes still gravely on the pale ash, "we--we didn't think
of--this."

(Did I mention that during all the time I had known her we had only
spent one other evening out of doors alone together? It had been more
than four years before, and we had heard a nightingale sing on Wimbledon
Common.)

I had not answered. To allow the memory of that other evening to
repossess her had seemed the best answer to make. For though we pack our
hearts daily with the stuff of life, only time shows us which is the
tinsel we have coveted, and which the lump we have not known to be gold.
More than four years had passed; presently those four years would have
opened her eyes to differences too; and so I had waited....

And, if not yet discovered, at any rate sudden and troubling new
questions had crowded into her eyes as I had watched. Another silence of
many minutes, then:

"We've been such friends up to now," she had faltered, as much to the
darkening evening as to myself.

"Need that mean 'No,' Evie?"...

"I don't know--it's so--strange--I never----"

I had drawn a little nearer.

"Never? Never once? You never once thought that perhaps----?"

Then once more had come the memories of that other evening, with the
unhappiness of another's bringing, and the comfort of my own. Night had
begun to creep under the trees, but the shadows but made zenith the
purer. On such evenings lovers vie with one another in looking for the
first star, but we were not lovers yet, and could see nothing save the
ash, now become grey, and away to the north the faint yellow haze of the
Bayswater Road. Evie's own figure had become dim until little of it had
showed but the handkerchief in her lap, the narrow white stripe of her
black and white blouse where her little black jacket parted, and, as at
last she had turned, the motion of her eyes.

"You don't want an answer now, Jeff," she had said quickly, immediately
dropping the eyes again.

But I had wanted my answer there and then.

"Now," I had replied as quickly as she, with I know not what grimness
and resolution mingled with my tenderness.

"Not now, Jeff--I'm fonder of you than of anybody--you know
that--but--but----"

But if her "buts" had included the vanished Kitty Windus, Archie
Merridew, or anything else from that four-year-old dustheap, I had
allowed them to avail her little. Over my heart too had come that
nightingale's song, heard by a still mere, and her hapless sobbing on my
breast because Life was harsh, and my own desperate struggle not to
clasp her there and then. Repression so powerful as that had been is not
given twice to a man, at any rate not to such a man as I; nor had I
thought that she, whose tremors were more eloquent than her speech, had
desired it either.... "Not now, Jeff--please--soon----" she had half
sobbed, shrinking as it were from the wonder of her own enlightenment;
and her handkerchief had fallen to the grass....

The next moment, in returning it to her, I had had her in my arms.

Those truer tidings than any words of hers could give expression to had
come from the lips that had not even sought to avoid mine. Sought to
avoid them? I call the first star that peeped through the laurels to
witness the handful of dust that friendship of ours had become. Speech?
Language? She used neither; to me in that moment she _was_ both speech
and language--vocal flesh, her very hair and eyes an utterance. You will
not ask me an utterance of what; I take my chance of being understood in
the light of what Woman is to you. Make her what you will: a riddle
herself--or the answer to the deepest enigma of the soul; as much earth
as a man's hard hands must needs be filled with--or as much spirit as he
can bear until he himself is all spirit; a lovely casket--yet not too
lovely for the scroll of the Freedom it contains. Have it your own way.
I only know that if she spoke thus I heard as if my whole body had been
one attuned and exquisite nerve. We had drawn a little deeper into the
laurels.... Again we kissed....

And in my heart there had been jealousy of no man, dead or living. That
dead young man had awakened her from sleep, but I had made her mine
with her eyes wide open. He had taken her by surprise, but me she had
chosen. And as our lips had met once more, I had known that she loved
even the pain I caused her in straining her in my arms.

"You never once--never once thought of it?" I had said huskily at last.

"Dear--dear! How _was_ I to?"

"Kiss me--kiss me----"

And now, on her knees at my knee by our dying dining-room fire, she
asked me if I remembered that evening in Kensington Gardens.

All at once I vowed that I wouldn't stand it--wouldn't stand the
intervention of anything on earth, whether of my own making or
another's, between us and that first joy. And again, as I held her, I
thought of Louie's words. Louie was right--or at least half right. For
the present the shadow had passed, but unless I did something now, it
would return. Again we should drift apart, and Miss Levey would keep us
so. If I did not partly explain, circumstances might do so entirely.
Yes, Louie was so far right. If I was to keep the dearest thing on earth
to me, I must make a half-truth seem to guarantee the false remainder,
and tell Evie of that cruel Kitty Windus episode.

And so I come to my first, though not to my last, attempt to tell
without telling, and, as they say, to make my omelette without breaking
my eggs.

Her cheek was still against my hand; I looked mournfully down on her.
With such a goal it didn't much matter where I began.

"What do you suppose, darling," I began, "Miss Levey's object is in all
this?"

Evie's eyes moved to the mantelpiece. It was a bare entablature of black
marble, with nothing on it but a small Swiss clock and one or two
cabinet photographs--no Arab horsemen. Shyly she glanced from the
mantelpiece corner, where the horsemen should have been, to me.

"Yes, she asked to-day whether you'd got it mended," she murmured.

"Do you really like her?"

"I was so lonely, Jeff," she pleaded.

"Poor child!... Evie----"

She looked quickly up at my change of tone.

"What?"

"I want to tell you what her object is. I don't find it easy."

"What do you mean, Jeff?" she asked, strangely abruptly.

"And I'm afraid you won't find it easy either."

She had dropped my hand. "Jeff, what do you mean?"

"I mean that she thinks she's found out--is finding out--something
discreditable about me."

At first I did not understand the change, almost to horror, that came
into Evie's eyes. Only after a moment almost of fear of what I saw
there did I fathom her thought. I don't know how men speak who have an
unfaithfulness to confess to their wives, but it flashed on me that Evie
actually thought it might be that--so can pure innocence and worldly
experience be pierced by the same fear.

"Jeff," she said faintly, her colour all gone, "don't you--haven't
you--loved me?"

"Loved you?" I laughed for the irony of it. "Yes, dearest," I said
quietly, "I've loved you. Never fear for that. That was the beginning of
it all."

"The beginning?"

"Of what Miss Levey thinks. Dear, could you bear to think she's right,
and that I've been a blackguard?"

So great was her suspense that the little sound she made was one almost
of irritation. "Oh, Jeff, say what you've got to say----"

"It's why I spoke of causing pain to Kitty Windus----"

"Oh, you're cruel----!"

I moistened my lips. "Very well...."


Locked up in my private desk, written in Pitman's shorthand, there lies
a full statement of that curious affair of mine with Kitty Windus; but I
am not going to quote from that statement here. So long as it is
understood that that heartless thing had existed side by side with a
love for Evie that had never for a moment wavered, that is all that
matters. I had now no longer a thought for the undesirableness, the
danger even, of a meeting between Evie and Kitty; risky though that
would be, I now saw nothing save that we were reunited, and that we
could only remain so by passing on to her a portion of my shame. If you
don't see this you are lucky. Your life has trifles in it. You can buy
dining-tables, and use or reject the familiarity of Christian names. You
have not had to carry upon your shoulders a weight greater than a man
can support, nor to choose which portion you are to leave on the road
behind you unless your back is to break. You have not known the
conclusion to which--but you shall hear the conclusion to which I have
been driven all in good time.

In the meantime, sparing myself in her eyes no more than I am sparing
myself in yours now, I told her how little she had ever had to fear from
Kitty Windus.


The hands of the tiny Swiss clock on the mantelpiece pointed to
half-past ten by the time I had finished. I gazed at the clock dully,
thinking for a moment how little time my recital had occupied. Then I
remembered that the hands had pointed to half-past ten before I had
begun.... Mechanically I took the clock down and wound it up. To wind
up a clock was something to do until Evie should speak.

She had not once interrupted me. At one point of my story she had merely
got up from my knee and seated herself in a low rocking-chair, in which
she now rocked softly. As I still sat with the clock in my hands I tried
idly to remember at which point of my story she had got up; it might be
an indication of her state of mind; but I forgot this again, and found
myself examining the back of the clock almost with curiosity. I did not
look at her. I put the clock back on the mantelpiece again and once more
sat down, still without looking at her. Glancing presently at the clock
again I saw that its hands pointed to five and twenty minutes to eleven.
I had wound it up, but had forgotten to set it right. That again was
something to do. I adjusted it by my watch, and again sat down.

Then she spoke, and my heart sank. There was nothing in her tone but
wonderment--wonderment, not at the story I had told her, but that I
should have found it worth telling at all.

After all that portentous preparation--only that!

Odd enough, of course--sad enough, if you liked--but----

"Well, but, Jeff," she said, puzzled, "what about it?"

"Don't you see?" I asked, in a lower voice.

"Of course I see--how do you mean, 'see'? And I think you were awfully
stupid. She was _bound_ to find out, and she did find out, and left you,
poor dear. It was absurd from beginning to end. Really I shall begin to
think myself clever and you a simpleton, if that's all you've been
moping about."

As you see, I had not advanced matters by one single inch.

"It _is_ all, isn't it, Jeff?" she asked anxiously, suddenly sitting
forward in the rocking-chair. "I don't mean," she went on more anxiously
still, "that the whole thing wasn't awfully queer--not quite nice, dear,
to speak the truth--but--but"--again there returned that quick look of
fear with which she had asked me whether I had not loved
her--"but--there wasn't--anything--Jeff?"

I sank back in my chair.

"No, there wasn't--anything," I said wearily.

"Then, Jeff----" she cried gladly.

And the next moment she was at my knee again, overflowing with comfort
and compassion.

"You poor boy--you poor darling boy!" she crooned, so melted by my
contrition that my offence went uncondemned. "Poor love!... And," she
looked adorably up, "how _could_ Evie reproach you, Jeff, when it was
all for her? Darling!" she broke out, "_you_ ought to reproach _me_, for
thinking.... But you were so fearfully solemn.... I thought perhaps you
hadn't loved Evie.... _Has_ always loved Evie, hasn't he? And _will_
always love her, yes? Great strong hand!"

And as she murmured thus, again I thought of Louie. It was with
something like awe that I did so. "I think you'll find that sooner or
later you've got to tell her." How did she know that? Did she know it?
Had she foreseen how half-attempts would end, and known them beforehand
to be wasted breath?

Then there came upon me the great need to see Louie again. I must see
her, and quickly. With Evie still unenlightened, the actual perils of a
meeting between herself and Kitty stood forward again, exactly as
before. Evie herself might not now wish for such a meeting, but that
would be on my account, and not that, if Kitty didn't mind, or
positively wished it, she saw any reason against it. Why should she, if
Kitty didn't?... Yes, I must see Louie again, at once. To-morrow was
Sunday. I must see her on the Monday. I must write--telephone--do
something----

"And to-morrow, Jeff," Evie was saying, with decision, "you really must
have a walk. You're working yourself ill--you look worried to death. I
can't come, of course, but I wish you'd go to Amersham or Chalfont or
somewhere, just for a blow. Leave horrid business just for one day, and
I'll have a nice supper ready for you when you come back. I shall be all
right.... Hush! Listen!"

From upstairs had come a low, reedy cry.

"That's Jackie--I must fly! Don't sit down here, dear--come now----"

And she was off.

I followed her; and as I stood looking down on the boy, who had gone to
sleep again of himself, I remembered my former dream, that by the wonder
of an innocent birth atonement was to have come. I sighed. Apparently it
hadn't.

Well, I must see Louie on the Monday, that was all.


III

I did see her on the Monday. I saw her at the models' Club, to which
place I telephoned early on the Monday morning. I had the luck to get on
to her immediately. "Yes?... This is Miss Causton," came the diminished
voice over the wire; and she said she would see me that evening at
seven. I sent Evie a message that I should be late.

Perhaps you know those premises in the Chelsea Square. Two houses have
been thrown into one, but all I know of the establishment is the two
rooms of the ground floor, which, barring a narrow passage with a
rustling bead curtain across it, communicate. The room on the left of
the curtain is a large bare apartment that is used for parties,
tableaux, dancing and such like entertainments; that on the right is the
tea-room, sewing and wardrobe room, and room for general purposes. At
one end of it is a kitchener; placed near the kitchener is a small
service counter, brass foot-rail and all, that has done duty in some
saloon bar or other--it was probably picked up in the York Road, N.; and
the furniture has been given piecemeal by artists and is characterised
by great variety. The members can get tea for threepence halfpenny and
dinner for eightpence; and of course I was Louie Causton's guest. She
was looking out of the window as I approached the house; she herself
opened the door to me; and we walked through the bead portière and
entered the party-room on the left. We sat down by a yellow upright
piano at the farther end of this room. I heard the frying of chops
across the passage. They wouldn't be long, Louie said, and then added
that I was looking pretty well.

A long walk round Chalfont Woods the previous day had, in fact, done me
good. She herself appeared to be in excellent health and spirits. She
asked me whether I had seen Billy Izzard lately, and then, without
waiting for an answer, laughed as two girls, in waltzing attitude,
balanced in the doorway for a moment, and then, seeing us, went out
again. "The girls dance in here," Louie explained. "Oh, do you?" I
remarked. "Oh, _I_ don't," was her reply; and she went on to ask what
was new with me. It was all refreshingly ordinary and matter-of-fact,
and there was no indication that she had any serious care on her mind.

A stout woman in an apron appeared in the doorway and announced that our
chops were ready. We passed into the other room. I said that the
furniture of the Club had been given by artists; the table at which we
sat down had been a card-table. As I could not get my legs under it I
had to sit sideways at it, and our plates, cups and saucers were edge
to edge, with the salt and pepper in the interstices. Louie smiled and
said something about our interview being literally a tête-à-tête, and we
attacked our chops.

From where I sat I could see the vista of the party-room across the
passage, and Louie's eyes, as they met mine from time to time, had
something of the same soft sheen of the polished floor of that
apartment. She wore a navy blue skirt and plain white mercerised blouse
without collar or any other finish at the neck; and as we ate and talked
of this and that there rose in my mind again that surmise I had had when
Billy had told me, by the Whitestone Pond, that she had stopped sitting.
Nothing that I can describe happened to confirm that surmise, and yet
somehow I was conscious of the growing confirmation. It had begun when
she had twinkled and said, "How's Billy?" and a moment or two later,
when the two girls had stood poised in the doorway for dancing, she had
smiled and said, "Oh, _I_ don't dance." The twinkle about Billy had not
been lost on me; and when I tell you that the single dance of my own
life had been with her, years before, at a breaking-up party at the old
Business College, perhaps you can make a guess at the nature of my
surmise.

For I had read in those eyes of hers, on that night of the Berkeley
dinner, that she loved me and must go on loving me; and she herself had
said, in so many words, "It's nothing to do with you--you can't help
that." And now she had taken this fantastic resolution not to sit any
more. Whether I would have it so or not, she had a right in me, in
which, quite calmly and ordinarily, she now exulted. Yet had ever before
mortal woman exulted over anything less substantial? The whole thing
seemed to me both preposterously lovely and quite movingly absurd. She
had wheedled out of Billy that perfect sketch that had stood on his
easel that evening I had walked, unannounced, into his room opposite the
Cobden Statue. Why? What ridiculous and sacred tapers did she burn about
it? Billy must now paint her in costume or not at all. Why? Of what
beautiful and empty union was this a consummation? Did she seriously
intend that thenceforward no eye but mine---- But I waste words. You see
it or you don't see it. That, as near as makes no matter, appeared to be
how things stood between us, and there was nothing to tell me that she
was not happy in this beautiful lunacy. As for myself, I supposed I must
be content to be owned almost to the point of insult in possession.

"I'm just beginning to get used to it," I remember she said to me at one
stage of that evening--the thing she was just beginning to get used to
being sitting under the new conditions. "Did you know it was really
harder? Your clothes tingle on you, you know."

I mention this only to show that, since she might speak at her pleasure
of a thing of which I might not even recognise the existence, her
tyranny over me was pretty complete.

We had finished our chops, and I was wondering what she supposed my
reason for having sought her to be, when she herself put the direct
question. She put her plate on the floor so as to make room for her
elbows on the table.

"Give me a cigarette if you have one," she said. "I'm afraid I've picked
up that habit here. All the girls do it: there's a cigarette-case in
their bags if there's nothing else."

And when I had given her a light, she put her elbows on the table again,
her wrists and forearms fell into an attitude that really made me sorrow
for Billy, and she said: "Well, what is it?"

