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Title: Second String
Author: Hope, Anthony, 1863-1933
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Second String" ***

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Internet Archive/American Libraries.)



Transcriber's Notes:

The frontispiece illustration has been removed from text version.

Italics in original are marked with _underscores_.

Small caps have been changed to ALL CAPS.

Punctuation has been regularized.

The following typographical corrections were made:

  p. 517, "dumurely" changed to "demurely." (the Nun admitted demurely)
  p. 536, "that's he" changed to "that he's." (that he's terribly)
  p. 539, "thing" changed to "think," (think you're perfectly)



                          SECOND STRING

                         BY ANTHONY HOPE



                      THOMAS NELSON AND SONS
                    LONDON, EDINBURGH, DUBLIN,
                       LEEDS, AND NEW YORK

  LEIPZIG: 35-37 Königstrasse.   PARIS: 61 Rue des Saints Pères.



                      First Published 1910.



CONTENTS.


     I. HOME AGAIN                                              5

    II. A VERY LITTLE HUNTING                                  27

   III. THE POTENT VOICE                                       45

    IV. SETTLED PROGRAMMES                                     66

     V. BROADENING LIFE                                        87

    VI. THE WORLDS OF MERITON                                 106

   VII. ENTERING FOR THE RACE                                 128

  VIII. WONDERFUL WORDS                                       148

    IX. "INTERJECTION"                                        169

     X. FRIENDS IN NEED                                       190

    XI. THE SHAWL BY THE WINDOW                               212

   XII. CONCERNING A STOLEN KISS                              235

  XIII. A LOVER LOOKS PALE                                    256

   XIV. SAVING THE NATION                                     278

    XV. LOVE AND FEAR                                         300

   XVI. A CHOICE OF EVILS                                     321

  XVII. REFORMATION                                           342

 XVIII. PENITENCE AND PROBLEMS                                362

   XIX. MARKED MONEY                                          384

    XX. NO GOOD?                                              404

   XXI. THE EMPTY PLACE                                       424

  XXII. GRUBBING AWAY                                         446

 XXIII. A STOP-GAP                                            468

  XXIV. PRETTY MUCH THE SAME!                                 490

   XXV. THE LAST FIGHT                                        512

  XXVI. TALES OUT OF SCHOOL FOR ONCE                          533

 XXVII. NOT OF HIS SEEKING                                    555



SECOND STRING.



Chapter I.

HOME AGAIN.


Jack Rock stood in his shop in High Street. He was not very often to be
seen there nowadays; he bred and bought, but he no longer killed, and
rarely sold, in person. These latter and lesser functions he left to his
deputy, Simpson, for he had gradually developed a bye-trade which took
up much of his time, and was no less profitable than his ostensible
business. He bought horses, "made" them into hunters, and sold them
again. He was a rare judge and a fine rider, and his heart was in this
line of work.

However to-day he was in his shop because the Christmas beef was on
show. Here were splendid carcasses decked with blue rosettes, red
rosettes, or cards of "Honourable Mention;" poor bodies sadly
unconscious (as one may suppose all bodies are) of their posthumous
glories. Jack Rock, a spruce spare little man with a thin red face and a
get-up of the most "horsy" order, stood before them, expatiating to
Simpson on their beauties. Simpson, who was as fat as his master was
thin, and even redder in the face, chimed in; they were for all the
world like a couple of critics hymning the praise of poets who have paid
the debt of nature, but are decorated with the insignia of fame. Verily
Jack Rock's shop in the days before Christmas might well seem an Abbey
or a Pantheon of beasts.

"Beef for me on Christmas Day," said Jack. "None of your turkeys or
geese, or such-like truck. Beef!" He pointed to a blue-rosetted carcass.
"Look at him; just look at him! I've known him since he was calved. Cuts
up well, doesn't he? I'll have a joint off him for my own table,
Simpson."

"You couldn't do better, sir," said Simpson, just touching, careful not
to bruise, the object of eulogy with his professional knife. A train of
thought started suddenly in his brain. "Them vegetarians, sir!" he
exclaimed. Was it wonder, or contempt, or such sheer horror as the
devotee has for atheism? Or the depths of the first and the depths of
the second poured into the depths of the third to make immeasurable
profundity?

A loud burst of laughter came from the door of the shop. Nothing
startled Jack Rock. He possessed in perfection a certain cheerful
seriousness which often marks the amateurs of the horse. These men are
accustomed to take chances, to encounter the unforeseen, to endure
disappointment, to withstand the temptations of high success. _Mens
Aequa!_ Life, though a pleasant thing, is not a laughing matter. So Jack
turned slowly and gravely round to see whence the irreverent
interruption proceeded. But when he saw the intruder his face lit up,
and he darted across the shop with outstretched hand. Simpson followed,
hastily rubbing his right hand on the under side of his blue apron.

"Welcome, my lad, welcome home!" cried Jack, as he greeted with a hard
squeeze a young man who stood in the doorway. "First-rate you look too.
He's filled out, eh, Simpson?" He tapped the young man's chest
appreciatively, and surveyed his broad and massive shoulders with almost
professional admiration. "Canada's agreed with you, Andy. Have you just
got here?"

"No; I got here two hours ago. You were out, so I left my bag and went
for a walk round the old place. It seems funny to be in Meriton again."

"Come into the office. We must drink your health. You too, Simpson. Come
along."

He led the way to a back room, where, amid more severe furniture and
appliances, there stood a cask of beer. From this he filled three pint
mugs, and Andy Hayes' health and safe return were duly honoured. Andy
winked his eye.

"Them teetotallers!" he ejaculated, with a very fair imitation of
Simpson, who acknowledged the effort with an answering wink as he
drained his mug and then left the other two to themselves.

"Yes, I've been poking about everywhere--first up to have a look at the
old house. Not much changed there--well, except that everything's
changed by the dear old governor's not being there any more."

"Ah, it was a black Christmas that year--four years ago now. First, the
old gentleman; then poor Nancy, a month later. She caught the fever
nursin' him; she would do it, and I couldn't stop her. Did you go to the
churchyard, Andy?"

"Yes, I went there." After a moment's grave pause his face brightened
again. "And I went to the old school. Nobody there--it's holidays, of
course--but how everything came back to me! There was my old seat,
between Chinks and the Bird--you know? Wat Money, I mean, and young Tom
Dove."

"Oh, they're both in the place still. Tom Dove's helpin' his father at
the Lion, and Wat Money's articled to old Mr. Foulkes the lawyer."

"I sat down at my old desk, and, by Jove, I absolutely seemed to hear
the old governor talking--talking about the Pentathlon. You've heard him
talk about the Pentathlon? He was awfully keen on the Pentathlon; wanted
to have it at the sports. I believe he thought I should win it."

"I don't exactly remember what it was, but you'd have had a good go for
it, Andy."

"Leaping, running, wrestling, throwing the discus, hurling the spear--I
think that's right. He was talking about it the very last day I sat at
that desk--eight years ago! Yes, it's eight years since I went out to
the war, and nearly five since I went to Canada. And I've never been
back! Well, except for not seeing him and Nancy again, I'm glad of it.
I've done better out there. There wasn't any opening here. I wasn't
clever, and if I had been, there was no money to send me to Oxford,
though the governor was always dreaming of that."

"Naturally, seein' he was B.A. Oxon, and a gentleman himself," said
Jack.

He spoke in a tone of awe and admiration. Andy looked at him with a
smile. Among the townsfolk of Meriton Andy's father had always been
looked up to by reason of the letters after his name on the prospectus
of the old grammar school, of which he had been for thirty years the
hard-worked and very ill-paid headmaster. In Meriton eyes the letters
carried an academical distinction great if obscure, a social distinction
equally great and far more definite. They ranked Mr. Hayes with the
gentry, and their existence had made his second marriage--with Jack Rock
the butcher's sister--a _mésalliance_ of a pronounced order. Jack
himself was quite of this mind. He had always treated his brother-in-law
with profound respect; even his great affection for his sister had never
quite persuaded him that she had not been guilty of gross presumption in
winning Mr. Hayes' heart. He could not, even as the second Mrs. Hayes'
brother, forget the first--Andy's mother; for she, though the gentlest
of women, had always called Jack "Butcher." True, that was in days
before Jack had won his sporting celebrity and set up his private gig;
but none the less it would have seemed impossible to conceive of a
family alliance--even a posthumous one--with a lady whose recognition of
him was so exclusively commercial.

"Well, I'm not a B.A.--Oxon. or otherwise," laughed Andy. "I don't know
whether I'm a gentleman. If I am, so are you. Meriton Grammar School is
responsible for us both. And if you're in trade, so am I. What's the
difference between timber and meat?"

"I expect there's a difference between Meriton and Canada, though," Jack
Rock opined shrewdly. "Are you goin' to stay at home, or goin' back?"

"I shall stay here if I can develop the thing enough to make it pay to
have a man on this side. If not, pack up! But I shall be here for the
next six months anyway, I expect."

"What's it worth to you?" asked Jack.

"Oh, nothing much just now. Two hundred a year guaranteed, and a
commission--if it's earned. But it looks like improving. Only the orders
must come in before the commission does! However it's not so bad; I'm
lucky to have found a berth at all."

"Yes, lucky thing you got pals with that Canadian fellow down in South
Africa."

"A real stroke of luck. It was a bit hard to make up my mind not to come
home with the boys, but I'm sure I did the right thing. Only I'm sorry
about the old governor and Nancy."

"The old gentleman himself told me he thought you'd done right."

"It was an opening; and it had to be taken or left, then and there. So
here I am, and I'm going to start an office in London."

Jack Rock nodded thoughtfully; he seemed to be revolving something in
his mind. Andy's eyes rested affectionately on him. The two had been
great friends all through Andy's boyhood. Jack had been "Jack" to him
long before he became a family connection, and "Jack" he had continued
to be. As for the _mésalliance_--well, looking back, Andy could not with
candour deny that it had been a surprise, perhaps even a shock. It had
to some degree robbed him of the exceptional position he held in the
grammar school, where, among the sons of tradesmen, he alone, or almost
alone, enjoyed a vague yet real social prestige. The son shared the
father's fall. The feeling of caste is very persistent, even though it
may be shamed into silence by modern doctrines, or by an environment in
which it is an alien plant. But he had got over his boyish feeling now,
and was delighted to come back to Meriton as Jack Rock's visitor, and to
stay with him at the comfortable little red-brick house adjoining the
shop in High Street. In fact he flattered himself that his service in
the ranks and his Canadian experiences had taken the last of "that sort
of nonsense" out of him. It was, perhaps, a little too soon to pronounce
so confident a judgment.

Andy was smitten with a sudden compunction. "Why, I've never asked after
Harry Belfield!" he cried.

He was astonished at his own disloyalty. Harry Belfield had been the
hero of his youth, his ideal, his touchstone of excellence in all
things, the standard by which he humbly measured his own sore
deficiencies, and contemptuously assessed the demerits of his
schoolfellows. Of these Harry had not been one. No grammar school for
him! He was the son of Mr. Belfield of Halton Park--Harrow and Oxford
were the programme for him. The same favourable conditions gave him the
opportunity--which, of course, he took--of excelling in all the
accomplishments that Andy lacked and envied--riding, shooting, games of
skill that cost money. The difference of position set a gulf between the
two boys. Meetings had been rare events--to Andy always notable events,
occasions of pleasure and of excitement, landmarks in memory. The
acquaintance between the houses had been of the slightest. In Andy's
earliest days Mr. and the first Mrs. Hayes had dined once a year with
Mr. and Mrs. Belfield; they were not expected to return the hospitality.
After Andy's mother died and Nancy came on the scene, the annual dinner
had gone on, but it had become a men's dinner; and Mrs. Belfield, though
she bowed in the street, had not called on the second Mrs. Hayes--Nancy
Rock that had been. It was not to be expected. Yet Mr. Belfield had
recognized an equal in Andy's father; he also, perhaps, yielded some
homage to the B.A. Oxon. And Harry, though he undoubtedly drew a line
between himself and Andy, drew another between Andy and Andy's
schoolfellows, Chinks, the Bird, and the rest. He was rewarded--and to
his worship-loving nature it was a reward--by an adoration due as much,
perhaps, to the first line as to the second. The more definite a line,
the more graciousness lies in stepping over it.

These boyish devotions are common, and commonly are short-lived. But
Andy's habit of mind was stable and his affections tenacious. He still
felt that a meeting with Harry Belfield would be an event.

"He's all right," Jack Rock answered, his tone hardly responding to
Andy's eagerness. "He's a barrister now, you know; but I don't fancy he
does much at it. Better at spendin' money than makin' it! If you want to
see him, you can do it to-night."

"Can I? How?"

"There's talk of him bein' candidate for the Division next election, and
he's goin' to speak at a meeting in the Town Hall to-night, him and a
chap in Parliament."

"Good! Which side is he?"

"You've been a good while away to ask that!"

"I suppose I have. I say, Jack, let's go."

"You can go; I shan't," said Jack Rock. "You'll get back in time for
supper--and need it too, I should say. I never listen to speeches except
when they put me on a jury at assizes. Then I do like to hear a chap
fight for his man. That's racin', that is; and I like specially, Andy,
to see him bring it off when the odds are against him. But this
politics--in my opinion, if you put their names in a hat and drew 'em
blindfolded, you'd get just as good a Gover'ment as you do now, or just
as bad."

"Oh, I'm not going for the politics. I'm going to hear Harry Belfield."

"The only question as particularly interests me," said Jack, with one of
his occasional lapses into doubtful grammar, "is the matter of chilled
meat. But which of 'em does anything for me there? One says 'Free
Trade--let it all come!' The other says, 'No chilled meat, certainly
not, unless it comes from British possessions'--which is where it does
come from mostly. And it's ruin to the meat, Andy, in my opinion. I hate
to see it. Not that I lose much by it, havin' a high-class connection.
Would you like to have another look in the shop?"

"Suppose we say to-morrow morning?" laughed Andy.

Jack shook his head; he seemed disappointed at this lack of enthusiasm.
"I've got some beauties this Christmas," he said. "All the same I shan't
be lookin' at 'em much to-morrow mornin'! I've got a young horse, and I
want just to show him what a foxhound's like. The meet's at Fyfold
to-morrow, Andy. I wish I could mount you. I expect you ride fourteen,
eh?"

"Hard on it, I fancy--and I'm a fool on a horse anyhow. But I shall
go--on shanks' mare."

"Will you now? Well, if you're as good on your legs as you used to be,
it's odds you'll see a bit of the run. I recollect you in the old days,
Andy; you were hard to shake off unless the goin' was uncommon good.
Knew the country, you did, and where the fox was likely to make for. And
I don't think you'll get the scent too good for you to-morrow. Come
along and have tea. Oh, but you're a late-dinner man, eh?"

"Dinner when, where, and how it comes! Tea sounds capital--with supper
after my meeting. I say, Jack, it's good to see you again!"

"Wish you'd stay here, lad. I'm much alone these days--with the old
gentleman gone, and poor Nancy gone!"

"Perhaps I shall. Anyhow I might stay here for the summer, and go up to
town to the office."

"Aye, you might do that, anyhow." Again Jack Rock seemed meditative, as
though he had an idea and were half-minded to disclose it. But he was a
man of caution; he bided his time.

Andy--nobody had ever called him Andrew since the parson who christened
him--seemed to himself to have got home again, very thoroughly home
again. Montreal with its swelling hill, its mighty river, its winter
snow, its Frenchness, its opposing self-defensive, therefore
self-assertive, Britishness, was very remote. A talk with Jack Rock, a
Conservative meeting with a squire in the chair (that was safely to be
assumed), a meet of the hounds next morning--these and a tide of
intimate personal memories stamped him as at home again. The long years
in the little house at the extreme end of Highcroft--Highcroft led out
of High Street, tending to the west, Fyfold way--in the old grammar
school, in the peace of the sleepy town--had been a poignant memory in
South Africa, a fading dream in the city by the great river. They sprang
again into actuality. If he felt a certain contraction in his horizon he
felt also a peace in his mind. Meriton might or might not admire
"hustlers;" it did not hustle itself. It was a parasitic little town; it
had no manufactures, no special industry. It lived on the country
surrounding it--on the peasants, the farmers, the landowners. So it did
not grow; neither did it die. It remained much as it had been for
hundreds of years, save that it was seriously considering the
introduction of electric light.

The meeting was rather of an impromptu order; Christmas holidays are
generally held sacred from such functions. But Mr. Foot, M.P., a rising
young member and a friend of Harry Belfield's, happened to be staying at
Halton Park for shooting. Why waste him? He liked to speak, and he spoke
very well. The more Harry showed himself and got himself heard, the
better. The young men would enjoy it. A real good dinner beforehand
would send them down in rare spirits. A bit of supper, with a
whisky-and-soda or two, and recollections of their own "scores," would
end the evening pleasantly. Meriton would not be excited--it was not
election time--but it would be amused, benevolent, and present in
sufficiently large numbers to make the thing go with _éclat_.

There was, indeed, one topic which, from a platform at all events, one
could describe as "burning." A Bill dealing with the sale of
intoxicating liquor had, the session before, been introduced as the
minimum a self-respecting nation could do, abused as the maximum
fanatics could clamour for, carried through a second reading
considerably amended, and squeezed out by other matters. It was to be
re-introduced. The nation was recommended to consider the question in
the interval. Now the nation, though professing its entire desire to be
sober--it could not well do anything else--was not sure that it desired
to be made sober, was not quite clear as to the precise point at which
it could or could not be held to be sober, and felt that the argument
that it would, by the gradual progress of general culture, become sober
in the next generation or so--without feeling the change, so to say, and
with no violent break in the habits of this generation (certainly
everybody must wish the next generation to be sober)--that this
argument, which men of indisputable wisdom adduced, had great
attractions. Also the nation was much afraid of the teetotallers,
especially of the subtle ones who said that true freedom lay in freedom
from temptation. The nation thought that sort of freedom not much worth
having, whether in the matter of drink or of any other pleasure. So
there were materials for a lively and congenial discussion, and Mr.
Foot, M.P., was already in the thick of it when Andy Hayes, rather late
by reason of having been lured into the stables to see the hunters after
tea, reached the Town Hall and sidled his way to a place against the
wall in good view of the platform and of the front benches where the
big-wigs sat. The Town Hall was quite two-thirds full--very good indeed
for the Christmas season!

Andy Hayes was not much of a politician. Up to now he had been content
with the politics of his _métier_, the politics of a man trying to build
up a business. But it was impossible not to enjoy Mr. Foot. He riddled
the enemy with epigram till he fell to the earth, then he jumped on to
his prostrate form and chopped it to pieces with logic. He set his
audience wondering--this always happens at political meetings, whichever
party may be in power--by what odd freak of fate, by what inexplicable
blunder, the twenty men chosen to rule the country should be not only
the twenty most unprincipled but also the twenty stupidest in it. Mr.
Foot demonstrated the indisputable truth of this strange fact so
cogently before he had been on his legs twenty minutes that gradually
Andy felt absolved from listening any longer to so plain a matter; his
attention began to wander to the company. It was a well-to-do
audience--there were not many poor in Meriton. A few old folk might have
to go to "the house," but there were no distress or "unemployment"
troubles. The tradesfolk, their families, and employees formed the bulk.
They were presided over by Mr. Wellgood of Nutley, who might be
considered to hold the place of second local magnate, after Mr. Belfield
of Halton. He was a spare, strongly built man of two or three and forty;
his hair was clipped very close to his head; he wore a bristly moustache
just touched with gray, but it too was kept so short that the lines of
his mouth, with its firm broad lips, were plain to see; his eyes were
light-blue, hard, and wary; they seemed to keep a constant watch over
the meeting, and once, when a scuffle arose among some children at the
back of the hall, they gave out a fierce and formidable glance of
rebuke. He had the reputation of being a strict master and a stern
magistrate; but he was a good sportsman, and Jack Rock's nearest rival
after the hounds.

Beside him, waiting his turn to speak and seeming rather nervous--he was
not such an old hand at the game as Mr. Foot--sat Andy's hero, Harry
Belfield. He was the pet of the town for his gay manner, good looks, and
cheery accessibility to every man--and even more to every woman. His
youthful record was eminently promising, his career the subject of high
hopes to his family and his fellow-citizens. Tall and slight, wearing
his clothes with an elegance free from affectation, he suggested "class"
and "blood" in every inch of him. He was rather pale, with thick, soft,
dark hair; his blue eyes were vivacious and full of humour, his mouth a
little small, but delicate and sensitive, the fingers of his hands long
and tapering. "A thoroughbred" was the only possible verdict--evidently
also a man full of sensibility, awake to the charms of life as well as
to its labours; that was in keeping with all Andy's memories.

The moment he rose it was obvious with what favour he was regarded; the
audience was predisposed towards all he said. He was not so epigrammatic
nor so cruelly logical as Mr. Foot; he was easier, more colloquial, more
confidential; he had some chaff for his hearers as well as denunciation
for his enemies; his speech was seasoned now by a local allusion, now by
a sporting simile. A veteran might have found its strongest point of
promise in its power of adaptation to the listeners, its gift of
creating sympathy between them and the speaker by the grace of a very
attractive personality. It was a success, perhaps, more of charm than of
strength; but it may be doubted whether in the end the one does not
carry as far as the other.

On good terms as he was with them all, it soon became evident to so
interested an onlooker as Andy Hayes that he was on specially good
terms, or at any rate anxious to be, in one particular quarter. After he
had made a point and was waiting for the applause to die down, not once
but three or four times he smiled directly towards the front row, and
towards that part of it where two young women sat side by side. They
were among his most enthusiastic auditors, and Andy presently found
himself, by a natural leaning towards any one who admired Harry
Belfield, according to them a share of the attention which had hitherto
been given exclusively to the hero himself.

The pair made a strong contrast. There was a difference of six or seven
years only in their ages, but while the one seemed scarcely more than a
child, it was hard to think of the other as even a girl--there was about
her such an air of self-possession, of conscious strength, of a maturity
of faculties. Even in applauding she seemed also to judge and assess.
Her favour was discriminating; she let the more easy hits go by with a
slight, rather tolerant smile, while her neighbour greeted them with
outright merry laughter. She was not much beyond medium height, but of
full build, laid on ample lines; her features were rather large, and her
face wore, in repose, a thoughtful tranquillity. The other, small,
frail, and delicate, with large eyes that seemed to wonder even as she
laughed, would turn to her friend with each laugh and appear to ask her
sympathy--or even her permission to be pleased.

Andy's scrutiny--somewhat prolonged since it yielded him all the above
particulars--was ended by his becoming aware that he in his turn was the
object of an attention not less thoroughgoing. Turning back to the
platform, he found the chairman's hard and alert eyes fixed on him in a
gaze that plainly asked who he was and why he was so much interested in
the two girls. Andy blushed in confusion at being caught, but Mr.
Wellgood made no haste to relieve him from his rebuking glance. He held
him under it for full half a minute, turning away, indeed, only when
Harry sat down among the cheers of the meeting. What business was it of
Wellgood's if Andy did forget his manners and stare too hard at the
girls? The next moment Andy laughed at himself for the question. In a
sudden flash he remembered the younger girl. She was Wellgood's daughter
Vivien. He recalled her now as a little child; he remembered the
wondering eyes and the timidly mirthful curl of her lips. Was it really
as long ago as that since he had been in Meriton? However childlike she
might look, now she was grown-up!

His thoughts, which carried him through the few sentences with which the
chairman dismissed the meeting, were scattered by the sudden grasp of
Harry Belfield's hand. The moment he saw Andy he ran down from the
platform to him. His greeting was all his worshipper could ask.

"Well now, I am glad to see you back!" he cried. "Oh, we all heard how
well you'd done out at the front, and we thought it too bad of you not
to come back and be lionized. But here you are at last, and it's all
right. I must take Billy Foot home now--he's got to go to town at heaven
knows what hour in the morning--but we must have a good jaw soon. Are
you at the Lion?"

"No," said Andy, "I'm staying a day or two with Jack Rock."

"With Jack Rock?" Harry's voice sounded surprised. "Oh yes, of course, I
remember! He's a capital chap, old Jack! But if you're going to
stay--and I hope you are, old fellow--you'll want some sort of a place
of your own, won't you? Well, good-night. I'll hunt you up some time in
the next day or two, for certain. Did you like my speech?"

"Yes, and I expected you to make a good one."

"You shall hear me make better ones than that. Well, I really must--All
right, Billy, I'm coming." With another clasp of the hand he rushed
after Mr. Foot, who was undisguisedly in a hurry, shouting as he went,
"Good-night, Wellgood! Good-night, Vivien! Good-night, Miss Vintry!"

Miss Vintry--that was the other girl, the one with Vivien Wellgood. Andy
was glad to know her name and docket her by it in her place among the
impressions of the evening.

So home to a splendid round of cold beef and another pint of that
excellent beer at Jack Rock's. What days life sometimes gives--or used
to!



Chapter II.

A VERY LITTLE HUNTING.


If more were needed to make a man feel at home--more than old Meriton
itself, Jack Rock with his beef, and the clasp of Harry Belfield's
hand--the meet of the hounds supplied it. There were hunts in other
lands; Andy could not persuade himself that there were meets like this,
so entirely English it seemed in the manner of it. Everybody was there,
high and low, rich and poor, young and old. An incredible coincidence of
unplausible accidents had caused an extraordinary number of people to
have occasion to pass by Fyfold Green that morning at that hour, let
alone all the folk who chanced to have a "morning off" and proposed to
see some of the run, on horseback or on foot. The tradesmen's carts were
there in a cluster, among them two of Jack Rock's: his boys knew that a
blind eye would be turned to half an hour's lateness in the delivery of
the customers' joints. For centre of the scene were the waving tails,
the glossy impatient horses, the red coats, the Master himself, Lord
Meriton, in his glory and, it may be added, in the peremptory mood which
is traditionally associated with his office.

Andy Hayes moved about, meeting many old friends--more, indeed, than he
recognized, till a reminiscence of old days established for them again a
place in his memory. He saw Tom Dove--the Bird--mounted on a showy
screw. Wat Money--Chinks--was one of those who "happened to be passing"
on his way to a client's who lived in the opposite direction. He gave
Andy a friendly greeting, and told him that if he thought of taking a
house in Meriton, he should be careful about his lease: Foulkes,
Foulkes, and Askew would look after it. Jack Rock was there, of course,
keeping himself to himself, on the outskirts of the throng: the young
horse was nervous. Harry Belfield, in perfect array, talked to Vivien
Wellgood, her father on a raking hunter close beside them. A great swell
of home-feeling assailed Andy; suddenly he had a passionate hope that
the timber business would develop; he did not want to go back to Canada.

It was a good hunting morning, cloudy and cool, with the wind veering to
the north-east and dropping as it veered. No frost yet, but the
weather-wise predicted one before long. The scent should be good--a bit
too good, Andy reflected, for riders on shanks' mare. Their turn is best
served by a scent somewhat variable and elusive. A check here and there,
a fresh cast, the hounds feeling for the scent--these things, added to a
cunning use of short cuts and a knowledge of the country shared by the
fox, aid them to keep on terms and see something of the run--just as
they aid the heavy old gentlemen on big horses and the small boys on fat
ponies to get their humble share of the sport.

But in truth Andy cared little so that he could run--run hard, fast, and
long. His powerful body craved work, work, and work yet more abundantly.
His way of indulging it was to call on it for all its energies; he
exulted in feeling its brave response. Fatigue he never knew--at least
not till he had changed and bathed; and then it was not real fatigue: it
was no more than satiety. Now when they had found--and they had the luck
to find directly--he revelled in the heavy going of a big ploughed
field. He was at the game he loved.

Yes, but the pace was good--distinctly good. The spirit was willing, but
human legs are but human, and only two in number. Craft was required.
The fox ran straight now--but had he never a thought in his mind? The
field streamed off to the right, lengthening out as it went. Andy bore
to his left: he remembered Croxton's Dip. Did the fox? That was the
question. If he did, the hunt would describe the two sides of a
triangle, while Andy cut across the base.

He was out of sight of the field now, but he could hear the hounds
giving tongue from time to time and the thud of the hoofs. The sounds
grew nearer! A thrill of triumph ran through him; his old-time knowledge
had not failed him. The fox had doubled back, making for Croxton's Dip.
Over the edge of yonder hill it lay, half a mile off--a deep depression
in the ground, covered with thick undergrowth. In the hope of catching
up, Andy Hayes felt that he could run all day and grudge the falling of
an over-hasty night.

"Blown," indeed, but no more than a rest of a minute would put right, he
reached the ledge whence the ground sloped down sharply to the Dip. He
was in time to see the hunt race past him along the bottom--leaders, the
ruck, stragglers. Jack Rock and Wellgood were with the Master in the
van; he could not make out Harry Belfield; a forlorn figure looking like
the Bird laboured far in the rear.

They swept into the Dip as Andy started to race down the slope. But to
his chagrin they swept out of it again, straight up a long slope which
rose on his left, the fox running game, a near kill promising, a fast
point-to-point secured. The going was too good for shanks' mare to-day.
Before he got to the bottom even the Bird had galloped by, walloping his
showy screw.

To the left, then, and up that long slope! There was nothing else for
it, if he were so much as to see the kill from afar. This was exercise,
if you like! His heart throbbed like the engines of a great ship; the
sweat broke out on him. Oh, it was fine! That slope must be won--then
Heaven should send the issue!

Suddenly--even as he braced himself to face the long ascent, as the last
sounds from the hunt died away over its summit--he saw a derelict, and,
amazed, came to a full stop.

The girl was not on her pony; she was standing beside it. The pony
appeared distressed, and the girl looked no whit more cheerful. With a
pang to the very heart, Andy Hayes recognized a duty, and acknowledged
it by a snatch at his cap.

"I beg your pardon; anything wrong?" he asked.

He had been interested in Vivien Wellgood the evening before, but he was
much more than interested in the hunt. Still, she looked forlorn and
desolate.

"Would you mind looking at my pony's right front leg?" she asked. "I
think he's gone lame."

"I know nothing about horses, but he does seem to stand rather gingerly
on his--er--right front leg. And he's certainly badly blown--worse than
I am!"

"We shall never catch them, shall we? It's not the least use going on,
is it?"

"Oh, I don't know. I know the country; if you'd let me pilot you--"

"Harry Belfield was going to pilot me, but--well, I told him not to wait
for me, and he didn't. You were at the meeting last night, weren't you?
You're Mr. Hayes, aren't you? What did you think of the speeches?"

"Really, you know, if we're to have a chance of seeing any more of
the--" It was not the moment to discuss political speeches, however
excellent.

"I don't want to see any more of it. I'll go home; I'll risk it."

"Risk what?" he asked. There seemed no risk in going home; and there
was, by now, small profit in going on.

She did not answer his question. "I think hunting's the most wretched
amusement I've ever tried!" she broke out. "The pony's lame--yes, he is;
I've torn my habit" (she exhibited a sore rent); "I've scratched my
face" (her finger indicated the wound); "and here I am! All I hope is
that they won't catch that poor fox. How far do you think it is to
Nutley?"

"Oh, about three miles, I should think. You could strike the road half a
mile from here."

"I'm sure the pony's lame. I shall go back."

"Would you like me to come with you?"

During their talk her eyes had wavered between indignation and
piteousness--the one at the so-called sport of hunting, the other for
her own woes. At Andy's question a gleam of welcome flashed into them,
followed in an instant by a curious sort of veiling of all expression.
She made a pathetic little figure, with her habit sorely rent and a
nasty red scratch across her forehead. The pony lame too--if he were
lame! Andy hit on the idea that it was a question whether he were lame
enough to swear by: that was what she was going to risk--in a case to be
tried before some tribunal to which she was amenable.

"But don't you want to go on?" she asked. "You're enjoying it, aren't
you?" The question carried no rebuke; it recognized as legitimate the
widest differences of taste.

"I haven't the least chance of catching up with them. I may as well come
back with you."

The curious expression--or rather eclipse of expression--was still in
her eyes, a purely negative defensiveness that seemed as though it could
spring only from an instinctive resolve to show nothing of her feelings.
The eyes were a dark blue; but with Vivien's eyes colour never counted
for much, nor their shape, nor what one would roughly call their beauty,
were it more or less. Their meaning--that was what they set a man asking
after.

"It really would be very kind of you," she said.

Andy mounted her on the suppositiously lame pony--her weight wouldn't
hurt him much, anyhow--and they set out at a walk towards the highroad
which led to Nutley and thence, half a mile farther on, to Meriton.

She was silent till they reached the road. Then she asked abruptly, "Are
you ever afraid?"

"Well, you see," said Andy, with a laugh, "I never know whether I'm
afraid or only excited--in fighting, I mean. Otherwise I don't fancy I'm
either often."

"Well, you're big," she observed. "I'm afraid of pretty nearly
everything--horses, dogs, motor-cars--and I'm passionately afraid of
hunting."

"You're not big, you see," said Andy consolingly. Indeed her hand on the
reins looked almost ridiculously small.

"I've got to learn not to be afraid of things. My father's teaching me.
You know who I am, don't you?"

"Oh yes; why, I remember you years ago! Is that why you're out hunting?"

"Yes."

"And why you think that the pony--?"

"Is lame enough to let me risk going home? Yes." There was a hint of
defiance in her voice. "You must think what you like," she seemed to
say.

Andy considered the matter in his impartial, solid, rather slowly moving
mind. It was foolish to be frightened at such things; it must be
wholesome to be taught not to be. Still, hunting wasn't exactly a moral
duty, and the girl looked very fragile. He had not arrived at any final
decision on the case--on the issue whether the girl were silly or the
father cruel (the alternatives might not be true alternatives, not
strictly exclusive of one another)--before she spoke again.

"And then I'm fastidious. Are you?"

"I hope not!" said Andy, with an amused chuckle. A great lump of a
fellow like him fastidious!

"Father doesn't like that either, and I've got to get over it."

"How does it--er--take you?" Andy made bold to inquire.

"Oh, lots of ways. I hate dirt, and dust, and getting very hot, and
going into butchers' shops, and--"

"Butchers' shops!" exclaimed Andy, rather hit on the raw. "You eat meat,
don't you?"

"Things don't look half as dead when they're cooked. I couldn't touch a
butcher!" Horror rang in her tones.

"Oh, but I say, Jack Rock's a butcher, and he's about the best fellow in
Meriton. You know him?"

"I've seen him," she admitted reluctantly, the subject being evidently
distasteful.

For the second time Andy Hayes was conscious of a duty: he must not
be--or seem--ashamed of Jack Rock, just because this girl was
fastidious.

"I'm related to him, you know. My stepmother was his sister. And I'm
staying in his house."

She glanced at him, a slight flush rising to her cheeks; he saw that her
lips trembled a little.

"It's no use trying to unsay things, is it?" she asked.

"Not a bit," laughed Andy. "Don't think I'm hurt; but I should be a
low-down fellow if I didn't stand up for old Jack."

"I should rather like to have you to stand up for me sometimes," she
said, and broke into a smile as she added, "You're so splendidly solid,
you see, Mr. Hayes. Here we are at home--you may as well make a complete
thing of it and see me as far as the stables."

"I'd like to come in--I'm not exactly a stranger here. I've often been a
trespasser. Don't tell Mr. Wellgood unless you think he'll forgive me,
but as a boy I used to come and bathe in the lake early in the
morning--before anybody was up. I used to undress in the bushes and slip
in for my swim pretty nearly every morning in the summer. It's fine
bathing, but you want to be able to swim; there's a strong undercurrent,
where the stream runs through. Are you fond of bathing?"

Andy was hardly surprised when she gave a little shudder. "No, I'm
rather afraid of water." She added quickly, "Don't tell my father, or I
expect I should have to try to learn to swim. He hasn't thought of that
yet. No more has Isobel--Miss Vintry, my companion. You know? You saw
her at the meeting. I have a companion now, instead of a governess.
Isobel isn't afraid of anything, and she's here to teach me not to be."

"You don't mind my asking your father to let me come and swim, if I'm
here in the summer?"

"I don't suppose I ought to mind that," she said doubtfully.

The house stood with its side turned to the drive by which they
approached it from the Meriton road. Its long, low, irregular front--it
was a jumble of styles and periods--faced the lake, a stone terrace
running between the façade and the water; it was backed by a thick wood;
across the lake the bushes grew close down to the water's edge. The
drive too ran close by the water, deep water as Andy was well aware, and
was fenced from it by a wooden paling, green from damp. The place had a
certain picturesqueness, but a sadness too. Water and trees--trees and
water--and between them the long squat house. To Andy it seemed to brood
there like a toad. But his healthy mind reverted to the fact that for a
strong swimmer the bathing was really splendid.

"Here comes Isobel! Now nothing about swimming, and say the pony's
lame!"

The injunction recalled Andy from his meditations and also served to
direct his attention to Miss Vintry, who stood, apparently waiting for
them, at the end of the drive, with the house on her right and the
stables on her left. She was dressed in a business-like country frock,
rather noticeably short, and carried a stick with a spike at the end of
it. She looked very efficient and also very handsome.

Vivien told her story: Andy, not claiming expert knowledge, yet stoutly
maintained that the pony was--or anyhow had been--lame.

"He seems to be getting over it," said Miss Vintry, with a smile that
was not malicious but was, perhaps, rather annoyingly amused. "I'm
afraid your having had to turn back will vex your father, but I suppose
there was no help for it, and I'm sure he'll be much obliged to--"

"Mr. Hayes." Vivien supplied the name, and Andy made his bow.

"Oh yes, I've heard Mr. Harry Belfield speak of you." Her tone was
gracious, and she smiled at Andy good-humouredly. If she confirmed his
impression of capability, and perhaps added a new one of masterfulness,
there was at least nothing to hint that her power would not be well used
or that her sway would be other than benevolent.

Vivien had dismounted, and a stable-boy was leading the pony away, after
receiving instructions to submit the suspected off fore-leg to his
chief's inspection. There seemed nothing to keep Andy, and he was about
to take his leave when Miss Vintry called to the retreating stable-boy,
"Oh, and let Curly out, will you? He hasn't had his run this afternoon."

Vivien turned her head towards the stables with a quick apprehensive
jerk. A big black retriever, released in obedience to Isobel Vintry's
order, ran out, bounding joyously. He leapt up at Isobel, pawing her and
barking in an ecstasy of delight. In passing Andy, the stranger, he gave
him another bark of greeting and a hasty pawing; then he clumsily
gambolled on to where Vivien stood.

"He won't hurt you, Vivien. You know he won't hurt you, don't you?" The
dog certainly seemed to warrant Isobel's assertion; he appeared a most
good-natured animal, though his play was rough.

"Yes, I know he won't hurt me," said Vivien.

The dog leapt up at her, barking, frisking, pawing her, trying to reach
her face to lick it. She made no effort to repel him; she had a little
riding-whip in her hand, but she did not use it; her arms hung at her
side; she was rather pale.

"There! It's not so terrible after all, is it?" asked Isobel. "Down,
Curly, down! Come here!"

The dog obeyed her at her second bidding, and sat down at her feet. Andy
was glad to see that the ordeal--for that was what it looked like--was
over, and had been endured with tolerable fortitude; he had not enjoyed
the scene. Somewhat to his surprise Vivien's lips curved in a smile.

"Somehow I wasn't nearly so frightened to-day," she said. Apparently the
ordeal was a daily one--perhaps one of several daily ones, for she had
already been out hunting. "I didn't run away as I did yesterday, when
Harry Belfield was here."

"You are getting used to it," Isobel affirmed. "Mr. Wellgood's quite
right. We shall have you as brave as a lion in a few months." Her tone
was not unkind or hard, neither was it sympathetic. It was just
extremely matter-of-fact. "It's all nerves," she added to Andy. "She
overworked herself at school--she's very clever, aren't you,
Vivien?--and now she's got to lead an open-air life. She must get used
to things, mustn't she?"

Andy had a shamefaced feeling that the ordeals or lessons, if they were
necessary at all, had better be conducted in privacy. That had not
apparently occurred to Mr. Wellgood or to Isobel Vintry. Indeed that
aspect of the case did not seem to trouble Vivien herself either; she
showed no signs of shame; she was smiling still, looking rather puzzled.

"I wonder why I was so much less frightened." She turned her eyes
suddenly to Andy. "I know. It was because you were there!"

"You ran away, in spite of Mr. Harry's being here yesterday," Isobel
reminded her.

"Mr. Hayes is so splendidly big--so splendidly big and solid," said
Vivien, thoughtfully regarding Andy's proportions. "When he's here, I
don't think I shall be half so much afraid."

"Oh, then Mr. Wellgood must ask him to come again," laughed Isobel. "You
see how useful you'll be, Mr. Hayes!"

"I shall be delighted to come again, anyhow, if I'm asked--whether I'm
useful or not. And I think it was jolly plucky of you to stand still as
you did, Miss Wellgood. If I were in a funk, I should cut and run for
it, I know."

"I thought you'd been a soldier," said Isobel.

"Oh, well, it's different when there are a lot of you together.
Besides--" He chuckled. "You're not going to get me to let on that I was
in a funk then. Those are our secrets, Miss Vintry. Well now, I must go,
unless--"

"No, there are no more tests of courage to-day, Mr. Hayes," laughed
Isobel.

Vivien's eyes had relapsed into inexpressiveness; they told Andy nothing
of her view of the trials, or of Miss Vintry, who had conducted the
latest one; they told him no more of her view of himself as she gave him
her hand in farewell. He left her still standing on the spot where she
had endured Curly's violent though well-meant attentions--again rather a
pathetic figure, in her torn habit, with the long red scratch (by-the-by
Miss Vintry had made no inquiry about it--that was part of the system
perhaps) on her forehead, and with the background, as it were, of
ordeals, or tests, or whatever they were to be called. Andy wondered
what they would try her with to-morrow, and found himself sorry that he
would not be there--to help her with his bigness and solidity.

It was difficult to say that Mr. Wellgood's system was wrong. It was
absurd for a grown girl--a girl living in the country--to be frightened
at horses, dogs, and motor-cars, to be disgusted by dirt and dust, by
getting very hot--and by butchers' shops. All these were things which
she would have to meet on her way through the world, as the world is at
present constituted. Still he was sorry for her; she was so slight and
frail. Andy would have liked to take on his broad shoulders all her
worldly share of dogs and horses, of dust, of getting very hot (a thing
he positively liked), and of butchers; these things would not have
troubled him in the least; he would have borne them as easily as he
could have carried Vivien herself in his arms. As he walked home he had
a vision of her shuddering figure, with its pale face and reticent eyes,
being led by Isobel Vintry's firm hand into Jack Rock's shop in High
Street, and there being compelled to inspect, to touch, to smell, the
blue-rosetted, red-rosetted, and honourably mentioned carcasses which
adorned that Valhalla of beasts--nay, being forced, in spite of all
horror, to touch Jack Rock the butcher himself! Isobel Vintry would, he
thought, be capable of shutting her up alone with all those dead things,
and with the man who, as she supposed, had butchered them.

"I should have to break in the door!" thought Andy, his vanity flattered
by remembering that she had seen in him a stand-by, and a security which
apparently even Harry Belfield had been unable to afford. True it was
that in order to win the rather humble compliment of being held a
protection against an absolutely harmless retriever dog he had lost his
day's hunting. Andy's heart was lowly; he did not repine.



Chapter III.

THE POTENT VOICE.


After anxious consultation at Halton it had been decided that Harry
Belfield was justified in adopting a political career and treating the
profession of the Bar, to which he had been called, as nominal. The
prospects of an opening--and an opening in his native Division--were
rosy. His personal qualifications admitted of no dispute, his social
standing was all that could be desired. The money was the only
difficulty. Mr. Belfield's income, though still large, was not quite
what it had been; he was barely rich enough to support his son in what
is still, in spite of all that has been done in the cause of electoral
purity, a costly career. However the old folk exercised economies, Harry
promised them, and it was agreed that the thing could be managed. It
was, perhaps, at the back of the father's mind that for a young man of
his son's attractions there was one obvious way of increasing his
income--quite obvious and quite proper for the future owner of Halton
Park.

For the moment political affairs were fairly quiet--next year it would
be different--and Harry, ostensibly engaged on a course of historical
and sociological reading, spent his time pleasantly between Meriton and
his rooms in Jermyn Street. He had access to much society of one kind
and another, and was universally popular; his frank delight in pleasing
people made him pleasant to them. With women especially he was a great
favourite, not for his looks only, though they were a passport to open
the door of any drawing-room, but more because they felt that he was a
man who appreciated them, valued them, needed them, to whom they were a
very big and precious part of life. He had not a shred of that
indifference--that independence of them--which is the worst offence in
women's eyes. Knowing that they counted for so much to him, it was as
fair as it was natural that they should let him count for a good deal
with them.

But even universal favourites have their particular ties. For the last
few months Harry had been especially attached to Mrs. Freere, the wife
of a member of Parliament of his own party who lived in Grosvenor
Street. Mr. Freere was an exceedingly laborious person; he sat on more
committees than any man in London, and had little leisure for the joys
of home life. Mrs. Freere could take very good care of herself, and, all
question of principles apart, had no idea of risking the position and
the comforts she enjoyed. Subject to the limits thus clearly imposed on
her, she had no objection at all to her friendship with Harry Belfield
being as sentimental as Harry had been disposed to make it; indeed she
had a taste for that kind of thing herself. Once or twice he had tried
to overstep the limits, elastic as they were--he was impulsive, Mrs.
Freere was handsome--but he had accepted her rebuke with frank
penitence, and the friendship had been switched back on to its appointed
lines without an accident. The situation was pleasant to her; she was
convinced that it was good for Harry. Certainly he met at her house many
people whom it was proper and useful for him to meet; and her partiality
offered him every opportunity of making favourable impressions. If her
conscience needed any other salve--it probably did not feel the need
acutely--she could truthfully aver that she was in the constant habit of
urging him to lose no time in looking out for a suitable wife.

"A wife is such a help to a man in the House," she would say. "She can
keep half the bores away from him. I don't do it because Wilson
positively loves bores--being bored gives him a sense of serving his
country--but I could if he'd let me."

Harry had been accustomed to meet such prudent counsels with protests of
a romantic order; but Mrs. Freere, a shrewd woman, had for some weeks
past noticed that the protests were becoming rather less vehement, and
decidedly more easy for her to control. When she repeated her advice one
day, in the spring after Andy Hayes came back from Canada, Harry looked
at her for a moment and said,

"Would you drop me altogether if I did, Lily?" He called her Lily when
they were alone.

"I'm married; you haven't dropped me," said Mrs. Freere with a smile.

"Oh, that's different. I shouldn't marry a woman unless I was awfully in
love with her."

"I don't think I ought to make that a reason for finally dropping you,
because you'll probably be awfully in love with several. Put that
difficulty--if it is one--out of your mind. We shall be friends."

"And you wouldn't mind? You--you wouldn't think it--?" He wanted to ask
her whether she would think it what, on previous occasions, he had said
that he would think it.

Mrs. Freere laughed. "Oh, of course your wife would be rather a
bore--just at first, anyhow. But, you know, I can even contemplate my
life without you altogether, Harry." She was really fond of him, but she
was not a woman given to illusions either about her friends or about
herself.

Harry did not protest that he could not contemplate his life without
Mrs. Freere, though he had protested that on more than one of those
previous occasions. Mrs. Freere leant against the mantelpiece, smiling
down at him in the armchair.

"Seen somebody?" she asked.

Harry blushed hotly. "You're an awfully good sort, Lily," he said.

She laughed a little, then sighed a little. Well, it had been very
agreeable to have this handsome boy at her beck and call, gracefully
adoring, flattering her vanity, amusing her leisure, giving her the
luxury of reflecting that she was behaving well in the face of
considerable temptation--she really felt entitled to plume herself on
this exploit. But such things could not last--Mrs. Freere knew that. The
balance was too delicate; a topple over on one side or the other was
bound to come; she had always meant that the toppling over, when it
came, should be on the safe side--on to the level ground, not over the
precipice. A bump is a bump, there's no denying it, but it's better than
a broken neck. Mrs. Freere took her bump smiling, though it certainly
hurt a little.

"Is she very pretty?"

He jumped up from the armchair. He was highly serious about the matter,
and that, perhaps, may be counted a grace in him.

"I suppose I shall do it--if I can. But I'm hanged if I can talk to you
about it!"

"That's rather nice of you. Thank you, Harry."

He bowed his comely head, with its waving hair, over her hand and kissed
it.

"Good-bye, Harry," she said.

He straightened himself and looked her in the face for an instant. He
shrugged his shoulders; she understood and nodded. There was, in fact,
no saying what one's emotions would be up to next--what would be the new
commands of the Restless and Savage Master. Poor Harry! She knew his
case. She herself had "taken him" from her dear friend Rosa Hinde.

He was gone. She stood still by the mantelpiece a moment longer,
shrugged shoulders in her turn--really that Savage Master!--crossed the
room to a looking-glass--not much wrong there happily--and turned on the
opening of the door. Mr. Freere came in--between committees. He had just
time for a cup of tea.

"Just time, Wilson?"

"I've a committee at five, my dear."

She rang the bell. "Talk of road-hogs! You're a committee-hog, you
know."

He rubbed his bald head perplexedly. "They accumulate," he pleaded in a
puzzled voice. "I'm sorry to leave you so much alone, my dear." He came
up to her and kissed her. "I always want to be with you, Lily."

"I know," she said. She did know--and the knowledge was one of the odd
things in life.

"Goodness, I forgot to telephone!" He hurried out of the room again.

"Serves me right, I suppose!" said Mrs. Freere; to which of recent
incidents she referred must remain uncertain.

Mr. Freere came back for his hasty cup of tea.

The Park was gay in its spring bravery--a fine setting for the play of
elegance and luxury which took place there on this as on every
afternoon. Harry Belfield sought to occupy and to distract his mind by
the spectacle, familiar though it was. He did not want to congratulate
himself on the thing that had just happened, yet this was what he found
himself doing if he allowed his thoughts to possess him. "That's over
anyhow!" was the spontaneous utterance of his feelings. Yet he felt very
mean. He did not see why, having done the right thing, he should feel so
mean. It seemed somehow unfair--as though there were no pleasing
conscience, whatever one did. Conscience might have retorted that in
some situations there is no "right thing;" there is a bold but fatal
thing, and there is a prudent but shabby thing; the right thing has
vanished earlier in the proceedings. Still he had done the best thing
open to him, and, reflecting on that, he began to pluck up his spirits.
His sensuous nature turned to the pleasant side; his volatile emotions
forsook the past for the future. As he walked along he began to hear
more plainly and to listen with less self-reproach to the voice which
had been calling him now for many days--ever since he had addressed that
meeting in the Town Hall at Meriton. Meriton was calling him back with
the voice of Vivien Wellgood, and with her eyes begging him to hearken.
He had "seen somebody," in Mrs. Freere's sufficient phrase. Great and
gay was London, full of lures and charms; many were they who were ready
to pet, to spoil, and to idolize; many there were to play, to laugh, and
to revel with. Potent must be the voice which could draw him from all
this! Yet he was listening to it as he walked along. He was free to
listen to it now--free since he had left Mrs. Freere's house in
Grosvenor Street.

Suddenly he found himself face to face with Andy Hayes--not a man he
expected to meet in Hyde Park at four o'clock in the afternoon. But Andy
explained that he had "knocked off early at the shop" and come west, to
have a last look at the idle end of the town--everybody there seemed
idle, even if all were not.

"Because it's my last day in London. I'm going down to Meriton to-morrow
for the summer. I've taken lodgings there--going to be an
up-and-downer," Andy explained. "And I think I shall generally be able
to get Friday to Monday down there."

To Meriton to-morrow! Harry suffered a sharp and totally unmistakable
pang of envy.

"Upon my soul, I believe you're right!" he said. "I'm half sick of the
racket of town. What's the good of it all? And one gets through the
devil of a lot of money. And no time to do anything worth doing! I don't
believe I've opened a book for a week."

"Well, why don't you come down too? It would be awfully jolly if you
did."

"Oh, it's not altogether easy to chuck everything and everybody," Harry
reminded his friend, who did not seem to have reflected what a gap would
be caused by Mr. Harry Belfield's departure from the metropolis. "Still
I shall think about it. I could get through a lot of work at home." The
historical and sociological reading obligingly supplied an excellent
motive for a flight from the too-engrossing gaieties of town. "And, of
course, there's no harm in keeping an eye on the Division." The potent
voice was gathering allies apace! Winning causes have that way. "I might
do much worse," Harry concluded thoughtfully.

Andy was delighted. Harry's presence would make Meriton a different
place to him. He too, for what he was worth (it is not possible to say
that he was worth very much in this matter), became another ally of the
potent voice, urging the joys of country life and declaring that Harry
already looked "fagged out" by the arduous pleasures of London life.

"I shall think about it seriously," said Harry, knowing in himself that
the voice had won. "Are you doing anything to-night? I happen for once
to have an off evening."

"No; only I'd thought of dropping into the pit somewhere. I haven't seen
'Hamlet' at the--"

"Oh lord!" interrupted Harry. "Let's do something a bit more cheerful
than that! Have you seen the girl at the Empire--the Nun? Not seen her?
Oh, you must! We'll dine at the club and go; and I'll get her and
another girl to come on to supper. I'll give you a little fling for your
last night in town. Will you come?"

"Will I come? I should rather think I would!" cried Andy.

"All right; dinner at eight. We shall have lots of time--she doesn't
come on till nearly ten. Meet me at the Artemis at eight. Till then, old
chap!" Harry darted after a lady who had favoured him with a gracious
bow as she passed by, a moment before.

Here was an evening-out for Andy Hayes, whose conscience had suggested
"Hamlet" and whose finances had dictated the pit. He went home to his
lodgings off Russell Square all smiles, and spent a laborious hour
trying to get the creases out of his dress coat. "Well, I shall enjoy an
evening like that just for once," he said out loud as he laboured.

"I've got her and another girl," Harry announced when Andy turned up at
the Artemis. "The nuisance is that Billy Foot here insists on coming
too, so we shall be a man over. I've told him I don't want him, but the
fellow will come."

"I'm certainly coming," said the tall long-faced young man--for Billy
Foot was still several years short of forty--to whom Andy had listened
with such admiration at Meriton. In private life he was not oppressively
epigrammatic or logical, and not at all ruthless; and everybody called
him "Billy," which in itself did much to deprive him of his terrors.

The Artemis was a small and luxurious club in King Street. Why it was
called the "Artemis" nobody knew. Billy Foot said that the name had been
chosen just because nobody would know why it had been chosen--it was a
bad thing, he maintained, to label a club. Harry, however, conjectured
that the name indicated that the club was half-way between the Athenæum
and the Turf--which you might take in the geographical sense or in any
other you pleased.

Andy ate of several foods that he had never tasted before and drank
better wine than he had ever drunk before. His physique and his steady
brain made any moderate quantity of wine no more than water to him.
Harry Belfield, on the contrary, responded felicitously to even his
first glass of champagne; his eyes grew bright and his spirit gay. Any
shadow cast over him by his interview with Mrs. Freere was not long in
vanishing.

They enjoyed themselves so well that a cab had only just time to land
them at their place of entertainment before the Nun, whose name was Miss
Doris Flower, came on the stage. She was having a prodigious success
because she did look like a nun and sang songs that a nun might really
be supposed to sing--and these things, being quite different from what
the public expected, delighted the public immensely. When Miss Flower,
whose performance was of high artistic merit, sang about the baby which
she might have had if she had not been a nun, and in the second song
(she was on her death-bed in the second song, but this did not at all
impair her vocal powers) about the angel whom she saw hovering over her
bed, and the angel's likeness to her baby sister who had died in
infancy, the public cried like a baby itself.

"Jolly good!" said Billy Foot, taking his cigar out of his mouth and
wiping away a furtive tear. "But there, she is a ripper, bless her!" His
tone was distinctly affectionate.

But supper was the great event to Andy: that was all new to him, and he
took it in eagerly while they waited for the Nun and her friend. Such a
din, such a chatter, such a lot of diamonds, such a lot of smoke--and
the white walls, the gilding, the pink lampshades, the band ever and
anon crashing into a new tune, and the people shouting to make
themselves heard through it--Andy would have sat on happily watching,
even though he had got no supper at all. Indeed he was no more hungry
than most of the other people there. One does not go to supper there
because one is hungry--that is a vulgar reason for eating.

However supper he had, sitting between Billy Foot and the Nun's friend,
a young woman named Miss Dutton, who had a critical, or even sardonic,
manner, but was extremely pretty. The Nun herself contrived to be rather
like a nun even off the stage; she did not talk much herself, but
listened with an innocent smile to the sallies of Billy Foot and Harry
Belfield.

"Been to hear her?" Miss Dutton asked Andy.

Andy said that they had, and uttered words of admiration.

"Sort of thing they like, isn't it?" said Miss Dutton. "You can't put in
too much rot for them."

"But she sings it so--" Andy began to plead.

"Yes, she can sing. It's a wonder she's succeeded. How sick one gets of
this place!"

"Do you come often?"

"Every night--with her generally."

"I've never been here before in my life."

"Well, I hope you like the look of us!"

Harry Belfield looked towards him. "Don't mind what she says, Andy. We
call her Sulky Sally--don't we, Sally?--But she looks so nice that we
have to put up with her ways."

Miss Dutton smiled reluctantly, but evidently could not help smiling at
Harry. "I know the value of your compliments," she remarked. "There are
plenty of them going about the place to judge by!"

"Mercy, Sally, mercy! Don't show me up before my friends!"

Miss Dutton busied herself with her supper. The Nun ate little; most of
the time she sat with her pretty hands clasped on the table in front of
her. Suddenly she began to tell what proved to be a rather long story
about a man named Tommy--everybody except Andy knew whom she meant. She
told this story in a low, pleasant, but somewhat monotonous voice. In
truth the Nun was a trifle prolix and prosy, but she also looked so nice
that they were quite content to listen and to look. It appeared that
Tommy had done what no man should do; he had made love to two girls at
once. For a long time all went well; but one day Tommy, being away from
the sources of supply of cash (as a rule he transacted all his business
in notes), wrote two cheques--the Nun specified the amounts, one being
considerably larger than the other--placed them in two envelopes, and
proceeded to address them wrongly. Each lady got the other lady's
cheque, and--"Well, they wanted to know about it," said the Nun, with a
pensive smile. So, being acquaintances, they laid their heads together,
and the next time Tommy (who had never discovered his mistake) asked
lady number one to dinner, she asked lady number two, "and when Tommy
arrived," said the Nun, "they told him he'd find it cheaper that way,
because there'd only be one tip for the waiter!" The Nun, having reached
her point, gave a curiously pretty little gurgle of laughter.

"Rather neat!" said Billy Foot. "And did they chuck him?"

"They'd agreed to, but Maud weakened on it. Nellie did."

"Poor old Tommy!" mused Harry Belfield.

It was not a story of surpassing merit whether it were regarded from the
moral or from the artistic point of view; but the Nun had grown
delighted with herself as she told it, and her delight made her look
even more pretty. Andy could not keep his eyes off her; she perceived
his honest admiration and smiled serenely at him across the table.

"I suppose it was Nellie who was to have the small cheque?" Billy Foot
suggested.

"No; it was Maud."

"Then I drink to Maud as a true woman and a forgiving creature!"

Andy broke into a hearty enjoying laugh. Nothing had passed which would
stand a critical examination in humour, much less in wit; but Andy was
very happy. He had never had such a good time, never seen so many gay
and pretty women, never been so in touch with the holiday side of life.
The Nun delighted him; Miss Dutton was a pleasantly acid pickle to
stimulate the palate for all this rich food. Billy Foot and Harry looked
at him, looked at one another, and laughed.

"They're laughing at you," said Miss Dutton in her most sardonic tone.

"I don't mind. Of course they are! I'm such an outsider."

"Worth a dozen of either of them," she remarked, with a calmly
impersonal air that reduced her compliment to a mere statement of fact.

"Oh, I heard!" cried Harry. "You don't think much of us, do you, Sally?"

"I come here every night," said Miss Dutton. "Consequently I know."

The pronouncement was so confident, so conclusive, that there was
nothing to do but laugh at it. They all laughed. If you came there every
night, "consequently" you would know many things!

"We must eat somewhere," observed the Nun with placid resignation.

"We must be as good as we can and hope for mercy," said Billy Foot.

"You'll need it," commented Miss Dutton.

"Let's hope the law of supply and demand will hold good!" laughed Harry.

"How awfully jolly all this is!" said Andy.

He had just time to observe Miss Dutton's witheringly patient smile
before the lights went out. "Hullo!" cried Andy; and the rest laughed.

Up again the lights went, but the Nun rose from her chair.

"Had enough of it?" asked Harry.

"Yes," said the Nun with her simple, candid, yet almost scornful
directness. "Oh, it's been all right. I like your friend, Harry--not
Billy, of course--the new one, I mean."

When they had got their cloaks and coats and were waiting for the Nun's
electric brougham, Harry made an announcement that filled Andy with joy
and the rest of the company with amazement.

"This is good-bye for a bit, Doris," he said. "I'm off to the country
the day after to-morrow."

"What have we done to you?" the Nun inquired with sedate anxiety.

"I've got to work, and I can't do it in London. I've got a career to
look after."

The Nun gurgled again--for the second time only in the course of the
evening. "Oh yes," she murmured with obvious scepticism. "Well, come and
see me when you get back." She turned her eyes to Andy, and, to his
great astonishment, asked, "Would you like to come too?"

Andy could hardly believe that he was himself, but he had no doubt about
his answer. The Nun interested him very much, and was so very pretty. "I
should like to awfully," he replied.

"Come alone--not with these men, or we shall only talk nonsense," said
the Nun, as she got into her brougham. "Get in, Sally."

"Where's the hurry?" asked Miss Dutton, getting in nevertheless. The Nun
slapped her arm smartly; the two girls burst into a giggle, and so went
off.

"Where to now?" asked Harry.

Andy wondered what other place there was.

"Bed for me," said Billy Foot. "I've a consultation at half-past nine,
and I haven't opened the papers yet."

"Bed is best," Harry agreed, though rather reluctantly. "Going to take a
cab, Billy?"

"What else is there to take?"

"Thought you might be walking."

"Oh, walking be ----!" He climbed into a hansom.

"I'll walk with you, Harry. I haven't had exercise enough."

Harry suggested that they should go home by the Embankment. When they
had cut down a narrow street to it, he put his arm in Andy's and led him
across the road. They leant on the parapet, looking at the river. The
night was fine, but hazy and still--a typical London night.

"You've given me a splendid evening," said Andy. "And what a good sort
those girls were!"

"Yes," said Harry, rather absently, "not a bad sort. Doris has got her
head on her shoulders, and she's quite straight. Poor Sally's come one
awful cropper. She won't come another; she's had more than enough of it.
So one doesn't mind her being a bit snarly."

Poor Sally! Andy had had no idea of anything of the sort, but he had an
instinct that people who come one cropper--and one only--feel that one
badly.

"I'm feeling happy to-night, old fellow," said Harry suddenly. "You may
not happen to know it, but I've gone it a bit for the last two or three
years, made rather a fool of myself, and--well, one gets led on. Now
I've made up my mind to chuck all that. Some of it's all right--at any
rate it seems to happen; but I've had enough. I really do want to work
at the politics, you know."

"It's all before you, if you do," said Andy in unquestioning loyalty.

"I'm going to work, and to pull up a bit all round, and--" Harry broke
off, but a smile was on his lips. There on the bank of the Thames, fresh
from his party in the gay restaurant, he heard the potent voice calling.
It seemed to him that the voice was potent enough not only to loose him
from Mrs. Freere, to lure him from London delights, to carry him down to
Meriton and peaceful country life; but potent enough, too, to transform
him, to make him other than he was, to change the nature that had till
now been his very self. He appealed from passion to passion; from the
soiled to the clean, from the turgid to the clear. A new desire of his
eyes was to make a new thing of his life.



Chapter IV.

SETTLED PROGRAMMES.


Mark Wellgood of Nutley had a bugbear, an evil thing to which he gave
the name of sentimentality. Wherever he saw it he hated it--and he saw
it everywhere. No matter what was the sphere of life, there was the
enemy ready to raise its head, and Mark Wellgood ready to hit that head.
In business and in public affairs he warred against it unceasingly; in
other people's religion--he had very little of his own--he was keen to
denounce it; even from the most intimate family and personal
relationships he had always been resolved to banish it, or, failing
that, to suppress its manifestations. Himself a man of uncompromising
temper and strong passions, he saw in this hated thing the root of all
the vices with which he had least sympathy. It made people cowards who
shrank from manfully taking their own parts; it made them hypocrites who
would not face the facts of human nature and human society, but sought
to cover up truths that they would have called "ugly" by specious names,
by veils, screens, and fine paraphrases. It made men soft, women
childish, and politicians flabby; it meant sheer ruin to a nation.

Sentimentality was, of course, at the bottom of what was the matter with
his daughter, of those things of which, with the aid of Isobel Vintry's
example, he hoped to cure her--her timidity and her fastidiousness. But
it was at the bottom of much more serious things than these--since to
make too much fuss about a girl's nonsensical fancies would be
sentimental in himself. Notably it was at the bottom of all shades of
opinion from Liberalism to Socialism, both included. Harry Belfield,
lunching at Nutley a week or so after his return to Meriton, had the
benefit of these views, with which, as a prospective Conservative
candidate, he was confidently expected to sympathise.

"I've only one answer to make to a Socialist," said Wellgood. "I say to
him, 'You can have my property when you're strong enough to take it.
Until then, you can't.' Under democracy we count heads instead of
breaking them. It's a bad system, but it's tolerable as long as the
matter isn't worth fighting about. When you come to vital issues, it'll
break down--it always has. We, the governing classes, shall keep our
position and our property just as long as we're able and willing to
defend them. If the Socialists mean business, they'd better stop talking
and learn to shoot."

"That might be awkward for us," said Harry, with a smile at Vivien
opposite.

"But if they think we're going to sit still and be voted out of
everything, they're much mistaken. That's what I hope, at all events,
though it needs a big effort not to despair of the country sometimes.
People won't look at the facts of nature. All nature's a fight from
beginning to end. All through, the strong hold down the weak; and the
strong grow stronger by doing it--never mind whether they're men or
beasts."

"There's a lot of truth in that; but I don't know that it would be very
popular on a platform--even on one of ours!"

"You political fellows have to wrap it up, I suppose, but the cleverer
heads among the working men know all about it--trust them! They're on
the make themselves; they want to get where we are; gammoning the common
run helps towards that. Oh, they're not sentimental! I do them the
justice to believe that."

"But isn't there a terrible lot of misery, father?" asked Vivien.

"You can't cure misery by quackery, my dear," he answered concisely.
"Half of it's their own fault, and for the rest--hasn't there always
been? So long as some people are weaker than others, they'll fare worse.
I don't see any particular attraction in the idea of making weaklings or
cowards as comfortable as the strong and the brave." His glance at his
daughter was stern. Vivien flushed a little; the particular ordeal of
that morning, a cross-country ride with her father, had not been a
brilliant success.

"To him that hath shall be given, eh?" Harry suggested.

"Matter of Scripture, Harry, and you can't get away from it!" said
Wellgood with a laugh.

Psychology is not the strong point of a mind like Wellgood's. To study
his fellow-creatures curiously seems to such a man rather unnecessary
and rather twaddling work; in its own sphere it corresponds to the hated
thing itself, to an over-scrupulous worrying about other people's
feelings or even about your own. It had not occurred to Wellgood to
study Harry Belfield. He liked him, as everybody did, and he had no idea
how vastly Harry's temperament differed from his own. Harry had many
material guarantees against folly--his birth, the property that was to
be his, the career opening before him. If Wellgood saw any signs of what
he condemned, he set them down to youth and took up the task of a mentor
with alacrity. Moreover he was glad to have Harry coming to the house;
matters were still at an early stage, but if there were a purpose in his
coming, there was nothing to be said against the project. He would
welcome an alliance with Halton, and it would be an alliance on even
terms; for Vivien had some money of her own, apart from what he could
leave her. Whether she would have Nutley or not--well, that was
uncertain. Wellgood was only forty-three and young for his years; he
might yet marry and have a son. A second marriage was more than an idea
in his head; it was an intention fully formed. The woman he meant to ask
to be his wife at the suitable moment lived in his house and sat at his
table with him--his daughter's companion, Isobel Vintry.

Isobel had sat silent through Wellgood's talk, not keenly interested in
the directly political aspect of it, but appreciating the view of human
nature and of the way of the world which underlay it. She also was on
the side of the efficient--of the people who knew what they wanted and
at any rate made a good fight to get it. Yet while she listened to
Wellgood, her eyes had often been on Harry; she too was beginning to ask
why Harry came so much to Nutley; the obvious answer filled her with a
vague stirring of discontent. An ambitious self-confident nature does
not like to be "counted out," to be reckoned out of the running before
the race is fairly begun. Why was the answer obvious? There was more
than one marriageable young woman at Nutley. Her feeling of protest was
still vague; but it was there, and when she looked at Harry's comely
face, her eyes were thoughtful.

Though Wellgood had business after lunch, Harry stayed on awhile,
sitting out on the terrace by the lake, for the day was warm and fine.
The coming of spring had mitigated the grimness of Nutley; the water
that had looked dreary and dismal in the winter now sparkled in the sun.
Harry was excellently well content with himself and his position. He
told the two girls that things were shaping very well. Old Sir George
Millington had decided to retire. He was to be the candidate; he would
start his campaign through the villages of the Division in the late
summer, when harvest was over; he could hardly be beaten; and he was
"working like a horse" at his subjects.

"The horse gets out of harness now and then!" said Isobel.

"You don't want him to kill himself with work, Isobel?" asked Vivien
reproachfully.

"Visits to Nutley help the work; they inspire me," Harry declared,
looking first at Vivien, then at Isobel. They were both, in their
different ways, pleasant to look at. Their interest in him--in all he
said and did, and in all he was going to do--was very pleasant also.

"Oh yes, I'm working all right!" he laughed. "Really I have to, because
of old Andy Hayes. He's getting quite keen on politics--reads all the
evening after he gets back from town. Well, he's good enough to think
I've read everything and know everything, and whenever we meet he pounds
me with questions. I don't want Andy to catch me out, so I have to mug
away."

"That's your friend, Vivien," said Isobel, with a smile and a nod.

"Yes, the solid man."

"Oh, I know that story. Andy told me himself. He thought you behaved
like a brick."

"He did, anyhow. Why don't you bring him here, Harry?"

"He's in town all day; I'll try and get him here some Saturday."

"Does he still stay with the--with Mr. Rock?" asked Vivien.

"No; he's taken lodgings. He's very thick with old Jack still, though.
Of course it wouldn't do to tell him so, but it's rather a bore that he
should be connected with Jack in that way. It doesn't make my mother any
keener to have him at Halton, and it's a little difficult for me to
press it."

"It does make his position seem--just rather betwixt and between,
doesn't it?" asked Isobel.

"If only it wasn't a butcher!" protested Vivien.

"O Vivien, the rules, the rules!" "Nothing against butchers," was one of
the rules.

"I know, but I would so much rather it had been a draper, or a
stationer, or something--something clean of that sort."

"I'm glad your father's not here. Be good, Vivien!"

"However it's not so bad if he doesn't stay there any more," Harry
charitably concluded. "Just going in for a drink with old
Jack--everybody does that; and after all he's no blood relation." He
laughed. "Though I dare say that's exactly what you'd call him, Vivien."

Just as he made his little joke Vivien had risen. It was her time for
"doing the flowers," one of the few congenial tasks allowed her. She
smiled and blushed at Harry's hit at her, looking very charming. Harry
indulged himself in a glance of bold admiration. It made her cheeks
redder still as she turned away, Harry looking after her till she
rounded the corner of the house. In answering the call of the voice he
had found no disappointment. Closer and more intimate acquaintance
revealed her as no less charming than she had promised to be. Harry was
sure now of what he wanted, and remained quite sure of all the wonderful
things that it was going to do for him and for his life.

Suddenly on the top of all this legitimate and proper feeling--to which
not even Mark Wellgood himself could object, since it was straight in
the way of nature--there came on Harry Belfield a sensation rare, yet
not unknown, in his career--a career still so short, yet already so
emotionally eventful.

Isobel Vintry was not looking at him--she was gazing over the lake--nor
he at her; he was engaged in the process of lighting a cigarette. Yet he
became intensely aware of her, not merely as one in his company, but as
a being who influenced him, affected him, in some sense stretched out a
hand to him. He gave a quick glance at her; she was motionless, her eyes
still aloof from him. He stirred restlessly in his chair; the air seemed
very close and heavy. He wanted to make some ordinary, some light
remark; for the moment it did not come. A remembrance of the first time
that Mrs. Freere and he had passed the bounds of ordinary friendship
struck across his mind, unpleasantly, and surely without relevance!
Isobel had said nothing, had done nothing, nor had he. Yet it was as
though some mystic sign had passed from her to him--he could not tell
whether from him to her also--a sign telling that, whatever
circumstances might do, there was in essence a link between them, a
reminder from her that she too was a woman, that she too had her power.
He did not doubt that she was utterly unconscious, but neither did he
believe that he was solely responsible, that he had merely imagined.
There was an atmosphere suddenly formed--an atmosphere still and heavy
as the afternoon air that brooded over the unruffled lake.

