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Title: Master of Men
Author: Oppenheim, E. Phillips (Edward Phillips), 1866-1946
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 "Master of Men" ***

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                     THE
                 YELLOW HOUSE

                 MASTER OF MEN

                      BY

             E. PHILLIPS OPPENHEIM

                   AUTHOR OF

    "THE MISCHIEF-MAKER" "BERENICE" "HAVOC"
    "THE LOST LEADER"      "THE MALEFACTOR"

                [Illustration]


                  VOLUME ONE


                   NEW YORK
              P. F. COLLIER & SON



        Copyright 1908
    By C. H. Doscher & Co.

        Copyright 1912
    By P. F. Collier & Son



    MASTER OF MEN



MASTER OF MEN


Upward in long sinuous bends the road wound its way into the heart of
the hills. The man, steadily climbing to the summit, changed hands
upon the bicycle he was pushing, and wiped the sweat from his grimy
forehead. It had been a gray morning when he had left, with no promise
of this burst of streaming sunshine. Yet the steep hill troubled him
but little--he stepped blithely forward with little sign of fatigue.

His workman's clothes, open at the throat, showed him the possessor
of a magnificent pair of shoulders; the suggestion of great physical
strength was carried out also in his hard, clean-cut features and
deep-set, piercing gray eyes. He passed a grove where the ground was
blue with budding hyacinths, and he loitered for a moment, leaning
upon the saddle of his bicycle, and gazing up the sunlit glade. A line
or two of Keats sprang to his lips. As he uttered them a transfiguring
change swept across his face, still black in patches, as though from
grimy labor. His hard, straight mouth relaxed into a very pleasant
curve, a softer light flashed in his steely eyes.

He reached a wooden gate at last on his right-hand side, and, pushing
it open, skirted a stone wall until he came to a sudden dip in the
field, and with its back against a rocky eminence, a tiny cottage
built of the stones which lay in heaps about the turf. He leaned his
bicycle against the wall, and, taking a key from his pocket, unlocked
the door.

"Saturday at last," he exclaimed aloud. "Thirty-six hours of freedom.
Phew!"

He had plunged a basin into the soft-water tank outside and held his
head in it for a moment. Then, all dripping, he carried a canful to
a hollow bath ingeniously fixed among the rocks against which the
cottage was built, and, throwing off his soiled clothes, jumped in.
There was no longer any sign of the grease-stained mechanic when he
emerged, and, with his towel wrapped lightly around him, stepped into
the cottage.

He reappeared in a few minutes clad in a gray homespun suit, which
showed many signs of wear, a pipe in his mouth, a book in his hand.
Leisurely he filled a kettle from the well and thrust it into the
centre of the small wood fire, which he had kindled. Then, with a sigh
of relief, he threw himself upon the soft, mossy turf.

The book lay unheeded by his side. From his high vantage point he
looked downward at the wide panorama which stretched to the horizon,
faintly and mistily blue. The glorious spring sunshine lay like a
quickening fire upon the land. The tree tops, moving lightly in the
west wind, were budding into tender green; the dark pine groves were
softened; the patches of rich brown soil, freshly turned by the plow,
gleamed as though with promise of the crops to come.

Below him the dusty lane along which he had traveled stretched like
a narrow white belt, vanishing here and there in the woods and
disappearing at times between lichen-stained gray walls. He traced it
backward across the silvery brook, back to the quaint village with
its clustering gray stone houses, red-tiled roofs, and strange church
tower, and watched for a moment the delicate wreaths of smoke curl
upward, straight with the promise of fine weather. Farther still he
followed it into the flat country past the reservoir, a brilliant
streak of scintillating light, back into the heart of the town whence
he had come, and which stretched there now in the middle distance a
medley of factory chimneys and miles of houses--a great foul blot upon
the fair landscape.

He remembered it as he had ridden out an hour or so ago, the outskirts
with all their depressing ugliness, a cobbled road, a shabby tramcar
with a tired horse creeping along a road where dirty children played
weary games and shouted shrilly to one another. A miserable region of
smoke-begrimed houses and small shops, an unattractive public house
at every corner, round which loafed men with the white faces of tired
animals, and women dragging babies and shouting abuse to their more
venturesome offspring.

With painful distinctness he saw it all--the opened factory gates, the
belching out of a slatternly mob of shrieking girls and ribald youths,
the streets untidy with the refuse of the greengrocers' shops, the
hot, fetid atmosphere of the low-lying town. He closed his eyes--ah,
how swiftly it all vanished! In his ears was the pleasant chirping of
many insects, the glorious sunshine lay about him like wine, the west
wind made music in the woods, one thrush in particular was singing to
him blithely from the thatched roof of his cottage--a single throbbing
note against a melodious background of the whole woodful of twittering
birds. The man smiled to himself, well pleased.

Then his thoughts in relief slipped away from the present to the
little perfumed garden of the vicarage across the hills. He was
there in the deepening twilight listening in wonder to the song
that floated on the still air. The voice was that of a woman such
as Strone had never looked upon before. He closed his eyes with the
memory--the night lived again for him as the song grew--and the air
seemed suddenly sweet and vibrating with music. He was strangely,
wonderfully thrilled, for that night from the lips of this tired woman
of fashion, there had come to him a new wonder in life. His pulses
quivered with the memory of it, of the music that died away. As in a
dream he saw her again upon the threshold of the French window looking
listlessly out at them, her beautiful slim figure softly defined
against the rose-shaded background. Every detail of that wonderful
moment was stamped upon his mind forever. The gleam of the Reverend
Martinghoe's cigar shone softly in the silence--the eager words of the
two men had long since died away, and Strone's gaze went in thought
from the man who had brought him there to the face of Lady Malingcourt
who had come out to them in the darkness. With a rich voice that
seemed still to hold the last note of her song, she had chided them
for their lack of compliments. The Reverend Martinghoe had only
laughed as he looked up at his sister, but Strone the mechanic, the
laborer from Gascester, who had penetrated these precincts only on the
older man's kindness, had moved from out the shadows and with a few
murmured words had ridden away as in a dream....

A carriage grated on the road beyond. Strone opened his eyes and saw
a brougham and pair leisurely ascending the hill; he watched it with
surprise for it was a rough road and seldom used.

It drew level with him, and he became aware of a brilliant vision, a
Bond Street toilet, a woman fair and listless, leisurely extending a
daintily shod foot to the step of the suddenly checked carriage. He
was astonished to find himself the possessor of emotions more fierce
and vivid than any he had ever imagined. He was suddenly shy and
awkward.

She stepped across the road and held out a gray-gloved hand.

"How do you do, Mr. Strone? Are we really anywhere near this wonderful
cottage of yours?"

He pointed to where the smoke crept up behind the hillock.

"You are very near, indeed, Lady Malingcourt," he said.

She paused, suddenly embarrassed. How stupid the man was, standing
there like an owl.

"I am curious to see the outside," she said. "I cannot imagine what
a home-made house looks like. It reminds one so much of the picture
books of our youth. Can I see it from the other side of the field
without climbing anything?"

Strone threw open the gate, and she passed through, her gray skirt
trailing with a silken rustle across the short, green turf. She looked
at him sideways languidly--how stupid the man was.

"I have been paying calls," she said; "a dreary ordeal in the country.
People expect you to play croquet or smell flowers, and have tea out
of doors. So extraordinary. Life seems made up of people who live in
London and have houses in the country, and people who live in the
country and have houses in London. Such a wonderful difference, isn't
there?"

"I suppose so," he answered.

Then there was a short silence. It was an event, this, so bewildering,
so unexpected, that Strone was unable to recover himself. A new
shyness held him speechless. Lady Malingcourt, who was wondering now
if she rightly understood it, did nothing to help him.

Of the wonderful hour that followed Strone had a rather confused
impression. Little by little his tongue became loosened, he initiated
her into the mysteries of that very simple place his hermitage, and
all unknown to himself, to that rather complex thing the man. She
enthused over the one and affected to ignore the other, while with
rare subtlety she threw into their talk a salt-like impetus in regard
to his work that stung.

"I must go," she said at last rising. "Remember that John is bringing
me to have tea with you next Sunday. I have promised to take him to
Lingford Grange to dine to-night."

The man at her side stopped suddenly.

"Will you sing to them there?" he asked.

She did not answer at once. She was studying the picturesque
incongruity of Strone with his surroundings, the contrast between his
marvelous attire and his easy, fluent speech. Neither flustered nor
assertive, he was unconscious of his quiet, strong mastery; encouraged
to talk he talked; when opportunity came he was silent. She was filled
with admiration of the man, the genius, the mechanic inventor who, his
brother had told her, was to make a name that would live; and there
stole to this blasé woman under the glancing sunlight a strange new
feeling which she defined as interest.

"Why? You will not be there surely?"

He ignored the insolence of her question.

"If you mean that I shall not be one of Colonel Drevenhill's
guests--certainly not," he rejoined. "Nevertheless if you are asked to
sing, I hope that you will."

He watched the carriage until it was out of sight.

All the rest of the afternoon he lay on the warm turf above the
cottage smoking fiercely, and reading Heine. Then a gate slammed. The
book slipped from his fingers. He sat up, listening, his heart beating
thickly, his eyes ablaze. It was a woman who came into sight, but a
woman in an ill-hanging skirt, pushing a cheap bicycle, a woman hot
and dusty with riding. He ground his heel upon his feeling of sickly
disappointment. This was better for him. He rose and went to meet
her--took the bicycle; did his best to seem pleased.

"I didn't know whether I oughter come again so soon," she began
doubtfully, watching him with anxious eyes.

"I am glad to see you," he said. "Have you come for more books? See,
I will put the kettle on."

He took it to the well and filled it, made up the fire, and reached
down some things from the cupboard. She watched him, drawing her
gloves through her hand, anxious that he should notice her new hat. He
looked at her furtively now and then, wondering whether white muslins
and pink roses would have the power to transform her into a creature
of that feminine world of which it seemed to him that there could be
but one real habitant. Her thick stuff gown, her untidy skirt, and
pitifully cheap little hat--he looked them all over mercilessly.

She felt vaguely that her appearance displeased him, yet he had seemed
glad to see her. She made up her mind to believe he was glad. It had
been so miserable a week--every morning she had woke up in her stuffy
little room with only this thought to cheer her--that she was one day
nearer Saturday. Much scheming--even a harmless little fib had gone to
the buying of the new hat. She had earned it fairly enough. A record
week's wages, a dizzy head, fingers and hands sore with labor. But her
reward had come. She threw herself upon the turf by his side.