With no more waste of words than she herself had used, I told her of
Miss Levey's voracious curiosity, of Evie's perplexed sense of something
unexplained, and of my own unsuccessful attempt to have my eggs and my
omelette too.

She listened attentively: the change of which I shall speak in a moment
did not come all at once. Other girls had now come into the Club, and
two or three of them were gathered about a brown-paper parcel, some
purchase of dress material or other which they were discussing with
animation. Others fetched cups of tea from the saloon bar counter,
eating and drinking, perched carelessly on the ends of tables, the
spiral twist of the work of their stockings telling how readily they got
into and out of their clothes.

Before I had finished my story Louie interrupted me with the first of a
little series of detached remarks.

"One moment," she said. "When do you start--this Consolidation, I mean?"

"In a few weeks. We shall send some of the men on in advance in about a
fortnight. Why?"

"You don't intend to take Miriam Levey over with you?"

"I do not."

"You don't suppose she doesn't know that?"

"Well?"

"Well--but go on." She made a little gesture. "I interrupted you."

I went on.

"Half-a-minute," she came in again presently. "All this was quite---- I
mean, there was no quarrel?"

"With Evie? No--oh, no, no."

"Well----"

And the next time she interrupted me was merely to ask me whether I had
another cigarette.

I admit that there had come over me as I had talked an increasing sense
of the burden I had placed upon her. Nor do I mean that I had not had
this sense before. I had, indeed, thought of little else during my walk
to Chalfont the previous day. But it is yet another coin added to the
price of a righteous but unlicenced slaying that a man's selfishness
becomes merely inordinate. I had known more or less what she must bear;
exactly what she had to bear it with I had taken for granted. She had
perhaps herself to thank for that, and that tense and incredible calm
she had shown on the night I had dined at the Berkeley. I had known the
depths of her womanliness that other night; soon I was to learn the
shallows of her femininity.

"Well," she said, when at last I had finished, "I really don't see what
else you expected. And," she went on, but more slowly, and somehow as if
she didn't quite trust herself, "I don't see either what you expect of
me. I told you what I thought before."

"You mean that I should have to tell her?"

"Yes."

"Well, tell me why."

"You've just told me why."

"Well, put it another way. You see the frightful risk--to her. The
question is, ought it to be taken?"

For a moment those tourmalines of her eyes seemed to flicker, as if she
would have shown me again the abysses beyond them; but they remained
shut as she spoke more slowly still.

"That's not quite the question. Can you--go on--as you are doing? And
if you can't, what's the alternative?"

To that I had no answer to make.

Her cigarette had gone out, and her beautiful fingers were holding it
listlessly. All at once I found myself noticing the contrast between her
and the chattering group of models down the room. The girl with the
brown-paper parcel had approached a cupboard and taken out some
second-hand property or other of frayed velvet and torn gold: "It's
hardly worth re-making: I vote we cut it up," I heard her say. And I
wondered whether Louie had sat in the torn and tawdry thing--now that
she had been warned against chills. The giggling and the skiddle of
teacups went on, but Louie pressed her fingers on her eyeballs for a
moment. Perhaps it was this pressure that made them, when she looked up
again, seem dull and tired.

"At any rate, that's how it strikes me," she said.

She looked suddenly older--much older--so much older that it gave me a
pang. During my walk on the previous day I had told myself over and over
again that I must have made of her life also exactly what I had made of
my own--a fearful thing without trifles; but I had _had_ to tell myself,
if you appreciate what I mean. Now, to see it with my own eyes was
another matter. There was that other quantity, the quantity unknown to
me but drearily familiar enough to her, I didn't doubt--Kitty.... A
word of advice to those who contemplate the putting out of a life on
their own responsibility: When a woman, on a rainy night in St. James's
Park, or wherever and whenever, lets you look down into her soul, and
drops a plummet into your own, and asks you whether you are not a
murderer, and you no more dare to lie than you would dare a foulness in
the face of majesty, then do anything you like--fly from her, bite out
your tongue, kill her also--but for mere pity of her don't answer "Yes."
Don't, that is, unless you are sure that she will betray you. If you do,
depend on it she'll ask you to a Models' Club or somewhere, and the
horror of a life without trifles will come over you, and you'll see her
press her fingers on her eyeballs and then look up again, five years
older in as many minutes.

"What about Kitty?" I asked abruptly.

She answered quickly--too quickly: "Oh, Kitty's all right; you needn't
bother about Kitty; leave her to me. As a matter of fact she's been
awfully useful to me."

"How useful?"

"Oh, in quite the most material way," she said, with a short and
mirthless laugh. "That's not been pure philanthropy, I assure you. I
dare say you know----"

I did know that Kitty had perhaps a pound a week of her own money, from
some tramways out Edgbaston way.

"And she types at home, too--authors' manuscript--when she can get
it--and I save the ten shillings I had to pay somebody to look after the
boy."

"And you yourself?" I ventured meaningly.

"Oh," she answered evasively, "we've not stuck fast yet."

"In spite of your chills," thought I; and then, as another burst of
laughter broke from the girls down the room, I said aloud: "Tell
me--I've never asked you--how did you drop into this kind of thing? You
used to be at a business college."

Again she smiled. "Did I? Sometimes I can hardly believe that was I.
It's precious little I learned there, anyway. And this other--I could
explain to Billy--I'm not pretty, I know, not my face, but--well, it
seemed a fairly obvious thing to do. There wasn't much else, anyhow, and
remember I did fairly well out of it--better than most girls in
offices."

She had grown faintly pink, and again the tourmalines had given, as it
were, a half turn. I dropped my voice and looked earnestly at her.

"And these--chills--aren't they anything you could ever grow out of?"

The soft irradiation deepened as she looked as earnestly back at me.

"No," she said.

"I see. And what you learned at the College--have you forgotten all
that?"

Then, looking almost challengingly at one another, we began to speak
rather quickly, and a little elliptically.

"I think I can guess what you mean," she said, dropping her gaze again.

"I think you do."

"That's why I asked you just now when the Consolidation was starting....
You don't suppose she'll love you any more for throwing her out of a
job, do you?"

"She can't hate me much more than she does."

"Well, you may depend upon it, she knows she's going."

"Well, that saves trouble."

"Oh, no, it doesn't."

"Ah!--You think not?"

"I'm sure not."

A pause.

"I gather you've seen her?"

"Oh, often."

"At your place?"

"Yes."

"I don't suppose you love her much. Why do you have her there?"

"You don't love her either. Why do you?"

"Well, there's Evie."

"And there's Kitty."

Another pause, and then: "I see."

Then suddenly I spoke a little more to the point.

"Well, would you accept the job if I could arrange it?"

She hesitated. "It's very necessary, of course, that I should do
something."

"You'd take it?"

"I almost think--there's my boy, you see--but we'll talk about that in a
minute. You were asking me about Kitty. I don't think you need worry
about her. I keep her in hand. I don't think it would matter very much
if she and your wife did meet, and, on the whole, you'd be doing more
harm by objecting beyond a certain point than you would by allowing it.
So, as far as she's concerned, things had better drift. The worst of it
is"--again the fingers on the eyeballs--"they don't drift."

"Don't drift?"

"You know what Miriam Levey is."

I caught my breath. "You don't mean _she's_ any idea----" I said
quickly.

"Oh, none whatever," Louie said hurriedly. "I don't mean that
at all. But I _do_ mean she'd thoroughly enjoy seeing you made
uncomfortable--got at--scored off--get her own back--you know what I
mean."

"That's noth----" I began absently, but checked myself. "That's
nothing," I had been on the point of saying, but there were no nothings
for us. Louie's vigils must be as unremitting as my own.

Suddenly I found myself without the heart to ask her in detail what
these were. We now had the tea-room to ourselves; the bevy of models had
scurried off to the party-room, and two of them appeared to be playing
an elementary duet on the piano, with wrong notes loudly and laboriously
corrected, amid laughter and general high spirits. Again the contrast
was cruel. _They_ hadn't to look before, behind and about them for the
dread of a ruinous inadvertence.... You will find it difficult to
reconcile with remorse, by the way, that, stealing another glance at
Louie's drawn and anxious face, I cursed a heedless young cub who had
gone to his account nearly six years before.

"Anyway," she said, after a long silence, "I'll see to that as far as I
can. Plan as we like, we've got to take some risks. Don't look at me
like that. It isn't more than I can bear. There's joy in it too. The
only thing I don't quite understand is why _I_ should want to throw that
joy away by--by giving you the advice I did."

"The advice you did?"

"To tell your wife."

"But----" It broke agitatedly from me. Again the tourmalines seemed to
move.

"The risk; just so; don't think I don't see it. Oh, I see it--far more
plainly than you do! Haven't you thought that perhaps it's that
that----" She stopped abruptly, ending in a little twanging murmur.

And I had at last become conscious of something that hitherto I had only
half consciously noticed--namely, that she spoke of Evie repeatedly as
"your wife." Obstinately she refused to use her name. I think that I
felt even then our approach to what I have called the shallows of her
femininity. Can you wonder at it? Is it so very surprising that, with
the tremors of those shut transmitters of her eyes, the whole fantastic
and exhausting fabric of my interpretation of her feeling for myself
tottered? He has to be a greater painter than Billy Izzard whose fiction
can fill the life of a woman already past thirty, whom you have so
heaped with cares that her face takes on age as you look at it! Her
voice shook as she strove to hide all this from me.

"But you see the disadvantage you have me at," she said. "_You_ know
what you really want, though you haven't put it quite plainly yet; but
even if I were to try it you wouldn't let me say what _I_ mean."

"Oh, say it, say it: we're in the mess, and it's no good keeping things
back."

"No, no--you've no right to expect that of me. I'll do everything else,
but I'm only a mortal woman, with limbs and hungers, after all."

"You're a very wondrous one."

"Tch!" The exclamation broke from her as if I had blundered on a nerve
with an instrument. "You're making big demands of my wondrousness,
Jim!"

I gave a low groan. "Poor woman! Is it more than----"

But she broke out into quite a loud cry.

"Not that, Jim," she commanded, "not--that! That's the only thing I will
_not_ bear! If you're going to make me out noble, or disinterested, or
self-sacrificing, or anything of that sort I--I can't bear it. I'm not.
I hate Evie. I hate myself. I almost hate you when I see how stupid and
clumsy you can be. Oh, _you_ know what _you_ want! You want just one
thing--to be happy with her; but do you think I scheme and contrive for
you because _I_ want you to be happy with her? Oh no! I do it because I
can't help myself, and because it's that or nothing between you and me,
and that's all there is splendid about it! I won't be called 'Poor
woman.' And you needn't shake your head either. If I could get you, I
would; but there it is, I can't, and that's all the loyalty I have for
_her_! And you ask me," she broke out anew, almost furiously, "you ask
me whether I 'don't see' things! It's you who don't see, and never will!
You get a fixed idea into your head, and everything else----" She
snapped her fingers. "What do you suppose your wife would say if she
knew you were here with me now? _I_ shouldn't care a straw about her
knowing, but have you told _her_? _Will_ you tell her? You know you
won't! You daren't--you daren't trust her! Oh, I know what you're going
to say--that you can't discuss her with me--but in that case you
shouldn't take my position quite so much for granted. I'm the last
person to put on a pedestal. You ask me whether I see things: don't I!
Don't I see what they might have been--yes, even in spite of the mess I
made of them! With half a chance I could have----"

"Louie!"

"Sssh--it's got to come out now! I was happy till that night--you know
the night I mean--and that night I was fool enough to think it was
possible to stop up there--away up in the air. I gave you and got from
you that night what no other woman on earth could have done, and I
thought we could stop at that. I thought I could go on living at that. I
thought that would be enough for me; and when I found it wasn't, I began
to--bolster it up. You've seen Billy--you know what I mean. And I still
have something of you that nobody else has, and--I want to give it away!
I want you to give her that too! I advise you to tell her and leave me
with nothing! I must be mad! Jim"--her voice dropped with startling
effect--"you once said that to tell her would be to kill her: _if I
could only think that_!... But there, you'll tell her, and take away the
last thing I have of you.... But she won't get that thing. It's beyond
her. That's yours and mine whether you wish it or not. If you don't
believe me, try it. Tell her. Tell her her husband made away with her
sweetheart; tell her why; tell her what you've told me, and if she takes
it as I did, I haven't another word to say. I hate her; I'm not running
away from that; so perhaps I'm not just. Perhaps there is a chance: if
so, it's your only one. I've had no luck. I'm out of it, and there's no
more to say. Give me a match."

She took up and relighted her half-smoked cigarette.

I have merely set down what she said, and the way she said it; for the
rest, I leave you to draw your own conclusions. Perhaps it is unusual to
allow these freedoms to be taken with your wife, but I think you will
admit that the occasion was unusual. She had told me, in effect, that
murderers ought to be careful whom they marry, and that I had married
the wrong woman: but she had left out of the account one thing that made
all the difference. You know as well as I what she had left out--the
supreme sanctification of the flesh: "With my body I thee worship."...
It was Evie, not Louie Causton, with whom I had heard that nightingale
sing on Wimbledon Common. They had been Evie's lips, not Louie's, that
had not sought to escape my own on that September evening in Kensington
Gardens. It was Evie whom I had married.... It was natural that Louie
should see how things might conceivably have been different; you can say
that however they turn out; and perhaps that was where the fatality
came in. Circumstance, propinquity, accident, a step rightly or wrongly
taken, and the rest is predicated with a terrible inevitability. Louie
had had no luck; and now, not because I had placed a crushing weight
upon her, but because I had given her the pity while another got the
love, she had broken out upon me.

At any rate, I saw her own position sadly clearly now.

And, there being no more to say, she rose.

In the hall, however, she did find one more word to say. They were
playing Sir Roger in the party-room as I held aside the bead _portière_
for Louie to pass, and the couples, seen through the gauzy hanging,
seemed spectrally charming. Louie stood on the other side of the
curtain, mortal, unspectral enough under a cheap square hall lamp with
tesseræ of coloured glass. With head downhung, she moved spiritlessly
towards the outer door, where she stood meditatively with her hand on
the letter-box. At last she looked up.

"About what you were saying about Miriam Levey," she said, without
preface. "I don't think it would do--not now."

I knew she meant her own acceptance of Miriam's place. I asked her why
not.

"Oh, I've said too much for that to be possible now. We've been too
near. We mustn't come so near again."

"But surely," I said dispiritedly, "a job----"

She shook her head. "I should be seeing you," she said. "It wouldn't do.
Good-night."

And I lost the strains of Sir Roger as the door closed between us.


IV

Looking back over what I have written, I find it will hasten my tale if
I take events with rather a free hand in point of time, sequence and so
forth; and I shall do so. For example, the setting up of the
Consolidation in Pall Mall did not actually take place until the
following spring, but our arrangements were complete long before that
time, and, as my tale is about myself rather than about the
Consolidation, I will say as much as is necessary about that enterprise
now, and have done with it.

We have to all intents and purposes absorbed the old F.B.C., and this
has been greatly to the advantage of both concerns. The Company's
mercantile position is the firmer, and we are left the freer for things
both larger and more special. In the handling of these Pepper has been
brilliant. True, he has taken chances, sometimes more than I have liked;
but he is a born taker of chances, and it is astonishing, on the whole,
how seldom things have failed to come off. In his own line I have never
met his equal. I think I mentioned that he had been in Russia: I never
knew exactly what his errand was there; but I can make a guess at the
kind of thing. Last summer, for instance, he was out in the West
Indies--with a few tin specimen-boxes and a butterfly net (this is the
man who doesn't know a butterfly from a bumble-bee, and once asked me
what a birch was). Out in the West Indies he met Magnay, of Astbury,
Phillips--a valetudinarian after tarpon. Sichel was there too; I forget
whether he was playing golf, or healing a lung, or merely yawning his
head off in deck-chairs. And of course (a nod being as good as a wink to
a blind horse) there could be no possible connection between these
innocent pursuits and the Panama Canal, trans-shipment stations and the
South American coasting trade.... So maybe Pepper had had no thought of
hides or timber or tallow when he had learned the Siberian method of
hunting bear.... Anyway, all I want you to understand, without making it
too plain, is that we leave these things to Pepper. He dines geologists
and botanists and explorers and concessionaires: he does them well, and
is perfectly charming; and it may quite well be that, before he has
finished with them, a little inconspicuous piece of paper that not one
in a thousand as much as glances at is posted up in Whitehall one day,
Britain has proclaimed a new Protectorate somewhere or other, and the
Consolidation is at the bottom of it. It pays us that Pepper keeps his
nails manicured and knows his way about a wine-list. It may not be noble
or altruistic or anything of that kind, but it's the way things get
done in this world, and be hanged to Schmerveloff and the humanitarians.