Harry had no desire to abide in it. His mind was made up; his heart was
single. He picked up a stone which had been swept from somewhere on to
the terrace and pitched it into the lake. A plop, and many ripples. The
heavy stillness was broken.

Isobel turned to him with a start.

"I thought you were going to sleep, Miss Vintry. I couldn't think of
anything to say, so I threw a stone into the water. I'm afraid you were
finding me awfully dull!"

"You dull! You're a change from what sometimes does seem a little
dull--life at Nutley. But perhaps you can't conceive life at Nutley
being dull?" Her eyes mocked him with the hint that she had discovered
his secret.

"Well, I think I should be rather hard to please if I found Nutley
dull," he said gaily. "But if you do, why do you stay?"

"Perpetual amusement isn't in a companion's contract, Mr. Harry.
Besides, I'm fond of Vivien. I should be sorry to leave her before the
natural end of my stay comes."

"The natural end?"

"Oh, I think you understand that." She smiled with a good-humoured scorn
at his homage to pretence.

"Well, of course, girls do marry. It's been known to happen," said
Harry, neither "cornered" nor embarrassed. "But perhaps"--he glanced at
her, wondering whether to risk a snub. His charm, his gift of gay
impudence, had so often stood him in stead and won him a liberty that a
heavy-handed man could not hope to be allowed; he was not much
afraid--"Perhaps you'd be asked to stay on--in another capacity, Miss
Vintry."

"It looks as if your thoughts were running on such things." She did not
affect not to understand, but she was not easy to corner either.

"I'm afraid they always have been," Harry confessed, a confession
without much trace of penitence.

"Mine don't often; and they're never supposed to--in my position."

"Oh, nonsense! Really that doesn't go down, Miss Vintry. Why, a girl
like you, with such--"

"Don't attempt a catalogue, please, Mr. Harry."

"You're right, quite right. I'm conscious how limited my powers are."

Harry Belfield could no more help this sort of thing than a bird can
help flying. In childhood he had probably lisped in compliments, as the
poet in numbers. In itself it was harmless, even graceful, and quite
devoid of serious meaning. Yet it was something new in his relations
with Isobel Vintry; though it had arisen out of a desire to dispel that
mysterious atmosphere, yet it was a sequel to it. Hitherto she had been
Vivien's companion. In that brief session of theirs--alone together by
the lake--she had assumed an independent existence for him, a vivid,
distinctive, rather compelling one. The impressionable mind received a
new impression, the plastic feelings suffered the moulding of a fresh
hand. Harry, who was alert to watch himself and always knew when he was
interested, was telling himself that she was such a notable foil to
Vivien; that was why he was interested. Vivien was still the centre of
gravity. The explanation vindicated his interest, preserved his loyalty,
and left his resolve unshaken. These satisfactory effects were all on
himself; the idea of effects on Isobel Vintry did not occur to him. He
was not vain, he was hardly a conscious or intentional "lady-killer." He
really suffered love affairs rather than sought them; he was driven into
them by an overpowering instinct to prove his powers. He could not help
"playing the game"--the rather hazardous game--to the full extent of his
natural ability. That extent was very considerable.

He said good-bye to her, laughingly declaring that after all he would
prepare a catalogue, and send it to her by post. Then he went into the
house, to find Vivien and pay another farewell. Left alone, Isobel rose
from her chair with an abrupt and impatient movement. She was a woman of
feelings not only more mature but far stronger than Vivien's; she had
ambitious yearnings which never crossed Vivien's simple soul. But she
was stern with herself. Perhaps she had caught and unconsciously copied
some of Wellgood's anti-sentimental attitude. She often told herself
that the feelings were merely dangerous and the yearnings silly. Yet
when others seemed tacitly to accept that view, made no account of her,
and assumed to regard her place in life as settled, she glowed with a
deep resentment against them, crying that she would make herself felt.
To-day she knew that somehow, to some degree however small, she had made
herself felt by Harry Belfield. The discovery could not be said to bring
pleasure, but it brought triumph--triumph and an oppressive
restlessness.

Wellgood strolled out of the house and joined her. "Where's Harry?" he
asked.

"He went into the house to say good-bye to Vivien; or perhaps he's gone
altogether by now."

Wellgood stood in thought, his hands in his pockets.

"He's a bit inclined to be soft, but I think we shall make a man of him.
He's got a great chance, anyhow. Vivien seems to like him, doesn't she?"

"Oh, everybody must!" She smiled at him. "Are you thinking of
match-making, like a good father?"

"She might do worse, and I'd like her to marry a man we know all about.
The poor child hasn't backbone to stand up for herself if she happened
on a rascal."

Isobel had a notion that Wellgood was over-confident if he assumed that
he, or they, knew all about Harry Belfield. His parentage, his position,
his prospects--yes. Did these exhaust the subject? But Wellgood's
downright mind would have seen only "fancies" in such a suggestion.

"If that's the programme, I must begin to think of packing up my
trunks," she said with a laugh.

He did not join in her laugh, but his stern lips relaxed into a smile.
"Lots of time to think about that," he told her, his eyes seeming to
make a careful inspection of her. "Nutley would hardly be itself without
you, Isobel."

She showed no sign of embarrassment under his scrutiny; she stood
handsome and apparently serene in her composure.

"Oh, poor Nutley would soon recover from the blow," she said. "But I
shall be sorry to go. You've been very kind to me."

"You've done your work very well. People who work well are well treated
at Nutley; people who work badly--"

"Aren't exactly petted? No, they're not, Mr. Wellgood, I know."

"You'd always do your work, whatever it might be, well, so you'd always
be well treated."

"At any rate you'll give me a good character?" she asked mockingly.

"Oh, I'll see that you get a good place," he answered her in the same
tone, but with a hint of serious meaning in his eyes.

His plan was quite definite, his confidence in the issue of it absolute.
But "one thing at a time" was among his maxims. He would like to see
Vivien's affair settled before his own was undertaken. His idea was that
his declaration and acceptance should follow on his daughter's
engagement.

Isobel was not afraid of Mark Wellgood, as his daughter was, and as so
many women would have been. She had a self-confidence equal to his own;
she added to it a subtlety which would secure her a larger share of
independence than it would be politic to claim openly. She had not
feared him as a master, and would not fear him as a husband. Moreover
she understood him far better than he read her. Understanding gives
power. And she liked him; there was much that was congenial to her in
his mind and modes of thought. He was a man, a strong man. But the
prospect at which his words hinted--she was not blind to their meaning,
and for some time back had felt little doubt of his design--did not
enrapture her. At first sight it seemed that it ought. She had no money,
her family were poor, marriage was her only chance of independence.
Nutley meant both a comfort and a status beyond her reasonable hopes.
But it meant also an end to the ambitious dreams. It was finality. Just
this life she led now for all her life--or at least all Wellgood's! He
was engrossed in the occupations of a country gentleman of moderate
means, in his estate work and his public work. He hardly ever went to
London; he never travelled farther afield; he visited little even among
his neighbours. Some of these habits a wife might modify; the essentials
of the life she would hardly be able to change. Yet, if she got the
chance, there was no question but that she ought to take it. Common
sense told her that, just as it told Wellgood that it would be absurd to
doubt of her acceptance.

Common sense might say what it liked. Her feelings were in revolt, and
their insurrection gathered fresh strength to-day. It was not so much
that Wellgood was nearly twenty years her senior. That counted, but not
as heavily as perhaps might be expected, since his youthful vigour was
still all his. It was the certainty with which his thoughts disposed of
her, his assumption that his suit would be free from difficulty and from
rivalry, his matter-of-course conclusion that Harry could come to Nutley
only for Vivien's sake. If these things wounded her woman's pride, the
softer side of her nature lamented the absence of romance, of the thrill
of love, of being wooed and won in some poetic fashion, of
everything--she found her thoughts insensibly taking this
direction--that it would be for Harry Belfield's chosen mistress to
enjoy. Nobody--least of all the man who was content to take her to wife
himself--seemed to think of her as a choice even possible to Harry. He
was, of course, for Vivien. All the joys of love, all the life of
pleasure, the participation in his career, the moving many-coloured
existence to be led by his side--all these were for Vivien. Her heart
cried out in protest at the injustice; she might not even have her
chance! It would be counted treachery if she strove for it, if she
sought to attract Harry or allowed herself to be attracted by him. She
had to stand aside; she was to be otherwise disposed of, her assent to
the arrangement being asked so confidently that it could hardly be said
to be asked at all. Suppose she did not assent? Suppose she fought for
herself, treachery or no treachery? Suppose she followed the way of her
feelings, if so be that they led her towards Harry Belfield? Suppose she
put forth what strength she had to upset Wellgood's plan, to fight for
herself?

She played with these questions as she walked up and down the terrace by
the lake. She declared to herself that she was only playing with them,
but they would not leave her.

Certainly the questions found no warrant in Harry Belfield's present
mood. He had made up his mind, his eager blood was running apace. That
very evening, as his father and he sat alone together after dinner, in
the long room graced by the two Vandykes which were the boast of Halton,
he broached the matter in confidence. Mr. Belfield was a frail man of
sixty. He had always been delicate in health, a sufferer from asthma and
prone to chills; but he was no acknowledged invalid, and would not
submit to the _rôle_. He did his share of county work; his judgment was
highly esteemed, his sense of honour strict and scrupulous. He had a
dryly humorous strain in him, which found food for amusement in his
son's exuberant feelings and dashing impulses, without blinding him to
their dangers.

"Well, it's not a great match, but it's quite satisfactory, Harry.
You'll find no opposition here. I like her very much, and your mother
does too, I know. But"--he smiled and lifted his brows--"it's a trifle
sudden, isn't it?"

"Sudden?" cried Harry. "Why, I've known her all my life!"

"Yes, but you haven't been in love with her all your life. And, if
report speaks true, you have been in love with some other women." Mr.
Belfield was a man of the world; his tone was patient and not unduly
severe as he referred to Harry's adventures of the heart, which had
reached his ears from friends in London.

"Yes, I know," said Harry; "but those were only--well, passing sort of
things, you know."

"And this isn't a passing sort of thing?"

"Not a bit of it; I'm dead sure of it. Well, a fellow can't tell
another--not even his father--what he feels."

"No, no, don't try; keep all that for the lady. But if I were you I'd go
a bit slow, and I wouldn't tell your mother yet. There's no particular
hurry, is there?"

Harry laughed. "Well, I suppose that depends on how one feels. I happen
to feel rather in a hurry."

"Go as slow as you can. Passing things pass: a wife's a more permanent
affair. And undoing a mistake is neither a very easy nor a very savoury
business."

"I'm absolutely sure. Still I'll try to wait and see if I can manage to
get a little bit surer still, just to please you, pater."

"Thank you, old boy; I don't think you'll repent it. And, after all, it
may be as well to give the lady time to get quite sure too--eh?" His
eyes twinkled. He was fully aware that Harry would not think a great
deal of time necessary for that. "Oh, by-the-bye," he went on, "I've a
little bit of good news for you. I've interceded with your mother on
Andy Hayes' behalf, and her heart is softened. She says she'll be very
glad to see him here--"

"Hurrah! That's very good of the mater."

"--when we're alone, or have friends who we know won't object." He
laughed a little, and Harry joined in the laugh. "A prudent woman's
prudent provisoes, Harry! I wish both you and I were as wise as your
mother is."

"Dear old Andy--he's getting quite the fashion! I'm to take him to
Nutley too."

"Excellent! Because it looks as if Nutley would be coming here to a
certain extent in the immediate future, and he'll be able to come when
Nutley does." He rose from his chair. "My throat's bothersome to-night;
I'll leave you alone with your cigarette."

Harry smoked a cigarette that seemed to emit clouds of rosy smoke. All
that lay in the past was forgotten; the future beckoned him to
glittering joys.

"Marriage is his best chance, but even that's a considerable chance with
Master Harry!" thought his father as he sat down to his book.

The one man who had serious fears--or at least doubts--about Harry
Belfield's future was his own father.

"I probably shan't live to see the trouble, if any comes," he thought.
"And if his mother does--she won't believe it's his fault."



Chapter V.

BROADENING LIFE.


"Five all, and deuce!" cried Wellgood, who had taken on himself the
function of umpire. He turned to Isobel and Vivien, who sat by in wicker
armchairs, watching the game. "I never thought it would be so close.
Hayes has pulled up wonderfully!"

"I think Mr. Hayes'll win now," said Vivien.

An "exhibition single" was being played, by request, before the audience
above indicated. Andy Hayes had protested that, though of course he
would play if they wished, he could not give Harry a game--he had not
played for more than a year. At first it looked as if he were right:
Harry romped away with the first four games, so securely superior that
he fired friendly chaff at Andy's futile rushes across the court in
pursuit of a ball skilfully placed where he least expected it. But in
the fifth game the rallies became very long; Andy was playing for
safety--playing deadly safe. He did not try to kill; Harry did, but
often committed suicide. The fifth, the sixth, the seventh game went to
Andy. A flash of brilliancy gave Harry the eighth--five, three! The
ninth was his service--he should have had it, and the set. Andy's
returns were steady, low, all good length, possible to return, almost
impossible to kill. But Harry tried to kill. Four, five. Andy served,
and found a "spot"--at least Harry's malevolent glances at a particular
piece of turf implied a theory that he had. Five all! And now "Deuce"!

"He's going to lick me, see if he isn't!" cried Harry Belfield,
perfectly good-natured, but not hiding his opinion that such a result
would be paradoxical.

Andy felt terribly ashamed of himself--he wanted to win so much. To play
Harry Belfield on equal terms and beat him, just for once! This spirit
of emulation was new to his soul; it seemed rather alarming when it
threatened his old-time homage in all things to Harry. Where was
ambition going to stop? None the less, eye and hand had no idea of not
doing their best. A slashing return down the side line and a clever lob
gave him the game--six, five!

Harry Belfield was the least bit vexed--amusedly vexed. He remembered
Andy's clumsy elephantine sprawlings (no other word for them) about the
court when in their boyhood he had first undertaken to teach him the
game. Andy must have played a lot in Canada.

"Now I'll take three off you, Andy," he cried, and served a double
fault. The "gallery" laughed. "Oh, damn it!" exclaimed Harry,
indecorously loud, and served another. Andy could not help laughing--the
first time he had ever laughed at Harry Belfield. Given a handicap of
thirty, the game was, barring extraordinary accidents, his. So it
proved. He won it at forty-fifteen, with a stroke that a child ought to
have returned; Harry put it into the net.

"Lost your nerve, Harry?" said the umpire.

"The beggar's such a sticker!" grumbled Harry, laughing. "You think
you've got him licked--and you haven't!"

"I'm glad Mr. Hayes won." This from Vivien.

"Not only defeated, but forsaken!" Harry cried. "Andy, I'll have your
blood!"

Andy Hayes laughed joyously. This victory came as an unlooked-for
adornment to a day already notable. A Saturday half-holiday, down from
town in time to lunch at Nutley, tennis and tea, and the prospect (not
free from piquant alarm) of dinner at Halton--this was a day for Andy
Hayes! With an honest vanity--a vanity based on true affection--he
thought how the account of it would tickle Jack Rock. His life seemed
broadening out before him, and he would like to tell dear old Jack all
about it. Playing lawn-tennis at Nutley, dining at Halton--here were
things just as delightful, just as enlightening, as supping at the great
restaurant in the company of the Nun and pretty sardonic Miss Dutton. He
owed them all to Harry--he almost wished he had lost the set. At any
rate he felt that he ought to wish it.

"It was an awful fluke!" he protested apologetically.

"You'd beat him three times out of five," Wellgood asserted in that
confident tone of his.

Harry looked a little vexed. He bore an occasional defeat with admirable
good-nature: to be judged consistently inferior was harder schooling to
his temper. Triumphing in whatever the contest might be had grown into
something of a custom with him. It brooked occasional breaches:
abrogation was another matter. But "Oh no!" cried both the girls
together.

Harry was on his feet again in a moment. Women's praise was always sweet
to him, and not the less sweet for being open to a suspicion of
partiality--which is, after all, a testimony to achievement in other
fields.

Such a partiality accounted for the conviction of Harry's superiority in
Vivien's case at least. She had grown up in the midst of the universal
Meriton adoration of him as the most accomplished, the kindest, the
merriest son of that soil, the child of promise, the present pride and
the future glory of his native town. Any facts or reports not to the
credit of the idol or reflecting on his divinity had not reached her
cloistered ears. Wellgood, like Harry's own father, had heard some, but
Wellgood held common-sense views even more fully than Mr. Belfield;
facts were facts, and all men had to be young for a time. Now, if signs
were to be trusted, if the idol's own words, eyes, and actions meant
what she could not but deem they meant (or where stood the idol's
honesty?), he proposed to ask her to share his throne; he, the adored,
offered adoration--an adoration on a basis of reciprocity, be it
understood. She did not grumble at that. To give was so easy, so
inevitable; to receive--to be asked to accept--so wonderful. It could
not enter her head or her heart to question the value of the gift or to
doubt the whole-heartedness with which it was bestowed. It was to her so
great a thing that she held it must be as great to Harry. Really at the
present moment it was as great to Harry. His courtship of her seemed a
very great thing, his absolute exclusive devotion a rare flower of
romance.

But she had been glad to see Andy win. Oh yes, she was compassionate.
She knew so well what it was not to do things as cleverly as other
people, and how oppressive it felt to be always inferior. Besides Andy
had a stock of gratitude to draw on; somehow he had, by his solidity,
caused Curly to appear far less terrible. With a genuine gladness she
saw him pluck one leaf from Harry's wreath. It must mean so much to Mr.
Hayes; it mattered nothing to Harry. Nay, rather, it was an added chance
for his graces of manner to shine forth.

They did shine forth. "Very good of you, ladies, but I think he holds me
safe," said Harry.

"I shouldn't if you'd only play steady," Andy observed in his reflective
way. "Taking chances--that's your fault, Harry."

"Taking chances--why, it's life!" cried Harry, any shadow of vexation
utterly gone and leaving not the smallest memory.

"Well, ordinary people can't look at it like that," Andy said, with no
touch of sarcasm, amply acknowledging that Harry and the ordinary were
things remote from one another.

Was life taking chances? To one only of the party did that seem really
true. Harry had said it, but he was not the one. He was possessed by a
new triumphant certainty; Wellgood by the thought of a mastery he deemed
already established, and waiting only for his word to be declared;
Vivien by a dream that glowed and glittered, refusing too close a touch
with earth; Andy by a stout conviction that he must not think about
chances, but work away at his timber (he still called it lumber in his
inner mind) and his books, pausing only to thank heaven for a wonderful
Saturday holiday.

But life was taking chances! Supine in her chair, silent since her one
exclamation in championship of Harry Belfield, Isobel Vintry echoed the
cry. Life was taking chances? Yes, any life worth having perhaps was.
But what if the chances did not come one's way? Who can take what fate
never offers?

All the present party was to meet again at Halton in the evening. It
seemed hardly a separation when Harry and Andy started off together
towards Meriton, Harry, as usual, chattering briskly, Andy listening,
considering, absorbing. At a turn of the road they passed two old
friends of his, Wat Money, the lawyer's clerk, and Tom Dove, the budding
publican--"Chinks" and "The Bird" of days of yore.

"Good afternoon, Mr. Harry! Hullo, Andy!" said Chinks and the Bird. When
they were past, the Bird nudged Chinks with his elbow and winked his
eye.

"Yes, he's getting no end of a swell, isn't he?" said Chinks.
"Hand-and-glove with Harry Belfield!"

"I suppose you don't see much of those chaps now?" Harry was asking Andy
at the same moment. There was just a shadow of admonition in the
question.

"I'm afraid I don't. Well, we're all at work. And when I do get a day
off--"

"You don't need to spend it at the Lion!" laughed Harry. "As good drink
and better company in other places!"

There were certainly good things to drink and eat at Halton, and Andy
could not be blamed if he found the company at least as well to his
liking. He had not been there since he was quite a small boy--in the
days before Nancy Rock migrated from the house next the butcher's shop
in High Street to preside over his home--but he had never forgotten the
handsome dining-room with its two Vandykes, nor the glass of sherry
which Mr. Belfield had once given him there. Mrs. Belfield received him
with graciousness, Mr. Belfield with cordiality. Of course he was the
first to arrive, being very fearful of unpunctuality. Even Harry was not
down yet. Not being able, for obvious reasons, to ask after her guest's
relations--her invariable way, when it was possible, of opening a
conversation--Mrs. Belfield expressed her pleasure at seeing him back in
Meriton.

"My husband thinks you're such a good companion for Harry," she added,
showing that her pleasure was genuine, even if somewhat interested.

"Yes, Hayes," said Mr. Belfield. "See all you can of him; we shall be
grateful. He wants just what a steady-going sensible fellow, as
everybody says you are, can give him--a bit of ballast, eh?"

"Everybody" had been, in fact, Jack Rock, but--again for obvious
reasons--the authority was not cited by name.

"You may be sure I shall give him as much of my company as he'll take,
sir," said Andy, infinitely pleased, enormously complimented.

Placidity was Mrs. Belfield's dominant note--a soothing placidity. She
was rather short and rather plump--by no means an imposing figure; but
this quality gave her a certain dignity, and even a certain power in her
little world. People let her have her own way because she was so
placidly sure that they would, and it seemed almost profane to disturb
the placidity. Even her husband's humour was careful to stop short of
that. Her physical movements were in harmony with her temper--leisurely,
smooth, noiseless; her voice was gentle, low, and even. She seemed to
Andy to fit in well with the life she lived and always had lived, to be
a good expression or embodiment of its sheltered luxury and sequestered
tranquillity. Storms and stress and struggles--these things had nothing
to do with Mrs. Belfield, and really ought to have none; they would be
quite out of keeping with her. She seemed to have a right to ask that
things about her should go straight and go quietly. There was perhaps a
flavour of selfishness about this disposition; certainly an
inaccessibility to strong feeling. For instance, while placidly assuming
Harry's success and Harry's career, she was not excited nor what would
be called enthusiastic about them--not half so excited and enthusiastic
as Andy Hayes.

The dinner in the fine old room, under the Vandykes, with Mrs. Belfield
in her lavender silk and precious lace, the girls in their white frocks,
the old silver, the wealth of flowers, seemed rather wonderful to Andy
Hayes. His life in boyhood had been poor and meagre, in manhood hard and
rough. Here was a side of existence he had not seen; as luxurious as the
life of which he had caught a glimpse at the great restaurant, but far
more serene, more dignified. His opening mind received another new
impression and a rarely attractive one.

But the centre of the scene for him was Vivien Wellgood. From his first
sight of her in the drawing-room he could not deny that. He had never
seen her in the evening before, and it was in the evening that her frail
beauty showed forth. She was like a thing of gossamer that a touch would
spoil. She was so white in her low-cut frock; all so white save for a
little glow on the cheeks that excitement and pleasure brought, save for
the brightness of her hair in the soft candle light, save for the dark
blue eyes which seemed to keep watch and ward over her hidden thoughts.
Yes, she was--why, she was good enough for Harry--good enough for Harry
Belfield himself! And he, Andy, Harry's faithful follower and
worshipper, would worship her too, if she would let him (Harry, he knew,
would), if she would not be afraid of him, not dislike him or shrink
from him. That was all he asked, having in his mind not only a bashful
consciousness of his rude strength and massive frame--they seemed almost
threatening beside her delicacy--but also a haunting recollection that
she could not endure such a number of things, including butchers' shops.

No thought for himself, no thought of trying to rival Harry, so much as
crossed his mind. If it had, it would have been banished as rank
treachery; but it could not, for the simple reason that his attitude
towards Harry made such an idea utterly foreign to his thoughts. He was
not asking, as Isobel Vintry had asked that afternoon, why he might not
have his chance. It was not the way of his nature to put forward claims
for himself--and, above all, claims that conflicted with Harry's claims.
The bare notion was to him impossible.

He sat by her, but for some time she gave herself wholly to listening to
Harry, who had found, on getting home, a letter from Billy Foot, full of
the latest political gossip from town. But presently, the conversation
drifting into depths of politics where she could not follow, she turned
to Andy and said, "I'm getting on much better with Curly. I pat him
now!"

"That's right. It's only his fun."

"People's fun is sometimes the worst thing about them."

"Well now, that's true," Andy acknowledged, rather surprised to hear the
remark from her.

"But I am getting on much better. And--well, rather better at riding."
She smiled at him in confidence. "And nobody's said anything about
swimming. Do you know, when I feel myself inclined to get frightened, I
think about you!"

"Do you find it helps?" asked Andy, much amused and rather pleased.

"Yes, it's like thinking of a policeman in the middle of the night."

"I suppose I do look rather like a policeman," said Andy reflectively.

"Yes, you do! That's it, I think." The vague "it" seemed to signify the
explanation of the confidence Andy inspired.

"And how about dust and dirt, and getting very hot?" he inquired.

"Isobel says I'm a bit better about courage, but not the least about
fastidiousness."

"Fastidiousness suits some people, Miss Wellgood."

"It doesn't suit father, not in me," she murmured with a woeful smile.

"Doesn't thinking about me help you there? On the same principle it
ought to."

"It doesn't," she murmured, with a trace of confusion, and suddenly her
eyes went blank. Something was in her thoughts that she did not want
Andy to see. Was it the butcher's shop? Andy's wits were not quick
enough to ask the question; but he saw that her confidential mood had
suffered a check.

Her confidence had been very pleasant, but there were other things to
listen to at the table. Andy was heart-whole and intellectually
voracious.

They, the rest of the company, had begun on politics--imperial
politics--and had discussed them not without some friction. No Radical
was present--_Procul, O procul este, profani!_--but Wellgood had the
perversities of his anti-sentimental attitude. A Tory at home, why was
he to be a democrat--or a Socialist--at the Antipodes? Competition and
self-interest were the golden rule in England; was there to be another
between England and her colonies? The tie of blood--one flag, one crown,
one destiny--Wellgood suspected his bugbear in every one of these cries.
Nothing for nothing--and for sixpence no more than the coin was
worth--with a preference for five penn'orth if you could get out of it
at that! He stood steady on his firmly-rooted narrow foundation.

All of Harry was on fire against him. Was blood nothing--race,
colour, memories, associations, the Flag, the Crown, and the Destiny?
A destiny to rule, or at least to manage, the planet! Mother and
Daughters--nothing in that?

Things were getting hot, and the ladies, who always like to look on at
the men fighting, much interested. Mr. Belfield, himself no politician,
rather a student of human nature and addicted to the Socratic attitude
(so justly vexatious to practical men who have to do something, good,
bad, or if not better, at least more plausible, than nothing) interposed
a suggestion.

"Mother and daughters? Hasn't husband and wives become a more
appropriate parallel?" He smiled across the table at his own wife. "No
personal reference, my dear! But an attitude of independence, without
any particular desire to pay the bills? Oh, I'm only asking questions!"

Andy was listening hard now. So was Vivien, for she saw Harry's eyes
alight and his mouth eager to utter truths that should save the nation.

"If we could reach," said Harry, marvellously handsome, somewhat
rhetorical for a small party, "if only we could once reach a true
understanding between ourselves and the self-governing--"

"Oh, but that's going beyond my parallel, my dear boy," his father
interrupted. "If marriage demanded mutual understanding, what man or
woman could risk it with eyes open?"

"Doesn't it?" Isobel Vintry was the questioner.

"Heavens, no, my dear Miss Vintry! Something much less, something much
less fundamentally impossible. A good temper and a bad memory, that's
all!"

"Well done, pater!" cried Harry, readily switched off from his heated
enthusiasm. "Which for the husband, which for the wife?"

"Both for both, Harry. Toleration to-day, and an unlimited power of
oblivion to-morrow."

"What nonsense you're talking, dear," placidly smiled Mrs. Belfield.

"I'm exactly defining your own characteristics," he replied. "If you do
that to a woman, she always says you're talking nonsense."

"An unlimited supply of the water of Lethe, pater? That does it?"

"That's about it, Harry. If you mix it with a little sound Scotch whisky
before you go to bed--"

Andy burst into a good guffaw; the kindly mocking humour pleased him.
Vivien was alert too; there was nothing to frighten, much to enjoy; the
glow deepened on her cheeks.

But Wellgood was not content; he was baulked of his argument, of his
fight.

"We've wandered from the point," he said dourly. ("As if wanderings were
not the best things in the world!" thought more than one of the party,
more or less explicitly.) "We give, they take." He was back to the
United Kingdom and the Colonies.

"Could anything be more nicely exact to my parallel?" asked Belfield,
socratically smiling. "Did you ever know a marriage where each partner
didn't say, 'I give, you take'? Some add that they're content with the
arrangement, others don't."

"Pater, you always mix up different things," Harry protested, laughing.

"I'm always trying to find out whether there are any different things,
Harry." He smiled at his son. "Wives, that's what they are! And several
of them! Harry, we're in for all the difficulties of polygamy! A
preference to one--oh no, I'm not spelling it with a big P! But--well,
the ladies ought to be able to help us here. Could you share a heart,
Miss Vintry?"

Isobel's white was relieved with gold trimmings; she looked sumptuous.
"I shouldn't like it," she answered.

"What has all this got to do with the practical problem?" Wellgood
demanded. "Our trade with the Colonies is no more than thirty per
cent--"

"I agree with you, Mr. Wellgood. The gentlemen had much better have kept
to their politics," Mrs. Belfield interposed with suave placidity. "They
understand them. When they begin to talk about women--"

"Need of Lethe--whisky and Lethe-water!" chuckled Harry. "In a large
glass, eh, Andy?"

Wellgood turned suddenly on Andy. "You've lived in Canada. What do you
say?"

Andy had been far too much occupied in listening. Besides, he was no
politician. He thought deeply for a moment.

"A lot depends on whether you want to buy or to sell." He delivered
himself of this truth quite solemnly.

"A very far-reaching observation," said Mr. Belfield. "Goes to the root
of human traffic, and, quite possibly, to that of both the institutions
which we have been discussing. I wonder whether either will be
permanent!"

"Look here, pater, we're at dessert! Aren't you starting rather big
subjects?"

"Your father likes to amuse himself with curious ideas," Mrs. Belfield
remarked. "So did my father; he once asked me what I thought would
happen if I didn't say my prayers. Men like to ask questions like that,
but I never pay much attention to them. Shall we go into the
drawing-room, Vivien? It may be warm enough for a turn in the garden,
perhaps." She addressed the men. "Bring your cigars and try."

The men were left alone. "The garden would be jolly," said Harry.

Mr. Belfield coughed, and suddenly wheezed. "Intimations of mortality!"
he said apologetically. "We've talked of a variety of subjects--to
little purpose, I suppose. But it's entertaining to survey the field of
humanity. Your views were briefly expressed, Hayes."

"Everybody else was talking such a lot, sir," said Andy.

Belfield's humorous laugh was entangled in a cough. "You'll never get
that obstacle out of the way of your oratory," he managed to stutter
out. "They always are! Talk rules the world--eh, Wellgood?" He was
maliciously provocative.

"We wait till they've finished talking. Then we do what we want," said
Wellgood. "Force rules in the end--the readiness to kill and be killed.
That's the _ultima ratio_, the final argument."

"The women say that's out of date."

"The women!" exclaimed Wellgood contemptuously.

"They'll be in the garden," Harry opined. "Shall we move, pater?"

"We might as well," said Belfield. "Are you ready, Wellgood?"

Wellgood was ready--in spite of his contempt.



Chapter VI.

THE WORLDS OF MERITON.


The garden at Halton was a pleasant place on a fine evening, with a moon
waxing, yet not obtrusively full, with billowing shrubberies, clear-cut
walks, lawns spreading in a gentle drabness that would be bright green
in to-morrow's sun--a place pleasant in its calm, its spaciousness and
isolation. They all sat together in a ring for a while; smoke curled up;
a servant brought glasses that clinked as they were set down with a
cheery, yet not urgent, suggestion.

"I suppose you're right to go in for it," said Wellgood to Harry. "It's
your obvious line." (He was referring to a public career.) "But, after
all, it's casting pearls before swine."

"Swine!" The note of exclamation was large. "Our masters, Mr. Wellgood!"

"A decent allowance of bran, and a ring through their noses--that's the
thing for them!"

"Has anybody got a copy--well, another copy of 'Coriolanus'?" Harry
inquired in an affectation of eagerness.

"Casting pearls before swine is bad business, of course," said Belfield
in his husky voice--he was really unwise to be out of doors at all; "but
there are degrees of badness. If your pearls are indifferent as pearls,
and your swine admirable as swine? And that's often the truth of it."

"My husband is sometimes perverse in his talk, my dear," said Mrs.
Belfield, aside to Vivien, to whom she was being very kind. "You needn't
notice what he says."

"He's rather amusing," Vivien ventured, not quite sure whether the
adjective were respectful enough.

"Andy, pronounce!" cried Harry Belfield; for his friend sat in his usual
meditative absorbing silence.

"If I had to, I'd like to say a word from the point of view of
the--swine." Had the moon been stronger, he might have been seen to
blush. "I don't want to be--oh, well, serious. That's rot, I know--after
dinner. But--well, you're all in it--insiders--I'm an outsider. And I
say that what the swine want is--pearls!"

"If we've got them?" The question, or insinuation, was Belfield's. He
was looking at Andy with a real, if an only half-serious, interest.

"Swine are swine," remarked Wellgood. "They mustn't forget it. Neither
must we."

"But pearls by no means always pearls?" Belfield suggested. "Though they
may look the real thing if a pretty woman hangs them round her neck."

Their talk went only for an embellishment of their general state--so
comfortable, so serene, so exceptionally fortunate. Were not they
pearls? Andy had seen something of the swine, had perhaps even been one
of them. A vague protest stirred in him; were they not too serene, too
comfortable, too fortunate? Yet he loved it all; it was beautiful. How
many uglies go to make one beautiful? It is a bit of social arithmetic.
When you have got the result, the deduction may well seem difficult.

"It doesn't much matter whether they're real or not, if a really pretty
woman hangs them round her neck," Harry laughed. "The neck carries the
pearls!"

"But we'd all rather they were real," said Isobel Vintry suddenly, the
first of the women to intervene. "Other women guess, you see."

"Does it hurt so much if they do?" Belfield asked.

"The only thing that really does hurt," Isobel assured him, smiling.

"Oh, my dear, how disproportionate!" sighed Mrs. Belfield.

"I'd never have anything false about me--pearls, or lace, or hair,
or--or anything about me," exclaimed Vivien. "I should hate it!" Feeling
carried her into sudden unexpected speech.

Very gradually, very tentatively, Andy was finding himself able to speak
in this sort of company, to speak as an equal to equals, not socially
only, but in an intellectual regard.

"Riches seem to me all wrong, but what they produce, leaving out the
wasters, all right." He let it out, apprehensive of a censuring silence.
Belfield relieved him in a minute.

"I'm with you. I always admire most the things to which I'm on principle
opposed--a melancholy state of one's mental interior! Kings, lords, and
bishops--crowns, coronets, and aprons--all very attractive and
picturesque!"

"We all know that the governor's a crypto-Radical," said Harry.

"I thought Carlyle, among others, had taught that we were all Radicals
when in our pyjamas--or less," said Belfield. "But that's not the point.
The excellence of things that are wrong, the narrowness of the moral
view!"

"My dear! Oh, well, my dear!" murmured Mrs. Belfield.

"I've got a touch of asthma--I must say what I like." Belfield
humorously traded on his infirmity. "A dishonest fellow who won't pay
his tradesmen, a flirtatious minx who will make mischief, a spoilt
urchin who insists on doing what he shouldn't--all rather attractive,
aren't they? If everybody behaved properly we should have no
'situations.' What would become of literature and the drama?"

"And if nobody had any spare cash, what would become of them, either?"
asked Harry.

"Well, we could do with a good deal less of them. I'll go so far as to
admit that," said Wellgood.

Belfield laughed. "Even from Wellgood we've extracted one plea for the
redistribution of wealth. A dialectical triumph! Let's leave it at
that."

Mrs. Belfield carried her husband off indoors; Wellgood went with them,
challenging his host to a game of bezique; Harry invited Vivien to a
stroll; Isobel Vintry and Andy were left together. She asked him a
sudden question:

"Do you think Harry Belfield a selfish man?"

"Selfish! Harry? Heavens, no! He'd do anything for his friends."

"I don't mean quite in that way. I daresay he would--and, of course,
he's too well-mannered to be selfish about trifles. But I suppose even
to ask questions about him is treason to you?"

"Oh, well, a little bit," laughed Andy. "I'm an old follower, you see!"

"Yes, and he thinks it natural you should be," she suggested quickly.

"Well, if it is natural, why shouldn't he think so?"

"It seems natural to him that he should always come first, and--and have
the pick of things."

"You mean he's spoilt? According to his father, that makes him more
attractive."

"Yes, I'm not saying it doesn't do that. Only--do you never mind it?
Never mind playing second fiddle?"

"Second fiddle seems rather a high position. I hardly reckon myself in
the orchestra at all," he laughed. "You remember--I'm accustomed to
following the hunt on foot."

"While Harry Belfield rides! Yes! Vivien rides too--and doesn't like
it!"

She was bending forward in her chair, handsome, sumptuous in her white
and gold (Wellgood had made her a present the quarter-day before), with
her smile very bitter. The smile told that she spoke with a meaning more
than literal. Andy surveyed, at his leisure, possible metaphorical
bearings.

"Oh yes, I think I see," he announced, after an interval fully
perceptible. "You mean she doesn't really appreciate her advantages? By
riding you mean--?"

"Oh, really, Mr. Hayes!" She broke into vexed amused laughter. "I
mustn't try it any more with you," she declared.

"But I shall understand if you give me time to think it over," Andy
protested. "Don't rush me, that's all, Miss Vintry."

"As if I could rush any one or anything!" she said, handsome still, now
handsomely despairing.

To Andy she was a problem, needing time to think over; to Wellgood she
was a postulate, assumed not proved, yet assumed to be proved; to Harry
she was--save for that subtle momentary feeling on the terrace by the
lake--Vivien's companion. She wanted to be something other than any of
these. Follow the hounds on foot? She would know what it was to ride!
Know and not like--in Vivien's fashion? Andy, slowly digesting, saw her
lips curve in that bitter smile again.

From a path near by, yet secluded behind a thick trim hedge of yew,
there sounded a girl's nervous flutter of a laugh, a young man's
exultant merriment. Harry and Vivien, not far away, seemed the space of
a world apart--to Isobel; Andy was normally conscious that they were not
more than twenty yards off, and almost within hearing if they spoke. But
he had been getting at Isobel's meaning--slowly and surely.

"Being able to ride--having the opportunity--and not caring--that's
pearls before--?"

"I congratulate you, Mr. Hayes. I can imagine you making a very good
speech--after the election is over!"

Andy laughed heartily, leaning back in his chair.

"That's jolly good, Miss Vintry!" he said.

"Ten minutes after the poll closed you'd begin to persuade the
electors!" She spoke rather lower. "Ten minutes after a girl had taken
another man, you'd--"

"Give me time! I've never thought about myself like that," cried Andy.

No more sounds from the path behind the yew hedge. She was impatient
with Andy--would Harry never come back from that path?

He came back the next moment--he and Vivien. Vivien's face was a
confession, Harry's air a self-congratulation.

"I hope you've been making yourself amusing, Andy?" asked Harry. His
tone conveyed a touch of amusement at the idea of Andy being amusing.

"Miss Vintry's been pitching into me like anything," said Andy, smiling
broadly. "She says I'm always a day after the fair. I'm going to think
it over--and try to get a move on."

His good-nature, his simplicity, his serious intention to attempt
self-improvement, tickled Harry intensely. Why, probably Isobel had
wanted to flirt, and Andy had failed to play up to her! He burst into a
laugh; Vivien's laugh followed as an applauding echo.

"A lecture, was it, Miss Vintry?" Harry asked in banter.

"I could give you one too," said Isobel, colouring a little.

"She gives me plenty!" Vivien remarked, with a solemnly comic shake of
her head.

"It's my business in life," said Isobel.

Just for a second Harry looked at her; an impish smile was on his lips.
Did she think that, was she honest about it? Or was she provocative? It
crossed Harry's mind--past experiences facilitating the transit of the
idea--that she might be saying to him, "Is that all a young woman of my
looks is good for? To give lectures?"

"You shall give me one at the earliest opportunity, if you'll be so
kind," he laughed, his eyes boldly conveying that he would enjoy the
lesson. Vivien laughed again; it was great fun to see Harry chaffing
Isobel! She liked Isobel, but was in awe of her. Had not Isobel all the
difficult virtues which it was her own woeful task to learn? But Harry
could chaff her--Harry could do anything.

"If I do, I'll teach you something you don't know, Mr. Harry," Isobel
said, letting her eyes meet his with a boldness equal to his own. Again
that subtle feeling touched him, as it had on the terrace by the lake.

"I'm ready to learn my lesson," he assured her, with a challenging gleam
in his eye.

She nodded rather scornfully, but accepting his challenge. There was a
last bit of by-play between their eyes.

"It's really time to go, if Mr. Wellgood has finished his game," said
Isobel, rising.

The insinuation of the words, the by-play of the eyes, had passed over
Vivien's head and outside the limits of Andy's perspicacity. To both of
them the bandying of words was but chaff; by both the exchange of
glances went unmarked. Well, the whole thing was no more than chaff to
Harry himself; such chaff as he was very good at, a practised hand--and
not ignorant of why the chaff was pleasant. And Isobel? Oh yes, she
knew! Harry was amused to find this knowledge in Vivien's
companion--this provocation, this freemasonry of flirtation. Poor old
Andy had, of course, seen none of it! Well, perhaps it needed a bit of
experience--besides the temperament.

Indoors, farewell was soon said--hours ruled early at Meriton. Soon
said, yet not without some significance in the saying. Mrs. Belfield was
openly affectionate to Vivien, and Belfield paternal in a courtly way;
Harry very devoted to the same young lady, yet with a challenging
"aside" of his eyes for Isobel; Andy brimming over with a vain effort to
express adequately but without gush his thanks for the evening.
Belfield, being two pounds the better of Wellgood over their bezique,
was in more than his usual good-temper--it was spiced with malice, for
the defeat of Wellgood (a bad loser) counted for more than the forty
shillings--and gave Andy his hand and a pat on the back.

"It's not often one has to tell a man not to undervalue himself," he
remarked. "But I fancy I might say that to you. Well, I'm no prophet;
but at any rate be sure you're always welcome at this house for your own
sake, as well as for Harry's."

Getting into the carriage with Isobel and her father, Vivien felt like
going back to school. But in all likelihood she would see Harry's eyes
again to-morrow. She did not forget to give a kindly glance to solid
Andy Hayes--not exciting, nor bewildering, nor inflaming (as another
was!), but somehow comforting and reassuring to think of. She sat down
on the narrow seat, fronting her father and Isobel. Yes--but school
wouldn't last much longer! And after school? Ineffable heaven! Being
with Harry, loving Harry, being loved by--? That vaulting imagination
seemed still almost--nay, it seemed quite--impossible. Yet if your own
eyes assure you of things impossible--well, there's a good case for
believing your eyes, and the belief is pleasant. Wellgood sore over his
two pounds, Isobel dissatisfied with fate but challenging it, sat
silent. The young girl's lips curved in sweet memories and triumphant
anticipations. The best thing in the world--was it actually to be hers?
Almost she knew it, though she would not own to the knowledge yet.

Happy was she in the handkerchief flung by her hero! Happy was Harry
Belfield in the ready devotion, the innocent happy surrender, of one
girl, and the vexed challenge of another whom he had--whom he had at
least meant to ignore; he could never answer for it that he would quite
ignore a woman who displayed such a challenge in the lists of sex. But
there was a happier being still among those who left Halton that night.
It was Andy Hayes, before whom life had opened so, who had enjoyed such
a wonderful day-off, who had been told not to undervalue himself, had
been reproached with being a day after the fair, had undergone (as it
seemed) an initiation into a life of which he had hardly dreamt, yet of
which he appeared, in that one summer's day, to have been accepted as a
part.

Yes, Andy was on the whole the happiest--happier even than Harry, to
whom content, triumph, and challenge were all too habitual; happier even
than Vivien, who had still some schooling to endure, still some of
love's finicking doubts, some of hope's artificially prudent
incredulity, to overcome; beyond doubt happier than Wellgood, who had
lost two pounds, or Isobel Vintry, who had challenged and had been told
that her challenge should be taken up--some day! Mrs. Belfield was
intent on sleeping well, as she always did; Mr. Belfield on not coughing
too much--as he generally did. They were not competitors in happiness.

Andy walked home. Halton lay half a mile outside the town; his lodgings
were at the far end of High Street. All through the long, broad,
familiar street--in old days he had known who lived in well-nigh every
house--his road lay. He walked home under the stars. The day had been
wonderful; they who had figured in it peopled his brain--delicate dainty
Vivien first; with her, brilliant Harry; that puzzling Miss Vintry; Mr.
Belfield, who talked so whimsically and had told him not to undervalue
himself; Wellgood, grim, hard, merciless, yet somehow with the stamp of
a man about him; Mrs. Belfield serenely matching with her house, her
Vandykes, her garden, and the situation to which it had pleased Heaven
to call her. Soberly now--soberly now--had he ever expected to be a part
of all this?

High Street lay dark and quiet. It was eleven o'clock. He passed the old
grammar school with a thought of the dear old father--B.A. Oxon, which
had something to do with his wonderful day. He passed the Lion, where
"the Bird" officiated, and Mr. Foulkes' office, where "Chinks" aspired
to become "gentleman, one etc."--so runs the formula that gives a
solicitor his status. All dark! Now if by chance Jack Rock were up, and
willing to listen to a little honest triumphing! It had been a day to
talk about.

Yes, Jack was up; his parlour lights glowed cosily behind red blinds.
Yet Andy was not to have a clear field for the recital of his
adventures; it was no moment for an exhibition of his honest pride,
based on an unimpaired humility. Jack Rock had a party. The table was
furnished with beer, whisky, gin, tobacco, and clay pipes. Round it sat
old friends--Chinks and the Bird; the Bird's father, Mr. Dove, landlord
of the Lion; and Cox, the veterinary surgeon. After the labours of the
week they were having a little "fling" on Saturday night--convivially,
yet in all reasonable temperance. The elder men--Jack, Mr. Dove, and
Cox--greeted Andy with intimate and affectionate cordiality; a certain
constraint marked the manner of Chinks and the Bird--they could not
forget the afternoon's encounter. His evening coat too, and his
shirt-front! Everybody marked them; but they had a notion that he might
have caught that habit in London.

Andy's welcome over, Mr. Dove of the Lion took up his tale at the point
at which he had left it. Mr. Dove had not Jack Rock's education--he had
never been at the grammar school but he was a shrewd sensible old
fellow, who prided himself on the respectability of his "house" and felt
his responsibilities as a publican without being too fond of the folk
who were always dinning them into his ears.

"I says to the girl, 'We don't want no carryings-on at the Lion.' That's
what I says, Jack. She says, 'That wasn't nothing, Mr. Dove--only a give
and take o' nonsense. The bar between us too! W'ere's the 'arm?' 'I
don't like it, Miss Miles,' I says, 'I don't like it, that's all.' 'Oh,
very good, Mr. Dove! You're master 'ere, o' course; only, if you won't
'ave that, you won't keep up your takings, that's all!' That's the way
she put it, Jack."

"Bit of truth in it, perhaps," Jack opined.

"There's a lot of truth in it," said the Bird solemnly. "Fellers like to
show off before a good-looking girl--whether she's behind a bar or
whether she ain't."

"If there never 'adn't been barmaids, I wouldn't be the one to begin
it," said Mr. Dove. "I knows its difficulties. But there they are--all
them nice girls bred to it! What are ye to do with 'em, Jack?"

"A drink doesn't taste any worse for being 'anded--handed--to you by a
pretty girl," said Chinks with a knowing chuckle.

"Then you give 'er one--then you stand me one--then you 'ave another
yourself--just to say 'Blow the expense!' Oh, the girl knew the way of
it--I ain't saying she didn't!" Mr. Dove smoked fast, evidently puzzled
in his mind. "And she's a good girl 'erself too, ain't she, Tom?"

Tom blushed--blushed very visibly. Miss Miles was not a subject of
indifference to the Bird.

"She's very civil-spoken," he mumbled shamefacedly.

"That she is--and a fine figure of a girl too," added Jack Rock. "Know
her, Andy?"

Well, no! Andy did not know her; he felt profoundly apologetic. Miss
Miles was evidently a person whom one ought to know, if one would be in
the world of Meriton. The world of Meriton? It came home to him that
there was more than one.

Mr. Cox was a man who listened--in that respect rather like Andy
himself; but, when he did speak, he was in the habit of giving a
verdict, therein deviating from Andy's humble way.

"Barmaids oughtn't to a' come into existence," he said. "Being there,
they're best left--under supervision." He nodded at old Dove, as though
to say, "You won't get any further than that if you talk all night," and
put his pipe back into his mouth.

"The doctor's right, I daresay," said old Dove in a tone of relief. It
is always something of a comfort to be told that one's problems are
insoluble; the obligation of trying to solve them is thereby removed.

Jack accepted this ending to the discussion.

"And what have you been doing with yourself, Andy?" he asked.

Andy found a curious difficulty in answering. Tea and tennis at Nutley,
dinner at Halton--it seemed impossible to speak the words without
self-consciousness. He felt that Chinks and the Bird had their eyes on
him.

"Been at work all the week, Jack. Had a day-off to-day."

Luckily Jack fastened on the first part of his answer. He turned a keen
glance on Andy. "Business doin' well?"

"Not particularly," Andy confessed. "It's a bit hard for a new-comer to
establish a connection."

"You're right there, Andy," commented old Mr. Dove, serenely happy in
the knowledge of an ancient and good connection attaching to the Lion.

"Oh, not particularly well?" Jack nodded with an air of what looked like
satisfaction, though it would not be kind to Andy to be satisfied.

"Playing lawn-tennis at Nutley, weren't you?" asked Chinks suddenly.

All faces turned to Andy.

"Yes, I was, Chinks," he said.

"Half expected you to supper, Andy," said Jack Rock.

"Sorry, Jack. I would have come if I'd been free. But--"

"Well, where were you?"

There was no help for it.

"I was dining out, Jack."

Andy's tone became as airy as he could make it, as careless, as natural.
His effort in this kind was not a great success.

"Harry Belfield asked me to Halton."

A short silence followed. They were good fellows, one and all of them;
nobody had a jibe for him; the envy, if envy there were, was even as his
own for Harry Belfield. Cox looked round and raised his glass.

"'Ere's to you, Andy! You went to the war, you went to foreign parts. If
you've learned a bit and got on a bit, nobody in Meriton's goin' to
grudge it you--least of all them as knew your good father, who was a
gentleman if ever there was one--and I've known some of the best,
consequent on my business layin' mainly with 'orses."

"Dined at Halton, did you?" Old Jack Rock beamed, then suddenly grew
thoughtful.

"Well, of course, I've always known Harry Belfield, and--" He was
apologizing.

"The old gentleman used to dine there--once a year reg'lar," Jack
reminded him. "Quite right of 'em to keep it up with you." But still
Jack looked thoughtful.

Eleven-thirty sounded from the squat tower of the long low church which
presided over the west end--the Fyfold end--of High Street. Old Cox
knocked out his pipe decisively. "Bedtime!" he pronounced.

Nobody contested the verdict. Only across Andy's mind flitted an
outlandish memory that it was the hour at which one sat down to supper
at the great restaurant--with Harry, the Nun, sardonic Miss Dutton,
Billy Foot, and London at large--and at liberty.

"You stop a bit, my lad," said Jack with affection, also with a touch of
old-time authority. "I've something to say to you, Andy."

Andy stayed willingly enough; he liked Jack, and he was loth to end that
day.

Jack filled and pressed, lit, pressed, and lit again, a fresh clay pipe.

"You like all that sort of thing, Andy?" he asked. "Oh, you know what I
mean--what you've been doin' to-day."

"Yes, I like it, Jack." Andy saw that his dear old friend--dear Nancy's
brother--had something of moment on his mind.

"But it don't count in the end. It's not business, Andy." Jack's tone
had become, suddenly and strangely, persuasive, reasonably
persuasive--almost what one might call coaxing.

"I've never considered it in the light of business, Jack."

"Don't let it turn you from business, Andy. You said the timber was
worth about two hundred a year to you?"

"About that; it'll be more--or less--before I'm six months older. It's
sink or swim, you know."

"You've no call to sink," said Jack Rock with emphasis. "Your father's
son ain't goin' to sink while Jack Rock can throw a lifebelt to him."

"I know, Jack. I'd ask you for half your last crust, and you'd soak it
in milk for me as you used to--if you had to steal the milk! But--well,
what's up?"

"I'm gettin' on in life, boy. I've enough to do with the horses. I do
uncommon well with the horses. I've a mind to give myself to that. Not
but what I like the meat. Still I've a mind to give myself to the
horses. The meat's worth--Oh, I'll surprise you, Andy, and don't let it
go outside o' this room--the meat's worth nigh on five hundred a year!
Aye, nigh on that! The chilled meat don't touch me much, nor the London
stores neither. Year in, year out, nigh on five hundred! Nancy loved
you; the old gentleman never said a word as showed he knew a difference
between me and him. Though he must have known it. I'm all alone, Andy.
While I can I'll keep the horses--Lord, I love the horses! You drop your
timber. Take over the meat, Andy. You're a learnin' chap; you'll soon
pick it up from me and Simpson. Take over the meat, Andy. It's a safe
five hundred a year!"

So he pleaded to have his great benefaction accepted. He had meant to
give in a manner perhaps somewhat magnificent; what he gave was to him
great. The news of tea and tennis at Nutley, of dinner at Halton,
induced a new note. Proud still, yet he pleaded. It was a fine
business--the meat! Nor chilled meat, nor stores mattered seriously; his
connection was so high-class. Five hundred a year! It was luxury,
position, importance; it was all these in Meriton. His eyes waited
anxiously for Andy's answer.

Andy caught his hand across the table. "Dear old Jack, how splendid of
you!"

"Well, lad?"

For the life of him Andy could say nothing more adequate, nothing less
disappointing, less ungrateful, than "I'd like to think it over. And
thanks, Jack!"



Chapter VII.

ENTERING FOR THE RACE.


Andy Hayes had never supposed that he would be the victim of a problem,
or exposed to the necessity of a momentous choice. Life had hitherto
been very simple to him--doing his work, taking his pay, spending the
money frugally and to the best advantage, sparing a small percentage for
the Savings Bank, and reconciling with this programme the keen enjoyment
of such leisure hours as fell to his lot. A reasonable, wholesome,
manageable scheme of life! Or, rather, not a scheme at all--Andy was no
schemer. That was the way life came--the way an average man saw it and
accepted it. From first to last he never lost the conception of himself
as an average man, having his capabilities, yet strictly conditioned by
the limits of the practicable; free in his soul, by no means perfectly
free in his activities. Andy never thought in terms of "environment" or
such big words, but he always had a strong sense of what a fellow like
himself could expect; the two phrases may, perhaps, come to much the
same thing.

In South Africa he had achieved his sergeant's stripes--not a
commission, nor the Victoria Cross, nor anything brilliant. In Canada he
had not become a millionaire, nor even a prosperous man or a dashing
speculator; he had been thought a capable young fellow, who would,
perhaps, be equal to developing the English side of the business. Andy
might be justified in holding himself no fool: he had no ground for
higher claims, no warrant for anything like ambition.

Thus unaccustomed to problems, he had expected to toss uneasily (he had
read of many heroes who "tossed uneasily") on his bed all night through.
Lawn-tennis and a good dinner saved him from that romantic but
uncomfortable ordeal; he slept profoundly till eight-thirty. Just before
he was called--probably between his landlady's knock and her remark that
it was eight-fifteen (she was late herself)--he had a brief vivid dream
of selling a very red joint of beef to a very pallid Vivien Wellgood--a
fantastic freak of the imagination which could have nothing to do with
the grave matter in hand.

Yet, on the top of this, as he lay abed awhile in the leisure of Sunday
morning, with no train to catch, he remembered his father's B.A. Oxon;
he recalled his mother's unvarying designation of old Jack as "the
butcher;" he recollected Nancy's pride in marrying "out of her
class"--it had been her own phrase, sometimes in boast, sometimes in
apology. Though Nancy had a dowry of a hundred pounds a year--charged on
the business, and now returned to Jack Rock since Nancy left no
children--she never forgot that she had married out of her class. And
into his father's? And into his own? "I'm a snob!" groaned Andy.

He grew a little drowsy again, and in his drowsiness again played tennis
at Nutley, again dined at Halton, again saw Vivien in the butcher's
shop, and again was told by Mr. Belfield not to undervalue himself. But
is to take nigh on five hundred pounds a year to undervalue
yourself--you who are making a precarious two? And where lies the
difference between selling wood and selling meat--wood from Canada and
meat in Meriton? Andy's broad conception of the world told him that
there was none; his narrow observation of the same sphere convinced him
that the difference was, in its practical bearings, considerable. Nay,
confine yourself to meat alone: was there no difference between
importing cargoes of that questionable "chilled" article and disposing
of joints of unquestionable "home-bred" over the counter? All the
argument was for the home-bred. But to sell the home-bred joints one
wore a blue apron and carried a knife and a steel--or, at all events,
smacked of doing these things; whereas the wholesale cargoes of
"chilled" involved no such implements or associations. Once again,
Canada was Canada, New Zealand New Zealand, Meriton Meriton. With these
considerations mingled two pictures--dinner at Halton, and Jack Rock's
convivial party.

"I'll get up," said Andy, too sore beset by his problem to lie abed any
more.

Church! The bells rang almost as soon as Andy--he had dawdled and
lounged over dressing and breakfast in Sunday's beneficent leisure--was
equipped for the day. In Meriton everybody went to Church, except an
insignificant, tolerated, almost derided minority who frequented a very
small, very ugly Methodist chapel in a by-street--for towns like Meriton
are among the best preserves of the Establishment. Andy always went to
church on a Sunday morning, answering the roll-call, attending parade,
accepting the fruits of his fathers' wisdom, as his custom was. "Church,
and a slice of that cold beef, and then a jolly long walk!" he said to
himself. He had a notion that this typical English Sunday--the relative
value of whose constituents he did not, and we need not, exactly
assess--might help him to settle his problem. The cold beef and the long
walk made part of the day's character--the "Church" completed it. This
was Andy's feeling; it is not, of course, put forward as what he ought
to have felt.

So Andy went to church--in a cut-away coat and a tall hat, though it
drizzled, and he would sooner have been in a felt hat, impervious to the
rain. He sat just half-way down the nave, and it must be confessed that
his attention wandered. He had such a very important thing to settle in
this world; it would not go out of his mind, though he strove to address
himself to the issues which the service suggested. He laboured under the
disadvantage of not being conscious of flagrant iniquity, though he duly
confessed himself a miserable offender. He looked round on the
neighbours he knew so well; they were all confessing that they were
miserable offenders. Andy believed it--it was in the book--but he
considered most of them to be good and honest people, and he was almost
glad to see that they did not look hopelessly distressed over their
situation.

The First Lesson caught and chained his wandering attention. It was
about David and Jonathan; it contained the beautiful lament of friend
for friend, the dirge of a brotherly love. The Rector's voice was rather
sing-song, but it would have needed a worse delivery to spoil the words:
"How are the mighty fallen in the midst of the battle! O Jonathan, thou
wast slain in thine high places! I am distressed for thee, my brother
Jonathan: very pleasant hast thou been unto me; thy love for me was
wonderful, passing the love of women. How are the mighty fallen and the
weapons of war perished!" Thus ended the song, so rich in splendour, so
charged with sorrow.

"Clinking!" was Andy's inward comment. Then in a flash came the thought,
"Why, of course, I must ask Harry Belfield; he'll tell me what to do all
right."

The reference of his problem to Harry ought to have disposed of it for
good, and left Andy free to perform his devotions with a single mind.
But it only set him wondering what Harry would decide, wondering hard
and--there was no escaping from it--jealously. His service in the ranks,
his residence in communities at least professedly democratic, had not
made him a thorough democrat, it seemed. He might have acquired the side
of democracy the easier of the two to acquire; he might be ready to call
any man his equal, whatever his station or his work. He stumbled at the
harder task of seeing himself, whatever his work or station, as any
man's equal--at claiming or assuming, not at according, equality. And in
Meriton! To claim or assume equality with any and every man in Meriton
would, if he accepted Jack Rock's offer, be to court ridicule from
equals and unequals all alike, and most of all from his admitted
inferiors. Surely Harry would never send him to the butcher's shop? That
would mean that Harry thought of him (for all his kindness) as of Chinks
or of the Bird. Could he risk discovering that, after all, Harry--and
Harry's friends--thought of him like that? A sore pang struck him. Had
he been at Nutley--at Halton--only on sufferance? He had an idea that
Harry would send him to the butcher's shop--would do the thing ever so
kindly, ever so considerately, but all the same would do it. "Well, it's
the safe thing, isn't it, old chap?" he fancied Harry saying; and then
returning to his own high ambitions, and being thereafter very
friendly--whenever he chanced to pass the shop. Andy never deceived
himself as to the quality of Harry's friendship: it lay, at the most, in
appreciative acceptance of unbounded affection. It was not like
Jonathan's for David. Andy was content. And must not acceptance, after
all, breed some return? For whatever return came he was grateful. In
this sphere there was no room even for theories of equality, let alone
for its practice.

For some little time back Andy had been surprised to observe a certain
attribute of his own--that of pretty often turning out right. He
accounted for it by saying that an average man, judging of average men
and things, would fairly often be right--on an average; men would do
what he expected, things would go as he expected--on an average. Such
discernment as was implied in this Andy felt as no endowment, no
clairvoyance; rather it was that his limitations qualified him to
appreciate other people's. He would have liked to feel able to except
Harry Belfield who should have no limitations--only he felt terribly
sure of what Harry Belfield would say: Safety, and the shop!

By this time the church service was ended, the cold beef eaten, most of
the long walk achieved. For while these things went straight on to an
end, Andy's thoughts rolled round and round, like a squirrel in a cage.

"A man's only got one life," Andy was thinking to himself for the
hundredth time as, having done his fifteen miles, he came opposite the
entry to Nutley on his way home after his walk. What a lot of thoughts
and memories there had been on that walk! Walking alone, a man is the
victim--or the beneficiary--of any number of stray recollections, ideas,
or fancies. He had even thought of--and smiled over--sardonic Miss
Dutton's sardonic remark that he was worth ten of either Billy Foot
or--Harry Belfield! Well, the poor girl had come one cropper; allowances
must be made.

Cool, serene, with what might appear to the eyes of less happy people an
almost insolently secure possession of fortune's favour, Harry Belfield
stood at Nutley gate. Andy, hot and dusty, winced at being seen by him;
Harry was so remote from any disarray. Andy's heart leapt at the sight
of his friend--and seemed to stand still in the presence of his judge.
Because the thing--the problem--must come out directly. There was no
more possibility of shirking it.

Vivien was flitting--her touch of the ground seemed so light--down the
drive, past the deep dark water, to join Harry for a stroll. His
invitation to a stroll on that fine still Sunday afternoon had not been
given without significance nor received without a thousand tremblings.
So it would appear that it was Andy's ill-fortune to interrupt.

Harry was smoking. He took his cigar out of his mouth to greet Andy.

"Treadmill again, old boy? Getting the fat off?"

"You're the one man I wanted to see." Then Andy's face fell; it was an
awful moment. "I want to ask your advice."

"Look sharp!" said Harry, smiling. "I've an appointment. She'll be here
any minute."

"Jack Rock's offered to turn the shop over to me, as soon as I learn the
business. I say, I--I suppose I ought to accept? He says it's worth hard
on five hundred a year. I say, keep that dark; he told me not to tell
anybody."

"Gad, is it?" said Harry, and whistled softly.

Vivien came in sight of him, and walked more slowly, dallying with
anticipation.

"Splendid of him, isn't it? I say, I suppose I ought to--to think it
over?" He had been doing nothing else for what seemed eternity.

Harry laughed--that merry irresponsible laugh of his. "Blue suits your
complexion, Andy. It seems damned funny--but five hundred a year! Worth
that, is it now, really? And he'd probably leave you anything else he
has."

Silently-flitting Vivien was just behind Harry now. Andy saw her, Harry
was unaware of her presence. She laid her finger on her lips, making a
confidant of Andy, in her joy at a trick on her lover.

"Of course it--well, it sort of defines matters--ties you down, eh?"
Harry's laugh broke out again. "Andy, old boy, you'll look infernally
funny, pricing joints to old Dove or Miss Pink! Oh, I say, I don't think
you can do it, Andy!"

"Don't you, Harry?" Andy's tone was eager, beseeching, full of hope.

"But I suppose you ought." Harry tried to be grave, and chuckled again.
"You'd look it uncommon well, you know. You'd soon develop the figure.
Old Jack never has--doesn't look as if his own steaks did him any good.
But you--we'd send you to Smithfield in no time!"

"What are you two talking about?" asked Vivien suddenly.

"Oh, there you are at last! Why, the funniest thing! Old Andy here wants
to be a butcher."

"I don't want--" Andy began.

"A butcher! What nonsense you do talk sometimes, Harry!" She stood by
Harry's side, so happy in him, so friendly to Andy.

"Fact!" said Harry, and acquainted her with the situation.

Vivien blushed red. "I--I'm very sorry I said what--what I did to you.
You remember?"

"Oh yes, I remember," said Andy.

"Of course I--I never knew--I never thought--Of course, somebody
must--Oh, do forgive me, Mr. Hayes!"

Harry raised his brows in humorous astonishment. "All this is a secret
to me."

"I--I told Mr. Hayes I didn't like--well--places where they sold
meat--raw meat, Harry."

"What do you think really, Harry?" Andy asked.

Harry shrugged his shoulders. "Your choice, old man," he said. "You've
looked at all sides of it, of course. It's getting latish, Vivien."

Andy would almost rather have had the verdict which he feared. "Your
choice, old man"--and a shrug of the shoulders. Yet his loyalty
intervened to tell him that Harry was right. It was his choice, and must
be. He found Vivien's eyes on him--those distant, considering eyes.

"I suppose you couldn't give me an opinion, Miss Wellgood?" he asked,
mustering a smile with some difficulty.

Vivien's lips drooped; her eyes grew rather sad and distinctly remote.
She gave no judgment; she merely uttered a regret--a regret in which
social and personal prejudice (it could not be acquitted of that)
struggled with kindliness for Andy.

"Oh, I thought you were going to be a friend of ours," she murmured
sadly. She gave Andy a mournful little nod of farewell--of final
farewell, as it seemed to his agitated mind--and walked off with Harry,
who was still looking decidedly amused.

That our great crises can have an amusing side even in the eyes of those
who wish us well is one of life's painful discoveries. Andy had expected
to be told that he must accept Jack Rock's offer, but he had not thought
that Harry would chaff him about it. He tried, in justice to Harry and
in anxiety not to feel sore with his hero, to see the humorous side for
himself. He admitted that he could not. A butcher was no more ridiculous
than any other tradesman. Well, the comic papers were rather fond of
putting in butchers, for some inscrutable reason. Perhaps Harry happened
to think of some funny picture. Could that idea give Andy a rag of
comfort to wrap about his wound? The comfort was of indifferent quality;
the dressing made the wound smart.

He was alone in the road again, gay Harry and dainty Vivien gone,
thinking little of him by now, no doubt. Yes, the choice must be his
own. On one side lay safety for him and joy for old Jack; on the other a
sore blow to Jack, and for himself the risk of looking a sad fool if he
came to grief in London. So far the choice appeared easy.

But that statement of the case left out everything that really tugged at
Andy's heart. For the first time in his existence he was, vaguely and
dimly, trying to conceive and to consider his life as a whole, and
asking what he meant to do with it. Acutest self-reproach assailed him;
he accused himself inwardly of many faults and follies--of ingratitude,
of snobbishness, of a ridiculous self-conceit. Wasn't it enough for a
chap like him to earn a good living honestly? Oughtn't he to be thankful
for the chance? What did he expect anyhow? He was very scornful with
himself, fiercely reproving all the new stirrings in him, yet at the
same time trying to see what they came to; trying to make out what they,
in their turn, asked, what they meant, what would content them. He could
not satisfy himself what the stirrings meant nor whence they came. When
he asked what would content them he could get only a negative answer;
keeping the shop in Meriton would not. In regard neither to what it
entailed nor to what it abandoned could the stirrings find contentment
in that.

He had been walking along slowly and moodily. Suddenly he quickened his
pace; his steps became purposeful. He was going to Jack Rock's. Jack
would be just having his tea, or smoking the pipe that always followed
it.

Jack sat in his armchair. Tea was finished, and his pipe already alight.
When he saw Andy's face he chuckled.

"Ah, that's how I like to see you look, lad!" he exclaimed joyfully.
"Not as you did when you went away last night."

"Why, how do I look?" asked Andy, amazed at this greeting.

"As if you'd just picked up a thousand pound; and so you have, and
better than that."

All unknown to himself, Andy's face had answered to his feelings--to the
sense of escape from bondage, of liberty restored, of possibilities once
more within his reach. The renewed lightness of his heart had made his
face happy and triumphant. But it fell with a vengeance now.

"Well?" asked Jack, to whom the change of expression was bewildering.

"I'm sorry--I've never been so sorry in my life--but I--I can't do it,
Jack."

Jack sat smoking silently for a while. "That was what you were lookin'
so happy about, was it?" he asked at last, with a wry smile. "I've never
afore seen a man so happy over chuckin' away five hundred a year. Where
does the fun come in, Andy?"

"O lord, Jack, I can't--I can't tell you about it. I--"

"But if it does do you all that good, I suppose you've got to do it."

Andy came up to him, holding out his hand. Jack took it and gave it a
squeeze.

"I reckon I know more about it than you think. I've been goin' over
things since last night--and goin' back to old things too--about the old
gentleman and Nancy."

"It seems so awfully--Lord, it seems everything that's bad and rotten,
Jack."

"No, it don't," said old Jack quietly. "It's a bit of a facer for me--I
tell you that straight--but it don't seem unnatural in you. Only I'm
sorry like."

"If there was anything in the world I could do, Jack! But there it
is--there isn't."

"I'm not so sure about that." He was smoking very slowly, and seemed to
be thinking hard. Andy lit a cigarette. His joy was quenched in sympathy
with Jack.

"You've given me a disappointment, Andy. I'm not denyin' it. But there,
I can't expect you to feel about the business as I do. Comin' to me from
my father, and havin' been the work o' the best years of my life! And no
better business in any town of the size o' Meriton all the country
through--I'll wager that! No, you can't feel as I do. And you've a right
to choose your own life. There's one thing you might do for me, Andy,
though."

"Well, if there's anything else in the world--"

"I loved Nancy better than anybody, and the old gentleman--well, as I've
told you, he never let me see a difference. I've got no kin--unless I
can call you kin, Andy. If you want to make up for givin' me this bit
of--of a facer, as I say, I'll tell you what you can do. There's times
in a young chap's life when bein' able to put up a bit o' the ready
makes all the difference, eh? If so be as you should find yourself
placed like that, I want you to promise to ask me for it. Will you,
lad?" Jack's voice faltered for a moment. "No call for you to go back
across half the world for it. It's here, waitin' for you in Martin's
bank in High Street. If you ever want to enter for an event, let me put
up the stakes for you, Andy. Promise me that, and we'll say no more
about the shop."

Andy was touched to the heart. "I promise. There's my hand on it, Jack."

"You'll come to me first--you won't go to any one before me?" old Jack
insisted jealously.

"I'll come to you first--and last," said Andy.

"Aye, lad." The old fellow's eyes gleamed again. "Then it'll be our
race. We'll both be in it, won't we, Andy? And if you pass the post
first, I shall have a right to throw up my hat. And why shouldn't you?
The favourite don't always win."

"I'm not expecting to do anything remarkable, Jack. I'm not such a fool
as that."

"You're no fool, or you'd never have been put to the trouble of refusin'
my shop," observed Jack with emphasis. "And in the end I'm not sure but
what you're right. I've never tried to rise above where I was born; but
I don't know as there's any call for you to step down. I don't know as I
did my duty by the old gentleman in temptin' you. I'm not sure he'd have
liked it, though he'd have said nothing; he'd never have let me see--not
him!" He sighed and smiled over his reverential memories of the old
gentleman, yet his eyes twinkled rather maliciously as he said to Andy,
"Dinin' at Halton again to-night?"