They talked very little. The birds were singing and the west wind
blowing through the tree tops. Below them a wide stretch of country,
blue-carpeted woods, brown and furrowed fields, fields green with
sprouting corn. The girl spoke timidly of the books she had read; he
listened, blowing out dense clouds of tobacco smoke. She talked, and
every now and then she sighed.

"It is so beautiful here," she murmured. "If only there was no going
back."

He was silent. His eyes were fixed upon the tall chimneys and smoky
clouds which hung over the city. The girl was picking grass and
throwing it away. Her hand met his, sought his touch--and Strone, so
unused to anything of the sort, was embarrassed, and clumsily removed
it.

She rose up at once.

"You don't want me here any longer," she said. "I'm off."

He stopped her.

"Why, what's the matter, Milly?" he exclaimed. "You have not had your
tea yet."

"I don't want any tea."

She stood with her back turned to him. He had an uncomfortable
suspicion that she was crying.

"What nonsense," he said. "Sit down while I see about it."

"I don't want any," she repeated. "I'm sorry I came. I'm sorry I ever
saw you. I'm off!"

She started down the turf walk, pushing her dusty old bicycle. Strone
groaned to himself as he followed in pursuit. He caught her by the
gate, touched her arm. She shook herself free.

"Let me be," she said, keeping her face averted.

He saw the gleam of tears in her eyes, and felt himself a brute. Then,
somehow, he scarcely knew how it happened, his arm was around her
waist and he had kissed her. After that there was no more talk of her
going. She sobbed herself into an ecstasy. They returned together.

"I thought that you wanted me gone," she said, in a broken tone,
mopping her eyes with her handkerchief. "I was so miserable."

Strone was very uncomfortable. He almost wished that he had let her
go. However, he made the best of it, hurried on the tea, and ignored
sundry affectionate little overtures on her part. Afterward he chose
for his seat an isolated rock, and pointed out to her a place beneath.
However, he couldn't avoid her resting her head upon his knee. She
began to talk--volubly. It wasn't very interesting--a long tirade--a
record of her woes, fascinating to him, for it was a page from the
life of one of his kind. What a bringing up! A father who drank, a
mother to be passed over in dark silence, a squalid home, children
unwholesome and unmanageable. What a struggle for respectability, and
what would be the end of it, he wondered, as the light grew dimmer,
the evening insects buzzed around them, and far down in the valley
little yellow dots of light leaped into life. Then he rose up, and
she sadly followed his example.

"I suppose I must go," she said doubtfully.

"I am quite sure of it, if you want to get home to-night," he
answered. "I'll carry your bicycle to the gate and light your lamp.
You'll remember what we've been talking about. You'll read the books
and be brave?"

"Yes."

"Life isn't always black. There's a time when the clouds lift."

"When may I come again?" she asked bluntly.

He took her hand gravely.

"Next Saturday, Milly. If I am not here, you know where the key is.
Stop and make yourself some tea."

"If you're away I'll wait," she answered. "I shan't want any tea."

He started her off, and trudged homeward with a sense of unaccountable
relief. He felt stifled, vaguely troubled by the memory of the girl's
white face and pleading brown eyes. Then a nightingale sang to him. At
once his mind was swept bare of all such thoughts. Once more the pine
and the clover-scented air around him seemed quivering with strange
and passionate music.

That night in the grounds of Lingford Grange the man stood like a
statue, half invisible among the shadows. Only his face, wrung with
emotion, gleamed pale through the darkness. Out from the window,
ablaze with much illumination, out into the cool, still night came the
wonderful music tugging at his heartstrings, sending the blood rushing
through his veins at fever heat.

The song swelled and the music grew, and with it his impotence. Then
came the end--the dying away of that long sustained, melodious note,
the crash of chords on the piano, the buzz of applause, merging into
conversation.

And all these things Strone heard, for Lingford Grange, with its
magnificent front and groves of poplars, stood with its back sheer
upon a country road, and the newly built music room almost overhung
the pathway. He heard, and he listened for more. They would make her
sing again! Soon a silence, the silence of expectation--a note or two
upon the piano--and again her voice. More wonderful than ever. It was
a fantasy of music, elusive, capricious, delightful. The song ended
with the woman's laughter. Strone groaned where he stood, under the
rustling leaves. It was like an omen, a chill forewarning of his own
certain fate.

Shadows passed backward and forward across the window, and Strone
waited, drunk for the moment with his stupendous folly. The music had
crept into his brain; a new force was alive within him. He stood there
rigid, immovable.

"She will come to the window," he said to himself.

And she came. He knew her at once, as she came slowly into sight,
leaning on the arm of Colonel Devenhill. A diamond star burned in her
hair, a great bunch of white roses were clustering loosely at her
bosom. She walked straight to the window and looked out. The spirit
of the song seemed still to linger in her face, her eyelids dropped
a little, her lips were parted in the faintest of smiles! Against
the lamplit background she formed perhaps the fairest image of a
woman Strone had ever gazed upon. Her bare arms and neck shone like
alabaster, her black net gown glittered all over with some marvelous
trimming traced in a strange design about her skirt. She stood there
looking out, and Strone lifted his eyes to hers. It was like fire
flashing through the summer darkness. Then he heard her voice.

"How delicious this air is. Could I trouble you to fetch my fan,
Colonel Devenhill? It is on the piano."

The man disappeared. Then Strone's heart throbbed. Though he dared
not speak or move toward her it seemed to him that they were alone.
He watched her breathlessly. A white jeweled hand played for a moment
with the ornament which held her roses--then they came dropping into
the darkness, a little shower of white blossoms. Almost immediately
the young man rejoined her, the fan in his hand. With a single bound
Strone cleared the road, picked up the roses one by one with hot, dry
fingers, and regained his shelter with the echo of a woman's soft
laugh ringing in his ears.

He chose a safe place and watched her go by an hour or so later,
leaning back in the carriage with half-closed eyes, as though asleep,
and a cloud of drooping white lace around her shoulders. It was only
a glimpse. Then he lit his pipe and trudged homeward across the hills.
With the gray dawn he turned upon his madness and fought it.

Day by day he rode backward and forward from his hillside cottage to
Gascester, through the misty dawn and the white moonlight. Like a man
at bay he fought his madness--he, the grimy mechanic in grease-stained
clothing, who had drawn an evil poison into his veins. Heart and
soul he flung himself with grim determination into his great work.
The wheels of his models whirred and the great pistons throbbed with
life. Out of chaos there resolved itself before him a problem to be
solved--beyond was fortune immeasurable. So he toiled, not discouraged
by many failures, grim and unswerving in his resolve to struggle
through into the light.

It was in those days that Strone's ambition, kindled long enough ago,
burst suddenly into full flame. He neglected his reading and his
solitary country rambles for a spell of downright hard work. Many
nights he remained at the works long after the workpeople had left,
locked in his shed, with a single light burning--laboring always at
the same apparently confused collection of wheels and strangely shaped
pieces of metal which were to do the work of ten machines or a hundred
men. His progress was slow, and a less forceful man would long ago
have been discouraged. There was a point beyond which movement seemed
impossible. Ever he was hammering away, as many others had done before
him, at a problem which seemed insoluble.

He rode backward and forward like a man in a dream. Ever those wheels
seemed flying round before his eyes, and somewhere between them
and the piston rod there was a link--but where? He told himself
plainly that the thing was possible. Some day it would come to him.
He had always told himself that. Only whereas a few months ago he
had contemplated the end with a sort of leisurely curiosity, he felt
himself impelled to work now with a feverish haste, as though time had
suddenly closed in upon him.

       *       *       *       *       *

At last the day came when Strone lay on the short turf, smoking
quietly, looking out upon the glimmering world with new eyes.
Sphinxlike he gazed with an impassivity somewhat to be wondered at,
for an hour ago he had finished his task. Those silent days, those
long spells of work, when day had become fused into night and night
into day, had left their mark upon him. His face was thinner, his eyes
almost brilliant, a slight feverishness had flushed his cheeks. The
man's sense of power had grown and deepened. For he had faced great
problems, he had bent great forces to his will. He had succeeded where
other men had failed.

He looked out into the world and tried to apprise himself rightly. He
wanted to know where he stood. There was a place which he could claim.
Where? How high up, how low down? How far could wealth take him? What
was the value of his brains in the world's esteem? He tried to reckon
these things up, and he found it difficult. It was a kaleidoscopic,
misty wilderness into which he looked. He was trying to deal with his
future from a wholly new point of view, and felt very much at sea.

Those moments of introspective thought became moments of
self-confession. He realized, and admitted, the change in himself. The
old ideals were unshaken, but they no longer held paramount sway. The
gift of his brains to humanity, the betterment of his fellows, the
inauguration of certain carefully conceived labor schemes no longer
appealed to him with that wonderful enthusiasm which seemed to have
almost sanctified his work. They were still dear to him, the end and
aim of his practical efforts, but they were no longer all-controlling.
A new thing had come to him, a new emotion, quickening, irresistible,
delirious! He was no longer completely master of himself--a stray
memory could set his heart thumping, could scatter his thoughts to the
four winds of heaven. A touch of madness, this, yet sweeter even than
his sense of triumph. Such madness, too! What had he, Enoch Strone, to
do with fair women and white roses, though the woman had smiled for
a moment upon him, and the perfume of the roses still hung about his
little room. Yet--wealth was transfiguring--omnipotent. The words were
her own. And in his hand was the golden key.

During the weeks that followed, the great change in Strone's temporal
fortunes which as yet he had only dreamed of actually came to pass.
The model spoke for itself and patents had been applied for in
every country of the world. Already an offer was forthcoming for
the American rights the amount of which sounded to Strone like a
fairy tale. It was a hundred thousand pounds and the syndicate would
resell for a quarter of a million--but it was cash and the miracle
crane would make his fortune. With the offer for the first time he
realized in some measure his altered position in life. A golden key
had come into his hands, many doors in the pleasure house of the
world would fly open now at his touch. Pictures, statuary, a library,
travel--these things for which he had always craved were now within
his reach. It had come with a magical suddenness--it was hard even now
to realize. Where was he to draw the line? Where were the limits of
the things which he might set himself to win?