So, while we were still with the F.B.C., Pepper was playing every ball
straight back to the inquisitive folk who wanted to know what was in the
wind, we were ready to go over at a month's notice to that great new
cathedral of a place with the mosaic floors and the bronze statues in
the niches, and I was free to rub my rosy prospects into Aunt Angela to
my heart's content. It had come off, or, thanks to Pepper and Robson and
the rest of them, could hardly now fail to do so. But Aunt Angela, when
I twinkled at her, and mentioned this, only gave me back my smiles
thrice spiritualised. She never failed to rejoice, for our sakes,
whenever a new piece of furniture came into the house in Well Walk, but
for herself, her attitude was piously and amusingly penitential. I never
knew austerity so resemble luxuriousness--or the other way about,
whichever it was. And of this new furniture we presently began to have
quite a lot. Collecting, as I have since come to understand the word,
was as yet, of course, far beyond my means; but I used a bronze copy of
a lioness by Barye on my desk as a paper-weight, I had good autotypes of
Méryon on my study walls, I had bought Evie a dinner service, quite good
enough for most occasions even to-day, and I had sales' catalogues and
auctioneers' circulars, a dozen a week. Oh, yes, we were getting on,
and Pepper winked, remembering his candlesticks, but said nothing.

But let me return to Aunt Angela for a moment. The effect on her of
these evidences of our increasing prosperity was curious. Without the
loss of a jot of her amiability, but rather to the increase of it, she
set herself apart from our modest splendours. If I use the word
"religiosity" I mean it only in its most innocent sense: but something
of the sort had been incipient in her for a long time, and now merely
became declared. Perhaps I cannot do better than tell here of the
evening in which I first discovered how far this had gone. If at this
point my narrative seems a little diffuse, it is merely because the
longest way round is often the shortest way home, and also because Aunt
Angela's attitude was not the only thing I learned that night.

I think it would be a little before Christmas, on a Tuesday or
Wednesday; I know the day, if not the week, because it was what Evie,
who corrected some of my own recklessnesses by still clinging to small
economies, called an "eating-up night." On those nights I was expressly
forbidden to bring anybody home to dinner--I except Aunt Angela and
Billy Izzard, who came when they pleased. As it happened, they had both
turned up on that very evening, and had partaken of a rather scratch
supper; and I, who had had an exceptionally heavy day, hoped that nobody
would come in afterwards--not that anybody was very likely to. As
Jackie had gone to bed, Billy had been allowed to play Evie's new piano
only with the soft pedal down (Evie herself, I may say, did not play,
but was resolved to learn); and Aunt Angela had several skeins of wool
to wind into balls. From the arm-chair in which I half dozed I could see
Evie, still in the waterproof apron in which she had given Jackie his
bath, setting the child's basket to rights. Our only maid was taking her
"evening out" and was probably up on the Spaniards Road.

I was not too sleepy to see that Aunt Angela needed somebody to hold her
wool, and I volunteered drowsily for the service. But, "No, thanks,
Jeff," she replied; "you have a nap; besides, I must be getting used to
doing things for myself." I did not insist, and the last thing I
remember before I dropped off for forty winks was seeing her reach for
Pepper's candlesticks, place them on the hearthrug, and, passing a hank
of wool about them, begin to wind.

It seemed to me that several sounds awoke me simultaneously--the
stopping of a hansom at the front door, the ringing of a bell
downstairs, and a quick exclamation from Evie. It was not impossible, of
course, that any one of a number of visitors might have called in a
hansom at half-past nine at night, but Evie had concluded, and rightly
as it happened, that this was the one with whom she was least of all at
home--Pepper. I heard her suppressed exclamation of "Bother!" The next
moment she had whisked off the waterproof apron, thrust it under the
piano lid, then, seeing Aunt Angela still placidly winding, had said,
"Quick--in case--hide them, Auntie," and had flown to answer the bell.

But Aunt Angela, in her flurry, had only succeeded in making the
candlesticks a hopeless cat's-cradle of wool before Evie's voice of
vivacious welcome was heard, and Pepper himself entered.

He had Whitlock and a stranger with him, the latter a bearded and
taciturn provincial who was introduced as Mr Toothill. Mr Toothill,
indeed, I gathered to be the reason of the visit. Pepper has to be
charming to a great variety of men, and is not often beaten, but
occasionally there does fall to him ("for his virtues," he says) a man
he can neither dine, wine nor take to a show, and I know the signs in
him when he is at his most affable and most intensely bored. I may say
at once that Mr Toothill has no connection with my tale other than as
having been the cause of this visit.

Now Pepper has the gift of being able to make all manner of things
(especially men) invisible when he chooses; and although Aunt Angela, in
making out of sight with the wool and the candlesticks of Pepper's own
giving, had only succeeded in putting them on the table and making them
the most conspicuous objects in the room, for Pepper they did not
exist. That bright photographic eye of his took in every other object in
the room, but no candlesticks.

But not so Mr Toothill. He came, Whitlock told me afterwards, from the
West Riding of Yorkshire, where he was a power; but so little of a power
was he in London that, had Pepper not rashly burdened himself with him,
he would probably have waited in King's Cross Station for the next train
back to his own parts. Anyway, here he was in my house, and as his eyes
fell on the wool-winding, they lighted up (so Whitlock said) with the
first spark of interest they had shown that evening.

"This is like ho-o-ome, at all events," he said, giving the word I don't
know how many "o's." "But you've got it felted, haven't you? If the
ladies will excuse me----"

And without more ceremony, and in spite of Aunt Angela's protestations,
he drew the candlesticks towards himself, began to unravel the
ridiculous tangle, and became for purposes of conversation a piece of
furniture with a beard.

Of course Mr Toothill had been foisted on us merely because Pepper had
not known what else in the world to do with him; but Pepper's beautiful
candour rarely confessed much of what was really passing in his mind,
and I awaited with relish the reason he would give for his call. By this
time I was quite wide awake again; and Mr Toothill had refused the
whisky I had got out.

Well, Judy had several reasons, all sufficient, all perfect; but alas!
he and Evie ever hit it off with deplorable lucklessness. He and
Whitlock were Jackie's godfathers; but, as against the rather loud way
in which he had rung the bell, his urbanities about the spiritual
relationship availed him little with Evie. Her looks said plainly, to me
at all events, that if Pepper intended her to believe that he had called
on an eating-up night merely to ask how Jackie was getting on, he
mistook her. Driven from this outpost, Pepper proudly refused to urge
the commonplace excuse of private business with myself. Instead, he
delicately adjusted his trousers, produced his cigar-case, besought
Evie's permission with a glance, and then, lighting up with
deliberation, astonished myself hardly less than Evie by saying:
"Well--unless Whitlock's already told you--I've come for your
congratulations, Mrs Jeffries."

"Oh? What on, Mr Pepper?" said Evie. She had summoned up a ready, glad
look.

"Ah, I see he hasn't told you. Stupid of me--of course he couldn't have,
as I only heard myself about four hours ago. Dear Mrs Jeffries, you may
congratulate me on my impending knighthood."

Evie jumped up. "_Really?_" I myself was not so much surprised at the
fact as at the moment of its coming, though my surprise at that also
passed instantly. Of course it would be so much prestige for the
Consolidation.

Yes, Judy was down among the approaching New Year's Honours. And so he
ought to have been. If there is official recognition for a man who can
merely advise in a party's interest which provincial mayors can be given
the accolade without being made the laughing-stock of their neighbours,
Judy's services to the Administration had been far greater. To the man
on 'change this would doubtless seem a feather in the cap of the F.B.C.;
only a few knew that before long it would prove a thorn in their sides.
Yes, it was distinctly good preparation for the coming Consolidation,
and, in the meantime, there was the knight-elect's health to drink, and
I had only got the whisky out. I myself fetched up the claret for Aunt
Angela and Evie. Both the announcement and the manner of it had been a
huge success, and Billy Izzard, remarking "I won't say 'may I,'--"
reached for Pepper's cigar-case.

"Well, I _am_ glad!" said Evie, maybe, wife-like, casting ahead in a
wonder as to what my own chances might be. "And are we really the first
to know?"

"Except Whitlock and Mr Toothill, yes. But of course I needn't say----"

"Oh, of course we wouldn't breathe a word! Isn't it splendid, auntie?"

Indeed, Evie seemed quite won over. I think she came nearer that
evening to liking Pepper than she has done either before or since.

As I said, I have an object in relating all this--several objects. The
next thing happened perhaps half-an-hour later, when Mr Toothill had
almost freed one candlestick of wool, but otherwise had not greatly
added to our sociability. For that half hour Pepper had reigned among
us, but then, bit by bit, he had begun slowly to slip back again. We had
guardedly discussed the prospects of the Consolidation; and then, as a
preliminary to his coming down presently with a run, Pepper made a
perfectly innocent but altogether luckless remark. It was about Miss
Levey.

"It was understood she wasn't to come over," he grumbled; "I agreed to
that; but I don't see why she should be taken away from me just now." (I
had got rid of Miss Levey that very week.) "Hang her private
convictions! What do I care about her private convictions as long as she
does her work?"

I laughed, though a little lamely. "My dear Judy, we don't want a woman
whose job interferes with her propaganda, and she's been incubating
'rights' of one sort and another for a long time. Send her to
Schmerveloff: he receives that sort with open arms. Let him make a case
of persecution out of it. We want efficiency."

"But, dash it all, she _was_ efficient."

"She wasn't. You had to pull her up last week, and I had twice the week
before. She'd been warned."

Judy, who really didn't care a button about the loss of Miss Levey,
laughed. "The red rag again, Jeffries! You have here, Mr Toothill, quite
the most insular man in this realm, _and_ the most obstinate. I can make
him do anything he's a mind to--and not much else. Well, well, if you
won't have a suffragette, perhaps you'll find me a member of the Women's
Primrose League?"

But here Whitlock struck in. "By the way, I'd an applicant this
morning."

"From the Women's Primrose League?" Pepper tossed over his shoulder.

"I don't mean for the private work, but as general amanuensis," Whitlock
went on. "I asked her how she heard we wanted anybody, and she said she
hadn't--had just looked in on the chance."

"Go to Jeffries, since he's made it his affair," Pepper grumbled.

"Well, Miss Day _is_ getting married," Whitlock went on, "so that we
shall want somebody in the outer office. Then promote Miss Lingard----"

"What was she like?"

Billy Izzard's eyes were dreamily on the smoke of Pepper's expensive
cigar, but I saw a change come into them. Whitlock has a passable gift
of description. He began to describe the woman who had looked in on the
chance of a job: before he had finished I had no doubt, and Billy (I
gathered) not much, of who the female out-o'-work had been. "Hallo, my
model!" I guessed to be in his mind; but it was no business of his, and
he appeared to be relishing his cigar as before.

"I've forgotten her name, but I have it in the book," Whitlock
concluded. "Clouston or Christian or something like that."

"Well, see she isn't anti-suffrage either," quoth Pepper; "as far as I
can see, that would be just as bad."

And he selected a fresh cigar.

My first thought had shaped itself in the very words for which Louie
herself had pulled me up so sharply: "Poor woman!" For it was
pathetically clear what had happened--what must have happened. Once more
she had taken a resolution too heroic to be held to, and whether she had
caved in because of myself or because of the necessity for feeding and
clothing her boy made no practical difference. I could only hope it was
the last. Poverty leaves little room for heroics. Later, as I think I
told you, Louie got Miss Day's post, and after that Miss Lingard's,
which she has still.

And my second thought was that, as she had applied of herself for Miss
Levey's place, there would now be no more love lost between her and Miss
Levey than there was between Miss Levey and myself. I began to muse on
this....

But let me go on with that curiously broken evening.

Ever since Pepper had told us about his knighthood Aunt Angela had sat,
her slender fingers folded in her lap, smiling from time to time into
the fire. Now knighthood is a temporal distinction, and, as such (I am
putting this bluntly), another nut for that new and dainty humility of
hers to crack. For worldliness, it was my own promised wealth in another
form; and against such things she seemed to have taken up some sort of a
position. I think the less practicable human charities had given her a
tenderness even for Miss Levey, for I had not escaped a soft look of
reproach when I had made my observations on that lady; and altogether
she appeared to be wrapped in a little private veil of dissociation from
the rest of us and our doings.

So--again to anticipate what became plain a little later--she also was
nursing her little surprise for us. Several times during the last month
or two she had spoken vaguely of leaving her rooms in Woburn Place, the
rooms she had shared with Evie before our marriage; but I had not taken
her very seriously; she was welcome to come to us (as she afterwards
did) whenever she chose, and she knew it. But she had got it into her
head that she would like to take a single room--oh, quite a large, airy,
cheerful one--and, as it turned out presently, she had actually done so
that very day.

Some chance remark of Pepper's--I think it was something about how
pleasant it was to see us thus in our little family circle--gave her the
opportunity for her announcement. There had been a little byplay between
Pepper and Evie, who had wanted to know why in that case he didn't get
married himself; and to that Pepper, abolishing (as it were) the
candlesticks under his nose by an act equal in potency to that of
creation itself, had answered gallantly (and, in the presence of those
candlesticks, rather naughtily) that our own ménage set him a standard
which he would rather cherish in thought than fall from in miserable
actuality. It was then that his look embraced Aunt Angela, and my maiden
aunt by marriage smiled.

"I suppose Mr Pepper thinks I live here because he always finds me
here," she said. "But that's only because I've no conscience about
inflicting myself on other people. _My_ dwelling's a much more modest
one than this, Mr Pepper."

I think Pepper was insincere enough to reply that that it might quite
well be and yet almost everything that could be desired.

"I forgot to tell you that, Jeff," Aunt Angela continued, turning to me.
"As a matter of fact I only settled the matter to-day--so you're not the
only one for whom to-day's been _quite_ important, Mr Pepper." She
preened herself.

"Oh!" I said shortly. I thought the whole idea rather stupid. But she
continued:

"I go in in exactly ten days, as soon as the paint's dry. And as I don't
begin to pay till Christmas, I actually get a week for nothing. That
might not be much to some people," she purred, dropping her eyes, "but
it's quite a lot to me. So, Jeff, I shall want you to bring a hammer and
a foot-rule--or whatever it is. He's _so_ clever at putting up things,
Mr Pepper."

She ran amiably on, describing her proposed arrangements.

I could hardly blame Pepper that, to save himself from talking, he drew
her out. He was bored to death with the drowsy banality of the evening.
So Aunt Angela told us how cosy she was going to be in her new quarters.
With her bed screened off in one corner, and the day's fire still
burning, she would be able (she said) to lie happily awake and watch the
firelight on the ceiling and indulge "an old woman's fancies"; there
would be no stairs except when she came out of doors; and she wouldn't
have to cook in the same room, for there was a little landing with a
stove left by the last tenant--and so on. Pepper was the picture of
polite interest.

"And I shall give a little housewarming, I think," she said, as one who
knew that hospitality consisted in the hostship and not in the
entertainment provided. "Really I should like to ask you all, Mr
Toothill too."

Toothill, who had now finished the "unfelting," had struck a match and
was experimenting to find out how much of the worsted was cotton and how
much wool. He looked up for a moment, but resumed his occupation. Pepper
hoped that _he_ would not be left out of Aunt Angela's housewarming.

Aunt Angela murmured that that was very sweet of him.

And the smallest of small talk went on.

I don't know that I need give any more of it. Indeed, I don't remember
any more of it. Toothill found the wool to be "sixty Botany" or
something of the kind, and we sat on, everybody wanting to break the
party up, but nobody (not even Pepper) knowing quite how to do so
without an open reference to a watch. I omit the details of Pepper's
complete downfall in Evie's eyes. I know that by some accident or other
the piano lid was opened, displaying the waterproof apron, and that poor
Evie, flurried until she hardly knew what she was saying, committed the
solecism of calling Pepper "Sir Julius," grew pink (poor dear), and
hated, not herself, but Pepper. Also her frugality received a shock when
it was discovered that the hansom had been kept waiting all this time.
Then the maid, returning from the Spaniards Road, filled my poor wife's
cup by bringing in I know not what homely provision for Jackie's
comfort during the night. Then they went.