"No," laughed Andy, "I'm not. I'm coming to supper with you if you'll
have me. What have you got?"

"Cold boiled aitch-bone, and apple-pie, and a Cheshire in good
condition."

"Oh, that's prime! But I must go and change first. I've walked fifteen
or sixteen miles, and I must get into a clean shirt."

"We don't dress for supper--not o' Sundays," Jack informed him gravely.

"Oh, get out, Jack!" called Andy from the door.

"Supper at nine precise, carriages at eleven," Jack called after him,
pursuing his joke to the end with keen relish.

Andy walked back to his lodgings, in the old phrase "happy as a king,"
and infinitely the happier because old Jack had taken it so well, had
understood, and, though disappointed, had not been hurt or wounded.
There was no breach in their affection or in their mutual confidence.
And now, he felt, he had to justify himself in Jack's eyes, to justify
his refusal of a safe five hundred pounds a year. The refusal became, as
he thought over it, a spur to effort, to action. "I must put my back
into it," said Andy to himself, and made up his mind to most strenuous
exertions to develop that rather shy and coy timber business of his in
London.

Yet, after he had changed, as he sat listening to the church bells
ringing for evening service, a softer strain of meditation mingled with
these stern resolves. Memories of his "Saturday-off" glided across his
mind, echoes of this evening's encounter with Harry and Vivien sounded
in his ears. There was, as old Jack Rock himself had ended by
suggesting, no call for him to step down. He could take the place for
which he was naturally fit. He need not renounce that side of life of
which he had been allowed a glimpse so attractive and so full of
interest. The shop in Meriton would have opened the door to one very
comfortable little apartment. How many doors would it not have shut? All
doors were open now.

"I thought you were going to be a friend of ours." Andy, sitting in the
twilight, listening to the bells, smiled at the echo of those regretful
words. He cherished their kindliness, and smiled at their prejudice. The
shop and Vivien were always connected in his mind since the first day he
had met her. Her words came back to him now, summing up all that he
would have lost by acceptance, hinting pregnantly at all that his
refusal might save or bring.

He stretched his arms and yawned; mind and body both enjoyed a happy
relaxation after effort.

"What a week-end it's been!" he thought. Indeed it had--a week-end that
was the beginning of many things.



Chapter VIII.

WONDERFUL WORDS.


Fully aware of his son's disposition and partly acquainted with his
experiences, Mr. Belfield had urged Harry to "go slow" in his courting
of Vivien Wellgood. An opinion that marriage was Harry's best chance was
not inconsistent with advising that any particular marriage should be
approached with caution and due consideration, that a solid basis of
affection should be raised, calculated to stand even though the winds of
time carried away the lighter and more fairy-like erections of Harry's
romantic fancy. To do Harry justice, he did his best to obey the
paternal counsel; but ideas of speed in such matters, and of cautious
consideration, differ. What to Harry was sage delay would have seemed to
many others lighthearted impetuosity. He waited a full fortnight after
he was absolutely sure of--well, of the wonderful thing he was so sure
of--a fortnight after he was absolutely sure that Vivien was absolutely
sure also. (The fortnights ran concurrently.) Then he began to feel
rather foolish. What on earth was he waiting for? A man could not be
more than absolutely sure. Yet perhaps, in pure deference to his father,
he would have waited a week longer, and so achieved, or sunk to, an
almost cold-blooded deliberation. (He had known Mrs. Freere only a week
before he declared--and abjured--a passion!) He was probably right; it
was no good waiting. No greater security could be achieved by that.
Whether the pursuit were deliberate or impetuous, an end must come to
it. It was afterwards--when the chase was over and the quarry won--that
the danger came for Harry and men like him. Sage delay and a solid basis
of affection could not obviate that peril; the born hunter would still
listen to the horn that sounded a new chase. Somewhere in the world--so
the theory ran--there must live the woman who could deafen Harry's ears
to a fresh blast of the horn. On that theory monogamy depends for its
personal--as distinguished from its social--justification. So Mr.
Belfield reasoned, with a smile, and counselled delay. But there were no
means of ransacking the world, and even the theory itself was doubtful.
Harry was an eager advocate of the theory, but thought that there was no
need to search beyond little Meriton for the woman. At any rate, if
Meriton did not hold her, she did not exist--the theory stood condemned.
Still he would wait one week more--to please his father.

A thing happened, a word was spoken, the like of which he had never
anticipated. To defend himself laughingly against comparisons with the
proverbial Lothario, to protest with burlesque earnestness against
charges of susceptibility, fickleness, and extreme boldness of
assault--Harry played that part well, and was well-accustomed to play
it. But to suffer a challenge, to endure a taunt, to be subjected to a
sneer, as a slow-coach, a faint-heart, a boy afraid to tell a girl he
loved her, afraid to snatch what he desired! This was a new experience
for Harry Belfield, new and unbearable. And when he had only been trying
to please his father! Hang this pleasing of one's father, if it leads to
things like that!

He dashed up to Nutley one fine afternoon on his bicycle; he was
teaching Vivien the exercise, and she was finding that even peril had
its charms. But he was late for his appointment. Isobel Vintry sat alone
on the terrace by the water.

"How are you, Miss Vintry? I say, I'm afraid I'm late. Where's Vivien?"

"You're nearly half an hour late."

"Well, I know. I couldn't help it. Where is she?"

"She got tired of waiting for you, and went for a walk in the wood."

"She might have waited."

"Well, yes. One would think she'd be accustomed to it by now," said
Isobel. Her tone was lazily indolent, but her eyes were set on him in
mockery.

Harry looked at her with a sudden alertness. He looked at her hard.
"Accustomed to waiting for me?"

"Yes." She was exasperating in her malicious tranquillity, meaning more
than she said, saying nothing that he could lay hold of, quite grave,
and laughing at him.

"Any hidden meanings, Miss Vintry?" For, as a fact, Harry had generally
been punctual, and knew it.

"Nothing but what's quite obvious," she retorted, dexterously fencing.

"Or ought to be, to a man not so slow as I am?"

"You slow, Mr. Harry! You're Meriton's ideal of reckless dash!"

"Meriton's?"

"That's the name of the town, isn't it? Or did you think I said
London's?"

Harry laughed, but he was stung; she put him on his mettle. "Oh no, I
understood your emphasis."

"You needn't keep her waiting any longer--while you talk about nothing
to me. You'll find her in the west wood--if you want to. She left you
that message."

Harry had no doubt of what she meant, yet she had not spoken a word of
it. The saying goes that words are given us to conceal our thoughts; has
anybody ever ventured to say that lips and eyes are? Her meaning carried
without speech; understanding it, Harry took fire.

"I won't be late again, Miss Vintry," he said. "It would be a pity to
disappoint Meriton in its ideal!"

He would have liked to speak to her for a moment sincerely, to ask her
if she really thought--But no, it could not be risked. She would make
him feel and look ridiculous. Asking her opinion about the right moment
to--to--to come up to the scratch (he could find no more dignified
phrase)! Her eyes would never let him hear the end of that.

"Still lingering?" she said, stifling a yawn. "While poor Vivien waits!"

There are unregenerate atavistic impulses; Harry would dearly have liked
to box her ears. "Meriton's ideal" rankled horribly. What business was
it of hers? It could not concern her in the least--a conclusion which
made matters worse, since disinterested criticism is much the more
formidable.

"I can find her in a few minutes."

"Oh yes, if you look! Shall you be back to tea?"

"Yes, we'll be back to tea, Miss Vintry. Both of us--together!"

Isobel smiled lazily again. "Come, you are going to make an effort.
Nothing of the laggard now!"

"Oh, that's the word you've been thinking suits me?"

"It really will if you don't get to the west wood soon."

"I'll get there--and be back--in half an hour."

The one thing he could not endure was that any woman--above all, an
attractive woman--should find in him, Harry Belfield, anything that was
ridiculous. She might chide, she might admire; laugh she must not, or
her laugh should straightway be confounded. Isobel's hint that he had
been a laggard in love banished, in a moment, the uncongenial prudence
which he had been enforcing on himself.

She watched him with a contemptuous smile as he strode off on his quest.
Why had she mocked, why had she hinted? In part for pure mockery's sake.
She found a malicious pleasure in giving his complacency a dig, in
shaking up his settled good opinion of himself. In part from sheer
impatience of the simple obvious love affair, to which she was called by
her situation to play witness, chaperon, and practically accomplice. It
was quite clear how it was going to end--better have the end at once!
Her smile of contempt had been not so much for Harry as for the business
on which he was engaged; yet Harry had his share of it, since her veiled
banter had such power to move him. But that same thing in him had its
fascination; there was a great temptation to exercise her power when the
man succumbed to it so easily. In this case she had used it only to send
him a little faster whither he was going already; but did that touch the
limits of it?

So she speculated within herself, yet not quite candidly. Her feeling
for Harry was far from being all contempt. She mocked him with her
"Meriton ideal," but she was not independent of the Meriton standard
herself. To her as to the rest of his neighbours he was a bright star;
to her as to them his looks, his charm, his accomplishments appealed. In
her more than in most of them his emotions, so ready and quick to take
fire, found a counterpart. To her more than to most of them indifference
from him seemed in some sort a slight, a slur, a mark of failure.
Unconsciously she had fallen into the Meriton way of thinking that
notice from Harry Belfield was a distinction, his favour a thing marking
off the recipient from less happy mortals. She had received little
notice and little favour--a crumb or two of flirtation, flung from
Vivien's rich table!

To Vivien, after all the person most intimately concerned, Harry had
seemed no laggard; she would have liked him none the worse if he had
shown more of that quality. Nothing that he did could be wrong, but some
things could be--and were--alarming. Her fastidiousness was not hurt,
but her timidity was aroused. She feared crises, important moments, the
crossing of Rubicons, even when the prospect looked fair and delightful
on the other side of the stream.

To-day, in the west wood, the crossing had to be made. It by no means
follows that the man who falls in love lightly makes love lightly; he is
as much possessed by the feeling he has come by so easily as though it
were the one passion of a lifetime. In his short walk from Isobel
Vintry's side to Vivien's, Harry's feelings had found full time to rise
to boiling-point. Isobel was far out of his mind; already it seemed to
him inconceivable that he should not, all along, have meant to make his
proposal--to declare his love--to-day. How could he have thought to hold
it in for an hour longer?

"I know I was late, Vivien," he said. "I'm so sorry. But--well, I half
believe I was on purpose." He was hardly saying what was untrue; he was
coming to half-believe it--or very nearly.

"On purpose! O Harry! Didn't you want to give me my lesson to-day?"

"Not in bicycling," he answered, his eyes set ardently on her face.

She was sitting on the trunk of a fallen tree, which had been stripped
of its bark and shaped into a primitive bench. He sat down by her and
took her hand.

"Your hand shakes! What's the matter? You're not afraid of me?"

"Not of you--no, not of you, Harry."

"Of something then? Is it of something I might do--or say?" He raised
her hand to his lips and kissed it.

It was no use trying to get answers out of her; she was past that; but
she did not turn away from him, she let her eyes meet his in a silent
appeal.

"Vivien, I love you more than all my life!"

"You--you can't," he could just hear her murmur, her lips scarcely
parted.

"More than everything in the world besides!"

What wonderful words they were. "More than everything in the world
besides!" "More than all my life!" Could there be such words? Could she
have heard--and Harry uttered them? Her hands trembled violently in his;
she was sore afraid amidst bewildering joy. Anything she had
foreshadowed in her dreams seemed now so faint, so poor, against
marvellous reality. Surely the echo of the wonderful words would be in
her ears for all her life!

She had none wherewith to answer them; her hands were his already; for
the tears in her eyes she could hardly see his face, but she turned her
lips up to his in mute consent.

"That makes you mine," said Harry, "and me yours--yours only--for ever."

She released her hands from his, and put her arm under his arm. Still
she said nothing, but now she smiled beneath her dim eyes, and pressed
his arm.

"Not frightened now?" he asked softly. "You need never be frightened
again."

She spoke at last just to say "No" very softly, yet with a wealth of
confident happiness.

"The things we'll do, the things we'll see, the times we'll have!" cried
Harry gaily. "And to think that it's only a month or two ago that the
idea occurred to me!" He teased her. "Occurred to us, Vivien?"

"Oh no, Harry. Well, then, yes." She laughed lightly, pressing his arm
again. "But never that it could be like this."

"Is this--nice?" he asked in banter.

"Is it--real?" she whispered.

"Yes, it's real and it's nice--real nice, in fact,"
laughed Harry.

"Don't talk just for a little while," she begged, and he humoured her,
watching her delicate face during the silence she entreated. "You must
tell them," she said suddenly, with a return of her alarm.

"Oh yes, I'll do all the hard work," he promised her, smiling.

She fell into silence again, the wonderful words re-echoing in her
ears--"More than everything in the world besides!" "More than all my
life!"

"I promised Miss Vintry we'd be back to tea. Do you think you can face
her?" asked Harry.

"Yes, with you. But you've got to tell. You promised."

"You'll have somebody to help you over all the stiles--now and
hereafter."

The suggestion brought a radiant smile of happiness to her lips; it
expressed to her the transformation of her life. So many things had been
stiles to her, and her father's gospel was that people must get over
their own stiles for themselves; that was the lesson he inculcated, with
Isobel Vintry to help him. But now--well, if stiles were still possible
things at all, with Harry to help her over they lost all their terrors.

"We'll remember this old tree-trunk. In fact I think that the proper
thing is to carve our initials on it--two hearts and our initials.
That's real keeping company!"

"Oh no," she protested with a merry little laugh. "Keeping company!
Harry!"

"Well, I'll let you off the hearts, but I must have the initials--very,
very small. Do let me have the initials!"

"Somewhere where nobody will look, nobody be likely to see them!"

"Oh yes; I'll find a very secret place! And once a year--on the
anniversary, if we're here--we'll come and freshen them up with a
penknife."

He had his out now, and set about his pleasant silly task, choosing one
end of the tree-trunk, near to the ground, where, in fact, nobody who
was not in the secret would find the record.

"There you are--a beautiful monogram; 'H' and 'V' intertwined. I'm proud
of that!"

"So am I--very proud, Harry!" she said softly, taking his arm as they
moved away. Was she not blessed among the daughters of women? To say
nothing of being the envy of all Meriton!

And for Harry the past was all over, the dead had buried its dead. The
new life--and the life of the new man--had begun.

Wellgood was back from a ride round his farms--a weekly observance with
him. He had been grimly encouraging the good husbandmen, badly scaring
the inefficient, advising them all to keep their labourers in order, and
their womankind as near to reason as could be hoped for. Now he had his
hour of relaxation over tea. He was a great tea-drinker--four or five
cups made his allowance. Tea is often the libertinism of people
otherwise severe. He leant back in his garden-chair, his gaitered legs
outstretched, and drank his tea, Isobel Vintry replenishing the
swiftly-emptied cup. She performed the office absent-mindedly--with an
air of detachment which hinted that she would fulfil her duties, routine
though they might be, but must not be expected to think about them.

"Where's Vivien?" he asked abruptly.

"In the west wood--with Mr. Harry. He said they'd be back for tea."

"Oh!" He finished his third cup and handed the vessel over to her to be
refilled. "Things getting on?"

"Yes, I think so. Here's your tea."

"Why do you think so? Give me another lump of sugar."

"Sugar at that rate'll make you put on too much weight. Well, I gave him
a hint that the pear was ripe."

"You did? Well, I'm hanged!"

"You think I'm very impudent?"

"What did you say? But I daresay you said nothing. You've a trick with
those eyes of yours, Isobel."

"I've devoted them solely to supervising your daughter's education, Mr.
Wellgood."

"Oh yes!" he chuckled. He liked impudence from a woman; to primitive
man--Wellgood had a good leaven of the primitive--it is an agreeable
provocation.

"I'll bet you," she said--with her challenging indolence that seemed to
say "Disturb me if you can!"--"I'll bet you we hear of the engagement in
ten minutes."

"You know a lot about it! What'll you bet me?"

"Anything you like--from a quarter's salary downwards!" said Isobel. She
sat facing the path from the west wood. On it she saw two figures, arm
in arm. Wellgood had his back turned that way. The situation was
favourable for Isobel's bet.

A light hand in flirtation could not be expected from a man to whom the
heavy hand--the strong decisive grip--was gospel in matters public and
private. Besides, he had grown impatient; his affair waited on Harry's.

"From a quarter's salary downwards? Will you bet me a kiss?"

"Yes," she smiled, "if losing means the kiss. Because I know I shall
win, Mr. Wellgood."

Harry and Vivien came near, still exalted in dreams, the new man and the
girl transformed. Wellgood had not noticed them, perhaps would have
forgotten them anyhow.

"If winning meant the kiss?" he said.

"I don't bet as high as that, except on a certainty,"
smiled Isobel. "Another cup?"

"No, but I tell you, Isobel--" He leant over the table towards her.

"Don't tell me, and don't touch me! They're just behind you, Mr.
Wellgood."

He swore under his breath. A plaguy mean trick this of women's--defying
just when they are safe! He had to play the father--and the
father-in-law to be; to seem calm, wise, benevolent, paternally
affectionate, patronizing to young love from the sage eminence of years
that he was just, a second ago, forgetting.

Since she had come into his house, to be Vivien's companion and
exemplar, a year ago, they had had many of these rough defiant
flirtations. He was not easily snubbed, she not readily frightened. They
had worked together over Vivien's rather severe training in a
matter-of-fact way; but there had been this diversion for hours of
leisure. Why not? Flirtation of this order was not the conventional
thing between the girl's father and the girl's companion. No matter!
They were both vigorously self-confident people; the flirtation suited
the taste of at least one of them, and served the ends of both.

The near approach of the lovers--the imminence of a declared
engagement--made a change. Wellgood advanced more openly; Isobel
challenged and repelled more impudently. The moment for which he had
waited seemed near at hand; she suffered under an instinctive impulse to
prove that she too had her woman's power and could use it. But, deep
down in her mind, the proof was more for Harry's enlightenment than for
Wellgood's subjugation. She had an overwhelming desire not to appear, in
Harry's conquering eyes, a negligible neglected woman. She mocked the
Meriton standard--but shared it.

"Look round!"

He obeyed her.

"Arm in arm!"

He started, and glowered at the approaching couple. Vivien hastily
dropped Harry's arm.

"Oh, that's nothing--she's just afraid! It's settled all the same. And
within my ten minutes!"

"Aye, you're a--!" He smiled in grim fierce admiration.

"Shall I take three months' notice, Mr. Wellgood?" She was lying back in
her chair again, insolent and serenely defiant. "I might have betted
after all, and been quite safe," she said.

Harry victorious in conquest, Vivien with her more precious conquest in
surrender, were at Wellgood's elbow. He had to wrench himself away from
his own devices.

"Well, what have you got to say, Vivien?" he asked his daughter rather
sharply. She was looking more than usually timid. What was there to be
frightened at?

"She hasn't got anything to say," Harry interposed gaily. "I'm going to
do the talking. Are you feeling romantic to-day, Mr. Wellgood?"

Wellgood smiled sourly. "You know better than to try that on me, Master
Harry."

"Yes! Well, I'll cut that, but I just want to mention--as a matter of
business, which may affect your arrangements--that Vivien has promised
to marry me."

Vivien had stolen up to her father and now laid her hand lightly on his
shoulder. He looked at her with a kindly sneer, then patted her hand.
"You like the fellow, do you, Vivien?"

"Yes, father."

"Then I daresay we can fix matters up. Shake hands, Harry."

Vivien kissed his forehead; the two men shook hands.

"I daresay you're not exactly taken by surprise," said Harry, laughing.
"I've been calling rather often!"

"It had struck me that something was up."

Wellgood was almost genial; he was really highly pleased. The match was
an excellent one for his daughter; he liked Harry, despite a lurking
suspicion that he was "soft;" and the way now lay open for his own plan.

"You haven't asked me for my congratulations, Vivien," said Isobel.

Vivien went over to her and kissed her, then sat down by the table, her
eyes fixed on Harry. She was very quiet in her happiness; she felt so
peaceful, so secure. Such was the efficacy of those wonderful words!

"And I wish you all happiness too, Mr. Harry," Isobel went on with a
smile. "Perhaps you'll forgive me if I say that I'm not altogether taken
by surprise either?"

Harry did not quite like her smile; there seemed to be a touch of
ridicule about it. It covertly reminded him of their talk before tea,
before he went to the west wood.

"I never had much hope of blinding your eyes, so I didn't even try, Miss
Vintry."

"I was thinking it must come to a head soon," she remarked.

Harry flushed ever so slightly. She was hinting at the laggard in love
again; it almost seemed as if she were hinting that she had brought the
affair to a head. In the west wood he had forgotten her subtle taunt; he
had thought of nothing but his passion, and how impatient it was. Now he
remembered, and knew that he was being derided, even in his hour of
triumph. He felt another impulse of anger against her. This time it took
the form of a desire to show her that he was no fool, not a man a woman
could play with as she chose. He would like to show her what a dangerous
game that was. He was glad when, having shot her tiny sharp-pointed
dart, she rose and went into the house. "You'll want to talk it all over
with Mr. Wellgood!" He did not want to think of her; only of Vivien.

"Poor Isobel!" said Vivien. "She's very nice about it, isn't she?
Because she can't really be pleased."

Both men looked rather surprised; each was roused from his train of
thought. Both had been thinking about Isobel, but the thoughts of
neither consorted well with Vivien's "Poor Isobel!"

"Why not?" asked Harry.

"It means the loss of her situation, Harry."

"Of course! I never thought of that."

"Don't you young people be in too great a hurry," said Wellgood, with
the satisfied smile of a man with a secret. "You're not going to be
married the day after to-morrow! There's lots of time for something to
turn up for Isobel. She needn't be pitied. Perhaps she may be tired of
you and your ways, young woman, and glad to be rid of her job!"

"Lucky there's somebody ready to take her place, then, isn't it?"
laughed Harry.

Wellgood laughed too as he rose. "It seems very lucky all round," he
said, smiling again as he left them. He was quite secure that they would
spend no time in thinking about good luck other than their own.

The lovers sat on beside the water till twilight fell, talking of a
thousand things, yet always of one thing--of one thing through which
they saw all the thousand other things, and saw them transfigured with
the radiance of the one. Even the bright hues of Harry's future grew a
hundredfold brighter when beheld through this enchanted medium, while
Vivien's simple ideal of life seemed heaven realized. Visions were their
only facts, and dreams alone their truth. Neither from without nor from
within could aught harm the airy fabric that they built--Vivien out of
ignorance, Harry by help of that fine oblivion of his.

For a long while Isobel Vintry--fled to her room lest Wellgood should
seek her--watched them from her window with envious eyes. For them the
dreams; for her, most uninspiring reality! At last she turned away with
a weary impatient shrug.

"Well, it's a good thing to have it over and done with, anyhow!" she
exclaimed, and smiled once more to think how she had stung Harry
Belfield with her insinuations and her "Meriton ideal." If we cannot be
happy ourselves, it is a temptation to make happy people a little
uncomfortable. In that lies an evidence of power consolatory to the
otherwise unfortunate.



Chapter IX.

"INTERJECTION."


Settling the question of the butcher's shop had seemed to Andy Hayes
like a final solution of life's problems. Therein he showed the quality
of his mind. One thing at a time, settle that. As he had learnt to say
'on the other side,' "Don't look for trouble!" He had yet to realize
what the man of imagination knows instinctively--that the problems of
life end only with life itself.

An eight-ten train to town is not, however, favourable to such a large
and leisurely survey as a consideration of life in its totality. It
involved a half-hour's race for the station. And this morning the
Bird--standing at the door of his father's hostelry--delayed a
hard-pressed man who had absolutely no time to stop.

"Heard the news about Mr. Harry?" cried the Bird across the street.

Andy slowed down. "About Harry?"

"Engaged to Miss Wellgood!" shouted the Bird.

"No, is he?" yelled Andy in reply. "Hurrah!"

It was but two days after the great event had happened. Recently Andy
had seen nothing of his Meriton friends. He had been working early and
late in town; down at seven-thirty, up to work again at eight-ten. He
had been a very draught-horse, straining at a load which would not
move--straining at it on a slippery slope. Business was so "quiet."
Could not work command success? At present he had to be content with the
meagre consolation proffered to Sempronius. He must be at the office not
a second later than nine. If the American letters came in, replies could
get off by the same day's mail.

Yet the news of the engagement--he wished he could have had it from
Harry's own lips--cut clean across his personal preoccupations. How
right! How splendid! Dear old Harry! And how he would like to
congratulate Miss Vivien! All that on Saturday afternoon or Sunday. Andy
was one of the world's toilers; for them works of charity, friendship,
and love have for the most part to wait for Saturday afternoon or
Sunday; the other five days and a half--it's the struggle for life,
grimly individual.

He loved Harry Belfield, and stored up untold enthusiasm for Saturday
afternoon or Sunday--those altruistic hours when we have time to
consider our own souls and other people's fortunes. But to-day was only
Thursday; Thursday is well in the zone of the struggle. Andy's timber
business was--just turning the corner! So many businesses always are.
Shops expensively installed, hotels over-built, newspapers--above all,
newspapers--started with a mighty flourish of heavy dividends combined
with national regeneration--they are all so often just turning the
corner. The phrase signifies that you hope you are going to lose next
year rather less than you lost last year. If somebody will go on
supplying the deficit--in that sanguine spirit which is the strength of
a commercial nation--or can succeed in inducing others to supply it in a
similar spirit, the corner may in the end be turned. If not, you stay
this side of the magical corner of success, and presently find yourself
in another--to be described as "tight." A life-long experience of
questions--of problems and riddles--was not, for Andy Hayes, to stop
short at the felicitous solution of the puzzle about Jack Rock's
butcher's shop in Meriton High Street.

Andy had to postpone reflection on Harry Belfield's happiness and
Vivien's emancipation. Yet he had a passing appreciation of the end of
ordeals--of Curly, cross-country rides, and the like. Would the mail
from Montreal bring a remittance for the rent of the London office? The
other business men in the fast morning train were grumpy. Money was
tight, the bank rate stiff, times bad. No moment to launch out! There
were sounded all the familiar jeremiads of the City train. What could
you expect with a Liberal Government in office? The stars in their
courses fought against business. Nobody would trust anybody. It was not
that nobody had the money--nobody ever has--but hardly anybody was
believed to be able, in the last resort, to get it. That impression
spells collapse. The men in the first-class carriage--Andy had decided
that it was on the whole "good business" to stand himself a first-class
"season"--seemed well-fed, affluent, possessed of good cigars; yet they
were profoundly depressed, anticipative of little less than imminent
starvation. One of them explicitly declared his envy of a platelayer
whom the train passed on the line.

"Twenty-two bob a week certain," he said. "Better than losing a couple
of hundred pounds, Jack. Not much longer hours either, and an open-air
life!"

"Well, take it on," Jack, who had a cynical turn of humour, advised. "He
(the platelayer he meant) couldn't very well lose more than you do; and
you'll never make more than he does. Swap!"

The first speaker retired behind the _Telegraph_ in some disgust. It is
hard to meet a rival wit as early as eight-thirty in the morning.

The American mail was not in when Andy
reached Dowgate Hill, in which important locality
he occupied an insignificant attic. A fog off the
coast of Ireland accounted for the delay. But
on his table, as indicated by the small boy who
constituted his staff--the staff would, of course,
be larger when that corner was turned--lay a
cable. There was no other correspondence. Things
were quiet. Andy could not suppress a reflection
that a rather later train would have done as well.
Still there was a cable; no doubt it advised
the remittance. The remittance was a matter of
peremptory necessity, unless Andy were to empty
his private pocket.

"Incontestable--Incubation--Ineffective." So ran the cable.

Andy scratched his nose and reached for the code.

If ever a digression were allowable, if expatiation on human fortune and
vicissitudes were still the fashion, what a text lies in the cable code!
This cold-blooded provision for all emergencies, this business-like
abbreviation of tragedy! "Asbestos" means "Cannot remit." "Despairing"
signifies "If you think it best." (Could despair sound more despairing?)
"Patriotic--Who are the heaviest creditors?" Passing to other fields of
life: "Risible--Doctor gives up hope." "Refreshing--Sinking steadily;
prepare for the worst." "Resurrection--There is no hope of recovery."
"Resurgam--Realization of estate proceeding satisfactorily."

The cable code is a masterly epitome of life.

However Andy Hayes was not given to digression or to expatiation.
Patiently he turned the leaves to find the interpretation of his own
three mystic words.

The result was not encouraging.

"Incontestable--Incubation--Ineffective."

Which being interpreted ran: "Most essential to retrench all unnecessary
expense. Cannot see prospects of your branch becoming paying
proposition. Advise you to close up and return as soon as possible."

There was a fourth word. The "operator"--Andy still chose in his mind
the transatlantic term--had squeezed it into a corner, so that it did
not at first catch the reader's notice. "Infusoria." Andy turned up
"Infusoria." It was a hideously uncompromising word, as the code
rendered it; the code makes a wonderful effort sometimes. "Infusoria"
meant: "We expect you to act on this advice at once, and we cannot be
responsible for expenditure beyond what is strictly necessary to wind
up."

Andy did not often smoke in his office in business hours, but he had a
cigarette now.

"Well, that's pretty straight," he thought. The instructions were
certainly free from ambiguity. "Made a failure of it!" The cigarette
tended to resignation. "Needed a cleverer fellow than I am to make it
go." This was his usual sobriety of judgment. "Rather glad to be out of
it." That was the draught-horse's instinctive cry of joy at being
released from a hopeless effort. They were right on the other side--it
was not a "paying proposition." He was good at seeing facts; they did
not offend him. So many people are offended at facts--really a useless
touchiness.

"All right!" said Andy, flinging the end of the cigarette into the
grate, and taking up that fateful code again.

"Passionately" met his need: "Will act on instructions received without
delay and with all possible saving of expense."

"Yes," said Andy, his stylograph moving in mid-air. He turned over the
pages again, seeking another word, thinking very hard whether he should
send that other word when he found it.

The word was "Interjection." It meant: "My personal movements uncertain.
Will advise you of them at the earliest moment possible."

To cable "Interjection" would mean an admission of considerable import,
both to his principals in Montreal and to himself. It would imply that
he was thinking of cutting adrift. Andy was thinking terribly hard about
it. It might cause his principals to consider that he was taking too
much on himself. Andy was not a partner; he was only on a salary, with a
small contingent profit from commissions. It seemed complimentary--and
delusive--now to call the profit contingent; the salary was all he had
in the world. Such an independently minded word as "Interjection"
incurred a risk. Before he had done thinking about cutting adrift, he
might find himself cut adrift. The principals were peremptory men. In
view of his failure to make the London branch a "paying proposition,"
perhaps he was lucky in that he had not been cut adrift already. There
was a code word for that--"Seltzer." It meant, "We shall be able to
dispense with your services on the ---- prox."

"Seltzer thirtieth" would have thrown--and might still throw--Andy on
the mercy of the world. Turning up the code (if you are not thoroughly
familiar with it) may be interesting work--"as exciting as any novel,"
as reviewers kindly say of books of travel.

Andy had suddenly, and with some surprise, become aware how very much he
wished not to go back to Montreal, pleasant city as it is. When he was
puzzling about the Meriton shop, Canada had stood for freedom, scope,
and opportunity. Why should it not stand for them still, just as well
as, or better than, London? Canada and London had ranked together then,
in sharp opposition to the narrow limits of his native town. Nobody
could deny the scope and the opportunities of Canada. But Andy did not
want to go back. He was profoundly apologetic to himself about the
feeling; he would not have ventured to justify it; it was wrong. But,
after his long exile, his native land had laid hold on him--England with
her ripe rich sweetness, London baited with a thousand lures. He had no
pluck, no grit, no go; so he said to himself. There were fortunes to be
made over there--a mighty nation to help in building up. That was all
true, but he did not want to go. The stylograph hung longingly over the
cable form; it wanted to write "Interjection."

The fog had apparently been very persistent in the Irish Channel, for no
mail came; the principals in Montreal seemed quite right about the
London branch, for no business offered. At half-past twelve Andy
determined to go out for lunch and a walk. By the time he got back the
mail might have come--and he might have made up his mind whether or not
to cable "Interjection."

A man who has it in mind to risk his livelihood often decides that he
may as well treat himself liberally at lunch or dinner. Monte Carlo is a
terribly expensive place to stay at if you do not gamble; if you do, it
costs nothing--at least, what it costs does not matter, which comes to
the same thing. Andy decided that, having two hours off, he would go
west for lunch. His thoughts were on the great restaurant by the river.
If he were really leaving London in a week (obedient to "Infusoria"), it
would be interesting to go there once again.

Entering the grill-room, on his left as he came in from the Strand (at
the last moment the main restaurant had struck him as absurd for his
chop), he was impressed by the air of habituality worn by his
fellow-guests. What was humdrum to them was a treat to him, their
routine his adventure. They knew the waiters, knew the maître d'hôtel,
and inquired after the cook. They knew one another too, marking who was
there to-day, who was an absentee. Andy ate his chop, with his mouth
healthily hungry, with his eyes voracious of what passed about him.

He sat near a glass screen some six or seven feet high, dividing the
room in two. Suddenly from the other side of it came a voice:

"Hallo, is that you, Hayes? Come and have your coffee with us. Where
have you been all this time?"

There they sat--and there they might have been sitting ever since Andy
parted from them, so much at home they looked--Billy Foot, the Nun, and
Miss Dutton. Another young man was with them, completing the party. He
was plump, while Billy was thin--placid, while Billy always suggested a
reserve of excitement; but he had a likeness to Billy all the same.

"Oh, I say, may I come?" cried Andy, boyishly loud; but the luck of
meeting these friends again was too extraordinary. He trotted round the
glass screen with his tumbler in his hand; he had not quite finished his
lager beer.

"Chair and coffee for Mr. Hayes," said Billy Foot. "You remember him,
girls? My brother, Hayes--Gilly, Mr. Hayes. How did you leave Harry?"

"How awfully funny I should meet you!" gasped Andy.

"It's not funny if you ever come here," observed Miss Dutton; "because
we come here nearly every day--with somebody." She was more sardonic
than ever.

The Nun--she was not, by the way, a Nun any longer, but a Quaker girl
("All in the same line," her manager said, with a fine indifference to
the smaller theological distinctions), and now sang of how, owing to her
having to wear sombre garments (expressed by a charming dove-tinted
costume that sent the stalls mad), she had lost her first and only
love--the Nun smiled at Andy in a most friendly fashion.

"I'd quite forgotten you," she remarked, "but I'm glad to see you again.
Let's see, you're--?"

"Harry Belfield's friend."

"Yes, you're Mr. Hayes. Oh, I remember you quite well. Been away since?"

"No, I've been here. I mean--at work, and so on."

"Oh, well!" sighed the Nun (Andy ventured to call her the Nun in his
thoughts, though she had changed her persuasion). She seemed to express
a gentle resignation to not being able to keep track of people; she met
so many, coming every day to the restaurant.

"I ask five, I want four, but with just the right fellow I'd take
three," said Billy's brother Gilly, apparently continuing a conversation
which seemed to interest nobody but himself; for the Nun was looking at
neighbouring hats, Miss Dutton had relapsed into gloomy abstraction, and
Billy was thoughtfully revolving a small quantity of old brandy round a
very large glass. Gilly had an old brandy too, but his attitude towards
it was one of studied neglect. His favourite vintage had given out the
year before, so his life was rather desolate.

"Harry's engaged," Andy volunteered to the Nun, glad to possess a remark
of such commanding interest.

"To a girl?" asked the Nun, absently and without turning her face
towards him.

"Well, of course!" said Andy. What else could one be engaged to?

"Everybody comes to it," said Billy Foot. "Take three, if you must,
Gilly."

"At a push," said his brother sadly.

"I hate that hat on that woman," said the Nun with a sudden vehemence,
nodding her head at a fat woman in a large purple erection. Hats moved
the Nun perhaps more than anything else in the world.

"Rot, Doris," commented Miss Dutton. "It's what they're wearing."

"But they aren't all as fat as that," the Nun objected.

"Flourishing, Hayes?" asked Billy Foot.

"Well, I rather think I've just lost my job," said Andy.

"If you're looking out for a really sound way of investing five thousand
pounds--" Gilly began.

"Four to a gentleman," said Billy.

"Three to a friend," corrected the Nun.

"Oh, what the devil's the good of trying to talk business here?" cried
Gilly in vexation. "Only a chance is a chance, you know."

Billy Foot saw that Andy was puzzled. "Gilly--my brother, you know--I
suppose I introduced you?--has unfortunately come here with a problem on
his mind. I didn't know he had one, or I wouldn't have asked him,
because problems bore the girls."

"No, they don't. It interests me to see you trying to think." This, of
course, from Miss Dutton. The Nun, now imbibing an iced green fluid
through a straw, was sublimely abstracted.

"My brother," Billy resumed, with a glance of protest towards his
interruptor, "has, for some reason or another, become a publisher.
That's all right. Not being an author, I don't complain. Having done
pretty badly--"

"The public's no good," said Gilly gloomily.

"He wants to drag in some unfortunate person to be his partner. I
understand, Gilly, that, if really well recommended, your accepted
partner can lose his time, and the rest of his money, for no more than
three thousand pounds--paid down on the nail without discount?"

"You've a charming way of recommending the project to Mr. Hayes'
consideration," said Gilly, in reproachful resignation.

"To my consideration," Andy exclaimed, laughing. "What's it got to do
with me?"

"It's a real chance," Gilly persisted. "And if you're out of a job, and
happen to be able to lay your hands on five--"

"Three!" whispered Billy.

"--thousand pounds, you might do worse than look into it. Now, I must
go," and with no more than a nod to serve as farewell to all the party
he rose and sauntered slowly away. He had not touched his brandy; his
brother reached over thoughtfully and appropriated it. "I may as well,
as I'm going to pay for it," he remarked.

Suddenly Andy found himself telling the Nun all about his cable and his
affairs. The other two listened; all three were very friendly and
sympathetic; even Miss Dutton forbore to sneer. Andy expanded in the
kindly atmosphere of interest. "I don't want to go back, you know," he
said with a smile that appealed for understanding. "But I must, unless
something turns up."

"Well, why not talk to Gilly?" the Nun suggested.

"Yes, you go round and talk to Gilly," agreed Billy. "Rotting apart,
he's got a nice little business, and one or two very good schemes on,
but he wants a bit more capital, as well as somebody to help him. He
doesn't look clever, but in five years he's built up--yes, a tidy little
business. You wouldn't come to grief with Gilly."

"But I haven't got the money, or anything like it. I've got nothing."

The Nun and Billy exchanged glances. The Nun nodded to Billy, but he
shook his head. Miss Dutton watched them for a moment, then she smiled
scornfully.

"I don't mind saying it," she observed, and to Andy's astonishment she
asked him, "What about your old friend the butcher?"

"How did you hear of that?"

"Harry Belfield was up one day last week lunching here, and--"

"We were awfully amused," the Nun interrupted, with her pretty rare
gurgle. "If you'd done it, we were all coming down to buy chops and give
you a splendid send-off. I rather wish you had." The imagined scene
amused the Nun very much.

"Jack Rock? Oh, I couldn't possibly ask him, after refusing his offer!"

"What did you say his name was?" the Nun inquired.

Andy repeated the name, and the Nun nodded, smiling still. Andy became
portentously thoughtful.

"We have sown a seed!" said Billy Foot. "I'll drop a word to Gilly to
keep the offer open. Now you must go, girls, because I've got some work
to do in the world, though you never seem to believe it."

"Heavens, I must go too!" cried Andy, with a horrified look at his
watch.

"All right, you go," said Miss Dutton. "We promised to meet a man here
at half-past three and go motoring."

"Did we? I don't believe we did," objected the Nun. "I don't think I
want to go."

"Then don't," said Miss Dutton. "I shall go anyhow."

"Well, I'll wait and see the car," the Nun conceded. She did not appear
to have any curiosity about its owner. "You really must come and see
me--and don't go back to Canada!" she called after Andy. Then, when she
was alone with her friend, she said, "No, I shan't come motoring, Sally,
I shall go home and write a letter. So much trouble is caused in this
world by people being afraid to do the obvious thing. Now I'm never
afraid to do the obvious thing."

"That's just what you said the night you found me--and took me home with
you," said Miss Dutton. She spoke very low, and her voice was strangely
soft.

"It was the obvious thing to do, and I did it," the Nun pursued, shaking
her head at Sally in mild rebuke of an uncalled-for touch of sentiment.
"I shall do the obvious thing now. I shall write to Mr. Jack Rock."

"You'll get yourself into a row, meddling with other people's business."

"Oh no, I shan't," said the Nun serenely. "I shall insist on a personal
interview before my action is condemned. I generally come out of
personal interviews all right."

"Arts and tricks!" said Sally scornfully.

"Just an innocent and appealing manner," smiled the Nun. "At any rate,
this very afternoon I write to Mr. Rock. He'll produce three thousand
pounds, Gilly will get a good partner, Andy Hayes can stay in England, I
shall feel I've done a sensible thing. All that just by a letter!" A
thought struck her. "I may as well write it here." She called a waiter
and asked for notepaper and the A B C railway guide. "Don't wait for me,
Sally. This letter will take some time to write."

"Not going to take it down yourself, are you?" asked Sally, pointing to
the A B C.

"Oh no. Messenger boy. With any luck, it'll get there before Andy Hayes
does. Rather fun if Jack Rock plays up to me properly!"--and she allowed
herself the second gurgle of the afternoon.

Sally stood looking at her with an apparently unwilling smile. She loved
her better than anybody in the world, and would have died for her at
that or any other moment; but nothing of that sort was ever said between
them. They were almost unsentimental enough to please Mark Wellgood
himself. Only the Nun did like her little plans to be appreciated. Sally
gave her all she wanted--a sharp little bark of a laugh in answer to the
gurgle--before she walked away. The Nun settled to her task in demure
serenity, seeming (yet not being) entirely unconscious of the extreme
slowness with which most of the young men passed her table as they went
out.

Billy Foot had walked with Andy as far as the Temple and had reasoned
with him. Yet Billy himself admitted that there was great difficulty in
the case. Asked whether he himself would do what he advised, he was
forced to admit that he would hesitate. Still he would not give up the
idea; he would see Gilly about it; perhaps the payment could be
"spread."

"It would have to be spread very thin before I could pay it," smiled
Andy ruefully. He gave Billy Foot's hand a hearty squeeze when they
parted. "It's so awfully good of you to be so interested--and of those
nice girls too."

"Well, old chap, if we can help a pal!" said Billy with a laugh.
"Besides, it's good business for Gilly too."

Andy went back to Dowgate Hill and climbed up to his attic. The staff
reported no callers in his absence; the baleful cable lay still in
possession of the table. But Andy refused to be depressed. His lunch had
done him good. Steady and sober as his mind was, yet he was a little
infected by the gay confidence that had reigned among his company. They
seemed all so sure that something would turn up, that what they wanted
would get itself done somehow. Spoilt children of fate, the brothers
Foot and the Nun! Things they wanted had come easily to them; they
expected them to come easily to their friends. The Nun in particular
appeared to treat fortune absolutely as a slave; she was not even
grateful; it was all too much a matter of course that things should
happen in the way she wanted. He did not appreciate yet the way in which
the Nun assisted the course of events sometimes.

Well, his reply to the cable must go. He took up the form and read
"Passionately." It was significant of his changed mood--of what the
atmosphere of the lunch-party had done for him--that he hesitated hardly
more than one minute before he added the possibly fateful
"Interjection," and sent off the despatch before he had time again to
waver.

"If they choose to take offence--well, I can make a living somehow, I
suppose."

Andy's confidence in himself was slowly but steadily ripening.



Chapter X.

FRIENDS IN NEED.


Old Jack Rock was, in his own phrase, "fair tickled to death" at the
whole thing. The messenger boy reached him soon after five, just as he
was having his tea. It was not long before the boy was having tea
too--such a tea as seldom came his way. Butter and jam together--why,
jam on cake, if he liked--and cream in his tea! Something in that letter
pleased the old gentleman uncommon, thought the boy, as he watched Jack
chuckling over it, his forgotten bread-and-butter half-way between plate
and mouth.

"Doris Flower! Well now, that's a pretty name," murmured Jack. "And I'll
lay she's a pretty girl!" He asked the boy whether she was a pretty
girl.

"'Er? Why, they're all mad about 'er," the boy told him. "She's out o'
sight, she is!"

"Writes a pretty letter too," said Jack, and started to read it all
afresh. It was, indeed, a persuasive letter:--

  "DEAR MR. ROCK,--I have heard so much that is nice about you from our
  friends Harry Belfield and your nephew (isn't he?) Mr. Hayes, that I
  feel quite sure you will not mind my writing to you. I know it is
  rather an unusual thing to do, but I don't mind doing unusual things
  when they're sensible, do you? Mr. Hayes was lunching with us to-day,
  and he told us that something had gone wrong with his business, and
  that he would have to go back to Canada. I'm sure you don't want him
  to go back to Canada any more than we do. We like him so much, and you
  must be very fond of him, aren't you? Well, by the most wonderful
  chance, Billy Foot's brother (you know Billy, don't you? He has been
  down to Meriton, I know) was at lunch too--Gilly Foot. Gilly has got a
  most tremendously good business as a publisher, and he wants a
  partner. Wasn't it lucky? Just as Mr. Hayes wants a new business,
  Gilly Foot wants a partner! It might have been arranged on purpose,
  mightn't it? And they took to one another directly. I'm sure Gilly
  will be delighted to take Mr. Hayes (That does sound stiff--I think I
  shall say 'Andy'), and Andy (!) would be delighted to join Gilly.
  There's only one thing--Gilly must have a partner with some money, and
  Andy says he hasn't got any. We knew about you and all you had wanted
  to do for him, so of course we said he must ask you to give it to him
  or lend it to him; but he said he couldn't possibly, as he had refused
  your previous offer. But I'm sure you don't feel like that about it,
  do you? I'm sure you would like to help him. And then we could keep
  him here instead of his going back to Canada; we should all be so
  pleased with that, and so would you, wouldn't you? Do please do it,
  dear Mr. Rock!

  "I wonder if you know who I am. Perhaps you've seen my picture in the
  papers? I'm generally done as a Nun. Have you? I wonder if you would
  ever care to hear me sing? If you would, _do_ let me know when you can
  come, and I will send you a box. And you won't forget to come round
  and see me in my dressing-room afterwards, will you? It is so pleasant
  to see one's friends afterwards; and I'll sing, oh, ever so much
  better than usual for you!

  "I told the boy to wait--just in case you wanted to send an answer.
  I'm very excited and anxious! It's three thousand pounds Gilly wants.
  It seems to me an awful lot, but I don't know much about publishing.
  Do forgive me, dear Mr. Rock, but I was sure you would like to know,
  and I don't believe Andy would have told you himself. Mind, when you
  come to town--don't forget!--I am, dear Mr. Rock, yours very
  sincerely,

                                                   "DORIS FLOWER.

  _P.S._--Some day soon, when I'm out motoring, I may stop and see
  you--if you've been nice!"

Jack Rock's heart was very soft; his vanity was also tickled. "Excited
and anxious, is she? Bless her! There'll be a rare talk in Meriton if
she comes to see old Jack!" He chuckled. "Me go and sit in a box, and
hear her sing! Asked to her dressing-room too!"

The novel picture of himself was altogether too much for Jack.

"As soon as you've done your tea, my lad, you can take an answer."

Jack's epistolary style was of a highly polite but rather unpractised
order. He struggled between his punctilious recognition of his own
station and the temptation of the Nun's friendliness--also (perhaps by
consequence) between the third, second, and first grammatical persons:--

  "Mr. John Rock presents his respectful compliments to Miss Doris
  Flower. Mr. Rock has the matter of which Miss Flower is good enough to
  write under his careful consideration. Mr. Rock begs to assure you
  that he will do his best to meet Miss Flower's wishes. There is
  nothing I would not do for Andy, and I am sure that the boy will prove
  himself deserving of Miss Flower's kind interest. When next visiting
  London, Mr. Rock will feel himself highly honoured by availing himself
  of Miss Flower's much-esteemed invitation. If Miss Flower should visit
  Meriton, he would be very proud to welcome you at his house, next door
  to the shop in High Street--anybody in Meriton knows where that is;
  and I beg to remain, dear madam, your most obedient servant to
  command,

                                                    JOHN ROCK."

"You can take it," said Jack to the messenger boy. "And here's half a
crown for yourself."

The messenger boy was a London boy; his professional belt was tight with
tea; and half a crown for himself! He put on his cap and stood on the
threshold. Escape was easy; he indulged his native humour.

"From this"--he exhibited the half-crown--"and your looks, gov'nor," he
said, "I gather that she's accepted ye! My best wishes for yer
'appiness!"

"Damn the boy!" said Jack, charging for the door in an explosion of
laughter. The boy was already half-way down the street. "Hope my letter
was all right," Jack reflected, as he came back, baulked of his prey.
"May stop and see me, may she! Bless her heart!"

Jack Rock felt that he had the chance of his life. He also felt that he
would like to obliterate what, in his humility, he now declared to have
been a sad blunder--the offer of his butcher's shop. A man like Andy, a
lad with friends like that--Mr. Harry Belfield, Mr. Foot, M.P., Mr. and
Miss Wellgood, above all this dazzling Miss Doris Flower--to be the
Meriton butcher! Perish the thought! Publishing was a gentleman's
business. Aye, and his Andy should not go back to Canada. If he did, old
Jack felt that the best part of his own life would be carried far away
across the seas.

The thing should be done dramatically. "I'd like Andy to have a story to
tell her!" It was not at all doubtful whom he meant by "her."

Nearly six--the bank was shut long ago. But George Croton was a friend
as well as a bank manager; he would just have had tea. Jack crossed the
street and dropped in.

"Why, of course I can, Jack," said Mr. Croton, wiping his bald head with
a red handkerchief. "You've securities lodged with us that more than
cover it. Draw your cheque. We won't wrong you over the interest till
you adjust the account. Going to buy a Derby winner?"

"I ain't so sure I'm not goin' to enter one," said Jack. He wrote his
cheque. "That'll be all right to-morrow morning?"

"Unless our shutters are up, it will, Jack," Mr. Croton jestingly
replied.

"Thank God I've been a careful man," thought old Jack. "One that knows a
horse too! Her talkin' about 'Andy'!" The Nun continued to amuse and
delight him immensely. Why, he'd seen her picture on the hoardings last
time he went up to Tattersall's, to sell that bay filly! Lord, not to
have thought of that! That was her--the Nun! He thought much more about
Miss Flower than about Andy as he took his way to Andy's lodgings.

Andy was at home; he had been back from town nearly an hour. But his own
concerns were quite out of his head. Harry Belfield had been waiting for
him--actually waiting, Harry the Great!--and had hailed him with "I had
to come and tell you all about it myself, old fellow!"

In Andy's great devotion to Harry there was mingled an element which
seemed to himself absurd, but which held its place obstinately--dim and
denied, yet always there. It was a sense of something compassionate,
something protective, not diminishing his admiration but qualifying it;
making him not only believe that all would, but also urgently pray that
all might, go well with Harry, that Harry might have everything that he
wished, possibly that Harry might wish the things that he ought to have,
though Andy's conscious analysis of the feeling did not reach as far as
this. He would not only set his hero on a pedestal, he would have the
pedestal securely fenced round, barricaded against danger, ensured
against bombs; even a screen against strong and sudden winds might be
useful to the statue.

The statue, it now appeared, had taken all these precautions for itself.
Vivien Wellgood was each and all of these things--fence, screen, and
barricade. And many other things besides, such as an ideal, an
incentive, an inspiration. It was among Harry's attractions that he was
not in the least ashamed of his emotions or shy about them.

"With the girls one meets in town it's a bargain," said Harry. "With
her--oh, I can talk to you, old man!--it really does seem a sort of
sacrament."

"I know. I mean I can imagine."

"Not things a fellow can talk about to everybody," Harry pursued.
"Too--well, sacred, you know. But when for absolutely the first time in
your life you feel the real thing, you know the difference. The pater
told me not to be in a hurry about it; but a thing like that's just the
same now or a thousand years hence. It's there--and that's all about
it!"

Andy felt a little out of his depth. He had had one fancy himself, but
it had been nothing like so wonderful as this.  It was Harry's privilege
to be able to feel things in that marvellous way. Andy was not equal
even to commenting on them.

"When are you going to be married?" he asked, sticking to a
matter-of-fact line of sympathy.

"Going to wait till October--rather a bore! But here it's nearly July,
and I've got my tour of the Division fixed for September. After all,
things aren't so bad as they might be. And when I'm through with the
campaign--a honeymoon in Italy! Pretty good, Andy?"

"Sounds all right," laughed Andy. "I expect I shall have to send you my
blessing from Montreal."

"From Montreal? What--you're not going back?"

"The business is a frost in London, Harry; and I've nothing else to look
to."

"Lord, now, what a pity! Well, I'm sorry. We shall miss you, Andy.
Still, it's a ripping fine country, isn't it? Mind you cable us
congratulations!"

"I'm not quite certain about going yet," said Andy. He felt rather like
being seen off by the train--very kindly.

"Oh, well, I hope you won't have to, old chap, I really do. But it'll be
better than the shop! I say--I told Billy and the girls about that. They
roared."

"I know they did--I met them at lunch to-day."

"Had they heard about me?" Harry asked rather eagerly. "Or did you tell
them? What did they say?"

"Oh--er--awfully pleased," said Andy, rather confused. It seemed strange
to remember how very little had been said on the wonderful topic.
Somehow they had wandered off to other things.

"I must give them all one more dinner," said Harry, smiling, "before I
settle down."

"Foot's brother was there--Gilly Foot--and--"

"Did they ask what she was like?"

"I--I don't quite remember--everybody was talking. Gilly Foot--"

"I expect they were a bit surprised, weren't they?"

"Oh yes, they seemed surprised." Andy was really trying to remember.
"Yes, they did."

"I don't think I've got the character of a marrying man," smiled Harry.
"I hope you told them I meant business?" Harry rose to his feet with a
laugh. "They used to rot a lot, you know."

Harry was not to be got off the engrossing subject of himself, his past,
and his future; evidently he could not imagine that the lunch-party had
kept off these subjects either. With a smile Andy made up his mind not
to trouble him with the matter of Gilly Foot.

"I'll walk back with you as far as Halton gates," he said.

"No, you won't, old chap," laughed Harry. "Vivien's been in the town and
is going to call for me here, and I'm going to walk with her as far as
Nutley gates--at least."

Voices came from outside. "Wish you good evenin', miss!"--and a very
timid "Good evening, Mr. Rock." Vivien and Jack! How was Vivien bearing
the encounter?

"There she is!" cried Harry, and ran out of the house, Andy following.

"Ah, Jack, how are you? Why, you're looking like a two-year-old!"

Jack indeed looked radiant as he made bold to offer his congratulations.
He gave Harry his hand and a hearty squeeze, then looked at Vivien
tentatively. She blushed, pulled herself together, and offered Jack her
hand. The feat accomplished, she glanced quickly at Andy, blushing yet
more deeply. He knew what was in her mind, and nodded his head at her in
applause. In Harry's cause she had touched a butcher.

"I like to see young folks happy. I like to see 'em get what they want,
Mr. Harry."

"You see before you one at least who has, Jack. I wonder if I may say
two, Vivien? And I wish I could say three, Andy."

"Maybe you wouldn't be so far wrong, Mr. Harry," chuckled Jack. "But
that's neither here nor there, and I mustn't be keepin' you and your
young lady."

With blithe salutations the lovers went off. Andy watched them; they
were good to see. He felt himself their friend--Vivien's as well as
Harry's, for Vivien trusted him with her shy confidences. They were hard
to leave--even as were the delights of London with its lunch-parties and
the like.

"Going for a walk, Jack?"

"No, I want a talk with you, Andy." He led the way in, and sat down at
the table. "I've been thinkin' a bit about you, Andy; so have some
others, I reckon. Mr. Belfield--he speaks high of you--and there's
others. There's no reason you shouldn't take your part with the best of
'em. Why, they feel that--they make you one of themselves. So you shall
be. I can't make you a rich man, not as they reckon money, but I can
help a bit."

"O Jack, you're always at it," Andy groaned affectionately.

The old fellow's eyes twinkled as he drew out a cheque and pushed it
across the table.

"Put that in your pocket, and go and talk to Mr. Foot's brother," he
said.

Andy's start was almost a jump; old Jack's pent-up mirth broke out
explosively.

"But this--this is supernatural!" cried Andy.

"Looks like it, don't it? How did I find out about that? Well, it shows,
Andy, that it's no use you thinkin' of tryin' not to keep a certain
promise you made to me--because I find you out!"

"Dear old Jack!" Andy was standing by him now, his hand on his shoulder.
"I don't believe I could have kept the promise in this case. I think I
should have gone back--since the thing's no go in London."

"Yes, you'd have gone back--just like your obstinate ways. But I found
out. I've my correspondents."

"But there's been no time! Well, you are one too many for me, Jack!"

Jack's pride in his cunning was even greater than his delight in his
benevolence. "Perhaps I've had a wireless telegram?" he suggested,
wagging his head. "Or a carrier pigeon? Who knows?"

"But who was it told you?"

"You've got some friends I didn't know of, up there in London. Havin'
your fling, are you, Andy? That's right. And very good taste you seem to
have too." He nodded approvingly.

"Oh, I give it up," said Andy. "You're a wizard, Jack."

"If you talk about a witch, you'll be a bit nearer the point, I reckon.
Not meanin' me, I need hardly say! Well, I must let you into the
secret." With enormous pride he produced Miss Doris Flower's letter.
"Read that, my lad."

"The Nun!" cried Andy, as his eye fell on the signature. "Who'd have
thought of that?"

He read the letter; he listened to Jack's enraptured story of how it had
arrived. "And you're not goin' to shame her by refusin' the money now,
are you?" asked cunning Jack. "If you do, you'll make her feel she's
been meddlin'. Nice thing to make her feel that!"

Andy saw through this little device, but he only patted Jack's shoulder
again, saying quietly, "I'll take the money, Jack." All the kindness
made his heart very full--whether it came from old-time friends or these
new friends from a new world who made his cause theirs with so ready a
sympathy.

"You're launched now, lad--fair launched! And I know you'll float," said
old Jack, grave at last, as he took his leave, his precious letter most
carefully stowed away in his breast-pocket. It had been a great day for
Jack, great for what he had done, great for the way in which his doing
it had come about.

Within less than twenty-four hours Montreal had been written to, Gilly
Foot had been written to--and Andy was at the Nun's door.

She dwelt with Miss Dutton in a big block of flats near Sloane Street,
very high up. Her sitting-room was small and cosy, presenting, however,
one marked peculiarity. On two of the walls the paper was red, on the
other two green. Seeing Andy's eyes attracted by this phenomenon, the
Nun explained: "We quarrelled over the colour to such an extent that at
last I lost my temper, and, when Sally was away for a day, had it done
like this--to spite her. Now she won't let me alter it, because it's a
perpetual warning to me not to lose my temper. But it does look a little
queer, doesn't it?"

She had received him with her usual composure. "I knew you'd come,
because I knew Mr. Jack Rock would do as I wanted, and I was sure he
couldn't keep the letter to himself. Well, that's all right! It was only
that the obvious thing wanted doing."

"But I don't see--well, I don't see why you should care."

She looked at him, a lurking laugh in her eye.

"Oh, you needn't suppose that it was life and death to me! It was rather
fun, just on its own account. You'll like Gilly; he's a good sort,
though he's rather greedy. Did you notice that? Billy's really my
friend. I'm very fond of Billy. Are you ambitious? Billy's very
ambitious."

"No, I don't think I am."

The Nun lay back on a long chair; she was certainly wonderfully pretty
as she smiled lazily at Andy.

"You look a size too large for the room," she remarked. "Yes, Billy's
ambitious. He'd like to marry me, only he's ambitious. It doesn't make
any difference to me, because I'm not in love with him; but I'm afraid
it's an awfully uncomfortable state of affairs for poor Billy."

"Well, if he'd have no chance anyhow, couldn't you sort of let him know
that?" Andy suggested, much amused at an innocent malice which marked
her description of Billy's conflict of feeling.

"No use at all. I've tried. But he's quite sure he could persuade me. In
fact I don't think he believes I should refuse if it came to the point.
So there he is, always just pulling up on the brink! He can't like it,
but he goes on. Oh, but tell me all about Harry Belfield. Now I've got
you off my mind, I'm awfully interested about that."

Andy was not very ready at description. She assisted him by a detailed
and skilful cross-examination, directed to eliciting full information
about Vivien Wellgood's appearance, habits, and character--how old she
was, where she had been, what she had seen. When the picture of Vivien
had thus emerged--of Vivien's youth and secluded life, how she had been
nowhere and seen nothing, how she was timid and shy, innocent and
trustful, above all, how she idolized Harry--the Nun considered it for a
moment in silence.

"Poor girl!" she said at last. Andy looked sharply at her. She smiled.
"Oh yes, you worship Harry, don't you? Well, he's a very charming man. I
was rather inclined to fall in love with him once myself. Luckily for me
I didn't."

"I'm sure he'd have responded," Andy laughed.

"Yes, that's just it; he would have! When did you say they were going to
be married?"

"October, I think Harry said."

"Four months! And he dotes on her?"

"I should think so. You should just hear him!"

"I daresay I shall. He always likes talking to one girl about how much
he's in love with another."

The Nun's matter-of-fact way of speaking may have contributed to the
effect, but in the end the effect of what she said was to give the
impression that she regarded Harry Belfield's present passion as one of
a series--far from the first, not at all likely to be the last. The
inflection of tone with which she had exclaimed "Four months!" implied
that it was a very long while to wait.

"You'd understand it better if you saw them together," said Andy, eager,
as always, to champion his friend.

"You're very enthusiastic about her, anyhow," smiled the Nun. "It almost
sounds as if you were a little in love with her yourself."

"Such a thing never occurred to me." Then he laughed, for the Nun was
laughing at him. "Well, she would make every man want to--well, sort of
want to take care of her, you know."

"Well, there's no harm in your doing that--in moderation; and she may
come to want it. Have you ever been in love yourself?"

"Yes, once," he confessed; "a long while ago, just before I left South
Africa."

"Got over it?" she inquired anxiously.

"Yes, of course I have, long ago. It wasn't very fatal."

"Fickle creature!"

Andy gave one of his bursts of hearty laughter to hear himself thus
described.

"I like you," she said; "and I'm glad you're going in with Gilly,
because we shall often see you at lunch-time."

"Oh, but I can't afford to lunch at that place every day!"

"You'll have to--with Gilly; because lunch is the only time he ever gets
ideas--he always says so--and unless he can tell somebody else he
forgets them again, and they're lost beyond recall. He used to tell them
to me, but I always forgot them too. Now he'll tell you; so you'll have
to be at lunch, and put it down as office expenses."

Andy had risen to go. The Nun sat up. "I can only tell you once again
how grateful I am for all your kindness," he said.

She gave him a whimsically humorous look. "It's really time somebody
told you," she said; "and as I feel rather responsible for you, after my
letter to Mr. Jack Rock, I expect I'm the proper person to do it. If
you're not told, you may go about doing a lot of mischief without
knowing anything about it. Prepare for a surprise. You're attractive!
Yes, you are. You're attractive to women, moreover. People don't do
things for you out of mere kindness, as they might be kind to a little
boy in the street or to a lost dog. They do them because you're
attractive, because it gives them pleasure to please you. That sort of
thing will go on happening to you; very likely it'll help you a good
deal." She nodded at him wisely, then broke suddenly into her gurgle.
"Oh, dear me, you do look so much astonished, and if you only knew how
red you've got!"

"Oh, I feel the redness all right; I know that's there," muttered Andy,
whose confusion was indeed lamentable. "But when a--a person like you
says that sort of thing to me--"

"A person, like me?" She lifted her brows. "What am I? I'm the fashion
for three or four seasons--that's what I am. Nobody knows where I come
from; nobody knows where I'm going to; and nobody cares. I don't know
myself, and I'm not sure I care. My small opinion doesn't count for
much. Only, in this case, it happens to be true."

"Where do you come from?" asked Andy, in a sudden impulse of great
friendliness.

She looked him straight in the face. "Nobody knows. Nobody must ask."

"I've got no people belonging to me either. Even Jack Rock's no
relation--or only a 'step.'"

Her eyes grew a little clouded. "You mustn't make me silly. Only we're
friends now, aren't we? We don't do what we can for one another out of
kindness, but for love?" She daintily blew him a kiss, and smiled again.
"And because we're both very attractive--aren't we?"

"Oh, I'll accept the word if I'm promoted to share it with you. But I
can't say I've got over the surprise yet."

"You've stopped blushing, anyhow. That's something. Good-bye. I shall
see you at lunch, I expect, to-morrow."

Andy was very glad that she liked him, but he was glad of it because he
liked her. His head was not turned by her assurance that he was
attractive in a general sense: in the first place, because he remained
distinctly sceptical as to the correctness of her opinion, sincere as it
obviously was; in the second, because the matter did not appear to be
one of much moment. No doubt folks sometimes did one a good turn for
love's sake, but, taking the world broadly, a man had to make his way
without relying on such help as that. That sort of help had given him a
fair start now. He was not going to expect any more of it. It seemed to
him that Jack Rock--or Jack and the Nun between them?--had already given
him more than his share. It was curious to associate her with Jack Rock
in the work; a queer freak of chance that she had come into it! But she
had come into it--by chance and her own wilful fancy. Odd her share in
it certainly was, but it was not unpleasant to him. He felt that he had
gained a friend, as well as an opening in Gilly Foot's publishing house.

"But I wish," he found himself reflecting as he travelled back in the
Underground, "that she understood Harry better."

Here he fell into an error unusual with him; he overrated his own
judgment, led thereto by old love and admiration. The Nun had clear
eyes; she had seen much of Harry Belfield, and no small amount of life.
She had had to dodge many dangers. She knew what she was talking about.
In all the side of things she knew so well, Andy, with his one
attachment before he left South Africa long ago, was an innocent.
Perhaps it was some dim consciousness of this, some half-realized
feeling that he was on strange ground where she was on familiar, which
made him find it difficult to get what she had said or hinted out of his
head. It was apt to come back to him when he saw Vivien Wellgood; an
unlooked-for association in his mind of people who seemed far remote
from one another. Thus the Nun had come into the old circle of his
thoughts; henceforward she too belonged, in a way, to the world of
Meriton.



Chapter XI.

THE SHAWL BY THE WINDOW.


Vivien and Isobel were alone at Nutley. It had been Wellgood's custom to
go every summer to Norway by himself, leaving his daughter at school, to
the care of her governess, or, for the last year or two, of her
companion. He saw no reason against following his practice this year;
indeed he was glad to go. The interval before the wedding dragged for
him, as perhaps it did for others. He had carried matters with Isobel as
far as he well could, unless he meant to carry them to the end--and it
was not his intention to do that just yet. A last bachelor excursion--he
told himself confidently that it was to be his last--had its attraction.
Early in July he packed his portmanteau and went, leaving instructions
with Isobel that her chaperonage was to be vigilant and strict. "Err on
the safe side," he said. "No harm in that."

"I shall bore them very much," Isobel suggested.

"That's what you're here for." He added, with his hard confident smile,
"Later on we'll try to give you a change from it."

She knew well what he meant, and was glad to see the last of him for a
while; nay, in her heart would have been glad to see the last of him for
ever. She clung to what his words and acts promised, from no affection
for him, but because it saved her from the common fate which her pride
despised--being dismissed, turned off, now that she was to become
superfluous. She had been in effect Vivien's governess, her
schoolmistress, invested with power and authority. She hated to step
down; it was open to her to step up. (A case not unlike Andy's.) Here
was the secret which maintained her pride. In the strength of it she
still ruled her charge with no lessening of prestige. It was no more in
Vivien's nature than in her position to wonder at that; her eyes were
set on a near sure liberty. Temporary restraint, though it might be
irksome, seemed no more than a natural passing incident. Harry noticed
and was amused. He thought that Wellgood must have said a word to
Isobel; hinted perhaps that Vivien was wax in her lover's hands, and
that her lover was impetuous. That Wellgood, or Isobel herself, or
anybody else, should harbour that idea did not displease Harry Belfield;
not to be able to resist him would be a venial sin, even in Vivien.

It was an empty season in the little circle of Meriton society. Harry's
father and mother were away, gone to Switzerland. Andy came down for
week-ends generally; all the working days his nose was close to the
grindstone in the office of Messrs. Gilbert Foot and Co. He was learning
the business, delighting in his new activity. Harry would not have been
in Meriton either, had he not been in love in Meriton. As it was, he had
his early ride, then read his books, then went over to Nutley for lunch,
and spent all the rest of the day there. Often the curate would come in
and make a four at tennis, but he did not stay to dinner. Almost every
evening the three were alone, in the house or on the terrace by the
water. One night in the week Harry might be in town, one night perhaps
he would bring Andy. Four or five nights those three would be together;
and the question for Isobel was how often, for how long, how completely
she was to leave the engaged couple to themselves. To put it more
brutally--how much of a bore was she to make herself?

To be a spy, a hindrance, a clog, to know that joy waited on the closing
of the door behind her back, to listen to allusions half-intelligible,
to turn a blind ear to words too tender, not to notice a furtive caress,
to play the dragon of convention, the old-maid duenna--that was her
function in Vivien's eyes. And the same in Harry's? Oh yes! the same in
Harry Belfield's handsome, mischievous, deriding eyes! He laughed at her
for what she did--for what she did in the discharge of her duty, earning
her bread-and-butter. Earning more than he thought, though! Because of
the derision in Harry's eyes, again she would not let Wellgood go.
Vivien should awake to realize that she was more than a chaperon,
tiresome for the moment, soon to be dismissed; Harry should understand
that to one man she was no old-maid duenna, but the woman he wanted for
wife. While she played chaperon at Nutley she wrote letters to
Wellgood--letters keeping his passion alive, playing with his
confidence, transparently feigning to ignore, hardly pretending to deny.
They were letters a lover successful in the end would laugh at. If in
the issue the man found himself jockeyed, they would furnish matter for
fury as a great deceit.

Harry Belfield was still looking forward to his marriage with ardour; it
would not be fair even to say that he was getting tired of his
engagement. But he would have been wise to imitate Wellgood--take a last
bachelor holiday, and so come back again hungry for Vivien's society.
Much as he liked the fare, he could not be said to hunger for it now, it
came to him so easily and so constantly. The absence of his parents, the
emptiness of the town, his own want of anything particular to do,
prevented even the small hindrances and interruptions that might have
whetted appetite by thwarting or delaying its satisfaction. Love-making
became the business of his days, when it ought to have been the
diversion. Harry must always have a diversion--by preference one with
something of audacity, venture, or breaking of bounds in it. His
relations with Vivien, legitimate though romantic, secure yet
delightful, did not satisfy this requirement. His career might have
served, and would serve in the future (so it was to be hoped), but the
career was at a temporary halt till the autumn campaign began. He took
the diversion which lay nearest to hand; that also was his way. Isobel
Vintry possessed attractions; she had a temper too, as he knew very
well. He found his amusement in teasing, chaffing, and challenging her,
in forcing her to play duenna more and more conspicuously, and in
laughing at her when she did it; in letting his handsome eyes rest on
her in admiration for a second before he hastily turned them back to a
renewed contemplation of their proper shrine; in seeming half-vexed when
she left him alone with Vivien, not altogether sorry when she came back.
He was up to a dozen such tricks; they were his diversion; they
flavoured the sweetness of his love-making with the spice of mischief.

He saw that Isobel felt, that she understood. Vivien noticed nothing,
understood nothing. There was a secret set up between Isobel and
himself; Vivien was a stranger to it. Harry enlarged his interests! His
relations with Vivien were delightful, with Isobel they had a piquant
flavour. Well, was not this a more agreeable state of things than that
Isobel should be simply a bore to him, and he simply a bore to Isobel?
The fact of being an engaged man did not reconcile Harry Belfield to
being simply a bore to a handsome woman.

Among Wellgood's orders there was one that Vivien should go to bed at
ten o'clock sharp, and Harry depart at the same hour. Wherever they
were, in house or garden, the lovers had to be found and parted--Vivien
ordered upstairs, Harry sent about his business. Isobel's duty was to
enforce this rule. Harry found a handle in it; his malice laid hold of
it.

"Here comes the strict governess!" he cried. Or, "Here's nurse! Bedtime!
Won't you really let us have ten minutes more? I believe you sit with
your watch in your hand."

Vivien rebuked him. "It's not poor Isobel's fault, Harry. She's got to."

"No, she likes doing it. She's a born martinet! She positively loves to
separate us. You've no sympathy with the soft emotions, Miss Vintry.
You're just a born dragon."