Then the four walls of his room fell away. He stretched out his
arms, his eyes kindled, he tore away the bandage from before them.
No more hypocrisy! The madness which had become the joy of his life
was stealing through all his veins, his heart beat fiercely with the
delight of it. He pitted his common sense against what he had deemed
a fantasy, and his common sense vanished like smoke, and the fantasy
became a real living thing. She was as far above him as the stars--a
delicately nurtured woman, with all the grace and beauty of her
order--he was a mechanic of humble origin, ignorant of the ways of her
world, of the world to which she must forever belong. What matter?

He was a man, after all, and she was a woman--and there was the golden
key. It was in his hands, and who in the universe had ever been able
to set a limit upon its powers? With her own lips he had heard her
murmur, half in jest and half in earnest, her adoration of it. His
common sense mocked at him but the madness was there like a thrall.

He walked over to the vicarage, where he had spent so many hours of
late. She was out. He waited. When he heard her carriage stop, the
trailing of her skirt as she crossed the lawn, he rose up and went to
meet her.

"John leads a lonely life out here," she said presently. "I hope you
will remember that, and come and see him often when I am gone."

He looked up at her quickly. His heart had stopped beating.

"Are you going away?" he asked.

She smiled.

"Don't you think that I have paid rather a long visit as it is?" she
asked. "I have two houses of my own I am supposed to look after, and
I had no end of engagements for last month and this. As a matter of
fact, this is the longest visit I have ever paid here in my life."

"The longest visit you have ever paid here?" he repeated. "Perhaps
that is because you have had more friends staying near?"

She looked into his eyes and laughed softly. Strone felt the hot color
burn his cheeks. Something had happened! She was changed. The tired
woman of the world had gone. She was not bored, she was not listless
any longer. She was looking at him very kindly, and her eyes were
wonderfully soft.

"Perhaps I have found one more," she said, smiling, "and have been
content to be without the others. Let go my hands, sir, at once."

She drew a little away from him. His brain was in a whirl. He was
scarcely sure of his sanity. Then:

"Will you sit down for a few minutes?" he asked. "There is something
I want to say to you."

She paused.

"I am a little tired," she said. "Will another time do?"

"No," he answered. "I am going away early to-morrow."

She followed him without comment to the seat under the cedar tree. She
leaned back and half closed her eyes. She was certainly a little pale.

"Well?"

"I have seen Dobell to-day."

"Your employer?"

"Yes. At least he was my employer. He is to be my partner."

She opened her eyes and looked at him now with languid curiosity.

"Is that not rather a sudden rise in the world?" she asked carelessly.

"It is very sudden," he answered. "It is the miracle crane. Mr. Dobell
has had it patented, and we have been offered one hundred thousand
pounds for the American rights alone. Mr. Dobell says that there is a
great fortune in it."

She looked at him with wide-open eyes, eyes full of an expression
which baffled him, which, if he had been a wiser man and more versed
in woman's ways, should also have been a warning to him.

"I congratulate you," she said quietly. "You are wonderfully fortunate
to become rich so suddenly, at your age."

Her tone was altogether emotionless, her lack of enthusiasm too
obvious to be ignored. He was puzzled. He became nervous.

"You know that it isn't the money I care about," he said. "You
yourself have always admitted that to be a power in the world wealth
is a necessity. I only care for money for what it may bring me. You
once said that the millionaire is all-powerful."

"Did I?" she answered. "That, of course, was an exaggeration."

He rose suddenly to his feet, a flush in his cheeks, his tone husky.
He stood over her, his hand on the back of her seat, his eyes seeking
to penetrate the graceful nonchalance of her tone and manner.

"Lady Malingcourt," he said, "there is one thing in the world--perhaps
I am mad to dream of it--I know I am, but if ever I had the smallest
chance of gaining it, there is nothing I would not attempt, nothing I
would not do."

There was a sharp break in his voice, a mist before his eyes. Lady
Malingcourt was studying the pattern of her lace parasol. Suddenly she
closed it and looked up at him.

"Don't you think you had better postpone the rest--until after
dinner?" she said quietly.

"No," he answered. "You and your brother, Lady Malingcourt, have
been very kind to me. You have made me sometimes almost forget the
difference between a mechanic such as I am and gentle people such
as you. So I have dared to wonder whether that difference must be
forever."

"You are really rather foolish to talk like this," she remarked,
smiling placidly at him. "I do not know quite what difference you
mean. There is no difference between your world and mine whatever,
except that a mechanic is often a gentleman, and gentle people are
often snobs. You are wonderfully modest to-day, Mr. Strone. I had an
idea that people with brains like yours considered themselves very
superior to the mere butterflies of life."

"I am speaking as I feel," he answered. "I have tried to make myself
think differently, but it is impossible. One can't ignore facts, Lady
Malingcourt, and when I am with you I feel rough, and coarse, and
ignorant; I feel that even to think of what I want to say to you is
gross presumption."

She rose slowly to her feet.

"Then do not say it, Mr. Strone," she said quietly, "and leave off
thinking about it."

His eyes sought hers eagerly, passionately. There was no sign in her
face of the woman from whose hands had fluttered those white roses
through the darkness into his keeping. Her head was uplifted, her
eyes cold--even it seemed to him that her delicate lips were slightly
curled. His heart sank like lead.

"You see, after all, I am right," he cried bitterly. "You are angry
with me, you will not let me speak. You think I am mad because I have
dared to dream of you as the one hope of my life."

"No," she answered, "I am not angry with you. I hope that you will
never allude to this again, so I will tell you something. The
difference of rank between us counts for nothing. You are young,
and you have gifts which will make you, when you choose, willingly
accepted among any class of people with whom you care to spend your
days. But, nevertheless, I consider what you were about to say to me
presumption."

He started quickly. They were face to face now upon the edge of the
lawn. Lady Malingcourt had drawn herself up, and a bright spot of
color burned in her cheeks.

"That you are a mechanic," she said, "makes you, to be candid, more
interesting to me. Nothing in your circumstances would have made your
feeling toward me anything but an honor. It is as a man that you fail.
Your standard of life is one which I could not possibly accept. I
presume that it comes from your bringing up, so I do not wish to say
anything more about it. Only I beg you to consider what I have said
as final, and to do me the favor of thinking no longer of what must
remain forever absolutely--impossible."

She swept past him and entered the house. He remained for a moment
nerveless and tongue-tied. The lash of her bitter words stupefied him.
What had he done?--wherein had he so greatly failed? After all, what
did it matter? About him lay the fragments of that wonderful dream
which had made life so sweet to him. Nothing could ever reëstablish
it. He staggered out of the gate, and walked blindly away.

The man's passion found kinship with the storm which broke suddenly
over his head. The thunder clouds rolled up from the horizon, and the
lightning shone around him with a yellow glare. Below him the tree
tops and the young corn were bent by a rushing wind--even the cattle
in the fields crept away to shelter. The sky above grew black, forked
lightning now glittered from east to west, writing its lurid message
to the trembling earth. He sat on a high rock bareheaded, and the
rain, falling now in sheets, drenched him through and through.

He had lost all control of himself. The passion which had been his
sole inheritance from his drink-sodden parents mastered him easily. At
that moment he was almost a savage. He cursed John Martinghoe and the
moment when he had been lured into the belief that his self-education
and mastery of self had made him the equal of those who were divided
from him only by the accident of birth. He cursed the woman whose
kindness had led him into a fool's paradise, the sudden change in his
position which seemed now only a mockery to him. The fit passed with
a little outburst of shame. Nevertheless, it was with bent head and
gray-lined face that he crept downward to his cottage, drenched to the
skin.

He heaped wood upon the embers of a fire and sat over it, shivering.
Almost a stupor came over him as he sat there, weak, numbed to the
bone with the clinging dampness of his clothes. If this thing had
happened to him in full health, he would have met it more bravely.
After all, it was the end which he had always told himself was
inevitable. A sense of bitter shame was mingled with his dejection.
He had built up his life so carefully, only to see it sent crashing
about his ears at a woman's light touch. So he sat brooding among the
fragments, while the rain beat fiercely against his window pane and
the wind howled in the wood.

He came to himself suddenly, awakened by the opening of the door. He
looked around. Milly stood there, her pale cheeks glowing with the
sting of the rain and the wind, her hair in disorder, her eyes alight
with the joy of seeing him. She dropped a heap of parcels and fell on
her knees by his side.

"Oh, thank God!" she sobbed. "Oh, I am so glad to see you, so glad!"

Her streaming eyes, the warm touch of her hands, pierced his
insensibility. He even smiled faintly.

"What are you doing here, child?" he asked, "on such a night, too.
Why, you are wet through."

She evaded his question, horror-stricken at his own state.

"You're fair soaked," she cried. "Mercy me!"

She brought out his gray homespun clothes from the chest, and with
deft fingers removed his coat and waistcoat, talking all the while.

"Well, I never," she exclaimed. "The rain's gone through the lining.
It's a mercy you've had sense to keep the fire in. I'll make you a hot
drink directly."

He submitted himself to her care. After the agony of the last few
hours the sound of her shrill, but not unpleasant, voice and her
breathless anxiety on his behalf seemed almost grateful. He was
hustled into dry clothes, and his feet and hands were rubbed into
a state of glowing warmth. Fresh logs were thrown upon the fire, a
kettle boiled, and some tea deftly prepared. From one of her parcels
came bread and meat. He ate at her bidding. Outside the storm grew in
violence.

She sat crouched almost at his feet, the firelight playing on her
brown hair, her eyes wet with tears.

A clearer sense of what was happening came to him. He sat up suddenly.

"How did you come here?" he asked.

"I haven't a home," she said. "Mother died last Thursday, Nancy's
taken the kids, father's in jail--he's got six months."

His old pity was revived. He smoothed her hair.

"Poor child!"

At his touch the sobs came. Her head drooped upon his knee.

"Nancy wouldn't have me in the house; her husband thinks he likes me,
and I am afraid of him. I'd nowhere to sleep, so I walked out here,
meaning to sleep in the woods. Don't turn me out, oh, don't! I'm all
alone in the world, and I don't want to be like the others. Let me
stay. I'll do everything for you. I won't speak when you don't want me
to. You'll never know I'm here, except when you want anything done.
Oh, please, please be kind to me. If you don't, I shall go and drown
myself. I've been miserable so long."

Her cry went to his heart, pierced even the dull lethargy of his own
despair. The rain was dashing against the window. He glanced at the
clock--it was nearly midnight.

"Poor little waif," he murmured, "and there are so many like you."