Now, except when the flattery of personal attention is of the highest
importance, Pepper turns all provincials over to Whitlock; and I myself,
if ever Mr Toothill turns up at my house again, shall take the
precaution of having a whole barrow-load of worsted for his
entertainment, and if possible a kitten to "felt" it for him.


V.

I have now to tell how Aunt Angela was as good as her word about the
housewarming of her new abode. I hope that in these last pages I have
not seemed harsh in thought to the kind and aimless soul. She did not
meditate the mischief that came of that evening, and it was not for lack
of anything she was able to do to remedy it afterwards that partial, if
not total shipwreck came. But that helped little. Malevolence, in my
experience, is not the worst of dangers a man as exposed as I has to
fear. It is the mischief hat grows as it were of itself, inherent in
persons and their diverse characters and manifold relations that is the
deadly thing. That is not mere bad luck; it is fatality, and there is no
defeating it. I myself was so specially open to it that to all intents
and purposes I might as well have gone skinless through the world....
Well, I grinned and bore it. Only one other person knew that I was
skinless, and she, alas, was skinless too. Oh, take it on my authority
if you cannot take it otherwise, that you will do wisely to keep out of
my predicament unless you are of a different temper from mine, have
skins to spare, or are prepared to endure the shock I was presently to
endure.

I made no attempt to see that other skinless person. If she had found
herself driven, from need or any other consideration, to seek a job with
the Consolidation, so much the worse; I did not see that that released
me from anything she had laid upon me. In any case, as Miss Day's
successor, I should rarely see her; even did she pass to the place
lately held by Miss Lingard I should, no doubt, be able to avoid her;
and for the rest, as she herself had said, things must drift. Sometimes,
if I must confess the truth, I found myself getting quite childishly
petulant about her. Why had she given me to suppose she was something
she wasn't? Why had she let me see her all caught-up and wise and able
to bear, as she had shown herself on that first memorable night, and
then gone to pieces like this? _I_ couldn't have known her private
feelings, but _she_ must have known them....

And what kind of impossible situation was going to be created if, even
avoiding other intercourse, I had to encounter those tourmalines of her
eyes every time I passed through the busy office to Pepper's room?

So sometimes I forgot what I had laid upon her, and was callous enough
and harassed enough to entertain almost a weak resentment against her.

Aunt Angela's new dwelling was in one of those curiously secluded little
squares or "circuses" that lie immediately east of King's Cross Road in
the neighbourhood of Mount Pleasant. You turn up from the squalid shops
and public-houses and trams, and the length of a short steep street
brings you into a space with well-built houses about it, trees and birds
in the middle, and long narrow gardens with apple and plum and pear at
the back. Away to the north the heights of Hampstead seem positively
precipitous, and, looking the other way, the multitude of turrets and
towers and spires, with St Paul's reigning over them all, is singularly
inspiring. Aunt Angela's rooms were very advantageously placed for both
these prospects. The first time I went she took me up a breakneck
ladder, through a square trapdoor in which I almost stuck fast, and out
on to the leads. The sky, torn in primrose-coloured rents and all
smoke-browned, was very stormy and fine; and Aunt Angela was looking
forward to taking tea out on the roof when the summer came.

"And I shall be able to look away to where my dear ones are," she said,
looking north again.

Her room was immediately under this flat roof. It had two windows which
looked on the trees in front, and, at the half turn of the stairs, a
third which gave on the grimy back garden. In this garden poultry
scratched; but there really was a plum-tree, and also a fig that had
been known to bear. Her bed, being convertible into a couch by day, did
not require to be screened off after all, and the tiny fireplace had
brown tiles and a blackleaded iron kerb. One peculiarity the apartment
had which I ought to mention: this was a large enclosed cistern, which
by rights ought to have been on the roof outside. It held the water
supply for the whole house, and as the ball inside it rose and sank, its
sounds varied from a gentle tinkling to a soft whispering; the sounds
never quite ceased. A stout post some feet from the wall supported one
corner of this cistern, and this Aunt Angela, or rather I for her,
converted into a hatstand.

It was as she handed me the four black hooks and the paper of screws for
this purpose one evening that the sound of the cistern sank to a
hissing. "Oh, do give a look to it," she said; "perhaps it wants a
washer or something: you can reach it from the window-ledge. And oh,
dear, I've got the screws but no screwdriver! There have been hooks in
before, haven't there? You'll have to put these higher up then. I'll see
if I can borrow a screwdriver downstairs; but see to the cistern first."

But there was nothing to be done with the cistern; if she stayed there
she would have to get used to it, that was all. I went up from Pall Mall
several evenings to see to her installation, but I never imagined she
would stay there very long. The place looked too suddenly cosy when the
fire was lighted and the tea-table brightly set.

And so I put her the hooks and a shelf or two up, and made her as
comfortable as I could.

Then one night, just as she was settling down, I went in about something
or other and found Miss Levey and Aschael there. They seemed to have
come for the evening, for their hats were on the hooks on the cistern
post. Miss Levey appeared to have forgotten that I had virtually
forbidden her my house and turned her out of her job as well; as we
shook hands anybody might have supposed that we were the best of
friends. She and Aunt Angela appeared to be on quite affectionate terms;
and I gathered that Miss Levey was giving lessons by post in secretarial
work and doing quite well out of it. Her passing over by the
Consolidation she spoke of as a resignation. She was planning to link up
her Commercial Correspondence Class with some Guild or other for the
Economic Emancipation of Women, and wanted to tell me all about it. I
did not stay long.

And of course I couldn't choose Aunt Angela's associates for her.


At first I had refused to go to that party of Aunt Angela's. I had
grounds enough for my refusal, for we live half our lives two or three
years ahead at the Consolidation, and there were clouds on the economic
horizon. Men who live what I may call "short-date" lives can provide for
contingencies as they arise, but the surveyor of the future, though he
may know things to be inevitable, must be prepared, not for one way in
which they may come about, nor even for the most probable way, but for
all possible ways. Any one of a thousand symptomatic occurrences may
make the Consolidation's most elaborate plans of yesterday of no avail,
and work is ten times work when this happens. It had happened several
times lately, and but for Pepper's marvellous resilience, my own
capacity for long spells of forced labour, and the invaluable inertia of
administrative departments, it would have proved too much for us.

I can honestly say that, full of these preoccupations, I had not been
influenced by the fact that in all probability Aschael and Miss Levey
would be there. I had forgotten all about them.

But Evie's look of resignation when I had told her that I was not going
had touched me. We now knew quite a number of people, some of them quite
charming people too; and while Evie made less use of this advantage than
I could sometimes have wished, I couldn't reproach her for being
faithful to her older friends. For a long time we had not been anywhere
together. Therefore, seeing her patient yet fallen face, I had promised
to make an effort at least to fetch her away, and to arrive earlier if
possible. Her instant brightening had amply repaid me.

The party was given on a sharp night towards the end of January, and,
try as I would, I had been unable to leave Pall Mall before half-past
nine. I should have liked to walk, but that would have taken nearly
three-quarters of an hour, and so, near the old F.B.C., I had hailed a
hansom. "King's Cross, and then I'll tell you," I had said to the
driver; and as I had sped along Holborn and up Judd Street I had
relapsed into consideration of the affairs of the day again. The
stopping of the hansom and the lifting of the trap aroused me. I gave
the man the name of a chapel, and bade him then take a turning to the
left; and we went forward again. We passed up a short, steep street at a
walk, and stopped in the little "circus."

Aunt Angela's two front windows were lighted and open at the top, and as
I paid off my cabman sounds of a nasal singing floated out. I ascended
the steps and rang twice--Aunt Angela's signal; but I had to give the
double ring again, so merry were they making upstairs. Then I heard
steps descending. They were a man's steps, and I gave a sort of mental
nod when Aschael opened the door. I had thought he would be there.

"Ve'd about given you up," he said familiarly. "Come in, von't you?"

I followed Aschael upstairs.

It would not greatly have surprised me had Miss Levey taken it upon
herself to receive me, as her _fiancé_ (if he was her _fiancé_; I never
knew) had made me welcome downstairs; but Aunt Angela, trying to appear
calm, but really one flutter of pleasure at the success of her little
party, met me at the door.

"How late you are," she said gaily. "Yes, yes--I know you'd have come
sooner if you could. I'm not scolding you. Now I expect you're hungry;
you must have some supper first, and then you shall be introduced to
anybody you don't know. Mr Aschael, you'll get him all he wants, won't
you?"

"Vith pleasure, Miss Angela," said Aschael, bustling about, all hands
and smiles and ringlets.

Along the wall to my right, as I entered, ran a table, spread with the
disarray of a quite elaborate supper. Plates were littered with banana
skins, grape-twigs with the tiny morsels of pulp still on them, broken
biscuits and remnants of jelly; and beyond this table, under the cistern
in the corner, was a smaller one, with half a frilled ham, the wreckage
of a tongue and a severely mutilated cold pie. Several flasks of
colonial Burgundy had been opened; syphons stood among these; and from
that secret and inexhaustible hoard of her belongings Aunt Angela had
unearthed quite a large number of wineglasses, red ones, green ones, and
some of clear glass. Nay, the entertainment had even run into a large
box of Christmas crackers; the coloured paper and bright gelatine of
these lay scattered among the plates; and my first impression of the
number of people who made the room very warm was that half of them had
flimsy tissue-paper caps and bonnets on their heads.

But, as I happened to be more than a little hungry, I merely sketched a
sort of general and inclusive bow, sat down, and allowed Aschael to wait
on me.

Then, my hunger appeased, I began to look about me.

That the gathering was too large for Aunt Angela's not very large room I
instinctively set down to Miss Levey's account, for several of those
present appeared to be her friends. There must have been ten or a dozen
people there. Miss Levey herself had already given me several welcoming
nods across the room from where she sat, cross-legged and resolutely
youthful, on the floor at Evie's feet; and on her black hair was a
tissue-paper cap of Liberty, with a red spot on one side of it. I had
already discovered that the sounds of nasal singing I had heard came
from the metal corolla of a gramophone. This, I surmised, belonged to
the gentleman who was operating it, a little Japanese named Kato, whom I
had seen once or twice at Aunt Angela's old boarding-house in Woburn
Place. He wore a dairymaid's bonnet of pale blue, with torn strings. Two
other of Aunt Angela's old fellow-boarders also were there, one of them
a delicate little man with white spats, a Mr Trimble, the other an
attenuated little lady, with the red marks of a pince-nez across the
bridge of her nose, and very thin hair, silver save for a few strands of
a yellowish hue. Sitting on Aunt Angela's couch-bed was a younger
couple, not very obviously engaged, yet nevertheless carrying on what I
gathered to be a courtship by means of quick glad exchanges of the more
paradoxical sayings of Schmerveloff. "Oh, rather!" the lady gasped from
time to time; "And do you remember that passage?"... "Remember it! _I_
should say so--about the 'man-made law' you mean?" These at any rate
bore all the marks of being friends of Miss Levey's, and members of the
Emancipation Guild. Aunt Angela herself, Evie, and Billy Izzard
completed the party.

As I was pushing back my chair, having supped, the gramophone broke out
again. Not to interrupt it, I sat where I was, watching the little
Japanese who operated it. Mr Kato seemed to have neither eyebrows nor
lashes, and the slits of his eyes with their little bitumen dots held,
as he looked slyly up from time to time, that indulgent, insulting
expression that I distrust in his race over here. He had the appearance
of trying the air of the "Intermezzo" from _Cavalleria Rusticana_ upon
us, as if he contemptuously thought to gauge our taste; and his small
hands touched screws and lifted little metal arms with a negligent
intelligence. He, too, had nodded to me, though our acquaintance was of
the slightest; and with him on the one hand, and Miss Levey on the
other, I hoped Evie would not want me to stay very long.

The tune had finished, and I had made another motion to rise when
suddenly a few words of Miss Levey's caused me to start, and then to
sink slowly back into my chair again. She was speaking to Mr Kato.

"Oh, _do_ let's have 'Ora pro Nobis' again, Mr Kato--Miss Windus loves
it so--don't you, Kitty?"

The next moment the lady whose silver hair was intermixed with brownish
strands, the lady whom I had taken to be an old fellow-boarder from
Woburn Place, had given a little nod and said "Please." As if to hear
the better, she set her pince-nez on her nose.

I saw the little scalene triangles of her eyes....

Like so much obliterating smoke, the past six or seven years rolled
away....

Only six or seven years, and I had failed to recognise her!

Not quite knowing what I did, I found myself crossing to the table under
the cistern and returning again with a great hacked-off piece of tongue.
I sat down to supper again.

There were candles on the table, and little bright refractions of light
came darting through the angles of flower-stands and glasses. I watched
these as I made pretence to eat. Presently I found myself quite curious
about which fleck of light came from which angle, and my eyes sought to
trace each sparkle to its origin. A few moments before I had been
drinking Burgundy from a green glass; another glass, a red one, stood
close to it; but as the candles were placed neither dyed the cloth with
the little spot of its own hue. Perhaps--I am trying to tell you quite
literally, and as nearly as I can remember, the infantile occupation
that had suddenly engrossed me--perhaps if I moved the candle I should
get the little spots. I moved the candle this way and that. Presently
each of the glasses stood over its own little jewel of light, this one
red as a ruby, the other green as grass....

And I cannot better tell you how curiously stunned even my sense of
hearing seemed to be than by saying that I heard not one note of "Ora
pro Nobis," but only the soft hissing of the cistern overhead in the
corner.

But, after I know not what space of time in which I had become half
hypnotised by those two tiny refractions of coloured light, I suddenly
put the glasses away from me. Also I heard the gramophone once more, and
felt the returnings of methodical thought. There came to me, after all
this time, the very ordinary reflection that Kitty must have recognised
me--had probably known I was coming--and had not been able to endure my
presence in the room.... I remembered Evie's words: "I think you are
wrong if you think that things like that go on for years and years."
Looking covertly up, I saw that Evie had moved, and was now on the other
side of Kitty from that occupied by Miss Levey. As I watched, she picked
up Kitty's handkerchief, and Kitty smiled. Kitty's eyes even met mine,
but whether they saw me or were merely full of "Ora pro Nobis," which
was being played for the second or third time, I could not tell. They
moved away again without having given any sign of recognition.

Then the tune ended, and Miss Levey jumped up.

"Now, let's have something jolly!" she cried. "And Mr Jeffries has
finished his supper--make room for him in the circle--move up, Aschael."

It came suddenly upon me that there was one place, and one place only in
that room for me to take. I had risen. I strode over the box of records
in which Mr Kato was rummaging, sat down next to Kitty Windus, and held
out my hand.

"How do you do, Kitty?" I said.

So far was she from starting or trembling that she merely turned,
blinked a little, and, taking my hand, said, in the thin little voice I
used to know so well, "Ah! I _thought_ you'd come and speak to me,
by-and-by."

So if Miss Levey had deliberately planned this for my confusion, I
triumphed over her.


For a quarter of an hour Evie and I sat one on either side of Kitty
Windus. There was no difficulty whatever. Kitty, though she spoke
little, showed no more restraint than it had been her wont to show, and
there was nothing to bring up even the ghost of our past relation. And
if I triumphed over Miriam Levey, so Evie triumphed over me in the
private glances she gave me past the back of Kitty's head. She had been
right, and I wrong. Those stories of how Kitty had been found walking
round and round Lincoln's Inn Fields at night, unable, when confronted
by a policeman, to remember her own name, or where she lived--I strongly
doubted them. I even found Louie's account of her mental state difficult
to believe.... She spoke of her neuralgias. She had been a martyr to
them, she said, but they had been better lately. Somebody's Tic Mixture
had done them more good than anything else. I ought to try it--she'd
write the name of it down for me on a piece of paper in case I
forgot--she hadn't been remembering things very well lately herself.
Louie had advised her to try Somebody Else's Tincture, but she didn't
believe in that at all; it was one of these imitations that the shopmen
were always trying to palm off on people.... At this point, seeing she
had mentioned Louie, I thought it safe to venture an offhand, "Oh, how's
Louie, by the way?" But Kitty, apparently forgetting that she herself
had introduced the name, pursed her lips. Louie, she mumbled, hadn't
behaved very well. She didn't mean to herself; she wouldn't in the least
have minded that; but one had friends, and liked to see them treated as
friends, which some people---- She stopped as Billy Izzard came up,
perhaps hearing Louie's name.