"Please come, Vivien," Isobel said, flushing a little. "It's not my
fault, you know."

"Do you never break rules, Miss Vintry? It's what they're made for, you
know."

"We've not been taught to think that in this house, have we, Vivien?"

"No, indeed," said Vivien with marked emphasis.

Harry laughed. "A pattern child and a pattern governess! Well, we must
kiss good-night. You and I, I mean, of course, Vivien. And I'm sent home
too, as usual?"

"You don't want to stay here alone, do you?" asked Isobel.

"Well, no, that wouldn't be very lively." His eyes rested on her a
moment, possibly--just possibly--hinting that, though Vivien left him,
yet he need not be alone.

One evening, a very fine one--when it seemed more absurd than usual to
be ordered to bed or to be sent home so early--Harry chaffed Isobel in
this fashion, yet with a touch of real contempt. He did feel a genuine
contempt for people who kept rules just because they were rules. Vivien
again interceded. "Isobel can't help it, Harry. It's father's orders."

"Surely some discretion is left to the trusty guardian?"

"It's no pleasure to me to be a nuisance, I assure you," said Isobel
rather hotly. "Please come in, Vivien; it's well past ten o'clock."

Vivien rose directly.

"You've hurt Isobel, I think," she whispered to Harry. "Say something
kind to her. Good-night, dear Harry!"

She ran off, ahead of Isobel, who was about to follow, with no word to
Harry.

"Oh, wait a minute, please, Miss Vintry! I say, you know, I was only
joking. Of course I know it's not your fault. I'm awfully sorry if I
sounded rude. I thought you wouldn't mind a bit of chaff."

She stood looking at him with a hostile air.

"Why does it amuse you?" she asked.

The square question puzzled Harry, but he was apt at an encounter. He
found a good answer. "I suppose because what you do--what you have to
do--seems somehow so incongruous, coming from you. I won't do it again,
if you don't like it. Please forgive me--and walk with me to the gate to
prove it. There's no rule against that!"

For half a minute she stood, still looking at him. The moonlight was
amply bright enough to let them see one another's faces.

"Very well," she said. "Come along."

Harry followed her with a pleasant feeling of curiosity. It was some
little while before she spoke again. They had already reached the drive.

"Why do you say that it's incongruous, coming from me?" she asked.

"I'm afraid I can't answer that without being impertinent again,"
laughed Harry.

She turned to him with a slight smile. "Risk that!"

It was many days since he had been alone with her--so devoted had he
been to Vivien. Now again he felt her power; again he did not know
whether she put it forth consciously.

"Well, then, you playing sheep-dog when you ought to be--" He broke off,
leaving his eyes to finish for him.

"So your teasing is to be considered as a compliment?"

"I'll go on with it, if you'll take it like that."

"Does Vivien take it like that, do you think?"

"I don't believe she thinks anything about it--one way or the other.
She's partial to my small efforts to be amusing, that's all."

"Well, if it's a compliment, I don't want any more of it. I think you'd
better, under the circumstances, keep all your compliments for
Vivien--till you're married, at all events!"

Harry lifted his brows.

"Rules! Oh, those rules!" he said with mock ruefulness.

"Is there any good in breaking them--for nothing?"

He turned quickly towards her. She was smiling at him. "For nothing?"

"Yes. Here we are at the gate. Good-night, Mr. Harry."

"What do you mean by--?"

"I really can't stay any longer." She was doing the mockery now; his
eagerness had given her the advantage. "You can think over my
meaning--if you like. Good-night!"

Harry said good-night. When he had gone fifty yards he looked back. She
was still there, holding the gate half open with her hand, looking along
the road. After him? As he went on, his thoughts were not all of Vivien.
Isobel Vintry was a puzzling girl!

The next evening he brought Vivien into the drawing-room punctually at
ten.

"We're good children to-night!" he said gaily. "We've even said
good-night to one another already, and Vivien's ready to run up to bed."

"There, Isobel, aren't we good?" cried Vivien, with her good-night kiss
to Isobel.

"Any reward?" asked Harry, as the door closed behind his _fiancée_.

"What do you ask?"

"A walk to the gate. And--perhaps--an explanation."

"Certainly no explanation. I don't mind five minutes' walk to the gate."

This time very little was said on the way to the gate. A constraint
seemed to fall on both of them. The night felt very silent, very still;
the lake stretched silent and still too, mysteriously tranquil.

At last Harry spoke. "You've forgiven me--quite?"

"Oh yes. Naturally you didn't think how--how it seemed to me. It isn't
always easy to--" She paused for a moment, looking over the water. "But
it's my place in life--for the present, at all events."

"It won't be for long. It can't be." He laughed. "But I must take
care--compliments barred!"

"From you to me--yes."

Again her words--or the way she said them--stirred him to an eager
curiosity. She half said things, or said things with half-meanings. Was
that art or accident? She did not say "from an engaged man to his
_fiancée's_ companion," but "from you to me." Was the concrete--the
personal--form significant?

No more passed, save only, at the gate, "Good-night." But with the word
she gave him her hand and smiled at him--and ever so slightly shook her
head.

The next day, and the next, and the next, she left Vivien and him
entirely to themselves, save when meals forced her to appear; and on
none of the three nights would she walk with him to the gate, though he
asked twice in words and the third time with his eyes. Was that what the
little shake of her head had meant? But the two walks had left their
mark. Harry chaffed and teased no more.

Vivien praised his forbearance, adding, "I really think you hurt her
feelings a little, Harry. But it was being rather absurdly touchy,
wasn't it?"

"She seems to be sensitive about her position."

Vivien made a little grimace. She was thinking that Isobel's position in
the house had been at least as pleasant as her own--till Harry came to
woo.

"Oh, confound this political business!" Harry suddenly broke out. "But
for that we could get married in the middle of August--as soon as your
father and my people are back. I hate this waiting till October, don't
you? Now you know you do, Vivien!"

She put her hand on his and pressed it gently. "Yes, but it's pleasant
as it is. I'm not so very impatient--so long as I see you every day."

But Harry was impatient now, and rather restless. The days had ceased to
glide by so easily, almost imperceptibly, in the company of his lover.
There was a feeling in him which did not make for peace--a recrudescence
of those impulses of old days which his engagement was utterly to have
banished. Marriage was invoked to banish them utterly now. The sooner
marriage came, the better! Harry was ardent in his love-making that
afternoon, and Vivien in a heaven of delight. If there was no chaff,
there was no appeal to Isobel for a walk to the gate either.

"I wish she wasn't there," he said to himself as he walked down, alone,
to the gate at a punctual ten o'clock. Somehow his delight in his love
for Vivien, and in hers for him, was being marred. Ever so little, ever
so faintly, yet still a little, his romance was turning to duty. A
delightful duty, of course, one in which his whole heart was engaged,
but still no longer just the one thing--the spontaneous voluntary
thing--which filled his life. It had now an opposite. Besides all else
that it was, it had also--even now, even before that marriage so slow in
coming--taken on the aspect of the right thing. In the remote corners of
his mind--banished to those--hovered the shadowy image of its opposite.
Quite impossible that the image should put on bones and flesh--should
take life! Yes, Harry was sure of that. But even its phantom presence
was disturbing.

"I thought I'd got rid of all that!" Some such protest, yet even vaguer
and less formulated, stirred in his thoughts. He conceived that he had
become superior to temptation. Had he? For he was objecting to being
tempted. Who tempted him? Did she--or only he himself, the man he was?
The question hung doubtful, and thereby pressed him the closer. He
flattered himself that he knew women. What else had he to show for a
good deal of time--to say nothing of wear and tear of the emotions? Here
was a woman whose meaning, whose feeling towards himself, he did not
know.

Andy Hayes was free the next afternoon--his half-holiday. Harry picked
him up at his lodgings and carried him with him to Nutley. Harry was
glad to have him, glad to hear all about Gilbert Foot and Co., even more
glad to see his own position through Andy's eyes. Andy's vision was
always so normal, so sane, so simple; his assumptions were always so
right. A man really had only to live up to Andy's assumptions to be
perfectly right. He assumed that a man was honest, straight,
single-minded--unreservedly and exclusively in love with the girl he was
going to marry. Why, of course a man was! Or why marry her? Even
foolishly in love with her? Rather spoonily, as some might think? Andy,
perhaps, went so far as to assume that. Well, it was a most healthy
assumption--eminently right on the practical side; primitive perhaps,
but tremendously right.

"I'll take Miss Vintry off your hands. Don't be afraid about that!"
laughed Andy.

"I don't know that you'll be allowed to. You're no end of a favourite of
Vivien's. She often talks about you. In fact I think I'm a bit jealous,
Andy!"

Andy's presence seemed to restore his balance, which had seemed
shaken--even if very slightly. He found himself again dwelling on the
charms of Vivien, recalling her pretty ways and the shy touches of
humour that sometimes ornamented her timidity.

"I asked her the other day--I was playing the fool, you know--what she
would do if I forsook her. What do think she said?"

Andy was prepared for anything brilliant, but, naturally, unable to
suggest it.

"She said, 'Drown myself in the lake, Harry--or else send for Andy
Hayes.'"

"Did she say that?" cried Andy, hugely delighted, blushing as red as he
had when the Nun told him that he was attractive.

If Andy's simplicity and ready enthusiasm were congenial to some minds
and some moods, to others they could be very exasperating. To have it
assumed that you are feeling just what you ought to feel--or even rather
more than could in strictness be expected from you--may be a strain on
your patience. Harry had welcomed in Andy an assumption of this order;
at the moment it helped him. Isobel gave a similar assumption about her
feelings a much less hearty welcome. While Harry and Vivien took a
stroll by themselves after lunch, Andy sat by her and was enthusiastic
about them; he had forgotten the Nun's unjust hints.

Isobel chafed. "Oh, yes, it's all very ideal, I daresay, Mr. Hayes.
Let's hope it'll last! But Mr. Harry's been in love before, hasn't he?"

"Most people have had a fancy or two." (Even he himself had indulged in
one.) "This is quite different to him, I know. And how could anybody
help being fond of her?"

"At any rate she's pretty free from the dangers of competition down
here." She looked at Andy with a curious smile.

He laughed heartily. "Yes, that's all right, anyhow! Not that it would
make any difference, I'm sure."

"If it were only to show this simpleton--" The angry thought was in her
heart. But there was more. Harry's devotion was seeming very
whole-hearted that day. Had she lost her power to disturb it? Was Andy
in the end right in leaving her utterly out of consideration? Every day
now and every hour it hurt her more to see Harry's handsome head ever
bowed to Vivien, his eyes asking her love and receiving the loving
answer. A wave of jealousy and of defiance swept over her. Andy need not
know--she could afford to leave him in his folly. Vivien must not
know--that would be too inconvenient. But Harry himself--was he quite to
forget those two walks to the gate? She burned to use her power. A
letter from Wellgood had reached her that morning; it was not a proposal
of marriage, but by his talk of future plans--of what was to happen
after Vivien left them--it assumed that she was still to be at Nutley.
The implication was definite; matters only awaited his return.

"I haven't had a single word with you--by ourselves--all day," said
Vivien to Andy after dinner. "You'll walk with me, won't you?"

"For my part I don't think I want to walk at all," said Harry. "It's
rather chilly. Will you keep me company indoors, and forgive my cigar,
Miss Vintry?"

Isobel assented rather coldly, but her heart beat quicker. Now that the
chance came--by no contrivance of hers and unexpectedly--she was
suddenly afraid of it, and afraid of what seemed a sudden revelation of
the strength of her feeling for Harry. She had meant to play with him,
to show him that, if she was to be left out of the reckoning, it was by
her own choice; to make him see her power fully for once before she hid
it for ever. Could she carry out her dangerous programme? Harry had been
at his gayest that night, just in the mood which had carried him to most
of his conquests--gaily daring, skirting topics of gallantry with
defiant ease, provoking, yet never offending. If his eyes spoke true, he
was in the mood still.

"Only a week more!" he said. "Then papa-in-law comes back, and I go
electioneering. Well, I suppose we've had enough of what they call
dalliance." He sank into an armchair by the fireplace, sighing in
pleasant indolence, lolling gracefully.

The long windows were open to the terrace; the evening air came in cool
and sweet. She looked out on the terrace; Vivien and Andy had wandered
away; they were not in sight. Vivien's wrap lay on a chair close to the
window.

"Vivien ought to have taken her wrap," said Isobel absently, as she came
back and stood by the mantelpiece opposite Harry. Her cheeks were a
little flushed and her eyes bright to-night; she responded to Harry's
gaiety, his mood acted on hers.

"What are you going to do after we're--after the break-up here?" he
asked suddenly.

She smiled down at him, pausing a moment before she answered. "You seem
quite sure that there will be a complete break-up," she said.

He looked hard at her; she smiled steadily. "Well, I know that Vivien
won't be here," he said.

"Oh, I know that much too, Mr. Harry. But I suppose her father will."

"I suppose that too. Which leaves only one of the party unaccounted
for."

"Yes, only one of us unaccounted for."

"One that may be Miss Wellgood's companion, but could hardly be Mr.
Wellgood's. He can scarcely claim the privileges of old age yet."

"You think I ought to be looking out for another situation? But
supposing--merely supposing--Mr. Wellgood didn't agree?"

Harry flung his cigar into the grate. "Do you mean--?" he said slowly.
She gave a little laugh. He laughed too, rather uneasily. "I say, you
can't mean--?"

"Can't I? Well, I only said 'supposing.' And I think you chaffed me
about it yourself once. You forget what you say to women, Mr. Harry."

"Should you like it?"

"Beggars mustn't be choosers. We can't all be as lucky as Vivien!"

"Was I serious? No--I mean--are you? Wellgood!"

"Why shouldn't I be? Or why shouldn't Mr. Wellgood? It seems absurd?"

"Not in Wellgood, anyhow."

"Beggars mustn't be choosers."

"You a beggar! Why, you're--"

"What am I?"

"Shall I break the rules?"

She gave him a long look before answering. "No, don't." Her voice shook
a little, her composure was less perfect.

Harry was no novice; the break in the voice did not escape him. He
marked it with a thrill of triumph; it told him that she was not merely
playing with him; he was holding his own, he had his power. The fight
was equal. He rose to his feet and stood facing her, both of them by the
mantelpiece.

"I don't want you to say anything about this to Vivien, because it's not
definite yet. If the opportunity were offered to me, don't you think I
should be wise to accept?"

"Are you in love with him?" He looked in her eyes. "No, you can't be!"

"Your standard of romance is so high. I like him--and perhaps I don't
like looking out for another situation." Her tone was lighter; she
seemed mistress of herself again. But Harry had not forgotten the break
in her voice.

"Have you considered that this arrangement--"

"Which we have supposed--"

"Would make you my mother-in-law?"

"Well, your stepmother-in-law. That doesn't sound quite so oppressive, I
hope?"

"They both sound to me considerably absurd."

"I really can't see why they should."

Their eyes met in confidence, mirthful and defiant. They fought their
duel now, forgetful of everybody except themselves. His old spirit had
seized on Harry; it carried him away. She gave herself up to the delight
of her triumph and to the pleasure that his challenge gave her. Out of
sight, out of mind, were Vivien and Andy.

"But relationship has its consolations, its privileges," said Harry,
leaning towards her, his face alight with mischievous merriment. He
offered her his hand. "At all events, accept my congratulations."

She gave him her hand. "You're premature, both with congratulations and
with relationship."

"Oh, I'm always in a hurry about things," laughed Harry, holding her
hand. He leant closer yet; his face was very near hers now--his comely
face with its laughing luring eyes. She did not retreat. Harry saw in
her eyes, in her flushed cheeks and quickened breath, in her
motionlessness, the permission that he sought. Bending, he kissed her
cheek.

She gave a little laugh, triumphant, yet deprecatory and nervous. Her
face was all aflame. Harry's gaze was on her; slowly he released her
hand. She stood an instant longer, then, with a shrug of her shoulders,
walked across the room towards the windows. Harry stood watching her,
exultant and merry still.

Suddenly she came to a stand. She spoke without looking round. "Vivien's
shawl was on that chair."

The words hardly reached his preoccupied brain. "What? Whose shawl?"

She turned round slowly. "Vivien's shawl was on that chair, and it's
gone," she said.

Harry darted past her to the window, and looked out. He came back to her
on tiptoe and whispered, "Andy! He's about two-thirds of the way across
the terrace with the thing now."

"He must have come in just a moment ago," she whispered in return.

Harry nodded. "Yes--just a moment ago. I wonder--!" He pursed up his
lips, but still there was a laughing devil in his eye. "Lucky she didn't
come for it herself!" he said. "But--well, I wonder!"

She laid her finger on her lips. They heard steps approaching, and
Vivien's merry voice. Harry made a queer, half-puzzled, half-amused
grimace. Isobel walked quickly on to the terrace. Inside the light fell
too mercilessly on her cheeks; she would meet them beneath the friendly
cover of the night.



Chapter XII.

CONCERNING A STOLEN KISS.


A stolen kiss may mean very different things--almost nothing (not quite
nothing, or why steal it?), something yet not too much, or well-nigh
everything. The two parties need not give it the same value; a witness
of it is not, of necessity, bound by the valuation of either of them. It
may be merely a jest, of such taste as charity can allow in the
circumstances; it may be the crown and end of a slight and passing
flirtation; it may be the first visible mark of a passion destined to
grow to fierce intensity. Or it may seem utterly evasive in its
significance at the moment, as it were indecipherable and imponderable,
waiting to receive from the future its meaning and its weight.

The last man to find his way through a maze of emotional analysis was
Andy Hayes; his mind held no thread of experience whereby to track the
path, his temperament no instinct to divine it. He could not assign a
value--or values--to the incident of which chance had made him a
witness; what Harry's impulse, Isobel's obvious acceptance of it, the
intensity and absorption that marked the bearing of the two in the brief
moment in which he saw them as he lifted Vivien's shawl, stood looking
for a flash of time, and quickly turned away--what these things meant or
amounted to he could not tell. But there was no uncertainty about his
feelings; he was filled with deep distaste. He was not a man of
impracticable ideals--his mind walked always in the mean--but he was
naturally averse from intrigue, from underhand doings, from the playing
of double parts. They were traitors in this thing; let it mean the least
it could, even to mere levity or unbecoming jocularity (their faces rose
in his mind to contradict this view even as he put it), still they were
so far traitors. The first brunt of his censure fell on Isobel, but his
allegiance to Harry was also so sorely shaken that it seemed as though
it could never be the same again. The engagement had been to Andy a
sacrosanct thing; it was now sacrilegiously defaced by the hands of the
two most bound to guard it. "Very low-down!" was Andy's humble phrase of
condemnation--at least very low-down; how much more he knew not but that
in the best view of the case. At the moment his heart had gone out to
Vivien in a great pang of compassion; it seemed such a shame to tamper
with, even if not actually to betray, a trust like hers. His face, like
Isobel's, had been red--but red with anger--under the cover of the
night. He was echoing the Nun's "Poor girl!" which in loyalty to his
friend he had before resented.

His first impulse had been to shield Vivien from any suspicion; it
taught him a new cunning, an hypocrisy not his own. If Isobel delayed
their return to the brightly lighted room, he did not hurry it--let all
the faces have time to recover! But his voice was calm and unmoved; for
him he was even talkative and exuberant. When they went in, he met Harry
with an unembarrassed air. Relief rose in Isobel; yet Harry doubted. So
far as Harry could reason, he must have all but seen, probably had
actually seen. And in one thing there was significance. He went on
devoting himself to Vivien; he did not efface himself in Harry's favour,
as his wont was. He seemed to make his presence a fence round her,
forbidding her lover's approach. Harry, now talking trifles to Isobel,
watched him keenly, hardly doubting, hardly venturing to hope.

"Till lunch to-morrow, Harry," said Vivien gaily, when the time for
good-night came. "You'll come too, won't you, Mr. Hayes?"

"Thanks awfully, but I'm off for a big tramp."

"To dinner then?" asked Isobel very graciously.

"Thanks awfully, but I--I really must sup with old Jack."

The quickest glance ran from Harry to Isobel.

What was to be done? Take the chance--the bare chance--that he had not
seen anything, or not seen all? Or confess the indiscretion and plead
its triviality--with a vow of penitence, serious if Andy must be serious
over such a trifle, light if he proved man of the world enough to join
in laughing it off? No, Harry would take the chance, poor as it was.
Even if Andy had seen, how could he interfere? To confess, however
lightly, would be to give him a standing in the case, a right to put his
oar in. It would be silly to do that; as matters stood now, his title
could be denied if he sought to meddle. He knew Andy well enough to be
sure that he would do nothing against him without fair warning. If he
meant to tell tales to Vivien or to Wellgood, he would warn Harry first.
Time enough to wrestle with him then! Meanwhile they--he was coupling
Isobel with himself--would stand on the defensive; nothing should be
admitted, everything should be ignored.

So much for Andy! He was assessed--a possible danger, a certain cause
for vigilance, also, it must be confessed, rather an uncomfortable
presence, an embarrassing witness of his friend's orthodox love-making,
as he had been an unwilling one of his heterodox. Meanwhile Harry's tact
was equal to the walk back to Meriton, Andy proving inclined to silence
but not unfriendly or morose, still less actively aggressive or
reproachful. And he would not be at Meriton to-morrow. The word could be
passed to Isobel--be careful but say nothing! Very careful in Andy's
presence--but no admissions to be made!

Aye, so much for Andy! But besides the witness there are the parties.
Besides the person who catches you kissing, there is the person you
kiss. There is also you, who kiss. All questions of value are not
decided by the impression you chance to make on the witness. The
bystander may see most of the game; the players settle the stakes.

"Perverse!" was Harry's verdict on the whole affair, given from his own
point of view; not only perverse that he should have been caught--if he
had been--but no less perverse that he should have done the thing, that
he should have wanted to do it, and that he should feel as he now did
about it. Perhaps the last element was really the most perverse of all,
because it set up in his mind an opposition to what was plainly the only
course open to him from Isobel's point of view. (Here the question of
the third value came in.) That was surely open and avowed penitence--a
sincere apology, as serious or as light as was demanded or would be
accepted. She could not pretend that she felt outraged. In truth they
had shared in the indiscretion and been partners in the peccadillo. An
apology not too abject, a hint at the temptation, gracefully put, to
serve for excuse, a return to the safe ground of friendship--and a total
oblivion of the incident! Or, if they must think of it at all, it would
be without words--with a smile, maybe, in a few days' time; that is how
we feel about some not serious, by no means unpleasant, little scrape
that is well over. Harry had been in a good many such--perverse but not
fatal, annoying at the time, not necessarily things on which the memory
dwelt with pain in after days; far from it sometimes, in fact.

That was the right thing to do, and the right way to regard the episode.
But Harry was conscious of a complication--in the circumstances and in
his own feelings. Owing to his engagement with Vivien he must go on
frequenting Isobel's society; owing to the memory of his kiss the
necessity was not distasteful. Well, these little complications must be
unravelled; the first difficulty faced, the second ignored or overcome.
He arrived at so clear, sound, and prudent a resolution thus to minimise
the effects of his indiscretion that he felt almost more virtuous than
if he had been discreet.

So the parties, as well as the witness, were assessed. But who had put
into his hand the standard whereby to assess Isobel? She might measure
by another rule.

The confession--and absolution--thus virtuously and comfortably planned
did not take place the next day, for the simple reason that Miss Vintry
afforded no opportunity for them; she was ill and invisible. On the
following day she was on a sofa. Immediately on his appearance, Harry
was sent home again, Vivien declaring that she must be in unremitting
attendance on her friend. The third day matters seemed back on their
usual footing; but still he got no private word with Isobel. Once or
twice he caught her looking at him in what seemed a thoughtful way; when
observed, she averted her glance, but without embarrassment. Perhaps
this avoidance of all chance of private talk--of all possibility of
referring to the incident--was her way of treating it; perhaps she meant
to dispense with apology and go straight to oblivion. If that were her
intention, she misjudged Harry's feelings. He felt baulked of his scheme
of confession and absolution--baulked and tantalized. He felt almost
insulted--did she not think him gentleman enough to apologise? He felt
curious--did she not feel the desire for an apology herself? He felt
amazed--had she no anxiety about Andy? The net result was that he could
think of little else than of her and of the incident. And under these
circumstances he had to carry on his orthodox love-making! The way of
trangressors is said to be hard; at moments Harry felt his worse than
that; it had a tendency to become ridiculous.

Against this abhorred peril he struck back vigorously and instinctively
on effective lines. He could hold his own in a duel of the sexes. His
court of Vivien not only seemed but became more ardent--in these matters
the distinction between being and seeming runs very thin, since the
acting excites the reality. If one woman teased him, occupying his
thoughts without satisfying his desire, he turned to the adoration of
another, and gave her of his own that hers might be more complete.
Adoring Vivien found herself adored; Harry's worship would break out
even in Isobel's presence! He who had been rather too content to accept
now asked; she could not do enough to witness her love.
Half-unconsciously fighting for a victory he less than consciously
desired, he struck at Isobel through Vivien--and made Vivien supremely
happy. Happiness gave her confidence; confidence gave her new charm, a
new vivacity, a daring to speak her gay and loving thoughts. Who should
not listen if Harry loved to hear? Her growth in power to allure made
Harry wonder that he could not love single-heartedly, why his
recollection of the incident remained so fresh and so ever-present. If
Isobel would give him a chance to wind it up! It was troublesome now
only because it hung in a mystery created by her silence, because the
memory of it was irritated by a curiosity which her evasion of him
maintained. Did she think it nothing? Or could she not bear to speak of
it, because it was so much more? At any rate she should see how he loved
Vivien!

The three had this week to themselves--Andy engulfed in town and Gilbert
Foot and Co., Wellgood not due back till the Saturday. So they passed
it--Vivien in a new ecstasy; Harry ardent, troubled, wondering; Isobel
apart, thoughtful, impossible to read. Thus they came to the Friday.
To-morrow Wellgood would be back. Harry, thinking on this, thought
suddenly of what had led up to the incident--what had been the excuse,
the avenue, for his venture. It had been absorbed in the incident
itself. Wellgood's coming gave it back to independent life. If what
Isobel had said were true, another lover entered on the scene--Isobel's!

That night--when Harry had gone--Vivien came to Isobel and kissed her,
saying, "It's wonderful, but to-night I'm sure!"

Isobel was looking at an illustrated paper. She let her hand rest in
Vivien's, but she did not raise her eyes from the pictures. "Silly
child, you've been sure all along!"

"Not as I am to-night. I've been sure I pleased him, that he liked me,
that he liked my love. I've never been sure that he really wanted it
till the last two or three days." She paused a moment, and added softly,
"Never sure he must have it, as much as I must have his!"

Isobel's paper slipped from her knees on to the floor, but still she did
not look at Vivien.

"It's a wonderful feeling that," the girl went on; "to feel he must have
it--that he must have my love as I must have his. Before he seemed to be
doing all the giving--and I could hardly believe! Now I'm giving
too--we're sharing. Somehow it makes a woman of me." She playfully
caressed Isobel's hand, running fingers lightly over fingers. "I don't
believe I'm afraid even of you any more!" Her tone was gay,
affectionately bantering.

Now Isobel looked up at her as she leant over her shoulder. "It makes
you look very pretty."

"It makes me feel prettier still," laughed Vivien. She put her face
close to her friend's and whispered, blushing, "He kisses me differently
now."

Isobel Vintry sharply drew her hand away. Vivien's blush grew painfully
bright.

"Oh, I--I oughtn't to have said that. You're right, Isobel. It's--it's
too sacred. But I was so happy in it. Do forgive me, dear. I've got no
mother to talk to, Isobel. Not even a sister! I know what you felt, but
you must forgive me."

"There's nothing to forgive, child. I meant nothing when I took my hand
away. I was going to pick up the paper."

"Then kiss me, Isobel."

Isobel slowly turned her head and kissed the girl's cheek. "I know what
you mean, Vivien," she said with a smile that to the girl seemed
wistful, almost bitter.

"You dear!" she whispered. "Some day you must be very happy too." Her
voice carolled in song as she sped upstairs.

"The good which I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I
do." That--and possibly one other--reminiscence of the Scriptures came
back to Isobel Vintry when, with a kiss, she had dismissed Vivien to her
happy rest. There was another law, warring against the law of her
mind--the law of the Restless and Savage Master. He broke friendship's
power and blurred the mirror of loyalty. He drove her whither she would
not go, commanded her to set her hand to what she would not touch,
forced love to mate with loathing. "The child is so beautifully happy,"
her spirit cried. "Aye, in Harry Belfield's kisses," came the Master's
answer. "Wouldn't she be? You've tasted them. You know." She knew. They
were different now! From those he had given Vivien before? Yes. From the
one he had given her? Or like that one? Her jealousy caught fresh flame
from Vivien's shy revelation--fresh flame and new shame. Harry was
repenting--with smiles of memory. She was sinning still, with groans,
with all her cunning, and with all her might. Pass the theory that it is
each man for himself in this fight, and each woman for her own hand. No
doubt; but should not the fight be fair? The girl did not so much as
know there was a fight, and should not and must not, unless and until it
had gone irrevocably against her. "All's fair in love--and war." Yet
traitors suffer death from their own side and the enemy's contempt.

His kisses were different now--that set her aflame. Aye, and to mark how
under their new charm Vivien opened into new power and took hold on new
weapons! The new kisses somehow made a woman of her! It might be
tolerable to see him make his marriage of convenience, doing no more
than somewhat indolently allowing himself to be adored. But to see him
adoring this other--that was to be worsted on the merits--not merely to
be impossible, but to be undesired. Was that coming about? Had it come
about--so soon after the stolen kiss? Then the kiss had been all
failure, all shame; he had mocked while he kissed. She was cheapened,
yet not aided. The cunning of the last six days had been bent to prove
that she had been aided--her value not cheapened but enhanced.

Looking again out of the window whence she had watched the pair at their
love-making, looking over the terrace, now empty, across the water
(water seems ever to answer to the onlooker's mood), she exclaimed
against the absence of safeguards. Were she a wife--or were Vivien! That
would be a fence, making for protection--a sturdy fence, which to break
down or to leap over would be plain trespassing, a profanation, open
offence. Were she--or were Vivien--a mother! The Savage Master himself
must own a worthy foe in motherhood--one that gave him trouble, one that
he vanquished only after hard fighting, and then saw his victory
bitterly grudged, piteously wept over, deplored in a heart-rending
fashion; you could see that in the morning's paper. She chanced to have
read such a case a day or two before. The letter of confession was
signed "Mother the outcast." To have to sign like that--if you let the
Master beat you--was a deterrent, a safeguard, a shield. Such defences
she had not. Vivien was neither wife nor mother; no more was she. The
engagement seemed but victory in the first bout; was it forbidden to try
the best of three? Nothing was irrevocable yet--on either side. "At
lovers' vows--!" Or a stolen kiss! Or a stolen victory?

Suddenly she remembered, and with the same quality of smile as Vivien
had marked, that she had been an exemplary child, ever extolled, never
punished; a pattern schoolgirl, with the highest marks, Queen on May-day
(a throne not to be achieved without the Principal's _congé d'élire!_),
a model student at Cambridge. Hence the unexceptionable credentials
which had introduced her to Nutley, had made her Vivien's preceptress,
Vivien's bulwark against fear and weakness, Vivien's shield--and
destined to be a shield to successive young ladies after Vivien. Who
first had undermined that accepted view of destiny, had disordered that
well-schooled, almost Sunday-schooled, scheme of her life? Vivien's
father, who came back to-morrow. At whose challenge was the shaken
fortress like to fall? Vivien's lover, who came yesterday and the day
before, to-morrow and the day after, every day till he went out of life
with Vivien.

As with minds greatly preoccupied, the ordinary traffic of the hours
passed unnoticed; bed, sleep, breakfast, were a moment. She found
herself greeting Wellgood, newly arrived, ruddy and robust, confident,
self-satisfied--as she saw in a moment, eager. His kiss to his daughter
was carelessly kind, and with it he let her go, she not unwilling; Harry
was due at the gate. Wellgood's real greeting was for the woman whom to
see was his home-coming. He led her with him into his study; he laid his
hand on her arm as he made her sit down near him.

"Well, have the lovers bored you to death with their spooning since I've
been away?"

"There's been a good deal of it, and not much relief. Only Andy Hayes
now and then."

"Rather tiresome to be the onlooker all the time. Wouldn't you like a
little on your own account?"

"I'm in no hurry." She looked him straight in the face, rather
defiantly.

"I've made up my mind since I've been away. I'm not a good hand at
speeches or at spooning, but I'm fond of you, Isobel. I'll make you a
good husband--and it's for you to consider whether you'll ever get a
better chance."

"I should like more time to think it over."

"Oh, come, don't tell me you haven't been thinking it over for weeks
past. What's the difficulty?"

"I'm not in love with you--that's all."

"I don't expect to inspire a romantic passion, like young Harry."

"Can't you leave Harry Belfield out of it?" she asked irritably.

"I see he has bored you," chuckled Wellgood. "But you like me? We get on
together?"

"Yes, I like you, and we get on together. But I don't want to marry
yet."

"No more do I--just yet!" He rose and went to the mantelpiece to choose
a pipe. "Have you got any friends you could stay a month with?"

His back was to her; he was busy filling the pipe. He saw neither the
sudden stiffening of her figure nor the fear in her eyes. Was he going
to send her away--now? But she answered coolly, "Yes, I think I could
arrange it, if you wish."

"Somehow a man feels rather a fool, being engaged himself while his
girl's getting married. We should have all the idiots in the
neighbourhood buzzing about with their jokes and congratulations. I've
made a plan to avoid all that. We keep it quite dark till Vivien's
wedding; then you go off, ostensibly for good. I stay here and give the
place an overhauling; then I'll join you in town, we'll be married
there, and go for a jaunt. By the time we come back they'll have cooled
down--and they'll be jolly glad to have shirked their wedding presents."
By now he had turned round; the strain and the fear had passed from
Isobel; the month's visit to friends was not to come now. "How do you
like the scheme?" he asked.

"I like the scheme very much, and I'm all for keeping it quiet till
Vivien is disposed of."

He stood before her, smoking his pipe, his hands in his pockets. "Shall
we call it settled?"

"I don't want to call it settled yet."

He put down his pipe. "Look here, Isobel, because I can't make pretty
speeches, don't you think I don't feel this thing. I want you, and I
want the thing settled. You ought to know your mind by now. If you want
to say no, you can say it now, but I don't believe you do. Then why
can't you say yes? It's devilishly uncomfortable to go on living in the
house with you while the thing's unsettled."

Would the visit come into play after all, unless she consented? Isobel
sat in thought.

"Just understood between ourselves--that's what I mean. I shan't bother
you with much love-making, as I daresay you can guess."

She had cried out for a fence, a protection. Did not one offer itself
now? It might prove of service. She saw that the man loved her in his
rough way; his love might help her. For the time, at least, his honest
sincerity of affection touched her heart. His "I want you" was grateful
to her. That other thing--the thing to which the stolen kiss
belonged--was madness. Surely she had resolution to withstand it and to
do what was wise? Surely she could be honest? If only because, in all
likelihood, dishonesty led nowhere.

"Suppose I said yes--and changed my mind?" She was trying to be
honest--or perhaps to put herself in a position to maintain that she had
been honest, if need arose.

"I must take my chance of that, like other men," laughed Wellgood. "But,
like other men too, I don't suppose I should be very pleasant about it.
Especially not if there was another fellow!"

"No, I don't suppose you would." She smiled at him for a moment; he
showed there a side of him that she liked--his courage, his
self-confidence, his power to stand up for himself.

"You leave it to me to keep you when once I've got you," he went on,
smiling grimly. "That's my affair; you'll find I shall look after it."

She smiled back at him--defiance in return for his grimness. "Very well,
I'll leave it to you to keep me. After all, there's no reason to expect
competition."

"Not in Meriton, perhaps! But what of London, Miss Isobel? I must keep
an eye on you there!" He took hold of her hands and pulled her to her
feet. "It's a promise?"

"In the way I've told you--yes."

"Oh, that's good enough for me!" He drew her to him and kissed her. "We
shan't have many chances of kissing--or we should give the thing away.
But give me one now, Isobel!"

She did as she was bid in a very friendly fashion. His kiss had been
hearty but not passionate, and hers was an adequate response. It left
Wellgood entirely content.

"That's all right! Gad, I feel ten years younger! You shan't repent it.
I'll look after you well--while I'm alive and after I'm gone too. Don't
be afraid about that. Perhaps there'll be somebody else to look after
you, by the time I get notice to quit. I'd like to leave a Wellgood of
Nutley behind me."

"Do you know, that's sentimental?" said Isobel. "Mere sentiment!"

"Not a bit of it, miss. It's a sound natural instinct, and I'm proud of
it." He kissed her again. "Now be off, there's a good girl. I've got a
thousand things to do, and probably everything's been going to the devil
while I've been away."

"I rather pity everybody now you've come back!"

"Don't you worry. I know I shall find your department in good order. Be
off!" He took her by the shoulders in a rough playfulness and turned her
towards the door. She left him chuckling to himself. He was very content
with the issue of his suit.

Was her department in good order? Her lips twisted in a wry smile.

As she approached the drawing-room door, Harry Belfield came out of it.
He started a little to see her--not that it was strange she should be
there, but because he had not seen her alone since the night of the
stolen kiss. He closed the door behind him and came to her.

"Vivien"--a jerk of his head told that Vivien was in the
drawing-room--"has sent me to say 'How do you do?' to Mr. Wellgood."

"He's in his study, Mr. Harry. Don't stay long. He's very busy." She
drew aside, to let him pass, but Harry stood still.

"Are you never going to give me an opportunity?" he asked in a low
voice.

"An opportunity for what?"

Harry jumped at the chance of his confession and absolution. "Why, of
saying how awfully sorry and--and ashamed I am that I yielded--"

"What's the use of saying anything about it? It's best forgotten."

"Now Wellgood's back?" he whispered, with a flash of his eyes.

"Certainly best forgotten, now that Vivien's father is back."

He shook his head at her with a smile, owning her skilful parry. "You
won't give me one chance?"

"Does the dashing Mr. Harry Belfield need to have chances given him? I
thought he made them for himself."

Harry's eyes gleamed. "I'll take you at your word in that!"

"You've been in no hurry about it up to now--and you seem in none to say
'How do you do?' to Mr. Wellgood." She motioned him to go on, adding,
"It was very silly, but no harm's done. We'll forget."

Harry gave her a long look. She met it with a steady smile. He held out
his hand.

"Thank you. We'll forget. There's my hand on it."

She gave a little laugh, shook her head, and put her hands behind her
back.

"I seem to remember it began that way before," she said, and darted past
him swiftly.

That was how they set about forgetting the stolen kiss.



Chapter XIII.

A LOVER LOOKS PALE.


It speedily appeared that Gilly Foot had other than pecuniary reasons
for wanting a partner; he wanted a pair of hands to work for him. He was
lazy, at times even lethargic; nothing could make him hurry. He hated
details, and, above all other details, figures. His work was to hatch
ideas; somebody else had to bring up the chickens. Andy could hardly
have allowed the cool shuffling-off of all the practical business work
on to his shoulders--which was what happened as soon as he had learnt
even the rudiments of it--had it not been that the ideas were good. The
indolent young man would sit all the morning--not that his morning began
very early--apparently doing nothing, then spend two hours at lunch at
the restaurant, come back smoking a large cigar, and after another
hour's rumination be delivered of an idea. The budding business--Andy
wondered how it had even budded under a gardener who no doubt planted
but never watered--lay mainly with educational works; and here Gilly's
ingenuity came in. He was marvellously good at guessing what would
appeal to a schoolmaster; how or whence he got this instinct it was
impossible to say; it seemed just a freak of genius. The prospectus of a
new "series," or the "syllabus" of a new course of study (contained in
Messrs. Gilbert Foot and Co.'s primers) became in his hands a most
skilful bait. And if he hooked one schoolmaster, as he pointed out to
Andy, it was equivalent to hooking scores, perhaps hundreds, conceivably
thousands, of boys. Girls too perhaps! Gilly was all for the higher
education of girls. Generations of the youth of both sexes rose before
his prophetically sanguine eye, all brought up on Gilbert Foot and Co.'s
primers.

"A single really good idea for a series may mean a small fortune, Andy,"
he would say impressively. "And now I think I may as well go to lunch."

Andy accepted the situation and did the hard work. He also provided his
partner with a note-book, urging him to put down (or, failing that, to
get somebody else to put down) any brilliant idea which occurred to him
at lunch. For himself he made a rule--lunch at the restaurant not more
than once a week. Only ideas justified lunch there every day. Lunch
there might be good for ideas; it was not good for figures.

So Andy was working hard, no less hard than when he was trying to drag
his poor timber business out of the mud, but with far more heart, hope,
and zest. He buckled to the figures; he bargained with the gentlemen who
wrote the primers, with the printers, and the binders, and the
advertisement canvassers; he tracked shy discounts to their lairs, and
bagged them; his eye on office expenses was the eye of a lynx. The
chickens hatched by Gilly found a loving and assiduous foster-mother.
And in September, after the new primers had been packed off to meet the
boys going back to school, Andy was to have a holiday; he was looking
forward to it intensely. He meant to spend it in attending Harry
Belfield on his autumn campaign in the Meriton Division--an odd idea of
a holiday to most men's thinking, but Harry was still Harry, and Andy's
appetite for new experiences had lost none of its voracity. Meanwhile,
for recreation, there was Sunday with its old programme of church, a
tramp, and supper with Jack Rock; there was lunch on Friday at the
restaurant with the Nun--she never missed Andy's day--and other friends;
and on both the Saturdays which followed the Belfields' return home he
was bidden to dine at Halton.

That the Nun had taken a fancy to him he had been informed by that
candid young woman herself; her assurance that he was "attractive" held
good as regarded Belfield at least; even Andy's modesty could not deny
that. Belfield singled him out for especial attention, drew him out,
listened to him, advised him. It was at the first of the two evenings at
Halton that he kept Andy with him after dinner, while the rest went into
the garden--Wellgood and Vivien were there, but not Isobel, who had
pleaded a cold--and insisted on hearing all about his business,
listening with evident interest to Andy's description of it and of his
partner, Gilly Foot.

"And in your holiday you're going to help Harry, I hear?"

"Help him!" laughed Andy. "I'm going to listen to him."

"I recommend you to try your own hand too. You couldn't have a better
opportunity of learning the job than at these village meetings."

"I could never do it. It never entered my head. Why, I know nothing!"

"More than your audience; that's enough. If you do break down at first,
it doesn't matter. After a month of it you wouldn't mind Trafalgar
Square."

"The--the idea's absolutely new to me."

"So have a lot of things been lately, haven't they? And they're turning
out well."

A slow smile spread over Andy's face. "I should look a fool," he
reflected.

"Try it," said Belfield, quite content with the reception of his
suggestion. He saw that Andy would turn it over in his mind, would give
it full, careful, impartial consideration. He was coming to have no
small idea of Andy's mind. He passed to another topic.

"You were at Nutley two or three times when we were away, Harry tells
me. Everything seems going on very pleasantly?"

Andy recalled himself with a start from his rumination over a possible
speech.

"Oh, yes--er--it looks like it, Mr. Belfield."

"And Harry's not been to town more than once or twice!" He smiled. "He
really seems to have said farewell to the temptations of London. An
exemplary swain!"

"I think it's going on all right, sir," said Andy.

Belfield was a little puzzled at his lack of enthusiasm. Andy showed no
actual signs of embarrassment, but his tone was cold, and his interest
seemed perfunctory.

"I daresay you've been too busy to pay much attention to such frivolous
affairs," he said; but to Andy's ears his voice sounded the least bit
resentful.

"No; I--I assure you I take the keenest interest in it. I'd give
anything to have it go all right."

Belfield's eyes were on him with a shrewd kindness. "No reason to
suppose it won't, is there?"

"None that I know of." Now Andy was frowning a little and smoking rather
fast.

Belfield said no more. He could not cross-examine Andy; indeed he had no
materials, even if he had the right. But Andy's manner left him with a
feeling of uneasiness.

"Ah, well, there's only six weeks to wait for the wedding!"

The next Saturday found him again at Halton. One of the six weeks had
passed; a week of happy work, yet somewhat shadowed by the recollection
of Belfield's questions and his own poor answers. Had he halted midway
between honest truth and useful lying? In fact he knew nothing of what
had been happening of late. He had not visited Nutley again--since that
night. Suddenly it struck him that he had not been invited. Then--did
they suspect? How could they have timed his entrance so exactly as to
suspect? He did not know that Harry had seen his retreating figure.
Still it would seem to them possible that he might have seen--possible,
if unlikely. That might be enough to make him a less desired guest.

The great campaign was to begin on the following Monday, though Andy
would not be at leisure to devote himself to it till a week later. The
talk ran on it. Wellgood, who seemed in excellent spirits, displayed
keen interest in the line Harry meant to take, and was ready to be
chairman whenever desired. Even Mrs. Belfield herself showed some mild
excitement, and promised to attend one meeting. The girls were to go to
as many as possible, Vivien being full of tremulous anticipation of
Harry's triumph, Isobel almost as enthusiastic a partisan. She had met
Andy with a perfection of composure which drove out of his head any idea
that she suspected him of secret knowledge.

"I'm afraid Harry's been overworking himself over it, poor boy," said
Mrs. Belfield. "Don't you think he looks pale, Mr. Wellgood?"

"I don't know where he's found the time to overwork," Wellgood answered,
with a gruff laugh. "We can account for most of his time at Nutley."

Harry burst into a laugh, and gulped down his wine. He was drinking a
good deal of champagne.

"I sigh as a lover, mother," he explained.

"That's what makes me pale--if I am pale." His tone turned to sudden
irritation. "Don't all look at me. There's nothing the matter." He
laughed again; he seemed full of changes of mood to-night. "The speeches
won't give me much trouble."

"I'm sure you need have no other trouble, dear," said Mrs. Belfield,
with an affectionate glance at Vivien.

"He'll have much more trouble with me, won't he?" Vivien laughed.

Andy stole a look at Isobel. He was filled with admiration; a smile of
just the right degree of sympathy ornamented her lips. A profane idea
that she must be in the habit of being kissed crossed his mind. It was
difficult to see how she could be, though--at Nutley. Kissing takes two.
He did not suspect Wellgood, and he was innocent himself.

Another eye was watching--shrewder and more experienced than
Andy's--watching Harry, watching Isobel, watching while Andy stole his
glance at Isobel. It was easy to keep bluff Wellgood in the dark; his
own self-confidence hoodwinked him. Belfield was harder to blind; for
those who had anything to conceal, it was lucky that he did not live at
Nutley.

"Well, waiting for a wedding's tiresome work for all concerned, isn't
it?" he said to Isobel, who sat next him.

"Yes, even waiting for other people's. It's such a provisional sort of
time, Mr. Belfield."

"You've forsworn one set of pleasures, and haven't got the other yet.
You've ceased to be a rover, and you haven't got a home."

"You don't seem to consider being engaged a very joyful period?" she
smiled.

"On the whole, I don't, Miss Vintry, though Vivien there looks pretty
happy. But it's telling on Harry, I'm sure."

She looked across at Harry. "Yes, I think it is a little," came
apparently as the result of a scrutiny suggested by Belfield's words. "I
hadn't noticed it, but I'm afraid you're right."

"If there's anything up, she's a cool hand," thought Belfield. "You must
try to distract his thoughts," he told her.

"I try to let them see as little of me as possible."

"Too complete a realization of matrimonial solitude _à deux_ before
marriage--Is that advisable?"

"You put too difficult questions for a poor spinster to answer, Mr.
Belfield."

He got nothing out of her, but from the corner of his eye he saw Harry
watching him as he talked to Isobel. Turning his head sharply, he met
his son's glance full and straight. Harry dropped his eyes suddenly, and
again drank off his champagne. Belfield looked sideways at the composed
lady on his right, and pursed up his lips a little.

Wellgood stayed with him to-night after dinner, the young men joining
the ladies in the garden for coffee.

"Our friend Miss Vintry's in great good looks to-night, Wellgood.
Remarkably handsome girl!"

"That dress suits her very well. I thought so myself," Wellgood agreed,
well-pleased to have his secret choice thus endorsed.

Belfield knew nothing of his secret, nothing of his plans. He was only
trying to find out whether Vivien's father were fully at his ease; of
Isobel's lover and his ease he took no account.

"Upon my word," he laughed, "if I were engaged, even to a girl as
charming as your Vivien, I should almost feel it an injury to have
another as attractive about all day. 'How happy could I be with
either--!' you know. The unregenerate man in one would feel that good
material was being wasted; and my boy used to be rather unregenerate,
I'm afraid."

Wellgood smiled in a satisfied fashion. "Even if Master Harry was
disposed to play tricks, I don't think he'd get much encouragement
from--"

"'T'other dear charmer?' Of course you've perfect confidence in her, or
she wouldn't be where she is."

"No, nor where she's going to be," thought Wellgood, enjoying his
secret.

"My licentious fancy has wronged my son. I must have felt a touch of the
old Adam myself, Wellgood. Don't tell my wife."

"You wouldn't tell me, if you knew a bit more," thought triumphant
Wellgood.

"I think Harry's constancy has stood a good trial. Oh, you'll think I
don't appreciate Vivien! I do; but I know Harry."

Wellgood answered him in kind, with a bludgeon-like wit. "You'll think I
don't appreciate Harry. I do; but I know Miss Vintry, and she doesn't
care a button about him."

"We proud parents put one another in our places!" laughed Belfield.

Wellgood saw no danger, and he had been home a fortnight! True, he had,
before that, been away six weeks. But such mischief, if it existed,
would have grown. If it had been there during the six weeks, it would
have been there, in fuller growth, during the fortnight. Belfield felt
reassured. He had found out what he wanted, and yet had given no hint to
Vivien's father. But one or two of his remarks abode in the mind of
Isobel's lover, to whom he did not know that he was speaking. Wellgood's
secret position towards Isobel at once made Belfield's fears, if the
fears were more than a humorous fancy, absurd, and made them, even
though no more than a fancy, stick. He recked nothing of them as a
father; he remembered them as a lover, yet remembered only to laugh in
his robust security. He thought it would be a good joke to tell to
Isobel, not realizing that it is never a good joke to tell a woman that
she has been, without cause and ridiculously, considered a source of
danger to legitimate affections. She may feel this or that about the
charge; she will not feel its absurdity. She is generally right. Few
women pass through the world without stirring in somebody once or twice
an unruly impulse--a fact which should incline them all to
circumspection in themselves, and to charity towards one another, if
possible, and at any rate towards us.

"And what," asked Belfield, with an air of turning to less important
matters, "about the life of this Parliament?"

Wellgood opined that it would prove much what a certain philosopher
declared the life of man to be--nasty, short, and brutish.

In the garden Mrs. Belfield, carefully enfolded in rugs, dozed the doze
of the placid. Isobel and Harry whispered across her unconscious form.

"You shouldn't drink so much champagne, Harry."

"Hang it, I want it! I said nothing wrong, did I?"

"You don't keep control of your eyes. I think your father noticed. Why
look at me?"

"You know I can't help it. And I can't stand it all much longer."

"You can end it as soon as you like. Am I preventing you?"

"I beg your pardon, Miss Vintry? I'm afraid I'm drowsy."

"I was just saying I hoped I wasn't preventing Mr. Harry from strolling
with Vivien, Mrs. Belfield."

"Oh yes, my dear, of course!" The placid lids fell over the placid eyes
again.

"End it? How?"

"By behaving as Vivien's _fiancé_ ought."

"Or by not being Vivien's _fiancé_ any longer?"

"What, Harry love? What's that about not being Vivien's _fiancé_ any
longer?" Mrs. Belfield was roused by words admitting of so startling an
interpretation.

"Well, we shall be married soon, shan't we, mother?"

"How stupid of me, Harry dear!" Sleep again descended. Harry swore
softly; Isobel laughed low.

"This is ridiculous!" she remarked. "Couldn't you take just one turn
with Vivien's companion? Your mother might hear straight just once."

"I'll be hanged if I chance it to-night," said Harry. "I'll take
Wellgood on at billiards."

"Yes, go and do that; it's much better. It may bring back your colour,
Harry."

Harry looked at her in exasperation--and in longing. "I wish there
wasn't a woman in the world!" he growled.

"It's men like you who say that," she retorted, smiling. "Go and forget
us for an hour."

He went without more words--with only such a shrug as he had given when
he said good-bye to Mrs. Freere. Isobel sat on, by dozing Mrs. Belfield,
the picture of a dutiful neglected companion, while Wellgood and Harry
played billiards, and Belfield, wheezing over an unread evening paper,
honoured her with a tribute of distrustful curiosity. Left alone in the
flesh, she could boast that she occupied several minds that evening.
Perhaps she knew it, as she sat silent, thoughtfully gazing across to
where Vivien and Andy sat together, their dim figures just visible in
enshrouding darkness. "He saw--but he won't speak!" she was thinking.

"How funny of Harry to say he sighed as a lover!" Vivien remarked to
Andy.

Andy had the pride and pleasure of informing her that her lover was
indulging in a quotation from another lover, more famous and more
temperate.

"'I sighed as a lover. I obeyed as a son.' I see! How funny! Do you
think Gibbon was right, Mr. Hayes?"

"The oldest question since men had sons and women had lovers, isn't it?"

"Doesn't love come first--when once it has come?"

"After honour, the poet tells us, Miss Wellgood."

Vivien knew that quotation, anyhow. "It's beautiful, but isn't it--just
a little priggish?"

"I think we must admit that it's at least a very graceful apology,"
laughed Andy.

Their pleasant banter bred intimacy; she was treating him as an old
friend. He felt himself hardly audacious in saying "How you've grown!"

She understood him--nay, thanked him with a smile and a flash, revealing
pleasure, from her eyes, often so reticent. "Am I different from the
days of the lame pony and Curly? Not altogether, I'm afraid, but I hope
a little." She sat silent for a moment. "I love Harry--well, so do you."

"Yes, I love Harry." But he had a sore grudge against Harry at that
moment. Who at Halton had once talked about pearls and swine? And in
what connection?

"That's why I'm different." She laughed softly. "If you'd so far
honoured me, Mr. Hayes, and I had--responded, I might never have become
different. I should just have relied on the--policeman."

"The Force is always ready to do its duty," said Andy.

"Take care; you're nearly flirting!" she admonished him merrily; and
Andy, rather proud of himself for a gallant remark, laughed and blushed
in answer. She went on more seriously, yet still with her serene smile.
"First I've got to please him; then I've got to help him. He must have
both, you know."

"Please him, oh, yes! Help him, how?"

"I'm sure you know. Poor boy! His ups and downs! Sometimes he comes to
me almost in despair. It's so hard to help then. Isobel can't either.
He's not happy, you know, to-night."

She had grown. This penetration was new; should he wish that it might
become less or greater? Less for the sake of her peace, or greater for
her enlightenment's?

"It seems as if a darkness swept over him sometimes, and got between him
and me." Her voice trembled a little. "I want to keep that darkness away
from him; so I mustn't be afraid."

"Whether you're afraid or not, you won't run away. Remember Curly!"

She turned to him with affectionate friendliness. "But you'll be there
in this too, so far as you can, won't you? Don't forsake me, will you?
It's sometimes--very difficult." Her face lit up in a smile again. "I
hope it'll make a man of me, as father used to say of that odious
hunting."

It had, at least, made an end of the mere child in her. The discernment
of her lover's trouble, the ignorance of whence it came, the need of
fighting it--she faced these things as part of her work. Her engagement
was no more either amazement merely, or merely joy. She might still be
afraid of dogs, or shrink from a butcher's shop. She knew a difficulty
when she saw one, and for love's sake faced it. Andy thought it made the
love dearer to her; with an inward groan he saw that it did. For he was
afraid. What she told of Harry told more than she could fathom for
herself.

Andy was a partisan. He cried whole-heartedly, "The pity for Vivien!" He
could say, "The pity for Harry!" for old Harry's sake, and more for
Vivien's. No, "The pity for Isobel!" was breathed in his heart. The case
seemed to him a plain one there; and he was not of the party who would
have the Recording Angel as liberal with tears as with ink, sedulously
obliterating everything that he punctiliously wrote--in the end, on that
view, a somewhat ineffectual registrar, who might be spared both ink and
tears, and provided with a retiring pension by triumphant believers in
Necessity. It may come to that.

"I think Harry may be wanting me." She rose in her slim grace, and held
out a hand to him--not in formal farewell, but in an impulse of
good-will. She had come into her heritage of womanhood, and bore it with
a shy stateliness. "Thank you"--a pause rather merry than timid--"Thank
you, policeman Andy."

"No, but I thank you--and you seem to me rather like the queen of the
fairies."

She smiled, and sighed lightly. "If I can make the king think so
always!"

Then she was gone, a white shadow gliding over the grass--a woman now,
still in a child's shape. She flitted past Isobel Vintry, kissing her
hand, and so passed in to where "Harry wanted her."

Politeness dictated that Andy, thus left to himself, should join his
hostess; he did not know that she was asleep, quite sound asleep by now.

Having sat down before he discovered this state of affairs, he found
himself committed to a virtual _tête-à-tête_ with Isobel Vintry, quite
the last thing he desired. He did not find it easy to open the
conversation.

"Oh, we can talk! We shan't disturb her," Miss Vintry hastened to assure
him with a smile. "You've been quite a stranger at Nutley. Did you find
the atmosphere too romantic? Too much love-making for your taste?"

"I did feel rather in the way now and then."

"Perhaps you were once or twice! When you attached yourself to Vivien
after dinner, and left Mr. Harry no resource but poor me!"

Surely if she spoke like that--actually recalling the critical
occasion--she could have no suspicion? Either she must never have
noticed the shawl at all, or feel sure that it had been removed before
her talk with Harry reached the point of danger.

"I'm sure you entertained him very well. I don't think he'd complain."

"Well, sometimes people like talking over their affairs with a third
person for a change--as I daresay Vivien has been doing with you just
now! And, after all, because you're engaged, everybody else in the world
needn't at once seem hopelessly stupid."

Certainly Isobel Vintry could never seem hopelessly stupid, thought
Andy. Rather she was superbly plausible.

"And perhaps even Mr. Harry may like a rest from devotion--or will you
be polite enough to suggest that a temporary change in its object is a
better way of putting it?"

Precisely what it had been in Andy's mind to suggest--but not exactly by
way of politeness! It was disconcerting to have the sting drawn from his
thoughts or his talk in this way.

"That might be polite to you--in one sense; it might sound rather unjust
to Harry," he answered.

"Am I the first person who has ever dared to make such an insinuation?
How shocking! But I've even dared to do it to Mr. Harry himself, and he
hardly denied that he was an incorrigible flirt."

Andy knew that he was no match for her. For any advantage he could ever
win from her, he must thank chance or surprise.

"Don't be so terribly strict, Mr. Hayes. If you were engaged, would you
like every word--absolutely every word--you said to another girl to be
repeated to your _fiancée_?"

Andy, always honest, considered. "Perhaps I shouldn't--and a few pretty
speeches hurt nobody."

"Why, really you're becoming quite human! You encourage me to confess
that Mr. Harry has made one or two to me--and I've not repeated them to
Vivien. I'm relieved to find you don't think me a terrible sinner."

She was skilfully pressing for an indication of what he knew, of how
much he had seen--without letting him, if he did know too much, have a
chance of confronting her openly with his knowledge. Must he be
considered in the game she was playing, or could he safely be neglected?

Andy's temper was rather tried. She talked of a few idle words, a few
pretty speeches--ordinary gallantries. His memory was of two figures
tense with passion, and of a lover's kiss accepted as though by a
willing lover.

"How far would you carry the doctrine?" he asked dryly.

There was a pause before she answered; she was shaping her reply so that
it might produce the result she wanted--information, yet not
confrontation with his possible knowledge.

"As far as a respectful kiss?" Peering through the darkness, she saw a
quick movement of Andy's head. Instantly she added with a laugh, "On the
hand, I mean, of course!"

"You won't ask me to go any further, if I admit that?" asked Andy.

"No. I'll agree with you on that," she said.

Mrs. Belfield suddenly woke up. "Yes, I'm sure Harry's looking pale,"
she remarked.

Isobel had got her information; she was sure now. The sudden movement of
Andy's head had been too startled, too outraged, to have been elicited
merely by an audacious suggestion put forward in discussion; it spoke of
memories roused; it expressed wonder at shameless effrontery. Andy had
revealed his knowledge, but he did not know that he had. He had parted
with his secret; yet it had become no easier for him to meddle. If he
had thought himself bound to say nothing, not to interfere, before, he
would seem to himself so bound still. And if he tried to meddle, at
least she would be fighting now with her eyes open. There might be
danger--there could be no surprise.

When Harry Belfield put on her cloak for her in the hall, she whispered
to him: "Take care of Andy Hayes! He did see us that first night."



Chapter XIV.

SAVING THE NATION.


On a fine afternoon Jack Rock stood smoking his pipe on the pavement of
High Street. His back was towards the road, his face turned to his own
shop-window, where was displayed a poster of such handsome dimensions
that it covered nearly the whole of the plate glass, to the prejudice of
Jack's usual display of mutton and beef. He took no account of that; he
was surveying the intruding poster with enormous complacency. It
announced that there would be held, under the auspices of the Meriton
Conservative and Unionist Association, an open-air Public Meeting that
evening on Fyfold Green. Chairman--The Rt. Hon. Lord Meriton (his
lordship was rarely "drawn;" his name indicated a great occasion).
Speakers--William Foot, Esq., K. C., M. P. (very large letters); Henry
Belfield, Esq., Prospective Candidate etc. (letters not quite so large);
and Andrew Hayes, Esq. (letters decidedly smaller, but still easily
legible from across the street). Needless to say that it was the sight
of the last name which caused Mr. Jack Rock's extreme complacency. He
had put up the stakes; now he was telling himself that the "numbers"
were up for the race. Andy was in good company--too good, of course, for
a colt like him on the present occasion; but in Jack's mind the race
comprised more than one meeting. There was plenty of time for the colt
to train on! Meanwhile there he was, on a platform with Lord Meriton,
with Mr. Foot, King's Counsel, Member of Parliament (Jack's thoughts
rehearsed these titles--the former of which Billy had recently
achieved--at full length, for all the world like the toastmaster at a
public dinner), and Mr. Henry Belfield, Prospective Candidate etc. Mr.
Rock hurled at himself many contemptuous and opprobrious epithets when
he recollected the career which he had once offered for the grateful
acceptance of Andrew Hayes, Esq. To him the poster was a first and
splendid dividend on the three thousand pounds which Miss Doris Flower
had so prettily extracted from his pocket. Here was his return; he
willingly left to Andy the mere pecuniary fruits of the investment.

Thus immensely gratified, Jack refused to own that he was surprised. The
autumn campaign had now been in progress nearly three weeks, and,
although Andy had not been heard before in Meriton, reports of his
doings had come in from outlying villages with which Jack had business
dealings. Nay, Mr. Belfield of Halton himself, who had braved the
evening air by going to one meeting to hear his son, found time to stop
at the shop and tell Jack that he had been favourably impressed by Andy.

"No flowers of rhetoric, Jack," he said with twinkling eyes, "such as my
boy indulges in, but good sound sense--knows his facts. I shouldn't
wonder if the labourers like that better. He knows what their bacon
costs 'em, and how many loaves a week go to a family of six, and so on.
I heard one or two old fellows saying 'Aye, that's right!' half a dozen
times while he was speaking. I wish our old friend at the grammar school
could have heard him!"

"Yes, Mr. Belfield; the old gentleman would have been proud, wouldn't
he?"

"And you've a right to be proud, Jack. I know what you've done for the
lad."

"He's a good lad, sir. He comes to supper with me every Sunday,
punctual, when he's in Meriton."

"You've every reason to hope he'll do very well--a sensible steady
fellow! It'd be a good thing if there were more like him."

Then Chinks and the Bird had made an excursion on their bicycles to hear
Andy, and brought back laudatory accounts--this though Chinks was
suspected of Radical leanings, which he was not allowed by his firm to
obtrude. And old Cox had heard him and pronounced the verdict that,
though he might be no flyer like Mr. Harry, yet he had the makings of a
horse in him. "Wants work, and can stand as much as you give him," said
Mr. Cox.

Immersed in a contemplation of the placard and in the reflections it
evoked, Mr. Rock stepped backwards into the road in order to get a new
view of the relative size of the lettering. Thereby he nearly lost his
life, and made Andy present possessor of a tidy bit of money for which,
in the natural course, he would have to wait many years. (This is
trenching on old Jack's darling secret.) The agitated hoot of a
motor-car sent him on a jump back to the pavement, just in time. The car
came to a standstill.

"I didn't come all this way on purpose to kill you, Mr. Rock!"

Jack had turned round already, in order to swear at his all but
murderer, who might reasonably have pleaded contributory negligence.
Angry words died away. A small figure, enveloped in a dust cloak,
wrapped about the head with an infinite number of yards of soft fabric,
sat alone in the back of the car. The driver yawned, surveying Meriton
with a scornful air, appearing neither disturbed by Mr. Rock's danger
nor gratified by his escape.

"It's so convenient," the small figure proceeded to observe, "when
people have their names written over their houses. Still I think I
should have known you without that. Andy has described you to me, you
see."

"Why, it's never--?" The broadest smile spread on Jack Rock's face.

"Oh yes, it is! I always keep my word. I'm taking a holiday, and I
thought I'd combine my visit to you with--" She suddenly broke off her
sentence, and gave a gurgle. Jack thought it a curiously pleasant sound.
"Why, there it is!" the Nun gurgled, pointing a finger at the wonderful
placard in Jack's window.

"You're--you're Miss Flower?" gasped Jack.

"Yes, yes--but look at it! Those three boys! Billy, and Harry--and Andy!
Andy! Well, of course, one knows they do do things, but somehow it's so
hard to realise. I shall certainly stay for the meeting! Seymour, let me
out!"

Seymour got down in a leisurely fashion, hiding a yawn with one hand and
a cigarette in the other. "I suppose there isn't a hotel in this place,
Miss Flower?" he remarked. (Seymour always called the Nun "Miss Flower,"
never merely "Miss.")

"Oh yes; the Lion, Seymour. Excellent hotel, isn't it, Mr. Rock? Kept by
Mr. Dove, who's got a son named the Bird; and the Bird's got a friend
named Chinks, and--"

"Well, you do beat creation!" cried Jack. "How do you--?"

"Secret sources of information!" said the Nun gravely. "Have I got to go
to the Lion, Mr. Rock? Or--or what time do you have tea?"

"You'll have tea with me, miss?" cried Jack.

"At what hour will you require the car, Miss Flower?" asked Seymour.

"You're goin' to the meetin', miss? Tell the young chap to be round at
six, and mind he's punctual."

"Do as Mr. Rock says, Seymour," smiled the Nun. It was part of the day's
fun to hear Seymour ordered about--and called a young chap!--by the
butcher of Meriton. But she could not get into the house without another
look at the poster. "Billy, Harry--and Andy! I wonder if those boys
really imagine that what they say or think matters!"

Miss Flower was already a privileged person. Jack had no rebuke for her
profanity. She took his arm, saying,

"I want to see the shop. You wanted Andy to have the shop, didn't you?"

"I was an old fool. I--I meant it well, Miss Flower."

The Nun squeezed his arm.

"Were these nice animals when they were alive, Mr. Rock?"

"Prime uns, alive or dead!" chuckled Jack. "You come back to supper,
after the meetin', miss, and taste; but maybe you'll be goin' back to
London, or takin' your supper at Halton?"

"I'm sorry, but I've promised to take Billy Foot back to town. Oh, but
tea now, Mr. Rock!"

Not even the messenger boy whom she had sent enjoyed Jack Rock's tea
more than the Nun herself. For a girl of her inches, she ate immensely;
even more heartily she praised. Jack could hardly eat at all, she was so
daintily wonderful, her being there at all so amazing. Seeking
explanation of the marvel, the simple affectionate old fellow could come
only on one. She must be very fond of Andy! She had written to plead for
Andy; she came and had tea with the old butcher--because he had given
Andy help. And now she was lauding Andy, telling him in her quiet way
that his lad was much thought of by her and her smart friends in London.
Jack had, of course, a very inadequate realisation of what "smartness"
in London really meant--a view which some might have called both
inadequate and charitable.

"Yes, he's a fine lad, miss. I say, the girl as gets Andy'll be lucky!"
(That "as" always tripped Jack up in moments of thoughtlessness.)

The Nun deliberately disposed of a piece of plum cake and a sip of
tea--the latter to wash the former down.

"I don't fall in love myself," she observed, in a tone decided yet
tolerant--as though she had said, "I don't take liqueurs myself--but if
you like to risk it!"

"You miss the best thing in life, miss," Jack cried.

"And most of the worst too," added the Nun serenely.

"Don't say it, miss. It don't come well from your pretty lips."

"Have I put you on your mettle? I meant to, of course, Mr. Rock."

Old Jack slapped his thigh, laughing immensely. Now wasn't this
good--that she should be here, having tea, getting at him like that?

It was a happy conjuncture, for the Nun was hardly less well pleased.
She divided her life into two categories; one was "the mill," the other
was "fun." The mill included making a hundred and eighty pounds by
singing two silly songs eight times each every week, being much adored,
and eating meals at that restaurant; "fun" meant anything rather
different. Having tea with Jack Rock, the Meriton butcher, was rather
different, and Miss Flower (as Seymour called her--almost the only
person who did) was enjoying herself.

"I should like to take a walk along the street before we go to the
meeting, Jack."

"Jack," casually dropped, with no more than a distant twinkle, finished
Mr. Rock.

"Your letter was pretty good, but you, miss--!"

"I'm considered attractive on a postcard. It costs a penny," said the
Nun, rising, fully refreshed, from the table. "Take me to the Lion,
please. I must see that Seymour isn't dissatisfied. He's a gentleman by
birth, you know, and a chauffeur by profession. So he rather alarms me,
though his manner is always carefully indifferent." This remark of hers
suddenly pleased the Nun. She gurgled; her own rare successes always
gratified her--witness that somewhat stupid story about the two ladies
and Tommy, told a long while ago.

Accompanied by proud Jack Rock, she traversed Meriton High Street,
greatly admiring the church, the grammar school, and that ancient and
respectable hostelry, the Lion. Indeed she fell so much in love with the
Lion that she questioned Jack as to the accommodation it provided, and
was assured that it boasted a private sitting-room, with oak panelling
and oak beams across the ceiling (always supposed to be irresistible
attractions to London visitors), and bedrooms sufficient in case she and
Miss Dutton should be minded to spend a part of their holiday there.
Room also for a maid--and for Seymour and the motor. "It's rather a nice
idea. I'll think it over," she said.

Then it was time to think about the meeting; and Jack must come with her
in the car, sit with her, and tell her all about it. "Oh yes, you must!"

"I shall never hear the last of it, long as I live!" Jack protested,
half in delight, half in a real shyness.

Behold them, then, thus installed on the outskirts of the meeting, with
a good view of the platform where "the boys" were seated, together with
Wellgood, supporting the great Lord Meriton. Vivien and Isobel also had
chairs at the back. The Nun produced a field-glass from a pocket in the
car, and favoured these ladies with a steady inspection. "Which did you
say was Harry's?" she asked.

"The fair one, miss--that's Miss Wellgood."

"The other's quite good-looking too," the Nun pronounced.

The salient features of Mr. Foot's oratory have been indicated on a
previous occasion. This evening he surpassed himself in epigram and
logic; no doubt he desired to overcome the Nun's obstinate scepticism as
to his career, no less than to maintain his popularity in Meriton. For
the Nun he had a special treat--a surprise. He told them her story of
Tommy and the two ladies, slightly adapting it to the taste of a general
audience; the cheques were softened down to invitations to _tête-à-tête_
dinners, couched in highly affectionate language. In Billy's apologue
the Ministry was Tommy, one of the ladies was Liberalism, the other
Socialism. The apologue took on very well; Billy made great play with
Tommy's double flirtation, and the Ministry's double flirtation, ending
up, "Yes, gentlemen, there will be only one tip to pay the waiter, but
that'll be a tip-over, if I'm not much mistaken!" (Cheers and laughter.)

The Nun was smiling all over her face. "That really was rather clever of
Billy." She felt herself shining with reflected glory.

But Billy--astute electioneerer--meant to get more out of the Nun than
just that Tommy story. When he had finished a wonderful peroration, in
which he bade Meriton decide once and for all--it would probably never
have another chance before it was too late--between Imperial greatness
and Imperial decay, he slipped from the platform, and made his way round
the skirts of the meeting to her motor-car. Lord Meriton's compliments,
and would Miss Flower oblige him and delight the meeting by singing the
National Anthem at the close of the proceedings? The Nun was so agitated
by this request that she lost most of Andy's speech; he was sandwiched
in between the more famous orators. As Andy--from what she did
hear--appeared to be talking about loaves, and sugar, and bacon, and
things of that sort, she was of opinion that she was not missing very
much, and was surprised to see the men listening and the bareheaded
women nodding approvingly and nudging one another in the ribs. "He's
jolly good! Upon my word, he is," said Billy Foot suddenly, and old Jack
chuckled delightedly. When Andy sat down, without any peroration, she
said to Billy, "Was he good? It sounded rather dull to me. Yours was
fine, Billy!"