She crept, sobbing, into his arms; her hands were clasped around his
neck. For her it was happiness immeasurable; for him, too, there was
a certain solace in the thought that this lone creature loved him and
was dependent upon him. He sat with wide-open eyes, gazing into the
fire all the night long.

       *       *       *       *       *

They were married the next day.

Through the weeks that followed things remained the same at Strone's
cottage yet different. Everything was spotlessly clean, but somehow
the atmosphere was altered. The chairs were ranged in order against
the wall. There were enormities in the shape of woolen antimacassars,
a flimsy curtain hung before the small window.

A table on which had lain a _Spectator_ and _Fortnightly Review_ was
littered over now with copies of the _Young Ladies' Journal_, some
cheap and highly colored sweets, an untidy workbasket.

In Strone himself the change was wonderful. Life had narrowed in upon
him; he looked forward with a shudder, the past was as a sealed book.
Only some days there came little flashes of memory. He found himself
suddenly recalling those wonderfully sweet days of his freedom,
when every shadow of care seemed to pass away as he rode out from
Gascester, when the wind and the sun and the song of the birds had
been his companions. That was all over now. He climbed the steep hill
with listless footsteps, no longer full of anticipation of those long
hours of exquisite solitude which had become so dear to him. Those
days had gone by--forever.

Milly would be waiting at the door, would shower upon him caresses
which long ago had palled, would chatter emptily, and dwell peevishly
on the long day's solitude. He found himself thinking with a shiver
of the interminable evening. There was no escape. If he went out she
would follow him; if he read, she sulked. He groaned to himself as he
turned the last corner and caught a glimpse of the gray smoke curling
upward.

Then he stopped short in the middle of the lane. What little color the
heat had brought into his cheeks died away. He looked wildly around,
as though half inclined to leap the gray-stone wall and vanish in the
tangled wilderness beyond. Yet there was nothing more alarming in the
way than a smartly turned-out victoria descending the hill toward him,
and, leaning back among the cushions, a tired-looking woman in a white
dress and hat with pink roses. Almost at the same moment she saw him,
and, leaning forward, she stopped the carriage. To his amazement she
stepped lightly out, gave the man an order, and waited for him in the
shade of a great oak tree which overhung the road.

He ground his teeth together and advanced to meet her steadily. She
greeted him with her old quiet smile. She, too, he thought, was
looking pale and listless.

"I'm so glad to see you. Do you mind resting your bicycle somewhere
and coming into the shade? I will not keep you very long."

He obeyed her in silence. Words seemed difficult to him just then.
They stood in the shadow of the trees which hung over from the wood.
She lowered her parasol and seemed for a moment intent upon studying
the pattern of the filmy lace. The man's heart beat out like a sledge
hammer. Yet he stood there, slowly mastering his emotion, and it was
the woman who found speech so difficult.

"I am going to tell you something," she said at last, "which a few
days ago I was very sure that I would never tell you."

She pauses. He remains speechless, his eyes fastened upon her.

"Go on."

"One afternoon when you were away I had a fancy to look at your
cottage. I came--and found someone there. I questioned the girl. She
was a friend of yours, she said. She was confused; what she said
seemed incapable of bearing more than one interpretation. I accepted
the inference--and that afternoon there was plain speaking--on the
lawn."

He was no longer steady on his feet, and in his ears was the rushing
of strange sounds, trees and sky were mixed up together.

"You believed--that?" he gasped.

"I judged you," she answered, "by the standard of a world which I
believed to be lower than yours. Remember, too, that in many ways I
knew so little of you. Different classes of society regard the same
thing from such different points of view. Yes, I judged you. I want
your forgiveness."

He looked at her wildly.

"What infernal sophistry," he cried. "What is sin in your world is sin
in mine!"

"Mind," she continued drearily, "I do not say that even without this I
could have answered you differently."

"Don't you know why I came," she said at last impulsively--"It is
because you are a man--because you have power and a great future. I
want you to rouse yourself--I want you to make a stir in the world.
This is what I have come to say to you--to preach a very simple
doctrine. Make the best of things. There is room for you in great
places, Enoch Strone. This generation is empty of strong men. Fill
your life with ambitions and remember all those wonderful dreams of
yours. Strive to realize them. Tell Milly about them; let her know
each day how you are getting on. Come out of the crowd, Enoch, and
let me feel that I have known one man in my life, at least, who was
strong enough to climb to the hilltop with another's burden upon his
shoulders."

Under the spell of her words his apathy and indifference gave way.
Life was there in her face--in her voice. He listened to her with
kindling eyes, conscious that the old passion for life was moving once
more in his veins--conscious, too, with a certain sense of wonder at
the transformation, that this woman, who was pleading with him so
earnestly, stood revealed in a wholly new light. The delicate vein of
mockery, which sometimes gave to her most serious sayings an air of
insincerity, as though conversation were a mere juggling with words,
seemed to have passed away. She spoke without languor or weariness,
and her words touched his heart--stirred his brain.

The man in him leaped up, vigorous and eager. He faced her with
glowing eyes.

"If the burden had been twice as heavy," he cried, "I would bear it
cheerfully now. Forever--"

He stopped short. Some instinct told him that any further words were
unnecessary. As she had spoken and looked, so would she remain to him
forever. So he called her carriage, and once more her fingers rested
in his great work-hardened hand.

"Good-bye," she said, "and good fortune."

When he reached the cottage Milly brought tea out to him, waited upon
him breathlessly. The terrible gloom which had oppressed her so much
had passed away. He was dressed in new and well-fitting clothes. Even
to her untrained eye there was a wonderful change in his bearing and
demeanor.

"Milly," he said, "would you like to live in London?"

The thought was like paradise. She strove to contain herself.

"With you, Enoch--anywhere."

"With me, certainly," he answered. "We shall go there next week.
You will be able to have a decent house and servants. Dobell's are
opening a London branch, and I shall have to manage it. I ought to
have told you some of these things before. I had no right to keep them
to myself. You will never be poor again, Milly. It seems as though we
were going to be very rich."

"Enoch! Enoch!"

He smiled at the excitement which baffled speech.

Later he walked out by himself, crossed the field, and entered the
deep, cool shade of the wood. It was significant that he passed the
spot where he had first met Milly with a little shudder, and hurried
away, as though even the memory of that night pursued him. All the
while a subtle sense of excitement was in his veins, mingled with a
strange, haunting sadness. For him the life in quiet places was over.
This was his farewell pilgrimage. Henceforth his place was in the
stress of life, in the great passion-riven heart of the world. His
days of contemplation were over. There had come Milly, and he very
well knew that the old life here, where the singing of every wind, the
music of the birds, thrilled him with early memories, was impossible.

After all, good might come of it. The sweetness of solitude, of
crowding the brain with delicate fancies, of basking in the joy of
beautiful places, was in many senses a paralyzing sweetness. Man was
made for creation, not contemplation. So he turned his eyes upon the
new world, and there were big things there to wrestle with. The cry
of his fellows was in his ears, the cry of those to whom life was a
desert place, the long-drawn-out murmur of the great nether world.
Life would be good there where the giants fought. Perhaps some day he
might even win forgetfulness.

There followed for Enoch Strone during the three succeeding years all
the varied lights that shine on a quick success. Not long after his
arrival in London he was elected to Parliament, and the ringing maiden
speech and rapid progress in the House of the new Labor member were
the talk of political circles for a long time. During this period the
calls of home and friendship were many, yet he moved through it all
singularly unspoilt, impersonally attending in an official capacity
only the brilliant dinners and social gathering where he found himself
a man among men, but which threw into cruel relief the atmosphere of
his own home. Wherever he went Strone was treated with much deference,
for he was without doubt in the political world a person of some
importance. The balance of parties being fairly even, the government
was dependent upon the support of the Labor men to neutralize the
Irish faction. And of late Strone had been pushing his claims with
calm but significant persistence. The government was pledged to his
"Better Housing of the Poor" bill, and he had firmly refused to have
it shelved any longer.

This fact he made plain among the men gathered at Lord Sydenham's one
evening.

"You don't let the grass grow beneath your feet, my friend," remarked
his host, "and your bill on Thursday is going to hit the landlords
very hard, you know."

"There are a good many landlords whom I would rather see hanged than
merely hit," Strone answered.

The Duke of Massingham moved across to them.

"Come, come, Strone. What's this I hear--you want to hang the
landlords?"

"Not all, your grace," Strone answered, with a gleam in his eye. "Only
those who house men and women like rats, who let their property tumble
to ruin while they drag the last shilling of their rents from starving
men and women. To such as these I would make the criminal laws apply.
They are responsible for many human lives--for the lower physique of
our race."

Lord Sydenham turned round and touched him upon the shoulder.

"Strone," he said, "I want to introduce you to my cousin. Beatrice,
allow me to present Mr. Strone--Lady Malingcourt."

Under the fire of dinner-table talk they relapsed easily enough into
more familiar relations.

"I am not at all sure that I like you," she said, looking at him
critically. "Your dress coat came evidently from Saville Row and
your tie is perfection. You are not in character at all. I expected
a homespun suit, hobnailed boots, and a flannel shirt. I wasn't sure
about the collar, but I counted upon a red tie. Please don't tell me
that you are a club man, and that you go to afternoon teas."

He laughed. Even his voice was subdued.

"No fear of that," he declared. "When I go out it is generally to
meat teas in the suburbs or midday dinners with my constituents in
Gascester. I have even a red tie of which I am very fond."

She stole another glance at him. There were streaks of gray in
his black hair, deep lines in his hard, clean-shaven face. If a
dinner such as this was a rare event to him, he showed no signs of
awkwardness. He joined now and then in the conversation around. Most
of the men seemed known to him.

"I have read of you," she said abruptly, "of your maiden speech and
rapid progress in the House."

He lowered his voice.

"It was what you wished?"

"Nothing has ever given me more pleasure," she said simply. "You got
my cable?"

He nodded.

"Two words only--'Well done.' I have it in my pocket to-night."

She abandoned the subject precipitately.

"And your social schemes?"

"They progress," he answered thoughtfully. "I have had
disappointments, but on the whole--yes, I am satisfied. When you are
at Gascester, I should like to show you some of my experiments."

She talked for a few minutes to her neighbor on the other side. Then
she turned to him and smiled.

"This is the second time we have met at dinner," she said.

"I do not need to be reminded of it," he answered quietly. "Your
brother asked me to stay to supper--I think he had forgotten that you
were there. I was in my working clothes, and I am afraid that the
flannel shirt was a fact."