So great was my relief at all this, that I suddenly found myself quite
carelessly gay. But for Miss Levey's presence I might have been
positively happy. But that lady's fussy attentions to myself did not
cause me to drop my guarded attitude towards her. I smiled when she put
a paper cap on my head also (she had kept a cracker specially for me,
she said); and I made a joke when she read some amatory motto or other;
that, I said, would be more in her friends' line--indicating with a
glance the couple who conducted the intellectual courtship on the couch.
But Miss Levey wagged her short finger at me; she wasn't going to have
fun made of the members of her League, she said; and she even went so
far as to slap the back of my hand with a paper fan she carried and to
tell me I was naughty. Mr Kato, the dotted almonds of his eyes
blinkingly comprehending us all, ran through the remaining records and
then asked if there were no more; and Aunt Angela herself said that if
he wanted more she was afraid he'd have to fetch them from the landing.
It was only then that I learned that the gramophone was Aunt Angela's. I
had supposed it to belong to Mr Kato.

So we sat and laughed and enjoyed ourselves. Billy Izzard had taken an
old letter from his pocket and was making a jotting of the scene. I
suppose that mixture of littered supper-table, grotesque tissue-paper
caps, and Aunt Angela's miscellaneous furniture must have appealed to
his always keen sense of the incongruous. They had got fresh records; I
had seen Mr Kato come in with an old soap-box, and had heard Miss
Levey's cry of juvenile delight: "Oh, they're all comics!" They were
entreating Aschael to sing, who liked being entreated, but said, No,
Miriam was the singer. Miriam replied merrily that unless they were
careful she _would_ sing, and then they would know all about it. Aunt
Angela laughed heartily at this: and in the end Aschael sang, not very
appropriately, "The Boys of the Bulldog Breed." Mr Kato "Hurrahed" and
Miss Levey "Banzaied," and Aunt Angela, who had slipped out during the
song to wash glasses in her little pantry, called the little nonentity
from Woburn Place to help her in giving us all claret-cup.

"What a pity Mr Aschael's voice isn't properly trained!" Kitty remarked,
turning to me.

"An awful pity!" Evie struck vivaciously in from the other side of her.
"I'm sure he'd have a splendid voice!"

It was odd, the way in which the pair of us took Kitty under our wing.

"You don't sing, do you, Kitty?" Evie next asked.

Kitty didn't. Evie admitted that she didn't either. "But," she said, "we
aren't going to let Mr Aschael off with one song, are we? Come, Mr
Kato--you're Master of the Ceremonies----"

"I'm just finding one he knows." Mr Kato grinned over his shoulder.

"A comic, mind," warned Miss Levey, "and then Kitty can have 'Ora pro
Nobis' again before we go."

And in token that the song was going to be comic, Aschael got up on his
feet and set himself in a gesture he had doubtless picked up at the
Middlesex Music Hall.

"Now, Mr Aschael," said Kato.

Aschael cleared his throat.

At the first notes of a curiously thin piano accompaniment, I felt Kitty
shrink and close as a daisy closes at the approach of night....


You will tell me that I ought to have stopped the machine--smashed
it--fallen on it--done something, anything; but put yourself in my
place; nay, put yourself in the place of the three of us who sat
together, and who had sat together the last time we had heard the song
Aschael sang. Did I tell you when that had been, or didn't I? I had
better tell you now.... It had been up the River, with a summer twilight
falling, and distant banjos sounding, and the Japanese lanterns making
long, wavy reflections in the water. Our party had been four, not three,
then, and the fourth of us had sung this song Aschael was singing now.
He had sung it, lolling in the stern, beating time with one hand, and
very careful about the spotting of a new pair of white flannel trousers.

Oh yes, I daresay I ought to have done something rather than let those
two other poor things hear _that_ song again....

But a hideous fear, of which they knew nothing, kept me fascinated and
still. So long as they _only_ remembered the song and that other
occasion they were the lucky ones. I envied them their luck. No let-off
so merciful was mine.... And my horror was enhanced, not so much by
those two faces at which I dared not glance, as by our atmosphere of
tawdry festivity--the sprinkling of coloured gelatine on the floor, the
mocking caps of tissue paper on our heads, and the florid antics of
Aschael, turning and grimacing, now this way, now that.

That I might keep this added horror of mine from them, there was even
yet a chance....

For the song, you understand, was being sung _twice_, once by the
unknown maker of the record in the machine, and the second time, as it
were over it, by Aschael. As the two voices did not perfectly coincide,
the result was a sort of palimpsest of sound, with, as sometimes happens
in palimpsests, the old and almost erased message the more significant
one. Aschael kept irregular pace with a far-off amateur voice and the
faint tinkling of a piano.... Like a bolt into my brain had come the
knowledge of _whose_ that horrible instrument had been, and how it had
come into Aunt Angela's possession. I remembered her visits to
Guildford; I remembered Mrs Merridew's funeral; I remembered her old
kindnesses in providing a certain young man in London with a "home from
home." The machine had come from Guildford, a legacy, a memento, a
giggle from the tomb....

But they, those two poor stricken souls, could yet be spared that
knowledge. It was dreadfully too much that they knew the song, and that
he had known it, and that he had sung it that summer's evening up the
River. The rest of the horror might still be kept from them.

"All together--chorus," cried Aschael jubilantly:


     "'Why--don't--you marry the girl?
       D'you want--the poor thing--to die?
     You can see--she's gone--upon--you
       By the twin--kle in--her eye!
     Do--the trick--for se--ven-and-six,
       Take--the tip--of a pal--
     I've--been--watching your game--
       Why don't you marry the gal?'"


Then I felt that last desperate hope of mine slipping away--Aschael was
beginning to forget the words, and to make out with gestures and
grimaces, leaving gaps through which there started up thin and tinkling
and facetious horrors.... I saw that Kato had realised; I had once come
upon him and Archie drinking whisky and soda together; his eyes met mine
curiously, and I fancied his lips shaped the name:

"Merridew?"

This next I have from Billy Izzard. He tells me that all at once I
sprang to my feet and cried, in a huge and boisterous voice that drowned
everything else, "Never mind, Aschael--chorus--all together!--"


     "'Why--don't--you marry the girl?
       D'you want--the poor thing to die?
     You can see--she's gone--upon you
       By the twin-kle in--her eye!
     La--la la--sing up!
       Take the tip--go on, Aschael!--
     I've been--watching your game--
       Why don't you marry the gal?'"


Clapping my hands, Billy says, I fell back into a chair.

But I was out of it again in an instant. I was not to escape so easily
as all that. Kato had his finger on the lever; I cannot say how, nor
whether, he guessed what was to come, nor whether he tried to avert it;
if he did, he was too late. From that damnable box there came a long
catarrhal wheeze--high-pitched and tenor the words came:


     "Now, Evie--Evie's turn--make her sing, mother--bosh--of course
     she's going to sing!----"


I was neither at Aunt Angela's party nor yet in a boat on a summer's
evening up the River. How can I tell you where I was? In what
drawing-room? Sitting on what chair? Surrounded by what company?... I
swear to you that I have seen a place I have never seen, been in a place
I never in my life was in. I can describe to you a family gathering with
Mrs Merridew there, and her son there, and Evie there, and myself never,
never there. I have seen, whether they ever existed or not, French
windows opening on a lawn, and a slackened tennis-net beyond, and an
evening flush in the sky, and the air dark with homing rooks.... Nothing
will persuade me that these eyes are in fact ignorant of that quiet
home of Archie Merridew's--and yet Guildford is a place in which I have
never been.


Then a sound like the hissing of a thousand cisterns filled my ears.
Through it I heard Kitty Windus's scream of terror, but it sounded an
infinite distance away. From Evie I had heard nothing. For one moment I
saw everything reel and aslant--Kato, the Schmerveloffians on the sofa,
the cistern-post with its hats and coats and one hook empty, steeving up
towards a tilted ceiling....

Then came the blow on the back of my head, and the sounds of the cistern
ceased. I had fallen across Aunt Angela's tiled hearth, and lay in a
cloud of steam from the kettle I had overturned in my fall.



PART IV

IDDESLEIGH GATE


I

It is against the advice of my doctors that I have written these last
pages--these last chapters in fact--at all. But I wrote them only a very
little at a time, after I came back from Hastie's place in Scotland. And
I went to Scotland only after I came back from Egypt. But I am back at
the Consolidation now, having missed nearly a year, and I really don't
think that this private writing tires me too much.

I admit that it seems odd that I should wish to do it at all, and doubly
odd that I should have kept, not one private record, but two.[2] I
thought I had finished when the first one came to an end. Then I found I
hadn't. Let me say quite plainly, however, that the second one is no
retractation of the first. There is not a single statement in that first
writing from which I recede. I stand by every word of it. I wrote there,
for example, that I did not fear to be left alone in my library at
night; and that is true. I wrote that there glided no shadowy shape by
my side when I stepped into my brougham or passed between the saluting
commissionaires in Pall Mall; and that also is true. It is true that I
play with my clean-born children, both of them, and still do not pardon
even the meditation of that old crime that would have made the life of
her I love an abhorrence worse than death. These things are as true now
as when I first wrote them, and I shall die without regret for them.

But the impulse that drives a man to write about himself at all still
remains a curious thing. I don't find it an inexplicable one--but as I
shall return to this by-and-by, I will leave it for the present. Let me
say this, however, now; that whatever cares may or may not weigh on me,
I neither consider myself on my defence nor yet join hands with
Schmerveloff and his crew in their sweeping and futile denunciations of
the whole Scheme of Things as they are. If I cannot stand alone I can at
least fall alone, and I haven't fallen yet.

Nevertheless, this writing will have to be less frequently indulged (if
that is the word); there is little sense in paying doctors if you don't
take their advice. There have been few physically stronger men than I;
especially my strength of finger and forearm and wrist have been
remarkable; and I can still bend a half-crown and make a dog's leg out
of a thick poker. But I don't pretend that I am the man I was.
Separately, my brain and body work as well as ever they did, but they do
not always jump together. I don't know whether this is due to the hole
Aunt Angela's blackleaded fender made in my skull. It was a bad hole,
and I cracked three of Aunt Angela's brown tiles. Perhaps that is the
reason why my doctor advised me to get to bed early, and cautioned me
about the use of stimulating drinks and heating foods.... Let me see,
let me see....

Ah, yes, I was going to speak of that evening. Mercifully, Evie was
spared the worst of that shock. So gently and easily that for quite a
time nobody discovered it, she had slid off into a faint at the very
beginning of that song of Aschael's, and so had not seen my own headlong
fall. This saved us from a disaster, for otherwise our little girl would
probably not have been born in the following July, not to be welcomed by
her father until October came. Indeed, I had to wait till October before
I learned a good many things; but such was my state of lassitude that I
was able to do so without impatience, and even without much interest,
content to be free from pain and to be looked after by those people of
Hastie's party. After a time they began to allow me to do little
things--superintend the packing of the luncheon-baskets and, as I grew
better, to join the guns in the clearing when the whistle went; and
Evie, away at Broadstairs with Aunt Angela (who had given up her room in
the little "circus"), sometimes seemed part of a charming but not very
moving dream to me. You see from this how bad I was.... Then I returned,
and the winter in Egypt and Hastie's house in Scotland began in their
turn to fade.

Apart from my work at the Consolidation, I began to be full of a
curiously single preoccupation. I had not brooded on this while I had
been away: as I have said, I had not brooded on anything; it merely came
back to me as the most natural thing to do, a matter of course. It was
the thing that Louie Causton, against what she conceived to be her own
interests, had advised that night when I had dined with her at the
Models' Club. There was something I must now tell Evie.

I think I let it go, vaguely, as "something." It was not that I did not
know perfectly well what it was; but those lazy days free from pain
among the heather had made that also somehow unreal; I suppose I had
worn smooth the thought of it; and it seemed nothing to make a fuss
about. It did not even require resolution. It was merely something that
ought to have been done long ago. This was my attitude of mind then. I
don't say that it is now.

That long separation had altered our relation in more ways than one.
With such joy did I rejoin Evie that for both of us it was as if we were
newly, and yet both more strongly and more peacefully, married again. My
lovely little Phyllis had put even poor Jackie's nose out of joint. On
the other hand, a year is a year, and if my own time had been one of
vacancy and healing, Evie's had not. I had only to listen to her and
Aunt Angela to become aware of this. They had made quite a circle of
acquaintances in Broadstairs; several of these had since been kept up in
London; and there were things I was at least temporarily out of. I
mention this not because I wanted to be in at them; indeed it all seemed
to me a little casual; but I could hardly have expected Evie to sit
moping in a boarding-house parlour all that time, and certainly she
looked a picture of blooming health. I say "looked," because it was only
later that I learned what the first question of the doctor who had
attended her had been: "Has she ever had a severe shock?"

I am unable to explain how it was that at first I was quite incurious to
know what people had thought of that extraordinary collapse of mine, and
why the effect of that song on Kitty Windus, for example, should have
been less marked than its effect on myself. For Kitty, though she had
screamed, and babbled incoherent things that probably I have never been
told about, had sustained no lasting injury. An icy breath had passed
over everybody there, and nobody, I thought, would be so morbid as to
push their inquiries into the varying degrees of iciness. I may say at
once that I thought quite rightly. Nobody has, not even (so far as I am
aware) Miriam Levey.

It was from Aunt Angela, of course, that I learned what that first
question of the Broadstairs doctor had been; and it brought me face to
face with that so easily assumed resolution of mine rather sharply. By
mere luck Evie had escaped that shock of the party, but the original
one, the seven or eight years' old one, remained. That I might know
exactly to what extent this might affect my determination, I had the
Broadstairs doctor to meet my own more distinguished one. I told this
one of the tragedy of Evie's former engagement, and related the affair
of the gramophone. He looked grave.

"You must see that she doesn't get another shock," he said.

Evie herself was not made aware that the visit had more than an ordinary
significance.

But Louie's advice now seemed rather beside the mark.

I saw Louie daily now; and whether it was that she had been able to
entrench herself behind her work in my absence, or had found some _modus
vivendi_ midway between that ecstasy of the night when she had supported
me in a Chelsea doorway and the anguished outbreak of that other evening
in the Models' Club, or however it was, my fears for the impossibility
of the situation now appeared to have been groundless. Whitlock, indeed,
saw more of her than I. He spoke exceedingly favourably of her. She used
quickness and common-sense in her work, he said, and, when he had
half-a-dozen things to do at once, did not take down a remark
interpolated to somebody else as part of the letter he was dictating. I
was not surprised to learn that she "flashed" intelligently at
unexplained meanings. She converted Whitlock's rapid mumbled
instructions into (commercial) English with ease, and had already
attracted Pepper's notice.

I don't know whether it has struck you that Evie, who had given it as a
sufficient reason for renewing her intimacy with Miriam Levey and Kitty
Windus that they had been at the old Business College in Holborn
together, had never once urged the same thing on behalf of Louie
Causton. It was not that I wanted her to do so; as a matter of fact I
very much preferred them apart. And I thought I saw the reason for
Evie's silence. Louie trailed an unhappy story behind her. Louie had
been a model. Aunt Angela had not asked her to her party. If there was
any coolness between Miriam Levey and Louie, which now might well be,
Evie would naturally be disposed to take the part of the former. I don't
mean to say that she looked down on Louie. It was only later that I
learned that she wasted a thought on Louie. I only mean that their paths
lay in different directions, and that Evie had hitherto appeared content
that they should do so.

It was in a roundabout way that I discovered that Louie had a place in
Evie's thoughts. Acting under my doctor's orders, I had begun to come
home early in the afternoon, seldom working after tea; and I entered the
drawing-room one afternoon to find a couple of her Broadstairs
acquaintances, a Mr and Mrs Smithson, with her. Smithson was, I think, a
cycle agent; she was an openwork-stockinged, flirtatious little woman,
for ever making eyes, and apparently under the impression that all
conversation would languish unless she took the greater part of it upon
herself. I imagine it had been she who had sent Evie one or two vulgar
seaside post cards that, had they been addressed to me, would have gone
straight into the fire. It appeared that they knew Peddie slightly, my
old Jun. Ex. Con. of the F.B.C., and now Whitlock's abstract clerk; and
I was not disposed to congratulate Peddie on the acquaintance.

They were just leaving as I arrived, so that we only exchanged a few
words; indeed, the ringing of the telephone I had had fixed up in my
study gave me an excuse to cut our leave-taking short. I went to the
instrument; it was Louie Causton with a message from Whitlock; and I
gave my instructions and returned to Evie.