"Awfully glad you liked it. But they'll forget my jokes; they'll talk
about old Andy's figures when they get home. Every woman in the place'll
want to prove 'em right or wrong. Gad, how he must have mugged all that
up!"

Then came Harry; to him she listened, at him she looked. Whatever the
difficulties of his private life might be, they did not avail to spoil
his speaking; it is conceivable that they improved it, since nerves on
the strain sometimes result in brilliant flashes. And he looked so
handsome, with pale, eager, excited face. He could fall in love with a
subject almost as deeply, almost as quickly, as with a woman, and for
the moment be hardly less devoted to it, heart and soul. Perhaps he was
a little over the heads of most of his audience, but they knew that it
was a fine performance and were willing to take for granted some things
which they did not understand.

"That's talking, that is!" said a man near the car. "Mr. Harry's the one
to give ye that."

Of course the Nun was persuaded in the matter of the National Anthem.
Billy led her round to the platform, where Lord Meriton welcomed her,
and introduced her to the meeting as Miss Doris Flower, the famous
London singer, who had kindly consented to sing the National Anthem. For
once in her life the Nun was very nervous, but she sang. Her sweet voice
and her remarkable prettiness stormed the meeting. They would have
another song. The applause brought back her confidence. Before she had
become a nun or a Quaker she had once been, in early days, a Cameron
Highlander. A couple of martial and patriotic ditties remained in her
memory; she gave them one, and excited enthusiasm. They cried for
more--more! An encore was insisted upon. In spite of the brilliant
speakers, the Nun was the heroine of the evening. She bowed, she smiled,
she fell altogether in love with Meriton. Thoughts of the Lion rose
strongly in her mind.

"A great success, and we owe a great deal of it to you, Miss Flower,"
said the noble chairman. "You just put the crown on it all. I wish we
could have you here at election time!"

The whole platform besought the Nun to come down at election time with
more patriotic songs. Most urgent was the pretty, slight, fair girl who
was Harry Belfield's _fiancée_. Her eyes were so friendly and gentle
that the Nun could refuse her nothing.

"At one bound, Doris, you've become a personage in Meriton," laughed
Billy Foot.

"She's a personage wherever she goes," said Andy in frank and
affectionate admiration.

The Nun gurgled happily. But where was her old friend Harry with his
congratulations? He had greeted her, but not with much enthusiasm; he
was now talking to the other girl--Miss Vintry--in a low voice, with a
frown on his face; he looked weary and spent. She moved over to him and
laid her hand on his arm; he started violently.

"I'll never laugh at you about your speeches again, Harry. But, poor old
fellow, how done up you look!"

"Doing this sort of thing every night's pretty tiring."

"Besides all the other things you have to do just now! I think I must
come and stay at the Lion and look after you."

Harry looked at her with an expression that puzzled her; it almost
seemed like resentment, though the idea was surely absurd. Miss Vintry
said nothing; she stood by in silent composure.

"You're thinking of--of coming to Meriton?"

"I had an idea of it, for a week or two. I'm doing nothing, you know.
Sally would come with me."

"I should think you'd find it awfully dull," said Harry.

The Nun could not make him out. Was he ashamed of her? Did he not want
her to know Miss Wellgood, his _fiancée_? It almost looked like that.
The Nun was a little hurt. She was aware that certain people held
certain views; but Harry was an old, old friend. "Well, if I do come and
find it dull, you needn't feel responsible. You haven't pressed me, have
you?" and with a little laugh she went back to more expansive friends.

"That'd make another of them, and she's infernally sharp!" Harry said to
Isobel Vintry, in that low careful voice to which he was nowadays so
much addicted.

"Oh well, we can't keep it up this way long anyhow," she answered, and
sauntered off to join Vivien.

With Billy, with Andy, as with old Jack, the Nun found enthusiasm enough
and to spare.

"How perfectly ripping an idea!" cried Billy. "Because Harry's governor
had asked me to stay a fortnight at Halton, and do half a dozen more
meetings; and I'm going to. And Andy'll be down here too. Why, we shall
all be together! You come, Doris!"

Her hurt feelings found expression. "Harry didn't seem to want me when I
spoke to him about it."

Billy Foot looked at her curiously. "Oh, didn't he?" Andy had moved off
with Jack Rock. "It's a funny thing, but I don't think he wants me at
Halton. He was far from enthusiastic. If you ask me, Doris, there's
something wrong with him. Overworked, I suppose. Oh, but he can't be;
these little meetings are no trouble."

"If I want to come, I shall. Only one doesn't like the idea that one's
friends are ashamed--"

"Oh, rot, it can't be that! That's not a bit like Harry."

"He's engaged now, you know."

"Well, I can't see why that should make any difference. He's got the
blues over something or other; never mind him. You come, you and Sally."

She lowered her voice. "Can it be because of poor old Sally?"

"Oh, I don't think so. He's always been awfully kind about that wretched
old business."

"It's something," she persisted with a vexed frown.

Vivien Wellgood came up to them with Andy. "Mr. Hayes tells me you may
possibly come to Meriton for a stay, Miss Flower. I do hope you will.
The Lion's quite good, and we'll all do all we can to amuse you, if only
you'll sing to us just now and then. Do say you'll come; don't only
think about it!"

"Your being so kind makes me want to come more," said the Nun. "Oh, and
I do congratulate you, Miss Wellgood. I hope you'll be ever so happy."

"Thank you. I hope so," said Vivien softly, her eyes assuming their
veiled look.

The car was waiting; Seymour was yawning and looking at his watch. The
Nun said her farewells, but not one to Harry Belfield, who had already
strolled off along the road. Not very polite of Harry!

"Did you like the speeches, Seymour?" she inquired.

"Mr. Foot, of course, is a good speaker. The other gentlemen did very
well for such a meeting as this, Miss Flower. Mr. Belfield is very
promising."

"Was I in good voice?"

"Very fair. But you had better not use it much in the open air. Not good
for the chords, Miss Flower."

Meanwhile he had skilfully tucked her in with Billy Foot, and off they
went, Billy comforting himself after his labours with a pull at his
flask and a very big cigar.

"I've made you do some work for the good cause to-night, Doris," he
remarked. "A song or two goes jolly well at a meeting."

"Thinking of enlisting me in your own service?" she asked.

"You'd be uncommon valuable. The man they're putting up against me has
got a pretty wife." Billy allowed himself a glance; it met with
inadequate appreciation.

"Oh, I'll come and sing for you if you ask me, Billy." Her voice sounded
absent. She was enjoying the motion and the air, but her thoughts were
with Vivien Wellgood, the girl who had been so kind, and whose eyes had
gone blank when the Nun wished her happiness.

"Yes, Harry's off colour," said Billy, puffing away with much enjoyment.
"He can't take anything right; didn't even like your story!"

"Why, you brought it in so cleverly, Billy!"

"Harry asked me what I thought they'd make of that kind of rot. It
seemed to me they took it all right. Rather liked it, didn't they?"

The Nun turned to him suddenly. "That girl isn't happy."

"There's something up!" Billy concluded.

"Do you know that Miss Vintry well?"

Billy took his cigar out of his mouth and looked at her. "You do jump to
conclusions."

"Oh, I know Harry better than any of you."

"Do you?" he asked, seeming just a little disturbed.

The Nun marked his disturbance with a side glance of amusement, but she
was not diverted from the main line of her thoughts. "He doesn't want me
to come to Meriton--"

"I say, Doris, did Harry Belfield ever try to--?"

"Tales out of school? I thought you knew me, Billy."

The reproach carried home to Billy. There had been one occasion when,
over-night, his career had seemed not so imperative, and Doris had
seemed very imperative indeed, demanding vows and protestations of high
fervour, bearing only one legitimate interpretation. This happened long
before Billy was K.C. or M.P., and when his income was still meagre. The
morning had brought back counsel, and thoughts of the career. Billy had
written a letter. The next time they met, she had taken occasion to
observe that she always burnt letters, just as she never fell in love.
The episode was not among Billy's proudest recollections. In telling
Andy that Billy had always pulled himself up on the brink, the Nun had
been guilty of just this one suppression. No tales out of school was
always her motto.

"If he does come to grief, it'll be over a woman," said Billy. He took a
big puff. "That's the only thing worth coming to grief over, either," he
added, looking into his companion's eyes.

"What about the great cause I sang for?" she asked, serenely evasive.
Sentiment in a motor-car at night really does not count.

Billy laughed. "I do my best for my client."

"But you believe it?"

"Honestly, I believe we've got, say, seven points out of ten. So we
ought to get the verdict."

"I suppose that's honest enough. You leave the other side to put their
three points?"

"That oughtn't to be over-straining them," Billy opined.

"Politics are rather curious. I might go to another meeting or two while
I'm at Meriton; but I won't sing out of doors any more. Seymour doesn't
approve of it."

"You're really going to take rooms there?"

"Yes, if Sally consents." She turned round to him. "Do you know what it
is to see somebody asking for help?"

"To me they always call it temporary assistance."

"Yes. Well, I think I saw that to-night." She was silent a minute, then
she gurgled. "And really they're all great fun, you know."

"I look forward to our stay at Meriton with the gravest apprehension,"
said Billy Foot.

The Nun looked at him, smiled, looked away, looked back once more.

"Well, I shall have nothing else to do--in the way of recreation," she
said.

A long silence followed. Billy threw away the stump of his cigar.

"Hang it, he's got the style, that fellow has!"

"Who's got what style?" asked the Nun. Her voice sounded drowsy.

"What the House likes--Andy."

"What house?" drawled the Nun, terribly and happily sleepy.

"Oh, you're a lively girl to drive home with in a motor at night!"

Her eyes were closed, her lips ever so little parted. Half asleep, still
she smiled. He made a trumpet of his hands and shouted into her ear.
"The House of Commons, stupid!"

"Don't tickle my ear," said the Nun. "And try if you can't be quiet!"



Chapter XV.

LOVE AND FEAR.


Well might Harry Belfield be subject to fits of temper and impatience!
Well might he show signs of wear and tear not to be accounted for by the
labours of a mild political campaign, carried on under circumstances of
great amenity! He had fallen into a state of feeling which forbade peace
within, and made security from without impossible. He was terribly at
war in his soul. If he could have put the case so simply as that, being
pledged to one girl, he had fallen in love with another, he would have
had a plain solution open to him: he could break the engagement, facing
the pain that he gave and the discredit that he suffered. His feelings
admitted of no such straightforward remedy. The beliefs and the
aspirations with which he had wooed Vivien were not dead; they were
struggling for life against their old and mighty enemy. For him Vivien
still meant happiness, and more than happiness--a haven for anything
that was good in him, a refuge from all that was bad. With all his
instincts of pure affection, of loyalty and chivalry, still he loved her
and clung to her. She it was still who had power to comfort and soothe
him, to send him forth able to do his work again. She was the best thing
in his life; she seemed to him well-nigh his only chance against
himself. Was he to throw the last chance away?

Then why not be true? Why deceive when he loved? Every day, nay, every
hour, that question had to be asked in scorn and answered in bitterness.
His happiness lay with one; the present desire of his eyes was for
another. His mind towards Isobel was strange: often he hardly liked her;
sometimes his hatred for what she was doing to his life made him almost
hate her; always his passion for her was strong and compelling. Since
the stolen kiss had set it aflame, it had spread and spread through him,
fed by their secret interviews, till it seemed now to consume all his
being in one fierce blaze. How could affectionate and loyal instincts
stand against it? Yet he hated it. All the good of his nature his
kindliness, his amiability, his chivalry--hated it. He was become as it
were two men; and the one reviled the other. But when he reviled the
passion in him as the murderer of all his happiness, it answered with a
fell insinuation. Why these heroics and this despair? Why talk of
happiness being murdered? There was another way. "Don't murder happiness
for me," passion urged slyly. "I am violent, but I am a passing thing.
You know how often I have come to you, and raged, and passed by. There's
another way." That whisper was ever in his ears, and would not be
silenced. That it might gain its end, his passion subtly minimized
itself; it sought to enter into an unnatural alliance with his better
part; it prayed in aid his purer love, his tottering loyalty, his
old-time chivalry. A permanent reconciliation with these it could not,
and dared not, ask; but a _modus vivendi_ till it, transitory thing as
it was, should pass away? So the tempter tempted with all his cunning.

Avoiding plain words for what that way was, he was seduced into asking
whether it were open. He could not answer. Through all the stolen
interviews, through other stolen kisses, he had never come to the
knowledge of Isobel's heart and mind. He could read no more than she
chose to let him read. She allowed his flirtation and his kisses, but
almost scornfully. When he declared his state to be intolerable, she
told him it was easy to end it--easy to end either the engagement or the
flirtation at his option. She had not owned to love. A certain sour
amusement seemed to lie for her in the affair. "We're a pair of fools,"
her eyes seemed to say when he embraced her, "but it doesn't much
matter; nothing can come of it, and it'll soon be all over." When he saw
that look, his old desire for conquest came over him; he was impelled at
any cost to break down this indifference, to make his sway complete. Of
her relations towards Wellgood she had flatly refused to say another
word. "The less we talk about that just now the better." In some such
phrase she always forbade the topic. There again he was left in an
uncertainty which stung his pride and bred a fierce jealousy. By what
she gave and what she withheld, by her silence no less than by her
words, she inflamed his passion. She yielded enough to fill him with
desire and hope of a full triumph; but even though she yielded, though
her voice might falter and her eyes drop, she did not own love's mastery
yet.

Thus torn and rent within, from without he seemed ringed round with
enemies. Eyes that must needs be watchful were all about him. There was
Andy Hayes with his chance knowledge of the first false step; Wellgood,
who must have a jealous vigilance for the woman whom he had at least
thought of making his wife; his own father, with his shrewd estimate of
his son and acquaintance with past histories; Vivien herself, to whom he
must still play devoted lover, with whom most spare hours must still be
spent. To add to all these, now there came this girl from London! She
had knowledge of past histories too; she had the sharpest of eyes; he
feared even the directness of her tongue. Andy had seen, but not spoken;
he did not trust Doris, if she saw, not to speak. He was terribly afraid
of her. Small wonder that the suggestion of her stay at the Lion had
called forth no enthusiasm from him! She took rank as an enemy the more.
And Billy Foot was to be at Halton! She and Billy would lay their heads
together and talk. Out of talk would come suspicion, out of suspicion
more watchfulness. It was no business of theirs, but they would watch.

Political campaigning amidst all this! Well, in part it was a relief.
The speeches and their preparation perforce occupied his mind for the
time; on his platforms he forgot. Yet to go away--to leave Nutley for so
many hours--seemed to his overwrought fancy a sore danger. What might
happen while he was away? To what state of things might he any evening
come back? Vivien might have revealed suspicions to Wellgood, or
Wellgood might have challenged Isobel and compelled an answer. Once when
Andy did not come to the meeting, he made sure that he had stayed behind
on purpose to reveal his knowledge to Vivien or her father, and the
evening was a long torture which no speeches could deaden, no applause
allay.

In this fever of conflict and of fear his days passed. At this cost he
bought the joy of the stolen interviews--that joy so mixed with doubt,
so tainted by pain, so assailed by remorse. Yet for him so tense, so
keen, so surcharged with the great primitive struggle. Ten minutes
stolen once a day--it seldom came to more than that. Now and then, when
he had no political excursion, a second ten, late at night, after his
ostensible departure from Nutley. When he had "gone home," when Vivien
had been sent to bed, and Wellgood had repaired to his pipe in the
study, Isobel would chance to wander down the drive, looking into the
waters of the lake, and he, lingering by the gate, see her and come
back. Whether she would saunter out or not he never knew. Waiting to see
whether she would seemed waiting for the fate of a lifetime.

One night--a week after the Fyfold Green meeting, a day after the Nun
had taken possession of her quarters at the Lion--Harry had dined at
Nutley and--gone home.

Isobel stole stealthily out; she had a quarter of an hour before doors
would be locked. She strolled down the drive, a long dark cloak hiding
the white dress which would have shown too conspicuously. As she went
she dropped a letter; coming back she would pick it up. If any one asked
why she had come out, the answer was--to find that letter, accidentally
dropped. There had never been need of the excuse yet; it was still
available.

Harry came swiftly, yet warily, back from the gate. For a fleeting
instant all his being seemed satisfied. But she stretched out her arms,
holding him off.

"No, I want to say something, Harry. This--this has gone on long enough.
To-morrow I want you to know--only Miss Vintry!" There was the break in
her voice; it was too dark to see her eyes.

"That's impossible," he answered, very low.

"Everything else is impossible, you mean." Her voice faltered
again--into a tenderness new to him, filling him with rapture. "You're
dying of it, poor boy! End it, Harry! I watched you to-night. Oh, you're
tired to death--do you ever sleep? End it, Harry--because I can't."

So she had broken at last, her long fencing ended, her strong composure
gone. "I can't bear it for you any longer. Have the strength. Go back
to--" She broke into tremulous laughter. "Go back to duty, Harry--and
forget this nonsense."

"Come to me, Isobel!"

"No, I daren't. From to-morrow there is--nothing."

He caught the arms that would have defended her face. "You love me?"

Her smile was piteous. "Not after to-night!"

His triumph rose on the crest of passion. "Ah, you do!" He kissed her.

"That's good-bye," she said. "I shall go through it all right, Harry.
You'll see no signs. Or would you rather I went away?"

"What made you tell me you loved me to-night?"

"So many things are tormenting you, poor boy! Must I go on doing it? Oh,
I have done it, I know. It was my self-defence. Now my self-defence must
be forgetfulness." The clock over the stables struck a quarter past ten.
"I must go back. I've told you."

"Do you see Wellgood before you go to bed?"

"Yes, always."

"What happens?"

"Don't, don't, Harry! What does it matter?"

"Are you going to marry him?"

"You're going to marry Vivien! I must go--or the door will be locked." A
smile wavered at him in the darkness. "It's back to the house or into
the lake!"

"Swear you'll manage to see me to-morrow!"

"Yes, yes, anything. And--good-bye."

He let her go--without another kiss. His mind was all of a whirl. She
sped swiftly up the avenue. He made for the gate with furtive haste.

Isobel came to a stop. As the shawl had gone once, the letter had gone.
Whither? Had the wind taken it? She had heard no tread, but what could
she have heard save the beating of her own heart? No use looking for it.

"Ah, miss," said the butler, who had just come to lock up, "so you'd
missed it? I saw it blowing about, and went and picked it up. And you've
been searching for it, miss?"

"Yes, Fellowes. Thanks. I must have dropped it this afternoon.
Good-night."

She went in; the hall door was bolted behind her. The letter had served
its purpose, but she was hardly awake to the fact that anything had
happened about the letter. She had told Harry! The great secret was out.
Oh, such bad tactics! Such a dangerous thing to do! But everybody had a
breaking-point. Hers had been reached that night--for herself as well as
for his sake. Nobody could live like this any longer.

Now it was good-night to Wellgood; another ten minutes there--the one
brief space of time in which he played the lover, masterfully, roughly,
secure from interruption.

"I can't do it to-night!" she groaned, leaning against the wall of the
passage between drawing-room and study, as though stricken by a failure
of the heart.

There she rested for minutes. The lights were left for Wellgood to find
his way by when he went to bed; Fellowes would not come to put them out.
And there the truth came to her. She could not play that deep-laid game.
She could no more try for Harry, and yet keep Wellgood in reserve. It
was too hard, too hideous, too unnatural. She dared not try any more for
Harry; she had lost confidence in herself. She could not keep
Wellgood--it was too odious. Then what to do? To tell Wellgood, too,
that from to-morrow there was only Miss Vintry? Yes! And to try to tell
Harry so again to-morrow? Yes!

She had sought to make puppets and to pull the strings. Vivien,
Wellgood, Harry--all the puppets of her cool, clever, contriving brain.
It had been a fine scheme, bound to end well for her. Now she was
revealed as a puppet herself; she danced to the string. The great scheme
broke down--because Harry had looked tired and worried, because
Wellgood's rough fondness had grown so odious.

"I won't go to him to-night. He can't follow me if I go straight
upstairs." The thought came as an inspiration; at least it offered a
reprieve till to-morrow.

The study door opened, and Wellgood looked out. Isobel was behind her
time; he was waiting for his secret ten minutes, his stolen interview.

"Isobel! What the deuce are you doing there? Why didn't you come in?"

The part she had been trying to play, and had backed herself to play,
seemed to have become this evening, of a sudden on this evening, more
than hopeless. It had turned ridiculous; it must have been caught from
some melodrama. She had been playing the scheming dazzling villain of a
woman, heartless, with never a feeling, intent only on the title, or the
money, or the diamonds, or whatever it might be, single in purpose,
desperate in action, glitteringly hard, glitteringly fearless. What
nonsense! How away from human nature! She was now terribly afraid.
Playing that part, which seemed now so ridiculous because it assumed
that there was no real woman in her, she had brought herself into a
perilous pass--between one man's love and another man's wrath. She knew
which she feared the more; but she feared both. Somehow her confession
to Harry had taken all the courage out of her. She felt as if she could
not stand any more by herself. She wanted Harry.

She could not tell Wellgood that henceforth there was to be only his
daughter's companion, only Miss Vintry; she could not tell him that
to-night. Neither could she play the old part to-night--suffer his
fondness, and defend herself with the shining weapons of her wit and her
provocative parries.

"I--I think I turned faint. I was coming in, but I turned faint. My
heart, I think."

"I never heard of anything being the matter with your heart." His voice
sounded impatient rather than solicitous.

"Please let me go straight to bed to-night. I'm really not well."

He came along the passage to her. He took her by the shoulders and
looked hard in her face. Now she summoned her old courage to its last
stand and met his gaze steadily.

"You look all right," he said with a sneer, yet smiling at her
handsomeness.

"Oh, of course, yes! At least I shall be to-morrow morning. Let me go
now." Really, at the moment, to be let go was her only desire.

"Be off with you, then," he said, smartly tapping--almost slapping--her
cheek. "But you'll have to give me twice as long to-morrow."

He turned on his heel. With a smarting cheek she fled down the passage.

Though disappointed of his ten minutes, Wellgood was on the whole not
ill-pleased. The calm composure, the suppression of emotion which he
admired so much in theory--and as exhibited in Vivien's companion--he
had begun to find a little overdone for his taste in his own lover.
To-night there was a softness about her, a gentleness--signs of fear.
The signs of fear were welcome to his nature. He felt that he had taken
a step towards asserting his proper position, and she one towards
acknowledging it. He was also more than ever sure that he need pay no
heed to Belfield's silly hints. The old fellow seemed to assume that his
precious son was irresistible! Wellgood chuckled over that. He chuckled
again over the thought that, if Isobel were going to be like this, they
might have a difficulty in keeping their secret till the proper time.

Isobel's confession to Harry was a confession to herself also. If it
left her with one great excuse, it stripped her of all others. She could
no longer say that she was making her woman's protest against being
reckoned of no account, or that she was merely punishing Harry for
daring to think that he could play with her and come off scathless
himself. Even the great excuse found its force impaired, because she had
brought her state upon herself. Led by those impulses of pride or of
spite, she had set herself to tamper with Vivien's happiness; in the
attempt she had fatally involved her own.

Some of her old courage--her old hardness--remained, not altogether
swept away by the new current. "I shall get over it in time," she told
herself impatiently. "These things don't last a lifetime." True,
perhaps! But meanwhile--the time before the wedding? To-morrow, when she
had promised to meet Harry? Every day after that--when he must come to
woo Vivien? There had been protection for her in pretences. Pretences
were over with Harry; they had to go on with Vivien and with Wellgood.
On both sides of her position she felt herself now in a sore peril; it
had become so much harder to blind the others, so infinitely harder to
hold Harry back, if it were his mind to advance. Tasks like these
perhaps needed the zest of pride and spite to make them possible--to
make them tolerable anyhow. She loathed them now.

Next day she kept her room. Courage failed. Wellgood grumbled about
women's vapours, but in his caution asked no questions and showed no
concern. Harry, coming in the afternoon, in his caution risked no more
than a polite inquiry and a polite expression of regret. Yet he had come
hot of heart, resolved--resolved on what? To break his engagement? No,
he was not resolved on that. To know in future only Vivien's companion,
Miss Vintry? No. He had been resolved on nothing, save to see Isobel
again, and to hear once more her love. To what lay beyond he was blind;
his heart was obstinately set on the one desire, and had eyes for
nothing else. But Isobel was not to be seen; he accused her of her old
tactics--making advances, then drawing back. The whole thing had begun
that way; she was at it again! Was he never to feel quite sure of her?
She paid the price of past cunning, she who now lay in simple fear.

Vivien watched her lover's pale face and fretful gestures. Harry seemed
always on a strain now, and the means he adopted to relieve it would not
be permanently beneficial to his nerves; whisky-and-soda and cigarettes
in quick succession were his prescription this afternoon. In vain she
tried to soothe him, as she still sometimes could. He was now merry, now
moody, often amusing, gay, gallant. He was everything except the
contented man he had been in the early days.

"The dear old Rector's a little tiresome, Harry, isn't he? He won't fix
the date of his return within a week. And I couldn't be married by
anybody else, he'd be so hurt. Naturally he doesn't think a few days one
way or the other matter. He doesn't think of my frocks!"

"Nor of my feelings either," said Harry, gallantly kissing her hand.

"Do you mind very much?" she asked shyly.

"I'll do anything you like about it." He caressed her hand gently,
kindly. He had at least the grace to feel shame for himself, pity for
her--when he was with her.

"Harry, are you quite--quite happy?"

He made his effort. "I should be as happy as the day's long if it
weren't for those wretched meetings that take up half my time." His
voice grew fretful. "And they worry me to death."

"They'll soon be over now, and then we can have all the time to
ourselves together." She looked at him with a smile. "If only you won't
get tired of that!"

He made his protest. Suddenly a memory of other protests swept over
him--of how they had begun by being wholehearted and vehement, and had
sunk first to weakness, then to insincerity, at last to silence. He
hoped his present protest sounded all right.

"Oh, you needn't be too vehement!" she laughed, with a little shake of
her head. "I know myself, and I believe I know more about you than you
think. I'm quite aware that you'll sometimes be bored with me, Harry."

"Who's put that idea in your head?" he asked rather sharply. His mind
was on those enemies, that ring of watching eyes.

"Nobody except yourself--who else should?" she asked in surprise. "After
all I've seen of you, I ought to know that you have your moods--I
suppose clever men have--and that I don't suit all the moods equally
well." She squeezed his hand for a second. "But I'm going to be very
wise--Isobel's taught me to be wise, among other things, you know--I'm
going to be very wise, and not mind that!"

The true affection rose in him. "Poor little sweetheart!" he murmured.
"I'm afraid you haven't taken on an easy job."

"No, I don't think I have," she laughed. "All the more credit if I bring
it off! There'd be nothing to be proud of in making--oh, well, Andy
Hayes, for instance--happy. He just is happy as long as he can be
working at something or walking somewhere--it doesn't matter where--at
five miles an hour--in the dust by preference. A girl would have nothing
to do but just smile at him and send him for a walk. But you're
different, aren't you, Harry?"

"By Jove, I am! Andy's one of the best fellows in the world."

"Yes, but I think--oh, it's only my view--that you're more interesting,
Harry. Only, when you are bored, I want you--"

"Now don't say you want me to tell you so! Do let us be decently polite,
even if I am your husband."

She laughed. "I won't strain your manners so far as that; I'm proud of
their being so good myself. No, I want you just to go away and amuse
yourself somewhere else till the fit's over. You may even flirt just a
little, if you feel it really necessary, Harry! You needn't be quite so
religiously strict all your life as you've been lately."

"Religiously strict? How do you mean?"

"Well, all this time I don't believe you've allowed yourself one good
look at Isobel, though she's very good-looking; and I know you haven't
called at the Lion yet, though Miss Flower has been there two days, and
she such an old friend of yours in London."

"Have you called there?"

"Yes, I went yesterday. I like her so much, and I like that odd friend
of hers too."

"Oh, Sally Dutton! I suppose she got her knife into me, didn't she?"

"She got her knife, as you call it, into everybody who was mentioned. Oh
yes, including you!" Vivien laughed merrily.

"It's rather a bore--those girls coming down here. I hope we shan't see
too much of them." He rose. "I'm afraid I must go, Vivien. We're due at
Medfold Crossways to-night, and it's a good long drive, even with the
motor. I've got to have some abominable hybrid of a meal at five."

She too rose and came to him, putting her hands in his. Her laughing
face grew grave and tender.

"Dear, you really are happy?" she asked softly, yet rather insistently.

He looked into her eyes; they were not veiled or remote for him.
"Honestly I believe you're the only chance of happiness I've got in the
world, Vivien. Is that enough?"

"I think it's really more than being happy, or than being sure you will
be happy." She smiled. "It gives me more to do, at all events."

"And if I made you unhappy?"

"Don't be hurt, please don't be hurt, but just a little of that wouldn't
surprise me. Oh, my dear, you don't think I should change to you just
because of a little unhappiness? When you've given me all the happiness
I've ever had!"

"All you've ever had? Poor child!"

"It wasn't quite loyal to let that slip out. And it was my own fault, of
course, mostly. But they--they were sometimes rather hard on me." She
smiled piteously. "For my good? Perhaps it was. Without it, you mightn't
have cared for me."

"Is it as much to you as that?" he asked, a note of fear, almost of
distress, in his voice.

She marked it, and answered gaily, "It wouldn't be worth having if it
wasn't, Harry!"

He kissed her fondly and tenderly, praying in his heart that he might
not turn all her happiness to grief.

Her presence had wrought on him at last in its old way; if it had not
given him peace, yet it had shown him where the chance of peace lay, if
he would take it. It had again made him hate the thing he had been
doing, and himself for doing it; again it had made him almost hate the
woman whom and whom only he had, in truth, that day come to see. It had
made the right thing seem again within his reach, made the idea of
giving up Vivien look both impossibly cruel to her and impossibly
foolish for himself. Yet he was, like Isobel, in great fear--in almost
hopeless fear. These two, with their imperious desire for one another,
became, each to the other, a terror--in themselves terrors, and the
source of every danger threatening from outside.

"She gave me the chance of ending it last night. If only I could take
her at her word!"

"Not after to-night!" she had said. He remembered the words in a flash
of hope. But he remembered also that his answer had been, "Ah, you do!"
and a kiss. If she said again, "Not after to-night!"--aye, said it again
and again--would not the answer always be, "Ah, but to-night at least!"
Such words ever promised salvation, but brought none; they were worse
than useless. Under a specious pledge of the future, they abandoned the
present hour.



Chapter XVI.

A CHOICE OF EVILS.


The best parlour--the private sitting-room--at the Lion was on the
ground floor, just opposite the private bar, and boasted a large bay
window, commanding a full view of High Street. A low broad bench,
comfortably cushioned, ran round the window, and afforded to Miss Flower
a favourable station from which to observe what was doing in the town.
On fine days, such as ruled just now, when the window was thrown up, the
position also served as a rendezvous to which her growing band of
friends and admirers could resort to exchange compliments, to post her
in the latest news, or just to get a sight of her. Jack Rock would
stroll across from his shop three or four times a day; Andy would stop a
few minutes on his way to or from his lodgings; Billy would stretch his
long legs over the sill and effect an entry; Vivien ask if she might
come in for a few minutes; Chinks cast an eye as he hurried to his
office; the Bird find an incredible number of occasions for passing on
his daily duties. There the Nun sat, surveying the traffic of Meriton,
and fully aware that Meriton, in its turn, honoured her with a
flattering attention. Within the Lion itself she already reigned
supreme; old Mr. Dove was at her feet, so was old Cox and the other
_habitués_ of the private bar; the Bird, as already hinted, was "knocked
silly"--this contemptuous phrase for a sudden passion was Miss Miles'.
Yet even Miss Miles was affable, and quite content to avenge herself for
the Bird's desertion (which she justly conceived to be temporary) by a
marked increase in those across-the-counter pleasantries which she had
once assured her employer were carried on wholly and solely for the
benefit of his business. The fact was that Miss Miles had once
officiated at the bar of a "theatre of varieties," and this constituted
a professional tie between the Nun and herself, strong enough to defy
any trifling awkwardness caused by a wavering in the Bird's affections.

But the Nun's most notable and complete conquest was over Mr. Belfield.
Billy Foot had brought him--not his son Harry--and speedily thereafter
he called on his own account, full of courtly excuses because his wife,
owing to a touch of cold, was not with him; he hoped that she would be
able to come very soon. (Mr. Belfield was engaged on another small
domestic struggle, such as had preceded Andy Hayes' first dinner at
Halton.) Serenely indifferent to the minutiæ of etiquette, Miss Flower
allowed it to appear that she would just as soon receive Mr. Belfield by
himself.

He interpreted her permission as applying to more than one visit;
somehow or other, most days found him by the bay window, and generally,
on being pressed, at leisure to come in and rest. They would chat over
all manner of things together, each imparting to the other from a store
of experiences strange to the listener; or together they would discuss
their common friends in Meriton. She liked his shrewd and humorous
wisdom; her directness and simplicity charmed him no less than the
extreme prettiness of her face.

"Well, Miss Flower," he said one morning, "the boys finish their
speechifying to-morrow, and then they'll be more at liberty to amuse
you, instead of leaving it so much to the old stagers."

"And then you'll all be getting busy about the wedding. In three weeks
now, isn't it?"

"Just a few days over three weeks. Individually I shall be glad when
it's over."

"Have they done well with their speeches?" she asked. "After all my good
intentions, I only went once."

"They think they've made the seat absolutely safe for Harry. Parliament
and marriage--the boy's taking on responsibilities!"

"It seems funny, when one's just played about with them! It's a funny
thing to be just one of people's amusements--off the stage as well as on
it."

"Oh, come!" He smiled. "Is that all you claim to be--to any of those
boys?"

"That's the way they look at me--in their sober moments. Except Andy;
he's quite different. He's never been about town, you see. For him girls
and women are all in the same class."

"I was once about town myself," Belfield remarked thoughtfully.

"Yes, and you take your son's view--and Billy Foot's." He smiled again,
and she smiled too, meeting his glance directly. "Oh yes, Billy
too--though he may have his temptations! Squarely now, Mr. Belfield,
if--for the sake of argument--your son treated Miss Wellgood badly, or
even Miss Vintry, it would seem a different thing from treating Sally or
me badly, wouldn't it?"

"You do put it pretty squarely," said Belfield, twisting his lips.

"A glass of beer gives you the right to flirt with poor Miss Miles. It's
supposed to be champagne with us. When you were about town--don't you
remember?"

"I suppose it was. It's not a tradition to be proud of."

"There are compensations--which some of us like. If Sally or I behave
badly, who cares? But if Miss Wellgood or Miss Vintry--! Oh, dear me,
the heavens would fall in Meriton!"

"By the way, I'm afraid I drive your friend away? Miss Dutton always
disappears when I call."

"She generally disappears when people come. Sally's shy of strangers.
Well, you know, as I was saying, Andy Hayes hasn't got that tradition. I
think if I ever fell in love--I never do, Mr. Belfield--I should fall in
love with a man who hadn't that tradition. But they're very hard to
find."

"Let's suppose it's one of those thousand things that are going to
change," he suggested, with his sceptical smile.

"Do things between men and women change much, in spite of all the talk?
You've read history, I haven't."

"Yes, I have to a certain extent. I don't know that I'm inclined to give
you the result of my researches. Not very cheerful! And, meanwhile,
there's Andy Hayes!"

"I never do it," the Nun repeated firmly. "Besides, in this case I've
not been asked. I'm not the sort of girl he would fall in love with."

"Will you forgive an old man's compliment, Miss Flower, if I say I don't
know the sort of man who wouldn't--I'll put it mildly, I'll say
mightn't--fall in love with the sort of girl you are?"

"I forgive it, but it's not as clever as you generally are. Andy always
wants to help. Well, I don't want anybody to help me, you see."

"The delight of the eyes?" he suggested. "What? That doesn't count? Only
such as you can afford to say so!"

"I don't think it counts much with Andy. He appreciates, oh yes! He
almost stared me out of countenance the first time we met; and that's
supposed to be difficult--in London! But I don't think it really counts
for a great deal. Andy's not a love-making man; he's emphatically a
marrying man."

"You draw that distinction? But the love-making men marry?"

"In the end perhaps--generally rather by accident. They haven't the
instinct."

"You've thought about these things a good deal, Miss Flower."

"I live almost entirely among men, you see," she answered simply. "And
they show me more than they show girls of--of that other class. Shall I
call again on your reminiscences?" She smiled suddenly and brightly.
"Miss Wellgood's being awfully nice to me. She's been here twice, and
I'm going to tea at Nutley to-morrow."

"She's one of the dearest girls in the world," said Belfield. "Harry's a
lucky fellow." He glanced at the Nun. "I hope he appreciates it
properly. I believe he does."

She offered no comment, and a rather blank silence followed. If Belfield
had sought a reassurance, he had not received it. On the other hand she
gave away no secrets. She, like the silence, was blank, looking away
from him, down High Street.

The Bird passed the window; Jack Rock trotted by on a young horse; one
of his business equipages clattered along not far behind him; the quiet
old street basked and dozed in the sun.

"What a dear rest it is--this little town!" said the Nun softly. "Surely
nothing but what's happy and peaceful and pleasant can ever happen
here?"

Sally Dutton came by, returning from a stroll to which she had betaken
herself on Belfield's arrival.

"Well, Sally, been amusing yourself?" the Nun called.

"The streets present their usual gay and animated aspect," observed Miss
Dutton, as she entered the Lion.

"There are the two sides of the question," laughed Belfield. "The line
between peace and dullness--each man draws it for himself--in
pencil--with india-rubber handy! I'm really afraid we're not amusing
Miss Dutton?"

"Oh yes, she's all right. That's only her way." She smiled reflectively;
Sally always amused her.

Belfield rose to take leave. "We can't let Nutley beat us," he said. "We
must have you at Halton too!" He was led into assuming that his little
domestic struggle would end in victory.

She looked at him, still smiling. "Wait and see how I behave at Nutley
first. If Harry gives a good report of me--I suppose he'll be
there?--ask me to Halton!"

He laughed, and so let the question go. After all, it would not do to be
too sudden with his wife.

"You needn't be afraid of Harry. But Wellgood's rather a formidable
character."

"And Miss Vintry? Is she alarming?"

He pursed up his lips. "I think she might be called a little--alarming."

"I'll have a good look at her--and perhaps I'll let you know what I
think of her," said the Nun, with no more than the slightest twinkle in
her eyes. It was enough for Belfield's quickness; it was much more
informing than the blank silence--though even that had set him thinking.

But the Nun's account of her first visit to Nutley chanced--or perhaps
it was not chance--to be rendered not to Belfield, but to Andy Hayes.
After the last meeting of the campaign, he had gone round to smoke a
pipe with Jack Rock. Leaving him hard on midnight--there had been much
to be wormed out of Andy concerning his speeches, their reception, the
applause--he saw a light still burning in the window at the Lion. As he
drew near, he perceived that the window was open, and he heard a voice
crooning softly. He made bold to look in. The Nun was alone; she sat in
the window, doing nothing, singing to herself. "Boo!" said Andy, putting
his big head in at the window.

"Andy!" she cried, her face lighting up. "Jump in! You've come to scare
the devils! There are a hundred of them, and they won't go away for all
my singing. And Sally's gone to bed, prophesying a breaking of at least
six out of the Ten Commandments! And only yesterday I told Mr. Belfield
that nothing unpleasant could happen in Meriton! Where is one to go for
quiet if things happen in Meriton?"

An outburst like this was most unusual with the Nun. It produced on
Andy's face such a look of mild wonder as may be seen on a St. Bernard's
when a toy-terrier barks furiously.

"What's happened?"

"I've been at Nutley."

"Oh yes! Harry came on from there in the car--got to the meeting rather
late."

"Something's happened--or is happening--in that house." She looked at
him sharply. "You've been here longer than I have--do you know anything?
Go on with your pipe."

Andy considered long, smoking his pipe.

"You do know something!" she exclaimed.

"I've ground for some uneasiness," he admitted.

She nodded. "It was all sort of underground," she said. "Really most
uncomfortable! They'd try to get away from it, and yet come back to
it--those three--Mr. Wellgood, Harry, and that Miss Vintry. Poor Vivien
seemed quite outside of it all, but somehow conscious of it--and
unhappy. She saw there was--what shall I say?--antagonism, you know. And
she didn't know why. Have you seen anything that would make Mr. Wellgood
savage if he saw it?"

"He didn't see what I saw."

"Not that time anyhow!" she amended quickly.

Andy frowned. "That time, I mean, of course. If he's seen anything of
that sort, or suspected it, naturally, as Vivien Wellgood's father--"

"Vivien's father!" Her tone was full of impatience for his stupidity. "I
suppose no woman has ever been to Nutley lately? Oh, Vivien's not one;
she's a saint--and that's neither male nor female. Vivien's father!"

"I've been there off and on," said Andy.

"You! Have you ever seen--not that I suppose you'd notice it--a woman
keeping two men from one another's throats, trying to make them think
there's nothing to quarrel about, trying to say things that one could
take in one way, and the other in the other--and third persons not take
in any way at all? Oh, it's a pretty game, and I'm bound to say she
plays it finely. But she's on thin ice, that woman, and she knows it.
Vivien's father!"

"Why do you go on repeating 'Vivien's father'?"

"I won't." She leant forward and laid her small hand on his arm. "Isobel
Vintry's lover, then! The man's in love with her, Andy, as sure as we
sit here. In love--and furious!"

"I'd never thought of that. Do you feel sure of it?"

"You have thought of the other thing--and you're sure of that?"

"You know Harry. I hoped it would all--all come to nothing. How much do
you think Wellgood knows, or suspects?"

"Hard to say. I think he's groping in the dark. He's had a check, I
expect, or a set-back. Men always think that's due to another man--I
suppose it generally is. Well, it's not you, and it's not Billy. Who
else sees her--who else goes to Nutley?"

"But he'd never suspect his own daughter's--"

"You do!"

"I had the evidence of my eyes."

"Jealousy's quicker than the eyes, Andy." She leant forward again. "What
did you see?"

"It seems disloyal to tell--disloyal to Harry."

"My loyalty's for Vivien!" she said. "What about yours?"

"Take it that what I saw justifies your fears about Harry," said Andy
slowly. "I think--I'm not sure--I think he suspects I saw. I don't know
whether she does." He was not aware that Isobel had made herself quite
certain of his knowledge. "But it's nearly a month ago. You know Harry.
I hoped it was all over. Only he seemed a little--queer."

"'Come and spend a quiet afternoon in the garden'--that was her
invitation. Poor girl!"

"That's what you called her the first time I told you of their
engagement."

"A nice quiet afternoon--sitting on the top of a volcano! With an
eruption overdue!"

"It isn't possible to feel quite comfortable about it, is it?" said
Andy.

The Nun laughed a little scornfully. "Not quite. Going to do anything
about it?"

Andy raised his eyes to hers. "I owe almost everything I value most in
the world to Harry, directly or indirectly; even what I owe to you and
Jack came in a way through him."

"And he's never taken ten minutes' real trouble about you in his life."

"I'm not sure that makes any difference--even if it's true. He stands
for all those things to me. As for Miss Vintry--" He shrugged his
ponderous shoulders.

"Oh, by all means to blazes with Miss Vintry!" the Nun agreed
pleasantly.

Miss Dutton put her head in at the door--her hair about her shoulders.
"Ever coming to bed?"

"Not yet. I'm talking to Andy. Don't you see him, Sally?"

"It's not respectable."

"The window's open, there's a street lamp opposite, and a policeman
standing under it. Good-night."

"Well, don't come into my room and wake me up jawing." Miss Dutton
withdrew.

The Nun looked at Andy. "I wonder if it's quite fair to say 'To blazes
with Miss Vintry!'"

"You said it with a good deal of conviction a moment ago. What makes
you--?" His eyes met hers.

"Who told you about Sally? I never did," the Nun exclaimed.

"Harry, after our first supper."

"Here was rather the same case--only, of course, she never knew the
other girl. I think that makes a difference. And she never really had a
chance. That makes no difference, I suppose. The policeman's gone. I
expect you'd better go too, Andy."

Andy swung his legs over the window-sill. "Are you going to try and put
your oar in?" he asked.

"Would you think me wrong if I did?"

Andy sat quite a long while on the window-sill, dangling his legs over
the pavement of High Street.

"I've thought about it a good deal," he answered. "Especially lately."

She knelt on the broad low bench just behind him. "Yes, and the
result--when you're ready?"

"I think a row would be the best thing that could happen." He turned his
face round to her as he spoke.

The Nun gasped. "That's thorough," she remarked. "So much for your
opinion about Harry!"

"Yes, so much for that," Andy admitted.

"If there is a row, I hope you'll be there."

"Oh, I don't!" exclaimed Andy with a natural and human sincerity.

"To prevent bloodshed!" She laid her hand on his arm. "I'm not
altogether joking. I didn't like Mr. Wellgood's eyes this afternoon."
She patted his arm gently before she withdrew her hand. "Good-night,
dear old Andy. You're terribly right as a rule. But about this--" She
broke off, impatiently jerking her head.

With a clasp of her hand and a doleful smile, Andy let his legs drop on
the pavement and departed.

So that was his verdict, given with all his deliberation, with all the
weight of his leisurely broad-viewing judgment. The real thing to avoid
was not the "row;" that was his conclusion. There was a thing, then,
worse than the "row"--the thing for which Halton and Nutley--nay, all
Meriton, would soon be making joyful preparation. His calm face had not
moved even at her word "bloodshed." Oh yes, Andy was thorough! Not even
that word swayed his mind. Perhaps he did not believe in her fears. But
his look had not been scornful; it had been thoughtfully interrogative.
He had possessed that knowledge of his for a long while; he had never
used it. At first from loyalty to Harry--even now that would, she
thought, be enough to make him very loth to use it. But another reason
was predominant, born of his long silent brooding. He had come to a
conclusion about his hero; the court had taken time for consideration;
the judgment was advised. There was no helping some people. They must be
left to their own ways, their own devices, their own doom. To help them
was to harm others; to fight for them was to serve under the banner of
wrong and of injustice. Friendship and loyalty could not justify that.

The conclusion seemed a hard one. She stood long at the big window--a
dainty little figure thrown up by the light behind her--painfully
reaching forward to the understanding of how what seems hardness may be
a broader, a truer, a better-directed sympathy, how it may be a duty to
leave a wastrel to waste, how not every drowning man is worth the labour
that it takes to get him out of the water--for that once. At all events,
not worth the risk of another, a more valuable life.

And that was his conclusion about his hero, the man to whom he owed, as
he had said, almost everything he prized? Had he, then, any right to the
conclusion, right in the abstract though it might be? It was a hard
world that drove men to such hard conclusions.

The case was hard--and the conclusion. But not, of necessity, the man
who painfully arrived at it. Yet the man might be biassed; sympathy for
the deceived might paint the deceiver's conduct in colours even blacker
than the truth demanded. Doris did not think of this, in part because
the judgment had seemed too calm and too reluctant to be the offspring
of bias, more because, if there were any partiality in it, she herself
had become a no less strong, and a more impetuous, adherent of the same
cause. Vivien had won all her fealty. The one pleasant feature of the
afternoon had been when Vivien walked home with her and, wrought upon by
the troubled atmosphere of Nutley even though ignorant of its cause, had
opened her heart to Harry's old friend, to a girl who, as she felt, must
know more of the world than she did, and perhaps, out of her experience,
could comfort and even guide. With sweet and simple gravity, with a
delicacy that made her confidence seem still reserved although it was
well-nigh complete, she showed to her companion her love and her
apprehension--a love so pure in quality, an apprehension based on so
rare an understanding of the man she loved. She did not know the things
he had done, nor the thing he was now doing; but the man himself she
knew, and envisaged dimly the perils by which he was beset. Her loving
sympathy tried to leap across the wide chasm that separated her life and
her nature from his, and came wonderfully little short of its mark.

"I really knew hardly anything about him when I accepted him; he was
just a girl's hero to me. But I have watched and watched, and now I know
a good deal."

An excellent mood for a wife, no doubt--or for a husband--excellent,
and, it may be, inevitable. But for a lover yet unmated, a bride still
to be, a girl in her first love? Should she not leave reverend seniors
to prate to her--quite vainly--of difficulties and dangers, while her
fancy is roaming far afield in dreamy lands of golden joy? To endeavour,
by an affectionate study of and consideration for your partner, to avoid
unhappiness and to give comfort--such is wont to be the text of the
officiating minister's little homily at a wedding. Is it to be supposed
that bride and bridegroom are putting the matter quite that way in their
hearts? If they were, a progressive diminution in the marriage-rate
might be expected.

So ran the Nun's criticism, full of sympathy with the girl, not perhaps
quite so full of sympathy for what seemed to her an over-saintly
abnegation of her sex's right. The bitterest anti-feminist will agree
that a girl should be worshipped while she is betrothed; he will allow
her that respite of dominion in a life which, according to his
opponents, his theories reduce, for all its remaining years, to
servitude. Vivien was already serving--serving and watching
anxiously--amid all her love. At this Doris rebelled--she who never fell
in love. But she was quicker to grow fond of people than to criticize
their points of view. Vivien's over-saintliness did sinful Harry's cause
no service. If this were Vivien's mood in the light of her study of what
her lover was, how would she stand towards the knowledge of what he did?

Yet Andy Hayes thought that the best thing now possible was that she
should come to the knowledge of it--that was what he meant by there
being a "row." That opinion of his was a mightily strong endorsement of
Vivien's anxiety.

"Don't you now and then feel like backing out of it?" the Nun had asked
with her usual directness.

Vivien's answer came with a laugh, suddenly scornful, suddenly merry,
"Why, it's all my life!"

The Nun shook her sage little head; these things were not all people's
lives--oh dear, no! She knew better than that, did Doris! But then the
foolish obstinate folk would go on believing that they were, and
thereby, for the time, made the trouble just as great as though their
delusion were gospel truth.

Then Vivien had turned penitent about her fears, and remorseful for the
expression of them. By an easy process penitence led to triumph, and she
fell to singing Harry's praises, to painting again that brightly
coloured future--the marvellous things to be seen and done by Harry's
side. She smiled gently, rather mysteriously; the sound of the wonderful
words was echoing in her ears. Doris saw her face, and pressed her hand
in a holy silence.

The result of her various conversations, of her own reflections, and of
her personal inspection of the situation at Nutley was to throw Miss
Doris Flower into perhaps the gravest perplexity under which she had
ever suffered. When you are accustomed to rule your life--and other
people's, on occasion--by the simple rule of doing the obvious thing, it
is disconcerting to be confronted with a case in which there appears to
be no obvious thing to do, where there is only a choice of evils, and
the choice seems balanced with a perverse and malicious equality. From
Vivien's side of the matter--Doris troubled herself no more with her old
friend Harry's--the marriage was risky far beyond the average of
matrimonial risks; but the "row" was terribly risky too, with the girl
in that mood about "all her life." If she had that mood badly upon her,
she might do--well, girls did do all sorts of things sometimes, holding
that life had nothing left in it.

Though there was nothing obvious, there must be something sensible; at
least one thing must be more sensible than the other. Was it more
sensible to do nothing--which was to favour the "row"--or to attempt
something--which was to work for the marriage? Her temperament asserted
itself, and led her to a conclusion in conflict with Andy's. She was by
nature inclined always to do something. In the end the "row" was a
certain evil; the marriage only a risk. Men do settle down--sometimes!
(She wrinkled her nose as she propounded, and qualified, this
proposition.) The risk was preferable to the certainty. After all, her
practical sense whispered, in these days even marriage is not wholly
irrevocable. Yes, she would be for the marriage and against the
"row"--and she would tell Andy that.

Something was to be done then. But what? That seemed to the Nun a much
easier question--a welcome reappearance of the obvious thing.

"I must find out what the woman really wants. Until we know that, it's
simply working in the dark."

So she concluded, and at last turned on her side and went to sleep.



Chapter XVII.

REFORMATION.


In very truth the atmosphere at Nutley was heavy with threatening
clouds; unless a fair wind came to scatter them, the storm must soon
break. Isobel had fled within her feminine barricades--the barricades
which women are so clever at constructing and at persuading the
conventions of life to help them to defend. A woman's solitudes may not
be stormed; with address she can escape private encounters. In sore fear
of Harry because sore afraid of herself, she gave him no opportunity. In
sore fear of Wellgood, she shrank from facing him with a rupture of
their secret arrangement. Both men were tricked out of their stolen
interviews--Wellgood out of his legitimate privilege, Harry out of his
trespassing. Each asked why; in each jealousy harked back to its one
definite starting-point--Harry's to her suggestions about her relations
with Vivien's father, Wellgood's to Belfield's hints that, as a
companion, Isobel was needlessly good looking. To each of them matter of
amusement at the time when they were made, they took on now a new
significance; so irony loves to confront our past and present moods. But
Wellgood held a card that was not in Harry's hand--a card which could
not win the game, but could at least secure an opening. He was employer
as well as lover. Vivien's father could command the presence of Vivien's
companion--not indeed late at night, for that would be a scarcely
judicious straining of his powers, but at any reputable
business-transacting hour of the day. For two nights--and that day of
which the Nun had been a witness--he suffered the evasion of his rights;
then, with a suavity dangerous in a man so rough, he prayed Miss
Vintry's presence in the study for ten minutes (the established period!)
before dinner; there were ways and means to be discussed, he said,
matters touching the _trousseau_ and the wedding entertainment. Vivien
was bidden to run away and dress. "We're preparing one or two surprises
for you, my dear," he said to her, with a grim smile which carried for
Isobel a hidden reference.

Thus commanded in Vivien's presence, Isobel was cleverly caught between
the duty of obedience and the abandonment of her ostensible position in
the house. Her barricade was being outflanked; she was forced into the
open.

She was in fear of him, almost actual physical fear; whether more of his
fondness or of his roughness she could not tell; she felt that she could
hardly bear either. Since her avowal to Harry, her courage had never
returned, her weapons seemed blunted, she was no more mistress of all
her resources. Yet in the end she feared the fondness more, and would at
all costs avoid that. She summoned the remnants of her once brilliant
array of bravery.

Alone with her, he wasted no time on the artifice which had secured him
privacy.

"What's this new fad, Isobel? You're wilfully avoiding me. One evening
you turn faint; another you dodge me, and are off to bed! Though I don't
think I've ever made exacting claims on your time, considering!"

"I've been afraid--you'd better hear the truth--to speak to you."

"I should like the truth, certainly, if I can get it. What have you been
afraid to speak to me about?"

"Our engagement." She made the plunge, her eyes fixed apprehensively on
his face. "I--I can't go on with it, Mr. Wellgood."

He had schooled himself for this answer; he made no outburst. His tone
was mild; the cunning of jealousy gave him an alien smoothness.

"Sit down, my dear, and tell me why."

She sat facing him, his writing-table between them.

"My feelings haven't--haven't developed as I hoped they would."

"Oh, your feelings haven't developed?" he repeated slowly. "Towards me?"

"I reserved the right to change my mind--you remember?"

"And I the right to be unpleasant about it." He smiled under intent
eyes.

"I'll leave the house to-morrow, if you like," she cried, eager now to
accept a banishment she had once dreaded.

"Oh, no! I'm not going to be unpleasant. We needn't do things like
that."

"I--I think I should prefer it."

"I'm sorry you should feel that. There's no need; you shan't be
annoyed."

"That's good of you. I thought you'd be very, very hard to me."

"Would that be the best way to win you back? I don't know--at any rate I
don't feel like following it. But really you can't go off at a moment's
notice--and just now! What would Vivien think? What are we to say to
her? What would everybody think? And how are Vivien and I to get through
all this business of the wedding?"

"I know it would be awkward, and look odd, but it might be better. Your
feelings--"

"Never mind my feelings; you know they're not my weak spot. Come,
Isobel, you see now you've no cause to be afraid of me, don't you?"

"You're behaving very kindly--more kindly than perhaps I could expect."
Down in her mind there was latent distrust of this unwonted
uncharacteristic kindness. Yet it looked genuine enough. There was no
reference to the name she dreaded; no hint, no sneer, about Harry
Belfield. She rose to a hope that her tricks and her fencing had been
successful, that he was quite in the dark, that the issue was to his
mind between their two selves alone, with no intruder.

Wellgood's jealousy bade him be proud of his effort, and encouraged him
to persevere. The natural temper of the man might be raging, almost to
the laying of hands on her; it must be kept down; the time for it was
not yet. Rudeness or roughness would give her an excuse for flight; he
would not have her fly. A plausible kindness, a considerate
smoothness--that was the card jealousy selected for him to play.

"You shan't be troubled, you shan't be annoyed. I'll give up my evening
treat. We'll go back to our old footing--before I spoke to you about
this. I'll ask nothing of you as a lover--well, except not to decide
finally against me till the wedding. Only three weeks! But as my friend,
and Vivien's, I do ask you not to leave us in the lurch now--at this
particular moment--and not to risk setting everybody talking. If you
insist on leaving me, go after the wedding. That means no change in our
plan, except that you won't come back. That'll seem quite natural; it's
what they all expect."

Still never a word of Harry, no hint of resentment, nothing that could
alarm her or give her a handle for offence! Whether from friend or
lover, his request sounded most moderate and reasonable. Not to leave
the friend in the lurch, not to decide with harsh haste against a
patient lover who had been given cause for confident hope, almost for
certainty! He left her no plausible answer, for she could adduce no
grievance against him. He had but taken what for her own purposes she
had been content to allow--first in his bluff flirtation, then in his
ill-restrained endearments. There was no plausibility in turning round
and pretending to resent these things now. She dared not take false
points in an encounter so perilous; that would be to expose herself to a
crushing reply.

"If you go now--all of a sudden, at this moment--I can't help thinking
you'll put yourself under a slur, or else put me under one. People know
the position you've been in here--practically mistress of the house,
with Vivien in your entire charge. Very queer to leave three weeks
before her wedding! You may invent excuses, or we may. An aunt
dying--something of that sort! Nobody ever believes in those dying
aunts!"

It was all true; people did not believe in those dying aunts, not when
sudden departures of handsome young women were in question. People would
talk; the thing would look odd. His plausible cunning left her no
loophole.

"If you wish it, I'll stay till the wedding, on our old footing--as we
were before all this, I mean. But you mustn't think there's any chance
of my--my changing again."

"Thank you." He put out his hand across the table. She could not but
take it. Though he seemed so cool and quiet, the hand was very hot. He
held hers for a long while, his eyes intently fixed on her in a regard
which she could not fathom, but which filled her anew with fear. She
fell into a tremble; her lips quivered.

"Let me go now, please," she entreated, her eyes unable to meet his any
longer.

He released her hand, and leant back in his chair. He smiled at her
again, as he said, "Yes, go now. I'm afraid this interview has been
rather trying to you--perhaps to us both."

Of all the passions, the sufferings, the undergoings of mankind, none
has so relentlessly been put to run the gauntlet of ridicule as
jealousy. It is the sport of the composer of light verses, the born
material of the writer of farce--especially when it is well founded. It
is perhaps strange to remark--could any strangeness outlast
familiarity--that the supreme study of it treats of it as utterly
unfounded, and finds its highest tragedy in its baselessness. Ridiculous
when justifiable, tragic when all a delusion! Is that nature's view,
even as it is so often art's? Certainly the race is obstinate in holding
real failure in the conflict of sex as small recommendation in a hero,
imagined as the opportunity for his highest effect. King Arthur hardly
bears the burden of being deceived; on the baseless suspicion of it the
Moor rides through murder to a triumphant death--and a general
sympathy--unless nowadays women have anything to say on the latter
point.

Yet this poor passion--commonly so ridiculous,
even more commonly, among the polite, held ill-bred--must be allowed its
features of interest. It is remarkably alert, acute, ingenious, even
laborious, in its sweeping of details into its net. It works up its
brief very industriously, be the instructions never so meagre--somehow
it invites legal metaphor, being always plaintiff in the court of sex,
always with its grievance to prove, generally faced with singularly hard
swearing in the witness box. It has its successes, as witnessed by
notable phrases; there is the "unwritten law," and there are
"extenuating circumstances." The phrases throw back a rather startling
illumination on the sport of versifiers and the material of farce. But
the exceptional cases have a trick of stamping themselves on
phraseology. Most of us are jealous with no very momentous results. We
grumble a little, watch a little, sulk a little, and decide that there
is nothing in it. Often there is not. Likewise we are ambitious without
convulsing the world--or even our own family circle. So with our lives,
our loves, our deaths--history, poetry, elegy find no place for them.
Only nature has and keeps a mother's love for the ordinary man, and
holds his doings legitimate matter for her interest, nay, essential to
her eternal unresting plan. She may be figured as investing the bulk of
her fortune in him, as in three per cents.--genius being her occasional
"flutter."

Mark Wellgood was an ordinary man, and he was proud of the fact; that
must, perhaps, be considered a circumstance of aggravation. He refused
the suggestions of civilization to modify, and of sentiment to soften,
his primitive instincts; he was proud of them just as they were. If any
man had come between him and his woman--primitive also were the terms
his thoughts used--that man should pay for it. If there were any man at
all, who could it be but Harry Belfield? If it were Harry Belfield,
Wellgood refused to hold him innocent of an inkling of how matters stood
between Isobel and Vivien's father--he must have pretty nearly guessed,
even if she had not told him. At least there were relations between
Vivien herself and the suspected trespasser. Did they not give cause
enough for a father's anger, deep and righteous, demanding vengeance?
They gave cause--and they gave cover. The jealous suitor could use the
indignant father's plea, the indignant father's weapons. The lover's
revenge would make the father's duty sweet. He was not indifferent to
the wrong done to Vivien; yet he almost prized it for the advantage it
gave him in his own quarrel. It was not often that jealousy could plume
itself on so honourable and so useful an ally!

Single-hearted concern for Vivien would have let Isobel go, as she
prayed, and given Harry either his dismissal or the chance to mend his
ways in the absence of temptation. Jealousy imperiously vetoed such
suggestions. Isobel should not go. Harry should neither be dismissed nor
given a fair chance and a fresh start. If he could, Wellgood would still
keep Isobel; at least he would punish Harry, if he caught him. For the
sake of these things he compromised his daughter's cause, and made her
an instrument for his own purposes. And he did this with no sense of
wrong-doing. So masterful was his self-regarding passion that his
daughter's claim fell to the status of his pretext.

So he smoothed his face and watched.

But Isobel too was now on the alert. She was no longer merely resolved
that she would behave herself because she ought; she saw that perforce
she must. At least, no more secret dealings! Harry must be told that.
The hidden hope that his answer would be, "Open dealings, then, at any
cost," beat still in her heart, faintly, yet without ceasing. But if
that answer came not, then all must be over. Word must go to him of that
before he next came to Nutley. Such consolation as lay in knowing that
she would not marry Wellgood should be his also. Then, perhaps, things
would go a little easier, and these terrible three weeks slip past
without disaster. Terrible--yes; but, alas, the end of them seemed more
terrible yet.

Even had the post seemed safe, there was none which could reach Harry
before he was due at Nutley again. She had to find a messenger. She
decided on Andy Hayes. He was a safe man; he would not forget to fulfil
his charge. The very fact of that bit of knowledge he possessed made him
in her eyes the safest messenger; if he had not talked about that other
thing, he was not likely to talk about the letter; unlikely to mention
it in malice, certain not to refer to it in innocence or inadvertence.
And she knew where to find him. Andy had, with Wellgood's permission,
resumed his practice of bathing before breakfast in Nutley lake. The
stripes of his bathing-suit were a familiar object to her as he emerged
from the bushes or plunged into the water; from her window she could
watch his powerful strokes. His hour was half-past seven; before eight
nobody but servants would be about.

Andy, then, emerging from the shrubbery dressed after his dip, found
Miss Vintry strolling up and down.

"You're surprised to see me out so early, Mr. Hayes? But I know your
habits. My window looks out this way."

"I'm awfully careful to keep well hidden in the bushes."

"Oh yes!" she laughed. "I've not come to warn you off. Are you likely to
see Mr. Harry this morning?"

"I easily can; I shall be passing Halton."

"I specially want this note to reach him early in the morning. It's
rather important. I should be so much obliged if you'd take it; and will
you give it to him yourself?"

Andy stood silent for a moment, not offering to take the letter from her
hand. She had foreseen that he might hesitate, knowing what he did; she
had even thought that his hesitation might give her an opportunity.
Feigning to notice nothing in his manner, she went on, "I must add that
I shall be glad if you'll give it to him when he's alone, and if you
won't mention it. It relates to a private matter."

Andy spoke slowly. "I'm not sure you'd choose me to carry it if you
knew--"

"I do know; at least I never had much doubt, and I've had none since a
talk we had together at Halton. Do you remember?"

"I didn't say anything about it then, did I?" asked Andy.

She smiled. "Not in so many words. You saw a great piece of
foolishness--the first and last, I need hardly tell you. I'm very much
ashamed of it. In that letter I ask Mr. Harry to forget all about it,
and to remember only that I am, and want to go on being, Vivien's
friend."

It sounded well, but Andy was not quite convinced.

"It's some time ago now. Mightn't you just ignore it?"

"As far as he's concerned, no doubt I might; but I rather want to get it
off my own conscience, Mr. Hayes. It'll make me happier in meeting him.
I shall be happier in meeting you too, after this little talk. Somehow
that wretched bit of silliness seems to have made an awkwardness between
us, and I want to leave Nutley good friends with every one."

She sounded very sincere; nay, in a sense she was sincere. She was
ashamed; she did want to end the whole matter--unless that unexpected
answer came. At any rate she was--or sounded--sincere enough to make
Andy hold out his hand for the letter.

"I'll take it and give it to him as you wish, Miss Vintry. I'm bound to
say, though, that, if apologies are being made, I think Harry's the one
to make them."

"We women are taught to think such things worse in ourselves than in
men. Men get carried away; they're allowed to, now and then. We
mustn't."

The appeal to his chivalry--another wrong to woman!--touched Andy.
"That's infernally unfair!"

"It sometimes seems so, just a little. I'm sincerely grateful to you,
Mr. Hayes." She held out her hand to him. "You won't think it necessary
to mention to Mr. Harry all I've told you? I don't think he was so sure
as I was about--about your presence. And somehow it makes it seem worse
if he knew that you--"

"I shall say nothing whatever, if he doesn't," said Andy, as he shook
hands.

"Thank you again. I don't think I dare risk asking you to be
friends--real friends--yet; but I may, perhaps, on the wedding day."

"I've never been your enemy, Miss Vintry."

"No; you've been kind, considerate"--her voice dropped--"merciful. Thank
you. Good-bye."

She left Andy with her letter in his hands, and her humble thanks
echoing in his ears--words that, in thanking him for his silence, bound
him to a continuance of it. Andy felt most of the guilt suddenly
transferred to his shoulders, because he had told the Nun--well, very
nearly all about it! That could not be helped now. After all, it was
Miss Vintry's own fault; she should have done sooner what she had done
now. "All the same," thought chivalrous Andy, "I might give Doris a hint
that things look a good bit better."

Certainly Isobel Vintry had cause to congratulate herself on a useful
morning's work--Harry safely warned, Andy in great measure conciliated.
She felt more able to face Wellgood over the teapot.

The first round had gone in her favour; the zone of danger was
appreciably contracted. Her courage rose; her conscience, too, was
quieter. She felt comparatively honest. With Wellgood she had gone as
near to absolute honesty as the circumstances permitted. She had broken
the engagement; she had even prayed to be allowed to go away, with all
that meant to her. Wellgood made her stay. Then, so far as he was
concerned, the issue must be on his own head. If that unexpected answer
should come in the course of the weeks still left for it, it would be
Wellgood's own lookout. As for Vivien--well, she was perceptibly more
honest even in regard to Vivien. If she fought still, in desperate hope,
for Vivien's lover, she fought now in fairer fashion, by refusing, not
by accepting, his society, his attentions, his kisses. She would be
nothing to him unless he found himself forced to cry, "Be everything!"
She would abide no longer on that half-way ground; there were to be no
more sly tricks and secret meetings. The kisses, if kisses came, would
not be stolen, but ravished in conquest from a rival's lips. If sin,
that was sin in the grand manner.

At lunch-time a note came for Vivien, brought by a groom on a bicycle.

"Oh, from Harry!" she exclaimed, tearing it open.

Isobel, sitting opposite Wellgood, set her face. She had expected a note
to come for Vivien from Harry. She was on her mettle, fighting warily,
risking no points. No note should come to her from Harry, to be opened
perhaps under Wellgood's eyes; he had been known to ask to see letters,
in his matter-of-course way assuming that there could be nothing private
in them. Harry's answer to the note Andy delivered was to come to Isobel
through Vivien, and to come in terms dictated by Isobel, terms that she
alone would understand. She could always contrive to see Vivien's
letters; generally they were left about.

"He's so sorry he can't bring Mr. Foot to tennis with him this
afternoon; they're going to play golf," Vivien announced, rather
disappointed. But she cheered up. "Oh well, it's rather hot for tennis;
and I shall see him to-night, at dinner at Halton."

"Does he say anything else?" asked Isobel carelessly.

"Only that he's bored to death with politics." She laughed. "What's
worrying him, I wonder?"

For a moment Isobel sat with eyes lowered; then she raised them and
looked across to Wellgood. He was not looking at her; he was carving
beef. Then it did not matter if her face had changed a little when she
heard that Harry was bored with politics. Neither Wellgood nor Vivien
had seen any change there might possibly have been in her face.

That trivial observation about politics was the answer--the expected
answer, not that unexpected one. It meant, "I accept your decision."

Oddly enough her first feeling, the one that rose instinctively in her
mind, was of triumph over Wellgood. Had she expressed it with the
primitive simplicity on which he prided himself, she would have cried,
"Sold again!" She had got out of her great peril; she had settled the
whole thing. He had not scored a single point against her. She had
regained her independence of him, and without cost. There was no longer
anything for him to discover. He had no more rights over her; he had to
renew his wooing, again to court, to conciliate. He had no way of
finding out the past; Andy Hayes was safe. The future was again in her
hands. Her smile at Wellgood was serene and confident. She was
retreating in perfect order, after fighting a brilliantly successful
rearguard action.

Even of the retreat itself she was, for the moment at least, half glad.
Fear and longing had so mingled in her dreams of that unexpected answer.
To be free from that crisis and that revelation! They would have meant
flight for her, pursued by a chorus of condemning voices. They would
have meant at least days, perhaps weeks, of straining vigilance, of
harrowing suspense--never sure of her ground, never sure of herself;
above all, never sure of Harry. Who, if not she, should know that you
never could be sure of Harry? Who, if not she, should know that neither
his plighted word nor his hottest impulse could be relied upon to last?
Yes, she was--half glad; almost more than half glad, when she looked at
Vivien. In the back of her mind, save maybe when passion ran at full
flood for those rare minutes, the stolen ten that had come for so few
days, had been the feeling that it would be a terrible thing to be--to
be "shown up" to Vivien. The sage adviser, the firm preceptress, the
model of the virtues of self-control--how would she have looked in the
eyes of Vivien, even had the open, the triumphant victory come to pass?
Really that hardly bore thinking of, if she had still any self-respect
to lose.

She walked alone in the drive after lunch--where she had been wont to
meet him. Let it all go! At least it had done one thing for her--it had
saved her from Wellgood. It had taught her love, and made the pretence
of love impossible--the suffering of unwelcome caresses a thing unholy.
Then it was not all to the bad? It left her with a dream, a vision, a
thing unrealized yet real; something to take with her into that new,
cold, unknown world of strange people into which, for a livelihood's
sake, she must soon plunge--must plunge as soon as she had seen Harry
married to Vivien!

The sun was on the lake that afternoon; the water looked peaceful,
friendly, consoling. She sat down by the margin of it, and gave herself
to memories. They came thick and fast, repeating themselves endlessly
out of scant material--full of shame, full of woe; but also full of
triumph, for she had been loved--at least for the time desired--by the
man of her love and desire. Bought at a great cost? Yes. And never ought
to have been bought? No. But now by no means to be forgotten.

She was alone; everything was still, in the calm of a September
afternoon. She bowed her head to her hands and wept.

The Nun walked up the drive and saw the figure of a woman weeping.



Chapter XVIII.

PENITENCE AND PROBLEMS.


The Nun stopped, walked on a few paces, came to a stand again. She was
visiting Nutley in pursuance of her plan of doing, if not that
undiscoverable obvious, yet the more sensible thing--of preventing the
"row" and, incidentally thereto, of finding out "what the woman really
wanted."