She smiled.

"Yes, and you laid down the law upon Ruskin, criticised 'Sesame and
Lilies,' and talked of Walter Pater as though you had known him all
your life. You were a revelation and a puzzle to me. I was so weary
of life just then. I believe you were the first living person who had
interested me for many months."

His eyes were looking into vacancy. His words were spoken in the
slightest of whispers. Yet she heard.

"And afterward you sang to us. It was wonderful."

Then the talk buzzed round them, but they were silent. The woman who
had represented her queen in a great country and the man who had been
climbing with steady feet the ladder of fame were both thinking of
that little country vicarage among the hills. She saw him, the first
of his type she had ever met, reserved, forceful, at times strangely
eloquent, in soiled clothes and brusque manner, yet speaking of the
great things of life as one who understood--who meant to conquer. And
he remembered her, the first woman of her order with whom he had ever
spoken, the first beautiful woman whose hand he had ever touched.
He remembered her soft voice, her lazy, musical laugh, her toilet
and her jewels, which, though simple enough, were a revelation to
him. She represented to him from that moment a new world of delight.
All those forgotten love verses whose form alone he had been able to
appreciate, welled up in his heart, sang in his blood, filled for him
with glorious color the whole literature of love and passion. Her
coming had given him understanding. He looked back upon those days as
he had done many a time during the last few years--but to-night there
was a difference. Like a flash he realized what her coming back meant
to him. The old madness was unquenched--unquenchable. He had thought
himself cured! What folly! The battle was before him yet.

He was roused from his abstraction by a word from her, and found
himself apologizing to his left-hand neighbor for a twice-asked
question. The conversation became political. A moment later he was
again gravely discussing the prospects of the "Better Housing of the
Poor" bill. Amid a rustling of laces and swish of silk, which sounded
to him like the winged flight of many tropical birds, the women passed
out. Strone noticed that Lady Malingcourt avoided his eager gaze as
she followed her hostess from the room.

A couple of hours later Strone pushed his way through the little crowd
of servants, who were waiting about the entrance to Sydenham House,
and turned westward on foot. This meeting, always looked forward to,
always counted upon as a certain part of his future, had taken place
at last. She was unchanged, as beautiful as ever, and her old power
over him was not one whit lessened. More vividly than ever he realized
how his present position was almost wholly owing to the stimulus of
her appeal to him. Step by step he had fought his way doggedly onward.
Difficulties had been brushed away, obstacles surmounted. He had kept
his word, he had justified her belief in him. He had taken his place,
if not in her world, at least among those who had the right to enter
it. Henceforth they might meet often. Surely the summer of his life
had come.

And as he walked through the quieter streets, more daring thoughts
even came to him. He dreamed of a friendship which should become the
backbone of his life, which should bring him into constant association
with her, which should give him the right to offer at her feet the
honors he might win--she, the woman who had first inspired him. He
saw nothing of the passers-by; the faint importunities of the waifs
who floated out from the shadows and vanished again like moths were
unheard. The old music was singing in his blood; he walked as one
whose footsteps fell upon the air. And then--crash down to earth
again. He was in front of his house in Kensington, unlit and gloomy.
He made his way quietly in with the aid of a latchkey, and stood for
a moment in the hall, hesitating.

From a room on the ground floor came the glimmer of a light. He made
his way there softly and opened the door. A woman was stretched upon
an easy-chair, asleep. He stood over her with darkening face.

Milly had not improved. Her prettiness had vanished before a
coarsening of features; she was stouter and untidy even to
slatternliness. Her cheeks just now were flushed and she was breathing
heavily. On the table by her side was a tumbler. He took it up,
smelled it, and set it down with a little gesture of disgust.

She showed no signs of waking. After a moment's hesitation he
ensconced himself in a neighboring easy-chair, and, taking a roll of
papers from his pocket, began to read, pencil in hand. For some time
he worked; then the manuscript slipped from his hand. He sank a little
down in his chair. With wide-open eyes he sat watching the extinct
gray ashes on the hearth. The clock ticked and the woman's breathing
grew louder. There was no other sound in the house. He was alone with
his fate.

Something woke her at last. She sat up and looked at him.

"Hello!" she exclaimed. "How long have you been there?"

"An hour--perhaps more," he answered. "You were asleep."

"No wonder," she grumbled. "Enough to make one sleepy to sit here hour
after hour alone, with you at your everlasting Parliament work."

It struck him that there were several empty glasses about and the room
smelled of tobacco smoke.

"Have you had visitors?" he asked.

She nodded.

"Yes. Mr. Fagan and his wife."

He frowned.

"I don't see why Fagan should come when he knew I was out," he
remarked.

She laughed hardly.

"You'd grudge me even their company, would you? Well, they came in to
sit with me, and Fagan let a hint or two drop. You better look out, my
man."

"What do you mean?" he asked.

"They ain't none too well pleased with you, these Labor chaps aren't,
and I don't wonder at it. What do you want going to lords' dinner
parties dressed up like one of them? Fagan says that ain't what you
were sent to Parliament for."

"Fagan is an ignorant ass," Strone exclaimed passionately. "I am doing
my best for the cause, and my way is the right way. My presence at
Lord Sydenham's to-night was no personal matter. It was a recognition
of our party, and a valuable recognition. I am surprised that you
should listen to such rubbish, Milly."

"Fagan may be right and he may be wrong," she answered, "but he
reckons that you're getting too big for your boots. It don't want fine
gentlemen to speak for workingmen. Were there any women at your party
to-night?"

"Yes," Strone answered, "there were women there."

"Then why wasn't I asked?" she demanded, setting down her empty glass.

"It is so hard to make you understand, Milly," he said. "I was not
there as a private guest at all. Socially every one was of a different
rank. I was there as a man who could command votes. You would not have
been comfortable, and I am sure that you would not have enjoyed it."

Always these scenes wrought themselves into a quarrel and ended by
Milly's dissolving into tears and their planning a gala day on the
morrow, when Milly would have her fill of delight at some cheap little
theatre her taste had prompted for their holiday.

But there were other and more painful occasions when Strone, returning
home, found his house brilliantly lighted--while strains of ribald
song floated out into the streets--and he knew that Milly was
entertaining her friends from Gascester.

Strone had never ranked as an orator even among his own party. He
was looked upon as a keen and skillful debater, a man of sturdy
common sense, marvelously clear-headed and thoroughly earnest. On the
night of his great speech, however, he made a new reputation. His
opening phrases scarcely gave promise of anything of the sort. He was
unaccountably nervous, overanxious to do justice to the cause which
was so dear to him, and at the same time horribly aware that he was
not succeeding. Suddenly, however, after a somewhat prolonged pause,
a wave of memory swept in upon him.

He remembered what he himself had passed through, the underworld of
the great cities was laid bare before him. It stretched away before
him, a ghostly panorama, its wailing rang in his ears, the death-cries
of its children shook his heart. Then, indeed, he straightened to his
task. His speech was stilted no longer, his deep voice shook with
passion. These rows of unemotional men, some sorting papers, some
whispering, some giving him a labored attention--they, too, must see
and hear. And they did! It was as though a great canvas were stretched
before them, and Strone, with the lightning brush of a great master,
was painting with lurid touches a terrible picture, a picture growing
every moment in horror, yet from the sight of which there was no
escape.

There were statistics, a plain statement of the practical measures
necessary, and a brief but passionate peroration. A thrill went
through the House when Strone spoke of himself, only newly come
from that world for whose salvation he pleaded. All the sins of the
universe, all that was ugly and vicious and detestable sprang from
that pestilential undercurrent down which were ever drifting the great
stream of lost humanity. Drink was an effect, not a cause. A miserable
existence begat despair, despair drink, and drink crime. Let them
awake from their indifference, their cynicism, or false philosophies,
and strike a mighty blow at the great heart of the hideous monster.
Life and freedom were gifts common to all. Those who sought to make
them a monopoly for the rich must pass through life to the shadow of
death with an appalling burden upon their shoulders. And more than
any in the world, those men to whom he then spoke must face this
responsibility.

So he pleaded, no longer at a loss for words, passionate, forceful,
touched for those few minutes, at any rate, with a spark of that
divine fire which carries words straight to the hearts of men, the
gift of true eloquence. When at last, and with a certain abruptness,
he resumed his seat, there reigned for several moments a respectful
and marvelous silence. Then a storm of cheering broke the tension,
cheering from all parts of the House, led by the prime minister,
joined in by the leader of the opposition. Strone gained much for his
cause that night--his own reputation he made forever. He had become
a power among strong men. He was henceforth a factor to be reckoned
with. During the debate which followed, pitifully tame it seemed, men
craned their heads to look at him, reporters eagerly collected such
crumbs of information as they could gather concerning his history, his
past, and his future. And Strone himself sat with impassive features
but beating heart, for up in the wire-covered gallery he had seen a
pale, beautiful face, whose eyes were fixed upon his, who seemed to be
sending a message to him through the great sea of space. Presently,
indeed as he passed from the body of the House, a note was thrust into
his hand, hastily written in pencil:

"Well done, my friend. Some people are having supper with me at the
Milan Restaurant. Will you come on there as soon as you can? Do give
me the pleasure of telling you what I think of your speech."

Strone crumpled the note up in his hand, hesitated for a moment, and
turned toward the exit. But he was not to escape so easily. His way
was besieged and his hand shaken by many whose faces were strange
to him. The leader of the House spoke a few courteous words, Lord
Sydenham patted him on the back. He passed out into the cool night air
with burning cheeks and eyes bright with the joy of life. Yet even
then the man was true to himself, steadfast to his great aims. It was
the triumph of his cause which delighted him, his personal laurels
were to him a matter of secondary importance. He had made people feel,
if only for a moment, the things which he felt. He had pierced, if
only for a short time and for a little way, beneath the surface that
marvelous cast-iron indifference with which nineteen-twentieths of the
world regard the agony of the submerged twentieth. Good must come of
it. Not only was his bill safe, but the way was paved for other and
more drastic measures. The work of his life stretched out before him.
It seemed to him then a fair prospect.

He passed through the streets with a wonderful sense of
light-heartedness. His own troubles were for the moment small things.
He had found the panacea for all sorrow. At the Milan he handed
his coat and hat to a liveried servant, and was ushered to a table
brilliant with flowers and lights at the head of the room. Lady
Malingcourt rose to receive him and held out both her hands.