Now Jackie, who was just beginning to babble and notice things, was
greatly interested in the telephone, and I entered the drawing-room just
in time to hear him make some remark about "plitty typies." As I took no
notice, Jackie repeated the unchildlike expression. Evie was pouring me
out more tea.

"Plitty typies, farzer," Jackie clamoured, imperious for notice.

I turned to Evie.

"Where did he pick that up?" I asked.

Evie said: "Oh, it was some silly joke of Florrie's."

"Florrie is Mrs Smithson?"

"Yes."

I was not pleased. I suppose that, like Charles Lamb, I am squeamish
about my women and children, and I remembered Mrs Smithson's post cards.
One of them had borne the legend, "Detained at office--very pressing
business," and if you have seen these things you will not want it
described. But I was loth to raise again the question I had formerly
raised about Miss Levey and Aschael, and so I merely asked whether it
was not possible for her to give Mrs Smithson tea without having Jackie
there. She said, "Very well," though in a tone a little subdued. She
knew what I meant.

It was ten minutes later that, returning of her own accord to the
subject, she said a little poutingly: "I don't see much to make a fuss
about. He doesn't know what it means."

"That doesn't improve matters very much," I said. "It seems to me to
make them worse."

"Oh, very well," she answered.

But she returned to the subject yet again. She spoke defensively.

"I had to have him at Broadstairs with me. You couldn't have him in
Scotland with you."

"Jackie, you mean?"

"Yes."

She gave a slightly marked shade of meaning to the words "in Scotland."
To tell the truth, it was a little on my mind that I had had the more
desirable summer of the two of us. I am no snob, but I do prefer some
people to others, and if people do run in strata, well, nobody can tell
me much I don't know about the clerk and cycle-agent class, and they
don't charm me. I spoke with a little compunction.

"I wish it could have been helped, darling. Anyway, we sha'n't be
separated again."

(I may say that I don't think Evie had thought it very remarkable that I
should have had that accident at Aunt Angela's party. She had fainted
herself, and knew little of the later events; and we have lived too long
together for her not to be aware that, rugged as I may appear to the
rest of the world, I am a sensitive man.)

After a moment's silence: "Mrs Smithson has asked me down to Broadstairs
for a week," she said. "She--of course she hadn't met you."

"You mean she's asked you without me?"

"She hadn't met you," Evie excused Mrs Smithson.

"And--shall you go?"

She answered quite readily: "Of course not--not without you."

I got up and kissed her. I had expected no less of her.

But I knew that she would have liked to go to Broadstairs, and was only
staying away out of her duty to me, it was not for me to deny her her
sex's equivalent of a grumble--a sigh. Then we began to talk.

We talked quite equably: I never in my life wrangled with Evie. I said,
quite gently, that I did not wish the boy to acquire precocious chatter
about pressing business and pretty typists, and Evie made no opposition;
indeed, she laughed when I suggested how unlikely it was that any pretty
typist would have pressing business with myself. By-and-by she asked me
who had rung me up, and I told her. "Oh, yes, I forgot; she's with you
now," she said; "Mr Whitlock engaged her, didn't he?"

"Yes," I answered. Then, after a little further talk, we kissed again,
and she went out to give Phyllis her bath.

Oddly enough, very soon after speaking thus of Louie after that long
silence, she saw Louie herself. One morning she announced that she was
going shopping that day, and would call for me at Pall Mall and bring me
home to tea. She finished her shopping earlier than she had thought she
would, and, not wishing to disturb me before the appointed time, had
come upon Louie in the counting-house. She told me this when we got
home. She had asked Louie to show her round, and was full of the wonders
of the place--the lifts, the telephone exchange, the series of
waiting-rooms, the advice-board from Lloyd's, the acre-wide office full
of busy clerks. "What a change from Holborn!" she said she had said to
Louie, and then Louie had brought her to my own private room.

The next day Louie made a mistake in a rather important draft. It was
not like her, and Whitlock blamed himself for having left too much to
her intuition. The error necessitated a consultation between Louie,
Whitlock and myself. It was set right, and Louie was going out again
when I glanced at Whitlock. He looked inquiringly, nodded, and left us.
There was something I wanted to say to Louie; perhaps it was rather
something that it would not be very graceful not to say; perhaps it was
both.

I think this was the first time I spoke to her at the Consolidation
except on business.

"Well, that will be all right," I said, dismissing the error in the
draft.... "By the way, you saw my wife yesterday, didn't you?"

She gave a little nod.

"And showed her round? It was very good of you. She enjoyed it very
much. She told me all about it."

Louie said something about it being no trouble, and then appeared to be
going. But I stopped her. Then, when I had stopped her, I didn't quite
know what to say.

"Oh--er----" I said awkwardly, looking at her and then looking away
again. "Without opening matters up--you know what I mean--going into
things--I want to say just one thing. It's about--a piece of advice you
once gave me."

She had half opened the inner door, and stood, as it were, on the
threshold of the box-like space between the inner one and the outer one
of baize. The look she gave me was almost hostile, and the tourmalines
were shut. I don't think, by the way, that she ever heard of that
incident at Aunt Angela's party. I neither asked her whether she had,
nor ever told her about it.

"If you feel that you must----" she said, not very invitingly.

"It's merely this," I said rather hurriedly, "that what you suggested is
impossible now."

"Yes," she said; "I suppose it is."

"Her doctor's forbidden it--I mean, he says she mustn't have another
shock."

Instantly I saw, by the way in which she said, "Oh!" that she had had
something else in her mind. "Oh!... I see," she said, and I pondered.

"Ah!" I said at last. "You mean you've just seen--just this moment?"

She made no reply.

"You've just seen, just this moment. Then why did you say yes, you
supposed so?"

Her answer was impatient. "Oh, _must_ you?"

"Must I what?"

"Must you do this?"

"Ask you why you assented when I said something was impossible now?"

"Ask me anything at all!" she almost snapped.

I gave her a long look. "Shut the door," I said.... "Now tell me why you
agreed with me when I said that it was impossible to take your advice
now."

The tourmalines flickered almost scornfully. "Don't you know?"

"I do not."

"What! You can't guess?"

"Will you tell me?"

For a moment she looked as if she was going to sit down for something
that would require time; but she changed her mind, and stood, a crumple
of skirt grasped in either hand.

"Ask me again and I will," she said, in a slightly raised voice.

"I do ask you."

Then, with a harsh little laugh, Louie made her second mistake of that
day.

"Because she's jealous," she said. "Evidently that wasn't _your_ reason;
I don't know what yours was; but that's mine."

"Oh!" I said. In the face of a statement so preposterous I really could
think of nothing else to say.

"What else did she come here yesterday for?" Louie demanded.

I smiled. That was too absurd. "Well--shall we say to keep an
appointment with her husband?" I suggested.

"Oh, if you like!... Then why does she want to come and see me at my
house?" she demanded.

It was news to me that Evie did want to go and see Louie at her house,
but I was careful not to let Louie see that.

"Oh!" I said, still smiling. "And you think these grounds enough for
your statement?"

"My good----" she broke out. "I'm not asking you to accept them. I know
better than to try to persuade _you_! You asked me, and I've told you;
that's all."

"And if I say once for all that it is not so, and that nothing could
make it so?"

"Make it so!" she broke out. "Really, Jeff, you talk like--a man! 'Make
it so!'... If you can't see your little definite reason for everything,
you deny the fact! If I could say that Kitty Windus and Miriam Levey had
been chattering--I'm not aware that they have, but if I _could_ say
that--I suppose you'd call that a reason, and listen to it; but anything
else--pshaw! I don't care a button for your reason! Your reason may have
made this business, but it won't persuade a woman against something she
knows--myself _or_ Evie. It just is so, and there's an end of it. And of
course you see the beautiful new fix it puts you in." She gave a little
stamp that made her garments quiver.

"Louie, I can't----"

"Oh, a perfect fix! Really, I'm curious to know what you're going to do
about it! Try to persuade her that there's nothing between you and me!
Try it, try it! Why, how shouldn't she be jealous when I am? Do you
think she doesn't see that? Oh, I don't know why I waste words with
you!... But you see your fix. It was Kitty before, and you tried half
telling then; now it's me; but it isn't either of us really; oh, if it
only could be!... It's the secret, Jim. You've got to tell her--and you
can't. I don't know what this is about a shock, but it's too late now.
Try it if you like--I don't care what you say about me. Try the half
truth again--give her reason--the reason's yours whenever you want it."

Of course I couldn't listen to this nonsense and immodesty and worse.
Who should know better whether Evie was jealous or not, Louie or I? Evie
jealous!... Of course, if it were so, the position _would_ be precisely
as Louie had stated it. I _should_ have to choose between Evie's love
and the risk the doctor had so gravely foreshadowed. Our very existence
together _would_ hang on precisely that last desperate chance. And from
the bottom of my heart I blessed my Maker that, tossed and buffeted as
my life had been, at least that perfected anguish of body and spirit was
to be spared me....

I had risen. Smiling rather sadly, I turned to Louie.

"Well--as I said--I don't want to re-open things," I said.

With the door already half open, she turned.

"Do you think they're closed?" she said.

And she did not wait for my reply.

FOOTNOTE:

[2] See "In Accordance with the Evidence."


II

It is as I feared: this writing, as a continuous record, will have to
stop. My life is getting too full. I daresay its crowded outward
happenings are a good thing for me; it is better, as the saying is, to
wear out than to rust out; and I am beginning almost to enjoy change for
change's sake.

My newest change is a removal. Pepper's latest cosmopolitan, Baron
Stillhausen, wants to be rid of that Iddesleigh Gate house as it stands,
and already I have taken Evie round to see it. It almost took away her
breath: I didn't know how near delight could come to timidity--I almost
said to dismay. When I said, "Well, darling, am I to take it?" she
looked at me as much as to say "_Dare_ you?"... I think I dare--though
I have only to remember my own beginnings to be a little intimidated
myself. I walked over to Verandah Cottage the other evening; a
sign-writer has the place now; and it seems either very much more or
very much less than four years since I lived there--sometimes hardly
four months, sometimes half-a-lifetime.... But Evie will very quickly be
turning up her nose at Well Walk. Already she had begun to shop quite
freely. For getting to and from Pall Mall (I told you I was to spare
myself physically for the present) I have bought a small runabout of a
car. Really it is only an ordinary taxi, with a rather superior shell
placed on it, and I have an agreement with a young fellow who has just
taken his driving certificate; but Evie was talking about a livery for
him the other night, and I was pleased. That is as it should be. It will
be a joy to me to see her take her proper place....

So this record will have to be more and more a diary, jotted down as I
can find opportunity for it. I need not say that the change to
Iddesleigh Gate will be a larger undertaking than, say, Aunt Angela's
installation in the little "circus" near King's Cross was. And there is
the Consolidation. That is heavy work, and the heavier that at present
we are working very much in the dark. In these present industrial
troubles, for example, we do not quite know where we shall come out; we
can only throw in our weight with the big natural forces that, in
history as in dynamics, balance themselves in the end. The air is thick
with dust of Schmerveloff's raising; and though all this dust may turn
out presently to be like the comet's tail, packable into a portmanteau,
for the present it certainly obscures our vision. We have to take into
account, too, that even dust is not raised without a cause; and so in
public we sit, Radicals all, in solemn inquiry into things, with plenty
of Westminster stage thunder, while behind the scenes we get in good old
Tory heavy work, not necessarily because we are Tories, but because
Toryism serves a useful purpose just at present. Once or twice lately I
have disobeyed my doctor, and stayed at the office for tea, so closely
in touch have I had to keep with various Committees and Conferences; and
we have had to keep our staff late too, which is rather hard on them,
since they get none of the kudos. But the days when I could burn the
candle at both ends all the time are over for me, I'm afraid.

Louie Causton rarely gets away early now; in that respect she was better
off when she sat for the evening classes at the Art Schools; but she
gravitates more and more to Pepper's side of the business. That bee she
has in her bonnet about Evie's being jealous of her does not, I am glad
to say, impair her business efficiency. The other day Pepper remarked on
her distinguished carriage, and, as he never neglects appearances, he
chooses her, when an amanuensis is necessary, for his more important
consultations. The other night he took her and Whitlock to dinner before
going to Sir Peregrine Campbell's. I can picture his dismay had it ever
been suggested that he should take Miss Levey out to dinner. And Stonor
and Peddie do not crack the old jokes they did at the F.B.C., about
"Miss Causton's pal--Sir Peregrine," or "You know who I mean--that
friend of Miss Causton's--the Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs."
Indeed there seem to be fewer jokes going about than there used to be.
We are all getting older--Louie (save for those slender yacht-like
lines of hers), Aunt Angela (whose self-satisfied humilities have rather
lost their resilience since that night of her housewarming in the little
"circus"), Evie (who now takes the prospect of a day and a night nursery
as a matter of course, and has bills sent in to me quite naturally) and
the rest of us. Even Billy Izzard, clean painter as he is, seems to be
forcing his jokes. He has lately found an artificial amusement in balls
and pageants, rather to the neglect of his work; and all this, slight as
it seems--I mean the spread of the love of amusement--has actually more
to do with Consolidation than you would guess.... But I must stop. I get
Consolidation enough during the day without bringing it home with me at
night. Evie has just knocked at the door. That is her signal that I have
"consolidated" enough--as she calls this journal of which she has never
heard.


_1st March._--For the first time I make this frankly a diary. According
to my agreement, we go into Iddesleigh Gate on Lady Day; as a matter of
fact we are there now. My lease is for ten years. I got as many of
Stillhausen's effects as I wanted at forced-sale rates; a good deal I
didn't want. Evie went half wild with joy about a certain crystal bath;
I about the Amaranth Room. It is extraordinary how few pieces it takes
to furnish this last splendid apartment: a settee, a few chairs, a few
cabinets, a bust or two, and the vast turfy carpet.... A smaller room
would look half empty with twice the furniture. Billy says it's the
proportions, and is puzzling about them, seeking what he calls "the
unit," and taking now the length of a gilt Empire settee, now the height
of a lacquered cabinet, now his own height, etc., etc. It is Evie's
music room; she has begun her lessons; but it will be some time, I am
afraid, before she makes very much of it. Billy threatens to quarter
himself on us while he makes paintings of the whole house. Aunt Angela
has two rooms on the second floor, with distempered walls; and she began
her furnishing with a crucifix. My library is stately. The heavy,
slow-moving doors scarcely make a click when they close, and a
bell-connection down the passage warns me of the approach of anybody. I
suppose Stillhausen found this useful; he was in the Diplomatic Service;
and perhaps it is well that these stamped leather walls do not whisper
secrets. There is a secret of my own that I keep in the bureau by the
heat-regulator there. I am not sure that the fire would not be the best
place for it. It is odd, by the way, that this impulse to burn these
papers should lately have become almost as strong as the impulse to
write them formerly was.

I have a telephone switchboard to half the rooms in the house, and the
line to Pall Mall is doubled, the second wire not passing through the
Company's Exchange. A switch turns on the masked lights behind the
cornice, and what with one device and another, it would pay me to have a
private electrician. Aunt Angela, I may say, who has managed to
reconcile herself to heavier expenditures, is harrowed at the waste of
electric power, and wanders about the house turning off switches. On a
Jacobean table at the far end of the library are two small bright things
with branches--that is to say, they seem small until you take a walk to
them. They are Pepper's candlesticks. I have attained the scale.


_28th March._--That impulse to destroy these papers has reminded me of a
little thing that happened while I was away in Scotland. One of Hastie's
boys, Ronald, aged fourteen, has a little den of his own in the back
part of the house, and during my convalescence he was so good as to make
me welcome there. The paraphernalia of I don't know how many hobbies
littered the place; his latest had been chemistry; and he stank of
chemicals, and had his clothes red-spotted with acids. His greatest
success, at which I was privileged to assist, was to fill ginger-beer
bottles with hydrogen and explode them. One day he invited me to witness
a really superior explosion. It was lucky he did invite me. He had
charged an earthenware jar, as big as a bucket, with the gas and would
probably have blown the wall out. He said he didn't funk it, but I did,
and we opened the window and allowed the gas to be lost.

I feel rather like that about this writing. Last night I almost made
away with the dangerous stuff. But I hung back. It has cost so hideously
dear. This may be a sentimentalism, and obscure, but there it is, and as
it puzzles me I shall try to get to the bottom of it....

_N.B._--Evie says she will soon "begin to feel that she lives here." She
is getting used to having things; soon she will be getting used to
having people. Soon she'll have to be thinking about her first
dinner-party. Must stop now. The more sleep I get before midnight the
better. I shall think about the destroying, though.