Here was the woman. Whatever she might really want, apparently she was
very far from having got it yet. She also looked very different from the
adversary with whom Miss Flower had pictured herself as conducting a
contest of wits--quite unlike the cool, wary, dexterous woman who had
played her difficult game between the two men so finely, and who might
be trusted to treat her opponent to a very pretty display of fencing.
The position seemed so changed that the Nun had thoughts of going back.
To discover a new, and what one has considered rather a hostile,
acquaintance in tears is embarrassing; and the acquaintance may well
share the embarrassment.

Fortunately Isobel stopped crying. She dried her eyes and tucked away
her handkerchief. The Nun advanced again. Isobel sat looking drearily
over the lake.

"Dropped your sixpence in the pond, Miss Vintry?" the Nun asked.

Isobel turned round sharply.

"Because--I mean--you're not looking very cheerful."

Isobel's eyes hardened a little.

"Have you been there long?"

"I saw you were crying, if that's what you mean. I'm sorry. I couldn't
help it. People should cry in their own rooms if they want to keep it
quiet."

"Oh, never mind; it doesn't matter whether you saw or not. Every woman
is entitled to cry sometimes."

"I don't cry myself," observed the Nun, "but of course a great many
girls do."

"I daresay I shouldn't cry if I were the great Miss Doris Flower."

The Nun gurgled. That ebullition could usually be brought about by any
reference to the greatness of her position, not precisely because the
position was not great--rather because it was funny that it should be.
She sat down beside Isobel.

"Please don't tell Vivien what you saw. I don't want her to know I've
been crying. She's remorseful enough as it is about her marriage costing
me my 'place.'"

"Was that what you were crying about?"

"It seems silly, doesn't it? But I've been happy here, and--and they've
got fond of me. And finding a new one--well, it seems like plunging into
this lake on a cold day. So quite suddenly I got terribly dreary."

"Well, you've had it out, haven't you?" suggested the Nun consolingly.

"Yes; and much good it's done to the situation!" laughed Isobel
ruefully. "Oh, well, I suppose my feelings are the situation--at any
rate there's no other."

"Then if you feel better, things are better too."

The Nun did not feel that she was getting on much with the secret object
of her visit; she even felt the impulse to get on with it weakened. She
was more inclined just to have a friendly, a consoling chat. However
business was business. To get on she must take a little risk. She dug
the earth on the edge of the pond with the point of her sunshade and
observed carelessly, "If you very particularly wanted to stay at Nutley,
I should have thought you might have the chance."

"Oh, are people gossiping about that? Poor Mr. Wellgood!"

"It was the observation of my own eyes," said the Nun sedately. "Oh, of
course you can deny it if you like, though I don't see why you
should--and I shan't believe you."

"If you've such confidence in your own eyes as that, Miss Flower, it
would be wasting my breath to try to convince you. Have it your own way.
But even that would be--a new place. And I've told you that I'm afraid
of new places."

"All plunges aren't into cold water," the Nun observed reflectively.

"That one would be colder, I think, than a quite strange plunge--away
from Nutley."

"It's a great pity we're not built so as to fall in love conveniently.
It would have been so nice for you to stay--in the new place."

"I'm only letting you have it your own way, Miss Flower. I've admitted
nothing."

"All that appears at present is that you needn't go if you don't
like--and yet you cry about going!"

Isobel smiled.

"I might cry at leaving all my friends, especially at leaving Vivien,
without wanting to stop--with Mr. Wellgood, as you insist on having it.
Is that comprehensible?"

"Well, I expect I've asked enough questions," said the cunning Nun,
wondering hard how she could contrive to ask another--and get an answer
to it. "But in Meriton there's nothing to do but gossip to and about
one's friends. That's what makes it so jolly. Why, this wedding is
simply occupation for all of us! What shall we do when it's over? Oh,
well, I shall be gone, I suppose."

"And so shall I--so we needn't trouble about that."

The Nun was baffled. A strange impassivity seemed to fall on her
companion the moment that the talk was of Harry's wedding. She tried
once again.

"I do hope it'll turn out well."

Isobel offered no comment whatever. In truth she was not sure of
herself; her agitation was too recent and had been too violent--it might
return.

"I've known Harry for so long--and I like Miss Wellgood so much." She
gave as interrogative a note as she could to her remarks--without asking
direct questions. "I think he really is in love at last!" Surely, that
ought to draw some question or remark--that "at last"? It drew nothing.
"But--well, we used to say one never knew with poor Harry!" ("Further
than that," thought the Nun, "without telling tales, I cannot go.")

Isobel sat silent.

The result was meagre. Isobel would talk about Wellgood, evasively but
without embarrassment; references to Harry Belfield reduced her to
silence. It was a little new light on the past; its bearing on the
future, if any, was negative. She would not, it seemed, stay at Nutley
with Wellgood. She would not talk of Harry. She had been crying. The
crying was the satisfactory feature in the case.

The Nun rose.

"I must go in and see Miss Wellgood."

"She's gone out with her father, I'm afraid. That's how I happen to be
off duty."

"And able to cry?"

"Oh, I hope you'll forget that nonsense. I'm quite resigned to
everything, really." She too rose, smiling at her companion. "Only I
rather wish it was all over--and the plunge made!"

The Nun reported the fact of her interview--and the results, such as
they were--to Miss Dutton when she returned home.

"Her crying shows that she doesn't think she's got much chance," said
the Nun hopefully.

"It shows she'd take a chance, if she got one," Miss Dutton opined
acutely.

"You mean it all depends on Harry, then?"

"In my opinion it always has."

That indeed seemed the net result. It all depended on Harry--not at
first sight a very satisfactory conclusion for those who knew Harry.
However, Andy, who came into the Lion later in the afternoon, was
hopeful--nay, confident. He had mysterious reasons for this frame of
mind--information which he declared himself unable to disclose; he could
not even indicate the source from which it proceeded, but he might say
that there were two sources. He really could not say more--which annoyed
the Nun extremely.

"But I think we may consider all the trouble over," he ended.

For had not Harry, when he got his note, dealt quite frankly with
Andy--well, with very considerable frankness as to the past, with
complete as to the future? He admitted that he had "more or less made a
fool of himself," but declared that it had been mere nonsense, and was
altogether over. Absolutely done with! He gave Andy his hand on that,
begged his pardon for having been sulky with him, and told him that
henceforward all his thoughts would be where his heart had been all
through--with Vivien. If Isobel had convinced Andy, Harry convinced him
ten times more. Andy had such a habit of believing people. He was not,
indeed, easily or stupidly deceived by a wilful liar; but he fell a
victim to people who believed in themselves, who thought they were
telling the truth. It was so hard for him to understand that people
would not go on feeling and meaning what they were sincerely feeling and
meaning at the moment. They could convince him, if only they were
convinced themselves.

"Let's think no more about it, and then we can all be happy," he said to
the Nun. It really made a great difference to his happiness how Harry
was behaving.

After all, it was rather hard--and rather hard-hearted--not to believe
in Harry, when Harry believed so thoroughly in himself. The strongest
proof of his regained self-confidence was the visit he paid to the
Nun--a visit long overdue in friendship and even in courtesy. Harry
asked for no forgiveness; he seemed to assume that she would understand
how, having been troubled in his mind of late, he had not been in the
mood for visits. He was quite his old self when he came, so much his old
self that he scarcely cared to disguise the fact that he had given some
cause for anxiety--any more than he expected to be met with doubt when
he implied that all cause for anxiety was past. He had quite got over
that attack, and his constitution was really the stronger for it.
Illnesses are nature's curative processes, so the doctors tell us. Harry
was always more virtuous after a moral seizure. The seizure being the
effective cause of his improvement, he could not be expected to regard
it with unmixed regret. If, incidentally, it witnessed to his conquering
charms, he could not help that. Of course he would not talk about the
thing; he did not so much mind other people implying, assuming, or
hinting at it.

If the Nun obliged him at all in this way, she chose the difficult
method of irony--in which not her greatest admirer could claim that she
was very subtle.

"My dear Harry, I quite understand your not calling. How could you think
of me when you were quite wrapped up in Vivien Wellgood? I was really
glad!"

Now that Harry had come, he found himself delighted with his visit.

"Country air's agreeing with you, Doris. You look splendid." His eyes
spoke undisguised admiration.

"Thank you, Harry. I know you thought me good-looking once." The Nun was
meek and grateful.

Harry laughed, by no means resenting the allusion. That had been an
illness, a curative process, also--though her curative measures had been
rather too summary for his taste.

"Whose peace of mind are you destroying down here?"

"I've a right to destroy peace of mind if I want to. It's not as if I
were engaged to be married--as you are. I think Jack Rock's in most
danger--or perhaps your father."

"The pater inherits some of my weaknesses," said Harry. "Or shares my
tastes, anyhow."

"Yes, I know he's devoted to Vivien."

"You never look prettier than when you're trying to say nasty things."

"I'll stop, or in another moment you'll be offering to kiss me."

"Should you object?"

"Hardly worth while. It would mean nothing at all to either of us.
Still--I'm not a poacher."

"You don't seem to me to be able to take a joke either." Harry's voice
sounded annoyed. "But we won't quarrel. I've been through one of my fits
of the blues, Doris. Don't be hard on a fellow."

"It would be so much better for you if people could be hard on you,
Harry. Still you'll have to pay for it somehow. We all have to pay for
being what we are--somehow. Perhaps you won't know you're paying--you'll
call it by some other name; perhaps you won't care. But you'll have to
pay somehow."

The Nun made a queer figure of a moralist; she was really far too
pretty. But her words got home to Harry--the new, the recovered, Harry.

"I have paid," he said. "Oh yes, you don't believe it, but I have! The
bill's paid, and receipted. I'm starting fair now. But you never did do
me justice."

"I've always done justice to what you care most about--Harry the
Irresistible!"

"Oh, stop that rot!" he implored. "I'm serious, you know, Doris."

"I know all the symptoms of your seriousness. The first is wanting to
flirt with somebody fresh."

Harry's laugh was vexed--but not of bitter vexation. "Give a fellow a
chance!"

"The whole world's in league to do it--again and again!"

"This time the world is going to find me appreciative. You don't know
what a splendid girl Vivien is! If you did, you'd understand
how--how--well, how things look different."

The Nun relented. "I really think it may last you over the wedding--and
perhaps the honeymoon," she said.

The extraordinary thing to her--indeed to all his friends who did not
share his most mercurial temperament--was that this change of mood was
entirely sincere in Harry, and his satisfaction with it not less
genuine. For two painful hours--from his receipt of Isobel's note to his
dispatching of that sentence about being bored with politics--he had
struggled, keeping Andy in an adjoining room solaced by newspapers and
tobacco, in case counsel should be needed. Then the right had won--and
all was over! When all was over, it was with Harry exactly as if nothing
had ever begun; his belief in the virtue of penitence beggared theology
itself. What he had been doing presented itself as not merely finished,
not merely repented of, but as hardly real; at the most as an
aberration, at the least as a delusion. Certainly he felt hardly
responsible for it. An excellent comfortable doctrine--for Harry. It
rather left out of account the other party to the transaction.

What a right he had to be proud of his return to loyalty! Because Isobel
Vintry was really a most attractive girl; it would be unjust and
ungrateful to deny that, since she had--well, it was better not to go
back to that! With which reflection he went back to it, recovering some
of the emotions of that culminating evening in the drive; recovering
them not to any dangerous extent--Isobel was not there, the thrill of
her voice not in his ears, nor the light of her eyes visible through the
darkness--but enough to make him pat his virtue on the back again, and
again excuse the aberration. Oh, they had all made too much of it! A
mere flirtation! Oh, very wrong! Yes, yes; or where lay the marvel of
this repentance? But not so bad as all that! They had been prejudiced to
think it so serious--prejudiced by Vivien's charms, her trust, her
simplicity, her appeal. Yes, he certainly had been a villain even to
flirt when engaged to a girl like that. However he thoroughly
appreciated that aspect of the case now; it had needed this
little--adventure--to make him appreciate it. Perhaps it had all been
for the best. Well, that was going too far, because Isobel felt it
deeply, as her words in the drive had shown. Yet perhaps--Harry achieved
his climax in the thought that even for her it might have been for the
best if it stopped her from marrying Wellgood. By how different a path,
in how different a mood, had poor Isobel attained to laying the same
unction to her smarting soul!

Wellgood did not know at all how quickly matters had moved. He was still
asking about the sin--the aberration; he was not up to date with
Isobel's renunciation or Harry's comfortable penitence. Nor was he of
the school that accepts such things without sound proof. "Lead us not
into temptation" was all very well in church; in secular life, if you
suspected a servant of dishonesty, you marked a florin and left it on
the mantelpiece. Had Isobel been already his wife, he would have locked
her up in the nearest approach to a tower of brass that modern
conditions permit; if Vivien had been already Harry's wife, he would no
doubt have been in favour of Harry's being kept out of the way of
dangerous seductions. But now, whether as father or as lover--and the
father continued to afford the lover most valuable aid, most specious
cover--he had first to know, to test, and to try. He had to leave his
marked florin on the mantelpiece.

It must not, however, be supposed that Meriton lacked problems because
Harry Belfield seemed, for the moment at all events, to cease to present
one. For days past Billy Foot had been grappling with a most momentous
one, and Mrs. Belfield's mind was occupied, and almost disturbed, by
another of equal gravity. Curiously enough, the two related to the same
person, and were to some degree of a kindred nature. Both involved the
serious question of the social status--or perhaps the social
desirability would be a better term--of Miss Doris Flower.

In the leisure hours and the autumn sunshine of Meriton--an atmosphere
remote from courts, whether of law or of royalty, and inimical to
ambition--Billy was in danger of forgetting the paramount claims of his
career and of remembering only the remarkable prettiness of Miss Flower.
He was once more "on the brink"; the metaphor of a plunge found a place
in his thoughts as well as in Isobel Vintry's; some metaphors are very
maids-of-all-work. He was deplorably perturbed. Now that the great
campaign was over he abandoned himself to the great question. He even
went up to London to talk it over with Gilly, entertaining his brother
to lunch--by no means a casual or haphazard hospitality, for Gilly's
meals were serious business--in order to obtain his most inspired
counsel. But Gilly had been abominably, nay, cruelly disappointing.

"I shouldn't waste any more time thinking about that, old chap," said
Gilly, delicately dissecting a young partridge.

"You're not going out of your way to be flattering. It appears to me at
least to be a matter of some importance whom I marry. I thought perhaps
my brother might take that view too."

"Oh, I do, old chap. I know it's devilish important to you. All I mean
is that in this particular case you needn't go about weighing the
question. Ask the Nun right off."

"You really advise it?" Billy demanded, wrinkling his brow in judicial
gravity, but inwardly rather delighted.

"I do," Gilly rejoined. "Ask her right off--get it off your mind! It
doesn't matter a hang, because she's sure to refuse you." He smiled at
his brother across the table--a table spread by that brother's
bounty--in a fat and comfortable fashion.

Billy preserved his temper with some difficulty. "Purely for the sake of
argument, assume that I am a person whom she might possibly accept."

"Can't. There are limits to hypothesis, beyond which discussion is
unprofitable. I merely ask you to note how much time and worry you'll be
saved if you adopt my suggestion."

"You'll look a particular fool if I do--and she says yes."

"Are you quite sure they brought the claret you ordered, Billy?--What's
that you said?"

"I'm sure it's the claret, and I'm sure you're an idiot!" Billy crossly
retorted.

His journey to London, to say nothing of a decidedly expensive lunch,
brought poor Billy no comfort and no enlightenment, since he refused his
brother's plan without hesitation. His problem became no less harassing
when brought into contact with Mrs. Belfield's problem at Halton. She
also discussed it at lunch, Harry being an absentee, and Andy Hayes the
only other guest. She had forgotten by now that a similar question had
once arisen about Andy himself; his present position would have made the
memory seem ridiculous; it had become indisputably equal to dinner at
Halton, even in Mrs. Belfield's most conservative eyes.

"I have written the note you wished me to, my dear," she remarked to her
husband. "To Miss Flower, you know, for Wednesday night. And I
apologized for my informality in not having called, and said that I
hoped Miss--Miss--well, the friend, you know, would come too."

"Thank you, my dear, thank you." Belfield sounded really grateful; the
struggle had, in fact, been rather more severe than he had anticipated.

"It's not that I'm a snob," the lady went on, now addressing herself to
Billy Foot, "or prejudiced, or in any way illiberal. Nobody could say
that of me. But it's just that I doubt how far it's wise to attempt to
mix different sections of society. I mean whether there's not a certain
danger in it. You see what I mean, Mr. Foot?"

Belfield winked covertly at Andy; both had some suspicion of Billy's
feelings, and were maliciously enjoying the situation.

"Oh yes, Mrs. Belfield, I--er--see what you mean, of course. In ordinary
cases there might be--yes--a sort of--well, a sort of danger
to--to--well, to something we all value, Mrs. Belfield. But in this case
I don't think--"

"So Mr. Belfield says. But then he's always so adventurous."

Belfield could not repress a snigger; Andy made an unusually prolonged
use of his napkin; Billy was rather red in the face. Mrs. Belfield gazed
at Billy, not at all understanding his feelings, but thinking that he
was looking very warm.

"Well, Harry's engaged!" she added with a sigh of thanksgiving. Billy
grew redder still; the other two welcomed an opportunity for open
laughter.

"They may laugh, Mr. Foot, but I'm sure your mother would feel as I do."

A bereavement several years old saved Billy from the suggested
complication, but he glared fiercely across the table at Andy, who
assumed, with difficulty, an apologetic gravity.

"All my wife's fears will vanish as soon as she knows the lady," said
Belfield, also anxious to make his peace with Billy.

"I always yield to Mr. Belfield, but you can't deny that it's an
experiment, Mr. Foot." She rose from the table, having defined the
position with her usual serene and gentle self-satisfaction.

Billy rose too, announcing that he would finish his cigar in the garden.
His face was still red, and he was not well pleased with his host and
Andy. Why will people make our own most reasonable thoughts ridiculous
by their silly way of putting them? And why will other stupid people
laugh at them when so presented? These reflections accompanied poor
Billy as he walked and smoked.

Belfield smiled. "More sentimental complications! I hope Billy Foot
keeps his face better than that when he's in court. Do you think he'll
rush on his fate? And what will it be?"

"Oh, I don't know, sir," Andy answered. "I really haven't thought about
it. I don't think she cares for him in that sort of way, though they're
awfully good friends."

"You seem to manage to keep heart-whole, Andy?"

"Oh, I've no time to do anything else," he laughed.

"Take care; Cupid resents defiance. I've a notion you stand very well
with the lady in question yourself."

"I? Oh, the idea's never entered my head."

"I don't say it's entered hers. The pretty rogue told me she never fell
in love, and made me wish I was thirty years younger, and free to test
her. But she's very fond of you, Andy."

"I think what she told you about herself is true. She said something
like it to me too. But I'm glad you think she likes me. I like her
immensely. Outside this house, she's my best friend, I think, not
counting old Jack Rock, of course."

"I believe Vivien would dispute the title with her. She thinks the world
of you."

"I say, Mr. Belfield, you'll turn my head. Seriously, I should be
awfully happy to think that true. There's nobody--well, nobody in the
world I'd rather be liked by."

"Yes, I think I know that," said Belfield. "And I'm glad to think she's
got such a friend, if she ever needs one."

A silence followed. Belfield was thinking of Vivien, thinking that she
would have been in safer hands with Andy than with his son Harry; glad,
as he had said, to know that she would have such a friend left to her
after his own precarious lease of life was done. Andy was thinking too,
but not of Vivien, not of sentimental complications--not even of
Harry's. Yet the thought which he was pursuing in his mind was not
altogether out of relation to Harry, though the relation was one that he
did not consciously trace.

"Back to work next week, sir!" he said. "Gilly's clamouring for me. I've
had a splendid holiday."

"You've put in some very good work in your holiday. Your speeches are
thought good."

"I somehow feel that I'm on my own legs now," said Andy slowly. "I hope
I've not grown bumptious, but I'm not afraid now to think for myself and
to say what I think. I often find people agree with me more or less."

"Perhaps you persuade them," Belfield suggested; he was listening with
interest, for he had watched from outside the growth of Andy's mind, and
liked to hear Andy's own account of it.

"Well, I never set out to do that. I just give them the facts, and what
the facts seem to me to point to. If they've got facts pointing the
other way, I like to listen. Of course lots of questions are very
difficult, but by going at it like that, and taking time, and not being
afraid to chuck up your first opinion, you can get forward--or so it
seems to me at least."

"Chucking up first opinions is hard work, both about things and about
people."

"Yes, but it's the way a man's mind grows, isn't it?" He spoke slowly
and thoughtfully. "Unless you can do that, you're not really your own
mental master, any more than you're your own physical master if you
can't break off a bad habit."

"You've got to be a bit ruthless with yourself in both cases, and with
the opinions, and--with the people."

"You've got to see," said Andy. "You must see--that's it. You mustn't
shut your eyes, or turn your head away, or let anybody else look for
you."

"You've come into your kingdom," said Belfield with a nod.

"Perhaps I may claim to have got my eyes open, to be grown up."

He was grown up; he stood on his own legs; he sat no more at Harry's
feet and leant no more on Harry's arm. Harry came into his life there,
as he had in so many ways. Harry's weakness had thrown him back on his
own strength, and forced him to rely on it. Relying on it in life, he
had found it trustworthy, and now did not fear to rely on it in thought
also. His chosen master and leader had forfeited his allegiance, though
never his love. He would choose no other; he would think for himself.
Looking at his capacious head, at his calm broad brow, and hearing him
slowly hammer out his mental creed, Belfield fancied that his thinking
might carry him far. The kingdom he had come into might prove a spacious
realm.



Chapter XIX.

MARKED MONEY.


So far as she could and dared, Isobel Vintry withdrew herself from the
company of Harry Belfield. She relaxed her supervision of the lovers
when they were together; she tried to avoid any risk of being alone with
Harry. She knew that Wellgood was watching her, and was determined to
give no new handle to his suspicion. Her own feelings agreed in
dictating her line of action. In ordinary intercourse she was sure of
herself; she was not anxious to seek extraordinary temptation. She had
more resolution than Harry, but not the same power of self-delusion, not
the same faculty of imagining that an enemy was finally conquered
because he had been once defeated or defied. She was careful not to
expose herself to danger, either from herself or from Wellgood. Harry
had decided that all chance of danger was over; he laughed at it now,
almost literally laughed. Yet while he derided the notion of peril, he
liked the flavour of memory. He kept turning the thing over in a mood
nicely compounded of remorse and self-esteem; of penitence for the
folly, and self-congratulation over the end that had been put to it; of
wonder at his aberration, and excuse of it in view of Isobel's
attractions. Gone as it all was in fact, it was not banished from
retrospect.

Wellgood grew easier in his mind. He had marked some
florins--opportunities for private meetings rather clumsily offered;
they had not been taken. His suspicions of the past remained, but he
thought that he had effectually frightened Isobel. He had good hopes for
his own scheme again. If she did not come round before the wedding--now
only a fortnight off--he believed that she would afterwards. Harry
finally out of reach, his turn would come. He continued his smoothness,
and did not relax his vigilance; but, as the days passed by, his hopes
rose to confidence again.

The dinner-party at Halton in the Nun's honour went off with great
success; she comported herself with such decorum and ease that Mrs.
Belfield felt her problem solved, while Billy Foot found his even more
pressing. Vivien was the only representative of Nutley. Wellgood had
gone to the county town to attend a meeting of the County Council; the
trains ran awkwardly, and, unless the business proved very brief, he
would have to dine at the hotel, and would not reach home till late at
night. Isobel had excused herself, pursuant to her policy of seeing as
little as possible of Harry. But the party was reinforced by Gilly Foot,
who had come down for a couple of days' rest, and was staying at the
Lion--the great publishing house being left to take care of itself for
this short space.

The party was pleasant--Belfield flirting with the Nun, Gilly
discoursing in company with Mrs. Belfield, who thought him a most
intelligent young man (as he was), Harry and Billy both in high spirits
and full of sallies, for which Vivien and Andy, both ever choosing the
modest _rôle_, made an applauding audience. Yet for most of the company
dinner was but a prelude to the real business of the evening. The Nun
had no opinion of evenings which ended at ten-thirty. For this reason,
and in order to welcome Gilly and, if possible, please his palate, she
had organized a supper at the Lion, and exhorted Mr. Dove, and Chinks,
and the cook--in a word, everybody concerned--to a great effort. One
thing only marred the anticipations of this feast; Vivien had failed to
win leave to attend it.

"What do you want with supper after a good dinner?" asked Wellgood
brusquely. "Come home and go to bed, like a sensible girl."

So Harry was to take Vivien home, and come back to supper with all
reasonable speed. The Nun pressed Mr. Belfield to join her party after
his own was over, but gained nothing thereby, save a disquisition on the
pleasures appropriate to youth and age respectively. "Among the latter I
rank going early to bed very high."

"Going to bed early is a low calculating sort of thing to do," said
Harry. "It always means that you intend to try to take advantage of
somebody else the next morning."

"In the hope that he'll have been up late," said Billy.

"And eaten too much," added Gilly sadly.

"Or even drunk too much?" suggested Belfield.

"Anyhow, being sent to bed is horrid," lamented unhappy Vivien.

"You've a life of suppers before you, if you choose," Billy assured her
consolingly.

"When I was a girl, we always had supper," said Mrs. Belfield.

"Quite right, Mrs. Belfield," said Gilly, in high approval.

"Instead of late dinner, I mean, Mr. Foot."

Gilly could do no more than look at her, finding no adequate comment.

"Supper should be a mere flirtation with one's food," said Billy.

"A post-matrimonial flirtation?" asked Belfield. "Because dinner must be
wedlock! We come back to its demoralizing character."

"Having established that it's wrong, we've given it the final charm, and
we'll go and do it," laughed Billy. Mrs. Belfield had already looked
once at the clock.

Amid much merriment Vivien and Harry were put into the Nutley brougham,
and the rest started to walk to the Lion, no more than half a mile from
the gates of Halton. Belfield turned back into the house, smiling and
shaking his head. The old, old moralizing was upon him again, in its
hoary antiquity, its eternal power of striking the mind afresh. How good
it all is--and how short! Elderly he said good-night to his elderly
wife, and in elderly fashion packed himself off to bed. He was "sent"
there under a sanction stronger, more ruthless, less to be evaded, than
that which poor Vivien reluctantly obeyed. He chid himself; nobody but a
poet has a right to abandon his mind to universal inevitable regrets,
since only a poet's hand can fashion a fresh garland for the tomb of
youth.

Half Harry's charm lay in--perhaps half his dangers sprang from--an
instinctive adaptability; he was seldom out of tune with his company.
With the bold he was bold; towards the timid he displayed a chivalrous
reserve. This latter had always been his bearing towards Vivien, even in
the early days of impulsive single-hearted devotion. It did not desert
him even to-night, although there was a stirring in his blood, roused
perhaps by the mimic reproduction of old-time gaieties with which the
Nun proposed to enliven Meriton--a spirit of riot and revolt, of risk
and adventure in the realm of feeling. He had little prospect of
satisfying that impulse, but he might find some solace in merry revelry
with his friends. Somehow, when more closely considered, the revelry did
not satisfy. Good-fellowship was not what his mood was asking; for him
at least the entertainment at the Lion offered no more, whatever tinge
of romance might adorn it for Billy Foot.

But he talked gaily to Vivien as they drove to Nutley--of the trip they
were to make, of the house they were to hire for the winter and the
ensuing season (he would in all likelihood be in Parliament by then), of
their future life together. There was no woman save Vivien in his mind,
neither Isobel nor another. He had no doubts of his recovered loyalty;
but he was in some danger of recognizing it ruefully, as obligation and
necessity, rather than as satisfaction or even as achievement.

Vivien had grown knowing about him. She knew when she, or something, or
things in general, did not satisfy his mood. "I'm glad you're going to
have a merry evening to-night," she said. "And I'm almost glad I'm sent
to bed! It'll do you good to forget all about me for a few hours."

"You think I shall?" he protested gallantly.

"Oh yes!" she answered, laughing. "But I shall expect you to be all the
more glad to see me again to-morrow."

He laughed rather absently. "I expect those fellows will rather wake up
the old Lion."

They had passed through Nutley gates and were in the drive. Harry was
next to the water, and turned his head to look at it. Suddenly he gave
the slightest start, then looked quickly round at his companion. She was
leaning back, she had not looked out of the window. Harry frowned and
smiled.

When they stopped at the door, the coachman said, "Beg pardon, sir, but
I've only just time to take you back, and then go on to the station to
meet Mr. Wellgood. He didn't come by the eight-o'clock, so I must meet
the eleven-thirty."

For one moment Harry considered. "All right. I'll walk."

"Very good, sir. I'll start directly and take the mare down quietly."
The station lay on the other side of Meriton, two miles and a half from
Nutley. The man drove off.

"Oh, Harry, you might as well have driven, because I daren't ask you in!
Father's not back, and Isobel is sure to have gone to bed." The rules
were still strict at Nutley.

For a moment again Harry seemed to consider. "I thought a walk would do
me good. I may even be able to eat some supper!" he said with a laugh.
"I shall get you into trouble if I come in, shall I? Then I won't.
Good-night."

"Father won't be here for an hour, nearly--but he might ask."

"And you're incorrigibly truthful!"

"Am I? Anyhow I rather think you want to go back to supper."

She would have yielded him admission--risking her father's questions and
perhaps her own answer to them--if he had pressed. Harry did not press;
in his refraining she saw renewed evidence of his chivalry. She gave him
her cheek to kiss; he kissed it lightly, saying, "Till to-morrow--what
there's left of me after a night of dissipation!"

She opened the door with her key, waved a last good-night to him, and
disappeared into the dimly lighted hall.

She was gone; the carriage was gone; Wellgood would not come for nearly
an hour. Harry had not told what he had seen in the drive, nor disputed
Vivien's assurance that Isobel Vintry would have gone to bed. Chance had
put a marked florin on the mantelpiece for Wellgood; what were the
chances of its being stolen, and of the theft being traced?

To have moods is to be exposed to chances. Many moods come and go
harmlessly--free, at least, from external consequences. Sometimes
opportunity comes pat on the mood, and the mood is swift to lay all the
blame on opportunity.

"Well, it's not my fault this time," thought Harry. "And if I meet her,
I can hardly walk by without saying good-night."

The little adventure, with its sentimental background, had just the
flavour that his spirit had been asking, just what the evening lacked. A
brief scene of reserved feeling, more hinted than said, a becoming word
of sorrow, and so farewell! No harm in that, and, under the
circumstances, less from Harry would be hardly decent.

Isobel did not seem minded even for so much. She came up to him with a
quick resolute step. She wore a low-cut black gown, and a black lace
scarf twisted round her neck. She bent her head slightly, saying,
"Good-night, Mr. Harry."

He stepped up to her, holding out his hand, but she made no motion to
take it.

"I've no key--I'll go in by the back door. It's sure to be open, because
Fellowes is up, waiting for Mr. Wellgood."

"He won't be here for ever so long. Won't you give me just three
minutes?"

The lamp over the hall door showed him her face; it was pale and tense,
her lips were parted.

"I think I'd sooner go in at once."

"I want you to know that I didn't send that answer lightly. It--it
wasn't easy to obey you."

"Please don't let us say a single word more about it. If you have any
feeling, any consideration for me, you'll let me go at once."

The moment was a bad one for her too. She had spent an evening alone
with bitter thoughts; she had strolled out in a miserable restlessness.
Seeing the carriage pass, feeling sure that Harry was in it, she had
first thought that she would hide herself till he had gone, then decided
to try to reach the house before he had parted from Vivien. Her wavering
landed her there at the one wrong minute.

Harry glanced up at the house; every window was dark. Vivien's room
looked over the lake, the servants' quarters to the back. There was
danger, of course; somebody might come; but nobody was there to see now.
The danger was enough to incite, not enough to deter. And what he had to
say was very short.

"I only want to tell you how deeply sorry I am, and to ask you to
forgive me."

"That's soon said--and soon answered. I forgive you, if I have anything
to forgive."

Her voice was very low, it broke and trembled on the last words of the
sentence.

"I had lost the right to love you, and I hadn't the courage to regain my
freedom, with all that meant to--to poor Vivien and--others. But at
least I was sincere. I didn't pretend--"

"Please, please!" Her tones sank to a whisper; he strained forward to
catch it. "Have some mercy on me, Harry!"

The old exultation and the old recklessness seized on him. He suffered a
very intoxication of the senses. Her strength made weakness, her
stateliness turned to trembling for his sake--the spectacle swept away
his good resolves as the wind blows the loose petals from a fading rose.
Springing forward, he tried to grasp her hands. She put them behind her
back, and stood thus, her face upturned to his, her eyes set on him
intently. He spoke in a low hoarse voice.

"I can't stand any more of it. I've tried and tried. I love Vivien in a
way, and I hate to hurt her. And I hate all the fuss too. But I can't do
it any more. You're the girl for me, Isobel! It comes home to me--right
home--every time I see you. Let's face it--it'll soon be over! A minute
with you is worth an hour with her. I tell you I love you, Isobel." He
stooped suddenly and kissed the upturned lips.

"You think that to-night. You won't to-morrow. The--the other side of it
will come back."

"Face the other side with me, and I can stand it. You love me--you know
you do!"

The trees swayed, murmured, and creaked under the wind; the water lapped
on the edge of the lake. The footsteps of a man walking up the drive
passed unheard by the engrossed lovers. The man came to where he could
see their figures. A sudden stop; then he glided into the cover of the
bushes which fringed the lake, and began to crawl cautiously and
noiselessly towards the house. To save Wellgood from kicking his heels
for an idle hour after dinner in the hotel, and again for an idle
half-hour at the station where he had to change, Lord Meriton had
performed, at the cost of a _détour_ of seven or eight miles, the
friendly office of bringing his colleague home in his motor-car. It is
to little accidents like this that impetuous lovers are exposed. So
natural when they have happened--this thing had even happened once
before--so unlikely to be thought of beforehand, they are indeed florins
marked by the cunning hand of chance.

Isobel made no effort to deny Harry's challenge.

"Yes, I love you, and you know it. If I didn't, I should be the most
treacherous creature on earth, and the worst! Even as it is, I've
nothing to boast about. But I love you, and if there were no to-morrow
I'd do anything you wish or ask."

"There is no to-morrow now; it will always be like to-night." He bent
again and softly kissed her.

"I daren't think so, Harry! I daren't believe it." Unconsciously she
raised her voice in a little wail. The words reached Wellgood, where he
was now crouching behind a bush. He dared come no nearer, lest they
should hear his movements.

Harry had lost all hold on himself now. The pale image of Vivien was
obliterated from his mind. He had no doubt about to-morrow--how had he
ever doubted?--and he pleaded his cause with a passion eloquent and
infectious. It was hard to meet passion like that with denial and doubt;
sorely hard when belief would bring such joy and triumph!

"If you do think so to-morrow--" She slowly put her hands out to him, a
happy tremulous smile on her face.

But before he could take her to his arms, a rapid change came into her
eyes. She held up a hand in warning. The handle of the door had turned.
Both faced round, the door opened, and Vivien looked out.

"Oh, there you are, Isobel!" she exclaimed in a tone of relief. "I
couldn't think what had become of you. I went into your room to tell you
about the dinner."

"I saw the carriage pass as I was strolling in the drive, but when I got
to the door you'd gone in." Her voice shook a little, but her face was
now composed.

"It's my fault. I kept Miss Vintry talking on the doorstep."

"I must go in now," said Isobel. "Good-night, Mr. Harry."

Vivien looked at them in some curiosity, but without any suspicion. A
thought struck her. "I believe I caught you talking about me," she said
with a laugh. "And not much good about me either--because you both look
a little flustered."

Wellgood stepped out from behind his bush.

"I think I can tell you what they've been talking about, Vivien, and I
will. I've had the pleasure of listening to the last part of it."

He stood there stern and threatening, struggling to keep within bounds
the rage that nearly mastered him--the rage of the deceived lover trying
still to masquerade as a father's indignation. The father should have
sent his daughter away; the lover was minded at all costs to heap shame
and humiliation on his favoured rival and on the woman who had deceived
him.

"Not before Vivien!" Harry cried impulsively.

Vivien turned eyes of wonder on him for a moment, then the old look of
remoteness settled on her face. She stood holding on to the door, for
support perhaps, looking now at none of them, looking out into the
night.

"This man, your lover, was making love to this woman, whom I employed to
look after you." He laughed scornfully. "Oh yes, a rare fool I look! But
don't they look fools too? They're nicely caught at last. I daresay
they've had a good run, a lot of 'I love you's,' a lot of kisses like
the one I saw to-night. But they're caught at last."

Vivien spoke in a low voice. "Is it true, Isobel?" For Harry she had
neither words nor eyes.

"It's true," said Isobel; now her voice was calm. "There's no use saying
anything about it."

"And you let him do it!" cried Wellgood, his voice rising in passion.
"You her friend, you her guardian, you who--" His words seemed nearly to
choke him. He turned his fury on to Harry. "You scoundrel, you shall pay
for this! I'll make Meriton too hot to hold you! You try to swagger
about this place as you've been doing, you try to open your mouth in
public, and I'll be there with this pretty story! I'll make an end of
your chances in Meriton! You shall find out what it is to make a fool of
Mark Wellgood! Yes, you shall pay for it!"

From the beginning Harry had found nothing to say; what was there? His
face was sunk in a dull despair, his eyes set on the ground. He shrugged
his shoulders now, murmuring hoarsely, "You must do as you like."

Suddenly Isobel spoke out. "This is your doing. If you had let me go, as
I wanted to, this wouldn't have happened. You suspected it, and yet you
kept me here. I begged you to let me go. You wouldn't. I tried to do the
honest thing--to end it all and go. You wouldn't let me--you know why."

"You wanted to go, Isobel?" asked Vivien gently. "And father wouldn't
let you?"

"Yes. If he likes to tell you the reason, he can. But I say this is his
doing--his! He's been waiting and watching for it. Well, he's got it
now, and he must deal with it."

Her taunts broke down the last of Wellgood's self-control. "Yes, I'll
deal with it!" The lover forgot the father, the father forgot his
daughter. "And I'll deal with him--the blackguard who's interfered
between me and you!"

Vivien turned her head towards her father with a quick motion. His eyes
were set on Isobel in a furious jealousy. Vivien gave a sharp indrawing
of her breath. Now she understood.

"He shall pay for it!" cried Wellgood, and made a dart towards Harry,
raising the stick which he had in his hand.

In an instant Vivien was across his path, and caught his uplifted arm in
both of hers. "Not that way, father!"

"Go into the house, Vivien."

"For my sake, father!"

"Go into the house, I say. Let me alone."

"Not till you promise me you won't do that."

He looked down into her pleading face. His own softened a little. "Very
well, my girl, I promise you I won't do that."

Neither Isobel nor Harry had moved; they made no sign now. Vivien slowly
loosed her grasp of her father's arm and turned back towards the door.
Suddenly Harry spoke in a hoarse whisper.

"I'm sorry, Vivien, awfully sorry."

Then she looked at him for a moment; a smile of sad wistfulness came on
her lips.

"Yes, I'm sure you're awfully sorry, Harry."

She passed into the house, leaving the door open behind her. Harry heard
her slow steps crossing the hall.

"There's no more to be said to-night," said Isobel, and moved towards
the door. Wellgood was beforehand with her; he barred the way, standing
in the entrance.

"Yes, there's one more thing to be said." He was calmer now, but not a
whit less angry or less vicious. "From to-night I've done with both of
you--I and my house. If you want her, take her. If you can get him, take
him--and keep him if you can. Let him remember what I've said. I keep my
word. Let him remember! If he doesn't want this story told, let him make
himself scarce in Meriton. If he doesn't, as God's above us, he shall
hear it wherever he goes. It shall never leave him while I live." He
turned back to Isobel. "And I've done with you--I and my house. Do what
you like, go where you like. You've set your foot for the last time
within my threshold."

Harry looked up with a quick jerk of his head. "You don't mean
to-night?"

A grim smile of triumph came on Wellgood's face. "Ah, but I do mean
to-night. You're in love with her--you can look after her. I'll leave
you the privilege of lodging her to-night. Rather late to get quarters
for a lady, but that's your lookout."

"You won't do that, Mr. Wellgood?" said Isobel, the first touch of
entreaty in her voice.

With an oath he answered, "I will, and this very minute."

He stood there, with his back to the door, a moment longer, his angry
eyes travelling from one to the other, showing his teeth in his vicious
smile. He had thought of a good revenge; humiliation, ignominy, ridicule
should be the portion of the woman who had cheated him and of the man
who took her from him. There was little thought of his daughter in his
heart, or he might have shown mercy to this other girl.

"I wish you both a pleasant night," he said with a sneering laugh, then
turned, went in, and banged the door behind him. They heard the bolt run
into its socket.

Isobel came up to Harry. Stretching out her arms, she laid her hands on
his shoulders. Her composure, so long maintained, gave way at last. She
broke into hysterical sobbing as she stammered out, "O Harry, my dear,
my dear, I'm so sorry! Do forgive!"

Harry Belfield took her face between his two hands and kissed it; but
under her embracing hands she felt his shoulders give a little shrug. It
was his old protest against those emotions. They had played him another
scurvy trick!

The bolt was shot back again, the door opened. Fellowes, the butler,
stood there. He held a hat and a long cloak in his hand.

"Miss Vivien told me to give you these, miss, and to say that she wasn't
allowed to bring them herself, and that she has done her best."

Harry took the things from him, handed the hat to Isobel, and wrapped
her in the cloak.

Fellowes was an old family servant, who had known Harry from a boy.

"I dare do nothing, sir," he said, and went in, and shut the door again.

"It was good of Vivien," said Isobel, with a choking sob.

Harry shrugged his shoulders again. "Well, we must go--somewhere," he
said.



Chapter XX.

NO GOOD?


At supper the fun waxed fast and harmlessly furious. The party had
received an unexpected accession in the person of Jack Rock. He had been
caught surveying the "spread" in company with Miss Dutton (she had
declined the alarming hospitality of Halton), old Mr. Dove, and the
Bird--a trio who had been working for its perfection most of the day and
all the evening. Having caught Jack, the Nun would by no means let him
go. She made him sit down by her in Harry's vacant place, declaring that
room could be found for Harry somewhere when he turned up, and in this
honourable position Jack was enjoying himself--honestly, simply, knowing
that they were "up to their fun," neither spoilt nor embarrassed. Old
Mr. Dove, the Bird, and Miss Miles (when the bar closed she condescended
to help at table, because she too had been in the profession) humoured
the joke, and served Jack with a slyly exaggerated deference. Billy Foot
referred to him as "the eminent sportsman," and affected to believe that
he belonged to the Jockey Club. Gilly, who knew not Jack, perceiving the
sportsman but missing the butcher, had a success the origin of which he
did not understand when he proceeded to explain to Jack what points were
of really vital importance in a sweetbread.

"You gentlemen from London seem to study everything!" exclaimed Jack
admiringly.

"This one does credit to the local butcher," said Gilly solemnly, and
looked round amazed when all glasses were lifted in honour of Jack Rock.

"Food is the only thing Gilly studies," remarked Miss Dutton. The supper
proving satisfactory, she felt at liberty to indulge her one social gift
of a sardonic humour.

"Quite right, Sally," Billy agreed. "Food for his own body and for the
minds of children. What he makes out of the latter he spends on the
former. That both are good you may see at a glance."

"I find myself with something like an appetite," Gilly announced.

"That's how I likes to see folks at the Lion," said old Mr. Dove, easily
interposing from behind his chair. "A trifle more, sir?--Miss Miles,
your eye seems to have missed Mr. Gilbert Foot's glass."

"La, now, I was looking at Miss Flower's frock!"

"Why, you helped to put it on me! You ought to know it."

"It sets that sweet on you, Miss Flower."

All was merry and gay and easy--a pleasant ending to a pleasant holiday.
They all hoped to come back for the wedding, to run down for that
eventful day, but work claimed them on the morrow. London clamoured for
the Nun--new songs to be rehearsed now and sung in ten days. Billy Foot
had a heavy appeal at Quarter Sessions; Gilbert Foot and Co. demanded
the attention of its constituent members.

"Harry's a long time getting back," Andy remarked, looking at his watch.

"He's dallying," said Billy. "I should dally myself if I had the
chance."

"Perhaps he found Wellgood back; I know he wanted to speak to
him--something about the settlements."

"And what might you be going to sing in London next, miss?" asked Jack,
gratefully accepting a tankard of beer which Mr. Dove, in silent
understanding of his secret wishes, had placed beside him.

"I'm going to be Joan of Arc," said the Nun. "Know much about her, Mr.
Rock?"

"Surely, miss! Heard of her at school. The old gentleman used to talk
about her too, Andy. Burnt to death for a witch, poor girl, wasn't she?"

"It seems a most appropriate part for our hostess," remarked Billy Foot.

"Silly!" Miss Dutton shot out contemptously.

"It's rather daring, but the Management put perfect reliance in my good
taste," the Nun pursued serenely. "In the first song I'm just the
peasant girl at--at--well, I forget the name of the village, somewhere
in France--it'll be on the programme. In the second I'm in
armour--silver armour--exhorting the King of France. They wanted me to
be on a horse, but I wouldn't."

"The horse might be heard neighing?" Billy suggested. "Off, you know."

"Then the horse would be where I was afraid of being," said the Nun, and
suddenly gurgled.

"Silver armour! My! Don't you want to take me up to see her?" This came,
in a perfectly audible aside, from Miss Miles to the Bird. Old Mr. Dove
coughed, yet benevolently.

"Much armour?" asked Gilly, suddenly emerging from a deep attention to
his plate. His hopes obviously running towards what may be styled a
classical entertainment, the question was received with merriment.

"Completely encased, Gilly. I shall look like a lobster. Still, Mr. Rock
will come and see me, if the rest of you don't."

"There are possibilities about Joan of Arc," Gilly pursued. "Not at all
bad to lead off with Joan of Arc. Andy, you might make a note of Joan."

"If a frontispiece is of any use to you, Gilly--?" the Nun suggested
politely.

"What can have become of Harry?" Again it was Andy Hayes who asked.

The Nun turned to him and, under cover of Billy's imaginative
description of the frontispiece, said softly, "Can't you be happy unless
you know Harry Belfield's all right?"

"He's a very long time," said Andy. "And they're early at Nutley, you
know. Perhaps he's decided to go straight home to bed."

She looked at him for a moment, but said nothing. The tide of merry
empty talk--gone in the speaking, like the wine in the drinking, yet not
less pleasant--flowed on; only now Miss Flower to some degree shared
Andy's taciturnity. She was not apprehensive or gloomy; it seemed merely
that some sense of the real, the ordinary, course of life had come back
to her; the hour of careless gaiety was no longer, like Joan of Arc,
"completely encased" in silver armour.

Jack Rock turned to her, bashful, humble, yet sure of her kindness. "I
must be goin', miss; I've to be up and about by seven. But--would you
sing to us, miss, same as you did at that meetin'?"

It was against etiquette to ask the Nun to sing on private occasions; if
she chose, she volunteered. But Jack was, naturally, innocent of the
etiquette.

"Of course I'll sing for you. Any favourite song, Jack?"

"What pleases you'll please me, miss," said old Jack.

"I'll sing you an old Scotch one I happen to know."

Silence obtained--from Billy Foot with some difficulty, since he had got
into an argument with Sally Dutton--the Nun began to sing:--

  "My Jeany and I have toiled
    The livelong Summer's Day:
  Till we were almost spoil'd
    At making of the Hay.
  Her Kerchy was of holland clear,
    Tied to her bonny brow,
  I whispered something in her ear;
    But what is that to you?"

The Bird, who had been dispatched to get Gilly Foot a whisky-and-soda,
came in, set it down, and moved towards Andy. "Be still with you, Tom!"
said Jack Rock imperiously.

  "Her stockings were of Kersey green,
    And tight as ony silk;
  O, sic a leg was never seen!
    Her skin was white as milk.
  Her hair was black as ane could wish,
    And sweet, sweet was her mou'!
  Ah! Jeany daintily can kiss;
    But what is that to you?"

"She has a way of giving those two wretched last lines which is simply
an outrage," Billy Foot complained to the now silent Sally Dutton.

Again the Bird tried to edge towards Andy. Jack Rock forbade.

"But I've a message," the Bird whispered protestingly.

"Damn your message! She's singin' to us!"

  "The Rose and Lily baith combine
    To make my Jeany fair;
  There is no Benison like mine,
    I have a'maist no care,
  But when another swain, my fair,
    Shall say 'You're fair to view,'
  Let Jeany whisper in his ear,
    'Pray, what is that to you?'"

There was loud applause.

"I only sang it for Mr. Rock," said the Nun, relapsing into a demureness
which had not consistently marked her rendering of the song.

Released from Jack's imprisoning eye, the Bird darted to Andy and
delivered his delayed message. "Mr. Harry--Andy, if you'd step into the
street, sir--Andy, I mean--(the Bird was confused as to social
distinctions)--he's waiting--and looking infernally put out!"

"He wants me--outside? Why doesn't he come in? Well, I'll go." Andy rose
to his feet.

"You've fired his imagination!" remarked Gilly to the Nun. "He goes to
seek adventures. Yet your song was that of a moralist."

"A moralist somewhat too curious about a stocking," Billy opined.

"Oh, well, I never think anything of a girl who lets her stockings get
into wrinkles," the Nun observed, as she resumed her seat. "Do you,
Jack?"

Her eyes had followed Andy as he went out. To tell the truth, they had
chanced to fall on him once or twice as she sang her song. But Andy had
looked a little preoccupied; that fact had not made her sing worse--and
at last Andy had gently drummed three fingers on the table.

"You've a wonderful way of puttin' it, miss," said old Jack Rock.

She laid her hand on his arm, saucily affectionate. "Pray what is that
to you?" she asked.

"I'm off, miss. Thank you kindly. It's been an evenin' for me!"

She let him go, with the kindest of farewells. A salvo of applause from
the company honoured his exit. She rested her chin in her hands, her
elbows on the table. Jack Rock was to be heard saying his
good-nights--merry chaff with old Dove, with the Bird, with Miss Miles.
Why had Andy gone out--and Harry Belfield not come in?

Billy Foot rose, moved round the table, and sat by her. "Where did you
find it?"

"In an old book a friend gave me."

"I like it." Billy sounded quite convinced of the song's merit.

"It has got a little bit of--of the feeling, hasn't it?"

"The feeling which I've always understood you never felt?"

She was securely evasive. "It's supposed to be a man who sings it,
Billy."

"That accounts for the foolishness of the sentiments?"

"Makes them sound familiar, anyhow," said the Nun, preferring experience
to theory.

Andy came in. He went quickly to the Nun and bent down over her chair.

"Harry's outside--with Miss Vintry. He wants to know if he may bring her
in," he said, speaking very low.

Surprise got the better of the Nun's discretion. Her voice was audible
to them all, as she exclaimed:

"Miss Vintry with him! At this time of night!"

"I think perhaps--as we've finished supper--we'd better break up," said
Andy, apologetically addressing the company.

"Why? Has anything happened?" asked Billy Foot.

"I think so." He bent down to the Nun again. "Miss Vintry has got to
sleep here to-night." His voice was low, but they were all very still,
and the voice carried.

"There's no room for her--with Gilly here as well as us," the Nun
protested rather fretfully.

"You must make room somehow," he returned firmly. "I'm going to bring
them in now." He looked significantly at Billy Foot. "We're rather a
large party."

Billy turned to his brother. "I'm off home. Will you stroll with me as
far as Halton?"

Gilly nodded in a bewildered fashion--he was not up in Meriton
affairs--and slowly rose.

"And when I come back I'll go straight to bed," he said, looking at Andy
to see whether what he suggested met with acceptance.

Andy nodded approval; Gilly would be best in bed.

With the briefest farewell the brothers passed out. As they went, they
saw Harry Belfield, with a woman on his arm, walking slowly up and down
on the other side of the street.

Sally Dutton rose. "I'll go to bed too." As she reached the door she
turned round and said, "At least I'll wait in my room. She--she can come
in with me, if she likes, Andy."

"Thank you," said Andy gravely.

"What is it, Andy?" the Nun asked.

"A general break-up," he answered briefly, as he followed Sally Dutton
out of the room.

The Nun sat on amidst the relics of her feast--the fruit, the flowers,
the empty bottles. Somehow they all looked rather ghastly. She gave a
little shiver of disgust.

Andy came in with Isobel Vintry clinging to his arm, Harry following and
carefully closing the door.

Andy made Isobel sit down at the table and offered her some wine from a
half-emptied bottle. She refused with a gesture and laid her head
between her hands on the table. Harry threw his hat on a chair and stood
helplessly in the middle of the room. The Nun sat in a hostile silence.

"She'd better go straight to bed," said Andy.

"She can have my room. I'll go in with Sally."

He looked at her. "She'd better have somebody with her, I think. Will
you call Sally?"

The Nun obeyed, and Sally came. As she passed Harry, she smiled in her
queer derisive fashion, but her voice was kind as she took hold of
Isobel's arm and raised her, saying, "Come, you're upset to-night. It
won't look half so bad in the morning."

Harry met Isobel and clasped her hands. Then she and Sally Dutton went
out together.

Harry sat down heavily in a chair by the table and poured out a glass of
wine.

"Do you two men want to be alone together?" the Nun asked.

Harry shook his head. "I'm just off home."

"It's all arranged," said Andy. "Harry goes to London by the early train
to-morrow. I shall get her things from Nutley directly after breakfast
and bring them here. You and Sally will look after her till twelve
o'clock. Then I'll take her to the station. Harry will meet her at the
other end, and--well, they've made their plans."

Harry lit a cigarette and smoked it very quickly, between gulps of wine.
Andy had begun to smoke too. His air was calm, though grave; he seemed
to have taken charge of the whole affair.

"Are you going to marry her?" the Nun suddenly inquired, with her usual
directness.

"You might have gathered that much from what Andy said," Harry grumbled
in an injured tone.

"Does Vivien know yet?"

He dropped his cigarette-end into his emptied glass.

"Yes," he answered, frowning. "For God's sake, don't put me through a
catechism, Doris!" He rose from his chair, looking round for his hat.

"Shall I walk back with you?" Andy asked.

"No, thanks. I'd rather be alone." His tone was still very injured, as
though the two were in league with one another, and with all the world,
to persecute him. He came up to the Nun. "I shan't see you again for a
bit, I expect. Good-bye, Doris." He held out his hand to her. The Nun
interlaced her hands on the table in front of her.

"I won't!" she said. "I won't shake hands with you to-night, Harry
Belfield. You've broken the heart of the sweetest girl I ever met.
You've brought shame and misery on her--you who aren't fit to black her
shoes! You've brought shame on your people. I suppose you've pretty well
done for yourself in Meriton. And all for what? Because you must
philander, must have your conquests, must always be proving to yourself
that nobody can resist you!"

Harry looked morosely resentful at the indictment. "Oh, you can't
understand. Nobody can understand who--who isn't made that way. You talk
as if I'd meant to do it!"

"I think I'd rather you had meant to do it. That'd be rather less
contemptible, I think."

"Gently, gently, Doris!" Andy interposed.

She turned on him. "Oh yes, it's always 'Gently, gently!' with Harry
Belfield. He's to be indulged, and excused, and forgiven, and all the
rest of it. Let him hear the truth for once, Andy. Even if it doesn't do
him any good to hear it, it does me good to say it--lots of good!"

"You'd better go, Harry. You won't find her good company to-night. I'll
be at the station to see you off to-morrow--before I see about the
things at Nutley."

"I'm going; and I'm much obliged to Doris for her abuse. She's always
been the same about me--sneering and snarling!"

"I've never made a fool of myself about you. That's what you can't
forgive, Harry."

"Go, my dear fellow, go," said Andy. "What's the use of this?"

Harry moved off towards the door. As he went out, he said over his
shoulder, "At any rate you can't say I'm not doing the square thing
now!"

They heard the "Boots" open the door of the inn for him; a moment later
his step passed the window. Andy came and sat down by the Nun; she
caught his big hand in hers.

"I'm trying hard not to cry. I don't want to break my record. How did it
all happen?"

"Wellgood came back before they expected him. Harry met her--by chance,
he says--after he'd left Vivien, and he was carried away, he says.
Somehow or other--I don't quite understand how--Vivien came on the scene
again. Then Wellgood was on to them, and had the whole thing out, before
his daughter. It seems that he's in love with Miss Vintry himself--so I
understood Harry. That, of course, didn't make him any kinder."

"It's cruel, cruel, cruel!"

"Yes, but do you remember a talk we had about it once?"

"Yes. You thought this--this sort of thing would really be the best."

"I was thinking of Miss Wellgood. Of course, for poor Harry--Wellgood's
a dangerous enemy!" He paused a moment. "And the thing's so bad. He
wasn't square with either of them, and they're both in love with him, I
suppose!"

"This woman here in love with him? Really? Not only for the match?"

"I think so."

"I'm sorry for her then. She'd much better not be! Oh, I daresay he'll
marry her. How much will that mean with Harry Belfield?"

Feeling in less danger of breaking her record, she loosed her hold of
Andy's hand. He rose.

"I must be off. I've a lot to do to-morrow. Gilly'll have to look after
the office. I've got to see Mr. Belfield among other things; and Harry
wants me to see Vivien Wellgood--and, well, try to say something for
him."

"Just like him! He breaks the pitcher and leaves you to sweep up the
pieces!"

"Well, he can't see her himself, can he?"

"He'd make love to her again if he did. You may be sure of that!"

The door opened, and Sally Dutton came in in her dressing-gown, with her
pretty hair all about her shoulders.

"She's asleep--sound asleep. So I--may I stay a few minutes with you,
Doris? I--I've got the blues awfully badly." She came to the Nun and
knelt down beside her. Suddenly she broke into a torrent of sobs. Andy
heard her say through them, "Oh, it reminds me--!"

Doris looked at him and nodded. "I shall see you soon in London, Andy?"

He pressed her hand and left the two girls together.

Gilly Foot was smoking a reflective pipe outside the door; he had
possessed himself of the key and sent the sleepy "Boots" to bed. Andy
obtained leave of absence for the morrow.

"Rather a disturbed evening, eh, Andy?" said Gilly, smoking
thoughtfully. "Lucky it didn't happen till we'd done supper! Fact is one
doesn't like to say it of an old friend--but Harry Belfield's no good."

Andy had a whimsical idea that at such a sentiment the stones of Meriton
High Street would cry out. The pet and the pride of the town, the man of
all accomplishments, the man who was to have that wonderful career--here
he was being cavalierly and curtly dismissed as "no good."

"Come, we must give him another chance," Andy urged.

Gilly knocked out his pipe with an air of decision.

"Rotten--rotten at the core, old boy, that's it," he said, as with a nod
of good-night he entered the precincts of the Lion.

Andy Hayes was sore to the heart. He had thought that a catastrophe such
as this, a "row," would be the best thing--the best for Vivien Wellgood.
He was even surer of it now--even now, when to think of the pain she
suffered sent a pang through his heart. But what a light that increased
certainty of his threw on Harry Belfield! And, as he said to himself,
trudging home from the Lion, Harry had always been a part of his
life--in early days a very big part--and one of the most cherished.
Harry's hand had been the source whence benefits flowed; Harry's example
had been an inspiration. Whatever Harry had done now, or might do in the
future--that future now suddenly become so much less assured, so much
harder to foresee--the great debt remained. Andy did not grudge
"sweeping up the pieces." Alas, that he could not mend the broken
pitcher! Sore as his heart was for the blow that had fallen on
Vivien--on her so frail that the lightest touch of adversity seemed
cruel--yet his sorest pain was that the blow came from Harry Belfield's
hand. That filled him with a shame almost personal. He had so identified
himself with his friend and hero, he had so shared in and profited by
the good in him--his kindness, his generosity, his championship--that he
could not rid himself of a feeling of sharing also in the evil. In the
sullying of Harry's honour he saw his own stained--even as by Harry's
high achievements he would have felt his own friendship glorified.

"Without Harry I should never have been where or what I am." That was
the thought in his mind, and it was a sure verity. Harry had opened the
doors, he had walked through. Whatever Harry had done or would do with
his own life, he had done much for his friend's, and done it gaily and
gladly. Doris Flower might chide and despair; Gilly Foot's contemptuous
verdict might dismiss Harry to his fate. That could not be Andy's mood
nor Andy's attitude. Gratitude forbade despair; it must be his part
still to work, to aid, to shelter; always, above all, to forgive, and to
try--at least to try--to comprehend.

Love or friendship can set no higher or harder task than in demanding
the comprehension of a temperament utterly diverse, alien, and
incompatible. That was the task Andy's heart laid on his brain. "You
must not give up," was its command. Others might take their pleasure in
Harry's gifts, might enjoy his brilliance, or reap benefit from his
ready kindness--and then, when trouble came, pass by on the other side.
There was every excuse for them; in the common traffic of life no more
is asked or expected; men, even brilliant men, must behave themselves at
their peril. Andy did not stand so. It was his to try to assess Harry's
weakness, and to see if anywhere there could be found a remedy, a
buttress for the weak wall in that charming edifice. Such a pity if it
fell down, with all its beauties, just because of that one weak wall!
But, alas, poor Andy was ill-fitted for this exacting task of love's. He
might tell himself where his duty lay; he might argue that he could and
did understand how a man might have a weak spot, and yet be a good
man--one capable of useful and high things. But his instinct, the native
colour of his mind, was all against these arguments. The shame that such
a man should do such things was stronger. The weak spot seemed to spread
in ever-widening circles; the evil seemed more and more to invade and
infect the system; the weak wall doomed the whole edifice. Reason,
argue, and pray for his friend as he might, in his inmost mind a voice
declared that this day had witnessed the beginning of the end of the
Harry Belfield whom he had loved.

"Harry Belfield's no good!" "How are the mighty fallen and the weapons
of war perished!"



Chapter XXI.

THE EMPTY PLACE.


Belfield rubbed his hands against one another with a rueful smile. "Yes,
yes, he's a hard fellow. He's hard on us; hard in taking a course that
makes scandal inevitable. Meriton High Street will be breast-high in
gossip about the midnight expulsion in a few hours. And hard in this--I
suppose I'm not entitled to call it persecution--this punishment with
which he threatens Harry. Still, if a man had treated my daughter in
that way, and that daughter Vivien--" He spread out his hands, and
added, "But then he's always been as hard as nails to the poor girl
herself. You think there's that other motive? If you're right there, I
put my foot in it once." He was thinking of certain hints he had given
Wellgood at dinner one evening.

"There's no doubt about it, I think, sir, but it doesn't help us much.
It may show that Wellgood's motives aren't purely paternal, but it
doesn't make matters better for Harry."

"It's terribly awkward--with us at one end of the town and Nutley at the
other. Most things blow over, but"--he screwed up his face
wryly--"meeting's awkward! And there's the politics! Wellgood's chairman
of his Association. Oh, Harry, Harry, you have made a mess of it! I
think I'll go and talk it over with Meriton--make a clean breast of it
and see what he says. He might be able to keep Wellgood quiet. You don't
look as if you thought there was much chance of it."

"I don't know whether Harry would come back and face it, even if
Wellgood were managed. A tough morsel for his pride to swallow! And if
he did, could he bring her--at all events so long as Miss Wellgood's at
Nutley? Yet if they marry--and I suppose they will--"

"I think we may take it that he'll marry her. The boy's ungoverned and
untrustworthy, but he's not shabby, Andy." A note of pleading for his
son crept into his voice.

"It's the right thing for him to do, but it'll make it still more
difficult to go on as if nothing had happened. However I hope you will
see Lord Meriton and get his opinion."

"I should like you to talk to Wellgood and find out what his terms
really are. I can't ask favours of him, but I want to know exactly where
we stand. And Vivien--no, I must write to her myself, poor dear girl.
Not a pleasant letter to write." He paused a moment and asked, with an
air of being rather ashamed of the question, "Is the sinner himself very
desperate?"

"Last night he was, I think; at any rate terribly angry with himself,
and--I'm afraid I must add--with his bad luck. When I saw him off this
morning he was in one of his defiant moods, saying he could get on
without Meriton's approval, and wishing the whole place at the devil."

"Yes, yes, that's Harry! Because he's made a fool--and worse--of
himself, you and I and Meriton are to go to the devil! Well, I suppose
it's not peculiar to poor Harry. And you saw him off? I can't thank you
for all your kindness, Andy."

"Well, sir, if a man can feel that way, I'd almost rather have done the
thing myself! I've got to ask her to see me on his behalf."

Belfield shook his head. "Not much to be said there. And I've got to
tell my wife. Not much there either."

"I'm afraid Mrs. Belfield will be terribly distressed."

"Yes, yes; but mothers wear special spectacles, you know. She'll think
it very deplorable, but it's quite likely that she'll find out it's
somebody else's fault. Wellgood's, probably, because she never much
liked him. If it helps her, let her think so."

"It was partly his fault. Why didn't he own up about Miss Vintry?"

"Not much excuse, even if you'd been the trespasser. With Harry engaged
to Vivien, no excuse at all. How could it be in any legitimate way
Harry's business what Wellgood wanted of Isobel Vintry? Still it may be
that the argument'll be good enough for his mother."

"Well, sir, I'll see Wellgood to-day, and let you know the result. And
Miss Wellgood too, if she'll see me. I positively must go to London
to-morrow."

"Yes, yes. You go back to work, Andy. You've your own life. And that
pretty girl, Miss Flower--does she go back too?"

"She goes this afternoon. And Billy Foot with them, I think."

"Yes, so he does. I forgot. Give her my love. I'd come and give her a
nosegay at the station, only I don't feel like facing people to-day." He
sighed wearily. "A man's pride is easily hit through his children. And I
suppose we've cracked Harry up to the skies! Nemesis, Andy, Nemesis!
There, good-bye. You're a thorough good fellow."

Billy Foot waylaid Andy as he left Halton. Billy's view of the matter
was not ideal or exalted, but it went to a practical point.

"Did you ever know such a fool?" cried Billy. "What does he want to do
it down here for? He's got all London to play the fool in, if he must
play the fool! Nobody knows there, or if they do they don't care. Or if
A cares B doesn't, and B's just as amusing to dine with--probably more
so. But in this little hen-roost of a place! All the fowls'll cackle,
and all to the same tune. I'll lay you six to four he's dished himself
for good in Meriton. Where are you off to?"

"I've got to see Miss Vintry off, then I'm going to Nutley. By-the-bye,
how did you hear about it?"

"It wasn't hard to guess, last night, was it? However, to inform my mind
better, Andy, I took occasion to call at the Lion. I didn't see Miss
Vintry, but I did see Miss Flower. Also I saw old Dove, and young Dove,
and Miss Miles, all with faces as long as your arm--and enjoying
themselves immensely! You can no more keep it dark in a place like this
than you can hide the parish church under your pocket-handkerchief.
They'll all know there was a row at Nutley; they'll all know Miss Vintry
was turned out and slept at the Lion; they'll all know that Harry and
she have gone to London, and, of course, they'll know the engagement's
broken. They're not clever, I admit--I've made speeches to them--but I
suppose they're not born idiots! They must have a rudimentary inductive
faculty."

The truth of these words was clearly shown to Andy's mind when he called
at the Lion to pick up Isobel. She was alone in the Nun's sitting-room;
the two girls had already said good-bye to her and gone out for a last
walk in Meriton. When she came into the hall to meet him she was
confronted by a phalanx of hostile eyes--Miss Miles', old Dove's, the
Bird's, two chambermaids', the very "Boots" who had officiated at the
door on the previous night. Nobody spoke to her. Her luggage, sent down
from Nutley in answer to Andy's messenger, was already on the cab. Andy
was left himself to open the door. Nobody even wanted a tip from her.
Could unpopularity go further or take any form more glaring?

Before the hostile eyes (she included Andy's among them) Isobel was
herself again--calm, haughty, unabashed, her feelings under full
control. There were no signs of the tempest she had passed through; she
was again the Miss Vintry who had given lessons in courage and the other
manly virtues. Andy was unfeignedly glad that this was her condition;
his practical equipment included small aptitude for dealing with
hysterics.

For the better part of the way to the station she said nothing. At last
she looked across at Andy, who sat opposite to her, and remarked, "Well,
Mr. Hayes, you saw the beginning; now you see the end."

"Since it has happened, I can only hope the end will be happy--for you
and for him."

"I'm getting what I wanted. If you want a thing and get it, you can
hardly complain, whatever happens."

"That sounds very reasonable, but--"

"The best thing to hope about reason is to hope you won't need it? Yes!"

It seemed that the news had not yet spread so far afield as to reach the
station. The old stationmaster was friendly and loquacious.

"Quite a break-up of you all to-day, sir," he said. "Mr. 'Arry gone by
the first train, the stout gentleman by the next, now Miss Vintry, and a
carriage engaged for Miss Flower's party and Mr. Foot this afternoon! A
real break-up, I call it!"

"That's about what it comes to, Mr. Parsons," said Andy, as he handed
Isobel into the train.

"Well, 'olidays must 'ave an end. A pleasant journey and a safe return,
miss."

Isobel smiled at Andy. "You'd stop at the first part of the wish, Mr.
Hayes?"

Andy put out his hand to her. With the slightest air of surprise she
took it. "We must make the best of it. Do what you can for him."

"I'll do all he'll let me." Her eyes met his; she smiled. "I know all
that as well as you do. Surely I, if anybody, ought to know it?" It
seemed to Andy as if that were what her eyes and her smile said. "I want
you to deliver one message for me," she went on. "Don't be alarmed, I'm
not daring to send a message to anybody who belongs to Meriton. But when
you next see Miss Dutton, will you tell her I shan't forget her
kindness? I've already thanked Miss Flower for the use of her
sitting-room. Ah, we're moving! Good-bye!"

She was smiling as she went. Andy was smiling too; the degree of her
gratitude to Sally Dutton and to the Nun respectively had been admirably
defined.

The fire of Wellgood's wrath was still smouldering hotly, ready to break
out at any moment if the slightest breath of passion fanned it. He
received Andy civilly enough, but at the first hint that he came in some
sort as an ambassador from Harry's father, his back stiffened.  His
position was perfectly clear, and seemed unalterable. So far as it lay
in his power he would banish Harry Belfield from Meriton and put an end
to any career he might have there.  He repeated to Andy more calmly, but
not less forcibly, what he had shouted in his fury the evening before.

"Of course I want it kept as quiet as possible; but I don't want it kept
quiet at the cost of that fellow's going unpunished--getting off
scot-free! We've nothing to be ashamed of.  Publicity won't hurt us,
little as we may like it. But it'll hurt him, and he shall have it in
full measure--straight in the face. Is it a possible state of things
that he should be here, living in the place, taking part in our public
affairs, being our Member, while my daughter is at Nutley?  I say no,
and I think Belfield--his father, I mean--ought to be able to see it for
himself.  What then?  Are we to be driven out of our home?"

"That would be absurd, of course," Andy had to admit.

"It seems to me the only alternative." He rose from his chair, and
walked up and down like an angry tiger. He faced round on Andy. "For a
beginning, the first step he takes in regard to the seat, I shall resign
from the committee of the Association, and state my reasons for my
action in plain language--and I think you know I can speak plainly. I
shall do the same about any other public work which involves meeting
him.  I shall do the same about the hunt, the same about everything. And
I'll ask my friends--I'll ask decent people--to choose between Harry
Belfield and me. To please my daughter, I didn't break his head, as I
should have liked to, but, by heaven, I'll spoil his game in Meriton!
I'm afraid that's the only message I can give you to take to Halton."

"In fact you'll do your best to get him boycotted?" Andy liked
compendious statements.

"That's exactly what I mean to do, Hayes.  A man going to be married to
my daughter in a fortnight--parted from her the moment before on the
footing of her lover--found making violent love to another inmate of my
house, her companion, almost within my very house itself--sounds well,
doesn't it?  Calculated to recommend him to his friends, and to the
constituency?"

Andy tried a last shot. "Is this action of yours really best for Miss
Wellgood, or what she would wish?"

Wellgood flushed in anger, conscious of his secret motives, by no means
sure that he was not suspected of them. "I judge for my daughter. And
it's not what she may wish, but what is proper in regard to her that I
consider.  On the other hand, if he lets Meriton alone, he may do what
he likes. That's not my affair. I'm not going to hunt him over the whole
country."

"Well, that's something," said Andy with a patient smile. "I'll
communicate your terms to Mr. Belfield." He paused, glancing doubtfully
at his most unconciliatory companion. "Do you think it would be painful
to Miss Wellgood to see me?"

He stopped suddenly in his prowling up and down the room. "That's funny!
She was just saying she would like to see you."