"Welcome, master of men," she exclaimed, with a gayety which seemed
intended to hide the deep feeling which shone in her eyes and even
shook a little her voice. "You have given us a new sensation. We are
deeply and humbly grateful."

The Duke of Massingham patted him good-naturedly upon the shoulder.

"I can congratulate you with a whole heart," he said, "for you have
spared me. Your cause will not be the loser, Mr. Strone. If it costs
me a year's income, I will mend my ways."

Strone had embarked upon a career in which reputations are swiftly
made and lost. His own never wavered from the night of his first
great speech. Chance made his little party a very important factor in
the political history of the next few months. Chance also made his
own share in the struggle a great and arduous one. For this little
handful of men sent to represent the vast interests of the democracy
were mostly of the type of Fagan and his class. Earnest enough and
steeped with the justice of their cause, they were yet in many ways
marvelously narrow-minded. Obstruction and clamor seemed to them their
most natural and reasonable weapons.

They did not understand Strone's methods, his broader views, his
growing friendship with Lord Sydenham and the more enlightened members
of the government. To them he seemed always to be losing golden
opportunities. More than once he helped the government out of a tight
corner without demanding anything in the shape of a recompense.
They failed altogether to understand how Strone was building up in
the regard of thoughtful men both in the House and throughout the
country an immensely increased respect for the new social doctrines
of which he was the exponent and the little party of which he was the
recognized leader.

Strone himself knew that the thing could not last. Nothing but sheer
force of will and the expenditure of much persuasive eloquence kept
his followers faithful to him. Day by day the tension grew more acute.
He was never actually sure of their allegiance until the division bell
had rung. One or two waverers had already taken up an independent
attitude. Fagan himself seemed to be contemplating something of the
sort.

Strone knew the men and their natures--small, jealous, suspicious. He
recognized their point of view, and despised it. He knew in his heart
that if these were the prophets whom the great cities had sent to be
his coadjutors that the time must come before long when he must choose
another party or form one of his own. They were honest men, most of
them, but ignorant and prejudiced. They would never prevail against
men of trained reasoning power, men of acumen and intelligence.

A rough sort of eloquence to which most of them owed their election
went for nothing in the House. Strone knew that certain lofty dreams
of his, as yet but dimly conceived, but gaining for themselves power
and reality every day, could never be realized with the aid of such
as these. The crusade must be among the thinking men and women of
the world. Hyde Park oratory and all akin to it was a useless power.
Personal influence, the reviews, the conversion, one by one, of those
who led the world in thought, these must be the means whereby his
cause would be won. These men only cumbered the way, brought disrepute
upon a glorious cause. Yet for the moment they were necessary. Before
long they would be calling him apostate. In years to come they would
deem him their enemy.

No wonder that in those exciting times he reverted to his old attitude
toward Milly. There were no more shopping excursions or visits to
music halls. Dimly he began to realize what the future might have held
for him. In those days he set his heel grimly upon all the poetry and
the sweeter things of life. He refused numerous political and general
invitations. He avoided every place as much as possible where he was
likely to meet Lady Malingcourt.

One night he was walking home earlier than usual when he caught
a glimpse of her in Piccadilly. A brougham passed by, and he saw
her leaning back with pale face and listless eyes. He bent forward
eagerly, and a moment afterward regretted it. For she saw him and
immediately pulled the checkstring.

He threaded his way among the stream of vehicles to where her carriage
remained on the other side of the road. A footman opened the door for
him. She gathered up a snowy profusion of white satin skirt and made
room for him by her side.

"You are my salvation," she murmured, with a faint smile. "Please
hurry."

He hesitated.

"But----"

An imperious little gesture. He was by her side, and the door was
softly closed.

"To Amberley House, your ladyship?" the man asked, glancing discreetly
at Strone's gray clothes and soft hat.

"Home."

The carriage stopped before the corner house of a handsome square.
They passed up the steps together.

"This is your first visit to me," she remarked, "and you have had to
be dragged here. We will go upstairs."

They passed through a dimly lighted drawing-room, the air of which
seemed to Strone faint and sweet with the perfume of many flowers, out
onto a shaded balcony, over which was a long, striped awning. In the
corner were two low basket chairs. She sank into one and motioned him
to take the other.

"This," she murmured, "is luxury. Smoke, if you will--and talk to me.
Tell me how you are getting on in the House."

"None too well," he answered gloomily. "I am all the while upon the
brink of a volcano--and somehow I do not fancy that it will be long
before the eruption comes."

"What do you mean?" she asked, turning her pale face toward him. "I do
not understand. I cannot believe that there is any one in the House
whose position is more secure than yours."

He smiled grimly.

"My party," he said, "are thinking of dropping me!"

"Well," she said, "let them throw you over. Who but themselves would
suffer! Personally, I believe that your association with them is only
a drag upon you."

"That is all very well," he answered. "They are a rough lot, I know,
and most of them fatally ignorant. I do not believe that any class of
men in the world are so girt about with prejudices as those whose eyes
have been opened a little way. But, after all, they each have a vote,
and as parties are at present they are an immensely powerful factor in
the situation."

"That," she said, "is only a temporary matter, a matter of weeks or
months. After all, you must remember they are an isolated body of men
in the House. Your place is with the only great party of progress. You
are moving toward them day by day. Your joining them sooner or later
is inevitable."

He smiled.

"Lord Sydenham has been very kind to me," he said, "but I fancy I
should be a sort of ugly duckling among the Conservatives."

"You would be in office in less than twelve months," she declared. "Do
let me tell Sydenham that he may talk to you about this."

He shook his head.

"I came into the House as a Labor member," he said, "and unless
something unforeseen happens, a Labor member I must remain. Besides,
I hate to think of myself as a party man. The rank and file remind me
most unpleasantly of a flock of geese. They must follow their leaders
blindly; their personal opinions go for nothing."

Her eyelids quivered--the merest flicker of a smile passed across her
face.

"But how nice not to be obliged to have personal opinions! Think what
a delightfully restful state."

"It would not suit me," he declared bluntly.

She laughed, very softly and very musically.

There was a short silence. A breath of the west wind bent the lilac
boughs toward them, a wave of delicate perfume floated in the air.
Strone half closed his eyes. Their thoughts went backward together.

"Tell me," she murmured, "how does this life compare to you with the
old days at Bangdon Wood? You were a man of contemplation--you have
become a man of action. Go on, my friend. There is a kingdom before
you."

He turned a weary face upon her.

"These are the things," he said, "which I have told myself. But, Lady
Malingcourt, life has another side, and to go through life without
once glancing upon it----"

"Ah, is it worth while?" she interrupted. "What is greater than
power?"

"It is a joy for heroes, but even heroes are sometimes men."

They were silent for a moment. From beyond the square came the tinkle
of bells, the low roar of traffic surging westward. Near at hand was
the rustling of the evening wind in the large-leafed lime trees, the
faintly drawn-out music of a violin from one of the adjoining houses.

"Tell me," she asked suddenly--"about your wife. Does she like London?
Is she interested in your work?"

A curious restraint--almost a nervousness--fell upon them both.

"I do not think that she is," he answered. "London does not suit her
very well. She is not quick at making acquaintances."

He did not allude to her again, nor did she. The vision of Milly
rose up before him as he had seen her last. He sat looking out in
the twilight with stern, set face. Lady Malingcourt watched him.
Perhaps they both saw in the soft darkness some faint picture of those
wonderful things which might in time have come to pass between them.
For when Lady Malingcourt spoke again there was a sweetness in her
voice which was strange to him.

She leaned forward eagerly. The cloud of weariness had passed from
her face. Her white, bejeweled fingers touched his coat sleeve.

"My friend," she said, "you are making a rare but a fatal mistake.
You undervalue yourself. Do not shake your head, for I know what I
am talking about. Lord Sydenham has spoken to me; there have been
others, too. There are many people who are watching you. You must
not disappoint them."

He gazed into her intent face and sighed.

"Sometimes," he said, in a low tone, "I think that it is my fate to
disappoint myself and all other people. Lady Malingcourt, can you tell
me why it is that now when many of the things I have dreamed of are
becoming realities, my desire for them seems sometimes honeycombed
with weakness? Often lately I have wished myself back at my cottage;
I have closed my eyes, and the old days of poverty, of freedom, have
seemed wonderfully sweet. It is weakness," he went on, a sudden hoarse
passion in his voice, "cursed weakness. I will stamp it down. I shall
outgrow it. But it's there, and it's a live thing."

Afterward he liked to think of her as she had seemed that night. The
weariness, the flippancy of her outlook upon life seemed for the
moment to have fallen away like a mask. The woman shone out--flamed in
her eyes, was manifest in her softened tone.

"It is the toll we all have to pay," she said. "We expect too much of
life. The things which look so beautiful to us when we are hammering
at the gates crumble into dust when we have passed through into their
midst, and seek to grasp them."

"Is there nothing in life," he said, "which is real--which remains?"

She did not answer him, her silence was surely purposeful. She sat
with half-closed eyes, as though listening to the music of the
breeze-shaken limes, and Strone felt his heart beating madly. The
significance of his question and her silence were suddenly revealed to
him. A mad desire possessed him to seize her hands, to force her to
look at him. Instinct told him that the moment was propitious, that
the great gulf between them was bridged over by a sudden emotional
crisis, which might never occur again.

She raised her eyes to his, and he was amazed at their wonderful
depth and color. The change came home to him, and his own pulses beat
fiercely.

"Let us talk about Bangdon," she said. "Do you remember the first time
I saw you? John brought you into dinner."

"If I had known," he remarked, smiling, "that there was a woman there,
I should have run for my life."

"Yet I do not think that you were shy. What a surprise you were to me.
You wore the clothes of a mechanic, and you talked--as even John could
never have talked. Do you know, I think that you are a very wonderful
person. It is so short a time ago."

He turned toward her, and his face was suddenly haggard.

"It is a lifetime--a chaos of months and years. Let us talk of
something else."

"No! Why?"

"Don't you understand?" he asked fiercely.

There was a short, tense silence. The diamond star upon her bosom rose
and fell. Lady Malingcourt did not recognize herself in the least.
Only she knew that he at any rate had been swift to recognize the
wonderful transfiguring change which that moment of self-revelation
had wrought in her life. But for that she knew that his self-control
would not have precipitated the crisis. A sort of glad recklessness
possessed her. At least, she had found, if only for a moment,
something which filled to the brim the great empty cup of life.

"You are so enigmatic," she murmured.

"You had better not tempt me to be otherwise," he answered.