_29th April._--(A month since I made an entry.) A rather curious
conversation with Evie last night. You will remember that Louie Causton,
trying to justify that ridiculous attitude of hers about Evie's
jealousy, had exclaimed, as if that clinched something, "Why does she
want to come to my house, then?" Well, she has been. Apparently she went
some little time ago, but she only spoke of it last night. I shall not
ask Louie for her account of it; this is Evie's:

She went on a Saturday afternoon, taking the train from Clapham
Junction. Louie was just setting out with her boy to the South
Kensington Museum, but she turned back. Since Kitty left her she has got
another governess for the lad, but she still devotes her Saturdays and
Sundays to him. There are several things about Evie's account I am not
quite clear about, but I admit that she has no great gift for picking
out the essentials of a conversation, and perhaps unconsciously she has
emphasised the wrong things. She told me, for example, a good deal about
Master Jim, but said very little about Kitty's reason for going over to
Miriam Levey. She wandered off into old recollections of the Business
College in Holborn that I had forgotten all about, and allowed these
things to divert her from the visit itself. I had to ask her whether
Louie seemed comfortable in her rooms, whether they were decently
furnished or not, and so on; and she said, "Oh, of course, you've never
seen them," and described them to me in excellent detail. Then suddenly
she asked me whether Miss Lingard (who had been away out of sorts), was
back at the Consolidation yet. Miss Lingard was my own private
amanuensis, and during her absence Louie had had to help with her
work.... And so we talked. This was in our own bedroom, while Evie was
making ready for the night.

"Well," I said, yawning, "and what did you talk about besides the
Holborn days?"

"Oh, lots of things," she answered brightly, busily brushing. "She's got
to look older since then--but I daresay you wouldn't notice that, seeing
her every day."

"Louie Causton, you mean?"

"Yes."

"Did she say anything about Miss Levey?"

"Oh, yes. Her correspondence class is a great success. Schmerveloff's
taken her up, and she's no end of pupils. Wasn't it funny, our living
next door to Schmerveloff and not knowing it? They little thought that
in a few years we should be living here!"

I laughed a little. She glows prettily when she shows her pride in my
achievement. Then I yawned again. "Well," I said sleepily, "I hope
Kitty's changed friends for the better."

"Oh, she thinks so," Evie replied promptly. "You see, it wasn't very
nice for her, when she'd had the boy all days, and Louie didn't come in
till ten or eleven or twelve at night, or later, to be snapped at and
spoken crossly to."

Here I checked a yawn. "What's that?" I said. "Miss Causton didn't tell
you that, did she?"

"Eh?" said Evie. "Oh, no, of course she didn't. Didn't I tell you I
looked in at their offices in Gray's Inn one day--Kitty's and Miriam's?
Oh, that was a fortnight and more ago! I'm sure I told you, Jeff!... And
Miriam took me to the New College in Kingsway. It's nothing like the
Consolidation, of course, but it's such an improvement on that poky old
Holborn place! How we ever gave a dance there I can't imagine. You
remember that dance, Jeff?"

And she was back at the old College once more.

I said this conversation was curious, but perhaps that was not quite the
word. Slightly distasteful would be nearer, for of course you see what
it all implied. It implied that Evie might easily be dragged into some
trumpery quarrel between Louie Causton and Miriam Levey. For Miriam
would not be at all above concluding that Louie had schemed to get her
place, and that I had thrown my influence into the balance; and anybody
could always make poor Kitty agree with them. I didn't want Evie mixed
up in anything of that kind. I was even a little sorry she had been to
see Louie. How little, for my own part, there existed in the way of
affection between Louie and myself you already know; and, if the thing
was not quite the same from Louie's point of view, I did not see that
any useful end would be served by their being much together. On that
morning when Louie had first made her ridiculous suggestion about
jealousy, her whole manner had been rather that of one who throws up the
sponge, ceases to exercise care, I don't know what; and there is no
sense in deliberately manufacturing something that doesn't exist. And
about that other visit to Gray's Inn. I am quite sure that Miriam Levey
would not scruple to hurt me in any way she could.... There's the
telephone; Whitlock, I expect.


_10th May._--In a week Evie is to give her first dinner-party. Naturally
she is a little timorous about it. The fact that Pepper, with whom, I
am sorry to say, she gets on no better, will be there to watch her,
would be quite enough to flurry her; but there will also be other people
there whom she hasn't seen yet--the Hasties, the Campbells, Sichel, a
Mrs Richmond (a very smart little woman, a friend of Pepper's) and
others. Poor dear, it will be rather an ordeal for her, and no wonder
she spoke to me the other night a little crossly. It hurt a little at
the time, but I have forgotten it. I will put it down, however.

Among all these "Hons. and Sirs," as she calls them, plain familiar
Whitlock and Billy Izzard (I am dragging Billy in because these people
may be useful to him when he has got over his pageant craze) were her
chief comforts; but the question of the final chair, a lady's, had
arisen. There being nobody else I particularly wanted, I had been
disposed to call on Pepper, who can always produce a prettily frocked
woman or a well-turned-out young man at a moment's notice; but Evie had
managed to get a dig in at Pepper, at which I laughed heartily. "He
might bring Mrs Toothill for all we know," she had said. "No, Jeff, it's
our party," she had demurred, and had then ruminated....

"All right, anybody you like," I had agreed cheerfully.

"You don't like Mrs Smithson," she had then said doubtfully.

Of course, having just given her full liberty, I ought not to have
qualified it, even by a look; but I confess my face fell. It was only
for an instant, and I hoped my darling hadn't noticed it.

"Have Mrs Smithson if you like," I said a little shortly, I am afraid.

But she had noticed. She spoke shortly too.

"No, thank you, not to have her thrown in my face afterwards. I know you
don't think the Smithsons are good enough."

I was shocked. "Dearest," I said slowly, "when have I 'thrown things in
your face afterwards,' as you call it?"

She must indeed have been tried, otherwise she would never have said the
absurd thing she did.

"Well, if you don't say it, you think it. Better have your friend, Miss
Causton. She can go out to dinner with Sir Julius, it seems."

"Evie!" I exclaimed, for the moment deeply wounded.

"Well, you told me she did, and if she can dine with him she can with
you, I suppose."

I turned away. "I shall leave it entirely to you," I said. I reproach
myself now for my impatience.

But instantly her generous little heart was itself again. She ran after
me and threw her arms about my neck.

"Forgive me, Jeff," she pleaded tearfully. "I didn't mean anything, and
I am _so_ afraid of it all! I'm _not_ used to it, you know, but I am
doing my best. Do ask Mr Pepper to bring somebody."

And we kissed and said no more about it. Perhaps I am foolish to write
it down.


_14th May._--Evie has made the acquaintance of most of her guests for
the seventeenth beforehand. The Hasties have called on her, and Lady
Campbell, and Pepper has brought Mrs Richmond (who, I confess, strikes
me as rather a superfine Mrs Smithson), and half her fears are gone. She
didn't much care for Mrs Richmond, she says; "toney" was the adjective
she used; but she quite took dear homely Lady Campbell under her wing.
She likes receiving, she says, and remarked, rather acutely, that what
makes these little afternoon functions the occasion for bickering they
are, is that people seem to rattle off what they have to say without an
interval for breath, and then to take their departure. She had Jackie
down, and Phyllis was brought down for a moment by her nurse; and Jackie
showed Lady Campbell his ship. Lady Campbell married her husband when he
was master and a fifth-part owner of a coasting boat; and when Jackie
lifted the hatch of his model to show her the "cabin" she laughed, and
said it was a far more comfortable cabin than that in which she spent
her honeymoon. Then Jackie, of course, wanted to know what a honeymoon
was, and when told made some remark about a honeymoon that set
everybody laughing except Evie, who blushed. I hope she will not forget
how to blush among all her smart ladies. I find her blushing adorable.


_17th May_, 4 P.M.--Without warning, a thing that I had thought
impossible has come upon me. For nearly twenty hours--since nine o'clock
last night--my thoughts have been such a series of jerks, stoppings,
leapings forward and dead stops again as only once before in my life I
have known. I have paced my private room at the Consolidation for half
the day, and have done no work since I looked over and signed the papers
that were brought to me here last night. Were I able to speak of "mere
nothings" I should say that a mere nothing has brought all this about.
Let me tell it. I have come home for the purpose of telling it.

Since I began to leave the Consolidation early, papers have often been
brought to me here. Usually Stonor brings them, and is shown straight
into the library. You may judge of their urgency when I tell you that
last night there was nobody to bring them but Louie Causton.

Evie, Aunt Angela and I were just finishing dinner when the servant
whispered to me. I think he said "Somebody from Pall Mall, sir," for if
he had said "A lady" I should have wondered who the lady was, which I
didn't do. I was expecting the papers; they would not keep me long; so,
telling Evie that I should be back in a few minutes, I followed the
servant out.

Louie was standing by my desk. She had not lifted her veil, and I do not
know what it was about her attitude that struck me. Something did; I
suppose it was some proportion or relation; something that Billy would
perhaps have called the "beautiful unit" of the room; some purely
æsthetic quality, I don't doubt, which it is odd I should remember
now.... She was looking towards me as I entered; she had heard that
discreet bell of Stillhausen's; and only when I advanced did she push
her veil back.

"Here are these," she said, with a twisted, pained sort of little smile.
"The others had all gone home, and I understood they were to come at
once. No, thanks, I won't sit down."

Even when it appeared that, after all, the papers would need a few
minutes' looking into, she still refused to sit down. She stood as close
to the papers she had brought as if, without them, her sole reason for
being there, she might have been ejected; and as she still persisted in
her refusal to sit, I sat down myself.

It took me perhaps a quarter of an hour to go through the papers. It was
as I was pushing back my chair that Stillhausen's bell purred again. A
moment later there was a tap at the door. "Come in!" I called.

Evie entered.

I was not embarrassed. It humiliates me to have to write that word now,
so many hours later. There was nothing to be embarrassed at. Indeed, as
Evie advanced from the door, I barely explained the reason for Miss
Causton's call. Louie touched the hand Evie extended. Evie was not, as
she was with Miriam Levey and Kitty Windus, on kissing terms with Louie.

"I think you'll find these all right now," I said, giving Louie back the
papers. "I don't know whether Miss Causton has had supper, Evie?"

Evie smiled graciously. "Yes, won't you have something, Miss Causton?
Let me have them lay a tray for you--it will be really no trouble."

But Louie would take nothing. She had drawn down her veil again, and was
extending her fingers to Evie. "Don't trouble to come, Mr Jeffries," she
said, moving towards the door, while Evie prattled polite phrases.

But I took her to the door. Four words--a "Good-night" on either
side--were all that passed between us. Then I returned to the library.

Evie was standing where Louie had been standing, but no sooner did I
enter than she passed me. Taking into account the warning of
Stillhausen's bell, she must have waited for the purpose of so passing
me. But this did not strike me until a little later. Only when she
reached the door did she turn and speak.

"Did Miss Causton ask for me?" she said.

"Eh?" I asked, surprised.... "No. Why?"

"Oh, nothing. Only that I thought that when one called one asked for the
lady of the house."

I smiled as I set my writing-table to rights. "'Called?' It was hardly a
call, my dear."

"Evidently not."

I looked quickly up. Evie's tone was new to me.

"Come, come, darling--a necessary matter of business," I expostulated.

"I'm sorry I interrupted."

"'Interrupted!'... Good gracious, Evie!"

"But of course I didn't; you can't be interrupted here."

I was astonished.

"Why, what--what do you mean?"

She looked coldly at me, without replying.

I frowned. I am ashamed to say that it cost me a little effort to master
an impatience that had suddenly arisen in me. I spoke slowly for that
purpose.

"If by your last remark you mean that bell, Evie, it was here before we
came, and I fancy you knew it was. At any rate it shall be taken away
to-morrow."

Very irritatingly (I have told you how I am not quite the man of phlegm
I was) she took me up at my last word.

"Oh, yes, about to-morrow," she said. "You don't happen to be going out
to-night, do you?"

"No. Why?" This was stranger than ever. She knew I never went out at
night now.

"Because Mrs. Hastie telephoned me to-day. Joan isn't well, and can't
come. So perhaps you'd like Sir Julius to ask somebody else--unless, of
course----"

"Unless what?"

"Unless--there's somebody you'd rather ask yourself."

For a moment I was silent; then, "Evie," I said slowly, "do you--I don't
see how you can, but do you--mean Louie Causton?"

She laughed tremulously. "Oh, very well; if I can't, I can't, I suppose,
so that ends it."

And the next moment she was gone.

Half-an-hour later I met her on the stairs.

"Oh," she announced, without preface, "Phyllis isn't very well, and I
think I shall spend the night in the nursery with her."

She has done so.

I have had a wretched night. I turned and turned, but found no sleep. By
dint of turning, I found something else, though--a new meaning in those
words Louie Causton had said to me: "If I could say that Miriam Levey
and Kitty Windus had been chattering, which I can't----" I tossed and
tossed.

At half-past ten this morning I went round to the offices of the Women's
Emancipation League in Gray's Inn. I can't say, even when I found
myself there, asking for Miss Levey, that I was very clear in my own
mind as to why I had gone, but if anybody _had_ been tampering with
Evie, it was as likely to be the Jewess as anybody else.

She kept me waiting: a thing, I may say, that few people do nowadays. I
waited in a matchboarded anteroom, among emancipated flappers and
middle-aged disciples of Schmerveloff. Then Miss Levey herself came in
as if by accident, and gushed out into apologies. She had had no idea it
was I, she said; she did so beg my pardon.... She showed me into an
inner room in which a hairy man, the single male-bird of the run, was
expounding from a Blue Book to three or four more women; one of them was
the lady who had participated in the intellectual courtship on the night
of Aunt Angela's party. I turned to Miss Levey.

"I should like, if I may, to speak to you in private," I said.

She asked if Mr Boris's room was empty. The hairy man, looking up from
his Blue Book for a moment, said that he thought so. She led the way
into Mr Boris's room.

At the sight of her all my old dislike revived, and I found myself able
to go straight to the point. I did so, without wasting a word.

"I've called to ask you, Miss Levey, whether you've given my wife the
impression that I was the cause of your leaving the Freight and Ballast
Company in order that room might he made for Miss Causton?"

She gave a shocked "Mis-ter Jeffries!" but I held up my hand.

"I know I'm putting it bluntly. You can be as blunt as you like also.
Will you tell me whether that is so?"

"May I die, Mr Jeffries--but _surely_ you know I'd arranged with Mr
Schmerveloff long before!"

"I see. You dismissed us. Very well. Then let me put it in another form.
Have you, in my wife's hearing, associated my name with Miss Causton's
in any way whatever?"

This time her answer was not quite so ready. When it came, it was a
question.

"Do you mean lately, Mr Jeffries?"

"At any time, but especially lately."

Then she broke into glib speech, and all her "w's" became "v's."

"There, now I _knew_ there vould be mischief before it was all over!
'Vot _is_ the good of going into it?' I said; 'vot _is_ the good, ven
nobody even believed it at the time? Evie was there,'I said, 'and knew
it was not true, so vy rake it all up now, Kitty?' I said. 'Ve all knew
all about poor Louie,' I said, 'and vot's done's done anyway, and Evie
doesn't vant to hear about it.'"

Here, suddenly tingling curiously all over, I interrupted Miss Levey. I
spoke with a steadiness that astonished myself.

"One moment. You seem to be speaking of a definite occasion. Was this
lately?"

Miss Levey was all pouting bosom, thick lips and fluent hands.

"Vy, _yes_! Ven Evie came here. Evie and Kitty and me, though vy I have
Kitty here at all I don't know, seeing she makes slips in her work, and
Mr Schmerveloff grumbles, and the other girls has it all to do over
again----"

And the torrent continued.

I don't know what else she said; the rest didn't matter. Why it didn't
matter you will see when I tell you that the tongue of a dead young
libertine once, years before, had made free with Louie Causton's name
and my own, and that the abominable slander, which had lasted for some
days, had turned on nothing less than the paternity of Louie's child.
All at the Business College, including Evie, had known of it; they had
known, too, of the public apology I had been prompt to exact; but that
mattered nothing, nothing, nothing now. This wretched little Israelite,
revelling in her "v's," and even touching my sleeve from time to time,
had seen to that. What the filthy rest was I do not know. Doubtless,
beginning with that, and with the feeble Kitty to support her, she had
made a complete history of jealousy.... And she did not even triumph
openly. She lisped and protested, and put all on Kitty.... I left her,
and almost fled from Louie also when, returning to Pall Mall, I
encountered her coming out of Whitlock's room.