"I'm glad to hear that. I want to be quite frank. Harry has asked me to
express to her his bitter regret."

"Nothing more than that?"

"Nothing more, on my honour."

"She wants to say something to you." He frowned in hesitation. "If I
thought there was the smallest chance of her being induced to enter into
direct communication with him, I'd say no at once. But there's no chance
of that. And she wants to see you. Yes, you can see her, if you like.
She's in the garden, by the lake, I think. She's taken this well, Hayes;
she's showing a thousand times more pluck than I ever thought she had."
His voice grew gentle. "Poor little girl! Yes, go! She wants to see
you."

Andy had taken nothing by his first mission; he felt quite hopelessly
unfit for his second. To offer the apologies of a faithless swain was no
more in his line than to be a faithless swain himself; the fleeting
relics of Harry's authority had imposed a last uncongenial task. Perhaps
his very mum-chanceness was his saving. Glib protestations would have
smacked too strongly of the principal to commend the agent. Vivien heard
his stammering words in silence, seeming wrapped in an aloofness that
she took for her sole remaining protection. She bowed her head gravely
at the "bitter regret," at the "unguarded moment," at the "fatal
irresolution"--Andy's memory held fast to the phrases, but refused to
weld them into one of Harry's shapely periods. On "fatal irresolution"
he came to a full stop. He dared not look at her--it would seem an
intrusion, a brutality; he stared steadily over the lake.

"I knew he had moods like that," she said after a long silence. "I never
realized what they could do to a man. I daresay it would be hard for me
to realize. I'm glad he wanted to--to say a word of regret. There's one
thing I should like you to tell him; that's why I wanted to see you."

Now Andy turned to her, for her voice commanded his attention.

"How fagged-out you look, Miss Wellgood!" he exclaimed impulsively.

"Things aren't easy," she said in a low steady voice. "If I could have
silence! But I have to listen to denunciation. You'll understand. Did he
tell you what--what passed?"

"The gist of it, I think."

"Then you'll understand that I mayn't have the power to stop the
denunciations, or--or the other steps that may be threatened or taken. I
should like him to know that they're not my doing. And I should like him
to know too that I would a thousand times sooner this had happened than
that other thing which I believe he meant to happen--honestly meant to
happen--but for--this accident."

"I'm with you in that, Miss Wellgood. It's far better."

"I accept what he says--an unguarded moment. But I--I thought he had a
guard." She sat silent again for a minute. "There's one other thing I
should like to say to him, through you. But you'll know best whether to
say it or not, I think. I should like to tell him that he can't make me
forget--almost that he can't make me ungrateful. He gave me, in our
early days together, the first real joy I'd ever had--I expect the only
perfect joy I ever shall have. What he gave then, he can't wholly take
away." She looked at Andy with a faint melancholy smile. "Shall you tell
him that?"

"If you leave it to me, I shan't tell him that."

"Why not?"

"You want it all over, don't you?" he asked bluntly.

"Yes, yes, a thousand times yes!"

"Then don't tell Harry Belfield that. Think it, if you like. Don't tell
him."

A look of sheer wonder came into her eyes. "He's like that?" she
murmured.

"Yes, like that. That's the trouble. He'd better think
you're--hopelessly disgusted."

"I'm hopelessly at sea, anyhow," she said, turning her eyes to the lake
again. But she turned back to him quickly, still with her faint smile.
"Disgusted? Oh, you're thinking of the fastidiousness? Ah, that seems a
long time ago! You were very kind then; you're very kind now." She laid
her hand lightly on his arm; for the first time her voice shook. "You
and I can sometimes talk about him as he used to be--just we two
together!"

"Or as we thought he was?" Andy's tones were blunt still, and now rather
bitter.

"Or as we thought he was--and, by thinking it, were so happy! Yes, we'd
better not talk about him at all. I don't think I really could. You'll
be seeing Mr. Belfield soon? Give him my dear love, and say I'll come
and see him and Mrs. Belfield as soon as they want me. He sent me a note
this morning. I can't answer it just yet."

"I'll tell him." Andy rose to go.

"Oh, but must you go just yet? I don't want you to." She glanced up at
him, with a sad humour. "Curly's out, you know, and terribly big and
rampageous!"

"But you're not running away now, any more than you did then."

"I'm trying to stand still, and--and look at it--at what it means about
life."

"You mustn't think all life's like that--or all men either."

"That's the temptation--to think that."

"Men are tempted to think it about women too, sometimes."

She nodded. "Yes, of course, that's true. I'm glad you said that. You
are good against Curly!"

They had Wellgood in their minds. It was grievance against grievance at
Nutley; the charge of inconstancy is eternally bandied to and fro
between the sexes--_Varium et mutabile semper Femina_ against "Men were
deceivers ever"--_Souvent femme varie_ against the sorrowfully
ridiculous chronicles of breach of promise of marriage cases. Plenty of
matter for both sides! Probably both sides would be wise to say as
little as possible about it. If misogyny is bad, is misandry any better?
At all events the knowledge of Wellgood's grievance might help to
prevent Vivien's from warping her mind. Hers was the greater, but his
was of the same order.

The world incarnated itself to her in the image of the big retriever
dog, being so alarming, meaning no harm consciously, meaning indeed
affection--with its likelihood of paws soiling white raiment. Andy again
stood dressed as the guardian, the policeman. He was to be "good against
Curly."

"And Isobel?" she asked.

"I saw her off all right by the twelve-fifteen, Miss Wellgood--to
London, you know."

"Yes, to London." To both of them London might have been spelt "Harry."

"She was never really unkind to me," said Vivien thoughtfully. "I expect
it did me good."

"Never a favourite of mine--even before this," Andy pronounced, rather
ponderously.

She shot a side glance at him. "I believe you thought she beat me!"

"I think I thought that sometimes you'd sooner she had done that than
stand there smiling."

"Oh, you're prejudiced! She wasn't unkind; and in this thing, you see, I
know her temptation. Surely that ought to bring sympathy? Tell me--you
saw her off--well--how?" She spoke in jerks, now seeming agitated.

"Very calm--quite her own mistress--seeming to know what her job was.
Confound it, Miss Wellgood, I'd sooner not talk about her any more!"

"Shall you see Harry?"

"I don't want to till--till things have settled down a bit. I shall
write about what you've said."

"About part of what I've said," she reminded him. "You've convinced me
about that."

Andy rose again, and this time she did not seek to hinder him.

"I'm off to town to-morrow; back to work." He paused a moment, then
added, "If I get down for a week-end, may I come and see you?"

"Do--always, if you can. And remember me to Miss Flower and to Billy
Foot; and tell them that I am"--she seemed to seek a word, but ended
lamely--"very well, please."

Andy nodded. She wanted them to know that her courage was not broken.

On his way out he met Wellgood again, moodily sauntering in the drive by
the lake.

"Well, what do you think of her?" Wellgood asked abruptly.

"She's feels it terribly, but she's taking it splendidly."

Wellgood nodded emphatically, saying again, "I never thought she had
such pluck."

"I should think, you know," said Andy, in his candid way, "that you
could help her a bit, Mr. Wellgood. It does her no good to be taken over
it again and again. Least said, soonest mended."

Wellgood looked at him suspiciously. "I'm not going back on my terms."

"Wait and see if they are accepted. Let him alone till then. She'd thank
you for that."

"I want to help her," said Wellgood. His tone was rather surly, rather
ashamed, but it seemed to carry a confession that he had not helped his
daughter much in the past. "You're right, Hayes. Let's be done with the
fellow for good, if we can!"

From all sides came the same sentiment: from Wellgood as a hope, from
Vivien as a sorrowful but steadfast resolution, from Billy Foot as a
considered verdict on the facts of the case. Andy's own reflections had
even anticipated these other voices. An end of Harry Belfield, so far as
regarded the circle of which he had been the centre and the ornament!
Would Harry accept the conclusion? He might tell Meriton to "go to the
devil" in a moment of irritated defiance; but to abandon Meriton would
be a great rooting-up, a sore break with all his life past, and with his
life in the future as he had planned it and his friends had pictured it
for him. Must he accept it whether he would or not? Wellgood's pistol
was at his head. Would he brave the shot, or what hand would turn away
the threatening barrel?

Not Lord Meriton's. When Belfield, possessed of Wellgood's terms, laid
them before him, together with an adequate statement of the facts, the
great man disclaimed the power. Though he softened his opinion for
Harry's father, it was very doubtful if he had the wish.

"I'm sorry, Belfield, uncommon sorry--well, you know that--both for you
and for Mrs. Belfield. I hope she's not too much cut up?"

"She's distressed; but she blames Wellgood and the other woman most. I'm
glad she does."

Meriton nodded. "But it's most infernally awkward; there's no disguising
it. You may say that any man--at any rate, many a man--is liable to come
a mucker like this. But happening just now--and with Wellgood's
daughter! Wellgood's our right hand man, in this part of the Division at
all events. And he's as stubborn a dog as lives! Said he'd resign from
the hunt if your boy showed up, did he? By Jove, he'd do it, you know!
That's the deuce of it! I suppose the question is how much opinion he'd
carry with him. He's not popular--that's something; but a father
fighting in his daughter's cause! They won't know the other side of it
you've told me about; and if Harry marries the woman, he can't very well
tell them. Then is she to come with him? Awkward again if Wellgood, or
somebody put up by him, interrupts! If she doesn't come, that's at once
admitting something fishy."

"The woman's certainly a serious added difficulty. Meriton, we're old
friends. Tell me your own opinion."

"I don't give an opinion for all time. The affair will die down, as all
affairs do. The girl'll marry somebody else in time, I suppose. Wellgood
will get over his feelings. I'm not saying your son can't succeed you at
Halton in due course. That would be making altogether too much of it.
But now, if the moment comes anywhere, say, in the next twelve
months--well, I question if a change of air--and another
constituency--wouldn't be wiser."

"I think so too--in his own interest. And I rather think that I, at
least, owe it to Vivien to throw my weight on the side that will save
her from annoyance."

"That was in my mind too, Belfield; but I knew you'd think of it without
my saying it."

"I believe--I do really believe--that he will look at it in that light
himself. Any gentleman would; and he's that, outside his plaguy love
affairs."

"I know he is; I know it. They bring such a lot of good fellows to
grief--and pretty women too."

"Well, I must write to him; and you must look out for another
candidate."

"By Jove, we must, and in quick time too! Apart from a General Election,
I hear old Millington's sadly shaky. Well, good-bye, Belfield. My
regards to your wife." He shook hands warmly. "This is hard luck on you;
but he's got lots of time to pick up again. He'll end in the first
flight yet. Cheer up. Better have a Prodigal than no son at all, like
me!"

"I imagine a good deal might be said on both sides in that debate."

"Oh, stuff and nonsense! You wouldn't dare to say that to his mother!"

"No; and I don't suppose I really think it myself. But this sort of
thing does make a man a bit nervous, Meriton."

"If the lady's attractions have led him astray, perhaps they'll be able
now to keep him straight."

"They won't be so great in one particular. They won't be forbidden
fruit."

"Aye, the best fox is always in the covert you mayn't draw. Human
nature!"

"At all events, my boy Harry's."

And for that nature Harry had to pay. The present price was an end of
his career in Meriton. One more voice joined the chorus, a powerful
voice. Belfield bowed his head to the decision. It was final for the
moment; in his depression of spirit he felt as though it were final for
all time, as though his native town would know Harry no more. At any
rate, now his place was vacant--the place from which he by transgression
fell. It must be given to another. Only in Vivien's memory had he still
his niche.



Chapter XXII.

GRUBBING AWAY.


Gilly Foot's mind was so inventive, and his demand for ministerial
assistance in carrying out his inventions so urgent, during the next
three weeks that Andy had little leisure for his own or anybody else's
private affairs. The week-ends at Meriton had to be temporarily
suspended, and Meriton news reached him now by a word from Billy, who
seemed to be in touch with Belfield, now through Jack Rock. Thus he
heard from Billy that Harry Belfield was married and had gone abroad;
while Jack sent him a copy of the local paper, with a paragraph (heavily
marked in blue pencil) to the effect that Mr. Harry Belfield, being
advised by his doctor to take a prolonged rest, had resigned his
position as prospective candidate for the Meriton Division. Decorous
expressions of regret followed, and it was added that probably Mr. Mark
Wellgood, Chairman of the Conservative Association, would be approached
in the matter. Jack had emphasized his pencil-mark with a large note of
exclamation, in which Andy felt himself at liberty to see crystallized
the opinion of Harry's fellow-citizens.

Still, though Meriton had for the time to be relegated mainly to memory,
there it had a specially precious pigeon-hole. It had regained for him
all its old status of home. When he thought of holidays, it was of
holidays at Meriton. When his thoughts grew ambitious--the progress of
Gilbert Foot and Co. began to justify modest ambitions--they pictured a
small house for himself in or near Meriton, and a leisure devoted to
that ancient town's local affairs. To himself he was a citizen of
Meriton more than of London; for to Andy London was, foremost of all, a
place of work. Its gaieties were for him occasional delights, rather
than a habitual part of the life it offered. Talks with Jack Rock and
other old friends, visits to Halton and Nutley, completed the picture of
his future life at home. He was not a man much given to analysing his
thoughts or feelings, and perhaps did not realize how very essential the
setting was to the attractiveness of the picture, nor that one part of
the setting gave the picture more charm than all the rest. Yet when
Andy's fancy painted him as enjoying well-earned hours of repose at
Meriton, the terrace by the lake at Nutley was usually to be seen in the
foreground.

Let Gilly clamour never so wildly for figures to be ready for him by the
next morning, in order that he might know whether the latest child of
his genius could be reared in this hard world or must be considered
merely as an ideal laid up in the heavens, an evening had to be found to
go and see the Nun as Joan of Arc--first as the rustic maid in that
village in France (its name was on the programme), and then, in silver
armour, exhorting the King of France (who was supposed to be on
horseback in the wings). The question of the Nun's horse was solved by
an elderly white animal being discovered on the stage when the curtain
rose--the Nun was assumed to have just dismounted (voluntarily)--and
being led off to the blare of trumpets. This was for the second song, of
course, and it was the second song which brought Miss Doris Flower the
greatest triumph that she had ever yet achieved. Its passing references
to the favour of Heaven were unexceptionable in taste--so all the papers
declared; its martial spirit stirred the house; its tune caught on
immensely; and, by a happy inspiration, Joan of Arc had (as she was
historically quite entitled to have) a prophetic vision of a time when
the relations between her own country and England would be infinitely
happier than they were in the days of Charles VII. and Henry VI. This
vision having fortunately been verified, the public applauded Joan of
Arc's sentiments to the echo, while the author and the management were
very proud of their skill in imparting this touch of "actuality" to the
proceedings. Finally, the Nun was in excellent voice, and the silver
armour suited her figure prodigiously well.

"Yes, it's a great go," said Miss Flower contentedly, when Andy went
round to her room to see her. She draped a Japanese dressing-gown over
the silver armour, laid her helmet on the table, and lit a cigarette.
"It knocks the Quaker into a cocked hat, and makes even the Nun look
silly. The booking's enormous; and it's something to draw them here,
with that Venus-rising-from-the-foam girl across the Square. I'm told,
too, that she appears to have chosen a beach where there are no by-laws
in force, Andy."

Andy explained that he had not much leisure for even the most attractive
entertainments.

"Do you know," she proceeded, "that something very funny--I shan't want
you for ten minutes, Mrs. Milsom" (this to her dresser, who discreetly
withdrew)--"has happened about Billy Foot? I don't mind telling you, in
confidence, that at Meriton I thought he was going to break out. With
half an opportunity he would have. Since we came back I've only seen him
twice, and then he tried to avoid me. His usual haunts, Andy, know him
only occasionally, and then in company which, to my mind, undoubtedly
has its home in Kensington."

"What's the matter with him, I wonder? Now you remind me, I've hardly
seen him either."

"He was here the other night, in a box, with Kensington; but he didn't
come round. Took Kensington on to supper, I suppose."

"What have you against Kensington?" Andy inquired curiously.

"Nothing at all. Only I've observed, Andy, that taking Kensington out is
a prelude to matrimony. I could tell you a dozen cases in my own
knowledge. You hadn't thought of that? In certain fields my experience
is still superior to yours."

"Oh, very much so! Do you suspect any particular Kensingtonian?"

"There was a tall dark girl, rather pretty; but I couldn't look much.
Well, we shall miss Billy if it comes off, but I imagine we can rely
implicitly on Gilly."

"You've heard that Harry's married to Miss Vintry?"

"Serve her right!" said the Nun severely. "I never had any pity for that
woman."

"And he's chucked the candidature. So our great campaign was all for
nothing!"

"Well, Billy must always be talking somewhere, anyhow. And I should
think it did you good?"

"Oh yes, it did. I was thinking of Harry."

"In my opinion it's about time you got out of that habit. Now you must
go, or you'll make me too late to get anything to eat. As you may guess,
wearing this shell involves a fundamental reconstruction before I can
present myself at supper."

Andy took her hand and pressed it. "I'm so jolly glad you've got such a
success, Doris. And the armour's ripping!"

There followed three weeks of what Gilly Foot, over his lunch at the
restaurant and his dinner at the Artemis, used to describe as
"incredible grind for both of us." Then a day of triumph! The outcome of
the latest brilliant idea, the new scientific primer, was accepted as
the text-book in the County Council secondary schools. Gilly wore a
_Nunc Dimittis_ air.

"Eton and Harrow! Pooh!" said he. "A couple of hundred copies a year
apiece, perhaps. Give me the County Council schools! The young masses
being bred on Gilbert Foot and Co.--that's what I want. The proletariat
is our game! If this spreads over the country, and I believe it will, we
shall be rich men in no time, Andy."

Andy was smiling broadly--not that he had any particular wish to be
rich, but because successful labour is marvellously sweet.

"Do you happen to remember that it was you who gave me the germ of that
idea?"

"No, surely I didn't? I don't remember. I can't have, Gilly."

"Oh yes, you did. That arrangement of the tables of comparison?"

"Oh, ah! Yes--well, I do remember something about that. But that's only
a trifle. You did all the rest."

"That's what's fetched them, though; I know it is." He gave a sigh.
"Andy, I shall grudge you that all the rest of my life." He put his head
on one side, and regarded his partner with a peaceful smile. "You're a
remarkable chap, you know. Some day or other I believe you'll end by
making me work! Sometimes I kind of feel the infection creeping over me.
I distinctly hurried lunch to-day to come back and talk about this."

"I believe we have got our foot in this time," said Andy.

"I shan't, however, do anything more to-day," Gilly announced, rising
and putting on his hat. "My nerves are somewhat over-stimulated. A walk
in the park, a game of bridge, and a quiet little dinner are indicated.
You'll attend to anything that turns up, won't you, old chap?"

Slowly and gradually Andy Hayes was growing not only into his strength
but also into the consciousness of it. He was measuring his
powers--slowly, suspiciously, distrustfully. His common sense refused to
ignore what he had done and was doing, but his modesty ever declined to
go a step beyond the facts. All through his life this characteristic
abode with him--a sort of surprise that the simple qualities he
recognised in himself should stand him in such good stead, combined with
an unwillingness rashly to pledge their efficacy in the greater labours
of the future. Thus it came about that he was, so to say, a day behind
the world's estimate in his estimate of himself. When the people about
him were already sure, he was gradually reaching confidence--never the
imperious self-confidence of commanding genius, which makes no question
but that the future will be as obedient to its sway as the past, but a
very sober trust in a proved ability, a trust based on no inner instinct
of power, but solely on the plain experience that hitherto he had shown
himself equal to the business which came his way--equal to it if he
worked very hard at it, took it seriously, and gave all he had to give
to it. The degree of self-confidence thus achieved was never sufficient
to make him seek adventures; by slow growth it became enough to prevent
him from turning his back on any task, however heavy, which the course
of his life and the judgment of his fellows laid upon him. So step by
step he moved on in his development and in his knowledge of it. He
recognised now that it would have been a pity to pass his life as a
butcher in Meriton--that it would have been waste of material. But he
was still quite content to regard as a sufficient occupation, and
triumph, of that life the building-up of Gilbert Foot and Co.'s
educational publishing connection; and he was still surprised to be
reminded that he had contributed anything more than hard work to that
task, that it owed to him even the smallest scintilla of original
suggestion. Still there it was. Perhaps he would never do a thing like
that again. Very likely not. Still he had done it once. It passed from
the impossibles to the possibles--a possible under strict and
distrustful observation, but a possible that should be put to the proof.

Nothing in the business line turned up after Gilly had departed to
recruit his nerves. Having made one bold and successful leap, the
educational publishing concern of Gilbert Foot and Co. seemed disposed
to sit awhile on its haunches. Andy was the last man to quarrel with it
for that; he had all the primitive man's fear of things looking too
rosy. Things had looked too rosy with Harry. And "Nemesis! Nemesis!" old
Belfield had cried. By all means let the educational publishing concern
rest on its haunches for awhile; the new scientific primer, with the
quite original arrangement of its comparative tables, supplied a
comfortable cushion. It was five o'clock; Andy made bold to light his
pipe.

"Mr. Belfield!" announced the office-boy, twisting his head between the
door and the jamb with a questioning air.

What brought Belfield to town? "Oh, show him in!" said Andy, laying down
his pipe.

Not Harry's father, as Andy had concluded, but Harry himself was the
visitor--Harry radiantly handsome, in a homespun suit of delicate gray
with a blue stripe in it, a white felt hat, a light blue tie--a look of
perfect health and happiness about him.

"I was passing by--been in the City--and thought I must look you up, old
chap," said Harry, clasping Andy's hand in unmistakably genuine
affection. "Seems years since we met! Well, a lot's happened to me, you
see. You didn't know I was in town, did you? Only passing through;
Isobel and I have been in Paris--went there after the event, you
know--and we're off to Scotland to-morrow for some golf. She's got all
the makings of a player, Andy. And how are you? Grubbing away?"

"Grubbing away" most decidedly failed to express Gilbert Foot and Co.'s
idea of what had happened in their office that day, but Andy found no
leisure to dwell on any wound to his firm's corporate vanity. Here was
the old Harry! Harry as he had been in the early days of his engagement!
The Harry of that brief spell of good resolution, after Andy had
delivered to him a certain note! There was no trace at all--by way
either of woe or of shame--of the Harry who had come to the Lion,
seeking a place where Isobel Vintry might lay her head, craving for her
the charity of a night's lodging, and no questions asked!

Andy's intelligence was brought to a full stop--sheer up against the
difficult question of whether it is worth while to worry about people
who are not worrying about themselves. Theologically, socially,
politically, it is correct to say yes; faced with an individual case,
the affirmative answer seems sometimes almost ridiculous; rather like
pressing an overcoat--or half your cloak, after the example of St.
Martin of Tours--on a vagabond of exceptionally caloric temperament. He
is naked, and neither ashamed nor cold. Must you shiver, or blush, for
him?

"I--er--ought to congratulate you, Harry."

"Thanks, old chap! Yes, it's very much all right. Things one's sorry
for, of course--oh, don't think I'm not sorry!--but the right road found
at last, Andy! I suppose a fellow has to go through things like that.
I'm not justifying myself, of course; I know I'm apt to--well, to put
off doing the necessary thing if it's likely to cause pain to anybody.
That's a mistake, though an amiable one perhaps. But all that's over--no
use talking about it. When we get back to town, you must come and see
us."

Andy remembered an old-time conversation about Lethe water. Harry seemed
disposed to stand treat for a bottle.

"I'm awfully sorry about--about the seat, Harry," he said.

A faint frown of vexation marred Harry's comely contentment. "Yes, but I
don't know that one isn't best out of it. A lot of grind, making
yourself pleasant to a lot of fools! Oh, perhaps it's a duty; but it'll
wait a bit."

"You're not looking out elsewhere?" Andy asked.

"Give a fellow time!" Harry expostulated. "I've only been married a
fortnight! You must let me have a bit of a holiday. Oh, you needn't be
afraid I shan't tackle it again soon--Isobel's awfully keen! And I hope
to find a rather less dead-alive hole than Meriton." The faint frown
persisted on his face; it seemed to hint that his mind harboured a
grudge against Meriton--something unpleasant had happened there. A
perceptible, though slight, movement of his shoulders dismissed the
ungrateful subject. In a moment he had found a more pleasant one--a
theme for his kindliness to play on, secure from perturbing
recollections. His old friendly smile of encouragement and patronage
beamed on Andy.

"So you and Gilly are making it go? That's right! He's a lazy devil,
Gilly, but not a fool. And you're a good plodder. You remember I always
said you'd make your way? I thought you would, even if you'd taken on
old Jack's shop. But I expect you've got a better game here. Gilly
pleased with you?" He laughed in his pleasantly conscious impudence.

"He hasn't given me the sack yet," said Andy.

"You did a lot of work for me, old fellow," Harry pursued. "Sorry that,
owing to circumstances, it's all wasted! Still it taught you a thing or
two, I daresay?"

"That's just what the Nun was saying the other night, when I went to see
her show."

Harry's faint frown showed again. His recollection of Miss Flower's
behaviour at Meriton accused her of a want of real sympathy.

"Ah yes! I don't know who they'll get; but I must have made the seat
safe. Just the way one works for another fellow sometimes! It doesn't do
to complain."

The office-boy put his head in again--and his hand in front of his head.
"Wire just come, sir," he said to Andy, delivered the yellow envelope,
and disappeared.

"Open it, old fellow," said Harry, putting an exquisitely shod foot on
the table. "Yes, another fellow will take my place; I've done the work,
he'll reap the reward. And he'll probably think he's done it all
himself!"

Andy fingered his telegram absently, not in impatience; nothing very
urgent was to be expected, the great _coup_ had already been made. He
laid it down and listened again to Harry Belfield.

"Upon my soul," Harry went on, "I rather envy you your life. A good
steady straight job--and only got to stick to it. Now I'm no sooner out
of one thing--well out of it--than they begin to kick at me to start
another. The pater and Isobel are in the same story about it."

Harry's face was now seriously clouded and his voice peevish. He had
been through a great deal of trouble lately; he seemed to himself to be
entitled to a rest, to a reasonable interval of undisturbed enjoyment.
And he was being bothered about that career of his!

"Well, I suppose you oughtn't to miss the next election. The sooner you
go in the better, isn't it?"

"It's not so easy to find a safe seat." Harry assumed that the
constituency which he honoured should be one certain properly to
appreciate the compliment. "I sometimes think I'd like to chuck the
whole thing, and enjoy my life in my own way. Oh, I'm only joking, of
course; but when they nag, I jib, you know."

Andy nodded, relit his pipe, and opened his telegram.

"That's why I think you're rather lucky to have it all cut and dried for
you. Saves a lot of thinking!"

Andy had been reading his telegram, not listening to Harry for the
moment. "I beg pardon, Harry?" he said.

"Oh, read it. I'm only gassing," said Harry good-humouredly.

Andy read again; he always liked to read important documents twice. He
laid it down on the office table, looking very thoughtful. "That's
funny!" he observed. "It's from your father."

"Well, I don't see why the pater shouldn't send you a telegram, if he
wants to," smiled Harry.

"Asking me to go down to Meriton on Saturday and meet Lord Meriton,
Wigram, and himself." He took up the telegram and read the rest of the
message--"to discuss important suggestion of public nature affecting
yourself. Personal discussion necessary."

"To meet Meriton and Wigram?" Wigram was the Conservative agent in the
Division. "What the devil can they want?"

"I don't know," said Andy, "unless--unless it's about the candidature."

"About what?" Harry sharply withdrew the shapely foot from the table and
sat upright in his chair.

"Sounds ridiculous, doesn't it? Still I don't see what else it can be
about. What else can there be of a public nature affecting me?
'Affecting yourself' doesn't sound as if they only wanted my advice.
Besides, why should they want my advice?"

"Let's see the thing." Harry took it, read it, and flung it down
peevishly. "Why the deuce can't he say what he means?"

"Well, a wire's not always absolute secrecy in small towns, is it? And I
daresay they'd want the matter kept quiet till it was settled."

Harry's mood of gay contentment, clouded once or twice before, seemed
now eclipsed. He sat tapping his boot impatiently with his stick. His
father's telegram--or Andy's interpretation of it--clearly did not
please him. In the abstract, of course, he had known that he would have
a successor in the place which he had given up, or from which he had
fallen. It had never entered his head that anybody would suggest Andy
Hayes, his old-time worshipper and humble follower. He was not an
ungenerous man, but this idea demanded a radical readjustment of his
estimate of the relative positions of Andy and himself. If Andy were to
succeed to what he had lost, it brought what he had lost very sharply
before his eyes.

"Well, if that is the meaning of it, it certainly seems rather--rather a
rum start, eh, Andy? New sort of game for you!" He tried to make his
voice pleasant.

"It is--it would be--awfully kind of them to think of it," said Andy,
now smiling in candid gratification. "And Wigram, as well as your
father, was highly complimentary about some of my speeches. But it would
be quite out of the question. I've neither the time nor the money."

"It's a deuced expensive game," Harry remarked. "And, of course, no end
of work, especially in the next few months. And when you're in, it's not
much good in these days, unless you can give all your time to it."

"I know," said Andy, nodding grave appreciation of all these
difficulties. "It seems to me quite out of the question. Still, if that
is what they mean, I can hardly refuse to discuss it. You see, it's a
considerable compliment, anyhow."

He was thinking the idea over in his steady way, and had not paid heed
to Harry's altered mood. The objections Harry put forward were so in
tune with his own mind that it did not strike him as at all odd that his
friend should urge them even zealously. "In any event," he added, "I
should have to be guided entirely by what Gilly Foot thought."

"What Gilly thought?"

"I mean whether he thought it would be compatible with the claims of the
business."

"What, you'd really think of it?"

There was such unmistakable vexation, even scorn, in his voice now that
Andy could not altogether miss the significance of the tone. He looked
across at Harry with an air of surprise. "There's no harm in thinking a
thing over. I always like to do that."

"Well, of all the men I thought of as likely to step into my shoes, I
never thought of you."

"It's the last thing I should ever have thought of either. You've
something in your mind, haven't you? I hope you'll say anything you
think quite candidly."

"Oh well, since you ask me, old fellow, from the party point of view I
think there are--er--certain objections. I mean, in a place like Meriton
family connections and so on still count for a good deal--on our side,
anyhow."

Andy nodded, again comprehending and admitting. "Yes, I'm nobody; and my
father was nobody, from that point of view." He smiled. "And then
there's Jack Rock!"

"Don't be hurt with me, but I call myself a Tory, and I am one. Such
things do count, and I'm not ashamed to say I think they ought to. I've
never let them count in personal relations."

"I know that, Harry. You may be sure I recognise that. And you're right
to mention them now. I suppose they must have reckoned with them,
though, before they determined--if they have determined--to make me this
offer."

"Well, thank heaven I'm out of it, and I wish you joy of it," said
Harry, rising and clapping on his hat.

"Oh, it's not at all likely it'll come to anything. Must you go, Harry?"

"Yes, I'm off." He paused for a moment. "If it is what you think, you'd
better look at it carefully. Don't let them persuade you against your
own judgment. I consider Wigram an ass, and old Meriton is quite out of
touch with the Division." He forbore to comment on his own father, and
with a curt "Good-bye" departed, shutting the door rather loudly behind
him.

This great day--the day which had both witnessed the triumph of the new
text-book and brought the telegram from Meriton--was a Thursday. Andy
sent his answer that he would be at Halton on Saturday afternoon. He
could find no other possible interpretation of the summons, surprising
as his first interpretation was. He was honestly pleased; it could not
be said that he was much puzzled. His answer seemed pretty plain--the
thing was impossible. What did surprise him rather was the instinctive
regret with which he greeted this conclusion. Such an idea had never
occurred to his mind; when it was presented to him, he could not turn
away without regret--nay, not without a certain vague feeling of
self-reproach. If he seemed to them a possible leader, ought he to turn
his back on the battle? But of course they did not know his private
circumstances or the business claims upon him. Harry had been quite
right about those, just as he had been about the desirability of family
connections--but not of family connections with Jack Rock.

It was quite out of the question; but, Andy being human and no more
business offering itself, he indulged in half an hour's reverie over it.
He shook his head at himself with a reproving smile for this vanity. But
it would be pleasant to have the offer, and pleasant if they let him
mention it to one or two friends. Jack Rock would be proud of it, and he
could not help thinking that perhaps Vivien Wellgood would be pleased.
His brow knit when he remembered that Harry Belfield had not seemed
pleased. Well, could he be expected to be pleased? "To step into my
shoes" had been his phrase. Well, if men choose to take off fine new
shoes and leave them lying about? Somebody will step into them. Why not
a friend? So he argued. A friend in regard to whom Harry had never
allowed anything to interfere with his personal relations. That was just
it. If a friend, he had also been a _protégé_, the recipient of a kindly
generous patronage, an equal by grace and not by right. Credit Harry
Belfield with a generosity above the average, and yet he might feel a
pang at the idea of his former humble friend stepping into his shoes,
taking his place, becoming successor to what his folly had left vacant.
Andy understood; and from that point of view he felt it was rather a
relief that the thing was in itself an impossibility. There was a triple
impossibility--the money, the time--and Gilly Foot!

Still the text-book and the telegram had given him an interesting day.



Chapter XXIII.

A STOP-GAP.


Andy felt that he ought not to go to Meriton without having possessed
himself of his partner's views. Any reluctance--even a reluctant
assent--from Gilly would put an immediate end to the project. He was
rather nervous about bringing the matter forward, fearing lest the mere
idea of it, entertained by the junior partner, might seem treason in the
eyes of his senior in the growing business of Gilbert Foot and Co.

The interview held one or two surprises for him. In this affair Andy was
to learn the worth of a band of resolute friends, and to begin to
understand how much men will do for a man who has convinced them that he
can do things for himself also. For such a man the way is cleared of all
but inevitable difficulties. There is a conspiracy, partly
self-interested, partly based on appreciation, to set him free to do the
work for which he is fitted; the conspirators both want the work done
and are glad to help a fine worker.

The first surprise was that Gilly Foot was not at all surprised when
Andy put before him a contingent case--in terms carefully hypothetical.
Indeed his first words went far to abolish any contingent or
hypothetical character in the discussion.

"So they've done it, have they?" he drawled out. "I thought they would,
from something Billy said."

"What does Billy know about it?"

"Oh yes, Billy knows. I expect they consulted him, in fact."

"I want to be able to tell them that you agree with me; that's why I've
spoken to you about it."

"By all means tell them I agree with you," yawned Gilly; he seemed more
than ordinarily lazy that morning--the reaction from the triumph of the
text-book still on him, no doubt. Yet there was a lurking gleam of
amusement in his eye.

"Apart from the money--and I haven't got it--it would take far too much
time. I'm pretty hard worked as it is, with the business opening up in
this way. I'm quite clear that it wouldn't be fair to the business--and
not fair to you either. I've slept on it, and I'm quite clear about it."

"Oh, are you? Then by no means tell them I agree with you."

Surprise the second! "You don't?" Andy ejaculated; there was a note of
pleasure in his voice.

"I'm a lazy hound, I know," Gilly pursued. "If there is another fellow
to do the work, I let him do it. Perhaps some day, if we go on booming,
we can take in another fellow. If so, I shall certainly incite him to do
the work. Meanwhile I'm not such a lazy beast as to let you miss this
chance on my account. My word, I should get it hot from Billy--and
Doris!" He stretched himself luxuriously. "There's a perfectly plain way
out of this; I must work." He looked up at his partner humorously.
"Though you mayn't believe it, I can work, when I want a thing very
much."

"But what is there for you to want here?" asked Andy.

"Well, in the first place, we believe in you--perhaps we're wrong, but
we do. In the second--and there's no mistake about this--we think you're
a good chap, and we want you to have your chance. I shouldn't forgive
myself if I stood in your way here, Andy--and the others wouldn't
forgive me either."

Andy was standing by him; he laid his hand on his shoulder. "You're a
good chap yourself, Gilly."

"So, as far as Gilbert Foot and Co. are concerned, you may consider the
matter settled. It's for you to tackle the other end of it--the Meriton
end. And since you are here to-day, at all events, perhaps you won't
take it ill if I linger a little longer than usual over lunch--for which
meal it seems to me to be nearly time? I feel to-day a barely
perceptible stirring of the brain which, properly treated, encouraged by
adequate nourishment, might produce an idea. You wouldn't like to come
too?"

"No, no. I've really got more than enough to do here."

Gilly strolled off, smiling serenely. He was ready to do himself
violence in the way of work when the time came, but there was really no
need to anticipate matters.

Gilly's knowledge and assent--it was more than assent; it was
advocacy--made the project real and present. Only the question of ways
and means and of his own inclination remained. As to the latter Andy was
no longer able to doubt. His pleasure at Gilly's attitude was indeed due
in part to the affection for himself which it displayed, but it had been
too eager to be accounted for wholly by that. His heart rejoiced because
Gilly set him free, so far as the business was concerned, to follow his
desire. Only that little book from the bank still held up its finger in
its wonted gesture of cautious admonition. When it reckoned the figures
involved, the little white book might be imagined to turn paler still.

At Meriton--where Andy arranged to spend the Saturday night with Jack
Rock--the conspiracy ruled, even as in London. Lord Meriton, Belfield,
and Wigram met him with the air of men who had already considered and
overcome all difficulties.

"The fact is, Mr. Hayes," said his lordship, "we were fools over this
business, till Foot put us right. We tried the three or four possible
men in the Division, and for one reason or another none of them could
accept. So, much against my will--indeed against my vote; I hate a
carpet-bagger--it was decided to approach headquarters and ask for a
man. Luckily Belfield wrote first to Foot--"

"And Billy Foot wrote back, asking what the dickens we wanted a man from
London for, when we had the very man for the job under our noses down
here!" He smiled rather sadly. "Meriton has more than one string to its
bow, Andy."

"I've taken every pains to sound opinion, Mr. Hayes," said Wigram. "It's
most favourable. Your speeches made an excellent impression. There will
be no difficulty in obtaining adoption by the Association, if you come
forward under the proper auspices."

"Oh, we'll look after the auspices," said Meriton. "That'll be all
right."

"But I've no influence, no connections, no standing--"

"We haven't flattered you, Mr. Hayes," Meriton interrupted, smiling.
"We've told you that we made efforts in other quarters."

"If it pleases you, Andy, you shall regard yourself as Hobson's choice,"
said Belfield, with a chuckle.

"Better than an outsider, anyhow!" Mr. Wigram chimed in.

Andy's modesty was again defeated. The Jack Rock difficulty, which had
seemed so serious to Harry Belfield, was acknowledged--but acknowledged
only to be brushed on one side by a determined zeal.

"But I--I can't possibly afford it!" Andy was in his last ditch, but
then it was a wide and formidable one. The conspirators, however,
attacked it without the least dismay.

"Ah, now we can get down to business!" said Belfield in a tone of
relief. "This conversation is, of course, entirely confidential. We've
looked at matters from that point of view, and--er--taken some advice.
Wigram here says it can be done comfortably for twelve hundred--that's
two hundred within the maximum. You needn't shake your head before I've
finished! We think you ought to put up some of it, and to guarantee a
certain sum annually towards Wigram's expenses. I'll tell you what we've
decided to ask you for--two-fifty for the contest, and a hundred a
year."

"Now just think it over, Mr. Hayes, and tell us if you see your way to
that."

"But the rest?" asked Andy, half-bewildered; for the last great ditch
looked as if it were being stormed and crossed. Because--yes, he might
be able to--yes, with care, and prosperity at Gilbert Foot and Co.'s, he
could manage that!

Belfield wrote on a bit of paper: "Meriton, £250; Rock, £250; Belfield,
£500." He pushed it across the table. "That leaves a little margin. We
can easily raise the balance of the annual expenses."

"Oh, but I couldn't possibly--!"

"My dear Andy, it's constantly being done," Belfield expostulated.

"Our friend Belfield, for reasons that you'll appreciate, feels that he
would like to bear a share of the expenses of this fight, which
under--well, other circumstances--would naturally have fallen entirely
on him. My contribution is given for public reasons, Mr. Hayes, though
I'm very glad that it should be of service to you personally." Meriton
broke into a smile. "I expect I needn't tell you why old Jack Rock's
name is there. We should have got into pretty hot water if we hadn't let
him into it!"

Belfield leant over to Andy, and said in a lowered voice, "Atonement's
too strong a word, Andy, but I don't want the party to suffer through
anything that's occurred. I don't want it left in the lurch. I think
you'd like to help me there, wouldn't you?"

Harry's father was against Harry. Harry's father urged him to step into
Harry's shoes.

"I think we've made you a practical proposition; it tides us over the
next election anyhow, Mr. Hayes. By the time another Parliament has run
its course, I hope you'll be in a position where ways and means will
present no difficulty. Soon enough to think about that when the time
comes, anyhow."

"I think I can guarantee you success, Mr. Hayes," said Wigram.

All the difficulties seemed to have vanished--if only he could take the
offered help.

"I feel rather overwhelmed," he said slowly.

Meriton shrugged his shoulders. "We must hold the seat. If you don't let
us do this for you we shall probably have to do it for some fellow we
never saw, or else put up with some bounder who's got nothing to
recommend him except his money. I don't want to press you unduly, Mr.
Hayes, but in my opinion, if your private affairs don't make it
impossible, it's your duty to accept. Would you like time to consider?"

"Just five minutes, if you don't mind, Lord Meriton."

Belfield winked at Meriton. If he had asked for a week! Five minutes
meant a favourable answer.

All the factors were before him; they could be judged in five minutes.
It was a venture, but Meriton said it was his duty. Nobody could tell
where it would lead, but it was honourable work, for which responsible
men thought him fitted. It was Harry's shoes, but they were empty. That
last thought made him speak.

"If I accept, and win, I hold the seat at the disposal of those who've
chosen me for it." Half-consciously he addressed himself especially to
Belfield. "If at any time--"

"I knew you'd feel that way about it; but at present, at all events,
it's not a practical question, Andy."

"I'm grateful for your confidence," Andy said, now turning to Meriton.
"Since you think me fit for it, I'll take it and do my best with it,
Lord Meriton."

"Capital!" his lordship exclaimed. Wigram's face was wreathed in smiles.
Belfield patted Andy on the shoulder affectionately.

"I don't believe either party to the bargain will regret it."

"I know Mr. Hayes will have an honourable, and I believe he will have a
distinguished, career," Meriton said, and, rising from his chair, broke
up the council.

Andy lingered for a little while alone with Belfield, to thank him
again, to make some arrangements for the future, to tell him that he had
seen Harry, and that Harry was well and in good spirits.

"You saw him on Thursday? After you got my wire? Did you say anything
about it?"

"It came while he was there, and I showed it to him. He was surprised."

"You mean he wasn't pleased?"

"I can understand how he must feel. I feel just the same thing
myself--terribly strongly sometimes."

Belfield pressed his arm. "You mustn't give way to that feeling. It's
loyal, but it's not reasonable. Never let that weigh with you in
anything."

The feeling might not be reasonable; it seemed to Andy inevitable. It
must weigh with him. Yet it could not outweigh his natural and
legitimate satisfaction that day. His mind reached forth to the new
work, fortified by the confidence that his friends gave him. The thought
of Harry seemed now rather a sobering reminder that this thing had come
to him, in part at least, by accident. He was the more bound to do well
with it, that the evil effects of the accident might be minimized.

He made for Jack Rock's house in High Street, where he was to lodge.
Jack had just got off his horse at the door, and was standing facing his
shop, apparently regarding his sign. Andy came up and clapped him on the
back.

"I know what you've been doing," he said. "At it again, Jack!"

"You've not refused?"

"No; I've accepted."

Jack wrung his hand hard. "That takes a weight off my mind," he said
with a sigh.

"But it seems a low-down thing to take all that money--more of yours
too!"

Jack smiled triumphantly. "Well, I happen to be a bit flush o' cash just
now--that's the truth, Andy--so you needn't mind. D'ye see that sign?"

"Of course I do, Jack. What's the matter with it?"

"Well, in a month that sign'll come down." He cocked his head on one
side as he regarded it. "Yes, down in a month! Seems strange, don't it?
Been there sixty year." His sigh was evenly compounded of sorrow and
pride.

"What, are you going to retire, Jack?"

"No, I'm not pressin' it on you again! Don't be afraid. To think of my
havin' done that! You as are goin' to Parliament! Lord, it's a great
day, Andy! Come in and have a glass o' beer." He led the way to his back
room, and the cask was called upon to do its duty. "I've sold out,
Andy," Jack announced. "Sold out to a concern that calls itself the
National, Colonial, and International Purveyors, Limited. That'll look
well on the sign, won't it? Four thousand pound they're payin' me, down
on the nail, besides pensionin' off old Simpson. Well, it's worth the
money, if they can do as well with it as I've done. The house here is
thrown in--they mean to enlarge the shop."

"But where are you going to set up house, Jack?"

Jack winked in great enjoyment. "Know of a certain house where a certain
old gentleman used to live--him as kept the grammar school--Mr. Hayes,
B.A. Oxon? The old house in Highcroft, Andy! It's on the market, and I'm
goin' to buy it--to say nothin' of a nice range of stablin' opposite.
And there, if you'll accept of 'em, Andy, you'll have your own pair o'
rooms always ready for you, when you're down at Meriton over your
politics. Parlour and bedroom, there they'll be, and I shan't disturb
you. And when I'm gone, there's the old house for you. There's nobody
poor Nancy would have been so glad to see in it."

There was a lump in Andy's throat, and he was not ashamed of it. The
regard and love of his friends seemed to have been very much with him in
the last few days, and to have done great things for him. Old Jack
Rock's affectionate cunning touched him closely.

"I really think I'm the luckiest beggar alive!" he exclaimed.

"Folks mostly make their luck," said Jack. "You've made yours. There was
no call on any of us to fret ourselves about you. You could have gone
back to Canada and made your way for yourself--if it hadn't been that we
got to want to keep you, Andy." He paused, drank his beer, and added,
"Aye, but I shall feel a bit strange the day that sign comes down, and
I've no more to say to the meat--only the horses! I've lived with the
meat, man and boy, nigh on sixty year."

With a promise to return in good time for supper--for no risks must be
run with what might be one of the last of Mr. Rock's own joints of beef
that he would ever be privileged to eat--Andy left him and took the road
to Nutley. He remembered Vivien's invitation; he looked forward to
telling her his news, the great things that had been happening to him in
the last three days. But he wanted yet more to meet her again; he had
not seen her since the day after the catastrophe. Harry he had seen, and
Harry had been happy, in high spirits, quite self-contented, until that
untoward telegram eclipsed his gaiety. Would the interval of a few brief
weeks have wrought a like change in her? It could not be looked for.
Harry effected such transformations with a celerity peculiar to himself.
Still there was room to hope for some lightening of her sorrow. Andy
hoped to find it, and would approve of it. His mind was for the mean,
for moderation, in all emotions. If he resented Harry's gaiety, unending
unlifting woe was hardly more congenial to his temper, and certainly
much more troublesome to deal with tactfully. Harry's implicit negation
of responsibility had at least the merit of inviting other people not to
make too much of his mischances.

What his changing moods--his faculty of emotional oblivion--did in truth
for Harry, pride effected in outward seeming for Vivien. Some credit,
too, must be given to Wellgood's training and Isobel's able
co-operation. The discipline of the stiff upper lip redeemed some of its
harshness by coming to her rescue now. Never had she held her head so
high in Meriton as in the days that followed the announcement of Harry
Belfield's marriage with Isobel Vintry. A poor, maimed, stunted
announcement, compared with the column and a half of description,
guests, presents, and felicitations which would have chronicled her
wedding! Five lines in the corner of the local paper--an item of news
for such of the population as did not see the London papers--it was
enough to make Vivien fence herself about against any show of pity. To
do Meriton justice, it understood which of the pair had suffered the
greater loss. That Miss Wellgood was "well out of it," but that Mr.
Harry had "done for himself," was the prevailing verdict; somewhat
affected, it is to be feared, by the adventitious circumstance that
Isobel was "the companion"--a drop to obscurity for brilliant Mr. Harry!

But the marriage dug deeper than to affect mere seeming. Besides
erecting the useful barrier of impossibility, it raised the fence of an
inward pride--or, rather, of that fastidiousness which Wellgood and
Isobel had striven to eradicate. In that matter it was good for Vivien
that they had failed. To allow herself to remember, to muse, to
long--for whom? No more simply for Harry Belfield. In that name there
were allurements for musing and for longing. But the bearer of it had
contracted for himself now a new designation. It did him and his memory
no good. Isobel Vintry's husband! The new character did much to strip
him of his romantic habiliments. He was brought down to earth; he could
no more float before the eyes, a dazzling though unprofitable figure,
proceeding in a brilliant callousness to the wrecking of other hearts.
There is always a touch of the ridiculous about Don Juan married, or Sir
Gawain Light-of-Love bound in chains in whose forging the Church has
lent a hand to Cupid. And married to Isobel Vintry, who had stolen
kisses behind the door! In a moral regard perhaps it is sad to say, but
we easier forgive our own romantic wrongs when they may be supposed to
form but a link in a series. She would have found it harder to despise
Harry, if he had served Isobel after the same fashion as he had served
herself. She knew it not, but perhaps Harry was entitled to ask her to
wait for just a little while! As the case stood--to weep for Isobel's
husband! The stiff upper lip which had been inculcated joined forces
with the fastidiousness that had never been uprooted. She chid herself
for every memory of Harry; every pang of envy for Isobel demanded from
herself a discipline more stern than Isobel's own had ever supplied to
meet Wellgood's theories of a manly training.

Wellgood was proud of his daughter and of his theories, readily claiming
for his system of education the joint result of its success and of its
failure--of the courage and of the fastidiousness alike. But the plague
of it was that the thought of the training brought with it the memory of
the preceptress who had so ably carried out his orders. Wellgood admired
his daughter--and envied her. He burned still with a fierce jealousy;
for him no appeasement lay in the marriage.

Yet between Vivien and Andy Hayes silence about the past could be no
more than silence--merely a refraining from words, no real
forgetfulness, no true putting aside. For with that past would go their
old relationship to one another; its roots had grown from that soil, and
it flourished still by the strength of it. At the start their common
memories could envisage no picture without Isobel's face finding a place
on the canvas; later, Harry was inevitably the central figure of the
composition. If Andy had pitied and sought to comfort, if Vivien had
given confidence and accepted sympathy, it had always, in some sort or
another, been in regard to one of these two figures--in the later days,
to both of them. Still they met, as it were, encumbered by these
memories, she to him Isobel's pupil, Harry's lover, he to her Harry's
follower, even though her own partisan against Isobel. It was hard to
get their relations on to an independent footing; to be interested in
one another for one another's sake, without that outside reference,
which had now become mere matter of memory--and best not remembered; to
find in one another and not elsewhere the motive of their intercourse
and the source of a new friendship. The old kindliness must be
transplanted to a fresh soil if it were to blossom into a life
self-sufficient and underived.

The line of thought was hers rather than his, at least more explicit and
realized for her than for him. When he thought of Harry--or of Isobel
and Harry--it was with intent to avoid giving pain by an incautious
reference; her mind demanded a direct assertion that the pair of them
were done with, and that she and he met on the ground of a new and
strictly mutual interest.

She had no thought, no dream, of more than friendship. The past was too
recent, her heart still too sore. Yet the sore heart instinctively seeks
balm; the wounded flower of pride will raise its head in grateful answer
to a gleam of sunshine or a drop of rain. Andy's shy surety that she
would rejoice in his luck, because aforetime he had grieved for her
tribulation, struck home to a heart hungry for comradeship.

Thus by her pride, and by her will answering the call of her pride, she
was different. She no longer merely suffered, was no longer passive to,
kindness or cruelty. He knew the change as soon as she came to him, in
that very room which had witnessed the first stolen kiss, and, holding
her hand out to him, cried, "Mr. Andy, you've not refused? There's no
welcome for you in this house if you've refused. Father and I are quite
agreed about it!"

Andy pressed her hand--Harry would have kissed it. "You know? I couldn't
refuse their kindness. If I had, yours would have made me sorry."

"It's good of you to spare time to come and tell us."

Andy's answer had the compelling power of unconscious sincerity. "That
seemed about the first thing to do," he said, with a simple
unembarrassed laugh.

The girl blushed, a faint yet vivid colour came on her cheeks. She drew
back a little. Andy's words were, in their simplicity, bolder far than
his thoughts. Yet in drawing back she smiled. But Andy had seen the
blush. Successful man as he had now become--big with promise as he was,
at all events--in this field he was a novice. His blush answered
hers--and was of a deeper tint. "I'm afraid that's awfully
presumptuous?" he stammered.

"Why, we've all been waiting to hear the news! Father had the offer--you
know that? But he couldn't stand London. Then they asked Mr. Foot's
advice. He said it ought to be you. You do your best to prevent people
thinking of you, but as soon as you're suggested--why, it's obvious."

"You really think I shan't make a fool of myself?" asked Andy.

The delicate flush was still on her cheeks. "You'll make me very much
ashamed of myself if you do," she answered. "Is my opinion to be as
wrong as all that? Haven't I always trusted you?"

His surroundings suddenly laid hold on him. It was the very room--she
stood on the very spot--where he had witnessed Harry's first defection,
her earliest betrayal.

"It seems--it seems"--he stammered--"it seems treason."

She was silent for a minute. The colour glowed brighter on her cheeks.

"I don't care to hear you say that," she told him, daintily haughty. "I
was waiting here to congratulate you--yes, I hoped you'd come. I've
nothing to do with anybody except the best candidate! They say you're
that. I had my good wishes ready for you. Will you take them--without
reserve?"

"I--I say things wrong," pleaded poor Andy. "I'll take anything you'll
give."

Her face flashed into a smile. "Your wrong things are--well, one can
forgive them. It's all settled then--and you're to be the M.P.?"

Andy was still apologetic. "They know what to do, I suppose. It seems
curious. Wigram says it's a certainty too. They've all joined in to
help--Lord Meriton, Mr. Belfield, and old Jack. I'm much too poor by
myself, you know."

"The man who makes friends makes riches." She gave a light laugh. "May I
be a little bit of your riches?"

Andy's answer was his own. "Well, I always remember that morning--the
hunt and Curly."

"I'm still that to you?" she asked quickly, her colour rising yet.

He looked at her. "No, of course not, but I had a sort of idea that then
you liked me a bit."

She looked across the room at him--Andy was a man who kept his distance.
"You've been a refuge in time of trouble," she said. Her voice was soft,
her eyes bright. "We won't talk of the old things any more, will we?"

Wellgood stood in the window. "Well, is it all right?" he asked.

"He's said yes, father!" she cried with a glad merriment.

"I thought he would. It's a change for the better!"

His blunt words--in truth they were brutal according to his
brutality--brought silence. Andy flushed into a painful red--not for his
own sake only.

"I've got to try to be as good a stop-gap as I can," he said.

"Something better than that!" Vivien murmured softly.



Chapter XXIV.

PRETTY MUCH THE SAME!


In the spring of the following year Miss Doris Flower returned from an
extensive professional tour in America. She had enjoyed great success.
The Nun and the Quaker proved thoroughly to the taste of transatlantic
audiences; Joan of Arc did not at first create the same enthusiasm in
the United States as she had in London, the allusion to the happier
relations between France and England naturally not exciting quite equal
interest. However an ingenious gentleman supplied the Maid with a vision
of General Lafayette instead; though not quite so up-to-date, it more
than answered expectations. Across the Canadian border-line the original
vision was, of course, restored, and went immensely. It was all one to
Miss Flower what visions she had, so that they were to the liking of the
public. She came back much pleased with herself, distinctly affluent,
and minded to enjoy for awhile a well-earned leisure. Miss Sally Dutton
returned with her, charged with a wealth of comment on American ways and
institutions, the great bulk of which sensible people could attribute
only to the blackest prejudice.

The lapse of six months is potent to smooth small causes of awkwardness
and to make little changes of feeling or of attitude seem quite natural.
Billy Foot had undoubtedly avoided the Nun for the last few weeks before
her departure; he saw no reason now why he should not be among the
earliest to call and welcome his old friend. It was rather with a
humorous twinkle than with any embarrassment that, when they settled
down to talk, he asked her if she happened to know the Macquart-Smiths.

"Of Kensington?" asked the Nun in a tone of polite interest.

"Yes, Kensington Palace Gardens," Billy replied, tranquilly unconscious
of any other than the obvious bearing of the question. "I thought you
must have heard of them." (The Nun never had, though she had seen at
least one of them.) "The old man made a pile out in Mexico. They're very
good sort of people."

"You brought one of the girls to hear me one night, didn't you?"

"Yes. Well, she's the only girl, in fact--Amaranth's her name. Rather
silly, but that's not her fault, is it?" He seemed anxious to forestall
criticism.

"You can call her Amy--or even Aimée," suggested the Nun consolingly.

Billy laughed. "Have you heard it, or did you guess, Doris?"

"Guessed it. I can guess any conundrum, however baffling. I'm awfully
glad, Billy. I'm sure you'll be tremendously happy. When did it
happen--and when is it going to happen?"

"About a month ago--and in about three months' time. Didn't you think
her pretty?"

"Very pretty," said the Nun, presuming on a somewhat cursory inspection
of Miss Amaranth. "And I suppose that since the old man made his
pile--?"

"Oh, well, there are two sons. Still--yes, that's all right."

"It all sounds splendid. I don't fall in love myself, as I've told
you--"

"Oh, I know that very well," said Billy. "Nobody knows it better."

Her eyes danced as she shook her head at him demurely. "But I like to
see young people settling down happily."

"You are rather a queer girl in that way, Doris. Never feel that way?"

The Nun considered. "I might go so far as to admit that I've an ideal."

"Rather a silly thing to have in this world, isn't it?"

"Happiness makes you unsympathetic, Billy. There's no harm in an ideal
if you're careful to keep it as an ideal. Of course if you try to make
it practical there are awful risks."

"And what, or who, is your ideal?"

"'Pray what is that to you?'" the Nun quoted, under the circumstances
rather maliciously. "I find having an ideal a most comfortable
arrangement. It doesn't worry either him or me--and Sally can't possibly
object to it. How are things at Meriton? Andy wrote me his great news,
and of course I never answered. But isn't it splendid?"

"I haven't had time to go down lately."

"Oh, of course not--now!"

"But I hear he's doing magnificently. Sure to get in. But Gilly's the
best fun. When Andy is off electioneering, Gilly works like a horse.
Sandwiches in the office for lunch, with a glass of sherry from the pub
round the corner! I caught him at it once; he was awfully disgusted."

"Gilly lunching on sandwiches and a glass of sherry from the pub!" Her
voice was full of wondering amazement.

"Yes, he won't hear the last of that in a hurry! When he did come to
lunch the other day, we all went early and had a nice little pile of ham
sandwiches and a liqueur glass of Marsala ready for him when he came in.
You should have seen his face--and not heard his language!" The
unnatural brother laughed. "You see, Andy didn't want to stand because
of neglecting the business, and Gilly backed himself to take on the work
so as not to stand in Andy's way. And he's doing it."

"But that's awfully fine of Gilly, I think."

"So it is, of course. That's why he gets so riled when anybody says
anything about it."

The Nun nodded in understanding. "And Harry?" she asked.

"They were abroad or in Scotland all the winter; came back to town about
a month ago. They've taken a flat in Clarges Street for the season, I
believe."

"Have you been to call on Mrs. Harry Belfield?"

"Well, no, I haven't. I don't know what he wants. I think I'll leave him
to begin. It seems to be the same old game with him. One sees him
everywhere."

"With her?"

"Sometimes with her. I don't think he's doing anything about another
constituency; seems to have chucked it for the present. But he does
appear to be having a very good time in London."

"Is he friendly when you meet?"

"Yes, he's friendly and jolly enough." Billy smiled. "It's true that
he's generally in a hurry. When I met him with her once, he was in too
much of a hurry to stop!"

"It's very sad, but I'm afraid his memories of us are not those of
unmixed pleasure."

"I'm afraid not. Andy says he never goes down to Meriton."

"Well, really I don't very well see how he could--with her!"

"I suppose he and his people have some understanding about it. One's
sorry for them, you know."

"I think I shall go down to Meriton again this autumn. Any chance of
your being there--as a family man?"

"I've promised to speak for Andy, so we may put in a few days there.
Most of the time I shall have to be preaching to my own flock. I say,
will you come and meet Amaranth?"

"Of course I will. But really I think I should make it 'Amy'!"

"It's worth considering; but I don't know how she'll feel about it,"
said Billy cautiously.

"Oh, said in the way you'll say it, it'll sound sweet," remarked the Nun
flippantly.

Billy still looked doubtful; perhaps "Amaranth" already sounded sweet.

When left alone, Miss Flower indulged herself for awhile in a reverie of
a pensive, hardly melancholy, character--not unpleasant, rather
philosophical. Billy Foot's new state was the peg from which it hung,
its theme the balance of advantage between the single and the married
state. It was in some degree a drawback to the former that other people
would embrace the latter. Old coteries were thus broken up; old
friendships, if not severed, yet rendered less intimate. New comrades
had to be found, not always an easy task. There was a danger of
loneliness. On the other hand, there were worse things than loneliness;
enforced companionship, where companionship had become distasteful,
seemed to her distinctly one of them. Being so very much in another
person's hands also was a formidable thing; it involved such a liability
to be hurt. The balance thus inclined in favour of the single life, in
spite of its liability to loneliness. The Nun gave her adhesion to it,
with a mental reservation as to the case of an ideal. And even then--the
attempt to make it practical? She shook her head with a little sigh,
then smiled. "I wonder if Billy had any idea whom I had in my head!" she
thought.

Sally Dutton came in and found her friend in this ruminative mood. Doris
roused herself to communicate the news of Billy Foot's engagement. It
was received in Sally's usual caustic manner. "Came to tell you about
it, did he? I wonder how much he's told her about you!"

"I can't complain if my want of responsiveness hasn't been emphasised,
Sally. You couldn't expect him to."

"I've been having a talk with Mrs. Harry Belfield," said Sally, taking
off her hat.

This announcement came rather pat on the Nun's reflections. She was
interested.

"Well, how is she? What happened?"

"In my opinion it's just another of them," Sally pronounced.

Being engaged in shopping at certain "stores" which she frequented, she
had gone into the tea-room to refresh her jaded energies, and had found
herself at the next table to Isobel. Friendly greetings had passed; the
two had drunk their tea together--with other company, as presently
appeared.

"What made you think that?" There was no need to inquire what it was
that Sally thought when she spoke of "another of them;" she did not
refer to ideally successful unions.

Sally wrinkled her brow. "She said they'd had a delightful winter,
travelling and so on, and that she was having a very gay time in London,
going everywhere and making a heap of friends. She said they liked their
flat, but were looking out for a house. She said Harry was very well and
jolly."

"Well, that sounds all right. What's the matter, Sally? Not that I
pretend to be particularly anxious for her unruffled happiness. I don't
want anything really bad, of course, but--"

"Set your mind at ease; she won't be too happy to please you--and she
knows it." Miss Dutton considered. "At least she's a fool if she doesn't
know it. Who do you think came in while we were at tea?"

"Harry?" suggested the Nun, in an obviously insincere shot at the
answer.

"Harry at Harrod's! Mrs. Freere! You remember Mrs. Freere?--Mrs. Freere,
and a woman Mrs. Freere called 'Dear Lady Lucy.'" Sally's sarcastic
emphasis on the latter lady's title--surely a harmless social
distinction?--was absolutely savage.

"Did they join you?" asked the Nun, by now much interested.

"Join us? They swallowed us! Of course they didn't take much notice of
me. They'd never heard of 'Miss Dutton,' and I didn't suppose I should
make a much better impression if I told them that I lived with you."

"No, of course not, Sally," said the Nun, and drew up on the edge of an
ill-timed gurgle. "Mrs. Freere's an old story. Who's Lady Lucy? One of
the heap of friends Mrs. Harry is making?"

"Lady Lucy's young--younger than Isobel. Mrs. Freere isn't young--not so
young as Isobel. Mrs. Freere's the old friend, Lady Lucy's the new one."

"Did you gather whether Lady Lucy was a married woman?"

"Oh yes. She referred to 'our money troubles,' and 'my motor-car.' She's
married all right! But nobody bothered to tell me her name. Well, as I
say, Mrs. Freere's the old friend, and she's the new friend. They're
fighting which of them shall run the Belfields--I don't know what else
they may be fighting about! But they unite in sitting on Isobel. Harry's
given her away, I gathered--told them what she was before he married
her. So, of course, she hasn't got a chance! The only good thing is that
they obviously hate one another like poison. In fact I don't think I
ever sat at a table with three women who hated one another more--though
I've had some experience in that line."

"She hates them both, you think? Well, I shouldn't have thought she was
the kind of woman to like being sat upon by anybody."

"Oh, she's fighting; she's putting up a good fight for him."

"Well, we know she can do that!" observed the Nun with a rather acid
demureness.

"I'm not asking you to sympathise. I'm just telling you how it is.
'Harry likes this,' says Mrs. Freere. 'He always did.' 'Did he, dear? He
tells me he likes the other now,' says Lady Lucy. 'I don't think he's
really fond of either of them,' says Isobel. 'Oh yes, my dear. Besides,
you must, if you want to do the right thing,' say both of them. I
suppose that, when they once get her out of the way, they'll fight it
out between themselves."

"Will they get her out of the way? It's rather soon to talk about that."

"They'll probably both of them be bowled over by some newcomer in a few
months, and Isobel go with them--if she hasn't gone already."

"Your views are always uncompromising, Sally."

"I only wish you'd heard those two women this afternoon. And, in the
end, off they all three went together in the motor-car. Going to pick up
Harry somewhere!"

"Rather too much of a good thing for most men. And it might have been
Vivien!"

"It's a woman, and one of God's creatures, anyhow," said Sally with some
temper.

"Yes," the Nun agreed serenely. "And Mrs. Freere's a woman--and so, I
presume from your description, is Lady Lucy. And I gather that they have
husbands? God's creatures too, we may suppose!"

Sally declined the implied challenge to weigh, in the scales of an
impartial judgment, the iniquities of the two sexes. Her sympathies,
born on the night when she had given shelter to Isobel at the Lion, were
with the woman who was fighting for her husband, who had a plain right
to him now, though she had used questionable means to get him. If Doris
asked her to discern a Nemesis in Isobel's plight--as Belfield had in
the fall of his too well admired son--to see Vivien avenged by Mrs.
Freere and Lady Lucy, Sally retorted on the philosophic counsel by
declaring that Doris, a partisan of Vivien's, lacked human pity for
Vivien's successful rival, whose real success seemed now so dubious.

Whatever the relative merit of these views, and whatever the truth as to
the wider question of the iniquities of the sexes, Sally's encounter at
least provided for her friend's contemplation an excellent little
picture of the man whose name had been so bandied about among the three
women at the tea-table. Her dislike of Isobel enabled the Nun to
contemplate it rather with a scornful amusement than with the hot
indignation with which she had lashed Vivien's treacherous lover. Her
feelings not being engaged in this case, she was able to regain her
favourite attitude of a tolerant, yet open-eyed, onlooker, and to ask
what, after all, was the use of expecting anything else from Harry
Belfield. What Mrs. Freere--nay, what prehistoric Rosa Hinde--had found
out, what Vivien had found out, what Isobel was finding out, that, in
due time, Lady Lucy would find out also. Perhaps some women did not much
mind finding out. Vivien had renounced him utterly, but here was Mrs.
Freere back again! And no doubt Lady Lucy had her own ideas about Mrs.
Freere--besides the knowledge, shared by the world in general, of the
brief engagement to Vivien and the hurried marriage with Isobel. Some of
them did not mind, or at least thought that the game was worth the
candle. That was the only possible conclusion. In some cases, perhaps,
they were the same sort of people themselves; in others, Harry's appeal
was too potent to be resisted, even though they knew that sorrow would
be the ultimate issue.

That was intelligible enough. For the moment, to the woman of the
moment, his charm was well-nigh irresistible. His power to conquer lay
in the completeness with which he was conquered. He had the name of
being a great flirt; in the exact sense of words, he did not flirt save
as a mere introduction of the subject; he always made love--to the woman
of the moment. He did not pay attentions; he was swept into a
passion--for the woman of the moment. It was afterwards, when that
particular moment and that particular woman had gone by, that Harry's
feelings passed a retrospective Act by which the love-making and passion
became, and were to be deemed always to have been, flirtation and
attention. Amply accepting this legislation for himself, and quite
convinced of its justice, he seemed to have power to impose it--for the
moment--on others also. And he would go on like that indefinitely? There
seemed no particular reason why he should stop. He would go on loving
for a while, being loved for a while; deserting and being despaired of;
sometimes, perhaps, coming back and beginning the process over again;
living the life of the emotions so long as it would last, making it
last, perhaps, longer than it ought or really could, because he had no
other life adequate to fill its place. The Nun's remorseless fancy
skipped the years, and pictured him, Harry the Irresistible, Harry the
Incorrigible, still pursuing the old round, still on his way from the
woman of the last moment to the woman of the next; getting perhaps
rather gray, rather fat, a trifle inclined to coarseness, but preserving
all his ardour and all his art in wooing, like a great singer grown old,
whose voice is feeble and spent, but whose skill is still triumphant
over his audiences--still convinced that each affair was "bigger" than
any of the others, still persuading his partner of the same thing, still
suffering pangs of pity for himself when he fell away, still responding
to the stimulus of a new pursuit.

A few days later chance threw him in her way; in truth it could scarcely
be called chance, since both, returned from their wanderings, had
resumed their habit of frequenting that famous restaurant, and had been
received with enthusiasm by the presiding officials. Waiting for her
party in the outer room, suddenly she found him standing beside her,
looking very handsome and gay, with a mischievous sparkle in his eye.

"May I speak to you--or am I no better than one of the wicked?" he said,
sitting down beside her.

"You're looking very well, Harry. I hope Mrs. Belfield is all right?"

"Oh yes, Isobel's first-rate, thank you. So am I. How London agrees with
a man! I was out of sorts half the time down at Meriton. A country life
doesn't agree with me. I shall chuck it."

"You seemed very well down there--physically," the Nun observed.

"Sleepy, wasn't it? Sleepy beyond anything. Now here a man feels alive,
and awake!"

It was not in the least what he had thought about Meriton, it was what
he was feeling about Meriton now. He had passed a retrospective Act
about Meriton; it was to be deemed to have been always sleepy and dull.

"No," he pursued, "when I come into Halton--I hope it won't be for a
long while--I think I shall sell it. I can't settle down as a country
squire. It's not my line. Too stodgy!"

"What about Parliament? Going to find another place?"

"If I do, it'll be a town constituency. When I think of those beastly
villages! Really couldn't go through with it again! The fact is, I'm
rather doubtful about the whole of that game, Doris. No end of a
grind--and what do you get out of it? More kicks than ha'pence, as a
rule. Your own side doesn't thank you, and the other abuses you like a
pickpocket."

She nodded. "I think you're quite right. Let it alone."

He turned to her quite eagerly. "Do you really think so? Well, I'm more
than half inclined to believe you're right. Isobel's always worrying me
about it--talks about letting chances slip away, and time slip away, and
I don't know what the devil else slip away--till, hang it, my only
desire is to imitate time and chances, and slip away myself!" He laughed
merrily.

The old charm was still there, the power to make his companion take his
point of view and sympathise with him, even when the merits were all
against him.

"You see now what it is to give a woman the right to lecture you,
Harry!"

"Oh, it's kind of her to be ambitious for me," said Harry
good-naturedly. "I quite appreciate that. But--" His eyes twinkled
again, and his voice fell to a confidential whisper. "Well, you've been
behind the scenes, haven't you? My last shot in that direction has put
me a bit off."

It was his first reference to the catastrophe; she was curious to see
whether he would develop it. This Harry proceeded to do.

"You were precious hard on me about that business, Doris," he said in a
gentle reproach. "Of course I don't justify what happened. But my dear
old pater and Wellgood pressed matters a bit too quick--oh, not Vivien,
I don't mean that for a moment. There's such a thing as making the game
too easy for a fellow. I didn't see it at the time, but I see it now.
They had their plan. Well, I fell in with it too readily. It looked
pleasant enough. The result was that I mistook the strength of my
feelings. That was the beginning of all the trouble."

Vastly amused, the Nun nodded gravely. "I ought to have thought of that
before I was so down on you."

He looked at her in a merry suspicion. "I'm not sure you're not pulling
my leg, Doris; but all the same that's the truth about it. And at any
rate I suppose you'll admit I did the right thing when--when the trouble
came?"

"Yes, you did the right thing then."

"I'm glad you admit that much! I say--I suppose you--you haven't heard
anything of Vivien Wellgood?"

"I hear she's in excellent health and spirits."

"I've never been so cut up about anything. Still, of course, she was a
mere girl, and--well, things pass!"

"Luckily things pass. I've no doubt she'll soon console herself."