The delight of it carried her away. Their eyes met, and the memory of
that moment went with him through life--to be cherished jealously,
even when death came.

"Why not?"

"Because I love you. Because you know it! You have filled my life. You
have made everything else of no account. I love you!"

He had found her the victim of a mood, marvelously plastic,
marvelously alluring. He drew nearer to her. Then from the street
below came an interruption. A furiously driven hansom was pulled up, a
man sprang out, glanced upward, and waved his hand. A curse trembled
upon Strone's lips. Lady Malingcourt sat up and returned his greeting.

"So like Sydenham," she murmured. "However he may have loitered on the
way, he always arrives in a desperate hurry."

Strone and Lord Sydenham came face to face in the hall--the latter
recognized him with amazement.

"Was it you whom I saw with my cousin?" he asked.

"Yes," Strone answered. "I was just leaving. Good night."

"Wait a moment," Lord Sydenham exclaimed. "I wanted to see you
particularly. Come upstairs again."

"All right at the House?" Strone asked.

Lord Sydenham laughed curiously.

"That depends on how you look at it," he answered. "The division came
off, after all."

"I was paired," Strone said quickly.

"I know! But your men went solid with the opposition."

Strone stood still in blank amazement. It had come, then--already.
Lord Sydenham watched him and was satisfied. He led the way into
the drawing-room. Strone followed like a man in a dream. He heard
a greeting pass between the two. Their first few sentences were
unintelligible to him.

It had come and sooner than Strone had expected. His men went with the
opposition as a result of their bickerings and mistrust. Lord Sydenham
contentedly lit a cigarette. Strone stood with clinched hands, his
head thrown back, his eyes ablaze with anger. He had been deceived and
tricked, and by the very men whose cause in his hands was becoming a
religion. It was ignoble. The man and woman watched him curiously.

"My opportunity is gone," Strone said at last. "They have thrown me
over."

"It is a proof," Lord Sydenham answered, "of their colossal folly. As
for you, Strone, it will be the making of your political career. Come,
we are perhaps keeping Lady Malingcourt up. I will walk a little way
with you and explain what I mean."

They passed out into the cool night. Lord Sydenham removed his hat and
walked for some distance, carrying it in his hand. Suddenly he turned
to his companion.

"Strone," he said, "you must join us."

Strone laughed--enigmatically.

"I am handicapped," he remarked, "with principles. Besides, imagine
the horror with which your old-fashioned Conservatives would regard my
social schemes. It is impossible."

"I hope to convince you," Lord Sydenham said earnestly, "that it is
nothing of the sort. In the first place, I want you to remember that
during the last ten years a marvelous change has transformed the
relative positions of the two great political parties. The advent of
the Liberal Unionists into our ranks was the consummation of what was
fast becoming inevitable. To-day it is the Conservative party who are
the party of progress. It is the party to which you must naturally
belong."

"In the event of your refusal, let me ask you seriously whether you
realize what you are doing. You have rare gifts--you have all the
qualities of the successful politician. I offer you a firm footing
upon the ladder--your ascent is a certainty. I will not appeal to your
personal ambition. I appeal to your religion."

Strone looked up with a queer smile.

"My religion?"

"Yes! I use the word in the broadest sense. Consciously or
unconsciously, you have proclaimed it in your conversation--the
House--the reviews. If you are not one of those who love their
fellow-men, you, at least, have a pity for them so profound that it
has become the _motif_ of your life. It is a great cause, yours,
Strone. You have made it your own. None but you can do it justice.
Think of the submerged millions who have been waiting many years for a
prophet to call them up from the depths. You have put on the mantle.
Dare you cast it away?"

"Never in your life," he said, "will there come to you such an
opportunity as this. I offer you a place in the party which will be
in the majority next session--the lawmakers. I offer you also my own
personal support of the Labor measures we have discussed. It must be
yes or no by to-morrow."

When Strone let himself into his house a few moments later the room on
the ground floor was almost in total darkness.

"Milly!"

No answer. Yet she was in the room, for he could hear her heavy
breathing and trace the dim outline of her form upon the sofa. An ugly
suspicion seized him. He turned up the gas and groaned.

An empty tumbler lay on the ground beside her. Strone bent over her.
This was the woman to whom he was chained for all his days, whom he
had pledged himself to love and cherish, the woman who bore his name,
and who must rise with him to whatever heights his ambition and genius
might command. There was no escape--there never could be any escape.
He walked restlessly up and down the room. The woman slept on.

Presently he saw that she had been writing--a proceeding so unusual
that he came to a standstill before the table. An envelope and a
letter lay open there; the first words of the latter, easily legible
in Milly's round characters, startled him. He glanced at the address.
It was to Mr. Richard Mason, Fairbanks, Gascester. Without any further
hesitation, he took the letter into his hand and read it.

"Dear Dick: The last time I saw you I turned you out of this house
because you asked me something as you didn't ought. I am writing these
few lines to know if you are still in the same mind. I don't want you
to make a mistake. I don't care one brass button for you--never shall.
But things have turned out so that I ain't happy here. I never ought
to have married Enoch, that's sure. He ain't the same class as you
and me. He don't care for me, and he never will. That's why I reckon
I'm going to leave him. Now if you want me to go to Ireland with you
next journey, say so, and I'll go. If I try to live here any longer, I
shall go mad. You ain't to think that it's because I like you better
than him, because I don't, and no born woman in her right sense would.
What I'm looking at is, that if I go away with you, he'll be free.
That's all. There's no other way that I can think of, except for me to
do away with myself and that I dursn't do. So if you say come, I shall
be ready. Yours, Milly."

The sheet of paper fluttered from his fingers. He turned to find her
sitting up--watching him.

"You've been reading my letter," she cried, with a little gasp.

"Yes," he answered. "I have read it."

She stared at him, heavy-eyed, still dull of apprehension. There was
a short silence. She struggled into a sitting posture; by degrees her
memory and consciousness returned.

"I don't care if you have," she declared. "Put it in the envelope and
post it. It would have been on the way now if Mary hadn't brought in
the whisky. It's what you want, ain't it? You'll be quit of me then,
and you can go to her."

He tore the letter across and flung it into the fire. She watched it
burn idly.

"I don't know why you've done that," she said wearily. "You know you
want to be free. I don't know as I blame you. I saw you with her
to-night."

"What do you mean?" he asked quickly.

"Just that. I took Mary to the St. James', and coming back we stopped
to watch the people driving by. She's very beautiful, Enoch, and she's
your sort. I ain't."

There was a silence. Their eyes met, and the hopeless misery in her
face went to his heart like a knife. In that moment he realized how
only salvation could come to her. He saw her suddenly with a great
pity and beyond her all the great underneath millions he wanted to
help. The moment was like a flash of light. He crossed the room and
sat down by her side.

"Milly," he said gently, "let us try and talk like sensible people. I
am afraid I haven't been a very good husband to you, and this sort of
thing"--he touched the decanter--"has got to be stopped. Now tell me
how we are to turn over a new leaf. What would you like to do?"

She drew a little breath which became a sob.

"It's me," she exclaimed passionately. "I'm a beast. I ain't fit to
be your wife, Enoch. Let me go my way. I'll never interfere with you.
You've been too good to me already. You can't care for me! Why should
you?"

He took her hand in his.

"Milly," he said, "we are husband and wife, and we've got to make the
best of it. Now I want you to promise to give up that stuff, and, in
return, I will do anything you ask."

"Then care for me a little," she cried; "or if you can't, pretend to.
If you'd only kiss me now and then without me asking, act as though I
were flesh and blood--treat me as a woman instead of a ghost--I'd be
easily satisfied! Can't you pretend just a little, Enoch? Maybe you
won't mean it a bit--I don't care. I'd close my eyes and think it was
all real."

Her voice broke down, her eyes were wet and shining with tears. He
kissed her on the lips.

"I will do more than pretend, Milly," he said.

She came close to him--almost shyly. A look of ineffable content shone
in her face.

       *       *       *       *       *

Ever the same deep stillness, a sort of brooding calm as though the
land slept, the faint rustling of a west wind, the slighter murmuring
of insects. And, save for these things, silence. Strone stood on the
threshold of the empty cottage, which as yet he had not unlocked,
looking down upon the familiar patchwork of fields and woods, looking
away, indeed, through the blue filmy light with unseeing eyes, for
a whole flood of old memories were tugging at his heartstrings.
A curious sense of detachment from himself and his surroundings
possessed him. Milly, his house at Gascester, his shattered political
career, were like dreams, something chimerical, burdens which had
fallen away. A rare sense of freedom was upon him. He took long
breaths of the clear, bracing air. The place had its old delight for
him. He threw himself upon the turf, and closed his eyes. Here at last
was peace.

Then the old madness again, burning in his brain, hot in his blood,
driving him across the hills, stirring up again the old recklessness,
the old wild delight. She was going to marry Lord Sydenham. She was
passing forever out of his reach, and once she had been very near. His
heart shook with passionate recollections. With every step he took,
his fierce unrest became a more ungovernable thing. What a farce it
all was--his stern attempt at self-control, his life shut off now from
everything worth having, a commonplace, dronelike existence. After
all, what folly! The cup of life had been offered to him, his lips had
touched the brim. Was it poison, after all, which he had seen among
the dregs? Yet what poison could be worse than this?

Past the Devenhills' house, whence the music of her voice beat the air
around him, filled his ears with longing, brought almost the tears
to his eyes. Had he lived, indeed, through such delights as these
mocking memories would have him believe, when he had watched the roses
fluttering through the darkness, elf flowers, yet warm and fragrant
enough when he had snatched them from the dusty road, and crept away
with them into the shadows! Oh, what manner of man had he become to be
the slave of such memories? He was ashamed, yet drunk with the madness
of it.

Nowhere in this strange country of flowers and sweet odors, of singing
birds and delicate breezes, could he hope to escape from the old
thrall. The dreary machinery of life seemed no longer possible to him.
Milly and her unconquerable vulgarity, his narrowing career, even his
work, mocked him with their emptiness. He turned backward, but he did
not go home.

Twilight came on and the gray stillness slept softly on hill and
valley. Night crept apace and brought no abatement in the struggle
of the man. Again and again with cameo distinctness he saw Lord
Sydenham's face with its queer incredulous smile when Strone told him
of his decision to leave London, and he heard again as though they
were there spoken the older man's reply uttered with a note of anger
in his thin well-modulated voice.

"The thing is absurd," he had declared.