And now I have sat since lunch wondering what is to be done next. The
afternoon hours have brought me no more light then those of the night
did. Dully, I liken my life to that Maze at Hampton Court in which, one
happy Sunday I don't know how long ago, Evie and I spent an hour. As
then I seem to see Miss Levey's flamingo red behind the green hedges;
she seems to lurk in my life, too wary to confront me, too malicious not
to scratch. I am lost in winding intricacies. True, there is a door,
even as there is a door at Hampton Court that is opened when the
labyrinth is to be emptied. I find myself brought up against this door
time after time, but I do not know what lies beyond it. You see what the
door is: it is to tell Evie everything--everything.... Too wonderful
Louie! Why, if you foresaw all this, did you not _make_ me tell
her--thrust me into a closet with her and keep the door until it was
done--instead of letting me grope in my blindness and slip ever further
and further away from her?... Oh, I am tired, tired.

I am too tired even to be angry for my poor practised-upon darling. For
they have sprung this horrible thing upon her. Half the time she does
not, cannot, believe it; of the other half of her life they have made a
torment. Poor lamb! Of course if they are cruel enough they can make it
seem plausible to her; I only wonder that, harrowed as she must have
been for all these weeks, she has borne up at all. _I_ know the horror
she must have wrestled with!... That _that_ wicked old story should crop
up again!... But I must stop. Perhaps an hour's sleep will do me good.


5.30 P.M.--That was a reckless thing to do, to go to sleep with these
papers spread out on the table and my door unlocked. Not that my
household is a staff of commercial collegiates, able to read this
out-of-date old shorthand; but it was foolish for all that. Anyhow I am
rather better, and think I can face the dinner to-night. After that I
don't know what I shall do. I have not seen Evie all day.

I never felt less up to a dinner. But a little champagne will keep me
going. They will be here in two hours and a half. It will take Evie an
hour and a half to dress; I wonder what she is doing for the final hour!
Dear heart, if she only knew how I ache to go up to her; but I must not
do that until I have made up my mind what course to take. I shall have
come to a resolution before I sleep to-night that will settle things one
way or the other. We cannot stop at this _impasse_. I don't think Evie's
is a real jealousy. To-morrow she will be sobbing on my shoulder that
she has harboured it. But at present it has the venomous effect of the
real thing, and if I do not put an end to it, it will recur. Let me
think....

Again it comes upon me--why do I write this at all, that I shall most
certainly be destroying? I have hardly the heart to think it out, but as
it may have some bearing on what I shall have to say to Evie presently I
must. I don't think it's that I'm urged to set myself right with
anybody, even with myself. At first, when I began, I thought it was
that--the need for self-justification--but now I don't think it's a
question of justification or condemnation at all. It is a far more
essential question. Suppose we call it the question of the personal
standard....

I dare say my standards pass for low. That physical basis of marriage,
for example, may pass for low--I'm sure it must to that ardent young
couple who pant for intellectual companionship and Schmerveloff. And I
confess that several of the Beatitudes are beyond me. To tell the truth
I am not really at home with anything much higher than the best of human
intelligence; and when I hear people speaking glibly of "man-made laws,"
I recognise that some folk are on terms of affability with Omnipotence
that are denied to me. I suppose I am temperamentally reluctant to alter
as much as a regulation once it is established, and I am certainly not
ready with divine amendments to everything of man's offhand. Man's law
I hold to be a necessarily imperfect, but roughly sufficient measure of
man's conduct, and in the light of that law I may presently have a
murder to confess.

I say _a_ murder, not murder. Is there a difference? I do not know, and
I am too weary to split hairs about it. Call them, if you like, one and
the same thing. Still, if the one command be absolute, for the other a
case may be stated. Do I, then, write to state a case?

But state it to whom? There is one Addressee to whom I have not lifted
up my eyes. I, proud and conquering whom among my fellow-worms, have
found the lesser law press hard on me, but I have not straightway
invoked the greater. Man's decrees I have found strong and wise and
admirable; the other is too wonderful for me. And this is the conclusion
I promised you. To man, man's law is of more consequence than God's.
Perhaps the damned are not utterly damned, so long as they do not add
presumptuousness to their error. To have appealed and to have had that
appeal rejected _were_ damnation.... I do not appeal.

Nor can I see that I state my case to man. Nay, for I confess man's
authority, lest it should appear that I do not, I shall destroy these
papers. To-night or to-morrow I shall destroy them. Man shall not say
that I have shirked the human issue. I refuse to plead at all. Let any
who take it upon themselves to accuse or defend me plead or charge what
they will. I am mute. I burn this....

I am tired....

And yet one boon I do crave. Perhaps those standards of mine, by their
very lowness, may be the evidence, not of a smaller, but of a larger
conception of Him Who Reigneth than might at first glance appear....

I am tired....

But all this advances me little with my resolution. Indeed, a fresh
glare has just broken in on my brain. I was looking back a few moments
ago on that long chain of circumstances with which my darling has been
torturing herself--that old slander, innocencies between Louie and
myself possible to have been misconstrued, my coming upon her that night
in Billy's top room, Evie's own temperamental bias against Louie's
profession, her silences, her belief of the calumny. Had Miriam Levey
but known of my visit to the Models' Club and that strange walk of ours
on the night of the Berkeley dinner, her case had indeed been complete!
I had been reviewing all this, I say; and suddenly it struck me, suppose
I do tell her? _What then?_...

Do you see--as the terrible Louie had seen--what then? I am supposing
that the revelation did not kill her; do you see what then?

At last I saw it, and groaned. What then? Why, what but that I had put
another before herself? What but that, while she had shared my board and
bed, that fatal burden of my honour and confidence and trust had gone
to another? What but that Louie, after all, _had_ had the key and
password of my life that I had denied to herself? What could I answer
did she live to say, "What, you married me without telling me this? You
tell me _now_, after having concealed it until concealment is no longer
possible? You give me, _now_, something she's had the use of and has
passed on to me? What is she to you, then, that _I_ am not? Where do I
fall short as a wife that _I_ couldn't have borne this for my husband or
died trying to bear it? Take it. Give it to her. She can have it. Fool,
that I couldn't see this for myself, but must have Miriam Levey to point
it out to me!"

Oh, my dear, my dear, my dear! We had never a fair start....

I do not know whether she intends to spend the night in the nursery
again....

Seven o'clock. I must dress. And I must drink something now, or I shall
never get through the evening....

And even yet I have not come to my decision.


11.30 P.M. This page at least it will be almost superfluous to destroy.
My hand shakes like dodder-grass. That is the liquor I have drunk, but I
had to do it.

They have gone. As I thought would be the case, I have had to play
Evie's part too. That's twice Billy Izzard has seen me do that, for
to-night was to all intents and purposes a repetition of that other
night, when I tried to silence the voice of a gramophone by jumping up
and bawling out an overstrained merriment. I don't mean that I jumped up
and bawled to-night, of course. I merely had a number of flowers removed
from the table, so that my eyes had a straight lane to Evie's at the
other end, and sent down smiles and encouragement and support to her.
And I allowed the men a bare ten minutes afterwards before I hurried off
to her aid again. That and plenty of champagne; and I think I pulled it
off. Billy, who lingered behind until I turned him out, says everything
went splendidly. He didn't know I'd such gaiety in me, he said.

And Evie has gone to the nursery, but is not going to stay there. She
told me that, with a hot little kiss, and a grip of her moist hand....
This was on the stairs, and she whispered (_words illegible_), and she
had to run away so that the gratitude in her eyes would not run quite
over--but that she whispered (_words illegible_)....

I shall do it to-night, unless my tongue is as shaky as my hand. There
is a perfect stillness in my brain. I can see the whole thing spread out
in my mind like a map; never have I been so triumphantly the master of a
thing ... (_words illegible_).... The map is as steady as a rock, too; I
turn my attention from it for a moment, choosing the form in which I
shall present this aspect of the case or that, and when I return to the
map it hasn't moved. Words, whole phrases, rise up in my mind, all so
perfect that there will hardly be any shock at all. Evie cannot help but
see it as I see it, and then I shall beg her pardon that I didn't tell
her long ago. I have never loved her as I love her to-night, and those
lovely pools of her eyes on the stairs (_words illegible_).

At last we are going to have a fair start. We hadn't that, you know. I
still think I was right to stand between her and much of life, but this
other thing was really too huge to be hidden. And she will not be
jealous any more of Louie when I tell her that though Louie dragged all
this out of me--she's no idea really how clever Louie is--my pulse has
never quickened at Louie's touch nor my eyes brightened when they have
met hers. "With my body" I have worshipped Evie, and shall (_words
illegible_).... And so to-morrow will be a new beginning for us. I am
rich; I have power; my only desire is now almost within my grasp. It was
nonsense I wrote an hour or two ago--or perhaps it was the other
day--about this only being the beginning of a deathless jealousy between
those two. Evie will see. I shall make it all perfectly plain. I could
almost do impossibilities to-night, with the words running like
quicksilver in my mind and that chart I have in my brain steady as a
rock. And if the anticipation of peace is such bliss, what will the
peace itself be?...

I suppose she will be ready about twelve. I mustn't let this wondrous
stillness of my brain slip from me. I was clever enough to foresee that
it might, and so had the tray of liqueurs sent down here. But it doesn't
do for an abstemious man to mix his liqueurs; the brandy again, I think.
(_Several lines undecipherable_). I have only been drunk once in my
life; I forget when that was; and once I shammed drunk; I don't suppose
I shall ever be drunk again. A moment ago I felt a twinge where I made
that dent in my head on the corner of Aunt Angela's fender, but it has
passed.... It was a good dinner-party; I saw to that.... Evie,
sweetheart--she'll be ready about twelve....

It is a quarter to now. I must be getting up. But first I must put these
papers away. One of them slipped away somewhere a few minutes ago; I
stumbled and upset a pile of them, but gathered them all up again, all
but that one; never mind, I will look for it in the morning. It was my
foot that slipped, not my brain. My brain is all right....

Well, it will be all right to-morrow....

END OF JEFFRIES' JOURNAL



ENVOI

SIR JULIUS PEPPER DICTATES


ENVOI

"Er--Miss Causton--can you stay for an hour or so? No, a private affair;
I hope it's not inconvenient; thanks, and if I might give you supper
afterwards?...

"Fact is, it's about poor old Jeffries. Better date it, and keep it
safe. They've asked me to write something about him, and I'm no writer;
but Izzard's found me a man who'll lick it into shape if I supply the
material. 'Just talk it anyhow,' he said. Easily enough said, about a
chap like Jeffries....

"You've seen this cutting, of course? No, not the first one; this from
this morning's paper, about Mrs Jeffries. By Jove! it has followed
quickly; awful! (By the way, you once met her, didn't you?) No, I want
this copy; you can get another to-morrow; I'll read it out:


     TRAGIC DEATH OF A LADY

     We have to report a melancholy sequel to the death of Mr James
     Herbert Jeffries, of the Exploration and Mercantile Consolidation,
     Pall Mall, which was announced in our issue of the 10th ult. The
     circumstances of Mr Jeffries' sudden demise are still fresh in the
     public mind. The deceased gentleman, it will be remembered,
     succumbed to an attack of cerebral hæmorrhage brought on by strain
     and overwork and culminating on the night of a dinner-party given
     by him at his mansion in Iddesleigh Gate. It is with the deepest
     regret that we now announce that his widow has survived him only a
     few weeks.

     We understand that during the intervening time the bereaved lady
     had occupied herself by going through the private papers of her
     late husband, sitting up late at night in order to render this last
     devout service. At about three o'clock yesterday morning Ann
     Madeley, a housemaid in Mrs Jeffries' employ, suffering from
     insomnia, had recourse to a medicine closet, situated where the
     servants' quarters adjoin the dwelling parts of the house. Her
     attention was attracted to a strong smell of escaping gas. She woke
     James Baines, a butler, and the two, wisely refraining from
     striking a light, made their way in the direction from which the
     smell of gas seemed to come. This brought them to their mistress'
     room. Obtaining no answer to their knocks, an entrance was forced,
     and in a small dressing-room lately used by Mr  Jeffries----


"I hope this doesn't distress you too much, Miss Causton----


     --Mrs Jeffries was found, fully dressed, stretched on a couch. The
     doors and windows had been closed, and a gas-fire turned on. We
     understand from Baines that Mrs Jeffries had remained as usual
     downstairs in the library until a late hour; and a page of notes in
     her husband's shorthand which has been found under one of the
     pillars of the  writing-table----


"I've got that page of notes, by the way.----


     --is sufficiently eloquent testimony as to what her sad duty had
     been. Dr McKechnie, who was at once summoned, certified that life
     had been extinct for some hours. The deceased lady, who was a great
     favourite in society, leaves two children in the care of a maiden
     aunt, Miss Angela Soames. The inquest is fixed for Tuesday next.


"Sad business, sad business.... Afraid they'll have to bring it in
suicide--through grief, probably....

"Well, let's put it down as it comes. Of course he was a big man; lived
an intense crowded life too. I should say at a guess there weren't many
things he hadn't done at one time and another, short of committing a
murder or a matrimonial infidelity. Don't think he could have been
tempted to do that. One woman could do anything she liked with him, but
the others wouldn't have much chance. Oh yes, a full life. Did you know,
Miss Causton, that the man who first passed him over to me found him
helping to pick a fallen horse up in Fleet Street, when he hadn't a
penny to his name? He was a commissionaire once.... As you know, he was
the steam of this concern; it was the chance of my lifetime finding him,
poor chap. Extraordinary man! He used to go at things by a sort of
intuition; he tried to explain it to me, but I never could understand
it. Once I said something about 'scientific method'; but he said it
wasn't scientific method at all. Scientific method, he said, was
something purely empirical, concerned with investigation, and not
practically constructive in the least. Constructiveness came after. His
method, he said, was based on the truths of art, 'the only truths we
know anything about,' he said, whatever he meant. I never could follow
him at all.... Well, if that's so, it rather explains a lot of these
business giants going in for collecting--I mean it isn't that they just
have the money to gratify their artistic tastes. But, as I say, I could
never make head nor tail of it.... Which reminds me; that paper that got
wafted under his desk; that was a dabbling in art in its way; fiction;
did you know he tried his hand at fiction, Miss Causton? Here it is--an
odd page--Whitlock knows a bit of shorthand, and he transcribed it for
me:


     _'--show him that red thing on the floor, and that curved thing on
     the door.'_

     _But now Archie in his turn seemed to have become divided. He had
     suddenly turned white. But an habitual pertness still persisted in
     his tongue. I don't think this had any relation whatever to the
     physical peril he seemed at last to have realised he was in. I
     stood over him huge and black as Fate.... 'Spare him if you can,'
     that generous bloodthirsty devil in me muttered quickly...._

     _'Merridew,' I said heavily, 'you'll disappear to-morrow
     morning--or----'_

     _'Shall I?' he bragged falteringly...._[3]


"And so on----


     _His only chance now was to have screamed aloud; but he did not
     scream. Instead he stooped quickly, caught up the poker, and struck
     at my head with it._[3]


"And that's the end of the page. Sort of grim tale he would write. Queer
hobby for a mercantile and political giant, wasn't it? But I'd go in for
fiction myself if I thought it would make me like him.

"Verandah Cottage--that was no place for a chap like him. I hated to see
him there. He could always go anywhere, meet anybody, was on equal terms
with the best--and he without antecedents that I ever heard of, standing
out solitary against a black background, just genius.... I wonder who
his people were! Something uncommon, or else he was just a gigantic
'sport'----

"Of course--_de mortuis_ and so on--but he did marry the wrong woman. To
tell the truth, she was as ordinary as they make 'em; would have looked
her best in the lights of the Holborn Restaurant at half-past six,
waiting with the rest of the shop-girls for her bus home. He was a mass
of contradictions, and one of 'em was that he merely idealised her.
Pretty, of course, but poor Jeffries could have done better for himself
than that. She never could bear me.... Well, there's nothing to be said
now, poor creatures.... But sometimes it made me almost angry that he
hadn't married the woman he ought....

"Well, let's begin with the day he first came to the F.B.C.----"

And Louie's pencil flew on.

FOOTNOTE:

[3] See "In Accordance with the Evidence."





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