"He'll be a very lucky fellow," said Harry handsomely. After all, he
himself had admired Vivien, and his taste was good.

"He will. In fact I think I know only one man good enough for her--and
that's Andy Hayes."

Harry's face was suddenly transformed to a peevish amazement.

"My dear girl, are you out of your mind? Don't say such silly things!
Old Andy's a good chap, but the idea that Vivien would look at him! He's
not her class; and she's the most fastidious little creature alive--as
dainty and fastidious as can be!" He smiled again--probably at some
reminiscence.

"I don't see why her being fastidious should prevent her liking Andy."

Harry broke into open impatience. "I like old Andy--well, I think I've
done something to prove that--but, upon my soul, you all seem to have
gone mad about him. You all ram him down a man's throat. It's possible
to have too much of him, good fellow as he is. He and Vivien Wellgood!
Well, it's simply damned ridiculous!" He took out his watch and, as he
looked at it, exclaimed with great irritation, "Why the devil doesn't
this woman come?"

"I thought Mrs. Belfield was always so punctual?"

"It's not Mrs. Belfield," Harry snapped out.

"Well, don't be disagreeable to the poor woman simply because I said
something you didn't like."

"Something I didn't like? That's an absurd way of putting it. It's only
that to be for ever hearing of nobody but--"

"That tall young woman over there seems to be staring rather hard at you
and me, Harry."

"By gad, it is her! I must run." His smiles broke out again. "I say,
Doris, I shall get into trouble over this! You're looking your best, my
dear, and she's as jealous as--I must run! Au revoir!"

"It's not Mrs. Freere--so I suppose it's Lady Lucy," thought the Nun.
She was in high good temper at the result of her casual allusion to Andy
Hayes. The shoe pinched there, did it? She was not vicious towards
Harry; she wished him no harm--indeed she wished him more good than he
would be likely to welcome--but the extreme complacency of his manner in
the earlier part of their talk stirred her resentment. Her suggestion
about Andy Hayes put a quick end to that.

Lady Lucy had an impudent little face, with an impudent little turned-up
nose. She settled herself cosily into her chair on the balcony and
peeled off her gloves.

"I'm so glad we're just by ourselves--I mean, since poor Mrs. Belfield
wasn't well enough to come. I was afraid of finding Lily Freere!"

"What made you afraid of that?" asked Harry, smiling.

"Well, she is about with you a good deal, isn't she? Does your wife like
being managed so much? Or is it your choice?"

"Mrs. Freere's an old friend."

"So I've always understood!"

"You mustn't listen to ill-natured gossip. Just an old friend! But it's
not very likely I should have asked her to come to-day."

The Nun and her party entered, and sat down at the other end of the
balcony.

"There's that girl you were talking to. Look round; she's sitting facing
me."

"Oh yes, Doris Flower!"

"An old friend too? You seemed to be having a very confidential
conversation at least."

"On the most strictly unsentimental footing. Really there you may
believe me!" Harry's voice fell to an artistic whisper. "Did you come
only to tease me?"

"I don't think you care much whether I tease you or not," said Lady
Lucy.

He was helping her to wine; he held the bottle, she held the glass.
Somehow it chanced that their hands touched. Lady Lucy blushed a little
and glanced at Harry. "How shall I persuade you that I care?" asked
Harry.

The Nun's host--at the other end of the balcony--turned to her. "You're
not very talkative to-day, Miss Doris!"

"Oh, I'm sorry: There's always so much to look at at the other tables,
isn't there?"

"Pretty much the same old lot!" remarked the host--an experienced youth.

"Pretty much!" agreed the Nun serenely.



Chapter XXV.

THE LAST FIGHT.


On a fine Sunday evening in the following autumn Belfield and Andy Hayes
sat over their wine, the ladies having, as usual, adjourned to the
garden. Among their number were included the Nun and Sally Dutton; a
second stay at Meriton had broken down Sally's shyness. Belfield and his
wife were just back from London, whither they had gone to see their
grandchild, Harry's first-born son. All had gone well, and Belfield was
full of impressions of his visit. His natural pleasure in the birth of
the child was damped by Harry's refusal to promise to take up his
residence at Halton when his turn came.

"But I did get him to promise not to sell--only to let; so his son may
live here, though mine won't." He looked older and more frail; his mind
moved in a near future which, near as it was, he would not see.

"I sometimes think," he went on, "that the professional moralists, all
or most of our preachers of one sort and another--and who doesn't preach
nowadays?--take too narrow a view. Their table of virtues isn't
comprehensive enough. Now my boy Harry, with all his faults, is never
disagreeable. What an enormous virtue! Negative, if you like, but
enormous! What a lot of pain and discomfort he doesn't give! All through
this domestic business his behaviour has been admirable--so kind, so
attentive, so genuinely concerned, so properly gratified. Upon my word,
seeing him in his own home, you'd think he was a model! That's a good
deal. His weakness comes in to save him there; he must be popular--even
in his own house!"

"Oh, this event'll do them no end of good, sir," said Andy, ever ready
to clutch again at the elusive skirts of optimism.

"Some, no doubt," Belfield cautiously agreed. "And she's a brave
woman--I'll say that for her. She understands him, and she loves him.
When I saw her, we had a reconciliation on that basis. We let the past
alone--I wasn't anxious to meet her on that ground--and made up our
minds to the future. Her work is to keep things going, to prevent a
smash. She must shut her eyes sometimes--pretty often, I'm afraid. He'll
always be very pleasant to her, if she'll do that. In fact, the worse
he's behaving the pleasanter the rogue will be. I know him of old in
that."

"Has he any plans?" asked Andy.

Belfield smiled. "Oh yes. He's got a plan for wintering in Algeria;
they'll go as soon as she's well enough, stopping in Paris _en route_.
Yes, he's really full of plans--for enjoying himself and meeting friends
he likes. There's a Lady Lucy Somebody who's got the finest motor-car on
earth. She's going to be in Paris. Oh, well, there it is! Plans of any
other sort are dropped. He's dropped them; she's had to drop them--after
a good deal of fighting, so she told me. He makes no definite refusals;
he puts her off, laughs it off, shunts it, you know, and goes on his own
way. One didn't understand how strong that had grown in him--the dislike
of any responsibilities or limits. Being answerable to anybody seems to
vex him. I think he even resents our great expectations, though we go
out of our way to let him see that we've honestly abandoned them! A
pleasant drifting over summer seas, with agreeable company, and plenty
of variety in it! That's the programme. We shall probably be wise to add
a few storms and a good many minor squalls to get a true idea of it."

"It doesn't seem to lead to much."

"Oh, the mistake's ours! For many men I say nothing against the life.
I'm not one of the preachers, and there's something to be said for it
for some people. We made our own idol, Andy; it's our fault. We saw the
capacities, we didn't appreciate the weakness. I can't be hard on poor
old Harry, can you? We parted capital friends, I'm glad to say--though
he was distinctly in a hurry to keep an appointment at a tea-shop.
Somebody passing through London, he said--and through his fancy too, I
imagine." He looked across at Andy. "I suppose it all seems uncommon
queer to you, Andy?"

"It's a bit of a waste, isn't it?"

"So we think, we at Meriton. That's our old idea, and we shan't get over
it. Yes, a bit of a waste! But it's nature's way, I suppose. A fine
fabric with one unsound patch! It does seem a waste, but she's lavish;
and the fabric may be very pleasing to the eye all the same, and serve
all right--so long as you don't strain it!"

In the garden Mrs. Belfield discoursed placidly to Miss Doris Flower; it
was perhaps fortunate that the veil of night rendered that young lady's
face hard to read.

"Yes, my dear, we must let bygones be bygones. I took a very strong
view, a stronger view than I generally take, of her conduct down
here--though I can't acquit Mr. Wellgood of a large part of the blame.
But now she's trying to be a good wife to him, I'm sure she is. So I
made up my mind to forgive her; it's a very fine boy, and like my
family, I think. As for the politics and all that, I'm sure Harry is
right, and his father is wrong to regret his withdrawal. Harry is not
fit for that rough work; both his mind and his feelings are too fine and
sensitive. I hope he will be firm and keep out of it all. Mr. Hayes is
much more fit for it, much coarser in fibre, you know, dear Miss Flower;
and though, of course, we can't expect from him what we did from
Harry--if only his health had stood it--Mr. Wigram tells me he is doing
really very well. The common people like him, I understand. Oh, not in
the way they thought of Harry! That was admiration, almost worship, my
dear. But they think he understands them, and naturally they feel on
easy terms with him. His stepmother was an excellent woman, and I'm sure
we all respect Mr. Rock. Of course in my young days he'd never have done
for a county member; but we must move with the times, and I'm really
glad that he's got this chance."

The Nun listened to the kindly patronizing old dame in respectful
silence. It was really a good thing that she could look at the matter
like that--evidently aided by the fine boy and the fine boy's likeness
to her family. It was hard to grudge Harry his last worshipper; yet Miss
Flower's smile had not been very sympathetic under the veil of night.

"Of course there's poor Vivien--such a sweet girl, and so nice to us!
She's never let it make any difference as far as we're concerned. I am
sorry for her, and her father's very wrong in keeping her all alone
there at Nutley to brood over it. He ought to have given her a season in
London or taken her abroad--somewhere where she could forget about it,
and have her chance. What chance has she of forgetting Harry here at
Meriton?"

"You can never tell about that, can you, Mrs. Belfield? These things
happen so oddly."

"Oh, but, my dear, the poor child never sees anybody! Now you see quite
a number of young men, I daresay?"

"Yes, quite a number, Mrs. Belfield," the Nun admitted demurely.

"She sees absolutely nobody, except Mr. Hayes and Mr. Gilly Foot. I
don't think she's very likely to be taken with Mr. Gilly Foot! Oh no, my
dear, it's a sad case."

"You ought to talk to Mr. Wellgood about it."

"I never talk to Mr. Wellgood at all now, my dear, if I can help it. I
don't like him, and I think his attitude has been very hard--quite
unlike dear Vivien's own! Well, Harry did no more than hint at it, and
Isobel, of course, said nothing; but we may have our own opinions as to
whether it's all for Vivien's sake!" Mrs. Belfield almost achieved
viciousness in this remark. "And--it may seem selfish of me to say
it--if she married and went away, Harry might be more inclined to come
down here. As it is, he feels it would be awkward. He's so sensitive!"

Belfield and Andy came out--the old man muffled in shawls and, even so,
fearing his wife's rebuke, Andy drawing the fresh air eagerly into his
lungs. He had dined for the first time since the Sunday before; the
miles he had covered, the speeches he had made, defied calculation. He
had hardly any voice left. His work was nearly done; the polling was on
the morrow. But he was due in a neighbouring constituency the day after
that--for one more week. Then back to Gilbert Foot and Co., to make up
arrears. Surveying the work he had done and was about to do, he rejoiced
in his strength, as formerly he had rejoiced to follow Lord Meriton's
hounds on his legs and to anticipate the fox's wiles.

He sat down by Mrs. Belfield. Vivien and Sally, who had been strolling,
joined the group, of which he made the centre.

"Yes, it looks all right," he said, continuing his talk with Belfield.
"Wigram promises me a thousand. A strong candidate would get that. I
hope for about six hundred."

"You think it's safe, though, anyhow?" asked Vivien.

"Yes, I think it's safe." He broke into a laugh. "If anybody had told me
this!"

They discussed the fight in all its aspects, especially the last great
meeting in the Town Hall the night before. The Nun mimicked Andy's
croaking notes with much success, and Miss Dutton commented on popular
institutions with some severity. They were full of excitement as to the
morrow, when the three girls meant to follow Andy's progress through the
Division. Mrs. Belfield gave tokens of an inclination to doze. Belfield
sat listening to the girls' voices, to their eager excited talk, and
their constant appeals to the hero of the day.

The hero of the day! It was Andy Hayes, son of old Mr. Hayes of the
Grammar School, _protégé_, for his stepmother's sake, of Jack Rock the
butcher. He had nearly gone back abroad in failure; he had nearly taken
on the shop. He stood now the winner in the fight, triumphant in a
contest which he had never sought, from the idea of which he would have
shrunk as from rank folly and rank treason. Into that fight he had been
drawn unconsciously, insensibly, irresistibly, by another man's doings
and by his own, by another man's character and by the character that was
his. His conscious part had always been to help his adversary; his
adversary unconsciously worked all the while for him. What his adversary
had bestowed in ready kindness stood as nothing beside what he had given
unwittingly, by accident, never thinking that the results of what he did
would transcend the limits of his own fortunes, and powerfully mould and
shape another's life. Whom Andy loved he had conquered; whom he followed
he had supplanted. The cheers and applause which had rung out for him
last night had, a short year ago, been the property of another. His
place was his by conquest.

So mused Belfield, father of the vanquished, as he sat silent while the
merry voices sounded in his ears. A notable example of how each man
finds his place, in spite of all the starts, or weights, or handicaps
with which he enters on the race! These things tell, but not enough to
land an unsound horse at the post before a sound one. The unsound
falters; slowly and surely the sound lessens the gap between them. At
last he takes the lead. Then the cry of the crowd is changed, and he
gallops on to victory amidst its plaudits. Jack Rock had made no mistake
when he entered his horse and put up the stakes.

The hero of that day, the victor in that fight, yes! Against his wishes,
without premeditation, so he stood. There was another day of strife,
another fight to be waged, one that could not be unmeant or unconscious.
Here the antagonism must come into the open, must be revealed to the
mind and heart of the fighter. Here he must not only follow, he must
himself drive out; he must not only supplant, he must strive to banish,
nay, to annihilate. There was a last citadel which, faithful to
faithlessness and true against desertion, still flew the flag of that
loved antagonist. Would the flag dip and the gates open at his summons?
Or would the response to his parley be that, though the faithless might
be faithless, yet the faithful must be faithful still? Before that
answer his arm would be paralyzed.

"Well, I'm sure you'll deserve your success, Mr. Hayes," said Mrs.
Belfield, rising and preparing to retreat indoors. "I hear you've worked
very hard and made an extremely good impression."

A quiet smile ran round the circle. The speech, with its delicate, yet
serenely sure, patronage would have sounded so natural a year before. In
the darkness Andy found himself smiling too. A sense of strength stirred
in him. The day for encouragement was past; he did not need it. Save for
that last citadel! There still he feared and shrank. With his plain
mind, in his strenuous days, he had done little idealising. Only two
people had he ever treated in that flattering exacting fashion. His
idealising stood in his path now. The weak spot of his sturdy
common-sense had always been about Harry; it was so still, and he had an
obstinate sense of trying to kick his old idol, now that it was
overthrown. And for her--how if his approach seemed a rude intrusion,
the invasion of a desolate yet still holy spot, sacrilege committed on a
ruined shrine? On the one side was Harry, or the memory of Harry,
stronger perhaps than Harry himself. On the other he himself stood,
acutely conscious of his associations for her, remembering ever the
butcher's shop, recollecting that what favour he had won had been in the
capacity of a buffer against the attack of others. How if the buffer,
forsaking its protective function, encroached on its own account?

Yet in the course of the months past they had grown into so close a
friendship, so firm an alliance. On his part there had been no wooing,
on hers neither coquetry nor sentiment displayed. To Harry Belfield
their relations to each other would have appeared extremely dull,
unpermissibly stagnant, reflecting no credit on the dash of the man or
the sensibility of the lady. Sally Dutton, suspecting Andy's hopes, had
a caustic word of praise for his patience--the sort of remark which,
repeated to Harry about himself, would have sent him straight off to a
declaration (the like had happened once by the lake at Nutley). But
through these long days, as Andy came and went on his twofold work, from
Division to business, from business to Division, they had become
wonderfully necessary to one another. For her not to expect him, for him
not to find her, would have taken as it were half the heart out of life.
Who else was there? Vivien had drawn a little nearer to that dour father
of hers, but nearness to him carried the command for self-repression,
for reticence. Andy seemed to have no other with whom to talk of himself
and his life, as even the strongest feel a craving to talk sometimes.
Perhaps there was one other ready to serve. He did not know it; she
ranked for him among the cherished friends of his lighter hours. He
craved an intimate companionship for the deeper moments, and seemed to
find it only in one place.

At his own game, his speciality, Harry Belfield could give away all the
odds, and still be a formidable opponent. The incomparable love-maker
could almost overcome his own treasons; he left such a memory, such a
pattern. Isobel loved still; Mrs. Freere was ready to come back; Lady
Lucy owned to herself that she was in danger of being very silly. Even
the Nun was in the habit of congratulating herself on a certain escape,
with the implication that the escape was an achievement. To resist him
an achievement! To forget him--what could that be? To Andy it seemed
that for any woman it must be an impossibility. In the veiled distance
of Vivien's eyes, when the talk veered towards her unfaithful lover, he
could find no dissent. Was oblivion a necessity? Here he was--in Harry's
place. Did he forget?

They let him rest--with his thoughts; they saw that the big fellow was
weary. The old Belfields conducted one another into the house; Vivien
took Sally off again with her. Only Doris Flower sat on by him, silent
too, revolving in her mind the chronicles of Meriton, the little town
with which her whim had brought her into such close touch, from which
she was not now minded wholly to separate herself. It seemed like an
anchorage in the wandering sea of her life. It offered some things very
good--a few firm friends, a sense of home, a place where she was Doris
Flower, not merely the Nun, the Quaker, or Joan of Arc. Did she wish
that it offered yet more? Ah, there she paused! She was a worker born,
as Andy himself was. No work for her lay in Meriton. Perhaps she desired
incompatibles, like many of us; being clear-eyed, she saw the
incompatibility. And she was not subjected to temptation. She was taken
at the valuation which she so carefully put on herself--the good comrade
of the lighter hours. No cause of complaint then? None! She did not cry,
she did not fall in love. She did not break her records. There is small
merit in records unless they are hard to make, and sometimes hard to
keep.

She stretched out her hand and laid it on his arm. He turned to her with
a start, roused from his weariness and his reverie.

"Dear Andy, have you learnt what we have, I wonder? Not yet, I expect!"

"What do you mean, Doris?"

"Trust in you. A certainty that you'll bring it off!" She laughed--a
little nervously. "I've a professional eye for a situation. Try for a
double victory to-morrow! Make a really fine day for yourself--one to
remember always!" She drew her hand away with another nervous laugh; her
clear soft voice had trembled.

Andy's inward feelings leapt to utterance. "Have you any notion of what
I feel? I--I'm up against him in everything! It's almost uncanny. And I
think he'll beat me in this. At least I suppose you mean--?"

"Yes, I mean that." Her voice was calm again, a little mocking. "But I
shall say no more about it."

Andy pressed her hand. "I like to have your good wishes more than
anybody's in the world," he said, "unless, perhaps, it were his, Doris.
Don't say I told you, but he grudges me the seat. He'd grudge me the
other thing worse, much worse."

"Oh, but that's quite morbid. It's all his own fault."

"Yes, I suppose so. But he's never been to you what he has to me." He
smiled. "We at Meriton still have to please Harry, and to have him
pleased with us. The old habit's very strong."

"Heavens, Andy, you wouldn't think of sacrificing yourself--and perhaps
her--to an idea like that?"

"No, that would be foolish, and wrong--as you say, morbid. But it can't
be--whatever she says to me--it can't be as if he had never existed--as
if it all hadn't happened."

"Some people feel things too little, some feel them too much," the Nun
observed. "Both bad habits!"

"I daresay the thing's a bit more than usual on my mind
to-night--because of to-morrow, you know." He was silent for a moment;
then he broke into one of his simple hearty laughs. "And I am such an
awful duffer at making love!"

"You certainly have no great natural talent for it and, as you've told
me, very little practice. Oh, I wonder how big your majority will be,
Andy!"

Andy readily turned back to the election. Yet even here the attitude she
had reproved in him seemed to persist. "I expect, as I said, about six
hundred. Harry would have got a thousand easily."

Andy escorted Vivien back to Nutley. He had it in mind to speak his
heart--at least to sound her feeling for him; but she forestalled his
opening.

"Mr. Belfield's been talking to me about Harry to-night, for the first
time. He wrote me a letter once, but he has never spoken of him before.
He was rather pathetic. Oh, Andy, why can't people think what they are
doing to other people? And poor Isobel--I'm afraid she won't be happy. I
used to feel very hard about her. I can't any more, now that the little
child has come. That seems to make it all right somehow, whatever has
happened before. At any rate she's got the best right now, hasn't she?"
She was silent a moment. "It was like this that I came home with him
that last evening. He was so gay and so kind. Then--in a flash--it
happened!"

"I've been thinking about him too to-night. It seemed natural to do
it--over this election."

They had reached Nutley, but Andy pleaded for a walk on the terrace by
the lake before she bade him good-night.

"Yes," she said, "I know what you must feel, because you loved him. I
loved him, and I feel it too. But we must neither of us think about it
too much. Because it's no use. What Mr. Belfield told me makes it quite
clear that it's no use." She spoke very sadly. They had not to do with
an accident or an episode; they had to recognise and reckon with the
nature of a man. "When once we see that it's no use, it seems to me that
there's something--well, almost something unworthy in giving way to it."
She turned round to Andy. "At least I don't want you to go on doing it.
You've made your own success. Take it whole-heartedly, Andy; don't have
any regrets, any searchings of heart."

"There may be other things besides the seat at Meriton that I should
like to take. When I search my heart, Vivien, I find you there."

Through the darkness he saw her eyes steadily fixed on his.

"I wonder, Andy, I wonder! Or is it only pity, only chivalry? Is it the
policeman again?"

"Why shouldn't it be the policeman?" he asked. "Is it nothing if you
think you could feel safe with me?"

"So much, so much!" she murmured. "Andy, I'm still angry when I
remember--still sore--and angry again with myself for being sore. I
oughtn't still to feel that."

"You'd guessed my feelings, Vivien? You're not surprised or--or
shocked?"

"I think I've known everything that has been in your heart--both about
him and about me. No, I'm not surprised or shocked. But--I wonder!" She
laughed sadly. "How perverse our hearts are--poor Harry's, and poor
mine! And how unlucky we two should have hit on one another! That for
him it should be so easy, and for me so sadly difficult!"

"I won't ask you my question to-night," said Andy.

"No, don't to-night." She laid her hand on his arm. "But you won't go
away altogether, will you, Andy? You won't be sensible and firm, and
tell me that you can't be at my beck and call, and that you won't be
kept dangling about, and that if I'm a silly girl who doesn't know her
own luck I must take the consequences? You'll go on being the old Andy
we all know, who never makes any claims, who puts up with everybody's
whims, who always expects to come last?" Her voice trembled as she
laughed. "You won't upset all my notions of you, because you've become a
great man now, will you, Andy?"

"I don't quite recognise myself in the picture," said Andy with a laugh.
"I thought I generally stood up for myself pretty well. But, anyhow,
I've no intention of going away. I shall be there when--I mean if--you
want me."

She gave him her hand; he gripped it warmly. "You're--you're not very
disappointed, Andy? Oh, I hate to cloud your day of triumph to-morrow!"
Her voice rose a little, a note almost of despair in it. "But I can't
help it! The old thing isn't gone yet, and, till it is, I can do
nothing."

Andy raised the hand he held to his lips and kissed it lightly. "I see
that I'm asking for an even bigger thing than I thought," he said
gently. "Don't worry, and don't hurry, my dear. I can wait. Perhaps it's
too big for me to get at all. You'll tell me about that at your own
time."

They began to walk back towards the house, and presently came under the
light of the lamp over the hall door. Her face now wore a troubled
smile, amused yet sad. How obstinate that memory was! It was here that
Harry had given her his last kiss--here that, only a few minutes later,
she had seen him for the last time, and Isobel Vintry with him! Their
phantoms rose before her eyes--and the angry shape of her father was
there too, denouncing their crime, pronouncing by the same words
sentence of death on the young happiness of her heart.

"Good-night, Andy," she said softly. "And a great triumph to-morrow.
Over a thousand!"

A great triumph to-morrow, maybe. There was no great triumph to-night,
only a long hard-fought battle--the last fight in that strangely-fated
antagonism. Verily the enemy was on his own ground here. With everything
against him, he was still dangerous, he was not yet put to the rout. The
flag of the citadel was not yet dipped, the gates not opened, allegiance
not transferred.

Andy Hayes squared his shoulders for this last fight--with good courage
and with a single mind. The revelation she had made of her heart moved
him to the battle. It was a great love which Harry had so lightly taken
and so lightly flung away. It was worth a long and a great struggle. And
he could now enter on it with no searchings of his own heart. As he
mused over her words, the appeal of memory--of old loyalty and
friendship grew fainter. Harry had won all that, and thrown all that
away--had been so insensible to what it really was, to what it meant,
and what it offered. New and cogent proof indeed that he was "no good."
The depths of Vivien's love made mean the shallows of his nature. He
must go his ways; Andy would go his--from to-morrow. With sorrow, but
now with clear conviction, he turned away from his broken idol. From the
lips of the girl who could not forget his love had come Harry's final
condemnation. The spell was broken for Andy Hayes; he was resolute that
he would break it from the heart of Vivien. Loyalty should no more be
for the disloyal, or faith for the faithless. There too Andy would come
by his own--and now with no remorse. At last the spell was broken.

But no double victory to-morrow! The loved antagonist retreated slowly,
showing fight. The next day gave Andy a victory indeed, but did not
yield the situation which the Nun's professional eye had craved for its
satisfaction.



Chapter XXVI.

TALES OUT OF SCHOOL FOR ONCE.


The inner circle of Andy Hayes' friends, who were gradually accustoming
themselves to see him described as Mr. Andrew Hayes, M.P., included some
of a sportive, or even malicious, turn of wit. It cannot be denied that
to these the spectacle of Andy's wooing--it never occurred to him to
conceal his suit--presented some material for amusement. All through his
career, even after he had mounted to eminences great and imposing, it
was his fate to bring smiles to the lips even of those who admired,
supported, and followed him. To the comic papers, in those later days
when the Press took account of him, he was always a slow man, almost a
stupid man, inclined to charge a brick wall when he might walk round it,
yet, when he charged, knocking a hole big enough to get through. For the
cartoonists--when greatness bred cartoons, as by one of the world's
kindly counterbalances it does--he was always stouter in body and more
stolid in countenance than a faithful photograph would have recorded
him. The idea of him thus presented did him no harm in the public mind.
That a career is open to talent is a fact consolatory only to a
minority; flatter mere common-sense with the same prospect, and every
man feels himself fit for the Bench--of Judges, Bishops, or Ministers.

But as a lover--a wooer? Passion, impetuosity, a total absorption, great
eloquence in few words, the eyes beating the words in persuasion--such
seemed, roughly, the requisites, as learnt by those who had sat at Harry
Belfield's feet and marked his practical expositions of the subject.
Andy was neither passionate nor eloquent, not even in glances. Nor was
he absorbed. Gilbert Foot and Co. from nine-thirty to two-thirty: the
House from two-thirty to eleven, with what Gilly contemptuously termed
"stoking" slipped in anywhere: there was hardly time for real
absorption. He was as hard-worked as Mr. Freere himself, and, had he
married Mrs. Freere, would probably have made little better success of
it. He was not trying to marry Mrs. Freere; but he was trying to win a
girl who had listened to wonderful words from Harry Belfield's lips and
suffered the persuasion of Harry Belfield's eyes.

In varying fashion his friends made their jesting comments, with
affection always at the back of the joke; nay more, with a confidence
that the efforts they derided would succeed in face of their
derision--like the comic papers of future days.

"He wants to marry, so he must make love; but I believe he hates it all
the time," said the Nun compassionately.

"That shows his sense," remarked Sally Dutton.

"He's a natural monogamist," opined Billy Foot, "and no natural
monogamist knows anything about making love."

"He ought to have been born married," Gilly yawned, "just as I ought to
have been born retired from business."

Mrs. Billy (_née_ Amaranth Macquart-Smith) was also of the party. Among
these sallies she spread the new-fledged wings of her wit rather
timidly. To say the truth, she was not witty, but felt bound to try--a
case somewhat parallel to his at whom her shaft was aimed. She was liked
well enough in the circle, yet would hardly have entered it without
Billy's passport.

"He waits to be accepted," she complained, "as a girl waits to be
asked."

"Used to!" briefly corrected Miss Dutton.

Billy Foot cut deeper into the case. "He's never imagined before that he
could have a chance against Harry. He's got the idea now, but it takes
time to sink in."

"Harry's out of it anyhow," drawled Gilly.

"Out of what?" asked the Nun.

Billy's nod acknowledged the import of the question. Out of reason, out
of possibility, out of bounds! Not out of memory, of echo, of the mirror
of things not to be forgotten.

"He still thinks he can't compete with Harry," she went on, "and he's
right as far as this game is concerned. But he'll win just by not
competing. To be utterly different is his chance." With a glance round
the table, she appealed to their experience. "Nobody ever begins by
choosing Andy--well, except Jack Rock perhaps, and that was to be a
butcher! But he ends by being indispensable."

"You all like him," said Amaranth. "And yet you all give the impression
that he's terribly dull!" Her voice complained of an enigma.

"Well, don't you know, what would a fellow do without him?" asked Gilly,
looking up from his _paté_.

"Gilly has an enormous respect for him. He's shamed him into working,"
Billy explained to his wife.

"That's it, by Jove!" Gilly acknowledged sadly. "And the worst of it is,
work pays! Pays horribly well! We're getting rich. I've got to go on
with it." He winked a leisurely moving eyelid at the Nun. "I wish the
deuce I'd never met the fellow!"

"I must admit he points the moral a bit too well," Billy confessed. "But
I'm glad to say we have Harry to fall back upon. I met Harry in the
street the other day, and he was absolutely radiant."

"Who is she?" asked Sally Dutton.

"Not a bit, Sally! He's just given up Lady Lucy. Going straight again,
don't you know? Off to the seaside with his wife and kid."

"How long has Lady Lucy lasted?" asked Gilly.

The Nun gurgled. "I should like to have that set to music," she
explained. "The alliteration is effective, Gilly, and I would give it a
pleasing lilt."

"I don't wish to hear you sing it," said Billy, in a voice none too
loud. Amaranth was looking about the room, and an implied reference to
bygones was harmlessly agreeable.

"With his wife and his kid, to the Bedford at Brighton," Billy
continued, after his aside. "From something he let fall, I gathered that
the Freeres were going to be at the Norfolk."

Amaranth did not see the point. "I don't know the Freeres," she
remarked.

"We do," said Gilly. "In fact we're in the habit of turning them to the
uses of allegory, Amaranth. I may say that we are coming to regard Mrs.
Freere as a comparative reformation--as the irreducible minimum. If only
Harry wouldn't wander from Freere's wife!"

"But the man's got a wife of his own!" cried Amaranth.

"Yes, but we're dealing with practical possibilities," Gilly insisted.
"And, from that point of view, his own wife really doesn't count."

"And yet Vivien Wellgood--!" The Nun relapsed into a silence which was
meant to express bewilderment, though she was not bewildered, having too
keen a memory of her own achievement.

"Oh, you really understand it better than that, Doris," said Billy.
"Harry can make it seem a tremendous thing--while it lasts. Andy's fault
is that he never makes things seem tremendous. He just makes them seem
natural. His way is safer; it takes longer, but it lasts longer too.
Neither of them is the ideal man, you know. Andy wants an occasional
hour of Harry--"

"Dangerously long!" the Nun opined.

"And Harry ought to have seven years' penal servitude of Andy. Then you
might achieve the perfectly balanced individual."

"I think you're perfectly balanced, dear," said Amaranth, and thereby
threw her husband into sorest confusion, and the rest of the company
into uncontrolled mirth. Moreover the Nun must needs add, with her most
innocent expression, "Just what I've always found him, Amaranth!"

"Oh, hang it--when I was trying to talk sense!" poor Billy expostulated.

His bride's remark--admirably bridal in character--choked Billy's
philosophising in its hour of birth. The trend of the conversation was
diverted, the picture of the perfectly balanced man never painted. Else
there might have emerged the interesting and agreeable paradox that the
perfectly balanced man was he who knew when to lose his balance, when to
kick the scales away for an hour, when to stop thinking of anybody
except himself, when to sink consideration in urgency, pity in desire,
affection in love. All this, of course, only for an hour--and in the
right company. It must be allowed that the perfect balance is a rare
phenomenon.

Isobel Vintry had not sought it; it is to her credit that she refrained
from accusing fate because she had not found what she did not seek.
Forgiving Harry over the Lady Lucy episode--his penitence was
irresistibly sincere--and accepting Mrs. Freere as an orderly and
ordinary background to married life, almost a friend, certainly an ally
(for Mrs. Freere was now, as ever, a prudent woman), she recalled the
courage that had made her a fit preceptress for Vivien, and Wellgood's
ideal woman. She saw the trick her heart had played her, and knew--with
Harry himself--that hearts would always be playing tricks. The poacher
was made keeper, but the poaching did not stop. The thief was robbed,
the raider raided. All a very pretty piece of poetical justice--with the
unusual characteristic of being quite commonplace, an everyday affair,
no matter of melodrama, but just what constantly happens.

She and Wellgood had so often agreed that Vivien must be trained to face
the rubs of life, its ups and downs, its rough and smooth; timidity and
fastidiousness were out of place in a world like this. The two had
taught the lesson to an unwilling pupil; they themselves had now to
aspire to a greater aptitude in learning it. Wellgood conned his lesson
ill. The gospel of anti-sentimentality fits other people's woes better
than a man's own; his seem so real as to defeat the application of the
doctrine. The first and loudest to proclaim that no man or woman is to
be trusted, that he who does not suspect invites deception and has
himself to thank if he is duped--that is the man who nurses bitterest
wrath over the proving of his own theories. Aghast at having yourself
the honour of proving your own theories! The world does funny things
with us. To be taken at your word like that; really to find people about
you as bad as you have declared humanity at large to be; to stumble and
break your knees over a justification of your cynicism--it would seem a
thing that should meet with acquiescence, perhaps even with a sombre
satisfaction. Yet it does not happen so. The optimist fares better; he
falls from a higher chair but on to a thicker carpet; and he himself is
far more elastic. "With what measure you mete, it shall be measured to
you again." Hard measure for hard people seems to fulfil the saying, and
is not a just occasion for grumbling--even for internal grumbling, which
is the hard man's only resource, since he has accustomed sympathy and
confidence to hide their faces from his ridicule, and their tender hands
to shrink from the grip of his contempt.

Isobel Belfield possessed just what Isobel Vintry had stolen. Neither
Church nor State, no, nor the more primitive sanction of the birth of a
son, availed to give a higher validity to her title. In rebuking
inconstancy she was out of court; she was estopped, as the lawyers call
it. How could she refuse to forgive the thing which alone gave her the
right to be aggrieved? Her possession was tainted in its origin. Or was
she to arrogate to herself the privilege of being the only thief? Harry
Belfield confessed new crimes to an old accomplice; severity would have
merited a smile. Stolen kisses acknowledged recalled stolen kisses that
had been a secret. Condemned by the tribunal of the present, Harry's
offences appealed to the past. "See yourself as Vivien--see her (Lady
Lucy, Mrs. Freere, or another) as yourself!" Harry's deprecatory smile
seemed to threaten some such disarming suggestion. Church and State and
the little boy might say, "There's all the difference!" Neither State
nor Church nor little boy could deafen the echo of Wellgood's
denunciation or blur the image of Vivien's stricken face. They were a
pair of thieves; the court of conscience would not listen to her plea if
she complained of an unfair division of the plunder. Hands held up in
petition for justice must be clean--an old doctrine of equity; an
account will not be taken between two highwaymen on Hounslow Heath.

Origins are obstinate, leaving marks whatever variations time may bring.
She had begun as one of two--and not the legitimate one. She was to be
one of two always, so it appeared, through all the years until the Nun's
pitiless vision worked itself out, and even Harry Belfield ceased to
suffer new passions--or, at least, to inspire them; perhaps the latter
ending of the matter was the more likely.

He did nothing else than suffer passions and inspire them; that was the
hardest rub. Where was the brilliant career? Where the great success of
which Vivien had been wont to talk shyly? Isobel was a woman of hard
mettle, of high ambition. She could have endured to be official queen,
though queens unofficial came and went. But there was to be no kingdom!
There was abdication of all realms save Harry's own. He grew more and
more contented to specialise there. Irregularity in private conduct is
partially condoned in useful men; as a discreetly hidden diversion, it
is left to another jurisdiction--_deorum injuriae dis curae_--but as the
occupation of a life? The widest stretch of philosophic contemplation of
the whole is demanded to excuse or to justify.

He made a strange thing of her life--a restless, unpeaceful,
interesting, and unhappy thing. The old idea of reigning at Nutley, of
skilfully managing stubborn Wellgood, of the seeming submission that was
really rule (perhaps woman's commonest conception of triumph), did not
serve the turn of this life. It was stranger work--living with Harry!
Being so well treated--and so well deceived! So courted and so flouted!
The change was violent from the days when Vivien's companion stole
kisses that belonged to her unsuspecting charge. A pretty irony to find
herself on the defensive! A prettier, perhaps, to see her best resource
in an alliance with Mrs. Freere! But it came to that. Never in words, of
course--tacitly, in lifted brows and shoulders shrugged. So long as
there was nobody except Mrs. Freere--so long as there was nobody besides
his wife--things were not very wrong for the allies. A sense of security
regained, precariously regained--a current of silent but mutual
congratulations--ran between the Bedford and the Norfolk hotels at
Brighton when Lady Lucy had received her _congé_. Harry's degrees of
penitence and of confession at the two houses of entertainment must
remain uncertain; at both he was no doubt possessed by the determination
to lead a new life; he had been possessed by that when first he heard
the potent voice calling him to Meriton.

Harry Belfield--the admired Harry of so many hopes--was in process of
becoming a joke! It was the worst fate of all; yet what other refuge had
the despair of his friends? Even to condemn with gravity was difficult;
gravity seemed to accuse its wearer of making too much of the
ridiculous--which was to be ridiculous himself. In old days they had
laughed at Harry's love affairs as at his foible; he seemed all foible
now--there was nothing else. His life and its possibilities had narrowed
and dwindled down to that. Billy Foot had tried to be serious on the
subject. What was the use, when there was only one question to be asked
about him--who was the latest woman? An atmosphere of ridicule, kindly,
tender, infinitely regretful, yet still ridicule, enveloped the figure
of him who once had been a hero. This was a different quality of jest
from that which found its occasion in Andy Hayes' patient wooing. Andy
could afford to be patient; once again his opponent was doing his work
for him.

Spring saw the Nun installed in a hired house of her own at Meriton,
Seymour being kept busy conveying her to and fro between her new home
and London, as and when the claims of her profession called her. But
Sunday was always marked by a gathering of friends--the Foots if they
were at Halton, Andy, Vivien Wellgood from Nutley; often Belfield would
drop in to see the younger folk. Jack Rock had his audiences to himself,
for he sturdily refused to intrude on his "betters"--aye, even though
his sign was down, though the National, Colonial, and International
Purveyors reigned in his stead, though the Member for the Division
occupied rooms in his house. To Jack life seemed to have done two
wonderful things for him--one was the rise and triumph of Andy; the
other was his friendship with Miss Doris Flower. He was, in fact,
hopelessly in love with that young lady; the Nun was quite aware of it
and returned his affection heartily. Jack delighted to sit with her, to
look and listen, and sometimes to talk of Andy--of all that he had done,
of all that he was going to do. Jack's hard-working, honest, and, it may
be added, astute life was crowned by a very gracious evening.

The Nun's new home stood in High Street, with a pretty little front
garden, where she loved to sit and survey the doings of the town, even
as had been her wont from her window at the Lion. Here she was one
morning, and Jack Rock with her. She lay stretched on a long chair, with
her tiny feet protruding from her white frock, her hair gleaming in the
sun, her eyes looking at Jack with a merry affection.

"You do make a picture, miss; you fair do make a picture!" said Jack.

"Don't flirt, Jack," said the Nun in grave rebuke. "You ought to know by
now that I don't go in for flirtation, and I can't let even you break
the rules. Though I confess at once that you tempt me very much, because
you do it so nicely. It's funny, Jack, that both you and I should have
chosen the single life, isn't it?"

Jack shook his head reproachfully. "Ah, miss, that's where you're wrong!
I'm not sayin' anythin' against Miss Vivien--she's a sweet young lady."

"What has Vivien got to do with single lives?"

"Well, miss, no offence, I hope? But if it had been so as you'd laid
yourself out--so to speak--for Andy."

The Nun blushed just a little, and laughed just a little also. "Oh,
that's your idea, Jack? You are a schemer!"

"I've got nothin' to say against Miss Vivien. But I wish it had been
you, miss," Jack persisted.

"Oh, Jack, wouldn't you have been jealous? Do say you'd have been
jealous!"

"Keepin' him waitin' too the way she does!" Jack's voice grew rather
indignant. "It don't look to me as if she put a proper value on him,
miss."

"Perhaps you're just a little bit partial to Andy?" the Nun suggested.

"And not a proper value on herself either, if she's still hankerin'
after Mr. Harry. Him as is after half the women in London, if you can
trust all you hear."

The Nun's face was towards the street, Jack's back towards it. The
garden gate was open.

"Hush!" said the Nun softly. "Here comes Vivien!"

Poor old Jack was no diplomatist. He sprang to his feet, red as a turkey
cock, and turned round to find Vivien at his elbow.

"I--I beg your pardon, miss," he stammered, rushing at the conclusion
that she had overheard.

Vivien looked at him in amused surprise. "But what's the matter, Mr.
Rock? Why, I believe you must have been talking about me!" She looked at
the Nun. "Was he?" she asked merrily.

"I don't know that it's much good trying to deny it, is it, Jack?"

Jack was terribly ashamed of himself. "It wasn't my place to do it. I
beg your pardon, miss." He stooped and picked up his hat, which he had
taken off and laid on the ground by him. "Miss Flower's too kind to me,
miss. She makes me forget my place--and my manners."

Vivien held out her hand to him; she was grave now. "But we're all so
fond of you, Mr. Rock. And I'm sure you weren't saying anything unkind
about me. Was he, Doris?"

Jack took her hand. "It wasn't my place to do it. I ask your pardon."
Then he turned to the Nun. "You'll excuse me, miss?"

The Nun smiled radiantly at him. "I hate your going, Jack. Perhaps you'd
better, though. Only don't be unhappy. There's no harm done, you know."

Jack shook his head again sadly, then put his hat on it with a rueful
air. He regarded Vivien for a moment with a ponderous sorrow, lifted his
hat again, shook his head again, and walked out of the garden. The Nun
gave a short gurgle, and then regained a serene and silent composure. It
was most certainly a case for allowing the other side to take first
innings! Vivien sat down in the seat that Jack had vacated in such sad
confusion.

"It was about--Harry?" she asked slowly. "You all hear and know! I hear
nothing, I know nothing. Nobody mentions him to me. Not Andy, not my
father any more. Mr. Belfield said a word or two once--not happy words.
Except for that--well, he might be dead! I don't see the use of treating
me like that. I think I've a right to know."

"What Jack said was more about you really. There's no fresh news about
Harry."

While saying these words, the Nun allowed her look at Vivien to be very
direct. "You must accept that as final," the look seemed to say.

"Lots of men, good men, make a mistake, one mistake, about things like
that. He'll be all right now--with his boy."

"He's had a love affair, repented of it--and probably started another
since that event. The child, if I remember, is about five months old."
Still with her gaze direct, the Nun laughed. Vivien flushed. "There's no
other way to take it," the Nun assured her.

Vivien spoke low; her cheeks red, her eyes dim. "I gave him all my
heart, oh, so readily--and such trust! Doris, did he ever make love to
you?"

"As a general rule I don't tell tales. In this case I feel free to say
that he did."

Vivien's smile was woeful. "What, he wanted to marry you too once?"

"Oh no, he never wanted to marry me, Vivien."

It was drastic treatment--and the doctor paid for it as well as the
patient.

"But you went on being friends with him!"

"I became friends with him again--presently," the Nun corrected. "I
suppose I don't come well out of it, according to your views. I know the
difference there is between us in that way. Look at your life and mine!
That's bound to make a difference. Besides, it would have been taking
him much too seriously."

"I think you're rather hard, Doris."

"Thank God, I am, my dear! I need it."

"It's a terrible thing to make the mistake I did."

"It's worse to go on with it."

"I should have liked to go on with it. I feel as people must who've lost
their religion."

"Is that so sad, if the religion is proved not to be true?"

"Yes, terribly sad." Vivien's back was to the street. She wept silently;
none saw her tears save Doris. "I thought I had lost everything. It's
worse to find that you never had anything, and have lost nothing."

"It's good to find that out, when it's true," Doris persisted stoutly.
"But I hope he won't happen on any more girls like you. With the proper
people--his Mrs. Freeres and Lady Lucies--the thing's a farce. That's
all right!"

Her bitter ridicule pierced the armour of Vivien's recollection. With
the proper people it was all a farce. She had taken it as a tragedy. Her
tears ceased to flow, but her colour came hot again.

"I don't know anything about those women--I never heard their names--but
he seems to have insulted me almost as much as he insulted you."

The Nun was relentless. "In both cases he considered, and still
considers, that he paid a very high compliment. And he'll find lots of
women to agree with him."

"Doris, be kind to me. I've nobody else!"

"The Lord forgive you for saying so! You've the luck of one girl in ten
thousand." Now the Nun's colour grew a little hot; she raised herself on
her elbow. "Here are your two men. One's going to lead a big life, while
the other's chasing petticoats!"

"You think the world of Andy, don't you, Doris?"

"I'd think the universe of him if he'd give you a shaking."

Vivien smiled, rose, came to the Nun, and kissed her. The Nun's lips
quivered. "He's coming down at the end of the week," said Vivien. Her
voice fell to a whisper. "He's not quite so patient as you think." With
another kiss she was swiftly gone.

The Nun sat on, gazing at Meriton High Street. Sally Dutton came out of
the house and regarded the same prospect with an air of criticism or
even of disfavour.

"I think it's all coming right about Vivien and Andy," the Nun remarked.

Sally turned her critical eyes on her friend. "Have you been helping?"

"Just a little bit perhaps, Sally." She paused a moment. "I shall be
rather glad to have it settled."

The motor-car drew up at the door.

"You'll not have more than enough time for lunch before your matinée,
Miss Flower," Seymour observed, with his usual indifferent air. Not his
business whether she were in time, but he might as well mention the
matter!

"My hat and cloak!" cried the Nun, springing up. She took Sally's arm
and ran her into the house with her. "Hurrah for work, Sally!"

Suddenly Sally threw her arms round her friend's neck and exclaimed,
with something very like a sob, "Oh, my darling, if only you could have
everything you want!"

The Nun's lips quivered again; her bright eyes were a little dim. "But,
Sally dear, I never fall in love!"

Miss Dutton relapsed, with equal abruptness, into her habitual
demeanour.

"Well, he's a man--and a fool like all the rest of them!" she remarked.

The Nun gurgled. A record was saved--at the last moment. Because she did
not cry--any more than she fell in love.

The Nun came out, equipped for the journey. She was smiling still. "Do I
look all right, Seymour?"

"At the best of your looks, if I may say so, Miss Flower."

"Thank you very much, Seymour. Get in with you, Sally! You are a slow
girl, always!"

She pressed Sally's hand as the car started. "Much better like this,
really. I have always Seymour's admiration."

His name caught Seymour's ear. "I beg your pardon, Miss Flower?"

"I only said you were an admirable driver, Seymour."

"Naturally I drive carefully when you're in the car, Miss Flower."

"There!" said the Nun triumphantly. "I told you so, Sally!"



Chapter XXVII.

NOT OF HIS SEEKING.


Andy Hayes' _début_ in the House of Commons was not, of course,
sensational; very few members witnessed it, and nobody outside took the
smallest heed of it. Moreover, like other beginnings of his, it was
unpremeditated, in a manner forced upon him. He had not intended to
speak that afternoon, or indeed at all in his first session, but in
Committee one day an honourable gentleman opposite went so glaringly
astray as to the prices ruling for bacon in Wiltshire in the year
nineteen hundred and something--which Andy considered a salient epoch in
the chequered history of his pet commodity--that he was on his feet
before he knew what he was doing, and set the matter right, adding
illustrative figures for the year before and the year after, with a
modestly worded forecast of the run of prices for the current year.
Engrossed in the subject, he remembered that the House was a formidable
place only after he had sat down; then he hurried home to his books,
found that his figures were correct, and heaved a sigh of satisfaction.
It was no small thing to get his maiden speech made without meaning to
make it--and to find the figures correct! He attempted nothing more that
session. He only listened. But how he listened! A man might talk the
greatest nonsense, yet Andy's steady eyes would be on him, and Andy's
big head untiringly poised at attention. What was the use of listening
to so much nonsense? Well, first you had to be sure it was nonsense;
then to see why it was nonsense; thirdly, to see how, being nonsense, it
was received; fourthly, to revolve how it should be exposed. There were
even other things that Andy found to ponder over in all the nonsense to
which he listened--and many more, of course, in the sense.

But even Andy took a holiday from public affairs sometimes, nay more,
sometimes from the fortunes of Gilbert Foot and Co. He was in the office
this morning--the Saturday before Whitsunday--finishing up some odd jobs
which his partner had left to him (Gilly had still a trick of doing
that), but his thoughts were on Meriton, whither he was to repair in the
afternoon. As he mused on Meriton, he slowly shook the big head, thereby
indicating not despair or even despondency, but a recognition that he
was engaged on rather a difficult job, perhaps on a game that he was not
very good at, but which had to be won all the same. This particular game
certainly had to be won; his whole heart was in it. Yet now he was
accusing himself of a mistake; he had been impatient--impatient that
Vivien should still be less than happy, that she should still dwell in
gloom with gloomy Wellgood, that she would not yet come into the
sunshine. Well, he would put the mistake right that very day, for Vivien
was to lunch with him, attended by the Nun, with whom she had been
spending a night or two in town; and then the three of them were to go
to Meriton in the motor-car together. The Nun was not singing at this
time.

"I must go slow," concluded Andy, whose friends were already smiling at
the deliberate gait with which he trod the path of love. "Hullo, there's
an hour before lunch! I may as well finish some of these accounts for
Gilly."

This satisfaction he was not destined to enjoy. He was interrupted by a
visitor.

Harry Belfield came in, really a vision to gladden an artist's eyes, in
a summer suit of palest homespun--he affected that material--with his
usual blue tie unusually bright--shirt and socks to match; a dazzlingly
white panama hat crowned his wavy dark locks. He looked immensely
handsome, and he was gay, happy, and affectionate.

"Thought I might just find you, old chap, because you're always mugging
when everybody else is having a holiday. Look here, I want you to do
something for me, or rather for Isobel. I'm off yachting for three or
four months--rather a jolly party--and Isobel's going to take a house in
the country for herself and the boy. She doesn't know much about that
sort of business, and I wanted to ask you to let her consult you about
the terms, and so on, to see she's not done, you know. That'll be all
right, won't it? Because I really haven't time to look after it."

"Of course. Anything I can do--please tell her. She's not going with
you?"

"No," said Harry, putting his foot on the table and regarding it fondly,
as he had at a previous interview in Andy's office. "No, not this trip,
Andy. She doesn't care much for the sea." The slightest smile flickered
on his lips. "Besides, it's 'Men only' on board." The smile broadened a
little. "At least we're going to start that way, and they're taking
me--a respectable married man--along with them to help them to keep
their good resolutions. Well, old boy, how do you like it in the House?
I haven't observed many orations put down to you!"

"I've only spoken once--hardly a speech. But I'm working pretty well at
it."

"I'll bet you are! And at it here too, I suppose? Lazy beggar, Gilly
Foot!"

"Gilly's woken up wonderfully. You'd hardly know him."

Harry yawned. "Well, I'm wanting a rest," he said. "I've had one or two
worries lately. Oh, it's all over now, but I shall be glad to get away
for a bit. By Jove, Andy, the great thing in life is to be able to go
where you like, and when you like"--his smile flashed out again--"and
with whom you like, isn't it? Are you off anywhere for Whitsuntide?"

"Only down to Meriton."

"Quiet!" But Harry had not always found it so; it was the quieter for
his absence.

"I like being there better than anywhere else," was Andy's simple
explanation of his movements.

A clerk came in and handed him a card. "I told the lady you had somebody
with you, and asked her to take a seat in the outer room for a moment."

Andy read the card. "I'll ring," he said absently, and looked across at
Harry.

"Lady? Eminent authoress? Or is this not business? Have her in--don't
hide her, Andy!"

"It's Vivien Wellgood."

Harry turned his head sharply. "What brings her here?"

"I don't know. I was to meet her and Doris Flower for lunch, and go down
with them to Meriton afterwards. Perhaps something's happened to stop
it, and she's come to tell me."

A curious smile adorned Harry's handsome features. He looked doubtful,
yet decidedly interested.

"I'd better go out and see her," said Andy. "I mustn't keep her
waiting."

Harry broke into a laugh, half of amusement, half of impatience. "You
needn't look so infernally solemn over it! It won't kill her to bow to
me--or even to shake hands."

Andy came to a sudden resolution. Since chance willed it this way, this
way it should be.

"As you please!" he said, and rang the bell.

Harry rose to his feet, and took off the panama hat, which he had kept
on during his talk with Andy. His eyes were bright; the smile flickered
again on his lips. He had not seen Vivien since that night--and that
night seemed a very long way off to Harry Belfield.

In the brief space before the door reopened, a vision danced before
Andy's eyes--a vision of Curly the retriever, and of a girl standing
motionless in fear, and yet, because he was there, not so much afraid.
In his mind was the idea which had suddenly taken shape under the
impulsion of chance--that she had better face the present than dream of
the past, better see the man who was nothing to her, than pore over the
memory of him who had been everything. She might--nay, probably
would--resent an encounter thus sprung upon her. Andy knew it; in this
moment, with the choice suddenly presented, he chose to act for himself.
Perhaps, for once in his life, he yielded to a sort of superstition, a
feeling that the chance was not for nothing, that they three would not
meet together again without result. Mingled with this was anger that
Harry should take the encounter with his airy lightness, that his eyes
should be bright and his lips bent in a smile. Andy was ready for the
last round of the fight--and ready to take his chance. Suddenly under
the pressure of his thoughts--perforce, as it were--he spoke out to
Harry.

"None of this has been of my seeking," he said.

"None of what? What do you mean, old fellow?"

There was no time for answer. Vivien was in the room, and the clerk
closed the door after she had entered.

She stood for a moment on the threshold and then moved quickly to Andy's
side.

"I knew," she said. "I heard your voices."

"I'm just going," said Harry. "I won't interrupt you. I had a hope that
you wouldn't mind just shaking hands with an old friend. I should like
it--awfully!" His smile now was pleading, propitiatory, yet with the
lurking hint that there was sentimental interest in the situation;
possibly, though he could not be convicted of this idea--it was too
elusively suggested--that there was, after all, a dash of the amusing.

She paused long on her answer. At last she spoke quietly, in a friendly
voice. "Yes, I'll shake hands with you, Harry. Because it's all over."
She smiled faintly. "I'll shake hands with you if Andy will let me."

"If Andy--?"

"Yes; because my hand belongs to him now. I came here to tell him so
this morning." She passed her left arm through Andy's and held out her
right hand towards Harry. Her lips quivered as she looked up for a
moment at Andy's face. He patted her hand gently, but his eyes were set
on Harry Belfield.

The hand she offered Harry did not take. He stretched out his for his
hat, and picked it up from the table in a shaking grip. The smile had
gone from his lips; his eyes were heavy and resentful; he found no more
eloquent, appropriate words.

"Oh, so that's it?" he said with a sullen sneer.

"It's none of it been of my seeking," Andy protested again. In this last
moment of the fight the old feeling came strong upon him. He pleaded
that he had been loyal to Harry, that he was no usurper; it had never
been in his mind.

Harry stood in silence, fingering his hat. He cast a glance across at
them--where they stood opposite to him, side by side, her arm in Andy's.
Very fresh across his memory struck the look on her face--the trustful
happiness which had followed on the tremulous joy evoked by his
wonderful words. It was not his nor for him any more, that look. He
hated that it should be Andy's. He gave the old impatient protesting
shrug of his shoulders. What other comment was there to make? He was
what he was--and these things happened! The Restless Master plays these
disconcerting tricks on his devoted servants.

"Well, good-bye," he mumbled.

"Good-bye, Harry," said both, she in her clear soft voice, Andy in his
weightier note, both with a grave pity which recognised, even as did his
shrug of the shoulders, that there was no more to be said. It was just
good-bye, just a parting of the ways, a severing of lives. Even good
wishes would have seemed a mockery; from neither side were they offered.

With one more look, another slightest shrug, Harry Belfield turned his
back on them. They stood without moving till the door closed behind him.

He was gone. Andy gave a deep sigh and dropped into the arm-chair by his
office desk. Vivien bent over him, her hand on his shoulder.

"Why did you let me meet him, Andy?"

Andy was long in answering. He was revolving the processes of his own
mind, the impulse under which he had acted, why he had exposed her to
such an ordeal as had once been in the day's work at Nutley.

"It was a chance, your coming while he was here, we three being here
together. But since it happened like that"--he raised his eyes to
hers--"well, I just thought that neither of us ought to funk him." The
utterance seemed a simple result of so much cogitation.

But Vivien laughed softly as she daintily and daringly laid her hand on
Andy's big head.

"If I 'funked him' still, I shouldn't have come at all," she said. "I
think I'm just getting to know something about you, Andy. You're like
some big thing in a dim light; one only sees you very gradually. I used
to think of you as fetching and carrying, you know."

Andy chuckled contentedly. "You thought about right," he said. "That's
what I'm always doing, just what I'm fit for. I shall go on doing it all
my life, fetching and carrying for you."

"Not only for me, I think. For everybody; perhaps even for the
nation--for the world, Andy!"

He caught the little hand that was playing over his broad brow. "For you
first. As for the rest of it--!" He broke into a laugh. "I say, Vivien,
the first time I saw you I was following the hounds on foot! That's all
I can do. The hunt gets out of sight, but sometimes you can tell where
it's going. That's about my form. Now if I was a clever chap like
Harry!"

With a laugh that was half a sob she kissed his upturned face. "Keep me
safe, keep me safe, Andy!" she whispered.

Andy slowly rose to his feet, and, turning, faced her. He took her hands
in his. "By Jove, you kissed me! You kissed me, Vivien!"

She laughed merrily. "Well, of course I did! Isn't it--usual?"

Andy smiled. "If things like that are going to be usual--well, life's
looking a bit different!" he said.

Suddenly there were wild sounds in the outer office--a door slammed, a
furious sweet voice, a swish of skirts. The door of the inner office
flew open.

"What about lunch?" demanded the Nun accusingly.

"I'd forgotten it!" Vivien exclaimed.

"So had I, but I'm awfully hungry, now I come to think of it," said
Andy. "The usual place?"

"No," said the Nun. "Somewhere else. Harry's there--lunching alone! The
first time I ever saw him do that!" She looked at the pair of them. Her
remark seemed not to make the least impression. It did not matter where
or how Harry Belfield lunched. She looked again from Vivien to Andy,
from Andy to Vivien.

"Oh!" she said.

"Yes, Doris," said Vivien meekly.

The Nun addressed Andy severely. "Mrs. Belfield will consider that
you're marrying above your station, Andy."

Andy scratched his big head. "Yes, Doris, and she'll be quite right," he
said apologetically. "Of course she will! But a fellow can only--well,
take things as they come." He broke into his hearty laugh. "What'll old
Jack say?"

The Nun knew what old Jack would say--very privately. "I wish it had
been you, miss!" But she had no envy in her heart.

"For people who do fall in love, it must be rather pleasant," she
observed.

"The worst of it is, I've got so little time," said Andy.

The two girls laughed. "I only want you to have time to be in love with
one girl," Vivien explained reassuringly.

"And, perhaps, just friends with another," the Nun added.

Andy joined in the laughter. "I shall fit those two things in all
right!" he declared.

The afternoon saw them back at Meriton; it was there that Andy Hayes
truly tasted the flavour of his good fortune. There the winning of
Vivien seemed no isolated achievement, not a bit of luck standing by
itself, but the master-knot among the many ties that now bound him to
his home. The old bonds held; the new came. In the greetings of friends
of every degree--from Chinks, the Bird, and Miss Miles, up to the great
Lord Meriton himself--in Wellgood's hard and curt, yet ready and in
truth triumphant, endorsement of an arrangement that banned the very
thought of the man he hated, in old Jack's satisfaction in the vision of
Andy in due time reigning at Nutley itself (his bit of sentiment about
the Nun was almost swallowed up in this)--most of all perhaps in
Belfield's cordial yet sad acceptance of his son's supplanter--he found
the completion of the first stage of his life's journey and the
definition of its future course and of its goal. His face was set
towards his destination; the love and confidence of the friends of a
lifetime accompanied, cheered, and aided his steady progress. No high
thoughts were in his mind. To find time for the work of the day, his own
and what other people were always so ready to leave to him, and to move
on a little--that was his task, that bounded his ambition. Anything else
that came was, as he had said to Harry Belfield, not of his seeking--and
never ceased rather to surprise him, to be received by him with the
touch of simple wonder, which made men smile at him even while they
admired and followed, which made women laugh, and in a sense pity, while
they trusted and loved. He saw the smiles and laughter, and thought them
natural. Slowly he came to rely on the love and trust, and in the
strength of them found his own strength growing, his confidence
gradually maturing.

"With you beside me, and all the dear old set round me, and Meriton
behind me, I ought to be able to get through," he said to Vivien as they
walked together in the wood at Nutley before dinner.

She stopped by a bench, rudely fashioned out of a tree trunk. "Lend me
your knife, Andy, please."

He gave it to her, and stood watching while she stooped and scratched
with the knife on the side of the bench. Certain initials were scratched
out.

"What's that?" he asked, pointing to the spot where they had been.

"Only a memorandum of something I don't want to remember any more," she
answered. She came back to him, blushing a little, smiling, yet with
tears in her eyes. "Yes, Meriton, and the old friends, and I--we're all
with you now--all of us with all our hearts now, dear Andy!"

Andy made his last protest. "I'd have been loyal to him all my life, if
he'd have let me!"

"I know it. And so would I. But he wouldn't let us." She took his arm as
they turned away from the bench. "The sorrow must be in our hearts
always, I think. But now it's sorrow for him, not for ourselves, Andy."

In the hour of his own triumph, because of the greatness of his own joy,
tenderness for his friend revived.

"Dear old chap! How handsome he looked to-day!"

Vivien pressed his arm. "You can say that as often as you like! There's
no danger from him now!"

The shadow passed from Andy Hayes' face as he turned to his own great
joy.


                               THE END.



                               Notes on
                         Nelson's New Novels.


                 _No work of unwholesome character or
                    of second-rate quality will be
                       included in this Series._


The novel is to-day _the_ popular form of literary art. This is proved
by the number of novels published, and by the enormous sales of fiction
at popular prices.

While _Reprints_ of fiction may be purchased for a few pence, _New
Fiction_ is still a luxury.

The author of a New Novel loses his larger audience, the public are
denied the privilege of enjoying his latest work, because of the
prohibitive price of 4s. 6d. demanded for the ordinary "six shilling"
novel.

In another way both author and public are badly served under the present
publishing system. At certain seasons a flood of new novels pours from
the press. Selection becomes almost impossible. The good novels are lost
among the indifferent and the bad. Good service can be done to
literature not only by reducing the price of fiction, but by sifting its
quality.

The number of publishers issuing new fiction is so great, that the
entrance of another firm into the field demands almost an apology--at
least, a word of explanation.

Messrs. Nelson have been pioneers in the issue of reprints of fiction in
Library Edition at Sevenpence. The success of _Nelson's Library_ has
been due to the careful selection of books, regular publication
throughout the whole year, and excellence of manufacture at a low cost,
due to perfection of machinery.

Nelson's Sevenpenny Library represents the best that can be given to the
public in the way of _Reprints_ under present manufacturing conditions.

Nelson's New Novels (of which this book is one of the first volumes)
represents the same standard of careful selection, excellence of
production, and lowest possible price applied to _New Fiction_.

The list of authors of Nelson's New Novels for 1910 includes Anthony
Hope, E. F. Benson, H. A. Vachell, H. G. Wells, "Q," G. A. Birmingham,
John Masefield, Mrs. W. K. Clifford, J. C. Snaith, John Buchan, and
Agnes and Egerton Castle. Arrangements for subsequent volumes have been
made with other authors of equally high standing.

Nelson's New Novels are of the ordinary "six shilling" size, but are
produced with greater care than most of their competitors. They are
printed in large, clear type, on a fine white paper. They are strongly
bound in green cloth with a white and gold design. They are decorated
with a pretty end-paper and a coloured frontispiece. All the volumes are
issued in bright wrappers. The books are a happy combination of
substantial and artistic qualities.

A new volume is issued regularly every month.

The price is the very lowest at which a large New Novel with good
material and workmanship, and with an adequate return to author,
bookseller, and publisher, can be offered to the public at the present
time.



                       _Descriptive Notes
                      on the Volumes for 1910_:--


  FORTUNE.                                       _J. C. Snaith._

Mr. J. C. Snaith is already known to fame by his historical novels, his
admirable cricketing story, his essay in Meredithan subtlety "Brooke of
Covenden," and his most successful Victorian comedy "Araminta." In his
new novel he breaks ground which has never before been touched by an
English novelist. He follows no less a leader than Cervantes. His
hero, Sir Richard Pendragon, is Sir John Falstaff grown athletic and
courageous, with his imagination fired by much adventure in far
countries and some converse with the knight of La Mancha. The doings
of this monstrous Englishman are narrated by a young and scandalized
Spanish squire, full of all the pedantry of chivalry. Sir Richard is a
new type in literature--the Rabelaisian Paladin, whose foes flee not
only from his sword but from his Gargantuan laughter. In Mr. Snaith's
romance there are many delightful characters--a Spanish lady who
dictates to armies, a French prince of the blood who has forsaken his
birthright for the highroad. But all are dominated by the immense Sir
Richard, who rights wrongs like an unruly Providence, and then rides
away.


  THE HISTORY OF MR. POLLY.                       _H. G. Wells._

If the true aim of romance is to find beauty and laughter and heroism in
odd places, then Mr. Wells is a great romantic. His heroes are not
knights and adventurers, not even members of the quasi-romantic
professions, but the ordinary small tradesmen, whom the world has
hitherto neglected. The hero of the new book, Mr. Alfred Polly, is of
the same school, but he is nearer Hoopdriver than Kipps. He is in the
last resort the master of his fate, and squares himself defiantly
against the Destinies. Unlike the others, he has a literary sense, and
has a strange fantastic culture of his own. Mr. Wells has never written
anything more human or more truly humorous than the adventures of Mr.
Polly as haberdasher's apprentice, haberdasher, incendiary, and tramp.
Mr. Polly discovers the great truth that, however black things may be,
there is always a way out for a man if he is bold enough to take it,
even though that way leads through fire and revolution. The last part of
the book, where the hero discovers his courage, is a kind of saga. We
leave him in the end at peace with his own soul, wondering dimly about
the hereafter, having proved his manhood, and found his niche in life.


  DAISY'S AUNT.                                  _E. F. Benson._

It is Mr. Benson's chief merit that, without losing the lightness of
touch which makes good comedy, he keeps a firm hold upon the graver
matters which make good fiction. The present book is a tale of
conspiracy--the plot of a beautiful woman to save her young niece from a
man whom she regards as a blackguard. None of Mr. Benson's women are
more attractive than these two, who fight for long at cross-purposes,
and end, as all honest natures must, with a truer understanding.


  THE OTHER SIDE.                               _H. A. Vachell._

In this remarkable book Mr. Vachell leaves the beaten highway of
romance, and grapples with the deepest problems of human personality and
the unseen. It is a story of a musical genius, in whose soul worldliness
conquers spirituality. When he is at the height of his apparent success,
there comes an accident, and for a little soul and body seem to
separate. On his return to ordinary life he sees the world with other
eyes, but his clearness of vision has come too late to save his art. He
pays for his earlier folly in artistic impotence. The book is a profound
moral allegory, and none the less a brilliant romance.


  SIR GEORGE'S OBJECTION.                 _Mrs. W. K. Clifford._

Mrs. Clifford raises the old problem of heredity, and gives it a very
modern and scientific answer. It is the story of a woman who, after her
husband's disgrace and death, settles with her only daughter upon the
shore of one of the Italian lakes. The girl grows up in ignorance of her
family history, but when the inevitable young man appears complications
begin. As it happens, Sir George, the father of the lover, holds the
old-fashioned cast-iron doctrine of heredity, and the story shows the
conflict between his pedantry and the compulsion of fact. It is a book
full of serious interest for all readers, and gives us in addition a
charming love story. Mrs. Clifford has drawn many delightful women, but
Kitty and her mother must stand first in her gallery.


  PRESTER JOHN.                                   _John Buchan._

This is a story which, in opposition to all accepted canons of romance,
possesses no kind of heroine. There is no woman from beginning to end in
the book, unless we include a little Kaffir serving-girl. The hero is a
Scottish lad, who goes as assistant to a store in the far north of the
Transvaal. By a series of accidents he discovers a plot for a great
Kaffir rising, and by a combination of luck and courage manages to
frustrate it. From the beginning to end it is a book of stark adventure.
The leader of the rising is a black missionary, who believes himself the
incarnation of the mediæval Abyssinian emperor Prester John. By means of
a perverted Christianity, and the possession of the ruby collar which
for centuries has been the Kaffir fetish, he organizes the natives of
Southern Africa into a great army. But a revolution depends upon small
things, and by frustrating the leader in these small things, the young
storekeeper wins his way to fame and fortune. It is a book for all who
are young enough in heart to enjoy a record of straightforward
adventure.


  LADY GOOD-FOR-NOTHING.                                  "_Q._"

Sir Oliver Vyell, a descendant of Oliver Cromwell, is the British
Collector of Customs at the port of Boston in the days before the
American Revolution. While there he runs his head against New England
Puritanism, rescues a poor girl who has been put in the stocks for
Sabbath-breaking, carries her off, and has her educated. The story deals
with the development of Ruth Josselin from a half-starved castaway to a
beautiful and subtle woman. Sir Oliver falls in love with his ward, and
she becomes my Lady and the mistress of a great house; but to the New
Englanders she remains a Sabbath-breaker and "Lady-Good-for-Nothing."
The scene moves to Lisbon, whither Sir Oliver goes on Government
service, and there is a wonderful picture of the famous earthquake. The
book is a story of an act of folly, and its heavy penalties, and also
the record of the growth of two characters--one from atheism to
reverence, and the other from a bitter revolt against the world to a
wiser philosophy. The tale is original in scheme and setting, and the
atmosphere and thought of another age are brilliantly reproduced. No
better historical romance has been written in our times.


  PANTHER'S CUB.                     _Agnes and Egerton Castle._

This is the story of a world-famed prima donna, whose only daughter has
been brought up in a very different world from that in which her mother
lives. When the child grows to womanhood she joins her mother, and the
problem of the book is the conflict of the two temperaments--the one
sophisticated and undisciplined, and the other simple and sincere. The
scenes are laid in Vienna and London, amid all types of society--smart,
artistic, and diplomatic. Against the Bohemian background the authors
have worked out a very beautiful love story of a young diplomatist and
the singer's daughter. The book is full of brilliant character-sketches
and dramatic moments.


  TREPANNED.                                   _John Masefield._

Mr. Masefield has already won high reputation as poet and dramatist, and
his novel "Captain Margaret" showed him to be a romancer of a higher
order. "Trepanned" is a story of adventure in Virginia and the Spanish
Main. A Kentish boy is trepanned and carried off to sea, and finds his
fill of adventure among Indians and buccaneers. The central episode of
the book is a quest for the sacred Aztec temple. The swift drama of the
narrative, and the poetry and imagination of the style, make the book in
the highest sense literature. It should appeal not only to all lovers of
good writing, but to all who care for the record of stirring deeds.


  THE SIMPKINS PLOT.                     _George A. Birmingham._

"Spanish Gold" has been the most mirth-provoking of Irish novels
published in the last few years, and Mr. Birmingham's new book is a
worthy successor. Once more the admirable red-haired curate, "J. J.,"
appears, and his wild energy turns a peaceful neighbourhood into a
hotbed of intrigue and suspicion. The story tells how he discovers in a
harmless lady novelist, seeking quiet for her work, a murderess whose
trial had been a _cause célèbre_. He forms a scheme of marrying the lady
to the local bore, in the hope that she may end his career. Once started
on the wrong tack, he works out his evidence with convincing logic, and
ties up the whole neighbourhood in the toils of his misconception. The
book is full of the wittiest dialogue and the most farcical situations.
It will be as certain to please all lovers of Irish humour as the
immortal "Experiences of an Irish R. M."

       *       *       *       *       *


                     THOMAS NELSON AND SONS,
             London, Edinburgh, Dublin, and New York.





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