"Your refusal I must accept if you insist. I should do so with less
regret, perhaps, because sooner or later you must come to us. The step
may seem a bold one to you to-day. In a year or so it will become
inevitable. I might be content to wait, although you will be wasting
some of the best years of your life. But when you tell me that you
are giving up your career--leaving Parliament--going back to your
manufacturing--oh, rubbish! I haven't the patience to argue with you."

Strone's face was haggard and his lips were dry as he walked on.
There was a subtle witchery in the night that closed in on him
overpoweringly. Memories crowded with startling vividness--parties of
bejeweled and bedecked women--the soft hum of laughter and pleasant
voices mingled with the music of the violins. The air seemed suddenly
heavy with the odor of flowers and cigarettes and many strange
perfumes, and through it all came a frail exquisite face and voice
that said:

"My friend, it is you yourself who are responsible for our unlived
lives. You hold the gates open before you--you----"

He started back and closed his eyes. The past had him in its grip....

Nowhere in this strange country of flowers and sweet odors, of singing
birds and delicate breezes, could he hope to escape from the old
thrall. The dreary machinery of life seemed no longer possible to
him. Milly and her unconquerable vulgarity, his narrowing career,
even his work, mocked him with their emptiness. He caught the evening
express with a moment to spare, flung himself, breathless, among
the cushions of an empty carriage just as the train glided from the
station. Without any clear purpose in his mind, he obeyed an impulse
which seemed irresistible. He must go to her.

At St. Pancras he remembered for a moment that he was wearing his
ordinary homespun clothes, disordered, too, with his long walk and
race for the train. Nevertheless, he did not hesitate. He called for
a hansom, and drove to her house. The servant who admitted him looked
him over with surprise, but believed that Lady Malingcourt was within.
She was even then dressing for the opera. Strone was shown into her
study--and waited.

It was nearly half an hour before she came to him, and whatever
feelings his sudden arrival had excited she had had time to conceal
them. She came to him buttoning her gloves, and followed by her maid
carrying her opera cloak. The latter withdrew discreetly. Strone rose
up--a strange figure enough, with his wind-tossed hair and burning
eyes.

"You?" she exclaimed, with raised eyebrows. "How wonderful!"

The sight of her, the sound of her voice, were fuel to his smoldering
passion. His heart was hot with the love of her.

"Is it true?" he asked fiercely. "I have seen your brother. He says
that you are going to marry Lord Sydenham."

She looked at him in faint surprise.

"And why on earth should I not marry Lord Sydenham?" she asked.

It was like a sudden chill. She was angry, then, or she did not care.
Yet there had been times when she had looked at him indifferently. He
made an effort at repression.

"There is no reason why you should not," he admitted. "There is no
reason why you should not tell me--if it be true. For God's sake, tell
me!"

"It is perfectly true," she answered.

"Lord Sydenham is nothing to you," he cried.

"Well, he soon will be--my husband."

"You do not care for him."

"An excellent reason to marry him, then. I shall have no
disenchantment to fear."

"Oh, this is mockery!" he cried. "You can juggle with words, I know.
I am no match for you at that. Don't!"

"Don't what?"

"Marry Lord Sydenham."

She nodded her head thoughtfully.

"On certain conditions," she answered, "I will not."

"What are they?" he asked hoarsely.

"You accept the place in the government which was offered to you and
reënter political life."

"Well?"

"You never ask more of my friendship than I am willing to give."

"Well?"

"You leave your wife altogether."

He started and shook his head slowly.

"You don't understand. Milly has--a weakness. Even now I have to be
always watching."

"I know more of your wife than you think," she answered. "I know the
circumstances of your marriage, and something of her life since. My
condition must stand."

"Do you know," he said, "that it would mean ruin to her--body and
soul?"

"She is not fit to be your wife," Lady Malingcourt said coldly.
"You can never make her fit. I think that you would be justified
in ignoring her claim upon you. There are limits to one's
responsibility."

"These," he said, "are your conditions?"

"Yes."

He drew near to her. The struggle of the last few months seemed lined
into his face.

"Listen," he said. "I want to be honest--to you. I can't see it any
way but this. There's the woman and all the great underneath millions
I wanted to help on one side--and on the other--you."

"No," she interrupted. "Your life's work was never meant to be in
Gascester. It is your domestic duty, or what you imagine to be your
domestic duty, against your duty to your fellow-creatures. You can
leave me out. Be a man. Free yourself--make use of your powers. The
world is a great place for such as you. Strike off your shackles."

"There will be no more--Lord Sydenhams?" he asked breathlessly.

She smiled upon him--a transforming, transfiguring smile. It was the
woman who looked out upon him from those soft, clear eyes.

"I am not anxious," she said, "to be married at all. Only, one must
do something. And lately London has been very dull. Is that you,
Sydenham? I am quite ready. I am afraid that you must be tired of
waiting."

Lord Sydenham had entered almost noiselessly. He looked from one to
the other doubtfully.

"I am not interrupting anything in the nature of a conspiracy, I
trust?" he inquired, with a faint note of sarcasm.

Lady Malingcourt smiled.

"I am endeavoring to make Mr. Strone repent of his hasty decision,"
she said. "I believe that I have succeeded."

The next morning Strone walked in his grounds before breakfast, his
hands behind his back, his face anxious with thought. He had all the
sensations of an executioner. Milly had to be faced--his decision made
known to her. All through the night this thing had been before him,
had hung around his pillow like an ugly nightmare. Now, in the clear
morning sunlight, the brutality of it seemed to be staring him in the
face. She was settling down so eagerly into this new life, so proud
of her home and belongings, so timidly anxious to avoid any of those
small lapses which kindled Strone's irritability.

Of course she could continue exactly as she was. There would be no
difficulty about her income--she could go on her way making friends,
become even a power in the small social world whose recognition had
given her such unqualified delight. But Strone was not a man to
deceive himself, and he knew very well that under the good-natured,
vulgar exterior there remained the woman, passionate, jealous,
hypersensitive. He remembered that last night in Marlow Crescent.
He had saved her then, only to fling her back into the abyss! He
tried hard to reason with himself. There was a world open to him of
which she could not possibly become a denizen. Her presence by his
side would hamper his career--would place him continually in a false
position, would be a serious drawback to him in the great struggle
on behalf of those suffering millions into which he was longing to
throw himself. For Strone, at least, was honest in this. His personal
ambition was a small thing. He was an enthusiast in a great and
unselfish cause. The favor of Lord Sydenham, the social recognition
which Lady Malingcourt was able to secure for him, he welcomed only
as important means toward his great end. He was shrewd enough to see
their importance, but for society as a thing by itself he had no
predilection whatever.

"Enoch!"

She came out to him across the lawn. He turned and watched her
thoughtfully. She wore a loose, white morning wrapper, simply made and
absolutely inoffensive, and he noticed, too, that the fringe against
which he had made several ineffectual protests was brushed back,
greatly to the improvement of her appearance. She was pale, and her
eyes watched him anxiously. Almost it seemed to him that she might in
some way have divined what was in store for her.

"Enoch," she exclaimed. "You are home, then?"

"Yes," he answered. "I came in so late last night that I did not
disturb you. Is breakfast ready?"

"Waiting."

She led the way, and he followed her. She asked him no questions as
to his unexplained absence yesterday, and she made several attempts
at conversation, to which he returned only vague answers. Toward the
close of the meal, he looked up at her.

"I want to have a few words with you, Milly, before I go," he said.
"Will you come into the study when we have finished?"

She nodded.

"Come into my workroom," she said. "I've got something to say to you.
I--I had a visitor yesterday."

Even when they were alone and the door was shut, he shrank from his
task. He looked around, surprised at the evidences of industry.

"Are you making your own dresses?" he asked. "I didn't think that was
in your line."

"No, but there is plenty of work to do," she answered hurriedly.
"Enoch, I had a visitor yesterday."

"You get a good many, don't you?" he answered indifferently.

"This one was different. It was Mr. Martinghoe." He was surprised.

"Did he come to see you?"

"No, he came to see you," she answered. "He had been to the works, but
you were not there. He stayed for a long time, and we had a talk."

"Well?"

She got up, and stood leaning with her elbow on the mantelpiece. For
the first time a certain fragility in her appearance struck him. He
had always considered her the personification of coarse, good health.
She spoke, too, without her usual bluntness, with unusual choice of
words, and some nervousness. Strone awoke to the fact that there was a
change in her.

"Enoch," she said, "Mr. Martinghoe brought some news. You'll hear it
when you get to the works, for he will be there to meet you. Somehow,
though, I'm glad to be the first to tell you. They want you to stand
for Parliament for the Northern Division of Gascestershire." He stared
at her.

"What?"

"It is the Conservatives. There's a deputation of 'em coming. Mr.
Martinghoe doesn't say much, but I think it's through him." Strone was
amazed.

"A rural constituency," he remarked, half to himself. "It wouldn't do
at all. Besides----"

"Please, I want to go on," Milly interrupted. "Enoch, there's
Mellborough in the division. That's quite a large town now." He
nodded.

"Well?"

"Enoch, I want you to do me a great, great favor," she said earnestly.
"I want you to accept this offer. Don't interrupt. I know that it will
take you back into the life you gave up for me. I don't care. I've
been thinking about that lately, and I reckon I've been a selfish
beast. I made you give up the things you liked, and you might have
become a great man but for me. Enoch, I'm all right now. I'll swear
it. There's never no more fear about me. I'll live in London with
you, or here, and you can come down when you can spare a bit of time.
I ain't going to be a bit jealous of anything or anybody. I ain't,
indeed. And, Enoch, I want to be a better wife to you," she added,
with a little tearful break in her tone, "if I can. I ain't the wife
you ought to have married, dear. I know that. I ought to have been
clever, and known how to dress and talk nicely, and all sorts of
things. I'm going to try and improve. It's too late for you to choose
again, Enoch, but you've been real good to me, and I ain't going to
give you any more trouble."

A transformation. Something had found its way into Milly's heart and
stirred up all the good that was there into vigorous life. In her
eager, tear-dimmed eyes he saw something shining which altered forever
his point of view. He was bewildered. What was this thing which he had
had in his mind! Yesterday seemed far away; the thought of it made him
shudder. But what had come to Milly? He reached out his hand. Their
eyes met, and he understood. A new sense of humanity brought man and
woman into a wonderful kinship. He opened his arms, and Milly crept
into them with a little sob of content.

               *       *       *





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